Lego Star Wars Visual Dictionary

The following is a guest review by my fiance’, a huge Lego fan.

I reviewed LEGO Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary by Simon Beecroft. I was very excited to review the book when Sarah received it in the mail because I am fan of Legos and Star Wars. The book seemed to be written just for me! And as a bonus, the book includes a free mini figure and that immediately won me over.

LEGO Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary is a chronicling of all the Star Wars sets Lego has issued to date. It is especially written for Lego fans and collectors. It goes into detail to show the differences between sets issued in 1999 and say 2008, for example. It made me appreciate the sets Lego has created for the Star Wars universe. The text of the book gives a summary of the different aspects of the movies ad Star Wars lore, including the Death Star and the Rebel Army.

I would recommend this book to Lego fans and collectors of the Lego Star Wars memorabilia. However, it does lack real insight that pure Star Wars fans would be looking for. I do think kids would love this book, though!

Nic Bishop Marsupials

Pick up any of Nic Bishop’s amazing nonfiction books and you will realize it’s a gateway book.  Suddenly, your world will be opened to his world of nonfiction.  Bishop brings his knowledge of biology and life on earth to his books and also fills them with his own gorgeous photographs.   The result is a smart and beautiful books that kids and adults alike won’t want to put down.  I learn something new from all of his books and his newest title, on shelves next Tuesday, is no exception.

Nic Bishop Marsupials does not disappoint. I made the mistake of assuming it would focus only on the most well-known marsupials, like kangaroos and koalas. While these animals are mentioned, Bishop dives deeper into the world of marsupials, exposing his readers to weird and exotic marsupials that aren’t as well-known. My favorite? The numbat, which doesn’t even have a pouch like most marsupials!  Bishop offers biological information on many different marsupials from all over the world but the information is in an easy to digest format.  And I LOVE the formatting of the pages because it will fit in perfectly with my nonfiction unit in writing.  His use of techniques like bolded letters, different colors and size fonts for important information, and his fascinating photographs will serve as prime examples in my classroom later this year!

I also enjoyed his epilogue, where Bishop explained how he researched the book and how he took the pictures. Those two pages will be great to share with my middle schoolers this year during our research unit. It’s always my goal to share with them real authors doing research for real books, to impart to them the importance of research!

Nic Bishop Marsupials is a fantastic addition to any library. I know I’ll be running out to order a few more of his titles this month when school starts!



Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Biology: Life as We Know It by Dan Green

I’ve been reading this one on and off all day.  It’s definitely a great book to flip through and read what interests you.  But I love these books because they always hook my students.  The illustrations by Simon Basher are fun to look at and always catch my students’ attention.  

The topics in this edition of Basher’s science series, Biology: Life as We Know It! include cells, mammals, DNA, and much more.  A great addition to any science teacher’s library.

My Season With Penguins: An Antarctic Journal by Sophie Webb

Next year, one of my goals is to infuse more non-fiction reading into my curriculum. I did a fantastic unit this year on non-fiction and want to expand it. That means I need to infuse more non-fiction into my own reading life. I decided to read at least 3 non-fiction books during the 48 Hour Book Challenge this year to help me achieve my goal.

My Season with Penguins: An Antarctic Journal (Robert F. Sibert Honor Books) by Sophie Webb is the second informational book I read during the Challenge. A Sibert Honor book, I highly recommend it. Sophie Webb shares her experience spending two months studying Adelie Penguins in the Antarctic using a journal format and her own paintings as illustrations. The tone is conversational, which makes the information accessible to kids. And this isn’t a boring science book- it’s actually gross at times! Webb doesn’t shy away from the gory details of nature, which I know my students will appreciate. There are paintings of mummified penguins (adults and chicks) and a leopard seal killing and eating an Adelie. And I even learned that human waste is flown out of the Antarctic because of the cold, dryness, and lack of bacteria. Nothing decays in the Antarctic. I actually yelped, “Eww!” out loud while reading. I know my kids will revel in that information.

I also liked that while I learned a lot about Adelie Penguins, I also learned even more about scientific expeditions in Antarctica. Webb shares “insider information” on how camps are set up, the type of clothing and supplies available, and past exploration of the area. Information like this will engage readers who love animals and readers who love survival stories.

Highly recommended for classroom libraries and science teachers!

Moon Science, History, and Mystery by Stewart Ross

I am trying to expand my reading horizons and read more non-fiction.  Space is always a popular topic with my students, so when I saw Moon Science, History, And Mystery I picked it up for my classroom library.

With a stunning cover, this should catch my students’ attention. And the short chapters will hold their attention. Each spread is like a mini-unit, focusing on a different subject. The topics range from moonlight to moon gods/goddesses to moon probes, everything you could want to know about the moon is in this book. Each spread is full of pictures, charts, captions, and much more. I think kids will feel good about flipping through this book and reading the sections that interest them. After reading a spread or two, I think they will be pulled in and will want to read the whole thing!

Each spread is labeled as part of the Moon Struck, Moon Landing, or Moon Facts theme.  The Moon Landing theme is chronological and does a great job of explaining NASA’s first lunar mission.  The Moon Struck sections focus on history, mythology, and the arts.  Moon Facts are just that.  

This is also a great addition to any science teacher’s classroom library!

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Non-fiction

For some reason, we always seem to skip over non-fiction when we buy books for children. Yet it is one of, if not the, most popular genres when you ask kids what they like to read. So with that in mind, here are some favorites from my classroom library!

  • Albino Animals by Kelly Milner Halls- My students are obsessed with this cool book about albinos. Full of pictures, some of which are a little creepy (it’s the red eyes!), kids won’t be able to put this one down. The chapters are arranged by animal category (reptiles and amphibians, sea mammals, and so on), and Halls cites real-life examples of albino animals and discusses the special concerns that albinism raises in each one. And this Language Arts teacher loves that a glossary and bibliography are included!


  • The Race to Save the Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose- This is the story of the first modern endangered species in America, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. In 1800, the large and impressive woodpecker lived in the southeastern United States, from Texas to the Carolinas and as far north as Indiana. By 1937, it could be found on only one tract of land in northeastern Louisiana. Its last confirmed sighting was in Cuba in 1987. The story is full of suspense and intrigue and is difficult to put down. There are original archival photos included, along with paintings (the Ivory-billed woodpecker was a frequent model for artists). A great book for any kid who loves animals, endangered species, or the environment.


  • The Devil on Trial: Witches, Anarchists, Atheists, Communists, andTerrorists in America’s Courtrooms by Philip Margulies- For some reason, court trials are absolutely fascinating when you are in middle school. aturing five famous trials, this book examines the way our right to a fair trial can be threatened, when people are tempted to abandon their principles in the name of safety. Trials included in this book include the always-popular Salem Witch Trials, the Haymarket Affair Trial, the Scopes “Monkey” Trial, the trial of Alger Hiss, and the recent trial of Zacarias Moussaoui


  • Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past by James M. Deem- Perfect for that one child in your life who is fascinated by gross and/or morbid things. In 1991, mountain climbers on the Niederjoch Glacier on the Italian-Austrian border came across something gross: a body. It had been a very warm summer, and five bodies had already turned up in the area (sadly common on mountaintops). But something here was different. The materials found with the body suggested it might be very old, perhaps from the 1800s. But radiocarbon dating proved the iceman was 5,300 years older, from the Copper Age. He was named Ötzi and he is the oldest human mummy preserved in ice ever found. Deem takes the reader on a fascinating journey as you learn about the mummy and the scientists who studied him.


  • The Way We Work by David Macauley- This is the book that any future doctor needs! David Macauley reveals the intricacies of the human body with detailed artistic drawings. The book is divided into seven sections – from the cells that form our foundation to the individual systems they build. Each gorgeous illustration details different aspects of our complex body structure, explaining the function of each and offering up-close glimpses and unique cross-sections and perspectives. Plus, it’s funny, too!


Check out all my posts here!

Nonfiction Monday: Ballots for Belva by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency was exactly what I needed in this race to the finish for the 2008 election. I am inundated daily by campaign ads on TV, radio, flyers, and more. (We live only a few miles from a battleground state). While I am heavily invested in the race, I am sick and tired of the negative ads. I have been trying to stay away from politics on this blog, but picture books are partisan enough. And I really enjoyed this one!

Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency is the story of Belva Lockwood, an woman well ahead of her time who ran for president twice, in 1884 and 1888. In this picture book biography I learned that Lockwood was married, a mother, a widow, a college graduate, a teacher, and a suffragette.  In the midst of all this, at the age of 39, she decided she wanted to become a lawyer, but no law school would admit her.  In true independent spirit, she “moved a mountain” and got her law degree.

But what the book really focuses on is Belva’s nomination at the Women’s National Equal-Rights Convention for President of the United States. The campaign was not easy for her.  Most newspapers referred to her campaign as “the most laughable masquerade… ever witnessed.” Most women did not support her! In fact, the National Woman’s Suffrage Association did not support her. But Belva continued traveling across the United States promoting her message of equal rights for all people, regardless of their gender.

I loved this book!  I think it’s a story that very few children or adults will be familiar with, but it is one that we should all know.  Belva’s campaign is inspirational and a great conversation starter with kids.  In fact, I plan to read the book to my students this Tuesday as part of our Election Day activities.  Bardhan-Quallen includes a wonderful author’s note and glossary, along with a timeline of important date’s in women’s rights.  In class, we will be using the context clues in the book to define unfamiliar vocabulary (related to the election) in the book, and then checking our answers against the glossary.

While this is an especially timely book during this election season, I think this would also fit in well during Women’s History Month (when I plan to use it again).  Our students need to know that there are amazing women besides Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks out there!  (Any teacher knows that these are the only famous women chosen for Women’s History projects, year in and year out!).  Hopefully, Belva will introduce students and teachers to a new heroine!

Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen’s non-fiction book, Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World, immediately caught my eye because of its gorgeous cover.  A hardcover, with no book jacket, it’s navy blue background is contrasted against white and gold lettering, with a gorgeous painting centered between the title and author/illustrator names.  This is a stunning book that gives the reader an immediate impression of importance.  I felt important just holding it in my hand!  This is a book that treats kids like they are worthy of the knowledge held within its pages, and I love the publishers for that!

The book begins with some brief background about pirates.  It is detailed, and sometimes gory, but I loved it!  I even found myself laughing out loud a few times.  Yolen smashes some pirating myths, including the well-known one about walking the plank.  I couldn’t help but laugh at her explanation:

Think of Captain Hook and all the many other tales of this cruel rite.  Then ask yourself- what pirate actually had time for such things?  In the midst of battle, they simply hacked their enemies to death and flung the bodies over the ship’s side.

Who knew that “walk the plank!” was nothing more than a pirate urban legend?  

The remaining chapters are dedicated to individual women pirates.  The countries of Ireland, England, Denmark, USA, China, Brittany, and Persia are all represented.  The stories are as detailed as possible and lend themselves well to being read as individual episodes.  At the same time, I had a hard time not reading this book straight through.  The information is fascinating!

This is a book I can not wait to add to my classroom library.  Pirates are always a popular topic and I am thrilled to be able to offer a great non-fiction book on the subject.  I can also foresee using this as a mentor text during our research paper unit of study.  I love Yolen’s bibliography.  While it’s a strange part of a book to love, I can’t help but feel a sense of teacherly happiness because she includes a note about her research.  She informs the reader that even though she wrote an earlier book on women pirates, there was little information available to her at the time.  That book did not include many of the pirates in Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World because the information was simply not available.  In the over 40 years since that book’s publication, pirate scholars (how cool is that job title?) have discovered so much more about female pirates.  Kids need to know that research is never done, because we are always discovering more about a given subject.  Thank you for sharing your research with us, Jane Yolen!


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