Tag Archives: Ben Hillman

Nonfiction 10 for 10 – 2015! Favorite NF Concept Books


          I’m excited to participate in my second Nonfiction 10 for 10 event celebrating fantastic nonfiction picture books. Thank you to Cathy Mere from Reflect and RefineMandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning  and Julie Balen of Write at the Edge for hosting this.

Last year, I organized my Nonfiction 10 for 10 book list around Reading Power strategies.  You can read my post here.  This year, I have been particularly interested in Nonfiction books that help children to understand big concepts.  These books often create a WOW, while at the same time, help readers to “get their heads around” challenging ideas such as size, numbers and time.  So my Nonfiction 10-for-10 list this year focuses on  my top ten Nonfiction Concept books. 


1. As An Oak Tree Grows – G. Brian Karas

Concept:  Change over time

This inventive book tracks 200 years of the life of an oak tree from 1775 – present day.  Each page shows a different year, displayed on a time line at the bottom of the page, while detailed  illustrations show how the landscape, animals and people around the tree changes over time.  Intriguing and transforming!


                                          2.  If – A Mind Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers – David J. Smith              

Concept:  big Ideas; big number; scale; measurement

This amazing book helps children (and adults!) understand the concept of scale.  David Smith takes hard-to-imagine ideas and compares them to everyday things that we can see and are familiar with.    “If the solar system was laid out on a football field and the sun was a grapefruit”.   Other concepts Smith looks at are the size of the universe, ocean, and continents, history of the world, economics and food. This book is an excellent reference with many links to science and social studies, as well as a great one for visualizing.


3. If the World Were a Village- David J. Smith

Concept:  Global Awareness

An eye-opening look at the world.  David Smith helps readers understand the concept of our “global village” by condensing the world’s population of 6.8 billion to a village of 100 people.  I’m not mathematically inclined but even I can understand concepts in relation to 100!  World facts such as nationalities, languages, ages, and religions all put in perspective in this fascinating book.


4. One Well: The Story of Water on Earth – Rochelle Strauss

Concept:  Water – water cycle, use, access, conservation

A beautifully illustrated book that highlights the importance of earth’s water and how it is essential to our survival, as well as the survival of all living things including plants and animals.   It includes information on water usage, pollution, conservation, and awareness.


5. Just a Second – Steve Jenkins

Concept:  Time

What is time?  How do we measure it?  This brilliant book by my favorite nonfiction author explores the concept of time and how to think about it in different ways.  He uses events in the natural world to explain what can happen in a second, a minute, an hour.   Classic Jenkins – engaging and thought-provoking.


6. Living Sunlight:  How Plants Bring Earth to Life – Molly Bang

Concept: photosynthesis

Photosynthesis is a daunting concept to understand and to teach.  This book makes the process both understandable and magical.  Through a blend of poetry, science and beautiful visuals, we learn the importance of sun in our lives.  Beautiful and brilliant. 


7 No Monkeys, No Chocolate – Melissa Stewart

Concept:  Interconnectedness in our Ecosystem

 I first saw this book on Carrie Gelson’s blog and have been a fan of it ever since.  This is an amazing book that explains the inter-relationship of all the animals that help us get chocolate.  Readers learn about how intricately nature is connected through the complicated process of harvesting cocoa beans.   Detailed and interesting illustrations and two amusing bookworms who add funny sidebar comments add to the delight of this book.  Who knew there were so many animals involved in the making of chocolate?


8. Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth– Rochelle Straus

Concept:  Biodiversity, ecosystems, classification

On the “tree of life” – humans count for just one of 1, 750,000 leaves.  WOW!  There are millions of other life forms which with which we share this tree – but what are they and how are they organized?   This book presents how life on earth is classified into five kingdoms, or “branches” of the tree; each branch is filled with thousands of “leaves”.  This book will make you feel VERY small – but it’s a fascinating introduction to biodiversity. 


9. Gravity – Jason Chin

Concept:  Gravity

Jason Chin is a master at taking complex subjects and making them accessible to young readers.  He uses very simple text and life-like illustrations  (almost makes you feel like you are floating in space!)  to introduce children to the concept of gravity.  Innovative and beautiful. 


10. How Big is It? – Ben Hillman

Concept:  Size

Yes, these pictures are photo shopped!  But the technical term is juxtaposition and Ben Hillman uses it brilliantly to teach the concept of size by comparing incredibly large items to ordinary everyday items.  This book definitely has the “WOW” factor and the large illustrations will have your class begging you to turn the page to see “the next one”!

Honorable mentions:

Tiny Creatures – The World of Microbes – Nicola Davies    Concept:  Microbes

Lifetime – The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives –  Lola M. Schaefer    Concept:  Numbers

Secrets of the Seasons: Orbiting the Sun in Our Backyard –  Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld  Seasonal change

Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest – Steve Jenkins   Concept: Extreme environments, perspective, scale


Thanks for stopping by!   What are your favorite “concept” books to share with your students?






Filed under Nonfiction, Nonfiction 10 for 10, Picture Book

February 10 for 10! Ten Nonfiction Books I Can’t Live Without!

I’m excited to participate in the first Nonfiction 10 for 10 event celebrating fantastic nonfiction picture books. Thank you to Cathy Mere from Reflect and RefineMandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning  and Julie Balen of Write at the Edge for hosting this.

So what are the 10 nonfiction picture books I cannot live without?   As I did with my 10 for 10 picture book list in the summer, I have decided to organize this list around Nonfiction Reading Power strategies I use for helping students read and understand informational texts.   There are 5 strategies – so I have selected two anchor books for each!   The books I chose are not only my “tried and true” books in my classroom but often books I share with teachers at workshops.   It’s tough to narrow it down – but here we go….

Zooming In – to Nonfiction Text Features

My Map Book

1. My Map Book – Sara Fanelli

This is a wonderful anchor book for teaching students about using nonfiction text features – in particular – mapping and labeling.  I LOVE this book and have used it SO often as an anchor book for many lessons that my cover is nearly falling off!  This book is a collection of child-like drawings of different types of maps:  map of a neighbourhood, map of my bedroom, map of my family, map of my heart (My students make a “Map of my Heart” for Valentines day every year – using this book!)  There are unique maps that can stimulate all sorts of lesson extensions.  A MUST for your nonfiction collection!

Imagine You're a Knight!: Lady Megavere, Lucy D'Ancealot

2.  Imagine You’re A Knight – Lucy and Meg Clibbon

Lucy and Meg Clibbon are sisters from the UK.  They have created a series of books about different people including Knights, Pirates, Astronauts, Princess, Wizards, Mermaids and Ballerinas.  They are incredibly funny and visually appealing andI love how Lucy and Meg use LOTS of nonfiction text features (labels, maps, charts, captions, etc) to represent the information.   While some may consider this style of book to be to be more fiction,  they are excellent examples to show students the use of text features.

Determining Importance

Sorting out main idea from supporting details can be a challenge for students.  When practicing this strategy – I look for books with short, interesting sections I can use for a read-aloud during a guided lesson.  Here are two of my favorites:

How Big Is It?

3. How Big is It?  – Ben Hillman

This appeal of this book are the amazing photographs.  Ben Hillman uses amazing photographic juxtaposition (that was a mouthful!)  to show comparisons of size.  The book is large enough to hold up for students to see the pictures easily.  I love the short informational passage explaining each photograph.  Be prepared for a lot of “Whoa’s!”  and “Wow’s!”

Extreme Animals: The Toughest Creatures on Earth

4. Extreme Animals – The Toughest Creatures on Earth – Nicola Davies

This is another great book for using to practice determining importance.  Nicola Davies has included many interesting facts about animals who need to adapt to survive extreme heat and extreme cold. The unique thing about the book is that from one side, the book is about animals adaptation to extreme cold – flip it over and start from the other side to learn about animals adapting to extreme heat.  As always, I love Nicola Davies use of voice and humor in her writing.  Hilarious illustrations and comic-like animation.  (My favorite page is about “Frogcycles”!)

 Making Connections 

You and Me Together: Moms, Dads, and Kids Around the World

 5. You and Me Together: Moms, Dads, Kids Around the World – Barbara Kerley

I could not have a list of favorite nonfiction books without including a book by Barbara Kerley.  Barbara Kerley is a photographer for National Geographic – so her photography in all of her books is amazing.  In this book, she captures images of the relationship between parent and children from different places in the world.  With very little text, she is able to capture this bond beautifully.  I love to read this book to students and invite them to make connections.  Information about each photograph and where it was taken is included in the back of the book.

The Great Big Book of Families

6. The Great Big Book of Families – Mary Hoffman

Many primary curriculums include a focus on families and communities.   I always tell teachers at my workshops that this book encompasses an entire unit on family, community, school, cultural celebrations – you name it and you will find it in this book!  The book is well laid out and has colorful, interesting illustrations.  I like how Mary Hoffman recognizes different family make ups and adopted children.

Asking Questions

I Wonder

7. I Wonder – Tana Hoban

This simple beginning reader has become one of my favorite anchor books for questioning.  Tana Hoban takes readers on a “wonder walk” outdoors and questions simple things she sees along the way.  “Have you ever wondered how hard it is to spin a web?”  “Look at that tree – there’s moss growing on one side but not the other.  I wonder why?”  Beautiful photographs and clear close ups make this a perfect nonfiction read-aloud.   I like to read this book to my students and then take the on a class on our own “Wonder Walk”.

Why?: The Best Ever Question and Answer Book about Nature, Science and the World around You

8. Why?  The Best Question and Answer book about Science, Nature and the World around You – Catherine Ripley

This book really is the best question and answer book about the world around you!   There are questions and answers about just about everything you can think of:  Kitchen Questions, Bathroom Questions, Farm Questions, Night time Questions.  I like to read one question just before I send my students home as “thinking homework”. Have you ever wondered why some eggs are white and some are brown?    They think about the question and come back to school the next day and share their thinking.  After sharing our “maybe’s” – I read them the answer from the book.  They LOVE it!


It's Our Nature

9. It’s Our Nature – Rebeca Orozo

This delightful book explores the character traits that the animal kingdom shares with humanity — altruism, community, generosity, responsibility, trust, commitment, solidarity, brotherhood and tolerance.  The illustrations are delightful.  I start by listing the character traits from the book and discussing them with the students.  I  then read a description of one of the animal’s behavior and invite the students to infer which trait this animal is demonstrating .

A Strange Place to Call Home: The World's Most Dangerous Habitats & the Animals That Call Them Home

   10. A Strange Place to Call Home:  The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats & the Animals That Call Them Home                         – – Marilyn Singer

The art in this book by Ed Young is amazing.  The poetry, by renowned poet Marilyn Singer, is amazing.  This is a collection of 14 poems, each highlighting  a specific relatively unknown animal who have, against the odds, adapted to their extreme environments.  Students can use the clues in the poems to infer what type of environment they live in and what features they need to survive.  Great additional information included at the back.


Often when teaching students about synthesizing information, or what I refer to as “transformed thinking”, I look for books that provide students with information that can potentially change their thinking in some way.

What Do You Do When Something Wants To Eat You?

11.What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? – Steve Jenkins

My top nonfiction list would not be complete without a Steve Jenkins book.  While I have and love many, this is one I use most when teaching students about how books can sometimes change our thinking.  In his classic collage illustrations, Jenkins explores the many fascinating and unique ways animals defend themselves against predators.   Many students find new meaning to the expression “run for your life”!

What Does it Mean to Be Present?

12.  What Does it Mean to be Present? – Rana DiOrio

This recently published book has made it’s way to the top of my favorite pile!   Rana DiOrio has created a vibrant, thought-provoking picture book that simply and effectively teaches us to be present, mindful and caring citizens.  When teaching students about books that transform our thinking, I like to write the word “present” on the board and ask students to “take stock of their thinking” before we read.  Most students make connections to birthdays, Christmas, wrapping paper and boxes.  After reading the book – we talk about how our thinking about the word “present” now looks different than before we read the book.

And there you have it!  My top 10 (Ok.. I went over by two!)  Nonfiction Picture Books!  Thanks for reading my post!

Which picture books are on the top of your “can’t live without” pile?


Filed under Blog Challenge, Connect, Infer, Lesson Ideas, NFPB Challenge 2014, Nonfiction, Picture Book, Question, Reading Power, Transform