Non-Fiction Books of the Month

May, 2018Book cover

Larsen, Andrew. The Man Who Loved Libraries: The Story of Andrew Carnegie. Toronto, Ontario: OwlKids Books, 2017.

Andrew Carnegie’s rags to riches story is quintessentially American, no doubt.  The Man Who Loved Libraries focuses, of course, on the role libraries played in Carnegie’s education, life, and legacy.  

The story opens with the Carnegie family struggling to make ends meet in Scotland – Andrew’s father was a weaver and the new factory-made fabrics were taking a toll on his business.  Then moves through the family’s immigration to the United States when Andrew was 12, when he started his career as a bobbin boy in a textile mill.  

Andrew, who began his formal education at age 8, was hungry to learn, but was not able to attend school after the Carnegies arrived in Pittsburgh when he was 12.  Knowing his education was important, he turned to reading to continue learning.  There was no money for books, and no public library, but there was a Colonel Anderson who opened his private library on Saturdays and lent books.

Andrew moved on to better and better jobs, and using what he’d learned from all that reading, landed a job at the Pennsylvania Railroad. Once there, he started saving money, learned the railroad business, invested in steel, and the rest is history. 

After earning his fortune, Carnegie didn’t forget where he got the education that helped him get ahead – Colonel Anderson’s library.  Consequently, he reasoned that the best way to give back was to help establish public libraries – more than 2,500 of them by the time he was done, in cities and towns around the world.  The first one was in the Scottish town where he was born.

This title is a crisp and concise biography with clean illustrations depicting stages of Carnegie’s life.  The endnotes briefly touch on his violent conflicts with employees that tried to unionize. There are photographs there, also ,resting information.  It’s a good addition to an elementary biography collection.  

Dewey:  338.7 Interest Level:  K-3

Reviews and Awards: Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Junior Library Guild selection.

Older readers might like: Andrew Carnegie and the Steel Industry (Great Entrepreneurs In U.S. History) by Rajczak Nelson, Kristen

Fiction Pairing: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Rabenstein

April, 2018: 

Book cover

Pizzoli, Greg.  The Quest for Z: The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon.  New York: Viking Penguin Young Readers Group, an Imprint of Penguin Random House, 2017.

The Quest for Z is a skillfully written account of the life of Percy Fawcett, an English explorer who had a reputation for being unstoppable.  He thrived in the jungle and lead many successful expeditions, before his disappearance became one of the most enduring mysteries of the Amazon.  Although it is a short account of his life, this book gets to the heart of an explorer’s need to explore, even in mortal danger.

The Lost City of Z was the goal on Fawcett’s last expedition, and had become something of an obsession for the explorer.  He wanted to travel light, so he brought only his oldest son Jack and Jack’s friend, Raleigh.  They set out in 1925 with two local guides, horses, mules, and dogs, and with a plan to send letters back to inform newspapers of their real-time progress (as real as it could get in 1925).  Their last message back was carried out by the two guides about a month into the journey.  

The illustrations in The Quest for Z are charming with a School House Rock feel to them, despite the story being a bit gruesome at times.  The color pallet changes to effectively reflect the dramatic parts in the story, indicating when things get serious.  The back pages include an author’s note, a photograph of Fawcett, information about some who have searched for Fawcett, a glossary, and a list of selected sources. Side bars give interesting details about the Amazon, other famous explorers, mosquitoes and the Royal Geographic Society.

This is a good addition to any elementary collection.  When being used in the classroom, a discussion about exploration, discovery, and colonialism would be valuable.  

Dewey: 910.92 Interest Level: Grades 1-4

Reviews and Awards:  Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Horn Book Guide, Horn Book Magazine, Kirkus Reviews starred, Publishers Weekly, School Library Connection starred, School Library Journal.

Older readers might likeSir Walter Raleigh and the Quest for El Dorado by Marc Aronson.

High school students might like: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann.

Fiction PairingThe Shaman’s Apprentice: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry.

On the Web: That was History YouTube channel – The Lost City of Z: Percy Fawcett Strange Unsolved Mystery at

Film: The Lost City of Z (2016).  Director: James Gray.  Written by James Grant, adapted from the book by David Grann.  Rated PG-13.

March, 2018: Book cover

Pomeroy, Sarah B. and Jeyaraney Kathirithamby. Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist Scientist, Adventurer.  Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2018.

Those of us who are unfamiliar with Maria Sibylla Merian are in for a treat with this new title from Pomeroy (author and ancient historian) and Kathirithamby (entomologist) about Merian’s life and work.  It is part biography, part botany and entomology manual with a healthy dash of history, and part work of art. Mostly, it is just beautiful.

Merian was born in Germany in 1647, and had the great luck to be born into a household of artists. At a time when girls where not educated outside the home, she learned her craft in the family's busy art studio at home from her step-father, step-brothers, and their students who attended.  Later, at age 13, Merian combined her talent and her curiosity about the natural world, and we still are enjoying the benefits of the results.  Her highly prized work is still exhibited in museum and collections throughout the world, and has been used by scientists for centuries.

The reproductions of Merian’s work are rich and vibrant, while the interesting notes about what makes them important now and in Merian’s time give students context.  The text is clear and well-written, but it is the visual elements of this book that really pack the punch. Also included in this title are portraits of Merian’s very large family; images of her surroundings at the time; quotes from Merian and samples of her handwriting (which are decipherable only by some scholars now); and maps and other primary sources.  Also included are an epilogue, glossary, bibliography, and index.

While the text in some parts is a bit dense, students who are into bugs, nature, and art will love this title.  It is one of those rare books that could be equally at home in the biography, art, or natural sciences sections of an elementary, middle, or high school library. 

Dewey: 620 Interest Level:  Grades 3-12

Reviews and Awards:  None yet.

Younger readers might like: Butterflies and Moths: Explore Nature with Fun Facts and Activities by John Feltwell.

Older readers might like: A Butterfly Journey: Maria Sibylla Merian, Artist and Scientist by Boris Friedwald.

Fiction pairing: The Evolution of Calpernia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.

On the Web:  This site from the Lannoo and Koninklijke Bibliotheek Den Haag sells a new special edition of Merian’s Metamorphosis in sectorum Surinamensium 1704. Visit it for the short videos explaining the book and explore some addition information about Merian herself.  Be sure to click on Google’s translate button to get the English version.

Video:  What Bugged Maria Sibylla Merian?  Find out at on the My Girl Heroes YouTube Channel.

Merian even has a Google Doodle:

February, 2018: 

Maurer, Tracy Nelson. (Illus. Tim Zeltner). John Deere, That’s Who! New York: Henry Holt &Book cover Company, 2017.

John Deere was having a streak of very bad luck. He was a skilled, hard-working blacksmith, but due to bad economic times in Vermont, his customers couldn’t pay.  And then there were two forge fires that destroyed his business. What to do?  Go west!  John headed to Illinois where he found farmers were struggling with plowing the sticky prairie soil they called Gumbo. It stuck to the iron plows they were using. Rather than see his customers head back to east, John created, through some trial and error, a better plow.  As a result, the Midwest became America's bread basket.

With warm illustrations in the folk-art style, John Deere, That’s Who! tells an inspiring story of success through skill, knowledge, and tenacity. The text is clear, and works well with the lovely illustrations.  This story will speak to students interested in tinkering and farming, and all those kids who know that distinctive John Deere green.  School libraries located in rural, farming communities might want to invest in more than one copy.

Dewey:  338.7 Interest Level: K-3

Reviews and Awards:  Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal.

Middle grades might like:  Insane Inventors by Stephanie Bearce (Illus. Eliza Bolli).

Older readers might like: Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors by Susan Casey.

Fiction pairing: Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

On the Web: Past Leaders of John Deere Co – short biography at

A list of more of John Deere’s Inventions can be found at:

January, 2018:Book cover

Conkling, Winigred.  Votes for Women: American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Young Readers, 2018.

Just in time for Women’s History Month in March comes Votes for Women, a history of suffrage in the United States, told from the points of view of the women who led the 78-year struggle resulting in the 19th Amendment. Conkling tells the stories of the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Strong, Sojourner Truth, and Victoria Woodhull, among others, in a more complete context than some other titles on women’s suffrage. Conkling writes about them as real people dealing with the pressures of family life and contemporary social norms while working for their cause among the competing priorities of temperance and emancipation.  

Students might be shocked to learn that in the mid-19th century, women living in the land of the free were not legally entitled to own property.  The could not keep their own wages, vote for their government representation or laws, or conduct their own business. Even public speaking was off-limits until suffragists broke the mold. 

Conkling skillfully introduces the players, seamlessly plugging them into the narrative and changing points of view as they enter the stage. There are detailed captions with photographs of key players throughout this book. Examples of political cartoons, posters, lithographs, and more are included throughout. Resources at the end include a list of Key Primary Sources, a timeline, books as sources and additional reading, websites, and extensive notes.  This is a must-have for middle school and high school collections, and is suitable for research and reports.  Conkling has produced the sort of top-notch nonfiction that students and teachers alike will want to read.

Dewey: 976 Interest Level: Grades 7-12

Reviews and Awards:

Kirkus Reviews starred, Publishers Weekly starred, School Library Journal.

Younger readers might like: The Taxing Case of the Cows: A True Story About Suffrage by Iris Van Rynback,  (illus. Emily Arnold McCully).

Middle grade readers might like: Suffrage Sisters: The Fight for Liberty by Margaret R. Mead, (Illus.) Siri Weber Feeney. (Reader’s theater format).

Fiction paring: The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

On the Web:  

When American Feminists Were Pilloried for Daring to Wear Boomers.  Atlas Obsura at

Library of Congress Primary Source Set:  Women’s Suffrage.  Primary sources, LOC-style at

National Constitution Center – Clear explanations and debate on the origins and effects of the Constitution and its Amendments.  Find it at

The American History Museum website has images of artifacts from the fight for women’s suffrage at

December, 2017:Book cover

MacDonald, Fiona. The Science of Snot and Phlegm: The Slimy Truth About Breathing. Brighton, UK: Franklin Watts, an imprint of Scholastic, 2018.

Finally! A book for elementary students with a scientific reason not to pick your nose, with lots of other snotty facts and information. MacDonald lays out the story about mucus, colds, allergies, and all things stuffy-nosed into large print paragraphs.  She packs even more information into dialogue boxes, side bars, and labeled illustrations.  Funny captions (What does snot say about you?) keep the pages turning and the mucus flowing.

Fans of gross stuff will love the “Disgusting Data” boxes sprinkled with “Fascinating Facts” and dialogue boxes from a diverse group of doctors throughout.  Some of the double-page spreads seem a bit too cluttered, but those who like a very full look will be satisfied with all the different elements to look at on a page.  

The Science of Snot and Phlegm is one of the Series of the Body set, which includes The Science of Acne and Warts: The Itchy Truth About Skin; The Science of Poop and Farts: The Smelly Truth About Digestion; and The Science of Scabs and Pus: The Sticky Truth About Blood. This set might be a good humorous addition to an elementary school collection with a solid collection of human body books.  It could also be a good option for those hard-to-find books with subject matter that advanced younger readers will find interesting. Includes a Glossary and an Index.

Dewey: 612.2                                  Interest Level: Grades 3-6

Reviews and Awards:  None.

Younger readers might like: Boy Were We Wrong About the Human Body by Kathleen V. Kudlinski (illus. Debbie Tilley).

Middle school readers might like: Understanding the Brain (Amazing Human Body series) from Enslow Publishing.

Older students might like: Human Movement: How the Body Walks, Runs, Jumps, and Kicks by Carla Mooney (illus. Samuel Carbaugh).

Fiction pairing: Frankenstein: Retold from the Mary Shelley Original by Deanna McFadden (Illus. Jamel Akib).

On the Web:  World Book Student – The Human Body.

November, 2017:

Brown, Monica. (illus. John Parra). Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos. New York: NorthSouth Books, Inc., 2017.Book cover

The illustrations are the star in the sweet biography picture book of Frida Kahlo – they are vibrant, clean, and reminiscent of Kahlo’s color pallet. Except maybe the spider monkeys. Those guys are a little bit half-monkey-half-man creepy.

Some biographies move from life event to life event, highlighting things that happened either to the subject or because of him/her. This one flows through Kahlo’s life, revealing character traits by using similar traits in Kahlo’s pets. Frida has long, dark hair, and is playful, like her cat. We learn that there is an accident, an illness, and a marriage, but the story is really about the things in Frida’s life that she loved: her home, her heritage, her pets, her art, and her family.  

The author’s note is quite long and has details about the artist for those who are interested in learning more.  There are lots of biographies available about Frida Kahlo, but this one is a lovely take on her life through her love for her pets. It would make a good supplemental addition to an elementary biography section.  Bonus: this title is available in Spanish!

Dewey:  759.973 Interest Level: K-3

Reviews and Awards:  Booklist, Kurkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal.

Middle grade students might like: Frida Kahlo: The Artist in the Blue House by Magdalena Holzhey

Older Readers might like: Frida Kahlo’s Wardrobe by Claire Wilcox

Fiction Pairing: Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Teresa Howell.  Illustrated by Rafeal Lopez

October, 2017 Nonfiction Book: 

Book Cover

Rose, Deborah Lee & Jane Veltkamp. Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a  3-D Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle.
Apex, NC: Persnickety Press, 2017.

It is always exciting to find a book with an Idaho connection!  This one is full of interesting facts about the life of a bald eagle, conservation resources, and links to educational materials that don't disappoint. (Warning: the Eagle Cam Live Feed is a bit addictive.)

Beauty and the Beak is the story of one particular Alaskan bald eagle who had her beak shot off by a poacher. She was found by a police officer and taken to a wildlife center, where she met one of our authors, Janie Veltkamp. Veltkamp, a raptor biologist, runs Birds of Prey Northwest, a raptor center in North Idaho near Lake Coeur d'Alene.  She took the injured eagle, by then named Beauty, home to Idaho, and made a plan for her healing and recovery.  Soon she put together a team that would work to print and fit Beauty with a prosthetic beak.

This is a moving story that incoprorates the conservation success story of the bald eagle, the challenges that all raptors face in our world, and Beauty's happy ending. There are clear, daramatic photographs of bald eagles at various stages of development from eaglet to adult, and then of Beauty being fitted with her new beak.

The back matter in Beauty and the Beak is almost better than the story, although the text becomes more dense and complex. Teachers and librarians using this for classwork, and students using it for research will find the text full of useful informtion. Use of more graphic representation (like a diagram of the anatomy of an eagle, or a map representing the population density of eagles in North America, for instance) might have made this book even better.

The Education Guide and other teacher resources that come with this title are quite good and give students and educators alike lots of options for finding more information. There is even an .stl file to 3-D print Beauty's beak available. Be sure to download the QR Code reader to use the codes in the back of the book. Birds of Prey Northwest visits schools, libraries, and other groups (including library conferences) with their captivating program featuring live birds of prey.  Nothing raises goosebumps like making eye contact with an eagle!

This title is a must-have, especially for Idaho elementary and middle school libraries, particularly when paired with the other educational resources that go with it.

Dewey: 598.9 Interest Level: Grades 3-6

Reviews and Awards:  Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

Younger readers might like: Bald Eagle by Gordon Morrison

Older Raders might like: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Fiction Pairing: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George or The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.

On the Web:

Birds of Prey Northwest in North Idaho is Beauty's home.  Visit this site for information on bringing birds of prey to your school.

The World Center for Birds of Prey is located in the Treasure Valley.  This website has an Exploring Raptors section like "find a raptor," and help identifying raptors by their silouette, along with the characteristics that make a bird a raptor. There is also information about programming available through the Peregrine Fund.

Intermountain Bird Observatory at Boise State University holds bird banding events for many species of birds.

Bird Cams from Audubon and the Decorah Eagle Cam are so fun to watch! 

September, 2017 Nonfiction Book:

Book cover

Noyes, Deborah. Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original "Girl" Reporter, Nellie Bly. New York: Viking, 2016.

In a time when American women had few choices and little control of  their futures, Elizabeth Jane "Pink" Cochran, better known as Nellie Bly, made things happen. She is an excellent example of grit, tenacity and courage, even for modern students. Nellie made a name for herself as a so-called "stunt reporter," going undercover to get the real story.  Not considered a great writer at the time, she was a gifted interviewer with a talent for telling a personal story to get to the heart of a matter. Her best reporting exposed curruption, abuse, and neglect, and told the stories of those unable to tell their own. Her gender may have made it difficultto get a serious reporting job in New York, but once she managed to get the job, it proved to be a real asset.  No one suspected the small, pretty, young woman of being a serious undercover reporter. She was a pioneer of investigative journalism. 

Noyes titled her book Ten Days a Madwoman, referring to Nellie's first big undercover job at the infamous insane asylum for women on Blackwell's Island in New York. The first half of the book focuses on Nellie's efforts to get into the asylum, her experience there, and her reporting afterward. The second half is about some of her adventures during the rest of her life, including her trip around the world in 72 days (quite a feat in 1889!).

Blue pages in the book take us to flashbacks, asides, and interesting information about Nellie and her times, like how she adopted Nellie Bly as her pen name. The blue pages add depth and color to the book, already rich with illustrations, photographs, engravings and newspaper images. Throughout the book we encounter history-makers of the time like Jules Vern, Susan B. Anthony, Emma Goldman, and Joseph Pulitzer. With extensive source notes, a bibliography including further reading and websites, picture credits, and a detailed index, Ten Days a Madwoman would be an excellent addition to any middle school or high school nonfiction collection.  

Dewey: 070.92 Interest Level: Grade 6 and up

Reviews and Awards: Booklist, Horn Book Guide, Horn Book Magazine, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal starred, Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA).

Younger readers might like: The Daring Nellie Bly: America's Star Reporter by Bonnie Christensen.

Middle grade readers might like: Bylines: A Photobiography of Nellie Bly by Sue Macy.

On the web:

Nellie Bly: The Pioneer Woman Journalist - A Resource Website at  Find some actual articles that Nellie wrote, a photo gallery, links to additional websites and more.

Video: American Experience: Around the World in 72 Days DVD from PBS.  Available at

May, 2017 Nonfiction Book:Book cover

Kirk, Daniel. Rhino in the House: The True Story of Saving Samia. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017.

Anna Merz, a wildlife conservationist, thought she was retiring to Kenya - she half right. When she arrived in Kenya, it was to discover that poachers were killing rhinos for their horns and set about establishing a preserve for the endgangered animals. One day Anna found a small calf whose mother wasn't caring for it, and knew it would not survive without help.  So she took the calf home, and named it Samia.  This is their sweet story.

Rhino in the House is thoughtful and fun, and author/illustrator Daniel Kirk manages to make a baby rhino adorable, but still realistic.  That doesn't seem easy. Throughout, this book is a stright-forward, yet simply and gently told account of an extraordinary friendship. The charming illustrations show Anna reading to Samia in bed, Samia eating a hat and trampling the garden, and the two of them enjoying walks together.  Kids will laugh at the antics, and those who care for pets at home may relate to the effort it would take to care for a rhino and teach it how to survive.

While the illustrations themselves are just lovely, there's more. The photographs in the Author's Note section include wonderful scenes from the author's trip to Kenya, Anna's home there, and a gem of a photo of Anna and Samia. Also included are maps, and a bibliography.  Rhino in the House would make a fine addition to any elementary school collection and would be appreciated by independent readers and story-time participants, alike.

Dewey: 599.66 Interest Level: PreK-3

Reviews and Awards:  Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly Annex, School Library Journal.

Upper elementary students might like: Animal Scientist and Activist Jane Goodall by Douglas Hustad.

Middle school students might like: Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish are Saving the World's Largest Rainforest (Scientists in the Field) by Sy Montgomery. Photographs by Keith Ellenbogen.

Young adults might like: Rhino at the Brink of Extinction by Anna Merz.

On the Web:

Want to really amp up the cute factor?  Here is a video of  a two-week old rhino born in 2016 in a German zoo at

LEWA Wildlife Conservancy: A Unesco World heritge Site since 2013. Learn more about the rhinos and other wildlife that live at LEWA.

April, 2017 Nonfiction Book:Book cover

Sweet, Melissa. Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

If Some Writer! isn't my favorite book of this school year, it is certainly my favorite children's biography! The challenge here will be limiting the gushing. (But really, so good!) For many, experience with White's work is limited to his writing for kids, and maybe for his work on The Elements of Style. While Some Writer! does give a lot of attention to his work in children's literature, it also dives into his work on books for adults, on poetry, and his life-long career with The New Yorker.

From the very first page, this book is infused with the the warm atmosphere of a happy family.  There were surely family squabbles and crises, but White's parents were loving and managed, it seems, to raise seven healthy and productive citizens.  The family challenges are presented as the regular type, free of real tragedy and drama.  Even the photograph introducing the White family shows a casual family, a departure from the stiff, unsmiling family portraits of the time.  The photos, narrative, quotes from White himself, and fun illustrations by the author reveal a happy, if very shy, boy, full of adventure and humor.

Chapters covering White's adult years are organized by his writing  projects, so readers get a sense of the context in which his most famous works are written, and the inspiration behind each story.  We learn about his wife and children, his fondness for the outdoors and animals, and his philosophy on writing. There is a lot of advice for young writers woven in, for those who are interested.

Sweet's trademark watercolor and collage illustrations are rich and full of interesting details about White's life. With White's hand-written manuscripts and workpapers, his drawings, vintage office suppplies and typewriter keys, along with her own illustrrations, Sweet seems to capture the spirit of White's work.  She even makes the chapter on The Elements of Style enjoyable!

Some Writer! has everything a great information text needs: interesting content organized in an engaging format; primary source documents; a timeline; an index; endnotes; and a selected bibliography of White's work and the work of others.  There is even an afterward by White's granddaughter.

Put Some Writer! at the top of your nonfiction wish list!  It is a must for every school library biography section, and it is one of those books that will be injoyed by readers of every age.

Dewey: 818 or 921 Interest Level:  Grades 3-6 and beyond

Reviews and Awards:  Booklist starred; Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books starred; Hornbook Magazine starred; Kirkus Reviews starred; New York Times; Publishers Weekly starred; School Library Connection starred; School Library Journal starred; Booklist Editors' Choice: Books for Middle Readers 2016; Notable Children's Books, 2017 for All Ages; Orbis Pictus Award Winner, 2017.

Middle School readers might like: E.B. White by Deb Aronson

Young Adult readers might like: Essays of E.B. White by E.B. White

Fiction Pairings: Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, all by E.B. White.

Audio: "How E.B. White Spun 'Charlotte's Web': a review by Maureen Corrigan on NPR's Fresh Air at Aired on July 5, 2011.

On the Web:

Robert Angell, "Andy: for E.B. White's readers and family, a sense of trust came easily." New Yorker, February 14, 2005 at

For more of E.B. White's work at The New Yorker, visit and search for E.B. White.  There are many articles written throughout his career at The New Yorker.

March, 2017 Nonfiction Book: 

Book Cover

Williams, Dr. Dave & Loredana Cunti.  To Burp or Not to Burp: A Guide to Your Body in Space.  Berkeley, CA: Annick Press, 2016.

What is the question most often asked of an astronaut? It is "How do you go to the bathroom in space?" That question, and many more on the subject of bodily functions in space, are answered in To Burp or Not to Burp.  This fun book for the elementary set is written by a real astronaut, Dr. Dave Williams, and he answers some very personal questions in a fun, accurate, and matter-of-fact way.  It is just gross enough to be funny, has great scientific facts, and an appealing layout that keeps students engaged.  Sleeping, eating, peeing, pooping, farting, nose-blowing, and, of course, burping (who knew burping in space could be so risky?) are all covered, along with problems like loss of bone density, working with several sunrises and sunsets during a work day, excercise, and much more.

Kids that are interested in the nitty-gritty details of life in space will like this book, and maybe even the somewhat corny jokes.  What's a book about space without an "out of this world" joke, after all?  To Burp or Not to Burp includes a table of contents, suggestions for further reading, and a detailed index. There is a great mix of photos, humorous illustrations, and fun facts. It is a good addition to any elementary space collection.

Dewey: 612 Interest Level: Grades 3-6

Reviews and Awards: Booklist, Kirkus Reviews starred, School Library Connection, School Library Journal.

Middle school readers might like: The Coolest Job in the Universe: Working Aboard the International Space Station by Henry M. Holden.

Young Adults might like: 101 Outer Space Projects for the Evil Genius by Dave Prochnow.

Fiction Pairing: Star Seeker: A Journey to Outer Space by Teresa Heine and illustrated by Victor Tavares.

Video: The Magic School Bus: Space Adventures. DVD from Scholastic Entertainment, 2013.

On the Web:

Life in Orbit at from the Royal Institute has lessons and video for students ages 7-11.

February, 2017 Nonfiction Book:Book cover

Myers, Walter Dean (illus Floyd Cooper). Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History. New York: Harper Collins Children's Books, 2017.

Walter Dean Myers died in 2014, but he left us another one of his brilliant books for young people. It is not the goal of this picture book biography of Frederick Douglass to tell us his entire life story; rather, it highlights Douglass's decisions through the course of his life that made him a great success and a historical figure. Douglass learned to read in secret, recovered from a broken spirit, learned to write and behave like a free and educated person, ran away, became a public speaker and activist, and served his country not because those things happened to him, but because he made decisions to make them happen.

Important and relevant for today's students is the example set by Douglass in taking control of his life. He made good, if dangerous, choices throughout his life to set himself up for success and took every opportunity to observe and learn.  Students might think about decisions they make in elementary, middle, and high school that could make a difference later on.

Cooper's illustrations are as beautiful as one would expect from this award-winning illustrator. The soft tones created by Cooper's eraser and oil technique give just the right soft quality for such a reflective story. With lots of text on the page, this title is best for reading aloud and older elementary students. At the end there is a helpful timeline of Douglass's life, a very short bibliography, and the text of the document signed by Hugh Auld officially and legally freeing Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History is an excellent addition in honor of Black History Month, especially if a more traditional Douglass biography is already in the biography section, and an important picture book biography for any elementary collection.

Dewey: 973.8 or 920 Interest Level:  K-4

Reviews and Awards: Booklist starred; Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; Kirkus Reviews; Publisher's Weekly starred; School Library Journal starred.

Middle school readers might like: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship by Russell Freedman.

Young adult readers might like: Unbound and Unbroken: The Story of Frederick Douglass by Amos Esty.

Fiction Pairing: Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan.

On the Web:

Africans in America Resouce Bank: Frederick Douglass from Includes a summary of Douglass's life and a link to a great Teacher's Guide.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site District of Columbia from the National Park Service.  Website includes video, photographs of Douglass and his family, a collection of items owned and used by Douglas, lesson plans and more materials for classroom use.


American Experience: The Abolitionists from PBS.

January, 2017 Nonfiction Book:Book cover

Berne, Emma Carlson. Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport. North Mankato, MN: Encounter by Capstone Press, 2017.

There are so many resources already available about the World War II era, what more can possibly be written? Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport is worth taking a look,  especially when looking for a nonfiction WWII title that includes children, where the circumstances are not just too terrible for elementary kids to digest.  That's not to say there isn't heartbreak here, there is; but there is hope, too. As Escaping the Nazis begins, the world prepares for war, some Jewish families prepare to get their children out of German controlled parts of Europe, even though they know they might never be together again.

Although Berne covers some dark subject matter here, it is appropriate for upper elementary and middle school students. The book is structured as seven seperate accounts, each focused on a child that escaped on a Kindertransport, with gently, but factually, presented information that makes the stiutaion clear. We learn about the children, their parents, and some of their experience so far with the Nazis. In some ways this book might be more difficult for adults than for kids to read. One can't help but sympathize with parents making the impossible choice of trusting your child to the care of strangers in a far-away country, or keeping them close in terrible danger.

About 10,000 children were taken to England on the Kindertransport. With photographs, narratives, and first-hand accounts, we track seven of them to England.  It isn't until the very end of the book that we learn the fates of our seven children and their families, which helps to build some suspense.  Berne also includes a fantastic timeline, a glossary, sources for more reading, a bibliography, source notes, and an index, but a few maps showing the routes of the trains would have been helpful. 

All in all, this title would make a great supporting player to an elementary or middle school collection with a solid WWII collection.  Put it on the wish list.

Dewey: 940.53 Interest Level: Grades 3-6

Reviews and Awards: Booklist; Kirkus Review, Publishers Weekly.

For Young Adult Readers: The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memior of Music, Love and Survival by Mona Golabek.

Fiction pairing: The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (middle grades) or My Family for the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve (YA).

On the Web: 

The Kindertransport Assocation: find inforamtion about the history of the Kindertransport, traveling exhibits, and links to lots of resources.

United Kingdom National Archives: the Education/Classroom Resources section here is overflowing with primary source documents from the government ministries, other organizations and individuals who directed the Kindertransport.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: for more information about the Holocaust, including recorded oral histories from an organizer and a refugee from the Kindertransport.

Film: Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport. Directed my Mark Jonathan Harris, narrated by Judy Dench, Warner Bros, 2000.

December, 2016 Nonfiction Book:Book Cover

Fleming, Candace. Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2016.

William "Buffalo Bill" Cody died 100 years ago next month, and Candace Fleming's interesting and very readable examination his legendary life is a great way to celebrate him. Presenting Buffalo Bill seems a fitting title for his story, as Bill was often angling for the perfect presentation of himself; always thinking about how events could be portrayed later to further his reputaton and fame. (After an unsatisfying job serving as a guide for General Custer and a Grand Duke from Russia, he inserted himself into a photo of the other two in a sort of 19th Century Photoshop treatment, and reworked the story of the hunt to suit his own needs.) The author even states in the Afterward that Bill's embellishment of events made research for this book challenging. Fleming turns this obstacle to her advantage, however, by featuring those research difficulties as sidebars throughout the book, labeling them "Panning for the Truth." The featurettes compare Cody's version of events with the historical record to estimate the relative amounts of truth and fiction.

It is always tricky to work with a clash of old and modern sensibilties in historical nonfiction, and Fleming does it with skill. She explains how behavior seen as shameful in 2016 was considered perfectly repectable in the late 19th Century, like buffalo hunting. She also deftly manages the job of discussing the plight of the native tribes and their less than fair treatment at the hands of the U.S. government. The descriptions of some of the violent conflicts between the tribes and the military are not overly graphic, but might be a bit disturbing for some readers, making this a good choice for the middle and high school set.

Readers might puzzle over the many contradictions in Buffalo Bill: a friend to the tribal peoples of the Great Plains who served as a scout for the U.S. Army during the Plains Indian Wars; an adventurer who cultavated a family-man persona, but was rarely at home and was known to step out on his wife during their troubled marriage; a square man known for his good faith dealings, but who regularly embellished a story to further his own cause; a great money earner who was a terrible money manager; and a somewhat self-centered braggart with a generous spirit and a kind heart. He is an interesting study of a complicated human being, and a true rags to riches (and back again) story.

Presenting Buffalo Bill is cleverly constructed like acts in his Wild West Show. For example, the short introduction is titled Fanfare, and what would be Chapter 1 is "Act One: The Boy Will Cody or "Attack on the Settler's Cabin by Indians and Rescue by Buffalo Bill with his Scouts, Cowboys, and Mexicans.""  (A quote from Buffalo Bill's Wild West program, 1894.) It makes an effective structure and easily incorporates the many photographs and engravings from William F. Cody's life and from the Wild West Show.  Also included are a detailed bibliography, a guide to internet resources, source notes, picture credits, and an excellent index.

Add this title to your Grades 6-12 collection, then watch for it on all those best nonfiction of 2016 lists!

Dewey: 978 Interest Level Grades 6-12

Reviews and Awards: Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books starred, Horn Book Magazine starred, Kirkus Review, New York Times, Publishers Weekly Annex starred, School Library Journal, Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred.

Younger readers might like: Buffalo Bill Cody by Marcia Amidon Lusted

Young Adult readers might like: The Adventures of Buffalo Bill (first published in 1917 after Cody's death)

Fiction paring: Mayhem at Buffalo Bill's Wild West: A Jemmy McBustle Mystery by Fedora Amis

On the Web:

The Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave Website includes photo archives, research resources, a few on line museums, and a list of cities and dates where Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show played.  Students can see if the show visited their town or the towns where thier families lived at the time.  

The Grabill Collection at the Library of Congress has photographs of the area of the United States where and when much of the book takes place: stomping grounds of Buffalo Bill, tribal lands of the Oglalas, and portraits of several of the people mentioned in Presenting Buffalo Bill.

PBS New Perspectives on the West includes a People section in which students can find more information about Buffalo Bill and people and events associated with him. This site includes lesson plans on westward expansion, including a lesson on The Nez Perce and the Dawes Act from the perspective of Chief Joseph.

November, 2016 Nonfiction Book:

James Castle book cover

Fales, Melanie. A Life Told Through Pictures: James Castle, Idaho Artist, 1899-1977. Boise, ID: Boise Art Museum, 2016.

James Castle was a self-taught Idaho artist who lived and created art during most of the 20th century. In A Life Told Through Pictures, we learn about how he created is pices from materials that he found in and around his family's home.  His subjects were mostly taken from everyday objects and places: a room, a bird, clothes, his house, or his dream house.  Castle was deaf from birth and, although he spent some time at the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind in Gooding, he didn't learn to sign (it wasn't taught at the time), and reading and writing didn't stick since once he got home the family didn't practice.  Castle's art became his communication with the world.

This beautiful little book is meant for aspiring school age artists, but it is really very inspirational for artists and nonartists of all ages. It includes images of Castle's art on every page, along with large type text describing his work and life.  It comes with a starter kit of inexpensive materials that are easy to replace after use.  At the end of the book, there are thought-provoking questions that could spark rich classroom discussions for students of any age.  There are also project ideas and instructions to make art pieces out of every day items, like Castle did.

Every public elementary school in Idaho received a copy of A Life Told Through Pictures, and junior highs and middle schools are up next to receive a copy.  This title fits equally well in both types of schools, as well as in the art section or in the professional development section of the library. It offers turn-key projects that are perfect for librarian/history or social studies/art teacher collaborations.  If you've not seen your school's copy, please check with the person who handles your school's mail. 

Dewey:  709.2                                                                   Interest Level:  K-12

A book for all ages!

Fiction Pairing: The Dot by Peter Reynolds

Web resources:  

Boise Art Museum (BAM): find James Castle education resources, an audio version of A Life Told Through Pictures, curricular connections, and a Paper Bag Book activity.

James Castle Collection and Archive: see more of Castle's work, read a more detailed biography, and explore links to more resources.

Boise Department of Arts and History: learn about and get a virtual tour of the James Castle House in Bose. This restoration project is just gettng underway, and this is the "before" version.

October, 2016 Nonfiction Book:Bookcover

Levine, Sara. (illus. T. S Spookytooth). Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers. Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press, 2016.

If it seems improbable that a book about teeth could be a really fun read aloud for the Pre-K to 2nd Grade set, then get a load of Tooth By Tooth; this is informational text for young readers at its best!  Levine and Spookytooth work together to create an interactive treat with only the best kind of trick, in that it also works in facts about the differences between mammals and other types of animals with all that tooth, tusk, and fang info.  The page layout along with the question and answer structure, will keep the pages turning, too.

Spookytooth's illustrations have a textured collage look and are filled with additional details like signs showing the skull of the animal featured on the page, so readers can really get a look at those teeth. In addition, to make it easier for the reader to match the right teeth with the right animal, humans in the illustrations and then their animal counterpart are shown wearing the same accessories. It's a clever and effective way to help the youngest readers connect the teeth to the animal.

Tooth By Tooth is an excellent choice for any elementary picture book collection or animal book section. Like most high-quality informational books, it includes sections for more information, a glossary, and further reading with websites. When reading this title aloud, please be advised to have mirrors handy for the viewing and counting of teeth!

Dewey: 599.9 Interest Level: PreK-2

Reviews and Awards:  Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal, Science and Children (NSTA).

Older readers might like: Teeth, Claws & Jaws by Janet Riehecky (Hi/Lo for Grades 5-8).

Young adult readers might like: The Animal Mating Game: The Wacky, Weird World of Sex in the Animal Kingdom by Ann Downer.

Fiction pairing: Big Chomp! by Heather Brown.

On the Web:

DK Findout at has information on types of teeth, the animal kingdom, and lots of other topics.

September, 2016 Nonfiction Book:

Book cover

Collins, Carolyn Strom & Christina Wyss Ericsson.  (illus. Deborha Maze) The World of Little House. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.

The World of Little House is not a new book, but since I just discovered it, and I'm not sure how I missed it before, and since a late publication date is really on a guideline here, it will be September's book.  Afterall, our real purpose is to highlight quality nonfiction for school library collections, and as such, it belongs.

Some of the nonfiction written about Laura Ingalls Wilder has an adult audience in mind, but this title is for Little House fans at the age when they first fall in love with the books.  Although Collins and Ericsson address some of the unhappy times in the Ingalls' lives, the content is handled gently, as if Ingalls were friends of ours.  And, I suppose, they are. 

After the first introductory chapter about the Ingalls and Wilder families (complete with family trees), each chapter focuses on one of the Little House books, beginning with the Big Woods.  There is a short summary of Laura's age, her activities and the major events in that book.  Floor plans of whever Little Houses are in that book are included, along with illustrations of what the outside of the houses and grounds looked like.  The new illustrations by Maze are carefully done to compliment the Garth Williams illustrations that are also used throughout the book.

A delightful part of each chapter is instructions how to make or cook some favorite things in book that is the focus of the chapter.  For example, in the Big Woods chapter we learn how to make Molasses-on-Snow Candy, and in the chapter on By the Shores of Silver Lake, we learn how to Waltz and Polka!  Unlike the Little House Cookbook, where it is difficult to impossible to find all the ingredients, all the supplies needed for these activities are easy to find and inexpensive.  For example, to make butter you need heavy cream, a slotted spoon, and a quart-sized jar with a lid.  Easy.

The World of Little House would be helpful for anyone covering hisotry of the pioneers or Westward Expansion.  Students who are discovering the Little House books will have a ball with all the new information and activities.  Teachers will flip for the content, timeline, photographs, bibliography, and guide to seeing the Little House sites.  This one is a must-have.

Dewey: 813.52 Interest Level:  Grade 3 and up

Younger readers might like: Laura's Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson.

Older readers might like: The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure.

Fiction pairing:  The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (what else?)

On the Web:

 Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, MO.

*** The museum now has a Traveling Panel Exhibition tht will come to your school.  There is no charge for the exhibit - they only ask that each school ship it to the next school.***

May, 2016 Nonfiction Book:

Book Cover

Page, Robin. A Chicken Followed Me Home!: Questions and Answers About a Familiar Fowl. New York: Beach Lane Books, 2015.

With the popularity of backyard chickens, being followed home by one is not out of the question.  In fact, the author's inspiration for this book came from her neighbor's experience of being adopted by a stray chicken. If it happens to you, be sure to pick up A Chicken Followed Me Home!, so you will know what to expect. In this primer on backyard chicken care, each section is set out with a question like "what do chickens eat?" and "what does a chicken coop look like?" or "will my chicken lay eggs?" and other stuff you never thought you'd want to know about chickens.  Interested in hatching chicks? That's covered, too.

The bright digital illustrations have a collage look about them, with wonderful textures that mimic feathers. The chicken Q & A format neatly organizes the content and it makes sense that the narrator, given the unexpected new chicken, has a lot of questions. Through the narrative, we learn that our chicken is a Rhode Island Red hen who will lay eggs (5-6 per week!), and hatch chicks, if introduced to a rooster. It is all subtly funny, and we end up with a flock of chickens, who, we hope, will be following someone else home soon. End pages answer more chicken questions and suggest resources to learn more.

A Chicken Followed Me Home! would make a charming addition to any picture book collection, not to mention inspiration for some industrious student's (and brave parent's) summer-vacation-and-beyond chicken project. Cluck Cluck.

Dewey: 636.5                                                              Interest Level: PreK-2

Reviews & Awards: Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Horn Book Guide, Horn Book Magazine, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly Starred, School Library Journal Starred, Science Books and Films (AAAS).

Older elementary students might like: Henrietta's Guide to Caring for Your Chickens by Isabel Thomas.

Middle school/young adult students might like: Urban Gardening and Farming for Teens series from Rosen Publishing, various authors.

Published for Adult, but appropriate for young adults: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

Fiction Pairing: Interrupting Chicken by David Erza.

On the Web:

The Old Farmer's Almanac has gone digital! It still has all the great information you expect from this staple publication, from last frost to moon phases, and it also has a chicken section

April, 2016 Nonfiction Book:Book cover

Brennan, Linda Crotta. Franklin D. Roosevelt's Presidency.  Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 2016.

With presidential primaries and caucusus underway, and all the accompanying hoopla, it is difficult to not have the presidency on our minds. As U.S. Presidents go, Franklin D. Roosevelt's (FDR) terms (all four of them) were dramatic and noteworthy for many reasons and Linda Crotta Brennan's book sets them out in straightforward accessible language that tells the story, warts and all.

Starting with the first chapter, we get an idea of FDR's privilege and wealth, along with a little history of the Roosevelt family.  As we move through the chapters, we learn about FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt's marriage, children, FDR's polio, and his life in public service. Brennan does not gloss over the less flattering elements of FDR's life, rather she explains his infidelities, events like the decision to create internment camps and not accept Jewish refugees during  WWII, as less than great decisions made in the context of their time. We also learn a bit about Eleanor's roll in FDR's success and how she became his eyes and ears through her travels around the nation and the world. Eleanor had her husband's ear and a significant amount of influence; FDR's presidency may have looked different, and may not have happened at all, if not for Eleanor.

Even with his flaws, this book leaves no doubt that FDR was the right president for his time. We learn that within the first 100 days of his presidency he was drafting, and Congress was passing, legislation to start pulling the United States out of the Great Depression. And it is hard to imagine anyone who would have worked better with Churchill and Stalin to win WWII. It would have been interesting to get more information about the inspiration that led to the creation of his programs like the CCC, the WPA, and the TVA. Other programs, like FDIC insured banks, Social Security, and the GI Bill, which are still important in the American landscape, were also creations of Roosevelt and his administration.  Although it seems as though they've always been around, they've only existed for about 80 years.

A top-notch informational text for secondary students, Franklin D. Roosevelt's Presidency moves through the events of FDR's life with accessible language and a balanced approach. The content includes a helpful timeline, source notes, glossary, bibliography, and resources for further information. It is also loaded with photographs from FDR's life and presidency. Speaking of photographs, the stress of serving as president during some of the most trying years in U.S. history is evident when comparing the portraits of Roosevelt at the beginning and end of this book.  

Other books in the Presidential Powerhouses series: George Washington's Presidency, James Madison's Presidency, and John F. Kennedy's Presidency.

Dewey: 793.917                                                      Interest Level: YA

Reviews:  School Library Journal

Middle school readers might like: The Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt: Confronting the Great Depression and WWII by Don Nardo.

Elementary readers might like: Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Leader in Troubled Times from Time for Kids Biographies.

Fiction pairing: The Not-$o-Great Depression: In which the Economy Crashes, My Sister's Plans are Ruined, My Mom Goes Broke, My Dad Grows Vegetables, and I Do Not Get a Hamster by Amy Goldman Koss.

On the Web:

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum with digitized collections, speeches online, video, curriculum guides, and more at .

The White House website includes short biographies of the presidents and first ladies, an interactive tour of the White House, information on the three branches of government, and much more at

Video: FDR on PBS's American Experience online at

March, 2016 Nonfiction Book:

Book cover

Lunde, Darrin. (illus. A. Gustavson). Dirty Rats? Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2015.

Who loves rats? Almost nobody! Lunde's Dirty Rats? might help all of us rat skeptics appreciate the variety of rats in the world and what they do for us. It turns out that rats have gotten a bad rap. Despite their repuation, there are lots of different species of rats all over the world that have nothing to do with garbage or sewers. They are useful, valuable, and some are downright adorable.

Dirty Rats! starts by describing the unsavory creatures that most of us think of as disease-carrying vermine. Soon, though, it moves on to rats that live in tropical rain forests and look more like mice; insect-eating rats in Ecuador that look like otters; and bushy-tailed rats with cool mohawks that live in the Philippines. At last we circle back to the familiar (and somewhat controversial) lab rats. With facts about how rats help the environment, play an important part in the food chain, and help humans, they don't seem all bad.

Darrin Lunde is uniquely qualified to write about rats, and any other mammal, since he manages the mammal collection at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. The illustrations by Adam Gustavson are beautifully realistic oils that help us understand each rat's habitat.  The end papers include a comical line up of additional species of rats, including a giant, extinct variety from three million years ago.  It was the size of a rhinosaurus and only it's haunches fit on the page! There are also suggestions for additional online reading.

The text on some double page spreads is different sizes to distinguish between easier and more complex reading, making the book more versatile for more age groups and for read alouds. It would have been helpful to include a pronunciation guide to assist with the Latin names of the species, but the diligent reader can figure it out.

Dirty Rats? is a suitable addition to a K-3 collection on mammal collection and makes a good introduction to the much maligned rat.

Dewey: 599.35 Interest Level: K-3

Awards and Reviews: Booklist; Library Media Collection; Science Books and Film, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly.

Middle grade readers might like: Oh Rats!: The Story of Rats and People by Albert Marrin.

Fiction Pairing: Bad Rats by Eric Drachman

On the Web: 

Learn about the Year of the Rat on the Chinese Zodiac.

Audio: Ben by Michael Jackson (written by Don Black and Walter Scharf) on YouTube from the move Ben (Bing Crosby Productions, 1972).

February, 2016 Nonfiction Book:Book cover

Reef, Catherine. Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse. Boston, MA: Clarion Books, 2016.

Florence Nightingale did not walk an easy path to become the legendary Lady with the Lamp.  She struggled to obtain the educatation and experience she needed to provide the sort of nursing care for which she was so celebrated. Young Flo had to beg and persuade her parents to allow it, and work around road blocks thrown up by Victorian norms for a well-to-do female.  Consequently, this is a story of courage and perseverence on many levels over a lifetime, not just at the British Army Hospital in Turkey for two years where Florence became famous.  Florence made progress not just in nursing and hospital conditions (where her methods are still in evidence), but for women everywhere.

Catherine Reef deftly weaves in information about Victorian England and the strict social rules imposed on women of the time. Readers will have a better understanding of why Florence, and young women like her, did not disobey and leave their families to find their own way.  The idea of women being unable to pursue their own education and career choices can be difficult for modern readers to fully grasp, but this book brings the problem into focus.  Reef also gives us insight into the deplorably gruesome condition of hospitals and health care in general, making all of us even more grateful to Florence Nightingale for revolutionizing nursing.

Reef depicts Florence as she was: smart, pretty, ambitious, but with a moral compass that kept her from seeking power for its own sake.  She strove to fulfill her purpose against the wishes of her parents, withstood the jelousy and criticism of her older sister, and overcame the resentment she felt toward them when their approval came after her fame.  Through it all, she wrestled with depression and other health issues, and yet persevered.

Reef is a regular on starred review, notable, and award lists for good reason, and this biography will undoubtedly rack up accolades, too.  It is an interesting and readable page turner; we want to know what happens with Flo! Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of a Legendary Nurse belongs on every middle school and high school library's biography shelf. It includes copious notes, additional reading, and an index.  It will be out in November, 2016.

Dewey: 921                                                                   Interest Level: Grades 6-12

Awards and Reviews:  None yet - stay tuned!

Younger Readers might like:  Florence Nightingale by Demi

Fiction Pairing: The Scandelous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry (girls in Victorian England).                                              The Drummer Boy's Battle: Florence Nightingale by Dave Jackson (British Army Hospital in                                            Crimean War).

On the Web: 

The Life and Letters of Florence Nightingale at UAB Libraries from the Univerity of Alabama.                                        Includes more images and letters written by Florence Nightingale.

January, 2016 Nonfiction Book:BookCover

Snyder, Laurel. (illus. J. Morstad). Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavolova. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, LLC, 2015.

Put this one at the top of your wish list, because it is a beauty that is sure to please aspiring dancers everywhere! The text is spare and packed with meaning, as if it were poetry; and Morestand's illustrations are delicate and true to the ballet aesthetic. 

Anna is a girl of modest means growing up in Czarist Russia, when her mother takes her to the ballet. Anna instantly falls in love with the artform and yearns to go to ballet school. On her second try, she is accepted to the Imperial Ballet School, and the rest, as they say, is history.  When she begins training, her natural talent is evident, as is her passionate work ethic.  Anna Pavlova, of course, goes on to become a world famous prima ballerina, traveling extensively in her determination to bring ballet to the whole world. 

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova, although biographical, is not meant to relay every fact of the dancer's life.  Rather, it perfectly conveys her brilliant artistry and spirit. Even her last illness and death are handled beautifully here, as if on the stage. It should be included in any picture book collection.

Dewey: 792.802                                                                  Interest Level: K-3

Awards and Reviews: Hornbook Magazine; Kirkus Reviews; Publishers Weekly; School Library Journal starred.

Older readers might like: Alvin Ailey by Andrea Davis Pinkney (illus. J. Brian Pinkney).

YA readers might like: Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland.

Fiction pairing: Anglelina Ballerina by Katharine Holabird (illus. Helen Craig).

On the Web: 

Anna Pavlova performing The Dying Swan at

December, 2015 Nonfiction Book:Book Cover

Yomtov, Nel. (illus. J. Vollmer). Lewis and Clark Map the American West. Minneapolis, MN: Black Sheep, Scholastic, 2016.

Lewis and Clark get the graphic novel treatment in Lewis and Clark Map the American West as part of the Extraordinary Explorers series from Scholastic! The illustrations are attractive and interesting, the text is clear, and the story is accurate. Although many events and characters are not mentioned in this super-abbreviated version, the sense of adventure and awe comes through and the 24 pages get to the heart of the purpose and danger of the journey. The story is very much about the sequence of events in getting to the Pacific Ocean, not about the characters. We only briefly meet key players in the journey, like Toussaint Charbonneau and Sacagewea, and there are only a few details about Lewis and Clark.

It's a good choice for reluctant readers who are new to Lewis & Clark, but doesn't contain enough detail for students who might already be familiar with the story. There are a few moments that don't quite ring true, but it has elements of quality nonfiction: a table of contents, historical quotes in orange text, glossary, additional facts, a short index and even a few small maps.

While not a stellar example of graphic novel nonfiction, Lewis and Clark Map the American West certainly would be useful as a high-interest/low-vocabulary title and could fit nicely into an elementary graphic novel collection.

Dewey: 917.804                                                                        Interest Level: Grades 2-5

Awards and Reviews: None

Another option for Grades 2-5: The Explorations of Lewis and Clark by Gary Jefrey, illustrated by Terry Riley.

Younger readers might like: A Picture Book of Lewis and Clark by David Adler, illustrated by Ronald Himler.

Older Students might like: Lewis and Clark by Samuel Willard (Great Explorers series, 2009).

Fiction Pairing: Seaman: The Dog who Explored the West with Lewis & Clark by Gail Karwoski.

On the Web:

PBS's Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery has an interactive map, classroom resources, and a Q & A forum with Ken Burns.

Primary Sources: National Archives at

November, 2015 Non-fiction Book:

Book Cover

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell.  Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America. New York Houghton, 2015.

Susan Campbell Bartoletti is a Newbery and Siebert Honor author, so it isn't a surpise that this book about Typhoid Mary is thoroughly researched and as engaging as a novel. We know we are in for somthing good when the prologue warns off the squeamish and encourages the rest of us with unperfect germ fighting habits to read on!

Terrible Typhoid Mary pulls us into the world of an early 20th Century servant in a wealthy household by sketching out the marks of a "good servant" and matching those guidelines with the reputation of a skilled cook named Mary Mallon.  Mary is trustworthy, hard-working, knows her place and the proper behavior expected of a cook.  She is a good servant.  Unfortunately, she is also spreads Typhoid to every household in which she works. To Mary, and many others of her day, germ theory was hightly suspect and the idea that she, a robustly healthy person, could be carrying and spreading typhoid fever while showing no symptoms, seemed out of the question.

We meet Mary Mallon in Oyster Bay, New York when she is hired to cook. Some weeks later, several members of the household fall ill with typhoid fever, but the authorities cannot determine how it came into the household. George A. Soper, Ph.D., a Columbia-educated sanitation engineer and epidemic investigator, noticed the disappearance of the cook and set about tracking her down.  When Mary was located, Dr. Soper and his colleague, Dr. Josephine Baker, had the unpleasant task of confronting Mary and convincing her that (1) she was likely a healthy typhoid fever carrier; (2) she had been making people sick for years; and (3) she must be tested.  It did not go well. Readers might become frustrated with Mary's obstinant reaction, but still sympathize with her plight and her lifelong struggle with the public health authorities and the media.

Terrible Typhoid Mary is objective without being dry, and exciting without resorting to sensationalism. Bartoletti expertly fills the gaps in Mary's documented life with interesting background information and some educated speculation. This story could be a jumping off point for a discussion on the line between personal freedom and public safety. It is written for middle-school readers, but would be appropriate for readers grade 4 and above. The photographs, notes, bibliography, and index round out this excellent choice for any elementary or jr. high library. The audio version of the book is terrific and an excellent companion to the print version for struggling or ELL students. It's a must have for the germophobe in all of us!

Dewey: 614.5 Interest Level: Grades 4-8

Awards and Reviews:  Booklist starred; Publishers Weekly; Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; School Library Journal starred; Horn Book Magazine starred; Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred.

Younger Readers might like: You Wouldn't Want to Meet Typhoid Mary! by Jacqueline Morley.

Older Readers might like: Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow

Fiction Pairing: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Audio: RadioLab's The Most Horrible Seaside Vacation at

October, 2015 Non-fiction Book:

Book Cover

Miller, Sarah.  The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden & the Trial of the Century. New York: Random House, 2016.

In the spirit of Halloween, October's nonfiction book is a truly gruesome story!  Remember this?

Lizzie Borden took an axe/ Gave her mother forty whacks/ When she saw what she had done/ She gave her father forty-one.

Lizzie herself had to listen to this jump rope ditty sung outside her own window throughout her life, for it was already being sung by children of her own time.  Since then, the legend of Lizzie Borden with all its movies, books, and even musicals, has made it easy to forget that she was a real woman.

It all began on an August morning in 1892, when 32-year old Lizzy entered the sitting room of the family home and discovered her father's bloody body on the sofa.  Her stepmother's body was found a little later in an upstairs bderoom. They had both been brutally beaten about the head.  Lizzie quickly became the prime suspect, and this true crime story is off and running.

The Borden Murders is purely factual, and surpisingly readable, as it takes us through the events of the murder investigation, subsequent hearings and trials. That might sound a little dry, but it is not. Helpful sidebards describe important details and background information that give the events in the story context. Subjects on everything from the layout of the house to the difference between a slop pail and and chamber pot (look it up!), that give insight into the live and times of the Borden family. Testimony from neighbors and other townspeople shed light on the personalities of members of the family, and make them more complete than clear cut rolls of the accused and the victims.

In addition to clarifying the facts of the case, Miller introduces Lizzie as a person.  She emerges as a quirky, peculiar person, whose reputation showed, nonetheless, all a woman of her time and status should be. After her trial, however, Lizzy was unable to lead a normal life because the press and the public simply would not allow it. Which leads to an interesting discussion topic: what is the roll of the press and their duty to tell the truth? The press is a character in this story that influenced events and was rarely truthful.

The Borden Murders has all the elements of a quality nonfiction text: it is clearly cited, has extensive notes and bibliography sections; there are a number of primary source documents including photographs, political cartoons, blueprints, maps and more; and it is a great read! This is a perfect nonfiction choice for students who are fans of horror, crime and mystery, especially since this murder was never solved and no other person was ever accused.  

Dewey: 360 Interest level:  Grades 5 and up

Awards and Reviews: Kirkus Reviews; Publisher's Weekly.

Idaho Core Standards:  Reading Standards for Informational Text Grades 6 - 12: Standards 2-9.  This one is particularly good for the standards involving analysis.

Younger readers might like:  Cold Cases by Matt Anniss

Older Readers might like: The Boston Strangler by Paul Hoblin

Fiction Pairing: The Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer

On the Web:

Lizzy Andrew Borden Virtual Museum & Library at

Video:  Bio. Lizzy Borden at  Caution:  there are graphic crime scene photos included in the video - please preview to make sure this is appropriate for your students.

September, 2015 Non-fiction Book:

Riordan, Rick. (illus. John Rocco). Percy Jackson's Greek Gods. New York: Hyperion Books, 2014.Book Cover

In Percy Jackson's Greek Gods, using his signature irreverent style, Rick Riordan gives us the scoop on about 20 of the Greek Gods.  For pleasing Percy Jackson fans, it is, to use the vernacular, da bomb.  If that isn't enough, in August, 2015 Hyperion published Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes! As we might suspect, it's more of the same, only about heroes.

First, readers learn about the Greek creation story, Chaos, Gaea and Uranus (go ahead and snicker), along with the Titan children and grandchildren that came along. Riordan acknowledges the ick factor in siblings, even Titan siblings, marrying oneanother, but offers a reasonable explanation. Then come chapters with titles like "The Golden Age of Cannibalism," "The Olympians Bash Some Heads," "Hera Gets a Little Cuckoo," and "Ares, the Manly Man's Manly Man."  You get the idea.  All the stories are real Greek Myths, only with a little P.J. twist to make them fresh and appealing to the modern 9-14 year old set. Only Riordan can get away with Zeus channelling Joey from Friends with "How you doing?" after spiriting Europa away to Crete while disguised as a bull.

The illustrations are clear, beautiful, and a little similar to Michael Hague's work. They are scattered throughout the book in full page glory, and in smaller side bars and chapter headings, and are the tiniest bit scary. Bonus!

Elementary schools will want to invest in this encyclopedia sized volume if Riordan's fiction is in the collection.  Middle school libraries will absolutely need this in their mythology section as it is acurate and engaging, with middle school humor at its finest. 

Idaho Core Standards for Literature:  Grades 6-8, Standards 2-9.

Dewey: 813.54                                                               Interest Level:  Grades 4-8

Awards and Reviews:  Kirkus Reviews; School Library Journal; Voice of Youth Advocates.

Younger Readers might enjoy: Kronos the Titan Tells All: Tricked by the Kids by Eric Braun.

Older Readers and Teachers might like: Greek Mythology for Teens: Classic Myths in Today's World by Zachary Hamby.

Fiction pairing: Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and The Heroes of Olympus series.

On the Web:

Education Resources at


May, 2015 Non-fiction Book:Egg

Jenkins, Steve & Page, Robin.  Egg: Nature's Perfect Package.  New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2015.

It is hard to go wrong with the team of Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. They've written 16 excellent children's books together, and Egg: Nature's Perfect Package is no exception.  From the color scheme to the structure and layout, this book is a pleasure!  It is organized into sections that explain all things egg: who lays eggs; types, quantity and sizes of eggs; where animals lay eggs, what predators might eat those eggs and how the parents protect them; and on until finally we learn how the babies get out of the eggs.  Readers discover that there are as many ways to lay, carry, and care for eggs as there are species that use them to reproduce.

The torn- and cut-paper collage illustrations throughout the book are clear and accurate, not to mention beautiful, and the intriguing text is spot-on for the target age group.  At the end there is a fantastic glossary with pictures, along with a list of additional reading. This, and really any picture book from Jenkins and Page (or Jenkins on his own), is an essential part of an elementary school library collection.

Idaho Core Standards:  Reading Standards for Informtional Text K-5: Grades K & 1, Standards 1-9; Grade 2, Standards 1, 3-7; Grade 3, Standards 1-8; Grade 4, Standards 1-5, 7-9.

Dewey: 591.468                                                            Interest Level: Grades K-4

Awards and Reviews: Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal.

For your summer reading pleasure, a list of other Steve Jenkins titles to consider: Actual Size; Almost Gone; The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest - and Most Surprising - Animals on Earth; Animals in Flight; The Beetle Book; Big and Little; Biggest, Strongest, Fastest; Bones: Skeletons and How They Work; Crature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do; Dogs and Cats; Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea; Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World; Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest; How Many Ways - Can You Catch a Fly?; How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A look at Unusual Animal Partnerships; How to Swallow a Pig - Step-by-Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom; I see a Kookaburra!: Discovering Animal Habitats Around the World; Just a Second: A Different Way to Look at Time; Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution; Living Color; Looking Down; Move!; My First Day; Never Smile at a Monkey: and 17 Other Important This to Remember; Prehistoric Actual Size; Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World; Slap, Squeak and Scatter: How Animals Communicate; Time for a Bath; Time to Eat; Time to Sleep; The Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest; What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You?; What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?

* Plus many of these titles are available in Spanish!

Fiction Pairing:  Eat Like a Bear by April Pulley Sayre

On the Web:

San Diego Zoo Kids at  Animal themed games, activities, videos and information about all the animals at the San Diego Zoo! 

April, 2015 Non-Fiction Book:Book Cover

Cleary, Brian P.  Something Sure Smells Around Here: Limericks. Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press, 2015.

Along with National School Library Month, April is National Poetry Month (April is busy!), so what better time to talk about limericks?  Something Sure Smells Around Here is a book full of funny limericks with punchlines kids will get.  Author Brian Cleary uses puns, idioms, and other clever wordplay, mixing poetry and comedy in a way that will appeal to students and adults alike.  Even better, Cleary uses roads less traveled in crafting his limericks; none of them start with "There once was a boy from...," and, thankfully, no one is from Nantucket.

This introduction to limericks opens with an explanation of structure of a limerick and the important elements of writing one. Cleary points out that a limerick is a short and concise story - each one has a beginning, middle, and end, which is usually a punchline.  He even wraps up this collection with an incomplete limerick to start would-be poets on 5-lined adventures of their own.

Other plusses: ELL teachers have praised Something Sure Smells for its use of puns and idioms, two particularly difficult concepts for English language learners to master; the artwork complements and supports the poetry; it includes recommendations for further reading; it's a lighthearted introduction to a poetry unit; and is a great study for use of beat and rhythm in language.

Students that enjoy Jack Prelutsky's books will also enjoy this volume of poetry.  It is a must-add to any elementary and possibly middle school poetry section.

Idaho Core Standards: Reading Standards for Literature: Grade 3, Standards 1, 4, 5, 7; Grade 4, Standards 1, 5, 6; Grade 5, Standards 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9; and Grade 6, Standards 1, 2, 4, 5.

Dewey:  808.1                                                              Interest Level: Grades 3-6

Awards and Reviews:  Booklist; Kirkus Reviews; School Library Journal.

Middle school poets might like: Immersed in Verse: An Informative, Slightly Irreverant & Totally Tremendous Guide to Living the Poet's Life by Allan Wolf.

Older poets might like: Beauty Poetry: "She Walks in Beauty" by Sheila Griffin Llanas.

Fiction Pairings: Hate That Cat and Love That Dog by Sharon Creech.

On the Web:

 The World of Brian Cleary invites us to explore Brian's office.  Visitors can rifle through his file cabinet, find the Word of the Week and the Poem of the Week in his desk drawers, and find interactive books hanging on the wall. Librarians can find information on school visits, too.  Super fun!

Event: To mark National Poetry Month, schools can participate in Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 30, 2015. Elementary students could make a pocket to carry their poems for the day and older students can tweet their favorite poems at #pocketpoem. Get more clever ideas to use for your school's celebration at

March, 2015 Non-Fiction Book:

Tonatiuh, Duncan. Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fight for Desegregation. New York: Abram's Books for Young Readers, 2014.

With the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march from Selma to Montgomery upon us, there has been a lot of attention on the brave individuals who fought for civil rights in the South.  There was a lesser-known civil rights struggle happening 20 years earlier on the West Coast, too.  Separate is Never Equal tells the story of Sylvia Mendez's family who fought to integrate schools in California in the 1940's.  Much like the "separate but equal" schools of the south, some school districts in California ran schools for students of Hispanic descent that were separate, but certainly not equal.

Our story opens with Sylvia Mendez attending an integrated elementary school and being bullied by another student because she is Hispanic.  Understandably, she tells her mother she does not want to return, but her mother reminds Sylvia how she came to attend that school.  We flash back to Sylvia and her family moving to Westminster, California, where the family leased a farm and would be working their own place rather than working as a hired hand.  Sylvia looks forward to starting school at the local elementary school with her siblings and cousins.  However, she is turned away from the beautifully maintained public school and sent to the Mexican school.

When Mr. Mendez learns about that turn of events, he starts asking questions: why must the children go to the Mexican school? It is not located on their side of town, the family are American citizens, and the children speak perfect English.  As he worked his way up the school district chain of command, not one could satisfactorily answer his questions.  One day, while collecting signatures for a petition, Mr. Mendez met a man who suggested filing a lawsuit.  And so he found a lawyer and sued the Westminster School District.  After several years in court, in June of 1947, the governor of Californa signed a law integrating the schools in California.

This beautiful picture book with interesting, textured illustrations, tells Sylvia's story in straight-forward language.  The ugliness of "separate but equal" is clear, but not too graphic, making this an excellent read-aloud. Many children will understand Sylvia's bewilderment and hurt feelings as she realizes that she is not welcomed by everyone at her school, and they will enjoy the happy, but not perfect, ending.

Includes author's note, photos, glossary, bibliography, and index.

Idaho Core Standards: Reading Standards for Informational Text K-5:  Grades 1-4; Standards 1-10.

Dewey:  379.2                                                   Interest Level: Gr. 1-4

Awards & Reviews:  Booklist; Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; Horn Book; Horn Book Guide; Kirkus Reviews starred; Publishers Weekly; Pura Belpre Illustrator Honor 2015; Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honor 2015; School Library Journal starred.

Middle School Readers might like:  Latino American Folk Talkes edited by Thomas A. Green.

Fiction Pairing: Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan.

February, 2015 Non-Fiction Book:The Family Romanov Cover

Fleming, Candace.  The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House, 2014.

It is a skilled writer that can keep readers in suspense, even when they know the outcome of the story. Candice Fleming tells this compelling  story of the last ruling Romanovs, and helps us make sense of the situation by taking a few pages at the beginning to explain some aspects of Russian protocol and custom to do with the characters and the timeline.

Throughout the story we learn about Nicolas' and Alexandra's incompetence exhibited in one bad, thoughtless decision after another in their attempt to govern Russia.  However, they were easily manipulated and put their faith in the wrong people, and were much more interested in raising their family and enjoying life than steering their empire through the dark times of the early 20th Century.  Nicolas is not fully to blame, though, as he had no Tsar training; his father refused to teach him how to rule.  It seems no one really wanted Nicolas to become Tsar, least of all Nicolas.

To balance the story, Fleming includes excerpts from resources and writings of Russians outside the nobility. Set apart from the rest of the text, the testimonies from "Beyond the Palace Gates" introduce us to peasants, factory workers, children, authors and others whose stories provide a stark contrast to the lives of the Tsar's family and friends. The abject poverty in which the Tsar's subjects lived is shocking; it is easy to see why they revolted.

Although Nicolas and Alexandra might deserve a good slap to snap them out of their foolishness, they are not unsympathetic characters.  We get the feeling from this account that they were more clueless than malicious.  The Romanovs were a close and loving family and seemed to be liked by those that knew them personally.  Even after the revolution, many of the guards that kept them prisoner liked them, and some of their servants even chose to be imprisoned with them rather than leave them. They endured illness, heartbreak, and disappointment, just like everyone.  The family was deeply religious, and were even canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church after their deaths.

This book, if taken as a class project, provides lots of questions for class or small group discussion.  Would Russia still be ruled by a monarchy if Nicolas II had made better decisions? If he had been more aware of the state of his military, would Russia have conceded in WWI? If he had taken the time to notice the plight of lower class Russians and helped them, would Lenin have come to power? Those "what if's" are impossible to answer with certainty, but knowing its origins can spark a thoughtful discussion on monarchy, communism and democracy. 

The Family Romanov is certainly deserving of the awards and buzz it has received and should be included in high school library collections.  It is full of photographs of the people and places mentioned, maps, diagrams and web resources.  It includes a complete bibliography and a section addressing primary sources. 

Idaho Core Standards: Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies: Grades 9-10, Standards 1-6, 8, 9.  Grades 11-12, Standards 1-9.

Dewey: 947.08                                                           Interest Level: YA

Awards and Reviews: Booklist starred; Horn Book Starred; Library Media Connection; Publishers Weekly starred; School Library Journal starred; Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred; Sibert Informational Book Honor; YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults finalist.

Middle school readers might like: Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov by Mary Englar.

Elementary readers might like: Look What Came from Russia by Miles Harvey.

Fiction Pairing: Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. (Be sure to check out the CIA back story that goes along with this novel!)

On the Web:

Alexander Palace Time Machine includes photos, maps, interview and interrogation transcripts, and much more.  Good source for primary documents.

Film: BBC - Russian Revolution (1840-1921) - available in 8-12 minute segments on YouTube.

January, 2015 Non-Fiction Book:Book Cover

Sisson, Stephanie Roth.  Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos. New York: Roaring Book Press, 2014.

Wowie! Star Stuff is a fantastic biographical picture book about the one and only Carl Sagan. Our story begins, appropriately, in the Milky Way galaxy and in the first few pages we zero in on young Carl in his apartment in Brooklyn, NY. We follow Carl as his curiosity and, as luck would have it, the 1939 World's Fair in New York City, lead him to the world of science and space exploration.  There is even a mention of Carl reading about stars in his local library - hurray!

As Carl grows up, he continues his education and becomes Dr. Carl Sagan.  He goes on to make important contributions to science and space exploration, teach aspiring scientists, write books, and work on projects with NASA like Viking, Mariner, and Voyager.  Then comes the television show, Cosmos, and the turtleneck-sporting Carl Sagan that becomes a household name.

Oddly, although Star Stuff hits the highlights of Sagan's professional life, it does not metion the dates of his birth (1934) and death (1996), even in the end notes. On the bright side, it presents his life as a series of steps that could be followed by lots of young people who are curious like young Carl. The emphasis is on studying and working hard to make a career, rather than on any special talent he possessed, making a career in science feel attainable for any interested student.

This picture book is engaging with a variety of layout designs and spare, charming text.  Plus it contains a very cool vertical foldout that shows young Carl's imagination stretching from a library reading room to the sun.  An author's note, end notes and bibliography detail the solid sources that are the foundation of the book. Star Stuff is a must-have for any elementary school library!

Idaho Core Reading Standards for Informational Text: Grades K-2, Standards 1-10.

Dewey: 520.92                           Interest Level: K-2

Awards and Reviews:  Booklist; Kirkus starred; Publishers Weekly; School Library Journal starred.

Middle School readers might like: The Adventures of Sojourner: The Mission to Mars that Thrilled the World by Susi Trautmann Wunsch.

Young Adult readers might like: Carl Sagan by Gabrielle Borisovna.

Fiction Pairing: John Carter Barsoom Series by Edgar Rice Burroughs (one of Carl Sagan's favorites as a boy).

Film: Andorfer, Gregory, et al., Malone, Adrian, et al. (1980, TV Mini-Series). Cosmos. USA: KCET & Carl Sagan Productions, 1980.  Distributed by Public Broadcasting Service (TV) & Bright Vision Entertainment (DVD).

Film: Braga, Brannon, et al., Braga, Brannon & Ann Druyan (2014, TV Mini-Series). Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. USA: Cosmos Studios & Fuzzy Door Productions, et al., 2014. Distributed by Fox Network and National Geographic Channel (TV).

On the Web:

The Carl Sagan Portal at

Finding Our Place in the Cosmos: From Galileo to Sagan and Beyond through the Library of Congress at

December, 2014 almost Non-fiction Book:Book Cover

Shepard, Aaron (illus. Wendy Edelson). Christmas Truce. Friday Harbor, WA: Skyhook Press, 2014.

The story of the Christmas Truce of 1914 is truly inspirational and has been told in many different ways over the years.  First through newspaper articles, then in books, music, theater, and movies. Shepard's retelling is in the form of a letter from a British soldier to his sister. The letter, although fictionalized, draws from actual letters from soldiers who participated, so let's put it in with the non-fiction here, even if it is with fiction in the stacks.

Along with describing the Christmas celebration with German troops, our letter-writing soldier touches on the conditions in which the soldiers lived, and the hardships of life in the trenches.  I addition, he decribes the somewhat mixed feelings with which the enemy soldiers are regarded.  On one hand they hate this enemy that has forced them into war and killed so many friends; on the other hand, they feel they have a lot in common with the soldiers stuck in the opposing trenches, enduring the same miserable war.  Shepard skillfully shows the determination of the British soldiers to do their duty and win the war, along with their capacity for empathy for their German counterparts.

Wendy Edelson's illustrations are beautifully rendered water colors in brilliant blue, with the khaki, brown and grey of military uniforms.  There are occasional brightly colored and warmly lit images to set apart our narrator's thoughts of home.  They are a perfect addition to the story.

While many school libraries already own some version of the 1914 truce story, this appealing mix of fact, historical fiction, and personal point of view would be a strong addition to an elementary holiday collection, especially since there is a readers theater script available .  Plus, this book doubles as historical fiction the rest of the year.

Idaho Core Standards: Reading Standards for Literature:  Grades 3-5, Standards 1-7, 9.

Dewey:  E                                                     Interest Level: Grades 3-5

Awards and Reviews:  Kirkus Reviews

Middle school readers might like:  Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting by Jim Murphy

Older readers might enjoy: Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub

Fiction Pairings:  And the Soldiers Sang by J. Patrick Lewis (elementary) & All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich M. Remarque (YA)

Film: Lindahl, Carl H. et. al., Joyanti, Vikram. (2002, TV Movie). The Christmas Truce. England: Fulcrum TV, 2002. Distributed in United States by History Channel.

November, 2014 Non-fiction Book:

Brown, Don.  He Has Shot the President!: April 14, 1865: The Day John Wilkes Booth Killed President Lincoln.  New York: Roaring Books Press, 2014.

Better late than never!  November's non-fiction book is fashionably late, but since it is a series, perhaps it is worth the wait. He Has Shot the President is the fifth book in Don Brown's Actual Times series, and he, once again, uses the best combination of narrative story-telling, factual information, and expressive illustrations.

The book opens by setting the stage with a few paragraphs of back story on President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, and the Civil War, then moves on to a precise chonology of each man's April 14th.  We learn about Booth's original plan to kidnap the President and how it turns into a plan for murder.  As the story alternates between Lincoln's and Booth's activities, we see how each detail of the assassination falls into place, and how each mistake leads to the capture of Booth and his gang of conspirators.

As Lincoln lays dying and Booth makes his get away, we follow the missions of the conspirators and their varying degrees of success.  Brown follows each to his or her end and, along the way, we learn lesser known facts about what really happened on April 14, 1865 and the following days.

With his gift for portraying emotion in his illustrations, Brown shows the feel of each moment in the story using watercolor and ink. John Wilkes Booth looks a bit unhinged, and even the horses look sad after Lincoln dies.

He Has Shot the President and other titles in the Actual Times series are a worth-while addition to an elementary or middle school library.  With an objective voice and accurate, detailed facts, they are spot-on informational texts for upper elementary.  Plus, they are fun reading!

Other titles in the Action Times series include: Let it Begin Here! April 19, 1775: The Day the American Revolution Began; All Stations! Distress! April 15, 1912: The Day the Titanic Sank; Gold! Gold from the American River! January 24, 1848: The Day the Gold Rush Began; and America is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell; all by Don Brown.

Idaho Core Standards: Reading Standards for Inforamational Text:

Grade 3, Standards 1-5, 7-9; Grade 4, Standards 1-7, 9; Grade 5, Standards 1-6, 9; Grade 6, Standards 1-7, 9; and Grade 7, Standards 1-5, 7-9.

Dewey:  973.7                                         Interest Level: Grades 3-7

Awards and Reviews: Booklist; Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; Horn Book Guide starred; Kirkus Reviews; Library Media Connection; Publishers Weekly starred; School Library Journal.

Older readers might like: Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson.

Fiction Pairing: An Acquaintance with Darkness by Ann Rinaldi.

Film: Abramson, Jody, et al. & Kunhhyardt, P.W. and Edgar, J.A. (1992). Lincoln. United States: PBS.

On the Web:

Learn more about Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and Reconstruction at the Library of Congress's American History digital collection of primary source documents and artifacts.

October Bonus Non-Fiction Book:

 Brimner, Larry Dane.  Srike! The Farm Workers' Fight for Their Rights. Honesdale, Pennsylvania; Calkins Creek, 2014.

Strike! is a well-researched account of the struggle for the rights of farm workers beginning with Filipino workers migrating to the U.S. mainland in the early 20th Century and ending with the state of agricultural unions today. Although it is not an objective account of both sides of the labor struggle, it is accurate from the farm workers' point of view. The conflicts are presentd with growers clearly in the role of the villain, but the divide between who is right and wrong is not so defined when discussing the inner workings of the unions and their leaders. 

Most of us have heard about Cesar Chavez and the victories of the United Farm Workers of America; this book includes Chavez, of course, but goes beyond him to the origins of the causes of the labor conflict.  Readers learn about the Filipino farm workers who worked the California fields for many years, about the abject poverty that migrant farm laborers endured, the dangers of the farm hand life, and the evolution of the unions that helped them improve their work lives.  With photographs of leaders and the rank and file, editorial comics, and maps, along with some original documents, this volume in an excellent source for information on the labor side of this struggle.

Strike!'s design is appealing and the use of color blocking on the pages and positioning of images breaks up the text nicely, making the pages colorful despite the other elements being black and white.  Brimner writes clearly, defining unfamiliar terms in a manner that does not  condescend to his audience. In the back of the book are an interesting author's note, timeline, sources for additional reading, detailed source notes and an index.

Brimner is a Sibert Award winning author with seveal other books on civil rights to his credit, and Strike! The Farm Workers' Fight for Their Rights should be alongside them on the shelves of middle and high school libraries.

Dewey:  331.892                       Interest Level:  Grades 5-10

Awards & Reviews:  Booklist Starred; Hornbook, Kirkus Reviews Starred; School Library Journal Starred.

October, 2014 Non-Fiction Book:Book Cover

Herrera, Juan Felipe (illus. Raul Colon).  Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes.  New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014.

This volume of mini-biographies of Hispanic Americans has plenty of "hey, I didn't know that" and "oh, that guy!" moments.  There are 19 inspiring stories, plus a poem and a narrative about accomplished Hispanics spanning American history.  It is organized chronologically, the earliest entry being Bernardo de Galvez, who lived in the 18th Century and after whom Galveston, TX was named (hey, I didn't know that).  Herrera included men and women from occupations as diverse as activists and military heroes, athletes and scientists, farm workers and politicians.  Nearly every walk of life is represented.  Despite their wildly different lives, they all have at least two things in common: their hispanic roots and their abilities, each in his/her own way, to achieve great things.

Colon's muted, watercolor-washed drawings are beautifully rendered.  The illustrations are modern, but each brings out the era and character of the subject.  The portrait of Desi Arnaz seems a little uncomfortable and Sonja Sotomayor looks more cartoonish than the rest, but otherwise the artwork is spot on.

To add even more interest, Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes has an Idaho connection: naval hero, and first U.S. Admiral ever, David Glasgow Farragut.  His namesake, Farragut State Park in Northern Idaho was an inland naval base during WWII.  Some other entries include Rita Moreno (remember her as the "HEY YOU GUYS!!!" lady from PBS's The Electric Company?); Robert Clemente, baseball great and humanitarian; Jaime Alfonso Escalante of Stand and Deliver fame (oh, that guy!); Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina astronaut and first Latina director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center; and, of course, activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Hureta.  There are so many smart, heroic, accomplished people in this book, that it is really very difficult to pull out just a few.

Both interesting and inspiring, Portaits of Hispanic American Heroes should have a space on any school library's 920's shelf. It's appeal will span from upper elementary through middle school.  At the end of the book are source notes, a bibliography, and recommended reading sections.

ICS: Reading Standards for Informational Text:  Grade 4, Standards 1-5, 8-10;  Grade 5, Standards 1-2, 4-6, 8-10; Grades 6-8, Standards 1-10.

Dewey:  920                Interest Grades 4-8

Younger students might enjoy:  The Hispanic Headliners series by Zella Williams

High school students might like:  I, Legal in the U.S.A.: a Memoir by Alejandra Campos

Fiction pairing:  Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Film:  The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers' Struggle, a Rick Tejada-Flores and Ray Telles film, presented by [I]TVS, and available through PBS.

Learn more on LiLI by searching the Spanish language databases.

September, 2014 Non-Fiction Book:The Fashion Book

Singer, Allison & Alexandra Beeden, (Eds.).  The Fashion Book: Create Your Own Look from the Story of Style. New York; Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2014.

For some students, the best part of back-to-school is shopping for new clothes!  Take care of your school's fashionistas with a new offering from ever-reliable publisher DK, The Fashion Book. It gives us a look at the styles worn by fashion-conscious Ancient Greecians and Egyptians, by hipsters in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and on through the modern era of fashion.   It wraps up with introductions to the designers and labels of the 20th and 21st centuries.

In each section of the book, there is a page devoted to showing us how to "Get the Look" using cues from the past.  Take, for instance, the 1920's flapper era.  The essence of the look can be achieved by sporting a "close cut, sleek hairdo," wearing a long, tasselled pendant, and carrying a beaded or fringed purse.  Following other tips, we can achieve the look of the Retro Tomboy a la Rosie the Riveter, or  the Modern Romantic look of a Jane Austen character, among others.

With a peppering of historical and literary references, this light-hearted book is not just a fluffy fashion title.  It is loaded with rare vocabulary (do you know what a bourdaloue is?), that fashion fans will soak up like a 1980's Olivia Newton-John sweatband.  In between eras, we learn about careers in fashion, the origins of some fabrics, and the anatomy of a fashion show audience, not to mention many details about the history of unmentionables.

Richly colored illustrations and photographs show texture and layers, making browsing this title a pleasure.  In the Designer Directory, readers will learn about the people behind the designer labels they see in slick magazine ads:  Burberry started out making waterproof jackets; Christian LaCroix went out of business - you've got to know about more than fashion to run a fashion house; and Louis Vuitton has been dead for a long, long time.  To help with new vocabulary, there is an illustrated glossary, along with an index.

Part fashion guide, part history lesson, and part pop culture, The Fashion Book shows how contemporary events shaped the styles of the day and vice versa; how new knowledge changes what people wear, and how changing times affect style.  This title is worth the space on any middle or high school library shelf.

CCSS:  Reading Standards for Informational Text:     Grade 6, Standards 1-7, 10; Grade 7, Standards 1-7, 9, 10; Grade 8, Standards 2-7, 9, 10; Grades 9-12, Standards 4, 6, 7.

Dewey:  391         Interest:  Grades 6 - 12

Elementary Readers might enjoy:  Big Wig: A Little History of Hair by Kathleen Krull.

Middle School Readers might enjoy:  So, You Want to Work in Fashion?  by Patricia Wooster.

Fiction Pairing:  The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (of course).

Blog:  Teen Vogue has a varety of blogs on their Outfits from Our Favorite Personal Style Bloggers Around the Globe site, according to Teen Vogue readers.  These blogs are geared toward the teen/college girl market and budget.  Some are more budget conscious than others, but have cute mostly appropriate looks.

More on LiLI:  Fashion, Costume and Culture:  Clothing, Headware, Body Decorations, and Footwear Through the Ages at Gale Virtual Reference Library. 

April, 2014 Non-Fiction Book:

Bober, Natalie S. (illus. Rebecca Givvon).  Papa is a Poet: A Story about Robert Frost.  New York; Christy Ottaviano Books, 2013.

It wasn't easy being a poultry farming poet in turn of the 20th century New Hampshire; there wasn't much money in it.  However, in this beautiful watercolor, colored pencil, and acrylic ink picture book, Robert Frost's life as a farmer-poet is told from the optimistic point of view of his oldest daughter, Lesley.  In fact, much of the narrative about the family's time at idyllic Derry Farm, before Frost was successful and famous, is taken from Lesley's childhood journal.  

In some ways the tone of the story is reminiscent of the Little House books in that the family is poor, but the children are unaware that they are missing anything important because of it.  Life is full of language, love and the beauty of nature.  Lesley seems quite proud that her papa does things his way, like the curious routine of milking the cow at midnight so he could stay up and have quiet time to read and write. 

Bober skillfully weaves Frost's poetry in to the narrative, showing how his work came from  the delights of everyday life in New England, the last page including a few lines of The Road Not Taken in a lovingly autobiographical light.  An author's note at the end with facts and photographs of the Frost family and their homes mentioned in the story is included.  There is a small collection of Frost's poems, too.  This is an excellent read alound for National Poetry Month and even a good icebreaker for a poetry unit for older students. 

CCSS:  Reading Standards for Literature K-5:  Grade 1, Standards 1-9;  Grade 2, Standards 1-7; Grade 3, Standards 1-10; Grade 4, Standards 1-10; Grade 5, Standards 1-10. 

Dewey:  811                                                                        Interest Level:  K-3 

Awards & Reviews:  Booklist, Hornbook starred, Kirkus reviews, Publishers Weekly Annex, School Library Journal. 

Middle and Young Adult readers might like:  A Restless Spirit:  The Story of Robert Frost by Natalie S. Bober. 

Fiction pairing:  Frederick by Leo Lionni


Bonus Non-Fiction Book:

Berne, Jennifer (illus. Vladimir Radunsky).  On a Beam of Light:  A Story of Albert Einstein.  San Fransisco; Chronicle Books, 2013.

March 14th is Albert Einstein's birthday!  So naturally, March could not go by without On a Beam of Light added to the Non-Fiction list.  This delightful collaboration between author and illustrator introduces Einstein and the observations that triggered his brilliant ideas.  There is even a simplified explanation of the Theory of Relativity.  Kids will love the fact that Einstein was a bit odd when he was young, but grew up to be one of the most famous and beloved scientists ever!   The gouache with pen and ink illustrations look like they could have been done with Einstein's own fountain pen.  On A Beam of Light is a perfect example of what a non-fiction picture book can be.

Interest Level:  K-3                                               Dewey:  530

Awards and Reviews:  Booklist starred; Hornbook starred; Kirkus Reviews starred; New York Times; Publishers Weekly Annex; School Library Journal starred; Science Books and Films.

March, 2014 Non-Fiction Book of the Month:

Markel, Michelle.  Brave Girl:  Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909.  New York; Balzer + Bray, 2013.

In honor of Women's History Month, March's non-fiction pick is about Clara Lemlich, a leader of the labor movement in the Garment District of New York in the early 20th Century.  Clara, a young immigrant, arrives in New York with her parents and discovers an America with factories that won't hire her father, but are more than willing tro hire Clara.  She, along with throusands of other young immigrant girls, foregoes school to become a garment worker.

Though the hours are long, the pay low, and the conditions dangerous, Clara is undaunted.  She attends night school to learn English, studying and reading late into the night.  At work, as Clara talks with friends, she discovers the men think the women aren't tough enough to strike for better working conditions.  As it turns out, however, it's Clara who declares it is time to strike during a huge labor meeting when the men in charge fail to take action.  As the garment labor movement gathers steam, it is Clara who keeps the picketers motivated, even when thugs arrive to break it up.  Eventually, the strikers, with the support of wealthier suffragettes, are successful and the bosses increase wages and decrease the length of the work week.  Encouraged by her success, Clara continues her work for the rights of workers for the rest of her life.

Every page of this picture book is detailed and interesting.  The illustrator uses textile scraps, blank graph paper, and pattern paper that look sewn onto the page.  Look closely to see if  elements are made of watercolor, newsprint, a time card, or a check for $27.50!  There is a short section at the end with more information about the Garment Industry between 1880 and 1920, with a bilbliography and list of primary sources.  This book is a must-have for any picture book collection!

CCSS:  Reading Standards for Informational Text: Grade 2, Standards 1-6, 8-10.  Grade 3, Standards 1-3, 5-10.  Grade 4, Standards 1-10.  Grade 5, Standards 1-10. 

Dewey:  331.892                                                            Interest:  Grades K-4. 

Awards & Reviews:  Booklist starred, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews starred, Publishers weekly starred; School Library Journal starred, Orbis Pictus Honor Book for Outstanding Non-Fiction, 2013. 

Middle readers might like:  33 Things Every Girls Should Know About Women's History:  From Suffragettes to Skirt Lengths to the E.R.A.  edited by Tonya Bolden. 

Young Adult readers might like:  Pioneer Women:  The Lives of Women on the Frontier by Linda S. Peavy. 

Fiction Pairing:  The Year We Were Famous by Carole Estby Dagg.

February, 2014 Non-Fiction Book of the Month:The Nazi Hunters cover

Bascomb, Neal.  The Nazi Hunters:  How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi.  New York; Arthur A. Levine, 2013.

It would be difficult to find a piece of fiction that is more exciting than this true account of the capture of Nazi Adolf Eichmann.  The prologue, set in 1960, drops us briefly in the middle of the action until Chapter 1 takes us back to Eichmann's WWII Germany.  This slice of Nazi Germany leaves no doubt as to why it became so important to the Jewish people and the world that this man be brought to justice.  

Nothing about the mission to capture Eichmann from his hiding place in Argentina was easy.  The team of spies had to work in complete secrecy, officially unrecognized by their own governments.  If they got caught, they would not be rescued.  The author expertly builds suspense throughout the story that will leave readers with pounding hearts, even those who know how the story ends.  He does not suguar-coat history which will please young adult readers, but also is not gratuitously graphic when describing Nazi goals and activities. 

The Nazi Hunters is a must for middle and high school libraries and will be a hit with students and teachers alike. Bascomb kindly includes a list of participants at the front of the book to help readers navigate the large cast of characters. It has an extensive index, bibliography (the author has indicated items for further reading that would interest young adults), and primary source documents. One of the non-fiction's best of the year!

CCSS:  Reading Standards for Informational Text Grades 6-8, Standards 1 - 6 & 8 - 9. 

            Reading Standards for Informational Text Grades 9-12,Standards 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7.

Dewey:  364.15                    Interest:  Grades 6 - 12

Awards:  YALSA Award for Excellence in Non-Fiction YA 2014 Winner; Booklist review;  Kirkus review; Hornbook review; School Library Journal review.

Middle Readers might like:  The Anne Frank Case:  Simon Wiesenthal's Search for the Truth by Susan Goldman Rubin.

Adult Readers might like:  Hunting Eichmann:  How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (the adult version of The Nazi Hunters).

Fiction Pairings:  High School:  Shining Through by Susan Isaac

                                Middle School:  The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyle (Holocaust fiction).

                                                                Silverfin: a James Bond Adventure by Charles Higson                                                                (young James Bond spy fiction).

January, 2014 Non-Fiction Book of the Month:

MacLeod, Elizabeth.  Bones Never Lie:  How Forensics Helps Solve History's Mysteries.  Toronto, Ontario; Annick Press, 2013.

In this surprise of a page-turner, MacCloud uses eight separate cold cases to show how modern science can bring solutions to some of history's most perplexing mysteries.  In each of the seven cases, she highlights one investigative weapon from the "Crime-Solvers' Arsenal," which contained everything from establishing identity to using CT scans, to coax out answers to these mysteries.  For example, archaeology is spotlighted in the chapter about the Mayan royal family murders and how the family's bones came to be in a sacred fountain.  Autopsy is covered in the mystery of what really killed Napoleon. 

MacCloud uses historic photographs and art to bring the victims closer to the reader and "evidence identification" tags to make side notes stand out.  The book has an index, glossary, directory of main sources, and suggestions for further reading.  Fiction and non-fiction fans alike will enjoy the crime-solving techniques mixed with a little fast-paced, good-parts history. Teachers might like using the chapter on The Man in the Iron Mask as an introduction to deductive reasoning, or using data to support a conclusion.   Bones Never Lie is a worthwhile addition to any middle school or junior high school library.

CCSS:  Reading Standards for Information Text, Grades 6-8, Standards 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, and 9.

Dewey:  614        Interest:  Grades 5-8             Awards:  Kirkus Reviews Starred 3/1/13

Older readers might like:  Cold Cases by Gail B. Stewart

Younger readers might like:  Detective Science:  40 Crime-Solving, Case-Breaking, Crook-Catching Activities for Kids by Jim Wiese.

Fiction pairing:  Sherlock Holmes:  The Legend Begins Series by Andrew Lane

 December's Non-Fiction Book of the Month:Book Cover

Shapiro, Steven.  (Ross Kinnaird, Illus.)  Its a Feudal, Feudal World:  A Different Medieval History.  Tornonto, Ontario; Annick Press, 2013.

Do you have any reluctant readers who are nonetheless visual learners?  Show them this version of medieval history and they just might be hooked on the format.  Shapiro and Kinnaird use a series of charts, graphs, illustrations, infographics and corny jokes to usher the reader through the middle ages.  With sections on topics like women in the middle ages (women had careers, even then!); social classes ("the life of a young peasant is the same as the life of an old peasant, only poorer"); the Crusades (there were nine, plus a teen effort that fizzled out in Italy); the Black Plague; and religion, it could be used as a fun and easy introduction to a history unit.

Some often otherwise dry historical information is  presented on double page spreads in a visually appealling format that is easily absorbed and then analyzed to compare it with other texts.  For example, it is easy to see that in the middle ages, as now, having enough money can make life a little easier.

While this is a fun introduction, it is just that.  It is a jumping off point to learn more about medieval history.  This book is perfect for selecting companion books in, say, historical fiction or biography to draw students further into the subject.  It would be a good addition to an elementary or middle school library to market to those students who say they don't like to read.

CCSS:  Reading Standards for Informational Text:   Grade 4 Standards 4, 5, 7; Grade 5 Standards 1, 3, 5, 9; ELA Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies:  Grades 6-8 Standards 2, 3, 4, 5, 7;  Grades 9- 0 Standards 3, 4, 5, 9.

Dewey:  909.07      Interest:  Grades 5-8      Awards:  Kirkus Review

Older readers might like:  Guns, Germs, and Steel:  the Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond.

Younger readers might like:  First Facts:  The Middle Ages series from Capstone Press by various authors.

Fiction pairing: The Midwife's Apprentice or Catherine Called Birdy, both by Karen Cushman.

November's Non-Fiction Book of the Month:Book Cover

Cook Peter.  (Kevin Whelan, Illus.).  You Wouldn't Want to Sail on the Mayflower!  A Trip that Took Entirely Too Long, Revised Ed.  New York; Scholastic, 2014.

In keeping with the season, November's Non-Fiction Book of the Month is an account of the Pilgrims' voyage to the New World.  The reader takes on the role of one Priscilla Mullins, a young woman who really did make the journey with her family.  As Priscilla, we meet the crew and the other passengers.   Darkly humorous "Handy Hints" in dialogue boxes thoughout the book dispense practical advice like "Watch out for large waves when you use the facilities on the beakhead," which is the part of the bow that hangs out in front of the ship where the toilets are located.

Speaking of bathroom facilities, sometimes historical accounts gloss over some important details of everyday life.  Not so here!  In You Wouldn't Want to Sail on the Mayflower, those details are discussed in some detail.  For example, imagine listening to a crying baby for months while you are seasick and stuck in cramped, stinking quarters.  Not fun.  We also learn the fate of a not-so-sympathetic sailor who thought it was funny to harass the passengers about their misery.  (Handy Hint:  Try not to get sick.  If you die on the ship your body will be thrown overboard!)

This version of the Mayflower story is a more lighthearted take on the voyage and the establishment of the colony at Plymouth.  Elementary school readers will enjoy the illustrations and some of the gruesome details.  Teachers and librarians will like the timeline, the lesser known details of the first leg of the journey, and the glossary, along with an index, a map, and a few short bonus sections in the back of the book on nautical matters.

This Mayflower book will fill the fun-to-read slot in your Thanksgiving section nicley.  It is one of the many books in the rather large "You Wouldn't Want To..." series, which covers many historical topics.

CCSS:  ELA Reading Standards for Informational Text:  Grade 4, Standard 7; Grade 5, Standards 6 and 9; Grade 6, Standards 3, 6, 7 and 9. 

Dewey:  974.4 

Interest:  Grades 3 - 6 

Awards/Reviews:  Best Seller 

Younger readers might like:  If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 by Ann McGovern. 

Older readers might like:  Thanksgiving:  The True Story by Penny Coleman

Fiction paring:  A Journey to the New World: A Diary of Remember Patience Whipple by Kathryn Lasky.

October's Non-Fiction Book of the Month:

Markle, Sandra.  The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees:  A Scientific Mystery.  Minneapolis, MN; Millbrook Press, 2014.

This one truly is a mystery, and a bit of a scary one, too.  The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees opens with a beekeeper checking his hives, only to find them empty of worker bees.  On honey colored pages, Markle goes on to explain why honeybees are important, describes the bees' duties inside and outside the hive, and investigates the array of culprits  that could be contributing to the demise of the hives.   The reader gets a lesson on the important role the honeybee plays in polination and food creation, bringing us to the reasons a healthy honeybee population is important to a healthy human population. 

The text is packed full of information but is presented in a narrative style, so it is not so dense that it is intimidating.  In addition to the content, the crystal clear photographs work with the honey comb-shaped caption boxes to make this a first-rate addition to a school library collection of any level.

Dewey:  595.799

Interest Level:  Grades 5-8.         Interest Level: Grades 4-7

CCSS:  Narrative Non-fiction for Science and Technical Subjects - Middle School - English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects.

Younger readers might like:  The Life and Times of the Honeybee by Charles Micucci.

Older readers might like:  The Hive Detectives:  Chronicle of a Honeybee Catastrophe by Loree Griffin Burns.

Fiction pairing:  The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.

September's Non-Fiction Book of the Month:

Lambert, Joseph.  Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller.  New York: Disney Hyperion Books, 2012. 

For those still skeptical of graphic novels, this version of the Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan story for upper elementary and middle school grades may be your conversion.  Most of the story is told from Annie Sullivan's point of view and reveals some heartbreaking details about her life leading up to her position in the Keller household.  The panels of the story shown in grays and browns, however, are Helen's perspective.  Those simple drawings show us how it might feel to live in a dark, slilent world.  They give us a tiny inkling of what life was like for Helen, especially before she understood the concept of language.  Thanks to Annie, Helen's world changes from a frustrating black void to a world full of new people, things and concepts.  The story does not end there, though.  It goes on to describe one more trial for young Helen - being accused of plagiarism. 

This is another graphic novel from the Center for Cartoon Studies who brought us Houdini: The Handcuff King, Satchel Paige: Striking out Jim Crow, Thoreau at Walden, and Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean.

CCSS:  High School & Middle School - ELA in History/Social Studies & Technical Subjects - Reading Standards for Literature - Literature in Other Forms.

Dewey:  362.4                                                              Interest:  Grades 5-8 and up

Awards/Reviews:  ALA Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens - 2013; Booklist Starred; Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; Hornbook; Kirkus Review; Library Media Connection Starred; School Library Journal.

Younger readers may like:  Helen Keller's Best Friend Belle by Holly Barry.

High School students may like:  Blind Rage:  Letters to Helen Keller by Georgina Kleege.