Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu

Published by Sterling Children’s Books

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Summary:  Most people know Hedy Lamarr as a film star, but she was also a dedicated inventor who spent her spare time coming up with ideas like a glow-in-the-dark dog collar and a flavor cube to turn plain water into soda.  Her biggest invention, working with composer George Antheil, was the “frequency hopping” guidance system, designed to prevent the enemy from jamming radio signals on torpedos. She and Antheil received a patent for their work in 1942, but unfortunately the system was never implemented by the Navy during the war.  Forty years later, the idea was declassified, and is used today to help keep cell phone calls and texts private. The two inventors never received recognition or money for their creation, but in 1997, they received the Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. As Hedy commented, “It’s about time.” Includes a timeline, additional information about frequency hopping, a bibliography, a filmography of Lamarr’s works, and a reading list about other women in STEM.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Who knew Hedy Lamarr was a talented scientist and inventor as well as an actress?  This engaging biography includes information on her both her careers; the lively illustrations incorporate relevant quotes from Lamarr.  I was hoping to include a review of another book on this same topic, Hedy and Her Amazing Invention by Jan Wahl, published the same week, but no one in my library network has gotten a copy of this one.

Cons:  Some of the technical details may be a bit much for younger readers.

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Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Amanda Hall

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Summary:  Growing up in England, Leonora Carrington never conformed to the expectations for a proper young lady.  Instead, she pursued art, creating fantastic pictures inspired by Irish legends her grandmother told her.  As an adult, she discovered surrealism, and became part of a group of artists in France. When World War II started, she fled to Mexico, where she eventually married and had children, but continued to paint.  She spent the rest of her life in Mexico, creating surreal paintings and sculptures until her death at the age of 94. Includes notes from both the author and the illustrator and a short bibliography. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An interesting biography of an artist who is probably unknown to most kids.  The illustrations, inspired by Leonora Carrington’s art, will spark young readers’ imaginations.

Cons:  None of Carrington’s actual artwork is included anywhere in the book.

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Straw Into Gold: Fairy Tales Re-Spun by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Sarah Gibb

Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books

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Summary:  Hilary McKay has created new stories based on ten well-known fairy tales, including Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, and more.  Each story has at least one twist; for instance, Rapunzel’s tale is told from the point of view of her twin son and daughter and Hansel and Gretel tell what happened to them in essays for their new teacher on “What I Did In the Holidays”.  Some of the mysteries readers may have wondered about are solved, like what is up with Rumpelstiltskin and that strange king who demands that his bride be able to spin straw into gold–then never asks her to do it again after they’re married (I personally have wondered a lot about Rumpelstiltskin over the years).  The stories are not connected to each other, and can be read on their own or as a collection. Includes an author’s introduction and a brief bibliography. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  These humorous and interesting tales would work well with folktale units, and might inspire kids to try their own.

Cons:  Full disclosure: I only read about half the stories in the collection.

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The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA by Brenda Woods

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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Summary:  Excited by his new birthday bicycle, Gabriel doesn’t pay attention to a red light until he’s directly in the path of an oncoming car.  Fortunately, Meriwether Hunter sees it and pushes Gabriel to safety, then manages to repair the mangled bike. Gabriel introduces Mr. Hunter to his grateful parents, and his dad offers the man a job at his car repair shop.  Hiring a black man is an unusual move for a white man in 1950’s South Carolina, and Lucas, the other mechanic and reputedly a member of the local KKK, doesn’t like it. Gabriel’s eyes are opened to the reality of his hometown as he watches the dynamics between the two men play out.  Meriwether tells Gabriel a secret: he served in World War II but must hide the fact because of the dangerous racism toward black servicemen. A near-tragic act of violence against Meriwether’s young daughter forges the friendship between the two families, but ultimately drives the Hunter family out of town to move north.  208 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Readers will share Gabriel’s discoveries of some ugly truths that lurk in the town his mother calls “a peaceful, pretty place”.  The treatment of African American veterans after World War II is an aspect of racism that many may not be aware of; the author’s note states that it was one of the driving forces of the civil rights movement.

Cons:  The villain’s demise seemed a little unrealistically convenient.

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Wilma’s Way Home: The Life of Wilma Mankiller by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Linda Kukuk

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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Summary:  Growing up in Oklahoma, as one of eleven children, Wilma Mankiller knew her family was poor.  She was happy, though, spending a lot of time outdoors and with the close-knit Cherokee community.  When she was 10, her family was part of a government program to move Native Americans to the cities, and they relocated to San Francisco.  Wilma hated the city and missed her old home in Oklahoma. As an adult, she returned to her roots, moving back to the Cherokee community with her two daughters.  She worked as a community developer, listening to the people in rural Cherokee communities, and helping them get the resources and services they most needed.  In 1985, Wilma became the first woman elected chief of the Cherokee nation, a position she held for the next ten years.  Includes notes from the author and illustrator, a timeline, a pronunciation guide for the Cherokee words used in the text, and lists of additional resources. 48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A beautifully illustrated biography about a leader many kids may not know; the author emphasizes Wilma’s commitment to listening to her constituents to learn what they needed instead of forcing her own ideas on them.

Cons:  No photos.

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The Neighbors by Einat Tsarfati

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  A girl gives a tour of the seven-story building, explaining what the door of each apartment looks like and what that says about the people who live there.  The first door has lots of locks on it; it’s home to a family of thieves with a love of ancient Egyptian artifacts. The muddy footprints around the second door indicate that an old man and his pet tiger reside within.  Whether these inhabitants are real or imagined is never clear, but each is portrayed in great detail on a two-page spread. The final apartment, #7, is the girl’s home, and seems to be pretty run-of-the-mill until the last page reveals a surprising secret about her and her family.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids will want plenty of time to pore over the fantastic illustrations of each apartment.  It would be fun to tie in some sort of art project where kids could design a door and then show the room that’s hidden behind it.

Cons:  I didn’t quite get the last page–is the girl a superhero like her parents, or are they planning on making her one some day?

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When Sadness Is At Your Door by Eva Eland

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Sadness, portrayed here as a large green blobby creature, can arrive unexpectedly and follow you around.  You might be tempted to try to hide it, but it’s better to give it a name and sit with it. Find activities that you both like to do, like drawing or listening to music.  Take it for a walk and let it know it’s welcome. One morning you may wake up to find that Sadness has gone, and it’s a new day. 32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  This simple, concrete way of looking at sadness would provide excellent bibliotherapy for kids (or teens or adults) dealing with grief or depression.  The acceptance of sadness and hopeful ending makes it a peaceful, reassuring book.

Cons:  The story may seem a little oversimplified to those dealing with complicated emotions.

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