Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Steven Salerno

thoPublished by Random House Books for Young Readers

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Summary: In the 1970’s, when Harvey Milk was advocating for gay rights, he decided the movement needed a symbol that promoted hope and equality.  He asked artist Gilbert Blake for help. Blake designed a rainbow flag, and volunteers helped create it in time for a march on June 25, 1978.  Five months later, Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone were assassinated. His dream lived on, though, and continued to grow. The rainbow flag spread across the country, and eventually around the world.  On June 26, 2015, the White House was lit up like the colors of the rainbow flag, celebrating the legalization of gay marriage across the U.S. Harvey Milk’s dream of equality and love had truly been realized.  Includes biographical notes on Harvey Milk and Gilbert Blake, timelines for Milk and the rainbow flag, and a list of resources. 48 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A good introduction to the gay rights movement, as well as the history of the flag that came to symbolize that movement.

Cons:  The biographical information on Harvey Milk was somewhat sketchy.  

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A Frog’s Life by Irene Kelly, illustrated by Margherita Borin

Published by Holiday House

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Summary:  A thorough look at frogs and toads (according to this book, a toad is a kind of frog; personally, I can never remember the distinctions) that includes anatomy, habitat, reproduction, and prey and predators.  Each page includes labeled watercolor illustrations of a great variety of frogs. The last couple pages discuss the different reasons why frogs are endangered, and the back matter includes ways kids can help them, as well as an index.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Whether a reader is interested in research or simply learning more about frogs, this book would make an excellent starting place.  The information is engagingly presented, and the large colorful illustrations will appeal to amphibian aficionados.

Cons:  A list of additional resources would have been a nice addition to the back matter.

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Camp Panda: Helping Cubs Return to the Wild by Catherine Thimmesh

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Pandas almost disappeared from China after poaching and habitat destruction nearly wiped them out.  Yet over the last few decades, the number of pandas has slowly risen, thanks to intensive conservation efforts.  The author examines both the issues of what caused their decline and how scientists have slowly helped reintroduce pandas into the wild.  Early efforts didn’t always succeed, and these are documented as well. Interestingly, there are those who believe pandas should be allowed to die out as part of the natural order, and this point of view is also explored.  The final chapter summarizes successes, not only in the panda conservation movement, but in helping other endangered species. Includes glossary, sources, index, and a list of ways to help endangered species. 64 pages; grade 4-7.

Pros:  Sibert medalist Catherine Thimmesh (Team Moon) gives a complete, engaging picture of the state of the panda, an animal whose adorableness has led to it becoming the face of the World Wildlife Fund.  And speaking of adorable, readers of all ages will enjoy the many photos illustrating the text.

Cons:  I know they’re an important part of the conservation process, but it’s hard for me to take the guys in panda suits seriously.

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Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Thermes

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  After reading a National Geographic article describing the Appalachian Trail as “easy”, Emma Gatewood decided at age 67 to become the first woman to hike it in its entirety.  Starting off in a skirt and canvas sneakers, with a sack that weighed less than 20 pounds, she headed from her home in Ohio to the end of the trail in Georgia to begin on May 3, 1955.  Dealing with rocky trails, bugs, injuries, a hurricane, and a bear, Emma kept plugging along. Wearing all the clothes she had, barely able to see through her cracked eyeglasses, Emma reached the end of the trail on September 25.  She celebrated by loudly singing “America the Beautiful” from the top of Maine’s Mount Katahdin, then hiked the trail again less than two years later. Back matter includes additional information about Emma Gatewood and the Appalachian Trail, a list of sources, and a timeline on the back endpapers.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  If this doesn’t inspire you to stay active in your old age, nothing will.  The beautiful maps every few pages show Emma’s progress up the trail, with landmarks labeled and interesting facts about the region.  

Cons:  I would have loved to have seen a few photos of Emma, particularly on the trail.

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Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist Titcomb and America’s First Bookmobile by Sharlee Glenn

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  Growing up in rural New Hampshire in the late 1800’s, Mary Titcomb yearned for an education and a career.  She didn’t want to be a nurse or a teacher, but was intrigued when she read about the new field of librarianship.  She worked in libraries in Concord, Massachusetts and Rutland, Vermont before eventually becoming the director of the Washington County library in Maryland.  A county library was unusual at the time, and Mary had to figure out how to reach the 25,000 people scattered across the 500 square miles of Washington County.  She decided to have a horse-drawn wagon built that could carry books to these remote locations, and the first bookmobile was born.  The wagon eventually was replaced by a motorized vehicle, and Miss Titcomb’s tireless efforts to publicize her work spread bookmobiles across America. Includes an author’s note that tells how she found Mary Titcomb’s grave in Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and raised money for a headstone; also an extensive bibliography.  56 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This square book resembles a scrapbook, with a large font, and photos and other memorabilia decorating the pages.  It’s a lively introduction to a woman who believed in the power of libraries to enrich all citizens’ lives and worked hard to bring her vision to life.

Cons:  The subject may be of greater interest to librarians than to their patrons.

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They Lost Their Heads: What Happened to Washington’s Teeth, Einstein’s Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts by Carlyn Beccia

Published by Bloomsbury

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Summary:  17 chapters recount the fates of the body parts in the title, as well as Sarah Bernhardt’s leg, Vincent Van Gogh’s ear, Elvis’s wart, and more.  Each chapter is followed by several more short tales of relevant anatomy.  20+ pages between the last two chapters go into greater detail about cloning, stealing body parts, and some pretty disgusting food and beverage trivia.  The writing is breezy and irreverent, with lots of humorous footnotes, and there are plenty of illustrations throughout.  Includes an extensive bibliography and index.  192 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  The humor targets the age group perfectly; readers will enjoy grossing out their peers and elders while inadvertently learning some history and science.  The black and white etchings reminded me a little bit of Edward Gorey’s art.

Cons:  Some of the stories, particularly those involving ingesting body parts and fluids, were a little over the top for me.  But then, I am not a 12-year-old boy.

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The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill

Published by Groundwood Books

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Summary:  As she did in The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, Jan Thornhill tells the story of the interaction between birds and humans.  This one has a happier ending, though, as house sparrows have proven to be incredibly adaptable, often becoming pests that feed on agricultural grains.  The birds have spread around the globe with humans, traveling on ships with Roman soldiers to Great Britain and being introduced to the United States by homesick immigrants.  Despite their peskiness, sparrows also eat a lot of insects, as Chairman Mao discovered in 1958; his campaign against the Eurasian Tree sparrows led to a devastating famine in China. In the early 1980’s, the population of sparrows began to fall, and the author offers several theories–all of them based on human factors–for this decline.  In some places, this is starting to level off, offering hope that the house sparrow’s adaptability is helping it to survive in a changing world. Includes a map showing where the house sparrow lives; its life cycle; a glossary; and additional resources. 44 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Beautifully illustrated and engagingly narrated, this informational book will help students learn more about animal adaptation and the relationship that exists between humans and animal species.

Cons:  I’ve always thought sparrows were kind of cute, and didn’t realize they are considered “the most despised bird in human history.”

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