Category Archives: non-fiction

Balderdash!

One of the best things that has come out of blogging is being a part of the blogging community of amazing children’s literature reviewers. Learning about new books and getting other takes on how to encourage a love of books in all children is why I do this. Since we don’t live in a city with tons of great book stores and large libraries, there are many times that the only way I know a book exists is through the pages of other people’s blogs.

As long-time readers will know, I try really hard to be a part of the nonfiction picture book challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy every week. This week, Alyson posted about three books she had recently read, but one stood out to me, partially because this week also happens to be Children’s Book Week. The book was Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books, by Michelle Markel. I happened to be at one of our local libraries that evening for a CBW event and did a happy dance when I found a copy there.

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Balderdash! is a great biography about a man whose name is synonymous with children’s literature. The cover of the book even has such a wonderful illustration by Nancy Carpenter that the book screams out to be read. But even with Newbery being such an important name in children’s literature, I admit that I didn’t know much about him before reading this book. Continue reading →

Usborne Book of the Week – Flags of the World to Color

So in addition to writing this blog because I have a general obsession with children’s books, last year I became an Independent Consultant with Usborne Books & More. I did this because I wanted every book I saw and needed to figure out a way to pay for that, but also, because the company is dedicated to promoting literacy in our children. From time to time I like to write about the books that we cover, but I’m trying something new – focusing on one book each week.

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This week, I would like to highlight the books Flags of the World to Color. I’m really taken by this book because J just finished learning all of her United States capitals and so I figure she is ready to get working on learning all of the countries. Continue reading →

The Shark Lady – The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist

There is a strong movement to encourage young girls to pursue careers in science and technology. While we are pushing our next generation of great thinkers, some picture book authors are putting together absolutely brilliant biographies of women who were ahead of their time and who made great advances in their individual fields. One of the books in this category is The Shark Lady – The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating and illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns. (June 2017, Sourebooks).

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Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist

From a very young age, Eugenie Clark was fascinated with sharks. She longed to swim with them and see the world through their eyes. She also wanted to show people that they were beautiful. Eugenie read book after book on sharks and filled many notebooks. Continue reading →

Doing Her Bit: A Story About the Woman’s Land Army of America

Most Americans know the story of Rosie the Riveter, the cultural icon representing the American women who went to work in the factories and shipyards during WWII when the men were away. But what about the women who stepped up to the plate during WWI? It wasn’t so much a problem of having all of the men go to war, but rather, the American farm workers were lured away from their farming jobs to earn higher wages working in manufacturing. There weren’t enough men to handle the crops needed to feed Americans and her allies. Well, it turns out that the Rosie of that time were women who trained to work on farms and got food to the public.

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In her book, Doing Her Bit: A Story About the Woman’s Land Army of America, Erin Hagar shows how young women joined the Women’s Agricultural Camp, which would later become the Women’s Land Army of America. The farmerettes, as they were called, were trained in all aspects of farming, but many farmers still didn’t believe that women were strong enough or skilled enough to do the job right.

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The story that Hagar focuses on is Helen Stevens, who was a real farmerette. Stevens was a college student when she signed up, but many women were dressmakers, factory workers, teachers, and housewives.

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The early Women’s Land Army of America girls had to prove that they could do the job and that they deserved the same wages as men. They were early fighters for equal rights and their story of perseverance and determination deserves to be told.

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As with most non-fiction picture books, the Author’s note was incredibly interesting and full of great facts. The inside front and back covers were filled with actual advertisements that were placed encouraging women to join in the land army.

nfpb2017Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the  Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!

 

Stand Up and Sing!

Folk music has always held a special place in my heart. Summer camp meant singing time honored songs of this genre, and while others were listening to 80s hair bands, I was happily ensconced in American folk. I grew up knowing the words to almost every song by Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon & Garfunkle, Joan Collins, Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills & Nash. From an early age this style of music touched me deeply and probably helped form some of my pacifist and liberal ideas.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books has just put out an amazing account of the life of Pete Seeger, one of the fathers of the American Folk movement called Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice. Covering his life from early childhood to his death in 2014, author Susanna Reich put together a book that might help the next generation think more deeply about the world around them and the music they listen to.

For Seeger, music was in his bones, but he also was a very well read and aware of politics at an early age. He was a child of the Great Depression and had a really difficult time understanding why some people had great wealth and some had nothing. His father took him to parades and marches for working people and he saw how music could unite people.

Reich does a great job of showing how Seeger learned various music styles by traveling and being exposed to a wide variety of cultures and experiences. And just as Pete Seeger influenced a slew of other artists, it was Woody Guthrie who took him under his wing and showed him that “music could fill a room with peace and harmony.”

Pete Seeger used his music to try and make important changes in our world. He dreamed of a world where there were fewer people struggling to get by. He believed strongly in workers’ rights and racial equality, things that were considered “un-American” in his time. In the time of McCarthy, Pete was blacklisted for his beliefs.

An interesting part of the book comes when it talks about Seeger’s friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the fact that it was Seeger who introduced King to the song “We Shall Overcome.”

When I think of American Folk music, I think of the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s. Some of my all-time favorite tunes were ones that Seeger wrote but which I heard performed by Peter, Paul & Mary – If I Had a Hammer, Turn! Turn! Turn!, and Where have all the Flowers Gone. These were the songs that ached for peace and lamented a war that took so many lives and accomplished little to nothing.To me, folk music is all about bringing people together and lifting them up. Get the right group of adults together today and you can have a really awesome singing fest of music old and new. Music is a tool to inspire people. Pete Seeger inspired a generation of singers and songwriters along with activists and believers. This book is an awesome tribute to his life and his genius.

Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the  Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!

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If You Were the Moon

When children are starting to learn about the sun, moon and planets, there are not a ton of books that really engage them. So I was very excited when I was able to get a hold of an advance copy of If You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Jaime Kim.

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At first glance, this book looks like a simple bedtime story in fiction format. But once you get past the first spread the entire book is filled with fascinating facts about the moon! A little girl looks up at the moon one night and wishes that she could “do exactly nothing, just like you.” moon-1

The moon responds by telling her all of the various things he does.  Each page has a really basic explanation of the moon’s role with supplementary blocks of text in a different font that give the reader detailed facts. moon-phases

So between the text and the outstanding illustrations, a young mind will understand that the moon impacts Earth’s balance,  that while it appears to glow it is really “catching” and “throwing” light from the sun, and that its gravity is what creates the tides in our oceans.moon-tide

The moon also is important to a lot of different animals and cultures. Nocturnal animals use the moon as an alarm clock. Sea turtle hatchlings need the light of the moon to guide them to the ocean. In terms of people, not only has the moon inspired great works of art, but farmers across the globe have used moon phases to guide their seasons and the race to put a man on the moon challenged our space program.

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There are also silly items like the fact that the moon spins like a ballerina making a full turn every 27 days or that it wouldn’t be very good at playing dodgeball because it never gets out of the way of meteorites that crash into it.

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This is a really wonderful book to share with a young child to get them more interested in astronomy and science. It is also still good for an older child to comprehend some of the more confusing aspects of the moon. There really are not a wealth of great books that engage children on this subject, so this is a welcome addition.

nfpb2017Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the  Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!

Mother to Tigers

Out of heartbreak can come amazing strength.

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Helen Frances Theresa Delaney Martini was an ordinary woman living in New York. When her first baby died and doctors said that she couldn’t have any more children, her heart broke. So did her husband’s. To ease that pain, her husband, Frank, followed his heart and got a job at the Bronx Zoo. Two years later, he brought home an abandoned lion cub and Helen’s life changed forever.

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In Mother to Tigers, George Ella Lyon tells the amazing story of Helen Martini. When her husband brought a lion cub named MacArthur home, he told her to “do for him what you would do for a human baby,” and she did. She fed and cared for the lion cub in her living room. When she helped her husband bring three tigers back to the zoo after nursing them at home, she realized that not only did the cubs still need her attention, but that there would always be zoo babies in need and yet there was nowhere at the zoo to take care of them.

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She begged the zoo to give her a room and on her own she created the first zoo nursery. For a time her work was unpaid and then in August 1944 she became the first woman keeper in the history of the Bronx Zoo. She helped many baby animals survive and her concept of a zoo nursery soon spread. Her work was monumentally important in the lives on many animals and it is about time her achievements were shared.

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nfpb2017I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. While I wouldn’t classify this book as a nonfiction picture book, most of the books that I post on Wednesdays will be. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.

Hiromi’s Hands – A Glimpse into the World of the Sushi Chef

hiromi-coverIn Japanese culture, sushi is a way of life. In large cities in America, sushi is a wonderful delicacy best experienced in a good restaurant. But if you visit most sushi restaurants, you will notice something – the vast majority of the sushi chefs are male. This stems from the fact that not only were women expected to care for the children, but it was thought that their hands were warmer and could spoil the delicate fish. Hiromi’s Hands, by Lynne Barasch, is the true story of Hiromi Suzuki who became one of the first female sushi chefs in New York City. It is also a fascinating book about Japanese culture and the art of sushi making.

Hiromi’s father, Akira, grew up in rural Japan and had a fascination with the fish market. At an early age, he apprenticed to become a sushi chef. After many years, he was invited to move to New York to be the head chef at a sushi restaurant, and after three more years he opened his own restaurant in NYC.

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Hiromi was born in 1978. She learned Japanese traditions but also wanted to act American. By the time she was eight, Hiromi was asking to go to the fish market with her father to be able to spend more time with him. She got her wish and also wound up gaining a vast amount of knowledge. By 13 she wanted to help at his restaurant and because this was American and not Japan, he let her. She worked hard and proved herself as an excellent itamae-san (chef in Japanese).hiromispot2

I have always appreciated the art of sushi even though I didn’t appreciate the taste until I was in my 20s. This book is a fascinating way to teach some of the mysteries of the sushi world and open kids’ eyes to a very interesting subject. This book is published by Lee & Low books, a great source of multicultural picture books. They did a great interview with author Lynne Barasch that you can read here.

nfpb2017I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. My goal is to post a nonfiction picture book, or at least nonfiction, every Wednesday. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.

Great books for the Inventor in all of us

Yesterday was Benjamin Franklin’s birthday and my daughter’s kindergarten class has been focusing on inventors and inventions because of it. When we think of inventors, we often think of older white men with crazy hair. But there were a lot of amazing inventions created by children and young adults, male and female, black and white.

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picture-book-of-ben-coverSince it was Ben Franklin who got me thinking about this, I did find three very different books about him and his work. For a true biography on the great Ben Franklin, David Adler’s A Picture Book about Benjamin Franklin is a great start! This book focuses less on his inventions and more on the man himself. Some of Franklin’s inventions are cleverly interspersed as he created them with the reasons why he invented them as well.

now-and-ben-coverIn Now and Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin, Gene Barretta highlights a large number of Franklin’s inventions. What makes this book extra interesting is how Barretta juxtaposes how we use these inventions in the current day to when Franklin was creating them. A great way to show the impact that Benjamin Franklin has had on all of us.now_and_ben_2

wit-and-wisdom-coverAlan Schroeder brings us an unusual look at Benjamin Franklin and his inventions in Ben Franklin: His Wit and Wisdom From A-Z. A very interesting way to learn more about this amazing inventor and founding father.

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Emphasizing the power of perseverance, inventors-secret-hires1The Inventor’s Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, by Suzanne Slade, alternates between the lives of two inventors, beginning with Thomas Edison, who was 16 years Henry Ford’s senior. Many of Edison’s major inventions are touched on, and young Ford is portrayed as curious as to the secret of Edison’s success. Ford continues to work on developing engines and designing cars and finally seizes the opportunity to meet Edison in person. The two go over Ford’s designs, and Edison urges the younger man to “keep at it!” With that, Ford discovers that “he’d known Thomas’s secret all along!”—a realization illustrated with a light bulb over Ford’s head.

so-you-want-coverWant a quick, fun rundown of a ton of inventors? That is what you get in So You Want to be an Inventor?, by Judith St. George. This colorful book reminds young minds that they “don’t have to have white hair and wrinkles to be an inventor” and then it gives them a slew of examples. The book features some of the world’s best-known inventors-Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Eli Whitney-as well as lesser-known geniuses like Georges de Mestral (inventor of Velcro), Wilhelm Roentgen (inventor of X rays), and Hedy Lamarr (inventor of a system that became the basis for satellite communication). One page highlights that not all inventors are men and focuses specifically on female inventors. Also highlighted is the fact that some inventors work alone while others work as teams and that one great invention can often lead to another. The bottom line is that your invention could change the work, you just have to take the risk.

six-dots-coverInventions often come out of a specific need. Such was the case for Louis Braille. When we think about famous people who are blind, the first name that usually pops into people’s heads is Helen Keller. But we also need to give credit to young Louis Braille, who invented the Braille alphabet, allowing visually impaired people to read. Six Dots, by Jen Bryant, excellently tells the story of how Braille lost his sight at 5, his constant desire to still be able to read, and his creation of the Braille alphabet. A fascinating read.six-dots-inside

whoosh-coverMost kids know the thrill of soaking someone with a water gun, or being soaked themselves, so reading about the guy who invented them is an enticing subject. But Whoosh! is more than just a story about how super soakers were invented. Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, by Chris Barton, tells of a young boy fascinated with how things worked and who loved to create. It tells of the successes and failures that all inventors deal with. It illustrates how unusual it was for an African-American team to win a major science fair at the University of Alabama in 1968. And then it shows how Lonnie Johnson came up with a great idea that got rejection after rejection until he finally had success. A true story of perseverance and innovation.whoosh-inside

marvelous mattieThere are a ton of female inventors out there, but they don’t get the same kind of recognition that men do. In Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor, Emily Arnold McCully tells the story of Margaret Knight, aka Mattie, who was a brilliant woman who lived from 1838-1914, during the height of the industrial revolution. Her father’s toolbox and her sketchbooks of ideas were her salvation during a very rough childhood of poverty. When she was a child, no one felt that a woman could have an inventive mind, but she always saw ways to improve things. She probably saved many lives by creating a safety device for looms and was the brains behind the flat-bottomed paper bag. When a man tried to steal her invention before she could get it patented, her methodical notebooks and determination proved to a judge that a woman could and did invent the new bags. This book is a wonderful story that  children can relate to and it helps them comprehend the struggles that Mattie and every woman went through so many years ago.

ada lovelaceIn Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Walmark, girls can see the story of the woman credited with creating the first computer language, way before the actual invention of computers. While she didn’t code in the way that we thing of the terms now, she realized that a machine to solve complex equations created by a fellow inventor could not actually run without a detail set of instructions. By using his notebooks and her knowledge of mathematics, she left her mark on the history of computer science.ada-interior

harnessed-the-wind-coverA final fascinating story is that of young Wiliam Kamkwamba told in The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind. This is the picture book version of the autobiography written by Kamkwamba. When a terrible drought struck William Kamkwamba’s tiny village in Malawi, his family lost all of the season’s crops, leaving them with nothing to eat and nothing to sell. William began to explore science books in his village library, looking for a solution. There, he came up with the idea that would change his family’s life forever: he could build a windmill. Made out of scrap metal and old bicycle parts, William’s windmill brought electricity to his home and helped his family pump the water they needed to farm the land. This is a wonderful way to bring a current story to a younger audience.boywhoharnessedthewind_zunon5

While I have focused on nonfiction picture books about inventors, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding books by Andrea Beatty. Rosie Revere, Engineer, Ada Twist, Scientist, and Iggy Peck, Architect are three of our favorite books and such a wonderful way to show children that they should follow their dreams and believe in themselves. For more information on these books and a few other fiction titles, check out the post I wrote last year.

nfpb2017I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. My goal is to post these books every  Wednesdays. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.

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Our Country’s Presidents – Learn Way More than Just Who They Were

In just over a week we will inaugurate this country’s 45th President. In time for that event, National Geographic has released Our Country’s Presidents: A Complete Encyclopedia of the U.S. Presidency by Ann Bausum. In this outstanding book, not only does Bausum cover every president from George Washington through President-Elect Trump’s victory speech, but she also covers topics about the presidency itself, the White House and its traditions, and other historic moments connected to the presidency.

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As my oldest has gotten to the age where not only is she beginning to understand the role of the government, but is also going to be studying it more in school, I see this book as an invaluable tool.

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Our Country’s Presidents begins with a marvelous spread about the presidency itself. It encourages readers to delve deeper into the book by giving teasers about why various presidents attracted attention or funny stories they are known for. From nicknames to milestones and the myriad of questions we have about the men who have run this country, Our Country’s Presidents plans to enlighten and enrich.

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It is great to have basic facts and figures on each president in one place. While this is an encyclopedia, it is also a fascinating history book on our country. Our Country’s Presidents also pays respect to the women behind each of these presidents, women who have made important impacts on our history even though standard history books often overlook them.

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Timelines and descriptions of of crucial events that occurred while each president was in office lay the foundation, while thematic spreads run the gamut of issues surrounding the presidency —including the history of voting rights, what presidents have accomplished AFTER their time in office was over, campaign strategies, party politics, first ladies, presidential perks, White House traditions like the annual Easter Egg Hunt, and how letter writing may be a bit “old school” in our every day life it has always had a place in the oval office — even today.

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Given how quickly this was published, Bausum also did an amazing job of covering the 2016 election. There are interesting pages that kids today will find especially interesting about the role of the Electoral College and a way to see how the Presidents compare in a variety of areas.

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For any family looking to better understand the role of the president and the White House itself, this is a great new addition.

*** Note – I did receive a copy of this for review, but all opinions are purely my own.

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I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. While I wouldn’t classify this book as a nonfiction picture book, most of the books that I post on Wednesdays will be. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.

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