Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, October 29, 2012

Seymour Simon's Extreme Earth Records

Seymour Simon's Extreme Earth Records

by Seymour Simon
Chronicle Books. 2012
ISBN: 9781452107851
Grades 4 thru 7
The publisher sent us a copy of this book.

Think your life is hard where you live?

In Seymour Simon's Extreme Earth, readers will travel to the coldest, the hottest, the deepest, the highest, to the rainiest place and explore the most extreme places on Earth. Simon not only includes amazing destinations but amazing records, as well as some ‘mind-bending’ facts.

Located in the South Atlantic Ocean, partway between South Africa and South America, the tiny island of Tristan da Cunha is the remotest place on Earth. The small volcanic peak has a population of approximately 300 people who share the island with a dozen species of seabirds, including the rockhopper penguin and several kinds of albatross. In 1961, a volcano erupted and all of the inhabitants left, only to return in 1963 when it was safe. It now has a post office, hospital, school, and crayfish factory. It has it’s own postal code from the United Kingdom, TDCU 1ZZ, and the stamps issued at the island post office are collected around the world. Do you know the name of this small island’s capital? It is Edinburgh of the Seven Seas.

When snowfall is measured regularly, the snowest place on Earth is the Paradise area on the south slope of Mount Rainier in Washington State. The average snowfall there is 56 feet (17 meters) per year. “That’s about the height of a dozen children standing on each other’s shoulders.” But, the place where the most snow fell in a 24-hour period was at Silver Lake, Colorado when a blizzard dumped 6 feet (1.8 meters) of snow on April 14, 1921.

The book boasts beautiful color photographs on every page, and many side bars of facts. Did you know that Antarctica contains more than 90 percent of Earth’s ice? As of this writing, some of the ice sheets are 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) deep.They believe that some of the ice may be more than 100,000 years old. 

Seymour Simon is a prolifict author of more than 250 books about science. Lucky for us, he is an author we can trust will offer consistency and quality in his books. His Extreme Earth Records will be popular with those children who enjoy world records or love reading books full of facts.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Impossible Rescue by Martin W. Sandler

The Impossible Rescue: the True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure.
By Martin W. Sandler
Candlewick Press. 2012
ISBN: 9780763650803
Grades 7 and up
A copy of this book was checked out from the public library.

It all began during the final month of the whaling season in 1897. The captains of eight whaleships from San Francisco were fishing in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska. They believed they had a few more weeks of fair weather to continue whaling before heading south. Yet, suddenly, without warning during the first week of September, the temperatures plunged dramatically and soon, heavy ice was sweating in from far out to sea. The ships were forced to lay anchor to wait for favorable winds to drive the ice away. But when the warmer winds came, the ice didn’t melt, and the ships were trapped.

Looking out at the ice, Captain Tilton and the crew of one of the ships, the Alexander, thought it seemed to stretch on forever. Feeling alarmed, Tilton and his men understood the dangers of spending the winter trapped in the ice. It meant surviving months of almost twenty-four-hour-a-day darkness and temperatures that plummeted to as far as sixty degrees below zero. Not to mention running out of supplies and the possibility of having the ship torn apart by fast-moving ice.

Martin W. Sandler has written a nail-bitting account of this incredible — nay, impossible – rescue mission undertaken during the dead of winter, which was nothing short of suicide. It would take bravery, detailed planning, commitment, and most importantly, luck, before the sailors, some 265 men would arrive back safely in Seattle.

The rescue mission took ten months and was carried out by the Revenue Cutter Service, the forerunner of The United States Coast Guard. The plan was to take the Bear, the Revenue Cutter Service ship, as far north as the icy conditions would allow. When Bear got as far as possible, three officers would be put ashore. It would be their task to proceed overland to where the whaleman were trapped. The three men, First Lieutenant David Jarvis, Dr. Samuel Call, and Second Lieutenant Ellsworth Bertholf would travel more than 1,500 miles using dog sleds, to get as far north as possible in time to save the men. They had to arrive before March, because that is when the sailors would run out of supplies. What was truly remarkable about this whole mission was that there was no loss of life.

Told in chronological order, the thirteen chapters put readers inside "mission control." From the audacious plan through a hazardous crossing, to contact with the sailors, we are with the rescue team every step of the way. The book is lavishly illustrated with historic maps and black & white photos, all of which are well captioned. Sandler -- drawing on diaries, letters, reports, journals, and in some cases, detailed reminiscences of key participants -- weaves throughout the story the actual words of those who were there. In addition, Dr. Samuel Call took many of the photographs!

The book is well documented with a bibliography, a timeline, photography credits, and index. And, not to leave readers wondering, Sanders includes under “What Happened to Them,” a short summary of what happened to the key players after the rescue was over.

 The Impossible Rescue is a fascinating and absorbing read. Put this in a display with other books on survival, explorers, orienteering, and wilderness survival.

Reviewed by Louise

Monday, October 22, 2012

Election Book Bonanza

Once every four years, book displays are set up to help children make sense of the presidential election. There are books that explain the voting process, books that describe the job of the President, books about Congress, and books that give a brief overview of the different presidents’ personalities and accomplishments. There are even some books about presidential pets! Today we have a joint review to share some of this year’s newest additions to the mix.

by Sarah DeCapua
True Book series
Children's Press (an imprint of Scholastic), 2013
ISBN: 9780531260432
Gr. 3-6

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

This informational text provides readers with a basic overview of the voting process. Chapter One begins with the U.S. Constitution and explains "certain groups struggled for many years for the right to vote." The struggling groups aren't identified until later in the book where a two-page spread is devoted to voting rights of African Americans, women, and Native Americans.

Voting includes numerous, colorful, recent photographs of citizens voting, working in campaign headquarters, registering to vote, and shaking hands with candidates. Middle grade readers may be interested in learning the different methods used for casting votes around the country. Chapter Three highlights touch screen computers, digital scanners, punch ballots, and the lever machines from the 1890s. The author stays away from controversies involved with some of these voting methods (no references to hanging chads).

The electoral college is explained in general terms; a map showing the number of electors in each state would be a helpful visual aid. The book ends with suggestions for how children may get involved in elections by writing letters to candidates and volunteering on political campaigns. Children who enjoy facts and trivia will be interested in the "True Statistics" in the back of the book. Did you know the first people to vote by secret ballot were Ancient Romans around 2,000 years ago? Voting is a straight-forward book about voting basics that will serve as a solid introduction for elementary school readers.

(Reviewed by Cathy)

Where Do Presidents Come From?: And Other Presidential Stuff of Super Great Importance
by Michael Townsend
Dial, 2012
ISBN: 9780803737488

Comic book artist, Michael Townsend shows off his humor and artistic talents in Where Do Presidents Come From? And other presidential stuff of super-great importance. This mix of information and graphics is perfect for those readers who enjoy being entertained as they learn. The graphic format, at times, is quite busy, yet the humor and information will make this very appealing.  In six chapters Townsend covers ‘Where Do Presidents Come From?,” “Who Was the First President of the United States,” “How Does a President Get Elected?,” “Why is the White House So Awesome?,” “What Do Presidents Actually Do?,” and “What Happens When Presidents Are No Longer Presidents?.”

Similar in design to his Amazing Greek Myths of Wonder and Blunder, Where Do Presidents Come From? is packed (really packed) with tons of information. Interspersed with the factual statements are humorous panels that emphasize what is being stated. In chapter 5, “What Do Presidents Actually Do?” “For starters…To get elected President, one must first campaign long and hard, telling the American people what you believe and what you stand for…and kiss a lot of babies.” Once elected, one of the President’s duties is to be ready to use the “Nuclear Football.” What’s that, you ask? Check out page 107 to find out! "

(Reviewed by Louise)

by Eileen Christelow
Clarion Books, 2003
ISBN: 9780618247547
Grades 2-5

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

Vote! is not a 2012 title, but it is my go-to book for explaining the election process to young children. Christelow writes in  a conversational style and uses comic book illustrations (including speech bubbles and thought bubbles) to make information about voting accessible to young readers. The book follows the path of a woman running for the office of mayor. Readers learn about the election process through the eyes  the candidate's daughter and her two dogs: Elmer and Sparky.  In just 48 pages, readers are introduced to political parties, debates, constitutional amendments, campaign advertising, and recounts. The book's playful tone introduces complex concepts to children in manner they can ingest and understand.

(Reviewed by Cathy)

Election! A Kid's Guide to Picking our President
by Dan Gutman
ISBN: 9781453270660

Using a Q&A format, popular fiction writer Dan Gutman answers in a simple and straightforward manner some of the questions children (and some adults) may have concerning a presidential election. For example, "What is a "lame duck" presidency?" "Can anyone run for president?" "How can they predict a winner in advance?" "What is a national convention?" "Do you have to vote for your political party's candidate if you don't like that person?" and many, many more. Gutman claims that "this book may not answer every questions you may have," but it does attempt to respond to over 120 of them.

The content is broken up into six chapters: "The Presidency," "Our Government," "Candidates," "Voting," "The Election." There is no index, so children with specific questions will need to thumb through the book to find their answer. The book does include "Words you'll hear in an Election Year," a bibliography of books and web sites for more information, and a list of the Presidents of the United States.

In the author's note, Gutman states that the pronoun "he" is used throughout instead of "she," "because we haven't had a female president yet, it would have sounded more awkward to refer to the president as "she or "he/she." (Okay!) When he answers the question, "How does a voting machine work," he neglects to clarify that in many states people still use paper ballots (at least we do in Maine) Overall, a good addition.

(Reviewed by Louise)  


 Other titles to add to election and presidential displays

Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote
by Tanya Lee Stone
illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

If I Ran for President
by Catherine Stier
illustrated by Lynne Avril

Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame and What the Neighbors Really Thought
by Kathleen Krull
illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt

The President's Stuck in the Bathtub: Poems About the Presidents 
by Susan Katz
illustrated by Robert Neubecker

Presidential Pets: The Weird, Wacky, Little, Big, Scary, Strange Animals That Have Lived in the White House
by Julia Moberg
illustrated by Jeff Albrecht

See How they Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House
by Susan E. Goodman
illustrated by Elwood H. Smith

So You Want to Be President?
by Judith St. George
illustrated by David Small

Today on Election Day 
by Catherine Stier
illustrated by David Leonard

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Manatees and Manatee Calves

 Nonfiction animal books are in high demand in my elementary library. I find that many children love to check out books about pandas, cheetahs, sharks and various other animals for pleasure reading. Wild animals also seem to be the preferred topic to introduce younger students to the research process. Teachers assign animals for research because they're of high interest, and there are endless online and print resources for the K-5 crowd. I recently read two new books about manatees that will thrill the young readers and researchers in my library.

Manatee Calves 
by Ruth Owen
Water Babies series
Bearport Publishing, 2013
ISBN: 9781617725999
Library Binding
Grades K-3

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

The first thing I noticed about Manatee Calves is that the size of the book is perfect for small hands. Upon opening the book, the clear underwater photos of manatees and their calves caught my attention. The information is organized by topic: food, where manatee calves live, and daily life to name a few.

The text is large and spaced nicely for newly independent readers. Teachers will be pleased that the series incorporates text features (captions, maps, a glossary and index) that will aid children in understanding new information. Other topics in the series include sea otter pups, penguin chicks, and seahorse fry.

To view pages from the book, visit the Bearport site:

by Katie Marsico
Nature's Children series
Children's Press (an imprint of Scholastic), 2013
ISBN: 9780531268353
Library Binding
Grades 3-6

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

Children's Press has released updated and new titles in the Nature's Children series. We own oodles of the old Nature's Children books in my K-5 school library, so I was interested to see how the new books in the series compared.

Manatees is organized into five chapters. Each two page spread includes one full-page photograph and a page of text. The information is presented in the traditional expository form, yet the writing is not dull. The author's use of descriptive language will hold the attention of readers.

"Manatees slowly move their bulky, oval-shaped bodies through shallow water as they search for their next meal. Like actual cows, manatees are herbivores. This means they feed only on plants."

Chapters near the end of the book focus on dangers manatees face and ways in which the public may help them avoid extinction. Readers will enjoy reading the fun facts included at the bottom of several pages. Vocabulary words are printed in red and correspond to a glossary in the back of the book.

The print in the book is fairly small, and there is a lot of text on a page which makes this a book for a strong elementary school reader. By visiting a site listed in the back of the book (  and typing in "manatees," readers are presented with a list of related articles from Groliers Online. This could prove useful for students working on research projects for school.

Middle school students in search of information about manatees  should check out The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species by Peter Lourie. It's part of the Scientists in the Field series, and it's fantastic!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Buffalo Bird Girl

Buffalo Bird Girl: a Hidatsa Story
by S.D. Nelson
available Oct. 1, 2012
Abrams Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 9781419703553
Grades 3-8

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

It's been a banner year for children's nonfiction books. Last week, Louise and I shared a list of our favorite books from 2012 (so far),  and I've already found another title to add to that list.

S.D. Nelson, author of Black Elk's Vision: A Lakota Story, has created another nonfiction picture book masterpiece. Buffalo Bird Girl is the true story of a girl from the Hidatsa tribe in North Dakota. Told in a first person narrative, Buffalo Bird Girls describes her daily life in Like-a-Fishhook Village in the 1800s. She is the the last generation of Hidatsa to live a traditional village life before the U.S. forced the tribe to move to a reservation in the 1880s.

The book begins with a detailed description of a Hidatsa earth-mound lodge built on the prairie. Nelson's acrylic paintings in muted colors and pencil sketches show readers what life was like in Like-a-Fishhook Village. The design of the book makes this more than a traditional picture book. Nelson incorporates photographs throughout the story. A series of color photographs show outside and inside views of an actual earth-mound lodge. Captions provide readers with more information about the selected photos. Black and white photographs show Hidatsa women skewering squash on a spit, harvesting prairie turnips, and using a buffalo bone to hoe the garden.

Buffalo Bird Girl learns about planting and harvesting corn from her grandmother and aunts. The girls play with handmade dolls as well as a tossing game made from buffalo hide. I was really interested to learn about the underground food storage system that Buffalo Bird Girl was responsible for digging. The storage area kept corn supplies dry all winter when the Hidatsa moved to the "wooded lowlands" to avoid the harsh weather conditions.

Nelson effectively uses quotes from interviews that writer, Gilbert Wilson, conducted with Buffalo Bird Girl in 1906.  The dwindling buffalo population, conflicts with neighboring tribes, and the introduction of steamships to the area all contributed to the end of the traditional Hidatsa way of life.

Buffalo Bird Girl is an amazing book for a number of reasons. Nelson describes the injustices the Hidasta faced when they were forced off their land in a manner that young readers will understand. The rich, narrative nonfiction writing coupled with quotes from interviews will allow readers to see Buffalo Bird Girl's point of view. The text and illustrations work well together, and the extensive back matter (timeline, author's note, source notes, and bibliography) provide additional information about the topic. This is an excellent book for teaching children about point of view, Native American history, and our environment.

Visit S.D. Nelson's web site to view illustrations from the book:

Friday, October 12, 2012


It's that time of year when we start putting together a list of our favorite books. We have been getting requests to list titles we thought were noteworthy. Last year we had 15 top books; this year we are already up to twenty-two. And, we still have two months to go! It must mean there are more great books being published. Look for our complete list in December. Happy reading...Cathy and Louise

Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard by Loree Griffin Burns
Bomb: The Race to Build -- and Steal -- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery
Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer; illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose
I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of Slavery by Cynthia Grady; illustrated by Michele Wood
We've Got a Job: the 1963 Birmingham Children's March by Cynthia Levinson
Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration by Shelley Tougas
Chuck Close: Face Book by Chuck Close
A Black Hole is Not a Hole by Carolyn DeCristofano; illustrated by Michael Carroll
Annie and Helen by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by Raul Colon
Mrs. Harkness & the Panda by Alice Potter (no relation); illustrated by Melissa Sweet
The Giant and How He Humbugged America by Jim Murphy
Mighty Mars Rover: the Incredible Adventure of Spirit and Opportunity by Elizabeth Rusch
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
Black Gold: the Story of Oil in Our Lives by Albert Marrin
unBEElievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian
The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins
In the Bag: Margaret Knight Wraps It Up by Monica Kulling; illustrated by David Parkins
Here Come the Girl Scouts! by Shana Corey; illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Monday, October 8, 2012

City Chickens by Christine Heppermann

City Chickens

by Christine Heppermann
Houghton Mifflin. 2012
ISBN: 9780547518305
Grades 1 and up
I checked this book out of my local public library.

At first glance, the cover of City Chickens by Christine Heppermann, suggests a how-to book for children about raising chickens in the city.  Go any direction in my neighborhood and you will see chickens strolling about in their pens. And, why not! Fresh eggs are mighty tasty. Gosh! My best friend has chickens! 

But…that’s not what City Chickens is about. Heppermann writes about Mary Britton Clouse and her husband, Bert, who live in the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota and run Chicken Run Rescue, an inner-city shelter for abused, abandoned, and mistreated chickens. 

The couple works with their local animal shelter. Anytime a chicken is brought to the shelter, they call Mary. “Mary Britton Clouse falls in love every time she drives to Minneapolis Animal Control or to one of the local Humane Society shelters to pick up another guest. She gently places the scared rooster or hen into a pet carrier lined with a soft swatch cut from an old bedspread and says, “Let’s go, sweetheart. Your life is about to change.” 

And change it does. Mary has a special permit that allows her to care for twenty chickens at one time. The color pictures show a cozy, yet perfect-for-chickens back yard. There is plenty of places to scratch, sample fresh insects, lay an egg or two or go about their lives of being chickens. 

The sad truth is, animals in our society are often abused and mistreated for recreation and/or profit. Mary has cared for birds injured in illegal cock fighting. Some from Factory Farms, where unfortunate chickens live two or more per cage and must crawl over each other, often getting injured in the process, just to eat a bite of food. These chickens live short, miserable lives producing eggs we see in grocery stores or they become the meat in your pot. Think chicken nuggets. Mary and Bert have cared for baby chicks left by the side of the road or brought to the animal shelter after a school project. (My best friend has been given chicks after a classroom decided to hatch some eggs) In the chapter, “Dumped in a Ditch” we learn that one cold, rainy April night, someone noticed some yellow clumps by the side of the road. “Eventually somebody noticed that the clumps were moving, that they were actually baby chickens. Lots of them” Apparently, these 106 chicks had been stolen from a university lab and dumped by the side of a road. Once the chicks had been removed from their controlled environment, they were no longer useful for the lab’s experiments.

It will be obvious to readers from page one that Heppermann has a soft spot for her subject. The writing is perfect for elementary students, because even though Heppermann explains some awful situations, she never goes into graphic detail. In the author’s note, Heppermann explains she was so taken the Clouse’s that she adopted two chickens, a rooster and hen, which are now family pets. 

The color photographs make this a good addition to all libraries.

Go here to visit Chicken Run Rescue's web page.
Here is a link to an interview on Minnesota Public Radio with Mary Britton Clouse.
Chicken Run Rescue is on FaceBook, too!
And, click here to watch Christine Heppermann talk about City Chickens.