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Posts Tagged ‘nonfiction’

 

“Great Piece of Turf” watercolor by Albrecht Durer

In celebration of Earth Day, 2017…

Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, written by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Jessica Lanan
published in 2017 by Sleeping Bear Press

When I was homeschooling my children, a fat, black book sat on our shelves ready to grab and consult about some new natural wonder happened upon. What are all those parts of a bee for? What do flickers eat? What wildflower is this, spreading like a white carpet in the springtime woods?

That book was Handbook of Nature Study. At almost 1000 pages, it expounds copious amounts of technical information, lyrically celebrates the world of nature, and proffers many more questions to ponder and explore than it even answers.

That masterpiece was written by Anna Botsford Comstock, “the mother of nature education” who in the 1800s realized the appalling lack of nature knowledge in our nation’s children and developed a model program at Cornell University, teaching nature-study to teachers.

This elegant biography of her life begins with her childhood delight in nature — a common theme for those who pursue environmental care so get your kids out-of-doors! — and follows her lifetime making important contributions to nature education, a critical piece of our children’s education that is still, sadly, endangered.

Gorgeous, sun-soaked illustration work by Jessica Lanan fills us with the joy of stars and doodlebugs, snowflakes and tadpoles, just like Anna. I love that Comstock’s work is heralded in this fabulous piece of nonfiction for ages 4 and up.

Trees, written and illustrated by Lemniscates
published in Spain in 2016; first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick Studio

The blessing and wonder of trees is pondered and appreciated in tranquil text and dynamic, stylish illustrations in this gem coming to us from Spain.

It is more like my beloved A Tree is Nice than anything I’ve seen since that classic appeared in 1956.

Observing how trees live and grow, reflecting about the good things trees do for us, Lemniscates provides a lovely conversational text to give us pause, stir up rich thoughts, effect gratitude for trees. 

Her artwork as always soars with vitality and a lovely contemporary European vibe. A delight for ages 3 and up.

The Wolves Return: A New Beginning for Yellowstone National Park, written and illustrated by Celia Godkin
published in 2017 by Pajama Press

 As one species after another enters endangered categories it is impossible for most of us to see what the ramifications of their loss will be, making it far too easy to dismiss as “just a turtle” or “just an agave plant.”

Yet the complex, interactive webs which rely on biodiversity are critical to a healthy planet and to our health as humans. Some species are keystones — kind of like the jenga block on the bottom of the pile. If we pull them out, a ripple effect occurs that damages an entire ecosystem. Such was the case with the wolves of Yellowstone.

By hunting those wolves to the point of near-extinction settlers unwittingly disturbed the timeworn balance that had allowed all sorts of plants, animals and waterways to flourish. This lovely book shows how each piece began to be renewed as wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone beginning in 1995.

Each turn of the page shows another glory of nature able to perform again its vivid song, as the positive, un-domino effect takes place. What a hopeful, gladsome journey! Share this with children ages 4 and up.

Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth, written by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, illustrated by Molly Bang
published in 2017 by Blue Sky Press

This is the fifth book in this outstanding series about sunlight which I highly recommend from start to finish. Thus far we have learned how we transform sunlight into electricity, how plants use sunlight to make food, how the sun’s light sustains life in our oceans, and how fossil fuels are sunlight trapped under the Earth’s surface. What an awesome collection!

In this installment we investigate Earth’s precious, life-sustaining water and how sunlight moves it through its critical water cycle. Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm are word-wizards and illustration-magicians who make all of this as enticing as a juicy slice of watermelon. Your children — and you — will grasp the mechanisms of the water cycle in a way that fills you with wonder…

…and spills over into keen awareness of the gift that water is and the massive harm that will emerge if water sources are polluted, overtaxed, or altered by climate change. These grave matters are discussed briefly and quite lightly on the last two pages of our story, then covered more in depth in the six extra pages of notes — a fantastic resource which extends each aspect of the story at a level for mid-elementary and up. The bulk of this book is superb for ages 4 and up.

Trash Talk: Moving Toward a Zero-Waste World, written by Michelle Mulder
published in 2015 by Orca Book Publishers

Of the 3 R’s in the environmental maxim — Reduce, Re-use, Recycle — the first is perhaps the most critical, most challenging, and least addressed.

We are a people shackled by consumerism. If we’re honest, we evaluate ourselves and others by our stuff — our homes, clothes, cars, gadgets, furnishings. We gather it like manna. We build bigger houses to accommodate it; rent storage space for the excess; and throw away astonishing volumes of it each year. Stuff does not make us happy, yet we keep buying — and trashing — more of it.

I think examining our relationship to stuff and trash is surprisingly vulnerable, indicting, illuminating. Michelle Mulder does just that in a non-shaming, yet direct way. The many facets of trash — the reason why we keep making more of it than past generations, the ways it damages our environment, and the intangible ways our habits affect not just the planet but our relationships with one another — will keep you turning the pages.

Gleaners at work, eliminating food waste from these fields.

Mulder inspires us to free ourselves from relentless consumerism and trash-making, encourages us with the innovative, heartening ways people are cultivating community and sustainability in one shot, and challenges us with information about the price to humans and our planet of so much trash.

Highly recommended for family discussions with kids ages 6 and up.

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, written and illustrated by Jan Thornhill
published in 2016 by Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press

Do you want to avoid depressing books about extinct animals? I know. It’s hard to bear these stories and much nicer to read success stories like the Yellowstone wolves. Don’t overlook this title, though. It’s tragic, yet Thornhill swings it around in the end to encourage and inspire. We really can learn from our mistakes, if we face up to them.

Thornhill’s evocative, icy blue and gray illustrations sweep us into frigid North Atlantic lands and seas where hundreds of thousands of “northern penguins” — the Great Auks — once lived.

Regaling us with descriptions of these flightless swimmers, she awakens a proper sense of wonder at their magnificence, then unfolds for us the ways in which human progress spelled their demise. Innocuous developments such as the Vikings’ knack for shipbuilding, and recklessness by the greedy collectors of eggs — many factors came into play in the extinction of this marvelous bird.

Your heart will ache, as mine did, at their avoidable destruction, yet Thornhill wisely uses the final pages of her account to detail some surprising ways in which the Great Auk still “lives on.” I love that she models for us a way of soberly considering harm, then moving forward to do good. A lengthy text for ages 7 and up.

There are gobs more fantastic books in my Subject Index under Science. Some are listed under the sub-heading “Environmentalism” but check out the Animals, Earth, and Plants listings as well for many more titles.

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A friend of mine recently related that she had been stopped cold one day when her four-year-old daughter declared, “Girls can’t be heroes. Only boys can.”

This shocked young mama promptly sewed her daughter a cape and held a Hero Day. Together they found lots of ways that even a four-year-old could be a hero-in-training.

Little girls (and boys) pick up the most unfortunate things at such early ages from the ocean of air they live in called our culture. One of those is, sadly, a feeling of limitations on what girls are allowed to dream of doing and becoming.

Enter this gem of a book chock full of heroic women.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, compiled by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, illustrated by sixty female artists from around the world
published in 2016 by Timbuktu Labs
203 pages

One hundred, one-page stories of heroic women are gathered in these pages and I am telling you, your heart will burn with gladness as you read them! Women from ancient times and in the news today. Women from all corners of the globe and every race.

Illustration by Elizabeth Baddeley

 Dancers and doctors and film directors. Spies and scientists and war heroes. A race car driver. An orchestra conductor. And my personal favorite, a poet/baker. 

Cora Coralina, Poet and Baker, illustration by Elenia Beretta

The stories are super short. Each takes about a minute to read. They’re written with a hint of the fairy tale about them. Once there was a curious girl…or Once upon a time there was a girl who…making them tasty as can be for a bedtime snack.

It is no small feat to capture these women’s lives and contributions in such a short passage, retaining her individuality, highlighting something that glints with fascination, and reading not like a wikipedia article but rather an enticing sneak peek at a life you’ll certainly want to explore further. I thoroughly enjoyed reading my way through the whole volume but be aware that these are far from in-depth. That’s how we get 100 of them!

Miriam Makeba, illustration by Helena Morais Soares

Accompanying the stories are a-ma-zing full-page portraits created by an international collection of women artists. Oh, their work is stunning. I love the variety of styles and immense strength exuding from each one.  Riveting. 

At the close of these accounts there’s space for the book’s owner to write her own story and draw her own portrait. A brilliant touch. 

I’d peg this book for ages 7 and up. There is one account of a young, transgender girl, but beyond that there is no discussion of sexuality. Issues such as depression, violence, child marriage, the Holocaust, are softened with tact. It was funded by crowdsourcing and is not available through Amazon. You can order a copy by heading to their website here, and I hope many of you will.  

Margaret Thatcher, Serena and Venus Williams, and Michaela DePrince, illustrations by Debora Guidi.

 

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atlas-of-animal-adventure-cover-imageAtlas of Animal Adventures, written by Rachel Williams and Emily Hawkins, illustrated by Lucy Letherland
published in 2016 by Wide Eyed Editions

Here’s another gorgeous atlas from Wide Eyed. What a shelf full of fabulous books they’ve given us!

Explore the seven continents, learning about the amazing wildlife that lives in various locations — their behaviors, migrations, habitats, uniquenesses — all while feasting on Lucy Letherland’s phenomenal illustration work.

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This oversized book is cover to cover food for curious minds. From the spectacular annual migration of the wildebeest in Kenya to the exotic courtship ritual of decorative homebuilding carried on by bowerbirds in New Guinea and Australia; from the collective might of leaf-cutter ants in the Bolivian rain forest to that mysterious unicorn of the Arctic waters, the narwhal, whose spiral horn can grow up to 9 feet long.

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These scenes are full of interesting tidbits of information. Maps along the way set the animals in their proper locales. And two pages of illustration details to try to spot help turn the book into an I Spy game. Absolutely top-notch, for ages 4 through much older.

animals-by-the-numbers-cover-imageAnimals by the Numbers:A Book of Animal Infographics, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins
published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Steve Jenkins is brilliant at finding intriguing angles for learning about wildlife. I love his approach, not to mention his truly beautiful work in paper collage.

This book is like candy for mid-elementary kids on up — I was enthralled by it! — who have arrived at the age where they gobble up statistics and record-breakers of all sorts.

Each two-page spread addresses a different capacity or quality — leaping distance, tongue length, deadliness of venom, speed. Jenkins uses immensely clever infographics and crisp, attractive page layouts to compare a number of different animals so we can see at a glance who are the winners and losers.

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Bars radiate out like radio waves to illustrate differences in decibel level of various animals, from a tiny water boatman through hyenas, cicadas, whales, wolves… I bet you’ll be surprised who are the loudest creatures on the chart! And what about those tongues? The winner of Overall Tongue Length does not come nearly close to winning the record for tongue length when it’s compared to body size. If your tongue was just as long, how far would it reach?

Hand this to kids ages 8 and up to pour over and prepare to be peppered with new data points!

giant-squid-cover-imageGiant Squid, written by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann
published in 2016, A Neal Porter Book from Roaring Brook Press

Time to focus in on just one of the world’s stunning creatures. Let’s pick one of the largest animals on the planet. One that remains quite a mystery despite centuries of seeking it out. In fact, in her intriguing afterword, Fleming tells us that “we have more close-up photos of the surface of Mars” than of this ginormous creature, the giant squid.

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Such an eerie, downright terrifying being! Rohmann accentuates the mystery and fright with his cold, dark, murky palette and closer-than-you’d-ever-want-to-be perspectives on those razor-sharp suckers and dinner-plate-big eyeball. Yikes. I don’t advise reading this right before a snorkeling expedition!

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Fleming introduces us to this creepy sea monster with incisive, sensory-laden free verse. She’s done a fabulous job, creating a visceral sense of strangeness and wonder, almost a ghostly mystique. Her afterword fills in a great deal of fascinating information for middle graders and up. The book itself is for brave kids ages 6 and up. It won a Sibert Honor, just last week.

step-right-up-cover-imageStep Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, written by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by Daniel Minter
published in 2016 by Lee & Low Books

If a giant squid is one of the most exotic and unknown of earth’s creatures, surely the horse is at the other end of the spectrum. But although horses are so familiar and loved, one horse and his amazing owner proved to be extraordinary beyond belief!

This is the story of a man named William “Doc” Key. Though he was born into slavery, the willingness of his owners to educate him and Doc’s sharp, curious mind meant that he learned, advanced, and transitioned into freedom with purpose, capability, and a hunger for success.

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Doc wildly succeeded as a businessman, so much so that he became one of the wealthiest men in town. But it was his rich store of kindness, patience, and trust that enabled him to nurse to health one spindly colt and teach that horse an absolutely jaw-dropping amount of skills. We’re talking spelling. Telling time. Making change out of a register. I know you don’t believe me, but just read the book!

If you had been around in the 1890s, you could have seen Doc and his horse, Jim Key, perform to amazed audiences. Read this book and prepare to be astonished! Daniel Minter’s handsome block prints bring the era to life and bathe us in the golden warmth of the kindness Doc was known for.

A lengthy afterword provides lots more interesting information on both Doc and Jim Key. Enjoy this with ages 6 and older.

the-amazing-animal-adventure-cover-imageThe Amazing Animal Adventure: An Around-the-World Spotting Expedition, text by Anne Claybourne, illustrations by Brendan Kearney
published in 2016 by Laurence King Publishing

Finally, here’s a game-in-a-book that brings us to 21 particular habitats around the world, tells us very briefly about them, and provides jolly lists of animals to spot in each scene.

Visit the tundra in Greenland, a British rock pool, the Gomantong caves on the island of Borneo, hydrothermal vents in the Pacific Ocean, a mangrove forest in India, and spot familiar and unusual animals who love living just exactly there — a mugger crocodile, a frilled-neck lizard, burrowing owls, harbor seals, and gadzooks! a mighty lot of wrinkle-lipped bats!

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You won’t read scads of information here, but you’ll be introduced to a wide variety of intriguing places and amazing creatures. Hopefully your curiosity will be piqued to investigate some of them a bit more. Great fun for ages 5 and up.

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some-writer-cover-imageSome Writer: The Story of E.B. White, written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
132 pages

E.B. White. His name instantly evokes a response of warmth and nostalgia; of miracles and true friends; of a loquacious cob and his atypical, trumpet-playing son; of so many enthralling moments, lost in story.

I don’t have many distinct elementary school memories, but one that stands out is my third-grade teacher reading Charlotte’s Web charlottes-web-cover-imageto us. How many thousands of children have that shared experience?

A few years ago, I was chatting with a young married couple who were exploring children’s literature in anticipation of their firstborn. They were reading Charlotte’s Web aloud to one another, dumbfounded by the depth, poignancy, and truth in this small novel.

Who was E.B. White?

What kind of childhood did he have?

Where did his bucolic scenes of farm life come from, his genuinely amusing characters, as well as those honestly mourning over loss? 

How did he get started writing and who helped shape his style?

Melissa Sweet has written a fascinating account of White filling in for us the background of this beloved writer and the stories we love. It’s absolutely crammed with the beauty, wonder, color, and whimsy of everything Sweet puts her hand to.

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Quotes and excerpts from letters and essays, old family photos, marked-up and crossed-out early versions of manuscripts — all that is here. Add the choice bits of ephemera, singing colors, vintage papers, charming hand-lettering and a bit of old Corona typewriting, all spun together with Sweet’s remarkable savvy for composition — what you get is a feast for the eyes as well as the mind. 

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This is not a picture book. That is coming in the Fall of 2017 by the ace team of Barbara Herkert and Lauren Castillo and I cannot wait!

Sneak peek of some of Lauren Castillo's artwork for A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider!

Sneak peek of some of Lauren Castillo’s artwork for A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider!

No, this is a meaty biography that adults will thoroughly enjoy as well as would-be authors ages perhaps 11 and up.

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If you’ve not read White’s books for yourself, now is the time to do so. Begin with Charlotte’s Web, and no it doesn’t count if you’ve watched the movie. Then check out The Trumpet of the Swan. My least favorite of his trio is Stuart Little — it seems to be a book people either love or really dislike, so tackle that one last. Once you’re enamored with White’s storytelling and wordsmithing, join the rest of us in Melissa Sweet’s lovely biography.

Here’s the Amazon link: Some Writer

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under-water-under-earth-cover-imageUnder Water Under Earth, written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski
published in 2016 by Big Picture Press

Brilliant book alert! 

The genius husband-wife team who brought us such elegant and enticing Maps (read my review here) have now ventured beyond the surface, burrowing deep underground and plunging into oceans to reveal fascinating worlds to all curious persons — I hope that includes you!

And as if that weren’t cool enough, the book is formatted so that each cover — front and back — is the entry point to one of those destinations.

Flip it open from this side…

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…and journey under water where you can learn about buoyancy, a history of submarines and diving suits, underwater chimneys, coral reefs, oil and gas platforms, the Mariana Trench, and lots more.

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Flip it open from this side…

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…and you’ll head underground to check out burrowing animals, caves, archaeological finds, the Kola Super-Deep Borehole, anthills, underground utilities and way more cool stuff.

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This is a big book, about 11 by 15 inches, with nicely sturdy pages for looking at over and over and over again. The pages are flooded with Aleksandra’s and Daniel’s clear, stylish, enticing illustrations, each spread laid out masterfully to best accommodate the subject. These two are, after all, graphic designers first and foremost.

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There is so much information packed in here, ready to tantalize curious minds. How does a thermal power station work? What’s tucked away in all those chambers of an ant hill? How deep do roots go? What is the deepest a person has dived under the ocean? How big is the eye of a giant squid?

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Wonders from cover to cover. Can you tell I’m in love with this book? My son, in particular, would have eaten this up as a kid and spouted all the facts back to me. Grab it for Christmas for ages 6 and up-up-up. 112 pages.

Here’s the Amazon link: Under Water Under Earth

(I am an Amazon affiliate. This means if you purchase anything on Amazon after clicking through to their site from one of the links on my blog, I get a little dab from them. Please consider purchasing from an independent bookstore instead.  But if you do shop on Amazon, I’d appreciate you navigating there from Orange Marmalade. Thanks!)

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the-wolves-of-currumpaw-cover-imageThe Wolves of Currumpaw, written and illustrated by William Grill
published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books

In 1898, Ernest Thompson Seton published his classic collection of stories, Wild Animals I Have Known. Seton was a gnarly outdoorsman, a British naturalist, whose reminiscences of his encounters with animals are Jack Londonesque in their raw, wild, matter-of-factness. It’s a book that was on every boy’s nightstand for generations, though it has gone a bit out of fashion lately.front0

The first story in Seton’s collection – Lobo: The King of Currumpaw — has now been retold and illustrated by the phenomenally-talented British artist, William Grill, whose first book, Shackleton’s Journey, won the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal, and also won my heart. My review of it is here. Grill has added to Seton’s story with further research into Seton himself, the era in which he lived, and the locale of New Mexico.

Old Lobo was the leader of a pack of wolves whose “deep howl struck fear through the hearts of ranchmen and farmers” as they awaited the dreaded attacks on their herds of cattle. A bounty was placed on his head, yet over and over, skillful hunters were outmatched by Lobo’s cunning.

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Enter Ernest Thompson Seton, whose determination to succeed where others had failed drives him to mercilessly pursue his prey. It’s a tale that will break the hearts of many readers, but keep reading and discover how it also ended up breaking the heart of Seton and steering him into new, conservationist activity.

As expected from Grill, this is a stunningly beautiful book, from the endpapers, blanketed in the vermilion and charcoal colors and patterns of the Navajo, straight through to the illustrated glossary —  tidy rows of Grill’s thumbprint-drawings accompanying definitions for this Western vocabulary of snipe and mesa and heifer.

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For the story itself, 75 pages long, Grill employs a combination of cinematic sequences – dozens of thumbprint-style images like clicks of the shutter, zooming in on the details; and then grand, double-page, full stops – sweeping vistas of the West sprawling out, arresting our attention, the tiny stature of man and beast shown puny against these imposing landscapes. Grill completely immerses us in this world, this story.

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The illustrations are in colored pencil. I love the textures, precision, and sketchbook-feel — the unpolished sense in keeping with the rugged territory, as though we’re seeing what captured Grill’s eye at any given moment. The natural, subdued palette appeals to realism, the tenor of the story, and respects the ability of the reader to settle into a long, sober account, devoid of Disneyfication.

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Be aware that this is a true story. Animals die, front and center. For those sturdy enough for that, I highly recommend this remarkable, gorgeous book. Ages perhaps 7 or 8 through Adult.

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Today I have the privilege of participating in a blog tour for Deborah Hopkinson’s new nonfiction work on submarine warfare:

divefinalcover_large2xDive! World War II Stories of Sailors and Submarines in the Pacific
published in 2016 by Scholastic Press

As Deborah has noted, “This December marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which devastated the Pacific Fleet and transformed the role of submarines in the war in the Pacific.” It’s a timely account, then, which just hit the shelves this week and Hopkinson is a wonderful guide for us, whether she’s tackling historical fiction or straight non-fiction as she does here.

A number of years ago, our family toured the U.S.S. Silversides, a World War II submarine anchored in Muskegon, Michigan that functions now as a museum.

The U.S.S. Silversides

The U.S.S. Silversides

Descending into that dim, cramped ship, I was astounded that anyone could have come through active duty on one of these vessels and stayed sane! Dozens of narrow bunks were stacked so closely together, the top ones wedged among pipework running along the ceiling.

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Our tour guide noted that with the sizable crew, the significant body odor resulting from having to scrimp on water, the intense heat and diesel fumes produced by the engines, as well as cigarette smoke from nearly every sailor on board, all compressed into very limited space — air quality aboard ship was tremendously bad. I would have gone berserk with claustrophobia in about 5 minutes!

Little wonder that Hopkinson mentions over and over the pleasure sailors took in gulping clean, fresh air when their subs surfaced at night.

There are surprisingly few books written for children focusing on the Pacific Theater of the war. It’s a lack that has puzzled and frustrated me. So I’m really glad to see this title. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US had only 44 Naval submarines — many of them dating from the 1920s. With the Pacific battleship fleet decimated by the Japanese, it was up to the subs and their crews to stymie the Japanese plans for the entire Pacific region.

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Hopkinson has written a thorough account, forthrightly revealing the tragic defeats and key triumphs of the submarine forces. It’s dense reading, packed with military strategy, submarine mechanics, and the names of islands and bays, boats, officers and sailors.

All of this is woven around play-by-play stories of battles fought under extraordinary duress by intrepid men. The first-person accounts are incredible in terms of sheer, tenacious, audacity!

The U.S.S. Narwhal

The U.S.S. Narwhal

This is not the first book you should read about WWII. An overview of the war, including a framework for understanding Japan’s motivations and the U.S. island-hopping strategy, would be a helpful foundation for the specifics of this book. But for those hankering to know the gritty reality of one of the unsung, strategic keys to Allied success, this is your book! Ages 12 to adult.

Thanks again to Deborah Hopkinson for her work. For other stops on the Dive Blog Tour, including author interviews and a guest post by Deborah, please check deborahhopkinson.com.

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