Book Review: THE STORY OF PEOPLE, a concise history of humankind for children

The Story of PeopleThe Story of People
A First Book about Humankind
Catherine Barr and Steve Williams
Illustrated by Amy Husband

The Story of People promises to deliver an ambitious goal–summarize the history of humankind on earth in a book digestible for children–and it does an amazing job parsing two million years into around forty pages.

Barr and Williams begin when dinosaurs went extinct but small mammals survived the asteroid that killed so much life on earth. From there, readers learn about hunter and gatherer societies, the formation of towns, trade, the development of government, the influence of religion, to the industrial revolution, and today’s amazing technological developments.

They don’t shy away from difficult topics such as the slave trade, war, and climate change, though their message is one of cooperation and hopefulness.

Completed in a style I particularly like, Amy Husband’s illustrations are somewhat cartoon-like, colorful, playing with perspective, and with new details every time you look at the page.

The book includes a running timeline and a helpful glossary.

For an audience of six-to-nine-year-olds, The Story of People does deliver a full, though concise history that will also certainly inspire questions and provoke discussion. A must for libraries, this is also a great book to have at home.

Thank you to Netgalley and Quarto Publishing Group, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: MARIA MONTESSORI, a new book in the Little People, BIG DREAMS series

Maria MontessoriMaria Montessori
by Isabel Sanchez Vegara
Illustrated by Raquel Martín

When I was younger, I went to a Montessori school, so I thought I was familiar with the Montessori technique. Although I did know about the method, I certainly knew very little about the woman who developed it.

Maria Montessori, a new board book in the Little People, BIG DREAMS series offers a condensed biography of this pioneering educator designed to be read aloud to babies and toddlers.

Although Maria loved to learn, she thought school was boring and made up games to enliven lessons. She was the only girl in an all-boys technical institute, and the first woman in Italy to study medicine. At times, she was segregated from the male students and had to study cadavers alone. In her first job, working at a hospital for disabled children, she changed the approach to treatment with wondrous effects. She realized her methods would work for all children, and she opened a school. Maria taught her technique all over the world, helping make learning more fun and developing thoughtful learners and critical thinkers. Vegara’s story doesn’t just capture Maria’s life but holds out a promise of what we all can be.

Martín’s illustrations are fabulous, colorful and vibrant, and they reflect gender, race, and ethnic diversity.

Both young readers and the people who read to them will learn from and enjoy this interesting biography of Maria Montessori, and it would be a great addition to any child’s home library.

Thank you to Netgalley and Quarto Publishing Group, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: SAY NOTHING: A TRUE STORY OF MURDER AND MEMORY IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Keefe, Patrick Radden - Say NothingSay Nothing:
A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

Patrick Radden Keefe

Shortly after beginning Say Nothing, I realized how little I knew of The Troubles. Although Keefe would be the first to admit his book isn’t a comprehensive history, I found it an intriguing segway into this difficult time in Northern Ireland’s history.

Say Nothing centers on four figures: Jean McConville, a thirty-eight year old mother of ten who was taken from her home by a group of intruders in December 1972 as her children hung from her limbs; Dolours Price, a young, glamorous IRA volunteer who lead the team that perpetrated the March 1973 London bombings and subsequently became infamous, with her sister Marian, for a prolonged hunger strike; Brendan Hughes, master IRA tactician, head of the D Company, the feared “Dirty Dozen”; and Gerry Adams, a leading figure in the peace talks and the Sinn Féin party who disavowed his IRA past.

The book, which reads like a novel, traces the history of these figures as they navigate life in a city divided by sectarian conflict, where bombs and shootings are commonplace. Although Dolours, Gerry, and Brendan chose to live as revolutionaries, Jean, a Protestant living in a Catholic stronghold, was caught up in forces beyond her control.

While intimately personal, the book also chronicles the persecution of Catholics in Northern Ireland, the uncompromising ideals of the IRA volunteers, and life in prison and internment camps. I had not fully understood the process or psychological consequences of force feeding prisoners on hunger strike until reading this book, and I’ll never see the process the same way again.

Attention is also paid to the British Army and its use of “touts” or informants, a practice Keefe attributes to Brigadier Frank Kitson who became a master of counterinsurgency techniques while stationed at sites of colonial uprisings and later assigned to Northern Ireland.

As Reefe unspools the trajectory of the IRA volunteers, he traces the painful lives of the McConville orphans who were put into state custody and institutionalized. Their family was irrevocably shattered when Jean was “disappeared.” In 1999, the IRA admitted responsibility, and in 2003, her body was uncovered.

Jean McConville and her family were only one of many who were uprooted by the Troubles. But a culture of silence permeates Northern Ireland. Part of this developed before the Troubles, but because the peace settlement did not include a truth and reconciliation process, anyone who talks about their activities risks arrest and prison. Keefe wonders who should be responsible for a shared history of violence. Only the truth can answer that question, and Say Nothing is a remarkable contribution to that history.

This is such a readable book, it will appeal to true crime aficionados, mystery lovers, and history buffs, not to mentions anyone wanting to know more about the history of Northern Ireland or the IRA. In fact, one of the few flaws is that the book is so readable, sometimes it’s easy to forget that the events depict real people and real pain that deserve empathy and witness. The book is also more thematic than chronological, which makes the flow more logical and the narrative more coherent. However, at times, I got a bit murky on the timeline and had to reorient myself. These very minor issues should not keep you from picking up this book; in fact, I encourage you to read it as soon as possible.

Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: ADA LOVELACE, a new Little People, Big Dreams board book

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace is a board book addition to the Little People, Big Dreams series designed to be read aloud to babies and toddlers. Although Ada Lovelace is an important historical figure, critical in the development of the calculator, so few people know of her, it’s wonderful she has this introduction to a new generation (as well as to the people who read to them).

Vegara does a good job distilling Lovelace’s story, and the vocabulary involved in her inventions, to a beginning level, and Yamamoto’s illustrations are delightful. Ada’s cat, Mrs. Puff, appears on every spread, and it’s fun to find her in the background. There are also nice details like simple mathematical problems and subtle additions like the 0-1 binary language in a background of a portrait of Ada.

Although I very much like the book and think it is a valuable addition to a young reader’s library, I thought the first pages, of Ada’s childhood, were a little vague, and that the narrative really developed once Ada recognized her talent for invention.

Ada faced significant hurdles, including her mother’s skepticism, sexism, and the disbelief of scientists. These are present but played down in the text, though the message that using one’s imagination and being persistent shines through.

Thank you to Netgalley and Quarto Publishing Group, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: THE WEDDING GUEST, a well-paced mystery from a reliable series

Kellerman, Jonathan - The Wedding Guest CoverThe Wedding Guest
Jonathan Kellerman

The invitation for the wedding reception at the former strip club Aura instructed guests to look hot for the Sinners-and-Saints themed party. And this guest fit the bill: a red Fendi dress, Manolo shoes, expensive haircut. But the red ring around her neck wasn’t a necklace: it was a nasty gash from someone strangling her to death with a wire, helped along with a fentanyl-heroin cocktail. None of the disgruntled and drunk guests claimed to recognize the woman. Lieutenant Milo Sturgis calls on his friend, psychologist Alex Delaware, to consult on the case.

The bride’s parents, who run a personnel agency hiring personal assistants for celebrities, have a checkered history that might point to a motive, but the groom’s father, a veterinarian, has access to fentanyl. And the history of the venue might shed light on the identity of the victim. Alex and Milo must identify the victim and uncover the layers of secrets before anyone else meets the same fate.

With over thirty books in the Alex Delaware series, Jonathan Kellerman has mastered the genre. Reading The Wedding Guest is like putting on a favorite sweater: familiar, cozy, and comfortable. Alex and Milo maintain a strong friendship with humorous banter, and Alex’s relationship with Robin grounds him in “normal” life. Alex’s (silent) sardonic commentary is witty and often insightful, giving the book weight.

While there isn’t a lot of action in the book–most of the forward momentum comes from interviews and research–the book is still gripping and well-placed. I had a hard time putting it down while I was reading it. When the action scenes did arrive, I found myself holding my breath!

Now that I’ve been away from the book for a bit, some plot holes and questions of motivation are niggling at me. Additionally, it seemed the attitude towards the Me Too movement was a little condescending and dismissive. However, I enjoyed reading The Wedding Guest and recommend it to mystery lovers.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group / Ballantine for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.