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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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Our World: A First Book of Geography
Author: Sue Lowell Gallion; Illustrator: Lisk Feng
Published: July 15, 2020 by Phaidon Press

Summary: A read-aloud introduction to geography for young children that, when opened and folded back, creates a freestanding globe

Children are invited to identify and experience the Earth’s amazing geography through rhyming verse and lush illustrations: from rivers, lakes, and oceans deep, to valleys, hills, and mountains steep. Secondary text offers more detailed, curriculum-focused facts and encourages readers to consider their own living environments, making the reading experience personal yet set within a global backdrop. This informative homage to Earth is sure to inspire readers to learn more about their planet – and to engage with the world around them.

ReviewOh, how I love this book! It is very cleverly designed. My sons have decided that they will alternate having it in their rooms each week, so it was a hit in my household. The book opens to form a globe! The information within the book is educational for both kids and adults. For instance, I learned about the different temperatures of deserts. Very cool! The book is marketed to ages 2-5, but my almost 7-year-old found it fascinating and learned new information (as did I!). I think other elementary schoolers would also really enjoy this book.

Each page features a theme of information and artworking, like a living environment or the rivers, lakes, and oceans. It’s packed with interesting facts on the thick, sturdy board book pages. This book would make a great gift to a teacher or child. I recommend it highly!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers could pair this book with a unit on geography. Students might each take a different page and research further the topic of the page. Alternatively, kids might design their own three-dimensional books using this one as their mentor text. For instance, they might design a book based on a planet or some other theme. I am hoping for more books in this style!

Discussion Questions: Which was your favorite page? Why? What did you learn on the page? What other information could you research about the topic?; How do the pages work together to teach us about our world?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Love: Any nonfiction books about the geography and our world; interactive books

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**Thank you to Wendy Kitts and Frannie Gordon for introducing me to this book and providing a copy for review!**

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Build a Castle: 64 Slot-Together Cards for Creative Fun
Author: Pail Farrell
Published: April 7th 2020 by Pavilion Children’s

Summary: Turrets, ramparts, windows, walls, and more–create your own medieval masterpiece with the first in a new series of graphic-designed building cards.

This pack contains sixty-four cards (4 x 2¾ inches) of a variety of graphic designs. Clever paper engineering allows you to slot the cards together, building up and out in whichever way you like! Also included is a short ten-page booklet, with descriptions of the card designs and suggestions of stacking methods. The instructions tell you how to build a castle, or you can let your imagination run riot and design your own!

Renowned illustrator Paul Farrell has designed these cards in his bold, colorful graphic style–turning the image of a castle into a work of art.

ReviewBuilding, building, building. My three kids love to build. I am always looking for something new and different. When I heard about Build a Castle, I knew it would be a huge hit in my house, and (spoiler alert), it was.

The cards come in a thick cardboard box that is very inviting. The pictures on the cover give kids ideas (if they need a sort of mentor text to get started.

I was pleasantly surprised by the long informational guide within the box. It provides a lot of neat details for kids to read and learn all about castles. I found it cool, myself, even though I know I am not the target audience. I suspect other adults will find joy in this box.

Here’s a closeup of one of the informational sections about castles. Younger kids might slot the castle together haphazardly, but older kids would enjoy choosing intentionally the placement of the items of their castle. For instance, a battlement might be better placed at the top of the castle to allow for safety from invaders from far away!

Building!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would make for a great classroom station. Or perhaps teachers would enjoy using it for fast finishers or for a free learning time slot. My son says that his classroom as a free learning time, and everyone fights over the iPad. Build a Castle would be a great competitor for the iPad. I know that my kids would enjoy building a castle just as much as using the well-loved tablet.

Discussion Questions: What did you learn as you did the activities?; What parts of the castle do you find most interesting? Why?; How do the different parts of the castle together?

Cool Video to Show How It Works: 

Read This If You Loved: Any nonfiction books about castles; interactive books and kits; legos; building; architecture

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

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