My favorite reading challenge is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. Visit Alyson’s blog to find out about more wonderful nonfiction picture books.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one surprised when This Day in June won the Stonewall Award at the 2015 ALA Youth Media Awards. I read a lot of picture books, and I read about even more, but I’d never so much as heard of this book. I’m grateful to the committee for finding this book and honoring it because it’s a book that kids (and adults!) need. It is a joyous, even exuberant, celebration of pride parades. It depicts every possible kind of person taking part in the parade as a participant or spectator, and everyone is having wonderful fun together. The text is very brief–a short rhyming couplet per spread. My regular readers know how I feel about rhyme (bad. I feel bad about rhyme.), but these sweet, happy couplets worked for me. The back matter is incredibly helpful. Each image is explained in detail with connections to LGBQT culture and identity made clear. There is also a thoughtful (and detailed!) guide, divided by age group, to talking with children about LGBQT identity and issues.
I’ll be honest: I bought this book because I’m such a Sean Qualls fan. But I loved the story of Emmanuel’s Dream too. Laurie Ann Thompson shares Emmanuel Yeboah’s experiences with disability and his work to challenge the stigma attached to disability in his native Ghana. Born with one deformed leg, Emmanuel learned how to do everything that able-bodied people do: he hopped to school, played soccer, even learned to ride a bicycle. He became famous through his cycling, in fact. In an effort to bring more visibility to the disabled and to challenge people’s perceptions, he cycled 400 miles across Ghana. It’s an inspiring story, gorgeously illustrated by Qualls.
One Plastic Bag is another inspiring story about the power of one individual to change the world. Isatou Ceesay noticed a growing problem in her village in Gambia: piles and piles of trash in the form of discarded plastic bags. The dangers of not cleaning up and recycling the bags really hit home when her family lost a goat who had consumed a plastic bag and died. After Isatou learns from the butcher that other goats have also died from eating plastic bags, she decides to do something: she cleans the bags, cuts them into “yarn,” and learns how to knit them into purses. Other women in the village join her. At first, their creations are ridiculed, but then they found buyers and now their products are available for purchase internationally. Miranda Paul, the author of this book, has created an informative website with all kinds of information, including how to purchase purchases. (There are also guides for teachers.) Elizabeth Zunon’s art is a beautiful match for this story.
The Kite That Bridged Two Nations is technically historical fiction, but it tells a true story I was not familiar with and it includes ample back matter for nonfiction exploration. Homan Walsh, an American boy living on the Canadian border near Niagara Falls, is obsessed with flying his kite, an occupation his father doesn’t approve of. An engineer who plans to build a suspension bridge between America and Canada offers a prize to the first person who can span the water with a kite. There are many challenges in achieving this feat, especially the brutal winter conditions. But Walsh perseveres and eventually succeeds. The final spread shows the beautiful suspension bridge that his kite string made possible. I’m very hazy on how exactly a kite string spanning a gap leads to a suspension bridge, so I may have to explore some of the resources listed in the back matter. I was very impressed by the author’s choice to describe the facts as we know and distinguish those facts from what he fictionalized and created in the story (“What We Know” and “What We Don’t Know.”) I wish more nonfiction picture book authors would do this. There is also a timeline, list of sources, and suggestions for further exploration. Terry Widener’s paintings really emphasize the arresting landscape of the Falls and surrounding areas.
Barbed Wire Baseball was my son’s favorite picture book of the weekend. It tells the story of Zeni Zenimura, a Japanese-American baseball player whose family was imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Zenimura brought the incredible focus, determination, and work ethic that had enabled him to play baseball professionally (as a five foot nothing player, he’d been told he had no hope of a pro career) to the creation of a baseball field and team at the internment camp. A really interesting story, gorgeously illustrated by Yuko Shimizu. The useful back matter includes author’s and illustrator’s notes as well as some photographs. We loved looking at the photo of Zenimura standing between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. They look like giants next to him!
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 was my son’s other favorite book this weekend. I thought this might be too complicated and complex of a story for my son to understand without a lot of support, but Michelle Merkel does a wonderful job describing the appalling conditions for girls and women working in the garment industry, explaining the need for a labor movement, and tracing the struggles of organizers like Clara to guarantee basic rights to workers. Of course Melissa Sweet’s illustrations are brilliant. Can’t she just illustrate every book??