What's So Great About...? Book Reviews

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School Library Journal, May 2010

On Michelle Obama and Barack Obama

Mattern introduces readers to the "stylish and energetic First Lady" in five short and adulatory chapters. Michelle Obama's childhood and Ivy League education are covered. The overall emphasis is on Michelle's support of her husband, dedication to her children, and enthusiasm for community service. Words in bold print are listed in a glossary. O'Neal opens her beginning reader with a parallel between Obama and Lincoln, who made speeches on the Illinois State Capitol steps 150 years apart, and then tells the story of Obama's childhood and path to leadership. Readers will be intrigued by some of the details: Barack had a pet ape in Indonesia, for example. The author emphasizes Obama's sense of responsibility and commitment to social action.

Booklist, February 1, 2009

On Martin Luther King, Jr.

From the Robbie Reader What's So Great About...? series, this short biography presents the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. Telling of his childhood encounters with racial discrimination enables Hinton to introduce topics such as segregation and Jim Crow laws in a manner meaningul to children. After a chapter discussing King's role in the Montgomery bus boycott, the book concludes with King's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, his continued leadership, his death, and the national holiday created in his honor. Appendixes include chronology, time line, glossary, and short lists of works consulted as well as recommended books and Internet sites. The many black-and-white photos that illustrate the text are well chosen. A serviceable introduction to King's life.

Lane Education Service, December 2008

On Robert Fulton

Robert Fulton grew up during the time of the Revolutionary War. Throughout his childhood, his family struggled to make ends meet, but his mother was determined and was able to provide enough for Robert to go to school. When he was older he became a jeweler and an artist. Though this was not what he was destined to do with his life, he was able to make enough to send money to h is mother so that she could live comfortably. Robert was very creative and is credited with many inventions. He created a saw for cutting marble. He developed one of the earliest versions of the submarine. The invention of the steamship is what he is most famous for. This is a wonderful non-fictional biography of Robert Fulton which shares his failures and his successes in life. The large print makes his book appropriate for children ages 5-8 years old who are developing readers. There are many pictures of people and Robert's inventions throughout the story. The hard cover and strong binding will ensure a long shelf life. I gave this book a rating of 5 and would recommend for all libraries serving elementary aged children.

Lane Education Service, December 2008

On Jacques Cartier

A long time ago, in the late 1400's, early 1500's, people were beginning to wonder about the world around them. They were curious about whether the earth was flat or round and how large the world was. Many people wanted to know if there was some way to get from Europe to Asia without having to sail all the way around Africa. In 1535 French navigator Jacques Cartier set out on a mission to answer these questions. He had already made a voyage to the Americas and had made some interesting discoveries. He even befriended the Wendat Indians. When tragedy struck, his friendship with the Wendat Indians was jeopardized. Although Cartier's main goal to discover the Northwest Passage was unsuccessful, he did discover a new country: Canada. This is a wonderful non-fictional biography of Jacques Cartier. The large print makes his book appropriate for children ages 5-8 years old who are developing readers. There are many pictures throughout the story. The hard cover and strong binding will ensure a long shelf life. I gave this book a rating of 5 and would recommend for all libraries serving elementary aged children.

Lane Education Service, December 2008

On Annie Oakley

This nonfiction book adds an important character to the Robbie Reader collection of biographies. Starting with Annie winning a shooting match against the famous marksman Frank Butler, and thus the beginning of her rise to fame, the book then flashes back to Annie's childhood and next moves on to her entire life. This very readable book is a seemingly accurate and unbiased account of Annie's life and the history of the times as it pertains to her. Mentioned also are other notables such as Chief Sitting Bull and William F. Cody, men she knew and worked with. The reader gets a real sense of Annie throughout and also a sense of the period. The illustrations are pertinent and interesting, the language level appropriate to the age level and the structure of the binding excellent for a school library. Included in this text are also a chronology with a well researched explanation for a change in wedding dates from the date many biographers have used, a Timeline in history, a research access page including internet sites as well as texts, and a glossary and index. Most importantly, this is an interesting read, an excellent introduction to biographies and history. It would be an excellent choice for any library covering this ability of reader.

Lane Education Service, January 2008

On Francis Scott Key

This title is an addition to the Robbie Reader/What's So Great About...? series of biographies of historical figures. In this book we learn about F. S. Key, most well-known as the author of "The Star Spangled Banner." His life is chronicled from his years as "young Frankie" to his last years as district attorney of Washington, D. C. Written in simple, chapter format, also included are several historical photos and maps which aid in the understanding of the subject. The back matter is very useful and includes a great "Timeline in History." One possible drawback to this book would be the price. I recommend it as a good all around title.

Lane Education Service, January 2008

On Ferdinand Magellan

Having written and edited over two hundred books, Jim Whiting briefly but skillfully retells the story of Ferdinand Magellan and his seafaring adventures. Born in Portugal in 1480, Magellan spent much of his life traveling on the sea. At that time, Arabia was becoming wealthy by selling spices at a high price to Europeans. Magellan wanted to find a new way for his country to get spices, but the king of Portugal treated Magellan badly and soon Magellan became friends with the king of Spain who gladly financed the expenses towards finding a shortcut passage to the Spice Islands of the Philippines. This 32 page book is one of a series of biography books. With a sturdy hardcover binding, his book is set with large-print type and includes illustrations and diagrams on nearly every page as well as a timeline and glossary. The information is condensed and the writing style is suitable for younger grade levels primarily because of the use of short sentences and simple words. Any words that may need any explanation have been printed in bold and are pronounced and defined in the glossary. This history book of condensed facts should have an equally condensed audience of a third to fifth grade level. Ferdinand Magellan is like an informational picture book. Ferdinand Magellan is a very good choice for grade school readers studying Magellan, Portuguese and Spanish history or trade ship history, but is possibly a bit too simplistic for a middle school reading level.

School Library Journal, January 2007

On Sam Houston, Annie Oakley, and Robert Fulton

These easy-to-read titles provide basic introductions to key American figures. Sporting a large font, plenty of white space, and boldface glossary words, they will fill a need for collections in which beginning-reader biographies are popular. Each title includes colorful maps that help readers place the action. The accompanying reproductions, illustrations, and photographs do a good job of highlighting the texts. The books are straightforward, well-organized, positive explorations of their subjects.

School Library Journal, November 2006

On Francis Scott Key and Henry Hudson

Brief but serviceable introductions to notable figures in American history. Kjelle recounts the story of the U.S. national anthem's composition and then details Key's life from childhood through his civic offices and death. It's a worthwhile alternative to Steven Kroll's embellished narrative in By the Dawn's Early Light (Scholastic, 2000). Smalley relates Hudson's four unsuccessful voyages in search of a northern passage to Asia, culminating in abadonment by his crew. Hallmarks of the series are highlighted vocabulary, glossaries, time lines, bibliographies, and indexes. Illustrations are credited and captioned...With the demand for easy-reader biographies, these titles should find use in most collections.

Children's Bookwatch, October 2006

On the What's So Great About...? series

A new "Robbie Reader" series from Mitchell Lane Publishers, 'What's So Great About...?' is comprised of ten 32-page biographies especially designed, written and illustrated for young readers in grades one through four. Enhanced for school and community libraries collections with full-color laminated covers, reinforced library bindings, color photography, a chronology, a bibliography for further reading, thematically appropriate web addresses, a glossary, and an index, the individual titles shocase the lives of Annie Oakley, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Ferdinand Magellan, Francis Scott Key, Henry Hudson, Jacques Cartier, Johnny Appleseed, Robert Fulton, and Sam Houston. Although the superbly crafted introductory biographies highlight the life and accomplishments of outstanding figures in history are available individually for $16.95 each, school and community libraries would be very well advised to acquire the complete ten-volume set for their young students and patrons.