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A World Without the Super Soaker®?

posted by: May 23, 2012 - 1:11am

What Color is my World?There’s more to former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar than just basketball. In What Color is My World?: the Lost History of African-American Inventors, he and co-author Raymond Obstfeld tackle the book's subject and make it interesting for kids!


Twin siblings Ella and Herbie are less than thrilled about their new fixer-upper of a house.  Eccentric handyman Mr. R.E. Mital comes to work on the house and slowly shares with the two the potential of their new home. He also uses different things in the house as a starting point to share contributions made by African-American inventors. Turning on a light bulb prompts a discussion about Lewis Latimer, while working in the kitchen brings up George Crum and his marvelous invention of the potato chip.


Flaps show lifelike portraits of individuals like Dr. Mark Dean, a vice-president at IBM, Dr. Charles Drew, who developed the concept of blood banks, and of great importance to children everywhere, nuclear engineer Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker® squirt gun! Ella’s notes appear inside the flaps, while several spreads provide detailed profiles of other inventors and graphic novel-style passages. This surprising and informative exploration of unfamiliar inventors is also fun thanks in part to the realistic banter between the siblings.


This is a fun easy read that can be read cover to cover, but the book's layout also makes it an ideal choice for skipping around and reading about those of most interest – like Alfred Cralle, inventor of the indispensable ice cream scoop! A list of books, websites, and videos is included at the end for those who want to keep on learning. And like Ella and Herbie, the reader uncovers a surprise discovery about Mr. Mital’s real identity.


A First Look at Nature’s Heroes

posted by: May 22, 2012 - 3:00pm

Life in the OceanRachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the WorldFor the BirdsThree of the most famous naturalists of the past one hundred years get their due in introductory, illustrated biographies for young readers. Each extraordinary life shares a common thread--following a strong interest in the natural world as a child and developing it into a career that changed the way Americans interact with their environment.


In Life in the Ocean: the Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, the sea and all of its hidden plants and animals are brilliantly portrayed by author and illustrator Claire Nivola. From the New Jersey farm she lived on until age twelve, to the seaside in Florida where she spent her adolescence, these surroundings shaped Sylvia Earle’s life and her curiosity about the natural world. Diving into the depths and encountering whales and amazing bioluminescent fishes, her ongoing exploration of the ocean and fight to keep it clean and preserve its treasures has made Earle a pioneer for female marine biologists.


Rachel Carson is well-known worldwide for her seminal critique of pesticides and the chemical industry, Silent Spring, as well as other important works. Rachel Carson and her Book that Changed the World is a good introduction to her life and accomplishments. Showing an early interest in nature throughout her childhood, she found her niche after taking a biology course in college.  Laurie Lawlor covers both Carson’s triumphs and difficulties in this tightly-written biography.


Though known in his neighborhood for his unusual habits as a child, Roger Tory Peterson is now noticed for what he noticed--the incredible world of birds. His curiosity and lifelong passion to educate the masses and conserve the habitats our feathered friends is the subject of For the Birds: the Life of Roger Tory Peterson. Peterson, best known for his many field guides to bird identification and behavior, is described vividly by Peggy Thomas, and the illustrations by Laura Jacques are striking. Of particular note is a double-page spread of a flicker just taking flight.


Budding environmentalists can learn about three of the most famous names in natural science with these timely picture book biographies.


The Bee's Knees

posted by: May 16, 2012 - 1:11am

UnBEElievablesThe Honeybee ManBackyard beekeeping continues to rise in popularity and two recent children’s titles spotlight these buzzy critters and their importance to our world.  In UnBEElievables by Douglas Florian, this award-winning poet of the natural world offers 14 lively poems.  The subjects of his verses range from bee anatomy, to the different types of bees, to the collapse of bee colonies in recent years.  He uses his trademark wordplay and puns, but also manages to sneak some information into the poems as well.  A paragraph offering further explanation follows each verse and the illustrations bring the words to life. Working in gouache, colored pencils, and collage on paper bags, Florian captures the essence of the world of bees. This is a fun and visually appealing book that comes complete with a BEEbliography.


In her children’s debut, Lela Nargi shares the story of Fred from Brooklyn in The Honeybee Man. Every morning, Fred climbs to his rooftop and greets his beloved bees, “Good morning, my bees, my darlings!" His honeybees travel across Brooklyn searching for flowers all day and return with nectar to store in their wax rooms.  At the right time, Fred makes honey which the entire neighborhood enjoys. This beautifully written story accompanied by Kyrsten Brooker's collage-style illustrations offers an inside look at the life of a sweet beekeeper and the honey-making process.  An afterword of "amazing facts" explains more about apiarists, bees' life cycles, and more.  Even the endpapers provide a learning opportunity with labeled diagrams of bees and beekeeping materials. This is an unusual glimpse of beekeeping in an urban setting inspired by two neighbors in Nargi’s New York community.  


The Darkest Dark

posted by: May 2, 2012 - 1:05am

A Black Hole is Not a HoleMost people consider the science of the sun, moon, planets, stars and the surrounding universe interesting, but often overwhelming. A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole, written especially for middle graders, turns out to be an excellent introduction to deep space concepts for people of all ages.


Big scientific concepts such as matter, mind-boggling distance (light-years!), and perhaps the biggest of them all, gravity, are given ample, clear explanations. The existence of black holes has been difficult to prove since their discovery, and what could become too much astrophysics is distilled as simply as possible. That Einstein never fully accepted the concept of black holes in his lifetime shows how far science has come in recent decades. Artist depictions and telescopic images fill the book with pictures that do their best to make the unimaginable come to life. Facts are engaging and well-explained. For example, the outer limit of a black hole is called the Event Horizon; from this point, no matter can escape the pull within. And our own galaxy has black holes, the largest of which makes up the center of the Milky Way, found in the constellation Sagittarius!


An extremely useful glossary and websites to further explore round out this brilliant informational book that will open the eyes of readers who will learn how a black hole is not quite a hole, or at least not a hole in the way that we on Earth know them. And as the author often states, science is a moving target, and each day researchers are learning more about the darkest dark of our universe.


Take a Journey to Wonderful!

posted by: April 18, 2012 - 10:38am

The Mighty Miss MaloneA Nation's HopeChristopher Paul Curtis delivers again with a Depression-era historical fiction in The Mighty Miss Malone.  Readers will delight in getting to know the mighty 12 year old Deza Malone (a character in Curtis’ Newbery winner Bud, Not Buddy) and her family.  Brother Jimmie is small but has a beautiful singing voice, and Mom and Dad just want the best for their kids.  The family is a tight unit and even has a motto:  “a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful.”  Deza is smart and spunky and even while her family is struggling with unemployment and illness, she has an optimistic outlook and a strong sense of self and her future.  The family’s strong bond is tested when Mr. Malone seeks work in Flint, Michigan. But Deza, Jimmie and their mother decide to follow him and travel with him on his journey. There are hardships, but this story is filled with humor, a strong sense of history and place, and truly wonderful characters.  Readers wanting more should check out the reading guide provided by Random House.


One of the frames Curtis uses to share Deza’s story is the boxing match of 1936 which saw German Max Schmeling face off against the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis. This match took on great significance because of Adolf Hitler’s increasingly powerful Nazi Germany. All Americans, and in particular African-Americans, pinned great hope for their future in this boxing ring. When Louis lost, African-Americans’ spirits sank even lower as they grappled with the Depression. In 1938, the two met in a rematch in Yankee Stadium in front of 80,000 fans, and Louis was victorious. The win helped boost morale across the country. Matt de la Peña shares the story of the second match in A Nation’s Hope: the Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis.  Kadir Nelson’s remarkable illustrations highlight this story which was a watershed cultural event. Of special note to locals – Baltimore Colts’ legend Artie Donovan’s father was the referee during this match!



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