The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

Standard

Barton, Chris.  The Day-Glo Brothers.  Charlesbridge, 2009.  $18.95, 44 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.chrisbarton.info/

Links to Interviews with Author:

  • cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2009/07/author-interview-chris-barton-on-day.html

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: What started out as an experiment to enhance a magic trick soon became America’s brightest new thing!

Summary:

Bob and Joe Switzer never set out to create new colors.  Joe enjoyed magic.  Bob wanted to be a doctor.  But after an accident that left him with seizures and unable to be a doctor, Bob found himself recovering in the basement of his parents’ home.  Joe soon recruited him to help with a magic trick that used ultraviolet lamps and fluorescence.  Soon the brothers were experimenting using chemicals from local universities and their mother’s kitchen mixer.  Their glow in the dark paints were a hit with theater costumers, on posters, in toy displays, and even with psychics to fake out gullible customers.  The brothers continued to experiment and soon developed a paint that glowed in daylight and in ultraviolet light.  Day-Glo was born and quickly put to use during World War II.  After the war, Day-Glo also made its way into commercial products like toys, magazine covers, detergent boxes and even into cultural pieces like Andy Warhol’s paintings.  The Switzer brother had brightened up almost every aspect of American life.

Evaluation:

This nonfiction text was an original story that showcases two creative brothers who invent something without even setting out to do so.  The narrative style of this book is easily followed and enjoyable to read.  Based on first hand interviews with people who knew the Switzer brothers, it includes charming and entertaining details about their experiments (and a glowing angel food cake), their initial successes (with a decapitated Balinese dancer), and their triumphs (with the multitude of ways Day-Glo was used in World War II that helped America win the war).  The language of the text is not weighed down by many technical terms, but rather remains conversational in the telling of a story. The illustrations are retro, calling back to the 1950’s and 60’s and early educational cartoons.  They start out initially in gray scale, but more colors and brighter colors are utilized with each success of the brothers.  The author’s conclusion was also quite touching, acknowledging that one brother wanted to save lives, and one brother wanted to wow audiences, and through their Day-Glo, both were able to achieve these things.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: nonfiction, science, history

Appeal Factors: illustrations, use of color, science, experiments, history

Readalike Titles or Authors:

    • The Boy who Invented TV by Kathleen Krull
    • Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Siebert Award honor book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Balinese dancer illusion
  • Experimenting with every day items
  • Billboard on fire

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does the author imply that Day-Glo has saved lives?
  • How are colors used in this book?
  • What does the author say about problem solving and invention?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this because of the unique subject matter of Day-Glo paint.  The brothers’ story was unfamiliar to me and to many others.  I was also drawn in by the retro illustrations and the clever use of color.

Advertisements

Thanks to My Mother by Schoschana Rabinovici

Standard

Rabinovici, Schoschana.  Thanks to My Mother.  Dial Books, 1998.  $17.99, 247 pages.

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

  • 11 year old Suzanne survives the horrors of the Holocaust due to her mother’s quick thinking and determination for her to live.

Summary:

Suzanne is eight years old when the Germans invade the Soviet Union and occupy Vilnius, Lithuania where she and her family lived.  Thanks to My Mother is a memoir told from Susie’s point of view of the next four years.  Although her immediate and extended family stays in her grandfather’s apartment to avoid persecution, all fourteen eventually are moved to the Vilnius Ghetto.  Through a combination of good luck and quick thinking, the family survives in tact until the ghetto is liquidated and they go to the Rossa Cemetery.  There Susie’s mother saves her from being split off to the group of old people and children (who will be killed) by carrying her in a canvas backpack.  Susie and her mother are then transported to Kaiserwald and Stutthof concentration camps, where they live amidst deplorable and horrifying situations where, again, Susie survives when her mother realizes danger is near and creative finds ways out for Susie.  The horrors culminate in an eleven day death march through freezing conditions to Tauentzien concentration camp, where Susie got sick.  She was too sick to be evacuated as the Red Army made advances, and was actually unconscious when they were liberated. They were finally reunited with their single living relative, her uncle.

Evaluation:

This memoir was an difficult read for me.  The details of daily life for poor Susie, her family, and the other families in the camps were heartbreaking.  The writing style is very straightforward, told from the eyes of a child.  As such, there are some instances where an adult audience realizes that Susie’s aunt is pregnant in the ghetto, but Suzanne thinks it’s just food poisoning.  The strength and force of Susie’s mother is amazing.  Trusting her instincts and using creative thinking, she is able to save Suzanne and herself in such dark and dangerous situations.  The details about other characters and their actions drew a truthful, if sometimes depressing, portrait of humanity.  Though there were plenty of cold and detached Germans, there were also those that showed quick glimpses of compassion.  Of the people in the concentration camps, the depth of despair, frustration, fear, and at the same time, love, friendship, hope are overwhelming in the characterization.  This was an intense and difficult read, but rewarding in that both Susie and Raja survive to tell the tale.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 2
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: non-fiction, memoir

Appeal Factors: non-fiction, history, World War II, Holocaust, memoir, mother-daughter relationship, survival story

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • A Child of the Warsaw Ghetto by David Adler
  • Hidden Children by Isaac Millman
  • The Liesel Rosenburg Story by Megan Novack

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Batchelder Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • “Actions” at the Vilnius Ghetto
  • Sneaking Susie into the Rossa Cemetery
  • Batja’s mother having to choose between saving Batja or her younger sister

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • This memoir has been criticized as lacking “redemptive vision.”  Does it?
  • How does this portrayal of the Holocaust and concentration camps compare to other similar literature you have read?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it was a memoir about survival of the Holocaust and the story of a mother’s love for her daughter.  It made me think of a real life version of the movie Life is Beautiful.  As a mother of two, it was heartbreaking to imagine what Susie’s mother went through to keep Susie alive through those horrible things.

Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins

Standard

Jenkins, Martin.  Can We Save the Tiger? Candlewick Press, 2011.  $16.99, 56 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:  http://www.lovereading4kids.co.uk/author/3057/Martin-Jenkins.html

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:  What we can do to prevent the mighty tiger from going the way of the dodo, the great auk, and the marsupial wolf.

Summary:

Starting with an explanation of what it is to be extinct, Martin Jenkin’s tells the story of what it means to be endangered and how it can lead to extinction.  He uses specific animals to illustrate different points, such as how the tiger is endangered because of the threat they may pose to humans or that they require more land that is rapidly shrinking.  He uses the partula snail to describe the problems with introducing invasive species, the vulture to explain the effect that human decisions and choices have on their surrounding eco-systems, and the success and challenges of protecting endangered species such as the American bison and the kakapos.  Interspersed throughout the narrative are pictures of the endangered animals accompanied by facts and statistics about them.  He challenges readers that although the task may seem daunting, it is a worthy cause to fight for these amazing creatures before it is too late.

Evaluation:

This nonfiction piece is an enlightening text on the plight of endangered animals.  Written in narrative, Jenkins explains different reasons why animals become endangered and anchors each reason to an endangered animal.  He uses “we” to include himself and the reader as the agents of change, as those called to action to do something for the endangered animals.  His treatment of the subject is not to vilify human actions, but instead to educate about how every human action has a consequence on the animal world that shares the same space.  The language used is accessible for readers, as terms are explained, and Jenkins keeps a more conversational tone than didactic.  He also uses different sized fonts to emphasize his points. The illustrations vary between strategically placed simple black and white pencil drawings and more elaborate oil paintings of the animals.  The endangered species are highlighted because of the fact that the illustrations are only of animals, not their habitats  or other scenes.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: nonfiction, didactic

Appeal Factors:  endangered animals, illustrations, narrative style

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Let’s Save the Animals by Frances Barry
  • Almost Gone by Steve Jenkins
  • Saving Birds: Heroes around the World by Pete Salmansohn

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2012 Notable Children’s Books
  • 2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor, Nonfiction

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Extinct animals
  • How the vulture has been poisoned
  • Comeback story of the American bison

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • What are ways that you can raise awareness about endangered animals?
  • What things can you do to help save endangered animals?
  • Pick an organization from the list of resources at the end to contact.  What information could you ask for?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this book because it was a nonfiction picture book. I enjoyed the way it gave facts about endangered animals in a narrative format.  The pictures were also beautiful and the simple facts about the animals were as striking as the illustrations themselves.

Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing by Ann Angel

Standard

Angel, Ann.  Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing.  

Link to Author’s Website:  http://www.annangelwriter.com/index.html

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:  Follow Janis’ from life as a high school girl craving to fit in to the over-the-top rocker.

Summary:

Still remembered and celebrated decades after her untimely death at age twenty-seven, Janis Joplin’s story is told in engaging pictures, testimonials of family and friends, and other primary resources.  Not part of the popular crowd in high school, Janis always sought respite from her insecurities by eventually flaunting conventions and embracing the Beatnik philosophy of personal freedom and rejection of conformity.  Leaving her hometown in Texas, Janis soon finds herself in caught up in the flower child lifestyle of the Haight in San Francisco, California and finding a place performing with the band Big Brother.  Despite her success with the band, her continued insecurities lead her to find solace amidst the self-destructive atmosphere of the music industry.  Sex, drugs, drinking, and addiction soon became part of Janis’ life and ultimately, her death.

Evaluation:

Ann Angel compiled information from a variety of sources to create this award winning biography.  Because the information came from family and friends, the portrait that she is able to create of Janis is much more personal and shows much more than an out of control musician who flamed too brightly and too quickly before burning out.  The letters from family members and information from interviews of band mates gives a different insight into the often larger than life figure that Janis created for herself.  What’s more, is that the reader can better understand WHY she created that persona for herself.  The text is easily accessible and understandable for a variety of readers.  With a picture on almost every page, the use of images and even the more thematic graphic elements like the colors and patterns used on the pages call to mind the colors and images of the 1960’s.  There may be some concern about the subject matter, as Angel does address Joplin’s drug and alcohol addiction and abuse, her sexual promiscuity and relationships, and even abortion.  These are dealt with factually, but without glamorizing them, and without them being the focus of the biography.  Overall, the story was told in an engaging fashion accompanied by pictures and information that gives the reader an intimate view of Janis Joplin.

Rating Scale:

    • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
    • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre:  non-fiction, biography

Appeal Factors:  popular culture icon, music, photographs

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin by Myra Friedman
  • Love, Janis by Laura Joplin
  • Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix by Charles R. Cross

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Booklist’s Top Biographies for 2011
  • YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults
  • 2011 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Janis in high school and the Beatnik philosophy
  • The description of the atmosphere and environment of California in the 1960’s
  • Description of Janis’ larger than life persona in action (speeding around in her Porsche, drinking with the Rolling Stones, calling attention to herself)

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why Janis may have created the Pearl persona
  • Why did blues appeal to Janis and how did it manifest in her work
  • Janis as a female rock star in a field dominated by males

Why I Chose This:

I chose this text because it was on a female musical figure who was influential in the rock and roll industry and remains popular to this day.  I liked the way it included anecdotes and photographs that brought her to life.  It was also interesting that she was framed by the author as a series of contradictions: a successful woman in a male dominated field, a white singer of the blues, and the indulgence in adulation which eventually lead to her demise stemmed from her need for acceptance and approval.