Life Cycle of an Oak Tree

Angela Royston is a prolific children’s writer, and her expertise shows in Life Cycle of An Oak Tree. She knows exactly what words to use, simply and clearly. She also knows how the story should unfold. In fact, Life Cycle of An Oak Tree is a nice solid informational book rather like an oak tree itself.

life-cycle-oak-tree-1Starting out with an acorn, and following an oak tree through its life cycle until it is hundreds of years old, the young reader learns both about the developmental process and the vocabulary needed to discuss it. The centerpiece of the story is an English oak, which can live for 900 years. What a venerable tree!

Illustrated with clear, colorful photographs, and with a timeline on each page, the book is visually appealing. The summary of the life cycle does skip steps, for example moving from sapling to catkins, but the text makes the steps clear.

For children interested in nature and ready to show off their reading skills, this is great book to give them a firm start.

Ages:  6-8  •  Grade Level:  1-3
Publisher: Heinemann  2010 (2nd Edition)
ISBN: 9781432925314 (1432925318)

Submitted to the July I Can Read carnival, hosted at In Need of Chocolate.

In the Swim of Things

mermaid-QueenIf you are looking for a rousing book for Women’s History Month, Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story Of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way To Fame, Fortune & Swimsuit History! by Shana Corey and Edwin Fotheringham (illustrator) is a perfect choice. This biography of swimmer and actress Annette Kellerman highlights many of the challenges women faced around the turn of the century. It was a Cybils nonfiction picture book finalist for 2009.

Annette Kellerman was born in Australia in 1886. When she was young, she suffered from weak legs. As therapy, her father taught her to swim and swim she did. After her legs recovered and became strong, she continued to swim. Eventually she was competing and winning awards. She also is credited with inventing “water ballet,” the early form of modern synchronized swimming.

When she went to England and then United States to perform, she met with resistance, not for her performances, but with her skimpy bathing suits. Annette had learned that swimming in the proper bathing dresses of the time was too difficult, so she designed more form-fitting suits. The suits initially caused a scandal and even led to her arrest, but she soon convinced everyone that it was much healthier to swim unencumbered. From these beginnings, our modern swim suits were developed.

As Shana Corey points out, although Annette had many firsts she also had some setbacks. One setback was her failure to swim the English Channel. At that time only one man had done so successfully. People admired Annette’s effort and she went on to increased fame. Her story is a wonderful way for children to learn that they may experience disappointments, but what may look like failure can turn into adventures and triumphs.

As for the physical look of the book itself, the illustrations in Mermaid Queen are bright, colorful and frothy. You can feel the water, energy and motion on every page. The only criticism I have is the choice of font and font size. The fonts jump around and change size. Some of the fonts are quite frilly. It is fun for an adult to read, but difficult for a reader who is struggling or just learning to read.

Mermaid Queen is another great example of a book about someone who has been all but forgotten in modern times, but whose story is inspiring and deserves to be told.

As a Cybils judge, a copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press (April 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0439698359
ISBN-13: 978-0439698351


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 Lost Between The Pages.

Hair Dance

The color, texture and style of our hair is part of our unique individuality, a reflection of our personality. But sometimes that uniqueness can feel more like “different,” especially for young girls. Enter Hair Dance by Dinah Johnson and Kelly Johnson, a celebration of the beauty of African American hair and youth.

hair-dancePhotographer Kelly Johnson introduces the book with a touching story of how she was inspired by her grandparents’ hairstyling business. Her photographs of children are lively, lovely and incredible pieces of art, just like the hairstyles.

The photographs are brilliant enough to carry the book all on their own, but the poetry by Dinah Johnson adds the bows to this hair piece.

As a book by two women that contains many pictures of girls, this is a book full of female energy and wisdom. It would be a great gift for any girl needing a little confidence or struggling with her identity. I can also envision it as a fun part of a birthday party celebration or sleepover where girls style each others’ hair.

Hair Dance is an awesome example of what I mentioned in my last post, how to make a nonfiction work personal and relevant.

The Brown Bookshelf has a post about the author, Dr. Dinah Johnson, as well as many other authors and books in celebration of Black History Month.

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); 1st edition (September 4, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805065237
ISBN-13: 978-0805065237


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.

Day-Glo Brothers Book Wins!

Ta-Da! The winner of the 2009 Cybils award for nonfiction picture book is The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton
 and illustrated by Tony Persiani! (If you are interested in children’s and young adult books, you might want to see the Cybils winners in all the categories.) Day-Glo

The Day-Glo Brothers is about the Switzer brothers, Bob and Joe. Both boys were fascinated by science, probably due to the fact their father was a pharmacist, but Bob wanted to be a doctor and Joe wanted to entertain people. When Bob had a bad accident that kept him confined to home, his brother Joe entertained him by playing around with an ultraviolet lamp (also called a black light) that he had made from instructions out of Popular Science magazine. Joe had a magic show and he was interested in fluorescent paints to develop a new magic trick. After finding commercial uses for fluorescent paints that would shine under ultraviolet light, the brothers continued to experiment until they found a paint that would glow in regular daylight. They had created the “eye-popping” Day-Glo colors found today in products as diverse as highlighters and traffic cones.

One of the great characteristics of this book is the retro-look illustrations that use Day-Glo colors for emphasis. As explained in the back, these colors release an extra amount of light, which makes them glow. Using the colors in the illustrations in contrast to gray tones was a touch of genius.

Another important aspect of The Day-Glo Brothers is the fact that it is a story that hasn’t been written before. Both this book and Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, written by Phillip Hoose, are about people who have been overlooked in the past, but whose stories deserve to be told. Both have gotten recognition and awards. Hopefully the popularity of these books will be noted and we will begin to see more like them. Perhaps instead of yet another book about the Wright Brothers for example, there might be room for one about the lesser-known but highly-interesting aviator/inventor Glen Curtiss.

Finally, this book is a fascinating glimpse at science and the process of invention. The brothers had an good idea of what they wanted to create and kept at it. They also had a lucky accident, which brought together the elements they needed for success. On top of that, the timing of the discovery coincided with an event (the coming of World War II) when there was a great need for their products. Luck, timing and perseverance led to a successful result.

In a similar way, author Chris Barton has brought together all the elements needed to make The Day-Glo Brothers an award-winning book. Congratulations!

For related science activities, try experiments with things that glow at Growing With Science.

Shirley at Simply Science blog reviewed this treasure back in August.

Thank you very much to the adults and children who worked with me on the Cybils project. You all made this a wonderful experience, and I appreciate your time and talents.

Disclosure:  As a round II Cybils judge, I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.