Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cybil Nonfiction Picture Book Nominees + Two

Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story by Janet Halfmann

Shocker: When Robert Smalls married and had a daughter, the newborn baby did not belong to him and his wife; Robert and his wife were slaves and his child was likewise a slave. Wow. This hit me in the gut.

Robert started saving money to buy his wife and his child. It took three years to get close to the money he needed. But then the Civil War began and a new way to freedom was a possibility. Robert came up with a plan to sneak his family and the families of other slaves to freedom. It was dangerous. Against the odds, Smalls succeeded and his family was free.

Seven Miles to Freedom is a dramatic tale of heroism and courage. The author provides a detailed list of sources for her information. The paintings are dark and tentative, reflecting the times for those enslaved. I wonder what children would think of the paintings.

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman by Marc Tyler Nobleman

The creator of Superman was Clark Kent. Clark Kent was Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in every way but name. Jerry and Joe were author and illustrator of Superman, created when both were little more than boys. They had a terribly hard time finding a publisher, but when they did, their creation was an enormous hit.

Nobleman goes on to tell the story after the story, a sad story of stolen profits and poverty and struggle for Superman's creators. Fortunately, the true story was told to the public and Joe and Jerry were able to receive some of the money they were due.

The comic book-like illustrations should appeal to all Superman fans. The story is short, but well told. The author lists four print sources of information but also acknowledges help received from many people who provided additional information.

Johnny Appleseed by Jane Yolen

After working in schools for many years, I have the odd feeling that more children know who Johnny Appleseed is than who know the identity of Thomas Jefferson. Thus is born the need for yet another book on Johnny Appleseed; it will sell.

This book is written in short lines, almost like poetry. Yolen clearly knows how to write for children, honing in on all the details that will speak to her audience. She adds "The Fact" at the bottom of each double page spread, adding more information for those who are interested. The author does not tell where she obtained her information other than providing statements within her text such as, "We know for certain..." and " ...some historians believe...." The pictures were full of depth, inviting readers to take a second look.

Making Cents by Elizabeth Keeler Robinson

So you can still buy something with a penny? I was tempted to check this out by actually going down to the old-timey hardware store in my town and seeing if I could buy, as the book states, a nail with a penny.

The children in this book go on to buy a wood screw, a marking pencil, sandpaper, a hinge, a tape measure, a level, a bucket of paint, a ladder, plywood, two-by-fours, a hammer, and a saw. As the pages went on, I kept thinking, Would kids be interested in buying a nail or a wood screw? Oh, but then, everything came together at the end and the kids not only figured out how much money they needed to buy things, but they also provided a wonderful story of working together to build something a whole community of kids could use.

So, we have a book that explains money and might inspire kids to work and create something fun. I like this book. The illustrations clearly help explain the coins and bills and are kid friendly.

What's Inside Your Tummy, Mommy? by Abby Cocovini

I was pretty worried about this book when I saw its title. Books that talk about reproduction almost always end up on various banned book lists.

I can't see how this book would offend. It is designed to be used by a pregnant mom and a child soon to be a big sibling. The illustrations show the baby as it develops month by month. The text tells about the activities of the baby and the shape and size of the baby as it develops. The text is clear and concise. It accomplishes its purpose of letting a sibling watch the development of its new baby before it is born. The pictures and the text stay away from too much information.

The copy I was finally able to obtain is paperback, and it is a library copy, so I suspect it is not available in hardback. (Librarians love hardbacks and rarely resort to purchasing books in softcover.) No information about sources is given except that the author wrote the book when she was expecting her second child.

Sandy's Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder by Tanya Lee Stone

Alexander Calder comes across in this book as a person I wish I had known. Well, I feel happy that I did get to know him a little bit through this book.

Calder was born into an artistic family and he was always encouraged to make and create. The creations he made in later life seemed to come naturally out his life. His circus would be a joy to experience. Somehow, the text and illustrations in this book made me feel like I was there.

Now Stone needs to make a second book, telling about how Calder came to create his famous mobiles.

The author lists the sources she drew upon to create the book and her author note explains how she came to love Calder and his creations.

A bright, fun book about a bright, fun man.

Lady Liberty: A Biography by Doreen Rappaport

How did the Statue of Liberty come to sit in the harbor outside New York City?

Rappaport chooses to tell the story through the voices of many different people connected with the statue. It is a clever way to tell a story and it drew me in. For the first time, I could see the impact the Statue of Liberty had on millions of people who saw it and visited it.

I had no idea how difficult it was to build and finance. The story brought that information to me as well.

The author shifts viewpoints on each page, but that does not seem to confuse but instead provides a variety of ways to see the statue.

Rappaport concludes her book with an author's note, an illustrator's note, a list of selected sources, and places for children to go to find out more about the Statue of Liberty.

Eggs by Marilyn Singer

This is the definitive book on eggs. Somehow Singer is able to skirt around the perilous world of how eggs come to be, explaining but not scaring off fearful adults, and create a book about eggs that is both clear and interesting.

Singer takes on the world of eggs and showcases all the amazing varieties of eggs that exist.

I'd expected in a book of this sort to like the pictures more than the text, but that was not so for me; I liked the text and the pictures equally well. I think children would find the information presented illuminating and fun.

Singer includes an extensive list of sources. She includes a glossary, a list of organizations that work with wildlife, and an index.

A Den Is a Bed for a Bear: A Book About Hibernation by Becky Baines

Not that this is at all important, but how are we deciding what to capitalize in book titles these days? Why "Is" and not "for"? Just curious.

This is the kind of book that kids would love. The text is friendly and is helped tremendously by the illustrations. The book makes the idea of bears hibernating clear and understandable. The author includes lots of fun bear facts ("During the fall, bears may eat up to 20,000 calories a day. That's like eating 65 cheeseburgers in one day!")that children can comprehend. The bear pictures will make children and adults go, "Ahhh."

The only source information is inferred from the name of the publisher, National Geographic.

Corn by Gail Gibbons

Gail Gibbons has never disappointed me. She uses just the right words for her audience of young children. Her pictures are bright and colorful and make the text comprehensible.

If you are interested in learning about corn, this is probably the book for you. Gibbons takes a quick tour through the world of corn: the four main types, the history of corn, how corn is cultivated and harvested, and all the ways corn is used today.

Are children interested in learning about corn? Is corn a worthy subject for Gibbons? I only know I couldn't stop reading this book, though I had zero interest in corn to start.

The House of the Scorpions by Nancy Farmer

I have a kindergartener at my school who only choose books that have award stickers on their front covers.

Luis would love this book; House of Scorpions has three award logos on it.

I wasn't thrilled with it. I expected to be but I wasn't.

Why the disappointment?

The book is the story of Matt, a clone of El Patron, the head of a country devoted to the production of opium. Clones are considered animals in this world and Matt's only salvation is his tie to this powerful man. When El Patron becomes gravely ill and desperately in need of transplants available only from Matt, Matt's nanny is able to save his life and send him off into a new life in another country.

I couldn't seem to get lost in this story, to feel the pain Matt felt and the misery of the world Matt lived in. Not sure why, especially when so many others have loved it....

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir by Elizabeth McCracken

This is the book any mother who has had a stillborn child should read. It is powerful, making the reader cry and then laugh out loud. It has a wonderful healing quality to it.

You get the feeling it was very healing for McCracken to write this book, but you are left wondering if anything can really make everything okay again.

Highly recommended.

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