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Information books | Class #4, fall 2016


Our next class will be in two weeks, on November 9. We'll be talking about five information books:

  • Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

  • Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell

  • Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

  • Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier

  • Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Things sure have changed since I was in elementary school. Instead of providing every fact known — or at least everything needed to write a report — information books nowadays aim to be as engaging as possible in order to get children interested in their subject. The idea is that it's better to leave them wanting more and then provide a bibliography at the end of the book. I think this is a big improvement.

The other new development is that these books provide information on several levels, often using different typefaces and type sizes for each. Every year, some of my ed students are frustrated by this kind of delivery, finding it draining or overwhelming, and they fear their students will dislike it, too. Others, particularly visual learners and those who know kids with attention issues, love it. I think the key is to let children explore these books rather making them "accountable for" reading and retaining every word. If the subject engages a child, then he or she might go through the book a second, third, and even fourth time, reading and noticing more and more.

We're also reading three articles related to Dave the Potter's Coretta Scott King award:

Please join us in discussing these books and articles in the comments below.
Note: Students have been asked to research specific book creators and websites and add their findings in the comments.

  • Phil K. on Steve Jenkins

  • MG P. on Laban Carrick Hill

  • Liza RO on Dave the Potter

  • Catherine K. on Patrick McDonnell

  • Young C. on Carole Boston Weatherford

  • Joyce R. on Ekua Holmes

  • Emily D. on Melissa Stewart

  • Stone D. on Sarah S. Brannen

Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is a freelance designer and consultant with degrees in studio art and children’s literature. She is the former creative director for The Horn Book, Inc., and has taught children’s literature at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogged for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.


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Phil K.

After reading the book about Hamer, whom I confess I'd never heard of, I had to go look her up some more. And really, I wanted to know what her "voice of freedom" sounded like. Here's a documentary clip I found telling more about her testimony and how LBJ tried to undermine it:

Posted : Nov 09, 2016 09:00


I mentioned in my biography about Carole Boston Weatherford that she was inspired by Langston Hughes. In the spirit of Election Day, I'd like to share a little excerpt from Langston Hughes's Let America Be America Again. Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free. (America never was America to me.) Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above. (It never was America to me.) O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.

Posted : Nov 08, 2016 04:30

Longy H

"Feathers: Not Just for Flying" is a delightfully informative book with great illustrations. Part scrapbook and part science journal, it explores the functions and diversity of bird feathers and species. I think it is a very creative way of getting children acquainted with non-fiction subject. The optional details for older children is a nice touch - reminds me kids travel books by Salvatore Rubbino!

Posted : Nov 08, 2016 02:12

Tim M.

I had the good fortune of hearing Jane Goodall lecture -- and meeting her briefly -- when I was a college student nearly twenty years ago. Patrick McDonnell's "Me...Jane," whether intentionally or not, perfectly captures Dr. Goodall's understated ethos and quiet confidence. Without overloading children on information about her career, the book captures the essence of how this remarkable woman became a scientist and public figure renowned the world over. (Others above rightly point out the significance of this portrayal for budding female scientists the world over...) What does it look like to have a curiosity needed to pursue this work? The illustrations take on the muted colors of the natural world Dr. Goodall inhabits. I'm particularly intrigued by the use of illustration immediately behind text to underscore the message of that page. (For example, "Jane could feel her own heart beating...beating..." with hearts that appear to be in motion behind. Finally, I appreciated at the end, where there is a more formal biography of Dr. Goodall, and a message from her directly to the children who may be reading. For those who are interested in more in-depth information (older readers?), it's available without leaving the book.

Posted : Nov 07, 2016 10:58

Alice Wang

Feathers--Anyone who has a fascination about animals would love this nonfictional information book about birds and their feathers. I loved how different types of feathers are compared to different items - jewelry, backhoes, sponges, life jackets and snowshoes. Each page has two levels of text. The main text compares the feathers to the objects. Each page also has a short paragraph giving more information about the comparison. Each comparison also has a picture of the bird using its feathers in the cited manner, a picture of the feathers that are being discussed, and a picture of the object that the feathers are being compared to. This creative non-fiction is a superb way of getting children acquainted with the subject. But, the text is not only informative, but also cognitively inspiring in that it pulls from reader’s prior knowledge and schemas to help them relate to how the feathers function.

Posted : Nov 07, 2016 10:41

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