Non-fiction

All posts in the Non-fiction category

North: The Amazing Story of Arctic Migration by Nick Dowson

Published April 19, 2014 by Dagmar

northNorth is a beautiful book describing seasonal changes in the Arctic and Arctic migration.

North begins with winter in the Arctic and its year-round residents, the polar bear and arctic fox.  When spring arrives, algae blooms, plants grow and the tundra turns green.  Animals and birds begin their migration to the Arctic, beginning with the gray whale, terns, bar-tailed godwits, snow geese, white cranes,  caribou, walrus, narwhal whales and more.  The text describes each creature’s journey, including what they eat as they travel.  By May, the ice sheets are cracking, opening new sea lanes for the migrating animals.  In summer the Arctic is lush flowers and grass, feeding the many animals that are now living in the Arctc.  When September arrives, the animals and birds begin to prepare for their journey south again.

It’s a wonderful way to introduce students to migration.  I read it to my 3rd grade students who really enjoyed the book.

Dogs and Cats, by Steve Jenkins

Published August 4, 2013 by Dagmar

dogsandcatsDo you prefer dogs or cats? Many people have strong preference for one or the other.  Well, here’s the book for you.  Whether you prefer dogs or cats, here’s a great opportunity for you to learn more about both.  This book is a “flip book”.  Start reading about dogs, then flip the book over and read about cats – or visa versa.

This book provides loDogs and catsts of great information dogs and cats, including  the number of breeds, their origin, behavior, their expressions, how they grow and other interesting facts.  On each dog page in the corner, there is a fact about cats that relates to the information on the page and visa versa.  There is even a page on how dogs and cats interact in the wild and in a home.

The beauty of this book is the way it presents information in small, digestible amounts.  If you know a child that loves animals, this might be a great choice for them.

Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age, by Cheryl Bardoe

Published July 16, 2013 by Dagmar

mammoths2Here’s a great non-fiction book for enthusiasts of the pre-historic era.  It begins with an important discovery by two boys just north of the Arctic Circle in 2007.  Two boys found a frozen baby mammoth.  The mammoth, later named Lyuba by scientists, died nearly 40,000 years before and was fully intact.

Mammoths and Mastodons does a great job of connecting the past with the present.  It includes information about the current scientific work of three paleontologists and how their work builds our understanding of these great creatures and how their work might be able to help us save elephants and other large mammals today.  I learned in the book that elemammothsphants and mammoths lived at the same time, 5 million years ago.  One of the questions scientists are trying to answer is “Why didn’t elephants go extinct when mammoths went extinct?”

In addition to the photographs throughout the book, there are interesting panels of information, like: Did dinosaurs and mammoths live at the same time? and Do these elephants and mammoths seem almost human?

This book is targeted toward upper elementary and middle school readers and would be a great book for students interested in prehistoric animals or modern day elephants.

Summer reading update continued

Published July 4, 2013 by Dagmar

Happy 4th of July!  Summer is my favorite time to hunker down with my books, and I’ve read three more books from my summer reading list.  You can see the reviews of the first three summer reading list books I read, here.  My hope is to find great books to recommend to my tween and middle school students next school year.  I’m happy to say that I found one book that I absolutely love, one that I liked, and one that I know I should like but feel lukewarm about.  Let’s start with the good news.

PSBeElevenThe book I absolutely loved and just know will fly off my shelves is the sequel to One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven.  I think it’s best to first read One Crazy Summer (click the link to see my blog post).  Briefly, in One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia tells the story of Delphine, Vonetta and Fern.  These three young girls leave Brooklyn, where they live with their Pa and grandmother, Big Mama to fly to Oakland, CA, to meet the mother that abandoned them. Their mother, Cecile, is unapologetic about leaving her children to become a poet in CA.  Life in Cecile’s neighborhood in North Oakland means learning and living with members of the Black Panthers, something very foreign to the girls’ family in Brooklyn.  (My public school is located just blocks from where One Crazy Summer takes place in Oakland.) The girls, who have always taught not to make a spectacle of themselves, learn the words “oppression”, “revolution” and “Black Power”.  I didn’t know what to expect from P.S. Be Eleven, but I was so pleased that it picked up right at the end of One Crazy Summer.  In P.S. Eleven, the girls continue their relationship with Cecile by writing to her often.   But, in this book, you enter their lives with Pa, Big Mama, their uncle Darnell, fighting in the Vietnam War, the sensation of the Jackson Five, and the girls’ new stepmom. I love the way the three sisters interact, and I had to smile every time they said “Power to the People”.  I also love getting to know Delphine and her family a little more.  This book is excellent – just as good as One Crazy Summer, but different.  In One Crazy Summer, you admire Delphine’s strong, independent and reliable nature.  In P.S. Be Eleven, you wish that she didn’t have to be quite so strong and reliable, and you root for Cecile as she tries to convince Delphine to just “Be Eleven”.  While I think I got even more out of this book, because I lived at this time, I think kids will get a valuable glimpse into the late 60s and early 70s.  I can’t wait to recommend this to my students.  My son, who loved One Crazy Summer, has already declared that he plans to read it.

Lincoln's Grave RobbersI am a big fan of Steve Sheinkin’s books.  Although I haven’t written about it yet, I loved his book, The Notorious Benedict Arnold, as well as his award-winning book, Bomb: The Race to Build – and steal – the Most Dangerous Weapon in the World. Lincoln’s Grave Robbers was a good book, but it wasn’t great.  It tells the story of a fantastic plot by counterfeiters in the 1870s to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body and ransom it.  The book begins with various stories of counterfeiters and the birth of the United States Secret Service, the organization formed to catch them.  Only after several chapters do you understand how their stories link to the plot to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body.  Once the link is made, the book is off to the races, and lots of suspenseful chapters ensue.  When the story is completed, the book goes into true tales of body snatching that are somewhat interesting (a little gruesome, maybe) but again, disconnected from the rest of the book.  So, while an interesting premise and a suspenseful story, this book just didn’t knock my socks off, as Sheinkin’s other books did.

out of the dustI was really looking forward to Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse, after reading her fabulous book, Witness, about the infiltration of the KKK into a small town in Vermont in 1924.  Out of the Dust won the 1998 Newbery Medal.  Written in verse, Out of the Dust tells the story of girl named Billie Jo who lives with her mother and father on a small farm in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.  Her father tries to make a living farming through the many dust storms and drought.  The family becomes very poor.  The family’s struggle extend beyond their financial circumstances to a terrible tragedy.  I can appreciate that this book is powerful and tells of an important time in our nation’s history.  I just can’t move past the grim feeling I had as I read much of the book.  I was glad that it took a happier turn at the end, but think it will be tough to enthusiastically recommend this book to my students.

Women of Hope: African Americans who Made a Difference, by Joyce Hansen

Published June 30, 2013 by Dagmar

Women of HopeI love to read parts of this book aloud to my students during African-American history month.  This book features quotes, black and white photographs and a page about many notable African-American women, including: Ida B. Wells-Barnett, The Delany Sisters, Septima Poinsette Clark, Ella Josephine Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ruby Dee, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Marian Wright Eledman, Alica Walker, Alexa Canady, Mae C. Jemison with a list of more notable women in the back of the book.

This book makes a great resource for teachers or a wonderfully inspiring book for young people.  Read a page here and there, or read the entire book.  Either way, don’t miss it.

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, by Deborah Hopkinson

Published June 28, 2013 by Dagmar

TitanicThe story of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 on its maiden voyage has fascinated so many.  The Titanic’s story never really captured my attention, but that ended when I listened to the audio version of this book last year.  I decided to read the book myself when I saw the number of pictures and side bars the author included in the book.  Although I liked the audio edition, I think you lose something if you don’t actually read the book.  The additional content is really great.

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster was published in 2012 on the 100th anniversary of the loss of the Titanic at sea.  It tells the story of the Titanic from the time it was built to the day of the disaster and, finally, its discovery at the bottom of the ocean in September 1985.   The author weaves in an incredibly suspenseful story from the recollections and pictures of different survivors, passengers and crew alike, pictures of the Titanic’s incredibly luxurious accommodations and details about the construction of the boat.  I couldn’t put this book down.  It moved quickly, and the side bars and pictures were really interesting.

I’d recommend this book to middle school, high school and adult readers, especially those interested in the story of this great ship.  This book won a 2013 Silbert Medal honor.

Thanks to Junior Library Guild for introducing me to this great book.

The Snake Scientist, by Sy Montgomery

Published June 10, 2013 by Dagmar

snake scientistI’ve found a non-fiction series that I just love, Scientists in the Field: Where Science Meets Adventure.  The writing in these books is targeted toward older elementary and middle school students.

In The Snake Scientist, writer Sy Montgomery is joined by fabulous nature photographer Nic Bishop.  (See my blog on Nic Bishop here. It just so happens that I wrote on his snake book.  Bishop has an beautiful series of companion books to his Snakes book.)

The Snake Scientist follows the work of Robert Mason, Ph.D., a zoologist from Oregon State University who works studying the red-sided garter snakes in Manitoba province in Canada at the Narcisse Wildlife Management Area.  There, drawn by the unique geology of the area, tens of thousands of harmless red-sided garter snakes make their home during the winter.

I really like this book, because it moves so effortlessly from topic to topic.  This book describes how Bob Mason studies snakes and how he began his career as a scientist.  You’ll find examples of how Mason uses the information he gathers to run experiments so he can study snake behavior.  The Snake Scientist explains the impact of Mason’s work and how the study of snakes may even result in the development of cures for human diseases.  The book also works to dispel common myths about snakes.

It’s no surprise to me that Nic Bishop’s photographs are stunning.  Not only do you get a sense for the number of red-sided gartner snakes in the area (quite amazing), but you see pictures of scientists collecting snakes and measuring snakes and snakes in their natural habitats.

This book is not a survey of snakes, but any child interested in snakes or zoology will gain valuable insight into how a zoologist studying snakes goes about their work.

Highly recommended to future scientists and reptile fans.

I love non-fiction

Published June 10, 2013 by Dagmar

non-fictionIt’s rare for me to find a student that goes to the non-fiction section of their own volition.  When I do have a student who wants to read non-fiction, it’s so fun browsing the shelves together.  Lots of my students ask for books on astronomy, dinosaurs, animals, vehicles or sports.

There are so many great books out there.  I can’t let them just sit on my shelves unnoticed, so please check my non-fiction pages for non-fiction books that I love and recommend, just in case you know a student that loves to read non-fiction too.  I’ll focus my writing on books that are readily available to the public, not just the school library market.

Langston’s Train Ride, by Robert Burleigh

Published May 11, 2013 by Dagmar

S640SchLangstonjkt_0.tifThis is another wonderful book for African-American History month.  Langston’s Train Ride begins with Langston Hughes walking down a sidewalk celebrating the publishing of his first book of poems.  He then flashes back to the train ride he took to Mexico to see his father when he was 18 years old.  As the train travels, he reminisces about his childhood.  When the train crosses the Mississippi River, he thinks of what it means to his people, the slaves who were sent “down the river” and Abe Lincoln’s trip on the river “where he saw a slave auction and learned to hate slavery.”  His view of the Mississippi brings words to his head.  He thinks of other ancient rivers in Africa and begins to write down the words to his first poem: “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”

This is a powerful book made more so by its incredible illustrations by Leonard Jenkins.  It is hard not to be moved by this book and the words of Langston Hughes’ first poem.

Story Painter, The Life of Jacob Lawrence by John Duggleby

Published May 10, 2013 by Dagmar

Story_PainterI love to read books about artists to my students.  This book is a particularly wonderful book about African-American artist, Jacob Lawrence.  I used this book for grades 1 through 6 during African-American History month.  It was wonderful to show my students Lawrence’s beautiful art depicting the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, The Great Migration, and Toussaint L’Overture’s battle to liberate Haiti.

This book is also a jumping off point to talk about important points in history.  Like many African-American artists, Lawrence lived in Harlem.  His Theater series illustrates the shows in Harlem’s famous entertainment halls, like the Cotton Club, and the Apollo. Jacob Lawrence was also a part of the Easel Project, a government art program stated in the 1930s to help artists.  Jacob Lawrence was paid to paint and was paid more than many jobs during the Great Depression.

Jacob Lawrence painted on paper and cardboard using tempura paint.  Remarkably, Jacob Lawrence would create series of paintings about a subject, sometimes as many as 40 paintings, by painting one color at a time.  He would put up all the sheets of paper for the series on his wall and then would move among the panels until he had painted all the colors.

This book is really a non-fiction book, but the color panels of his paintings are so dramatic and beautiful in this book that it makes a wonderful book to use as you would a picture book with groups of students.

This book is won the Carter G. Woodson Book Award granted by the National Council for the Social Studies, an award given to books that “encourage the writing, publishing, and dissemination of outstanding social science books for young readers that treat topics related to ethnic minorities and relations sensitively and accurately.”