Nonfiction Wednesday – Snowflake Bentley

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

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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.

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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 – Oct 5, 2016

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

MATH

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When I was in eighth grade, my math teacher matter-of-factly informed me that I had absolutely no talent for math, and that I should consider dropping the subject as soon as possible. Add to this the fact that girls already typically lack self-confidence in math, and you can begin to understand where my longstanding fear of the subject stems from. To this day, I cannot calculate the tip on a restaurant bill without breaking out in a cold sweat.

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The Big Fat Notebook – Math Edition attempts to combat math-phobia at the source by creating a clearly laid out, visually attractive, kid-friendly guide to middle school math.

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Will this one book turn a math-averse grade schooler into a mathlete? I don’t know about that – it is a book and not a miracle worker after all. But this is definitely the most appealing, attractive, accessible kids math book I’ve come across in quite a while.

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Look at that colour-coding! Every concept is clearly and carefully explained in accessible, reader-friendly language, and is accompanied by practical, relatable examples to reinforce the concept. At the same time, the writing doesn’t ever feel condescending or patronizing – the reader is never made to feel like a dummy, which is a refreshing sensation for math failures like me…

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The use of colours, illustrations and diagrams is perfect for visual learners, and for those of us who struggle to reconcile ourselves with abstract concepts (as far as I’m concerned, all numbers are irrational…).

Again, do I think this is the only book a middle school math student will ever need? Nope – for one thing, this is an American title, and is designed to align with the American Common Core curriculum, which differs from curriculums in Canada and elsewhere. Also – the more a student reads, the more they learn, and different students learn in different ways and will connect with different teaching approaches. Learning isn’t a one-size-fits-all process, and no one book will work for all learners.

Still, this is an exciting, engaging approach to math education that takes some of the terror out of the subject, and uses visual cues to help make complex concepts relatable and demystified. Definitely worth taking a look at if you work with young learners, or are a long-time mathphobe like yours truly…

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MATH!!!!!

Nonfiction Wednesday: Sept 21, 2016

Nonfiction Wednesday is brought to you by Kid Lit Frenzy, and is a weekly celebration of children’s nonfiction material.

Hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen, because today you’re in for a blast from the past!

The World’s Greatest Blunders by Sue Blackhall

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Gaffes galore from the world of entertainment, the never-to-be-forgotten 1987 hurricane howler, the canonical con-trick that solved a medieval cash flow problem and still keeps believers on their knees in Turin, the US ex-president’s broadcasting bloomers, the Spruce Goose’s 1-minute-flight, the Sinclair C5’s short run, the Hitler diaries hoax that fooled the wise and worthy, these are among a list of dropped changers resounding worldwide and zippily related here.

Wrongful imprisonments and a near-fatal shoot-out resulting from mistaken identity, the heroic failure of Antarctic explorer Captain Scott and the death dice of air race ace Amy Johnson, as well as a catalogue of tragic human errors leading to disasters the whole world mourns, are also recorded.  Goodreads.

First published in 1989, this fascinating collection of strange and sometimes mind-boggling true stories has been a fixture on my bookshelves for HALF OF MY LIFE. I bought it at a bookshop in New Zealand when I was sixteen years old and spending part of my summer holidays with my grandmother. I think I picked it up at a shop in Hamilton, though it might have been in Auckland. Either way, this book has travelled a long way to be here today!

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There are very few books that have survived my many moves, and for some reason I just can’t seem to part with this one. When I say I’ve been a life-long nonfiction addict, here’s the proof – at sixteen years of age, instead of buying a fashion or pop culture magazine or a teen novel, I picked up this adult collection of true tails. I’m mean, just look at that summary – who wouldn’t want to read a book like this? With language level and content in mind, adult nonfiction can be a great option for young people who simply aren’t interested in fiction, or who are hungry for something new and different to sink their death into. If I was a sixteen year today, I would find the dystopian trend just horrifically boring, and would gag at soppy teen romances. Call me crazy, but I’d rather have read about the Spruce Goose than find out if Jenny will finally get a date to the prom, or if Annie will be able to save the universe while figuring out her love triangle!

So, why not think outside the box when it comes to book recommendations – sometimes young people who “hate reading” just haven’t discovered the right books yet!

Nonfiction Wednesday – Sharks and Other Deadly Ocean Creatures

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

Sharks and Other Deadly Ocean Creatures

Sharks and Other Deadly Creatures : Visual Encyclopedia 

I love sharks. I’ve always loved sharks. Shark Week was always a highlight of my TV schedule, Jaws is one of my all-time favourite movies, and I think I’ve seen each and every one of those ridiculous Syfy Channel shark movies (Two-Headed Shark Attack, anyone?). My friend and I went to see The Shallows recently, and I was seriously annoyed by its portrayal of the shark as a vengeful, relentless killing machine – have we not moved on from Jaws 4, Hollywood? Have we learned nothing?

You can imagine how excited I was to see this stunning nonfiction title pop up on the shelves recently. DK is known for its fantastic photography, and this title is no exception. Kids are going to be drawn in by the crazy cover, and will be kept engaged by each page of eye-catching imagery, which is a great blend of disgusting and cool.

This is one of those titles that’s packed with information but still manages to be exciting.I really appreciate books that offer their information in manageable, bite-sized pieces, making them more accessible and ensuring that they don’t come across as intimidating or overwhelming to young readers, despite being highly educational.

A student could theoretically use Sharks and Other Deadly Ocean Creatures for research purposes, but none of the creatures are discussed in any great detail, making this perhaps better suited for recreational reading. I’m a huge fan of reading nonfiction for pleasure, so of course I’m always delighted to come across a book that I think kids will be happy to read just for the fun of it.

So, any fellow shark nerds in the audience? If so, you’ll probably want to get your hands on this one, so you can look through it before the kids get to it. 😉

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.

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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 – July 6, 2016

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

This or That? The Wacky Book of Choices to Reveal the Hidden You

My Two Cents: When it comes to crowd-pleasing nonfiction for kids, National Geographic Kids keeps bringing us hit after hit. This or That is a bit of an older title, but it’s definitely still work taking a look at. I recently shared it with a visiting elementary school class, and they devoured it. Personality quizzes are always popular, and This or That turns these quizzes into an activity that’s both fun and educational. Kids go through a series of questions and pick one of two options, with each choice revealing something about their personality while introducing them to interesting and eye-opening facts.

Here are some examples:

a) Your head has a built-in helmet, or

b) Your belly has a built-in suitcase

Pretty weird stuff – apparently you’re picking between being a woodpecker or a kangaroo!

There’s actually a lot of great information packed into this book, together with a tonne of great photos and humorous illustrations. This isn’t really a research resource, especially since there isn’t an index, but it is a lot of fun for recreational reading, especially for reluctant readers or kids who aren’t necessarily huge fans of fiction. Learning can be fun, kids!

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.

We encourage everyone who shares to support this blogging community by visiting and leaving comments for at least three others. Please also consider following the hosts on at least one of their social media outlets. Spread the word using #diversekidlit and/or adding our button to your site and your diverse posts.

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We hope this community will grow into a great resource for parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and authors! Our next linkup will be Saturday, July 2nd and on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

Most Clicked Post from Last Time

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.

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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 – 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?