Archive for the 'Nonfiction Monday' Category

Nonfiction Monday – Who Lives Here?

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The Who Lives Here? series, written by Deborah Hodge and illustrated by Pat Stephens, examines animals in their natural environments and explains how those animals are uniquely adapted to their habitats. The books are organized by habitat, and include titles on Desert Animals, Polar Animals, Rain Forest Animals and Wetland Animals.

Both Desert Animals and Wetland Animals open with a Table of Contents that begins with a page that defines that habitat (What is a Desert? and What is a Wetland?) and ends with a page containing animals words (pictorial index) and information for parents and teachers. In between are 9 double-page spreads, each introducing a different animal.

The opening pages that ask the question “What is a __?” provide a good basic introduction to the habitat. Here is how the What is a Desert? page begins.

A desert is a very dry place. Almost no rain falls here. Most deserts are found in hot parts of the world, under a blazing sun. Deserts can be sandy or rocky. Only a few are cold.

Deserts are home to many interesting animals. Their bodies are built for living in hot places, where this is very little water to drink.

The facing page briefly describes the growth that occurs when rain does fall, a bit about the plants, and the need for animals to find shade.

Here is an image of similar pages from the Wetland Animals book.


Once the background information has been covered, these books are all about the animals. Each one covers an amazing array. In Desert Animals readers meet the following animals:

  • Fennec Fox
  • Elf Owl
  • Sidewinder
  • Addax
  • Sand Cat
  • Scorpion
  • Bactrian Camel
  • Gila Monster
  • Roadrunner

In Wetland Animals readers meet these animals:

  • Hippopotamus
  • Mallard Duck
  • Capybara
  • Bullfrog
  • Crocodile
  • Beaver
  • Flamingo
  • Anaconda
  • Moose

Each set of animal pages includes a description of the animal and a sidebar with facts about the animal and itsadaptations, as well as an illustration that covers a full one and a third of the double-page spread. Here is an example.

Fennec Fox

(Main Spread, p.6)
The fennec fox lives near desert sand hills, called dunes. These furry foxes are the size of small dogs.

Tiny fox pups are born in an underground den. The mother cares for her babies while the father hunts for food.

(Sidebar, p.7)
The fox digs a hole in the sand called a burrow. It hides here during the heat of the day. Whew!

A fox hunts in the cool desert night. It pounces on its prey — the jerboas and other small animals it eats.

Sharp hearing helps a fox find its prey. The big ears also give off heat to keep the fox cool.

Each of these animal entries is packed with information. The text is easy to read and the illustrations in the sidebar support the text by providing close-up views of the adaptations described. The animal words section on the last page of each book provides a search-and-find opportunity for readers. Six close-up views of a body part are accompanied by a name, page number, and the question “Can you find pictures of these body parts in the book?” The idea here is for students to revisit the pages and think about how the body part helps the animal adapt to its environment.

The final section on the last page of the book provides background information about the environment. Though short, this is very important. Nowhere in the text does the author explain that the animals described come from deserts or wetlands around the world. It would be very easy for a reader to make the assumption that all these animals actually live in the same place. However, hippos and capybaras don’t even live on the same continent. The same is true for Bactrian camels and gila monsters. Teachers and parents reading this with young children will need to make it clear that while the animals depicted live in the same type of environment, they do not necessarily live in the same part of the world. This is precisely the information provided in this final section.

Despite this one concern, I found the books to be useful resources for studying how a variety of animals adapt to their environments. The accessibility of the language and detailed illustrations will make them appealing to readers as well.

Books: Desert Animals and Wetland Animals
Author: Deborah Hodge
Illustrator: Pat Stephens
Kids Can Press
Publication Date:
24 pages
Source of Book: Review copies received from Raab Associates.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Nonfiction Monday – Looking Closely

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I have always been a fan of the Games Magazine puzzles called “Eyeball Benders.” These are a type of puzzle in which the reader must identify a common object pictured in a close-up and generally uncommon view. Here is an example from the July 2008 cover of the magazine.


Why do I mention these puzzles in a book review? Because the new series Looking Closely from Kids Can Press uses this type of visual puzzle as an introduction to natural environments. Written and photographed by Frank Serafini, the books challenge readers to guess the identity of each close-up photo. The cropped images on the right hand page are framed in black. The small circle that is visible allows readers to focus on just one part of the larger image. The left hand page in each spread begins with “Look very closely. What do you see?” What appears next are two ideas designed to get readers thinking. The page ends with the words, “What could it be?” On the next page each object is shown in its habitat and accompanied by a description.

The first page from Looking Closely Inside the Garden is focused on the wing of a butterfly. The next page begins with the words “It’s a Monarch Butterfly.” The text reads:

In autumn, when the weather grows cold, monarch butterflies fly south to Mexico and Central America. They follow the same path every year.

At the end of their long journey, monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants. When caterpillars hatch from the eggs, they munch on milkweed leaves until their bodies are large enough to form a smooth chrysalis. Eventually they emerge as butterflies.

Each of the books highlights nine plants, animals or objects from the environment. The last page features a double-page photograph of the environment.

Looking Closely Across the Desert features plants and animals, as well as sandstone and sand dunes. One close-up photograph is focused on the foot of a spiny lizard. The full page photograph shows why these lizards blend in with their environment. The text describes why this camouflage is so beneficial.

Each book ends with the following photographer’s note.

Photographers pay attention to things that most people overlook or take for granted. I can spend hours wandering along the shore, through the forest, across the desert or in my garden, looking for interesting things to photograph. My destination is not a place, but rather a new way of seeing.

It takes time to notice things. To be a photographer, you have to slow down and imagine in your “mind’s eye” what the camera can capture. Ansel Adams said you could discover a whole life’s worth of images in a six-square-foot patch of Earth. In order to do so, you have to look very closely.

By creating the images featured in this series of picture books, I hope to help people attend to nature, to things they might have normally passed by. I want people to pay attention to the world around them, to appreciated what nature has to offer, and to being to protect the fragile environment in which we live.

Dr. Serafini succeeds beautifully in getting readers to attend to the small details found in nature. His images will surely capture the imagination of children and adults alike.  Readers will delight in this photographic introduction to natural environments. I know I did. I highly recommend these engaging titles, and can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of the series. Other titles include Looking Closely Along the Shore and Looking Closely Through the Forest.

Books: Looking Closely Inside the Garden and Looking Closely Across the Desert
Author/Illustrator: Frank Serafini
Kids Can Press
Publication Date:
40 pages
Source of Book: Review copies received from Raab Associates.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Nonfiction Monday – Getting to Know Artists

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Hello Matisse!: Get to Know Matisse Through Stories, Games and Draw-It-Yourself Fun and Hello Rousseau!: Get to Know Rousseau Through Stories, Games and Draw-It-Yourself Fun both by Catherine de Duve, are engaging translations from the French that offer young readers and budding artists an “inside” look at these men and their works.

Hello Matisse! begins with an introduction to Matisse’s early life and his introduction to art at the age of 21. Home sick in bed for many weeks, his mother provided him with a paint set to make the time go by. This event changed his life. Once he recovered he left his office job and went to art school in Paris. His first painting was a still life that he signed with his name spelled backwards. Nearly 60 years later, he was still painting. The double-page spread entitled Matisse Finds Art shows both of these works. Where de Duve’s books differ from other “art history” type books is in the interactive component that is included in this spread. There is  a blank box with directions above that read:

Arrange some objects in a pattern you like and sketch a still life. Sign it with your own unique artist’s signature.

As the book follows Matisse through his life, de Duve highlights aspects of his style and work. All this is accompanied by directives to readers to create art in the fashion of the artist. Some of the interactive components of this book include:

  • Artists use colors to express emotion. Color this butterfly with colors that make you happy.
  • Create a face with different colors in the style of the Fauves.
  • Look out the window and paint or draw what you see, using simple shapes and playful colors.

In some instances, readers are not asked to draw by rather to search for specific details in a painting.  One of my favorite interactive exercises shows a portion of Harmony in Red (Red Room) alongside the exact same image with no color. Readers are encouraged to imagine the room in a different color, then try it and see.

Hello Rousseau! is written in much the same fashion. It begins with an introduction to the time period. What follows is a brief introduction from the artist in which he talks about his early life. It begins:

Hello! My name is Henri Rousseau. I was born on May 21, 1844 in a small town in France called Laval. I have a brother and three sisters. My father was an artisan and fine metal-worker. I was not a very good student but I loved to draw and make music.

As in the Matisse, book this one is sprinkled with interactive bits such as:

  • Draw a far away place from your dreams.
  • Create your own landscape in the style of Henri Rousseau. Look closely at his forms and colors.
  • Color these leaves with different kinds of green.
  • Make up a story about the wide-eyed tiger.
  • Make up a story about the sleeping musician as you add your own colors to this scene.

Both of these books provide terrific introductions to their subjects and allow readers to analyze and learn about the artists and their art in new ways. I particularly liked the focus on color and painting style, and the way their life histories were interwoven to show how life impacted art.

Overall, I found both books to be highly informative and engaging. One of the features I enjoyed most about the books, the interactive pieces, is also the one I find most problematic. I don’t encourage kids to draw in books, so I’m not sure how this will play in libraries and classrooms. I would love to see kids so excited about art after reading these titles that they just have to pick up paints and create works of their own. I just hope it will be on a canvas or medium other than these fine books.

Book: Hello Matisse!: Get to Know Matisse Through Stories, Games and Draw-It-Yourself Fun
Catherine de Duve
Birdcage Press
Publication Date:
32 pages
Source of Book:
Review copy received from Raab Associates.

Book: Hello Rousseau!: Get to Know Rousseau Through Stories, Games and Draw-It-Yourself Fun
Catherine de Duve
Birdcage Press
Publication Date:
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: 3-6
ISBN: 978-0873589260
Source of Book: Review copy received from Raab Associates.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Nonfiction Monday – Ballots for Belva


I’m tired of politics. No, really. I’m tired of speeches, commercials, trash talk, e-mail messages and the constant chatter (not all of it polite or respectful) that has hijacked many a listserv and lunchroom conversation. Don’t get me wrong, I am invested in this election and following closely, but I just don’t want to hear/talk about it all the time. So, while you won’t find me blogging about the presidential election, I’m happy to review books relating to politics and elections. Enter  Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency, written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and illustrated by Courtney A. Martin.

This is the story of Belva Lockwood, an independent-minded woman who ran for president in 1884 and 1888. Early in this biography we learn that Belva was married, gave birth to a daughter, was widowed, graduated from college, worked as a teachers, started a suffrage group, and married again. At the age of 39 she decided she wanted to become a lawyer, but no law school would admit her. A response from one was:

Madam- The Faculty of Columbian College have considered your request to be admitted to the Law Department of this institution, and, after due consultation, have considered that such admission would not be expedient, as it would be likely to distract the attention of the young men.

Belva didn’t give up, and soon she was one of 15 women invited to enroll in the newly formed National University Law School (now George Washington University Law School). The school didn’t make things easy for the women, and int he end, only two women finished all their coursework. Belva was one of them. However, the law school refused to grant a diploma to a woman. Only after writing a letter to President Ulysses S. Grant, also president (ex officio) of the law school, did Belva receive her diploma. Not only did Belva become the first female graduate of National University Law School, but she also became the first woman to practice law in federal court and the first to argue a case before the Supreme Court.

Long having fought for the equality of men and women before the law, Belva was a staunch supporter of a woman’s right to vote. She attended two Republican conventions in an effort to make women’s suffrage a part of the official platform, but her pleas were ignored. Then, in August of 1884, Belva was nominated at the Women’s National Equal-Rights Convention for President of the United States. On September 3rd she accepted the nomination. Belva selected another woman, Marietta Stow, as her running mate.

Belva faced an uphill battle all the way. Newspapers called her campaign “the most laughable masquerade this city has every witnessed.” Many women opposed her run for president. Men dressed up in women’s clothing pretending to be her. The National Woman Suffrage Association did not support her. Belva didn’t let these things stop here. She traveled across the country, delivering her message of equal rights for all, regardless of race or gender.

Belva didn’t win the election (Grover Cleveland did), but she did win votes. While the number recorded is 4,711 popular votes, there could have been many more, because many of the votes cast for her in the election were never counted. The votes in Pennsylvania were thrown away because “the vote counters couldn’t believe anyone would actually vote for a woman.” In some cases her votes were given to other candidates, like in New York, where all 1, 336 votes for Belva went to Cleveland. The book ends with an author’s note, glossary, timeline of women’s suffrage in the U.S., and selected bibliography.

The book is richly illustrated with 13 double page spreads. You can see some of these gorgeous illustrations at Courtney Martin’s blog.

This isn’t just a book for election time, but one that will serve as a useful resource for the study of women’s rights and suffrage. This is an amazing story, remarkably told. I highly recommend it.

Book: Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency
Sudipta Bardham-Quallen
Courtney A. Martin
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Publication Date:
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: 2-6
ISBN: 978-0810971103
Source of Book: Review copy received from publisher.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Nonfiction Monday – When I Grow Up


In honor of Labor Day, I thought it appropriate to review When I Grow Up: A Young Person’s Guide to Interesting and Unusual Occupations by Jessica Loy.

When I was growing up, I never dreamed about “normal” occupations. Doctor, lawyer, teacher and the like were not on my list. I longed to work with Jacques Cousteau and study marine mammals, study the fossil record of human evolution with the Leakey’s, or work in animal breeding and conservation at a zoo. My dream jobs grew largely out of reading about the work of famous scientists. I wanted to have those same adventures and make the same kinds of discoveries.

Young people today can learn about a whole host of jobs on television and online. However, it’s the printed page that still holds me captive, and a means for learning I hope young people will continue to use. Jessica Loy’s new book When I Grow Up is a winning entry in this category. Loy has done a fine job of capturing men, women and families in her profiles, and has selected occupations that are sure to encourage readers to “think outside the box” when it comes to career options. The book begins this way.

How do we decide what we want to be when we grow up? We might get ideas from our families and teachers or from people we admire.

Inside you will find fourteen careers that began as a dreams and have turned into lifelong pursuits. Many started as childhood interests. Maybe there is something you love to do that will someday become your career.

There are so many possibilities!

The fourteen careers profiled include:

  • Entomologist
  • Alpaca Farmers
  • Archaeologist
  • Master Cheese Maker
  • Research Biologist
  • Game Designer
  • Chocolatier
  • Percussionist
  • Lobsterman (actually a woman!)
  • Guitar Makers
  • Kite Designer
  • Pet Photographer
  • Set Designer
  • Robotics Engineer

Each occupation is described through the profile of a person who actually holds that job. The pages are filled with photographs of the person at work. There is a tremendous amount of information on each occupation’s double-page spread. The entry for Alpaca Farmers profiles a family in New York. There are photos of the family and the alpacas, alpacas being sheared, and a very interesting series of photos and captions about making yarn from alpaca fiber. After reading nearly every entry I found myself nodding my heading and thinking, “Now THAT would be a cool job!” I think young readers will feel the same way.

The book ends with contact information for each occupation profiled, complete with home/work addresses (should readers care to send mail the “old-fashioned” way) and web sites. The facing page provides a list of summer camps ideas that “offer an opportunity for kids to explore potential career paths.” Included is information for space camp, culinary camp, robot camp, computer camp and many more ideas.

Overall this is a well-researched, highly informative and engaging read. I highly recommend it.

Book: When I Grow Up: A Young Person’s Guide to Interesting and Unusual Occupations
Jessica Loy
Henry Holt
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 40 pages
Grades: 4-8
Source of Book: Review copy received from publisher.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Nonfiction Monday – A Food Chain Trio

While I’ve been preparing my syllabi for fall, my son and I have been reading sets of books on some of the topics that are covered. Our recent reading has taken us into the realm of food chains and food webs. Here is a trio of books that examines different aspects of the energy transfer in nature.

Trout Are Made of Trees, written by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Kate Endle – What happens when leaves fall from a tree and land in a stream? “They ride in a rush above rocks and over rapids. They snag and settle soggily down.” From here they become food for bacteria and a home for algae. They are further broken down by little critters, like crane flies, caddisflies, shrimp and stoneflies. These critters are eaten by predators. Guess where those leaves are now? When the predators are eaten by trout, the trout are made of trees. This is a beautifully illustrated book (mixed media collage) that not only introduces a simple food chain, but also the life cycle of trout.

Vulture View, written by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Steve Jenkins – Scavengers and decomposers play a very important role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. In helping to break down dead organisms, they are responsible for returning basic nutrients to the soil so that they may reenter the chain. In this book, we get a glimpse of the scavenging role that vultures play, along with some poetry and interesting facts about these oft maligned birds. For more information on this book, please read my review.

Wolf Island, written and illustrated by Celia Godkin – What happens when a top predator in well-balanced ecosystem disappears? This story highlights the changes that occur on an island after a family of wolves accidentally leave the island for the mainland. Without predators, there is nothing to keep the deer population in check. When it swells, the deer eat so much grass that rabbits and mice have fewer young. This results in less food for foxes and owls. This is a terrific resource for demonstrating how the balance of an ecosystem can easily be upset. It also does a fine job of explaining why the top predators in a food chain are so important.

There are other books about food chains and food webs, but these are my favorites and the least didactic of the bunch. All make great lesson starters for teaching elementary students about this topic.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Nonfiction Monday – 10 Things I Can Do To Help My World


I was browsing the stacks at a local bookstore yesterday when this book jumped out at me. I was struck in part by the light bulb cutout on the cover and in part by the recycling symbol and statement indicating that the book was made from 100% recycled material. After being drawn in by the cover, I was hooked once I leafed through the pages. My son’s school has adopted a “green theme” for the year, so this book will be the first one I donate to the library, as it’s a real gem.

10 Things I Can Do to Help My World: Fun and Easy Eco-Tips, written and illustrated by Melanie Walsh is not only about being eco-friendly, it serves as an excellent model. There is not one bit of wasted paper or space in this book. There is no front matter to the book, and the copyright information is included on the back cover. As soon as the book is opened the reader is launched into the text. Remember that light bulb cutout that grabbed my attention? When the cover is opened the reader finds a page in black except for where it is bathed in light from the bulb and four insects are basking in its glow. The text reads “I remember . . . ” When the page is turned readers find a double-page spread bathed in black with only white text and eyeballs staring out at them. The text on the left page reads “to turn off the light when I leave the room.” On the right page the bulb is outlined in a bit of concrete text that reads “Turning off lights and using more efficient lightbulbs saves valuable energy.” There is quite a bit of this concrete text throughout the book. It comes running out of the faucet and can be found around the edges of trash cans and trees. It’s not poetry, but it is a wonderful bit of design. (To get a feel for what these pages look like, view an inside spread at the Candlewick site.)

The tips in the book include:

  • turning off lights
  • turning off the faucet while brushing teeth
  • throwing away trash
  • feeding birds in winter
  • using both sides of a piece of paper
  • unplugging the television when not in use
  • making toys from objects that are often thrown out
  • walking to school
  • planting seeds
  • sorting materials for recycling

The acrylic illustrations are refreshing and often appear on pages where edges have been cut or shaped for an interesting effect. The final set of pages includes the text “I help . . . ” on the left hand side, accompanied by illustrations of sets of objects such as bottles, cans and food scraps. The right hand page pictures a variety of receptacles with cutout openings. The beauty of this double-page spread becomes apparent when you turn the page, for what appears are labeled receptacles with the appropriate items insides. Readers will find cans, glass, compost, plastic and paper bins filled to the brim along with the text that completes the sentence begun earlier “sort the recycling.”

The final endpaper is a black page covered with stars and a semicircular fold that reads “All because . . . ” When readers fold the flap down they find the earth and the words “I love my world.”

This is a fabulous resource for early elementary classrooms studying recycling and caring for our world. I recommend it with enthusiasm!

Book: 10 Things I Can Do to Help My World: Fun and Easy Eco-Tips
Melanie Walsh
Candlewick Press
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 40 pages
Grades: K-3
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased at a local bookstore.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Nonfiction Monday – It’s Back to School We Go!


Back to school is right around the corner for many kids. As summer’s end approaches, minds are on new teachers (who will it be?), new clothes (what will I wear?), school supplies and much more. First day jitters may already be appearing. In my house we have long been anticipating the start of school. Don’t get me wrong–summer has been fun, but my boy is ready to go back. To get ready for school we’ve been reading a bit about what school is like for kids in other countries. It’s Back to School We Go!: First Day Stories From Around the World, written by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis, provides a wonderful introduction to schooling around the world.

The book opens with a world map that highlights the countries that are featured. On each double-page spread that follows, a child is introduced through a first-person narrative of their school day on the left page, while interesting facts about children in that country are presented. Readers meet:

  • Achieng – An 8-year old girl from Kenya
  • Anton – A 7-year old boy from Kazakhstan
  • Kendi – A 6-year old Inuit boy from Nunavut, Canada
  • Jessica – A 9-year old girl from Australia
  • Misaki – A 6-year old girl from Japan
  • Jinsong – An 8-year old boy from China
  • Thomas – A 7-year old boy from Peru
  • Gunther – A 6-year old boy from Germany
  • Rajani – An 8-year old girl from India
  • Nadia – A 7-year old girl from Russia
  • Casey – A 9-year old boy from California (Why CA and not United States?)

The author’s note at the beginning of the book provides some information about the children highlighted. It begins:

Each of the eleven children portrayed in this book is a composite of several real individuals. Obviously, every country provides a variety of educational opportunities and no one child can represent them all. Some children live in villages; others in cities. Some schools have computers and science labs; others don’t even have desks or books.

Here are just a few of the interesting facts readers will learn from this book:

  • In Kenya, children go to school six days a week, from January to November.
  • In China, students who exhibit good behavior earn red neckerchiefs.
  • The first day of school is a time of celebration in Kazakhstan. Students there bring flowers for their teachers. (Much better than apples, I think!)
  • In the United States, 9 out of 10 children go to public school.

There is an extensive bibliography at the end of the book, as well as a list of web resources. I particularly liked the link to Children’s Games from Around the World. The author has also provided some ideas for teachers at her web site.

Overall, this is a terrific book for thinking about back-to-school and for studying different cultures through a common, shared experience. I recommend pairing it with Edith Baer’s book This is the Way We Go to School, which looks at how children in different countries make their way to school. For even more ideas, check out the thematic book list on school around the globe.

Book: It’s Back to School We Go!: First Day Stories From Around the World
Author: Ellen Jackson
Illustrator: Jan Davey Ellis
Publisher: Millbrook Press
Publication Date:
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: K-5
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased online.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Nonfiction Monday – Go, Go America


Alright readers, time for a quiz. Read each of the following statements and name the STATE that correctly completes the sentence.

It illegal for boys to hurl snowballs at trees in the state of __.

The annual Bald is Beautiful Convention held is held in the state of __.

The highest literacy rate in the nation can be found in the state of __.

The lowest and highest points in the continental U.S. (lower 48) are in the state of __.

It is illegal to wear your boots to bed in the state of __.

Stumped? You won’t be after reading Dan Yaccarino’s book, Go, Go America. This fun-filled tour through the 50 states and District of Columbia is filled with all sorts of strange and wacky facts.

The book begins with an introduction to the Farley family, your guides on this oddball tour. There is (1) Mom, “all ready to read maps, ask directions, and settle any backseat arguments;” (2) Dad, who “can’t wait to hit the road! Unfortunately, he’s not the greatest driver in the world and has a lousy sense of direction;” (3) Freddie, who “knows lots of interesting facts about the United States and is eager to share his knowledge, even if no one wants to hear it;” (4) his sister, Fran, who “would prefer to be biking, hiking, or skiing cross-country rather than riding in a car. And she’s still mad at Mom for telling her she can’t ride on the roof;” and finally (5) Fido, the family pooch who “thinks they are going to the park.”

After the introductions, the “table of contents” introduces readers to the map of the states, covered with a dotted line that highlights the Farley’s journey from Maine to Hawaii. What follows is a page (or two) devoted to each state. Each state page identifies the state, along with its nickname. An outline map of the state with the capital placed and identified is also included. The rest of the page is a visual delight, with each family member engaged in an activity that depicts the state in some way. For example, on the state of Maine page, Father is fishing, Mom and the kids are eating blueberry pie, and Fido is sitting quietly wearing a pair of ear muffs. The text on the page describes these images and presents other interesting and sometimes outrageous facts. The states are presented in the order that the faimly visits them on their trip. The states of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, Texas, California, Alaska, and Hawaii all get a two page treatment.

There is quite a bit of witty repartee in these pages and much to enjoy both visually and textually. The family and the graphics have a very retro 1950’s feel about them. Dad wears a plaid suit that makes me laugh every time I look at it. Mom wears cat-shaped glasses and cropped pants. Dad seems to be the butt of a good many jokes, as he seems to mishear or misinterpret information. For example, on the Vermont page he is trying to scoop a glass of bubbly out of the water, while Mom says, “Lake Champlain, not Champagne, dear.” On the New York page Dad is wearing an umpire’s vest as Mom says, “The Empire State, dear. Not umpire.”

The family’s journey ends in Hawaii with the Freddie asking “So, Dad, how are we going to get home?” The last nine pages of the book presents the states in alphabetical order. Each state is presented as a column of information, beginning with its abbreviation, name, capital, date of statehood, order of statehood, square miles, bird, flower, tree, motto, and nickname. The page where the state is highlighted in the book is also listed. The final page lists a number of books where readers can find more information, as well as web sites of interest.

Overall, I found this is a thoroughly humorous and enjoyable read. You can bet I’ll be adding this title to my 50 states thematic book list. I highly recommend this one for a fun-filled romp through the states.

Book: Go, Go America
Author/Illustrator: Dan Yaccarino
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date:
Pages: 80 pages
Grades: 2-6
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased at local independent bookstore.

Scholastic has a lesson plan for use with this book. It’s listed for grades K-2, but I can’t see using this book much before second grade (and that might be a stretch). I think this book will largely appeal to upper elementary students.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

P.S. – Are you looking for answers to the quiz? Here they are! – Illinois, North Carolina, Utah, California and Oklahoma.

Nonfiction Monday – And So They Build


I love books about animals homes. I’m always amazed at the vast array of shapes, sizes, and locations they come in. Perhaps more impressive though, is how some of these homes are built. That is the subject of this beautifully illustrated work by Bert Kitchen. And So They Build introduces readers to 12 animal builders, from birds (4 species) to spiders, frogs, fish and more.

Each double-page spread includes a full page illustration on the right, and two levels of text on the left. Rendered in watercolor and gouache, the images are highly detailed views of the animal(s) in action in their natural landscape. Only the illustration of cubiterme termite mounds lacks actual images of the builders. (Perhaps they are there but are too small to be seen). The text comes in two forms. First there is large print text that states in simple terms why the animals build and serves as an explanation for the illustration. Below, in smaller print, is a paragraph of information that explains in detail more about the builder and the structure. Here is an excerpt.

A tailorbird will be safer
if she hides her nest
and so she builds . . .

The tailorbird lives in southern China, India, and Southeast Asia, and the female usually nests in a garden or on cultivated land. She chooses one or two large, living leaves on a tree and draws their edges together, using her beak and feet. She makes small holes down the sides with sharp point of her beak. Then she twists spiders’ webs, bark, and plant fibers into threads and pushes them through the holes to hold the leaves together.

The explanation goes on to describe how the stitches are fastened. The illustration shows the bird at work, literally sewing the leaves together. How this feat is accomplished by beak alone is simply amazing. The bird builders were some of my favorites. I was particularly taken with the male satin bowerbird, the animal that appears on the book’s cover. The bowerbird builds a bower to attract a mate, decorating it with bits of brightly colored objects and shiny bits. You can watch a video, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, that explores a bower and even allows viewers a glimpse of the bird at work.

Anyone interested in animal homes will find much here to love. The illustrations alone are enough to recommend it, but the text provides enough information to arouse the curiosity of young naturalists and interest them in learning more. The only drawback is that there are no references in the text or resources for additional information. However, this is a minor weakness that should not discourage anyone from picking up this striking volume.

Book: And So They Build
Author/Illustrator: Bert Kitchen
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date:
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: K-4
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased at a zoo gift shop.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.