Children’s nonfiction books


"The Unforgettable Season" (S.D. Schindler/Putnam)
March 18, 2011

THE UNFORGETTABLE SEASON
The Story of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of ’41
By Phil Bildner
Illustrated by S.D. Schindler
Putnam. $16.99, ages 4-8
Just in time for opening day: an engaging, well-illustrated chronicle of 70-year-old hitting milestones that remain unbroken. In 1941, Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games while Ted Williams finished the season with a batting average above .400. Excitement spread well beyond New York when DiMaggio’s streak extended into July and the hit song “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio” played day and night on the radio. Phil Bildner recounts that Williams could have played it safe by sitting out the last two games of the season with his .39955 average rounded up to .400 for the record books.But instead he played, adding six more hits and ending the year at .406. In his last at bat, as Bildner excitedly describes it, he walloped “a double that rocketed off the loudspeaker horns atop the outfield wall and ricocheted all the way back to the infield!” S.D. Schindler’s clean-lined illustrations bring to mind the pristine clarity of the baseball field; a particularly amusing one shows DiMaggio shocking a pitcher with a base hit up the middle — right between his legs.

ENERGY ISLAND
How One Community Harnessed the Wind and Changed Their World
By Allan Drummond
Farrar Straus Giroux. $16.99, ages 6-10
Because a surprising number of illustrator-author Allan Drummond’s subjects — in picture books such as “Moby Dick” and “The Flyers” (about the Wright Brothers) — have been visibly windswept, it seems natural that his latest book should concern harnessing the power of wind. Drummond invents a youngish native of Denmark’s Samso island to be his narrator-tour guide and show why Samso, a.k.a. Energy Island, should be a model for us all, with its massive reduction of carbon emissions and wide-ranging efforts toward energy independence. The guide takes readers through Samso’s initial reliance on traditional energy sources to power its lights and vehicles to the gradual adoption of alternative energy, including both small and large wind turbines. One double-page spread contrasts the construction of a small wind turbine with a massive one that required a ship, giant trucks and two huge cranes to put it in place. Drummond fills his pages with detailed images of a variety of scenes that soften the didactic story line, while sidebars describe a range of energy-related issues from renewable energy to climate change.

NIGHT FLIGHT
Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic
By Robert Burleigh
Illustrated by Wendell Minor
Simon & Schuster Books
For Young Readers
$16.99, ages 4-8
“Women must try to do things as men have tried,” Amelia Earhart wrote in 1937. “When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.” In this picture book, author Robert Burleigh and illustrator Wendell Minor portray one of Earhart’s shining successes rather than the disappearance that shocked and bewildered a world of admirers. Her “night flight” — leaving Newfoundland at 7:12 p.m. on May 20, 1932 — was her first solo attempt to cross the Atlantic. Earhart and her bright-red Vega were aloft for nearly 15 hours, and Burleigh conveys her subject’s joy in flying, as well as how she handled a storm. “Lightning scribbles its zigzag warning across the sky,” and Earhart tries to out-climb the clouds but ends up just above the ocean’s surface. Minor’s richly colored double-page illustrations capture the eye-catching perils of the flight as well as the heartening sight of the Irish coastline. The book ends with Earhart emerging from her Vega, having landed in a pasture ready to take on the next challenge.

AMELIA LOST
The Life and Disappearance
Of Amelia Earhart
By Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade. $18.99, ages 8-12
Earhart remains a captivating figure, her unfinished life subject to both speculation and the myth-making she helped foster while she was alive. Beyond the picture-book treatment, she calls for a thoughtful biographer, one who appreciates both her accomplishments and her showmanship. She said all she “wished to do in the world was to be a vagabond — in the air,” while others claimed she used aviation “merely as a means toward quick fortune and fame.” Candace Fleming, who has recently taken on the Lincolns and P.T. Barnum, seems convinced of Earhart’s honest passion for flying. She describes her lifelong adventurousness, independence and “gut courage.” The story alternates between Earhart’s biography and the extensive search for the aviator in July 1937. Fleming suggests that Earhart could have benefited from further training, especially with her new radio system. The book includes intriguing accounts of a few Americans, including a 16-year-old radio buff, who claimed to have heard Earhart’s distress calls.

TOTALLY HUMAN
By Cynthia Pratt Nicolson
Illustrated by Dianne Eastman
Kids Can. $16.95, ages 9-12
When kids have had their fill of extraordinary accomplishment, they can turn to the perfectly ordinary activities that fill our days — laughing, crying, yawning and so on. Cynthia Pratt Nicolson makes young readers think about actions we take for granted, tracing them back to early humans and sometimes to creatures further down the evolutionary chain. Hiccups, for example, are a useless reflex that may have occurred first in ancient tadpoles, who hiccupped in order to avoid breathing water into their brand-new lungs. Tears, on the other hand, are not found in any other species, and were apparently useful for early human bonding. The text explains scientific concepts with concision and wit, though suggestions for further reading would have been helpful. Each action described is accompanied by a playful illustration, such as the one of a girl with elephant’s ears that may well inspire that familiar human impulse: laughter.

Abby McGanney Nolan is a freelance writer and editor.

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