Author Archives: bereksennebec

The Natural World

The Natural World, by Jon Richards and Ed Simkins, Crabtree Publishing 2016. ISBN: 9780778726586. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


This extremely well illustrated book is divided into several two page chapters: Our planet, climate, biodiversity, forests, deserts, adapting for survival, animal migration, endangered species, oceans, plates and quakes, volcanoes, natural disasters, climate change and mapping the world. Each one has a representation of the earth or series of charts/boxes that combine easily understood facts with visual images to support them. This approach will hook a lot of youngsters. Those already interested in earth science will find numerous facts and statistics they don’t already know, while casual/reluctant readers will be drawn in by the way the data and images work together. All in all an excellent book for school and public libraries to consider adding.


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Filed under Grade 4-6, Nonfiction, Uncategorized

Grasslands Inside and Out

Grasslands Inside and Out by James Bow, Crabtree Publishing, 2015. ISBN: 9780778706335. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS


This is a fascinating and very information rich book. Even though I’m well educated and a retired librarian, I was amazed at how much I learned while reading this book. It does a stellar job of combining facts, pictures and very well written descriptions of all the varied types of grasslands on our planet. It differentiates between them in terms of temperature range, plants and annual precipitation. In addition, it discusses animals and birds native and adapted to each one as well as threats to the health of each mini-ecosystem. It’s an impressive and very useful book, well worth considering for school and public libraries.

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Filed under Grade 4-6, Nonfiction

Model It!

Model It! (Science Sleuths series) by Robin Johnson, Crabtree Books, 2015. ISBN: 9780778715412. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


This is a good introduction to what models in science are and how they can be used to understand things. For example dinosaurs are extinct, but fossils and bones that have been found, allow scientists to create scale models or even computer images to help us understand how they looked and function. The book expands upon this to show how modeling allows us to predict weather, changes in animal and insect populations as well as help students understand how the human body works. Each section includes questions to stimulate young readers so they can understand better how scientific modeling can help them learn. The content is solid and not too complex for lower grades and includes directions for building a diorama as well as links to websites that offer more in depth information and examples of modeling. This is a book worthy of consideration for schools and libraries where such material is outdated or lacking.

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Filed under Grade K-3, Nonfiction

Clothing in Different Places

Clothing in Different Places by Adrianna Morganelli, Crabtree Publishing, 2015. ISBN: 9780778720102. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Like many Crabtree books, this is divided into several two page chapters: Our global community, Sharing a need, hot weather, cold weather, school clothes, work clothes, traditional clothing, materials and notes to educators. Readers are introduced to the idea that clothing around the world varies greatly in material, utility, style and color with examples of animal skins, alpaca hair fiber and head garb designed to protect breathing in harsh deserts. From there, the book explains the differences between clothing in terms of customs, then by how the body needs different fabric, thickness and climate conditions, particularly in extreme heat and cold. Different influences in school clothes around the world are touched upon, such as the prevalence of green and white in Burma and how some Chinese students are allowed to help design their own uniforms. Differences in work clothing is touched upon and some of the more colorful costumes like wedding outfits in India and Korea are shown along with festive garb like kilts and traditional Native American clothing. While interesting and well illustrated, this is a very basic introductory work.

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Filed under Grade K-3, Nonfiction

Prove It!

Prove It! (Science Sleuths) by Shirley Duke, Crabtree Publishing, 2015. ISBN: 9780778715436. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


One of eight books in the Science Sleuths series, this particular entry introduces younger readers to a new way of looking at the word argument, the way scientists use arguments as a beginning point to prove a hypothesis. Examples of various ones are scattered through the book, along with experiments readers can perform, examples of the difference between fact and opinions, how scientists share information as well as respect dissenting opinions (I suspect the author and publisher wanted to stay far away from the disaster known as climate change.) All in all a decent introduction to how the concept of proof is integral to science and solid learning.

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Filed under Nonfiction

Saving Hamlet

Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth, Hyperion, 2016. ISBN: 9781484752746. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Sophomore year should be great. At least that’s Emma Allen’s expectation. She’s going to be assistant stage manager for the drama club’s production of Hamlet, she has a new hairdo that makes her feel cool, and her crush, Brandon, is directing. All should be well, but we know how that goes. In short order, her best friend, snubbed for the part she wants, stops talking to her, she’s bumped up to stage manager, and Josh, the soccer player who got the lead, can’t remember his lines.

If all that weren’t enough, the guy in charge of the stage crew defies the club’s adviser and cuts a hole in the stage to serve as a trap door. When Emma falls through it, she finds herself in a very different theater—one in London and in the year 1601. Her new hairdo has the people behind the curtain thinking she’s a boy. That is all but one very sharp and attractive young man.

As Emma tries to navigate between everyone’s egos and feelings as well as through the intricacies of two theaters several hundred years apart, it’s a miracle she doesn’t have the mother of all meltdowns. Instead, she discovers inner strength and wisdom that allows her to do the impossible while meeting the original Bard himself.

This is a finely crafted, often funny story that will grab theater loving teens as well as those who like romance, strong heroines and complex plots. It’s a definite add for school and public libraries.

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Filed under Fantasy, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9, Historical Fiction

Poison’s Kiss

Poison’s Kiss by Breeana Shields, Random House, 2017. ISBN: 9781101937822. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Imagine being tossed away by your parents, living in an orphanage as a very small child. How would you feel? Wouldn’t you attach yourself to someone, anyone who showed you the slightest bit of attention? This is what happened to Marinda. Her life became immensely complicated not long after. She was subjected to endless snake bites on her wrists and ankles, each one heightening her own poisonous, to a point where she become a Visha Kanya, lethal servant of the Raj, able to kill with a kiss.

By the time she realizes the web of control around her, it’s too late because her controller, Gopal, has brought her baby brother to her and every time she tries to rebel, Gopal threatens little Mani. His control only strengthens the one time she tries to run away and now Mani pays a daily price that forces Marinda to kill even though she’s seen things that start her down the path of doubt.

When she’s ordered to kill Deven, a boy she knows through his friendship with the owner of a bookshop she works in part time, that ramps up her questioning of the whole ‘I’m killing bad guys for good causes’ ethos because she knows he’s a very kind and caring boy.

Her doubt sets in motion a series of events that put her in serious peril, Mani in equal peril, costs the life of a friend and land her in prison. Teen lovers of myth-related fiction will follow Marinda, Mani and Deven as their paths cross on the way to solving the mystery of who she’s really been working for as an assassin and how she can free herself and her brother from such a scary and cruel life. The book ends in a satisfying ambivalence…Readers can imagine what happens next, or wait for what I hope is a sequel. In either case they won’t feel cheated. It’s an excellent choice for school and public library collections. The author’s notes at the end explaining where the idea for this story came from and how she developed it are enlightening.

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Filed under Fantasy, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

A Madness So Discreet

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis, Katherine Tegen Books, 2015. ISBN: 9780062320865. Reviewed by John R, Clark, MLIS.


If ever there was an innocent victim, Grace Mae would fit the description. Older daughter of a wealthy and prominent Boston family, she finds herself pregnant (by her own father)and locked away in an insane asylum. She’s to remain until after the child is born, then return home where she’ll be expected to act as though nothing happened. The experience has left her so shocked, she’s ceased speaking.

When her voice returns during a violent outburst, she’s banished to the dark cellar where she befriends a brilliant but insane doctor. It’s that friendship that saves her as he convinces another doctor to spirit her from the asylum after her death has been faked instead of performing a chilling operation.

They flee to a far more humane asylum in Ohio, where she settles in as a mostly mute inmate and the doctor treats the patients. However, he has a fascination with criminal psychology and solving murders. Grace’s sharp mind and observation skills make her the perfect assistant.

How a young woman who has experienced such treatment with literally no recourse, given the times, could find some sense of peace and meaning makes the story very compelling. To go into more detail might spoil what is a riveting and intense tale. Yes, it’s dark and there is violence, but both are integral to the story. Teens and adults who like mystery and historical fiction with riveting characters will enjoy this book a lot.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Cultural Traditions in Jamaica

Cultural Traditions in Jamaica, by Lynn Peppas, Crabtree Publishing, 2015. ISBN: 9780778780625. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


This very colorful book is both enlightening and fun to read. I had almost no awareness of Jamaican culture or holiday traditions save for a superficial knowledge of Reggae and Rastafarianism. That changed pretty fast when I read this book. It will captivate young readers with its illustrations and descriptions of holidays and celebrations they’ve never heard of. I came away impressed with the richness and variety of celebrations. Young readers will, I expect, have a similar experience and in the process, gain an appreciation for how closely history, culture and ethnic diversity have come together on this Caribbean island to preserve important aspects of history and custom.

Certain snippets will catch individual readers attention; things like a holiday that changed name and date, one that is quite recent and what is left overnight in water on another holiday to help predict the future. This is a good book for libraries interested in expanding awareness of how varied our world is to add.

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Filed under Grade K-3, Nonfiction

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd, Delacorte Books for Young Readers (October 11, 2016). ISBN: 9781101939758. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Anyone unfamiliar with the sub-genre of magical realism will understand what it typifies after reading this book. When readers first meet Emmaline, her history is a bit cloudy, to herself and the reader. In fact, it won’t be until very close to the end before that’s sorted out. No matter, for a lot takes place on the journey. She has what she calls the stillwaters (we know it as tuberculosis). She’s one of numerous children in varying stages of the disease in a former mansion away from populated areas because of the illness, but also because it’s during World War II and the Germans have been bombing England mercilessly.

Emmaline is closest to Anna, the sickest child there. The older girl may be gravely ill, but can still give love and nurture to Em. Even so, when Em begins seeing winged horses in the mirrors, she can’t bring herself to tell Anna, at least at first. When she sneaks into an abandoned garden, a place strictly off limits, she discovers one of the winged horses with a broken wing has entered our world. Em soon learns that the horse, named Foxfire, is being hunted by a black winged horse from beyond the mirrors and she must do everything she can to protect the injured animal.

Doing so involves risking her own fragile health, disobedience and struggling to decide who she can trust. Managing those challenges makes for an absorbing, albeit somewhat dark read. Despite the darkness, many younger teens will find this book almost impossible to put down. The blend of mystery, magic and suspense will draw them in and keep them reading.

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Filed under Fantasy, Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9