Category Archives: nature

Anne Frank’s Chestnut Tree by Jane Kohuth, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles

51a+Y+gSxDL._SY346_Publisher’s description: Hidden away in their Secret Annex in Amsterdam during World War II, Anne Frank and her family could not breathe fresh air or see the blue sky for years. But through an attic window Anne could see the branches of a tall chestnut tree. This small glimpse of nature gave Anne hope and courage. It inspired her writing, which, in turn, inspired the whole world. Jane Kohuth explores Anne Frank’s strong belief in the healing power of nature in this Step 3 leveled reader biography for newly independent readers ages 5–8.

My thoughts: As soon as I read the e-galley (Thank you, Random House Children’s and Edelweiss!) of Anne Frank’s Chestnut Tree, I ordered a copy for our school library. Many of my students check out The Diary of Anne Frank but end up not finishing it because of the reading level or because they don’t quite understand it. This version is part of Random House’s Step Into Reading (Level 3) early chapter book program, and I was happy to see that the illustrations, text, and handling of the subject matter are indeed appropriate for grades 1 to 3.

Several lines from Anne’s diary are woven seamlessly into the text, lending an authenticity to the storyline. Here’s an excerpt from the second page-spread in the book:

“‘As long as this exists, this sunshine and this cloudless sky, and as long as I can enjoy it, how can I be sad?’ The girl’s name was Anne Frank. She had not been outside for 597 days.”

You’ve got Anne’s own words, her name, and then a hook that begs for the next page-turn.

Even the complicated and horrific motives behind the Second World War are delivered in a straightforward manner that’s easy to understand:

“The Nazis blamed the world’s problems on Jewish people, even though they were a small minority. Anne and her family were Jewish.”

As adults, it’s easy to forget that a child first reading about Anne Frank may not know how Anne’s story ends. The arrest of Anne and her family is told in two simple sentences:

“But on August 4, 1944, the police found the Secret Annex.The Nazis sent Anne’s family and two of their helpers to concentration camps.”

The only reference to a concentration camp is earlier on, when the Nazis wanted to send Anne’s sister away, prompting the family to go into hiding:

“Anne’s parents knew that when Jews were sent away, they were never heard from again.”

Even Anne’s sad ending does not include any detail that might be disturbing for a young child:

“Anne did not survive the war. But her diary did.”

The book doesn’t end here, though; it comes full circle with the same chestnut tree in the opening of the story–the one that Anne used to gaze at from the window of the attic in the Secret Annex. The people of Amsterdam kept the chestnut tree alive, even when it had a disease, until a storm brought it down in 2010. Even then, saplings from this tree were planted all over the city and the world, including the United States.

An author’s note and photograph of the building where Anne and her family hid will help children to understand that this is indeed a true story.

Highly recommended.

Hand this book to the kid who:

* has heard of Anne Frank but may not yet be ready to read her diary

* is interested in World War II

* enjoys biographies

* needs an example of strength and hope in hard times

Use this to teach:

Biographies–Although this reads like fiction, it is 100% non-fiction–no invented dialogue in these pages.

*The themes of courage and overcoming adversity–The Holocaust is obviously not part of any primary grade curriculum, but this book could definitely be included in a study of books with themes of courage or overcoming adversity.

*The Holocaust–I know–I just said that young children don’t learn about the Holocaust in school, but some upper elementary children do, and  middle school students definitely do. If you’ve got an older struggling reader or a students who is learning English, this title would work well for differentiating instruction. Or if you’re reading aloud a book like Lois Lowery’s Number the Stars and you create a display of other books about World War II, definitely include this one.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: September 24, 2013

ISBN-10: 0449812553

ISBN-13: 978-0449812556

Number of Pages: 48

Interest Level: K-3

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Thanks to Anatastia Suen for creating Non-Fiction Mondays, and to Sally's Bookshelf for hosting today!

Thanks to Anatastia Suen for creating Non-Fiction Mondays, and to Stacking Books for hosting today! Click here for more Non-Fiction recommendations…


Not A Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

NotaDroptoDrink_final_1I could not put this book down. Aside from the intriguing premise–what would we do if water suddenly became a scare commodity?–I found the characters to be believable, flawed, and empathetic. The plot is a tapestry of both tension and moments of tenderness, with several believable plot twists that I didn’t see coming. I would hand Not A Drop to Drink to both boys and girls; with the survival elements and light (very light) romance, this book should have wide appeal with teens.

Publisher’s description:  Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water.

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.
Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.
But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….
With evocative, spare language and incredible drama, danger, and romance, debut author Mindy McGinnis depicts one girl’s journey in a barren world not so different than our own.

Hand this book to the teen who:

* enjoys dystopian tales and stories of survival

* likes strong female characters (Lynn is more skilled at self-defense and survival than is her friend Eli, a city-born teen.)

* wants (or doesn’t mind) books that have elements of light romance, yet doesn’t want (or need) romance to dominate the plot.

Use this to teach:

* Environmental Issues–Although the reason for the water shortage is never explained, this story is sure to spark discussions of resource conservation within the context of global warming and rising pollution levels.

* Human Nature--At which point does our survival instinct overcome empathy and charity towards others? Government policies and main character Lynn’s  believable shift in her world view will make excellent fodder for classroom discussion.

*Types of Conflict–Lots of examples to choose from in this story–character vs. character, self, society, and nature.

*Text-to-Text Connections–Pair this with Melanie Crowder’s Parched and Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water, as well as Mike Mullin’s Ashfall trilogy.

Resources for Educators here

The Nitty Gritty~

Click here for reviews and here for the author’s website.

Publisher: Harper Collins / Katherine Tegen

Publication Date: September 24, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0062198501

Number of Pages: 320

Interest Level: Ages 14 to 17

Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

Happy Book Birthday tomorrow to Sophie’s Squash!

CoverWith school starting rather soon-ish, my first thought was to recommend Sophie’s Squash to teachers, librarians and parents as a charming book for autumn. But I hesitate to  limit this gem to the “books for fall” shelf. Inspired by Pat’s own squash-loving daughter, Sonia, this lovely story is really about friendship, and is a joy for all seasons.

From the publisher’s website: On a trip to the farmers’ market with her parents, Sophie chooses a squash, but instead of letting her mom cook it, she names it Bernice. From then on, Sophie brings Bernice everywhere, despite her parents’ gentle warnings that Bernice will begin to rot. As winter nears, Sophie does start to notice changes…. What’s a girl to do when the squash she loves is in trouble? With absolutely delightful text by Pat Zietlow Miller and downright hilarious illustrations from Anne Wilsdorf, Sophie’s Squash will be a fresh addition to any collection of autumn books.

If you’re thinking this book sounds like a must-read, you’re not alone. So far it’s received four–count ’em–FOUR! starred reviews:

“In a perfect blend of story and art, the humorous watercolor-and-ink illustrations are bursting with color and energy on every page… This is a paean to love and friendship, which can come in all species, shapes, and sizes.” ~Booklist

“With lessons on life, love, and vegetable gardening, this tale will be cherished by children, and their parents will be happy to read it to them often.” ~School Library Journal

“Sensitive but funny… Miller’s easygoing storytelling taps into the familiar scenario of children making fierce attachments to favorite objects.” ~Publishers Weekly

“This season-spanning turn with high-spirited Sophie offers endearing lessons about nurture and regeneration.” ~Kirkus Reviews

I asked Pat Zietlow Miller how Sophie’s Squash might be used in the classroom.

PAT ZMBiblio Links: A student or teacher walks into my library and I think: THAT person needs a copy of Sophie’s Squash. Who is this kid or teacher?

Pat Zietlow Miller: The kid would be any preschool through second-grade kid carrying a stuffed animal, a pet rock or a blanket that has been loved into oblivion. Or a kid with one best friend he or she does everything with. Those kids would totally understand why Sophie loves Bernice.

The teacher could be a teacher looking to talk about friendship with her class. Or loss. Or a teacher who’s just looking for a new fall book. Or maybe a teacher who’s about to take his or her class on a field trip to a farmers’ market.

Biblio Links: If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using your book in a lesson or with a small group, what might we see or hear?

Pat Zietlow Miller: Well, in a perfect world, I’d love to peek into a classroom and see all the kids happily decorating squash of their own so they would have new friends. This would be after the teacher had read the book to them and talked about what a good friend is, how you know when you’ve found one and how you can be a good friend to others.

Biblio Links: I’d also add that this book is a natural pick for school guidance counselors. In addition to the topic of friendship, Sophie’s Squash is the perfect springboard for discussions  on loss–of pets, friends who move away, loved ones. etc. 

Where can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?

Pat Zietlow Miller: My main website is

I also have a Pinterest board that suggests books with similar themes to SOPHIE’S SQUASH. It’s at:

Biblio Links: Thanks for stopping by, Pat!

You can also follow Pat on Twitter: @PatZMiller. And the titles on her Pinterest board? They’d all make nice pairings with Sophie’s Squash for lessons on making text-to-text connections.

Look for Pat’s upcoming books in 2015: Sharing the Bread, a Thanksgiving book from Schwartz and Wade, and The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, inspired by Olympic sprinter Wilma Rudolph, from Chronicle Books.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Schwartz and Wade

Publication Date: August 6, 2013

ISBN-10: 0307978966

ISBN-13: 978-0-307-97896-7

Interest Level: Ages 3 to 7

Number of Pages: 40

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine, illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth


Publisher’s description: What animal would you be if your finger bones grew so long that they reached your feet? Or what if you had no leg bones but kept your arm bones? This picture book will keep you guessing as you read about how human skeletons are like—and unlike—those of other animals.

My thoughts: As soon as I read the e-galley of Bone by Bone, I ordered a copy for our school library. It’s rare to find a book on life science that’s so appealing for very young children, yet has lots to offer for upper elementary kids, as well.

The various fonts are visually appealing without feeling too busy, and delightful illustrations  help readers to imagine what they might look like if they had, say, extra vertebrae (a tail) or finger bones that reached the ground (like a bat’s webbed fingers). The information is delivered in a clear, straightforward manner with a Q&A format that will get kids predicting before each page-turn.

The back matter–sections titled More About Bones and More About Vertebrates, and recommended books and websites for further reading–can all be used for differentiating instruction for kids who want to go more in depth with the information in the book. Struggling readers or English Language Learners can use the illustrations to grasp the book’s main idea.

Although this is an any-time-of-year book, it would be fun to include Bone by Bone in a Halloween display. Highly recommended.

P.S.: Scroll down this post’s comments section for some great ideas suggested by the author herself, Sara Levine.

Hand this book to the kid who:

* is curious about how things work

* loves animals (Bone by Bone‘s author, Sara Levine, is a veterinarian)

* claims to be a budding scientist

* Enjoys “guessing” books with a Q&A format

Use this to teach:

Animal Units–All students in the U.S. study animals and habitats at some point during their elementary school years. Most non-fiction animal books for young children cover the basics: habitat, diet, life cycle, protection, etc.. But if you’re teaching kids to use more than one print resource in a research project, this would give them additional facts not usually found elsewhere.

*Comparing–One of the things I like best about this book is that every skeletal feature that the reader learns about an animal is compared to what that same feature would look like in a human. Older kids can use math to calculate comparisons by percentage. For example, the book tells us that a giraffe vertebrae is 10 inches long. Let kids research how long the average human vertebrae is and calculate the giraffe-to-kid ratio.

*Health–With all of the math, language arts, science and social studies standards that we have to cover in a year, health is that subject on the report card that often gets the short shrift. Using Bone by Bone in the classroom covers language arts, science, math and, that report card step child known as health.

* Non-Fiction Text Features–Introduce young readers to these non-fiction text features from the book: labels, key words in color (vertebrates and non-vertibrates), and glossary

The Nitty Gritty~

Classroom resources and author interview here.

Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group/Millbrook Press

Publication Date: August 1, 2013

ISBN-10: 0-7613-8464-2

ISBN-13: 978-0-7613-8464-9

Number of Pages: 32

Interest Level: K-4

Thanks to Anatastia Suen for creating Non-Fiction Mondays, and to Sally's Bookshelf for hosting today!

Thanks to Anatastia Suen for creating Non-Fiction Mondays, and to Sally’s Bookshelf for hosting today!


Click here for more children’s book recommendations that highlight science, technology, engineering and math!

Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

Many of my elementary school students are interested in dystopian stories (having seen The Hunger Games movie). But beyond Lois Lowry’s The Giver Trilogy, there’s not much dystopian out there for a middle grade audience. Kids who aren’t intimidated by the science behind Eye of the Storm will find an adventurous mystery with plenty of twists to keep them turning the pages.

Summary from the publisher’s website:

In the not-too-distant future, huge tornadoes and monster storms have become a part of everyday life. Sent to spend the summer in the heart of storm country with her meteorological engineer father, Jaden Meggs is surprised at the strides her father’s company StormSafe, has made with custom shelters that keep her family safe in even the worst of storms. At her exclusive summer science camp, Eye On Tomorrow, Jaden meets Alex, a boy whose passion for science matches hers. Together, they discover that her father’s company is steering storms away from the expensive neighborhoods and toward the organic farming communities that are in competition with his bio-engineered food company, NatureMade. Jaden must confront her father, but when she does, she uncovers a terrifying family secret and must call on both her scientific knowledge and her faith to save the people she loves most from one of her father’s monster storms.

Hand this book to the kid:

* who loves science and solving problems

* whose parents have divorced and one or both have remarried

* whose interest in dystopian novels has been piqued by the Hunger Games crowd, yet isn’t quite ready for YA content

* who has friends from the other side of the track

Use this to teach:

Ethics–Jaden’s moral dilemma is a tough one; if her suspicions are correct, then she’ll have to out her own father and face who he really is. Excellent fodder for discussion.

* Weather--The topic of weather is a staple in upper elementary science curricula across the country, and kids are fascinated by storms. Pair this with the non-fiction Epic Disasters series.

*Inquiry-based learning–The premise of the book’s Eye on Tomorrow summer science camp is to have kids to identify a need and then ask questions, research, and test possible solutions. The process is 100% kid-centered (albeit sinister), and your own students can model the same process.

* Climate Change--Could the super-storms in the book become a reality?  Eye of the Storm is the perfect springboard into the “what-ifs” and cause/effect relationships of climate change.

Curriculum Guide here with a link to more resources on Pinterest.

The Nitty Gritty~

Click here for reviews.

Publisher: Walker Childrens

Publication Date: 2012

ISBN:  978-0802723130

Number of Pages: 304

Reading Level: 4.8

Interest Level:  Ages 10 and up

The Tiptoe Guide series, written by Ammi-Joan Paquette

Today Biblio Links welcomes prolific author Ammi-Joan Paquette!

Joan’s first book The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies, was published last year. She followed that picture book with a lovely middle grade novel, Nowhere Girl  and now she celebrates the release of her second Tiptoe book, The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids.

And that’s not all…Joan has several more picture books under contract as well as a young adult novel. Needless to say, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Joan here on BiblioLinks!

My own children and students love the whimsical Tiptoe books. These books are beautifully illustrated, poetic invitations to explore the world around us, whether it be our own backyards or our imaginations. They are meant to be shared with a child.

I asked Joan to tell us how her books fit into the classroom.

BiblioLinks:  A student walks into my library and I think, That kid needs a copy of THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING MERMAIDS or THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING FAIRIES. Who is this kid?

Joan: This kid is one who loves nature, enjoys spending time in the outdoors, and would go barefoot every day if allowed. This child might have a leaf collection in his or her room, might press wildflowers between the pages of the big dictionary, and comes back from walks with pockets full of interestingly-shaped rocks. These books are also for the child who loves magic, who is open to seeing the possibilities in the mundane everyday; the child who still believes, who keeps her sense of wonder. It’s for any child who has ever strapped on wings and wished she could fly.

BiblioLinks: If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using the Tiptoe  books in a lesson or with a small group, what might we see?

 Joan: I see the TIPTOE GUIDES as a springboard into the natural world. In these days of overabundant electronics, when everything around is beeping and buzzing and whirring, I see these books as a window into the magical world that lies just outside the front door. Not only for use at recess and free play, however, there are many classroom applications—from plant life studies, to animal habitats, to planning a nature collection, and more.

 BiblioLinks: Where can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?

 Joan: You can visit me at my website,, and  you can also stop by the publisher’s website

Biblio Links: Thanks for joining us, Joan!

Teachers and librarians, click here for glowing reviews. For a peek inside Mermaids, click here, and these links give you a peek into Fairies. Click here for a curriculum guide to using Fairies with students.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Tanglewood Press

Publication Dates: September, 2011 and February 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1933718507–The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies

ISBN-13: 978-1933718590–The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids

Interest Level: 3-8 years

Number of Pages: 32