This year I am a judge for the Cybils nonfiction picture book award. As such, I have been reading a lot of newly published nonfiction picture books. Here are six nonfiction picture books that I am very excited about. I want to emphasize that this list does not reflect the choices of the Cybils committee.
Island: A Story of the Galapagos by Jason Chin. In Island, Jason Chin tackles a huge topic — the formation of the Galapagos Islands and evolution of species on those islands — and does so extremely successfully. Chin tells an engaging story about an island forming, the island becoming populated by plants and animals, plant and animal populations changing over time, and, finally, the island sinking into the sea. Chin explains the process of evolution, a topic that baffles many adults, so clearly that 8-year-olds will be able to understand it. Chin’s illustrations are really neat. He describe many huge geological and evolutionary changes in a mere sentence or two and accompanies these descriptions with amazingly detailed series of pictures of, e.g., a seabird colonizing a new island or a finch species’ beak changing shape. Ages 7+
Eggs 1 2 3: Who Will the Babies Be? by Janet Halfmann and Betsy Thompson. Eggs 1 2 3 is a simple, beautifully designed and surprisingly educational counting book. Each spread features a picture of eggs and a riddle asking readers to guess what will hatch from the eggs. E.g. “One egg, big and white, snuggled on Papa’s feet in a land of ice and snow. Who will the baby be?” Readers lift flaps to discover the answers to the riddles. This format is highly entertaining, and all three of my children have been requesting this book frequently. The animals in Eggs 1 2 3 range from glowworms to snakes to platypuses and will lead to discussions about which animals do and do not hatch out of eggs. Age 2+
We March by Shane W. Evans. We March is a beautiful, powerful and personal look at the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. While other books about this march on Washington focus on the leaders, crowds and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, We March focuses on a family with two children participating in the march. This is an excellent book to pair with Kadir Nelson’s I Have a Dream. Ages 5+
How Many Jelly Beans?: A Giant Book of Giant Numbers by Andrea Menotti and Yancey Labat. I am excited about How Many Jelly Beans? not because it is the most perfect picture book written this past year but because it is a book that is going to get read. Menotti’s decision to combine jelly beans and very large numbers is nearly as brilliant as the Dinosaur Train creators’ decision to combine dinosaurs and trains. How Many Jelly Beans? blows away the competition among books vying for title of best book for teaching kids about very large numbers. Teachers have for years reached for Steven Kellogg’s How Much is a Million?, but, after 20+ years, that book is beginning to look dated. A Million Dots by Andrew Clements is a smart and beautifully designed new contribution to the field, but Clements’ decision to include lots of challenging concepts in A Million Dots results in a book with narrower appeal. How Many Jelly Beans? is a pretty simple and straightforward, fun, colorful book that both kids and teachers will be reaching for. Ages 3+
If You Lived Here: Houses of the World by Giles Laroche. If You Lived Here introduces readers to some of the most fascinating houses ever built, ranging from a Spanish cave dwelling to a Swiss chalet that houses animals on the first floor to a Chinese round house built for many families to inhabit together. If You Lived Here is very similar to Wonderful Houses Around the World by Yoshio Komatsu and Akira Nishiyama, but I think there is room in the world for both books. Wonderful Houses Around the World is a great book for children to pour over individually. It features detailed illustrations with labels describing the features of each house. In contrast, If You Lived Here is a wonderful book to read aloud to a group of kids. The fascinating features of each house are described in three to five sentences. For readers interested in learning more, Laroche provides details about where and when each house was built, what materials each house was built out of, etc. Ages 4+
Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet. Lastly, Balloons Over Broadway. I have mentioned Balloons Over Broadway before on my blog. (See A Conversation with Melissa Sweet, Author of Balloons Over Broadway.) Before I knew that Balloons Over Broadway was a Cybils contender, I featured Balloons Over Broadway on my blog because it is one of my very favorite recently published picture books, fiction or nonfiction. Balloons Over Broadway is the biography of Tony Saarg, the puppeteer who created the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. In this picture book biography, Melissa Sweet does a fantastic job of telling an engaging story, with a logical beginning, middle and end. It is no small feat to take all of the details of a person’s life and use them to tell an entertaining story that captures the essence of that person. In Balloons Over Broadway, Sweet has done so beautifully. Sweet’s collage illustrations are a perfect match for the subject matter of this book. Ages 3+
Finally, the Broadmoore children’s choice award winners are…