Possible Pairings: The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb, The Samurai’s Tale by Erik Christian Haugaard, The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin, Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki
Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs, illustrated by Sophia Foster-Dimino (2016)
“So join me on a journey into the history of bad-as-heck babes. Just keep in mind that these are only some of the amazing women in the history of our world. Many more are out there, and many more are to come. In fact, you know what?
In Wonder Women Sam Maggs offers quick biographies of twenty-five women in history who achieved great things and made some of humanity’s most significant discoveries. Maggs does a fantastic job with this extremely readable examination of women you may or may not know who have left their mark on history.
The book starts with an introduction (quoted above) from Maggs before moving into the body of the text which is broken into five chapters titled Women of Science, Women of Medicine, Women of Espionage, Women of Innovation, and Women of Adventure. Each chapter showcases five different women organized chronologically with some women dating as far back as 1240 up to modern times.
Each chapter ends with a paragraph-length summaries of some other notable women in each category. Every section starts with an illustration of the woman featured and a quote. Maggs ends each chapter with an interview with a modern woman working in a related field (for the Women of Science chapter she interviews Dr. Lynn Conway, a computer scientist, electrical engineer, and science educator).
Maggs has carefully curated the group of women featured to create an inclusive group of women of all ages from around the world and a variety of backgrounds. Each biography segment offers just enough information to showcase each woman and pique readers’ interest to research further with longer biographies.
Wonder Women includes some familiar suspects like Ada Lovelace, a British mathematician and first computer programmer, and Bessie Coleman, an African American Aviatrix who is roughly contemporary with Amelia Earhart. Maggs also showcases women who will not be as well-known to readers (even feminists who read a lot of biographies and non-fiction!) like Brita Tott (Danish and Swedish spy and forger), Noor Inayat Khan (Indian American Author and Allied spy), or Ynes Mexia (Mexican American botanist and explorer). Backmatter includes a bibliography and index.
Maggs’ candid tone and chatty narrative style makes it easy to breeze through this book in one sitting while clear section breaks and varied material also make it great to read through and savor as a slower pace. Wonder Women is sure to appeal to reluctant readers, non-fiction enthusiasts, and anyone who enjoys a good biography. Highly recommended!
Possible Pairings: Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring by Enigma Albert and Tony Cliff; Fly High!: The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden, Mary Kay Kroeger, Teresa Flavin; Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling; Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done by Andrea Gonzales, Sophie Houser; Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman; I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy; The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Murder of the Century by Sarah Miller; Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter, Nellie Bly by Deborah Noyes; Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World by Ann Shen; Boss Babes: A Coloring and Activity Book for Grownups by Michelle Volansky
*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*
By contrast, Ansel loved the great outdoors–especially the parks surrounding his California home. When his father recognizes that his son will not thrive in a traditional school, he helps Ansel educate himself with access to books and also studying nature.
This non-fiction picture book introduces young readers to an iconic American photographer and his work documenting the country’s National Parks. Jenson-Elliot’s text is long enough to be informative but brief enough to remain approachable for younger readers.
The biographical book also includes some little known facts about Adams such as his accomplishments as a pianist (and his subsequent choice between pursuing a career as a professional pianist or as a photography). The back matter in the book has additional details, resources, and some reprints of Adams’ actual photos.
Large page spreads work to bring natural wonders to life in this vibrantly colored picture book. Hale makes “antsy Ansel” immediately fascinating along with the stunning pieces of nature that captivate Adams for much of his life and career. Detailed illustrations also reproduce some of the photographer’s iconic photos throughout the book.
Antsy Ansel is a beautifully illustrated introduction to one of the foremost photographers in the United States. A great choice for anyone looking to introduce young readers to biographic texts and a timely read for the centennial of the National Parks System.
*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*
Swartz has put together 100 historical figures from a variety of time periods and regions (and a decent balance of men and women) to pit in head-to-head competition in a variety of categories. Each figure has an illustration, a fighting nickname (Cleopatra “Queen of the Nile” Pharoah, Feminist, Diva), a brief biography, and rankings on a scale of ten in wealth, fitness, wisdom, bravery, artistry, leadership, and intelligence.
Readers can use the rankings and their own opinions to choose winners in each battle. The book is designed to be flipped back and forth between competitors and the 50 competitions. Random flipping can lead to some unlikely matchups as well as landslide winners (I feel pretty strongly that Shackleton could beat just about anyone when it comes to escaping from Alcatarz). Meanwhile other competitions are too close to call.
Because of the rankings, readers can put as much or as little thought into the winner of each match as they like. (I opened up a lot of the discussions by asking probing questions. “Sure, Leonardo da Vinci has a 10 for leadership. But what about his 6 for intelligence? Couldn’t that be a problem if he was trying to catch Jack the Ripper?”)
The variety of matches and competitors, as well as the multiple ways Who Wins? can be read make this a great book for reluctant readers and biography buffs alike. I have coupled this book with a teen video gaming program with great success. While teens waited for their turn on the video game controllers, they joined me making up different matches. Everyone had a good time picking competitors and competitions and then we debated who might come out on top.
Whether you are reading this book alone or using it in a group for some quick entertainment, library programs, or even a party game, the facts speak for themselves. Who Wins? is a winner for readers of any age.
I couldn’t end this review without including a some interior images from the book. Here’s a spread I made on Instagram putting Harry Houdini against Alan Pinkterton in The Hunger Games. I think the match is no contest, but what about you? Let me know in the comments.
As soon as I started flipping through Who Wins by Clay Swartz and Tom Booth (thanks @workmanpub for the review copy!) I knew I wanted to stage a battle to see who would win the Hunger Games. Harry Houdini was my immediate choice for one contender. He's a performer, he's athletic, and he's daring. Basically, I'm pretty sure Houdini could have been a career tribute in another life. Picking his rival in this match was a little harder. At first I considered Eleanor of Aquitaine or Sacagawea or even Cleopatra, I realized these women would never go along with the Hunger Games and would just jump right to bringing down the Capitol. Then I found Allan Pinkerton and the match was set. Pinkerton was a tough guy with a strong moral code. He used his strength, toughness, and ingenuity to catch notorious train and bank robbers while also establishing a detective agency that still exists today. So who would win here? While Pinkterton would no doubt make an admirable showing with his bravery and start an early alliance with some of the other tributes, I have to give this match to Houdini. His work as a magician and escape artist, mean that Houdini would be able to work alone and endear himself to viewers to gain sponsors. All the while Houdini would bide his time until the moment came to strike and become the lone victor. #whowins #booknerdigans #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #bookstagramfeatures #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #owlcrateoctrep
“We can trust no one. In a regime where words are watched, lies are rewarded, and silence is survival, there is no truth.”
So began one of the longest sieges in Western history. More than a million people died over the course of the years-long siege. Amazingly, despite crippling his own military from the top down and breeding a culture of such fear that officials preferred to make ill-advised decisions rather than risk contradicting him, Stalin and the Soviet citizenry held out. Faced with starvation, blitzkrieg attacks, and the continued severity and dangers of life in Soviet Russia, the residents of Leningrad held on.
In the midst of this bleak landscape, music became an unlikely ray of hope. Varying wildly between a darling of the communist party and one of its biggest perceived heretics, Dmitri Shostakovich was a composer known around the world. With threats everywhere from both the Nazi’s and his own government, Shostakovich would write a symphony to rouse the Soviet public during their time of need.
The symphony would speak when the people feared to, it would mark all that was lost during the Communist Revolution and the Siege of Leningrad. It would give voice to sorrow and loss as well as hope and redemption. Shostakovich’s symphony would offer common ground between the unlikely allies of Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. This is the story of that symphony, the country that inspired it, the compose who wrote it, and the war that shaped all of them in Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad (2015) by M.T. Anderson.
Anderson offers a thoroughly researched look at a slice of WWII history that might not be familiar to many Americans. Symphony for the City of the Dead begins with the bizarre transport of Shostakovich’s symphony (via microfilm) from the Soviet Union to the United States. After that prologue the book is framed around Shostakovich’s own life from his early childhood to his death. The book touches upon the communist revolution and explores the composer’s complicated relationships with his country and the Communist Party.
Symphony for the City of the Dead includes an extensive bibliography and footnotes in the backmatter detailing Anderson’s sources throughout the novel. Strangely, for such an iconic figure, little is known as fact about Shostakovich’s life. Anderson is careful to couch his own thoughts in research and supporting documentation while also noting when the narrative veers into supposition. The book also offers a thorough and detailed accounts of the movements that led to the Siege of Leningrad ranging from Stalin’s wild incompetence and paranoia to Hitler’s Wermacht strategy.
Because of the content and the level of research involved, Symphony for the City of the Dead is a dense book. The material gains a more narrative quality after the first hundred pages but it takes a while to really dig into the material.
Anderson offers a strange mix of the bloody nightmare that was Communist Russia during the Siege of Leningrad and the optimistic hope of post-war Russia. Symphony for the City of the Dead is a fascinating example of the power of story–especially the power of art and music–as well as thoughtful look at how the truth can be shaped in the telling. A must-read for WWII history buffs and music buffs in particular. Highly recommended.
Are you a fan of poetree? A lover of all things green and leafy? Ever want to know more about a Baobab or an oak? Or tree roots and seeds? Look no further than Poetrees (2010) written and illustrated by Douglas Florian.
Poetrees is filled with quick, witty poems to entertain, inform, and amuse. Combined with original illustrations done with what looks like water colors and maybe some pastels. The book is clever and a lot of fun right down to its unique vertical orientation to give the trees shown their maximum height.
Poetrees is a delightful book for aspiring poets, botanists, and anyone looking for a little fun. The back of the book even has a glossatree with information about all of the trees featured in the book.
Want a preview of the illustrations and poems? Check out Amazon’s product page for Poetrees to see some excerpts.
Exclusive Bonus Content: I couldn’t figure out how to file this so it’s cross posted in with non-fiction and picture books. Madness!
*I acquired a copy of this book from Simon and Schuster’s Fall 2010 preview which I was lucky enough to attend*
In 1845 Ireland relied most heavily on one crop. Farmers cultivated grains, green vegetables and a variety of root vegetables. But those were often crops owed to wealthy British landlords for rent money if not owned outright. Those landlords would ship the harvested food to England at a tidy profit. Among all of this export, potatoes were truly an Irish tuber.
It was potatoes that saw poor laborers through the long winter months after everything else was sold. Boiled, roasted, mashed with garlic and butter. Potatoes formed every meal for families across Ireland. There are few other vegetables as easy to grow that are as filling and nutritious as a potato. The only real problem was that potatoes could not last from season to season. By May the potato stores were gone and the Hungry Months began; poor farmers and their families had to look for food elsewhere sometimes scavenging, sometimes begging.
It was not an ideal way of life, but it worked. Until 1845 when a strange blight struck the potatoes near harvest. Once dug up, the potatoes turned black for no apparent reason. Were the little people aiming to take the potatoes for themselves? Were the farmers being punished for wasting the glut of potatoes from the year before?
In 1845 no one knew what devilry was work. The only certainty for most farmers was that the Hungry Months were going to last much longer than usual, but even then no one knew the Hungry Months would last five years. No one knew the Great Irish Famine would kill one million people from starvation and disease while driving another two million to emigrate.
Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 (2001) by Susan Campbell Bartoletti was the 2002 winner of the Sibert Medal as, according the ALA, “the most distinguished informational book published in English during the preceding year” (think Newbery awards but only open to non-fiction books). Happily, in this case distinguished does not mean stodgy or dense.
Bartoletti’s writing is straightforward and absorbing while conveying a wealth of information. Black Potatoes touches upon the obvious: the importance of the potato to Ireland, what caused the potatoes to turn black (a disgusting fungus that flourished in an unusually rainy planting season), and what happened when the potatoes failed. While looking at these broad historical strokes, Bartoletti introduces readers to Irish history and politics (circa 1845) with England and the United Kingdom while also describing the motivations that led so many to leave Ireland (and the conditions they faced on the long journey and at their final destinations).
A variety of primary source research lends an informal tone Black Potatoes and provides personal accounts of a variety of Irish men and women who experienced the famine first hand. Bartoletti brings a bleak period of history to life with aplomb and just the right amount of humor and compassion. Illustrations from period newspapers like the one seen on the cover lend even more authenticity to an already rich text. An eye opener for anyone unfamiliar with the period and a must read for history buffs.
Possible Pairings: From Ellis Island to JFK by Nancy Foner, New York: A Short History by George J. Lankevich
Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850