Books We Are Using This Year
  • The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    by Jeff West,S. Wise Bauer,Jeff (ILT) West, Susan Wise Bauer
  • Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    by Bernard J Nebel PhD
  • Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    by Steven P. Demme
  • First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    by -Author-
  • Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    by Mona Brookes
Powered by Squarespace
Live and Learn Categories
Live and Learn Tags

Entries in children's non-fiction (10)


Weekly book shelf, 9/24

We are on an exploration of evolution and prehistory these days (check out our felt timeline!), and I was pleasantly surprised to find so many beautifully written and illustrated children's books on the subject. In fact, these are just five of many books that we played with this week.

Our Family Tree is the lightest and simplest of the three picture books here. A family is shown on the beach drawing their family tree in the sand, starting with the appearance of bacteria and moving through to current times. The pages are filled edge to edge with beautiful illustrations in deep, rich colors, some of the family on the beach, others of the periods of the past. The story is that of the earth and its creatures, told in one or two flowing sentences of poetic language on each page. At the end of the book is a timeline noting the periods of the illustrations and giving brief details about each. This one is truly a picture book, and it presents the history of the earth and its creatures very calmly and pleasantly.

Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution begins with a general overview of the earth's timeline presented in short one paragraph descriptions of the periods with illustrations to boot. Following this is a more detailed telling of our current age and the development of evolution as a science. The book touches on evolution, natural selection and survival of the fittest, variation and mutation, speciation, and extinction. Illustrations made of torn paper images give a texture to the pages and bring extinct creatures to life. They are also expertly used to demonstrate concepts, such as mutations/variations and natural selection. Together, the illustrations and the clean writing present serious information in an understandable and enjoyable manner.

Virginia Lee Burton's presentation of evolution is filled with the illustrations and soft, flowing words we've come to expect from her. Life Story is a detailed but non-technical account of the story of the Earth, and it does not touch at all on evolution—in fact, I don't think it even uses the word once—but it roughly presents the concept through the idea of ancestors and changing life. I can't tell if that's a relic of its age, or of the author. But the real bone to pick here is with the obvious ethno-centric view point come modern man. Prehistoric man is mentioned, then the development of society, and then there is "the discovery of the New World", after which the book basically becomes the story of the evolution of American suburbia. For all that, though, I am enjoying this one with Calvin.

Bang! The Universe Verse and It's Alive! The Universe Verse Book 2 are both graphic novels and are a truly unique look at the history of life, the universe, and everything. These books present basic concepts (like partical physics and stoichiometry???), entirely in rhyme and illustrations like those found in any good graphic novel. Because they are written in rhyme, some of the language can be a bit convoluted, but also because of the rhyme they are enjoyable to read and listen to. They are most definintely too much information for Calvin right now, but he enjoyed listening to them and had a great time re-reading them himself several times already, and that means he's hearing the words and understanding that those concepts are out there, and I count that in the win-win category. These books will be lots of fun for some, but are definitely not for everyone.

We also finished reading The Secret Zoo, and Calvin has been reading Arabian Nights with Jon at night again. To himself he's mostly been re-reading his Magic Tree House books as of late.

And on my shelf...I finished The Help and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, along with another book I read in order to review it for Book List, the ALA's book review magazine. Reviewing is a new job for me, and I'll have to see how it effects my after hours reading.


Weekly book shelf, 8/24

What Calvin read to himself this week...

Goodnight, Owl! made our favorites list when Calvin was a toddler. All the owl wants to do is sleep, but his tree is filled with diurnal birds who are keeping him awake with their litany of calls. No worries, he gets revenge at night! The large, clean font is easy to see and follow, the illustrations are textured and warm, and the story has an enjoyable rhythm, and it's fun for both reader and listener to make all those bird sounds.

Sam the Sea Cow is a great mixture of story and factual writing. You meet Sam shortly after his birth, then follow him as he learns to live life as a manatee. When he gets caught in a pipe he has to be rescued by the nearby aquarium, rehabilitated, then released. Sam is endearing, the illustrations are very sweet, and the writing is structured for younger children, but there is a lot of great information shared here, too, and the manatees are made loveable without the intrusion of personification. Calvin absolutely loves Sam and his story.

Creatures of the Desert World is a National Geographic Society pop-up action book. Each page of this book presents different flora and fauna from Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Like most pop-up books the focus is not on the text, which is mainly used to describe and label the animals and plants that are depicted in the beautiful, realistic illustrations. The pop-up actions are well made and Calvin really enjoys them.

Eve of the Emperor Penguin is part of the Magic Tree House series, but it's one of the Merln Missions so it mixes in a bit of fantasy (more so than the time travel, that is). Jack and Annie are whisked away to Antarctica, presumably in the current era, to find a secret needed to save Merlin's life. They travel part way up Mt. Erebus, fall through the glacial ice, and meet a group of Emperor Penguins before traveling home. Calvin loved this one so much he read it twice, once to himself and once to me. I continue to be pleased with the series because it doesn't hide the factual information inside the story but presents it as information as Jack and Annie look it up during their travels. You can read Calvin's review here.

What we read out loud...

We finished reading The Tale of Despereaux this week and you can find our review here. I was disappointed, but Calvin enjoyed it well enough. Our next book is going to be The Secret Zoo, by Brian Chick.

And on my shelf this week...nothing has changed. I've spent so much of my time this past week on looking into curriculum and preparing projects for Calvin that I'm only half way through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, only about 50 pages further in Proust, and haven't made any progress in Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves.


Weekly book shelf, 8/20

We spent a lot of our time in Antarctica this week, or at least in learning about it. After finishing Mr. Popper's Penguins Calvin was keen on learning more penguins and their home. He picked out a lot of library books on the subject, we went to the zoo, and our home has been filled with (imaginary) members of that species all week long, each with an exotic name, such as Penguinogio, Penguinogiotonio, and Gambul. It's been a lot of fun.

What Calvin read to himself this week...a lot of non-fiction because of the south pole exploration.

I am in love with the Getting to Know Nature's Children book series from Grolier (Scholastic) because they have beautiful full page photographs that face pages of well written text in a font that is easy to read but is not meant to be "eye-catching", and they are completely devoid of the extra graphics, icons, gimmicks and the like (which are so prevalent in children's non-fiction today, and which I think add confusion and over stimulate the senses). Unfortunately the series is out of print, and the cover image I have here is from a later printing (in which it is inexplicably linked with elephants), so I don't know if it's the same inside, but our library has most of the originals and they are on our favorites list there.

The True Book series from Scholastic is not on my top list. There are at least two fonts on every page, and two to four font colors, font sizes, font types or variations, plus graphics that are meant to draw the eye (away from the important text) towards quick fact tidbits (for those who don't want to read the book maybe?) and away from the photos. There are good facts here, I just wish they'd let the photos and facts stand for themselves. Calvin did fine with the book, and I know he read it, but I feel like it was more of a jumble for him than when he read the Nature's Children book straight through (and got a lot out of it).

And he finished The Boxcar Children #1 this week, and started in on Eve of the Emperor Penguin, and its non-fiction counter part, Penguins and Antarctica, right away.



What we read to Calvin this week...we're still working our way through Despereaux, which is pretty enjoyable, but I'm finding the slang dialect annoying...almost as annoying as the intrusive narrator (since I'm reading it out loud I've actually started skipping over the words "dear reader" and the like). I'm also not sure about some of the subject matter. There is violence (like the girl getting beat over the head until she is near deaf, and the mouse getting his tail cut off), plus the queen dies and the rat desires nothing but revenge because people don't like him. these things haven't upset Calvin at all, but maybe I should have read it myself first.

And on my shelf this week...I am back at Proust, I'm plugging through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I'm in the middle of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, by Naomi Aldort.


Weekly book shelf, 7/23

I'm way behind, so it's nowhere near 7/23, but it always takes me a bit to catch up after vacation, and I didn't want to skip a week because Calvin read some fun books while we were away, so I'm just posting late.

What Calvin read to himself this week... Lots of really great books this week, and three of them were entirely new to us. They came into the library sale room just before we left and they looked so perfect I bought them! "Hidden Michigan" is a hidden pictures kind of book with illustrated maps of various regions in our state, plus written facts and anectdotes. It was fun for him to read as we were driving from the SE corner of the state to the NW. "Let's Go to Mackinac Island!" is a week long trip with a family of four to the historic island in the Straights of Mackinac. The illustrations are light and airy and the story is realistic and engaging. We didn't actually go to the island, but we saw it from the shore, and Calvin really enjoyed the book.

"Coyote Cry" is an incredibly beautiful book about living with nature. This is probably not a book for very young children; in it a family is struggling to protect their sheep from the coyotes, and when the young boy's puppy goes missing they assume the coyote has eaten him like the sheep. In the end they find that the coyote has stollen the pup to raise herself, possibly because her own young have died. So there is allusion to death, and a lot of instense emotions, but they are handled with maturity and beauty. Calvin loved it and I think it is to become a family favorite. And "All About Trains" is one of Calvin's favorites because he is such a train lover. It is full of information that is accessible to kids, but not watered down, and illustrations that are realistic and interesting.

Things we read together this week... we're still reading the Little House book. It's taking us this long because we just don't go back to it all that often. It might be time to let it go and move on. And because we were out of town all week we packed a couple of old favorites, including the Arabian Nights and The Aeneid, but haven't really started something new yet.

On my shelf this week...I finished the disappointing "The Map of Time" and I think I'll pick up The Time Machine to supplement this week. I am making headway on Proust, too, even though it seriously feels like I'm going nowhere since I decided to re-read the first volume to up my note taking. Oh well.


Weekly book shelf, 7/16

We're on vacation this week. Yeah! Before we left we stopped by the library to fill out Calvin's weekly reading program form, but I left his own log at home and actually can't remember what the four books were that he listed from this week. So I'm winging it, and these are books I know he read this week.

What Calvin read to himself this week...the Nate the Great I don't think was a new one to him, but he gravitates to that series every once in while. Little Squirrel's Special Nest is another in the Reader's Digest Animal Adventures series. The writing in the series isn't remarkable, and the moral lessons are pretty forced, but I like that the stories are firmly planted in the natural sciences.

Earth, by Keith Brandt, is a really great (out of print) book about our physical world and the forces impacting it. It covers the makeup of the earth, the solar system, and everything between, and is both interesting and informative. And The Island of the Skog is a cute book, but not expertly written—the story development isn't smooth and the "moral of the story" is a little weak.

Some things we read out loud this week...we're still finishing up The Little House in the Big Woods, and we've read a lot of other fun books out loud this week, but I can't remember any of them right now. Maybe because I'm on vacation.

 I'm still reading Proust—I'm on my second time through Swann's Way—but I've also picked up The Map of Time by Félix J. Palma. This will be the first vacation on which I read as much as I planned to.