The 2020 Nerdies: Nonfiction Picture Books Announced by Lynsey Burkins
Nonfiction Picture Books can bring about a feeling of wonder and thirst to know more in ways a traditional nonfiction text may not. The pictures coupled with narrative and facts allows readers to dig in and dream. Maybe see things in ways they haven’t before and learn in ways that are pleasurable. This year’s picks for best nonfiction do not disappoint. I own them all and I have a feeling you soon will too. Enjoy!
A Bowl Full of Peace by Caren Stelson, illustrated by Akira Kusaka
“But everyone knows Grandmother’s bowl is precious.”
This true story detailing the Sachiko’s family story of survival and hope during the time of war. During a dark time in history. The atomic bombing. Through this story we can’t help but to question what it means to hold family memories, belonging, traditions, and faith.
Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball by Jen Bryant and Frank Morrison
There were plenty of nice parks in Washington D.C., where people swam or played tennis, basketball, and baseball. But the child was black, and those were “whites only.”
Long before the NBA basketball courts dawned “Black Lives Matter” there was Elgin Baylor. This lyrical picture book biography tells the story of a boy, a man, a hall of famer who paved the way through his organized protest for us today to be able to see BLACK MEN play the sport of basketball at the highest professional level.
Being Frog by April Pulley Sayre
“It kicks and surfaces. Its eyeballs gaze. Does it remember tadpole days?”
If you haven’t thought about what it feels like being a frog or what life might be like for a frog. Don’t worry April Pulley Sayre has in this simple but thought provoking text about being a frog. The photography has its own story to tell as the text begs you to think deeper about what is really going on in a frog’s life.
Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Laura Freeman
“In Phil Freelon’s world, art breathes dreams to life.”
From a childhood of listening, drawing, and playing to an adulthood of building his dreams, Kelly Starling Lyons takes us through the journey of a dream actualized. Phil Freelon’s dream of building, designing, and creating ways to bring about social justice through his love and talents as an extraordinary architect.
Exquisite: The Poetry & Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Cozbi A, Cabrera
“Each night, her father read fine poetry aloud, passionate and proud.”
Peek into the beginnings of our beloved Gwendolyn Brooks who was the first Black person to win the Pulitzer. Suzanne Slade takes through a historical timeline of how Ms. Brooks saw her world and began to write it through verse.
Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon by Simran Jeet Singh and Baljinder Kaur
“He wished he felt as strong as his name, which meant ‘warrior lion’!”
Fauja was persistent, patient, and dedicated from his childhood to adulthood. He didn’t stop and didn’t listen to those who tried to stop him. Simran Jeet Singh and Baljinder Kaur tell his story as if you were right alongside Fauja watching him and cheering. At the finish line as he made history of becoming the oldest man to run 26.2 miles.
Honeybee: The Busy Life Of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann
“Tongues lick. Antennae touch. Bodies clamber and scramble over thin wax comb.”
Reading this book is like watching a narrated documentary on National Geographic. Fleming’s use of words and timing coupled with the illustrations makes you feel like you are up close and personal studying the life of one of the most common honey bees, the Apis Mellifera. Be prepared to take flight from beginning to end. And don’t forget to read the back matter!
If You Want a Friend in Washington: Wacky, Wild & Wonderful Presidential Pets by Erin McGill
“Whether Whig, Federalist, Republican, Democrat, or Independent, many presidents hoped for a reliable and steadfast friend.”
Not many of us think about presidential pets when we think of presidents but this book has you thinking ALL about pets. Most pet lovers know a true friend is your pet. This book gives us all a glimpse into the “true friends” of our presidents. Filled with fun facts, quotes, and light hearted humor this book is not just about pets but the quest for a friendship that humans can’t provide.
Jumbo: The Making of the Boeing 747 by Chris Gall
“The president of Pan American World Airways dreamed of such a plane and asked Boeing to design one.”
Chris Gall, a pilot himself combines narrative and technical writing to provide readers a journey through how a plane is constructed. Filled with terms, history, and visual guides this book is meant to be studied. Readers will learn how the world’s first passenger jet came to fruition.
Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Laura Freeman
“Life is a story you write day by day.”
What does it mean to be rooted in justice? Rooted in anything? Nikki Grimes puts together a narrative story with a biography of our first Black, Brown Vice President to show how our roots can lead us. Our roots can center us and our roots can lead us towards our dreams.
Packs: Strength in Numbers by Hannah Sayler
“Packs, herds, huddles, and pods.”
We can learn so much from our animal family. Hannah Sayler shows us strength is together through her pictures and simple one word associations throughout this stunning piece of art. Learn about how survival through the lens of the animal kingdom.
Queen of Tejano Music: Selena by Sílvia Lopez, illustrated by Paolo Escobar
“Music was alway important to the Quintanillas.”
Language, music, culture, family is the thread that binds this biographical story of Selena. The early journey of Selena and her family gives insight to how this icon came to be. From learning Spanish to a life of practicing and learning the Queen of Tejano is one to always be remembered.
Respect: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison
“Cradled by the church, rocked by an ebony sea, Aretha says a little prayer each night on bended knee.”
From the very first lines of this picture book biography you know that this biography will be a lyrical one. With highlighted words that take you through the highlights of Aretha Franklin’s life you get to see the side of her that is spiritual, persistent, and that is focused on being a light for civil rights and justice.
Sharuko: El Arqueólogo Peruano Julio C. Tello / Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello by Monica Brown, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri
“Julio y su familia eran indígenas.”
History is meant to be shared, kept, and passed down. This is the story of Julio. C. Tello who discovered how important it was to dig, discover, and share. This is the story of how indigenous history was captured by this Peruvian archaeologist who didn’t start off on the journey of being an archaeologist but turned out to be a man who made discoveries that have changed the way we learn history.
Shirley Chisholm is a Verb by Veronica Chambers. Illustrated by Rachelle Baker
“Verbs are words that move the world forward.”
Get to know Shirley Chisholm’s story from the age of three when she was sent to live in Barbados. Learn how family hardship turned into strength and the determination to become the first Black Woman to run for the Office of U.S. President.
The Cat Man of Aleppo by Karim Samsi-Basha and Irene Latham
“Alaa loves his city of Aleppo.”
Stories of war are real and hard to read. But we need to read these stories. When war came to Syria it was a hard time to imagine good. This is the story of a man who was a helper. A man who was brave and worked for good. A man who saw a need to care for hundreds of cats who were homeless because of war. Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel.
The Next President by Kate Messner, illustrated by Adam Rex
“But no matter who holds the job right now, the presidents of tomorrow are always out there somewhere.”
Kate Messner and Adam Rex team together to create a fun timeline of American History. Starting with children envisioning themselves as the next president the team then leads you on a journey starting with the very first president and what life was like for our presidents as kids. Playful and insightful this text begs you to dream.
The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora
“Your civil rights are in these pages.”
Mary Walker’s story is one to be shared over and over. Not learning to read until the age of 106 but holding on to the dream of reading throughout her life is remarkable. Mary was born into a life when reading was not a right she could have. Until the day she could and did, Mary never lost sight of her dream.
Trending: How and Why Stuff Gets Popular by Kira Vermond, illustrated by Clayton Hanmer
“You probably know one when you see one: a seemingly random toy, game, fashion, or song that suddenly becomes the NEXT BIG THING!”
It’s hard to get past the table of contents in this book. It’s that kind of table of contents that you get stuck in because you can’t decide what to read first. Then you realize that the graphics, charts, and playful positioning of content make you want to read it over and over. The nostalgic element is also very powerful.
You’re Invited to A Moth Ball A Nighttime Insect Celebration by Loree Griffin Burns, illustrated by Ellen Harasimowicz
“What’s that? You don’t know what a moth ball is?”
Most of us will answer no to this question. Most kids will wonder what “ball” means in this question. But this book leads you through what nature centers and museums know as, “moth balls”. The photography and simplistic way of describing how each child can host their very own moth ball brings excitement while reading. Are you ready for a MOTH BALL?!
Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin
“These kids are eight years old.”
The comparative pictures and captions with facts and details make this book one to move slowly through. Jason Chin takes young readers on a journey of comparisons. Starting with “self”, eight year olds…Jason Chin begins to introduce our animal kingdom to kids in relation to themselves. From animals, to geography, to nature Jason Chin helps kids see how they fit in our vast universe.
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.