Category Archives: Non-fiction

Birds of a Feather

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This book doesn’t have many total pages, but it is enormous (well over a foot tall and almost a foot wide), heavy, and attractive. It very well designed; filled with interesting flaps, pop ups, puzzles, and avian tidbits; and recommended for kids large enough to pick it up easily and treat it gently.

Author: Bernadette Gervais and Francesco Pittau
Illustrator: Bernadette Gervais and Francesco Pittau

 

Million series

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Visualizing a million, billion, or trillion (or other concepts like compound interest and the metric system) isn’t easy, unless you read this fun series of books.

For example, a tank big enough to hold a million goldfish would be big enough to hold a whale. A tank big enough to hold a billion goldfish would be as big as a stadium. And a tank big enough to hold a trillion goldfish would be as big as a city harbor. (Keeping in mind a tank should hold one gallon of water for every one inch goldfish!)

Steven Kellogg’s cheerful illustrations keep things light, bright, and engaging. How Much is a Million? is our favorite of the series.

Author: David M. Schwartz
Illustrator: Steven Kellogg

Lincoln and His Boys

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Abraham Lincoln was a doting, devoted, and devastated father. This work of historical fiction focuses on his relationship with two of his four sons. Willie narrates the first half of the book (this narration is partially based on a 200-word fragment by the historical Willie; all of the events in the book are historically accurate). When Willie dies at age eleven, partway through his father’s term of office, the narration is taken over by his younger brother, Tad. (The Lincolns had already lost another son, Eddie, at the age of three, while Lincoln was practicing law in Springfield, Illinois.) The book ends as the Civil War ends, before Lincoln’s assassination. (The book does not go on to note that Tad outlived his father, but died at age eighteen and the Lincolns’ only surviving son, the one Lincoln had the most distant relationship with, then arranged to have his mother committed to a psychiatric hospital.)

While this is clearly not the happiest of stories, Lincoln loved his wife and their boys very much and his (over?) indulgence of his boys and joy in their company make this a very accessible, warm book. It is memorable too; my oldest drew Lincoln (complete with this stovepipe hat and beard) and one of his sons in response to an end-of-the-school-year question, along with the following explanation: “My favorite social studies is Aedrham Lingkne. Cus he is vary nice to his cids and evry oun eles!”

Author: Rosemary Wells
Illustrator: P.J. Lynch

Houdini: World’s Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King

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This is a wonderfully written and illustrated book about the greatest magician ever. Harry Houdini, born Ehrich Weiss, used books, his imagination, and pure grit to lift himself (and his entire family) out of anonymity and poverty into lasting, world-wide renown and wealth.

We came upon this book because I read The Houdini Box to my oldest and he wanted to know the real story behind the story. The boys love this real rags-to-riches tale and are fascinated by Houdini’s tricks, especially his escapes. Their favorite escape may be how Houdini would jump (handcuffed!) off bridges in front of huge (nonpaying) crowds, free himself underwater, and swim to safety (and sell out all his remaining performances in the area). As the book puts it, if you saw this, “You remembered it for the rest of your life.”

Author: Kathleen Krull
Illustrator: Eric Velasquez

Encyclopedia Prehistorica series

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Layers upon layers of scientific information are presented in this series through eye-popping pop ups (each double page spread has one big pop up, plus lots of smaller ones hidden in mini-attached pages). It is perfect for kids who love animals and science (and have learned to be gentle with delicate books).

Author: Matthew Reinhart
Illustrator: Robert Sabuda

The Magic School Bus series

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Ms. Frizzle, who may be the coolest teacher ever, has a magic school bus which takes her (sometimes reluctant) class on incredible trips. They travel on the ocean floor; get lost in the solar system; have an electric field trip; explore in the time of the dinosaurs; and go inside the earth, a bee hive, a hurricane, the human body, and the waterworks. Yet they are always back before the end of the school day without anyone knowing of their adventures.

These books are well designed and fun to look at, are packed (packed!) with scientific information, and have fun stories too (with the exception of Lost in the Solar System, which has a truly annoying guest student as a major focus–I avoid that one whenever possible). I expect that, once the boys get older, they will enjoy reading all of the dialogue boxes and side notes that I usually skip in the interest of time. Their favorites are: Inside the Earth, Inside a Bee Hive, Inside a Hurricane, In the Time of the Dinosaurs, and At the Waterworks.

Author: Joanna Cole
Illustrator: Bruce Degen

The Art Lesson

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Tommy knew he wanted to be an artist when he grew up.
He drew pictures everywhere he went. It was his favorite thing to do.

His friends had favorite things to do, too. Jack collected all kinds
of turtles. Herbie made huge cities in his sandbox. Jeannie,
Tommy’s best friend, could do cartwheels and stand on her head.

But Tommy drew and drew and drew.

This book is a great portriat of a young artist (“Tommy” is Tomie de Paola himself) and a very different time. The boys really enjoy this book. Highlights are Tommy’s joy in the sixty-four colors found in a large Crayola box (they agree that gold, silver, and copper crayons are especially exciting) and they are always amazed that each first grader in Tommy’s is given one (and only one!) precious piece of paper for art class.

In the final page of this book, a grown-up Tommy is sitting in his studio. Pictures from some of his most famous books (many of which the boys recognize) are on the wall. Tommy drew and drew and drew…

And he still does.

Author: Tomie de Paola
Illustrator: Tomie de Paola


 

If You Were Born a Kitten

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This quiet book tells gestation/birth/baby stories for many different animals, ending with one human baby:

You rode curled beneath your mother’s heart,
growing and growing. You floated in a salty sea, waiting
and waiting. Waiting for us who were waiting for you.
“We’re ready,” we said. And you were ready too.
So you squeezed out, wailing.

My toddlers thought babies were interesting.  That tendency, combined with the interesting details on the various animals and gentle pictures, ensured this cozy book kept their attention during the board book years.

Author:  Marion Dane Bauer
Illustrator:  JoEllen McAllister Stammen

Wings, Horns, and Claws: A Dinosaur Book of Epic Proportions

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This is a straightforward book with beautiful woodcut illustrations, an ever-appealing subject matter, and ever-appreciated pronunciation guidance. Our favorite dinosaur in the book is pictured above. The boys agree its tail might take out a T-rex and the oldest thinks it looks like “a very early kind of knight.”

Author: Christopher Wormel
Illustrator: Christopher Wormel

How to Scratch a Wombat

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Currently, we are completely infatuated with wombats.  Diary of a Wombat was our gateway story; now we cannot get enough of those charming, stubborn marsupials.  This nonfiction follow-up to Diary has lots of information (quite straightforward and unblushing information–if you are uncomfortable reading about bums and scat, this will not be the book for you), lists (e.g., “How to Find a Wombat in the Bush”), a glossary of Australian terms (e.g., “bush” means “a wilderness area”), quizzes (e.g., “Are You a Wombat?”), real-life stories (the author has actively lived among wombats for more than 30 years), and charming illustrations.  In case it isn’t already clear, this book is very educational and very, very funny.

Author:  Jackie French
Illustrator: Bruce Whatley