As my library system gears up for our Mock Sibert Awards event, I’ve been reading a fair bit of new nonfiction for children. So often children’s nonfiction gets overlooked as families head straight to the picture books. Or elementary school aged children think that if the book is in the Juvenile section, it must be too babyish. I’ve chosen three titles that I think really deserve a second look.
1. The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore
This book is my favorite of the three because all aspects of it are superbly done. The main text alternates between verse pages reminiscent of The House that Jack Built and a prose narrative of the improvements in the life of the Eritrean village of Hargigo thanks to Dr. Gordon Sato’s project to plant mangrove trees along the shores of the Red Sea. The story of the project is fascinating, showing how small changes can have a huge impact on people’s lives. The colorful collage illustrations have a wonderful three-dimensional texture that brings the tale to life. A lengthy afterword provides additional information on Dr. Sato’s life, the mangrove project, the people of Eritrea and the spread of the project to other locations around the world. The authors also include references, websites with more information and a glossary with pronunciation guide.
2. The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle
Panamanian Golden Frogs are a national symbol for the people of Panama. But their disappearance caused worldwide concern. This book is written as a mystery story that draws the reader in as well as any fictional detective story. Theories are examined and discarded in the effort to discover the culprit. The layout and page design are well thought out and contribute to the readability of the book. The photographs of the frogs are simply stunning. As with any high quality children’s nonfiction book, there is a section at the end with additional information including sources for more information on efforts to rescue frogs and about the golden frogs themselves as well as a glossary.
3. Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin
The fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City on March 25, 1911 was one of the deadliest workplace fires in America until September 11, 2001. This book places the tragedy in its context of immigration, sweatshop and working conditions in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Americans today take workplace safety regulations for granted. But this well-written book reveals the tragic circumstances that gave rise to the first such laws and the role of unions in the struggle for workers’ rights. This book is definitely directed to an older audience that the other two. It is marketed to ages 10 and up, but I suspect that its appeal to middle school aged children will be slim. While I did enjoy the book overall, I do have one small complaint. At times it feels a bit didactic and “teachy,” as if the author was writing for inclusion in a school curriculum. Some young readers may be especially sensitive to that tone and therefore be turned off to the book. Still, it is well worth a look, perhaps even for adults who may need to be reminded of the history that prompted some of the government regulations we now have.