Posted in awards, nonfiction, picture books, reader's advisory, travel

SLJ’s Day of Dialog, 2017

Photos & tweets from Day of Dialog, with a few comments and observations in between. Moderated my very first panel of picture book creators – -What an amazing day!


Posted in Book reviews, nonfiction

The Birth of an American Terrorist Group


That’s the subtitle of Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s 2010 book They Called Themselves the KKK, one of the many books that has been on my mind lately. I remember hearing the author speak that year about her research for the book and attendance at a weekend-long Klan meeting. Her description was vivid and chilling, and is well worth reading — scroll down past the awards and stars the book received to find it.

Posted in environment, nonfiction, science, storytime

Under the Kapok Tree

Or, what happens after a children’s librarian visits the rainforest?

robinI first explored a trees theme in Wonderworks in the Spring of 2013:

Yesterday we revisited the theme with a different twist. On a trip to Costa Rica the previous week, I saw a kapok (ceiba) tree. Of course I’m familiar with Lynne Cherry’s The Great Kapok Tree(Harcourt Brace…

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Posted in engineering, nonfiction, science, storytime

Space, Rockets & Gravity


The morning of this storytime, Wednesday, March 11 at 11:30 a.m., I checked the NASA site looking for a good video clip to show to accompany the books I had chosen. Turns out, NASA was conducting a solid rocket booster test, broadcast live, at 11:30 a.m.! I couldn’t believe my luck! So I pulled up the link on the new SmartBoard, Internet was working beautifully, and had the NASA TV live…

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Posted in environment, international books, nature, nonfiction, storytelling

A trip down the Amazon

The Great Snake: Stories from the Amazon (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2008) is a fascinating collection of nine stories interwoven with factual details of  author Sean Taylor’s travels through the Amazon rainforest. The inclusion of these elements sets the stories in context and makes the book work as nonfiction as well. Taylor’s descriptions  convey an intense sense of place, detailing the flora, fauna, smells, and the environment of the rain forest and the people he meets and swaps stories with. Taylor’s source notes are a joy, listing the individual from whom he heard the story, the place, and often other versions. An endnote from the author explains the current destruction of the rain forest and the risks this environment is facing. The only additional thing I would have liked was a map of the locations mentioned.

Taylor has visited the rainforest multiple times and is married to a Brazilian. Illustrator Fernando Vilela lives in Brazil and his work has won awards from the Brazilian branch of IBBY. Villela’s woodcut and print illustrations wonderfully complement the text, often weaving around it, enclosing the text, or becoming part of the story. You can get a sense of their intricacy and vibrancy by viewing the Google preview of the book:

Here is an excerpt of one of the factual notes, to give you a feel of the sensory descriptive language Taylor uses:

The river is a great brown mirror. In it I can see the blue of the sky, the white of the clouds, and, far off,  the green of the forest. Perhaps a quarter of all living species in the world live here in the Amazon. There are spiders as big as baseball caps. There are monkeys which weigh little more than chickens’ eggs. There are frogs which moo like cows. There are fish which jump two metres out of the water to snatch beetles off branches.  There are butterflies so bright that you can see them a mile away.

     Sometimes I think people here tell so many extraordinary stories because they are surrounded by so many extraordinary creatures. Sometimes I think it is because so much mystery lies in the water and the rainforest. (p. 12)

I especially appreciate the combination of factual information with stories from the people of the rain forest. A book which will help cultivate a sense of wonder.

For more great non-fiction recommendations, check out Nonfiction Monday.

Posted in environment, nature, nonfiction, picture books, science

Under the Sea

Another voyage of the imagination from the author of Redwoods. This time a little girl picks a book off the library shelf on Coral Reefs, and as she begins to read, coral begins to grow on library tables in the Reading Room of the New York Public Library. The ceiling mural even features fish, and water seeps across the floor at first, then flows in with a tidal wave on the following pages.  Now she is swimming, book still in hand, around the coral reefs, exploring the amazing variety of life that makes a home here along with the reader. The text is factual, and while the illustrations do support the text, they also extend it in a whole other narrative as well. Predator relationships, like those of the whale shark and reef fish, as well as symbiotic partnerships, like that between the coral and the algae that makes the reefs possible, are highlighted.

The details in this book are extraordinary, from pencil sketches of different species of coral and reef inhabitants on the endpapers to the adjacent books on the library shelf (including Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and The Voyages of the Beagle, among others). An endnote explains the very real dangers that threaten these stunning parts of our ecosystem today, along with a list of things you can actually do to help. A stunning non-fiction picture book that elementary age children will enjoy. Older readers can delve into the details and hopefully be inspired to read more about coral reefs.

See the artist/author’s website for a preview:

Posted in environment, nonfiction, photography, science

The Air up There

Amazing photographs and a very accessible narrative by wildlife photographer Robert Haas combine in I Dreamed of Flying Like a Bird: My Adventures Photographing Wild Animals from a Helicopter (National Geographic, 2010.) Though at first the photographers’ job seems quite glamorous, all of the gear, safety precautions and cold made me appreciate the task more. Now I might like to accompany him on a trip, but don’t have a desire to be an aerial photographer, hanging out of a plane, wearing two safety harnesses and multiple layers of clothes, even a ski mask, to stay warm. I’m glad someone had this dream, because the pictures are amazing. I find it really interesting how a different physical perspective also gives different perspective to our thoughts and knowledge about these animals. The shapes the flamingo flocks take is amazing (bording on unbelievable) and the great shots of ocean animals were surprising as well.

This book is a visual treat that children will enjoy looking at and perhaps be inspired to learn more — about a certain type of animal, environment, or photography. Read more about Robert Haas on the National Geographic web site:

Posted in nature, nonfiction

All about Wombats

I’ve been a fan of Jackie French’s Diary of a Wombat since it was published in 2003 (Clarion). The pithy, droll text and charming illustrations work wonderfully together to create an incredibly funny and appealing book. Bruce Whatley’s wombat is adorable — somehow he manages to convey real personality through posture and expression, given more emphasis by a simple white background. Wombats don’t do much during the day, as they’re nocturnal. They do scratch a lot and like to take dust baths. Oh, and dig. Lots of digging. Told from the womat’s point of view, this book is great read-aloud with a child or with a group.

Much more recently, in 2010, Diary of a Baby Wombat (Clarion, 2010) arrived. I was delighted when I saw a sequel and moments later, dubious. Could they really create something as charming and sweet and laugh out loud funny as the first? Happily, the answer is yes. In this story the baby wombat meets the newcomer to the human household . . . another baby. They play together quite well. Bruce Whatley’s pictures are once again practically perfect. I love the expressiveness of the wombats. Just the one open eye of the mother in a picture where they are supposed to be sleeping, but the baby is wakeful is so effective. The plain white background accentuates the poses and movement of the main characters of the baby wombat, mother wombat, and human baby. A delight.

Before you get too sentimental about wombats, or wonder how French knows so much about them, read the non-fiction companion to these books, How to Scratch a Wombat: Where to Find it . . . What to Feed it . . . Why it Sleeps All Day (Clarion, 2009), also illustrated by Whatley. French relates much of her knowledge about wombats, gained from years of living with them and serving as a rehabilitator for injured or orphaned wombats. You’ll get a clear sense of the delights, oddities, and nuisances of living with wombats.  When adding on to their house, a wombat decided to use a neglected burrow slated to be under the front steps. French had to choose whether to change the plans of the house or to move the wombat. Knowing wombats, she decided to change the building plans!  French’s philosophy is that “it is a privilege to live alongside wild animals.” (p. 85) The writing is factual, funny, engaging and personal all at the same time. And there is still much we don’t know about wombats. I enjoyed learning more about wombats, would love to get to see one (or even scratch one) in person, and I’m grateful there are people like French willing to share their environment with them, despite the challenges they sometimes poses. You can find out more about wombats, get updates from French’s garden, and see photos of the wombats at French’s website:

Posted in biography, nonfiction, picture books, science

Becoming Jane

Every once in a while a book comes along that touches your heart. Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown 2011) is one of those books for me. From the title page, which shows a photographs of a young girl, wide smile on her face, holding her stuffed toy chimpanzee, this book grabbed my attention. Though it doesn’t say officially until the last page, this is Jane Goodall. Somehow I felt that. (Her picture is on the back cover as well.) I can’t quite explain why I was so moved by this image. It was many things: I wondered how much it says about how we parent; who gave Jane that chimpanzee? was a stuffed chimpanzee a usual toy in the 1940s? how do some people know from such a young age exactly what they want to do? how does environment shape us? And the adult in me reflects on how Jane Goodall has changed our view of chimpanzees and continues to lead the call for conservation today. What a difference she has made by following her dreams. All of these thoughts at once. I was overwhelmed.

Some of Jane’s sketches and notes from her childhood — games she made up for the Alligator Club are included. The paper is thick and heavy, and even a little yellowed at the edges. McDonnell’s watercolor illustrations are delightful, with a winsome, determined young girl and charming animals. The illustrator also incorporated ornamental engravings (leaves, maps, astronomy diagrams and more) from the 19th and 20th centuries on the pages with text, which add depth and visual interest. There’s plenty to pour over here. Another sketch of Goodall’s at the very end shows Jane sleeping in a tree, with a chimp sleeping in her tent!

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeannette Winter(Schwartz & Wade, 2011) goes into a little more depth about Goodall’s life. This introductory biography is great for elementary age readers.  The story details how young Jane carefully watched all the animals in her world, big and small. I love the example of the robin, who slowly grows comfortable enough to build a nest on Jane’s bookshelf! The small book is beautifully designed. After Goodall travels to Africa, Winter’s illustrations break the confines of a small central box to flow across the pages. I loved how the reader could spot the chimps hiding, before they were willing to show themselves to Goodall. The paper is thick and heavy. The text is deceptively simple; it is clear Winter has chosen her words carefully. The prose is nicely spaced with short length, spacing between the words, and could probably be read by a beginning reader (would love to see this book considered for the Geisel Award!)

Both books describe Goodall’s childhood love of the outdoors, her constant companion, Jubilee, and her dreams of Africa. Winter’s biography takes us further, adding details of her remarkable scientific observations at Gombe. We get to meet David Greybeard. Winter descibes Goodall’s first night at Gombe: “Jane lay awake listening to new sounds – the croak of a frog, the hum of crickets, the laugh of a hyena, the hoot of an owl – and looking up at the stars. She knew she was Home.”


You can find out more about Jane Goodall at her website: and from her own writings about her work, including My Life with the Chimpanzees.

In this CNN interview from April 2011, Goodall talks about Jubilee, her childhood stuffed animal, that she still has.

Posted in environment, nature, nonfiction, science

Let’s Go Outside!

These two picture books are perfect for encouraging young children to explore nature and observe the natural world around them. You don’t have to travel somewhere — you can explore right in your own backyard, neighborhood or park. Insect Detective is by Steve Voake, with illustrations by Charlotte Voake (Candlewick, 2010) in her usual appealing pen and watercolor style. The font is large and friendly, with ample white space, and other factual details in smaller print. The text encourages children to look closely to discover what is going  on right in their own backyard.
 Bugs for Lunch by Marjory Facklam (Charlesbridge, 1999) has a short rhyming text that reveals what creatures might enjoy eating bugs for lunch (birds, fish, turtles, frogs, etc.). There’s plenty of child appeal with the engaging rhythm of the text and the concept itself, which provides a perspective many young children may not have previously considered. Brightly colored illustrations by Sylvia Long add to the appeal. Use this one in storytime with finger rhymes such as “I Had a Little Turtle” and “Five Green and Speckled Frogs” — most delicious bugs indeed!
 Have fun exploring!