Sunday, March 31, 2013

Engaging Non Fiction Books for Kids

I'm back to non fiction again.  As states begin to implement the Common Core Standards, and kids have to begin reading more non fiction, why not give them a head start?  There has been some great writing recently in this area, as authors get more innovative and find ways to make the stories even more compelling.

Kids benefit in so many ways as they develop a more complex understanding of  the history, people and events that shape our world.  The more data points they have to draw from, the more intelligent their own opinions become.  Now come on ... what could be better than that?

So serve up a great big helping of non fiction.  Your kids will thank you for it ... one day.


Author:Andreas Schroeder

Target:Grades 4-8

Series:Sort of - the author has another book Duped

What this book is about:
This book is a series of eight stories profiling some of the most famous robberies in recent times.  It shares tales of the heist of the Mona Lisa, the only successful hijacking extortionist in American history and the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton, man of a thousand faces.

Why I love this book:
This book is terrific!  Each story is beautifully laid out in sections with comic like illustrations throughout.  The stories are humorous, clever and ironic and the fact that they are true, just makes it all the more engaging.   These robberies were so well planned and thought out, it makes you feel like they are a movie come to life.

Of course, all these men’s talents are quite sophisticated, but we see that they used them in the wrong ways.  If this book shows you anything it is that crime doesn’t pay and even missing the smallest detail can get you caught!

Who this book is for:
This is a great book for reluctant readers because of the format of the stories and the clever illustrations.  However, both my boys loved this book and read it in one sitting.  They couldn’t put it down.   This is probably one of the most kid friendly pieces of non fiction.

Final thoughts:
Since these are all true stories, I would have loved to see actual photos of the real criminals, perhaps as an addendum in the back. 

To purchase this book, click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Robbers!: True Stories of the World's Most Notorious Thieves (It Actually Happened)  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:Lincoln’s Grave Robbers

Author:Steve Sheinkin

Target:Grades 5-8

What this book is about:
This is a book of non fiction which looks at a group of men in the late 1800‘s who tried to steal Lincoln’s remains in order to get a counterfeiter out of jail.  While the whole idea sounds absurd, this is a true story, and the men almost got away with it.  The story involves Secret Service agents, undercover spies and con men all involved in an elaborate plot to rob Lincoln’s grave.

Why I love this book:
It is always fun when history is presented in an engaging and compelling way.  Sheinkin writes this book more like a story than simply a set of facts.  I had never heard of the attempt to rob Lincoln’s grave, so it was a treat to learn something new, but the story also sheds light on the presidential election of Tilden and Hayes, the role that counterfeiters played in the fiscal strength of the country and even the role of grave robbers.

Who this book is for:
I think that older children will get more out of this book.  While written in a compelling and story like manner, there are still quite a few names and dates to keep straight and it does talk about election and fiscal issue which may be lost on a younger reader.

Final thoughts:
This book provides a glimpse of an interesting time in history, right after the Civil War which I don’t think is as familiar to most people.

To purchase this book, click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Lincoln's Grave Robbers  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:No Crystal Stair

Author:Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Target:Grades 6 and up

Boston Globe-Horn Book Award

What this book is about:
This is a documentary novel, which means that it is a biography whose details are fiction.  This book highlights the life of Lewis Micheaux, owner of the National Memorial African Book Store in Harlem, a store whose books are devoted to black authors who write about the black experience.  It not only shares the details of Lewis’ colorful life, with time spent in prison and as a mentor to Malcolm X, but it also profiles his development into one of the foremost thinkers behind the scene of the black movement of the 1960s.

Why I love this book:
This book is told from the perspective of over 20 characters, who speak directly to the reader.  I was bought in right away and had no trouble keeping the characters straight.  Since they spoke to the reader, I think kids will be much more engaged in the book, despite a more difficult subject matter.

I found Lewis absolutely fascinating, and while I did not connect with all his messages, the idea that knowledge is power was central to his beliefs.  He had no formal education, but believed that African Americans must know their heritage, they must embrace their history and fill their minds with as much information as possible in order to become individuals who can own their ideas and beliefs. 

On a simplistic level I loved the message that reading is the key to it all.  I do think that the book may be a bit beyond most kids, but it is a fascinating look at one individuals mark on history and it is told in an innovative format that will interest readers more than a traditional biography.

Who this book is for:
Any kids learning about civil rights, who wants to know more, will find this a fascinating and engaging read.  May be a tough sell otherwise.

Final thoughts:
I was caught up in this story and felt at the end, that beyond enjoyment, I took something bigger away from this book. 

To purchase this book, click on the following link to connect to Amazon :No Crystal Stair (Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books)  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

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