Monday, August 30, 2010

Welcome to Nonfiction Monday!

Greetings and welcome to Nonfiction Monday! Every Monday, kidlit bloggers celebrate nonfiction books for kids, and today is my day to host. So bloggers, please post your links in the comment section and I will update periodically throughout the day.

Below the list of Nonfiction Monday posts, you will find my review of Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life's Song.

1. Jeff Barger posted a review of The Secret Life of a Snowflake at NC Teacher Stuff:

2. Angela Craft reviewed I Am an Emotional Creature at Bookish Blather.

3. Shelf-employed reviewed Janice Weaver’s biography of Henry Hudson, due on shelves next month.

4. At Madigan Reads, there is a review on Orangutans are Ticklish

5. Scope Notes reviewed Ideas that Changed the World at

6. The Wild About Nature Writers have a review of Going Home: The Mystery of Animal Migration by Marianne Berkes .

7. Jennifer at Jean Little Library has a review of Old Abe, the story of a Civil War mascot

8. Rasco from RIF posted a review of Fractions, Decimals and Percents at

9. Roberta at Wrapped in Foil has a review of the pop-up book Wild Alphabet by Dan Green at

10. Amanda at A Patchwork of Books has a review up of The Bat Scientists:

11. Shirley at Simply Science reviewed Chemistry--Getting a Big Reaction.
12. Tammy at Apples with Many Seeds reviewed the incredible book,
The Deep. Amazing deep sea creatures beautifully photographed.

13. Three Turtles and their Pet Librarian has two new books from Lerner's "Best Dogs
Ever" series at:

14. The Cat and the Fiddle offers a post on setting in picture book biographies.

15. At Picture Book of the Day I have a booktalk and a giveaway for Astro: the Stellar Sea Lion

16. Over at Wendie's Wanderings, they're exploring Symbiosis with How to
Clean a Hippopotamus, a Look at Unusual Animal partnerships by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page.

17. Today at The Fourth Musketeer I'm reviewing Candace Fleming's biography of P. T. Barnum!

18. Here's one from Chris Barton Charles Darwin & James Bond: The
Intersection Between Fiction and Nonfiction

Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life's Song

Written and illustrated by: Ashley Bryan
Photographs by: Bill Meguinness
Recommended Ages: 9 and up

This beautiful autobiography about three-time Coretta Scott King award winner Ashley Bryan is worth spending some time savoring over. It's a kaleidoscope of colors strung together by his inspiring life story. For kids and adults who want to understand how one artist overcame many obstacles and remained true to his calling, this is an important and stimulating book.

Ashley Bryan was born to Antiguan immigrants and grew up in the Bronx. His parents were creative people themselves, and kept their small apartment filled with flowers, song and birds. He writes, "at one time I counted over one hundred birds: canaries, finches, warblers, and parakeets." They encouraged Ashley to draw and paint, and since his dad was in the printing trade, there was never a shortage of paper.

When Ashley was sixteen, he graduated from high school. He wanted to go on to an art institute, but it was not an easy task for a Black in those days. He writes, "I remembered my parents saying that if you are doing something creative and constructive, don't let anyone or anything ever stop you." Someone told him about Cooper Union School of Art and Engineering, where the evaluators didn't view the artists. He was accepted, and was the only Black in his class.

Ashley goes on to chronicle his life, including time spent in the army during WWII, an internship spent up in Maine, his time at Columbia University, France and later as a Fulbright scholar in Germany. His autobiography is written with an open-heartedness that makes you embrace both him and his artwork. When he talks about slowing down and picking up "tide-smoothed stones," and sea glass, it makes you want to slow down too. His appreciation for everything that surrounds us is abundant and contagious, and reminds us to turn an appreciative eye towards the natural world. Highly recommended.

BookNosher Tidbit: Bryan is the illustrator or author of more than 30 books, and has won many awards:
  • Coretta Scott King Award Winner for outstanding illustration in Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum
  • Coretta Scott King Award Honor for outstanding illustration in I'm Going to Sing: Black American Spirituals
  • Coretta Scott King AwardHonor for outstanding author in Lion and the Ostrich Chicks and Other African Folk Tales
  • Coretta Scott King Award Honor for outstanding illustration in Lion and the Ostrich Chicks and Other African Folk Tales
  • Coretta Scott King Award Honor for outstanding illustration in What a Morning! The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals
  • Coretta Scott King Award Honor for outstanding illustration in All Night, All Day: A Child's First Book of African American Spirituals
  • Coretta Scott King Award Honor for outstanding illustration in Ashley Bryan's ABC of African American Poetry
  • Coretta Scott King Award Winner for outstanding illustration in Beautiful Blackbird
  • The Atlanta literary festival was named for him.
  • Coretta Scott King AwardWinner for outstanding illustration in Let it Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals
  • 2009 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for substantial and lasting contributions to children's literature

BookNosher Activity: I think you will be inspired to take a walk on the beach, or in the woods or just in a city park and look for the treasures that are always there. Start a collection of something. I know my own family has kept jars of sea glass for years, and it never fails to enthrall us.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Some Books to Quell Those First Day of School Jitters

The first day of school is always a little anxiety producing, even when it's highly anticipated. For young children entering kindergarten, the unknown can make it even more intimidating. Luckily, there are quite a few books out there to read ahead of time to help prepare your new student for the big day.

Countdown to Kindergarten

Written by: Alison McGhee
Illustrated by: Harry Bliss
Recommended Ages: 4-7

It's ten days until the first day of kindergarten, and the little girl in Countdown to Kindergarten is in "Big Trouble." For everyone knows that the number one rule in kindergarten is that you must know how to tie your own shoes (and you're not allowed to ask for help). So as each day passes by and the first day gets closer and closer, the little girl tries everything possible to get out of going. She tries losing her shoes, then her shoelaces and nothing works. Alas, the big day arrives, and wouldn't you know it, she discovers that she's not the only one who doesn't know how to tie her own shoes. In fact, only three kids in the entire kindergarten know how to tie their own shoes. And furthermore, the teacher is willing to teach them how to do it. Countdown to Kindergarten is a witty book with fun illustrations that should help allay some of those first day fears.

What Did You Do Today?: The First Day of School

Written by: Toby Forward
Illustrated by: Carol Thompson
Recommended Ages: 4-7

This delightful book is told in the voice of a child going to school for the first time. On one side of the page he describes his day, and on the opposite page you see his mother going through her day at work. Their lives parallel each other in ways that are really quite sweet. For instance, when he says, "After lunch I was sleepy, but there was lots more to do," you see a picture of him sitting next to his teacher in front of a book yawning. On the opposite page is a picture of his mother at her desk, stifling a yawn. Their days are remarkably similar in their content, which should be a comfort to young children reading this book. What Did You Do Today? is a reassuring read to kids as it shows a child going through a typical school day.

Wemberly Worried

Written and Illustrated by: Kevin Henkes
Recommended Ages: 4-8

If you have a kid who worries a lot, then Wemberley Worried may be just the right book. Wemberley is a mouse who worries about, well, pretty much everything. She worries in the morning, in the evening and all day in between. Most of all, she is worried about the first day of school.
"What if the teacher is mean?
What if the room smells bad?
What if they make fun of my name?
What if I can't find the bathroom?
What if I hate the snack?
What if I have to cry?"
When she finally gets to school, the teacher Mrs. Peachum introduces her to a kindred spirit, who is also wearing stripes and holding a doll. The two girls play together, and even though Wemberley continued to worry, it was no more than usual ("and sometimes even less").

Keisha Ann Can!

Written and Illustrated by: Daniel Kirk
Recommended Ages: 4-7

This upbeat book has a great cadence and rhythm to it, making it a perfect read-aloud. Keisha Ann is a delightful character ready to tackle any and all projects. It's a brightly colored book that shows a classroom filled with children of all different ethnicities, and Keisha Ann's smiling face is center stage. It ends on a positive note by asking the question:
"Who can learn and work, and play, and make her dreams come true?
Keisha Ann can do these things, and YOU can do them, too!"

These are just a few of the many good books out there. You should also check out:
Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten
The Night Before Kindergarten
First Day Jitters
The Kissing Hand
Billy and the Big New School

Bus Stop, Bus Go

Best of luck to you and your child as you both embark on this exciting new adventure!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

We Shall Overcome: A Song That Changed the World

We Shall Overcome: A Song That Changed the World

Written by: Stuart Stotts
Illustrated by: Terrance Cummings
With a foreword by: Pete Seeger
Recommended Ages: 9 and up

This is a very smart, beautifully layed out book that details the origins of the song "We Shall Overcome." I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked it up at the library, but by the time I finished I was convinced that this is a must-have for school libraries everywhere. By using the book as a starting point, teachers could build a wonderful lesson plan around this seemingly simple song that has played such a rich part in our history.

We Shall Overcome: A Song that Changed the World
chronicles the importance of song throughout our history. Early in the book, Stotts points out "in hunting, in planting, in battle or in any other task that requires strength, singing helps. It coordinates breathing and focuses energy and effort." It's thought that song has helped people prepare for battle, and face difficult situations for thousands of years.

"We Shall Overcome" was originally used by the labor movement to promote social change. The Highlander Folk School was founded in the 1930's to help unions in the South. The school was very serious about teaching people about strike tactics and union elections, and yet the founders also realized the importance of music. It was at the Highlander Folk School that Pete Seeger first heard the song called "We Will Overcome," which he later changed to "We Shall Overcome."

During the late 1950's, "We Shall Overcome" began to be used in the Civil Rights Movement.
It's said that the first time Martin Luther King heard it sung by Peter Seeger he kept humming the tune and later told his driver "that song really sticks with you, doesn't it?"

So what is it about "We Shall Overcome" that makes it so memorable? The first verse is very simple, and only has 23 words:

We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome some day,
Oh deep in my heart I do believe
We shall overcome someday.

The book goes into detail about why it is so powerful when sung together in a group. It has to do with its melodic shape and the way certain words are held. Stotts tells many wonderful stories of times when the song was used, and times when the power of its words was felt. The book details how Joan Baez sang it at the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington, and then later at Woodstock where it became a part of the anti-war movement. When Bruce Springsteen made a recording of it for a Pete Seeger tribute album in 1998, people viewed it as a song about personal strength. The producer of the record received letters from parents of children who had leukemia who said they were singing Bruce's version of the song to them.

A CD by Pete Seeger singing the song is included in the book, and offers a very nice touch for readers. By learning about the song, I believe that children will learn about the role that "We Shall Overcome" played in the labor, Civil Rights and anti-war movements in the United States.

BookNosher Activity: There are so many wonderful activities one could tie into the book. It would be fun to try and track down other versions of the song (ie. Springsteen, Baez and others) and play them alongside the Pete Seeger version. The music is included in the book, so it would be great to have a class learn the words and have them sing it in a circle, arms crossed and holding hands. I imagine they would experience the chilling power of "We Shall Overcome" firsthand.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Story Behind Toilets

I just discovered a wonderful series of non-fiction books that tackles all sorts of really interesting and diverse subjects. Kids who love learning facts about different topics (and being able to spew them out later) will love the True Stories series. It covers everything you might want to know about the fascinating history of everyday things. A quick look at their website, reveals twelve topics from The Story Behind Bread to The Story Behind Gravity. My local library had four of their books in their newly arrived section, and I just had to pull the one I thought kids would be the most drawn to.

The Story Behind Toilets (True Stories)
Written by: Elizabeth Raum
Recommended Ages: 8-12

While kids may initially be drawn to the potty humor of the title (and clever cover), this book is actually chock-full of fascinating facts about toilets. So let them snicker at first, you will soon find them learning lots of facts about toilets past, present and future.

The Story Behind Toilets starts off with a short history of toilets. Did you know that the palace of Knossos on the island of Crete had the first toilets that flushed (4000 years ago)? Or that chamber pots in the 1700's and 1800's often had the face of an unpopular leader painted on the bottom? During the American Revolution, Britain's King George III's face was used.

But the book goes on to deliver many more facts than just toilets. Kids will learn about how moats were often used as dumping grounds for sewage and hence smelled terrible. They'll also learn about early sewage and septic systems. One part I found particularly fascinating was how NASA scientists began using flowering water plants like hyacinths and lilies to clean wastewater. These flowering plants take in waste gases and give off clean air. Later on, the scientists would crush the plants and use them as fertilizer.

The use of toilet paper is also addressed. As early as 1400 CE, the Chinese were using soft toilet paper. Later on, in Europe in the 1500's, wealthy people ripped out pages of books to use for cleaning themselves. And in 2005, $5.7 billion worth of toilet paper was sold in the United States.

Toward the end of the book, toilets of tomorrow are addressed. In the "toilet-to-tap" system, wastewater is turned into drinking water. There are currently about 15 cities and towns in the U.S. using this system. The health dangers of not having toilets and sewer systems are also discussed, and a world map shows how many parts of the world do not have acceptable levels of sanitation. For kids in the U.S., this will be an eye-opening experience.

The True Stories series would be a wonderful addition to a third or fourth grade classroom. Whether a child needs to choose a topic to report on, or just wants to find out a little more information about something like salt, there is a lot of information packed into these slim volumes. Here's a list of the titles currently available:

The Story Behind Bread

The Story Behind Chocolate

The Story Behind Cotton

The Story Behind Diamonds
The Story Behind Electricity

The Story Behind Gold

The Story Behind Gravity

The Story Behind Oil

The Story Behind Salt

The Story Behind Skyscrapers
The Story Behind Time

The Story Behind Toilets

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mole Music

Mole Music

Written and Illustrated by: David McPhail
Recommended Ages: 4-8

Mole Music is an example of a perfect picture book. In 32 pages, David McPhail manages to tell a simple, poignant story on the surface, with an underlying deeper message. It's the kind of book you want every child to read over and over again. If you are looking for a gift for a young child (or someone who loves music), you really can't go wrong with Mole Music.

Mole lives alone underground, spending his days digging tunnels and his evenings watching TV. One evening he hears a man playing the violin on TV. It is the most beautiful music he has ever heard, and he decides he wants to make music himself. So he sends away for a violin. Alas, when it comes the sounds he makes on it are nothing like the sounds the man made. But Mole is persistent and he practices and practices until he plays better than the man on TV. Sometimes he wonders what it would be like to play for people, wondering if "his music could reach into people's hearts and melt away their anger and sadness."

What Mole doesn't realize is that his music is drifting above ground, drawing people to it and making them happy. For above Mole's subterranean world there is a world that is listening to his music and being changed by it.

Mole Music is beautifully enhanced by the pen and ink and watercolor illustrations that blend seamlessly with the text. There are so many wonderful lessons tied up in this book, and yet none of them seems heavy handed. What better message is there to pass on to a child than the power that one person has to change the world for the better? I highly recommend adding Mole Music to your personal library.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Two Early Reader Chapter Books

I've written before about the challenge of finding interesting early chapter books for the emerging reader. These are readers who are ready to move beyond picture books, but not ready for a full chapter book. So I'm always on the lookout for something new and interesting in this genre. Here are two early chapter books I've recently discovered to introduce to your kids during these waning days of summer.

The Cool Crazy Crickets

Written by: David Elliott
Illustrated by: Paul Meisel
Recommended Ages: 4-7

The Cool Crazy Crickets follows four friends as they go through the stages of forming a club, naming it, making a clubhouse and finding a mascot. It's a 48-page book divided into four chapters. The sentences are short and easy to read, and there's a lot of dialogue which makes reading it fun. I like it that the friends are two girls and two boys, and ethnically diverse. There's an everyday feeling to the book that young readers will relate to. It's just four kids hanging out on a hot summer day making their own fun. Readers may in fact be motivated to go and form a club and build their own clubhouse out of an old box.

Daisy Dawson Is on Her Way!

Written by: Steve Voake
Illustrated by: Jessica Meserve
Recommended Ages: 4-8

Daisy Dawson is on Her Way is a slightly more difficult early chapter book, but equally satisfying. It's a good choice for kids that are ready to move beyond the level of something like the Magic Treehouse series. Daisy Dawson is a dreamer and a dawdler. She is almost always late for school, but only because she finds so many interesting things to look at along the way. On this particular day, she rescues a butterfly from a spider web on her walk to school. After that, she discovers she has the ability to communicate with animals. What follows are all sorts of encounters with different animals.

Daisy is a spunky, independent little girl who has a lot of appeal. The book moves along at a quick pace, and before you know it you're wrapping it up on page 98. The talking animals give it a fun, whimsical quality, and the black and white illustrations lend an old fashioned air to it.

If you are looking for some good books for your emerging reader to read before school starts, either of these books would be a good choice. Both books have sequels, so if your kids like them there's more to choose from.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer

Written by: Rita Williams-Garcia
Recommended Ages: 9-12

One Crazy Summer takes place in the summer of 1968, a year of tumultuous change in the United States. Eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are on their first airplane ride to Oakland to visit their mother who abandoned them seven years ago. They are filled with both trepidation and excitement, as they leave the safety of their dad and grandma to reacquaint themselves with a mother who didn't want them.

Delphine tells their story and her voice rings loud and clear. She is the oldest and takes her responsibilities seriously. She is in charge of her sisters, and makes sure that they (and everyone else) understand that. The other sisters are beautifully drawn also. Vonetta is all "ham and show," always itching to be the center of attention. And Fern is the baby of the family, a tad needy and always clutching her baby doll.

When the girls meet their mother, Cecile, their worst fears are realized. She's late to pick them up at the airport, no hugs, clipped sentences and no home cooked meals. She's not exactly vying for mother of the year. She's a poet, and her kitchen is mysteriously off limits to the kids. She hands them money for take-out Chinese food, and forces them to attend a Black Panther-sponsored summer day camp.

As readers we learn so much about what was going on at the time, and we see it through the eyes of these three young sisters. We watch as they come to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panthers, Huey Lewis and the true meaning of Revolution. When Delphine learns that they are supposed to participate in a rally, her fear is palpable. She's worried about the danger and tells one of the counselors that she doesn't want to participate, that she has to take care of her sisters. Sister Mukumbu tells her:

"We look out for each other. The rally is one way of looking out for all of our sisters. All of our brothers. Unity, Sister Delphine. We have to stand united."

Williams-Garcia does a beautiful job depicting the charged atmosphere that was such a part of the summer of 1968. And while there's danger in the air, there's also an incredible feeling of community amongst the people involved at the "summer camp." The rally is a pivotal point for each of the girls. For in their own ways, each one of them changes and matures during their month in Oakland. Their initial perceptions of many things are challenged, and by the end of the month they see things very differently.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the book for me is Delphine's journey. She discovers so much about herself, and about the mother that left her. For although Cecile never emerges as any sort of mother role model, you get a better sense of who she is, and why she did what she did.

One Crazy Summer
is one of those rare middle-grade books that I didn't want to end. Williams-Garcia does a masterful job writing about a time period I think kids will find fascinating and educational. There's no better way to learn about about history than by viewing it through the eyes of a child. Delphine is the perfect narrator for one of the most fascinating, turbulent periods of American history. I highly recommend One Crazy Summer.