Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

NatGeo Kids sends kids back to school ready for everything!

I am an unabashed fan of NatGeo for my nonfiction sections. They have books on EVERYTHING, and the kids love it. They also make every single thing they cover amazing, hilarious, or both, which makes my life a lot easier when I have kids trudging into my children’s room, moaning that they have to read more nonfiction. Excuse me, do you see the GIANT WATER FAUCET on the cover of this book? Guess what? Nonfiction. Suddenly, they’re a lot more amenable to what I have to offer.

Let’s start with the backpack essential: The Weird But True Planner ($12.99, ISBN: 978-1426327933). The Weird But True books come in second only to the NatGeo Kids joke books when it comes to demand in my children’s room. It’s got the planner essentials: it’s spiral bound and sturdy, so kids can use it and it will hold up. It’s got paper that won’t tear when you turn a page. You know that paper; it’s usually the one that flies away and has the details of your homework on it. The space is smartly laid out, with NatGeo’s trademark gorgeous photos sharing space with planning and goal pages that help your kids keep it together during the school year. And because it’s NatGeo, it’s got the fun, weird holidays, crazy facts, pages for scribbling areas where you need homework help, little writing prompts, and an overall fun vibe that demands you embrace your weirdness. I have a copy that I desperately want to keep for my own library notes, programs, and scheduling the lives of my weird family; now, the key is making sure the kids don’t take mine off my desk at work OR at home.

Let’s be clear: this is not a library book; it’s a book meant to be written in, used, and yeah, even a little abused. But it IS an essential buy.

Next up is the NatGeo Kids 2018 Almanac ($14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2772-8). Updated for 2018, this is another go-to for my library kids. There are 12 sections – up from last year’s 10 – and cover current events, life science, engineering and technology, space and earth, and more. The fun and games section is still here, and the overall fun spirit of discovery runs through the book. A spread in life science tells readers “18 Fantastic Facts About Fungi”, with facts about cheese mold, to mushrooms, to athlete’s foot (it’s just a photo of a bare foot). Feel bad for the Ugly Food, but rejoice in reading how being ugly doesn’t mean being garbage – make banana bread with those brown bananas (that’s when they’re the best), or make a smoothie using that bruised peach. A companion page on the time it takes different types of trash to decompose is a powerful call to action for recycling and re-purposing our trash. Homework help tips, quizzes, jokes, fun facts, and breathtaking photos make this Almanac a keeper.
Atlases are always handy to have around, especially with increased importance on understanding global affairs and cultures. The United States Atlas (Fifth Edition, $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2831-2) gives readers a literal lay of the land, with political and physical maps by territory: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and West. There are maps and statistics for each state within the territories; economy symbols to illustrate local economies like crops and industries. Photos and infographics round out each state’s profile. The atlas also includes U.S. territories, a glossary, postal abbreviations, and additional web resources.
The Ultimate Space Atlas ($12.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2802-2) is a handy guide to what’s “up there”: phases of the moon, seasonal constellation maps for each hemisphere, what’s new in space exploration. “Digital Traveler” boxes help readers expand their learning by using going online. There are fun facts, amazing photos, diagrams, and Space Travel Attractions to visit… you know, from here. Earth. There’s a section with some fun activities at the end, and a glossary and index complete this handy astronomy desk reference. Both atlases will be helfpul during the school year, so load up your bookshelves if you’re in a library, or consider these when you’re buying school supplies.
CHOMP!: Fierce Facts About the Bite Force, Crushing Jaws, and Mighty Teeth of Earth’s Champion Chewers ($12.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2839-8) has been on my shelves since this summer, and I see it wandering around the tables at the library (meaning, the kids are reading it while they’re in the library during the day) pretty regularly. Written by “Extreme Animal Explorer” Brady Barr, CHOMP! has a lot of pictures of a lot of big, mean teeth. The first page has a hippo, jaws open wide, greeting readers, and those choppers are intimidating! Barr organizes his chompers into four groups: the grippers, slicers, crushers, and gulpers; bite force and preferred menu for each animal profiled appear on each page. Barr jumps in with his own entertaining anecdotes, Brady’s Bite Stories, that will make kids squeal and cringe all at once; I’m thinking of reading the one about Barr squeezing a live otter out of a gator the next time I have a class visit. I like to be memorable. Further resources, a glossary and an index, make this a good companion guide for animal reports and fun reading for animal fans.
Last but never least, What Would Happen? Serious Answers to Silly Questions ($14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2770-4) looks at the logic and science behind some wild, weird questions. Starting with questions like, “What if you ate nothing but ice cream?” (short answer: DON’T) and working their way up to “What if you could wield The Force?” (You may call me Lady Vader), questions are organized into areas covering humans, space, nature, time, technology, natural wonders, worst-case scenarios, and just plain surreal. Each question is examined by giving readers a background on the deeper question (ice cream tastes great, but without protein and fiber, you’re in for some problems); primary repercussions (those problems could include going to the bathroom, no matter how much you love butter pecan); side effects (you’ll get weak and possibly develop scurvy from lack of Vitamin C); and finally, could it happen (unless you’re putting chunks of chicken or tofu, plus some broccoli and tomato on that ice cream, probably not)? This is going to move right along with my Weird Facts books. Heck, I may just turn this one into a program – write your own What Would Happen? and let’s swap; research it and find out the answer. But I’m totally developing The Force.
Go forth and fill up backpacks, and have a great school year!
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Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Sports Illustrated Kids has the info kids need for back-to-school sports trivia

Sports Illustrated Kids is getting ready for the fall sports with the release of two need-to-have books for backpacks and bookshelves.

The Football Handbook, by Gary Gramling, (Aug. 2017, Time Inc. Books, $19.99, ISBN: 978-1-6330-007-6) is the perfect size for a sports fan’s backpack, and loaded with facts, stats, and football history. It’s essential reading for beginners and dedicated fans alike, with full-color photos, activities (so that’s how the guys in school folded those little paper footballs, all those years ago…), obscure facts, and need-to-know skills like how to draft a fantasy football team: the pizza is essential; my husband concurs. The “He Reminds Me Of…” section is a nice walk down Memory Lane for us folks of a certain age, with juxtaposed pictures, stats, and a bio on a “current guy” whose style matches that of an “old guy” gridiron great.

The National Hockey League (NHL) turns 100 this year, and Hockey: From Then to WOW! (Sept. 2017, Time Inc. Books, $19.99, ISBN: 978-1-68330-011-3) by the writers at Sports Illustrated Kids is part love letter, part time capsule, to the sport. The hockey rink endpapers set the vibe for you from the second you crack open the book, and an illustrated timeline of how hockey rules have evolved over the last century. (Can you believe that helmets weren’t mandatory until 1979?) Stunning photos of equipment and arenas show the progression of the sport and of sports technology. Legendary players, infamous fighters, and colorful characters all have a spotlight here, as do the best coaches. There are stats, sure – and then there are stats: the fan stuff. From the best playoff beards, fan fashion, and trading cards, to stuff thrown onto the rink and hockey games for fans, from air hockey tables to the latest in gaming, it’s all here.

Put these on your shelves where sports fans gather, and watch the circs fly. Great for middle graders and middle schoolers alike.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Spinning: a memoir of skating and self

Spinning, by Tillie Walden, (Sept. 2017, :01First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626729407

Recommended for readers 12+

Cartoonist and illustrator Tillie Walden’s graphic memoir looks at her childhood and adolescence as a competitive figure skater and her journey out of the closet. Spinning is Walden’s chance to look back at skating (a key part of her identity for over a decade), bullying, first love, sexual abuse, depression, coming out, and the stress of outgrowing a passion.

Sensitive but visceral, Tillie quietly tells her story. The rigor of her skating routine, the loneliness of practice and traveling without her parents and the stress of competition. She talks about her first love, and the pain of enforced separation. It’s a coming of age story that teenagers will embrace. Tillie speaks plainly, but with powerful emotion underneath the surface. I felt her crushing depression and anxiety as I continued throughout the book; told in two-color artwork, Tillie’s often in the shadows or drawn solitary, alone, speaking volumes to the reader.

Spinning is brilliant and beautiful.  If you’ve ever competed in a sport, played an instrument, or felt alone, Tillie Walden understands you. A strong addition to graphic novel and memoir collections.

Tillie Walden is an Ignatz award winner. You can find her webcomic, On a Sunbeam, online and more of her comics at her website. Spinning has received a starred review from Booklist and mentioned in Entertainment Weekly’s LGBTQ YA Book List for 2017.

Posted in History, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Important Reading: Fault Lines in the Constitution

Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today, by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Sanford, (Sept. 2017, Peachtree Publishers), $19.95, ISBN: 9781561459452

Recommended for readers 10-14

You don’t need a political science degree to see that it’s been a pretty tumultuous year for our country. You don’t even need to watch the news: stick a toe into the social media waters or just go out in public, and you’ll hear all about our current political climate. What tweens and teens may not realize is that a lot of the political issues we’re struggling with today have their roots in the U.S. Constitution. Husband and wife scholars Cynthia and Sanford Levinson examine this document in detail, from its creation to the present, to point out fault lines – cracks in our foundation – how other countries may deal with similar issues, and suggestions for how to address the flaws.

Big-ticket takeaways include the Electoral College and state-by-state representation: how it’s great to be a tiny state, not so much a big state. An honest, no-holds barred look at our governing document, Fault Lines in the Constitution is an important book to have in libraries and classrooms today, tomorrow, and for years to come. Includes a timeline, extensive notes, bibliography, and index. Fault Lines in the Constitution received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Booklist.

 

Cynthia Levinson holds degrees from Wellesley College and Harvard University and also attended the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. A former teacher and educational policy consultant and researcher, she is the author of the award-winning and critically-acclaimed We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. Sanford Levinson is an American legal scholar and a professor at the University of Texas Law School. He holds degrees from Duke, Stanford, and Harvard universities and is the author of several adult works of nonfiction.

Posted in Middle School, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Summer of STEAM: Making Simple Robots

Making Simple Robots: Exploring Cutting-Edge Robotics with Everyday Stuff, by Kathy Ceceri, (March 2015, Maker Media), $24.99, ISBN: 9781457183638
Recommended for readers 11-17
If you haven’t gotten into robotics because you think it’s too expensive to lay down the money for a LEGO Mindstorms set, this is the book for you. Combining plain-English engineering explanations with household materials (and a short list of goodies you can usually get online or at Home Depot), Making Simple Robots walks readers through making robots using paper, balloons (think Baymax, from Big Hero 6, but smaller and less sentient), drinking straws and rubber bands. Projects become more involved as the book progresses, and use more complex materials like Little Bits and 3-D printers. Each project walks readers through the design, building and testing a prototype, helpful troubleshooting suggestions, and ways to adapt and expand on the robots.
You know I love my “program in a book”, and this is another one. I could pull together a beginning robotics program, no sweat, with a small budget and some time to play around. My go-to project from this book? The Gliding Vibrobot, which is a tiny robot you can make for $10 or less, with a motor from an old cell phone or electric toothbrush, 1.5 to 3 volt batteries, foam tape, and gumball machine toy capsules. For a public librarian’s budget, this is a dream project! Have a coding program? Work that into the mix with a Chatbot, where you use Scratch to program your sprite to use a script to carry on a conversation with another user.
There are loads of helpful hints and “cheat sheets” to refer to throughout the book, and an index makes for handy, quick reference.

Every Make book that I’ve read so far has included such a broad range of projects, allowing all skill levels and wallets a chance to make something really cool. Making Simple Robots combines a maker guide with an intro to modern robotics that middle schoolers and older will love.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Summer of STEAM: Girls Who Code Two-Fer!

I love coding and playing around with computer science-y type stuff. In my mind, I look like this:

When I create this.  (This is actually mine! I created it using Scratch.)

I do my best to get science in front of my own kids, and my library kids, at every opportunity. The kids here at my library are Minecrafters, so I feel like I’ve got an in and am working on building a nice, tech-friendly nonfiction section; the next additions on my list are from the organization, Girls Who Code.  If you aren’t familiar with Girls Who Code, they are a New York-based organization on a mission to close the gender gap in the tech industry and the classroom. They teach girls to embrace tech and to code, to create, and most importantly, not to fear science and math. Andrea Gonzalez and Sophie Hauser, two GWC grads, wrote Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done, where they talk about their GWC experience.

Now, Reshma Saujani, Girls Who Code founder, is releasing her own book, Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World (Aug. 2017, Viking, $17.99, ISBN: 978-0425287538). It’s a coding beginner’s guide, a spotlight on women in the computer science industry, an empowering career guide, and introduction to STEM for girls, all rolled up into one volume. It’s fun and easy to read, with Reshma speaking to readers in a comfortable, friendly voice; she gets some help from a group of illustrated, diverse girls: Lucy, Erin, Sophia, Leila, and Maya. The illustrated group of friends (more on them later) explain concepts and act as a step-by-step example of different stages of coding and creating.

What sets Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World apart from all the other coding books out there? Glad you asked. The tone, for starters, is fun, light, and personal. Reshma and her group of illustrated friends are talking straight to readers. The two-color illustrations are fun, like those you’d find in a middle grade novel, and feature characters from different ethnicities; Leila rocks a hijab, Maya is an Asian fashionista with a sleek bob; Lucy is African-American, Sophia is Latina, and Erin is a blonde. The group of friends come together to create apps and problem solve their coding; we’re invited along for the ride. Not sure you want to go into computer science? That’s no problem, either: GWC points out how many careers and hobbies incorporate coding these days, from baking, to politics, to social justice, sports, and art.  You’ll learn new terms, like pseudocode – that’s when you write out the steps of your program in plain language, to brainstorm and go over your program before starting to code. There are further Web resources and a glossary to complete this trusty guide to STEM life. Trust me, you’ll never look at the mere making of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich again after you read this.

Also arriving the same day as Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World is the first in a new GWC series of fiction chapter books, starring the Girls Who Code we met in the previous book: Lucy, Erin, Sophia, and Maya (Leila’s arriving in the next book) come together thanks to a coding club in the new adventure, The Friendship Code, by Stacia Deutsch.

Girls Who Code: The Friendship Code, by Stacia Deutsch, (Aug. 2017, $12.99, ISBN: 9780399542510)

 

We get some background on each character: there’s been some past drama between Lucy and Sophia; Erin is an army brat who’s new in town; Maya is the fashionista who has a fashion column in the school newspaper; Sophia’s an athlete, and Lucy is fixated on learning to code so she can create an app to help her sick uncle remember to take his medicine. Thanks to the Coding Club, the girls learn that coding is more than just banging out numbers on computers (sometimes, to Lucy’s chagrin). With a fun mystery thrown in, the GWC series is like a Babysitter’s Club for a new group of tech-savvy kids. The series is great for intermediate-level readers; black and white illustrations and a quick pace make this novel a fun read that introduces younger middle graders to beginning coding terms and STEM. The mystery is even written in pseudocode – maybe a fun thing to introduce to your kids! Slip a pseudocode note into a lunchbox here, introduce a pseudocode scavenger hunt there… the possibilities stretch far and wide. Where Girls Who Code: Learn to Code, Change the World is best for your middle schoolers and upper middle graders, Girls Who Code: The Friendship Code is a great way to get younger middle graders familiar with the characters, the language of coding, and the fun of STEM.

In October, we’re getting another nonfiction/fiction GWC combo, when Code It! Create It! and Team BFF: Race to the Rescue! hit shelves. I’ll be waiting!

 

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Catch up on U.S. History with NatGeo Kids

Weird But True! (Know-It-All) U.S. Presidents, by Brianna Dumont, (July 2017, National Geographic Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1426327964

Recommended for readers 8-12

I love these NatGeo Kids’ facts-at-a-glance books. I learn something new every time, and I have a good time reading them. I’m pretty sure my library kids agree with me, because these books fly off the shelves. In this latest Weird But True, NatGeo gives readers a quick rundown of the U.S. Presidency: fun facts, a renovation timeline, an overview of the three branches of government and the powers of the Supreme Court, Congress, and the President; from there, we get a profile of each President, from Washington through to 45. Profiles run between 2 and 8 pages, outlining high points (Oval Awesome), low points (Oval Awful), and fun facts (Why He’s Weird!). It’s a fun read, loaded with caricature art and photos. Also a nice little supplement for reports and projects down the line.

 

Benjamin Franklin’s Wise Words: How to Work Smart, Play Well, and Make Real Friends, by K.M. Kostyal/Illustrated by Fred Harper, (Jan. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 978-4263-2699-8

Recommended for readers 8-12

Think of this as a “Life’s Little Instruction Book” for middle grade history fans. Ben Franklin’s sage advice is organized into quotes on tranqulity, industry, order, humility, resolution, sincerity, and moderation. Readers may be surprised at how many sayings they’re familiar with: “there are no pains without gains”, “haste makes waste”, and “honesty is the best policy”. There are 50 of Franklin’s quotes in this book, each with an accompanying caricature illustration with loads of physical comedy to appeal to middle graders. Quotes receive a more modern, accessible translation and a story about Franklin’s life, which may cause a disconnect to anyone who expects the story to illustrate the quote. It’s a fun look at one of U.S. history’s more fascinating characters, but unless you have a dedicated Franklin fan or two, it’s a supplemental or secondary add to your collection.