2016 Finalists: Elementary/Juvenile Non-Fiction

Elementary Non-Fiction:

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: ktmgiorgio

Who hasn’t heard of Winnie-the-Pooh? He is one of the most popular characters in children’s literature. Finding Winnie presents a true account of the bear that inspired A.A. Milne’s stories set in the 100 Acre Wood. The source of the “silly old bear’s” namesake is a baby bear, rescued by veterinarian and WWI soldier, Harry Coleburn. This narrative nonfiction story pulls at the heartstrings of the reader, and everyone that has loved a pet will feel joy in response to the sweet relationship between Harry and Winnie. The author, Lindsay Mattick, reveals that she has named her own son, Cole, after Harry Coleburn, creating an interesting parallel. This makes Finding Winnie not just a historical story, but also a personal one. Sophie Blackall’s award-winning illustrations match the warmth of the text, and make readers want to linger over every page. Ultimately, Finding Winnie is not just a book for fans of Winnie-the-Pooh, but for anyone who is a fan of stories.

Sara Ralph, Two Nerdy Sisters

Giant Squid
by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Lackywanna

From the delay of the title page to Eric Rohmann’s murky, deep sea illustrations, Giant Squid is a mystery just like the creature represented in its pages. Candace Fleming’s choice of poetic text and the squirming, writhing layout of each line keeps the reader swaying as if being rocked by the ocean’s tides. More forceful spreads when the giant squid captures its prey are accompanied by thick, powerful paragraphs. A more traditionally labelled diagram following the story will help young readers identify each part of a giant squid and the author’s note goes into further detail about what we do and do not yet know about the giant squid. We loved the font choice of each back matter header and the inclusion of an extensive bibliography as well as other books about giant squid will keep young scientists busy. The acknowledgements indicate collaboration with experts in the field and the section “Searching for Giant Squid Online” includes websites, but more intriguing, some of the first ever captured video footage of giant squid by Dr. Edith Widder. Just as the giant squid has eluded predators and scientists, the squid portrayed on the pages by Eric Rohmann escapes us as well in a cloud of ink and a vanishing tentacle. Fortunately, readers will love to seize this book and not let go, learning more about this creature hidden from view and yet brought to life on these pages by Fleming and Rohmann.

Ellen Zschunke, On the Shelf 4 Kids

Pink Is For Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals (The World of Weird Animals)
by Jess Keating
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Sondra Eklund

“The World of Weird Animals” says it all. I have never even heard of a blobfish, but there one is, right on the cover. The animals in this book are all fascinating and unusual, and oddly, they are all pink! But being pink is nearly the only trait they share – showing us all that the wild and weird diversity of the Animal Kingdom is truly remarkable. A slug, a bug, a dolphin, a rat, a fish and more are revealed in all their poisonous, slimy and prickly glory. If you think you know what each of these creatures looks and acts like, think again! Zoologist Jess Keating delivers every fascinating detail. Each featured animal has a full page picture making it easy to examine every nuance of their interesting and unusual bodies. Each animal also gets a page of nicely formatted interesting facts, kind of like a baseball card. The facts cover species name, size, diet, habitat and predator threats. Also included are surprising stories about how each animal lives – “A Day in the Life of a Blobfish” kind of stories. As if the pictures and the facts aren’t enough, these stories show the animals in all their unique, unusual and amazing glory. “Pink is for Blobfish” is a smile and an “Oh!….wow!” after every page turn!

Carrie Waterson, Indianapolis Public Library Kids’ Blog

Plants Can’t Sit Still (Millbrook Picture Books)
by Rebecca E. Hirsch, illustrated by Mia Posada
Millbrook Press
Nominated by: Joanne Roberts

Plants Can’t Sit Still is a delightfully creative look at a characteristic of plants which is often overlooked…their movement. Plants can move. Blossoms grow toward the sun. Roots snake along the ground. Many plants react to their environment. Some flowers fold up for the night. Some fold up when touched. The author also highlights plants which move in more unusual ways, like the tumbleweed and the squirting cucumber. Lastly, the text explores how plants travel: their seeds floating, flying, hitchhiking, and whirling through the air. From cockleburs to coconuts, seeds are designed to travel to new places where conditions are good for growing new plants. The back matter contains a more detailed summary of plant behavior. Along with a glossary, descriptions of each species, and an author’s note explaining how she researched the plants in the book, Rebecca Hirsch includes recommended reading, and links to Venus fly trap videos and accelerated growth footage. Mia Posada’s art is perfectly suited to the text. The illustrated plants climb, slither, and squirm their way across the pages in earthy watercolor collages. Plants Can’t Sit Still is beautifully written, using active verbs and energetic fonts. The ending circles back to wording from the beginning, mimicking the plant life cycle. The text is lyrical and the author avoids rhyme in favor of vigorous prose, inviting readers themselves to move, through the pages and back again.

Joanne Roberts, Bookish Ambition

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness
by Donna Bowman, illustrated by Daniel Minter
Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Nominated by: AYW

Step Right Up is an extraordinary story about a horse who could read, write, spell and do math. This is also a story about William “Doc” Key, a formerly enslaved and later self-taught veterinarian who, through sheer kindness and compassion, stumbled upon this extraordinary horse, took care of it and later “educated” it. This is a relatively untold story, one that is unique in so many aspects. It highlights the many struggles faced by Doc during the 1800’s, a period when segregation had a stronghold in many states. It showcases the uncanny patience and compassion of a man who experienced slavery firsthand. Finally, it highlights the importance of everyday kindness and generosity towards animals. The story unfolds through richly colored, bold-lined, high contrast illustrations which are perfect for a period book like this one. There is so much going on with this story, but it still feels easy to read. Step Right Up is a story that you will keep going back to read and recommend.

Reshama Deshmukh, Stacking Books

The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman (2016-01-05)
by Susan Goodman, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Bloomsbury USA
Nominated by: Jonemac

In 1847, a police officer escorted four-year-old Sarah Roberts home from her all-white Boston classroom. This scene launches the story of her family’s legal, political, and social battles to gain equal educational opportunities for Sarah and all children of color. It’s an unfamiliar footnote to history, but laid the groundwork for Brown v. Board of Education more than a century later. Despite setbacks in Sarah’s case, in 1855 Boston became the first major American city to integrate its schools. “Every big change has to start somewhere”. In the back matter Goodman directly addresses readers, discussing reliable research sources, making decisions about “cloudy” aspects of history, and modern language within historical context when the words used for people of color at the time were insulting and demeaning. A timeline of landmark desegregation events includes a challenge to readers to decide for themselves which are steps forward and which were steps back.The text is flawlessly written. Gorgeous illustrations convey the mood, the shifting perspectives, and details of the time period. Illustrator E. B. Lewis creates powerful images of a well-dressed, free, African American family, their urban setting, and aspects of their community that contrast starkly with Southern and slavery-based stereotypes. First steps, next steps, and the ones coming after form a chain of strength and hope.

Sandy Brehl, Unpacking the POWER of Picture Books

Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica
by Cathleen Burnham
Crickhollow Books
Nominated by: Patricia Tilton

Presented as a photodocumentary, Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica by Cathleen Burnham is a real-life story about a group of kids working together to save the endangered sea turtles that nest on the sandy beaches of their Caribbean island. The colorfully detailed photographs, enriched with maps, drawings, and turtle facts, keep readers engaged in the dramatic story and give them a taste of what life is like for children in Costa Rica. Traditionally, turtle meat and eggs have been a standard part of the local diet for generations, so even though hunting them is now technically illegal, there are still many people who kill turtles for food or take their eggs. The kids from Parismina Island have banded together to patrol the beaches in order to protect the turtles and their nests, and even to help escort hatchlings to the sea, protecting them from predators. With their actions and enthusiasm, the children have also helped to start changing the attitudes of their parents and grandparents, making them partners in saving the endangered animals. Cathleen Burnham’s book gives readers insight into the broader world and the power of kids to make a positive change.

Elisa Bergslien, Leopards and Dragons

Juvenile Non-Fiction:

Animal Planet Strange, Unusual, Gross & Cool Animals
by Charles Ghigna and Animal Planet
Time Inc Books
Publisher/ Author Submission

Did you know the thorny dragon grows a false head to distract predators? Or that the Malayan Tapir can bend its flexible nose to use it as a snorkel while swimming? Fun factoids abound in Animal Planet’s “Strange Unusual Gross and Cool Animals!” The book is sectioned into four parts (for each part of the title) and each includes featured creatures, galleries, creature collections, and a macroview. Each featured creature spread includes a map highlighting the creature’s habitat. A number of experts are cited in the acknowledgements and the photo credits are extensive. The oversized format of this book makes it perfect for spreading out on the floor for an afternoon of exploration. Readers young and old will love being surprised by the vivid photography and fantastic facts. Pucker up to the red-lipped batfish (a fish that can’t swim…along with the psychedelic frog fish) and fall in love with “Strange Unusual Gross and Cool Animals”.

Ellen Zschunke, On the Shelf 4 Kids

Floodwaters and Flames: The 1913 Disaster in Dayton, Ohio
by Lois Miner Huey
Millbrook Press
Nominated by: Ami Jones

Hurricane Katrina, 2005. The Johnstown Pennsylvania Flood, 1889 The Great Dayton Flood of 1913. What? You haven’t heard of that last one? You should have. This book provides ample arguments to rank Dayton’s flood as one of the most significant disasters in American history. A confluence of forces created a flood of unimaginable proportions: a rogue and persistent weather system, the geography and topography of rivers and valleys, and the cautionary voice of one who had “cried wolf” once too often about impending floods and was ignored. Specific decisions and innovative thinking by key players from widely varied walks of life saved countless lives and spawned the federal agency now known as FEMA. Those individuals were diverse in experience, nature, location, and prominence, including Katharine and Wilbur Wright and Bill Sloan, a Negro League star. All are portrayed through archival photographs, quotations, clippings, and maps, woven into dramatic text that reads like a thriller. The well-researched story is a winner in itself, but is further enhanced by “water-stained” pages and comprehensive back matter: author’s note, timeline, source notes, glossary, index, and follow-up resources. This reads from first page to last as a docu-drama and has all the attraction of a blockbuster film. It doesn’t disappoint.

Sandy Brehl, Unpacking the POWER of Picture Books

Masters of Disguise: Amazing Animal Tricksters
by Rebecca L. Johnson
Millbrook Press
Nominated by: Gramma

Rebecca Johnson is back with another fascinating and engrossing book on certain peculiar animal behaviors. Masters of disguise is a book that explores the abilities of some very unique creatures in the way they deceive others to hunt, hide, or disguise themselves for survival. 8 chapters profile 8 interesting creatures. Whether it’s the Harlequin fish hiding in the coral reefs or assassin bug carrying a cloak of ant corpses on its back, kids will delight in the close up photography and the narrative in each chapter. Each chapter also has a section titled “The science behind the story” explaining how scientists discovered this particular animal behavior. The “Meet the Scientists” gallery at the back introduces the various people behind these discoveries. Masters of Disguise is clever and engrossing and reads like a page turner. This one is not to miss!

Reshama Deshmukh, Stacking Books

Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White
by Melissa Sweet
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

E.B. White is best known for his children’s books. Charlotte’s Web, the Newbery Honor winner from 1952, and Stuart Little are introduced to new groups of students each year and have gained popularity through successful film renditions. But how many readers know about his life and personal passions? Sweet’s biography, aided by White’s personal papers, gives insight into the man behind the stories. Using a scrapbook style of presenting illustrations and photographs, the reader can pore over the most intimate details of White’s life, including his love of the outdoors, his fear of public speaking, and the devoted relationship he had with his wife, Katharine. Sweet uses quotes from White’s entire body of work, from the essays he wrote in his childhood to his work at The New Yorker to his personal letters. These quotes reflect on White’s thoughts and experiences and illustrate how strongly his life and his work were intertwined. In the vast collection of biographies published this year, Some Writer glistens like the dew in Charlotte’s Web, and its contents will wonder and amaze readers of all ages.

Sara Ralph, Two Nerdy Sisters

The Inventors of LEGO Toys (Awesome Minds)
by Erin Hagar, illustrated by Paige Garrison
Duo Press Llc
Nominated by: Gary Anderson

Erin Hagar documents the story of the Lego company from its modest beginnings with young Ole Kirk, a shepherd wood carver, who went on to begin his business in carpentry and adjust to toy making following the Great Depression (and several other depressing events in his personal life, including a devastating fire and the loss of his wife and the mother to his four boys). The Lego Company’s most well-known creation, the Lego brick, was named the “toy of the century” in 2000. Each event between demonstrates the creativity and problem solving that made the Lego company (and this book) a global success.

Paige Garrison includes blueprints for both factory buildings and the bricks themselves and the visual of Lego bricks wrapping around the world is pretty impressive. The design of the book itself is blocky, utilizing the primary colors so well-known in the Lego system. I’d love to say that I think young readers will love this book, but I can do better. I know it. Because in my library, they already do! A fifth grade student began research in late November for an informational writing piece on the inventors of Lego and his teacher emailed me to see if we might be able to point him in the right direction. Since I had a copy from the publisher, I was able to save the day and deliver just what he needed. This book flew off the shelves before I could even get it on one. Readers and builders young and old will love this story of ingenuity and cutting-edge thinking.

Ellen Zschunke, On the Shelf 4 Kids

The Slowest Book Ever
by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
Boyds Mills Press
Nominated by: Katy Manck

Sometimes it is nice to sit back and contemplate the slow things in life. The Slowest Book Ever by April Pulley Sayre, with illustrations by Kelly Murphy, is a celebration of those kinds of things. In a world where events are commonly measured in nanoseconds and we are obsessed with determining what’s the fastest, this book asks you to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and take the time to contemplate timely thoughts like the growth of a saguaro cactus, which takes roughly 15 years to reach the great height of 1 inch, and to consider chewy ideas, like the fact that the Atlantic Ocean is widening at roughly the same rate that your fingernails grow. A treasure trove of information about things slow—in nature, geology, art, outer space and inside our own bodies, the book is broken into short, thematic chunks that are enlivened by humorous and engaging illustrations. It also contains a glossary of chewy words and an exceptional compilation of endnotes that will allow the curious to pursue the slow things in life. All in all, this book is worth savoring.

Elisa Bergslien, Leopards and Dragons

Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk
by Jane Sutcliffe, illustrated by John Shelley
Nominated by: Nancy Tandon

Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk starts out as a history of the Globe Theatre, but ends up as a witty introduction to the wordplay of the Bard. Author Jane Sutcliffe organizes her text into a narrative snapshot of Elizabethan London centered around the playgoers at the Globe, but into this structure, she layers facts about Shakespeare’s plays and details about the time period. Each time the author uses a phrase which William Shakespeare originated or popularized, it appears in bold print. Sidebars containing Will’s words, their meaning, and how they’re used in his plays, invite readers to further investigation. The story is bookended by author’s notes. The back matter includes a timeline of Shakespeare’s life and extensive bibliography. Sutcliffe subtly demonstrates how a living language evolves and how popular media stimulates that change. The text’s jaunty rhythm is infused with humor. She introduces the origins of the “wild-goose chase”, explains what it means to get your “money’s worth”, and how “too much of a good thing” (like gummy worms) does not lead to our “heart’s content.” John Shelley’s illustrations pair lively ink lines with jewel tone watercolors reminiscent of stained glass. His accurately detailed drawings switch point of view, first high above the city, then down in the Pit with the commoners, from intricate backstage dressing rooms to scenes of bustling London looking like a page from Where’s Waldo. The author shows how a heavy subject, handled lightly, can connect with modern readers. While she planned to write the history of one place and time, she instead accomplishes the remarkable task of making kids notice and care about words. And that’s the short and the long of it.

Joanne Roberts, Bookish Ambition