Book Reviews and More

Hi! This blog is for my classes at Texas Woman's University.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Genre 4 Nonfiction and Biography Reviews

Review for The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming
*This review is coursework for LS 5603 at TWU

Fleming, Candace. The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2008. ISBN 9780375936180.

The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming is a detailed and fascinating look into the lives of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, spanning time from their birth until their deaths. All areas of their lives are explored: personal, political, social, and emotional, through articles, clippings, photographs, drawings, recipes, and letters. Abraham’s rise in politics, his presidency, the tragic deaths of their sons, the Civil War, Lincoln’s assassination, and Mary’s struggles are all intimately explored throughout the book.

Fleming has done a remarkable job relaying vast amounts of information in easy to read segments through her scrapbook style. While it may be a bit intimidating at first to see so much text on the page, once you read even one article, you are hooked into the compelling lives of these two people. The small chunks of information are relayed through such a variety of formats and devices, that it is easy to imagine poring over the pages for long stretches of time. The book’s organization and design are similar to a newspaper, and the black and white typeface and photographs from the time lend to that comparison. In fact, there is no color in the entire book other than black, white, and gray. When the book is first opened, the starkness may seem strange to children who are used to a more colorful style of scrapbook, but the choice contributes well to the story and overall design. Fleming’s writing style is engaging and very accessible, making difficult concepts such as the issues of the war, politics, and mental illness understandable for her audience.

The wealth of information about Abraham and Mary is staggering and well documented. Fleming includes an explanatory introduction to the style of the book, a table of contents, and a timeline of the Lincoln years. In the back matter, Fleming has further recommended reading, a list of Lincoln web sites, information about the research process, a 17-page quotation bibliography, picture credits, and an index. After reading this book, the reader feels as if they have really looked at a scrapbook into the lives of Abraham and Mary. It is much more than just a collection of facts; it truly seems to be their story.

The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary received four starred reviews. Chicago Public Librarian Janet S Thompson says, “Notes, resources, and source notes are exemplary. It’s hard to imagine a more engaging or well-told biography of the Lincolns.” The book won the 2009 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Nonfiction and was a NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor Book. Common Sense Media says, “This is the way biography for children ought to be done. The content is deep, rich, complex, and emotional, and the author shows great respect for the intelligence of her young readers.”

Fleming offers readers several other compelling biographies including Ben Franklin’s Almanac: Being a True Account of a Good Gentleman’s Life; Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt’s Remarkable Life; and Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Her forthcoming biography is The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. Children who want to read more about Lincoln may also enjoy Lincoln: A Photobiography and Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship both by Russell Freedman or Lincoln’s Last Days: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever by Bill O’ Reilly. Freedman has also written several other award-winning biographies including The Voice that Changed a Nation: Marion Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights; Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery; and The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane. Readers that want to learn more about the Civil War may turn to autobiographies such as Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. Fiction titles, such as Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt or Little Women by Louisa May Alcott would also pair well with biographies in a Civil War study.

Quote from Candace Fleming: "We may just be specters in this world, but our stories, if they are remembered and retold, become real and solid and alive... Once your hear a story, it becomes part of you."


Berman, Matt. "The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary." Book Review. (accessed March 26, 2014).

Fleming, Candace. "Candace Fleming - The Lincolns." Candace Fleming - The Lincolns. (accessed March 26, 2014).

Fleming, Candace. The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2008.

Review for Never Smile at a Monkey: and 17 Other Important Things to Remember by Steve Jenkins
*This review is coursework for LS 5603 at TWU

Jenkins, Steve. Never Smile at a Monkey: and 17 Other Important Things to Remember. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009. ISBN 9780618966202.

Never Smile at a Monkey takes a creative look at 18 different animals that readers may have never suspected could be dangerous. Each animal is presented with advice to the reader, such as “NEVER pet a platypus”, “NEVER collect a cone shell”, "NEVER clutch a cane toad” and then an explanation as to the animal’s dangerous nature is described. At the end of the book, more information is given on each animal, such as their size, habitat, diet as well as a more detailed explanation of their unique defense. The book is well illustrated using cut paper in a colorful collage style. Especially eye-catching are the front and back covers, with the entire cover appropriately filled with the face of a monkey – solemn on the front, showing its fangs on the back.

In Never Smile at a Monkey, Jenkins has created a book in a style that is quite hard to resist. By creating “NEVER” statements about the animals, a reader’s curiosity is naturally piqued to discover what could be so dangerous about the animal. The way that the story is staged lifts this book above a simple fact book about animals. Jenkins seems to have a knack for creating interesting new takes on animal books that greatly appeal to children. Other books he’s written, such as What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? and What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? (which won a 2004 Caldecott Honor) also try and capture the readers’ attention by piquing their curiosity.

The simplicity of Never Smile at a Monkey does not necessarily lend itself to an index, but suggestions for further reading are listed in the informational summary section at the end of the book. So far, Jenkins has written and illustrated more than 30 nonfiction books for children, making him a prominent nonfiction author in public and school libraries. The books easily capture the attention of their intended child audience but are also an informative treat for parents, librarians and teachers as well.

Never Smile at a Monkey was a 2009 Junior Library Guild selection, a North Dakota Flicker Tale list selection, and on the Horned Toad Tale list for 2010-2011. School Library Journal gave it a starred review saying, “This superlative illustrator has given children yet another work that educates and amazes.” Kirkus describes it as “Another stunning environmental lesson from an aficionado of animal behavior.”

Readers who enjoy this book will be delighted by Jenkins many other animal offerings with unique perspectives. In Actual Size, Jenkins focuses on the different sizes of animals in comparison with each other. In the fun pop-up book Animals Upside Down, Jenkins explores the unique viewpoint of animals that actually live much of their life upside down. The book, Sisters & Brothers, goes into the relationships between animal siblings – not a subject that I’ve seen often in books about animals – and is filled with interesting facts about families in the animal world. My First Day describes what life is like for different animals on the day of their birth. Readers interested in animal nonfiction will also enjoy the books by Seymour Simon, who contrasts nicely with Jenkins. While Jenkins uses illustrations, Simon uses striking photographs in his books, such as Extreme Oceans and Animals Nobody Loves. Children may also enjoy many of the animal books by Gail Gibbons as well. Any of these books could be easily incorporated into a science lesson. Art classes could also explore Jenkins style of paper collage and compare/contrast it to other collage artists who depict animals – such as Eric Carle. Math teachers may want to incorporate the Jenkins’ book Just a Second, which takes a look at how much can be accomplished in a second, minute, month, year… in a unit studying time.

Quote from Steve Jenkins: “I believe we should teach science as a process… not just a collection of facts. It’s a tool that allows children to test their own theories and to trust their own conclusions.”


Jenkins, Steve. Never Smile at a Monkey: and 17 Other Important Things to Remember. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009.

Jenkins, Steve. "Steve Jenkins Books — Never Smile at a Monkey." Steve Jenkins Books. (accessed March 21, 2014).

Review for Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
*This review is coursework for LS 5603 at TWU

Sheinkin, Steve. Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World's Most Dangerous Weapon. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2012. ISBN 9780545595971.

Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon delves into the story behind the creation of the world’s first atomic bomb. In 1938, German scientists discovered that a uranium atom splits it two when placed next to a radioactive material. From then on, the race to build an atomic bomb was underway, with three major powerhouses – Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States – all trying to be the first to succeed as World War II raged on. Bomb goes into the creation of the Manhattan Project with Robert Oppenheimer as the lead, the KGB spy network that perpetrated the project through agents throughout the United States, and the efforts to derail Germany’s attempts to create a bomb.

Spanning a period of time from 1934 to 1950, Bomb reads like a fiction story – fast-paced, dangerous, and intriguing – and this style greatly contributes to its appeal to readers. But it is undoubtedly non-fiction, as the detailed source notes, bibliography, photographs, and eleven pages of quotation notes attest to its accuracy. The book covers different aspects of the bomb race occurring over the period of World War II. Rather than grouping each aspect of the story into separate sections, Sheinkin moves back and forth between the different storylines. So it shifts its focus between the scientific research going on at Los Alamos, the KGB activity in America, and then jumps to Norway and the attempts to sabotage German technology. These events move along chronologically and intertwine together. This organizational choice by Sheinkin helps make the story read more like a spy thriller than a textbook, and helps to realistically build up the tension while staying true to the timeline of events.

The book begins each section with black and white photographs of the various people involved in the story. More photographs of locations and events, as well as the letter written by Albert Einstein to President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning him about the discovery of the uranium reaction, are included at the end of the book. The photographs definitely help place faces to the names of the people in the book, and there are a lot of different players in this story. In fact, it would have been helpful to have a listing of the different people in the book with their title or role in addition to the photos, to help the reader keep all the names straight; and I found myself wishing for even more photographs to round out the text.

One of the most compelling storylines within the book was that of the Norwegian resistance and their efforts to destroy the heavy water production plant used by the Germans. I was not at all familiar with this aspect of the bomb race, and it was captivating. This story is portrayed in the 1965 movie, The Heroes of Telemark, starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris. Also brilliant in the book is Sheinkin’s choice to leave readers in the dark as to how far the Germans had gotten in their development of the bomb throughout the story. As a result, readers can empathize with the pressure and worry that pervaded the minds and lives of the Los Alamos scientists to create the bomb quickly. Once the bomb is successfully tested, the story continues on to its horrific consequences in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the impact the bomb had on all of those involved in its creation.

Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon has won many awards. In 2013, it was a Robert F. Sibert award winner, a Newbery Honor Book, and a National Book Award finalist. Kirkus starred review said Bomb is “a superb tale of an era and an effort that forever changed our world.” The starred Publishers Weekly review compliments Sheinkin’s “highly readable storytelling style” and says it’s “a must-read for students of history and science.”

Readers who enjoy Bomb should try Sheinkin’s other novels including The Notorious Benedict Arnold and The Port Chicago 50. Older students interested in learning more about the atomic bomb may be interested in the Pulitzer Prize novel The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. Bomb also opens up discussion into World War II and its impact on the world. Many excellent books have been written on the subject, both fiction and nonfiction, including The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr.

Quote from Steve Sheinkin: “To me, history is the search for stories. I think my job is sort of like detective work.”


"BOMB." Kirkus Reviews. (accessed March 23, 2014).

"Bomb: The Race to Build-and Steal-the World's Most Dangerous Weapon." (accessed March 23, 2014).

Sheinkin, Steve. Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World's Most Dangerous Weapon. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2012.

"SteveSheinkin." SteveSheinkin. (accessed March 23, 2014).

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