Currently viewing the category: "Informational Nonfiction"

The Vietnam War
Barbara Diggs
Published May 1st, 2018 by Nomad Press

Summary: More than 58,000 American troops and personnel died in the humid jungles and muddy rivers of Vietnam during the 20-year conflict. But why? What were they fighting for? And how could the world’s most powerful military be defeated by a small, poverty-stricken country?

In The Vietnam War, kids ages 12 to 15 explore the global conditions and history that gave rise to the Vietnam War, the reasons why the United States became increasingly embroiled in the conflict, and the varied causes of its shocking defeat. The Vietnam War also pays close attention to the development of a massive antiwar movement and counterculture that divided the country into “hawks” and “doves.” As middle schoolers learn about how the fear of the spread of communism spurred the United States to enter a war that was erupting on the other side of the world, they find themselves immersed in the mood and mindset of the Vietnam Era.

About the Author: Barbara Diggs is a non-fiction writer who has written a range of historical articles for children. Her work has been featured in Learning Through History MagazineHistory Magazine, and Renaissance, among others. A graduate of Stanford Law School, Barbara practiced law in New York for several years before becoming a professional writer. She and her family currently split their time between Paris, France, and Washington DC.

Author Guest Post: 

“Lessons of Past Wars”

For a kid, the Vietnam War might seem like it happened a long time ago. That was way back in the last century! But even if the war itself seems far off, understanding the lessons of the Vietnam war–and events of the era–is key to understanding current events.

In the 1950s, the communist country of North Vietnam was trying to bring South Vietnam under unified rule. The United States stepped in to support South Vietnam. The American government was worried that if communism was allowed to spread unchecked, it could eventually reach its own shores and threaten America’s free, democratic way of life. The United States was also concerned that the Soviet Union, a communist country and the United States’s ideological enemy, supported North Vietnam.

The war lasted for nearly 20 years and more than 58,000 American soldiers died. As the war dragged on, American youth formed a massive antiwar protest movement that defined a generation, created a deep rift in the nation, and profoundly impacted both the course of the war and American culture. To complicate matters further, political and military leaders proved themselves to be less than truthful about several crucial aspects of the conflict, leading to a widespread erosion of the public’s trust in the government.

Though long ago, this history is still relevant today. In my book, readers will recognize echoes of the Vietnam War era in the political protests, marches and movements of today, and will explore the different ways in which the youth of that generation made their voices heard. They’ll also learn to identify propaganda, analyze the role the media plays in influencing public opinion, and consider the balance between national security and the public’s right to information…all still hugely relevant topics today.

Not least of all, kids will look at the realities of war and recognize our shared humanity.

This war was the most bitter of conflicts. The loss of life and suffering that occurred on all sides was terrible. And yet today, the United States and Vietnam have a friendly relationship, despite Vietnam having a communist government. This perspective is something that’s especially important to learn and remember in these polarizing times: today’s enemy might be tomorrow’s friend.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: 

War still rages around the world, and the lessons we return to again and again only get more and more important. Here are a few activities featuring the Vietnam War that can serve as a jumping-off point for developing the critical-thinking skills kids will need as future leaders!


The Vietnam War was a terrifying, life-changing experience for the soldiers who fought there. The estimated average age of a soldier was 22 years old, and 61 percent of those who died were under 21. Many soldiers in Vietnam wrote to their families as often as possible and loved receiving letters in return. Being able to write home and receive letters helped them stay connected to the outside world and document their experiences.

Read some letters and excerpts of letters written by soldiers in Vietnam.

Paul O’Connell

Steve Flaherty

Charles Miller

After you read or listen to them, consider the following questions.

  • What were the reasons some of these men went to Vietnam?
  • What are some of the different tones and emotions expressed in the letters?
  • What surprises you about the letters?
  • How did the letter writers’ experiences differ? How were they similar?

Imagine that you are a combat soldier in Vietnam. Write a letter or email home discussing your experiences. What would you want to talk about? What would you want to know about back home?

To investigate more, imagine that you are a South Vietnamese peasant during the war who was evacuated because of the Vietcong threat. Write a letter to a relative outside of Vietnam describing what wartime life is like. How do you feel about the Vietcong? How might you feel about the United States? What are your fears?


As the Vietnam War escalated, folksingers began expressing their condemnation of the war through music. These songs expressed the emotions and frustrations that many were feeling, and promoted a sense of unity in a highly divisive time. Singers such as Bob Dylan (1941– ), Phil Ochs (1940–1976), Joan Baez (1941– ), Arlo Guthrie (1947– ), and Barry McGuire (1935– ) were among the leading artists of the era. They became legends for their Vietnam era music and lyrics.

Search for Vietnam protest songs and listen to examples of anti-war music from this time.

  • Consider the following questions.
  • What are some of the different messages the songs tried to convey?
  • What different emotions did each song appeal to?
  • In what ways might these songs have influenced youth behavior?
  • Can you name any modern songs that relate to today’s political or social issues? What topics do they cover?

Write your own song or poem that expresses feelings and opinions about a current political or social concern.

  • What point of view will you write from?
  • What images will you use to get your point across?
  • How will you use rhythm to convey meaning or emotion?

To investigate more, imagine that you live during the Vietnam era and want to show your support for the war. Create a slogan to put on a placard or banner. Who would be your intended audience? What message would you want to deliver? If you were against the war, what would you come up with?


Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers to newspapers, was the first major whistle-blower of the modern era. A whistle-blower is defined as a person who informs on a person or organization believed to be engaging in immoral, unethical, or illegal behavior. Whistle-blowers are usually protected by federal law, so they can report unethical actions without fear of getting into trouble. But such laws generally don’t protect those who reveal classified government information. Ellsberg did so knowing he could be jailed for life. Some Americans regarded him as a hero, while others viewed him as a traitor.

Learn more about Ellsberg’s motivations by reading the transcript of his interview with Walter Cronkite, which was held shortly after the release of the Pentagon Papers.

  • In what ways can whistle-blowing be beneficial to society?
  • In what ways can whistle-blowing be detrimental to society?
  • Do you think Ellsberg was a hero or a traitor? Explain.
  • Are there any circumstances where you might view a whistle-blower as the opposite of the
  • answer you provided above? Describe.

You can learn more about recent government whistle-blowers by researching Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Create a two-column, seven-row chart that compares and contrasts one whistle-blower with Daniel Ellsberg. Use the following questions as a guide.

  • How were the circumstances of each whistle-blower similar?
  • What were key differences in their situations?
  • What motivated each of them?
  • How did each of them reveal classified information?
  • What consequences did they suffer?
  • How were they perceived by the public?
  • Do you view one of them more favorably than the other? Why?

To investigate more, imagine that you have learned of an immoral, unethical, or illegal act that a person in authority, such as a teacher or club leader, is committing. Map out three different ways you could respond to the situation. Consider whom you might tell, evidence you might need, the potential consequences you might face, and the possible consequences of doing nothing. Of the three, which response would you be most likely to take?

Find more resources in the free classroom teaching guide!

Thank you so much, Barbara and Nomad Press!

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What Do They Do With All That Poo?
Author: Jane Kurtz; Illustrator: Allison Black
Published: June 19, 2018 by Beach Lane Books

Goodreads Summary: Find out what happens to all of the poo at the zoo in this funny and factual picture book!

There are so many different kinds of animals at the zoo, and they each make lots and lots (and sometimes LOTS!) of poo. So what do zoos do with all of that poo? This zany, fact-filled romp explores zoo poo, from cube-shaped wombat poo to white hyena scat, and all of the places it ends up, including in science labs and elephant-poo paper—even backyard gardens!

Ricki’s Review: It brings me great joy to review this book. Really. This book is on our nightly reading list, and my son laughs and laughs as we look at all of the different types of poo. I’ll admit that I don’t like poop jokes and don’t find poop to be very funny. But this book is really funny and wildly entertaining. My son’s preschool teacher has recycled panda poo paper, and he learned from this book that this recycling process is made possible by a panda’s diet (see the first spread featured below). He was thrilled to share this scientific tidbit during his morning meeting. This book spurs curiosity. My son asks a lot of questions wen we read it, and we do a lot of comparing and contrasting across pages. I’ll admit that we’ve had great fun selecting which poo is the most interesting to us. I loved that one of the animals (no spoilers here) has cube-shaped poo! This book is sure to be a favorite in classrooms. Get ready to learn science in an entertaining way!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Mary Cowhey’s Black Ants and Buddhists is one of the most beloved elementary school professional development texts. In the book, Cowhey describes a moment in her teaching career when a student wondered aloud about where the poo goes after he flushes the toilet. Cowhey set up an exploratory learning unit based on this question. What Do They Do with All That Poo? follows this spirit (with a focus on zoos and animals).

Teachers might ask students to go home and return to class with an inquiry question about the world. Then, they might (as a whole class, in groups, individually) explore their question(s) and design a picture book or picture books to reflect their new learning.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did you learn? What do they do with all that poo?
  • Which animal poo was the most interesting to you?
  • Select one animal. What is one interesting fact about the animal’s poo (beyond the shape)?
  • Which animals weren’t featured in the book? What is their poo like?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Loved: Caring for Your Lion by Tammi Sauer; Strange, Unusual, Gross, and Cool Animals by Charles Ghigna; Pink is for Blobfish by Jess Keating; Animal Planet & National Geographic nonfiction such as Real or Fake?Ocean AnimalsAwesome 8Animal Atlas, or the Animal Bites series    

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About the Author: Jane Kurtz was born in Portland, Oregon (where she now lives), but when she was two years old, her parents decided to move to Ethiopia, where she spent most of her childhood. Jane speaks about being an author at schools and conferences—in all but eleven of the United States, so far, and such places as Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, France, Germany, Romania, Russia, Oman, England, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Japan. She helped start Ethiopia Reads (, a nonprofit that is planting libraries for children and printing some of the first easy-reader books in local languages in Ethiopia. She is the author of many books for children, including Water Hole Waiting and River Friendly River Wild, winner of the SCBWI Golden Kite award for picture book text. To learn more, visit her website:

Twitter: @janekurtz


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

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Women Athletes Who Rule! from Sports Illustrated Kids: The 101 Stars Every Fan Needs to Know
Author: Elizabeth McGarr McCue
Published June 5th, 2018 by Sports Illustrated

Summary: The fifth book in the Big Book of Who series from Sports Illustrated Kids profiles extraordinary athletes who shaped the narratives of their sports. The best women athletes–past and present–including Billie Jean King, Serena Williams, Nadia Comaneci, Simone Biles, and dozens more are grouped into these categories: Superstars who reinvented what it means to be a sports celebrity, Wonder Women who transcend sports and created seismic shifts in our culture, Trail Blazers who broke barriers and paved the way for others to follow, Record Breakers who set new standards for excellence, and the Champions who showed heart and gumption as winners. All of their stories bring excellence in women’s sports to readers hungry for empowering stories for kids–girls and boys alike. 

ReviewAlthough I wish there were just more women in a book called ATHLETES WHO RULE, I am happy to have a book that celebrates female athletes that kick butt in their sport! This book celebrates firsts, amazing accomplishments, broken records, and champions. I adore that it spans from the early 1900s to today looking at women who paved the way for the extraordinary athletes that are superstars of today.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The text is structured like a Guinness Book of World Records book making it quite friendly for kid readers who want to read the whole text or for readers who want to browse for fun facts. It could also be a great resource for a literacy activity in a physical education class.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did the women of the early 1900s help pave the way for women athletes today?
  • How are women athletes treated differently than male athletes?
  • Which woman athlete was a new name to you and impressed you with their accomplishments?
  • How was the book structured? What other ways could it have been organized?
  • How did the “Fast Facts,” “Did You Know,” and “Wow Factor” sidebars help with the intrigue the book built?

Flagged Passages: 

Credit: Excerpted from Women Athletes Who Rule by the Editors of Sports illustrated Kids. Copyright © 2018 Liberty Street. Reprinted with permission from Time Inc. Books, a division of Meredith Corporation. New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Read This If You Love: Sports!, Sports history, Sports Illustrated Kids

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**Thank you to little bigfoot for providing a copy for review!**

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Globalization: Why We Care About Faraway Events
Carla Mooney
Published May 1st, 2018 by Nomad Press

Summary: Have you noticed that our planet is becoming increasingly connected?

In Globalization: Why We Care About Faraway Events, kids ages 12 to 15 focus on the definition of globalization and discover how technology drives globalization, which affects economies, political systems, human rights, and cultures around the world. The book also explores the future of globalization and discusses issues the global community might face in coming years.

  • Readers hear news stories about globalization on a daily basis.
  • Investigating previous events in the world’s history can help students understand the causes and effects of current events.
  • Uses links to online primary sources to imbue readers with a curiosity about the topic and engage in further, independent inquiry.

About the Author: Carla Mooney has written more than 70 books for children and young adults. Her work has appeared in many magazines including HighlightsFaces, and Learning Through History. Carla lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Author Guest Post: 

“How can we tell we’re living in a global village?”

Where was your phone manufactured? How many different countries did you send digital waves to when you checked your social media feeds this afternoon? What nations did you read about in the paper over your morning cup of coffee?

It’s pretty easy to recognize that globalization is a driving force in our daily lives. Everything we do has consequences, both our actions as individuals and our actions as nations. It can be a little tougher to get kids to recognize what this means!

For example, consider the withdrawal of the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, which kids have probably heard about on the news. What kind of repercussions might this have in the life of an eighth grader? Well, as sanctions are potentially put back in place, global relationships will change, which means the way we trade will change, which might make things such airplane tickets more expensive for the average consumer. A 13-year-old will certainly notice if their family has to skip a summer vacation because the cost of flying is prohibitively expensive. They’ll also notice if digital devices go down in price, because their parents might be more inclined to purchase the most recent version of their phone!

Globalization is a complex topic that can help kids recognize the interconnected workings of our world. While your students’ lives might not be super changed as a result of things like the Iran nuclear deal or the trade negotiations with China, at some level, these issues affect all of us, and exploring these connections can be a lesson rich in discovery.

This is what was in my mind as I wrote Globalization: Why We Care About Faraway Events. As you might imagine, research for this book was a deep dive into the innumerable ways countries are connected, from trade policies to political partnerships to environmental agreements. It’s a very tangled web! But the more kids know about these connections, the better equipped they’ll be to make the kinds of decisions they’ll be faced with as tomorrow’s leaders.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: 

To get them started, here are three activities from the book.


Globalization is the great connector, bringing together people, ideas, and more from all around the world. You can learn about these connections simply by studying something from your everyday life.

Pick three items that you use on a daily basis. They could be music you listen to, a T-shirt you wear, the bed you sleep in, the toothpaste you use, or the apple you eat.

For each item, think about the following.

  • Is your item affected by globalization?
  • Where is it made or grown?
  • Where is it shipped to?
  • How is it transported?
  • What laws affect it?
  • Who benefits from it and why?
  • Who suffers from it and why?

Create a map on poster board or in PowerPoint to illustrate the global connections you have found for each object. Present the map and findings to your class.

How are the journey and connections for each item similar? How are they different?

To investigate more, pick a country to research. Write an essay on how globalization has impacted the country, both positively and negatively.


Global trade has many benefits. It lowers the price of goods, increases wages, and fuels economic growth. Yet the global economy has both winners and losers.

To further understand this issue, you can explore the following articles or research some additional information on your own.

“More Wealth, More Jobs, but Not for Everyone: What Fuels the Backlash on Trade”

“The Toughest Questions About Global Trade”

Based on what you learn, consider the effects of global trade on individuals, companies, and governments. For example, think about the effect of global trade on a multinational toy corporation, an American factory worker, a Chinese factory worker, an Indian software engineer, an American chief executive officer, a local toy retailer, the United States government, and the Chinese government.

Who are the winners and losers? Create a chart that shows the effects of global trade on the different groups.

Do you think that increasing global trade will have a positive, negative, or neutral effect on the world overall? What about for the United States? Do you believe that the United States should enter into more free-trade agreements? Or do you believe that trade protectionism is a better strategy? Explain your position.

To investigate more, consider that as globalization changes the economy, local workers and businesses can be hurt by disappearing sales and jobs. What policies can the government put in place to support workers and businesses hurt by globalization?


Many indigenous cultures are facing a battle between traditional ways of life and globalization. As older generations die out, many of the culture’s traditions are dying with them.

Use the internet and other sources to research a specific indigenous culture. You might choose the Maasai of Africa, the Wanniyala-Aetto of Sri Lanka, the Yanomami of South America, or another group of your choosing. Once you have chosen a group to investigate, consider the following.

  • Where does the group traditionally live? What are the climate and environment like?
  • What is their traditional lifestyle? How do they eat and gather food?
  • What tools do they use to get and prepare food?
  • What ceremonies, celebrations, or festivals do they observe?
  • What role does the extended family play?
  • What types of jobs do people typically hold? How do they get around?
  • How are traditions passed from one generation to the next?

Next, research how globalization has impacted these indigenous people and their culture. What changes have occurred in their environment, society, and political systems? What has caused these changes? How have these changes affected the group’s culture, beliefs, and traditions? Prepare a presentation to share what you have learned with your class.

To investigate more, imagine that you were going to live with this group for a week. What items from your culture would you bring with you? Why are these items important to you? How would they help you to live with this indigenous group? What would people from this group think about the items you have brought? Write a diary entry to describe your visit.

Find more resources in the free classroom teaching guide!

Thank you so much, Carla and Nomad Press!

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StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson
Editor: Shelby Alinsky
Published March 20th, 2018 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Summary: Now abridged for YA audiences, this beautifully illustrated companion to celebrated scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s popular podcast and National Geographic Channel TV show is an eye-opening journey for anyone curious about the complexities of our universe.

For decades, beloved astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has interpreted science with a combination of brainpower and charm that resonates with fans everywhere. In 2009, he founded StarTalk, the wildly popular podcast that became an Emmy-nominated talk show on the National Geographic Channel in 2015. Tyson’s pioneering book takes the greatest hits from the airwaves to the page in one smart, richly illustrated compendium for young adult readers. Featuring vivid photography, thought-provoking sidebars, enlightening facts, and fun quotes from science and entertainment luminaries like Bill Nye and Josh Groban, StarTalk reimagines science’s most challenging topics–from how the brain works to the physics of comic book superheroes–in a relatable, humorous way that will attract curious young readers.

Praise: “Most notable throughout the book, as on the original television show, are the connections between science and creativity, art, and wonder. Educational and entertaining, this will engage loyal followers and recruit new fans.”—Booklist

ReviewThis book is everything you would think a book by Neil deGrasse Tyson named after his National Geographic Channel’s late-night talk show and his podcast. Tyson mixes culture, creativity, and science in a fun and interesting way that will suck in readers of all kinds in.

I loved the structure of the book! The mix of Tyson’s answers to science-based questions, fun facts about the topics, extension activities, and all sorts of other fun text features! And the topics are so interesting! Split into space, planet earth, being human, and futures imagined, the text looks at so many interesting topics including going to Mars, evolution, Superman, and Bigfoot!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I love texts like this because they can be used for research or as interest starters or just for fun! This book is perfect for classroom libraries, school libraries, and as a class resource!

Discussion Questions: Almost every page has a discussion question!

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: To learn, Science, Astonomy, Neil deGrasse Tyson

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World War II: From the Rise of the Nazi Party to the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb
Diane C. Taylor
Published May 1st, 2018 by Nomad Press

Summary: Why did the world find itself immersed in another global conflict only two decades after World War I?

World War II: From the Rise of the Nazi Party to the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb introduces kids ages 12 to 15 to the political, military, and cultural forces that shook the globe from 1939 to 1945 and beyond. Middle school students examine the events leading up to, during, and after WWII and the repercussions of these events on populations around the world, from Germany’s invasion of Poland to the resulting domino fall of events that engaged several countries and caused the deaths of 60 million people, including 40 million civilians. They also see how the dark side of Hitler’s ideology was always present, eventually resulting in the Holocaust, the systematic murder of 11 million people, including 6 million Jews and other populations.

About the Author: Diane C. Taylor is a freelance writer whose published works include both fiction and nonfiction. She has written educational material for a nonprofit arts program in Dallas, Texas, and has been an English instructor for students in middle school, high school, and college. Diane lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Author Guest Post: 

“Talking to Kids About World War II”

No event of the twentieth century was as big or as bad as World War II. For six years, from 1939 to 1945, a conflict that started when Germany invaded Poland quickly encompassed all four corners of the globe. No one—neither countries nor individuals—sat out this conflict. The political and economic reverberations of the war were simply too widespread to be ignored.

Like it or not, there was no such thing as being a disinterested party to World War II.

I think the same can be said as it pertains to teaching this subject to children. World War II fundamentally changed the world, and it’s not done affecting us even today. Conflict between Israel and Palestine. Tensions within the European Union. The role of the United Nations. The challenge of caring for displaced persons. The nuclear arms race. Just listen to the news and you’ll hear about scores of international issues that trace their origins back to the Second World War.

If all the world is a stage, then World War II is the de facto backdrop of the ongoing drama. This is why teaching about World War II and the Holocaust is a crucial part of raising future generations who can solve problems that were created before these kids were even born.

But how do you explain something as monstrous—and as monstrously complex—as World War II to a 12-year-old child?

That was the foremost question on my mind the entire time I was writing World War II: From the Rise of Hitler to the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb. To my immense relief, I discovered that World War II can be dismantled and reassembled into a coherent narrative that a young reader can understand. If you take one piece of the story at a time, and strip it down to its barest essentials, you can put it all back together in a way that makes sense of the mass insanity that was the Second World War.

By working to ensure our kids know the history and consequences of the greatest conflict in human history, we can do our best to avoid future wars on the same scale.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: 

Hands-on activities are another great way to make the experiences of World War II feel relevant and important to teenagers. Try one of these!

Prevent Starvation

Throughout World War II, starvation was a constant concern. Food was scarce everywhere. As a result, people frequently planted vegetable gardens in any available outdoor space.

Form a group with friends or classmates and take a walk around your neighborhood. Your goal is to figure out where you can grow food.

  • How much land is available? Do homes have front or back yards? Are there parks or medians that you can use?
  • Is the available terrain easy to garden? Is it hilly or flat? Heavily or sparsely wooded? Do you have access to water?
  • Does the soil lend itself to gardening? How can you tell?

Draw up a map of where you will plant your gardens and indicate what you will grow. Can you calculate how much food you will produce or how many people will you be able to feed?

To investigate more, find out as much as you can about where you food comes from right now. Is much of it grown locally, or is it transported from far away? If the food distribution system in your area were disrupted, what products would stop showing up in the grocery store?

The President Speaks

On December 8, 1941, Americans tuned their radios to hear President Roosevelt declare war against Japan. You can listen to that address at this website.

Or try searching these words together: Roosevelt, congress, war.

In an era before television, this is most likely how you would have experienced this historic event.

Discuss your reaction to FDR’s speech among your classmates or friends, or write a journal entry.

  • What is the atmosphere surrounding this speech?
  • Did you learn anything new by listening to this broadcast?
  • What is your impression of President Roosevelt?

Would you have chosen to take the United States to war, or would you have followed the lead of Rep. Jeanette Rankin, who voted against the war? Compose and deliver a brief speech of your own, outlining your reasons for either going to war or staying out of the fight. Assume your audience is made up of friends or classmates.

To investigate more, click here to listen or watch speeches that other presidents of the United States have given. Contrast and compare one of those speeches to the one you listened to from President Roosevelt. How do they differ in style, language, and substance? How are they similar?

Find more resources in the free classroom teaching guide!

Thank you so much, Diane and Nomad Press!

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The Space Race: How the Cold War Put Humans on the Moon
From the Nomad Press Inquire and Investigate Series
Author: Matthew Brenden Wood
Illustrated by: Sam Carbaugh

Summary: What do you see when you look up at the night sky? The potential for amazing discoveries and scientific advancement? During the 1950s and 60s, some people also saw a place that needed to be claimed.

In The Space Race: How the Cold War Put Humans on the Moon, middle school students will explore the bitter rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union that served as fuel for the fire that catapulted rockets into the great unknown of the next frontier-space. While Neil Armstrong will always be remembered as the first person to set foot on the moon, the people and events behind this accomplishment populate a fascinating tale of politics, science, technology, and teamwork that resulted in what might be the greatest accomplishment of the twentieth century.

About the Author: Matthew Brenden Wood is a math and science teacher with a passion for STEAM education. He is also an avid amateur astronomer and astrophotographer. Wood holds a bachelor’s degree in astronomy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

Author Guest Post: 

“Take a Trip to the Moon!”

What pops into your head when you think about the Space Race? Most people probably think of Neil Armstrong’s famous line, “That’s one small step…” Or perhaps they think of the sound of Sputnik’s beep as it circled the globe. But that’s only a part of the amazing story of a race that started more than two decades before Neil and Buzz left their bootprints in the lunar dust, even before President Kennedy declared that the United States would send people to the moon and return them safely to Earth.

The path to the moon started at the end of World War II, as the United States and Soviet Union eyed each other warily across what became known as the Iron Curtain. New and fearsome weapons such as the atomic bomb and the Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile were front-page news as both nations looked to outdo the other.

The West viewed the Soviets as a backwards nation, lagging far behind in technology, education, and industry. However, everything changed with the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957. People around the world marveled at the feat, and a new fear of communism swept across America. How had the Soviets beaten the Americans into space? What would they do next? How would the United States respond?

The launch of the world’s first artificial satellite was the firing of the starting gun in the race to the moon—it was also a new, dangerous development in the early days of the Cold War. Not only did the Soviets have a rocket that might carry a person into space, but that same rocket could carry an atomic bomb to any place on Earth. Suddenly, the United States was behind, and needed to catch up—fast. The race was on.

I wrote The Space Race: How the Cold War Put Humans on the Moon to take kids on the journey through the Space Race and the backdrop of the Cold War. For kids interested in history, it’s a look at how the relationship between the United States and Soviet Union shaped the world we live in today, from North Korea and Cuba to Russia and China. For those interested in space, it’s a window into the early days of space exploration and the incredible accomplishments on the way to the moon.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Here are some activities to get your kids thinking about the space race!


The Cold War and Space Race were very important events in history. People around the world lived through the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, and millions tuned in to witness humanity’s first steps on a different world. Do you know someone who lived through these events?

  • Interview a family member or friend who experienced the Cold War and Space Race up close.

Questions to consider include the following:

  • How was life during the Cold War different from today?
    • Did it affect their everyday life?
    • Were they ever afraid during the Cold War? Why or why not?
    • Did they watch the moon landing? How did they and their friends and family react?
    • How did it feel to watch such an important moment in human history? Did they know how special it was at the time?

To investigate more, present their story however you think best represents their experience. You could write an essay, create a presentation, film a documentary—it’s up to you!


Protecting an astronaut from the dangers of space travel is a difficult task. The early spacecraft used by both space programs were small, cramped capsules designed with only one thing in mind—bringing the passenger back safely to Earth. Can you do the same? Here’s your challenge: design a “space capsule” to protect a raw egg from the forces of gravity!

  • Assemble the materials you have on hand. What can you use that could protect an egg?
    • Design your space capsule. How will you use your materials? What is the best way to protect your “eggstronaut”?
    • Assemble your craft and test it (you can try using a hard-boiled egg first) by dropping it from shoulder height. Make any changes needed.
    • Try dropping your capsule with its passenger from differing heights. How does your design hold up? What is the biggest drop your eggstronaut can survive?

To investigate more, challenge others to a contest. Compare your strategies and designs. What materials and ideas work best?

Find more resources in the free classroom teaching guide!

Thank you so much, Matthew & Nomad Press!

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