A Few of the Nonfiction Books We've Been Reading Lately (and a Giveaway!)
Jul 1, 2016
When it comes to books, six-year-old Maxwell can be a little bit difficult to please. Remember how Aaron will read anything I put into his hands (which sounds awesome but comes with its own set of problems)? Well, Max will read almost nothing I recommend. He's pretty independent, first of all, and likes to make his own decisions, but he also has this contrary streak in him that intentionally dislikes anything I like. So I have to be very careful with the way I present a new book to him. If I dare say, "Hey, Max, I found an awesome book I know you'll love," he won't deign to even look at it.
I've been doing a little reading program with my kids this summer (I'll write more about it soon), but the basic idea is that if they read two hours, they earn a small prize, and when they get to twenty hours, they earn a book. It's been so much fun, and I've especially been enjoying the excuse to buy really amazing, high quality books to offer for the twenty-hour prize. Except in Maxwell's case. It's been such a challenge to find books that will be tantalizing and exciting without him thinking, It's my mom giving me this prize so she must want me to read this book. Therefore (and he would totally use the word "therefore"), I am not going to choose this book.
At the beginning of summer, I just point-blank asked him, "Max, what kinds of books are you hoping to see for the summer reading program? What would make you so excited?" His answer was, "Anything with facts about animals."
And it's true. Out of all my kids, Max is my one who just loves non-fiction. When Alysa guest-posted a few months ago, she talked about the difference between narrative and non-narrative fiction, and for Max, it's all about the facts, so he's definitely a non-narrative kind of reader.
And so, it almost seemed providential when I was contacted a couple of months ago, wondering if I would be interested in reviewing a few animal fact books: the Animal Planet Animal Atlas and a couple of the Animals Bites books. It was just a little too perfect.
When Max completed his first twenty hours and was ready to select his first book prize, I set out the options and then held my breath, all while trying to look very nonchalant about it. I was so afraid he would say, in his lofty sort of way, "There isn't anything here that interests me." But he didn't. He immediately gravitated toward the Animal Atlas and read the whole thing, cover to cover, in three days.
The book is divided by continent and then further by topography. For example, Africa is divided into the Desert, Savanna, Tropical Rainforest, and Marine, with short blurbs about a dozen or so animals in each one.
Even though Max devoured the whole thing in one go, you definitely don't have to. In fact, my other kids prefer just paging through it and reading about the animals that grab their attention (usually snakes, spiders, or lizards). The photographs are eye-catching, and the illustrated maps of each region are really helpful. Since the day Max earned it, I have been inundated with animal facts: "The rhino's horn is made out of keratin, just like our fingernails," "The mosquito is the world's deadliest animal," "Did you know there are saltwater crocodiles?"
There's also a really great curriculum guide that goes along with the book (it can be downloaded here). Although I don't think we'll use everything in it, I did print off the scavenger hunt pages and gave them to Max. Whether he will actually go through the book and fill them out remains to be seen (I may have acted too excited when I handed them over).
The Animal Bites books are organized in much the same way as the Animal Atlas, except that they're a little bit shorter and grouped by types of animals rather than area of the world. I especially love the "Info Bites" section on each page that gives basic information about a specific animal and also compares it in size to some random object, like an alpaca to a guitar or a regal jumping spider to a gummy bear. Max has his eye on the Wild Animals one for his next prize. (And keep reading because there's a fun giveaway at the end of all four Animal Bites books!)
Unrelated to all this talk about animals but definitely still in the non-narrative, nonfiction genre is Awesome America by Katy Steinmetz, an encyclopedia of sorts about all of the things that make America so great, from its government to its people to its beautiful and varied landscape. With Independence Day this weekend, it has been the perfect book to get us in a patriotic mood, and we've been reading bits from it here and there all week.
Just like the Animal Atlas, it contains lots of photographs and keeps the information contained to short, readable passages. Even though it doesn't have any kind of narrative drive pulling you through it, because each section is so short and looks so interesting, it's really easy to say, "Just one more. And okay, just one more..." and then finally come up for air a half hour later.
I love seasonal reading, but I'll admit that in the past when I've checked out books specifically about America's founding, my kids and I have had a hard time getting through them. This one though is the perfect mix of history and geography and cool, random facts, so you can read about "really important pieces of paper" (i.e., the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution) and then you can skip over to "purple mountain majesties" (i.e., the tallest mountains in the U.S.) and then find out what soda is called in various parts of the country. (But I have to say, we felt like Utah was woefully underrepresented!)
I also love the spread that shows portraits of all forty-four presidents and the timeline at the back of the book. It's nice to be able to focus on a specific topic sometimes, but it's also nice to be able to get a big picture view, and this book is exactly that. I'm so happy to have it on our shelves so we can look at it again and again.
And now for that awesome giveaway I promised you about. The publicist has generously offered to send one reader a set of the four books in the Animal Bites series: Polar Animals, Farm Animals, Wild Animals, and Ocean Animals. To enter, simply leave a comment (and make sure you include your email so you can be contacted if you win). Giveaway open to U.S. residents only and closes Friday, July 7th, at 11:59pm MST.
Update: Thanks so much to everyone who entered! Emily + Eric was our winner! Congrats!
All of these books will keep Maxwell going for a few weeks, but then I'm going to need more ideas. So if you have any, please share!
I received complimentary copies of Animal Atlas, Wild Animals, Farm Animals, and Awesome America in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.