The 2017 Nerdies: Nonfiction Picture Books Announced by Karen Terlecky

I am so excited to share the winners of the nonfiction picture book category today. This category is near and dear to my heart–back when I was a classroom teacher looking for great informational books to share with my students, as a literacy coach sharing nonfiction titles with teachers, and now, as I teach children’s literature to pre-service teachers.


In the last ten years or so, authors have continued to raise the bar of excellence for this genre – writing nonfiction that is more and more engaging for children. This list of 20 deserving winners is no exception to that engagement piece.


Biographies make the winners’ list every year, but 2017 was remarkable because the bulk of winners this year honored the contributions of women–their diversity, their unique talents, their bravery, their trailblazing, their perseverance. All things to celebrate and share with students. From leading slaves to freedom, to dancing ballet and folk dances in Mexico, to creating computer code, designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, to studying sharks, to building beauty as an architect–the women in these books made a difference in this world. And if that was not enough, one of the winners in this category celebrates 13 American women within its pages. And finally, though not human, I included a book about the Statue of Liberty in this category as well–she has been welcoming immigrants for quite a long time.


Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome; illustrated by James E. Ransome (Holiday House)


before she was harriet


Danza!: Amalia Hernandez and Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet by Duncan Tonatiuh (Harry N. Abrams)




Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark; illustrated by Katy Wu (Sterling Children’s Books)


grace hopper queen of computer code


Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers; illustrated by Shawn Harris (Chronicle Books)


her right foot


Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey; illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (Henry Holt and Co.)


maya lin artist architect of light and lines

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating; illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky)


shark lady


She Persisted: 13 Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton; illustrated by Alexandra Boiger (Philomel Books)


she persisted


The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter (Beach Lane Books)


the world is not a rectangle


But the Nerdy Book Club award winners also celebrated many men who overcame adversity or personal challenges. What I truly love about all five of these books is these men were creators–they created music, or famous books, or speeches that will long be remembered, or beautiful art, or an entirely new section of the New York Public Library devoted to achievements of African descendants. And in their creations, they all have produced works that live on to this day.


A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider — the Story of E.B. White by Barbara Herkert; illustrated by Lauren Castillo (Henry Holt and Co.)


a boy a mouse and a spider


Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History by Walter Myers; illustrated by Floyd Cooper (HarperCollins)


frederick douglass lion who wrote history


Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin; illustrated by Evan Turk (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)




Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Candlewick)


schomburg the man who built a library


Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say (Arthur A. Levine Books)


silent days silent dreams


Science was another common thread with some of this year’s winners. Do your students love animals? Do they love unique and interesting facts about animals? Several of the books on this list fit that bill. Of the five winners in this section, four of them focus on both life and environmental science. The one outlier is a wonderful resource when studying Earth Science, especially landforms changing over time, using the Grand Canyon’s birth, growth, and change as the setting.


This list is also great for introducing children to authors of nonfiction; all the authors in this category have at least one, and in some cases, multiple other, informational books to compare/contrast with the winners listed here. I love when students know the names of nonfiction writers/illustrators just as well as they know fiction writers.


Can an Aardvark Bark by Melissa Stewart; illustrated by Steve Jenkins (Beach Lane Books)


can an aardvark bark


Grand Canyon by Jason Chin (Roaring Book Press)


grand canyon


How to be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy (David Macaulay Studio)


how to be an elephant


Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner; illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (Chronicle Books)


over and under the pond


What Makes a Monster: Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating; illustrated by David DeGrand (Knopf Books for Young Readers)


what makes a monster discovering the worlds scariest creatures

A former colleague of mine used to remind me how important it is to provide books to students that have “mirrors and windows.” This winner by Matt Lamothe is that book for educators. Mirrors into cultures and routines that might be similar to some students’ experiences; windows into those places for students that may have no knowledge. Though this is a great book for compare/contrast, what I really love about it is how it shows the ways these seven kids are the same – get out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, go to school, etc.


This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World by Matt Lamothe (Chronicle Books)




When I was in the classroom, I often had students who wanted a great book about war, and I never really had anything age appropriate that was also interesting to hand to them. I so wish I had this book back then. This book would have “dazzled” those students. Combining an artistic flair into a military strategy is a true story, and the illustrations of these real ships are fabulous. I couldn’t decide whether to be more impressed with the artistry or the strategy; regardless, this book is amazing.


Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton; illustrated by Victo Ngai (Millbrook Press)


dazzle ships world war I and the art of confusion


Congratulations to all these winners of the 2017 Nerdy Awards for Best Nonfiction Picture Book category!!


After 36+ years of teaching in public education, Karen Terlecky now finds herself in a new chapter of her professional career: adjunct college professor teaching children’s literature to pre-service teachers.. As someone who is hopefully helping to engage future teachers so they can in turn engage their future students, she is absolutely delighted to share that every one of the books on this award winners’ list was shared in their fall semester together! Watching the excitement on the pre-service teachers’ faces as they engaged with nonfiction that looks so different than the nonfiction they knew in school gives Karen hope for the future readers with whom they will interact.