Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, March 27, 2023

Emperor Of The Ice: How a Changing Climate Affects a Penguin Colony by Nicola Davies

Emperor of the Ice: How a Changing Climate Affects a Penguin Colony
By Nicola Davies; 
Illustrated by Catherine Rayner
Candlewick Press. 2023

Because of our dependence on fossil fuels - coal, oil, and gas, our climate is changing. Oceans are warming, glacier ice is melting, and winds are stronger. Storms are fierce. Davies, a  zoologist and award winning author of many science books for children, turns her attention to the Emperor Penguin.

As the northern hemisphere start enjoying the beginnings of spring, in the Southern Hemisphere, April means fall. 

"Most animals are heading north to avoid the coming winter and the ring of frozen ocean that grows with every passing day."

Not the Emperor Penguin. They need the cold sea ice to have their babies. 

Since Emperor Penguins breed in remote areas, on ice that form in the ocean, and at the coldest time of the year, the only way to observe them is by satellites. 

Catherine Rayner's mixed media illustrations cover every page. They show the penguins life cycle. Readers will feel the cold as they watch the male penguin huddled, hungry, protecting the egg while the female is off hunting for fish. She needs to be well-fed in order to feed her baby.

The tone is a mixture of joyous and sobering as the impact climate change is having on our weather and how this negatively impacts this population. 

Davies includes short paragraphs that explains how climate change is impacting the Emperor Penguin, defines What Is Climate Change, and suggestions on what people can do to help.

A valuable informational picture book. Perfect for STEM displays or a read aloud for Earth Day. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Pitch Perfect and Persistent! The Musical Debut of Amy Cheney Beach by Caitlin DeLems; Alison Jay

Pitch Perfect and Persistent! : The Musical Debut of Amy Cheney Beach.
Caitlin DeLems; Illustrated by Alison Jay
Calkins Creek. An Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2023

Amy Cheney Beach was a musical prodigy. Born in West Henniker, New Hampshire on September 5, 1867, Amy showed her musical gifts at an early age. At age two, Amy was able to sing an anthem from start to finish. “No mistakes.” Despite her mother’s strong religious beliefs to deny her musical interest in playing the piano, Amy would grow up to be recognized as the first female composer in America. Many of her pieces were performed by the Boston Symphony. 

Yet, society frowned upon middle class women having a career. Did that stop Amy? No!  By age sixteen, Amy performed at Boston Music Hall. 

“She performed two major works - Moscheles’s Concerto in G Minor, Chopin’s Rondo in E-flat Major. ALL from memory.” 

Beach would go on to spend her life composing full-time and limited public recitals. A frequent visitor to the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, upon her death, Amy directed her royalties to be given to this now famous artist colony. 

The partnership of DeLems words and Jay’s signature illustrations, done with Alkyd paint (a quick-drying oil paint) with crackle varnish, brings this inspiring, musical biography to life.

Peppered throughout the narrative, in italics, are quotes from Amy Cheney Beach.

Included is an author’s note, timeline, musical glossary, and further reading. 

I have been a huge fan of Alison Jay’s art throughout the years and was tickled to see her work in this charming picture book biography. 

Click here to watch a film from Vermont Public on the life and music of  Amy Cheney Beach. Her music is moving and beautiful. 

Monday, March 13, 2023

How Birds Sleep Written by David Obuchowski; Illustrated by Sarah Pedry

How Birds Sleep
Written by David Obuchowski;
Illustrated by Sarah Pedry
mineditionus. An Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2023

“It’s dusk. Unless you’re an owl, it’s time to get ready for sleep. As the sun goes down, birds all over the world are preparing for a good night’s rest. 

So how do birds sleep anyway?” 

This lyrical informational picture book is a perfect companion for any reader, regardless of age, who has ever wondered how do birds sleep? From Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor, United States) to Vernal Hanging Parrot (Loriculus vernal, Thailand); From the United States to Australia, husband and wife team, Obuchowski and Pedry, offers interesting facts of more than twenty bird species from around the world.

Each entry includes information on sleeping arrangements, name of bird with its Latin name and location. 

“The Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagoons, Canada) sleeps in a snowbank to keep warm and hidden.” 

Paired with the accessible text are the gorgeous illustrations by Pedry done by hand in layers using charcoal, ink, and gouache. They are delicious  - luminescent - and perfectly reflect what is being explained in the text. 

Included are two questions (So What is Sleep Anyway? Are Birds Losing Sleep Over Climate Change?) as an opportunity to open up a discussion with students. An author’s note explaining how the author’s came up with the idea for this book. 

Now that Spring is just days away, and birds are migrating back to their nesting grounds, this book is perfect to share all ages. A jumping off place to spark conversations on the importance of preserving natural habitats. 

Friday, March 3, 2023

New Nonfiction- March 2023


The Monkey Trials: John Scopes and the Battle Over Teaching Evolution
by Anita Sanchez

Nearer My Freedom: The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano by Himself
by Monica Edinger and Lesley Young
Zest Books

Colin Kaepernick: Change the Game
by Colin Kaepernick and Eve L. Ewing
illustrated by Orlando Caicedo

In Limbo
by Deb JJ Lee
First Second

Rising Class: How Three First Generation College Students Conquered Their First Year
by Jennifer Miller
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Supermoms!: Animal Heroes
by Heather Lange and Jamie Harper
Candlewick Press

Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-Floor Ecosystem
by Melissa Stewart
illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
Random House Studio

edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson and Jeanette Bradley
Charlesbridge Publishing

Hidden Creature Features 
by Jane Park
Lerner Publishing

Never Give Up: Dr. Kati Karikó and the Race for the Future of Vaccines
by Debbie Dadey
illustrated by Juliana Oakley
Millbrook Press

Finding Family: The Duckling Raised by Loons
by Laurie Purdie Salas
illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis
Millbrook Press

The Story of the Saxophone
by Lesa Cline-Ransome
illustrated by James E. Ransome
Holiday House

Pitch Perfect and Persistent!: The Musical Debut of Amy Cheney Beach
by Caitlin DeLems
illustrated by Allison Jay
Calkins Creek

Josephine and Her Dishwashing Machine
by Kate Hannigan
illustrated by Sarah Green
Calkins Creek

Making More: How Life Begins
by Katherine Roy
Norton Young Readers
by Katherine Roy

Science Comics: The Periodic Table of Elements
by Jon Chad
First Second

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

The Day the River Caught Fire
by Barry Wittenstein
illustrated by Jessie Hartland
Simon & Schuster

How Birds Sleep 
by David Obuchowski
illustrated by Sarah Pedry

Galápagos: Islands of Change
by Leslie Bulion
illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
Peachtree Publishing

Monday, February 27, 2023

A First Time for Everything
by Dan Santat
First Second, 2023
Grades 5 and up

Caldecott Medal winner, Dan Santat, has made a name for himself as a talented picture book illustrator and author.  A First Time for Everything is Santat's first graphic novel memoir, and it's brilliant. Based on Santat's experiences traveling to Europe the summer before his freshman year of high school, the memoir captures the, awkwardness, excitement, embarrassment, and joy of coming of age in the late 1980s. 

Readers will identify with Dan, who tries to do the right thing and be true to himself while navigating the complexities of the teen years, friendship, independence and young love. The memoir is a tribute to Gen X with Kodak cameras, mix tapes, network television, and hand written letters. 

The graphic novel format is perfect for Santat's story pairing his talent for illustration with engaging storytelling. Dan takes risks and learns about the who he is and who he wants to be as he travels through France, Switzerland, Germany and England. Flashbacks, presented in black & white, provide insight into Dan's experiences before the trip. While there are some scenes with alcohol and smoking, the events are a glimpse into the teen years of Gen Xers while also contrasting American and European cultures in the 80s. 

A strength of the book is how the story represents the budding romance between Dan and Amy over the course of the trip. Dan's crush on Amy is innocent and realistic as his insecurities cause him to come across as awkward and unsure. Ultimately, Dan uses his drawing talent and his love for tennis and Wimbeldon to win over Amy. A First Time for Everything is highly recommended for middle school and high school readers. It's the perfect mix of humor, nostalgia, teen angst, and self-actualization. 

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Brilliant Calculator: How Mathematician Edith Clarke Helped Electrify America by Jan Lower and Susan Reagan

The Brilliant Calculator: How Mathematician Edith Clarke Helped Electrify America
Written by Jan Lower;
Illustrated by Susan Reagan
Calkins Creek. An Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2023

Edith Clarke was born in 1883, in Howard County, Maryland. From a very young age she devoured anything relating to numbers. She dreamed of building railroads, dams, bridges, and hoped to one day travel the world. In 1908, Edith earned a degree in mathematics and astronomy from Vassar College. Fascinated by electricity, Edith went on to be the first woman to graduate from MIT with a masters of science in electrical engineer. 

After graduating from MIT, Edith went to work at General Electric (GE) Turbine Engineering Department as director of women computors. 

Edith would go on to be the first female hired as an electrical engineer at GE, and patents her creation, the Clarke Calculator.

This picture book biography is a charming and exciting read. Partnered with Reagan's full-page, colorful illustrations, done in watercolor with digital drawings, bring the book to life. Quotes from Clarke are presented throughout.

Included is an author's note, timeline (my favorite addition to any nonfiction title), glossary, short biographies of other women mathematicians, engineers, and inventors, and extensive bibliography.

A great addition to any STEM display.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Nonfiction News- February 2023


Last month the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) issued a position statement about the role of nonfiction books for children in grades K-12. The statement outlines the reasons why it's important for children to read nonfiction texts and provides resources and recommendations for how to expand the use of nonfiction in our schools and libraries. 

The Children and Young Adult Book Lovers' Literary Award (CYBILS) Winners were announced this week. Here are the nonfiction winners from 2023.

Elementary Nonfiction Winner

Middle Grade Nonfiction Winner

Young Adult Nonfiction Winner

Friday, February 17, 2023

The Nonfiction Detectives' Tips for Evaluating Nonfiction- Updated for 2023

In 2013, we wrote a blog post about how to evaluate nonfiction. The original post was based on a session we presented to librarians in our state and was in response to a new interest in nonfiction books after the release of the Common Core State Standards. 

Ten years later, we have updated our tips for evaluating nonfiction. We hope to provide insight into what we look for when we read nonfiction for children based on our experience reviewing nonfiction books and serving on awards committees. These are some of the features we consider when reading and reviewing nonfiction books for children.

What is the format of book?

What is the type of book?

Who is the author? 

  • Does the author have expertise or experience in this area? 
  • How did the author research the book?- Interviews, travel, readings, etc...

How do visual elements enhance the story and convey information?

What is the writing style?


  • Who is the target audience?
  • What is the age range of the audience?
  • How could this book be read with children: in a school setting, library story time, bedtime, pleasure reading, research?

Design and Layout of the Book

  • How do the text and visuals work together?
  • Where are the text and visuals placed on the page?
  • Are there supporting features such as sidebars, captions and labels?

Presentation of Information

  • How do the author and illustrator present the information to children?
  • Is the information presented in a specific way (chronological, problem/solution, etc...)?
  • Is there dialogue? If so, are there source notes that indicate the source of the quotes?
  • If dialogue is invented? This may indicate the book is fiction and not a nonfiction book.

Back Matter

  • Is there an author's note?
  • Is there an illustrator's note?
  • Are there source notes and/or a bibliography?
  • Is there a timeline?
  • Are there resources for further reading or research?
  • What other information about the topic is shared?

Monday, February 13, 2023

A Take-Charge Girl Blazes a Trail to Congress: The Story of Jeannette Rankin by Gretchen Woelfle

 A Take-Charge Girl Blazes a Trail to Congress: The Story of Jeannette Rankin                      
Written by Gretchen Woelfle; Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon                                                 

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

In 1916, Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973) became the first woman congresswoman ever! She possessed boundless energy, was fiercely determined to use that energy and public speaking skills to support laws that helped women and children. She was a trailblazer!

Gretchen Woelfle brings to life in this picture book biography the incredible life of an amazing woman. Rankin spent her life working to see that women had equal pay as men, better health care for women and children, was against child labor, and, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, was the only member of Congress to vote against entering World War I. A strong advocate of free speech, Rankin also joined antiwar demonstrations protesting the Vietnam War.

Gibbon’s vibrant illustrations, done with acrylic inks & colored pencil on acid-free cartridge paper bring the spirit of Rankin to life with historical accuracy. 

Included is an author’s note, timeline, and bibliography. 

Share this with all students, especially those in high school.

Watch this book trailer for inspiration. 

Josephine and her Dishwashing Machine Written by Kate Hannigan

 Josephine and her Dishwashing Machine : Josephine Cochrane's Bright Invention Makes a Big Splash
                                                                                                         Written by Kate Hannigan; Illustrated by Sarah Green                                                                                  Calkins Creek. An Imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2023

Josephine Garis Cochrane was born on March 8, 1839. She lived in an era when women, "could not own property, sign legal documents, hold on to her earnings, or even get an education unless she had her husband's permission." If you invented something, you needed to use your husband's name on the patent application. 

When she saw her beautiful dishes chipped and cracked, Josephine decided there must be a better way to wash the dishes. She got to work pondering, sketching, thinking, studying a 1850 version of a dishwasher, until she came up with an idea.  With the help of a mechanic, the two brought Josephine's idea to life. Josephine applied for her first patent on December 31, 1885.

Green's lively, colorful illustrations, done digitally, reflect what is mentioned in the text.

Included is an author's note, a two-page spread listing other notable women inventors, a timeline of fascinating inventions, and source notes. 

This fascinating picture book biography is very inspirational. The message of believing in yourself, not giving up makes it a great book to share with students of all ages. 

Monday, February 6, 2023

New Nonfiction- February 2023


Mary Anning and the Great Fossil Discoveries
by Jordi Bayarri
Graphic Universe

The Forest in the Sea: Seaweed Solutions to Planetary Problems
by Anita Sanchez
Holiday House

The Last Plastic Straw
by Dee Romito
illustrated by Ziyue Chen
Holiday House

One Tiny Treefrog: A Countdown to Survival
by Tony Piedra & Mackenzie Joy
Candlewick Press

by Dan Santat
First Second

Emperor of the Ice: How a Changing Climate Affects a Penguin Colony
by Nicola Davies
illustrated by Catherine Rayner
Candlewick Press

Rock, Rosetta, Rock! Roll, Rosetta, Roll!
by Tonya Bolden
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Thomas H. Begay and the Navajo Code Talkers
by Alysa Landry
Ohio University Press

by Gretchen Woelfle
illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
Calkins Creek

Sisters in Science: Marie Curie, Bronia Dluska, and the Atomic Power of Sisterhood
by Linda Elovitz Marshall and Anna & Elena Balbusso
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

Breaking the Mold: The Changing Face of Climate Change
by Dana Alison Levy
Holiday House

Abandon Ship!: The True World War II Story About the Sinking of the Laconia
by Michael J. Tougias & Alison O'Leary
Christy Ottaviano Books

Friday, February 3, 2023

Nonfiction Winners at the ALA Youth Media Awards

 Here is an overview of some of the nonfiction titles that were honored at the ALA Youth Media Awards on Monday.  

Sibert Medal

Seen and Unseen 
by Elizabeth Partridge
Chronicle Books

Sibert Honors

  Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Right Movement
by Angela Joy
illustrated by Janelle Washington
Roaring Brook Press
by Antoinette Portis
Neal Porter Books

Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott
by Mara Rockliff
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Random House

The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs
by Chana Stiefel
illustrated by Susan Gal
Scholastic Press

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction- Winner

Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice
by Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes and Dawud Anyabwile
Norton Young Readers

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction- Finalists

Abuela, Don't Forget Me
by Rex Ogle
Norton Young Readers

American Murderer
by Gail Jarrow
Calkins Creek

A Face for Picasso
by Ariel Henry
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Unequal: A Story of America
by Michael Eric Dyson and Marc Favreau
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award
 and Caldecott Honor

Coretta Scott King Author Honor

Coretta Scott King Author Honor and Illustrator Honor

Pura Belpré Youth Illustration Honor

Schneider Family Book Award

Printz Honor

Batchelder Award

Sydney Taylor Book Award