Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Friday, April 28, 2023

Total Garbage: A Messy Dive Into Trash, Waste, and Our World by Rebecca Donnelly

Total Garbage: A Messy Dive Into Trash, Waste, and Our World
Rebecca Donnelly; Illustrated by John Hendrix
Henry Holt and Company. 2023

We have reviewed other titles that deal with the ever growing problem of trash, but in Total Garbage, writer Donnelly goes one step further by challenging how the phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” has given us a false sense of hope. Donnelly looks at how much trash we make and how it damages our world, and affects all of us. 

What readers will find compelling, was in the author’s note. Donnelly admits that with her busy life, she is also part of the problem. She didn’t write Total Garbage as a template as to how to live a life trash-free. Instead, she offers facts that will help readers make choices. Donnelly delves deeply into what is trash, where does it go after we toss it into our trash bins, what does recycle really mean, the affects of our trash on our planet, and how shoppers are lured into thinking they are creating less waste by purchasing items that claim that their packaging is recyclable. Donnelly also differentiates between saving the wilderness versus environmental action regarding neighborhoods near pollution sources. Wilderness is a place you visit, whereas pollution sources are where people live. “For people who live near pollution sources, environmentalism is a very personal commitment with immediate consequences in everyday life and in their own communities.”

Ideas that resonated with me?:

  • During World War 2, it was patriotic to save and reuse until 1955. Now, it is considered patriotic to buy more stuff to keep all the manufacturing plants, created during WW2, operational. 
  • That recycling has serious environmental issues. 
  • The problems with landfills.
  • That buying anything that is single use, even if it says it is made from recyclable materials, is still trash.
  • That for many, reducing waste and purchasing is a financial burden they are unable to take on. Products that are marketed as green often cost more, making it almost impossible for many to purchase them.

Total Garbage would be a terrific title to use in a science unit with middle to high school students. An activity that sounds eye-opening is to build an image of yourself by taking a good look at what you throw away. 

Included is a Trash Timeline: The Good and the Gross in the History of Waste Management, selected resources, and index. 

The engaging narrative, packed with lots of easily understood information on waste and its impact on our world, is highly recommended, especially for Earth Day.


Monday, April 24, 2023

Making More

Making More: How Life Begins
by Katherine Roy
Norton Young Readers, 2023
Grades 2 and up

Katherine Roy is known for creating stellar science picture books for children including the Sibert Honor book, Neighborhood Sharks. In her latest picture book, Roy examines how animals reproduce. 

Reproduction is an area of curiosity for many children, and it's also a topic adults tend to avoid discussing with young people. Making More approaches the topic with the perfect combination of science and wonder. The book invites readers into the natural world as a family takes a walk together in the woods. Each two-page spread features a gorgeous watercolor illustration painted in a realistic style accompanied by expository text explaining reproduction.

Readers will learn about DNA, egg cells, sperm cells, fertilization, cell division and more. A variety of species are included in the book including grey squirrels, bumblebees, black-tailed deer, Pacific chorus frogs, and brush rabbits. Detailed diagrams with labels clearly illustrate scientific concepts. Be sure to read the detailed back matter which provides a glossary of terms and information about meiosis.

This gorgeous picture book is a celebration of the life and how species survive by making more. Making More is a recommended purchase for families, schools and libraries. Check out the book trailer on Katherine Roy's website.

Friday, April 21, 2023

The Last Plastic Straw by Dee Romito; Illustrated by Ziyue Chen

The Last Plastic Straw: A Plastic Problem and Finding Ways to Fix It.
By Dee Romito; Illustrated by Ziyue Chen.
Books for Better Earth. Holiday House. 2023

This book focuses on the invention of the straw - from using a reed to plastic - and the environmental impact the plastic straw is having on our world. 

Straws were first invented by the Sumerians. They used a reed to sip their drinks. China used plant stalks, while in South America, to drink their tea, they used a silver or bronze “bombilla” with a filter on the end. In America, after World War II, to find a more positive use for plastic, the plastic draw was born.

Yet, straws, defined as single- use plastics, are not biodegradable. After breaking down into microplastics, they stay around forever. 

“Scientists have estimated that up to 8.3 billions plastic straws can be found on beaches around the world.” Fish, sea birds, turtles, whales ingest them, either by accident or thinking they are food. 

What can we do to be part of the solution to stop singe-use plastics? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Romito’s informational picture book is a good addition to any STEM display. The scientific information is perfect for a read aloud in any STEM or Earth Day program. 

Chen’s illustrations, created using Procreate on an iPad, are colorful, and reflect was is being discussed in the text. 

An author’s note, sources, and resources to learn more about plastics is included. 

Click here to visit the Last Plastic Straw coalition.

Monday, April 17, 2023

We Go Way Back by Idan Ben-Barak

We Go Way Back: A Book About Life on Earth and How It All Began 
Idan Ben-Barak; Illustrated by Philip Bunting 
Roaring Brook Press. 2023 

What exactly is life is the theme of this charming informational picture book. 

People have been trying to explain what life is, but it is not easy. 
 We know life is not a thing. 
“Life is the way that some things make more things that are a lot like themselves but sometimes a little bit different.” 
In 32 pages, Ben-Barak, who holds a PhD in the history and philosophy of science, takes readers on a journey back before life on Earth began and gives us an understandable theory will understand. 

Accompanying the intelligible narrative are Bunting’s colorful, cartoon-like illustrations. The book would be a great addition to any display on life on Earth. 

An enjoyable read aloud for students in all grades, but especially high school. We Go Way Back is the kind of book that sparks conversations. 

This book does not include any author’s note, further explanations, or bibliography.

Friday, April 14, 2023

From 2021: The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History by David F. Walker; Marcus Kwame Anderson

The Black Panther Party : A Graphic Novel History
by David F. Walker;
Art, Colors, and Letters by Marcus Kwame Anderson

Ten Speed Press. 2021

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in response to the decades long violence against Black Americans. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was a radical political organization that was “in defiant contrast to the mainstream civil rights movement”

Using the graphic novel format, Walker does an excellent job of explaining circumstances that led to the formation of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, their commitment to supporting the Black communities with their educational and healthcare programs, and their battle to stop police brutality. 

As a response to the 1967 riots in Detroit, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed an 11-member commission to investigate the causes of the riots. The commission was led by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. The commission was tasked with answering these three questions: “What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again? 

On February 29, 1968, the Kerner Report was published. The report was a scathing condemnation of White America. “What White Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, White institutions maintain it, and White society condones it.” Instead of taking the recommendations from the 426 page Kerner Report that could have put an end to the racial disparity against Black Americans, the report was ignored. Instead, J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI waged a secret war against The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Sadly, many leaders were brutally and unfairly murdered at the hands of police. 

In his afterword, Walker states, “It is worth noting that, more than 50 years after Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party and draft the Ten-Point Program as their guiding manifesto, every single concern they address is still relevant. Every single inequality, injustice, and form of oppression impacting the Black community in 1966 is still going strong, well into the 21st century. What the Panthers wanted in 1966, we still want now. What they believed, we still know to be true.”

Growing up, the conversations regarding The Black Panthers leaned more towards their violence than highlighting the good things they did, such as establishing important social programs - free breakfast and schools - and their fight to end social inequality. In Walker’s graphic novel history, the marriage of facts mixed with invented dialogue, and Anderson’s art make this a powerful, well-balanced book for high school students on a little known topic.

Interspersed throughout the narrative are 16 bios of Black Panther members, a bibliography, and index.

Without the knowledge of what came before, there is no hope of making our world a better place for all people. 

Monday, April 10, 2023

Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-Floor Ecosystem by Melissa Stewart; Illustrated by Rob Dunlavey

Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-Floor Ecosystem
Melissa Stewart;
Illustrated by Rob Dunlavey.
Random House Studio. 2023

First off, I must admit that we, at the Nonfiction Detectives, are colossal fans of Melissa Stewart. As a nonfiction writer, her talent to bring facts to life without overwhelming readers is a true gift. She makes our job as a librarians easier because we can trust the book we hand a curious reader. We know they will be able to absorb the information while also just enjoying the narrative. Thank you, Melissa!

In her newest, Whale Fall, Stewart asks readers to imagine what happens after a whale dies. 

It’s massive body silently sinks down, down, through the inky darkness, finally coming to rest on the soft, silty seafloor.” 

From there, the decomposing body offers “the deep-sea denizen, the hundred of species and millions of creatures” shelter and sustenance for over fifty years. 

In her author’s note, Stewart explains that scientists had no idea that whale fall communities existed until they discovered one off the coast of California in 1987. Studying the sites, scientists have identified more than 500 different species that live on or around whale falls. 

Dunlavey’s lush illustrations, created using watercolor, mixed media, and digital tools, mirror the text. In some scenes, especially when you are looking up through many miles of ocean and you see the shadow of the whale overhead, you feel like you are actually a part of the book, standing at the bottom of the ocean with sea life all around you.

This informational picture book is perfect to share with readers, regardless of age, who are curious about the ocean…and spark those who have yet to take the plunge.

In addition to the author’s note, there is a section that identifies some whale fall species that includes illustrations of the species, scientific name, size, diet, predators, life span, and field notes. Selected sources, more books to explore is also included.

Monday, April 3, 2023

New Nonfiction- April 2023


illustrated by Arigon Starr

The Forest Keeper: The True Story of Jadav Payeng
by Rina Singh
illustrated by Ishita Jain
NorthSouth Books

The Great Giraffe Rescue: Saving the Nubian Giraffes
by Sandra Markle
Millbrook Press

Rise to the Sky: How the World's Tallest Trees Grow Up
by Rebecca E. Hirsch
illustrated by Mia Posada
Lerner Publishing

Climate Warriors: Fourteen Scientists and Fourteen Ways We Can Save Our Planet
by Laura Gehl
Millbrook Press

All About Nothing
by Elizabeth Rusch and Elizabeth Gross

How Do You Spell Unfair?: MacNolia Cox and the National Spelling Bee
by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by Frank Morrison
Candlewick Press

Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation
Young Readers Edition
by John Meacham and Tim McGraw
Delacorte Press

Search for a Giant Squid: Pick Your Path
by Amy Seto Forrester
illustrated by Andy Chou Musser
Chronicle Books

Ketanji Brown Jackson: A Justice for All
by Tami Charles
illustrated by Jenna Skidmore
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

The Girl Who Heard the Music
by Marni Fogelson
illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Wrap the World
by G. Neri
illustrated by Elizabeth Haidle
Candlewick Press

Restoring Prairie, Woods and Pond: How a Small Trail Can Make a Big Difference
by Laurie Lawlor
Holiday House

Light Speaks
by Christine Layton
illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell
Tilbury House

The Secret Life of the Flying Squirrel
by Laurence Pringle
illustrated by Kate Garchinsky
Astra Young Readers

Superpod: Saving the Endangered Orcas of the Pacific Northwest
by Nora Nickum
Chicago Review Press

by Jennifer Berne
illustrated by Amanda Hall
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Behold the Octopus!
by Suzanne Slade
illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
Peachtree Publishing

Race Against Death: The Greatest POW Rescue of World War II
by Deborah Hopkinson
Scholastic Focus

Sunshine: How One Camp Taught Me About Life, Death and Hope
by Jarrett J. Krosoczka