Nonfiction Wednesday – Snowflake Bentley

The Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge is a celebration of children’s informational texts hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. 


Snowflake Bentley

From the time he was a small boy in Vermont, Wilson Bentley saw snowflakes as small miracles. And he determined that one day his camera would capture for others the wonder of the tiny crystal. Bentley’s enthusiasm for photographing snowflakes was often misunderstood in his time, but his patience and determination revealed two important truths: no two snowflakes are alike; and each one is startlingly beautiful. His story is gracefully told and brought to life in lovely woodcuts, giving children insight into a soul who had not only a scientist’s vision and perseverance but a clear passion for the wonders of nature. Snowflake Bentley won the 1999 Caldecott Medal.

As any kindergartener will tell you, people are like snowflakes – each one is unique. It was through the pioneering work of the pioneering photographer and self-taught scientist Wilson Bentley that the intricate beauty of snowflake crystals was first revealed and captured for posterity.

I was first introduced to the wonderful Mr. Wilson Bentley through one of my favourite adult nonfiction titles, Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich. Though he only plays a small role in the book, Bentley’s dogged pursuit of his passion for snowflakes fascinated me. I’ve always been inspired of people who possess the courage and the determination to follow their dreams, regardless of the roadblocks life places in their path, and Snowflake Bentley was certainly one of those individuals.

Born in 1865 in rural Vermont and largely self-educated, Bentley grew up fascinated by the “small miracles” of snowflakes. His supportive parents spent much of their life savings on a camera for their son for his 17th birthday, and ignited in him a life-long passion for highly detailed photography. Bentley made history in 1885 by becoming the first person to photograph a single ice crystal. Still, for all his accomplishments, Bentley never achieved fame or fortune – he contributed thousands of photographs to scientific journals and books and even penned several essays on the subject of snow crystals, but remained a Vermont farmer until his death in 1931.


Snowflake Bentley is a biography on two levels, with a simpler primary text that’s supplemented by additional information in sidebars. This allows the book to be used with audiences of different ages, broadening its appeal. The format can be a bit confusing at times, but it doesn’t detract too significantly from the story. The woodcut illustrations beautifully capture the spirit of the story, and earned a Caldecott Medal.

Bentley’s fascinating life story is of perseverance, self-belief, hard work, passion and a deep appreciation for the small miracles that make our world such a breathtakingly beautiful place. Inspiring and timeless, it once again proves the incredible power of the picture book biography to bring to life historical figures who perhaps might not be as well known, but whose stories deserve to be celebrated and shared.


Nonfiction Wednesday – June 29, 2016

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2016 is a weekly celebration of imaginative children’s nonfiction materials hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy.

Do Fish Fart? Answers to Kids’ Questions About Lakes

My Two Cents: As a nerdy kid (who grew into a nerdy adult), this book would’ve been right up my alley. It definitely has a sense of humour, as the title might suggest, and uses a blend of photographs and cartoony illustrations to answer kids’ questions about lake ecosystems, while packing enough information in to be a valuable educational resource. .

The book includes a table of contents, a comprehensive index, a thorough listing of advisors and consultants, and a list of credits for the different photographs used throughout the text, which makes this librarian a very happy camper. Being able to point out these different features in information texts is an important part of introducing students to research methods and principles.

I also appreciate the blending of practical and wacky questions (like the question about what would happen to a fish if it drank an energy drink). That pretty much captures the essence of kids – capable of coming up with the weirdest, wackiest, and still most interesting questions!

I grew up fascinated by the natural world, and filled to the brim with questions, so a book of questions and answers like this would definitely have appealed to me, and will likely appeal to nerdy and not-so-nerdy young readers today. Informational texts can be fun and silly without skimping on the educational!

Diverse Children’s Books – June 18, 2016

Diverse Children’s Books is a new book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.

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The most clicked post from our previous #diversekidlit is 2016 Américas Award Winning Children’s Books by Svenja at Colours of Us. She provides a brief description of each of the winners, finalists, and commended titles from this year’s awards announcement. The Américas Award is a great resource for incredible books about Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latinos in the US.

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Today I’m sharing a book I originally wrote about for the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2016 is a weekly celebration of imaginative children’s nonfiction materials.


Title:  Sex is a Funny Word
Author: Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth
Publisher: Triangle Square
Publication Date: 2015

My Two Cents: When I was growing up a long time ago, getting honest, non-judgmental information about sexuality could be challenging. The internet was still in its infancy, there were few detailed, age-appropriate books available, and the thought of asking parents or teachers personal sex questions was mortifying. The situation could be made even more difficult if you attended a religious school like I did – the general philosophy seemed to be that since students wouldn’t be having sex until they married a person of the opposite gender in a few decades’ time, there wasn’t much point in talking about sex beforehand, and you certainly didn’t talk about sexuality or gender identity.

Oh how I wish books like Sex is a Funny Word were available when I was a curious child. This colourful, non-threatening comic-style sex book goes beyond the basic “birds and the bees” sex ed and talks about sex, sexuality, gender, relationships, body image and more. Potentially uncomfortable or confusing topics are approached with openness, honesty and compassion. Sex is a Funny Word is inclusive, sex-and-body positive and diverse – people come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colours, abilities and genders, and sex isn’t something limited to white, cisgendered, hetero, physically-abled individuals.

This is a book about values, as much as it is about sex. ‘Justice means that every person and every body matters’, the author writes, and children are encouraged to be respectful of themselves and of others. Sex isn’t something to be feared, but it is something to be taken seriously and respected. While the target audience is tweens aged 8-12, this is a great resource for teachers, librarians, parents and anyone who might work with young people. It would also be a nice title to have available in a library or classroom for children to read privately, particularly those who might be feeling isolated or afraid to talk to an adult about gender or sexuality. Just realizing that an adult cares enough to have information like this available might help a child realize that they aren’t alone, and that there might be someone they can talk to.

Nonfiction Wednesday – June 1, 2016

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2016 is a weekly celebration of imaginative children’s nonfiction materials hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy.

And we’re back! It’s been quite a while since I’ve participated in this challenge, and I’m delighted to be back!

Title: Greek Mythology
Author: Ken Jennings

My Two Cents:  History isn’t boring. History teachers might be boring, history documentaries might be boring, and history textbooks are almost always boring. But history itself? That’s never boring. Murder, mayhem and madness, war and peace, wheeling and dealing, romance and retribution – history is proof of that old adage, “you couldn’t make this stuff up”!

Ken Jennings, a record-breaking Jeopardy winner, created a series of history books for kids that mix hard facts with fun illustrations and a very kid-friendly sense of humour. This entry in the series focuses on the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece, which is likely to appeal to kids who are fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Trivia, lists, secret codes, short stories, quizzes will appeal to history and mythology buffs, while the cartoony illustrations and sense of humour keep the information accessible to kids who might be new to the subject. A fun, light-hearted, but informative guide to Greek mythology.

Nonfiction Wednesday – March 2, 2016

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2016 is a weekly celebration of imaginative children’s nonfiction materials hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy.


Title:  The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids: 60 Easy Plant-Based Recipes Kids Can Make to Stay Healthy and Save the Earth
Author: Ruby Roth
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Publication Date: April 2016
Genre/Format: Cookbook

My Two Cents:  March is National Nutrition Month, so what better time to take a look at a plant-based, kid-focused cookbook? As the author suggests, studies have shown that getting kids involved in the planning and cooking of their meals can help build life-long healthy eating habits.

First off, this is an unapologetically vegan cookbook, so if you’re a hard-line carnivore this might not be the book for you or your family. However, if you’re open to trying a plant-based diet, or are simply interested in adding more fruit and vegetables to your family’s meals, this is a very approachable, beginner-friendly guide to vegan cooking.  


The cookbook is just beautifully designed – the photographs are quirky and utterly charming, and the recipes are laid out in unique and nontraditional ways. This is a very kid-friendly cookbook – it’s friendly, cute and light-hearted, and makes cooking a fun, rather than intimidating, experience.


I recently watched a documentary series on food and cooking called Cooked, based on the book by Michael Pollan. The series emphasizes the importance of connecting with our food, getting back to healthy basics, and cooking our own wholesome meals. Regardless of your thoughts on different diets or eating habits (Pollan himself is unsure about the benefits of veganism, and I am a omnivore), I think we can all agree that the Western diet typically contains far too much processed and unhealthy food. By getting into the kitchen with our children, introducing them to cooking and encouraging them to be comfortable with food preparation, we can help our children develop a better understanding of nutrition, and support the development of a healthy relationship with food.


The emphasis on independence is also refreshing – kids are first warned never to go into the kitchen with an adult’s permission, but are encouraged to take control, to be independent and to learn how to fend for themselves. This is all part of setting kids up for success and ensuring that they have the skills and confidence they need to live healthy adult lives.


Talking with kids about food, nutrition, the environment, and what it means to be healthy inside and out is vital to preparing them for life, and sharing cookbooks like this with children can be a part of that experience. Did I mention it’s also really, really cute? 🙂

Nonfiction Wednesday – January 27, 2016


Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2016 is a weekly celebration of imaginative children’s nonfiction materials hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy.


Title: Take Shelter: At Home Around the World
Author: Nikki Tate and Dani Tate-Stratton
Publisher: Orca
Publication Date: 2014
Genre/Format: Nonfiction

My Two Cents: From caves to trees, mud huts to glass skyscrapers, boats to caravans, people live in a staggering variety of dwellings. The creators of Take Shelter examine the incredible diversity of human habitation, traveling across the globe to showcase dwellings both ancient and cutting edge. Ample colour photography captures the people, places and homes in great detail in this Red Cedar Award nonfiction nominee. Because of the sheer breadth of information covered, no single entry is examined in much detail, making this more of an introduction to cultural and environmental diversity, rather than a research-focused text. Perhaps more than anything, Take Shelter is a celebration of the ingenuity of human kind and our ability to adapt to our surroundings and to thrive in the most unexpected environments.

Nonfiction Wednesday – January 20, 2016


Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2016 is a weekly celebration of imaginative children’s nonfiction materials hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy.

We’ve got another Canadian title on the blog this week!


Title: It’s Catching – The Infectious World of Germs and Microbes
Author: Jennifer Gardy, PhD / Illustrator:  Josh Holinaty
Publisher: Owl Kids
Publication Date: 2014
Genre/Format: Nonfiction

My Two Cents: This week we’re upping the “so gross it’s awesome” factor with a book all about infectious diseases! It’s actually much more palatable than it might sound, thanks in no small part to Josh Holinaty’s cute illustrations and Dr. Jennifer Gardy’s humorous text. In It’s Catching, kids are introduced to the microscopic world of germs and microbes, learning a bit about the history and science of pathology and epidemiology, and getting up close and personal with several different diseases, from the common cold to the terrifying ebola virus.


The book cleverly balances potentially frightening facts (“Measles is a big problem in the developing world, where it kills over 750,000 people every year”) with cartoon illustrations to create a text that is accurate and informative but still age-appropriate.

I also appreciate that the book starts with an introduction by the author, who happens to be a pretty cool woman. It’s always satisfying to be able to provide kids with real-world examples of women pursuing exciting, nontraditional careers, being successful, and challenging industry stereotypes (remember the “distractingly sexy” fiasco from a few months back?).

I do wish that the book included a bibliography or cited sources, both to give kids further sources for further research and to provide an example of properly cited work.

Still, that teeny-tiny critique aside, this Red Cedar Award-nominated ode to the weird and wonderful world of the microscopic makes for infectiously good reading.

Nonfiction Wednesday – December 23, 2015

nonfictionNonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015 is a weekly celebration of imaginative children’s nonfiction materials hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy.


Title: I (Don’t) Like Snakes
Author: Nicola Davies / Illustrator: Luciano Lozano
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: 2015
Genre/Format: Nonfiction
Publisher’s Summary: They’re slithery and scaly, and they have icky, flicking tongues and creepy, unblinking eyes. What’s to like about a snake? You’d be surprised!

This little girl has a problem. Her family doesn’t have dogs, or cats, or birds—they have snakes! And she really, really, really really doesn’t like snakes. Her family can’t understand her dislike, but they canhelp her understand why snakes do the things they do and look the way they look. And maybe once she knows more, she will start to like snakes a little . . . or even a lot. Packed with snake trivia, this clever story includes realistic illustrations and simple explanations of snake behavior sure to make even slither-phobic readers shed their misconceptions about these fascinating reptiles. Back matter includes a note about snakes, a bibliography, and an index.

My Two CentsBefore I start with this review, let me just say – I knew all those hours I spent watching Bill Nye the Science Guy would come in handy one day! One of the illustrations in this utterly charming snake book features what the book calls a poisonous coral snake. Well, that just didn’t sit right with me, because as we all know, when it comes to snakes with red, yellow and black stripes,

If red meets black, you’re OK, Jack

If red meets yellow, you’re a dead fellow!

This snake positively had stripes that went red to black to yellow, making it a harmless milk snake, which imitates the colours of the poisonous coral snake. Imagine my smug delight, then, when I noticed the publishers had stuck a sticker  inside the front page, noting the error. Ha! Thank you, Bill Nye!

All cheekiness aside, this is a highly imaginative, very creative take on the standard nonfiction animal text. A young girl lives in house filled with snakes, but, like Indiana Jones before her, she simply cannot stand them. They’re “slithery and scaly…they have icky, flicking tongues and creepy, unblinking eyes…”. The girl’s parents and brother walk her through all of the different features of snakes, explaining the behaviour that so repulses her. Eventually, she realizes that she only disliked snakes because she didn’t understand them, and joins her family in their love of snakes.

The book mixes different styles of font and illustration, blending the words and actions of the characters with the scientific explanations they share. There’s a note in the back of the book reminding readers to make sure to read all of the text, so as to not miss any information. I appreciate the inclusion of an index, as well as a bibliography, which make the book easier to use for homework or research.


The illustrations are sure to delight and disgust young readers, depicting snakes killing and eating their prey and shedding their skins. The one thing that made me a little bit uncomfortable was the sheer volume of snakes that live with the imaginary family – there are snakes everywhere, and none of them seem to be kept in safe containers. The characters are shown with snakes wrapped around their arms and necks, with little apparent concern for safe handling. While the text explains that snakes can kill through both venom and constriction, there’s no indication that the snake-loving family has taken any precautions to ensure the safety of themselves and their snakes. I know it’s a picture book, and the snakes are imaginary, but I think it would have been nice to include some information on safe and responsible handling and keeping of snakes as pets.


Still, this is a very pretty novel approach to a kid’s nonfiction text, and one that makes a potentially frightening animal a little less mysterious (though not necessarily less scary!)


Title: And the Winner Is…..Amazing Animal Athletes
Author: Etta Kaner / Illustrator: David Anderson
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: 2013
Genre/Format: Nonfiction
Publisher’s SummaryIn this unique facts book, animals compete in sporting events such as high jump, swimming and weight lifting. Readers are encouraged to guess which animal will win before turning the page, while walrus and cockatoo “announcers” provide funny commentary and interesting statistics about the athletes’ amazing abilities. This is a winning format for kids who want to know which animals can be faster, stronger and more powerful, and how humans compare.

My Two Cents: I’ve always loved facts – longest this, fastest that. This is a fun little animal fact book that imagines a sort of animal Olympics, where groups of animals face off in a series of competitions. On one spread, a gentoo penguin, an orca whale, a sailfish and a sea lion compete in a swimming race, while a grasshopper, a kangaroo rat, a jumping spider and a striped rocket frog fight for a long jump title on another spread. Each animal gets a little introduction, and the winners’ achievements are compared against the equivalent human records.

This definitely isn’t a serious science book – a walrus and a cockatoo provide colour commentary, and there are puns a’plenty – a goat exclaims “you’ve got to be kidding”, while a horse says “I’m hoarse from yelling”. But there are also plenty of facts and figures, and children are left with a great appreciation for the wonders of the animal kingdom.

Nonfiction Wednesday – December 16, 2015

nonfictionNonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015 is a weekly celebration of imaginative children’s nonfiction materials hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy.

Title: Animals That Make Me Say Ewwww!
Author: Dawn Cusick
Publisher: Imagine
Publication Date: 2016 (on sale March 2016)
Genre/Format: Nonfiction
Publisher’s SummaryPrepare to be grossed out by an engaging and unique look at some of the more disgusting survival techniques from the animal kingdom.
From blood-squirting reptiles to blood-sweating mammals to nose-picking primates, learn about some of the most disgusting creatures in the animal kingdom. Author Dawn Cusick and the National Wildlife Federation compile a volume as attractive as its subject is disgusting.

My Two CentsFrom Disgusting Critters to “….Ewww”, I think I’ve got a bit of theme going on with these nonfiction reviews!

Hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen, because this is one nonfiction title that truly lives up to its name. We’ve got lots of snot, feces galore, blood, guts and plenty of gunk – everything you could want in a gross-out information book for middle-grade readers!

This is definitely an image-heavy book, with stunning wildlife photography balancing the visually-appealing text bubbles to create a nonfiction text that is engaging, rather than overwhelming. The grossness is largely limited to the text, with the photographs tending towards generic images of each animal (thank goodness – I don’t think my stomach could have handled vivid photographic evidence of some of the more disgusting behaviours).

Animals That Make Me Say Ewww! doesn’t talk down to its audience, using appropriate language like “defecate” and “feces”, and providing scientific explanations for this behaviour. While humorous and engaging, this is definitely still a nonfiction book, and children will likely come away from it having actually learned something, amidst the inevitable giggles and gasps.

The author provides a helpful glossary and detailed index to aid with research, and includes a fun “scavenger hunt” extension activity. Part of a series of engaging nonfiction texts for budding biologists, Animals That Make Me Say Ewww! is a comprehensive, yet light-hearted look at the many wonders of our natural world. Highly recommended.

So, which nonfiction books have caught your eye this week?

Note: I received a free digital galley of this book from NetGalley, and have not been compensated in any way for this review. 

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday – December 9, 2015

nonfictionNonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015 is a weekly celebration of imaginative children’s nonfiction materials hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy.


Title: The Rat
Author/Illustrator: Elise Gravel
Publisher: Tundra Books
Publication Date: 2014
Genre/Format: Nonfiction/Early Reader
Publisher’s SummaryOne in a series of humorous books about disgusting creatures, The Rat is a look at the black rat. It covers such topics as the rat’s long, agile tail (it’s good for balancing and picking noses), long teeth (they can chew through anything, including books) and disgusting taste in food (delicious electrical wires in tomato sauce, anyone?). Although silly and off-the-wall, The Rat contains real information that will tie in with curriculum.

My Two CentsI used Elise Gravel’s series Disgusting Critters with an Early Readers book club back in the summer, and it was a big hit! The children each picked a book from the series (which also includes such kid-pleasing titles as The Slug, The Fly, and The Worm) to read, and shared what they learned with the rest of the group.

This series works so well because it matches real biology with a zany sense of humour and wacky illustrations. The rat, a potentially frightening creature, becomes a cheeky little rascal, challenging any preconceived notions about this highly intelligent animal. Kids learn about the animal’s diet, anatomy, habitat, and behaviour in a way that doesn’t actually feel like learning (perfect for a summer program). The last thing an educational text should feel like is, well, an educational text! The entire series is kid-friendly from top to bottom, with a cute font that appears almost hand-written, and a balance of text and illustrations that makes each book an accessible nonfiction text for early readers. Highly recommended – and Canadian, too!


So, which nonfiction books have caught your eye this week?