Monday, February 18, 2008

Nonfiction Monday

How Strong Is It? A Mighty Book All About Strength
Written by Ben Hillman
Scholastic Reference 2008

The last time the Scholastic Book Fair came to my school in October, I found the book, How Big is It? A BIG Book All About BIGNESS, by Ben Hillman. I was immediately taken by both the setup of the book and the realistic looking photographs. This book could not stay on my current nonfiction book display – my students (both boys and girls) couldn’t wait to get their hands on it!

So, when our latest book fair was in the library, and I found a similar book by Ben Hillman, How Strong Is It? A Mighty Book All About Strength, I had to get it for our classroom library.

The interest for this book builds from the very front cover. On the front you see a photograph of a Hercules beetle holding a barbell, with a medal underneath proclaiming the beetle, “Winner”. Because the photograph is so realistic, I’m still wondering how Hillman superimposed/created two photographs together, but however he did it, it makes for a wonderful, eye-catching visual.

The layout and organization of the book continue to capture the reader’s interest. Since this is a book about strength, Hillman has cleverly put the Table of Contents on quite a fine-looking specimen of a bicep! There are 22 topics Hillman covers, and on the Contents page, each topic comes with a catchy subtitle, frequently using alliteration (example: Rope … Stringy Strands of Strength). These subtitles are not found later on the actual pages, so it’s fun to take a moment to browse the Contents page.

The book has interesting dimensions – 11 1/2 inches by 11 inches. Each topic is on a 2-page spread, with the photograph that Hillman uses/creates covering about 3/4 of those two pages and there is 1/4 left for actual text. The size of the book gives even more “punch” to the pictures. My students are very visually oriented, so this 2-page format quickly draws them in. Hillman uses the same technique with the inside photographs as he did with the cover – somehow he creates a very realistic looking picture for each topic that you know couldn’t have really happened, but it appears that it did. The first example of this on the inside is a Boeing 747 airliner stopped in midair by a spider web. My students see this, and then want to read the text to see how it corresponds with these intriguing pictures!

When the students go to the text, Hillman’s leads draw them in even further. Some examples are: “Gravity sucks” (first sentence about the Black Hole), “Chainsaws are for wimps” (first sentence about Shark Bite), “Don’t tickle that orangutan (first sentence about Primates), just to name a few. The facts that follow in the text are fascinating, and written in a very kid-friendly way.

This book is categorized as a reference book, but it is by far the most interesting reference book I’ve read in a long time!! If you want to encourage more independent nonfiction reading in your classroom or library, this book would be a wonderful addition to your collection. It covers a wide variety of topics, and has facts about the strength of each topic. Hillman uses great comparisons to help the reader understand .

And remember that fine specimen of a bicep I mentioned for the Table of Contents? The Index is also written on the same bicep. Enough said…

Anastasia Suen of Picture Book of the Day is hosting the Nonfiction Monday roundup.


  1. Two more books for my must-buy list! These sound great! (And not just because I want to see that bicep!)

  2. I didn't know about this one and I can't wait to get it! (It goes with my boot camp theme too, y'know:-)

  3. Oooh, thanks for posting! I hadn't heard about this one and our kids LOVE "How Big Is It?" We'll definitely be getting this one, too...