Sunday, November 19, 2017

Fall Reading 2017 Hidden Women: The African-American Mathematicians of NASA Who Helped America Win the Space Race


With the box office success of "Hidden Figures" and the demand for more books such as Hidden Human Computers (by Duchess Harris), it is not surprising to see that publishers have stepped up to fulfill the need. Hidden Women tells the story of six African-American women who worked with NASA and its predecessor NACA, to help win the Space Race. Their stories are interwoven with historical events such as Gagarin's first orbit of the Earth, Civil Rights sit-ins, and JFK's dream to have America be the first to land a man on the moon.

Katherine Johnson, Miriam Mann (grandmother of Duchess Harris), Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Annie Easley, and Christine Darden are included in this discussion of the role African-American women played in the country's space program. Through the details of their careers, readers learn of the many challenges facing these women. While other workers were given paid leave to attend college, or received funds from NASA to pay their tuition, these ladies had to take unpaid leave and find their own way to finance college degrees. Even if they did have degrees, they were still assigned to pools of workers, rather than being given the same pay and projects that the white men at NASA enjoyed. There were also segregation issues such as not being allowed to live in the dorms on base, having to sit at separate tables in the lunchroom, or use separate restrooms. 

Despite all the negative aspects of their jobs, these women still accomplished remarkable things. Some calculated trajectories to safely get astronauts to the moon and back again, others plotted out the safe rendezvous between two spacecraft or made rockets flying with extremely volatile fuel safe to use. Some tested aircraft and spacecraft designs in wind tunnels, or developed new computer code to use with the FORTRAN they had already learned. They all exceeded the expectations of everyone around them in the work place, proving that women and people from diverse racial backgrounds were just as capable as the white men on the job.

A final chapter visits with three women who are currently working in the space industry and contrasts their experiences with those of the early pioneers like Johnson and Easley. Back matter includes a timeline, glossary, bibliography, source notes, and index. There is a list of books for those who wish to read more about the topic, and also critical thinking questions that would be useful for a book group or class book study. The archival photos throughout the book show all the featured women, as well as several of the astronauts and rockets mentioned.

Recommended for middle grades and up.

Fall Reading 2017 A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks out for Women's Rights


If you are looking for nonfiction read-alouds to introduce events and historical figures to young readers, add this book to your collection. Belva Lockwood was a determined woman and fought for parity and justice all her life. Whether is was the unfairness of female teachers receiving half the pay of male teachers, girls and women being denied entry to law school, or female lawyers being unable to argue cases in court, Belva was convinced that things needed to change. 

Kate Hannigan has written an account of Belva's life that highlights the battles she fought for equality. Sprinkled throughout the book are quotes from Belva's letters and speeches so that her authentic voice comes through. Alison Jay's crackle finish artwork fits so well with the text that is is hard to imagine anyone else doing the illustrations. The folk art style captures the setting of Belva's struggles in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

There are pages devoted to her days as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, her work with Susan B. Anthony, and her appeal to President Grant to receive her law school diploma. Illustrations show the fashions of the times, early bicycles with their enormous front wheels, the backless benches used in school rooms, and other period details.

Back matter includes an archival photo of Belva, an author's note, a timeline, bibliography, and source notes. This is a wonderful book to use when studying the suffrage movement, Women's History Month, or American historical figures in general.

I received an advance copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Fall Reading 2017 Lunchbox Words


Author Tracey West has written hundreds of books; you may recognize the name from the covers of Pokemon chapter books, the Dragon Masters series, or Pixie Tricks. But you may not know that she has a book designed to help your child master spelling words and increase their vocabulary. Put together as a collection of fun notes that can be torn out and slipped into a lunchbox, each page has a message on the front that features a spelling word. On the back of the page is listed the pronunciation, part of speech, definition, and often some tips on how to remember the correct spelling. Some pages feature a quote from a famous person that uses the word, other pages have "punny" jokes and riddles. Here's one - "Why do so many teachers use whiteboards? They're really re-markable!" 

Whether you want to use the book to supply you with lunchtime notes, or prefer to give the entire book to a child who could use some spelling encouragement, it is well thought out and has very good strategies to help with tricky words straight from the Scripps National Spelling Bee. So pick up a copy and start sharing the vocabulary love.

Fall Reading 2017 Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power!


Welcome to Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hard-Core Lady Types. The campers in Roanoke cabin (April, Ripley, Jo, Mal, and Molly), are ready for adventure. While working on their Living the Plant Life Badge, they discover a field full of unicorns near a strange pink and purple mountain. And when the girls decide to climb the mountain and earn an Extraordinary Explorer Medal, things really get crazy. That's right, crazier than wearing a live raccoon on your head the way Molly does. Even crazier than unicorns smelling "like sweat sock stew." So prepare to be taken for a ride that includes things like the Sound of Muesli badge, accordion music, and inventions for toasting multiple marshmallows over a campfire. The girls all have their own style and strengths - inventing, leading, enthusiasm, etc. - but they all know the first rule of Lumberjanes; "Friendship to the max!"

For those looking for diversity and LGBTQ titles, Unicorn Power includes a camper named Barney who were previously a Scouting Lad, but "being a Lumberjane was a WAY better fit because Barney did not feel like they were a lad." (Barney uses they rather than he or she.) And Jo has two dads, who have made her a wonderful workshop for all her tinkering an inventing. The dads are mentioned a couple of times, but not do not appear as characters in the story.

Recommended for middle grades and up. I received an ARC in a giveaway by the publisher.

Fall Reading 2017 Bound By Ice: A True North Pole Survival Story


Have you ever wondered about the explorers who tried to find the North Pole before Henson and Peary succeeded? This book takes you on an adventure of over two years as the crew of the Jeannette tried to reach the top of the world. In the days after the end of the Civil War, the Navy helped to set up an expedition sponsored by a wealthy newspaper tycoon. The crew packed supplies - including telephone and telegraph wires and electric light bulbs (from Edison himself) - and planned to return within a year and share all the knowledge they had gained with the world. Instead, the new inventions could not be made to work, their ship was trapped in ice, and they were pushed further and further from land and any hope of rescue. Read all about the emergencies, the celebrations, the fights between polar bears and sled dogs, and everything else the crew endured in their efforts to get back home to their loved ones.

Filled with excerpts from the journals of the captain and crew, along with newspaper clippings and photos, this detailed account of the expedition is supported by the primary sources worked into the text. Back matter includes an author's note, bibliography, source notes, and picture credits. Perfect for fans of the I Survived... series. Recommended for middle grades and up.

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Fall Reading 2017 The Blue Pool of Questions


Those looking for cultural diversity in children's books will be glad to discover this title. It is written by "an award-winning Palestinian novelist, poet, and children's book writer." The illustrator "won an Etisalat Award for best illustration for the Palestinian edition" of the book. And the translator is a Palestinian-American photographer. 

All credentials aside, the book tells the story of a man who comes to a city where he doesn't fit in. Everyone thinks he is odd because "He sang strange tunes. Dried flowers fell from his sleeves. Books slept inside his coat like shoes in a closet." The city dwellers are too busy to deal with someone so different, especially with all his questions that gather into a big blue pool in the streets. "They knew everyday answers so well that they had forgotten what questions looked like, and the pool of questions frightened them." Isn't that what most people do? They are so busy with their everyday lives that they forget to sing a song or arrange flowers or ask questions, and when someone else does those things, it is unnerving and makes them uncomfortable. The ending illustration with the man a part of a starry constellation leaves us with the admonition "to ask more questions, throw them into the blue pool, be brave, and dive in."

In a funny twist, I was thinking that the lyrical text reminded me of Naomi Shihab-Nye's writing. When I went to Amazon to post a review, I saw that Naomi was quoted in the editorial review section for the book. She recommends giving "it to all your friends, big and little." Good idea.

Fall Reading 2017 My First Book of Soccer: A Rookie Book: Mostly Everything Explained About the Game


Sports are not my thing. When my knee gives me trouble, I let everyone know that it is a marching band injury. But the Sports Illustrated Kids Rookie Books make sports easy to understand for everyone. My First Books of Soccer begins with a description of team size, the object of the game, and a diagram of the field. Photographs of players and officials are used to illustrate each concept that is discussed. Two cartoon kids comment on things they notice and make jokes. One says, "Dribble? Here, take a bib." The other replies, "Oh, sheesh."Speech bubbles are added to the photographs to create even more humor. In a spread showing a player taking a shot at the goal, she thinks "I hope I don't stub my toe" and the goalie thinks, "I hope she stubs her toe." Or when a player fouls another she says, "Sorry! My bad!" and the player who was fouled says, "So not cool!"

A set of these books would be constantly checked out in a library setting, since even those who don't have an ambition to play the spot will still enjoy the funny characters and speech or thought bubbles. It might be an interesting activity to read some of the books in class, and then have students create their own guide books - complete with the additional bubble comments. 

If you have a young reader that is into sports and enjoys learning the rules and playing positions, then find this series for them. You will score for sure!