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Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 40 pgs.
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Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a brief look at the extraordinary lives of these brilliant mathematicians — Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dr. Christine Darden. My daughter and I read this book together and were learning a great deal about not only the role of math in the building of airplanes and spacecraft, but also the history of the time when segregation still existed and women were not allowed in meetings or even on scientific teams.

In one illustration, my daughter commented about the separate water fountains and noted that the one for “coloreds” looked more like a toilet with a spout than a water fountain. I think this was her interpretation of the differences between those facilities and she was taken aback at how awful just that aspect was. Kids are far smarter than adults sometimes.

As we read, we looked up the real women on the internet to check out more of their accomplishments and look at the projects they worked on, and my daughter was particularly interested in the wind tunnels that Mary Jackson worked with. I think it was because the visual of the giant fan behind Jackson and her team didn’t demonstrate the airplane models being tested. The internet helped with that.

While we loved the illustrations and how vivid they are, we wondered about the earrings the ladies wore — stars, planets, moons — were these accurate to their daily accessories or just a nod to their role in the space race? My daughter also loves learning about the landing on the moon and what was said, and the biographies in the back about each woman was fantastic because we learned more about each of them, though we were saddened to learn that only one of them is still alive, as Katherine Johnson passed away in 2020.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a delightful introduction to these stellar women and their accomplishments against all odds — racism and sexism. This generated some great discussion with my daughter and since she loves history, it was a great read for us.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Margot Lee Shetterly is the author of  Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. She is 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. She is a Hampton, Virginia native, University of Virginia graduate, an entrepreneur, and an intrepid traveler who spent 11 years living in Mexico. She currently lives in Charlottesville, VA.

About the Illustrator:

Laura Freeman is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honoree. Her work on “Hidden Figures” written by Margot Lee Shetterly, was recognized with an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Children, reached the New York Times Best Seller list and was listed as one of “Ten Books All Georgians Should Read”. Her art has been honored at the Society of Illustrators in NYC and in the Annuals for Communication Arts and American Illustration.

The Collectors by Alice Feagan

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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The Collectors by Alice Feagan is a delightful book about young naturalist explorers seeking the unique and extraordinary things in the forest for their collection inside a tree house. Winslow and Rosie are two young girls who love to explore and be outside. Winslow’s adventurous spirit is coupled with Rosie’s unique ability to describe and draw each forest find in her field journal.

The illustrations in the book are simple and focus on the girls as they take to the forest in search of their last greatest find. I do wish the colors were less muted. We loved looking through their treehouse collection of shells, butterflies, leaves and plants, and bugs. It is a vast collection — they need a ladder to reach the top shelves. My daughter took this book to her room, just to look at the pictures, and while it was published in May, she’s had a long time to linger over these images.

I love that Feagan is encouraging kids to explore the natural world, though my daughter’s first question is where are the parents. They should be watching their kids, especially since they explore so far from the treehouse. She was clearly worried for them. I told her it is fiction and you just have to imagine a world in which these girls know what to do and how to get home – I mean they do pack a compass, a field map, collection jars, and trowels, etc. in their backpack. These are young archaeologists in the making.

The Collectors by Alice Feagan was a fun adventure that shows kids that nature is something to be explored but also something to be cautious of, esp. when they encounter a not-too-happy bear. What these girls learn is that sometimes the extraordinary is not always far from home. Really enjoyable adventure for kids age 5-8.

RATING: Quatrain

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long, is an anthem for change and its images will inspire kids to take action now, rather than think change is something adults have to do. I loved how this book opens with a young girl and her guitar, humming a song – a song of change.

The illustrations in this book are colorful and full of depth, really well shadowed and highlighted. With the opening pages, the young girl is alone on a white background — the white signifying the possibilities around her that aren’t realized and she’s alone, demonstrating that changes starts with each person. This young girl walks by MLK in a mural about dreaming and change, meeting a young musician on the street.

Together, they start small, cleaning up a local park and then helping another young boy, and with each moment of aide they provide, they bring the music of change with them. Gorman’s words speak to the courage it takes to be tolerant and patient with others who are not nice to you; how it is better to build bridges, rather than fences; and all the while building communities of change, hope, and empathy.

Gorman brings together words with Long’s images to create a beautiful picture book about loving yourself, your neighbor, creating community, and making changes in your own hometown. Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long, is a delight and I love the simplicity of the words to convey a complex message to kids. It empowers them to take matters into their own hands, creating change in their own backyards.

RATING: Cinquain

The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes by Silke Vry, illustrated by Finn Dean

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 96 pgs.
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The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes by Silke Vry, illustrated by Finn Dean, and being published in September and is certified as climate neutral and FSC certified, is full of history and insight into the differences between labyrinths and mazes, includes fun experiments and exercises, and is beautifully illustrated. The first section explains both and their differences and offers a fun psychological experiment with a spiral. It’s a fun activity for the kids and parents.

In the second section, the book explores Labyrinths in history and myths. You can picture the Minotaur, can’t you? From Egypt to Europe and Asia, labyrinths have fascinated many cultures and have been used for different reasons. Some have been uncovered by archaeologists, while others are still a mystery and may not have existed at all. Kids will love the sample mazes and labyrinths in this section and be eager to try them out.

In the third section, the author explores mazes all over the world. Rulers often built mazes out of hedgerows as a form of entertainment for guests. The author elaborates more on the features of mazes. Throughout every section of the book, the author connects the love of mazes and labyrinths to the often winding journeys of our lives, and our need for patience to make enjoy the journey and take it one day at a time.

The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes by Silke Vry, illustrated by Finn Dean, is a delightful read that has a good deal of history, mystery, and fun activities for kids and parents. The illustrations are detailed and each page has tips and fun facts. There are instructions in how to draw your own maze, which is also a fascinating experiment for both parents and their kids. I see challenges in the future where we create mazes for each other. In the back of the book, there are a list of corn mazes and other ways to find modern mazes in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

RATING: Cinquain

The Weather Pop-Up Book by Maike Biederstaedt

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 14 pgs.
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The Weather Pop-Up Book by Maike Biederstaedt, which publishes in early September, is a great introductory book for elementary school kids to learn about tornadoes, storms, drought, and more. Earthquakes are not touched on, but the author does speak to the benefits of storms and the destruction they can cause. Moreover, the pop-up storms are larger than life and well executed. The book opens and closes easily without any snags.

Younger kids may need help pronouncing some of the terms, but the explanations are on the right level for kids to understand. Older elementary kids will grasp these concepts more easily as they begin to study Earth science in school. This would make a great addition to any teacher’s library to provide students with visual representations. The author does make the push for a move toward renewable energy and more sustainable agriculture, but it isn’t overly preachy.

The Weather Pop-Up Book by Maike Biederstaedt is definitely a good starter book for kids to learn about their environment, natural disasters, energy use, and agriculture. Weather can be something that seems not only destructive but also magical, if you understand it.

Rating: Quatrain

The Haunted Library: The Ghost in the Tree House by Dori Hillestad Butler

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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The Haunted Library: The Ghost in the Tree House by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is the 7th book in this series, which I think is best read in order (although they do recap previous information in each). I think young readers will have an easier time following the character development and changes in both kids’ lives if they start from the beginning of the series.

In this book, a group of girls in town have noticed strange goings on at the tree house where their club meets. Some of the girls believe it is a ghost, which is why Claire and Kaz are on the case, but some of the girls think it is the rival boys’ club trying to frighten them away from the tree house. There are a number of dynamics at play in this book, from learning to include a younger brother, to girls wanting their own time to play together without boys, to young kid ghosts who now much listen to their parents after being on their own for so long. There is a lot of play here, and it shows in the interactions between the ghosts and the “solid” Claire, as well as between the groups of kids themselves, and the dynamics those kids and ghost kids have with their own parents.

The short chapters and illustrations make this a book for early readers to read on their own without much help, but for older readers with more experience, the plot may plod along too much. This series has kept my struggling reader engaged, but over the last year as her skills have improved, the series is not as exciting as it has been for her in the past. However, now I want to know what happens in the next installment because the cliffhanger of this book is a doozy.

The Haunted Library: The Ghost in the Tree House by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is a good series for early readers with its short mysteries and ghosts. Readers will love the interactions between the ghosts and the children, and the parents will love reading along with their children, hoping to solve the mystery.

RATING: Quatrain

Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 128 pgs.
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Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells from National Geographic Kids is another stunning book from this publisher. The full-color pictures, the facts throughout the book, and just how the book is put together is fantastic. For kids who are curious about the world around them and pick up rocks and stick them in their pockets as they walk through the park, this is a book for them. This book will open their eyes to the wonderful world of rocks, minerals, and shells.

The introduction gives parents some basic information about how the book rolls out its information, from fact boxes to interactive questions for the kids and the parent tips at the back of the book. This book offers parents a starting point for exploring the natural world with their kids and rekindling some of the curiosity they once had as children. I remember taking earth science in school, but this rock cycle graphic is a great refresher about how all rocks can come full circle.

In addition to pictures of mountains and natural formations that are comprised of rock, the book points to man-made structures that use different types of rock. Kids will learn about rocks in their own backyards, as well as rocks they don’t see every day. I learned about rock that floats like an island in the South Pacific. The interactive map of rocks in different locations is a fun matching quiz for parents and kids alike.

Kids also will learn about shells and mollusks and turtles and so much more. Don’t forget about the minerals. We love discovering new minerals and the matching game where kids are asked to match minerals like topaz with their natural forms, rather than their refined gem looks.

My daughter has collected rocks for as long as I can remember and when we visited Myrtle Beach she started collecting shells. This book has so much information, you may get overloaded if you read it in one day, but as a resource you can come back to again and again, it is a gem of a book. We’re always amazed by how National Geographic Kids puts its informational books together and makes them interactive, and Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells is no exception.

RATING: Cinquain

Becoming the Enchantress by Kristin Kowalski Ferragut, illustrated by Coley Dolmance Ferragut & Giveaway

Source: Author/Publisher
Paperback, 34 pgs.
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(full disclosure: Kristin Ferragut is part of my poetry workshop and I was part of a workshop that helped her hone this story)

Becoming the Enchantress by Kristin Kowalski Ferragut, illustrated by Coley Dolmance Ferragut, uses fairy tale-like elements to explain transgender to younger children. It’s an introductory story to help start conversations with kids about large themes, but at it’s core, this is a story about feeling comfortable in your own skin, loving yourself, and finding acceptance and love in your own family and friends.

The Wizard and their children, the Knight and the Dragon, are getting ready to trick-or-treat. When kids and their parents meet the Wizard and their family, they see a loving family eager to celebrate Halloween together. But kids will hear that the Wizard has an unspoken desire. With a quick costume change, the Wizard and their children are out the door. They are laughing and playing and magical things happen.

The streets may be crowded, but they are having a great time together, especially the Wizard. They receive compliments from strangers about their well behaved children, but many of them mistake the Wizard for a mom. Ferragut has created a magical way in which a transgender person finds not only their identity but peace in their own skin.

The illustrations by Ferragut’s daughter are colorful and expressive. The smile on the Wizard will make children smile. It just exudes such happiness. The final scene in the book is beautifully rendered. I look forward to more of her work.

Becoming the Enchantress by Kristin Kowalski Ferragut, illustrated by Coley Dolmance Ferragut, establishes a starting point for conversations about transgender and finding the home in your own skin and family. It will enable parents to talk to their children openly about their own identities.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Kristin Kowalski Ferragut is the author of the poetry collection Escape Velocity (Kelsay Books, 2021). She teaches, writes songs, poetry and prose, hikes, and participates in readings and workshops in Maryland, where she lives with her two creative, lively, and supportive children. Her work has appeared in Beltway Quarterly, Fledgling Rag, Bourgeon, Mojave He[Art] Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Little Patuxent Review, among others. For more information, visit her website: www.kristinskiferragut.com

About the Illustrator:

Coley Dolmance Ferragut is an animator, digital artist, and actor who investigates themes of class and social justice in her work. A high school senior, this is Coley’s first published book.

GIVEAWAY:

1 copy of Becoming the Enchantress to 1 U.S. reader.

Deadline to enter is June 15, 2021.

Leave a comment with your email so I can contact you if you’re the winner.

Alone! by Barry Falls

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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Alone! by Barry Falls is a colorful picture book that focuses on how to adapt to change, make friends, and find balance. Billy McGill lives on a hill and he lives there alone, at least until a mouse decides to enter his life. He’s distraught with all the skittering and heads into town for a solution — a cat. The only problem is that the cat and the mouse run about the house, and it forces him once again to head into town for a dog. You can see where this little story is headed by the animals on the cover.

Billy is used to being alone and having his quiet time, but as we all know, life often throws us curve balls and we have to figure out how to deal with change. Billy doesn’t do well with change at first, and gets so upset he yells, even as he turns to a vet and a hairdresser for help with these animals tearing apart his house. Falls does a really spectacular job of creating a rhyming story that doesn’t sound trite or forced, and it will definitely engage younger readers immediately.

Older readers will find Billy a bit mean at first, but as the story progresses they see him change and become more accepting and able to navigate the new things in his life, while still maintaining that peace and quiet he loves about living on the hill. Alone! by Barry Falls would be a fantastic addition to any school library or child’s home library.

RATING: Cinquain

Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Got Talent by Kyla May

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Got Talent by Kyla May is the fourth book in the series, but readers could start with any book in the series because they are self-contained episodes and include enough background for kids if they start in the middle. Baron von Bubbles, aka Bub, is still a big fashionista, but in this one his owner, Bella, has a new focus — creating a pet talent show.

Bub learns some new show biz words and learns how sometimes assumptions about others are not accurate. My daughter loves this series, especially that Bub is afraid of water and Nutz the squirrel is always causing trouble. Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Got Talent by Kyla May is a cute story about a talent show and a pug that learns to work with other pets who may not be his favorites.

RATING: Quatrain

Frankie Sparks and the Lucky Charm by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Frankie Sparks and the Lucky Charm by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell, is another strong book in the series that helps kids learn about science and investigation, while having fun. We love that this series provides tips on how to make your own designs and solve your own problems through science. In this one, Frankie is wondering about whether leprechauns are real, and she decides that setting a trap is the best way to find out. One problem, if she proves they don’t exist, her friend Maya might just be devastated, since she believes they are real.

Kids will learn about designing foolproof traps for leprechauns and how to design things with potential failures in mind. But how Frankie tackles her friend’s possible sadness over the results of her experiment will teach children to consider others’ feelings and work together to solve problems. It also was good to see that Frankie has more scientists in her family. Her Aunt Nichelle is working on a space garden, but of course she has to do some experiments on Earth, rather than space, but the ultimate goal is to enable astronauts to grow their own food in space. The exchange between Frankie and her aunt was fantastic. It demonstrated that kids are not alone and that they can lean on their elders to learn more and grow.

Frankie Sparks and the Lucky Charm by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell, is a strong series of books in which kids can not only learn how to work with friends and classmates, but also adults. Along they way they will garner skills in experimentation and design, among others. We highly recommend these books.

RATING: Cinquain

The Last Tree by Emily Haworth-Booth

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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The Last Tree by Emily Haworth-Booth will remind readers of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, though here the tree is not personified, there is no Lorax, and the messages are very clear cut. In Haworth-Booth’s book, the focus is on the group of villagers who are seeking a place to live — the desert too hot, the valley too wet, the mountains too windy — until they find a forest with the perfect amount of light and shadow and breeze. But they soon need to build shelters and then homes to protect themselves from the natural elements, and they build and build until they are walled in and blocked from one another. One tree remains, which they call a weed. The children from different families are sent out to cut down that last tree for various structures, but the children have other ideas.

The people in this village are not demonized as taking from the world around them — the message is clear without being heavy-handed. However, it is clear that as they separate themselves from one another by barriers, their happiness declines and their ability to enjoy life falls. But is that because of their use of their resources and the scarcity of them in their present? Not necessarily. While the use/overuse of resources is clear in this book and can be talked about by parents and children, the authors is seeking to address the separation of families from their communities and their perceptions of others as a source of unhappiness.

The Last Tree by Emily Haworth-Booth is a gorgeous picture book that looks like crayon-colored drawings that kids can easily identify with. The text is definitely easy to read for younger readers, and the subject matter is broad and important for parents and their children. It would also make a great addition to school libraries and classrooms. I loved the redemption of this village in the book — we can all make positive changes.