Friday, February 19, 2016

Nonfiction Picture Book - 10 for 10

Wow! Has it been six months already?! So much has happened since then. I started this blog in order to participate in the August Picture Book 10 for 10. If you go back and look at that first post, I think you'll agree that I've become much better at this! I still have a long way to go, and I need to become much better at posting more frequently.

At any rate, the 10 Nonfiction Picture Books I have chosen are all books that have transported me to another place and time. I know that the main purpose of informational text is to teach us about a particular subject. However, the best ones do that AND possess the magic to whisk us away and help us escape for a little while. So here they are:

1. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, Sophie Blackall (Illustrations)

Oh my gosh! This book just blew me away. I've grown up loving Winnie the Pooh, like so many other children. This true story of the soldier veterinarian who found the bear on the way to fight in World War I is fascinating. Lindsay Mattick frames this story in a bedtime story she is telling to her son. Winnie's story is so well told and Sophie Blackall's illustrations are so characteristically appealing. No wonder Blackall won the Caldecott this year for it. The end of the book kind of grabbed me emotionally at the end. This is one of the few nonfiction children's books that made me cry a bit!

2. Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, Bryan Collier (Illustrations)

This is such an inspiring story of a young man growing up in New Orleans. Music was so important in his family and as a child he would make his own musical instruments so he could play with his brother (a trumpet player). When he found an old, discarded trombone he marched out in a Mardi Gras parade with it. The trombone was twice his size, so he earned the nickname "Trombone Shorty". Collier's illustrations, which are a mix of paintings and collage, are beautiful and really capture how special these times were to the author. This book won a Caldecott Honor this year.

3. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, Ekua Holmes (Illustrations)

This book was beautiful and awesome. I've wanted to read it for a while. And when I heard that it had won a Caldecott Honor this year, I was thrilled that it was also available at my library. Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes tell such an important story through stunning illustrations and verse. While telling the painful stories of racism and injustice, it also tells of a woman who never gave up or gave in to the voices telling her "no" throughout her life. I really want to share this story with my students, and I definitely want to get my own copy of the book to place in my classroom library permanently. While I've read quite a bit of literature about the Civil Rights Era, I learned A LOT from this book.

4. Desmond and the Very Mean Word by Desmond Tutu, A.G. Ford (Illustrator) 

This is a terrific picture book about a young man who gets picked on by some other boys. With the help of Father Trevor, he learns about the power of forgiveness. The illustrations are awesome and a powerful part of the story. I love that the author never actually says what the mean word was. I think that I could have great discussions with my students about this book and what the author's message is.

5. The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting, Don Tate (Illustrator)

This beautifully done nonfiction picture book tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral by focusing on the borrowed cart that was used to carry King's casket from the Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College. Funeral organizers borrowed the unwanted cart from an antique store - "Friends painted it green. 'It's the color of grass when it rains,' a woman said."

Mules were hitched to the cart - "'Ordinary mules for an ordinary funeral,' the people told one another. 'That was what he wanted.'

The illustrations, which were done in pencil and gouache, do a wonderful job of capturing the emotion and magnitude of this occasion. Most are two-page spreads depicting the crowds outside the church, inside the church, and along the route to Morehouse College and then the cemetery.

My favorite lines are: "The cart was not heavy.
The coffin was not heavy.
The man inside it was not heavy.
His great spirit had been the heaviest part of him.
It could not be kept in a coffin."

6. Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh, Wendell Minor (Illustrations)

What an awesome picture book biography this is! The reader learns so much about this artist and his work. The paintings illustrating the painter, his paintings and his life are absolutely amazing. You can tell that the author and the illustrator are very passionate about the type of art Edward Hopper forwarded and have studied hard about how to portray it to younger readers. The cover art, depicting the Night Hawk painting, attracted my husband's interest as he was bringing the book home from the library for me. He sat down and read the book before I had a chance and enjoyed it very much. I think I'm going to need to get my own copy of this book!

7. Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, Julie Morstad (illustrator)

This book is absolutely lovely! I was enchanted by every bit of it. The story of Anna Pavlova is very inspiring for anyone who has ever longed to play a role in something beautiful. I could almost hear music playing as I read through the text. The language is so moving. I'm really looking forward to sharing with my students the author's use of metaphor to describe Anna's movements: "Anna is a bird in flight, a whim of wind and water. Quiet feathers in a big loud world. Anna is the swan." The illustrations are stunning and do an awesome job of bringing us into Anna's world in czarist Russia. I'm very excited to have this book in my classroom library!

8. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, Rafael López (Illustrations)

This is a really special book that allows all children to dream to be whatever they want to be. The beautiful, colorful illustrations along w/Engle's poetry tells about a young girl who very passionately longed to make music drumming. All along the way grown-ups tried to discourage her because she was a girl. Through persistence and tenacity, her father finally agreed to send her to a music teacher. She learned and worked and practiced until she was ready to play her drums for others. The paintings of music and celebrations in this Caribbean country really take you someplace special.

9. Growing Up Pedro: How the Martinez Brothers Made It from the Dominican Republic All the Way to the Major Leagues by Matt Tavares

This is a beautifully illustrated nonfiction book that tells the story of a famous pitcher from the Dominican Republic. Sports fans will definitely appreciate the story of how a youngster worked hard to become one of the best pitchers ever. But everyone can appreciate the story of how close Pedro was to his brother, Ramon. The story also highlights the way the Martinez brothers used their fame and fortune to make life better for their friends and family back in the Dominican Republic. I was excited to add this book to my classroom library.

10. Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, Christian Robinson (Illustrator)

I've always enjoyed reading and learning about the music and entertainment of the early twentieth century - imagining the flappers of the Roaring Twenties dancing the Charleston in Paris. So I was eager to read this book about the life of Josephine Baker. I loved it!

Right after the title page, is a page with this quote:

"I shall dance all my life....
I would like to die, breathless,
spent, at the end of a dance."
- Josephine Baker, 1927

The next page ends with, "America wasn't ready for Josephine, the colored superstar. PARIS WAS."

This biography, with stunning illustrations, takes us from Josephine's difficult childhood in St. Louis, through her hard work and determination to perform on vaudeville stages, to her arrival on Broadway. All throughout this story, you're faced with the sad reality of racial inequality and segregation. She couldn't enter through the front doors of the theaters in which she performed.

When she finally traveled across the Atlantic to France, she encountered a completely different world. The story takes readers through her rise to success abroad and her return to America. She wanted to make a difference in the lives of black people here.

This is an awesome biography. It definitely makes me want to learn even more about Josephine Baker's life. The author has included a good list of resources for readers who want to continue reading about her life.



  1. What a beautiful theme, Jana. I know and have enjoyed each one, except have not read The Cart That Carried Martin. Thanks for sharing your ideas about each one, too!

  2. Our themes are kind of similar! I love many of these - Desmond is one of my very favourite titles! Such a rich read aloud experience

  3. Thanks for your list. I haven't come acoss Desmond Tutu's before now.
    Apples with Many Seeds

  4. Jana,
    It made me smile to think back to your first post (bonus that it was during August's 10 for 10 event). Then I smiled even more to see that you have posted so many times since. You make me want to be better about keeping up with my blog.

    I love your titles. Columbus Public Library will be busy filling my requests after my stop here. You have so many great titles. This year I'm noticing lists that encompass more diverse titles. Yay! I also love the increasing numbers of strong biographies for young readers.

    Thanks for joining the event,