Mom Read It

If the kids are reading it, chances are I have, too.

Black History Month: Shackles from the Deep, by Michael Cottman February 10, 2017

shackles-from-the-deepShackles from the Deep: Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship, a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy, by Michael Cottman, (Jan. 2017, National Geographic Society), $17.99, ISBN: 9781426326639

Recommended for ages 10-13

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Cottman investigates the wreck of a 17-century slave ship, the Henrietta Marie, and goes on a journey that will take him from the Caribbean islands, where the Henrietta Marie docked to unload hundreds of kidnapped Africans to be sold into slavery, to Africa, to see Goree Island – location of the Maison des Esclaves; House of the Slaves, and the Door of No Return; the last glimpse enslaved Africans would have of their homeland – with his own eyes.

Cottman’s journey is as personal as it is professional. He struggles with anger at the slavers themselves, and with the manufacturers of the shackles, discovered by African-American diver Captain Demostenes “Moe” Molinar, in 1972. Cottman discovers that many of the men behind the Henrietta Marie were members of their parishes, even philanthropists in their own communities, and yet turned a blind eye to the suffering of countless men, women, and children caught up in the slave trade. He wonders if the spouses and children of these men knew that their comfortable lifestyle came at the expense of human misery, and he agonizes as he tries to understand, and forgive.

Adapted for younger readers from Michael Cottman’s 1999 book, The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie, Shackles from the Deep introduces readers to the aftereffects of slavery, centuries later. Entire families have been lost to history; people feel unrooted, to some degree, to this day. Imagine wondering your ancestors endured the brutal conditions of slavery, and never being able to find out the answer? By personalizing his story, Michael Cottman makes this already important book vital reading for middle school students and above.

We are still dealing with the fallout from centuries of slavery. It is personal, and by adding his story to the story of the Henrietta Marie, Michael Cottman invites readers to look at events that may seem so long past through different eyes. What we also get, unexpectedly, is a call to action for young divers of color to continue exploring the waters of our planet to learn more about our collective past, and our future.

An important book for libraries and nonfiction collections, Shackles from the Deep has received a starred review from Booklist. There are four pages of full-color photos; an index, and further resources on deep-water exploration, shipwrecks, and slave ships.

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History has a comprehensive booklet on the Henrietta Marie, from their 2000 expedition at the West Virginia State Museum. It would be an excellent companion to any social studies unit on slavery and an accompaniment to Shackles From the Deep.

 

Time For Kids Presidents is a good desk reference for middle graders January 30, 2017

tfkpresidentsTime for Kids: Presidents of the United States, by Editors at Time for Kids, (Jan. 2017, Time for Kids), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1683300007

Recommended for ages 8-12

Time for Kids’ Presidents of the United States is a slim, backpack and desk-friendly reference guide for middle graders. Loaded with color photos and illustrations, there are facts about the Presidency, branches of government, political parties and why we have them, a spotlight on the First Ladies, and more. Each President receives a brief biography, fast facts, including birth and death dates, political party, Vice President, wife, children, key dates during his administration, and a Did You Know? fact. A 2016 election spotlight and President portrait gallery completes the volume, along with links to the White House website, Presidential homesteads and museums. The volume includes an index.

This is a helpful resource for middle graders – it will help with social studies and current events homework, and provides a quick, easy reading experience by chunking information into readable bites. A good buy for classroom libraries and social studies collections.

 

 

Blog Tour: Twisted True Tales from Science! January 2, 2017

Happy New Year! What better way to kick things off than by talking up a new, cool nonfiction science series?

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Series information:

Title: Twisted True Tales from Science

Author: Stephanie Bearce

Release Date: February 1, 2017

Publisher: Prufrock Press

Did you know that Nikola Tesla invented a death ray gun and was also afraid of women who wore jewelry? How about the Chinese scientists from two-thousand years ago who were trying to create a medicine that would make them live forever but accidentally blew up their lab and discovered gun powder?

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Find out more about the strange history of science in Twisted True Tales from Science, a new non-fiction series that introduces kids to some of the most twisted yet completely true stories from science. These books are perfect for the gross-but-true legends of the Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not! stories.

Freaky Facts from Explosive Experiments

Gunpowder was a chemical explosive discovered by the ancient Chinese. But they weren’t experimenting to invent a weapon. They were actually trying to make a medicine that would give their emperor eternal life. Boy – were they surprised when the elixir for life exploded and blew up their laboratory.

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The mission was code named Starfish Prime and it was one of the largest man-made explosions in the history of the world. In 1962 the United States tested a nuclear bomb in outer space. The explosion was so bright that it lit up the sky over Honolulu just like it was the fourth of July. But instead of fireworks, it was a nuclear bomb 100 times bigger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

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GIVEAWAY for one bundle of the entire Twisted True Tales from Science series (4 books)

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Women in the Old West: Frontier Grit October 18, 2016

frontier-gritFrontier Grit, by Marianne Monson, (Sept. 2016, Shadow Mountain), $19.99, ISBN: 9781629722276

Recommended for ages 12+

Monson profiles 12 pioneer women who lived life on the frontier as America expanded into the West. From a freed slave who watched her husband and children sold in front of her to a woman who rescued Chinese girls from human trafficking, every woman profiled in this book withstood hardships, overcame obstacles, and thumbed their noses at nay-sayers to change the world. There are entrepreneurs, doctors, politicans, and activists, all here to inform and inspire a new generation.

Frontier Grit gives us a new batch of women in history that many of us would otherwise never have heard of; while the research is well done and comprehensive, the writing is simplified, more for a middle school audience than the 18+ age group suggested by the publisher. An author summary at end of each profile relates what each woman personally means to the author, detracting from the scholarship of the overall book and relegating it to the territory of history report. Each woman’s impact could more effectively be communicated by making it less personal, more definitive; the lasting impact of each woman on all women.

Each profile includes photos (or drawings, where applicable), notes and sources. A reasonable purchase if you need additional women’s biographies, particularly as they relate to the American frontier or women’s suffrage.

 

Science Comics explores Volcanoes September 30, 2016

volcanoesScience Comics: Volcanoes-Fire and Life, by Jon Chad, (Oct. 2016, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781626723603

Recommended for ages 8-12

Earlier this year, we got a look at First Second’s two Science Comics, Coral Reefs and Dinosaurs. There’s great science and fun art wrapped up in each of these comics, so I was super-psyched when I met a First Second rep at the PLA Conference this year, and she told me that there were more Science Comics coming. True to her word, we’re getting Volcanoes in just a couple of weeks.

Similar to Coral Reefs, Volcanoes wraps information about volcanic activity into a story: there’s been some sort of environmental cataclysm, and Earth is freezing. A tribe is scanning books when Aurora, one of the kids, discovers a book about volcanoes; she is HOOKED. She’s saved her tribe! The power to warm the planet is right underneath their feet!

From there, Aurora becomes the reader’s guide through a look into the activity bubbling under the earth’s crust: there are magma vents, shifting tectonic plates, and volcanic eruptions. Volcanoes create just as much as they destroy: there are entire land masses that owe their existence to a volcanic eruption, just as there are entire cities that have been wiped out by them.

 

What Dog Knows September 22, 2016

what-dog-knowsWhat Dog Knows, by Sylvia Vanden Heede, (Sept. 2016, Gecko Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781776570362

Recommended for ages 7-10

Wolf is tired of his cousin, Dog, always knowing more than he does, so he checks a book out of the library (never mind that he can’t read), and tries to outsmart Dog with his new knowledge about mummies, knights, and dinosaurs.

Mixing facts into the fictional tale of the Dog and Wolf, this seems like it’s geared toward younger readers, but then throws in the process of mummification, and a plotline where Wolf intends to mummify Cat, his antagonist, and suddenly, things take a little bit of a weird turn. This wasn’t really my book, and I don’t see the kids in my library really catching on with this one because it’s a bit disjointed and quirky. The art is very sweet, and I did love that Cat struck fear into Wolf’s heart, but overall, it didn’t work for either age group (4-7 vs 8-12) for me.

This is the second Dog and Wolf book from Gecko. Wolf and Dog was published in 2013.

 

Bridge to the Wild: Zoos connect people and animals September 12, 2016

bridge-to-the-wildBridge to the Wild, by Dr. Caitlin O’Connell/Photographs by Timothy Rodwell, (Aug. 2016, HMH Books for Young Readers), $18,99, ISBN: 9780544277397

Recommended for ages 10 and up

I’m about to gush here. If you read my reviews often enough, you probably have guessed that I love any nonfiction book about animals, conservation and preservation, and even better when the ideas are combined. In Bridge to the Wild, Dr. Caitlin O’Connell begins by recalling a childhood visit to the zoo – back when animals were still largely kept in cages (I remember it well), and saw a gorilla, seemingly in deep despair over living in a cage not much bigger than he was.

Thankfully, those days are (mostly) over. Zoos are more like natural preserves now, offering many animals larger spaces to roam; conservation and preservation is the order of the day, with zoo staff rescuing and caring for animals all over the world. As more animals face extinction at the hands of poachers, habitat devastation, and pollutants that contaminate their environment, zoos are playing a bigger part in keeping our wildlife alive, and conducting valuable research on improving their conditions and our world. Bridge to the Wild is Dr. O’Connell’s manifesto, where she lays out the valuable ways zoos are a bridge for humans, to the wild outside our doors.

Dr. O’Connell spent a week working with the staff at Zoo Atlanta –  a private, nonprofit wildlife park and zoo – to observe the relationships between animals and caretakers, to help strengthen this bridge. After all, what we see as observers is only the tip of the iceberg; many, many loving and brilliant people are behind the scenes, learning about and learning from the animals, caring for them, loving them. From the Dawn Chorus – the morning symphony conducted by the tenants as the day begins, to the Dusk Chorus, when they start winding down for the night, Dr. O’Connell and Tim Rodwell introduce us to the inhabitants of Zoo Atlanta, from the pandas, to the hornbills, meerkats, gorillas, tigers and more.

There are anecdotes and beautiful photographs, a “Keeper Feature” that profiles the different keepers at Zoo Atlanta, and a fantastic note on ignorance and extinction, which is a real call to action to end senseless poaching of animal parts for talismans and “remedies” that simply don’t work. A full bibliography and sources are available and provide more research opportunities, and data sheets encourage budding zoologists to do some research on their own, guided by Dr. O’Connell, who lays out simple experiments to observe and record behaviors.

Animal books are hugely popular with my Corona Kids, and I’ve been stacking my collection with plenty of rescue, preservation, and conservation titles for them, to drive home the point that this planet doesn’t only belong to us. Bridge to the Wild is going to be one of those books I talk endlessly about, especially since my library is about a stone’s throw away from the Queens Zoo. I may even slip copies of this book into teachers’ hands during class visits, with a “hint, hint” nudge for a class trip activity (sorry, kids!). That’s how important this book is to me.

Bridge to the Wild has received a starred review from School Library Journal. Learn more about Dr. O’Connell’s work and books at her author website.

Take a peek at a chapter excerpt on meerkats, then go order this book for your animal lovers!
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