23 August 2019

5 Books for Middle Grade Nonfiction Fans

I am a lifelong nonfiction lover. When I was a kid, I read a lot of biographies, mostly because there weren't very many accessible science titles for curious young readers. At least I couldn't find them in my local library.

Kids these days have access to so many terrific nonfiction titles and series. The middle grade STEM and other books I've run across (and read) in the last few years have impressed me on several levels. First, the science books tackle important subjects like conservation, energy, and medicine. Second, the biographies and histories give plenty of page time to women, people of color, non-Western countries, sociocultural issues, and LGBGT+ topics. Finally, although the books are written for young readers, the text is not watered down. Kids get the chance to learn real science and real history presented in a colorful and entertaining way.

This week I read five middle grade nonfiction titles and recommend all them for you or your young reader.

review of Lori Alexander's All in a DropIn the 21st-century we take microbes, amoebae, bacteria, and other microscopic organisms for granted. In the early 1600s no one had heard of or seen any of these. That would change after Antony van Leeuwenhoek, a self-taught scientist from Delft, built a microscope and started documenting what he discovered. Lori Alexander's All in a Drop (HMH Books for Young Readers, Aug. 6), tells the story of how the uneducated son of a basket maker became the father of microbiology. His life wasn't easy and his path may seem surprising -- what was it about becoming a linen merchant that jump-started his curiosity for tiny things? Despite the poor odds, Antony eventually convinced the leading scientists of the era to take his discoveries seriously. This little-known story, which includes quotes from Anthony's own letters, is beautifully illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger. The back of the book contains a time line, a glossary, and a bibliography.

review of Paper Son by Julie LeungHave you heard of Tyrus Wong, who came to America in 1919 from his native China at the age of nine, carrying false papers? I hadn't either, but I've seen some of his work, and so have you. Paper Son by Julie Leung (Schwartz & Wade, Sept. 24) introduces us to the man that the New York Times called "one of the most celebrated Chinese-American artists of the 20th century." Tyrus Wong (his Americanized name) grew up to be the inspirational artist for Disney's Bambi movie and later worked for other Hollywood studios. Although Tyrus's father was well educated, he couldn't find a good job. Regardless, he worked hard to give his son a better life in America. After graduating from art school, Tyrus held a number of jobs, but he never stopped painting. Tyrus's story is inspiring, but it also reveals the darker side of what it is like to be foreign born in the country of opportunity. The book, geared to very young readers, is beautifully illustrated by Chris Sasaki.

review of Awesome Achievers in Science and Awesome Achievers in Technology by Alan KatzThe Awesome Achievers series uses a mix of humor, simple drawings, and entertaining text to introduce middle grade readers to some of the world's lesser-known inventors. Author Alan Katz peppers his books with personal stories, fun facts, and silly questions, perfect for young readers. Both Awesome Achievers in Science and Awesome Achievers in Technology (Running Press Kids, Aug. 6) are delight to read and include a good mix of women and men and people of color. Many of the achievers were new to me, and I enjoyed getting to know the man who invented seat belts, the woman who was the first voice of Siri, the woman who was a pioneer in modern communications, the guy who invented Velcro, and the woman who invented non-reflective glass. The biographies are short and each one is accompanied by funny extras, such as lists, jokes, a comic, and ridiculous invention ideas. Chris Judge provides black and white drawings to accompany the text.

Review of Saving the Tasmanian Devil by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent You've read it here before, but I absolutely love the Scientists in the Field series, which gives budding scientists (of any age, in my opinion) an insider's look at what it's like to be a field scientist. This month's book is Saving the Tasmanian Devil by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (HMH Books for Young Readers, Aug. 20). After zoolologist Patent learned that a mysterious and rapidly spreading disease was threatening to kill the entire Tasmanian devil population, she traveled to Australia to learn what conservationists were doing to save this species. The types of scientists trying to stop devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) includes geneticists, ecologists, and cancer researchers from all over the world. Through text, drawings, and photographs, we learn about Tasmanian devil behavior and habits, the discovery of DFTD, and the various efforts being made to save the animals. Through field studies, scientists developed a theory for the disease's transmission; meanwhile lab researchers have developed a promising vaccine. Sidebars and boxes explain scientific concepts, and the text and photos give us a good sense what's like to work with the devils. If you want to help, check out the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.


Clarissa 8/23/19, 6:46 AM  

Awesome list of books! We are definitely getting these. Thank you!

bermudaonion 8/23/19, 8:14 AM  

I want all of those books!

sherry fundin 8/23/19, 11:21 AM  

they all sound great. so glad you included taz. i have several of them hanging around the bedroom and he is the highlight of my review posts
sherry @ fundinmental

Vicki 8/23/19, 2:19 PM  

I'd like to read all of them. Thanks for sharing!

rhapsodyinbooks 8/23/19, 3:54 PM  

I love nonfiction for kids; they're very readable for adults as well.

Daryl 9/1/19, 1:00 PM  

tbanks .. my friend's grand daughter will love these

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