Category Archives: Non Fiction

Nonfiction Monday: Little Lions, Bull Baiters & Hunting Hounds

Little Lions, Bull Baiters & Hunting Hounds is a book made for browsing. This is the first collaboration for husband and wife illustration team Jeffy Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson. Inspired by their two pooches (a Shih Tzu and a Dachshund), Jeff and Shelley offer readers a gorgeous illustrated history of dog breeds from hunting and herding dogs to companion breeds. While you might be tempted simply to ooh and ah over the artwork on these pages, I’m impressed by how informative a text this book is. There is certainly enough information here to keep even the most curious dog-loving kid occupied for a long time. Every breed is presented with a detailed illustration, showing the dog at work or play, as well as a map indicating the dog’s original homeland and a concise history of the breed, along with its particular traits and quirks. You’ll learn which type of dog is able to spot birds and planes flying through the sky, which dog is likely to drool you into submission, and which breed has earned the nickname, “World’s Fastest Couch Potato.” I appreciate how the facts aren’t run-of-the-mill. I imagine lots of careful research went into creating a book this comprehensive and entertaining.

This book would make a smashing Christmas / Thanksgiving / Hanukkah / Kwanzaa gift for animal-loving kids as young as 7 or 8. I know I would have curled up on a pillow next to the Christmas tree and read the day away if I’d found this in my stocking. Perfect companion read? That’s a no-brainer: James Herriot’s Treasury for Children.

A portion of the proceeds from this book is to be donated to animal welfare organizations. I like it. I like it. I like it. Check out Just One More Book’s podcast on this one.

Little Lions, Bull Baiters and Hunting Hounds is published by Tundra.


Nonfiction Monday: No Girls Allowed

Need a little girl power to kick start your Monday morning? Look no further. Kids Can Press presents No Girls Allowed, a new book written by Susan Hughes, and illustrated in rockin’ graphic style by Willow Dawson. This book hits the mark in many ways. It offers readers short tales, in graphic format, of women throughout history who disguised themselves as men in order to shape their lives on their own terms. You’ll find the story of Hatshepsut, the female pharoah, and the tales of Mu Lan and Alfhild, the Viking warrior. Each mini-bio is quite short, around ten pages, so I imagine there will be a lot of readers who want to learn more about the women they read about here. Good thing there’s a list of Further Reading suggestions on the last page. Susan Hughes’ afterword, in which she leads readers to consider why women have faced different treatment throughout history to the present, is a good introduction for all young readers to a complex subject.

This one belongs in classrooms, as it matches strong kid-appeal with worthy content, and a contemporary feel.

Nonfiction Monday: 3-D ABC A Sculptural Alphabet

I cannot resist a great art book, and Bob Raczka’s 3-D ABC: A Sculptural Alphabet is certainly great. The book is an ABC book, and for every letter of the alphabet there’s a photograph of a groovy sculpture inspired by or connected to that letter. The photography really pops, the text is simple and reads well aloud, and you can tell that the sculptures were selected for real “wow” factor for readers. (Just check out that cover image: Spoonbridge and Cherry. Cool). It shouldn’t be any surprise that Raczka has come up with a winner here, as he is the mastermind behind other great art books for kids such as No One Saw: Ordinary things through the eyes of an Artist (a brilliant book for all art teachers), Art is, and Unlikely Pairs. I want them all!

I really like the fact that Raczka focuses on how everyone experiences sculptures (and by extension, art) differently. It’s a personal experience that should be enchanting and inspiring. He writes: “A sculpture can mean different things to different people, or it can mean different things to the same person on different days.”

This one is made for teachers, and for any art-loving family. Just the book to inspire closer attention to the beauty of sculptures in galleries and outdoor spaces.

Nonfiction Monday: National Geographic Biographies: Anne Frank

Anne Frank: The Young Writer Who Told the World Her Story by Ann Kramer is part of National Geographic’s World History Biographies Series. The biography is marketed as an introduction to Anne’s story for readers who might not yet be ready to read her diary. The format of the text is very visually appealing, with excellent balance of text and images, numerous photographs of the Frank family and the Secret Annex, and a timeline that runs along the bottom of the pages throughout the entire book. You feel like you are getting a real glimpse into Anne’s world and experiences. The background of some of the pages is the same plaid pattern found on Anne’s actual diary itself, which I think is a lovely design touch. The text is divided into manageable sections focusing on Anne’s early years, the period of hiding in the Secret Annex and the family’s discovery and deportation. Interspersed throughout are several sections to provide background information or context on the historical period (Jews In Europe, Kristallnacht, The Holocaust). The writing is straightforward and accessible.

National Geographic is pitching this book for the 8-12 range. I don’t think most 8 year olds are ready for the intensity of the content here, not to mention the strong images related to concentration camps in the section on The Holocaust. As always, presenting a text with this type of content means that you have to really know the child who will be reading it. In fact, I think that in some ways, if a child isn’t ready for Anne’s actual diary, they might not be ready for this book. I first read the Diary when I was about 11 or 12, and I would have really been interested to have this book at my side. It would be a good companion text for Anne’s beloved book.

You will find a listing of the other titles in this series at National

Nonfiction Monday: Elephants and Golden Thrones

Elephants and Golden Thrones: Inside China’s Forbidden City, by Trish Marx, is a captivating inside look at the largest museum in the world. Anybody – child or adult – with even a passing interest in Chinese history and culture will sink right into this book. Marx covers a lot in only 48 pages, beginning with the story of Emperor Yongle, the ruler known as the Black Dragon, who was responsible for commissioning the Forbidden City. Each subsequent section of the book begins with a story of an Emperor or Empress as a lead in to many amazing glimpses of what life might have been like inside the palace during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The book is quite text heavy, but the informative sections are broken up nicely by the mini-narrative interludes which offer more personal insight into the rulers themselves. The text is very accessible too. It is not too complex for a younger reader, and yet it doesn’t oversimplify the content.

Part of the appeal of Elephants and Golden Thrones is the photography by Ellen Senisi. The pictures are quite beautiful, conveying the majesty, mystery and richness of the Forbidden City. Along with “never before published” photographs of the rooms, gardens and architecture of the palace, there are pictures of many artifacts and artworks to complement the text.

Good timing on the part of Abrams, as the book is released in July, just in time for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. It will be a lovely addition to classroom/school and public libraries, and I expect that children who happen to be studying Chinese culture will find it both informative and engaging.

Nonfiction Monday: I Found a Dead Bird

41777zcbt0l_ss500_.jpgJan Thornhill’s book, I Found a Dead Bird: The Kids’ Guide to the Cycle of Life & Death, is just the kind of nonfiction title that many kids will find cool. It’s an up close look at death through a mostly scientific lens, how it happens and why it happens. This is a fascinating – and potentially controversial – book, as I can imagine some parents finding it too grim or too graphic for their kids. Thornhill addresses the fact that death is a taboo topic for many humans early in her book, and suggests that avoiding the subject will likely just add to fear and anxiety.

The matter-of-fact tone established at the outset continues through the whole text, which helps to normalize the subject matter to a certain extent. I like how Thornhill explains her reason for writing the book in the first pages:

“I found a dead bird. It made me sad. But I also had a lot of questions, like: why did it have to die? how did it die? what would happen to it now it was dead?”

She then proceeds to look at death from just about every angle: food chains, lifespans of different species, predation, the negative influence of humanity on ecosystems, war, forensics, medical research, cloning, grieving, funeral customs. Naturally, the text can only touch on these topics and likely spark further questions in kids’ minds, leading to more reading and learning and questioning. In certain cases, I don’t think that it’s a smart (or sensitive) move to offer such a fleeting analysis of potentially disturbing images: “Oh, yes kids, and another way people die is in wars” (insert image here). Don’t get me wrong, I know that kids see many images of war these days, but I don’t think that this means they understand these images or find them normal or are unaffected by them. I would be hesitant to put this book into just any kid’s hands, as I’m not sure that all children who had recently experienced a loss would handle the text and images easily.

The book has a lot of kid appeal in its design, bright colours, arresting digital illustration and a look similar to Guinness Records in the way that lots of facts appear all over the pages in small bites. And then there’s the “Yuck Factor.” Take the series of pictures of the decomposing piglet, for instance. It’s gross, but interesting. I like how Thornhill encourages kids to say “Yuck,” stating that this reaction is totally natural. But then she encourages them to learn about it anyway. Say yuck, and move on. Good lesson.

I found a dead bird has won numerous awards and is one of the titles in the running for a 2008 Ontario Library Association Silver Birch Award . It’s sure to start many a conversation in the classroom and around the dinner table.

Non Fiction Monday: Graphic Library Series

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Here’s a simple way to test a book for kid appeal in the classroom:

1) Buy book.
2) Hide in classroom library amongst older, non-flashy titles.
3) See how long it takes for the kiddies to locate new book and fight over it.

By this measure, Capstone Press’s Graphic Library Series has significant kid appeal. I can’t slide one of these puppies into the classroom library bins without a bookworm finding it within minutes. At the moment, I have just a few Graphic Library titles in my class and I would be happy to have more.

If ever you needed to convince someone of the educational merit of the graphic novel genre, I can imagine that these books might be just the back up you need. The amount of information in the texts is considerable, and it is conveyed in a completely accessible manner. There’s a lot of supplementary material that will serve to deepen kids’ understanding of the subject matter and head them towards further investigations: a timeline, glossary, bibliography and list of related websites comes at the end of every book. The graphics are dynamic, bright and the layout is clean and pretty slick looking.

There’s nice diversity in the subject matter (heavily American, but hey, what can ya do). The series seems to have a fairly decent multicultural focus overall, and many of the texts address issues of social justice and equity and would offer a starting place for more discussion and learning along these lines.

I found a link at The Graphic Classroom that describes how Capstone is bringing out Interactive CDs as companion pieces to some of these texts. They sound pretty cool, with animation and sound effects and other features too. If only every school could have equal access to resources such as these. If only…