Jamieson, Victoria and Omar Mahamed. When Stars are Scattered. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020.
Memoir might not technically be nonfiction, but this memoir is so good that we are extending the reach of the Nonfiction Book of the Month to “nearly” nonfiction this month.
When Stars are Scattered is the true story of Omar, the older brother who cares for Hassan, the younger brother, who is developmentally disabled and mostly nonverbal. The brothers flee Somalia as small children and grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya, without either parent. Their father was killed in Somalia, and they lost their mother in the chaos of running from the war. Along with their loving foster mother assigned to them when they arrive at the camp, Omar does his best to care for and protect Hassan as they search for their mother, and avoid the hazards of camp life. Omar is very smart and is accepted into the high school at the camp and, consequently better their chances for relocation. While this is a wonderful development, Omar and Hassan must then also navigate the years-long refugee relocation process. All while hungry all the time.
Day-to-day life is sometimes like life in other places: walking to school with friends, dealing with rivals and bullies, and doing chores and homework. But some events reveal some real differences in customs like when a school friend’s family forces her to quit school and get married.
Jamieson’s artful storytelling and Mohamed's compelling life make this book an accessible look into refugee life for students from 4th grade and up. The afterward tells us where Omar and Hassan are now, which elements of the story are fiction, and more about the refugee experience. While the circumstances of the story are bleak, Jamieson and Omar include moments of levity and humor to balance the heartbreak and hopelessness. Put this title on the top of your shopping list!
Dewey: 305.9 Interest Level: Grades 4 and up
Awards and Reviews: Booklist starred; Horn Book Magazine starred; Kirkus Reviews starred; Publishers Weekly starred; Schneider Family Book Honor; School Library Connection starred; School Library Journal starred.
Older students might like: The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown.
Younger students might like: Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch.
Fiction pairing: Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
Learn about the refugee community in Idaho at the Idaho Office for Refugees, including the Refugees Speakers Bureau.
Seiple, Samantha. Nazi Saboteurs: Hitler’s Secret Attack on America. New York: Scholastic Focus, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., 2019.
Are there any elements of World War II that haven’t been thoroughly covered by fiction and non-fiction alike? While it surely depends on the expertise of the reader, there are a few details in Nazi Saboteurs that seem like home front knowledge bombs: the Japanese invaded Alaska (what ?!?) and German saboteurs came ashore in New York and Florida.
Even if the history book version has been covered, this is the story told from the point of view of the Saboteurs, only a few of them Nazi true believers. They found themselves in the United States with explosives, cash, and a mission to destroy infrastructure and industrial targets to disrupt the Allied war effort. They were trained with the usual Nazi efficient fervor, but they didn’t trust one another, and, according to many of them, their hearts weren’t in the mission. Rather, they would rather reunite with family in the U.S., help trip up the German war effort, and/or get to South America.
Nazi Saboteurs follows these eight figures as their lives lead up to the well-funded but doomed plot, as some of them work to expose the mission, and the consequences of their actions along the way. Seiple uses photographs to great benefit but following eight characters with their own agendas sometimes gets a little muddled. Still, this is a solid take on WWII on the home front and a page-turner, too.
The last chapter compares the German sabotage effort and the events that followed with 9/11 and its aftermath. Back matter includes a description of source documents (some of which are declassified court transcripts and FBI records), and an index. Features primary sources. A valuable addition to an upper elementary or middle school collection.
Dewey: 940.54 Interest Level: Grades 4-8
Awards and Reviews: Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Connection, School Library Journal
Older students might like: The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, by Phillip Hoose
Fiction pairing: The Good War, by Todd Strasser
Charleyboy, Lisa and Mary Beth Leatherdale (editors). #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Annick Press, 2017.
#NotYourPrincess is an award winning title with rave reviews but, when I opened this title, I was not expecting to be so moved by the poetry, essays, art and all the other works collected here. This anthology of unflinching, personal, and sophisticated contributions from North American Indigenous women and teenage girls, when taken together, provide a glimpse of the world as experienced by Indigenous women. Weeks after my first reading, I find myself thinking about the collection and the women who contributed. If ever I meet Charleyboy or Leatherdale, I will thank them, for if there is an exemplar of a windows-and-mirrors sort of book, this is it.
#NotYourPrincess deals with some heavy topics and is most appropriate for a high school library, but possibly a junior high library. It isn’t that there is anything overly graphic, but it would be most appreciated and understood by an older set. If #NotYourPrincess is not in your high school collection yet, consider purchasing it.
For an in-depth review of #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women, and recommendations on many other titles featuring American Indians, visit American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) from Dr. Debbie Reese and Dr. Jean Mendoza at https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/. Along with critical analysis on books, the AICL website provides a wealth of information for those of us who could use a little guidance in this area.
Dewey: 971.004 Interest Level: YA
Awards and Reviews: American Indian Youth Literature Award, 2018; Booklist, Kirkus Reviews starred; Publishers Weekly; Resource Links; School Library Journal starred; Voices of Youth Advocates (YOYA) starred; YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults – Nominees, 2018.
Younger students might like: Ancestor Approved Intertribal Stories for Kids by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Middle school students might like: I Will See You Again by Lisa Boivin
Fiction pairing: Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
Hale, Nathan. Big Bad Ironclad, Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, Book 2. New York: Amulet Books, 2012.
Big Bad Ironclad is not a new title, and it probably is in many collections already, so why add it to this list now? Book 10 in the Hazardous Tales Series was just released in November 2020 (Blades of Freedom), and the series shows that good things can happen for students when history gets the graphic novel treatment.
Big Bad Ironclad tells the story of the Merrimack (renamed the Virginia) and the Monitor, the two first ironclad ships in the American and Confederate navies, and the plan called Anaconda to blockade Confederate ports.
Throughout the Hazardous Tales series, Nathan Hale, (the not-so-good spy from the American Revolution, not the author) delays his hanging by telling stories about history. Luckily, he knows future history as well as past history, and has similar sense of humor as Nathan Hale, the author. Literally gallows humor. As funny and engaging as they are, these books are well-researched, characters are developed and have personalities, and stories are accessible and accurate. A must have for any elementary library, and perhaps middle school libraries, too.
Dewey: 973.7 Interest Level: Grades 3-7
Awards and Reviews: Horn Book Guide starred, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA).
Younger readers might like: The Mad Scientist Academy series by Matthew McElligott
Older readers might like: Max Axiom, Super Scientist Series by various authors.
Fiction pairing: A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin by Karen Hesse (A Dear America book).
Alexander, Lori. (illus. Vivien Mildenberger). All in a Drop: How Antony van Leewenhoek Discovered an Invisible World. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019.
Antony van Leewenhoek didn’t invent the microscope. However, by developing his own techniques, he improved the microscope so much that he could see things through the lenses that others could not see through lesser microscopes. This charmingly illustrated scientific biography shows how one curious man discovered microscopic creatures. Although he was educated in a scientific field, he was fascinated with microscopes and the microscopic world. In a way, his lack of formal training freed Antony from the confines of what was already presumed to be “known,” making him open to new discoveries in ways more experienced scientists might dismiss.
Beyond reporting on Antony’s life and work, Alexander reflects upon the idea that since Antony was so secretive about his microscopes and how they were built, he may have inhibited further discovery. Would we know more now if Antony had been more forthcoming, or would someone have stolen his methods and assigned him to obscurity? Of course, we’ll never know.
All in a Drop is a necessary addition to any elementary school collection, and possibly middle school, too. The timeline in the back is helpful in putting Antony’s work in the context of other scientific advancements. There is also a glossary, source notes, additional reading, and other helpful reference materials that are present in non-fiction of this quality.
Dewey: 579.092 Interest Level: Grades 2-6
Awards and Reviews: Booklist starred, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honor 2020, School Library Journal
Younger readers might like: Tiny Monsters: The Strange Creatures that Live On Us, in Us, and Around Us by Steve Jenkins
Older readers might like: Invisible Allies –Microbes that Shape Our Lives (2nd Edition) by Jeanette Farrell
Fiction pairing: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
On the Web: Find open access information on the papers of van Leeuwenhoek from The Royal Society (The very same one to which Antony corresponded) at https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2014.0344
Yang, Kao Kalia. (Illus. Khoa Le). The Most Beautiful Thing. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., 2020.
If The Most Beautiful Thing ends up in a school’s collection just for the illustrations, it would be a good thing. When the story is shared, it will be even better. This gorgeous book is the story of the author’s family’s immigration to the United States as Hmong refugees. It is not the story of the journey, but the story of learning how to live with very little. It is told in simple, almost poetic language from the author’s point of view as she grows from a small child to a teen. Themes of familial love, enduring hardship and poverty, and tradition make the text and the illustrations that much richer. Students that are living with hardship brought on by COVID may relate to descriptions of doing without.
The Most Beautiful Thing is a must-buy for elementary libraries’ picture book collection, and although the interest level is K-3, it leans more toward the older end of that range. It includes a short pronunciation guide and glossary.
Dewey: 305 Interest Level: Grades 1-4.
Awards and Reviews (as of October 7): Kirkus Reviews starred.
Older Readers Might Like: Kids Like Me: Voices of the Immigrant Experience by Judith M. Blohm (Gr. 5-8)
Young Adult Readers Might Like: Immigration Nation: The American Identity in the Twenty-First Century by Judy Dodge Cummings.
Fiction Paring: Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim
Rajcak, Hélène. (Illus. Damien Laverdunt). Unseen Worlds: Real-Life Microscopic Creatures Hiding All Around Us. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: What On Earth Books, 2019. Unseen World might not be the right book for those every-ready for a case of the heebie-jeebies. However, for those that are interested in the microscopic world, it fits the bill! With the richly detailed, scaled to much larger than life illustrations, fans of all things science and fans of all things gross will love getting their hands on this book.
Rajcak has organized the book’s content around where to find groups of microscopic creatures: underwater, at the beach, in your bed (yikes!), on your skin (double yikes!), in the forest, in your kitchen (ew!), and more. The text describes each ecosystem in just the right amount of detail, with the unusual feature of an icon that shows how much magnification is required to see the image shown. The fold out flap on every page provides details on each creature that is shown on the accompanying double page spread.
Rajcak gives us end matter worth reading to the last page: one page on microscopes including an easy-to-follow diagram; a short lesson on scale and magnification, and more. We also get a short history of the microscope, a lesson on classifying Microorganisms, a glossary, and an index. Unseen Worlds: Real-Life Microscopic Creatures Hiding All Around Us is a first-tier priority for any elementary school and middle school/junior high 500 section.
Dewey: 590 Interest Level: Grades 3-7
Awards and Reviews: Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal starred, Booklist, Publishers Weekly.
Younger Readers might like: The Book of Brilliant Bugs by Jess French (Illus. Claire McElfatrick)
Young Adult readers might like: World of Microbes: Bacteria, Viruses, and Other Microorganisms by Janie Levy.
Fiction pairing: Bugs in My Hair! by David Shannon
On the Web: Nikon’s Museum of Microscopy at https://www.microscopyu.com/museum
Johnson, Rebecca L. Nature’s Ninja: Animals with Spectacular Skills. Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., 2020.
The clever concept of this book makes one think of a Venn diagram showing animals, ninja, and the surprising skills that overlap. The idea works and will make fans of middle grade and middle school students, and probably their teachers and librarians.
It starts with a short introduction to the art of the Ninja, and then move to ninja skill-themed chapters featuring a creature or two with each skill. For example, an Atlantic sailfish uses the art of swordsmanship, or Ken-Jutsu, to make a meal of a school of sardines; a bombardier beetle uses Kayaku-Jutsu (using explosives to distract or defeat opponents) when it blasts a burning hot chemical out of its backside to escape a predator. A section labeled “The Science Behind the Story” always wraps up the chapter and describes how scientists discovered each fascinating skill.
Throughout the book the high-resolution photography is so clear and interesting that readers will linger over the images. The back matter is thorough and even includes information about the inspiration of the book.
Nature’s Ninja would make an excellent addition to any upper elementary or middle school collection; although they may enjoy the pictures, most younger elementary students will find the volume of text a little much.
Dewey: 591.47 Interest Level: Grades 4-9
Reviews and Awards:
Booklist, Kirkus Reviews Starred, School Library Connection, School Library Journal.
Younger readers might like: What are Nature’s Copycats? By Bobbie Kalman
Fiction Pairing: Sword in the Stacks (Ninja Librarians, Book 2) by Jen Swann Downey
On the web: 17 Amazing Animal Defense Mechanisms at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xpqS1jcJPw
Pimentel, Annette Bay (Illus. Nabi H. Ali). All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks eXplore, 2020.
Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins was born with Cerebral Palsy in 1981. She used a wheelchair to get around, and she was always ready to go. When it was time to enroll in Kindergarten however, Jennifer encountered obstacle after obstacle, from curbs with no cut-outs, to a school with stairs and policies that would allow her access to only part of a day of Kindergarten. Not long after starting school, Jennifer participated in her first protest for the rights of people with disabilities. By the time she was eight, Jennifer was a veteran activist and eager to participate in a protest in Washington, D.C. called the Capitol Crawl. It was 1990 and Congress was debating the Americans with Disabilities Act. As one of the few young activists in a group demonstrating to convince Congress to pass the legislation, Jennifer wanted to represent children with disabilities. She ignored the adults who thought she was too young to slide from her wheelchair and make the crawl up the Capitol steps, capturing the attention of the media and the legislators. Her decision to make the Crawl played a significant role in the passage of the law. In 2020, thanks to the work of Jennifer and the many activists in the Disability Rights Movement, we are marking the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In All the Way to the Top, readers learn about the work of Jennifer and other activists who won access to places and services for people living with disabilities. People living with all sorts of disabilities go to work, school, concerts, movies, sporting events, the bathroom, on public transportation, and loads of other places that were inaccessible just 30 years ago. Pimentel also emphasizes the idea that young people can make a difference, too. Anyone who feels strongly that something is unfair can and should speak up. It is valuable knowledge for all kids.
Clear language and illustrations show the world from Jennifer’s point of view. In addition to a forward by Jennifer herself, the back matter includes definitions of terms used in the book, a photograph of Jennifer climbing the Capitol steps, a timeline, and more. All the Way to the Top is strong addition to any elementary school library and a good way to mark the 30th anniversary of the ADA.
Dewey: 362.4 Interest Level: K-Grade 4
Reviews & Awards: Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal. Older students might like: The Survival Guide for Kids with Physical Disabilities and Challenges by Wendy Moss Fiction Pairing: Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor Film for older students: Lives Worth Living (2011). Unrated. Director Eric Neudel. Documentary. A look back at the dynamic Disability Rights Movement. Find it at https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/lives-worth-living/.
Coral Celeste Frazer. Vote!: Women's Fight for Access to the Ballot Box. Minneapolis, MN: Twenty-First Century Books, 2020.
In conjunction with the anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, the one granting voting rights to women, comes a concise history of the long and determined struggle to win that civil right. Frazer pulls stories from the many brave and well-known suffrage leaders, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She also pays homage to the lesser known heroes and shares brief accounts of the likes of the Grimké sisters, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Esther Hobart Morris.
While 1920 is the year the United States’ Constitution was amended, several western states and territories had already passed legislation allowing women the right to vote. 51 years earlier, leaders of the Wyoming Territory gave white women the right to vote. Colorado followed suit and, with strong support from the Mormon church, Utah passed legislation in 1870. Idaho eventually passed a referendum in 1896, still well ahead of the national law.
Frazer doesn’t stop with the passage of the 19th amendment, but shares accounts of the fight to stop the discriminating practices in many states in keeping blacks and immigrants away from the polling booths. From the horrific historical event know as Bloody Sunday, during the Selma to Montgomery March, to her concise and visual explanation of gerrymandering, Frazer makes it clear that there exist continued struggles regarding voting rights.
This book is a solid introduction to the women’s suffrage movement and does a good job addressing the racism and classism present during the time periods. Given the timeliness of this topic, anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, it would make a useful addition to the library collection.
Dewey: 324.623 (Juvenile or Teen) Interest Level: Grades 6-12
Reviews: School Library Journal, Kirkus, School Library Connection, Booklist
Younger students might like:Questions and Answers About Women’s Suffrage by Kate Light. Fiction Pairing: Elementary/Middle: The Hope Chest by Karen Schwabach; Teen: The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters
Project: Help fund the making of Ahead of Her Time: Woman Suffrage in Idaho. This documentary is a joint project from Idaho Women in Leadership, Idaho State Historical Society, Idaho Public Television and many more partners and supporters. Learn more at https://www.idahowomen100.com/.
Online Exhibit from Library of Congress: Find the digital collection of primary sources on women’s history, including suffrage athttps://www.loc.gov/collections/?fa=subject:american+history%7Csubject:women%27s+history
Film:Suffragette (2015). The suffragette movement was happening in England as well as in the United States. This film dramatizes events from 1912 London. Rated PG-13. View before showing students.
Purnell, Sonia. A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win WWII. New York: Viking Press, 2019.
If you’ve not heard of Virginia Hall, that would have suited her just fine. As one of the most successful spies of WWII, she excelled at being known only to those who needed to know. A woman with a prosthetic leg in a time when spies were supposed to be young Ivy League men, she was the most unlikely of spies, overlooked and underestimated. In many ways, the situation helped her excel at her job, despite being undermined and nearly exposed by those who were on her side. The information she provided went a long way toward the defeat of the Germans and helped coordinate the efforts of the French Resistance.
A Woman of No Importance brings to the fore issues of societal expectations and living outside the norm, perseverance in one’s character and physical body, and unbelievable sacrifice for a cause. It documents the beginnings of state-sanctioned spying in England and the United States and shows how the groundwork of modern intelligence agencies was formed.
Although this book is a little dense in some sections, the intrigue, excitement, and narrow escape or capture of the characters will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2019, it would make a strong addition to any display highlighting Women’s History Month coming up in March.
Dewey: 940.54 Interest Level: Grades 10 to adult
Reviews and Awards: Booklist Starred, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, New York Times, Publishers Weekly, NPR’s Best Books of 2019.
Younger Readers might like: The Dark Game: True Spy Stories from Invisible Ink to a CIA Mole by Paul B. Janeczko. (Grades 5-8)
Fiction Pairing: Middle School: Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz