Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Picture Books Can Spark New Research

  Visit Alyson Beecher on Wednesdays for Non-Fiction Picture Books at Kidlit Frenzy.  From Alyson and others, you will discover terrific non-fiction books!
      These four books all can become jumping off points for further research and learning. Some are appropriate for young learners; some seem better for older middle-grade students. I enjoyed each one.

         I'm first celebrating that my "hold" at the library was rather short to get this wonderful new book by Melissa Sweet and Steve Jenkins. Learning about all the sounds numerous different animals make - bark, grunt, squeal, roar, whine, bellow, growl, and laugh - creates a fun connection especially for young readers. They can make all those sounds, too! The end page asks that question of the reader, "Can you?" The format repeats as in "Can an aardvark bark? No, but it can grunt?" The next double-page spread shows other animals who grunt, too, like river otters and, a surprise, an oyster toadfish! While each part shows familiar animals, the unfamiliar is interesting too. As a collection, we're taught that these sounds are used for various reasons, warnings of danger, invitations to mate, while fighting and/or greeting. Jenkin's collages show the animals realistically, but habitat is not considered except in some text. It's a stepping off point for further study.

        There is additional backmatter that explains the geologic background of the forming of an island, but I'm unsure if this is really non-fiction. It's cleverly rhymed, showing the beginning uprising of lava from an undersea volcano, all through the evolutionary aspects of an island over thousands of years. The beginning: "Deep, deep/beneath the sea . . . / Stone breaks/Water quakes/Magma glows/Volcano blows."
       It too can be a stepping off into a study of geology and evolution. The illustrations are collages, become even more detailed as the island begins to be inhabited. 

      Just a few months ago, I read and shared Stand Up and Sing!: Pete Seeger, Folk Music & The Path To Justice by Susanna Reich. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and now in the past day, have read this second picture book about whom former President Obama called the "tuning fork" of our time. This book tells the story of Pete's life with each page of text ending in a song or a list of songs that he wrote and sang. There is a brief part of the hardest part of his life when he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, but he kept singing and kept inspiring people to gather, sing and sing for causes. I had the pleasure of taking my young children to see him one magical evening. He came off the stage and sang to them, and others on the front row. I will never forget it. The book's illustrations are colorful muted paintings in Raul Colón's unique style. Leda Schubert has added extra information in the back matter: a lovely afterword about her relationship with Pete, a timeline, endnotes, recommended books and recordings. It's a terrific addition to books about Pete Seeger.

         There are many collectors of John Deere memorabilia. My son had a few metal toys growing up, and now I wish we'd kept them. John Deere's name and reputation seem to have continued to be respected and well known. In a lively story, Tracy Maurer tells about John Deere's beginnings, and the path he took to the success we know of today. He was a blacksmith in Vermont and through some strange mishaps, his forge burned, then burned again. He had a family, was broke, so headed west in 1836, planning to send for his family when he was settled. It took a while, but he slowly made his way. He noticed that the soil was different on the prairie. It stuck to the plows, causing many stops to clean them off. And the deep roots often broke them. It was serendipity that John found a broken steel saw at the sawmill. He knew steel might be better, but it was expensive. Nevertheless, he crafted a plow that was slightly curved, lighter, and sloughed off the soil. Farmers could plow longer with less effort. It took some persuasion and lots of demonstrations, but his plows sold and sold some more. Who did it? John Deere, That's Who! Zeitner's illustrations remind me of folk art that might show off a folk hero, and that seems to be what John Deere was back then, though all that he did was help the farmer, and there were no made-up stories. They were all true. There is a glossary, more facts and a bibliography. It was fun to learn about the early life of who is now a household name.


  1. I was entranced by your description of the Pete Seeger concert. What a wonderful memory!

    1. It is, Annette. He is a special part of our history for sure.


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