Archive for Nonfiction

Seven and a Half Tons of Steel

Written by Janet Nolan
Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez

After the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, a steel beam was selected for recycling by the US Navy. The beam, weighing seven and a half tons, was transported by truck to a foundry in Louisiana. The steel became the bow of a new landing platform/dock (LPD), a type of war ship designed for a crew of 360 and transport of 700 to 800 troops. It was to become the USS New York. The shipbuilding itself was briefly interrupted by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The ship then sailed the steel back to its home port of New York.

The mixed media illustrations convey the solemnity of the story.

Reading with a teacher or parent is highly recommended, as the text relies heavily on the recognition of symbols, many of which kids may not be aware of. An adult can explain how much the symbols mean. Throughout the story, flags drape the steel and the ship. A twenty-one gun salute greets the ship in New York. Statistics about the ship, as well as a detailed description of her crest follow the story. Even the diner on board is symbolic of the towers.

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  • Seven and a Half Tons of SteelTitle: Seven and a Half Tons of Steel
  • Author: Janet Nolan
  • Illustrator: Thomas Gonzalez
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, August 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 36 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-912-4
  • Extras: More about the USS New York, The crest of the USS New York

Otters Love to Play

Written by Jonathan London
Illustrated by Meilo So

This new book is a well-researched tale about a litter of river otter pups as they grow and learn in their first year of life. It begins in early spring in the abandoned den of a beaver. After five weeks, the pups’ eyes open and the play begins. Their wrestling, chasing, and tug-of-war help the pups develop the speed and agility they need for hunting. The mother teaches them to swim so they can catch fish and eat other water-based delicacies. As they become more aware of their surroundings, they guard their territory. Throughout the winter, they continue to hunt and keep each other warm in the den. Then they play some more.

Extensive sidebars appear on every two-page spread so third graders can learn more about this lovable animal. Illustrations capture the playful nature and tenacity of the otters. As otters are part of the weasel family, this book would be valuable in the study of woodland creatures and in developing literacy skills.

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  • Otters Love to PlayTitle: Otters Love to Play
  • Author: Jonathan London
  • Illustrator: Meilo So
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Nature, Animals, Science
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6913-3
  • Extras: Index, About Otters


Written by Sue Whiting
Illustrated by Mark Jackson

This is a great opportunity to learn about the creature that fascinates observers and puzzles scientists. Kids will love the platypus and want to know more.

The author starts out by following a male platypus as he goes about his daily foraging. His burrow is warm and cozy and nestled on the bank of a creek. His body and fur help him to move around his semiaquatic world. His flexible bill allows him to find and capture worms, insect larvae, crawfish, and beetles. He dives repeatedly to the creek bed until he fills the pouches in his cheeks for the coming meal. He has to hide quickly from predators. Meanwhile, the female tends to the eggs and nurses the babies.

The beautiful illustrations give a real feel to the environment of the platypus, the other animals, and even the plant life.

Third graders will get a chance to practice literacy skills while learning about life in Tasmania and Australia. This would be a good read aloud for discussion of what a monotreme is and how it differs from a mammal.

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  • PlatypusTitle: Platypus
  • Author: Sue Whiting
  • Illustrator: Mark Jackson
  • Published: Candlewick Press, March 8, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 4
  • Genre: Science, Nature, Geography
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8098-5
  • Extras: Numerous sidebars, Index, author’s note “The Puzzling Platypus”

The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can


“Achieveable,” Really? Girls going to school? Not born in Zimbabwe during the war. Then girls rarely got to attend school. Only after she grew up and had children of her own was Trent encouraged by the women of her village to learn to read. They needed her to read letters from their faraway husbands.

This beautifully illustrated story is based on the true life experiences of Dr. Tererai Trent, who now hold many degrees and is an advocate for learning and education world-wide.

Traditional values, beliefs and thatched roofed homes are described and illustrated in this full color book. Teachers, librarians, and reading specialists will fulfill core curriculum standards in geography, history, and literacy by using this book with grade three readers.

It also highlights the good possible accomplished by just one person in advocating and supporting education. While Trent dreamed of education in Zimbabwe, it became a reality in America, as she explains in the body of the text as well as in her author’s notes.

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  • Girl who buried her dreamsTitle: The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can
  • Author: Dr. Tererai Trent
  • Illustrator: Jan Spivey Gilchrist
  • Publisher: Viking, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-670-01654
  • Genre: Non-fiction, biography
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Afterward

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune

Written and Illustrated by P.J. Lynch

The beautiful and realistic illustrations in this engaging new book are a big part of the little-known story of one of the original settlers near Plymouth Rock. John Howland was a young servant indentured to William Bradford, leader of the Pilgrims and first governor of the Massachusetts colony. When the group set out on the two-month journey to America, John was obliged to come along. Lynch’s book gives a detailed version of the trek, from the loading on of supplies in London, to the various stops before leaving England, to the perils of the ocean crossing and setting up life on the new shore. During a storm at sea, John ventured out on the deck, only to be swept overboard. Luckily, a bolt of lightning showed him where a rope was hanging over the side of the boat, and he was rescued.

The Pilgrims were actually two groups who set out for Virginia. They merged when one of the ships set to transport them proved unseaworthy. The bad weather on the passage carried them two hundred miles north of their destination, but they decided to settle there anyway. Sickness, exposure, and starvation took out half the population in the first winter. The native Americans were wary but helpful. Squanto knew English as a result of being enslaved for a period. John Howland intended to return to England to make his fortune but decided to remain in New Plymouth.

Third graders and up will benefit greatly from this exciting tale. They will learn a truer history of the Mayflower and the first Thanksgiving. They can polish their literacy skills as well.

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  • Boy who fell offTitle: The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune
  • Author/Illustrator: P.J. Lynch
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: History, Narrative Nonfiction
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6584-5

Dolley Madison Saves George Washington

Written and Illustrated by Don Brown

Fire! Fire in the White House! Run away, run away, but Dolley Madison didn’t run away. She stopped to save the famous portrait of George Washington. It wasn’t a quick trick, either because the frame was too heavy to manage. She instructed some workmen to cut the portrait out of the frame and carry it to safety.

Don Brown’s biography begins with information about Dolley, including her charm, her ability to hostess wonderful parties, and her remodeling of the White House. He also tells readers how Dolley was actually related to George Washington by marriage.

The muted colors used in the illustrations are representative of the time. However, children will enjoy the great amount of action depicted in the story and the pictures. Teachers and librarians can use this biography to meet the core curriculum standards in literacy and American history. The author’s note also includes an interesting discussion about the many spellings of Dolley’s name. Students might use this as a springboard to studying other names with multiple meanings.

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  • DolleyTitle: Dolley Madison Saves George Washington
  • Author/Illustrator: Don Brown
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardback, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-544-58244-6
  • Genre: Nonfiction Picture Book, Biography
  • Grade level: PreK to 3
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Bibliography

Boy, Were We Wrong About the Weather

Written by Kathleen V. Kudlinski
Illustrated by Sebastia Serra

Does your big toe hurt? Is the sky red at night? There have been many different myths in various cultures over the generations to explain the weather. While some might be right, many others have been proven wrong by scientists and their research.

Colorful illustrations, including weather pattern diagrams, help compare the myths of the past with the truth as it is understood today. In an optimistic and challenging ending, the book even suggests that one of today’s young readers will someday be a scientist looking back on us today and saying, “Boy, we were wrong about the weather.”

Accurate weather terminology is used throughout the book with clear definitions where necessary. It will be helpful to the youngest students as they are introduced to weather science for the first time.

As a read aloud, teachers and librarians can use this in kindergarten and first grade. Second and third graders will be able to read it independently. While they might not recognize some of the ancient peoples mentioned, it is a well done look at myths being disproven by science. It will fulfill core curriculum standards for science and literacy in the elementary grades.

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  • WeatherTitle: Boy, Were We Wrong About the Weather
  • Author: Kathleen V. Kudlinski
  • Illustrator: Sebastia Serra
  • Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8037-3793-8
  • Genre: Non-fiction, science, weather
  • Grade level: PreK to 3
  • Extras: Timeline of Weather Science, related websites

Who Was Beatrix Potter?

Written by Sarah Fabiny
Illustrated by Mike Lacey

Not everyone born to wealth loves it. Case in point, Beatrix Potter. She was born to a wealthy family in 1866 London, but wealth tied her hands. Well, perhaps, not completely wealth. It was also the time in which she was born. A wealthy young woman was not supposed to study science, draw animals or make her own living.

But that is exactly what Beatrix wanted and finally accomplished. It is sad how long it took success to find her, but perhaps the illness and loneliness actually helped her become a better storyteller.

Young readers will be amazed to find out how her stories began. They were letters she wrote to a little boy who was sick. She didn’t know what to write to him about so she told him a story about a young rabbit named Peter who got into a garden.

It is fascinating to read what Beatrix did with all the money she earned from her stories and illustrations. She helped make the world a better place with her stories and saved the part she loved best for future generations to enjoy.

Fabiny wrote a smooth and engaging narrative that reads as comfortably as a letter.

Educators will use this to fulfill core curriculum standards in history, biography, art, and literature. Librarians will use it to introduce a famous author and her wonderful books. Art teachers will use it to show how precise her illustrations were, and to encourage their students to practice over and over again their drawing of real subjects. This is a beautiful addition to Penguin’s, “Who Was?” series.

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  • Beatrix PotterTitle: Who Was Beatrix Potter?
  • Author: Sarah Fabiny
  • Illustrator: Mike Lacey
  • Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap/ Penguin, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 112 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-448-48305-4
  • Genre: Biography
  • Grade level: 3-7
  • Extras: Timeline, Bibliography, related web sites

Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse


Written by Leslie Bulion
Illustrated by Mike Lowery

This crazy little book would go well with either a unit on the science of anatomy, health, poetry, or all three. From the stomach to the brain to the inner ear, each major body part is discussed in poetry form, then in a detailed sidebar. Blood’s tribute begins:

Three boats sail
Along the river of life –
A sticky situation

At the end, the author outlines what poetic forms and devices she uses and where her inspiration came from. Her love for Shakespeare is obvious. The author even encourages composition on those subjects the book doesn’t cover – sort of a “you try it now.” She is very careful to use correct terminology and not to oversimplify for third graders, so literacy skills and comprehension are more important than ever.

Throughout both the riddles and the back matter, humorous illustrations aim to keep the readers’ attention and have them looking for more. Students may want to try their hands at drawing their favorite body parts – within reason. Very cute, very educational, and very fun.

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Random Body Parts

      • Title: Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse
      • Author: Leslie Bulion
      • Illustrator: Mike Lowery
      • Publisher: Peachtree, 2015
      • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
      • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
      • Grade Level: 3 to 5
      • Genre: Nonfiction, science, health, poetry
      • ISBN: 978-1-56145-737-3
      • Extras: Glossary, body diagram, poetry notes, and resources for further study


Growing Up Pedro

Written and Illustrated by Matt Tavares

More than Pedro’s story, this is the story of two brothers and how they helped each other become two of the best pitchers in the major leagues. As a child, Pedro always looked up to his older brother, Ramón. Pedro wanted to play baseball with Ramón and his friends, but Ramón didn’t want Pedro to get hurt. Instead, the older brother instructed the younger brother to throw rocks at the ripe mangoes on the trees. A scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers spots sixteen-year-old Ramón on the Dominican national team and watches him at training camp. At seventeen, Ramón paves the way by reporting to the Dodgers. At every turn, he shares what he learns with Pedro, who takes his advice to heart. Pedro works on English as well as his fast ball. In 1990, Pedro is also drafted to the Dodgers. Ramón is still the pitching star of the family. The brothers work together on the major league team for little more than a season before Pedro is traded to Montreal in 1994. By 1996, Pedro has proven himself and starts pitching for the Boston Red Sox. He leads Boston to many great seasons. Meanwhile, he helps his family back in the Dominican Republic and also helps build up the village where he grew up. The illustrations are lively and realistic, with a definite feel for being at the ballpark.

All third graders will find the story heart-warming, helping them to work on literacy skills and comprehension. They will also learn something of recent history and about math with baseball statistics. This book is well-researched and well-told.

As a Baltimore Orioles fan, this almost made me like Pedro.

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  • Growing Up PedroTitle: Growing Up Pedro
  • Author/Illustrator: Matt Tavares
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, sports
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6824-2
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Pedro Martinez’ major league statistics, Bibliography
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