March 30, 2015

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Flashback: Historical Photos Transport Us to the Past | Nonfiction Booktalker


Studying a photograph of a long-ago event can be both transporting and educational, as the books in “Captured History,” a series about photography from Compass Point, show.

This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

What Lies Beneath: Weird and Unusual Marine Life | Nonfiction BookTalker

alien deep

Animals with transparent guts! Fish that make their own light! An underwater bird? Booktalk audiences hungry for adventure and monsters can find both in remarkable books on marine mysteries. While the following titles are aimed at fourth grade and above, even younger readers will find the pictures irresistible.

This article was published in School Library Journal's October 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Tough Cookies Who Changed the Course of History | Nonfiction Booktalker


Stories of strong, determined women who changed the course of history make amazing subjects for booktalks. Elizabeth Blackwell, Louisa May Alcott, and Clara Lemlich are just a few of the tough cookies with indomitable spirit who persevered in the face of adversity, achieved their goals, and became role models for others. They are featured in three recently released books that are perfect for booktalking.

Flight for Freedom: True stories of courageous individuals who escaped from slavery | Nonfiction Booktalker


This year marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation—and these recently published books highlight the remarkable true stories of courageous Americans during this period of history.

The Bear Facts: Books About Cuddly Creatures | Nonfiction Booktalker


Books about bears and pandas are super-popular with K–4 kids and a great way to encourage them to read.

Books That Explore Our (Very Distant) Past: Ancient skulls and skeletons can tell us about ourselves | Nonfiction Booktalker

Skull Rock National Geographic

The authors of the following books for fifth to eighth graders have gone way back in time—writing about intriguing research that has uncovered ancient bones, skulls, and complete skeletons.

Getting High: These incredible stories will catapult kids to surprising new heights | Nonfiction Booktalker

I’m not interested in extinct birds. Or Mars rovers. I’m marginally intrigued by Mohawk ironworkers. But give me a really good book on those topics, and I’m hooked.

Phillip Hoose can get me engrossed in anything, even Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 (Farrar, 2012). B95, a four-ounce red knot shorebird, was captured and tagged in 1995, and that tag became his name. Athletes would be awed by his stamina; every year B95 flies from […]

The Secret Lives of Presidents: A behind-the-scenes look at the residents of the White House

Picture book cover: Presidents' mothers

Every U.S. president had a mother. Most of them had children and pets. Combine these obvious, but often-unconsidered facts with a touch of humor and they spell can’t-miss booktalks.

American Heroes: Four Books Highlight the Fight Against Racism | Nonfiction Booktalker

It doesn’t matter to students whether superheroes are real or fictional. It’s all the same battle as long as they fight injustice. These four books bring the struggle against prejudice and inequality blazingly alive.

Rick Bowers’s Superman versus the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate (National Geographic, 2012) offers a fresh angle in the fight for freedom. After World War II, the Last Son of Krypton quickly took […]

To the Rescue!: These incredible new tales can inspire your students to fight injustice

Michael Tunnell’s latest book did something amazing to my brain. Now I can’t hear the word “candy” without thinking of the word “hero.” This is a delectable combination that I’m certain my booktalk audiences make daily, but I’m also certain they haven’t heard the amazing story found in Tunnell’s Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Aircraft’s Chocolate Pilot (Charlesbridge, 2011).

In 1948, after World War II, Berlin, except for narrow air corridors, was cut off from the […]

Death and Destruction’s Lure: Catastrophes Equal Riveting Booktalks

Young learners know from watching television and listening to grown-ups that disasters can strike anywhere. Show your booktalk listeners a map of North America and point to Canada’s eastern coast, where disaster struck not once, but twice!

Nova Scotia’s largest city, Halifax, has a superb harbor and a history of horror. The cold waves have sent dead bodies to shore several times in the town’s lifetime. Hundreds washed up in its port when the Titanic sank in 1912. […]

Extreme Science | Nonfiction Booktalker

The self-sacrifice of some scientists will inspire awe, admiration, and chills

You’ve heard of people throwing themselves into their work, right? Well, these books for grades five to eight introduce us to folks who literally hurl themselves with passionate force to make incredible advances in scientific knowledge.

Donna Jackson’s fascinating Extreme Scientists: Exploring Nature’s Mysteries from Perilous Places (Houghton, 2009) describes three researchers who boldly go into dangerous places on a regular basis. First up, Paul Flaherty, the hurricane guy. His daring […]

History with a Hook | Nonfiction Booktalker

Famous mysteries that have endured for decades will delight kids

A strand of hair, a broken bone, and a girl who hid from the sunlight for two years. They all represent mysteries that have endured for decades, even centuries. Three fascinating new books detail these mind-twisters and will delight kids who love a good puzzle.

Most people regard Ludwig Beethoven as one of the world’s greatest classical composers. But did they realize that he didn’t always hear the music he […]

For the Love of Art: The Road to Fame Was Long and Hard for Some of the Best Artists | Nonfiction Booktalker

The words “starving” and “artist” are a too-familiar pair. Some creators are willing to suffer whatever it takes. But the grit and sweat that challenge artists also make them fascinating, compelling, and unforgettable. Children in grades 2–5 will be charmed and intrigued by a trio of stunning author biographies.

Kathleen Krull’s The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum (Knopf, 2008) tells the story of one of America’s most beloved writers. Baum grew […]

Conversations with Dead People | Nonfiction Booktalker

Mysterious deaths always seem to delight

Murder. Mysterious deaths. Mummies. They all add up to a “can’t miss” booktalk. “Delicious death,” as Agatha Christie used to call her favorite subject. Some recent and gloriously illustrated books about historical bodies serve up a tantalizing spread.
     Like Christie, Sibert Award-winner Sally M. Walker knows how to hook a reader. The cover of her Written in Bone: Buried Lives in Jamestown and Colonial Maryland (Carolrhoda, 2009) displays the skeleton of a boy whose life […]

Happy Birthday, Abe: Celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s big 2-0-0 with these fun books | Nonfiction Booktalker

On February 12, we celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and publishers, like the rest of the country, are rushing in to mark the big day of this bigger-than-life-size man. Lincoln probably already commands a goodly portion of your bookshelves, but take a look at some of these wonderful new titles, which make for fine booktalks.

Judith St. George’s Stand Tall, Abraham Lincoln (Philomel, 2008; Grades 3–5) reminds us that Abe had a tough childhood. Although Abe worked hard on the farm, his […]

In a League of Their Own | Nonfiction Booktalker

The Negro Leagues raised the bar and broke many barriers

Most kids won’t believe it if you tell them that African Americans were not welcome in major league baseball for much of its history. They’ll think you’ve gotten your facts mixed up. But, of course, you don’t. Booktalks on the not-always-so-wonderful olden days of our country’s national pastime make for an entertaining and educational session.

Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (Jump at the Sun, […]

Women of Extraordinary Vision | Nonfiction Booktalker

You’ve heard of Helen Keller, of course, but who came before her?

This past March, a previously unknown, 130-year-old photo of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy made front-page news. I stared at the photo in wonder: How many people, dead for decades, still attract our fascination? “Certainly Helen Keller makes the cut,” I told myself. Fortunately, a recent burst of books on Helen, and on women like her, attest to that fact. And all make for captivating booktalks.

Start with Emily […]

History’s Secrets Revealed | Nonfiction Booktalker

Four great booktalks to uncover the past

On Memorial Day weekend last year, I suddenly became intrigued and then obsessed by genealogy. As I followed the twisting roots and branches of my family tree, I was delighted by the surprises I got by peeking into the past. It’s the same delight we all get by digging into history.

Four books—all hugely appealing, all bristling with insight into how our forebears lived—make great booktalks for middle-grade audiences.

First off, Mark Kurlansky’s The Story of […]

Talkin’ Trash | Nonfiction Booktalker

How shoes floating in the Pacific pointed to a scary environmental problem

The scariest book I’ve read this year isn’t about terrorists, serial killers, or zombies. It’s about a pair of Nike shoes floating in the ocean. Bone-chilling, huh? Well, it is, according to Loree Griffin Burns. Her absorbing Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion (Houghton, 2007) starts placidly enough, describing ocean currents. Sailors have known about them for centuries, using them as fast lanes in the […]