#Nonfiction Monday The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls


Great news for older readers:  author Janet Halfmann has developed her acclaimed 2008 picture book Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story into a new chapter book in Lee & Low’s The Story of… series, The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls, also illustrated by Duane Smith.

Born into slavery in South Carolina, young Robert Smalls worked his way up to the esteemed position as a wheelman on a wooden steamboat named the Planter that carried supplies for the Confederate army. With patience and ingenuity, he developed a plan to take his family on the boat and make a daring run for freedom. Would it work?

To help flesh out the book, Janet Halfmann delved deeply into the history of the Civil War to give background and context to the story. She added sidebars — like the one on slavery in the selection below –to extend the original story. She also  created a timeline, glossary, and recommended reading list.

Boat enthusiasts and budding engineers are going to love the sidebar about the steam-powered boat, the Planter. You can almost hear the hiss of the steam and the slap of the paddles hitting the water.

Janet Halfmann also includes a sidebar with the story of another daring escape to freedom, this time by a young woman who stowed away in wedding chest that was really no more than a large box. Readers will hold their breath waiting to see if she succeeds.

The daring escape in The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls is what will likely initially attract readers, but it is the fascinating history that will keep them reading. This book is perfect for unit on the Civil War or for Black History Month. Delve into a copy today!

Related and Activity Suggestions:

1. Check out the Teacher’s Guide for Seven Miles to Freedom, which has many ideas that can be used with this book as well.

2. Consider a science/engineering project of building a paddle boat. We have some ideas about boat propulsion at Growing with Science to get you started.

3. See Writing and Illustrating blog for an interview with Janet Halfmann about the book.

Age Range: 8 – 11 years
Publisher: Lee & Low Books (February 25, 2020)
ISBN-10: 1643790161
ISBN-13: 978-1643790169

Looking for more children’s nonfiction books? Try the Nonfiction Monday blog.

#kidlit On a Snow-Melting Day Inspires Both Science and Poetry @Steamteam2020


Have you seen Buffy Silverman’s delightful picture book, On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring, yet?

If not, you’re in luck. With permission from Millbrook Press, Buffy Silverman reads her book aloud and shares science activity suggestions.

What a perfect way to celebrate spring!

On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring

Related Activities

1. There is something about spring that inspires poetry. In fact, April is National Poetry Month.

national Poetry Month

Check the National Poetry Month website for the Dear Poet Activity and videos of poets reading their poems. Write your own ode to spring.

See more poetry activity suggestions and related books in our National Poetry Month category.

2. For a list of STEAM activity websites and suggestions, visit the STEAM Team 2020.

Age Range: 4 – 9 years
Publisher: Millbrook Press TM (February 4, 2020)
ISBN-10: 1541578139
ISBN-13: 978-1541578135


#Kidlit Under My Tree by Muriel Tallandier

Bring a little of the great outdoors inside with this gorgeous informational fiction picture book, Under My Tree by Muriel Tallandier, illustrated by Mizuho Fujisawa, and translated by Sarah Klinger. Available April 14, 2020.

Young Susanne tells the reader — in the first person — how she found a special tree in the forest near her grandparents home. She returns to the tree again and again throughout the summer to discover the life that depends on the tree and how it changes from season to season.

Although fiction, leaf-shaped sidebars on many of the pages add nonfiction interest through questions, activity suggestions, and tree facts.

Mizuho Fujisawa’s illustrations are delicate, calming  and yet vibrant at the same time. Perhaps it is because all the inks a vegetable based, but the colors sing. The illustrations capture the feeling of a cool forest on a warm summer’s day perfectly.

Spending time in nature is especially important right now. For children who might not be able to talk a walk in the woods, reading this quiet, gentle book that celebrates trees might be the best alternative. Get lost in a copy of Under My Tree soon!


Check for the giveaway at GoodReads by Blue Dot Press running until March 31, 2020.

Age Range: 3 – 8 years
Publisher: Blue Dot Kids Press (April 14, 2020)
ISBN-10: 1733121234
ISBN-13: 978-1733121231

Want to read more children’s books about trees? See our redwood-sized list of tree books at Science Books for Kids.

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

#kidlit Nobody Hugs a Cactus, A Way to Talk About Distancing

cactus flowers

Want an adorable picture book the “pokes” a little fun at prickly characters while at the same time being a cute way to introduce the idea of distancing? Then look no further than Nobody Hugs a Cactus* by Carter Goodrich.

(*Amazon affiliate link)

Hank the Cactus sits all alone in his pot on a windowsill and that’s the way he likes it. Whenever someone tries to visit him, he ignores them. Sometimes he even yells at his neighbors, tortoise and jack rabbit. Over time, Hank realizes his lifestyle is making him lonely. Will he ever find a friend?

Carter Goodrich is an illustrator who is known for his covers on The New Yorker, so it is not surprising that it is the art that strikes you first when you open the book. The colors capture the brilliant light of the desert Southwest. Plus, Hank’s expressions range from silly to enchanting.

To gush about the illustrations, however, is not a knock to the text. The story is concise, yet lyrical enough for reading aloud. Kids are going to love the light humor.

In addition to being an introduction to social skills, Nobody Hugs a Cactus would be appropriate to accompany a unit on deserts.  Get a warm, fuzzy feeling from a copy today!

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (April 16, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1534400907
ISBN-13: 978-1534400900

Looking for more children’s books about deserts? Try our growing list at Science Books for Kids.