Archive for Nonfiction

The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry

Written by Danna Smith
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

            Falconry has enjoyed a long history of legends and stories alike. This stunningly beautiful tale is told in verse from the viewpoint of a young girl hunting with father and their hawk. The story is told sequentially during the day, throughout a hunt and concludes with putting the hawk to bed in its mew at day’s end.

            The spectacular acrylic gouache illustrations bring alive medieval castle life amid authentic panoramas of European countryside. All views of the hawk, as well as of its prey are so realistic as to make the reader think it is a photograph. Upon reading the detailed illustrator’s note it all makes sense as, Ibatoulline, was raised by a falconer father and totally understands this topic. The hawk appears to be gliding right across the cover of the book.

            On each page a nonfiction text box clearly explains details of falconry using the proper terms. All nonfiction text is presented in italics, which helps young readers distinguish it from the fictional tale. Teachers, librarians and parents will commend the publisher for this important design feature.

      Curriculum standards can be met in the areas of literature, geography, history, animal life and the arts well into middle school.  While the book is also a beautiful read aloud for kindergarten or grade one. Teachers of grade two or grade three will use it in teaching about falconry as an ancient hunting sport, as an introduction to the study of medieval times or as a science book about falcons.  It is a story children and adults will want to read again and again. It is highly recommended for all school and public libraries.

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  • Title:  The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry
  • Author:  Danna Smith
  • Illustrator:  Bagram Ibatoulline
  • Publisher:  Candlewick, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 40 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-7636-7992-7
  • Genre: Picture Book/Nonfiction Connection
  • Grade level:  PreK to 3
  • Extras: Index, Related Readings List, Related Internet sites, detailed illustrator note.

Over in the Grasslands: On an African Savanna

Written by Marianne Berkes
Illustrated by Jill Dubin

The latest installment of the Marianne Berkes series has a lot going on. It is a counting book, reinforced by both the numbers of baby animals and the lineup of African gourd rattles. It is poetry, set to the rhythm of the traditional song “Over in the Meadow.” It is for learning about the African savanna and the animals that inhabit that area. It is hunting for nearly hidden animals in the pictures. It teaches about the song itself and about the techniques used by the illustrator.

Over in the grasslands
Where the acacia trees grew
Lived a tall mother giraffe
And her little calves two.

Altogether, first or second graders get to learn about twenty animals. Some of them may seem familiar from the zoo, – zebra, giraffe, elephant – but many are probably animals the readers have never seen – redbilled oxpeckers, naked mole rats, leopard tortoises. And none of them live your backyard. In the last pages, Berkes writes about the many themes used, including the ten different adjectives and the different baby names used. She also mentions many places to learn more, and she was careful to expalin that the numbers of babies each animal can have is fictional. Dubin writes about her collage technique, how important the different papers are, and what inspired the details.

A great addition to the counting library.

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  • over-in-the-grasslandsTitle: Over in the Grasslands: On an African Savanna
  • Author: Marianne Berkes
  • Illustrator: Jill Dubin
  • Publisher: Dawn Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Nature, Geography, Counting, Poetry, Music
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-568-4
  • Extras: Fact or Fiction?, Life on the African Savanna, Who Are the “Hidden” Animals in the Grasslands?, About the Animals, Tips from the Author, Tips from the Illustrator, Over in the Grasslands [music]

A Moon of My Own

Written by Jennifer Rustgi
Illustrated by Ashley White

Inspired by the notion that the moon follows us wherever we go, this new book would work well as a read alone or as a part of a unit on the Moon or the seven continents. Each two-page spread shows a child near a famous landmark, shown in silhouette, with the moon in the sky. This gives the book a mysterious quality kids will love. The landmarks are scattered across all seven continents: the Eiffel Tower in Europe; the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal in Asia; Serengeti National Park in Africa; Sequoia National Park in North America; the Amazon Rainforest in South America; the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; a penguin colony in Antarctica; and the Aurora Borealis above the Arctic Circle. The Moon is shown in progressive phases. The gorgeous illustrations are accompanied by simple questions and observations, such as “And when I’m tired, you’re there to guide me home.”

The end material suggests many ways to learn more about the Moon and its phases. It includes facts and activities, such as creating a Moon journal and demonstrating how Moon phases happen.  The resources included are both websites and books. Great for learning about the world around you.

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  • a-moon-of-my-ownTitle: A Moon of My Own
  • Author: Jennifer Rustgi
  • Illustrator: Ashley White
  • Publisher: Dawn Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Nature, Geography
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-572-1
  • Extras: Wonderful Places Around the World, Seven Continents of the World, Explore More – For Teachers and Parents, Recommended Resources

About Marine Mammals: A Guide for Children

Written by Cathryn Sill
Illustrated by John Sill

After reading this book, the reader will have a good handle on the variety of mammals that live in the oceans, as well as what makes an animal a mammal. All mammals need to come to the surface to breathe. They all give birth to live young, whether in the ocean or on shore. They all nurse their young. All are warm blooded. Some live in warm water, while some live in arctic zones. Some are predators, while some eat plants. Some are small, while some are huge.

John Sill’s vibrant yet subtle watercolors let the reader know exactly how these animals look in their natural environments. Especially instructive is the plate with the blue whale. He includes short-beaked common dolphins for scale.

The afterword and resources give second graders a great place to begin further learning. This and all the books in the “A Guide for Children” are valuable tools for elementary school classrooms.

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 About Marine Mammals

  • About Marine Mammals: A Guide for Children
  • Author: Cathryn Sill
  • Illustrator: John Sill
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, August 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Animals, Nature
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-906-3
  • Extras: Afterword, Glossary, Suggestions for Further Reading, Resources

Fabulous Frogs

Written by Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by Tim Hopgood

Who knew there are over 5,000 kinds of frogs or that they were so fun to learn about? Each page of this great, beautifully-illustrated book introduces a new and unique species. The goliath frog of western Africa is the largest frog in the world. The smallest lives in Papua New Guinea. The Darwin grog of South America has the pointiest nose. The striped rocket from Australia can jump up to sixteen feet. There are flying frogs and hairy frogs – though both are misnomers. And poisonous frogs in bright colors. Some make nests for their eggs. Some hold the eggs in their mouths. Some frogs never leave the water. Some rarely leave their holes beneath the earth. Many other species are illustrated.

This text is great for use among second graders in a unit about the environment or amphibians. The author lists several excellent websites for learning more about frogs.

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  • Fabulous FrogsTitle: Fabulous Frogs
  • Author: Martin Jenkins
  • Illustrator: Tim Hopgood
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Animals, Nature, Environment
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8100-5

Whose Hands Are These? A Community Helper Guessing Book

Written by Miranda Paul
Illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell

With delightful rhyme, the author creates a guessing game for eleven different jobs vital and familiar to all communities.

          But hands can help – so raise yours please!

          Can you guess?

          Whose hands are these?

Each occupation is described perfectly for kids, starting with the hoeing and sowing, soiled hands of farmers. Then on to the sticky hands of cooks and the peacekeeping hands of police. Scientists, potters, news reporters, mechanics, architects, referees, physicians, and teachers are also highlighted. In the end, readers are asked what their hands will do.

Powell’s realistic, but entertaining illustrations give life to the occupations described by Paul. Each section shows vignettes of hands doing the jobs, and the tools used, that the reader needs to guess. At the end of each section, there is a full-page depiction of several individuals doing the job.

Second graders should be able to handle most of the reading activities, especially in context. This would also be a fun read aloud with younger kids, who would undoubtedly love to shout the answers.

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  • whose handsTitle: Whose Hands Are These? A Community Helper Guessing Book
  • Author: Miranda Paul
  • Illustrator: Luciana Navarro Powell
  • Published: Millbrook Press Trade, January, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 4
  • Genre: Community
  • ISBN: 978-1467752145
  • Extras: Many Kinds of Helping Hands goes into more detail about each job.

Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed

Written by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Amy June Bates

Ketzel was just a kitten when the man, Moshe, found her cold and lonely on the street. They became great friends as Moshe worked on his musical compositions. Moshe was stumped after he received notice of the Paris New Music Review contest to highlight short compositions – less than a minute. As Moshe pondered the music in his head, Ketzel walked across the piano keyboard and picked out a beautiful tune. Moshe wrote down what he heard. It took twenty-one seconds to play. He sent it to the contest organizers. Ketzel didn’t win, but her tune got a certificate of special mention and was played at a concert, which Ketzel attended with Moshe. Her presence was revealed when she responded to her name at the introduction of the piece. Ketzel also got a royalty check for the composition, enough to buy several cans of cat food.

The illustrator has captured the whimsy of this great story.

Based on a true story, this lovely book is easily read independently by second graders looking to strengthen literacy skills. It’s a great reminder that talent can come in small packages. That talent only needs to be recognized.

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  • KetzelTitle: Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed
  • Author: Lesléa Newman
  • Illustrator: Amy June Bates
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: History, Music
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6555-5
  • Extras: Author’s Note

Where Did My Clothes Come From?

Written by Chris Butterworth
Illustrated by Lucia Gaggliotti


Answering the title question, this informative book is surprisingly light and entertaining. The author highlights each piece of clothing most children wear and goes into quite a bit of detail on the origins of the main material used for each. Jeans begin as plants, are harvested by tractors and people, and run through a series of processing steps. Each step is skillfully illustrated, including the maturing bolls and the problems of seed extraction. Readers get a look at spinning machines, looms, cutting presses, the individual jeans pieces, and the seamstresses making the final jeans. The author also talks about flax and hemp. Sweaters are often made of wool, sheared from sheep, washed, dried, spun into yarn, and knitted into garments. Wool also comes from other animals. Silk is especially dear and reserved for party dresses. Manufacturers are experts at raising the moths. Fleece is recycled plastic bottles. Rubber is another plant derivative – with a different process, including tapping, molding, rolling, and pressing. The author gives one last push for recycling at the end.

Second grade readers will learn a lot about the world they live in and practice their literacy skills along the way.

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  • Where Did My Clothes Come FromTitle: Where Did My Clothes Come From?
  • Author: Chris Butterworth
  • Illustrator: Lucia Gaggliotti
  • Published: Candlewick Press, August 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Manufacturing, Recycling
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7750-3
  • Extras: Author’s note, bibliography, index

Mighty Mole and Super Soil

Written by Mary Quattlebaum
Illustrated by Chad Wallace

In an underground world unknown to most people, moles thrive. With long, sharp claws, they move heavy objects out of the way and dig quickly through the soil. They encounter rivals for their food – earthworms, insects, snails, slugs, centipedes, and larvae – and many creatures helped by the healthy soil. Predators, such as snakes, are close but rarely a big threat to moles. The soil moles live in is alive with nutrients and microscopic creatures. Moles are even born underground, where they have everything they need. The story is compelling and well-researched, and contains many relevant facts.

Vivid illustrations give a genuine sense of living in the underground. Kids will feel like they’re with the moles – in a comfortable way.

In the “Explore More – For Kids” section, second graders are challenge to think about the world they just learned about. “I’m a reptile that can grow up to six feet long.” A list of super powers demonstrates why the star of the book is called Mighty Mole and is a superhero. In “Explore More – For Teachers and Parents,” learning activities are outlined and encouraged. Online resources are cited for more learning and activities.

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  • Mighty MoleTitle: Mighty Mole and Super Soil
  • Author: Mary Quattlebaum
  • Illustrator: Chad Wallace
  • Published: Dawn Publications, September, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, nature
  • ISBN: 978-1584695387
  • Extras: Explore More – For Kids, Explore More – For Teachers and Parents

If You Love Honey: Nature’s Connections

Written by Martha Sullivan
Illustrated by Cathy Morrison


Rather than approaching one concept in isolation, this new book shows the reader how everything affects or is affected by other things and demonstrates the delicate balance of our planet. Honey is made by honey bees, who gather nectar from dandelions. Dandelions are protected by ladybugs, who also love goldenrod. Goldenrod attracts butterflies, who also love clover. Clover needs rich soil, provided in part by earthworms. Mushrooms help speed up the earthworm’s work. Mushrooms work in tandem with oak trees, whose leaves hide many creatures and whose acorns feed are planted by birds. Birds also eat berries, which are pollinated by the honey bees, bringing the story full circle.

Throughout the story, master illustrator Morrison sets the scene and shows that the items discussed in the text are even less isolated than imagined. Bears examine the honey repository. A farm and other flowers are near the dandelions. Sheep, protected by a dog, graze near the goldenrod. Rabbits much on the clover. Tree roots, baby bunnies, a lizard, and a toad appear in the rich soil. People work and play.

Second graders can learn so much about the nature in their backyards from this book. Literacy skills will be enhanced by the wonderful visuals and scientific concepts. Read aloud in a classroom, students can spot the details and discuss the connections.

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  • Honey_Paperback.inddTitle: If You Love Honey: Nature’s Connections
  • Author: Martha Sullivan
  • Illustrator: Cathy Morrison
  • Published: Dawn Publications, September 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Nature
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-533-2
  • Extras: Sweet Connections; From Nectar to Honey; Author and Illustrator Biographies; Other Books, E-books, and Interactive Book Apps
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