Seventeen Ultimate Guide to Beauty: The Best Hair, Skin, Nails, and Makeup Ideas for You by Ann Shoket

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Drawing on its authority as a top magazine for teens and tweens, Seventeen magazine presents this guide for hair and makeup ideas. The book is sectioned by type (hair, makeup, nails, etc), and each section includes step-by-step looks for readers to try. Also included are spotlights of real girls and their favorite beauty tips, as well as how to achieve celebrity looks. Though some may claim this is not challenging enough material to have in a school library, plenty of students may get use out of the piece. For example, the title can be used for special events, browsing, or for those students interested in cosmetology.

This book is pretty straightforward. If you’re interested in beauty or style tips, give it a shot. You might find something new you like — though be warned that, while the instructions make all the styles look super easy, it may not be that easy to execute each look. The models used in the shots had their hair/makeup/nails done by professionals, not by themselves. My other issue with this book is that it’s incredibly gender biased. They assume only girls are going to read it, and I don’t think that’s true. Keeping this book a girl-only resource isolates the trans community in particular — basically, the book sends the message that you would only want these tips if you’re a girl. However, you might not care about what message the book is sending; you may just want to browse around and find a new look. If that’s the case — have fun! If you do care about messages, maybe look around for a more gender-neutral option.

*Rating: 2.5/5

*ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2013
For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.
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The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks; Illustrated by Caanan White

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Using stark black and white illustrations, Brooks presents the story of the little-known unit, “The Harlem Hellfighters”. The first African-American unit to be sent to the front lines in WWI, the men also spent the longest number of days in combat and were heavily decorated. However, as Brooks illustrates, their success on the battlefield did little to ease race relations in the United States. Though the men fought bravely for their freedom, they were continued to be denied Civil Rights upon returning home. The graphic novel format of this piece brings the story to life and depicts very clearly the effects of racism in the U.S.

This one was great! I’m sad to say that I don’t know much about WWI (WWII gets most of the coverage in school), so I didn’t even know about the Harlem Hellfighters. I found it especially cruel that this brave unit was treated so poorly both abroad and at home after they risked their lives for their country. What’s more, their bravery did little to quell the racial tensions after the war. As civil rights continues to remain a relevant topic for the U.S., this graphic novel is an excellent piece to explore. The story is engaging and well-researched, and it sheds light on a lesser-known early civil rights battle. There’s action, adventure, some pretty heavy battle scenes, and the best part is that it’s a true story (with some fictionalized events/characters). I recommend this book to anyone who loves history, graphic novels, or adventure stories (just be warned that there are some graphic war images).

*Rating: 4.5/5

*Maverick, 2014

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman

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Using expose-styled writing, Fleischman attempts to educated readers about myths, cover-ups, and deceptions in current environmental issues. Rather than simply giving young adults small projects they can do to help the environment, the author seeks to paint a bigger picture — one that will show young adult readers what the world will be like if real action isn’t taken. Fleishman fills his book with pictures, relevant examples, and call-out sections that help explain more complex terms and concepts. Though an important topic, the author sometimes comes across as heavy-handed, judgemental, and, because of the large of images, the pages appear cluttered. The piece would perhaps be more effective if presented in sections rather than as a whole.

While I thought the information in this book was important, I didn’t appreciate the author’s tone. Though he attempts to enlighten the reader about persuasive tactics and fallacies used by companies to trick the public, he neglects to mention that he’s using fear-mongering himself. I’m not saying the author is telling any lies or trying to trick you — environmentalism is definitely something that more people should be paying attention to. But the author tries to tackle too much in this piece, making the problem seem insurmountable. Additionally, he often talks down to the reader or makes generalizations about the way people feel. I didn’t appreciate it. Pick this one up if you’re interested in environmentalism or persuasive techniques, but try to ignore the author’s tone.

*Rating: 3/5

*School Library Journal, Best Books of 2014

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

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Though much is known about Charles Darwin’s theories of natural selection and evolution, less is known about his courtship and marriage to Emma Wedgwood, his first cousin. A man ruled by logic and order, Charles took a measured approach to his marriage, and was worried that his wife would not support his scientific ideas (including his doubts about the existence of God). Emma, a highly religious person, worried about these doubts, and the two spent much of their lives discussing their ideas and opinions. Heiligman’s biography of Charles and Emma sheds light on the famous scientist’s personal life, allowing readers to see the Darwins as a couple in love, despite their fundamental ideological differences.

I thought this book was interesting, but I don’t know how interesting it will be to young adult readers today. It won the first YALSA nonfiction award in 2010, but it seems YA nonfiction has grown in leaps and bounds since that time. This book has no pictures and is organized like a novel (with chapters), but it doesn’t have the same fast pace a novel would have. Don’t get me wrong — the information and subjects are certainly interesting, but the presentation and delivery are off. I liked seeing a biography of Charles and Emma that focused on their love story (a great one, by the way), but I wanted a faster pace to the work.

Rating: 3/5

*YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, Winner, 2010

*National Book Award Finalist
*Printz Honor Book

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

In 19th and 20th century Russia, eighty-five percent of the population lived in poverty while 1.5 percent of the population held all wealth and lands. The tsar and his family, the Romanovs, were part of this minute percentile. Though the Romanov family had held the Russian throne for nearly 300 years, Nicholas II was a weak leader, ruled by superstition and, some say, his headstrong wife. Fed up with life in squalor, tensions between the lower and upper classes continued to rise, ultimately resulting in a bloody revolution. Fleming presents this story of the last Russian tsar chronologically, allowing readers to be fully swept up in the drama, intrigue, betrayal, and utter failure of the Romanovs.

I LOVED this book! I have to admit some bias because I already was fascinated by the Romanovs, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to give this piece a try. But it was still better than I expected. The story of the fall of the Romanovs has it all: murder, betrayal, wealth, poverty, a creepy guy — everything. It was especially interesting to see the wealthy nobility contrasted against the poverty of the peasants. The contrast illustrated perfectly the disconnect between the two countries that eventually led to the downfall of the emperor (tsar). The book itself looks long and text-heavy, but don’t be fooled. It reads just like a novel once you get going. I do wish the pictures had been set into the text instead put on plate pages in two sections of the book, but other than that, the book is really great. Try it for yourself if you are a fan of history and/or insane family stories. Seriously.

Rating: 4.5/5

*YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, Finalist, 2015

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

What Is Relativity? by Jeffrey Bennett

Using a colloquial voice and plenty of illustrations and diagrams, Bennett presents this introduction to Einstein’s theory of relativity. Beginning with a sinister “what if” premise (what if the sun turned into a black hole?), the author immediately dispels the belief that black holes literally suck (planets and objects, that is). After explaining the myth of black holes, he then goes on to correct other misconceptions commonly held in the physics field. The book is sectioned into different aspects of Einstein’s theory, including the speed of light, the space-time continuum, and implications of relativity. Though aspiring astrophysicists may enjoy this book, it may be too advanced for true physics novices.

I’m not a science person, so this one was hard for me to get through. The author did make an attempt to be funny and does have a conversational tone, but it was still rough. I recommend this book if you’re a fan of science, Einstein, or Physics, but, if you’re a real beginner like me, it may be better to start with a simpler piece.

Rating: 3/5

*School Library Journal Review

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown

Using beautiful illustrations, Brown tells the story of the formation of and devastation caused by the Dust Bowl. After the plains formed in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, the Dust Bowl was the result of settlers’ continual tearing up of soil and poor farming techniques. The result was a ten-year long drought, and a storm of “dusters” (dust storms) which killed perhaps thousands and swept across the country. With Brown’s skillful artistry and and storytelling, the bleak world of the Dust Bowl comes alive in this historical piece accessible to all readers.

This is a very quick, very well-illustrated read. If you’re not a fan of history textbook reading (who is?), this might be a great pick for you when you are studying this era. Brown really does seem to make the time period come alive, and the graphic novel format helps readers to better understand just how miserable life in the Dust Bowl was. Though this isn’t an incredibly detailed piece (I really would have like more specifics about the Dust Bowl today), it’s a great place to start and there is further reading included in the back. Give it a shot — especially if you’re a fan of graphic novels!

*Rating: 4/5

*Maverick List, 2014
For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.