Monday, April 13, 2009

Hot Off the Press, Mostly

One reason why Jim Arnosky’s books are so engaging is that he’s in them. He uses “I walked watchfully” and “I was crawling on my elbows” in a way most nonfiction authors shy away from. In his newest, Slither and Crawl: Eye to Eye with Reptiles, you are right there with Jim as he shares his fascination with snakes, lizards, turtles, alligators, and crocodiles. He answers the question most on my mind-- how can you get over your fear of these guys-- and lots of other questions budding naturalists will have. He paints many of these creatures as life-sized, and in four lavish fold-out spreads reveals more species and even more details (Sterling, ages 8-12).

I find that most kids are boggled to learn that discrimination against women was common and perfectly legal, and it wasn't that long ago. In Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, I.N.K.’s own Tanya Lee Stone does us all a favor by giving this bias an exhilarating context. In a little-known-to-the-point-of-being-invisible episode in history, thirteen women passed all the tests to become astronauts, only to be turned back when NASA couldn't wrap its mind around the idea of women in space. More than twenty years before Sally Ride took off in 1983, the "Mercury 13" were fighters, dreamers, and serious role models way ahead of their time. Lots of great material here-- especially about women's history (the TV shows, books, and organizations that changed attitudes)--though kids might be most drawn to the drama of the stringent physical tests. Now appearing to starred reviews everywhere (Candlewick, ages 9 and up).

This April 30th, honor the Day of the Child with Book Fiesta!, subtitled "Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos El dia de los ninos/El dia de los libros." Pat Mora's text is straightforward to the point of being nonfiction--an itemization of the coolest places to read books-- and in the back she includes helpful hints for families and teachers to emphasize literacy. The illustrations by Rafael Lopez are boldly stylized in an almost Alice-and-Martin-Provensen way, and the entire production is, of course, totally bilingual (Rayo/HarperCollins,ages 4-8).

Turn off the TV, and read a book... about TV. My publisher might not appreciate this association, but you could celebrate TV Turnoff Week, starting this April 20th, by pre-ordering The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth. Yes, we could blame our whole TV culture on a 14-year-old farm boy who dreamed up the first television back in 1920-- but wait, Philo thought he was inventing a force for good, and in later life wouldn't let his own sons watch what he decided was drivel. My biography, with startlingly electric paintings by Greg Couch (who also illustrated Sue Stauffacher's Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson), won’t be out till this fall, but it’s been chosen as a Junior Library Guild Selection, which I'm calling momentum. Another TV Turnoff Week starts September 20th, in time for the book’s actual pub date (Knopf, ages 8-12).

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