New nonfiction for young readers

Posted: Thursday, December 10, 2009

Nonfiction for young readers is shelved with the non-fiction for adults, making it easy to supplement books that have just the right text with books with even more illustrations.

"Knucklehead," by JonScieszka.

There's a reason Jon Scieszka thinks up crazy stories like "Math Curse" and "The Stinky Cheese Man" - his family. Growing up in a small house with five brothers had a stimulating affect on his ability to tell a good story and quickly taught him the dinner-time value of a really excellent joke with perfect delivery (whoever told the best joke could usually grab the last helping while everyone else was busy laughing). Short chapters paint a vivid picture of the fun the Scieszka boys had both in school and at home, and the trouble they got themselves into, from breaking the couch leg to breaking one of the brothers (several times). (Recommended for readers in grades 3 and up, but sensitive parents might want to preview this for a list of mild swear words and potty humor.)

"How to get rich in the California Gold Rush," by Tod Olson, illustrated by Scott Allred.

Created as if it were an actual journal and scrapbook kept by a gold miner setting out from his small farming village in Massachusetts to the gold fields of California, this account sweeps readers into the excitement of planning and the hardships of travel on the way to California, and the hard work that awaited the new arrivals at their gold claim. After Thomas and a friend make the long trip by sea from Boston to San Franciso, they get scammed (twice) and discover how hard it is to find gold (and how easy it is to spend it) before finally realizing that the way to make money wasn't by panning for gold. Three years after leaving home with borrowed funds, Thomas returned home with money to pay off his debts and start a new life with his fiancée. There's plenty here to keep readers' attention, from Thomas' agonizing over travel and financing, details about boom towns and frontier justice, and maps, landscapes, and vignettes galore. (Great for readers in higher elementary and middle school.)

"Our Three Bears," by Ron Hirschi, photographs by Thomas D. Mangelsen.

North America is host to three different kinds of bears - you may have seen one or two of them yourself on hikes or in your back yard. Black bears and brown (grizzly) bears live throughout the United States and Canada, while polar bears live much further north, near the Arctic Circle. In three different chapters, Hirschi writes about each bear in turn, showing how their environments affect what they eat, their fur color and their seasonal habits. Not quite enough information here for a book report for older readers, but there is plenty for young readers, who will be delighted by the gorgeous color photos of bears playing, eating, caring for young, hunting and napping. (Recommended for reschool-aged kids and older.)

"Amelia Earhart," by Shelley Tanaka, illustrated by David Craig.

Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and the first to attempt to fly around the world (she nearly made it, too). When Amelia was a little girl, her parents encouraged her and her sister to play however they liked, and that meant lots of unladylike running, mud and snowball fights, and exploring the area around their home. Treated to an airplane ride by her father after college, she fell in love with flying, began taking lessons and then worked several jobs at a time to support her new lifestyle (which included the purchase of a sporty little bright yellow Kinner Airster). Her first fame came when she was part of the crew for an Atlantic crossing (they had too much weight and had to leave all their gear - including life jackets, a raft, and food - behind!) but she was determined to be known for her own skills. It took years of preparation, but in 1937, she took off from Oakland, Calif. bound to encircle the globe. Amelia and her navigator endured sandstorms and engine fires and made many refueling stops on their flight before disappearing somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Illustrated with drawings and photos, this is a great introduction to the life and career of one of the first women pilots. (For older elementary and middle school readers.)

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