Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, April 30, 2012

We've Got a Job

We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March
by Cynthia Levinson
Peachtree Publishers, 2012
ISBN: 9781561456277
Gr. 5 and up

The reviewer received an advanced reader's copy of the book from the publisher.

When I think of children who were active in the civil rights movement, Ruby Bridges and the Little Rock Nine come to mind right away.  Four children, Audrey Hendricks, Washington Booker, James Stewart, and Arnetta Streeter, were unknown to me until I opened Cynthia Levinson's well-researched book, We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March.

In 1963 racial tension had escalated in Birmingham. The city had closed its public pools and parks to avoid integration ordered by the federal courts. Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth led protests in downtown Birmingham and enlisted the help of college students to start a selective buying campaign. African Americans were discouraged from buying clothes or eating lunch at department stores and restaurants that had segregated lunch counters, restrooms & fitting rooms. Shuttlesworth asked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Reverend Andrew Young to meet with black leaders in Birmingham in 1963. The leaders devised a strategy to bring an end to segregation in Birmingham. They would flood the city's jails with protesters bringing attention to the injustices faced by African Americans and also putting a strain on city services.

In an effort to gather thousands of protesters, King and Shuttlesworth mobilized students including Booker, Stewart, Streeter and Hendricks, all high school students with the exception of Hendricks who was just nine years old at the time. During the months of April and May, student protestors marched through the streets of Birmingham despite threats and aggressive tactics by commissioner of public safety, Bull Connor.

Levinson follows the four students as they took part in the children's march. Led by James Bevel and Shuttlesworth, students reported to school then took to the streets to march in protest on May 2, 1963.
As police filled paddy wagons and buses with arrested students, more students took to the streets. The following day nearly 2,000 students protested in the streets again. Police turned water hoses and dogs onto the peaceful, young protestors before transporting them to jail. Readers will be shocked to read about the filthy and cramped conditions of the jails. Once out of jail, high school students who missed school to take part in protests were expelled from school. In the end, the children's march had a major impact on integrating Birmingham.

The design of the book is quite effective. Told in chronological order, dates are listed on subheadings throughout the chapters. The numerous black and white photographs will interest readers. Powerful photographs show students behind bars in paddy wagons, violently sprayed with water hoses, and attacked by police dogs.

Levinson's research is impressive. In addition to interviewing Hendricks, Booker, Stewart and Streeter, she conducted dozens of other interviews, read newspaper accounts and many nonfiction texts. Sources notes are organized by chapter. A timeline of events, map of Birmingham, and extensive bibliography are included at the end of the book. We've Got a Job is an empowering read for students interested in learning more about our country's history, and it would make an excellent nonfiction read aloud for upper elementary and middle schools classes. Pair this book with We Were There, Too! by Phillip Hoose.

Also reviewed by...
Educating Alice:
Practically Paradise:
Laurie Thompson:

Today is Nonfiction Monday. 
Head over to Gathering Books to see the reviews:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Life in the Ocean

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle
by Claire A. Nivola
Frances Foster Books, 2012
ISBN: 9780374380687
Gr. K-4

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

We're partnering with Kid Lit Frenzy to encourage people to read more nonfiction picture books this year.  Read more about the 2012 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge (#nfpb2012).

Children are naturally curious about the world around them. Many kids love to read about explorers who ventured into unknown territories. A new picture book biography by the author of Planting the Trees of Kenya will introduce students to explorer, Sylvia Earle.  Earle didn't explore land or space; she ventured into the depths of the ocean. Life in the Ocean by Claire A. Nivola highlights Sylvia Earle's career as an oceanographer.

The story begins with a young Sylvia who observed the natural world. She spent countless hours exploring the outdoors near her home in New Jersey. When her family moved to Florida, a whole new world opened up to Sylvia. She was immediately drawn to the ocean. Sylvia swam with goggles so that she could observe underwater life. Nivola then shows readers Earle's many accomplishments using eight small illustrations on a two-page spread. Earle joined expeditions in the Indian Ocean, she led diving teams, she walked on the sea floor while wearing a diving suit, she lived in an underwater laboratory for two weeks, and she explored the ocean in a spherical bubble.

Nivola's illustrations capture the beauty of the ocean. One illustration of a pod of whales reflects what Earle learned while diving with the mammals. Whales move all around and swim in all directions. On the following page, deep blues and purples are used to illustrate the ocean depths. Intricate patterns of coral form a border as Earle directs a beam of light onto a school of fish.

"We know more about the planets in outer space than we know about the sea on our very own home planet! Sylvia Earle believes that if we do not learn about the ocean world we will never really care about it or take care of it."

In an author's note, Nivola goes on to explain the significance of Earle's work in preserving our environment. A selected bibliography provides further reading for kids interested in learning more about the important work of Sylvia Earle.

Middle grade readers may want to read Sylvia Earle's autobiography, Dive: My Adventure in the Deep Frontier.

Watch a video of Sylvia Earle exploring the ocean in a one-person submarine.

Life in the Ocean was also reviewed by...

Shelf Employed-

Waking Brain Cells-

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Plant Hunters by Anita Silvey

The Plant Hunters: True Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth
by Anita Silvey
FSG. 2012
ISBN: 9780374309084
Grade 3- 7
This reviewer obtained an advanced reader's copy from the author.

Children love Indiana Jones, especially his death-defying escapades in far-off places in his search of ancient treasure. But once a child has made their way through the entire Indiana Jones Omnibus, what’s next? I recommend The Plant Hunters: True Stories of their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth by Anita Silvey. The engaging text and story of greed and obsessions will definitely hook readers.

Anita Silvey has had a long career championing great books for children. As editor-in- chief of The Horn Book Magazine (1985 – 1995) and vice-president of Houghton Mifflin (1995-2001), Silvey has been vocal about sharing her belief that books for children and young adults should be the very best. She authors a blog, Book-a-Day Almanac, that promotes the best of the old and new in children’s literature.

In The Plant Hunters, Silvey writes about a little known occupation where men risked their lives in search of exotic plants. There have been plant hunters as far back as Queen Hatshepsut of ancient Egypt. The queen dispatched a convoy to bring frankincense trees from the ancient Land of Punt, in Africa. We know that in the US, Thomas Jefferson sent his plant hunters, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark out west looking for new species.

Plant Hunters shared similar characteristics. “They love being outdoors in the natural world. They enjoyed traveling to places often unseen by others, and they found alien landscapes mysterious and beautiful.” They also need to posses stamina, endurance, and perseverance, speak several languages, along with a temperament that flourished in isolation. Mostly a male dominated occupation, Silvey does include the few women who made their mark.

Plant collecting was an environmental nightmare. Plant hunters would collect hundreds, even thousands of seeds and seedlings, often completely destroying their original habitat. In one instance, while gathering a particular orchid, entire tree would be cut down just to secure the orchids living at the top. “Ten thousand trees might die before they gathered four thousand orchids. And then, the journey back might be fraught with mishaps causing over half of the seeds or plants collected to die.

Silvey points out that though part of the motivation was to become rich, the adventurers also helped save lives by making more widely available certain plants or trees that had medicinal properties. Silvey states, “Some plants contained medicine that could help save lives. But even these plants could be protected by the country where they originated.” In mid-1700, the scientist Linnaeus discovered information about a South American tree whose bark provided a cure for malaria. (Quinine) Named by Linnaeus, the cinchona tree was guarded by South American natives.

In 1860, plant hunter Richard Spruce was asked by Joseph Hooker, director of Kew Gardens in England, to bring back as many cinchona seeds or seedlings as possible, he traveled deep into dense jungles in search of the valuable Cinchona tree. Spruce battled weather, jungles, Ecuadorian soldiers, and much more. Fortunately, enough seedlings survived to help establish a large cinchona plantation in Ceylon and India, making quinine available worldwide.

The book is filled with many black & white or color prints. (click here to see a sampling) Readers will really like seeing the photos of the people and the places they traveled. All the captions explain the picture and are placed alongside the appropriate text.

This is a fine book that ends with a look at a modern-day plant hunter, Richard H. Ree.

Included are source notes, bibliography, illustration credits, index,
author’s note, and my favorite, a time line.

This is a good book to add to any display about plants, gardening,
botany, adventurers. and even for Earth Day.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Doctors to the Rescue

Doctors to the Rescue
The Work of Heroes: First Responders in Action series
by Meish Goldish
Bearport Publishing, 2012
ISBN: 978-161772-285-1
Gr. 3-6

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

One of the areas of my school library that needs updating is the occupation section. In the past few years I have weeded many out-dated books about police officers, doctors and even librarians. Bearport Publishing has released a new series of nonfiction titles about first responders that will fit a niche in many library collections.

Doctors to the Rescue provides readers with a glimpse into the world of emergency room doctors and first responders. The first chapter follows a patient from the emergency room to the operating table as he undergoes heart surgery. Physicians are also shown at work treating earthquake victims in Haiti and at work on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. Up-close photographs show the demanding work of first responders.

Many children will be interested to learn how doctors help patients during natural disasters, emergencies and war. However, the book is not for the faint of heart. In one photograph, a group of medical students work on a cadaver. Another photograph shows a Buffalo Sabres goalie grasping his wounded neck as he sits over a pool of blood on the ice. Between chapters Goldish includes information about the training required to become a physician. Back matter includes photographs of medical tools, a glossary of terms, and a suggested reading list. Readers interested in a career in medicine will enjoy learning about the many ways doctors respond to emergencies and disasters. Other titles in the series include Paramedics to the Rescue, Firefighters to the Rescue, and Police Officers to the Rescue.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ladybugs by Gail Gibbons

By Gail Gibbons
Holiday House. 2012
ISBN: 97808023423682
(Preschool to Grade 3)
Reviewer obtains an advanced readers copy at ALA-Midwinter

Back in February there was a brief warm spell and during one story time the children interrupted me to announce they found some ladybugs. “Mrs. C! Look! Ladybugs!” An ecstatic 2 1/2 year old pointing to the window cried, “Wadybugs!” And there they were, all five ladybugs, resting in the sunshine. 

And, with that, I will introduce Ladybugs by nonfiction writer Gail Gibbons who adds another title to her already long list of books on a wide variety of topics. Gibbons definitely understands what her audience wants. She offers just the right amount of details without overwhelming enthusiastic children who are eager to learn. In Ladybugs, Gibbons writes about the beloved beetle. We love them because they are beneficial in our garden. They eat aphids.

After a brief introduction of its habits, we learn all about the different parts of the beetle's body. Did you know there are many different kinds of Ladybugs? “There are over 5,000 different kinds of ladybugs around the world, with 475 different types in North America.” Gibbons goes on to describe the four stages of a ladybug’s development and its usefulness to gardeners and farmers. She also points out its usefulness to gardeners and farmers by controlling plant-damaging insects and brings awareness to the need of ladybugs in organic gardening. (Pesticides kill insects, even the beneficial ones)

Gibbons has written over 100 books (listed on her web site) on a variety of subjects, including holidays, weather, dinosaurs, rain forests, and animals. One of her first books, now sadly out-of-print was The Milk Makers. A Reading Rainbow book, Milk Makers explained where milk comes from. As in all her books, Gibbons artwork fills every inch of the page, making her books especially appealing to curious young children.

We are happy that Gibbons continues to write nonfiction books with kid appeal. Ladybugs is a wonderful additional to library collections and just in time for summer when we are sure to have more Ladybug sightings! Hopefully, not in the library!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nonfiction Monday

We are pleased to host Nonfiction Monday today.
 Please use Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post to add your nonfiction reviews.

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World
by Sy Montgomery
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012
ISBN: 9780547443157
(Gr. 5-8)
The reviewer obtained a copy of the book from her school library.

April is National Autism Awareness Month. Students in my school frequently check out fiction titles in which characters have autism. Rules by Cynthia Lord and Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin are popular books in my library and have helped students begin to understand and talk about autism. However, there aren't many nonfiction titles about real people with autism, until now.

Sy Montgomery interviewed and shadowed Dr. Temple Grandin to research this middle grade biography. Many adults know Grandin's story from her autobiography, Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism, and from the HBO documentary about her life. Yet, not many children are aware of Grandin's amazing story. Grandin was diagnosed with autism as a young child in the 1950s. Not much was know about autism at that time. Grandin's father wanted to send her away to a mental institution, but her mother refused. Grandin's mother knew she was intelligent and had many talents, so she was sent to a small private school. Grandin is a visual and hands-on learner, and she used her strengths to build and invent while she was a student.

After being bullied in high school, Grandin left to attend a private school in New Hampshire.  With support from science teacher, Mr. Carlock, Temple designed, built and tested a squeeze machine that could be used to calm down people. Grandin used the invention to center herself when she was feeling overstimulated. Grandin's psychologist wanted her to give up her work on the invention, but Mr. Carlock encouraged her to continue to focus on her strengths. Grandin also related well to horses and cows because she understood what made the animals nervous or scared. Grandin was able to use her innate understanding of animals along with her strengths in drawing, designing and inventing to excel in college.

The design of the book is superb. It's organized chronologically, and between chapters Montgomery includes information about autism. The information is written in a clear manner that middle grade readers will understand. Photographs from Grandin's childhood through adulthood compliment the story. Close-up photographs show Grandin surrounded by cattle. Sketches of Grandin's designs of a cattle pen and a dipping tank provide readers with insight into her work.

This is a powerful book for young readers. Students will be inspired by Grandin who went on to become a professor of animal science and a leading expert on designing facilities for livestock. Working in feed yards and slaughterhouses was not always easy for Grandin; she was mistreated by people who didn't understand autism. Many men in the feed yards did not want a woman coming into their area and telling them how to treat the animals. Grandin did not let prejudice stand her in way. She let her work stand for itself and became a well-respected leader in the field.

"Temple's most important innovations in design were accomplished not in spite of but because of her autism. And she thinks that many great achievements of modern civilization were attained thanks to people who may have been on the autistic spectrum, too." (p. 98)

The book closes with words of advice from Grandin; she tells students to focus on their strengths, join clubs that interest them, and get a part-time job to learn how to work with others. Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World would make an excellent addition to biography collections in both school and public libraries. Readers will gain an appreciation for how brains work differently, and they will come away with the message that we all have gifts to share with the world. It's an inspiring story that should be required reading for all middle school students.

Temple Grandin's TED Talk

Please add the link to your nonfiction review in the Mr. Linky box below.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Saving Animals After Tornadoes

Saving Animals After Tornadoes
by Stephen Person
Bearport Publishing. 2012
ISBN: 9781617724589
(Grades 2-4)
Publisher sent reviewer a copy of book

Saving Animals after Tornadoes written by Stephen Person is another title in the Rescuing Animals from Disaster series by Bearport. The seven books in the series look at how people work to save animals from disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes, volcanoes, and oil spills.

This book focuses on the Super Outbreak of Tornadoes that struck 15 different states – from Mississippi all the way to New York, between April 26 and April 28, 2011. Many animals were separated from their owners for different reasons. The powerful winds carried some animals far from home, others were trapped in debris, and many were left alone when their owners died during the storm. However it happened, the animals needed to be found to receive medical attention, food, water, and shelter. Readers are told that some animals were reunited with their families, while others would be adopted.

The fast-paced writing is exciting.  The abundant color photos are well captioned and show animals in the arms of their rescuers. Very emotional.  A glossary, bibliography, and suggestions for further reading are included.  

This is a good series for animal lovers.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Independent Book Blogger Award

Show your support for The Nonfiction Detectives. Please vote for us in Goodreads' Independent Book Blogger Awards. We are entered in the Young Adult & Children's Category- Children's General.

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Monday, April 9, 2012

World War I: An Interactive History Adventure

World War I: An Interactive History Adventure
by Gwenyth Swain
You Choose Books- Capstone Press, 2012
ISBN 9781429660204
Gr. 3-7

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

There seem to be three major categories of nonfiction books for children:
1) Curriculum books that teachers use with classes as part of math, science and social studies lessons
2) Research book that students check out when they're looking for information for a research project
3) Pleasure reading nonfiction books that kids read independently (The Guinness Book of World Records, the DK Eyewitness series, and anything by Nic Bishop fall into this category.)

I recently came across a nonfiction series from the third category that is a hot commodity in the library. Kids stop by daily to see which books have been recently returned. The books are part of the Interactive History Adventure series by Capstone, and they're modeled after the old Choose Your Own Adventure books from the 1970s and 80s.

I brought home a few books from the series to read to see what the buzz is about, and I found myself sucked into the stories. Each book begins with a page titled "About Your Adventure." Here's a passage from the introduction to World War I:

"YOU are a young person coming of age as the world explodes in war. What will you do? How will you face the horrors of worldwide conflict? In this book you'll explore how the choices people made meant the difference between life and death. The events you'll experience happened to real people."

The story is written in the second person narrative making the reader the main character. At the beginning of World War I, I had to choose to live in Belgium, join the British military or join the American troops. I chose the British military and followed the instructions on the bottom of the page to turn to page 43.

After a series of choices, I ended up as an infantryman in Wales. While delivering a message to the command post, I was shot and killed. Immediately, I turned back to the beginning of the book to try another path. It is obvious why the books are so appealing to middle grade readers. The stories are full of adventure and suspense, and there are dozens of possible stories to follow within one book. The author does not shy away from the violence or bloodshed of war which contributes to the kid appeal.

You see David lying nearby. Blood is gushing from a wound to his head.  You rush to his side but forget to stay low to the ground. A German bullet strikes you, and you fall. (p. 63)

Black and white photographs, maps and illustrations throughout the book help paint a picture of historical events for young readers.  Back matter includes a timeline, glossary, bibliography, and index.

Essentially the books in the Interactive History series are a hybrid of fiction and nonfiction.  It's evident from the bibliography that Swain researched World War I when writing the stories, however the book contains invented dialogue and fictionalized characters.

Boom! A huge explosion rocks the ship. You and Joe are thrown from the deck. 

"What's happening?" you shout.

"It must be a German torpedo," Joe yells back. (p. 21)

For that reason, this is not the book I would hand to a student researching World War I for a class assignment. It is a book that I would give to reluctant readers. The length of the stories and the action-packed scenes from history will hook them right away. There are more than two dozen titles in the series covering topics such as the Titanic, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Salem Witch Trials. So far the books have accomplished two things in my library: they have attracted more readers to the nonfiction section, and they are serving as springboards to other history books. That makes me one happy librarian.

Visit the Capstone site to view a page from a book and to see the list of available titles:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Brothers at Bat by Audrey Vernick

Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team
by Audrey Vernick
illustrated by Steven Salerno
Clarion Books, 2012
ISBN: 9780547385570 
(Gr. K-4)
 The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.

The Nonfiction Detectives and Kid Lit Frenzy are encouraging everyone to read more nonfiction picture books with our 2012 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Brothers at Bat, a new nonfiction picture book, has been released just in time for opening day.  Young readers and baseball fans will be intrigued by the true story of twelve brothers from New Jersey who were avid baseball players. The Acerras played together on baseball teams in their neighborhood, in high school, and on a semi-professional team. Spanning from the 1920s to the 1950s, they were the longest playing all-brothers baseball team.

Salerno's playful gouache and pastel illustrations bring a feeling of nostalgia to the story. The warm yellow, green and blue illustrations of the Acerras playing ball change to dark gray and deep green when some of the brothers are sent to war.  The Acerras played their last game together in 1952. They were later honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Vernick shares in an author's note that the book is based on interviews with Freddy and Eddie Acerra along with research she conducted at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Brothers at Bat would make a wonderful read aloud to celebrate families and America's pastime. Pair this book with There Goes Ted Williams by Matt Tavares or The Unforgettable Season by Phil Bildner.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Warmer World: From Polar Bears to Butterfiles by Caroline Arnold

 A Warmer World: From Polar Bears to Butterflies, How Climate Change Affects Wildlife
by Caroline Arnold; Illustrated by Jamie Hogan
Charlesbridge. 2012
ISBN: 9781580892667
(Grades K -5)
This reviewer received a copy of the book from the illustrator.

Happy April, the month that is full of new beginnings. This is the month when we really notice the Earth awaking from her long winter sleep. Buds swell on the trees, grass turns green, birds return, and days continue to get longer.  Here in Maine we refer to this time of year as Mud Season. As peoples attention turns towards the outdoors, we are reminded that April is also when we celebrate Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (April 27)  An important time to teach students why it is important to care for our earth. 

In A Warmer World: From Polar Bears to Butterflies, prolific science writer Caroline Arnold explains how climate change affects wildlife.  The book’s design and language makes it appealing to elementary school readers, grades 1-5. The author does a great job explaining some complicated ideas. For example, the difference between climate and weather, “climate is what you expect [for example, a wet spring) and weather is what you get (for example, a thunderstorm). 

Many animals are listed: Foxes, Edith's Checkerspot Butterfly, Squirrels and Mice, Polar Bears, Walruses, Penguins, Krill, Yellow-Bellied Marmot, Coral Reefs, Fish, and Loggerhead Turtles. Carefully, Arnold explains the damaging impact Global Warming is having on their existence. Scientists have said that with warmer temperatures animals and insects are expanding their range. We see that with the Red Fox whose habitat is that of forests and brushland are moving farther north, into the once treeless Arctic where trees and brush now grow. It may seem okay, but what about the small Arctic fox who thrive only in some of the coldest places on Earth? They must now compete with the Red fox for available food.  We all have heard how the warming trend is melting the polar ice caps, which is having a devastating affect on Polar Bears. The other animal that is affected are walruses. The walruses use the sea ice “as a resting platform, pulling themselves up with their long tusks. Pups wait on the ice while their mothers dive for food. As more sea ice melts, these “islands” become fewer and father from shore, and there are no platforms in shallow water for mother and their pups. The pups often become separated from their mothers. They cannot survive on their own.” Arnold doesn’t shield her audience from the harsh reality. She successfully presents this complex information in words they can understand without being too depressing.

Partnering with Arnold is Maine artist, Jamie Hogan who uses charcoal pencil and pastel on sanded paper with elements of collage, paper, and tags creating illustrations that are rich in color and well researched. Her beautiful drawings fill every inch of the two-page spreads and mirrors Arnold’s text.  At first I wondered why Arnold didn’t use actual photos, but now I believe Hogan’s illustrations keep the book from becoming too upsetting for its target audience.  Plus, she is a gifted artist.  Her animals, insects, and reptiles seem to be looking right at readers, as if encouraging (challenging) us to pay attention and do what we can to stop Global Warming.  Because we do not have permission from publishers to show more than just the book jacket, go here to see the inside pages:

The book includes a glossary, along with a listing of web sites and books for further reading.

This book is a fine addition for all libraries. Include it in a variety of displays , especially for Earth Day, Arbor Day, Global Warming, Gardening, or Endangered Animals.