Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Friday, October 9, 2015

I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch

I Will Always Write Back: how one letter changed two lives
by Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch
Little Brown. 2015
ISBN: 9780316241311
Grades 6-12
I borrowed this book from my local public library.

When her English teacher announced a pen pal program, seventh grader Caitlin thought the crazy-sounding place of Zimbabwe sounded intriguing. I’d never heard of Zimbabwe. But something about the way the name looked up on the blackboard intrigued me. 

She chose the country that, though difficult to pronounce, seemed exotic. In her letter Caitlin is friendly and shares all her favorite hobbies and activities. 
For fun, I like to go shopping at the mall on the weekend. I also like to go roller skating and bowling with my friends. And to eat pizza. What is it like in Zimbabwe?

Little did Caitlin know that this seemly reckless decision would not only change her life forever, but that of her pen pal as well.

Far off in the Mutare, Zimbabwe, Martin is the smartest student in his tiny school, so he is one of ten students who receive a letter from America. To Martin, America is the land of Coca-Cola and the WWF, World Wrestling Federation. Men had big muscles who wore skullcaps and knee-high boots and made lots of money.  Martin was thrilled with his pen pal. He had a friend. In America!

In alternating chapters, readers are pulled in to this amazing friendship that deepens over the six years they corresponded. 

The writers do a wonderful job showing Caitlin’s evolution. At first she is very naive about the cultural differences between her upper middle class life in Pennsylvania and the extreme poverty Martin experiences in Mutare. There are so many things Caitlin takes for granted. From buying a postage stamp to having her picture taken, nearly unobtainable luxuries to Martin. Over time Caitlin grows from a self-centered girl of privilege into someone who does all she can to offer Martin the chance he needs to reach his goal of attending college in America by sending him money so he can remain in school.

The correspondence begins in 1997 and ends on August 15, 2003 when the two finally meet for the first time at the Philadelphia airport. 

Hearing Caitlin say “You Made It!” when we first embraced made me realize this was real. For so many years, I thought i had conjured her. But here she was, as beautiful as i imagined, but much taller.

This duel memoir is a story of hope and friendship that makes for a compelling read. A great introduction to social activism.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton 
bu Don Tate
Peachtree, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-56145-825-7
Grades K-5

The reviewer received a galley from the publisher.

Earlier this year Louise reviewed The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Don Tate. Peachtree recently published a gorgeous picture book biography written and illustrated by Don Tate. Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton is the amazing story of how one man overcame many obstacles and became a published and well-loved poet in North Carolina in the 1800s.

Upon opening the book readers will see lines of poetry on the endpapers, and it's clear that poetry is central to the theme of the book. Horton had a passion for words as a boy. Tate's accessible, narrative text describes how Horton grew up a slave in North Carolina and taught himself to read using an old spelling book. As a young man, Horton worked in the fields and sold vegetables at the University of North Carolina. He captured the attention of students and professors as he recited poetry from his fruit and vegetable cart. After finding success as a writer publishing his poetry in newspapers and books, Horton's owner refuses to allow Horton to buy his freedom.

The mixed media illustrations (ink, gouache, and pencil) use soft, earth tones. Tate effectively incorporates poetry into the illustrations. He researched Horton's life by reading the poet's autobiography and through research in North Carolina historical societies and universities. In the author's note Tate explains that his goal is to show slavery "as more than just an uncomfortable word." He aimed to demonstrate to readers that Horton is relevant "in their lives today."

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton is a must-buy for school and public libraries. The power of words and poetry rings true, and Horton's perseverance and determination serve as a an inspiration for young readers.

Visit Don Tate's website for more information about Poet and to download the Teacher's Guide.

View the book trailer for Poet.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Fur, Fins, and Feathers by Cassandre Maxwell

Fur, Fins, and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo
Written and illustrated by Cassandre Maxwell
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 2015
ISBN: 9780802854322
Grades K-5
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Abraham Dee Bartlett was born in 1812 in London, England. As a young boy, Abraham was fascinated with animals, especially those with fur, fins, and feathers. A family friend, who owned a collection of wild animals, allowed Abraham to play with the young animals.

But when it was time to put the animals back, he felt sorry for them. They had no place to explore, no place to hide, nothing to play with. They didn’t always get enough to eat, and their keepers sometimes teased them.
Abraham knew he had to find a way to help the animals.

Maxwell does a wonderful job bringing to life the story of the man whose love of all animals would grow up to create the modern zoo. His careful observations of the animals habits allowed him to improve their lives by offering adequate space for them to roam and he understood that a balanced diet was vital to the animals good health.

The very readable text is enhanced by full and sometimes double-page Illustrations created using cut paper collage and mixed media.The end papers are charming and back matter includes an author’s note, bibliography and further reading, and a timeline.

Go here for a discussion guide
Go here to see the book trailer. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

My Favorite Nonfiction Read Alouds

I decided to share some of my favorite nonfiction titles I read when classrooms visit my public library throughout the school year or in summertime with the local summer campers. I look for books that have an exciting narrative, large, beautiful illustrations, and offers listeners an interesting perspective on familiar or new topics. I kept the publication date no later than 2012. 

by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm
Simple language and Bang’s illustrations that makes clear the science being shared, the book describes how all life on Earth is dependent on photosynthesis, both on land and in the sea. All the titles in the Sunlight series are great read alouds.

by Alicia Potter; illustrated by Melissa Sweet
It was Ruth Harkness, in 1934, who brought the first panda to America.

by Shana Corey; illustrated by Hadley Hooper
The perfect title to read when Girl Scout troops visit the library. 

Woodpecker Wham! 
by April Pulley Sayre; illustrations by Steve Jenkins
From a birds-eye view, or in this case a woodpecker, experience its everyday life hiding from hawks, feeding hungry chicks, and excavating a hole in a tree to build a new home. 

I love this collection of poems about the life and work of honeybees.

What are some of your favorite nonfiction books you share with children?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

From the Backlist: 10,000 Days of Thunder by Philip Caputo

From the Backlist: 10,000 Days of Thunder: a history of the Vietnam War
Philip Caputo
Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 2005
ISBN: 9780689862311
Grades 8+
I borrowed this book from my local public library.

The Vietnam War defined a generation. It was the inspiration behind scores of songs, sparked dozens of riots, and came to be known as the most controversial war in American history. Associated with the Vietnam War was the anti-war movement, and the rise of the hippy generation, Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers. (Read Cathy's review of Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War Steve Sheinkin).

For a time the only books on the origin of the Vietnam War were found in the adult department. But all of that changed when, in 2005, Philip Caputo, a Vietnam veteran and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, wrote a long-overdue history of the Vietnam war; the first of its kind for young readers. 10,000 Days of Thunder explained the origins of the war which had roots in Communism, colonialism and the Cold War. 

The Vietnam War has three dubious distinctions: It was the longest and the most unpopular war in American history and the only war America ever lost. 

Whether as advisors to the South Vietnamese Army or as combat troops directly engaged in fighting the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army, U.S. soldiers served in Vietnam from 1959-1974.

The book’s design is inviting; it includes hundreds of photographs, key campaign and battlefield maps, anecdotes from soldiers and civilians, and, most important, a compelling narrative. Back matter includes a glossary, bibliography, a list of Vietnam related websites (that still work), index, and on the end pages a timeline.

Informational books on Vietnam: Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin, Last Airlift: a Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. Fiction titles: Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers, Vietnam series by Chris Lynch, Year of the Jungle by Suzanne Collins, Cracker! : the best dog in Vietnam and A Million Shades of Gray, both by Cynthia Kadohata. 

For those students who are drawn to books about the Vietnam War, suggest the following movies: The Most Dangerous Man in American: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers  and The Fog of War : lessons from the life of Robert S. McNamara.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War 
by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-59643-952-8
Grades 7 and up

Fans of Bomb and Port Chicago 50 will not be disappointed with Steve Sheinkin's latest work, Most Dangerous. In true Sheinkin style, the prologue launches readers into an exciting scene as G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt break into the office of a psychiatrist in an attempt to discredit Daniel Ellsberg. Chapter One then introduces readers to a young Daniel Ellsberg who graduated from Harvard and joined the Marine Corps. Ellsberg was then recruited by John McNaughton to work on Vietnam policy at the Pentagon.

The book describes how the U.S. became involved in Vietnam and provides readers with an overview of Vietnamese history needed to understand the conflict. Middle school and high school readers will gain insight into the Vietnam War, the anti-war movement, and how Daniel Ellsberg changed history by leaking the classified Pentagon Papers.

The most exciting parts of the book are when newspapers publish pages from the Pentagon Papers as the government races to stop classified information from being made public. As one newspaper is forced by the courts to stop publishing classified information, the Pentagon Papers are leaked to another news organization. During this time Daniel Ellsberg and his wife remain in hiding to avoid being arrested. Young readers who may have limited knowledge of the Watergate scandal will get a front row seat as Sheinkin describes Liddy and Hunt's botched attempts to break into various offices including the DNC offices in the Watergate Hotel.

Sheinkin's meticulous research, exciting narrative writing style, and use of quotes make this a thrilling historical account of a tumultuous time period in U.S. history. In addition to interviewing Daniel Ellsberg, Sheinkin read dozens of books and articles to research the events in the book. (The bibliography lists 96 books and articles.)  History teachers could use Most Dangerous to spark debate about freedom of speech and national security.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Koala Hospital by Suzi Eszterhas

Koala Hospita
Written and photographed by Suzi Eszterhas
Owl Kids Books. 2015
ISBN: 978177471404
Grades 1-5
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library

Koala Hospital, located on the southeast coast of Australia, has been rescuing and treating sick and injured koalas for over 40 years. Similar in focus to the Scientists in the Field series, this new offering in the Wildlife Rescue series is intended for a younger audience. Readers will learn the process of caring for the injured koalas and steps taken to rehabilitate them before returning them to the wild.

For koalas, living with people can be challenging and dangerous. That’s where the Koala Hospital comes in. A big-time koala lover, Cheyne Flanagan runs the hospital with her team of volunteers. They all give their time and energy to help give koalas a second chance at life.

Information is conveyed using double-page spreads that includes a color photo showing the work that is being explained in the brief narrative. Each entry explains a specific aspect of the center’s operations in language younger children can understand.

As the injured and sick patients at the hospital continue to recover, they receive 24-hour care from the team. Some koalas spend only a few days at the hospital, but others stay for weeks or even months.

From what happens when a koala gets hurt, how they are transported to the hospital through their care and eventual release back into the wild.

Eszterhas is a wonderful photographer, capturing these cuddly marsupials from infancy to adulthood as they go from sick or injured to fully recovered. Her narrative is persuasive as she reinforces the dangers faced because of human intrusion into their habitat and ways activists have been working with the Australian government to protect these quiet, solitary creatures.

Back matter includes a Q&A with the author, information on how you can help save the koalas or other wildlife in your own backyard, glossary, index, and source notes.

A beautiful, well-composed title that is a must read for all animal lovers.