Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, September 29, 2014

Tomboy: a graphic memoir by Liz Prince

Tomboy: a graphic memoir
by Liz Prince
Zest Books. 2014
ISBN: 9781936976553
Grades 8 thru 12
The publisher sent me a copy of this book.

What defines who you are? Is it how you dress or is it who you are inside?

Artist Liz Prince explores these questions in graphic memoir, Tomboy. Prince shares her personal experience growing up being a girl who preferred things traditionally meant for boys. Instead of playing with dolls, having tea parties and loving the color pink, Liz loved pants, drawing dinosaurs and the genie from the movie Aladdin, and playing catch. She grew up totally happy as long as she wasn’t expected to dress and act girly.

I didn’t know what a tomboy was until I started school and was expected to follow the ‘rules of gender.

Prince’s frankness throughout is powerful. Her cartoonish illustrations convey her frustrations toward gender norms and builds to a crescendo when at age 16 she reads a Zine by Ariel Schrag that changed her thinking:

I subscribed to the idea that there was only one form of femininity and that it was inferior to being a man. I don’t want to be a girl on society’s terms. I wanted to be a girl on my own terms!

Tomboy: a graphic memoir is an excellent addition to your teen collection. Prince's self-confidence permeates the text and champions readers to be strong and remain true to themselves, even if it means being bullied...or not getting the guy. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone 
by Katheryn Russell-Brown
illustrated by Frank Morrison
Lee & Low Books, 2014
ISBN: 9781600608988
Grades K-5

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

"Spread the word! Little Melba Doretta Liston was something special." 

The first line of this picture book biography announces to readers that they are about to meet an amazing individual. Melba Liston was greatly influenced by jazz music she heard as a child growing up in Kansas City in the 1920s. When her mother bought her a trombone, Melba was hooked. She taught herself to play the trombone relying on her "keen ears" later joining the Melodic Dots, a music club at her high school in Los Angeles in the 1940s.

Katheryn Russell-Brown's engaging narrative style incorporates the sounds of jazz music. Readers will enjoy following Liston's rise from a young girl who loved listening to music to a renowned jazz musician composing, arranging and performing across the country. The author writes about the racism and sexism Liston faced in way that young readers will understand.

"Still, Melba was lonely. She was the only woman in the band. Some of the men were cruel. Others acted as if she wasn't there. Melba let the music in her head keep her company."

Morrison's curved, earth-toned illustrations capture the feeling of the music as well as Liston's strength and determination. The final two-page spread of the story is beautiful. Liston performs on stage, alone, playing her trombone to a sold out audience.

Little Melba and her Big Trombone would make an excellent read aloud for a range of ages. Be sure to play Liston's music for readers. An afterword provides readers with more details about Liston's life and music. Additional back matter includes a discography and list of sources. Pair Little Melba and Her Big Trombone with Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter, When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan, and Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

Visit the Lee & Low blog to see a playlist of jazz tunes recommended by Frank Morrison.

Watch Melba Liston perform with the Quincy Jones Band in 1960.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Because They Marched by Russell Freedman

Because They Marched: the people's campaign for voting rights that changed America

by Russell Freedman
Holiday House. 2014
ISBN: 9780824329219
Grades 9 thru 12
To write this review, I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

While campaigning in 2007 for the presidency, Barack Obama spoke at a ceremony commemorating the forty-second anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery.  Obama told his audience, It is because they marched that I stand here before you today.

In, Because they Marched: the people’s campaign for voting rights that changed America, nonfiction writer extraordinaire, Russell Freedman documents events that led up to that historic march to Montgomery, Alabama and how the U.S. Congress, including Southern lawmakers, would then approve the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia said, We can’t deny the Negroes a basic constitutional right to vote.

Though the protesters practiced nonviolence, local and state law officials met them with acts of violence. Impeccably researched and packed with historic black & white photographs, Because they Marched helps us remember the courage of the Civil Rights activists who risked their lives to ensure all U.S. citizens, especially minorities or the poor, have the right to vote.

The right to vote continues to be challenged and the meaning of American democracy remains a topic of debate and struggle. It will be in the news as we near another presidential election in 2016, because key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was not upheld by the Supreme Court in 2013. The controversial 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder released nine states, mostly in the South, from the requirement that they must seek advance federal approval before making any change in their election laws. Now states can make it harder for minority voters, older people, students, legal immigrants, and the poor of all races to register and vote.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Nonfiction News

Have you seen the new nonfiction blog in town? The Nonfiction Minute is a project from the creators of Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. The blog features high interest articles and essays written by various nonfiction authors. There's also a page that provides educators with ideas for how to use the articles with students. Be sure to read Pamela S. Turner's post Why Crows Peck Eyeballs.

Betsy Bird recently tackled the issue of invented dialogue in children's biographies. Here's the post if you missed it.  Be sure to scroll down and read the comments below the post.

Tanya Lee Stone wrote a guest post for School Library Journal's Consider the Source column where she explores the issue of what happens when authors blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction. These are issues Louise and I often discuss when evaluating nonfiction for children. Where did the author find the information? Are source notes provided for dialogue? How do we, as readers, know if it is true? Lots of food for thought about children's books, how we define nonfiction and how authors research and present information in nonfiction books.

The 2014 Longlists for National Book Awards were announced this week, and two of the books in the young people's literature category are nonfiction.  The Port Chicago 50 and Brown Girl Dreaming both made the longlist this year.

Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy has written a series of blog posts to help classroom teachers build nonfiction collections. This has been an invaluable series for both educators and librarians who are looking to beef up their nonfiction sections. Here are Alyson's suggestions for books about marine life. 

Judges for the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (CYBILS) were announced this week, and The Nonfiction Detectives will be well represented. Louise was selected to serve as a second round judge in the Young Adult Nonfiction category, and I am the chair of the Book Apps category. Nominations open Oct. 1st. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sniffer Dogs by Nancy F. Castaldo

Sniffer Dogs: how dogs (and their noses) save the world
By Nancy F. Castaldo

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014
ISBN: 9780544088931
Grades 3 thru 12
To write this review, I borrowed this book from my local public library.

In Sniffer Dogs, readers learn how canines use their incredible sense of smell to help find us, keep us safe, and rescue us from danger. They even help protect the planet. The different occupations include finding survivors that are trapped after a disaster, sniffing out human bones, finding explosives, narcotics, and other bad stuff at airports, subways or other major transportation areas. There are also eco dogs that assist conservationists, and medical alert dogs that are trained to recognize blood sugar levels to sniffing out dangerous allergens.

About 90 percent of sniffers are often termed useless or unmanageable by their original owners. They are literally rescued from death row.

This is a high-interest title. Castaldo delivers a fascinating text that juggles the science of sniffing with specific stories of working dogs. She also mentions the valuable work these dogs do in times of war as bomb sniffers or companions who can find their way back to camp to get help. The addition of color photos taken by the author, show these hard working dogs in various, often dangerous situations. A real page-turner.

Back matter includes bibliography, suggested reading, websites, ways to get involved, glossary, and index.

If you have students who loved these fictional titles -- Duke by Kirby Larson, Saving Zasha by Randi Barrow, Letters from Wolfie by Patti Sherlock, Dogs of War by Shelia Keenan, Cracker! the best dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata and Soldier Dog by Sam Angus -- be sure to hand them Sniffer Dogs.

Read another review at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Be a Changemaker Blog Tour

Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters 
by Laurie Ann Thompson
Simon Pulse/Beyond Words, 2014
ISBN: 1582704651
Grades 7-12

The reviewers received copies of the book from Blue Slip Media.

Teens interested in making a difference in their communities (or even across the globe) will find Be a Changemaker inspiring and practical. Thompson has created an in-depth, step-by-step guide of how to identify a problem, develop a plan, form a team, and work towards a goal. Thompson shows kids how they can use technology and social media as tools to help meet their goals including Kickstarter, Prezi, and Google Drive. Stories of actual community projects and charities started by kids and teenagers are included in each chapter providing readers real life examples and ideas. 

Cathy's Thoughts:
I enjoyed the inspirational quotes at the beginning of each chapter. I think teens who are interested in creating an organization or project to help others will find this book really helpful. Thompson breaks it down into smaller, manageable steps while helping teens stay focused on their goals. My favorite parts of the book were the stories about kids who have helped others. I was impressed by the work of Jessica Markowitz and her organization, Richard's Rwanda. The group began by organizing bake sales and fund raisers to support the education of girls in Rwanda.

Louise's Thoughts:
I found this "how-to handbook" very useful. Thompson uses simple, direct language to explain how to take something you are passionate about and turn it into a reality. Readers will learn how to take that first spark of an idea and create a business plan to launching your idea to the world. I liked how in each chapter Thompson profiles some youth-led social organizations. For example, Project ORANGS is a new venture of two girls from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their idea was to convince the Girl Scouts of America to switch to deforestation-free and socially responsible sources of palm oil, a main ingredient in their cookies. I wish we could have seen some photos of the the teens and their projects.

Teen Librarian's Toolbox will have a free downloadable workshop guide for libraries and classrooms in late October. Visit Laurie Ann Thompson's website for more details.

Be sure to visit the other stops on the blog tour!

Be a Changemaker Blog Tour Dates
Sept. 8     Sally's Bookshelf
Sept. 9     Girl Scout Leader 101
Sept. 10   Unleashing Readers
Sept. 12   Kirby's Lane
Sept. 15   NC Teacher Stuff
Sept. 16   The Hiding Spot
Sept. 17   Kid Lit Frenzy

Monday, September 8, 2014

Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2

Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2
by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley
Stenhouse Publishers, 2014
ISBN: 9781571109583
Professional Resource

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

Educator, Nancy Chesley, and nonfiction author, Melissa Stewart, have teamed up to create Perfect Pairs, a professional resource for K-2 teachers. The book includes 22 life science lesson plans organized by grade and concept. Each lesson is inquiry-based and begins with an "I wonder" statement for students to think about and respond to in their science journals.

I wonder how a rain forest is different from a desert.
I wonder how animals protect themselves from predators.

The lessons are structured around a three-step "Investigative Process."
1) Engaging students
2) Exploring with students
3) Encouraging students to draw conclusions.

Fiction and nonfiction picture books are paired in each lesson to help young students grasp specific science concepts.  For example, the lesson about how animals protect themselves pairs Swimmy by Leo Lionni with What Do When Something Wants to Eat You? by Steve Jenkins. The picture books selected by Stewart and Chesley could also serve as mentor texts for young writers.

Perfect Pairs provides teachers with meaningful ways to use literature and inquiry to engage students in life science concepts. This is a resource that primary teachers should have on their shelves.  The "Bibliography of Picture Books" located in the back of the book will be helpful to librarians and teachers looking to beef up their science collections. Librarians, order Perfect Pairs for your library's professional resource collection. The teachers in your school or community will thank you!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Little Author in the Big Woods by Yona Zeldis McDonough

Little Author in the Big Woods: a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder
by Yona Zeldis McDonough; illustrations by Jennifer Thermes
Henry Holt. 2014
ISBN: 9780805095425
Grades 3-5
This reviewer used an ARC supplied by the publisher.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, who began her writing career in her 60’s, based her Little House books on experiences she had as a child. Though Laura was true to actual events, there are things she decided not to include, such as the death of her baby brother. In Little Author in the Big Woods, McDonough describes more of the details of Laura’s real life, while pointing out the differences from the fictional series as well as the many similarities. She hopes that the reading experience will be deepened by knowing the facts that inspired these beloved stories.

Fans of the Little House series will enjoy learning more about Laura and her family in this narrative biography that extends beyond her marriage to Alonzo but into her writing career and her final years. Did you know that Laura was 87 years old when she took her first plane ride? Of her nine books, five would be award the prestigious Newbery Honor Medal? Thermes black & white illustrations, which pay homage to Garth Williams’ work, are placed throughout the text and convey a sense of joy and playfulness, elements found in Ingalls’ stories.

Back matter includes quotes from Laura, games Laura played, how to make a corn-husk doll, recipes, a glossary, and further reading.

Though there are other biographies about Laura Ingalls Wilder, this particular title, with the larger font and illustrations, will appeal to newly independent readers.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Guys Read: True Stories

Guys Read: True Stories 
edited by Jon Scieszka
illustrated by Brian Floca
Walden Pond Press, 2014
ISBN: 9780061963827
On shelves: Sept. 16, 2014
Grades 4 and up

The reviewer received an advanced copy of the book from the publisher.

Author, Jon Scieszka, has dedicated his life to inspiring boys to read, and he's succeeding. Not only did he serve as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He also created the popular Guys Read website, and he publishes a Guys Read anthology series. The latest addition to the Guys Read library is a real treat for middle grade readers (both boys and girls). In Guys Read: True Stories, Scieszka has compiled outrageous, amazing, and sometimes scary, informational stories from ten authors including Steve Sheinkin, Sy Montgomery, Candace Fleming, and Jim Murphy.

Readers will feel what it's like to be stranded in the Sahara Desert with Captain James Riley, study tarantulas in French Guiana, and learn about the sometimes painful history of dental care. Fans of Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales will appreciate Hale's graphic novel vignette about pioneer Hugh Glass set in 1823. There are also science poems by Douglas Florian, a memoir about growing up in Vietnam by Thanhha Lai, and a biography of Muddy Waters by Elizabeth Partridge.  Each chapter begins with an illustration by Brian Floca and ends with a bibliography of sources.

The beautiful thing about Guys Read True Stories is that it's going to make everyone happy. History and science buffs will love these unbelievable (yet true) stories, reluctant readers won't be able to put it down, and teachers can use the book as a mentor text for writing or as an exciting read aloud. The most difficult aspect is deciding where to shelve it in the library. Do you put it in the series section with the other Guys Read books, shelve it with short stories (800s), or place it in general knowledge in nonfiction with the "survey" books? The answer is to put it on display and watch it get scooped up by the readers in your library.