Archive for Nonfiction

Double Cross: Deception Techniques in War

Written by Paul B. Janeczko

Warfare has always relied heavily on two things: the confidence of the fighters and the people at home and fooling the enemy. This book is about fooling the enemy and many of the ways that’s been accomplished.

Beginning with ancient times and the story of Gideon in the Bible. Using torches and the element of surprise, they convinced the enemy they had much larger numbers. That helped them win the battle. The author shows how deception during the Trojan War helped armed forces gain the upper hand. After a long siege, the forces were evenly matched, so the Trojan Horse provided the means to end the siege. During the Battle of Hastings, the Normans used a faked retreat to overwhelm the English. The author discusses deception during the French and Indian War and World War I, then he goes into great detail about the many techniques used during World War II. The final chapter is about modern times, including Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq.

 Well-researched and loaded with information, the text is nevertheless very exciting and wonderfully readable for a history book. Boys, in particular, will love it, but girls with an interest in puzzles will also want to keep reading. Great resource for the classroom.

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  • Title:  Double Cross: Deception Techniques in War
  • Author:  Paul B. Janeczko
  • Publisher:  Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format:  Hardcover, 256 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-7636-6042-0
  • Genre: Upper Middle Grade Nonfiction
  • Grade level: 5 to 9
  • Extras: Table of Contents, Source Notes, Bibliography, Image Credits, Index, Numerous maps and photos

This Side of Wild

Written by Gary Paulson
Illustrated by Tim Jessell

Gary Paulson once again takes readers into his spellbinding experiences of the natural world. His newest book, This Side of Wild, focuses mainly on his many experiences with dogs, and occasionally birds. Are we training them or are they training us? Are you sure?

After writing over 200 books for children and young people, he still has fresh insight into where he has been and what he has learned. His smooth, elegant writing style and down home good humor make this an enjoyable read for all ages.

He takes us along on adventures of his past with some repetition, then explains what he means about who is doing the training with such explicit details as to allow us to watch our own dog a little closer. We will also take a more serious note of that birdfeeder out back and the ruckus we used to think pointless.

Teachers and librarians can use this as an introductory book for reluctant readers who may not have met Gary Paulson yet. It is shorter than many of his, but quickly engages the reader. Especially if the reader is very interested in the outdoors and/or dogs.

Literacy skills within the core curriculum standards are definitely strengthen and fulfilled as are science and geography standards at the middle grade level. Students could use a map of the United States to track the adventures in this book between Minnesota, Alaska and the Pacific Ocean.  Various lifestyles, climates and wildlife patterns are explained. Parents might wish to use the book as an evening read aloud, or for the enjoyable activity of you read a page, and I’ll read a page. It isn’t just for reluctant readers, folks, it is a fun evening project for everyone.

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  • This Side of WildTitle: This Side of Wild
  • Author: Gary Paulson
  • Illustrator: Tim Jessell
  • Publisher: Simon& Schuster for Young Readers, September 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 120 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4814-5150-5
  • Genre: Autobiography, Human/Animals Relations, Animal Behavior
  • Grade level: 5 to 8

Henry David Thoreau for Kids: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities

Written by Corinne Hosfeld Smith

Chicago Review Press continues to produce quality biographies with a purpose for children with this informative volume about the nineteenth century essayist, teacher, botanist, and political activist. With tons of pictures and maps, his story unfolds to reveal the many reasons he endures as an influential force throughout the world. Among the people whose life he affected, in addition to his friends Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ellery Channing, were Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. His surveys and collections are still studied today, 150 years after his death. He was not the recluse that people seem to think he was, which the author quickly points out, but he did have specific ideas on how to live and did not worry about whether others would join him in every activity. He lived in a time when many diseases were known but not well-understood, so died at age 44 of tuberculosis, a disease that’s much more treatable today.

Thoreau’s methods and approaches were so straightforward that they lend themselves easily to adaption for children. Fifth graders can keep a daily journal, record animal behavior, measure the depth of water, or do one of 18 other activities carefully outlined. This is a great resource.

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  • ThoreauTitle: Henry David Thoreau for Kids: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities
  • Author: Corinne Hosfeld Smith
  • Published: Chicago Review Press, February 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 128 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 up
  • Genre: Biography, history, science
  • ISBN: 978-1-61373-146-8
  • Extras: Table of Contents, Time Line, Resources, Notes, Bibliography, Index, 21 Activities

Trapped Behind Nazi Lines: The Story of the US Army Air Force 807th Medical Evacuation Squadron

Written by Eric Braun

Imagine being young and eager to help the wounded and sick during a war. Imagine flying into the unknown and crashing far from where you were supposed to be. That’s what happened to a group of nurses, medics, and their flight crew during World War II. The group were helped by partisans, hunted by Nazi sympathizers and Nazis, and rescued by a coalition of Americans and the British. They endured fleas, lice, starvation, dysentery, blizzards, and hundreds of miles of walking and climbing mountains. While their families worried for them, many quietly celebrated birthdays hiding from the enemy. Eventually, all of the Americans were rescued, but some were stranded in Albania for four and a half months.

From the “Encounter: Narrative Nonfiction Stories,” this is a very exciting account of a little-known slice of human experience from an event that affected most of the world. Readers get to see the interaction of cultures and the sacrifices people throughout the world are willing to make, even when they don’t know the people who are suffering.

Highly recommended.

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  • Trapped Behind Enemy LinesTitle: Trapped Behind Nazi Lines: The Story of the US Army Air Force 807th Medical Evacuation Squadron
  • Author: Eric Braun
  • Published: Capstone Press, March, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 6
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History
  • ISBN: 978-1-6732-0605-0
  • Extras: Maps, Numerous photographs, Timeline, Quotation Source Notes, About the Author, Glossary, Read More, Critical Thinking Using Common Core, Selected Bibliography, Internet Sites, Index

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America

Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Mary was a great cook, but she was a carrier of the deadly typhoid disease. It was likely she unknowingly put germs in food of people who later became very ill and died. But Mary never understood what it meant to be a carrier and couldn’t accept help from the medical community. They were trying to save the people of New York City.

Once again, Susan Campbell Bartoletti has done extensive primary and secondary source research in support of the story. This biography is filled with details and each one is verified by its source.

Readers get a glimpse of the frustration felt by Mary, but then in later chapters can relate to the frustration of the health officials. They really weren’t targeting Mary, but trying to do what was best for everyone.

Students will learn about this particular event and also how to do a solid, non-fiction report of their own. Core curriculum standards in literacy, as well as American history and health/science can be fulfilled. Among the story of what happened to Mary, readers will notice a story of how the science of health was developing in this era. Anyone involved in women’s studies might also find it interesting that even while Mary was quarantined, several men also identified as carriers were treated and/or observed, but never quarantined on a far away island.

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  • Typhoid MaryTitle: Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
  • Author: Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 229 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-544-31367-5
  • Genre: Biography, history
  • Grade level: 5 up
  • Extras: Afterward, Photo Album, Chapter Footnotes, Extensive Bibliography, Index

Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures

Written by Erin Hagar

Julia Child was passionate and friendly, as is this new biography about her life and work. The text is conversational as well as informative.

Like many grown-ups, even Julia Child sometimes wondered what her real life’s work might turn out to be as she moved all over the world. Finally, one day while having lunch in a restaurant in Paris, France stirred up her passion for good food.

Grade three readers, or grade six readers and any others who pick up this biography will be amazed at how this girl from Pasadena, California grows up to become one of the most successful and famous chefs in history. Her cookbooks and television shows were followed by thousands. People still roast a chicken the same way Julia taught them, all while laughing and visiting with them and the TV filming crew.

Each chapter includes several full-page sketches depicting various events of Julia’s life. Readers will love how these sketches help transport them into her world.

Teachers, librarians, and parents will applaud how much this book can be a comfortable read, and also provide a bridge to research-based reading and writing. It fulfills many core curriculum standards in the areas of literacy, geography, history and culture. Students can use the index, glossary, bibliography and timeline while completing their own research into the life of this famous woman. This would be a great addition to any upper elementary or middle school, and public library collection. Also, a fun birthday or Christmas surprise for any third to seventh grader who loves to read and cook.

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  • Julia ChildTitle: Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures
  • Author: Erin Hagar
  • Illustrator: Joanna Gorham
  • Publisher: Duopress, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 160 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-938093-34-0
  • Genre: Biography
  • Grade level: 3 to 7
  • Extras: Glossary, Index, Time-line, Bibliography, Illustrations of Julia Child Historic Kitchen in Washington, D. C.

Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes

Written by Juan Felipe Herrera
Illustrated by Raul Colon

Twenty-One famous American heroes with Hispanic heritage are included in this beautiful biography collection. It is written by the Mexican-American Poet Laureate of California, who is himself the son of migrant workers.

The stunning portraits are paintings done by Raul Colon.

Each two – four page biography is skillfully written to include the education, dreams, goals, and quotes of those included. The heroes include those from sports, music, art, sciences, and politics. They span the past, as well as the present of American experience. Some of the biographies include: Roberto Clemente, Cesar Chavez, Desi Arnaz, Joan Baez, Ellen Ochoa and Sonia Sotomayor.

This volume will be a useful research tool in schools and libraries, but is also a pleasant straight-through read for any students interested in biographies. Literacy skills such as nonfiction reading, research skills, biographies, as well as the sciences and careers. Students can also use this as a starting point for studying about any one of these important people as there is a thorough source list as well as a related reading resource page in the back.

This is an important addition to broadening a library collection to include books about the diversity of the United States.

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  • Portraits of HispanicTitle: Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes
  • Author: Juan Felipe Herrera
  • Illustrator: Raul Colon
  • Publisher: Penguin, August, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 96 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-8037-3809-6
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
  • Grade level: 3 to 7
  • Extras: Source notes, related reading list

A King James Christmas: Biblical Selections with Illustrations from around the World

Edited by Catherine Schuon and Michael Fitzgerald
Illustrated by Catherine Schuon

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A King James Christmas: Biblical Selections with Illustrations from around the World is the story of Jesus Christ that is divided into three parts: his birth, his childhood, and his teachings. [button link=”″] Buy on Amazon [/button] For Schuon and Fitzgerald this book comes from their own passion and represents many years of dedicated, selfless devotion to creating a work of art that celebrates the true meaning of Christmas that is intended for the whole family from the pre-schooler, to the second grader reader through teens to adults.

What makes this book universal for Christian readers all over the world is the selection of art that comes far and wide from Russia, Italy, England, Germany, China, the Netherlands, Macedonia, and even from the hands of Catherine Schuon. A list of the illustrations, the time they were painted and by whom, as well as the location where they hang can be found at the back of the book.

A King James Christmas: Biblical Selections with Illustrations from around the World is an heirloom book you will want to read aloud with your family every Christmas and pass down to future generations. Every detail from the tiniest of considerations is thoughtfully executed from the selection of artwork to the large font and insertion of more common expressions to ensure that readers of all ages will understand some of the archaic text taken directly from the King James bible, written and completed in the year 1611.

To learn more about Catherine Schuon, please go to:

To learn more about Michael Fitzgerald, please go to:

To view sample pages of A King James Christmas: Biblical Selections with Illustrations from Around the World, please go to:
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  • A King James ChristmasTitle: A King James Christmas: Biblical Selections with Illustrations from Around the World
  • Author: from the King James bible
  • Edited by: Catherine Schuon and Michael Oren Fitzgerald
  • Illustrator: Various including paintings by Catherine Schuon
  • Publisher: Wisdom Tales
  • Reviewer: Annemarie O’Brien
  • Paperback: 68 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-937786-03-8
  • Genre: Christian, holiday, Christmas
  • Lexile Score: 1020


The Other Side of Free

Written by Krista Russell

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The year is 1739, the location northern Florida near the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine. Thirteen- year-old fugitive slave Jem has just arrived from Charles Town in the Carolinas with Phaedra, a feisty black runaway woman, who has been “paid” by Jem’s caregiver, conjure woman Aunt Winnie, to escort Jem to Florida and look after him.
Why would Jem and Phaedra want to go to Florida?  Florida was controlled by the Spanish government. Spain had offered freedom to English colonial slaves if they fled the British colonies, swore to assist the Spanish in defeating the British, and converted to Catholicism. A group of fugitives lived at Fort Mose, just outside the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine. About the same time, a slave uprising occurred along the Stono River near the Florida-Georgia border. The British colonists slaughtered or sold many rebels.

Krista Russell, according to her website, writes “stories of adventure that bring history to life.” She has succeeded in this case. Once Jem and Phaedra arrive at Fort Mose, the adventures begin: rescuing an owl, meeting the trader Reynard, learning to fish and hunt the Indian way from Domingo, arrival of other fugitives, encounters in the forest, threats from the British, scarce supplies, preparing for battle, and the battle.
The story line drags a bit at the beginning, but reaches a flashpoint and firepower speed when Jem spies several British soldiers, and British ships blockade the St. Augustine harbor. All the fugitives gather in the Castillo for safety, but supplies are low. Jem learns about what the British have done to Fort Mose. Consequently, the Spanish authorities develop a plan to defeat the British soldiers at Fort Mose based on Jem’s reports.

The characters are many and diverse, each having his own story to enrich the general narrative. Jem is an immature and naïve thirteen, resentful of strong willed Phaedra and missing Aunt Winnie. Jem’s and Phaedra’s strong stubborn wills clash. Phaedra’s history remains a mystery until the final chapters. Reynard, the trader, adds the historical details about the importance of trading with the Indians and the British and American colonists, not only providing goods but also news. Big Sunday is the leader of the slaves and connection to the Native Americans via his son Domingo and connection to the Spanish governor and general who live in St. Augustine. General Rooster is what the slaves have nicknamed General Rojas who trains the fugitives to help fight off the British. Shadrack is the old conjure man who is the fort charcoal maker.

Interspersed throughout is the owl, Omen, that Jem rescues from his nest when he observes crows attacking the owlet. Phaedra dislikes and resents the owlet and the time Jem  spends feeding it, mending it, teaching it how to fly, and, finally, hunting for itself. However, Omen teaches Jem about the forest and the ways of the forest that help Jem provide information during the siege

Several strands of the narrative seem extraneous.  While Jem thinks about his Aunt Winnie, he remembers her stories, the stories of trickster Brer Rabbit and tells them to Omen. General Rojas propositions Phaedra, who rebuffs him. Why is that short episode needed in a story for middle grade readers?  Could other descriptions, examples, information have been used to establish the personalities of Rojas and Phaedra? Neither does the element of conjuring, while providing additional richness to the African-American culture, seem to be necessary to the forward movement of the general thesis.

Few books have been written for upper elementary/middle school readers about this period and location in America history. Most emphasis has been on the British colonies and the use of slaves on the southern plantations. Historians now consider the Fort Mose site and the flight of the slaves from the Carolinas and Georgia as the precursor of the Underground Railroad that took many slaves to safety in the north or to Canada. Russell’s previous book Chasing the Nightbird was a NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People in 2012; Other Side of Free will probably also be included in that honor listing.

Extras: Author website
Fort Mose Historic State Park:
Castillo De San Marcos:;
Stono River Slave Rebellion Site:

  • Other Side of FreeTitle: The Other Side of Free
  • Author: Krista Russell
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2013
  • Reviewer: Marion Mueller
  • Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-710-6
  • Reading level: 4.9

Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers

Written by Brandon Marie Miller

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It’s unusual for such a heavily researched and annotated work as this to be so exciting. The author chose the stories of women with a lot to tell, and she makes the reader care. The author also categorizes stories that defy category.

Not surprisingly, the stories begin with the trek west. The reader learns about Margaret Reed, a member and survivor of the ill-fated Donner party. The ordeal is real without being overly graphic. Amelia Stewart Knight was another early settler who faced unbelievable hardship – along the Oregon Trail. The next three women – Narcissa Whitman, Miriam Davis Colt, and Frances Grummond – faced unusual challenges establishing households on the frontier. Narcissa set out to be a missionary to Native Americans in Oregon. She was killed without converting a single “heathen.” Miriam wrote a book about her failed colony in Kansas. Frances married an army office and found new meanings for isolation and deprivation.

Many women in the West learned to make their own way. Luzena Stanley Wilson went west with the Gold Rush and made a living feeding or housing the men. Clara Brown was a laundress/entrepreneur/philanthropist. Bethenia Owens-Adair was a healer and physician.

Not everyone spent all their time with mere survival. Martha Dartt Maxwell became a taxidermist and introduced western animals to the East. Charlotte “Lotta” Crabtree was a baby-faced, famous singer.

Many women considered the future of the West. Mary Elizabeth Lease immersed herself in the populist movement. Carry Nation fought for temperance and women’s suffrage.

In the category of culture clash, Rachel Parker Plummer and Cynthia Ann Parker are examples of white women held captive by Native Americans. Sarah Winnemucca and Susette La Flesche were Native Americans who fought for their native people.

This work is great as a referential beginning point for a fifth grade unit of the American West or Native Americans. Many of these women wrote about their lives, so reading activities naturally flow into learning more about them and the topics they wrote about. The author includes a table of contents, notes, resources, an index, and numerous photos.

  • Women of the FrontierTITLE: Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers
  • AUTHOR: Brandon Marie Miller
  • PUBLISHER: Chicago Review Press
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • EDITION: 2013
  • ISBN: 978-1-883052-97-3
  • GENRE: Hard cover, Women, American West, History


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