Sunday, June 29, 2014

Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui

At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui.
by Christine Liu-Perkins; illus by Sarah S. Brannen
80 pages; ages 9-14
Charlesbridge, 2014

"For more than two thousand years, people had gazed across the plains at a pair of hills rising like a giant saddle from the earth," begins Christine Liu-Perkins. These aren't ordinary hills, but burial mounds of ancient royalty. But who?

When the tomb was opened, scientists found the mummy of Lady Dai of Mawangdui. Her body was so well preserved that they were able to perform an autopsy on her, and learned that she died of a hear attack. They also found 138 muskmelon seeds in her digestive tract - remains from her last meal.

This book takes readers into the tomb of Lady Dai, along with the archeologists - and forensic scientists - who excavated the site. It's filled with photos and drawings of the things she carried with her to the next life. There's plenty of back matter for folks who want more:  a timeline, glossary, author's notes and sources.

To learn more about this archeological treasure, and see photos and a video, check out this article.

Hop over to Nonfiction Monday where you'll find lots more great nonfiction books at the Nonfiction Monday blog. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Geometry takes flight with the Wing Wing Brothers

The Wing Wing Brothers Geometry Palooza!
by Ethan Long
32 pages; ages 4-7
Holiday House, 2014

themes: math, humor

"Walter wheels out the Whammer. Here comes Wendell! Watch him whiz through the air!"

The Wing Wing Brothers are a family circus act of five wacky birds: Walter, Wendell, Willy, Wilmer, and Woody. They do their best to make math painless and fun. Using magic wands and feats of daring they whip those polygons into shape.

Their first amazing feat - Describing Relative Positions - opens with a blast, boom, splat! Their goal: Launch a human bird cannonball through a hoop of fire. Then, with a waggle of the wand - poof! Triangles! Squares! Rectangles! and more to amaze you! Of course there's the "sawing a person in the box" act... which turns out just the way you'd expect and requires special glue...

What I like about this book: it's silly and a fun way to play with math - as long as kids don't try these stunts at home! The alliterative language is fun, too.

Beyond the book: The first thing I wanted to do after reading this book was see how many different shapes I could make using just triangles and squares. Easy to do - just cut a couple or three index cards into right triangles and a square and put them together.

Tangrams! A tangram is a puzzle of seven shapes that are put together to form specific shapes, such as a rabbit or a boat. The tans (pieces) are: two large right triangles, two small right triangles, one medium right triangle, a square and a parallelogram. If you don't have a tangram puzzle, you can make one - directions here (you might want to trace the pieces onto a cereal box so they last longer). Or you can play with the puzzle online here.

Go on a field trip to find shapes. The best place to hunt for triangles (and other straight-edged shapes) is around town: bridges, buildings, playgrounds.

Today is STEM Friday - head over to the STEM Friday blog to see what other people are talking about in science. Review copy provided by publisher.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Babe Conquers the World

Babe Conquers the World: the legendary life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias
by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace
272 pages; ages 9-14
Calkins Creek/ Boyds Mills, 2014

When Babe grew up it was rare for young girls to play sports. But she lucked out - her elementary school principal realized that Babe needed to sweat and jump and run and allowed her to play sports with the boys. After school, Babe headed to the sandlot for baseball. Without women athletes to serve as role models, Babe fashioned her own way into sports.

In high school Babe played basketball, baseball, tennis... and when the 1928 Olympics opened track-and-field events to women, Babe followed the news. Her school didn't have a girl's track-and-field team, but there were rows of hedges all along the avenue. Heck - she even wanted to play football. For her, playing sports was a way to be equal.
Rich and Sandra follow Babe's life from her first big break on a women's semi-pro basketball team to the 1932 Olympics, her foray into golf and professional athletics, and even a stage show. They infuse her story with warmth and help us see Babe as a whole person, not just the world class athlete. In true journalist fashion they include all kinds of extras at the back: a timeline, FAQs, source notes and more.

This is Nonfiction Monday. You'll find lots more great nonfiction books at the Nonfiction Monday blog. It's also Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday - and you'll find more good middle-grade and YA literature over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Big Pigs!

Big Pigs
by Leslie Helakoski
32 pages; ages 3-7
Boyds Mills Press, 2014

Take three little pigs who are tired of being "good little pigs", toss them out the barn door and see what trouble ensues.

"First one to sneak into the garden is a big pig," says one... and the challenge is on. They scrape and scramble, squiggle and jiggle, shove and shimmy until one of them finally ends up in the garden.

Now it's time for a new challenge: who can eat a whole row of vegetables the fastest? The competition is rife with colorful verbs until one pig wins. Now, with no vegetables, the garden is a perfect place to wallow in the mud.

I really like how each challenge builds on the one before it - and I love the muddy hoof-prints all over the pages and the pigs try to make it back to the barn - but will they evade mama pig's detection? and if she finds them, what will she do?

The illustrations are such messy muddy fun that you might kick off your shoes and head out to squish your toes in the mud. Review copy provided by publisher.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

the Pure Grit of American WWII nurses

Pure Grit: How American World War II nurses survived battle and prison camp in the Pacific
by Mary Cronk Farrell
160 pages; ages 10 - 16
Abrams, 2014

In the late 1930s, young women enlisted for peacetime duty as US Army and Navy nurses. More than a hundred were stationed at several base hospitals in the Philippines, providing routine care to military families. Everything changed when, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and everything changed. As Japan invaded the Philippines, the nurses had to learn to treat battlefield wounds. When the Philippines finally fell to Japan, the nurses were captured as prisoners of war.

We might never have heard their stories if Mary Cronk Farrell hadn't gone back to read an email from her cousin. Her cousin had written a paper for nursing school about military nurses captured in WWII - enough to tickle Farrell's curiosity and she started researching.

But, back to the war. By Christmas eve it was clear that hospitals were in danger. So the nurses put what they could on a bus and "moved" their hospital into the jungle of Bataan - a deserted cluster of sheds with palm-thatch roofs at a former training camp. Without electricity they had to figure out how to sterilize medical instruments (they used Bunsen burners and pressure cookers).

Farrell focuses on the personal stories of the nurses, weaving in the war history. She shares their letters, diaries, and fills the pages with archival photos. There's a treasure of back matter: a glossary, timeline, endnotes and bibliography highlighting books suitable for young readers. If you've got a kid who needs a topic for a history paper, put this book in her hands. Check out interviews with the author here and here.

Check out what other bloggers are reviewing over at Nonfiction Monday. Today is also Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday round-up. Drop by to see what other bloggers are reviewing.
 ARC provided by publisher.

Friday, June 13, 2014

How to Train a Train

How to Train a Train
by Jason Carter Eaton; illus. by John Rocco
40 pages; ages 4-8
Candlewick, 2013

theme: pets, imagination

"So you want a pet train? ... Trains make awesome pets - they're fun, playful, and extremely useful." And this book has everything you need to know to choose - and train - the right train for you.

What I like love about this book: It's silly fun, and serious at the same time. If you've ever had a pet, or if you're looking for a pet, then you've already heard the words of advice on choosing the "right" pet. Author Jason Eaton shows the many considerations that go into selecting the perfect train, going so far as to suggest making the call of the wild train:

There are suggestions for names for your new pet, advice on bathing it and helping it settle into its new home, and tips on taking it for a walk. There are also some cautions, such as training it to wipe its wheels before running through the kitchen. And there's a must-read note for readers at the back for those wondering about paperwork and the application of local pet ordinances.

Beyond the book: Build a train. All you need are some boxes and glue and markers and maybe a few paper plates. Need ideas? Check here.

Go train-watching. If you have tracks, and a regular train that goes by, go watch it. Count how many engines are pulling, and how many cars it has. Note what kind of cars it's pulling: containers, oil, flatbeds, coal... If there's a train station nearby, even better - you can observe many trains. 

Where do trains go? Check out the route schedules and maps at Amtrak. Learn how to read a timetable. Map tracks around your town.

Hike an abandoned route. Many towns are turning old rails into trails. Take a walk or ride a bike down a rail-trail to get a feel for where the old trains used to go.

If trains are out of the question, adopt a pet rock. Not everyone can adopt a train for a pet. Try something else: a car, a roller skate - even a rock. Hundreds of perfectly-behaved rocks go homeless each year. The advantage of a rock over a train is that they are smaller (some can fit in your pocket) and you can teach them tricks, like "sit" and "stay". You can even decorate them and teach them to fly through the air. 

Today's review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copy provided by publisher.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Separate is Never Equal

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & her Family's Fight for Desegregation
by Duncan Tonatiuh
40 pages; ages 6-9
Abrams, 2014

On the first day of school Sylvia wears her shiny new black shoes and her hair is perfectly parted into two long braids. But when she's looking for her locker, a boy points at her and yells, "Go back to the Mexican school! You don't belong here!"

But she does, because the year before her family and others won their lawsuit to stop school segregation in California. And most of the book reflects on those earlier events - which happened nearly a decade before Brown v Board of Education. When her family moved to the town of Westminster, she could not register at the public school near her home. She had to take classes in the school farther away - a shack surrounded by cow pastures, without any playground equipment or tables for eating lunch.

Sylvia's parents, outraged by the injustice, worked to find a way to make education equal for all children. With friends and neighbors reluctant to sign petitions, lest they lose their jobs, they ended up taking the school system to court.

But it was up to Sylvia to face the realities of going to a newly integrated school. She ignored the whispers and name-calling and focused on making friends and learning her lessons. Author's notes and other material at the back add context to this important story.

Check out what other bloggers are reviewing over at Nonfiction Monday.  And if you're looking for another story about girls involved in school integration, check out this post from last month.  Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Gemina, The Crooked-Neck Giraffe & author interview

Gemina, The Crooked-Neck Giraffe
by Karen B. Winnick
40 pages; ages 4-8
Santa Barbara Zoo Press, 2013

Themes: animals, differences, nonfiction

"Gemina stood out from all the others at the Santa Barbara Zoo. She was the famous crooked-neck giraffe"

Gemina didn't always have a crooked neck. When she was born, she looked like all the other baby giraffes - wobbly-legged and nearly six-feet tall. But when she was three, a bump appeared on the side of her neck. It got bigger and bigger, and made Gemina's neck crooked. The zoo veterinarians took X-rays and examined her, but no one knew what caused the crook in her neck.

What I like about this book: Everyone accepts Gemina, from the other giraffes to the visitors at the zoo. Kids and parents and grandparents stand in line to offer her a special giraffe biscuit. "That giraffe has a bump like me," says a boy with scoliosis. Clearly, Gemina helped people feel better about themselves - and kids responded by sending her letters and drawings - some of which are featured on the endpapers.

Beyond the book: June is national Zoo & Aquarium month - a perfect time to head to your local zoo and do some giraffe-watching. Many zoos have elevated viewing platforms so you can say hello to the giraffes eye-to-eye. It's fun to watch how they eat - and take a good look at their tongues. What color are they? How long are they? How do they pick up food?

Spot Patterns. Spots help camouflage giraffes in the wild. The spots make it possible for giraffes to blend in with the dappled shade of trees, making it harder for predators to identify them as "dinner". Different species of giraffe have different spot patterns. Check out the different patterns of giraffe spots here - then draw a pattern that you would want if you were a giraffe.

New to the Zoo. What happens when a new giraffe is introduced into the zoo herd? Here's a video from the San Diego Zoo showing Leroy's first day with the other giraffes. Lower on the page you'll find lots of good information about life as a giraffe, from meals to nap time to the diversity of sounds giraffes make.

Three Questions
I recently had a chance to ask author Karen Winnick about her book. 

Sally: What inspired you to write about Gemina? 

Karen: On a visit to the Santa Barbara Zoo I met Gemina. I fed her biscuits and was struck by her gentle, friendly demeanor. Her crooked neck was very noticeable yet it didn't seem to bother her. She walked around with the other giraffes as part of the group. Gemina appeared comfortable with herself and her environment. I took a photo of her, framed it and continued to think about her. I thought about what an inspiration she was to me and to others. Later I contacted the Zoo and asked if I could write about her.

Sally: When she came to the Zoo, where there other young giraffes she could play with? What sort of "play" do giraffe kids engage in?

Karen:  As a young giraffe, Gemina was in the yard with other calves. She kicked out her legs and jumped and ran all over just as the others did. That's how giraffe calves play. Often they run back to their mother's side for protection. In the wild, young calves are left in a group, a giraffe "nursery" with one adult female watching over them while their mothers go off to feed.  

Sally: Zoos are more than places to see animals. Why are they important?

Karen:  I'm very involved with zoos and feel very strongly about their importance. Sadly, all over the world many animals are threatened with extinction. Their habitat is shrinking, even disappearing mostly due to human encroachment. Animals are being killed needlessly.

Today's zoos not only provide children and adults with the opportunity to see animals they might never have a chance to see, but zoos are also working hard to save species. Zoos that exhibit a species often contribute funds to help those animals in the wild. Zoos all over are breeding animals and sometimes, when possible, releasing them back into their natural habitat. Zoos are also educating young people about animals and their environment and about the importance of conservation. 

You can find out more about Karen and her books at her website.

Drop by STEM Friday to see what other science books and resources bloggers are sharing. Today's review is also part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copy provided by Blue Slip Media.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dare the Wind

It's not "women's history month", but for the next month of Mondays you'll find stories about strong women in this space... starting with

Dare the Wind
by Tracey Fern; illus. by Emily A. McCully
40 pages; ages 5-10
Farrar, Straus  & Giroux, 2014

"Ellen Prentiss had always felt the sea tug at her heart, strong as a full-moon tide. Her papa said that was because she was born with saltwater in her veins."

Ellen, who grew up in Marblehead, MA in the early 1800s, would rather sail than stitch samplers. Her father, a captain of a coastal trading schooner, taught her how to sail and - more importantly - how to navigate. Growing up, Ellen practiced navigating her father's schooner, racing the fishing fleet across the bay.

She married a sea captain an sailed alongside, as navigator. Then her husband was given command of a fast, new clipper ship: the Flying Cloud. Their maiden voyage was from New York to San Francisco - 15,000 miles around Cape Horn - to deliver passengers and Cargo to the Gold Rush. If they made the trip faster than any ship had done, they'd get a bonus and bragging rights. Ellen was ready to dare the wind.

This is a great tale of adventure and courage on the high seas. It's also about the importance of math - and navigation - and using a scientific approach to solving problems.... because Ellen's routes strayed from the traditional shipping routes.

Curious kids will enjoy learning more about Ellen Prentiss in the author's notes, and following her journey mapped on the endpapers.

This is Nonfiction Monday. You'll find lots more great nonfiction books at the Nonfiction Monday blog. Review copy provided by the publisher.