She Did It! 21 Women Who Changed the Way We Think by Emily Arnold McCully

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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Summary:  As per the subtitle, you’ll find 21 women who promoted feminism and changed the role of women, mostly in the twentieth century.  Each profile is several pages long, broken into sections with headings and sidebars, and begins with an illustration of the woman with a large head, a la the Who Was biography series.  They’re arranged in chronological order by the year each woman was born, beginning with Ida Tarbell (1857) and concluding with Temple Grandin (1947).  Many of the names may be unfamiliar to elementary and middle school students. The concluding chapter, “Second Wave Feminism” tells the story of feminism in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and includes an eye-popping list of eight things a woman couldn’t do before the second wave (get a bank loan, serve on a jury in most states, etc.).  Includes a list of sources and an index. 272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  An educational and entertaining look at 21 fascinating women in a wide variety of fields and from diverse backgrounds, all placed in the context of the history of feminism.  The illustrations and page layouts make this easy to browse.

Cons:  While I liked the illustrations, photos of each woman would have been a useful addition as well.

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Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

Published by Clarion Books

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Summary:  In 1917, cousins Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright spent much of the summer playing near the beck, or stream, behind their home in Cottingley, England.  When Frances got in trouble for getting her shoes wet, she claimed she and Elsie had seen fairies near the water. She convinced her father to let them take his camera to photograph the little creatures, and sure enough, they were able to capture some of the fairies on film.  The photos came to the attention of Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle, and he was so intrigued, he got them published in a magazine. The hoax continued until 1983, when Frances and Elsie, then 75 and 81, finally admitted that the pictures were faked. They never expected their prank to get so big, and when it did, hadn’t wanted to embarrass their families and Conan Doyle.  In fact Frances admitted faking most of them, but would never renounce the final photo they took, and always claimed there had been fairies in Cottingley. Includes an author’s note and list of sources. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  This story has been told before, but this version is particularly well-done for younger kids, with the original photos incorporated into the illustrations.  The author’s note includes a discussion of how people can be tricked into believing things that aren’t true, and how this continues today, aided by the Internet.  

Cons:  Kids may find it hard to believe that people believed these photos were real for so many years.

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The Elephant by Jenni Desmond

Published by Enchanted Lion Books

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Summary:  When a child takes a book off the shelf and begins to read, he learns a lot about elephants.  Much of the book is nonfiction, giving facts and information about elephants, including the different species, their size, what they eat, their habitat, and why they are endangered.  The child appears in some of the illustrations, and there are connections to his world, like the picture that shows four cars piled on top of each other that are equal in weight to a male elephant.  Although elephants sleep a lot less than most other mammals, the same is not true for the reader, and the final page shows him asleep in his dark house, his head pillowed by the elephant book. 48 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  An appealing nonfiction book, with the whimsical illustrations adding some humor, but also informing (the car picture, the one above that shows the length of an elephant’s trunk with two children lying on it toe-to-toe).  Jenni Desmond has written similar books on polar bears and blue whales, which I am now looking to add to my libraries.

Cons:  There is no back matter–some additional resources would have been useful.

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Attucks: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City by Phillip Hoose

Published by Farrar Straus Giroux

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Summary:  Crispus Attucks High School opened its doors in 1927, a school built by the Ku Klux Klan to segregate the high schools of Indianapolis.  Because so many black teachers couldn’t get jobs at white schools, the faculty was outstanding, with many teachers qualified to be college professors.  When Ray Crowe was hired to teach math in the junior high next to Attucks, he brought with him basketball talent and knowledge that had made him a college star.  Within a few years, he was coaching Attucks players in a new style of playing basketball. It took a decade of overcoming barriers, but his team won the Indiana state champion in 1955 and 1956, with an undefeated season in 1956, the first time ever since the championship began in 1911.  The star of the team both years was Oscar Robertson, an unbelievably disciplined and hard-working player who went on to play on the 1960 gold medal-winning Olympic team and in the NBA. Attucks’ championship team led to heavy recruiting of black players by other Indianapolis schools, which in turn helped desegregate the cities’ schools.  Includes several pages of sources and notes, as well as a very complete index. 224 pages; grades 6+

Pros:  Sports fans will enjoy this gripping narrative nonfiction story of the amazing Attucks team, and will learn a lot about 20th century racism and civil rights as well.  Plenty of photos and interesting sidebars make this an engaging read.

Cons:  Although I wouldn’t have wanted the book to be any longer, there were many interesting people whom I would have liked to get to know more in depth.

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Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Melissa Iwai

Published by Clarion Books

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Summary:  On September 9, 1942, Nobuo Fujita set out on a mission to drop two bombs in Oregon, with the intention of setting a forest fire that would spread to nearby towns.  The raid was successful, but only one bomb ignited, and the resulting fire was quickly contained. Residents of the town of Brookings, Oregon were somewhat alarmed to discover pieces of a Japanese bomb in a nearby forest.  The mission was repeated a few weeks later, with similar results. After the war, Nobuo settled down in Japan, never telling anyone about his raids over America. In 1962, the Brookings Jaycees, trying to boost tourism, decided to track down the Japanese bomber pilot and invite him to America.  For the first time, Nobuo told his family about his role in the war, and the whole family traveled to Oregon, not sure about what to expect. Despite some protests, most of the townspeople welcomed the Japanese visitors with open arms, and the trip ended up being the first of four that Nobuo made; he also sponsored three Brookings high school to visit him in Tokyo.  The day before he died in 1997, a town representative flew to Japan to make Nobuo an honorary citizen; a year after his death, his widow scattered some of his ashes in the Oregon town. Includes an author’s note and additional sources. 40 pages; grades 1-6.

Pros:  Kids who are interested in World War II may pick this up, but there is a lot more to the story than just military history.  It’s a tale of forgiveness and pacifism, and raises the interesting question about Nobuo: “He went from fighting to uniting.  Which took more courage?’’ An engaging story and meditation on war and peace.

Cons:  It does make you wonder what would have happened if those bombs had worked the way they were supposed to.

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Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything by Martin W. Sandler

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission, this book starts with a look at the history that led up to the first manned flight to the moon.  The first chapter explores the space race, John F. Kennedy’s vow to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, the early Soviet successes, and the tragic deaths of the three Apollo 1 astronauts in a fire.  The rest of the book is about Apollo 8 and its crew, commander Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, who risked their lives to reach the moon. They succeeded in entering into orbit around the moon, becoming the first humans to view its dark side, then left lunar orbit and returned to Earth.  Their TV broadcast from space was watched by millions of people, and and helped generate excitement about the space program.  Bill Anders’ iconic photograph of the Earth rising is one of the most famous ever taken. The success of the Apollo 8 mission laid the groundwork for Apollo 11 six months later, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first to walk on the moon. Includes a bibliography and index.  176 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Packed with exciting details and photos about the space program in general and Apollo 8 in particular, this large glossy book will appeal to aspiring astronauts in late elementary, middle, and high school.  The cover design is one of my favorites of the year.

Cons:  Every several pages, there were 2-3 pages on a related topic inserted into the text.  While these sidebar-type entries were interesting, they interrupted the main narrative in a way that was somewhat jarring.

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Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Lesa Cline-Ransom, illustrated by James E. Ransome and Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams

Game Changers published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Sisters and Champions published by Philomel Books

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Summary:  When I went to write a review about Game Changers, I discovered Sisters and Champions, another 2018 book about Venus and Serena Williams.  Both are picture book biographies that emphasize the girls’ unlikely background, growing up in Compton, a rough Los Angeles neighborhood.  Richard Williams, their father, is introduced in both books as their coach who never wavered from his belief that they could become professional tennis stars.  Venus’s rise to success and fame, followed shortly by Serena’s is documented in the books, as well as the fact that the sisters often played each other for the championship at many professional matches.  Cline-Ransome’s book talks a bit more about the racism the two of them encountered as they moved up the ranks in what had traditionally been an almost all-white sport. Her story ends with Venus taking pictures of Serena after Serena had beat her for the first time at the French Open.  Bryant’s goes a bit further, touching on illness and injuries that both women have had to overcome. Game Changers includes an afterword, source notes, a selected bibliography, and a list for further reading; no back matter in Sisters and Champions.  48 pages (Game Changers) and 32 pages (Sisters & Champions); grades 1-4 for both.

Pros:  I’m happy to see two excellent books on the Williams sisters by acclaimed authors and illustrators; Serena and Venus are a frequent topic of research in my third grade libraries.  Both books are well done, but if I had to pick one, it would be Game Changers.  I preferred the sharp, action-packed cut-paper illustrations to Cooper’s pastels, and the back matter makes it a better choice for research.

Cons:  There were some inconsistencies between the two. Cline-Ransome: “Venus won every single one of her sixty-three junior tournaments by age ten.”  Bryant: “Their father wouldn’t let his girls play junior tournaments even though everyone played juniors.”  Also, no photos in either book.

If you would like to buy Game Changers on Amazon, click here.

If you would like to buy Sisters and Champions on Amazon, click here.