Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Non Fiction Books for Kids Really Can be Fun

Ok, the dreaded non-fiction books for kids.  Yes .... I am going there.  I have to say that kids do love the weird and strange animal books, the funny fact books and some of the history of war books, but sadly these are not the books I am talking about.  I am talking about the straight up non-fiction books, that tell the story of real people and events.  These are the books that include facts, dates, definitions and places.  I know that many kids (and frankly this adult) shudder at the thought of reading these books.  They lack imagination, exciting narrative and the leap from reality.

But sadly we can't give in to our temptation to run from these stories.  With the new common core standards being implemented nation wide, kids will be reading more and more non fiction.  We are trying to prepare our children to become literate in a world were they are required to become responsible citizens, prepare for careers, and better understand the real challenges that face the nations around us.  As a result they need to be able to understand and use evidence to come to reasonable conclusions and non fiction is a wonderful vehicle to help them develop these skills.

Happily, non fiction continues to get better and better for children. The stories are more compelling and are written in a way that will engage kids.  But this genre is not always going to appeal to kids immediately.  They need to develop this skill set, and when they do, they will see how exciting and liberating the knowledge gained through books can be.  So encourage your kids to step out of their comfort zone.  I hope this weeks offerings will provide a nice bridge between fiction and non fiction and show kids that what happens in real life can be just as wondrous and compelling as what is made up in a story.

Title:        The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the World

Author:     Mary Losure

Target:      Grades 4 and up

Series:       No

What this book is about:
This book is the true account of how two girls, Elsie and Frances, fooled journalists into thinking they had taken pictures of actual fairies living by the waterfall behind their home.  The story looks at how the girls took the pictures for fun and how they innocently landed in the hands of men trying to prove the theory of fairies.  These pictures became the basis for published articles and the story examines how the girls got caught up in a series of lies that they kept until they were very old women.

Why I love this book:
I find nonfiction a difficult genre, especially for kids.  This book is one of the few that reads well and more like a story than a list of facts.  It kept my interest from start to finish.  I loved how the author put in the pictures which were taken by Elsie and Frances, showing us what the world saw, although their placement was at times awkward in the book, but that is a small thing.

I love how the book shows us how people can get caught up in a lie so easily, even when they consider themselves good and honest, and I think that is a good point of discussion for kids.  Nothing is wrapped up neatly, as is true in real life.

Who this book is for:
This is a lovely nonfiction choice for kids who need to read a book in that genre.

Final thoughts:
Two young girls who fool the world, or did they?  Some may say that even though the pictures are not authentic, there really are little green men running throughout the glade!

To purchase this book, click on the following link to connect to Amazon: The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the World  A portion of each purchase goes back to support this blog.

Title:        Bomb

Author:    Steve Sheinkin

Target:     Grades 6 and up

What this book is about:
This book is a fascinating look at how a discovery in a German lab in 1938, that a uranium atom could split in two, lead to one of the greatest races to make the first atomic bomb.  Germany, Russia and the US knew that the first one to have a weapon of this magnitude, would be the one to win the war.  They devoted scientists and resources to make this happen, and in the case of Russia, quite a few spies to help speed their process along.  This book profiles the US program, their patriotism, their eventual success and their self doubt at what they had accomplished.

Why I love this book:
This story was just fascinating.  I have to say that some of the more suspenseful scenes, where the US attempts to blow up a heavy water plant in Norway controlled by the Germans, were all the more heart stoping because it wasn’t fiction.  This was real life and these were real people, and the outcome could be good or bad.  I was on the edge of my seat.

I must say that there were a lot of characters in the book, and at times I had trouble keeping track.  I would have also liked the pictures scattered throughout the book when they were relevant and not simply at the beginning of a section.  I think the photos could have been used in a much more powerful way.  I kept flipping back and forth and that stopped the flow of the story for me.  But overall it was as incredible account of the people and events of the time.

Who this book is for:
This book is for older kids.  At times it reads like a terrific story, and at others felt more like facts.  Kids have to be interested in the subject matter and be willing to wade through some parts that are more data driven.  I will say the science in the book is not complex.  The story is not about physics but about the men and women behind the creation of the bomb.

Final thoughts:
This book is garnering quite a lot of attention, but for me the draw was feeling like I really understood a part of our history with so much more comprehension after having read it.  To paraphrase, I felt a whole lot smarter!

To purchase this book, click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon  A portion of each purchase goes back to support this blog.

Title:        Little Rock Girl 1957

Author:    Shelly Tougas

Target:     Grades 4-8

What this book is about:
This series selects photographs that adults will recognize as being historical and full of impact, and shares the story behind the photographs for children.  In this book the author selected a well known photograph of one the Little Rock Nine teenagers who were sent to the white high school the first year that integration was mandated.  In the background you see one of the white students whose face is contorted in hatred.  It is a powerful photograph, and frankly an even more powerful story as the book discusses integration in Little Rock and the eventual reconciliation between the women in the photo.  

Why I love this book:
First off, I often times have trouble with non fiction.  In many cases I don’t think the authors use the visual images available in a compelling way for kids.  This is not the case with this book.  Using the photo as the stepping off point for the book is extremely powerful, and the whole story is filled with photos that showcase the turmoil and eventual healing.

I also liked the length.  At 59 pages, the book is not at all overwhelming for kids, especially for those not accustomed to reading non fiction.  It is a very manageable book.

Finally, I had just finished The Lions of Little Rock, a wonderful historical novel for kids which deals with the year after the Little Rock Nine.  That made this book particularly interesting.  I think pairing the two books would really get kids intrigued in this topic.

Who this book is for:
Kids ready to explore non fiction, but who aren’t ready to handle a chapter book in that genre.   Reading non fiction can be a bit more detailed and challenging than the novels kids are used to.

Final thoughts:
I continue to be amazed and inspired by the bravery of those teenagers who faced racism and ignorance head on.  A true moment of absolute courage.

To purchase this book, click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Little Rock Girl 1957; How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration (Captured History)  A portion of each purchase goes back to support this blog.

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