For almost 15 years of my adult life I read mainly non-fiction. Then three years ago I discovered middle grade fiction and have read mainly fiction since. However, a Reading Rocks ( Twitter: @_Reading_Rocks) chat for non-fiction November got me thinking about the way’s we engage with non-fiction texts and that non-fiction is often not talked about as much as fiction. Looking into a selection of recent non-fiction books I am discovered that many are expanding the boundaries of ‘more traditional’ non-fiction, creating some truly awesome books that you will want to return to time and time again . For someone that also loves picture books, modern day fiction with its blurring of curious facts and information with awe-inspiring illustrations and photographs is a real treat. I kick-start my non-fiction discovery with 3 fabulous books that explore planet earth and some of the creatures we share it with.
Natural Wonders of the World – Molly Oldfield and Federi Bordoni
Get set to travel to some of the most awe-inspiring places on earth.
Molly Oldfield introduces her book:
“I love to travel and explore I wanted to create a book that is like a passport to the world, filled with pages that take you to the most incredible natural wonders on Earth. Get ready for adventures”
This is a coffee table style non-fiction book, with huge pictures, of animals, plants and trees and double page spreads featuring some of the most amazing landscapes in the world. It also has an annotated map, to show you where in the world you can find them and an index. Making this a really versatile book that will appeal to many sorts of readers.
There are facts about some intriguing creatures, including the Christmas Island crabs, Tenrecs of Madagascar, birds of paradise in Papua New Guinea. But, it is the landscapes this book takes you to that really excited me. For each landscape featured in the book you get information about the physical features, how they look and some information about how they are formed. There are also some great size comparison so you can get an idea of the size of some of these natural wonders, such as the Crystals are: ‘so big that people can walk along them!’ or a spring that is ‘deeper than a ten-storey building’. You also get snippets of stories about people discovering the landscapes and some examples of helping wildlife too. Here are two examples:
Molly Oldfield describes the moment when two brothers, who were working in a mine, discovered some giant crystals in Mexico:
“Imagine how the brother must have felt when hard at work, they suddenly broke through a wall into a magical space filled with enormous, ancient crystals!” p21
Crabs on Christmas Island, in the South Pacific:
“The people of Christmas Island are careful during the migration. The crabs are ushered towards tunnels called crab grids that go underneath the roads so they don’t get squashed. A crab sized bridge has even been built on one road” p24
There is so much to explore in this book. To help you to begin to do that I have made a list of 6 things to find.
Fanatical About Frogs – by Own Davey
I have to confess this is the first of Owen Davey’s fabulous non-fiction books, published by Flying Eye Books that I have seen. I will be definitely be looking up the others after seeing this! What I love about this particular book is that it chooses a creature that most children and adults know little about. Which means it will both introduce animal lovers to a new creature and potentially appeal to children that would not normally pick up a book about animals. It takes a classic non-fiction topic of exploring the characteristics and behaviour of a particular animal, in this case frogs and toads and through a unique layout and truly amazing illustrations transforms it into something truly special. That you are going to want to dip into time and time again.
In what is mainly bite-sized information I learnt so much about frogs, with those eye-catching illustrations drawing you in to look closer every time. This includes: how they catch their prey, regulate their body temperatures, the different croaks and calls they make. There is lots of variety in the presentation of the information, from almost full-page pictures, labelled diagram of the features of a frog, and a page of the life cycle of a frog. With detailed, accurate and precise information, and truly amazing artwork, Owen Davey’s books set the gold standard for a new generation of non-fiction books. There is a contents page and index, making it easy to explore this great book.
We Build Our Homes – by Laura Knowles and Chris Madden
A little different to the other two non-fiction books. This is written more like narrative fiction, with a different bird, insect or animal on each two-page spread telling it’s storey of how it builds it’s nest or home. The soft coloured and textured illustrations give a warm feel to the book, and bring the animal homes to life, leaving you in awe about what creatures on our planet can create. It includes: some unique bird’s nests, each using different materials and techniques, a peep into the world of bees, ants, wasps and spiders and animals such as: Gopher tortoises, moles, polar bears and beavers. A timely reminder that we are not the only creatures on Earth to create amazing things, and that we may even have things to learn from them.
At the end there is a simple map of the World and a mini fact files on the bird, insect and mammal builders, which adds another dimension to this book. The book gives three different ways to explore the way creatures build their homes: first person narrative, detailed illustrations and the fact files. Giving different children the opportunity to engage with this intriguing topic in a way that suits them, and plenty of scope to explore different ways of presenting non-fiction information.
Thank you to Flying Eye Books for a review copy of Fanatical About Frogs, the other two books I bought my own copies.
This blog post reviews two books:
Moonbird – A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 – Philip Hoose
Farrar Straus Giroux books for young readers
The Peregrines Journey – A Story of Migration – Madeleine Dunphy and Kristen Kest
Published by Web of Life Children’s books
Moonbird is about a remarkable superbird who has flown the distance equivalent to the moon and half-way back again in its life time. When I first read this book 8 years ago I remember being in awe of the migration journeys this bird (and other birds) make each and every year. It is one of my favourite all time non-fiction books. I have always been curious about how birds can navigate their way to such precise locations. This book doesn’t answer these questions. But, it did give me a fascinating insight into the annual journey of a rufa red knot (known as B95), a robin-sized shorebird. It opened my eyes to the multiple challenges it faces on its migration, and in particular finding enough food to give it enough energy for long flights. I gained an appreciation of the importance of stepping stones, key places that birds stop on their migration route where they can feed and re-fuel to be able to successfully complete the next stage of their journey. And how vulnerable these places are to changes , which are threatening the very existence of the red knot.
Since I discovered Moonbird I have been looking for a picture book that would communicate to a younger audience the excitement of a birds migration journey. I found some quite good ones, but they did not follow or capture the magic of the journey in quite the same as Moonbird, until I discovered the Peregrines Journey: A Story of Migration, by Madeleine Dunphy and illustrated by Kristin Kest. What a gem of a book it is. It covers the Peregrine Falcons 8,000 Mile journey from Alaska (where it raises it chicks in Summer) to Argentina where it spends the winter. Kristen Kest beautifully captures with bold distinctive colours the different environments the Peregrine passes through. Madeleine’s Dunphy has the ability to make you feel like you are experiencing things from Peregrine’s perspective, with just the right detail to be informative and realistic. And the combination of author and illustrator create a story that flows beautifully, like the very best of narrative non-fiction should do.
The Peregrine Falcon is a bird of prey so it eats other animals, including birds, and the red knot (but not in this story). How might you might ask can I possibly love both stories! Well the Moonbird won me over to rooting for and loving the very small red knot bird. But, I have always been fascinated and in awe of the birds of prey. In the story there are a couple of time’s that the Peregrine eats other birds, such as a Dove and a Pigeon, though you don’t see the eating part just the intent. Which may upset some younger children who do not yet understand that every animal or bird eats something to survive.
More about ‘Moonbird’:
The core of the book focuses on the journey the bird B95 makes in one year. With a combination of prose written as you were actually were the bird, backed up with detailed information of the scientists involved, with pictures, maps and information boxes, this is the ultimate in non-fiction for young adults and adults. It also includes detail about how the scientists learnt about the red knot, tagged and tracked them and by doing this discovered just how far this remarkable survivor B95 or ‘Moonbird’ had travelled. It concludes with a final chapter on what people are doing to save the red knot and an Appendix with ways you can help. I would highly recommend this for anyone aged 12 years and above, including adults.
The start of an epic journey:
“Meet B95, One of the world’s premier athletes. Weighing a mere four ounces, he’s flown more than 325,000 miles in his life – the distance to the moon and nearly halfway back again. He flies at mountaintop height along ancient routes that lead him to his breading grounds and back”.
The reader is taken on the birds amazing journey. From Tierra del Fuego (where he spends October to February) an archipelago (group of islands) off the coast of South America to Mingan Archipelago in Quebec, Canada. After capturing your attention with what it might feel like to be a small migratory shorebird about to embark on a long journey, and the need for it to stuff itself with food, such as worms, muscles, and tiny crustaceans to store reserves and propel its flight on it’s long journey.
“The only way for us to know for sure whether B95 has made it safely from Delaware Bay to the Arctic Circle this year is for someone to spot him after his breeding time ends and he and other red knots stream back south to a stopover site.” P73
More about the Peregrine’s Journey:
In a relatively small number of words and beautiful whole page pictures you get a unique insight into the awe-inspiring journey this bird of prey makes each year. You are taken through the birds experiences of flying, feeding, drinking, resting and watching as well as some of it’s stopping of places. I would recommend this for children aged 6 years to adult. But, for younger children do remember this is a bird of prey so it eats other birds and animals.
“She also has very good eyesight…. To her the mountains and rivers are like maps and street signs. These landmarks help her know where she is.” P7
“Today, she bathes in a desert pool in New Mexico. She splashes around dipping her head in and out of the water until every feather is wet. One by one she carefully preens each feather with her beak.” P14