Nonfiction Book Archives
Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane Brimner
Brimner, Larry Dane. “Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961.” Honesdale, PA: Calkins Creek, An Imprint of Highlights, 2017.
Day by day, “Twelve Days in May” takes readers through the events of the first of the Freedom Rides in 1961. Straight-forward and accurate, this account is perfect for middle school students studying civil rights. It hits just the right note to portray just how far some would go to stop integration in the deep south; it doesn’t pull any punches while remaining appropriate for students as young as upper elementary. The size and spacing of the text makes a dense topic accessible and not too daunting, and the organization by sequence makes it easy to absorb the events and really helps the reader feel the growing danger experienced by the Freedom Riders. It also helps all of us who did not live in that era understand the day-to-day real threat of violence that was endured by African-Americans living in the southern United States during Jim Crow.
“Twelve Days in May” is a must-have for upper elementary, middle school, and high school libraries. Students and teachers will make good use of it for both general knowledge and research.
Dewey: 323.1196 Interest Level: Grades 5 and up
Reviews and Awards: Booklist starred; Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books; Horn Book Guide; Horn Book Magazine; Kirkus Reviews; Publishers Weekly; Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal; School Library Connection; School Library Journal starred; Voice of Youth Advocates (YOYA) starred.
Older readers might like: "The Freedom Riders: Civil Rights Activists Fighting Segregation" by Kate Shoup (Peaceful Protesters series).
Younger readers might like: "Let the Children March" by Monica Clark-Robinson (illus. Frank Morrison).
Fiction pairing: "The Watsons Go to Birmingham" by Christopher Paul Curtis.
On the Web: PBS American Experience on The Freedom Riders at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomriders/
DPLA (Digital Public Library of America) At https://dp.la/search?q=freedom+riders find primary sources like photographs, newspaper articles, FBI reports, and a news clip featuring John Patterson from his term as governor of Alabama in 1961. This clip can be contrasted with a 2011 interview with this same governor in which he reflects upon that time in the materials on the American Experience website.
Library of Congress Primary Source Sets: https://www.loc.gov/search?new=true&q=Freedom+Riders; a primary source set on segregation and Jim Crow.
Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code: A Navajo Code Talker's Story
Bruchac, Joseph. (illus. Liz Amini-Holmes). “Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code: A Navajo Code Talker’s Story.” Chicago, IL: Albert Whitman & Company, 2018.
A new book from Bruchac, author of “Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of WWII,” “Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code” is a nonfiction version for a younger set. It is a straight-forward, yet gently told narrative of the life of a boy that grew up to be a Code Talker for the Marines. We pop in and out of Chester’s (Betoli is his Navajo name) life at pivotal moments, like being taken to boarding school and helping to develop the Navajo code that helped win WWII.
The illustrations and text in the book work together to tell the facts of the stories and how the story felt to Chester. For example, crows with red eyes are present for the more traumatic trials of boarding school, and post war trauma. Some references to Navajo culture and tradition are woven into the story, which only adds to the richness of the narrative. For example, Bruchac shows us the passage of time with a month and year at the start of each section, along with the Navajo months (ex. December 1941: Month of Crusted Snow).
An important theme throughout the story is Chester’s ability and determination to continue living the Navajo way – remembering his culture, values, and language. Although he learned English and saw the value in the subjects he studied at school, staying true to his heritage saw Chester through the difficulties of his youth, WWII, and his recovery from the horrible trauma of war.
Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code is a must-buy for any elementary school library. It is a beautiful example of non-fiction that will appeal to upper elementary. It also fits the bill for those creating a collection to appeal to a diverse group of students. With the Author’s Note, a portion of the Navajo Code, and a timeline in the back, it will also be a good choice for student research.
Dewey: 940.54 Interest Level: 3-6
Reviews and Awards: Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus Reviews starred, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal.
Older readers might like: Code Talker by Chester Nez (an adult title)
Middle school readers might like: Our Teenage Life in the Navajo Nation by Dian Bailey (Customs and Cultures of the World).
Fiction paring: Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac
On the Web: Native Words Native Warriors from The National Museum of the American Indian. Code Talking is only one portion of this excellent digital exhibit from The Smithsonian. https://americanindian.si.edu/static/education/codetalkers/html/chapter4.html
On the Web: Find video interviews of code talkers at NavajoCode at https://navajocodetalkers.org/keith-little-real-code-talker-interview/.
Film: True Whispers: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers (2002). PBS Home Video. $19.99 from https://shop.pbs.org/true-whispers-the-story-of-the-navajo-code-talkers-dvd/product/TWSN601?productId=2899773
A Frog’s Life
New York: Holiday House, 2018
The beautiful watercolor and pen illustrations are the highest of the numerous highlights in this book about frogs. They show many species of the world’s frogs, inside and out, along with what frogs eat, what eats them, how they reproduce, where they live, and how they protect themselves. Kelly includes straightforward facts that elementary students will love; for instance, the golden poison frog is only as big as a paper clip but carries enough toxin to kill 10 people.
The last double page spread addresses dangers that threaten the survival of many frog species, and the narrative wraps up with a hopeful message of conservation. On the index page, there are suggestions for those who would like to help save frogs that include helping keep wetlands trash-free and not eating frog legs. And April 28th is Save the Frogs Day when schools host educational frog activities. Fun!
A Frog's Life is a fine example of nonfiction for early elementary students. They can explore this book on their own or have the more detailed text read to them. A must-have addition to any elementary collection.
Dewey: 597.8 Interest Level: K-3
Reviews and Awards: Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal starred.
Older readers might like: Amphibian by Barry Clark from DK Eyewitness Books
Young Adults might like: Reptiles and Amphibians from the Facts at Your Fingertips: Endangered Animals series from Brown Bear Books.
Fiction pairing: A Hippy-Hoppy Toad by Peggy Archer.
On the Web:
Frog Conservation Project kid page has educational coloring pages and, for those that are looking for a more ambitious project, there are also instructions for creating a simple pond. http://frog.cienega.org/home/problem-ponds/building-a-native-pond
Frogs: The Thin Green Line from PBS explores frogs and suggests ways to help them survive.
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
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 like: Sir 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 Pairing: The 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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Mue-nKcSH0.
Film: The Lost City of Z (2016). Director: James Gray. Written by James Grant, adapted from the book by David Grann. Rated PG-13.
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. http://www.sibyllamerian.com/index.html.
Video: What Bugged Maria Sibylla Merian? Find out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HObBdRBuV_0 on the My Girl Heroes YouTube Channel.
Merian even has a Google Doodle: https://www.google.com/doodles/maria-sibylla-merians-366th-birthday.
John Deere, That’s Who!
New York: Henry Holt & 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 https://www.deere.com/en/our-company/about-john-deere/past-leaders/john-deere/.
A list of more of John Deere’s Inventions can be found at:https://www.deere.com/en_INT/our_company/about_us/history/timeline/timeline.page
Votes for Women: American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot
Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Young Readers, 2018
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 athttps://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/when-american-feminists-were-pilloried-for-daring-to-wear-bloomers.
Library of Congress Primary Source Set: Women’s Suffrage. Primary sources, LOC-style athttp://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/womens-suffrage/
National Constitution Center – Clear explanations and debate on the origins and effects of the Constitution and its Amendments. Find it at https://constitutioncenter.org/.
The American History Museum website has images of artifacts from the fight for women’s suffrage athttp://americanhistory.si.edu/treasures/womens-suffrage.
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: LiLI.org: World Book Student – The Human Body.
Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos
New York: NorthSouth Books, Inc., 2017
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