Archive for ‘Non-Fiction’

September 11, 2015

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine – plus Giveaway!

Growing up I was a math and science girl. I completed two degrees in engineering and my day job is in the computer industry. It is my pleasure to bring to you today’s book review about Ada Lovelace. Ada is recognized as having created the first algorithm (“computer program”) to be carried out on a mechanical machine. Can you believe it the first programmer was a woman! What is sad is that even though I studied computer programming, I had never heard of Ada Lovelace until a few years ago when I saw a Google Doodle about her. I am thrilled to see this children’s biography about her life and contributions and hope it will inspire today’s girls.

Check-out my interview with author Laurie Wallmark.

Ada coverTitle: Ada Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

Author: Laurie Wallmark
Illustrator: April Chu
Publisher: Creston Books (October 13, 2015)
Book Type: Non-Fiction
Ages: 6-10
Themes: Women in Science, Mathematics

Opening Lines:

Ada was born into a world of poetry, but numbers, not words, captured her imagination.

Her mother, Lady Byron, had a passion for geometry. In fact, her nickname was “The Princess of Parallelograms.”

But her famous father dominated the household. Beloved for his Romantic poems, Lord Byron was a celebrity throughout the world.

Synopsis (from Amazon’s website):

Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the famous romantic poet, Lord Byron, develops her creativity through science and math. When she meets Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, Ada understands the machine better than anyone else and writes the world’s first computer program in order to demonstrate its capabilities.


Why I Like this Book:

A story about one girl’s love for numbers. Numbers were Ada’s friends, they kept her occupied and engaged. They even kept her mind sharp when she temporarily blind due to illness. The author beautifully shows us Ada’s inquiring nature as she progresses from sketching models for flying machines to computing the wings’ power, leading her to eventually collaborating with Charles Babbage on the Analytical Engine. Unfortunately this complex machine was not completed so Ada never got to see her program run but her influence lives on in modern computing.

I was surprised to learn that she was the daughter of the famous poet, Lord Byron, and that her mother loved geometry. I was also intrigued by the fact that there were women that studied math, such as Ada’s tutor Mary Fairfax Somerville. You just don’t learn about women in scientific pursuits for that time period in general history courses. While we do see Ada’s mom encouraging her in analytical thinking, the disparaging opinions of the Nanny give the reader a sense of what was considered appropriate pursuits for girls.

The pencil and paper drawing with the lush digital coloring are gorgeous. I do like the subtle shows of humor by the artist such as the cat hiding in Ada’s bag or the frog in the bathroom. Ms. Chu has elegantly captured Ada’s inquisitiveness and love for science. On one spread Ada is looking at a flock of birds taking flight and the bird that is right over her head is drawn as a mechanical bird, showing us Ada’s curiosity. Click here to see the mechanical bird image plus others from the book.

A detailed author’s note, timeline, and bibliography will help facilitate further investigation. This book is good for use in upper elementary classrooms.


For a chance to win this book, leave a comment. Deadline to enter is Thursday, September 17th at 9pm PST. Winner will receive the book at time of release in October. Contest is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Find Ada Lovelace and the Thinking Machine at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
ISBN-10: 1939547202
ISBN-13: 978-1939547200

This review is part of Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book series. Visit her site to see the other books recommended.

Disclosure: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

August 12, 2015

Nature Books for the Classroom

Welcome back for another classroom pick. Today is a lovely series from author Dianna Hutts Aston. A lady who I have personally met and radiates inner beauty just as her books do.  Be sure to check-out last week’s picks for the classroom Water is Water and It’s a Seashell Enjoy!

Science Book Collage


Author Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrator Sylvia Long have created a series of gorgeous science books. The author’s captivating language pulls the reader through the story while the watercolor and ink art challenges the reader to linger just a little longer and soak up some facts. A wonderful combination. These books don’t feel like typical science books, they feel like a work of art trying to capture the beauty of nature. These books are good to have in a home or classroom library, where a kid can hunker down with it and become engrossed.

An Egg is Quiet – Introduction to the vast and amazing world of eggs.

A Seed is Sleepy – Informative look at the intricate, complex, and often surprising world of seeds.

A Butterfly is Patient – Introduction to the world of butterflies. From iridescent blue swallowtails and brilliant orange monarchs to the worlds tiniest butterfly (Western Pygmy Blue) and the largest (Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing), an incredible variety of butterflies are celebrated here in all of their beauty and wonder.

A Rock is Lively – Fascinating world of rocks. From dazzling blue lapis lazuli to volcanic snowflake obsidian, an incredible variety of rocks are showcased in all their splendor.

A Nest is Noisy – Gorgeous and informative look at the fascinating world of nests. From tiny bee hummingbird nests to orangutan nests high in the rainforest canopy, an incredible variety of nests are showcased here.

Common-Core aligned teacher’s guide for all five books.

Here are some interior images.


From a NEST IS NOISY. Click for a larger view.


From a ROCK IS LIVELY. Click for a larger view.


Find these Dianna Aston & Sylvia Long science books at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads


Disclosure: I received a review copy of A Nest is Noisy from the publisher Chronicle Books. The other titles I have purchased or borrowed from the library. This review reflects my own honest opinion about the book.

January 16, 2015

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia


Happy New Year!! Hope you all had a wonderful, relaxing holiday break.

I am ecstatic and overjoyed to bring you today’s book review! I first read this beautiful manuscript back in 2012, when Miranda and I were in the same 12×12 critique group. (haven’t heard of 12×12, click the link and find out more about this awesome picture book community. registration for 2015 is currently taking place.) If you ever have the opportunity to listen to Miranda speak/teach .. GO! She is an entertaining speaker and chockful of information. You will be seeing a lot more books with her name as she has FOUR more picture books coming out in the next two years! Now onto the review.


One Plastic BagTitle: One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

Author: Miranda Paul (interview)
Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon
Publisher: Millbrook Press (February 1, 2015)
Book Type: Non-Fiction
Ages: 4-8
Themes: Africa, Environment, Activism


Isatou shakes sand off her papers. Another plastic bag floats by, and she tucks her things inside.

The torn bag is useless now. She drops it to the dirt, as everyone does. There’s nowhere else to put it.

Synopsis (from One Plastic Bag website):

Inspiring story of five women who creatively dealt with their village’s plastic trash problem. Despite limited resources and ridicule, Isatou and her friends persevered for more than a decade, eventually realizing economic empowerment through their recycled plastic purse project. The book also includes bonus information such as a Wolof language glossary, timeline of actual events, and photos of the women of Njau.


Visit the One Plastic Bag teacher’s resource section for tons of activities and information.

Gambia Facts Worksheet, Dangers of Plastic & What You Can Do resource guide, Downloadable Word Search, Bookmark

The coolest was the video demonstration on how to recycle plastic bags into a purse!

Why I Like This Book:

A wonderful book that shows how one single ordinary person, Isatou Cessay, made a difference. The reason I say ordinary is because initially Isatou had the same views as everyone else, which was that plastic bags are good for carrying things and when they break just  throw them on the ground. But when the plastic bag pollution became a problem for the villagers – goats eating plastic bags and dying, mosquitoes nesting in the pooling water – it was Isatou who did something about it. Together with the help of other women from the village they found a way to recycle the piles of plastic bags into purses they could sell in the nearby city. An empowering message for all young readers, that they too can make a difference.

The book is an engaging read as the Gambian world springs to life by awakening the readers senses via the sounds of the Wolof language “Ndanka”,  smells of Gambian food “bubbling peanut stew” and the sights of village daily life. The illustrations are collages of colored paper, paint, and even plastic bags. Checkout the interview at Seven Impossible Things for more sneak peeks into Ms. Zunon’s artistry.

If you would like to learn more about Gambia, this book, or the purses check out the One Plastic Bag website. I had the opportunity to see one of these purses at a writing retreat this summer. It was quite amazing.


This review is part of Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book series. Visit her site to see the other books recommended.

Disclosure: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

September 22, 2014

Industrial Revolution for Kids: The People and Technology That Changed the World


Title: Industrial Revolution for Kids: The People and Technology That Change the World

Author: Cheryl Mullenback (interview by the Mixed Files … of Middle-Grade Authors)
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, 2014
Book Type: Non-Fiction
Ages: 8-12

Synopsis (from Chicago Review Press website):

This blend of authoritative historic overview and human interest stories recounts one of the most important eras in American history. This educational activity book introduces young readers to the Industrial Revolution through the people, places, and inventions of the time, from the incredibly wealthy Rockefellers and Carnegies and the dingy and dangerous factories of the day to the creation of new forms of transportation and communication. By recounting this fascinating period in American history through the eyes of everyday workers, kids, sports figures, and social activists whose names never appeared in history books—including Hannah Montague, who revolutionized the clothing industry with her highly popular detachable collars and cuffs and Clementine Lamadrid, who either helped save starving New Yorkers or scammed the public into contributing to her one-cent coffee stands—this book helps tell the human stories of the Industrial Revolution. Twenty-one engaging and fun cross-curricular activities bring the times and technologies to life and allow for readers to make an assembly line sandwich, analyze the interchangeable parts of a common household fixture, weave a placemat, tell a story through photographs, and much more. Additional resources featured include books to read, places to visit, and websites to explore.


Why I Like This Book:

This is wonderful book that can be used to supplement a curriculum on the Industrial Revolution. It is jam-packed with basic historical information and photographs. Personally, I really liked the short articles offset in blue boxes. These are the little tidbits or personal stories that you won’t find in most textbooks, that make this era come to life. For example, did you know factory girls would sometimes leave notes in the garments they made in hope of finding a husband. Or how about Owney, the railway mail dog who rode the train across the US making sure the mail pouches were safely delivered to the post office. The book also comes with activities tied into the various section themes such as making an assembly line sandwich or designing a tenement space. With so much information this isn’t a book to speed through all at once, but rather read, process, and explore one chapter at a time.

If you liked this book be on the lookout for the next book by this author The Great Depression for Kids coming out in 2015.

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher Chicago Review Press. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

September 8, 2014

Seeds of Change

seeds-of-changeTitle: Seeds of Change

Author: Jen Cullerton Johnson
Illustrator: Sonia Lynn Sadler
Publisher: Lee and Low Books, 2011
Book Type: Non-Fiction
Ages: 6 and up
Themes: Environment, Activism, Multi-cultural

Opening Lines

“Come,” Wangari’s mother  called. She beckoned her young daughter over to a tall tree with a wide, smooth trunk and a crown of green, oval leaves.

Synopsis (from Lee & Low Books):

As a young girl in Kenya, Wangari was taught to respect nature. She grew up loving the land, plants, and animals that surrounded her—from the giant mugumo trees her people, the Kikuyu, revered to the tiny tadpoles that swam in the river.

Although most Kenyan girls were not educated, Wangari, curious and hardworking, was allowed to go to school. There, her mind sprouted like a seed. She excelled at science and went on to study in the United States. After returning home, Wangari blazed a trail across Kenya, using her knowledge and compassion to promote the rights of her countrywomen and to help save the land, one tree at a time.

Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace brings to life the empowering story of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman, and environmentalist, to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Engaging narrative and vibrant images paint a robust portrait of this inspiring champion of the land and of women’s rights.


Resource Page on the Lee & Low website containing activities, lesson plans, discussion guides for elementary and middle-school students.

Resource sheet from Reading is Fundamental (RIF), contains a scratch art activity, a simple recipe for maize and bean stew, and discussion questions.

Green Belt Movement website – initiative started by Wangari

National Geographic for kids website with facts and pictures of Kenya

Other picture books on Wangari Maathai: Mama MitiPlanting the Trees of Kenya, and Wangari’s Trees of Peace

Why I Like This Book:

A rich, colorful book that engages the audience at multiple levels. The author brings Nobel prize winner,
Wangari Maathai, to life in an accessible way for young readers. The book opens with the importance of the
mugumo tree to Wangari’s people. The reader gains an appreciation of the interconnection between plants,
animals, and humans. During the early years we also see Wangari’s desire to learn at a time
when it was not common for girls to attend schools. It is these two threads which intersect in Wangari’s later
years that lead her to become a champion for Kenya’s environment and women’s education.

I found this book to be empowering because it showed how just a single person with sheer determination
and passion can indeed make a difference in the world. Also that it all started with something so simple,
planting one tree at a time.

Lovers of lyrical language will enjoy the numerous plant metaphors.

Wangari listened as still as a tree, but her mind swirled with curiosity like the currents in the stream.

The rich, saturated colors done in scratchboard art and oil, bring to life the beauty of the African landscape
and native clothing.


This book is best suited for elementary readers and can be used in conjunction with classroom discussions
about Kenya, environmentalism, or activism.

Come back tomorrow to find out how this book inspired one elementary school to become a platform of
change, when I interview the author Jen Cullerton Johnson.


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