Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

NatGeo Kids sends kids back to school ready for everything!

I am an unabashed fan of NatGeo for my nonfiction sections. They have books on EVERYTHING, and the kids love it. They also make every single thing they cover amazing, hilarious, or both, which makes my life a lot easier when I have kids trudging into my children’s room, moaning that they have to read more nonfiction. Excuse me, do you see the GIANT WATER FAUCET on the cover of this book? Guess what? Nonfiction. Suddenly, they’re a lot more amenable to what I have to offer.

Let’s start with the backpack essential: The Weird But True Planner ($12.99, ISBN: 978-1426327933). The Weird But True books come in second only to the NatGeo Kids joke books when it comes to demand in my children’s room. It’s got the planner essentials: it’s spiral bound and sturdy, so kids can use it and it will hold up. It’s got paper that won’t tear when you turn a page. You know that paper; it’s usually the one that flies away and has the details of your homework on it. The space is smartly laid out, with NatGeo’s trademark gorgeous photos sharing space with planning and goal pages that help your kids keep it together during the school year. And because it’s NatGeo, it’s got the fun, weird holidays, crazy facts, pages for scribbling areas where you need homework help, little writing prompts, and an overall fun vibe that demands you embrace your weirdness. I have a copy that I desperately want to keep for my own library notes, programs, and scheduling the lives of my weird family; now, the key is making sure the kids don’t take mine off my desk at work OR at home.

Let’s be clear: this is not a library book; it’s a book meant to be written in, used, and yeah, even a little abused. But it IS an essential buy.

Next up is the NatGeo Kids 2018 Almanac ($14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2772-8). Updated for 2018, this is another go-to for my library kids. There are 12 sections – up from last year’s 10 – and cover current events, life science, engineering and technology, space and earth, and more. The fun and games section is still here, and the overall fun spirit of discovery runs through the book. A spread in life science tells readers “18 Fantastic Facts About Fungi”, with facts about cheese mold, to mushrooms, to athlete’s foot (it’s just a photo of a bare foot). Feel bad for the Ugly Food, but rejoice in reading how being ugly doesn’t mean being garbage – make banana bread with those brown bananas (that’s when they’re the best), or make a smoothie using that bruised peach. A companion page on the time it takes different types of trash to decompose is a powerful call to action for recycling and re-purposing our trash. Homework help tips, quizzes, jokes, fun facts, and breathtaking photos make this Almanac a keeper.
Atlases are always handy to have around, especially with increased importance on understanding global affairs and cultures. The United States Atlas (Fifth Edition, $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2831-2) gives readers a literal lay of the land, with political and physical maps by territory: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and West. There are maps and statistics for each state within the territories; economy symbols to illustrate local economies like crops and industries. Photos and infographics round out each state’s profile. The atlas also includes U.S. territories, a glossary, postal abbreviations, and additional web resources.
The Ultimate Space Atlas ($12.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2802-2) is a handy guide to what’s “up there”: phases of the moon, seasonal constellation maps for each hemisphere, what’s new in space exploration. “Digital Traveler” boxes help readers expand their learning by using going online. There are fun facts, amazing photos, diagrams, and Space Travel Attractions to visit… you know, from here. Earth. There’s a section with some fun activities at the end, and a glossary and index complete this handy astronomy desk reference. Both atlases will be helfpul during the school year, so load up your bookshelves if you’re in a library, or consider these when you’re buying school supplies.
CHOMP!: Fierce Facts About the Bite Force, Crushing Jaws, and Mighty Teeth of Earth’s Champion Chewers ($12.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2839-8) has been on my shelves since this summer, and I see it wandering around the tables at the library (meaning, the kids are reading it while they’re in the library during the day) pretty regularly. Written by “Extreme Animal Explorer” Brady Barr, CHOMP! has a lot of pictures of a lot of big, mean teeth. The first page has a hippo, jaws open wide, greeting readers, and those choppers are intimidating! Barr organizes his chompers into four groups: the grippers, slicers, crushers, and gulpers; bite force and preferred menu for each animal profiled appear on each page. Barr jumps in with his own entertaining anecdotes, Brady’s Bite Stories, that will make kids squeal and cringe all at once; I’m thinking of reading the one about Barr squeezing a live otter out of a gator the next time I have a class visit. I like to be memorable. Further resources, a glossary and an index, make this a good companion guide for animal reports and fun reading for animal fans.
Last but never least, What Would Happen? Serious Answers to Silly Questions ($14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2770-4) looks at the logic and science behind some wild, weird questions. Starting with questions like, “What if you ate nothing but ice cream?” (short answer: DON’T) and working their way up to “What if you could wield The Force?” (You may call me Lady Vader), questions are organized into areas covering humans, space, nature, time, technology, natural wonders, worst-case scenarios, and just plain surreal. Each question is examined by giving readers a background on the deeper question (ice cream tastes great, but without protein and fiber, you’re in for some problems); primary repercussions (those problems could include going to the bathroom, no matter how much you love butter pecan); side effects (you’ll get weak and possibly develop scurvy from lack of Vitamin C); and finally, could it happen (unless you’re putting chunks of chicken or tofu, plus some broccoli and tomato on that ice cream, probably not)? This is going to move right along with my Weird Facts books. Heck, I may just turn this one into a program – write your own What Would Happen? and let’s swap; research it and find out the answer. But I’m totally developing The Force.
Go forth and fill up backpacks, and have a great school year!
Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Catch up on U.S. History with NatGeo Kids

Weird But True! (Know-It-All) U.S. Presidents, by Brianna Dumont, (July 2017, National Geographic Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1426327964

Recommended for readers 8-12

I love these NatGeo Kids’ facts-at-a-glance books. I learn something new every time, and I have a good time reading them. I’m pretty sure my library kids agree with me, because these books fly off the shelves. In this latest Weird But True, NatGeo gives readers a quick rundown of the U.S. Presidency: fun facts, a renovation timeline, an overview of the three branches of government and the powers of the Supreme Court, Congress, and the President; from there, we get a profile of each President, from Washington through to 45. Profiles run between 2 and 8 pages, outlining high points (Oval Awesome), low points (Oval Awful), and fun facts (Why He’s Weird!). It’s a fun read, loaded with caricature art and photos. Also a nice little supplement for reports and projects down the line.


Benjamin Franklin’s Wise Words: How to Work Smart, Play Well, and Make Real Friends, by K.M. Kostyal/Illustrated by Fred Harper, (Jan. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 978-4263-2699-8

Recommended for readers 8-12

Think of this as a “Life’s Little Instruction Book” for middle grade history fans. Ben Franklin’s sage advice is organized into quotes on tranqulity, industry, order, humility, resolution, sincerity, and moderation. Readers may be surprised at how many sayings they’re familiar with: “there are no pains without gains”, “haste makes waste”, and “honesty is the best policy”. There are 50 of Franklin’s quotes in this book, each with an accompanying caricature illustration with loads of physical comedy to appeal to middle graders. Quotes receive a more modern, accessible translation and a story about Franklin’s life, which may cause a disconnect to anyone who expects the story to illustrate the quote. It’s a fun look at one of U.S. history’s more fascinating characters, but unless you have a dedicated Franklin fan or two, it’s a supplemental or secondary add to your collection.

Posted in Fiction, geek, Guide, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Holiday Book Shopping: Science and Tech

Books make fantastic holiday gifts! Need a stocking stuffer or are stumped by a kid who has seemingly everything? Try one of these!

I am guilty of favoring books in the STEM/STEAM areas, because that’s what I love evangelizing to my own kids and the kids at my libraries. Take a look – you don’t need to be a Stephen Hawking-in-the-making to enjoy these.

scratch-playgroundScratch Programming Playground, by Al Sweigart, (Oct. 2016, No Starch Press), $24.95, ISBN: 978-1593277628

Recommended for Ages 8-12

I love working with Scratch for young coders. It’s all about teaching kids how to computer code using interconnecting blocks of code, and the Scratch program, developed at MIT, is free and available online. Scratch Programming Playground walks kids (and grownups – I used this book extensively while putting together programs for this coming winter) through the process of learning Scratch by making cool games, like Fruit Slicer (a Fruit Ninja clone), Brick Breaker (where my ’80s friends at?), and Asteroid Breaker (Asteroids! Remember that one?). There are tons of full-color visuals and step-by-step breakdowns that will have kids programming in no time. I buy No Starch books for my libraries all the time – they’re great to have on hand.


how-things-workHow Things Work, by T.J Resler (Oct. 2016, National Geographic Kids), $19.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2555-7

Recommended for ages 7-12

Know a kid who’s constantly taking everything apart to see how it works? This is the book for her or him. It’s loaded with gadgets and how they work; fun facts; in-depth pieces on technology and how it works; profiles of scientists and innovators, and yes, experiments that are totally safe to try at home (with adult supervision, please). Learn how a tablet really works, how an aquarium works to keep fish healthy and happy, even how a toilet works, complete with diagram. Design a roller coaster with your kids – it’s easier than you think! Because it’s a NatGeo Kids book, you know the writing is great; it speaks to kids in easy, clear, fun language that educates and never talks over their heads or down to them. The photos are amazing, and the dog on a surfboard (page 131) is worth the cost of the book all on its own.

science-encyclopediaScience Encyclopedia: Atom Smashing, Food Chemistry, Animals, Space, and More!, by National Geographic Kids, (Oct. 2016, National Geographic Kids), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2543-4

Recommended for ages 8-13

I know, it’s a NatGeo Kids lovefest right now, but it’s well-deserved. The Science Encyclopedia is info-packed with everything kids need to know about physical and life sciences, covering matter, energy, electronics, the universe, and more. There are record breakers, key dates in atomic science, and activities to try at home. Information is presented in 2-page spreads broken out into subject-specific blocks, with stunning photos, fun facts, and hilariously bad jokes (Where does bad light go? A prism!) A glossary, index, and additional resources round this volume out. Fantastic gift for any tween who wants to know more about everything.


These are all available now, either in your local bookstore or online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, or IndieBound.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Extreme Wildfire takes kids to the front lines of fire fighting!

extreme_wildfire_coverExtreme Wildfire: Smoke Jumpers, High-Tech Gear, Survival Tactics, and the Extraordinary Science of Fire, by Mark Thiessen, (Aug. 2016, National Geographic Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 9781426325304

Recommended for ages 8-12

It can go from a spark to a flame in almost no time. It can devour homes and forests alike, leaving destruction and devastation in its path. NatGeo Kids brings readers to the front lines of wildfires, and the people Рlargely volunteers Рwho fight them, in Extreme Wildfire.  Author Mark Thiessen is a NatGeo photographer and certified wildland firefighter has photographed countless fires over the last 20 years; Extreme Wildfire represents part of a lifelong project: to create a visual record of what these firefighters do.

Extreme Wildfire discusses the science behind wildfire; how firefighters battle the flames and how lookouts spot potential fires on the horizon; the equipment used in combating fire, the devastation – and nature’s adaptation – that fire leaves in its wake, and how communities come together to help one another. Chock full of facts and call-out boxes with more information, plus an emphasis on fire safety and prevention to finish up the book, this a good addition to nonfiction collections. There’s a glossary, list of resources, and index.

The kids in one of my library’s neighborhood schools have a unit on natural disasters every year. I’ve ordered two copies of this book – my Corona Kids know how much I love NatGeo books – to have available for them when the time comes around this year. It’s also a good book to have on display if you have fire safety talks. There are some good fire safety and education resources online, including Science for Kids¬†Club and The Kids Should See This.

extreme_wildfire_14-151Photo courtesy of Chat With Vera.


Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Road Trip, Part Deux: NatGeo’s 125 Wacky Roadside Attractions

wacky125 Wacky Roadside Attractions, by National Geographic Kids, (May 2016, National Geographic Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 9781426324079

Recommended for ages 8+

Maybe your road trips tastes run a little more… unique. National Parks are beautiful, but what if you want to drive through a giant tree or see a giant boxing crocodile? If that’s the case, then NatGeo Kids’ 125 Wacky Roadside Attractions is just for you.

Part of the “125” series that includes 125 Cute Animals, 125 Cool Inventions, and 125 Amazing Pets, Wacky Roadside Attractions brings readers the craziest, wildest roadside hotels, statues, and other landmarks from all over the world. A world map labels and numbers all the attractions, should you want to start sticking pins in the places you want to go. Features cover anywhere from 1/2 a page to 2-page spreads, providing a brief description, location, and fast facts about each landmark. I was excited to see Wisconsin’s House on the Rock, which I first encountered in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and seeing Pedro from South of the Border brought me back to the road trips down to Florida that I’d take with my parents.

This book is just too much fun. It’s a crazy, fun road trip around the world that families will love to take together. Great photos and fun text against bright backgrounds make every page an eyecatcher. Add this to your collections, and vote on future attractions at NatGeo’s site.

south-of-the-border_1Me, my dad, and a gorilla at Fort Pedro, South of the Border, mid-80s


south-of-the-borderPedro welcomes you South of the Border! (image courtesy of The Dillon Herald)

This book is doing gangbusters at my library! The kids think it’s hilarious (the giant water fountain and the T-Rex you can hang out in are big favorites). I’m trying to think of a fun program – because that’s what I do with good books – that would incorporate the road trip mentality with a staycation budget. Maybe the kids and I will armchair travel every week, and put a pin in a different attraction on the map? Maybe we’ll find some new, wacky attractions along the way, or make up some of our own? I’ll let you know when we figure it out.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Give your brain a workout with NatGeo Kids’ MASTERMIND!

mastermindMastermind, by Stephanie Warren Drimmer/Puzzles by Julie K. Cohen, (May 2016, NatGeo Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2110-8

Recommended for ages 8-12

Loaded with over 100 games, tests, and puzzles designed to “unleash your inner genius,” Mastermind is huge fun – and you learn stuff, too.

Guided through the book by cartoon characters Ima Genius and her canine sidekick Astro, Mastermind is all about the brain: each section is devoted to a different part of our brains and features sections like How it Works, where readers are guided through a step by step process of each part of the brain makes operations like sight, muscle movement, smell, and memory happen; fun facts and wild photos help break it all down for readers. Time Trials challenge readers to solve puzzles while timing themselves, and a final quiz in each chapter, called Test Your S.M.A.R.T.S. (Superior Mental Acuity and Rationality Testing System), pop up in each section, so budding geniuses can witness themselves becoming smarter with each section. A fun Mastermind Meter lets you track the progression of your genius through the book.

I had a great time reading and playing the games in Mastermind. The facts and real-life stories are interesting and fun, and there’s a ton of information to be learned here. Each section of the book looks at a different part of the brain and how we use them, from our senses, to identifying sounds, to mental map making and memory. Beginning with a maze through a highlighted part of the brain (to get your brains ready, naturally), readers learn how animals use their brains for similar purposes, and Weird Science introduces us to people living with brain issues that make them see things differently; for instance, hemospatial neglect causes someone to ignore things on one side – imagine only shaving half your face?

This will be destroyed in circ, because kids are meant to write in this book, but it won’t stop me from adding it as a great birthday or holiday gift to a few budding geniuses on my list. There are tons of ideas in this book for teachers and librarians, though; you can get the kids fired up with your own timed code challenges or have them figure out which genius they gel best with. The Mastermind website offers two downloadable puzzles, and a genius personality quiz kids can take online. All in all, Mastermind provides some fun and makes you think, which is really what learning should be all about.


Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Need to know about sports? NatGeo’s got you covered.

sportsNational Geographic Kids: Everything Sports, by Eric Zweig with Shalise Manza Young, (March 2016, National Geographic Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 9781426323331

Recommended for ages 8-12

I am not a big sports girl, often to my husband’s chagrin. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching the Olympics, and there are sports I enjoy watching, like fencing and gymnastics, but it’s not often that I get to watch those (usually, just during the Olympics). Many of the kids in my library are big sports fans, though, so I need to become better versed in some general sports books, so I can booktalk and show them books that may appeal to them. As always, I start with NatGeo Kids, because 1) their books fly off my shelves; 2) they’re comprehensive, with beautiful photos, and 3) they have little fact tidbits that always help with a booktalk or party talk.

Everything Sports is a great go-to for general sports info, especially for newbies who want to learn more, like me. The book is only 64 pages – not a huge commitment to a history of every sport ever played – and written by two sports journalists who also have a gift for making their complete understanding of sports readable and digestible to all. Sharlise Manza Young shares her knowledge throughout the book in her “Explorer’s Corner” feature, providing a little more background info on some of our most popular sports. There are fun activities and quizzes throughout -kids can make their own sports cards, which opens up a world of program possibilities for me, especially during World Cup season, because my Corona Kids are also devoted soccer (ahem… “football”) fans.

Everything Sports is a great add to where you’re building a strong sports collection. Display with David Stabler’s Kid Athletes and your seasonal sports books, plus any biographies on popular atheletes in your community. Just coming off of a fantastic Olympics showing, you can display from gymnastics books and talk up recent Olympians, including the Fabulous 5 (also a great opportunity to talk up the amazing diversity on this season’s team), Olympic swimmers Simone Manuel, Katie Ledecky, and Michael Phelps, and since yes, there is fencing in the book (yay!), let’s talk about Ibtihaj Muhammad, who set the strip on fire in Rio!


Photos courtesy of