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?


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 16, 2016

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


Title:  Learn to Fold Origami Zoo Animals
Author: Katie Gillespie
Publisher: Av2 by Weigl
Publication Date: 2013

My Two Cents:  This week’s nonfiction title might seem like a bit of an odd just, but stick with me here. I’m hosting an kid’s origami program at my library, and since I’m absolutely terrible at paper folding I thought I’d do a bit of research beforehand to hone my skills. Learn to Fold Origami Zoo Animals is a pretty nifty little book because of the way it uses origami to introduce kids to all sorts of animal-related nonfiction content in a unique way. Six different animals are featured in this origami guide, and each animal gets a two-page spread of facts and figures, as well as detailed instructions on how to fold a paper version of the animal. The book also includes a knowledge quiz, a fact game, a glossary (which they’ve titled “Key Words”), and web links for additional information.

If you ask a group of children at a Spring Break program if they’d like to learn facts about animals you’d likely get a fair number of groans and frowns. Books like Learn to Fold Origami Zoo Animals can help you seamlessly integrate additional information into an origami program in a fun and natural way. While learning to make an origami elephant, for example, you might share interesting tidbits and fascinating factoids about this mighty animal – did you know, for example, that an elephant’s trunk averages roughly 5 feet in legnth, which is longer than many kids are tall? Or that elephants like to slather themselves in mud because it acts like a natural sunscreen and helps prevent them from getting a sunburn?

The benefits of origami for children have been well-documented – it has even been called a “STEAM Engine” because of the way it can be used to teach concepts relating to science, technology, engineering, art and math. Origami can also be a very calming exercise, encouraging children to slow down, examine a series of detailed instructions, and carefully proceed step by step through a project from start to finish. Now you can incorporate even more learning opportunities into your origami programs by infusing them with captivating pieces of related information.

Nonfiction Wednesday – March 9, 2016

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


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 – 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 – February 23, 2016

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

Title:  Anna & Solomon
Author: Elaine Snyder / Illustrator: Harry Bliss
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: 2014
Genre/Format: Nonfiction Picture Book Biography

My Two Cents: 

“Once – and not once upon a time, because this is a true story – in 1897 in Russia there lived a handsome young man who fell in love with a beautiful young woman, and one bright day, under a canopy of leaves and spring flowers, they were married.”

Canada, like the United States, in a nation of immigrants. Ask any Vancouverite about their background and you’ll likely hear stories of families members coming from countries all around the world – I myself am a first generation Canadian, a child of immigrants who were themselves children of immigrants from somewhere else! “Anna & Solomon” is based on the story of the author’s own grandparents, who immigrated from Russia to New York in the late 19th century. Solomon, the author’s grandfather, immigrated first, determined to make enough money in the new country to bring his wife over to join him. Every time he sent money back to Russia to pay for Anna’s ticket to America, however, Anna sent another member of her family over instead! First Anna’s two brothers, then her mother, until Solomon began to lose hope that he would ever seen his wife again! Finally, after many years of waiting, Anna and Solomon were reunited in their new home – America. This is a lovely little story about the immigrant experience,  and the importance of family – Anna puts the needs of her family members before her own, and Solomon, though disappointed, understands how important Anna’s family is to her, and never loses faith that he will be reunited with her again. There are also a few mentions of Jewish culture sprinkled throughout the book, which make this a nice title for encouraging children to learn about other cultural experiences.

It’s also refreshing to see picture book biographies about everyday people, the kind of people whose lives most of us would never otherwise hear about. While kings and queens, politicians, writers, sports heroes, activists and actors are all quite fascinating to read about, most readers have far more in common with Anna and Solomon than they do with any famous person. Picture book biographies like this can help reassure children that every life is extraordinary, and that every person is important, even if they never become a household name or  become famous.

If the illustrations look familiar, it might be because you’ve seen illustrator Harry Bliss’ cartoons and covers for the New Yorker,  or you might have read one of the other picture books he’s illustrated, including Diary of a Worm, Diary of a Spider, and Countdown to Kindergarten. He’s also the author’s son-in-law, which makes this picture book truly a family affair.

Nonfiction Wednesday – February 17, 2016

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

Title: There’s a Stegosaurus on the Stairs
Author/Illustrator: Aleksei Bitskoff, Ruth Symons, Chris Jarvis
Publisher: QEB Publishing
Publication Date: 2013
Genre/Format: Nonfiction

My Two Cents: 

You can’t really go wrong with dinosaurs. Throw a T-Rex, an apatosaurus or, as in the case of today’s book, a stegosaurus, in a book, fill it with some fun facts and eye-catching illustrations, and you’ve got at least a pretty decent chance of creating a kid-pleasing nonfiction title.

How might a stegosaurus react if it was transported to the modern day? Well, it would probably either start eating someone’s lawn or get into a fight with a car, but There’s a Stegosaurus on the Stairs takes a more lighthearted approach to dinosaurs information. The friendly stegosaurus plays on a seesaw in the playground with an elephant because the two animals weigh about the same (5.5 tons, if you were curious). Poor stegosaurus would likely struggle to keep up in school with a brain about the size of a tangerine (the fact that it wouldn’t fit through the classroom doors notwithstanding), and it would likely give its mother a bunch of flowers for Mother’s Day, cut with its sharp, plant-eating beak.

This certainly isn’t the most scientific of nonfiction dinosaur texts, but it does provide a significant amount of factual information in a way that might be more accessible for little dinosaur fanatics. The illustrations are cute and cartoony, too, making this a nice book for the youngest readers or more sensitive children who might be put off by scarier, more realistic dinosaur illustrations. And really, what kid hasn’t day-dreamed about bringing a dinosaur to their birthday party so it can open a pinata with its spike tail?

Nonfiction Wednesday – Feb 10, 2016

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


Title: Patient Zero: Solving the Mysteries of Deadly Epidemics
Author: Marilee Peters
Publisher: Annik Press
Publication Date: 2014
Genre/Format: Nonfiction

My Two Cents: This is the second disease-related Red Cedar Award nominee I’ve shared as part of Nonfiction Wednesday, but while It’s Catching used humour and cartoony illustrations to teach kids about epidemiology, Patient Zero is an all together more serious tale for older readers.

Patient Zero focuses on several of history’s most terrifying outbreaks, including the Black Death, cholera, the Spanish Influenza, and AIDS. A blend of fictional and biographical anecdotes helps bring different periods in history to life, recounting the often harrowing experiences of those living during these outbreaks. This is definitely a text-heavy book, with the occasional illustration or graphic element thrown in to break up the text. Still, the text is so well-written and the stories are so gripping that the pages just seem to fly by. This is narrative nonfiction at its best – facts and figures presented in a way that reads like a thrilling adventure novel. Doctors and scientists become adventurers on the hunt for evidence and answers across the globe and throughout history, often in a desperate race against time. History and science, like all subjects, can indeed be boring – but in the hands of a skilled writer, these subjects can be as entertaining as any piece of fiction.

I also appreciate that the author has included a detailed table of contents, glossary, index, additional resources list and a comprehensive list of sources – perfect for introducing readers to scholarly research.

It’s also pretty cool that Patient Zero features Dr. Jennifer Gardy, author of It’s Catching! I’m always happy when kids are introduced to real-life scientists, and it’s particularly awesome that Dr. Gardy is Canadian.

A thrilling look at epidemics throughout history that reads like a great adventure novel, Patient Zero blends fact and fiction to create a truly winning nonfiction text for older children.

Nonfiction Wednesday – Feb 3, 2016

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


Title: How to Save a Species
Author: Marilyn Baillie, Jonathan Baillie and Ellen Butcher
Publisher: Owl Kids
Publication Date: 2014
Genre/Format: Nonfiction

My Two Cents: It only takes a cursory glance through the pages of How to Save a Species to come to the sad conclusion that planet Earth is in pretty poor shape. The sheer number of animals on the endangered species list is both mind-boggling and heart-breaking, and some of the stories covered in this nonfiction title are just staggering (there are only 4 Red River Giant Softshell Turtles alive in the wild!). The challenge facing authors Marilyn and Jonathan Baillie and Ellen Butcher is how to balance these stark facts with just enough hope and inspiration to keep the text from becoming overwhelming and discouraging for young readers.

How to Save a Species accomplishes just this by countering tales of dire straights with inspiring accounts of survival and resurgence. Profiles of scientists and researchers from around the world help bring the roles of conservationists to life. And of course there are plenty of vivid, brightly-coloured illustrations of these beautiful and threatened creatures. I appreciate that the authors have chosen to highlight a wide range of endangered creatures, including cute and cuddly favourites like sloths, and stranger creatures like wild yams, newts and pitcher plants. A living creature need not be cute to be worth saving!

The book includes a table of contents, a glossary and an index, all of which I like to see in a nonfiction text as they help young researchers develop and hone their skills. It also finishes with a great map showing where all of the animals in the book can be found (for now…), and a list of the world’s 100 most endangered species adds even more information to the book.

Another strong Red Cedar Award nominee, and another strong Canadian nonfiction book!