Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch
Little, Brown and Company
Told through alternating chapters by Caitlin from the United States and Martin from Zimbabwe, this memoir will impress readers with the strong dedication from two teens to maintain a friendship by mail that many would have given up on. The inspirational writing will have many searching for their own pen pal. The photographs of the pair show their obvious differences and it was a pleasure to return to them again and again as the suspenseful story progressed. The book is organized into four parts (Hallo!, Clues, Generosity, A Future) following the deepening friendship of Caitlyn and Martin. The cover design resembles an airmail envelope reminding us this takes place before e-mail is common. The epilogue at the end updates readers on where the pair are now. This is a unique story and a cultural lesson full of love and caring that will appeal to tweens and teens.
A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
With its distinctive voice of someone telling the reader a story, and the equally unique and colorful illustrations of wide-eyed characters, this biography is a good choice for younger children. The title is catchy, the story is interesting, the illustrations include text bubbles and graphics (KaBoom!), and the fun starts on the front cover, continues to the endpapers showing various characters wearing earmuffs (love the moose earmuffs!) and ends on the back cover with an earmuffed dog. Many supportive features include plaques describing the lightbulbs of various inventors, other inventions by Chester, a bibliography, “A Note about this Book” and “All about Patents.” One positive for me is that, although it is thoroughly researched and documented, the author doesn’t presume to know all the facts by using phrases such as “we know for sure” and encourages the reader to question holes in the evidence. It shows a little about the patent process. One missing item is that it never lists when Chester was born.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
This memoir written in verse is arranged by ranges of years, with Spanish and English language intermingled. Engle writes with a childhood understanding of the time when Cuba's revolution cut her extended family off from the U.S. where she had dual citizenship. She considered herself a "twin" in which one stayed in Cuba and one stayed in Los Angeles. The poems include historical, political, and cultural topics of the time period.
This is a beautiful and passionate book I enjoyed reading in one sitting while enjoying a late summer thunderstorm under the protection of a covered patio. It was emotional and magical, and I think to some degree I understood the author's conflict about where she belonged. It provides a surprising amount of information in a non-conventional format, including the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and passport issues. One quibble for me might be that it seemed to rush through her later years. Or maybe I was just enjoying it so much that I wanted to know more.
The dust jacket is based on a poem that talks of our lives being like two wings of a bird, of which I think Engle was writing. There is a plain hard cover underneath. A flower/vine motif is used throughout at the beginning of each chapter. Otherwise, there is no visual support. Contents are included with a Cold War Timeline and an Author's Note explaining these poems are based on childhood memories up to age 14. It lacks a map of where Cuba is located and it's distance from LA, which would have made a nice visual. Although there are no accuracy issues with the time, the Cuban dictator is not included in the timeline. Also, there is no bibliography of Cuban resources. And since this is a firsthand account, there is no documentation. Therefore, a reader might need to go outside the book to get background information on topics discussed within the poems.
Although I loved this book, I am unsure of child appeal. It is probably better suited for tweens, teens, and even adults interested in history, politics, and poetry. On the plus side, the sparse text makes it a fast read which will be very appealing to younger readers.
This is the second book in the Medical detection series in which readers learn where the famous phrase "Typhoid Mary" came from while learning the fascinating story behind it. It's quite a feat to make the subject of public health and sanitation exciting, but Jarrow has done it with this suspenseful and melodramatic chronicle of perhaps the most famous person known to have typhoid fever. With the feel of a tabloid story, readers are pulled into Mary's story with the merging of historical with scientific detection. And there is a lot of science. Luckily, the engaging over-the-top language and delightful images provide a nice contrast.
The design of this book is excellent. The cover says "sensationalism" and seems appropriate for the time frame, and the tabloid feel of the book is an attraction. So many details have been attended to from the diversity of images (engaging illustrations and photographs, mixed with comics), black corners on each page for easy index reference, color contrast between pages and text, appropriate bold type, consistency between titles and quotes. It's a complete package and a good design for the intended age group.
Supplemental material includes a Glossary, Timeline, For More Information - on Typhoid Mary Case (Nonfiction, Fiction), on Typhoid Fever (websites), Author's Note (reason for writing it, goal, research method), Source Notes by chapter and page, Bibliography, Index, Picture Credits. It is well researched and the author points out inaccuracies in documents. Famous Typhoid Victims (with photographs) is an additional bonus at the end of the book, although it was slightly confusing because the people mentioned were not in the story. A reference to the CDC on how to wash hands is also included.
The book demonstrates a lack of understanding about the disease at the time and brings the topic into awareness. The cast of characters introduced is varied and interesting, and the author is skilled at introducing each one. It does evoke emotion and there is some sympathy for Mary's treatment, although the author seems to tell the story more in favor of the state. Issue of medical privacy that is so important nowadays did not exist for her.
The reader is left with questions that can never be answered. Why was she treated this way? Others did more damage than she did but were not put into seclusion.
This title should have big child appeal and will be good for older tweens and teens who have an interest in medical thrillers and true life stories.
University of Nebraska Press
This is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, but due to its poor packaging I doubt many readers will ever see it. I'll admit, I thought it was for adults. Only the back cover indicates that it is intended for juveniles, though it has absolutely no child appeal.
It is a biography of the founder of ornithology and bird painter Audubon. It tells of Audubon's privileged upbringing in France, coming to America, his personal life, and struggle to support his family while doing the thing he loved to do, study birds. Taking place during the early years of our nation, readers will enjoy seeing Audubon's life in the frontier. The writing is excellent and easy-to-read and I would even say geared toward children. Many Audubon quotes are inserted throughout. It is filled with gorgeous illustrations of Audubon's paintings and each one has a caption identifying it, which matches the action in the text. Some words are defined in the text.
Supplemental information includes: Contents, Illustrations, Acknowledgements, Introduction (provides a little information about Audubon's methods and goals), Glossary, Appendix : Looking for Audubon and his world (Historical Sites, Museums and Galleries, Wildlife Societies and an Educational Institution), Notes by chapter and page, Bibliography, Illustration credits, Index. Footnotes are not good for the intended age group.
All ages will enjoy this short book (only 100 pages, so it will work for a biography report).
This will appeal to bird lovers and adventurers.
Andrews, Troy "Trombone Shorty"
Abrams Books for Young Readers
This autobiography of musician Trombone Shorty appears in picture book format for our youngest readers. Told in 1st person by Troy Andrews in a distinctive voice (Where Y'at?), he tells the story of how he got his nickname. It is very accessible storytelling that will appeal to lots of kids. I loved his comparison about wanting his music to sound like the gumbo his mother made. It's an uplifting story, about a slice in the life of a current musician children may know.
There are so many things I love about this book and one is the design, starting with a cover that immediately lets you know what this book is about. You see the young boy, you see the trombone. It pops. The dust cover is very active and eye-catching and seems more appropriate for younger children. The back dust cover shows him with the other boys in his "band". The hard cover uses different, but equally captivating images better for older children. The endpapers are bright yellow like a trombone. The illustrations are in watercolor and collage that match the style of the music (angled, slightly off, 3D) and capture his personality. A wonderful job was done not to lose any information or illustrations in the gutter. An illustrator note explains the method used and some of the symbolism in the book (balloons).
Author's Note talks about his journey from a young child to become a musician which includes some photographs of him playing when the trombone is bigger than he is. One criticism is that the illustrations make him look much older than he does in the photos. Also, the author's note missed an opportunity to expand on the information about his life. At the end, a casual photo of grown-up Troy Andrews appears.
Additional supportive features provide additional information in the 'About the Trombone Shorty Foundation' which gives the website and mission. Acknowledgments. There is no bibliography. There is some conflicting information about how he acquired the trombone, and there is a missed opportunity to learn more about jazz or whatever.
This book is going to appeal to lots of children and is a good connection to diversity, music, Mardi Gras, musical instruments, musicians, jazz, trombones, and more.