Book Reviews: #CYBILS2023 Middle-Grade Nonfiction Finalists

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The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity
Nicholas Day, illustrated by Brett Helquist
Random House Studio
Nominated by: KtStar

Hilary @ Goodreads – Loved this. Day writes in a style that is irrestistable to the middle grade reader and never ceases to fascinate. The saying that reality is stranger than fiction? Completely applies to this story! It is a winding ride with surprises at every corner. I think this would be treat for kids to read. And this adult learned many new things, too. The language and delivery of the text make the history lessons indelible.

Brooke @ Goodreads – Delightful read, especially as far as children’s nonfiction titles go. This story is so fun, so engaging, and fabulously well-written. It’s a heist and a history lesson in so many ways. Kids will love this (especially if they’ve seen her in-person)! Definitely our next read-aloud.

Mary @ Just Read Journal – This thrilling middle-grade nonfiction book draws readers in with its gripping narrative of this famous painting’s abduction from the Louvre in 1911 and it’s ensuing soar to worldwide fame. The writing has an informal witty tone that addresses the reader as a friend. The illustrations help bring a potent zest to the story. But my favorite feature are the chapter title pages, which are reminiscent of silent films and add so much humor and suspense. This is a book you won’t have to work hard to get kids (and adults) reading and discussing.

Natalie @ Goodreads – Once I picked this book up, I didn’t put it down until I’d finished. It’s nonfiction, but it’s also a mystery and a history lesson with a little bit of funny thrown in—a recipe for great reading.


How It Happened! Sneakers: The Cool Stories and Facts Behind Every Pair
Stephanie Warren Drimmer and WonderLab Group
Union Square Kids
Nominated by: Cindy Mitchell

Cindy @ Kiss the Book – Succinct and fun – not your typical boring non-fiction title. I’m not even a sneakerhead, but I enjoyed reading all about them.

Karen @ Goodreads – This is a great book for teaching young readers about business, innovation, physics, and more. Author Stephanie Warren Drimmer packs a lot of information into a format that is engaging and readable. Illustrator Dan Sipple has a style that is wacky and fun while still providing detail that is informative and technical. I liked the section “Anatomy of a Shoe,” but the mix of graphic text (a lot of headings and text boxes for a busy mix on each page), neon colors, illustration, and photographs make reading this book a wild ride.

Reshama @ Goodreads – Very well written book about our favorite footwear – the quintessential sneakers!
I loved the science , biographies and the story telling .. tons of facts and visuals to keep the middle grade reader entertained.

Plague-Busters!: Medicine’s Battles with History’s Deadliest Diseases
Lindsey Fitzharris and Adrian Teal, illustrated by Teal, Adrian
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Nominated by: Jen at Introverted Reader

Hilary @ Goodreads – Such a deliciously grossy-gross book, but educational and socially conscious as well. I think a teen audience would enjoy this, as well.

Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams’s Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration
Elizabeth Partridge, illustrated by Lauren Tamaki
Chronicle Books
Nominated by: Darshana Khiani

Tiffany @ Goodreads – I absolutely love the way this book was written and laid out. A mix of illustrations and real life pictures, as well as telling the truth of people’s lives during WWII and the incarceration of Japanese and Japanese American living on the West Coast. This is a truth that must be told and understood.

Amy @ Goodreads – The research was great, primary sources were amazingly incorporated, and the page layouts and illustration style was so well done. This was an overall fantastic nonfiction read!

Brooke @ GoodreadsSeen and Unseen is an exceptional mix of graphic design and illustrations, overlaid with excerpts of historical records for a book that is visually engaging and intensely unique. It seems like a large book that might be intimidating, but once you begin, you can’t put it down. My teens enjoyed their journey through history and had questions about some of the highly politicized commentary toward the end. It was a valuable lesson in critical thinking. I love this paired alongside Love in the Library for younger readers for a modern view of the time of Japanese American incarceration.

Anne @ My Head Is Full of Books – The book is powerful and the marriage of the photography and the illustrations by Tamaki is just stunning. One gets a fairly complete idea of what life was really like for these victims of unjust thinking during the war. I highly recommend this book for both junior and senior high school libraries.

Mary @ Just Read Journal – [With its] powerful illustrations, bold contrasting colors, striking photographs, direct quotes and brief but impactful text, [this book] an invitation to begin a dialogue on important questions about identity, freedom, and rights. It is an aesthetically expressive experience that immediately captivates your attention. The back matter, which includes further reading as well as notes from both the author and the illustrator are especially impactful and should not be missed. I didn’t learn about the Japanese Internment until I was getting my MLIS, but with helpful tools like this book, we can start these much-needed conversations so much earlier.

Rosemary @ Mom Read It – Photographs, illustrations, and primary sources, plus generous back matter and notes make this an excellent, necessary purchase for elementary and middle school nonfiction collections.

Stars of the Night: The Courageous Children of the Czech Kindertransport
Caren Stelson, illustrated by Selina Alko
Carolrhoda Books
Nominated by: Becky L.

Karen @ Goodreads – Having read a lot of books about the Holocaust and having visited the Holocaust museum in DC and Yad v Shem in Israel, I keep telling myself that I have absorbed the significance of this horrible period of human history. And then I read a book like Stars of The Night and learn otherwise.

Mary @ Just Read Journal – This story is told from the perspective of a few of those children given a “ticket to life” as Caren Stelson calls it. Indeed, this nonfiction picture book will gently take the hand of upper elementary age children and help them walk a mile in the shoes of these refugee children-learning, feeling, and growing right along with them. Selina Alko’s mixed media illustrations include layers of somber texture and pattern boldly juxtaposed with hints of glimmering golden light. This book certainly deals with dire circumstances, and yet it’s clear in the actions of Nicholas Winton, and the parents of these children, that love and hope persisted.

Tiffany @ Goodreads – The illustrations are quite magnificent and unique with multiple textures and what appears to be real life materials used throughout the pages. The illustrations also show the great emotion that the parents and children had throughout the tragic event.

Reshama @ Goodreads – Heart wrenching non-fiction picture book that depicts the trials and tribulations of the children that had to leave their parents and families behind to escape the German invasion. Simple but lyrical text and colorful illustrations makes this accessible to a younger audience. Back matter gives the timeline of kindertansport and the history of the person behind the idea. Must read!