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Archive for the ‘Nonfiction’ Category

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School Library Journal’s BoB is one of my favorite events of the year. The mad scramble to read all 16 contenders, the howls of misery and delight (remember last year when a certain book lost via a coin toss?), and, of course, a spectacular opportunity to demonstrate my lack of divination powers. So here goes:

Round One

Bomb v. Wonder, judged by Kenneth Oppel: he seems to write adventure-ish books, so I’m going with Bomb.

Code Name Verity v. Titanic, judged by Margarita Engle: I can’t see Maddie and Queenie losing out in round 1, so I choose Code Name Verity.

Endangered v. Three Times Lucky, judged by Kathi Appelt: this one’s tricky. Three Times Lucky reminds me of Keeper, but in the spirit of unpredictability, I’m giving this one to Endangered.

The Fault in Our Stars v. Temple Grandin, judged by Deb Caletti: The Fault in Our Stars. Again, I can’t see this one losing out in round 1.

round1

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars v. Starry River of the Sky, judged by Adam Gidwitz: to make up for the randomness of my Kathi Appelt call, I’ll go with Starry River, since it’s fairy tale-ish and more like Gidwitz’s books.

Liar & Spy v. Splendors and Glooms, judged by Franny Billingsley: Chime was creepy, and Splendors and Glooms is creepier than Liar & Spy, so that’s my pick…

Moonbird v. Seraphina, judged by Marie Lu: Seraphina, just because.

No Crystal Stair v. The One and Only Ivan, judged by Catherine Gilbert Murdock: The One and Only Ivan, in defiance of the Newbery Curse. (more…)

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bombBomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin, is part spy thriller, part war story, part character study, and part Scientific American. It’s about scientific discovery, heroism, ingenuity, responsibility, secrecy, treason, and irrevocable decisions. Most sobering of all, it is completely true and it is still relevant today.

The bomb in question is the atomic bomb. Whoever wields it controls the outcome of both World War II and the post-atomic future. Germany has the advantage from the start; fission, the concept behind unleashing the atom’s power, was discovered in Berlin in 1938, and after Germany’s invasion of most of Europe, the Nazis controlled production of crucial bomb making materials such as uranium and heavy water. US strategy involved secretly inviting the world’s best scientists to the remote location of Los Alamos, where they worked under the leadership of theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union is so far behind both countries in their nuclear research that it would be faster to develop a bomb through espionage. And that’s precisely what the KGB does.

(more…)

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A Black Hole is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, a review.

A black hole is not a hole…

Nor is it a monstrous entity, a “runaway, out-of-control predator that feeds on galaxies…mangling stars and gobbling them up.” The truth is, black holes don’t need that kind of hype or help to grab our attention. The facts are cool enough already.

For example, did you know there’s a black hole at the center of our galaxy that’s got four million times the mass of our Sun? And even though it’s called a supermassive black hole (the smallest type of black hole that’s been detected), nobody knew it even existed until this millenium because its radio signals were too weak to be detected. But despite its small size, if you dropped by Sagittarius A*’s event horizon for a visit, you’d be spaghettified instantaneously. To have time to really do any sightseeing, you’d have to check out a bigger black hole! (more…)

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I tend to save my reviews for the books that are truly great, but I’ve read too many wonderful books lately to review them all. So consider this the cliffnotes version: 3 mini-reviews for books that deserve a place on your shelf.

1. What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb

Mo Wren loves Fox Street. It’s the only home she’s ever known: Mo loves the neighbors (well, most of them anyway), she loves her creaky, cozy house with the plum tree in the backyard, and there’s always the call of the ravine—a scraggly wood that passes for wilderness, where Mo is sure she’ll find a real fox, if she looks hard enough. It seems like Mo’s life will never change. Until her best friend becomes snobby. And scary old Mrs. Starchbutt* takes a sudden interest in Mo. Worst of all, someone wants to buy the Wrens’ house, and now Mo has to contemplate a life away from Fox Street.

Read this book if: you remember being ten years old and finding the world changing around you. Mo is the perfect age to start moving out of childhood, and she hangs on as long as possible, resisting the new thoughts crowding in her head. This is the summer she starts thinking about money, her father’s imperfections and the happiness of others. Fox Street has the perfect blend of reality and charm. The neighbors are quirky without being Dead End in Norvelt ridiculous, and there’s a real sense of community that reminds me of Lucky’s Hard Pan. What’s not to like about that? (more…)

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The British cover for Dead End in Norvelt (thanks to Fuse #8 for the tip): so much better than ours.

Um, wow. So Dead End in Norvelt got the Newbery! It was, as Jen predicted, a dark horse triumph. And while I’m still sad at the lack of recognition for Sir Gawain, Okay for Now and Amelia Lost, Gantos’ win makes me positively gleeful. We don’t often get laugh-out-loud funny Newbery winners: The Higher Power of Lucky often made me smile, as did The Tale of Despereaux. But I have to go back to Holes (1999) to find one that made me laugh. Norvelt packs enough humor to transform the most reluctant readers into bookworms (the title of this post references one of the more memorable scenes), and that may be the greatest prize of all.

As for the other award winners (full results from today’s ALA Youth Media Awards here), here are some scattered thoughts:

  • This seems to be the year where books won in unexpected categories. After all the Newbery/Caldecott agonizing over Wonderstruck, it was great (and so fitting!) to see it win a Schneider Family Book Award. Same with Drawing from Memorys Sibert Honor and I Want My Hat Back! in the Geisel category. It all seems so obvious in retrospect.
  • Breaking Stalin’s Nose (Newbery Honor book) reminds me of Moon Over Manifest from last year–something totally unexpected, which I’m now quite looking forward to.
  • I’m ecstatic to see the Printz Committee honor The Returning. This is one of those books that reels you in slowly and doesn’t let go, but the slow pacing means it could use an awards-push to generate publicity.
  • Okay for Now got recognition for the audio book. I’ve always wondered about Doug’s voice–I imagine it’s either quite deadpan or darkly sarcastic. Now’s a good time to find out.
  • Kadir Nelson’s Heart and Soul won a well-deserved Coretta Scott King Award, though I’d hoped for Bird in a Box to get an award as well.
  • I haven’t read A Ball for Daisy or Blackout, but Me…Jane and Grandpa Green both deserve as much recognition as they can get.
  • Susan Cooper’s Margaret A. Edwards Award! I feel so lucky to have discovered her books this year (or rather re-discovered after a failed attempt to start the series years ago), and even had the chance to meet her during The Exquisite Conversation.

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Review: Blizzard of Glass by Sally M. Walker (Nov. 2011)

(See more book reviews from this week’s Nonfiction Monday roundup at Great Kid Books and 100 Scope Notes).

On December 6, 1917, a munitions ship collided with another ship in the waters off Halifax, Canada. The resulting explosion killed some 2,000 people and leveled buildings for miles around. As the city reeled from shock, an oncoming blizzard hampered relief efforts. In clear, gripping prose, Walker tells the story of that terrible day through the eyes of five families who lived through—and were forever changed by—the disaster.

This is a book I simply couldn’t put down. The tension built gradually in the first few chapters as Walker introduces the families going about their normal business—kids walking to school, mothers dressing toddlers, fathers working by the docks—none of them suspecting how a combination of bad luck and miscommunication would lead to the largest man-made explosion until the atomic bomb. By the time Walker described what the families were doing just before the explosion, I was practically biting my nails: (more…)

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Review: Charles and Emma: the Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (Jan 2009. A 2010 Printz Honor book and National Book Award Finalist)

See more book reviews from this week’s Nonfiction Monday roundup at Geo Librarian.

In 1838, when Charles Darwin was 29, his father told him to lie to his future wife. The problem was a religious one: Charles Darwin had begun working on his theory of evolution and although he wasn’t an atheist, he no longer believed that a divine being had created life. And that was pretty radical in Victorian England.

Luckily for Darwin, and the future of science, he ignored his father’s advice. Charles Darwin married Emma Wedgwood, a deeply religious woman who was dismayed—but respectful—of Charles’ religious doubts. Emma became Charles’ greatest critic: she pointed out flaws in his scientific research and edited his (long, sometimes confusing) prose. Nor was it a one-sided relationship: Emma had Charles read certain Bible passages that she hoped would reawaken religious belief. He read them carefully, and later, in his old age, he wrote that it was possible to be both a theist and evolutionist.

Over 150 years later, when we still see controversy over the teaching of evolution in high school science, it’s astounding to think that the Darwins handled their struggles with such mutual respect. (more…)

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