Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Behind the Books: A Perfect Pair

Is it just me or is 2018 shaping up to be an amazing year for nonfiction? I’ve read a boatload of great titles over the last few months, and my TBR pile is out of control. I have  a lot of catching up to do.

Two books that I’m excited about look at the same topic through different lenses, and that makes Dog Days of History: The Incredible Story of Our Best Friends by Sarah Albee (National Geographic, 2018) and Made for Each Other: Why Dogs and People Are Perfect Partners by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (Crown, 2018) perfect for comparing and contrasting.

These books have plenty in common—topic, mixed second and third-person point of view, conversational voice, expository writing style, great photos, dynamic design, and rich backmatter. They both can be read from beginning to end, or readers can use the table of contents and index to find one or two sections that they think will be especially interesting.

The books also take advantage of some of the same craft moves. For example, they sprinkle questions throughout the text to keep readers engaged, and they include lots of text features. I like that on pp. 14-15 of Dog Days of History, Sarah Albee has used alliteration to make her headings more fun. Dorothy Patent uses the same craft move on p. 23 of Made for Each Other.
Despite all these wonderful similarities, the two books also have some important differences, such as approach to the topic (one is more historical and one is more science-y) and text structure (sequence vs. description). I also have some questions about differences that I noticed. What do students think about the difference in type size between the two books? Does that affect their interest in reading a book? Do they like one trim size better than the other? Which design elements of each book do they particularly like? If you share these books with your class, let me know. I’d love to hear their answers.

If your students go to the websites of Sarah Albee and Dorothy Patent and look at other books the authors have written, they’ll see that the approach each writer takes makes sense. Many of Sarah’s books look at the history of the world, but through various different lenses—poison, fashion, bugs, even poop. She must really like history!

Dorothy has written quite a few books about science and animals, especially dogs. Guess what her twitter handle is . . . @DogWriterDoro. Clearly, she’s a dog lover and brings her passion for them to the book projects she chooses. In my opinion, writing about a topic that you really care about is the secret to creating great nonfiction.

What 2018 nonfiction titles are you excited about?


  1. Thanks for the post, Melissa. I love the way you have readers look at the books to compare them in these different ways. It will help readers think more about all the books they read, looking for style, approach to the topic, and so on. Keep up the good work!

  2. Indeed, Melissa! I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah this past weekend at the Gaithersburg Book Festival, and scoring a signed copy of Dog Days--pawfect for this dog lover. I am also a big fan of Dorothy Hinhshaw Patent's work, especially When the Wolves Returned. Made for Each Other is also on my ever-growing to-read list.

    Too many to name!!

  3. Great post! I'm excited about In the Past: From Trilobites to Dinosaurs to Mammoths in More Than 500 Million Years by David Elliott, illustrated by Matthew Trueman. Short, funny, engaging poems about prehistoric creatures and the art looks amazing!