Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies by Joyce Sidman

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman. February 20, 2018. HMH Books for Young Readers, 160 p. ISBN: 9780544717138.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.7; Lexile: 1110.

Bugs, of all kinds, were considered to be “born of mud” and to be “beasts of the devil.”  Why would anyone, let alone a girl, want to study and observe them?

One of the first naturalists to observe live insects directly, Maria Sibylla Merian was also one of the first to document the metamorphosis of the butterfly. In this visual nonfiction biography, richly illustrated throughout with full-color original paintings by Merian herself, the Newbery Honor–winning author Joyce Sidman paints her own picture of one of the first female entomologists and a woman who flouted convention in the pursuit of knowledge and her passion for insects.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Booklist starred (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 4-7. Considered by many to be the world’s first ecologist, Maria Merian broke ground through her meticulous observations of insects and beautiful depictions of them within their natural habitats. Born in seventeenth-century Germany, Maria was the daughter of famed engraver and printer Matthäus Merian and stepdaughter to a successful still-life painter, allowing her to study both art and nature from a young age. Sidman’s writing radiates Maria’s passion and curiosity for the natural world, and it is as absorbing as fiction. As Maria’s primary interest was in caterpillars—she worked diligently to discover their origins and connection to moths and butterflies, charmingly called “summer birds”—Sidman begins her book with a glossary of butterfly terminology and later reveals how Maria became the first person to discover and present the complete life cycle of these insects. Colored inserts give further historical and cultural context to Maria’s life, noting such things as the limitations placed on women during the seventeenth century and how the era’s curiosity cabinets lead to the creation of museums. A fantastic array of illustrations embellish the text with photos of butterflies, caterpillars, and chrysalises, and lovely images of Maria’s artwork and that of her father’s. Meanwhile, exceptional captions identify and establish each illustration’s relevance to Maria’s life. A vibrant, wonderfully rounded biography on a pioneering and prodigiously talented woman.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2018)
Sidman introduces readers to Maria Merian, a seventeenth-century German naturalist whose illustrations of the life cycles of butterflies and moths included groundbreaking scientific details, such as the inclusion of eggs in the insect life cycle and the portrayal of the ecological interdependence of plants and animals. Excellent reproductions of the gorgeous botanical prints allow readers to appreciate their accurate scientific detail and artistry. Merian’s story, from childhood through her often unconventional and adventurous adult life, is told in twelve chapters, each titled with a stage in a butterfly’s life cycle; photographs illustrating each of the butterfly stages were taken by the author, who was inspired to raise the creatures herself. Merian was a prolific diarist, and the inclusion of numerous excerpts from her journals, along with historical illustrations and maps, gives the reader glimpses into this period of history and of the talented women who lived in it. A timeline, a glossary, sources, additional readings, and an informative author’s note are included. danielle j. ford

About the Author

The Newbery Honor winner Joyce Sidman is today’s foremost nature poet for children.  Accolades for her books include two Caldecott Honors, a Lee Bennet Hopkins Award, winner of the Claudia Lews Award, and many stars and best of lists.  For her award-winning body of work, she won the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. She lives in Wayzata, Minnesota.

Her website is

Teacher Resources

Maria Merian Lesson Plan

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The Girl Who Drew Butterflies on Amazon

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies on Goodreads

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies Publisher Page


The Future of Humanity by Michio Kaku

The Future of Humanity by Michio Kaku. February 20, 2018. Doubleday Books, 352 p. ISBN: 9780385542760.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 1190.

The #1 bestselling author of The Future of the Mind traverses the frontiers of astrophysics, artificial intelligence, and technology to offer a stunning vision of man’s future in space, from settling Mars to traveling to distant galaxies.

Formerly the domain of fiction, moving human civilization to the stars is increasingly becoming a scientific possibility–and a necessity. Whether in the near future due to climate change and the depletion of finite resources, or in the distant future due to catastrophic cosmological events, we must face the reality that humans will one day need to leave planet Earth to survive as a species. World-renowned physicist and futurist Michio Kaku explores in rich, intimate detail the process by which humanity may gradually move away from the planet and develop a sustainable civilization in outer space. He reveals how cutting-edge developments in robotics, nanotechnology, and biotechnology may allow us to terraform and build habitable cities on Mars. He then takes us beyond the solar system to nearby stars, which may soon be reached by nanoships traveling on laser beams at near the speed of light. Finally, he brings us beyond our galaxy, and even beyond our universe, to the possibility of immortality, showing us how humans may someday be able to leave our bodies entirely and laser port to new havens in space. With irrepressible enthusiasm and wonder, Dr. Kaku takes readers on a fascinating journey to a future in which humanity may finally fulfill its long-awaited destiny among the stars.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None


Author Interviews


Booklist starred (May 15, 2018 (Online))
Kaku, the noted theoretical physicist and popular-science writer (The Future of the Mind, 2014), takes us on an adventure of the imagination. Colonization of other worlds used to be the domain of science fiction, but, at an ever-increasing pace, it’s becoming science fact. Leaving Earth, the author tells us, may no longer be optional, not if we want to survive as a species. In this deeply fascinating and energetically written book, Kaku explores how, exactly, we might go about colonizing other planets. Drawing on the work of a multitude of experts—Murray Gell-Mann, Buzz Aldrin, Gregory Benford, Fritjof Capra, and Jared Diamond, to mention just a small handful—Kaku lays out a detailed and entirely plausible plan for moving out into the solar system and—even beyond—into the stars. Kaku’s writings have garnered a reputation for combining hard science with clever speculation, and his latest book continues that winning trend. A breathtaking voyage through what is almost certainly the next major period in the history of humanity.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2018)
Enthusiastic scientific speculation on the future of space travel.Acclaimed science popularizer Kaku (The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind, 2014, etc.), the co-founder of string field theory, confines his expertise to physics, but the 226 experts listed in the acknowledgements have plenty to offer on a variety of scientific disciplines. Alert readers will notice that the stirring words “we are entering a new golden age of space travel when exploring the universe will once again become an exciting part of the national agenda after decades of neglect” are not the author’s. That statement applies to China, the single nation with an active national manned space program and leaders eager to mortify the United States, its superpower rival. Having accomplished the feat of the Apollo moon landing in 1969, the U.S. government, it seems, feels no pressure to keep up with the Chinese. National rivalries aside, our current technology, writes the author, will get us to Mars. However, making Mars as habitable as Earth (“terraforming”), traveling to far planets and their moons, mining precious metals from asteroids, and voyaging to the stars will require technical advances that are well underway and a revolution in energy that, sadly, is not. Computer efficiency has increased astronomically since World War II, and rocket motor efficiency has perhaps tripled. Always optimistic and undaunted, Kaku delivers a fascinating and scattershot series of scenarios in which humans overcome current obstacles without violating natural laws to travel the universe. The author digresses regularly into related areas of study, including extrasolar planets, radical life extension, intelligent robots, and the details of settling other worlds. An exhilarating look at the future, although American readers may yearn for a Chinese bombshell (à la Russia’s launch of Sputnik in 1957) to stimulate the U.S. government to achieve at least one marvel during their lifetimes.

About the Author

Dr. Michio Kaku is an American theoretical physicist at the City College of New York , best-selling author, a futurist, and a communicator and popularizer of science. He has written several books about physics and related topics of science.

He has written two New York Times Best Sellers, Physics of the Impossible (2008) and Physics of the Future (2011).

Dr. Michio is the co-founder of string field theory (a branch of string theory), and continues Einstein’s search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory.

Kaku was a Visitor and Member (1973 and 1990) at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and New York University. He currently holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics at the City College of New York.

His website is

Around the Web

The Future of Humanity on Amazon

The Future of Humanity on Goodreads

The Future of Humanity Publisher Page

Claiming My Place by Planaria Price

Claiming My Place: Coming of Age in the Shadow of the Holocaust by Planaria Price. March 13, 2018. Farrar Straus Giroux Books, 272 p. ISBN: 9780374305291.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 970.

Young adult nonfiction about a young Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust by moving into Nazi Germany and hiding in plain sight.

Gucia Gomolinska grew up comfortably in Piotrkow, Poland, a devoted student, sister, daughter, and friend. Still, even in the years before World War II, she faced discrimination as a Jew—but with her ash-blond hair she was often able to pass as just another Pole. When her town was invaded by Nazis, she knew her Aryan coloring gave her an advantage, and she faced an awful choice: stay in the place she had always called home, or leave behind everything she knew to try to survive. She took on a new identity as Basia Tanska, and her journey led her directly into Nazi Germany.

Planaria Price, along with Basia’s daughter Helen West, tells this incredible life story directly in the first person. Claiming My Place is a stunning portrayal of bravery, love, loss, and the power of storytelling

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, War, Violence, Domestic violence, Reference to inhumane treatment of animal, References to sexual harassment and assault



Booklist (February 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 11))
Grades 8-11. Holocaust stories are perennial for a reason, and the latest iteration is this account of the remarkable survival of a Polish Jew named Gucia Gomolinska. Born in a small town, she led a largely uneventful life until September 1, 1939, when she was 23 and the Germans invaded Poland. Overnight, her world was turned upside down, as her family became exposed to rabid anti-Semitism. It soon became obvious to Gucia that inaction would mean death, so she changed her name to Danuta Barbara (Basia) Tanska and, thanks to her ash-blonde hair and fair complexion, was able to assume a new life as a Polish Gentile, actually traveling to Germany, where she found work as a chambermaid, hiding from the authorities in plain sight. The fascinating story continues to Basia’s marriage and emigration to the U.S. after the war. Price has boldly elected to tell the story in Basia’s own first-person, present-tense voice. The result is a dramatic, suspenseful account of survival in extremis, told in collaboration with Basia’s American daughter.

Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2018)
The true story of a Jewish teenager who survived the Holocaust by passing as a Christian Pole.Gucia Gomolinska was raised in a loving family in a Jewish neighborhood of Piotrków Trybunalski, in central Poland. When the Nazis came, blonde Gucia, then in her 20s, was able to escape the ghetto before its liquidation by changing her name to Barbara and obtaining false papers identifying her as Polish. Post-war, she reunited with the few miraculously surviving members of her family, married, and had a daughter. Upon realizing that they couldn’t return to Poland—surviving Polish Jews were sometimes massacred in pogroms—the young family settled in the United States with help from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Told in the first person, this biography was based on interviews with both Barbara and her daughter, Helen. Loving depictions of pre-war Piotrków are filled with realistic touches that make its lost past palpable: teachers Barbara adored or disliked, interactions between the myriad youth groups, her early interest in politics, and her questions about religion. In an afterword by Helen we learn of Barbara’s disgust in witnessing racial hatred in the form of segregation after her arrival in the United States. A rich exploration of a Holocaust survivor’s sheltered childhood, the atrocity that failed to destroy her, and her later life as an immigrant. (photographs, afterword, glossary) (Biography. 12-15)

About the Author

After graduating from Berkeley and earning a Master’s Degree in English Literature from UCLA, Planaria Price began her career teaching English to adult immigrants in Los Angeles. She has written several “out of the box” textbooks and lectured at over 100 conferences. In 2012, after the public ESL program was completely defunded, she sadly had to retire after having taught for 40 years. In addition to her passion for teaching, Planaria has worked with her husband, Murray, to save and restore over 30 Victorian and Craftsman homes in her historic Los Angeles neighborhood, Angelino Heights. Claiming My Place is her first book for young adults.

Her website is

Around the Web

Claiming My Place on Amazon

Claiming My Place on Goodreads

Claiming My Place Publisher Page

The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery

They Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery. May 15, 2018. HMH Books for Young Readers, 80 p. ISBN: 9780544635111.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.5.

The Hyena Scientist sets the record straight about one of history’s most hated and misunderstood mammals, while featuring the groundbreaking, pioneering research of a female scientist in a predominately male field.

As a scientist studying one of the only mammalian societies led entirely by females, zoologist Kay Holecamp has made it her life’s work to understand hyenas, the fascinating, complex creatures that are playful, social, and highly intelligent—almost nothing like the mangy monsters of pop culture lore.

Part of Series: Scientists in the Field

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Kirkus Reviews starred (April 15, 2018)
A practiced and proficient team returns to the African plains to visit a field camp in Masai Mara, Kenya, where zoologist Kay Holekamp has been studying spotted hyenas for 30 years. This surprisingly engaging title introduces a species whose bad reputation is nearly universal. Holekamp disagrees. Her study of eight generations of hyenas has revealed the spotted hyena to be “an unexpectedly brave, smart, and extremely social species” as well as the “most formidable carnivore in Africa.” During their 10-day visit, Montgomery and Bishop go with the researchers for morning and evening observations, watch one sedate a young male with a dart gun so all can take measurements and specimens, see a skirmish in a war between rival factions of the large Talek West hyena clan, and, during a downpour, when flood threatens, help evacuate precious specimens and equipment. Montgomery’s graceful prose draws readers into the experience with clear explanations and vivid description. Bishop’s striking photographs show off the doglike hyenas’ furry cuteness. He includes close-ups of cubs at play and rest, researchers at work, and adult hyenas interacting with one another, as well as tent scenes, other wildlife, and the always-impressive scenery. Readers may be inspired by the stories of the white scientist’s diverse team of assistants: a retired medical social worker, U.S. graduate students, and a young Kenyan who hopes to study in the U.S. An appealing, elegantly designed introduction to another much-maligned species. (fast facts, bibliography, acknowledgements, index) (Nonfiction. 10-15)

About the Author

Part Indiana Jones, part Emily Dickinson, as the Boston Globe describes her, Sy Montgomery is an author, naturalist, documentary scriptwriter, and radio commentator who has traveled to some of the worlds most remote wildernesses for her work. She has worked in a pit crawling with 18,000 snakes in Manitoba, been hunted by a tiger in India, swum with pink dolphins in the Amazon, and been undressed by an orangutan in Borneo. She is the author of 13 award-winning books, including her national best-selling memoir, The Good Good Pig. Montgomery lives in Hancock, New Hampshire.

Her website is

Around the Web

The Hyena Scientist on Amazon

The Hyena Scientist on Goodreads

The Hyena Scientist Publisher Page

Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu. March 6, 2018. First Second, 304 p. ISBN: 9781626728684.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 770.

Throughout history and across the globe, one characteristic connects the daring women of Brazen: their indomitable spirit.

With her characteristic wit and dazzling drawings, celebrated graphic novelist Pénélope Bagieu profiles the lives of these feisty female role models, some world famous, some little known. From Nellie Bly to Mae Jemison or Josephine Baker to Naziq al-Abid, the stories in this comic biography are sure to inspire the next generation of rebel ladies.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None


Video Review


Booklist starred (February 15, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 12))
Grades 9-12. Step aside Susan B. Anthony and Joan of Arc! French graphic novelist Bagieu’s (California Dreamin’, 2017) latest turns standard feminist anthology fare on its head, introducing 29 lesser-known ladies of various backgrounds, time periods, skin colors, and sexualities. Kicking off with Clémentine Delait, a beloved bearded lady in early twentieth-century France, and concluding with Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space, Bagieu’s vivacious collection spotlights rebels such as Las Mariposas (revolutionary sisters!), Sonita Alizadeh (Afghan rapper!), and Nobel Peace Prize–winning Leymah Gbowee (Liberian activist!) along the way. Bagieu’s writing is clever and concise, and panels brim with sly subtleties; Bagieu delivers laugh-out-loud one-liners in bitsy speech bubbles, and summons tragedy with no words at all, and her fine-lined figures are by turns playfully expressive, fierce, and reverent. Additionally, each profile employs its own distinct color palette; Bagieu’s segment on Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson, for example, heavily features the bold blues, greens, yellows, and reds of Jansson’s signature Moomin comics. Bagieu’s dedication to Syrian activist Naziq al-Abid folds in the colors of the country’s flag. This dynamic paean to women’s flair for fearless resistance will have readers happily sifting through history—and tackling the future with renewed verve. Rock on, ladies.

Kirkus Reviews starred (February 1, 2018)
This French graphic novel offers a satisfying collection of minibiographies about bold women—some contemporary, others from centuries ago—who overcame fearsome odds to achieve a variety of goals, becoming the first black woman in space, a rapper in Afghanistan, a pioneering volcanologist, and more.The lives of 33 women of varying geographical, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds are highlighted in about 10 pages each of colorful, expressive, and often humorous cartoon panels—enough to serve as a catalyst for learning more. Some names are relatively recognizable, such as Temple Grandin and Nellie Bly, while others may be less so, such as Las Mariposas, Dominican sisters who became revolutionaries and human rights activists; Naziq al-Abid, a Syrian humanitarian and feminist; Agnodice, a fourth-century B.C.E. Athenian who disguised herself as a man in order to practice gynecology; and Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian social worker who escaped an abusive marriage and assisted other female survivors of violence. Bagieu delivers a pièce de résistance that succinctly summarizes the obstacles and victories of these daring women. Insightful and clever, at times infuriating and disheartening, this serves as a reminder that the hardships women face today have been shared—and overcome—by many others. (Graphic collective biography. 14-18)

About the Author

Pénélope Bagieu, (born 22 January 1982 Paris), is a French illustrator and comic designer.

Pénélope Bagieu graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Economic and Social studies, she spent a year at ESAT Paris, then at the National School of Decorative Arts in Paris and then at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. Multimedia and entertainment, where she graduated in December 2006.

Her website is

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Brazen on Amazon

Brazen on Goodreads

Brazen Publisher Page

Becoming Madeleine by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy

Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughters by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy. February 6, 2018. Farrar Straus Giroux, 163 p. ISBN: 9780374307646.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.8; Lexile: 1090.

This middle-grade biography explores the life and works of Madeleine L’Engle –written by her granddaughters–coming just in time for the all-new A Wrinkle in Time film, directed by Ava DuVernay.

This elegant and insightful biography of Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007) was written by her granddaughters, Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy. Using never-before-seen archival materials that include photographs, poems, letters, and journal entries from when Madeleine was a child until just after the publication of her classic, A Wrinkle in Time, her granddaughters weave together an in-depth and unique view of the famous writer. It is a story of overcoming obstacles–a lonely childhood, financial insecurity, and countless rejections of her writing–and eventual triumph. Becoming Madeleine will speak not only to fans of the icon’s work, but also to anyone interested in writing.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Booklist starred (February 15, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 12))
Grades 4-7. It’s a publishing event when Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughters offer an account of her life as a writer. And they do her proud, organizing the information well, presenting it clearly, and drawing on her journals for the lively excerpts that make this book so very readable. The biographical text provides a sturdy framework, beginning with L’Engle’s parents’ marriage and ending with the publication of A Wrinkle in Time (1962). An epilogue fills in the main events of L’Engle’s later life and includes Voiklis’ and Roy’s recollections of their grandmother as well as comments on the journals that she kept from the age of 11. Beginning with the reflections of 13-year-old Madeleine attending boarding school in Switzerland, first-person passages appear with increasing length and frequency throughout the narrative. They provide the book’s most vivid insights into the writer’s mind and emotions through her teens, her college days, her experiences living in Greenwich Village (working for actress-writer-producer Eva Le Gallienne), her marriage with actor Hugh Franklin, and her years as a working mother in rural Connecticut and New York City. The many illustrations include reproductions of family photos as well as letters, playbills, and book jackets. A fine tribute to a legendary writer, 100 years after her birth.

Publishers Weekly (December 4, 2017)
L’Engle’s granddaughters have produced a perceptive look at the prolific author’s solitary childhood, gawky adolescence, and early adulthood, concluding in 1961 with FSG acquiring the manuscript of the book that would become A Wrinkle in Time. Making generous use of L’Engle’s diary entries (starting when she was 14 and at a Swiss boarding school), correspondence, and memorabilia, the book will appeal to aspiring writers as well as L’Engle’s admirers. The liveliest and most engrossing sections focus on L’Engle’s young adulthood in New York City as she strove to make a career in the theater and as a novelist. Early successes in both arenas gave way to rejection and frustration, but L’Engle persisted, faithful to her need to write, regardless of publication. At 30, she reflected in her journal: “It is just a necessary function to me like breathing and eating and eliminating. And is one of my greatest joys. And one of my greatest agonies.” A personal prologue and a moving epilogue that succinctly touches on L’Engle’s later adulthood from her granddaughters’ perspective are additional highlights, as are the many photos of the writer and her family. Ages 9-12.

About the Author

Léna Roy is a creative writing teacher, and an author of fiction and creative non-fiction, as well as being Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter. She has written a biography of her grandmother, Becoming Madeleine with her sister, Charlotte Jones Voiklis, coming out in February 2018. Léna is a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab in the suburbs of New York City. Writopia Lab’s mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.   Her website is

Around the Web

Becoming Madeleine on Amazon

Becoming Madeleine on Goodreads

Becoming Madeleine Publisher Page

Renoir’s Dancer by Catherine Hewitt

Renoir’s Dancer: The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon  by Catherine Hewitt. February 27, 2018. St. Martin’s Press, 480 p. ISBN: 9781250157652.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 1170.

Catherine Hewitt’s richly told biography of Suzanne Valadon, the illegitimate daughter of a provincial linen maid who became famous as a model for the Impressionists and later as a painter in her own right.

In the 1880s, Suzanne Valadon was considered the Impressionists’ most beautiful model. But behind her captivating façade lay a closely-guarded secret.

Suzanne was born into poverty in rural France, before her mother fled the provinces, taking her to Montmartre. There, as a teenager Suzanne began posing for—and having affairs with—some of the age’s most renowned painters. Then Renoir caught her indulging in a passion she had been trying to conceal: the model was herself a talented artist.

Some found her vibrant still lifes and frank portraits as shocking as her bohemian lifestyle. At eighteen, she gave birth to an illegitimate child, future painter Maurice Utrillo. But her friends Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas could see her skill. Rebellious and opinionated, she refused to be confined by tradition or gender, and in 1894, her work was accepted to the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, an extraordinary achievement for a working-class woman with no formal art training.

Renoir’s Dancer tells the remarkable tale of an ambitious, headstrong woman fighting to find a professional voice in a male-dominated world.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong sexual themes, Alcohol


Author Interview


Booklist starred (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Hewitt (The Mistress of Paris: The 19th-Century Courtesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret, 2017) continues her mission to tell the stories of covertly powerful, yet overlooked French women in this step-by-step, swerve-by-swerve biography of the artist’s model and muse, “revolutionary” artist, and mother of an artist, Suzanne Valadon (1865–1938). A wildly impulsive country girl who loved to draw, she was raised by her determined single mother, a hotel maid who boldly brought them to Paris, where beautiful and talented Valadon modeled for prominent artists and became one of few women artists whose work was shown in prestigious exhibitions. Valadon, who “danced to no one’s tune but her own” and reveled in Montmartre café life, provides Hewitt with a glorious cast, including Renoir, van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Degas—ardent champions of Valadon’s work—and André Utter, Valadon’s much younger husband. Valadon lived a life of ceaseless tumult and trauma as her son (father unknown), a prodigy burdened with afflictions exacerbated by alcoholism, lurched from crisis to crisis, even as he attained fame and wealth as Maurice Utrillo, the great painter of Parisian street scenes. Hewitt’s straight-ahead telling of Valadon’s dramatic, many-faceted story captures this artist of “honesty and passion,” this “matriarch of creative rebellion and gutsy expressivity,” with precision, narrative drive, and low-key awe.

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 15, 2017)
Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938) may not be a name most people mention when they discuss great artists. This biography should change that.One might wonder how Valadon, whom Hewitt (The Mistress of Paris: The 19th-Century Courtesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret, 2015) describes in this excellent biography as having “revolutionized the art world and irreversibly altered the place of women within that world,” hasn’t received more widespread recognition. One reason is that Valadon adhered to no school of painting; another is that she was “a victim of the company she kept.” Some may think of her only as the mother of cityscape painter Maurice Utrillo or the model who inspired Renoir’s Dance at Bougival and The Large Bathers or the muse of Toulouse-Lautrec. Born in rural France to a linen maid and a father she never knew, Valadon moved to Montmartre with her mother and sister after her father died. When she was older, she frequented clubs like Le Chat Noir, where young artists discussed their desire to depict “contemporary life, the sweat and odour of real men and women.” A self-taught artist, she started as a nude model. But when Edgar Degas saw her secret drawings, he said, “you are one of us,” and helped her become the first woman painter to have works accepted into the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Hewitt chronicles Valadon’s romances and her difficulties in raising Maurice, whose childhood fits led to his lifelong battle with alcoholism. More importantly, the author demonstrates that Valadon’s works were revolutionary not just because of her style—“sharp, almost crude contours,” with the use of single lines for profiles—but because of the subject matter, such as children who, far from looking like the cosseted offspring of impressionist works, were naked, awkward, and “lonely, so incredibly lonely.” Hewitt sums up Valadon’s achievement perfectly: “Other artists showed what viewers wanted to see. Suzanne showed them what was true.” A well-researched tribute to and resurrection of a master of fin de siècle art.

About the Author

Catherine Hewitt studied French Literature and Art History at Royal Holloway, University of London and the Courtauld Institute of Art. Her proposal for her first book, The Mistress of Paris, was awarded the runner-up’s prize in the 2012 Biographers’ Club Tony Lothian Competition for the best proposal by an uncommissioned, first-time biographer.

She lives in a village in Surrey. Her website is

Around the Web

Renoir’s Dancer on Amazon

Renoir’s Dancer on Goodreads

Renoir’s Dancer Publisher Page

The Baseball Fanbook by Gary Gramling

The Baseball Fanbook: Everything You Need to Become a Hardball Know-it-All by Gary Gramling. April 3, 2018. Sports Illustrated, 192 p. ISBN: 9781683300694.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.5; Lexile: 1160.

Everything You Need to Become a Hardball Know-It-All

The next book in the Fanbook series from Sports Illustrated KidsThe Baseball Fanbook has all the nerdy-cool insider knowledge that fans ready for next-level, in-depth stats need to know to impress their friends, family, coaches, and any season ticket holders they may meet. Tailor-made for baseball fanatics ages 8 and up who know the basics of the sport they love, may play it, and are looking to become super fans, this new fanbook is filled with fun trivia, unique lingo, and illustrated behind-the-skills how-to’s. Chapters include Team Tidbits (salient baseball facts about every MLB team), Think Like a Manager (essential strategies to understand), He Reminds Me Of (compares current players to legendary greats of America’s favorite pastime), and much more!

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2018)
A wide-ranging sampler of records, stats, stars, highlights, lowlights, sidelights, and general baseball talk.Modeled on Gramling’s Football Fanbook (2017), the topical chapters each offer assortments of quick-fix descriptions or anecdotes interspersed with plenty of diagrams, spot art, and color photos of players in action. The target audience is hard to define, as readers are expected to know already about steroids, racism, the Dead Ball era, and the significance of an asterisk on a record such as the number of home runs in a season or career. Bafflingly, though, they’re assumed not to know what a “check swing” (sic) is, nor how to practice batting and catching alone at home. Still, along with major league team-by-team “Tidbits” and instructions for keeping score, there are instructions for shelling sunflower seeds with one’s teeth (the last demonstrated by a girl with brown skin and black braids). Likewise, a section pairing stars of the past and present offers intriguing comparisons; souvenir-ball and autograph seekers will find sensible advice; and hot-dog lovers will slaver over lovingly detailed descriptions of the toppings on, for instance, the classic “Dodger Dog” or the “Cracker Jack and Mac Dog” available at Pirates games. Immersive, though the pitch is definitely at browsing dippers and flippers. (Nonfiction. 10-13)

Publishers Weekly (April 30, 2018)
Gramling offers a nostalgia-filled guide for baseball fans: the pages themselves are designed to look like those of a weathered and dog-eared almanac for devoted collectors of baseball cards, stats, and memorabilia. Chapters focus on topics such as record-breaking baseball players, obscure facts (“baseball’s first umpires wore coats with tails and top hats”), and skills to master, which include breaking in a baseball glove, sliding into base, and dressing up a hot dog with toppings. There’s a chapter on baseball lingo, one that compares today’s players to those from the past, and a section titled “Think like a Manager,” which provides an insider’s look at running a baseball team. Gramling offers an array of player stats, facts, and practical info, spiced up with humor and a big-hearted affection for the game.

About the Author

Gary Gramling is an award-winning writer and editor for Sports Illustrated, and formerly of Sports Illustrated Kids. He spent his childhood in Connecticut as a sports fanatic, rooting for the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Steelers. And, well, he never really grew up. He won SI’s first-ever Emmy award for his writing on “A Boy Helps a Town Heal,” and was the story editor on the acclaimed SI longform piece “Finding Danny Watkins.” He currently resides in southwest Connecticut with his wife, Elizabeth, and two children who are surely on their way to being smarter and more talented than he is.

His website is

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The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (Young Readers Edition) by Sam Kean. April 3, 2018. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 336 p. ISBN: 9780316388283.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1300.

A young readers edition of the New York Times bestseller The Disappearing Spoon, chronicling the extraordinary stories behind one of the greatest scientific tools in existence: the periodic table.
Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie’s reputation? And why did tellurium (Te, 52) lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?

The periodic table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it’s also a treasure trove of adventure, greed, betrayal, and obsession. The fascinating tales in The Disappearing Spoonfollow elements on the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.

Adapted for a middle grade audience, the young readers edition of The Disappearing Spoon offers the material in a simple, easy-to-follow format, with approximately 20 line drawings and sidebars throughout. Students, teachers, and burgeoning science buffs will love learning about the history behind the chemistry.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 7-12. Even can’t claim “bubbles, bombs, toxins, money, alchemy, petty politics, history, crime, and love” in one place. This history of the periodic table of elements, a young readers edition adapted from the adult best-seller, turns a seemingly dull topic into a treasure trove of scientific discovery. As Kean introduces such essentials as the periodic table “castle,” what an element is, fathers of the periodic table, and where elements come from, he weaves in stories of awe and amusement about pioneering scientists. From the CIA’s (unattempted) plan to assassinate Fidel Castro with thallium to aluminum’s 60-year reign as the world’s most precious metal to the mood-stabilizing effects of lithium on poet Robert Lowell, the best tales derive from the elements themselves and bring together chemistry’s relationship with economics, social history, politics, psychology, and even the arts. Although the author does an excellent job of explaining elements and chemical properties, students with a basic understanding of chemistry will appreciate his narrative more. This solution to dry lectures will spark a positive reaction in readers.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2018)
This adaptation of a book for adults meanders through the history, uses, and misuses of the periodic table’s elements. After a promising introduction about the author’s childhood fascination with mercury, the first chapter bogs down in an explanation of atoms too brief for those new to chemistry to make much of it. A dull summary of the men who created the periodic table follows. Those who make it through the first chapters will be rewarded by more-interesting, even dramatic topics such as chemical warfare, atomic bombs, and poisonous elements. Kean has collected numerous anecdotes and groups them together loosely by similarities. While the stories within chapters tend to be chronological, the book zigzags back and forth through history. Almost all the players are adults, mostly white men, with the exception of a teenage boy who tried to build a nuclear reactor in his backyard. Occasional colloquialisms (“yuck”) seem aimed at younger readers, but overall the adaptation makes few concessions to its audience. For example, the terms “quantum mechanics” and “nuclear fission” appear with little explanation. (A closing glossary helps to compensate for this.) The text refers to Albert Einstein’s letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt about “starting the Manhattan Project” without further description, assuming readers have previous knowledge. Not for a general audience, this will most likely attract readers already in their element among beakers and Bunsen burners. (bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 11-14)

About the Author

Sam Kean gets called Sean at least once a month. He grew up in South Dakota, which means more to him than it probably should. He’s a fast reader but a very slow eater. He went to college in Minnesota and studied physics and English. He taught for a few years at an experimental charter school in St. Paul, where the kids showed up at night. After that, he tried to move to Spain (it didn’t take) and ended up in Washington, D.C. He has a master’s degree in library science he will probably never use. He wishes he had a sports team he was passionate about, but doesn’t, though he does love track & field.

His website is

Teacher Resources

The Disappearing Spoon Discussion Questions

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Hope Nation edited by Rose Brock

Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration edited by Rose Brock. February 27, 2018. Philomel Books, 304 p. ISBN: 9781524741679.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 940.

Hope is a decision, but it is a hard one to recognize in the face of oppression, belittlement, alienation, and defeat. To help embolden hope, here is a powerhouse collection of essays and personal stories that speak directly to teens and all YA readers. Featuring Angie Thomas, Marie Lu, Nicola Yoon, David Levithan, Libba Bray, Jason Reynolds, Renée Ahdieh, and many more!

“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”–Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We all experience moments when we struggle to understand the state of the world, when we feel powerless and–in some cases–even hopeless. The teens of today are the caretakers of tomorrow, and yet it’s difficult for many to find joy or comfort in such a turbulent society. But in trying times, words are power.

Some of today’s most influential young adult authors come together in this highly personal collection of essays and original stories that offer moments of light in the darkness, and show that hope is a decision we all can make.

Like a modern day Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul or Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for TeensHope Nation acknowledges the pain and offers words of encouragement.

Authors include: Atia Abawi, Renee Ahdieh, Libba Bray, Howard Bryant, Ally Carter, Ally Condie, Christina Diaz Gonzales, Gayle Forman, Romina Garber, I. W. Gregario, Kate Hart, Bendan Kiely, David Levithan, Alex London, Marie Lu, Julie Murphy, Jason Reynolds, Aisha Saeed, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Jenny Torres Sanchez, Jeff Zentner, and Nicola Yoon.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Violence, Drugs, Alcohol, Clinical discussion of genitalia by a urologist



Booklist starred (April 15, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 16))
Grades 9-12. Hope is something many people struggle to understand, much less achieve, and teens are no exception. In this anthology of 21 essays, 1 short story, and 1 conversation, 24 YA authors pour their deepest emotions into a variety of interpretations of hope. Many write about survival in the current political climate. Others address marginalization or speak to being overwhelmed by a variety of internal and external influences. David Levithan reveals his feelings about today’s politics via a short-short story set at a march complete with pussy hats. Libba Bray shares a harrowing account of the car accident that left her with a prosthetic eye. Atia Abawi opens up about the prejudice she faced while working to become a TV news reporter. Romina Garber’s essay talks about the immigrant experience, perceived pressures, sacrifices, and labels. These and the other 20 authors come from diverse backgrounds that span race, religion, economic class, family makeup and stability, experience, age, country of birth, and sexual orientation. Yet they all overcame obstacles to their dreams through hope. Attitudes and tone differ from one piece to the next, but the essential point is that “hope is a decision,” and one that requires work. This amazing outpouring of strength and honesty offers inspirational personal accounts for every reader who wonders what to do when everything seems impossible.

Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2018)
Hope Nation brings together 24 top young adult authors who share personal essays about hope. Their audience is teenagers, but this collection is a treasure trove of wisdom for older readers too. It achieves this with stories from a wide array of perspectives and diverse identities: the struggles of being Muslim in a post–9/11 world as described by Aisha Saeed, the complex constrictions of life in the closet made plain by Alex London, and the terrifying anxieties of being black in contemporary America by Nic Stone, among others. Even if these authors’ stories do not exactly mirror each of their readers’, together they open the door to an investigation of what hope means. Although it can mean different things and present itself in innumerable ways, the underlying message of this anthology is that it is important to cling to hope: Use hope as a flashlight, a mantra, a walking stick, a tool for every circumstance life throws at human beings. This work comes at a crucial time, as many people struggle to find hope in a confusing and disappointing world. A salve when days are bleak. (Nonfiction anthology. 14-adult)

About the Editor

Dr. Rose Brock is a twenty-year veteran professor who has dedicated her career to turning teens into book lovers. Building relationships with readers through books is her superpower. In addition to her career as a librarian and educator, Dr. Brock is also very involved in helping to organize the North Texas Teen Book Festival, a one-day event, which hosts sixty authors and has an impressive annual attendance of over 3,500 teens and tweens. She also serves as a team leader of the International Literacy Association’s Young Adults’ Choices project, which empowers teens to read and select the best books of the year. Dr. Brock was named by the Texas Library Association as the recipient of the Siddie Joe Johnson Award, an award given by the Children’s Round Table to a librarian who demonstrates outstanding library service to children.

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Hope Nation on Amazon

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Hope Nation Publisher Page