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Nonfiction Book Archives

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

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.

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.

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).

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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