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The Study of Poetry and Literature for Children & Young Adults

NonFiction

Mars by Seymour Simon
Give Me Liberty! by Russell Freedman
Remember the Lusitania by Diana Preston
Across America on an Emigrant Train by Jim Murphy
 

mars.jpg

Simon, Seymour. 1987. Mars. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN 0688065856

 

Seymour Simon, an award winning science writer once again scores a hit with his highly acclaimed book entitled Mars. This was published by Morrow in a series of books on space which include Jupiter, Saturn, Stars and The Sun. Mars covers not only the facts about the “Red Planet” but provides all sorts of interesting details that children and adults will find fascinating. The book is designed as a large picture book with easy to read text, accompanied by twenty brilliant NASA photographs which capture the mystery and splendor of this unique planet. Line drawings are also interspersed throughout the book to further highlight specific details.

 

The book is well organized and accurate. It begins with the statement, that to us, looking up from Earth, Mars appears to be a bright star in the night sky. The corresponding NASA photograph illustrates this fact showing a shining star in a very dark sky.  Mars is called the “Red Planet” because it shines with a reddish glow. The Romans over two thousand years ago associated the color red with blood and war and thus named this planet after their god of war, Mars.

 

Interesting details abound such as the orange- red color is actually from the chemical iron oxide, which is rust. Rust resides in the soil and rocks of Mars. Photographs are also included of Viking 1 and Viking 2, the United States spacecraft launched in August and September of 1972. These spacecraft took about ten months to reach Mars and then had to circle Mars for an additional month before the decision to land was made.

 

More than fifty thousand photographs of this fiercely beautiful planet were sent back from Viking 1 and Viking 2. Children will shiver as they read that to step onto this planet without protective clothing would cause the person's blood to boil as the pressure of the atmosphere is very low. Though, with a spacesuit, it would be easy to walk around as a 100 pound person on Earth would weigh just 38 pounds on Mars.

 

Jeffrey A. French of School Library Journal states, “This book is a virtually essential purchase…visually striking, enjoyable reading…and one of the loveliest presentations on Mars.”

 

Seymour Simon, author of 200 highly acclaimed science books does an excellent job with Mars, children in grades 2-5 will enjoy reading and younger children will be fascinated by the photographs. Over half of Simon’s books have been named Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children by the National Science Teachers Association.

 

The book closes with the question of life on Mars. Seymour Simons leaves this left open ended; explaining that scientists are still debating this fact. The book closes with a brilliant photo of a Martian sunset and the statement, “And who knows, perhaps someone reading this book could be the first human to set foot on Mars.”

 

 

Simon, Seymour. 1987. Mars. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN 0688065856

 

French, Jeffrey A. 1987. Mars. (book review). School Library Journal, December 1, 1987.

 

Website Seymour Simon, available at http://www.seymoursimon.com/

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Freedman, Russell. 2000. Give Me Liberty. New York: Holiday House. ISBN 0823414485

 

Russell Freedman’s Give Me Liberty is an inspiring, thought provoking escapade through a key period of American history. Give Me Liberty reads more like a best selling thriller than a history text. The reader will learn interesting facts about the period, the people involved and the events without even realizing it. The format is well laid beginning with a table of contents followed by the night the revolution began progressing to the Declaration of Independence. The illustrations include historic paintings, maps, letters and songs from the period.

 

In addition to the standard founding fathers included in every history book Freedman highlights previously unknown individuals. Peter Slater, a 14 year old rope maker’s apprentice who participated in the Boston Tea Party and Prince Estabrook, an African slave who volunteered to fight and was admitted to the Minutemen by a majority vote make the story new to the modern reader. I was relieved to read that though Prince Estabrook was wounded, he recovered and served in the American Army for the rest of the war, winning his freedom through military service.

 

Freedman includes pertinent but before now relatively obscure facts such as: “Five thousand African Americans served in the Continental Army from every state except Georgia and South Carolina. While there were several black regiments most African American army served in integrated units, the last integrated American units until the Korean War in the 1950s.”  To include such facts disputes myths that few African Americans chose or were able to participate in the American Revolution.

 

Freedman’s attention to small details, written in an easy to understand style, makes this book a winner. For example, Paul Revere’s ride is well know yet Freedman writes it as he was there, bringing a sense of the actual dangerous excitement to the story.

 

“Rowing quietly, Revere and his comrades set out across the river. They stayed well downstream from the looming hulk of the sixty-four-gun British warship Somerset, whose great hempen anchor cable was creaking and groaning like a ghost in the night. On the far shore, other Patriots waited with a swift mare named Brown Beauty. By the time Revere joined them, they had seen two signal lanterns glimmer in the distant church steeple. The British troops were already on their way across Back Bay.”

 

GraceAnne A. DeCandido, reviewer for Booklist states that, “by using excerpts from newspapers, snatches of contemporary verse and letters, and an array of images, Freedman acquaints readers with Patrick Henry and Paul Revere, the first deaths at Lexington and Concord, Thomas Paines’s Common Sense, and finally the Continental Congress and the writing of the Declaration of Independence.”

 

Russell Freedman is the award-winning author of 47 books.  Freedman’s honors include a Newbery Medal in 1994 for Lincoln: a Photobiography, a Newbery Honor each for Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery in 1994 and The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane in 1992, and a Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal.

 

Kevin Beach in his book review for Voice of Youth Advocates points out, “Included at the end are the full text of the Declaration… a list of all its signers and a chronology of events covered in the book’s chapters… This book includes everything the reader needs to know to understand the document’s significance… Every library should have copies both in the children’s and the adult’s sections.”

 

Freedman, Russell. 2000. Give Me Liberty. New York: Holiday House. ISBN 0823414485

 

Beach, Kevin. 2001. Give Me Liberty. (book review). Voice of Youth Advocates. April 1, 2001

 

DeCandido, GraceAnne A. 2000. Give Me Liberty. (book review). Booklist. October 2, 2000.

 

Website available at http://www2.scholastic.com/teachers/authorsandbooks/

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Murphy, Jim. 1993. Across America on an Emigrant Train. New York: Clarion House. ISBN 0395633907

 

Jim Murphy’s Across America on an Emigrant Train features Robert Louis Stevenson’s frantic journey in 1879 from Scotland to California. This work is a time capsule of the best and worst of America through well organized chapters and a variety of photographs, pen and ink illustrations, maps, tickets and flyers of that era.

 

Robert Louis Stevenson, a 29 year old struggling writer in receives a telegram that the love of his life, Fanny, is desperately ill with brain fever. With only $200 Stevenson leaves almost immediately for the 10 day journey to America

 

Weaving together Stevenson’s notes, memoirs and letters from the journey combined with interesting facts and information from the time period, the book is actually many stories within a story. The love story of Stevenson and Fanny combined with the 24 day journey from Edinburgh, Scotland to Monterey, California makes for powerful reading as the reader hopes that Stevenson will arrive in time. The visual images of a cramped boat crowded with emigrants crossing the ocean to crowded trains slowly progressing across a continent bring to life the emigrants struggle to make a better life for themselves and their families.

 

Stevenson’s health progressively worsens as he travels. He maintains an open mind, observing his fellow emigrant travelers’ struggles and hopes, the unfair treatment of the Native Americans, and even the slaughter of the buffalo.

 

Interwoven is the history of the transcontinental railroad.  Interesting facts jump out at the reader. For example, when the transcontinental railroad reached Cape Horn, California, tracklaying came to a dead stop. No one had ever attempted to lay track along such a formidable cliff with a gorge two thousand feet below.

 

“It was the Chinese workers who came up with the solution, based on similar construction in the Yangtze Valley. First, they used reeds… to weave waist high baskets …a Chinese worker would climb into a basket and be lowered by rope to a position on the rock wall. There, the worker chipped away and drilled at the wall as quickly as possible until he could insert a charge of explosives. Then he would light the charge and scramble up the rope …”

 

The treatment of the Chinese bothered Stevenson, that year the Workingman’s Party of California led by an Irishman named Denis Kearney pushed through legislation that prohibited companies in California from hiring Chinese workers.

“Awhile ago it was the Irish,” Stevenson said, “now it is the Chinese that must go.”

 

Hazel Rochman, review for Booklist notes that the direct quotes by Stevenson show him both as an observer and a participant. Stevenson reflected that although America is noted for its freedom, during his trip he saw many people become targets of prejudice to include Native Americans, Chinese, blacks and his fellow emigrant travelers. He even found people distrustful of his own Scottish accent.

 

The love story ends happily with Stevenson reaching Fanny. The grueling journey made him ill with the beginnings stages of tuberculosis. Fanny fortunately has recovered. The couple marries in 1980. Stevenson finds success in writing, to include Treasure Island, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He credits his arduous train journey and exposure to every aspect of humanity with helping him to write with deeper feeling.

 

Jim Murphy has published more than 30 books about American history and has received numerous awards to include 2 ALA Newbery Honor Book and 3 NCTE Orbis Pictus Awards.

 

Highly recommended for ages ten and up, the variety of facts, illustrations and the story of emigrants struggling to improve their lives will provide for hours of interesting discussion.

 

Murphy, Jim. 1993. Across America on an Emigrant Train. New York: Clarion House. ISBN 0395633907

 

Rochman, Hazel. 1993. Across America on an Emigrant Train. (book review). Booklist. December 1, 1993.

 

Website available at http://www.jimmurphybooks.com/

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Preston, Diana. Remember the Lusitania. New York: Walker & Company. ISBN 082788475

 

On May 7, 1915 a British luxury liner, the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat in a sneak attack off the coast of Ireland.  Author Diana Preston in her first book written for children, Remember the Lusitania, gives a riveting account of the sinking through not only the eyes of the passengers and crew but the U-boat captain as well.

 

Well written and highly detailed the book chronicles the ships passengers and crew as it leaves the harbor in New York for Liverpool, England. The illustrations are all in black and white, including archival photos, drawings, maps, diagrams and newspapers. The crispness of the black and white adds to the solemnity of the terrible sinking. A particularly poignant photo is of the ship’s captain, Will Turner, still in his shrunken uniform after the sinking looking overwhelmed and lost.

 

Preston includes conditions on the U-Boat and the captain, 30 year old Walter Schweiger’s reaction to the sinking, realizing the carnage he had wrought.

 

“It was the most terrible sight I have ever seen. It was impossible for me to give any help. I could have saved only a few. I gave orders to 20 meters and away.”

 

Throughout the book, Preston chronicles the shipboard experiences of three children who were on that fateful voyage. Eleven-year-old Frank Hook, a third-class passenger, twelve-year-old Avis Dolphin, a second-class passenger, and five-month-old Audrey Pearl traveling in lavish first class. These three children all survived one of the most terrible shipwrecks in history. Preston writes their stories from firsthand accounts, personal interviews, and historical documents.  

 

The sinking of the Lusitania was one of the most condemned acts of World War I.

Todd Morning, reviewer for Booklist states that Preston gives “a vivid and terrifying picture of the chaotic minutes before the ship went down and the harrowing search for survivors.”

 

The sinking took the lives of 1,201 people in a sinking that shocked the world. Under pressure from nations around the world, Germany promised to not sink any more passenger ships. In the next 18 months, Germany attacked several more passenger ships. The United States declared war on Germany in April 1917.

 

The book includes an extensive bibliography, suggested reading list, art credits and a thorough index. Sure to spark classroom discussion and outside reading, this book is recommended for grades three and up.

 

 Preston has received awards for her writing to include VOYA Nonfiction Honor List,Kansas National Education Association, and the CBC-NCSS Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies.

 

Preston, Diana. Remember the Lusitania. New York: Walker & Company. ISBN 082788475

 

Morning, Todd. 2003. Remember the Lusitania. (book review). Booklist. April 15, 2003..

 

Website available at http://www.walkeryoungreaders.com/authors