By Bill Slavin
(Kids Can Press, 2005)
Well, this week has evolved into a week of nonfiction titles that might appeal to boy readers. More specifically, This is Daniel Cook at the Construction Site, Building and Transformed all focus on building things. Slavin's extraordinary book, however, examines how smaller, ordinary objects are made.
This is not a picture book; rather, it is an example of current nonfiction that many readers will find more appealing than more traditional fare. Transformed looks at the process of taking raw materials and, yes, transforming them into familiar objects. From what I've observed, kids are hooked immediately upon glancing at the sixty-nine items listed on the Contents page. The reader can skip around, picking the items that interest him. (One thing that often appeals to kids is being told that they don't have to read every page or every section of nonfiction works. That's a freeing revelation for a young reader who isn't accustomed to checking out 160-page books! Moreover, reading nonfiction more closely resembles the way people read on the Internet where they scroll down and click some items while overlooking others.)
From the Contents page, kids can choose to read how baseballs, chewing gum, teddy bears, dental floss, pencils, fortune cookies, licorice, running shoes and bricks are made. (So many compelling choices! I had a hard time offering only a few examples, thinking that I cannot adequately represent the scope of the book.) I use this book as a read-aloud to grade two and three classes. Yes, there should be MORE nonfiction read-alouds by teachers. I only read one section per day after letting students examine the table of contents, nominate possible topics and vote. Student choice makes more engaged listeners.
Each topic receives a double-page spread. Watercolor and ink illustrations accompany the written steps which range from four steps (toothpaste; blue jeans) to eleven steps (guitar; iron and steel). The pictures are playful, with miniature people in blue overalls busily demonstrating the processes. As well, each topic includes an introduction that provides a historical background about the origins of the product. For example, in ancient times Greeks and Romans played with marbles made of clay before Germans made them from marble in the 1600s and Italians later created them from glass. There is also a sidebar containing trivia (e.g., For soap, "[t]he leftover glycerin (step 2) isn't wasted. It's used for making two common products: hand lotion and dynamite.").
The wording in the steps is often quite technical. That is why I like to introduce the book in a read-aloud format. After talking together about 8-10 of the topics, the book is then available for anyone during leisure reading time. It becomes a coveted reading item and, in my experience, has been listed as the favorite book of the year by several readers, particularly boys.