Monday, March 10, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Sample Bullfrog Books (imprint of Jump!)

 A new small publisher, Jump!, specializing in "Beautiful nonfiction for beginning and struggling readers" asked if I'd like to preview selections from their new imprint, Bullfrog Books. Of course, I said yes. I love easy nonfiction and between adding a nonfiction section to our easy readers and getting ready to start organizing most of the picture books by subject and integrate easy nonfiction, I am ALL about the easy nonfiction this year.

They sent me one title from each of five different series and that's what I'm looking at today.

Each book is a nice square size, just right for small hands without being so small they'll disappear on the shelf. They're about 7x7 inches (can't find my ruler to measure more accurately!) and have a nice, cheerfully colored border. The books begin with a message to parents and teachers, encouraging them to look at the photographs together, ask questions, and gives some sample questions tailored to the particular book. There's a table of contents for the short "chapters", a simple picture glossary with 4-8 words, an index, and a list of sources to learn more, including a child-friendly search engine. The back cover shows all the titles in the series.

Pigs is part of the "Animals on the Farm" series. The book emphasizes the different parts of the pig, from the docked tail "The farmer cut it short when I was a piglet" to how smart pigs are "I am smart. I learned to open the gate. Pig on the loose!" I would have liked to see a mention of how good a sense of smell pigs have, especially when the book mentioned that they don't see well, but it does show them sniffing and digging.

Dump Trucks is part of the "Machines at work" series. I had some reservations about this when I first read it, but after I'd look at all the titles in the different series and gotten a feel for their layout, it makes more sense. I like that they show a female driver, and have several captions for the different parts of the truck. There's a side dump that's not explained until the glossary and several images don't show a truck at all, which is a lot in a book of only 24 pages. The image of a dump truck and some kind of attachment laying blacktop was confusing. The attached machine isn't identified and the dump truck itself is obscured by the gutter of the pages. However, after looking at all the books, I can see there's a strong emphasis on very simple statements that will encourage kids to ask more questions. I still don't like the blacktop spread, but the other ones make more sense, since they'll encourage kids to ask questions.

Clownfish, from "Life under the sea" was my least favorite book and I thought it was written in a very confusing way. It starts with a male clownfish looking for a nest, then swimming home to his anemone, then finding his mate. "He chases her. He bites./He touches her with his fin. Follow me to the nest!" Will kids understand that all three of those sentences, especially since the first two are separated by a page turn, are all how he's getting the female to follow him? The female lays eggs and then goes home. Then it has the male guarding the eggs - no mention of fertilization, but I can see that would be difficult to introduce in a book with this limited vocabulary. What's really confusing though is the last page where it says "The clownfish chases him [big fish] away. Hooray! The eggs are safe!" and the accompanying photograph shows two fish. the picture glossary shows this same picture and says "mate: A fish's partner; a clownfish needs a mate to make babies." This is confusing - does the mating pair care for the eggs together or not? Do they come together only for breeding? I looked it up and apparently they live in sort of colonies with one breeding pair. They also change sex, if one of the breeding pair dies. I get that you can't exactly explain that in the space given, but it really wasn't clear who was tending the eggs and if the fish stayed together or not.

 In Red, a sample of the "Colors in Nature" series, I learned something new - that the color of male cardinal's feathers comes from the berries they eat. I looked it up to be sure - it didn't make sense that the female would eat the same things and not be bright red, but somehow it all works out. The photographs in this one were possibly the most vibrant and I really liked the question and answer format that showed most strongly in this one. I'd definitely use this in storytime as well as for individual reading or reading aloud.

The last sample, Lions, comes from "My First Animal Library" and offers a simple introduction to the habits of a lion pride, not unlike the Pigs book. This does a really good job of introducing the different behaviors in the lions, especially in the small space offered. The pictures are clear but not too gory or graphic.

So, the pros of this new imprint - gorgeous photographs, text that will spark curiosity and questioning, high-interest topics, simple text that will attract beginning readers, and many of these will also make great discussion-type read-alouds for storytime.

Cons? Well, this may be nitpicky, but I'm worried that those nice white backgrounds on the covers won't stay white long. My library patrons are notoriously hard on their books and I see a constant cleaning in my future for these. They are expensive - even with Baker and Taylor's discount they're $20 apiece, which leaves you with the possibility of bindings that will last long past the interior pages and the content. If you buy them in complete sets from the publisher or a distributor, they get down to $17, which isn't quite as bad, but you're still paying $107 for only 6 books.

Verdict: For me, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Since I'm focusing on increasing nonfiction easy readers and easy nonfiction for our new neighborhoods project in the picture books, these are exactly what I need and worth the cost. I will probably put them in the picture books, since they hit many of the subject areas I'm looking to expand and the more picture book shape will be more conducive to people checking out picture books than easy readers (yes, my patrons are that nitpicky. I once had a patron refuse any nonfiction on the grounds that they "looked like picture books"). I'll definitely be getting the Colors in Nature, Machines at Work, Animals on the Farm, and possibly the My First Animal Library series. They've also got several season-themed series and we're a little crazy on the subject of seasons, especially fall, so those look very good too.

Animals on the Farm: Pigs by Wendy Strobel Dieker
ISBN: 9781620310052

Machines at work: Dump Trucks by Rebecca Stromstad Glaser
ISBN: 9781620310199

Life under the sea: Clownfish by Cari Meister
ISBN: 9781620310304

Colors in Nature: Red by Rebecca Stromstad Glaser
ISBN: 9781620310366

My first animal library: Lions by Mary Lindeen
ISBN: 9781620310649

Published 2013 by Bullfrog Books/Jump!; Review copies provided by publisher; Selected series added to library wishlist to purchase, probably this summer.

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