How Kids Can Change the World

Lynn: Let’s set politics aside and admit that our world is in big trouble. Kids know it and are motivated to do something about it. But many also feel overwhelmed by the size of the problems and don’t know how to start. Happily, we have a book to help! You Can Change the World: The Kid’s Guide to a Better Planet (Andrews McNeal, 2020) by Lucy Bell is just what the planet doctor ordered. Practical and encouraging, this is a doable catalog of actions that kids everywhere can put into practice, backed up by solid information, interesting facts, and lists of resources.

The opening introduction says it perfectly:

“When we hear about these problems, most of us want to help, but it’s hard to know where to start. And some of these problems are so big, they can seem impossible for one person to fix. But we can fix them, if we each do our part.”

Bell next lists “Things to remember when you’re changing the world.” These are so encouraging, hopeful, and practical! The list reminds readers that change can’t happen in a day and you can’t change it all at once. She also advises kids not to feel they have to read the book cover to cover, but instead pick a topic they are most interested in and start there. The book is beautifully designed for kids to do just that. The table of contents lists 8 broad topics including plastics, food, energy, animal activism, and more. Each section lists simple easy-to-do activities, and why this matters. Bell includes fascinating facts on Did You Know pages that are easily shared and add to the reader’s knowledge. For example, did you know that there are more plastic flamingos in the world than living ones? Or that 85% of all textiles bought by Americans end up in landfills?

This book is an absolute treasure for libraries, teachers, groups, and individual kids! Librarians, buy two if you can! This book is going to get heavy use. I’m off to try the recipe for toothpaste!

Cindy: Certainly, in a book like this for tweens, I figured Greta Thunberg would make an appearance, and she does, but interspersed throughout the book are many other profiles of inspiring youth who are leading the way. Nine-year-old Milo Cress launched the Be Straw Free campaign in 2011, Adeline Tiffanie Suwana, concerned about the natural disasters hitting her town in Indonesia formed the group “Friends of Nature” at the age of 12 and is making a difference in a multitude of projects, Maya Penn (18) has been designing and selling eco-friendly accessories and clothing for ten years, and 14-year-old Solli Raphael of Australia is a writer and slam poet using his voice to fight for the environment and animal protection among other issues. These are just a few of the youth included in the book who are taking action to change the world. Websites and social media links for these youths’ projects are listed in the backmatter along with listings for other organizations, stores, charities, and parks mentioned in the book.

A few of the tips and ideas will have to be put on hold until the pandemic is under control (many stores don’t allow bringing your own bags or snack counters your own cups right now), but there are plenty of ideas that can be put into practice immediately. Parents who are looking for activities to get kids active off of devices and screens will do well to have a copy ready. The recipes, handicraft projects, and gardening ideas for all seasons indoors and out will provide hours of productive activity while helping to change the world for the better. I defy you to just read a few pages and not get sucked in for a longer read…unless you are immediately spurred to start your own project NOW.

It Took the World to Rescue All Thirteen – A Riveting Account

Lynn: Thai-American author Christina Soontornvat was visiting her family in Thailand not far from the Cave of the Sleeping Lady when the news broke about the trapped soccer team. She and most of us throughout the world watched with our hearts in our mouths as the 18-day rescue event dominated the news. Soontornvat, a mechanical engineer and science educator, realized after the rescue that she wanted to know more about this incredible effort and to share the story.

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team (Candlewick, 2020) is a masterful account—gripping, suspenseful and inspiring, and almost impossible to put down. But Soontornvat does much more than simply relate the events. She brings a wealth of background and related information that makes this book an outstanding reading experience. Without ever slowing the narrative, readers learn about the country of Thailand, its culture, religions, food, and everyday life. We learn about the geology of the cave system, climate and weather, the physical barriers facing the rescuers, and the difficult art of cave or sump diving. And especially we learn about the hundreds of people whose heroic efforts resulted in the rescue of the boys, all of whom we come to care about. It is no small feat to maintain a real sense of suspense when readers already know the outcome but this book achieves that wonderfully.

The book itself is a terrific example of great book design and production too. It is a pleasure to read with clearly laid out text, carefully managed sidebars, and beautiful color photographs.

This really is a shining example of excellent nonfiction writing. Soontornvat’s prose is clear, understandable, and immediate. The science, as is all the information, is woven into the suspenseful story seamlessly. Readers will come away with a real understanding of all the many factors that made the task and the rescue so remarkable. Soontornvat’s appreciation and admiration for the rescuers, and the Wild Boars and their coach, is clear and readers will end the book feeling the same. There is extensive and excellent back matter, as well, including a section of what happened with the team and their travels after the rescue.

Cindy: Shortly after the Wild Boars were rescued I was booktalking Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert to my middle school students. That book always circulated well after booktalks, but these students no longer had knowledge of this 2010 event. They had heard of the Thai cave soccer team rescue and I was able to tell them that the same author, Marc Aronson, was hard at work on a quick publication about this amazing rescue. Rising Water: The Story of the Thai Cave Rescue (Atheneum, 2019) will pair nicely with Soontornvat’s excellent book. All three of these titles highlight the cooperation between locals and people from all over the world. They celebrate how we can overcome tragedy and work together to achieve insurmountable odds. And the booktalking and the connections all worked. Both of my copies of Trapped went out that day and I had a list of students who wanted Rising Water as soon as it published. All Thirteen will be just as popular. Success stories all around!

Absolutely Everything About How We Got to the Moon

Lynn: This is a soaring triumph—stellar in every way!

John Rocco set out in How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure (Crown, 2020) to explain how every part of the Apollo/Saturn machine worked and how it was built. He especially wanted to show young readers the science and problem solving that was involved along the way. And he wanted to introduce some of the thousands of unsung people who contributed to this monumental achievement. He does all that in this fascinating, detailed, and visually magnificent chronicle.

He begins with the origins of the Space Race in 1957 and a brief history of rocketry and then plunges into the nitty-gritty of designing, building, testing, and flying to the moon with all the steps, problems, and triumphs along the way. As someone who has read many histories of this period AND lived through it, the early history was bit slow but I understand the necessity for young readers. The book becomes deeply interesting quickly in Chapter 2 with the discussion of the process of designing a rocket.

While this is a solid historical account of the Apollo effort, the focus is on the science, technology, and engineering achievements. Rocco’s prose is clear and understandable as he carefully distilled oceans of information for young readers. He does an excellent job of providing a thorough explanation without overwhelming the text. The tone is just right: informative, concise, and filled with wonderful tidbits of related topics to heighten interest even for those only generally interested in the technical details. Space food, the disgusting but imperative issue of going to the bathroom in space, the history of the “human computers,” and, something I always wondered about, what are all those people in the command center doing at all those monitors.

A wonderful feature of the book is the many sections that show some of the scientific problems faced along the way and the solution. Often these also include a simple experiment that kids can do that demonstrates the science behind the solution.

A highlight for me is the many short biographical inserts that feature some of the people involved in the effort who contributed important ideas, developments, or work along the way. So many of these people were critical to the success of the mission but received very little public attention. Rocco includes people like Ann Montgomery, an engineer, and the only woman allowed on the launchpad, Charles Draper who developed the Guidance system, or Eleanor Foraker, the Seamstress Manager for the Apollo Spacesuits.

Rocco explains in an Author’s Note in the back matter that although there are a plethora of photographs, blueprints, and drawings available, he chose to create all the illustrations himself. He did that in order to make the concepts more accessible and understandable for readers without being overwhelmed by extraneous details. He also chose to use color as most of the original photographs and visual materials are black and white. The result is visually stunning as well as being deeply absorbing.

I read this in galley with only some of the planned back matter included. The Note on the Research was extremely interesting and even in galley form the visual impact of the book is outstanding. I am eager to see it in the finished copy. This is a must purchase for every library collection and a perfect choice as a gift book for every science-loving student.

Birding Adventures for Kids: Bird Identification & Activities

Cindy: At the public library, Lynn found this great new birding guide for children getting started in this rewarding hobby that gets them outside and active. Audubon Birding Adventures for Kids (Quarto, 2020) by Elissa Wolfson and Margaret A. Barker is more than just an identification guide. It’s divided into three sections: Meet the Birds, Outside with Birds, and Inside with Birds, the last two provide ideas and directions for games, activities, and adventures to have in order to learn more about the birds.

Most of the 25 birds selected for the Meet the Birds section are ones that are found throughout the United States at one season or another. A range map is provided for each species, just as is provided in identification books published for adults. A color photo of a single or pair of the species is included along with a “fun fact.” Did you know that Hummingbird eggs are the size of peas? Each species is identified by common name, scientific name, field marks, length (in inches and centimeters), and voice descriptions for songs and calls. There’s also information on feeding (what they eat and how they consume it), conservation issues, tips for helping the species (food or plants to provide), and similar species. There are also a few groan-worthy bird jokes thrown in for fun. “What kind of crows always stick together?….Vel-crows!” HAHAHAHA.

Lynn: Following the section Cindy describes are two more sections that the parent/grandparent in me loved. These are the sections that get kids moving, learning, and entertained. These two chapters provide well-designed activities, one set for outside and one for inside. Each activity clearly lists materials needed, directions, follow up, and discoveries. Some are more involved than others but most require just simple materials. One does require binoculars but I liked this one too as a good basic lesson on how to use binoculars. Glossary and an appendix have related bird information.

I learned a lot myself from the information on common birds despite being a life-long birder. Did you know only the female duck “quacks”? Or that Chickadees hide seeds and go back to them months later? This appealing book will help create more birders and will keep kids nicely occupied with science and bird-related activities. This is an ideal book for kids and caregivers both and may be of special interest to everyone with children doing virtual school in this time of Covid-19.

City Spies – A Summer Blockbuster Film – I mean BOOK for Kids

Lynn: I love a good summer blockbuster whether it is a book or a movie and I know a lot of kids are right there with me on that notion. James Ponti’s new and totally entertaining book City Spies (S&S/Aladdin, 2020) will happily divert kids looking for a bit of a break from the summer heat.

This crazy romp is a series starter that should create fans of every reader. The initial premise – that MI6 has recruited a secret group of teen spies, all terrific talents—requires a leap of faith but once that jump is made the reader is off to the races. The story begins as a new member, an American girl just sentenced to juvenile detention for a well-intentioned hack into the foster care system, is added to the team. A fair amount of time is spent setting the stage and introducing the characters but a well-paced plot with increasing suspense keeps the story moving nicely. Settings include Scotland and Paris and both the Eiffel Tower and the Catacombs are part of the fun. Like most summer blockbusters, the action is non-stop and nail-biting.

Ponti gives readers an engaging diverse group of young teen characters, snappy dialog, and a dose of humor plus the addition of STEM topics that make this terrific fun. There is a definite cinematic feel to this one that I really enjoyed and readers like me will be eager to read the next installment.

Cats and Dogs and Picture Books

Lynn and Cindy: You can NEVER have too many picture books featuring cats or dogs or both! Here are three terrific books featuring our furry friends.

My Wild Cat (Eerdmanns, 2019) by Isabelle Simler

I don’t know how I missed this one last year but I am so glad I caught up with it now. This is part scientific fact, part poetic description, part affectionate tribute and all stunning illustration. Simler is an illustrator I admire greatly and she clearly knows and loves cats. The book is in a small format, with each set of pages featuring a descriptive phrase, a related scientific fact as a footnote and wonderful drawings in pastel on a white background. The use of shape and form is simply brilliant and there is a smile lurking on every page. A cat is shown in a sink, the tail echoing the curved faucet, draped over a radiator or stalking a fly on a glass. Readers who cohabitate with felines will recognize every scene. Simple yet sophisticated this little gem would be treasured by readers of all ages.

Joy (Candlewick, 2020) by Yasmeen Ismail

It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt! Kitten has a ball of red yarn and it’s her favorite toy. An onomatopoetic rhyming play session ensues full of zooms and zams, clops and hops, until a trip, trip, slip, flip results in a bruised kitten, or at least a bruised ego. Her parent comes to the rescue and soothes her until she’s forgotten the hurt and is ready to adventure again. Oh, joy! Jenni Desmond’s mixed media illustrations exude the appropriate joy for Ismail’s rollicking picture book. Anyone who’s watched a kitten (or a young child) at play will appreciate this fun story.

Cat Dog Dog: The Story of a Blended Family (Random House/Schwartz & Wade, 2020) by Nelly Buchet

Blended families come in all shapes. This one features a man and his dog who moves in with a woman and her dog and cat. The story is told almost entirely in the illustrations with the various dog, cat, dog descriptors. There are adjustments to be made in every blended family as the various members learn to adapt to the shifting members and partners, amid lots of humor. Just as things are finally starting to calm down in the blended house a new element, a baby, is added to the mix! The humorous details are in the cartoonish ink illustrations, created by Zuill, who wrote and illustrated one of our favorite books, Sweety (2019). Cat Dog Dog is a current Junior Library Guild Selection, for a very good reason.

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.

 

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.

 

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh: A Controversial Life

Cindy: From the back cover of The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 2020) by Candace Fleming:

First person to successfully
fly across the Atlantic.

Media Sensation.

Nazi Sympathizer,
Anti-Semite.

Environmentalist.

White Nationalist.

Charles Lindbergh
was all this and more.

Fleming delivers a stunning teen biography of a complex man, structuring it in two sections: his historic rise to world fame, and his fall from hero-worship by many and his disenchantment with technology that had been his life’s passion. Most students will have heard of his achievement of completing the first solo trip across the Atlantic in an airplane, a feat that brought him discomfort with the celebrity. Some will have heard about the kidnapping of his firstborn son, but Fleming’s storytelling, using much dialogue right from Charles’ and wife Anne’s diaries and other writings will keep them turning the pages as the tragedy and the investigation unfolds. Fewer will know the details of his fascination with Hitler and Nazi “orderliness,” his serious work with a doctor in inventing a pump that kept organs alive outside the body in order to prolong life, perhaps indefinitely, and his rise as a White Nationalist leading rallies that sound oh-so-familiar today.

Just as Fleming did with The Family Romanov and another aviator in Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Charles comes to life with all of his human frailties, incongruities, and troubling behaviors. Just as clear is his drive and demand for precision. I realize it was a different time, but Anne was a saint to put up with him…as were his other two families in Europe that she didn’t know about. In fact, Anne is as fascinating to read about in many ways as is Charles. In this wonderful Publisher’s Weekly Q&A with Candace Fleming, she admits she came to like Anne quite a bit. Celebrities and heroes. There’s a lot to ponder here. Strap on your reading goggles and prepare yourself for quite a ride when you read this one!

Lynn: I am such a fan of Fleming’s biographies and this one not only captured my complete attention, it stayed in my mind for days after I finished it. Absorbing and wonderfully written, Fleming’s masterful biography incorporates the diaries and writings, as Cindy says, of both Charles and Anne, allowing these complicated individuals to tell much of their own stories. Charles especially reveals himself as incredibly complicated and flawed, socially stunted, and seemingly unable to connect emotionally with others. I was fascinated by his decades-long search for a way to end death, something that guided his thinking in multiple ways.

Lindbergh’s early years and the story of the tragic kidnapping of their first child was familiar to me from other books but I still appreciate Fleming’s presentations of this period of his life for young people. She did an excellent job of providing the necessary historical and cultural background necessary for understanding. I found the last third of the book, beginning with the family moving to England, the lead up to the war, the isolationist political efforts, and Lindbergh’s older years to be deeply interesting and packed with information that was new or provided expanded details.

The book includes outstanding back matter with an extensive bibliography and source notes and well-chosen photographs that tie directly to the text. I read this in galley and I am eager to see the finished copy. 6 starred reviews and every one deserved! This will be a great crossover book for adult readers.