Tag Archives: children’s nonfiction

Little Homesteader: A Fall Treasury of Recipes, Crafts, and Wisdom, by Angela Ferraro-Fanning

As our world spins faster and faster and our connection to the natural world grows more distant, many of us feel a yearning for a simpler existence, and thoughtful parents desire to see their children live richer, more mindful lives.

Angela Ferraro-Fanning has written a series of picture books tied to seasonal themes and activities. The fall volume is filled with apples and pumpkins. The author explains what happens to plants and animals in the fall, and then she offers an array of suggestions for traditional activities for young children. The book offers many recipes and craft ideas, often needing adult supervision. Illustrator Annelies Draws covers the matte pages with cute, childlike drawings of rosy-cheeked, diverse children and cheerful animals.

Ferraro-Fanning maintains an environmental awareness throughout, which seems to be important to the publisher, also, as Quarto’s Ivy Kids announces on the front and back that the book is printed on 100% recycled paper. Suggestions for using up waste are sprinkled into the pages, too. After the cinnamon applesauce recipe, there are instructions for making apple tea or feeding your peels and core to animals. After the pumpkin muffin recipe, children are encouraged to roast the seeds or make percussion instruments with them. There are many more ideas that are not food-related, as well, and I am fascinated with the idea of making acorn cap tealights as part of a fall centerpiece.

These are valuable books of simple, wholesome ideas to get your little ones away from screens and toward self-sufficiency—in other words, to make them little homesteaders! Creative, warm, and fun.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Teaching Kids to Love Art

Children’s minds are wide open, and introducing a new painting is on the same level as introducing a new toy: let’s try this out and see what we think. While adults may be intimidated by modern art, kids can be merely curious. A little nudge and some basic information may be all they need to develop a life of art appreciation. Here are a couple of new books to help create little art lovers.

Modern Art Explorer, by Alice Harman. Illustrated by Serge Bloch

In just under 100 pages, the author presents thirty of the greatest works of many of the movers and shakers of modern art. After a quick introduction, she allots two- or four-page spreads to each artist, with images of recognizable masterpieces tied together with Serge Bloch’s childlike drawings of the artist and creative kids. “Modern” art, explains Harman, is not actually everything after the late 1800s, but is rather a finite movement within art history— starting in the late nineteenth century and continuing until the 1960s— that seeks to express emotion or meaning, rather than representational images.

The artwork for this volume by Thames & Hudson, a British publishing company, is chosen from the Centre Pompidou, a modern art museum in Paris. Harman’s comments on the artists and their lives, with explanations of their craft and creativity, are aimed at upper elementary, middle, and early high school students. Occasionally, her attempts at coolness are cringeworthy. However, children will learn a great deal about this movement and will be able to appreciate and discuss Mondrian and Modigliano and to compare Basquiat to Picasso with comfort and confidence.

Harman includes copious backmatter, including a timeline, glossary, list of artworks, and an index. In the timeline, she fits the artists’ works into the larger global events of each year, which is very helpful for understanding thought movements, as well.

Modern Art Explorer is an excellent resource for teaching children about art. It can be read or taught from front to back or in chronological order, or it can be dipped into and browsed as interest dictates. Perfect for preparing for a trip to the art museum.

Just Being Dali, by Amy Guglielmo. Illustrated by Brett Helquist.

Salvador Dali was a fanciful and curious boy. He was interested in everything, but not for long. He wove flowers into his hair—and later, into his long mustache—and wore costumes to school. His classmates made fun of him, and his father didn’t know what to do with him. His life changed when he became ill and was sent to live with the artist, Ramon Pichot. Once Pichot taught him to paint, Salvador realized that an artist can be whatever he wishes.

Dali went on to attend art school, wearing long hair and elegant clothes. His fellow students began to admire him when they saw the excellence of his work. Still, his professors tired of him, and he was expelled. He joined a new art movement called the Surrealists, who wanted people to think about the art that they were viewing, but Dali went further than they were willing, and he was expelled. Eventually, he met his future wife, Gala, who supported his art unreservedly and never grew tired of him at all.

Brett Helquist, an accomplished artist himself, illustrates this picture book biography with whimsical, swooping drawings, featuring elongated limbs and big, shining eyes. He recreates Dali’s masterpieces as part of the scenery, and kids will be able to use the list in the back of the book to turn again to the pages and seek them out by name.

One reason that the art world rejected Dali is that he frequently staged what we would call “media events,” rather than sticking to formal works of art. One shudders to think of what his artwork would have been if he had had Instagram and TikTok at his disposal, although whether he would have stood out as a genius or been considered just another drop in an ocean of exhibitionists is up for debate. We were glad for his public art when we were in Paris in 2019 and saw this clock that he created outside of his favorite drinking establishment.

I have always been a fan of Salvador Dali’s work, but much of his life is, shall we say, more complex than this story relates, and is not at all suitable for children. However, one of the themes of this picture book is the importance of being true to oneself and having the courage to use your gifts, even if it means departing from the herd. All children need to hear that message. Furthermore, many of Dali’s works of art are fun and lighthearted, and kids will enjoy laughing at melting clocks and lobster telephones.

A thoroughly charming introduction to an original thinker.

Disclaimer: I read library copies of both of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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New in Kids’ History

A couple of notable new history series for grades 4-8 have recently hit the market, so I chose one title from each series for review.

History Smashers

The Mayflower, by Kate Messner

This chapter book of about 200 pages uses prose, generous black and white illustrations, photographs, and the occasional comic panel to bring kids a comprehensive understanding of the Pilgrims and the early settlements in Massachusetts. Messner goes beyond the basic understanding of people who fled England for religious freedom, landed at Plymouth Rock, and had Thanksgiving with the local “Indians.” She gives the backstory of the Separatists’ flight to the Netherlands, the dangerous voyage, and the struggles the English settlers had to survive for the first couple of years. She also spends a good deal of time correcting traditional misunderstandings. Although she is very fair to the English, she does not gloss over the injustices they inflicted on the Wampanoag tribe who lived in the area. The Pilgrims stole native inhabitants’ corn stores and even robbed their graves soon after they landed. Although there were years of cooperation, particularly with the help of Tisquantum (Squanto), it did not end well.

Messner’s writing is engaging, and young people will learn about early attempts at government, the first contracts in America, the typical menu of the settlers, and the layout of their small homes. They will also gain an understanding of native tribes and the differences between native and European worldviews that made peace agreements so difficult. She brings in quotes from primary sources and historical paintings to help kids to think critically about history.

I enjoyed this book very much, and even learned a few things about this well-trodden piece of our history. There is another volume in this series that is already published, Women’s Right to Vote, sporting the same bright, cartoonish cover. May there be many more to come. Highly recommended; do not miss it.

History Comics

The Roanoke Colony: American’s First Mystery, by Chris Schweizer

This 120-page graphic novel tells the story of Queen Elizabeth I’s foray into the New World in order to gather booty. During Elizabeth’s reign, the Spanish were making a fortune in the Americas by conquest and discovery, and their ships were constantly coming and going across the Atlantic, bringing treasure home to Spain. Rather than working on their own, the English thought that it would be much easier to get rich by intercepting the Spanish ships and stealing their cargo. Sailors did this under contract with the queen, so they were called privateers, because that sounds so much better than “pirates.” Sir Walter Raleigh, namesake of my closest city, thought that a port on Roanoke Island would be a perfect way to send ships out through the barrier islands to surprise the Spanish passing by. How wrong he was.

The large warships that the English were using could not pass through the shallow waters between the barrier islands and repeatedly foundered and wrecked, beginning what would be called “the graveyard of the Atlantic,” named for all of the sunken ships in the waters around Hatteras Island. For some reason, not least of which was pride, the English kept trying. After a while, they even brought families to Roanoke to start a real settlement. This settlement relied on England for supplies, however, and when a supply ship was delayed for three years, the would-be rescuers found the settlement on Roanoke completely abandoned. The fate of the Roanoke colony is the oldest mystery in America.

Schweizer uses two Native Americans, Wanchese and Manteo, to guide the reader through the story. They were real people, and their divergent views of the English allow the author to tell different sides of the historical record. Although he uses sarcastic humor to help the story along, the graphic panels are dense, and Schweizer conveys an enormous amount of information.

The legacy of the Virginia colonies is darker than that of the Pilgrims. Their goal was financial gain, and they had no regard whatsoever for the original inhabitants of the land. Some of the privateers were vicious, while others were more likely to desire peace with the local Secotans. None of them, however, viewed the natives as equals. Their disdain of the inhabitants as savages and heathens was upheld and encouraged by both their sovereign and the church, so when they had depleted their stores and were starving, they were foolish to turn to the Secotans for help.

Schweizer’s story pivots from America to England and occasionally Spain, using caricatures of proud Europeans and starving settlers to convey meaning and emotion. I learned from this book, as well. For example, I did not realize that Sir Francis Drake rescued 300 slaves from the Caribbean and brought them to safety in North Carolina (then Virginia). Unfortunately, that added 300 more starving souls to Roanoke, but it was a noble endeavor. Graphic novel enthusiasts will enjoy this series, produced by the excellent First Second, which also publishes the phenomenally popular Graphic Science series. Both series are recommended.

Disclaimer: I read library copies of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not represent those of my employer or anyone else.

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Join the No-Plastic Challenge!, by Scot Ritchie

Join the No Plastic ChallengeNick and his friends live by the seashore, and today they are going to have a picnic for Nick’s birthday. Unfortunately, they have seen the devastation that single-use plastics are causing for the land and animals around them, so they are attempting to have an outing without using any plastic. This diverse group of kids spends time in a home, a store, a fast-food restaurant, and the outdoors, offering elementary-school level information and suggestions for alternatives.

Although most people are unaware of how terribly severe this problem is, the positive tone of this title will motivate readers from knowledge into action. Plastic bags, disposable water bottles, and other single-use plastics are ending up in the stomachs of birds and fish, as well as other animals, and when we eat them, we ingest microplastics, too. As noted in the book, “every piece of plastic ever made is still around today!” (p. 22) However, the book’s goal is not to induce guilt, but rather to change habits. After describing the manufacturing process to produce plastic, the author notes the many excellent uses of plastic, particularly in medical needs. He even points out that some people with disabilities depend on plastic straws for drinking, removing some of the hysteria over plastic straws.

Ritchie gives many child-sized recommendations for alternatives to single-use plastics, and as an adult, I continued with online research, as well. We have been recyclers for decades, but I am concerned with the amount of plastic packaging we receive that cannot be recycled. After reading this book, I ordered a set of mesh bags for buying produce at the grocery store. Along with our canvas shopping bags, it’s one small step that we can take to reduce the growing demand for single-use plastics. Reading this book will help your kids to start thinking about conservation, but it will also cause the adults in the room to become much more aware of the ubiquity of plastic in our lives, and awareness is the first step to solutions.

Remember the Jeopardy champion who said that his secret to success was reading children’s books? As someone who selects children’s nonfiction for a large library system, I couldn’t agree more. We are all seriously fascinated by a few subjects, but we have a lively interest in hundreds more! Life is too fun and too short to be a world-renowned sage on all things. Well-written children’s nonfiction fills this gap perfectly. In addition to this book, also check out You Are Eating Plastic Every Day: What’s in Our Food?, by Danielle Smith-Llera.

If it can cause each reader to make one small change for the better, Join the No-Plastic Challenge is very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The World Jesus Knew, by Marc Olson

World Jesus KnewHow could they light lamps in the Bible if there was no electricity? Why were there Roman soldiers when they were in Israel? Did Jesus read the Bible, too?

Christian parents want to read scripture to their children, but we live in such different times that the New Testament is often hard to understand. If we want to reap the greatest benefits from our reading, a broad understanding of Middle Eastern culture in the first century is a big boost. This large-format volume, subtitled A Curious Kid’s Guide to Life in the First Century, is thoroughly illustrated and directed to upper elementary and middle school kids, although adults may find new nuggets of information here, too. Each chapter is a two-page spread explaining one topic, such as first-century clothing, the Jewish calendar, the Temple, crucifixion, the role of women, occupations, and much more. An introduction with a timeline and map sets the stage, and the small font throughout packs in a lot of text. Despite the serious subject matter, Marc Olson writes in everyday language with even a hint of humor at times. This book has been chosen as a Junior Library Guild selection. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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13 Architects Children Should Know, by Florian Heine

13 ArchitectsSometimes, all you need to know is in a children’s book. I have often been interested in a famous person of the past, only to find a shelf full of 800-page tomes about him at the library. I don’t need to know about his grandparents, I don’t want to read all of his letters or diary entries, and I don’t care how often he changed his socks. I just want to know why this person is famous, and why I should care.

Children’s nonfiction is excellent for this— plus, it usually has better pictures. 13 Architects Children Should Know is a great example. On two- or four-page spreads for each architect, it takes the reader from Brunelleschi to Zaha Hadid, showing clear photos of their work and explaining how each one heralded a change in the world’s understanding of architecture. There are also small pictures of the details of their buildings that seem so ordinary now, but at the time were amazing and brilliant.

Love Palladian windows? You can thank Andrea Palladio, from the sixteenth century. Thomas Jefferson, who seems to have done everything well, rebuilt and remodeled his beloved Monticello all of his life. I learned about Antoni Gaudi in a teen novel about Barcelona. I think his buildings look like a dream, but some people think they look like nightmares. Frank Lloyd Wright somehow built Fallingwater so that it won’t actually fall into the water, which it constantly threatens to do. Architect Frank Gehry made a guest appearance on The Simpsons to talk about his buildings, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which looks as if it is taking off for outer space. So many treasures in the world!

Happily for you, this book is part of a series by Prestel Publishing, including 13 Artists Children Should Know, 13 Buildings, 13 Sculptures, and so on. Click on the link to see them all. Very enlightening for adults looking for a quick art history brush-up, as well!


Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own, and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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