complained about how hard it is to find easy nonfiction to read aloud, and now I'm going to lament the lack of really booktalkable (yes, that's a word. As of right now) nonfiction for the middle grade crowd. Specifically for sixth grade, since that's mainly the group I do booktalks for.
The books have to be long enough and formatted so they don't look like "books for little kids" (which is a huge problem since most nonfiction books are formatted to look like extra-thick picture books) but they also can't have "too many words". They have to have a hook so I can booktalk them quickly and easily. I'm picky, but so are the sixth graders!
This one is an unlikely choice, but as soon as I started reading it I knew it would work.
"What's so important to you that you'd risk getting eaten by a tiger, falling off a cliff, attacked by bears, freezing to death, killed by bandits, or all of the above?"
*pause for raucous responses, hopefully all school-appropriate*
"For these daring hunters, the most important thing in the world was...plants!"
Anita Silvey tells the story of the men and women who risked their lives, sanity and freedom to collect rare plants. Some of them were stalked by jaguars, went on dangerous undercover missions to steal seeds and plants, or struggled on after being attacked by a grizzly bear to discover a new species of pines. Plant hunting continues today (did you know there's a super-secure vault for seeds?) along with its dangerous and adventure. Be prepared to add botany back to the curriculum after kids read this one!
The book is illustrated with historical photographs and botanical drawings and includes notes, a bibliography, illustration credits, and index. At a little under 100 pages it's brief enough not to discourage struggling readers and has a nice, readable large font. Silvey packs an astonishing amount of information into the pages of these book, from historical botanical expeditions, biographical sketches, reflections on the environmental impact of plant hunting, and botanical and scientific information.
Verdict: This is an unusual subject, but with some catchy booktalking it could be a very popular nonfiction selection for middle grade readers and might even inspire them to try a little botanical research of their own.