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.