Thursday, September 27, 2018

Brainstorm 153: Foodie Book Feasts

This week we have books to make you hungry and inspire you in the kitchen. Books to satisfy the eyes, minds, and possibly even the stomachs of foodies (since many include recipes). If you want some more foodie reads, check out The Brainstorm 63: 7 Savory Food Reads.

Fiction Picture Books

Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park, ill. by Ho Beak Lee
A little girl helps her mom make Bee-bim Bop and cheers the process along because she is hungry.

Target Readers:
  • Fans of Rhythmic Reads/Emergent Readers/Asian Food Fans/Korean Character Fans: The rhythm and rhyme of this are such that you could clap or stomp along with the book. It helps emphasize just how hungry the little girl is for bibimbop (that's another way to transliterate the dish, and the one I'm more used to). There's a phrase repeated that little ones can catch on to and then start "reading" along at those points. There are detailed instructions for how to make bibimbop in the back of the book that separates the steps into things a child can do and what adults should do. The author's note in the back explains the dish and the meaning of the two words in Korean.

Black Belt Bunny by Jacky Davis, ill. by Jay Fleck
Black Belt Bunny delights in showing readers all the things he's good at. But when the narrator asks him to learn something new, Black Belt Bunny tries to sneak away.

Target Readers: 
  • Readers Scared of New Foods (or Experiences)/Animal Lovers/Martial Arts Fans/Foodie Readers: I like that once the narrator finally convinces Black Belt Bunny to at least try making a salad, the bunny gets really into it. Then it is the narrator's turn to practice trying something new, because Black Belt Bunny has put arugula in the salad and the narrator has never had it and is sure he won't like it. But he has to practice what he preaches and try something new too. So the book approaches two new experiences and shows that something new isn't necessarily going to be horrible. And Black Belt Bunny's salad making with martial arts is very entertaining.

Buffalo Wings by Aaron Reynolds, ill. by Paulette Bogan
Rooster and the rest of the farmyard are getting ready to watch the big football game. Rooster has a hankering for buffalo wings and has all the ingredients...except buffalo. Since you can't watch a football game without buffalo wings, Rooster sets off on an epic journey to find some buffalo. But when he finally finds those hard-to-find beasts, something is missing and Rooster must re-check the recipe...and then re-evaluate his football plans.

Target Readers:
  • Ironic Humor Fans/American Football Fans/Munchies Lovers: A humorous look at sports fans and their munchies. If you like munchies, this may make you hungry. But don't worry. There are recipes on the end papers.

Dim Sum for Everyone! by Grace Lin
A little girl and her family go to have dim sum at a restaurant, introducing readers to some of the common dishes and unique traits of a dim sum restaurant.

Target Readers:
  • Asian Food Fans/Chinese or Taiwanese Character Fans/Curious Readers/Readers Wanting to Try Dim Sum: This introduces a yummy restaurant experience (which can potentially be overwhelming for first timers...this would be good to read before going for the first time). The back of the book includes an informative note on the history and development of dim sum restaurants, and common practices you should use when visiting such a restaurant.

Fairy Floss: the Sweet Story of Cotton Candy by Ann Ingalls, ill. by Migy Blanco
The story of the world's first electric cotton candy machine and its unveiling at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 told through the point of view of a fictional little girl visiting the fair with her aunt.

Target Readers:
  • Historical Fiction Fans/Cotton Candy (Fairy Floss) Fans/Fair Goers: A historical fiction picture book that educates about the development and process of making cotton candy. There's a page in the back with some further historical information. The illustrations are bright and colorful and should attract little readers. Read this before visiting a fair, or read it and grab some cotton candy, and maybe go watch Meet Me in St. Louis (or at least listen to the song).

Food Truck Fest by Alexandra Penfold, ill. by Mike Dutton
Readers go back and forth between watching a variety of food trucks and one family get ready for and go to a food truck festival.

Target Readers:
  • Rhyming Book Fans/Transportation Fans/Food Truck Fans: This is told in catchy rhyme, and all the pages are loaded with colorful things to look at. A great pick for little foodies and kids who love all forms of transportation. Also a good read for getting kids ready to go to a food truck event like is described here.

Harold’s Hungry Eyes by Kevin Waldron
When Harold's favorite chair goes missing, he goes out to rescue it and ends up lost. Besides being lost Harold has one more big problem, he is always super hungry. As he tries to find his way home the city starts turning into food items before his starving eyes.

Target Readers:
  • Imaginative Art Lovers/Dog Lovers/Humor Fans: This was done in a curious art style that combines ink illustrations with collage of food photographs and makes Harold's hungry journey home quite humorous for readers as normal things turn into food items of a similar shape. 

Jack and the Baked Beanstalk by Colin Stimpson
Jack buys a can of magic baked beans instead of the coffee his mom sent him out to get for their struggling diner. He knows how the tale is supposed to go, so he scrambles up the beanstalk to claim the treasure. He forgot one little detail though, there's also a giant up there. This giant is uncommonly friendly though. He is thrilled to have a visitor to make lunch for and get a break from counting his money. He willingly lets Jack take the magic hen and the radio with him back down the beanstalk, but he's reluctant to come too because this giant's a bit afraid of heights. Jack is worried the giant may end up lonely, but an accident helps everything work out ok.

Target Readers:
  • Fractured Fairy Tale Fans/Baked Bean Lovers: A humorous rewrite of Jack and the Beanstalk with the friendliest giant around and lots of baked beans. Loved the twists on the normal tale in this one. The illustrations are cartoonish and very kid friendly.

Marigold Bakes a Cake by Mike Malbrough
Marigold the cat likes things just so. His life is well-organized and carefully arranged. Mondays are blocked off so he can indulge in some delicate baking all by himself. When some birds show up wanting to help, chaos ensues.

Target Readers:
  • Readers Who Need the Freedom to Fail/Readers Learning about Boundaries & Flexibility/Bakers/Animal Lovers/Humor Fans: How often have you read a picture book in which the characters try, and try again, and still fail? It always seems to magically work out. But that isn't how real life works. So I love that the birds try to bake, and fail miserably. And that Marigold decides to try to teach them, and that fails miserably too. Because kids need to be equipped to fail. Failure produces growth, and you learn important things about yourself through failure. I think it is important that Marigold gives the birds a chance, and a second chance, but then they all realize this isn't going to work out. Kids need to know it is ok to fail, need to not give up right away but know when to quit, and it's important for all of us to realize what we are and aren't gifted at. Have kids imagine how things work out after the story. Do the birds just need a different teacher or will they just leave the baking to others? Will they find a new hobby? What are they good at? Oh, and there are also good lessons about boundaries and flexibility in here too.

No Kimchi for Me by Aram Kim
Little Yoomi doesn't like kimchi but she wants to be able to eat it to prove she is a big girl to her brothers. She tries a variety of methods, but Grandma may have the best idea.

Target Readers:
  • Asian Food Fans/Cat Lovers/Korean Character Fans: Kids will likely either laugh or get grossed out by the ideas Yoomi has for how to get the kimchi swallowable. Readers can try out Grandma's solution with the recipe in the back of the book. Get kids interested in some exotic (or perhaps not so exotic depending on where you live) food dishes and introduce them to a little Korean flavor with this book.

The Popcorn Astronauts: and Other Biteable Rhymes by Deborah Ruddell, ill. by Joan Rankin
A delicious and witty collection of poetic odes to foods of all kinds.

Target Readers:
  • Poetry Fans/Humor Fans/Foodies: Whatever the day and whatever food hits your fancy, this poetry selection is sure to please.

Biographical Picture Books

Dumpling Dreams: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling from Beijing to Cambridge by Carrie Clickard, ill. by Katy Wu
A rhyming picture book biography of Chinese chef Joyce Chen who eventually opened several popular restaurants in the States and had her own cooking show.

Target Readers:
  • Asian Food Fans/Multicultural Food Fans/Women Entrepreneur Bio Fans/Chinese Heritage Bio Fans/Rhyming Read Fans: It is quite amazing how much the author was able to convey about Joyce through just short phrases in rhyme. It's an impressive feat of summarizing. The illustrations match the tone and subject quite well. There's a timeline in the back that provides a few more details about Joyce Chen. 

How the Cookie Crumbled: the True (and Not-So-True) Stories of the Invention of the Chocolate Chip Cookie by Gilbert Ford
A picture book biography of Ruth Wakefield, the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie, and the various rumors of how that came about.

Target Readers:
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Lovers/Food History Fans/Curious Readers: I really like the way this book evaluates the three stories of how Wakefield invented the cookie and decides which one was most likely. It is done quite well.

Juvenile Nonfiction

Food Like Mine by DK Publishing
A survey of the main food staples around the world. Primary focus is given to the top four staples: rice, wheat, corn (maize), and potatoes. Each staple gets a couple spreads on facts about that food, how it is grown and harvested, the varieties available, and various sample dishes made with it around the world. Then three to four recipes from around the world are provided with step-by-step photographed cooking/baking instructions. The end of the book includes informational pages and recipes for honorable mention food staples: dairy, chicken, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and plantains.

Target Readers:
  • Cooks/Food History & Fact Fans/Curious Readers: This is a fantastic resource, packed with information in an eye-catching format and featuring a great international selection of recipes.

The Deep Dish on Pizza by Stephen Krensky, ill. by Daniel Guidera
A history of pizza from its ancient food origins, to the addition of tomatoes, to the proliferation of pizza in Italy, to its popularity rise in the United States and around the world. A few pages of extended reading in the back on related geography and math topics too.

Target Readers:
  • Curious Readers/Reluctant Readers/Pizza Lovers/Food History Fans: This was a fascinating read. The illustrations are quite fun and eye-catching. My only quibble is that there's no bibliography in the book. Still a great nonfiction read for lower or middle grades that should suck in even reluctant readers.

Lower Grade Fiction

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Mochiko Florence, ill. by Elizabet Vukovic
Jasmine Toguchi is tired of being the little sister and only getting to do things after her big sister gets to experience them. For once, she'd like to do something Sophie has never done. As the extended family gathers to celebrate mochi-tsuki on New Year's, Jasmine is determined to get involved somehow. Sophie will get to help the women make mochi in the kitchen this year because she's ten now. Jasmine is only eight, but she's thinking up a way to convince the adults to let her do something besides babysit her little cousins.

Target Readers:
  • Contemporary Fiction Fans/Those Curious about Japanese Culture/Japanese Character Fans/Holiday Book Fans/Mochi Lovers: A fun lower grade contemporary read that features a spunky Japanese American girl who learns that change doesn’t come till you work up the guts to at least ask. And readers get to learn about Japanese New Year’s customs.

Naples! (Recipe for Adventure, #1) by Giada de Laurentiis, ill. by Francesca Gambatesa
Alfie and Emilia are tasting their Aunt Zia's zeppole when they suddenly find themselves in Naples, Italy, the city their parents were originally from. They get involved in a pizza contest and helping their new friend Marco and his family prepare while trying to avoid spies who would steal their recipe.

Target Readers:
  • Travel Lovers/Italian Food Lovers/Italian Character Fans/Fantasy Fans/Adventure Fans: Don't read this series while hungry! The plot line almost entirely revolves around the food of Italy while occasionally mentioning the sights of Naples. It's a fun way to get kids interested in exotic places and food, and a high paced adventure for kids who might get easily bored. I also liked the resolution of the food competition. It was good to see the kids help restore peace. There are two recipes in the back of the book and this is just the first book in a series where the kids travel all over the world and have adventures revolving around food.

Middle Grade Fiction

All Four Stars (All Four Stars, #1) by Tara Dairman
Gladys Gatsby was living a happy foodie life. She was cooking while alone at home, waiting for her parents to get back from work, expanding her palate and her culinary skills. That is until the day her parents returned to find 11 year old Gladys accidentally setting the kitchen curtains on fire with a blow torch in the attempts to make creme brulee. Now she's banned from everything culinary from cooking to reading cookbooks, and only allowed to do things that "kids do." True, this does mean that she actually makes a friend in the next door neighbor boy Sandy. Gladys' punishment may have been more bearable if her parents didn't lack a single culinary bone in their bodies (or tastebuds). Their idea of a fine meal is takeout from the greasy restaurants in town, and their home cooking is monumentally bad. Gladys is in the depths of foodie despair until her teacher has them all write essays about what they want to be when they grow up for a newspaper essay contest. Inspired by her teacher's example, Gladys writes hers as a form letter...and when it gets to the newspaper it ends up in the Dining section's mail instead of the essay contest. Thanks to some severely burnt tastebuds of the chief restaurant reviewer, someone actually notices Gladys' letter and wants to hire her as a freelance food critic for the newspaper. With Sandy's help, Gladys cooks up ways to make her dream job work, even though she's only 11 and she's pretty sure writing for the newspaper doesn't fall under her parents' list of things kids normally do. It turns out to be pretty tricky for an 11-yr-old to get to a restaurant to sample the food, and it takes all of Gladys' food know-how and creativity to get there in time for the newspaper deadline.

Target Readers:
  • Contemporary Fiction Fans/Foodie Readers: Though this is technically contemporary fiction it reads more like a tall tale. Gladys’ parents are epically bad in the cooking department, and the way that Gladys makes her dreams come true sometimes stretches reasonable belief. That doesn’t stop kids from loving this series about a serious foodie. There are recipes in the back of the book for when the story just makes you too hungry to continue.

Krista Kim-Bap by Angela Ahn
Krista Kim’s life is about to be shaken up by a family heritage project, popular girl Madison’s birthday party, and the Celebration of Dance her teacher has signed the class up to participate in. For the heritage project her best friend Jason suggests she focus on Korean food because he loves eating the stuff at her house. The trouble is her mom, though of Korean descent, has lived in Canada all her life and doesn’t really know how to cook Korean so Krista’d have to ask her grandmother for help. Her grandmother is a very strict, traditional Korean grandma, and seems to love Krista’s older, more fashionable sister Tori and barely tolerates her. Madison’s birthday party unexpectedly finds Krista questioning her fashion taste and hanging out with the popular girls a little more, which means hanging out with Jason less. And then the Celebration of Dance is pretty much a nightmare because dance is not something that comes naturally to Krista. Through it all, Krista will learn more about herself, her family, and what makes a true friend.

Target Readers:
  • Korean Character Fans/Asian Food Lovers/Contemporary Fiction Fans: To read this right, make or go get some kimbap to munch on between chapters. Or if you’ve never had Korean go to a Korean restaurant, that’s a must while reading this so you can taste what you’re reading about. Besides the yummy Korean food being talked about, this is a middle grade book about a tween girl figuring out who she is in a world that tells her all sorts of things she should be. I loved Krista’s mom’s talk to her girls about accepting themselves, and not trying to look like fake magazine pictures. Krista learns to have better balance in her life eventually. She learns a lot of great lessons about friends, understanding family, and self-acceptance. And I felt like it was realistically handled too, because Krista doesn’t go back to being 100% the same as she was before. She keeps a few of the changes she’s made, but she also realizes some of them just aren’t her or they weren’t good decisions. It’s a good model for kids who are going to face changes whether they want to or not. Change isn’t all bad. 

YA & Adult Nonfiction

Cook Korean!: a Comic Book with Recipes by Robin Ha
An introduction to Korean cooking and culture through a graphic novel format.

Target Readers:
  • Cooks/Asian Food Lovers/Graphic Novel Fans: This is 80% cookbook in a very attractive and creative format, and 20% info on Korean culture/food with actual graphic novel/comic strip pages. I found it fascinating to find out what all went into making the Korean dishes I love. I also really appreciate that Ha offers alternate ingredients for harder to find Korean ingredients.

Great Moments in Chocolate History by Howard Yana-Shapiro
A survey of some of the highlights in chocolate's history, especially in new food developments but also including some things like milestones in sustainable development planning. Includes 20 chocolate recipes from around the world with some history of each dish.

Target Readers:
  • Chocolate Lovers/Food History Fans/Curious Readers/Bakers: A fascinating, delicious, and attractively designed book. It's very readable. I devoured it in one sitting and learned more than one thing. I especially appreciated that hallmarks of sustainable development and fair trade were also highlighted. This is written by a scientist who works for Mars but I felt like he did a great job in covering all the major chocolate companies (Hershey, Ferrero, Godiva, Ghiradelli, Nestle, etc.), and even some minor ones (Scharffen Berger anyone?). It didn't feel like just a Mars history at all. There are 20 recipes from all over the world at the end of the book involving chocolate.

Sandwiches!: More Than You've Ever Wanted to Know about Making And Eating America’s Favorite Food by Alison Deering, ill. by Bob Lentz
Sandwiches! is part infographic guide to the history and fun facts of food you happen to find between two slices of bread and part cookbook. The book is divided into five sections, from easiest to assemble at level one to sandwiches that require some prep work in level five. Kitchen safety instructions are provided as you go along with ideas of ingredients to swap out in various sandwiches or dares to try some more out there ingredients on a select few sandwiches for the brave.

Target Readers:
  • Sandwich Lovers/Easy Recipe Fans/Foodie Readers/Food History Fans/Graphic Novel Fans: Whether you’re hungry for knowledge or hungry for a meal, this is a fantastic book to satisfy those cravings. There’s a vast array of sandwiches presented, from ol’ classics to the more exotic and obscure, and cover just about all the eating times from meal to snack to tea time to dessert. And if you aren’t careful you may learn a thing or two about the food you eat along the way. I really loved the infographics that introduce each sandwich and how they provide interesting facts about brand name versions of the sandwich to likely origins to special days when the sandwich is celebrated or world records set. A fascinating and tasty book. 

Young Adult Fiction

Giant Spider & Me Vol. 1 by Kikori Morino
Nagi is a girl who lives in the forest by herself (well, she lives with her dad but he's out satisfying his wanderlust). One day while weeding and harvesting from her garden, she meets a huge spider-like creature. At first she's scared, but the beast doesn't seem to be very beastly and enjoys Nagi's cooking. She names it Asa and they quickly become friends over food, which Nagi loves to cook. (Recipes are included.)

Target Readers:
  • Foodie Readers/Manga Fans/Light Dystopia Fans/Asian Food Lovers: This is a manga, which means it reads back to front, and right to left. It is a challenge to find clean manga, but this is completely fine. So far all potentially perilous situations have been resolved happily with food. This is another one you do not want to read while hungry. Nagi is constantly making food, but thankfully recipes are included so you can make food too.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Brainstorm 152: Bios of Social Reformers, Human Rights Activists, and Political Movers & Shakers

Today wraps up this Brainstorm series on biographies with some bios of social reformers, humans rights activists, and political movers and shakers who have worked to change the world for the better.

Picture Book Biographies

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, ill. by Melissa Sweet
A simple biography of Clara Lemlich who helped spearhead the girls/women strike against working in horrible conditions in clothing factories in the early 1900s.

Target Readers:

  • Tactful Inspirational Bio Fans: The light-colored illustrations and the carefully chosen text manages to tell this story without making it dark. There are further notes in the back that mention the Triangle Shirt Waist fire tragedy, but the main text avoids that. It does mention Clara getting arrested and sometimes beat up, but does not show it. And overall, the story focuses on the successes and triumphs of Clara and others she worked with. (P.S. If you want to read more about the Triangle Shirt Waist fire, try the YA book Flesh and Blood So Cheap: the Triangle Fire And It’s Legacy by Marrin.) 

Dangerous Jane by Suzanne Slade, ill. by Alice Ratterree
A picture book biography of Jane Addams who started Hull House in Chicago to help the poor better their situation, inspired women and national leaders to settle disagreements peacefully during WWI, and then worked to help the poor and hurting after the dust of WWI settled, and became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Target Readers:

  • Nobel Winner Fans/Inspirational Bio Fans/Tenderhearted Readers: Jane Addams is truly an inspirational model of someone who worked hard for social justice around the world. This picture book does a good job portraying the highlights of her work and life in a way kids can grasp. Hopefully many of them will be inspired to follow her example, to help the poor and hurting in the world in tangible ways that help them maintain their own dignity and make a lasting difference.

Henry’s Freedom Box: a True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine, ill. by Kadir Nelson
Henry grows up and is sold to different slave owners, but after his own family is sold away, Henry decides to escape. With the help of friends, he ships himself to Philadelphia in a box.

Target Readers:

  • Amazing Bio Fans/Underground Railroad Studiers: This is a powerful story about the "lighter" horrors slaves went through (lighter as in whippings and other such tortures are not described, but having family sold away is) and the creative way Henry "Box" Brown got himself to freedom. It is all the more amazing for being a true story. (See the author's note at the end for more details on Henry Box Brown.)
  • Award Winner Readers/Art Lovers: For readers who want to check out the books with shiny stickers on their covers, this is a Caldecott Honor book. And for good reason. Kadir Nelson’s artwork is memorable and entrancing.

The Kid Who Changed the World by Andy Andrews, ill. by Philip Hurst
A look at a string of kids (Norman Borlaug, Henry Wallace, George Washington Carver, and Moses and Susan Carver) who grew up to influence their world, and people around them, for the better. Because of their legacy passed from one to the next to the next, many hungry people in the world have been fed.

Target Readers:

  • Readers Who Want to Change the World/Inspirational Bio Fans: Actions small and large can have a lasting effect on other people. That's the message of this story. In the back of the book the butterfly effect is even introduced to kids. The book tells the story backwards in a way. Looking at one man, and then looking at the man who influenced him, and then looking at the man who taught him, and then looking at the family who took in him. It's a chain of people stretching back over a hundred years whose actions have helped work to feed the hungry today. It is inspirational for kids looking at ways they can help their communities and world and may feel like they are too small.

Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song by Kathryn Erskine, ill. by Charly Palmer
A picture book biography of singer Miriam Makeba who used her voice to fight for the end apartheid.
Note: Some violence.

Target Readers:

  • Singers/Readers Who Feel Like They Have Nothing to Contribute/South Africa History Studiers/Inspirational Bio Fans: Definitely read the author's note about growing up in South Africa during this era and how Miriam Makeba's songs and apartheid affected her. There are frequently people who claim they can't do anything to help, they don't have the talents, but if something as simple as singing a song can help bring freedom, what can other talents accomplish?

Manjhi Moves a Mountain by Nancy Churnin, ill. by Danny Popovici
Two villages in India were separated by a rough and hard 40 mile road over a mountain. One village had plenty of water, medical care, and schools. The other village, where Dashrath Manjhi lived, had very little. But Manjhi decided to do something to bring the villages closer together, he started to chisel away at the mountain to make a better road. After 20 years of chiseling, Manjhi finally achieved his goal, and his village became a much healthier place to live.

Target Readers:

  • Perseverance Motivation Readers/India Studiers/Inspirational Bio Fans: Definitely read the author's notes in the back with further details on Manjhi's inspirational story and other kids who are moving "mountains" in their own communities by doing a little each day like Manjhi chiseled at the mountain each day. Manjhi's dedication and self-sacrifice to help his village are amazing models for kids.

Martin’s Big Words: the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport, ill. by Bryan Collier
A picture book biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. that focuses on his "big words" (some of his most famous quotes).

Target Readers:

  • Powerful Word Lovers/Civil Rights Studiers/MLK Jr. Day Celebrators/Inspirational Bio Fans: I really like the quotes that Rappaport chose. She managed to tell MLK Jr's story succinctly but powerfully. A great read for MLK Jr Day or any time you're studying the Civil Rights movement.
  • Award Winner Readers/Art Lovers: If you notice the number of stickers on the cover, this book cleaned up in the awards. The art work is definitely stunning.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. by Ekua Holmes
Written as if narrated by Fannie Lou Hamer herself, this picture book in free verse tells of her life from helping her sharecropper family pick cotton to her entry into the Civil Rights movement as an young adult and how she rose to leadership among the nonviolent civil rights workers, working for years for freedom and rights despite many hardships.
Note: Click on title for content notes.

Target Readers:

  • Civil Rights Studiers/Overcomer Bio Fans: For readers who aren't quite ready for the brutal truth presented in the three March books by Lewis, this is an eye-opening look at how hard those involved in the Civil Rights movement had it. It isn't always an easy read, but it is important and lyrically written. Definitely a great pick when studying the Civil Rights movement.
  • Award Winner Readers: This is another book that cleaned up in the awards categories as is evidenced by all the stickers on the cover. 

YA & Adult Biographies

50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany by Steven Pressman
Gil and Eleanor Kraus were two relatively normal upperclass Jews living comfortable lives in Pennsylvania in 1938. They could have easily have lived through WWII in comfort, but when they started hearing about the dangers faced by Jews in Europe these two decided to not just feel sorry for others they decided to do something. Gil was a lawyer in Philadelphia and member of a Jewish group called Brith Sholom. One of the other Brith Sholom members mentioned to him that the group had a camp facility with 25 rooms sitting empty that could easily be used to house Jewish refugees. This set Gil and Eleanor on a journey through several months of mountains of paperwork and a crash course in US Immigration policies, and eventually into the heart of Nazi occupied Europe itself. Thanks to key connections, they were able to understand the process better than numerous other groups at the time and find a way to legally bring in 50 Jewish children out of the dangers of Nazi Austria and Germany.
Note: Click on title to see content notes.

Target Readers:

  • Those with a Heart for Refugees/WWII History Fans/Inspirational Bio Fans: Given the huge humanitarian crisis in Europe at the time, I found it shocking that this rescue mission was the largest number of children ever brought over from Nazi territory to the US during WWII. I also found it shocking how much opposition the Krauses received from fellow Americans telling them not to even try and/or that they were doing the wrong thing. I was moved by the amount of persecution and danger this couple faced in order to save 50 perfect strangers, and I'm so glad their story is being told. While reading this, I found the story startlingly relevant to current immigrant/refugee debates. Aren't we supposed to learn from the past to avoid present or future mistakes?

Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass: the Story Behind an American Friendship by Russell Freedman
This book includes short biographies of these two important figures in American history, and how they came to know and respect each other. It also explains how each man played a part in freeing the slaves in America and how they worked together in this area.
Note: Click on title to see content notes.

Target Readers:

  • Emancipation Studiers/Friendship & Barrier-Breaking Cooperation Story Fans/Quick Read Fans/Historical Bio Fans: A great read if you want an example of men who broke barriers for their friendship and how they worked together on an important cause. Also a good pick if you're short on time, as this is just a little over 100 pages long.

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas
A biography of British statesman William Wilberforce and his decades long campaign to end slavery, as well as his work in many other areas of social justice and human rights.
Note: Click on title for content notes.

Target Readers:

  • Perseverance Motivating Read Fans/Seen the Movie, Read the Book/Social Revolutionary Fans/Inspirational Bio Fans: Wilberforce worked for many, many decades to get emancipation for the slaves in England. So many people would have given up, but he didn’t. This is a truly inspiration and amazing read, and is ten times better than the movie based on it. The book includes many details the movie couldn’t touch on and also talks about Wilberforce’s work on many other social justice and human rights issues in England at the time with some like-minded friends. This is hands down the best biography I’ve ever read.

The Faithful Spy: the True Story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix
A heavily illustrated biography of German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who eventually felt led to take a stand against Hitler and paid for it with his life.

Target Readers:

  • Graphic Novel Fans/WWII History Buffs/Inspirational Bio Fans: Ok, confession time. I haven’t gotten to read this yet. It was just released this week. But I have heard it is fantastic and I have loved Hendrix’s work on other books. I am really looking forward to it. 
  • Bonhoeffer Fans: Obviously, this is a great read for people already fans of Bonhoeffer. And if you’re looking for other great books on Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Metaxas is phenomenal but it is also the size of a good doorstopper so it is rather intimidating too. (There is a young reader adaptation which is significantly smaller in the page count, though, and I’d recommend that too.) 

Candy Bomber: the Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” by Michael O. Tunnell 
Candy Bomber is a touching story of how one man's small act of kindness grew to bring hope, reconciliation, and joy to many young German children after World War II, and spurred many other allied troops and citizens to also reach out with love and kindness. Filled with original pictures and letters from Lt. Gail Halvorsen's (aka the "Chocolate Pilot") personal collection.

Target Readers:

  • Peacemaker Story Fans/Small Acts of Kindness Story Fans/Inspirational Bio Fans: Beyond the story, Mr Tunnell also includes a brief but helpful historical summary of WWII and events after for the reader. The story was well written, and focused on showing how the acts of kindness touched lives on both sides (givers and receivers). Perhaps most touching were the letters from the German children pouring out thanks and love for a man who a few years previously would have been their enemy. Halverson is a great role model, especially since he didn't just do one act of kindness, he has lived a lifestyle of caring for others (he has done similar things after many other world conflicts). This is a great read for any age.

Every Falling Star: the True Story of How I Survived And Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee with Susan McClelland
Sungju Lee had a cushy childhood in Pyongyang. His father was in the military. The family had a nice flat, a grand piano, a coveted dog, went to the amusement park, revered Kim Il-sung, and were enjoying the good life. Sungju dreamed of one day being a military leader for Joseon (what North Koreans call North Korea). And then out of the blue when he was about ten, Sungju's parents told him they were going on an extended vacation up north. In reality, his father had fallen out of favor with the regime and they were forced to leave. For a while, their wealth helped them continue to live fairly well in a more primitive setting. Their new house had no running water or electricity, but with saved money they ate well. Eventually the money ran out, and first his father and then his mother left on temporary trips to go find more food. Neither of them returned in the time promised and Sungju found himself on the streets left to fend for himself. He soon made his own gang with other street boys and together they found ways to survive. Street life was harrowing and made Sungju an angry and hardened teen, until one day a man standing in a train station recognized him and Sungju's life started to change for the better. Eventually, Sungju receives word that his father wants him to sneak out to China, and he begins a strange and terrifying trip to what he hopes will be a reunion.

Target Readers:

  • Modern North Korea Investigators/Refugee Story Fans/Crazy Autobiography Fans: This is by no means an easy read, though it isn't as harsh as it could be. Lee keeps it teen appropriate. Reading about his harrowing experiences it was easy to forget that this was in recent history. With the frequent lack of power and the main transportation method trains, it often feels like a story from the 1940s or even 1920s. But most of the book takes place between 1997-2002. I also found it extremely interesting that Sungju was so indoctrinated that it took him years of life on the street to just start to become displeased with Joseon's ways, and even then, he'd been fed so many horrifying lies about China and South Korea and America he thought he was better off starving on the streets. Most of the other escape stories I've heard were from people who wanted to escape. Also, his escape was extremely well-funded so it was much quicker and easier than other stories out there. It was an eye-opening new perspective. Definitely read the epilogue about what he is doing now, his ongoing search for his mother, his road of recovery in South Korea and then working towards a higher degree and profession in which he can help North Koreans who have escaped and also work towards reunification of the Koreas. 

Girl Rising: Changing the World, One Girl at a Time by Tanya Lee Stone
Inspired by the documentary Girl Rising this is the story of the challenges girls around the world have in getting education, why education is important for anyone but especially girls, and interviews with girls from around the globe who have overcome huge hurdles to get an education.

Target Readers:

  • Collective Bio Fans/Readers Who Want to Better Appreciate What They Have/Motivational Read Fans: Words cannot express how important this book is and how amazing the stories of these girls are. The book focuses on stories of girls who have been rescued from modern-day slavery or child marriage, or who just didn't have access to education. It's an eye-opening look at very real problems for millions of girls in the world. And it explains how just access to education can give these girls a much higher chance of getting out of poverty and breaking unhealthy cultural cycles. If you have teens who are complaining about their first world problems (especially homework!) or teens looking for a cause to pour into, have them read this. It's great in that it informs but doesn't overwhelm. It presents very real and harsh difficulties, but just enough to motivate without permanently scarring. 

I am Malala: the Story of the Girl Who Stood up for Education And Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb
Malala Yousafzai was a very young girl when the unrest in Pakistan started, but she still remembers a time when it was safe to walk down the street and go to the bazaar with her mother. After the Taliban's arrival, things started to change. Since before the Taliban's impositions, Malala was somewhat different from most other Muslim Pashtun girls in that her father doted on her, encouraged her education, let her make speeches, and really modeled standing up against injustice, particularly in the education realm and politics. When the Taliban moved in and started invoking strict rules in the name of Islam, Malala's father spoke out against them. When the Taliban started telling people that girls should not go to school, Malala (now around 11 or 12) and her father would speak out and give interviews. Malala started to be recognized around Pakistan for her voice for women's education and receive awards, which brought both positive and negative awareness of her family. Her father had already received death threats, but then Malala started to as well. Like her father, Malala decided she would rather keep doing what was right than let the threats hide her away. One day on the way home from school she and two fellow female classmates were shot. Malala was soon flown to Birmingham to help ensure her recovery. The Taliban had tried to quiet her voice, but instead probably brought her and the cause of women's education more of a spot light than ever before.
Note: Violence

Target Readers:

  • Nobel Winner Fans/Fans of Books That Help You Better Understand Current Conflicts/Crazy Autobiography Fans: In telling her story, Malala gives a lot of background information on the political situation in Pakistan since colonial times. She describes what life was like in the mountainous area of Swat before the Taliban's arrival, and then contrasts that with the years after their slow infiltration. She also describes some of the natural disasters that have further complicated the recovery and political turmoil in the area. It was quite enlightening to see the conflicts in this area of the world from a Pakistani Muslim's perspective. I was also quite amazed at the bravery of Malala and her father. 
  • Malala Fans: If you’d like to share Malala’s story with younger readers there are LOTS of picture book biographies of her out now, as well as a young reader edition of this book and several other middle grade biographies of her. If you enjoy this read, Malala also has a new book We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls around the World that’s coming out January 8, 2019.

March 1-3 by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, ill. by Nate Powell
John Lewis shares his firsthand account of the Civil Rights movement through three graphic novels.
Note: Language & Violence

Target Readers:

  • History Studiers & Teachers/Civil Rights Studiers/Nonfiction Graphic Novel Fans/Moving Autobiography Fans: This is a hard but very important read. It's probably a good thing they chose to keep this in black and white because there's so much bloodshed that happened. It's truly horrific the things people went through both while suffering injustice and nonviolently protesting that injustice. Definitely recommended for teens and adults. History teachers, you should really look into adding this into your curriculum if you cover American history or human rights.
  • Award Winner Readers: Those handing out book awards just showered the last book with tons of awards for Lewis’s wrenching and important account.

The Radium Girls: the Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
In the early 1900s radium was taking the world by storm. Everyone thought it was a miracle element. Medicines including radium were all the rage, and items covered with radium-infused paint were all the rage for their glow-in-the-dark properties. Especially popular with the military were the new clock dials that glowed in the dark, featuring the numbers painted on by ladies who worked for companies that produced the radium paint and dials. One of the big factories was in Orange, New Jersey. Another big factory later opened in Ottawa, Illinois. The ladies who worked there painted on the dials by lipping the brushes, meaning they consumed the radium-laced paint hundreds of times daily, they were covered in dust from the paint, they were encouraged to take extra paint home, and they were continually told that the paint was actually healthy for them. As the years ticked by, the girls started to get strange illnesses and no doctor could tell them what was wrong. This is the story of the doctors who eventually figured out their problem, the long struggle to get the law and the companies to recognize the dangers of radium, and the struggle of small town girls versus big business in getting fair recompense for the ways they were endangered.

Target Readers:

  • Medical History Fans/Legal History Fans/Tragic Bio Fans: Moore does a great job in creating a memorial to these women who suffered so greatly but eventually we learned from their sacrifice and changes are still in effect today because of their fights for justice and awareness even as their bodies fell apart. It is superbly researched with extensive primary source quotes throughout. You can tell Moore did her homework. It is not an easy read because you do get to know many of the girls personally and then you watch most of them slowly and painfully die. It is also hard to watch them suffer so many injustices and such a hard battle to get the truth recognized. But it is also an important read for the impact their medical issues and fight for justice had on our modern world.

The Underground Abductor (Nathan Hales’ Hazardous Tales, #5) by Nathan Hale
Nathan Hale (the historic character), the executioner, and the British soldier this time regale readers with the story of Araminta Ross, aka Harriet Tubman. Ok, really Nathan Hale tells us all about this amazing woman who overcame personal hardship, escaped slavery, didn't rest in her safety but helped dozens of other slaves obtain freedom, and as if that weren't enough, also helped serve as a spy for the North in the American Civil War. As usual, the executioner and British soldier provide comedic side notes as Hale spins the tale.
Note: Violence

Target Readers:

  • Graphic Novel Nonfiction Fans/Reluctant Readers/History with Humor Fans/Amazing Women Bio Fans: The artist/author Nathan Hale does such an amazing job with this series that is both highly educational and extremely entertaining. I have students fight over the books in this series. Yes, they are fighting over history books. History books that are well-researched, honorable to the subjects, and are extremely informative (but shhh, don't say that too loud or you may scare off some readers). This is a fantastic graphic novel biography of Harriet Tubman that is fine for middle graders as well as young adult readers.

We Will Not Be Silent: the White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman
The story of Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friends who formed the White Rose Student Resistance Movement in Germany during WWII. The White Rose group published pamphlets encouraging the German people to resist the evils of the Nazi regime and exposed the truths of some of those horrors. The main members were college students at Munich University, though the group eventually grew to include numerous people from all walks of life who could not be silent about the evils around them any longer, even though they knew to do so could result in imprisonment or death.
Note: Violence

Target Readers:

  • WWII History Buffs/Reluctant Readers/Inspirational Bio Fans: A moving story about the bravery of a group of college students who decided to fight evil with words, and some of whom paid for those words with their lives. A lot of WWII nonfiction for this target age group is several hundred pages long, so it is nice to have a very readable biography that is almost exactly 100 pages long. It’s a perfect length for reluctant readers, or those short on reading time.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Brainstorm 151: Science, math, and tech bios

I started to work on a list of biographies for one Brainstorm and it has spread into three Brainstorm’s because there are so many good ones out there. Last week we looked at Bookish Bios, mainly authors and booksellers. This one will focus on biographies of those in fields related to science, math, and technology. And next week we’ll look at bios about social reformers and human rights activists.

Picture Book Biographies

Ada’s Ideas: the Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson
A picture book biography of Ada Lovelace, the daughter of poet Lord Byron and mathematician Anne Milbanke. To try and save her from becoming anything like her father, Ada's mother surrounded her with structure and math and tried to keep her from anything poetic. That didn't stop Ada from developing a poetic mathematical mind, and writing a complicated and highly imaginative algorithm for inventor Charles Babbage's theoretical calculating machine. Babbage's machine was never built, but today, what Ada wrote is considered the first computer program.

Target Readers:

  • Ada Lovelace admirers: There are several picture book biographies about Ada Lovelace, but this is my favorite. Of course, the true admirers will be happy to hear there are several other books available.
  • Math Lovers: Robinson makes Ada come alive and manages to make math sound fun and amazing. Ada just may be the inspiration for that potential math genius out there to embrace math regardless of what peers say.
  • Art Lovers: One of the things that makes this picture book bio of Ada stand out is the artwork. It’s so unique and eye-catching. 

The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: the Story of Dr. Patricia Bath by Julia Finley Mosca, ill. by Daniel Rieley
A picture book biography of Patricia Bath, an African American woman who beat the odds and prejudice, became an eye doctor, and revolutionized eye treatment all over the world.

Target Readers:

  • Inspirational Bio Fans: This is a fantastic inspirational biography of a woman who persevered and succeeded despite the odds being stacked against her. And her inventions/methods are things most eye patients (and doctors) now take for granted.

Electric Ben: the Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd
A picture book biography that is just jam-packed with information about Benjamin Franklin from throughout his life.

Target Readers:

  • Ben Franklin Admirers/Jack of All Trades Fans: There are tons of books out there on Benjamin Franklin and his accomplishments. I picked this picture book bio to highlight because it does a good broad overview of Franklin’s life while some of the others focus on just certain aspects. But if you’re a Ben Franklin admirer you can rest assured knowing there are many, many other books out there for you to devour. This book proceeds in a straightforward chronological manner highlighting all Franklin's main jobs, inventions, and contributions to his time...which is really quite a lot. This is most definitely not a picture book you could read in one sitting to kids. There's lots of info in this short book. But that also makes it very versatile and could meet the needs of students doing research on the man from elementary all the way up through high school.
  • Curious Readers: This is the kind of book curious readers will eat up so they can soak up all sorts of random facts about Franklin and his inventions and accomplishments for the future.

The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot July 25, 1909 by Alice Provensen, ill. by Martin Provensen
Readers follow Louis Blériot from the moment he is inspired to take to the skies, through numerous prototypes to the 11th version that makes him the first man to successfully fly over the English Channel.

Target Readers:

  • Art Lovers: Art lovers will want to take note that this book won a Caldecott Medal for the illustrations. They are done in such a way to make it feel like it is a bunch of antique photographs and lend to the historical setting. 
  • Aviation Fans/Inspirational Bio Fans: The text may be simple but it does a good job of giving readers an intro to the ups and downs of Blériot's quest to fly inspiring readers to not give up and introducing aviation fans to a lesser known name in aviation history.

How the Cookie Crumbled: the True (and Not-So-True) Stories of the Invention of the Chocolate Chip Cookie by Gilbert Ford
A picture book biography of Ruth Wakefield, the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie, and the various rumors of how that came about.

Target Readers:

  • Building Savvy Readers: In this age when just about anyone can easily post a fake news story, it is good to show kids how to evaluate the stories they hear. This book models doing that very well. It presents the theories fairly, but then states which one is most likely and why.
  • Foodies/Cookie Fans/Reluctant Readers: It’s hard to come up with something as attention grabbing as cookies. Even the most reluctant of readers will likely be a bit curious about this book. And foodies will walk away armed with a better appreciation of the delectable treats they enjoy.

In the Bag!: Margaret Knight Wraps It up by Monica Kulling, ill. by David Parkins
A picture book biography of Margaret Knight, a factory worker in the 1800s who beat the odds, made history, and went on to become a patent-holding semi-famous inventor.

Target Readers:

  • Inspirational Bio Fans/Inventor Bio Fans: Fantastic picture book about a woman inventor who holds many patents, one of which was a machine that makes paper grocery bags. Not only was she a woman not afraid to tinker around with tools when it wasn't fashionable, she's inspirational for kids too. She invented a safety device for looms when she was just a child that saved hundreds of lives. You don’t have to wait to grow up to become an inventor.

John Muir: America’s Naturalist by Thomas Locker
A picture book biography of naturalist and preservationist, John Muir.

Target Readers:

  • Art Fans/Yosemite Lovers/Nature Lovers: The best thing about this book is the amazing illustrations. They are gorgeous and do a fantastic job of capturing the beauty of Yosemite. There are quotes from Muir’s writings scattered throughout the book, as well as further information and a timeline in the back. A nice, simple introduction to Muir that is a feast for the eyes.

Manfish: a Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne, ill. by Éric Puybaret
A picture book biography of underwater explorer, conservationist, filmographer, and inventor Jacques Cousteau.

Target Readers:

  • Fish Lovers/Ocean Goers/Future Inventors/Inspirational Bio Fans: It is a bit mind boggling just how many things Cousteau mastered and invented to share up close encounters of the ocean world with even those who’ve never seen a beach in person.
  • Art Lovers: Puybaret did a beautiful job illustrating this book. It is just as much a feast for the eyes as the brain.

The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring: the Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation by Gilbert Ford
The story of how Richard James invented the slinky and a machine to manufacture them, and his wife Betty James helped him come up with a name and manage the business.

Target Readers:

  • Future Inventors/Reluctant Readers: This was an interesting history behind a toy most people now will recognize. Reluctant readers may be just curious enough about a fun toy to pick this one up. Just do yourself a favor and have a slinky nearby to play with after reading about it.

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell
McDonnell tells the story of young Jane Goodall through words, pictures, and primary sources. Readers get to learn how Jane fell in love with nature, some of the things that interested her as a young girl, and how eventually she grew up to follow her dream of going to Africa. The book primarily focuses on the childhood of Jane Goodall, but there is a note from both the author and Dr. Goodall in the back giving some further information about her adult life and current projects.

Target Readers:

  • Animal Lovers/Younger Picture Book Bio Fans: This is a pretty simple book, so it would be a good intro to picture book biographies for younger kids. Also a good pick for animal lovers.
  • Art Lovers: Patrick McDonnell is probably best known for his Mutts comic strip. Not everyone gives comic artists the respect they are due, so it may come as a surprise that this comic strip artist has also won a Caldecott honor…for this book. His illustrations in this are imaginative and definitely fit the topic and the target audience.

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, ill. by Gilbert Ford
Before the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893, there was a contest for a feat of engineering. At the last World Fair, Paris had unveiled the Eiffel Tower, and the United States wanted something to rival that wonder. George Ferris came up with the idea for a giant wheel that would hold carriages of people. At first, the directors of the fair scoffed at his idea. But as the time for the fair drew closer and they had no better options, they told Ferris to build his wheel. Ferris had to overcome several obstacles along the way, but eventually his wheel was a smashing success and replicated the world over.

Target Readers:

  • Inspirational Bio Fans/Future Engineers/Fair Lovers: Ferris is an inspiration to read about as he persevered through many hardships but eventually was successful and his creation is famous the world over.
  • Curious Readers: There are interesting facts scattered all through this, perfect for little sponges. 

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter, ill. by Melissa Sweet
A picture book biography of Mrs. Harkness, the woman who took over her husband's mission to bring back a panda to the US. She took over her departed husband's mission despite it being a daunting trek, a job deemed unsuitable for a woman in the 1930s, and that pandas weren't even believed to be real animals by some.

Target Readers:

  • History Buffs/Adventure Fans/Spunky Heroine Fans/Future Conservationists/Panda Lovers:  A must read for panda lovers, animal lovers, and those who like stories of bodacious women. DO NOT miss reading the author's note in the back of the book. She clarifies the difference between our modern conceptions of conservation and how that worked back in the 1930s, and she points out how much good Mrs. Harkness did in bringing a panda to the US, especially that her actions probably saved pandas from extinction. So while our modern knee-jerk reaction may be to condemn a woman who takes an animal out of its natural habitat to put it in a zoo, it is a fantastic reminder to consider historical context and historical setting before judging someone for their actions. (And P.S. older readers, there’s a longer version of this story for adults, The Lady and the Panda by Vicki Croke. I’ve got it sitting in my TBR right now.)

Out of School and Into Nature: the Anna Comstock Story by Suzanne Slade, ill. by Jessica Lanan
A picture book biography of Anna Botsford Comstock a nature lover, scientist, artist, educational reformer, and author who produced amazing works of art, revolutionized how students learn about nature, and was Cornell's first female professor.

Target Readers:

  • Nature Lovers/Art Lovers/Future Educators: An amazing story about an amazing woman perfect for nature lovers. I looked up some samples of Comstock's illustrations after finishing this. They are truly gorgeous. Some of them look like photographs. I'd never heard of this woman before, but I definitely appreciate the ways she made an impact in this world. In my days of teaching science I most loved the forays out of the classroom into the wild with students, and so I'm especially appreciative of how Comstock paved the way for that to be a recognized successful science teaching method. (And I’m pretty sure students like those days out too.)

Shark Lady: the True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating, ill. by Marta Álvarez Miguéns
Eugenie Clark decided at a young age that the scary sharks everyone else hated she loved, and that she wanted to study them when she grew up. Despite social pressures to choose a different field, Eugenie got her zoology degrees and went on to make many important discoveries about sharks and other fish. In the back of this picture book biography are more shark facts and a timeline of Eugenie’s life with more details about her accomplishments.

Target Readers:

  • Shark Lovers/Bold Women Fans/Animal Lovers/Inspirational Bio Fans: Eugenie Clark is a fantastic heroine for young readers. She was biracial at a time when that would have been hard (half Japanese American, half Caucasian American born in 1922), she lost her father at a young age, she was a girl trying to get into a science field when that was frowned upon, and she challenged supposed well known science “facts.” But she persevered when others doubted and scoffed at her dreams and ideas, and in the end, she reaped rewards for that perseverance and bravery that we also benefit from. So hand this to shark fans of course, but also hand it to readers who have dreams that may seem daunting.

The Tree Lady: the True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins, ill. by Jill McElmurry
Kate Sessions was quite the innovative woman. She was the first woman to graduate from Univ. of California with a science degree and the visionary who helped transform San Diego's city park from a dry dust bowl to a green haven.

Target Readers:

  • Inspirational Bio Fans/Park Lovers/Plant Lovers/San Diego Fans: The story of how Kate repeatedly did the seemingly impossible and mobilized others to do so as well, and at a time when women weren't as commonly city leaders is inspirational. Oh, and I absolutely loved the illustrations in this book. A fantastic picture book about one woman who made a lasting difference, used her science knowledge and helped others in a way that has impacted numerous people over several generations.
  • Art Lovers: I love the way McElmurry illustrated this book in a way that complements the subject so beautifully.

Middle Grade Biographies

Always Inventing: a Photobiography of Alexander Graham Bell by Tom L. Matthews
A biography of inventor Alexander Graham Bell illustrated with actual photographs and period paintings/artwork.

Target Readers

  • Curious Readers/History Buffs/Future Inventors/Inspiring Bio Fans: Bell was much more than just the inventor of the telephone. Curious readers and history buffs will find so many great morsels of little-known facts about Bell in this, from his work with the deaf to his other inventions. And he seemed to be driven not by aims at fame or money, but an insatiable curiosity and genuine desire to help others. 

Bone Detective: the Story of Forensic Anthropologist Diane France by Lorraine Jean Hopping
A biography of forensic anthropologist Diane France who works with NecroSearch international as well as local law enforcement, is a college professor, and runs her own company that specializes in making casts of organs, bones, etc for law enforcement, research, and museums. Diane was one of the first women to be broadly recognized in the field, and has built herself world-renown with her work on important cases.

Target Readers:

  • Future Forensics Workers/Somewhat Gross Science Fans/Reluctant Readers: Forensic anthropologists fascinate me, and I know many kids are just as entranced making this a good one for reluctant readers. This follows Diane from her childhood through to major events in her life as of publication of this book in 2004. Since it is a book aimed at middle grades and/or young adults, the gory details of much of her work is somewhat glossed over (though not entirely...still not for kids with squeamish stomachs). It was very interesting to hear about her early work with NecroSearch and how they were working on just figuring out signs of hidden graves and best field practices for recovering evidence from unusual areas. 
  • History of Forensics Buffs/Illustrating Why Publication Date Is Important/Cold Case Investigators: Diane was approached about trying to find the missing bodies of the two youngest Romanovs and as of publication of this book they hadn't been found. It is a great opportunity to point out how noting publication date is important. Because since the publication of this book the youngest Romanovs' remains have been recovered by another team (you can direct readers to more recent info in The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Fleming). This also demonstrates how many forensics scientists can end up working together to solve cold cases. 

Engineered!: Engineering Design at Work by Shannon Hunt, ill. by James Gulliver Hancock
A tour of various fields of engineering both traditional and emerging, with examples of real engineers in these fields and projects they have worked on. Each field of engineering gets 4-6 pages of information.

Target Readers:

  • Future Engineers/Fans of Books for Short Reading Times/Curious Readers/Those Exploring Career Options/Interesting Short Bio Fans: With the vast amount of engineering fields and people in those fields in this book, there’s plenty to fascinate and open eyes to how broad the field of engineering is. Even for those with no interest in going into engineering, there’s plenty of cool facts and interesting tidbits. And with the way it is set up, this is a great book to pick up for multiple quick reading times.

Hidden Figures: the Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation into Space by Margot Lee Shetterly
A history of the job of human calculators in the US, specifically African American women from the WWII era through the Apollo missions who worked for the NACA base at Langley (which later became NASA and moved most of its operations to Houston). The book looks at the history by following four real African American women who were mathematicians and worked for NACA throughout this time period and made many unsung contributions to the US aeronautical field.

Target Readers:

  • Math Lovers/Aviation History Buffs/History Buffs/Inspirational Bio Fans: There’s just as much in this book about the development of the US aeronautics and space program as there is about the four amazing women highlighted. It is a great look at some unsung heroes with brilliant minds. There’s also a picture book edition that does a very good job of summarizing the four women’s stories, and if you want more details, an adult version.

Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer by Sarah B. Pomeroy and Jeyaraney Kathirithamby
A biography of artist Maria Sibylla Merian, born in 1647, showing how she developed a scientific study of insects and other creatures centuries ahead of her time that provided groundbreaking knowledge. Her careful observations connected the multiple stages in the lives of many butterflies and moths, and her illustrations and studies in Surinam brought the Americas to Europe in vibrant color. The book is full of reproductions of Maria Sibylla's amazing illustrations.

Target Readers:

  • Maria Merian Admirers/Amazing Women Fans/Art Lovers/Animal Lovers: This is a more scholarly middle grade/young adult bio than The Girl Who Drew Butterflies about the same woman. I like this one just a little bit more. If you’ve never heard of Maria Sibylla Merian she made some major contributions to science and scientific art in a time when women really didn't have much of a place in the world. She was also rather adventurous for her time, venturing to Surinam from Europe and back to observe the creatures there. It is amazing to realize that she pre-dated Linneaus and that he actually used her works to classify several organisms. In all, a fantastic biography of a woman who made some major contributions to science over 300 years ago. And this book is chock full of her amazing artwork. 

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers by Rachel Ignotofsky
Two page spreads give quick but informative biographies of fifty women who made a significant contribution to the scientific world. Every few pages are spreads that provide infographics related to science or the women included. The last spread gives super quick intros to other notable women in science who didn't make it to having their own page.

Target Readers:

  • Fans of Books for Short Reading Times/Art Lovers/Curious Readers: A fantastic collective biography that does a good job in including women from throughout history, from all over the world, and involved in a broad range of math and science disciplines. Even though each woman only gets two pages, Ignotofsky packed those pages with relevant info and interesting summaries of their lives. Her illustrations are what really make this book, though. They are eye-catching and augment the information. 

YA & Adult Biographies

The Birds of Pandemonium by Michelle Raffin
What started as a rescue of a few unwanted or abandoned birds evolved over the years into a full-blown bird sanctuary with breeding programs for a few endangered species. Raffin relates how she accidentally meandered into the bird world, and how it grew and changed over the years, with stories of individual birds along the way.

Target Readers:

  • Animal Lovers/Light Read Fans: Sometimes these books by animal lovers can be a bit over-the-top, but Raffin still has her feet firmly planted on the ground. She relates her adventures in bird world but doesn't attribute them with any super powers. It was quite interesting to find out how a woman in the business world found herself managing a bird sanctuary. The book is highly readable, and I enjoyed learning about the birds, but I feel completely free of any urges to go out and get a feathered friend (and definitely not starting a bird sanctuary). I think that was refreshing as well. I can support those like Raffin who feel this calling, but I don't feel guilt tripped by her to become one of them.

Breakthrough!: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever by Jim Murphy
The story of three medical personnel who worked together to develop a new surgery that would save the lives of children born with heart defects that prevented their bodies from getting enough oxygen. The woman who thought up the possible solution was Dr. Helen Taussig, a pediactric cardiac doctor. She approached her higher up, and chief surgeon at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Alfred Blalock with the idea. Dr. Blalock was focused on shock research (of primary importance during that WWII era) but asked his assistant, Vivien Thomas, to work on this new research idea in his spare time. Vivien Thomas did come up with a surgery that solved the problem replicated in lab animals. Dr. Blalock only observed Mr. Thomas doing the surgery once before a blue baby came into Johns Hopkins who needed the surgery or would obviously die within a few days. Understandably nervous, Blalock performed the surgery with Thomas looking over his shoulder and guiding him and Dr. Taussig also on hand. The patient lived and showed immediate improvement. It was a huge turning point in cardiac and pediatric medicine. Up until then, cardiac surgery was all but considered impossible. Also notable were that a female doctor and an African American research assistant were so highly involved. It was a landmark cooperative achievement in racial and gender boundaries in medicine, as well as a life saver to thousands of children.

Target Readers:

  • Inspirational Bio Fans/Medical Bio Fans/Unsung Hero Fans: All three of these people were worth meeting in this book. It is a splendidly written and fascinating part of medical history that demonstrates what can happen when we all work together.

Cook County ICU: 30 Years of Unforgettable Patients and Odd Cases by Cory Franklin
An internal medicine doctor from one of the few hospitals in Chicago which would take patients without insurance shares anecdotes from his 30+ years of experience in the medical field. The stories range from personal highs and lows to some exceptional medical cases.

Target Readers:

  • Future Medical Workers/Medical Show Fans: Hand this to the high school grads who think they want to go into medicine. It does a good job of providing a balanced view of working in the medical field from the joys to the very real headaches. If they can finish this and still want to give it a whirl, then they do so in full knowledge of what's ahead of them and are more likely to make it through ok. For those who like medical TV shows, this provides a more balanced view of the reality doctors face while still presenting some rather interesting cases.

Death’s Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson
If you're a fan of shows like CSI or Bones you are probably familiar with the concept of body farms and how forensics uses these places to help establish time of death in various circumstances. What a lot of the tv shows don't tell you is how relatively recent these forensic research methods are. Death's Acre fills in those historical gaps. Dr. Bill Bass, a renowned forensic pathologist, pioneered the research into methods to tell time since death. He did this by establishing the first body farm in 1981. Through following his own life, and some key cases he researched, the book tells what led him to set up the first body farm (in case you're curious, the biggest push was when he misjudged the time since death of a corpse by over 100 years in a rather public case), and the various further scientific discoveries that have since resulted because of these research facilities.
Note: Click on title to see content notes.

Target Readers:

  • Future or Armchair Forensic Scientists/Science History Buffs: A perfect read for those who want a little more realistic view of forensic science than the modern shows provide. Also a great read for the scientifically curious and those interested in innovative science/crime solving techniques.

Florence Nightingale: the Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef
A biography of the woman who defied the conventions of the Victorian era and revolutionized nursing and hospital sanitation standards.

Target Readers:

  • Medical History Buffs/Nursing Fans/Overcomer Bio Fans/Pretty Book Fans: A great resource on medical history as well as looking at a woman who overcame chronic illness and depression to accomplish things that have had a lasting impact. And it is presented in an aesthetically pleasing format.

Isaac’s Storm: a Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson
Galveston, Texas was hit by a powerful hurricane in 1900. The result was catastrophic. The city was decimated and thousands died. Many of those who lost their lives started out the storm by watching the fantastic display of waves splashing against the tram lines, thinking it was just another normal thunderstorm. But it wasn't. It was a hurricane, that the US Weather Bureau failed to predict. The US government's man on the ground in Galveston was Isaac Cline, but the failure to read the weather correctly was a group effort. Even if Cline had managed to predict the storm, his higher ups were known for being quick to forbid the use of the word hurricane because they felt it was overused and that failed predictions did their new bureau more harm than good. And despite how much they really didn't understand about the weather, they were overconfident about how hurricanes formed and how they acted, and failed to acknowledge the skills of those who'd been observing the storms much longer...such as Cuban weathermen. Politics, the early years of the weather bureau, lack of science, and the perfect storm converge to make a natural disaster that forever changed Galveston and left no family there untouched by loss.

Target Readers:

  • Well-Researched History Fans/Meteorological History Buffs/Disaster Story Fans: This is an interesting look at how weather prediction and meteorology developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and how far it had to go. It's partly a history of man's understanding of hurricanes, partly a bio of Isaac Cline and others in Galveston. And it's partly a testament to the dangers of the hubris of men and how pride comes before a fall. Overall, it's a look at how that storm at that time impacted a city and country. As I've come to expect from Larson, his writing is expansive in scope, well-grounded in thorough research, and highly readable in the way it is presented.

Second Suns: Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives by David Oliver Relin
Second Suns is the story of two doctors from very different circumstances who joined forces to try and eradicate preventable blindness in the world. Many poor people in third world countries go blind from cataracts and other preventable eye diseases, making their situation even worse since they can no longer work and can be a danger to themselves. Dr Sanduk Ruit was born to a poor family in Nepal, but through dedication to his studies was able to exceed academically and become a doctor. After returning to his home village and realizing just how many people were practically stuck in their huts because of preventable blindness, he made it his goal to bring eye care to those who needed it most. Dr Geoff Tabin was born into a comfortable, well-educated American family (his dad was actually one of the main guys on the Manhattan Project) but he seemed too hyperactive to settle into any one vocation (tennis, mountaineer, medicine) until he met Ruit and saw the impact that simple ophthalmological procedures could have in these out of the way places. Together the men have envisioned and brought to life a revolutionary medical system that many said could not be done, and have made a huge impact in hundreds of thousands of lives throughout Asia and Africa through giving people a second chance at sight.
Note: Click on title for content info.

Target Readers:

  • Inspirational Bio Fans/Those Looking for Good NGO Models: This was an extremely inspiring read. Relin tells the story by relating the biographies of each doctor individually in alternating chapters until their paths cross and they join forces. At first, I wondered why Tabin's life story was included because he seemed so wishy-washy and uninspiring (though definitely not boring...ditching med school to climb Everest and such) compared to Ruit's incredible rise from rags to respect. BUT after they start working together you realize how much Ruit needed Tabin's boundless energy and diverse interests just as much as Tabin needed Ruit's focused and steadying voice. They form an incredible team. I love that they didn't want to just go in and do good for a little while, they worked to find ways to provide sustainable, indigenous care in these remote places which is a superb model

Tetris: the Games People Play by Box Brown
A history of the evolution of the Nintendo company, the development of video games in general, and the history of Tetris and all the people involved in it getting out to the world (and all the hiccups involved).
Note: Click on the title for content notes.

Target Readers:

  • Gamers/Nerdy Read Fans/Graphic Novel Bio Fans: This graphic novel provides a captivating history of video games and Tetris specifically, as well as a biography of many tech savvy people behind the scenes. I see gamers being easily snatched away from their screens and sucked into this book.