Tuesday, December 3, 2019

How Kate Warne saved President Lincoln, written by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, reviewed by Todd Erickson

Summary: Kate Warne was America's first woman detective, and herself a woman of mystery. She convinces Detective Allan Pinkerton to give her a job, because women are better at ferreting out secrets by obtaining the confidence of loquacious housewives and boastful men. Kate is master at disguises and discovering the ill-intentions of others, especially where newly elected president-elect Abraham Lincoln is concerned. Kate and Pinkerton thwart a planned attack on Lincoln by ferreting him to safety ahead of schedule to the inauguration in Washington D.C.

Straight Talk for Librarians: When America got around to wondering whether or not women be police officers, it was already a moot question, because there had already been one. Kate Warne not only was America's first woman detective, she was ultimately responsible for saving America's greatest president. She was head of the Pinkerton DC office, which ultimately became the secret service. The collage like illustrations will appeal to very young readers, but they ultimately detract from the story. Ultimately, Kate is as much of a mystery as the cases she solves. She dies young, but Pinkerton keeps her memory alive in his writings and even has her buried in the family crypt.

Egg: Nature's Perfect Package, written by Steve Jenkins, reviewed by Todd Erickson

Summary: Where, how and what kind of eggs are explained in clear brief snippets of information. This book offers the details of eggs laid by over 50 types of animals, insects, birds, reptiles and sea creatures. Where eggs are laid, how they are tended and exited, and what kind of eggs are laid by which different animals all explained in fascinating bite-sized, digestible chunks. There is even a section devoted to egg predators. A glossary of 54 different egg laying animals caps of this singular book of nonfiction.

Straight Talk for Librarians: A few years ago, a 2nd grade student asked if I had any books about eggs, and I wish I'd had this one to show him. It's exactly what he was looking for. This book is chocked full to the brim with facts about eggs, their inhabitants along with their sometimes devoted, or not, maternal and paternal parents. The Egg is a colorful, informative and welcomed nonfiction addition to any school library.

Ninita's Big World: The True Story of a Deaf Pygmy Marmoset, written by Sarah Glenn Marsh, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: If you’ve never heard of a pygmy marmoset, Ninita is the perfect introduction, a true story of the smallest type of monkey in the world, who was born deaf. When her parents abandoned her at just three weeks old, Ninita was left scared and alone until a group of humans come to rescue her. They take care of her, grooming her with a toothbrush, feeding her yogurt and rice pudding, and introducing the perfect friend to help her, Mr. Big. Although pygmy marmosets are the size of a human thumb, readers will see the big world through Ninita’s eyes, in her story of overcoming obstacles and looking at the bright side of life. Stick to the end to learn more about marmosets and fun facts about this animal group.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Young kids and adults alike will be filled with joy and intrigue following the true story of Ninita. Author Sarah Glenn Marsh does a fantastic job telling a factual story in a kid-friendly way, that leaves you wanting more. Luckily, Marsh has an addendum with more facts about pygmy marmosets as well as conservation efforts for readers left wanting more. What a great book pick for conversations on animals and habitats, studying the wildlife of South America, discussions on overcoming adversity, and how to be inclusive to those who may be different. Not to mention, this picture book has whimsical illustrations full of color that will equally delight readers.

The Town of Turtle, written by Michelle Cuevas, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: Turtle lives in a lonely world, all alone, by himself with just his shadow. Although sad, he dreams of a better home and world, and decides to make the changes himself. He starts with a fresh coat of colorful paint, creating beautiful artwork in his shell. Then he adds plants and greenery, a deck, a fireplace, and a bigger home. Before you know it, Turtle has expanded his renovations to beautifying the world with gardens and additional homes. When he lays down to take a nap out of exhaustion, he wakes up to a beautiful surprise.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Purchase this book. It has so many amazing themes to talk about with students. It has an overall theme of making your space and your world beautiful, not because you should or it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes everyone’s world brighter and better. Inclusiveness is another important theme, as Turtle is a very lonely character, but wants to make renovations in hopes that other people will find beauty in his home too, and stay and be his friend. The Town of Turtle also reflects on environmental issues, of gardening and taking care of our Earth. It is a heartwarming read, with AMAZING illustrations, that all kids will love and want to check out.

The Crossover (Spanish), written by Kwame Alexander, reviewed by Amanda Davies

Summary: Like the version in English, this Spanish version of The Crossover follows the lives of Josh Bell and his twin brother Jordan as they play basketball, navigate first crushes and learn about what it means to be a family. Told in creative, vivid, and often playful poetry, the boys' experiences come to life on the page. While they've always been best friends, Josh and Jordan have to figure out how to maintain their friendship and connection in the face of challenges. Herrera's translation remains true to the original and captures the intensity and beauty of the story.

Straight Talk for Librarians: The Spanish language version of The Crossover is a great addition to any school library both for students whose first language is English and for students who are learning Spanish. In addition to the benefit of providing a book in a student's first language for the pure pleasure of it, English learners could use the English version to compare the use of vocabulary and word choice. Similarly, students learning Spanish or Spanish language teachers could use the book to look for the ways that language is manipulated similarly and differently in each language. Because the book is written in poetry and many of the poems can stand on their own, Spanish teachers or English Language teachers could use a poem or two in a lesson to enable students to identify similarities and differences. In addition to its value as a powerful story, the Spanish language version of the Crossover provides many opportunities for curricular connections.

Imposters, written by Scott Westerfeld, reviewed by Amanda Davies

Summary: Impostors takes place in the world of Westerfeld's famous series Uglies. Many years after Tally Youngblood has helped destroy the world of Pretties, a new heroine, Frey and her famous twin sister Rafi, are navigating the dangers of absolute power and international intrigue. No one knows that Frey exists; her sole purpose is to serve as Rafi's body double and protect her. But when their father sends Frey into a dangerous situation outside their country, she starts to realize just how corrupt her father is. The book follows Frey as she tries to avoid capture while continuing to protect her sister and save communities that her father is determined to destroy.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Students (and adults) who long for an expansion of the world that Westerfeld created for Uglies will be relieved to find that Westerfeld has written this book, the first in a total of four books he plans to write for this series. The second book in the series, Shatter City, came out in September 2019 and there are two more books planned. The nearly non-stop action and military-style fighting that happens throughout the book will appeal to those looking for adventure and intensity, although there's nothing so gory or explicit that middle-schoolers couldn't read it. Readers who want mystery and intrigue will also find plenty here. Students can expect to be kept guessing even after they finish the last page.

Wed Rabbit, written by Lissa Evans, reviewed by Amanda Davies

Summary: The main character, Fidge, has struggled with loss. After an accident lands her annoying but lovable little sister in the hospital, Fidge tries to figure out how she can make her sister better. While staying at her cousin Graham's house so that she doesn't cause more trouble while her sister is in the hospital, she and Graham end up transported into the world of her sister's favorite book, The Land of the Wimbly Woos. While there, they discover that only they can help save the people of Wimbly Woo from the evil tyrant, Wed Wabbit, who has just taken over their community. And only then will Fidge and Graham get to return to their normal lives.

Straight Talk for Librarians: The story is filled with fast-paced and wild adventure. It reads a lot like a modern-day Wizard of Oz, but instead of Munchkins and cowardly lions, Fidge and Graham meet a dramatic stuffed elephant and plastic carrot. Young people who are looking for a fantastical adventure with a tinge of grief and the threat of additional heartache will love this book. The setting is strange but well fleshed out and the characters are relatable and well developed. The emphasis on learning to be more understanding (for Fidge) and braver (for Graham) makes the book more powerful without being overly sappy.

The Boy Who Said Nonsense, written by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky, reviewed by Todd Erickson

Summary: A family finds a baby in a pumpkin patch and takes him in. Tate grows into a kid who loves numbers and he expresses his passion in what others consider in a rather odd fashion. Kids at school and others think Tate simply yells nonsense, but his brother begins to see there's a method to Tate's madness. He yells out whatever number he counts instantly just by looking at things.

Straight Talk for Librarians: A boy who says nonsense is a simple celebration of what makes us unique, as it is what makes Tate different that makes him special. Despite the teasing and misunderstanding of others, including the bafflement of his own family Tate appears to simply spout nonsense. His ability to look at a bunch of things and know exactly how many items there are is what makes him special, and in the end it is Tate's special gift that saves the day.

The Guild of Geniuses, written by Dan Santat, reviewed by Todd Erickson

Summary: It's famous actor Frederick Lipton's birthday. As Frederick is showered with presents from his friends and fans from around the world, his maudlin monkey pal, Mr. Pip, is down in the dumps and withholds his own present. Frederick drops Mr. Pip off with the guild of geniuses so they can figure out what's gotten the monkey down. Frederick returns and Mr. Pip's mood picks up once they're reunited and make time to spend time with one another.

Straight Talk for Librarians: The trappings of fame and fortune are not what makes Mr. Pip happy, but rather spending time with his friend. It doesn't take a league of geniuses to figure out the obvious, but rather, all it takes is Fred making time for his friend. No amount of money, trips, or parades can take the place of friends who make time for one another.

Gator Dad, written by Brian Lies, reviewed by Todd Erickson

Summary: Gator Dad begins the morning with a promise to squeeze the day, and he proceeds to do just that for his three little reptiles. They make breakfast, run errands, go exploring, have adventures, play in the park, take a ret, tear apart the house, etc. The day ends with a hug and squeeze from fun gator dad.
Straight Talk for Librarians: This is a nice addition as a lap book for fun dads and their kids. There's a lot of love in the story that celebrates involved dads and their relationship with their admiring kids. Not exactly verse, the prose is lyrical but not rhyming. There are examples galore of celebratory fun times with dad.

Flying Frogs and Walking Fish, written by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, reviewed by Todd Erickson

Summary: This nonfiction book is divided into all the sometimes surprising different ways mammals, invertebrates, insects and fish move. Whether it's walking, swimming. climbing, flying, rolling, or jetting, animals of all kinds are on the move. Motivating factors mostly include escaping predators or searching for food. A recap of the animals can be found at the end of the book with more information about each of the 46 animals.

Straight Talk for Librarians: An interesting foray into nonfiction that will appeal to young readers but with a rather high reading 4th-grade reading level. This could work as an effective read aloud to kick off a student animal research project, in order to get students to think about what makes animals unique and different from one another. Normally, we don't think of elephants swimming or snakes gliding through the air, but this book sheds light on these and other surprising ways 46 animals get around.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Alfie's Lost Sharkie, written by Anna Walker, reviewed by Todd Erickson


Summary: An all-dialogue text details the plight of procrastinator tyke-sized Alligator, Alfie. This easy reader picture book describes bedtime for Alfie, in all his distracted glory. He attempts to sideline his parent's attempt to keep him on task for bedtime. A search for Sharkie is interwoven with bath time, storytime, and all the usual bedtime rituals. His parent's patience indicates this search has also become a bedtime ritual.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This could be read as a read-aloud for very young children, who will recognize their own attempts to thwart inevitable bedtime. It could spark discussion on sequencing, detailing step by step bedtime rituals. It could also work as a paired choral reading, with one reader taking the role of the parent and one reader taking the role of Alfie. The text is large and easy to read, and this would work well as an easy-reader leveled library book.

Batman's Dark Secret, written by Kelley Puckett, reviewed by Todd Erickson

Summary: Batman has a dark secret. As a young boy, Bruce Wayne lost his parents in a dark alley. Orphaned to live alone in a large house outside of the city with a trusted butler, Alfred, young Bruce has a secret. He's afraid of the dark, and Alfred keeps the lights on all night every night so Bruce is never alone in the dark. But one day, Bruce goes for a walk and he is left alone outside in the dark to wrestle a monster-sized bat and his inner fears.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This easy reader batman book could be a read aloud to encourage discussion of childhood fears. Here Bruce Wayne's superhero origin story is made relatable to young beginning readers. The pictures are dark and capture the somberness of Bruce Wayne's story of trauma and solitude. This is sure to be a popular book among young readers, and it could be used to teach tone to young readers as the dark illustrations and text work in tandem to evoke a feeling of somber seriousness.