Non-fiction

All posts in the Non-fiction category

Humphrey the Lost Whale, by Wendy Tokuda

Published November 3, 2015 by Dagmar

humphrey whaleI love to take my first graders on journeys around the world on library planes, boats and rocket ships.

Each year, I teach them about whales, and we read the fabulous book, The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson. I promised them last week that we would get on our boat again and visit Humphrey, the humpback whale.

This is the true story of Humphrey the Lost Whale, a humpback whale that swam under the Golden Gate Bridge one day in 1985, right into San Francisco Bay. As wonderful a sight as it was, having a humpback whale as big as a city bus right there in the Bay, there was trouble ahead. Instead of swimming back to the ocean, Humphrey went the wrong way, through the Delta and up the Sacramento River.  The Sacramento River is fresh water. Whales need salt water to live.  Even more troubling, Humphrey squeezed himself under a very small bridge to a place in the river where the water was shallow and narrow.

Everyone banded together, scientists, the Coast guard and citizens. They made loud noises underwater to scare Humphrey back down the river to the Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Humphrey, tired, lonely and hungry headed back down the river, only to stop in front of the small bridge.  He couldn’t get through it. So, once again, his rescuers worked to help him, digging a bigger space for him under the bridge. Humphrey saw the hole and started to swim through, only to get suck in the pilings under the bridge. With a twist of his body, he got through the bridge and moved back toward San Francisco Bay and finally the ocean.

Humphrey came back to the San Francisco Bay several times after his dramatic rescue, one time requiring another rescue. This book combines just the right amount of suspense for young students. My students were waiting with baited breath to see if Humphrey could be saved and all cheered when he made it to the ocean again.

 

Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke

Published July 2, 2015 by Dagmar

This graphic novel might just rank with Amulet as my favorite in my library.  Zita the Spacegirl has characters you’ll love, evil villians, wonderful drawings and a plot full of suspense.  It is a huge favorite with my students.

Zita the SpacegirlZita and her friend Joseph are surprised when a small meteor hits the earth where they are playing. Zita is adventurous.  She goes into the small crater and finds an interesting object that looks like a button. As all adventurous girls are wont to do, Zita pushes the button. Off goes Joseph onto another planet. Zita quickly presses the button again and finds herself on the same strange planet, just in to see Joseph kidnapped.

Zita meets new creatures that soon become friends, a large creature she names Strong Strong, another called Mouse and Piper.  She learns that this new planet is just about to be destroyed by an enormous asteroid.  Everyone is trying to get off the planet before the asteroid hits.  Zita is determined to find her friend.  She learns that he has been taken prisoner by the original creatures to inhabit the planet, Scriptorians.  The Scriptorians think that sacrificing Joseph will stop the asteroid.

Zita sets out with her new friends to find Joseph and save him. Will they be successful? Who will try to stop them? Will the planet survive? Read Zita and the Spacegirl to see how one strong, adventurous girl can team up with friends and make things happen.

Don’t miss the next two books in this trilogy, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl and Return of Zita the Spacegirl. Look for Ben Hatke’s new book, Little Robot, to be released on September 1, 2015.

Rosa, by Nikki Giovanni

Published March 22, 2015 by Dagmar

There are so many incredible books to share during African-American History Month.  This compelling book made a real impression on me and on my fourth graders.

rosaRosa is a dramatic retelling of Rosa Parks’ story.  It begins with Rosa going to work at her job as a seamstress in the alterations department.  She is good spirits, and her supervisor has let her leave work early.  When Rosa gets on the bus, she sits in the neutral section, the area where both blacks and whites can sit.  As she sits, she thinking about the meal she’ll prepare for her husband that evening.  Suddenly, she hears the bus driver yell, “I said give me those seats!”.  This exclamation, coming after such a peaceful beginning to the story is a jolt, to the reader, to the listeners, and, you can imagine, to Mrs. Parks, daydreaming after a day’s work.  The other black people in the neutral section slip back to the crowded black section of the bus, trying to avoid trouble.  Mrs. Parks watches them go but decides that she will just sit.

Nikki Giovanni wraps the story of Rosa Parks in the history of the time: the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education that stated that separate was “inherently unequal” and the death of Emmet Till, a fourteen-year-old boy who was lynched in Mississippi, shortly after the Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling.   It was these events and Mrs. Parks’ courageous action and arrest that led supporters band together with the Women’s Political Council, the NAACP and local churches.  The people gathered selected Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as their spokesman.  Together, they chose to stay off the buses of Montgomery.  They walked in every kind of weather, at all times of day, every day.  On November 13, 1956, a year after Rosa Parks’ arrest, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on buses was also illegal.

“Rosa Parks said no so that the Supreme Court could remind the nation that the Constitution of the United States makes no provision for second-class citizenship.  We are all equal under the law and are all entitled to its protection.”

Giovanni’s retelling of this important moment in African-American history is presented with the incredible illustrations of Bryan Collier.  This book won the Caldecott Honor in 2006.

Please don’t miss this great book.  African-American history month is over now; but, as a friend of mine correctly said, sharing the messages of this book is important all year long.

The Case for Loving, by Selina Alko

Published March 16, 2015 by Dagmar

I love looking for new books to share with my students during African-American history month.  This year, I found quite a few that I really enjoyed for all ages.  This book really resonated with my the case for lovingfourth and fifth graders.

The Case for Loving is the story of the marriage of Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, an African-American woman.  The Lovings lived in Central Point, Virginia.  In 1959, interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia and 16 other states; so, the Lovings went to Washington, D.C. to get married.  Upon return to their home in Virginia, the Lovings were arrested for illegal cohabitation and sent to jail.  (I heard gasps from my students.  It does make you gasp, doesn’t it?)  They were told to move out of Virginia if they wanted to live together.  The Lovings moved to Washington, D.C. and had three children; but, they were not happy with their new urban life.  The Lovings wanted to return to Virginia where they could live in the countryside.  “By now it was 1966, and the times they were a changin’.”  The Lovings moved back to Central Point and filed a lawsuit, Loving v. Virginia.  The Loving case went all the way to the Supreme Court.  Richard and Mildred did not attend the Supreme Court hearings.  Their lawyers read Richard’s words to the justices, “Tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”  These words were so plain and so honest, they resonated with all my students.

The Lovings were victorious in their battle and nine years after marrying, they were able to legally move back to Virginia to live.

When I finished reading this book, my students all asked if this book was true.  I found the author’s note at the end of the book particularly poignant.  Selina Alko, a white, Jewish woman, married Sean Qualls, an African-American man and one of the illustrators of this book, in 2003,  having benefitted from the Lovings fight for justice so long ago.

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery, by Sandra Markle

Published December 12, 2014 by Dagmar

VanishingHoneyBeesThis book is part of a great Scientific Mystery series.  I shared this book with my third grade class.  I love sharing non-fiction books with them.

This book focuses on CCD, Colony Collapse Disorder, or the disappearance of worker honeybees from their hives.  Bee hives are left with their queen and her brood (developing bees).

I particularly like this book, because the author, Sandra Markle, does such a great job in building the mystery for students.  The book begins with the question: “Where are all the honeybees?”  Markle’s next topic in the book is the importance of honey bees to all of us as pollinators.  She explains exactly how bees gather nectar and pollen.  The book continues with more on the mystery.  Scientists team up with the bee keepers to discover why the worker bees are not returning to their colony.  They believe the worker bees are dying.

Markle talks about the role of worker bees and tells of all the different bees in the hive, including the queen and the drones.  Then, she goes on to explain the different hypotheses scientists developed to explain what might be killing the honeybees: honeybee’s habitats are changing as areas become more developed; honeybees might be overworked as they are moved from region to region in the country, coinciding with growing seasons; beekeepers, in an effort to keep honeybees working, feed honeybees sugar syrup, which could weaken them.  The answer might be cell phones or even mites, a fungus, or pesticides.

While this book doesn’t present the answer to the mystery, the ending is satisfying for students.  It suggests that the answer may be a combination of the factors mentioned and that scientists are continuing their study of honeybees and their colonies to try to find the answer to this question.

I thought this book did a great job of teaching students how science connects to real world issues.  The photographs are terrific and the explanations of the problem and its possible causes are clearly and attractively presented.  I highly recommend this book to 3rd-5th grade students and their teachers.

Thanks to Junior Library Guild for this great selection.

My Teacher is a Monster!, by Peter Brown

Published November 1, 2014 by Dagmar

teacher monsterPeter Brown, author of You Will Be My Friend and Children Make Terrible Pets, has written a new book that was a big success with my kindergarten students.

Running into your teacher outside school can be fun.  Or, if you think your teacher hates you, it can be “a terrible surprise.”

Ms. Kirby is always yelling at Bobby, especially when Bobby flies paper airplanes in class.  Ms. Kirby stomps, and she roars.  Ms. Kirby even looks just like a monster.  Bobby runs into Ms. Kirby sitting on a bench reading a book.  Not knowing quite what to do, and feeling awkward, Bobby sits next to her on the bench.  Suddenly, a gust of wind blows Ms. Kirby’s favorite hat off her head.  Bobby runs to catch Ms. Kirby’s hat.    Ms. Kirby is so grateful to Bobby that she thanks him and then shows him how she likes to quack with the ducks at the park.  Bobby decides to show Ms. Kirby his favorite part of the park.  Sitting at the top of a hill in the park, Ms. Kirby has an idea.  She pulls out a piece of paper and gives it to Bobby.  Bobby quickly folds it into an airplane and launches it.  It’s the best paper airplane flight ever.   Bobby and Ms. Kirby each decide the other is not so terrible.  In fact, Ms. Kirby starts looking like an actual teacher, instead of a monster.  It’s a great resolution…until Bobby throws a paper airplane in class.

I love Peter Brown’s dedication, “To misunderstood teachers and their misunderstood students.”  Have fun with this one!