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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: NonFiction, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 1,959
1. Creative Nonfiction

Even though a picture book is nonfiction, it should still have a story arc.


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2. Choose Your Own Autobiography: Review Haiku

To adore this book
as much as I did, turn to
page one. Keep going.

Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris. Crown, 2014, 304 pages.

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3. Night Sky Watcher (and drawing with the light of stars)

Winter nights are undeniably great for cosy reading on the sofa, but they’re also often ideal for star gazing with kids. Early darkness, not long after getting home from school, combined with frosty, clear nights means that we’re able to look up at the moon, stars and planets long before bedtime. There’s nothing like a bit of awe and wonder before your fishfingers for supper, we’ve discovered.

nightskywatcherNight Sky Watcher by Raman Prinja is the latest astronomy book we’ve been using to aid our journeys through the night sky. It’s chock full of practical advice, not only on how to find constellations and planets when you tilt your head up to the darkness above, but also how to make your star gazing fun and easy.

Night Sky Watcher has separate sections on observing stars, planets and “unusual sights” such as satellites, meteor showers and eclipses. Richly illustrated with astronomical photos, short boxes and bubbles deliver bite-sized parcels of facts and viewing advice, supplemented by activity ideas ranging from joining up stars to form your own constellation to acting out planetary orbits with friends. I love the book’s emphasis on going out there and doing astronomy, not just reading about it.

One aspect which has worked especially well for us is the star spotting guide; constellations are presented in their stellar context, with Prinja showing us how once we’ve found one set of stars we can use that constellation to navigate to another. “Star-hopping” has been a big hit and has really extended the girls’ previous experience and understanding of looking up at the celestial sky.


The book’s design is rather clever; it comes in a silver edged zipper pouch, which immediately suggests adventurous astronaut gear. The book isn’t “just” a book, it’s part of your night sky watching equipment designed for taking outside and using in situ. The book’s interior feels equally modern and slick with “astrofacts” appearing every few pages on an iPad/tablet screen and glossy paper adding to the sheen and sparkle of the astronomical photos.

Before heading into the dark to look for stars the girls and I boosted our star-pattern recognition skills but making our own bag of indoor magnetic stars which we could move around on the fridge and radiators to form the constellations we’d be looking for once we got outside.

We used:

  • LEDs
  • CR2032 3V lithium batteries
  • Black electrical tape
  • Small magnets
  • starsstep


    Once we had a handful of glowing “stars” we set about making the constellations we wanted to look for in the night sky. Alongside Night Sky Watcher we also used this constellation crib sheet to help us place our stars in the right patterns on a radiator in a dark room.




    Can you tell which constellation this is meant to be?  It's the central part of Orion, featuring the belt, Betelgeuse (top left) and Rigel (bottom right).

    Can you tell which constellation this is meant to be?
    It’s the central part of Orion, featuring the belt, Betelgeuse (top left) and Rigel (bottom right).

    Once we’d made a few constellations the girls got another idea. Recalling the time we “scribbled” with light (using a long shutter release on my camera), M and J wanted to draw the constellations in the air; in Night Sky Watcher (as in standard practice when learning about constellations), the stars are “joined up” by lines to give the constellation’s outline, and it was these outlines that the girls wanted to try and draw.


    Can you recognise this constellation?! It’s meant to be Cassiopeia…

    Drawing the constellations wasn’t as easy as using the light magnets to lay out the right patterns and soon our “drawing with the light of stars” became rather free-form.


    Whilst making our magnetic stars we listened to:

  • Comet 67P clicking, humming, singing?
  • This playlist from the BBC: Music to watch stars by, part of Stargazing Live.
  • Full Moon, Full Moon by Papa Crow – a big hit this one with us all.

  • Other activities which might go well with reading Night Sky Watcher include:

  • Creating constellation candle holders, using this tutorial from Design Sponge
  • Setting up a google alert for news about space exploration. If your child (or you) wants to keep informed about the latest news regarding spaces research and discoveries, you can set up an alert to send you a news digest at a frequency to suit you. Go to https://www.google.co.uk/alerts and type in the terms you’re interested in eg “space”, “exploration”, “lunar”, “comet”. “astronaut” etc. You can then choose to receive notification (via email) of relevant news items, as it happens, once a day or once a week.
  • Building your own starry night visible whatever the weather. There are no instructions with this image, but I love the idea of filling a small courtyard with this sort of installation art.
  • Being inspired by this newly released image of the Andromeda galaxy (the most detailed image to date) to create your own star filled horizon using the splattering of paint. KokokoKIDS does this for falling snow (scroll down a little to the scene with the row of houses), but if you did it on black paper I think it could look like a star filled night instead.
  • Using marshmallows and toothpick instead of LEDs to make constellations, inspired by Edventures with Kids.
  • Other space books we’ve enjoyed recently are How to be a Space Explorer written by Mark Brakea nd illustrated by Emma Jones and Space Exploration: A Three-Dimensional Expanding Pocket Guide by John Holcroft. What space books have you recently discovered?

    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Night Sky Watcher by the publisher.

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    4. Yes Please: Review Haiku

    Masshole makes good,
    makes us all laugh, kicks some a$$
    in the process. Rock on.

    Yes Please by Amy Poehler. Dey Street Books, 2014, 352 pages.

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    5. I Am Jackie Robinson by Brad Meltzer

    I'm so glad I decided to participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted at Kidlit Frenzy.  It is a great reminder to keep up with my nonfiction reading in 2015!

    The newish picture book biography series, "Ordinary People Change the World" by Brad Meltzer's a perfect nonfiction series for elementary students.  We have the first few books in our classroom and I've noticed that several kids are picking them up on their own to read during independent reading time.  They are great stories and are very accessible to young children.

    These books look simpler than they are.  I read the newest title, I Am Jackie Robinson this weekend and realized how packed the book is.  The focus of the story and the theme of all of the books is one about heroes.  So the story focuses on the things Jackie Robinson did to change the world.  The stories is an engaging one for kids and the illustrations make them books that kids will pick up even without our nudging.

    From a nonfiction reading standpoint, I plan to use these books to teach lots of mini lessons.  The page layouts, the ways the talking bubbles share details that go beyond the main text, the timeline at the end of the book, and other features all make these books a new favorite nonfiction series for me.

    I love this new edition and am looking forward to the next book in the series--I Am Lucille Ball coming in July.

    This short clip tells a bit more about the series:

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    6. Harry & Winnie: Friends Forever and even longer …

    “In 1919, just before Harry returned to Winniepeg, he made another hard decision.
    He decided that Winnie would stay at the London Zoo permanently.
    Harry was sad, but he knew Winnie would be happiest in the home she knew best.”

    This week over at BookPage, I’ve got an interview with author Sally M. Walker. Her newest picture book is Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh (Henry Holt, January 2015), illustrated by newcomer Jonathan D. Voss. It’s a fascinating story and one I didn’t know.

    Our Q&A is over here at BookPage, and below I have some art (and backmatter images) from the book.

    “When Harry Colebourn looked out of the train window,
    he couldn’t believe what he saw ….”

    “… The cub climbed into Harry’s lap and licked his chin.
    ‘She’s for sale,’ said the man holding her leash. …”

    “Harry could care for a bear; he was a veterinarian.
    ‘How much?’ Harry asked. …”

    “Sometimes Harry went places where Winnie couldn’t. The other soldiers cub-sat.
    They photographed Winnie. They took her for walks.”

    “But no matter where Winnie went during the day,
    she slept under Harry’s cot every night.”

    “… For seven weeks, Winnie watched soldiers practice marching. …”

    “Harry visited Winnie whenever he could, but the war lasted four years.
    During that time, the zookeepers took good care of his bear. …”

    “One day, when Winnie was nearly eleven years old, a little boy visited her.
    ‘Oh, Bear!’ cried the boy, whose name was Christopher Robin.
    He hugged Winnie and fed her milk.”

    “… The zookeepers treated her kindly, friendly visitors scratched her back,
    and gentle children spoon-fed her milk. …”

    Front and back endpapers
    (Click each to enlarge)

    * * * * * * *

    WINNIE. Copyright © 2015 by Sally M. Walker. Illustrations © 2015 by Jonathan D. Voss. Published by Henry Holt and Company, New York. All images here are reproduced by permission of the publisher.

    2 Comments on Harry & Winnie: Friends Forever and even longer …, last added: 1/29/2015
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    7. The Art of the English Murder (2014)

    The Art of the English Murder. Lucy Worsley. 2014. Pegusus Books. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

    I really liked Lucy Worsley's The Art of The English Murder. There were some chapters that I loved, loved, loved. There were some chapters I 'merely' liked. But overall, I found the book to be worth reading and informative. Plenty of "I didn't know that?!?!" facts were included. I always enjoying learning as I read. I believe this is the book companion to a BBC documentary A VERY BRITISH MURDER. I'm curious how the two compare. If it's better to read or watch.

    So the premise of this one is simple: how did the British become so interested, so entertained, so fascinated by murder: murder in real life and murder in fiction. It even looks at how real life crimes influences/inspires fictional crimes. (Think Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins to name just two.) So on the one hand, it looks at real cases that got plenty of press, and stayed in the news, cases that became, in a way, part of the culture (think Jack the Ripper), and, on the other hand, it looks at fictional cases. (Think Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, etc.) The last few chapters focus on the "Golden Age" of mystery writers. And the very final chapter, I believe, focuses on Alfred Hitchcock.

    As I said, this book has plenty of details. For example, it talks of how puppet shows--for the most part traveling puppet shows--were for adults. Puppet shows often depicted famous murders. So there would be puppets depicting murderers and their victims. And the audience would watch the crime unfold in front of them. The book notes that at times, the murder would be (could be) encored several times. So it does go into 'melodrama' and the theatre. I found the chapter on the stage version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fascinating!

    This book is oh-so-easy to recommend!

    © 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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    8. Picture Book Roundup - January 2015 edition

    Some new picture book favorites!  A fairytale, a toddler book, and poetic nonfiction.  Enjoy!

    A beautiful princess, a pony, a red umbrella and red tights.  This is the girls' empowerment fairytale that you've always wanted. Be who you are; love who you are. If the illustrations in this one do not enchant you, you have no magic in your soul.  (So glad that this one made the leap across the pond!)

    While tow truck and fire truck are out performing rescues, mild-mannered and bespectacled garbage truck "just collects the trash." It takes a snowstorm and an attachable snow plow to turn him into Supertruck! Simply told and simply illustrated for a young audience, this is a story of doing your job simply because it's the job that needs to be done. I like it! 

    Note: Despite its snowstorm theme, this one should be popular for the 2015, "Every Hero Tells a Story" summer reading theme.

    A beautifully photographed, poetic look at rain - what it does and where it lands and how we see it. Simple, gorgeous science,

    It thuds.
    Makes mud.
    It fills.
    It spills.

    Have a great week, and don't forget to check out the posts on the Nonfiction Monday blog.

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    9. I Must Say: Review Haiku

    I had a crush on
    Ed Grimly and I'm not
    ashamed to admit it.

    I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short. Harper, 2014, 336 pages.

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    10. Historical Novels

    How much history should you put in your book to keep it a novel and not a textbook?


    0 Comments on Historical Novels as of 1/21/2015 3:07:00 PM
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    11. Review of Draw What You See

    benson_draw what you seeDraw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews
    by Kathleen Benson; illus. with paintings by Benny Andrews
    Primary, Intermediate   Clarion   32 pp.
    1/15   978-0-544-10487-7   $16.99

    Benson opens in New Orleans in 2005, where Benny Andrews traveled after Hurricane Katrina to teach children “to use art to express their feelings about what they had been through…he knew that sometimes it was easier to tell a story with pictures than with words.” And this is an excellent way to begin a biography of an artist dedicated to the craft of narrative- and experience-based art, and also to the ongoing social concerns of African Americans and other minority groups. Then it’s back to 1933 Plainview, Georgia, where three-year-old Benny drew his first picture. In clear prose, Benson moves through the years, during which Andrews defied social expectations by leaving the farm, attending high school, earning a bachelor of fine arts degree, and eventually becoming a renowned painter in an art world that was still unwelcoming to artists of color. The narrative is expertly crafted around original Andrews paintings (identified in the back matter), which are notable for their focus on autobiographical elements and people’s experiences of prejudice as well as for the expressionistic stylization of figures: elongated subjects work in a field, attend church, dance at a jazz club, sell newspapers in Harlem. Appended are an author’s note, sources and resources, and an ultra-detailed timeline that makes clear the breadth and heft of Andrews’s accomplishments.

    From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


    The post Review of Draw What You See appeared first on The Horn Book.

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    12. 2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 1: Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond + Brown Girl Dreaming

    Our 4th and 5th graders are buzzing with excitement from our Mock Newbery discussion and voting. We have been reading and reading, sharing books and ideas, trying to figure out what makes a book truly distinguished. This past week, we've had two lunchtime book club meetings for our final discussions and voting. Just look at our turnout!

    2015 Mock Newbery discussion at Emerson School
    Over the next several days, I will try to share my students' thoughts on our books. Each student has tried to read at least five books from our nominated books (see here for more about our process), and all were working hard to compare very different books with each other. I want other librarians, parents and kids to be able to hear some of their comments.

    There is no way that our small group could read all the books that the Newbery Committee will be discussing. I wanted a representative sample that fell within our 4th and 5th grader's range. This year, I also wanted to give the students more responsibility and voice in nominating books to consider.

    I think I've inspired new admiration from our group about just what the Newbery Committee must do -- from the amount of reading to the hard, hard decisions. I will discuss each book, simply in alphabetical order. Here are the posts on our Mock Newbery:
    Part 1 -- The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond + Brown Girl Dreaming
    Part 2 -- The Crossover + Dash + The Fourteenth Goldfish
    Part 3 -- The Great Greene Heist + Half a Chance + The Life of Zarf
    Part 4 -- Magic in the Mix + Nest + The Night Gardener
    Part 5 -- Nuts to You + The Red Pencil + Snicker of Magic
    Part 6 -- The Swap + Witch's Boy + Zoo at the Edge of the World
    Part 7 -- OUR WINNER!!!
    Our book club actually start last spring, much like the Newbery Committee does, excitedly reading new releases. One of the first books that quickly grabbed readers and rose to the top was The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond.
    The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond
    by Brenda Woods
    Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2014
    Your local library
    ages 9-12
    Emerson's fourth and fifth graders were drawn to the way that Violet Diamond slowly builds a relationship with her grandmother, and how she discovered more about herself, her family and her identity in the process. Violet is biracial, like many of our students; but she never knew her African American father because he was killed in an automobile crash before she was born.
    making notes for the Mock Newbery discussion
    It was interesting that the students who really liked this book didn't speak up much about it. Perhaps it's because they read this in the beginning of the year. Or perhaps it's because it appealed to quieter readers. I just know that it stayed with my students, persisting to our final round of voting.

    Brown Girl Dreaming was another book that probed identity, family and self-discovery -- but this book drew a much more vocal reaction from my students.
    Brown Girl Dreaming
    by Jacqueline Woodson
    Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2014
    2014 National Book Award winner
    my full review
    Your local library
    ages 10-14
    Woodson weaves together the story of her childhood, built from her family's memories as well as her own. She writes her memoir in verse, capturing the episodic, sensory-rich feeling of memories. As we talked about characters, Kaiyah spoke up, saying how well she got to know the characters in Brown Girl Dreaming from the dialog.
    "In the first chapter, you can really understand what the dad was like and the mom, and the conflict between the two, because of how they wanted to name their daughter and how they talked." 
    Other students agreed, saying how they got to know a wide range of characters, not just Jackie. Her brother and sister, her grandparents, her mother were all really well developed and distinct, showing you what different family members were thinking and feeling.

    Moreover, my students commented how much they could connect to Jackie. Elani and Josselin said, "It's like we are actually in the book." Angel elaborated, explaining:
    "Jacqueline Woodson described her own experiences so well that I knew how she felt, and I have experienced some of the same things, so I felt like she would understand how I feel."
    Kaiyah and Angel also noted how well Brown Girl Dreaming captured the different settings, from rural South Carolina to urban New York City. Small interior images also stayed with our readers, like when Woodson's baby brother was eating paint chips from the wall.

    I was impressed how articulate and passionate our Brown Girl Dreaming readers were. While this isn't necessarily a book for a wide audience within a classroom, it goes deep for the readers it touches, staying with them for a long time.

    The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher Nancy Paulsen and Penguin Books for Young Readers, and we have purchased additional copies for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

    ©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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    13. Monday Morning Miscellany v.8

    I haven't been posting much lately, but it's not because I haven't been busy.  Here's what I've been doing:

    I'm a Round 2 Judge for Nonfiction -Early & Middle Grades. The finalists are listed below. A winner will be announced on February 14, 2015.  Stay tuned and check out the finalists in all the other categories on the Cybils site.  I can't discuss the books, but you are free to comment on your favorites.

    Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain
    by Russell Freedman
    Clarion Books
    Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cat 
    by Sy Montgomery
    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
    Feathers: Not Just for Flying
    by Melissa Stewart
    Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey 
    by Loree Griffin Burns
    Millbrook Press
    Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
    by Duncan Tonatiuh
    Harry N Abrams
    The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats: A Scientific Mystery
    by Sandra Markle
    Millbrook Press
    When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses
    by Rebecca L. Johnson
    Millbrook Press

    I'm honored to be the 2015 Co-Chair of the ALA/ALSC Great Websites for Kids Committee.  If you've never taken advantage of this great resource, I urge you to check it out at http://gws.ala.org/.

    The site is continually updated with new sites added and outdated sites deleted. Suggestions and comments are always welcome.  In December, we announced the seven newest sites to be added:

    And last but not least,

    This year will mark the fifth anniversary of the KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month celebration.  Each year, fellow librarian, Margo Tanenbaum and I, gather writers, illustrators, librarians and bloggers to highlight and celebrate and raise awareness of great books for young people that focus on women’s history.  This year's celebration kicks off in March. Please, stay in touch with us and support the inclusion of women's history in books for young readers! Follow our blog, KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month.

     You can also find us on:
     Below is a sneak preview of the authors and their books that will be featured this year.  

    See? I told you I've been busy! Have a great week!  Let it start with a reminder from MLKDay.gov,
    "Life's most persistent question is: What are you doing for others?" Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    And, oh yeah, it's Nonfiction Monday! Check it out.

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    14. As You Wish: Review Haiku

    Pointless fluff in its
    most charming form.
    Anybody want a peanut?

    As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden. Touchstone, 2014, 272 pages.

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    15. Setting the stage for writing about nonfiction

    Writing about nonfiction elicits the same initial lack of enthusiasm from my students as reading about nonfiction – a nonfiction affliction that seems, at first, impossible to overcome.    It’s the “dead Presidents and… Continue reading

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    16. Review of Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom

    lowery_turning 15 on the road to freedomTurning 15 on the Road to Freedom:
    My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March

    by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley; illus. by PJ Loughran
    Middle School, High School   Dial   128 pp.
    1/15   978-0-8037-4123-2   $19.99   g

    Lowery offers a revealing look at a childhood spent in the midst of the civil rights movement. As a teenager, the Selma, Alabama, native was there to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak out for black voting rights; she was tear-gassed and beaten on “Bloody Sunday” (as Lowery writes, in perhaps the understatement of the century, “It was not a good day to be around white people”); and she was among the three hundred people who marched from Selma to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery in 1965. Lowery’s voice is consistently engaging (“After that first time [in jail], I wasn’t so afraid, because I was with my buddies and we knew we had each other’s back. What we could do with each other’s backs, I don’t know. Those white policemen had billy clubs and guns”) and casual even as she parcels out often-harrowing memories (such as her time spent in the jail’s “sweatbox”: “There was no air…There was no toilet…There was nothing but heat in an iron box”). Period photos are incorporated seamlessly into the book design, and Loughran captures the emotions of the times with boldly colored illustrations. An epilogue of sorts — “Why Voting Rights?” — gives an excellent explanation of the significance of the right to vote for African Americans while making mention of the Supreme Court’s controversial 2013 changes to the Voting Rights Act. A strong addition to the canon of civil rights books for young people.


    The post Review of Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom appeared first on The Horn Book.

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    17. Small Victories: Review Haiku

    Everyone's favorite
    Christian next door is at it
    again. Say amen.

    Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott. Riverhead, 2014, 304 pages.

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    18. In The Kingdom of Ice

    In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette. Hampton Sides. 2014. 454 pages. [Source: Library]

    I enjoy reading nonfiction. I do. The topic is polar exploration--the North Pole to be precise. (I've read more about the South Pole, by the way.) The good news is that In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette is fascinating and thorough. It is detailed and focused on personalities and contexts. (Two of the personalities explored are George Washington De Long and James Gordon Bennett, Jr.)

    The trip is presented in great detail. Before the trip: how/when De Long became interested in polar exploration, finding financial backers for the trip, finding THE ship, finding men to go with him, finding resources and materials, doing the research, picking and choosing what research to rely on, planning and organizing, etc. During the trip: before the Jeannette got trapped in ice--what it was like on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, the dangers, the joys, etc., trapped in the ice on ship--what it was like to spend YEARS (I believe almost two years?) on a ship that's trapped in the ice, what it was like to be stuck with the same people in such close quarters for those years, trapped ON the ice with NO ship--what it was like in the final months as thirty-something men with limited provisions and supplies, men not in the best health, fought to survive and reach land and civilization. After the trip: what it was like for the survivors to encounter land and civilization again, who survived, etc.

    Most everything is given context and brought to life. That being said, it doesn't mean every person is likable!

    I enjoyed reading this one. I found it to be a quick read--just a day or two at most.

    © 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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    19. Call for Book-length Submissions on the Environment and Animal Protection: Ashland Creek Press

    Ashland Creek Press Seeks Work on Environment & Animal Protection

    Deadline: Year-Round

    Ashland Creek Press is currently accepting submissions of book-length fiction and nonfiction on the themes of the environment, animal protection, ecology, and wildlife—above all, we’re looking for exceptional, well-written, engaging stories. 

    We are open to many genres (young adult, mystery, literary fiction) as long as the stories are relevant to the themes listed above. 

    Submissions MUST be made online using the service Submittable. Visit our website for complete details.

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    20. The Girl with the White Flag

    The Girl With The White Flag. Tomiko Higa. Translated by Dorothy Britton. 1989. 130 pages. [Source: Bought]

    The Girl with the White Flag is the story of the author's childhood in war-time Japan. It begins by giving the reader ample background into the time and culture and place.

    One of the first events she shares with readers is the death of her mother. She then relates what life was like with her father, two older sisters, and her older brother. This portion is hard to navigate. I think in some ways it is just as hard for modern readers to understand the family life--the harshness, the strictness, the discipline, as it is to understand the monstrosities of war and soldiers and starvation. (Or maybe that's just my take on it.)

    About halfway through the narrative, the father disappears. He was on his somewhat routine mission of delivering food to the Japanese soldiers, but on this occasion he never returned home. The four children are left to fend for themselves. The American soldiers have just begun their invasion, their battle to capture this island. The children become refugees and the fight to survive has begun. The children ranged in age from 17 to 6. Somewhere along the way, however, two things happen--big things--that make this event even scarier: 1) Their brother dies one night from a stray bullet. 2) Within a few days of burying their brother, our narrator--the six/seven year old girl becomes lost--separated--from her sisters.

    The book recounts what it was like to be seven and alone and wandering in and out of danger. There was no safe place. Not really. Japanese soldiers weren't "safe." In fact, in her brief encounters with them she was almost killed. No, being near soldiers wasn't safe. The only "safe" soldier was a dead soldier. She did in fact scavenge around the dead soldiers looking for food.

    Her will to survive was strong. Her stamina incredible in my opinion. The sights. The sounds. The smells. All surrounded her. Could have potentially traumatized her and paralyzed her into inaction.

    If there is power in the Girl with The White Flag it is in its rawness, its simplicity, its boldness when it comes to being straightforward and honest. The story is incredible is powerful because it's true. Here is an eyewitness account of what it means to be seven and a refugee in a war zone. It can be brutal. It can be intense. But there is more to it than that.

    I found The Girl with The White Flag to be an incredibly compelling read, a must-read for adults.

    © 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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    21. Neighborhood Sharks

    roy_neigborhood sharks

    I didn’t look very carefully at Neighborhood Sharks when it first came in to the office, mostly because I’ve got such a soft spot for harbor seals (close relatives to elephant seals, the preferred prey for the great white sharks in this book). Also, I was kind of turned off by the limp dead seal and bloody red water on the cover.

    Now that I’ve spent some quality time with this book, I still feel sad about the dead seal, but now I also admire the shark’s surprising configurations that allow it to be the perfect predator. And as much as I now admire sharks, I admire Katherine Roy’s artistry even more.

    In the impressive and extensive back matter, Roy thanks David Macaulay for being her mentor. You can see his influence in several whimsical diagrams. Some of these provide visual analogies, like the one that explains the shark’s aerodynamic propulsion system and depicts a shark with wings and windows like an airplane. Another spread shows the food chain with a Macaulay-esque mix of scales: an enormous wooden spoon reaches into the ocean to stir a plankton “soup” while several gulls — each one smaller than the individual phytoplanktons and zooplanktons — perch on the handle and bowl of the spoon, eager for a taste.

    So I have no doubt that Neighborhood Sharks is an exemplary information book and a good bet for a Sibert nod. But what about the Caldecott? Is this also an exemplary picture book with a narrative and forward momentum? I think it is, thanks especially to two elements.

    First, all the bits of information about sharks’ anatomy and abilities are provided as digressions from a visual narrative that keeps moving forward in the illustrations even when the text does not refer to it. This progression begins on the title page and continues seamlessly to the end: a young elephant seal pursues and catches a fish; that seal is in turn pursued and caught by a great white shark; finally, that same shark is caught and tagged by a group of scientists in a boat. In my first reading, I was concentrating more on the information and didn’t notice this framing device, but it’s such a great idea. For one thing, it shows that the shark eating the seal is no worse than the seal eating its fish. That’s something I personally need to keep in mind. And by showing the scientists at the end, Roy is able to finish up with a wider view: the history of sharks and their future, including what we still need to learn about them. Besides providing a satisfying ending to the narrative, it also acts as a segue to the backmatter that describes, among other things, the days Roy spent on a boat with those same scientists.

    The second aspect of this book that makes it potentially Caldecott-worthy is Roy’s skill as a watercolorist. Clearly these illustrations were done with the aid of photos and video (you can’t paint underwater scenes from life!), but there is a sense of motion and immediacy that one doesn’t often see in paintings based on photos. It’s clear the illustrator has spent plenty of time observing how water and fish move and how light is refracted underwater. Her changing points of view — sometimes below a shark, sometimes above — make us feel as if we are in there swimming alongside them.

    But it’s her use of line and mass to show how the water moves that I find most impressive. Her brushwork is so assured, showing broad masses of various blues under the water, then breaking up the space with shorter brushstrokes to show motion and adding light pencil to outline shapes or indicate moving eddies of water. That blood fizzing and billowing out from the seal shows the direction the shark just swam in: not quite straight and probably shaking its head a bit. Roy’s style is realistic, but not slavishly so. Look at what she does when the shark breaches the surface of the water. Her pencil lines become darker and outline the ribbons of water. This is not something that one ever sees in a photo which either stops water in mid-drop (with a quick shutter speed) or blurs it (with a slower shutter). Instead, the ribbons of water are Roy’s method of indicating motion and the path of each splash. Outlining those brushstrokes in pencil makes the water look stylized, almost like a paisley pattern. It’s a bold choice and — to my eye at least — exactly right.

    I want to mention two design decisions, one good and one problematic. Of course, the Caldecott committee should concentrate on illustration above design, but I think these are still worth mentioning. First, the lettering on the cover and title page are perfection. “Neighborhood” is in a friendly handlettered-looking typeface, while “Sharks” is sharp and glassy with little shark-tooth-shaped notches in some of the letters. The triangles in the top point of the “A” and the negative space below the “K” are echoed in the shark’s fins and its nose. My design quibble is with the interior typesetting. I kept getting distracted by the relatively small margin between the two columns of type. Since the leading (vertical space between lines of type) was quite generous, the horizontal space between columns seemed proportionally too small. There’s not really a rule about this, but I really really wanted to either nudge those columns farther apart or decrease the leading a little.

    There seem to be many more information books to discuss this year than usual. Is this true, or has my perspective been narrowed because nearly all of my posts happen to be on nonfiction books?

    Now it’s finally your turn. Do you think this has a chance at a Caldecott? Will it be compared to this year’s other information books, and, if so, how does it stand up to them?



    The post Neighborhood Sharks appeared first on The Horn Book.

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    22. Nonfiction Picture Books

    True stories that would be perfect for picture books are all around us. 


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    23. Bad Feminist

    Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay has been popping up all over the place it seems these last several months and now I have finished it I understand why. Since I read Laurie Penny’s book just before picking this one up I can’t help but make a few comparisons. Both are essay collections but where Penny focuses on gender and patriarchy, Gay is more wide ranging with essays on competitive Scrabble, teaching, race, gender, books and movies. Penny is pissed off and doesn’t give a rat’s ass if she offends anyone. Gay is more measured, moderate, questioning and even funny. Both women have been raped. Penny almost died from anorexia. Gay struggles with being overweight. Both understand that feminism is a bigger issue than women having equal opportunity to make money. Gay refers to this as feminist essentialism and it is why she calls herself a bad feminist.

    Feminist essentialism is what second wave feminism from the seventies got boxed into — humorless, militant, pornography-hating, hairy-legged, no make-up allowed women with unwavering principles and if you waver, you’re not a real feminist and you’re kicked out of the club. Second wave feminists also had a hard time addressing racial issues as well as heteronormativity. All this morphed into the kind of feminism Elizabeth Wurtzel writes about in a 2012 Atlantic article in which “real feminists earn a living, have money and means of their own.” And later that same year in a Harper’s Bazaar article she added that real feminists also work hard to be beautiful and would never “misrepresent the cause by appearing less than hale and happy.” If that’s what feminism is, no wonder Gay calls herself a bad feminist. I’m bad too!

    Gay admits to being a bundle of contradictions. She often finds herself singing along happily to songs that are blatantly misogynist but the tune is so catchy she just can’t help herself. She dates men she knows are not good for her and she has, and probably will again, fake an orgasm because it is easier than taking the time and effort to get what she wants from a man who she is sure she will never have sex with again. She really likes to watch bad reality television.

    Feminism is not perfect, she says, but that doesn’t mean it is not worthwhile. We forget that feminism is powered by people and people are flawed and

    [f]or whatever reason, we hold feminism to an unreasonable standard where the movement must be everything we want and must always make the best choices. When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.

    Gay’s favorite definition of feminism was offered by an Australian woman named Su in 1996:

    feminists are ‘just women who don’t want to be treated like shit.’

    Gay has a fantastic essay, “Peculiar Benefits,” about privilege. Most of us who live in western industrialized countries have privilege of one kind or another. I’m white, middle-class, educated, able-bodied, and in a heterosexual relationship that allows me to be married (Minnesota allows same-sex marriage — yay! — but that didn’t happen until 2013). I probably have other privileges I haven’t even thought about. They are nothing to be ashamed of. They are to be recognized and acknowledged for what they are. I know there are people in my city and all over the world who don’t have half the privileges I do. I don’t have to do anything about it, but I try to in my own imperfect way. As Gay says,

    You need to understand the extent of your privilege, the consequences of your privilege, and remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about. …You could, however, use that privilege for the greater good — try to level the playing field for everyone, to work for social justice, to bring attention to how those without certain privileges are disenfranchised. We’ve seen what the hoarding of privilege has done, and the results are shameful.

    I could go on and on about how wonderful this book is. Gay’s writing on rape culture is excellent and her essay on trigger warnings, “The Illusion of Safety/The Safety of Illusion,” is a thoughtful discussion on the topic. Her examination of racism, especially in books, film and television, is also fantastic.

    I read an interview with Gay recently (sorry, I don’t remember where!) in which she expressed her surprise that Bad Feminist is doing so well. This is her first foray into nonfiction, she considers herself a novelist, and this book was outside her comfort zone. I’m glad she wrote it and I hope there will be others. If you’ve not had a chance to read the book yet and are wondering if you should, yes, definitely give it a go.

    Filed under: Books, Essays, Feminism, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Feminism, Roxanne Gay

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    24. Being Mortal: Review Haiku

    Hard conversations
    that we can't seem to have well.
    Alles fleisch indeed . . .

    Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. Metropolitan Books, 2014, 304 pages.

    P.S. Apparently I took a weeklong blog break. Oops. I'm only mortal . . .

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    25. Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls (ages 5-9)

    Children are drawn to books in part to see themselves reflected, but also to look into the lives of other people far away. I think truly wonderful books can help us do both. Emmanuel's Dream tells the inspiring story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who was born in Ghana with one deformed leg. He faced life with courage and fortitude, and his story helps readers think about how we face life's challenges.
    Emmanuel's Dream
    The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah
    by Laurie Ann Thompson
    illustrated by Sean Qualls
    Schwartz & Wade / Random House, p2015
    Your local library
    ages 5-9
    *best new book*
    From an early age, Emmanuel's mother encouraged him to go after what he wanted. Even though one of his legs was deformed, he hopped more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, and even learned to ride a bike with his friends. In 2001, Emmanuel rode his bicycle four hundred miles across Ghana to spread his powerful message: disability is not inability.
    "As Emmanuel grew, Mama Comfort told him he could have anything,
    but he would have to get it for himself."
    Laurie Ann Thompson
    Today, I have the honor of starting off a blog tour celebrating the publication of Emmanuel's Dream with an interview with Laurie Ann Thompson.

    Mary Ann: How did you first find out about this story?
    Laurie: I first learned about Emmanuel’s inspiring story when he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2005 at the launch of Emmanuel’s Gift, a documentary about his life narrated by Oprah herself. On her show, Oprah said, “I think every parent should go take their children to see this movie because it will change the way your children think about what they can do and can be.” I agreed, but as a children’s book author I thought it would be even better if every parent could share Emmanuel’s story with their child through a book!

    Mary Ann: Then how did you go about learning more about Emmanuel?
    Laurie: First, I bought the movie and watched it over and over again. Then, I did research online and through library databases to find newspaper and magazine articles about Emmanuel and his activities. Finally, in 2010, I had the honor of meeting Emmanuel and interviewing him in person. After that meeting, I had 18 pages of typed, single-spaced notes to add to my research file! Since then, Emmanuel and I have kept in touch by email and phone, so he was able to answer all of my follow-up questions directly.
    Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah and Laurie Ann Thompson in San Diego
    Mary Ann: What was really interesting or surprising to you?
    Laurie: What I love most about Emmanuel’s story is how thoughtful he was about what he was trying to accomplish. He’s an incredible athlete, yes, but he’s also very intelligent and observant, and his ride was more than just a physical pursuit. He specifically chose a sport, cycling, that most people think would require two legs. He hired a photographer to document his journey along the way. And he intentionally arranged meetings with key government officials and religious leaders all along his route so that his story would be featured in newspapers and magazines and on radio and television. This careful cultivation of the right kinds of media attention was a huge factor in his success.

    Mary Ann: When you read this story with children, what do you find they really connect to in Emmanuel's story? What inspires you about children's reactions?
    Laurie: Since it just came out, I actually haven’t had a chance to read it with very many children yet, but what attracted me to the story was the fact that Emmanuel was such an underdog. He wasn’t expected to do anything important with his life—he was expected to become a beggar. First, he ignored that expectation, and then he completely turned it on its head! The setting will certainly be unfamiliar to most readers in the United States, and many children won’t be able to relate to being disabled and but I think all of us, especially children, can relate to that feeling of being underappreciated, of someone else’s expectations for us coming in disappointingly, frustratingly low. I hope that after reading the book children will give themselves permission to follow their own dreams and live up to their own potentials, regardless of what others may tell them is possible or not. I think that’s the real power behind Emmanuel’s story, and what I most wanted to convey.

    Thank you so much, Laurie, for taking the time to share your thoughts on this beautiful story. I absolutely agree -- I think that this story helps children look inside themselves to see how they can be courageous, how they can live up to their potentials no matter what others tell them.

    I look forward to following all the stops on Laurie's blog tour.
    Mon, Jan 12: Great Kid Books
    Tues, Jan 13: 5 Minutes for Books
    Wed, Jan 14: Unleashing Readers
    Thurs, Jan 15: Sharpread
    Fri, Jan 16: Cracking the Cover
    Sat, Jan 17: Booking Mama
    Mon, Jan 19: Once Upon a Story
    Tues, Jan 20: Proseandkahn
    Wed, Jan 21: Geo Librarian
    Thurs, Jan 22: Nonfiction Detectives
    Fri, Jan 23: The Fourth Musketeer
    Mon, Jan 26: NC Teacher Stuff
    Tues, Jan 27: Teach Mentor Texts
    Laurie Ann Thompson is the author of Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters, a how-to guide for teens who want to change the world. An advocate for social justice, Laurie is dedicated to inspiring and empowering young readers. Emmanuel's Dream is her picture-book debut. Visit her at lauriethompson.com.

    Illustration © 2015 by Sean Qualls from EMMANUEL'S DREAM: THE TRUE STORY OF EMMANUEL OFOSU YEBOAH by Laurie Ann Thompson; published by Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company

    The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher Random House Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

    ©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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