Archive for Nonfiction

Midnight: True Story of Loyalty in World War I

Written by Mark Greenwood
Illustrated by Frané Lessac

War brings many unexpected victims, including animals taken to war to do jobs humans are unable to do. In this true tale from World War I, the reader learns about a horse who went to war with her owner, Guy Haydon. She was born on a ranch in New South Wales, Australia. Of course, horses can’t go to all the places where battles rage, so Midnight was separated from her master for a time during the battle of Gallipoli. When they were reunited, they helped lead the Beersheba charge, part of the campaign to take Jerusalem from the Ottoman Empire. When both Midnight and Guy go down from a single bullet, they stay together until help comes. Lessac’s lively and colorful illustrations add to the story and help give the feeling of being there.

First grade readers will learn about World War I, ranches in Australia, and the jobs that horses do. The book is a candidate for reading aloud to generate further discussion. Literacy skills will be enhanced when kids want to find out what happened to Midnight. The author includes notes about the Haydon ranch and about the charge at Beersheba for further learning.

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  • MidnightTitle: Midnight: A True Story of Loyalty in World War I
  • Author: Mark Greenwood
  • Illustrator: Frané Lessac
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: Pre-K to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, animals, war
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7466-3
  • Extras: Author’s Note, The Charge at Beersheba

Spectacular Spots

Written and Illustrated by Susan Stockdale

Beautiful yet sparse language, both rhythmic and rhyming tells the story of how spots on the outside of some animals helps to protect them.

In the area of creative nonfiction, this book is an excellent example. First grade readers will enjoy hearing or reading this book repeatedly because of the musical quality of the poetry like text. The font is large and dark making it stand out from the beautiful illustrations. Her choice of words also helps hint at additional attributes, such as the “gliding snail”, and the “clinging frogs”.

Well-designed back matter increases the ability for this book to fulfill common core standards in science, for animal study, camouflage, biology and how animals adapt to the environment. Librarians and teachers will also use the book for literacy skills such as rhyming and use of descriptive language.

Children will be on the look-out for animals with spots after reading this book and when they find them, it won’t be any mystery why those spots are so important. It’s got nothing to do with fashion!

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  • Spectacular SpotsTitle: Spectacular Spots
  • Author/Illustrator: Susan Stockdale
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-817-2
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Animals, Camouflage, Biology
  • Grade level: PreK to 3
  • Extras: In the back are two pages with small squares showing each of the patterned spots for children to enjoy matching with the appropriate animal in the front of the book. There are also two pages that show mini-pictures of each animal accompanied by an explanation of how the spots protect those animals. The particular class that each animals belongs to and where to find it in the world are provided.

Bird & Diz

Written by Gary Golio
Illustrated by Ed Young

The look and set up for this fun book are perfect to give the feel for the music called bebop. When Charlie “Bird” Parker and John “Dizzy” Gillespie performed “Salt Peanuts” and their many other creations, they were more concerned about the mood than the form. The never-ending fold out of these pages gives the reader impression they are there when Diz plays his trumpet and Bird wails on his sax. Bebop is a heartbeat with fireworks, a roller coaster where the musicians chase each other. The illustrations make you want the music to go on forever.

First graders will want to review the pages many times, increasing their literacy skills and comprehension. Noting that bebop was about innovation and having fun makes the music history come alive. The back matter in the Afterword gives a good start for further exploration and encourages artistic expression in all its forms.

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  • Bird & DizTitle: Bird & Diz
  • Author: Gary Golio
  • Illustrator: Ed Young
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 26 pages, novelty
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, history, music
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6660-6

Noisy Bird: Sing Along

Written and Illustrated by John Himmelman

Different kinds of birds sing different songs. The sounds, habitats and diets of a few birds are told in simple direct sentences. The contrasting colors used by John Himmelman make each page an individual beauty. Correct details of each habitat and every bird described will provide young readers with things to find and study in each picture for a long time. This entertaining book will also draw teachers and librarians to seek out other books by the same author.

Second grade readers will be able to read the text independently, in many cases, but much younger children will enjoy having it read to them. Older children may use it for science reports or for ideas to use in building dioramas.

Children who love to draw or paint might be encouraged to try illustrating things from their own backyard after studying these realistic illustrations.

The sounds included provide teachers, parents and readers an opportunity to practice the literacy skill of onomatopoeia while learning about birds.  What fun it would be to have different children assigned to make the call of a particular bird.

This is a good introduction to reading nonfiction books and picking out important details. After reading it, students might write a nonfiction sentence of their own.

The activities and facts at the end of the book will encourage and aid young readers to broaden their knowledge of birds and birding.

This book will be a great addition to classroom, school, and home libraries for children ages 3 -8.

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  • Noisy BirdTitle: Noisy Bird: Sing Along
  • Author/Illustrator:  John Himmelman
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications, March 1, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-58469-514-1
  • Genre: Nonfiction, animals
  • Grade level: Preschool to 3
  • Extras: Fun facts, birding activities, resources and related information

Full Speed Ahead! How Fast Things Go

Written and Illustrated by Cruschiform

Admit it. You’ve always wondered what IS faster than a speeding bullet. This book will answer that crucial question. Also, what is slower and what goes at the same speed as the bullet. This unique approach allows the reader to learn about the world without really reading. Each two-page spread depicts several objects that travel at approximately the same speed. A legend tells what each object is. The reader can then learn more about each object in the “Glossary” at the back of the book. The approach is multilayered, allowing the reader to come back and learn more later. Colorful illustrations make the process easier.

First graders will have fun picking up this book and comprehending that a peregrine falcon moves at the same speed as a high-speed train. They may be curious why the illustration are not to scale, however. A hornet looks bigger than a skydiver.

By the way, a shooting star is faster than a speeding bullet.

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  • Full Speed AheadTitle: Full Speed Ahead! How Fast Things Go
  • Author/Illustrator: Cruschiform
  • Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-4197-1338-5
  • Genre: Nonfiction, numbers, speed
  • Grade level: 1st and up
  • Extras: Ten-page Glossary that discusses each object depicted

The Magic School Bus Presents: Our Solar System: A Nonfiction Companion

Finally, Scholastic is helping to clear up the debate about the validity of calling the “Magic School Bus” books nonfiction. For so many children and adults, the magic ability of the school bus to change size and function caused confusion about whether or not the information in the book was true. Here scholastic has come out with a paperback set of nonfiction companions to the popular series. This is one of many of their new nonfiction companion books.

The use of photographs from NASA and others, makes this a truly believable set. There are occasional throwbacks to the original series with Frizzle Facts and some questions and answers on the familiar yellow notebook paper, but none of that distracts from the science validity. Purists might still quiver at the interjected comic graphics of Arnold and his pals as well as the sketches of Liz the lizard in her space ship. However, this set of books is much more likely to be used to support the common core standards than the previous ones.

In teaching literacy skills, there are the requirements for nonfiction writing, such as: the use of real dates, proper names of explorers and space crafts, and actual photographs. The text of the book is nonfiction. While that will be explainable to the second and third grade readers, for preschoolers, kindergarteners and first graders the discrepancy between the truth of the text and the fiction of the illustrations will continue to cause confusion. Therefore, it could be a valuable book for teaching and sorting out the differences between fact and fiction.

Librarians and parents can use these books to engage reluctant readers into the realm of science, but then should move rapidly into solely nonfiction texts.

  • Magic School Bus Solar SystemTitle: The Magic School Bus Presents Our Solar System: A Nonfiction Companion
  • Author: Tom Jackson
  • Illustrator: Carolyn Bracken
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-68365-4
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  •  Grade Level: 1 – 3
  • Extras: Photographs, glossary

Eye: How It Works

Written and Illustrated by David Macauley

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David Macaulay has added to his huge and magnificent set of nonfiction work with this fascinating look at eyes. There are two stories in one here. While a team is playing soccer parallels are drawn between how the game is going to how the eye works. Both stories will keep the young reader interested and involved.

As always Macaulay’s illustrations are clear and stunning. His use of diagrams insures that children will know exactly how all the parts come together. In particular, his diagrams of how glasses actually correct vision will enlighten many adult readers as well.

This book is one in a series called: My Readers and belongs to level 4, which is particularly created for the proficient first grade reader. However, it will be enjoyed by students in all the elementary grades and can easily be used to fulfill science requirements in middle grades. The core curriculum would place this book at various levels in the sciences as well as the health standards. Literacy skills teachers will use it to teach reading a non-fiction text as well as, in how to decipher diagrams.

Macaulay’s use of a soccer game will help to draw in the reluctant readers in the classroom. Because this book is also available in paperback, it is particularly affordable for classroom and home libraries.

This is so well done that as soon as you finish reading it, you will go and look for the rest of the set.

  • EyeTitle: Eye: How It Works
  • Author/Illustrator: David Macaulay
  • Publisher: Macmillan, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, paperback, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-15-96437821
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Lexile: AD640L, Grade Level K-2
  • Extras: Glossary, List of Related Websites and videos

Beneath the Sun

Written by Melissa Stewart
Illustrated by Constance R. Bergum

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When a summer day is very hot, few people think about what wild creatures are doing to endure the extreme temperature. This clever book shows how animals are able to survive without the sunscreen and lemonade available to humans. Woodchucks in fields spend the heat of the day in cool underground dens, and earthworms do the same while slowing their metabolisms. The author moves on to the desert, where she follows a ringtail family as they nap in their den, a golden eagle as it cools itself by soaring through the air, a turkey vulture spraying itself, a jackrabbit who cools through its ears, and a horned lizard in the deep shade. In a wetland, osprey chicks cool down with the help of their father’s wet feathers. Tadpoles, crayfish, and salamanders stay in the water and mud. At the seashore, a herring gull shades its chicks. Anemones pull in their tentacles, sea stars hide in the shade, and fiddler crabs have specialized shells that reflect the sun. The realistic, detailed, and beautiful illustrations in this book show exactly how each animal survives.


The author’s website,, provides a wealth of information for first graders and up. She provides ideas for many reading activities plus curriculum guides. This book would be good as a read aloud, allowing for discussion of each animal and the environment in which it lives.

  • Beneath the SunTitle: Beneath the Sun
  • Author: Melissa Stewart
  • Illustrator: Constance R. Bergum
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Genre: Nonfiction, nature
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-733-7


Written by Penelope Arlon and Tory Gordon-Harris

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While there are many books about dolphins on the market, this one was designed and written with the beginning reader in mind. It features heavy, glossy pages that will withstand multiple readings. It uses varying degrees of font size and shading to help the young reader focus on one set of text at a time. Each item of information is only one sentence long, and thus easy for the student to grasp. Each item is also illustrated directly below or beside the text with clear photographs.

This marvelous introduction to dolphins compares their needs to the needs children will understand. It compares the blowhole to breathing through the mouth, and tells children that a dolphin can be a sleepyhead, but not really sleep. A dolphin can “stand” by flipping its tail back and forth really fast.

Readers learn how dolphins: touch, eat, play and get along with one another. At the very end of the book, one page talks about how dolphins interact with people. The book concludes with a student friendly glossary and index.

Literacy skills are prominent in the design of this book that is also a perfect match for core curriculum standards in science and marine life. It will be a wonderful addition to any library, classroom or home collection and is part of the Scholastic series discover more.


  • DolphinsTitle: Dolphins
  • Author: Penelope Arlon and Tory Gordon-Harris
  • Illustrator: (Live Photography)
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-62738-2
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Animals, Dolphins
  • Grade Level 1 and 2 (Beginning Readers)
  • Extras: Free digital book with code from hardcover book, glossary, index

Stripes of All Types / Rayas de todas las tallas

Written and Illustrated by Susan Stockdale

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Where can you find striped animals?

Prowling the prairie / rondando por las praderas
Perched on a peak / y encaramadas en altas cumbers.
Crawling on cactus / Caminando sobre el cactus
And camped by a creek / y echadas junto al arroyo.

This English/Spanish bilingual edition is the latest offering from the author. Using minimal text, the book covers a variety of striped mammals, insects, and aquatic creatures posing in their natural habitat. We see ring-tailed lemurs drink from rivers, poison frogs propped on logs, zebra moray eels twist in the sand, and a tabby cat curled in a child’s arms. Stockdale never names the animals, but their identity is revealed in the back pages along with the answers to why animals have stripes (one or two sentences of information are provided for each animal). Readers will also enjoy guessing which stripe belongs to which animal in a memory matching game.

In the classroom, this informational book could be used in both science and literature lessons. It’s a great introduction to patterns, animal markings, and camouflage, while the short rhyming text uses alliteration to enhance the literary skills of young readers. Stockdale’s illustrations are sure to mesmerize a first grade audience. Using bold colors and thick lines, her acrylic artwork really pops off the page.

Visit the authors website for more information and other nature titles:

  •  Stripes of all typesTitle: Stripes of All Types / Rayas de todas las tallas
  • Author/Illustrator: Susan Stockdale
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-793-9
  • Genre: Picture Book, Nature, Science
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