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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Bloom Boom! by April Pulley Sayre

Published by Beach Lane Books

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Summary:  “Every spring, across the land…Seeds sprout.  Stems pop out.  Bloom boom!” This book celebrates plants as they grow and blossom.  The large, close-up photos show all kinds of flowers, as well as leaves, bulbs, and an occasional animal (caterpillar, bee, lizard).  The phrase “Bloom boom!” is repeated as blossoming flowers are shown in a variety of habitats.  There are several pages of back matter, including information about flowers organized by habitat; additional resources; and thumbnail photos of each page in the book with further information about the plants and animals pictured.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  April Pulley Sayre has produced another beautiful and informative science book for preschoolers on up.  Keep it in mind for a spring read-aloud.  The additional resources and information at the end make it a valuable resource for older kids.

Cons:  I found “Bloom boom” to be a little bit of a tongue-twister.

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Sea Bear: A Journey for Survival by Lindsay Moore

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  A polar bear explains how she uses the sea ice to travel and to hunt.  As summer ends, the ice has thinned, and she spends more time swimming.  For much of the story, she is trying to reach land, which entails a long swim past other Arctic creatures like narwhals, walruses, and a whale.  Finally, after an exhausting three-day swim, she reaches land, where she will eat kelp and wait for the ice to thicken again so she can hunt seals.  Includes a page of information on sea ice, polar bears, and the implications of global warming; as well as a page describing some of the other animals shown in the book.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The lovely watercolor and ink illustrations perfectly capture the blues and whites of the Arctic, and the spare text introduces a lot of information about the polar bear.

Cons:  The global warming aspect makes it a sad story.

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Just Right: Searching for the Goldilocks Planet by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Jessica Lanan

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  Are we alone in the universe?  Going back to ancient astronomers, this book quickly traces the history of what humans have learned about the place of Earth in the galaxy.  It then details how scientists are looking for a “just right” planet–not too big, not too small, not too hot, not too cold–that might support life.  Huge telescopes sitting on mountaintops or floating through space gather information on stars and the exoplanets around them. The illustrations show a girl and her family visiting a planetarium, then getting her her own telescope as she learns about the universe.  The last several pages speculate on what life on other planets might be like, and how we might communicate with those life forms. Includes a page of additional information; a bibliography; books and websites with additional information; and a timeline of space exploration on the front and back endpapers.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Packed with scientific information, the author does a great job of making a complicated topic accessible to elementary kids; the illustrations of the girl and her family help make it kid-friendly as well.

Cons:  Some of the information was a bit over my head…but readers will still find something interesting, even if they don’t understand it all.

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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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Do Not Lick This Book*:*It’s Full of Germs by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  Meet Min, the microbe, so small that she and 3,422,166 of her friends could fit on a tiny dot.  When Min is bored, she goes exploring, visiting a tooth, a shirt, and a belly button, where she meets and befriends other microbes.  Magnified photos show what each of those environments looks like to a microbe. Much of the book is addressed to the reader (“Touch your teeth to pick Min up.  Put your finger on your shirt to send Min and Rae on a new adventure) that make the book interactive (if you want to go there). The last page properly identifies the microbes (Min is an E. coli…yay!) and shows what they really look like.  40 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros:  A weirdly fun and fascinating book that introduces the youngest readers to the world of microbes…who are pretty cute in the illustrations.  The close-ups of everyday objects will fascinate kids.

Cons:  Does a book about microbes that live in your teeth and clothes really need a stated “con”?

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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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