Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Friday, December 29, 2023

Best Nonfiction of 2023

 There were many excellent nonfiction books published for children and teens in 2023. 
The following titles are some of the books that rose to the top.

The 21: The True Story of the Youth Who Sued the U.S. Government Over Climate Change
by Elizabeth Rusch

The Bees of Notre Dame
by Meghan P. Browne and E.B. Goodale

by Sy Montgomery and Matt Patterson

by Sneed B. Collard III and Howard Gray

Coretta's Journey: The Life and Times of Coretta Scott King
by Alice Faye Duncan and R. Gregory Christie

by Dan Santat

Loud and Proud: The Life of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm
by Lesa Cline-Ransome and Kaylani Juanita

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

Friday, December 15, 2023

Hidden Systems

Hidden Systems: Water, Electricity, the Internet, and the Secrets Behind the Systems We Use Every Day
by Dan Nott
RH Graphic, 2023
Grades 4 and up

From the moment I picked up Hidden Systems, I was hooked. This science graphic novel takes a deep dive into the systems in our daily lives that we don't typically think about. Have you ever wondered how electricity travels to your home or how the internet works? Did you ever think about where tap water originates? 

Dan Nott blends comic illustrations, maps, diagrams, and expository text to break down complex systems and explain them to middle grade and young adult readers in a clear and linear manner. The panels in the graphic novel effectively show change over time. Maps and diagrams are included in cutaways and insets. The book introduces scientific terms and concepts by chunking information into smaller bites and illustrating the concepts to aid comprehension.

View sample pages from Hidden Systems on Dan Nott's site. Hidden Systems would make the perfect gift book for curious readers in your life.

Friday, December 8, 2023

A Review of Three Picture Book Biographies

As the year is coming to a close, we have more books than weeks left to post reviews. To keep the momentum of posting new titles, Cathy and I thought we would offer a combined post of some delightful and engaging recently published picture book biographies. One of the attractions of picture book biographies is a great introduction to the life of someone who changed the world. We look at it as whetting a persons appetite just enough that they want to know more.

We will go alphabetically by author.

Traveling Shoes: The Story of Willye White, US Olympian and Long Jump Champion
Alice Faye Duncan; Illustrated by Keith Mallett
Calkins Creek. An Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2023

Born in 1939, Willye White was born to black parents but she “was an oddball baby with green eyes and reddish hair. My body was a lump of dark blue veins and light-bright cocoa skin.” At three days old, her parents ran away and left Willye to be raised by her maternal grandparents. In 1950, at age ten, Willye was running on the high school track team. At age 16, in 1956, Willye qualifies for the Olympic women’s track team in the long jump. Told in poetry and prose, Duncan incorporates quotes by Willye at the beginning of each chapter. Mallett’s digital illustrations complement the narrative. The author weaves the turmoil and uncertainty of the Civil Rights Movement into Willye’s life. Included is a brief biography of Willye’s life, a timeline, author’s note, and bibliography round out this excellent title.

Beautiful Noise: The Music of John Cage
by Lisa Rogers; Illustrated by Il Sung Na
a.s.b. anne schwartz books 2023

John Cage believed the sounds that surrounded him every day were music. 

“a garbage truck screeching/feet skipping/pigeons scattering/tires whispering/cats hissing/children giggling/balls bouncing/dog tags clinking/taxis vrooming…” The narrative is posed to readers as “What If’s.” “What if people stormed out of these concerts and said your music wasn’t music   but you still believed it was? Answer: “Then you’d be like John Cage.” The illustrations by Il Sung Na are a bit abstract and perfectly complement this inspiring and unusual composer. Added backmatter include an author and illustrator’s note, quotation sources, and a selected bibliography. The endpapers are amazing.

Shining Star: Vera Rubin Discovers Dark Matter
by Suzanne Slade. Pictures by Susan Reagan
Calkins Creek. An Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2023

Vera Rubin loved the stars. At night, she would study how the “twinkles of light slid across the sky. She memorized the names of constellations. Sometimes, she stayed up all night considering colossal, cosmic questions: Why did starts travel along curved paths? How did people tell time by watching stars move? Why did different stars appear in different seasons?”

Dr. Rubin’s work was important to the scientific community. She also worked hard to encourage women to study science and helped them obtain equal opportunities. Included is an author’s note, a brief description of Dr. Rubin’s Dark Matter Discovery, a timeline, additional reading, and lack & white photos of Dr. Rubin. Quotes by Dr. Rubin are placed in italics on every double page spread. The illustrations by Reagan, created with hand-painted watercolor washes and ink lines that are combined and enhanced digitally in Photoshop, reflect back the words and life of this very important female scientist.

Each book would be an excellent read aloud for all ages.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Coretta's Journey

Coretta's Journey: The Life and Times of Coretta Scott King
by Alice Faye Duncan
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Calkins Creek, 2023
Grades 3 and up

Coretta's Journey eloquently blends poetry and prose to tell the life story of civil rights activist, Coretta Scott King. This powerful picture book biography is organized chronologically and includes dates to help readers place the events in history. Duncan incorporates quotes into the narrative and poems as she describes the life and accomplishments of the fearless and steady civil rights leader, mother and wife.

Christie's mixed media watercolor illustrations evoke a range of emotions from joy and wonder to determination and grief. Rich back matter includes photographs, a timeline and author's note. Coretta's Journey is a recommended purchase for upper elementary and middle grade readers. Look for the title to appear on awards lists in the coming months!

Friday, December 1, 2023

Tee Time On The Moon by David A. Kelly

Tee Time On The Moon: How Astronaut Alan Shepard Played Lunar Golf

David A. Kelly; Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

Calkins Creek. An Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2023

The Apollo 14 took off for the moon in 1971. Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchell were all on board. What Roosa and Mitchell didn’t know is that Shepard had a secret. He had brought something special with him…in a sock.

This fun informational picture book tells the story of how, after doing their work as astronauts - conducting scientific experiments, collecting soil samples, and taking measurements. Just before they head back into the lunar module for the planned rendezvous with Apollo 14, “Shepard snapped the head onto the scoop handle to create a makeshift MOON CLUB! Alan Shepard planned to play golf on the moon.”

In the first half of the book, Kelly shares facts about the space mission, the landing and Mitchell and Shepard’s scientific goals. The second half explores how Shepard, who loved golf, wanted to see just how far a golf ball would travel on the moon. 

Paired with Kelly’s fun narrative are Fotheringham’s full page, digital art that truly enhance the story. 

This fun story about space travel will delight many fans who dream of space travel.

Included is a selected bibliography and an overview of the Apollo missions that went to the moon, some facts about Commander Shepard, and brief explanations on a few topics related to the Apollo 14 mission. 


Monday, November 27, 2023

The Book of Turtles by Sy Montgomery & Matt Patterson

The Book of Turtles
Sy Montgomery & Matt Patterson
Clarion Books. An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

“Sometime around 240 million years ago — about the time of the first dinosaurs, and 9 million years before the first crocodile — the shell invented the turtle.”

Award-winner science writer, Montgomery, mastery at engaging readers is on display here. Her mixing scientific facts with portraits of some of the world’s most famous turtles. Readers also learn “Extreme Turtle” facts: Which turtle is the largest, smallest, fastest, flattest, longest necks, most colorful, stinkiest and longest life span. 

Did you know turtles have many talents? Myrtle, a 90-year-old wood turtle learned how to navigate a maze just as quickly as laboratory rats. A surprising fact is that Eastern box turtles can scale a chain-link fence. 

Paired with the narrative are Matt Patterson’s photo-like illustrations. Rendered in acrylic paint, the name of each turtle is included in italics.

Like all wildlife, turtles are in sharp decline. Montgomery suggests ways we can help turtles survive. Best tip: if you see a turtle in the road, carefully pick it up and move it out of harms way.

To learn more about this charming book, watch Sy and Matt in this video

Friday, November 24, 2023

Nonfiction News- November 2023


As we enter awards season, several nonfiction titles have already been recognized for their literary merit.

The graphic novel memoir, A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat, won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

Border Crossings by Sneed Collard III received the Orbis Pictus Award at the NCTE Conference last weekend. Visit the Orbis Pictus site to the full list of honor books and recommended titles.

The National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) recently released their list of Outstanding Science Trade Books.

The list includes many excellent nonfiction texts from 2023.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Womats Are Pretty Weird: a [not so] serious guide by Abi Cushman

Wombats Are Pretty Weird: a [not so] serious guide

Abi Cushman

Greenwillow Books. An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


This informational picture books on wombats is quite charming. Cushman combines scientific facts with anthropomorphized illustrations. 

Readers will learn that Wombats are marsupials and only live in Australia. (Marsupial is a type of mammal that generally carries its young in a pouch.) There are three species: Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat, Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat, and the Bare-Nosed Wombat.

Some cool facts about wombats are : 

They have backward-facing pouches that helps keep the dirt out when the mom is digging. 

Their butts are armored with a layer of cartilage to protect themselves from predators when they run into their burrows.

Wombats are the only animal that has cube-shaped poop! 

The full-color artwork, drawn in pencil and colored digitally, bring a perfect balance to narrative. Even if you are not that interested in wombats, it is a great book to share. Readers will appreciate the dry humor of the snake who adds some comic relief to this playful, full-of-facts nonfiction title. 

Included are some more specific facts of the three species of wombats, suggestions for further reading, and a glossary (“What’s a gloss-ar-ree?” asked our friend, snake) 

Click here to visit the author's website for some fun downloadable activities related to this book, and other titles by Cushman.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Beulah Has a Hunch!: Inside the Colorful Mind of Master Inventor Beulah Louise Henry by Katie Mazeika

Beulah Has a Hunch! Inside the Colorful Mind of Master Inventor Beulah Louise Henry
Katie Mazeika
Beach Lane Books. An Imprint of Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.

It certainly is refreshing to have so many books that highlight the accomplishments of women. In, Beulah Has a Hunch, readers will learn of Beulah Louise Henry, a young woman who defied the conventions of her time. Without formal education, at the time of her death, Beulah held the record for the most mechanical patents granted to a woman. Remarkable!

Whenever she spotted a problem, her mind would fixate,” working until she found a solution. But it was hard to be an inventor at a time when women were not taught science or math. Beulah was supposed to grow up and be a proper lady, not an inventor. Yet, her determination was evident.

Despite the lack of support in the male-dominated world, Beulah’s first patent was for an interchangeable fabric covered parasol. It was such a success that Beulah was able to purchase two manufacturers of her own. With her hunches, Beulah invented everything from toys, ice cream makers to factory machinery. 

By her fortieth birthday she held more patents than any other woman in history.” 

Beulah was able to see in her mind fully formed all her hunches, products, and inventions. She attributed this gift to having hyperphantasia, an ability to picture things in extreme detail, and synesthesia, her “color-hearing” as Beulah described it. 

Included in this delightful informational biography, an author’s note with more information onn Beulah Louise Henry, pictures of a few of her inventions, a few historic photos of Beulah, and source notes. 

A great book to share with students of all ages.

Monday, November 13, 2023

New Nonfiction- November 2023


Attacked: Pearl Harbor and the Day War Came to America
by Marc Favreau
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Why Do Elephants Have Big Ears?
by Steven Jenkins and Robin Page
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Rising Above: The Wataru "Wat" Misaka Story
by Hayley Diep
illustrated by Naomi Giddings
Triumph Books

The Bone Wars: The True Story of an Epic Battle to Find Dinosaur Fossils
by Jane Kurtz
illustrated by Alexander Vidal
Beach Lane Books

Coyote's Wild Home 
by Lily Kingsolver and Barbara Kingsolver
painted by Paul Mirocha

Be Thankful for Water: How Water Sustains Our Planet
by Harriet Ziefert
illustrated by Brian Fitzgerald
Little Comet

Stone Age Beasts
by Ben Lerwill
illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith
Candlewick Press

Above the Trenches: A WWI Flying Ace Tale
by Nathan Hale
Amulet Books

Friday, November 10, 2023

Masked Hero: How Wu Lien-teh Invented the Mask that Ended an Epidemic by Dr. Shan Woo Liu and Kaili Liu Gormley

Masked Hero: How Wu Lien-teh invented the Mask That Ended an Epidemic

Dr. Shan Woo Liu and Kaili Liu Gromley; Illustrated by Lisa Wee

MIT Kids Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press. 2023

This informational picture book biography takes place more than a hundred years before the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the story of Dr. Wu Lien-teh who is known for his expertise in germs and promoting masks to prevent the spread of diseases. 

Born March 10, 1879, in Penang, Malaya, Lien-teh wanted to grow up and become a doctor. At age seventeen, in 1896, he wins a scholarship that allows him to study at Cambridge University in England. After graduating in 1903, Lien-teh returned to his hometown of Penang, Malaya. Hoping to secure a job, he was met with discrimmination. “When he applied for a job, the authorities turned him away, saying it was open only to British citizens of European descent.” Still, that didn’t stop him. Lien-teh continued to study and later, moved to China to help lead a new medical college. 

In 1910, when a terrible disease swept into the Northeast area of China, the Chinese authorities requested Dr Lien-teh traveled to the city of Harbin to help. When Dr. Lien-teh discovered the disease was spread by bacterial germs when people coughed, “he had to think of a way to stop these germs — and fast.”

Using layers of gauze and cotton, Dr. Lien-teh created a thick mask that covered the entire face. Yes. There were those who refused to wear the mask, but those who did not, even doctors, became sick. With the support of the community, wearing a mask proved successful. As was the quarantining the city. No traveling in or out. Deaths dwindled and soon, by March of 1911, the plague was over. Dr. Lien-teh’s mask had stopped the disease from spreading in fewer than four months.

Because of his work in establishing hospitals and colleges throughout China that embraced medical advances, “…Lien-teh would be nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1935, the first person of Chinese descent to earn that honor.” 

Wee’s digitally created illustrations are colorful and complement the text.

An uplifting story that, hopefully, will spread the word that the decision to wear a mask is a positive decision, one that shows ones support for your community. 

The book is written by Wu Lien-teh’s great-granddaughter, Dr. Shan Woo Liu, and her daughter, Kaili Liu Gormley. 

Included is a timeline, a note from Dr. Shan Woo Liu, and a selected bibliography. 

Monday, November 6, 2023

Shipwrecked! Diving for Hidden Time Capsules on the Ocean Floor by Martin W. Sandler

Shipwrecked! Diving for Hidden Time Capsules on the Ocean Floor

Martin W. Sandler

Astra Young Readers. An Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers


Do you have students who are fascinated with the ancient world? Curious about what secrets still lie on the ocean floor? If so, then hand them, Shipwrecked! 

In, Shipwrecked!, Sandler explores seven of the world’s most incredible shipwrecks: Antikythera, Cape Gelidonya, Shinan, The Mary Rose, São José de Africa, The Hunley, The Erbus and The Terror? The writing is concise and gives lots of detail on how the initial discovery was made, and the effort needed to recover and record the artifacts found on the ocean floor. Each discovery, the first one, Antikythera, in 1900, would, interestingly, further the field of marine archeology.  Each exploration would find scientists inventing better tools to make the extraction of the artifacts more efficient, and safer.

There are color photos throughout that show some of the artifacts discovered, and text blocks set off in a wash of light blue that offers more indepth explanations on topics or individuals mentioned within the text. As an example, Scuba Diving mentions Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan, the developers of the Aqualung. 

The final chapter, “For Further Exploration”, lists a few more ancient shipwrecks that have been recovered. 

Included are source notes, selected bibliography, and index. 

Since the focus of this book is on how the shipwrecks were discovered and the skills needed to recover them, round out your display with books on Jacques Cousteau, Pliny, Homer and his tale, in any edition, The Odyssey, the rush to find the Northwest Passage, an atlas of the ancient world, and other titles that can help fill in on the ancient world.