Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

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.

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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.