The 2011 Nonfiction Nerdies Go To…

The Nonfiction Nerdie Goes To…..

Time for a bit of confession here:  I am not a big reader of nonfiction.  I prefer my books to have a narrative arc, a conflict, character development, and perhaps a little romance thrown in for good measure.  Don’t get me wrong; I love learning new things and reading about true events (especially history), but when I sit down to read, I tend toward novels.  However, that is beginning to change a bit.  Over the past few years, I have been working on beefing up the nonfiction section of my classroom library. As I read more nonfiction books written for kids, I realize more and more of them are written in a more narrative style and the photography and artwork in these books is top-notch.  Nonfiction books certainly aren’t what they used to be (and I mean that in a good way).  Just take a look at the winners of the Nerdie in the nonfiction category:

Balloons Over Broadway:  The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet

This is the story of Tony Sarg, the puppeteer who created marionettes for the Macy’s windows and then went on to invent the balloons we see in the parade today.  With whimsical artwork that matches the happy feeling of the story, Sweet creates a one-of-a-kind book that’s sure to become a classic.

Learn more about Melissa Sweet and her work here.


Over and Under the Snow By Kate Messner

This was the one book I was unable to get my hands on this week.  I’m kicking myself for not picking up a copy of it when I was at the National Council of Teachers of English convention last month.  Here’s what Goodreads has to say about Over and Under the Snow:

Over the snow, the world is hushed and white.

But under the snow is a secret world of squirrels and snowshoe hares, bears and bullfrogs, and many other animals who live through the winter, safe and warm under the snow.

Those of you who follow Kate Messner on Twitter (@KateMessner) know that this book has received much love from those who have read it and shared it with kids.  I can’t wait to share it with my own.

Learn more about Kate here.


Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg

In the author’s note at the end of Queen of the Falls, Van Allsburg writes, “When I decided to write about Annie, I believed I was undertaking a project quite different from the fantasies and surreal tales I’d become accustomed to creating.  This is not the case.  There is something decidedly fantastic and not quite real about Niagara Falls, about Annie’s adventure, and about the stories that can unfold when imagination, determination, and foolhardiness combine to set humans off in pursuit of their goals.”  This quote sets the tone for the book perfectly.

Queen of the Falls is the story of Annie Taylor, a poor widow who decided to find fame and fortune by going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.  Undeterred by the people who doubt her ability to pull this feat off, she perseveres, and eventually does go over those great falls in a wooden barrel.  Van Allsburg’s illustrations are magical, as usual.


Amelia Lost:  The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming

Ever since that fateful day in 1937 when Amelia Earhart went missing, Americans have been fascinated by the famous avaiatrix and the mystery surrounding her disappearance.  In Amelia Lost, Fleming recounts not only the story of Earhart’s final flight, but also the story of a bright, adventurous little girl who would grow up to be a champion for women’s rights.  The layout of the book is reminiscent of a scrapbook, with many pictures to help tell Earhart’s story.  The back matter of the book includes resources where kids can go to learn more.

Learn more about Candace Fleming here.

Heart and Soul:  The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

If I had to use just one word to describe this book, it would be breathtaking.  Nelson’s artwork throughout is simply stunning; the realism such that I could get lost in looking at them.  The full page (sometimes two-page spread) paintings somehow capture more emotion than the photographs upon which some of them are based.  As I write, I have my book open to the painting of Rosa Parks on a bus, her face in profile.  Her pride and courage seem to radiate off the page.  Once I could pry my eyes away from the artwork to turn my attention to the writing, I was equally captivated.  Nelson shows the reader how the history of America is also the history of African Americans, something that should be obvious, but unfortunately has been separated out by many textbooks.  Told as if by an elder passing on an oral history to a younger person, the book reads like a narrative.

This book deserves a place in every classroom library.

Learn more about Kadir Nelson and his work here.


So did you find any new titles you can’t wait to get your hands on?  I know I want to spend more time poring over each and every book on this list and then share them with my own children and my students.  Each of these books is a work of art as well as a treasure-trove of information.

Happy Reading!

Mindi spreads the #nerdybookclub love as a seventh grade language arts teacher in the Chicago suburbs. She currently serves on two book award committees:  The Rebecca Caudill Award For Young Readers in Illinois and the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award.  As a result, she is currently drowning in books.  You can find her on twitter as @mindi_r and read her blog at