Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Ahead to 2014

Happy New Year from The Nonfiction Detectives!
Here are some upcoming nonfiction titles that we're excited about reading in 2014.

Angel Island by Russell Freedman
Publication Date: Jan. 7, 2014

A Baby Elephant in the Wild by Caitlin O'Connor
Publication Date: March 18, 2014

How the Beatles Changed the World by Martin W. Sandler
Publication Date: Feb. 4, 2014

Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin
Publication Date: Jan. 28, 2014

Sea Turtle Scientist by Stephen R. Swinburne
Publication Date: Jan. 7, 2014

Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America by Tonya Bolden
Publication Date: Jan. 7, 2014

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman
Publication Date: Jan. 7, 2014

Monday, December 23, 2013


Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker 
by Patricia Hruby Powell
illustrated by Christian Robinson
Chronicle Books
On shelves January 14, 2014
ISBN: 9781452103143
Grades 3 and up

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

In poetic form, Patricia Hruby Powell chronicles the amazing life of Josephine Baker in this extended (104 pages) picture book biography. The book is divided into six sections organized by date. Readers will learn about Baker's rise from poverty to success as a singer and dancer on stages in New York and Paris in the face of racism and segregation. Quotes from Baker are brilliantly placed throughout the book bringing her personality to the page.

"When I saw those watching faces a giddiness swept over me... I let the music carry me away. The audience whistled and clapped."

Young readers will be dismayed at the racism Baker encountered as she performed in America in the 1920s.  "To the whites, I looked chocolate, to the blacks, like a pinky."

Baker found success and acceptance on the stages of Paris and even returned during WWII to serve soup to the poor and to spy for France. "At embassy events she flirted with friend and foe, eavesdropped on Nazi officials. Then, safe in her room, she wrote it all out in invisible ink."

Robinson's vibrant, acrylic illustrations inspired by artist, Paul Colin's paintings, capture the exuberance and energy of Baker. According to the illustrator's note, Robinson traveled to Paris to "get a sense of Josephine's journey." The poetic narrative coupled with the bold illustrations make this picture book biography a true gem and a great way to start 2014.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Animal Book by Steve Jenkins

The Animal Book: a collection of the fastest, fiercest, toughest, cleverest, shyest – and most surprising – animals on Earth
By Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin. 2013
ISBN: 9780547557991
All ages
To write this review, I borrowed the book from my local public library.

Steve Jenkins is a favorite with Cathy and me. His attention to detail in the overall design makes each of his thirty books very high quality. Also, his range of topics makes him very, very popular with readers.

In his latest, The Animal Book, Jenkins looks at 300 of the world’s most remarkable animals that leap, soar, slither and tumble. The book is divided into eight chapters: ‘Animals’; ‘Family’; ‘Animal Senses’; ‘Predators’; ‘Defenses’; ‘Animal Extremes’; ‘Story of Life’; and ‘More Information’. Within each chapter are two-page spreads that offer facts about some remarkable animal traits in this collection of the fastest, fiercest, toughest, cleverest, shyest -- and most surprising – animals on Earth. Every page is illustrated with the animals that correspond back to the topic. For example, in the chapter Defenses, under Protective Poison, there are eight animals that produce their own toxins. The weeverfish buries itself in the sand, popping out to grab smaller fish. Poisonous spines on its back protect it against its own predators.

I learned that groundhogs live up to eight years. I’m trying to learn how to co-exist with the groundhogs that moved into my yard last summer. Fences do make good neighbors. One minor flaw states turkey vultures living 115 years. I believe it should have read 15.

A wonderful addition to this compendium of animal facts, Jenkins writes about how he makes books, where he finds his inspiration, the research involved, and then what comes next once the idea for a book begins to take shape. You can also view this by going here.

The Animal Book: a collection of the fastest, fiercest, toughest, cleverest, shyest -- and most surprising – animals on Earth is a top-notch science book that will appeal to a wide range of readers.

For more information about Steve Jenkins, visit his website.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Randolph Caldecott: the Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing by Leonard S. Marcus

Randolph Caldecott: the Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing
by Leonard S. Marcus
Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux. 2013
ISBN: 9780374310257
Grades 5 and up to read independently; younger if shared
I borrowed it from my local public library

No matter how carefully I comb through review journals, there are always a few books I wish I had read in time to add them to our Best of the year list. This year was no exception. 

Historian and well-known book critic, Leonard Marcus, author of many titles that document some of the best movers and shakers in children’s literature, now offers readers a thoroughly readable and engaging biography of British illustrator, the man who invented the modern picture book, Randolph Caldecott. (1846-1886). 

Caldecott was born in Chester, England on March 22, 1846. A sickly child whose heart was damaged from rheumatic fever, he was tall, lanky, and good-looking, with blue-gray eyes and light brown hair that occasionally stood on end, he had a ready smile and easy-going manner and enjoyed poking fun at himself. Though he was formally educated and worked as a bank clerk, the young Caldecott always had a passion for drawing.  A co-worker at the bank would later say of Caldecott, He came like a ray of sunlight into our life, and brightened the drudgery of our toil with his cheerful humour, and the playful sketches so easily done.

Just as Caldecott’s illustrations encouraged readers to turn the page to see what came next, so is it with Marcus’ writing. We learn not only of Caldecott’s passion for his art, but Marcus explains how the advances in his world, for example the increase use of the steam engine and travel by train would influenced how Caldecott captured action, movement, and speed. 

 The book’s design is also wonderful; it features extensive archival material and each page is abundant with sketches, paintings, and drawings some never before published. 

For most people, Caldecott is a familiar name, with Marcus' book, we can now know much about the man whose name has been forever linked with the best of the best in illustrations. 

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Award. Libraries, schools, museums, and others have celebrated this moments event. Randolph Caldecott: the Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing is a must-read with students every January as librarians, both in schools and public libraries, anxiously await the announcement of the Caldecott winner at the press conference held at the American Library Association’s mid-winter conference. (Cathy will be there this year sitting with her Sibert Committee. Go, Cathy!) 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Nonfiction News- December 2013

Horn Book released its 2013 Fanfare (best books) last week. Seven nonfiction titles graced the list this year.

Librarians at the New York Public Library revealed their latest list of 100 Best Books for Reading and Sharing in a colorful PDF. The list includes many nonfiction titles for children from 2013.

The Hamilton-Wenham Public Library in South Hamilton, MA has compiled an excellent list of nonfiction books for teen readers. (Thanks to Chris Barton for pointing out this resource on Twitter.)

Give the gift of books this holiday season. Each time you read a book from, the organization donates a book to a child or group in need. There is a great selection of children's books on the site including one of Louise's favorite books of 2013: Rabbit's Snow Dance.

We leave you with some nonfiction book trailers to share with the children in your library or school.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Best Nonfiction Books of 2013

2013 was an unusual blogging year for The Nonfiction Detectives. I kept the blog running smoothly while Cathy served on the 2014 Sibert Medal committee. As a member of an ALSC committee, Cathy was not allowed to publicly review 2013 informational books. Too bad. Consequently, all reviews of 2013 titles were written by me! Ta da! It was hard not to have Cathy reviewing and to add her favorite books for this year's list of best books. Oh, well. She will be back reviewing next year. 
I hope you enjoy my favorite books from 2013.

Here is Louise's List of 
Best Nonfiction Books of 2013. 
(in alphabetical order by title with links to reviews)

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine

The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible...on Schindler's List by Leon Leyson

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel and Melissa Sweet

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America's First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone

Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skelton by Meghan McCarthy

Diego Rivera: Artist for the People by Susan Goldman Rubin

The Dolphins of Shark Bay by Pamela S. Turner

Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives by Elizabeth Rusch and Tom Uhlman

Follow, Follow by Marilyn Singer

The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown

It's Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden by George Ancona

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

Look Up!: Bird-Watching In Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate

Rabbit's Snow Dance: A Traditional Iroquois Story as told by James and Joe Bruchac and Jeff Newman

A Reason to Read: Linking Literacy and the Arts by Ellen Landay and Kurt Wootton
(professional book)

A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

The Tapir Scientist: Saving South America's Largest Mammal by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop

Why Do We Fight?: Conflict, War and Peace by Niki Walker

Monday, December 2, 2013

It's coming….

Stay tuned for our Best of 2013…

Coming on Monday, December 9.

Find out which books rose to the top of the pile. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Nonfiction News- The Black Friday Edition

After giving thanks and spending the day with family and friends many people are out fighting the Black Friday crowds looking for deals on electronics and toys. Instead of braving the crowds to save a bit of money, the Nonfiction Detectives encourage you to visit your local library or independent bookstore.

If you're looking for the perfect gift for the nonfiction fan in your life, check out these lists of some of the best children's books of the year.

Louise is currently compiling a list of The Nonfiction Detectives' Best Books of 2013. 
Be sure to visit the blog next month when the list is revealed.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Dolphins of Shark Bay by Pamela S. Turner

The Dolphins of Shark Bay: Scientists in the Field series
By Pamela S. Turner; Photographs by Scott Tuason
Houghton Mifflin; 2013
ISBN: 9780547716381
Grades 7 and up
I received a copy of the book from the publisher.

In this new addition to the award-winning Scientists in the Field series, veteran writer Pamela S. Turner (The Frog Scientist) travels to Shark Bay, Australia where she meets up with dolphin scientist Janet Mann. For over twenty-five years, Mann and her research team have been studying wild bottlenose dolphins, “the only tool-using dolphins anywhere in the world.”  

Yes, that’s right, folks. The dolphins that make their home in Shark Bay, which covers 3,900 square miles in Western Australia, intentionally hold a sponge on the end of their nose to help flush out their prey. It looks like brown blobs covering their noses. Called Spongers, a dolphin masters sponging only if Mom also sponges. Mann wonders why they use the sponges instead of echolocation.

Another technique, more rare than sponging, is beach hunting, a strategy where the dolphin rushes onto the sandy beach in order to scare their prey back into the water. Beach hunting is a dangerous method that requires a long apprenticeship.” Both practices are only kept in the family.

Turner uses a conversational tone in this highly engrossing narrative that includes lots of facts, research findings, and raises some thought-provoking questions about the animal kingdom. Accompany the text are Tuason’s stunning photographs that capture the playfulness of these fascinating creatures.

The book closes with an interesting question: If learning sponging is a tradition passed on from mother to child, does it mean that dolphins have culture? 

It is a question teachers and librarians may want readers to contemplate.

Visit Turner's website for a Dolphins Discussion and Activity Guide.

Friday, November 22, 2013

From the Backlist: Thank You, Sarah

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving  
by Laurie Halse Anderson
illustrated by Matt Faulkner
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2002
ISBN: 0689847874
Grades 2-6

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

Next week when Americans are sitting down to a meal of turkey, stuffing, and pie, images of pilgrims and Native Americans come to mind. However, many people don't realize that without the tireless effort of Sarah Hale, Thanksgiving wouldn't be a national holiday.

Laurie Halse Anderson makes the case for why Sarah Hale should be viewed as a superhero in the nonfiction picture book, Thank You, Sarah. Anderson points out to readers that Hale wasn't your typical superhero. She looked like "a dainty, little lady." Yet, she was also "bold and brave and stubborn and smart."

Young readers will be captivated by Anderson's feisty writing style that mirrors the personality of Sarah Hale. Hale, who composed "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and wrote for Ladies' Magazine in the 1800s, made it her mission in life to make sure Thanksgiving was celebrated across the country. When readers read that "Sarah Hale had a secret weapon," they imagine what it could be. The page turn reveals her weapon to be a pen used to write letters to government officials. This could lead to some rich conversations about how to bring about change with the power of writing.

Matt Faulkner's humorous ink, gouache and watercolor illustrations are a perfect match to the witty story. Children will especially like the illustrations of Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan with oversized heads and grumpy facial expressions.  Be sure to read the additional facts in the back of the book. Anderson includes tidbits about the Macy's parade and Thanksgiving Day football games. Pair Thank You, Sarah with Balloons Over Broadway for a Thanksgiving story time.

Read Louise's review of Balloons Over Broadway.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Mad Potter by Jan Greenberg & Sandra Jordan

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius
By Jan Greenberg  & Sandra Jordan
Roaring Brook Press. 2013. 53 pgs.
ISBN: 9781596438101
Grades 6 and up
I borrowed this book from my public library.

In 1968, antiques dealer Jim Carpenter made a discovery of a lifetime. Responding to a request, Carpenter visited “Ojo’s Junk Yard and Machine Shop” run by Ojo and Leo Ohr. Stored in cartons were over 5,000 pieces of pottery made by their father. George Ohr, an eccentric Biloxi potter, insisted that someday his pots would be worth their weight in gold. Fifty years after his death, it looked as if his words might come true. 

Born in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1857, George Ohr always felt the odd man out, especially with his family. Suppose five hen eggs were put under a brood and somebody somewhere made a mistake and got a duck egg in the job lot…I’m that duck and no fault of mine. After sampling over fourteen low-paying jobs, at twenty-two Ohr discovered his passion…the potter’s wheel.

A brilliant man given to theatrics and called The Blacksmith Potter, Ohr’s artist pots were never appreciated in his lifetime.  By 1910, weary that no one recognized his talent, Ohr stored his pots, his ‘mud babies’ into crates and “instructed his family not to sell them for fifty years.” 

Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan have, once again, penned another distinguished book about art. (Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring. 2011 Sibert Honor Book) Illustrated with historical photographs and color reproductions of Ohr’s thoroughly creative ceramics, The Mad Potter tells the story of an individual who never stopped believing in his dreams. 

Back matter includes the creation of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, Mississippi, instructions on how to look at a pot, directions for make your own pot using a potter’s wheel (And How to “Boss” One of Your Own (As George would say)”, bibliography, source notes, and picture credits.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. 

Click here to vsit the author's website.

Friday, November 15, 2013

March: Book One by John Lewis

March: Book One
By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin; Illustrated by Nate Powell
Top Shelf Publishing. 2013
ISBN: 9781603093002
Grades 8 and up
I borrowed a copy from my public library.

March is an autobiography told in graphic format about the life of Congressman John Lewis (GA-5). First in a planned trilogy, March chronicles Lewis’ childhood up to the early years of The Civil Rights Movement.

The book begins on January 20, 2009 in Washington, D.C., the day of Barak Obama’s inauguration. Congressman Lewis is in his office getting ready when a mother and her two young boys from Atlanta come in hoping to see John Lewis’ office.  As the boys ask questions about objects in his office, Congressman Lewis begins sharing about his life. 

Born to a sharecropper in Pike County, Alabama in 1940, John’s responsibility was to look after the chickens.  I never had any feelings about the other animals on the farm, but I was always drawn to the chickens.  When asked why he didn’t become a chicken farmer, Congressman replies, What I really wanted to be was a preacher.

Lewis was a freshman in high school when, in 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court handed its decision in the school desegregation case of Brown vs the Board of Education of Topeka. That decision would change his life. He went from a student in a segregated classroom to attending a workshop in non-violence to staging peaceful sit-ins at all-white lunch counters.

Award-winning artist, Nate Powell, illustrates March. Done entirely in grayscale, Powell’s illustrations reflect many moods and emotions. The book has some humorous moments, as when we see a young Lewis ministering to his chickens. Yet the strength in this slim volume is that it provides readers with a highly accessible history of the Civil Rights Movement and the life of John Lewis, one of the movements most resounding voices for equality. 

March will definitely be on my Best of 2013 list.

Listen to the story of March: Book One on NPR.


Monday, November 11, 2013

The Poppy Lady

The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans 
by Barbara Walsh
illustrated by Layne Johnson
Calkins Creek, 2012
ISBN: 9781590787540
Grades 2-6

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

During World War I, Moina Belle Michael pitched in by delivering reading material to the troops and volunteering for the Red Cross, but she wanted to do more to help American soldiers. Her age prohibited her from traveling overseas to support and feed soldiers on the battlefield, so Moina helped troops at home before they shipped off to war. One day Moina was deeply moved after reading the poem, We Shall Not Sleep" about Flanders Field.

"The poem was 'most strikingly illustrated in color.' Spirits of soldiers floated about the battleground covered in white crosses and bright red poppies. There were no names on the crosses. No memory of who rested beneath the red poppies. And Mona knew what she had to do." 

She went out and purchased red, silk poppies and encouraged everyone to wear poppies as a way of remembering soldiers who had died in war. Eventually veterans' groups "adopted the poppy as their memorial flower, and the message traveled overseas."

The Poppy Lady is a touching story of how the actions of one woman had a impact on soldiers across the world. The oil painting illustrations bring a nostalgic feeling to the story. Read aloud The Poppy Lady with children on Veterans' Day. A portion of the proceeds from book sales will benefit children of the U.S. Military.

Book Trailer for The Poppy Lady

Thursday, November 7, 2013

For the Good of Mankind by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein

For the Good of Mankind: the shameful history of human medical experimentation
By Vicki Oransky Wittenstein
Twenty-First Century Books. 2013
Grades 8 and up
The publisher sent this reviewer a copy of the book.
We are taking part in a blog tour to promote For the Good of Mankind. 

According to Wittenstein, For most of early history, practicing sound medicine was not distinguishable from experimenting. There was just so much about the human body doctors did not understand. The experimenting that was happening was conducted for "therapeutic purposes, where doctors intended a direct benefit for the patient.  After all, the Hippocratic Oath, written about 4790 to 360 B.C.E. stated, "Primum non nocere" First of all, to do no harm. But around the 1700's, in hopes of finding cures for diseases such as smallpox, doctors began stepping over that fine line and upped the risks by experimenting on healthy people -- including children and African Americans -- exposing them to diseases, without their knowledge or consent. 

Though created as a framework for medical ethics and the laws regarding human medical experimentation, The Nuremberg Code came out of the Nuremberg Trials (October 1946 to April 1949) set up to prosecute those Nazi doctors who practiced horrific experiments on individuals held in the concentration camps in Germany during World War Two. Still, despite the Nuremberg Code and other laws that are created to protect human subjects, experimentation without consent or full knowledge of the outcome still continues. 

In five chapters, Wittenstein's narrative describes a wide range of unethical and immoral medical behavior on the part of researchers, doctors and other medical staff, and government officials. She covers specific experiments on viruses, such as Hepatitis and Syphilis, and the shady business of medical research for new drugs. Deepening the readers experience are sidebars with more details about what is discussed in the text, and illustrated throughout with black & white historical photos. 

The author, a prosecutor and advocate for children and young adults, ends the book with, "What Do You Think?” She offers a brief paragraph with scenarios and questions to encourage students to think beyond the text about this highly emotional topic. Give this to middle or high school students studying the ethics of medical experimentations. 

Back matter includes source notes, selected bibliography, additional information of books, websites, films, and interviews, and index.

Reviewed by Louise

Visit the author's website for more information, and a free discussion guide.

To read what other bloggers have to say about Wittenstein's book, visit these sites.

Mon, Nov 4

Tues, Nov 5

Fri, Nov 8

Mon, Nov 11

Tues, Nov 12

Wed, Nov 13

Thurs, Nov 14

Fri, Nov 15

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

The Boy on the Wooden Box: how the impossible became possible…on Schindler’s list
A Memoir by Leon Leyson with Marilyn J. Harran * Elisabeth B. Leyson
Atheneum Books for Young Children. 2013
ISBN: 9781442497818
Grades 6 and up
This reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from the public library.

Leon Leyson loved playing on the Krakow streetcars with his friends and tagging along after his older brothers. Then, suddenly, German soldiers were:
In his country.
In his city.
In his home.

Leyson was ten years old when the Nazi’s entered Poland, changing his life forever. Three of his brothers would die at the hands of the Germans, but Leyson, his sister, mother and father would be saved because of Oskar Schindler and his famous “list”. 

After surviving the war and living in a displaced persons camp in Wetzlar, Germany, in the American occupied zone the family came to California in May of 1949. Leyson was just nineteen years old. “My real life was just beginning.” 

In the epilogue Leyson explains that he never shared what he had experienced during the war with friends and colleagues until after the release of the movie Schindler’s List. This memoir is based on the talks he gave frequently for over twenty years. Told from the perspective of a child, Leyson’s story is very moving. 

Sadly, Leyson did not live to know that Atheneum would publish his book. He died from T-cell lymphoma on January 12, 2013. Please share this book with students who are studying the Holocaust. Pair the Boy on the Wooden Box with these fiction titles about the Jewish experience in Poland during WW2: Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli, and Run, Boy, Run by Uri Orliev.  

Listen to Leon Leyson tell his story in 12-parts on YouTube

Back matter also includes photos, an afterward, and index. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Aliens Are Coming! by Meghan McCarthy

Aliens Are Coming!: The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast
by Meghan McCarthy
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006
ISBN: 9780375835186
Grades 2-6

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

Are you looking for a book to share with children on Halloween? Aliens Are Coming! may be just what you need. This informational picture book recounts how Orson Welles scared the pants off the entire country with the War of the Worlds radio broadcast on Oct. 30, 1938.

At the beginning of the book, readers get a glimpse of life in the 1930s as McCarthy uses black and white paint to illustrate a family sitting around the radio listening to Ramon Raquello play the tango. When the announcer interrupts the broadcast with news of explosions on Mars, things get serious in a hurry. Colorful illustrations of aliens landing in Grovers Mills, New Jersey accompany excerpts from the actual radio transcript. As citizens follow the news of a possible alien invasion, panic ensues until it's revealed to be a hoax. McCarthy is a pro at relating history to children in an accessible and exciting manner. The cartoon-style illustrations and characters with google eyes will make this a popular read with kids.

A detailed author's note provides readers with more background information about Welles' radio prank and its effects on the nation. If you're planning to share the book with a group in a classroom or library, be sure to play parts of  the War of the Worlds radio broadcast.

Visit Meghan McCarthy's web site to view pages from the book.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Common Core IRL: The Salem Witch Trials

As Halloween draws near, we thought it fitting that Common Core: IRL focus on scary stories. Be sure to visit the following blogs today to read reviews of frightening tales (both fiction and nonfiction) and see how they may be used in classrooms settings. 
100 Scope Notes

Sometimes real life is more frightening than fiction, so today we're highlighting books from a terrifying event from our past: The Salem Witch Trails.

Witches!: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem 
by Rosalyn Schanzer
National Geographic, 2011
ISBN: 9781426308703
Grades 6 and up
2012 Sibert Honor Book

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

Rosalyn Schanzer packs a lot into the 144 pages of this small nonfiction book for young adults. It is evident from the detailed story and the extensive bibliography that Schanzer meticulously researched the mysterious events from 17th century Salem.

Chapter One, titled "Where the Stage is Set," provides background information about the Puritan religion and their beliefs about the Devil. The author ends the chapter by identifying three reasons why Salem's Reverend Parris was discontent with his current situation: he had not received the firewood he had been promised, he had not been paid his salary, and his daughter was sick with fits and seizures. His daughter's mysterious illness will prove to be just the beginning of a frightening and dark period in history when innocent people were accused, tried and hung for witchcraft.

Witches! is a rich, nonfiction text to use with students for several reasons.  Schanzer's description of the events coupled with excerpts from transcripts from the trials provide readers with sense of the severity of the accusations during the colonial era. The author effectively uses questions throughout the chapters to encourage readers to think and reflect as they read.

"And who else would rake coals over the reputations of Martha Cory, Elizabeth Proctor, and even Elizabeth's husband, a big burly tavern keeper named John Proctor? It was the Proctors' very own 20-year-old servant, Mary Warren. Now why would she do that? Was she truly ill? Was she terrified by shadows in her chambers? Or was she out for revenge against her hot-headed master?" (p. 43-44)

Black, white and red scratchboard illustrations are fitting for this story involving beliefs about witches, the Devil and demons; the Caslon Antique font appropriately reflects the 1600s.
Educators who use Witches! in literature or history class should ask students to identify the central ideas of the book and to develop theories about what caused the hysteria and the subsequent trials based on evidence from the text.  Witches! could also be used to provide readers with historical context before reading fiction titles such as A Break with Charity or The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

Witches!: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem addresses the following 7th grade Common Core State Standards:

  • ELA Literacy: Reading Informational Texts
  • Key Ideas and Details
  • 7.2 Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 
  • 7.8 Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.

Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials 
by Marc Aronson
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003
ISBN: 9780689848643
Grades 9 and up

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

Aronson, always meticulous in his research, covers the same information as Schanzer does in Witches!, but fills out his detailed narrative with actual historical transcripts or notes taken during the trials. He outlines the events, and indicates key questions that historians over the years have also raised.

Why did the good people of Salem cause nineteen people to be hanged and twenty-five more to die? Was it revenge? A silly teenagers prank out of boredom? Did the judge and the adults who attended the trials really believe the accused were witches? 

Written directly with teens in mind, the ten chapters are presented as a mystery and Aronson states, “the challenge of this book is to give you enough information to begin to think for yourself about what really happened in Salem, Massachusettes, 1692. If the study of the witchcraft accusations, and of the mythologies that have grown up around them, teaches anything, it is that we must be careful with evidence.” 

Aronson in his epilogue continues to provide insight in order to help make sense of current scholars differing views.  In the appendix, Aronson believes that Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible and its compelling portrait of the Salem trials was influenced by his experience with the House Un-American Activities Committee that blacklisted hundreds of people in the motion picture industry during the late 1940s. Other back matter includes a timeline, source notes, bibliography, and index.

Witch-Hunt addresses the following Common Core State Standards for grades 9-10:

      Key Ideas and Details
    9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text,   including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

      9-10.3 Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.

Craft and Structure
9-10.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas                                                                                                                    
9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.

This book trailer of Witches! includes examples of Schanzer's scratchboard illustrations.