The Children's Book Compass

Archive for the ‘Nonfiction’ Category

Only the Mountains Do Not Move: A Maasai Story of Culture and Conservation by Jan Reynolds.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Lee & Low Books.  Grades  1-6.  Nonfiction.

This book is another in a series that author-photographer, Jan Reynolds, creates with stunning photographs and informative text about different cultures.   In this book the reader learns about the Maasai, their traditional life style and how it is threatened by changes in their environment.  Reynolds includes Maasai Proverbs throughout the text.  The proverbs, “Daylight follows a dark night,”  “The children are the bright moon,” demonstrate the Maasai’s wisdom and sense of humor.  Reynold’s rich, powerful photographs show the daily life of the people.  The book appears to be authentic because Reynolds and her son lived with one of the Maasai tribes who allowed her to ask questions and take pictures.   Added features like, a map of Africa, an Author’s Note, a Glossary and Pronunciation Guide as well as Source Notes and Acknowledgments enrich the text and the reader’s understanding.


The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman.  Illus. by Ros Asquith.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Dial.  Grades K-4.  Nonfiction

Hoffman  and Asquith celebrate the diversity of families and their activities.  The words and illustration joyously team to show how “in real life, families come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. … Lots of children live with their mommy and daddy, but lots of others live with just their daddy or just their mommy.  Some live with their grandma and grandpa.  Some children have two mommies or two daddies.  And some are adopted or live with foster families.”  Hoffman describes twelve topics that involve families:

  • Who’s in Your Family?
  • Homes
  • School
  • Jobs
  • Holidays
  • Food
  • Clothes
  • Pets
  • Celebrations
  • Hobbies
  • Transportation
  • Feelings

Each topic is featured on a two-page spread.  Asquith uses small, animated, colorful cartoon-like pictures to illustrate the multiple activities.  Each item mentioned in the text has an accompanying picture.  Many pages are bordered with items that expand the topic of that page.  The text ends with “So families can be big, small, happy, sad, rich, poor, loud, quiet, mad, good-tempered, worried, or happy-go-lucky.  Most families are all of these things some of the time.  What’s yours like today?”  Children will enjoy answering that question to tell about their own families.

Seabird in the Forest: The Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet by Joan Dunning.  (2011)  Pages not numbered. Boyds Mills Press.  Grades 3-7.  Nonfiction.

Dunning hooked my interest on the first page of her detailed account of the life cycle of a marbled murrelet.  The ocean from the coast of Northern California into Alaska is the home of this small bird.  It floats and dives among the giant kelp pursuing tiny silver fish.  “The location of the nesting place of the marbled murrelet was the last of any bird in all of North America to be discovered.”  That nesting place was found high in the canopy of the coastal Redwoods, miles from the ocean.  The small bird raises it young 320 feet above the forest floor in these high trees.  Dunning tells the story of how the parents who mate for life raise their single chick over one month.  The author includes fascinating facts.  “Although a murrelet is only as big as a robin, it lays an egg that is nearly as big as a chicken’s.”  The adult bird “might fly a hundred mile round trip to deliver just one small fish to its chick.  Dunning also describes the ecosystem of the canopy in the redwood trees with animals and plants thriving high above the ground.  Sidebars add additional information and details to the story of how the chick survives finally flying to the ocean to begin the cycle again.  The paintings are detailed with varied perspectives that add to the information in the narrative.  The endpapers feature more facts about the Redwoods and the biologists who study them.  The back matter lists sources and web sites for future exploration.  Team this book with Redwoods by Jason Chin.

These biographies are each about men who made major contributions.  All of these books will interest a wide range of ages.  Since children today are so oriented towards visual expression, the picture book format of these books will make them more appealing.

Ben Franklin His Wit and Wisdom From A-Z by Alan Schroeder.  Illustrated by John O’Brien.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Holiday House.  Ages 8-14.

What a clever format – a biography in the form of an alphabet book. Schroeder chronicles Franklin’s inventions, contributions, and life experiences with items for each letter of the alphabet.  For example, D includes: Deborah his wife, the Declaration of Independence, Doll – the French made a Franklin doll, and a Duet, he played with his daughter.  Each entry is explained with a short annotation.  Quotations, and adages from Franklin’s almanacs and writings are sprinkled throughout the pages.  There is humorous drawings, one for each of the entries, on each page.  They add to the fun of discovering the genius and amazing versatility of one of our country’s Founding Fathers.

The Adventures of Mark Twain by Huckleberry Finn with considerable help from Robert Burleigh and Barry Blitt.  (2011).   Pages not numbered.  Atheneum.  Ages 9-14.

Burleigh sparks his biography of Twain with a narration in the voice of Twain’s character, Huckleberry Finn.  A “Warning to the Reader” at the beginning advises that the author of the book “… is NOT A WRITER!”  The warning goes on to explain that the reader needs to be prepared for the way Mr. Finn speaks.  Finn’s colorful first person dialogue enlivens the account of Twain’s life.  “This ain’t intendin’ to be some windy bioografy.”  Finn divides his account into logical chunks, “About When Sam Was a Boy,”  “About Sam the Steamboat Captain.”  About Sam Becomin’ a Writer” and more.  Children will chuckle over Twain’s adventures and learn about his colorful life at the same time.  Blitt’s action-packed illustrations feature Twain cavorting through his life all the time watched over by Finn.  A timeline at the end fills in some of the gaps in the chronicle..

When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan by Gary Golio.  Illustrated by Marc Burckhardt.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Little Brown.  Ages 8-12.

This account of the early life of musician, Bob Dylan, will introduce him and his hero, Woody Guthrie, to young readers.  Golio explains, “Woody was everything Bob wanted to be: a roamin’ and ramblin’ singer and storyteller who’d played for striking miners and starving farmers.  … he had written more than a thousand songs – about dust storms and tornadoes, heroes, hobos, and gunslinging outlaws.  He played country, blues, and folk music.  His song “This Land Is Your Land” was a national favorite.”  When Dylan learns that his hero is alive and ill he travels to New York City to meet Woody.  There he plays for Woody who is in the hospital and keeps visiting him.  The Afterword tells how in “meeting Woody, Bob came to know some of the most talented and important figures in American folk music.”  He then went on to become a famous musician.  The acrylic and oil portraits and illustrations flesh out the characteristics of the two men.  Sources & Resources are listed in the back matter for children to find out more about these musicians by reading more, listening to their audio recording and watching videos.  .  An author’s note describes how Golio was inspired to write the book by Bob’s search for his guiding star.  Finally, the back matter lists the sources of the many quotations from Bob and Woody that appear throughout the text.

Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz.  (2011). Pages not numbered.   Holt. Ages 4-11. Nonfiction.

Who can resist a dog story?  And, this is one of the best because these are real dogs.  Photographs and text chronicle the lives of four dogs on a farm in Upstate New York.  The dogs are Rose, Izzy, Frieda, and Lenore.  The first three each have jobs to do.  Rose herds sheep, Izzy visits sick people and Frieda guards the farm.  As each of the three dogs’ history and work are described in detail, a question repeats – “What is Lenore’s job?”  We begin to guess as we see the way Lenore befriends the others.  At the end the text reads,

“Lenore is different.

She doesn’t guide the sheep, like Rose does.

She doesn’t visit people who are sick, like Izzy does.

She doesn’t guard the farm, like Frieda does.

She licks the others dogs, touches noses, and wags her tail.

Lenore makes dogs play and people smile.

She makes sure everyone is happy.

Thanks to Lenore, the dogs are a family.

Her job is loving and accepting and having patience.

And that may be the greatest work of all.”

What a satisfying ending.  The large size, color photographs feature close ups and portraits of the dogs at work and play.  Their personalities are captured by the camera.  The dogs are shown working throughout the year in snow, in fall and summer.  Two of the dogs were rescued and brought to the farm, gentled by Lenore.  Read this one aloud to an appreciative audience.  To learn more about the dogs visit Katz’s website:

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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