NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS: Bertha Takes a Drive/Nina/Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper


It's 1888 and Bertha Benz's husband, Karl, has invented the prototype Benz motorwagen. But the German government declares the vehicle illegal, and the church calls it the devil's work. Unbeknownst to her husband, Bertha steals away with her two sons and drives nearly one hundred miles to prove just how amazing the motorwagen is. Bertha's mechanical savvy gets the boys to Grandma's house safely, and the remarkable mother/son road trip reduces global concern about moving vehicles.


I'm a big fan of books that highlight the actions of brave, clever women.  Jan Adkins has done an admirable job of telling one story from the life of one such women.  I had to laugh at the determination of this woman, Bertha Benz, to prove to both the church and Emperor Wilhelm II that her husband's invention, the Benz motorwagen, has the potential to change lives for the better and isn't the threat they think it is.  She sneaks out with her two teenage sons and makes her way across bumpy, rough terrain 60 miles to her mother's house.  Naturally, the car broke down several times, but thanks to Bertha's ingenuity and knowledge of her husband's invention, the car was repaired and the trip continued.  

The inclusion of drawings of the motorwagen, including one of the engine were a great touch.  The timeline of significant events in automobile history was great as well.  I especially appreciated the author's note at the end where she explained the difficulty in getting the story right since not all the details of the time and place and conversations are known.  It's always reassuring to know however that the author does everything in her power to get it right.  A fascinating slice of history.

Ages 9-12


A stunning picture-book biography of the High Priestess of Soul and one of the greatest voices of the 20th century.

With evocative black-and-white illustrations and moving prose, readers are introduced to Nina Simone, jazz-music legend and civil-rights activist. Shared as a lullaby to her daughter, a soulful song recounts Simone's career, the trials she faced as an African American woman, and the stand she took during the Civil Rights Movement. This poignant picture book offers a melodic tale that is both a historic account of an iconic figure and an extraordinary look at how far we've come and how far we still need to go for social justice and equality. A timeless and timely message aptly appropriate for today's social and political climates.


This is a book filled with symbolism and imagery.  While that makes for a beautiful book, it also makes it confusing for younger readers, which is why I would recommend this book for older children.  It would even make a great addition to units on the Civil Rights movement, that continues today.  The book starts with Nina, a mother, singing a lullaby to her own child, and telling the story (very briefly) of some of her early experiences with music and racism.  The comparison of black and white lives to the keys on the keyboard (whites are whole and more numerous, blacks are 'half' and limited in number) is brilliant and thought-provoking, especially when the illustration on the next page shows whites and blacks sitting and standing in order like a piano keyboard.  The lyrical language makes references to taking wing and flying  which the illustrations also show as well as flying dandelions symbolizing Nina's and other civil rights activists dreams for a better life.  While additional information about Nina and her life and work would have been appreciated, the book makes for a powerful introduction to the issues involved in the civil rights movement as well as the experiences of one young girl.


Snappy rhymes invite young readers to watch workers dig, pour, pound, and bolt a skyscraper into existence. Simple yet satis-fying sidebars provide further information about each step in the construction process. Perfect for preschoolers and all those who dig diggers.

Quirky, colorful art enhance the appeal of a construction site with all the equipment and sounds of building.


This is a great book for young building enthusiasts.  Not only is there great information about the building of a skyscraper (I learned a lot!), but the combination of rhyming text and expository text make the book appropriate for young listeners and older readers.  In fact, I quite enjoyed reading the rhymes out loud, to me that's the best gauge for judging rhymes. I also loved the illustrations which do an excellent job of showing the steps in the construction process.  The illustrator also included labels for the different materials and equipment used in the building process. This is a fabulously put together book.


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