April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Nonfiction Notes | Inching Toward Women’s History Month

In the last issue of Curriculum Connections, our “Nonfiction Notes” column premiered. Its purpose? To highlight a few titles publishing that calendar month–books that that have caught our eye and display the hallmarks of quality nonfiction: accuracy, lively writing, and an interesting approach, along with support materials in the form of informative illustrations, primary resources, author and source notes, and further reading lists.

We particularly look for titles that align with the goals of the CCSS–books that provide unique perspectives, ask readers to consider multiple points of view, and generate conversation, as well as leisure reading material. On occasion, a fiction title may slip in–one that offers a perfect complement to a nonfiction study or a thought-provoking interpretation. This month, books about women make a good showing.

Adler, David. Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. (Holiday House; Gr 4-8). Filled with primary-source material, black-and-white period reproductions, and detailed notes, this book will provide students with insight into the Tubman’s life, the tenor of the times, and an author’s research. See Doers and Dreamers: Celebrating Black History in this issue of Curriculum Connections for more about this book.

Arnold, Caroline. Too Hot? Too Cold? Keeping Body Temperature Just Right. (Illus. by Annie Patterson; Charlesbridge; Gr 3-5). How humans and creatures regulate body temperature is covered in this clearly written title for elementary students. Each spread presents a paragraph or two of text on topics such as “Cooling and Warming the Blood,” “Fur, Hair, and Feathers,” and “Body Size and Shape.” Several captioned and carefully labeled watercolor illustrations and/or diagrams per spread offer information and illuminate concepts. A glossary delivers additional support.

Markel, Michelle. Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. (Illus. by Melissa Sweet; HarperCollins, 2013; K- Gr 5). The America Clara Lemlich discovered when she disembarked at Ellis Island in the early 1900s wasn’t the country she had envisioned. Working long hours in NYC’s garment district for little pay under appalling conditions, the feisty, “uncrushable” immigrant fought back. Lemlich led the “the largest walkout of women workers in U.S. history,” a strike that resulted in a shorter workweek and more pay for many women. An author’s note provides more information about the garment industry, including the firms that refused to negotiate with the strikers, “notably” the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The watercolor, gouache, and mixed-media collages artwork by Melissa Sweet forms a patchwork of vibrant images. Consider this title when introducing the topics of workers’ rights, women’s history, and the early 20th-century immigrant experience.

Rubin, Susan Goldman. Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People (Abrams; Gr 6 Up). Rivera was a larger-than-life personality and Rubin documents the painter’s private and professional life. Numerous quotes provide readers with the essence of this man, while sumptuous reproductions highlight the “storytelling” style of his murals. The author doesn’t shy away from discussing the controversy that his art ignited, particularly The Detroit Industry frescoes painted in the lobby of the New York City’s RCA building, which included a portrait of Vladimir Lenin. Black-and-white photos of the artist at work and with Frida Kahlo illustrate the book. A glossary, sources, and author’s notes about Mexican history and Rivera’s influences are also included. Beautiful bookmaking.

Parker, Steve. The Human Body Book (2nd ed.) (DK; Gr 6-10). When the first edition of this book was released School Library Journal’s reviewer called The Human Body “a mesmerizing tour of the body’s parts and common diseases,” noting its superb illustrations with “razor-sharp detail, realistic modeling, clean colors, and clear and thorough labeling.” In addition to covering the 10 body systems, this edition adds a section on aging. Updated illustrations and information on recent medical advances are included. The accompanying DVD delivers some added animation on the breathing and digestive processes. Consider for both circulating and reference collections.

Stone, Tanya Lee. Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? (Illus. by Marjorie Priceman; Holt, 2013; Gr 1-5). Good question. While it’s likely that your students have seen a female physician, in the middle of the 19th century practicing medicine wasn’t an option for women. But encouraged by a friend, Elizabeth Blackwell applied to medical schools and after 28 rejection letters she was finally admitted to New York’s Geneva Medical. This picture book is a great choice for Women’s History Month and lends itself to discussion: explore with your students what those rejection letters stated, if attitudes toward women have changed, and whether occupations are still closed to certain groups today. What other stories have they read about individuals who persevered against all odds? Ask students what impression Marjorie Priceman’s fluid watercolor images create of the Blackwell. (Consider the woman’s stride and gestures.) In what way do the illustrations depict a woman who refused to be constrained by contemporary attitudes? Look for period details in the art. An author’s note contains more information about Blackwell with mention of the institutions she founded: a medical school for women and a hospital for women and children.

Yolen, Jane and Heidi E. Y. Stemple. Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves & Other Female Villains. (Illus. by Rebecca Guay; Charlesbridge; Gr 8 Up). Just in time for Women’s History Month in March comes a collective biography of a 26 women from the Biblical Delilah to Gangster Girlfriend Virginia Hill. With an appealing cover, a chatty text, colorful graphic-art illustrations, and a cast of infamous characters, this book will appeal to a range of readers, including those looking for leisure reading. With a title like this, who will be able to resist?  The select bibliographies for each chapter include books and websites.

Curriculum Connections

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.