THE 2021 NERDIES: NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS ANNOUNCED BY LYNSEY BURKINS
To tell the truth is justice. Each of these nonfiction informational stories tells the truth about history or science that leads to a greater understanding which in my mind is justice. When we understand the workings of the world we are better able to make decisions based on truth and facts. These 15 nonfiction books offer invitations to learning and growing. What better gift could we offer ourselves?
Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 Nerdy Book Club Awards for Best Nonfiction Picture Book:
1619 Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Renee Watson Illustrated by Nikkolas Smith
“They say our people were born on the water, but our people had a home, a place, a land before they were sold.”
Written like a song that will beat in the heads of all who read it, 1619 Born on the Water, was born to tell the truth. This nonfiction picture book tells the origin story, raw and honest, of how America came to be. You will find joy and you will also face the brutal reality of what happened when lives were stolen, families torn apart, and generations of people forced into slavery.
A Seat at the Table by Elisa Boxer & Laura Freeman
“What is in your heart is what you will have the courage to fight for.”
Born into a family of service. Nancy Pelosi’s journey from childhood to Madam Speaker of the House was paved with example after example of service. Her father the public servant and her mother the humble community servant ready to meet the needs of humanities call. This book is filled with the voice of Nancy Pelosi and her spirit of fighting for what’s in her heart.
Child of the Flower-Song People Luz Jimenez, Daughter of the Nahua by Gloria Amescua and Duncan Tonatiuh
“Luz wove all these old stories into her heart. Through them she tasted bitter sorrow–how the Nahua suffered–and sweet joy–how her people survived.”
This is the story of a warrior. Not a warrior who fought the physical battles of war but a warrior who saw and heard of many injustices of her people and took action. Luz was born into indigenous Nahua people of Mexico. Her life reflected the times of the early 1900’s. Armed with her ancestor’s songs and story passed down Luz became the bridge that connected indigenous Nauha to the rest of Mexico and the world through her teaching and modeling.
Dr. Fauci: How a Boy From Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor by Kate Messner and Alexandra Bye
“Anytime Anthony struggled with homework, his father reminded him that every problem has a solution.”
From a young age Dr. Fauci learned to question everything and seek answers. He looked for the solution in everything from bullies in the neighborhood to playing basketball, even though he was shorter than the rest. It was in high school that Dr. Fauci knew he wanted to be a doctor and found solutions to help himself reach his dream. His laser focus on finding solutions helped the world understand how to approach the Covid-19 pandemic.
In My Mosque by M.O. Yuksel and Hatem Aly
“In my Mosque we help others whenever we can.”
What goes on inside a Mosque may make some people wonder. But for the 1.8 billion people who worship in Mosques they know what goes on inside is love and peace. Follow a young Muslim boy as he shows us around his Mosque. From family interactions, to the worship songs, prayers, and food served. Inside the Mosque there are people gathered in the name of peace.
Let Liberty Rise by Chana Stiefel
“School children everywhere emptied their piggy banks.”
When America ran out of money to finish the pedestal for Lady Liberty one immigrant’s genius idea coupled with thousands of children’s selfless hearts made it all possible. Who would have thought that an offer to print the name of every person who donated money to help finish the pedestal would spark children from across the country to give up their allowance, raise money, and donate their savings to help and be part of history? This story shows the power that the collective actions of children can have to change the course of history.
Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued by Peter Sis
“He saw that war was near, and something had to be done.”
Stories that tell the truth about history need to be told. This story, told in both the words and the pictures, introduces many young readers to the horrors of the Holocaust. There are so many ways to enter this informational piece. First, there is the dominant narrative of Nicky who rescued children to live with families in England during the war. Next, is another narrative of Vera, a child Nicky rescued . Then, working with both sets of text are the illustrations that alone are gateways into a deeper meaning of the story. Nicky…the hero who only saw what needed to be done.
Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd & Christian Robinson
“But while Nina sang of love, something else stirred in the streets of Philadelphia. A low rumble of anger and fear–the sound of Black people rising, rising, unwilling to accept being treated as less than human.”
Eunice Kathleen Waymon didn’t know when she was little that her hands and voice would move a nation but her songs were an important soundtrack to our country’s ugly history. As a young girl Nina’s talents were nurtured by her mother and father and refined by Miss Mazzy. Nina felt the sting of racism and injustice early and used her voice to heal her soul and be part of the movement.
Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi, Sigal Samuel
“Show me how to read, she begged her father one day.”
Surrounded by books Osnat knew that there was something special inside them. Traveling around with her father who was a Rabbi she longed to know what was inside those books. Osnat’s father taught her to read when reading wasn’t deemed suitable for girls. Osnat took the gift of reading as a call to teach and lead others. Osnat’s leadership saved people, animals, and communities. Known for being the first female Rabbi, Osnat’s story is a story of hope.
Red and Green and Blue and White by Lee Wind
“Blue and white menorah light from two homes tonight.”
Issac and Theresa prepare for the holiday season with excitement and joy. Issac’s home prepares their menorah while Theresa’s family prepares the tree. What Issac and Theresa didn’t prepare for is the hate that would be shown to Issac’s family. In true child fashion Theresa creates a sign of support for Issac and the rest of the community joins in.
Summertime Sleepers: Animals That Estivate by Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen
“Some reptiles go on long journeys before they relax and repose…but others stay at home to snooze.”
Written in a beautiful some, while, but format readers learn the difference between animals that estivate versus hibernate. Simple lyrical text is accompanied by detailed sketches and informative paragraphs about each animal. Readers feel like they are on a journey moving from animal to animal grabbing a glimpse of where each animal takes their doze for the summer.
Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen and Aaron Becker
“Today, the tree rises steel-straight and proud, beside the footprints of the towers that once filled its sky.”
For over 30 years a tree grew. The tree grew through all four seasons as the years passed by not knowing that one day tragedy would strike. The tree was located at the foot of the Twin Towers. Millions of people walked by…millions of people watched it grow. This is the story of how the tree survived the tragedy of 911 and found it way back home.
The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest by Heather Lang and Jana Christy
“Meg Lowman never gave up or gave in.”
Biographies teach us that people do overcome and break through systems that were not made for them. Meg Lowman’s story is one that gives another example of how women in science don’t quit. How women in science are discovering new ways to save our planet each and everyday despite every obstacle that is in their way. Meg Lowman was the first to bring the study of trees in the rainforest to the attention of many. Her work is saving rainforests.
The People’s Painter: How Ben Shaun Fought for Justice with Art – by Cynthia Levinson illustrated by Evan Turk
“If I am to be a painter, I must show the world how it looks through my eyes, not theirs. What shall I paint? Stories.”
In 1935 during the Great Depression Ben Shaun was hired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to paint and show Americans the story of the poor during that time. Instead of using paint, he took photographs. This act led to his passion for telling the stories of the oppressed through art. But his story didn’t start there; it started as a young boy in Lithuania who hated injustice.
The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom by Lita Judge
“The story of a tree is a story of community, communication, and cooperation.”
Told with poetry paired with informational paragraphs this book takes us into the world of trees and their secret kingdom. Each full page spread offers readers an illustrative read that takes you deeper into the content of the words. You learn of New Hampshire hardwood forest, tree growth, and the importance of diversity to name a few. Readers walk away with a greater awareness of how our trees work for us not against us.
Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by Jeff Gottesfeld
“People, though, forget easily. My tomb stands on a hillcrest.”
This is the story of the Unknowns. The American Unknowns who fought and gave their lives but names could never be found. How did the National Cemetery come to be? Why do the Sentinel Guards keep watch? What is the story of the creation of the entombed? This lyrical text accompanied by stunning illustrations takes readers to a place of understanding of the final resting place for the Unknown soldier.
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
“Once upon a time in Tulsa, there was a community called Greenwood. Its residents descended from Black Indians, from formerly enslaved people, and from Exodusters, who moved West in the late 1800s fleeing the violence and racism of the segregated South.”
They called it Black Wall Street. A thriving town made and operated by Black people. Joy and freedom rested in this city in Tulsa until white people burned it down. Through the thoughtful placement of words and Floyd Cooper’s beautifully crafted illustrations the heartbreaking story of Tulsa comes to life and the story is told.
We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Fran Lessac
“Our Native Nations have always been here.”
Told through the voices of 12 children the story of Native Nations is shared. The backdrop is an Indigenous Peoples’ Day Project where 12 topics related to the Native experience are shared in a way that gives voice to the struggles and hope for movement in each topic area. These are not just topics but historical truths that should be known and recognized as ways people and systems have failed our Native Nations.
What’s Inside a Flower?: And Other Questions about Science & Nature by Rachel Ignotofsky
“Flowers live everywhere.”
“But how does a flower grow?” This informative piece told through questions, answers, pictures, and diagrams offers young readers a journey into discovering inner workings of flowers. Readers discover that flowers don’t always work alone and some need help. Each page is full of information simply stated with text, speech bubbles, labels, and imagery. Rachel Ignotofsky uses question stems to call readers to action and think about ways they may engage with plant life. “What will you plant in your garden?”
(Lynsey’s Addition, dedicated to all my students who come in from recess with something in their pocket)
What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s Treasures by Heather L. Montgomery and Maribel Lechuga
“Every discovery started with just one thing. One little thing that could fit in a pocket.”
Heather L. Montgomery and Maribel Lechuga introduce us to nine children who became famous scientists. They tell the stories of each scientist as a kid whose curiosity fit inside their pockets and led them to discoveries that help us survive today. Pairing these stories with rich back matter, readers can learn more about each scientist and the role they have played in making our world the way it is today. It all started in their pockets!
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.