Featured Children's Nonfiction
Helen Keller and her famous teacher, Annie Sullivan, are the subject of this nonfiction biography in the style of a graphic novel. While the early life of Helen Keller is revealed, the book mainly deals with an accusation of plagiarism. Helen Keller published a story “The Frost King” to great acclaim until it was found to be similar to an earlier work by another author. The efforts of the interrogators focused on placing the blame on Sullivan, who denied any wrong doing. Keller also denied any knowledge of the other story she supposedly copied. Helen Keller was so distraught by the hearings that she never wrote fiction again. The art panels add to the drama and carry a portion of the storytelling.
Reviewed by Patricia
“What would happen, I wonder, if the armies suddenly and simultaneously went on strike and said some other method must be found of settling the dispute?” So questioned Winston Churchill in a letter to his wife on November 23, 1914. With this question, Jim Murphy opens his historical account of the truce that took place across the Western Front during the first Christmas of World War I. This question guides his telling of how regular soldiers from both sides of the war chose to act in defiance of official orders to make peace.
Many excellent versions of this story can be found, from extended definitive accounts to picture books to film. But few can put together a book as well as children’s nonfiction writer, Jim Murphy. This book is well-designed for young readers, in its choice of font size and spacing, arrangement of photographs, and source notes. Murphy’s sentences flow easily, even as he tackles the daunting task of condensing the causes of World War I into a short first chapter, which prefaces the particular story of the Christmas truce.
By December of 1914, soldiers were already weary of a war that was supposed to be over by now. The approaching Christmas holiday distracted soldiers from both sides. Christmas packages arrived from families on the home front. At night soldiers would sing Christmas carols in German and French and English. They could hear the enemy singing and sometimes even engaged in friendly competitions. In the two weeks before Christmas, long and fruitless attacks were ordered, in large part to prevent soldiers from either side to discover the humanity of the other. But on Christmas Eve, despite orders to be on the alert for enemy attack, soldiers were reluctant to engage in any kind of fighting. A light snow fell. Across the way, British troops saw lighted Christmas trees popping up along the parapets of the German trenches. And then they heard the German soldiers begin to sing “Silent night….” That was just the beginning.
Scenes similar to this one occurred up and down the front that Christmas. Of course, in some areas, suggestions for truces were rejected and fighting continued. The most infamous refusal came from a young German corporal who was stationed not too far from the front lines. When his comrades suggested they participate in the festivities, he emphatically refused. That corporal was Adolf Hitler. It is a grim reminder of the war that continued in the months and years and decades following this peaceful moment in world history. However, it does not overshadow the powerful story of what happened when a few people chose to make peace.
To read more about the Christmas Truce of 1914, try the following books and read-alongs:
For families with young children:
Christmas in the Trenches / McCutcheon, Jim
For adults and older children:
Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce / Weintraub Stanley
Silent Night, Holy Night: The Story of the Christmas Truce / Cronkite, Walter
There is also a French foreign film that was released in 2006, titled Joyeux Noel. This emotional cinematic take on the story adds many artistic embellishments. Although well done, I was more deeply impressed by the printed accounts.Reviewed by Amanda
Temple Gradin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery (J 921 Grandin)
Temple Gradin is known around the world for her ability to understand the needs of animals and to design facilities, including slaughter houses, that treat the animals as feeling beings and saves them needless pain and fear. She accomplished all this by coming to understand the autism that made her different and embracing those differences as a way to see the world in another way from most other people. The hardships of her childhood, schooling, and early career paint an inspiring picture of a person who overcame tremendous challenges for the benefit of others.
Reviewed by Patricia Castelli
Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth by James Cross Giblin (J 921 Booth)
Though published in 2005, this starred-reviewed book is worth noting again. A character study of the Booth family, focusing particularly on two of the Booth brothers who both became prominent actors of their time. Drawing from the brothers' journals and letters and firsthand accounts from family members and close friends, it is fascinating to read about how the brothers, raised by the same parents and sharing similar talents and vices, could come to have such vastly different views on politics and humanity. And although Edwin went on to be a success in his chosen career after his brother murdered President Lincoln on April 14, 1865, the assassination forever overshadowed the family name. Giblin's storytelling fleshes out these men in the context of their time, as it reveals the complex layering of passions and prejudices that made up the character of each man as well as the unwieldy powers of popular opinion, government, and press.
Reviewed by Amanda Ashton
Titanic Sinks!: [Experience the Titanic's Doomed Voyage in this Unique Presentation of Fact and Fiction] / Denenberg, Barry (J 910.9163 D413)
100 years ago the Titanic's brief career ended in an ice-water grave. This year a new book for children was published in a format meant to help readers feel that they are there, reading current newspaper reports on the Titanic, from its conception to its demise. Denenberg frames the story with a fictional newspaper and reporter, but all facts reported are real, including actual words and writings of survivors. He also uses photographs solely from the actual Titanic ship. There aren't very many of these, and most histories resort to using photos from the Titanic's nearly identical sister ship to help depict its grandeur. Denenberg's choice of format, though more sparing than most Titanic histories, allows the reader to glean significant clues to the multiple major factors that led to eventual disaster. Even as readers steep in the atmospheric presentation of this time 100 years ago, they will not be able to help drawing parallels to our time, when we rely so much on technology and ignore its vulnerabilities, sometimes until it is too late. Above all, though, for me it is the study of human nature that is most compelling--to see how those involved in the disaster acted and reacted. Titanic Sinks! is a thought-provoking couple hours' read that satisfies even as it whets the appetite to learn more.
Reviewed by Amanda Ashton
First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low by Ginger Wadsworth (Call #: J 921 Low)
What a fascinating life and personality! Her story and the story of the birth of this organization span the time from the Civil War through the Roaring Twenties. So much change in that time, especially for women. This book was beautifully designed and great fun to read. I've never been a Girl Scout but I'm really glad to know more about them. Plus, I love the thin mint cookies. Love the ice cream, too. The first known Girl Scout cookie sale took place during World War I, by the Mistletoe Troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma. They used some of the money to buy handkerchiefs for soldiers.
Reviewed by Amanda Ashton
Can We Save the Tiger? By Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Vicky White (J 591.68 J4177)
Delightfully written, this conservation book celebrates the successful efforts to prevent the extinction of some species such as the buffalo, while also lamenting the loss of animals gone forever, like the dodo and Steller’s sea cow. The focus is on animals now in danger.
“There are so many endangered species all over the world that it’s hard to pick out some special ones. Still, I’m sure you’ll agree that tigers are pretty special.”
The wildlife drawings are beautiful, largely inked in black and white but with highlights of color in oil.
Reviewed by Patricia Castelli
Children’s Non-fiction Author focus: Barbara Kerley
A group of scientists dining in a dinosaur’s head. A child’s secret journal about the private life of Mark Twain. A man who ran on the beach shouting Shakespeare to the seagulls and who nursed soldiers day and night through the years of the Civil War. A girl who started life wearing braces on her legs and who became the “princess” of the United States of America. These are the delightful subjects of narrative nonfiction picture books by Barbara Kerley, whose writing is perfectly accompanied by the work of illustrators like Brian Selznick and Edwin Fotheringham.
One of the best ways to discover quality nonfiction written for kids is to explore the works of a single author, like Kerley, who writes very well about a variety of subjects. Kerley often focuses on infamously eccentric personalities in United States history that might not at first seem accessible to children. But in each telling she finds a way to connect the young reader to aspects of the person’s life that they can relate to. She does so in a compelling narrative voice that makes for great read-alouds.
Other nonfiction books by Kerley are accompanied by photos from National Geographic photographers, showing days in the lives of kids and families all over the world. These books show us what families all over the world share in common even as we enjoy the beautiful differences in dress and living space depicted in the photography.
In each of her nonfiction books, look forward to exploring the back matter—the stuff at the end of the books that tells you more about the subject. Readers who enjoyed the book’s subject will also enjoy learning more and hopefully go on to explore the subject in more detail in other books. That is one great goal of children’s narrative nonfiction that can positively affect both young and old as they read out loud together—the sparking of curiosity and the nurturing of lifelong learning.
Get a little spark and nourishment in your life by sampling some Kerley at the Orem Public Library:
Reviewed by Amanda Ashton
Amelia Lost: the Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming (Call #: J 921 Earhart)
Candace Fleming opens her biography of the most famous woman flier with an explanation about the difficulty in sorting out the fiction from the fact, much of the fiction created by Amelia Earhart herself. Earhart strived to be larger than life, myth and legend, and thus some of her writings about herself are, in fact, not true. However, the woman who rises from the pages of this biography is of a daring and interesting aviator who left a legacy of heroism and opportunity for women to try anything that a man can try. Even her childhood is fascinating.
In alternating chapters, two stories unfold: One is the search for Amelia Earhart’s plane lost over the Pacific, the final leg of her planned 27,000 mile journey around the world, and the second is Amelia’s biography from her birth to her disappearance and presumed death. The stories told by ham radio operators who where likely the last to hear Amelia’s voice are especially gripping. This is narrative nonfiction to be enjoyed by all readers interested in aviation history.
Tintin and The World of European Comics
The upcoming release of Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Tintin is introducing a whole new audience to the fun of classic European comics, and to the amazing adventures of Tintin.
If you’ve never read Tintin, check him out. Regardless if critics praise or pan the upcoming film, the adventures of Tintin are a delightful read for both children and adults. His adventures take the resourceful journalist and his dog, Snowy, around the world in escapades ranging from treasure hunts and diabolical smugglers, to shipwrecks and mysterious meteors.
The Orem Library has several compilations of Tintin, produced in the 1950’s and 60’s by Belgian comic writer and artist Herge which can be viewed here.
Comics and graphic novels are found under the call number 741 in the children's and adult collections. If you enjoyed the world of Tintin, you might also enjoy these classic and contemporary European comics:
Asterix comics by Rene Goscinny
Asterix the Gaul might just be the smallest thorn in the side of the Roman Empire, but he and his village are the only things standing in the way of total Roman domination of Gaul.
The works of Lewis Trondheim
Ranging from tiny aliens bent on destruction to tiny despots ruling with an iron fist, the work of French graphic novelist Lewis Trondheim can be summed up by one word: weird. But in a good way. If you’re looking for a laugh, or maybe just a dose of the super strange, Trondheim won’t let you down.
French graphic novelist David B. creates fantastically dark, fantastically beautiful worlds, characters and settings that will fascinate both children and adults.
His memoir, Epileptic, is recommended for older teen and adult readers, but watch for his newest book, The Littlest Pirate King, coming soon to the Orem Public Library.
Plum:Poems by Tony Mitton (J 821 M643)
The books in the children's poetry section (J 811-821) might be the perfect things to read to your kids. Since you can just read one or two poems from a collection, there's always time to read poetry.
Rollicking language, vivid images, and unusual comparisons encourage kids to love words. Plus, poems introduce them to a wild array of topics, from the fantastical to the sublime to the downright everyday. One example is Tony Mitton's collection, Plum: Poems. In it, you'll discover mermaids, an wizard's imp, and the mysterious green man with his foliage clothes and piercing stare. There are stories—about St. Brigid and her bread, Moses Carter and his stone, and a Mrs. Bhattacharya and her fabulous chapati machine.
Common items like bubbles ("breath/in a shimmering shawl"), a hat ("it hugs my hair/and warms my brain), and yes, even plums ("you have the making of/a whole new tree") are given surprising implications. Mixed with the luminous illustrations of Mary GrandPre, who illustrated the American covers of the Harry Potter books, Mitton's poems will make your children laugh, shiver, and beg for just one more poem.
Review by Amy Sorensen
Shipwrecked! The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy by Rhoda Blumberg (J 952 B 6258)
The son of a fisherman, Manjiro became head of his family when he was only nine years old, working as a fisherman to feed his mother and younger sisters and brother. His life became extraordinary when he was shipwrecked as a teen and rescued by an American whaling ship. The captain adopted him and brought him to the United States where he was the first Japanese person on American soil.
He returned to Japan with knowledge of English, navigation of the high seas, whaling, and many particulars of western technology and government. He was instrumental in opening isolationist Japan to the world, an effort that took great courage and intelligence.
Reviewed by Patricia Castelli
Just the Right Size: Why big animals are big and little animals are little by Nicola Davies (J 591.41 D2883)
This JNF title is a clear, concise and fascinating look at size in the animal kingdom, explaining understandably why some of the most amazing feats of strength and speed are exhibited by the smallest creatures, and why there are limits to just how big creatures can get. For example, I was highly relieved to know that (Tolkien notwithstanding) giant spiders simply could not exist (broken legs) and King Kong makes for a good movie, but a primate that large wouldn't have the strength to get up off his back, let alone scale a tall building. Fun book that sneaks in lots of science and math concepts palatably.
Reviewed by Marilee Clark
Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World / Fleischman, Sid
(J 921 Chaplin)
They write stuff like this for kids? Indeed they do. Some of the best non-fiction is published for children, but it really should be read by adults, too. Or better yet, adults and kids should read it together. In this the third well-researched and witty biography by Sid Fleischman, he reels us through Chaplin’s long and dramatic life—on and off screen—highlighting his pioneering work in the film industry with such enthusiasm and discernment that readers will want have a copy of Chaplin’s films to watch as they read. (Another reason to treasure this title: it was Fleischman’s last published book before he passed away this year. And if you want to know more about him, check out his autobiography, The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer’s Life.)
Reviewed by Amanda