Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Nonfiction Wednesday

I'm excited that Alyson Beecher, at Kid Lit Frenzy, is continuing her Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge for the third year in a row.

In September,  my fifth graders read and write around the theme topic EMPATHY.  They choose small group books that pertain to the topic (I just placed them in groups today according to their top three choices), we read Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper aloud, and they choose one nonfiction picture book.  I thought I'd share some nonfiction picture books that I'll be book-talking this week that are excellent for exploring EMPATHY:

Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival

Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurrican Katrina, Friendship, and Survival by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery, illustrated by Jean Cassels

Two Bobbies is a true story about two tailless pets, Bobbi the dog and Bob Cat the cat, who were left behind in Hurricane Katrina. Miraculously, the two survived months and were finally taken to a shelter where they were placed in separate rooms. As a result of the best friends' protests, the volunteers put them together where they were happy. It was discovered there that Bob Cat was blind - Bobbi had been his seeing-eye dog! Since they didn't have success finding the two a home, CNN did a story on them. After that, they were rescued and kept together. It's a heartwarming story of how two animals formed a friendship and volunteers empathized enough with them to advocate for them.

Saving Audie: A Pit Bull Puppy Gets a Second Chance

Saving Audie: A Pit Bull Puppy Gets a Second Chance by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, photographs by William Munoz

Another testimony to the kindness of people who empathize with hurting pets, this book is a little difficult to read at the beginning because of the horrifying conditions the dogs were found in after Michael Vick's conviction. It features Audie's story of survival and a chance at a new life. 

 The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

This is the picture book version of the story of William Kamkwamba, a 14-year-old boy living in Malawi. In his small village, he dreamed of building things and taking them apart. He wondered about how an engine made a truck go while he worked in the fields of maize. When his village began to starve due to a severe drought, he began to search the American library for answers. He had to translate the English science books into his language. Slowly, hope began to grow. Could he build a windmill to bring water to his village? He used pieces of junk found in the junk yard to build what he needed. The villagers called him misala. CRAZY. Even as they teased and giggled, William waited for the wind to spin the blades of his makeshift windmill, and it did! When he connected wires to a small bulb, the power of the windmill lit it up. He shouted, "I have made electric wind!" William built more windmills to bring water to his village. A two-page spread in the back of the book gives more details about William's great achievement.  William felt empathy for his village, and it resulted in this amazing feat.

Mogie: The Heart of the House

Mogie: The Heart of the House by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal

Hmmmm....another dog story. ;-)   I couldn't help but choke up at this sweet story about real life Mogie, a Labradoodle with a big heart. He knows just what each child and staff member needs at the Ronald McDonald House.  His way of just sitting next to a sick child is a wonderful example of empathy.

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop

  This book is about a team of people who are devoted to saving the critically endangered Kakapo Parrots who live on the remote Codfish Island off the southern coast of New Zealand. Only 91 parrots remain. The photographs are beautiful, and although there are plenty of nonfiction merits to the text, Sy Montgomery also captures the emotion and drama of the ups and downs of animal rescue.

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough, illustrated by Debby Atwell

Can you imagine libraries without children? Or thinking that children's books weren't very important? Neither could Annie Carroll Moore from Limerick, Maine. In the 1870s women weren't expected to be educated. Most people thought they should be quiet homemakers. Annie, however, had different ideas and studied to become a lawyer. One day, Annie heard the exciting news that libraries were hiring women as librarians, so she moved to Brooklyn, NY to enroll in the Pratt Institute library school. Once she became a librarian she challenged the idea that children shouldn't be allowed in libraries and most certainly shouldn't touch library books or take them home. Once Annie was put in charge of the children's sections of thirty-six branches of the New York Public Library, she created children's rooms, pulled dull books off the shelves and replaced them with adventurous ones, wrote book reviews and book lists, and got to know publishers and authors of children's books. She inspired librarians across the country and world to do the same.  Thank goodness Miss Moore empathized with children wanting to read!

A Boy and a Jaguar

A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Robinowitz, illustrated by Catia Chien

This book gave me chills!  Alan Rabinowitz is a stutterer but could always talk easily to animals.  His disability turned out to be a gift because he could empathize with animals that seemed to have no voice.  He is now an advocate for both wildcats and people who stutter.  Amazing.

I'd love to hear any more ideas for nonfiction picture books that are great examples of empathy!


  1. It's a wonderful list, Holly. I know some of these, but not others. Sad to hear about the parrots, & wonderful that there are those who will care & work hard to make things different. What a good idea to read a variety of books about empathy at the beginning of the year!

    1. Our discussions around empathy help the classroom climate all year! I also think you need empathy in order to connect to characters in fiction and real people (and animals) in nonfiction.

  2. Hi Holly

    You picked some of our absolute favorites this week - We love the The Boy who Harnessed Wind, Miss Moore Thought Otherwise and A Boy and a Jaguar. Our copy of Mogie just arrived from the library and now we will put it at the top of the "to read' pile.

  3. Great books! Have shared a few of these with kids before, but some are new. Definitely interested in the librarian in particular, thanks! Again, love this topic idea.

  4. I love this, especially since my son is in 6th grade and my daughter in 3rd. I'm going to post it on my Facebook page The Secret Kindness Agents. Thank you!

  5. I love the idea of an empathy unit. We are doing the book Wonder with our sixth grade enrichment. I'll pass this post along to my colleagues to consider these nonfiction books. Thanks.

  6. Love the overall theme of this post, Holly. And I'm also glad that you're doing an empathy unit - I like seeing how it can be explored with the use of nonfiction titles.

  7. Wow. Fantastic theme and amazing titles. Love, like others have mentioned, that you came to this theme with nonfiction titles. Proves how rich the experience of using nonfiction can be! Other titles that you could add? Parrots over Puerto Rico? Every Day is Malala Day? Dave the Potter? Those titles came to mind for me.