Archive for Nonfiction

Discover More: Ancient Egypt

Written by Penelope Arlon

Once again Scholastic has produced a breath takingly beautiful book about ancient Egypt full of mummies and gold.

The diagrams are clearly marked and everything is easy to read. Pages are full, and yet, not busy. Fourth grade readers will enjoy learning the names for ancient symbols and names for seasons of the year. Of course, the pharaohs still command much attention and interest. Timelines help keep the succession in order. Homelife, board games, personal beauty secrets are shared here as well as information about food, drink and the Rosetta stone.

Teachers and librarians can use this accessible research book to meet literacy and common core standards both for the confident elementary reader and the reluctant, struggling older reader.

Students will spend hours enjoying the beauty of the artifacts and will be able to read the short passages of text printed in a slightly larger font than has been typical of nonfiction of the past.

This is an excellent addition to the set of Discover More books put out by Scholastic.

  • Ancient EgyptTitle: Ancient Egypt
  • Author: Penelope Arlon
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 80 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-62739-9
  • Genre: Nonfiction, social studies, history
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Extras: Photographs, glossary, index and special code to download Amazing Mummy Tales

I Am Harriet Tubman

Written by Grace Norwich
Illustrated by Ute Simon

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This new addition to the “I Am” biography series allows middle grade readers to discover who Harriet Tubman was on their own. It is filled with realistic pencil drawings, maps, graphs and data boxes telling students about Harriet’s tips for survival, her fights for women’s rights and other helpful information about the times.

The format of this biography works well for educators involved with the common core. Students can find the meaning for words in the glossary, use the index when writing their own reports and check the websites included for further information. It is a quality non-fiction book written in an accessible narrative fashion that students will enjoy reading. They will find themselves deeply imbedded in the story and looking over their shoulders to see if they are being followed.

Teachers or librarians can use this book for read aloud time to introduce students in grade three or grade four to the genre of biography. Literacy skills strengthened include: reading for information, reading an index, using a glossary, reading maps and using picture clues to enhance comprehension.

  • Harriett TubmanTitle: I Am Harriet Tubman
  • Author: Grace Norwich
  • Illustrator: Ute Simon
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 127 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-48436-7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Biography

Explore Gravity! With 25 Great Projects

Written by Cindy Blobaum

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Packed with kid-friendly information and complemented with hands-on, minds-on projects, Explore Gravity! With 25 Great Projects is sure to cause young readers on the fourth grade level to stop, think, and experiment with a concept that is so universal it is often ignored.

Play is one of the most powerful teachers, and Explore Gravity! encourages scientific play. The suggested activities are simple (dropping items from different heights) yet fun (creating a marshmallow launcher). The book will inspire children to fiddle with physics, all in the name of fun.

In addition to the emphasis on data collection, inquiry and scientific process skills, teachers will appreciate the wide array of concepts addressed including life science (the impacts of gravity on sprouting plants and the anatomy of the inner ear), space science (black holes and orbits), health (exercises and survival in an avalanche), and of course physical science (simple machines and centripetal force). Those who are working to add informational text to their reading lists may want to consider this book. Parents will like that the activities require only household items, and can be accomplished with minimal adult support. Kids will like the jokes, fun facts (like how many Gs a person experiences in a roller coaster, Formula One Race Car or space ship), and the knowledge which they can apply in everyday life.

Explore Gravity! is listed as appropriate for grades 1-4. While many of the activities in the book are most appropriate for students on the lower end of that range, the reading level is more appropriate for readers on the upper end and beyond that range. Explore Gravity!  includes black and white illustrations which either clarify the instructions (for example a labeled diagram of the inner ear) or add humor. Many spreads include a “Words To Know” sidebar with bolded words and definitions. The back matter contains a glossary and index.

  •  Explore GravityTITLE: Explore Gravity! With 25 Great Projects
  • AUTHOR: Cindy Blobaum
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Bryan Stone
  • PUBLISHER: Nomad Press
  • REVIEWER: Heather L. Montgomery
  • EDITION: Paperback: 96 p.
  • ISBN: 978-1619302075
  • GENRE: Nonfiction, Science

Choosing a Hamster, Gerbil, Guinea Pig, Rabbit, Ferret, Mouse, or Rat: How to Choose and Care for a Small Mammal

Written by Laura S. Jeffrey

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Which pet is right for you? Choosing a pet can be tricky, especially when there are so many choices. With help from the American Humane Association, this book guides young readers through what small mammals are like and what they can expect from them as pets. It’s a straightforward overview, easy for elementary comprehension.

Did you know that rabbits are third in popularity behind dogs and cats? Within the last 75 years, small mammals have become a common pet choice in the U.S. because they are low maintenance and can thrive in any sized home. The author methodically reviews the characteristics of each animal listed in the title. Mice and rats are very smart; rabbits are playful; gerbils are gentle, but don’t like living alone; hamsters are odorless, but could nip if upset; guinea pigs can be noisy; and ferrets need a lot of attention. The most in-depth section, Taking Care of Your New Pet, offers tips for housing and diet and touches upon small mammal health, veterinary care, and the proper way to hold and handle the animals.

Designed for third and fourth grade readers, basic information gets jazzed up with colorful fonts, text boxes, and fun facts. But the part young readers will like best is the photographs – plenty of awww factor here, as little furry creatures with their twitchy noses, alert ears, and tiny paws appear on every page. As part of a pet care series, parents and children may want to visit the publisher’s website to browse other titles: www.enslow.com. They can also learn more about the American Humane Association by visiting www.americanhumane.org.

  • Choosing a HamsterTITLE: Choosing a Hamster, Gerbil, Guinea Pig, Rabbit, Ferret, Mouse, or Rat: How to Choose and Care for a Small Mammal
  • AUTHOR: Laura S. Jeffrey
  • PUBLISHER: Enslow Elementary / Enslow Publishers, Inc.
  • REVIEWER: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • FORMAT: Paperback, 48 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4644-0217-3
  • GENRE: Nonfiction, Science, Nature
  • LEXILE: 850

Otter Lee Brave

Written by Rena Cherry Brown

Illustrated by Mikaila Maidment

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Otter Lee Brave. My first thought was, “This is such an adorable cover. The otters are just the sweetest little fellows. I’m sure this will be an cute story about otters.” Then, I said the title again – Otter Lee Brave, Utter Lee Brave, Utterly Brave. Odd, yet interesting. I am hooked, and I have to read this book, and I feel sure 4th graders will as well.

Upon reading the story, it becomes very evident that Otter Lee Brave is so much more than just a sweet story about cute creatures. Rena Cherry Brown creates several plot points that will teach the reader many lessons. Throughout the story, Lee learns to be brave in all circumstances. First, he tries diving to the bottom of the bay for the first time, with his mom gently encouraging him. Next, Lee learns how to comfort himself in times of trouble. When Lee is picked up and taken to an aquarium, he learns to adapt to the situation. While Lee is bullied by a large otter in the aquarium, he is also adopted by an older female, learning the good and bad of characters in life. An earthquake causes the aquarium to bust open and all the otters are swept into the bay. While they are not equipped with open water survival skills, Lee teaches them how to hold on to kelp to prevent them from floating away. There he learns to be a leader. Even when the bully is in trouble, and Lee is the only one who knows and can save him, Lee considers the actions he could take and ultimately decides to save the bully otter learning bravery. And, like all good otter stories, Lee stays in the bay and makes a connection with a female otter – and they live happily every after I assume. He is Otter Lee Brave.

The story is interesting, but the illustrations are fabulous. Mikaila Maidment uses each page to bring life to the book. You feel the tenderness of motherly love. You feel the security a kelp bed can give and the sadness of the loss of a loved one. You feel the anxiousness of a new environment. You feel the weakness of being bullied. You feel the fear of the unknown. You feel the hope for a future. You feel young love at the end. All of these feelings come from the amazing artwork of Maidment.

Within the story line, readers gain small facts about the otter world, such as what their environment is like, what their diet consists of, and what obstacles and predators they must avoid. The last page contains a list of “Otter Facts.” The story, lessons learned, facts and illustrations all combine for an increased level of reading comprehension for readers of all ages.

  • Otter Lee BraveTitle: Otter Lee Brave
  • Author: Rena Cherry Brown
  • Illustrator: Mikaila Maidment
  • Publisher: Shiffer Publishing
  • Reviewer: Ann H. Norris
  • ISBN:0764341553
  • Hardback, 48 pages
  • Genre: Nature, Animals
  • Lexile: 870

Jemmy Button

Written by Alix Barzelay

Illustrated by Jennifer Uman and Valerio Vidal

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Jemmy Button is a delightful picture book based on the stories of Jemmy Button, a native boy from Tierra del Fuego. The story depicts the life of the young boy who was taken from his native land to England in the early 1800’s where he was educated with the hopes that he could then educate his native people upon his return.  Readers of all ages will delight in the story and the 4th grade level reader will master the text without difficulty along with developing an appreciation for the illustrations.

This is one of those books that appears simple in text for younger readers yet offers many levels of meaning for older reader when the full scope of what the character experienced is fully understood. Those deeper meanings will give teachers many opportunities for discussions on the emotions their students would experience if placed in the same situation. Classroom activities can include group work allowing students to make up a new scenario for current times that includes having the 4th grade student being uprooted from everything he or she knows and placed in a completely new environment.

Including Jemmy Button as part of reading, writing, and comprehension lesson for the 4th grader will also allow the teacher or parent to include character development, environmental affects, and family relationships when discussing this picture book. The book leaves the reader connected to the character in a deeper way than many novels accomplish and those types of books and characters come few and far between.  Teachers and parents who overlook adding this picture book to their libraries are missing a great opportunity to give readers an emotional experience and a love of story that most will not forget.

  • Jemmy ButtonTitle: Jemmy Button
  • Author: Alix Barzelay
  • Illustrators: Jennifer Uman and Valerio Vidal
  • Publisher: Templar Books, an imprint of Candlewick Press
  • Reviewer: Terri Forehand
  • Genre: Juvenile, picture book, nonfiction
  • Lexile: 860

Wisdom, the Midway Albatross: Surviving the Japanese Tsunami and Other Disasters for Over 60 Years

Written by Darcy Pattison

Illustrated by Kitty Harvill

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Wisdom’s life is a remarkable story, at times touching and suspenseful, but ultimately inspiring.  Survival is hard enough for a Laysan Albatross.  Wisdom was one of many chicks born that year on Midway Atoll, but few survived long enough to fly.  That was the first hurdle for this little chick.  She took to the skies, flying and catching food from the sea for years.  She endured predators, such as sharks and natural phenomenon, such as tsunami, but returned to Midway in 1956.  That year she mated and laid an egg.  We know that because a research scientist caught her and banded her that year.  Through this study, Wisdom’s life is documented.  Not only did she endure the normal circumstances that threaten birds, now she faced death from manmade causes.  Many birds became victims of eating plastic that appeared in the ocean.  Some got caught in longline fishing lines and were trapped.  When her band was checked in 2002, scientists were so impressed by her longevity that they gave her a name: Wisdom.  They documented her laying an egg each year from 2008 through 2011.  But that year, not only did a big storm hit, a tsunami flooded the island.  Many albatrosses were killed.  Scientists worried about Wisdom and her chick.  For nearly ten days, no one saw her until they finally spotted her feeding her chick safe in their nest.

Readers can’t help but cheer for the tough, beautiful bird.  Students could listen and list the different threats to Wisdom’s survival as a literacy activity.  It would make a great class read aloud for both environmental and animal units.  The soft watercolor illustrations are a lovely accompaniment to the text.  There is a book trailer on the author’s website which will be a quick introduction to the book: (http://albatross.darcypattison.com/). The U. S. Fish and Wildlife service has frequent “Wisdom” updates at: (http://www.fws.gov/midway/whatsnew.html).

  • WisdomTITLE: Wisdom, the Midway Albatross: Surviving the Japanese Tsunami and Other Disasters for Over 60 Years
  • AUTHOR: Darcy Pattison
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Kitty Harvill
  • PUBLISHER: Mims House, 2012
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Paperback, 32 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-9798621-7-5
  • GENRE: Non-fiction, animal stories
  • LEXILE: 840

Native Americans: A Visual Exploration

Written by S.N. Paleja

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Despite some effort to provide culturally diverse education for students, information on Native Americans is largely ignored or just plain nonexistent. In this ambitious text, the author provides an excellent overview and beginning point for learning about the first North Americans. Each page uses graphics to provide information and should capture the attention of fourth graders with numerous charts, graphs, and timelines. Naturally, the author begins with where the people came from and when. He gives a great explanation of the land bridge called Beringia and how and when it disappeared. He also shows that many groups used shoreline exploration rather than overland routes for migration. The various climate zones in which the groups lived and the names of the tribes are discussed, as well as the types of shelters they constructed, the community structures and the food they ate. A particularly striking graphic of the many uses for the bison is shown. The reader learns about environmental impact, the diverse languages of Native Americans, their spiritual beliefs, and their inventions. When Europeans entered the picture, looking for riches, the lives of Native Americans changed drastically. The author explores their current situation and possible future.

With all the infographics presented, the author implicitly suggests further reading activities, such as drawing more detailed maps over smaller regions. This is a dispassionate treatment of the overall subject, which affords a great opportunity to learn the true facts. The extensive bibliography and index make it easy for the curious reader to continue study of the topics introduced. The publisher’s website (www.annickpress.com) has more about the book, the author, and the publisher.

  • Native AmericanTITLE: Native Americans: A Visual Exploration
  • AUTHOR: S.N. Paleja
  • PUBLISHER: Annick Press
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • EDITION: 2013
  • ISBN: 978-1-55451-485-4
  • GENRE: History, Native American Affairs
  • LEXILE: 1070

Robbers! True Stories of the World’s Most Notorious Thieves

Written by Andreas Schroeder

Illustrated by Remy Simard

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Readers on the 4th grade reading level and up who like adventure and action will enjoy the drama and intrigue in Robbers! True Stories of the World’s Most Notorious Thieves! Presented  in chapters this 166-page text provides stories of famous historical robberies. Each chapter presents one robber, an in-depth look at one of their heists, and briefer descriptions of their other crimes. From a team of thieves who stole the Mona Lisa to an individual who hijacked a plane and parachuted as an escape, Robbers! illustrates the creative approaches criminals have taken.

But Robbers! doesn’t only highlight illegal successes. Through stories of criminal mistakes, such as a pair of thieves who didn’t know how to fly their get-away plane to a team who forgot to run the dishwasher (and thus left numerous fingerprints for police to use), this book shows how crooks get caught. Robbers! details criminal techniques such as how to case a bank, how to run pearls over your teeth to determine if they are genuine or fake, and how to act your way through a situation to bluff authority figures. This is information some adults may not want in the hands of young readers so this book might not end up on third grade reading lists; on the other hand, the stories do teach the values of attention to detail, careful work and determination and the book might intrigue risk-seeking students who need practice with their reading skills. A book that highlights criminal action could glorify the thieves or show them as villains. Robbers!, however, presents these histories with a non-judgemental tone. The book concludes with a robber-turned-good – the story of Willie Sutton, a bank-robbing addict who eventually turned his energies to helping banks improve their security.

Each story is accompanied by brief cartoon-style illustrations placed in-line with the text. This presentation style requires the cartoon caption to be read as a part of the main text and may confuse some readers, but the illustrations themselves help lighten the book. Every spread includes at least one illustration and some pages include a call out note with additional information. Backmatter includes a chapter-by-chapter bibliography, an index and further reading. Unfortunately all of the books listed in the further reading are at least twenty years old, so may be out-dated and hard for young readers to access.

  • RobbersTITLE: Robbers! True Stories of the World’s Most Notorious Thieves
  • AUTHOR: Andreas Schroeder
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Remy Simard
  • PUBLISHER: Annick Press
  • REVIEWER: Heather L. Montgomery
  • EDITION: Paperback: 166 p.
  • ISBN: 978-1554514403
  • GENRE: Nonfiction, History
  • LEXILE: 1230GN

Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero

Written by Cheryl Harness

Illustrated by Carlo Molinari

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I’m writing this review wearing pants, no shorts. My freedom to wear these “outrageous,” “positively sinful,” “scandalous” clothes is due, in part, to Mary Walker and other brave, stubborn women like her. Mary Walker Wears the Pants is a read-aloud biography that tells the story of a mid-nineteenth century woman who became one of the world’s first women doctors. She persistently helped soldiers and civilians during the Civil War, even when no one acknowledged her or requested her help. Walker was a prisoner of war (for her probable role as a spy for the Union), yet after the Civil War, she labored on as a doctor and was eventually awarded the Medal of Honor. Walker also travelled the U.S. and abroad as a paid speaker about her service, imprisonment, and pants!

Mary Walker Wears the Pants is well-suited for reading aloud in a fourth grade class as a part of a Civil War or Women’s History unit. It is also a perfect biography for a fourth grader to read for a biography book report. Carlo Molinari’s illustrations distinctly demonstrate the contrast of what women traditionally wore to what Mary Walker’s pants suits were like.  Girls today take for granted the freedom they have to express themselves any way they want, and Cheryl Harness provides a fresh perspective about how fortunate we are to have such stubborn women like Mary Walker in our rich history.

  • Mary WalkerTitle: Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero
  • Author: Cheryl Harness
  • Illustrator: Carlo Molinari
  • Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
  • Reviewer: Sharon Schulte
  • Paperback, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8075-4990-2
  • Genre: non-fiction/biography/women physicians/Civil War/history
  • Lexile: – AD910
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