Nonfiction Picture Book Reviews

As part of the Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge 2012 (Twitter: #nfpb2012), my goal is to read and review as many of the new non-fiction picture books that are released this year.  Wednesdays will be my primary day to post the reviews.  Don't forget to stop by The Nonfiction Detectives for their review and giveaway of A Nation of Hope by Matt de la Peña, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

If you are participating in the challenge and would like to link your recent reviews, please add your link to the Mr. Linky below.

As I started to read through several of the books on the January release list, I began to realize that many of them were filled with accurate facts, but were more a fictionalized account of the lives of famous individuals or retelling of a significant tradition set during a historical time period.  Some present things in a somewhat humorous manner and others take a more serious look at the event or person.  Each of the books listed below did include either a list of factual dates and other important information, or included reference material.  I am excited to add each of these to the school library, and believe that teachers and students will enjoy sharing them in class.
A Boy Called Dickens
Author: Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrator: John Hendrix
Publisher: Random House (January 10, 2012)
Audience: 2nd to 5th grade

Ever wonder who was Charles Dickens as a child and where he got his ideas for all of his books, Deborah Hopkinson obviously has.  In her book A Boy Called Dickens, she takes facts about Charles Dickens' childhood and creates a fictionalized story for those facts.  Written almost in the manner of a Dickens' book, Hopkinson captures the essence of Dickens' little known younger years and helps readers develop a connection as to what life experiences may have resulted in material for his future books.

I really loved John Hendrix's illustrations which complimented the text and conjured up images of how I imagined Dickens' London to look like if it were given an almost cartoon-like twist to them.  The additional layer of words and illustrations that incorporated images from scenes from Dickens' books made this enjoyable picture book more of a winner for me. 

Looking At Lincoln
Author/Illustrator: Maria Kalman
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Audience: 2nd to 5th grade

Starting with the penny and a five dollar bill, Maria Kalman introduces children to the 16th president in quirky but factual manner.  As with the previous title, there is an element of the story being fictionalized but there is accuracy in the facts of the story.  It was particularly interesting for me to pick up a couple of other picture books written at very different times and by very different authors and find that certain aspects of Lincoln's life was prominent in each of the books. 

The often humorous, yet touching look at the life and habits of Lincoln, including his relationship with his wife, and how he stored notes in his hat, made this important president seem even more humble and significant.  The illustrations also done by Kalman add to the feeling of the book, and I especially liked how she tied the story together at the end with the Lincoln Memorial.  Though I believe children ages 7 and up will enjoy the book, I do think the 2nd and 3rd graders may particularly connect to the illustrations and story format.

Those Rebels, Tom & John
Author: Barbara Kerley
Illustrator: Edwin Fotheringham
Publisher: Scholastic Press (January 1, 2012)
Audience: 2nd to 5th grade

Many children have heard of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, but they may not be able to tell you much about these two important men.  Part biography, part history, this story seeks to provide information for children to better understand the personalities and contributions made by these two historical figures.  The book is filled with many facts which are compiled in a manner that will provide the reader(s) with historical information layered with humor.

There are several very good Revolutionary time period picture books that seek to provide background for students in a manner that is exciting rather than dry.    Fotheringham's cartoon-like illustrations compliment the text and make this one book to consider adding to your collection.

Ellen's Broom
Author: Kelly Starling Lynons
Illustrator: Daniel Minter
Publisher: Penguin (January 5, 2012)
Audience: 2nd to 5th grade

During slavery, African Americans were not allowed to be legally married.  A ceremony involving "jumping the broom" became the traditional way that slave couples would pledge themselves to one another.  In this post Civil War story, a young girl accompanies her parents as they register as lawful husband and wife.  This touching story is based on the author's own family history and shows pride and respect for the traditional customs that were created out of necessity while showing that there was an additional symbol of freedom in being able to participate in legal ceremonies that were once prohibited.  The decorating of the broom and returning it to it's place over the hearth connects the past with the future. 

Don't forget to check in next week, when there will be a special Nonfiction Picture Book giveaway.