Wednesday, December 12, 2018

CYBILS JUNIOR HIGH NONFICTION: The Big, Bold Adventurous Life of Lavinia Warren by Elizabeth Raum

Lavinia Warren never let her height—or the lack of it—prevent her from leading a full and adventurous life. Although she never grew more than three feet tall, she became a beloved teacher, a world traveler, an entertainer and the friend of many powerful figures. Lavinia was teaching at a local school when she heard about an opportunity to travel doing shows as a “human curiosity” on a Mississippi River boat. Eventually she met P. T. Barnum and worked at his American Museum. It was there that she met Charles Stratton, a little person known to the world as “Tom Thumb.” Their wedding, which took place on February 10, 1863, brought joy to a nation at war. President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln held a reception for the couple at the White House. The newlyweds later toured the United States and the world. Lavinia faced several tragedies but always found the strength to go on. Lavinia’s extraordinary story also provides a social history of one of the most devastating periods in American history. With additional material on Tom Thumb Weddings, readers' questions, time line, and notes and bibliography, this is sure to be a valuable title for adventurous middle-grade readers.


Lavinia Warren spent years of her life traveling the world.  When she was born in 1841, that is not what her parents envisioned for her.  But when she stopped growing at a young age, and remained short her whole life because of dwarfism, things started to look different.  Her size never stopped her from playing pranks, becoming a teacher, and learning to take care of herself.  After spending a year on a riverboat starring in various shows, she returned home as the Civil War broke out.  Meeting P.T. Barnum changed her life.  He invited her to work at his American Museum where she met Charles Stratton, otherwise known at General Tom Thumb.  After getting married, the two spent many years traveling around the world performing for packed audiences.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Lavinia's adventures, the people she meet, the places she saw, and the friends she made.  While her size did make her life more difficult in some ways, she didn't let it stop her from seeing and experiencing the world.  This is a great middle grade biography about an woman who left her mark on the world.  

Monday, December 10, 2018

CYBILS SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION: Nevertheless We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage


A powerful collection of essays from actors, activists, athletes, politicians, musicians, writers, and teens, including Senator Amy Klobuchar, actress Alia Shawkat, actor Maulik Pancholy, poet Azure Antoinette, teen activist Gavin Grimm, and many, many more, each writing about a time in their youth when they were held back because of their race, gender, or sexual identity--but persisted.

"Aren't you a terrorist?" "There are no roles for people who look like you." "That's a sin." "No girls allowed." They've heard it all. Actress Alia Shawkat reflects on all the parts she was told she was too "ethnic" to play. Former NFL player Wade Davis recalls his bullying of gay classmates in an attempt to hide his own sexuality. Teen Gavin Grimm shares the story that led to the infamous "bathroom bill," and how he's fighting it. Holocaust survivor Fanny Starr tells of her harrowing time in Aushwitz, where she watched her family disappear, one by one.

What made them rise up through the hate? What made them overcome the obstacles of their childhood to achieve extraordinary success? How did they break out of society's limited view of who they are and find their way to the beautiful and hard-won lives they live today? With a foreword by Minnesota senator and up-and-coming Democratic party leader Amy Klobuchar, these essays share deeply personal stories of resilience, faith, love, and, yes, persistence.


Books like this one that have multiple authors often carry the risk of being uneven in quality, depending on the authors included.  I was impressed by the high quality of all the selections in this book.  That's rare for a book like this.  I found each account compelling and thought-provoking.  I also appreciated the variety of experiences that were included.  Obstacles of many kinds are shared by those telling their stories in this book.   Physical disability, childhood trauma, bullying, racism, lack of diversity in various professions, and other challenges are described in various accounts.  What I found especially inspiring is the way each of these people found ways past the obstacles in their lives to find success.  Now it certainly wasn't easy for any of them, and many of them still face opposition in a variety of ways, but they persisted in the face of serious challenges.  Whether one agrees with their actions or politics or activism or not, one can't help but admire the determination and courage they exhibited along the way.  A truly inspiring collection of stories that reminds the reader that life is hard but it doesn't have to be impossible. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

CYBILS JUNIOR HIGH NONFICTION: Champion: The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree by Sally M. Walker


American chestnut trees were once found far and wide in North America's eastern forests. They towered up to one hundred feet tall, providing food and shelter for people and animals alike. For many, life without the chestnut seemed unimaginable—until disaster struck in the early 1900s.

What began as a wound in the bark of a few trees soon turned to an unstoppable killing force. An unknown blight was wiping out the American chestnut, and scientists felt powerless to prevent it.

But the story doesn't end there. Today, the American chestnut is making a comeback. Narrative nonfiction master Sally M. Walker tells a tale of loss, restoration, and the triumph of human ingenuity in this beautifully photographed middle-grade book.


I had no idea that trees could be so fascinating.  But Sally Walker's account of the near extinction of the American chestnut tree and the numerous efforts being made to save it was informative and intriguing.  She starts by giving an introduction to the tree itself and what made the tree valuable to so many people and creatures.  Then she discusses the blight that attacked the trees and started killing them off rapidly.  The rest of the book is spent explaining the various methods different scientists have and are using to re-establish the tree in it's former habitats.  Walker does a nice job of explaining some complicated science concepts in a reader-friendly way.  And she makes it clear the tremendous amount of work that has been put into saving this species of tree.  The appendices at the end cover various related material such as a study of rodent nut preferences and an elementary classroom's participation in growing American chestnut trees.  A great book that shows the good that science can do when it's used properly.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: Tough Cookie by Edward Hemingway


 When a cookie discovers he does NOT taste delicious, he has to find a new identity in this clever picture book twist on a holiday classic.

Once upon a time, while Fox was visiting the land of Holiday Treats, a little cookie—still warm from the bakery oven—burst out the front door looking sweet and ready to be devoured. But, as it turns out, Cookie is not as fast as he thinks and when Fox finally catches him, they’re both in for a big surprise: Sugar Cookie does not taste delicious—and he’s certainly not fit to be eaten. What’s an unsavory cookie to do? Is there another option for this not-so-sweet treat?

This inventive story celebrates the joy of being accepted for who we are.


Edward Hemingway is the creator of Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus, Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship, and Bump in the Night, as well as the illustrator of My Miserable Life by F.L. Block. He has written features in GQ magazine and comics for Nickelodeon Magazine, and his artwork has been published in The New York Times. The youngest grandson of Ernest Hemingway, he lives in Montana. To learn more, and for some fun downloadable activities, visit his
Twitter: @EdwardHemingway
Instagram: @edwardhemingway
“The funny identity comedy is sprinkled with cookie puns (“Everything I do is half-baked!”) and cinematic compositions.” —Horn Book

“Hemingway (Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus) bakes up a clever case of mistaken identity in this holiday treat–inspired tale.”—Publishers Weekly

“This sweet and silly story is about friendship and making the best of what you’ve got.”—Kirkus Reviews


This delightful twist on the Gingerbread Man tale is as yummy as it's main character is not.  When Sugar Cookie Man takes off down the street bragging about his speed and sweetness, Fox can't resist the challenge.  After catching the cookie and tasting him, Fox spits him out.  He tastes terrible and he isn't all that fast.  Cookie is heart-broken.  What is he good for then?  Fox kindly decides to help him out by taking him to the spa to be sweetened up and when that doesn't work, entering him in a running contest.  But Cookie doesn't seem to fit anywhere.  The delicious tale about finding one's place in the world is delivered with just the right amount of sweetness, along with some seriously cute illustrations.  The answer to Cookie's dilemma is right there in the illustrations, but I still didn't catch it until the climax.  A refreshingly new book that would make a great holiday read-a-loud.

Monday, December 3, 2018

CYBILS SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION: Failing Up/Courageous Women of the Vietnam War


Leslie Odom. Jr, burst on the scene in 2015, originating the role of Aaron Burr in the Broadway musical phenomenon Hamilton. Since then, he has performed for sold-out audiences, sung for the Obamas at the White House, and won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. But before he landed the role of a lifetime in one of the biggest musicals of all time, Odom put in years of hard work as a singer and an actor.

With personal stories from his life, Odom asks the questions that will help you unlock your true potential and achieve your goals even when they seem impossible. What work did you put in today that will help you improve tomorrow? How do you surround yourself with people who will care about your dreams as much as you do? How do you know when to play it safe and when to risk it all for something bigger and better?

These stories will inspire you, motivate you, and empower you for the greatness that lies ahead, whether you're graduating from college, starting a new job, or just looking to live each day to the fullest.


Books that intend to be inspirational don't always click with me.  Sometimes I just don't relate to the author, or the advice is bad or unrealistic, and sometimes the content is simply to sugary sweet or positive to be really helpful.  But I thoroughly enjoyed this one by Leslie Odom, Jr.  Not only is it very well written, making it easy to read, but the stories are relatable and relevant to the principles and concepts he talks about.  I especially enjoyed the peek into his experiences getting into show business and the ups and downs that followed.  The concepts shared are applicable to anyone young or old and I found them truly inspiring.   


One of just a handful of women reporting on the Vietnam War, Kate Webb was captured by North Vietnamese troops and presumed dead—until she emerged from the jungle waving a piece of white parachute material after 23 days in captivity. Le Ly Hayslip enjoyed a peaceful early childhood in a Vietnamese farming village before war changed her life forever. Brutalized by all sides, she escaped to the United States, where she eventually founded two humanitarian organizations. Lynda Van Devanter was an idealistic young nurse in 1969 when a plane carrying her and 350 men landed in South Vietnam. Her harrowing experiences working in a combat zone hospital would later serve as inspiration for the TV series China Beach.

In these pages readers meet these and other brave women and girls who served in life-threatening roles as medics, journalists, resisters, and revolutionaries in the conflict in Vietnam. Author Kathryn J. Atwood presents a clear introduction to each of five chronological sections, guiding readers through the social and political turmoil that spanned two decades and the tenure of five US presidents. Each woman's story unfolds in a suspenseful, engaging way, incorporating plentiful original source materials, quotes, and photographs. Resources for further study, source notes and a bibliography, and a helpful map and glossary round out this exploration of one of modern history's most divisive wars, making it an invaluable addition to any student's or history buff's bookshelf.


The collection of stories included in this book includes a nice variety of experiences.  It's clear the author worked hard to gather information on the lives of many women who experienced Vietnam in some way.  The stories included range from civilians and victims to nurses, reporters, volunteers, a North Vietnamese surgeon, and even a war protester.  This provided me with a variety of different perspectives on the war and the experiences these women had.  Many of the stories are heartbreaking in the suffering and destruction these women witnessed or were a part of, directly or indirectly.  No one could read these stories and remain untouched by the horribleness of war.  The ladies themselves had/have different views on the rightness and wrongness of the war and while the author includes these views, she doesn't try to say who is right or wrong.  She simply tells the stories.  As I looked at the notes and references and suggested resources, I was pleased to see so many primary sources listed.  Many of the women who are included in the book have told their own stories elsewhere, making this book a jumping off point for those who want to learn more.  This book is a valuable resource for those who want to look at the historical experiences of an often overlooked group of war veterans/survivors.  

Thursday, November 29, 2018

SERIES THURSDAY: Epic Fails by Erik Slader and Ben Thompson


Although Orville and Wilbur Wright are celebrated today as heroes for their revolutionary contributions to science and engineering—they are acknowledged as the first men to successfully achieve powered, piloted flight—their success was hard-earned. (Spoiler alert: there were a lot of nosedives involved.) In fact, it took the self-taught engineers years of work and dozens of crashes before they managed a single twelve-second flight!

In this first installment of the brand new Epic Fails series, Ben Thompson and Erik Slader take readers through the Wright brothers' many mishaps and misadventures as they paved the way for modern aviation.

The Epic Fails series takes a humorous and unexpected view of history, exploring the surprising stories behind a variety of groundbreaking discoveries, voyages, experiments, and innovations, illustrating how many of mankind's biggest successes are in fact the result of some pretty epic failures.


Finding history books that young readers will pick up and read on their own can sometimes be a challenging task for me as a librarian. I am always thrilled when I find a book that is not only nonfiction, but has tremendous child appeal.  Slader and Thompson's new series, Epic Fails, is one such work.  The book is written in an appealing, narrative style that focuses on the most interesting aspects of the story they are telling.  This helps the book move right along, which is important for most young readers who prefer lots of action.  This volume in the series focuses on the Wright Brothers and their work on flight.  After giving a brief introduction to the work done by many in trying to get humankind into the skies, Slader and Thompson focus on the actual physical experiments that the Wright brothers performed.  While the background work the brothers had to perform to get their gliders built is described briefly, the flights the brothers attempted are the focus.  The book ends up being an easy-to-read retelling of the many failures that occurred before the brothers finally found success.  This is a great series for young history buffs and even reluctant readers. The photographs and illustrations break up the text nicely making for a much less intimidating read.


In this second installment of the Epic Fails series, explore the many failures that made up the Race to Space, paving the way for humanity’s eventual success at reaching the stars.

Today, everyone is familiar with Neil Armstrong’s famous words as he first set foot on the moon: “one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” He made it look easy, but America’s journey to the moon was anything but simple. In 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, into orbit, America had barely crossed the starting line of the great Space Race. Later that year, our first attempt was such a failure that the media nicknamed it “Kaputnik.” Still, we didn’t give up. With each failure, we gleaned valuable information about what went wrong, and how to avoid it in the future. So we tried again. And again. And each time we failed, we failed a little bit better.

The Epic Fails series by Erik Slader and Ben Thompson explores the humorous backstories behind a variety of historical discoveries, voyages, experiments, and innovations that didn't go as expected but succeeded nonetheless, showing that many of mankind's biggest success stories are the result of some pretty epic failures indeed.


As the 50th anniversary of the landing on the moon approaches, there are numerous books being published on the topic.  This one works well for young nonfiction lovers who aren't ready for more detailed accounts.  The authors give a brief description of the circumstances that lead to the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.  This provides context for the operations that followed including the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions.  Both failures and successes are described. The photographs were appreciated and the illustrations added humor to the book.  It works really well for the age-range it is aimed at.  The only issues I had with it were not enough references, and the incorrect quote attributed to Neil Armstrong when he landed on the moon.  But since the quote is wrong in many available sources it isn't surprising that it's wrong here too.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

CYBILS JUNIOR HIGH NONFICTION: The Faithful Spy by John Hendrix


 Interweaving handwritten text and art, John Hendrix tells the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his fight against the oppression of the German people during World War II. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was shocked to watch the German church embrace Hitler's agenda of hatred. He spoke out against the Nazi party and led a breakaway church that rebelled against racist and nationalist beliefs of the Third Reich. Struggling with how his faith interacted with his ethics, Bonhoeffer eventually became convinced that Hitler and the Nazi Party needed to be stopped--and he was willing to sacrifice anything and everything to do so.


Wow! Hendrix has really out done himself with this book.  It's hard for me to describe it adequately.  I recommend that if you can you get your hands on it and read it for yourself.  This book which is not a true graphic novel, there is too much text, tells the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who became part of a plot to assassinate Hitler.  Not only is the story a compelling one, but the way Hendrix has chosen to tell it is phenomenal.  The combination of illustration and text is seamless and the powerful images, both literal and figurative, really hit home.  In addition to telling the story of Bonhoeffer and his entry in theology, the book gives a good background on the rise of Hitler, which helps the reader understand why Bonhoeffer and his colleagues were so willing to risk everything to stop him.  Part graphic novel, part biography, and part history, The Faithful Spy, tells a story that every reader who picks up this book can't help but be changed by. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

MMGM: The Law of Finders Keepers by Sheila Turnage


Pirates, family, and the truth about Mo's Upstream Mother collide in the conclusion to the Newbery Honor and New York Times bestselling Three Times Lucky.

When the Colonel and Miss Lana share the clues about Mo's watery origins that they've been saving, it seems the time is finally right for the Desperado Detectives (aka Mo, Dale, and Harm) to tackle the mystery of Mo's Upstream Mother. It's the scariest case Mo's had by far. But before they can get started, Mayor Little's mean mother hires them to hunt in her attic for clues to Blackbeard's treasure, which could be buried right in Tupelo Landing. Turns out, the Desperados aren't the only ones looking. A professional treasure hunter named Gabe has come to town with Harm's estranged mother--and soon the race is on, even though the treasure's rumored to be cursed. As centuries- and decades-old secrets are dragged into the light, there isn't a single person in Tupelo Landing quite prepared for all that they uncover. Especially Mo.

The fourth and last book in the Mo & Dale Mystery series and the long-awaited conclusion to Three Times Lucky, The Law of Finders Keepers is a heartbreaking, heartwarming, honest, and hilarious adventure that you can read right after you finish Three Times Lucky.


I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the Mo & Dale Mysteries.  Mo is such a fun, fiesty narrator who isn't afraid to share what she thinks, polite or not.  Mo, Dale, and Harm make a great mystery solving team.  In this book, two mysteries collide when Mo and her friends are asked to find a pirate treasure before the professional treasure hunter can while simultaneously using newly available clues to hunt for Mo's Upstream Mother.  But things start going wrong right from the beginning, and one member of the detective team nearly loses his life, the trio wonders if there really is a curse on this treasure.  And it isn't looking good for Upstream Mother either as clue after clue leads to a dead end.  Can Mo, Dale, and Harm solve their mysteries before they get separated, maybe for good?  Once again, Turnage has created a delightful tale full of twists and turns as well as good solid detective work.  I've enjoyed the interactions of the characters at least as much as the mysteries themselves.  And I'm sad to say goodbye to Mo and her friends and family, but this book wraps things up nicely, although not perhaps in the way Mo would prefer. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: A Dastardly Plot by Christopher Healy


It's 1883—the Age of Invention! A time when great men like Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Nicola Tesla, and George Eastman work to turn the country into a land of limitless opportunity.

And it all happens at the world famous Inventor’s Guild headquarters in New York City—a place where a great idea, a lot of hard work, and a little bit of luck can find you rubbing elbows with these gods of industry who will usher humanity into the future.

Unless, of course, you’re a woman.

Molly Pepper, daughter of brilliant but unknown inventor Cassandra Pepper, lives with her mother in New York. By day, they make ends meet running a pickle shop; but by night, they toil and dream of Cassandra taking her place among the most famous inventors in America.

In an attempt to find a way to exhibit Cass’s work at the World’s Fair, they break into the Inventor's Guild, where they discover a mysterious plot to destroy New York.

The evidence points to the involvement of one of the world’s most famous inventors, and now it’s up to Molly, Cassandra, and a shop hand named Emmett Lee to uncover the truth—even if no one will ever know it was they who did it.


After loving his first series, A Hero's Guide, I was eager to pick up this new book.  And I was not disappointed.  While having more of an alternative history feel rather that the fairy tale vibe of the first series, the book still manages to have the trademark humor.  Molly makes for a great main character.  She's an empathetic character but she's also a fighter.  She's also rather impulsive which gets her into a lot of trouble, but luckily for her, she's also a quick study.  And she has others around her to help her.  In this story, Molly's mother is an inventor who wants to exhibit some of her inventions at the upcoming World's Fair, but because she's a woman and not a member of the Inventor's Guild, she has no place to do so.  In an effort to earn a place, Molly and her mother, Cassandra, break into the Inventor's Guild.  In the process they come across plans for an attack to take place at the Fair.  Their efforts to foil the plot result in some rather amusing disasters leading to Cassandra's incarceration in an insane asylum.  Only with the help of some other female inventors does Molly and her friend Emmett have a chance of rescuing her mother and stopping the evil plot.  Full of rather entertaining escapades and fascinating inventions, A Dastardly Plot, takes the reader on quite a ride, which ends up being as amusing as it is action packed.
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