The 2019 Nerdies: Nonfiction Picture Books Announced by Lynsey Burkins
When I think of informational reading I always carry with me the words of Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better you do better.” I especially think of these words when I read biographies, which are my favorite informational text to read. Reading the stories of people, their successes, failures, struggles, adversities, achievements, courage, bravery etc. teaches me in a way that I then begin to know better, so I must do better.
This year’s Nerdies Nonfiction Picture Book winners are mostly biographies. Stunning accounts of people who have worked throughout their lives to do better not for themselves but for our world. The few winners that are not biographies still challenge us with information that leads us to doing better towards our environment and animals that inhabit it alongside us. Congratulations to the eighteen winners for the 2019 Nerdies Nonfiction Picture Book Awards.
A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Neal Porter Books)
“Martin did what great men do. He asked for guidance.”
Dr. King has four days to finish his speech, then two, then one. Where will he land? Wittenstein and Pinkney work together to deliver the backstory of Dr. King’s most famous speech.
A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by Xia Gordon (Sterling Children’s Books)
“Grey bursts of smoke hide the yellow sun. Can flowers grow without sunlight?”
Yes they can. As Alice Faye Duncan tells the story of famous poet laureate who despite a world of “no sunlight” was able to defy her bullies, teachers not believing in her, and world that wasn’t kind to girls like her to become the most perfect flower.
Dancing Hands How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
“If Teresa felt sad, music cheered her, and when she was happy, the piano helped her share bursts of joy.”
At a time when joy was hard to find, Margarita Engle tells how Teresa Carreño shared burst of joy through her gift of music.
Gross as a Snot Otter by Jess Keating, illustrated by David DeGrand (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
“If you’re disgusting and you know it hide under a tree rock.”
Bold photographs filled with information on some of the world’s “most” disgusting animals…well depends on who you ask. But this book will have you on the lookout for animals that can top these gross ones!
Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu (Sterling Children’s Books)
“Do Good Anyway…Think big anyway…Build Anyway…”
How is talent defined? This biography of Hedy Lamarr showcases the need to tell the stories of women who have shaped technology into what it is today during a time when “having a pretty face” was what mattered most…when it comes to talent.
Hey, Water by Antoinette Portis (Neal Porter Books)
“Hey water, thank you.”
Water. The need for it unites us. This little girl finds it all around. In her yard, home, community. She describes it nature but most importantly she thanks it. Antoinette writes a playful ode to water and begins the conversation of where water is found around us.
Just like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines by Sarah Aronson, illustrated by Robert Neubecker (Beach Lane Books)
“From the time he was a boy, Rube Goldberg loved to draw.”
Not all our paths are straight and well defined. Rube Goldberg’s path to living out his dreams are told through humor and wit as Sarah Aronson and Robert Neubecker showcase the life of Pulitzer Prize winner Rube Goldberg.
Let ‘Er Buck by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Gordon C. James (Carolrhoda Books)
“When he was allowed to compete, the judges hardly ever treated him fair. It stung, but that didn’t stop George. He was set on showing what he was made of.”
George Fletcher. African- American cowboy. Rodeo. 1911. Pendleton Round-Up. Winner. Nelson takes readers on the journey of a boy then a man who had to overcome and endure adversity to become “the people’s winner.”
Little Legends: Exceptional Black Men in History by Vashti Harrison (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
“I wanted to tell the stories of exceptional men.”
Over 35 biographies of black men who are more than exceptional. This book features black men that don’t always get the historical attention and a good mix of activists, artists, inventors, entertainers and more! In the back there is a feature that points readers to where to find more information on these men. Pairs so well with the short and concise biography style in the book.
Little Libraries, Big Heroes by Miranda Paul, illustrated by John Parra (Clarion Books)
“Books helped me get through tough times as well as gain a better understanding of our world.”
Todd Bol’s love for his mother and her love for reading transcend his own struggles with reading to start a movement that is the gift that keeps on giving. This biography of how the Little Free Library movement began starts with love and just one idea.
Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz-little bee books
“The poor ate grass and bark to survive.”
After World War II in Japan, Momofuku Ando saw people suffering. Saw people in need. Saw that food was scarce. This story takes readers through the many trials and hardships Ando faced as he was trying to fix the need he saw that was so great. Most first think of Ramen as a good well priced meal but after reading Ando’s story the meal might take on a different meaning.
Moon: Earth’s Best Friend by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Stevie Lewis (Henry Holt and Co.)
“Natural: not created by Earthlings.”
Can you find the facts?! The Moon tells her story of friendship between herself and Earth. From when and how they first met to how the Moon is always there to help Earth. Don’t miss all the fun in the back of this book complete with numbers, names, and sources!
Moth: An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Daniel Egnéus (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
“This is a story of light and dark. Of change and adaptation. Of survival and hope.”
How do you talk about evolution, natural selection, and human intervention to younger children? Start here with this book. As young readers learn about the peppered moth they will begin to question how our actions as humans affect the natural world around us.
Nine Months: Before a Baby is Born by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin (Neal Porter Books)
“Our story begins.”
This informational piece is filled with details longside a heartwarming narrative. The pictures have actual size accounts of what is happening during each month a baby is growing inside the womb. Simple text with perfect comparisons for young children.
North America: A Fold Out Graphic History by Sarah Albee, illustrated by William Exley (What on Earth Books in partnership with Smithsonian)
Make plenty of space for this one because you’ll want to unfold the 8 feet of history that is inside. Each page moves steadily through the graphic timeline of North America. Authors use pictures and descriptions to teach about what life was like from 10,000 BCE to invasions and slavery. In the authors note Albee said writing this book taught her about perspective and the way history is told. Reading this book left me wanting to read more.
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar (HarperCollins)
“But where are her abuela’s stories? Not one folktale from Puerto Rico is on the shelves.”
This biography of the first Puerto Rican librarian in the New York Public Library System is told as if you are sitting listening to someone telling you her story. Anika Aldamuy Denise moves the story along as she tells of her journey in English and Spanish.
Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang (Sterling Children’s Books)
“They believed girls should go to school and could become anything they wanted to be.”
This is the story of the “Queen of Physics” who was born into a country where many girls did not go to school or not considered smart. But Wu Chien Shiung’s parents didn’t believe what most parents in China did at the time. She was sent to school and encouraged to love learning. That love of learning later turned into a love of science and many honors for her contributions to the field of physics.
Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War by Duncan Tonatiuh (Harry N. Abrams)
“Luz knew that people of Mexican origin worked hard just like everyone else.”
Written from Luz’s diary entries during World War I, Duncan Tonatiuh tells the story of Mexican-American soldier and his fight for equality after the war. The author’s note and timelines are not to be missed in this biography of a man whose story is not widely told.
The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison (little bee books)
“Folktales, street rhymes, spirituals–rooted in spoken word.
This informational book takes readers through the historical creation of rap, its artists, its style, its moves. The birth of hip-hop is felt through lyrical text that begs the reader to take in the art with the rhymes on the page.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Versify Books)
“Here’s to the unspeakable.”
This poem reads like a love letter to black lives and is a textbook for those who need a window. The back matter is a detailed reference that accompanies the words and art of the poem that is the Black American experience. From past to present Alexander lifts up the accomplishments, setbacks, heartaches, perseverance, and strength of a people.
Lynsey Burkins has been an elementary educator for over 15 years. She believes that books save lives and that stories are transformative especially when they lead you towards action. She is currently a third grade teacher in Dublin, Ohio and the Chair of NCTE’s Build Your Stack.
Kudos! This is a fabulous list. Only disappointment is that my local library has so very few of them. Will have to start making requests.
I WISH you had nominated “Manhattan” by Jennifer Thermes….:-(
Excellent list! Please do note, however, that North America is published by What on Earth Books (not Smithsonian). Thanks for all the good work you do!