Category Archives: Nonfiction

Surging into Nonfiction!

The last few months have been a whirlwind of events for me. I’ve attended three different conferences, where I either presented or attended workshops — all about nonfiction. Why? Nonfiction is HOT right now.  That’s great for those of us who read it and even better for those of us who write it.

Why is nonfiction such a hot topic? That’s easy.  Between the state standards, the Common Core, and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS),  publishers are looking to add lots of nonfiction to their lists.  They are searching for everything from picture book to YA, in the categories of history, biography, science, technology, nature, and much, much more.

Looking to find some great nonfiction books? Check out these awards:

NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children http://www.ncte.org/awards/orbispictus

 

The book that won this year’s award was:
The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade)
Here is the tumultuous, heartrending, true story of the Romanovs at once an intimate portrait of Russia’s last royal family and a gripping account of its undoing. Using captivating photos and compelling first person accounts, award-winning author Candace Fleming (“Amelia Lost”;” The Lincolns”) deftly maneuvers between the imperial family’s extravagant lives and the plight of Russia’s poor masses, making this an utterly mesmerizing read as well as a perfect resource for meeting Common Core standards.

 

The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal winner for 2015 was:
The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jen Bryant (Eerdmans BFYR)

2015 Caldecott Honor Book2015 Sibert Medal Winner2015 Orbis Pictus Honor BookFor shy young Peter Mark Roget, books were the best companions — and it wasn’t long before Peter began writing his own book. But he didn’t write stories; he wrote lists. Peter took his love for words and turned it to organizing ideas and finding exactly the right word to express just what he thought. His lists grew and grew, eventually turning into one of the most important reference books of all time. Readers of all ages will marvel at Roget’s life, depicted through lyrical text and brilliantly detailed illustrations. This elegant book celebrates the joy of learning and the power of words.

NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for 2015. This is a pretty comprehensive list of some awesome science books! I will include just a few below, but for all, check out the website here:

 

http://www.nsta.org/publications/ostb/ostb2015.aspx
Batman Science: The Real-World Science Behind Batman’s Gear (DC Super Heroes) by Tammy Enz

When it comes to fighting crime, technology is Batmans greatest weapon. From his gadget-packed Utility Belt to his high-tech Batmobile, the Dark Knight tackles Gothams criminal underworld. But does any of his gear have a basis in reality? Or is it merely the stuff of fiction? Batman Science uncovers the real-world connections to Batmans techand much of it will surprise you!

 

 
Bone Collection: Skulls by Camilla de la Bédoyère (Scholastic)

BONE COLLECTION: SKULLS is follow-up to the beautiful book BONE COLLECTION: ANIMALS. This spectacular collection of awesome skulls will take a closer look inside some of the world’s most fascinating creatures. Learn what an animal’s skull can tell us about how each creature lives. Discover the narwhal, the unicorn of the sea. Marvel at how a hippo’s eyeballs nearly pop out of its head. Take a look at the rhinoceros’ enormous beak. Featuring the skulls of pythons, piranhas, rams, bears and more, readers will be amazed by the wide variety of skulls in the animal kingdom.

Where does one go to find out more about  the type of nonfiction books coming out or how to learn how to write fabulous nonfiction?

Check out some conferences!  Many regional and even the national SCBWI conferences are including nonfiction workshops these days.  To find one look here:  https://www.scbwi.org/

 

The Highlights Foundation offers conferences about nonfiction. In fact, I just conducted one at the beginning of the month.

http://www.highlightsfoundation.org/

 

And finally, one of the best conferences (in my opinion) to attend to learn about nonfiction — if you are a teacher, librarian, or aspiring writer, is

the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference.  http://21cnfc.com/index.html

I went this past June and it was FANTASTIC!  With industry professionals from over 28 organizations including publishers, librarians, the NSTA, Bank Street College, and many more, there is something for everyone.

The conference was a great way to connect with editors, educational professionals, and other authors. Workshops on craft and writing were timely, interesting and fun.  They even had intensives for more in-depth learning and also open table discussions to promote exchange of information between authors and editors.

 

++++ Talk about perfect timing, Publisher’s Weekly just discussed the Surge in Nonfiction in one of their articles yesterday. It is titled “Is Children’s Nonfiction Having its Moment?”  The answer is YES!!

You can read the article here: http://www.publishersweekly.com

It is easy to find ways to “Surge into Nonfiction” all you have to do is to look!

Feel free to share below any other great nonfiction books or nonfiction events in your area. Let’s keep this nonfiction vibe going!!

 

****

Jennifer Swanson is the author of over 25 books for children. A self-professed science geek, when not writing, she can be found trolling through the internet searching for cool science discoveries and experiments.  Learn more about Jennifer at her website:  www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com

 

 

The timeless intrigue of Greek myths

athena the brain have a hot time hades hound of hades new olympians chronus chronicles

Bigger than life characters, epic battles, good versus evil, outlandish monsters and over-the-top family strife are just a few reasons Greek myths are now — just as they have been for generations — absolutely irresistible for middle grade readers. And while no kid wants to hear this now, getting a grounding in Greek tales will serve these young readers well the rest of their lives. So many references in literature (Shakespeare, for one) and pop culture have roots in these myths, and they’ll also provide fodder for kids’ own stories and interpretations.

If Percy Jackson and the Olympians first reeled your reader to Poseidon, Zeus, and Athena, you may be wondering what books to grab next. Or maybe your reader likes the idea of Greek myths, but isn’t really sold on the whole Percy Jackson thing. Either way, here are some ideas for what to read next:

Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams’ Goddess Girls series is pure delight. Readers can start with any in the series (and then devour all others); one of my favorites is Athena the Brain, which is also first in the series. Athena, 12, is ordered to go to Mount Olympus Academy (where Zeus is principal) where she juggles academics, her social life, and proving her intellect by ending the Trojan War.

Have a Hot Time, Hades! is a one of the many greats in Kate McMullan’s Myth-o-mania series. In this story with a modern twist, Hades tells his own version of how he became King of the Underworld and Zeus became King of the Gods.

Speaking of Hades, new this year in Lucy Coates’ Beasts of Olympus series is Hound of Hades. Having proven himself capable of caring for the mythical creatures that dwell on Olympus, eleven-year-old Demon is summoned by the great god Hades to the Underworld to tend to Cerberus, the three-headed dog Guardian of the Underworld, which has been beaten by Demon’s nemesis, Heracles.

In The New Olympians (Pegasus series) by Kate O’Hearn, Pegasus and Emily investigate a series of incidents back on Earth, and discover that the CRU has been cloning Olympians. Science (STEM) and myths!

One more don’t miss series is The Chronus Chronicles by Anne Ursu (where one of the doors to the Underworld is located under the Mall of America). The Shadow Thieves is first in the series: After her cousin Zee arrives from England, 13-year-old Charlotte and he must set out to save humankind from denizens of the underworld, Nightmares, Death, Pain, and a really nasty guy named Phil.

greek mythsThere are many nonfiction guides, but the gold standard is still D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. It was published in 1962 — not quite as old as the myths themselves, but another one that stands the tests of time and interfering Greek gods and goddesses. And if you can get your hands on this spectacular audio book version, it’s read by Sidney Poitier, Kathleen Turner, Paul Newman, and Matthew Broderick. Best yet, use your local library card to get the downloadable version via OverDrive. Listen to a sample here.

Chicken!

Photo from http://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Buff_Orpington_chicken,_UK.jpg by Pete Cooper

Photo from Wikimedia by Pete Cooper. Used by creative commons license.

No, I’m not calling you a chicken. I’m just really excited to talk about live poultry. Isn’t everyone?

Wait, that’s just me?

Oh. Oops.

In all seriousness, I am a farm girl at heart. As a child I spent my summers on my grandparents’ small farm in Idaho, and though today I live in the suburbs, I look back fondly at the rural lifestyle I was lucky enough to live three months out of the year while growing up. Nowadays I love working in my many flower beds, I take care of a big vegetable garden every year, and I have recently added a small orchard to my growing list of backyard horticultural accomplishments.

And, yes, I’ll admit, I have been contemplating purchasing a few chickens as well. But I’ve only be thinking about it.  I haven’t actually, you know, done anything yet….

Okay, fine, I confess.  Last month I did take a little field trip to the local ranch store, but just to look at the cute baby chicks they had for sale. (You don’t really need to know that while I was there I priced out everything I’d need for chickens,  including the little cluckers themselves, so I’d have a very good idea what this new venture would cost me. I didn’t actually buy anything, so that’s the same as not doing anything, right?)

Since chickens have been on my mind a lot these past few weeks, this has led to talking chickens with my middle-grade-age kids, too.  And I thought it would be good to fuel any budding interest with some age-appropriate chicken literature.  I was pleasantly surprised to find several titles I could give them.

And since we all could use a little more chicken literature in our lives (don’t laugh!), I’m sharing my list with you today.  Note that some of these titles are targeted for younger kids ages 6-9. All descriptions are from Indiebound unless otherwise noted:

FROM A MIXED-UP FILES ALUM:

The Map of Me by Tami Lewis Brown

Summary: The note Momma left on the fridge says only: “I HAVE TO GO.” But go where? Twelve-year-old Margie is convinced that Momma’s gone to the Rooster Romp at the International Poultry Hall of Fame, in search of additions to her precious flock of chicken memorabilia. And it’s up to Margie to bring her home. So she commandeers her daddy’s Faithful Ford, kidnaps her nine-year-old sister, Peep, and takes to the open road.

As she navigates the back roads of Kentucky with smarty-pants Peep criticizing her every move, Margie also travels along the highways and byways of her heart, mapping a course to help understand Momma–and herself.

CLASSIC TITLES:

The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by Daniel Pinkwater

Summary: When Arthur Bobowicz is sent out to bring home the family’s Thanksgiving turkey, he returns instead with Henrietta — a 266 pound chicken with a mind of her own. Feathers fly when this colossal clucker descends upon Hoboken, New Jersey. Thus begins the hilarious hen-tastic tall tale that has kept readers in stitches since Henrietta first pecked her way onto the scene in 1977.

Whittington by Alan Armstrong

Summary: This Newbery-Honor winning tale introduces Whittington, a roughneck Tom who arrives one day at a barn full of rescued animals and asks for a place there. He spins for the animals–as well as for Ben and Abby, the kids whose grandfather does the rescuing–a yarn about his ancestor, the nameless cat who brought Dick Whittington to the heights of wealth and power in 16th-century England. This is an unforgettable tale about the healing, transcendent power of storytelling, and how learning to read saves one little boy.

NON-FICTION TITLES:

A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens by Melissa Caughey

Summary: Chickens make wonderful pets, and Melissa Caughey (author of the award-winning blog “Tilly’s Nest”) provides all the information kids need to raise healthy chickens and have tons of fun doing it. Caughey shares her advice in an engaging way so that kids understand what it means to keep chickens and what kind of housing, food, equipment, and care the chickens will need to thrive. She also suggests lots of creative activities sure to spark enthusiasm and imagination, such as speaking chicken, creating a veggie piñata for the flock, and making a chicken fort in the backyard. She even offers ten egg-centric recipes that kids will love to make and eat, including egg drop soup and Mexican egg pizza. Includes a colorful pull-out poster.


ChickensChickens: Hens, Roosters, and Chicks by Lorijo Metz

Summary: Kids who visit farms are often charmed by the clucking, crowing, and chirping of chickens. This fun book is full of interesting facts about the worlds most common bird.

Chicken Games & Puzzles by Patrick Merrell and Helene Hovanec

Summary: This collection of 100 chicken-themed challenges is really something to cluck about Kids ages 6 to 9 will love these adorably illustrated mazes, codes, brainteasers, logic puzzles, word searches, jokes and riddles, tongue twisters, and picture puzzles. It’s a barnyard of fun that will make you cackle.

How to Draw a Chicken by Jean-Vincent Senac

Summary: Anyone can draw a chicken, right? Follow Jean-Vincent Senac’s attempts to draw one as he has to contend with runaway beaks, sleeping eggs, and hungry hens. The entertaining characters and witty text in this book of simple outline drawings, much like a flip-book, will charm readers of all ages and encourage children and adults alike to draw with humor and imagination.

Illustrated throughout in Senac’s unique style, this little book will encourage drawing while making readers laugh out loud.

FICTION TITLES:

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

Summary: Fans of Polly Horvath or Roald Dahl will love this quirky story of a determined girl, and some extraordinary chickens.

Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown feels like a fish out of water when she and her parents move from Los Angeles to the farm they’ve inherited from a great-uncle. But farm life gets more interesting when a cranky chicken appears and Sophie discovers the hen can move objects with the power of her little chicken brain: jam jars, the latch to her henhouse, the “entire” henhouse….

And then more of her great-uncle’s unusual chickens come home to roost. Determined, resourceful Sophie learns to care for her flock, earning money for chicken feed, collecting eggs. But when a respected local farmer tries to steal them, Sophie must find a way to keep them (and their superpowers) safe.
Told in letters to Sophie’s “abuela, ” quizzes, a chicken-care correspondence course, to-do lists, and more, “Unusual Chickens” is a quirky, clucky classic in the making.

Chicken Boy by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Summary: Meet Tobin McCauley. He’s got a near-certifiable grandmother, a pack of juvenile-delinquent siblings, and a dad who’s not going to win father of the year any time soon. To top it off, Tobin’s only friend truly believes that the study of chickens will reveal…the meaning of life? Getting through seventh grade isn’t easy for anyone, but when the first day of school starts out with your granny’s arrest, you know you’ve got real problems. Throw on a five-day suspension, a chicken that lays green eggs, and a family feud that’s tearing everyone to pieces, and you’re in for one heck of a ride.

The Chicken Doesn’t Skate by Gordon Korman

Summary: What do a scientist, a screenwriter, and a hockey team all have in common?
A chicken!

Milo has a problem. He’s trying to do a project on the food chain, so he charts the growth of a baby chick, and makes arrangements to serve his specimen to the judges at the science fair. But he’s baffled by the rest of his class. They name the chick Henrietta. They sign up to take her home on weekends. They claim that she’s a good luck charm, a friend, even the new hockey team mascot!

Milo just wants to win the science fair to impress his dad. But when the class finds out that Henrietta will be cooked and eaten for Milo’s project, everyone panics!

Prairie Evers by Ellen Airgood

Summary: This charming, coming-of-age story is perfect for fans of Joan Bauer and Sheila Turnage.
Prairie Evers is finding that school isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She’s always been homeschooled by her grandmother, learning about life while they ramble through the woods. But now Prairie’s family has moved north and she has to attend school for the first time, where her education is in a classroom and the behavior of her classmates isn’t very nice. The only good thing is meeting Ivy, her first true friend. Prairie wants to be a good friend, even though she can be clueless at times. But when Ivy’s world is about to fall apart and she needs a friend most, Prairie is right there for her, corralling all her optimism and determination to hatch a plan to help.
Wonderful writing and an engaging narrator distinguish this lively story that celebrates friendship of every kind.

The Great Chicken Debacle by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Summary: May all your chickens come home to roost. If they had only known what trouble lay ahead, maybe, just maybe the Morgan children and their friend Deeter wouldn t have agreed to mind No-Name, the world’s ugliest chicken. Maybe they could have avoided camping out with it; confronting its archenemy, the fox; grappling with its abductors. But then again, maybe the whole madhouse caper was inevitable.

The Chicken Dance by Jacques Couvillon

Summary: On his birthday, Don Schmidt spends the day waiting patiently for his big surprise–“a cake, presents, maybe a Chinese clown” . . . . But instead, his batty parents get into their monthly argument. This time it’s because his mother has to feed the chickens. It ends with her shouting the same thing as always about their Louisiana chicken farm: “I hate it here.”

What follows is Don’s journey from obscurity to fame and back again, when he becomes the youngest kid to ever win the Horse Island Dairy Festival chicken-judging contest. Gradually, his mom notices that something strange is going on–everyone knows her son –but once she realizes that Don has become the town celebrity, she sees that there may be benefits to living on a chicken farm. What she doesn’t seem to see are the benefits of having a son like Don.

For Don, the contest is the beginning of a big, big adventure. It involves trips to New Orleans and Baton Rouge, fair weather friends, a missing sister, and one big secret. Readers will cheer for Don, who goes out of his way to see the good in everything.

Quinny & Hopper by Brad Schanen Adriana

Summary: Quinny has a lot to say. Hopper gets to the point.

Quinny has one speed: very, very, extra-very fast. Hopper proceeds with caution.

Quinny has big ideas. Hopper has smart solutions.

Quinny and Hopper couldn’t be more different. They are an unstoppable team.
But when summer ends, things suddenly aren’t the same. Can Quinny and Hopper stick together in the face of stylish bullies, a killer chicken, and the brand-new Third Grade Rules-especially the one that says they aren’t allowed to be friends anymore?

Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens by Julie Mata

Summary: Night of the Zombie Chickens is supposed to be Kate Walden’s breakout film. But her supporting actresses-her mother’s prize organic hens-are high maintenance, to say the least. Thank goodness Kate’s best friend Alyssa is the star. She’s great at screaming and even better at killing zombies in creative ways.
But when Alyssa turns into a real-life soulless zombie and ditches Kate for the most popular girl in seventh grade, Kate suddenly finds herself both friendless and starless. Now, thanks to Alyssa’s new crowd, Kate is the butt of every joke at school and consigned to the loser table at lunch.

If movies have taught Kate anything, it’s that the good guy can always win-with the right script. And her fellow social outcasts may be the key to her own happy ending. Kate hatches the perfect revenge plot against her former best friend, but even though her screenplay is foolproof, Kate soon realizes that nothing-in filmmaking or in life-ever goes exactly as planned. Especially when there are diabolical hens out to get you.

Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles

Summary: When Ruby’s grandmother, Miss Eula goes to visit her new grandbaby in Hawaii, Ruby is sure that she will have a lonely, empty, horrible summer without her in boring old Halleluia, Mississippi. What happens instead? She makes a new friend, saves the school play, writes plenty of letters to her favorite (and only) grandmother . . . and finally learns to stop blaming herself for her grandfather’s death. Not too bad, for a nine-year-old.

The Secret Chicken Society by Judy Cox

Summary: When Daniel’s class hatches chicks as a science project, he adopts them. After he finds out that his favorite bird, Peepers, isn’t a hen but a rooster, and therefore illegal to keep in the city of Portland, the Secret Chicken Society is quickly formed to save Peepers.

CHICKENS IN A SERIES:

Hank the Cowdog: The Case of the Falling Sky by John R. Erickson

Summary: When Hank hears a rumor that the sky is going to fall from the ranch’s resident rooster, he is naturally a bit skeptical. But then a report from Pete the Barncat and a strange dream seem to support the theory, and Hank realizes that he’d better take the threat seriously. So Hank decides that he’ll do whatever it takes to prevent the sky from falling on his beloved ranch. Even if it means getting into trouble with Sally May (again)…

Also check out The Case of the Tender Cheeping Chickies in the Hank the Cowdog Series.

Kung Pow Chicken: Let’s Get Cracking! by Cyndi Marko

Summary from Amazon: Kung Pow Chicken is the superhero everyone has been waiting for!

This series is part of Scholastic’s early chapter book line called Branches, which is aimed at newly independent readers. With easy-to-read text, high-interest content, fast-paced plots, and illustrations on every page, these books will boost reading confidence and stamina. Branches books help readers grow!

In this exciting full-color series, Gordon Blue transforms into Kung Pow Chicken, an avian superhero who fights crime in the city of Fowladelphia. The first book in the series kicks off when Gordon’s birdy senses lead him to a festival. Suddenly, POOF! Feathers fill the air and shivering naked chickens are everywhere. Why have all these chickens lost their feathers? Forced to wear wooly sweaters, the city itches for a hero. Kung Pow Chicken hops into his Beakmobile to save the day!

Also check out the other titles in this hilarious series: Bok! Bok! Boom!; The Birdy Snatchers; and Heroes on the Side.

Supernatural Rubber Chicken: Fowl Language by D.L. Garfinkle

Summary: Meet the world’s first superpower-granting, smart-alecky, supernatural rubber chicken!

It all starts when ten-year old twing Nate and Lisa Zupinski discover a rubber chicken lying in a pile of their brother’s dirty laundry. “Dudes,” Dave says, “It’s a supernatural rubber chicken. He’s, like, magic. He’ll give the first person who touches him a superpower. And you guys get to pick which power.” Lisa and Nate don’t believe a word their airhead brother says, but then the chicken starts talking!

“Get me off of Dave’s dirty underwear!”

Lisa decides to ask the chicken to turn her shy friend Ashley into a charming speaker. But when big bully Hulk Paine gets his hands on the chicken, super charm turns into super trouble! From acclaimed author and humorist D.L. Garfinkle comes a new series so silly, so slapstick, it’s supernatural!

Also check out the other titles in this series: Poultry in Motion and Fine Feathered Four Eyes

AND TWO MIDDLE-GRADE PICTURE BOOKS:

A Chicken Followed Me Home!: Questions and Answers about a Familiar Fowl by Robin Page

Summary: Why did the chicken cross the road? To follow you home! Learn all about a not-so-basic bird in this delightful nonfiction picture book.

What’s that? A “chicken” followed you home? Now what do you do?

Celebrated author-illustrator Robin Page leads a step-by-step, question-and-answer-style journey through the world of chickens. Along the way you’ll explore different breeds, discover different types of coops, and learn everything there is to know about chicken reproduction and hatching.

Gorgeous, playful, and filled with facts, this engaging nonfiction picture book shines new light on a very familiar fowl.

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway

Summary: Inspired by true events, One Hen tells the story of Kojo, a boy from Ghana who turns a small loan into a thriving farm and a livelihood for many.

Elissa Cruz finds chickens interesting.  She writes fiction for kids and teens and her current middle-grade work-in-progress does have some chickens in it, but they only show up occasionally.  She lives with her husband and five children in Utah, and together they own a dog and a fish but no chickens…at least, not yet, anyway.