Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cybil Nonfiction Picture Book Reviews

Looking Closely Inside the Garden by Frank Serafini
Learning seems to take place most often when children are deeply engaged in a task. Serafini sets up his book in such a way that the reader is drawn into thinking about and analyzing pictures of plants and animals and objects in a garden.

Each close up picture is followed by a complete picture and a page long description of the pictured animal or plant or object. The informational text presented is composed of bits and pieces of data that children might like to know.

I tried the book out with a small group of kindergarten through second grade children yesterday and they universally enjoyed trying to guess what the object was, especially when they were correct. The accompanying text was of a length was satisfactory for even the youngest students.

I wasn’t sure exactly what the author meant by a garden, as he included (sorry…spoilers ahead) both flowers and vegetables in his photographs. Perhaps he meant to include many kinds of gardens, though he provides a full picture of a flower garden only.

I could find no references for the informational text though the author explains a little about his love for photography and his interest in nature in a note at the back of the book.

It’s Moving Day! By Pamela Hickman
A burrow in the woods provides a home for many different animals over the years. That’s the idea behind It’s Moving Day.

The repetition of an animal moving out followed by a new animal moving in is sure to be a draw for children. The chorus, “It’s moving day!” is perfect for young elementary children.

The drawings are clear and help explain the text. The final page, with a short paragraph of informational text about each animal, provides more information for readers who would like to know a little more.

There is no source material given, though it is mentioned in the author’s bio on the back jacket flap that the author is a naturalist.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant
I was expected to call this a junior high book rather than an elementary book, but I was wrong. Though I think of William Carlos Williams as a poet students might read in junior high or high school, this book showed me that he might have appeal to younger kids as well.

The illustrations closely compliment the text making for a book that exudes the spirit of Williams in every way. The author goes beyond “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This is Just to Say” to include poem after poem written by Williams that will be enjoyed by younger children.

The biographical information which is the focus of the book is presented in a way that children will identify with, showing Williams’ activities as a young boy and as he was becoming a poet.

The book concludes with timelines of both Williams’ life and world history during Williams’ life. Both the author and the illustrator have notes explaining their rationales for writing and illustrating the books the way they did. There is also a list of books and websites for a reader to go if they want more information. All the quoted information in the book is referenced in a short list near the end of the book.

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne
I feel like I just came back from a lovely dive in the ocean with Jacques Cousteau.

Manfish is the story of Cousteau’s life, as he went from a young child who loved to invent and build to a man who created the aqualung and explored and filmed the deepest mysteries of the ocean.

The story is told in a way that is both simple and revealing about Cousteau’s life. The artwork, with its dark blue background and mysterious appearance, adds to the feeling of otherworldliness that Cousteau’s life seems to present. The foldout page brings a sense of depth to the pictures.

In the author’s note at the back of the book, the author provides a list of places to go for more information, though it was not clear whether or not these were the places the other obtained her information.

Farmer George Plants a Nation by Peggy Thomas
Even very young children know that George Washington was the first president of the United States. But how many people know of Washington’s life as a farmer?

Washington, it seems, was quite the innovator in the world of farming. He created a plow that saved his workers time and money. He experimented with fertilizers and types of farm products to maximize production. He encouraged the use of mules to replace the weaker horses and oxen as farm animals.

Looking at Washington as a farmer shows how the same strong character traits that made Washington such a successful leader made him also a successful farmer.
The paintings used to illustrate the book are lavish. The illustrator even provides as note to explain the process he used to make the illustrations feel authentic.
The bibliography at the end of the book is extensive.

Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone
The book has a great first page. The reader is immediately drawn into thinking about how one might feel if one was not allowed to do something simply because of one’s gender. It is a situation young children in America have never had to face. That is the challenge of the book: the author must find a way to show the miseries of the world as it was before Elizabeth Cady Stanton arrived to change things, miseries unknown to most of today’s young readers. Stone does this.

Stanton shocked the world when she met with a group of other women and proposed that women are equal to men. It took many years for her proposals to be enacted into law, but Stanton never let fear or the condemnation of others stop her.

The text of the book stops with Stanton’s proposal to allow women to vote, but the rest of Stanton’s life is related in a brief summary at the end of the book. The author provides a list of sources here as well.

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