Nonfiction reads for tweens and teens
CHILDREN’S BOOKS | Four reviews of recent books
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(Calkins Creek 2022)
It’s 1902, and Charles Stiles, a parasite scientist, discovers a worm plaguing poor rural Southerners. The American hookworm burrows into people’s feet and legs, then finds its way into the intestines where sometimes dozens of the parasites feed on the host’s blood. It kills slowly, stunting victims’ growth and leaving them malnourished and lethargic. Nobody notices this, except Stiles, whose solution is simple yet sometimes elusive for poor rural families: shoes and sanitary outhouses. As you would expect in a book about parasites, the in-depth analysis of a hookworm’s life will disgust some readers. Even so, the story of how one man saved the South from a terrible parasite will hook its readers—pun intended. Ages 10-17
The Deadliest Fires Then and Now
(Scholastic Focus 2022)
Father Peter Pernin had just finished conducting Mass on a Sunday in 1871 when he heard an ominous sound like a distant rumbling train. That evening, wildfire flames would engulf Pernin’s town of Peshtigo, Wis., as the only survivors floated in the cold river or burrowed underground. Hopkinson relates gripping stories from some of America’s worst blazes—including the Chicago fire that same year and similar tragedies in San Francisco and New York. Hopkinson’s heavy-handed introduction blames white settlers for not imitating the controlled burn practices of local Native American tribes, but also addresses the many ways the United States has fought and defended against fire outbreaks. Ages 7-10
(Faber & Faber 2022)
Before Roald Dahl wrote about chocolate factories, the children’s author spied on American politicians. French entertainer Josephine Baker spied too, sneaking secrets offstage in her underwear. The majority of spies, though, fled the limelight. Long profiles the dangerous escapades faced by 27 British and French spies—including one bird—during World War II. Now-declassified stories show how these secret agents altered their identities, employed secret codes and gadgets, sneaked money to soldiers, and saved lives. Long gives special recognition to female spies, many of whom received little acknowledgment during their lifetimes. Ages 9-12
(Little, Brown Books for young readers 2022)
Does fame bring happiness? In this humorous explainer, Sundquist dives into that question, looking at the triumphs, trials, and trappings of celebrity. He includes interviews with semi-famous individuals, but Sundquist—a former homeschooler and Paralympian—also relates some of his own embarrassing misadventures. Although Sundquist’s book offers a secular perspective, it provides readers an opportunity to ponder how celebrity affects people, and discerning teens won’t be surprised to discover that fame is fleeting and happiness is elusive apart from Christ. Note: Celebrity quotes include colorful language with obscenities blacked out, and one chapter discusses celebrity deaths resulting from suicide and overdose. Ages 14+
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