Nonfiction Monday: Bats and Ants and Who Knows What Else

I feel like I just left Poetry Friday! But I’m on a roll, so here goes … Welcome to Nonfiction Monday, which Sarah Neal is hosting at In Need of Chocolate this week.

Many of us who write about children’s books kick of each week by celebrating and sharing nonfiction books for kids, or ideas about nonfiction for kids. If you’d like to use this weekly MEME as an archive of recommended books, be sure to head to Anastasia Suen’s website. She’s got the complete Nonfiction Monday schedule of hosts … all the way through April 2011! You are also invited to join our email listserv!

As long-time followers know, I am a B-I-G fan of nonfiction for kids. Photographs and maps draw kids to a book in unique ways. First, the images prompt them to ask questions … which, of course, can be answered by the accompanying text (or text box). They also have a “realness” about them that engages kids in the world around them. For the child who takes everything literally, talking bears may not be enough to grab their attention … but a picture of a bear eating a fish? NOW you’re talking!

When the 2010 Cybils nomination process opened, I put out a challenge to get more nonfiction easy reader and early chapter book nominees. I am happy to say that we have four this year … the same number as the previous two years combined [2009 nominee list (2); 2008 nominee list (2)]. Today, for Nonfiction Monday,  I am reviewing two Cybils-nominated Easy Readers, both published by National Geographics Children’s Books.

National Geographic Kids: Ants by Melissa Stewart. This is a Level 1 Easy Reader

From habitat to habits, body parts and numbers, Melissa Stewart covers it all. You won’t believe how much is packed into these 32 pages. What made this book fun for me is that the ants are, literally, larger than life. All of us are used to seeing these “tiny” things crawling around our yard or kitchen counter. The closeup shots that fill this easy reader let kids see a lot more than that! Adults and kids alike will declare “I didn’t know that!” Ants has what I love about nonfiction for kids … but it also has what I dislike about product labeling.

According to the Barnes & Noble website, the audience for Ants is 4 to 8 years old. If I was just Mom book buyer and I saw a “Level 1” easy reader for ages 4 to 8, (not to mention a title with a 3-letter word), I would think this was for my Kindergartner or first grader. I would be wrong. Ants has a Lexile measure of 470L, which is roughly a mid-second grade reading level. Some first graders can probably tackle this book, but others will be frustrated quickly. For example, the first piece of data is this: There are more than 10,000,000,000,000,000 ants in the world.

That is 10 quadrillion. Luckily, Melissa explains that on the next page (which is part of a spread), but still. You have to figure out the number before you get the phonetic translation. Did you know what that number was? I didn’t, and I graduated from second grade.

nonfiction easy readersNational Geographic Kids: Great Migrations: Elephants by Laura Marsh. This is a Level 3 Easy Reader.

I admit it, I picked this book to review because of the baby elephant on the cover. That said, the book has other excellent features, too. I love the mixed illustrations that include photos and maps; I really love the photo-illustrated glossary and the links to websites; and I adored the cleverness of the “weighty words” insets that define big words (like herbivore).

The Barnes &  Noble website doesn’t have a Lexile measure for Great Migrations: Elephants. It does, however, better characterize the audience: ages 7 to 9. This book has more text and more pages (48).  It does an exceptional job balancing the text with illustrations, giving newly independent readers plenty to look at. I also like how it moves the book along with fact bubbles. For example, there is a two-page spread that is just an image of an elephant. Little fact bubbles subconsciously move the reader along in a logical progression first across the page left to right and then down top to bottom.

I would recommend both of these books. They are must-haves for the elementary school and public library.If you have an animal (and insect) loving reader, they will pore over these books.

It is wonderful to see such fascinating nonfiction for kids. These are books that you’ll enjoy sharing with your kids as they read to you, because you are guaranteed to learn something new.

A final note … These are Cybils-nominated books, but the opinions are mine. My thoughts do not reflect the panel’s perspective.

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