Ratliff, Thomas. How to Be a Revolutionary War Soldier. National Geographic, 2006. ISBN 978-0792274896 32 pp. $14.95
Have YOU got what it takes to be a Revolutionary War soldier? This creative history book places kids smack in the middle of the war for independence through the pretext of applying for the job in the army. Opening with a job description that includes such duties as marching, drilling and following orders, the book includes a brief overview of how the war started before delving into the typical life of a private. Covering hierarchy, pay, training, uniforms, weapons, and more, details about major battles and important generals are woven in.
The volume concludes with an interview in the form of a ten-question, multiple choice, reading comprehension quiz. Many of James’ finely drawn and colorful center panels contain comic book style dialogue bubbles that enhance the text and add a touch of humor.
The layout is traditional: a few paragraphs to the left of each two page spread with a large illustration in the center, surrounded by a clockwise series of subheadings with more text and graphics. This design is a little busy and doesn’t take into account the quirky way the millennial generation scans a page (bottom and sides first, honing in on the center). Sidebars include how to load a musket, excellent labeled clothing diagrams, and photos of artifacts such as surgical instruments, a cannon and specie.
One strength of the “How to Be A” series is that the authors have a deep and specific interest and expertise in their topic. Ratliff, a history and poli-sci educator for teens, is no exception. His narrative is clear, interesting facts are well-selected to maintain interest, and the second person perspective is captivating.
The glossary is brief and composed mostly of words defined in context. Sources are cited only for photos, and just two books are recommended for further reading (one published by the same company as this one). This is an engaging and thorough introduction to 18th century military life during wartime.
Morley, Jacqueline. How to Be an Egyptian Princess. National Geographic Children’s Books, 2006. ISBN 978-0792274940 32 pp. $
Have YOU got what it takes to be an Egyptian Princess? This creative history book teleports kids back to ancient times through the pretext of applying for the job as the daughter of an Egyptian King. Opening with a job description that includes such duties as obedience, dignity and “avoiding jealousy and plotting,” the book includes a map of the fertile crescent and overview of the topography and climate before delving into the details of life in the palace. Spanning such details as people (royal family, servants and relatives), places (the garden, the temple) and things (furnishings, dress, and jewelry), the book includes all the major aspects of society and culture. The volume concludes with an interview in the form of a ten-question, multiple choice, reading comprehension quiz. Many of Hawthorne’s detailed center panels contain comic book style dialogue bubbles that enhance the text and add a touch of humor.
The layout is traditional: a few paragraphs to the left of each two page spread with a large illustration in the center, surrounded by a clockwise series of subheadings with more text and graphics. This design is a little busy and doesn’t take into account the quirky way the millennial generation scans a page (bottom and sides first, honing in on the center). Sidebars include how to load a musket, excellent labeled clothing diagrams, and photos of artifacts such as vessels and vases, a headrest and a mummy case lid.
One strength of the “How to Be A” series is that the authors have a deep and specific interest and expertise in their topic. Morley, a history and English educator is no exception. The second person perspective draws the reader into the simple and straightforward writing; well-chosen facts enforce the extravagance of the lux life.
The glossary is brief and composed mostly of words defined in context. Sources are cited only for photos, and just two books are recommended for further reading (one published by the same parent company as this one). This is an engaging and thorough introduction to life on the Nile in a royal household.
Singleton, Linda Joy. Witch Ball (The Seer #3). Flux, 2006. ISBN 978-0738708218 216 pp. $
In this third novel of the Seer series, 16-year-old Sabine Rose, still intent on keeping her psychic abilities a secret, is fitting in with the popular clique at her new school, right down to the requisite cute and sensitive boyfriend. When she discovers a haunted glass ball mysteriously hanging in her grandmother’s kitchen window, she puts in it in a box for safekeeping. The ball keeps escaping from its hiding spot, and when it shows up at a school carnival and makes a boy playing fortune teller issue some disturbingly accurate predictions, Sabine turns to the handy man Dominic and her spirit guide Opal for assistance.
Part mystery, part fantasy, and part romance, Witch Ball also incorporates subplots of implementing the school carnival, struggling with Nona’s increasing dementia, and being torn between two boys (the puppy dog-like sweet crush and the brooding older man), rounding out the story and setting the supernatural elements in a complete and believable setting. Sabine is a sympathetic and likeable character–everygirl with one little twist…
Newbies to the series will get wrapped up in the drama, while fans will enjoy continued character development and culminating storylines. The author provides just enough information to bring readers unfamiliar with the storyline up to speed. The writing is average, and the ending predictable, Singleton shines in creating eerie and suspensful scenes. The voice of Sabine is dead on, but… for a 14 year old. This allows the author/publisher to keep the story “clean” enough for middle school audiences.
The Seer books are a perfect readalike for fans of Meg Cabot’s Mediator series; Witch Ball is sure to be a popular choice in public and school libraries serving teens.
Simon, Seymour. Emergency Vehicles. Chronicle, 2006. ISBN 978-0811854078 32 pp.
This exciting book highlights vehicles used to help people: firetrucks, rescue helicopters, ambulances, police cars and more, giving the basic function and duties of each. Each vehicle is highlighted in a two page spread with a color photo and a paragraph or two of information, whetting the reader’s appetite for topics that a whole book could be devoted to.
Like Simon’s Planet Mars volume of the Seemore Readers series, most words contain fewer than two syllables, and the font is large for beginning readers. The word complexity seems above a Pre-K to grade 1 audience. The photos vary between shots of just the vehicle and interior images with people. The small format doesn’t allow for more than one image per vehicle, and the larger than life impact of these important vehicles would be better suited to a larger picture book format.
There are no source notes, glossary, or index–although not traditional in easy readers, this is a work of nonfiction, and should contain a bibliography at the very least. Purchase in paperback.
Sauer, Tammi, illus. by Mike Reed. Cowboy Camp. Union Square Books, 2014 (reprint edition). ISBN 978-1454913603 32 pp. $8.95
A cowpoke named Avery doesn’t fit in at cowboy camp. The clothes don’t fit, he doens’t like the food, he’s allergic to horses, and he can’t make a lasso. Thankfully, when Black Bart comes lurking, Avery’s non-cowboy ways dissuade the villian and save the day – earning him rank as a real honest to goodness cowboy.
The cast is illustated with a multicultural band of kids, and the language has an irresistable drawl to it. The people and animals have a caricature feel that makes them cute and not at all intimidating while infusing them with personality and style.
The story is very straightforward, but affirming for kids of all abilities. The final page feels abrupt. Better editing might have resulted in a stronger feeling of closure. Purchase where cowboy stories are popular.
Weaver, Will. Full Service. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. ISBN 978-0374324858 240 pp. 240 $20
Farmer boy Paul decides to get a job in town even though he really can’t be spared; mom supports him because she thinks he needs exposure to real people and the real world beyond the isolating life on the farm. He lands a job at a Shell Oil Station, where his training on the essential points of Shell Service come with an urban legend that Mr. Shell could show up anytime and award a money prize on the spot to an employee who demonstrates above and beyond customer service in the Shell way.
A number of characters pull into the gas station in the summer of ’65. Paul meets hippies, popular crowd schoolmates, a hit man and regular folks too, and accomplishes his mother’s goal of “meeting the public” in eye-opening fashion. The setting is a vehicle to show a gap in attitude between Paul and his father, and also demonstrates that everything changes, it all stays the same. Parents want their children to lead better lives, everyone remembers the impact of their first job, and sometimes, that guy or girl you like likes someone else … but you like him or her too much not to help him or get the one s/he loves.
This coming of age story has a place in most library collections.
Holly-Jane Rahlens. Prince William, Maximilian Minsky, and Me. Candlewick, 2007. ISBN 978-0763632991 320 pp. $7.99
It’s love at first sight when Nellie sees a photo of blonde-haired, blue-eyed heir to the throne Prince William. She lives in Germany and her chances of meeting the famous royal are slim to none. She’s a bookish girl, but a potential basketball championship with a grand prize trip to London results in a new friendship with a goth boy who helps the bookworm learn to dribble, pass and shoot.
The love triangle cover belies the complexity of the story. There are two major subplots: Nellie’s preparation for her bat mitzvah, and the dissolving of her musician parents’ marriage just as her thoughts are turning to romance. Strong adult characters also set the book apart–Nellie’s slightly obsessive mother and Casanova father, and a grandmotherly friend and her circle of biddies have depth and verve. Nellie is especially likable, precocious and obtuse at the same time. The German setting, international characters and Yiddish and Hebrew language droppings further enrich the text.
The book tackles Big Questions: faith and faithfulness, the nature of true love and true crushes, and identity and self-esteem with a does of humor. The tone occasionally gets too overly dramatic to be believed i.e., opening with a “once upon a time beginning” and concluding with another authorial intrusion that reminds us the story has been a reminiscence rather than happening in the now, making the voice of the protagonist waver too much between girlish and wise. Nellie herself is caught on a cusp, so it mostly works.
A glossary is appended; recommended for fans of Georgia Nicholson looking for less superficial stories about girls navigating into young adulthood.