Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Determining Nonfiction Writing Styles

Today I had the pleasure of co-moderating a School Library Journal webcast with my friend, Amy Koester from The Show Me Librarian blog. The webcast focused on using nonfiction series in schools and public libraries, and we heard about new books from Scholastic, Gale, and Reference Point Press. Visit The Show Me Librarian Blog for programming ideas related to the titles mentioned in the webcast. If you missed today's webcast, you may view the archive on the SLJ site.

While Amy and I were sharing our ideas about recent trends in nonfiction series, I mentioned different nonfiction writing styles. Here's a recap of the different nonfiction writing styles discussed today.


The information is presented in a straight-forward manner. Facts are organized in paragraphs by topic. This style of writing is helpful to students doing research.


 The information is presented as a story.


 The author describes the topic in great detail using rich language so that readers may picture it in their minds.


The author presents the information in a manner that will sway readers to think a certain way about a topic.


The information is presented in poetic form.

This is also the perfect time to re-visit a blog post that Louise and I wrote together last year. To learn more about evaluating nonfiction, check out our blog post from January 2013: The Nonfiction Detectives' Tips for Evaluating Nonfiction.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Plastic, Ahoy! by Patricia Newman

Plastic, Ahoy!: investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Written by Patricia Newman; Photographs by Annie Crawley
Millbrook Press. 2014
Grades 4 thru high school
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Located in the Pacific Ocean, 1,000 miles out to sea between San Francisco and Japan is the North Pacific Central Gyre, which covers an area three times bigger than the United States. Floating within this “oceanic desert” is the largest accumulation of trash, mostly plastic in the world. This massive accumulation of plastic which is pushed together by ocean currents is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and scientists estimate the size is two times bigger than the state of Texas. It was first discovered in 1997 by racing boat captain, Charles Moore,
He found abandoned fishing nets, plastic bottles, bottle caps, toothbrushes, containers, boxes, and tiny pieces of plastic. The litter came from rivers and streams, from people visiting the beach or riding on ships who did not properly dispose of their plastic.
All this plastic presents hazards not only to marine life, but also the fishing and tourist industry. According to Greenpeace, of the more than 200 billion pounds of plastic the world produces each year, about 10 percent ends up in the ocean. 

In Plastic, Ahoy! author Patricia Newman tags along with three scientists, Miriam Goldstein, Chelsea Rochman, and Darcy Taniguchi as they travel more than 1,000 miles into open water, off the coast of California to investigate the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. For three weeks, as part of the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastics Expedition (SEAPLEX), they will conduct tests to try and answer some big questions: How much plastic is in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Are fish eating the plastic? Are the chemicals used to make plastics poisoning the water? Are any animals and plants living on the floating plastic? The process to find the answers to these questions and more make for exciting reading.

Complementing the easy to understand text are stunning photos snapped by professional underwater photographer and filmmaker, Annie Crawley. The pictures are well captioned and capture how intertwined plastics have become with marine life. Their students uncovered a sobering fact: The open ocean is no longer a wild place untouched by humans. At 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from land, SEAPLEX scientists saw evidence of human pollution in almost every net tow. Miriam found that a single piece of plastic is home to several flying fish eggs. Mussels, crabs, and sea anemones live on one piece of discarded rope.

Back matter includes source notes, glossary, books and websites for further reading, and index.

Earth Day is right around the corner (April 22). Include Plastic, Ahoy! in any display about the environment, oceans, and pair it with Tracking Trash by Loree Griffin Burns, another excellent book about disturbing effects of trash in our oceans.

To grab students attention, watch this Great Pacific Garbage Patch Awareness Video.

After reading Plastic, Ahoy! I wonder why we can’t scoop up all that plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and take it to a recycling center.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Secrets of the Sky Caves

Secrets of the Sky Caves: Danger and Discovery on Nepal's Mustang Cliffs 
by Sandra K. Athans
Millbrook Press, 2014.
ISBN: 9781467700160
Grades 4-8

The reviewer received an electronic galley from the publisher.

High in the mountains in a region between India and Tibet, there are a series of caves carved out by people thousands of years ago. Sandra K. Athans takes readers on an adventure to discover that secrets of what was left behind thousands of years ago in the Sky Caves.

Secrets of the Sky Caves takes place in the Mustang region which is controlled by Nepal. In 2007 a team that included climbers, archaeologists, an author and two children spent thirty days traveling to the "Sky Caves" in Mustang. The caves were carved to be used as dwellings and burial chambers beginning around 1000 BCE. The 2007 expedition was led by Pete Athans, brother of the author. Using climbing gear, the team was able to reach caves high in the mountainous region where they discovered cave paintings dating back to the 1100s. They also located ancient, clay artifacts and rare manuscript papers containing religious writing. The team returned several times with the permission of the government of Nepal and Buddhist leaders. Their mission was to remove artifacts and papers and to document what they had discovered including numerous mummified bodied and the heads of mummified animals.

The unique topic along with the narrative writing style will hold the attention of middle grade readers. The book is well-organized and contains text features including maps, a timeline, and detailed captions that will help readers understand the information presented. Stunning photographs are thoughtfully placed throughout the book giving readers a glimpse into the beauty of the region and the amazing caves.

It is evident the author spent a great deal of time interviewing members of the expedition and researching the Mustang region. In addition to learning about the work of archeologists and translators, readers will also gain an understanding of the history and religion of Mustang.

Fans of the Scientist in the Field series will want to check out Secrets of the Sky Caves. It gives readers a glimpse of the important and interesting work of archeologists and historians.

Visit the Lerner Publishing site to preview pages from the book.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Wild Animal Neighbors: sharing our urban world by Ann Downer

Wild Animal Neighbors: sharing our urban world
Ann Downer
Twenty-First Century Books. 2014
ISBN: 9780761390213
Grades 4 thru 12
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

As our human population grows and spreads, wild animals are running out of space. What would you do if you found an alligator in your garage? Or spotted a mountain lion during your morning run through city streets? Ann Downer, known for her absorbing fantasy books, has turned her hand to writing nonfiction with a science theme. In Wild Animal Neighbors, she asks readers to think about what is bringing these creatures out of the wild and into our paved-over, glassed-in, and built-up human habitats, our concrete jungles?

Each chapter focuses on a specific wild animal: raccoons, mountain lions, Japan’s Jungle Crow, coyotes, Australian Flying Foxes, sea turtles, and alligators. She examines what is bringing them into our neighborhoods and what can we do to create space so possibly animals and people can live side by side. Within each chapter are well-captioned color photos and sidebars giving animal facts. Back matter includes source notes, selected bibliography, books & websites for further reading, and index.

Human impact on the environment is an ongoing research topic for students. It is important for students to understand how our actions can affect the world around us. Wild Animal Neighbors is a good title to use as an introduction to the subject of urban animals. 

Go here to visit Ann Downer’s blog.

As I read Wild Animal Neighbors and how humans are encroaching more and more into wild area, it brought to mind the book, The Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carmen, the first in The Land of Elyon series. In this enjoyable fantasy, high stone walls surround the towns and roads in the kingdom of Elyon. The walls were built to keep out an unnamed evil, yet what they have done is divide local animals from their food supplies, homes, and families. To prevent an impending invasion, the forest dwellers seek the help of twelve-year-old Alexa whose connection to those of influence helps bring down the walls. I often wonder if Carmen wrote it as an allegory to our modern day problems.

Friday, February 14, 2014

CYBILS Winners Announced!!!

I had the pleasure of serving as second round judge in the Book Apps category for the 2013 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (CYBILS).

The winner of the 2013 CYBILS in the Book Apps category is...

Disney Animated by Touch Press

Touch Press has created yet another engaging and multi-layered app that fully takes advantage of the interactive features of the iPad. Disney Animated is not your typical storybook app that is meant to be read from beginning to end in one sitting.  Readers will want to digest this informational book app over time. The app is chock full of information about how Disney movie are created from the storyboards to the animation and music. Because of the depth and breadth of information in Disney Animated, the ideal audience is a middle grade or teen reader, however younger children could also read this app with the help of an adult.

Here's what the CYBILS judges had to say about Disney Animated:
"Disney Animated brings to life the outstanding animation heritage of Disney Studios through the expertise of Touch Press, one of the most exacting and innovative developers in the app space today. Appealing to the entire family, Disney Animated meets all the criteria we seek in outstanding interactive media. The technical elements are impeccably rendered, the interactive elements are directly linked to the content, and the narrative content is endlessly fascinating. From stills to studies, animated shorts, soundtracks, interviews, and games that illustrate the points being made, this app is one you'll have trouble putting down.
Like any good non-fiction book, you can read this app in linear or non-linear fashion. Interactive workshops built into the app not only give hands-on explanations of how animation works, they challenge our understanding of physics in a game-like way. The app makes every use of the medium, animating just about everything, even the text. You can pinch, enlarge, move, examine and share just about everything in this app. With Disney Animated, Touch Press models what the digital environment is capable of and what a truly great book app can be."

Trailer for Disney Animated 

The 2013 CYBILS winner in the Middle Grade Nonfiction category is...
Look Up! Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard by Anne LeBlanc Cate

The 2013 CYBILS winner in the Young Adult Nonfiction category is....
Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sea Turtle Scientist

Sea Turtle Scientist 
by Stephen R. Swinburne
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
ISBN: 9780547367552
Grades 5-8

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

I am really pleased with the topic of the latest Scientist in the Field book. This book will immediately circulate with the upper elementary students and teachers in my library. Two classrooms at my school recently adopted sea turtles, and students had the opportunity to Skype with the sea turtle facility in Georgia where their turtles live.

Stephen R. Swinburne takes readers to the beaches of St. Kitts to meet biologist Dr. Kimberly Stewart in Sea Turtle Scientist. Stewart works with the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) to study, track, and conserve leatherback sea turtles. 

The book is well-organized and provides readers with information about the adaptations and survival techniques of leatherback turtles. Readers will be amazed at the journey a hatchling undergoes after hatching from an egg buried two feet under the sand. The hatchling must make it out of the sand to the open ocean without being eaten by a predator or scorched by the sun. 

Children interested in science will gain an understanding of Stewart's job. Part of her work is at the beach tracking leatherbacks, observing hatchlings and evaluating the habitat. Another aspect of what Stewart does is education. She works with WIDECAST to provide programs for school-age students as well as educating the community about the importance of sea turtles to the ecosystem. Readers will be enamored with Theophilus Taylor, a former sea turtle fisherman who now helps Stewart study sea turtles and educate children about the importance of conservation. 

Swinburne also traces the history of leatherback turtles from an abundant population to the source of meals for explorers and islanders. WIDECAST is currently working on a project to provide alternative jobs to turtle fisherman like Taylor so they may maintain their income without harming the leatherback population.

The book does an excellent job of showing readers how important it is to save the sea turtle. Sea turtles eat jellyfish, which keeps the jellyfish population under control. If sea turtles die out, then the jellyfish population will explode. Jellyfish eat fish larvae and plankton, so having a huge jellyfish population would be devastating to fish. 

Middle grade readers will enjoy seeing children help out in the conservation effort in Chapter 7: It Takes a Community to Save a Sea Turtle. There is even a page listing the items scientists bring to a turtle-watch including a handheld GPS to mark down the latitude and longitude, flipper tags and laundry bags to relocate eggs.

Back matter is rich and includes a glossary, ways to help a sea turtle, information on adopting a sea turtle, lists of web sites & books, and an index.

Dr. Stewart's work saving leatherbacks is an inspiring story that should be shared with middle grade and young adult readers.

View the Sea Turtle Scientist book trailer.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Historical Heartthrobs Blog Tour and Book Giveaway

Historical Heartthrobs: 50 timeless crushes - from Cleopatra to Camus 
by Kelly Murphy with Hallie Fryd
Zest Books. 2014
ISBN: 978193676102
Grades 9 and up
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Historical Heartthrobs Blog Tour and Book Giveaway

Today we are taking part in Zest Book’s Historical Heartthrobs blog tour. In honor of the event, and Valentine’s Day being a few days away, we will give away one copy of the book to a lucky reader. See contest details and entry form at the bottom of this post.

Zest Books is an award-winning publisher of smart and edgy titles that cover timely topics. Books that have found an audience with the teens in my library include Don’t Sit on the Baby: the ultimate guide to sane, skilled, and safe babysitting by Halley Bondy, Dead Strange: the bizarre truths behind 50 world-famous mysteries by Matt Lamy, Scandalous! : 50 shocking events you should know about (so you can impress your friends) By Hallie Fryd, and The End: 50 apocalyptic visions from pop culture that you should know about—before it’s too late by Laura Barcella. Each book incorporates solid life advice, practical how-to instruction, and humorous commentary in creative ways. Teens waiting for parents to pick them up afterschool can dip into the short, easy-to-read format and learn something interesting.

Historical Heartthrobs looks at 50 of the sexiest men and women from history from a wide range of countries, ethnicities, and historical epochs. Some are artists, some are scientists, and many are political or military leaders, but all have had a lasting impact on human life—and a sizable impact on their admirers as well. The authors Kelly Murphy with Hallie Fryd ask the question: Would you really want to date them?

Everyone included made their mark on the world – but not everyone did so in an equally admirable fashion. Pablo Picasso was a smoldering Spanish artist who broke the rule – but wasn’t one for commitment. Nikola Tesla was a brilliant inventor who made Victorians swoon, but he seems incapable of swooning back. Che Guevara had the smoldering good looks, but would he for only look out for himself in a relationship? And what about Nelly Bly?

Each entry includes a photo, vital stats (place of birth, lifespan, and major areas of influence), the inside scoop on peccadilloes, noteworthy liaisons, and long-standing relationships, plus an overall heat reading that factors in sex appeal, charisma, accomplishments, and of course, moral virtue. A list of further reading and index rounds out this fun read.

Historical Heartthrobs Blog Tour Dates:
February 6:
February 7:
February 10:
February 11:
February 11:
February 11:
February 12:
February 12:
February 13:
February 13:
February 13:
February 14:
February 14:

  Giveaway Rules
                Complete the entry form below.
                Only one entry per person will be accepted.
                You must be 13 years or older to enter.
                Entries will be accepted from February 5, 2014 until 11:59 p.m. on February 9, 2014.

The winner will be contacted by email. If the winner does not respond within 48 hours, we will select a new winner.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Port Chicago 50

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights  
by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press, 2014.
ISBN: 9781596437968
Grades 7 and up

The reviewer received a galley from the publisher.

Steve Sheinkin is proving to be the master of the nonfiction narrative for kids. Sheinkin has a knack for bringing in interesting details to paint a vivid picture for middle grade and teen readers. He's done it again with his latest work, The Port Chicago 50.

The Port Chicago 50 is a riveting account of how fifty African American sailors were tried for mutiny in 1944. Sheinkin weaves together quotes, photos, and primary documents to detail the injustice and prejudice African American sailors faced in the Navy during World War II.

The story is set at the Navy docks of Port Chicago on the coast of California. African American sailors were not allowed to serve on board Navy ships except as mess attendants. Hundreds of black sailors were assigned to load bombs and ammunition aboard Navy ships at Port Chicago. Working conditions were unsafe, and training was not provided. When two ships exploded at Port Chicago killing over 300 sailors during the summer of 1944, many black sailors refused to return to the unsafe job of loading bombs onto ships. Young adult readers will be outraged and surprised by the injustice that followed.

Sheinkin's meticulous research is evident; much of the information included in the book came from oral histories conducted with the sailors in the 1970s. The author also pulled out information from a 1,400 page court transcript to describe the Navy trial of the Port Chicago 50.

Readers who enjoy The Port Chicago 50 would like Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone.
Read a blog post about The Port Chicago 50 written by Steve Sheinkin for the Interesting Nonfiction for Kids blog.