Posts tagged ‘Children’s Nonfiction’

My Leaf Book

My Leaf BookTitle: My Leaf Book
Author/Illustrator: Monica Wellington
ISBN: 9780803741416
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers, published by the Penguin Group, LLC., c2015

So many trees, so many leaves.
When the trees change colors, autumn is here,
and I go to the park to see
how many different leaves I can find.

A young girl visits an arboretum with her dog over the course of several days collects leaves and creates an informational book. Wellington specifies in an author’s note that the pictures were made with collages and did not use a computer, which makes the detailed, boldly colored and textured pictures all the more interesting. It’s almost unbelievable how much time that must have taken her to accomplish, which proves how involved artists are with their work. She reveals her methods at the end, so kids can try making leaf prints and rubbings for their own book. Each leaf is identified and has an accompanying fact or two, with the leaf shape accompanying the name so when multiples appear on a page there is no confusion which is which. A little long for toddler story time, but share with preschoolers or older children. When used in a story time, I cut up this leaf bingo sheet from the blog Relentlessly Fun Deceptively Educational (LOTS of great stuff to be found there!) and distributed so parents had a quick and convenient reference guide and could go home and identify their own trees. Keep this on your list of fall books and recommend to patrons.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

Tricky VicTitle: Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
Author/Illustrator: Greg Pizzoli
ISBN: 9780670016525
Pages: 39 pages
Publisher/Date: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, c2015.

“Victor” was a convincing count: exceedingly well dress, soft spoken, and always with lots of money to spare at the game tables. Once the ship docked and the passengers disembarked, “Count Lustig” would disappear, along with their money. (5)

“Count Victor Lustig” was the alias of Robert Miller, a man born in the Czech Republic who didn’t stay in one place for very long. He traveled around the world playing people for their money, from his home country to America, Europe, and back again, earning the respect of Al Capone before finally getting caught and imprisoned in Alcatraz. Two popular cons were either selling a money making box to an unsuspecting person or simply counterfeiting the money directly. His most well-known con however was selling the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal, a trick that proved so successful that he attempted it a second time.

Little is known with certainty about Robert Miller, and Pizzoli makes that clear in his author’s note. Teachers will also appreciate a glossary of terms, an extensive works cited list, and a word about the artwork. The effort to include primary sources within the illustrations, like Miller’s death certificate, should also be highlighted if used in a classroom. There’s some light symbolism in the use of a finger print in place of Miller’s face in every illustration, which was a distinctive but very effective method of obscuring his identity but still allude to the criminal nature of his work (being fingerprinted when arrested) and his unique fabricated identity and business (since all fingerprints are different). Adults might be interested to seek out more information, but this is a succinct narrative and an age-appropriate introduction to the idea of con artists, fakes, and double crosses.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

I’m Trying to Love Spiders

I'm Trying to Love SpidersTitle: I’m Trying to Love Spiders
Author/Illustrator: Bethany Barton
ISBN: 9780670016938
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, c2015.

Like this spider right here. I’m gonna try really hard to like him. Maybe if I study him for a while… I think it’s working… AHHHHHH!! It’s Moving!! Squish it!! Squish it!! Squish it!!

The author of this book realizes that it is not easy to love spiders, but it’s the thought that counts, right? After trying to focus on the many amazing features of spiders, such as having eight eyes, they are related to scorpions and ticks, and there are more than 40,000 different species. The only fact that proves helpful in seeing spiders in a new light is they’re ability to eat over 75 pounds of bugs in a year, which gets immediately tested when it tries to rid the pages of the book of other bugs. But by then, there are other problems, and they go by the name COCKROACH!

Nonfiction in the form of a picture book, this subgenre really is underutilized by the story time providers, including myself. So when I saw a coworker using this one for her story time, I just had to take a peak. The one tiny wish I have for this was that there was some indication of whether all the spiders drawn in the book were true to scale or not. That would have been most beneficial. Over a dozen spiders are identified on the end papers and inside the book which imparts bite-sized facts about these bugs. The interactive element is an added bonus, and one that certainly appeals to kids, as I had a story time child steal it from my table and was stomping on the bug pictures as I read the next book! So whether it promotes a love for bugs or just a love for smashing them, either way you are educated and can make an informed rather than instinctive decision. Right?

Bee Dance

Bee DanceTitle: Bee Dance
Author/Illustrator: Rick Chrustowski
ISBN: 9780805099195
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, c2015.

I’m all a buzz (pun intended) about the cut paper collage pictures, which are full of details enhanced with pastel pencils. Just think about the time it must have taken author/illustrator Rick Chrustowski to create all those bees out of tiny pieces of intricately cut paper and those multi-hued flowers, grass, and leaves. Especially pay attention to the different layouts, including one as if you were an ant on the prairie watching the swarm of bees approach the flowers towering over you like fighter pilots at Pearl Harbor. Although this is located in nonfiction, the information is succinct enough and short enough to share with the story time crowd, especially if you pair with action movements. Don’t be afraid to shake your booty just like a bee. An author’s note provides further detail about the documented bee dance, and thanks a Cornell University professor for vetting the text. Bee-autiful!

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

Around the World

Around the WorldTitle: Around the World
Author/Illustrator: Matt Phelan
ISBN: 9780763636197
Pages: 237 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2011.

“I will bet twenty thousand pounds against anyone who wishes that I will make the tour of the world in eighty days or less: in nineteen hundred and twenty hours, or one hundred and fifteen thousand two hundred minutes. Do you accept?”
Thus begins Jules Verne’s rollicking adventure novel Around the World in Eighty Days. Verne’s novel, like his previous books, was an international success. Millions read it and pondered the possibility of racing around the planet Earth. A few intrepid adventurers — for a variety of reasons both known and unknown — decided to attempt the amazing feat. (11)

Author Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days planted in many minds the thought of seeing the world, traveling to foreign lands, and experiencing all that the planet has to offer. Three people who actually set out upon the journey are featured in this compilation biography. First came former miner Thomas Stevens, whose efforts began with a 3.5 month trip across the United States on a big-wheeled bicycle. Once he succeeded with that trip and secured sponsorship, he continued on across the globe, spending a year showcasing the bicycle’s abilities as he went. Two years after he returned, reporter Nellie Bly had the intention of beating the challenge that Phineas Fog set in the novel. Many said it couldn’t be done, and the paper she wrote for even took guesses from readers as to when she’d arrive back. Finally, there was the old retired sea-captain Joshua Slocum, who quietly set sail in a time of steam ships and pirates, spending years alone as he circumnavigated the globe just like old times.

Matt Phelan’s style is almost instantly recognizable once you’ve read some of his works featuring watercolors accented with pencil, ink, and gouache. Thomas Stevens’s story is the most colorful, featuring panoramic landscapes in greens, golds, and reds and a beautiful double page spread silhouetting the rider in front of the iconic Taj Mahal. Phelan briefly touches upon the changes that were happening while Stevens was on his ride, including the development of newer bicycle models and a gasoline engine. Phelan’s portrayal of the trip is the shortest of the three stories in terms of page count, and I do wish we had heard and seen more the trip, especially since Phelan mentions the exorbitant length of Stevens’ own account of his journey.

Nellie Bly’s is more muted, with her bright blue outfit and plaid orange-brown ulster standing out among the grays, whites, and browns of her transportation methods. I was somewhat surprised at his portrayal of Nellie as an impatient, irritable woman, but maybe she has good reason to be perturbed. It’s shown that the deck is stacked against her from the very beginning as she purposes the idea to her editor, is shot down immediately by staff due to her gender, and then she is given the assignment a year later as their own idea. It’s just another reason that I should do some research on a trailblazer in journalism.

Joshua Slocum’s journey sets a very different tone, both in the style of illustrations and the actual narration. It’s a solitary tale of a solitary man who is not in a race against time like Nellie or interacting with many people like Thomas. In fact, the minimal interactions portrayed are with hallucinations, memories, and ghosts from his past indicated with greens and yellows that separate their content from the blues and grays of the seemingly never-ending sea journey. There was no mighty fanfare upon his return, and when the story ends with his disappearance at sea 10 years later, it’s made abundantly clear to readers that this restless man was searching for a life and solace he could not find.

Phelan includes a short author’s note and bibliography of sources at the end, although I question how many of those resources would be beneficial to children. Epilogues are also included after each of the three stories, giving answers to the inevitable “and then?” questions that would follow a tale of a trip around the world. Captain Slocum’s is the only one played out in graphic novel format. Readers expecting the daring feats that they find in the 39 Clues series will be disappointed, but introspective adventurers looking to whet their appetite on true tales may enjoy the stories and provide a launching point for further speculation on their own future endeavors.

Swing Sisters

Swing SistersTitle: Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm
Author: Karen Deans
Illustrator: Joe Cepeda
Pages: unpaged
ISBN: 9780823419708
Publisher/Date: Holiday House, c2015.

Dr. Jones loved music and wanted the children to love it too. In 1939 he started a school band that was just for girls, and he called it the Sweethearts.

Started as an fundraiser for a African American orphanage founded in 1909, the Sweethearts soon became something more. They played in the beginning for schools and church groups. When the musicians aged out of the orphanage, they stayed together, playing all over the country, including at the Howard Theater in Washington to an audience of 35,000 people and overseas in Europe for the troops during World War II. For years they quietly broke Jim Crow laws, allowing any women who could jump, jive, and swing on an instrument to join their band. This caused problems with some folks, forcing some of their members to sneak out of their bus and head to the train station via taxi rather than getting caught by the police in the company of African Americans. Eventually, the group disbanded as the women pursued other goals and interests, like other jobs or families.

It’s interesting to learn about an African American orphanage during the 1900s that taught literacy skills to children many saw as underprivileged, when so many African American children weren’t taught how to read or write. With sparse writing that conveys just enough information for younger readers which the book is geared toward, it’s a welcome addition that websites, books, and documentaries are available for those who would like to learn more, including a NPR broadcast and a Smithsonian feature from a few years ago. While just a blip in music, women’s, and African American histories, these trail blazers have not been forgotten, even if — as one interview remarks — few recordings of their work are still around.

The illustrations are multicolored and textured, and the oil and acrylic paintings lend a texture, similar to cracked paint, that encourage a lingering look and give it an old time feel. The crowd scenes are equally impressive as many of the people have distinguishing characteristics and skin tones, and the period clothing is quite colorful. The closing scenes of a silhouetted band playing in front of a sunset orange and yellow hued background, paired with an older women passing along a trumpet to a younger girl, reflect the closing sentiments of the book. “Those Sweethearts didn’t know it at the time, but they helped open doors for women of all backgrounds.” (unpaged)

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

El Deafo

El DeafoTitle: El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Color: David Lasky
ISBN: 9781419710209
Pages: 242 pages
Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, c2014.
Awards: Newbery Honor (2015)

I wake up every morning happy and relieved to be home. I stay close to Mama, no matter where she is. But suddenly, I lose her. Where is she? I call out but she doesn’t answer me! When I finally find her, I know that everything is different. I think she knows it, too. I can’t hear. (11-12)

As a result of meningitis when she was four, Cece spent some time in the hospital. When she got back home, her parents and her realized that there was something wrong. She had become deaf. After being fit with hearing aids, Cece attends a special school to adapt to her lost hearing, but a family move means she leaves behind the welcoming environment. A new school means she needs to adapt to kids not understanding what the hearing aids do and how to react and interact with her.

The idea of portraying the people as bunnies was an inspired choice on the author’s part. Deafness seems more pronounced when exhibited by an animal with such pronounced ears, and that makes real the anxiety that the author feels when trying to hide her defining characteristic. I had a classmate with a similar hearing device that Cece wears and uses in school, and it’s interesting to see the world from that perspective. Cece’s reluctance to learn sign language was surprising to me, but her reasoning makes sense. She is trying so hard to not appear different that she is isolating herself because she can’t change her differences. It’s when she finally embraces her differences and uses them to the class’s advantage (like a super power) that she makes friends. But honestly, I’m glad she made friends like Martha, who didn’t care about her hearing aids, either as a positive super power or a negative disability.

Most of the feelings of acceptance are universal, they are simply amplified by Cece’s difference. Fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and R. J. Palacio’s Wonder will probably enjoy this graphic novel with a similar story line. These books are important to have to teach acceptance to children and share unique perspectives, but some may be turned off by the continued emphasis of the differences and the primary role they play in the plot.


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