Month: February 2014

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickels

• Diversity related title
• Age Range: Grades 6th-Adult
• Author: Tanya Lee Stone
• Title: Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickels
• Publisher: Somerville, Mass. : Candlewick Press
• 2013
• 148 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-7636-5117-6
• Awards: YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist~NAACP Image Award Nominee in Literature~Orbis Pictus Honor Book~Publishers Weekly Best Books 2013~Kirkus Best Books of 2013~Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) Choices 2014~2014 Texas Tayshas Reading List~TOP TEN ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2014~ALSC 2014 Notables Children’s Book AND ALSC 2014 Notables Children’s Recording~YALSA Amazing Audio Pick~Washington Post’s Best New Reads of 2013~Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 2013 Blue Ribbon List~BuzzFeed’s 20 Best Children’s Books of 2013~NYPL’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing~Booklist Editor’s Choice & Booklist’s 2013 “Lasting Connections”~Best Multicultural Books of 2013 (Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature)~A Parents’ Choice Award Recommended Title
• Author’s website:

During World War II America fought the world’s worst racist with a racially segregated army. Stone tells the fascinating and little known story of the first black paratrooper unit: the Triple Nickels, and their efforts to win a measure of acceptance and an opportunity to fight for their nation, even if it wasn’t ready to fight for them.

Stone crafts a handsome, moving and important account of a wrongly overlooked piece of American history. Using myriad primary sources and many historic photographs she brings to life the racism and segregation prevalent in the military and society at large, and shows how black service men survived the slights and violence, overcoming oppression and proving they merited a full measure of equality. As paratrooper Clarence Beaver said, “We wanted to be a full partner within the war. We did not want to go through the war saying ‘I washed the dishes.”

Trying to keep up the morale of his troops First Sergeant Walter Morris sought to “wipe out the idea that black men weren’t good enough or smart enough to jump out of airplanes. He wanted his soldiers to know that they were as up to the task as anyone else.” His efforts to train his soldiers, even before there was any place in the army for black paratroopers, placed him and his men in the right place at the right time. When the Triple Nickels were formed they were the first in line and Morris was served as first sergeant.

Not only does Stone reveal heroic deeds and fascinating characters, she brings to light one of the best kept secrets of World War II: Japanese balloon bombs that targeted the Pacific coast. This is a thorough, well-documented history full of unforgettable anecdotes, perfect for anyone interested in World War II, civil rights, American history or stories of courage and perseverance.
“Morris experienced the sting of seeing German and Italian prisoners of war buying cigarettes and candy at the post exchange. ‘Those men,’ he later recalled, ‘prisoners who killed American soldiers…[could] buy cigarettes or whatever they wanted to, but we…couldn’t go into the post exchange.’ …We’re in uniform, but we’re not good enough to sit at the table with the prisoners of war!’”

In extensive back matter Stone describes the story behind the story, describing her motivations, research techniques and philosophy. An appendix lists the test platoon and first six officers followed by a timeline of desegregation and the Triple Nickels. Detailed source notes, an extensive and varied bibliography and photography credits leave no doubt as to where information was obtained. An extensive index and acknowledgements conclude this handsomely produced and scrupulously researched addition to American history.


Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out

• Current issues title
• Age Range: Grades 8th-adult
• Author and photographer: Susan Kuklin
• Title: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
• Publisher: Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press
• 2014
• 182 pages.
• ISBN: 978- 0-7636-5611-9
• Awards: Just published~Booklist starred review
• Author’s website:

Six transgender teens from diverse backgrounds share their experiences growing up and transitioning to their preferred gender identity. Immersive first-person accounts include brief editorial comments in a distinct typeface and, where permitted by the subject, illuminating photo essays.

Kuklin privileges the reader with an opportunity to hear the thoughtful and heartfelt reflections of six transgender teens. Despite the diversity of their backgrounds, ethnicities and experiences, what comes across clearly is the realization that as regards identity: gender is one variable and sexual orientation is another. Italicized authorial interjections help tie the narrative together and supply context but sometimes feel didactic: “School made Mariah feel like a loser, so she acted like a loser.” However the clear distinction between the teen’s stories and the editorial remarks allows the reader the freedom to keep perspectives clear and form their own judgments.

These personal reflections on identity, sexuality, societal expectations and biases, relations with peers and parents are fascinating in their own right for all readers. They are particularly useful for those who have a personal or professional stake in transgender experience. This is a valuable tool for expanding understanding of a marginalized group.

Back matter includes a detailed author’s note that outlines the research and interview process, essays that describe the work of the two featured organizations that work with transgender youth, commonly asked questions and answers about transgender issues, a glossary, and list of varies resources: including an extensive list of service and advocacy organizations.

Hole In My Life


• Biography related title
• Age Range: Grades 8th-adult
• Author: Jack Gantos
• Title: Hole in My Life
• Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux
• 2002
• 208 pages.
• ISBN: 978- 0374399887
• Awards: Robert F. Sibert Honor Book 2003~ Massachusetts Book Award for Children/Young Adult Literature 2003~ Printz Honor 2003~ Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee 2007-ALA Notable Book
• Author’s website:

Newbery Award-winning Jack Gatos’s memoir chronicles his unmoored final year in high school and his subsequent misguided efforts to make enough money to go to college. Smuggling hashish lands him in prison, giving him plenty of time to reflect and write.

Gantos’s Che Guevera-esque mug shot on the cover and the publisher’s summary: The author relates how, as a young adult, he became a drug user and smuggler, was arrested, did time in prison, and eventually got out and went to college, all the while hoping to become a writer, doesn’t incline adults to recommend this book to the teen audience for whom it was intended. Checking my local library system I noted more than half the branches shelve it in adult nonfiction, and when I sought out the title after hearing Gantos’s charming and quirky 2011 Newbery acceptance speech I was nonplussed by the content and passed it by, until now.

I found the book fascinating and entertaining. Gantos walks a delicate line, revealing gritty details, earnest and knuckle-headed choices and an entirely believable teenage cluelessness that adults and teens will recognize. His fear as he contemplates up to six years in Federal prison is palpable. His experiences leading up to prison, and while incarcerated, feel honest, unforgettable, vulnerable and remarkably, often darkly humorous. Gantos to his credit does not minimize the seriousness of his situation nor does he play his travail for laughs, he simply reports the situation as he experienced it, thoughtfully and without didacticism. I was surprised by how well paced the book was and how beautifully it was written.

While there are depictions of drug use, mentions of serious violence and prison rape, the author’s tone and thoughtful reflections make the book suitable for mature 8th graders through adults.

The front matter includes a table of contents and a very apt epigraph by Oscar Wilde: I have learned this: it is not what one does that is wrong, but what one becomes as a consequence of it. There is no back matter and no information on Gantos’s website that addresses the particulars of what came after his release from prison.

Isaac Newton-Giants of Science


  • Biography related title
  • Age Range: Grades 5-8
  • Author: Kathleen Krull, Illustrated by Boris Kulikov
  • Title: Isaac Newton
  • Publisher: New York : Viking
  • 2006
  • 126 pages.
  • ISBN: 978-0-670-05921-8
  • Awards: BCCB Blue Ribbon~School Library Journal Best Book~A Booklist “Top 10 Youth Biography”~ALA Notable Book for Children~Finalist for the Cybils, the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Award~A Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year
  • Author’s website:

Arguably Isaac Newton is the most influential scientist ever. In lively and anecdotal prose Krull explains and contextualizes Newton’s massive scientific contributions and illuminates his prickly and often vindictive personality. Wry pen and ink illustrations compliment this irreverent treatment.

Krull’s Giant’s of Science series sets a high bar for entertaining and informative biographies. Her conversational and assured tone carries the reader along as she explains the personalities and scientific accomplishments of these fascinating and influential individuals; her Isaac Newton is no exception. While most of her unflattering observations are well supported by facts included in the text, some of her more speculative topics: his sexual orientation, mental illness and religious beliefs, suffer from a treatment that feels too glib and condescending. For example can it really be right to refer to the man who elucidated the scientific method, developed calculus, the reflecting telescope, the laws of motion, the theory of gravity and of optics as “several slices short of a loaf.” While Krull does provide a bibliography, her lack of source notes combined with her sensationalist speculations diminishes her otherwise excellent and valuable book.

Front matter includes acknowledgments for research help and contents. Back matter includes a bibliography that highlights books and articles suitable for young readers, websites and an index. The lack of source notes, quotation sources or even an annotated biography is a real flaw in an otherwise outstanding, and highly readable, biography.

The Elephant Scientist


  • Science related title
  • Age Range: Grades 5-8
  • Author: Caitlin O’Connell & Donna M. Jackson
  • Title: The Elephant Scientist
  • Publisher: Boston :, Houghton Mifflin
  • 2011
  • 72 pages.
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-05344-8
  • Awards: Robert F. Sibert Honor Book ~ Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book ~ School Library Journal starred review ~ A Junior Library Guild Selection ~ Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children, K-12~ Amelia Bloomer List ~ Best Children’s Books of the Year, Bank St. College of Education ~ The John Burroughs Association Literary Awards, Nature Books for Young Readers Award.
  • Author’s website: and

Caitlin O’Connell studies elephants in the wild. Solid background information is delivered and O’Connell’s surprising insight that elephants communicate through underground vibrations is followed. We see experiments designed to test her theory that result in fresh understanding and practical applications.

The Elephant Scientist continues Jackson’s excellent ‘Scientists in the Field’ series. Strong book design and superb photographs compliment a text that manages to inform, thrill, inspire and move the reader. A thorough explanation of scientific method is affectingly coupled with the visceral pleasure of discovery and the satisfaction of helping to develop practical solutions that may help preserve and iconic and appealing animal.

Front matter includes acknowledgements, photo credits, a map of the African area of study and contents. Back matter includes an opportunity to adopt an elephant, resources for further study, a glossary, selected source notes and an index.

The Skull in the Rock: How a Scientist, a Boy, and Google Earth Opened a New Window on Human Origins


  • Science related title
  • Age Range: Grades 4-6
  • Author: Lee R. Berger & Marc Aronson
  • Title: The Skull in the Rock: How a Scientist, a Boy, and Google Earth Opened a New Window on Human Origins
  • Publisher: Washington, D.C. :, National Geographic
  • 2012
  • 64 pages.
  • ISBN: 978-1-4263-1010-2
  • Awards: AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books, 2014 Finalist, Children’s Middle Grades Books ~CCBC’s Book of Choice 2013~Richie’s Picks
  • Authors’ website: and, companion website to the book

Speaking directly to the child-reader Aronson traces the career of a dynamic paleoanthropologist: Lee Berger, and captures the excitement of scientific discovery as Berger uncovers some of the oldest and most astonishingly complete human ancestors ever found, including the newly discovered Australopithecus sediba.

The Skull in the Rock is part biography, part fossil discovery story and part exhortation to kids to develop observational skills and make discoveries. It tells an exciting tale of exploration fueled by theories and insights. I found the interactive tone of directly addressing questions and remarks to the child reader to be distracting, but can see it could be very effective for younger children age 10-12. The science is explained well and the large photographs add interest and break the text into digestible chunks.

Front and back matter include contents, a schematic of hominid evolution, suggestions for further reading, a glossary/index and an author’s note. The authors pledge to maintain a website that keeps current with the science and discoveries associated with the Australopithecus sediba fossil at the center of the story. A link is provided.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights


  • Diversity related title
  • Age Range: Grades 7-adult
  • Author: Steve Sheinkin
  • Title: The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights.
  • Publisher: New York, Roaring Brook
  • 2014
  • 200 pages.
  • ISBN: 978-1-59643-796-8
  • Awards: Just published January 2014…they are sure to come.
  • Author’s website:

A deadly munitions explosion at a segregated Naval-base near San Francisco during World War II leads to a mutiny trial of 50 African-American Navy men. Sheinkin dramatically relates events surrounding the trial and argues their fight for justice precipitated civil-rights gains in the military and society at large.

Once again Sheinkin brings strong writing and cinematic flair to a thoroughly researched and engrossing topic. Quotes based on interviews and primary sources combined with historic and contemporary photographs bring to life the riveting and chilling story of the systematic racism and segregation that precipitated the largest loss of life on U.S. soil during World War II as well as the largest mutiny trial in U.S. history. The evidence is compelling that their sacrifice and courage effected military and societal integration.

Front-matter includes a list of the Port Chicago 50, and contents. Back-matter includes extensive source notes, a list of works cited, acknowledgements, picture credits, and an index.


The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Bravery


  • History related title
  • Author: Steve Sheinkin
  • Age Range: Grades 6-adult
  • Title: The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Bravery.
  • Publisher: New York :, Roaring Brook Press
  • 2010
  • 337 pages.
  • ISBN: 978-1-59643-486-8
  • Awards: YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction~Horn Book Award for Nonfiction~School Library Journal Best Book~ Horn Book Magazine Fanfare List, Best of 2010 ~ Beacon of Freedom Award~ School Library Journal, Best Children’s
    Books of 2010~ New York Charlotte Award Master List
  • Author’s website:

Benedict Arnold was more than just a traitor, in many ways he was responsible for the success of the American Revolution: both through his military achievements and though the galvanic effect his betrayal had on the country at a crucial moment in the conflict.

In a narrative as exciting as an action film and as gripping as the best spy-thriller, Sheinkin relates the fantastic, improbable and tragic story of America’s greatest revolutionary hero turning into her most reviled traitor. The dynamism of Arnold’s character and Sheinkin’s cinematic writing style make this a compelling story that shines a fresh light on the unlikely success of the American Revolution.

Sheinkin’s fascination with his subject is contagious. His in-depth research and use of primary sources allows us to hear the words of the characters. We even get a glimpse into Benedict Arnold’s love life; he wrote the same maudlin letter to two different women. Sheinkin distills his deep understanding of the subject and produces a compelling, cogent, and often witty, account of the Revolution and Arnold’s remarkable part in it. “Benedict Arnold never could stand inaction. So he decided to invade Canada.” The ending is a tour-de-force.

Front matter includes two relevant maps and contents. Back matter includes extensive source and quotation notes and an index. Sheinkin has helpfully annotated his sources: indicating which were most useful in research, which to read to pursue information on key characters, specific aspects of the Revolution and where to find firsthand accounts.