Nonfiction Picture Book Round Up!: The Universe in You by Jason Chin; Of Walden Pond by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by Ashley Benham-Yazdani; Polar Bear by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann; We’re Not Weird by Michael Garland; & The Science of Light by Margaret Peot

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The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey
Author & Illustrator: Jason Chin
Published October 18th, 2022

Summary: Caldecott Medalist Jason Chin’s companion book to the award-winning Your Place in the Universe explores the world of the very small, delving deep into the microscopic world just beneath our skin.

From Jason Chin, Caldecott Medalist for Watercress and Cook Prize winning author and illustrator of Your Place in the Universe comes The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey, a companion book about the very small, from the tiniest mammals to the intricate structures of microscopic organisms and subatomic particles that make up every human body. This deep dive into an unseen world explores the building blocks of all matter and life, demonstrating how much we have in common with everything around us.

Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
Horn Book Fanfare Title
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

Review & Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Jason Chin does it again: combining impeccable illustrations with science to take the reader into the microscopic world within our universe. Chin is such a master at bringing the reader into whatever world he has decided to explore and share with us. His writing is thorough and interesting, his illustrations are detailed and labeled, and the book together is definitely the journey he promises.

Educator Guide Available HERE!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is so special about the structure of the book? Why do you think the author set the structure up this way?
  • What is the smallest thing in the universe? How do these small particles impact us?
  • How does the author make this nonfiction book like a journey?

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Of Walden Pond: Henry David Thoreau, Frederic Tudor, and the Pond Between
Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome
Illustrator: Ashley Benham-Yazdani
Published November 15th, 2022 by Holiday House

Summary: From the award-winning author of Before She Was Harriet comes another work of lyrical beauty, the story of Henry David Thoreau and businessman Frederic Tudor–and a changing world.

Thoreau and Tudor could not have been more different from each other. Yet both shared the bounties of Walden Pond and would change the course of history through their writings and innovations.

This study in opposites contrasts the austere philosopher with the consummate capitalist (whose innovations would change commercial ice harvesting and home refrigerators) to show how two seemingly conflicting American legacies could be built side by side.

Oddball/ tax dodger/ nature lover/ dreamer/ That’s what they called/ Thoreau.
Bankrupt/ disgrace/ good for nothing/ dreamer/ That’s what they called/ Tudor.

Celebrated author Lesa Cline-Ransome takes her magnificent talent for research and detail to plumb the depths of these two history-makers. The graceful text is paired with Ashley Benham-Yazdani’s period accurate watercolor and pencil artwork. In winter, readers see Tudor’s men sawing through the ice, the workhorses dragging the ice, and Thoreau observing it all; in spring, summer, and fall, the ice continues its journey across the globe with Thoreau and Tudor writing and reflecting in their respective diaries.

An Author’s Note, which explores how Thoreau’s writings influenced such figures as Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Frost, and Mohandas Gandhi, is included.

Review & Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Lesa Cline-Ransome introduces us to another aspect of Walden Pond that Thoreau fans may not know about: Tudor’s industrial side of the pond. Cline Ransome’s verse shows us the contrast between the two lives that are tied together by the pond that they both loved, for very different reasons. Beautifully written with rhythm that yells for it to be read aloud.

Benham-Yazdani’s “period accurate watercolor” reminds me of Grandma Moses which is perfect for this story!

Educator Guide Available HERE!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does the different fascinations with the pond show you about the two men?
  • Why do you think the author chose to write the book in verse separated by seasons?
  • What did you learn about the past of ice that surprised you?

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Polar Bear
Author: Candace Fleming
Illustrator: Eric Rohmann
Published November 22nd, 2022 by Holiday House

Summary: This companion book to the authors’ Sibert award-winning Honeybee explores the life and habitat of a majestic endangered species through dramatic text and sumptuous illustration.

April in the Arctic . . .
Cold winds send snow clouds scuttling across the sky.
Temperatures barely nudge above freezing.
But every now and again,
The cloud cover parts,
The sun shines down,
And the frozen world stretches awake.

As spring approaches in the Arctic, a mother polar bear and her two cubs tentatively emerge from hibernation to explore the changing landscape. When it is time, she takes her cubs on a forty-mile journey, back to their home on the ice. Along the way, she fends off wolves, hunts for food, and swims miles and miles.

This companion book to Honeybee and Giant Squid features the unique talents of Fleming and Rohmann on a perennially popular subject. Eric Rohmann’s magnificent oil paintings feature (as in Honeybee) a spectacular gatefold of the polar landscape.

A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

Review & Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Candace Fleming’s beautiful verse introduces us to the polar bear and all of the trials and tribulations she faces with her cubs in the Arctic. Within the narrative, we learn so much information about them and their habitat. The verse adds an extra poetic element to the book that just brings it to the next leve.

Add to that Rohmann’s illustrations, and this stunning picture book sucks in the reader through word and pictures. Backmatter adds even more information through shared research and fun facts.

Educator Guide Available HERE!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think that author chose to write the book in verse?
  • What does the gatefold add to the experience of reading Polar Bear?
  • What are the biggest threats to polar bears?
  • Why does the back matter include the statement “I’s All About the Ice?”

Flagged Passages: 

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We’re Not Weird: Structure and Function in the Animal Kingdom
Author & Illustrator: Michael Garland
Published January 3rd, 2023 by Holiday House

Summary: Meet nature’s most extraordinary looking creatures. But they aren’t weird!

Birds with blue feet, fish that walk, unicorns in the sea, and more! Learn how these animals’ quirks help them survive. Perfect for budding naturalists who are always ready to share a cool (or gross) animal fact.

Very hard scales protect me, and my long tongue is perfect for eating ants. When I feel threatened, I roll myself into a ball. I am a Pangolin.

See these animals’ amazing body parts in vibrant and detailed woodcut illustrations, from the thorny dragon’s spiky skin to the star-nosed mole’s twenty-two feelers. Read how these creatures’ unique traits help them thrive and survive in their environments. Learn where they live, what they eat, how they protect themselves, and more.

With easy-to-read text vetted by an expert, this book aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards on adaptation, structure, and function for kindergarten through 3rd grade. With supplementary information on each animal’s habitat and diet.

Review: This book introduces the reader to so many different unique animals (20 of them!), featuring what makes them different than others. The text in the book is written in 1st person with interesting facts and an introduction to the animal. Additional info on each animal is on in the back matter giving even more information about the animal including their habitat and diet.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which of the animals would you like to learn more about? Why?
  • Choose your own animal to research and write an introduction, in 1st person, highlighting the animal’s uniqueness and interesting facts.
  • What is similar about all of the animals’ unique features?

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The Science of Light: Things that Shine, Flash, and Glow
Author & Illustrator: Margaret Peot
Published December 6th, 2022 by Holiday House

Summary: With a striking glow-in-the-dark cover, this intriguing science book invites young readers to find light all around.

Sun shines.
Stars twinkle.
Aurora borealis glimmers.

Dramatic paintings of lightning, fire, fireworks and more introduces the sources of light–both natural and manmade–and encourage children to look around and observe.

Kids will gasp in surprise at the beautiful glow-in-the-dark cover, and the bold spreads within. Margaret Peot’s distinctive art style captures the elusive nature of light. Bioluminescent squid, fireflies and phytoplankton reveal light sources in living things. Fireworks and light bubbles sparkle on the page.

This foundational science book will kindle curiosity in physical science and the natural world. The simple text makes science accessible to all ages.

Toddlers will delight in the colorful art at storytime. As they grow, kids will return to this nonfiction favorite and discover new ideas each time. Science vocabulary and definitions are included in the back of the book.

An Orbis Pictus Honor Book

Review: This beautifully illustrated book with sparse text gives an introduction to light in science including natural sources of light, bioluminescence, and artificial light. All of the animals, nature, and items in the book are tied together by the light that they make.

The author’s backmatter adds even more depth to the text by sharing more information on the different types of light, a bibliography, and websites to learn more.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What are the differences between the three types of light shared in the book?
  • Which of the types fascinates you the most?
  • How does bioluminescence work?

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**Thank you to Sara at Holiday House for providing copies for review!**

Promise Boys by Nick Brooks

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Promise Boys
Author: Nick Brooks
Published: January 31, 2023 by Macmillan

Goodreads Summary: The Hate U Give meets One of Us Is Lying in Nick Brooks’s Promise Boys, a trailblazing, blockbuster mystery about three teen boys of color who must investigate their principal’s murder to clear their own names—for fans of Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, and Karen McManus.

“A brilliant pulls-no-punches mystery with bruised hearts at its core.” —Adam Silvera, #1 New York Times bestselling author of They Both Die at the End

“Thrilling, captivating, and blade-sharp. Promise Boys will stay with you long after the last page.” —Karen M. McManus, #1 New York Times bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying

The Urban Promise Prep School vows to turn boys into men. As students, J.B., Ramón, and Trey are forced to follow the prestigious “program’s” strict rules. Extreme discipline, they’ve been told, is what it takes to be college bound, to avoid the fates of many men in their neighborhoods. This, the Principal Moore Method, supposedly saves lives.

But when Moore ends up murdered and the cops come sniffing around, the trio emerges as the case’s prime suspects. With all three maintaining their innocence, they must band together to track down the real killer before they are arrested. But is the true culprit hiding among them?

Ricki’s Review: After reading this book, I adopted it for my young adult literature class this semester. This required me to a) change my book order–which makes several people annoyed, b) adjust my syllabus and move sections around, and c) message the campus book store that, yes, I know that the book isn’t out yet, but I still want them to pre-order it.

I say all of this to demonstrate how much I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. It reminded me of Monster by Walter Dean Mayes a bit in the topic. Three teenage boys are all suspected of murdering their principal. The book is written from the different perspectives and allows the reader to explore any biases they might hold about teenage boys of color. It is set in a very strict school that thinks that hyper discipline will fix kids. This is an important book. I am so glad it exists, and I can’t wait to discuss it with my students.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might use this book for students to analyze the rules that come with their schools and within other systems. They might then write narratives related to the rules that they perceive.

Discussion Questions: 

  • When you were reading the book, who did you think did it?
  • Why does the school use discipline? What are their assumptions?
  • What did you learn from this book?

Flagged Spreads: “Rumor has it a student brought a gun to school the day of the murder. You didn’t hear that from me.”

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Everybody Counts! by Matt Forrest Esenwine, Illustrated by Emma Graham

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Everybody Counts!
Author: Matt Forrest Esenwine
Illustrator: Emma Graham
Published January 1st, 2023 by Little Fig

Summary: “Everyone is helpful, in large and small amounts. Everybody matters. Everybody counts!”

So begins Everybody Counts!, a creative foreign-language counting picture book. Get a taste of diversity as you explore this far-reaching festival of food and count your way to a full plate of fun.

 Everybody Counts! makes learning numbers fun as young ones discover new foods and languages from around the world. Explore favorite foods from twelve countries. Illustrations highlight the animals and numerical symbols that represent each country.

Review: Esenwine’s Everybody Counts shows the ties between us all as it counts through 12 different languages along with animals from that country sharing now only the language with us but also food and culture of each country. Each spread is so thoughtfully created with colorful illustrations of each animal and their favorite food fill the spread.

Learn more about the book and its creation at Matt Forrest Esenwine’s Cover Reveal Blog Post.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Everybody Counts is created for the classroom with opportunities to learn different languages as well as a guide to share each students’ favorite food and more!

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Counting books, Books about food, Books about different countries

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**Thank you to the author for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review!!**

You So Black by Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D., Illustrated by London Ladd

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You So Black
Author: Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D.
Illustrator: London Ladd
Published January 10, 2023 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: Based on Theresa Wilson’s (a.k.a. Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D.’s) beautiful, viral spoken word poem of the same name, You So Black is a picture book celebration of the richness, the nuance, and the joy of Blackness.

Black is everywhere, and in everything, and in everyone—in the night sky and the fertile soil below. It’s in familial connections and invention, in hands lifted in praise and voices lifted in protest, and in hearts wide open and filled with love. Black is good.

Accompanied by powerful yet tender illustrations by award-winning illustrator London Ladd, Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. has adapted her poem, full of gorgeous lyricism and imagery, to show readers the love, joy, resilience, and universality in the beauty of Blackness.

About the Creators: 

Theresa Wilson a.k.a. Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. is a musical, lyrical and theatrical alchemist, sprinkling magic like hot sauce. She is best known for her appearance on the 2019 Trumpet Awards on Bounce TV, and the now viral recitation of “You So Black.” Theresa is from the south suburbs of Chicago but calls Atlanta home. She holds a degree in commercial music from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois.

London Ladd is a graduate of Syracuse University with an MFA in illustration. He uses a unique mixed media approach, combining cut paper textured with acrylic paint, tissue paper and colored pencil to bring his diverse subjects to life. London’s artwork is steeped in intensity and emotion, a reflection of the artist himself. His hope is that You So Black will be passed down through generations, reaffirming African Americans’ strength, beauty, power and love. His goal is to open a visual arts community center where lower-income families can create their own art. London lives in Syracuse, New York.

Review: This celebration of blackness is beautifully written and is made to be read out loud. The verse, combined with London Ladd’s dynamic yet warm collages, come together to create a book that shows the beauty, resilience, and brilliance of blackness. The author takes a “historically charged insult” and takes back the ownership and shows how “You So Black” is something to be proud of and in love with.

Essential reading: The interview with the creators at KidLit in Color!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This beautiful picture book definitely belongs on the shelves of everywhere that students who need it can find it.

However, I also picture it being used to introduce spoken word poetry. The picture book in conjunction with the original spoken word poem can be used together and start conversations about rhythm, rhyme, articulation, prosody, etc. as well as other poetic elements like figurative language, specifically similes, and imagery.

Also, in conjunction with the interview linked below, it would lend itself to a great conversation about author’s purpose with evidence from the interview.

Flagged Passages: 

Original Spoken Word Poem: 


Read This If You Love: Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o & Vashti Harrison, Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut and I am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes & Gordon C. James, The Year We Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson & Rafael López, All Because You Matter and We Are Here by Tami Charles & Bryan Collier, I am Enough and I Believe I Can by Grace Byers & Keturah A. Bobo

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**Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing a copy for review!!**

K is for Kindness by Rina Horiuchi, Illustrated by Risa Horiuchi

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K is for Kindness
Author: Rina Horiuchi
Illustrator: Risa Horiuchi
Published: April 26, 2022 by Viking Books

Goodreads Summary: Debut author/illustrator and sister duo have crafted a sweet ABC book that expresses how kindness can be found anywhere.

Ape picks an apple for Aardvark below.
Bat puts a bandage on Brown Bear’s big toe.

From aardvark to zebra, this delightful cast of animal characters illustrates the many ways to show kindness to others, while teaching the youngest readers their ABCs.

Debut author/illustrator and sister duo Rina Horiuchi and Risa Horiuchi have crafted a warm and tender gift that affirms kindness can be found anywhere.

Ricki’s Review: This book is just so charming. It is a great way to learn the alphabet along with all of the ways that we can be kind. The book doesn’t feel didactic, and it was enjoyable for me, as an adult reader. There aren’t just simple animal names on each page, but instead, they read like this: ““Narwhal takes Newt, his new neighbor, to lunch.” The repetition is really helpful for young readers. I’ve been having my 6-year-old read it to my 3-year-old, and it makes my heart swell. I love the ending, in which readers are asked how they are kind—this allowed for some great discussions in our house.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book inspires me to want to choose an emotion or an abstract concept to make my own alphabet book! Kids would have a lot of fun making a shared book together!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which page was your favorite, and why?
  • How do you demonstrate kindness?
  • How do the pictures and words work together to create a vivid representation of kindness?

Flagged Spread: 

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**Thank you to Rina and Risa for this phenomenal book! It is a great addition to children’s literature!**

Atlas Obscura: Explorer’s Guide for The World’s Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco; Illustrations by Joy Ang

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Atlas Obscura: Explorer’s Guide for The World’s Most Adventurous Kid
Author: Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco
Illustrator: Joy Ang
Published: July 19, 2022 by Workman Publishing Company

Goodreads Summary: Journey to the World’s Most Mysterious Places

Created by the same team behind Atlas Obscura, the #1 New York Times bestseller that has over 600,000 copies in print in its first year, The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid is a thrillingly imaginative expedition to 100 weird-but-true places on earth. And just as compelling is the way the book is structured—hopscotching from country to country not by location but by type of attraction. For example, visit the site of the Tunguska event in Siberia, where a meteor slammed into the earth in 1908—and then skip over to the Yucatan, ground zero for the ancient meteor crash that caused the mass extinction of dinosaurs. Then, while in Mexico, tour the fantastical Naica caves, home to crystals ten times larger than the average person—then, turn the page to Vietnam to a cave so vast you  could fly a 747 through it. Illustrated in gorgeous and appropriately evocative full-color art, this book is a passport to a world of hidden possibilities.

Ricki’s Review: The images in this book are absolutely captivating. My children read a few pages each day (and seem to think their parents have an unlimited wallet for travel). This is the kind of book that really appeals to me as an adult who reads to my kids. I am absolutely fascinated by the places in this book, so it makes for a wonderful shared reading. I highly recommend this one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to create an Atlas Obscura of their community. Each student can take a local place that is “obscura” and write a description. The book can be compiled and bound. Another idea is to have students select one of the places as the setting for a story. This book inspires story!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which places do you want to visit most?
  • What did each of these places remind you of?
  • How did the illustrations enhance your reading?

Flagged Spread:

 

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**Thank you go Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**

Magnolia Flower by Zora Neale Hurston, Adapted by Ibram X. Kendi, Illustrations by Loveis Wise

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Magnolia Flower
Written by Zora Neale Hurston and Adapted by Ibram X. Kendi
Illustrator: Loveis Wise
Published: September 6, 2022 by Amistad Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: From beloved African American folklorist Zora Neale Hurston comes a moving adaptation by National Book Award winner and #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist and Antiracist Baby, Ibram X. Kendi. Magnolia Flower follows a young Afro Indigenous girl who longs for freedom and is gorgeously illustrated by Loveis Wise (The People RememberAblaze with Color).

Born to parents who fled slavery and the Trail of Tears, Magnolia Flower is a girl with a vibrant spirit. Not to be deterred by rigid ways of the world, she longs to connect with others, who too long for freedom. She finds this in a young man of letters who her father disapproves of. In her quest to be free, Magnolia must make a choice and set off on a journey that will prove just how brave one can be when leading with one’s heart.

The acclaimed writer of several American classics, Zora Neale Hurston wrote this stirring folktale brimming with poetic prose, culture, and history. It was first published as a short story in The Spokesman in 1925 and later in her collection Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick (2020).

Tenderly retold by #1 New York Times bestselling and National Book Award-winning author Ibram X. Kendi, Magnolia Flower is a story of a transformative and radical devotion between generations of Indigenous and Black people in America. With breathtaking illustrations by Loveis Wise, this picture book reminds us that there is no force strong enough to stop love.

Ricki’s Review: Magnolia Flower is a short story by Zora Neale Hurston, and it has been adapted into this picture book. The illustrations and words will appeal to kids, but as an adult, I felt like this was written for me, too. It has stunning figurative language, and the illustrations are absolutely beautiful. The author’s notes at the end helped me understand more about the book.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might have students select a longer work (e.g. a short story) and adapt the book into a picture book. 

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does this story tell us about love?
  • What does this story tell you about history?
  • If you haven’t read the longer work, what do you think it might include, beyond this book?

Flagged Spread: 

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**Thank you go Leilani at SparkPoint Studio for providing a copy for review!**