Category Archives: Non-fiction

Architecture According to Pigeons

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This book purports to be written by a pigeon. And it is about architecture. (Let us accept from the beginning that it is deeply odd.) It is also jam packed with real information; while my oldest has read most (all?) of it, I have not read very much of it aloud. Instead, I’ve focused on the names of the buildings (human and pigeon) and the eye-catching pictures, which had the unexpected result of my youngest (already a huge pigeon fan) becoming sure he spoke fluent pigeon. About six months ago, he frequently approached pigeons asking them excitedly if the were going to see the Great Worm (also known as the Great Wall of China) and was very disappointed when they flew away without responding.

Author: Speck Lee Tailfeather (aided by Stella “Pigeon Whisperer” Gurney)
Illustrator: Natsko Seki

Farm Anatomy: The Curious Parts & Pieces of Country Life

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Unlike most of the books I feature here, this is not a book for reading aloud from cover to cover. Instead, this is a book for dipping in and out of, admiring the extensive illustrations and learning myriad new things. Chapters on land, barns, tools, planting, animals, food, and crafts provide an entry point for just about any range of interests and this book would make a wonderful present for just about anyone of any age.

Randomly opening the book to a section on poultry, in four pages we learned: the anatomy of an egg, how to identify (by their footprints) predators that could attack the flock, the average number of eggs one hen lays each year, two ways to tell how old an egg is, and the type of duck my mother had as a girl (a Call duck).

My oldest loves to read through this book on his own and is lobbying for us to try some of the recipes (especially the maple fudge).

Author: Julia Rothman
Illustrator: Julia Rothman

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis

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In a 1989 interview with The New York Times, celebrated chef and author Edna Lewis said: “As a child in Virginia, I thought all food tasted delicious. After growing up, I didn’t think food tasted the same, so it has been my lifelong effort to try and recapture those good flavors of the past.” This book focuses on that childhood, those good flavors, and how the rhythms of growing and gathering food affected the day-to-day life of Ms. Lewis’ family.

The boys love this book; the pictures and lovingly-described foods keep them spellbound. I do have a few small caveats: the recipes included at the end of the book are inspired by Ms. Lewis, but are not her own; the speech of the characters is highly stylized (old poetry and rhymes about food make up much of the dialogue, which may take some getting used to); and we all agree the author of this book likely has never actually heard a whippoorwill (we have learned from camping that its call is anything but melodious–instead it is a dead ringer for an hours-long car alarm).

Author: Robbin Gourley
Illustrator: Robbin Gourley

 

Ice Cream Summer

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In this book, a boy composes a rather plain-vanilla letter to his grandpa sharing what he’s been doing and learning over the summer (the toothsome illustrations reveal that it is all related to ice cream). Locating ice cream lurking in unexpected places is a large part of the fun–nearly all the pages are highly detailed and lend themselves to close examination.

Author: Peter Sis
Illustrator: Peter Sis

 

You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer!

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It was Mary Poppins, of all things, that introduced my boys to the idea that women had not always had the same civil rights as men. My oldest was curious, so I started looking for age-appropriate discussions of the subject. This was a success; the boys actively request we read it.

Amelia Bloomer was born in 1818, but she was utterly uninterested in being a “proper lady.” She wanted to work, vote, and wear practical clothing. So, she started her own newspaper, advocated for the vote, and published the pattern for the proto-pants that became known as bloomers. As Mrs. Banks would say: “Well done, Sister Suffragette!”

Author: Shana Corey
Illustrator: Chesley McLaren

The Racecar Alphabet

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My youngest is at the right age for alphabet books, and we’ve gathered a wide variety. This one is so good that my oldest tried to appropriate it.

Author: Brian Floca
Illustrator: Brian Floca

 

Lightship

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Here is a ship
that holds her place.

Brian Floca is fast becoming one of our very favorite authors/illustrators. This book, like Moonshot, is spellbinder. Although the story takes place much closer to home, it is just as poetic, fact-filled, and beautiful (although it is shorter and therefore quicker to read aloud).

The illustrations were based on a retired lightship that is now part of the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City–I’d love to visit it with the boys someday.

Author: Brian Floca
Illustrator: Brian Floca

 

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas

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There was once a lovely elephant seal who lived
in the city. Most elephant seals live in the ocean, in
salt water. They sleep on rocky coasts and lie along
sandy beaches. But this seal was different. She
swam in the sweet, shallow waters of the Avon River
where it flowed through the heart of the city of
Christchurch, New Zealand.

Elizabeth, named after the Queen of England, is very happy in her unusual home and she becomes a sort of mascot for the city until she develops a dangerous habit of basking on asphalt roads. Can Elizabeth and the city co-exist?

This sweet, quiet book is interesting and enjoyable. Including a photograph of the real Elizabeth at the end of the book was an especially nice touch.

Author: Lynne Cox
Illustrator: Brian Floca

 

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

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High above
there is the Moon,
cold and quiet,
no air, no life,
but glowing in the sky.

Here below
there are three men
who close themselves
in special clothes,
who–
click–lock hands
in heavy gloves,
who–
click–lock heads
in large, round helmets.

It is summer here in Florida,
hot, and near the sea.
But now these men are dressed for colder, stranger places.
The walk with stiff and awkward steps
in suits not made for Earth.

This outstanding book tells an amazing story, reads like poetry, is full of interesting facts, and is beautifully presented. It is not a short book, but reading it aloud is a pleasure.

Author: Brian Floca
Illustrator: Brian Floca

 

From Dawn Till Dusk

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My brothers and sister and I grew up on a farm of steep, wooded hills and fields with rocks as big as your head. There was work enough on that farm to keep us busy all year long from dawn till dusk.
On winter nights, as the wind whistled ’round the house and snow piled up against the windows, our mother told us stories of how our Scottish ancestors left their rocky farms to journey to America for a better life.
We thought of the rocks here, of Vermont’s long, bitter winters, and of the hundreds of trees that had to be cut down to make a farm, and my brothers would say, “Why’d they ever move
here?
Then they’d argue about where they wanted to move to when they grew up.

“Think of all the things you’d miss,” I told them.
“Miss?” they said. “What would we miss?”

For the rest of the book, the author and her brothers provide points and counterpoints of the difficulties and joys of farm life. It sounds incredibly difficult and wonderful and very exotic to us suburbanites. The author ends by noting:

A few cousins moved away, to New York and Michigan and even one to Africa, but my sister, brothers, and I, and most of my cousins, are still here, sugaring and haying and cutting wood. We also cross-country ski and canoe and gather together to eat, laugh, and tell stories. And no one talks about leaving.

Author: Natalie Kinsey-Warnock
Illustrator: Mary Azarian