As summer draws to an end, Sophie, Scott, and Amy are excited to share eight of the books they have been enjoying recently, they hope you find something you’ll love too in this month’s Between the Bookends.
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Scientists Who Dared to be Different by Emily Holland
Sophie loves books that feature a collection of short biographies on a theme (check out some of her previous posts for proof) and Scientists Who Dared to be Different by Emily Holland provides exactly that. This fully illustrated book includes profiles of sixteen scientists who all faced challenges in their lives but made huge accomplishments regardless.
The challenges faced by the scientists in the book are wide-ranging and include disabilities, religious persecution, and poverty, as well as people who were dismissed because of their gender and race. She was happy to see autistic individuals included along with those with mental health disorders such as schizophrenia. She was also grateful that the book didn’t just stick to the usual few names often included in these types of books but also included many new faces to her such as Susan Laflesche Picotte, Chien-Shiung Wu, and Rita Levi-Montalcini.
Scientists Who Dared to be Different is far from the best one of these biography collections that Sophie has read and could have benefited from a few more people of color among its pages, however, it is still a good introduction to many new faces and will hopefully help to show young readers that they are capable of great accomplishments no matter what challenges they may find themselves facing.
This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron
Cinderella is Dead was one of Sophie’s favorite books in 2020 so she was thrilled to get her hands on This Poison Heart, the next book by Kalynn Bayron and the first in a new series.
Teenager Briseis lives in Brooklyn with her adoptive mothers where they are struggling to get by running their flower shop in an increasingly gentrified area. Ever since she was little, Briseis has had the ability to magically influence plants. Trees lean toward her as she passes, houseplants grow out of control, and wilted flowers are revived. Hiding this ability is causing her increasing amounts of stress and losing her friends, so when she inherits an estate from an aunt she never knew existed, Briseis and her parents decide to temporarily move upstate to the small town of Rhinebeck to investigate.
In Rhinebeck, Briseis discovers an old apothecary in the house and mysterious strangers start appearing at the house asking for unusual concoctions. As she digs deeper and begins learning about her birth family, Briseis begins to realize that she has inherited much more than a crumbling old house and that there is a reason behind her unusual gifts, one that is now putting her and her adoptive family in serious danger.
Sophie ended up devouring This Poison Heart in a single day in just two sittings. The characters were instantly compelling and she couldn’t help constantly needing to keep turning the pages to find out what happened next. Briseis has a relationship with plants that has strong Poison Ivy vibes – another character even refers to her as being “like the Black Poison Ivy” – but her abilities never feel in any way derivative and instead, this feels like a wholly unique type of magic. While the big reveal about Briseis’ heritage wasn’t exactly shocking (with a name like that and relatives named Circe and Selene, it doesn’t take a genius to put things together), Sophie still enjoyed this unique take on classical mythology. She also appreciated how much LGBTQ representation was to be found here and how casually it was handled in a story where romance was not the focus.
The story ends on something of a cliffhanger that has left Sophie eager to pick up the next book – This Wicked Fate – when it comes out in 2022. Until then she’ll be counting down the days!
In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers by Don Brown
Can you believe that this month will mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11? For those of us like Sophie who were old enough to remember that day, its memory is seared into our minds forever, but there is now an entire generation who have grown up only knowing of 9/11 as a historical event, and it is for them that In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers by Don Brown really exists.
This graphic novel chronicles “the immediate aftermath and rippling effects of one of the most impactful days in modern history”. Much of this comes via first-hand accounts from those who were at the scene, but the book also explores what was going on with the President, the many flights forced to land at Gander in Newfoundland, and the repercussions of the attacks from rising hate crimes against Muslim Americans to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These sections hold particular poignancy reading them while new headlines constantly scroll about Afghanistan today – the repercussions it seems are far from over.
As it is written for a younger audience, the most upsetting elements of the tragedy and its aftermath are largely avoided, but the book doesn’t shy away from honesty where possible. It touches on the torture of political prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the need to use forensics to identify victims from very limited remains. Many readers will also find the pages about rescue dogs and the pets of victims and evacuated locals very hard to read.
This is a sensitively written look at a defining historical event that is still influencing the world today. It does a good job of trying to stay unbiased and sticking to the facts no matter how hard to swallow they may be, although there is an obvious American-leaning perspective throughout as you would expect from an American author. This would be a great read for introducing more mature younger readers to the events of 9/11 in a way to invite discussion but without sensationalizing a tragedy that many of us are still reeling from 20 years later.
Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
As a general rule, Sophie tries to avoid adding books to her frighteningly long TBR because they have pretty covers or for other purely aesthetic reasons, but she has to admit that in the case of Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, she requested it simply because the lyrical title appealed so much.
This is a collection of nine interwoven short stories all focused on the lives of teenagers in Alaska, Colorado, and other Western states. While each story is a snapshot of life in small towns, they all connect with one another. In one, a young couple fights over the boy’s recent cheating with another girl at their high school while the next story focuses on that girl’s past and how she came to live in her current town. Other characters appear in multiple stories such as Coyote Jones – a local weather guy running a pirate radio station. Also linking the stories together is the threat of fire as summer dries out the land and makes it reflect the people who live there, both tense and ready to catch alight at the smallest provocation.
Sophie ended up absolutely loving this book, even if some of the content was uncomfortable to read (the actions of a pedophile Catholic priest have repercussions throughout the whole book and several stories are linked to the disappearance of a young girl). She did find it tricky to figure out a timeline as several of the stories seemed to leap forward or back in time without warning, but in many ways, this simply added to the interest of figuring out how the latest tale was connected to everything else.
This was a surprisingly fast yet interesting and heartwrenching book that provides a fascinating window into life in small-town America in the mid-1990s.
She Persisted: Ruby Bridges by Kekla Magoon
The She Persisted chapter book series has been one of Sophie’s go-to favorites all year so she was thrilled to pick up a new title this month. She Persisted: Ruby Bridges by Kekla Magoon is the latest release in the series and profiles Ruby Bridges whose name will forever be connected to school integration.
Ruby Bridges is a name famous the world over and is even portrayed in a painting by famous artist Norman Rockwell. She became known to the world at just six years old when she became the first Black student to attend William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans following a Supreme Court order that banned segregation in schools. While the image of Ruby walking into school flanked by US Marshalls on her first day is instantly recognizable, less well know is what happened during the rest of that day, and for the days, weeks, and months after it. Ruby’s determination at such a young age helped force schools including her own to make integration a reality despite backlash from neighbors, parents, and even teachers within her own school.
The book largely focuses on Ruby’s first year at the school, but also touches on her life prior to that day she stepped into history, as well as what she has done since including founding the Ruby Bridges Foundation and being personally thanked by President Barack Obama. As with every title in this series, the book ends with suggestions on how to honor her legacy such as writing letters to elected officials to promote equality, reading books by Black authors, and doing school projects about the civil rights movement.
Although aimed at younger readers, the She Persisted books are also great introductions for adults. Sophie knew the name Ruby Bridges and was aware of the impact she made but was unaware of the details about her early days at William Frantz Elementary School and so she found this book eye-opening. It is also sobering to consider the dates that these events occurred as it is easy to relegate them to “the past” and not think about how a six-year-old Black child needed US Marshall protection simply to attend elementary school when our parents (and some of us) were alive. Once again, the She Persisted series has delivered, and Sophie is already looking forward to the next book.
Little Leonardo’s Fascinating World of Astronomy by Sarafina Nance, illustrated by Greg Paprocki
Another series Sophie has been enjoying this year is the Little Leonardo’s Fascinating World of… books. These primers introduce various scientific fields and concepts such as engineering and paleontology with beautiful full-page illustrations and simple, easy-to-understand text to help you introduce even the youngest readers to surprisingly complex ideas. Sophie was even more excited when she learned that the latest book, Little Leonardo’s Fascinating World of Astronomy, would be written by Sarafina Nance – an astrophysicist she has followed on Twitter for a long time.
Little Leonardo’s Fascinating World of Astronomy follows the usual format of this series with stunning illustrations by Greg Paprocki (one of Sophie’s favorite illustrators so this really was a match made in Heaven) that are also filled with fun and diversity too. Small blocks of text can be found on each page and each one features one extra-large word or phrase that can be looked up in the glossary at the back. Some of these words are relatively simple such as Star and Light, but others are more complex including Binary System, Ultraviolet Waves, and Dark Matter. This allows young readers to take their first steps into additional research by looking up more information about a specific word in the text.
The book covered everything from stars and what happens when they die to solar systems and planets, to black holes and the composition of the universe, as well as touching upon the electromagnetic spectrum and how scientists learn more about space. While some of the topics covered might be a little advanced for the very youngest readers, introducing them early might just help to spark a lifelong interest in the subject, and that can’t be a bad thing.
As with the paleontology book she read from this series earlier in the year, Sophie absolutely loved reading this one and is excited to see what subject the series tackles next.
Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep by Philip Reeve
Philip Reeve books never lack imagination whether they are about moving traction cities in a post-apocalyptic world (Mortal Engines), Victorians in pulp sci-fi romps in space (Larklight), a gender-swapped narrative of the Arthurian legend (Here Lies Arthur), or sentient trains in the outer reaches of the galaxy (Railhead). Therefore, Scott is always eager and excited to read any new Philip Reeve novels. Reeve’s latest book may be primarily confined to a small remote island on the far west of the Isles of Scilly (off the west coast of Scotland) but there is no less creative thought and imagination woven into the plot and folklore within Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep.
After being washed up on the shore of the island of Wildsea as a baby, Utterly Dark is taken in by Andrew Dark, the Watcher of Wildsea who looks every day for the Hidden Lands out at sea that will herald the arrival of the terrifying Gorm. Following the tragic death of her guardian, 11-year-old Utterly must take on the role of Watcher for the island until Andrew Dark’s reluctant brother, Will, can return from London and take over. However, it soon becomes clear that Will does not believe in the legend of the Hidden Lands and the Gorm and dismisses it all as a myth much to Utterly’s indignation. Going against her Uncle’s instructions the determined Utterly carries on observing the seas for the Hidden Lands. In doing so, she meets a collection of characters including a part human/part troll, a sea witch, and a young boy with boundless energy and enthusiasm to help Utterly. But is one or more of these not the ally they seem, and what of the dark mystery surrounding the death of Andrew Dark, previously dismissed as a suicide?
In Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep, Philip Reeve weaves a poetic and engaging story aimed at middle-grade readers with an inspirational child lead character determined to do the right thing. There is enough depth to the story, myths, and folklore within this book to hook in adults who enjoy windswept novels with myths and legends and engaging main and secondary characters. While not quite up there with Reeve’s best work to date, Scott still enjoyed this book.
Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston
Amy and her 12 and 14yo thoroughly enjoyed Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston (which is appropriate for kids down to 9 or 10 as well). It was sold to Amy as “a cross between A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Men in Black”— all true, Men in Black probably the strongest similarity— and Amy would also recommend it for fans of those other famous wizard books, particularly if they’re looking for something more diverse.
Amari is certain her missing older brother isn’t dead. Then she receives a mysterious invitation —apparently from her brother!— to try out for a secret organization called The Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Even though she feels out of place— especially when it turns out she has an “illegal” supernatural power— she sticks with it, if only to find her (quite famous in the supernatural world, it turns out) brother, whom the rest of the Bureau has given up finding. She makes a lot of enemies and a few good friends (though the line isn’t always clear!) in her quest, which just may have something to do with the evil magician threatening the Bureau, too.
There’s lots of quirky magic and characters and just the right amount of suspense and heart. It has all the makings of a classic middle-grade fantasy adventure, with a diverse and fresh cast of characters. There’s a sequel on the way in April of 2022 (Amari and the Great Game), which you will want immediately!
GeekMom received copies of these titles for review purposes.