Nonfiction favourites from 2016

While I haven’t read my usual numbers of nonfiction titles this year, I have read enough to have some clear favourites. Here are my top ten of 2016 (published in 2016)

Looking for some incredible nonfiction? I highly recommend all of these. In fact I own all but two of these titles and plan to remedy that soon. All of these books are titles I can see multiple reasons to use over and over in a classroom. A real reason to celebrate them here.

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

An incredible title with layer upon layer of stories and illustrations about a beloved author for so many. This is a longer picture book biography (176 pages) perfect for both adults and students.

some Writer!

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois written by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Simply beautiful. I featured this book here

Cloth Lullaby

Dorothea’s Eyes by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by Gérard DuBois

I look forward to sharing this fantastic biography of photographer Dorothea Lange with my students later in the year. I plan also to share these photos she took in a Japanese Internment camp.

Dorothea's Eyes

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

The art in this book is beyond, beyond. Absolutely stunning. An incredible biography made accessible to children. I particularly appreciated the back matter here. Information on Motifs and symbolism in Basquiat’s work is something I will certainly share with students when we explore this book. Steptoe’s author’s note is very important too.

radiant-child-the-story-of-young-artist-jean-michel-basquiat

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay written by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

There are so many reasons to share this story with children. It is a story of hope, of change, of perseverance, of the power of music and the beauty of community. A story of transformation.

adas-violin

Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers written by Sara Levine and illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth

“What kind of animal would you be if your teeth were long enough to stick out of your mouth, even when it was closed?” This is one of many questions posed in this informative and engaging book. Students love to guess and check and this title allows for a lot of that. I highlighted this book here

Tooth by Tooth 1

The Polar Bear by Jenni Desmond

The ideal blend of mesmerizing art and story that informs and prompts more questions. I plan to use this title with other books on polar bears and videos about the shrinking ice in the Arctic seas.

the-polar-bear

Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals written by Jess Keating with illustrations by David DeGrand

I featured this book here (lots of ideas for how to use in the classroom). This book has been a huge hit in my classroom and we have gone on to become fans of Animals for Smart People videos. You will never think the same about pink again.

Blobfish

Best in Snow by April Pulley Sayre

The photographs, the lyrical language . . . absolutely captivating.

best-in-snow

Animals by the Numbers by Steve Jenkins

As always – such interesting information. All communicated via infographics? Perfect.

animals-by-the-numbers

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2016. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: First read alouds in a Grade 4 & 5 classroom

Last year when I taught a Grade 2 & 3 class, I made a list of titles I might initially share to grow curiosity, introduce new concepts and spread the love of nonfiction picture books.

This year I am teaching Grade 4 & 5 in a new-to-me school and again, I have been going through my shelves thinking about first read alouds. At this point, I am less concerned about content and thinking more about exposing students to a variety of nonfiction titles so that their ideas about nonfiction picture books can grow. I want to also introduce them to a variety of genres, prolific authors and nonfiction series so that they can plan some of their future independent reading. In all of this reading, I want there to be room for questions, laughter and much discussion. Here are ten titles that I have placed in a pile to possibly share in our first month together.

Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cats written by Sy Montgomery with photographs by Nic Bishop

Kids love cheetahs. But what is the story of their endangered status and what is being done about it? That is the story that this title showcases – in particular the story of  Laurie Marker and the work she does at theCheetah Conservation Fund (CCF)‘s African headquarters in Nambia. This is a Scientist in the Field title – a series ideal for young scientists, naturalists and kids with questions.

 Chasing Cheetahs Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: First read alouds in a Grade 4 & 5 classroom

Dorothea’s Eyes by Barb Rosenstock with illustrations by Gérard DuBois

Nonfiction picture book biographies are some of my favourite titles to share. They are full of information and inspiration. I think this fantastic biography of photographer Dorothea Lange will generate interest in other biographies.

Dorothea's Eyes Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: First read alouds in a Grade 4 & 5 classroom

How to Swallow a Pig: Step-by-Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

This title is particularly interesting because of the “how to” aspect. Of course it is also a great model for instructional writing. Additional information is always rich in Jenkins/Page titles. Jenkins and Page have collaborated on multiple nonfiction titles. All have huge kid appeal.

How to Swallow a Pig Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: First read alouds in a Grade 4 & 5 classroom

Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers written by Sara Levine and illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth

“What kind of animal would you be if your teeth were long enough to stick out of your mouth, even when it was closed?” This is one of many questions posed in this informative and engaging book. Students love to guess and check and this title allows for a lot of that.

Tooth by Tooth Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: First read alouds in a Grade 4 & 5 classroom

What if you had Animal Ears!? written by Sandra Markle and illustrated by Howard McWilliam

This series is lots of fun. It gets kids talking and asking questions. They can later read more of the series on their own or with a buddy. Markle writes lots of great nonfiction. Win. Win. Win to share this one.

What if you had Animal ears?Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: First read alouds in a Grade 4 & 5 classroom

Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals written by Jess Keating with illustrations by David DeGrand

Just the cover captures interest but you need to open the book for the full impact. Lots of weird and interesting = perfect for curious minds. Jess Keating also writes middle grade novels – some are sitting on my book shelf and I predict they will be very popular after we share this title. And then there are the videos on her Youtube channel: Animals for Smart People

Pink is for Blobfish Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: First read alouds in a Grade 4 & 5 classroom

Feathers Not Just for Flying written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

Such a beautifully written and organized book – almost like a nature journal or a scrap book.  Perfect as an interactive read aloud experience.Allows the reader to consider and learn about many uses for feathers. Melissa Stewart has written many nonfiction titles in my collection. Students will know her by name by year’s end (or sooner).

 Feathers Not Just for Flying Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: First read alouds in a Grade 4 & 5 classroom

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

Nonfiction picture books introduce us to situations, history and struggles we may no nothing or little about. Such an important story about a family’s fight for their children’s equal education.

Separate is Never Equal Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: First read alouds in a Grade 4 & 5 classroom

I, Fly The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are written by Bridget Heos and illustrated by Jennifer Plecas

We can laugh a lot as we learn. This book showcases this perfectly!

I, Fly Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: First read alouds in a Grade 4 & 5 classroom

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors poems by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beckie Prange 

Poet and artist celebrate nature’s successes. Who has been around for a long time and continues to thrive? Introduced in order of their evolutionary arrival, read poems and facts about such creatures as the squirrel, ants, geckos and diatoms. Fascinating and a lyrical experience all at once. Blending of art, poetry and nonfiction. I love to share nonfiction poetry and hope this is a form of writing that we will explore this year in Writer’s Workshop.

Ubiquitous-Celebrating-Natures-Survivors Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: First read alouds in a Grade 4 & 5 classroom

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2016. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Cloth Lullaby

Sometimes a book is just too beautiful to be believed. Such is the case with this biography of Louise Bourgeois.

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois written by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Abrams Books for Young Readers March 2016)

Cloth Lullaby Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Cloth Lullaby There's a Book for That

Everything about this book is beauty. The navy fabric feeling spine detail. The colours and patterns throughout the book. Red has never seemed so delicate. The blues. The lines. The depiction of Bourgeois’ art. Arsenault is brilliant.

And then there is the story. I think this might well be my favourite picture book biography of the year. Novesky writes in such a lyrical way that reading the text truly feels like being lulled by a lullaby. The reader is pulled into the story of a young girl on the meandering road by a river that leads her to life as an artist. We learn about her strong connection and devotion to her mother (Maman). Her growing skill as an expert weaver in the family business. Her aptitude for mathematics.

Louise’s greatest pieces – huge sculptures made of steel, bronze and marble were of spiders and were woven into being from the grief she felt at losing her beloved mother.

The connection between weaving and repairing, weaving and creating, weaving and healing are literally woven through the story.

So often we hear how artists create art in response to strong emotions. This book reveals how sadness and grief are transformed into powerful and stunning pieces.

A detailed author’s note is included in the back of the book

Highly recommended.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2016. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Tooth by Tooth

Recently, we went to dinner at my husband’s parents. My son had just been to the orthodontist. My father in law had just had dental surgery. I had just visited the bookstore that afternoon on route to dinner and I was thrilled to see that the latest Sara Levine book I had ordered had arrived. Of course, while waiting for dinner to finish cooking, I had to read this book aloud to my family. Of course! It was a meant to be moment – a must read book about teeth while we all had teeth on the brain. Achy teeth and bruised mouths, some of us. This book was the perfect distraction.

Because don’t you just want to know answers to some questions like these:

  • What would you be if your top canine teeth grew almost all the way down to your feet?
  • What kind of animal would you be if your teeth were long enough to stick out of your mouth, even when it was closed?
  • What kind of mammal would you be if you had really tall molars?

I am not going to tell you any of these answers! Go! Get the book! Some of these questions are challenging to figure out. This title is a fantastic resource in the elementary classroom: a fun and interactive read aloud with interesting guess and find out questions/answers. My entire family from the teenagers to the over eighty crowd was completely engaged!

Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers written by Sara Levine and illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth (Millbrook Press (Lerner) 2016)

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Tooth by Tooth

Learn about the different kinds of teeth you have in your mouth: incisors, canines and molars. Quick, think fast – how many molars do you have? Now count them. Were you right? (Your answer should fall in the 8-20 range depending on your age) Find out how other mammals use their teeth and why they are different sizes and shapes. How are human teeth similar and different compared to other mammals? How do the teeth of herbivores, omnivores and carnivores differ?

Information in the final pages includes further reading, a detailed glossary and more about mammal teeth.

Ideal for K-7 students as a read aloud (for K-3) or read alone (Grades 4-7) .

I also highly recommend bringing it along to share at dinner parties. . . even if nobody has recently been to the dentist! 🙂

Levine and Spookytooth also collaborated on Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2016. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: One Day on our Blue Planet . . . In the Antarctic

If you shouldn’t fall in love with a book by its cover . . . how about its end pages? Because these are truly stunning! The front pages feature all of the animals you might find above the ice in Antarctica and the final end pages reveal many of the creatures who live below the Antarctic waters.

One Day on our Blue Planet . . . In the Antarctic by Ella Bailey (Flying Eye Books 2016)

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: One Day on our Blue Planet . . . In the Antarctic

Wander (or waddle) through the day of an Adélie penguin chick in her Antarctic home. Through the story of her day we are introduced to elements of the Antarctic landscape, penguin habits, their predators and the creatures who share their home.

Perfect for younger listeners, this is a beautiful read aloud to introduce children to the continent of Antarctica and it is sure to spark further reading and research. This would also be a wonderful mentor text for older readers to share their research on an animal as a “day in the life” format.

This book begs you to consider art projects. It is stunning on every page. Like all Flying Eye Books, the pages are high quality and the colour palette, so attractive.

Pair this title with these titles about Antarctica:

Sophie Scott Goes South by Alison Lester (published in 2012)

 Sophie Scott Goes South  There's a Book for That

Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, a stunning Flying Eye book published in 2014.

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: There's a Book for That

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2016. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: The Way to School

The Way to School

I walk to school (which is also my work) everyday. One of our school engineers, now retired, used to ask me the same question every time the weather was miserable. “Today? Even today you walked?” My answer always sounded the same as well: “Yes, sunshine, rain, sleet, snow, I walk.”

I walk for exercise, for my mental health, for the chance to be outside and experience the world. Yes, my way to school could be faster if I drove or took transit, but I treasure this daily walk and feel fortunate that I have the opportunity to make it each day. Thirty-five minutes that is all mine.

Not all walks to school are so pleasurable or welcome. But they are necessary. Each step speaks to serious intent and commitment to education. That is what this book of sparse text and wonderful full colour photographs depicts.

The Way to School by Rosemary McCarney with Plan International was published in September 2015 by Second Story Press. Its message is important – what matters most is that you get there. School is necessary. School is transformative. School is non-negotiable. If children have the opportunity to go to school, they will go to great lengths: wading through rivers, balancing on collapsed bridges, trailing down a mountain path . . .

This book allows us to open up some meaningful conversations with our students and ask key questions.

  • Do children all over the world attend school?
  • Can every child in a community attend?
  • Are there countries where some children go to school and others don’t? Why?
  • What might prevent them from attending?
  • What is the daily commute like?
  • If the journey is long, what can’t fit in a child’s day?
  • Are there dangers on a daily walk to school?
  • Why is education so important?
  • Does this make you think about school in new ways?

Proceeds form the sale of this book are donated to the I am a Girl Fund. I took this book out from the library but will be buying my own copy.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2016. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: B is for Bear

This week I found B is for Bear: A Natural Alphabet by Hannah Viano (October 2015) and was absolutely charmed by it. Striking art work and all things lovely and wonderful from the natural world of North America. Part alphabet book, part celebration of nature, many parts simple beauty.

B is for Bear

Each page holds an upper case word for the letter represented and a simple, descriptive sentence of additional information along with a stunning image (these are paper cuttings!)

For example:

“Standing still on one leg, an EGRET watches the water closely, waiting for his dinner to swim by.”

Some wonderful things selected P for PEBBLE, Q for QUEEN ANNE’s LACE, R for RAINSTORM

I particularly loved this book because it got me thinking about how to use it in the classroom. Last week Melissa Stewart wrote a post wondering about doing research with elementary students. “Is there a fun way to do research?” she asks. She has more posts to come (yippee!) but I have been thinking about this question a lot. I’ve been thinking about letting research first be part of a discovery, expressive process. Something that involves art, creativity, poetry, creating images while being a part of the process of wondering and finding new information. And then, what to do with it?

I love the idea of some simple pieces – like art work inspired by a book like this. Create an image of something, share a fact discovered by a little bit of reading or exploring a website or . . . Think about what fact feels the most important and how to share it.

Wouldn’t you like to create an alphabet book linked to a particular place – a country, a province (or state), a city, a neighbourhood? And include a number of interesting pieces of art with extra information. A piece of beautiful art and a simple, carefully crafted sentence. Seems like the ideal marriage of beginning fact finding and information honouring.

Already thinking of a book like this for my class to do on our neighbourhood . . . And about where we might find more information about things we might want to highlight . . .

I love books that both enrich and inspire – accessible and lovely mentor texts to imitate. This is a beautiful one indeed.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2016. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

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