Starstruck: The Cosmic Journey of Neil DeGrasse Tyson by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Growing up in the Bronx, young Neil DeGrasse Tyson only saw a few stars in the night sky.  He couldn’t believe his eyes when he visited the Hayden Planetarium at age 9 and saw how many stars were really there.  From that time on, Neil was fascinated by astronomy. His parents supported him, buying him a telescope and books, and a sixth-grade teacher suggested he take an advanced class at the planetarium.  He went on to the Bronx High School of Science and Harvard, where he learned all he could about science, while also enjoying dancing and wrestling. Eventually, he wound up back at the Hayden Planetarium as a director, and has become a voice for science, appearing on TV and writing books and tweets to share his enthusiasm.  In life and in the universe, says Tyson, “It’s always best to keep looking up.” Includes an authors’ note and sources.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The authors show how Tyson turned his passion into a rewarding career through hard work and determination.  The illustrations capture his energy, as well as the beautiful night sky.

Cons:  I often see books like this recommended for grades K-3 (all the reviews I looked at, as well as Amazon, had that range for their recommendations).  I find picture book biographies are appreciated by upper elementary and middle school students even more than the younger ones.

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Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist by Sylvia Acevedo

Published by Clarion Books

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Summary:  Sylvia Acevedo grew up in a Mexican-American family in New Mexico.  Her father was born in the U.S., graduated from college, and worked as a chemist, but expected his daughter to become a wife and mother.  From an early age, Sylvia had different ideas. Her younger sister’s tragic case of meningitis changed the family dynamics, and Sylvia was often left to advocate for herself.  She excelled at school and learned how to set and reach goals through Girl Scouts. Graduating at the top of her class, she gave up her dreams to attend Stanford University, staying at home to help take care of her younger siblings while she got her industrial engineering degree from New Mexico State University.  After graduation, she worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and got a master’s degree at Stanford. After serving many years on the board of Girl Scouts USA, she was appointed CEO of the organization in 2017. 320 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Ms. Acevedo clearly demonstrates how hard work, perseverance, and determination can lead to success beyond one’s wildest dreams.  As a veteran of Girl Scouts, including a 13-year stint as a leader, it was interesting to me to see how scouting has influenced Sylvia’s life.

Cons:  I never had the success selling GS cookies door to door that young Sylvia did.  

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Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the Photo That Changed the World by James Gladstone, illustrated by Christy Lundy

Published by Owlkids

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Summary:  1968 was a year of war, unrest, and marches that demanded peace and justice.  At the end of the year, three astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, flew into space as the Apollo 8 mission.  They traveled further than any humans had gone before, going all the way to the Moon to figure out the best place for future missions to land.  On their fourth orbit around the Moon, they saw the Earth rising above the moon, and snapped a color photo of it from their window.  That photo became famous, showing the Earth as a peaceful planet with no national borders, home to all people.  Includes a brief note with additional information about Apollo 8 and the Earthrise photo.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A perfect introduction to the space program for young kids with a nice message about a photo that inspired people to see Earth in a different way.

Cons:  It’s a pretty brief introduction with no resources for further research.  Also, I wound up with Bette Midler’s “From A Distance” stuck in my head for hours after reading this.

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Eliza: The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Esme Shapiro.  

Published by Schwartz & Wade

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Summary:  Writing a letter to her soon-to-be-born grandchild, Eliza Hamilton tells the story of her life, starting as an adventurous girl who liked to run and play on her family’s farm in upstate New York.  She writes of her regret that her family owned slaves, and how they eventually freed them. Then she moves on to meeting and falling in love with Alexander Hamilton, and how she helped introduce him to some of her family’s socially prominent acquaintances.  After his death, she worked for many years to preserve his legacy, raise money for the Washington Monument and to continue and expand upon the charitable work the two of them had started. Her proudest achievement seems to have been founding New York’s first orphanage in 1806, an institution that continues to this day.  Back matter includes extensive notes and additional resources, as well as an afterword by Phillipa Soo, the original Eliza from Hamilton: An American Musical. 48 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  An excellent introduction to a lesser-known founding mother, with her accomplishments presented in their own right, not only in connection with her famous husband.  The folk art style illustrations add a lot to the text; older fans of the musical will enjoy this book as well as the youngsters.

Cons:  I’ve seen this book recommended for kids as young as 4 years old.  In my opinion, it wouldn’t be appreciated much by anyone without some background knowledge of early American history.

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Tigers and Tea With Toppy by Barbara Kerley and Rhoda Knight Kalt, illustrated by Matte Stephens

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Rhoda loves spending weekends in New York City with her Grandpa Toppy and Grandma Nonnie.  On Saturday, Toppy, whose real name is Charles R. Knight, takes his granddaughter to the American Museum of Natural History where he shows her the paintings he created of animals and prehistoric scenes.  Even though he is legally blind, he is able to draw and paint the dinosaurs from their fossilized skeletons. The next day they visit the Central Park Zoo where Toppy shows Rhoda the animals he studied so closely to learn how to draw them accurately.  Rhoda, Toppy, and Nonnie finish off the weekend with a celebratory tea at the Plaza Hotel. Includes author and artist notes with more information about Knight and the creation of the book; source notes; some of Knight’s animal drawings; and photos of Toppy and Rhoda.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A fun way to introduce the life of Charles Knight.  One interesting tidbit: illustrator Matte Stephens is legally blind, like Knight was, and uses some of the same techniques to create his art.

Cons: I would have enjoyed seeing more of the prehistoric paintings.

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Mama Dug A Little Den by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Published by Beach Lane Books

See the source image

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Summary:  Each two-page spread has a rhyme beginning with the line “Mama dug a little den” (“Mama dug a little den/beneath a fallen tree./An earthy home as soft as moss,/a nursery for three” is the first one about red foxes).  A smaller paragraph gives additional information. The illustrations are in Steve Jenkins’ signature cut-paper collage style, and show the animal in its den and some of the surrounding habitat. A final page contains a note from the author about how she came to write the book, and some additional information about what to look for if you find a den to determine what kind of animal lives there.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  In this follow-up book to Mama Built A Little Nest, preschoolers will learn a bit about animal homes and how to discover them in their own backyards.  As president of the Steve Jenkins fan club (well, I would be, if there were such a thing), I appreciated the beautiful illustrations.

Cons:  The back matter was so small and unobtrusive, many readers may miss it.

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Who Eats Orange? by Dianne White, illustrated by Robin Page

Published by Beach Lane Books

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Summary:  Animals, foods, colors, and habitats are introduced in this book that has a repeating question and answer format: “Who eats orange? Bunnies in their hutches do. Chickens in the henhouse too.  Who else eats orange? Goats. Pigs. Gorillas too? Gorillas? No! Gorillas don’t eat orange. They eat…green.” The large illustrations have plenty of color on a simple white background. Humans, the book concludes, eat a rainbow of colors.  The last two pages list various habitats with the animals from each listed and additional information about what and how that animal eats. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Catchy rhymes and eye-catching graphics make this an appealing introduction for a wide variety of topics.

Cons:  The habitats listed at the end include farms, Africa, ocean, forest, rainforest, and tundra; but Africa is a continent with many different habitats.

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