Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Friday, August 30, 2013

Daredevil by Meghan McCarthy

Daredevil: the Daring Life of Betty Skelton
Written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy
Simon & Schuster (A Paula Wiseman Book). 2013
ISBN: 9781442422629
PreK - Grade 5 
To pen this review, I borrowed the book from my local public library.

In 1930, when other girls are content to play with dolls, Betty June Skelton played with her metal plane. 

And so begins this engaging picture book biography about a woman who dared to dream high and became the first lady of firsts

Betty June grew up in Pensacola, Florida when airplanes were still new. She lived near a giant navy base, so on Sundays her parents drove her to the base to see the navy planes up close. Precocious and persistent, Betty June received her pilot license at age sixteen. She even made the newspapers. 

McCarthy’s illustrations, done in acrylics, have personality and reflect Skelton’s determination, along with a sense of humor and passion. Readers will feel as if they have opened Betty June’s scrap book, seeing all her incredible accomplishments. In 1951, Betty June  reached a record height of 29,050 feet, which is higher than the top of Mount Everest. The temperature outside was fifty-three below zero! Because she always flew barefoot, after the flight the daredevil record breaker said, “My feet darn near froze to death.” 

Back matter includes fun facts, Betty quotes (Aerobats are murder on one’s hairdo), time line, and a selected bibliography. 

To learn more about Betty Skelton, visit the author's web page. You can watch a short film of Betty flying a stunt plane or listen to an interview recorded in 1999. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Diego Rivera by Susan Goldman Rubin

Diego Rivera: an artist for the people

Susan Goldman Rubin
Abrams. 2013
ISBN: 9780810984110
Grades 8 and up
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

At six feet tall and weighting over three hundred pounds, Diego Rivera caught everyone’s attention when he arrived in Paris at age twenty to study art. People would say he looked like a frog. Frida Kahlo, his second wife, affectionately called him, Carasapo (Frog-face).  One of the greatest painters of the twentieth century, Rivera is best known for his murals that often depicts the culture and struggles of the Mexican working class.

Rivera was born on December 8, 1886 in Guanajuato, Mexico. He says that, As far back as I can remember, I was drawing. Almost as soon as my fat baby fingers could grasp a pencil, I was marking up walls, doors, and furniture. 

Throughout his career, Rivera did not shy away from controversy. In 1933, after completing a fresco for the Detroit Institute of Arts, Nelson Rockefeller hired Rivera to create a mural for the RCA Building in New York City. When Diego decided to include the portrait of Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in the mural he was fired. Afraid of the repercussions, Rockefeller had the mural destroyed. Depressed and exhausted, when he heard the news Rivera became ill for a long period of time. Poor health kept me from painting murals for several years.

This excellent biography would be perfect to share in a high school art class. It follows Rivera’s career, from his days studying in Europe as he developed his unique style to introducing us to other painters who influenced him. Rubin incorporates quotes, historic black & white photo and detailed views of some of Rivera’s most famous murals, in a thoroughly engaging narrative. 

Back matter include notes about the history of Mexico as referenced in Rivera’s artwork,  Rivera’s artistic influences, where to view works by Rivera, glossary, source notes, bibliography, and index.  

Diego Rivera: an artist for the people is truly a high quality nonfiction title; definitely one of my favorite books of 2013.

To learn more about the artist and see other paintings and murals, visit the Diego Rivera website. To watch a short film of Diego and Frida Kahlo, click this link to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

From the Good Mountain: How Gutenberg Changed the World

From the Good Mountain: How Gutenberg Changed the World 
by James Rumford
Roaring Brook Press, 2012
ISBN: 9781596435421
Grades 3 and up

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

Many teachers and librarians like to kick off the school year by reading aloud books about books and libraries. Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates, Wild About Books by Judy Sierra and Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen are popular back to school reads.

How about starting the year with a nonfiction read aloud about books?
From the Good Mountain: How Guttenberg Changed the World is an interesting narrative, nonfiction picture book about how the printing press had a profound impact on the world.

James Rumford describes the process of making a book from paper, leather, gold leaf, ink and printing press.  Each two-page spread is designed with the text printed on a book page on the left side and an illustration on the right side. The book's illuminated pages and pen & ink and watercolor illustrations effectively reflect the 1400s time period. A sample of one of Guttenberg's printed Bible pages is incorporated into the page about bookbinding. Readers will be drawn into the story with the question and answer format on each page and the interesting captions that are printed on scrolls in the margins.
Be sure to read the "Epilogue" which contains more information about Johannes Guttenberg and the printing process.

Pair From the Good Mountain with Noah Webster and His Words by Jerri Chase Ferris.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Nonfiction News- August 2013

Here is our monthly round-up of what's new in nonfiction children's books.

NPR's Backseat Book Club recently released its list of 100 Must Reads for Kids 9-14. The list is comprised of mainly fiction, but several nonfiction books made the list including...

The Lincolns by Candace Fleming

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery by Russell Freedman

Did you know each Scientists in the Field book has its own discussion guide created by Ed Spicer for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt?
Check out these excellent SIF resources here:

The Boston Globe/ Horn Book Awards Ceremony will take place Oct. 4th and 5th at Simmons College. This year's theme is Building Character. Early bird registration is $99 per person for both days.

Electric Ben by Robert Byrd won in the nonfiction category this year. Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building by Christy Hale and Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney were the Nonfiction Honor Winners.

 Click here for more information about how to register to attend the event.

It's CYBILS season. The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards are upon us. If you're a kidlit blogger, you may apply to be a panelist or judge right now. The application is open until August 31st. Start thinking about which books you want to nominate. Nominations begin on October 1st, so you have plenty of time to think about which books you think are worthy. This year the nonfiction categories have been restructured. There is an elementary/middle grade nonfiction category and a young adult nonfiction category.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Common Core In Real Libraries: Volcanoes

We're back with our second installment in our joint project with Alyson from Kidlit Frenzy, Mary Ann from Great Kid Books, and Travis from 100 Scope Notes.

This time we're looking at the topic of volcanoes, and we've identified a range of nonfiction texts for young readers. Be sure to visit all of Common Core IRL blogs to learn about the different volcano books featured today.

The Krakatau Eruption 
by Peter Benoit
A True Book published by Scholastic Inc., 2011
ISBN: 9780531206287
Grades 3-4

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

The readers at my school love learning about science and nature, and they are especially interested in natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanoes. In August of 1883 a powerful, volcanic eruption rocked the island of Krakatau, Indonesia. The Krakatau Eruption pieces together why it was "one of the most violent eruptions in world history" triggering tsuanamis, dropping ash on 300,000 square miles, and affecting "climate patterns all over the world." This is definitely an event in history and science that will fascinate children.

The Krakatau Eruption is part of the True Book series by Scholastic; readers are asked to answer two true/false questions at the beginning of the book as a way of accessing prior knowledge and engaging readers in the content. The book design is attractive for elementary age students. Text features such as bold print, maps, timelines, colorful photographs and captions will help young readers access the information.

Peter Benoit employs both a chronological and cause/effect format to organize the information. Students will be interested to read how scientists have pieced together clues about why the eruption was so violent. Earthquakes occurred a few months before the volcano erupted. Witnesses also reported seeing "thick, black clouds of smoke" over the island. The Krakatau Ertuption delves deeper into the "hows" and "whys" than the typical survey-style nonfiction book. 

Teachers and librarians could read The Krakatau Eruption with elementary classes and ask students to identify causes/effects based on evidence from the text. Back matter includes links to web sites, videos, and lists of books that could be used to extend learning.

Use The Krakatau Eruption to address the following 4th grade Common Core State Standards:

ELA Literacy- RI 4.3 
Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.

ELA Literacy- RI 4.6

Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts or information in a text or part of a text.

Reviewed by Cathy

The Day the World Exploded: the Earthshaking Catastrophe at Krakatoa 
by Simon Winchester
Collins, 2008
ISBN: 0061239828
Grades 4-8
The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from the public library.

The Day the World Exploded, adapted by Dwight Jon Zimmerman from Simon Winchester's adult book Krakatoa, chronicles the first rumblings to the final explosion of the volcano Krakatoa. The author uses a combination of straight narration interspersed with eyewitness accounts to give readers a ‘You are there’ feeling. The addition of illustrations, a combination of photos, engravings, and illustrations, helps break up the text, which can be choppy at times. This is a good source for information on events leading up to, and the results of, Krakatoa's eruption.

Winchester also includes in the narration the after effects of the eruption. Thousands of people lost their lives from ash, lava, and tsunamis. As explained in Eruption by Elizabeth Rusch, the destruction and loss of lives on Krakatoa was the direct result of the lack understanding on how volcanoes erupted back in 1883.

Another plus for older readers is the inclusion of how inventions, such as the telegraph and the founding of the news agency Reuters, helped the world, "see for the first time that a natural event occurring in one corner of the planet had effects that spread over the entire world. The world was now suddenly seen to be much more than an immense collection of unrelated peoples and isolated happenings."

Teachers and librarians could read The Day the World Exploded to upper middle and high school students and compare how scientists track volcanic eruptions then, and now.

Back matter includes a glossary, suggested volcano websites, suggested reading, and index.

CCSS ELA-Literacy RI 8.2
Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.

CCSS ELA-Literacy RI 8.3
Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events (e.g., through comparisons, analogies, or categories).

Reviewed by Louise

Don't miss the middle grade volcano book, Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives by  Elizabeth Rusch (reviewed by Louise in July).

Common Core State Standards that could be applied to Eruption!

CCSS ELA- Literacy RI 6.3 
Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples of anecdotes).

CCSS ELA- Literacy RI 6.6

Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed in the text.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Stay: the true story of ten dogs by Michaela Muntean

Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs
by Michaela Muntean: Photographs by K. C. Bailey and Stephen Kazmierski
Scholastic Press. 2013
ISBN: 9780545234979
Grades 1-5
To review this book I borrowed a copy from my local public library.

How would you cope if suddenly you could no longer do the job you loved? 

Luciano Anastansini was born to be a circus performer. It was in his blood. His family had been performers, all the way back to his great-great-great-great-grandparents. 

By the time he was twelve, Luciano was a famous juggler and acrobat.

Life was great until, while performing in Chicago, Luciano fell fifty feet from the high wire. 
He broke so many bones, it took four operations to put him back together. The doctors told him he would eventually heal, but his days as an acrobat -- or of doing any kind of fancy stunt -- were over.

It took awhile, but eventually Luciano imagined a new act: performing with dogs. But not just any dogs. Since Luciano was given a second chance, he wanted to find those dogs that no one wanted and give them a second chance, too.

Stay: the true story of ten dogs narrates how Lucanio found his dogs and made them performers. Not a dog trainer, Luciano decided to let the dogs show HIM what they wanted to do. It took patience, dog treats, and a lot of love.

Giving brief summaries, the book highlights all ten dogs. The design has each dogs bio placed within their full-page color photo which reflects their personality. We learn about Penny, a Bichon Frise who was returned to the shelter three times because she spun around madly in circles and ran into furniture and walls. Tyke was a Schnauzer with an attitude. He did the opposite of what anyone asked. Bowser, a beagle mix who loved to leap onto kitchen counters to steal food. Bowser could nudge open the cupboards to get what he wanted, bread, butter, it didn’t matter. Each dog's "problem" was recognized as a strength and incorporated into the act. Click here to watch Lucanio and his dogs perform.

This fun, nonfiction book will appeal to a wide audience. Give it to students who love the circus or animal rescues, or to those who just love a true story with a happy ending. Some suggestions include, Nubs: the story of a mutt, a Marine & a miracle by Brian Dennis, Kirby Larson, and Mary Nethery, Hachiko: the true story of a loyal dog by Pamela S. Turner, and Little Dog Lost: the true story of a brave dog named Baltic by Monica Carnesi. Fiction titles: The Leanin’ Dog by K.A. Nuzum, Little Dog, Lost by Marion Dane Bauer, and Shiloh by Phyllis R. Naylor. 

Read an interview with the author, Michaela Muntean on author Sara Albee's blog. I love Muntean's closing line. "Reading is a ticket to anywhere you want to go."  So true!

Friday, August 9, 2013

From the Backlist: The Race to Save the Lord God Bird

The Race to Save the Lord God Bird  
by Phillip Hoose
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004
ISBN: 0374361738
Grades 6 and up

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

Louise and I read a lot of nonfiction, but we both enjoy fiction as well. Last week I read The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker plays an important role in this middle grade novel set in the swamps of Texas. When I finished Appelt's story, I found myself longing to revisit The Race to Save the Lord God Bird.

I'm a big fan of Phillip Hoose's nonfiction books. His writing immediately pulls in readers and transports them into the story. In The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, Hoose sheds light on events that led to the possible extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  Museums that paid naturalists to hunt and stuff rare birds, fashion that included bird feathers in women's hats, and clearcutting forests across the southeast are some of the factors that led to the demise of the rare woodpecker.

"Alexander Wilson clucked his horse slowly along the margin of a swamp in North Carolina. Bending forward in the saddle, he squinted out at the small birds that flitted across the moss-bearded boughs of giant cypress trees, hoping he could get a clear shot without going into the water. When he heard the first call of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, he knew what it was instantly, even though he had never seen one before" (p. 7).

Readers will feel like they are a part of James Tanner's 1938 expedition to the Singer Tract in Louisiana as he studies and documents nesting Ivory-billed Woodpeckers.

"One winter morning he made his way to an Ivory-bill roost tree while it was still dark, hours before the woodpeckers would be active. Plumping up on a cushion of palmetto fronds, he settled himself against a tree to hear the forest wake up. It was great entertainment, he thought, and he didn't even need a ticket" (p. 103).

Even though the loss of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker leaves readers with a sense of sadness, the book ends on a hopeful note as Hoose points out how far we come in protecting our environment. Part science, part history, this superlative example of nonfiction writing would make an excellent read aloud for a middle school or high school class.  Recent possible Ivory-billed sightings will also intrigue readers and could lead to further reading and research for inquisitive students. The source notes provided for each chapter serve as a strong example to students of what thorough research looks like. Hoose used interviews, articles, books, and a research trip to Cuba to write the book.

Display The Race to Save the Lord God Bird with Moonbird by Phillip Hoose, Look Up!: Bird Watching in Your Own Back Yard by Annette LeBlanc Cate, and Citizen Scientists by Loree Griffin Burns.

Click here to listen to recordings of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. 

Click here to listen to an NPR interview with Phillip Hoose on the "Significance of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker."

Monday, August 5, 2013

From the Backlist: The Story of Salt

The Story of Salt 
by Mark Kurlansky
illustrated by S.D. Schindler
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2006
ISBN: 0399239987
Grades 3-6

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

Salt. It's an important component of our daily lives. We have containers of salt in our cupboards, add salt to meals each day, eat food that has been preserved with salt, and yet we take it for granted. Part science, part history, The Story of Salt, is an interesting look at the role salt has played in ancient civilizations, exploration, wars, and more.

Kurlansky begins the nonfiction picture book with a clear, scientific explanation of what salt is and where it's found on earth. In a narrative style, the author makes the case for the importance of salt in our lives and sheds light onto how salt helped shape history.

"Salt is the only rock eaten by human beings. In fact, all mammals, including humans, need to eat sodium chloride in order to live."

The book is organized chronologically beginning with Ancient China and ending in the twentieth century. When it was discovered that salt could be used to preserve fish and meat, it became a highly valuable commodity. Kids will find it interesting to learn the Chinese government used money from selling salt to fund the Great Wall of China. Salt was used to preserve mummies in Ancient Egypt, and roads were built to transport salt in Ancient Rome. Salt allowed people to travel longer distances because they could bring cured fish and meat to eat on their journeys. During the French Revolution, police officers were dedicated to catching people who were smuggling in salt as a way to avoid the king's salt tax.

Cartoon-like watercolor and ink illustrations will appeal to children and make this picture book a good candidate for a read aloud. The book is light on back matter; there is no bibliography or list of sources. However, a timeline will prove useful to middle grade readers who need support putting events in context. Teachers or librarians in search of a compelling nonfiction read aloud should look no further.

Pair The Story of Salt with Helen Frost's novel in verse, Salt: a Story of Friendship in a Time of War. Set in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1812, Salt alternates points of view between an American settler boy living in the fort and a Native American boy from the Miami tribe. When tensions rise between the Native Americans and the settlers, war looks imminent. The settlers are told to stop trading salt and other supplies with the Native Americans which leads to more tension. The two narrators give readers a glimpse into the complexities of the relationship between Native Americans and settlers that can not be gleaned from a textbook.

Visit Mark Kurlansky's site to view pages from The Story of Salt.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Seahorses and Coral Reefs

by Jennifer Keats Curtis; illustrated by Chad Wallace 
Henry Holt and Company. 2013 
ISBN: 9780805092394 
Preschool to Grade 2 
I borrowed this book from my local public library. 

Two new books about what lives in our oceans. 

In Seahorses, Jennifer Keats Curtis uses rich language to give a brief overview of the life of this fascinating sea creature. 

 In the warm, salty water, a baby seahorse swirls and somersaults like a tiny gymnast performing on an invisible mat

Looking a bit like a dragon, seahorses are very tiny and attach themselves to sea grasses or coral. To remain invisible to their predators, the seahorse has the ability to change their color to match their surrounding environment. From birth to mating to birthing its young (from fifty to over a thousand babies at a time), Curtis’s language is enhanced by the full-page illustrations, done in digital media, by Chad Wallace. 

The author’s note explains that though there are over thirty different species that live all over the world, the seahorse is becoming very rare. I bet you can guess who is destroying their habitat, reducing their food source from overfishing, using seahorses for medicine, crafts, and souvenirs...humans! 

To see the book trailer, go here

Coral Reefs 
by Seymour Simon 
HarperCollins. 2013 
ISBN: 9780061914959 
Grades 3 and up 
I borrowed this book from my local public library. 

Partner Seahorses with Coral Reefs by prolific science writer, Seymour Simon. Large, full-page color photos capture the magical world of these fragile environment. Simon covers the main types of coral (hard and soft), the three kinds of coral reefs, along with the inhabitants that are unique to these delicate ecosystems. 

Imagine diving beneath the waves into the warm waters of a tropical ocean. You're surrounded by strange rock shapes with brilliant colors: reds, greens, blues, oranges, and pinks. The colors change and shimmer and the waters are full of equally vibrant fish. 

For a glimpse inside Coral Reefs, go here. 

Coral Reefs does contain some back matter: glossary, websites to learn more about coral reefs, and index.