Tu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria by Songju Ma Daemicke, illustrated by Lin

Tu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria by Songju Ma Daemicke, illustrated by Lin. Albert Whitman, 2021. 9780807581117

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Uncorrected proof

Genre: Biography 

What did you like about the book? Nobel Prize-winning researcher Tu Youyou is introduced in this picture book biography.  Youyou grew up in China, and was stricken ill with tuberculosis at the age of 15.  She was healed by a combination of modern medicine (antibiotics) and more traditional Chinese herbal remedies, which inspired her to pursue a career in medical research.  When a global malaria outbreak began spreading in 1969, Youyou knew she needed to help.  She visited patients throughout China, and learned that Western medicine was not effective in fighting the malaria symptoms. Then one patient reminded her about a plant called qinghao, which was known to reduce fevers.  Youyou brought the plant back to her lab, along with hundreds of other herbs, and conducted experiment after experiment to no avail.  She was determined to find success using the qinghao, and conducted nearly 200 trials (different temperatures, different combinations, etc.) before achieving her goal.  Youyou gave credit to her whole team for the 1971 discovery, but other scientists later found out that she was the primary researcher on the project, leading her to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2015.  The medicine developed from Youyou’s work is still used worldwide today, and has saved millions of lives since it was first approved.

Tu Youyou’s story will be valued as a lesson in persistence, particularly as she faced prejudice from her male peers and the scientific community, which did not give much credence to traditional medicines.  The straightforward writing is a little bit dry and technical at times, but the cartoon-style illustrations help to convey the human struggles and triumphs.  A comprehensive timeline of Youyou’s life and career alludes to some of the challenges she faced as she worked in China during the Cultural Revolution, and there is also a note delineating the scientific method and how Youyou’s work is a ‘shining example’ of it.  

Anything you did not like about the book? No

 To whom would you recommend this book?  A great readaloud for science teachers in grades 2-4 to illustrate the scientific method, and a welcome addition for biography collections where more women, scientists, and people of color are needed!  Connections can also be made with current events. 

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Biography

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  No

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: July 30, 2021

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, Biography, Lin, Medicine, Science, Songju Ma Daemicke | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Vote for Susanna: The First Woman Mayor by Karen M. Greenwald, illustrated by Sian James

A Vote for Susanna: The First Woman Mayor by Karen M. Greenwald, illustrated by Sian James. Albert Whitman, 2021. 9780807553138

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Uncorrected proof

Genre: Biography 

 What did you like about the book? In 1934, Dora invites her grandson Ed to help her make her special birthday cake.  Ed is excited to be asked, but tells his grandmother that his friends don’t think boys should bake.  She proceeds to tell him the story of Susanna Salter, who became the mayor of Argonia, Kansas in 1887.  Kansas had given women the right to vote before it was a federal law, and Susanna worked with some of her friends to create a ballot to help women learn about the candidates in the town’s upcoming election.  Some men disrupted their meeting and told them they had no place in politics, but Susanna did not back down.  So the men, as a prank, created a new ballot and put Susanna’s name on it as candidate for mayor, with the idea that when she lost women would be discouraged from voting or getting involved in the future.  Some other men in town offered to support Susanna, so she agreed to run, and she won, becoming the country’s first woman mayor.  And as Dora and Ed sit down to enjoy their cake, Dora reveals that she is, in fact, Susanna Madora Salter.

Young readers who like learning about the suffrage movement and other human rights activism will love this story-within-a-story.  Susanna’s courage, both in standing up to the bullying men in her town, and agreeing to run for mayor, will be seen as a positive character trait.  It’s very effective to have the grandmother telling the story, as it shows how things have changed in just a few short generations, and kids will echo Ed’s excitement when he finds out his grandmother is actually the heroine of her own story.  The cartoon-like illustrations fit the story perfectly – facial expressions on every character, whether in the foreground or part of a crowd, perfectly convey the emotions of each scene.  An in-depth author’s note shares more about Susanna (and a link to the cake recipe), and acknowledges some important sources for her research.

Anything you did not like about the book? No

To whom would you recommend this book? Readers who gravitate toward picture book biographies of women like Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton will enjoy learning about this less well-known but admirable lady.  A conversation-provoking readaloud  in grades 1-3 for election season, Women’s History Month or in units on community.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Biography

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  No

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: July 30, 2021

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, Biography, Elections, Karen M. Greenwald, Sian James, Women's history | Tagged | Leave a comment

Hattie + Olaf – Frida Nilsson, illustrated by Stina Wirsén

     Hattie + Olaf – Frida Nilsson, illustrated by Stina Wirsén, translated by Julia Marshall, Gecko Press, (9781776573172), (c2006 Sweden), 2021

Format: Hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4.5

Genre: Realistic fiction

What did you like about the book? Hattie and Linda are best friends.  They are at school where a bunch of the girls have contracted “horse fever”.  One of the girls has her own horse, initiating playground games about horses where she is the ringleader.  Hattie is jealous; she desperately wants her own horse, too.  When her Dad brings home a donkey, Olaf, Hattie is devastated, so what does she do?  She starts concocting elaborate lies about her “horse” and the other horses nearby.  Now the girls are jealous of her. But she and Linda fall out due to all of Hattie’s tall tales.  Hattie’s lies only grow and expand.  What will happen when everyone finds out the truth?

Hattie is prickly, no doubt about it, and yet there is something endearing about her, too.  She is quite aware of the trouble she is causing and yet seems powerless against it.

Stina Wirsen’s black line minimalist illustrations, manage to completely capture the situation with such simplicity.  All characters present as white.

Anything you did not like about the book?  No.

To whom would you recommend this book? Nilsson knows how to capture the young child as she really is, with all her faults, indecisions and joys.  This would make a nice classroom readaloud for children in grades K-2 and for parents to read with their children.

Who should buy this book? Elementary schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? J Fiction

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  Not unless you have read the first Hattie book, then yes.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Katrina Yurenka, Retired Librarian, Administrator, Youth Services Book Review

Date of Review: 7/30/2021

Posted in *Book Review, *Starred Review, Frida Nilsson, Realistic fiction, Stina Wirsén | Tagged | Leave a comment

My Contrary Mary, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows

My Contrary Mary – by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows. HarperTeen, 2021. 9780062930040

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Fantasy

What did you like about the book?  Get ready for adventure and giggles in this madcap and magical retelling of the story of Mary Queen of Scots. If you’ve followed this trio of writers’ other outings (specifically, My Lady Jane, a companion volume), you’ll know what you’re in store for, and if not, the prologue reveals that this is a revisionist history. Real people, who actually met bloody ends, here survive, fall in love, and thrive. Instead of Catholics vs. Protestants, it’s Edians (who can magically transform into animals) vs. Verities (normals bent on torturing the shapeshifters). Mary, publicly identified as a Verity but actually an Edian, has a mouse as her alter ego, which comes in handy when she needs to spy on her conniving uncles and future mother-in-law. Francis, the future king of France and Mary’s betrothed, survives in this version instead of dying early, and their sweet love story anchors the plot. Adding to the fun is Ari, daughter of Nostradamus, a potion-master to rival Severus Snape, whose weird visions are actually scenes from contemporary movies. The irreverent narration constantly butts into the story with contemporary slang, spoilers, and wry observations that definitely skew historical fiction expectations. All of the characters in the novel are White.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No. It’s definitely idiosyncratic and will definitely appeal more to fantasy fans than those who love historical fiction, although it may send some teens back to Wikipedia to learn about Mary’s actual fate.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Fans of this groups’ previous novels will enjoy this one, which I thought was just as good as MLJ and My Plain Jane. Jane Grey even gets a cameo toward the end of this book, helping Mary and Francis reunite. Those in search of queer characters will enjoy the budding romance between Ari and Liv, one of Mary’s ladies-in-waiting (who can also change into a horse). Definitely a good match for those who like their fantasy with a bit of snark.

Who should buy this book? Middle, high school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA fiction, fantasy if you genre-fy

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: August 1, 2021

Posted in *Book Review, Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, Fantasy, Jodie Meadows | Tagged | Leave a comment

Making a Baby: An Inclusive Guide to How Every Family Begins – Rachel Greener and Clare Owen

Making a Baby: An Inclusive Guide to How Every Family Begins by Rachel Greener and Clare Owen. Dial Books for Young Readers, c2020, 2021. 9780593324851

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

What did you like about the book? This book factually describes how a baby is made, grows, and is born into a family in an inclusive way. I really appreciated having a model for neutral and descriptive language to use to appropriately describe these concepts to young children. For example, the book states that sex is one way people can make an egg and sperm meet, and goes on to explain “a grown-up with a penis and a grown-up with a vagina can make a baby by having sex, if they want to.” Here gender-neutral terms are used based on their body parts. Other times, “the person growing the baby” is used, which could refer to people of different gender identities as well as different parental roles. The book describes how a baby can be made by someone donating sperm that is then inserted into the person growing the baby, sperm and egg can be collected in a lab and the embryo is then inserted in the person growing the baby, sometimes a surrogate grows the baby, and sometimes a baby or child is adopted. Accurate and child-friendly terms are used to describe the baby growing inside the womb, comparing the fetus or growing baby to different fruits. The description and images of childbirth appear mostly relaxing, showing different people sitting on balls, in pools, standing, or moving, though the text says that “the person growing the baby will start to feel pains in their stomach and back.” A c-section is also described and shown through illustrations. There is a clear tone of love and joy throughout the whole book. At the end of the book are a few additional questions and explanations, about a person’s sex (very briefly describing what intersex and transgender mean), miscarriage, and premature birth. The illustrations include both single and partnered parents with different gender and racial combinations. Additionally, parents are shown holding and carrying their children in different ways (sling, backpack, baby-wearing, stroller, swaddled, carrier, etc.). The illustrations are cartoon-like but realistically detailed. 

Anything you did not like about the book. There could have been more backmatter to point interested readers to further resources.

To whom would you recommend this book? I would give this book to any adult who wants to talk with young kids about how babies are made and born. I would especially recommend it to families who are having babies in less traditional ways, either to talk through with their child once they are born, or to talk with children about future siblings. I would give the book to an older elementary or young middle school-aged child looking for a basic scientific understanding of how a baby is made, though I think this book would be best to read paired with an adult to answer questions and help facilitate conversation. Read-alike with It’s Not the Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends or It’s So Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families (Harris). 

Who should buy this book? Public librarians, families

Where would you shelve it? Nonfiction, or parenting section

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Sarah Bickel, Greenlodge Elementary School, Dedham Massachusetts

Date of review: July 31, 2021

Posted in *Book Review, *Starred Review, Family, Sex education | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Octopus Escapes by Maile Meloy, illustrated by Felicita Sala

The Octopus Escapes by Maile Meloy, illustrated by Felicita Sala. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 9781984812698

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Picture book

What did you like about the book? This is a cute story of an octopus who is caught and goes to live in an aquarium. He isn’t happy there, so he escapes and finds his way back to his comfortable home. Readers will see the octopus do many amazing things throughout the story, including playing with blocks, opening jars, taking photographs, squeezing through small spaces, and changing color. He is illustrated as a bright orange, making him stand out even when the pages are busy with other animals. The backgrounds of the illustrations are at times bright and other times dark, varying to enhance the feel of the setting. 

Anything you did not like about the book. While the story highlights many of the amazing adaptations and traits of octopuses, I would have really liked to see some information at the end explaining more about the animal and offering additional resources for interested readers. 

To whom would you recommend this book? This would be a great read-aloud for a science class studying octopuses or different animals. Children who love animals, especially sea animals, would also like it. Very similar to the nonfiction book Inky’s Amazing Escape: How a Very Smart Octopus Found His Way Home (Montgomery).

Who should buy this book? Elementary school librarians, public librarians

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Sarah Bickel, Greenlodge Elementary School, Dedham Massachusetts

Date of review: July 31, 2021

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, Animals, Oceans | Tagged | Leave a comment

My Voice Is a Trumpet by Jimmie Allen, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson

My Voice Is a Trumpet by Jimmie Allen, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson. Flamingo Books, 2021. 9780593352182

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Picture book

What did you like about the book? This book describes different types of voices and how they can all be powerful in their own ways. I appreciated how the author included sign language, saying “there’s a voice that is silent but still can be heard with hands that move to speak every word.” This book celebrates how everyone can make a difference in their words and actions. The text is lyrical and there are regular references to music at different points – the title, images of a trumpet on each end page, some characters singing or playing musical instruments in the background. The analogy that everyone’s different voice comes together beautifully to create music becomes more clear by the end of the book. The soft illustrations enhance the message of unity, courage, and doing what’s right. Characters are diverse in their gender, skin color, clothes, and activities. 

Anything you did not like about the book. Nothing

To whom would you recommend this book? Reading this book and having students respond to the last line “how will you use your voice?” would make a great classroom activity at the beginning of the year. It could also be easily used by a music teacher. I would give it to anyone who is looking for a book about courage or leadership. Read-alike with Speak Up (Paul) or Say Something (Reynolds). 

Who should buy this book?  Elementary school librarians, public librarians, teachers

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Sarah Bickel, Greenlodge Elementary School, Dedham Massachusetts

Date of review: July 31, 2021

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, Inclusion, Music | Tagged | Leave a comment

She Stitched the Stars: A Story of Ellen Harding Baker’s Solar System Quilt – Jennifer Harris, illustrated by Louise Pigott

She Stitched the Stars: A Story of Ellen Harding Baker’s Solar System Quilt – Jennifer Harris, illustrated by Louise Pigott. Albert Whitman, 2021. 9780807573228

Format: Uncorrected proof

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 2

 Genre: Historical fiction

 What did you like about the book? All that is really known about Ellen Harding Baker is that she created a quilt depicting a map of the solar system as it was known in the late 19th century.  It took her 7 years of research and stitching, beginning in 1876, during which time she was also raising a family of five in her Iowa home.  The quilt was donated to the Smithsonian and is kept at the National Museum of American History.  She Stitched the Stars is a highly fictionalized account of the creation of that quilt, seen through the eyes of Baker’s three oldest daughters. As their neighbors and teachers constantly remind the girls of their proper place in society, they look to their mother for inspiration and encouragement.  They admire her intelligence and efficiency, and learn astronomy as they help her with her masterpiece.

The highlight of the book is definitely the folk-art style illustrations, which paint a cozy picture of midwestern life in the late 1800s; many will enjoy looking at the details in the scenes of the Baker family and their community. The first person perspective is sweet, but a little choppy, as the narrator is usually “we,” but occasionally “I.”  Young readers will probably be frustrated to learn of the stringent social mores the girls talk about, and will cheer for them as they flaunt the rules.  But they will also likely be surprised to find out that the story, although inspired by a real person, is largely imagined.  Even the author’s note includes a lot of suppositions about Baker’s life.  

Anything you did not like about the book? A photo of the quilt in the back shows that it doesn’t represent the solar system as we understand it today.  Kids know a lot about the planets and would probably appreciate some context about what was known during Ellen Baker’s time, and some information about the astronomer Maria Mitchell (briefly alluded to in the story, and mentioned in the author’s note).

 To whom would you recommend this book? It might make a nice addition to a women’s history month or STEM display, but it has limited appeal for an independent reading choice. 

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Picture books

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  No

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: 7/30/2021

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, Astronomy, Women's history | Tagged | Leave a comment

Deadman’s Castle – Iain Lawrence

            Deadman’s Castle – Iain Lawrence, Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House, (9780823446551), 2021

Format: Hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Genre: Mystery

What did you like about the book? At the age of five, Igor (first name he picks himself), now twelve, has had to move at the drop of a hat because his father witnessed something that put a man in jail – and the man’s father swore he would seek retribution.  So every time The Lizard Man shows himself the family (now with 5-year-old Bumble) grabs their meagre belongings and moves where the Protectors tell them.  This time they have settled in a town that begins to look familiar to Igor.  And Igor cannot take any more; he insists upon going to school where he makes friends and is very happy even with the number of restraints his father places upon him.  One of his friends, to whom Igor confides, insists that it is a hoax, that the father is crazy.  Is he?  Spoiler alert: he’s not.

In an afterword Lawrence explains how the story mirrors his own childhood with the absence of a Lizard Man.

Anything you did not like about the book?  No.

To whom would you recommend this book? Give this to kids who like a strong involved mystery with very believable characters and where the reader really does not know what’s going on and can’t wait to find out.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it? J Fiction

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  It’s worth it!

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Katrina Yurenka, Retired Librarian, Administrator, Youth Services Book Review

Date of Review:  7/27/2021

Posted in *Book Review, *Starred Review, Iain Lawrence, Mystery | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Lobstah Gahden: Speak out against pollution with a wicked awesome Boston accent! – Alli Brydon and EG Keller, Illustrated by EG Keller.

Lobstah Gahden: Speak out against pollution with a wicked awesome Boston accent! – Alli Brydon and EG Keller, Illustrated by EG Keller. Sourcebooks, 2021. 9781728232461

Format: Hardcover

Rating: (1-5) (5 is an excellent or starred review) 5

Genre: Picture Book

What did you like about the book?  Walt’s lifelong dream is to win the Swell Gahden’s competition. However, every year his neighbor, Milton comes in first place. The two horticulturally determined lobsters compete to win the best garden prize until waves of trash begin to fall into one another’s gardens. Ahem, GAH-DENS, accusing each other, the Lobsters continue to fight until they finally catch sight of the culprit. A Chow-Dah boat that is dumping heaps of trash into the ocean. Walt and Milton, after finding the source of the garden’s ruins, come together to solve a common problem, and prevent the ‘chowdahs’ from dumping trash in the ocean again. Although there is still only one winner, both gardens are now pollution free. 

 The artistic style of the illustrations and the creative way of exploring ocean pollution made this such a fun book with a bigger purpose. The notable Boston accent engages the reader as they sound through phonetics and the sounds and sights of New England along an interesting underwater plot. Following the story are detailed pages of advice on how to fight pollution in addition to scientific sources and data. What a great way to teach kids about pollution and littering and how they can help.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book? I would recommend this book to any child of kindergarten to elementary age. Readers of environmental impact and a passion for wildlife.

Who should buy this book? Public, elementary, daycares and pre-k libraries.

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarans/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? For children, yes. 

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City, and State: Keeva George, Marstons Mills Public Library, Marstons Mills, Massachusetts. 

Date of review: 07/16/2021

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, *Starred Review, Alli Brydon, EG Keller, Environment, Plastic, Pollution | Tagged | Leave a comment