Torn Paper Collage Illustrations in Children’s Nonfiction

Our family visited an exhibit of botanical art at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix last week. There was a heavy emphasis on scientific accuracy in all the incredible illustrations, which you can see by going to the member’s gallery
at the American Society of Botanical Illustrator’s website and clicking on any of the artists’ names.

Seeing these works made me think of the illustrations in a couple of children’s nonfiction books I had seen lately: How an Egg Grows Into a Chicken by Tanya Kant and Carolyn Franklin (Illustrator), and Life in a Coral Reef (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Wendy Pfeffer and Steve Jenkins.
In both cases the illustrators choose to use torn paper collage. This is a lovely and artistically interesting technique, but I’m afraid that the details and accuracy are lost somewhat. For example, in the first book the torn paper eggs look rough and irregular, not really egg-like at all. In the second book, one of the illustrations looked like it was composed of leftover dots from a hole punch. To paraphrase a famous comedian, if it looks like anyone off the street could have done it, it probably isn’t great art.

As a person interested in art, I like the unusual look and neat texture of torn paper collage in other contexts. As a scientist, I am worried that a child will not get as much out of a book with illustrations that are confusing, lack definition or are flat out unrealistic, especially when there are so many really good books out there with scientifically-accurate illustrations or fantastic photographs.

What do you think of this trend? Are torn paper collages useful or over used?

How an Egg Grows Into a Chicken
Tanya Kant and Carolyn Franklin (Illustrator)

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Children’s Press(CT) (September 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0531238016
ISBN-13: 978-0531238011

Life in a Coral Reef (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2)
Wendy Pfeffer and Steve Jenkins

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Collins (September 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0060295538
ISBN-13: 978-0060295530
Product Dimensions: 10 x 8.1 x 0.4 inches


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Practically Paradise

Dragonflies of North America for Children

Dragonflies of North America: A Color and Learn Book With Activities by Kathy Biggs and Tim Manolis (Illustrator) is not your average coloring book. First of all, the author has written two field guides to dragonflies, as well as maintains a website about the dragonflies of California. You can tell by the quality of the text that she has a great understanding of, as well as passion for, dragonflies. Did you know that dragonflies often perch with only four legs, and use their front legs to wipe their eyes like windshield wipers? This book is filled with interesting information as well as the illustrations that are meant to be colored. dragonflies-of-north-america

Dragonflies of North America covers the basics nicely, such as the differences between dragonflies and damselflies, and the dragonfly life cycle. Then the author presents the characteristics of a number of different kinds of dragonflies, with enough detail so you could actually distinguish one from another. Although written for children, this is one of those books that is also perfect for the interested adult beginner.

The best part is that there is not one correct way to color the pages. In the “Publisher’s Note” right in the front of the book states that the colors of many dragonflies change as they get older (No wonder I have always had trouble telling the apart.) Children are encouraged to look up other pictures of the dragonflies, in addition to those provided inside the covers, and decide what colors they want to choose. Another activity would be to visit a lake or wetlands to observe the colors first hand.

You also might want to check this webpage where Kathy Biggs discusses her road to becoming an author. It all started when she put a pond in her yard. Now there’s an idea of a great project with children!

Note to Librarians: Although this book is consumable, it is also available as a CD.

Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: Azalea Creek Pub (June 21, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0967793440
ISBN-13: 978-0967793443


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Simply Science.

Book About G-Forces for Children

Feel the G’s:  The Science of Gravity and G-Forces by Suzanne Slade is not for the faint of heart. G-forces are the stuff of roller-coasters, fighter jets and shuttle launches. If the ideas of “eyeballs in” versus “eyeballs out” makes you queasy, you might want to avoid this topic. For those of you with the courage to read more, hold on because this book will take you for a wild journey.Feel The G's

Suzanne Slade starts with a description of a roller coaster ride, one place where children may have actually experienced significant g-forces. After getting our pulses racing, she defines the term “g-force.” G-force has to do with the acceleration of objects. particularly the human body. A “g” is a unit of measurement, just like a yard or a liter. It turns out that too much acceleration can have some nasty consequences to human health, such as fainting, loss of vision, loss of hearing or worse. Yikes.

The author takes us on a tour of exciting activities where g-forces come into play, while gently introducing key concepts. For example, to illustrate how changing direction is a form of acceleration, she brings up race car drivers racing around a race track. Did you know getting tackled in football can create short term impacts of over 100 g? The real world examples keep interest up and make complicated physics more concrete and understandable.

Slade finishes up with a chapter about death-defying research performed by Colonel John Stapp in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Colonel Stapp was a pioneer in the study of g-forces, and he put his own life on the line as a living “crash-dummy” to test his theories. His insights led to many safety improvements in both planes and automobiles, and have saved countless lives.

Towards the front of the book is a sidebar titled “Keeping Current.” It is a list of terms to type into search engines. At first I wasn’t sure what to think of this. Why put this list in the front instead of as an appendix? As my imagination careened wildly, I envisioned nonfiction books of the future would simply be lists of relevant search engine terms and links to websites. After searching for the term g-force, however, I finally got it. If you aren’t careful searching this particular topic, you can quickly stray into some websites that are not appropriate for children. Good idea to point them to safe search terms right away.

Given the popularity of a recent movie about guinea pigs, children may be looking for more information about g-forces. This book is a good introduction to a complex topic.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Compass Point Books (March 30, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0756540526
ISBN-13: 978-0756540524
Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 7 x 0.3 inches

This review copy was provided by Capstone Press.


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at In Need of Chocolate.

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca is an extraordinary book. You can tell the minute you open it and see the front endpapers, which have exquisite, detailed illustrations of Apollo 11. There, laid out simply, is enough information about the flight to be a book in itself. You just have to stop and take it all in. But there’s more. moonshot1

The story itself begins with a well-grounded view of the moon from the earth. Simple, poetic words start you on your journey, a journey like no other. The first trip to the moon.

Following the astronauts as they get ready, you hear the clicks of their equipment as the pieces snap into place. Before long the earth is shaking, as the rocket takes off. The pace, the number of words and the energy all accelerate as the Eagle is about to land. Wow!

After reading all the rave reviews and seeing all the awards (Moonshot has been nominated for the Cybils award in the category of nonfiction picture book), I knew it was an obvious choice for my young nephew who is interested in the solar system and space right now. If you want to see more, take a peek at the trailers below.

For those that want to delve deeper into the flight after reading the book, such as why the astronauts have yellow feet when they are headed to board Apollo 11, take a look at author Brian Floca’s Moonshot Notes webpage. You will be amazed at the lengths he went to to achieve such accuracy and outstanding detail. This book is a superb example of an author fully understanding his topic and being able to finely distill the information to its essence. Magnifique.

Edit: For a fabulous review of the same book, with hands on activities visit Playing by the book.

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books (April 7, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 141695046X
ISBN-13: 978-1416950462
Product Dimensions: 11.8 x 10.6 x 0.6 inches

To explore more, there are some space-related activities to do with children at Growing With Science Blog this week.

To see for yourself what the fuss is about, take a look at the book trailers:

Trailer 1

Trailer 2


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Rasco From RIF.