Nonfiction favourites from 2017

I haven’t read as many nonfiction titles as I would have liked to read this year. There are still titles on my To Read list that are likely to become favourites, perhaps even making their way on to this list. I definitely haven’t posted many #nfpb2017 posts.

Bur I have been reading and sharing and appreciating. Books from my nonfiction picture book collection are always well used and well loved. There have been some pretty amazing titles that I have had the pleasure of reading and I am sharing them here.

Here are my top ten of 2017 (published in 2017). Listed alphabetically by author.

Give Bees a Chance by Bethany Barton

Follow along as a reluctant bee enthusiast becomes convinced of the wonder and importance of bees. Entertaining and informative!

Penguin Day: A Family Story by Nic Bishop 

This title allows us to follow a penguin family through a typical day. Incredible photographs by Bishop of Rockhopper penguins in the Falkland Islands.

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin

Jason Chin is incredible. I believe that more and more with each book I read. Take a journey back and forth through time as you hike down, up and around the Grand Canyon.

What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures written by Jess Keating and illustrated by David DeGrand

The second title in this series by Jess Keating. So. Much. Fun. Keating makes learning an adventure in the wow and wild!

This is How We Do it: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World by Matt Lamothe

What do you eat for dinner? What is school like?  What is your daily routine? What do you do for fun? How do you help your family? These details define us and unite us. They make us realize how we all have similar routines even though things in our day can be vastly different. Based on the lives of seven real children from around the world.

Gift Books 2017: 25 Picture Books to Gift this Season There's a Book for That

If You Were the Moon written by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Jaime Kim

What would you do if you were the moon? A poem travels line by line, page by page on one side of each two page spread and on the other, more information about the moon. Incredible illustrations by Jaime Kim accompanies a lyrical poem.

Can an Aardvark Bark? written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Created by nonfiction royalty, this book is a winner! Animal sounds. And many other cool things you might have wondered. I recently listened to Melissa Stewart talking about this book with Matthew Winner on an All the Wonders Podcast.

The Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler

A photographic journey of the life cycle of the toad. Clear specific language, lots of essential vocabulary and incredible close up images.

If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams

A nonfiction title exploring ecosystems and the importance of keeping oceans healthy. Children will develop an understanding of food chains and how living creatures are interconnected in specific environments.

The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zana Hadid by Jeanette Winter

Zaha Hadid had incredible vision but having her designs come to life was a struggle. Learn more about the architect’s life in this nonfiction picture book biography. Images by Winter are spectacular.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2017. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

Cover reveal: Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones

I have a huge collection of nonfiction picture books but there are particular titles I reach for again and again. Titles that engage students of various ages. Titles that intrigue adults. Titles that are at the top of the pile when I pack up nonfiction books to share with a group of educators. These books are the first books I recommend when someone asks me, “Which titles should I buy?” “What titles do your students love?” or “What would be a guaranteed hit?” These books do what kids love them to do – immediately hook the reader and pull them into the pages for an adventure in learning.

Two titles at the top of my go to pile are books written by Sara Levine and illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth: Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons (Lerner Books 2013) and Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers (Lerner Books 2016)

It’s not just the engaging nature of these titles – the way they ask questions – Imagine if . . . What kind of animal would you be if . . . ? What if you only had . . .? The magic is in the asking us to think of ourselves in a completely different way as we compare ourselves to animals. The questions instantly generate more questions and the trying to guess the animals is hugely exciting. As soon as we start asking the questions and revealing the illustrations which give little hints, everyone in the room is hooked.

Here is a question from each book to give you the idea.

What kind of animal would you be if you had no leg bones but kept your arm bones? All of a sudden we need to think about purposes of our legs and how we would function without them. What would our arms need to be able to do?

What would you be if your top canine teeth grew almost all the way down to your feet? Hold on – why would we need teeth like that? What could we do if we had them?  What can we do with our canine teeth right now?

When Carol Hinz, editor with Lerner Publishing, asked me if I would like to do a cover reveal for Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones (Lerner Publishing 2018) of course I said yes!

If I could involve my students 🙂

Imagine how excited my students were when they found out that they would be the first kids in the world to see the cover and interior layout of Levine and Spookytooth‘s new book.

They saw it first and here it is for all of you!

“Everybody else can be second,” one student remarked. Which is still pretty exciting!  Cover reveal: Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur SkeletonsWe read Bone by Bone and Tooth by Tooth together and I asked the students what they enjoyed about the books. They had a lot to say:

  • “The guessing makes it really fun even if your answer isn’t right.”
  • “You get to learn the names of lots of parts of your body that you didn’t know you had.” “I knew I had them, I just didn’t know the names.”
  • “The author wants us to know that we are a lot like animals but we’re also different too.”
  • “The illustrator knows how to imagine really funny things!”
  • “I think the author and illustrator really care that kids learn things.”
  • “It’s fun to learn like this.”

Have you ever thought about comparing yourself to a dinosaur?

Cover reveal: Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Skeletons

Kids sure have!  My students immediately were inspired to draw, talk and wonder.

Cover reveal: Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur SkeletonsIn some ways, we have bones very like dinosaurs (but on a very different scale when it comes to some of the especially huge ones). But we also loved the idea that some bones in dinosaurs are nothing like bones that we have in our bodies. But what if we did have bones like this . . . ? It was hard to keep track of all of the things being said. Soon the room had erupted into that wonderful noise called engagement. Debates broke out about being a herbivore or a carnivore if we were actual dinosaurs. There was stomping about. Pretending to swing tails. Students began sharing what they knew about dinosaur defences. The tub of dinosaur books was pulled from the shelf.

Cover reveal: Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Skeletons

Does anyone have a question for the author or illustrator?” I asked. Of course they did!

Author and illustrator played along and gifted us with all kinds of amazing information.

Our questions are listed below and are followed by answers from Sara Levine (in blue) and T.S. Spookytooth (in green). Some questions were for both author and illustrator and some were directed specifically to one or the other.

Are you thinking you might want to become a paleontologist? Or are you already part paleontologist? 

SL:  I’m very interested in fossils—especially fossils of animals that are no longer on earth, but no, I don’t think I’ll become a paleontologist. I studied living animals at veterinary school. Right now,I’m a college professor and a writer, and these things keep me pretty busy. But one great thing about being a teacher or a writer is that these jobs give you a chance to learn about all sorts of different things you are curious about. Paleontology is one topic I decided to learn more about so I could write a book and teach a class about dinosaurs.

What inspired you to write about dinosaur fossils? Did you want dinosaurs to not feel forgotten (even if they’re dead they might still care)?

SL: Actually, it was my editor Carol Hinz who suggested I write about dinosaurs. She has a lot of good ideas. I liked the topic especially since a lot of kids are interested in dinosaurs, but there wasn’t a book for kids showing how dinosaur bones are similar to our bones. I really appreciate the idea that I might have written this book so dinosaurs are not forgotten. I think it’s very important for us to remember animals and people who are no longer on earth. We can’t know if they care or not, but writing a book about them for this reason is a very kind thing to do.

Did you test your questions on some kids before you put them into the books?

SL: Yes, I did.

Would you want to be a carnivore or a herbivore if you were an actual dinosaur?
SL: I’d want to be a herbivore. I think having to kill animals to eat them would make me too sad.

TSSI think I would like to be a herbivore. There are pretty cool plants out there, I just worry that they don’t taste very nice. But I’m always up for trying something new.

Did you ever find bones? Or go digging for bones?

SLYes. Sometimes when I’m walking in the woods I find bones of animals. When I do, I get excited—I love trying to figure out what kind of bone I’ve found and what animal it might have been a part of. And I also like to go digging for fossils, which are bones or other parts of animals or plants that have turned to rock. You should go on a trip to do this someday, if you are interested. Sometimes I take my daughter to find fossils, and we have a lot of fun.

TSSDigging for bones wasn’t something that I did as a child, but I suppose it’s never too late to do it as an adult.

How did you draw those bones so carefully? And make them look realistic?
TSS: I visited some very good museums where they have some amazing dinosaur fossils so I was able to get them as accurate as possible. Being careful is probably my number one skill, with drawing a close second, so it came very easy to me. 

What else do you like to draw?
TSS: I really like to draw octopus and squid and anything really that looks a little odd.

Who taught you how to draw?
TSS: I had some good teachers along the way that gave me lots of encouragement, but I suppose I taught myself by just drawing every day and practising more and more.

It seems like you can work together really well. Are you going to keep making books together? Are you friends?

SLYes, T.S Spookytooth and I are friends. I just wrote another book called Eye by Eye: Comparing Animal Peepers for the two of us to work on together. I hope it will become a published book in a few years.

TSSIt would be great to keep making books. We are friends even though we live very far away from each other, but we did meet and we shook hands so in my world that confirms a friendship!

If you can’t really wait for January 2018 for the release of this book, consider this question:

What kind of reader would you be if you left a comment below or shared this post on twitter?

Possibly the lucky winner of Bone by Bone and Tooth by Tooth!

One lucky winner will be randomly selected by October 30th. Canadian and U.S. addresses only please.

You can find Sara Levine and T.S. Spookytooth on Twitter.

Put Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones on your list for January! This is one your school or classroom library needs to have!

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: A Bear’s Life

It is always a priority to be able to show students places in the world that they may not have seen. Places in their world that are not that far away – in our own beautiful province’s rain forest? Even more important.

A Bear’s Life by photographer/author Ian McAllister and author Nicholas Read is not to be missed.  Ian McAllister and his wife Karen McAllister were named by Time Magazine as “Leaders of the 21st Century” for their efforts to protect British Columbia’s endangered rainforest. Ian and Karen cofounded Pacific Wild

This title includes absolutely stunning wildlife photography by McAllister as readers are introduced to what bear cubs in the Great Bear Rainforest do everyday. We meet black bears, grizzly bears and the incredible spirit bears. Come along as these cubs sleep, play, learn to fish and forage and prepare for winter.

There is lots of information here but it is also easy to become lost in a single photograph.

This will be a title I share with my Grade 3 class this fall as we learn about the animals that live with us in British Columbia and how we can protect them.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2017. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: This is How We Do it

We all have a curiosity about how other people live – especially people from different places around the world. People just like us but yet, completely different. Children love the conversations we have in classrooms about what it is like in other countries where we once lived or places we have visited.

It’s the daily routines that are as interesting as the unique sights and physical characteristics of the land.

The tiny details. The things that make sense but seem so unusual.

What do you eat for dinner? What is school like? Do you have pets? What are the conveniences in your home? The hardships? What is your daily routine? What do you do for fun? What is served for dessert?

These details define us and unite us. They make us realize how we all have similar routines even though things in our day can be vastly different.

This is How We Do it: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World by Matt Lamothe (Chronicle Books May 2017offers a glimpse of the daily lives of seven children from around the world. Each child is between ages seven and eleven. All of these wonderful details are here:

  • What’s for breakfast?
  • What does your home look like?
  • What do you wear?
  • What is school like?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • What is your family like?
  • What do you do with your friends?
  • What do you eat for dinner?
  • Where do you sleep?

All of these questions and more are answered in detail by Kei from Japan, Ribaldo from Peru, Kian from Iran, Oleg from Russia, Ananya from India, Romeo from Italy and Daphne from Uganda.

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: This is How We Do it

I shared this with my own children, who at age fourteen, were still very intrigued by all of the details. Some of the things they found especially interesting:

  • Breakfast foods like egg yolks mixed with sugar and milk in Italy and miso soup, consumed in Japan. Soup in the morning was a shock.
  • In many countries, students call their teachers by their first names. My children went to an Elementary school where this was done but it isn’t common here in Canada.
  • How late some children ate dinner. “What time do they go to bed?”
  • The differences in homes and sleeping arrangements.
  • That in Japan, children have to clean their own classrooms.
  • That kids in Peru have coffee with their dinners.

What makes this book so wonderful is revealed in the final pages. These children featured are real. We meet them in a photograph with their families and find out through the author’s note that all the details of their lives are based on their actual lives shared through photos and details given to author/illustrator Matt Lamothe.

I appreciated the balance of boys and girls and that the children who were chosen came from families who had lived for generations in the same country. Lamothe points out that these children can be seen to be representative of their country but of course only to a limited degree. All families and children are incredibly unique. I also appreciated that there was not a child from North America! While all families are depicted are two parent families, not all are two parent, two children families. There is some diversity in terms of number of children and ages of the children. One family has a tiny baby and so may still be growing. Another family mentions four older, grown siblings that no longer live with the family.

What an absolutely brilliant idea for a picture book!  An ideal book for classroom and school libraries. Children will delight in all of the details. Recommended for Grades 1 to 6.

A detailed glossary in the back explains unfamiliar terms.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2017. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

Thank you to Fernanda from Raincoast Books for this review copy

Stand Up and Sing!

The older I get, the more I think picture book biographies are some of the most inspirational seeds that allow meaningful conversations in classrooms to happen. Maybe it’s because I clearly see that a life is a story and that anytime we hear a story told, we have the opportunity to learn. As we connect deeply to a person through their story, we reflect on ourselves and our communities. We have the chance to think about things in new ways. Kids get it too. A few years ago I asked some of my students why biographies needed to be shared. Their responses revealed a lot. Some highlights:

  • “I like those books that tell the story of someone who can’t but then they did.”
  • “It’s so we can know that one person can change things.”
  • “These books teach us about community and dreams. We should think about that.”
  • “They show me not to be scared.”

I have a new must read biography that I think is particularly timely for its messages about standing together for truth and justice:

Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice written by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Adam Gustavson Forward by Peter Yarrow (Bloomsbury 2017)

This detailed biography would make an incredible read aloud. It is a story to share over multiple read aloud sessions. There is much on every page for discussion and elaboration. The full page illustrations tell a beautiful story as well. Looking closely at these allows the reader to move through one life and decades of history.

I first read this book about three weeks ago. It was a humbling experience. I closed the book and felt a strange mix of fired up and sad and quiet. I began to do some of my own further reading about Pete Seeger, often realizing songs I have known all my life were songs he had written. This took me down further thinking paths.

The sadness came from a reaction to current day news and media coverage. There is so much in stories about people that is about self rather than other. Pete Seeger clearly lived a life where self and others were completely intertwined. His motivations were clear and strong. He respected the truth. He valued its importance. He valued social justice as our most important goal to attain. I think my sadness came from just acknowledging the loss of Pete Seeger who passed away in 2014. In many senses, my sadness has no place because Pete did his work through music and music has some of the most incredible lasting power of any medium. Power to wash over people. Become part of their motivation. Become part of their own story.

I picked up and reread this story a few times over the past few weeks. Over multiple readings, I have been inspired by Seeger’s commitment to use music as a vehicle to unite people over important issues. Pete Seeger was motivated early on in his life by folk music and the connection between audience and musician. He recognized that the content of songs could be transformative.

I was reminded of precious Thursday afternoons of recent years experiencing a room full of music. My class had the weekly opportunity to sing with the talented Jill Samycia from St. James Music Academy. Singing together brought a joy and a connection to our community. There is such power in singing together especially when the lyrics hold messages of hope.

Susanna Reich’s account of Seeger’s life brings particular questions to the surface numerous times:

What do we notice?

What speaks to us?

How do these things shape our work? Our actions? How do they form our truth?

Pete Seeger‘s life work was his music. Through music he conveyed his love of people, equity and justice. Reich explains that Pete “saw that music could fill a room with peace and harmony. . . ” A wish to make this happen is what motivated him to become a more accomplished musician.

Seeger‘s path was not an easy one. His end goal wasn’t fame and fortune. It was to lead people in song. He wanted to “sing for – and with – average working folks.”

His courage, his commitment to peace, the rights of everyone in a society and hope for our world live on in his music.

Such an incredible story of one man. Back matter includes an important author’s note, a list of quotes, detailed sources and a list of popular recordings.

Recommended for Grades 3 to 8.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2017. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Penguin Day – A Family Story

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Penguin Day - A Family Story

I have been waiting three years for this book to be published. Three years ago I had the honour of introducing Nic Bishop at the Western Washington Children’s Literature Conference. He entertained the audience for a good hour telling tales of his world travels as a photographer, author and photo journalist. He has done some pretty incredible and often highly amusing things to get some of his photographs. At the end of his talk, he spoke about Rockhopper penguins and his travels to the Falkland Islands to photograph these mighty little penguins.

I remember him making a joke about these penguins writing their own hairstylist guide. They do have some pretty fantastic yellow fur stretching out from their “eyebrows”! He also spoke about penguin porpoising and penguin showers (both depicted in the book). What stuck with me though was his story of how the Rockhopper penguins are able to swim in rough, violent waters, how colonies make nests 100 feet up the sides of rocks where their nests are and how the penguin population is on rapid decline since commercial fishing was established in the area.

I was so excited to see Penguin Day: A Family Story by Nic Bishop (Scholastic Press 2017) at the bookstore the other day. This title allows us to follow a penguin family through a typical day. Mama penguin heads out to fish for food. The photograph of penguins diving underwater to ride the waves is amazing! Father penguin stays back to guard the chick. When he is distracted, we learn about dangers like the sea birds that attempt to make off with a penguin chick that is not being watched.

This title has simple text with engaging full colour photographs. Back matter includes more detailed information in the author’s note. Recommended for classroom libraries K-5.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2017. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!


Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Swimming with Sharks

Imagine being called the “Shark Lady” . . .

I can’t! My fear is too great to wrap my head around being calm enough, focussed enough and determined enough to dedicate my life to both studying and swimming with sharks.


With all of those teeth and those great big jaws.


Yet, reading this book allowed me to start to consider sharks from Eugenie Clark’s perspective.

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Swimming with Sharks

I learned that sharks are many things – even, as Clark saw them – remarkable.

In Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark by Heather Lang and illustrated by Jodi Solano (2016 Albert Whitman & Company) sharks are described as timid, sophisticated and clever.

Clark herself was remarkable: a persistent student – curious, dedicated and inspired by her subject. Clark was able to train sharks to press an underwater bell and then swim somewhere else to retrieve a food reward. She dove with sharks, swimming with them and noting all kinds of discoveries about their habits and behaviour. She was determined to learn about sharks so she could address people’s fears. Help us change our minds. See sharks in new ways.

“Sharks are magnificent and misunderstood!” This was Clark’s message to the world. Sharks need our respect and our protection.

In the back matter, Lang points out that Eugenie Clark was still swimming with sharks into her nineties. She published over 175 articles about fish in her lifetime and made 72 submersible dives.

I particularly appreciate biographies that feature passionate scientists asking questions and doing work that transforms and enhances our current understanding of a subject. Eugenie Clark was such a scientist. Her life’s work is absolutely inspiring.

A fascinating biography ideal for young naturalists. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2017. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!


Thank you to Tracie Schneider for providing a copy of this beautiful book for review

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Nonfiction in 2017


Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday begins again! I am so excited to be participating in this challenge!

Link to host Alyson Beecher‘s blog Kid Lit Frenzy to read about all of the nonfiction titles being shared. This year the image for the challenge was created by Sarah S. Brannen.  I think it’s pretty perfect!

I am setting a goal to read at least 50 new-to-me nonfiction picture books this year. While I may not be reading as many books as usual, I plan to be utilizing many of the books I have read and loved so much in the past. Often I ended up purchasing titles and wasn’t able to use all of them in the classroom because of teaching a younger grade. I have read numerous favourite titles in depth with my new Grade 4 and 5 classroom and continue to be impressed with the learning that happens and the future learning that is inspired.

The perfect example? Tomorrow I will be sharing Giant Squid written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann (2016) as part of my Mock Caldecott unit.


It is one of 12 titles I chose this year. The nonfiction titles are on the list were intentional. Not only are these beautifully illustrated books but they are books that remind us that learning engages us on so many levels. Nonfiction picture books inform. They make us question and wonder. The visuals add another level of learning – giving us closeups, revealing aspects of an animal or place that a photograph just might not capture.


I am especially excited to share Giant Squid because it not only provides us with questions, it leaves us with questions. We learn that there is much not yet known about these deep sea giants. Getting all of the answers can be satisfying. Realizing that there are answers not yet known plants a quest for knowledge in our students that we consistently hope for them. We want them stopping to be awed. Shaking their heads. Protesting – “But. . . ” “How come. . . ?” “Why . . . ?” Being driven to go learn more.

I know this book will lead to research. Looking for images. For videos. For more . . .

Beautiful books like this one are introductions. First access points. The beginning of lots of learning ahead.

I am excited about another year being committed to reading nonfiction picture books! I benefit just as much as my students!