I have been on a nonfiction reading tear this summer – poring over photographs, flipping through the sidebars. Maybe it’s because I just turned in my own novel and I’m hungry different, but there’s something wonderfully summer-ish about nonfiction for me. A novel (the best kind, anyway) immerses me fully, and I often have a hard time stopping when I need to (like, you know, to sleep or get to the dentist on time). But nonfiction, especially kids’ nonfiction is such an excellent, delightful mix of images and text that I can pick it up, read for a while, then set it down to make dinner or go pick up a kid or three. If you haven’t read any kids’ nonfiction for a while, go seek out these post-haste.
THE SCRAPS BOOK: NOTES FROM A COLORFUL LIFE by Lois Ehlert
Full disclosure: I once interviewed Lois Ehlert at her home in Milwaukee (I’ve seen the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom tree in real life!). But this is not simply an autobiography of the author/illustrator, it’s also a great text to share about how books are created and has much inspirational art-making wisdom tucked inside.
WHEN THE BEAT WAS BORN: DJ KOOL HERC & THE CREATION OF HIP HOP by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III
This may be shocking, but I don’t listen to a lot of hip hop. Nevertheless, this was a fascinating account of how Clive Campbell moved from Jamaica to New York, started spinning records at parties, and a whole genre of music was born.
THE BEATLES WERE FAB (AND THEY WERE FUNNY) by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, ilustrated by Stacy Innerst
So . . . I am more familiar with the Beatles than hip hop, only not in the this way. One of the threads throughout this biography is the sense of humor the band had. Very witty lads, it turns out.
FARMER WILL ALLEN AND THE GROWING TABLE by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Eric Shabazz Larkin
This book was one of those I picked up because of its reviews and the topic (urban farming) and the cover. But when I opened it, I realized this is a Wisconsin story – Milwaukee, to be exact – about how NBA basketball star Will Allen took a deserted city lot and transformed into a garden that feeds the neighborhood, winning a MacArthur Genius grant in the process. Can’t wait to share with my sports-loving Wisconsin students.
AT HOME IN HER TOMB: LADY DAI AND THE ANCIENT CHINESE TREASURES OF MAWANGDUI by Christine Liu-Perkins
In 2009, I spent two weeks in China, staying with my brother and his fiancee who were there working and visiting her family. As you might expect, it was a life-changing experience. Since then, I’ve had a special soft spot for any China-related books. But this one is not only for those who are interested in China, like me. Anyone who is fascinated with archeology, ancient history, or mummies will love this story of ancient burial tombs opened to reveal amazing treasures (silk books and maps, 2,000 years old!).
THE PILOT AND THE LITTLE PRINCE: THE LIFE OF ANTOINE ST. EXUPERY by Peter Sis
Another disclosure: my senior year in high school we read St. Exupery’s The Little Prince, in French. It is one of my strongest academic memories of the time–I was both impressed and intimidated (and sometimes frustrated) at the thought of reading a book in another language. I’ll also never forget Mme Burkart, at the front of the room, telling us to write “W.O.W” in the margins whenever we came across “words of wisdom.” Her love for the story was evident. The Little Prince does that to people, I’ve since discovered.
Peter Sis’s book, however, delves into the life of the author – his love of adventure, of flight, and of challenging himself. Not only for Little Prince lovers, also for those who are interested in early aviation history.
STUBBY THE WAR DOG: THE TRUE STORY OF WORLD WAR I’S BRAVEST DOG by Ann Bausum
It’s probably no secret from the books I write that I love critters. This, as the subtitle says, is the story of a Boston terrier mix who served on the battlefields in France. It’s also the touching story of his enduring connection to his human companion, J. Robert Conley.
THE GIRL FROM THE TAR PAPER SCHOOL: BARBAR ROSE JOHNS AND THE ADVENT OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT by Teri Kanefield
Most people have heard of the Little Rock Nine, of Ruby Bridges, of Rosa Parks. I had never heard of Barbara Rose Johns, who – as a high school student, and before all those other events were in the news – led the people in her Virginia community to protest the “separate but equal” conditions of the black schools. Amazing story. Brave girl.