Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, May 28, 2012

The U.S. Army by Matt Doeden

The U.S. Army
by Matt Doeden
Pebble Plus: Military Branches series
Capstone Press, 2009
ISBN: 9781429617338
Gr. K-2

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

In honor of Memorial Day, we're featuring a book from the Military Branches series published by Capstone in 2009. We typically review newly published books on our blog, but this series is a huge hit with the K-2 crowd in my library.

Each book in the Military Branches series is designed the same way. A full page color photograph is placed on the right side of the page with text on the left page. Using simple text, the author describes   tasks that soldiers perform. Ample white space and a large font make the text accessible to young readers.

"Army pilots fly helicopters. Pilots use Black Hawk helicopters to carry soldiers and supplies." (p.8)

Male and female soldiers are shown riding in Humvees, repairing engines, and providing medical treatment to children. Back matter includes a glossary, list of books for further reading, and related web sites. Other books in the series include The U.S. Air Force, The U.S. Coast Guard, The U.S. Marine Corps, and The U.S. Navy.

I've found this series fits a niche in our K-2 nonfiction collection. The children in my library often request books about the military, but many books are geared toward older readers or focus on weapons instead of soldiers. The Pebble Plus series provides young readers with a glimpse into military life while providing children an opportunity to practice their reading skills and learn new vocabulary words.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Perimeter, Area, and Volume: A Monster Book of Dimensions

Perimeter, Area, and Volume: A Monster Book of Dimensions
by David A. Adler
illustrated by Edward Miller
Holiday House, 2012
ISBN: 9780823422906
Gr. 2-4

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

David A. Adler and Edward Miller, the creators of Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra, have returned. This time the duo takes on dimensions using characters kids will love...monsters. The setting is a monster movie, and the lovable and goofy monster characters from Monsters in the Neighborhood demonstrate length, width, and depth to young readers. Adler begins with basics and moves to the more complex concept of three-dimensional objects using movie screens, popcorn boxes and monster raincoats as examples. Adults will appreciate the reference to Singing in the Rain as monsters sporting raincoats and umbrellas line the sidewalk outside the theater.

Children will be amused by the humorous illustrations especially the pages showing purple, pink and green monsters adorning 3-D glasses in a movie theater. Teachers may want to read aloud this nonfiction picture book to math classes as a way to introduce or reinforce the concepts of area, perimeter and volume. The book will also be a hit with children looking for an independent read.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Special Forces...Heroic Jobs series

Special Forces (part of the Heroic Jobs series)

written by Ellen Labrecque

Capstone. 2012

ISBN: 9781410943590

Grades 1-4

Reviewer obtained a copy from the publisher.

I am always on the lookout for books that have anything to do with the military, because what books I do have are always checked out. I have notice that children are less discerning when it comes to reading level. They seem drawn to any book, as long as it has lots of color photos. Recently, I scoured publisher catalogs looking for titles to fit my need when I saw Special Forces, part of the Heroic Jobs series published by Capstone.

The book is loaded with lots of color photos showing the Special Forces in all kinds of dangerous situations. The book highlights the essential skills required by the rescuers. This arm of the military must be fluent in several languages, be brave, willing to risk their lives. “Special forces are called “special” because they are!...Soldiers can’t just sign up to become special operatives. They are chosen because of their special talents.”

The large font makes for easy reading for the series intended audience, grades 1-2. The writing is simple sentences which never go into any detail. "A helicopter flies through the air. A pilot, copilot, and two special force operatives are inside. The helicopter door slides open and the operatives slide down a cable and land safely on the ground. The special force operation begins!" The pictures are well captioned. Most photos reflect what is being discussed within the text on that page, though the entry about spying does not. We read, “The spies dress, act, and speak as much like the local people as possible”, yet the picture shows a solider hidden in the tall grass or repelling off a very tall building.

This book is a high interest title. It will fill a need in that subject area. A glossary, books and websites for more information, and index are included.Other titles in the series include: Disaster Relief, Fighting Crime, Fighting Fires, Mountain Rescue, and Rescue at Sea. The only downside for this 32-page tome is the cost: $21.99. Still, it does come with an excellent binding, making it last through the multiple checkouts.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

It has been a great year for us!

On April 24, 2011 Cathy and I posted our first review on this blog. It was a very momentous occasion for us. When we decided to create our blog, we both wanted other's to see it as a valued and reliable resource. We were consistent in our postings, at least two a week, and used social media to get the word out. That June both of us attended the annual American Library Association Conference where we introduced ourselves to every publisher of nonfiction, told them our mission while handing out our business card, all the while keeping our fingers crossed that they would send us review copies. They did!

That initial kernel of an idea was a good one. Our audience has been primarily librarians, both working in school and public libraries, but also teachers and parents. Now, a year later, we are pleased with the positive response we receive weekly from our faithful readers. Publishers have been very supportive sending us books, and authors and illustrators have begun asking us if we would be interested in reviewing their new books.

We have learned a lot over the past year. Finding our voice has been one of our biggest challenges. We've had to learn how to balance the review with just enough personal anecdotes to keep the entry interesting. Even though we promote books to children and parents all day long, putting that enthusiasm in writing, for me at least, has been a challenge.

On Sunday, May 20, Cathy and I were asked to talk about our blog at the Maine Library Association's Libraries United Conference held in Orono. We shared our story with an attentive audience who also asked some great questions. We received a positive response from those attending the conference, and we're looking forward to continuing our search for quality nonfiction books for children.

Happy Reading!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Alien Invasion by Kelly Milner Halls

Alien Investigations: searching for the truth about UFO’s and aliens
By Kelly Milner Halls
Millbrook Press. 2012
ISBN: 9789761362043
Grades 5 and up
This reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.

Do you believe that aliens, extraterrestrials, have visited Earth? I would not rule out the possibility. Neither would Kelly Milner Halls, author of Alien Investigation: Searching for the Truth about UFO’s and Aliens. Halls suggests there is a strong possibility based on first-hand accounts by individuals who swear they saw something in the night sky.

Halls divides the book into four chapters: The Spacecraft, Crashes and Landings, The Aliens, and Hoaxes and Misunderstandings. I found it fascinating just how many UFO sightings there have been since the first one was recorded in 1947. Though most are from the United States, again, I was surprised to learn that there have also been sightings all around the world.

The book’s design will appeal to avid UFO fans, as it uses a combination of drawings, computer generated art, as well as historic black & white and color photographs to show the variety of unexplainable shapes seen by eyewitnesses. Interspersed throughout are interviews with people who have witnessed a UFO sighting, a person who studies the likelihood of life on other planets, and Michael Schratt who, in his spare time is an expert on something called black programs. “Those are top secret projects world governments prefer to keep top secret.”

The book is a combination of fact and a bit of fiction. For example, at the beginning of each chapter, readers are asked to imagine “a team of bold alien explorers as they prepare to leave their home planet” to investigate a distant blue planet. In this made-up scenario, the travelers reach Earth and, instead of being captured by our military, they meet a young earthling “who shares everything in his pockets.” After the positive exchange, the aliens head back to their home planet pleased with their encounter and hopeful for another visit.

Pair this with Gloria Skurzynski’s 2004 title, Are We Alone? : Scientists
Search for Life in Space and Looking for Life in the Universe by Ellen Jackson, a 2002 Scientist in the Field entry.

Have you ever seen a UFO?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Black Hole is Not a Hole

A Black Hole is Not a Hole
by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano
illustrated by Michael Carroll
Charlesbridge, 2012
ISBN: 9781570917837
Gr. 3-6

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

A fifth grade teacher recently brought her class to the library to work on a research project. Students chose their own topics for research, and one boy decided to research black holes. Luckily I had recently purchased a copy of A Black Hole is Not a Hole. This is an amazing book for a number of reasons. The author explains a complex topic in an accessible manner for children. DeCristofano uses humor and a conversational style to describe black holes and to explain how they form. 

"A black hole's pull us the strongest pull in the entire universe. Nothing can out-tug a black hole. No army of tow trucks, no convoy of supersized earth haulers, no fleet of giant rocket engines. Not all of them combined." (p. 5)

The design of the book works well. Each chapter builds on the concept introduced in the previous chapter, and colorful illustrations and diagrams will help young readers understand new concepts. Carroll, an experienced space artist who has created works for NASA, used Adobe Photoshop and acrylics to illustrate stars in various states. Several telescope images are also placed in several places in the book.

Kids will love the illustration that shows what would happen if a child entered a "perfectly symmetrical, smallish, non-spinning black hole." A digitally enhanced photo shows a boy being stretched out as he's suck toward the center of the black hole. A speech bubble on the side of the page says, "That's a stretch."

My favorite part of the book is the author's note in which DeCristofano explains to readers why it's important for authors to list their sources. The heading on the page is "How Do You Know I Know?"

"Whenever you read nonfiction, it's a good idea to check and see what the author has to say about how he or she found out about the topic. It helps you figure out how reliable the information is." (p. 70)

DeCristofano goes on to share the process she used when researching the book. She cautions readers to be careful about the websites and to be sure the information is trustworthy. That's music to this librarian's ear. In addition to the author's note, readers will find a timeline, a glossary with photos, lists of print and online sources, and an index.

Some students in a Kindergarten class have expressed an interest in learning about black holes this year. I'm going to pass this book on to their teacher. Even though many of the concepts will be advanced for Kindergarten, many parts will answer the students' questions in a manner they will understand. Libraries looking for  nonfiction texts to meet the Common Core State Standards should add this to their collections. I hope the author and illustrator have more in the works.

Ms. Yingling Reads is hosting Nonfiction Monday today:

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins

The Beetle Book 
by Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin, 2012
ISBN: 9780547680842
Gr. 2-5

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

He's done it again. Steve Jenkins has created another amazing book that will capture the attention of young readers, and this one will make some readers say, "eeww." This time Jenkins focuses his attention on beetles; he points out that out of all living plants and animals on earth, "one in every four will be a beetle."

Using his signature cut-paper collage, Jenkins illustrates beetles of different sizes, shapes and species. Readers will want to linger on the double-page spread that shows a line-up of twelve different kinds of beetles. The red and blue body of the flat-faced longhorn beetle stands out against the white page as its long black antennae curve all the way down the length of its body. The antennae of the cedar beetle resemble the needles of a tree.

Each illustration is accompanied by a detailed caption containing interesting facts about the species. Readers will learn that the yellow spikes growing on the body of the African jewel beetle are actually tufts of hair to scare off predators. The mole beetle uses its legs to dig dirt like a mole. The mottled tortoise beetle protects itself by hiding its head and legs under its body. A number of illustrations are much larger than the actual insects; Jenkins uses silhouettes of the beetles to show their actual size. I can envision groups of children in my library huddled around the book "oohing" and "ahhing" over the intricate illustrations and fascinating scientific information.

An index listing the types of beetles shown on each page will be of interest to budding entomologists. The book is lacking a list of sources or related books for readers who want more on the topic.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Giant Squid by Mary M. Cerullo and Clyde F. E. Roper

Giant Squids: searching for a sea monster

By Mary M. Cerullo and Clyde F. E. Roper

Capstone Press: 2012

ISBN: 9781429675413

Reading level: Grades 2-4; Interest level: all ages

The publisher sent this reviewer a copy of this book.

Giant Squids! They are right up there with Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Yeti as being mysterious, yet so very popular. Children read about them year after year wondering if they really exist. Adults spend their whole lives looking for them. What is so darn attractive about them? Words I overhear children saying as they discuss these creatures include elusive, mystifying, scary, and “way cool”. I also hear the word MORE, as in “give us more books about these awesome creatures.”

Now, we can satisfy their curiosity with Giant Squid: searching for a sea monster by two very qualified writers: science interpreter Mary M. Cerullo and ocean scientist and squid hunter Clyde F. E. Roper.

Named kraken by long ago sailors and storytellers, the giant squid has been talked about for centuries. The writer Jules Verne, after reading a newspaper account in 1874, included the “creature of colossal size” in his book, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, where it attacked Captain Nemo and the crew of the Nautilus.

Ceruillo starts the book with historic reports from sailors and fishermen who claim to have had run-ins with a spiderlike creature as big as an island.” She keeps the tension throughout as decade-by-decade brave souls attempt to find out the truth: Is there really a Giant Squid!

What was most appealing, was following the work of Clyde F. E. Roper, now retired from the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. From a young boy with an interest in snails to an adult where he decided to “dedicate himself to studying this secretive squid that scientists knew so little about.”

The writing is engaging and perfect for reluctant readers. Cerullo keeps the excitement building throughout until finally, in 2007, Japanese scientist, Tsunemi Kubodera, PhD. caught a giant squid off the coast of Japan.

In addition to the text the book is packed with historic engravings, drawings, and color photographs. Readers will appreciate the glossary, suggestions for further reading, a note from the authors, and the index.

A fine example of science books for children.