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: What Makes a Baby?

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


What Makes a Baby?

Oh, the million-dollar question that can give adults everywhere anxiety attacks – “where do babies come from?” Many picture books on the subject of reproduction talk about sex, which is a very important topic to discuss with children, but which isn’t always a factor in the baby-making process. Babies are the result of a collision between sperm and egg, and this miraculous collision can occur with or without sexual intercourse between a male and a female. Some children are born to a biological mother and father with the help of IVF, while other babies are conceived to same-sex families through donor eggs or sperm, IVF and/or or surrogates. Just as families come in a variety of shapes, sizes and forms, babies are created in many different ways.

Brought to you by the same team behind the inclusive, sex-positive sex ed book Sex is a Funny WordWhat Makes a Baby is “a book for every kind of FAMILY and every kind of KID”. It’s a great starting point for discussions on reproduction, sex, and childbirth, providing the basic framework of information, and allowing caregivers to customize their discussions. Just as in Sex is a Funny Word, the characters in What Makes a Baby come in a variety of candy colours, and are largely externally without gender, making for a truly diverse and inclusive text.

This is a particularly helpful picture book for same-sex families, as it gives their conception stories the same weight, worth and importance as those of other families, and doesn’t make their stories feel like exceptions to the any rule, uncommon, or unusual. Conception is the same process, no matter how the egg and sperm end up meeting, or how they are introduced.

What Makes a Baby? is a fantastic starting point for discussions of conception and birth, and is a worthwhile addition to any collection.

Nonfiction Wednesday – April 20, 2016

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

Title: Trombone Shorty
Author: Troy Andrews (Author), Bryan Collier (Illustrator)

My Two Cents: 

What a joyous celebration of the power of music. Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews felt the music in his soul, and didn’t let anything stop him from sharing that music with the world. Not poverty, not his young age. Nothing. When Try couldn’t afford a real instrument, he made up his own. When he found a beaten-up old trombone, he treasured it. When he found himself face-to-face with a jazz legend, he seized the opportunity and played his heart out.

Life is full of setbacks, roadblocks and disappointments, and we can either choose to let these hold us back, or find ways to scramble over them. Troy did just that, focusing not on what he didn’t have, but on what life couldn’t take away from him – his music.

Vibrant illustrations capture the rousing jazz spirit of Trombone Shorty’s neighborhood, and bring this wonderful story brilliantly to life.

Highly, highly recommended.

Where y’at?


Nonfiction Wednesday – April 6, 2016

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

Title: Chalk on the Wild Side
Author: Lorie King Kaehler

My Two Cents:  Chalk. You use it to write on the blackboard or play hopscotch (is that still a thing kids do?). According to Kaehler, though, that’s just the beginning. Chalk is a cheap and easy way to get kids excited about art and creativity, and the author shares 25+ ideas for using chalk in new and different ways.


What I enjoyed most about this book were Kaehler’s recipes for making different kinds of chalk, including scented chalk, chalk spray (which apparently works great on snow, perfect for those of you back East….), color-changing sizzle paint, and scented chalk ice pops for hot summer days. The directions are simple and easy to follow, and the ingredients are generally inexpensive and easy to source.


For schools, libraries and other organizations trying to get the most bang for their programming buck, these art activities would definitely be worth a look. The recipes for true chalk involve plaster of paris, which requires careful adult supervision while handling, making them better suited for programs with older children. Still, several of the recipes call for safe, non-toxic ingredients like vinegar and food coloring, and younger children could easily be involved in making these kinds of outdoor paints.

The warmer days of spring and summer will come again some day, so why not try getting the kids making some art outside? Following recipes helps kids learn to follow directions, measurements are great math practice, you can mix colours together to create new ones, and there are so many great picture books about art that you can use to tie it all together. Because as we all know, some of the best learning opportunities are the messiest.

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 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 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?