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Children's Book Reviews


Thrilling, Terrible, Thoughtful...and True

Thrilling, Terrible, Thoughtful...and True


by
Kate Marley

The great thing about non-fiction books for children these days is that there are so MANY of them. Picking only a few good ones becomes nearly impossible - there are so many wonderful books to choose from! Books about birds, beasts and bugs are still most kids’ favorite non-fiction fare, and again, there are so many good animal series out, that parents may be hard pressed to pick just one or two. But most of the following I chose because of their usefulness for school papers or book reports. That doesn’t mean that they are boring to read, however!



PICTURE BOOKS

Pink Snow and Other Weird Weather by Jennifer Dussling. c 1998, Grosset & Dunlap.
This is a neat and simple book about some of the strange things weather can do, including toads falling in a rainstorm, odd lightning strikes, and freakish tornadoes. Cartoonish illustrations by Heidi Potach add to the whimsical nature of the book.

Destination : Jupiter by Seymour Simon. c 1998, Morrow Junior Books.
Fully updated with new information and stunning photographs from the unmanned spacecraft Galileo, this book is great for kids who want to learn more about the largest planet in our solar system.

The Best Book of Bugs by Claire Llewellyn. c 1998, Kingfisher.
This big, colorful offering of little beasties will delight bug lovers with plenty of drawings and just enough text for a short profile on each major insect group.

Turn of the Century by Ellen Jackson. c 1998, Charlesbridge Publishing.
This was such a great idea! Every double page spread has a short profile of a child celebrating New Year’s Day of each new century starting with March 25, 1000, and then some interesting facts are listed about life in Europe (or America) during that century. Intricate and colorful illustrations by Jan Davey Ellis show typical clothing, games, food and shelter. A fascinating book, sure to generate discussion with all ages.



TRANSITIONAL BOOKS

Children of the Midnight Sun by Tricia Brown. c 1998, Alaska Northwest Books.
Seven different Native American tribes of Alaska are represented by youngsters who show us Alaska from a child’s perspective, with all the love and awe of the land they live in, as well as their own unique ways of life. Excellent photographs by Roy Corral capture not only the children, but the incredible beauty of Alaska.

Take a Look, It's in a Book by Ronnie Krauss. c 1997, Walker and Company.
Most kids (and adults!) will recognize the title as a line in the lyrics to Reading Rainbow’s theme song, a popular TV show that promotes reading and books for children. This fascinating book takes readers through each step needed to produce one episode. Lots of colorful and detailed photos by Christopher Hornsby bring the action up close and personal. It’s an education in how complicated television shows are to make.

With Love by Jane Goodall. c 1994, North-South Books.
The subtitle sums it up - “ten heartwarming stories of chimpanzees in the wild”. For animal lovers, it’s a reaffirmation of positive qualities such as love, compassion, and heroism that skeptics attribute only to humans. It’s a wonderful collection of stories, and beautifully illustrated by Alan Marks.

Raptors! : The Nastiest Dinosaurs by Don Lessem. c 1996, Little, Brown.
For kids who want the other side of nature, the ruthless rip-em apart for dinner crowd…then this book is for you. Filled with the latest scientific discoveries, and gory illustrations by David Peters, it’s a dinosaurs lovers delight.

FOR OLDER READERS

Life in Prison by Stanley "Tookie" Williams, with Barbara Cottman Becnel. c 1998, Morrow Junior Books.
Told in first person, this grim and realistic picture of prison life is meant by the author to serve as a cautionary tale for youngsters who may be misled into thinking, as he was, that prisons are ‘gladiator schools’, a cool and manly place to be. And he does a really good job describing the caged feelings, the danger, humiliations, and grime. But it bothered me that his dedication was to black activists - as if he was part of that company. Not only is it a bit racist, but presumptive as well. Stanley Williams, co-founder of the Crips, and convicted of four murders, does not deserve to be ranked with Nelson Mandela, in my opinion. And while Williams says he’s sorry for dropping out of school, for founding the Crips, and so on…but he never says he’s sorry about killing four people. If this book saves others, this might be a minor point... except that kids are sharp enough to see what is NOT being said as well as what IS. Still, it's a fascinating, if disturbing, book.

No Pretty Pictures : A Child of War by Anita Lobel. c 1998, Greenwillow.
The subtitle…”a child of war”…prepares us to expect sad, horrible things. Just turned five when the Nazis invaded her Polish homeland, Anita tells how her family (more specifically, her and her younger brother) suffered and survived. Mostly, the children were hidden in a variety of places by their Catholic nanny, until they were captured and sent to concentration camps. And although one knows what to expect - the fear, the hunger, the loss of nearly every human dignity - how the author tells her story is riveting. Some of you may wonder, why another Holocaust story? (Even though the author became a famous childrens' writer and artist.) It’s a story that has been told many times, and many ways, but - it’s still a tale that needs to be repeated until certain adults learn better.

Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang. c 1997, HarperCollins.
This “memoir of the Cultural Revolution” makes for gripping reading. Only 12 when the great political experiment began, Ji-Li was proud to be a red scarf girl, and believed with all her heart in Chairman Mao. But as the movement gained momentum, and spiteful, vicious people gained local control, she had to start making choices between her cherished communist party or her loving family. It’s another sad, brave story of how children cope when adults mess up.

FOR ADULTS

The Values Book by Pam Schiller and Tamera Bryant. c 1998, Gryphon House.
Although storybooks with morals can help children, it won’t do much good if the adults around them don’t live as they preach. And that was the really great thing about this book, was that it constantly asks the adult reader to take a hard, honest look at what THEIR actions are teaching. “Is it OK to step on a snail?” “When was the last time you asked a neighbor for help?” “Would you sacrifice your own needs for someone else’s?” The authors find a way to say it over and over in different ways - “Model the behavior you want them to imitate.” It’s a strong combination of integrity and practicality throughout, with classroom and family activities geared for different ages, suggested books, and parent guidelines.


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All contents © 1998, Kate Marley. All rights reserved.