Best Children's Science Books of the Year (According to the NSTA)

The list of best children's science books of the year is out! Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12: 2012 (PDF file) was announced last week at a meeting of the National Science Teachers Association. This list with the dry title is always a good resource for gift givers, librarians, teachers, parents, and scientifically minded kids. After a quick scan of the titles, one publisher looks overrepresented to me, but I suppose I'll just have to read up and see.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

9780375868894Flesh & Blood So Cheap:
The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy
by Albert Marrin
Knopf, 2011
182 pages
for readers 11+

On March 25, 1911, 146 people died during a fire, most likely started by a tossed-away cigarette, in Greenwich Village's Triangle Waist Company, which manufactured women's blouses. Most of the deceased were women, some teenagers, and most were recent immigrants from Italy and Russia. Albert Marrin's book about the before and after of that horrific event, during which many jumped from the burning building, covers a lot of ground: immigration history, feminism, labor history, Tammany Hall politics, safety reform, and organized crime, but the most gripping chapters focus on the devastating fire itself, which "sent ripples of misery in all directions." Black and white photographs from the time period enhance the well-researched text.

Flesh & Blood So Cheap, a finalist for the National Book Award in Young People's Literature, is also on the long list for the Cybil Award in the middle grade/young adult nonfiction category. The National Book Awards are announced on November 16th, and the Cybil shortlists on January 1st. 

On Mondays a number of the children's literature blogs feature nonfiction; you'll find today's roundup at Charlotte's Library.

 cover image from Powell's Books

Drawing from Memory, Allen Say's Autobiographical Journey

9780545176866_xlgDrawing from Memory
by Allen Say
Scholastic, 2011
64 pages

Allen Say won the Caldecott Medal, our country's highest honor for children's book art in 1994, and he may win it again for his latest work, Drawing from Memory. Some prize-watchers have also mentioned the book in regard to the Newbery, the equally prestigious award for writing. 

In this picture-book memoir, Say (b. 1937) looks back at his childhood in Japan, with a particular focus on his apprenticeship with Noro Shinpei, a famous newspaper and magazine cartoonist. Say began working with Shinpei at the same time that he moved into his own apartment in Tokyo—as a middle-school student. The author is remarkably nonjudgmental about the family decision that led to his solo move at age 12. "I was dazed with happiness..."

Drawing from Memory is a beautifully produced book, which, like some of Say's other work (Tea with Milk, Erika-san), appeals as much to adults and older teens as it does to children. Perhaps even more so. A high-school senior we know is going to art school next year, and I keep thinking that Drawing from Memory is the perfect gift for him.

Say uses watercolors, pen and ink, pencils, photographs, and quite a bit of text (at 64 pages, Drawing from Memory is very long for a picture book) to tell the story, and, reflecting his work with Shinpei, Say renders some of the illustrations in sequential panels. 

Allen Say left Japan for the U.S. in 1953; today he lives in Portland Oregon. He writes in an author's note that Drawing from Memory let him "journey through my memories of becoming an artist." How lucky for us readers that he invites us on the trip!

On Mondays a number of children's book blogs post about nonfiction. You can find the roundup of entries today at Jean Little Library.

Quoted: Unraveling Freedom

These foreigners hailed from unfamiliar regions [...] They dressed differently, spoke unknown languages, held unfamiliar beliefs, and competed for U.S. jobs. To many long-time residents, these newcomers didn't seem like real Americans.

Makes one think, eh? The quote, which refers to late 19th-, early 20th-century immigrants, comes from Ann Bausum's excellent Unraveling Freedom: The Battle for Democracy on the Home Front during World War I (National Geographic, 2010). I nominated the book for a 2011 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Award in the middle grade/young adult nonfiction category. Unraveling Freedom makes a good companion to The War to End All Wars: World War I (Clarion Books, 2010),  written by Russell Freedman for children in the same age range (12+).


Quoted: The House Baba Built

9780316076289_1681X2544 "Shanghai summers were long, hot, and humid—and as the war went on, the pool became too expensive to fill. So we spent the long summer days in the shade of the garden, with the shrill, hissing cicadas. They sang in unison whenever the sun reached them. Some of us read books from our family library or played cards and board games. [My brother] Hardy and I trained and fought our crickets."

from artist Ed Young's beautiful autobiographical book The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China (Little, Brown, 2011. Text as told to Libby Koponen.)

The scrapbook-style, multimedia (collages incorporating photographs, sketches, cut paper, and more) picture book, set during the World War II years, stays focused on its subject: a family's strength and resilience. Highly recommended.

Mangia, Mangia: Some Books About Food

I was happy to guest blog recently at Gourmandistan, the excellent site run by my pals Michelle and Steve. Michelle and I have been friends since college. While I was arranging Vienna sausages on white bread for what another chum termed "toe sandwiches," Michelle was whipping up coq au vin and other delicious fare. I hope you'll stop by Gourmandistan and check out Michelle's beautiful photography, too.

At Gourmandistan I wrote about some favorite food books—for adults. Here are some kids' selections on the same subject which I've really liked. 

Books A La Carte, a young adult novel by  by Tanita S. Davis (Knopf, 2008)

Anatole, written by Eve Titus and illustrated by Paul Galdone (McGraw-Hill, 1956; re-issued by Knopf, 2006)

The Bake Shop Ghost, a picture book written by Jacqueline K. Osborn and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

Bee-bim Bop!, a picture book written by Linda Sue Park and illustrated by Hoe Baek Lee (Clarion, 2005)

Blueberries for Sal, a picture book by Robert McCloskey (Viking, 1948)

Bunny Cakes, a picture book by Rosemary Wells (Dial, 1997)

The Giant Zucchini, an easy reader by Catherine Siracusa (Hyperion, 1993) 

Ininatig's Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking, a picture book for older readers by Laura Watterman Wittstock, with photography by Dale Kakkak (Lerner, 1993)

The Little Red Hen, a picture book by Paul Galdone (Clarion, 1973). A new edition from Houghton Mifflin came out earlier this year.

The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza,  a picture book written by Philemon Sturges and illustrated by Amy Waldrop (Dutton, 1999) 

Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake, an easy reader written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Arthur Howard (Harcourt Brace, 1994)

Thunder Cake, a picture book by Patricia Polacco (Philomel, 1990)

To Market, To Market, a picture book written by Anne Miranda and illustrated by Janet Stevens (Harcourt Brace, 1997)

Too Many Pumpkins, a picture book written by Linda White and illustrated by Meghan Lloyd (Holiday House, 1996)

The Ugly Vegetables, a picture book by Grace Lin (Charlesbridge, 1999)

Yum! Mmmm! Qué Rico!: America's Sproutings, a picture book written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Rafael López (Lee & Low, 2007)

Books for One Seventh Grade Boy

9780802798176 Our seventh grader does not jump up and down with wild abandon when we hand him a book and say, "You'd like this." However, leaving intriguing-looking titles lying around to be "discovered" often works like a charm. Author Melissa Wiley once called this "strategic strewing." 

Here a few books that happen to have been left out on the couch and in someone's favorite chair last spring and summer. I go by J.'s interests more than reading levels. Levels, schmevels. 

Amulet #4: The Last Council, by Kazu Kibuishi (Graphix, 2011) The latest in a popular series of graphic novels. J. actually turned off the computer to read it.

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous, written by Georgia Bragg and illustrated by Kevin O'Malley (Walker, 2011)

Impressed by kids who substitute blog for their parents, I asked J. how he'd describe this book for people who hadn't read it. 

"It's about how some famous people died," he said.

"Anything you want to add?" I asked.


Moving right along...

Darth Paper Strikes Back: An Origami Yoda Book, by Tom Angleberger (Amulet Books, 2011) Like its predecessor, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, this is a funny book with a middle-school setting.

Garter Snakes, by Heather L. Montgomery (Capstone, 2011). From a series called Wild About Snakes. 

Oil Spill! Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, by Elaine Landau (Millbrook, 2011)

What to Expect When You're Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids), written by Bridget Heos and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. "Whether your babies are wriggly maggots, fat grubs, or fuzzy caterpillars, your larvae will look different from you." Geared to elementary-school-age children but the almost-12 J. still read it with appreciation. I think the title of the informational picture book is hilarious.

Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities, by Chris Barton. Like How They Croaked and the next book, it was one of the great suggestions on the Westport (CT) Library's 6th grade summer reading lists.

Queen of the Falls, by Chris Van Allsburgh (Houghton Mifflin, 2011). I picked up my own strewn book and read it out loud. Fantastic! A widow in need of money decides to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Dude, that's crazy. And it's true.

Books I plan to "strategically strew" (but haven't yet seen)

Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2011). Great writeup at Brain Pickings. J. enjoyed Selznick's Caldecott-winning Invention of Hugo Cabret.

America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell, by Don Brown (Flash Point/Roaring Brook, 2011) Reviewed at The Nonfiction Detectives

Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert, by Marc Aronson (Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, 2011) Reviewed by Betsy Bird at School Library Journal's A Fuse #8 Production.

The Elephant Scientist, by Donna M. Jackson, Caitlin O'Connell Rodwell, and Timothy Rodwell. A new book in Houghton Mifflin's Scientists in the Field series. Another one that sounds good, Loree Griffin Burns' Citizen Scientists, is due out early next year.  

Best Australian Children's Books 2011

The Midnight Zoo, a novel by Sonya Hartnett due out here next month, took the top honors in the "older readers" category when the Children's Book Council of Australia announced its 2011 books of the year last Friday. The Eve Pownall nonfiction award went to Ursula Dubosarsky's Return of the Word Spy, illustrated by Tohby Riddle. Jeannie Baker's Mirror, also published to acclaim here in the States, was one of two picture books of the year. For all the winners and honorees, click on the above link.

A Girl After My Own Heart

"And just look at these books!" said Hermione excitedly, running a finger along the spines of the large leather-bound tomes. "A Compendium of Common Curses and Their Counter-Actions...The Dark Arts Outsmarted... Self-Defensive" She looked around at Harry, her face glowing, and he saw that the presence of hundreds of books had finally convinced Hermione that what they were doing was right.

from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling

When I heard Hermione proclaiming on the audiobook we were listening to, I was reminded of Katharine Hepburn (as Jo) in the 1933 movie "Little Women" on her first visit to the Laurences' home next door. "What richness!" she sings out in joy.

I understand completely.

Children's Books in New England's Top 100

A few children's classics made the cut in the Boston Globe's recent list of  100 "essential" books either about New England or written by an author with ties to the region. 

Little Women (#2)

Make Way for Ducklings (#3)

Charlotte's Web (#15)

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (#54)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (#100).

Avid readers could make a case for lots of others, like anything by Dr. Seuss (born in Springfield, Mass.), Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak lives in CT) Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius, Donald Hall (author) & Barbara Cooney's (illustrator) Ox-Cart Man, Candace  Fleming's The Great and Only Barnum (not to mention many other biographies of famous New Englanders), and The Story of Ferdinand (illustrator Robert Lawson was a CT resident).