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.

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

blue book cover with eyes

BIBLIO: Ages 2004 (reprint), Scribner. 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-0743273565

This time old classic is revered by readers of all ages. The complicated plot revolves around wealth, love, and secrets. The narrator is Nick Carraway, a young and hopeful man that works in the business world but would rather be a writer. He moves into a small home in West Egg, the up and coming societal housing of Long Island. His neighbor is the mysterious, eccentric, and fabulously connected Jay Gatsby. Nick’s cousin Daisy marries a college sweetheart, Tom Buchanan, loaded with old money and a great reputation as an ex-polo player, and lives just across the river in East Egg. The story spins out of control as the three main characters interact. Nick’s admiration and pity for Jay, Jay’s loneliness and obsession for Daisy, his old flame, and Daisy’s need for security and desperation in looking for an escape, all play into the human condition and draws the reader in.

This novel is set in the roaring 1920’s and while fictional reflects plenty about the slang, the fashions, the corrupt underworld, and the rich culture. Nick describes his encounters at Jay’s summer night extravaganzas, Tom’s second life of flirtations, with his mistress Myrtle, and booze in the city, and his own simple life getting twisted into this lush lifestyle. With plenty of tragic turns and enthralling confrontations this book is a must read.

I would recommend this book to 8th grade and up for boys and girls. This novel is a great introduction into the literature of the time and a peek into the American canon. I would recommend this book as a classroom read, as many students have already experienced. It looks into strong themes like fidelity, wealth, desire, facades, and dreams.

Catherine Called Birdy

Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

girl writing book cover

BIBLIO: 1994 Clarion Books/ Houghton Mifflin Publishers, ages 12 through 15, $13.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 0-395-68186-3

​As a medieval historical fiction story this book is highly entertaining and fits closely with the norms of several hundred years ago. Written as a diary the reader sees the world through the eyes of the mischievous young Catherine, affectionately called Birdy. These are thirteen year old Birdy’s entries for an entire year and accounts all of the exciting feasts and dreary days. Most importantly she writes about the numerous suitors she must meet and the inevitable reality of an arranged marriage and the lady’s duties that accompany her emerging adulthood. Through her the reader gets to meet some dynamic characters, some of which she loves and some of which she loathes, such as her brothers Thomas, Robert, and Edward. Her mother, father, Uncle George, and her caretaker Morwenna. Not to mention Birdy’s realistic and relatable friendships with Perkins, Gerd, and Aelis, and the descriptions of adventures she has with them that often leads to scolding. All of this despite the fact that she wishes to run away and take up any other occupation besides wife. It is easy to fall in love with this sensitive and spunky young girl; to connect with her hopes, dreams, and interests because they are very much like a modern child’s. Her chores however accurately depict those of the time including spinning, sewing, and making disgusting ointments for healing. There is never a dull entry, even the ones that are one word long are quippy and worth the read. We see her antics of burning down the privy, watching a hanging, the birth of a sister, and rescuing a circus bear to name a few of the most memorable. Overall this book is a great way to delve into the history of the medieval times and to gain some perspective as to what it would be like to be a child in a time that was such an oppressing time to be a child and a girl at that.

Charles and Emma

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

 silhouette book cover

BIBLIO: 2009 Henry Holt and Company LLC, ages 12 and up, $18.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8721-5​

​This is a charming well written biography of the life of Charles Darwin. Like most biographies it is hard to capture everything so this particular one focuses on Charles domestic life after his marriage to his wife Emma. The book is structured like a fiction title in that it is easy to read and told with heavy third person narrative with plenty of “dialogue” meaning the words the author found in letters were used as the works. She fills in the details with general details about the setting, person’s temperament, and the Victorian era. There is a Table of Contents like in most nonfictional books along with a foreword, picture inserts, family tree, source notes, a selected biography, and a detailed index. In the beginning of each chapter the author leaves a written quote from a letter or reading material that directly relates to the subject of the chapter. The author at the beginning of the bibliography also offers two websites among her sources for further investigating for the curious mind.
The book begins with Darwin debating the pros and cons of gaining a wife and family that comes along with marriage. He obviously decides to marry, his first cousin, the lovely Emma. The story picks up after his five year long journey on The Beagle, the trip where he studied finches and began to develop his theories of evolution. His internal struggle with marriage to Emma, the theme of the book, revolves around their differences in opinion about religion. Charles worries a devoted Christian like Emma would have trouble loving a questioning scientist like himself. The story briefly covers their casual courtship, engagement, and then their happy life of being married. The reader follows the newly wed thirty year olds as they have their first child in London, experience the house at Down as it fills up with their plentiful litter of children. Grief is felt at the deaths of two babies and the darling of the family Annie, and the constant sickliness of the members of the home. Joy over the seven surviving children, Darwin’s success, and being a part of the countryside. This book highlights the Darwins’ domestic life but does bring the scientific works of Charles through encounters with his academic friends and the repeated mention of his daily routine, a large part of it studying barnacles, pigeons, and orchids in his study. While the Darwins had their struggles and their triumphs the author made sure to make the reader aware of just how much love this famous family had for each other and how they persevered and made a great life for themselves.
This book won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults in 2010.

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.

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.