Archive for Nonfiction

Watch Out for Flying Kids

Written by Cynthia Levinson

Everyone loves the circus!  What better way to bring young people together from across cultures that might not otherwise every meet one another. Certainly, they would not understand each other.

This beautifully done, fascinating book tells of just such a program call the youth social circus. It is an arts education program that brings nine teen-aged troupers from two circuses together. They learn professional level skills of juggling, twirling burning hoops and entertaining audiences all over the world. At the same time, they are learning from one another about rural, suburban, and city life. They are learning about tribal customs of the Middle East, Jewish traditions in Galilee and inner-city life in St. Louis.

It is a wonderful example of learning about others by walking in their shoes, or, in this case, dancing and performing in their shoes. The students learn about each other in down time and by traveling together. The photographs were taken during the project and show lifelong friendships being made.

This would be a wonderful addition to every middle school, high school and public library. Teachers and librarians will fulfill many core curriculum standards in English, Social Studies, Literacy, and Geography by reading and discussing this text with students. It could easily lead to an Eagle Scout project or some sort of graduation project.

Even if it doesn’t bring about another encounter, it will begin worthwhile thoughts and dialogue concerning how we treat people from another culture and how we might get to know them better in the future.

Buy on Amazon

  • Watch Out for Flying KidsTitle:  Watch Out for Flying Kids
  • Author:   Cynthia Levinson
  • Publisher:  Peachtree, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 216 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-56145-821-9
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Circus
  • Grade level: 5 to 8
  • Extras: Photographs throughout, Index, Lengthy Author’s Note

Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad

Written by Martin W. Sandler

There was a lot more to building the transcontinental railroad than can be packed into those four words. Certainly a lot more than you’re taught in history class.

Sandler did extensive research for this great new book and includes many sidebars with details of various aspects of the project and biographies of important players, as well as numerous photographs and maps from the Library of Congress and other archives.

The brain child of Asa Whitney, distant relative of Eli Whitney, the plan began in earnest in 1845. After several proposals to Congress, the Central Pacific, starting from the west, and the Union Pacific, starting from the east, finally won the approval to lay rails from Omaha to Sacramento. It wasn’t until 1869 that the last spike was driven at Promontory Summit. Facing labor shortages, company corruption, extremes of weather, shortage of funds, just plain difficult terrain, and other hardships, the construction itself took more than six years.

The real value to sixth graders is as reference material, but Sandler does a great job of relating the true impact on the workers – Irish, Chinese, Mormon, and other – and on the indigenous residents of the American West. The story is compelling, well-told, and riveting.

Buy on Amazon

  • Iron RailsTitle: Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad
  • Author: Martin W. Sandler
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 Up
  • Genre: History, Biography
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6527-2
  • Extras: Table of Contents, Timeline, Source Notes, Bibliography, Photography Credits, and Index

When the Earth Shakes

Written by Simon Winchester

The Smithsonian Institution, with its massive research and museum complex supported the work of Simon Winchester, already a well-known and often awarded writer of nonfiction. He knows well the world of geology and writes smooth and engaging account of the excitement he feels when looking at the pictures of the bulge on Mount St. Helen before it erupted. But explaining the “how” of an eruption, as well as, all the other events put in motion by an eruption is a big job.

Grade five, six readers and far beyond will be fascinated by all the photos from worldwide Geological Societies, as well as the maps, diagrams, and sketches from around the world to depict tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. Winchester is able to capture the excitement and wonder of such phenomena while still instilling readers with the respect such natural dangers require.

Students can fulfill core curriculum in the areas of science, history, and literacy. After completing this well-written volume, readers can find other books, websites and listening recordings of sounds captured from under the ocean

Buy on Amazon

  • When the Earth ShakesTitle: When the Earth Shakes
  • Author: Simon Winchester
  • Publisher: Viking/ Penguin, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 72 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-670-78536-0
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Grade level: 5 Up
  • Extras: Index, recommended books, recommended web sites, photographs and photo credits

Smart and Spineless: Exploring Invertebrate Intelligence

Written by Ann Downer

This fascinating book asks the question “What is intelligence?” There are many examples of beings that lack a spinal column being able reason and learn. Each chapter outlines the life of a different beast and how it qualifies for the distinction “intelligent.” Charles Darwin was captivated by worms. Ordinary earthworms will increase activity in response to music. They cover the entrances to burrows with pebbles. They will learn to avoid the areas of mazes where electric shocks are introduced and vibrations similar to those made by predators. Jumping spiders know many different ways to approach their prey and can reason out which approach to use. Octopuses are unbelievable escape artists. Honey bees are great communicators. Paper wasps can recognize a friend’s face. Argentine ants build megacolonies. Mantis shrimps are fast and, more importantly, accurate predators. Box jellyfish can accurately navigate mazes. Slime molds seem to form giant brains. Tarantula hawk wasps will measure their prey before digging a hole to bury it for food for hatching babies.

The best use for this book is as a resource. It is so packed full of information, the student will want to return again and again to pick up the details for further study. Sixth grade literacy skills will be enhanced by the frequent use of scientific terms and by the excellent organization of the text. Throughout, the author highlights recent scientific studies. The numerous photos are wonderful illustrations.

Order on Amazon

  • Smart and SpinelessTitle: Smart and Spineless: Exploring Invertebrate Intelligence
  • Author: Ann Downer
  • Published: Twenty First Century Books, August, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 88 pages
  • Grade Level: 6 up
  • Genre: Nonfiction, animals
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-3739-5
  • Extras: Table of Contents, Source Notes, Glossary, Selected Bibliography, extensive For Further Information section, Index, About the Author, Author Acknowledgments, Photo Acknowledgments

Capital Days: Michael Shiner’s Journal

Written by Tonya Bolden

Capital Days is a stunning new look at the beginnings of our Capital City, Washington D.C.  This goes beyond a regular history of the Capital building and city because this is a personal view of what was happening day by day on the streets as experienced by one man.

Many of the excerpts come from the diary of a finally freed man named, Michael Shiner. He wrote what he saw, felt, and believed. The primary research undertaken by Tonya Bolden, a highly awarded nonfiction author, is very well done. Everything in the book is backed up with actual photographs and explicit citations. Primary sources are quoted throughout.

Readers are treated to an inside look at daily life from the early to the mid-19th century. In Michael Shiner’s last entry in his book, he noted that he had witnessed eleven Presidents take office.  He witnessed the burning and rebuilding of Washington, the labor disputes, the slave struggles to become free, Lincoln’s inauguration, even the workmen dropping the cornerstone for the Washington monument into the river by accident. The inclusion of real photographs from the time, as well as newspaper clippings, will help readers keep in constant mind this is about things that really happened.

From his work inside the Navy yard Michael sees and hears things that others would not. He witnesses an early labor strike and is affected when workers are not allowed to take their lunch baskets into the yard because of too much theft. Michael is not afraid to write what he sees. It is, after all, just a book for himself, to help him remember what happened. But now, generations later, we can see through his eyes our Capital struggling to be built.

After his retirement from the Navy yard he continues to work within the city as a contractor himself until he is infected with smallpox and dies. It is no small miracle that his personal book is and has been in the Library of Congress since early 1900. We are all fortunate that it was found by Tonya and used to create this marvelous, readable nonfiction narrative.

Throughout the book, a timeline of the Capital is included. While many of the points have to do with the Capital building itself, such as inaugurations and passed bills, it also includes news from around the city like the burning of the theater or the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington monument.

Abrams published this volume with heavy, glossy paper, clear reproductions of lithographs and woodprints from hundreds of years ago.  It is a stunningly beautiful volume worthy of the high level of scholarship that went into its creation.

The end papers contain a marvelous collection of selected source material, glossary, index, author’s note and chapter by chapter notes. This book can be used to meet all the core curriculum standards in history, nonfiction reading and research. It would be very useful to grade five and grade six readers and beginning researchers. Teachers and librarians will be thrilled to add this to their collection of American history books.

Buy on Amazon

  • Capital DaysTitle: Capital Days: Michael Shiner’s Journal
  • Author:  Tonya Bolden
  • Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 96 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-4197-0733-9
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History, Washington D.C.
  • Grade level: 4 to 7
  • Extras: Glossary, Index, Author Notes, Selected Sources, Notes (chapter by chapter)

The Boy on the Wooden Box

Written by Leon Leyson

Leon Leyson was one of the boys on Schindler’s list. As explained in this memoir, he was so small at the time that he had to stand on a box to reach the buttons and dials of the machine he was operating. This sad, but not graphic depiction of the Holocaust, is important for fifth grade readers, sixth grade readers and beyond,

It is important that the world not forget what happened in our recent history. But it is also important that it be told in such a way that will not cause nightmares or fear of exploring the world. Lesson does an excellent job of separating the German people from those in the Nazi party. He trusted Germans before the war and returned to Germany after the war.

A remarkable thing about this memoir is the strength of hope exhibited and the resiliency of this young man. Again and again it seemed he would never see his family again. Over and over he was put in a line that would lead to his death. But still he survived. Thanks to Oscar Schindler. Most people were unaware of the heroic deeds of that one man until a movie was made. However, students in grades five an up might not be aware of the film.

As students, teachers and librarians continue to read and teach The Diary of Anne Frank, they should also be reading and teaching this memoir. This story continued on past the ghetto, the camps, and the death. Perhaps because of his age, young Leon was able to pick up his hopes and dreams and immigrate into the United States. He continued on to live a happy and productive life. For decades, his own children did not know the story of his being a Schindler’s boy in his teens.

How thrilled Leon was, though, in the fall of 1965 in Los Angeles, to have Oscar Schindler recognize and remember him.

This book will fulfill multiple literacy skills as well as history and social studies requirements in the core curriculum and should be part of every school library collection.

  • Boy on Wooden BoxTitle: The Boy on the Wooden Box
  • Author: Leon Leyson
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-4424-9781-8
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Grade Level: 6
  • Extras: Photographs, additional resources for learning about the Holocaust

Call of the Klondike: A True Gold Rush Adventure

Written by David Meissner and Kim Richardson

Buy on Amazon

Fast paced action and adventure accompanied with real photos, letters and maps make this an exciting read. Sixth grade readers and beyond will be amazed at how quickly people dropped everything, gathered supplies and headed to the Klondike for a chance at finding gold.

Readers will be shocked at how many people underestimated the difficulties that climate, geography and lack of supplies could cause. Wondering how people will survive and if they will get back home alive keeps the pacing of the story fast. This story illuminates just how desperate people were to get out of poverty. Or, was it the possibility of adventure that lured them out of the rut of boredom?

This well researched book tells the story of two young men, Stanley Pearce and Marshall Bond who were college friends and business partners. Fortunately, they had parents who were willing and able to support their adventuresome dream of striking it rich. As soon as word reached California of the discovery in the Klondike, these young men booked passage and were among the very first explorers to reach the gold fields.

An amazing sense of discipline helped these young men to determine even before they left home that they would only try this gold rush thing for one year.  At the end of that time, they would return home. It was the deal they made with their fathers, but makes it more interesting to follow them through the months of struggle and small successes wondering if they really would pull up stakes and go back home. The families kept a bag of letters, photos and maps that were recently used to produce this excellent account of a short, but important time in American history.

This book will be fulfill many standards in the core curriculum dealing with the economic history of America as well as the study of adventurers and the importance of gold to the world.

Using research and learning how to writing non-fiction are among the multiple literacy skills that can be taught and/or enhanced through the usage of this book. It is a volume every librarian will want to have in the collection.

 

  • Call of the KlondikeTitle: Call of the Klondike: A True Gold Rush Adventure
  • Author: David Meissner and Kim Richardson
  • Publisher: Calkins Creek, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 167 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-59078-823-3
  • Genre: nonfiction
  • Grade level 4 and up
  • Extras: Bibliography/ For More Information/ Websites

Bugged! How Insects Changed History

Written by Sarah Albee
Illustrated by Robert Leighton

Order on Amazon

Combining biology, history, and a little humor, the author of this amazing new book presents a different view of the world as we know it. Sixth graders, especially boys, will get a kick out of the idea that insects had such a huge influence on history. Information is presented in small digestible doses with clever section titles (e.g., “The Buzz on Locusts”). The author begins with a quick biology lesson on what an insect is. She then proceeds to the many facts of hygiene and some of the more unusual edible insects. Most of the rest of the book goes chronologically through human history, highlighting each event in which insect-borne disease or blight played a major role. Many examples of invading armies either being overcome by local insect-borne illness or introducing a new illness were shown to decide the conquerors. Valuable insect-related products helped decide where conquerors wanted to go. Cortes was so taken with the dyes used by the Aztecs, and derived from insects, that he hung around to learn their secrets. Countries outside of China tried for hundreds of years to find the secrets of silk.

Leighton’s sketches and choices of photos add a fun dimension to the project. Bugs with muscle power. Bugs chomping on the Roman Empire. Bugs inside caskets labeled malaria.

Added bonuses include a table of contents, glossary (helping with comprehension), further reading and surfing (literacy skills), notes on sources, picture credits, and index. The author’s website, http://www.sarahalbeebooks.com/, has more information and reading activities.

  • BuggedTITLE: Bugged! How Insects Changed History
  • AUTHOR: Sarah Albee
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Robert Leighton
  • PUBLISHER: Walker Books for Young Readers/Bloomsbury, 2014
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • ISBN: 978-0-8027-3422-8
  • FORMAT: Paperback, 176 pages
  • GENRE: Nonfiction, History, Insects, Disease
  • RELEASE DATE: April 1, 2014

Follow Your Money: Who Gets It, Who Spends It, Where Does It Go?

Written by Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka
Illustrated by Kevin Sylvester

Buy on Amazon

The times they are a changing. In today’s world selling and buying has become as easy as turning on the computer and going to any of the hundreds of online merchants — Amazon being the largest and best known of them all. Although there are built-in safeguards, theoretically even young children can make purchases on the net (log into their parent’s account, for example.) This book’s purpose is to empower its readers with the knowledge to understand the whole money cycle.

In easily comprehensible language the authors explain the complex web that starts with the creation of a product and ends with its final dissemination. The book is a series of examples of everyday goods and produce, organized under headings that sixth graders, and up can relate to. The first study is an analysis of a breakfast consisting of bacon, eggs, bread and juice, and the numbers are eye-opening.

On a $3.00 packet of bacon the farmer’s profit is just 10c. Of course all numbers are estimates, but the ratio of total cost to profit remains about the same. The authors start the journey by advising us that the “prices in the book are only estimates…so don’t go into your local store and say ‘Sylvester and Hlinka tell me this apple should only cost 10c.’”

And it is a journey of discovery as the readers learn of the various costs at each stage: creation, distribution, retail to the customer. Why does the price of gas affect the price of every other thing? What is the gold standard? These are interesting discussion points, leading easily into economic theory. For the younger readers teachers can build reading activities around the chapters dealing with things they are familiar with, like milk, and juice, and books and backpacks.

Worth and value, credit and debit cards, bank operations, the readers gets an overview of all elements of everyday life, and becomes a more informed consumer. Definitely a book for school and library reading lists.

Additional Resources:

http://kids.usa.gov/money

http://pbskids.org/itsmylife/money/spendingsmarts/index.html

  • Follow Your MoneyTitle: Follow Your Money: Who Gets It, Who Spends It, Where Does It Go?
  • Author: Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka
  • Illustrator: Kevin Sylvester
  • Publisher: Annick Press, 2013
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Format: Paperback, 56 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-55451-480-9
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Social Studies
  • Lexile Score: 1120

Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought)

Written by Kathleen Krull
Illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt

Buy on Amazon

Who knew that Albert Einstein’s brain was carried around in a jar for forty-three years? Or that the system of medicine developed by one man, Iban Sina, was used for six hundred years? Or that Ivan Pavlov had to support his important scientific discoveries by selling 15,000 jars of gastric juice from dogs (claiming it would help ill people eat)? Sixth grade readers of Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought) will discover these intriguing facts and will be hooked by the science and history they learn along the way.

In Lives of the Scientists, Kathleen Krull presents eighteen scientists in chronological order. The scientists range from the well-known Charles Darwin and Galileo to the lesser-known Zhang Heng (who developed the world’s first seismometer) and Grace Murray Hopper (who wrote the first computer operations manual). Fun facts are incorporated into the historical presentations as well as in bulleted “extra credits” at the end of most chapters. Almost every spread includes a full-page illustration or spot art by Kathryn Hewitt. The art presents the scientists in caricature and highlights a key aspect of their work. The lighthearted illustrations brings the book to life.

Krull uses accessible, conversational language which will help young readers connect to these iconic men and women. She includes details of the scientists’ personal opinions such as the fact that Einstein couldn’t stand to wear socks because he didn’t like it when his toe poked out of a hole or that Marie Curie disapproved of high heels, feeling that women were never meant to walk on stilts. Details such as these personify the scientists, helping the reader relate to them.

Teachers hoping to cover the nature of science and scientific and engineering practices might add this to their reading lists as the Lives of Scientists interests students in the scientists themselves and showcases the dedication and determination required to make major discoveries.

  • Lives of ScientistsTITLE: Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought)
  • AUTHOR: Kathleen Krull
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Kathryn Hewitt
  • PUBLISHER: Harcourt Children’s Books, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Heather L. Montgomery
  • FORMAT: Hardcover, 96 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-15-205909-5
  • GENRE: Nonfiction, Science, History
  • LEXILE: 1040
« Older Entries