31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Twenty-Seven – 2017 Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books
Well folks, we’re reaching the end of this month-long party. There are only a few lists to go, and it looks like I’ve been saving some of the biggies to the end. And because there are only so many hours in a day, and because I’ve mentioned a lot of these titles before, I’m just going to do write-ups for the ones that are making their 31 Days, 31 Lists debuts today.
Here then are the titles from 2017 that just made me exceedingly happy. If I were trapped on a desert island . . . with a library, and I was told I had to list the nonfiction picture books of the year with which to fill said library, this is what I’d take.
Nonfiction Picture Book Favorites of 2017
Apex Predators by Steve Jenkins
The question you have to ask yourself is not whether Steve Jenkins would make a Top Nonfiction list of the year, but how often. And yet, I really like choosing an author or illustrator’s best book. For me, dinosaurs win. Big, toothy, mean, dinos in books filled with the latest information. What’s not to love?
Around the World in a Bathtub: Bathing All Over the Globe by Wade Bradford, ill. Micha Archer
Aw. This book is very sweet, and rather young. In fact, it makes for excellent reading around bathtime with younger kids. Hellooooo, curricular tie-ins with everyday occurrences! Not in-depth particularly, the book still does a lovely romp around the globe, showing different forms of bathing (and different kids objecting to it vociferously).
Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, ill. Nancy Carpenter
Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp
Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, ill. James E. Ransome
Caroline’s Comets: A True Story by Emily Arnold McCully
Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, ill. Man One
Danza! Amalia Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico by Duncan Tonatiuh
Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton, ill. Victo Ngai
Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown, ill. John Parra
Germs: Fact and Fiction, Friends and Foes by Lesa Cline-Ransome, ill. James Ransome
The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon by Frances Poletti & Kristina Yee, ill. Susanna Chapman
Gorilla Gardener: How to Help Nature Take Over the World by John & Jana
Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Walmark, ill. Katy Wu
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, ill. Shawn Harris
The Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler
How Does My Home Work? by Chris Butterworth, ill. Lucia Gaggiotti
How the Cookie Crumbled: The True (and Not-So-True) Stories of the Invention of the Chocolate Chip Cookie by Gilbert Ford
This book (and you’ll see a lot of them on today’s list) doesn’t really slot into an easy category. I didn’t have a list this December of Biographies of Objects. Gilbert Ford (one of my favorite illustrators anyway) stole my heart when he did that Slinky bio last year. This book is particularly keen because it’s a marvel at showing kids unreliable histories. In fact, when Ford gets to the fact that there are multiple tellings of how this particular cookie was invented, it gives each one its own time and space, then logically explains why one or another might be unlikely. This is the fake news cookie book! If you want to teach kids about finding reliable resources when digging into history (and not believing everything they read) voila. A perfect accompaniment.
How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy
A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman, ill. Isabel Greenberg
If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams
If You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas, ill. Jaime Kim
Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing by Kay A. Haring, ill. Robert Neubecker
Look! What Do You See? An Art Puzzle Book of American and Chinese Songs by Xu Bing, ill. Becca Stadtlander
Yet another entry on Betsy’s Books I Friggin’ Shoulda Reviewed in 2017. Particularly because this book is impossible to figure out unless you read it thoroughly. You think this is a song book? It’s not. Not really. Friends, this is a code book. Look at the words above the title. You think they’re Chinese? Not even close. Those are English words written in a very specific pattern, invented by Xu Bing. Look at the first one. Do you see the big “L” the two little “Os” inside and the final “K”? See how all the letters in a word are reduced to a boxy size? It’s a brilliant code, made all the smarter by the fact that kids could easily pick it up and then fool every parent and adult they know. A spy book that disguises itself to elude suspicion? Not THAT is my kind of title!
Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education by Raphaele Frier, ill. Aurelia Fronty
Malala and Pete Seeger are currently duking it out for the top honor of Most Popular Biographical Subject award. And, like Pete, I really only wanted to highlight one Malala book out in 2017. In this case, I liked the text and the art of this one quite a lot. In spite of how child-friendly Malala is, her story isn’t an easy one to simplify. Frier and Fronty do her justice and come out with something beautiful in the process. My pick.
Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports by Phil Bildner, ill. Brett Helquist
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, Designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Jeanne Walker Harvey, ill. Dow Phumiruk
Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote by Margarita Engle, ill. Raul Colon
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin, ill. Evan Turk
The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano by Elizabeth Rusch, ill. Marjorie Priceman
My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis by Paul Meisel
Noah Webster’s Fighting Words by Tracy Nelson Maurer, ill. Mircea Catusanu
Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Being Disabled by Shane Burcaw, ill. Matt Carr
Our Gift-Filled Earth by Eun Hee Na, ill. Ha Jin Jung
Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, ill. Christopher Silas Neal
Pedal Power: How One Community Became the Bicycle Capital of the World by Allan Drummond
The problem with Allan Drummond is that he’s too darn good at what he does. People just take him for granted. They assume he’s going to be excellent every time and so they stop being surprised when it comes up with keen ideas like this. In this book Drummond examines a city that went from hostile to bikes to loving them wholeheartedly. Drummond’s ability to show places in the world that show their best selves is admirable. This book? Not to be missed (particularly if you know a bike lover).
Penguin Day: A Family Story by Nic Bishop
Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth by Molly Bank and Penny Chisholm
Robins: How They Grow Up by Eileen Christelow
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter, ill. Stacy Innerst
Unlike Seeger and Malala, the RBG bios seem to limit themselves to roughly one a year. We had one last year (or was it two?), one this year, and I know for a fact we’ll be seeing one in 2018. I was a big fan of last year’s (I Dissent by Debbie Levy) and wasn’t sure if I wanted to see another version. And then darned if Winter doesn’t have an entirely different take on the iconic judge. So I’m sorry guys. I know you only thought you needed one RBG bio on your shelves, but you’d better scoot over and make room for this one as well. It’s kind of amazing.
Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. Eric Velasquez
Spot the Mistake: Lands of Long Ago by Amanda Wood and Mike Jolley, ill. Frances Castle
A sharp co-worker turned me on to this particular series, and I’m grateful. Think of it was Where’s Waldo but as a force for good. The premise is simple. You’re taken back in time to different eras and you have to spot the historical inaccuracies and modern impositions on the past. I’ll put it another way. You know that moment in Spartacus when everybody says “I’m Spartacus”? Ever noticed the guy wearing a wristwatch in that scene? That’s this book. You go to different time periods and spot the things that shouldn’t be there. Sometimes they’re obvious (transistor radios!). Sometimes they’re subtle. But always, always, are they interesting. A really fun alternate take on teaching history.
Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich, ill. Adam Gustavson
I know that you, as a consumer, have a lot of Pete Seeger picture book bios to choose between in a given year. And while Reich’s may not be the shortest, it may well be the best. Making good use of those hard-core research skills, Reich doesn’t just summarize Pete’s life. She places it in the context of its times, and then places the nation’s history in the context of Pete’s life. The end result is a fully fleshed out appreciation of the singer that will make very clear why he’s worth all those biographies out there.
Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth by Don Tate
Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! by Andrea J. Loney, ill. Keith Mallett
Tell Me About Sex, Grandma by Anastasia Higginbotham
This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids From Around the World by Matt Lamothe
You didn’t think I’d forget to put this book on my list, did you? The only reason I haven’t done so before now is that it just doesn’t slot into my preconceived previous lists. That said, you’ve seen books of this sort before, right? The books that say what breakfast is like in one country and what school is like in another. The difference is that while those books are perfectly decent, this book is awesome. All the families in the book are real (and you get to meet them at the book’s end). The book makes VERY clear that this is what these individual families do and shouldn’t be assumed to represent what ALL people in that country prefer (a qualification I’d not seen in this kind of a book before). And the art? Fantastic. More of this in the future, if you would be so good, Mr. Lamothe.
A Time to Act: John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech by Shana Corey, ill. R. Gregory Christie
What Makes a Monster? Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating, ill. David DeGrand
Who Wants to Be a Princess? What It Was Really Like to Be a Medieval Princess by Bridget Heos, ill. Migy
Have I not mentioned this before? Oh, this book is just a ton of fun. It takes the Disneyfied version of princesses and then contrasts them with what a real Medieval princess would have to deal with in her daily life. Even with its jolt of reality, the realistic princess is looking pretty clean and flea-free in these illustrations. Even so, this is a perfect sneaky history lesson for kids that are all about the princesses, but need a jolt of history to put ’em all in context.
Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity by Sarah Suzuki, ill. Ellen Weinstein
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson, ill. Vanessa Brantley Newton
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Wordless Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – CaldeNotts
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Poetry Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Comics for Kids
December 21 – Older Funny Books
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Fiction Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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