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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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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Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Gittel and her mother are immigrating to America from Russia, but when Mama gets turned back due to an eye infection, 9-year-old Gittel is on her own.  She has a piece of paper with her cousin Mendel’s address in America to help get her where she is supposed to go. After a long and sometimes lonely journey, Gittel arrives at Ellis Island.  She produces the paper, but after so many weeks of her clutching it, the ink with the address has turned into a big blue blob. While Gittel is waiting for the immigration officers to decide what to do with her, someone takes her picture.  After a night in an Ellis Island dormitory, cousin Mendel shows up. It turns out Gittel’s photo was in a Jewish newspaper, and he recognized her. They go home together, and a few months later Mama is able to join them. Includes an author’s note with information on the two women who inspired Gittel’s story, as well as a glossary and bibliography.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Kids will find Gittel’s story engaging and learn something about early 20th-century immigration and Ellis Island.  The happy ending seems a bit unrealistic, but it’s actually based on a true story.

Cons:  It’s a little long for a read-aloud.

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Hats Off to Mr. Pockles! By Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by David Litchfield

Published by Schwartz and Wade

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Summary:  Mr. Pockles doesn’t have any friends, but he sure has a lot of hats.  “For Mr. Pockles, going without a hat was as unthinkable as going around without any pants on.”  When Hat Day at the PandaPolitan Club rolls around, Mr. Pockles is depressed not to be able to go because he’s not a panda.  Donning his Jaunty Hat With a Friendly Feather, he heads for the Treat House to try to cheer himself up. Unfortunately, panda extraordinaire Lady Coco Fitz-Tulip shows up, wearing a spectacular fruit-laden hat and bragging about her upcoming day at the Club  When a couple of baby bunnies get into the fruit, Mr. Pockles comes to the rescue, bringing not only Lady Coco, but the whole Treat House gang back to his house for some hats. The panda declares them all friends and invites them to join her for the hat soiree at her PandaPolitan. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  It’s a fun story, from that first sentence (quoted above) to Lady Coco’s final cheer of “Hats off to Mr. Pockles!”  The illustrations are sensational, with brilliant colors and a staggering variety of hats.

Cons:  Even with her change of heart, Lady Coco seems pretty obnoxious, and the PandaPolitan club, cruelly exclusive (“And pandas, as everyone knows, are very Black-and-White.  Either you are a panda, or you are not.”).

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