Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - One Night in the Everglades

Author: Laurel Larsen, PH.D.
Illustrator: Joyce Mihran Turley
Publisher:  Taylor Trade Publishing (May 16, 2012)
Source: Copy for Review
Read Aloud: 3rd to 5th
Independent Reading: 4th & 5th
Nonfiction *Environmental Science * Nature

Description from GoodReads:
Follow two scientists as they spend a night in the Everglades collecting water samples, photographing wildlife, and sloshing through marshes in an attempt to understand this mysterious ecosystem. Part of a long-term effort to return the Everglades to a natural state after a century of development, the scientists try to figure out what the river of grass was like prior to human settlement. Along the way, they deal with razor-sharp sawgrass and alligators and turtles and are even surprised by the sudden presence of what is known in the Everglades as a frog gigger one who hunts and collects frogs for food Published in cooperation with the Long Term Ecological Research Network, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.

My thoughts on this book:
One Night in the Everglades is a story about two scientists - one being the author - who spend the night conducting research and experiments in the Florida Everglades.  It is evident that Larsen cares deeply about the Everglades.  It is also evident from her writing that she is quite knowledgeable about this topic.  

The book is written almost as two books in one.  One part is a story of the two scientists, their work along with the history of the Everglades.  The second part consists of key vocabulary accompanied by definitions and also interesting facts.  I would almost recommend reading this book at least twice.  The first read could be the story about the scientists followed by a reading of all of the definitions and scientific facts.  

Turley's paintings accompany each page of text and could certainly be considered an important part of visual literacy and a story element of its own within this book.  Children could spend time just flipping through the illustrations for a third or fourth read through.  

Though this is a picture book, the text and amount of technical information included in the book really makes this a book for older children.  I sometimes wonder if books like this shouldn't be formatted differently.  I could see even Middle School students benefiting from the information but not willing to pick it up because it was a "picture book" (or teachers not encouraging it for older children because it is a picture book).

Look for One Night in the Everglades in your local library or consider purchasing it for your school library.  

Don't forget to link up your nonfiction picture book reviews below:

Book Review: A Black Hole is Not a Hole

Author: Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano
Illustrator: Michael Carroll
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing (February 1, 2012)
Source: Personal Copy
Audience: Ages 9 and up
Nonfiction * Astronomy * Science * Informational Text

Description from Publisher:

Get ready to S-T-R-E-T-C-H your mind!
What is a black hole? Where do they come from? How were they discovered? Can we visit one? Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano takes readers on a ride through the galaxies (ours, and others), answering these questions and many more about the phenomenon known as a black hole.

In lively and often humorous text, the book starts off with a thorough explanation of gravity and the role it plays in the formation of black holes. Paintings by Michael Carroll, coupled with real telescopic images, help readers visualize the facts and ideas presented in the text, such as how light bends, and what a supernova looks like.

A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole is an excellent introduction to an extremely complex scientific concept. Back matter includes a timeline which sums up important findings discussed throughout, while the glossary and index provide a quick point of reference for readers. Children and adults alike will learn a ton of spacey facts in this far-out book that’s sure to excite even the youngest of astrophiles. 

This book is good for your brain because:
Informational text, science, astronomy, photographs, diagrams

My thoughts on the book:
I am on the journey to help teachers understand that good Middle Grade nonfiction does not have to be a random 150 pages long.  If that was the true criteria for a good informational text, then these teachers and their classrooms will be missing out on many amazing books.  A Black Hole is Not a Hole is 74 pages including all the resource pages.  Clearly half the length of the arbitrary page limit set by some teachers.  Yet, I was amazed with both the readability of the text and the information provided for children.

Writers of informational text for children have a challenge. Too much dry techno-babble will turn off most children, except for those who may be highly interested in the subject.  Too little information and teachers won't view it as valuable for learning or as a source for a report.  DeCristofano does a remarkable job providing solid information about the phenomenon of black holes.  With the use of humor, scientific research, and practical analogies, DeCristofano provides basic information for students.  Carroll's illustrations work to provide the visual understanding and compliment DeCristofano's text.

At the end of the book, DeCristofano provides readers with a timeline, glossary, resources, websites, and most importantly an author's note.  She reminds readers that even reliable work can become outdated and that websites should be read with care for reliability. 

Though I tend to like my science in the form of fiction with minimal techno-babble and lots of character development, I will concede that if DeCristofano had been writing nonfiction when I was a child I may have developed other thoughts about science texts.  Teachers and librarians will find this a great resource for their students and a welcome addition to their libraries. 

Check out this interview with author, Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, on Kirkus:

You can find more information about the author here:

End of the Year: Top Middle Grade Picks of 2011

When I started looking through my books trying to determine my favorite picks for 2011, I kept wanting to add books to recommend.  This this one.  Finally, I just selected the ones that seemed to mean the most to me this year and the ones that I always have at the tip of my tongue ready to recommend.  If you are looking for 10 new books for your library, then I would pick up each of these.

My Top 5 Middle Grade (and in most cases YA too) Non-fiction - listed in no particular order:

Witches! The Absolute True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer - This small book is fascinating to read.  I couldn't put it down.  I hadn't read about the Salem Witch Trials in years but Schanzer's book was filled with so much great information. 

Wheels of Change:  How Women Rode Their Way Into Freedom by Sue Macy - I discovered Macy's work this year and really love her books.  She made my top 25 picture books with Basketball Belles and now is coming up in my top 5 non-fiction books for the year.  Great information and great photographs. 

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg - Just the title draws you in and then when you start reading this book you can't put it down.  The perfect balance between "ick" factor and great facts. 

America Is Under Attack by Don Brown - I discovered this book when I was searching for something to share with my students for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.  It was a powerful read-aloud.

Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O'Keefe by  Susan Goldman Rubin - I am always looking for strong biographical works to recommend to teachers.  Goldman Rubin does a great job with this one.  Interesting to read, great illustrations and photos, and great facts.

And the drumroll please...My Top 5 Middle Grade Fiction - listed in no particular order:

Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger - If kids were to vote for the Newbery, then Angleberger would definitely be a winner.  It is one of those books that I must have multiple copies of or I would never get to see it.  One of the best sequels that I have read. 

Hound Dog True by Linda Urban - When I read this book, I just kept thinking of all of the students that would benefit from reading it.  Mattie's story is powerfully and simply told.  Buy lots of copies, hand them out, do a book club, but whatever you do - keep recommending it.  Urban is an amazing writer and I hope Hound Dog True gets all the recognition it deserves.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu - This modern day version of the Snow Queen is wonderful on so many levels.  A powerful story of friendship, loss, courage, and transformation.   For fans of both realistic fiction and fantasy fiction. 

Bigger Than a Breadbox by Laurel Snyder - Realistic fiction with the touch of the fantastical makes for a perfect middle grade read.  And Snyder does this SO WELL!  In Breadbox, the reader gets the very real sense of all the emotions of parents separating and dealing with a sudden move to a new area along with a touch of the magical (in the form of the breadbox) and the consequences of all of it.  I would love to see this book get adorned with some heavy medal bling.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai - If you had told me two years ago that I would be reading novels in verse, I probably would have laughed.  And yet, I have discovered that some of my favorite and most touching stories have been told in verse.  This story of a young girl and her family's departure from Vietnam and subsequent adjustment to living in the United States is powerful and moving.  Truly, one of the outstanding books of the year. 

Keep an eye out for the final End of the Year post.  I still have a few more books that need talking about. 

Interview with Ivy + Bean

Today on the blog Ivy and Bean answer questions from their biggest fan, Andrea ("Andy"), a third grader at my school.  Andy sent a letter to Ivy & Bean with some questions, and here is what they had to say.  

Hi Andrea,

Ivy says: We’re glad to know that you like the books about us.

Bean says:  Of course she likes them. Who wouldn’t like them?

Ivy: She’s asking us what books we like besides The Amazing Book of World Records.

Bean:  I don’t like any other books.

Ivy: Yes you do. You liked that book called The World of Weird: Unbelievable Animals.

Bean: Oh yeah. I did like that one.  And I liked that one about how to pan for gold. Even though I never found any gold.

Ivy:  I just read a great book called Penny Dreadful.

Bean: I like Brave Potatoes too!

Ivy: Now she asks whether we like being book characters.  Do you? 

Bean: I don’t care.  Annie Barrows comes around and sits in my backyard and asks us questions, and then she writes about us. It’s no big deal.

Ivy: Yeah, I guess I don’t really care either.  Annie’s okay, but I don’t know why watches us instead of anyone else.

Bean: And why she doesn’t just remember the things she did when she was a kid?

Ivy: Maybe she has a bad memory. She’s kind of old.

Bean: What’s the next question?

Ivy: Hobbies. What are our hobbies?

Bean: Horses.

Ivy: Really? You don’t have a horse.

Bean: Thinking about horses is my hobby.

Ivy: My hobby is cooking.

Bean: What do you cook?  I’ve never seen you cook.

Ivy: I made toast this morning. That’s cooking.

Bean: I like toast.

Ivy: Now she’s asking about secrets.  She says Ivy, does Bean have any secrets?’

Bean: You promised.

Ivy: I know. I won’t. I promised.  Then she says Bean, does Ivy have any secrets?

Bean: Yes, but I’ll never tell. Even if you hang me upside down over a pot of boiling oil, I’ll never ever tell, not even for a million, gazillion dollars.

Ivy: And besides, it didn’t turn on anyway.

Bean: Right. But I’ll never ever tell not even if they shoot me out of a cannon.

Ivy: Do you want to be in a fashion show book? That’s the next question.

Bean: Do I get to decide what to wear?

Ivy: No, you have to wear a dress. Do you  have a dress?

Bean: Nope. Guess I can’t be in the fashion show.

Ivy: And I have to wear pants.

Bean: You can borrow some of mine.

Ivy: Okay. Here’s her last question: Is there a continent that you both wish to travel to and why?

Bean: Easy-peasy. I want to go to Africa so I can see the cheetahs. They can run faster than any animal in the world.

Ivy: Okay, and then we’ll go to Antarctica, because hardly anyone goes there.

Bean: You want to see penguins?

Ivy: No, I want to see glaciers.

Bean: Okay. First Africa and then Antarctica.

Ivy: Bye, Andy.
Bean:  See you later, alligator.

Thank you to the wonderful, and talented Annie Barrows (author and creator of the Ivy and Bean Series) for taking time out of her busy schedule to make one 3rd grade student the happiest girl in the world.

Thank you Andy for creating all of the great questions for Ivy and Bean.  You rock!

For more information about Ivy and Bean check out the Chronicle Books website:

For more information about author, Annie Barrows and her books, check out her website:

Check out this great interview with author, Annie Barrows as she talks about Ivy and Bean.

Book Review: Bake Sale

Author/Illustrator: Sara Varon
Publisher: First Second (August 30, 2011)
Audience:  Ages 9 to 12 years old
Source: Advanced Readers Copy for Review
Graphic Novel * Middle Grade * Friendship

Description from GoodReads:

Cupcake’s life is pretty good. He’s got his bakery, and his band, and his best friend, Eggplant. His days are full of cooking, socializing, and playing music. But lately, Cupcake has been struggling in the kitchen. He’s sure the solution to all his problems is out there somewhere. But maybe that solution is hiding closer to home.

Sara Varon returns with an ageless tale as dreamy and evocative as her break-out hit graphic novel Robot Dreams. At once deeply metaphorical and hilariously literal, Bake Sale is a story for anyone who’s ever looked for an easy answer to life’s intractable difficulties. It’s also a cookbook: Varon includes seven delicious recipes, from classic cupcakes to sugared flower petals to marzipan.

Relatable book characters, things that make me laugh, and brownies are all things I like.  When all of these elements are included in the same book, it is a definite win.  Sara Varon's Bake Sale has all of those features and not just one recipe but seven (and I have heard from a reliable source that the dog biscuit recipe makes a lot and are well liked by furry friends).  Cupcake owns a bakeshop, hangs out with his best friend Eggplant, and plays drums in a band.  Life is good, and then Eggplant invites Cupcake on a trip to Turkey to meet his aunt who is friends with Turkish Delight.  Imagine being invited on a vacation where you will be able to meet one of your idols?  The challenge - getting the money to go.

Bake Sale is one of those graphic novels that will appeal to a variety of people.  Varon tackles issues of friendship, choices, consequences and sacrifices.  Cupcake's life struggles are realistic even if depicted in a humorous manner.  Children will enjoy it because of the friendship and how ultimately everything works out for Cupcake and Eggplant.  Adults will likely catch the deeper messages of how going after one desire may put in jeopardy some of the other things that are important in our lives (friendships or even work).  Everyone can enjoy Varon's simple yet distinct drawing style which will hook a reader.  Of course, there are still the recipes and I plan to make the brownie recipe when I book talk this one at my next teacher/librarian/bookseller group meeting.

This was my first Sara Varon graphic novel and when I finished reading Bake Sale, I immediately went to the bookstore to check out Robot Dreams.  I look forward to how I can use both Bake Sale and Robot Dreams with students this year.  

Bio from First Second:
Sara Varon is one of the rising stars in the indy comics scene. Her previous projects include the graphic novel Sweaterweather and the picture book Chicken and Cat, a 2006 Parent's Choice silver honor award winner. Originally from outside Chicago, Sara now resides in Brooklyn, where she likes to ride her bike, see movies, and hang out with dogs.

You can check out her website here: