March 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

On the Radar—Top Picks from the Editors at Junior Library Guild: New Science Nonfiction Supports Common Core

During the last 10 years, researchers have learned that elementary students are more likely to read and hear fiction in their classrooms than informational texts. However, if you ever visited an elementary school library, you’d see that far more nonfiction is circulated on average than fiction. Kids love to see the photographs and learn about their world. Consequently, these books have what is known among librarians as the disease of the banana-peel spine: They’ve been read so much their spines are literally peeling off. With an increased emphasis on informational books due to adoption of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), nonfiction circulation is bound to increase. These new releases will satisfy the CCSS while feeding your information-loving patrons.

Illustrated cover of dinosaur talking to birdBONNER, Hannah. When Dinos Dawned, Mammals Got Munched, and Pterosaurs Took Flight: A Cartoon Pre-History of Life in the Triassic. illus. by author. National Geographic Kids. 2012. ISBN 9781426308635. JLG Level SCE : Science Nonfiction Elementary (Grades 2-6)

Borrowing from the “Magic School Bus”-style, fun cartoons punctuate this look into the Triassic period. Fact-filled sidebars, maps, charts, and graphs deliver a plethora of information about the evolution of creatures large and small. Knowing that there are never enough dinosaur books may be cause for selection alone, but this title is note-worthy due to its supportive material, which includes a glossary, index, and bibliography. Humor and the voice of the author make a complicated subject more accessible and certainly more than a picture book of dinosaurs.

Animals on Galapagos islandCHIN, Jason. Island: The Story of the Galapagos. illus. by author. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bk. 2012. ISBN 9781596437166. JLG Level: SCE : Science Nonfiction Elementary (Grades 2-6)

The perfect book to follow or precede When Dinos Dawned, Island is another new story about the evolution of animals. The Galapagos Islands were formed as lava spewed from a volcano. As years passed, seeds fell, birds flew over, and marine animals swam to this archipelago six hundred miles from the mainland. As they aged, they slowly began to sink. As the millions of years passed, animals that lived on the Galapagos adapted to their surroundings. Snails got thinner shells, beaks became larger, and wings became smaller. The island continued to sink. Plants and animals continued to adapt.

Back matter provided by the author explains Darwin’s theory of natural selection, the Galapagos Islands and how many of the plants and animals that survive there are endemic- they exist nowhere else in the world. It’s a fascinating story for your science nonfiction collection, beautifully illustrated by the author.

Book cover of underwater animalsHAGUE, Bradley. Alien Deep: Exploring the Mysterious World of Hydrothermal Vents. National Geographic Kids. 2012. ISBN 9781426310683. JLG Level: SCE : Science Nonfiction Elementary (Grades 2-6)

Before 1977, scientists thought that there was no life in the deep ocean. However, scientists on the Knorr found vents on the ocean floor which bubbled boiling water.  Around the vents was life. Giant clams the size of dinner plates. Red-headed tubeworms as tall as men. Since the first discovery of the vents, a new deep-ocean species has been discovered about every ten days. In 2011, a team of scientists, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, set out to explore the same hydrothermal grounds of the Galapagos Rift.

Content focuses on the work of the scientists and crew of the Okeanos Explorer and their expedition along the Galapagos Rift in the Pacific. Supporting STEM curriculum and in collaboration with National Geographic’s television series of the same name, Alien Deep explores the work of an oceanographer. Amazing photographs compliment the appropriately sized font. Glossary bubbles on each page help the reader decode the text. It’s National Geographic for Kids at its finest.

HEARST, Michael. Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Some of Earth’s Strangest Animals. Chronicle. 2012.  ISBN 9781452104676. JLG Level: SCE : Science Nonfiction Elementary (Grades 2-6)

With a good sense of humor, and a great deal of research, Michael Hearst delivers two-page spreads on fifty unusual creatures. From the depths of the sea to birds that fly, readers will read just enough information on these uncommon animals and insects to make them want more. Hagfish produce enough slime in a few minutes to fill five one gallon jugs. Saddleback caterpillars have stinging hairs that can cause swelling, rashes and nausea. The Texas Horned Lizard spurts blood from the corners of its eyes. Snakes in Asia leap out of trees and puff out their chests to fly. Try keeping this book to yourself and reading a section or two at the beginning of each class. You’ll have silence the second they see it in your hands.

Book cover with 3 parrotsJUDGE, Lita. Bird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and Why. Flash Point. 2012. ISBN 9781596436466. JLG Level: NE : Nonfiction Elementary (Grades 2-6)

Have you ever heard birds outside your window and wondered what they’re saying? Maybe you’ve been at the zoo and seen some dancing and prancing and wondered what that’s all about. Then Bird Talk is the book for you. Lita Judge, granddaughter of ornithologists, has written about her love of birds and what they do to communicate.

This fascinating look into bird behavior will have you spouting off facts to anyone who will listen. Indian Sarus Cranes mate for life. They do a wonderful ballet on the surface of the water, bowing and leaping. Western Grebes also dance on the water’s surface with their mates. The Blue Bird of Paradise hangs upside down to attract his partner. Lita finishes her informational picture book by giving more facts about each profiled bird.

Gray ParrotSPINNER, Stephanie. Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird. Knopf. 2012. ISBN 9780375868467. JLG Level: NE : Nonfiction Elementary (Grades 2-6)

As further proof that animals communicate, this fall Stephanie Spinner releases the story of Alex, who was not an ordinary bird. In 1977 a graduate student named Irene Pepperberg bought an African grey parrot at a pet store. She believed that birds were intelligent. As a scientist, she was determined to prove it. Pepperberg taught Alex to speak and count during the ten years that she had to work with him. In a time when the world thought that the size of your brain coincided with how much you could learn, Alex the Parrot revolutionized what scientists believed about animal communication. Videos online abound, so be sure to show one of these when you introduce this story.


Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at



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Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.