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Karen's Book Reviews
Nonfiction and Biography
Evaluating Books
Picture Books and Easy Readers
Traditional Lit and Poetry
Nonfiction and Biography
Fiction - Historical and Fantasy
Fiction - Realistic
Patricia Polacco - Biography
Patricia Polacco - Bibliography
Patricia Polacco - Bio-Critical Analysis

October 11 - October 24, 2004

Jenkins, Steve. What do you do when something wants to eat you? Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 1997. ISBN 0395825148.

This nonfiction book cleverly introduces how some animals defend themselves with brightly colored illustrations done in paper collage. The book poses the title as a question on a single page in the beginning of a book to initiate discussion - many activities can be used by teachers and librarians for enrichment. The author introduces each animal on one page and then tells about its defense mechanism on the following page. The fact that the reader has to turn the page to find out how the animal defends itself keeps children interested in the story and motivates them to continue with reading. The author introduces both familiar and unfamiliar animals such as a flying fish, hog-nosed snake, basilisk lizard, pangolin, bombardier, octopus, puffer fish, and clown fish. Marilyn Courtot of "Children's Literature" writes, "It is a fascinating look at the diversity of nature and survival skills that have evolved to help animals defend themselves".

Steve Jenkins presents the information clearly and directly in language that children can understand. The text on each page is large and easy to read - readers will not be overwhelmed by the information presented. The author also includes a description of each animal from the story at the end of the book.

The book is postioned horizontally and contains brightly colored paper collage illustrations of each animal. The illustrations extend the text by enhancing the reader's image of the animal. The illustrations contribute to the attractiveness of the book by catching the reader's attention. "In this absorbing tribute to nature's genius, cut-paper collages illustrate the built-in defenses of animals and insects." (Publisher's Weekly).

The book presents animal facts and concepts in an attractive way that young readers will enjoy. This book is a great choice for integrating science and language arts objectives. Children will enjoy answering the question, "What would you do if something wanted to eat you?"

Curlee, Lynn. Liberty. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York. 2000. ISBN 0689828233.

Lynn Curlee has written and illustrated a wonderful account of the history of the Statue of Liberty. This nonfiction work for young children, primarily ages seven through twelve, follows the fascinating story behind this well known monument, a gift to America from France as a gesture of friendship and a salute to american independence , from the first idea to its arrival in New York Harbor on October 28, 1886. It also delves into the restoration of the statue and how it is treasured by the United States of America. The author uses descriptive language to describe the emotions of the people involved in its creation: Alexander Gustave Eiffel, the engineer - "one of the great geniuses in the history of engineering", Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi -"enthusiastic, energetic, talented" , the sculptor, and Edouard de Laboulaye - " famous law professor and expert on American history", a prominent patriot responsible for bringing the idea to light. The descriptive language involves the reader and makes them wwant to learn more about the topic. Publisher's Weekly reports, "In a treatment every bit as thorough and even more impassioned than his Rushmore, art historian and artist Curlee gives readers an exquisitely detailed behind-the-scenes look at the making of another American landmark ..."

The story discusses all of the aects of the creation of the statue: financial, design, and how the monument was crafted and put together. The information presented in the text is very detailed and seems to be weel researched and accurate. The facts are presented clearly and directly throughout the story. The author also includes specifications for the statue, presenting its size, "width of an eye: 2 feet 6 inches, length of the hand: 16 feet 5 inches" and cost "$600,000 in 1880s dollars" at the end of the book. He also includes an easy to read timeline chronicling the history of this famous statue from 1865 to 1986 (its 100th birthday). There is a bilbliography, citing sources used by the author.

The layout of the book is vertical and large, which helps the author/illustrator express the sheer size of the monumental task of creating and building such a large monument. There is a lot of detailed text included in the book, covering a full page or more, which indicates that it is meant for older readers. The front cover of the book is a detailed close up of Lady Liberty's face, and shows a family peering through the windowa of her crown in wonder. The illustrations included in the book are of acrylic paintings reproduced from full color transperancies. Publisher's Weekly reports, "Curlee's flat acrylics, which typically position the viewer looking up at the statue from below, work to create a majestic presence for "Liberty Enlightening the World." The wonderful illustrations in this story compiment and help explain the text by giving the reader visual clues to its meaning.

The book is a great addition to any library and older children will enjoy learning about all the fascinating details behind the creation of this highly recognizable landmark.

Montgomery, Sy. The Snake Scientist. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 1999. ISBN 0395871697.

Author Sy Montgomery presents an interesting look into the world of a real life snake scientist. Photographs by Nic Bishop immediately invite the reader to explore and delve into the fascinating world of snakes. Montgomery gets the readers attention right away - "You hear them before you see them. On a quiet day as you approach one of the dens at the Narcisse Wildlife Management Area in Manitoba, Canada, you can hear a rustling like wind in dry leaves. It's the sound of thousands of slithering snakes." The well chosen photograph for this page shows hundreds of snakes slithering around in a limestone snake pit. Rose Vose of the School Library Journal writes, "Large, full-color photos of the zoologist and young students at work, and lots of wriggly snakes, pull readers into the presentation".

The author follows snake scientist Bob Mason, a zoologist at Oregon State University, as he and his many assistants study and learn about different kinds of snakes. Montgomery introduces Mason and shares interesting facts about his background ,childhood, his interests, and what caused him to become interested in his line of work. This helps the reader care about the character and motivates them to continue reading about him. The photographer also cleverly shows children handling the snakes, making the intended audience relate to the story.

The author delivers information about snakes in a clear and direct manner, using simple language to tell about their homes, habits, and life cycle. For example, Montgomery writes, "The male snakes wake up first. They haven't eaten in eight months. They could slither off to nearby marshes to eat frogs and worms - but instead they wait." Vose of SLJ writes, "The lively text communicates both the meticulous measurements required in this kind of work and the thrill of new discoveries."

The information in the book is structured clearly with appropriate subheadings that capture the reader's interest such as "Thousands of Snakes", "Reptile Superheroes", and "Mad Scientist at Work".

The autoru is qualified to share the information with the audience - they used many resources for their research and were able to include real life examples using the pictures of scientists at work.

The text fosters scientific inquiry by showing the reader how exciting the process can be. It also encourages the reader to explore the topic in more detail. The author presents a list of "unsolved mysteries" at the end of the book that features questions that Mason's snake team would like to know more about, such as where do the baby snakes, born in August, spend the winter?" and "why are male and female snakes different sizes?"

The author also includes information on how to visit the places featured in the book and other sources to use for further reading.

A section called "Please Respect Snakes'" reminds readers that they should never investigate snakes in the wild unless they are accompanied by a trained snake scientist.

A handy index at the end if the book makes an easy to use reference to the topics presented in the text.

Young readers will find this book a fascinating look inside the world of snakes. Debra Briatico writes, "This is a wonderful learning tool for aspiring herpetologists".

Krull, Kathleen. The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss. Random House, New York. 2004. ISBN 0375922989.

Kathleen Krull writes a delightful memoir of Ted Geisel, known to millions as Dr. Seuss, an influential children's book author and illustrator. The cover of this wonderful book shows a young Ted walking down a quiet Springfield, Massachusetts neighborhood street, followed by some of the animals he loved so much. The endpapers of the book show a picture of the face of Ted, surrounded by characters drawn by the actual Dr. Seuss. The boy has a look on his face that suggests he is dreaming about what will be. The author begins this biographical account of Dr. Seuss' life by pointing out that "no one on Fairfield Street could have said how Ted Geisel, that funny boy, would turn out. No one in the world could have. Especially
Krull goes on to explain how Ted loved animals at the zoo, where his father helped out occasionally. Ted's mother encouraged him and his sister Marnie to read books from the library. She gifted him with his first stuffed animal, a dog he named Theophrastus. Ted was an energetic child who loved to explore Springfield, spend summers at the beach, and draw pictures of funny and unusual animals. Ted was not an athletic child and was picked onby other children because of his German ancestry. "Events in Europe were causing anger at German Americans here."
High school and college were not easy times for Ted. He felt that he needed to please his parents by becoming a doctor or lawyer, but what he really wanted to do was write and draw. He spend his college years editing the campus humor magazine and was voted "least likely to succeed".
After college, Ted had trouble finding a job. He went to school at Oxford and met his future wife, Helen. She encouraged him to leave school and focus on what he loved to do. When Ted returned to the United States, he began sending hundreds of writings and drawings to New York magazines. They finally began publishing his work, and Ted moved to New York. The author ends the story here. Diane Roback of Publisher's Weekly writes, "the tale ends rather abruptly as the 22-year-old Geisel arrives in New York City to embark on his artistic career. A four-page addendum, presented in a smaller font, chronicles the highlights of Dr. Seuss's publishing career and provides intriguing tidbits about the creation of some of his beloved books." Kathleen Krull also includes a bibliography of Ted Geisel's work - spanning from 1937 to 1990, tiltles suggested for further reading, and information on contacting the publisher, along with web site addresses for Dr. Seuss' page, and historical places mentioned during the story in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The illustrations in the book are a mixture of paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Francher, along with illustrations from Dr. Seuss books. Roback writes, "Johnson and Fancher's (New York's Bravest) representational, nostalgic paintings effectively evoke both the period and Geisel's appealingly puckish personality. Featured in spot art, familiar Seuss characters frolic through these pages, thematically complementing the illustrations while reminding readers why Geisel's life is worth celebrating".
The author does a fantastic job of presenting both the good and bad aspects of Dr.Seuss life and career. Children ages 7-12 will enjoy learning more about this beloved author.

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