It is no small feat to choose but a few facts about such a well-documented life; the choices made and the method of telling...

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THOMAS JEFFERSON GROWS A NATION

Using Thomas Jefferson’s own admissions of passion for both his new country and agriculture, details are given about a few of his activities, inventions, and accomplishments, beginning after the Revolutionary War.

A muted, gouache image of a large-headed Jefferson plowing with the help of a large brown mule spans two early pages, under which is this text: “After planting the seed of freedom writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas had something new to nurture. And like any farmer imagining the harvest of a newly tilled field, Thomas envisioned a nation of farmers. But one weed threatened Thomas’s vision.” Said weed is Count Buffon, a Frenchman whose disparaging lies about the New World eventually resulted in Jefferson’s arranging for the man to receive a moose via cargo ship. This unusual and amusing tale begins a series of revelations that continue to show Jefferson’s intense desire to boost his nation’s status and to improve its agriculture. The text is dense and contains sophisticated ideas and vocabulary, and numerous quotations appear in the entertaining artwork and the text itself. The seed metaphor is not extended to Jefferson’s known progeny, but the final section, “Thomas Today,” wisely invites readers to ponder Jefferson’s slave ownership.

It is no small feat to choose but a few facts about such a well-documented life; the choices made and the method of telling are both exemplary. (timeline, further information, notes) (Nonfiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62091-628-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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A mighty portrait of poverty amid cruelty and optimism.

FREE LUNCH

Recounting his childhood experiences in sixth grade, Ogle’s memoir chronicles the punishing consequences of poverty and violence on himself and his family.

The start of middle school brings about unwanted changes in young Rex’s life. His old friendships devolve as his school friends join the football team and slowly edge him out. His new English teacher discriminates against him due to his dark skin (Rex is biracial, with a white absentee dad and a Mexican mom) and secondhand clothes, both too large and too small. Seemingly worse, his mom enrolls him in the school’s free-lunch program, much to his embarrassment. “Now everyone knows I’m nothing but trailer trash.” His painful home life proffers little sanctuary thanks to his mom, who swings from occasional caregiver to violent tyrant at the slightest provocation, and his white stepdad, an abusive racist whose aggression outrivals that of Rex’s mom. Balancing the persistent flashes of brutality, Ogle magnificently includes sprouts of hope, whether it’s the beginnings of a friendship with a “weird” schoolmate, joyful moments with his younger brother, or lessons of perseverance from Abuela. These slivers of relative levity counteract the toxic relationship between young Rex, a boy prone to heated outbursts and suppressed feelings, and his mother, a fully three-dimensional character who’s viciously thrashing against the burden of poverty. It’s a fine balance carried by the author’s outstanding, gracious writing and a clear eye for the penetrating truth.

A mighty portrait of poverty amid cruelty and optimism. (author’s note, author Q&A, discussion guide, writing guide, resources) (Memoir. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-324-00360-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Norton Young Readers

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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Long before Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by watching,” Fabre proved it so.

SMALL WONDERS

JEAN-HENRI FABRE AND HIS WORLD OF INSECTS

The rewards of simply taking time to bend down for a closer look are celebrated in this tribute to the great French entomologist.

Seeing as a lad that “every patch of dirt and tangle of weeds buzzed with insects: dazzling beetles, ferocious wasps, sweet-singing crickets, and more,” young Fabre went on to devote a long life to watching common insects rather than just collecting dead specimens as most of his contemporary colleagues did. The distinctive, enduring affection with which he regarded his diminutive subjects regardless of their often savage behavior comes through clearly here, both in Smith’s warm narrative and Ferri’s equally engaging views of the naturalist. He delightedly discovers a shimmering hoplia beetle beneath a leaf, smiles from his sickbed as a handful of hibernating bees revives after his son carries them indoors, and is wonderstruck by an account of how Cerceris wasps paralyze beetles as live food for offspring. (The illustrator has a little fun with viewers by adding a looming insectile shadow as well as close-up views of hovering wasps in this last scene.) Fabre’s many original discoveries and insights won him renown, and though he is largely unknown to nonspecialists today, his nose-to-nose approach to the natural world is well worth commemorating to modern readers.

Long before Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by watching,” Fabre proved it so. (historical note, timeline, author’s note, annotated source list) (Picture book/biography. 9-11)

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4778-2632-4

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Two Lions

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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