Thursday, September 26, 2019

Brainstorm 187: World War I Books

The 101st anniversary of Armistice Day, the celebration of the cessation of fighting in World War I is coming up this Nov 11. As we prepare to remember the men and women who gave their lives in this conflict and consider what we can learn from the past, here are some books about WWI.

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.

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.

Target Readers:

  • Future World Changers, Fans of Inspirational Biographies, Picture Book Biography Fans, Lower Grade & Middle Grade Readers

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton, ill. by Victor Ngai
When German U-boat attacks on cargo ships during WWI started causing residents of England to worry about shortages of materials, the UK started looking for ways to cut down on the number of ships sunk by torpedoes. Norman Wilkinson came to the government with the idea to camouflage the ships with designs that would confuse U-boat captains as to which direction the ship was headed. The government liked the idea and Wilkinson and a workforce of female artists started creating designs and painting ships. The idea was also adopted by the US and soon thousands of dazzle ships were sailing the seas using their crazy paint jobs to fool submarines.

I had never heard about dazzle ships before reading this book. It was a fascinating look at a creative attempt to solve a problem, highlights an often overlooked aspect of WWI, provides a historic look at the role of camouflage in war, looks at uses of optical illusions, and how artwork can have practical applications beyond aesthetics including psychological benefits. Writers and writing teachers, I strongly encourage reading the author’s note on the research process for this book in the back.

Target Readers:

  • Optical Illusion Fans, Art Lovers, WWI History Buffs, Writers, Middle Grade Readers

Escape from Germany: the Greatest POW Break-out of the First World War by Neil Hanson
The account of the daring escape of 29 prisoners of war from a German camp during World War I.

I've had this on my to-read list for a while. I've heard it is a fascinating look at escape attempts, prisoner of war life in WWI, and the largest successful escape that was pulled off.

Target Readers:

  • WWI History Buffs, Escape Story Fans, Nonfiction Fans, Adult Readers

Finding Winnie: the True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, ill. by Sophie Blackall
A biographical picture book about Harry Coleburn, the bear he bought and named Winnipeg (Winnie for short), their adventures during WWI, Winnie's eventual placement at the London Zoo, and a little boy named Christopher Robin who fell in love with Winnie at the zoo.
(P.S. There’s now a middle grade fiction book by Mattick & Blackall called Winnie’s Great War based on this story out too.)

Target Readers:

  • Winnie the Pooh Fans, Animal Lovers, Canadian History Buffs, Award Winner Readers, Picture Book Biography Fans, Lower Grade Readers

The Great War 100: the First World War in Infographics by Scott Addington
Just like the title says, this is a collection of infographics with facts about various aspects of World War I.

After Nathan Hale’s book, this is the most checked out book on World War I in our libraries. Students are fascinated by the presentation of facts in this book.

Target Readers:

  • Curious Readers, WW I History Buffs, Visual Learners, Middle Grade Readers on up

Lovely War by Julie Berry
Aphrodite, caught between Ares and Hephaestus argues that gods don't really understand what love is, that only mortals do. So she tells them a tale about what true love looks like. She tells them of Hazel, a shy pianist in England who met James, a soldier about to leave for the WWI front, at a parish dance the week before he shipped out. And she tells them of Aubrey, an African American jazz pianist and soldier, and Colette, a Belgian girl who has lost everything in the war, but is still doing her part to help in France by volunteering with the YMCA. A story of life, death, WWI, racism, music, and love narrated mostly by Aphrodite, but also by Ares, Apollo, and Hades.

I can’t say enough good things about this book. You don't think of mythology and WWI love stories as being necessarily powerful reads, but this was such a powerful read. Berry explored so very many important issues, from racism to what true love looks like to the very real fact that war makes people kill other people, while telling a fully engrossing tale. So far, this is my top YA read of the year. Click on the title for my full review and content notes.

Target Readers:

  • Touching Love Story Fans, Historical Fiction Fans, Deep & Meaningful Message Fans, Mythology Fans, Music Lovers, Young Adult & Adult Readers

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, #4) by Nathan Hale
Nathan Hale, the Provost, and the Hangman are back for another tale from their future (our past). This time, they demand a tale of war...with animals and a touch of humor to lighten up the grim facts. So Nathan Hale gives a broad sweeping overview of the Great War with different animals representing each country. Due to the grand scheme of the tale, Hale only focuses on the main things that led to war and the most important battles.

As Hale has the characters mention during the story and the bibliography, covering an entire war that spanned the globe in one book is a rather daunting task. It was impossible to cover all the details, but I felt Hale did a good job covering the highlights and giving a satisfactory broad overview. In fact, it does a better job of covering WWI than most textbooks, and I know it does so in a much more entertaining and memorable way. I’ve had several History Bowl participants tell me this was the most helpful book they found for studying up on WWI.

Target Readers:

  • Graphic Novel Fans, WWI History Buffs or Studiers, Humor Fans, Reluctant Readers, Middle Grade & Young Adult Readers

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
The experiences of WWI told from the point of view of a horse who is sold to the army and sent to the front in France.

Confession time. I haven’t read this, yet. But all the students who have, have raved about it. It’s definitely on my list to read someday. And it comes highly recommended.

Target Readers:

  • Animal Fiction Lovers, Horse Lovers, WWI History Buffs, Historical Fiction Fans, Middle Grade Readers on up

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Brainstorm 186: Cats in/from Space

Cats and space just seem to go together. And people have thought so for years. Anyone remember the live action 70s Disney movie The Cat from Outer Space?
Perhaps it’s their aloof nature. Perhaps it is the way they seem to have humans wrapped around their little paws like they’ve successfully taken over, or the strong reaction some have against them. Or that weird look that comes into their eyes late at night. Whatever it is, cats and space seem to go together quite well. And I have several books here that agree.

Most of these are series so the description is for the entire series, but clicking the series title will take you to my review of the first book in the series.

Cats in/from Space

CatStronauts series by Drew Brockington
The CatStronauts are highly trained specialists with unique skills who go into space to save the Earth, their friends, and help the space program along in their series of graphic novel adventures.
This is a fun and exciting series with light humor.

Target Readers:

  • Science Fiction Fans, Humor Fans, Graphic Novel Fans, Reluctant Readers, Cat Lovers, Space and Astronaut Nuts, Middle Grade Readers

Cleopatra in Space series by Mike Maihack
Cleopatra is dealing with being a royal personage in Ancient Egypt and in line to be queen. She doesn't mind certain parts, but could do without Algebra. She's about to have her grand 15th birthday bash when she accidentally gets zapped to the future and finds herself acclaimed a prophesied messiah. She joins the space academy, which has mostly the same ol' boring subjects, though she does like her classes on combat training. Still, she has a hard time swallowing the fact that she's supposed to save all of future society from the evil Xerx...and so are some of the administrators (who are all cats).
Cleo goes on to have several adventures chasing down artifacts and clues as to how she is supposed to save everyone, and she has a new gang of friends from the academy to help her. 5 of the promised 6 books that will make up this series are out so far. It is a high action, scifi graphic novel adventure through imaginative places in space with touches of Ancient Egypt thrown in and cats to boss around (and sometimes offer wise counsel) to the heroine and her friends.

Target Readers:

  • Science Fiction Fans, Time Travel Fans, Promised One Story Fans, Ancient Egypt Buffs, Cat Lovers, Action & Adventure Fans, Graphic Novel Fans, Middle Grade Readers

Klawde, Evil Alien Warlord Cat series by Johnny Marciano & Emily Chenoweth, ill. by Robb Mommaerts
When Wyss-Kuzz, evil alien warlord, gets banished to Earth for his crimes, he gets taken in by a boy new to Elba, Oregon desperate for a friend. Of course, Raj has no idea his cat is a) an alien or b) a war criminal. Raj dotes on his new feline friend while trying to adjust to a new town. And Wyss-Kuzz, who Raj's father has dubbed Klawde, is commandeering all the small appliances in the house in hopes of constructing a teleporter to get him back to his world domination schemes. (He was quite distressed to discover that the human ogres had no such thing already.) He's also quite distressed by how everything on Earth seems to require thumbs, so he decides to recruit Raj to help him build. Nothing can possibly go wrong, right?
Klawde & Raj’s adventures continue with another banished cat coming to Earth, and next month it looks like a dog is coming. These a chapter books with a little larger font size and occasional, hilarious illustrations. I like that this features an Indian-American kid and that his Asian heritage isn't the main part of the story. It just comes up along the way in his mother's obsession with college transcripts (even though Raj is just about to start middle school) and that the family is vegetarian. There are some truly hilarious comic moments in these books. And both Klawde and Raj go through some good growth as the story progresses.

Target Readers:

  • Fans of People of Color Main Characters (Indian American specifically), Cat Lovers, Humor Fans, Moving to a New Place Story Fans, Reluctant Readers, Quick Read Fans, Light Scifi Fans, Middle Grade Readers

Sanity & Tallulah series by Molly Brooks
Sanity and Tallulah are best friends. They do everything together on their space station. They watch shows together, go to school together, and get in trouble for using their smarts to create a bioengineered three-headed cat named Princess Sparkle, Destroyer of Worlds together. When their kitten escapes and wiring on the space station starts to go haywire at the same time, they have to work together to find their precious kitten before the space station staff does or it will be curtains for Princess Sparkle, Destroyer of Worlds.
Overall, it's a space adventure with two smart girls with STEM skills who are fun to follow around, a nice little mystery to solve, a captivating setting, capable adults who recognize the talents of the girls while also holding them to high standards, moments of humor and nerdiness, and a cute three-headed kitty. What more could you want? I'll tell you what you can want. More Sanity & Tallulah stories! And a new one is coming out next month. Yeah!

Target Readers:

  • Scifi Fans, Multicultural Cast Fans, Girls in STEM Fans, Cat Lovers, Mystery Sleuths, Graphic Novel Fans, Friendship Story Fans, Action & Adventure Fans, Middle Grade Readers

And two honorable mentions…

Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires
Binky found an application for F.U.R.S.T. (Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) in the bottom of his kitty food. Since then he's been in intense training to become a licensed Space Cat. He's dedicated to fighting alien invaders (which humans call bugs) and exploring space (all areas outside of house). However, once Binky is fully licensed and has his space ship built he realizes that if he leaves no one will be there to protect his humans, and Binky has to make a tough decision.
I’m including this one as an honorable mention because don’t tell Binky but …he never gets to outer space, and the aliens he’s battling probably haven’t been further than down the block. This book is just the start of a whole series of graphic novels in which Binky and then other pets wage war against the alien invasion and protect their homes (FURST changes to PURST when some dogs join the fight, instead of Felines, it is now Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel). I’ve heard that this also just become a cartoon TV series. 

Target Readers:

  • Cat Lovers, Animal Lovers, Humor Fans, Lower & Middle Grade Readers, Graphic Novel Fans

Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo by Rory Lucey
An imagining of what it was like for Jonesy the cat to live on the Nostromo (a la the first Aliens movie, Alien).
This is a bonus one for those who enjoy the Aliens movies. Do you remember Ripley’s cat? He shows up to get petted every once in a while. Well this is an imagining of what a typical cat would get up to on a spaceship inhabited by both humans and monstrous aliens. It's so cat. And it nods at specific scenes in the movie. It's entirely wordless, but it doesn't need any text. The illustrations say it all.

Target Readers:

  • Alien Movie Fans, Cat Lovers, Comic Fans, Scifi Fans, Teen & Adult Readers

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Brainstorm 185: Snails, snails, snails

For today’s Brainstorm I have 2 versions of an Asian fairytale involving a snail and a hard-working young man. Both of these include some foreign language vocabulary (one is completely bilingual), and then I have a third snail story that also has some foreign language introduced.

The Dinner That Cooked Itself by J.C. Hsyu, ill. by Kennard Pak
A hardworking young man, taken in by neighbors after the death of his parents grows up. His adopted parents try to find a suitable wife for him with the help of a matchmaker, but they fail. He continues to faithfully work hard and show kindness to others. One of those kind acts is to feed a snail he finds. He starts to return home to find grand meals ready for him. And when he finds out who has been leaving meals for him, he discovers an unexpected surprise and blessing.

A sweet fairy tale about the a well-deserving man being rewarded for his faithful hard work and kindness, even though he doesn't expect any reward. The illustrations are charming and have a distinct Asian flavoring. A few vocabulary words appear with the Chinese character above the illustration of the object (sorry, it doesn't clarify if it is Mandarin or Cantonese), and there's a note in the back of the book about Chinese calligraphy.

Target Readers:

  • Fairytale Fans, Fans of Stories Where Hard-Work & Kindness Are Rewarded, Art Lovers, Chinese Story Fans, Chinese Language Learners/Speakers, Multicultural Story Lovers, Picture Book Readers

The Snail Lady 우렁이 아가씨; The Magic Vase 요술 항아리  adapted by Duance Vorhees & Mark Mueller ; illustrated by Kang Mi-sun
Two Korean folktales told in Korean and English. In the first tale, a young farmer discovers that a snail becomes a lady and is taking care of his house and cooking his meals. He marries her, but the king seas the woman and challenges the farmer to contests for her hand. Thankfully, the Dragon King is the lady's father, and he helps the farmer. In the second tale, a greedy woman berates her fisherman husband until he brings home a magic pot with a man who grants wishes inside. In the end, her greed is her undoing.

The first story is similar to The Dinner That Cooked Itself. The stories have subtle differences at first, and then a big difference in that the Korean version has a second part with the contests. The second tale feels like a Korean version of a djinn tale. Both stories are told in English and in Korean.

Target Readers:

  • Fairytale Fans, Korean Story Fans, Foreign Language Learners, Fans of Stories Good for Compare/Contrast Exercises, Fans of Stories with Morals, Multicultural Story Lovers, Picture Book Readers

Escargot by Dashka Slater, ill. by Sydney Hanson
Escargot is a little French snail who would very much like to be your favorite animal. He uses his self-confidence and interactive prompts to keep the reader with him to the salad at the end of the book. Along the way, Escargot shares many of his strong opinions with the readers, especially his thoughts on carrots. Upon reaching the salad at the end of the book, Escargot may have to rethink at least one of his opinions and perhaps readers will rethink how they feel about snails too.

You gotta love Escargot's swagger and self-confidence. It feels so very French. I also like the little French phrases thrown in here and there. (The book is definitely meant to be read aloud to a child as the vocabulary is a little challenging and most of the French phrases are not translated.) There are numerous prompts like to pet or point or kiss Escargot along the way. Kids will likely start to feel sorry for Escargot as he points out that not many people like snails, but I'm sure he'll change many minds. I like the way the book shows Escargot reforming his own opinion of carrots after bravely trying one at the end of the book, encouraging kids to possibly rethink their own strong likes/dislikes at an age when those are not necessarily based on facts but whims. The artwork is adorable and a definite plus.

Target Readers:

  • Animal Lovers, Interactive Book fans, French Learners/Speakers, Read Aloud Fans, Picky Eaters, and Snail Fans (or Those Who Want to Become Snail Fans), Art Lovers, Fans of Cute Stories