Tag Archives: non fiction monday

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.

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.


For quite a while I’ve been interested in the politics of water, I once tried to explain to a group of undergraduates how important water and the access to it has been throughout history. They were not impressed. Water is the stuff of life, and has always been that way. But living in the United States, children (including undergraduate students) do not comprehend the complexities and absolutely essential nature of water because it is always there when we need it. However, access to clean water is not universally available, and even for those who can access clean water, many have to travel outside of their homes to get it.

This summer, as part of our Summer Reading Program on “One World, Many Stories,” I plan on doing a program on water an its significance world wide. Hopefully this will be more successful then my presentation to the undergrad students in Ohio. To prepare, I’ve been reading non-fiction books about water around the world. Here are a few of the titles I’ve read.

A Cool Drink of Water A Cool Drink of Water, Barbara Kerley, A beautiful national geographic picture book that just talks about how universal water is, by showing people around the world drinking water and highlighting some of the places that they go to get the water. It is a nice introduction for very young kids to the idea that water doesn’t always come from the tap, but that it is something that draws us all together.

Our World of Water Our World of Water: Children and Water Around the World, Beatrice Hollyer. This book goes into more depth about the ways water works in the lives of 6 children from around the world. The pictures really bring the different culture and climates to life, demonstrating that these are real kids dealing with issues of water scarcity. The child from Ethiopia is a good example of how some kids’ lives are controlled and consumed by their need for water.

One Well: The Story of Water on Earth One Well: The Story of Water on Earth, Rochelle Strauss. This book takes the broadest perspective, covering the water cycle, water use, and the need for conservation. One of the strongest points the book makes is that while the amount of water on earth remains constant, the distribution is uneven, and that there are limited supplies of easily accessible clean water. It is a good introduction to the many ways water is crucial to life on earth.

These three books make a nice introduction to the importance of water around the world. I’m still looking for more titles, so any suggestions would be welcome.

A Life in the Wild

A Life in the Wild: George Schaller's Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts Focusing on one scientist, whose work has brought him around the world, A Life in the Wild: George Schaller’s Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts is less of a biography, then a profile of a life’s work. From his early fascination with birds, Schaller’s work took him from Alaska to high Tibet, through dangerous areas of Africa. During all of these visits, he was not just expanding knowledge of remote habitats and species, but he was pioneering modern practices of animal observation and conservation.

Few children realize that prior to the last 50-60 years, most naturalists and scientists studied species primarily through capturing and killing them. George, and others of his time, set out to study live animals within their natural environments, and in doing so they discovered the importance of the interrelated species and ecosystems within which the particular species of interest lived. Out of this realization grew the knowledge that to save these threatened species was to save the environment they lived in, to preserve these relationships. Much of Schaller’s work went directly to providing the evidence to support the establishment of national parks and conservation areas world wide, beyond which he spoke out against practices that he could see threatening the species he studied.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the broad scope of Schaller’s work, covering so many different species and areas of the world. It showcases the different challenges faced by different environments and political climates. Gorilla’s in the Congo and Cloud Leopards in the Pakistan/Afghanistan/China/Russia are each in dangerous and frequently contested territory. The chapter on Schaller’s work with pandas in China was particularly interesting because of the politics involved, but more showcasing how even a country that desires to save a species can fail when they don’t take into account the importance of the animal within its environment and community.

This book is a good companion to the scientists in the field series, as it provides the same sort of insight into the process of science, only from a longer term and larger scope. Certainly there is a strong conservation/environmentalist perspective to this book–it isn’t science just for science’s sake. But it is a great starting point for students interested in science, conservation, or animals.

One small criticism I have is that I wish the book had more pictures, particularly of Schaller himself. I know the challenge of writing a biography of a living person, who might prefer attention be given to his work and the animals. But part of the fascination of this book is discovering this man and his and his family’s experience with the animals. Plus, from the few little pictures there are of him, he was kind of cute (may still be, but I didn’t see any recent pictures!)

Non Fiction Monday is here, check out the other great books

The Watcher: Jean Goodall’s Life with the Chimps

The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps From childhood, Jean Goodall was interested in observing nature around her, watching the world and wondering about its marvels. Thus her move to Africa and her work observing apes was a progression of a childhood interest. In The Watcher: Jean Goodall’s Life with the Chimps Jeanette Winter focuses on Jean’s love of animals and desire to watch and learn from them. The text emphasizes her persistence in seeking the apes, but also her willingness to let them teach her rather then force herself on them. When the animals she studies are threatened, Jean is shown as a fierce defender, moving from a watcher to an advocate, speaking out to protect the animals and environment she loved.

Because of the picture book format, and the intended young audience, the story of her work and life are told very generally. Though information about some of the most important discoveries she made is included, such as she saw that the apes used tools, had emotions, and functioned in family groups. In this case, I think it works very well. She was self educated and self motivated, which makes her an interesting role model for children. This masterful portrayal is perfectly pitched to children who have a variety of passions, because it demonstrates how an interest in their youth can carry on through their lives.

The illustrations, also by Jeanette Winter, are simply gorgeous. Colorful without being overpowering, they depict the apes, the jungle, and Jane through rain and sun. They are a perfect match for the simple text.

There is an afterword, with a suggestion to look to Jean Goodall’s autobiography, but I wish there were listed resources more suitable for the audience, so that children who read this and want to know more can look for further information.

Highly recommended.

Check out the other great informational books reviewed this week for Non Fiction Monday at Telling Kids the Truth.

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot (Scientists in the Field Series) Looking something like a parrot crossed with a football, there are just over a hundred Kakapo alive today. With honey scented feathers, the heaviest of all the parrots lives in burrows on the ground and cannot fly or speak, but they make a variety of vocalizations like purring, booming, and clicking. In Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop travel to a remote island off of New Zealand to chronicle the desperate battle volunteers and scientists are waging to protect the tiny population and try to find some way to find a future with a more stable Kakapo population.

The story of the Kakapo is partly the story of the world and how even the small things that we don’t see or realize can lead to destruction, and how sometimes even all of us together working are powerless to repair the damage. New Zealand, set apart from Australia, was a land of birds, big, little, and strange, most of them flightless, with few predators and few mammals. Until the Maori, and later the Europeans, came and brought hoards of alien organisms that relatively quickly drove one native species after another to extinction. Now rats to rabbits to rabid livestock and pets, over-run the largest parts of the two islands, forcing scientists turn to ever more remote islands to create sanctuaries where native species can be safe.

On Codfish Island, all of the drama, tragedy, triumph and sacrifice play out during the short 10 day stay Montgomery and Bishop were allowed on this protected island. Bishop’s photographs are a stunning glimpse into a world few are able to visit, and Montgomery’s text will bring the experience to life, with all its highs and lows. Read Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot to gain a glimpse of these amazing creatures and those who struggle tirelessly to save them.

In 2011 this wonderful book won the Sibert Medal for best informational book published in 2010. You can find more information on the Kakapo at http://www.kakaporecovery.org.nz/index.php The author and photographer have also teamed up for other Scientists in the Field books. I wrote this up for a book talk for my earth day visit to the fourth graders.

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum, and Some Other Treats!

Looking for something tasty to start the week? Here are three delicious non-fiction picture books to get you on the road!

Pop!: The Invention of Bubble Gum Pop!: The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan Mccarthy. This is a delightful confection of a book, with bright cheerful illustrations, and an interesting story that will keep kids interested. I don’t even LIKE gum and I loved this book. It would make a great read aloud or book talk for 2nd and 3rd graders.

George Crum and the Saratoga Chip George Crum and the Saratoga Chip by Gaylia Taylor. Potatoes are one of my favorite foods ever, and potato chips are a wonderful invention (says my taste buds, not my hips). Since much of America agrees with me, I have to assume that they will also agree that the story of how they came to be is good reading. Like the snack, there isn’t much substance to the story as little is known, but it still manages to provide a good reading experience. The idea that a demanding customer led a chef to make chips just seems right, especially after a long day working with the public. Another fun idea for 2nd and 3rd grades, who are looking for another great food story.

How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman is a classic for a reason, it shows how the ingredients that go into a traditionally American treat really come from all over the world. This book is probably suitable for a younger audience, but when combined with the other two present an interesting look at the history of some of our favorite treats.

And because I couldn’t end with just an apple pie after traveling the world, I wanted to include one of my all time favorite non-fiction books: What the World Eats, by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. Taking readers around the world, this book share’s profiles of families in different parts of the world. Each family is pictured with a week’s worth of food, with the quantities and prices listed out. The book also discusses where the food was obtained, how it was cooked, where it was stored, and includes stories for each family. There is something addictive about this book that just fascinates people, draws them in again and again. I once placed this book on display and everyday I’d see the same people reading through it. They were amazed they could check it out (it sounds strange, but it is a public library, so not the strangest thing I’ve heard).
What the World Eats What the World Eats

Nonfiction Monday is hosted by L.L. Owens today, head over to check out the awesome books reviewed today!