Books & Such
My favorite genre to write is narrative nonfiction—usually picture books. Typically, these books have some kind of narrative arc throughout, with additional facts and fascinating details in sidebars on each page.
The book I’m highlighting today is just such a book. Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle, by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Alan Marks, celebrates an often-overlooked creature with an important job. There is just a hint of poop humor and a big pinch of respect in this lovely book that covers why the dung beetle is a “dung” beetle and how its life cycle works.
Sidebars explore the body parts of a beetle, the different kinds of dung beetles, and even the dung beetle’s honored place in Egyptian culture.
Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle was published by Charlesbridge in 2014.
I Can’t Wait to Read . . .
. . . The Slowest Book Ever, by April Pulley Sayre
April Pulley Sayre is one of my favorite nonfiction authors. If you don’t already know her work, I encourage you to go to the library and check out a stack of her books. I especially love Raindrops Roll and Vulture View.
Sayre’s new book, The Slowest Book Ever is a 176 page middle grade book, which is a departure from her usual picture book format. School Library Journal says, “Science and nature rub shoulders with pop culture and history in Sayre’s ode to slowness . . . The tone is humorous but never silly, and the facts are backed up with sources and more details in the endnotes. The light tone and engaging writing are perfectly complemented by the pen-and-ink drawings that accompany every entry, and the design invites lingering and sharing.”
There is a sloth on the cover, which makes me happy, and Kelly Murphy’s illustrations look great. Definitely looking forward to this one. It releases on April 5, 2016, from Boyd’s Mill Press.
Books & Such
I have an eclectic group of books to share this week. The first is The Grand Mosque of Paris, by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland Desaix. This storybook (a narrative picture book with longer text) tells how people at the Grand Mosque of Paris helped save Jews during the German occupation of France in WWII. This little-known story was new to me. In light of post WWII Muslim/Jew relations, it is at once heartwarming and heartbreaking.
The book is perfect for story time with older elementary students or for kids to read on their own. School Library Journal recommends the book for Grades 4-6. I think it’s lovely for older kids and adults too.
The second book is I, Fly, by Bridget Hoes. Illustrated by Jennifer Plecas. This fun and funny book features a fly trying to convince kids that they should study flies instead of butterflies. The fly giving the students a lesson gives the book a nice narrative arc, and it’s stuffed with all kinds of kid-friendly amazing facts and disgusting details.
School Library Journal recommends the book for Grades 2-4. I think younger kids would enjoy it as well, even if they don’t make it through the entire book.
The last book is Book of Nature Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis. I really adore this and Book of Animal Poetry, also edited by Lewis. Both bring together a collection of new and classic poets, perfect for sharing poetry with kids in bite-sized pieces. I’ve been known to interrupt evening TV time to read a poem from these collections that I found especially wonderful. Sharing poetry in this way feels so much more organic than “now we shall study this great poet—tada!” Start reading this book to kids a bit a time when they are little, and poetry won’t seem like such a strange and foreign beast when they encounter it in formal study.
I Can’t Wait to Read . . .
Jess Keating (My Life is a Zoo series) has a new nonfiction picture book releasing February 2. I’ve been waiting for Pink is for Blobfish for a long time. Who can resist a book that turns princess-y pink on its ear? Monster slugs, poisonous insects, and an adorable blobfish—count me in!
I’ll be presenting my writing workshop, “A Dark and Stormy Night: The Importance of Setting,” to the Young Willamette Writers next week. If you have young writers in your family (5th-10th grade) and are in the Portland Metro area, please join me. For more details, click here.
My first Show & Tell for 2016 is the work of Steve Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins is an author/illustrator who frequently collaborates with his wife, Robin Page. Among his works are some of my all-time favorite nonfiction titles for kids. He shares my love for the wild and weird in the natural world, with books that range from how animals sleep and bathe to animal life spans and communication. If I’m holding a book in my hand and saying “but I was going to write about that,” chances are it’s a Steve Jenkins book.
Most of Mr. Jenkins titles are categorical in nature, meaning they take a topic like taking a bath and tell you a bit about how many different kinds of animals bathe. Because his books aren’t typically narratives, they’re great for exploring a little bit at a time (or all at once) and they’re lovely for young preschoolers who might not sit through a whole story or who want to flip back and forth and skip pages. The content is also detailed enough for older siblings to appreciate, so they’re great for a family story-time.
Some of my favorite Steve Jenkins titles are (you’ll find a complete list of his titles here):
- What do You Do with a Tail Like This
- Just a Second
- How to Clean a Hippopotamus
- Time for a Bath
- The Animal Book
- The Beetle Book
Over the holidays, I had more than one person mention the difficulty of finding good, read-aloud nonfiction books. This makes me sad, because there are so many fabulous books out there, but I also understand the difficulty.
If you find a new fiction author you love, you can walk to that person’s spot on a library or bookstore shelf and grab up all their titles. Nonfiction authors don’t have this luxury—we are shelved by topic rather than last name. This sometimes makes it harder and more time-consuming to collect a stack of library books by your favorite author.
The other factor that makes it harder to find those stellar read-aloud titles is the two-pronged nature of nonfiction books. The majority of the nonfiction books in the library are written for the school/library market. They are fine books in their own right, but they are designed primarily to be resources for students writing reports. They aren’t meant to be books you curl up with and read for the beauty of their language or their stunning illustrations.*
Books that meet these criteria are usually what we call “trade” publications. They have more of an emphasis on “read-aloud-ability” and great illustrations. They can be found at the library, but they are all but missing from bookstores like Barnes & Noble.
The best place to browse these books for purchase are independent booksellers—little corner shops or, if you’re lucky like me, behemoths like Powell’s. There you should find a hand-selected collection of nonfiction titles with lovely language and stunning illustrations.
There are a couple very good websites to help you find great nonfiction titles. You can use them make a list to take to your local library or bookshop. Happy reading!
- The Nonfiction Detectives
- New York Public Library: Kids
- Kid Lit Frenzy: Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesdays
*I should note that there is an effort within the school/library market to create books that are both informative AND beautifully written/illustrated, but the fact remains that we need different types of books for different purposes. A “just-the-facts-ma’am” book is no less valuable, it just doesn’t have the same “cuddle up and read” factor that this discussion addresses.
I love the winter festival season. It makes me smile to see religious and cultural traditions from around the world come together around the shortest, darkest day of the year and celebrate light and hope. I reminds me that no matter what kind of ugliness I see in the headlines, collectively we will rise above. However you celebrate–may the dark days of your winter be lit by hope.
Soon we’ll slip into winter (with apologies to my Southern Hemisphere friends) and into perfectly cozy reading days. Here are just a few favorite books from last year’s reading list:
- The Way Back from Broken, by Amber Keyser
- Castle Hangnail, by Ursula Vernon
- Bryony & Roses, by T. Kingfisher
- How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, by Mike Brown
- Gulp, by Mary Roach
- Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan
- When the Wind Blows, by Linda Booth Sweeny
- Thorn, by Intisar Khanani
- The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney
- Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farm, by Kelly Jones
- Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson
- Waiting for Winter, by Sebastian Meschenmoser
- enormous smallness: a story of e.e. cummings, by Matthew Burgess
- Water is Water, by Miranda Paul