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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Librarian Preview: National Geographic (Fall 2010/Spring 2011)

I don’t get enough non-fiction in my diet.  If left to my own devices I’d probably end up solely devouring fiction titles that involve melodrama, dark humor, mild magic, and sentient cheese.  That said, I am consistently grateful that National Geographic Kids has the wherewithal to pull me up out of my comfort zone, and to plop me into the potentially frightening world of facts and figures.  It isn’t frightening, of course.  Quite the opposite.  And so the other day I sat down with Jeff Reynolds of National Geographic to see what they have on the table, and what they’re excited about.

Summer/Fall 2010

A little bit of summer before we plunge into fall, eh?  And what more appropriate title than Summer’s Bloodiest Days: The Battle of Gettysburg as Told from All Sides by Jenifer Weber?  Here you have a book that does something that I’m a little shocked other folks haven’t picked up on yet.  Seems to me that if you have a bunch of old Civil War era photographs lying about, the natural thing to do with them would be to give the little buggers speech balloons ala Monty Python.  That’s what Weber has done here, along the usual artifact inserts, and interesting facts.  Apparently this is the first in a series of other Civil War battles, each told from a variety of sides.  Something to keep an eye out for, then.

If your children’s room is anything like mine then big tall books can be the bane of your existence.  One library I worked in had its own Oversized section, slowly gathering cobwebs and mothballs for all that people visited it.  One book that was always criminally huge was the National Geographic World Atlas for Young Explorers.  Bloody gigantic, that thing is!  Apparently someone noticed and made some adjustments.  Shrunk down to “backpack size” (a pretty good designation) the new National Geographic Kids World Atlas has updated information and will apparently fit on your shelves better.  Sweet.

The term “user-generated content” generally causes a range of personal opinions.  For some it’s a derogatory term.  For others, praiseworthy.  In the case of Weird but True! 2: 300 Outrageous Facts, it’s just a description for what you’ll find inside.  National Geographic’s kid magazine solicited its readers for facts and those tidbits then were then duly entered into this book.  Everything from “There’s a one in a trillion chance that a piece of space junk will land on your house today” to “Chickens see daylight 45 minutes before humans do.”  I’ve always liked the format of these books.  Plus, you need to have something on hand when the fortieth kid comes up to you asking for your Guinness Book of World Records titles and they’re all checked out.  To pays to be prepared.

Good old Karen Romano Young (author of this year’s very fun novel Doodlebug, doncha know) has a new series out that may be the update your library’s science fair section needs.  The series is called Science Fair Winners, but it’s the individual titles I like.  Particularly Experiments to do on Your Family (it was called Sibling Science but someone made the wise decision to make a change).  I like the implications in the title.  Like you’ll “test” the family’s taste buds by switching their salt for sugar.  Not that it’s a prank book or anything.  In one case it looks closer at things like figuring out what young siblings experience by figuring out how young children see.  Just a fun variation on a common need.

Re: National Geographic Kids Animal Atlas; hubba hubba.  The pictures in this are gorgeous.  Just jaw-dropping.

This one’s neat.  Robert B. Haas is a National Geographic photographer.  He also has a tendency to climb into moving aerial vehicles and take photos.  It’s a thing.  Now a lot of his shots are being collected in the book I Dreamed of Flying Like a Bird: My Adventures Photographing Wild Animals from a Helicopter.  Those of you who enjoyed his previous book, African Critters, will probably get a kick out of this look at flamingos, giraffes, and what the book describes as “one of the few ‘fair fights’ in the African wilderness.”  He’s also really well known for this beautiful photo of a group of flamingos from above.  Check it out:

Insane, right?  That’s not digitally manipulated or anything either.  They just happened to be moseying about in that position when he shot them.

Now every time I see a new mummy book I think of the person designing the cover.  As far as I can ascertain, it’s a total faux pas to come out with a new mummy book with someone on the cover we’ve all seen before (Ice Man = passé).  Mummies: Embalmed, Dried, Sealed, Drained, Frozen, Stuffed, Tanned, Wrapped, and Smoked and We’re Dead Serious has chosen to go with an open mouthed mummy with whom I am not familiar.  Well played, NG.  It’s a visual feast, this book, with enough “gore appeal” (new category?) for the kids who are into the freaky.  By the way, author Chris Sloan spends much of his time making models of dinos.  Perhaps he could switch focus and make some mummies too now, eh?

The other day a mom stopped into my library and wanted all the Science I Can Read books we had from the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  They’ve never republished them, from what I can tell, but this mom loved how this series covered such a wide range of science topics for very early readers.  Harper Collins would do well to revivify that series, but in the meantime National Geographic has taken steps to provide something similar.  The National Geographic Little Kids Big Book of Animals isn’t a series, but rather a nice big book of different critters in the natural world with an easy text.  It’s preschooler non-fiction for the four-year-old that’s animal crazy.

Another kind of book that librarians are constantly on the lookout for is the good non-fiction booktalk title.  Something you can close with when you’re booktalking to a class of kids and you want to provide something for the students who like cold hard facts.  Animal Pop!: With 5 Incredible, Life-Size Pop-Outs basically combines the pop-out (not up) technology that’s so hep with the kids today alongside the premise behind books like Actual Size by Steve Jenkins.  Turn to the tiger page, for example, and out pops a tiger head that’s the size of a real tiger’s head in the wild.  Very nice idea, if potentially heart attack inducing.

Now, as of press time, I was told that the National Geographic Kids: The Ultimate Dinopedia by Don Lessem is completely comprehensive.  That said, no book of dinos can ever be completely comprehensive, since they keep finding new little dickens all the time.  This, however, is something we’ve needed for a while.  Sometimes I get a kid who wants a dino book, but the kind that names ALL the different dinosaurs out there.  This book does that, along with cool pictures by one Franco Tempesta and additional fact boxes.  This will complement our copy of Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.’s Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-To-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages (circa 2007) quite nicely, if not supplant it altogether.

This fall the National Geographic channel will air a seven-hour miniseries called Great Migrations.  Pretty much what it sounds like.  To supplement this series, NG for kids is putting out the book Great Migrations: Whales, Wildebeests, Butterflies, Elephants, and Other Amazing Animals on the Move by Elizabeth Carney.  Once in a while I’ll get a kid in my branch that is doing a migratory unit.  And a lot of the time, they’ll want books on animals other than birds.  Perfect then.  This book is a longish sort.  Comes in at 10 7/8″ by 7 1/2″, so make room on your shelves.  It also appears to include animals that don’t often make migratory texts, like the red crabs on Christmas Island and the elephants in Mali.  Fun notion.

We hear a fair amount about the Lost Boys of Sudan.  Indeed, my library carries a couple copies of Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan by Mary Williams.  But whatever happened to the girls?  Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in Sudan is by John Bul Dau and Martha Akech, with Michael Sweeney and Karen Kostyal.  John survived as a Lost Boy.  Martha did too as a girl. Years later they’d meet and marry in America, and this book talks about their experiences both in Sudan and later adjusting in the United States.  It’s a take I’ve not seen in children’s literature before.  Give it a gander.

It’s not just kids that ask me in my library for books on gems and minerals.  Adults come in wanting the same darn thing too.  We like the sparkly, we humans.  With that in mind, Steve Tomecek has added a new title to the Jump Into Science series, and it’s called Rocks and Minerals.  Sounds like it would make a nice pairing with Rocks & Minerals by Simon Basher and Dan Green.  You can never have too many.

I’m in a pairing kind of mood today.  Sometimes I’ll hear about a title and instantly want to find it a mate.  For example, I heard about Ann Bausum’s Unraveling Freedom: The Battle for Democracy on the Homefront During World War I and I instantly wanted to place it alongside Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting by Jim Murphy.  Yet while Murphy’s book looked more at the underpinnings to the war and the repercussions during the first few years of fighting, Bausum focuses squarely on the homefront and how freedoms were eroded there.  The book contains information like the fact that 25% of the American population during WWI was of German descent and that prohibition was a result of a kind of German backlash.  It’s a fascinating topic.  One I’ve hardly seen addressed in the kid market.

Spring 2011

Jeff wasn’t going to get too deeply into the ’11 season, and indeed there aren’t any cover images ready yet, but he did show me a couple things worth remembering.

First off, I have big plans in place for Sue Macy’s book Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a few flat tires along the way).  Here’s how I figure it.  There were at least two big middle grade novels in 2010 that dealt with bicycles (Crunch by Leslie Connor and The Boneshaker by Kate Milford).  If either one of those wins some kind of a big award come Newbery time, then Macy’s book will be in the perfect position to latch onto our literary bicycle love.  Plus it’s a fun topic.  With an increase in folks opting for bikes rather than cars every year, what better time to have a look at its history in some manner?

Speaking of earth friendliness, consider Human Footprint: Everything You Will Eat, Use, Wear, Buy, and Throw Out in Your Lifetime.  It’s by Ellen Kirk and it’s a fun concept book.  What is the average American human footprint?  With ridiculous photographs to complement the statistics, we learn how we’ll be eating 14,518 candy bars, take 28,433 showers, and purchase $52,972 worth of clothes.  I’m really looking forward to this one.  Consumption is best displayed in all its ghastly glory when it gets a little extreme.

I figure that planets are a lot like dinosaurs.  Kids are often up on the latest data long before adults.  In 13 Planets: The Latest View of the Solar System, David A. Aguilar looks at the theory that our planetary system includes not just the usual suspects, but also Pluto, Ceres, Eris, Haumea, and MakeMake.  MakeMake?  Man oh geez.  I guarantee, without a shadow of a doubt, that you’ve nothing like this on your shelves right now.  MakeMake?

The story of Edith Eva Eger is known in some circles, but she’s hardly a household name.  As a teenager, Eger was a ballet dancer selected to dance for Dr. Joseph Mengele.  When her concentration camp was liberated, Eger’s body was amongst the dead.  An American soldier saw her hand move, however, and had her rescued.  The book Left for Dead: Growing Up in a Nazi Death Camp is by Eger and Claudia Metcalfe.  It will certainly have readers.

And that, as they say, is that.  A nice respectable little list and plenty of something for everyone.  As per usual, let us end with the Meets:

Best Meets: The Dangerous Book for Boys meets Highlights Magazine

The Classic Collection of Childhood Wonders: Favorite Adventures, Stories, Poems, and Songs for Making Lasting Memories by Susan Magsamen.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. i hope UNRAVELING FREEDOM turns out to be as awesome as it looks. i think th best way to bring up topics in current events is through parallels in history, and a book like should be welcome in showing kids how war tends to bring out the worst in those who use it as an excuse to abridge freedoms. in advance of reading it, i say ‘well done, nat geo.’

  2. Love, love, love NG books for children.

    Baker and Taylor has a cover image for Wheels of Change; of course, it may change, but I like it (and it sounds like a great book).

  3. There is a 7-year-old kid at my library who is legendary for one day wandering up and down the aisles repeating ‘Who wouldn’t want to learn about the Civil War?!’ over and over. It’s his main obsession, and the new series that starts with the Gettysburg book is going to make his life! Thanks for the heads up.

  4. And you know it’s not just your gaping mummy – a bunch of these books have open mouths on the cover. I guess teeth stop traffic – I’ll have to keep my eyes on that. Can’t wait to see Human Footprint. Thanks for the preview Betsy!

  5. Thanks for the preview, Betsy! I always find myself opening up B&T’s website and adding books to my order when I read your preview posts… even when I’m at home……. 🙂


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Schu and Homework Dog, Tess Alfonsin. Tess Alfonsin said: WOW. Some informational text GEMS here. Thx Betsy! […]