Regina Persisted: An Untold Story by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, illustrated by Margeaux Lucas

Published by Apples and Honey Press

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Summary:  The story opens as Regina Jonas is on her way to take an exam that will allow her to be a Jewish rabbi.  As she’s walking to the school, she thinks back on what has brought her to this day–a love of the Torah, a father who believed girls should learn Hebrew, years of going to synagogue every week and staying after the service to study with the rabbi.  When she arrives at school, though, she’s stopped from taking the exam by a teacher who tells her that girls can’t be rabbis and that she must give up her dream. For five years, Regina continues to teach and inspire Jews during what is becoming an increasingly dark time in Germany.  Finally, on December 26, 1935, she is allowed to take the exam and become the first woman rabbi in the world. An afterword tells of Regina’s brief career until her death in Auschwitz in 1944; there was not another woman rabbi until 1972, but now there are close to 1,000, including the author.  32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  It’s an amazing story of a woman who refused to take no for an answer in pursuing her dream.  The text and illustrations do a nice job of incorporating the stories of a couple of other strong Jewish women (Miriam and Esther).

Cons:  Because this was published by a small press specializing in Judaism, it’s probably not going to fly under the radar for many librarians and other book buyers.

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

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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Image result for she did it mccully amazon

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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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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Image result for thirty minutes over oregon

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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The Eye That Never Sleeps: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln by Marissa Moss, illustrations by Jeremy Holmes

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  In a follow-up to last year’s Kate Warne: Pinkerton Detective, Marissa Moss traces the history of Allan Pinkerton, the man who founded the Pinkerton Detective Agency.  Born in poverty in Scotland, Pinkerton had a good memory, sharp eyes, and a thirst for justice that got him into trouble with the British government.  He and his bride fled to America on their wedding day to escape his arrest.  In Chicago, he started a business making barrels, until he almost accidentally solved a counterfeiting case while collecting wood on an island.  He worked with the Chicago police for awhile, then started his own private investigation firm. Much of the book is about his most famous case, outwitting secessionists who planned to assassinate Abraham Lincoln as he traveled by train from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, D.C.  It was a complicated operation that required disguises, codes, and moving Lincoln’s railroad car through the streets of Chicago in the middle of the night. Lincoln rewarded Pinkerton by appointing him to run the newly-formed Secret Service, an organization that exists to this day, as does PInkerton’s detective agency.  Includes a timeline, author’s and illustrator’s notes, a bibliography, and a brief index. 48 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Who doesn’t love a good spy story?  Or a rags-to-riches tale? Allan Pinkerton’s life provides both; Marissa Moss’s narrative and Jeremy Holmes’ unique illustrations will have readers turning the pages to see how Abraham Lincoln got safely to the White House.

Cons:  While the illustrations are very cool (they’re done on digital scratchboard and include vintage typography–read the artist’s note for more details, because, honestly, I don’t really know what that means), some of them could be a little confusing to younger readers.

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Someday Is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, illustrated by Jade Johnson

Published by Seagrass Press

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Image result for someday is now amazon clara luper

Summary:  When Clara Luper was growing up in Oklahoma in the 1930’s, her father promised to take her to segregated parks and restaurants “someday” when it was legal for them to go there.  Clara grew up to be a teacher, and decided that “someday is now”. She wrote a play called “Brother President”, and her students were invited by the NAACP to perform it in New York.  There, they experienced the freedom to go wherever they wanted, and to eat in restaurants with white people. Back in Oklahoma, they studied Martin Luther King Jr.’s four steps to nonviolent change: investigation, negotiation, education, and demonstration.  They used these steps to try to desegregate the lunch counter at Katz restaurant. When the first three steps failed, they demonstrated by sitting at the counter and demanding to be served. Day after day, they braved being spit on, having food thrown on them, and hateful phone calls to their homes.  Finally, Katz agreed to desegregate the lunch counters, not only in Oklahoma, but in Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa. Clara and her students enjoyed a meal together, then moved on to their next challenge. Includes additional information about Clara Luper and nonviolent resistance and a glossary. 32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  An interesting and little-known chapter in the Civil Rights Movement.  Clara Luper and her students used sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters two years before the more famous protests at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, NC.  The folk art-style illustrations are a good complement to the story, and the back matter provides important additional information.

Cons:  A few more dates included in the text or a timeline at the end would have helped place the story in historical context.

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The School’s On Fire!: A True Story of Bravery, Tragedy, and Determination by Rebecca C. Jones

Published by Chicago Review Press

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Summary:  Written for the 60th anniversary of the tragic 1958 fire at Chicago’s Our Lady of the Angels school that killed 92 students and 3 teachers, this book traces the fire from the first moments it started in a garbage can until it raced up a waxed wooden staircase  and quickly engulfed classrooms on the second floor.  The author interviewed a number of survivors, all of whom were in large classes (up to 60 students) supervised by a single teacher, usually a nun. Often, they had to make a fast choice whether to stay in a smoke-filled classroom, hoping help arrived in time, or jump out of a second story window.  Almost everyone lost siblings, cousins, or friends, yet the students were discouraged from talking about their grief for many years afterward.  The fire gained national attention and led to many changes in how schools dealt with fire safety.  Includes a section on what to do in case of fire, as well as a list of additional resources. 176 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  This is a compelling, if horrifying, story that grabs readers right away and holds their attention as the narrative moves quickly, along with the fire, from one classroom to the next.  Includes plenty of photos.

Cons:  The cover picture is kind of odd, particularly the weirdly creepy nun in the foreground, and doesn’t really convey the full extend of the tragedy.

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