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Book Reviews: The Rest of the Story

November 30, 2011

Curious readers often want to know more when the final page of a book is reached, and while quality nonfiction texts will provide additional references and sources for further exploration, there is often a need for books that tell the rest of the story about a person or a phenomenon. Many of us may still remember thumbing through the pages of our history and science texts looking for the contributions of women or those by men, women, and even children who looked like us. Often, those contributions were omitted, leaving the rest of many stories untold. These recent titles, reviewed by members of the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group, add rich layers to what we already know about various individuals and topics. They may inspire young readers to aspire to great heights, now that that they know the rest of the story.

Grades 3-6

Night Flight coverBurleigh, Robert. (2011). Night flight: Amelia Earhart crosses the Atlantic. Paintings by Wendell Minor. New York: Simon & Schuster.

In this riveting biography about Amelia Earhart, readers will learn about her solo flight across the Atlantic in 1932. She crosses the dark and seething waters because, “Women must try to do things as men have tried.” Her journey is not trouble-free. She flies through lightning that scribbles danger in zigzags. She tries to out climb of a raging storm when the plane’s broken altimeter needle swirls wildly. The Vega airplane then grows sluggish because there is ice on the wings. Readers will feel the tension as she accelerates to gain control only to feel the exhaust pipe crack. To stay awake in the early morning hours she sniffs salts and counts out loud. Morning comes and she must hurry because gas fumes and exhaust flames are rising into the cockpit. Finally, the Ireland countryside spreads out like a green fan and the intrepid aviator lands in a farmer’s field, in the process, becoming the first woman to successfully fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Vibrant watercolor paintings accompany the text along with an afterword, bibliography, internet resources, and quotes from Amelia.

- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

Nurse, Soldier, Spy coverMoss, Marissa. (2011). Nurse, soldier, spy: The story of Sarah Edmonds: A Civil War hero. Illustrations by John Hendrix. New York: Abrams.

This picture book biography is a story about which most children will know little. It tells the story of Sarah Emma Edmonds who posed as a man during the Civil War. Sarah originally cut her hair and donned trousers in order to escape an arranged marriage. Once she discovered the freedom of wearing pants, she couldn’t put a dress back on. She ran away, taking on a male identity in the form of Frank Thompson, which required that she learn how to walk, talk, eat, and gesture like a man. She then enlisted in the Union army where she could outshoot and outride most men. Since soldiers slept in their clothes, no one ever learned of her masquerade. The other soldiers even nicknamed her “our little woman” because of her small feet. She trained as a nurse, pulling men off the battlefields and assisting doctors during surgeries. Later, she became a spy, disguising herself as a freed slave and joining the Confederate army. She studied the rebel fortifications by counting how many cannons, guns, and weapons they had. She returned to the Union army to share her knowledge. Sarah fought in some of the biggest Civil War battles, including Bull Run and Fredericksburg. After the war she changed back into a dress and never took on a man’s identity. The book concludes with an author’s note, glossary and bibliography.

- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

Drawing from Memory coverSay, Allen. (2011). Drawing from memory. New York: Scholastic.

Fans of the creator of Grandfather’s Journey will certainly want to take a look at this amazing exploration of the formative years of the beloved author/illustrator. Filled with the author's own photographs, drawings, and cartoons as well as comic strip panels from his mentor, comic book artist Noro Shinpei, this memoir of Say's early years in Japan is a must-read for anyone who loves his work and wants to understand it on a deeper level. Beginning with Say's birth in 1937 in Yokohoma, the book traces his early literacy and artistic experiences and his fondness for comic books. When WWII separated the family, Say lived first with his mother, then his father, then his mother again. His father and maternal grandmother were skeptical about the career possibilities of an artist, but his mother promised him an apartment of his own if he earned acceptance into a prestigious middle school. The cover image shows the young Say, frolicking about his new studio apartment, free at last to follow his artistic dreams. When he happens upon a newspaper story about another young artist in Tokyo working with Say's favorite cartoonist, Noro Shinpei, Say begins his own studies with the man who will become so influential in his life. The artist's journey in mastering his craft takes him through city streets, to protests, and on weekend field trips. The memorable memoir ends with Say burning his sketchbooks before leaving for a new home in the United States. This stunning and deeply personal book provides insight into the influences on an artist whose work often captures perfectly lives caught between two cultures.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Tillie the Terrible Swede coverStauffacher, Sue. (2011). Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History. Illustrated by Sarah McMenemy. New York: Knopf/Random House.

During the nineteenth century, Tillie Anderson immigrated to the United States from Sweden and worked as a seamstress in a tailor shop. One day she observed a man speeding by her shop on a bicycle and her dream of racing was born. Both her racing behavior and her newly designed attire were deemed inappropriate by her mother, her neighbors and her friends. Yet, this did not deter Tillie. She worked out with weights and an "Indian club" to develop the strength necessary to achieve her goals. From 1896 through 1901, Tillie entered and won numerous races shattering records and earning the title of "Champion of the World." Not everyone scorned her racing, her friend/manager/husband Philip encouraged her, and Susan B. Anthony along with other women's rights activists acknowledged Tillie's accomplishments and what female cyclists had accomplished to "emancipate women." Tillie eventually crossed another gender barrier and began to drive motorcars in the early 1900s.

- Terrell A. Young, Brigham Young University

Queen of the Falls coverVan Allsburg, C. (2010). Queen of the Falls. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

“Over Niagra Falls in a barrel"—the phrase usually conjures up images of daring and foolhardy young adventurers. But in this nonfiction debut from Van Allsburg, we learn that it should bring to mind an elderly retired teacher looking for a way to gain fame and fortune. In 1901, 62-year-old Annie Edson Taylor, without a pension and “too proud” to take on menial labor, hired a publicist, designed a special barrel, and took the plunge—the first person ever to accomplish the feat and, to this day, the only woman to go it alone. Van Allsburg’s sepia-toned illustrations lend a sense of period while his theatrical style—marked by expressive close-ups, dramatic lighting, and palpable movement—is a strong match for this unexpected tale. The narrative, though, while energetic and intriguing, is forthright in tone, carefully describing Annie’s preparation, the feat itself, and the disappointing aftermath. Annie Taylor did not achieve fame or fortune, but a gently crafted concluding scene has Taylor explaining to a reporter: "…I am content when I can say, 'I am the one who did it.'" While opening the door to critical discussions on topics such as gender, aging, and celebrity culture, Queen of the Falls may also provide an enticing invitation for the reader who tends to shy away from nonfiction.

- Sue Parsons, Oklahoma State University

The House Baba Built coverYoung, Ed. (2011). The house Baba built: An artist’s childhood in China. New York: Little, Brown.

The house that Ed Young’s Baba built was structurally sound. In order to keep the family safe, Ed's engineer father designed and built the house on the edge of the town. Ed's father built double-tiered walls from bricks and covered the roof with concrete, important design elements that helped it survived World War II, something the illustrator realized only as he was creating the book that pays homage to his father and "the house that Baba built" (unpaginated), a phrase that is repeated throughout the story. The way the family spent its free time and Young's first attempts at drawing are described, and it is clear that despite the war and the changes that were occurring in China, the house's rooms were filled with affection and trust.

What a treasure this memory-filled book is! The multimedia illustrations by Ed Young, who himself is an artistic treasure, are filled with images of the artist and his family during their early years in Shanghai. This wonderful memoir is filled with the love of family and the difficulties involved in retrieving long-lost pieces of the past. Pair this one with the memoir of another well-loved children's illustrator, Allen Say's Drawing from Memory.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Grades 7-10

Heart and Soul coverNelson, Kadir. (2011). Heart and soul: The story of America and African-Americans. New York: Balzer + Bray.

Using the Everyman narrative device he used in his earlier We Are the Ship but with a feminine twist, Nelson dips back in time to describe how some African-Americans came to this country on slave ships, and then describes the parts they played in the nation’s history, all the way through the civil rights movement and the historical 2008 Presidential election. From the book's very first pages, the narrator's voice is true and engaging as she describes to her descendants her family's part in the Civil War, the Great Migration, World War II, even the early feminist movement. In the back matter, Nelson describes his own less than stellar academic experiences with history, and how he came to fall in love with it over the course of his own painting projects. It is worth noting that he never intends to tell the definitive story of the history of African Americans in this volume; instead, he draws from his own family history and family members' recollection of a particular part of history. It's easy to picture him drawing inspiration from cherished family photos and realizing that they, too, somehow captured an important part of history.

With more than 45 illustrations, many covering an entire page, and some filling two pages, the book is visually stunning and almost forces readers to stop and think before moving to the next page. Nelson’s artwork lovingly depicts the pain, dignity, determination, fear, and confusion on the faces of his subjects. Providing protection, support, and guidance, fathers place their hands firmly but lovingly on the shoulders of their children. This incredible collection of watercolor images contains two that are particularly moving: a portrait of a woman surrounded by cotton that has been painstakingly picked and cleaned and one of the Little Rock school children as they attempt to enter the school building amid crowds of rabid protesters. Although his paintings pay tribute to the famous—Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks—they also celebrate the contributions of the lesser known men and women. After all, they, too, are the heart and soul of America.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

 

 



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