Tag Archives: non-fiction

We love them yeah, yeah yeah

11 Apr

Of course, I mean The Beatles.


Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom tell the fascinating story of one of the world’s greatest rock bands, the ‘Fab Four’; John, Paul, George and Ringo (as well as Pete and Stu). The book is laid out in two-page spreads, illustrated cartoon-style, with a welter of boxed items per page that give crisp factual info—usually no more than a couple dozen words at a time—while the text buzzes along. 


This  story covers John Lennon’s Liverpool childhood with Auntie Mimi and his school band the Quarrymen, the friendship between Paul McCartney and George Harrison and their entry into the band, renaming the band the Beatles, the arrival of Brian Epstein as manager, the tour to Hamburg, record label boss George Martin’s influence, Ringo Starr joining the group, fame and screaming fans, the famous tour to the USA, the making of the albums, key hit songs, and films, their visit to India and the influence of Indian spirituality, and finally the breakup of the band and the beginning of solo careers for each. It includes a timeline and bibliography. 

Here are a few more images to enjoy.



All in all this is a fun book to read. I didn’t learn much more than I already knew about The Beatles, and it’s not really meant for young people already listening to the White Album. But for kids just starting to learn about them this is an excellent resource.

Brainy Bird Books

6 Apr

A family of ducks comes every year to nest in the courtyard of my school. There are usually two females, one or two males, and, eventually, many ducklings. So far this year, I’ve only seen two males, but I am hopeful that we will have ducklings before too long. Then, we will see teachers and students standing against the windows overlooking the courtyard, happily eating them. It is our Rite of Spring.

Thinking about the ducklings, my mind wanders to several new books about birds.

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Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth is a wonder. In the guise of a catalog from a future in which builds are extinct, it presents bird part  you can use to build your own bird. It is apart parody of sales catalogs, part cautionary tale about environmental issues, part natural history of birds. There is so much here and so many ways you can use this in the classroom: persuasive writing, descriptive writing, how to writing….. you get the idea. Here are some pages to show you what to expect.

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Feathers Not Just for Flying  written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, is a more traditional take on natural history. Stewart focuses on just birds’ feathers and the many different purposes of feathers. Each page or two-page spread has a statement with a simile in large print like “Feathers can shade out sun like an umbrella.” Then there is a text box with smaller print describing how one particular bird (like the Tricolored heron, Florida Everglades) uses its feathers in this way. The text is simple, but the ideas are big.


Finally, we have Mama Built a Little Nest written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, which focuses, as you might guess, on nests. More suitable to younger audiences, the rhyming text explains the different ways birds make nests for their young, allowing children to learn amazing facts about different birds.

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Angel Island by Russell Freedman

12 Mar

When I taught 6th grade in  middle school, some years ago, our 8th grade team did a unit on immigration in Social Studies. The culminating event was a role plating exercise in which the students dressed up as an immigrant from their family history, and had to go through stations to enter the US.  All the teachers in the hall, 6th through 8th grade participated during their plan time. The brilliant skill our team members possessed,  was the ability to speak different languages. As they came to our station, we would give them instructions in a language they didn’t understand. I gave mine in French, another teacher in Hebrew, a couple of others in Spanish. Our Hispanic kids breezed throughout the stations in Spanish. Some kids figure it out. But I remember rather fondly one girl, a freckled red-head who had a costume so realistic she looked as though she had just left Ireland. She was a  very bright girl and school usually came easily to her. By the time she got to me, she was red-faced and looked exhausted. Even tough I didn’t speak to her in English, she told me how frustrated she felt about not having a clue about what was going on. The role play was a success!

Russell Freedman’s new book  Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain  portrays that immigrant experience.


It is always a pleasure to know that Russell Freedman has written a new book. With the feel of a family scrapbook, Freedman tells the story of the people who emigrated to America through Angel Island, first from China, then from other countries. It is a heartbreaking look at our past. With so much written about the Ellis Island experience, this book adds to the smaller list of books focusing on immigration on the West Coast. An amazing collection of photos is enhanced by poetry that was originally scrawled on the walls of Angel Island’s prison in Chinese characters.  Here is a sample of both the Chinese and translated poems:


It’s been seven weeks since my imprisonment  

On this island – and still I do not know when I can land.                                                                              

Due to the twists and turns of  fate,                                                                                                                                                              

I have to endure bitterness and sorrow.

This would have been a great resource for our 8th grade team back in the day. Nice to know that today’s teachers have this wonderful resource.

Move over Harry, there’s a new potter in town

14 Jan

and his name is George E. Ohr.  He is the subject of The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr Eccentric Genius by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. I like that his middle initial and last name say Eeyore’s name.


Now I was never much of an artist, but I always loved when art class got around to the pottery unit. I loved the way my hands had to get right into the clay in order to create something. Maybe that’s why I like knitting so much; I get direct contact with the medium and the message.

George Ohr was a boy who didn’t fit in with his family and so jumped at the chance to work for a friend in a pottery business. As soon as he began working with clay, George knew he had found an outlet for his creativity. The book is filled with period photographs of the man, his times, the unique pottery he created. The pottery itself is lovely, original, and in many cases, covered in stunningly lovely glazes.


The man himself is quite intriguing too since his artwork brought him little attention during his lifetime. His appearance, behavior, and self promotion attracted more attention than his art.

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He didn’t sell many pots while he was alive, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing his love. After his death, his work lay hidden away. When they were finally “discovered” in the 1970’s, they sold for thousands of dollars.

The book offers back matter on the Ohr- O’Keefe Museum, which houses many of Ohr’s pots and a page entitled “How to Look at  a Pot” which I found rather interesting. There is a page on how to make a pot, and a bibliography, too.

This is a quirky book about art for art’s sake and loving what you do.

Nikola Tesla

9 Jan

The fourth grade is starting a biography unit. I culled through the biographies I have to share in the classroom biography museums we are going to set up in each class. I have enough kid & adult biographies to put a few in each museum. But I got excited because I came a cross a couple of biographies I picked up at the OASL Conference I attended in October. One of them was about this man, Nikola Tesla.


He was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current electricity supply system. And local author, Elizabeth Rusch wrote a biography of him this year.


There are many reasons why I like Elizabeth Rusch’s books. They are readable, but not dumbed down. She assumes that the people reading her books are smart and want to learn. She also thinks about teachers and creates materials to support teaching.These are often in the back of her books and/or included on her website. She has a  FOR TEACHERS page on her website where she has materials to support the common core using her books. She always provides lots of backmatter in her books: bibliographies, other info she didn’t have room for in the text, scientific explanations. Her books never disappoint.

Graphic Dust Bowl

17 Dec

Things that were history to me are now ancient history to the kids I teach. Because my parents lived through the depression and World War II, they were familiar to me. But now, these and many other important parts of our history are so distant to my students. These are the memories of their great grandparents, if they have them. And at my school, where over 60% of the students receive ESL services, the Dust Bowl isn’t  part of any family member’s memory.

Enter The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown.


This is an excellent introduction to the dust bowl. The text is presented in a simple, but thoroughly researched, style. Brown provides the scientific explanations for the dust storms as well as first hand accounts. But it is the art that really makes this a valuable tool. How can you really explain the dust bowl to someone who has never seen it or even heard of it? In a graphic form, of course. This is the perfect tool for introducing kids to the dust bowl.

The Marquis de Lafayette

12 Dec

I’ve always been interested in  the Marquis de Lafayette, a french aristocrat who fought in the American Revolutionary War, sided with the forces of change in the French Revolution, only to have them turn on him. he spent years in prison, separated from his family.  His real name was Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier, and I found it ridiculously long & cool.  A few years ago, I read a Lafayette by Harlow G. Unger,


a biography for adults. Two years ago we got Lafayette and the American Revolution by Russell Freedman. It won a Sibert honor award.


This  excellent book is definitely for middle and upper grades. fortunately, we now have a book for a younger audience, Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette written by Selene Castrovilla and illustrated by Drazen Kozjan.


The book opens in 1777 with the young Marquis, a fervent supporter of the American struggle against Great Britain, about to approach General George Washington. From there it shows how they grow to become very close friends, despite the age difference. The book is full of factual detail  and peppered with quotes from Lafayette. Back matter contains more details of their friendship, timelines for both Washington and Lafayette,a bibliography  and the final page features a pair of portraits of the two men that hang in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Mystery of Darwin’s Frog

10 Dec


Wacky nature stories intrigue most people. The Mystery of Darwin’s Frog,  written by Marty Crump & illustrated by Steve Jenkins and Edel Rodriguez, tells the story of a frog u like any other. It has a pointy nose, the male carries the young its mouth…you get the picture. This is one cool frog.

But the book isn’t just about the frog. They show readers how the study of behavioral biology has changed over time. In the mid 1800s, scientists discovered tadpoles in a male frog. This behavior was unexplained until the 1980s when a Chilean scientist discovered that the male frog guards the eggs and then swallows the tadpoles to protect them as they grow. The text describes the frog, explains the frogs’ behaviors, and traces scientists’ studies over decades and makes readers aware that, despite over 100 years of research, scientists have more questions than answers at this point about Darwin’s frog, especially regarding what may be bringing the species near extinction. The author does a great job of taking readers right into the scientific method and explaining how scientists tested their hypotheses and what they’ve learned as a result.

Nonfiction text features include a timeline (pages 28-29), additional information, glossary, suggested books and resources, an author’s note, and index. This is not an introductory frog book, but is best suited to readers grades 3/4 and up.

Toilet: how it works

23 Nov


It’s the sort of book you just have to pick up. Having been a fan of David Macaulay’s books for a long time, I knew he’d get to the bottom of things. Sorry, If just begs for potty jokes.

In any case, this is a really interesting book. Macaulay explains, in forthright text, what goes into the toilet, what should NOT go into the toilet and what happens after the toilet is flushed. There is humor in the illustrations


and the text is simple but really explains how the whole water treatment system works. I only had a vague idea before reading this book and feel as though I learned something.

Crime, Punishment & Presidential History

22 Nov

Fifty years ago today, I was a year, a month and a day away from being born. Growing up, I was like the kids I teach. When people asked  “Where were you when you heard the news” I had nothing to say. My 4th graders weren’t born in 2001, so they can’t answer the 9-11 version of that question. No one is left to answer the Lincoln version either.

Fortunately there are two non-fiction books that can help us understand presidential history a little better.


The assassination of JFK was a pivotal moment in American history. In  The President Has Been Shot ,James L. Swanson does an excellent job of going through the background of the key players, expressing facts that really laid out the event from many perspectives. While maintaining historical accuracy, the story is woven together through the eyes of all involved. I found myself feeling Oswald’s tension, the secrets service’s hesitance, the President’s gentle joy, and most powerfully, Jackie’s heartbreak.The book has a lot of pictures to support the text, other supporting material at the back, source notes, a list for further reading and  an extensive bibliography that includes a list of conspiracy theory literature.

This is a well-researched book that I bet will appear on a non-fiction award list for 2013.

Although not about the assassination itself,  Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin is another good read.


The book tells an odd bit of history.Yes, a group did try to steal Abraham;s Lincoln’s body. In telling this bizarre tale, Sheinkin sheds light on counterfeiting, the Secret Service and 19th century body snatching. It reads like a thriller and is hard to put down

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