Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: A Round-Up of Recent Reading #nfpb2015

nonfiction picture book challenge 2015

My favorite reading challenge is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. Visit Alyson’s blog to find out about more wonderful nonfiction picture books.

this day in june

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.

emmanuel's dream

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

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

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 baseballBarbed 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 girlBrave 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??


15 responses to “Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: A Round-Up of Recent Reading #nfpb2015”

  1. carriegelson Avatar

    I just bought Emmanuel’s Dream for much the same reasons – beautiful illustrations and such an inspiring story! Can’t wait to share it with my class! Brave Girl is a really fantastic title. I found it particularly inspiring. So glad that your son liked it so much!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I never know what’s going to really resonate with him. So fun to read with him and make those discoveries. I know your students will love Emmanuel’s Dream.

  2. The Logonauts (@thelogonauts) Avatar

    Great list! Can I put in a hearty second for your letting Melissa Sweet illustrate everything? Just finished reading You Nest with Me this week, and her illustrations are just so, so perfect. She makes me wish I was better at my own scrapbooking, but alas.

    Definitely going to check out One Plastic Bag and am glad you enjoyed Emmanuel’s Dream too!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I must get You Nest With Me! I am just so crazy about her work. One Plastic Bag is a really good one to share with elementary kids, I think. I love books that emphasize the power of one person to make a difference.

  3. Linda Baie Avatar

    I know them all except the kite book and This Day In June-very exciting that one! Glad to hear about it, & so happy more about this is being written. The Kite Book sounds exciting too. I remember enjoying Barbed Wire Baseball very much, and loved the illustrations too. Thanks Elisabeth!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’ll be booktalking This Day in June this week in my Children’s Lit class and hopefully loaning it to several students. I agree–very important to have more books on this topic and especially such joyful ones!

  4. alybee930 Avatar

    So many favorites on this list. I still need to find This Day in June. Thanks for sharing and for linking up. Good picks. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      This Day in June was must more engaging than I thought it would be when I first saw the text (rhyming couplets. SIGH.) WONDERFUL back matter too!

  5. Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    Love Barbed Wire, Emmanuel, and Brave though I don’t know the others–thank you for sharing!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Glad you enjoyed those too, Kellee. So many wonderful nonfiction titles these days.

  6. Myra GB Avatar

    Brave Girl is definitely one of our favourites at GatheringBooks – I always include this as part of my multicultural text-set as we discuss picturebooks and activism. This is the second time I’m seeing Emmanuel’s Dream – I hope I find it soon. Your son has a great reading taste! 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I need to do more with text sets in my Children’s Lit class–love the idea of an activism set. I’ve read so many good picture books on activism. I did have one problem with Emmanuel’s Dream–the negative portrayal of beggars. I understand why Emmanuel’s mother was so adamant that he shouldn’t be a beggar, and I am sure there are relatively few parents who will be reading this book aloud to children who used to be street beggars. But I happened to be, and I felt uncomfortable on behalf of my son as I read that part of the story.

  7. Michele Avatar

    Great nonfiction reads this week. I loved Barbed Wire Baseball and Brave Girl too. I thought those books are great examples of how nonfiction reading can be so interesting. Of course, my favorite is Emmanuel’s Dream. Having books to show my daughter that she can rise above her physical disability is HUGE in my house!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Awesome, Michele! I need to put together a list of the picture books I know about physical disability. I’d really like to share a text set with my Children’s Lit students. So important to get discussions going about difference and ability.

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