Category Archives: Non Fiction Monday

Little Rock Girl 1957

Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration (Captured History) When the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Brown v. The Board of Education it was not the end of the war to end segregation, rather it was seen as the start of a new battle that brought the issues of federal vs states rights back to the center of attention along with racial issues. In Little Rock Girl 1957 one of the major battle grounds is brought to light, not only to show the struggles of the Little Rock 9, but to show how this incident was played out on the national and international scene.

While there are many books on the Civil Rights movement, I particularly enjoyed the way this book showed a different perspective. In discussing the journalist who took the pictures that became so famous, the book points out that as a local boy he viewed this as both a hyper local issue as well as a national issue. Wearing a plaid shirt, he blended into the crowd, and was able to catch the faces full of hate and show the world. In a way this showed the duality of the situation in Little Rock–there were locals, journalists, and even students who supported integration. Little Rock had integrated its transportation with no conflict, and the governor was supposed to be a moderate. But the situation that developed as they struggled to integrate showed that the loud voices of the segregationists could easily dominate any conversation.

I think that there is a lesson for today’s youth in the observation about how a fraction of the kids in the high school tormented the 9 African American students while the majority sat back and let it happen–even if they disagreed. Today teens see bullying, racism, and other injustices that continue in their own schools–they could learn a lot from this story: from the courage of the 9 teens, those who sat by and let it happen, and those who stood up to try to make a difference.



Planting the Wild Garden

Oscar near the weedy garden.

I’m not much of a gardener, most of the things growing in my yard are “wild” even if I did plant them at some time. Recently I spent a sweaty morning trying to pull some of the wildest of the weeds before they could spread to much seed. This made me think of this simple informational picture book: Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith. While many books show how an apple or pumpkin seed becomes a plant and produces fruit, this book places the cycle of seeds into plants in context of the many different ways plants grow and spread. From planting a vegetable garden to catching on someone or floating in the air, this book shows the many ways seeds spread. One of the major points of this book is that all of the creatures in the environment contribute to helping seeds move around to reach as far as possible.

Planting the Wild Garden While this book talks a lot about what are essentially weeds, there is no negative tone. Rather this is a sweet and simple book to introduce very young children to the ways seeds move and become plants. I think this book would work well in a classroom or preschool, or even at home learning about seeds. It is a nice story, which kids would enjoy hearing, and not a dry informational book. The watercolors are delicate and beautiful, if sometimes hard to follow the teeny seeds. After looking at my garden I can curse the spread of weeds, but when I read this book I’m left with a much more positive view of nature.

Animal Heroes–Non-Fiction Monday

Part of the War Stories collection, Animal Heroes discusses the various ways animals have served in armed combat through the years. From war elephants to messenger pigeons to bomb sniffing dogs, this book touches briefly on the wide variety of animals that have been a part of war. From the very beginning this book acknowledges that animals have no choice in participating in warfare, and that it may be considered cruelty to force them to participate. With that said, the book goes through the ages to discuss the role of animals in different conflicts, from ancient Rome to modern days. While the cover features a dog, this book focuses attention on a multitude of animals. Readers will enjoy learning about how pigs were used to defeat war elephants by frightening them off, how cats were befriended by WWI soldiers so they’d eat the rats in the trenches, and how today rats are trained to locate landmines. Since this is a huge topic, the coverage of any one animal or incident is brief, but many individual heroes are highlighted.

Gander and the Royal Riffles

Gander is one of the dog heroes profiled. He was the mascot of a Canadian group called the Royal Rifles, and saved the lives of many of the men, eventually giving his life to save the men when he grabbed a grenade that had been lobbed at them and ran with it. He was given a special medal of honor for animals serving in war.

This book would appeal to animal fans, history fans, and those interested in warfare. It is an interesting topic, not one many kids are required to read about, or would know to inquire after, but the book would make interesting reading for kids grades 3-5 if suggested by a librarian or teacher.

Non-Fiction Monday: School Rules!

With Summer Reading over I’ve been working on the Back to School display, which is good because requests will start to pour in for books to help kids who are starting school. Starting school is one of those perennial topics, like books on going to the doctor, getting a new sibling, and potty training. Like those topics, books on this subject straddle the line between fiction and non-fiction. Since I have nothing to do with the cataloging decisions at my library, I like to distinguish these books based on whether they tell a story or list information.

Back-to-School Rules Recently, I received an e-arc of an informational picture book on going back to school. Back to School Rules by Laurie Friedman. In this short picture book, a young boy lists rules for school success, such as:

That means no naps in class.
No running through the halls.
No climbing up the flagpole.
No writing on the walls.

For the most part, these rules are actual things kids need to know in order to behave properly in school. Sometimes they go over the top like not hanging from the ceiling, but for the most part they cover typical situations.

My biggest question with this book is audience. Kids starting school for the first time would be overwhelmed and many of the rules don’t necessarily apply, as pre-school and Kindergarteners can and do Moo frequently. Also they don’t understand what contradict means–I’m not sure even second graders know what that means.

I think if the author had been a little more funny, a little less informational, and a little less preachy this book could have been a hit for the 1st to 2nd grade crowd.

Non-Fiction Mondays What to Expect When You’re Expecting Joeys

What to Expect When You're Expecting Joeys: A Guide for Marsupial Parents (And Curious Kids) (Expecting Animal Babies) In an obvious follow up to the earlier title about Larvae, this volume tackles marsupials. While the format is very similar, I actually found this to be more informative and successful. The primary reason for that is that there are MILLIONS of different species of insects but only about 250 species of marsupials. Many of these are interrelated, which makes it easier to cover the life cycle of all the different varieties.

The downside to this book, as with the previous volume, is the balance of technical information with the format and the illustrations. The question and answer format is fun, the illustrations echo the amusing tone, but some of the vocabulary and detailed descriptions of giving birth are beyond what an entertainment seeker might want, particularly with the young audience attracted by the illustrations. For those kids doing serious research, this would be more difficult to use, it doesn’t have real pictures of the animals and it would be hard to find the specific information you might need.

Still, for collections in need of a general marsupial book this might be a fun choice.

Non-Fiction Monday Lily Renée, Escape Artist

Lily Renée Wilhelm was a young girl when Austria was invaded by Nazi Germany, her life story provides a fascinating glimpse of the changes and struggles that many people faced during these tragic and dramatic times. Her family had been well off, but as the Nazis rose to power her whole life changed, she was fortunate to find an escape on a Kindertransport to England, though her parents stayed behind. Once there, though she was poorly treated by her sponsor family, which led her to take a number of jobs. When England declared war on the Nazis, she was classified as an Enemy Alien and required to report to the government. She worked as a nurse during the Blitz. At this point the government began to crack down more on these “enemy aliens” and started rounding them up, Lily tries to escape but eventually turns herself in. She’s fortunate that her parents have escaped to America and she is allowed to join them there. Once there she finds that her parents have grown old struggling under Nazi rule and Lily takes a huge variety of roles to support her family. Fashion model, pieceworker, catalog artist, and eventually becomes a comic book artist.

Lily’s life was fascinating, and a good fit for children who want to learn about the period. Nothing TOO bad happens to her, her parents live, she escapes Austria and England. In Lily Renée, Escape Artist the story is told in graphic novel format. The art is evocative of the era, capturing the spirit of the age and the terror of Lily’s experiences. Unfortunately, the narrative of the story really fails to bring the story to life in that it doesn’t always match the format. The appeal of a graphic novel biography is that it brings the action and drama of the figure to life, and the actions they took and experiences they had are visually depicted. However, this book reads like a non-graphic novel biography superimposed upon the graphic novel format. There is a lot of tell and not as much show, which makes it hard to see Lily as a real character. It is a fine balance, to provide information while still telling a story, and certainly this book succeeds at providing enough information to show that there are great stories in Lily’s life. It also leaves the reader wanting those stories, wanting that closer knowledge and personal connection. If I couldn’t get more stories, I wanted more facts. I’d never heard about the British detainees, and would have loved to learn more, and see pictures and some of the newspapers they said they wrote.

How cool is this--Lily Renee drew this--this is what I want to know more about!

While not a perfect biography, I still think that the story of Lily Renée is compelling enough to draw reluctant readers into her world. Hopefully, we will find more biographies of fascinating characters like this.

Native American Folktales

This week we are having a guest presenter for our Children’s Summer Reading Program, who will share folktales and information about various Native American cultures. In order to prepare, I read several stories that I hope to be able to share as further reading to encourage kids to keep learning. Not being part of any of these cultures, I can’t review how well they represent the authentic tales and character of the original cultures. But I can say how well they introduce children to stories and cultures not their own.

The Good Rainbow Road / Rawa 'Kashtyaa'tsi Hiyaani The Good Rainbow Road / Rawa ‘Kashtyaa’tsi Hiyaani by Simon J. Ortiz, Victor Montejo, Michael Lacapa. This tale follows two boys part of the way on their quest to bring water back to their people. As far as it goes, it is a lovely story, and is nicely multi-lingual. But it seems incomplete, like being sent to bed before you find out how the book ends. Only the book really does end in the middle of the story. This might have been tolerable if the author had mentioned where the rest of the story could be found or just a few details about what happens next.

Snail Girl Brings Water: A Navajo Story Snail Girl Brings Water: A Navajo Story, Geri Keams. This story explains how when the first people emerged into this realm, they realized they had no clean water, which prevented anything from growing or developing. So they sent different creatures to get the water, but each failed, and their failure explained some of their development. Not until snail girl volunteered to get the water. I actually gave this to a girl who wanted a pourquoi tale. It is a good story because it is both familiar and new to kids.

When Turtle Grew Feathers: A Tale from the Choctaw Nation When Turtle Grew Feathers: A Tale from the Choctaw Nation Tim Tingle. One of the reasons I enjoyed this variant of the turtle and the hare is that it has a lot of attitude. It is a different story, but familiar, and shows kids something of a different culture.

So You Want to be an Explorer?

So You Want to Be an Explorer? This summer I’m hoping to encourage all of the kids and teens in my community to explore the world through programs and books. When I first heard that we were doing the national theme One World, Many Stories, I went searching for titles that could give me ideas for programs and to share with kids. Judith St. George and David Small’s So You Want to be an Explorer? seems to capture the spirit of heading off into the unknown.

On one level it is really just a collective biography of various adventurers, from familiar figures such as Christopher Columbus to more obscure female explorers like Mary Kingsley. But it is also, as the name suggests, a guidebook of the characteristics needed to head out to see the world. It is successful because it doesn’t try too hard to tell kids every possible detail about all the figures covered, but rather inspires kids to explore the world and even to look into these historical figures to learn more! The illustrations are lovely water colors that don’t focus too much on accurately portraying the figures discussed, rather they are more like caricatures. This is the Caldecott Award winning team of So You Want to be President?, which is supposed to be updated and re-released, I believe.

For this summer, I’m going to include it in our display, and maybe book talk it during our second week program. I’d recommend this book to any other libraries doing the national theme, and for those kids, teachers, and librarians who long to explore the world and want to know how to get started!

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter To My Daughters

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter To My Daughters Father’s day is coming up, and while I don’t have any kids, I do have an awesome father. One of the things I recall most strongly from growing up is my father sharing encouragement and advice. Similar words of wisdom are shared in the letter to his daughters written by Barack Obama, and published as Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters. There are two major aspects of this book. First is listing characteristics of the author’s daughters, and showing how these virtues were embodied in great Americans. Second the author shows how the United States was built by many great Americans working together, and that his children as with all American children have a strong heritage and a bright future.

Part inspiration, part biography, part poem, part patriotic paean, like many books for children, this struggles with classification. Unlike many celebrities’ childrens books it does transcend its limitations, and is not heavy handed. It is beautifully written, poetic, and really reads as if it were written for his daughters. In our library, this book is in the 100’s, with other inspirational books. But it could be with 900’s or picture books.

I encourage readers to put aside politics, and enjoy these heartfelt words from Barack Obama to his daughters. Loren Long’s wonderful illustrations capture the two girls, and the various historical figures.

Non-fiction Monday

One World, Many Stories, Many of which are Non Fiction

In getting ready for the summer, I’m reviewing some non fiction titles that go along with the Summer Reading Program theme: One World, Many Stories. I’ll post some folktale collections later, but today I have some more books on children of the world.

A Life Like Mine A Life Like Mine, UNICEF. This is a very nice profile of the lives of children around the world. The pictures of children and stories really bring the varying circumstances to life, and statistics and diagrams can clearly explain what are sometimes complicated situations. The one problem with this is that it is growing dated. There is a profile of a girl in Afghanistan that talks about 2001 and there is no question in my mind that circumstances are vastly different today. I hope that this is updated, as it is a beautiful resource.

Children Around the World Children Around the World, Donata Montanari. On one hand this book seems less dated then the previous book, though it is older, but on the other hand the children seem less real. This is because the children are represented with colorful illustrations, not pictures, and the descriptions are sketchy and vague. Because there are no actual photos, this book makes the children seem like stereotypes that are not real people. Personally, I’d rather have real children, who are a little dated.

One World, One Day One World, One Day , by Barbara Kerley. Another beautiful photo montage book from Kerley and the National Geographic. This book follows children as they go about their days, waking up, eating, going to school, working, play, and going home. These children are from around the world, and the end of the book includes extensive details of where the pictures were taken and what was going on at the time. I love those details of the photographer, but the text is super small. It makes me feel old, but I couldn’t read them with or without my glasses on. Overall, this is a great resource for showing how alike and yet different children are all over the world.

Houses and Homes (Around the World Series) Houses and Homes (Around the World Series) by Ann Morris, Ken Hayman, photographer. Interestingly, this beautiful book about the places people live is the oldest title represented here, but still doesn’t feel as dated. Perhaps because it focuses on houses, and not people, and perhaps it is because it is assumed (incorrectly) that if you get pictures of people in other parts of the world they are going to look old fashioned in some way. Regardless, it is a great book, and the illustrations and text are suitable for very young children. I used this in preschool storytime on houses.

As summer approaches, I plan on posting more non fiction reviews of titles on the summer reading theme.