I love reading informational books for children – they are full of topics that will pique the interest of everyone. All of the winners of the best nonfiction picture book category for the 2016 Nerdies definitely fit this bill. There is a little something for everyone; and in my case, several books that I just had to own!!
The eighteen winners actually cover a wide range of categories in nonfiction, but I tried to group them a bit for this announcement. So, with no further ado, here are your winners of the 2016 Nerdies for nonfiction picture book:
Amazing and Unique Animals
Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Animal Infographics by Steve Jenkins is a book where each page fascinates the reader with both interesting, and at times, downright gross facts. Did you know that there are 1 million species of insects on our planet, and that all the humans on earth weigh 350 million tons, while all the insects added together weigh 100 billion tons? The “eww” factor in this book is high, but it is that very factor that will have this book flying off the shelves when readers see it for the first time. Steve Jenkins is a master of combining the visually appealing with fascinating animal facts, and he definitely delivers in this book!
Giant Squid by Candace Fleming (illustrated by Eric Rohmann) is an amazing book where the words and illustrations mesh beautifully. The words of the text build tension and mystery, and the illustrations just enhance those feelings. I’m a sucker for mysteries of science, and the fact that the first time a giant squid was actually seen was in 2006 adds to the mysterious qualities of this giant animal. Up until then, scientists had only been able to uncover clues about the body and the habits of the giant squid by body parts and other items that had washed ashore. Readers will be engrossed in this book.
Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari (illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline) is another winner where the illustrations highly complement the story line. In this book, the setting is nighttime, the moon is out, and the mama coyote goes hunting for food for her family. What makes this book so unique is that mama coyote’s hunting ground is suburban America. Many of us who live in the suburbs know that coyotes can now be found very near us. This text begs for a conversation about how wild animals and humans can live side by side.
The Polar Bear by Jenni Desmond is a great informational text with a twist to it. The information in the text is told from the perspective of a girl who pulls a book off a shelf, and is then immersed in all types of interesting facts about polar bears which she shares with us. One interesting focus for this book is the effect of climate change on the Arctic, and the horrific impact that is having on animals such as the polar bear. The second focus of the book is how this is endangering the polar bear as a species. It contains many wonderful illustrations, complete with diagrams and labeling.
Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating (illustrated by David Degrand) emphasizes that pink is far more than just a cute color. In this text, pink is the color of many less well-known, and sometimes down-right disgusting, creatures. The cover picture alone should make this a “must have” for readers. The organization of this book will appeal to a wide age range of readers. Because almost all pages are 2 page spreads about a pink and unique animal, a reader with less stamina could access this book. Yet there are “author extras” at the end that would encourage other readers to dive in even deeper to learning more about these animals.
Artists that Embrace Creativity
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-MIchel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe is a biography about Jean-Michel Basquiat as a young artist. The story begins with a child who is an artist at an early age, creating art with many items in his own home. I didn’t know much at all about this artist before reading Radiant Child, but discovered there were less successful things that happened in his later life. Steptoe does a wonderful job keeping his audience in mind, and stays focused on the positive younger years of this artist’s life when his art was appreciated and his creativity was the focus. And Basquiat’s art – the power of it is embedded throughout the book as Steptoe recreates that type of art through the wood paintings he does as illustrations.
Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novetsky (illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault) is a biography of the French artist, Louise Bourgeois. The illustrations are beautifully done in reds, grays, and indigos. Louise Bourgeois started in art, but turned to textiles eventually. The idea of thread is woven throughout this book – the thread of the river in her village, the threads in the missing patterns in the tapestry fabrics she tried to repair, the threads that she eventually helped create in her textiles. In addition to the concept of thread, there is a visual representation of the river in the village found on many pages. This nonfiction picture book gains its power in the beautiful match of the word symbols as well as the visual symbols.
Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood (illustrated by Sally Wern Comport) is the story of the origins of the recycled orchestra of Paraguay. The setting is a slum in Paraguay where picking through the garbage is the job of many. Yet in the evenings, families like Ada’s, instilled a love of music in their children. This true story is about the opportunity to learn to play an instrument, and when there weren’t enough instruments to go around, this is about creativity in making instruments out of the trash so readily accessible, and then learning to play those very instruments. I so hope this orchestra that now travels worldwide will perform near me – that is a ticket I most definitely would want!
Inventors and People with a Vision
The Secret Subway by Shana Corey (illustrated by Red Nose Studio, aka Chris Sickels) is a story of Alfred Ely Beach. Alfred hated the congestion of New York City – the people, the traffic, and the trash all made him crazy. He proposed building an underground tunnel for travel but was met with some resistance. He persisted, though, and became a bit sneaky in getting what he wanted. He told people he was building a Mail Tube, but in actuality, he had his workers building something much bigger. Before the official mass transit subways were done, Alfred created a tunnel with a fancy railcar that could travel – however it could only go to the end of the tunnel and back. Alfred had a vision and pursued it.
Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton (illustrated by Don Tate) is about Lonnie Johnson, a very creative inventor and all his inventions. The most famous with which readers will be familiar is the Super Soaker, but he created so much more than that starting at a very young age: making rockets and rocket fuel from scratch, building his own robot (Linex), a sound system with lights for when he deejayed, the power package for Galileo (the probe that went to Jupiter). But when it came to the famous Super Soaker, he was met with skepticism from many toy companies. Luckily for us, he persevered.
The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring: The Accidental Invention of the Toy that Swept the Nation by Gilbert Ford is the story of how the Slinky was accidentally discovered. Richard James was at work when a spring fell from a shelf and “took a walk” across his desk. He became excited and took it home to test it with his son who let it walk down the stairs. The family knew they had something to offer children, but again, this inventor got resistance from the toy companies to which he offered it. This is another story of perseverance and persistence and believing in what you’ve created. I envision readers who may have never played with a Slinky before becoming very interested in one after reading this book.
Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber by Sue Macy (illustrated by C. F. Payne) is the biography of one of the first female sportswriters, Mary Garber. I enjoyed this book so much because I could relate to Mary on two levels – she loved to write because she loved words, and she had a deep love for many sports. She was born in 1916, which makes these loves so unique. Mary had strength of character; when others wanted her to write things not sports related, she persevered. And not only did she show character in following her own dreams, she helped make other athletes celebrate their dreams. In a time of segregation in the South, she made sure she covered not just the white schools, but the all black schools’ games as well. I loved finding out that Miss Mary has been inducted into the Sportswriters’ Hall of Fame.
The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman (illustrated by E. B. Lewis) is about a young black girl, Sarah Roberts and her family. They lived in Boston in the 1840s and her parents enrolled her in a good school, however it was meant to be an all-white school. After one day, police came and escorted her home. Sarah’s parents fought this decision by the schools, but lost in court. However Sarah’s first step led to another famous “first step” a little over 100 years later – Linda Brown. Linda’s first step led to the famous Supreme Court case in 1954, which made integration legal. Each first step does matter.
Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley (illustrated by Jessie Hartland) is the biography of the daughter of the very creative Lord Byron. However, her mother worried about that creativity and wanted her to pursue something more calm and rational like math or science. But even then, Ada could not hide her creativeness. This is a book that celebrates the power of a strong mentor. One of Ada’s mentors, Charles Babbage, had created something called the Analytical Machine, but Ada had an even bigger vision for it. She worked hard at feeding a card that talked to the machine in a variety of ways – she was the first computer programmer. What a great book to pair with Hour of Code.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy (illustrated by Elizabeth Baddely) is a wonderful biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and as the subtitle states, how she “makes her mark.” From an early age, she experienced discrimination both as a female and a Jew. So she learned advocacy, and important words such as: disagreed, protested, objected, disapproved, resisted, persisted, worked, agreed, dissent. Not only does the reader learn about this strong female, but they also get a glimpse at the workings of the Supreme Court, including the different lace collars she wears over her robe, depending on whether she’s part of the majority opinion or the dissenting opinion. In addition to advocacy, one of the most important lessons a reader could take from this text is how important disagreeing with civility can be. The text cites how Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg can strongly disagree, yet also be friends who travel and have fun together.
People Who Make a Difference in Our World
Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Asim (illustrated by E.B. Lewis) is the story of John Lewis, an advocate for civil rights for many decades, in his childhood. As a child, John loved his family and his faith – he loved going to church from an early age. He wanted to be a preacher, so he would practice his famous speaking skills when feeding and taking care of the family chickens. He was even able once to save a chicken from being sold by using his quick wits and his speaking skills. Though this book is about his childhood, John Lewis was, and continues to be, a vital part of gaining equal rights for all. This is an important book for all readers about making a difference.
Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant (illustrated by Boris Kulikov) is the story of a young Louis Braille. He was blinded at an early age by a tragic accident. Louis wanted to have access to books that a blind person could read, but they just didn’t exist. He went to a school in Paris that was rumored to have the books, but they were cumbersome and short. He knew it could be better for him and others like him. He eventually refined a military code into a 6 dot system, like dominoes, that would allow for quicker reading and writing for blind people. This is a man that made a difference for many with the Braille system.
Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks (illustrated by Colin Bootman) is the story of Vivien Thomas, an African American. He had an idea for a medical procedure that would only require tiny stitches. But the Great Depression hit which meant he couldn’t go to medical school. However, he continued to pursue his dream. He ended up at Johns Hopkins with Dr. Blalock and became a surgical technician in research. He helped develop and perfect surgery involving babies’ hearts – hearts that didn’t pump enough blood – causing babies to be “blue babies”. Because he was African American, he didn’t get the credit he deserved for a long time, but he was the one who stood right behind Dr. Blalock, coaching him through numerous procedures. A biography with a great life lesson – one door closes (medical school), but another one opens (the surgical technician research).
Karen Terlecky has been an educator for the past 36 years, and a reader for her entire 60-something years of age! On this particular week, she cannot wait to read the winners for all the 2016 Nerdies categories , and plans to keep her local library reserve and Amazon cart open, as she reads each Nerdies announcement.