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Books on Parade

Nonfiction and Biography

Avi -- Author Study
Evaluating Books
Picture Books and Easy Readers
Traditional Literature and Poetry
Nonfiction and Biography
Realistic Fiction

Section 4: Nonfiction and Biography

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Yuyi Morales.


Krull, Kathleen. 2003. Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez. Illustrated by Yuyi Morales. New York: Harcourt, Inc. ISBN: 0-15-201437-3


Harvesting Hope is the story of Cesar Chavez and how he was instrumental in obtaining better conditions for farm workers and particularly migrant farm workers.  The story outlines his youth and experiences as a migrant worker as well as his struggle to peacefully force farm owners to treat their workers fairly and humanely.


Although Krull does not site her sources of information for this book, there does appear to be a high degree of accuracy.  Historical facts that are easily verified such as the historical march and details pertaining to that event are included.    Also in a small acknowledgement note there is reference to her gathering information from primary sources as she visited with migrant farm workers who shared their memories of Cesar Chavez as well as their struggle for fair treatment.  This, in addition to being an author with an excellent reputation for writing good quality and accurate biographies provides assurance that this is in fact an accurate account of the events described.   


Although he is certainly a worthy subject of a biography, Chavez is not eulogized in this book, while his accomplishments for the betterment of migrant workers are the focus; his lack of formal education past the eighth grade is mentioned as is his embarrassment of this fact.  This balance of information provides a more unbiased look at Cesar Chavez and portrays his as a human being who was able to accomplish a great deal.  This realistic depiction is more likely to inspire readers to believe themselves capable of changing things in the world than a glorified representation would.


The organization of the book is clear and logical.  Events are presented in a chronological order and the progression is very natural.  All aspects of the story are important to the overall message.  The background information provided about Cesar’s youth offers insight into his later methods of “fighting” the wealthy farm owners as well as showing how his character developed and was already being formed as a result of his upbringing.


Harvesting Hope has a very attractive design and the illustrations are very reflective of the story and the culture that is being described.  Even the terracotta colored end pages add to the infusion of the Hispanic culture that is portrayed throughout this book.  The pictures bring to life the events that are described in the text and are reminiscent of the style of Diego Rivera’s political murals which I am sure is no accident.  The bright colors and attractive page design is certain to attract children to this book.  


I would highly recommend this book.  It is the 2004 winner of the Pura Belpre’ Honor award, and is a 2004 Bluebonnet book.  This title can be integrated into multicultural, civil rights, and labor law units to name a few as well as being enjoyed as enrichment reading.  Anyone who doesn’t believe that they can make a difference should read this book, whether they are eight or eighty-eight.  This is a story for all ages to appreciate.

Hottest Coldest Highest Deepest by Steve Jenkins


Jenkins, Steve. 1998. Hottest Coldest Highest Deepest. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN: 0-395-8999-0


Hottest Coldest Highest Deepest is a wonderful true book that informs readers of the most extreme locations on the globe.  From the deepest part of the ocean to the place that has the most amount of snow each year, also information is provided on the page about other extreme places that were maybe the runners up of certain categories.  Readers are given diagrams to see visually how the measurement compares to the height of an average man or even the empire state building.  This comparison allows children to relate the information they are being given to something that they already know so they have a frame of reference.


The assumption of accuracy is reinforced not only by the reputation of the author for writing quality nonfiction and the presence of favorable reviews but also by the inclusion of a bibliography of sources used in the research for this book.  The bibliography is located on the title page and includes citations from many reputable sources.  There is virtually no opinion present in this book, since this is essentially a fact book, verification is fairly simple.  Accuracy is an important matter that has been addressed by the author who leaves very little room for doubt regarding what he has written.


The organization of this book is appropriate for nonfiction.  A child can pick the book up and open it to any page and it will make sense.  It lends itself well to reading from cover to cover but also, just as well to reading only bits and pieces in any order that the reader chooses.  Although there is not a table of contents or index, the topics are grouped together logically as the title suggests; the hottest spot is followed by the coldest and the wettest is followed by the driest. 


The design of this particular book is very impressive; it draws the reader to it by its attractive layout.  The text takes up minimal space on the page which is filled by the wonderful paper collage illustrations that are done by the author as well as the poignant diagrams that illustrate the enormity of what is being described.  The only complaint I would make on the design of this book would be the size of the print for the supporting information.  Even very young eyes may find themselves straining to read these small sections of print.


I would definitely recommend Hottest Coldest Highest Deepest to any young inquisitive mind.  Steve Jenkins could certainly be added to the list of phenomenal authors of nonfiction for children in areas of science, a list that is no doubt topped by Seymour Simon (a cited reference for this book I might add).  There are also more classroom uses for this book than the obvious.  Anne Chapman Callaghan from the Racine Public Library offered this insight in her review of this book in School Library Journal, “This eye-catching introduction to geography will find a lot of use in libraries and classrooms.”  Although, this book provides a map and marks the location being discussed on every page, I did not immediately make the leap to using this as a geography tool.  However, any teacher that does will surely find his/her students much more interested in the topic!



Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by Lynn Curlee


Curlee, Lynn. 2002. Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 0-689-83182-X.


Seven Wonders of the Ancient World begins with a history of the title of “wonder of the world”.  A brief history of the various lists that contained different structures is given before settling on one list to explore in greater depth.  The book proceeds to give historical documentation about each structure and then offers several hypotheses regarding information that is not known for certain.


Although a bibliography is not provided, through the text it does appear that Mr. Curlee did his homework on the subject.  The note on the dust cover that identifies Curlee as a art historian also lends his book credibility since many of the objects are not only architectural wonders but artistic marvels as well.  Theory and fact is clearly differentiated in this book where it would be very easy to blur the lines of reality.  Assumptions and possibilities are plainly stated so as to avoid misinforming readers.  The illustrations provide pictorial assumptions about what these structures may have looked like and when the exact representation is unknown it is stated so that the reader does not assume that the picture is necessarily a true depiction.  Also, when there are differing theories on what a structure may have looked like, the various opinions are included so the reader has more complete information.


The organization of the book is logical for nonfiction.  While a reader could read any section independently, the sequence follows the order of the list that was selected by the author; that of Dutch artist, Maerten van Heemskerck engraved in the midsixteenth century.  Unfortunately, no reference aids are provided such as a table of contents or index, the short length of the book make finding particular structures very easy anyway.


The design of this book does have a few flaws.  There is so much narration that it will probably be difficult for many students to follow very easily.  Also, the lack of captions on the illustrations may confuse readers somewhat as well.  This point is illustrated by Ilene Cooper in her review of this book for Booklist when she says; “Children probably won't recognize Napoleon at the Great Pyramid, and the figures of nude men running a race will come as a surprise, especially because the Olympics are explained on the previous page and, in any case, never mention nudity.”


Overall this book is an interesting read and would be an excellent choice for anyone who has a strong foundation in history and an interest in the topic.  The various perspectives that are offered do add to the instructional value as well.  This may be a book that is a wonderful tool for teachers but the design flaws may inhibit its target audience from individual readings.



Encantado: Pink Dolphin of the Amazon by Sy Montgomery, with photographs by Dianne Taylor-Snow


Montgomery, Sy. 2002. Encantado: Pink Dolphin of the Amazon. Photographs by Dianne Taylor-Snow. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN: 0-618-13103-5


Encantado: Pink Dolphin of the Amazon is an exceptional peak into the world of many amazing creatures including the rare pink dolphin.  Written in a unique style that draws the reader into the action, you are transported into an expedition in search of the Encantado.  Along the way you are introduced to many living things that seem to be straight out of someone’s very vivid imagination.


This book appears to have a high degree of accuracy.  A list of suggested reading for both children and older readers is provided, which although it does not state that it was used as a bibliography, the author must have done her share of research in those and other books.  The journalistic style in which the book is written also adds to its credibility.  First hand knowledge and experience certainly create an image of accuracy. 


The organization of this book is good overall.  The sections are divided neatly and the flow and progression seem very natural.  However, the addition of a table of contents would have been a nice touch.  Also, while the book progresses naturally when read from cover to cover, I am not sure that this book would lend itself very well to being read in another order or in single segments.  An index is included which is nice for readers who know exactly what they are looking for.


The design of the book is nice and does engage the reader.  The use of photographs as the form of illustration adds to the journalistic style that is portrayed through the writing.  Captions on all of the photographs really draw readers into the book.  An author can describe a spider the size of a tangerine, but it is a whole different experience to see it.  The understanding of that fact is apparent through the use of photographs, captions and the placement of these throughout the text.


This book is a wonderful choice for readers of all ages, I found myself making all sorts of interesting faces at many of the descriptions and pictures as well as going back and forth from really wanting to go explore the Amazon myself to feeling things crawling all over me and being very glad to be safe at home.  Encantado provides such a wonderful introduction to the Amazon wildlife and fascinating information on the little known pink dolphin that the reader truly feels like they have had an adventure themselves.  Susan Oliver from the Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library System really captured the essence of this book in her review for School Library Journal when she wrote; “The author's sense of wonder at this spectacular environment and this unusual animal is infectious and makes for a nonfiction title that inspires as it informs.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.