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Children's Book Reviews

More True Stuff!

More True Stuff!

Kate Marley

The incredible quality and amount of great non-fiction books available for kids these days is simply wonderful - they’re great for reading assignments, books reports and simply for fun. Here are just a few suggestions.


Dandelions by Mia Posada. c 2000, Carolrhoda.
Bright simple pictures by the author and a rhyming text make a charming introduction to this common flower beloved by toddlers (if not by their parents!).

Steam, Smoke and Steel by Patrick O’Brien. c 2000, Charlesbridge.
A kid who plans to follow in his father’s footsteps, and drive a train. His grandfather drove a train also, and as he talks, it seems that every generation has worked with some kind of train. A neat book, with fine detailed illustrations by another talented Baltimore artist, for anyone interested in the history of trains.

This Is The Tree by Miriam Moss. c 2000, Kane/Miller.
Certainly the baobab tree is one of the most extraordinary plant forms on earth, and this easy book presents interesting facts in an enjoyable way and with beautiful drawings by Adrienne Kennaway.

Voices of the Alamo by Sherry Garland. c 2000, Scholastic.
Each double page spread is dedicated to someone who tells their story as they lived, even if only briefly, by the famous Texas mission. An Indian maiden, a Tejano rancher, a peasant conscript - all these as well as the more famous folks are included to give a well rounded and long reaching view of the Alamo. Realistic illustrations by Ronald Himler are a perfect compliment to the reflective mood.

The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco. c 2000, Philomel.
In Nazi occupied France, young Monique stumbles across her mother’s secret activities as part of the French Resistance. She has been hiding Jews in a secret basement, and Monique has made friends with the family’s little girl. When it becomes too dangerous to keep them, Monique and her mother make a hazardous attempt to reach another safe house. Taken from a true story, this heartwarming and wrenching book about love and courage of children in wartime will touch all ages.


What Happened to the Mammoths? By Jack Myers. c 2000, Boyds Mills Press.
Each of these dozen short chapters focuses on an interesting aspect of nature that will interest kids and adults. Magnetic bacteria, the sexing of alligators, and surfing dolphins are just a few of the phenomena clearly explained in this interesting book. John Rice did some very nice illustrations as well.

If You Lived With the Hopi by Anne Kamara. c 1999, Scholastic.
Most of the Native American tribes that are familiar to the general public are those that have a social structure that mirrors our own; perhaps that is what most people are comfortable with. But the Hopi are a matrilineal tribe, and although many duties of daily life were divided along gender lines, one sex was not considered more important than the other. A very interesting book, with illustrations by Linda Gardner detailing the day by day life of the Hopi through a child’s questions and concerns.

Here We All Are by Tomie DePaola. c 2000, Putnam.
This is another delightful book of autobiographical stories from the famous author of Strega Nona. In easy to read chapters filled with humor and a keen eye for the important things in childhood, Tomie tells about his little adventures at home and school. Just a charming little book.

Asteroid Impact by Douglas Henderson. c 2000, Dial.
Clearly explained and beautifully illustrated by the author, this is a great presentation of the theory of the asteroid that hit the earth with disastrous consequences for the dinosaurs. The chapter on the asteroid’s energy was particularly well done, and shows how one six mile asteroid could radically change a whole planet.


Flight of Red Bird re-created by Doreen Rappaport. c 1997, Puffin.
Another very sad, but little known chapter in the annals of Native American history was when Indian children were coaxed and coerced away from their homes to be brought up in institutions that tried to make them more ‘white’. Based on the writings of Zitkala-Sa, also known as Red Bird, this book shows how a bright curious child survived the physical and emotional pressure to become a literate yet troubled adult.

A Special Fate by Alison Leslie Gold. c 2000, Scholastic.
Of all the many stories of the Holocaust, few have as unlikely a hero - a Japanese man who defied his father’s plans and made his own career in the diplomatic service, who loved Russian literature, vodka and converted to the Russian Orthodox church. Posted as ambassador to Lithuania in 1940, Chiune Sugihara would soon be faced with the dilemma that many other ambassadors faced - whether or not to give visas to the thousands of Jews seeking escape from Hitler’s final solution. His government forbade it, but his heart and his wife said yes, so he spent many sleepless days handwriting visas that meant the difference between life and death for hundreds. Back home, he faced disgrace and separation from his family; he didn’t learn for nearly 28 years that what he had done had actually saved anyone. This book brings further recognition to this quiet, brave man and his family.

Counties of Northern Maryland by Elaine Bunting & Patricia D’Amario. c 2000, Tidewater Publishers.
Although teachers may find this more useful than kids (it covers a lot of information on four counties - Frederick, Carroll, Baltimore and Harford), I found this an interesting book just to browse through. For instance, Carroll County was the first in the US to offer free rural mail delivery; Harford County was named for the illegitimate son of Lord Baltimore who spent a lot of his time in jail for debts; Baltimore County has the largest number of research scientists in the US. Indexed and organized by county, and with black and white illustrations by Marcy Dunn Ramsey, this will be a helpful book for many.

Private and Personal by Carol Weston. c 2000, HarperCollins.
Subtitled "questions and answers for girls only", this book is a collection of letters written to the author, who’s an advice columnist for Girls Magazine. Friends, family, fat and of course, BOYS are just a few of the subjects covered with insight, humor and a great deal of common sense.


Speaking of Boys by Michael Thompson. c 2000, Ballantine Books.
This eminently readable book is for anyone that has ever been frustrated by the boy in their life. A child psychologist, father and 'former boy', the author has gathered questions that were asked over and over during his tour with his first book about the emotional life of boys (Raising Cain). He covers most of the usual questions about lack of communication, sibling rivalry and school problems as well as more modern concerns such as video games, co-ed sleepovers and divorce. Filled with common sense and a healthy dose of humor, this is a very reassuring book for worried parents.

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