Published by Henry Holt
Summary: Maya Lin grew up surrounded by nature, books, and parents “who never told her what to be or how to think”, having left China to escape that kind of doctrine. Maya loved to create, inspired by her artist father and poet mother. In college, she decided to study architecture, combining her love of art, science, and math. When she was a senior, she entered a contest to design a memorial for the Vietnam War. Her entry was selected from 1,421 others. When the judges found out how young she was, they were shocked, and many felt that another design should be chosen. Maya persisted, however, and her dream of a beautiful black wall with the names of those who died in the Vietnam War became a reality. It was the first of many art-architecture installations that Maya continues to create today. Includes an author’s note with additional information about Maya Lin and the memorial. 32 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: A quiet, beautiful work about a talented artist who persisted in bringing her creation to fruition. The digital watercolors by first-time illustrator Phumiruk perfectly capture tone of the book and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Cons: This only touches on details of Lin’s life, and is not a complete biography.
Published by Readers to Eaters
Summary: Roy Choi’s family moved from South Korea to Los Angeles when he was two. He grew up exploring the streets of L.A. and coming home to his mom’s delicious Korean cuisine. After graduating from culinary school, Roy became a chef in a fancy restaurant. When he lost his job, he decided to partner up with a friend and open a taco truck with a Korean twist. The Kogi Korean taco trucks were a hit, and Roy built on this success by starting the Locol restaurant in the Watts neighborhood of L.A. He continues to expand his culinary offerings, bringing his cooking to as many different types of places and people as he can. Includes notes from both authors and the illustrator, as well as a bibliography and list of resources. 32 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: The third collaboration between Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Readers to Eaters, this mouth-watering, fast-paced biography is designed to inspire kids to cook and eat new foods. The graffiti-influenced illustrations are the perfect complement for this ode to the city streets.
Cons: You’ll be craving a Korean taco before you’re halfway through this book.
Published by Candlewick Press
Summary: During the 1970’s and 1980’s, women’s tennis was dominated by Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Although they were staunch competitors and from countries that were engaged in a cold war (the U.S. and Soviet Union-controlled Czechoslovakia), the two were friends off the court and remain so to this day. In the early years, Chrissie won the most; then Martina got more serious, and was ultimately victorious more times over the course of their careers. But the important takeaway from their rivalry isn’t winning or losing, but how each one pushed and encouraged the other to be a better player and a better person. Includes a three-page annotated timeline, a paragraph about both women’s lives after tennis, and a page of sources. 40 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: The fast-paced, chatty writing will engage readers who may have never heard of these two tennis superstars from a generation ago. Lessons on hard work and good sportsmanship can effortlessly be extracted from their story. And don’t worry, Series of Unfortunate Events illustrator Helquist has rendered both players more Violet Baudelaire than Count Olaf.
Cons: “The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports” is arguably a bit of an overstatement.
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Summary: Margaret Hamilton loved solving problems. Her ability to problem-solve led her to a career in computers, first at MIT, and then at NASA. In 1964, she went to work for NASA, writing computer programs that took into account every problem a spacecraft could have as it traveled to the moon. By the time the Apollo missions were underway, Margaret was the director of software programming. Minutes before Apollo 11 was going to touch down on the moon, a computer problem set off an alarm. Margaret was able to use her code to solve the problem, and the rest was a giant step into history. An author’s note gives more biographical information about Margaret; there’s also a bibliography, and photos of Margaret on the endpapers. 40 pages; grades 1-4.
Pros: A fun story about a woman who pioneered computer programming and played an important role in the space program. The text is engagingly conversational, and the graphic novel-style illustrations make it kid-friendly.
Cons: The biographical details of Hamilton’s life are a little light.
Published by NorthSouth Books
Summary: Young John F. Kennedy didn’t always do well in school, and he was often sick. But as he grew up and studied history, he became interested in the meaning of courage and how he could help others in the world. When his older brother Joe died in World War II, Jack became the focus of his family’s political ambitions. When he was elected President, he quickly took action in a number of areas, like establishing the Peace Corps and starting the space race. But he was less decisive on civil rights. African-American leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jackie Robinson pressured him to act more forcefully, but it wasn’t until he saw young people around the country marching and going to jail that he found the courage to speak up. The “big speech” of the title is his civil rights address, given June 11, 1963, that ultimately led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Readers are encouraged at the end of the book to take action like those who inspired JFK to make this famous speech. An author’s note gives more background; there are also thumbnail profiles of other famous people in the book and additional resources. 56 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: An inspirational story of the many accomplishments of John F. Kennedy, as well as a look at an area he where he was slow to act, and how others’ deeds finally led him to do the right thing. The bold paintings complement the bold actions of the narrative.
Cons: For a picture book, there’s a lot of content for readers to understand.
Published by Chronicle Books
Summary: Pity the poor children growing up in early eighteenth century England. Although there were plenty of books around for adults, kids only got preachy poems, sermons, and books of rules about manners and such. Fortunately for them, a young printer named John Newbery thought they deserved better. The fact that his books were entitled A Little Pretty Pocket-Book and The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes and became overnight bestsellers demonstrates what a deplorable condition children’s literature was in at that time. John continued to work throughout his career to produce popular books for kids, and we remember him every January when the Newbery Medal is awarded to the book that has made “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”. An author’s note gives additional biographical information. 44 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: A lighthearted look at the life of a man whose name many librarians and teachers know, but whose life we are less familiar with. Readers will appreciate the wealth of children’s literature that has grown since Mr. Newbery’s time.
Cons: The subject may be of greater interest to adults than to kids.
Published by duopress
Summary: We all take our smartphones for granted these days, but it wasn’t so long ago that portable phones were roughly the size and weight of a brick (at least it doesn’t seem that long ago to me). It was the genius of Steve Jobs and industrial designer Jony Ive that created the first iPhone. It was a long road to get there, though, beginning with the creation of the Apple company, and continuing with the many machines and software that came before the iPhone: personal computers in a variety of shapes and sizes, the iPod, iTunes, and more. This book takes a brief look at the whole history, starting with the creators’ early lives, and concluding with Steve Jobs’ death and the iPhone today. Includes a glossary, list of books and websites, and index. 56 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: A fast-paced, colorful look at a topic that’s sure to be of interest to kids. The design is appealing, with plenty of sidebars and graphics .
Cons: So much material is covered in such a short book that it sometimes seems disjointed and choppy.