Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, April 29, 2024

We are taking a long break


Once again the Nonfiction Detectives will go on hiatus. Our lives have changed and we are both finding it challenging to keep up with the blog. It has been fun, rewarding, and exciting to share books we’ve enjoyed. We are grateful for the support from our readers. To publishers and author's, thank you, for sending us so many wonderful books.

Until another time…

Keep reading nonfiction.

Cathy and Louise

Click here for our tips for evaluating nonfiction.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Be Strong: The Rise of Beloved Public Art Sculptor Nancy Schön Written by Darcy Pattison

 Be Strong: The Rise of Beloved Public Art Sculptor Nancy Schön
Written by Darcy Pattison; Illustrated by Rich Davis
MimsHouse Books. 2024

Have you ever been to Boston, Massachusetts and seen the Make Way for Ducklings sculptures in the Public Garden? If so, then you have seen the work of Nancy Schön. 

Born near Boston on September 24, 1928 (I got that from Wikipedia), Nancy became interested in sculpture at her cousin's Halloween party. 
    "For one game, each child was asked to chew a piece of gum and use it to sculpt something. Her hands shaped a tiny cup and saucer. She won first place!"

She graduated with a degree in sculpture from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Despite being married and raising her children, Nancy still found time to teach art and make sculptures. It was in 1979, that the idea of what she wanted her art to be came to her. 
"Right then, I saw what I wanted for my art. I wanted my sculptures to be outdoors in parks, where people of all ages could touch and enjoy them."

This picture book biography focuses on Nancy's creation of the duck sculptures based on Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings. Once installed, there was no holding her back. Other sculptures she created is the Tortise and Hare at Copley Square, which is the finish line for the Boston Marathon, as well as, other sculptures that are installed in parks around the world.

Woven into this charming story is a message of Be Strong, a message she received while creating the ducklings from artist whose studio was across the hall from Nancy. She took that message and kept it close to her heart and thought of it throughout her life when she had a hard day.

Quotes from Nancy Schön are throughout set off in purple. 

The illustrations are colorful and reflect what is being said in the text.

Back matter includes more information on Nancy Schön, and a listing of her public art sculptures. To write this engaging story the author conducted personal interviews with the artist and read the book, Make Way for Nancy: A Life in Public Art by Nancy Schön. (Boston: David R. Godine. 2017)

A fun book to share with budding artists of all ages, at an art adventure story time, and especially, after reading Make Way for Ducklings. 

Monday, April 15, 2024

The Fabulous Fannie Farmer: Kitchen Scientist and America's Cook Emma Bland Smith

The Fabulous Fannie Farmer: Kitchen Scientist and America's Cook
Emma Bland Smith; Pictures by Susan Reagan
Calkins Creek, an Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2024

In the 1800's, when Fannie was little, she learned to cook from her mother with recipes that were passed down generation to generation. Directions were not like now. Instead, they were pretty vague. "If Fannie had asked, "How much salt should I put in this soup? her mother might have answered, "Oh, a goodly amount." 

Though she loved to good, and she was quite good at it, her dream was to attend college and become a teacher. Unfortunately, at age sixteen, Fannie contracted polio. She lost the use of her legs and had to lay in bed for several years. Unable to fulfill her dreams, as a way to keep busy Fannie took up cooking. "Her passion for cooking and baking rose up like a severn-layer cake."

This picture book biography follows Fannie as she attends the Boston Cooking School and, eventually, becomes a teacher and the head of the school. Her scientific mind had her realizing that using precise measurements instead of the vague directions she grew up with, were absolutely necessary to insure a recipe would come out the same each time you made it. 

Fannie didn't stop with the publishing of her cookbook. She started her own cooking school, lectured all over the country, and taught at Harvard Medical School. 

Paired with the engaging narrative are Reagan's very colorful, historically accurate illustrations that combines traditional watercolor with digital drawing. Peppered throughout the book are quotes by Fannie set off in a larger font. 

A great read aloud to all ages (I really believe middle and high school students can benefit from reading picture books), share with anyone who has an interest in cooking. 

Backmatter includes how to research nonfiction, Fannie's influence on today's cooks, (think Julia Child), a timeline, resources for more information, and a bibliography.

You'll want to be sure you have something yummy to snack on while reading. 

Click here to watch an interview with Emma Bland Smith.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Skybound! Starring Mary Myers as Carlotta Daredevil Aeronaut and Scientist Written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt

Skybound! Starring Mary Myers as Carlotta Daredevil Aeronaut and Scientist
Written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt; Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno
Calkins Creek, an Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2024

My youngest son's partner is a hot-air balloon enthusiast. She travels to different events around the world to participate in many aspects of ballooning. Even going up in them! So I was super excited to share this engaging story of Mary Myers, a.k.a. Carlotta, and her daredevil flight to collect scientific data on just how well the balloons she and her husband, Carl, designed. 

Just who was Mary Myers? 

Mary Myers was born Mary Breed Hawley on August 24, 1850, in Pennsylvania. From a very early age, Mary dreamed of flying. When ballooning came to the United States from France, Mary thought this might be her chance to get up in the air.

At age twenty-one, she met Carl Myers, a photographer, engineer, and scientist. Together, Mary and Carl developed a groundbreaking balloon fabric. Needing some scientific data to know which balloon shape performed best, "Mary and Carl realized they needed two flight professionals in one. Someone who could record scientific data and electrify the paying crowds at fairs. (Building better balloons cost money, after all!)

After her thrilling solo flight, her career as Carlotta, Lady Aeronaut, began.

Beautiful illustrations, done in colored inks on paper, are historically accurate and mirror what is being discussed in the text. 

Backmatter includes more about Carlotta, a timeline, and a selected bibliography and suggested reading.

This appealing picture book biography will have readers of all ages dreaming of their endless possibilities. 

Monday, April 1, 2024

Bird Girl: Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature With the World Written by Jill Esbaum; Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Bird Girl: Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature With the World
Written by Jill Esbaum; Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
Calkins Creek, an Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2024

When I first began working in a public library on an island in Maine, the most popular book was, A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter. It wasn't until reading Bird Girl did I learn that Stratton-Porter was the first bird photographer in America. 

Born in Wabash County, Indiana, in 1864, Geneva Grace Stratton loved birds. As she watched them, she would wonder, "How do they decide where to build their nests? What do they feed their babies? Does all that chirping and singing mean anything?"

After rescuing one bird and raising it back to health, the following summer Geneva watched over sixty-four nests, visiting them every day. It was as an adult, now called, Gene, that her family bought her a camera for Christmas. Gene could now use her photos of birds taken at her favorite place, Limberlost Swamp, to illustrate her bird stories. 

Gene would go on to be a prolific writer and photographer. She died in a car accident in December of 1924. She was sixty-one years old. 

The illustrated, done in acrylic ink and colored pencils, by Rebecca Gibbon. They reflect the playfulness and curiosity of the subject.

Backmatter includes an author's note, a short biography of Gene Stratton-Porter, bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and a list of selected works of Gene Stratton-Porter. 

An engaging, fun, and inspiring picture book biography.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Cactus Queen: Minerva Hoyt Establishes Joshua Tree National Park Written by Lori Alexander

Cactus Queen: Minerva Hoyt Establishes Joshua Tree National Park
Written by Lori Alexander; Pictures by Jenn Ely
Calkins Creek, an Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2024

Just how Minerva Hoyt convinced a nation, and a United States President to care about the Mojave Desert, located in southeastern California and southwestern Nevada is the basis of this charming picture book biography. 

In 1897, Minerva and her husband, Dr. Albert Hoyt lived in Pasadena, California.  "When Minerva needed a break from the buzzing city, she took trips. First by horse and wagon. Later by automobile. Her favorite place was the Mojave Desert." It was like no other place she ever visited. But, as the 1920's brought more cars, roads, and lots more people to the area, the desert oasis quickly was destroyed. People took plants, dug up the Joshua trees hoping they would survive in their backyard gardens. Just how could she make people love the desert as much as she did? How could she convince them the Mojave Desert was a place that needed to be preserved, to become a national park? 

Minerva created a desert display, complete with cactus, Joshua Trees, and wildlife (she had taxidermists as friends). Seeing the strange and beautiful landscape at the 1928 International Flower Show, people feel in love. On August 10, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a law that created the Joshua Tree National Monument. In 1994, President Bill Clinton gave the area more protection by signing the California Desert Protection Act. It expanded the area and established the Joshua Tree National Park. 

Peppered throughout in darker and a larger front are quotes from Minerva Hoyt. The book's illustrations by Jenn Ely are mostly done in acrylic gouache, with some smaller bits of colored pencil and collage. They are lively, engaging, and really colorful. 

Backmatter includes more information on Minerva Hoyt, wildlife in Joshua Tree National Park, an author's note, tips for environmental activists, and a selected bibliography.

An important story that highlights the importance of protecting our natural wonders. 

Monday, March 18, 2024

One of a Kind: The Life of Sydney Taylor by Richard Michelson

One of a Kind: The Life of Sydney Taylor
by Richard Michelson; Illustrated by Sarah Green
Calkins Creek, an Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2024

In, One of a Kind, Michelson recounts the life of children's book author, Sydney Taylor, whose book, All-Of-A-Kind Family was one of the first stories about a poor Jewish family growing up in New York City. 

Born Susan Brenner on October 30, 1904, Taylor always had a curious mind. Growing up poor, Taylor was one of five sisters, and one younger brother, living in New York City. Her parents were from Germany but moved to the United States after facing antisemitism. Though she loved celebrating the Jewish holidays, her parents encouraged her to learn American customs. "so you shouldn't feel like foreigners in your own country."

As she grew, Sarah grew frustrated with the discrimination against women. At age fourteen, tired of the expectation that women needed to be quiet and well-behaved, Sarah changes her name to Sydney. "A boy's name; then people will pay attention to what I write."

It isn't until she has her own daughter, she begins telling her own stories. "She enjoyed reading about families different from her own, but Syd believed that children also deserved to have stories about families that look and sound like theirs do." 

Sydney writes down her stories. "Maybe she can show other children that all people - whether their family have been in America for generations or recent arrivals - share the most important things:  love of friends and family and a desire to be treated fairly." Unfortunately, the American publishers didn't agree.

Her success came in 1950, when her husband sent her story, All-of-a-Kind Family, to a publishing company's contest (Wilcox + Follett Publishers). She won first prize! 

A happy ending, indeed.

Included is an afterword on Sydney Taylor, her husband Ralph, their daughter Jo Taylor Marshall, an author's note, bibliography of the author's sources.

Though the book is based on truth, Michelson does admit that much of the dialogue is invented.

A great introduction to an important author. 

Monday, March 11, 2024

Home by Isabelle Simler

Isabelle Simler; translated by Vineet Lal
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 2024

French author, Isabelle Simler,  using poetry introduces young readers on a journey to discover the amazing homes of animals that live around the world.

"I've been to some truly amazing homes.
To explore these unique places, I've had 
to bend, and shrink, and squeeze, and 
let myself be transformed in weird and 
wonderful ways. 

I've curled up in a hazel leaf, 
and disappeared under a stone, and bathed 
in a few drops of dew...

I've woken up as an ant. And a bird. 
Even  a sea snail.
And, I've imagined life in these homes,
all so very different from my own."

Simler explores twenty-seven different homes, sharing the ingenious ways each creature constructs their wondrous dwelling.

Take the European fan worm (Savella spallanzanii)
"I slide into my home like a telescope
and fan out my long feathery lashes."
This "worm-with-a-plume" lives in the ocean on the rocky seabed.

Or the hummingbird, (Trochilidae) who lives in a small, featherweight house hidden under a leaf. 

Accompanying each entry are Simler's beautiful, lush colorful illustrations that showcase the wonders of each individual animal.  Breathtaking.

Included are brief summaries of the twenty-seven animals included in the book, glossary, and recommended resources for more information. 

A truly awe-inspiring book to share with all ages, especially older listeners where you can highlight art, words, nature, and encourage their creativity.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Hawk Mother Returns: A Story of Interspecies Adoption by Kara Hagedorn and Marlo Garnsworthy

Hawk Mother Returns: A Story of Interspecies Adoption 
Kara Hagedorn and Marlo Garnsworothy
Web of Life Children's Books. 2024

Zoologist, Kara Hagedorn (Hawk Mother: The Story of a Red-Tailed Hawk Who Hatched Chickens) shares another story of cross-species adoption, in this stunning nonfiction title.

"One spring morning, my phone rings. Someone has cut down a tree with a nest containing two red-tailed hawk eggs. "Will Sunshine adopt them?" as the wildlife rehabilitator?" 

And so begins the story of how Sunshine, a red-tailed hawk who has been unable to fly since being shot many years ago, once again becomes a surrogate mother. Told in first person, Hagedorn shares every step in the raising of the chicks. From Sunshine feeding the newly hatched chicks, Bella and Romeo, to teaching them how to hunt. 

Beautiful, color photos that show the process of Sunshine raising these two chicks, which turn out to be Red-Shouldered Hawks, is very exciting. Over several weeks the chicks grow until one day, Kara decides it is time for them to leave the safety of the aviary. 

"I decide today is the day for them to leave. I take Sunshine out of her aviary so she can watch. Then, heart beating, I open the aviary door."

Included is an author's note explaining who Kara is and how she came to adopt Sunshine, more information about hawks, and a glossary. 

An important  book to share when explaining the importance of how to be mindful of nature, and the growth cycle of raptors. 

Monday, January 15, 2024

New Nonfiction: January 2024


Fighting with Love: The Legacy of John Lewis
by Lesa Cline-Ransome
illustrated by James Ransome
Simon & Schuster

Coretta: The Autobiography of Mrs. Coretta Scott King
by Coretta Scott King
illustrated by Ekua Holmes

The Girl Who Sang: A Holocaust Memoir of Hope and Survival 
by Estelle Nadel
illustrated by Sammy Savos
Roaring Brook Press

Remember My Story: A Girl, a Holocaust Survivor, and a Friendship That Made History
by Claire Sarnowski ad Sarah Durand
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Jimmy's Rhythm and Blues: The Extraordinary Life of James Baldwin
by Michelle Meadows
illustrated by Jamiel Law

A Grand Idea: How William J. Wilgus Created Grand Central Station
by Megan Hoyt
illustrated by David Szalay
Quill Tree Books

The Fabulous Fannie Farmer
by Emma Bland Smith
illustrated by Susan Reagan
Calkins Creek

American Wings: Chicago's Pioneering Black Aviators and the Race for Equality in the Sky
by Sherri L. Smith and Elizabeth Wein
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers

Unstoppable: My Journey from World Champion to Athlete A to 8 Time NCAA National Gymnastics Champion and Beyond
by Maggie Nichols
Roaring Brook Press

Kid Olympians: Summer: True Tales of Childhood from Champions and Game Changers
by Robin Stevenson
illustrated by Allison Steinfeld
Quirk Books