Every Bone Tells a Story: Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and DebatesEvery Bone Tells a Story: Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and Debates by Jill Rubalcaba
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rubalcaba, Jill, and Peter Robertshaw. Every Bone Tells a Story: Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and Debates. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2010. Print. 185 p. 9781580891646

Every Bone Tells a Story is a collection of four important archaeological hominin discoveries. Rubalcaba and Robertshaw describe the hominin’s death, how the body was discovered, and the scientific deductions and debates surrounding each body. The bones tell us about the language, life, and rituals of it’s time.

I’m not a big nonfiction reader, so I have to really be interested in the subject to sustain a reading. I was engaged by the use of narrative to describe the finding of the body. I was most surprised by the discovery of Kennewick man in a riverbed. Some college kids were mucking about in the river and pulled what they thought was a rock from the mud. “The rock had teeth” and caused the community a lot of controversy (85). The local tribes wanted to rebury the body and the scientists wanted to study it. The scientific debates in each section were very informative as well.

The pictures in the book were odd. The pictures of the bones and of scientist as work made sense, but there are a few random shots of people standing around near the archeological site that don’t seem pertinent. I would also like to see photographs or images showing comparisons for scientific discussions. In one instance, the book talks about the “Lapedo Child’s snowplow-shaped jaw,” but fails to show the comparison of a modern human’s jaw( 63).

All in all, this is a great book for young adults interested in archaeology, forensics, or skeletons as the language is readable and not too elevated. You’ll enjoy discovering about some bones that might be our ancestors!

If you are interested in reading more nonfiction about death or burials, you might also want to check out Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. It deals with the 19th century and onward, and is written with a humorous tone.

View all my reviews

Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way)Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom by Sue Macy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Macy, Sue. Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a Few Flat Tires Along the Way). Washington, D.C: National Geographic, 2011. Print. 96 p. 9781426307621

This historical nonfiction book analyzes the way bicycles helped empower women. It describes the first bicycles (can you believe some women actually rode bicycles side saddle?!) and it details how bicycles allowed women to ditch hoop skirts for pantaloons!

What I found really interesting is that there were many female athletes that competed and rode “centuries” daily (41). A century is a one hundred mile nonstop ride! I know bike enthusiasts today that do not endorse the same vigor.

The pictures combined with the slang and random facts made this a very interesting read. One of my favorite details was the description of Charlotte Smith. She was against cycling and she thought it drew girls “directly to sin” (32). Disheartening as this statement is, Charlotte would bash any man with an umbrella if she thought he was disrespecting a lady and apparently she thought this a lot as she “destroyed at least 5,000 umbrellas” in her lifetime (32)!

The only real weakness in the book is that the author, Sue Macy, seems to be stretching her analysis a bit to tie all of the chapters together. Many times the information does not seem coherent nor particularly empowering to women. Still, the facts, pictures, and strange stories made this an interesting a read.

View all my reviews


Ed. by Anne Thoms.  2002. WITH THEIR EYES. New York: Harper Tempest. ISBN 0060518065

Hampton, Wilborn. 2003. SEPTEMBER 11, 2001. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press. 0763619493

With Their Eyes was written by students at Stuvesant High School after the September 11th attacks.  Following the style of the playwright, Anna Deavere Smith, they interviewed students, teachers, and employees of Stuvesant High which is only blocks away from Ground Zero.  The students then compiled the interviews into monologues and performed the play for audiences.  

The result is a sad, comprehensive, and movingly honest portrayal of the World Trade Center attacks.  Interviewing a multitude of ages and keeping the ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ that make up real conversations give this taboo topic a frank and forthright urgency. Time is also staggered throughout the monologues and will help modern day readers understand the long-term implications of the attacks on Stuvesant students and employees.  Each piece will remind older readers of the mixed-emotions of the day: the surprise, the anger, and the emptiness, and young readers will be captured by the authentic voices of real New Yorkers.

Reviews (With Their Eyes)

  • Parent’s Guide Review by M. Jerry Weiss: “There is humor and a protective coating for the seriousness of the drama.”
  • Children’s Literature Review by Jeanne K. Pettenati :”The monologues describe both kids and staff who were eyewitnesses to a horrible piece of history.”

Teaching Ideas

The opening act of this book would work well with a Reader’s Theater technique.  Teachers should choose other monologue sections to teach student’s about the harrowing effects of September 11th.  

I would combine pieces of this book with September 11, 2001 by ?.  This nonfiction book is also about real people who survived the attacks.  Some who were actually in the building and recount what it was like moving down the stairways and leaving friends behind. NOTE: The pictures in this are very disturbing.  I had to cover them as I read.  However, students who were not old enough when this happened to understand the event, will benefit from these shocking photographs.

After all books and sections are read, students should respond in journals with either a sentence stem like: “I feel....” or a prompt like: “The title ‘With Their Eyes’ is important because....”

Extended lesson idea: Have students go out into their own school and interview people about a relevant topic.  For instance, I live in the South and I plan on having my students interview others about the effect the Drought has had on families this summer.  We will compile our interviews to create and perform monologues.  

Other books and opinions:

Ed. Jeff Mason. 2002. 9-11 EMERGENCY RELIEF. Florida: Alternative Comics. ISBN1891867121

This compilation of comic artists’ response to 9/11 did not sit well with me.  Many of the selections are crass and the attempts at humor fail.  Most of the artists were not in New York and their opinions and views just don’t do a good job of explaining the situation. I would not suggest using this for teaching this tender subject.   

Jacobson, Sid and Colon, Ernie. 2006.THE 9/11 REPORT: A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION.  ISBN 0809057395

While this is a great adaptation of the 9/11 Report, it is still a complex and difficult read.  Young readers may find the language too advanced, but it is still a great addition to any library.


Review of Walt Whitman: Words for America by Barbara Kerley (Author), Brian Selznick (Illustrator) My rating 4 of 4

a. Kerley, Barbara. 2004. WALT WHITMAN: WORDS FOR AMERICA. Ill by Brian Selznick. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 0439357918

b. I’ve tried to teach my juniors about Walt Whitman for the last two years, and I learned more from this informational picture book than any textbook so far. This biography captures the essence of Whitman and his yearning to give a voice to all Americans. It also depicts his passion for becoming his poetry. Detailing his young life as a printer’s apprentice, it enumerates his growing love of language, and the time he spent with soldiers during the Civil War recounts his need to give a voice to America.

I love how the Copyright page is mirrored with an illustration of typeset, as this is one of the ways that Whitman fell in love with words. Selznick captures the heart of the time period in his illustrations, which draw upon the pointillist technique that gained fame near the end of Whitman’s long life. Two of my favorite illustrations in this book are based on Whitman’s words. One painting has many flying books much like the ones Whitman created for himself so he could write down all that he sees. The other is simply the sky and sun and the words “ Whoever you are/ now I place my hand upon you/ that you be/ my poem.”

c. The only thing that bothers me about this book is the intended audience. Some reviewers say ages 6-10, others say 11-15. I do not think Whitman is comprehensible to the younger audiences, but they might enjoy the illustrations. I will have no problem using this book with my high school students, but I do not see a student in middle school or below engaging in this text. The notes at the end are interesting, but unnecessary.

d. Awards:

  • Beacon of Freedom Award, 2007 Nominee United States California Book Awards
  • 2005 Silver Medal Juvenile United States New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books of the Year
  • 2004 Winner United States Parents' Choice Award
  • 2004 Silver Non-Fiction United States Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal


  • Starred Review from Kirkus: “A visual and textual portrait of America's most revolutionary and celebrated poet.”
  • Booklist review by Jennifer Mattson: “Like his collaborator's narrative, though, Selznick's contributions reflect a keen passion for research, right down to the subtle references to early editions of Leaves of Grass in the book's typeface and design.”

e. Teaching ideas:

This is the perfect book to start out my American Poetry unit.  I will use this book to teach my 17 year old students about Walt Whitman and his vision of giving America a voice.  After reading this and selected poetry by Whitman, we will create posters illustrating Walt Whitman and the major themes of his work. I might even add a research element and have them create extra pages about Whitman to "add" to this book.

It is also very interesting to me that Brian Selznick illustrated this book. I'd like to gather other books by Selznick that students are familiar with and show them how varied an author's life can be!

Hide under a leaf?


What do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? By Steve Jenkins

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

a. Jenkins, Steve. 1997. WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN SOMETHING WANTS TO EAT YOU? Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0395825148

b. In What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? Steve Jenkins describes the predator/prey relationship of fourteen colorful animals. Some animals are common to children, but most of these distinctive animals will be unfamiliar to young ones. The glass snake that breaks apart when a predator steps on it will even make the boys squeal.

c. Children will see the animals in peril, and turn the page quickly to learn how each animal will get out of being eaten. The cutout collages add depth and life to the page. Jenkins tears handmade paper to cleverly illustrate backgrounds and add details like the octopus’s ink cloud. The colors are as vibrant as nature itself, and a lot of the animal’s names give away the trick the animals will use to escape their fate--which makes this a great book for predicting.

On his webpage, Jenkins details how he creates books; he says that most of his books start out with an idea or a question. In this case, the title is the question, and the way it is worded almost makes children giggle at the idea of being eaten. However, as you read this book aloud, children will learn that the reality of being eaten is a scary danger a lot of little creatures actually face.

Jenkins researches and storyboards thoroughly before his ideas turn into books. That is a lot of researching considering he has written and illustrated 23 informational picture books. Plus, he has illustrated books for noteworthy authors like Mem Fox, Pat Mora, and many more.

d. Book Reviews

  • Booklist Review by Hazel Rochman: “The final question--which is also the title of the book--makes clear why these zoological facts have the mythic power to scare us and connect us with the natural world. Even as kids shudder at the bared teeth of the predator, they will identify with the trickster who gets away.”

  • Kirkus Review: “Layered cut-paper collage animals are positioned in dramatic stances against textured handmade-paper backgrounds.”

e. Teaching ideas:

This is a great chance to learn about some strange animals. I suggest using your school’s United Streaming account to find some good videos, but here are a few interesting Youtube videos to tide you over:

The Glass Snake tail:

The Jesus Christ Lizard

The Blue Tongued Skink


Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartloetti

My rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

a. Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. 2005. HITLER YOUTH: GROWING UP IN HITLER’S SHADOW. New York: Scholastic Nonfiction. ISBN 0439353793

b.  A touchy subject is looked at from a child’s perspective in this bewildering and informational text. The award-winning author, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, presents us with a different picture of Nazi Youth. In this book, they are not heartless and crazed, as some may deem them now, but they are simply children who’ve been misled. The eleven photographs of the “young people” in the fore pages, entices the reader with short summaries of what is to come and touches upon the participation of each child’s role in the Hitler Youth.

c.  By researching articles published during the time period that warned of Hitler’s burgeoning doom, interviewing Hitler Youth, visiting Germany, reading oral histories, letters, and books written by the Hitler Youth, Baroletti gives a voice to the lives of all German youth (including Jewish youth) during the 1930s and 40s. By showcasing (signifying) the lives of 11 youth, she displays the duality of Hitler Youth. The alternating storylines baffled and disgusted me. Some of Hitler’s actions I had not read about before, and I was immediately gratified to see young ones trying to stand up to him and get the truth out to the German people.

    This book really left me thinking. It is perplexing and sad, but it forces us to realize how easy it for something like this to happen and we cannot let it happen again. Sometimes Bartoletti strings you along with hope that things will change because of the actions of a few, but then the reader’s hope is SQUASHED by Hitler’s violent actions. However, that is what makes this book really effective. It really teaches the reader about the vulnerability of the time period and the onerous, rigid life of Hitler Youth. The historical photographs embellish each page. Some are taken from the Library of Congress, National Archives, and others are from family albums. The pictures also invoke duplicity as some are clearly false propaganda, and others are too disturbing to view

    d. Awards and Recognitions (Selected)

      · Best Books for Young Adults, 2006 ; American Library Association; United States

      · Carolyn W. Field Award, 2006 Winner United States

      · John Newbery Medal, 2006 Honor Book United States

      · Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children, 2006 Honor United States

      · Parents' Choice Award, 2005 Gold Non-Fiction United States

      · Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal, 2006 Honor Book United States


      · Review from Kirkus:Essential for WWII collections as well as teaching units on conformity, peer pressure and resistance. Superb.”

        · VOYA Review by Kevin Beach: “How could so many Germans go along with Hitler's inhumane public policies that led to the deaths of millions? This book, through the testimony of youth, successfully answers that question.”

        e.Teaching Ideas

        The chapter “Where One Burns Books” is a great way to introduce Fahrenheit 451. A lot of students think burning books is just silly and no one would do it. This chapter not only describes it, but discusses a major theme in Bradbury’s novel: “Where one burns books, one will, in the end, burn people.” (Henrich Heine)

        I found many interesting quotes in this book. I’d like to pull them out and have students interpret them in small groups and then discuss the different meanings we get out of them. Here are a few:

        · “A violently active, dominating, intrepid, brutal youth—that is what I am after.” (Hitler)

        · “Youth must be indifferent to pain. There must be no weakness and tenderness in it.” (Hitler)

        · “After all, one should have the courage to believe only in what is good. By that, I do not mean one should believe in illusions. I mean one should do only what is true and good and take it for granted that others will do the same.” (Sophie Scholl)

        - Older Posts »