The following nonfiction books were published in 2011 and are award winners from the organizations listed in my previous post. For more on my evaluation techniques and the importance of nonfiction for kids, check out my last post.
The Watcher – Jeanette Winter
Subjects: Biography, Science, Zoology
Age Recommendation: 3-6 years (due to amount of white space, soft colors, and simple vocabulary)
Synopsis: Always a watcher of the world around her, Jane Goodall takes her most important journey to Gombe, Africa where she conducted her monumental research on a group of chimpanzees.This story best exhibits the benefits of patience, gentleness, perseverance, and personal responsibility from Goodall’s childhood to old age.
Review: The author wished that, as a child, she had a book with a brave, trail-blazing woman. This appears to be her main reason to write on Jane Goodall, but it is not shown that she is an expert on the subject. She has written almost 50 nonfiction titles. The author used 4 direct quotes from Goodall–an excellent touch of reality. Because there are no “real-life” pictures, this book does have the feel of fiction (this may be good or bad depending on the child). The biggest deterrent for the age group is the long length of the story.
Into the Unknown: How great explorers found their way by land, sea, and air – Stewart Ross
Subjects: history, exploration, geography, architecture
Age Recommendation: 8-12
Synopsis: Starting in 340 BC with Pytheas the Greek and ending in 1969 with the Apollo 11 moon landing, Ross and illustrator Stephen Bietsy fill this exemplary nonfiction book with intriguing facts and near peril. “These journeys of exploration are not necessarily the most important in terms of what they found, but each one is extraordinary for the way it was made.”
Review: Somewhat as an explorer himself, Ross has traveled all over the world to teach history, giving him acute insight into how students best learn the subject. Past the written word, the intricate cross-section by artist Stephen Bietsy (Incredible Cross-Sections) reveal the intense labor and dedication of the adventurers involved. Furthermore, the maps provide a valuable visual understanding. of each expedition. The foldouts also provide a unique feeling of discovery for the reader.
Can We Save the Tiger? – Martin Jenkins
Subjects: animals, species endangerment
Age Recommendation: 6-10 years
Synopsis: An introduction to extinct & endangered species including the tiger, sloth bear, partula snails, bison, kakapos, and several more. Jenkins provides explanations regarding the dwindling numbers including beauty, ferocity, need for big stretches of land, introduction of nonnative predators, and disease. Jenkins doesn’t ruthlessly blame humans for inhumanity but reveals the reasoning behind past actions–reasons that can be overcome. Jenkins explains success stories and the potential for much more. His last quote has a beautiful simplicity:
“When it comes to looking after all the species that are already endangered, there’s such a lot to do that sometimes it might all seem to be too much, especially when there are so many other important things to worry about. But if we stop trying, the chances are that pretty soon we’ll end up with a world where there are no tigers or elephants, or sawfishes or whooping cranes, or albatrosses or ground iguanas. And I think that would be a shame, don’t you?”
Review: I hate to over exaggerate and call something a masterpiece, but this is pretty darn close. The artwork is engrossing, astonishing, and accurate (the artist has traveled across the world to draw and paint animals in the wild). Large pages and the charcoal medium capture movement, grace, and natural beauty from the tiger to the vulture. Jenkins’ expertise on endangered animals derives from his consultant undertaking for the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, which checks on the status of endangered species around the world. Jenkins doesn’t sugar coat the situation, but states that giving up protection efforts is not really an option. A conversational tone, this book is best read out loud and is a great introduction to programs on endangered species.
Journey into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures – Rebecca L. Johnson
Subjects: Marine biology, exploration
Age Recommendation: 8-12 years
Synopsis: “We know less about this huge watery kingdom than we do about many planets in our solar system.” From 2000 to 2010, more than 2,000 researchers from 82 countries sought to understand more about our oceans conducting the most extensive investigation of ocean life ever attempted. Johnson details 8 oceanic sections filled with creatures of the shores to creatures of the deep.
Review: Johnson journeyed across the globe to get first hand accounts from scientists that participated in the study, quoting 18 scientists throughout the book. Her second-person narrative captivates children considering future marine biology professions, and also reveals her own passion for the ocean (being an avid scuba diver). Great provision of yet-to-be-named oceanic life pictures mixed in with an exciting narrative of discovery.
The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families – Susan L. Roth & Cindy Trumbore
Subjects: Ending poverty & hunger, trees, environmental restoration, mixed-media art, human innovation
Age Recommendation: 5-10 years
Synopsis: The land in Hargigo, Eritrea, Africa is dry and dusty. With little rainfall, the livestock do not have enough to eat, leaving little meat and milk for the citizens. Part biography, part environmental success story, Roth and Trumbore describe the scientific undertaking of Dr. Gordon H. Sato to save this town in Africa with mangrove trees. With fertilizer, the diligent hands of women villagers, and the hungry stomachs of sheep and goats, the mangrove trees’ leaves plumped up the livestock, thus providing food and milk for the families.
Review: This story is part cumulative tale (for younger listeners) and part fact-filled story (for older readers/listeners). The fact-filled story is told in a start-to-finish manner, including a lot of useful, scientific data. However, the large pictures are much more suited for the cumulative tale, which may leave listeners bored and unable to comprehend all the facts without a visual point of reference. The artwork is fun and textually intriguing. The afterword provides an excellent story of Gordon Soto, a glossary, and a pronunciation guide, perfect for school projects. Both authors showed an interest in the subject matter, but do not have expertise.
Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People – Monica Brown
Subjects: Poetry, Chile, biography, activism
Age Recommendation: 4-7 years
Synopsis: Pablo Neruda wrote about the world around him: sometimes about love, other times about curiosity, and eventually about human injustice and protest. Brown creates a beautiful mosaic of Neruda’s life and his fascination with his surroundings.
Review: This book excels in showcasing Pablo Neruda’s love of the world around him. In each painting, Spanish and English words are interwoven in the images, showing children the connection between words and images (an early literacy skill). On top of this enriching integration of words, the artwork is stunningly filled with luscious colors that capture the true emotion of each scene. Illustrator Julie Paschkis traveled to Neruda’s home, clearly imbibing the Chilean surroundings. This would make an excellent book to spark a poetry program for children to write poetry about anything–just like Pablo Neruda!
Terezin: Voices from the Holocaust – Ruth Thomson
Subjects: holocaust, Czech Republic history, art
Age Recommendation: 8-12 years
Synopsis: Between 1941 and 1945, Nazis turned the town of Terezin, Czechoslovakia, into a ghetto for thousands of displaced Czech Jewish people. Ruth Thomson provides a brief summary leading up to ghetto life, followed by the intensely dismal living conditions that demoralized and deteriorated the prisoner’s health. With an ever growing population that cramped living conditions and expedited disease and living quarters that separated families, combined with sudden transports away from the city in the middle of the night, life in Teresienstadt was stressful on the mind, body, and soul, leading up to a terrifying transport to a concentration death camp.
Review: Informative text accompanied with direct quotes give this book an authoritative and real quality necessary for documentation (and for a child’s research project). Thomson place particular emphasis on the artists, the children, and the Nazi deception to outside groups such as the Red Cross. Thomson’s interest in the Czech ghetto arose during research on Holocaust art (she also has an MA in museum and gallery learning), which doesn’t show a strong specialty on the Holocaust but the existence of culture and art during historical time periods. The organization is easy to follow, filled with artwork, artifacts,and some photos–not trying to disturb the young audience but informing them on a tragic period in history. Timeline, glossary, sources, and index provided.