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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

An Analytical Look at a Middle Grade Nonfiction Book



Sometimes  you might think you are looking at a picture book but it actually turns out to be  middle grade nonfiction.  For example, SACAJAWEA OF THE SHOSHONE by Natasha Yim has 28 numbered pages with a bibliography on the end papers. This title is part of a series : THE THINKING GIRL'S TREASURY OF REAL PRINCESSES. Sacajawea, who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their exploration of the American West, was a Princess of the Shoshone Tribe.

This biography can also be classed as narrative nonfiction because of the moments of drama.
Here's an example: "One day, a violent gust of wind tipped the pirogue carrying Sacajawea and her family. Fortunately the boat didn't capsize, but it quickly filled with water.....Sacajawea....calmly scooped [important papers, books, trading goods] up."

Sacajawea prevented needed items from floating away. Otherwise the expedition would have had to turn back.

Sidebars provide information about her clothing and the food she ate, as well as how her name was pronounced.




Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Middle Grade Novel Study




















I recently finished a course on writing a middle grade novel. In this blog post, DEAD BOY by Laurel Gale is under the microscope. Crow, the dead boy hero of this novel has problems. He is a living corpse and can't go to school because he stinks and is full of maggots. Worse, he's lonely. Then things pick up when a girl named Melody moves in next door. She finds Crow fascinating and wants to be his friend inspite of the interference of Crow's protective mother and the odor.

The main plot is when Crow learns how he became a living corpse and he and Melody try to figure out a way to reverse the spell that caused the problem.

Their having to rescue classmates who accidently get snared in the spell are sideplots.

This novel is suitably snarky.

Here's a sample: "Being dead stank. Cuts didn't heal. Hair fell out and didn't grow back."  

Look at that face. Who wouldn't want to be Crow's friend?

Sunday, March 13, 2016



ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE by Laurie Wallmark is a perfect topic for Women’s History Month. Before the invention of the computer she was a mathematician who created an algorithm, a set of mathematical instructions.

This picture book biography was specifically created for STEM. I would have liked to see a glossary as part of the back matter. It would have been very useful.

The teacher’s guide says it is for grades 1-4, with the caveat that the teacher has to consider what would work for the specific grade. For grades 1 and 2, the teacher could lead a discussion about what a thinking machine is. The students could draw thinking machines. This book has a number of math problems, which are best for the older grades.  

The teacher’s guide would work very well for grades 5-8. This age range would not want to read a picture book but they could research and write their own papers on Ada. Or the teacher could just select sections from the book for class use.


Nonfiction picture book authors run the risk of being told a topic is too advanced. Perhaps more advanced texts will be a growing trend. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Put Yourself in Phillis Wheatley's Shoes







A VOICE OF HER OWN: the story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet by Kathryn Lasky is a picture book biography of Phyllis Wheatley that would be good for grades 3-5.

It has more information than the shorter picture book biographies which is important for school projects.

Take this sample which brings the reader into the mindset of a slave.

“At first there was just blackness….. Then the blackness dissolved into darkness, and the world in the creaking hold of the slave ship slid with shadows.”

Teachers, here’s  possible school assignments for Black History Month.

Have your students write a play about how a slave would feel on one of these ships .What smells would they encounter? What sounds? What would it feel like to be chained up?


Have your students write poems with Phillis Wheatley as the subject.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Why Birds Need Feathers













Melissa Stewart is at it again in FEATHERS : NOT JUST FOR FLYING.  I can see many uses for this title in the classroom. Teachers can use it to show what the feathers of various bird species look like. Melissa thinks it can be used for grades K-5. (See her teacher's guide.) The break-down of text and illustration is very effective.

Let's examine one spread. On the left: "Feathers can warm like a blanket..." Under the illustration on that page is this text box "On cold, damp days a blue jay stays warm by fluffing up its feathers and trapping a laying of warm air next to its skin."

A full page illustration of a blue jay appears on the next page.

Each spread illustrates the various ways birds use feathers.

Melissa explains her process in her author's note.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Voyage to the Moon



A different kind of travel is depicted in MOONSHOT : the Flight of Apollo 11, a nonfiction picture book by Brian Floca.

What did the astronauts experience?

SAMPLE: "Onboard Columbia and Eagle, Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin  unclick gloves, unclick helmets, unclick the straps that hold them down, and float inside their small ships, their home for a week."

This repetition is very effective. Everybody is familiar with the unclicking of seatbelts in cars. The reader can relate to this.

For a summer activity Brian Floca has provided coloring pages from MOONSHOT.

Friday, July 31, 2015

TAKE A TRIP TO ANCIENT CHINA

At Home in Her Tomb book cover image
AT HOME IN HER TOMB: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui by Christine Liu-Perkins. Great adventures awaited the workers who uncovered the tomb of an ancient Chinese noblewoman named Lady Dai. In addition to finding treasures they uncovered a huge black coffin. Inside that coffin there was another one. They didn’t find the occupant until they reached the fourth coffin.

To their surprise, a stench greeted them when they cut a hole in the silk cloth that surrounded the body.

SAMPLE: “The experts were baffled. If the body had decomposed more than two thousand years ago, how could it still smell so disgusting?”

Join the scientists on their journey to uncover the contents of  Lady Dai’s tomb. What was her last meal? What artifacts accompanied her on her final journey?

Readers can visit the web site of the Hunan Provincial Museum, the home of these archaeological treasures.

Teachers can find a guide to use with their students.

This is a useful book for classroom projects on China.