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Book Reviews of Literature for Children and Young Adults
Genre 4 Nonfiction
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Reviews:
  • An American Plague
  • Hurricanes
  • Tornadoes
  • Confucius

An American Plague
plague.jpg
by Jim Murphy

 

Murphy, Jim. 2003. An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story

     of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793.  New York:  Clarion Books. 

     ISBN: 0395776082.

 

     An American Plague is an interesting informational book about a subject that has been a problem for mankind throughout history, the problem of plagues. The plague written about in this book is yellow fever, a plague that even today there is no cure. In the front of the book is a table of contents listing the chapters. It also contains an index and a comprehensive list of sources the author consulted when writing this factual book. Murphy includes a note about the illustrations that is in the book. About the accuracy of information that Murphy uses, Hornbook states, “Thoroughly documented, with an annotated source list, the work is both rigorous and inviting.”

     The information is organized in chronological order with the beginning of the plague before people even realized what was happening, to their mass exodus from Philadelphia as was customary to go to fresh country air. Even many elected officials left the city. A majority of the book is about how the city dealt with the sickness when the plague was at its peak and death was so common. Between four to five thousand people died from August to November.  It tells about the types of “cures” for yellow fever and the doctors disagreeing on what worked.  It also tells how our country’s history was changed because of it. Finally the book tells about the discovery of what spreads yellow fever in the late 1800s and how to eradicate it.  It also mentions current viruses that plague mankind today like West Nile encephalitis.

      Murphy includes many interesting facts. In the book he describes the sanitary conditions in Philadelphia at that time and medical thinking that was based on the 2,500 year old Greek humoral theory. At that time yellow fever killed approximately fifty percent of those who contracted it. After this major outbreak in Philadelphia, yellow fever continued to plague the United States at different times. His style of writing keeps the reader engrossed. Today, people may be surprised by the statement, “There is still no cure for yellow fever.”

     In his Note about the Illustrations, Murphy said that even though there were many talented artists in 1793 no one documented it visually. So he “tried to include images that will help readers imagine what the city was like back then.” In the front of the book there is a city map of Philadelphia with a key showing where certain buildings of interest and importance were located.  Library Media Connection says of the book,” Highly illustrated, the text is extended with period news clippings, primary source documents, lithographs, engravings, maps, oil paintings, watercolors, and other drawings.” This book is geared to appeal to older students. 

     This book has won two major awards.  It is a Newbery Honor book from 2004 and won the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award in 2004. The interesting style of writing and subject make this a book that will be read.

 

Simon, Seymour.  2003.  Hurricanes.  New York:  HarperCollins Publishers.

     ISBN: 0688162924.

 

     Seymour Simon is the author of more than two hundred science trade books for children.   His books have won awards and Kirkus Review called him “the dean of science writing.” In his books he usually doesn’t include a bibliography but his reputation speaks for the accuracy of his writing.

     Simon has a style of writing that holds his audience.  He includes interesting facts throughout the book.  One interesting fact he provides is about the origin of the word “hurricane.” An evil god of the Taino people was called Huracan. He also writes that hurricanes are the only weather disasters that have been given names. 

     The information is organized sequentially in the order of what information is necessary first to understand the next.  He starts with explaining what hurricanes are, when they occur, and how they got their name. He explains that hurricanes are a type of tropical storm.  Next he explains how they are formed and what they do. The next two pages he gives information on the deadly hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas in 1900.  He has black and white photographs to go with the information and the page background is black with white print.  This underlines the darkness of that day in Texas history. He includes information about the different categories of hurricanes and how we measure them. He explains why hurricanes are deadly is more than just the winds that make them so.  Because they produce such heavy rains that cause flooding. He tells about Hurricane Andrew, the worst hurricane in the United States. Even though, Hurricane Andrew caused $25 billion in property damage only fifty-five people died because of the early warnings. He then goes on to explain how the National Hurricane Center tracks hurricanes and how warnings are given. He gives information on what to do during a hurricane. At the end of the story he reassures his readers that with learning about hurricanes we have a better chance of coming through them safely.

     The book is attractively designed.  Full-page photographs are throughout the book.  Many photographs are of the destruction caused by the storm. When Simon talks about the hurricane scale he has smaller photographs of destruction placed next to the text describing the storm category.  The photograph of the water tower in Homestead, Florida and all the debris around it vividly shows the impact of hurricanes on civilization. The print is large size and in black on most pages except when the background is too dark.  Then the print is white.

     The overall format of the book is appealing and the photographs will catch a reader. School Library Journal says about Hurricanes, “The writing is precise and accurate and the format is appealing.” The interesting facts will keep the reader interested in reading about this natural awe-inspiring phenomenon. 

 

Simon, Seymour. 1999. Tornadoes. New York:  Morrow Junior Books. 

     ISBN: 0688146473.

 

     This fascinating informational book, Tornadoes written by Seymour Simon, has wonderful full-page photographs of tornadoes and the damage different ones inflicted on areas that they hit. One photograph in the beginning of the book shows a tornado dark and black from all the dust it kicked up. Another illustration shows how tornadoes are formed. There is a photograph of what the Doppler radar was showing on May 27, 1997 when one of the worst tornadoes hit Jarrell, Texas. The font size is large with a lot of space on each page. The print color is either black or white depending on the background of the page. On most double page spreads the print is only on one of the pages describing an event or tornado with a photograph of the event on the other page. This makes for an inviting and attractive appearance to this book.

     Simon starts out with describing what tornadoes are called.  He captures interest quickly describing what a tornado is capable of doing, “toss a truck high into the air, smash a building, and snap the trunk of a tree like a matchstick.” He also uses similes to describe what a tornado looks like, “a huge elephant’s trunk hanging down from a cloud” and how it acts, “like a giant vacuum cleaner.”

     The book goes on to describe how air masses work to create thunderheads and on to super cells and tornadoes.  The power of these monster tornadoes “lifted a twenty-ton trailer truck from a highway and bounced it up and down like a ball before depositing it in a field eleven hundred feet away.”

     He keeps his audience interested by giving interesting facts about odd things a tornado has done such as, “A tornado once sucked up a pond full of frogs and rained them down on a nearby town.”

     In organizing the information went from describing what a tornado does and how they are formed, he goes on telling about the deadliest tornadoes.  Next he tells how tornadoes are ranked using a scale to measure their wind speed and the damage they can cause.  He explains the wind speed of each level, F0-F-5, with F0 being the weakest.

     Next he talks about some myths, safety precautions, and how the sky looks right before a tornado. He explains about meteorologists and Doppler radar.  He provides the interesting fact, “you are about as likely to be hit by lightning or to be the victim of a shark attack as to be struck by a tornado.” He ends the book telling people how to protect themselves with advance warnings in the event of a tornado.

     While there is no bibliography showing where he got his facts, Seymour Simon is renown for his accuracy in the facts he includes in his books. He is the author of over one hundred and fifty science books for children with more than half of them being named Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children by the National Science Teachers Association. The writing style is clear and the information chosen is interesting.  The writing will keep the reader wanting to learn more.

 

Freedman, Russell.  2002. Confucius: The Golden Rule. Illustrated by

     Frederic Clement. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books.  ISBN: 

     0439139570.

 

     In this biography of the Chinese sage Confucius, Freedman brings the importance of Confucius’s teachings and their influence on modern thought to his reader’s attention. He clears the misconception of “a comic sage, a loony philosopher whose witty remarks always begin, “Confucius say.” Freedman brings the man alive in his writing. Included is an Author’s Note and information on his sources for his writing. Publishers Weekly says “Freedman draws on stories, legends and collected dialogues from The Analects of Confucius, written by his students, to reveal a man of deep perceptions as well as great humor.”

     The book is arranged in chronological order.  It is divided into short chapters concerning the different times in Confucius’s life to his continued influence of his words in the world today. The book begins with telling a little about Confucius and the times he lived. Freedman describes Confucius as a charming but homely giant with a passion for learning.

     He includes interesting facts about Confucius’s family.  His father was a seventy-year-old retired soldier, and his mother a young peasant girl. When he was three, his father died. He grew up very poor. Confucius loved learning and from this he formed conclusions that were dangerous to his personal safety.  This is the fascinating part of this man’s life, his ideas. Feudal lords held the real power in China at that time.  They taxed the peasants severely and suppressed all protests.  Confucius asked himself: “What is the purpose of government? It is to promote the welfare and happiness of the people – all the people.” He felt that governing should be delegated into the hands of those chosen for their ability.  He felt education should be for everyone. “When people are educated, distinctions between classes disappear.” He had insights that were and still are remarkable.  He thought it was important to use “honest language.”  He felt, “Calling things by their right names makes it possible for us to speak truthfully about them.” This amazing man’s ideas from 2,500 years ago are so pertinent in our world today.  Kirkus Review says about Freedman’s writing style,  “His writing is fluent, clear, lively, and specific.” He does not talk down to his audience but explains what Confucius meant with his analects.

     Frederick Clement did the illustrations in this book. Library Media Connection says, “Clement's full-page illustrations look like classic prints torn from ancient manuscripts. Every picture has "real" flower petals or bits of fruit or vegetables strewn across a corner. The text features fairly sophisticated vocabulary, which may prove daunting to less able readers. However, the illustrations and layout will intrigue browsers.”

     The design of the book is not as appealing as the text.  The print is small and there is not enough of white space to the pages. The end pages, where the analects are printed, are difficult to read because of the dark background color.

     Confucius’s words and ideas are as true today as when they were spoken more than 2,500 years ago.  This fascinating biography recreates the man and his revolutionary ideas and connects it with our world today. 

 

      

 

 

    

 

    

 

    

Created as a requirement for
LS 5603 Literature for Children and Young Adults
 from
Texas Woman's University
July 9, 2004
J. Ketola