Monthly Archives: August 2006

Dead Is the New Black by Marlene Perez

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Dead Is the New Black by Marlene Perez

Perez, Marlene. Dead Is the New Black.  HMH Books for Young Readers, 2008. ISBN ‎ 978-9910260193 208 pp. $

****

Vampires & werewolves are all the rage (blame Stephanie Meyers), and this supernatural tale about a slightly odd town named Nightshade stands out as lightweight treatment of things that go bump in the night. Daisy, whose talents include gymnastics and cooking, stands out for being normal in family of psychics whose powers include clairvoyance, and telekinesis. When young women in town begin passing out from some kind of odd attack that results in sapped energy and fits of a kind, Daisy makes it her mission to get to the bottom of the mystery, alongside hunky Ryan, football star and son of local chief of police. Romance blossoms (a bit predictably) but the rest of the story is unique, and fun, and has some seriously campy goth elements, like a trend of towing mini coffins along as an accessory in lieu of a purse.

Strong female characters abound, from Daisy’s hardworking rock of mom, to the school’s nurse, Nurse Philips. In between making a mean tiramisu, solving the mystery and getting the guy, Daisy also transitions from ordinary girl to cheerleader, as the squad lacks some key players, uncovers a secret society, and makes nice with a former antagonist. Banter between the three Giordano sisters is witty and by turns warm and teasing (and utterly believable).

Perez’s meal descriptions are mouthwatering, and it’s a treat to read about a teen girl who enjoys food and doesn’t stress too much over body image. The ending is a little over the top with all loose ends neatly tied up and then some, but this is a fine start to what appears to be on it’s way to a regular mystery series.

National Geographic Our World, Updated Edition: A Child’s First Picture Atlas by National Geographic Kids

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National Geographic Our World, Updated Edition: A Child’s First Picture Atlas by National Geographic Kids

National Geographic Kids. National Geographic Our World, Updated Edition: A Child’s First Picture Atlas. ISBN 978-0792255314 32 pp.

*****

This introduction to continents and countries begins with an orientation session to the concept of a globe, a map, and land characteristics, which is a transition for how to recognize boundaries and landforms on a map. The United States is featured first, then the seven continents. Each oversized two-page spread is peppered DK-style with a mix of images that connote the location, such as bananas, carnival, cowboys and rainforests to represent South America, and rice, bamboo and pandas representing Asia. Every entry is accompanied by the continent, shown in position on a world map; a large political map with country boundaries marked; and a mix of photos and illustrations that show native peoples, a common animals, landmark and attractions, the biome, and some cultural aspect.

The text is simple and straightforward, with a large font. Vocabulary words marked in red and accompanied by a graphic. The layout is lively, with a color coded index, busy pages, and bright clear shapes.

The book concludes with geography projects, such as dialogical reading prompts, for parents to share with children. A “Guess what I am?” activity will have young readers flipping pages to go back and find more icons on the maps. A glossary and pronunciation guide are appended.

Blackbeard the Pirate King by J. Patrick Lewis

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Blackbeard the Pirate King by J. Patrick Lewis

Lewis, J. Patrick. Blackbeard the Pirate King. National Geographic, 2006. SBN 978-0792255857 32 pp. $16.95

****

Part biography, part legend and all poetry, this picture book defines the famed and feared dread pirate Captain Teach in all his swashbuckling glory. “Apprentice Pirate” tells of Teach’s early life, while “In the Wake of the Sloops” details spoils of plundered merchant ships in luxurious detail. Lewis conveys the romance of the high seas with vivacity and drama from the first (“…Teach heard them call longingly–/the sirens of the sea”) to the last (“…As he staggered, bloody, lifeless, to the boards”).

Occasionally, the rhyme scheme stretches the meter to discomfort, as in “The Queen Anne’s Revenge:”  “‘The Brethren of the Coast,’” Pirates/No country could contain/loved stealing gold/And seas patrolled–/To a man they hated Spain.” For the most part, Lewis shows mastery of poetic forms and evocative command of language. The sextilla “The Blockade of Charleston” very effectively uses its galloping eight-syllable lines to convey the drama of Blackbeard’s tyrannization of a city for medical supplies.

The poems are accompanied by artist’s renditions of the pirate king. Works by Pyle, Wyeth and Schoonover are interspersed with more contemporary artists such as Farrell and Kelley. The mediums vary delightfully from woodcut to oils to acrylic, and each image seems perfectly matched to the depiction.

A historical footnote sets each tale in context. An author’s note, map and timeline add depth. Illustration credits are noted at the back, and a short bibliography of books and websites offers sources and further reading, making this an exceedingly well-documented volume of poetry. The pirate theme is sure to be popular; purchase to round out your poetry or pirate collection.

Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Craig & Isabella Hatkoff

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Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Craig & Isabella Hatkoff

Hatkoff, Craig & Isabella Hatkoff. Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship. Scholastic, 2006. ISBN 978-0439851138 332 pp. $17.99

*****

 A year and a half after the deadly 2004 tsunami leveled Indian Ocean coastal communities and destroyed wildlife habitats, this picture book recounts an episode following the disaster. Owen & Mzee is billed as the “complete authorized story of two devoted companions,” and allows readers (through extensive photojournalism) to observe the efforts of dedicated relief workers to rescue a baby hippo they later named Owen.

Relying on news reports and interviews, Craig Hatkoff and his six-year-old daughter Isabella continue the saga of the months-old orphaned animal, chronicling his arrival at an animal sanctuary in Kenya and the surprising bond he forms with one of its long-time residents, Mzee, a 130-year-old male tortoise. Extensive notes and maps explore the areas affected by the tsunami and help define key concepts (underwater earthquakes, tsunamis, animal sanctuaries) for 8- to 10-year-old readers who might find some of the material overwhelming or difficult to grasp. However, the rare bonding of young Owen and elderly Mzee, an occurrence that has baffled animal care experts, marks the beginning of life for a new family in a new home, a concept that children can readily embrace.

Color photographs of the distressed baby hippo reflect  the aggressive and physical nature of the animal during his journey to a new home, while later images illustrate his loving and playful personality as he embraces his new family.

Science Quest: Killing Germs, Saving Lives: The Quest for the First Vaccines by Glen Phelan

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Science Quest: Killing Germs, Saving Lives: The Quest for the First Vaccines by Glen Phelan

Phelan, Glen. Science Quest: Killing Germs, Saving Lives: The Quest for the First Vaccines. National Geographic Children’s Books, 2006. ISBN 978-0792255376 64 pp. $

***

The scope of this book is the discovery and implementation of vaccines, from Jenner’s unexpected smallpox vaccine in 1796 to current day Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine in 1954, covering the increase of antiseptic practices in hospitals along the way. A passing mention is made of continued strides in vaccinations today – nothing more than a laundry list of what is being worked on.

The tone is uneven – the introductions range from early reader short repetitive sentences to brief paragraphs with SAT words. Phelan is careful at explaining, but not always adept at it, and is sometimes redundant. The biographical sidebars allow the author to demonstrate his skill at being concise and entertaining in limited space, but the excellent writing these spaces doesn’t spill over to the main narrative. The information is very good, but the design and delivery could be improved.

Quotes appear right next to captioned illustrations, creating an illusion that the boxed text is related to the graphic, when it isn’t. A running timeline helps set events in context, but there is often discrepancy between the dates highlighted and the narration on the same page. For example, Florence Nightingale is first mentioned on page 10. A photo appears on page next to the timeline and her 1820 birthdate. On Page 31, she earns a biography sidebar and the accompanying two pages focus on her contribution to modern nursing, circa 1854. The timeline at the top of the page, however, covers the 1870’s. Few women and no minorities are portrayed, and a picture of two white men in a lab perpetuates the stereotype that science is not for girls. Finally, the modern day information remains US and Eurocentric and makes no mention of issues of disease and prevention worldwide.

Beautiful photographs of bacteria and viruses are a redeeming quality. Photographs of the key players as well as surgical instruments and historic moments help to document the story. Other photos detract from the text, such as illustrations of other milestones (the telephone, the automobile).

The glossary is presented in sentence fragments. The bibliography is focused on websites for biographical and vaccination resources. Only photo sources are cited. The CIP page reads “Large parts of this book were previously published as Finding the First Vaccines (National Geographic 2003);” perhaps that explains the pieced-together feel of Killing Germs, Saving Life. As the timeline doesn’t go beyond 1995, it is unclear why National Geographic felt the need to repackage this book, especially with so poor a design.