Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Nonfiction Detectives' Year in Review

2014: A Year in Review
by Cathy and Louise

Today is the last day of 2014, so we thought it would be fun to look back over the past twelve months and highlight some events and posts from the year.

Nonfiction Writing Styles

Summer Reading
One of our most popular posts was the summer reading list we published in May.

Common Core IRL

We wrote posts for two installments of Common Core IRL: In Real Life with Mary Ann Sheuer from Great Kid Books, Alyson Beecher from Kid Lit Frenzy and Amy Koester from The Show Me Librarian blog.

2014 Blog Tours
We took participated in several blog tours:

Schneider Family Book Award 10th Anniversary Blog Tour

We also celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the Schneider Family Book Award by reviewing two past winners as part of a blog tour organized by Alyson Beecher.

Blog Award

ALA Annual Conference

In June we both traveled to the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas where we took part in a panel presentation on Common Core State Standards and nonfiction texts along with Mary Ann Sheuer and Alyson Beecher.

Best Nonfiction Books of 2014

Over the past year we reviewed 78 nonfiction books for children and teens. Here is our list of the Best Nonfiction of 2014.

Thanks for a great year! We're looking forward to more blogging adventures in 2015.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel 
by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
illustrated by Gilbert Ford
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
ISBN: 9790547959221
Grades K-5

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

In 1893 Chicago hosted the World's Fair. How could Chicago make a lasting impression on the world after Paris revealed the Eiffel Tower at the previous World's Fair? A contest was held, and George Ferris Jr. from Pittsburgh submitted his idea for an 834 foot circle made of steel alloy with passenger cars attached. Each car was "the size of a living room, with enormous picture windows and forty velvet seats."

Children will be amazed by the story behind the Ferris Wheel. At the time, people thought it was a crazy design, architects predicted it would collapse, and the World's Fair wouldn't give Ferris the money for building material. Yet on June 21, 1893 the Ferris Wheel opened. It was covered by 3,000 light bulbs and gave passengers a ride 265 feet into the sky for a glimpse of the city of Chicago and Lake Michigan.

Davis structures the text of this nonfiction picture book in two ways. There is a narrative main text, which tells the story of how Ferris came to design and build the wheel. On the right side of the pages are quotes and expository paragraphs containing interesting facts. "During the nineteen weeks the wheel was in operation, 1.5 million passengers rode it."

Ford's deep blue and purple illustrations are rendered in ink, watercolor and digital mixed media using Adobe Illustrator. By using both watercolor and digital media, the illustrations have depth, and the foreground stands out from the background on many pages. Davis' research is evident on the last page which contains quote sources and a bibliography. Mr. Ferris and His Wheel would make an interesting nonfiction read aloud for elementary children. The story is the perfect blend of STEM and history that will inspire readers to dream big!

Read about the process of creating the artwork for the book on Gilbert Ford's blog.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Best Nonfiction Books of 2014

Dear Readers,

It's that time of year when we reflect upon the past twelve months and look for titles that rose to the top. 2014 was an excellent year for nonfiction, so our list of favorite books is lengthy. We have organized our favorite books into categories: history, science, poetry, and biography/memoir. The list is alphabetical by title and includes links to our reviews. We'll continue our search for the best nonfiction for children in 2015.

Louise and Cathy


Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain
by Russell Freedman
Clarion Books

 by Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade

The History of Money: From Bartering to Banking
by Martin Jenkins and Satoshi Kitamura
Candlewick Press

by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press

by Tonya Bolden
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Separate is Never Equal
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers


Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth
by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm
Blue Sky Press

Beetle Busters
by Loree Griffin Burns
photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Chasing Cheetahs
by Sy Montgomery
photographs by Nic Bishop
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

by Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

by Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen

by Katherine Roy
Roaring Brook Press

by Steve R. Swinburne
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes
by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Candlewick Press

by Rebecca L. Johnson
Millbrook Press


Firefly July
poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Candlewick Press

by J. Patrick Lewis and Gary Kelley
Creative Editions

by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Biography & Memoir

by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace
Calkins Creek (Boyds Mill Press)

by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin)

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse
by Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley Hooper
A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press

by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson
Chronicle Books

by Cece Bell
Amulet Books 

by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

by Lois Ehlert
Beach Lane Books

by Stephanie Roth Sisson
Roaring Brook Press

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir
by Liz Prince
Zest Books

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Iridescence of Birds Written by Patricia MacLachlan; Illustrations by Hadley Hooper

The Iridescence of Birds: a book about Henri Matisse

By Patricia MacLachlan; Pictures by Hadley Hooper
A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press. 2014
ISBN: 9781596439481
All ages
To write this review, I borrowed a copy of the book from my local public library.

The Iridescence of Birds is an informational picture book biography that is breathtaking from cover to cover. Author Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah, Plain and Tall is still one of my all-time favorite Newbery winners. I can still remember where I was when I read it) and artist Hadley Hooper (Here Comes the Girl Scouts by Shana Corey) combined talents have produced a beautiful book that pays homage to the creative spirit of Henri Matisse.

In just a few sentences MacLachlan asks readers to imagine what might have influenced Matisse's love of color. Was it the bright colors his mother used to paint the plates that hung on the wall with meadow scenes? Or the woven red rugs she put on the floor and walls of their cottage that was located in a grey mill town in Northern France. Maybe it was the fruit he arranged into bowls or the fresh flowers in the vase.

Hooper fills every inch of the pages with colorful images that reflect Matisse’s style. We see the young Matisse, a happy child when surrounded by color and then watching his older self as he paints light, movement, and the iridescence of birds. (Love those pigeons!)

On creating the illustrations for this book, Hadley says in her artist’s note, she thought about Matisse and his work before going to sleep and upon rising in the morning. I decided to try relief printing, which forced me to simplify my shapes an allow me to focus on the color and composition. Combining old and new technology, Hadley used stiff foam and cardboard to cut out the characters, then inked them, made prints, and scanned those prints into Photoshop. Perfect!

Please share this book with people of all ages, from babies to senior citizens. It will fit perfectly when talking about artists or the creative mind.

And before I end this review, I want to acknowledge their editor, Neal Porter. Mr. Porter is amazing and has demonstrated again and again his remarkable skill of discovering talent and/or giving them the encouragement and belief in their abilities that allows them to go above and beyond to create really great picture books. Thank you, Neal Porter.

Go here to see pictures from the book.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The History of Money: from bartering to banking by Martin Jenkins

The History of Money: from bartering to banking
Written by Martin Jenkins; Illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura
Candlewick Press. 2014
ISBN: 9780763667634
Grades 7-12
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library to write this review.

The History of Money is a great introduction to the history of how we came to use money as our means of buying and selling goods. Using a very informal style, Jenkins' (The Emperor's Egg) tome takes readers from the days of bartering up to the evolution of buying and selling using coins to paper money. He does an excellent job explaining inflation and how banks work.

Accompanying the content are the colorful cartoon drawings by Satoshi Kitamura. They offer that important visual element that helps readers comprehend the text.

Perhaps in the end the most important fact about money—and the hardest thing to understand about it—is that it exists only because people believe in it. It’s not a physical thing—even though that’s how we tend to think of it, as banknotes and coins, or cash.

Back matter includes author's note, bibliography, and index.

The History of Money may look like an informational book for elementary grades, yet the content would find an audience in middle and high school as well.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Harlem Hellfighters

Harlem Hellfighters  
by J. Patrick Lewis
illustrated by Gary Kelley
Creative Editions, 2014
ISBN: 9781568462462
Grades 6 and up

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

Former U.S. Children's Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis, has released a powerful, new picture book.
The book introduces middle grade and teen readers to the15th New York National Guard or Harlem Hellfighters. During World War I, bandleader James Europe was tasked with putting together a black regiment of musicians and soldiers.

"Ranging all along the Brittany harbor wall,
Frenzied Frenchmen swayed to Jim Europe's 
pizzazz jazz "Marseillaise.

But the band finally packed up,
soon to be sent to a land 
no poet could portray."

Informational poems tell the story of the 2,000 soldiers from the 15th who risked their lives for a country that discriminated against them. Kelley's somber, pastel illustrations set a solemn tone as soldiers are shown digging trenches, writing letters home, and carrying bodies from the battlefield. Lewis' free verse poetry is an excellent way to introduce older readers to a brave group of men and difficult events in our country's history. Pair Harlem Hellfighters with The War to End All Wars by Russell Freedman or Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone.

Watch for Harlem Hellfighters during the Youth Media Awards announcements on February 2nd. Now that the Sibert Medal may be awarded to works of informational poetry, this book is a strong contender.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tiny Creatures: the world of microbes Written by Nicola Davies

Tiny Creatures: the world of microbes
Written by Nicola Davies; Illustrated by Emily Sutton
Candlewick Press. 2014
ISBN: 9780763773154
Grades K-3
To write this review, I borrowed a copy of the book from my local public library.

Nicola Davies has penned some terrific science books. I really like Surprising Sharks! and Gaia Warriors. Davies excels at explaining the natural world and our relationship with it. Tiny Creatures: the world of microbes, is an informational picture book that presents a simple introduction to the smallest things on our planet and the big jobs they do.

Invisible to the naked eye, microbes come in many different shapes and sizes. They don’t have eyes, heads, or legs, branches, roots, or leaves because they aren’t animals or plants.

Microbes are responsible for slowly changing things into something else. Not only do they help to turn everything that dies into soil, but, they are also responsible for turning milk into yogurt.

Davies reassuring, matter-of-fact tone allows the youngest readers to appreciate the ginormous number of microbes – right now there are more microbes living on your skin than there are people on Earth, and there are ten or even a hundred times as many as that in your stomach – without becoming alarmed.

Partnering with the easy to understand text are the watercolor illustrations of Emily Sutton, which perfectly mirrors what is being explained within the text.

Pair Tiny Creatures: the world of microbes with other books by Davies. Maybe, What’s Eating You?: parasites---the inside story.