Best of the Year: Nonfiction Picture Books

This month I’ll be sharing my favorite picture books of the year. I love all the ‘best of’ book lists that come out around this time, seeing my favorites show up on others’ lists and discovering titles I’d missed or overlooked. With award season just around the corner, this is the time to catch some of the best books published all year. Children’s nonfiction has come a long way in the last several years producing titles that are interesting, beautiful, readable. The librarian in me struggles with the nonfiction picture book, however. They’re often beyond the attention span and comprehension of the picture book crowd. Kids old enough to sit through and understand them often don’t want to read them, viewing picture books as ‘babyish.’ Nevertheless,  they give readers a fresh perspective on a historical period, often work as readalouds and with so many having Caldecott-worthy illustrations they’re simply too good to ignore.

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A tasty story of a little-known figure from the Revolution. The notable part is that the illustrations really look like gingerbread. You may feel a strong urge to bake cookies afterwards.

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Fascinating story with retro graphic illustrations.

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Kudos to McCarthy for taking an object no one thinks about and turning it into this funny, comically illustrated story.

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 Works as a readaloud and the groups I’ve read it to have really enjoyed it. If you’ve ever seen a spider and thought, “Kill it! Kill it!” this one’s for you. Laughed so hard my stomach hurt. Funniest. picture book. ever. EVER!

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 A beautifully illustrated book that is telling a story within the story. Love the author’s use of illustrations to show and give visual scale to the facts and numbers.

Share your favorite nonfiction kids’ books!

A Literary Feast or What I’m Thankful For

 

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This is ‘what I’m reading’. Twenty titles in these stacks plus two more that were lying somewhere else. It’s ridiculous really because no working person could read all this in one checkout period. They check out for 3 weeks with two renewals. I’ve used them all. Some are overdue. I’ve been billed for a book that I’ve got but haven’t finished and can’t bring myself to turn in until I do. #notsorry But look what a good mix of books it is! There’s old and new, fiction and nonfiction, adult and ya and children’s, books getting award buzz. There are books I’m reading for me and books I’m reading for work. This is how I know when I hear people say, “I just buy my books” that they’re not readers, not really. You can buy books when you only read a few a year, but when you’re reading dozens, maybe even hundreds of books a year you’re not buying them! I don’t trust people who aren’t readers. It’s as if they’re saying I don’t do words. How could you not? Books have been my life line, my education, inspiration, comic relief, passport, therapy. It’s through books that I’ve learned more about love and myself. My life is better for being a reader. For all the books and the ones who taught me to read them, I am forever thankful.

Lord, help me the day I stop working at the library and start accruing fines. In that case, I should get naming rights.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Vive la Paris!

Our hearts and minds are with France in light of recent events. I thought of my favorite Parisian children’s books. There’s a lightness, a joie de vivre that the French do better than anybody. Reading and sharing these stories seems like a way, be it ever so small, to celebrate this beautiful city. How fitting that Paris is the “City of Light” since Light always triumphs over darkness.

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There are lots of kids’ books set in Paris and these are a few of my favorites. Whimsical stories and sophisticated illustrations lend a worldly air to these Francophile adventures.

Diva and Flea

Loved everything about it. This book is beautiful and sets the standard for early chapter books. From the thick pages, the sprinkling of French, the delicate pen and watercolor illustrations to the Eiffel Tower spread this book is a reminder of all the things that make reading an actual book a much more pleasurable experience than reading a screen which could never do this book justice. The story–of taking a chance, being brave and having grand adventures–is just as sweet as the illustrations. Having read this the day after the Paris attacks it feels like a wonderful little ode to Paris. A must read.

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à bientôt!

Lessons learned in storytime

Mondays are storytime days at my library and there are always take aways for me.

  1. If one of the activities involves slime, plan to use twice the number of tables and chairs than you think because, inevitably, most of the storytimers will play at that station the entire time. Note to self: Who needs all those other activities? We’ll all play with slime together! You get slime! She gets slime! Baby gets slime! Slime for everyone!

best. slime. ever. EVER!

2.  If one of your three-year-old storytimers thinks she’s your bff just go with it.

3.  At storytime a kid said to me, “Miss Charity, that little girl is not playing this game right!” Ha! I think storytime reveals a child’s true personality. At storytime you’ll see introverts, extroverts, rebels, leaders, followers, the messies, the OCDers, type As and Bs. Not sure what your child is? Take them to storytime then sit back and watch what happens.

4. Often the book(s) I’m not crazy about reading will be the crowd favorite and vice versa. Cases in point…..

I read this book to all kinds of groups when it came out in the hopes that they would like it and without fail

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….they did not.

Monday’s favorite?

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Meh. But hey, what do preschoolers know? They can’t even read. 😉

What are your favorites or least favorites for read alouds? Drop it in the comments!

A Fine Backlash: No Smiling Black People!

Good grief, book people can be exhausting. Take this lovely little picture book.

There’s nothing bookfolk love more than to take a beautiful book and pick it apart for one detail. There’s a lot of talk going on about diversity in books and in particular about this book. If you haven’t been following the discussion, the blog 100 Scope Notes compiles quite a few opinions here. As a black woman, I’m stunned by these discussions. There are SO many problems I have with the backlash.  First, it’s not about slavery…..it’s about dessert!

Second, the haters.

Congratulations! You’ve taken a beautiful book that works on many levels for a wide range of readers and demeaned it why? Oh, that’s right, the author chose to show slaves, ohmyGod, smiling! The horror, the travesty! By the way, the smiles aren’t big, cheesy grins. They’re small and pained. The most popular critique is that the author ‘whitewashes’ (don’t you love irony?) history and in doing so trivializes the very real struggle of slaves. Well, as Ms. Blackall says in her post, yes slavery was unspeakably horrific but the triumph of the human spirit is such that even in the darkest of times there may be an occasion where for the briefest moment one might find reason to smile. She doesn’t gloss over anything; you can tell from the pictures that they’re not living an easy life, and the image of mom and daughter huddled in the cabinet says all that needs to be said. It is a picture book, after all. Would you have preferred she show the mom and daughter being whipped while they picked the berries? Maybe a black man hanging from a tree in the background? Would that have been an authentic enough depiction of slavery for you, haters?

One of the reasons this book works so well is precisely because it does work for readers of many ages. For the younger reader, it’s all about the pretty illustrations. They might notice that the clothes change, the utensils change. The disparity shown between the slaves and the white family is noticeable but subtle. I think that’s smart because it doesn’t give young readers/listeners more than they can handle while at the same time showing something that will make them wonder. Why are they in the cabinet? The adult reading to them is then able to give an age appropriate explanation. For older readers, school-aged kids who may have a rudimentary understanding of slavery (but even if they don’t), they get it. Kids are smart, smart enough to pick up on the context clues the illustrations provide.

And it’s not about slavery; it’s about a dessert! That the author felt the need to apologize, to stem the tide of vitriol coming her way most likely, is to me in itself offensive. What I take from the uproar is that people are upset that black folks were shown feeling happy (how dare they!) rather than sad and beat down. What, black folks don’t get to be happy? They aren’t allowed to enjoy even the tiniest morsel of sweetness? All they get to do is eat the bitter pill of suffering, struggle and oppression?

And there it is. We want diversity in books but only if it falls in line with the image we’re comfortable with. Why else does pretty much every children’s book about blacks have to do with slavery, civil rights, racism, being poor or being in prison? The message: it’s hard out there for a black person! It’s not enough to know we struggle but they want to SEE the struggle, see the strain on our faces. You know what? You don’t need to. The more I think about this book, about myself, about the black people I know and the long line of black ancestors I come from the more I know that some of those slaves would’ve smiled. Black people are strong and proud. We’re good at finding joy in the midst of the storm, at snatching up happiness where we can get it. That’s why when I see that picture of a slave mom and daughter sitting in a cabinet sharing a private moment and the remains of a bowl of blackberry fool I know that they would’ve licked their fingers….and they’d smile.