2015 Nerdies nfpb December 27


The 2015 Nerdies: Nonfiction Picture Book Winners Announced by Karen Terlecky


Asking questions and wondering about topics is a part of human nature. In the past month, I found myself frequently using Google to find information about topics:

  • A familiar face on a TV show, commercial, or movie – “In what other productions have they performed?”
  • Planning for an upcoming vacation – “Where are our best lodging opportunities and what activities can we do while in the area?”
  • Looking for new furniture – “What are the reviews of different furniture stores in the area and what brand names do they carry?”

The talented 2015 Nerdy Award-winning authors and illustrators did far more than the surface-level Google searches in which I engaged. When it came to researching topics for their books, they researched those topics with an intense focus and gathered interesting, unique, and engaging facts about their topic of wonder. But their true gift to us, as readers, is that they took the wealth of knowledge gathered about these topics, and packaged it in a way that informed the reader, yet didn’t overwhelm. These authors answered a question or wonder for readers in ways that were highly entertaining and engaging.  And all of that information was contained within a picture book format.

Those elements – topic of wonder, entertainment, engagement, and picture book format – make these books winners, not only of the 2015 Nerdy Award for Best Nonfiction Picture Book, but also winners with students of all ages. The accessibility of these books reaches students from elementary age all the way through high school. And, as the voting demonstrates, many adult readers as well!

The 2015 Nerdy Book Club Awards winners for Best Nonfiction Picture Books:

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark, illus. by April Chu

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle, illus. by Rafael López

Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson, illus. by Sean Qualls

Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess, illus. by Kris D. Giacomo

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illus. by Sophie Blackall

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Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh

Gingerbread for Liberty by Mara Rockliff, illus. by Vincent X. Kirsch

Growing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares

How to Swallow a Pig by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, illus. by John Parra

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Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff, illus. by Jacopo Bruno

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate

Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Hunstville, Alabama by Hester Bass, illus. by E.B. Lewis

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illus. by Julie Morstad

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illus. by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

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Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree by Kate Messner, illus. by Simona Mulazani

The Impossibly True Story of Tricky Vic: The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli

Voice of Freedom, Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carol Boston Weatherford, illus. by Ekua Holmes2015 Nerdies nfpb6

Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prevót, illus. by Aurélia Fronty

Water is Water by Miranda Paul, illus. by Jason Chin

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear That Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker, illus. by Jonathan D. Voss

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The majority of the winning authors for 2015 were interested in humans – biographies and historical events about people that made a difference in the world. And the biographies covered a wide range of talents. There were stories about poets such as Enormous Smallness, celebrating the life of E.E. Cummings, and Poet, the story of George Moses Horton, a man who was a slave yet could still find the beauty of life in the words of his poetry.

There was even a book about someone related to the poet, Lord Byron: Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. This picture book celebrated the gifted poet’s daughter and how she had a creative outlet of her own. Ada was highly talented in math and science, and actually wrote the world’s first computer program.

Several of the biographies focused on people who demonstrated their talents in other artistic ways. There was a musician in Drum Dream Girl.  This biography was inspired by Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a female not allowed to be a drummer in Cuba because of her gender. She was not deterred; she practiced in private anyway, always silently. And there was a dancer like Anna Pavlova in Swan. She had a passion for dancing that led her to become one of the most famous ballerinas of all times. Finally, there was an artist. In Funny Bones, a biography of Jose Guadalupe Posada, we learn about the Mexican artist who drew cartoons of skeletons which became widely used. Even now, those cartoons are frequently used in Day of the Dead celebrations.

There were a few sports biographies, though each of these is about far more than sports. Each is a testament to the will of the individuals to overcome obstacles and achieve in a sport for which they had a passion. One of the sports biographies was Growing up Pedro, and it tells the story of a man about whom many baseball enthusiasts know a lot – Pedro Martinez, a great pitcher. This biography documents his journey from the Dominican Republic to the Major Leagues, but it also tells the story of Pedro’s older brother, Ramon, someone who Pedro thought was the best pitcher he had ever known and the role he played in Pedro’s journey. Then there was Emmanuel’s Dream, the story of  Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. This is a story of someone who became a cyclist, though it is so much more than that. It also speaks to the strength of spirit of an individual to overcome a disability to be able to engage in the sport (cycling across a country) he wanted. And though mentioned earlier, it could be argued that a biography about a ballet dancer such as Anna Pavlova, featured in Swan, would qualify here as a sports biography as well.

Several of our 2015 winners focused on historical stories and biographies. There was Gingerbread for Liberty, a story focused on the most unlikely hero of the American Revolution – a German baker who provided gingerbread for the hungry troops that George Washington led. There was Marvelous Cornelius, where we learn how a dancing street sweeper loved by so many became a helping hero after Hurricane Katrina. With 2015 being the ten year anniversary of this horrific hurricane, it is wonderful to have this book celebrate some of the human goodness that happened in Katrina’s aftermath. Mesmerized shows us yet another side of Ben Franklin as he matches wits against a Dr. Mesmer in Paris. This story shows how Ben Franklin used his scientific methods to uncover the mystery behind Dr. Mesmer’s wild claims. And while talking about Paris, we can’t forget Tricky Vic, the story of the con artist, Robert Miller, who actually managed to sell the Eiffel Tower to people more than once. Readers will enjoy reading about this con and many other facets of Tricky Vic’s life.

There were several winners that focused on the importance of Civil Rights in our country. In Voice of Freedom, the reader learns about Fannie Lou Hame, who advocated greatly for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. She even had the distinction of speaking (and being nationally televised) at the Democratic National Convention in 1964 about equality for all, despite President Lyndon Johnson’s objections. Seeds of Freedom was also set in the same time period. In this story, the reader learns how in Huntsville, Alabama, people of all colors came together to make integration work. The glory of this feat was that it was achieved in nonviolent ways. Much can be learned from this text and applied to events today. Finally, there is The Case for Loving. This is the story of the Loving family, an interracial couple with children, who took their love, marriage, and family all the way to the Supreme Court to prove that what they shared together as a family was legal.

And, in this same vein, we can’t forget another winner, Wangari Maathai; it tells the story of the woman who tried to change her beloved Africa by making it both more beautiful (by reforestation) and more democratic.

Two picture book winners were devoted to the history behind one of the most beloved characters in literature – Winnie the Pooh. The author of Finding Winnie, Lindsay Mattick, is the great-granddaughter of the man who bought a bear, named her Winnie, and raised her until he had to go fight in World War I. While he was at war, Winnie had a home at the London Zoo where Christopher Robin Milne visited and fell in love with her, leading his father, E. E. Milne to write a book about Winnie the Pooh. A wonderful behind the scenes look from a family member about the bear that inspired the character of Winnie the Pooh. Winnie by Sally M. Walker is another lovely picture book that takes a look at the same backstory that led to the creation of the character of  Winnie the Pooh. Reading both picture books where authors had similar stories, but different reasons for telling them would be a wonderful thing to share with children.

And rounding out our winners for this year, we did have three books that explored more scientific and nature phenomena. Steve Jenkins and Robin Page are a dynamo team when collaborating, writing, and illustrating informational texts about animals. They do not disappoint with How to Swallow a Pig, a “how-to” book for animals to discover how to survive in the wild. The title alone makes a reader want to dive right into this text. In Tree of Wonder, Kate Messner takes the reader into the life contained within a rainforest. She uses a combination of informational text and verse, and layers in gorgeous pictures to convey the details of rainforest life. I learned recently that she did much of the research for this book in conjunction with the Costa Rica research done for Hide and Seek, from one of her chapter book trilogies. And finally, we have the gorgeous illustrations by Jason Chin in Water is Water. In this book, Miranda Paul shares the water cycle with the reader in vivid ways.

What a grand list of 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Nerdy Award Winners!!
Karen Terlecky has been in education for over 34 years; her last two years spent working in the role of literacy coach for the intermediate grades in her district. She has an addiction to reading, one that dates back to her childhood when the Bookmobile would come to her street every other week, and she discovered the joy of the Nancy Drew series. To this day, even though she loves reading children’s books, it is very common to see her reading adult mystery books that come in series. In her next life, she wants to be a master spy or sleuth. For now, she will just live vicariously through her favorite authors’ words.