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.

Poisoned Water – A Chronicle and a Warning for All Readers

Lynn: The title of Candy Cooper and Marc Aronson’s upcoming book, Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint Michigan Fought for their Lives and Warned the Nation (Bloomsbury, May 2020) nails both the subject matter and the urgency of its subject. This is a horrifying story that will leave every reader not only sickened at what the people of Flint endured but also terrified that a similar situation could or has already happened in their community. Let me be clear here. The water crisis in Flint is not just a story of an already battered and diminished city taking one more horrible blow. The story of Flint’s poisoned water is a story that has already been repeated as citizens discover just what is flowing through the pipes in their cities, their homes, and their schools. I want to say at the start that this is a personal story for me. I have family in Flint and we have watched as this appalling situation unfolded. Our family there has dealt with serious health issues, their property values and equity have plummeted, they use filters on every faucet, and purchase expensive bottled water for all cooking and drinking. They have lost all trust in their government. I believe this book is important and it should be read by every person in the nation.

The authors have done a stellar job of laying out the series of events, explaining the interwoven issues, and documenting their reporting. Candy Cooper is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, veteran reporter, winner of the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting, and has written for several newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times and the Detroit Free Press and is the author of nonfiction books for classrooms. Those of us in the youth literature field know of Marc Aronson’s outstanding nonfiction books for young people. Marc is the winner of the very first Sibert Award and his excellent and meticulously researched books continue to win national awards.

On April 25, 2014, the mayor of Flint pushed a button that cut off the flow of water from long-time supplier Detroit and started the use of the water taken from the Flint River. It was a decision motivated by politics and budgets. Within days the issues and complaints began. Poisoned Water chronicles the horrifying series of events, bad decisions, cover-ups, and lies that destroyed the water system, health, future, and trust of the citizens of Flint, Michigan. Step by step, Cooper lays out the events, carefully documenting her work. The writing is clear and concise, easy to follow and understand. It is also a compelling account, as impossible to put down as a thriller and twice as horrifying because it actually happened to real people who are still suffering today.

Flint is the canary in the minefield that lies at the heart of urban America. Old water systems, lead pipes, aging infrastructures are everywhere. Cooper and Aronson lay out an extreme series of events concisely, include first-hand accounts from the people involved and pack the book with quotations and documentation. It is impossible not to finish reading the book and not be both outraged and infuriated. Do not miss this important and wonderfully crafted book. It is a critical warning to wake up and smell the coffee—and to seriously question what is in the water used in that coffee.

Cindy: This will be the book that I will be talking about all year and handing to everyone I know. We live in the state where this tragedy unfolded so when we caught up with Marc at our state’s school library conference Lynn suggested this topic as an important subject for a future teen nonfiction book. I agreed and am so glad that he and Candy Cooper made it happen. My husband works in wastewater treatment and as the news unfolded he updated me with his rants about what was going on and how wrong it was.  I listened and I had a cursory idea of what was going on, but reading Cooper and Aronson’s book was a whole new experience. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough even though I knew the trajectory of the crisis. The book is packed with quotable lines from those who were poisoned, those who poisoned them, and those who didn’t think it was important. ” Perhaps this quote from a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services nurse to a parent whose young child had lead poisoning from the Flint River water sums up the official response to the water crisis:

“It’s just a few IQ points. It’s not the end of the world.”

Cooper reports that five and half years later “one in five public school children in Flint was eligible for special education, an increase of 56 percent since before the crisis began, according to state figures.” It might not be the end of the world to that nurse, but even a little lead in the body can make a huge difference in a child’s or adult’s life. It’s not news that money controls everything and often to the detriment of the public good, but this tragedy that includes an unconscionable amount of harm to the citizens of Flint should cause everyone concern. From big impacts like the government suppressing information about the rising occurrence of Legionnaire’s Disease, to the daily problem of finding and hauling bottled water while paying exorbitant water bills for unpotable water, to going without hot water for years because you couldn’t afford to replace both your washer and your hot water heater ruined by corrosive water, the story is haunting and might be unbelievable in a dystopian teen novel. In fact, lead poisoning from paint was featured in the 2004 middle school novel, Bucking the Sarge, by Christopher Paul Curtis, a Flint native. No one knew then what ten years would bring to the city.

I have great admiration for the people of Flint who persisted. Who believed in what they knew to be wrong and who continued to fight against great odds and against a great imbalance of power and influence. Their fight continues. Their fight is one that other communities will have to fight if we are not proactive about our most important resource: water. The hero of the story is citizen action.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

Celebrating Pluto in Out-of-This World Picture Books

Lynn: Who doesn’t love an underdog or in this case an underplanet? Lots of us have been rooting for Pluto ever since it got reclassified as an ice dwarf a while ago. Adam Rex tops my planetary chart though with his hilarious AND informative new picture book on Pluto, Pluto Gets the Call (S&S/Beach Lane, 2019). Cindy and I were lucky enough to get to see illustrator Laurie Keller’s artwork for the book at a preview luncheon at ALA and we fell in love with the book way back then. The finished copy is now out and the wait has been worth it!

Pluto is all set to take us on a tour of the solar system when he gets a call. Yes, THE call from scientists on Earth with the distressing news that our googly-eyed tour guide has been demoted. Sadly but gamely, Pluto goes on with the tour, introducing us to the “real” planets and providing solid information on each one along the way. Skipping Earth because he “doesn’t want to talk about humans right now,” Pluto finally makes it to the Sun who cheers him up and reminds him that scientists are still arguing about him. Solar System facts are incorporated throughout the story in a way that kids will delight in and remember. A two-page spread as back matter also provides a wealth of additional information from the number of moons each planet has, the distance from the sun and what the planets were named after and more. Adam Rex’s bubble-speech dialog is snappy and packed with great one-liners kids will love. Laurie Keller’s terrific comic-style illustrations are colorful and funny and a perfect extension of Rex’s text.

This is a must-have addition to collections everywhere needing updated information on Pluto and the Solar System! This one is truly out-of-this-world.

 

Cindy: Pair Rex and Keller’s book with The Girl Who Named Pluto: The story of Venetia Burney (Schwartz & Wade, 2019) for a little history about Pluto. Author Alice B. McGinty tells the story of Venetia, a young British girl, who was fascinated when she learned in 1930 that a new planet had been discovered. The granddaughter of the Oxford head librarian and great-niece of a science master who named the two moons that orbit Mars, she came by her curiosity and love of science quite naturally. The book opens with a classroom walking/measuring demonstration of the distance between planets that many elementary teachers still use today. When Venetia learned about the new planet from her grandfather, she thought of how “frozen, dark, and lifeless” Pluto must be and she was reminded of the Roman myth underworld, ruled by Neptune’s brother, Pluto. Her grandfather likes the name and writes a letter to put it forward as a suggestion. Elizabeth Haidle’s illustrations provide the right atmosphere and an author’s note provides more history about Venetia, including a great connection to a recent student-built instrument aboard the New Horizons robotic spacecraft that has several connections to the young girl who named the Pluto.

Owling: Whoooo Needs This Book? You Do!

Cindy: “You might not realize it, but you need to see an owl.” That’s the opening line of Owling (Storey, 2019) and you not only need to see an owl, but you need to see this book. Starting with a glow-in-the-dark cover, this large square book holds a wealth of fascinating details and gorgeous photographs of the 19 owls species that breed and nest in the United States and Canada. Can owls really turn their heads 360 degrees? How do an owl’s uneven ears help him pinpoint prey? These and other questions are answered in engaging text. Most welcome is the author Mark Wilson’s challenge to common owl “facts” not documented by research studies and his admission when his long study of owls leaves him without sure answers. Research never ends and we rarely have all the answers. 2-4 page spreads feature a specific owl species with a selection of photos, range maps, feather detail, size, behavior, voice, nesting behavior, menu, or other interesting features. The section on Poop and Pellets is sure to be a hit with the target audience, particularly if they’ve ever dissected an owl pellet to learn about an owl’s diet. The section on how to spot an owl has helpful tips that may produce success for young (and old) birders. Lynn heard about this book and then I received a review copy and have been reluctant to hand it over, but we can’t wait any longer to hoot about its publication. Owling is a perfect identification guide for a young birder, but it is so much more, and it has a place in elementary and middle school libraries and elementary science classrooms. Whooooo needs this book? You do!

Lynn: I really appreciate how this outstanding book is organized, the wonderfully researched information presented, and how much is packed into the book. But I need to mention the sheer audience appeal of the production. Talk about a kid magnet! Put this gorgeous book on display and watch it instantly fly off the shelf. Mark Wilson’s photographs almost steal the show. Every single page has a gallery of jaw-dropping pictures that beg to be studied. The images range from small collections illustrating a particular point to full-page photographs that are works of art. The painted illustrations by Jada Fitch are amazing, too.

I learned so much! The small sections showing what each of the various owls eats, “On the Menu,” was interesting and surprising. As a life-long birder, I really valued the identification information, especially tips on what each variety might be mistaken for and how to avoid that. Also as a birder, I loved the section of how to FIND owls in nature with its additional caution of how to also respect and treat them if you do find them or their roosts. Finally, also in the concluding sections, there is information on some of the current and on-going research projects on owls. The back matter includes a glossary and an extensive list of where to find Owls in Captivity by state so that readers can follow Wilson’s advice and become familiar with the appearance of the various owls.

Finally, I am on a mission to find my slides that were taken in the back yard of our first Holland house that sat in an old deeply forested woods. We had nesting Great Horned Owls there and summer after summer, a pair of adults parked their fledged but still dependent owlets on our deck during the day, I’m guessing while they went to hunt. The owlets were almost as big as the adults and absolutely delightful to watch. The squirrels seemed to know how clumsy the owl babies were and teased them by running just out of their reach on the railing underneath them.

Here is my picture of an Eastern Screech Owl but since I am no Mark Wilson, I urge you to find this book and see some REALLY terrific pictures!