Friday, September 28, 2012

Cesar Chavez: A Photographic Essay by Ilan Stavans

It is possible that there is another more perfect photograph in a library book for sharing with students when Yom Kippur, a holiday they may have never heard of, occurs smack-dab in the middle of Latino/a History Month, but on page 62 of Ilan Stavan’s Cesar Chavez: A Photographic Essay, there is a wonderful image for sparking students’ curiosity and wonderings.  Here is a picture of Cesar Chavez holding a shofar.  Why is Cesar Chavez holding a shofar?

Serendipitous events aside, this book is essential for readers who have yet to wonder or have just begun to ask the question Who was Cesar Chavez?  With a minimum of text, this volume is an invitation to consider the life of the six-year old boy, his eighth-grade graduation photo, the farmworkers and farm life he concerned himself with, and the battles he fought to establish the humanity and dignity of farm workers.  Highly recommended as a supplement to Steinbeck’s Grape of Wrath, Zola’s Germinal, or units of study on child labor, human rights, activism, civil rights, labor movements, and revolution.  This book will also be of interest to instructors searching for accessible photobiographies with social relevance which include a higher degree of text-complexity than usually accompanies so much white space. --Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Stavans, Ilan.  Cesar Chavez:  A Photographic Essay.  El Paso:  Cinco Puntos Press, 2010. Print.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Usagi Yojimbo Book 4: The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy by Stan Sakai

Welcome to Edo Japan! Usagi Yojimbo is the story of a rabbit named Miyamoto Usagi, a rounin (a samurai that doesn’t have a lord to serve) who wanders the land taking jobs as a yojimbo (bodyguard).  Throughout his journey Usagi meets many fascinating characters; some who become allies willing to aid him in his journey and others who turn into sworn enemies.  These characters help keep the story fresh as the focus is not constantly on Usagi. One of the series’ charms is the characters being anthropomorphic animals, which makes the otherwise bloody story more approachable.  The series is one of the longest I’ve seen, having well over 23 volumes. Although it is not necessary, I would recommend starting from book one since the story sometimes makes references to previous books.  The art is a cross between Japanese manga and western comics all drawn in black and white.  Teachers looking to introduce students to Japanese culture, history during the Edo era (1603 - 1868), and the Samurai code (Bushido) should look into this series.  Students that have enjoyed Buddha, Maus and Barefoot Gen would probably enjoy Usagi Yojimbo as well. --Claudio Leon

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How They Croaked: the Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley

What else do you need to know, really? In this collection of historical biographies, all the facts point in one direction -- toward cause of death. Bragg expertly tells the story of nineteen well-known figures in history, from Mozart to King Tut to Edgar Allan Poe, in a mere four or five pages each. Granted, these biographies are not exhaustive, but they do describe who the person was, what they are famous for, and how they died.

Because of the historical nature of these awfully famous people, some of the deaths are quite gruesome, many having come about from less-advanced medical practice and widespread diseases. Mozart, for example, was only 35 when he died of strep throat in 1791; antibiotics were invented one hundred and forty years later. The details of his death are gory, but somehow Bragg’s sly sense of humor makes it all easy to digest.

With the addition of O’Malley’s whimsical illustrations and some fun trivia at the end of each chapter, this book is a sure winner among readers of history. Teachers and librarians will also appreciate the table of contents, bibliography, further reading suggestions and index.  --Anja Kennedy

Bragg, Georgia. How They Croaked: the Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous. New York: Walker & Company, 2011. Print.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Would You Rather: Doubly Disgusting by Justin Heimberg and David Gomberg

Would you rather get lost in your favorite novel, or debate with a group of your peers?  If you fall into the latter category, then this is the book for you.  It starts quietly, a question posed to a nearby friend, “Would you rather...” marking the discovery of this hilariously disgusting tome by another curious student.  Suddenly everyone is thinking long and hard about the options, weighing the pros and cons, and discussing the long-term ramifications of choices such as, “Would you rather clean yourself like a cat, or use a litter box like a cat?”  This small book is full of options designed to nauseate and repel, so it is obviously very popular.  One part joke book, one part introduction to debate, Would You Rather is an engaging and stress-free read for students that will get them talking about what they are reading, as well as a wonderful tool to introduce the idea of argument and debate to a class.  --Regan Schwartz

Heimberg, Justin and David Gomberg. Would You Rather: Doubly Disgusting. New York: Seven Footer Press, 2009. Print.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Drake by C. F. Earl

The wait is over.  New this year to the Superstars of Hip-Hop series from Mason Crest, Drake the biracial Canadian rapper on the rise since 2009 now has a spot on school library shelves. While this title would benefit from higher quality images and a reconsideration of the “hip-hop lingo” text boxes that define words as basic as “rap” (telegraphing to teens that this book does not recognize their prior knowledge), the current dearth of available library materials on this popular topic makes this volume worth considering.  Earl focuses on Drake’s ascent to stardom after establishing the music star's success as actor Aubrey Graham.  Earl pays particular attention to Drake’s use of the internet and mixtapes to create a fan base without the backing of a major label, and offers a sequential explanation of the artist's eventual connection with Lil’ Wayne which may have been previously obscure.  For urban teens not yet ready to tackle more challenging text, Drake offers an opportunity to access a simple expository text on a subject that will be of high interest to some.  The back matter includes a sparse timeline, web links, an index and picture credits.--Jessica Fenster-Sparber

Earl, C. F.  Drake.  Pennsylvania: Mason Crest, 2013. Print.

* note this review copy was provided by a publisher at the request of the reviewer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

This slim, poignant novel in verse introduces the reader to Lonnie Collins Motion, four years after a tragic accident took his parents and separated him from his beloved younger sister.  Bounced from home to home, Lonnie has finally found some stability in his foster mom, Ms. Edna, and his teacher, Ms. Marcus.  Told in Lonnie’s voice, through his poetry, Locomotion is an engaging and accessible glimpse into the mind of a bright and loving, but traumatized, young man.  Readers interested in exploring novels in verse will find in Locomotion a great place to start with its judicious use of white space, uncomplicated forms, and realistic middle grade vocabulary.  Throughout the book, Woodson uses the conceit of classroom writing, allowing her to naturally introduce and explain a variety of poetic forms, making Locomotion a fantastic introduction to a unit on poetry. --Regan Schwartz

Woodson, Jacqueline. Locomotion.  New York: Puffin Books, 2003.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bad Dog: 278 outspoken, indecent, and overdressed dogs by R. D. Rosen, Harry Prichett & Rob Battles

Looking for a laugh? Bad Dogs is popular with students who just want to browse and enjoy a few giggles while at it. This is a collection of photographs of dogs, all of them in compromising situations, ridiculous costumes, or both. The authors have included silly captions for each photo, written in the first person from the dog’s perspective. Also included are the pets’ names, ages and hobbies. A call for submissions in the back of the book implies that this is a collection of regular dogs, albeit with maybe not so regular owners. And while the title may suggest the featured dogs are bad, it seems obvious to this reader that these animals have the patience of saints. Also check out the book’s companion, an equally popular Bad Cats: 244 not-so-pretty kitties and cats gone bad.  --Anja Kennedy

Rosen, R. D., Harry Prichett, and Rob Battles. Bad Dog: 278 outspoken, indecent, and overdressed dogs. New York: Workman Publishing, 2005.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hulk Vs Wolverine by Damon Lindelof, art by Leinil Francis Yu & Dave McCaig

Two of Marvel’s biggest names come together to create a story fueled by love, betrayal and vengeance.  Told from the viewpoints of Bruce Banner, Betty Ross, Jennifer Walters and one relentless hunter, Wolverine, this story is full of twists, turns and surprises.  Bruce Banner, better known as the Incredible Hulk, has been sentenced to death but he (not surprisingly) survives the death sentence and goes into hiding.  In comes Wolverine who is ordered by Nick Fury to find and eliminate the Hulk.  The entire story plays out as a high octane action film with an underlying love story between Betty Ross and Bruce Banner.  Can Wolverine really bring an end to one of Marvel’s most powerful heroes?  And why would Nick Fury select Wolverine for this task out of all the other heroes?  Those aware of Jennifer’s true identity will be surprised at the turn of events.  This is a must read for any comic book fan. --Claudio Leon

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Black Boy White School by Brian F. Walker

If who you are is a product of where you’re from, how do you stay true to yourself nearly a thousand miles from the only home you’ve ever known?  That’s exactly what Anthony “Ant” Jones tries to figure out when he’s sent to elite Belton Academy after witnessing a horrifying murder in his rough Cleveland neighborhood.  Over the course of the school year, Ant struggles to navigate the tricky private-school politics of race, class, and academic achievement as he works to find his place in the overwhelmingly white and wealthy crowd.  And yet, when he returns home for vacation, he finds himself a stranger on his own block. Can Ant succeed at Belton without losing his identity and alienating everyone who loves him?

Based on the author’s personal experience at prep school in Massachusetts, Black Boy White School is a thoughtful and engaging novel, full of believable characters and realistic situations.  The text is straightforward and well-suited to readers of popular teen fiction, such as the Drama High series, and the works of Allison Van Diepen.  Readers interested in race and politics will find a lot to think about in Brian F. Walker’s first book. --Regan Schwartz

Monday, September 10, 2012

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

There is more than geography separating the south and north sides of the Chicago suburb of Fairfield, IL.  On the north side, the houses are immense, the clothing gorgeous, the GPAs impeccable, and the pressure nearly suffocating.  There is a whole different kind of pressure on the south side, where poverty and gang warfare end lives far too early and protecting your loved ones often means giving up your future.  These two sides come together and often clash at Fairfield High School, where a tough chemistry teacher has partnered popular cheerleader Brittany Ellis with dangerous gang member Alex Fuentes.  Amused by this situation, Alex happily takes a bet that he can lure Brittany into his bed before the semester ends.  But as they cautiously grow closer, they both realize that under the stereotypes and the facades, they have more in common than they ever thought possible.  Will it be enough to save them from the futures everyone else has mapped out for them?

Told in both main characters voices, this fast-paced novel, full of realistic relationships and dangerous situations is a hit.  This title will appeal to readers looking for teen romance and gritty “real life” novels.  Although the epilogue pushes the boundaries of believability, sometimes a bit of a fairytale ending is just what a reader needs. -- Regan Schwartz

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Buddha by Osama Tezuka

This compelling manga series takes readers on a journey of enlightenment across 8 volumes.  It begins before Siddartha, the Buddha, is born.  Book one starts by explaining the different social castes in Kapilavastu, India.  Siddartha who is born a prince sacrifices his riches and family in order to search for the meaning of life.  This journey is what makes the series such an amazing read.  A Throughout the series we learn about a multitude of characters, that change their lives as they interact with Siddartha.  In turn they also force the future Buddha to rethink the purpose of his journey.  This manga series offers an accessible entry point to classic works on the buddha, such as Hermann Hesse’s Siddartha. The first volume in the series can be helpful to introduce students to the concepts of social classes and segregation and to world religions, perhaps in Global Studies.  Students looking for drama or that have read titles like The Alchemist would likely enjoy the series. -- Claudio Leon