March 31, 2017

Goddesses from around the world

The Lady Of Ten Thousand Names
retold by Burleigh Mutén
illustrated by Helen Cann

Eight goddess stories from Egypt, China, North America, Wales, Scandinavia, Japan, Nigeria, and Greece. 

Changing Woman and Her Sisters: Stories of Goddesses from Around the World
retold by Katrin Hyman Tchana
illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Ten goddess stories belonging to the Navajo, Celtic, Inuit, Buddhist, Egyptian, Mayan, Shinto, Sumerian, Hindu, and Fon cultures.

These stories are elegantly retold, although Mutén's prose is awkward at times, particularly in her stories about Isis, Kuan Yin, and Ama-Terasu. These are the only goddesses that appear in both books. Tchana's prose flows better; she chooses slightly different spellings and names (Amaterasu and Susanowo instead of Susa-no). 

A few of the stories are disturbingly violent; even powerful female gods are abused by their male counterparts. But the goddesses are resilient, and use their strength, wisdom, and compassion for triumphant conclusions. 

The art in both books is beautiful. Cann's smaller illustrations and border decorations make her pages very pleasant, while Hyman's full-page collages are striking and powerful. 

Both books include source notes for each goddess. Tchana and Hyman also include detailed notes about their inspirations.

March 29, 2017

Female fighters

Women Warriors: Adventures from History's Greatest Female Fighters
by Teena Apeles

Military history is full of fighting men, but scarce attention is paid to the women. Teena Apeles aims to correct this oversight in her breezy little book, which introduces some female warriors who have made their mark: the Amazons, Joan of Arc, the Trung sisters, Lozen, Boudicca, Tomoe Gozen, and Lakshmibai. Other women mentioned include Native American fighters, warrior queens, female ninjas, Arab warriors, modern and fictional superheroes, and women who fought while pregnant.

Active prose and good design make this book an enlightening and worthy read.

March 27, 2017

Colourful guide to Hindu gods

The Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow
by Sanjay Patel

Hindus revere a plethora of gods and goddesses, demigods, and animal gods. What's more, many of these gods possess various manifestations and avatars. To keep track of them all, look to Patel's guide to Hindu deities. This cheerful little book is a fun way to learn about each god's origin and superpower. Depicted with wide eyes and big heads, even the most fierce ones are downright cute.

Along with a chronology of creation and the nine planets mythology, The Little Book of Hindu Deities is a playful introduction to Hinduism that kids are sure to enjoy.

March 24, 2017

Diverse historical fiction

A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls
edited by Jessica Spotswood

This collection of short stories is written by some well-known YA writers like Marissa Meyer, Y.S. Lee, Elizabeth Wein, Kekla Magoon, and Robin Talley. All the stories are set in the United States between 1710-1968 and each star a diverse cast of female main characters. These girls and teens stare down challenges ranging from winter survival, forced marriages, or male oppression. All of them find ways to take charge of their destinies, making this anthology an empowering read.

But like any anthology, the stories can be a bit uneven. I liked El Destinos, by Leslye Walton, which was a beautifully-written tale of the Fates from Greek mythology, but featuring a trio of Mexican sisters. The character of Klio in Andrea Cremer's fantastical High Stakes was also very interesting, with its clever take on the Medusa story. I also admired Fei-Yen's bravery in Marissa Meyers' western ghost story, the revenge-seeking Garrett sisters in Y. S. Lee's The Legendary Garrett Girls, and the young Annie Oakley in Pearls by Beth Revis. However, the short story format left little room for Cremer's story to fully develop, while Wein's The Color of the Sky, about real-life aviator Bessie Coleman, felt too long. Other stories were merely good if a little repetitive theme-wise, but each character's voice is wholly her own. The cross-dressing bank robber of Saundra Mitchell's Bonnie and Clyde is especially strong.

Adventurous and exciting, good or bad, these stories are memorable and an enjoyable teen read.

March 22, 2017

Lizzie Borden got a bad rap

The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century
by Sarah Miller

Lizzie Borden was presumed guilty almost immediately. It didn't help that she had no alibi and the police allowed her to be alone. It gave her time to change her dress. 

This and other incriminating details are meticulously covered in Sarah Miller's compulsively-readable novel. She lays out each piece of evidence in linear fashion and examines them from all angles, forming a fair and balanced analysis that will leave readers guessing. Her account of police, coroner, and legal proceedings are delivered in casual, direct prose without being overly sensationalized. She also does a good job of capturing the tenor of the time. For in 1892, police investigations were not at their best. The autopsies of Borden's father and stepmother were not done until five days after their murders. Tunnel vision meant the police spent too much time examining the wrong weapon. The hatchet they had confiscated bore no trace of blood or human hair. Meanwhile, the real weapon was discovered during the trial, but went missing and is still missing today. Add in the rampant gossip and speculation, and it's no wonder that fact and fiction became blurred. With no real evidence, the jury came up with the only possible verdict: not guilty.

Lizzie Borden was acquitted, but the damage was done. Her reputation was forever ruined. Total exoneration was never forthcoming because, in a strange twist, the police closed the case and never bothered to investigate further. 

Did Lizzie Borden get away with murder? We may never know.

A true-crime story that is highly recommended.

March 20, 2017

Bad, strong, or misunderstood?

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves and Other Female Villains
by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple
illustrated by Rebecca Guay

History hasn't been kind to women. When they're not being ignored, they seem to be vilified instead. Oftentimes, a smart, outspoken, or brave woman is considered bad simply because her behaviour was deemed morally wrong for the times in which she lived. 

In Bad Girls,  Yolen and Stemple take a look at some of history's most notorious women and debate whether or not the women were truly bad. Some were criminals (Moll Cutpurse, Belle Starr, Bonnie Parker), some were spies (Peggy Arnold, Rose Greenhow, Mata Hari), a few were queens (Cleopatra, Anne Boleyn, Catherine the Great), a couple were pirates (Anne Bonney, Mary Read), while the rest may have been murderers, robbers, or witches. 

Not all of them started off bad, some were driven by poverty, coercion, or desperation. And in the case of Madame Alexe Popova, you could say she filled a much needed service in helping women escape abusive husbands. She admitted to killing the men, but at least she did it humanely - with poison!

A zippy book, the authors present their facts in a mere four to five pages, with closing arguments summed up in comic panels after each case. The dearth of details may not leave room for definitive verdicts, but it does get readers to think critically and analytically. 

An interesting and engaging book.

March 17, 2017

Mummified children

Mysteries Of The Mummy Kids
by Kelly Milner Halls

Incan sacrificial victims, child ice maidens, murdered bog children, mummy babies, and an eerily lifelike girl named Rosalia are some of the mummies depicted in this enthralling book. Halls offers gentle speculations on their lives and deaths, and interviews a few of the scientists who discovered them. Her writing is a bit dense at times, but persistent readers will be rewarded with interesting details and anecdotes. The excellent cover is a prime attraction, as are the many photos inside.

A very intriguing book.

March 15, 2017

Ancient and modern mummies

Mummies: The Newest, Coolest & Creepiest from Around the World
by Shelley Tanaka

Organized by continent, this is an excellent introduction to mummy discoveries from around the world. How the bodies were preserved and what they tell us about ancient societies is neatly summarized in concise paragraphs. As well, the large, close-up photographs capture each mummy in fascinating detail.

March 13, 2017

Creepy mummies

Mummies: Dried, Tanned, Sealed, Drained, Frozen, Embalmed, Stuffed, Wrapped, and Smoked...and We're Dead Serious
by Christopher Sloan

Stunning photos will have young readers mesmerized in this National Geographic-produced text. Author Sloan does an excellent job in summarizing each mummification process. His succinct prose, which children will easily grasp, makes the subject matter even more fascinating than it already is. These mummies, whether it's the famous Ötzi iceman, twisted bog people, eerie crypt dwellers, or casually-seated chieftain Moimango, are sure to provide hours of engrossed study.

March 10, 2017


Hairdo! What We Do and Did to Our Hair
by Ruth Freeman Swain
illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith

A look at hair history, Swain’s book contains the same fun facts as Big Wig, but with a few more (and sometimes less) detail.  Baldness isn’t mentioned. Her endnotes are also quite different - she describes how hair grows and what give hair its colour.

The cartoon-like pictures are outsized and comical, though a few aren’t in tune with the text. They tend to showcase character action instead of their hair. Still, kids should find it amusing.

March 6, 2017

Hair history

Big Wig: A Little History of Hair
by Kathleen Krull
illustrated by Peter Malone

Hair.  We grow it, cut it, tease it, shampoo it, condition it, style it …. It can take a lot of work! But our hair is a key part of our identity, and has been since the beginning of time. Taking a look back at past hairstyles and haircare regimens reveals some pretty gross and bewildering things. Like using lead or acid as hair dye, wearing giant wigs, or weaving in live birds as decoration! Even men got into the act, with their powdered wigs and cures for baldness. Imagine rubbing goat pee or pigeon poop on your head!

Krull presents these and other disgusting facts in brief, entertaining snippits, with even more short facts in the endnotes, which she cleverly calls “hair extensions.” The subject matter naturally calls for comical illustrations, ably created by the sly and witty Malone.

Definitely hair-raising!

March 3, 2017

Mosque provides sanctuary

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust
by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix

The indelible bond between Muslims and Jews are solemnly depicted in this picture book, which describes how the Grand Mosque of Paris helped Jews evade the Nazis. The mosque hid Jewish children among their own, provided false identity papers, transported people in delivery bins, and guided people through Paris' underground passageways to safety. They did this in spite of Nazi suspicion and personal danger.

Their story is important, but not well-known, making this book even more significant during these times when hatred and religious intolerance seem to be increasing.

March 1, 2017

Poems of the Middle East

19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Nye's verses speak of peace and war, friends and family, and what it is like to live as an Arab-American. Often mysterious and haunting, her poems shine a light at the experiences of a people who are too frequently misunderstood.