2013 Finalists: Nonfiction: Elementary & Middle Grade

Vicky Alvear Shecter
Boyds Mills Press
Nominated by: Jackie Parker
Shecter brings to life the god of the dead, no easy feat for a mere mortal author.  As narrator, Anubis guides us through the Duat, the Egyptian afterworld, and explains many of the ancient Egyptian rituals surrounding death.  No gruesome details are spared and middle grade readers will love going along for the ride through the dark lands just as Ra did every night to be re-born each morning.  Antoine Revoy gives Anubis his sneer and includes top borders and pagination illustrations with attention to the finest details. Together, Shecter’s voice and Revoy’s visuals make the Land of the Dead difficult to resist for even the most reluctant readers.  Well researched sources are included for further reading as well as a veritable “who’s  who” of Egyptian gods and demons, glossary, and index.
Ellen Zschunke, On the Shelf 4 Kids

Marissa Moss
Harry N Abrams
Nominated by: librarygrl2
Barbed Wire Baseball introduces the difficult concept of the Japanese-American Internment through the act of building a baseball field. An ambassador of the game, Kenchi Zenimura organized exhibition play both at home and in Japan, right up to the time of his family’s relocation to the Gila River Internment Camp. Moss expertly condenses Zenimura’s backstory with historical context into a few succinct pages. Readers gain a deeply authentic understanding of the story’s character and theme through the ballpark’s construction. From desert to playable to world class, each successive page-spread reinforces the pure passion Zenimura had for America’s favorite pastime.
Yuko Shimizu’s final endpapers show a barbed wire fence low on the horizon; a baseball sailing high above. Not only will the story of Kenchi Zenimura enthrall baseball fans 3rd grade and up, by the time you reach that final end-page, kids will be clamoring to discuss its symbolism. Barbed Wire Baseball is more than an enjoyable story about building something out of nothing. Utilizing the format of a picture-book biography, Moss and Shimizu provide the window for a younger audience to examine the injustice of internment and the decisions Kenchi Zenimura made to be better than the duress forced upon him.

Mike Lewis, Blog 142

Lita Judge
Roaring Brook

Nominated by: sara the librarian

Judge teaches readers that dinosaurs came in a variety of sizes by comparing various dinosaur species to chickens, SUVs and other familiar objects. Most kids will not remember that fierce Microraptors weighed a mere two to four pounds after simply reading this fact. However, kids will find this fact hard to forget after seeing Judge’s memorable illustration of a concerned Microraptor gazing up to a menacing rooster. Each of Judge’s illustrations is fantastic — from the fierce rooster towering over the Microraptor, to the curious Leaellynasaura exploring a group of snooty emperor penguins, to the three kids trying to persuade a Torosaurus to visit the vet.

Judge’s illustrations exude the same energy and skill that she demonstrated in Bird Talk and Red Sled. However, in this, her latest book, Judge tackles a subject with broader kid appeal — dinosaurs — and does so with humor that is lacking from most nonfiction books on the subject. For readers who are interested in learning more about dinosaurs, Judge includes clear and informative endnotes. She provides statistics about each of the dinosaurs pictured and explains how scientists use fossils to determine how big dinosaurs were.

Amy Broadmoore, Delightful Children’s Books

Brian Floca

All aboard for a nonfiction extravaganza! Locomotive follows a pioneer family as they travel from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California, in 1869. The reader experiences the journey firsthand as the crew fires up the massive beast for its first transcontinental journey, then the family climbs aboard. Readers meet the conductor picking up tickets, the “butch” peddling newspapers, fruits and candies, and “all the cigars you can smoke,” and experience the “convenience” in the corner (“don’t wait for the train to stop-it’s rude to use the toilet when the train is sitting at a station”). Careful book design captures the motion of the train as it makes its way west from Omaha through the Platte River Valley, then labors over the steep inclines of the Rocky Mountains, across rickety bridges, through dark tunnels and into California.

Locomotive is a book for train lovers of all ages: the poetic and rhythmic text will capture the heart of preschoolers, while intricately detailed diagrams will grab the attention of the most reluctant middle school readers. Author’s notes provide background information about Floca’s research process, while gorgeously detailed end pages map the train’s journey and the intricate inner workings of a steam engine.

Carol Wilcox, Carol’s Corner

Annette LeBlanc Cate
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: lwad

Whether you are an avid birdwatcher or not, you will find yourself fascinated by the information in this book. It’s designed to be everything you need to know to begin birdwatching in your own backyard. But the design, illustrations, humor and content make it so much more than a typical birdwatching book.

Each two-page spread is designed to focus on a big idea within the topic of birdwatching. And each spread includes fascinating content, gorgeous illustrations and surprising humor. Whether readers are learning how to sketch a bird that we see, noticing the difference in bird claws or learning about birds’ colors, the learning is fun and engaging.

Franki Sibberson, A Year of Reading

Deborah Heiligman
Roaring Brook

Nominated by: diane

Do you have an Erdős number? Either way, you’re going to love reading this book about mathematician Paul Erdős. Heiligman balances detail and overview in the text, making the story accessible to the very young and interesting to readers of all ages. Heiligman chronicles Paul Erdős’s life with humor, heart, and perfect pace, and asks the interesting questions: why did his mom let him stay home from school? How did he manage to do so much math? Why did people love him, even though he was a horrible house-guest? How do we benefit from his work, and what can we learn from his life? LeUyen Pham illustrates with eye-catching color and mind-boggling detail (just read her end-note!). She depicts not only Paul’s math friends — the number line, the hundreds chart, and many more numbers, proofs and so on — but also the people and scenery which surrounded him from childhood into old age. The odds are good that you will love The Boy Who Loved Math.

Alysa Stewart, Everead

Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Susan Swan
Publisher/ Author Submission
Most kids (and many adults) are fascinated with volcanoes, likely because of the potential for a huge explosion. Rusch takes the stereotypical image of volcanoes as destructive forces of nature and turns it on its head by focusing on their creative nature. Rusch describes how volcanoes make new mountains, both on land and below the sea. Examples from around the world show how volcanoes are currently involved in changing the landscape around them. Gorgeous mixed-media illustrations by Susan Swan perfectly complement the text. Each page has text in bolder print that is fairly simple yet still gives a solid understanding of volcanoes and creative eruptions as well as a smaller text block that gives more in-depth information for those kids who want to learn more.  A wide range of ages will find something to love here, from preschoolers who might just appreciate the intense colors and varied textures of the illustrations to older kids who learn to appreciate volcanoes in a whole new way.

Alice Mar, Supratentorial