Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, May 29, 2023

Holding Her Own: the Exceptional Life of Jackie Ormes. Words by Traci N. Todd; Pictures by Shannon Wright

Holding Her Own: the Exceptional Life of Jackie Ormes 

Words by Traci N. Todd; Pictures by Shannon Wright

Orchard Books. An Imprint of Scholastic Inc. 2023

“This story begins — as many stories do — with a blank page, an empty space waiting to be filled…”

And, so begins this captivating picture book biography on the life of Jackie Ormes, the first Black cartoonist to be syndicated in the United States.

The illustrations, created digitally, resemble a collage that are placed alongside the colorful double-page spreads of the comic characters created by Ormes. 

Jackie Ormes (named Zelda) was born in 1911 outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1945, Ormes created the comic, Patty-jo’ n’ Ginger. It was Ormes platform to comment on Black life, the war and its aftermath, and the fight for social justice. Patty-Jo’ n’ Ginger would run until 1956.

Included is an author’s note, a note from the artist, and a selected bibliography.

This powerful biography, for all ages, especially high schoolers, is a reminder that readers can use their voices to speak out about injustices and use their talents to bring about positive change. 

Click here to see a short video by Todd and Wright promoting this book. 

Friday, May 26, 2023

Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis

Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis
by Melvina Noel
illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2023

This gorgeous picture book biography traces the life of Edna Lewis from a child living in Freetown, Virginia to chef and restaurant owner in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Edna learned to cook and bake from her mother using fresh ingredients from their farm. After moving to New York City to earn money to support her siblings, Edna made an impression on friends and guests with her Southern style cooking. Soon she opened her own restaurant featuring her family recipes.

The stunning realistic-style illustrations capture the emotions of the story. This lovely story about a woman with a talent and a passion for cooking draws attention to a chef and restaurateur that many children will not know. Stories about little known people can be interesting and aspiring for young readers. The back matter is not to be missed because it includes Edna's biscuit recipe. 

Add this picture book to your classroom or library's biography collection. Pair it with Born Hungry or Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious for a program or lesson on cooking with fresh food.

Monday, May 22, 2023

How the Sea Came To Be and All The Creatures In It. Written by Jennifer Berne


How the Sea Came To Be and All the Creatures In It
Written by Jennifer Berne; Illustrated by Amanda Hall
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 2023

This delightful informational picture book takes readers on a visually appealing journey that explains the evolution of our oceans over 4.5 billions years.

Each double-page spread includes Hall’s spectacular illustrations that are paired beautifully with Berne’s captivating verse. 
Billions and billions of years long ago,
when the Earth was young and new,
the world was so hot, rock melted and boiled,
and fiery, wild winds blew.”

Included is a note from the author and illustrator, a look at ocean creatures over time that also includes a brief explanation of each creature, key terms and concepts, and resources.

“Oh, so long, long ago,
    in the far distant past,
        the first life came to be
               in the sea.”

This engrossing journey will whet readers appetite for more facts about how Earth began and all the creatures inhabiting it.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Mr. Lincoln Sits for His Portrait by Leonard S. Marcus

Mr. Lincoln Sits for His Portrait: the Story of a Photograph That Became an American Icon

Leonard S. Marcus

Farrar Straus Giroux. An Imprint of MacMillan Publishing Group, LLC. 2023

History fans, and those who are curious about Abraham Lincoln, will devour this slim volume on what led to our 16th President having his image captured on film. Award-winning author, Marcus, masterfully explains what led to Lincoln reflects on the life of one of our greatest presidents, and the aftermath of his assassination, , 

On February 9, 1864, Abraham Lincoln went to the photographic studio of well-known photographter, Matthew Brady and had six portraits taken by Brady’s assistant, Anthony Berger. One of those pictures, the image of Lincoln reading to his son, Tad, would depict Lincoln’s father side. That image, after his assassination, would offer people a reminder of the extraordinary power of Lincoln’s words. 

Peppered throughout the narrative are historical photos of Lincoln and individuals of importance for that time. 

Award-winning author, Marcus, masterfully explains events in Lincoln’s life that led up to that photo session. Intertwined in the narrative is a portrait of Lincoln, a man with little schooling who would become our 16th president at a time when our nation was divided slavery.           

Included is an afterward, a Lincoln timeline, 1865 to Present, bibliography, source notes for the quotes placed throughout the book, and index.

Like all books by Leonard Marcus, this one is powerful, engaging, and a perfect tome for history lovers of all ages.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Wind: Discovering Air in Motion by Olga Fadeeva


Wind: Discovering Air in Motion
By Olga Fadeeva. Translated by Lena Traer
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 2023

Russian author, Fadeeva, explains in easy to understand language, eighteen facts about the Wind. Each fact is posed as a question on double-page spreads illustrated by the author. The illustrations reflect what is being explained. 

For example, the question “What Is Wind?”  Answer: “Wind is the horizontal movement of air over the surface of the Earth.” The illustration, created with acrylic, collage, and digital media, shows a grandfather and granddaughter standing by the Ocean. Their hair is horizontal and the wind bends the trees and a red balloon, untethered from its owner, is also flying past. 

Another fact: “How has the wind affected history?” Answer: “The fifteenth century saw the rise of the full-rigged ship, which had three masts and multiple sails. Traveling longer distances would have been impossible without such improvements. This marked the beginning of the Age of Exploration.” The illustration shows a young girl holding a replica of the ship with five sales. 

This informational picture book will be enjoyable to read by all ages, especially on a windy day.

Monday, May 8, 2023

To Boldly Go: How Nichelle Nichols and Star Trek Helped Advance Civil Rights Written by Angela Dalton: Illustrations by Lauren Semmer

To Boldly Go: How Nichelle Nichols and Star Trek Helped Advance Civil Rights

Written by Angela Dalton: Illustrations by Lauren Semmer

Harper. An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 2023

Many people, myself included, loved Star Trek for showing the possibility that their could be peace and acceptance throughout the universe if we only would embrace one another as equals.  For Angela Dalton, TV night - the best night- meant a glass of sweet, syrupy red Kool-Aid and the show, Star Trek. Watching the crew of the starship Enterprise “boldly go where no man has gone before”, exploring strange new worlds was very entertaining, however, for Davis, seeing Lieutenant Uhura “brought them pride that someone who looked like us standing as an equal to make the future better for everyone.”

To Boldly Go is an empowering tribute to Nichelle Nichols, who played Star Trek’s communication officer, Lieutenant Uhura. Though her character showed her unlimited opportunities, in real life Nichols was faced with racist attitude that, for some reason, white people think they are better than Black people. As popular as she was playing Lieutenant Uhura, Dalton highlights the many instances where Nichols lost her self confidence. “It seemed neither she nor her character would ever be seen as important or equal.”

It was after a chance meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that changed her plans of quitting Star Trek. Dr. King said, “you have opened a door that must not be allowed to close. Don’t you see that you’re not just a role model for Black Children? You’re important for people who don’t look like us. For the first time, the world sees us as we should be seen, as equals, as intelligent people.”

Dalton explains in the summary, Beyond Star Trek, Nichols was asked by NASA to help them make a positive connection with women and minority astronaut candidates. Nichols said she would, but threatened to file a class-action law suit if, in a years time, “I still see a [white], all-male astronaut corps.”

This powerful picture book biography traces thelife of Nichelle Nichols, as well as, emphasizing how influential her character, Lieutenant Uhura was in encouraging equality and the interest in space exploration. Highlighting the narrative is the bold art of Lauren Semmer. The marriage of words and art really bring this story to life.

Included throughout are direct quotes from Nichelle Nichols. She

Nichelle came up with the name “Uhura” which is a Swahili word for “Freedom”. To Nichols, it meant strong, independent, equal.   

Friday, May 5, 2023

New Nonfiction: May 2023



Men of the 65th
by Talia Aikens Nuńez
Zest Books

    The Van Buren Sisters vs. The Pants Police
by J.F. Fox and Anna Kwan
Kids Can Press


The Women Who Built Hollywood
by Susan Goldman Rubin
Astra Books for Young Readers

Indigenous Ingenuity 
by Deidre Havrelock and Edward Kay
Christy Ottaviano Books

Jackie Ormes Draws the Future
by Liz Montague
Random House Studio

Muzoon: A Syrian Refugee Speaks Out
by Muzoon Almellehan
with Wendy Pearlman
Random House

Mary's Idea
by Chris Raschka
Greenwillow Books

Spare Parts (Young Readers' Edition):
The True Story of Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and an Impossible Dream

by Joshua Davis and Reyna Grande

I Have Something To Tell You (for Young Adults): A Memoir
by Chasten Buttigieg
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Her Eyes on the Stars: Maria Mitchell, Astronomer
by Laurie Wallmark
illustrated by Liz Wong
Creston Books


Polar: Wildlife at the Ends of the Earth
by L.E. Carmichael and Byron Eggenschwiler
Kids Can Press

We Are Branches
by Joyce Sidman
illustrated by Beth Krommes
Clarion Books

A Shell Is Cozy
by Dianna Hutts Aston
illustrated by Sylvia Long
Chronicle Books

Glaciers Are Alive
by Debbie S. Miller
illustrated by Jon Van Zyle

Not a Monster
by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez
illustrated by Laura Gonzalez

Science Comics: Electricity
by Andy Hirsch
First Second

They Are Here: How Invasive Species Are Spoiling Our Ecosystems
by Roland Smith

Evolution Under Pressure: How We Change Nature and How Nature Changes Us
by Yolanda Ridge
illustrated by Dane Thibeault
Annick Press

Current Events and Social Issues

Breaking News: Why Media Matters
by Raina Delisle
illustrated by Julie McLaughlin
Orca Books

Monday, May 1, 2023

Never Give Up: Dr. Kati Karikó and the Race for the Future of Vaccines. Debbie Dadey; Illustrated by Julianna Oakley

Never Give Up: Dr. Kati Karikó and the Race for the Future of Vaccines.
Debbie Dadey; Illustrated by Julianna Oakley

Millbrook Press. An Imprint of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc. 2023

Debbie Dadey, well-known for her series, The Bailey School Kids, hits the mark in her first picture book biography. An engaging and exciting read, readers will learn about Dr. Kati Karikó, whose research into using mRNAs for a vaccine, led her to create the vaccine that saved millions of lives from COVID-19.

Born in Hungary in 1955, Katie was a curious student who was never daunted by what she did not know. Learning inspired her and science was her passion. After earning her PhD, kathie became curious about mRNA, or messenger ribonucleric acid. “mRNA provides the instructions to make proteins - such as germ attacking antibodies - to keep us healthy.” 

Not supported by her peers, Kati still persists until 2005, along with Dr. Drew Weissman, the two publish a study that opened the door for mRNA to be used in vaccines. When COVID-19 started spreading all over the world in 2020, it was her and Weissman’s work with mRNA that got the job of making the vaccine quicker. 

Oakley’s illustrations, created with pencil, Procreate, and Photoshop, lend themselves to the picture book biography format. Colorful, the pictures reflect what is being discussed in the text. Quotes from Dr. Karikó and her colleagues are placed in a darker font throughout the book.

Includes a timeline, a short description on steps to making a vaccine, a helpful explanation of stages all vaccines in the United States must go through before they are given to the public, an author’s note, glossary, source notes and titles for further studying.

A nice addition to the growing picture biographies of a determined woman who persists despite the lack of support from peers.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Total Garbage: A Messy Dive Into Trash, Waste, and Our World by Rebecca Donnelly

Total Garbage: A Messy Dive Into Trash, Waste, and Our World
Rebecca Donnelly; Illustrated by John Hendrix
Henry Holt and Company. 2023

We have reviewed other titles that deal with the ever growing problem of trash, but in Total Garbage, writer Donnelly goes one step further by challenging how the phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” has given us a false sense of hope. Donnelly looks at how much trash we make and how it damages our world, and affects all of us. 

What readers will find compelling, was in the author’s note. Donnelly admits that with her busy life, she is also part of the problem. She didn’t write Total Garbage as a template as to how to live a life trash-free. Instead, she offers facts that will help readers make choices. Donnelly delves deeply into what is trash, where does it go after we toss it into our trash bins, what does recycle really mean, the affects of our trash on our planet, and how shoppers are lured into thinking they are creating less waste by purchasing items that claim that their packaging is recyclable. Donnelly also differentiates between saving the wilderness versus environmental action regarding neighborhoods near pollution sources. Wilderness is a place you visit, whereas pollution sources are where people live. “For people who live near pollution sources, environmentalism is a very personal commitment with immediate consequences in everyday life and in their own communities.”

Ideas that resonated with me?:

  • During World War 2, it was patriotic to save and reuse until 1955. Now, it is considered patriotic to buy more stuff to keep all the manufacturing plants, created during WW2, operational. 
  • That recycling has serious environmental issues. 
  • The problems with landfills.
  • That buying anything that is single use, even if it says it is made from recyclable materials, is still trash.
  • That for many, reducing waste and purchasing is a financial burden they are unable to take on. Products that are marketed as green often cost more, making it almost impossible for many to purchase them.

Total Garbage would be a terrific title to use in a science unit with middle to high school students. An activity that sounds eye-opening is to build an image of yourself by taking a good look at what you throw away. 

Included is a Trash Timeline: The Good and the Gross in the History of Waste Management, selected resources, and index. 

The engaging narrative, packed with lots of easily understood information on waste and its impact on our world, is highly recommended, especially for Earth Day.


Monday, April 24, 2023

Making More

Making More: How Life Begins
by Katherine Roy
Norton Young Readers, 2023
Grades 2 and up

Katherine Roy is known for creating stellar science picture books for children including the Sibert Honor book, Neighborhood Sharks. In her latest picture book, Roy examines how animals reproduce. 

Reproduction is an area of curiosity for many children, and it's also a topic adults tend to avoid discussing with young people. Making More approaches the topic with the perfect combination of science and wonder. The book invites readers into the natural world as a family takes a walk together in the woods. Each two-page spread features a gorgeous watercolor illustration painted in a realistic style accompanied by expository text explaining reproduction.

Readers will learn about DNA, egg cells, sperm cells, fertilization, cell division and more. A variety of species are included in the book including grey squirrels, bumblebees, black-tailed deer, Pacific chorus frogs, and brush rabbits. Detailed diagrams with labels clearly illustrate scientific concepts. Be sure to read the detailed back matter which provides a glossary of terms and information about meiosis.

This gorgeous picture book is a celebration of the life and how species survive by making more. Making More is a recommended purchase for families, schools and libraries. Check out the book trailer on Katherine Roy's website.

Friday, April 21, 2023

The Last Plastic Straw by Dee Romito; Illustrated by Ziyue Chen

The Last Plastic Straw: A Plastic Problem and Finding Ways to Fix It.
By Dee Romito; Illustrated by Ziyue Chen.
Books for Better Earth. Holiday House. 2023

This book focuses on the invention of the straw - from using a reed to plastic - and the environmental impact the plastic straw is having on our world. 

Straws were first invented by the Sumerians. They used a reed to sip their drinks. China used plant stalks, while in South America, to drink their tea, they used a silver or bronze “bombilla” with a filter on the end. In America, after World War II, to find a more positive use for plastic, the plastic draw was born.

Yet, straws, defined as single- use plastics, are not biodegradable. After breaking down into microplastics, they stay around forever. 

“Scientists have estimated that up to 8.3 billions plastic straws can be found on beaches around the world.” Fish, sea birds, turtles, whales ingest them, either by accident or thinking they are food. 

What can we do to be part of the solution to stop singe-use plastics? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Romito’s informational picture book is a good addition to any STEM display. The scientific information is perfect for a read aloud in any STEM or Earth Day program. 

Chen’s illustrations, created using Procreate on an iPad, are colorful, and reflect was is being discussed in the text. 

An author’s note, sources, and resources to learn more about plastics is included. 

Click here to visit the Last Plastic Straw coalition.

Monday, April 17, 2023

We Go Way Back by Idan Ben-Barak

We Go Way Back: A Book About Life on Earth and How It All Began 
Idan Ben-Barak; Illustrated by Philip Bunting 
Roaring Brook Press. 2023 

What exactly is life is the theme of this charming informational picture book. 

People have been trying to explain what life is, but it is not easy. 
 We know life is not a thing. 
“Life is the way that some things make more things that are a lot like themselves but sometimes a little bit different.” 
In 32 pages, Ben-Barak, who holds a PhD in the history and philosophy of science, takes readers on a journey back before life on Earth began and gives us an understandable theory will understand. 

Accompanying the intelligible narrative are Bunting’s colorful, cartoon-like illustrations. The book would be a great addition to any display on life on Earth. 

An enjoyable read aloud for students in all grades, but especially high school. We Go Way Back is the kind of book that sparks conversations. 

This book does not include any author’s note, further explanations, or bibliography.

Friday, April 14, 2023

From 2021: The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History by David F. Walker; Marcus Kwame Anderson

The Black Panther Party : A Graphic Novel History
by David F. Walker;
Art, Colors, and Letters by Marcus Kwame Anderson

Ten Speed Press. 2021

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in response to the decades long violence against Black Americans. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was a radical political organization that was “in defiant contrast to the mainstream civil rights movement”

Using the graphic novel format, Walker does an excellent job of explaining circumstances that led to the formation of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, their commitment to supporting the Black communities with their educational and healthcare programs, and their battle to stop police brutality. 

As a response to the 1967 riots in Detroit, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed an 11-member commission to investigate the causes of the riots. The commission was led by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. The commission was tasked with answering these three questions: “What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again? 

On February 29, 1968, the Kerner Report was published. The report was a scathing condemnation of White America. “What White Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, White institutions maintain it, and White society condones it.” Instead of taking the recommendations from the 426 page Kerner Report that could have put an end to the racial disparity against Black Americans, the report was ignored. Instead, J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI waged a secret war against The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Sadly, many leaders were brutally and unfairly murdered at the hands of police. 

In his afterword, Walker states, “It is worth noting that, more than 50 years after Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party and draft the Ten-Point Program as their guiding manifesto, every single concern they address is still relevant. Every single inequality, injustice, and form of oppression impacting the Black community in 1966 is still going strong, well into the 21st century. What the Panthers wanted in 1966, we still want now. What they believed, we still know to be true.”

Growing up, the conversations regarding The Black Panthers leaned more towards their violence than highlighting the good things they did, such as establishing important social programs - free breakfast and schools - and their fight to end social inequality. In Walker’s graphic novel history, the marriage of facts mixed with invented dialogue, and Anderson’s art make this a powerful, well-balanced book for high school students on a little known topic.

Interspersed throughout the narrative are 16 bios of Black Panther members, a bibliography, and index.

Without the knowledge of what came before, there is no hope of making our world a better place for all people. 

Monday, April 10, 2023

Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-Floor Ecosystem by Melissa Stewart; Illustrated by Rob Dunlavey

Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-Floor Ecosystem
Melissa Stewart;
Illustrated by Rob Dunlavey.
Random House Studio. 2023

First off, I must admit that we, at the Nonfiction Detectives, are colossal fans of Melissa Stewart. As a nonfiction writer, her talent to bring facts to life without overwhelming readers is a true gift. She makes our job as a librarians easier because we can trust the book we hand a curious reader. We know they will be able to absorb the information while also just enjoying the narrative. Thank you, Melissa!

In her newest, Whale Fall, Stewart asks readers to imagine what happens after a whale dies. 

It’s massive body silently sinks down, down, through the inky darkness, finally coming to rest on the soft, silty seafloor.” 

From there, the decomposing body offers “the deep-sea denizen, the hundred of species and millions of creatures” shelter and sustenance for over fifty years. 

In her author’s note, Stewart explains that scientists had no idea that whale fall communities existed until they discovered one off the coast of California in 1987. Studying the sites, scientists have identified more than 500 different species that live on or around whale falls. 

Dunlavey’s lush illustrations, created using watercolor, mixed media, and digital tools, mirror the text. In some scenes, especially when you are looking up through many miles of ocean and you see the shadow of the whale overhead, you feel like you are actually a part of the book, standing at the bottom of the ocean with sea life all around you.

This informational picture book is perfect to share with readers, regardless of age, who are curious about the ocean…and spark those who have yet to take the plunge.

In addition to the author’s note, there is a section that identifies some whale fall species that includes illustrations of the species, scientific name, size, diet, predators, life span, and field notes. Selected sources, more books to explore is also included.