Book Reviews

My Review of World Without Fish

By Posted on 2 min read 331 views

I was at my local library the other day, slowly making my way down the aisles of the children’s nonfiction section, looking for my next read. I came across World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky, illustrated by Frank Stockton. The title caught my attention. I don’t know much about fish, and I never thought of a world without fish before.

Mark Kurlansky is a former commercial fisherman, and he tells the story of how humans are overfishing and decimating fish populations in the world’s oceans. What effect is this having on ocean ecosystems? What if fish were to actually disappear? And maybe not all fish, but even a species or two? Mark explores the answers to these questions as well as possible solutions. He shows that addressing the problem of overfishing is not as simple as stopping all fishing and quitting eating fish. Pollution and climate change are also harming the fish populations. So what can we do about it? Mark introduces a number of existing organizations that readers can become involved with, and he also outlines steps you can take to start your own movement for change.

I learned a lot about the fishing industry, ocean ecosystems, and how sometimes scientists can draw the wrong conclusions. Mark often refers back to Darwin’s theory and it’s cool to show how older ideas like Darwin’s are still extremely useful. World Without Fish was hard for me to put down. Mark has a very engaging voice and it certainly felt like he was writing from passion and experience. I also really appreciated the visuals in the book. The text was periodically broken up by a larger, coloured font that drew your attention to important points, like this:

Also, each chapter ended with a comic that had its own story that unfolded throughout the book:

I tend to find graphic novels a bit too visually overwhelming. The balance of text and comics and playful fonts in this book was just right for me. And Frank Stockton’s artwork is fantastic.

I highly recommend this book for middle grade (ages 8-12) readers and adults, too. It really made me stop to think about the fish I eat and the fish I’ve seen on restaurant menus. It made me appreciate even more the delicate balance of life in the oceans, and that if there is unbalance, nature has a way of evening the score. It also reminded me that extinction is forever. We lose sight of this often. This book reminded me that it’s time to take a hard look at how we can do things better, before it’s too late. Mark and Frank’s book provides us with an excellent starting point and reference.

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My Review of Her Own Two Feet: A Rwandan Girl’s Brave Fight to Walk

By Posted on 3 min read 250 views

A while ago a very interesting email arrived in my inbox. It was from Meredith Davis, a children’s book author from Austin, Texas. The subject line was “monarchs and strong like a butterfly.” I was intrigued! Meredith had written me a lovely email telling me she heard that I am writing a book about monarch butterflies and that her own book features the phrase, “strong like a butterfly.” In her context the phrase describes a young, brave Rwandan girl who is trying to walk. Meredith wanted to introduce herself, point out our mutual link with butterflies, and wish me luck with my books. How lovely! I am always uplifted by the kindness of strangers. And I love meeting other children’s authors.

I was excited to learn that my local bookstore carried Meredith’s book. I ran out and bought it.

Meredith’s book, published in 2019 from Scholastic Focus

Her Own Two Feet is about Rebeka Uwitonze, a young Rwandan girl who was born with arthrogryposis, a disease that caused her joints to contract, resulting in stiffness, clubfeet, and muscle atrophy in her arms. As a result, she cannot walk. Meredith and her husband, Clay, learn about Rebeka’s condition and offer to bring her to the United States where she can receive treatment that will hopefully allow her to walk on her own. Rebeka travels to America, gripping tightly to the dream of one day being able to walk and run like other children.

This book hooked me from the first page, where we learn how difficult it is for Rebeka to do such simple, taken-for-granted things like going to the bathroom. From the beginning we see how incredible Rebeka is with her determination and unbreakable spirit. We follow her on her journey to the U.S. where the culture and language are so tremendously foreign to her. I can’t imagine being plunked into a foreign land, not being able to walk or understand what other people are saying! I was especially moved at the end of each chapter, where Rebeka speaks in her mind to her younger sister, Medea, who is back in Rwanda. Through these thoughts, Rebeka’s struggles, hopes, fears, and resilience are laid bare.

Meredith’s prose is filled with love and hope. She writes with a lovely, engaging style that makes you want to keep reading until the end. She weaves in simple details that make you feel as though you’re standing right beside Rebeka, seeing the world through her eyes. You cannot help but cheer her on! With each chapter my wonder for Rebeka’s strength and resiliency grew, along with my admiration for Meredith and her family, for all of the love and support they provided for a little Rwandan girl.

Her Own Two Feet is a beautiful, uplifting story. It is all the more incredible because it is true. It illustrates the power of hope, love, and empathy for other human beings. It reminds us that the world is filled with kind and compassionate people. It also reminds us of our own inner strength, which, if we allow it, can let us overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges, just like Rebeka.

Rebeka is truly a superhero. She is undoubtedly “strong like a butterfly.” May her story and inspiration be shared far and wide.

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My Review of Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist

By Posted on 3 min read 440 views

I was browsing Twitter one day when someone posted this book cover:

Dinosaurs? A female paleontologist? I’m so excited!

What?! My heart skipped a beat. Dinosaurs? And a woman who studied them? I couldn’t click purchase fast enough on my local bookstore’s website!

As a kid I was fascinated by dinosaurs and for a long time I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up. (Jurassic Park is still one of my most favourite books and movies.) Then at some point in high school I realized paleontology involved trekking to and roughing it in remote places, and looking for fossils could be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Camping is not one of my favourite pastimes and I didn’t think I had enough patience to search for bones, so I abandoned the paleontologist career path. Do I regret that decision now? Maybe a teensy bit.

Anyway…I was beyond excited to dig into Dinosaur Lady. (Oops, bad pun. Sorry!) This book is about a young girl in the 1800s named Mary Anning, who scoured the English seaside near her home for fossils. Originally she collected them with her father to sell to tourists, but she quickly became fascinated with them. Then one day she came across dinosaur bones, and she was hooked. Over the years she kept searching, made copious notes, and made several ground-breaking discoveries. But being the 1800s, women were not taken seriously and not granted the same privileges as men. This book follows her journey and perseverance despite the many obstacles she faced.

Author Linda Skeers does an absolutely wonderful job of using simple prose for young readers while weaving in paleontological terms here and there. I feel this is so important, since it makes paleontology accessible to the young reader as something that they too can pursue. Ms. Skeers guides you along Mary’s journey with suspense that keeps you reading. The reader is rooting for Mary! Ms. Skeers portrays her as a true inspiration for young children. Through Mary, she shows that curiosity, bravery, and perseverance can lead to discoveries and learning beyond imagination. Even as an adult reader, I felt inspired.

Beginning with the cover, the artwork by Marta Álvarez Miguéns immediately drew me in with its mixture of whimsy and detail. I love the colours and crisp lines. I also love how Mary is illustrated: she has a softness and friendliness to her that is so inviting to the reader–you want to follow her everywhere. I am drawn in by her deep, curious eyes. One of my favourite illustrations is the rear view of Mary climbing over rocks on the seaside in the rain. Ms. Miguéns captured the determination of a young child so perfectly.

I adore this book. It is one I will read over and over again. It brings back my love of dinosaurs and lights a little flame in me to keep going in whatever I choose to pursue, no matter what the obstacles. I am so glad I learned about Mary and that she is finally given the spotlight she so rightly deserves. I can’t wait to read this book to my own children.

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My Review of The Doll: A Child’s Survival of the Holocaust

By Posted on 2 min read 109 views

Imagine, as a child, being forced from your home with only the clothes on your back and your most precious belongings tucked under your arm. The reason? You and your family are Jewish.

Tragically, this was the fate of over a million families during World War II. In The Doll: A Child’s Survival of the Holocaust, author Melissa Mikel tells the story of this very dark period in history through the eyes of 7-year-old Faigie Libman. Faigie and her family had to leave their home and live in the ghettos of Lithuania during the persecution of the Jewish people. The only possession Faigie could bring with her was her Shirley Temple doll. Her doll was a source of joy, comfort, and hope, especially when Faigie and her family’s situation became terribly worse.

Despite such a difficult topic, Melissa tells Faigie’s story with grace and with just enough detail to make the reader grasp the gravity of the time. I kept turning the pages, eager to find out more about Faigie, her family, and the millions of Jewish people. The title of the book includes the word “survival,” and I think this provided the hook for me to keep reading, to find out how such horrible circumstances could eventually result in a happy ending. But Melissa’s wordsmithing quickly reeled me in as well, all the way to the end of her Afterword at the end of the book. I wanted to keep reading! Never preachy or “teachy,” Melissa tells Faigie’s story with utmost compassion while not shying away from the truth.

Elena Kingsbury’s artwork throughout the book is very striking. Her use of pencil sketches with watercolour provides a somber undercurrent throughout the story, which I feel is a brilliant choice. The colour that pops from the Shirley Temple doll provides the sense of optimism that the reader is looking for to lead them through the book.

I think The Doll would be perfect for my 9-year-old son to read. He is learning about history in school, and The Doll would be such a great tool to show children his age that humans have a very dark past, but there is also immense kindness in the world. I can certainly picture teachers reading this book to their class as a critical part of the curriculum. But I also believe that this book is important for adults to read, too, to remind us of the choices we have, and the consequences of, how we process and react to people’s differences. And to remind us of the power of kindness.

Want to read The Doll yourself? Or read it to a child you know? I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here.

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