Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Best Nonfiction Books of 2014

Dear Readers,

It's that time of year when we reflect upon the past twelve months and look for titles that rose to the top. 2014 was an excellent year for nonfiction, so our list of favorite books is lengthy. We have organized our favorite books into categories: history, science, poetry, and biography/memoir. The list is alphabetical by title and includes links to our reviews. We'll continue our search for the best nonfiction for children in 2015.

Louise and Cathy


Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain
by Russell Freedman
Clarion Books

 by Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade

The History of Money: From Bartering to Banking
by Martin Jenkins and Satoshi Kitamura
Candlewick Press

by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press

by Tonya Bolden
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Separate is Never Equal
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers


Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth
by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm
Blue Sky Press

Beetle Busters
by Loree Griffin Burns
photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Chasing Cheetahs
by Sy Montgomery
photographs by Nic Bishop
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

by Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

by Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen

by Katherine Roy
Roaring Brook Press

by Steve R. Swinburne
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes
by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Candlewick Press

by Rebecca L. Johnson
Millbrook Press


Firefly July
poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Candlewick Press

by J. Patrick Lewis and Gary Kelley
Creative Editions

by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Biography & Memoir

by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace
Calkins Creek (Boyds Mill Press)

by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin)

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse
by Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley Hooper
A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press

by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson
Chronicle Books

by Cece Bell
Amulet Books 

by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

by Lois Ehlert
Beach Lane Books

by Stephanie Roth Sisson
Roaring Brook Press

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir
by Liz Prince
Zest Books

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Iridescence of Birds Written by Patricia MacLachlan; Illustrations by Hadley Hooper

The Iridescence of Birds: a book about Henri Matisse

By Patricia MacLachlan; Pictures by Hadley Hooper
A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press. 2014
ISBN: 9781596439481
All ages
To write this review, I borrowed a copy of the book from my local public library.

The Iridescence of Birds is an informational picture book biography that is breathtaking from cover to cover. Author Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah, Plain and Tall is still one of my all-time favorite Newbery winners. I can still remember where I was when I read it) and artist Hadley Hooper (Here Comes the Girl Scouts by Shana Corey) combined talents have produced a beautiful book that pays homage to the creative spirit of Henri Matisse.

In just a few sentences MacLachlan asks readers to imagine what might have influenced Matisse's love of color. Was it the bright colors his mother used to paint the plates that hung on the wall with meadow scenes? Or the woven red rugs she put on the floor and walls of their cottage that was located in a grey mill town in Northern France. Maybe it was the fruit he arranged into bowls or the fresh flowers in the vase.

Hooper fills every inch of the pages with colorful images that reflect Matisse’s style. We see the young Matisse, a happy child when surrounded by color and then watching his older self as he paints light, movement, and the iridescence of birds. (Love those pigeons!)

On creating the illustrations for this book, Hadley says in her artist’s note, she thought about Matisse and his work before going to sleep and upon rising in the morning. I decided to try relief printing, which forced me to simplify my shapes an allow me to focus on the color and composition. Combining old and new technology, Hadley used stiff foam and cardboard to cut out the characters, then inked them, made prints, and scanned those prints into Photoshop. Perfect!

Please share this book with people of all ages, from babies to senior citizens. It will fit perfectly when talking about artists or the creative mind.

And before I end this review, I want to acknowledge their editor, Neal Porter. Mr. Porter is amazing and has demonstrated again and again his remarkable skill of discovering talent and/or giving them the encouragement and belief in their abilities that allows them to go above and beyond to create really great picture books. Thank you, Neal Porter.

Go here to see pictures from the book.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The History of Money: from bartering to banking by Martin Jenkins

The History of Money: from bartering to banking
Written by Martin Jenkins; Illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura
Candlewick Press. 2014
ISBN: 9780763667634
Grades 7-12
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library to write this review.

The History of Money is a great introduction to the history of how we came to use money as our means of buying and selling goods. Using a very informal style, Jenkins' (The Emperor's Egg) tome takes readers from the days of bartering up to the evolution of buying and selling using coins to paper money. He does an excellent job explaining inflation and how banks work.

Accompanying the content are the colorful cartoon drawings by Satoshi Kitamura. They offer that important visual element that helps readers comprehend the text.

Perhaps in the end the most important fact about money—and the hardest thing to understand about it—is that it exists only because people believe in it. It’s not a physical thing—even though that’s how we tend to think of it, as banknotes and coins, or cash.

Back matter includes author's note, bibliography, and index.

The History of Money may look like an informational book for elementary grades, yet the content would find an audience in middle and high school as well.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Harlem Hellfighters

Harlem Hellfighters  
by J. Patrick Lewis
illustrated by Gary Kelley
Creative Editions, 2014
ISBN: 9781568462462
Grades 6 and up

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her local library.

Former U.S. Children's Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis, has released a powerful, new picture book.
The book introduces middle grade and teen readers to the15th New York National Guard or Harlem Hellfighters. During World War I, bandleader James Europe was tasked with putting together a black regiment of musicians and soldiers.

"Ranging all along the Brittany harbor wall,
Frenzied Frenchmen swayed to Jim Europe's 
pizzazz jazz "Marseillaise.

But the band finally packed up,
soon to be sent to a land 
no poet could portray."

Informational poems tell the story of the 2,000 soldiers from the 15th who risked their lives for a country that discriminated against them. Kelley's somber, pastel illustrations set a solemn tone as soldiers are shown digging trenches, writing letters home, and carrying bodies from the battlefield. Lewis' free verse poetry is an excellent way to introduce older readers to a brave group of men and difficult events in our country's history. Pair Harlem Hellfighters with The War to End All Wars by Russell Freedman or Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone.

Watch for Harlem Hellfighters during the Youth Media Awards announcements on February 2nd. Now that the Sibert Medal may be awarded to works of informational poetry, this book is a strong contender.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tiny Creatures: the world of microbes Written by Nicola Davies

Tiny Creatures: the world of microbes
Written by Nicola Davies; Illustrated by Emily Sutton
Candlewick Press. 2014
ISBN: 9780763773154
Grades K-3
To write this review, I borrowed a copy of the book from my local public library.

Nicola Davies has penned some terrific science books. I really like Surprising Sharks! and Gaia Warriors. Davies excels at explaining the natural world and our relationship with it. Tiny Creatures: the world of microbes, is an informational picture book that presents a simple introduction to the smallest things on our planet and the big jobs they do.

Invisible to the naked eye, microbes come in many different shapes and sizes. They don’t have eyes, heads, or legs, branches, roots, or leaves because they aren’t animals or plants.

Microbes are responsible for slowly changing things into something else. Not only do they help to turn everything that dies into soil, but, they are also responsible for turning milk into yogurt.

Davies reassuring, matter-of-fact tone allows the youngest readers to appreciate the ginormous number of microbes – right now there are more microbes living on your skin than there are people on Earth, and there are ten or even a hundred times as many as that in your stomach – without becoming alarmed.

Partnering with the easy to understand text are the watercolor illustrations of Emily Sutton, which perfectly mirrors what is being explained within the text.

Pair Tiny Creatures: the world of microbes with other books by Davies. Maybe, What’s Eating You?: parasites---the inside story.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold
Poems written by Newbery Honor Award Winner, Joyce Sidman;

Illustrations by Rick Allen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014
ISBN: 9780547906508
All ages; birth to infinity.
To write this review, I borrowed a copy from my local public library.

I am writing this review on the morning after a nasty snowstorm that caused massive power outages here in the Northeast. It was difficult waking up to a very cold house, no hot water, and realizing that though I could turn on the gas stove we couldn’t control the thermostat…that part is electric!  But once the sun came up, I was comforted by the marvelous poems from Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold.

I’ve been a huge fan of Joyce Sidman for years. I often recite at the top of my lungs while cycling to work the "Backswimmer’s Refrain" from, Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems. I also had the privilege of serving on the 2011 John J. Newbery Committee that selected Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night as an honor book. I love that Sidman’s poetry is about nature.

Winter Bees &Other Poems of the Cold opens with winter arriving with the first snowfall when the Tundra Swan knows it is time to head south and ends with the fist-size bud of the skunk cabbage. 

Skunk cabbage peeks up though the snow/the first flower of the wood.

Sidman uses a variety of poetic forms. From a triolet (“Triolet for Skunk Cabbage”) to a pantoum (“Under Ice”) to the hip/hop rhythm for “Big Brown Moose.”

I’m a big brown moose/I’m a rascally moose, /I’m a moose with a tough, shaggy hide;/and I kick and I prance/in a long-legged dance/with my moose-mama close by my side.

If I had to select one poem as my favorite, I’d pick “Snake’s Lullaby.” In the sidebar there is an explanation that snakes hibernate (brumate) in large groups underground during the winter. Most return to the same "hibernaculum" year after year, using their tongues to smell their way along age-old paths. 

Rick Allen’s artwork perfectly captures the essence of each poem. His illustrations were created by cutting, inking, and printing from linoleum blocks (nearly two hundred of them) and then hand-colored them. The blocks were then digitally scanned, composed, and layered. Besides being absolutely beautiful, both in composition and the colors used, they are also playful.

A highly recommended purchase.

P.S. Can you find the fox, or its footprints, on every page? 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos 
by Stephanie Roth Sisson
Roaring Brook Press, 2014
ISBN: 9781596439603
Grades K-4

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her local library.

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos is an engaging picture book biography that will inspire young readers to ask "why" and "how" as they wonder about the universe. Stephanie Roth Sisson writes in a narrative style and uses comic-style illustrations and speech bubbles to describe the life and accomplishments of astronomer, Sagan.

As a child, Carl Sagan visited the 1939 World's Fair where he saw time capsules and mechanical men. His inquisitive nature and passion for learning led him to the library where he read books about stars, planets and the solar system. As young Carl Sagan reads about the solar system in the library, the layout of the picture book changes from horizontal to vertical with a fold-out page depicting the sun.

The book's title refers to Sagan's theory that "stars made the ingredients of life." Sisson explains Sagan's theories and work in a clear and concise manner that young readers will understand. Children with an interest in science will be interested in learning about the messages Sagan sent into space on the Voyager mission in an attempt to communicate with other life forms.

Two pages of back matter are chock full of source notes, an author's note, bibliography and other notes. In the author's note, Sisson explains that the hardest part of writing the book was figuring out how capture Carl Sagan's many accomplishments. Sisson decided to focus on "how a boy from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York became one of the world's most beloved and recognized scientists."  Pair Star Stuff with On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein and Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer.

Monday, November 17, 2014

SPIC-AND-SPAN! by Monica Kulling

Spic-And-Span!: Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen
By Monica Kulling; Illustrated by David Parkins
Tundra Books. 2014
ISBN: 9781770493803
Grades 4-6
To evaluate this title for review, the publisher sent me a copy of the book.

Candian author, Kulling, adds a new title in Tundra’s Great Idea series. Spic-And-Span! looks at the life of efficiency expert, industrial engineer, and psychologist Lillian Moller Gilbreth. (Cheaper By the Dozen) This lively picture book biography offers readers a brief introduction to Gilbreth’s many inventions, yet lacks any bibliography or suggestions for further reading, which is unfortunate.*(correction: there is a list of thee books and one website under  "Sources of Inspiration" found on the back of the title page.)

Born in 1878 in Oakland, California, Lillian Moller came from a very wealthy family, but had no desire for a pampered life. 

Unlike most girls of her time, she decided to go to university. Lillian wanted a life of adventure and challenge. When she married Frank Gilbreth in 1904, that’s exactly what she got.

After marrying Frank, the two formed the business, Gilbreth Inc. The husband and wife team sought ways to cut out wasteful actions as a way to get more work done and be less tired. Frank and Lillian would have twelve children and ran their home efficiently using the “Gilbreth System.”

They lost one child, and after Frank’s death in 1924, the mother of eleven had to find work. Over her lifetime, Lillian is credited with many innovations that we still use today. She came up with the circular approach to kitchen design, invented the electric mixer, a garbage can with a lid that opens by stepping on a foot pedal, the butter and egg shelf in the refrigerator door, and was a pioneer in “ergonomics.” Gilbreth was the first woman to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and the first woman psychologist to have her face on a U.S. postage stamp.

Parkin’s illustrations, done in pen and ink with watercolor on paper greatly enhance the text.

Cathy and I interviewed Kulling in 2012 for her book in the Great Idea series, Going Up!

Go here to 49th Shelf, a blog that promotes Canadian writers, to read a more recent interview with Kulling as she talks about Spic-And-Span!.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Right Word

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
by Jen Bryant
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Eerdman's, 2014
Grades K-5
ISBN: 9780802853851

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her school library.

Jen Bryant and Melissa Stewart are the dream team of children's nonfiction picture books. A River of Words won a Caldecott Honor in 2009, and A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin won a Sibert Honor and a Schneider Family Book Award in 2014.

The pair has collaborated on another picture book biography, and it's a real gem! The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus follows the life of Peter Roget, a shy man who enjoyed making lists, collecting words, and observing the world around him. Roget spent years collecting and organizing words by topic and published his thesaurus in 1852. Bryant writes in an engaging narrative style that captures the essence of Roget's story. At times the text is arranged vertical panels to reflect Roget's lists.

Sweet's signature water color and mixed media collages are perfect for conveying Roget's story. Sweet masterfully places words throughout the illustrations to show how Roget was an observer of the world and a collector of words. Covers of old books and pages from texts are used creatively in the collages. Young readers will enjoy poring over the book's endpapers that contain Roget's thousand word "Plan of Classification."

Even though many young readers (K-2) won't be familiar with a thesaurus, they will enjoy reading about the man who created it and learning about how its helps writers improve their word choice. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus is one of the best nonfiction books I have read this year and is a must-buy for any school or public library.

Melissa Sweet shares her process for creating the illustrations on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Download a classroom discussion guide.

Other Reviews:

Donalyn Miller on The Nerdy Book Club blog
Monica Edinger at Educating Alice
Waking Brain Cells
Watch, Connect, Read

Monday, November 10, 2014


Edward Hopper Paints His World
By Robert Burleigh; Paintings by Wendell Minor
Christy Ottaviano Books: Henry Holt and Company. 2014
ISBN: 780805087529
Grades 2-12
To write this review, I checked this book out of my local public library.

Little Edward Hopper had many dreams. 
But one dream was biggest of all—he was going to be a painter when he grew up.

In Edward Hopper Paints His World, Burleigh & Minor offer a beautiful tribute to Edward Hopper, one of America's most important painters. The marriage between text and illustrations is dazzling.

Edward Hopper was born July 22, 1882 in Nyack, New York. Hopper never gave up on his dream to be an artist. He drew all the time and after studying in New York and Paris, Hopper worked as an illustrator for magazines. Though his magazine illustrations won him prizes, he longed to paint what he wanted, not what others told him to draw. Even after success, he continued to paint what he saw: lighthouses, old houses, cityscapes, lonely roads, and deserted buildings. 

Minor used gouache watercolor on Strathmore 500 Bristol paper to create the illustrations in this book. Minor explains that Edward Hopper's style has influenced his approach to the use of light, color, and composition. Of the paintings in this book Minor explains, I tried to create the feeling of Hopper’s art while maintaining my own style.

Back matter includes an author’s note, Hopper quotes on art, reproductions of four of Hopper paintings, important dates in the life of Edward Hopper, author’s references, artist’s sources, and websites.

In my opinion, introducing children to the lives and works of great artists is important, not only for their development and to stimulate creativity and problem solving, but because being exposed to art is as essential as…breathing. 

drawing by Louise Capizzo
Besides the obvious use of Edward Hopper Paints His World in an art class, pair it with other picture book biographies of artists. For intermediate, middle and high schoolers, first read Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce. One of my all-time favorites, Framed is the perfect book to emphasize how one can see life from a new angle after being introduced to great art.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Nonfiction News

Nonfiction author, Melissa Stewart, has written a series of blog posts about the style and structure of nonfiction books. The posts are informative and definitely worth reading if you are a teacher or children's librarian.

Behind the Books: Nonfiction That Reads Like a Story
Behind the Books: Thinking About Nonfiction Styles
What CCSS Says About Nonfiction Types
Behind the Books: Nonfiction Types
Behind the Books: Deep Thinking About Nonfiction

Nominations for the CYBILS closed last month, and there are some excellent nonfiction titles on the nominated lists this year. We're excited that Louise is a second round judge in the Young Adult Nonfiction category this year.

Here are the CYBILS nominations in the Young Adult Nonfiction category.

Here are the Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction CYBILS nominations.

Dorcas Hand wrote an interesting piece this week for the Consider the Source column in School Library Journal. Hand asks where is the stellar nonfiction that students should read to meet the Common Core Standards? It can be challenging to locate quality nonfiction for kids.  She encourages librarians to go out and read some rich nonfiction and demand publishers make more nonfiction available.

Last week the Heavy Medal Blog at School Library Journal looked at nonfiction contenders for the Newbery Medal. 

We're entering the "Best of the Year" season. Publishers Weekly recently revealed its choices for Best Books of 2014. Several nonfiction books for children made the list.

Monday, November 3, 2014


OwlKids Books promotes awareness of our world to encourage young readers to become more astute observers of how their choices can affect the natural world. OwlKids Books appeal to readers who enjoy bold graphics with quick facts using minimal text.

Why We Live Where We Live
Written by Kira Vermond; Illustrated by Julie McLaughlin
ISBN: 9781771470117
Grades 4-6
Vermond takes readers on a tour of the various ways humans moved from hunters and gatherers to the rise of cities after the Industrial Revolution to how we’ve transformed challenging environments to make them more habitable. Geography, topography, climate, landscape, food security, politics, economics, and more all play a role in how we choose the place we call home. Readers are given tips on planning a city and how the climate changes and rising oceans will affect us in the future. Is moving to another planet an option? 

Branching Out: How trees are part of our world
By Joan Marie Galat
ISBN: 9781771470490
Grades 4-6
Galat explains how trees are very important to life on Earth. (Photosynthesis) Not only would there be no air for humans to breathe, but look around your room and notice the items made from wood. Guitars, violins, wooden pencils, not to mention trees provide habitats for birds, howler monkeys and flying squirrels. And what about food? Trees give us apples, cherries, pears, and…chocolate? Eleven chapters features trees from the pau brasil to the Scotch pine, from the camphor laurel to the cork oak – to its integral role to humans to the animal world.

How to Save a Species
Written by Marilyn Baillie, Jonathan Baillie, and Ellen Butcher
ISBN: 9781771470636
Grades 4-6
It is sad to say, but there are many, many species whose numbers are so low they are in danger of becoming extinct. How to Save a Species discusses seventeen of the most threatened species and offers budding scientists a brief, one-page explanation as to where the animal, bird or insect lives, their habitat, and what is the cause of their near extinction. For example, the Red River Giant Softshell Turtles live in the Red River area of Vietnam and China, but due to hunting and pollution there are only four left in the whole world. In every example, the message is often the same: educate local people of the species importance and to stop the encroachment and destruction of their habitat.

It’s Catching: the infectious world of germs and microbes
By Jennifer Gardy, PhD; Illustrated by Josh Holinaty
ISBN: 9781771470018
Grades 4-6

Surrounding us are millions of tiny, microscopic creatures. Scientists call them microbes. All germs are microbes, but not all microbes are germs. Most microbes are friendly; only a very small number can cause diseases. Dr. Grady, who calls herself a disease detective, invites readers to step inside and learn about a range of germs and the diseases they cause. From the common cold to food poisoning to the Ebola virus, It’s Catching offers factual information, without generating fear.

To write these reviews, the publisher sent me paperback copies of each title.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla 
by Katherine Applegate
illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Clarion Books, 2014
Grades K-5

The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.

In an accessible, narrative style, Katherine Applegate shares the story of Ivan the Shopping Mall Gorilla with young readers in this nonfiction picture book. Many readers will be familiar with Ivan's heart wrenching story from the Newbery Medal winning book, The One and Only Ivan by Applegate.

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of a Shopping Mall Gorilla traces the story of how a young gorilla was caught by poachers and taken away from his parents and his home in central Africa. Illustrator G. Brian Karas captures the seriousness of the situation with dark, somber illustrations depicting Ivan and another young gorilla inside a crate as they are shipped to the U.S. Karas uses the vast, empty space on another double-page spread as he shows how alone Ivan was when his gorilla companion died.

Readers will be surprised and saddened as they read about how Ivan spent twenty-seven years of his life in a cage at the mall. The simple text and cartoon-like illustrations make this serious and poignant story accessible to very young readers, and it's sure to elicit a strong response from children who will see the injustices and cruelty Ivan endured.

After Ivan is moved to Zoo Atlanta, the story ends on a positive note. A photograph of Ivan holding a flower is placed on the last page opposite from this text:

"In leafy calm,
in gentle arms,
a gorilla's life began

Readers should take time to explore the back matter that includes a page "About Ivan" and a note from Jodi Carrigan, Ivan's keeper at Zoo Atlanta.

Also reviewed by...
100 Scope Notes
Kid Lit Frenzy
Librarian's Quest

Monday, October 27, 2014

El Deafo by Cece Bell

El Deafo
Written and illustrated by Cece Bell
Amulet Books; an imprint of Abrams. 2014
ISBN: 9781409710209
Grades 3-12
To write this review, I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

Everyone has a superpower. What is yours?

In El Deafo, author-illustrator Cece Bell shares her experience growing up deaf. 
I was a regular little kid. I played with my mom’s stuff. I watched TV with my big brother, Ashley, and big sister, Sarah.
Everything was fine until, at 4 ½, she contracted meningitis. We are not told how long Bell was in the hospital recovering, but when she got better something was different.

She couldn’t hear.  

Bell does a terrific job conveying her frustration at being different, especially when wearing the clunky hearing devices, so different from what children use today. Though she could hear people talking, Bell couldn’t always make out what they were actually saying. Things changed when she gets The Phonic Ear. Paired with a microphone, the Phonic Ear allowed Bell to hear her teacher, Mrs. Lufton. The Phonic Ear, clarifies her voice-really sharpens it! Even when I don’t see Mrs. Lufton’s face, I can understand every word she says without having to lip-read at all. In fact, the Phonic Ear was so powerful Mrs. Lufton could be heard wherever she was in the school building...even the bathroom!  FLUSH!!!!

There are some very funny moments in El Deafo, and heartbreaking, too. Readers will relate to the universal feeling of wanting to fit in and have a best friend. As Bell states in the author’s note, I was a deaf kid surrounded by kids who could hear. I felt different, and in my mind, being different was not a good thing. It is unfortunate that it is only when we are adults can one truly appreciate our uniqueness. Only then can we accept that, being different can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.

This memoir, told in graphic format, is both amusing and very moving. It will appeal to fans of Smile by Raina Telgemeier. El Deafo is a must-read for every one.

Watch the video of Cece Bell talking about El Deafo.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Neighborhood Sharks

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands 
by Katherine Roy
David Macaulay Studio (Roaring Brook Press), 2014
Grades 2-5

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her school library. 

The shark section gets a lot of traffic in my elementary school library. Many young readers are fascinated by the creatures, so I was excited when I heard about Neighborhood Sharks at a Macmillan preview over the summer. Neighborhood Sharks is not your typical, informational book about sharks. The book focuses on great white sharks that live near the Farallon Islands near San Francisco and includes bold illustrations instead of photographs. The text alternates between narrative and expository writing. After introducing readers to a shark stalking its prey, Roy describes the special features that aid sharks in their search for food: teeth, jaws, sense of smell and more. One page explains how the design of a shark's body is ideal for swiftly swimming though the water. The concept is reinforced in a diagram that compares the body of a shark to the design of a jet plane.

Roy's writing style is engaging and the book packed full of important information about great whites. The complex vocabulary, science concepts and illustrations of seals being eaten make this a book for older elementary school readers (grades two and up). Back matter includes an author's note, list of sources, recommended books and sites, and a map.

Visit Katherine Roy's blog for more information about Neighborhood Sharks.

Monday, October 20, 2014


ISBN: 9781847803016
ISBN: 9781847802996
ISBN: 9781847805171
Written and photographed by Suzi Eszterhas
Frances Lincoln Children's Books. 2014
Preschool to Grade 2
I received these titles from the publisher.

After a long night of hunting in the forests of India, a mother tigress carefully returns to her den. She crawls into this secret place where she has hidden treasure - her tiny babies. The babies are called cubs and she is the only one in the whole world who knows they are there.  From Tigers

I was excited to see this new series about wild animals and how they grow in their natural habitat for a younger audience. Each book, in the Eyes on the Wild series, begins with the moment the animals is born and follows it until they are grown, ready to be on their own. The book concludes with a one page list of animal facts where it includes a few brief sentences explaining why the animal is endangered and a website for more information. There is no bibliography.

Eszterhas, a well-known wildlife photographer for National Geographic Kids, Ranger Rick, and Your Big Back Yard, fills the books with beautiful color photos. Each picture, some filling the page, perfectly mirrors what she describes in the text.

These books will be useful for the yearly unit on wild animals for primary grade students in my community.

For a list of other titles in the series, visit the author's website.