True Courage and a New Leica – YA Nonfiction – Close-up On War

Lynn: close up on warDid you ever wonder where the term “snapshot” comes from? Mary Cronk Farrell includes this tidbit (from the sound made as a picture was taken and the film advanced) in her outstanding new book, Close-Up on War: the Story of Pioneering Photojournalist Catherine Leroy in Vietnam (Abrams/Amulet, 2022). This fascinating book is also a snapshot – a captured picture of a pivotal time and the determined woman who recorded it on film for the world to see.

French woman Catherine Leroy was just 21 years old when she arrived in Vietnam in early 1966. She spoke limited English, carried a new Leica camera she was still learning to use, and she was determined to make her way in what was then a man’s world of photojournalism. Barely 5 feet tall, slim and blonde, Catherine’s appearance belied her fierce ambition, persistence, initiative, and courage.

Farrell begins the book with an excellent and succinct overview of the history of Vietnam and the decades of conflict that had beset the area giving young readers a necessary background for a war that, while still painfully present for many of us, is ancient history to teens. Into this chaotic stew, Catherine Leroy arrived and the book then follows her from her early months struggling to win respect, get jobs, and make her way to the action. Farrell uses a wealth of primary sources including Catherine’s own letters to her mother, accounts from people who knew and worked with her, her articles, and a treasure trove of photographs.

Catherine was extremely humble and always gave credit to others but through these many sources, Farrell creates a sharp image of a remarkable woman, her struggles, obstacles, battle experiences, and the price she paid for her achievements. In her groundbreaking work, Catherine Leroy put an up-close and personal face on the distant war in Vietnam. She brilliantly caught the suffering and the human impact in her photography and brought it into the living rooms of America. Her work helped to align public understanding with the reality of that horrible war.

Wonderfully written and documented, Farrell has brought this important story to today’s young readers in an account that feels as if it is happening before our eyes. The included back matter is excellent. It includes an Author’s Note, lengthy glossary, timeline, and source notes. There is also a remarkably clear explanation titled “How a Camera Worked in 1960s” that will be eye-opening to teens accustomed to digital photography.

There are so many extraordinary photographs included in the book. Some are of Leroy, many are taken by her, and others are taken by others at the time. Abrams/Amulet has done an excellent job of book design and reproduction and this collection adds extraordinary interest and value to the book.

I am long-time admirer of Catherine Leroy and her work and of photography and photojournalism in general. For teens interested in these subjects, or in history or women’s history this is highly recommended. It will be an excellent resource for high school and college history classes as well.

Healer & Witch: Nancy Werlin steps into Middle Grade Books

Lynn: Healer & Witch If you think of Nancy Werlin as a YA author, think again. Werlin has just released her first middle grade book, Healer & Witch (Candlewick, 2022) and it is a winner! Her compelling story is a mesmerizing blend of adventure and magic with a medieval France setting and appealing characters. Almost fifteen-year-old Sylvie has grown up in a small French village with her healer grandmother and mother. Sylvie has been especially close to her namesake grandmother and shares her extraordinary gifts. Sylvie’s mother, Jeanne, is a competent caring healer but lacks the others’ powers. When Sylvie’s grandmother dies, the two women struggle with their grief.

Despite her grandmother’s warnings about the use of her power, Sylvie misuses her gift in a misguided attempt to heal. Horrified, Sylvie realizes she desperately needs guidance and sets out to find a teacher who can help. A little boy from her village, Martin, attaches himself to the journey in order to see the world and becomes an ally. In a world where healers and witches are in mortal danger, Sylvie must learn who to trust and how to be herself.

There is lovely writing here with a wonderful storytelling cadence that kept me turning the pages—no small feat in my current lack-of-reading-focus state. The characters are layered and engaging and the adventure kept me captivated. Sylvie’s internal journey is as compelling as her physical one as she grapples with questions about the use and misuse of power and her own place in the world. An outstanding choice for young readers looking for something with a classic feel and modern thoughtful themes.

Cindy: This is hands down my favorite Nancy Werlin book. Sylvie and Martin are both characters that young readers will worry over, laugh with, and root for as they set off on their quest. Sylvie is not seeking her fortune, just the knowledge that she needs to control her out-of-the-ordinary healing powers, and then she just wants to return to her humble home in her very small village. Martin, while young and small, fears little, having endured a lot in his few years. He is ready to seek adventure and new sights. Together, they make a formidable duo. They also both grow and change over the course of the novel. Sylvie’s struggles over the ethics of her magic, her feelings for Monsieur Chouinard, and her definition of her true self will give readers much to ponder and debate. I can’t wait to hear members of our middle school book club discuss this one.

Learning that Werlin wrote the first draft of this book in 1996 was a shock. I’m grateful that she opened that file cabinet and revisited that rejected manuscript. You can read the full story about the genesis of this story at this John Scalzi blog post. I sure hope we see more of Sylvie, Robert, and Martin and their world….and I wouldn’t mind some more relived memories of Grand-mère Sylvie. She has more wisdom to impart, I’m sure.

Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award 2022 Winners Announced!

Lynn: Drumroll please! The winners of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award for 2022 have been announced! Administered by The Pennsylvania Center for the Book, the award is named in honor of Lee Bennett Hopkins, an internationally renowned poet, educator, and anthologist. The award is presented annually to an American poet or anthologist for the most outstanding book of poetry published for children in the previous calendar year. The award is sponsored by Pennsylvania State University Libraries and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Trust.

It has been my honor to serve as the chairman of the award jury this year. The jury was a joy to work with as we read and pondered the many outstanding poetry books for children published this year. This year we have a winner and an honor book.

born on the waterOur Winners are Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson for their stellar picture book, The 1619 Project: Born on the Water published by Penguin Random/Kokila and illustrated by Nikkolas Smith. “Stymied by her unfinished family tree assignment for school, a young girl seeks Grandma’s counsel and learns about her ancestors, the consequences of slavery, and the history of Black resistance in the United States.”

Our One thing you'd saveHonor winner is Linda Sue Park for her verse novel, The One Thing You’d Save published by Clarion Books and illustrated by Robert Sae-Heng. “When a teacher asks her class what one thing they would save in an emergency, some students know the answer right away. Others come to their decisions more slowly. And some change their minds when they hear their classmates’ responses.” Park uses a Korean poetic form, sijo in this inviting story.

Be sure to look for these outstanding books and continue to enjoy poetry!

A Perfect Spot – A Perfect Science Picture Book for Young Readers

Lynn:

I Perfect spotadore Isabelle Simler’s exquisitely beautiful illustrations! Each new book is a new and wondrous visual treat. Her newest, A Perfect Spot (Eerdmans, 2022) has instantly joined Plume, My Wild Cat, and The Blue Hour as some of my favorites.

Here, a tiny Seven Spotted Ladybug completes her metamorphosis and flies off looking for the perfect spot to lay her eggs. A twig, a rosebush, a tall oak, each looks safe but the instant she lands hidden insects reveal themselves. The tired ladybug finally finds a safe place and the cycle begins again.

This is a wonderful way to discuss camouflage and the ways insects employ it to stay hidden for safety or to hunt their prey. Each scene is meticulously detailed and the results are as informative as they are gorgeous.

Back matter includes larger illustrations of each of the insects in the story with accompanying scientific information. Did you know that you can tell the age of a Seven Spotted Ladybug by the depth of their color? This is a glorious purchase for any library and sure to delight young readers, especially those with a passion for insects.

Food Insecurity – A Reassuring Picture Book

Lynn: Saturday at the Food PantryI am one of the lucky people who doesn’t have to worry about having enough food each week but for more than 50 million Americans that issue is a constant worry. Hunger in America climbed by more than 20 million in 2020 alone. School people across the nation are painfully aware of how many of our students go to bed hungry each night. As a school board member, one of our biggest concerns about closing school for any reason is that many of our children will not eat that day without the meals they get at school.

I’ve been looking for books that address this issue for young children so I am excited to write about a wonderful picture book by Diane O’Neill, Saturday at the Food Pantry (Albert Whitman, 2021) that is just what so many families need to read.

The story is about a single mom and her young daughter who are facing food insecurity for the first time. The refrigerator is pretty bare and the young mother and her daughter head to the local food pantry. As they wait in the line for the pantry to open, Molly sees another girl from her class but Caitlin turns away, embarrassed. Molly reassures her, repeating what her mother told her last night, “Everybody needs help sometimes.” Molly coaxes Catlin into drawing pictures for the people in line and Molly and her mom discover Caitlin and her grandmother are neighbors. Soon Molly and her mom are picking out the healthy food shown on the shelves.

The text is simple, straightforward and reassuring. Not only is the food pantry process shown but the story addresses the feeling of shame many people feel when seeking assistance. For the millions of children needing assistance, this is a welcome story of comfort and shared experiences. The truth is simple—everyone does need help sometimes and there is nothing wrong with accepting it.

Cindy: My first encounter with Albert Whitman books was during my early days of being a children’s librarian in the 80s in a large public library. There were books about first dentist and doctor visits and other activities that young children might be experiencing for the first time. I’m grateful that there are now books to cover an even wider range of first experiences. Saturday at the Food Pantry covers a lot of the emotions of seeking assistance but it does so in a bright and encouraging story full of compassion but not treacly sympathy. Lynn has shared stories with me about a new food pantry in Holland, MI with a similar set-up, where families can browse and select from grocery store-like shelves. Picking out the foods they need most and “shopping” for them rather than receiving a box of pre-selected items must bring more dignity to the process. Magro’s illustrations are a great complement to the uplifting story. I hope it gets wide readership, by those who frequent a food pantry, and those who need to learn about the need for them. A Note for Adults at the end from the CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository provides information about seeking help with food assistance. I’ll be making another donation to Feeding America today. I also second Lynn’s idea (mentioned in her Goodreads review) of buying copies of this book and donating it where it can do additional good.

Sweet Potato Pie and Sweet Justice

Lynn:sweet justice Rosa Park’s name is familiar to most of our students but there were so many more people who sacrificed and worked to make the Montgomery Bus Boycott a success. Mara Rockliff brings us the sweet story of one important woman in the her new picture book, Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Random Studio, 2022).

Georgia Gilmore was a cook in a Montgomery restaurant in 1955 and when a bus driver took her dime and then drove away without her, she started her own personal boycott. Georgia was a big woman and after a hot day cooking her feet ached, but Georgia walked the long way home. In December, Georgia was joined by so many others as the Montgomery Bus Boycott began. But Georgia did so much more than walk. After a long day cooking her famous fried chicken and sweet potato pie, Georgia cooked in her own kitchen, selling her delicious food to raise money to support the boycott. When Dr. Martin Luther King was arrested, Georgia testified at his trial and then lost her job because of it. King gave her money to start her own restaurant and Georgia’s place became the gathering spot for planning and organizing as well as for enjoying her chocolate cakes and stuffed green peppers.

I loved this skillfully written story about a truly inspirational woman who remained important in Civil Rights movement after the boycott and who cooked wonderful meals right up to the day she died. Rockliff provides excellent back matter with additional information about Georgia, a note about her sources and an extensive list of sources.

R. Gregory Christie’s warm-toned illustrations are so moving and vibrant, bringing Georgia and her aching feet and generous heart to life. The only thing missing for me was a taste of that sweet potato pie!

Saris and Bindis

My Bindi by Gita VaradarajanCindy: In My Bindi (Scholastic/Orchard 2022) by Gita Varadarajan, Divya’s parents encourage her to start wearing a bindi, a small colored ornament, on her forehead as part of her Hindu culture, but she isn’t so sure. She’s nervous of what her classmates will say. When her mother presents her with a bindi box to select from, she has the final push she needs to be brave. She knows that the bindi is like a third eye that can see inside her and she will feel its protection. When the young girl gets to her diverse classroom, she is met with questions and positive responses, including from her teacher who lets her explain what she is wearing to the class. This warm, positive story will not only provide a mirror for many young girls, but a window to boys and girls alike who are unfamiliar with the tradition. This #ownvoices book with its vibrant illustrations by Archana Sreenivasan is recommended for all elementary libraries and classrooms.

How to Wear a Sari by Darshana KhianiLynn: Unlike Divya, with her concerns about a bindi, the heroine of How to Wear a Sari (Houghton/Versify, 2021) by Darshana Khiani has no such reservations! She’s tired of being “treated like a little kid,” too small to do things the big kids get to do. Her solution is to wear the beautiful silky saris the adults wear. This seemingly simple idea turns out to be loaded with problems. First, she has to find all the pieces, as well as the pieces that will fit. Then she has to master the folding, tucking, draping, adjusting, and accessorizing! The results, of course, are disastrous, but the little girl’s loving family assures her that she is not the first in the family to make mistakes.

This charming book plays on a universal wish of small children to be considered more grown up and will delight a large audience even if a sari is not a family choice. Along the way, children will gain an understanding of how a sari is worn and just how complex the dressing process is.

Joanne Lew-Vriethoff’s colorful illustrations are warm and humorous and kids everywhere will yearn to try on a sari too—with some grown-up help!

Geography Nerds Rejoice!

Lynn: Weprisoners of geography have a treat for all the map-loving kids you know! Each of the books we’re highlighting today bring a fascinating new look at maps, the impact of the often arbitrary lines drawn to created country boundaries and so much more.

The first is Prisoners of Geography: Our World Explained in 12 Simple Maps (The Experiment, 2021) by Tim Marshall. The book is a Young Reader’s adaptation of Marshall’s best-selling adult book. Marshall, a globe-trotting reporter for many years, takes a fascinating approach to providing an introduction to the geopolitics of our world. He touches on history, physical geography, resources of the region, trade, politics, and their impact today. The maps are engagingly drawn and packed with information presented in a way to interest kids and draw them into exploring more. It is a book to read a few pages at a time in order to linger over the wealth of information on each map. Choices had to be made for an adaptation so not all countries are included but those chosen are of definite current interest. As a life-long map nerd myself, this is a book that would have enthralled me as a kid and still does today. Don’t miss it!

Africa Amazing Africa by AtinukeCindy: We have raved here in the past about Atinuke’s beginner reader books featuring Anna Hibiscus, a young girl from Africa, amazing Africa, but this book was completely off the map for me in 2020 and we want to make sure you don’t miss it as well. Africa, Amazing, Africa: Country by Country (Candlewick, 2020) by Atinuke is just that, a look at Africa, country by country. After a few pages of introduction and a full colorful continent map, the book is arranged by region with a regional map accented with images of foods, animals, and other features, a short text introduction to the area as a whole, and the word “Welcome” in each of the languages spoken in that region. Each country in the region is then presented in alphabetical order with a page that includes illustrations, information that varies depending on the country, and highlighted facts of interest. Throughout, Atinuke shares the traditions and history, but also is sure to highlight the large cities, technology, and contemporary features of Africa and its people today. Did you know that some nomads of Eritrea now “use GPS and cell phone apps to check where the rain and the grass are?” A must purchase for all libraries and a great addition to elementary classroom resources.

Doing the Impossible – Neal Bascomb’s The Race of the Century

Lynn:race of the century Did you know that 70 years ago most people believed that running a mile in 4 minutes was impossible and beyond the limits of the human body? “It was something that God himself had established as man’s limit,” said one writer. But suddenly in 1952, three runners were poised to do just that. It did happen, of course. Two of the three broke the 4 minute mile in 1954. Today’s record is 3.143.13 seconds. How did mankind achieve this “unbreakable” speed? I am not a runner. My idea of exercise is a daily walk with my camera. But it is amazing the unfamiliar paths that a wonderful nonfiction writer will coax a reader to trod and thanks to Neal Bascomb’s latest book, The Race of the Century: the Battle to Break the 4 Minute Mile (Scholastic, March 2022), I have become fascinated with the amazing story of this ongoing battle of man running against the clock.

Bascomb chronicles the stories of 3 individual racers, Roger Bannister of England, Wes Santee, a Kansan and Australian John Santee. Each one found himself poised on the threshold of a ground-breaking achievement. All were amateurs in the strictest sense of the word. Bannister was finishing his medical training to become a physician, Landy was studying science at university and Santee was working his way through Kansas University while running on both the track and cross country teams. All three expected their athletic efforts to end on graduation. Suddenly all three were facing intense attention from the press and huge national expectations.Who would break the record first and how would he do it?

Bascomb follows each runner through their unique racing careers and experiences, detailing each man’s training regimes. Even to a non-runner, this was fascinating as each runner was remarkably different from the others. Imagine trying to do elite intense training in the little free time left available to a medical student in his last year of training and working as an intern! The moment by moment accounts of the pivotal races, each runner’s race strategies, physical struggles and mental preparations are presented in clear prose and for young runners, this part of the book will be especially absorbing.

For me as a non-runner, it was the individual personalities and their approaches to the challenge that were the most compelling. The stark contrast between the elite amateur runner in the ’50’s and the world class runners of today also stood out for me.

I read this book in galley and the included black and white photographs added so much. Bascomb, as always, does an excellent job of citing his sources in detailed chapter notes and the back matter also includes an Author’s Note and an intriguing bibliography.

Hand this book to young runners and to those teens who love historical nonfiction.

Picturing a Nation – Introducing a Photographic Treasure to a New Generation

Lynn:picturing a nation I grew up awed by my parents’ stories of growing up during the Great Depression and, as a child in the 50s, I also have strong memories of the photojournalism of weekly periodicals such as Life and Look. I’m an amateur photographer too so all my interests were piqued when I learned of Martin Sandler’s upcoming book. It has been a long wait but Picturing a Nation: the Great Depression’s Finest Photographers Introduce America to Itself (Candlewick, 2021) is more than worth it!

In 1935 with the Great Depression raging and the Dust Bowl drought ravaging the plains, Roy Stryker was appointed to head The Farm Security Administration. In a brilliant move, he decided to hire a group of outstanding photographers to cross the nation and photograph America and Americans—the way of life and the desperate struggle that was occurring in so many places. His goal was to sell the agency to leaders in order to secure more funding but also to ” introduce America to Americans.” He was successful at both and in Picturing a Nation, Martin Sandler celebrates the photographers who produced the powerful and ground-breaking photographs that have become icons in both photographic and national history.

Sandler wisely chooses to let the photographs tell the story – as they were always meant to do. He provides brief captions to each that identify the photographer, locations and circumstances of the photo. The book is divided into the FSA regions and introductory chapter texts provide the important background and historical information. The last section of the book, Profiles, are biographical sketches of Stryker and 11 of the photographers who created the lasting historical legacy.

The book design and photographic reproductions are outstanding! Many of the photographs are full page sized and several of the first color photographs are included. Candlewick has done an outstanding job of showcasing this important collection.

While this is a book about the work of these extraordinary artists, young readers will also absorb an enormous amount about the history and impact of Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. These pictures are stunning in their ability to convey emotional power even almost 90 years later. The humanity shines through and it is what makes these images so important. Readers will come away awed, deeply moved, and perhaps with a new understanding that history is the story of people’s lives.