Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Boston Tea Party by Russell Freedman

The Boston Tea Party

by Russell Freedman: Illustrated by Peter Malone

Holiday House. 2012

ISBN: 9780823422661

Grades 3 and up

The publisher sent me a copy of this book.

Russell Freedman, with his keen ability for making nonfiction topics interesting and fun to read about, has turned his trusty pen to introduce young audiences to details about what we now refer to as The Boston Tea Party. In 32 pages, Freedman's well-executed narrative takes those few lines we’ve been reading in history books for decades, “On the night of December 16, 1773, a band of colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians boarded three merchant ships that had arrived from Britain and anchored in Boston Harbor. Working quickly and silently, they hoisted thousands of pounds of tea up from the ships’ holds and dumped the tea into the sea.” and flushes it out, giving us the details that conveys how truly rebellious this act was, the act that started America’s war for independence.


Freedman presents the information chronologically, giving readers the understanding of how slowly things progressed back in the 1770’s, long before instant messaging and cell phones. On November 28, 1773, the merchant ship Dartmouth sailed into Boston Harbor, with a cargo of 114 chests of fine blended tea. A town meeting was called and it was agreed that any attempt to unload the tea would be blocked. Everyone had to wait twenty days. “Under the law, a ship had twenty days after reaching port to unload its cargo and pay any taxes, or to sail away. Once twenty days had passed, the ship’s cargo had to be taxed.” Friday, December 17 was the end of the 20 days.

Mirroring the text perfectly are the illustrations painted by British artist Peter Malone. Done in watercolor on Saunders Waterford, hot pressed paper, these historically accurate paintings do reflect the high emotions that were raging during this time. We see anger, shock, and some mischievous smiles all captured on the faces in the crowds or of those standing off to the side, quietly observing what is happening.

The dumping of the tea was a highly organized and very respectful act, done without violence. A large crowd, over a thousand, stood on Griffin’s Warf, where the ship was docked, and silently watched as those disguised as Mohawk Indians boarded. Alexander Hodgdon, a mate on the Dartmouth, explains, “They came on board the ship, and, after warning myself and the custom-house officers to get out of the way, they [opened] the hatches and went down into the hold” where the tea was stored.” I loved knowing that because it was low-tide, the tea, once thrown overboard, “began to pile up like stacks of hay.” Malone’s illustrations show the apprentices who jumped overboard wading “through the chilly December water, using shovels to scatter the tea more widely."

Of course, we know that a year and four months later, on April 19, 1775 the opening shots of the Revolutionary War rang out. The rest, as they say, is history. Included is a historic map of the Town of Boston, an afterward, timeline, source notes, and index.

The Boston Tea Party is an excellent book that would enhance any school and public library collection. Make up a display of other American history books written by Russell Freedman:Give me Liberty! the story of the Declaration of Independence, Lafayette and the American Revolution, and Washington at Valley Forge, or with some historical fiction titles: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson, and George Washington’s Socks by Elvira Woodruff.

To learn more about The Boston Tea Party visit web sites of the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. or the Boston Tea Party Historical Society.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bird Talk

Bird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and Why
by Lita Judge
Roaring Brook Press, 2012
ISBN: 9781596436466
Grades 1-4

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

 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge
 We've partnered with Allyson at Kid Lit Frenzy to encourage readers to read more nonfiction picture books this year, and here's a book to add to your list.

Birds are a popular topic in my school library. Children check out many bird books in both the 500s (science) and in the 600s (pets). Lita Judge's recent nonfiction picture book, Bird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and Why, is going to be a hit with the readers in my library. Bird Talk isn't your typical bird book. Instead of photographs, the book is brimming with colorful watercolor and pencil illustrations of dozens of species of birds including the Rhinoceros Hornbill, Blue-Footed Booby and Scarlet Macaw.

The book examines how and why bird communication. Readers will learn how birds use calls and physical features to attract mates. Children will giggle at the illustration of the Sage Grouse with its chest puffed out as he tries to gain the attention of a female grouse. Birds also communicate to help their young stay safe and to warn of danger.

When a fox stalks near the nest of a North American Killdeer, Mama screams and flaps a wing awkwardly. Her broken-wing trick says, "Follow me, I'm injured, I'm a better meal." She stays just out of reach, luring the fox away from her eggs.

The design of the book is perfect for young readers. There is ample white space, and the text is chunked so newly independent readers will not be overwhelmed. It also is the perfect length for a read aloud in a library or classroom setting. An illustrated list of birds featured in the book is located in the back; each entry includes the habitat, range, and interesting facts.

This is not a book for students who are researching birds and need in-depth information about a particular species. It's a book that could serve as a springboard for readers who enjoy learning about science and nature. Pair this book with Thunder Birds: Nature's Flying Predators by Jim Arnosky.

Other reviews of Bird Talk

Fuse #8 Production:

Kid Lit Frenzy:

100 Scope Notes:

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Butterfly's Life

A Butterfly's Life
Animal Diaries: Life Cycles series
by Ellen Lawrence
Bearport Publishing, 2012
Grades PreK-3

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

As the first day of school nears, it won't be long before I see a child walking through the hallway holding a glass jar with a lid. Other students will crowd around the jar to view its contents: a chrysalis. Kindergarten classes at my school (and across the country) study the life cycle of the butterfly in the fall. The classes watch in amazement as caterpillars transform into butterflies over the course of a few weeks. It's an ideal science unit that helps students develop observation skills and gets them excited about nature.

Bearport Publishing has released a new series, Animal Diaries: Life Cycles, that is perfect for teaching young readers about the stages of life of various creatures including butterflies, frogs, snakes, spiders, and kangaroos. A Butterfly's Life is written in the form of a child's science journal, and this book succeeds on many levels. It's an excellent model of science writing for students learning to make observations, it will satisfy the curiosity of K-3 nature lovers, and it can be read aloud to primary classes as part of a science unit.

A young boy named Sam writes down his observations in a science notebook. Each entry begins with the date. In July, Sam observes Monarch butterflies in his yard. In the next entry, Sam spots butterfly eggs attached to leaves near his home. Ten days later Sam sees caterpillars. The book follows the entire life cycle of the butterfly. The text is printed on a graphic of a wire-bound notebook. The font is large, and the margins and spacing are helpful for beginning readers. Bold print highlights new vocabulary words such as mate, chrysalis, and proboscis. The definitions to new words can be found in a visual glossary in the back of the book.

Each two-page spread includes a journal entry on the left side of the page with close-up and colorful photographs on the right. An impressive series of five photographs shows a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis case. In another photograph hundreds of monarch butterflies soar through the sky. Inquisitive readers will enjoy reading the related facts printed on brightly colored flowers on the sides of the pages. Back matter includes a clearly labeled map showing butterfly migration patterns, instructions for growing flowers, a visual glossary, and an index.

If you're looking for a quality nonfiction book to introduce primary students to the life cycle of butterflies, this is the book you should purchase. For a fun fiction pairing, read Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly by Alan Madison and Kevin Hawkes.

Visit this site to look inside the book:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Out on the Prairie by Donna M. Bateman

Out on the Prairie

by Donna M. Bateman; illustrations by Susan Swan

Charlesbridge. 2012

ISBN: 9781580893770

Preschool and up

I checked this book out of my local public library.

Donna M. Bateman’s first book, Deep in the Swamp, highlighted the flora and fauna of Florida’s Okefenokee Swamp using the traditional counting rhyme, 'Over in the Meadow'. In this, her second book, she again takes the familiar rhyme and places it in the Badlands of South Dakota. “Out on the prairie where the snakeroot greets the sun/Lived a shaggy mother bison and her little calf One/”Wallow!” said the mother. “I wallow,” said the One./So they wallowed in the dust where the snakeroot greets the sun.” We read about bison by the snakeroot, pronghorn deer in the wheatgrass, meadowlarks, prairie dogs, grasshopper nymphs hopping in the grama grasses, sharp-tailed grouse where the grass and flowers mix, howdy owls where the yucca grows, rattlesnakes chasing lizards by the primrose blooms, coyote whining where the silver stars shine, and “Great Plains toads jumping through the clover where the moon glows once again.” Back pages includes brief facts about each animal and plant mentioned in the book.

The real appeal of Out on the Prairie are the illustrations by Susan Swan. Lots of color and so realistic that readers will almost feel the breeze, hear the chirping of the grasshoppers, and smell the earthy smells of the prairie. Each drawing was created by manipulating found objects, hand-painted papers, and scans of objects and textures in Adobe Photoshop to create new patters, adding digital paintings, and then collaging the two together.

This is a great book for story time, units on ecosystems, John Muir, Rachel Carson, and Earth Day. Display it with fiction titles such as Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Incident at Hawk's Hill by Allan W. Eckert, and the excellent nonfiction book, The Prairie Builders written by Sneed B. Collard, a title in the Scientists in the Field series.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Nonfiction Monday

It's our pleasure to host Nonfiction Monday this week! 
Add your nonfiction reviews to Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post. 
Be sure to check back throughout the day to read all of the nonfiction reviews.
Just Write: Here's How!
by Walter Dean Myers
Collins: an imprint of HarperCollins. 2012
ISBN: 9780062203892
Grades 7 and up 
I checked this book out of my local public library.

Okay. Here’s a loaded question: Who hasn’t entertained the possibility of writing a book? Seriously, haven’t you daydreamed that once written and published, your book will be well-reviewed in Kirkus or The Horn Book Magazine, and might even be a Newbery winner or honor book. Come on. Be honest. If you’re like me, you might have a file drawer full of ideas that might have a beginning, but never a middle or an end. You say to yourself, “How does an author get from an idea to a completed story?” I got my answer after reading Just Write: Here’s How by Walter Dean Myers. It’s all about the process and hard work, and who better to take us through that process than the current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Ladies and gentleman, a round of applause for Mr. Walter Dean Myers. 

Just Write: Here’s How! is a candidly written handbook that takes hopeful authors through the different stages of writing a story. “Some authors pretend that writing is easy. Maybe it's fun for them to imagine they are very special, enlightened beings who sit still and wait quietly for inspiration.” Yet Myers explains, “For me and for the young people I have written with and mentored, it is work.” 

The book is set up like your own personal writing course. Each of the twenty-one chapters being the next step in moving forward with your idea. “The structure is simply a question or problem, a logical road leading to an answer to that question or problem, and the answer or conclusion itself.”  Simply put, a beginning, a middle, and an end.  We learn about the need for an outline, revisions, and detailed notes on each of your book’s characters, and that daydreaming is another equally important facet in writing. For each example, Myers references his own books and includes reproductions of his handwritten notes which were helpful, except I found his cursive handwriting difficult to decipher. 

Walter Dean Myers has written many (over 100) books that children devour. Fallen Angels, his story that takes place during 1967 and the Vietnam War is one that I frequently replace because it wears out after repeated readings. When he is not writing, Myers gives generously of his time hoping to make a positive difference in the lives of young people. He visits correctional facilities, jails, and schools. Visit his web site to learn more about him.

So, the next time someone comes up to me, regardless of their age, and says they have an idea for a story, I will recommend they read Just Write: Here’s How! by Walter Dean Myers before they record that first sentence. Just Write: Here’s How! can be used as a textbook for high school writing classes or for creative writing workshops in public libraries. This book definitely belongs in every writer’s bookcase along with On Writing: a memoir of the craft by Stephen King. 

Add your Nonfiction Monday review here.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Puffling Patrol

Puffling Patrol    
by Ted and Betsy Lewin
Lee & Low Books, 2012
ISBN: 9781600604249
Grades K-5

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

We are pleased to be part of Lee & Low's Puffling Hunt Blog Tour. Don't worry; we're not actually hunting pufflings. It's a scavenger hunt. Readers should be on the lookout for illustrations of pufflings on a number of kidlit blogs this summer. Lee & Low's blog will have all the details coming soon:

Last month my family spent ten days sailing the Maine coast. One of our highlights was sailing past Eastern Egg Rock. It's a small, rocky island that serves as the summer home and nesting ground to Arctic Terns, Atlantic Puffins and a variety of other seabirds. We had our binoculars in hand as we sailed close to the island hoping to see puffins on the rocky shore. We carefully scanned the island and were disappointed there were no puffins to be seen. Then my son spotted four tiny black birds with orange beaks swimming off the port side of our boat: puffins! It was our first (and only) puffin sighting. My husband, son and I cheered and gave each other high fives. You can imagine my delight when I returned from my sailing adventure to find a copy of Puffling Patrol in my mailbox.

Husband and wife team, Ted and Betsy Lewin, have taken research to the extreme in their nonfiction picture book, Puffling Patrol. The Lewins didn't just read books and articles about puffins to gather information for the book, they traveled to Iceland to help residents of Heimaey save pufflings (baby puffins) that had lost their way.

The black and white seabirds can be found in a handful of places including Maine, parts of Canada, Greenland and Iceland.  Puffins spend the summer nesting on volcanic islands off the coast of Iceland.  By the end of summer, the pufflings are ready to fly on their own as their parents head north for the winter. Some of the young puffins become confused by the lights from the town of Heimaey, and the birds fly into town instead of out to sea. Townspeople have formed a group, the Puffling Patrol, to rescue the birds and return them to the ocean.

The Lewins describe the work of the Puffling Patrol in a first-person narrative that will engage young readers. The authors spent time with researchers before visiting the home of children, Dani and Erna, who stay up late to look for pufflings who have lost their way. Authentic dialogue is interspersed in the narrative. Watercolor illustrations have a realistic style, like a photograph at times. In one illustration, a lost puffling looks directly at readers, the light from a flashlight shines on the bird contrasts against the black background. A two-page spread illustrates the children carrying boxes of pufflings to the sea while a the black volcanic shoreline borders the green hillside. Smaller pen, ink and watercolor illustrations depict the children at the Natural History Museum as their rescued puffling is weighed and measured.

Back matter includes a glossary of terms with pronunciation guide, list of recommended books, and information about the Heimaey volcano of 1973.  Puffling Patrol would make a superb read aloud in an elementary classroom or library setting. The book will also appeal to children who enjoy learning about animals and nature; and it demonstrates to children how ordinary people can make a difference in our world.


For more information about puffins visit these sites:

Monday, August 6, 2012


Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95
by Phillip Hoose
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2012
ISBN: 9780374304683
Grades 5 and up

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

Question: What weighs 4 ounces and has traveled 350,000 miles in its lifetime?

Answer: B95 a rufa red knot shorebird

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 chronicles the plight of rufa red knots. These tiny shorebirds spend the winter in Argentina where it's daylight more than twelve hours of the day; the extra daylight allows the birds to easily see their prey of worms and clams. In the spring, the birds begin an 8,900 mile journey from the Argentina to the Canadian Arctic where they will nest for the summer before returning to the south in fall. Unfortunately, the rufa red knot population is in a sharp decline for a number of reasons including overfishing of horseshoe crabs. Against all odds, one bird (named B95 from the code on his band) has survived for close to twenty years. B95 is affectionately called Moonbird because in his lifetime the bird has flown the distance it would take to reach the moon and halfway back to earth. What makes this particular bird so strong and resilient in the face of adversity? 

The first person narrative style and descriptive writing will appeal to middle grade readers and to teachers in search of an engaging nonfiction read aloud.

"The exposed sea floor is unlike anything I have ever seen. It looks like a pavement composed of flat, overlapping reddish-brown shelves that are poked with thousands of holes still gleaming with water from the last high tide." (p. 16)

Hoose includes himself as a figure in the book. Hoose was invited to take part in rufa red knot counts in Argentina and New Jersey. He worked with teams of biologists to band, weigh, and measure the birds. This personal connection to the story helps readers feel like they right there with scientists in Tierra del Fuego and Delaware Bay.  Hoose also uses elements of mystery to keep readers hooked. Questions are posed throughout the book about the location of B95. Will he be spotted again? Why is the population of rufa red knots dwindling? Not only does this technique hold the attention of readers, it's also part of scientific inquiry.

The chapters are arranged chronologically to follow the migration pattern of the rufa red knots from October of 2009 to October of 2010. Maps are placed in each chapter to provide readers with geographic information. The most impressive map, located near the front of the book, is a two-page spread showing the flight legs of the rufa red knots from the southern tip of Argentina to the northern part of Canada. Each stopping point is marked and labeled. Numerous photographs of flocks of rufa red knots and photos the land in Tierra del Fuego, Delaware Bay, and the Canadian Arctic are placed throughout the book.

Between chapters, Hoose includes profiles of scientists and environmentalists who have worked to save the rufa red knots. Clive Minton's work is featured in one of the profiles. He designed a special cannon net that researchers use to catch rufa red knots during banding sessions. The red knots are extremely difficult to catch.

"They are notoriously wary. They feed, sleep, and travel in cliquishly tight flocks. While feeding they post sentinels, birds that send the whole flock flashing away with one warning cry." (p. 19)

Minton's cannon net fires a rocket attached to a net that temporarily traps the birds without injuring them. The researchers untangle the birds one by one as they record the bird's band number and weight.

In addition to profiling scientists, Hoose writes about students who have worked to preserve the red knot population. The last chapter of the book, Extinction is Forever, asks readers why they should care about the population of shore birds. Hoose goes on to make the case for why readers should be concerned about the survival of the species. The Appendix provides readers with information about how to get involved in shorebird projects.

Hoose provides extensive back matter at the end of the book including detailed source notes with page by page accounts of where he found the information. Hoose describes his research process at the beginning of the source notes; the process included reading many books and scholarly articles, interviewing experts, and conducting on-site research in Argentina and in Delaware Bay. Teachers and librarians should be sure to share the author's note with students as a model for quality research.

I highly recommend this engaging nonfiction text for middle grade nonfiction collections. Budding scientists and bird lovers will want to read this book for pleasure, but they will have to pry it from the hands of grade 5-8 teachers who plan to read it aloud to students. The book is an excellent model for science and writing classes and is the type of rich, narrative nonfiction referenced in the Common Core State Standards. You should order two copies to make everyone happy!

Hoose recently won the Katahdin Award for lifetime achievement in children's literature by a Maine author. Other nonfiction works by Hoose include:
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
The Race to Save the Lord God Bird
We Were There, Too!: Young People in U.S. History
It's Our World Too!: Young People Who Are Making a Difference

It's Nonfiction Monday. Head over to Shelf-Employed to read the nonfiction reviews: 

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

By Michelle Markel; illustrated by Amanda Hall

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 2012

ISBN: 9780802853646

Best for school age children, Grades 2 and up thru high school

I received a copy of this book directly from the publisher.

Michelle Markel’s captivating picture book biography, The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau will complement any art appreciation class for school-age children, for there is much to savor in this introduction to French Post-Impressionist painter, Henri Rousseau.(1844-1910).

Markel begins with, “Henri Rousseau wants to be an artist. Not a single person has ever told him he is talented. He is a toll collector. He’s forty years old. But he buys some canvas, paint, and brushes, and starts painting away.” How refreshing to read about someone who was not easily dissuaded. Told in a lively tone, readers will learn how this humble man, who deeply loved nature, worked very hard to become an artist. Too poor for lessons, Rousseau taught himself to draw by studying the paintings of his favorite artists and by using books, magazines, catalogs, and postcards to learn anatomy. I always assumed Rousseau traveled widely, painting what he saw. Not so. Henri got inspiration from gardens, cemeteries, anyplace, even a hothouse, to create his wonderful jungles. Never, ever, throughout his whole life, would Rousseau leave Paris. And, despite year after year of negative responses to his paintings from experts, Rousseau never gave up. He continued to paint, until finally, at age sixty-one his true talent is appreciated by a much younger art community. He is befriended by those younger artists, Picasso throws a banquet for Henri, and after his death is recognized as a self-taught genius of high artistic talent.

Complimenting the text are illustrations painted by Amanda Hall. Done in both watercolor and acrylics, her colorful paintings are large and give readers a sense of the joyfulness, and happiness Rousseau must have been feeling each time he painted. The paintings represent what is being discussed in the text, though I did not understand the significance of the painting showing the critics as both men and jungle animals. Overall, with the guiding hand of an art teacher, this book will show students how Amanda Hall’s illustrations add a twist to some of Rousseau’s famous paintings. The illustrations are very beautiful. Librarians, parents, and teachers will find it helpful to see in the illustrator's note the black & white sketch where Hall names the famous Avant-garde artists present at Henri's banquet.

Students will respect Rousseau’s deep love of nature, while others will admire the fact that Rousseau followed his dream undeterred by the negative feedback. Adults will find it wonderfully refreshing to be reminded that age is no barrier in pursuing a long-hidden dream.

In the author's note, we learn that Rousseau never enjoyed financial success. Like some artists, it was only after his death that his art was truly appreciated and given the worldwide attention it deserved.

To round out the reading experience of this book, have on hand a book that contains Rousseau’s paintings and a computer with the Internet to visit the official web site of the Louvre Museum. For more information about Henri Rousseau, click here. To watch the charming book trailer done by the publisher click here.

A great addition to all fine arts collections in both public and school libraries. Pair it with the book (not the movie) of Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce, which is a terrific story about the power of art.