Yang, Gene Luen. Dragon Hoops: From Small Steps to Great Leaps. First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press: New York, 2020.
OK, so Dragon Hoops is neither strictly nonfiction, nor new, but if it isn’t in your high school library collection already, it ought to be! Memoir is a gray zone genre, but Yang is up front with the literary license he takes with the facts by breaking the fourth wall occasionally to explain how he changes real events to make them work for a story. The end notes include a full accounting of where the story parts with reality. It’s sort of a glimpse behind the writing curtain.
Dragon Hoops is the story the path of the Bishop O’Dowd High School men’s basketball team’s path to the California State Championship. It’s also the story of Yang’s discovery of his own school’s (Yang was a teacher at Bishop O'Dowd) basketball team’s lore, the players, and his own love of the game. Who knew high school boys’ basketball could be so compelling to the casual or non-sports fan?
There is so much here. In addition to the main plot line, we get mini-lessons on the origins of basketball for men, for women, and for pros, including mention of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Baller or nerd, students will eat this book up. Extensive end notes bibliography.
Dewey: 796.323 Interest Level: YA grades 9 and up.
Younger readers might like: Basketball is a Numbers Game by Eric Braun.
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
Bertagna, Julie. (Illus. William Goldsmith). Wildheart: The Daring Adventures of John Muir. Yosemite National Park, CA: Yosemite Conservancy, 2019.
Finding biographies that are accessible to younger or reluctant readers and still full of engaging and useful information about the subject can be trying. Enter this John Muir biography in graphic novel format. From early boyhood in Scotland (look up Scootchers!), to immigrating to Wisconsin with his family, and throughout the adventures of adulthood, John Muir always had a passion for the outdoors. While he is most closely associated with Yosemite in California, he traveled widely, became a successful inventor, author, farmer, and even hung out with President Theodore Roosevelt. Muir used his celebrity to become an early conservationist and was instrumental in establishing America’s National Parks.
Told in the first person, Wildheart does not get mired in detail nor address questions of inclusivity, rather it moves quickly providing readers with a broad idea of the origins of Muir’s philosophy and legacy in the form of a life-long adventure story. The artwork is skillfully done in color themes that change with the chapters and panels with lots of action. Like any quality nonfiction title, this one has sources in the back matter along with a chronology, glossary and a section titles “Parks are for You,” encouraging all to visit their local state and national parks. It’s a strong addition to the biography collections of elementary and middle schools, and a graphic novel title with lots of classroom uses.
Dewey: 333.72 Interest Level: Grades 3-6
Reviews and Awards: Booklist; Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books; Horn Book Magazine; Publishers Weekly Annex; School Library Connection; School Library Journal starred. Younger readers might like:John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall by Julie Danneberg Older readers might like:A Short Biography of John Muir by Richard Smith Film for a YA audience:Mile, Mile and a Half: Hike, Laugh & Inspire on the John Muir Trail. (2013). Rated TV-14. Directors: Jason M. Fitzpatrick, Ric Serena. Documentary. Five friends hike and document the John Muir trail. On the web: Lots more resources including recordings, film and video, and photos can be found at the Sierra Club vault at https://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/bibliographic_resources/john_muir_bibliography/film_and_video.aspx.
Denise, Anika Aldamuy. (Illus. Paola Escobar). Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré. New York: Harper, 2019.
We all probably have books in our collections that have won the Pura Belpré award for works of children’s literature that best portray, affirm, and celebrate the LatinX cultural experience. The beautiful Planting Stories achieves that goal through the story of Belpré herself, how she came to the United States mainland from Puerto Rico and became the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library.
In beautifully detailed, digitally created illustrations, after she arrives in New York and begins work in the New York Public Library, we see Pura searching for books in the library that contain the stories that she knows from Puerto Rico. When she discovers that they are not there, she writes them down herself and gets them published. The theme of planting the seeds of stories carries through the pages with plants and trees somewhere on every page, along side Pura telling her stories far and wide.
This title will delight students and warm librarians’ hearts and a must-have for picture book collections! Librarians everywhere will be on the hunt for suitable story hour candles of their own.
Dewey: 020.92 Interest Level: K – Grade 2
Reviews and Awards: Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Horn Book Magazine, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal starred.
Upper elementary students might like: Perez and Martina: A Portorican [sic] Folk Tale by Pura Belpré
High School Students might like: The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Fiction Pairing: Juan Bobo Goes to Work: A Puerto Rican Folktale by Marisa Montes
Sorell, Traci. (Illus. Frané Lessac). “We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga.” Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2018.
It can be difficult finding really good picture books accurately depicting a modern Native American family. “We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga” is one of those books. Sorell, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, guides us through a year of seasons with a Cherokee family, ending with the celebration of Cherokee National Holiday.
We start in the fall, when the Cherokee New Year is celebrated with the Great New Moon Ceremony and finish up at the end of summer for the Cherokee National Holiday. In between, there are family traditions, cultural symbols, traditional food, and modern references like a family member leaving to serve in the U.S. military. Along the bottom, some pages provide pronunciation guides, English translations, and the Cherokee syllabary versions of words used in the text.
The colorful folk-art illustrations on double-page spreads show the diversity of people within the Cherokee Nation. The back holds a page of definitions, author’s note, and information about the Cherokee Syllabary. This book is simple beautiful and a must-buy for every Idaho elementary school library.
Dewey: 975.004 Interest Level: K-Gr. 2
Reviews and Awards: Booklist, Horn Book Magazine starred; Kirkus Reviews Starred; Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honor, 2019; School Library Journal starred.
Upper elementary students might like: “Sequoyah and His Talking Leaves: A Play About the Cherokee Syllabary” by Wim Coleman (illus. Siri Weber Feeney). *Could be readers theater or a stage production, too.)
Older readers might like: “The Origin of the Milky Way and Other Living Stories of the Cherokee” published by University of North Carolina Press.
Fiction Pairing: “How Spirit Dog Made the Milky Way: A retelling of a Cherokee Legend” by Michael O’Hearn.
On the Web:
Learn more about Cherokee National Holiday at https://holiday.cherokee.org/.
Discover Cherokee Bean Bread with this short video: https://www.pbs.org/video/discover-cherokee-bean-bread-n5x5dk/
Carter, James. (illus. Mar Hernandez). “Once Upon a Star: A poetic journey through space.” New York: Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2018.
With all the activity around the anniversary of the moon landing, there is no shortage of books and programs around space for summer reading. This title takes a poetic approach that will appeal to the stargazer in the PreK to Grade 1 set, while still landing squarely in the nonfiction category. Poetry, science, and art – three in one!
Carter’s rhyming text is deceptively simple while touching on some big ideas. The concept of nothing existing as “Once upon a star/there were no stars to shine/no sun to rise/no sun to set/no day, no night/nor any time” is at once straight-forward and though provoking. The big bang is portrayed as a beautiful double page spread with “A mighty BOOM/a huge KERRANG.” Hopefully, the uplifting closing sentiment that the reader is made of stardust, and therefore, a star, will be taken to heart by all the kids who read this book!
Hernandez’s illustrations in Once Upon a Star are interesting and clear using a beautiful color palette. The more readers examine the art, the more they will like it; kids and their adults won’t tire of these pages.
This is a must-have for any elementary picture book collection and will be an equally effective read-aloud or lap-read.
Dewey: 523.1 Interest Level: PreK – Grade 2
Reviews and Awards: Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal.
Upper elementary students might enjoy: “Older than the Stars” by Karen C. Fox
Middle school students might like: “The Space Adventurer’s Guide: Your Passport to the Coolest Things to See and Do in the Universe” by Peter McMahon
Fiction Pairing: “The Stuff of Stars” by Marion Dane Bauer.
Westover, Tara. “Educated.” New York: Penguin Random House, 2018.
Tara Westover grew up in a rural part of southeastern Idaho in a separatist, survivalist family who also happens to be Mormon; she makes it clear in her Author’s Note that her story is not about Mormonism, nor any other religious belief. Upon reading, it is easy to see that her story is about enduring, overcoming, and making one’s own future.
Westover’s account of her off-the-grid upbringing seems more objective than the usual memoir since she uses interviews with her family to compare against her own memories. In addition, she writes with a surprising amount of compassion for her neglectful parents and abusive brother.
“Educated” can inspire readers in many ways from making the most of education to accepting help to forgiving those who’ve harmed us. This title is appropriate for older teens and adults (it is an Alex Award winner) and contains some graphic descriptions of abuse and injuries. Living and working conditions were horrific and the abusive older brother became terrifying, making Westover’s escape and hard-won knew self-identity worth cheering.
This title is a strong addition to a high school memoir or Idaho authors collection that will be read by student and staff.
Dewey: 270 Interest Level: Grades 10 and up
Reviews and Awards: 2019 Alex Award, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, New York times, Publishers Weekly starred, School Library Journal starred.
Another memoir for high school students: “Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table” by Ruth Reichl
Hendrix, John. “The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler.” New York: Amulet Books, 2018.
“The Faithful Spy,” which tells the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is certainly a graphic novel, but does not rely on panels. Rather, the images sweep over an entire page and use the best of the graphic novel format and informational text. Hendrix uses only green and red for color to great effect to indicate good and evil, resulting in a page-turner that builds suspense and keeps us on the edge of our seat, even though we may know the end.
As the title indicates, this story does not shy away from the role faith and religion played in Dietrich’s life and the decisions that bring him to the plot to kill Hitler. Although he did not survive the war, his story and the story of his (sometimes surprising) co-conspirators is truly inspiring. His internal battles of ethics and morality around plotting an assassination were very real and could inspire classroom discussion around the ethics of the gray areas of life.
“The Faithful Spy” is a good introduction to the German resistance, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German military, and others who worked to defeat Hitler from inside the Nazi party. Middle and high school students will find it an accessible start, and librarians and teachers may need to use their magnifying readers to read some of the smaller print. A worthwhile addition to any secondary library.
Dewey: 230 (but could easily go in 940.53 or 920) Interest Level: Grades 6 and up
Reviews and Awards: Booklist starred, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Horn Book Magazine, Kirkus Reviews starred, New York times, Publishers Weekly, School Library Connection starred, School Library Journal starred, YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults – Nominees 2019.
Readers might also like: The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero by Patricia McCormick (Gr. 5-8)
Fiction Pairing: Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen (Gr. 6-9)
Nelson, Vaunda Micheaux. (illus. Gordon C. James). “Let ‘er Buck!: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion.” Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., 2019.
Nelson’s newest picture book tells the story of an African American cowboy who lived in Eastern Oregon and competed in the famous Pendleton Round-Up. George’s family is like many who live in the west: his family traveled west on the Oregon Trail, and settled in in the wide-open spaces of Oregon. Whites in the area weren’t always friendly, and so George made friends with kids who lived on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. As he grew, George learned from the tribal horsemen and became an ever more skilled horseman himself and knew that ranching and rodeoing was for him. Eventually at the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up George found himself in the bronc-riding finals with two other men. What happened has become part of Round-Up history.
Idaho students will enjoy this completely western story and will recognize many of the references to our area. One of the men who competed in the final with George, Jackson Sundown, was a member of the Nez Perce tribe and is buried in Slickpoo (a real place), Idaho. Let ‘Er Buck is an excellent choice for local stories and for Black History Month, especially as it applies to the Pacific Northwest, which is not common.
This title is beautifully illustrated by Gordon C. James, who uses the same oil on board technique he used in the award-winning “Ode to the Fresh Cut.” The back pages include photographs and mini-biographies of the main characters in the story, along with a glossary of Rodeo and Western Words, and a bibliography. It’s a must-have for all Idaho elementary libraries, and possibly even for middle school libraries.
Dewey: 791.8 Interest Level: Grades 2-6
Reviews and Awards: Booklist starred, Horn Book Magazine, Kirkus Reviews starred, Publishers Weekly starred, School Library Journal starred.
Younger readers might like: “Cowboy Rodeo” by James Rice
Older readers might like: “Red White Black: A True Story of Race and Rodeo” by Rick Steber
Fiction Pairing: “Pecos Bill, Colossal Cowboy: The Graphic Novel” by Sean Tulien
Sandler, Martin. “1919: The Year that Changed America.” New York: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019.
We might not think of 1919 as a year of momentous importance, but in retrospect, it was a year full of events that impact our lives 100 years later. Some were really great, like Congress approving women’s suffrage, and some were not-so-great, like The Red Scare (did you know there was one 30 years before McCarthy?) and the revolution that brought about communism taking hold in USSR. Each chapter takes on a different event and includes its own timeline for each. A few other topics included in this readable title are the 18th Amendment (prohibition of alcohol), labor strikes, the Black Sox scandal, the Red Summer race riots, and more.
While some events are well known, others will be new to students, and possibly teachers, like the Great Molasses Flood in Boston’s North End, which led to stricter requirements around architecture and engineering in building codes across the nation. Sometimes students in history class don’t see the connection between the names and dates in their text books, but "1919" ties it all together well. Taken together, it is easy to see how these events led to societal shifts that were coming in the 20th and the 21st Centuries.
With its carefully chosen photographs and each chapter’s 100 Years Later section, it’s a strong addition to a middle or high school library. As a whole, it is an interesting read, and taken separately, the chapters provide a good resource for research, especially in middle school/junior high.
Dewey: 973.91 Interest Level: Grades 6-9
Reviews and Awards: Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly Annex, School Library Journal.
Younger readers might like: “100 Events that Made History” by Clare Hibbert
Older readers might like: “Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918” by Albert Marrin
Fiction Pairing: “Hattie Ever After” by Kirby Larson
On the Web:
The Boston Globe’s article marking the 100th anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood, along with images of the frontpage headlines of the Globe morning and evening papers on January 15, 1919.
The Library of Congress has a collection of primary sources associated with the 19th Amendment that includes the Clara Barton Papers and scrapbook collections.
Brown, Don. “The Moon Landing.” New York: Amulet Books, 2019.
Don Brown is back with the first book in a promising new graphic novel series called Big Ideas. Rather than a biography, the series tracks the progress of an idea and introduces the people in the context of the idea, not the other way around; it’s an approach that works well.
The first installment, “The Moon Landing,” explores rockets, where they came from, and the pivotal people and moments that moved that big idea along. Players and events weave in and out of the story: the invention of gun powder in China; a mention in America’s national anthem; Julies Verne’s book “From the Earth to the Moon,” the inspiration of many a rocket scientist; and dare devil Rodman Law’s attempt at flying in a rocket in 1913. His attempt was unsuccessful (it involved lighting a fuse), but on the upside, he does get to narrate the rest of "The Moon Landing" as we make our way through the 20th Century, all the way to the trials and completion of the Apollo program in 1972. There isn’t a focus on any one person, the focus is all on the progress of rockets.
The drawings are clear and work well with the text and witty dialog from Rodman. There are lessons on grit, on the process of creating, trial and error, and enduring the criticism of skeptics. The design also shows how people build on ideas and what can inspire them. Brown directly acknowledges the lack of diversity in the story of the rocket and concisely explains the reasons for it. He doesn’t shy away from the dangers of space travel, or the realities of what happened to the animals that were sent into space, either.
Available in March 2019, “The Moon Landing” is a necessary addition to any upper elementary and middle school library with students who are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and the 50th anniversaries of all the Apollo missions. Two thumbs up!
Dewey: 620 Interest Level: Grades 3-7
Reviews and Awards: None yet.
Younger readers might like: “Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon” by Suzanne Slade (release date March 12, 2019).
Older readers might like: “Apollo 8: The Mission that Changed Everything” by Martin W. Sandler
Fiction pairing: “From the Earth to the Moon” by Jules Verne
On the Web:
NASA at www.nasa.gov. There is so much here! One highlight is Spot the Station, which shows when the Space Station will be visible from anywhere. There are apps, NASA TV, and awesome resources for educators and students.
Apollo Archive at http://www.apolloarchive.com/ has recordings of communications, countdowns, etc., during the Apollo mission, including the famous Apollo 13 “Houston, we’ve had a problem” conversation.
See a rocket launch live at Kennedy Space Center (kennedyspacecenter.com). The next launch is December 18, 2018.