Genre 4: Nonfiction & Biography

Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Jenkins, S. & Page, R. Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World Jacket Cover. 2008.
Jenkins, Steve & Robin Page. 2008. SISTERS AND BROTHERS: SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS IN THE ANIMAL WORLD. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 9780618375967

In this large and attractive survey book, children are introduced to sibling relationships in the animal world. Some animals are born singly, like the African elephant that is taken care of by an older sister, while others are born at the same time as their brothers and sisters, such as nine-banded armadillos who are always born in identical quadruplets. Each page features a different animal and includes a short paragraph filled with fascinating information. The intricate paper collage illustrations are striking and the organization of the book allows kids to flip through the book in any order they wish. This is a wonderful book to entice children to explore the animal world, as well as a great addition to an animal-lover's bookshelf.

The sibling relationship concept utilized in this beautifully illustrated book is especially interesting for preschool through second grade kids. This book is a great introduction to studying beyond a child’s own neighborhood and experiences because information is presented in a context that kids already know and understand. Even only-children are exposed to other children who have siblings.

The book uses short text to introduce interesting facts without bogging the reader down with specific numbers or statistics. The book does not include a glossary, however, terms that kids may be unfamiliar with, such as echolocation, are explained within the text and pronunciation is provided for lesser known animals, such as the great crested grebe and the cichlid.  

Jenkins and Page’s choice to cite specific animals insures that information is accurate and specific rather than generalized. Details are related to common objects, which helps to give young readers an idea of size and shape in terms they can easily understand. For instance, instead of writing that termites build mounds up to a certain number of feet tall, Jenkins and Page tell the reader that termite structures can be as tall as a four-story building.

The organization of the book is simple with a minimum of access features. A short introduction does a good job of letting the reader know what to expect from the book and to check the back of the book for more information on each animal.  The back of the book also includes an additional reading list. Although the book lacks a table of contents or an index, this book does not need to be read in order, nor does it have enough information to be used for a school project/paper on a specific animal. Therefore, readers will most likely browse through this book and access information visually via the illustrations rather than from a table of contents or index. However, the book does use small category headers on each page that are helpful when browsing for specific information, such as “Sisters,” “Twins,” and “Cooperating.”  

The cut paper collages are gorgeous and give the book a special touch. They are more intimate than photographs, yet Jenkins and Page do not resort to anthropomorphism or cute tricks. The accurately portrayed animals are illustrated proportionately and in true-to-life colors.

Overall, this book is well-organized and supported with accurate and compelling information. The only disappointing element are the tag lines incorporated into each illustration. Lines such as, “Isn’t it your turn to be the pigeon?” and “I’m having my family for dinner” don’t tell the reader anything more about the animal nor do they entice the reader into the text.

AAAS/SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books
Beehive Children’s Informational Book Award Nominee

Review from SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “Enough data is afforded to satisfy many children, and adults are offered some further readings to suggest to the insatiably curious. Eye-catching, and with an interesting approach to the animal world, this book should appeal to a wide variety of ages and interests.”

Starred Review in BOOKLIST: “The sibling focus is a way to include a wealth of fascinating science, which is expanded in the detailed back matter that presents more facts about each animal. Children older as well as younger than the target audience will want to thumb through this fascinating picture book.”

*Compare the number of siblings for each animal in the book. Make a graph chart.

*Talk about the different types of animals included in the book. Ask the kids questions such as, which animals in the book are mammals? Which animals have their babies from eggs? 

*This book discusses sibling relationships. Take a look at another specific kind of relationship in the animal world: symbiosis.
Aruego, Jose & Ariane Dewey. 2002. WEIRD FRIENDS: UNLIKELY ALLIES IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM. ISBN 9780152021283
Page, Robin & Steve Jenkins. 2010. HOW TO CLEAN A HIPPOTOTAMUS: A LOOK AT UNUSUAL ANIMAL PARTNERSHIPS. Ill. by Steve Jenkins. ISBN 9780547245157
Rhodes, Mary Jo & David Hall. 2006. PARTNERS IN THE SEA. ISBN 9780516254920

The Tarantula Scientist by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop

Montgomery, S. & Bishop, N. The Tarantula Scientist. Jacket Cover. 2004.
Montgomery, Sy. 2004. THE TARANTULA SCIENTIST. Photos by Nic Bishop. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0618147993

Did you know that all spiders have eight legs and eight eyes? That in order to grow spiders shed their exoskeletons once a year? And that spiders use their silk for more than just spinning webs?

Sam Marshall, one of only a few arachnologists in the world, does. But there are still thousands of unanswered questions about spiders and this book follows Marshall’s quest to answer them. Travel with Marshall into the steamy rainforests of French Guiana and back to his lab in Ohio as he studies the largest spider on earth, the Goliath birdeater tarantula.  In addition to following Marshall’s study of tarantulas, the book presents accurate information on spiders. Bishop’s photos are intriguing and show the beauty of this frequently misunderstood animal. Not only will readers learn fascinating facts about spiders, they’ll also learn how scientists use research to ask and answer questions.

Part of the Scientist in the Field Series, this book provides accurate and fascinating information about Goliath birdeater tarantulas and spiders in general. In the text Montgomery is careful to note when theories, rather than concrete facts, are presented insuring that myths about spiders are dispelled.

The book is well-organized and information is easy to find. Although the book lacks a table of contents, the book does include chapter headings and an index, which allow readers to easily find information about a particular family, type, or body part of a spider. The chapters alternate between Sam’s field research and spider information, which makes the book enjoyable to browse or read cover to cover.

This photo essay book is full of wonderful photos that feature close-ups with great detail. Kids will be attracted by the many photos that capture the movement and activity of spiders, such as a tarantula kicking off hairs from its abdomen, a wolf spider carrying its egg sac, and a tarantula molting its old exoskeleton. The photos are well placed to help the reader understand the information presented in the text. The text is highly descriptive and will appeal to curious and reluctant readers alike.  

Almost as interesting as the information in the narrative of the book is the supporting research and notes included at the back of the book, which include spider facts, a glossary, a selected bibliography, and online resources. There is also information on how the book was researched and a link to the online teacher’s resources provided by the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Books (

Although spiders are the primary focus of this book, Montgomery has a clear secondary theme: making science attractive and accessible for kids. Science is depicted as a process that starts with asking questions and figuring out ways to find the answers, which of course leads to more questions. Throughout the book, kids are encouraged to ask questions and look for answers, just like Marshall.

Sibert Honor Book
Bluebonnet Award Winner
ALA Notable Book for Children Nominee
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee

Review in BOOKLIST: “Readers will come away armed with facts about spiders in general and tarantulas in particular, but even more important, they'll have a clear understanding of how the answers derived from research become the roots of new, intriguing questions.”

Review in SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “Informative, yes, but even more important, this is a vivid look at an enthusiastic scientist energetically and happily at work, both in the field and in the lab, questioning, examining, testing, and making connections.”

*Play a game of Spider or Not? Project pictures of spiders, as well as other animals that have spider-like traits, but aren’t actually spiders, such as scorpions and daddy longlegs. Try to find pictures that clearly show one or more of the following: eight legs, eight eyes, two body parts, or the presence of silk. Have the kids guess if the animal is a spider or not. Ask them to tell you the reasons for their choice.

*Pair this book with CITIZEN SCIENTISTS and discuss how scientists use research and observation to answer questions, just as Sam Marshall does in THE TARANTULA SCIENTIST. 
Burns, Loree Griffin. 2012. CITIZEN SCIENTISTS: BE A PART OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY FROM YOUR OWN BACKYARD. Photos by Ellen Harasimowicz. ISBN 9780805090628

*Other non-fiction books about spiders:
Marshall, Sam. 2001. TARANTULAS AND OTHER ARACHNIDS. ISBN 9780764114632
Markle, Sandra. 2008. SNEAKY, SPINNING BABY SPIDERS.  ISBN 978082796974
Nic Bishop. 2007. SPIDERS. ISBN 9780439877565
Zabludoff, Marc. 2006. SPIDERS. ISBN 0761417478

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman

    Freedman, J. The Voice that Challenged a Nation Jacket Cover. 2004.

In 1939, less than 100 years ago, a world famous singer was barred from singing at one of America’s most notable concert halls because of the color of her skin. She had already sung for kings and queens in Europe, but she could not sing in the biggest concert hall in her native country's capitol.

In this well-research, clearly organized biography, Freedman tells the story of Marian Anderson, the singer who became a symbol of the fight for racial equality in the United States. The book captivates readers with a description of Anderson’s historical concert at the Lincoln Memorial before going back to Anderson’s childhood and progressing through her life and career chronologically. Black and white photographs not only document Anderson’s life, but provide visual context for the narrative. In Freedman’s capable hands, Anderson’s story leaps off the page and middle and high school readers will be inspired by her musical ambitions, as well as her personal strength and dignity.

The brief first chapter of this complete biography hooks the reader with an evocative description of Anderson’s legendary concert at the Lincoln Memorial. The book then goes back to the beginning of Anderson’s life and proceeds chronologically. The narrative not only focuses on the big events that shaped Anderson and her career, it also includes the small details as well. Freedman deftly chooses quotes and documented incidents that will resonant with children, such as the singing schoolchildren who met Anderson on her arrival in Vietnam. The final chapter brings Anderson’s life to a close and sums up the importance and impact she had on the world, “even after death, her voice could not be stilled.”

Cultural and historical norms regarding race are presented within the narrative and African-American stereotypes are dispelled through explanation and discussion of Anderson’s personal experiences with racial injustice. Although Freedman makes it clear that Anderson and her fellow African-Americans suffered many racial injustices, his tone never turns didactic or condescending.  The text deftly brings to life the story of an unintentional activist and icon in the fight for racial justice in the United States. Well-researched and documented quotations are used throughout the book and allow the reader to gain entry to Anderson’s world through her own eyes.

The photographs are compelling, especially those of Anderson performing. Also included are photos of playbills and scenes that depict the United States during Anderson’s childhood and career. The access features are well-organized with a table of contents, chapter notes, a selected bibliography and discography, and index. This book is a wonderful resource for a research project or paper about Anderson.

ALA Notable Books for Children
Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award Winner
Carter G. Woodson Book Award Winner
James Madison Book Award Nominee
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee

Review in VOICES OF YOUTH ADVOCATES: ‘The prose is sharp and clean with generous use of quotations. All quotes are rewritten and cited in the back as chapter notes, a choice that enhances the immediacy and clarity of the book. This book is for an older audience than recently published biographies of Anderson and is a superb choice to include in middle school and public library collections.”

Review in PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: “Copious quotes from Anderson's autobiography, papers and interviews allow her resonant voice-and personal grace-to animate these pages. Also included are abundant photos, newspaper clippings and reproductions of concert programs. An engrossing biography.”

Review in SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “This inspiring work once again demonstrates Freedman's talent for showing how a person's life is molded by its historical and cultural context.”

*Before reading the book, play a recording of Marian Anderson singing. It maybe helpful to start with a spiritual, as the lyrics are usually in English and therefore easier to connect with, and then follow up with some of Anderson’s classical repertoire. Suggested recordings:
Anderson, Marian. SOFTLY AWAKES MY HEART: ARIAS, SONGS, & SPIRITUALS. © 1993, 1930. Pro Arte. CDD 3447. Compact disc. 

*Show a clip of Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial concert ( Video posted on YouTube by the Robert H. Jackson Center (, March 26, 2010.

*Introduce Marian Anderson by reading the book WHEN MARIAN SANG.
Ryan, Pam Munoz. 2002. WHEN MARIAN SANG. ISBN 9780439269674

*Marian Anderson was directly affected by the actions and words of first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Pair this book with one of the following books about Roosevelt as a way to feature two iconic American women.
Freedman, Russell. 1993. ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: A LIFE OF DISCOVERY. ISBN 9780899198620