Ick! A Book About Toxic Toots and Bubbles of Goo for Kids

Lynn: National Geographic always does a great job of publishing books that kids love but Melissa Stewart’s new book, Ick!: Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners. Dwellings and Defenses (National Geographic, 2020) stands out even from that crowd.

The book is divided into the 3 main chapters listed in the title: dinners, dwellings, and defenses—all icky. All of the delightfully disgusting creatures get their own two-page spread. Each of the creatures featured has the same categories of information provided including a Stat Stack of statistical facts, a general description, Extra Ick with additional or related information, and magnificent large color photographs. Stewart’s writing is terrific! The general descriptions are wonderfully done, snappy, full of groan-worthy puns but also clear, informative, and attention-holding. It is far more than just eww-inducing! There is a lot of great information provided here about why the behavior is employed and the advantages gained by the organism.

Let me be clear. There is plenty of disgusting icky facts that kids will gleefully read and share with everyone around them. How about a lacewing larva that uses its own toxic farts to stun its prey? Or the Caecilian babies who literally eat their mother’s skin? Yup. And of course, there are plenty of poop-related facts like Burrowing Owls who line their underground nests with poop—theirs and anyone else’s they can find. Or read about young Komodo Dragons who roll in their own foul-smelling poop to keep from being eaten by OTHER Komodo Dragons!

I set out on this book, thinking I would read a few pages a day and work my way slowly through but I ended up reading half the book in one sitting and finishing it eagerly the next morning. Stewart’s writing and the fabulous photographs hooked me. It certainly is icky but I learned so much! The excellent back matter includes a Glossary and 2 pages of Selected Sources for additional revolting reading. This is bound to be wildly popular with a lot of kids who will loudly share the grosser elements but they are going to learn a whole lot of solid biology along the way!

My Brother the Duck – Scientific Method at Work in a Picture Book

Lynn: Take one “fledgling scientist,” aka young Stella Wells, who is clearly not pleased about the impending addition to the family, and add a father’s joke. “You’re waddling,” he tells Stella’s mom, “We must be having a duck.” Stella is not amused because if a “baby was bad enough, a duck was unacceptable.” Stella decides much more research is required and sets out to gather facts to prove her hypothesis. Pat Zietlow Miller takes on the scientific method in her very funny new picture book, My Brother the Duck (Chronicle, 2020).

When the new sibling arrives and her parents name him Drake, Stella sets to work. Enlisting her best friend and fellow researcher, they tote up the accumulated proof. Drake not only sounds like a duck, he looks like a duck! Deciding the facts were not yet conclusive, the team consults an expert, their teacher who tells them:

“If it looks like a duck

and sounds like a duck,

it’s probably a duck.”

Just as Stella decides that maybe having a duck in the family wouldn’t be so bad, her ongoing observations yield a startling new discovery.

I took to this picture book like a duck takes to water! Miller’s sly text wonderfully assisted by Daniel Wiseman’s cheery digital illustrations made me laugh out loud. Young readers will have no trouble getting the jokes so delightfully presented on each page and along the way, they’ll acquire a little more understanding of the scientific method. This picture book fits the bill for both classrooms and lap-time reading.

Cindy: Fits the “bill?” Lynn does love her puns, but the book does just that. A new sibling can be a strange thing to understand for a young child but as this new baby brother “fledges,” his older sister grows comfortable with him. Wiseman has as much fun with his ducky illustrations and hidden “eggs” in the brightly colored art as Lynn does with her puns. Make note, the twist ending will have everyone laughing.

Pair this with the classic Are You My Mother? (Random House, 1960) by P.D. Eastman for added fun.

 

A Sporting Chance: from Incurables to Paralympic Champions

Lynn: I’ve seen a T-Shirt recently that proclaims, “I read. I know things.” I like that but what I want is a T-Shirt that says, “I didn’t know that!” I needed to wear that shirt when I read A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Created the Paralympic  Games (Houghton, 2020). This truly outstanding book by Lori Alexander made me exclaim this sentiment the entirety of the book! The book is intended for younger readers, Gr. 2-5, and it introduces them to an extraordinary figure, Ludwig Guttmann. I am sorry to say that I knew nothing about Guttmann or his many outstanding contributions or so much more that Alexander so skillfully conveys.

Ludwig Guttmann’s early life was spent in Germany near the Polish border. A variety of experiences led him to become a neurologist and skilled surgeon. But when the Nazis came to power, Guttmann, a Jew, was forbidden to treat non-Jewish patients and then he lost his medical license completely. As conditions worsened for the Jewish people, Guttmann was able to escape to England where he had to begin again to establish himself as a physician. Finally, his deep interest and research in spinal injuries resulted in him establishing a neurology unit and resuming his ground-breaking work.  Again, I had absolutely no idea that spinal injuries were considered un-treatable as late as the end of WWII or that doctors expected patients to die within the year. It is no surprise that 80% of spinal injury patients did just that considering the prevailing appalling beliefs about treatment. Observing the benefits of sports participation for his patients, prompted Guttmann to establish and promote what became the Paralympics. Dr. Guttmann revolutionized understanding and treatment of spinal injury cases and thanks to this book, young readers will come away with a solid grasp of Guttmann’s contributions. They will also gain a real admiration for Guttmann, his perseverance, and the enormous obstacles he had to overcome in his life as well as his impact on the world.

Alexander does an outstanding job of presenting complex and wide-ranging information here for young readers, including scientific and historical background but not bogging down the text. The story is a fascinating one but it is also one with many facets and Alexander manages all of this extremely well. I learned so much from this enjoyable and really inspiring story. Now – where is that T-Shirt????

Cindy: “Incurables.” That’s what spinal injury patients were called. What a journey in the last 80 years and Ludwig Guttmann’s story is fascinating, inspiring, and cautionary. Perseverance and the belief that horrible situations do not have to remain the status quo are characteristics that young readers can learn from as they read this book.

The sometimes tough subject matter and the historical photos are supplemented perfectly for the young audience by Allan Drummond’s illustrations throughout the book. In 2011 we blogged about Energy Island, a book he both wrote and illustrated, and we’ve been fans of his ever since.

The final chapter, “Going for Gold,” features some of the amazing athletes who have won medals at the Paralympic Games.

I was moved to investigate the Paralympic Organization’s website and found this short video that includes Guttmann on their history page. There are more videos and information to be found there, including one about the Stoke Mandeville Hospital and Spinal Treatment Unit.

Miss Meteor – New Teen Underdog Story Shines Brightly

Lynn: Do you have teen readers looking for something different and fun? Miss Meteor (Harper, Sept. 2020) by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore is a perfect choice. Quirky and odd but utterly charming, this is an underdog story, a sweet romance, and a bit of a Cinderella tale with a dollop of magical realism and a lot of humor. You can’t go wrong!

This dual-narrative introduces readers to Lita Perez and Chicky Quintanilla who live in Meteor, New Mexico. Best friends in childhood, the girls’ friendship ended their first year in high school because of the important secrets each girl was keeping. But now the two have come together for a common goal – to help Lita win the Miss Meteor Beauty Pageant. Lita is sure that she and her grandmother came from stardust brought to earth by the meteor that hit outside of town. (Just go with this, OK?) She now has silver bands of star stuff on her torso and they are expanding. Lita knows she is turning back into stardust and she wants to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming Miss Meteor before that happens. Chicky is struggling with her own issues but she hopes the $10,000.00 prize will help save her family’s struggling diner. Both girls also want to thwart the gorgeous mean girl whom everyone believes is a shoo-in for the crown.

This is such a fun premise! Lita definitely has her own fashion sense and both girls know it is going to take some expert help to turn her into a beauty queen. Enter Chicky’s three bickering older sisters who bring their considerable talents to the challenge. For me, the characters are definitely the stars of this story and the Quintanilla sisters nearly stole the show! The depiction of this sisterly relationship is truly hilarious. There are several other wonderful characters in the cast and this warm-hearted story celebrates many types of differences with each character finding their own way of being comfortable with who they are. A lot of issues are brought to this runway in a story that culminates in a wild final pageant that readers won’t forget.

This is a terrific book for teens who might feel out of place and provides a sweet message about being true to yourself and following your dreams.

Jane Against the World – A Definitive Examination for Teens of the Struggle for Reproductive Rights

Lynn: Does a woman have the right to control what happens to her body? That seemingly simple question is at the heart of a centuries-long struggle in America that has included not only the right to terminate a pregnancy but also the right to basic information, birth control, and legal protections. Award-winning author Karen Blumenthal* delves into these controversial issues in Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights (Roaring Brook, 2020). Opening with a riveting account of a 1972 police raid on an abortion-rights service in Chicago, called Jane, Blumenthal then takes readers back to the early 1800s and the story of the struggle for reproductive rights and the reality of women’s lives throughout history.

The central issue, the development of the laws governing these issues and the legal challenges to these laws, is always at the heart of the book but the many fascinating byways Blumenthal ventures into deeply enrich the reader’s understanding. She includes information on many of the individuals involved in these issues since the 1800s (and before) and the changing course of both understanding and public opinion. One of the things I found most fascinating was the very clear depiction of the development of what is currently termed the right-to-life movement and the shift in political support to become a party partisan issue. She doesn’t falter from examining all sides of the issue as well as the racial and class divides that have and continue to have an important impact.

There is real tension in the sections about Roe v. Wade and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, as they were developed and presented to the court. All the central figures are presented, frequently quoted, and emerge as far more than dry biographies. The complexities of the legal cases are very clearly outlined and Blumenthal guides readers through each step of the complicated process of the litigation, and both hearings of the cases before the Supreme Court. The constitutional arguments that the cases hinged on are examined in a way young readers can follow. An epilogue brings the on-going struggle right up to date with the appointment of the two new conservative justices and Blumenthal concludes with several scenarios about the possible future of Roe v Wade.

Extensive sidebar information is provided through the device of Pregnant Pauses, including a brief history of birth control, the development of medical knowledge about women’s biology, brief biographies of key individuals, and types of pregnancy tests over the years. Excellent back matter includes a large bibliography, extensive source notes, and a glossary. This is an outstanding and definitive examination of an essential issue that continues to impact women’s lives and dominates political efforts still. This is an essential purchase for all high school collections.

* Lynn and Cindy: We had already queued up this review to post for Nonfiction Monday but last week we learned the news of Karen Blumenthal’s sudden death. We are deeply saddened at the loss of this extraordinary writer and send our condolences to her family, friends, and the entire publishing world.

 

Hilary McKay Proves There Is Magic in Reading

Lynn: Passionate readers have always talked about the absorbing magic of books. One of our favorite authors, Hilary McKay, explores that concept in her new middle-grade book, The Time of Green Magic (S&S/McElderry, 2020) set to be published in July. Eleven-year-old Abi is a reader.

“She read while her father dragged into her life Polly as a stepmother, plus two entirely unwanted brothers. She read through the actual wedding ceremony… She read through the year that followed, squashed with three strangers into a too small house. Most recently she had read through the start of a new school. But she had never read a book like this.”

For a few startled moments, Abi was ON the Kon-Tiki in the middle of the ocean. She had never experienced such a vivid feeling of being in the book and when she came back to herself, there was salt on her skin. Was it the book, Abi wonders, or something strange about the new house? This delicious opening introduces readers to Abi, her father Theo, and her newly blended family. Desperate to find a bigger home, the family has moved into a house swathed in green ivy with room for all of them. It is far too expensive for their budget but the house enchanted them all. I was hooked from the beginning and the way this plotline plays out is a joy that avid readers will love.

But there is a lot more going on here! One of the elements of McKay’s writing that I deeply appreciate is the way she gets inside kids’ heads and describes so perfectly what she finds there. That element nearly stole the show for me in this book as we as readers feel every bit of Abi’s reluctance to share her family with her deeply annoying new stepbrothers, 6-year-old Louis’s emotional hunger for an animal/companion all his own, Max’s painful quarrel with his former best-friend or his soul stunning first crush on Louis’s babysitter. The thoughts, feelings, actions, and fears of each character are exquisitely written here as are the intricate and achingly real relationships developing between them. In fact, they felt so real while I was reading that I wouldn’t have been surprised to have had a little green magic bring them walking into my living room! Hand this wonderful story to every book lover you know!

Cindy: We’ve often raved, I mean blogged, about Hilary McKay’s books (The Exiles series is one of my all-time favorite series). Can I rave about the cover on this one? The cat is larger and not quite what I imagined as I read the book, but it will certainly draw in readers. I want my own attic room in this ivy-covered cottage. Lynn describes the book beautifully, but one of my additional favorite parts are the letters Granny Grace sends to Abi from Jamaica. Granny Grace finally was able to pursue her own dreams after caring for Abi during the ten years after her mother’s death. It is she who provides the title when she ends her letter, “So much ivy, so much news! What a time of green magic!” Her letters always come with a pressed Jamaican flower, too, and little Louis is jealous. He’s not a reader and avoids all tricks to get him to read until, finally, a letter comes addressed to him. My heart melted a little. My heart also melted as Max devotes himself to learning French to speak to Louis’s French babysitter, Esmé, in an effort to get this older girl to notice him. Young love. Book love. Family love. Don’t miss this one. “Iffen” you do, you’ll be sorry.

Patrick Ness and a New Spin on Dragons

Lynn: Just when I had decided that there was nothing new and interesting in the dragon-tales category, Patrick Ness came along with his new book, Burn (Harper, June 2020), and turned that notion upside down. I shouldn’t be surprised as Ness has a habit of giving old tropes a new look and I couldn’t be happier that he has brought his imagination to this science-fiction-with-dragons story. Wonderfully crafted and totally immersive, this is a brilliant book that completely absorbed my attention and that is saying a lot in this time of pandemic fear. I couldn’t put it down and I can’t resist saying that I burned through it.

The story begins in 1957 in rural Frome, Washington where Sarah Dewhurst and her taciturn father wait to meet the dragon they have hired to clear the new field at their struggling farm. The dragon turns out to be a rare Blue and while it appears that he works for a sliver of gold, his real reason in something else entirely. The focus shifts to a pair of FBI agents also in the area. They are tracing vague rumors of some kind of cult and a rumored assassin and arrive in time to check out a grisly murder scene. The focus shifts again to meet 17-year-old Malcolm, an assassin on a critical mission. Sarah’s family farm is the focal point of these three threads. An eons-long struggle is coming to a tipping point for both dragons and men in this and other worlds. None of the people who come together in the next few days will ever be the same.

The intricate plotting is a joy to read as all the plot points have purpose, all the relationships interlock, and every thread comes together. The characters are vivid and multi-dimensional in every sense and the world-building was exquisitely done. Incorporating the tense history of 1957, the Cold War, Sputnik, and the space race, Ness has given dragons and dragon magic a whole new spin.

Get ready for twists and turns and a wild finish! The door seems slightly ajar so I am hoping there will be a sequel and another trip possible to this universe. More, please!

Cindy: Wow. Patrick Ness is one of the most original writers we have and he delivers a dragon’s hoard in this new book. In addition to the creative world-building and the surprises in the plot (the big show down I anticipated was in the middle of the book. What?) he explores the themes of the costs of war and the tragedy in prejudice. In particular, bi-racial Sarah is shunned in town for her heritage just as her white father and now deceased mother were when they married. She has to hide her relationship with her boyfriend Jason Inagawa as the small town’s prejudice is even worse against anyone of Japanese heritage in this post-WWII decade. And then there is assassin Malcolm’s acceptance and exploration of his homosexuality, a thread that is beautifully, tenderly, and heartbreakingly portrayed. All of this while the adventurous plot spins out.

Do you really need to know more than this is written by Patrick Ness and this is the opening sentence:

On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957—the very day, in fact, that Dwight David Eisenhower took the oath of office for the second time as President of the United States of America—Sarah Dewhurst waited with her father in the parking lot of the Chevron gas station for the dragon he’d hired to help on the farm.

I didn’t think so. Get your preorder in with your local independent bookstore, pronto.

Books to Nest-le in with: Three Youth Nonfiction Bird Books

Cindy and Lynn: Spring! The birds in our yards are busy building nests and the Canada Geese are already swimming by Cindy’s house with their goslings in tow. Here are some books to read while you watch the nesting activity in your neighborhood.

Lynn: At first glance, Randi Sonenshine’s debut picture book, The Nest that Wren Built (Candlewick, 2020) might be easy to underestimate. Don’t! This lovely book in its brown and cream tones is truly outstanding and, like its small subject, full of surprises and energy.

Sonenshine’s poetic text is in the style of The House That Jack Built and it is a real pleasure to read aloud with a familiar cadence, wonderful word choices, and rhymes that flow naturally with nothing forced. The story is of two Carolina Wrens who build a nest and raise a family and I was so impressed with the amount of information that was incorporated into the story. Wrens are a real favorite of mine and I learned so much. Who knew they decorate their nests with snake skins to scare away flying squirrels intent on robbing the nest? I have observed female wrens dismantling the nests the male built to attract her but I had NO idea that the male builds sometimes as many as 20 “dummy” nests and that after the female makes her choice, the pair re-build the nest together.

Anne Hunter chose a warm soft palette of colors for her ink and pencil illustrations and they are exquisite. Lovely to look at, the drawings are also full of details that reinforce the text. Hunter captures wrens so well with their sassy, bossy fearlessness and the illustrations of the babies just getting ready to fly are adorable.

Excellent back matter includes an illustrated glossary and a page of additional facts about wrens. A perfect choice for a STEM classroom and one that would make a great writing prompt as well.

Cindy: Speaking of STEM classrooms, an early bird nest book from Candlewick that I recently found would pair nicely with Sonenshine’s book. Bird Builds a Nest (2018, 2020pb) written by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Richard Jones is a part of Candlewick’s “A First Science Storybook” series. In addition to describing the nest-building process, this one includes information about forces: pushing, pulling, and gravity. The bird pulls a worm from the ground, tries to lift twigs that are too heavy, pushes a twig into one side of the nest, pulls it out a little and pushes it in a different way, and drops twigs to the ground during the building process. Jones’ mixed-media illustrations in bright but natural colors suit the book nicely. Questions to ask children about the forces and an index are included at the back.

For the youngest children, try Curious About Birds (Peachtree, 2019) by Cathryn and John Sill. This board book points out the physical features, behavior, and habitats of birds using a variety of species. Each is featured on a single page that includes a bright watercolor illustration, the fact about the bird, and a bonus, the species name of the bird. That’s often left off in books for the very young. For instance, one spread shows the Rainbow Lorikeet with the caption, “Some birds eat plants,” on one page and an Osprey holding a fish in its claws with the caption, “Some birds eat animals.” The book launches with the familiar Northern Cardinal and American Robin but includes Swallow-tailed Kites, Acorn Woodpeckers, Wood Ducks, Ovenbirds, Snowy Egrets, and other birds less frequently found in books for children. Happy birding!

Golden Arm – a Terrific Underdog Sports Story for Teens Missing Baseball

Lynn: Are you and your teen readers missing baseball like I am? I have just the book for you! Golden Arm (Houghton, 2020) by Carl Deuker will have you feeling as if you are sitting in the stands marking your scorecard.

Deuker is a master at sports writing and he has a sure winner with this new story about a talented underdog, Lazerus Weathers. Living in a Jet City trailer park, a gang and drug-ridden part of Seattle, Laz struggles with a stutter and learning disabilities, mostly letting his younger brother Antonio do his talking for him. But Laz shines when he takes the field where he is an immensely talented pitcher for his struggling high school team. The school has few resources, a lone coach, and barely enough players to field a team, but for Laz, baseball may be his only way out of Jet City. Laz is devastated when he learns that his high school is discontinuing baseball for his senior year but Laz’s talent has drawn the notice of coaches and players in the Seattle area. The father of one of Seattle’s most promising young players offers Laz a startling opportunity: come play for the most dominant high school team in the area, live with his family and help win a long-sought-after state title. For Laz, it is an opportunity to pursue his dream but it means leaving behind his mom and younger brother and trying to find his place in a new and unknown world. Antonio is being pulled into the dark world of drugs and crime—can Laz leave his brother and best friend behind?

The sports descriptions in this wonderful story are truly outstanding and Deuker had me forgetting I wasn’t watching actual games with a talented young player developing his skill and control. But it isn’t just the baseball that is so compelling in this book. Deuker hits all the bases with a really endearing team of characters, s suspenseful nail-biting plot, and a richly depicted setting. I loved every word from the opening sentence to the satisfying epilogue.

You don’t have to be a sports fan to love this story and I guarantee all readers will be rooting for Laz and his family. This book is a real winner!

Bloom – a Dystopian Thriller for Teens Without a Virus

Lynn: Grab your heavy-duty garden shears and get ready for a wild ride with Kenneth Oppel’s new science fiction thriller, Bloom (Random/Knopf, 2020). This series opener will have you looking at plants in a whole new way!

I always look forward to a new book by Oppel and this time he brings a scary new twist to a planetary threat that is a tip of the hat to the John Wyndham classic, The Day of the Triffids, a SF classic from 1951. Set on a Canadian island near Vancouver, readers meet three teens, two of which have severe and recent allergies and one, Seth, hides rows of small surgical scars on his arms. All are experiencing strange dreams and hide worries. When a fierce 3-day rainfall hits the island and in fact, the whole world, the two girls suddenly find their allergies improving. More startling is the overnight growth of a strange black grass that is almost impossible to destroy and that grows with terrifying speed, overwhelming farms, gardens, and cities. And that is just the start of what starts to grow. The teens begin to experience startling changes themselves as they and the world fight for their lives against the invaders.

Fast-paced and immersive, this terrific story of toxic pollen, horrifying pit plants, and a fabulous super-powers wrapped me up like one of the black vines in the story and I raced through this book as fast as I could turn the pages. Oppel uses real plant biology skillfully to nurture world-building that is terrifyingly believable. The story builds to a nail-biting climax and resolution only to land a sucker punch of a cliff-hanger event on the last page. I was very happy to discover that Book 2, Hatch, is scheduled for Fall 2020.

Cindy: There might not be a virus in this book, but there are people trapped in their homes and a shortage of toilet paper at school due to the increased allergies until the schools are closed down. Reading this while on Stay at Home orders during the COVID-19 Pandemic was a little unsettling at times.  In an insert in my advanced reader copy, Oppel says that the seed for this story came from a dream his daughter had. Perhaps she was having dreams that predicted the future just like those of his characters! I dreamt about hiding a toilet paper stash last night, and I don’t HAVE a stash.

Besides the scary invasion survival story going on here, there is a unique look at the changes during adolescence, not only misunderstandings in friendships but in an individual’s acceptance (or not) of the changes that are happening in their own bodies or to their own identities. It will be interesting to watch this thread with these three characters as the series continues as much as cheering them on against the bad guys. Sometimes, the bad guy is the person inside us who needs to be conquered. Bring on book 2, I have my wing barbs sharpened so I can fight my way to the top of the arc pile…it’s a good thing for some of you that ALA Annual has been canceled. The Random House/Knopf booth could have been quite dangerous!!! HAHAHAHA.