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Champion: The Comeback Take of the American Chestnut Tree by Sally M. Walker

Champion: the Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree by Sally M. Walker. March 6, 2018. Henry Holt & Co., 144 p. ISBN: 9781250125231.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.1; Lexile: 1070.

American chestnut trees were once found far and wide in North America’s eastern forests. They towered up to one hundred feet tall, providing food and shelter for people and animals alike. For many, life without the chestnut seemed unimaginable—until disaster struck in the early 1900s.

What began as a wound in the bark of a few trees soon turned to an unstoppable killing force. An unknown blight was wiping out the American chestnut, and scientists felt powerless to prevent it.

But the story doesn’t end there. Today, the American chestnut is making a comeback. Narrative nonfiction master Sally M. Walker tells a tale of loss, restoration, and the triumph of human ingenuity in this beautifully photographed middle-grade book.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

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Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 13))
Grades 5-8. When Hermann Merkel was hired in 1898 to be New York Zoological Park’s chief forester, the 1,500 American chestnut trees were his favorites. In 1904, Merkel noticed a blight that was quickly destroying these beloved trees, and by 1911, only 2 remained. Merkel’s observations were the start of a scientific mystery with ramifications that still continue. Walker documents some of the many scientists, from the beginning of the blight to today, who have worked to save this American icon. Why all the interest in a tree? The author first explains the importance of the American chestnut on the eastern forests’ environment. The bulk of the investigative text, however, concentrates on the source of the blight and three different approaches to saving the American chestnut. In the process, Walker shows how the comeback of this tree can serve as a model to restore other species. The niche subject may be a hard sell to recreational readers, but with additional photos of scientists in action, this STEM volume is a boon to life-science and engineering units.

Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2018)
Once a ubiquitous presence in North America’s eastern forests, the American chestnut tree was nearly brought to extinction by a deadly blight, but it was brought back from oblivion through the ingenuity of determined scientists. In 1904, forester Hermann Merkel discovered ugly wounds on some of the American chestnut trees in the New York Zoological Park. No other trees in the park were affected. By 1911, only two of 1,500 trees in the park remained. A scientist with the New York Botanical Garden identified the disease as a blight fungus. All attempts to find a remedy failed. A U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist discovered that the blight originated in Asia, brought to the United States through the cross-breeding of the American and Asian chestnuts. By 1940, nearly 4 billion trees succumbed to the devastating blight. Using clear, accessible language, Walker explains how research scientists have developed three promising approaches to restoring the American chestnut: backcross breeding, using weak strains of virus-infected fungus to attack lethal strains, and engineering transgenic American chestnut trees. These approaches are cause for cautious optimism for restoration of the trees, which Walker describes as a “gargantuan task,” requiring “time and patience.” Walker’s passion for her subject and her ability to convincingly explain how the American chestnut is an icon worth saving makes this stand out. A compelling, inspiring true story of a species rescued from extinction through decades of determined innovation. (photos, appendices, source notes, glossary, bibliography) (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

American Chestnut Foundation Educational Resources

American Chestnut Lesson Plans

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Champion on Amazon

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Very, Very, Very Dreadful by Albert Marrin

Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 by Albert Marrin. January 9, 2018. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 208 p. ISBN: 9781101931479.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1040.

From National Book Award finalist Albert Marrin comes a fascinating look at the history and science of the deadly 1918 flu pandemic–and the chances for another worldwide pandemic.

In spring of 1918, World War I was underway, and troops at Fort Riley, Kansas, found themselves felled by influenza. By the summer of 1918, the second wave struck as a highly contagious and lethal epidemic and within weeks exploded into a pandemic, an illness that travels rapidly from one continent to another. It would impact the course of the war, and kill many millions more soldiers than warfare itself.

Of all diseases, the 1918 flu was by far the worst that has ever afflicted humankind; not even the Black Death of the Middle Ages comes close in terms of the number of lives it took. No war, no natural disaster, no famine has claimed so many. In the space of eighteen months in 1918-1919, about 500 million people–one-third of the global population at the time–came down with influenza. The exact total of lives lost will never be known, but the best estimate is between 50 and 100 million.

In this powerful book, filled with black and white photographs, nonfiction master Albert Marrin examines the history, science, and impact of this great scourge–and the possibility for another worldwide pandemic today.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: War, Violence

Reviews

Booklist starred (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. Acclaimed for incisive explorations of America’s bleakest moments, from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (Flesh & Blood So Cheap, 2011) to WWII-era Japanese internment camps (Uprooted, 2016), Marrin homes in on the “most deadly disease event in the history of humanity.” Raging from early 1918 to mid-1920, the influenza pandemic, aptly dubbed the “devil virus,” crescendoed in three lethal waves, spanned continents, and claimed an estimated 50- to 100-million lives worldwide. In six riveting chapters, Marrin examines the virus’s precursors, including past plagues and prior medical breakthroughs, its aftermath, and its festering backdrop—the congested trenches and training camps of WWI. While the pandemic’s scope is broad and undiscerning, Marrin’s approach is the opposite. With razor-sharp precision, he carefully presents genetic mutations, coffin shortages, the disease’s devastating grip on colonized Africa, the direct correlation between women working as nurses and the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, and much more. Marrin’s conclusion, too, pulls no punches; after all, when it comes to future pandemics, it’s not a matter of if one will occur, but when. Fusing hard science and “jump-rope rhymes,” first-person accounts and crystalline prose, cold reason and breathtaking sensitivity, Marrin crafts an impeccably researched, masterfully told, and downright infectious account—complete with lurid black-and-white photos throughout. This is nonfiction at its best.

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2017)
A comprehensive history of the influenza pandemic of 1918, the worst global killer that humankind has experienced. Historian Marrin (Uprooted, 2016, etc.) begins four years earlier, at the beginning of World War I. Liberally referencing research, partial statistics, diaries, medical records, newspaper articles, art, photographs, poetry, song, and literature, Marrin works to give an accurate depiction of the circumstances and ill-timed incidents that led to the global catastrophe, which killed at least three times as many people as the war worldwide. The author does not neglect the squalor around the globe: ill soldiers in trenches and overcrowded barracks, suffering families, orphaned children, hunger and undernourishment, and deaths so numerous that bodies are stacked upon bodies. Marrin reveals how scientists and doctors knew little about influenza a century ago, as surgeons and physicians didn’t practice routine hygiene or quarantine and were often rendered helpless; in fact, he argues (albeit briefly) that nurses turned out to be most useful against influenza, for they provided supportive care. He then brings the eye-opening narrative to the present, detailing the search for the origins of influenza; recent scientific breakthroughs; the emergence of the H5N1 strain; and how, without intending to, scientists have brought the virus to a risky, imminent pandemic. Not one to shy away from unnerving details, Marrin relays what researchers and scientist express today: another influenza pandemic will unquestionably strike again. (notes, bibliography, further reading, picture credits, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Albert Marrin is an award winning author of over 40 books for young adults and young readers and four books of scholarship. These writings were motivated by the fact that as a teacher, first in a junior high school in New York City for nine years and then as professor of history and chairman of the history department at Yeshiva University until he retired to become a full time writer, his paramount interest has always been to make history come alive and accessible for young people.

Winner of the 2008 National Endowment for Humanities Medal for his work, which was presented at the White House, was given “for opening young minds to the glorious pageant of history. His books have made the lessons of the past come alive with rich detail and energy for a new generation.”

His website is www.albertmarrin.com.

Teacher Resources

Great Pandemic Resource Lists

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Very, Very, Very Dreadful on Amazon

Very, Very, Very Dreadful on Goodreads

Very, Very, Very Dreadful Publisher Page

 

Facing Frederick by Tonya Bolden

Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man by Tonya Bolden. January 9, 2018. Harry N. Abrams, 208 p. ISBN: 9781419725463.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 8.6.

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) is best known for the telling of his own emancipation. But there is much more to Douglass’s story than his time spent enslaved and his famous autobiography. Facing Frederick captures the whole complicated, and at times perplexing, person that he was. Statesman, suffragist, writer, and newspaperman, this book focuses on Douglass the man rather than the historical icon.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts, Discrimination, Violence

Reviews

Booklist starred (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 7-12. Most folks know Frederick Douglass as an escaped slave turned abolitionist. Bolden’s insightful and impeccably researched biography reveals, instead, a multifaceted man who would travel many paths and constantly redefine himself. And instead of commencing with Douglass’ life as a slave, as many biographies do, this account begins after his escape, as he becomes one of the most in-demand speakers for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and launches his place in history as a great orator against the “twin monsters of darkness,” slavery and racism. It balances Douglass’ personal and financial successes and accolades with his frustrations, controversies, and setbacks, which only encouraged him to question the Constitution and fight harder for freedom, racial justice, and women’s suffrage. Framing the biography are more than a dozen photographs of Douglass from his early twenties to just before his death at age 77, with a note explaining his love for photography, because of its democratizing quality. Many other period photographs, colorful reproductions, and quotes from the media of the time add to the impressive visuals. Author, newspaper owner, lecturer, Underground Railroad conductor, Union army recruiter, abolitionist, and presidential campaigner are just some of Douglass’ roles described here. Bolden’s beautiful, sophisticated narrative demonstrates that throughout all of his responsibilities, Douglass never lost sight of his biggest role—humanitarian.

Kirkus Reviews starred (October 15, 2017)
The story of one of the most iconic and photographed figures in American history.Frederick Douglass wanted to be viewed as more than an escaped slave, and Bolden emphasizes that point by beginning his story when he makes the decision to break with abolitionist publisher William Lloyd Garrison to begin his own newspaper. Douglass’ history is nevertheless revealed as he contemplates changing his course. In his paper, the North Star, he pressed for an end to slavery and was outspoken in favor of women’s suffrage. Once the nation’s struggles between freedom and slavery led to armed conflict, he pushed President Abraham Lincoln to allow black men to fight in the Union cause. After the Civil War, Douglass remained tireless in seeking to improve the lives of African-Americans until the end of his life. This narrative about a well-known figure feels fresh due to Bolden’s skilled storytelling. It fully captures his outsized personality and provides clarity for nuanced episodes such as his disagreements with Garrison, his refusal to support efforts to colonize blacks outside of the United States, and his reservations about John Brown’s raid. Complications in his personal life are handled with sensitivity. In addition, Douglass was a celebrity at the dawn of photography and became the era’s most photographed figure, and this handsome volume includes many, as well as period illustrations. A spirited biography that fully honors its redoubtable subject. (author’s note, timeline, source notes, selected sources, index) (Biography. 10-14)

About the Author

Author and publisher Tonya Wilyce Bolden was born on March 1, 1959, in New York City to Georgia Bolden, a homemaker, and Willie Bolden, a garment center shipping manager. Bolden grew up in Harlem in a musical family and loved to read; she attended Public M.E.S. 146, an elementary school in Manhattan, and then graduated from the Chapin School, a private secondary school, in Manhattan in 1976. Bolden attended Princeton University in New Jersey, and, in 1981, obtained her B.A. degree in Slavic languages and literature with a Russian focus. Bolden was also a University Scholar and received the Nicholas Bachko, Jr. Scholarship Prize.

Upon graduating from Princeton University, Bolden began working as a salesperson for Charles Alan, Incorporated, a dress manufacturer, while working towards her M.A. degree at Columbia University. In 1985, Bolden earned her degree in Slavic languages and literature, as well as a Certificate for Advanced Study of the Soviet Union from the Harriman Institute; after this she began working as an office coordinator for Raoulfilm, Inc., assisting in the research and development of various film and literary products. Bolden worked as an English instructor at Malcolm-King College and New Rochelle School of New Resources while serving as newsletter editor of the HARKline, a homeless shelter newsletter.

In 1990, Bolden wrote her first book, The Family Heirloom Cookbook. In 1992, Bolden co-authored a children’s book entitled Mama, I Want To Sing along with Vy Higginsen, based on Higginsen’s musical. Bolden continued publishing throughout the 1990s, releasing Starting a Business from your Home, Mail-Order and Direct Response, The Book of African-American Women: 150 Crusaders, Creators, and Uplifters, And Not Afraid to Dare: The Stories of Ten African-American Women, American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm and The Champ. Bolden became editor of the Quarterly Black Review of Books in 1994, and served as an editor for 33 Things Every Girl Should Know, in 1998. Bolden’s writing career became even more prolific in the following decade; a partial list of her works include:, Our Souls: A Celebration of Black American Artists, Maritcha: A Nineteenth Century American Girl, MLK: Journey of a King, Take-Off: American All-Girl Bands During World War II, and George Washington Carver, a book she authored in conjunction with an exhibit about the famous African American inventor created by The Field Museum in Chicago.

Her website is www.tonyaholdenbooks.com.

Teacher Resources

Collection of Frederick Douglass Lesson Plans

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Facing Frederick on Amazon

Facing Frederick on Goodreads

Facing Frederick Publisher Page

 

Spineless by Juli Berwald

Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone by Juli Berwald. November 7, 2017. Riverhead Books, 352 p. ISBN: 9780735211261.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

A former ocean scientist goes in pursuit of the slippery story of jellyfish, rediscovering her passion for marine science and the sea’s imperiled ecosystems.

Jellyfish have been swimming in our oceans for well over half a billion years, longer than any other animal that lives on the planet. They make a venom so toxic it can kill a human in three minutes. Their sting–microscopic spears that pierce with five million times the acceleration of gravity–is the fastest known motion in the animal kingdom. Made of roughly 95 percent water, some jellies are barely perceptible virtuosos of disguise, while others glow with a luminescence that has revolutionized biotechnology. Yet until recently, jellyfish were largely ignored by science, and they remain among the most poorly understood of ocean dwellers.

More than a decade ago, Juli Berwald left a career in ocean science to raise a family in landlocked Austin, Texas, but jellyfish drew her back to the sea. Recent, massive blooms of billions of jellyfish have clogged power plants, decimated fisheries, and caused millions of dollars of damage. Driven by questions about how overfishing, coastal development, and climate change were contributing to a jellyfish population explosion, Juli embarked on a scientific odyssey. She traveled the globe to meet the biologists who devote their careers to jellies, hitched rides on Japanese fishing boats to see giant jellyfish in the wild, raised jellyfish in her dining room, and throughout it all marveled at the complexity of these alluring and ominous biological wonders.

Gracefully blending personal memoir with crystal-clear distillations of science, Spineless is the story of how Juli learned to navigate and ultimately embrace her ambition, her curiosity, and her passion for the natural world. She discovers that jellyfish science is more than just a quest for answers. It’s a call to realize our collective responsibility for the planet we share.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

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Reviews

Booklist (October 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 3))
Jellyfish are so alien to us as spinal cord-bearing, land-based animals that we can’t envision how a brainless blob of jelly can even be alive, let alone move, eat, and behave like an animal. And yet there are several thousand species of jellies in the world’s waters, and their enigmatic lives fuel the fascination of science writer Berwald in her quest to understand their role in the fate of the oceans. The author first became enamored of marine biology during a field course in the Red Sea, but marriage and kids sidetracked her into writing textbooks and science articles. Stumbling across jellyfish while writing for National Geographic, she discovered an obsession that took her around the world to talk to the scientists who study jellies. She swam with jellies, watched how quickly they disintegrate in fishers’ nets, ate them in Japan, and kept them in a home aquarium, and as she revels in these spineless animals, she teaches us to delight in them, too.

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2017)
A close look at the biology and behavior of jellyfish combined with a personal history of the author, a former ocean scientist who was pulled back to the sea by these enigmatic creatures.As science writer Berwald notes, details about jellyfish—whose species number in the hundreds—are scant in comparison with what is known about other marine animals despite the fact that they have been on Earth for at least 500 million years. Because they reproduce quickly and can adapt to different environments, they’re notorious for disrupting ocean ecosystems and devastating fishing economies. For beachgoers, they are often just nuisances with a painful sting. But the further the author dives into her research, the more she suspects that jellyfish behavior may provide clues about how the Earth’s changing climate is affecting ocean life. In addition, jellies have sophisticated propulsion systems and collagen-based bodies that may guide bioengineers in developing new products. In this appealing combination of solid science writing, investigative journalism, and memoir, Berwald chronicles her travels around the globe interviewing leading jellyfish experts and viewing all types of jellies in aquariums and native habitats. What the author discovered is that jellyfish science is growing as it becomes more apparent that the animals are a robust source of information about the ocean’s conditions as well as many other facets of the natural world. After years of research, Berwald is convinced that “to research jellyfish is not just to look at a creature unfamiliar and bizarre to most, but to study the planet and our place in it.” While writing this lucid, eye-opening book, the author discovered that her place was, in part, inextricably entangled with jellyfish. In this lovely exploration of the mysterious jellyfish, Berwald both entrances and sounds a warning: pay attention to the messages sent by ocean life, and act to protect their environment, and ours.

About the Author

Juli Berwald received her Ph.D. in Ocean Science from the University of Southern California. A science textbook writer and editor, she has written for a number of publications, including The New York TimesNatureNational Geographic, and Slate.

She lives in Austin with her husband and their son and daughter. Her website is www.juliberwald.com

Teacher Resources

Jellyfish Lesson Plans

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Spineless on Amazon

Spineless on Goodreads

Spineless Publisher Page

Voices from the Second World War by Various

Voices from the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today by Various. March 20, 2018. Candlewick Press, 320 p. ISBN: 9780763694920.  Int Lvl: 5-8.

In an intergenerational keepsake volume, witnesses to World War II share their memories with young interviewers so that their experiences will never be forgotten.

The Second World War was the most devastating war in history. Up to eighty million people died, and the map of the world was redrawn. More than seventy years after peace was declared, children interviewed family and community members to learn about the war from people who were there, to record their memories before they were lost forever. Now, in a unique collection, RAF pilots, evacuees, resistance fighters, Land Girls, U.S. Navy sailors, and survivors of the Holocaust and the Hiroshima bombing all tell their stories, passing on the lessons learned to a new generation. Featuring many vintage photographs, this moving volume also offers an index of contributors and a glossary.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: War, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 4-7. WWII ended more than 70 years ago, yet interest in it remains evergreen, as this fascinating work of living history evidences. The voices the title references belong to those who participated in and lived through the war. In many cases, their audience is the young people who are interviewing them, though some of the reminiscences come from sources other than interviews. The stories are arranged topically: “Evacuees,” “Women at War,” “The Resistance,” “The Holocaust,” and more. Originally published in England in cooperation with the children’s newspaper First News and the Silver Line, a confidential help line for older people, the voices belong primarily to British participants, though the contents are international in scope, featuring, for example, a handful of Americans, a small group of Germans, and one Japanese survivor, who recalls his experience of the bombing of Hiroshima. Though many of those featured are elderly—one is more than 100 years old—their memories are vivid and bring to light the realities of war in this valuable collection.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2018)
Firsthand accounts of World War II, many collected by modern children. Though the second world war has been over for more than 70 years, its wide scope still comes most to life in the stories of those who lived through it. The British children’s newspaper First News began collecting these accounts; published here along with others, they offer a comprehensive picture of the war, from soldiers, civilians, and children on all sides, both Allied and Axis. Perhaps due to its British origins, the preponderance of contributions are British, and the war in the European theater dominates, but the African campaign and the war in the Pacific are covered. Resistance efforts and the experiences of women during the war are each covered in separate chapters. The white American navigator of the Enola Gay recounts what it was like to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, while a Japanese man tells what it was like to be an 8-year-old boy in the city that morning. Because children conduct the interviews, most of the short accounts are honest but not brutally graphic. Vintage photographs illustrate every page, and indexes and a glossary allow the book to be used as a true reference resource. A fine tool for any child interested in history as well as for classroom, school, and public libraries. (Nonfiction. 10-14)

 

Teacher Resources

Teaching with Documents from the National Archives

Around the Web

Voices from the Second World War on Amazon

Voices from the Second World War on Goodreads

Voices from the Second World War Publisher Page

A Few Red Drops by Claire Hartfield

A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 by Claire Hartfield. January 2, 2018. Clarion Books, 208 p. ISBN: 9780544785137.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1120.

On a hot day in July 1919, three black youths went swimming in Lake Michigan, unintentionally floating close to the “white” beach. An angry white man began throwing stones at the boys, striking and killing one. Racial conflict on the beach erupted into days of urban violence that shook the city of Chicago to its foundations. This mesmerizing narrative draws on contemporary accounts as it traces the roots of the explosion that had been building for decades in race relations, politics, business, and clashes of culture.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts, Discrimination, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Grades 7-10. This well-documented text outlines the events leading to the race riot in Chicago in the summer of 1919, which caused 38 deaths and more than 500 injuries. The prologue, the first two chapters, and the last three chapters (out of 20) address the riot; the rest provide a detailed and accessible history of the growth of Chicago as a meat-processing center, the formation and influence of trade unions, the influx of European immigrants, and the WWI-era black migration from the South. Quotes, statistics, and period photos help build background. An epilogue describes the partly successful results of a commission charged with instigating change and mentions other unhappy events of the “Red Summer” of 1919: 25 additional race riots across the U.S. The conclusion paints a positive picture of diverse, present-day Chicago, noting that the past century has brought many needed changes. This solid entry covers a topic not often mentioned in YA literature, and will support researchers looking for balanced coverage for history, civil rights, and economics reports.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2017)
A clash on a hot summer’s day served as catalyst for a deadly race riot in 1919 Chicago.The deep racial and ethnic resentments that permeated Chicago in the early years of the 20th century exploded into violence when the death of a young African-American teen was caused by a rock-throwing young white man, whom a white policeman refused to arrest. The incident quickly escalated, and after days of unrest, 38, whites and blacks, were dead, and more than 500 were wounded. From the epigram taken from a Carl Sandburg poem, this detailed work is deeply grounded in Chicago history. Details about the actual riot bookend the narrative. In between, Hartfield introduces black Chicagoans from the middle of the 19th century as well as later arrivals who fled the racial violence of the South. She includes the role of the black press in articulating the demands of the black community as they became urban dwellers. The stories of white ethnic groups, their struggles to achieve the American dream, and their racial animosity are examined, as is the role of labor unions. Richly illustrated with contemporary photographs, the narrative is also carefully researched, drawing on accounts from the time. There is a great deal to digest, and it sometimes overwhelms the core story. However, it is successful in demonstrating that past conflicts, like current ones, have complex causes. A comprehensive, careful account. (source notes, bibliography, map, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Claire Hartfield received her B.A from Yale University and her law degree from the University of Chicago. As a lawyer, she has specialized in school desegregation litigation. More recently, she has been involved in setting policy and creating programs in a charter school setting on Chicago’s African-American West Side. She heard stories of the 1919 race riot from her grandmother, who lived in the Black Belt in Chicago at the time, and was moved to share this history with younger generations.

Ms. Hartfield lives in Chicago. Her website is clairehartfield.com

Teacher Resources

1919 Chicago Race Riots Lesson Plan & Materials

Around the Web

A Few Red Drops on Amazon

A Few Red Drops on Goodreads

A Few Red Drops Publisher Page

Maya Lin by Susan Goldman Rubin

Maya Lin: Thinking with Her Hands by Susan Goldman Rubin. November 7, 2017. Chronicle Books, 100 p. ISBN: 9781452108377.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Lexile: 980.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is one of the most famous pieces of civic architecture in the world. But most people are not as familiar with the reserved college student who entered and won the design competition to build it. This accessible biography tells the story of Maya Lin, from her struggle to stick with her vision of the memorial to the wide variety of works she has created since then. The carefully researched text, paired with ample photos, crosses multiple interests—American history, civic activism, art history, and cultural diversity—and offers a timely celebration of the memorial’s 35th anniversary as well as providing an important contribution to the current discussion of the role of women and minorities in society.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 1))
Grades 4-7. Though she leads, of course, with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—submitted to a design competition when Maya Lin was still just a senior at Yale—Rubin’s thorough examination of this modern architect extends far past the memorial for which she is best known. After briefly discussing Lin’s childhood—an animal-lover, she grew up in Ohio to academic parents who had both been born in China—Rubin focuses on Lin’s thought process behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the challenges she faced entering into the architecture world as a young Asian woman. From there, she discusses Lin’s refusal to be typecast as a monument designer, and the exception she made for the Civil Rights Memorial. Projects less likely to be well known by students—Wave Field, Langston Hughes Library, Riggio-Lynch Chapel, the Confluence Project—are given equal page time. Lin’s exploration of her Chinese heritage is examined through her design of the Museum of Chinese in America, images of the Box House showcase her playful side, and her love of animals and conservation is still evident in her ongoing What Is Missing? multimedia project. Compact trim size, color-coded chapters, and frequent glossy photos make this a solid, well-researched, and well-rounded biography of a fascinating woman. A finely designed, endlessly compelling examination of the life and work of one of America’s most notable architects.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2017)
One of the world’s most celebrated creators of civic architecture is profiled in this accessible, engaging biography. Similar in style and format to her Everybody Paints!: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family (2014) and Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O’Keeffe (2011), Rubin’s well-researched profile examines the career, creative processes, and career milestones of Maya Lin. Rubin discusses at length Lin’s most famous achievement, designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Chinese-American Lin was a reserved college student who entered and won the competition to design and build the memorial. Her youth and ethnicity were subjects of great controversy, and Rubin discusses how Lin fought to ensure her vision of the memorial remained intact. Other notable works by Lin, including the Civil Rights Memorial for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, a library and chapel for the Children’s Defense Fund, the Museum of Chinese in America, and the outdoor Wave Field project are examined but not in as much depth as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Attractively designed, the book is illustrated extensively with color photos and drawings. An engaging, admiring, and insightful portrait of an uncompromising, civic-minded, visionary artist. (bibliography, source notes, index) (Biography. 12-15)

About the Author

Susan Goldman Rubin has written art books for children of all ages, including middle grade biographies of Georgia O’Keeffe and the Wyeths. She lives in Malibu, California.

Her website is www.susangoldmanrubin.com

Teacher Resources

Maya Lin Lesson Plans

Maya Lin Studio

Around the Web

Maya Lin on Amazon

Maya Lin on Goodreads

Maya Lin Publisher Page

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson. October 16, 2017. Candlewick Press, 208 p. ISBN: 9780763695088.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.6.

In an engrossing historical novel, the Newbery Medal-winning author of Bridge to Terabithia follows a young Cuban teenager as she volunteers for Fidel Castro’s national literacy campaign and travels into the impoverished countryside to teach others how to read.

When thirteen-year-old Lora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Lora has barely been outside of Havana — why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody’s kitchen? But Lora is stubborn: didn’t her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need? Surprisingly, Lora’s abuela takes her side, even as she makes Lora promise to come home if things get too hard. But how will Lora know for sure when that time has come? Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen’s coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write, while helping with the work of their daily lives and sharing the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries hiding in the hills nearby. Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, War, Violence, Racism, Murder, Torture

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (October 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 3))
Grades 5-8. Fidel Castro’s rise to power elicited many different reactions from Cubans—see, for example, Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s The Red Umbrella (2010). Paterson’s latest focuses on how Castro implemented a successful national literacy campaign. Havana resident Lora, an amazing reader, volunteers to be a teacher in the mountains of Cuba for one year. Lora has never been away from home before, and must leave behind all her city comforts to embark on a journey that will change her life. Readers interested in Cuba will find a wealth of information here; both a time line and political background are supplied between pages. While Lora’s adventure is based on a true story, the weakness of the novel lies in the presentation of danger: the looming threat that Lora could be killed by the enemy at any time does not quite resonate. Readers will find that the strength of the book lies not in Lora’s adventures but in the critical question she asks: Which country is truly perfect? A fascinating, possibly controversial portrayal of a turbulent time in history.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2018)
It is 1961 in Havana, Cuba. Despite her parents’ misgivings, thirteen-year-old Lora becomes a member of the Conrado Benítez Brigade. She, along with thousands of other young brigadistas, travels hours away to live with poor mountain farmers and become teachers in order to fulfill Fidel Castro’s vow that the country become one hundred percent literate in one year. In this idealistic and informative coming-of-age novel, readers experience alongside Lora her triumphs and challenges as she exchanges her sheltered city life for the experience of living on a farm and seeing how learning to read and write changes lives. Lora comes across as a distinct, individual character, but through her readers also learn many details about the brigadistas: how they were expected to work in the fields alongside their host families and help out as much as possible in the home; the dangers they faced due to “counterrevolutionaries,” including threats that they “would come and kill all the literacy teachers in the area.” Though all the brigadistas were young, none faltered in his or her duty to educate rural campesinos for the cause. Paterson also brings in Cuban politics, covering Castro’s rise to power as well as reasons why many Cubans resented America’s interference in their country. Lora’s story helps readers see the Cuban people’s resilience and fortitude in the face of extreme hardship. Though Castro’s literacy campaign happened fifty-six years ago, Cuba has still maintained one of the world’s highest literacy rates. Appended with an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history. alma ramos-mcdermott

About the Author

Katherine Paterson is the internationally acclaimed author of over 35 books for children and young adults.

She has twice won both the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award. She received the 1998 Hans Christian Andersen Medal as well as the 2006 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for the body of her work, and was the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature for the Library of Congress.

Two of her best-selling books have been made into feature films – “The Bridge to Terabithia” and “The Great Gilly Hopkins”. An active promoter of reading, education and literacy, she lives in Barre, Vermont. She has four children and seven grandchildren, and her beloved dog, Pixie.

Her website is www.terabithia.com

Teacher Resources

My Brigadista Year Teacher’s Guide

Around the Web

My Brigadista Year on Amazon

My Brigadista Year on Goodreads

My Brigadista Year on JLG

My Brigadista Year 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

Reviews

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 www.jackgantos.com

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

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

 

Related Videos

 

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