Lost in nonfiction…and loving it

There are some who never venture past the alphabetized-by-author’s-last-name fiction section of our library. These people never ascend the stairs, say hello to the research librarian, or wander the stacks with their lengthy strings of numbers.

181.45 .F423sha c.2
The Shambhala guide to yoga

CRAFTS 746.432 .D794 eth 2007
Ethnic knitting discovery : the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and the Andes

741 Knight
Animal drawing : anatomy and action for artists

306.81 .G464 com 2010
Committed : a skeptic makes peace with marriage

641.65655 .M182 this
This can’t be tofu! : 75 recipes to cook something you never thought you would–and love every bite

I try not to go into the nonfiction section with any specific agenda but on my most recent nonfiction adventure, I was looking for the tofu cookbook above. (Is there any way to get my children to eat tofu? Answer from cookbook: hide it in a smoothie.) Once that book was pulled off the shelf and safely in my pile, I start to explore.

I like to run my finger along a row of books with eyes closed then stop, and take a look at what I’ve found. Usually one book leads my brain to make another connection, another subject that once flitted across my brain as I drove children from school to activity to home. Sometimes the topic took root while I listened to a story on NPR, or it was mentioned by a kiddo in a carpool, or suggested by an image I’ve seen. Sometimes it plants a seed for a story I’d like to tell. Sometimes it’s just a random web of one thing leading to another until I find myself sitting on the floor, back against the shelves, reading a chapter of some topic I never knew existed. The best part about being lost in nonfiction is that curiosity and lifetime learning is part of my job as a writer. 

Shhh…I’m working.

Five on Friday: Festivals, Events and Blogs, Oh my!

1. Maine Festival of the Book

The Maine Festival of the Book is a literary extravaganza taking place tomorrow, March 31st. Workshops, presentations and readings are scheduled throughout the day and take place at various USM locations including the Abromoson Center and Glickman Library. Children’s and Young Adult authors and illustrators including Jeannie Brett, Anne Sibley O’Brien, Brenda Reeves Sturgis, Lynne Plourde, Reza Jalali, Maria Testa and others will be present.Click here for a complete schedule and specifics!


If you liked my review of CITIZEN SCIENTIST by Loree Griffin Burns, you’ll probably love Anastasia Suen’s blog hosting creation Nonfiction Monday. Different bloggers agree to host a round of Nonfiction Reviews from blogs all over the kidlitosphere. Take a look!

3. We are on the cusp of April National Poetry Month! I hope you have events in your area. Here in Brunswick, I’m one of the organizers of Poem in Your Pocket Day on Thursday, April 26th. Please take a look at our Poem In Your Pocket-Brunswick Facebook page for events throughout the last week of April. It’s also a great place to find links to just the right poem to fit your mood. We’ll be putting up posters next week and distributing stickers to local businesses and libraries over school vacation. Look for them!

4. Speaking of poetry…and blogs

At Jama’s Alphabet Soup, she has a wonderful round up of Poetry events all over the kidlitosphere here (click on image):

and a list of all the Poetry Friday Hosts here (click on image):

If you haven’t seen allaboutlemon, it’s a blog where the creativity just flows. Every 3rd Saturday, the author invites people to write haikus inspired by her collaged photo. For the Love of Haiku

Here’s mine:

Middle class captive
Blind to horrors far away
Our valley is lush

And here’s the picture:

Wild, right?

5. What’s coming up on Book Review Wednesdays? I’ve got a bunch of nonfiction and poetry that I’ll be sharing round-up style throughout April. Some new, some not as shiny but just as precious. Hope to see you here all month long.

Book Review Wednesday: Citizen Scientists

By Loree Griffin Burns
Henry Holt and Company, 80 pages
ISBN 9780805090628

Some books make me want to stand on a chair in the middle of my local independent book store and shout, “You have got to get your kid this book!” It is rare that a nonfiction book would ignite this kind of passion but CITIZEN SCIENTIST: BE A PART OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY FROM YOUR OWN BACKYARD is rare. Loree Griffin Burns manages to offer so much in a single volume that the book itself becomes a discovery.

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The first discovery comes in the form of citizen science projects. The book is a year-long journey of four such projects– one for each season. The book begins in the autumn with monarch butterfly tagging, moves into bird counting in the winter, frog counting in the spring, and ladybug counting in the summer.

Each section is further divided and starts with a 2nd person narrative nonfiction explanation of the project. The use of the 2nd person places the reader smack dab in the moment of discovery. Keep reading and find out more about the science behind the project. Meet the scientists who oversee the projects and get a sneak peak at their instruments and labs. Next, meet actual young citizen scientist who are making a difference in the study of the featured organisms. Burns includes a check list to help children prepare for their study of the natural world, a quiz to check reader knowledge, diagrams of each critter, maps, and fabulous photos with thoughtful captions. The back matter includes a glossary, an index, and a resource page of field guides, internet resources, and other citizen science projects. (Imagine me breathless on my chair. I am.)

Since all learning is connected, readers get a dose of geography (migration paths) and economics (families who are paid for finding monarch tags in the central Mexican mountains where they live) with their science. Like the best educators, Loree Griffin Burns’ unique voice is comforting and empowering. She inspires children and their families to “contribute to understanding and improving our world.” Civics too!

This is one of the most thoughtfully designed nonfiction books that I’ve seen. Each season/project is color coded. The designer uses halftones of that color as the background for the 2nd person narrative then continues the section with white background and a ribbon edge of a matching hue. A reader can easily turn to the season they want by looking at the edges of the closed book. The fonts are playful and unique and carefully chosen elements set off the page numbers.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the clear and well-composed photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz. The photos work so seemlessly with the text that there is a wonderful sense of balance between the writing, photos, and design.

With this book, Loree Griffin Burns relates the excitement and wonder of earnest observation of our natural world. She quotes Dr. Orley “Chip” Taylor who oversees the printing, distribution, and recovery of monarch butterfly tags, “If you are interested in conserving a particular organism you have to understand it. You have to understand every little aspect of its biology.” In CITIZEN SCIENTIST, Burns has managed to put together a well-researched and wonderfully written book that invites action on the part of all young citizen scientist.

Okay. I’m getting of the chair and putting it away.