Getting Lost in the New Style of Nonfiction

I have noticed that juvenile nonfiction is a genre that is constantly changing and constantly improving. First I noticed the picture books. The high quality nonfiction picture books! Narrative ways of engaging young children with nonfiction. Now I’m noticing that the trend is moving to older kids. One series that is really impressive is the “Lost” series by Tod Olson.

Recently I was sent a copy of Lost in the Antarctic: The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance to check out. While I’m not overly interested in the topic, I was highly impressed with the format. Olson has taken stories from history and made them adventures of a sort. In this particular book, kids can learn about the quest to make the first land crossing of Antartica.

I had never thought about the fact that in the early 1900s there was a race to cross both the South Pole and the North Pole known as the “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.” Sounds a little crazy to me, but we never would have made advances in so many fields if someone didn’t have a little crazy in them. Ernest Shackelton wanted to be the first person to cross the North Pole “from sea to sea.” He made is first attempt on the Endurance from 1914-1917. Reading about the difficulties that they had in putting a crew together, the extreme weather, the isolation, shines a light on a time in history we don’t think much about.

It isn’t just the time that Olson is writing about though, he is writing about a survivalist mentality that exists throughout history. This book is the 4th of the series. Earlier books include Lost in the Pacific, 1942: Not a Drop to Drink, Lost in Outer Space: The Incredible Journey of Apollo 13, and Lost in the Amazon: A Battle for Survival in the Heart of the Rainforest. These topics are fascinating and must take a huge amount of research.

These books are aimed at 3rd-7th grade and I think that is the sweet spot for them, though maybe 4th-8th. I know there have been a ton of kids coming into our school library looking for WWII books and I’ve seen the Bear Grylls series get high circulation as well. These are the kinds of books that boys will highly gravitate toward and they fill a very important niche. Each book also has teaching resources on Tod Olson’s website, even links to documentaries. Very well done series.

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