Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson (Sandra Nickel)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson, written by Sandra Nickel and illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia, a enthralling tale of a groundbreaking and sky-shaking scientist.

A difficult childhood often sent young Joanne Simpson out on boats (and eventually, up in planes) to find solace and serenity. It was during these early explorations that she found her love of clouds, and her fascination with the science of meteorology. Proving herself to be an apt student of the field, she was hired during World War II to teach weather officers about flight conditions. Yet when the war ended and Joanne expressed an interest in earning a PhD in meteorology (which would make her the first woman to ever do so), her male professors and peers laughed at her and her studies of cloud formations. But Joanne’s passion and intellect would not be determined by the voices of others, and she went on to show that clouds, like women, are more powerful than anyone had yet realized.

Absolutely fantastic. This unapologetically feminist look at Simpson’s life’s work, which revolutionized the way weather was understood and predicted, is an unexpectedly powerful read. Much of this comes from Nickel’s evocative yet informational text and Garcia’s gorgeous gouache illustrations, which take the factual events of Simpson’s life and add to them a spirit of dreaming and determination that the scientist embodied. It’s a little disappointing how often male figures have to intervene in order to promote Simpson’s success; however, the delicate yet honest treatment of her relationship with an emotionally-abusive mother is appreciated, as most picture book biographies can gloss over or omit these types of real-life issues when readers may be dealing with similar ones themselves. The length is best for older elementary readers, but JJ really liked this one, especially the artwork. A stirring and inspirational story of a lesser-known feminist icon, and we loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

A Dinosaur Named Ruth: How Ruth Mason Discovered Fossils in Her Own Backyard (Julia Lyon)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A Dinosaur Named Ruth: How Ruth Mason Discovered Fossils in Her Own Backyard, written by Julia Lyon and illustrated by Alexandra Bye, a fascinating tale of paleontology and persistence.

In turn of the century South Dakota, 7-year-old Ruth Mason found her first dinosaur bone in her very own backyard. She began a collection of her then-unusual discoveries, even as friends and family told her that the strange little bones weren’t special or important. As the years passed and Ruth found more and more of the unusual bones, she began writing universities and museums about her discoveries, only the receive the same answer: the things she was finding in the Badlands weren’t significant, weren’t important, weren’t special. For decades, Ruth kept collecting, kept writing, and kept being dismissed. That is, until the day in 1979 when she finally received a knock on the door…

A most unusual and intriguing dinosaur story! The paleontological gold mine that Ruth Mason’s family ranch turned out to be serves as an interesting lesson on not only patience and dealing with being underestimated, but also a salute to doing something simply for the love of doing it. Despite having her discoveries dismissed for over seven (!) decades, Mason continued to collect fossils and display them in her “garden of bones”; whether or not the world thought they were important (which, it turns out, they very much were), they brought her joy and so she treasured them. Lyon’s text is filled with gentle cheerfulness and a touch of cheek, perfect for the optimistic tone of the story. Bye’s lush illustrations are suffused with warmth and atmosphere, imbuing the characters, including the charming Ruth and even the living versions of dinosaurs whose bones she loved, with personality and energy. The length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ really enjoyed this heartwarming tale of a tenacious girl and her dinosaurs. Overall, a unique and rewarding story, and we loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

That’s Betty: The Story of Betty White (Gregory Bonsignore)

Hello, friends! Our book today is That’s Betty: The Story of Betty White, written by Gregory Bonsignore and illustrated by Jennifer M. Potter, a sweet look into the television icon’s life and work.

When a young boy is assigned a presentation on a “trailblazing woman,” he is thrilled to pick one of his favorite icons: Betty White. While his teacher and dads encourage him to perhaps pick someone more traditional, the boy has his heart set on White, and heads to the library to research her life. While there, he meets a mysterious woman who seems to be as much a Betty White fan as he is, and helps him with interesting details of her record-setting television career: her role as producer when few women held such a position, her genre-redefining work on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Golden Girls, and her commitment to animal charities. When the boy gives his presentation, a surprise guest shows up: his friend from the library! But as she leaves, he suddenly realizes – that’s Betty!

A heartfelt if somewhat bittersweet celebration of an icon. Originally set to release before White’s death at the end of 2021, this combination of biography and fictional encounter with the beloved Betty White strikes a sweet and playful tone befitting the late star’s image and personality. Some of the writing feels a little mature (such as a “third time’s a charm!” joke in reference to White’s third marriage to Allen Ludden), but also does a nice job of exploring what made White a trailblazer, such as her fight to spotlight entertainers of color like Arthur Duncan, and the groundbreaking way Golden Girls humanized the lives of the elderly. Potter’s gouache-and-digital illustrations are charming and clever (I giggled at the Lake Placid crocodile balloon in the Macy’s Day parade), and feature a welcome diversity of characters in the fiction scenes. The length and tone are definitely best for elementary-aged bookworms, and JJ enjoyed it. There are a few stumbles and, with such a recently-passed icon, a small undertone of grief. Ultimately, however, this earnest and sincere love letter to White does her justice, and is worth a look. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Great Lives in Graphics (Button Books)

Hello, friends! Since it’s the holiday season, we’re bringing you some BONUS gift guide reviews this month! For today’s review, we have the Great Lives in Graphics series by Button Books, an eye-catching look at famous figures from history.

In these slim yet delightfully comprehensive and detailed volumes, readers can learn about historical figures like Cleopatra, Martin Luther King, Jr., Anne Frank, and more! Learn about the discriminatory laws of King’s time, compare what Stephen Hawking and Einstein had in common, see layouts of the secret annex that Frank lived in while in hiding, find out how Cleopatra achieved her legendary signature makeup look, and more. Pages packed with infographics and fun facts cover not only the lives of these luminaries, but the worlds they lived in and the legacies they left behind.

Informative and engaging. Infographic layouts are always a great approach to make learning fun, and these middle-grade biographical titles are as entertaining to look at as they are to read. The information presented covers both the elementary and the esoteric; for instance, kids can learn about the world’s deadliest snakes in addition to Cleopatra’s venomous demise. The four subjects pictured are available now, with biographies on Nikola Tesla, Frida Kahlo, Jane Austen and more coming in the new year. We would absolutely recommend this for curious middle-grade readers, especially those interested in world history. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Dangerous Jane: The Life and Times of Jane Addams, Crusader for Peace (Suzanne Slade)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Dangerous Jane: The Life and Times of Jane Addams, Crusader for Peace, written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Alice Ratterree.

As a child, Jane had her fair share of sadness and pain; after losing her mother at age 2, she contracted spinal tuberculosis at age 4, leaving her with a twisted spine. Isolated from other children, she sought solace in books and her father’s love, and it was on a business trip with him that she first noted the dire conditions of the poor communities near her home. Resolving to dedicate her adulthood to helping those in need, Jane travelled the world, studying the conditions of those in poverty and the systems created to assist them. Returning home to Chicago, she and Ellen Starr founded Hull House, a settlement house that assisted the poor with education, childcare, and work. From there, Jane would turn her efforts to international peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts – efforts that led her to be seen as a controversial figure, winning a Nobel Peace Prize AND being declared the “most dangerous woman in America” by the FBI. Yet all that mattered to Jane was helping others, and she served the people of the world the rest of her life, advocating human rights and world peace.

An intriguing figure like Addams deserves attention from young readers, and this picture biography makes a great start. Covering Addams’s life in broad strokes, readers are given solid insight into her motivations and a portion of her activism, as well as the impact it had on her life. However, it’s what the biography doesn’t talk about that disappoints; Addams’ work in early feminism and woman’s suffrage is not mentioned, nor is the fact that she was a queer woman (her first partner, Starr, is referred to in the backmatter as her “college friend”). The artwork is detailed, and the illustrator distinguishes Addams from the sepias with a signature green. The length is best for older elementary and middle-grade readers; while JJ enjoyed the art, the story began to drag for her. Overall, this is a nice spotlight of a worthy subject – I only wish it had been a little more bright. Otherwise, Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)