Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review: Non-fiction

A few quick reviews of some recent juvenile non-fiction; which I feel is easier to review in a group instead of individually.

Stay: The True Story of 10 Dogs
By Michaela Muntean, photographs by K.C. Bailey and Steven Kazmierski
Published 2012 by Scholastic
Well, this one came across our new book cart and it's awfully hard for me to resist a book about dogs (especially considering how much I'd like to have one). This tells the story of Luciano Anastasini, a man who lives for the circus. After he has an accident and can no longer perform, he adopts a number of unwanted dogs. Working with them all individually, Anastasini sees performer potential in each and decides to create a new act with the dogs. He continues to adopt unwanted dogs and incorporates them into the act whenever he can. The photos are really vibrant and the story is told simply but not too simply. This will really appeal to kids who love animals. I think this also is great for showcasing that each dog has its own special abilities and, instead of writing them off like other people have done, Anastasini takes the time to get to know each one and incorporate that ability into the act.

Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird: A True Story
By Stephanie Spinner, illustrated by Meilo So
Published 2012 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Anyone who knows me might be a bit surprised that I bothered to pick up this title. I am not a big fan of birds. However, I'm not opposed to them as long as they keep a distance - so reading a book about them is pretty much okay. The story of Alex intrigued me, even though I quickly realized that I didn't even know the whole story. Apparently, before Irene Pepperberg and Alex, most scientists believed that, because of the size of their brains, birds were not worth studying. Pepperberg believed this view to be incorrect and, by studying Alex, proved that birds were much more intelligent than previously believed. This book has great kid appeal and will be very popular with young non-fiction readers.

Seed by Seed: The Legend and Legacy of John "Appleseed" Chapman
By Esme Raji Codell, illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins
Published 2012 by Greenwillow Books
There is no shortage of biographies on Johnny Appleseed, particularly of the picture book variety. However, Codell and Perkins have taken a distinct approach with this biography and have given readers a wonderful new portrait of John Chapman. As I've stated many times before, I love picture book biographies because the information is presented concisely, usually in the most interesting way possible, and I always learn something I hadn't known before. In this case, Codell highlights Chapman's life through the five tenets he tried to live by: use what you have, share what you have, respect nature, try to make peace where there is war, and you can reach your destination by taking small steps. All of this adds up to a great message for kids that is encouraging without being overwhelmingly preachy. The illustrations highlight the folksy, Americana nature of the legend surrounding Chapman and work beautifully with his story. I learned a lot of things I didn't know and loved hearing how likely it is that all apples we eat today are descended from the seeds Chapman planted. Really excellent biography.

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