Outstanding nonfiction writing that makes history come alive.



Sandler brings to life an extraordinary true adventure tale set on the treacherous Arctic terrain.

In September 1897, eight whaling vessels became icebound near Point Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in America, and 265 men faced starvation. Acting on orders from President McKinley, Secretary of the Treasury Lyman Gage sent Capt. Francis Tuttle and his ship, the Bear, on a rescue mission. He would take the Bear as far north as possible, put three officers ashore and send them over 1,500 miles overland to aid the men. Using a combination of dog-powered and reindeer-drawn sleds, herding 400 reindeer and living off the land along the way, the three-man rescue team, with immense help from indigenous people, succeeded in their journey through the Arctic winter, arriving 103 days after leaving the Bear. Remarkable photographs, many taken by one of the rescuing officers, grace just about every spread, and even the captions are fascinating. The narrative’s excitement is heightened by the words of the participants, drawn from their actual letters, diaries, journals and other personal reminiscences. Maps are well-drawn, documentation is meticulous, and the backmatter includes a section on what happened to the key players and a useful timeline.

Outstanding nonfiction writing that makes history come alive.   (source notes, bibliography, photography credits, index) (Nonfiction. 10 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5080-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

How extraordinary to visit Mars in Spirit; readers will be very glad of the Opportunity.



What’s it like to explore Mars? Did life ever exist on Earth’s red neighbor? To find out, readers need only soar along with this enthralling account of the adventures of two rovers designed to seek evidence on Mars of water that could have once supported life.

Expected to last three months, the indefatigable Spirit and Opportunity incredibly carried out their missions for more than six years. In the process, lead scientist Steve Squyres and his team learned more about and probed more terrain on Mars than anyone before. Readers are carried aloft by Rusch’s exciting, clear prose and the rovers' exceptional photos sent Earthside. Along with the team, young people celebrate every thrilling moment of success—yes, there once was water on Mars!—and accept failures and disappointments. This is edge-of-your-seat reading as the author explains how setbacks were handled. Readers are not only drawn in by the dedication, hard work and emotions of the people involved, but they will also, like the scientists themselves, feel proprietary toward the rovers—and, fortunately, there’s an update about them. One quibble: the ample backmatter has little specifically for children. Another stellar outing in the consistently excellent Scientists in the Field series.

How extraordinary to visit Mars in Spirit; readers will be very glad of the Opportunity. (sources, chapter notes, glossary, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: June 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-47881-4

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

An outstanding achievement and a life worthy of note.



A former slave fulfills his quest for an education and much more in this superbly designed tribute to an oft-maligned African-American educator and author.

The young Washington, who learned his letters from a spelling book his mother gave to him, hears about Hampton College in Virginia, over 500 miles away. With the help of neighbors who share their precious coins, he travels, mostly on foot, from West Virginia with hunger, cold and weariness as constant companions. Asim’s lyrical text transforms the journey into a spiritual awakening for a young man who had “a dream in his soul.” Collier is in brilliant Caldecott Honor style, using his signature watercolor paintings and cut-paper collage to incorporate elements from Booker’s life and visions into each illustration. A map route is a design on his shirt, and letters and words from the speller he cherished decorate the pages. Each tableau is beautifully composed and balanced with textured colors and patterns. The cover display type and the endpapers, which are taken from Webster’s American Spelling Book, embellish this ode to book learning. Washington’s was not a life filled with anger and fiery oratory. Rather, Asim and Collier laud his steadfast determination and lifelong dedication to learning.

An outstanding achievement and a life worthy of note. (additional facts, author’s note, illustrator’s note, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 4-8)

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-08657-8

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

A work of breadth and energy, just like its subject; engaging and brimming with appeal for a wide audience.


A beautifully realized labor of love and affection brings to life one of our brightest founding fathers.

Ben Franklin’s multiple geniuses might be too large to be contained in a simple narrative, but Byrd finds a way to convey with warmth and enthusiasm an appreciation for the long and influential life that Franklin lived as printer, inventor and statesman. Byrd’s sparkling marriage of text and illustration lowers the barriers to comprehending the brilliance, energy, passion and inventiveness of this early American phenom. Four generously wide columns across each opening offer a space for the straightforward, clear-voiced narrative accompanied by full-color, captioned artwork—sometimes several illustrations on a page—along with charming, brief inset quotations from Franklin’s writings. The design evokes the two-columned early newspapers that Franklin might have known. Byrd’s prose is respectful of his young readers and sophisticated at the same time, providing historical and cultural context for events and significant moments in Franklin’s life and selecting from a very big life the stories that best convey a sense of the personality and character of the man. The artwork and distinctive design must stand as markers for readers who want to return to specific places in the text, as there are neither page numbers nor an index. However, a comprehensive timeline and bibliography will serve young scholars well, and the author’s notes add to an understanding of both Franklin and the historical record about him.

A work of breadth and energy, just like its subject; engaging and brimming with appeal for a wide audience. (Biography. 8-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8037-3749-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

A marvel of history writing that makes complicated history clear and interesting.



Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass met only three times, but their friendship changed a nation.

Lincoln was white and president of the United States; Douglass was black and a former slave. Yet they were kindred spirits: Both had risen from poverty to prominence, both were self-educated men and both had a book in common: Caleb Bingham’s The Columbian Orator. In fact, 12-year-old Douglass was secretly reading the book of speeches and dialogues in Baltimore at the same time Lincoln was reading it in Illinois, and the appendix here presents an excerpt, “Dialogue between a Master and Slave.” When they first met, in 1863, the nation was at war. Lincoln struggled to keep the nation together, while Douglass welcomed war as a first step toward ending slavery; Douglass was ever the voice of moral conscience, nudging Lincoln to do the right thing on behalf of the enslaved. In this slim volume, Freedman makes a narrative challenge look effortless. He tells the stories of two prominent Americans, traces the debate over slavery from the Missouri Compromise to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision and explains how these events created a momentum that pushed the nation toward war. He does all of this in a lucid and fascinating narrative that never sacrifices depth and intellectual rigor.

A marvel of history writing that makes complicated history clear and interesting.   (selected bibliography, notes, picture credits) (Nonfiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: June 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-38562-4

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Clarion

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

Lyrically narrated, resplendently illustrated, and deeply respectful of both subject and audience.



In attuned counterpoint, Golio and Gutierrez present a portrait of John Coltrane’s lifelong quest to discover and share his spiritual truth through music.

Beginning with John’s 12th year, Golio traces his religious roots: Grandfather Blair, a Methodist minister, headed a household that included John’s parents, aunt and cousin. Within two years, his grandparents, father and uncle died, splintering the family. In one bright spot, a pastor began a community band, leading to a borrowed sax and lessons for John. His musical gift bloomed amid loneliness and setbacks. Touring’s pressures led to alcohol and drug dependence. Golio continuously weaves such biographical details into the tapestry of spiritual longing that characterized Coltrane’s life. “He began falling asleep onstage. Or showing up late, only to be fired. Part of him stood in the darkness, while another part was searching for the light.” Gutierrez’s full-bleed acrylic paintings pulse with emotional intensity and iconic religious images; Coltrane is often shown with a halo or wings. Expressionist color channels Coltrane’s psychic life: His hobby-filled childhood is sweet potato pie–sunny; a scene of drug withdrawal is moonlit black. Portraits of jazz influences—Dizzy, Duke, Bird—appear throughout. Coltrane’s spiritual apex, a vision coinciding, Golio notes, with the development of his masterwork, A Love Supreme, is depicted with John meditating, Buddha-like against glowing pink.

Lyrically narrated, resplendently illustrated, and deeply respectful of both subject and audience. (afterword, author’s and artist’s notes, bibliography, discography) (Picture book/biography. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-23994-1

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Clarion

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

Dozens of spectacular Kellar posters along with a dramatic book design nicely support this well-constructed look at a...



A first-rate visual presentation accompanies a fascinating biography of the first dean of the Society of American Magicians, a man Houdini regarded as a mentor.

The son of German immigrant parents, Harry Keller (later Kellar) lived in his hometown of Erie, Penn., only until he was 10, when he hopped aboard a train bound for Cleveland, Ohio, in 1859. He apprenticed to a performing magician a couple of years later. Kellar’s career in magic and illusion led him to South America, England and Australia before he achieved recognition and success in the United States. Kellar’s meticulous attention to detail in the building of his illusions and in the staging of his performances led to his success. Traveling magic shows and established theatrical illusionists were a widespread entertainment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, incorporating aspects of spiritualism (Kellar demonstrated that he could replicate anything a medium could do) and mechanical wonders like automatons in their performances. Kellar and his team borrowed from other well-known performers, and he worked to polish and improve the illusions to perfection. Few secrets of the illusions are revealed here, but Jarrow makes it clear that it was Kellar’s art that made them seem like real magic.

Dozens of spectacular Kellar posters along with a dramatic book design nicely support this well-constructed look at a consummate showman. (timeline, bibliography, annotated sources) (Biography. 10-14)

Pub Date: June 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59078-865-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

Levinson builds her dramatic account around the experiences of four young arrestees—including a 9-year-old, two teenage...



Triumph and tragedy in 1963 “Bombingham,” as children and teens pick up the flagging civil rights movement and give it a swift kick in the pants.

Levinson builds her dramatic account around the experiences of four young arrestees—including a 9-year-old, two teenage activists trained in nonviolent methods and a high school dropout who was anything but nonviolent. She opens by mapping out the segregated society of Birmingham and the internal conflicts and low levels of adult participation that threatened to bring the planned jail-filling marches dubbed “Project C” (for “confrontation”), and by extension the entire civil rights campaign in the South, to a standstill. Until, that is, a mass exodus from the city’s black high schools (plainly motivated, at least at first, almost as much by the chance to get out of school as by any social cause) at the beginning of May put thousands of young people on the streets and in the way of police dogs, fire hoses and other abuses before a national audience. The author takes her inspiring tale of courage in the face of both irrational racial hatred and adult foot-dragging (on both sides) through the ensuing riots and the electrifying September bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, then brings later lives of her central participants up to date.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-56145-627-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Peachtree

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

And will a young scholar read it again and look for more? You bet—it’s great fuel for the imagination.



Hooray for the launch of a new nonfiction series for newly fledged readers!

Macaulay’s compact, clear and engagingly illustrated explanation of how a castle is built to thwart potential intruders (you, the reader, in this case) is the right length and depth for readers who have progressed beyond beginner books. His trademark pen-and-ink lines reveal the structural purpose of each part of the medieval stone fortress, while color wash adds appeal. Clearly among the first of a series, this title is labeled "Level 4," and the sentences are just complex enough: “Beneath the ground floor is the dark, damp dungeon.” The narrative is well supported by the illustration—and vice versa: An intriguing drawing has the essential details mentioned in the accompanying passage. Readers will encounter new challenges with text set against dark backgrounds on a few pages, but the font size and line spacing are just right. The length of the book—32 pages, including glossary—seems thoughtfully calculated to bestow a sense of accomplishment. The basics get covered here in fascinating detail: the guard who stops to use the toilet; a cross section of a battering ram. Added riches: a glossary, an index and a list of resources for further study, in small type but nicely focused.

And will a young scholar read it again and look for more? You bet—it’s great fuel for the imagination. (Nonfiction early reader. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59643-744-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: David Macaulay Studio/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012



A striking glimpse into Chinese girlhood during the 1970s and ’80s.

Beginning with a breathtaking dream of riding a golden crane over the city of Wuhan, China, Liu Na, recounts her subsequent waking only to discover that Chairman Mao has passed away. The 3-year-old finds this difficult to process and understand, although she is soon caught up in the somber mood of the event. From there, her life unfolds in short sketches. With this intimate look at her childhood memories, Liu skillfully weaves factual tidbits into the rich tapestry of her life. In the section titled “The Four Pests,” she explains about the four pests that plague China—the rat, the fly, the mosquito and the cockroach (with an additional explanation of how the sparrow once made this list, and why it is no longer on it)—and her stomach-turning school assignment to catch rats and deliver the severed tails to her teacher. In “Happy New Year! The Story of Nian the Monster,” she explains the origins of Chinese New Year, her favorite holiday, and her own vivid, visceral reflections of it: the sights, sounds and smells. Extraordinary and visually haunting, there will be easy comparisons to Allen Say’s Drawing from Memory (2011); think of this as the female counterpart to that work.

Beautifully drawn and quietly evocative. (glossary, timeline, author biography, translations of Chinese characters, maps) (Graphic memoir. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7613-8115-0

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Graphic Universe

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

Just like Times Square itself, the pages are filled to the brim.



An unexpected history of a very famous intersection.

Millions of people begin each new year mesmerized by the ball drop atop One Times Square. But before all the glitz and flashing lights, Times Square was filled with carriages, livery stables and coal yards. It is a stark contrast that’s difficult to imagine. McKendry (Beneath the Streets of Boston: Building America’s First Subway, 2005) takes readers on a journey through 100 years of shifts and changes to this well-known New York City landscape. Beginning in 1904 when the New York Times headquarters was built and forever changed the name of this small plot of land, McKendry accompanies the text with a spectacular painting of the Square from a specific point of view. This same perspective is used repeatedly throughout the narrative, simultaneously grounding readers and letting them watch in awe as buildings and technology sprout and change. Interspersed with the Square’s history—during both thriving years and sordid ones—are fascinating tidbits such as the inner workings of billboards, the arrival of the Motograph News Bulletin (or the “Zipper”) and, of course, the exact number of light bulbs found in the 2000 Millennium ball. Cross sections, diagrams and stunning double-page spreads show how these few tiny streets have changed in very large ways.

Just like Times Square itself, the pages are filled to the brim. (sources) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-56792-364-3

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Godine

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

Accessible, unfussy and visually charming.



An appealing and slightly humorous portrayal of O’Keeffe’s artistic vision and determination, along with a peek at the Hawaii of over half a century ago.

During her several-weeks sojourn in the Hawaii Territory in 1939, Georgia O’Keeffe painted some of her most lovely work. Though it was the Hawaiian (later Dole) Pineapple Company that underwrote her trip in exchange for a painting of a pineapple, O’Keeffe refused to paint the picked fruit the company offered. She did not actually paint a pineapple until she returned to New York, and readers may be able to find her pineapple painting hiding in the pages. But, as Novesky tells here, O’Keeffe discovered flowers, landscapes and Hawaiian feathered fishhooks that captured her artist’s eye. Morales’ luscious full-page illustrations—digitally assembled edge-to-edge acrylic paintings—seem to glow softly in scenes filled with rich colors and that create an intimate relationship between the figure of Georgia and her surroundings. Labeled illustrations of nine different Hawaiian blossoms cover the endpapers. In one striking spread, a canvas close-up shows Georgia’s just-painted waterfall, with a feathered lure and a shell hanging from the corners, while just beyond Georgia, a striking black lava formation reaches into the ocean. Morales captures Georgia’s intelligent and occasionally formidable look; she also captures what O’Keeffe saw, gracefully echoing, not reproducing, O’Keeffe’s work.

Accessible, unfussy and visually charming. (author’s and illustrator’s notes; sources) (Picture book/biography. 6-10)

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-15-205420-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011


Winter on a Maine farm offers the joys of ice in all its forms.

Icy childhood memories glisten in this magical series of nostalgic vignettes. From the first skim on a pail to the soft, splotchy rink surface at the end of the season, Obed recalls the delights of what others might have found a dreary season. The best thing about ice is skating: in fields, on a creek or frozen lake and, especially, on the garden rink. In a series of short scenes presented chronologically, the author describes each ice stage in vivid detail, adding suspense with a surprising midwinter thaw and peaking with an ice show. Her language shimmers and sparkles; it reads like poetry. Readers will have no trouble visualizing the mirror of black ice on a lake where their “blades spit out silver,” or the “long black snake” of a garden hose used to spray the water for their homemade rink. McClintock’s numerous line drawings add to the delight. They show children testing the ice in a pail, a father waltzing with a broom, joyous children gliding down a hill in a neighbor’s frozen field. One double-page spread shows the narrator and her sister figure skating at night, imagining an admiring crowd. The perfect ice—and skating—of dreams concludes her catalog.

Irresistible. (Memoir. 6-9)

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-618-89129-0

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

A feast for readers whose eyes are (or should be) on the prize, in a volume as well-turned-out as the dapper W.E.B. Dubois,...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2012

  • Coretta Scott King Book Award Winner



Addressing the appetites of readers “hungry for role models,” this presents compellingly oratorical pictures of the lives and characters of 10 African-American men who exemplify a “birthright of excellence.”

Each of the chronologically arranged chapters opens with a tone-setting praise song and a commanding close-up portrait. From Benjamin Banneker, whose accusatory letter to slaveholder Thomas Jefferson “socked it straight / to the secretary of state,” to Barack Obama, who “turned Yes, we can! into a celebration call,” the gallery is composed of familiar names. Instead of rehashing well-chewed biographical fodder, though, the author dishes up incidents that shaped and tested her subjects’ moral and intellectual fiber along with achievements that make her chosen few worth knowing and emulating. Carping critics may quibble about the occasional arguable fact and an implication that Rosa Parks’ protest was spontaneous, but like Malcolm X, Pinkney has such “a hot-buttered way with words” that her arguments are as convincing as they are forceful, and her prose, rich as it is in rolling cadences and internal rhymes, never waxes mannered or preachy.

A feast for readers whose eyes are (or should be) on the prize, in a volume as well-turned-out as the dapper W.E.B. Dubois, who was “more handsome than a fresh-cut paycheck.” (timeline, index, lists of recommended reading and viewing) (Collective biography. 10-15)

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4231-4257-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

An exceptional life; a stunning achievement.



Audiences thrilled to his mesmerizing performances, in which he spoke through his expressive body without uttering a single word.

Marceau was the world’s most popular and beloved mime. Born in France, he grew up watching and imitating Charlie Chaplin, star of silent films. World War II intruded and turned the Jewish teen into a war hero. At war’s end, he created Bip, his alter ego, who with makeup and costume “walks against the wind, but there is no wind.” Schubert’s spare text is both poetic and dramatic. DuBois’s oil paintings are brilliantly executed and saturated, with textured nuances. Images of Marceau fly across the page, delighting the eye, while close-ups highlight his extraordinary facial expressions. Ordinary paper morphs into stage settings as Marceau dances against white or black backgrounds. One double-page spread depicts a costumed fish with sinuously expressive hands and feet. Another presents seven views of Marceau in movement, updating a series of views of Marceau as a child. The pages set during World War II, in contrast, are a somber palette. Don’t turn the pages too quickly; rather stop and feel the joie de vivre with which the master filled people of all ages all over the world.

An exceptional life; a stunning achievement.   (afterword, source notes, further reading) (Picture book biography. 4-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59643-529-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Neal Porter/Flash Point/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

From attractive page design to an afterword that encourages readers to search for their own history, there has been much...



This handsome, engaging study of African-American history brings to light many intriguing and tragically underreported stories.

This is a comprehensive approach to African-American history, beginning with accounts of black explorers before the settlement of North America. The straightforward narrative includes major historical events but places emphasis on unusual aspects. For example, during the segment on the American Revolution, there is good discussion about those who fought for both the Patriots and the Loyalists. Another section of distinction is the period following the Civil War and Reconstruction, including blacks in the West and an intriguing look at the differing views of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. The societal changes brought on by World War II and the civil rights movement receive their due. Little-known exchanges between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King are the kinds of detail that lift this narrative above the standard history text. Not surprisingly, the story concludes with the election of President Barack Obama and the challenges facing the first black president. This is a well-researched, readable overview with an attractive layout that will engage young readers. There are few pages that are not accompanied by an interesting sidebar or image, many archival.

From attractive page design to an afterword that encourages readers to search for their own history, there has been much attention to detail in this handsome volume. (notes, bibliography, art credits, index) (Nonfiction. 10 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8109-7098-4

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Readers will want to visit more than once to capture both the science and the abundant sense of celebration here.



From the Sunlight series

An awe-inspiring lesson in photosynthesis goes under the sea.

As in this pair’s previous Living Sunlight (2009), the sun addresses readers to explain the role of solar energy in supporting the chain of life—this time in the ocean. A summary of the process of photosynthesis occupies the first few spreads. Warm yellow sunlight suffuses these pages, and small insets accompany the textual explanation of how plants make sugar from water and carbon dioxide. Then the focus moves to the sea, first near the surface, where phytoplankton grow and multiply, and then to the depths, where nutrient-rich marine “snow” sifts down to feed creatures who live away from sunlight. The transformation of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into phytoplankton (“the great invisible pasture of the sea”), on which feed zooplankton and progressively larger animals, is set against background paintings of rich marine blues and greens. The churning and recycling of these nutrients is shown again to be a gift of the sun: “My sunlight powers winds that build great storms and mix the water layers of the seas.” Bang’s art is richly kinetic, with its whorls and stipples indicating plant and animal life in profusion, from the swirling microscopic creatures to graceful large fish and whales.

Readers will want to visit more than once to capture both the science and the abundant sense of celebration here. (Informational picture book. 5-11)

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-27322-0

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

Another superb contribution to scientific literature by Chin.


A beautifully made picture book presents the story of the Galápagos Islands for young readers.

It’s not easy to present the story of island formation, species colonization and evolution in a picture book, but Chin succeeds admirably, challenging intelligent young readers with sophisticated concepts but presenting them in a way that will allow readers not only to understand them, but to marvel at them, as well. As in Chin’s previous volumes, Redwoods (2009) and Coral Reefs (2011), gorgeous watercolor illustrations lure readers into the scientific story. Chin is careful to point out in his author’s note the necessity of speculation and educated guesses, given how far in the past the story takes place. But the work is top-notch narrative nonfiction, based on the best current scientific research.  An eye-catching variety of horizontal panels, thumbnails and full-bleed pages makes science visual. Especially effective is the discussion of how species change over time: The finches’ beaks become larger, tortoises’ shells change shape, and cormorants’ wings shrink. In the epilogue, after millions of years of evolution, a ship appears, and a man comes ashore, pen and notebook in hand. It’s Charles Darwin, as explained in the backmatter, where his theory of evolution by natural selection is explained and further information on the Galápagos Islands and their indigenous species is presented.

Another superb contribution to scientific literature by Chin.   (Informational picture book. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59643-716-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Neal Porter/Flash Point/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

Art lovers of all ages will revel in this vivid, wonderfully affecting book, which is almost as ingenious and memorable as...


A magnificent interactive "face book" portrait of the artist.

This book grew out of a studio visit/conversation between Close and a dozen Brooklyn fifth graders. Through the kids' simple questions and the artist's forthright answers, readers eavesdrop on the event and witness the ongoing dialogue between an artist and his unforgettable, iconographic work. Close discloses struggles with childhood ill health and severe dyslexia. He tells how his early artistic promise was nurtured by caring parents and teachers and how he adjusted for his prosopagnosia (face blindness) by sketching the faces of his students. He also shares how the steady progress of a rewarding career and warm family life was nearly derailed by his near-total paralysis after the 1998 collapse of a spinal artery. He also discloses the many "hows" of his astonishing technique: how he uses gridded photos to build his faces and how he works from his wheelchair and wields his brush with less-abled hands. Readers witness his discipline and see how he works in a dizzying variety of media. At the book's brilliant center is the irresistible opportunity to "mix 'n' match" various eyes, noses and mouths among 14 of the artist's arresting self-portraits. 

Art lovers of all ages will revel in this vivid, wonderfully affecting book, which is almost as ingenious and memorable as Close himself. (timeline, glossary, list of resources and illustration credits) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4197-0163-4

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

Hole-y astronomy! (timeline, glossary, author’s note, bibliography, image credits, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12)


Oh, my stars! As the cover proclaims, a black hole may not be an actual hole, but readers will be glad they fell into this book.

The volume guides readers on a (literally) out-of-this-world tour, dealing with topics and concepts that, in the hands of a less-gifted writer, might have remained obscure and unclear. DeCristofano handles the material with wit, style and singularly admirable clarity, frequently employing easy-to-understand and, yes, down-to-earth ideas and scenarios to help make complex principles comprehensible to readers of all ages. Carroll’s illustrations, diagrams and charts, along with superb telescopic photographs (many courtesy of NASA) are splendid and filled with the drama and excitement of the limitless vastness of space. The handsome design and visuals greatly enhance the text and add much to readers’ grasp of the subject. Stargazers will be entranced, and even those not especially attuned to matters celestial will come away feeling smarter, awestruck and with a sense of finally understanding this fascinating, other-worldly phenomenon. An excellent resource.

Hole-y astronomy! (timeline, glossary, author’s note, bibliography, image credits, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-57091-783-7

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

This extraordinary new picture book masterfully tackles the complex task of contextualizing seemingly complex architectural...



Hale turns her educated eye to modern and contemporary architecture and produces a book that is at once groundbreaking, child-friendly and marvelously inclusive.

With a celebratory tone, Hale cleverly structures this unusual picture book by matching a series of lively concrete poems and vignettes of young children at play (creating simple structures of all types) with carefully selected photos of complementary, emblematic 20th- and 21st-century structures. Mud pies are compared to Hassan Fathy’s all-earthen New Gourna Village (Luxor, Egypt); beachfront sand castles to Antoni Gaudí’s soaring La Sagrada Família Basilica (Barcelona, Spain); busy LEGO® projects with Moshe Safdie’s modular Habitat 67 housing (Montréal, Québec); cardboard-tube models to Shigeru Ban’s amazing Paper Tube School (Sichuan Provence, China); tongue-depressor/Popsicle-stick and white-glue crafts with the vertical slats of David Adjaye’s Sclera Pavilion (London, England); and the “soft forms / tumble making / ever-changing / caverns, secret spaces” of pillow forts with Frank Gehry’s curvilinear Guggenheim (Bilbao, Spain). Well-organized and accessible backmatter contains the photo, name and location of each of the 15 highlighted structures, a brief biography of and a telling quote from each structure’s architect, and Hale’s own portrait of each designer.

This extraordinary new picture book masterfully tackles the complex task of contextualizing seemingly complex architectural concepts within a child’s own world of play. (Informational picture book/poetry. 2-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60060-651-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

Otherwise, distinguished both as natural history and work of art.


Jenkins’ splendid array of beetles will surely produce at least one budding coleopterist.

The colors and patterns of this ubiquitous insect (one out of four creatures on the planet is a beetle, Jenkins tells readers) are fascinating, as are the details about the various adaptations that beetles have made over millennia in response to their environment, diet, and predators. “Perhaps the innovation that has been most helpful to the beetle is its pair of rigid outer wings.” Beautiful book design and a small but clear freehand-style type contribute to readers’ appreciation of the elegant structure and variety of these creatures. Deep, bright hues in the torn-and–cut-paper–collage illustrations set each beetle with its own singular pattern and colors against generous white space. Actual-size silhouettes allow the detailed, larger illustrations to be matched with a realistic appraisal of each beetle’s dimensions. A list of the several dozen featured beetles along with their Latin names and their principal geographic locations appears on a two-page opening at the back. Only a couple of quibbles: The author’s claim that without the dung beetle “the world’s grasslands would soon be buried in animal droppings” begs for a little further explanation; and the absence of a bibliography seems like an oversight.

Otherwise, distinguished both as natural history and work of art. (Nonfiction. 7-12) 

Pub Date: April 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-68084-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

Science writing at its grossest and best, though as the title (not to mention the blood-spattered pages) warns, not for the...



Solid (sometimes writhing) proof that the scariest zombie flicks have nothing on Nature.

To demonstrate that there are indeed real zombies—“closer than you think”—Johnson (Journey into the Deep, 2010; iPad app, 2011) introduces a select set of fungi, worms, viruses and wasps that invade the bodies and take over the brains of their victims. Enhanced by large and often deliciously disturbing color photos, her descriptions of each parasite’s life cycle is both specific and astonishing; not only does the fungus O. unilateralis force a carpenter ant to clamp itself to a leaf (before sending a long reproductive stalk out of its head) for instance, it even somehow strengthens the ant’s mouth muscles. The author tracks similarly focused physical and behavioral changes not just in insects, but in other creatures too, including rabies-infected mammals. Lest human readers feel left out of the picture, she mentions the protozoan T. gondii, which causes rats to engage in reckless behavior and also has infected up to a quarter of all the adults and teens in this country. In each chapter, Johnson reports back on conversations with scientists engaged in relevant research, and she closes with a quick look at telling signs in the fossil record.

Science writing at its grossest and best, though as the title (not to mention the blood-spattered pages) warns, not for the squeamish. (author's note, glossary, notes, bibliography, further reading, index) (Nonfiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7613-8633-9

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Millbrook/Lerner

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

A remarkable achievement.


We are made of earth and water and air and stardust, and we are more related to animals and plants than we ever imagined.

Everything about us is found in the natural world. Our atoms are from ancient stardust, and the water and salt that flow within us are part of the unchanging cycle that goes back to the beginning of time. We breathe pollen that, when released, may actually create a plant. We grow at night and seasonally shed and grow hair, in similar fashion to animals. We are also a living planet for millions of microorganisms. Kelsey doesn’t lecture or overcomplicate the information. She speaks directly to readers in a way that opens minds to big ideas and paves the way for thoughtful questions of their own. The litany of facts comes alive in vivid, descriptive language, lending a philosophical, elegant and mystical aura to current scientific findings. Kim’s incredibly unusual illustrations are sublime. Employing varied painting techniques, vivid colors, multidimensional cutouts, unexpected materials and unusual textures, she creates a view of nature that is at once real and otherworldly. This is a work that demands to be read and reread, studied and examined, and thoroughly digested. It is perfect for sparking adult and child conversations about our place in the universe.

A remarkable achievement. (Picture book. 5-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-926973-35-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Owlkids Books

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

More Book Lists

The Magazine: Kirkus Reviews

Jenn Shapland reclaims a queer icon in My Autobiography of Carson McCullers.

  • The Kirkus Star

    One of the most coveted designations in the book industry, the Kirkus Star marks books of exceptional merit.

  • The Kirkus Prize

    The Kirkus Prize is among the richest literary awards in America, awarding $50,000 in three categories annually.

    See the 2019 winners.

Great Books & News Curated For You

Be the first to read books news and see reviews, news and features in Kirkus Reviews. Get awesome content delivered to your inbox every week.

Thank you!

Looks good !! Please provide a valid email.