Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Poison Eaters

The Poison Eaters: Fighting Danger and Fraud in our Food and Drugs by Gail Jarrow. Grades 6-10. Calkins Creek, 2019. 160 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 


How much would I have to pay you to eat poison? What if you knew that it would make you feel sick and weak and lose weight? What if you knew that you could possibly die? 

The "poison eaters" were a group of young men who volunteered to participate in a study about food safety, to eat food that had been preserved with potentially harmful substances, so that scientists could prove that the producers and packagers of processed foods were killing America. 

Go to the store today and pick up any packaged food. We take for granted that it will have a label listing the ingredients and nutritional information. That if the item contains an active ingredient (like in medicines), it will be listed on the box. That if the item could cause harmful side effects or needs further instructions, there will be a warning label on the box. 

That was not always the case. And it took a huge battle and a long, long time to win those requirements to protect the American consumer. 

It is truly disturbing what food packagers and processors used to be able to get away with. People were sickened by rotten food that had been disguised with formaldehyde to mask the smell. Mothers gave children "soothing syrup" that contained alcohol or morphine - yes, it stopped teething pain... because it knocked them straight out until morning! Quack doctors were able to sell "medicine" making outrageous healing claims without testing anything or even making sure it was safe to consume. 

And our American government let them get away with it - until the poison eaters stood up to say that it was wrong and things needed to change. 

My thoughts: 

This book provides so many riveting and appalling examples of what producers were able to get away with before the government enacted regulations. I kept reading bits out loud to my husband because I was so outraged that people had to deal with this. Beyond just unsafe and unsanitary food preparation, Jarrow also touches on issues like the radium girls who were poisoned by radium that was advertised as healthy and the pregnant mothers who were prescribed thalidomide which caused catastrophic birth defects. 

Gail Jarrow is a master of narrative nonfiction and this book is packed to the gills with historical figures and facts. It was fascinating to me how many groups and individuals rallied for the passing of laws to protect consumers while the House and Senate (no doubt influenced by the deep pockets of the food and drug manufacturers) drug their feet. Even after regulations were passed in 1906, producers often found loopholes and made huge profits off them. 

Readers interested in American history, especially those with an interest in food science or medicine, will find much to pore over here. 


Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (HMH, 2015). Although the subject matter's a bit different - this one concentrates on the spread of a deadly illness - these books both deal with health threats in the early 1900s and the struggle to stop them. Readers of narrative nonfiction who are interested in the history medicine and health will enjoy both. 

Monday, January 27, 2020

Youth Media Awards!!

In case you haven't seen, the 2020 Youth Media Award winners were announced this morning! I am so, so pleased to see so many books of my heart honored this morning and I know that those that didn't appear on these lists are still wonderful and worthy.

Congratulations to Jerry Craft for his Newbery medal for New Kid, the first time the Newbery Medal has been awarded to a graphic novel (yes, they are REAL books!). I loved how this book approaches racism and microaggressions in a super kid-friendly and humorous way. New Kid was also awarded the Coretta Scott King Author Award! 

I am so super stoked that The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson garnered not only the Caldecott Medal (Nelson's first!), but a Newbery honor (yesssss Kwame!) AND the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. I think this may be the first time that we have a double double - both the Newbery Medal and the Caldecott Medal winners also won the Coretta Scott King awards! Both of these are very special books. 

So many other amazing books were honored! I know I'll be working on double checking whether we own all of these and putting in some orders for the ones we missed. Check out the full list here

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Born to Fly

Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America by Steve Sheinkin. Grades 6 and up. Roaring Brook, 2019. 288 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

What it's about: 

Why is Amelia Earhart the only female pilot that most of us can name? Yes, she was amazing, but profiled here you'll find a dozen other women just as daring, just as capable. This is the true story of the 1929 Women's Air Derby. 

Starting with profiles and brief biographies of most of the major players in the race, Steve Sheinkin introduces us to women like Amelia Earhart (whom you may have heard of), Marvel Crosson (who built her first airplane from boxes of parts), and Elinor Smith (who at age 17 was disciplined by the mayor of New York City for flying underneath four New York bridges, the first to attempt such a stunt). 

And then we get to the race and I dare you to be able to put the book down once it starts. 

It was a grueling race, leapfrogging from Santa Monica, California across the South and Texas, up through the Midwest and ending in Cleveland, Ohio. Men had held air derbies before, but this one, just nine years after women got the vote, was just for the ladies. LOTS of people didn't believe women could do it or that women should do it. Flight was new and risky. This race meant days and days of long flying before airplanes were climate controlled or had radios. Add to that the ominous telegram that one of the racers received before the race: BEWARE OF SABOTAGE. 

My thoughts: 

This is a fascinating and compelling narrative nonfiction look at a dozen or so trailblazing women. These were women taking tremendous risks - pilots and passengers still died on the regular in these days before seatbelts and enclosed cabins and reliable oxygen supply. And they were also facing a lot of naysayers who said that women shouldn't be doing any of that. If a man died in an airplane crash, he was heralded as a hero who risked life and limb in the pursuit of technological advances. If a woman died, she was held up as an example that women should not be allowed to fly.

The first half of the book is interesting enough, but once the race starts (about halfway through), I absolutely could not put this book down. My husband knew when I got to that part because I started just smiling and nodding at anything he was saying, never taking my eyes off the page. Sheinkin knows how to write a nonfiction thriller, that's for sure. It's an absolutely nail-biting look at the fiercely competitive world of women's flight.

I would hand this to young readers interested in women's history, especially women trailblazers and/or women's sports.



Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming (Yearling, 2019). This one's a biography of Amelia Earhart rather than a collective biography and it's absolutely riveting, too. I was especially compelled by the details of Earhart's disappearance. Did you know that there were radio broadcasts heard by Americans after she disappeared that just may have been the last time anyone heard her voice?

Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History (Young Readers' Edition) by Keith O'Brien (HMH, 2019). This profile features five women who made history during the Golden Age of Flight, some of whom (Amelia Earhart and Louise Thaden) are in Sheinkin's book and some who aren't. Readers looking for more women pilots should pick this one up. 

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women who Dared to Dream by Tanya Bolden (Candlewick, 2009). It's just a jump and a skip from the history of flight to the history of space flight. This wonderful narrative nonfiction book features the Mercury 13, a group of women who were given the same tests and evaluations as men who applied to be astronauts, although they were not allowed to go to space. 

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Line Tender

The Line Tender by Kate Allen. Grades 5-8. Dutton, 2019. 384 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.

So, you know I'm getting ready for Allen County Public Library's Mock Newbery discussion this weekend and The Line Tender was the last book on the list that I hadn't read yet. It's been getting major buzz all year, but I hadn't picked it up yet.

Well, friends. I'm here to beg you not to make the same mistake I did. Pick it up now, please.

What it's about: 

Sharks have started appearing in the waters outside Lucy's coastal Massachusetts town. And for Lucy this news hits closer to home than most. Because Lucy's late mother was a marine biologist. Lucy's mother swam with sharks.

Lucy is not a scientist, preferring to draw instead of learning facts or experimenting, but when she  catches a re-airing of an old TV interview with her mother on the news, she becomes fascinated by her mother's work. And when tragedy strikes Lucy again, she becomes determined to find out more about her mother's last unfinished research project and help see it completed.

To do so, she'll need to grab the line that connects some of the important people in her life - her father, a fisherman, and her elderly widower neighbor - each tied to the project in different ways.

My thoughts:

This is a book that takes a deep dive into grief and the multitudes of ways that people experience it and live with it. Lucy's mother's death is several years old, but it still takes Lucy under at unexpected times. And this is a book that acknowledges that the way to live with grief is to live with it and to keep on living one day at a time, even when you think you can't. And it manages to portray all of this without becoming maudlin or depressing. It's an incredibly moving story with some very poignant moments, but it never feels overwhelming.

This is a book that's essential for some kids. Lucy's story will speak to kids who have experienced loss. It's a book you must have on your library shelves. And I don't think its appeal stops there. Although living with grief is a huge theme in the book, it's also very much a story about the natural world and the work that scientists do. Young marine biologists who can handle a quiet, serious story will find much to appreciate here.


This book reminded me most of Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, a great favorite of mine growing up. Jess and Leslie become fast friends and build a magical, imaginary world together called Terabithia where they hang out until tragedy strikes. Both books explore loss and grief in poetic, moving text.

Another book that explores loss and also includes research of marine animals is The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (Little, Brown, 2017). After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy becomes convinced that the true cause of death was a rare jellyfish sting and she sets out to prove it. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

6 New Winter Picture Books

Here in Southern Indiana it's been unseasonably warm for December and January, but with short days and plenty of gray clouds, winter is definitely here, even if we're still wishing for snow*! Here are half a dozen great new picture books that are perfect for sharing on wintry days.


Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Clarion Books, 2020). Ethan knows it's almost maple syrup time, but it's so hard to wait! His dad encourages him to watch for signs that the season is changing (which means the sap will start running) - the days will start getting warmer, the nights will start getting shorter. This quiet picture book pays homage to maple syrup farms and the slow, gradual change of the seasons. This is an especially great book to check out if you have a maple syrup farm nearby (like we do!).

A Big Bed for Little Snow by Grace Lin (Little, Brown, 2019). Just as she did in her picture book A Big Mooncake for Little Star, Grace Lin crafts a sweet pourquoi tale, this time for falling snow. Little Snow loves his soft bed, but when Mama warns him that it's a bed for sleeping, not for jumping, well... Little Snow can't help himself. He's got to jump! The feathers spilling out of his bed cause quite a stir on the town below. This would be a fun one to share when the first snow hits and to imagine Little Snow up in the sky jumping on his bed.


Bird Count by Susan Edmonds Richmond, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman (Peachtree, 2019). This is a beautiful winter book for budding naturalists as a young citizen scientist participates in the Christmas Bird Count with her mom and their team leader. Called the Christmas Bird Count because it's scheduled around the holidays, this international event doesn't actually have anything to do with any specific holiday. This is a perfect book to share before an outdoor birding excursion or to pair with a nature activity like making bird feeders.


A Day so Gray by Marie Lamba, illustrated by Alea Marley (Clarion, 2019). This is definitely a book we can use around here lately - it's been so gray for so long! But two little girls discover that a day that appears to be gray may actually contain a rainbow of colors if you just know where to look. This is a beautiful encouragement to look a little deeper and it would be perfect to read together before a winter walk to look for colors you may be missing.

Froggy Builds a Snowman by Jonathan London, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz (Viking, 2020). Fans of Froggy rejoice, he's back with another winter tale. This time, Froggy can't wait to build a snowman at his school's winter carnival, but there are lots of other activities to enjoy first. With callbacks to another wonderful winter Froggy tale (Froggy Gets Dressed - don't miss this one, it's one of my favorites!) and plenty of humor, this is a fun book to share.

When the Snow is Deeper Than My Boots Are Tall by Jen Reidy, illustrated by Joey Chou (Henry Holt, 2019). This is a super cute, bouncy rhyming book about the joys of playing in the snow and seeing it pile up deeper and deeper. I love the vibrant, colorful illustrations of a family enjoying a winter day together as the snow falls. The rhythm of the text is a little awkward sometimes - I would practice reading it before reading to a group - but it's really so cute and includes a lot of great sound words and vocabulary that make it a great choice for storytime.

* I am definitely wishing for snow. My husband who shovels our driveway is... not.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Books to Celebrate MLK Day

Next Monday is Martin Luther King Day, what are you reading? You may have the day off work or school and it's a perfect time to read a book together to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. Not sure what to read? I have four suggestions for different ages here today.

For the very youngest: 

I am Brave: A Little Book About Martin Luther King, Jr. by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos (Dial, 2019). This board book, part of the Little People Change the World series, gives a glossy overview of Martin Luther King, Jr. It doesn't get into super deep topics, but rather concentrates on King's qualities: brave, loving, etc., making this a good choice for sharing with the very young. The cutesy illustrations are designed to appeal to young children and this has been a super popular series at my library.

For young elementary kids:


Be a King by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by James E. Ransome (Bloomsbury, 2018). With simple, direct text, Weatherford pares down Dr. Martin Luther King's dream and presents it to kids in a way that's easy to understand. The text encourages young readers to "be a King" by doing things like "beat the drum for justice" and "set your sights on the mountaintop". This is a good resource for connecting kids with the everyday actions that can lead to change and for celebrating the spirit of Martin Luther King Day.

For older elementary kids:


A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Neal Porter Books, 2019). This gorgeous picture book presents the backstory of one of the most famous American speeches. The poetic text is a perfect pairing for this powerful story about powerful and memorable words that changed our nation.

For tweens and teens:

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Scholastic, 2018). This gorgeous book explores the months leading up to Martin Luther King's assassination, including his involvement with the Memphis sanitation workers' strike and his last riveting speech in which he seemed to predict his own death. It also explores the continuing work of civil rights after his death. The illustrations are striking and the poetic text is a fitting tribute to such a great man. This is a moving book that's unlike anything else I've read about Martin Luther King and it's not to be missed.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

It's Coming: The Youth Media Awards!

It's beginning to look a lot like Youth Media Awards season!!

Yes, in a few short weeks, the American Library Association's Youth Media Awards will be announced at the Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia. I won't be there in person, but I will be excitedly watching the webcast with (I hope) some similarly excited coworkers. I've booked a meeting room for us at the library and hope to be able to offer comp time to anyone who wants to come in early that day to watch with me. I'm debating whether I should pick up some healthy breakfast items or splurge on some donuts... Hmmm.

The Saturday before the announcements, I will be heading 4 hours north to Fort Wayne to participate in Allen County Public Library's Mock Newbery discussion. I have been reading (and in some cases re-reading) to get ready. I'm not quite finished with all the books, but as soon as I schedule this blog post I'm going to get back to it.

What are my favorites this year?

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée (Balzer + Bray, 2019). I love the plotting in this book and the thoughtful structure that's deceptively simple. On its surface, this is a typical middle school story about a girl dealing with friends and boys and racial tension in her town. As you drill further down, you realize that each obstacle Shayla grapples with in her personal life is preparing her for the huge realization that she needs to stand up for what she believe in, even if it means she'll get in trouble. This is the book I would hand to young activists and I think it's supremely relevant to today. Read my full review with booktalk and readalikes here!

New Kid by Jerry Craft (HarperAlley, 2019). Okay, it's hard to know how the committee will come down on the eligibility of graphic novels. Does the text have to stand on its own? Can storyboarding be considered part of the "text"? If the committee is amenable to graphic novels, I think this one is worthy of consideration and distinguished for its interpretation of theme and appropriateness of style for a child audience. I think the way that Jerry Craft examines racial microaggressions is so skillful because it's hilarious at the same time it's being serious. This makes total sense for the protagonist who processes his own emotions by drawing comics. 

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (Balzer + Bray, 2019). I love the language in this book and the effective poetic structure that conveys big feelings with very few words, which is so appropriate to the story. As Jude moves to America and struggles with learning English and making friends when it's difficult to express herself, the poems play with language and emphasize the important role that language plays in feeling at home. 

Now, like I said, I haven't finished all the books on our mock Newbery list yet and I certainly haven't read or reread nearly as much as any of the committee members. But these three (all books from HarperCollins! I promise they didn't sponsor this post!) are all books of my heart and books I will be proud to promote to kids whether or not they garner shiny stickers (although I would be thrilled if they do!).

What books are your favorite contenders for the Newbery this year?

Monday, January 6, 2020

Picture Book Roundup #2

Hey, I'm an Amazon associate which means if you purchase items after clicking the links on my site I get a small commission. 

What better way to kick off 2020 than with amazing picture books? Here are ten of my recent favorites.

Around the Table That Granddad Built by Melanie Heuser Hill, illustrated by Jaime Kim (Candlewick Press, 2019). This bright and bouncy story features a diverse family gathering and sharing a meal together, celebrating in the inherited dishes, cooking vegetables they grew in their garden, and making traditional and non-traditional dishes. This is a great Thanksgiving book that's not overtly Thanksgiving-y but definitely fits with the season. The first part of the book follows the format of The House That Jack Built, but after the table's set the form deviates into listing the vegetables and dishes they're cooking. It's a little odd, but still a good readaloud and a great one to share when talking about family, food, or being thankful.

Bird Watch by Christie Matheson (Greenwillow Books, 2019). This would make a really great read for a family who likes to bird to introduce young children to some of the techniques and concepts involved. In each spread, there are things to find, whether birds (sometimes identified by their unique plumage) or other woodland creatures. It's not only a fun seek and find book, but a primer on how actual birders identify birds - with distinctive features, location of birds (on the ground, in a tree), etc. Back matter includes more information about birding and about the bird species seen in the book.

Borrowing Bunnies: A Surprising True Tale of Fostering Rabbits by Cynthia Lord, photographs by John Bald, illustrations by Hazel Mitchell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019). Could this book BE any more adorable? (Answer: impossible.) Newbery honor author Cynthia Lord here chronicles her adventures with fostering bunnies with super cute photographs and illustrations. When she took in Benjamin and Peggotty to foster them until they were ready for adoption, she got quite a surprise when Peggotty gave birth to four baby bunnies. This is a fun pet story that will really please animal lovers and educates readers about caring for bunnies and bunny behavior.

The Happy Book by Andy Rash (Viking, 2019). Camper (as in "Happy Camper") and Clam (as in "Happy as a") are best friends and they're happy. But when Clam bakes Camper a cake and Camper eats all of it without saving any for his friend, Clam gets sad and enters a new book. Instead of The Happy Book, Clam's spending some time in The Sad Book. And from there, the two friends experience a gamut of emotions as they work through their first fight. Not only is this book funny, but it respects the range of emotions that kids experience and how friends can work through those emotions to express their feelings when disagreements happen. Designed with cartoon dialog bubbles like a comic book, this book is fun for recreational reading, but it also passes along a positive message about the emotions we all experience.

Ho'onani: Hula Warrior by Heather Gale, illustrated by Mika Song (Tundra Books, 2019). Ho'onani doesn't feel entirely wahine (girl) or kane (boy), but somewhere in the middle. When her community announces that they are going to put on a traditional Hawaiian hula chant for kane, she feels drawn to audition, even though the chanters are traditionally boys. This is an empowering story bringing much needed representation to the page. Ho'onani is such a good chanter that she's chosen to lead the group. When her teachers warns her that some people might object to a wahine leading a group of kane, Ho'onani decides to do the show anyway. With her parents' support and her older sister's eventual coming around to it, this is a supportive story that features a nonbinary child in the starring role.''

Pluto Gets the Call by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laurie Keller (Beach Lane Books, 2019). Pluto LOVES being a planet, but when the call comes from Earth that he's no longer a planet, how can he go on? This fun and funny picture book not only pays homage to our favorite planet-that-was, but also introduces young readers to the solar system as Pluto takes a farewell tour and presents facts about each planet along the way. Hand this to fans of The Sun is Kind of a Big Deal or Laurie Keller's The Scrambled States of America for kids who enjoy learning but in a really fun, funny way.

Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe (Simon & Schuster, 2019). With gorgeous watercolor illustrations (what a color palette!) and a surprising, energetic and humorous story, this is a don't-miss picture book. When Pokko's drum gets to be too loud, her mother and father suggest that she play outside for a bit. She is soon joined by a posse of instrument-playing animals and a posse of music fans, all following Pokko, who is literally marching to the beat of her own drummer. I love the facial expressions on all the characters (how does Forsythe make a frog so expressive?).

Stormy: A Story About Finding a Forever Home by Guojing (Schwartz & Wade, 2019). This super sweet and evocative wordless picture book shows a stray dog and the woman who keeps visiting him, eventually giving him a home. Stormy is very afraid at first and won't let her come close, but she keeps trying, bringing a ball for them to play with. On one stormy night they are finally united and she brings him home. This is a great one for young dog lovers, but I can see strong parallels in human relationships, too, particularly in foster or adoptive situations.

Tiny Feet Between the Mountains by Hanna Cha (Simon & Schuster, 2019). Being little does not mean you can't do big things. Soe-In is a tiny person, but she finds ways to keep up with everyone in her village and pull her weight. When the sun disappears, village elders ask for a volunteer to investigate and Soe-In is the only one who raises her hand. When she discovers that the spirit tiger has accidentally swallowed the sun, she finds a way to help him and save her village with her creative critical thinking. This is a beautifully illustrated Korean tale starring a brave young girl who doesn't give up. I love that it shows different things Soe-In tries to save the tiger and when they don't work she doesn't give up but keeps thinking and trying new things. And the illustrations are just gorgeous.

What is a Refugee? by Elise Gravel (Schwartz & Wade, 2019). This kid-friendly introduction aimed at non-refugee children is a solid explanation of who refugees are and the situations that can cause people to become refugees (notably leaving out natural disaster, but otherwise touching on major causes). This is a good choice for explaining some of the situations kids might be hearing about in the news. Maybe my favorite part was the bit at the end in which the author asked a dozen or so refugee children to tell about themselves. It's obvious that refugee children are just children who have gone through something awful but are just trying to live their best lives.