March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

From Disappearing Honeybees to Dinosaurs | Nonfiction Notes, October 2013

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.

Medical experimentation, conflict resolution, disappearing honeybees, and dinosaurs are just some of the topics that made our list of nonfiction titles publishing this month.

Bober, Natalie S. Papa Is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost. (Holt; Gr 3-5). illus. by Rebecca Gibbon.
Told from the point of view of Frost’s 15-year-old daughter on the family’s return from a two-and-a-half year hiatus in England, readers meet an unconventional, creative family with a poultry farmer/poet at its helm. The author shares details of the homeschooled, nature- and book-loving family’s life on Derry Farm in New Hampshire, illustrated with delightful acrylic ink, colored pencil, and watercolor artwork on every page. The author suggests sources of some of Frost’s best-known poems, and appends a dozen favorites, along with quotes by the poet, to the end of her picture-book text. While this title is catalogued as fiction, the book will serve any study of the poet or his poems. An author’s note relates additional details about Frost and his family, as well as a handful of black-and-white archival photos.

Brown, Don, The Great American Dust Bowl. (Houghton Harcourt; Gr 5 Up). illus. by author.
If there is any doubt that graphic treatments can’t impart the same amount or depth of information that text-heavy accounts can, Don Brown’s latest title should dispel that notion. Brown begins with an account of the slaughter of millions of bison across the plains, and the pioneer’s import of cattle that couldn’t survive on prairie grass or tolerate the prairie’s temperature extremes. Years later, the European need for wheat during WWI spurred additional planting of the grain, as did dramatic price fluctuations (including those of the Great Depression). This, plus the years of drought that followed, created a recipe for an “unqualified disaster.” Brown’s line-and-watercolor illustrations chart the destruction and the despair of the American people as dust storms up to 200 miles in width rolled across our country during “the worst environmental catastrophe the country has ever seen.” A bibliography and source notes are included.

Guiberson, Brenda Z. The Greatest Dinosaur Ever. (Holt, 2013; PreS-Gr 2). illus. by Gennady Spirin.
What child hasn’t claimed to be the “greatest” or “best” at something? It’s human nature—and apparently dinosaur nature as well. From Sauroposeidon, who shook the earth when it walked, to Microraptor, who, with four featured wings could “glide from tree to tree” to escape predators, 12 dinosaurs stake their claim as the “greatest dinosaur ever.” The simple text (and phonetic guide to names) could easily be used with beginning readers who will also want to pore over Spirin’s gorgeous oil paintings detailing lush land- and seascapes. An illustrated “Dinosaurs of the World” page provides a few facts about each creature including its size, period, location, and the meaning of its name.

Markle, Sandra. The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery. (Millbrook, Gr 4-8).
In her investigation of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), Markle begins with an overview of the honeybee life cycle and its role in plant pollination. She cites the efforts of beekeepers and scientists to understand why the population of worker bees and drones has drastically diminished. After presenting a number of hypotheses (hive overwork, disease, mites, environmental changes, etc.), Markle returns to the theories, discussing which have been eliminated (and why) and those that continue to be investigated. She also documents the efforts to counter CCD, including a few attempts that have been successful. Full-color, close-up photos add information. Noting that 2013 “could be the worst yet for CCD,” this is an important look at a current environmental challenge.

Walker, Niki. Why Do We Fight?: Conflict, War, and Peace. (Owlkids, Gr 5-9).
The roots of conflict and the (often long) road to finding solutions, are the focus of this accessible and enlightening book. Discussions on the sources of conflict consider land and natural resources, “haves” and “have-nots,” political power, minorities and majorities, and culture clashes, among other topics. What is needed to arrive at a resolution or peace is also carefully examined. Throughout the book, historical and modern-day examples are provided (Afghanistan, the Middle East), anchored in reader-relatable, more personal examples of disagreements. Graphic organizers, maps, charts, definitions, sidebars, time lines, and pull-quotes add information while creating an inviting layout. As School Library Journal’s reviewer noted, “Teachers could build seminars and lessons around each chapter, and interested students will find much to think about.”

Wittenstein, Vicki Oransky, For the Good of Mankind?: The Shameful History of Human Medical Experimentation. (Twenty-First Century; Gr 8 Up).
While many readers will be familiar with the medical experimentation conducted by the Nazis that Wittenstein documents here, the author also relates other horrifying instances of experimentation, the majority of those cases in the United States. Unsuspecting subjects included orphans, pregnant women, African-American citizens, servicemen, the ill, and numerous others. Few were ever informed of the experimentation. The author discusses the Doctors’ Trial at the Nuremberg trials, out of which came the Nuremberg Code, or “ethical standards for human subject medical experimentation.” When this code was ignored by many, The Common Rule was established with, “principles that became the framework for federal laws that were adopted in 1981….” The discussion continues into the 21st century with the current controversies on biospecimens and stem-cell research. Archival photos, appended questions to consider, source notes, and lists of additional resources complete this eye-opening volume.

Curriculum Connections

This article was featured in our free Curriculum Connections enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you every month.

Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek 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.