May 30, 2016

Phases of the moon

Faces of the Moon
by Bob Crelin
illustrated by Leslie Evans

Simple rhyming text and die-cut pages describe the changing faces of the moon as it orbits Earth. Illustrated tabs make it good for casual browsing and handy "memo-rhymes" make it easy to learn moon facts. The bold illustrations show the moon as seen during different times of the day.

An innovative book.

May 27, 2016

Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso

Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina
by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand
illustrated by Raúl Colón

The table of contents, elegantly written in curly script, is long and intimidating. Thankfully, the titles refer to poems, not chapters! Written in free verse, the poems trace Alonso's career from juvenile flamenco dancer to prima ballerina. 

Hers is a life filled with drama - a disapproving father who likens ballerinas to prostitutes, marriage at fifteen and a baby before the wedding, visual impairment, political turmoil in Cuba, and exile from the United States. Detailed endnotes plus glossary put everything in context. 

While the author does a good job in describing the sacrifices needed to pursue a passion, her poems are not as beautiful as the suitably ethereal drawings, which often outshine the words.

For ages 12 and up.

May 25, 2016

Robert Battle loves to dance

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle's Journey to Alvin Ailey
by Lesa Cline-Ransome
illustrated by James E. Ransome

Music and dance was a big part of Robert Battle's childhood, as was the love of his family and community. He turned that love into a stellar career as a ballet performer, choreographer and artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. 

Battle's inspiring story is told in this vibrant, warmly-worded picture book, enlivened with exuberant pictures. Words and pictures combine to capture all of Battle's energy, passion, and pride. A forward by Robert Battle pays tribute to the people who inspired and supported him. Endnotes also reveal how Battle himself inspired the author and illustrator.

An excellent book.

May 23, 2016

Ballerina Maria Tallchief

Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina
by Maria Tallchief with Rosemary Wells
illustrations by Gary Kelley

Tallchief's love of music and dance shine throughout this dreamy picture book. As she describes her childhood, readers are transported into a heart and mind completely devoted to her chosen profession. The softly coloured illustrations, some in double-page spreads, complement her words beautifully. Equally compelling is Rosemary Wells' introduction, which reveals her inspiration for telling Maria's story.

Tallchief ends her story at age seventeen, just as she is starting her career. It will leave readers felling slightly disappointed. They'll want to know more about this enchanting ballerina. 

A captivating biography.

May 20, 2016

Live forever

A Beginner's Guide to Immortality: From Alchemy to Avatars
by Maria Birmingham

SPOILER ALERT: As examples of immortal life, Birmingham mentions the novel Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt and the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Both are excellent, but Birmingham gives away the endings! I can't believe the editor missed it.

Now for the review:

The philosopher's stone, the Fountain of Youth, cryonics, and digital avatars - some people will try anything to avoid dying. An interesting study of immortality, this book is a wide-ranging look at the various ways to cheat death, from using magical elixirs to finding magical places. It also looks at what scientists are doing to prolong life, like studying long-living animals, suggesting healthy lifestyle choices, and dreaming up technological interventions.

Wacky, yet fascinating, the book is a fast-paced page-turner that'll have kids pondering the meaning of life.

May 18, 2016

Deadly disease

Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster: The Discovery of the Smallpox Vaccine
by Albert Marrin

If the slightly gruesome cover doesn’t draw readers in, the photograph next to the title page certainly will. It shows a person’s arms and legs totally covered with big pustules. The caption ominously states that this person probably died.

The sufferer had smallpox, a hideous disease that killed one out of every three of its victims. An immensely readable book, Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster traces the history of the disease from its earliest beginnings approximately 8000 years ago to the frozen strains currently existing in world laboratories. It is a story replete with suspense, horror, and unethical practices. It is also a fascinating look at scientific study and experimentation and one doctor’s unflagging dedication.

Author Albert Marrin seamlessly weaves the biography of Dr. Edward Jenner into his narrative, along with explanations of cell division, immune systems, and vaccine development. There were anti-vaxers even then (in 1798), despite the smallpox vaccine’s effectiveness. If current objectors read this book today, their views would hopefully change.

With black-and-white photos and drawings, a list of further books to read, internet sources and an index, this is a good book for science and history fans.

Highly recommended.

May 16, 2016

Medical success story

Breakthrough! How Three People Saved "Blue Babies" and Changed Medicine Forever
by Jim Murphy

Children born with "blue baby syndrome" were distinguished by the bluish skin tone of their lips, toes, and fingertips. They suffered from a serious heart condition resulting in a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream. Blue babies rarely lived past their tenth birthdays; twenty-five percent died before age one. In her search for a surgical cure for these ailing children, pediatric cardiologist Dr. Helen Taussig turned to surgeon Dr. Alfred Blalock. He, in turn, assigned the planning and research to his lab assistant Vivien Thomas. 

The story of how these three people came to perform the first open-heart surgery makes for interesting and compelling reading, especially in the capable hands of author Murphy. His straight-forward narrative distills complicated medical terms into clear prose and, at the same time, infuses the text with an underlying tension that will keep readers riveted. Set in 1944, the story naturally encompasses issues of discrimination, segregation, sexism, and animal testing. 

Above all, it is the story of Vivien Thomas, Dr. Blalock's assistant, who conceived the surgical procedure and aided Blalock during the operation. An African-American, Thomas was unable to enter medical school due to the Great Depression. His intelligence and potential were clearly recognized by Blalock even though Blalock was not a civil rights advocate. Thomas' contribution was immense, but it took nearly thirty years before he was properly recognized. His is an important, inspiring story that provides the book with its most memorable, uplifting moments.

Highly recommended.

May 13, 2016

Children's rights

Our Rights: How Kids are Changing the World
written and illustrated by Janet Wilson

Children have rights which are enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Sadly, the rights of children continue to be ignored even by the countries that have signed onto it, including Canada, Afghanistan, Greece, Iran, Rwanda, Turkey, and Venezuela.*

Fortunately, children themselves are speaking up and demanding that their rights be respected. Janet Wilson's collection of short biographies profile a number of young social activists who are making a difference for children around the world. They include a girl protesting against forced marriage, an ex-child soldier helping others like himself, and children raising funds for homeless kids. 

The book shows that anyone can make a contribution no matter what their age.

* For a list of countries that are party to the UNCRC, see I Have the Right to Be a Child by Alain Serres (Groundwood Books).

May 11, 2016

Civil rights activists

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders
by J. Patrick Lewis

Lewis' book of poetry is best summed up in this excerpt from his introduction:

.....  When thunder comes,
The civil righteous are finished being meek.
Why Sylvia Mendez bet against long odds,
How Harvey Milk turned hatred on its head,
Why Helen Zia railed against tin gods,
How Freedom Summer's soldiers faced the dread
Are tales of thunder that I hope to tell .....

Brief biographies of each activist is appended at the end of the book. The paintings, by five different artists, add solemnity to the powerful poems.

May 9, 2016

Shipwreck survivor

A Change of Heart
by Alice Walsh
art by Erin Bennett Banks

Lanier Phillips grew up in segregated Georgia, where persecution by the Ku Klux Klan was an almost daily occurrence. At eighteen, he enlisted in the US Navy, hoping to escape from the racial violence. But things were no better; black sailors were not allowed in combat positions, instead they worked as mess attendants, cleaning up after the white crew. When the ship he was on, the USS Truxton, ran aground off the coast of Newfoundland during a violent storm, Lanier was the only black survivor. 

Lanier was rescued by the people of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland. The care he received from them had a profound affect on him. It was the first time that he had been touched and treated respectfully by whites. It changed his life forever.

A Change of Heart describes Lanier's life-altering moment in a sympathetic, non-frightening way that is suitable for ages seven and up. An afterword provides a brief synopsis of Lanier's life and the accolades he went on to receive.

An uplifting story of kindness and humanity.

Life Lines: The Lanier Phillips Story
by Christine Welldon

The Truxton was not the only ship in peril that day. The USS Pollux, also caught in the same storm, was aground too. The Pollux survivors were rescued by the people of Lawn, Newfoundland, and of St. Lawrence, who came to assist after their rescue of the Truxton.  Welldon's account of the perilous rescues are dramatic and frightening, as are her more detailed depiction of the racial hatred Phillips experienced at that time. That racism existed far beyond U.S. borders is disturbingly portrayed when the other black sailors chose to die on the Truxton rather then risk being lynched on land. Not knowing their location, they had thought the land was Iceland, which did not allow black or Jewish men on their shores. So it was no wonder that Phillips felt resentment and hatred for white men. But after his rescue, he was able to let go of his hatred and find peace.

Lanier Phillips would still experience racism, but he would be able to hold his head high and find success as a civil rights activist. His journey is well told in Welldon's competent biography, as are her depictions of the people of Newfoundland. Their stories are inspiring and a testament to the power of compassion.

An excellent book.

May 6, 2016

Rainforest bird rescue

Rainforest Bird Rescue: Changing the Future for Endangered Wildlife
by Linda Kenyon

The world's rainforests are under threat due to deforestation, endangering all wildlife that live there. Some of the most endangered are rainforest birds; more than 100 bird species have already gone extinct. Over a thousand others are in danger of extinction, not only from the loss of habitat, but due to invasive species, human hunting, the illegal pet trade, and the sale of feathers. Fortunately, conservation groups around the world are working hard to save these beautiful birds.

Rainforest Bird Rescue is just one book in the popular Animal Rescue series produced by Firefly Books, which provide an optimistic overview of the many conservation projects underway to save endangered animals. Other titles include the rescue of frogs, turtles, birds of prey, elephants, tigers, and rhinos.

May 4, 2016

Endangered animals

How to Save a Species
by Marilyn Baillie, Jonathan Baillie, and Ellen Butcher

This slim volume offers a concise look at 17 endangered species and what is being done to save them. Some of the species featured may be unknown to many readers, such as the black robin, cebu frill-wing (an insect), luristan newt, and northern muriqui (a spider monkey). Endangered plants - the wild yam and Attenborough's pitcher plant - are also mentioned.

Visually appealing and clearly written, the book is a good introduction to the diversity of life on Earth.

May 2, 2016

Animal rescue

Saving Lives and Changing Hearts: Animal Sanctuaries and Rescue Centers
by Rob Laidlaw

It's always heartbreaking when you hear stories of animals being mistreated. This book counteracts the negativity by describing the successful rescue and rehabilitation of suffering animals around the world. Donkeys, bears, elephants, tortoises, pelicans, even pigs, have all benefited from the care they receive in animal rescue centres. 

Besides the uplifting stories, Laidlaw also describes the differences between a good sanctuary and a bad one, the difficulties of running a centre, and the ways that kids can help.

A good book for fostering caring and empathy for all wild animals.