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Sinking the Sultana by Sally M. Walker

Sinking the Sultana by Sally M. Walker. October 10, 2017. Candlewick Press, 208 p. ISBN: 9780763677558.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 8.1.

The worst maritime disaster in American history wasn’t the Titanic. It was the steamboat Sultana on the Mississippi River — and it could have been prevented.

In 1865, the Civil War was winding down and the country was reeling from Lincoln’s assassination. Thousands of Union soldiers, released from Confederate prisoner-of-war camps, were to be transported home on the steamboat Sultana. With a profit to be made, the captain rushed repairs to the boat so the soldiers wouldn’t find transportation elsewhere. More than 2,000 passengers boarded in Vicksburg, Mississippi . . . on a boat with a capacity of 376. The journey was violently interrupted when the boat’s boilers exploded, plunging the Sultana into mayhem; passengers were bombarded with red-hot iron fragments, burned by scalding steam, and flung overboard into the churning Mississippi. Although rescue efforts were launched, the survival rate was dismal — more than 1,500 lives were lost. In a compelling, exhaustively researched account, renowned author Sally M. Walker joins the ranks of historians who have been asking the same question for 150 years: who (or what) was responsible for the Sultana’s disastrous fate?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, War, Violence, Criminal culture, Graphic descriptions of burn victims

 

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Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 1))
Grades 7-12. It may surprise many to learn that the worst maritime disaster in American history was not the sinking of the Titanic. It happened 47 years prior, but the story begins during the Civil War, when the prisoner exchange system ended and the Andersonville prison camp swelled with Union soldiers. Once the war ended, these prisoners needed to be returned home, and transporting troops became a lucrative business for steamboats along the Mississippi River. Walker sets the scene for the Sultana disaster as she describes the captain’s greed (allowing 2,400 passengers when the legal capacity was 376), the chief engineer’s decision to repair rather than replace a deteriorating boiler, the flooded river, and other factors that would come into play. She tells the story through the lens of select soldiers and paying passengers, who each met different fates aboard the steamer. The author not only relates the aftermath of the tragedy that claimed 1,537 lives but also why it was almost forgotten. History buffs, and even adults, will be the biggest fans of this crossover YA title.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2017)
The worst maritime disaster in American history, one that could have been easily prevented, is comprehensively recounted in this briskly paced narrative. On April 27, 1865, the Sultana, a Mississippi River side-wheel steamboat, exploded just north of Memphis on the Mississippi River. The boat, which had a capacity of 376, was carrying over 2,000 passengers, most of them Union soldiers recently released from prisoner-of-war camps. When the Sultana’s boilers exploded, passengers were bombarded with red-hot iron fragments, burned by scalding steam or fire, and flung overboard into the cold, churning Mississippi River. Despite rescue efforts, over 1,500 lives were lost. The narrative focuses on five survivors. Walker chronicles their experiences in battle and as prisoners of the Confederates, their ordeals in the disaster and rescue, and what became of them after. She also discusses the official investigation into the disaster. The cause of the explosion was a damaged boiler that had not been properly repaired. Bribery was responsible for the gross overcrowding aboard the Sultana, but no one was ever held responsible or punished. In addition to archival illustrative material, Walker makes extensive use of primary sources, such as diaries and newspaper reports, although it is surprising more use is not made of the survivors’ recollections Chester Berry collected and published in 1892. Quibbles aside, a finely detailed, well-researched chronicle of a little-known disaster. (maps, glossary, source notes, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Sally M. Walker is the author of the Sibert Medal winner Secrets of a Civil War Submarine as well as many other nonfiction books, including Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud and Divided a Nation. Sally M. Walker lives in Illinois.

Her website is sallymwalker.com

Teacher Resources

Sinking the Sultana Discussion Questions

Sinking the Sultana Teachers’ Guide

Around the Web

Sinking the Sultana on Amazon

Sinking the Sultana on Goodreads

Sinking the Sultana on JLG

Sinking the Sultana Publisher Page

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Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart. September 5, 2017. Delacorte Press, 288 p. ISBN: 9780375991844.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 650.

From the author of the unforgettable New York Times bestseller We Were Liars comes a masterful new psychological suspense novel–the story of a young woman whose diabolical smarts are her ticket into a charmed life. But how many times can someone reinvent themselves? You be the judge.

Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Alcohol, Rape

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (June 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 19))
Grades 9-12. It’s difficult to describe Lockhart’s latest psychological thriller without dipping into spoilers, but here are the pertinent details: Jule, a peripatetic, athletic, superhero-obsessed teen girl is best friends with rich, restless Imogen, who recently committed suicide. When readers meet Jule, she’s lounging at a tony resort in Mexico, eating junk food, and enjoying the sun. It’s clear she’s on the run, though from whom or why isn’t clear, and Lockhart strings readers along with a clever narrative gambit. In a clipped, detached tone, Lockhart tells Jule’s story in reverse, and with each step backward, she peels away juicy layers of intrigue. As the relationship between Jule and Imogen comes into focus, Lockhart explores themes of jealousy, loyalty, privilege, and origins. Imogen, who was adopted, is fixated on the idea of feeling a strong sense of identity, while Jule constantly relies on an unlikely story to explain her childhood. But can they really know each other at all? It’s a captivating, suspenseful story made all the more bewitching by Lockhart’s twisty narrative, and she constantly keeps readers guessing with unpredictable turns and eye-opening reveals. This quietly unsettling, cinematic novel is deliciously suspenseful, and while it’s slim, it packs a real punch. Teens who love to hate antiheroes will be enraptured.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2017)
Can Jule recognize her own true self within the tangled story of the past year? Jule West Williams is 18, white, and an orphan, all of which she has in common with her best friend, heiress Imogen Sokoloff—or does she? Jule, an impulsive, complicated protagonist like no other, tells her story as though she were living in an adventure movie. She imagines herself a heroine in contrast to the “great white hetero hero on his fucking epic journey.” She’s proud of her strength and fighting ability, her talents for disguises and imitating accents. Outside of her fantasy life, she feels inferior to practically everyone—Immie and her boyfriend, Forrest, as well as Immie’s parents and friends from college. Starting the book with Chapter 18 and the instruction “Begin here,” Jule traces a year backward, revealing startling secrets along the way. The fast-paced plot moves among New York, London, California, and Mexico as Jule stays one step ahead of those who’ve underestimated her skills. Jule’s intense narrative frequently includes clipped snatches of dialogue with herself: “No, she had. / No, she hadn’t. / She wished she had not. / She wished it could be undone.” Her unsettling storytelling, filled with energy and a fair amount of violence, comes from deep inside her own mysterious background. This thriller from the author of We Were Liars (2014) will challenge preconceptions about identity and keep readers guessing. (Suspense. 12-adult)

About the Author

E. Lockhart wrote the New York Times bestseller We Were Liars, which is also available in a deluxe edition. Her other books include Fly on the Wall, Dramarama, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and the Ruby Oliver Quartet, which includes The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, and Real Live Boyfriends.

Her website is www.emilylockhart.com

Teacher Resources

Genuine Fraud Teacher’s Guide

Around the Web

Genuine Fraud on Amazon

Genuine Fraud on Goodreads

Genuine Fraud on JLG

Genuine Fraud Publisher Page

Whale Quest by Karen Romano Young

Whale Quest: Working Together to Save Endangered Species by Karen Romano Young. August 1, 2017. Twenty-First Century Books, 128 p. ISBN: 9781467792462.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1150.

Decades of commercial whaling nearly decimated a variety of whales considered a keystone species. Keystone species are indicators of the overall health of Earth’s habitats. While whales have made a comeback through an international ban on commercial whaling, they are still threatened with extinction. Global warming, water and noise pollution, and commercial shipping and fishing are among the most serious threats to whale survival. Meet the scientists, citizen scientists, researchers, whale watching guides, and other concerned citizens who are working together to protect whale populations around the globe. Learn about whale biology, habitats, and behavior, and discover more about the high-technology tools that help researchers in their work.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (June 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 19))
Grades 8-12. Young takes a fittingly large-scale approach to her investigation of the whale and its precarious place in the wild, which she anchors through the theme of whale watchers. After a brief introduction to this mammal’s evolutionary history and role as a keystone species, the book traces its relationship with humans over time. The discussion begins with the whaling industry, both its detrimental past practices and current protective policies. Interestingly, it was from whaling that cetology (the scientific study of whales) and the whale-watching industry were born, and from these came conservation movements. Young delves into each of these areas, peppering the text with photos, diagrams, profiles of “whales to watch,” fast-fact Q&As, and a concluding whale guide. The balanced presentation of information offers straightforward accounts of controversies, such as SeaWorld’s orca shows, and the many opportunities available to those who wish to help save the whales. Readers after a personal account of whale rescue will want to look elsewhere, but researchers will be well served by this compact volume’s breadth of information.

Kirkus Reviews (June 1, 2017)
Threats to whale populations are abundant, but there are many human allies working together around the world to protect their fragile populations.Young explores how cetologists, researchers, and citizen scientists work individually and cooperatively to protect whales from such hazards as climate change, commercial fishing and shipping, water and noise pollution, and unregulated whale-watching tourism. Before going into specifics about conservation efforts, Young explains the evolution and nature of cetaceans, how the whaling industry brought many species to the brink of extinction, and early conservation efforts that resulted in the establishment of the International Whaling Commission. She also notes how popular films such as Free Willy and Whale Rider and award-winning documentaries like Blackfish and Dolphin Cove have helped spread appreciation for cetaceans and raised public consciousness about conservation issues. One chapter explores the controversy of whale captivity, with Sea World at the center of a widespread public backlash against the practice. For those with a taste for the icky and gross, Young explores how much researchers can learn from whale feces and snot. A closing guide to whale species offers a sobering reminder of the terrible toll taken on whales by humans. The blue whale population, for example, is estimated now at 5,000, down from a pre-hunting population of 200,000. An informative, well-researched, and engagingly written look at global efforts to protect Earth’s largest mammals. (maps, photos, source notes, glossary, bibliography, further reading) (Nonfiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Karen Romano Young has dived to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in a tiny submarine, crunched through Arctic ice in an icebreaker, and visited labs, museum workshops, and research institutions across the U.S. to write and draw about science. She was a lead science communications fellow aboard Dr. Robert Ballard’s research ship E/V Nautilus.

Karen lives with her family in the woods of Bethel, Connecticut. Her next adventure is a stint at Palmer Station, Antarctica, as the recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Grant. She has not yet traveled to space. Her website is www.karenromanoyoung.com

Teacher Resources

Whales Lesson Plans

Around the Web

Whale Quest on Amazon

Whale Quest on Goodreads

Whale Quest on JLG

Whale Quest Publisher Page

Alexander Hamilton by Teri Kanefield

Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America by Teri Kanefield. March 7, 2017. Harry N. Abrams, 208 p. ISBN: 9781419725784.  Int Lvl: 5-8.

The America that Alexander Hamilton knew was largely agricultural and built on slave labor. He envisioned something else: a multi-racial, urbanized, capitalistic America with a strong central government. He believed that such an America would be a land of opportunity for the poor and the newcomers. But Hamilton’s vision put him at odds with his archrivals who envisioned a pastoral America of small towns, where governments were local, states would control their own destiny, and the federal government would remain small and weak.

The disputes that arose during America’s first decades continued through American history to our present day. Over time, because of the systems Hamilton set up and the ideas he left, his vision won out. Here is the story that epitomizes the American dream—a poor immigrant who made good in America. In the end, Hamilton rose from poverty through his intelligence and ability, and did more to shape our country than any of his contemporaries.

Related subjects and concepts discussed in the book include:

Law and Legal Concepts
Due process
Bill of Rights
Freedom of Speech and the Press
Originalism / nonoriginalism (theories of Constitutional interpretation)

Government
Checks and Balances
Democracy
Electoral College
Republic

Financial Concepts
Capitalism
Credit
Inflation
Interest
Mercantilism
Securities: Stocks and Bonds
Tariffs
Taxes

Miscellaneous
Demagogues
Dueling
Pastoralism

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2017)
The contributions and eventful life of founding father Alexander Hamilton are examined and explained.The enthusiasm for Broadway hit and cultural phenomenon Hamilton, The Musical shows little signs of abating, and its popular cast album has generated interest in the country’s first treasury secretary among all ages. This brief biography seeks to answer questions about the talented founding father whose background was so unlike those of his peers. Beginning and ending with Hamilton’s duel with then–Vice President Aaron Burr, the remainder follows his life, focusing on many of the highlights that brought him to prominence. Of course, his efforts to determine the country’s economic system and the rivalry they spawned with Thomas Jefferson are prominent. Kanefield provides necessary context for the differing worldviews of the two men, cogently explaining the strong distrust between growing mercantile interests and the planter class. In much the same way, she compares the similarities between Hamilton and Burr as well as the political differences that eventually drove them to the duel. Given the target audience, there is no mention of the sex scandal that tarnished Hamilton’s public reputation, but there is some sense of his complicated personality. The strength of the book is the generous use of Hamilton’s own words, including a section with samples of his writings. Illustrations and sidebars add clarity to the readable narrative. A solid introduction to a charismatic founding father. (timeline, chapter notes, bibliography, index) (Biography. 10-14)

Publishers Weekly Annex (February 13, 2017)
Well-timed to tap into ongoing Hamilton-mania, Kanefield (The Extraordinary Suzy Wright) revisits America’s formative years in a lucid biography that illuminates the personality and politics of Alexander Hamilton, spotlighting his role in shaping the structure of the U.S. government and economy. Disinherited and shunned due to his illegitimate birth at a time when birthright paved one’s way to success, Hamilton emigrated from the island of St. Croix to New York City, determined to improve his financial and social status and find fame through his own achievements. Kanefield credibly reveals how Hamilton’s intelligence, high self-expectations, commitment to his beliefs, and skills as an orator and writer fueled his advocacy of a strong central government rooted in mercantilism and manufacturing. Details about Hamilton’s complex relationships with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson offer insight into the ideologies and character of all three statesmen, and add additional human dimension to this portrait of this nation’s beginnings. Excerpts from Hamilton’s writings, period art, and sidebars defining historical, political, and legislative terms further enhance this absorbing chronicle. Ages 10-14. (Mar.)

About the Author

Teri writes novels, short stories, essays, stories for children, nonfiction for both children and adults, and lots of appellate briefs.

Her stories and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Education Week, Scope Magazine, The Iowa Review, Cricket Magazine, and The American Literary Review.

Teri’s law practice is limited to representing indigents on appeal from adverse rulings.

She lives in California near the beach.

Her website is www.terikanefield.com.

Teacher Resources

Alexander Hamilton “Grab and Go” Teaching Resources

Around the Web

Alexander Hamilton on Amazon

Alexander Hamilton on Goodreads

Alexander Hamilton on JLG

Alexander Hamilton Publisher Page

Girl Rising by Tanya Lee Stone

Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time by Tanya Lee Stone. February 14, 2017. Wendy Lamb Books, 208 p. ISBN: 9780553511475.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1050.

Worldwide, over 62 million girls are not in school.
But one girl with courage is a revolution.

Girl Rising, a global campaign for girls’ education, created a film that chronicled the stories of nine girls in the developing world, allowing viewers the opportunity to witness how education can break the cycle of poverty.

Now, award-winning author Tanya Lee Stone deftly uses new research to illuminate the dramatic facts behind the film, focusing both on the girls captured on camera and many others. She examines barriers to education in depth—early child marriage and childbearing, slavery, sexual trafficking, gender discrimination, and poverty—and shows how removing these barriers means not only a better life for girls, but safer, healthier, and more prosperous communities.

With full-color photos from the film, infographics, and a compelling narrative, Girl Rising will inspire readers of all ages to join together in a growing movement to help change the world.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence; Human trafficking; Sexual violence and slavery; Murder and genocide; Child brides; Harsh realities of poverty

 

Film Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 11))
Grades 9-12. Much more than a companion volume to the 2013 semidocumentary of the same title, which portrayed nine girls around the globe overcoming daunting barriers to obtain an education, this vibrant book stands on its own as a source of inspiration. Going into greater detail than is possible in a cinematic format, the author tells the girls’ backstories with empathy and grace; she also provides heartening updates and illuminates the context of the struggle. In 50 countries, education is not free, and in many of these, education for girls is viewed as, at best, inessential, at worst, anathema—60 million girls receive limited or no schooling. Instead, they are required to work: in some of the cases described here, they’re sold very young by their families as virtual slaves (restaveks in Haiti, kamlari in Nepal). Child marriage—14 million cases yearly worldwide—represents essentially the same script. The closing chapter is a call to activism, and close-up full-color photos of the girls profiled will let young readers connect even more. Some of the stories contained here are perhaps too strong for younger readers, although it was a seven-year-old girl in Toronto who came up with the notion of Pencil Mountain, which ships school supplies to Ethiopia. Readers may be moved to initiate projects of their own.

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 1, 2016)
Although unfortunate circumstances in developing countries prevent girls from getting educations, nevertheless they remain resilient. Sibert Medalist Stone begins by explaining how the documentary Girl Rising inspired a book that further amplifies and explores the heartbreaking and inspiring stories of girls around the globe who are advocating for access to and freedom of education. Collected from over 45 hours of raw video interview footage, direct quotes from women and girls unveil a distressing web of hardships for girls as young as 5 and the unjust factors that prevent them from bettering their lives: poverty, human trafficking, modern-day slavery, child marriage, and, perhaps the most prevalent, gender discrimination. Around the world, the book zooms in on the struggles of girls from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Nepal, Peru, Sierra Leone, among other countries. Both portraits and documentary-style photographs are numerous, and infographic designs will appeal to younger readers. Stone’s passionate, deliberate, and compelling narrative explores the culture of gender discrimination and induces a sense of urgency for a solution. The recounted interviews offer insight, candor, and emotion, sparing readers little.A moving account of hardships and triumphs that is bound to inspire future activists, this is a devastating but crucial read. (author’s note, appendix, bibliography, source notes) (Nonfiction. 14 & up)

About the Author

Tanya Lee Stone is an award-winning author of books for kids and teens. Her work, which includes YA fiction (A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl), picture books (Elizabeth Leads the Way and Sandy’s Circus), and nonfiction (Almost Astronauts and The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie) has won national awards such as the ALA’s Sibert Medal, SCBWI’s Golden Kite Award, YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction, Jane Addams Book Award Honor, Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor, NCTE’s Orbus Pictus, and Bank Street’s Flora Steiglitz Award. 

Her website is www.tanyastone.com.

Teacher Resources

Girl Rising Educator’s Guide

Girl Rising Full Curriculum

Around the Web

Girl Rising on Amazon

Girl Rising on Goodreads

Girl Rising on JLG

Girl Rising Publisher Page

Gorilla Dawn by Gill Lewis

Gorilla Dawn by Gill Lewis. January 31, 2017. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 432 p. ISBN: 9781481486576.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.8.

Two children captured by a band of rebel soldiers in the Congo vow to protect an orphaned gorilla baby in this powerful, thought-provoking, and vividly compelling novel from award-winning storyteller Gill Lewis.

Deep in the heart of the Congo, a baby gorilla is captured by a group of rebel soldiers. Imara and Bobo are also prisoners in the rebels’ camp. When they learn that the gorilla will be sold into captivity, they swear to return it to the wild before it’s too late. But the consequences of getting caught are too terrible to think about. Will the bond between the gorilla and the children give them the courage they need to escape?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns; War; Violence; Genocide; Child soldiers; Xenophobic epithets

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 12))
Grades 5-8. As she did in Moon Bear (2015), Lewis shines a light on an industry still relatively unknown among western readers. Here it’s the mining of coltan, a mineral key to the production of cell phones, which is often excavated in places gorillas call home. Imara, kidnapped by rebels years ago, is now a child soldier with a group starting an illegal coltan mine in the Congo. Bobo’s pursuing the rebels in hopes of clearing the name of his father, a ranger accused of leading the rebels to a band of gorillas, the youngest of which they’ve captured and intend to sell to the corrupt white business woman who’s buying the “conflict-free” coltan. Imara, meanwhile, forms a powerful bond with the 18-month-old gorilla, which she names Kitwana, reawakening her long-forgotten compassion and weakening the tough exterior that had been so essential to her survival. Alternating among Imara, Bobo, and Kitwana’s perspectives, Lewis lays out the complicated relationship between widespread poverty, opportunistic groups (including white business owners and corrupt government officials), and environmental threats. The heart of the story lies firmly among the children and their struggle both to survive and not fall for the comfort promised by corrupt adults. Suspenseful pacing keeps the pages turning, and the provocative questions raised about conservation, consumerism, and the global effects of widespread poverty will keep readers thinking long after the last page.

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 1, 2016)
A child soldier and a park ranger’s son rescue an infant gorilla. Binding together the world’s need for columbite-tantalite for its electronic devices, the fate of lowland gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s forests, the importance of park rangers, and the life of a young female kadogo, or child soldier, Lewis reminds her readers how strongly connected humans are to the natural world. “If we lose our love of it, then we lose everything.” Imara, the “spirit child” of the Black Mamba’s guerilla group, is already lost. Severely scarred on her face by her captor, she believes she harbors a demon. The rebels believe she has supernatural powers and can protect them. But given the care of the baby gorilla captured for the White Lioness—the foreigner who will also buy the coltan they are mining and the book’s only significant white character—she begins a recovery process. It culminates with her helping two other captives, a dead park ranger’s son, Bobo, and a Batwa boy, Saka, save the gorilla baby and being saved herself. Typography distinguishes human voices from imagined gorilla thoughts; chapter headings show changing points of view between Imara and Bobo; and the author emphasizes Imara’s recovery by giving her a first-person narrative at the end. Suspenseful and emotionally intense, this is eco-fiction at its most appealing. A riveting survival adventure with an important message. (Fiction. 9-14)

About the Author

Gill Lewis is the author of the critically acclaimed Wild Wings and One White Dolphin, both winners of the Green Earth Book Award, as well as Moon Bear and Gorilla Dawn. A veterinarian, her love of animals and the natural world plays a big part in her writing. She lives in the UK.

Her website is www.gilllewis.com.

Teacher Resources

Gorilla Dawn Teaching Guide & Lesson Plans

Around the Web

Gorilla Dawn on Amazon

Gorilla Dawn on Goodreads

Gorilla Dawn on JLG

Gorilla Dawn Publisher Page

Isaac the Alchemist by Mary Losure

Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d by Mary Losure. February 1, 2017. Candlewick Press, 176 p. ISBN: 9780763670634.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.4; Lexile: 1010.

A surprising true story of Isaac Newton’s boyhood suggests an intellectual development owing as much to magic as science.

Before Isaac Newton became the father of physics, an accomplished mathematician, or a leader of the scientific revolution, he was a boy living in an apothecary’s house, observing and experimenting, recording his observations of the world in a tiny notebook. As a young genius living in a time before science as we know it existed, Isaac studied the few books he could get his hands on, built handmade machines, and experimented with alchemy–a process of chemical reactions that seemed, at the time, to be magical. Mary Losure’s riveting narrative nonfiction account of Isaac’s early life traces his development as a thinker from his childhood, in friendly prose that will capture the attention of today’s budding scientists–as if by magic. Back matter includes an afterword, an author’s note, source notes, a bibliography, and an index.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (December 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 7))
Grades 6-9. Isaac Newton is known as one of the most brilliant scientific minds in human history, so what was he doing studying alchemy? Losure (The Fairy Ring, 2012) paints a vivid picture of the lonely, curious young Isaac, who grew up with an insatiable appetite for reading (particularly about alchemy), which ultimately fueled his scholarly pursuits. While teaching mathematics and formulating his famous theories, for instance, he simultaneously pored over crucibles of mercury, hoping to transmute lead into gold. Of course, we know now that alchemy is nonsense, but in Isaac’s seventeenth-century existence, it was a serious scientific study and thought to be the key to unlocking the universe’s secrets. In Losure’s engaging narrative, she compellingly ties Isaac’s desire to solve the world’s mysteries through alchemy to his groundbreaking theories, which actually did lead to solving many of those mysteries. Snippets of Isaac’s notebooks and period illustrations further enliven Losure’s already fascinating, energetic writing. More than just a picture of Isaac Newton’s life, this illuminates the historical context for his work and the sea change his discoveries ushered in.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2017)
In 1936, economist John Maynard Keyes bought a set of Isaac Newton’s manuscripts at auction only to discover that many of the pages had nothing to do with science, but rather alchemy. Newton, Keyes reasoned, “was not the first of the age of reasonâç¦He was the last of the magicians.” Indeed, Newton grew up in a world where it was very difficult to tell where one field of study ended and another began, a world where alchemy and “chymistry” (as it was then spelled) seemed to be related disciplines. Losure faithfully hews to this worldview, communicating the sense of awe and wonder about the natural world that Newton must have felt. This immersive experience is enhanced by historical documents that are reproduced throughout the text, along with several appendices of additional information. Perhaps even more impressive than her re-creation of Newton’s world, however, is her re-creation of the man himself–or rather, the boy who became the man–without embellishing the historical record with speculation and conjecture. Thus, the reader is left with the bare facts of Newton’s life–his difficult and troubled childhood, his prodigious talent at Cambridge, his prickly and reclusive nature, and his famous Laws of Motion–but more importantly, Losure has communicated his very essence, recalling Albert Einstein’s assertion that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” Source notes, a bibliography, and an index are appended. jonathan hunt

About the Author

Mary Losure, author of The Fairy Ring and Wild Boy, writes both non-fiction and fantasy for children. Before she was a children’s book author, she was an award-winning reporter for Minnesota Public Radio. A long-time contributor to National Public Radio, she also reported from Mexico and South America for the independent production company Round Earth Media. She lives in Minnesota.

Her website is www.marylosure.com.

Teacher Resources

Isaac the Alchemist Teacher’s Guide

Around the Web

Isaac the Alchemist on Amazon

Isaac the Alchemist on Goodreads

Isaac the Alchemist on JLG

Isaac the Alchemist Publisher Page

When the Sky Breaks by Simon Winchester

When the Sky Breaks: Hurricanes, Tornadoes, and the Worst Weather in the World by Simon Winchester. January 31, 2017. Viking Books for Young Readers, 96 p. ISBN: 9780451476357.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 8.9; Lexile: 1180.

New York Times bestselling author Simon Winchester looks at which way the wind blows in this exciting book about giant storms.

Simon Winchester is an avid weather watcher. He’s scanned the skies in Oklahoma, waiting for the ominous “finger” of a tornado to touch the Earth. He’s hunkered down in Hong Kong when typhoon warning signals went up. He’s visited the world’s hottest and wettest places, reported on fierce whirlpools, and sailed around South Africa looking for freak winds and waves.

He knows about the worst weather in the world.

A master nonfiction storyteller, Winchester looks at how, when, where, and why hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones, and tornadoes start brewing, how they build, and what happens when these giant storms hit. His lively narrative also includes an historical look at how we learned about weather systems and where we’re headed because of climate change. Stunning photographs illustrate the power of these giant storms.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

About the Author

Simon Winchester is the author of Viking’s When the Earth Shakes: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis, a 2016 NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book. He is the New York Times bestselling author of adult nonfiction, including Pacific; Atlantic; The Men Who United the States; and The Professor and the Madman. Winchester was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to journalism and literature.

His website is simonwinchester.com.

Teacher Resources

Hurricanes and Tornadoes Lesson Plans

Hurricanes and Tornadoes Printable Worksheets

Around the Web

When the Sky Breaks on Amazon

When the Sky Breaks on Goodreads

When the Sky Breaks on JLG

When the Sky Breaks Publisher Page

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures: Young Reader’s Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly. November 29, 2016. HarperCollins, 240 p. ISBN: 9780062662385.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1120.

New York Times bestselling author Margot Lee Shetterly’s book is now available in a new edition perfect for young readers. This is the amazing true story of four African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped achieve some of the greatest moments in our space program. Now a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner.

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African-American women who lived through the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racism

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2017 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Christine Darden are names that have been largely forgotten. The four women worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in the mid-twentieth century. Each displayed early aptitude for math, sharp curiosity about the world around them, and marked confidence in the face of discrimination. They contributed to discoveries about space and to sending manned missions into orbit. Their life stories are the perfect impetus for discussion on a host of important historical themes germane to the 1950s, such as gender roles, racial prejudice and segregation, and scientific exploration. In any context, these women’s contributions to science and aerospace technology would be impressive, but the obstacles imposed by the norms of their society make their achievements all the more impressive. Middle-schoolers will find their story, here in a young readers’ edition of Shetterly’s 2016 adult book (the basis of a current movie), engaging and inspirational.

About the Author

I’m the author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (William Morrow/HarperCollins). I’m also the founder of The Human Computer Project, an endeavor that is recovering the names and accomplishments of all of the women who worked as computers, mathematicians, scientists and engineers at the NACA and NASA from the 1930s through the 1980s.

I’m a Hampton, Virginia native, University of Virginia graduate, an entrepreneur, and an intrepid traveler who spent 11 years living in Mexico. I currently live in Charlottesville, VA.

Her website is www.margotleeshetterly.com.

Teacher Resources

Hidden Figures Teacher Resources

Hidden Figures Teaching Guide

“When Computers Wore Skirts” Lesson Plan

Around the Web

Hidden Figures on Amazon

Hidden Figures on Goodreads

Hidden Figures on JLG

Hidden Figures Publisher Page

Exoplanets by Karen Latchana Kenney

Exoplanets: Worlds Beyond Our Solar System by Karen Latchana Kenney. March 1, 2017. Twenty First Century Books, 88 p. ISBN: 9781512400861.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1120.

As of March 2016, planetary scientists have discovered almost 2,000 exoplanets – planets that orbit stars other than the Sun. Readers will learn about high-powered orbiting telescopes such as NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope; observatories such as the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland; and upcoming missions such as the 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, all of which aid scientists in their work to discover more solar systems and exoplanets. Profiles of and quotes from top planet hunters include those of Debra Fischer, Gordon Walker, and Geoffrey Marcy, among others.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (December 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 8))
Grades 8-11. As space exploration technology steadily advances, astronomers are discovering vast new reaches of space, and this slim, accessibly written volume sheds some light on a particularly thrilling area of research: planets far outside our solar system. After a tidy history of our ever-expanding understanding of the universe, Kenney clearly explains the many ways exoplanets are detected and some of the limitations of current tools and methods. The real star of the show, though, is the mind-­boggling number of exoplanet discoveries—more than 3,000 confirmed—and the wild variety of planets scientists have found, such an exoplanet with so little density it could float in water. The implications of these discoveries, such as habitable planets and the possibility of extraterrestrial life, will likely dazzle the imaginations of space-mad students, and a closing chapter on the future of exoplanet research, including citizen science projects accessible to anyone with a home computer, puts the science easily in reach of enterprising teens. Though the text is occasionally dry, illustrations, photos, diagrams, and the fascinating content add plenty of verve.

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2016)
An enticing overview of tools, techniques, and discoveries in what the author rightly characterizes “a red-hot field in astronomy.”Alas; it is perhaps too red-hot. Not only is Kenney’s count of accepted and potential exoplanets (as of May 2016) well out of date already, but her claim that “Wolf-1061” (sic: that’s actually the name of the star and its system) is the nearest Earthlike planet in the habitable “Goldilocks Zone” has been trumped by the recent discovery of a closer candidate orbiting Proxima Centauri. Still, along with describing in nontechnical terms each tool in the researcher’s kit—from space- and ground-based telescopes of various types to instruments that detect subtle stellar wobbles, spectrum changes, microlensing, and other telling signs—the author fills in the historical background of exoplanet research and profiles some of its weirder findings. She also casts side glances at extremophile life on Earth and other, at least tangentially related, topics. The small format gives the assortment of photos, artists’ renditions, diagrams, and generic star fields a cramped look, but readers curious about how researchers could possibly detect such dinky, distant objects as planets belonging to other star systems will come away satisfied and intrigued. A concise companion and update to Vicki Oransky Wittenstein’s Planet Hunter (2010). (index, source notes, bibliography, websites) (Nonfiction. 12-16)

About the Author

My favorite book as a child was an educational book titled I Want to Be a Reporter. It was about the job of a reporter and described the skills needed to tell stories in writing. I asked my mom to read it to me every night. It was fascinating to me! Since discovering that book, I have loved the idea of writing for a living.

As a K-12 educational writer and editor, I get to work on books and teaching materials that inform and inspire students. I have written about everything from the underwater home of a spider to the history of hip-hop music and WWI history. While I love researching and writing about all kinds of subjects, my experience so far has been mostly in science, social studies, biographies, music, and arts and crafts topics.

Her website is latchanakenney.wordpress.com.

Teacher Resources

Exoplanets Lesson Plans from NOVA

Around the Web

Exoplanets on Amazon

Exoplanets on Goodreads

Exoplanets on JLG

Exoplanets Publisher Page