Jenkins, Steve. Animal Facts by the Numbers. Clarion Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers: New York, 2022.
Jenkins’ last By the Numbers book, Animal Facts by the Numbers, can be an entry to reading for those students who are uninterested in books with lots of text. That is not to say, however, that this title is short on information; it is packed with infographics, Jenkins signature, award-winning torn-paper illustrations, and actual size and scaled images. Students will pour over the interesting facts about the fast, slow, large, small, deadly, and long-lived animals, plus it’s a fine lesson in clear and appealing data representation.
There are seven books in the By the Numbers Series, and each is a must have for the elementary library. Share this series with students, certainly, but also share them with science, art, and math teachers.
Sadly, Jenkins passed away last winter. We will sorely miss his wonderful nonfiction titles with their remarkably realistic illustrations, and the collaborative work produced with his wife, Robin Page.
Dewey: 590 Interest Level: Grades 2-5
Older readers might like: The Octopus Scientists by Sy Montgomery (Scientists in the Field Series)
Young Adult Readers might like a more fanciful approach: Hidden Animals: A Field Guide to Batsquatch, Chupacabra, and Other Elusive Creatures by Michael Newton.
Fiction pairing: A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry
On the web:
National Geographic Kids has a world of information about animals available online complete with cool information, videos, and more.
Yang, Gene Luen. Dragon Hoops: From Small Steps to Great Leaps. First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press: New York, 2020.
OK, so Dragon Hoops is neither strictly nonfiction, nor new, but if it isn’t in your high school library collection already, it ought to be! Memoir is a gray zone genre, but Yang is up front with the literary license he takes with the facts by breaking the fourth wall occasionally to explain how he changes real events to make them work for a story. The end notes include a full accounting of where the story parts with reality. It’s sort of a glimpse behind the writing curtain.
Dragon Hoops is the story the path of the Bishop O’Dowd High School men’s basketball team’s path to the California State Championship. It’s also the story of Yang’s discovery of his own school’s (Yang was a teacher at Bishop O'Dowd) basketball team’s lore, the players, and his own love of the game. Who knew high school boys’ basketball could be so compelling to the casual or non-sports fan?
There is so much here. In addition to the main plot line, we get mini-lessons on the origins of basketball for men, for women, and for pros, including mention of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Baller or nerd, students will eat this book up. Extensive end notes bibliography.
Dewey: 796.323 Interest Level: YA grades 9 and up.
Younger readers might like: Basketball is a Numbers Game by Eric Braun.
Herz, Henry. (Illus. Mercè López). I Am Smoke. Tilbury House Publishers: Thomaston, ME, 2021.
Those of us who live in the Western U.S. probably associate smoke with fire season, but I Am Smoke highlights some of the many ways people have used smoke since people started using fire. Told in poetic rhythm using the same pattern as riddles (“I cannot be sprinkled like salt, but I can flavor foods”), smoke itself tells the story of its life cycle from campfires to its various religious and practical uses, to carbon dioxide and water vapor, and back to food and water for trees.
Beautiful earth tone illustrations incorporate more meaning onto the pages and include molecules found in smoke and the messages in smoke signals. The illustrator’s note describes the interesting way the illustrator uses smoke to create the images in the book.
More detailed descriptions of the use of smoke that provide context along with information, and a list of sources rounds out this extraordinary and strangely soothing title. Even huge range of sources listed is interesting. A note of thanks on the last page indicates the author, illustrator, and publisher sought advice to strike the right tone and exercise cultural competence in the portrayal of the many cultures and traditions mentioned throughout the book.
There aren’t many titles that can combine poetry, art, and states of matter quite like this one; add it to your elementary shelf!
Dewey: 530.4 Interest Level: Grades 1-4
Awards and Reviews: Kirkus Reviews starred; Publishers Weekly, ALA Notable Children’s Books; National Council for Social Studies Notable Trade Book for Young People.
Fiction Pairing: The California Wildfires (I Survived, Book 20) by Lauren Tarshis
Jenkins, Steve and Robin Page. The Shark Book. Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt: New York, 2021.
It may be Dolphin Awareness Month, but today we are looking at sharks! The Shark Book has it all: detailed (and beautiful) illustrations to scale; maps, charts, and a bibliography. Among the pages of sharks, comforting facts (shark attacks are rare, and fatal shark attacks are even more rare), alarming facts (many species of sharks are endangered), and Jeopardy!-worthy facts (a group of sharks is called a shiver) are presented in a pleasing design and context. A human form is included on each double page spread to show relative size of each creature; some sharks are large enough to swallow a human (that one was prehistoric – whew!), and some are small enough to fit in the palm of a human hand.
Jenkins and Page are favorite authors and when they collaborate, they are unbeatable. All of their books are essential titles for an elementary library nonfiction collection. Prep your students for this summer’s Shark Week by getting this one on the shelf right away!
Dewey: 597.3 Interest Level: K-Grade 4
Awards and Reviews: Booklist starred; Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred; Kirkus Reviews starred; School Library Journal.
Older Readers might like: Super Shark Encyclopedia: And Other Creatures of the Deep by DK Publishing
YA Readers might like: Shark Quest: Protecting the Ocean’s Top Predators by Karen Romano Young
Fiction Pairing: I Survived: The Shark Attacks of 1916 by Lauren Tarshis
Yelchin, Eugene. The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2021.
There aren’t many memoirs for middle grade readers about growing up in the Cold War era Soviet Union. There are even fewer that make you laugh. From being grossed out by the bandage on Lenin’s mummy to wearing Baryshnikov’s Levis, Yelchin’s comic timing is spot on. That’s not to say life in the Soviet Union was easy. Even at age 6 Yelchin felt the tension and the fear and understood that you didn’t criticize the government, especially in front of the KGB informant that shared their common kitchen. And he understood his parents’ worry that he wouldn’t have athletic (he does not have it) or artistic talent (it turns out he does have it), the paths to an easier life.
Although this is not a graphic novel, the illustrations and page design of The Genius Under the Table are a big part of the story. On the other hand, the audio offers the story in the author's own voice. It is too hard to choose, so maybe reading the print version while listening to the audio is ideal. Whatever the format, The Genius Under the Table offers real insight into living under a communist regime, the joy of family, and the pressures of growing up. Put it at the top of the list for elementary and middle school libraries.
Dewey: 947.085 Interest Level: Grade 4 and up
Awards and Reviews: Booklist starred; Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books starred; Horn Book Magazine starred; Kirkus Reviews starred; Publishers Weekly starred; School Library Connection; School Library Journal starred; Sydney Taylor Book Honor
Older Readers Might Like: A Time of Fear: America in the Era of Red Scares and Cold War by Albert Marrin.
Fiction Pairing: Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbitt
Gutman, Dan (Illus. Allison Steinfeld). Teddy Roosevelt was a Moose? (Wait, What?). New York; Norton Young Readers, 2022.
Ever read a nonfiction for kids that is supposed to be funny and engaging, but is actually forced and not funny at all? This is not that kind of book. After a few obligatory pages of "what teachers want us to know" about TR (Dates of birth, death, marriage, presidency, etc), Teddy Roosevelt was a Moose? gives us the juicier lesser-known facts that show us he was a real person with complicated opinions.
Narrators Paige and her younger brother Turner (get it?), take us through ups and downs, trials and victories, and many adventures of Theodore Roosevelt’s life. For example, TR spoke at a rally right after he’d been shot in the chest. For 90 minutes. Before going to the hospital. The book is sprinkled with TR quotes that are just as relevant today as they were in his time. If it doesn’t hit students, it might hit adults that many of the ideas championed by TR are still actively debated today: conservation, anti-trust, gender equality, and more. Gutman brings to the front the contradictions in many of TR’s opinions and actions, and Paige and Turner debate whether TR is one of U.S. history’s good guys or bad guys, or if any historical figure, given the times in which they lived, can live up to what is expected of 21st Century good guys.
Teddy Roosevelt was a Moose? features light-hearted banter, but also puts serious historical facts into context and openly discusses the pros and cons of Roosevelt. Recommended for any elementary or middle school library biography section. Beyond K-8, this book could be used in high school classrooms to kick off debate about the portrayal of historical figures in modern society.
Dewey: 920 Interest Level: Grades 2-6
Awards and Reviews: Will release February 1, 2022.
Younger Readers might like: What To Do About Alice: How Alice Roosevelt broke the rules, charmed the world, and drove her father, Teddy, Crazy! by Barbara Kerley
Older Readers might like: Death on the River of Doubt by Samantha Seiple
Fiction Pairing: The Legend of the Teddy Bear by Frank Murphy
On the web: Take a virtual tour of the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site at https://www.trsite.org/
Buhrman-Deever, Susannah (illus. Matthew Trueman).If You Take Away the Otter. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2020.
If You Take Away the Otter author Buhrman-Deever emphasizes the idea of balance in a healthy ecosystem and explains that when one element is removed, the rest of the system collapses. In this narrative, the otter is hunted to near extinction making it possible for the urchin population to flourish. The urchins eat the kelp and other seaweed, creating a barren ocean floor where fish and other marine life cannot live, and a starving above water population.
While overhunting by newcomers is identified as the cause of the problem, it is softened by statements like, “People do not always understand at first the changes they cause when they take too much.” Also mentioned was the signing of the Fur Seal Treaty just in time to save the otter and restore some balance to the region.
Effective use of large and small text and additional reading suggestions in the back make this a good choice for new and experienced elementary readers. Trueman's beautiful illustrations in blues, greens and browns are realistic and make the otter the star of the show. If You Take Away the Otter is a worthwhile addition to any elementary 500 section.
Awards and Reviews: Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor Book, ALA Notable Children’s Book, NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book.
Dewey: 599.769 Interest Level: Grades 1-4
Older Readers might like: Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem, by Patricia Newman
Fiction Pairing: Dark Day in the Deep Sea(A Magic Treehouse Book), by Mary Pope Osborne
Chin, Jason. Your Place in the Universe. New York: Holiday House, 2020.
If you have kiddos that are interested in space, this is the book for them. Your Place in the Universe is all about the wonders of the size and scope of Earth, Space, Galaxies, and the Universe, and helps kids (and their grown-ups) wrap their minds around the relative size of Earth and space. It’s not an easy task, but Chin starts with the size of an eight-year-old, and compares a sequence of objects to larger and larger objects and spaces until we reach the Universe. Sound dull? It’s not. The illustrations and narrative are engaging, and the design of each page lets the reader choose how much detail is enough.
The backmatter includes an illustrated glossary, sources, and a nice variety of websites for students to visit for more information about things on Earth and in space.
Your Place in the Universe is recommended for any elementary astronomy collection and will be appealing to most K-5 students. "Really?" you ask, K-5? Yep!
Dewey: 530.8 Interest Level: PreK-Gr 5
Awards and Reviews: Booklist; Horn Book starred; Kirkus Reviews starred; Publishers Weekly starred; School Library Journal starred; Caldecott Honor; Sibert Honor; NCTE Orbis Pictus Award; Cook Prize.
Older readers might like: 2020 Guide to the Night Sky: A Month-by-Month Guide to Exploring the Skies Above North America by Storm Dunlop
Fiction Pairing: Einstein: The Fantastic Journey of a Mouse Through Space and Time by Torben Kuhlmann.
Bryant, Jen. (Illus. Frank Morrison). Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020.
When we read descriptions of Elgin Baylor’s basketball skill and style, it’s impossible not to think of Michael Jordan, even for those who are not basketball players or experts. “He hangs in the air,” “when you think he must come down, he stays up a little longer.” It makes one wonder if there would be a Michael Jordan without Elgin Baylor.
Above the Rim is the story of Baylor’s journey to basketball greatness from his hometown of Washington, D.C., to the College of Idaho in Caldwell, to Seattle University, to the NBA and the Minneapolis Lakers (before they made the move to L.A.) During his NBA career, Elgin changed the game, the NBA, and made his mark on the civil rights movement. He was truly a legend.
Baylor and the historical elements of basketball will hook of the game, the tie to Idaho will interest locals, and the richly expressive oil illustrations that emphasize Baylor’s long arms and legs will draw everyone else, even those who are not basketball fans. With a bit of sport, a bit of history, and a bit of a local connection, Above the Rim is a must-have for elementary picture book collections.
Dewey: 796.323 Interest Level: K – Gr. 4
Awards and Reviews: Booklist starred, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Horn Book starred, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal starred.
Older readers might like: Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang
Kunkel, Anglea Burke. Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built. New York: Schwartz & Wade, 2020.
Two Josés live in the La Nueva Gloria neighborhood of Bogotá, Columbia. They both love books and they both look forward to Saturdays. Why? It’s the day Grown-up José opens the library he created to all the people who live in his neighborhood. Young José waits all week to visit the library to pick out a book to take home and read. José’s library holds all types of books for readers young and old, all delighting in selecting just the right story. Grown-up José is a garbage collector by night and keeps a keen eye out for discarded books on his route and then brings them back to his library.
This is a charming story that highlights the adventure and fun that can happen through a great book, as well as the efforts of one man to bring literacy to his neighborhood. The digitally rendered illustrations bring to life the daily routines of both Josés, and the places their imaginations go when the read. The text is mostly English, but there are Spanish words worked into the text, too.
According to the Author’s note, there are only nineteen libraries in all of Bogotá, a city of more than 10 million people. Until José the garbage collector took matters into his own hands, there wasn’t any library service at all in the Josés’ neighborhood. Several books are described when characters read them, and those books are listed at the back of the book, just in case anyone is curious to read them, too.
Digging for Words should be a purchase for any picture book collection!
Dewey: E Interest Level: PreK-Gr 2
Awards and Reviews: Booklist; Horn Book Magazine; Kirkus Reviews starred; SLJ Xpress starred.
Another great story about a librarian: Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre by Anika Denise.
And another story about making something great out of something discarded: Ada’s Violin: the Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood.
On the web: an article from the BBC about the real José: https://www.bbc.com/news/education-40173423
Gates, Melinda. The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World. New York: Flatiron Books, 2019.
Got some high school students who are interested in taking on the world and making it a better place? Melinda Gates isn’t a bad source for advice. In The Moment of Lift, she describes her journey through philanthropy, lessons learned about how to approach problems, and how to determine the best places to invest resources. She’s discovered that listening to the people you’d like to help is at the foundation of it all. It is evident in the title that Gates’ work focuses on empowering women around the world, but even if the reader isn’t interested in those causes, the lessons for working in philanthropy can be applied to projects large and small. Some shocking topics are discussed here including forced marriage, child brides, female mutilation, and abuse, but there are no graphic descriptions.
Young adults will be encouraged by the stories of how Gates, one of the world’s most wealthy and powerful women, had to start at the start when it came to learning about new issues. No one begins a new endeavor with perfect knowledge, or sometimes any real knowledge about the solutions that will work best. But what makes this more engaging than a how-to manual are the personal stories that brought about learning and epiphanies for Gates, herself, told in a matter of fact, humble style.
The Moment of Lift is an important addition to high school collections, especially for those schools who have a service-learning program. It’s clearly written in language accessible to high school students, and it is informative, heartbreaking, personal, and very inspiring.
Younger Readers might like: 111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl by Rina Singh
Middle School Readers might like: Because I Am a Girl: I Can Change the World by Rosemary A. McCarney
Fiction Pairing: Among the Fallen by Virginal Frances Schwartz