Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, February 27, 2023

A First Time for Everything

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

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

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