I’ve read over 100 nonfiction picture books in 2014, and I’ve given 5 stars to many of them. Nonfiction picture books seem to be consistently the strongest genre I read. Maybe it’s because so much work goes into a nonfiction picture book. Maybe it’s because I have really good book pushers recommending books to me (the regulars at Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday feature). Regardless, it’s a daunting task to narrow a list of favorites to just 5 titles when I easily have 20 favorite nonfiction picture books of the year.
But for one of the bookish prompts for A Month of Favorites, I’m selecting just 5.
Josephine, Patricia Hruby Powell’s biography of Josephine Baker, is a tour-de-force. Powell manages to capture in words the rhythm, feel, and style of Josephine’s unique dance, and her narrative conveys the scope of Josephine’s complicated, eventful life. Christian Robinson’s illustrations are magnificent: distinctive, energetic, bold. Such care has been taken with every design feature: the book is a pleasure to look at and hold.
I probably would have fallen in love with Creature Features from that cover alone, which I think is one of the best of the year. Steve Jenkins’s images inside don’t disappoint either. The text is also clever and engaging: 25 creatures explain why they have developed particular features or color patterns. The book targets very young readers but was just as interesting to the adult readers in my house.
Illustrator Melissa Sweet found the perfect project for her talents in Jen Bryant’s The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. Even as a child, Peter Mark Roget collected words and made lists. It was fitting that he grew up to create the world’s greatest word list, the thesaurus.
Parrots Over Puerto Rico has another of my favorite book covers: isn’t Susan Roth’s cut paper collage gorgeous? Cindy Trumbore’s story of the near-extinction of the Puerto Rican parrot is a conservation race-against-time page-turner.
The Noisy Paint Box, Barb Rosenstock’s biography of abstract painter Vasily Kandinsky, follows the artist from childhood to adulthood, tracing the development of his bold, colorful, distinctive style. Kandinsky had synesthesia and heard music when he painted (he also saw colors when he listened to music). Although others tried to get him to conform, Kandinsky ultimately found his own path as a painter. Mary Grandpre’s whimsical illustrations perfectly suit the narrative.