Fact Feeds Fiction (Part 3)

Fact Feeds Fiction (Part 3)

Written by: Colette Huxford-Kinnett

January 31, 2024

Two different times here in our Home Grown Blogs, we have investigated the idea of pairing fiction and non-fiction titles together.  In this particular edition, you are going to see me “geek” out with particular topics!  (I have had such moments with The Donner Party, Teddy Roosevelt, Cowboys, the Arctic).  Perhaps it was my own bias for a while, but I find that students often choose Fiction over Non-Fiction when they are given the choice.  I have diligently invested time in the last fifteen years in finding high-interest, well-written nonfiction for Middle Grades and Young Adults.  Yet despite my best efforts, I find that these fascinating reads often remain on my shelves, so I started thinking about meeting my readers where they are.  Did you just read a fantastic book about a ship navigating icebergs in the South Pole?  Let me show you a book that can help you investigate that further!  Did you just read about the first and only black Marshall in the Wild West?  Let me show you more untold stories of Wild West Heroes.

It is true; non-fiction can be more challenging to read.  It is not necessarily written in a narrative structure.  It contains very specific terms and definitions.  It may feature names and places that are a challenge to pronounce.  I truly believe, however, if we can really tap into students’ curiosity, they will have the determination and stamina to read something more challenging.   If you would like to contribute, please add to the Padlet and let’s learn from each other.  Thank you for joining me on this journey!

Except for the final three, click the book cover for a book talk or book trailer video you’re welcome to share with students.

“if we can really tap into students’ curiosity, they will have the determination and stamina to read something more challenging.”

Ice Break Book Cover

By Lian Tanner

I am only sad that I did not discover this title soon enough to get it nominated for Young Hoosier or Read Aloud.  Alas, the copyright date was too old.

That being said, this is a MUST read for anyone who likes adventure, dystopia, steampunk, and the arctic!  Adventure, factions, myths, talking rats.

The Oyster has been floating around, breaking through icebergs for generations.  Most on board have no idea why they left the mainland years ago. There are rumors of a “sleeping captain” who will bring those who trust machines and those who do not together, but it has been so long… 

When a boy is found on an iceberg, the inhabitants of the ship must decide whether or not to bring him aboard.  After all, he could be a bad omen!

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World Book Cover

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance
By Jennifer Armstrong

If Ernest Shackleton would have had the technology found in Icebreaker, this story would have never happened. Alas, he did not.  In 1914, Shackleton and a crew of 27 set sail for Antarctica.  They were among the first to attempt to explore the South Pole.  Unlike The Oyster that broke through the icebergs, The Endurance broke apart amid all of the pressure from the ice.  An entire boat, an entire crew stranded.

Yet this is a story of triumph.  Using only a 20 foot boat, Shackleton managed to save his entire crew.  I didn’t say it was easy.  I didn’t say it was pretty, but I am saying that he did what many would have deemed impossible.

Locked in Ice: Nansen’s Daring Quest for the North Pole
By Peter Lourie

Let’s put Hatchet on steroids.  This is real survival.  Nansen and his men were trying to reach the North Pole.  Unlike The Oyster that broke through the ice, unlike Shackleton who was nearly destroyed by the ice, Nansen planned for his boat to get stuck in the ice.  He wanted to see how far north the ship would float as it was locked in the ice.  When he determined it was as far north as the floating sheet of ice could go, he planned to head out by dogsled.

Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica
By Rebecca E.R. Barone

Yet another fabulous book to introduce by using its opening line… “Captain Robert Scott Falcon couldn’t shake the darkness.”

This book actually features four stories!  First, there are the 2 teams trying to be the first to reach the south pole.  Did they use men only?  Did they try dog sleds?  Or were ponies the best means for reaching the pole?  I will not spoil it for you, but I will say that 11 steps made all of the difference.

Second, years later, there are 2 individuals trying to be the first to reach the Pole by going Solo.  Who would reach it first?  The veteran of many arctic treks?  Or the extreme athlete who trained for all conditions?  And how did you pack enough food to last the duration without making it so heavy that you could not pull your sled?

Great adventure!

Byrd and Igloo Book Cover

Byrd & Igloo: A Polar Adventure
By Samantha Seiple

I LOVE Samantha.  Anything she writes, I will read.  This is the delightful story of a very unexpected partnership.  Igloo was a little, stray dog found on the streets of Washington DC outside a candy store.  Byrd was an aviator and explorer.  Together they would explore both Poles, the North and the South.

This lovely volume not only pulls in adventure and polar exploration, but also the bond between humans and their pets.  Dog lovers will love this one.  Adventurers will love this one.

The Legend of Bass Reeves book cover.

The Legend of Bass Reeves: Being the True and Fictional Account of the Most Valiant Marshal in the West
By Gary Paulsen

What a fascinating story of the Wild West.  While it is based on truth, It is historical fiction; however, Gary Paulsen penned it, so it is beautifully and realistically done.  What a beautiful story of overcoming a very oppressive beginning.

Bass Reeves was born a slave, but by the time his life was over, he had learned how to rope runaway steers, track like a Native American, and brought in more outlaws from the Indian Territory than any other US Marshall.  He was, in fact, the first African American US Marshall.

True West book cover.

True West: Real Stories about Black Cowboys, Women Sharpshooters, Native American Rodeo Stars, Pioneering Vaqueros, and the Unsung Explorers, Builders and Heroes Who Shaped the American West
By Mifflin Lowe

Wow!  What a title!  I absolutely LOVE the layout of this book.  It is arranged in neat, tidy, 2 page spreads for each individual, group, or topic that is covered.  1 page is graphic.  The other page is text.

This is a great book to bring attention to the many unsung heroes.  In this non-fiction adventure we meet Bass Reeves, Calamity Jane, Nat Love, the Chinese Railroad Workers, the Buffalo Soldiers.

This is also a great book to use with an Opening Lines Activity if you ever have students try to match opening lines with covers as a way of introducing book talks or of helping students work on writing attention grabbing opening lines.

Cowboys of the Wild West book cover.

Cowboys of the Wild West
By Russell Freedman

If you want young adult friendly nonfiction, Russell Freedman is your go-to author.  Sadly, he passed in 2021.  Fortunately, he left a plethora of work behind.  From Angel Island to Vietnam to World War 1 to the Wright Brothers to Cowboys, Freedman does a beautiful job of taking a true subject and making it very understandable for young adults.  (I never understood the Vietnam War so well until I read his book). The language and sentence structure are very approachable.

I love how Russell explains the origin of the cowboy, the equipment of the cowboy, the life of the cowboy.  I love how he explains the devastating impact of barbed wire on the fate of the cowboy and the open range, and if you do not get enough Cowboy from this volume, he has also written Children of the Wild West.

Children of the Wild West book cover.

Children of the Wild West
By Russel Freedman

Russell Freedman.  Need I say more?  This is a beautiful compliment to his Cowboys of the Wild West.  Young adults, and middle grades readers especially, will enjoy seeing the Wild West through the lens of someone closer to their age. 

Black Heroes of the Wild West
By James Otis Smith

A completely delightful graphic look at 3 specific black heroes of the wild west: Bass Reeves, Stagecoach Mary and Bob Lemmons.  Do not, however, overlook the very thoughtful forward or the well-written, well-designed additional notes at the end.  Very readable.  Very appealing.  I hope the publisher does more books similar to this.



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  • Colette Huxford-Kinnett

    Colette Huxford-Kinnett is in her 26th year as School Librarian at Shenandoah School Corporation. She received her BA from Purdue University in Creative Writing and Secondary English Education in 1994. She then obtained her certification for Library Services from Ball State University, followed by her Masters of Secondary Education in 2000. For the past five years, Colette has been travelling the state presenting one day workshops on topics of interest to school librarians and teachers via the Indiana Educational Service Centers. Colette served as a co-chair of the Eliot Rosewater Committee for twelve years. She has had the privilege of having five works published: The Way I Want to Remember with Mellen Poetry Press in 1996, Daddy’s Girl with Author House in 2006, and Noelle, Courageously Cayleigh, and Lillian Frances with Create Space, in 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively. Colette is the 2013 recipient of the Indiana Library Federation’s Peggy Pfeiffer Service Award.

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