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Weird but True!: Ocean: 300 Fin-Tastic Facts from the Deep Blue Sea
Published June 8, 2021 by National Geographic Kids

Goodreads Summary: Dive into these fishy facts: Did you know that the prehistoric shark, megalodon, had jaws so big that it could swallow a car? Or that goats, pigs, dogs, cats, and even an alpaca have all learned how to surf? And if that’s not weird enough for ya, one man even rowed solo across the Pacific Ocean for 312 days!
In this book filled with 300 wacky facts and pictures, you’ll glimpse the ocean’s weirdest wildlife, uncover shocking shipwrecks, and meet sensational seafarers, from pirates and sailors to ground-breaking marine scientists. Perfect for ocean enthusiasts and trivia-loving landlubbers alike!

My Review: This book is the perfect size for little hands! All three of my boys (ages 7, 4, and 2) loved it and really enjoyed looking through the pages. My older two boys were able to read the facts aloud, which made for a very fun experience. My 4-year-old kept shouting, “WHOA!” as they learned new facts. The photographs are absolutely stunning, and the pages offer really, really interesting facts that even adults will enjoy! 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Check out this cool activity that Kellee did with her students as a classroom connection for these books!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which facts were the most interesting to you?
  • Which ocean creature do you think is the coolest?
  • How can you learn more about this creature?

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Read This If You Loved: Animal Books, National Geographic’s 100 Things to Know Before You Grow UpMastermind by National Geographic, Weird but True series by National Geographic, Animal Atlas, Almanacs

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**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor
Author: Kate Messner
Illustrator: Alexandra Bye
Published June 29th 2021 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: The definitive picture book biography of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the most crucial figures in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before he was Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci was a curious boy in Brooklyn, delivering prescriptions from his father’s pharmacy on his blue Schwinn bicycle. His father and immigrant grandfather taught Anthony to ask questions, consider all the data, and never give up—and Anthony’s ability to stay curious and to communicate with people would serve him his entire life.

This engaging narrative, which draws from interviews the author did with Dr. Fauci himself, follows Anthony from his Brooklyn beginnings through medical school and his challenging role working with seven US presidents to tackle some of the biggest public health challenges of the past fifty years, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Extensive backmatter rounds out Dr. Fauci’s story with a timeline, recommended reading, a full spread of facts about vaccines and how they work, and Dr. Fauci’s own tips for future scientists.

Review: Dr. Fauci has been a face on our TV for over 15 months now, but I know that my son only knows that he is the “COVID Doctor.” What Kate Messner does in her picture book of Dr. Fauci is bring him to life for any who read it. The book shows his humanity behind the glasses and doctor’s coat we see on TV. The book explores what makes Dr. Fauci the inquisitive, kind, brilliant man he is today.

I loved learning about his past: his kindness from a young age, his father’s advice to keep his mind thinking, and his “just watch me” moment from construction to doctor all leading to becoming the expert he is today. Kids, and adults alike, will love Kate’s narrative of Dr. Fauci’s life filled with anecdotes and accolades, and all of it is brought to life with colorful and realistic illustrations by Alexandra Bye which ties it all together.

This is a book that will find a place in homes, schools, and libraries!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would have “Dr. Fauci’s FIVE TIPS for Future Scientists” be norms during my science lessons! They are such important reminders from a contemporary scientist:

  1. Keep an open mind.
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail.
  3. Get excited about discovery.
  4. Remember that science is self-correcting.
  5. Keep learning.

Also, use the publisher-provided educator’s guide for use in the classroom!

Video of Kate Messner’s interview with Dr. Fauci:

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did you learn about Dr. Fauci?
  • How did learning about Dr. Fauci affect how you feel about the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • How do vaccines work? Are vaccines safe?
  • How did Dr. Fauci’s father’s words drive Dr. Fauci?
  • Why do guidelines about viruses change from time to time?
  • How did Dr. Fauci deal with criticism during the AIDS epidemic? What does this tell you about him?
  • How does the author turn the biography into a story?
  • Although Anthony wasn’t the tallest or best on his basketball team, he ended up being team captain. Why?
  • How does Dr. Fauci inspire you?
  • Why do you think the author chose to write a book about Dr. Fauci now?

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Read This If You Love: Picture book biographies, science, medicine, inspirational books

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**Thank you to Simon and Schuster for providing a copy for review!**

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Rescue at Lake Wild
Author: Terry Lynn Johnson
Published April 27, 2021 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary: In this funny and moving animals-in-peril adventure, a twelve-year-old girl and her two best friends determine to rescue two orphaned beaver kits—and soon find themselves trying to solve a local environmental crisis.

Everyone knows that twelve-year-old Madison “Madi” Lewis is not allowed to bring home any more animals. After she’s saved hairless mice, two birds, a rabbit, and a stray tom cat that ended up destroying the front porch, Madi’s parents decide that if they find one more stray animal in the house, she won’t be allowed to meet Jane Goodall at an upcoming gala event.

But when Madi and her two best friends, Aaron and Jack, rescue beaver kits whose mother was killed, they find themselves at the center of a local conspiracy that’s putting the beavers and their habitats in danger. As Madi and her friends race to uncover the threat targeting the beavers, Madi must put her animal whisperer skills to the test in both raising the orphaned beaver kits and staying out of trouble long enough.

About the Author: Terry Lynn Johnson writes about the wild with the wisdom and passion of someone who has spent her life working to preserve and protect it – both as a backcountry canoe ranger in Quetico Provincial Park and in her current job as a conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. She lives at the edge of a lake in northern Ontario, Canada, where she loves watching all wildlife, including beavers. Visit her online at terrylynnjohnson.com

Twitter: @TerryLynnJ
Instagram: terry_lynn_johnson

Review: This book is everything the summary promises and more. I read it in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down. It was so interesting learning about beavers and conservation, but also watching Madi and her friends figure out the solution to a problem that adults automatically went to the extreme about.

Kids are going to love Madi and her friends. Their banter is so funny yet right on point for their age. I also love seeing how close they are even as they grow up and change.

In addition to the main story about the beaver rescue, Madi’s family situation will bring about good conversation about different types of families.

But truly, the real stars of this book are the beavers. I never knew as much about them as I do now, and they are such interesting animals. This book definitely led to inquiry as I wanted to learn so much more about environmental conservation and beavers.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to being a book that so many kids are going to want to pick up and read, this book lends itself perfectly to so much in the classroom!

Madi talks often in the book about her grandmother and Jane Goodall and all of the work they did to help preserve animals; however, there are tons of other scientists who help converse nature and animals’ habitats. Have students research these scientists, and remind them to think about local and smaller rescue facilities who do work that often aren’t recognized.

Madi LOVES animals and we learn so much about beavers in this book. Use the idea of Madi’s notebook to have students pick an animal and research it.

Madi solves a problem by going step by step through the problem solving process. Look at the six-step problem solving process and work through how Madi made her way through to help her town and the beavers.

Finally, learn about Terry Lynn Johnson’s inspiration for Rescue at Lake Wild here. This would lend to a great discussion about author’s purpose and point of view.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do the adults of the town automatically start killing beavers?
  • How does Madi figure out a solution to the problem?
  • How did the setting play a part in the story?
  • Which character did you most relate to and why?
  • Who do you look up to like Madi looks up to Jane Goodall?
  • What is your passion and how can you pursue it in your life?
  • How did having her two friends to help her lend to Madi being successful?
  • How did Madi’s grandmother inspire her? Who has inspired you in your life?
  • Madi’s mother said no more animals, which Madi obviously disagreed with, and although it seems harsh, she has her reasons. What do you feel about this? Can someone be right and wrong at the same time?

Flagged Passages: Chapter 1

I hear it again.

Urgent chattering reaches us from the mound of sticks and mud just off the bow of our boat.

“We’re going to have to do it,” I say, and then can’t help add, “I told you they were here.”

As an animal whisperer, I know these things, but sometimes I have to remind certain people.

A breeze catches the boat and swings us around the anchor line. The channel’s empty except for the beaver lodge, the three of us, and one bored dog.

“We’re sure the parents aren’t coming back, Madi?” Aaron asks.

“You saw their parents,” I say. “They’re not coming.” We’ve been here almost two hours to make sure there were no other adults in the lodge.

Finally Jack says, “Let’s do it already.”

“Before you say I should do it because I’m smallest,” Aaron says, “let me remind you I’ve been the rescuer the last two times.”

He’s talking about when we boosted him into a tree to save a raccoon that turned out not to need saving. Okay, I was wrong that one time. But the day we lowered him from the window by his feet to save the baby bird? That bird would have died without us.

“Out of the three of us, you’re the easiest to hang by the feet,” I say reasonably.

“It’s not my turn.” Aaron shifts on the aluminum seat. “And I’m not that small.”

“We’ve never done this before,” Jack says. “So it starts over.”

“What starts over?”

“Turns,” Jack says.

Adjusting the tiller handle, I move to sit next to Aaron in the middle of the boat. “We should play for it.” I hold up a fist, the universal sign for rock-paper-scissors. “So it’s fair.”

The three of us stick our fists together. Jack’s black Lab, Lid, pokes his nose into the circle too, ever hopeful that we’re about to unveil food.

“One, two, three!

“No!” Aaron yells at our scissors to his paper. “Rigged!”

“I’d take your shirt off if I were you,” Jack advises. “So it doesn’t get stuck and snag you down there. We probably wouldn’t be able to pull you up.”

Aaron pales but tries to look brave. “I always end up doing it,” he grumbles, reaching behind his back to pull off his T-shirt. The hot July sun bounces off his blinding white torso.

Aaron scowls at us and then glances over the side of the boat. He studies the brown water and mutters something about leeches.

“Maybe you should keep your shirt on for protection,” I suggest, eyeing his stick-thin arms covered in rust-brown freckles, and his pale shoulder blades that could cut a breakfast sausage.

“Are they even still alive?” Aaron says. “I can’t hear them anymore.”

He’s right. There’d been no sounds from the lodge in the last few minutes we’ve been sitting here arguing.

Earlier, we’d found two adult beavers floating dead on the other side of the channel. Jack, as usual, had wanted to investigate the crime scene immediately. But the noises from the lodge mean babies inside. Those babies will starve to death if we don’t rescue them.

We’ve been waiting here long enough to know there are no other adult beavers coming to take care of them. But how long have the young ones been alone in there? Maybe they’re starved already.

“Shhh!” I say. “Listen.”

We still our movements in the boat and drift. An enthusiastic frog trills next to us. The wind rustles the leaves of trembling aspen towering above. The water gently laps at the aluminum beneath us. We strain to hear anything. The silence stretches.

A long, high-pitched noise erupts from Lid’s rear end. It echoes strangely from the bottom of the boat, sounding like an optimistic elephant. Surprised, Lid looks behind him.

Aaron and Jack both burst out laughing. It’s so hard to keep boys focused.

“Guys, I don’t hear them. Maybe we waited too long.” Maybe the little beavers are just too weak now to make noise and desperately need help right this very second. I grab the anchor and haul it up. “We have to hurry!”

I yank at the oars and thrust the boat up onto the muddy bank of the lodge. Lid jumps out first, followed by Jack, who ties us off on a log. Aaron warms up, swinging his arms, further accentuating his shoulder blades.

Stepping onto the latticed sticks, I peer at a section of the lodge’s roof that’s been ripped apart, most likely by wolves. But the predators haven’t gotten through. The only way into an indestructible beaver lodge is underwater.

“Okay. You’re looking for the opening to the tunnel,” I say to Aaron. “It’ll be hidden among all the sticks. Hopefully it’ll be wide enough for you to fit. You can breathe once you get into the chamber. It’ll be a room above water like a den. That’s where you’ll find the baby beavers.”

Aaron nods while staring at the lodge. He examines the murky water.

I watch him uneasily and think about when we’d boosted him into that tree. He’d spent most of the time clutching the trunk and yelling for us to bring him down. And when we’d lowered him for the bird he insisted over and over, “Pull me up!”

This is actually dangerous. If Aaron panics, he could drown for real. He could get lost under there, or get caught on something, like Jack said.

A fluttery feeling builds inside my chest. Did Jane Goodall let someone else face aggressive chimps at the Tanzania research center? No.

It should be me.

Read This If You Love: Lost in the River of Grass and Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby; Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly;  Vet Volunteers by Laurie Halse Anderson; Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review and giveaway!**

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Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean
Author: Patricia Newman
Photographer: Annie Crawley
Published March 2nd, 2021 by Millbrook Press

Summary: A little more than 70 percent of Planet Earth is ocean. So wouldn’t a better name for our global home be Planet Ocean?

You may be surprised at just how closely YOU are connected to the ocean. Regardless of where you live, every breath you take and every drop of water you drink links you to the ocean. And because of this connection, the ocean’s health affects all of us.

Dive in with author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley—visit the Coral Triangle near Indonesia, the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest, and the Arctic Ocean at the top of the world. Find out about problems including climate change, ocean acidification, and plastic pollution, and meet inspiring local people who are leading the way to reverse the ways in which humans have harmed the ocean.

Planet Ocean shows us how to stop thinking of ourselves as existing separate from the ocean and how to start taking better care of this precious resource.

Scan QR codes to explore the ocean along with Annie Crawley!

About the Creators:

Patricia Newman‘s books inspire young readers to seek connections to the real world. Her titles encourage readers to use their imaginations to solve real world problems and act on behalf of their communities. These books include Sibert Honor title Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem; Junior Library Guild Selection Eavesdropping on Elephants; Bank Street College Best Book Zoo Scientists to the RescueBooklist Editor’s Choice Ebola: Fears and Facts; and Green Earth Book Award winner Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Patricia frequently speaks at schools and conferences to share how children of any age can affect change. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

Annie Crawley, aka Ocean Annie, travels and works around the world. Trained as a photo and broadcast journalist, her work has been broadcast and published worldwide. From Indonesia to Galapagos, Belize to Papua New Guinea, India to Australia, Annie has explored and documented life on our planet. Based in Seattle, Annie works as a producer, writer, photographer, and motivational speaker. She founded Dive Into Your Imagination, a multimedia company producing books, enhanced eBooks, educator guides, films, motivational art, and more. Annie was the photographer and filmmaker aboard SEAPLEX sponsored by Project Kaisei and Samy’s Camera. Annie specializes in the underwater realm and also works as a photo, video, and scuba diving instructor. She is a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame and created a dive team for kids and teens. Visit her online at www.AnnieCrawley.com and www.anniecrawleyphotography.com.

Praise: 

♥ Junior Library Guild Selection

“Read Planet Ocean with your children and grandchildren to begin the discussion of what humans can do to save our oceans from pollution and acidification. Books like this one help lead the way to a better climate future for all inhabitants of mother earth.” — Jeff Bridges, Academy Award winner and environmentalist

“A compelling and paramount read for all mankind so that we value our ocean resource.” –-Christine Anne Royce, Ed.D., Retiring President (19-20), National Science Teaching Association; Professor of Teacher Education and Co-Director of MAT in STEM Education, Shippensburg University

“The range of nationalities represented and the inclusion of a variety of Indigenous voices make a particularly compelling argument that ocean health is a whole world problem…Worth exploring in depth.” —Kirkus

“They nailed it! Ocean Annie and Patricia Newman have created a positive, action-oriented educational initiative that will inspire the next generation to be good stewards of our ocean planet!” — Jill Heinerth, Underwater Explorer and Explorer in Residence, Royal Canadian Geographical Society

“The book follows [Annie] Crawley, an underwater explorer and photographer, as a knowledgeable guide to three very different regions connected by ocean waters, the Coral Triangle north of Australia, the Salish Sea bordering Washington State and British Columbia, and the Arctic. Newman’s text describes each place visited, while Crawley’s many attractive photos introduce the people and animals affected by environmental changes there…For each region, illustrated features offer the viewpoints of individuals living there. Presenting a good deal of information within a well-organized framework, the book conveys a strong sense of urgency to clean the global ocean and restore the ecosystems it supports.” —Booklist

Review: I am a HUGE fan of Patricia Newman’s books. This is the 6th of her books that I have reviewed here. Want to know why? Because her books fit the mission of our blog–they are wonderful pieces of informational literature and belong in schools and classrooms because kids need these books. Planet Ocean is no different!

With each of Patricia’s books, I learn new things. I entered this book thinking that I knew all that I could about climate change and the ocean and the effects on our planet, but I left even more knowledgeable and even more scared of the future if we do not make a change. Learning about ocean acidification, the effects on the Arctic, and just how dependent we all are on the ocean was fascinating and change making.

And like Eavesdropping with Elephants, Patricia included QR codes in this book which I believe brings a great interactiveness with the text. It also adds digital literacy with traditional literacy. And Annie Crawley is a great visual storyteller in the linked videos!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The publisher and author share a curriculum guide to go with Planet Ocean on their websites: https://www.patriciamnewman.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Planet-Ocean-Curriculum-Guide.pdf

The guide includes activities for literacy, science, ocean literacy, and sustainability standards.

I’d also like to add that I love Annie’s Pro Tips for Visual Storytelling, and I would love to use these tips to have students create their own visual story!

The book also includes a great “Surfers Welcome” section in the backmatter which gives 7 different websites to further learning!

Why do you need this book in your library? Patricia Newman can explain!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How are maps incorrectly proportioned?
  • Why do we need a healthy ocean?
  • How is your life affected by the ocean?
  • What new word did you learn from the book or glossary?
  • How could you “Go Blue with Annie” in your life?
  • Which of the QR code videos did you enjoy the most? How does this interactive component make the book better?
  • Why does the author include so many different scientists and contributors in the book in the “In Their Own Words” side bars?
  • How do the images and videos add to the information received in the book?
  • What is your favorite animal? How are they affected by the ocean?
  • Why did the Arctic have a whole chapter of the book? What is so important about the Arctic?
  • What do you think the author’s purpose was in creating this book?
  • How does the health of the ocean compare now to the past?

Flagged Passages: 

Read an excerpt on the book’s publisher page!

Read This If You Love: Science, Animals, Learning about Climate Change, Marine science

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**Thank you to Patricia Newman and Lerner Books for providing a copy for review!**

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Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award Winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing
Editor: Melissa Stewart
Published November 2020 by National Council of Teachers of English

Summary: In Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-Winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing, some of today’s most celebrated writers for children share essays that describe a critical part of the informational writing process that is often left out of classroom instruction.

To craft engaging nonfiction, professional writers choose topics that fascinate them and explore concepts and themes that reflect their passions, personalities, beliefs, and experiences in the world. By scrutinizing the information they collect to make their own personal meaning, they create distinctive books that delight as well as inform.

In addition to essays from mentor authors, Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep includes a wide range of tips, tools, teaching strategies, and activity ideas from editor Melissa Stewart to help students (1) choose a topic, (2) focus that topic by identifying a core idea, theme, or concept, and (3) analyze their research to find a personal connection. By adding a piece of themselves to their drafts, students will learn to craft rich, unique prose.

100 percent of the proceeds will be divided among the National Council of Teachers for English (NCTE), We Need Diverse Books (WNDB), and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)

About the Author: Melissa Stewart has written more than 180 science books for children, including the ALA Notable Feathers: Not Just for Flying, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen; the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor title Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; and Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins. She coauthored 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books (forthcoming) and grades K-2 and 3-5 editions of Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science. Stewart maintains the award-winning blog Celebrate Science and serves on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators board of advisors. Her highly regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction writing resources.

Contributors: Sarah AlbeeChris BartonDonna Janell BowmanMary Kay CarsonNancy CastaldoJason ChinLesa Cline-RansomeSeth FishmanCandace FlemingKelly Milner HallsDeborah HeiligmanSusan HoodGail JarrowLita JudgeJess KeatingBarbara KerleyHeather LangCynthia LevinsonMichelle MarkelCarla Killough McClaffertyHeather L. MontgomeryPatricia NewmanElizabeth PartridgeBaptiste PaulMiranda PaulTeresa RobesonMara RockliffBarb RosenstockLaura Purdie SalasAnita SanchezApril Pulley SayreSteve SheinkinRay Anthony ShepardAnita SilveyTraci SorellTanya Lee StoneJennifer SwansonStephen R. SwinburneDon TateLaurie Ann ThompsonPamela S. TurnerPatricia ValdezSandra Neil WallaceLaurie WallmarkJennifer WardCarole Boston WeatherfordLee WindPaula YooKaren Romano Young

From Melissa Stewart: “Behind the Book”

The idea for this book traces back to the 2017 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, when I was fortunate to participate in a panel titled ‘The Secret of Crafting Engaging Nonfiction’ with two of the most talented children’s nonfiction authors of our time—Candace Fleming and Deborah Heiligman.

During our discussion, moderated by educator and children’s nonfiction enthusiast Alyson Beecher, we dove deeply into what fuels our work and why we routinely dedicate years of our lives to a single manuscript. As we compared our thoughts and experiences, we came to realize something critically important—each of our books has a piece of us at its heart. And that personal connection is what drives us to keep working despite the inevitable obstacles and setbacks.

Several other nonfiction authors attended our presentation, and afterward they praised our insights. That conversation helped us all understand our creative process in a new and exciting way. And it eventually led to the essays in this anthology, which are our way of sharing an important—and often unrecognized and underappreciated—aspect of nonfiction writing with educators and students.

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I was star struck seeing all of the authors who had contributed! I was lucky enough to be at the presentation that this book’s seed of an idea started, so when I heard about this book, I knew it would be a book I would need!

This book is all about moving nonfiction writing to an authentic experience. The book is broken into 3 sections to help guide writing instruction:

  • Choosing a Topic
  • Finding a Focus
  • Making is Personal

Within each section there are essays by mentor authors focusing on different aspects of the topic. I loved reading the essays that ranged from a look at how to take an idea and make it grow, about complexities within nonfiction, about the bumps along the way, about the writing process, and everything else you can think of.

Then the last part of the chapter is In the Classroom which helps tie the essays all together with how to take it to our students.

This book is written specifically with teachers in mind–it is such an amazing resource!

Video about the Book: https://melissa-stewart.com/books/teachers/bk_nonfiction_writers_dig_deep.html

Read This If You Love: Teaching authentic nonfiction writing

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The ABCs of Black History
Author: Rio Cortez
Illustrator: Lauren Semmer
Published: December 8, 2020 by Workman Publishing Company

Summary: While many alphabet books have tackled a range of social justice topics from consent to feminism, there remains an urgent need to explore through a thoughtful lens how Black history has shaped American culture. The ABCs of Black History is a beautiful representation of the ideas and personalities that embody a wide range of Black people, experiences, and ideas in lively verse matched with vivid imagery.

Written by Pushcart-nominated-poet, Rio Cortez and illustrated by newcomer Lauren Semmer, The ABCs of Black History uses the alphabet as a frame to introduce Black history. Beginning with Anthem—an introduction to James Weldon Johnson’s Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing—and ending with Zenith, a tribute to the mountaintop Dr. King spoke about before his death, readers will travel across continents and centuries, navigate triumph and heartbreak, and celebrate creativity and joy.

The poetic text introduces big ideas to engage curious minds. Every letter has a rhyming verse, and every spread is a visual feast. F explores the concepts of farming and food. G is for Go! and the Great Migration from the rural South to the urban North. Then the reader lands in Harlem, New York, where they meet Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. Contemporary moments are included too. M is for march and message, which explores the culmination of movements that have changed the course of history, from the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965 to the Black Lives Matter movement today. And Q is for queens, acquainting readers with powerful women like Leontyne Price, Queen Nandi, Toni Morrison, Michelle Obama, and many more.

The book also includes robust back matter that offers more information on the events, places, and people mentioned in the poem, from Fannie Lou Hamer to DJ Kool Herc, the Little Rock Nine to Sam Cooke.

A necessary addition to every child’s bookshelf, The ABCs of Black History is an exuberant celebration of history, culture, race, and justice.

Ricki’s Review: Oh my. This is a powerful book. Every single page is beautifully constructed. I simply cannot imagine how long it took to create this book. It is 64 pages of masterful writing and eye-catching illustrations. To call this an alphabet book would be to undermine everything that it is. Each spread features a different letter with numerous words connected to Black history and written in poetic form. Nine pages of back matter offer further information of all of the people, places, and terms used throughout the book. Thus, a child will hear the lilt of a poetic description in a read aloud, and the back matter offers more learning. I describe a child here, but as an adult, I was absolutely captivated by this text. This book is one to read and love and it is one to gift. Also, in case you missed it, look at the cover! I loved this book and give it my highest recommendation.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask each child to select a letter in the book. They can learn more about the people, places, and terms used and share with peers more information about Black history. Then, they might create their own alphabet books about a topic they are interested in researching.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which letter spread did you like the most? What did you learn?
  • How does the author incorporate information in a poetic and engaging way?
  • How do the illustrations elevate your understanding of the text?

Flagged Passage: 

E is for explore—to study a place: like Matthew Henson, the Artctic; Mae Jemison, space.

E is for education, for expanding the mind, like Ruby Bridges, Linda Brown, the Little Rock Nine—The first Black children in all-white schools, they opened the doors and challenged the rules.

Flagged Spread:

Excerpted from THE ABCs of BLACK HISTORY by Rio Cortez (Workman Publishing). Copyright © 2020. Illustrations by Lauren Semmer

Read This If You Love: Nonfiction picture books, Black history books, alphabet books, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History by Walter Dean Myers, Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by Andrea Davis Pinkney, We March by Shane W. Evans, Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson, Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford

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