Smart-Opedia: The Amazing Book About Everything
translated by Eve Drobot
Maple Tree Press
This one is up first because every minute this one has been out of Davy's possession, it's been almost physically painful. For me too, what with the constant noisy reminders and bee-like buzzing around ("Could I please have my Bookopedia back now? Now? Soon? Now? Please? M-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-m!). In fact, he took such an instant like to this book right after it arrived -- and it was one of the first, thank you very much to the kind folks at the Canadian publishing house, Maple Tree Press -- that I decided to give it to him for his birthday. I told him it was his present from the Cybils and Maple Tree. And then promptly took it back to put on the pile for consideration. We've been having a tug of war over it ever since, and more than once I've had to steal it out of the bed of a sleeping child.
Smart-opedia is about as close to the entire world in only 200 charmingly illustrated pages as you're going to get, with entries on everything from animals and art, history and human rights, to space and cyberspace, most with a double-page spread. Entertainingly and clearly presented, this is a one-volume reference book that eight- to twelve-year olds (and probably their younger and older siblings, and parents too) will be reaching for even when no homework assignment is in sight, one reason why you might want to consider springing for the hardcover instead of the only slighter cheaper paperback edition. Home schoolers will find this delightful for free, pleasure reading. By the way, those charming illustrations are the work of no fewer than 17 different artists, who've somehow managed to make their styles look of a piece. Very similar in style and tone as the Usborne reference books, but nowhere as busy.
Ms. Drobot has done a masterful job singlehandedly translating a team effort originally published in France; near as I can tell, this is the original French version, from publisher Editions (Fernand) Nathan. Maple Tree recommends this for ages nine to 12, but I'd follow the original publisher and get it into kids' hands much earlier, at ages six or seven or whenever they're reading well on their own. By the time they're nine or 10, it will be a good friend and constant companion. This one's definitely a keeper for us.
From Slave to Superstar of the Wild West: The Awesome Story of Jim Beckwourth
by Tom DeMund
Legends of the West Publishing Company
A solid and engaging biography of American frontiersman Jim Beckwourth, From Slave to Sueprstar of the Wild West has definitely been a labor of love for author DeMund, who self-published the book and sent it along to me with a delightful letter. The book is written in a very companionable, casual tone, the author more or less taking the young reader aside to tell his tale, made all the more interesting by the fact that it's true.
Aside from the word "Awesome" in the subtitle (I tend to find it overused and it makes me cringe), there's very little about this book I didn't like. And a great deal that I did, especially Chapter 0, "Why Write -- or Read -- a Book about Jim?", which functions as the author's historical note the reader. Not only is at the front of the book where it should be, along with instructions to "Please read this Chapter 0 before charging on to Chapter 1", but it also includes a Special Note on Names of Groups,
To be considerate of people's feelings today, I should use the words African American, Native American, and Hispanic American. But during Jim's lifetime those words were unknown. Because this book is all about Jim's time (around 1800 to 1866), I've used the words used in that era. African Americans were called Negroes or blacks, Native Americans were called Indians, and Hispanic Americans were called Mexicans. know that I'm not being incorrect by modern standards, but for proper historical flavor I've used the words from the years between 1800 and 1866. I hope you won't object.Short, sweet, to the point, and much appreciated. The back of the book includes a timeline, comprehensive bibliography, and index. The Wild West is a popular subject around here, so this lively, comprehensive biography is definitely a keeper for us. Especially ecommended for ages eight or nine to 12 or so.
Another Book About Design: Complicated Doesn't Make It Bad
by Mark Gonyea
Henry Holt and Co.
A vibrant, punchy explanation of basic graphic design for kids ages eight to 12 or so. A very effective way of presenting concepts such as color, shape, size, and space to a young audience, and a boon to young designers and design fans, who likely won't look at their favorite comic books the same way. A keeper, and we plan to take it along to the next art lesson to show the kids' teacher.
Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children about Their Art
compiled by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
For families who read a good deal of picture books, this book will be an absolute delight. You'll find many old and exceedingly talented friends here, from Mitsumasa Anno, Eric Carle, Tomie dePaola, and Mordicai Gerstein, to Steven Kellogg, Leo Lionni, Wendell Minor, Alice Provensen, Sabuda and Reinhart, Maurice Sendak, Rosemary Wells, and Paul O. Zelinsky. Each artist gets four pages, with one page of text to tell the first-person story of how he or she (though the 23 artists represented are almost all men), grew into, and as, an artist; two pages of how they make their art; and the last page as a self-portrait. A very special book for children, and their parents, who want a peek into the artist's studio. When Davy picked up the book, it opened immediately to Sabuda's and Reinhart's special pop-up, and Davy gasped. As Robert Sabuda writes in his section, "all of the hard work is worth it when someone opens the pop-up and exclaims 'WOW!'". This book gives you the how and the wow. A keeper for us.
Ox, House, Stick: The Story of Our Alphabet
by Don Robb, illustrated by Anne Smith
This is the kind of title that home schoolers tend to snap up, while the general reading public gives it a wide berth, in part because the material is considerably more interesting for those kids who already know something about ancient history and even, dare I suggest, some Latin and Greek (at the very least word roots). Which is a shame, because Don Robb gives a brief overview of the history of our alphabet, followed by a story for each letter, all delightfully illustrated by Anne Smith in her first children's book. A wonderful addition to ancient history and English -- and ancient -- language studies, not to mention the perfect book to hand to the son or daughter who asks where the alphabet came from. And to those youngsters who think of the alphabet as something to be texted with thumbs, well, you don't know what you're missing.
Robb is also the author of the picture books This Is America: The American Spirit In Places And People, illustrated by Christine Joy Pratt; and, especially useful this year, Hail to the Chief: The American Presidency, illustrated by Alan Witschonke
Across the Wide Ocean: The Why, How, and Where of Navigation for Humans and Animals at Sea
by Karen Romano Young
Harper Collins (Greenwillow)
A fascinating account about the how the mysterious deep is navigated, in turn, by a sea turtle, a sailboat, a whale, a submarine, a shark, and a container ship. Young discusses currents, magnetic force, and navigation in a lively fashion. Unfortunately, the book's design is too lively, and too dark as well, in shades of blue meant to evoke the ocean. By the end I was feeling more than a tad dizzy and seasick, which was a shame because with some restraint, this would have been a perfect ride. A keeper, but the kids will have to read it on their own next time.
Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail
by Danica McKellar
Hudson Street Press
Somewhere in this world there's a happy medium between Hollywood actors who have co-authored groundbreaking mathematical physics theorems and Disney Princess Queen Bee Wannabees who detest math. This book isn't it.
Which is a great shame, because underneath, way way underneath, all the cutsy-ness and pop culture expectations of girls worried about breaking nails and "running through the snow in pearls and four-inch heels" (as Ms. McKellar tells us her sister did, and at Harvard Law of all places -- like, ohmygod!), and the execrable title, is a decent guide to upper elementary/middle school math, with some handy tips and tricks.
The entire style of the book undermines Ms. McKellar's message, that "math is actually a good thing", because "Most of all, working on math sharpens your brain, actually making you smarter in all areas. Intelligence is real, it's lasting, and no one can take it away from you. Ever." Especially when you are having trouble staying upright tripping across Harvard Yard in your four-inch heels. Though much as Ms. McKellar keeps telling her audience how cool it is to be smart, it's hard to believe it as she tries so hard to appeal to her "I'd rather be shopping" audience. Another duality that disturbs me is the fact that though the book is meant for middle school girls, it goes on and on about bikini waxes, "perfect black heels", sparkly diamonds, and iced lattes. Maybe middle school in Hollywood is different than it is here. And what the heck do they shop for when they hit high school?
As the home schooling mother of a 10-year-old daughter who has her struggles with math, this might have a been a good choice with a different presentation. Laura's just too much of a tomboy, and isn't as steeped in pop culture and worried about her looks as the book assumes she is, so the approach would be a huge turnoff for. A good choice for middle school girls who don't favor the Teen Cosmo style, by the way, is Math Smarts: Tips, Tricks, and Secrets for Making Math More Fun! by Lynette Long for the American Girl Library. And for girls and boys, Marilyn Burns's Math for Smarty Pants. By contrast, as you can probably guess, I don't much care for Burns's The I Hate Mathematics Book, either. I understand the idea behind the "I Hate Math"/"Math Sucks" type of books, but introducing ideas like that kids when they're having trouble tends to cause more trouble than it solves. I'd like to see Ms. McKellar follow this book up with another one for young girls who, as she was 20 years ago, are unapologetically smart, interested in math and science even when the work gets tough, and like their studies. You know, the ones who would rather draw, ride horses, read a book, go for a hike, help a friend, or practice gymnastics than go shopping. And the ones who know that iced lattes at age 10 will stunt their growth, if not their bank accounts.