Nonfiction Titles

STEM Tuesday — Digging Up History/Archeology– In The Classroom

I love both science and history, so I was really excited to read books on this month’s list. I confess to being a bit grossed out by some of the mummies, but these books didn’t disappoint. I saw many different aspects of the field of archaeology and learned a lot about the societies and people the archaeologists studied.

Mummies Exposed! by Kerrie Logan Hollihan

This book covers many different types of mummies. While many were purposeful, some were accidental. Through the examples, we learn about the science behind the creation of mummies. Analysis of the Items buried with the mummies gave clues to the type of people they had been and how they spent their time when they were alive.




The Whydah by Martin W. Sandler

The search for the pirate ship Whydah required the study of historical maps and records. These records, along with the artifacts discovered on the shipwreck paint a very different picture of pirates than we’ve come to expect.




Forgotten Bones by Lois Miner Huey

This book looks at what archaeologists have learned about a segment of society whose history has gone largely unwritten. I was fascinated by how much information they were able to glean from the bodies. Customs that left permanent marks on the body helped identify those who grew up in Africa versus those that grew up in America. Scars from injuries helped indicate what types of jobs the people performed. Most amazing was the ability of an artist to create a possible representation of each of the skeletons found using DNA analysis and the structure of the skulls.


Suggested Activities

In true “me” fashion, my brain went into overdrive thinking of activities that would fit well with these books. Here are a few…

Become an Artifact Detective

Archaeologists have to be detectives. They need to use the clues they’ve unearthed to figure out who these people were, how they lived, and what caused them to die. Challenge your class to be detectives, too.

First, have each person represent themselves with things. Have them pick 5 to 10 items that are often found with them. They could be things they carry around with them or wear every day. They could be favorite items or games we might find in their room at home.

To include science in this exercise, have the students describe the items as a scientist would. What is the item made of? What color is it? What are its measurements? Include a sketch or photo of the item. You could even pretend that these things have been buried for centuries. What would degrade and what would stay whole? If it broke into pieces, what would a defining feature be that might give a clue to what the item is?

For the next part, make sure each list doesn’t identify who the items belong to. Instead, use a student number or a nickname like the archaeologists did in the books.

Provide the set of lists to the class. This could be done by posting them around the room or through a virtual message board. Challenge the students to identify which of their classmates belongs with each of the artifact lists.

Once everyone has attempted to identify their classmates based on their artifacts, have each person present their artifacts and explain why they picked the items they did. The students will not only practice deductive reasoning, they’ll also get to know each other better.

Do Some Research

The discoveries described in The Whydah and Forgotten Bones relied upon historical research to help identify what was discovered. In the case of The Whydah, historical records like maps and diaries helped provide the location where excavators should look for the lost ship.

Use these examples to look into where historical records can be found and what kinds of information different documents can provide. This could even include a field trip to a local historical library or National Archives location and a lesson on how to use microfiche.

So many people use these resources – authors, archaeologists, genealogists, historians, lawyers, and more. To make this exercise more relatable, perhaps tie it to research into a local historical figure or genealogical research.

Debate the Issue

In Mummies Exposed! and Forgotten Bones, archaeologists faced cultures that believed burial grounds should remain untouched. After reading one or more of these books, have your students join the debate. Does the knowledge gained from archaeological research outweigh the beliefs that burial grounds should not be disturbed? Is it enough to rebury the bodies once they’ve been studied?

Other Ideas

Time Capsule

It occurred to me that each archaeological dig described in these books is like a time capsule. They capture what life was like for that person or people at the moment in time when they became buried or lost at sea. There are some good ideas here:

Decoding the Past

The Smithsonian Learning Lab has a lesson about how archaeologists interpret artifacts called “Decoding the Past.” If you download the PDF, you will find an article on the subject and worksheets for some related activities.

Archaeology Activities

The Society for American Archaeology has a ton of activities for students, including a few about the Iceman (featured in Mummies Exposed!).


I hope you and your students enjoy exploring these books and activities. If you have any suggestions for how you make archaeology and history come alive, please share in the comments below!


Janet pointing to Slingerland drum head of Chicago drummer Danny SeraphineJanet Slingerland loves learning about science, history, nature, and – well, everything – which she then turns into a book. She especially loves visiting living history museums, where the past really comes alive. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website:

You never know what you’ll find in a museum. Here’s a pic of Janet at the Musician’s Hall of Fame in Nashville, where she found a Slingerland drum head.

STEM Tuesday — Pair Up! Comparing Nonfiction Titles — Interview with Author Kay Frydenborg

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Kay Frydenborg, author of CHOCOLATE: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat, a title in this month’s featured book pairs. School Library Journal gave it a starred review, saying, “This fascinating book presents a deep, multifaceted glimpse at a delectable dessert: chocolate. Engaging—even witty in places—and enlightening.”

Mary Kay Carson: How did Chocolate come about?

Kay Frydenborg: Chocolate was my second book for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), following Wild Horse Scientists—a project that I’d loved researching and writing both for the subject matter (a long-time interest of mine that I’d tried to write about in different ways for years), and for the opportunity to join the ranks of Scientists in the Field (SITF) books, authors, and editors I so admired. When I started thinking about my next book, I was drawn to other subjects that might lend themselves to the series. So when I came across an article in the New York Times about scientists searching in the jungles of Peru for ancient cacao trees previously thought to have been extinct, I felt that little zing of recognition. I immediately pictured the scientists hiking along a tangled jungle path, and imagined the oppressive heat and the buzzing insects, the sweat and physical exertion along with the anticipation and sense of discovery that must have propelled them.

I learned that one of the principal researchers introduced in that NYT article was a USDA plant scientist headquartered in Beltsville, Maryland, within an easy drive of my home. I found his phone number and made sure he was actually there and would be willing to talk with me about his work, and I began to see a new SITF book take shape in my mind’s eye. But when I pitched the idea to my editor at HMH, I got a response I wasn’t expecting: she and her managing editor didn’t want the SITF book about chocolate scientists, but they did want a “big” stand-alone book about chocolate, for a slightly older (YA) audience. It would be longer, more complex, and broader in scope than what I’d originally proposed. Unlike wild horses, chocolate was a subject I knew little about except that I liked to eat it, so it would require a lot of research. I barely knew what a cacao tree looked like, or where it grew, or whether it was large or small. I thought about it for a bit, and then took a deep breath and accepted the challenge. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, and luckily, I do love research.

MKC: Care to share a fun research moment or two?

Kay: The first was when I met and interviewed Lyndel Meinhardt, the United States Department of Agriculture plant scientist with the unusual name. He was so knowledgeable and generous in sharing his knowledge of all things cacao, and he introduced me to my first in-person cacao tree, which was actually living in a big pot on the floor of his office. Photos almost don’t do justice to this tree and its fruit, which seems about as different from chocolate as a spare tire is from a rubber tree. After introducing me to “his” cacao tree and showing me slides and maps from a couple of chocolate expeditions to the Amazon jungle, Lyndel led me to a climate-controlled greenhouse on the sprawling USDA campus, where rows of carefully-tended young trees of varying heights were thriving more than 3,000 miles from their natural habitat near the equator. Lyndel told me about the many diseases to which cacao trees in the wild are susecptible, about the closely guarded storage vaults where precious plants are stored in a few places in the world, and about how advances in genomic testing have opened a whole new world of chocolate science.

Another favorite moment? The day I received a surprise package in the mail from Dan Pearson, a California-based chocolate entrepreneur who was a major character in the book. He’d sent me a stash of his own fine Peruvian dark chocolate, in several forms, and even included some raw cacao beans. I didn’t eat the beans (although Dan told me you can), but I sure did enjoy the chocolate bars and nibs! A little went a long way, so they lasted forever, and knowing about where they came from and how they were created made them even more delicious. I could almost close my eyes and see that little tree in a steamy Amazon forest when I tasted that amazing chocolate.

MKC: What approach did you take for Chocolate and why did you choose it?

Kay: I wanted to approach this very big subject from the dual perspective of history and science—the approach I’ve followed for all of my nonfiction books. I’m equally fascinated by both ways of looking at just about everything, and find that starting by tracing the history of a given thing or event naturally leads into exploring the science around it. In the case of chocolate, the history is ancient and complex, and I was soon enthralled by stories of the ancient Mesoamerican peoples who first figured out how to transform cacao pods into chocolate, and then about the dramatic impact that European conquerers had on those ancient, rich civilizations.

Following the trail of chocolate opened a whole, fascinating world to me. This is why I love writing narrative nonfiction! I guess I write for myself, first—to satisfy my own curiosity, and I hope others—both young people and not-so-young readers—will be just as curious as I am. I read many books and articles over the course of my research, but fairly early on I also identified and began interviewing original sources, like Lyndel Meinhardt and Dan Pearson, as well as many others. Personal interviews make the story come alive for me.

Kay Frydenborg is the author of several books, including They Dreamed of Horses, Animal Therapist, Wild Horse Scientists, Chocolate: Sweet Science and Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat, and A Dog in the Cave. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two dogs, who are always hungry but are definitely not allowed to eat chocolate. When not writing, she enjoys spending time with them and riding her horse as often as she can. Learn more about her and her books at

MKC: How is your book different from other books about chocolate for older kids?

Kay: There actually aren’t a lot of other nonfiction books about chocolate for young adult readers (although H.P. Newquist’s is a good one), while there are quite a few books on the topic for younger kids and for adults. I think one thing that sets my book apart is its narrative approach. Once I started writing, the cacao tree itself assumed a prominent place in the narrative. It became a “character” in my mind—the central character in the long story of chocolate. It provided a specific image and focus that I thought made a vast, multifaceted subject more accessible—at least, it did for me! So I started by picturing one individual tree growing in a particular place, just as one might choose one particular person to be the central character of a novel. I spent a lot of time visualizing that tree and its surroundings and then describing the particulars of its fascinating features, and I often came back to that original image as I wrote. I imagined the forest animals breaking open and feasting on the cacao pods, and then the first humans to discover the tree and its remarkable fruit. Later in the book, when I introduced a larger cast of human characters past and present, I tried to ensure that the connection to that wonderful, fragile cacao tree was a consistent thread to pull the reader through the layers of history and intricacies of the science, the technology, and the business of chocolate. The little tree that opened the narrative reappeared in the form of the cacao tree in a remote Peruvian canyon that began a kind of odyssey for one of my central human characters, Dan Pearson, as well as Lyndel Meinhardt, the USDA scientist. I enjoyed tracing all of these connections through time and place.

MKC: Do you have a favorite chocolate treat?

Kay: I guess I most love a really dark fudgy treat like, um, fudge! The old-fashioned kind that is hard to find and tricky to make. Or a good, fudgy brownie or my grandmother’s recipe for fudge pie (which appears in my book!)


Win a FREE copy of CHOCOLATE: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat!

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host this week is Mary Kay Carson, unapologetic chocoholic and author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson


STEM Tuesday — Pair Up! Comparing Nonfiction Titles — Writing Craft and Resources

Going Deep

Today we are diving deep into two books that intrigue me. Books about a horrific medical epidemic. Books that both use narrative and expository plus characters to carry readers through the story. Books that plunge into history and science plus ethical and moral questions.

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary, by Gail Jarrow

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

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Here’s a quick recap. In the early 1900s Mary Mallon carried typhoid but didn’t display any of the symptoms. She worked as a cook, was definitively linked to the infections of 49 people plus three deaths, was quarantined for decades, and became the brunt of a tabloid scandal. Both books look at the entangled story of her life, medical professionals who tracked her down, legal charges against her, and implications for constitutional rights.


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In two books on the same topic, published in the same year, written with similar audiences in mind, there is much to compare and contrast. What I find most intriguing is that both bring the science and history to light while posing enduring questions.

Dive In

Let’s look at how these books each handle one of those enduring questions. Get ready for some close reading!

After years of quarantine, Mary was finally released on parole. The terms of her release specified that she take precautions to not infect others, not work as a cook, and report regularly to the health department. But Mary broke those terms, resulting in another major outbreak and her own exile until death. The question these authors chase: Why did she risk it?

Turn to pages 133-135 of Terrible Typhoid Mary and Page 118-120 of Fatal Fever to read the texts. Here are some things to look for. I’ve included a few things I noticed and am eager to hear what you discover.

Whose story is told first?

  • Fatal Fever:
    • “Mary had no lawyer to help her.”
  • Terrible Typhoid Mary
    • “Mary never said why she broke the conditions . . .”

What words are chosen to set the tone?

  • Fatal Fever:
    • “A Witch!”
  • Terrible Typhoid Mary
    • “. . . she struggled . . .”

In what way are other characters’ reactions used? Do those reactions support or denigrate Mary’s choice?

  • Fatal Fever:
    • “The sympathy that people once felt toward Mallon evaporated.”
  • Terrible Typhoid Mary
    • “Her temerity galled Soper.”

What words or phrases convey doubt or leave interpretation open?

  • Fatal Fever:
    • “Maybe she didn’t see the harm in it, . . .”
  • Terrible Typhoid Mary
    • “Is it possible that Mary simply didn’t understand . . .”

Are you caught up in this conundrum? Of how Mary, who had been presented as a person who stepped in to care for children when needed, could do such a thing? I am.

Where do these passages leave you emotionally? Did the balance between narrative and expository impact your reaction? Does either passage affect you more? Why?

On Your Own

Now, pursue a similar close reading on your own. There are plenty of other parallel topics in these books. Try the discussion of gall bladder removal: Fatal Fever (page 93) and Terrible Typhoid Mary (pages 136-137).

How do these authors use sequencing, language, and other characters? How do their skillful use of nonfiction devices impact you as a reader?


By Heather L. Montgomery

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are WILD about animals. Her latest book, Bugs Don’t Hug: Six-Legged Parents and Their Kids, is a perfect picturebook for a close read.

The O.O.L.F. Files

Resources for Writers

This site might have been designed with rhyming in mind but it has many other uses. Need a thesaurus? Angling for alliterative words? Looking for lyrics? Rhymezone’s got you covered.

Needing to go deep on a topic? Set up a Google alert on your topic. Day after day it will deliver the freshest posts straight to your inbox.

When you need a measurement comparison, The Measure of Things is your best friend! How large is 110 cubic inches?

  • 9/10th the size of a human stomach
  • 1/3rd the size of a bowling ball
  • 1 1/10th the size of an ostrich egg!