Nonfiction Wednesday – December 30, 2016

 

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

Title: Friend or Foe – The Whole Truth About Animals That People Love to Hate
Author: Etta Kaner / Illustrator: David Anderson
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Publication Date: 2015
Genre/Format: Nonfiction
Publisher’s SummaryRats, mosquitoes, bats, cockroaches, leeches, vultures — it’s easy to fear and despise them. But are they all bad? You probably know that rats destroy food supplies and can cause house fires when they gnaw on electrical wires, but did you know their supersensitive noses can help detect tuberculosis or even land mines?

Are these conventionally icky critters really public enemies, or do they have merits worth appreciating? Friend or Foe takes a close look at what we dislike about each of 10 unpopular animals, and then presents the flip side: these very same animals are often smart, helpful to humans and the environment, or inspiring to scientists.

After each pair of polarizing spreads, readers are asked to decide for themselves if the animal is friend or foe. Fascinating research and anecdotes, fun design inspired by propaganda posters, and playful use of persuasive language and point of view make Friend or Foe an engaging read that will leave readers reconsidering common perceptions.

My Two Cents: Rats, leeches, and snakes, oh my! This is another so-gross-it’s-cool nonfiction book that’s sure to catch the eye of young readers with its bold illustrations and slightly creepy subject matter. A series of different creatures are examined from different points of few, prompting readers to consider the positive and negative aspects of each animal, and eventually realize that, as the author suggests,

“Animals just are what they are! Seeing them as friend or foe depends on the time and place, and a person’s point of view.”

10 animals in total receive two spreads each, one casting the creature as a fearsome foe ( “The Big, Bad Wolf”, “Spiders: Scary, Sneaky and Spooky”, “Snakes: Silent and Deadly”), the other showcasing its friendlier characteristics (“Wolves are Wonderful!”, Spiders are Spectacular!”, “Snakes are Super!”). The artwork of each spread changes to suit the style of the text, with scary images on one spread, and cute, cartoon drawings on the next.

The “foe” spreads are likely to be more attractive for young audiences than their friendly counterparts, simply because of the appeal of scary/gross illustrations and text, but the entire book would make a good starting point for group discussion, and could inspire engaging classroom activities and research assignments. This is a thoughtful, well-arranged title that encourages children to approach the world with an open mind and to consider multiple perspectives when making a decision.

Title: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Author: William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer / Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 2012
Genre/Format: Nonfiction
Publisher’s Summary: When fourteen-year-old William Kamkwamba’s Malawi village was hit by a drought, everyone’s crops began to fail. Without enough money for food, let alone school, William spent his days in the library . . . and figured out how to bring electricity to his village. Persevering against the odds, William built a functioning windmill out of junkyard scraps, and thus became the local hero who harnessed the wind.

Lyrically told and gloriously illustrated, this story will inspire many as it shows how – even in the worst of times – a great idea and a lot of hard work can still rock the world.

My Two Cents: William Kamkwamba, like many young boys, was insatiably curious. He “dreamed of building things and taking them apart”, and while working in the fields of his family’s struggling farm he would watch passing trucks and wonder, “how does its engine make it go?” Denied an education, William educated himself, devouring science books at a local American-founded library, and teaching himself rudimentary engineering. Using bits and pieces of scrounged materials and his own ingenuity, William built a windmill, and though at first he was only able to power a single light bulb, he realized then the powerful potential of electricity.

William Kamkwamba’s experiences have been simplified in this picture book edition, but this young man’s persistence and imagination remain the inspiring focus of the story. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind would be an engaging classroom text, a valuable addition to units on renewable energy, environmentalism, Africa, inventors or children around the world. William embodies imagination, creativity, study, persistence and self-confidence – even when his neighbors called him “misala”, crazy, William did not lose faith in himself or his ideas.

Elizabeth Zunon’s cut paper illustrations perfectly capture the spirit of Kamkwamba’s story, mirroring his experiences piecing bits of things together to create something wonderful. An inspiring story for children of all ages.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.