February 29, 2016

Carnivorous plants

Fly Traps! Plants That Bite Back
by Martin Jenkins
illustrated by David Parkins

Martin Jenkins likes watching plants eat bugs. His entertaining picture book is a good way to introduce kids to carnivorous plants like bladderworts, sundews, cobra lilies, pitcher plants, and, of course, Venus flytraps. The simple text and funny pictures will attract ages four to six.

Venus Flytraps, Bladderworts and Other Wild and Amazing Plants
by Monica Halpern

Newly independent readers will enjoy this book, especially if they like photographs. An introduction and three short chapters make reading easy, as do the simple sentences and clear explanations. Published by National Geographic, it also includes tips on how to write a report.

Carnivorous Plants
by Elaine Pascoe
photographs by Dwight Kuhn

Kids will be fascinated by the photos in this book, which often show close-ups of insects trapped in plants. Longer sentences and more detailed explanations make the book suitable for ages eight and up. A chapter devoted to raising Venus flytraps will interest kid gardeners, while the more scientific-minded will enjoy the suggested experiments.

February 26, 2016

Disaster preparedness

I'll Know What to Do: A Kid's Guide to Natural Disasters
by Bonnie S. Mark and Aviva Layton

Blizzards aren't mentioned, but this book does offer tips on how to prepare for earthquakes, floods, mudslides, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fire. Some of the advice require the assistance of adults - you can't expect kids to board up windows, sandbag homes, or water down roofs by themselves - but most can be easily put into action. More lists would have been helpful in terms of format.

A child and adolescent therapist, Mark uses the last half of the book discussing feelings like anxiety, fear, relief, or guilt that may arise after surviving the disaster. She then provides ways of coping with those feelings such as talking with others, helping others, writing a story, or creating artwork. While these ideas are good, I suspect that for some kids, making a permanent remembrance of a disaster - like a scrapbook or a film - may traumatize them further. Parents should read the book first, before giving it to children.

February 24, 2016

Killer blizzard

Blizzard! The Storm That Changed America
by Jim Murphy

At the time, the winter was unusually warm, with clear blue skies and flowers bursting into bloom. But unbeknownst to many New Yorkers, a massive storm was brewing, a storm that would last three days and claim countless lives.

Jim Murphy vividly brings the Great Blizzard of 1888 to life in his dramatic and compelling book. By concentrating on the experiences of several individuals, he is able to forge a close connection between them and the reader. You can practically feel the cold, the wind, and the extreme exhaustion as each individual tries to survive.

Highly recommended.

The Great Blizzard wasn't the only blizzard of 1888. Three months earlier, in January of that year, the American prairies were hit by a sudden blizzard that killed many children on their way home from school. Read The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin.

February 22, 2016

Hero of the blizzard

by John Rocco

Based on a true event, this picture book describes a week in the life of a young boy, during which nearly four feet of snow fell in just twenty-four hours. Front end papers amusingly depict the boy as he's slowly swallowed up by the snow until his mittened hand and the top of his hat is the only thing visible. 

Trapped in his home for five days and with food running low, the boy sets out for the market, using tennis racquets strapped to his feet. Fold-out papers trace his meandering journey from house to store, stopping for snow angels and snowball fights along the way.

The endearing artwork is full of delightful touches like the days of the week spelled out in snow, the shaggy dog shaking itself dry, the old-fashioned cash register in the store, and the expressions of family and neighbours. Paired with an adventurous story, this is a good book to enjoy next to a nice warm fire.

February 19, 2016

Sir Edmund Hillary: Burrah Sahib (Great Leader)

Triumph on Everest: A Photobiography of Sir Edmund Hillary
by Broughton Coburn

This is an excellent biography of Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand beekeeper who, with Tenzing Norgay, became the first man to reach the top of Mount Everest. As well as describing how his feat was accomplished, the book also details Hillary's Antarctic expedition, his search for the elusive yeti, and his philanthropic work in Nepal.

A very attractive book enhanced with excellent photographs and quotes from Hillary's own writings.

February 17, 2016

Song for Tenzing

Tiger of the Snows: Tenzing Norgay: The Boy Whose Dream Was Everest
by Robert Burleigh and Ed Young

Sherpa Norgay accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary to the top of Mount Everest. This is Robert Burleigh's poetic tribute to a man who shared a spiritual connection to the world's highest peak. Biographical information is actually very skimpy; all we learn is that he wanted to climb since childhood. Ed Young's pastel pictures lend a haunting beauty to the lyrical text.

February 15, 2016

Lost on Mount Everest

Mystery on Everest: A Photobiography Of George Mallory
by Audrey Salkeld

George Mallory was only 38 years old when he and companion Sandy Irvine disappeared on Mount Everest in 1924. Seventy-five years later, Mallory's frozen body was finally discovered; Irvine has yet to be found. 

The life of Mallory is traced in this interesting photobiography, which describes a man seemingly born to climb, once being found on a church roof at age seven. So his attempts at Everest was no surprise, desperate the dangers it offered. Salkeld's descriptions of early mountaineering is suitably gripping, especially when recounting Mallory and Irvine's final attempt at the summit. Whether they actually summitted or not may never be verified.

With lots of photos, some taken by the mountaineers themselves, this book is sure to fascinate children and generate debate. A resource guide at the end is helpful for more curious readers.

February 12, 2016

Courageous sled dogs save town

The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail
by Debbie S. Miller
illustrations by Jon Van Zyle

A diphtheria epidemic broke out in Nome, Alaska in the winter of 1925. The lives of many children were threatened. They desperately needed an antitoxin serum which was only available in Anchorage, over 1000 miles away. With the weather too cold for the open cockpit planes used in those days, the only option was to send the serum by train for the first 400 miles, then by teams of dogsleds for the remaining journey. 

The rigours of the race form the basis of this gripping narrative, with dramatic pictures conveying the frigidness of the arctic surroundings. 

Twenty sled dog teams took part in the serum run, with the final team headed by a dog named Balto. He received the most attention and is remembered in numerous books and a movie. Often overlooked is the dog who ran the most miles in the race (over 200!): Togo.

Read Balto and the Great Race by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel and Togo by Robert J. Blake.

February 10, 2016

Dogs love to race

DK Readers L4: Snow Dogs! Racers of the North
by Ian Whitelaw

DK Readers are a series of leveled books geared to different reading abilities from beginner to proficient readers. At level 4 (L4), Snow Dogs! is written for proficient readers able to read alone, with more complex sentence structure and additional information (found in sidebars). The book is only 48 pages, including glossary, yet manages to pack in lots of information. Kids will learn about the history of dogsledding and the work involved in preparing for the strenuous Iditarod, Yukon Quest, and Hudson Bay Quest races. Lively text and bright photos will keep readers interested.

February 8, 2016

Life with sled dogs

Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers: Reflections on Being Raised by a Pack of Sled Dogs
by Gary Paulsen

Paulsen, beloved writer of Hatchet, used to raise and race sled dogs for a living. This is his memoir of his life with a beloved sled dog named Cookie and her litter of pups. Paulsen's wonderful, affectionate prose fill each page with vivid descriptions of the joyful pups at play, whether they're tearing through a house or pulling a sled as a team for the very first time.  

Paulsen's most memorable words are reserved for Cookie and the very special bond they shared. Their mutual grief when forced to retire from sledding and Cookie's last day of life are so heartfelt that readers may shed a tear or two. 

A deeply satisfying novel.

February 5, 2016

Challenging questions about chemistry

Why Is Milk White? & 200 Other Curious Chemistry Questions
by Alexa Coelho and Simon Quellen Field

Eleven-year-old Coelho came up with the questions and chemist Field provided the answers in this handy reference book. If you've ever wondered how soap works, why the sky is blue, what chemists do, or why jelly feels squishy, this is the book for you. Field tries to answer the questions as simply as possible, though you may need to reread them at least twice to fully get it. 

There are a dozen projects to get your hands dirty, but you'll need to shop first as some materials may not be handy. One can only be done with a gas stove so electric range users are out of luck. Numbered steps would have made the instructions easier to follow. There are photographs, but they're hard to see and only in black-and-white (a problem when the experiments are about colour).

Not a bad book, but only for avid chemists and really inquisitive kids.

February 3, 2016

Introducing the elements

The Periodic Table: Elements With Style!
by Adrian Dingle
pictures by Basher

This little book with its animé-like cartoons is a good primer on the elements for middle grade and high school students. Not every element is covered, but the ones chosen are supposedly the most representative of each group. Included with each element's symbol, atomic number, atomic weight, density, and melting point, are cheeky first-person descriptions of their more interesting properties. For instance, Radium says I am ... a completely captivating character. I shine in any social situation. Bright and luminescent (I was used in glow-in-the-dark paint), I am a real stunner. 

An easy-to-use reference guide that's good for reading casually or cover-to-cover.

February 1, 2016

The creation of the periodic table

Mendeleyev and the Periodic Table
by Katherine White

Every day, students use the periodic table in chemistry class. But do they ever stop to think who created the table in the first place? This textbook may not have an inviting cover, but the story within is surprisingly interesting. Dmitry Mendeleyev was a young Russian chemist who literally dreamed up a way to organize the elements - the periodic table. He even predicted that new elements were yet to be discovered and left room in the table for them! Since he created the table in 1869, this was truly remarkable.

Written in a lively, concise style, this would be a good book to have in school or classroom libraries.

For ages 9 and up.