Lucy Long Ago

Lucy Long Ago: Uncovering the Mystery of Where We came From by Catherine Thimmesh

hominid book cover

BIBLIO: 2009,HMH Books for Young Readers, Ages 8 to 13.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 9780547051994

Thimmesh brings Lucy, the ancient hominid, to in an easily readable book. This novel introduces basic paleontology and anthropology concepts to the novice reader. Scientific approaches to fossilization, excavating, casting fossils, dating fossils, reconstruction in all senses of the word, are explained in layman’s terms. There is a fascinating discussion about Lucy and how she fits into the evolutionary theory and the human’s ancestral tree. Even more fascinating is the sculptural representation of Lucy that John Gurche took fifteen months to create. The intricate and time-consuming description of his work sounds marvelous to look at in person, even though the pictures in the book do it plenty of justice.

The book is thin, consisting of only sixty-three pages including a list of sources and the index. Addressing six simply posed questions this book breaks up complicated and disputed theories into simple to understand statements. There are many high quality photos in the book ranging in size from one fourth of a page all the way up to a double page spread. Accompanying the photos are simple representations of some of the scientific procedures, such as how to cast a fossil, and how sediment buries the bones and fossilizes them.

As interesting as this book may be to look at, it lacks the substance needed to entertain most people. I would recommend this book to girls and boys in grades 5-8. This book was written with a certain narrative-like feel and did not contain enough hard facts to be used as a supplemental academic material or for any real curious reader looking for anything of substance. I would not recommend this book as you could probably find out more from an article in a magazine like National Geographic. It would not be worth the money and time spent to put it on the library shelf.

One Green Apple

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

Girl in apple orchard book cover

BIBLIO: 2006, Clarion Books, ages 4 to 11, $16.00.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Picture Book.
ISBN: 978-0-618-43477-0

Farah is a Muslim immigrant going on her first field trip on her second day of school. The plot is driven by her differences from her classmates. Namely, her cultural differences such as the dupatta and the girl-boy intermingling and her inability to speak English. The children are elementary school aged, possibly around the age of nine. They are going to the apple orchard to pick apples and symbolism is used when Farah picks a single green apple instead of a red one like her classmates’ apples.
Farah interacts with a few people in the story. She is befriended by Anna and Jim, who were not afraid to talk to her because she was not just the new student but also different from them. Unlike her classmates however, the teacher shows an alternate reaction, frustrating Farah with her oversimplified explanations because Farah knows she is intelligent but has no way to communicate this yet.
This book is great for young readers, especially in a classroom setting because it allows for deep conversations about morals. Children will appreciate this book for its colorful and detailed illustrations and the relatable characters. The artwork done by Ted Lewin accentuates the touching realities of this story.

Interview with Eve Bunting

Mercy Watson to the Rescue

Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo

pig running book cover

BIBLIO: 2005, Candlewick Press, ages 6 to 8, $12.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Early Reader.
ISBN: 0-7636-2270-2

Mercy Watson to the Rescue is about Mercy the pig’s antics one night. Her parents Mr. and Mrs. Watson tuck her in and she gets scared of the dark and runs into their bedroom and they are dreaming when the bed starts to fall through the floor because of their weight. They all wake up in a panic. Mercy the pig, thinking about toast, jumps off the bed leaving the Watsons stranded. She searches for toast, disappointed when there is none she goes to the neighbors’ house, Eugenia and Baby Lincoln, in search of sugar cookies and affection from Baby. Lurking at the window she scares Baby and Eugenia calls the firefighters telling them there is an emergency because they think Mercy is a monster. Ned and Lorenzo the fire fighters arrive to see Eugenia chasing Mercy but then they hear the Watsons calling for help. They are able to rescue the couple before the bed crashes through the floor. Everyone celebrates Mercy’s [inadvertent] success by eating her favorite food, toast.
The gouache artwork by Chris Van Dusen adds a humorous and lively feel to the book. The interspersing of the pictures adds a lot to the story and helps to reaffirm what is happening. The cartoonish style and detail draw the eye.
This book is great as a classroom tool because it addresses literary topics like vocabulary, sentence structure, repetition, plot development, etc. It also provides openings for discussions such as fear of the dark, being judged, “Pigs should not live in houses”, being a hero, and social interactions.

More titles in the Series:
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Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

 girl in yellow dress book cover

​BIBLIO:2000 Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., ages 8 and up, $17.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN13: 978-0-439-12041-8

A charming riches to rags tale about a young girl named Esperanza quickly grabs the heartstrings of its readers. This also can be categorized as a coming of age novel as the reader follows Esperanza for her whole thirteenth year. The focus of this story is on Esperanza and her family from El Rancho de La Rosas and from the Labor Camp. The book starts by showing Esperanza’s privilege and her excitement about her thirteenth birthday. The reader is introduced to her loving Papa and graceful Mama and quirky Abuelita. The servants Hortensia, Alfonso, and Miguel are also introduced as loyal workers and close family friends. Tragedy occurs when Papa is attacked by bandits on the edge of their property. The whole ranch falls apart and Esperanza’s uncles look to gain power and money from their brothers’ demise. When Mama rebuffs Uncle Luis’s proposal he burns down the vineyards and their beloved home. He also makes it difficult for them to escape to the United States.
Alfonso’s brother works in the migrant camp and arranged for all of them to arrive but Abuelita is too weak to accompany them and must stay under the peril of the uncles. The group successfully move to the migrant camp and Esperanza struggles to adapt to living in the poverty of migrant labor but also in the midst of the great depression. She quickly realizes how little she knows about life but she has her new family Josefina, Juan, Isabel, Lupe, Pepe, and those she traveled with to teach her and she soon becomes rich with experiences.
Throughout the novel there are a lot of tribulations in addition to those mentioned. Mama gets sick and depressed and must live in the hospital away from Esperanza and their family. Esperanza begins to work with the women of the family in the sheds to pack produce and support her mother’s medical bills and those who care for her. There is also a lot of talk about striking, the Oklahoma migrants coming from the Midwest in hopes of a new life after living in the dustbowl. There is also an underlying theme of social prejudice and sketchy government behavior such as the Deportation Act.
This book is touching and worth reading. It won the Pura Belpre Award and for good reason. It shows fabulously the life of a minority group in a realistic and personally touching way.

The Hero Two Doors Down

The Hero Two Doors Down
Based on the True Story of Friendship
between a Boy and a Baseball Legend
by Sharon Robinson

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BIBLIO: 2016, New York: Scholastic Press; Scholastic Inc, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 978-0-545-80451-6

Written in the first person narrative Steve reflects on his childhood baseball relics set aside for him by his recently deceased father and remembers when as an eight-year old, the famous Jackie Robinson moves into his neighborhood and his life. 1948 Brooklyn is an amazing time for Steve. Bonding over baseball with his father Archie, is what he lives for, listening endlessly to the radio-casted games and reading the paper for news about their beloved Dogers. Steve itches to see the opening game for the season and to meet Jackie Robinson. Amazingly his dad surprises him with both on the same day! The two families become close friends and begin to have dinners, attend games, give gifts, and share their differences happily. Jackie’s influence on Steven doesn’t stop there as the man encourages Steven to focus on school and behave better, and teaches Steven valuable lessons when he falls short. The baseball legend successfully sways most of Steven’s schoolmates into his favor and the fear and prejudice of the Jewish neighborhood melts quickly away after encountering Jackie’s charming and gentle personality. Sharon Robinson briefly addresses the readers in the afterword with the changes she makes to the true tale, pictures, and her accounts of the very real Stephen Satlow. A feel-good story perfect for sports fans and novices alike, this book has some great perspective on maturity, religion, race, and relationships, ideal for conversations amongst families and classmates.

War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus

War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus by Kathryn Selbert

book cover war dogs

BIBLIO: 2013,Watertown: Charlesbridge Publishing Inc.
Ages 5 to 9, $8.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Picture book; History
ISBN: 978-1-58089-415-9

Taking the main perspective of Rufus, Churchill’s dog, the Second World War is looked at through an innocent’s eyes. Selbert expresses Rufus observations about his important owner working hard to keep his country together. Repeatedly, Rufus is being shown as a comfort and constant companion to the prime minister. The war is described in vague terms including bombings of London, interactions between the big three ( USA, England, and Russia), D-day, and the announcement of victory. This story expresses the difficulties of war through the quotes taken from the gifted orator Churchill and the descriptive, short paragraphs. The stylistic choices of acrylic and collaging add a charming effect to the rather solemn content. The art adds emotion and warmth to the story making it more child friendly and showing a softer side to the “English Bulldog” Churchill. Included in the back is a war timeline and brief biographical entries. Great way to introduce the serious topic of war and create interest in WWII.