Picture book nonfiction just gets better and better. In October and November, we get two more biographies on people of color that have, until now, been largely overlooked by history. It’s disheartening on one hand, but I choose to be glad that books are coming forward now to liven up our nonfiction shelves and give readers even more role models across all walks of life to learn about and be inspired by. I’ve also got some fun alphabet books and some nature and science. Pull up a chair, brew a warm beverage of your choice, and enjoy!
I missed this one the first time around, but I’m glad I caught it when I went back through my Edelweiss account to check up on my TBR. This picture book biography of civil rights activist Clara Luper (nee Clara Mae Shepard) is a great addition to your picture book biographies. Growing up in segregated Oklahoma, Clara saw her World War I veteran father diminished by the very country he fought for: her brother turned away from a local hospital because it was a whites-only facility; she was educated in a run-down classroom with torn books and a teacher who also served as the principal and janitor; restaurants dictated where Blacks could eat. Everywhere she looked, Clara saw things were “separate and unequal”, a phrase repeated throughout the book in bold, large font to drive home the message. Ms. Luper became a teacher who pushed for change, working with the NAACP Youth Council and participating in lunch counter protests with her students after a trip to non-segregated New York. Back matter includes an encapsulated biography of Ms. Luper.
This is the first picture book biography on Clara Luper: everything else I found online is decades old. Let’s get more civil activist bios into the hands of our kids, so they can see for themselves how many voices led to change. Someday is Now has a starred review from Kirkus.
Author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich is the co-author of the NAACP Image Award nominated Two Naomis and the forthcoming Naomis Too and is the editor of The Hero Next Door, an anthology from We Need Diverse Books. You can see more of Jade Johnson’s illustration work, including downloadable coloring pages, on her website.
This rhyming story, the first in a planned series, is a plea to readers from endangered animals suffering from a multitude of human-based maladies, most commonly, the disappearance of their habitats and hunting, be it for trophies or luxury dining. Thirteen animals ask humans for help in their quest for survival; each rhyme provides readers with a little background on the animal and why it needs help. The elephant’s page reads: “I sure am an enormous creature; With ivory tusks my most attractive feature; For these long, tapered tusks that I hold dear; Thousands of friends were lost last year; No one needs my tusks but me; Go make some in a factory”.
Back matter includes a glossary of terms and an animal footprint guessing game. Each animal gets its own spread, including its geographic location and footprint, related to a game in the back matter. The watercolor artwork is realistic and showcases each animal in its natural environment. Who Will Roar If I Go? is a good introduction to endangered animals and the need for conservation and preservation; it’s a good additional add to your picture book nonfiction.
The Who Will Roar webpage offers free, downloadable educator resources.
The latest book in Paul Thurlby’s ABC Cities series brings readers on an alphabetical tour of the City of Lights: Paris. Beautiful, bright artwork brings to mind vintage travel posters, and little bites of Parisian history on each page make this a fun addition to your picture books and world sections. Adults will enjoy this one as much as the kids will; references are equally accessible to kids and grownups. From the Abbesses to the Zoo De Vincennes, this is a nice addition to Thurlby’s Cities set. Endpapers provide a map to Paris, with attractions throughout the book numbered for reference. The author provides a concise explanation of the city’s organization into arrondissments. This easily works for both concept sections and geography sections, but don’t mistake this for a beginner’s abecedary; it’s a little more complex and better for Kindergarteners and up.
Check out Paul Thurlby’s webpage for more artwork and information on his other books. Take your armchair travelers on a picture book trip around the world with Thurlby’s books and Miroslav Sasek’s books.
Readers are encouraged to explore patterns in nature in this mindful rhyming book. A diverse group of children play and relax in an open park area in the opening spread. The text playfully crawls around the scene, encouraging kids to “Look, climb, dig, flow. Breathe in deep, around you go. Twirl, whirl, swirl, grow. Explore, find more, join the show.” The text inspires readers to look for patterns everywhere: observe, dig, explore, climb; a tree trunk splits, branches split, and below the ground, roots split and grow; water branches off into smaller bodies of water, and our own lungs have little branches like mini-trees, reaching for air. Nature twirls and whirls, like the galaxies in space or two friends at play; pine cones, storm clouds, and snail shells all swirl. It’s an interesting way to introduce scientific inquiry to burgeoning scientists. An author’s note goes further into the “secret code” hidden in the shapes of things, and suggests additional resources for more reading.
The artwork is the star in this book. Multilayered screen prints and muted colors create a setting where patterns gently emerge, waiting for readers to spot them: triangles on a tree or bush; cracks in the dirt and roots underground reach out. Flow Spin Grow is a good purchase for primary science collections; I also love Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes’ award-winning Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, and Jane Brocket’s Spotty, Stripy, Swirly: What Are Patterns?
This bio on biologist Ernest Everett Just is just what your picture book biography section needs. He came of age in the Jim Crow South, paying his way through Dartmouth College while supporting his siblings after his mother’s passing. He “unlocked the mysteries of how the different parts of the cell worked together as new life developed”, and found success as a Howard University professor, embryologist, and cytologist, working in both Europe and the States. The Vast Wonder of the World tells his story, introducing him to a new generation of budding scientists who will be inspired by his determination and success in the face of racism and adversity. The muted pencil and digital artwork, in shades of blue, creates a sense of wonder and beauty, giving readers a real appreciation for Just and his place in science history. An author’s note, a timeline, and source notes complete this solid addition to science biography sections. Display and booktalk – PLEASE – with Gwendolyn Hudson Hooks and Colin Bootman’s Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, and – if you can find it (can we please get this book back in print?) – May Chinn: The Best Medicine, by Ellen Butts and Joyce R. Schwartz, illustrated by Janet Hamlin.
The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) has a good feature story on Dr. Just, with references to further reading, by W. Malcolm Byrnes.
Calling itself “The Worst Alphabet Book Ever”, P is for Pterodactyl is a smirk, wink, and nudge at rebel words in the English language: words that don’t follow the rules. The book uses humor, alliteration, and amusing artwork to get its point across, as with E is for Ewe, which depicts sheep at a wake: “Eileen the ewe was so euphoric with wolves were eaten, she even gave the eulogy” (keep reading the book for more on Eileen); or L is not for Elle, which shows an elevated subway car transporting some elephants across the city of El Paso: “An elephant named Elle rode the el train halfway to El Paso and dined on hearts of palm with her folks”. It’s not a basic concept book for new learners, but it’s sure fun to read it out loud and watch kids laugh and play with language. My 6-year-old cracks up at this one, and it helps when he tries to figure out new words.
P is for Pterodactyl has a starred review from Foreword Reviews.