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Children's and Young Adult Literature
Genre 4 - Nonfiction (informational fiction)

Armstrong, Jennifer.  1998.  SHIPWRECK AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD.  New York:  Scholastic, Inc., by arrangement with Random House Children's Books.  ISBN:  0439109922.
     SHIPWRECK AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD is a book about the true story of Sir Ernest Shackleton's expedition to Antarctica in his quest to become the first to cross the continent and the dramatic story of how they became icebound and their incredible feat of survival.  Shackleton and his crew aboard the Endurance became trapped in ice when trying to reach Antarctica.  Their ship sank a year and three months into the expedition and Armstrong's book details their story of survival against incredible odds crossing the ice floes to try and reach land.  The author describes in detail their diet, deprivation, lack of sleep and incredible cold and wet conditions the men had to endure.  The book has many accurate and current facts based on her research of primary sources.  Armstrong includes an Acknowledgement at the end of the book listing the books and sources she used when writing the book.  She attributes the most significant assistance she received to the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, England, and the people associated with the Institute.  Armstrong was able to use primary sources such as Worsley's logbook and Frank Hurley's photographs which are included in the book as reproductions.  Armstrong also includes a Bibliography and Index for more information.  Armstrong's extensive use of primary sources make the book very interesting to read.  Any stereotypes that are in the book were clearly pointed out as those common to that time, but are not acceptable today.
     The arrangement of the book is very logical and straightforward.  Armstrong tells Shackleton's story in chronological order, so the reader is not confused by the use of flashbacks.  The Table of Contents at the beginning of the book is clear and Armstrong has also included a labeled photograph of the expedition members as well as detailed schematics of each level of the ship for the reader to become familiar with before beginning the book.  Armstrong has included reproductions of the original photographs that were taken on the expedition which add to the appeal of the book as well as adding a more personal touch to the story.  Photographs also include a brief description by each for easier browsing.
     The book's design is attractive and inviting.  The cover of the book pictures Shackleton's crew in harnesses pulling a boat across the ice.  Without Hurley's original photographs, the book would not be near as interesting.  Because the photographs are included, it adds immensely to the book and the reader's understanding and appreciation of what Shackleton's expedition experienced. 
     Armstrong's telling of the story is engaging and effective.  She includes personal quotes which she obtained from diaries and journals of Shackleton and the crew members which make the story more personal and riveting.  It is evident from Armstrong's writing that she has researched not only what happened to the Endurance, but that she has also researched Antarctica, and the weather and ocean conditions around it as well.  She tells the reader that there are eighty kinds of snow and ice and gives examples and descriptions of some of the more common types that Shackleton and his crew encountered.  "This is a very effective presentation of notonly how the disaster occurred, but of the toll it took on the crew and how they rose to the challenge."  (Moesch, 2000).  I found myself picking out bits of interesting information and reading them to my son, who is in the third grade and is reading a much shorter version of Shackleton's survival in his reading book at school.  He told me my book was much more interesting and the pictures were "way better."  I greatly enjoyed reading SHIPWRECK AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD and found myself wishing that nonfiction books were more like this when I was growing up.  Armstrong writes clearly, gives enough information to satisfy the reader without overwhelming, and writes interesting descriptions.  I found her description of how navigators find latitude using a sextant the most clear and informative version I have ever read.  I was amazed that I actually understood the process.  After reading SHIPWRECK AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD many will wish to read more about Antarctica, the wildlife, and other survival stories.
Moesch, Christine.  1 August, 2000.  School Library Journal.  Books in Print.  [database online].  Available from:
Accessed 12 March, 2005. 
Simon, Seymour.  1993.  WOLVES.  New York:  Harper Collins.  ISBN:  0060225343.
     In WOLVES, Seymour Simon describes to the reader the lives of wolves in a photo essay.  Simon points out that wolves have often been portrayed as bad or evil, but in reality, are no worse than a lion or any other animal trying to survive.  Simon explains that wolves, like lions, are marvelous hunters, yet lions are respected while wolves are thought of as sly and cowardly. Simon presents a wide range of information explaining how wolves live in the wild.
     Simon presents his facts in an interesting manner.  He describes the different types of wolves and where wolves can be found in the world.  He describes their diet, hunting techniques, sounds they make, how pack dynamics work, and their young.  Simon presents his facts clearly without anthropomorphism and points out stereotypes people often hold of wolves and explains why these are not true.  Simon is experienced with writing science books for young readers, and this is apparent in this book.  He is a former science teacher and more than sixty of his books have been selected as Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children by the National Science Teachers Association. (Harper Collins Publishers, 1993)
     The layout of the book is logical and coherent in spite of not containing a Table of Contents.  The information flows logically from one page to the next starting with the types and variety of wolves and where they are found, to hunting, pack dynamics, raising of young, and ending with the modern controversy of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park.  I was personally disappointed that there was no Bibliography or list of other sources that young readers could go to for more information on the subject if they so wish.  Simon has included fabulous photographs of wolves to enhance each topic he has described.  These photographs include wolves hunting, running, howling, and sleeping as puppies.
     The book's design is visually appealing.  The book is in picture book format with two page spreads, one page containing the text and the other page composed of a full color photograph of a wolf or wolves in various poses and activities.  These photographs are very complementary to the text give insight to the reader about the wolves' lives.  This format is very appropriate for the younger reader, but for an older reader wanting to skim or browse, there are no captions to describe the photographs.  You must read the text that goes along with the photograph.  
     Simon presents his information clearly for the young reader without making the information dull or making the reader feel that they are being talked down to.  He adds descriptive phrases such as "Wolves seem to glide effortlessly when they run, almost like the shadow of a cloud drifting along the ground."  Simon raises the readers curiousity about the subject and brings up issues for the reader to think about.  An example, "It seems strange that people love dogs and admire lions but dislike wolves." makes the reader question why this is the way it is.  Simon also raises the question "Should we allow this symbol of wildness to hunt again in remote areas and the national parks where it once roamed free?"  This ending to the book lets the reader think about this issue and decide for themselves what they believe the answer should be.
     Overall, I enjoyed the book.  The information was clear and concise, the descriptions were beneficial, and the author raised questions to think about.  The photographs show the beauty of the wolves and add immensly to the book's appeal.  Younger readers will want to look through the book many times because of the photographs. 
Simon, Seymour.  1993.  WOLVES.  New York:  Harper Collins.  ISBN:  0060225343.

Lauber, Patricia.  1986.  VOLCANO  THE ERUPTION AND HEALING OF MOUNT ST. HELENS.  New York:  Bradbury Press.  ISBN:  0027545008.
     In VOLCANOES  THE ERUPTION AND HEALING OF MOUNT ST. HELENS Patricia Lauber describes the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 and the return of life to the area devastated by the eruption.  Lauber begins the book by describing Mount St. Helens, scientists predictions of eruption, and the warning signs Mount St. Helens exhibited before the erupting.  She then describes the eruption, the aftermath, and the return of life to the area.
     Lauber does an excellent job presenting accurate and current facts to young readers.  Her facts are more current than some other books I have read on Mount St. Helens because Lauber details the changes that have occurred to the area since the eruption.  She describes the growth of fungi and plants that began the recovery process that enable animals to return to the area.  She also explains the connection between plants and animals and the biomes of the region.  She also includes information on the scientists studies and observations of the region; that this was a great opportunity for scientists to learn many new things.  Scientists learned that when insects shed, their molts help enrich the soil.  They could collect, measure, and study the molts and insect bodies.  They were surprised to learn the amount of carbon and other minerals in the molts and bodies.  "One scientist said, 'We never even noticed them before, because they're so small.'" (Lauber, p 44.)  Lauber skillfully describes the theory of Plate Tectonics in a way that young people can understand.  She makes use of analogy, comparing the moving plates to a conveyor belt to demonstrate plates moving under each other and pulling apart.  Lauber credits the scientists and naturalists for their help in writing the book, some of which were kind enough to read and comment on her manuscript.  Laubers book contained no instances of stereotypes or of anthropomorphism.  She describes the importance of gophers to helping the area begin new life without giving the gophers any human qualities.
     The book contains five chapters which are logical in layout.  Lauber describes the volcano waking, the eruption, the survivors and colonizers, the links between life forms, and then describes the connection between volcanoes and life.  Many patterns are included in the book demonstrating the simple to complex connections between the various forms of wildlife near Mount St. Helens.  Lauber includes a Contents page and an Index in the book.  I was disappointed that there was no bibliography included or other sources to learn more about volcanoes or how wildlife has recovered in other natural disasters.
     The book is very attractive and inviting.  The front and back cover of the book show the same full-sized color photograph of the volcano venting steam from the dome.  Lauber has included maps showing the location of Mount St. Helens and other nearby volcanoes and as well as the Pacific Rim of Fire and diagrams of volcanoes and the three types of motion of the earth's plates.  She has included an abundance of color photographs of Mount St. Helens and the devastation that occurred as well as the surviving and returning forms of wildlife.  All photographs have short captions that provide for browsing through the book easily.  Without the photographs, much of the power of the book would be lost.  The photographs after the eruption make the area look like the surface of the moon.  The pictures showing what areas looked like before and after the quake make a memorable impression of the power of the eruption.
     Lauber writes very clearly and the information she presents is interesting.  I thought the beginning of the book contained sentences that were short and choppy, but it seemed to improve further into the reading.  For instance, the first few sentences read "For many years the volcano slept.  It was silent and still, big and beautiful.  Then the volcano, which was named Mount St. Helens, began to stir." (Lauber p. 1)  The sentences are flowing and sounding smoother further into the book. "These people knew that Mount St. Helens was a volcano, but they did not fear it.  To them it was simply a green and pleasant mountain, where forests of firs stretched up the slopes and streams ran clear and cold." (Lauber p. 3)  The topic of volcanoes naturally contains curiosity and wonder and Lauber presents her information in such a way to answer questions that the reader might have.  She describes how fungi mats helped move the recovery process along quickly and how much material was blown off the top of the mountain when the eruption occurred.  I believe young readers would enjoy thinking about how volcanoes are made and what leads to an eruption.  If a bibliography had been included, I believe young readers would look for these other books to find out more about the topic.  Natural disasters are fascinating to read about to indulge our curiosity.
     I enjoyed reading this book and learned several interesting facts about Mount St. Helens that I hadn't known before.  Most of those facts involved the recovery of the area.  It is no wonder the book received the Newbery Honor Award in 1987.  The text is accurate, current and written well and the photographs greatly enhance the book.
Freedman, Russell.  1987.  LINCOLN  A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY.  New York:  Scholastic by arrangement with Clarion Books.  ISBN:  059042145X.
     Russell Freedman has written several non-fiction books for young adults.  In this book, Freedman has included an Acknowledgments and Picture Credits at the end where he gives thanks to several places and people for helping him with his research, such as the Illinois State Historical Library, where he was able to use original documents, as well as several other people and places that provided valuable information and research.  Freedman's facts are accurate and are presented in an interesting manner.  He has included many quotes from and photographs of original documents to make the book more interesting.  "Freedman's extensive research is apparent in the liberal use he makes of quotations from original sources (letters, contemporary newspaper articles, etc.)" (School Library Journal, 1 December 1987.)  Freedman's book begins with describing where and when Lincoln was born and ends with the description of the crowds that met the train that was carrying Lincoln's body back to Springfield, Illinois after his assassination and death.  Freedman's facts are clearly stated and any stereotypes that are included in the book are explained as being common to that time period. 
     The book is very clearly laid out in a logical manner, being written in the chronological order in which the events happened in Lincoln's life.  Freedman has divided the book into seven chapters.  The first chapter, The Mysterious Mr. Lincoln, gives a general description of Lincoln and describes some misconceptions that many have had about him and dispels these with facts and reasons for why they are not true.  Freedman then writes about Lincoln's childhood, law and politics, his beliefs about the slaves, emancipation, the civil war, and his assassination.  What really makes this a spectacular book and worthy of winning the Newbery Medal are the many extras that Freedman has included such as the section called "In Lincoln's Footsteps" which lists several historical sites that played an important part in Lincoln's life, career, and death that people may go visit.  Freedman also included a section that describes other books about Lincoln that the reader may also wish to find to read more about Lincoln.  An index enables the reader to easily look up information quickly.  Freedman has included a great many black and white photographs obtained from various archives and historical sources, drawings and political cartoons from Lincoln's time.  All photgraphs, drawings and politcal cartoons have captions describing each item which makes browsing the book easy. 
    The design of the book is very attractive with a full sized photograph of Lincoln on the cover and a smaller photograph showing Lincoln outside a tent in a camp from the Civil War on the back cover.  Freedman has included more than eighty black and white photographs to coordinate with the topic or person being described in the text.  He has also included drawings and political cartoons from the time period as well.  Each has an appropriate caption to go with it.
     Freedman text is crisp, interesting, and informative without using large words that young readers would have a hard time understanding or talking down to them.  For example, Freedman describes the process by which senators at the time were elected in a manner that is easy for young readers to understand.  "At the time, senators were elected by state legislatures, not by popular vote.  When the returns came in, the Republicans had not won enough seats in the legislature to send Lincoln to the Senate.  Douglas was reelected by a narrow margin." (p. 60)  I found int interesting that in two places Freedman has placed a series of photographs showing how he had changed in appearance over a time span.  Once instance shows Lincoln growing a beard, and the other instance shows how Lincoln had aged dramatically during the course of the Civil War.  Some of the photographs are of places that a person can go to and visit today.  They rouse the reader's curiousity because you wonder if it looks like that today.  There is a drawing on page 34 of the Lincoln's sitting room in their house in Springfield.  It makes the reader wonder what it would look like to actually go and visit the room in the house.  What would the colors and the pattern in the wallpaper look like, the carpet and drapes?  I have actually been to the Lincoln home on an annual basis for our 7th grade class trip, and the reader cannot grasp what it looks like in actuality from the drawing in the book.  The Lincoln's used bright colors in decorating.  To help satisfy the reader's curiousity to read more about Lincoln, Freedman has included a description of more books that have been written about Lincoln as well as sites of historical importance that can be visited.  Freedman's enthusiasm and interest in Lincoln carry through his writing.  He clearly spells out the Lincoln of legend from the Lincoln of fact.  Lincoln was talkative and witty, but often kept his inner feelings to himself and could be quite moody.
     Overall, this is an excellent source of information about Abraham Lincoln.  It would be a great book to use as an introduction for a class beginning the Civil War.  The photographs and illustrations can be shown to a class and the captions read to inspire curiosity and enthusiam for the subject.  It may inspire students to desire to read the book and learn more about this complex President.
Accessed 12 March, 2005.

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Last updated 01/15/2006