Smithsonian Series Children’s Books

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A Roundup of Smithsonian Series Children’s Books

 

Children’s librarian Dornel Cerro reviews an exciting and inviting variety of nonfiction Smithsonian middle grade books for your curious kids.

 

No Way_Way Are You My Dinner book coverNo Way … Way!: Are You My Dinner? 300 Fun Facts
Written by Tracey West
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
(Smithsonian/Grosset and Dunlap; $9.99, Ages 8-12)

Can food facts be fun? Sure they can … here’s a few examples:
Ever heard of borborygmi? Sure you have, it’s the rumbling sound your stomach makes (p. 38).
Did you know that 16,000,000 jelly beans are produced at Easter? Red is the most popular color (p. 103).
If you’re dieting you may not want to know that by the time you’re 80 years old you will have eaten about 87,660 meals (p. 7).

However, No Way …Way! is not limited to food for humans. Animal eating habits are also included:
Guess what the vampire finch eats … or rather, sucks? (blood from other birds, p. 161).
You don’t want to know what a naked mole rat eats (it’s own poop to aid digestion, p. 187).

No Way …Way! is neatly organized into sections that cover the history of food, holiday meals, unusual dishes (like chocolate-covered cicadas, p. 89), where people eat (imagine eating where Julius Caesar was assassinated, p. 120), what not to eat (raw lima beans become cyanide in your body, p. 202), and more. Short, humorous facts, colorful illustrations, and eye-popping designs (plus a little gross-out factor) make this a fun book to browse. Recommended as “cool,” “awesome,” “humorous,” and “interesting” by my second and third graders. One of my fourth graders told me she “had to have it!” A great book for beginning and reluctant readers as well as for children who like to browse through books like Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Guinness Book of World Records.

Smithsonian The Moon Level 4 Reader book coverBudding young astronauts and space aficionados will love these engaging early reader books. Each is succinctly and clearly written and accompanied by great photographs.

The Moon
Written by James Buckley, Jr.
(Smithsonian/Penguin Young Readers; $3.99, Ages 8-9, A Level 4 Reader)

The moon has fascinated people throughout history and across many cultures, from worship of the moon in ancient times to the 1969 Apollo Moon landing and beyond. Buckley leads young readers through the history of moon exploration separating fact from fiction (there’s no old man living there). My second graders enjoyed this book for its’ accessible text and striking photographs. The book also contains a handy table of contents and glossary.

 

Smithsonian Home Address ISSHome Address: ISS International Space Station
Written by James Buckley, Jr.
(Smithsonian/Penguin Young Readers. $3.99, Ages 8-9, A Level 4 Reader)

What is the International Space Station? Who lives there? What’s life like miles above earth? How difficult is it to eat and dress in zero gravity? How do you use the toilet in space? Buckley helps children understand daily life at the ISS. A “great book …” commented my third grade Star Wars fans.

 

 

 

Smithsonian The Human Body NewquistThe Human Body: The Story of How We Protect, Repair, and Make Ourselves Stronger 
Smithsonian: Invention & Impact (Book 1)
Written by H.P. Newquist
(Smithsonian/Viking BYR: $17.99, Ages 8-12)

A fascinating and well-researched look at the different parts of the body and how people throughout history have devised ways to repair or replace non-functioning body parts. From ancient surgical practices to relieve headaches (pp 80-81) to inventions of machines to see inside the body (magnetic resonance imaging), Newquist examines the reasons for and the history behind their design. He takes a peek inside our medicine chests and explains what’s inside it and concludes with the development of vaccines to curb the staggering rates of death from diseases like smallpox.

Although the engaging narrative is written for an older reader, the vivid and well-captioned illustrations (yes, there’s a little gross out factor here) will engage younger and reluctant readers who enjoy browsing through Guinness Book of World Records or Ripley’s Believe It or Not. My third graders found it “cool and interesting.”

Smithsonian Curious About Zoo VetsCurious About Zoo Vets
Written by Gina Shaw
(Smithsonian/Grosset & Dunlap; $3.99,
Ages 6-8)

Would you like to work in a zoo? Meet some of the many people who take care of the 18,000 animals at the National Zoo (Washington, D. C.). These include veterinarians, animal keepers, and nutritionists, whose work includes wellness check-ups, handling emergencies, preparing food, creating “enrichment activities” to keep the animals engaged (like art activities and chew toys) and more. Wonderful, nicely captioned color photographs allow young readers to visualize what they learn in the narrative. More advanced vocabulary is highlighted in yellow and defined in the book’s glossary. Perfect for individual readers as well as for kindergarteners learning about the roles of people in their community.

Oceans Doodle BookOceans Doodle Book
Written by Karen Romano Young
(Smithsonian/Grosset & Dunlap; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

The Smithsonian’s marine experts have come up with a collection of fun and creative activities to help educate children about the ocean environment. Youngsters are challenged to use a variety of skills with the many activities available in the book. Creativity and imagination are needed for some activities such as designing and drawing a sea monster (“Sea Monsters, Ahoy!” pp. 24-25). Teachers and parents will appreciate the many activities that require various critical thinking skills. Looking at photographs of the skeletal remains of extinct whales, children determine what they may have looked like when alive (“Extinct Whale,” pp. 82-83). Another great one is determining where a floating object might land from a map of ocean currents (“Where Will it Float?” pp.16-17).

Each activity is accompanied by brief background information that supports the activity. For example, “Fish Face, Fish Tale,” (pp. 42-43) notes the more than 27,000 varieties of fish that scientists have discovered. Children then match fish heads on one page to the fish tales on the facing page. Concepts of bilateral symmetry (pp. 36-37) and radial symmetry (pp. 38-39) are explained and children draw the missing half of an ocean animal to reinforce the concept. Turn off the devices and hand this book to your kids guaranteeing hours of fun and learning.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

A Grosset & Dunlap Who Was…? Contest & Giveaway for Women’s History Month

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Read on to learn about a cool new Grosset & Dunlap contest along with a Good Reads With Ronna giveaway!
Let’s celebrate Women’s History Month together!

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Who Is Jane Goodall? by Roberta Edwards with illustrations by John O’Brien, Grosset & Dunlap

When I was growing up the biographies for kids were awful. They looked like they had been on our local library’s shelves for decades, in other words, as old as the famous people they were about! Plus, they weren’t engaging, and there’s nothing worse than a boring biography (insert yawn here). Had they pulled me in the way the Grosset & Dunlap Who Was…?  biography series for young readers does, who knows, I might have become an historian. That’s also why the contest Grosset & Dunlap is running is not-to-be-missed!

CONTEST: WHO WAS…? 100th Book Contest! (Scroll down for the GRWR giveaway, too!)

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Who Was Harriet Tubman? by Yona Zeldis McDonough with illustrations by Nancy Harrison, Grosset & Dunlap

Grosset & Dunlap’s Who Was…? series, with over 50 titles featuring famous thinkers, politicians, and history-makers published to date, is particularly interesting. This past summer I reviewed Who Is Bob Dylan? by Jim O’Connor and learned a lot of things I didn’t know about the musician and song writer. (Click here to read the review.) A recent fave is Who Was Christopher Columbus? by Bonnie Bader. The eclectic biography collection includes everyone from George Washington to Walt Disney to Dolly Parton. With their quirky cover art, interior illustrations, and novel-like prose, the books make learning about important figures exciting and accessible for middle-grade readers, both in the classroom and at home. The success of the series has inspired the spin-offs What Was…? and Quien Fue…?, for Spanish language readers. And now having Common Core Curriculum in 45 states makes these nonfiction books all the more relevant. Click here to learn more about the What Was…? series.

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Who Was Frida Kahlo? by Sarah Fabiny with illustrations by Jerry Hoare, Grosset & Dunlap

WHAT: Penguin Young Readers recently announced that the subject of their 100th Who Was…? biography (to be published in Summer 2015) will be chosen by their readers! How cool that kids can have a hand in helping to select who will be written about. Perhaps they’d like to see a biography written about former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor or author Louisa May Alcott? Think hard. Will it be Diana, Princess of Wales or maybe scientist and two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie? They can choose from Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher or Catherine The Great. There are so many deserving individuals and these are just the women. Kids can also choose an important male, but since we’re celebrating Women’s History Month, I just picked female candidates. Believe it or not, they can even cast a vote for a teacher, an athlete, a rockstar, a movie star or their very own mom or dad. Click here to find out more.

WHEN: From March 1 – June 1, 2014, readers will be able to cast their vote for the figure of their choice. Voting will take place at bookstores, libraries, schools, book fairs, and online at www.whowasbookseries.com. The winning subject will be announced on July 1, 2014.

Good Reads With Ronna Giveaway

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Who Was Eleanor Roosevelt? by Gare Thompson with illustrations by Nancy Harrison, Grosset & Dunlap

In conjunction with Grosset & Dunlap’s 100th Who Was…? book contest, we’re happy to offer our readers a Women’s History Month giveaway (for US only, through the end of March) – 1 prize pack of 3 women’s history titles. The winner will receive a copy of Who Was Frida Kahlo?, Who Was Eleanor Roosevelt? and Who is Jane Goodall? To be eligible to win, you must first LIKE us on Facebook or FOLLOW us on Twitter. Doing both gives you an extra entry. Click here to enter via email and give us your address. Remember to also write Who Was…? in the subject. This giveaway will run through March 31, 2014. One winner will be chosen on April 1, 2014 by Random.org and notified via email. Good luck!

 

 

 


Positively Bob Dylan

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ANSWER: Who is Robert Allan Zimmerman?

QUESTION:  What is Bob Dylan’s real name?

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Who Is Bob Dylan? by Jim O’Connor with illustrations by John O’Brien, Grosset & Dunlap, 2013.

This easy-to-read chapter book biography is one of over 50 already published in the WHO WAS? series. Other recent titles include WHO WAS CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS? and WHAT WAS PEARL HARBOR? What drew me into this particular book written by Jim O’Connor and illustrated by John O’Brien (Grosset & Dunlap, $4.99, Ages 8 and up) was my complete lack of knowledge regarding Dylan’s early years, his influences and the fantastic cover art which transported me to Greenwich Village, “the center of the folk music scene in the early 1960s.”

From a very young age, Bob Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minnesota was interested in music and at age ten “decided to learn to play a musical instrument.” After one lesson from a cousin, he decided to teach himself. He then moved onto the guitar, also learning it on his own, and formed a band with two friends called the Golden Chords. Unlike the majority of Zimmerman’s classmates, he was Jewish. Early on he’d make up stories about his background, perhaps trying to create a more alluring persona yet at the same time wanting to keep a lot of personal details private. The book traces his musical journey from his hometown, to university, his arrival in New York’s Greenwich Village, onto Woodstock, back to Greenwich and eventually making a home in Malibu, CA. Readers will also find out about Bob’s various relationships including a very public one with Joan Baez.

Along the way, O’Connor adds fab factoids that round out the book. Three pages are devoted to Early Rock Legends, another enlightens readers as to assorted Dylan aliases throughout the years, there’s one on Folk Songs, on the Civil Rights Movement, Acoustic Versus Electric, Women’s Lib, Woodstock and Dylan’s Musical Universe. Plus, a world timeline and one devoted to Bob Dylan’s life show how much change was going on during his music career.

O’Connor conveys info about Dylan’s life in an objective way, straightforward way, leaving readers to form their own opinions about the man to whom, in 2012, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom. Kids first learning about Bob Dylan may be very surprised about his path to fame. I know I was.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Oh How I Wish I Had a Pet Moose

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Debbie Glade weighs in on this new picture book by Oliver Jeffers about a boy and his pet moose.

Adorable, delightful, darling, sweet, charming – these are all synonyms for the word, cute. This Moose Belongs to Me ($16.99, Penguin Young Readers, Ages 3-7) is indeed all the above. Can you tell I thoroughly enjoyed this picture book? I promise you will, too.

Wilfred is your average boy with a pet moose he names, Marcel. (As if it is normal to have a pet moose, never mind one named Marcel.) Wilfred really enjoys Marcel’s company, and like most boys with a pet, Wilfred lays down some rules. The problem is that, well moose don’t really follow rules too well. Do they? One day, Wilfred and Marcel stumble upon a woman who claims the moose belongs to her. This sets off a series of unfortunate events for Wilfred as he gets himself into quite a pickle when he and his pet get separated. Will Wilfred ever see Marcel again? Will Marcel save the day? Will Marcel follow Wilfred’s rules once and for all? Read this terrific book and find out for yourself, because I refuse to spoil the outcome for you.

This book was written and illustrated by the very talented Oliver Jeffers, and his wonderful illustrations suit the story to a T.  This Moose Belongs to Me is a perfect example of what an excellent picture book should be – original, interesting, engaging, surprising, cleverly written and beautifully illustrated. Plus it teaches kids the great lesson that we can’t really “own” others.

By the way, Oliver Jeffers happens to be the author and illustrator of quite a few other books including one I reviewed and loved called, Stuck. I am already wondering when his next book comes out because I cannot wait.

Please note the release date of this title is November 8, 2012 – just in time for a perfect holiday gift for a special child in your life.