Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi

The Red Bandanna: Young Reader’s Adaptation by Tom Rinaldi. August 29, 2017. Viking Books for Young Readers, 162 p. ISBN: 9780425287620.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.8.

On a day that changed a nation, one young man found his calling.

Welles Crowther didn’t see himself as a hero. He was just an ordinary kid who played sports, volunteered for the fire department in his town, and eventually headed off to college and then to Wall Street to start a career. Throughout it all, he always kept a red bandanna in his pocket, a gift from his father when he was little.

On September 11, 2001, Welles was at his job on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center when the Twin Towers were attacked. What he did next would alter the course of many lives.

That day, the legend of the Man in the Red Bandanna was born.

Award-winning ESPN reporter Tom Rinaldi brings Welles’s inspirational story of selflessness and compassion to life in this young readers’ adaptation of his New York Times bestselling book.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Terrorism, Graphic description of injuries


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Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2017)
On Sept. 11, 2001, in the South Tower of the World Trade Center, a man wearing a red bandanna lost his life leading others to safety. This is his story, adapted for young readers from Rinaldi’s 2016 bestseller for adults. From an early age, Welles Crowther was obsessed with firefighters. He spent many hours hanging out at the firehouse, cleaning the rigs, and listening to his firefighter father’s tales. But after graduating from Boston College, Welles decided to follow another dream. He accepted a position as a junior associate in a finance firm. His office was on the 104th floor of the South Tower, but the call of his childhood obsession was strong. He confided to his father that he wanted to change careers and become a firefighter. But before he could realize that dream, tragedy struck. Welles kept his cool but lost his life leading others through the smoke to safety. Based on an ESPN documentary, this slim book chronicles the life and the legacy of one 9/11 hero. Readers of this youth version will be inspired by Welles’ dedication to school, sports, and his family, but they will also laugh at his mischievous side. Photographs of Welles’ life are sprinkled through the narrative. The real-life story behind The Man in the Red Bandanna. (Biography. 9-12)

School Library Journal (August 1, 2017)
Gr 6-8-Before leaving for church one day, Jeff Crowther gave his then seven-year-old son, Welles, a red bandanna to keep in his pocket, similar to his own blue bandanna. For the rest of Welles’s life, that red piece of fabric remained a constant reminder of his special bond with his father while also serving a variety of practical purposes-a handkerchief, a headband worn underneath a hockey helmet, and eventually a useful piece of life-saving equipment. Welles was working on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center when it was struck by a plane on the morning of September 11, 2001. Physically unharmed and able to escape, altruistic Welles chose instead to assist an estimated 18 people to safety using his junior firefighter training. To those he helped that day, he was known only as the man with the red bandanna, until, through newspaper reports from eyewitness accounts, his family was able to piece together his final moments of self-sacrifice and courage. At times a documentation of history, at others an emotional journey, this remarkable true story of bravery and heroism places readers directly inside the South Tower as events unfolded; Rinaldi’s writing heightens the senses capturing the smoke, heat, and smells, while also making the uncertainty, confusion, urgency, and raw human emotion very real-a feat not often accomplished in books for this age group. Drawing upon firsthand accounts from family members and friends, readers receive a sense of Welles’s optimism, leadership, perseverance, and his genuine desire to help others. VERDICT Impossible to read without an emotional response, this title is an essential purchase for nonfiction collections.-Rebecca Gueorguiev, New York Public Library

About the Author

Tom Rinaldi has been a national correspondent at ESPN since 2002. A recipient of ten national Sports Emmy Awards and five Edward R. Murrow Awards, he covers human-interest stories across all sports, including his famous feature story about Welles Crowther. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and a native of Brooklyn, Tom now lives in New Jersey with his wife, Dianne, and their two children, Jack and Tess.

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The New Wild West by Blaire Briody

The New Wild West: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown by Blaire Briody. September 26, 2017. St. Martin’s Press, 336 p. ISBN: 9781250064929.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

Williston, North Dakota was a sleepy farm town for generations―until the frackers arrived. The oil companies moved into Williston, overtaking the town and setting off a boom that America hadn’t seen since the Gold Rush. Workers from all over the country descended, chasing jobs that promised them six-figure salaries and demanded no prior experience.

But for every person chasing the American dream, there is a darker side―reports of violence and sexual assault skyrocketed, schools overflowed, and housing prices soared. Real estate is such a hot commodity that tent cities popped up, and many workers’ only option was to live out of their cars. Farmers whose families had tended the land for generations watched, powerless, as their fields were bulldozed to make way for one oil rig after another.

Written in the vein Ted Conover and Jon Krakauer, using a mix of first-person adventure and cultural analysis, The New Wild West is the definitive account of what’s happening on the ground and what really happens to a community when the energy industry is allowed to set up in a town with little regulation or oversight―and at what cost.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohols



Booklist starred (September 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 1))
In June 2013, then 29-year-old journalist Briody quit her job as senior editor for the Fiscal Times in New York and moved to Williston, North Dakota, to embed herself in the “shale oil revolution,” which turned out to be a five-year free-for-all for anyone willing to do whatever it takes to become rich. Many individuals did become incredibly wealthy, but others were torn from their families, sexually assaulted, abducted, or murdered. Briody, winner of the Richard J. Margolis Award for social justice reporting, tells the fascinating stories of people in pursuit of their piece of the oil boom. There’s triumph and heartbreak in this blend of reportage, profiles, and personal essay. The longer Briody is involved in the intricacies of the assignment and in the pain of the people she meets, the more fluid her writing becomes, and she is careful with details, noting, for example, that oil wells are drilled as deep as 3.8 miles, and that when you buy farmland in Williston, you own only what’s on the surface. But Briody’s account offers far more than information about land rights, fracking, supply-and-demand economics, and greed. It reveals the effect the chance to get rich quick, to be worth something, can have on striving Americans.

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2017)
The “darker side” of North Dakota’s “shale oil revolution.”In this deeply reported debut, journalist Briody, a former senior editor at the Fiscal Times, tells the stories of roughnecks and other blue-collar workers attracted to high-paying jobs in the oil fields of Williston, North Dakota, a former “sleepy prairie town” where life has been upended by fracking. Most are young men, often refugees from the construction industry collapse. “When he ran out of money and heard about the oil boom, he decided to give it a try,” the author writes about one worker. They come by the thousands, tripling the population, making housing scarce, and taxing police and other services. In 2013, the author became intrigued by the boom and left her Brooklyn apartment to investigate. Staying for months at a time and getting close to many workers, she soon learned that abundant job opportunities exist in Williston alongside bleak living conditions, homelessness, drunkenness, crime, and more. Sadness and uncertainty pervade the new version of the town. “The only thing that’s out here are jobs. That’s it,” said Tom Stakes, an ex-preacher who arrived with $20, drank too much, and left with $1,000. Often divorced and remarried, Cindy Marchello offers the vantage of a hard-bitten woman determined to improve herself but struggling to keep up in the hazardous fields (“I will never be tough enough for this job”) and wary of her fellow workers (85 percent men): “If you smile at them, they think you’ll spread your legs.” The narrative’s accretion of detail is often overwhelming—e.g., in repetitious, fact-packed sections on a pastor’s sheltering of homeless workers in his church—but sometimes highly revealing, as in a lingering image of a trailer smelling like “cigarettes, dust, booze, and stale A/C air.” Stronger editing would have helped, but the book contains solid explanations of shale oil extraction, the lack of government regulation, and the ruinous environmental impacts. An unvarnished, overlong account of the facts behind America’s newfound oil dominance.

About the Author

Blaire Briody is a freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Fast Company, Glamour, among others. Her first nonfiction book, The New Wild West, about North Dakota’s oil boom will be published in September 2017. The book was the 2016 finalist for the Lukas Work-in-Progress Award from Columbia Journalism School and Harvard University, and she received the Richard J. Margolis Award for social justice journalism in 2014. She graduated from the University of California, Davis with a degree in international relations and now resides in Sonoma County. Her website is

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Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly

Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly. September 5, 2017. Drawn & Quarterly, 120 p. ISBN: 9781770462939.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 830.

A personal account of an Iraqi childhood

Poppies of Iraq is Brigitte Findakly’s nuanced tender chronicle of her relationship with her homeland Iraq, co-written and drawn by her husband, the acclaimed cartoonist Lewis Trondheim. In spare and elegant detail, they share memories of her middle class childhood touching on cultural practices, the education system, Saddam Hussein’s state control, and her family’s history as Orthodox Christians in the arab world. Poppies of Iraqis intimate and wide-ranging; the story of how one can become separated from one’s homeland and still feel intimately connected yet ultimately estranged.

Signs of an oppressive regime permeate a seemingly normal life: magazines arrive edited by customs; the color red is banned after the execution of General Kassim; Baathist militiamen are publicly hanged and school kids are bussed past them to bear witness. As conditions in Mosul worsen over her childhood, Brigitte’s father is always hopeful that life in Iraq will return to being secular and prosperous. The family eventually feels compelled to move to Paris, however, where Brigitte finds herself not quite belonging to either culture. Trondheim brings to life Findakly’s memories to create a poignant family portrait that covers loss, tragedy, love, and the loneliness of exile.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Strong language, Racial taunts, Discrimination, War, Violence, Criminal culture, Terrorism, Religious fanaticism, Discussion of rape



Booklist (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 5-8. Growing up in Mosul right before the reign of Saddam Hussein, memoirist Findakly recounts stories from her childhood in a country undergoing radical changes. Beginning with family picnics and short vignettes of her Iraqi father’s dental practice and her French mother’s slow acclimation to life in a country very different from hers, the focus shifts to more sobering tales: the casual censorship of everything from magazine articles to phone conversations; students being sent to mandatory work camps; a cousin being disfigured on the battlefield. Each story arc is punctuated by family photos and cultural notes that help bring the family to life and make their experiences personal. Findakly is never naive or sentimental, recounting her life in Iraq with the innocence of a child but the cognizance of an adult. The illustrations by her husband, acclaimed cartoonist Lewis Trondheim, complement that innocence, staying true to the political upheaval described, while keeping much of the trauma offstage. A moving tribute to familial love in times of war.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2017)
From the daughter of a French mother and Iraqi father comes a touching memoir of childhood in Iraq. Writing with her husband, Findakly strings together memories and facts from her family’s past and present as well as from Iraqi culture, as if she is sharing herself with readers over tea. She begins with happy childhood moments in Iraq and her school days, her parents’ backgrounds and how they met, and introductions to other family members and neighbors. Especially poignant are the portrayals of her French mother’s successful adjustment to Iraqi society over 23 years and Findakly’s own process of growing apart from Iraqi society after her father decides they should move to France when she is a teenager. Trondheim’s charming cartoon drawings, colored by Findakly, help readers envision the worlds the family straddles, while occasional pages of family photographs remind readers of the author’s historical reality. Readers feel they are getting an inside look into an impenetrable world with cultural and historical notes on pages titled “In Iraq” interspersed throughout the book. This personal portrayal of the impact of war and societal upheaval on one family will help many Western readers to see how the past half-century of conflict has devastated a region rich in ancient culture. Small in size but large in impact, this intimate memoir is a highly relevant and compassionate story of family, community, prejudice, and the struggle to love when the forces of the world push groups apart. (timeline) (Graphic memoir. 10-adult)

About the Author

Co-writer and colourist Brigitte Findakly was born in Mosul, Iraq, in 1959 and lived there until 1973. Cartoonist Lewis Trondheim was born in Fontainebleau, France in 1964. They have two children and live in the south of France.

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Poppies of Iraq on Amazon

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Poppies of Iraq  on JLG

Poppies of Iraq  Publisher Page

Raid of No Return by Nathan Hale

Raid of No Return by Nathan Hale. November 7, 2017. Amulet Books, 128 p. ISBN: 9781419725562.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.4.

Nathan Hale tackles a topic fans have been asking about for years: World War II.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, officially bringing the United States into World War II. A new generation of pilots were recruited to fly bombing missions for the United States, and from that group, volunteers were requested for a dangerous secret assignment. For the first time in American history, Army bombers would be launched from an aircraft carrier. Once at sea, they were told their mission was a retaliation strike against targets in Tokyo. But on the day of the raid, a Japanese patrol boat spotted them and they had to launch early, with barely enough fuel to get them past their target.

After the bombing, some pilots crashed, some were captured, and many ended up in mainland China and were carried to safety by Chinese villagers, being hunted by Japanese forces all the while. With tales of high-flying action and bravery, Raid of No Return is a story of heartbreak and survival during wartime.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Racial taunts, Discrimination, Violence, Alcohol, Harsh realities of war



About the Author

Nathan Hale is the New York Times best-selling author/illustrator of the Hazardous Tales series, as well as many picture books including Yellowbelly and Plum go to School, the Twelve Bots of Christmas and The Devil You Know.

He is the illustrator of the Eisner-nominated graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge and its sequel, Calamity Jack. He also illustrated Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody, The Dinosaurs’ Night Before Christmas, Animal House and many others.

His website is

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Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough

Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough. September 5, 2017. Feiwel & Friends, 372 p. ISBN: 9781250123190.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1000.

Complex, passionate, brilliant, flawed―Alexander Hamilton comes alive in this exciting biography.

He was born out of wedlock on a small island in the West Indies and orphaned as a teenager. From those inauspicious circumstances, he rose to a position of power and influence in colonial America.

Discover this founding father’s incredible true story: his brilliant scholarship and military career; his groundbreaking and enduring policy, which shapes American government today; his salacious and scandalous personal life; his heartrending end.

Richly informed by Hamilton’s own writing, with archival artwork and new illustrations, this is an in-depth biography of an extraordinary man.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, War, Mild sexual themes



Booklist (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 7-10. Let’s face it: as a subject, Alexander Hamilton is hot, thanks to the wildly popular Broadway musical bearing his name. This brings a built-in audience to Brockenbrough’s ambitious biography, which follows Hamilton’s eventful life from his illegitimate birth in the West Indies to his appointment by George Washington as America’s first Secretary of the Treasury. Brockenbrough gives particular attention to Hamilton’s service in the Revolutionary War and to his role as Washington’s protégé, which gave him influence far beyond his rank. Those expecting a warts-and-all look, however, will be disappointed. The few flaws the author offers—Hamilton’s vanity, his recklessness, his ill-advised extramarital affair, his obsession with honor, which would be his undoing—are largely papered over or dismissed. By the same token, his adversaries, especially Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, are often strongly demonized. All this said, Hamilton’s life is an inspiration, a fact that Brockenbrough captures nicely in a well-written biography that fills a gap in the literature. Expect wide reader interest.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2017)
Over 200 years after his death in a duel with former Vice President Aaron Burr, founding father Alexander Hamilton’s story is a major player in popular culture. Brockenbrough begins her narrative with a list of the contradictions of Hamilton’s life and then sets out to describe many of them in detail. Hamilton’s wretched childhood and struggles for survival and an education set a tone that depicts him as the consummate self-made man whose flaws damaged both his political career and personal life. Hamilton’s courtship and marriage to Elizabeth Schuyler, a daughter of one of the country’s most influential families, is a key part, along with prominent figures from American history. Sometimes the intricacies of Revolutionary War strategy and Constitutional Convention maneuvering slow things down, making the pace uneven. However, tidbits about Hamilton’s role in the episode with Benedict Arnold and his close relationships with fellow soldier John Laurens and his sister-in-law Angelica Church are intriguing. The story is targeted to an older audience than Teri Kanefield’s Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America (2017), so the sex scandal that derailed Hamilton’s political career is part of the story, as is, of course, the duel that ended his life. After the epilogue, the volume includes information on 18th-century medicine, attire, and warfare among other contextualizing topics ; the volume will be illustrated with archival material (not seen). With the demand for all things Hamilton still strong, this will resonate with many teen readers. (timeline, source notes, bibliography, index) (Biography. 12-18)

About the Author

Martha Brockenbrough draws on her diverse experience in journalism, research, nonfiction, and literary teen fiction to bring Alexander Hamilton to life. A powerful storyteller and narrative voice, Brockenbrough is the author of the critically acclaimed YA novels The Game of Love and Death and Devine Intervention. She enjoys reading Hamilton’s original correspondence, playing board games, and spending time with her family. She lives in Seattle, Washington.

Her website is

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From Here to There by HP Newquist

From Here to There: The Story of How We Transport Ourselves and Everything Else by HP Newquist. September 12, 2017. Viking Books for Young Readers, 128 p. ISBN: 9780451476456.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.6.

This lively history of transportation follows our fascinating route from primitive technology like sandals to driverless cars and beyond!

Since humans first stood upright, we’ve been on the move. Need food? Water? Land? A place to live? Survival depends upon motion. For thousands of years, people have devised ways to move faster, farther, and more comfortably. Their inventions—shoes, skis, the rudder, the wheel, engines, rockets—have had an enormous impact on how and where human beings live and thrive.

When human beings get a move on, change happens:
– The wheel, probably first used in the Middle East around 6,000 years ago, meant building and trading supplies could be moved more easily—whole civilizations rolled out.
– The Vikings sailed far and wide because they used a keel on their longships.
– Horse-and-carriage gridlock gave rise to subways.
– The bicycle changed the world for women in terms of freedom and fashion.
– Drones and driverless cars are the future . . . coming sooner than we think.

Award-winning author HP Newquist explores the transportation inventions and technologies that have transformed the way we experience the world around us. It’s a fascinating journey!

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Publishers Weekly (September 18, 2017)
In this second book in the Invention & Impact series, published in partnership with the Smithsonian, Newquist demonstrates how mobility has been vital to the growth of civilization. Beginning some 40,000 years ago with the earliest footwear, he goes on to explore the evolution of transportation methods, up through air and space travel, providing insight into how technology builds slowly and owes much to trial and error. Chapters detail significant technological milestones and figures, as well as those involved in missteps (in 1896, Sylvester H. Roper died riding the steam-propelled bicycle he invented). An engrossing, in-depth study of how far humanity has come-and how it got there. Ages 10-up. Agent: Alec Shane, Writers House. (Sept.)

School Library Journal (October 1, 2017)
Gr 4-8-Planes, trains, automobiles, and more are covered in this examination of how people get from one place to another. Newquist begins by looking at shoes, skates, and even sleds, positing that human life depends on locomotion. Subsequent chapters discuss the ingenuity of engineers and their inventions that revolutionized travel. The chapters are necessarily broad, but thorough. Fortunately, the book is well designed. Each chapter employs a color scheme (for picture borders and captions), while each spread contains plenty of beautifully reproduced photographs and archival illustrations, many selected from the Smithsonian’s vast holdings. Before the index, Newquist includes a list of resources-perfect for students who want to learn more about individual topics. VERDICT A fine addition to nonfiction collections, especially for those looking to beef up their STEM offerings.-Marie Drucker, Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library, NY

About the Author

HP Newquist’s books and articles have been published all over the world, and his writing has been translated into languages from kanji to farsi.

All told, he has written more than two dozen books and hundreds of articles, along with numerous awards and citations.

His writing spans a vast array of interests and issues. In the late 1980s and 1990s he wrote extensively about artificial intelligence (AI), compiling a body of work that is arguably the most extensive coverage of the AI business created to date.

Newquist’s books cover the same array of topics as his magazine articles, from brain science and space exploration to legendary guitarists and the strangeness of the Internet. To date, he has written over two dozen books. And he’s already committed to writing many more.

His website is

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From Here to There on Amazon

From Here to There on Goodreads

From Here to There on JLG

From Here to There Publisher Page

Writing Radar by Jack Gantos

Writing Radar: Using Your Journal To Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories by Jack Gantos. August 29, 2017. Farrar Straus Giroux, 203 p. ISBN: 9780374304560.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.3; Lexile: 940.

The Newbery Award-winning author of Dead End in Norvelt shares advice for how to be the best brilliant writer in this funny and practical creative writing guide perfect for all kids who dream of seeing their name on the spine of a book.

With the signature wit and humor that have garnered him legions of fans, Jack Gantos instructs young writers on using their “writing radar” to unearth story ideas from their everyday lives. Incorporating his own misadventures as a developing writer, Gantos inspires readers to build confidence and establish good writing habits as they create, revise, and perfect their stories. Pop-out text boxes highlight key tips, alongside Gantos’s own illustrations, sample stories, and snippets from his childhood journals. More than just a how-to guide, Writing Radar is a celebration of the power of storytelling and an ode to the characters who–many unwittingly–inspired Gantos’s own writing career.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Dangerous stunts


Book Trailer


Booklist starred (September 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 1))
Grades 4-6. Leave it to Gantos to rewrite the rules for children’s writing manuals. Taking the classic writing dictum “show, don’t tell” to heart, he doesn’t just instruct kids or explain his technique; he offers many memoirlike anecdotes and narratives to dramatize the ideas—for example, the story of the class visit that inspired his book Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (1998). Never less than entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, his stories will engage even readers who have no intention of voluntarily writing anything. But that’s not his intended audience here. Speaking directly to readers who aspire to create their own books, he says, “I’m a writer and I’m on your side.” His ongoing, self-deprecating tale of the “story journal” he kept as a child becomes an involving narrative that will amuse kids while reassuring them that even a seriously good writer was once a kid who didn’t know how to start. He offers them practical approaches to learning the craft, detailed advice and examples related to keeping a journal, and a useful chapter on story structure and elements. Other particularly helpful sections involve finding good story material and rewriting in stages. A focused, fun, and uncommonly useful guide for young, aspiring writers.

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2017)
Advice on writing from one of the best writers around. “I’m a writer and I’m on your side,” Gantos says, as if he’s putting an arm around a young writer’s shoulder and guiding them through a door to a new life. With a snappy voice, his own funny ink drawings, and expertise drawn from a career full of great books, he covers just about everything: where to find ideas and characters, how to structure a story, why to keep a journal, and even what to write with. Every step of the way he includes examples from his own writing. As humorous as he is, Gantos is authoritative and serious about his craft, careful to include every building block for constructing a good story—characters, setting, problem, action, crisis, resolution, and the need for a double ending (physical and emotional). Chapter 2 (“Getting Started”) ought to be read by all teachers and parents: it’s a manifesto on how to raise a reader (and writer) by reading aloud excellent picture books to young children and placing good books in the hands of children as they get older, and he offers a handy list of just what some of those books should be. While his list of picture books is not a particularly diverse one, the middle-grade titles suggested are nicely inclusive. A standout among writing guides, valuable for its sage and friendly encouragement and for the sheer fun of hanging out with Jack. (Nonfiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Jack Gantos has written books for people of all ages. His works include Hole in My Life, a Michael L. Printz Honor memoir, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, a National Book Award Finalist, and Dead End in Norvelt, a Newbery Award winner. The seeds for Jack’s writing career were planted in sixth grade, when he read his sister’s diary and decided he could write better than she could. He began to collect anecdotes he overheard, mostly from eavesdropping outside the teachers’ lounge, and later included many of these anecdotes in his books. He now devotes his time to writing books and educational speaking.

He lives with his family in Boston, Massachusetts. Her website is

Teacher Resources

Writing Radar Education Guide

Around the Web

Writing Radar on Amazon

Writing Radar on Goodreads

Writing Radar on JLG

Writing Radar Publisher Page

Pope Francis: The People’s Pope by Beatrice Gormley

Pope Francis: The People’s Pope by Beatrice Gormley. September 26, 2017. Aladdin, 272 p. ISBN: 9781481481410.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.2; Lexile: 1100.

Bea Gormley tells the story of Pope Francis, known as the People’s Pope, who has humbly said, “My people are poor and I am one of them.”

Ordained as Pope on March 13, 2013, Pope Francis became the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Known worldwide for his great humility and approachability, he is the first citizen from the Americas, the first non-European, and first Jesuit priest to be named Pope.

Gormley explores Bergoglio’s, his given surname, early years, growing up as the eldest of five children of Italian immigrants in Argentina, working as a chemical technician before venturing in the priesthood as a Jesuit novice. He went from Bishop to Archbishop to Cardinal—and gained a reputation for personal humility, doctrinal conservatism, and a commitment to social justice, which stands to this day.

Named Person of the Year by Time magazine in December 2013, Pope Francis remains outspoken in support of the world’s poor and marginalized people, and he has been involved actively in areas of political diplomacy and environmental advocacy.

Part of series: Real-Life Story

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, Violence, Mass murder, Kidnapping, Torture, References to sexual abuse



Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2017)
Pope Francis’ life story.  Pope Francis is the first non-European, Jesuit man to be ordained as leader of the Roman Catholic Church. This biography takes middle-grade readers on Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s spiritual and physical journey toward the papacy. Gormley charts Bergoglio’s spiritual development well, beginning with his grandmother, who sparked in him the importance of faith at a young age, and moving from there as political turbulence roiled Argentina. The author provides plenty of context for Argentina’s political and social discord but never loses focus on her subject. While Argentina’s story is important to Bergoglio’s history, it never overwhelms the man. Pope Francis’ reputation as the “People’s Pope,” a man honest about his background, interests, and past, helps the author paint a picture of her subject as a well-rounded, well-intentioned man. There are no grave missteps or shady secrets to reveal here, just a man who always did what he thought was best for the people around him and used his faith as his guide. It is a bit long-winded. The 257 pages of main narrative really hold only about 175 pages of essential story. The “and then this happened” structure of standard biographies is certainly felt, and while that works well for an educational text for children using this for a school project, those looking for a ripping yarn about the pope may want to keep looking. A serviceable biography that will serve the student who chooses Pope Francis as a subject well. (timeline, sources, photos) (Biography. 10-14)

About the Author

Born in Glendale, California, Beatrice grew up in Southern California. After graduating from Pomona College, she worked in publishing near San Francisco. There she met and married Robert Gormley, and they moved to Massachusetts. They have two daughters.

Since age 9 Beatrice had wanted to become a writer. But it wasn’t until after her children were born that she really focused on her writing. In 1981 her first book, Mail Order Wings,was published. Since then she’s written many popular novels and biographies for young people. Her most recent books are Friends of Liberty, a novel of the Boston Tea Party, and the biography Nelson Mandela: South African Revolutionary.

Her website is

Around the Web

Pope Francis on Amazon

Pope Francis on Goodreads

Pope Francis on JLG

Pope Francis Publisher Page

Serena Williams by Matt Christopher

Serena Williams by Matt Christoper. July 3, 2017. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 144 p. ISBN: 9780316471800.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.1.

Discover the amazing achievements of sports legend Serena Williams–on and off the tennis court–in this exciting new biography.

Serena Williams has been ranked number one in the world for tennis singles, won twenty-two Grand Slam singles titles, and won four Olympic gold medals. She is a powerful player and a fierce competitor. Learn more about the record-breaking athlete in this comprehensive and action-packed biography, complete with stats and photographs.

Part of series: Legends in Sports

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts, Discrimination


About the Author

Matt Christopher is the writer young readers turn to when they’re looking for fast-paced, action-packed sports novels. He is the best-selling author of more than one hundred sports books for young readers.

His website is

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Artificial Intelligence by Stephanie Sammartino McPherson

Artificial Intelligence: Building Smarter Machines by Sammartino McPherson. September 1, 2017. Twenty-First Century Books, 104 p. ISBN: 9781512418262.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1170.

In 2011 a computer named Watson outscored two human competitors on the TV quiz show Jeopardy! and snagged the million-dollar prize. Watson isn’t the only machine keeping up with humans. The field of artificial intelligence (AI) is booming, with drones, robots, and computers handling tasks that once only humans could perform.

Read about the history of artificial intelligence from smart cars to drones and learn how the fields of AI and neurology work together to create “thinking machines.” You’ll also consider the pros and cons of AI and discover what lies ahead.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Booklist (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 8-11. The concept of artificial intelligence, or AI, shouldn’t be new to most young readers, since it’s a frequent feature of sci-fi movies, TV shows, and even the game show Jeopardy!, which famously featured a computer contestant, Watson, that beat its human competitors. There’s more to AI than a dystopian future of robot overlords, however, and McPherson cogently lays out the concept from its inception, with Lovelace and Babbage’s analytical engine, to contemporary research on the topic, including neural mapping, the ways AI is already integrated into current technology, and depictions in popular culture. In addition to laying out the basic research at hand, McPherson also raises critical questions, such whether we should allow computers to make ethical choices, given that those circumstances are so complicated that a simple algorithm likely wouldn’t suffice. On magazinelike pages packed with inset boxes and sidebars, as well as photos of scientists and their machines, McPherson’s straightforward, accessible text offers fascinating, thought-provoking, and up-to-date information on a high-interest, very relevant topic to contemporary teens. Extensive back matter includes further reading and source notes.

Kirkus Reviews (June 1, 2017)
McPherson presents the evolution of artificial intelligence—machines with the “humanlike ability to reason and solve problems.” That definition opens McPherson’s tour d’horizon of artificial intelligence, immediately placing readers on shaky ground. Philosophers have been debating “to reason” since long before Descartes. There is little doubt that McPherson richly explores the women and men who develop machines to do the drudge work of mechanical production and everyday life, but do either the amusingly crafty Watson, which took down the Jeopardy! game show champs, or Deep Blue, which humiliated Garry Kasparov, qualify as “a truly thinking machine, able to learn on its own and modify its own programming without human input”? The ability for a machine to reckon if/then is part of its programming. Sentience, which includes feeling, is stickier. How is it possible, as McPherson writes, that a machine programmed by humans “might not share human social and ethical values—such as notions of fairness, justice, and right and wrong”? Throughout, there’s too much supposition and not enough science; emblematic of this is a failure to convey exactly how Google Brain arrived at the concept of a cat without being commanded to: “All on its own, it had developed the concept of ‘cat.’ ” McPherson conveys the thrill of the possibility inherent in AI, but she’s frequently a giant step ahead of the game. (Nonfiction. 13-18)

About the Author

Stephanie Sammartino McPherson wrote her first children’s story in college. She enjoyed the process so much that she’s never stopped writing. A former teacher and freelance newspaper writer, she has written twenty-eight books and numerous magazine stories. She especially enjoys writing about science and the human interest stories behind major discoveries.

Stephanie and her husband, Richard, live in Virginia but also call California home. They are the parents of two grown children.

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Artificial Intelligence on Amazon

Artificial Intelligence on Goodreads

Artificial Intelligence on JLG

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