Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Saturday, January 24, 2015

My Librarian is a Camel by Margriet Ruurs

My Librarian is a Camel: how books are brought to children around the world
By Margriet Ruurs

Boyds Mills Press. 2015
ISBN: 9781590780930
Grades K-12
I went into my local public library and borrowed a copy of this book.

In My Librarian is a Camel, author Margriet Ruurs contacted librarians around the world and asked them to share their stories about their efforts to connect books with people. Whether it is at a refugee camp or a street corner, these mobile libraries are often the only way books can be transported. 

When we think of a library, we picture a building on a street or perhaps a room in a school. Some move from place to place in the most remarkable of ways: by bus, by boat, by elephant, by donkey, by train, even by wheelbarrow.

From Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, we learn just how inventive librarians will go to be sure everyone has books. In England, the Blackpool Beach Library brings books to folks who are enjoying their summer holidays at the beach using a wheelbarrow. One librarian states, “Libraries are services, not buildings.” These librarians are passionate and believe that, as one librarian states, “the mobile library is as important as air or water.”

Organized alphabetically by country, each two-page spread gives a brief explanation on how books are transported and includes color photos taken by the librarians in that country showing children laughing and enjoying books! In addition, an insert with map displays where the country is located, its flag, name of the capital, estimated population and country facts.

My Librarian is a Camel is a wonderful book to share with students studying other cultures. Pair it with Material World by Peter Menzel.

Watch the book trailer.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Emmanuel's Dream- Blog Tour and Giveaway

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah 
by Laurie Ann Thompson
illustrated by Sean Qualls
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015
Grades K-4

We received copies of the book from the publisher.

Today we are pleased to take part in the Emmanuel's Dream blog tour and book giveaway!

Laurie Ann Thompson introduces readers to Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah's inspirational story in this picture book biography. Emmanuel grew up in Ghana and was born with only "one strong leg." Through the encouragement of his loving mother, Emmanuel learned to walk on crutches, ride a bike, and attended school. When his mother fell ill, thirteen year-old Emmanuel traveled to the city of Accra where he worked at a food stand and shined shoes to help support his family. Determined to prove to his country that he could accomplish great things, Emmanuel rode a bicycle 400 miles across Ghana.

"He proved that one leg is enough to do great things- and one person is enough to change the world."

CATHY'S THOUGHTS: Emmanuel is an amazing individual and role model for children and adults. I can't believe I hadn't heard his story before. Emmanuel's Dream is a book that teachers and parents will want to read and discuss with children. The narrative writing is accessible to young readers who want to read it independently, too. Sean Qualls' bold illustrations in orange and blue hues will appeal to kids. 

Don't miss the author's note at the end of the book where Thompson provides more information about how she learned about Emmanuel and about his scholarship fund for children with disabilities. Emmanuel has also worked with leaders in Ghana to pass laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities. I would pair Emmanuel's Dream with The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and focus on the themes of determination and overcoming obstacles.

LOUISE’S THOUGHTS: I love everything about this book. From the artwork to the text, Emmanuel’s Dream is truly a must read for everyone. Quall’s mixed media illustrations capture Emmanuel’s strength and determination. They pair perfectly with Thompson’s rich language that packs in lots of information about the incredible obstacles Emmanuel overcame. Not just physical obstacles, but attitudes regarding people with disabilities as well.  

“Most kids with disabilities couldn’t go to school. Still, Emmanuel’s mother carried him there, until one day she said, “You are too heavy. From then on Emmanuel hopped to school and back, two miles each way, on one leg, by himself.”

Emmanuel’s dream of cycling around Ghana to change the perception of those with disabilities is such an important message for children to hear. It took Emmanuel ten days to ride four hundred miles. At the end of his journey, Emmanuel became a national hero.

To see Emmanuel talk about his journey, watch this video produced by
Laurie Ann Thompson is the author of Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters, a how-to guide for teens who want to change the world. An advocate for social justice,  Laurie is dedicated to inspiring and empowering young readers. Emmanuel's Dream is her picture book debut. Visit her at
Be sure to visit the other stops on the blog tour.
Mon., Jan 12: Great Kid Books
Tues., Jan 13: 5 Minutes for Books
Wed., Jan 14: Unleashing Readers
Thu., Jan 15: Sharpread
Fri, Jan 16: Cracking the Cover
Sat, Jan 17: Booking Mama
Mon, Jan 19: Once Upon a Story
Tues, Jan 20: Proseandkahn
Wed, Jan 21: Geo Librarian
Fri, Jan 23: The Fourth Musketeer
Mon, Jan 26: NC Teacher Stuff
Tues, Jan 27: Teach Mentor Texts

One lucky winner will receive a copy of EMMANUEL’S DREAM: THE TRUE STORY OF EMMANUEL OFOSU YEBOAH by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls.
(U.S. addresses only)

Giveaway Rules
Complete the form below to enter the giveaway.
One entry per person
You must be 13 years old or older to enter.
Entries will be accepted until Sunday January 25th at 11:59 p.m.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Chernobyl's Wild Kingdom by Rebecca L. Johnson

Chernobyl’s Wild Kingdom: life in the Dead Zone
By Rebecca L. Johnson
Twenty-First Century Books. 2015
ISBN: 9781467711548
Grades 5-12
To review this book, I borrowed a copy from my local public library.

On April 26, 1986, Reactor Number 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded sending extremely high levels of ionizing radiation into the atmosphere that would cover the area. Liquidators worked to clean up the mess. In the countryside around the power plant, the top inches of radioactive soil, placed in steel drums were then buried deep in the ground. When as much as could be done cleaning up, an 18.6 miles radius (30 km) was set around the power plant and fenced off. This would be known as the Exclusion Zone.

Most people, including many scientists, assumed that Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone would become a barren wasteland –an empty, lifeless landscape like something from a science fiction story about the end of the world. But that’s not what happened. To almost everyone’s surprise, life in the Zone wasn’t extinguished at all.

Similar in scope and quality to the Scientists in the Field series, yet written for a younger audience, science writer, Rebecca Johnson, follows the work of four scientists who have been studying the various life forms that inhabit the Exclusion Zone, also known as the Dead Zone for the past twenty-five years. Whereas mammals seem to have little mutations to their DNA from the radiation, Barn swallows(birds) and insects seem to be more affected. Why that is has yet to be determined.

The information these scientists discovered would be invaluable to Japan when, in March of 2011 there was another nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

Learning how radiation affects plants and animals is crucial, because however it affects them is also how it will affect us.

In 2013, around the globe there are 423 electricity-generating nuclear reactors in operation, according to the World Nuclear Association, with the United States having the most.  

The more we know, the better prepared we will be before the next accident—which may happen sooner than we think.

Color photographs are placed throughout, as are sidebars that offer more details on topics mentioned in the text. Back matter includes an author’s note, glossary, source notes and selected bibliography and a table of contents and index.

An excellent addition to nonfiction collections.

Watch a short film with biologist Timothy Mousseau on the animals of Chernobyl by the New York Times.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Winnie: the true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker

Winnie: the true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh

By Sally M. Walker; Illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss
Henry Holt. 2015
ISBN: 9780805097153
Grades K-5
To write this review I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

Children the world over have been loving the adventures of A. A. Milne’s beloved bear Winnie-the-Pooh since it was published in 1926. Sally Walker tells the story of the real bear who inspired Milne’s classic tale in this informational picture book.

It all began in Canada. Harry Coleburn, a young lieutenant in the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, looked out of the train window, he couldn’t believe what he saw: a bear at the station! It was a cub and Harry bought it for $20. Harry named the bear Winnipeg, after our company’s hometown. By the time Harry and the trainload of soldiers reached their military training camp in Quebec, Winnipeg had been shortened to Winnie.

Jonathan Voss’ watercolor illustrations, rendered with pen and ink on Arches Hot Press Watercolor Board support the text of this remarkable bear as he goes from Canada to England. Under Harry’s care Winnie thrived and was so gentle that he became a playmate of the other soldiers. When Harry’s regiment was sent to France, Harry made a difficult decision to place Winnie at the London Zoo. It was during a visit to the London Zoo that A. A. Milne's son, Christopher Robin met Winnie...and the rest is history.

The writing is simple and accessible. Walker includes an author’s note, sources and websites.

Share Winnie, the true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh with students in all grades. They will enjoy learning all about this remarkable bear and the veterinary who raised him.

Go here and at about two minutes and forty seconds you will see Winnie.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Animal Teachers

Animal Teachers 
by Janet Halfmann
illustrated by Katy Hudson
Blue Apple, 2014
ISBN: 9781609053918
Grades PreS-2

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

Janet Halfmann shares interesting facts about how animals learn from their parents in her latest nonfiction picture book.

Children will enjoy learning how otters teach their young to swim, mother kangaroos teach joeys to kick for defense, and prairie dog pups learn to shout by copying adults.

The accessible text combines narrative and expository styles and incorporates questions that will engage young readers.

"Prairie dog pups live in big groups called towns. They have to know how to be heard among a crowd. So prairie dog parents give them shouting lessons. Chee-chee! Yip-yip! Wee-oo! Wee-oo! Wee-oo!

Readers are asked:
"Do you yip? Can you bark? Or shout? Or yelp? How do you make yourself heard?

Hudson uses a realistic style in the watercolor, ink and digital illustrations to depict animals in their habitats. A mother chimpanzee teaches her baby chimp to crack a nut, and penguins give singing lessons to their young. The interesting topic, engaging writing style and gorgeous illustrations make Animal Teachers an ideal read aloud for young children at home, school or in the library.
Pair Animal Teachers with My First Day by Steve Jenkins or Born in the Wild by Lita Judge.

Visit Katy Hudson's blog to learn how she created the illustrations for the book.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Earmuffs for Everyone by Meghan McCarthy

Earmuffs for Everyone: how Chester Greenwood became known as the inventor of earmuffs
Written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy
A Paula Wiseman Book: Simon & Schuster. 2014
ISBN: 9781481406376
All ages
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

In Earmuffs for Everyone, the clever and talented Meghan McCarthy offers readers an explanation as to how Chester Greenwood (from Maine) was credited with inventing earmuffs.

The word “muff” has been around since the Middle Ages. Starting in the 1700s, people wore muffs on their hands to keep them warm. It wasn’t until 1858 when William Ware invented a type of muff that was named for different body parts “ear, cheek, and chin muffs.” Over the years other people improved on the design.

Then along came Chester Greenwood. Born in 1858, rumor has it that Greenwood had large ears that were sensitive to the cold. After testing various versions of muffs to keep his ears warm, Greenwood got a patent from the US government for a new improved design at age nineteen.

By 1939, two years after Greenwood’s death, only he was remembered as the inventor of earmuffs.

McCarthy’s wit is evident in her writing and comic illustrations in this informational picture book. Back matter includes a note about the book, explanation on patents, and bibliography.

Highly recommended when studying inventions and/or creativity.

Learn more about Meghan McCarthy at PW. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 CYBILS Finalists

The finalists for the 2014 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards were announced on the CYBILS website yesterday.  Here's the link in case you missed the announcement: 

The CYBILS honor both kid appeal and literary merit, so the books and apps that make it to the final round are wonderful additions to home, school and public libraries. 

This year Louise is serving as a round 2 judge in the Young Adult Nonfiction category, and Cathy is the chair of the Book Apps category.  

Here are the nonfiction CYBILS finalists for 2014.

The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats

Alice + Freda Forever

Be a Changemaker

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

The Family Romanov

The Freedom Summer Murders

The Port Chicago 50

Several books we reviewed in 2014 made it to the finals in the Poetry and Graphic Novel categories:

The winners of the 2014 CYBILS will be announced on February 14th. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Nonfiction Detectives' Year in Review

2014: A Year in Review
by Cathy and Louise

Today is the last day of 2014, so we thought it would be fun to look back over the past twelve months and highlight some events and posts from the year.

Nonfiction Writing Styles

Summer Reading
One of our most popular posts was the summer reading list we published in May.

Common Core IRL

We wrote posts for two installments of Common Core IRL: In Real Life with Mary Ann Sheuer from Great Kid Books, Alyson Beecher from Kid Lit Frenzy and Amy Koester from The Show Me Librarian blog.

2014 Blog Tours
We took participated in several blog tours:

Schneider Family Book Award 10th Anniversary Blog Tour

We also celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the Schneider Family Book Award by reviewing two past winners as part of a blog tour organized by Alyson Beecher.

Blog Award

ALA Annual Conference

In June we both traveled to the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas where we took part in a panel presentation on Common Core State Standards and nonfiction texts along with Mary Ann Sheuer and Alyson Beecher.

Best Nonfiction Books of 2014

Over the past year we reviewed 78 nonfiction books for children and teens. Here is our list of the Best Nonfiction of 2014.

Thanks for a great year! We're looking forward to more blogging adventures in 2015.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel 
by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
illustrated by Gilbert Ford
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
ISBN: 9790547959221
Grades K-5

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

In 1893 Chicago hosted the World's Fair. How could Chicago make a lasting impression on the world after Paris revealed the Eiffel Tower at the previous World's Fair? A contest was held, and George Ferris Jr. from Pittsburgh submitted his idea for an 834 foot circle made of steel alloy with passenger cars attached. Each car was "the size of a living room, with enormous picture windows and forty velvet seats."

Children will be amazed by the story behind the Ferris Wheel. At the time, people thought it was a crazy design, architects predicted it would collapse, and the World's Fair wouldn't give Ferris the money for building material. Yet on June 21, 1893 the Ferris Wheel opened. It was covered by 3,000 light bulbs and gave passengers a ride 265 feet into the sky for a glimpse of the city of Chicago and Lake Michigan.

Davis structures the text of this nonfiction picture book in two ways. There is a narrative main text, which tells the story of how Ferris came to design and build the wheel. On the right side of the pages are quotes and expository paragraphs containing interesting facts. "During the nineteen weeks the wheel was in operation, 1.5 million passengers rode it."

Ford's deep blue and purple illustrations are rendered in ink, watercolor and digital mixed media using Adobe Illustrator. By using both watercolor and digital media, the illustrations have depth, and the foreground stands out from the background on many pages. Davis' research is evident on the last page which contains quote sources and a bibliography. Mr. Ferris and His Wheel would make an interesting nonfiction read aloud for elementary children. The story is the perfect blend of STEM and history that will inspire readers to dream big!

Read about the process of creating the artwork for the book on Gilbert Ford's blog.

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