Archive for Nonfiction

Science Technology Engineering and Math

NDTSTEM LogoVulcan Salute

Learn how to find books and other resources that tie into STEM, aka Science Technology Engineering and Math!  Here are the books/websites listed in this episode:

The Bat Scientists by Mary Kay Carson (booktalk HERE)

Ick! Yuck! Eew! Our Gross American History by Lois Miner Huey (booktalk HERE)

Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World of Food by Andrew Zimmern (booktalk HERE)

Beta by Rachel Cohn (booktalk HERE)

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (booktalk HERE)

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (booktalk HERE)

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

STEM Education Coaltion

STEM Resources (YALSA)

Booktalk: The Bat Scientists by Mary Kay Carson

Bat Scientists cover

When you talk to teachers and anyone who values teachers’ opinions, STEM books (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are all the rage right now.  I picked up The Bat Scientists because I was going to be promoting our middle school summer reading list at local schools, and nonfiction books with show-and-tell potential are always a plus for me.  My booktalk turned out to be a little less structured in person, because I couldn’t start talking about this book without kids raising their hands and asking to see the pictures inside it.  Then they would start yelling out questions which would derail the script I’d planned out.  Which is annoying, yes, but the more you booktalk the more you’ll discover that an overly enthusiastic response is usually better than an unenthusiastic one.

If you’re looking for more nonfiction books (STEM and otherwise) to share with older children and younger teens, make sure to check out Mary Kay Carson’s website!


Let’s start with some true facts about bats.  The smallest bat in the world weighs less than a penny.  The biggest bat in the world weighs more than three pounds.  Bats live on every continent except Antarctica.  And if there’s one thing that bats are very good at, it’s pest control.  In fact, one small brown bat can catch and eat 1,000 insects in one hour.

Now let’s go to some myths about bats that you might think are true, but really aren’t.  The expression “blind as a bat”?  It’s very misleading.  It’s true that bats use sonar, but they also have very good vision.  Most bats do not have rabies.  Bats do NOT get tangled in people’s hair.  And bats do NOT suck humans’ blood like vampires.

Bats are also much more popular than you might imagine.  In fact, in some parts of the world, bats are a tourist attraction and hundreds of people will show up to watch them fly out of their caves at night.  You can learn all about these unusual mammals and the scientists who study them in …

The Bat Scientists by Mary Kay Carson

Booktalk: Bad Girls by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Bad Girls cover

Bad Girls is an excellent example of a nonfiction book in an easy-to-read format (collective biography, with one chapter per person) with an additional comic-style page at the end of each chapter in which we see the mother-daughter author team discussing each of these women.  I like booktalking books like these because even if I get distracted and miss one of the segments, ONLY I WILL KNOW.  Well, okay, you’ll know, too.  But I think we can keep that under our collective hats, right?

And be sure to check out Jane Yolen’s website to discover the MANY books she’s written for kids and teens over the last several decades.


There are a lot of women throughout history who had bad reputations.  Delilah was paid in silver to find the weakness of the strong and powerful Sampson.  Cleopatra seduced Julius Caesar and Marc Antony to get more power for herself and for Egypt.  Anne Boelyn encouraged the attention of King Henry VIII, which led to the creation of the Church of England and, ultimately, her own death.  When Tituba the slave was accused of being a witch, she confessed, which added more fuel to the fire of the Salem witch trials.  Lizzie Borden might have killed her father and stepmother … but then again, maybe she didn’t.  Typhoid Mary spread a disease through the food she cooked, and when she was ordered to stop cooking she changed her name and did it anyway.

Some of these women were definitely villains who hurt people, killed people, or changed history for the worse.  But some of them might not have been as guilty as people thought.  Some of them were caught and punished, but some of them escaped.  This book will tell you all about queens, spies, pirates, killers, and many more bad girls throughout history.

Booktalk: Picture This by Lynda Barry

Picture This cover

When I was growing up, I used to enjoy reading Lynda Barry’s Marlys comic strip in The Village Voice.  Then years later as a librarian I encountered several books of hers that were tangentially related to those old comic strips but harder to categorize — What it Is and Picture This.

When I share Picture This with classes, I mark off several pages showing different artistic styles and techniques with sticky notes before I start, and then as I talk about the book I hold up those pages for the class to see.  I think what I like the most about this book is that it’s inspiring without being intimidating, so that even those of us who can’t draw much more than stick figures can still use it for good advice.


Picture This by Lynda Barry is a book by an artist who’s been drawing cartoons for years.  It’s a book about the creative process, and it’s also a very UNUSUAL book, so I’m going to show you some of the pages so you can see just how unusual it is.  Picture This is a book about drawing, and painting, and cartooning.  Parts of this book are told as a story, about a girl who wants to be an artist and a near-sighted monkey who is going to inspire her.  It’s about making art in different ways, like drawing or painting or making cut-paper mosaics.  Or creating pictures using dots.  Or scribbling.  Or using brushes to paint.  Or making collages out of old photographs.  Or experimenting with how to create portraits.  Or creating a story with characters who seem so real that it’s almost like they created themselves.  Or re-using different kinds of paper to create new kinds of art.

If you’re an artist, if you think you might like to be an artist, or you’ve always wondered how we draw, WHAT we draw, and WHY we draw, then Picture This is definitely worth checking out.

Booktalk: Ick! Yuck! Eew! Our Gross American History by Lois Miner Huey

Ick Yuck Eew cover

It’s always hard for me to find a nonfiction book that I like enough to booktalk, so when I do find one I tend to latch on to it and share it with lots of classes.  Ick! Yuck! Eew! Our Gross American History is a great oversized book with lots of cool and gruesome pictures, so while I wrote this as a standard booktalk, you could also make it a “show and tell” booktalk by showing pictures from the book while you talk.  If you’d like to find more books that can make history come alive for young readers, make sure you check out Lois Miner Huey’s website!


Let’s just imagine that you used a time machine to go back into early American history.  Let’s say that you wanted to visit the 1600s, the 1700s, and the early 1800s.  You’d definitely learn a lot about American history and the way that people lived back then.  You’d ALSO learn that America was pretty gross … and that it smelled REALLY bad.

For example, when people had to go to the bathroom … well, there was no such thing as a bathroom, because they didn’t have indoor toilets.  So instead they used chamber pots that they kept in their bedrooms.  And when it was time to empty those chamber pots … that’s right … they threw the contents out the window!  Which means that most of it landed in the street but some of it landed on the people walking below.

Also, there was no such thing as a refrigerator, so a lot of times food rotted and went bad.  But you ate it anyway, because it was either that or go hungry.

There was no such thing as deodorant, so people smelled bad all the time.  You could wear a lot of perfume to try to cover it up … but then you’d just smell like body odor plus perfume.

There are many more topics in this book that you can and should learn about.  Just … not while you’re eating, or even THINKING about eating.  You can learn all about such topics as smallpox, leeches, terrible teeth problems, and all kinds of tiny creatures that would just LOVE to live on you and in you in …

Ick!  Yuck!  Eew!  Our Gross American History by Lois Miner Huey

Booktalk: Maus: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman

Maus cover

As many of you already know, when I choose which booktalks to share with you I alternate between newer titles that I’ve just finished reading and older books from my (ever-diminishing) backlog of booktalks I’ve written over the years.  Today I picked a title from my backlog, and man, is this a classic!

Yes, Maus is written in a graphic novel format, so some libraries shelve it in that section.  But since the focus is on WWII and the Holocaust and it’s at least MOSTLY true, some libraries shelve it in the history section.  And then again, it’s sort of a biography of one man mixed with the autobiography of another.  But still, it’s written within a fictional / allegorical construct.  It’s also a story within a story, and while I always find myself deeply moved by the story that Vladek shares, I also find myself empathazing with his son who’s recording that story.  And so it goes; Maus is a multi-layered story that can speak to many readers at many levels, and both adults and teens can benefit from reading and discussing it.

Maus: My Father Bleeds History tells the first half of Art Spiegelman’s profoundly moving story.  It continues with part 2, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book And Here My Troubles Began.  You can read the two parts separately, or as The Complete Maus.  And if you want to delve even further into this story, then you should also check out MetaMaus, which was released in 2011.


Art Spiegelman interviewed his father Vladek, a Holocaust survivor, about his experiences before, during, and after WWII.  Vladek told his story to his son, who recorded their conversations on paper and on a tape recorder.  Then he filtered the story through his own mind, and came up with Maus, a graphic novel in which Jews were mice and Germans were cats.  This is a story filled with sadness and death.  A story about a community of Jews who fought to survive, even as their rights were taken away one by one.

This is a story told by a man who speaks into his son’s tape recorder, remembering things he’d rather forget.  A man who is still haunted by the thought of those who didn’t make it out alive.  This is also the story of the man doing the recording, because hearing about all of his father’s experiences helped him to really understand his father for the first time.

Booktalk: The Making of a Graphic Novel by Prentis Rollins

Many times when I pick nonfiction books to share with classes, I’m picking topics that interest me, like science, history, and food.  But when I’m talking about instructional books, it’s easier for me to talk about topics that are more interesting to my teens than they are to me.  And even if I am interested, I know that I don’t have enough skill to make jewelry, knit and crochet cool accessories and adorable creatures, or write and draw a graphic novel.  The Making of a Graphic Novel is a great book to share with classes because it will appeal to aspiring writers and artists, as well as everyone who wants to learn more about the universe in which human beings can no longer sleep.  Most people know Prentis Rollins because of his artwork, but The Resonator story proves that he has great writing skills, as well.


After the wars and after the famines, humans stopped sleeping.  No one knew how or why it happened.  Maybe people were genetically altered by the Probe Corporation.  Maybe it was just the next step in man’s evolution.  But whatever the reason, humans can no longer sleep on their own.  They either need drugs … or they need a resonator.  But resonators are illegal.  In fact, possessing, transporting, or using a resonator is punishable by death.  When Bronsen, a uranium miner, goes to a sleep merchant, he is going to sleep for the first time since he was three years old.  Bronsen knows that asking for a resonator is is both illegal and dangerous.  What he doesn’t know is that the resonator is a living, breathing thing.  He also doesn’t know that the resonator will allow him to dream for the very first time … and that this dream will change his life.

This half of the book contains the graphic novel The Resonator.  After you finish it, flip the book over to read the other half, called The Making of a Graphic Novel.  This half of the book will take you through the entire process of putting a graphic novel together.  From writing the story to pencilling, inking, and lettering, Prentis Rollins will guide you through every step of the way.  If you like graphic novels and want to make your own someday, this one-of-a-kind book is for you.

Nonfiction For Teens, Up Close and Personal: Memoirs, Autobiographies, and More

NOTE: My apologies for the slight decline in audio quality of this episode.  My favorite microphone was acting weird (or perhaps was possessed by gremlins?) and I had to switch to my second-favorite microphone instead.  Needless to say, it’s my second-favorite microphone for a reason.

When I noticed the growing trend of internet users searching for information about nonfiction for teens, I had to decide whether to follow up my previous episode on teen nonfiction with a “part 2” episode or if I should focus my attention on one particular area of nonfiction instead.  I decided to narrow my focus to autobiographies and memoirs, based on the popularity of books like A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer (which I somehow managed not to mention during this episode).

Here’s the list of all of the books I mentioned on this episode:

King of the Mild Frontier by Chris Crutcher [booktalk HERE]
Tyranny by Lesley Fairfield [booktalk HERE]
Dear Diary by Lesley Arfin [booktalk HERE]
Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories ed. by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones [booktalk HERE]
The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon [booktalk HERE]
The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez [booktalk HERE]
Stitches: A Memoir by David Small
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Everything Sucks: Losing My Mind and Finding Myself in a High School Quest For Cool by Hannah Friedman
The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls
Smile For the Camera by Kelle James
I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali
Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self by Lori Gottlieb
Hungry: A Young Model’s Story of Appetite, Ambition, and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves by Crystal Renn.
Marni: My True Story of Stress, Hair-Pulling, and Other Obsessions by Marni Bates
Emily: My True Story of Chronic Illness and Missing Out on Life by Emily Smucker
My Thirteenth Winter: A Memoir by Samantha Abeel
Epileptic by David B.
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

Booktalk: Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World of Food

Usually when booktalking nonfiction titles, I enjoy sharing books that are “weirder than fiction.”  I also like to share books that will make kids laugh, or squirm, or THINK.  Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World of Food is a good choice for fans of Andrew Zimmern, his Bizarre Foods TV show, and for anyone who wants to be amazed at the weird variety of foods in the world.


Andrew Zimmern has traveled all over the world filming his TV show for the Travel Channel called Bizarre Foods.  In this book he tells the stories of some of his travels, including the time he went fishing for lungfish in Uganda, and the time he roasted 5-pound fruit bats over an open fire.  He has eaten delicacies from all over the world, including roasted wild iguana, frog porridge, pig soup, steamed shark’s head, boa constrictor, roasted baby sparrows, sea slug guts bottled in seawater, cheese worms, and even a giant hissing cockroach.  If you’re interested in learning about bizarre foods or just want to be an armchair explorer, then this is the book for you!

Just … don’t read it while you’re having lunch, okay?

Booktalk: The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez

For those of you looking to connect teens with nonfiction books, especially memoirs of people who had to cope with uphill battles, this book is an excellent candidate for you.  Gaby Rodriguez wrote this book about her controversial decision to fake a pregnancy as part of a senior project, and that book then inspired a Lifetime movieThe Pregnancy Project will definitely inspire readers to discuss the topic of teenage pregnancy, as well as how expectations and stereotypes can affect everyone.

Please Note: I’ll be out of town on vacation next week, so Be a Better Booktalker will take a brief hiatus.  Tune in for a new episode in two weeks!


You might have seen a news report about her.  You might have seen a TV movie about her.  You might have heard about her story through a friend or family member.  And when you heard the story, you probably thought I CAN’T BELIEVE SHE DID THAT!

The Pregnancy Project: A Memoir by Gaby Rodriguez with Jenna Glatzer is a nonfiction book about a girl who always heard that she would probably be a teen mom.  Even though her mother and her older sisters got pregnant when they were teenagers, Gaby didn’t want to follow in that family tradition.  She wanted to be a good student, graduate with honors, and go on to college.  She wasn’t ready to start having children yet.  But she wondered what it would be like if she lived down to other people’s expectations.  Would people think she was just another statistic?  Would they be disappointed in her?  Or would they just think, “Like mother, like daughter” and that would be the end of it?

And that’s how she came up with the idea for her senior project.  Gaby was going to fake her own pregnancy, and then see how everyone around her reacted to the news.

Gaby learned what it was like to have people look at her stomach before they looked at her face.  She learned what it was like to disappoint people.  She learned who her true friends were.  And most importantly, she learned about herself.