Tag Archives: Nonfiction

A Ticket Around the World

Title – A Ticket Around the World

Author(s) – Natalia Diaz, Melissa Owens

Illustrator/Photographer – Kim Smith

Publisher and Year – Owlkids, March 17, 2015

Number of pages – 32 pages

Tags/Themes – Rylie Loux, Culture, Diversity, Nonfiction, 2-3, 4-5

Genre – Nonfiction

Descriptive Annotation: This book is about an unnamed boy who visits friends in 13 countries, offering readers a world tour via his first-person narration as he samples foods, views landmarks, and attends cultural events, among other activities. Each country has a small map so that the readers are able to imagine they are traveling too.

Classroom Application and Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: This is a perfect resource for engaging students to get to know and understand the background and different cultures of the countries. This informational picture book brings engaging nonfiction content to younger readers by showing them how other children just like them live around the world. Students can summarize cultural attributes, like popular food, national animal, official flower and official language all while reading this story. Also students will be able to compare and contrast between the different countries and their own cultural attributes. Many students may not even know about all the different countries, so this is a way to get them involved and learning about cultural differences. “I love to travel. The more places I visit, the more friends I make and the more things I discover.” This can be applied to each students background for students to get to know each other individually.


Drowned City

Author: Don Brown

Illustrator: Don Brown

Publisher and Year: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015

Number of pages: 96

Tags/Themes: Culture, Emotion, Family, Graphic Novel, Non-fiction, 6-8, Olivia Ruff

Genre: Non-fiction

Descriptive Annotation: The novel is about Hurricane Katrina. The novel shows the reasons why the hurricane was disastrous, but it also shows how the country and the communities responded to helping struggling survivors. The students should understand complex words, and drowning is discussed in the novel, so this book would not be ideal for young children for those two reasons.

Classroom Application: This text would be effective in an English or History classroom. The novel is an interesting form that is not that of a traditional novel, so it would be interesting to analyze due to the form. It is important to show students that there is engaging and important literature that strays from the traditional chapter book format. It would be beneficial in a History classroom because the novel covers many different aspects of Hurricane Katrina including involvement at the community level along with federal level. Novels that are creditable and effectively show several aspects of a historical event is something that would be good to use in the classroom in order to offer a different form.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: The novel covers the disaster that struck New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. The novel addresses the struggles that came with the hurricane including the obstacles facing the survivors, leftover environmental concerns plaguing the community, and the response from local and federal governments. This will enlighten younger students who were not alive for the hurricane to better understand the event and all of the different ways survivors struggled in the aftermath. I would assign this novel because of the form, and I would introduce this novel as a way to introduce graphic novels to my class. In terms of content, I would begin class discussion with asking them a question along the lines of, “What can you all tell me about hurricanes? Think of all aspects of the natural disaster.” And then I would put their responses on the board in order to create class discussion, and the novel would go into detail about environmental and social issues involved with one of the most horrific hurricanes to date. The narrative is written in a way that presents many facts, and I will include some quotes: “But the people there decide that being inside is better than staying abandoned on the sidewalk, and break in” (43). “Scores of sick, frail and elderly people swamp emergency medical clinics. Many are still strapped to doors used as makeshift stretchers” (74).

Bring me some apples and I’ll make you a pie: a story about Edna Lewis

Author(s), Illustrator/Photographer: by Robbin Gourley.

Publisher and Year Number of pages: Clarion Books, 2009, 45 Pages.

Genre: Historical Fiction and Biography.

Descriptive Annotation: The cover features the protagonist, Edna Lewis, brandishing an apple of the sort used by the future chef at Freetown, Virginia. Watercolors depict the sons and daughters of former slaves in their community, gathering crops and making a living free from the bulk of anti-black persecution of their brethren further south under the post-Civil War Jim Crow laws. The book covers the harvest of crops, which are baked into delicious recipes that can be found at the back of the book, and the process of getting them from field to fork.  Breaking the mold of standard imagery of the era in our collective mindset, all of the workers in Freetown live relatively pleasant lives, seemingly unburdened by segregation due to the town being formed by and for African-Americans, and not a single white person in sight for the entirety of the text. Prior knowledge of what the community of Freetown was, and perhaps research on Edna Lewis’s long cooking career could help further classroom discussions immensely.

Classroom Application: In this picture book, the characters are all assigned different tasks in farming the field, which would be ideal for some role-play for those children who live in suburban and urban settings who have never experienced rural life and its trappings before. Accompanied by a field trip to a local farm (especially in the Bloomington-Normal area) would be an excellent idea and a way to broaden one’s knowledge of Illinois’s agricultural traditions, supplemented by the Virginian ones seen in the book. I certainly never heard pecans falling from the sky during harvest season: “The leaves are falling, and so are the nuts. Ping-ping-ping. Pecan and walnuts fall on the rooftop. The family fills baskets full of them” (Gourley, p. 34).

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: Gourley covers the legacy of slavery, and Jim Crow, in a way that can easily be remembered, and notes the historical significance of Freetown at the last page of text before the recipes come in: “Edna Lewis was born in 1916, in Freetown, Virginia, a community founded by her grandfather and two other emancipated slaves” (Gourley, p. 40). The author speaks the dreams of Edna to become a famous chef towards the end of the book, too: “How about we make a summer pudding or a cobbler? Or just have a bowlful of berries with sugar and cream?” (Gourley, p. 19). Such a bevy of ideas for making food with the berries are indicative of a creative young mind, and it is crucial that teachers encourage that kind of pluck and ingenuity so that they can make the next generation of innovators like Edna Lewis reach new heights of greatness.


Author(s), Illustrator/Photographer: Art Spiegelman

Publisher and Year Number of pages: Pantheon Books, 1991, 296 Pages.

Genre: Fiction, Autobiography, Memoir, History and Biography.

Descriptive Annotation: The cover features two Polish Jews (Spiegelman and his father) cowering under the shadow of a giant swastika, modified by the imposition of a German-stylized cat’s head emblem. This is a combination of both standard Holocaust imagery and the use of animals as metaphors, which can be seen for the entirety of the graphic novel. Maus is the heartbreaking story of a Polish-American man and his aging father’s experiences in the Holocaust as a Polish Jew, and the continued regret of Spiegelman “using” the death of six million Jews to sell his book to some extent in his mind. As the Holocaust is described to him via his father, Spiegelman also continues to express guilt that didn’t talk to his father more about his experiences on a frequent basis when he had the opportunity to do so when the former was alive. The whole of his father’s trials, from growing up in moderately anti-Semitic Poland to the German invasion in 1939 and the ways in which the population react (or don’t react) to the actions the Nazi regime takes against the Jewish population, are covered in the book. Prior knowledge of what the Holocaust was, and perhaps reading of some more traditional fare on the era such as The Diary of Anne Frank, would certainly be useful in the scenario of students reading this novel in the classroom.

Classroom Application: In this graphic novel, the characters are all played by different animal personas based on nationality, which would be ideal for some upper-level social studies settings. For instance, the Nazis/Germans are cats, the Jews are mice, Americans are dogs, and the French are frogs. The metaphors purposefully don’t work for large portions of the story, i.e. when a mouse is a veteran of World War I for Germany and he flickers back and forth between being a mouse and a cat. This is a teachable moment, since it’s Spiegelman’s way of saying that race and racism, or discrimination of any kind, is very arbitrary because the categories we apply really don’t hold water when held up to scrutiny, or when you consider that people can belong to more than one category.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: Spiegelman covers the different ways in which the Holocaust is remembered, and notes that when he published the novel, nobody had used a comic book format to do so before: “I’m not talking about YOUR book now, but look at how many books have already been written about the Holocaust. What’s the point? People haven’t changed…” (Spiegelman, p. 34). Exasperation with people not being able to get the message with traditional mediums of literature drove Spiegelman to write this book, and that is why 27 years later, this is still a widely taught and used piece of work, both in the US and Germany, the latter of which had to be lobbied to permit the public sale of this book due to the display of the swastika being an illegal offense in that country. Another source of controversy is that the animal chosen to represent the Poles was a pig, since that is a common stereotype of people from Poland and from Eastern Europe in general, and the Germans are universally seen as a brutalizing force in the novel as well. The author speaks through one of his characters as unrepentant on the latter, though, stating “Let the Germans have a little what they did to the Jews” (Spiegelman, p. 226). Such an attitude may seem severe to certain readers, but in the context of the experience of Spiegelman’s family and millions of others, it is understandable that they are biased against their erstwhile oppressors and architects of the genocide.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind The Iron Curtain

Author(s), Illustrator/Photographer: Peter Sís.

Publisher and Year Number of pages: Frances Foster Books, 2005, 50 Pages.

Descriptive Annotation: The cover features two awards-one Caldecott, and one Robert Siebert, along with a Czech baby in the middle of a giant red star. As a send-up of the sort of books the Soviet and Communist presses made during the Cold War, there are many parodies of Communist Party imagery, the red star on the cover being the first example. This is a combination of both standard Soviet imagery and the kind of cartoons and political drawings that appeared in plentiful quantities in the Prague Spring of 1968, in which control by the Czechoslovak Communist regime was briefly loosened and the free press came roaring back temporarily. The wall is the story of that spring and the effect it had on the author, a Czech-American man and his visit that he took to his homeland with the children he raised in the United States. Their experiences in the city of Prague are much different than those of their father’s: “Now when my American family goes to visit my Czech family in the colorful city of Prague, it is hard to convince them it was ever a dark place full of fear, suspicion and lies” (Sis, p. 49). As his childhood under Communist rule is described to the reader by the use of comic strips on the top of the page and captions on the bottom, Sis also continues to express the fears that tormented him as a young man in the old country, and how he and his family didn’t talk about certain things for fear of the secret police hearing them. The whole of his trials, from growing up in the tightly repressed Czechoslovakia, to experiencing true freedom in the second half of the 1960’s and the subsequent Soviet invasion in August of 1968 and the ways in which the population react (or don’t react) to the actions the Red regime takes against the previously free media and citizenry, are covered in the book. Prior knowledge of what the Cold War and Prague Spring were would certainly be useful in the scenario of students reading this book in the classroom.

Classroom Application: In this picture book, the comic strips depict what is and what is not permitted by the Soviet puppet government at various stages of its existence, which would be ideal for some social studies settings which have students that perhaps had relatives behind the Iron Curtain back in the day, and didn’t get to experience some of the freedoms that we as Americans take for granted. This is a teachable moment since it’s Sis’s way of saying that his life in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s through the 1980s was so drastically different from what students today have to experience (mandatory participation in a scouting movement and collection of scrap metals), it can be hard to teach in some ways. We must try as educators to do so, however, because if we don’t, the same mistakes of the past could easily be repeated again.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: Sis covers the different ways in which the Cold War and Prague Spring are remembered, showing the contrast between East and West through maps and exclaiming what a unique experience having the Beatles and Beach Boys was in his country: “But out of the dark came a glimmer of hope. The Beach Boys arrived. America to the rescue!” (Sis, p. 27-28). Exasperated with the new youth movement and fearful that the colorful styles of the West will destroy their socialist paradise, the Czechoslovak police maul and arrest concertgoers who saw the Beach Boys at Prague’s Lucerna Hall in 1969 as they leave. The return of people not being able to get the music they want from the West through traditional means results in a huge black market forming, one that persists in Sis’s telling until his departure for the US in 1984. This should be a widely taught and used piece of work, both in the US and around the former Eastern Bloc, since it shows the profound failure of the latter and the absolute oppression which results from authoritarianism. In the context of the experience of Sis’s family and millions of others, it is necessary that they are brought some peace of mind that this kind of system can never rear its ugly head again and make people scared to live their lives in peace. Artists like Sis, who was a radio DJ and actually toured with the Beach Boys when they visited his country, can never be truly suppressed by the jackboot of hate, but they need our help whenever possible to keep their creative flames alive.





Kate Shelley: Bound for Legend

Author/Illustrator: Robert D. San Souci, Max Ginsburg

Publisher and Year Number of pages: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1995, 30 pages.

Genre: Nonfiction

Descriptive Annotation: The cover features a detailed artistic rendering of a girl with a brown coat, tan straw hat, and an orange, glowing oil lamp typical of the mid-to-late 1800s when the book is set. The lush paintings of Iowa featured inside the book continue for the whole of the narrative, and the results are pleasing to both the historian in me for their accuracy and to my inner child due to their exciting events that really drew me in. As for the text itself, it involves the story of Kate Shelley who manages to warn another train hurtling down the tracks to her farm that there has been a wreck at her family’s property and that they need to stop in order to avoid an accident. She is an ordinary kid that just happens to have been in the right place at the right time and is eager to help in any way she can to prevent a preventable tragedy. When Kate sets off on her journey to stop the second accident, she is not helped by anybody. Despite that, she manages to locate some survivors from the wreck, and crawl over the slippery, 700-foot-high railroad bridge that leads to the other incoming train. She does so with full knowledge of the danger that awaits her: “A misstep would send me down below the ties into the flood that was boiling below. I got down on my hands and knees, carrying my useless lantern and guiding myself by the stretch of rail” (Souci, p. 18-19). Eventually, Kate makes it to the station and warns the men inside of the accident waiting to happen, collapsing soon afterward from the exhaustion her ordeal: “Much later she would learn that the train had been halted forty miles to the west, at the edge of the storm. The passengers were safe” (Souci, p. 22). Out in the cold, there are still railroad workers in trouble, and Kate gets up from her resting spot and goes out with the men from the station to help save their lives. Lucky for her and them, the rain and wind that had been blowing that whole time and causing all the trouble stops. This allows a safe rescue of the workers and for Kate to get some real rest, which lasts for a long while until she can get her strength back up: “It was nearly three months before Kate’s strength came back. During this time as she lay in bed, she was greeted by the trains that blew their whistles when they passed the Shelley farmhouse” (Souci, p. 27). She takes this and many other commendations for her bravery in stride, not yet realizing the full power of her actions in a time of need until much later in life. The father of Kate is very proud of his daughter, as is the state of Iowa and most of the country at the time.

Classroom Application: Since the book makes the idea of selfless sacrifice for others and mutual respect of all people an enormous priority, it’s an ideal text to teach lessons on being decent to one another and how to step up when the situation demands one do so. The author/illustrator also demonstrate that direct action towards a problem that needs solving is best, and always good if pursued correctly; one must work hard and think creatively in order to accomplish a “deed bound for legend” (Souci, p. 1). One possible lesson after reading the book would be to tie it into Pay It Forward campaigns, and then also review the classroom bullying standards and see if they need to be revised in order to be more selfless. Students would also do well to recognize, as Kate does, that while actions are important, the intent is what really saves the day.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: The book is set in Iowa, but not in the present-day that we are necessarily used to. There isn’t much of a unique cultural blend of the North American continent in those days, but the differences from our modern-day society come through in the names and clothing of the characters, and could be used to great effect to teach about the historical and present significance of the railroad industry in any history classroom, regardless of grade level. Souci does a great job explaining all this, and his words should definitely be heeded when it comes time to plan your lessons.