Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, July 29, 2013

Potatoes on Rooftops by Hadley Dyer

Potatoes on Rooftops: farming in the City
Hadley Dyer
Annick Press. 2012
ISBN: 9781554514250
Grades 3 and up
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

Did you know that city dwellers can grow food too?

In Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City author Hadley Dyer will show you there are a myriad of doable possibilities to having your own garden; anything is possible.

Using a friendly tone, Dyer packs a lot of information into this 82 page tome. She includes facts, backstory about the urban gardening movement, and plenty of inspiration and large color photos that will have readers eager to start.

The book is divided into four parts. Part 1: Hungry Cities explains the cost of importing food to cities and shares statistics on how even in the US, the distance between home and grocery store can make eating at  fast food restaurants a more affordable option.

Part 2: Plant a Seed gives some background on urban farming. From Ye Olde Victory Gardens to community gardens to people planting food on their rooftops,  if there is a will then there is probably a way.

Green Your City, Part 3: offers suggestions on how people all over the world can find solutions. You can plant a garden, raise chickens, make compost, or harvest water. The possibilities are plentiful.

Part 4: Your Green Thumb. Small actions can add up to sweeping changes. And sometimes when you take action for one reason, you discover all kinds of others you hadn’t considered before.

The information presented in Potatoes on Rooftops is not limited to the US, but offers a world-wide perspective. For example, in Part 4 we read how an old garbage dump in the neighborhood of Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya became a home to more than a million people. It is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the world. Disgusted by the filth, a group of young people in their late 20’s took 105 days to clean up the filth from an area of the slum and then turned that space into a small farm.

The design offers short, informative bursts of information surrounded by color photos that have captions or informational sidebars bursting with more facts and information. Included is a glossary, resources on how to start your own urban farm, websites, and index. 

For a classroom activity, first read Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman then share Potatoes on Rooftops and It’s Our Garden: from seed to harvest in a school garden by George Ancona

Reviewed by Louise

Friday, July 26, 2013

From the Backlist: Ballet for Martha

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring 
by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
illustrated by Brian Floca
A Neal Porter Book (Roaring Brook Press), 2010.
ISBN: 9781596433380
Grades K-4
Awards: 2011 Sibert Honor

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

Three artists collaborated to make this exquisite nonfiction picture book about the collaboration of three other artists. Greenberg, Jordan and Floca eloquently share the story of how Martha Graham, Aaron Copland and Isamu Noguchi worked together to create the iconic American ballet, Appalachian Spring, which debuted in 1944.

The book would make an excellent read aloud and an introduction to the world of ballet for many young readers. The authors share how Graham had the idea for a ballet set on a Pennsylvania farm during pioneer times.  Floca's watercolor illustrations depict Graham in graceful poses as she choreographs the ballet. Copland is seen working at his piano while manuscript paper serves as the background on the page. Artist, Noguchi, who lived in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, designed the set for the ballet. Greenberg and Jordan effectively weave quotations into the narrative, and a source note for each quote can be found in the back of the book along with a lengthy bibliography. An authors' note or "Curtain Call" provides readers with interesting background information about Graham, Copland and Noguchi. Readers who enjoy Ballet for Martha may want to check out Action Jackson by Greenberg and Jordan.

The Smithsonian provides educators with a Ballet for Martha lesson plan for K-4 classes. Be sure to share this YouTube video of Appalachian Spring.

Did you know that Jan Greenberg, Sandra Jordan and Brian Floca have each won three Sibert Honors for best informational book for children? Take a look at our Sibert Medal infographic for more Sibert stats.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Tapir Scientist by Sy Montgomery

The Tapir Scientist: Saving South America’s Largest Mammal
Text by Sy Montgomery; Photographs by Nic Bishop
(Scientists in the Field)
Houghton Mifflin. 2013
ISBN: 9780547815480
Grades 6 to 12
My review copy was sent to me by the publisher

Stop tweeting! 
Put that video game on pause!
Grab a cuppa and...settle in with the newest title in the Scientists in the Field series.

The Tapir Scientist is the latest collaboration of Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop. This time they travel to the world’s largest freshwater wetlands, known as the Pantanal in Brazil, South America where they meet up with Brazilian Pati Medici and her team of field scientist as they work to save and preserve one of the shyest loners in nature...the lowland tapir.   

Montgomery gives us a fascinating blow-by-blow account of how these resourceful and determined scientists go about trapping, sedating, placing radio-collars or microchips on these hard to find exotic mammals with the goal of saving them from extinction. (Tapirs are found in other areas of South America and Southeast Asia, but the focus of Pati Medici is on lowland tapir). Despite the heat, ticks, mosquitoes, problems with equipment,and many false alarms, they keep up their spirits. They work hard, tirelessly, and in often difficult terrain, because Medici and the other scientists know that what they are doing is extremely important.

Conservationists recognize tapirs as an “umbrella species” - animals who need large amounts of land and often different habitat types. If tapirs are protected, that “umbrella” of protection will safeguard many other species as well.

Accompanying Montgomery’s fascinating narrative are the photographs of Nic Bishop. Not only do we see the tapir, but Bishop also captures on film some of the other species who share the Pantanal, especially an anteater. Back matter includes maps, selected bibliography, and index. Another wonderful addition to this great series.

Go to Pati Medici’s website for more information about her work. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Nonfiction News- July 2013

A recent Mind Shift article has been getting some attention online and with good reason. Holly Korbey interviewed Vicki Cobb from Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (I.N.K.) about how to get children interested in reading nonfiction. Cobb also recommends nonfiction books for kids to read over the summer. In case you missed it, Louise recommended fiction books for children in a Mind Shift article in June.

Speaking of I.N.K., teachers should  bookmark this post on the Interesting Nonfiction for Kids site. Elizabeth Rusch has compiled a list of online teachers' guides for dozens of nonfiction books. The links are organized by subject (history, math, science, etc...). I.N.K. hopes to encourage more teachers to bring nonfiction texts in the classroom.

Have you ever wondered how an author brings a new project to fruition? Melissa Stewart has created an interactive timeline that documents the ten years it took to publish her latest nonfiction book, No Monkeys, No Chocolate. Be sure to share this with children in your library or school. Kids are usually quite curious about the process of publishing books.

Here's something to look forward to in 2014. Steve Sheinkin's new nonfiction book is scheduled to be released in January. Steve was on hand at a Macmillan breakfast during the American Library Association Annual Conference, and he talked about The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights. The book is set at the Port Chicago naval base in California during World War II. Sheinkin documents how a group of African American workers were charged with mutiny when they refused to return to work due to unsafe working conditions. Sheinkin, who is known for doing meticulous research for his books, references dozens of books, articles, Navy documents and oral interviews conducted by Dr. Robert Allen of Berkeley. You can read more about Sheinkin's project in this blog post on the Teaching Books site.
Steve Sheinkin talks about his latest book at a Macmillan event in Chicago.

Monday, July 15, 2013

ERUPTION! by Elizabeth Rusch

ERUPTION!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives
(Scientists in the Field series)
by Elizabeth Rusch; Photographs by Tom Ullman
Houghton Mifflin. 2013
ISBN: 9780547503509
Grades 6 and up
To review this title, I checked the book out of my local public library.

Me: Aiden, what do you want to be when you grow up?
ME: A what?
Aiden: I want to study volcanoes and watch them blow up and spit out all that hot lava and see the mud slide down the side of the mountain. That would be so cool!
ME: Oh, you mean you want to be a volcanologist.
Aiden: Yea! That's what I said, a vulcanologist.

At least fifty volcanoes erupt each year. We’ve felt a few rumbles right here in Maine from time to time. According to Elizabeth Rusch, in Eruption: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives
there are 1,500 potentially active volcanoes that dot the globe. More than one billion people -- 20 percent of the world’s population -- live in volcano hazard zones where they could loose their homes or their lives. 

In Eruption, another first-rate title in the Scientists in the Field series, Rusch traces the development of the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP), a brave team of scientists whose mission is to prevent international volcanoes from becoming disasters.

VDAP is a partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the U.S. Geological Survey. VDAP came together in 1985 after the horrific eruption of Nevada del Ruiz located in Columbia, South America where more than 23,000 people were killed. The VDAP calls home the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington where they develop tools and techniques using the effects of the 1980 blast on Mount St. Helens. The book explains the work of the VDAP by explaining their efforts at Mount Pinatubo, Philippines in 1991, and the November 5, 2010, eruption of Merapi, Indonesia. 

Did you know the VDAP holds a Volcano Training Camp? Because the VDAP is a small team, they can’t be everywhere when needed. The camp allows those volcanologists in other countries to learn from VDAP experience, the best equipment to have, and overall, how to help them do their jobs better to save more lives. 

The book’s design includes sidebars with interesting information (“Don’t forget the toilet paper...what scientists take with them out in the field”), breath-taking photos, and a highly readable text that will immediately pull readers in and keep them turning the pages. Back matter includes glossary, further reading, author’s note, and index. 

To enhance the experience, if using in a classroom, visit the VDAP website or visit the US Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazard page and subscribe to the Volcano Notification Service (VNS). 

Visit Rusch's website and read our past review of another example of quality nonfiction in the Scientists in the Field series, The Mighty Mars Rover, or visit I.N.K. Interesting Nonfiction for Kids blog to read Rusch's post, On How Research Can Make You Throw-Up. 

Eruption would be a great book to hand to those readers who are devouring the graphic novel, Into the Volcano by Don Wood. Uhlman's photographs are amazing.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Children's Book-A-Day Almanac by Anita Silvey

Children's Book-A-Day Almanac 
by Anita Silvey
Roaring Brook Press, 2012
ISBN: 9781596437081
Professional Reference Book

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

Summer is the perfect time for teachers, librarians and book lovers to catch up on their reading. Sit outside with a glass of lemonade and a good book, and that's what I call the perfect day. If you're not sure which books to read this summer or which books to share with your students or patrons, never fear. Anita Silvey has a book for you! In fact, she has 365 books for you.

Organized chronologically, the Children's Book-A-Day Almanac features a different children's book each day of the year. Silvey provides readers with a review and the story behind each book. For example, Johnny Tremain is the featured book on January 1st. Did you know that author Esther Forbes had dyslexia? "She could not spell words and used the dash as her only form of punctuation" (p.1). Silvey highlights Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca on November 28th because November is National Aviation Month. Readers learn that Floca studied with David Macaulay at Rhode Island School of Design.

Silvey does an excellent job of balancing fiction and nonfiction, classics and new titles, and she includes books for a range of readers from "babies to age fourteen." Nonfiction titles include The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, Martin's Big Words, The Notorious Benedict Arnold, So You Want to Be President?, and many more. In addition to the featured book, each page includes a sidebar containing special events, author birthdays, and historical events related to the date. I was most impressed the indices in the back of the book that organized all the books by author, by age and by genre.

Silvey's Children's Book-A-Day Almanac is a resource that children's librarians and reading teachers should have on hand. Readers will be reminded of classic stories that may have been forgotten as well as new books you haven't read yet, and kids will love hearing the stories behind their favorite books. Be sure to visit the Children's Book-A-Day Almanac for your daily dose of reading inspiration.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman

The BOY who LOVED MATH: the improbable life of Paul Erdos
by Deborah Heiligman; Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Roaring Brook Press. 2013
ISBN: 9781596433076
Grades 3 and up
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

There once was a boy who loved math.
Despite the fact that he couldn’t sit still, butter his bread or tie his shoes, Paul Erdos eventually grew up to become  1 of the greatest mathematicians who ever lived.

In The Boy Who Loved Math, prolific author, Deborah Heiligman (she’s written 7x4 books) offers a brief look at Erdos, born in Budapest, Hungary just before the start of World War II. A solitary child, Erdos preferred numbers to interacting with children his own age. By age 4, he would compute in his head how many seconds a person had been alive. At age 10, he fell in love with Prime Numbers.

“Paul had a lot of questions about prime numbers.
Do they go on forever?
Is there a pattern to them?
Why is it that the higher up you go,
the farther apart the prime numbers are?
Paul loved to think about prime numbers.”

Erdos was an unusual person. He was brilliant and well-loved by everyone he met. As Heiligman states in her author’s note, as an adult he was very generous with his knowledge. Instead of working alone, Erdos reached out to other math lovers the world over and was happy to share all he knew. Because of his willingness to share, new fields of math were founded and mathematical research, discoveries, and applications multiplied exponentially. Paul demonstrated that math could be fun and social.

The book’s design is very appealing. The overall tone of both text and illustrations is celebratory. Whenever possible, numbers replace words, and the artist LeUyen Pham incorporates equations, graphs, or number groups into the pictures. Pham also includes 3 pages of detailed explanation about the math used in the book. It was a fun book to read.

Pair The Boy Who Loved Math with Jon Scieszka’s Math Curse. Share with students in grades 3 and up, especially middle and high school math classes. I believe they will appreciate the humor and information. You can also find many videos with Erdos on YouTube. Heiligman recommends N is a Number. They are fun to watch because you do see that he had a great sense of humor, which Heiligman and Pham convey perfectly. 

Children often find math intimidating. To help students see that math can be fun, use the mathematical questions written by Laura Bilodeau Overdeck available for free on her website, Bedtime Math. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Story of Silk by Richard Sobol

The Story of Silk: from worm spit to woven scarves
Richard Sobol
Candlewick Press. 2013
ISBN: 9780763641658
Grades 3 and up
I borrowed this book from my local public library.

Richard Sobol calls himself “the Traveling Photographer” because he travels the globe looking for stories. One will agree as you scroll down and read the descriptions of the topics covered in his books. (Breakfast in the Rainforest, Elephant in the Backyard). My introduction to Sobol was while serving as a first-round judge for the 2011 Cybils Awards. His book, Mysteries of Anykor Wat was one of the nominees. Besides his stunning photography, what I love about Sobol’s books is how he seamlessly incorporates an interesting narrative along with historical details , or as in The Story of Silk, how this sturdy and beautiful fabric is made: from worm spit to woven scarves.

For The Story of Silk: from worm spit to woven scarves, Sobol returned to the remote village Huai Thalaeng located in the Issan Province.(the scene of his book The Life of Rice) He wanted to find out how the farmers spent their time “until the rainy season began the rice growing process started up again.” The farmers answered him with one word: “Worms!”
“Worms?” “Yes, worms! the farmers replied. “Millions and millions of worms!” For in this tiny village, during the dry season, they make silk.

Sobol takes us along as he explains every aspect of the production of silk, from hatching the caterpillar eggs to boiling the cocoons to releasing the silk. The tone of the writing captures the gentle rhythm of the village and how everyone, young and old, work together to create the silk that is essential to their survival. The silk is woven into fabric that is used for their clothing, but also when needed, a product to sell.

In all his books Sobol captures the children going about their day. Whether meditating at the temple, playing jump rope, cleaning off the poop from the cocoons or helping with the weaving, we see their smiling faces.

There is a glossary and facts about silk. The end papers show a map of the world with Thailand colored in red. The color photographs that grace every page are exquisite; I just wish the book designer had placed the captions directly under the photos, instead of at the top of each page. 

Pair The Story of Silk with Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park, a fiction title I recommend all the time. The two books make a perfect match. Other great fiction titles include Red Butterfly: how a princess smuggled the secret of silk out of China by Deborah Noyes and Dragons of Silk by Laurence Yep.