Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Thursday, May 16, 2019

When Plants Attack

When Plants Attack: Strange and Terrifying Plants
by Rebecca E. Hirsch
Millbrook Press, 2019
Grades 3-6

Upper elementary readers will delight in this nonfiction picture book featuring plants adaptations that help them survive in the wild. Hirsch writes in an expository style with a conversational tone that engages readers with the text. Each chapter focuses on a different plant species.

Readers will learn about pitcher plants that trap insects and pisonia trees that catch birds with their sticky seeds. Other plants featured in the book include the dodder vine, swollen thorns, and kudzu. Close-up photographs of the plants accompany the descriptive text.

When Plants Attack would make a great read aloud in a science class learning about plant and animal adaptations. It's also likely to be a popular nonfiction read with kids who love the gory aspects of science.

Monday, May 13, 2019

101 Small Ways to Change the World: how you (yes, you) can make a difference! Written by Aubre Andrus

101 Small Ways to Change the World: how you (yes, you) can make a difference!
Written by Aubre Andrus
Lonely Planet Kids. 2018
Grades 3 and up

In 101 Small Ways to Change the World, Andrus makes the case that in addition to doing all we can to save our environment, it is equally important that we care for ourselves, and others.

The book’s design is fun and encourages browsing. Each double-page spread begins with a topic and then one or two suggestions follow. 
For example: #78 DISCONNECT.  
“From TVs to tablets to laptops to phones, kids are spending a lot more time sitting and staring at screens these days. Sure, there are so many fun games, movies, shows, and text messages just waiting for you, but it’s really important to take a break from screens every now and then. Not only will it give your eyes a rest, it will also give your mind a rest.”  

Following are a few specific suggestions on what to do.
Bake cookies or make slime
Read a book on magic tricks, a craft idea, or science experiment
Do a puzzle or get your entire family to help with a Lego project.
Write a story or poem!
Each page includes some fun art.

The book offers a checklist so avid changemakers can tick off each one as they complete it, and, a list of further reading, books and websites, on others who are trying to change the world. 

Yes! One person, one kid, can change the world.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Her Fearless Run by Kim Chaffee

Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer’s Historic Boston Marathon
By Kim Chaffee; Illustrated by Ellen Rooney
Page Street Kids. 2019
Grades 1 – up

In 1967, women did not run in marathons. Men thought women were not strong enough. “Women weren’t supposed to sweat,” and running for 26.2 miles would cause serious injury. In Her Fearless Run, Chaffee tells the exciting story of Kathrine Switzer and her courage to challenge the status quo to become the first woman to register, run, and finish, the Boston marathon. (She was disqualified when the officials realized she was a women)

The narrative is exciting as we read how Kathrine loved running at a young age. To her, it was magic. In college, her ability to run longer distances got her an invitation to join the men’s track team. “The team needed more runners, and Kathrine was eager to join.”  When she began classes at Syracuse University, she could train with the men, just not compete in races. The more Kathrine heard about the Boston Marathon, the more she wanted run in it.

Rooney’s vibrant, colorful full-page illustrations, rendered with mixed media collage using paint, paper, pencil, and digital media, capture the mood and tone of the story.

Back matter includes an author’s note and bibliography. Also included is a brief explanation on how five years after Kathrine’s run, in 1972, women where officially allowed to run the Boston Marathon.

A perfect book to share with all ages. Read along with The Girl Who Ran : Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon by Frances Poletti & Kristina Yee, and/or Girl Running : Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon by Anette Bay Pimentel.

Monday, May 6, 2019

New Nonfiction- May 2019

Here are the new titles that hit the shelves in May.

Mummies Exposed!: Creepy and True
by Kerrie Logan Hollihan

We Are the Change: Words of Inspiration from Civil Rights Leaders

Disaster Strikes!: The Most Dangerous Space Missions of All Time
by Jeffrey Kluger

When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex
by Toni Buzzeo and Diana Sudyka

The Girl Who Named Pluto: The Story of Venetia Burney
by Alice B. McGinty and Elizabeth Haidle

Undaunted: The Wild Life of Birute Mary Galdikas and Her Fearless Quest to Save Orangutans
by Anita Silvey

The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets
by Gayle E. Pitman

Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me
by Susan L. Roth

The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon: The Story of Alan Bean
by Dean Robbins and Sean Rubin

The Boy Who Touched the Stars
by Jose M. Hernandez and Steven James Petruccio

An Invisible Thread: Adapted for Young Readers
by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Woolly Monkey Mysteries: The Quest to Save a Rain Forest Species
by Sandra Markle
Millbrook Press, 2019
Grades 3-6

Sandra Markle takes readers deep in the rainforests of Peru where the woolly monkeys make their homes. The elusive woolly monkeys act as gardeners in the rain forest where they eat fruit and spread seeds in their waste along the floor of the forest.

The book focuses on the work of scientists studying the impact of woolly monkeys on the rainforest as well as the effects of deforestation on the monkeys.

Scientist Andrew Whitmorth started a project using camera traps, cameras with infrared sensors, to observe the woolly monkeys. Whitmorth and his team use harnesses and gear to climb high into the rainforest canopy to install the camera traps. The layout of the book is a strength. A combination of photographs, diagrams and maps provide readers with information about the woolly monkeys, the rainforest and the work of scientists. Text is accessible and is chunked into sections for to elementary readers. The back matter encourages readers to become "science detectives" by going into nature to observe squirrels in trees.

Other science mystery books by Markle include:
Snowy Owl Invasion
The Search for Olinguito
The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats

Monday, April 29, 2019

An Interview with Maria Gianferrari

Cathy and I thought it would be fun to take a break from reviewing nonfiction to interviewing author's whose books we regularly review.  Our first interview is with Maria Gianferrari. We love her ability to compose engaging informational books that explore our natural world. Maria's books are perfect to share in story time or in the classroom setting. The language is lively, engaging, and just fun to read. A bonus is that the lively language is always coupled with wonderful illustrations. We hope you like Maria's books as much as we do.

Why do you write the kinds of books you do?

I write about the things that I love, so for nonfiction, that would be about the natural world and its inhabitants. I grew up in New Hampshire near a farmhouse, and nature was my playground—I’m still a nature girl. You can tell I love animals—all of my books currently published, or under contract, feature an animal main character J.

Where do you get the information or ideas for your books?

My ideas come from all kinds of places—observations of things I see on my daily dog walks, or places that I travel, from books or articles or films I’ve seen, or things that I’m curious about. My book Coyote Moon, was inspired by a close encounter with an eastern coyote when I lived in the greater Boston area. Terrific Tongues actually began with my then toddler’s obsession with tongues. We were living in Berlin, Germany at the time, and she was speaking more German than English. Every time she’d see a tongue of any kind, one in a book, the tongue of a dog passing on the street, she’d excitedly scream, “Zunge,” (the German word for tongue). I became curious, and started researching tongues and found so much cool information, and Terrific Tongueswas born.   

How did you become a writer? What was the first book you got published?

Writing was something that I had always wanted to do, but I did not fully commit to it until after my daughter was born. Reading wonderful works of kidlit re-ignited my dream of being a writer, and I decided to go for it. My first book is Penny and Jelly The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder (HMH, 2015). It’s about a girl named Penny and her canine best friend, Jelly, based on my daughter’s relationship with our dog, Becca. 

How do you pack so much information and emotions while using a limited word count?

I think that poetry is key to writing picture books, whether fiction or nonfiction, because it is spare, economic and can distill both ideas and emotions. Science and poetry really go hand-in-hand. Scientific language can be poetic too in its specificity. For example, in my book, Hawk Rising, I use the verb “kiting” to describe how a hawk floats in the wind by folding its wings. It’s a beautiful and descriptive verb, so apt AND it’s scientifically accurate too. 

How do you select your subjects for your books?

The topics are usually something that I’m very passionate about, like urban ecology—
the wild neighbors who live among us, who may be common, yet they are extraordinary in their own ways. It was important to me to have Coyote Moon set in the suburbs—to show coyotes living among us, and how we can co-exist with them. The same with Hawk Rising: the birder-girl watches from her home, where the hawk family has nested nearby.

I also like to write about things that I’m curious and want to learn more about, or things that inspire me. As a bird nerd, I have another bird book releasing in March 2020: Whoo-Ku Haiku, a story about a great horned owl family written in a series of haiku poems (again, science and poetry), coming from Putnam. I also really believe in the power of importance of play, so I have a book called Play Like an Animal, releasing from Millbrook Press next April. 

Do you get a say in who illustrates your books?

I am very fortunate to have worked with editors who have shared their prospective illustrator lists with me since they want to make sure that our vision for the books align. My expectations have always been exceeded. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with many extremely talented artists for both my fiction and nonfiction books. Lucky me!

What do you like best about writing for children?

It’s fun and it’s challenging—I get to feel like a kid again—full of curiosity and wonder. And kids are the best audience: they’re energetic and inquisitive, and when they’re engaged, that is the best feeling!

Do you belong to a writer’s group?

I LOVE my online critique group, CP (Crumpled Paper)! They are my trusted friends, and we challenge and buoy and champion each other professionally and personally. Their thoughtful and incisive feedback has made me a better writer. I wouldn’t be a published writer today without them! Thanks, Lisa, Andrea, Lois, Abby and Sheri!

Your books really grab the attention of children. Were you ever a teacher?

I taught composition to college students during my graduate studies for a Ph.D., and one summer I participated in a STEM program for middle school students, and that was a blast! They were full of energy and great ideas. I’ve never taught at the elementary school level though. I feel like we’re teachers as writers of nonfiction—we want to share the cool things we’ve discovered with kids in a fun, engaging, non-didactic way. 

Thank you, Maria! We are looking forward to your new titles coming out in 2020!