The Real Vikings: Craftsmen, Traders, and Fearsome Raiders by Melvin Berger and Gilda Berger

vikingsThe Real Vikings provides insights into the way Vikings lived beyond their plundering and pillaging. The book aims to create a more whole vision of the Viking people to show their every-day life, customs, traditions, religious beliefs, history, and how they helped to shape the world as it is known today.

The book is less than sixty pages and is best suited for someone wanting an introduction to Viking culture. Even for someone who is already familiar with Viking culture, the book could be used as a supplement. Though it is short, it is packed with useful and interesting information. Beyond the text of the book, there are abundant and appropriate pictures and maps to enrich the text. For every point made, there is a corresponding illustration. Children don’t have to imagine what Vikings swords or jewelry looked like—they can see for themselves with the pictures provided in the book.

The book is scholarly and informative, but the language is spot on for younger readers and older readers who may not be reading on grade level. It is not a narrative form, so that will lose some readers, but the information is engaging enough to keep the attention of even reluctant readers. The book traces the history of Vikings from their first emergence to what is considered the end of the Viking age. It provides enough detail to give children an understanding of Viking culture, including dispelling popular myths. Do you know that the horns on helmets of Vikings is not accurate? There is no piece of archeological evidence to support the popular myth that Viking wore horns on their helmets. The book mentions items like that and other archeological finds that do support popular beliefs about Vikings.

The book is a great choice for an informational text to support Common Core standards in a school library or for a patron in a public library needing one for school. It is also good to remember this book and other Viking books as the release of How To Train Dragon 2 comes closer and closer. The movie is obviously about dragons, but the characters in it are Vikings. What better way to get a kid to read than to compare it to actual historical events? Plus, it is based off an excellent book series of the same title that could pair nicely with this also.

The book is recommended for grades 4-6.

Bibliographic Information:
Berger, Melvin, and Gilda Berger. The Real Vikings: Craftsmen, Traders, and Fearsome Raiders. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2003. Print.

Vikings (DK Witness Books) by Susan Margeson
The Medieval World by Philip Steele
D’Aulaires Book of Norse Myths


Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909

brave girlBrave Girl is the true story of Clara Lemlich and her quest to improve working conditions of girls in the garment industry in the early 1900’s. Clara was a pioneer and advocate for workers’ rights. She fought for better wages, better working conditions, better hours, and was jailed seventeen times for her efforts. When no one else would step forward, Clara took charge and organized the largest strike of women workers in United States history. If you, or your children, don’t know about Clara, now is the time to learn.

What makes Clara even more astounding was her youth. She immigrated to America with her family when she was a teen and quickly started working in the factory. Instead of carrying her books to school, Clara carried a sewing machine to work. Three hundred girls worked in the factory with only one toilet, one sink, and three towels for all of them. If a worker was only a few minutes late, half of their pay was docked. It was long hours for little pay. Clara was determined. Though she was tired, she went to the library after work to educate herself.

Clara’s story is not only informative, it is inspiring. Boys and girls should learn about Clara and her passionate spirit. This book is the story of standing up for what you know is right, for what you know you deserve, no matter what anyone else may do or say to you. Clara was a teenager when she staged the protests and brought attention and change to working conditions in the garment industry.

The book can be used in a variety of ways. It can be used as a role model for young girls and to highlight women’s history. It can be also be used as a discussion on workers’ rights (for older readers) and as part of a unit on child labor laws throughout history. Even for upper elementary and young middle school students (who might consider themselves too old for picture books), it can provide a look at an individual during an important time for workers’ right in the United States. Though not the focus of the book, it does present the issue and history of immigration to the United States from Eastern Europe.

There is a much needed author’s note at the end with more about Clara’s life and the world she lived in. There is also a selected bibliography with primary and secondary sources, which offers a good chance to introduce this concept to children in a classroom or library setting along with providing sources for further reading. The book is recommended for ages 5-9.

Bibliographic Information:
Markel, Michelle, and Melissa Sweet. Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. New York: Balzer Bray, 2013. Print.

A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne
Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Miss Moore Though Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children by Jan Pinborough, illustrated by Debby Atweel

A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return by Zeina Abirached

swallowsA Game for Swallows is a non-fiction graphic novel that depicts the Civil War in Beirut, Lebanon in the 1980’s. The graphic novel centers on one memorable day during the war when Zeina’s parents are stuck at a relative’s house. Beirut is divided into East and West with Christians living on the West and Muslims living on the East of the demarcation line.

The graphic novel is told in stark black and white. Zeina is a young child, eight or so, and the conflict is told through her eyes. The story is certainly about war, but it is more about the relationships with the people in her building. While her parents are away, all the people in the building gather in their foyer, not only to stay with children, but because it is the safest location. Their conversations and actions prove this is a weekly, if not daily, tradition. Zeina tells the story of all the people—how the war affected them, who plans to leave, who plans to stay, who has died, and who will die.

All except for two pages are drawings. (The book does not exactly what media the novel is done in). There are two pages near the end that are pictures from the war the word that are graffitied on a wall. “To die, to leave, to return. It’s a game for swallows”—Florian. The war in the novel was already very real, but the pictures help drive the point home. This is a true story. This is what happened to these people in this war.

This graphic novel sheds light on a war that many American readers probably know little to nothing about. The book can be used in a variety of wars. Not only can it be used as an introduction to the Lebanese civil war, but it can also be used as a discussion point for any war. The book is not about military strategies, defeats, and victories. It is about the regular, every day people who are stuck in the middle of a war, the people who are often forgotten by history books. This concept can be applied to any war to get children, and adults, questioning what went on behind the walls of the buildings. How does life change when a war is fought in your country? For an American audience this is an intriguing questions as it has been centuries since a war has been fought on American soil.

The novel does provide both an introduction and an author’s note at the end about why she decided to write and illustrate the book and a little bit of background about Beirut, the war, and the after effects.

The book will have great appeal as more and more children are gravitating toward graphic novels and more non-fiction graphic novels are being published. Non-fiction graphic novels are an innovative way to entice reluctant readers, or even avid readers who don’t like non-fiction, to try something new.

School Library Journal recommends the book for grades 5-8.

Bibliographic Information:

Abirached, Zeina. A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return. New York: Graphic Universe, 2012. Print.

A Bag of Marbles: The Graphic Novel by Joseph Joffo (WWII; grades 6-9)
The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown (1930’s Dust Bowl; grades 5+)
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donnor Dinner Party (1840’s America, survival tale; grades 3-6) Also, this is a series of non-fiction graphic novels that cover different historical events.