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Looking Back at 2018 Nonfiction

By Carolyn Angus and Nancy Brashear
 | Jan 14, 2019

In looking back at the nonfiction published in 2018 (including informational books, biographies, and poetry), we considered the identification of outstanding trade books with curriculum connections and the diverse reading interests of children and young adults, as well as our favorites among the many books we read during the year.

Ages 4–8

Imagine. Juan Felipe Herrera. Ill. Lauren Castillo. 2018. Candlewick.

ImagineLyrical questioning in English (laced with Spanish) and dreamy earth-toned, pen-and-foam monoprint illustrations tell the story of a young boy, the son of migrant workers, who imagines his future if he picked flowers, gazed at stars, helped Mama feed chickens, attended a new school where he didn’t know English, wrote poems using newly learned English words, and became Poet Laureate of the United States (which Herrera did in 2015). This free verse memoir invites the young reader to “imagine what you could do.”

Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain. Cheryl Bardoe. Ill. Barbara McClintock. 2018. Little, Brown.

Nothing Stopped SophieSophie Germain (17761831) overcame many obstacles to pursue her love of math. Secretly completing a university-level study of mathematics, winning a prestigious prize from the Paris Academy of Science for her work on predicting patterns of vibration, and making significant contributions to the field of mathematics and physics, Sophie proved that she was unshakable and unstoppable. Beautifully designed illustrations (created with ink, watercolor, and collage) accompany this story of determined self-taught mathematician Sophie Germain. Back matter includes biographical and historical notes, a bibliography, and author’s and illustrator’s notes. 

Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere. Barb Rosenstock. Ill. Katherine Roy. 2018. Little, Brown.

Otis and WillIn the 1930s, two men obsessed with the sea, engineer Otis Barton and naturalist Will Beebe, worked together to build the bathysphere, a diving tank for exploring the ocean at great depths. Dramatic text and illustrations (including a wordless double gatefold of the bathysphere at the depth of 800 feet) chronicle Barton and Beebe’s record-setting dive.

Prickly Hedgehogs! Jane McGuiness. 2018. Candlewick.

Prickly Hedgehogs!“Someone’s sniffling and snuffling and snaffling . . . whirring and churring and purring.” It’s a prickly hedgehog! Engaging text (with insets of related facts in smaller print) and colorful mixed-media illustrations introduce a mother hedgehog and her five hoglets. Leaving the nest after a few weeks, charming Little Hedgehog eats and eats on nocturnal forays, gets fatter and fatter, and at the end of fall makes a nest in preparation for hibernation.

Seeing into Tomorrow: Haiku by Richard Wright. Richard Wright. Nina Crews (Ed.). Ill. Nina Crews. 2018. Millbrook/Lerner.

Seeing Into TomorrowTwelve haiku and photo collages on double-page spreads celebrate the activities and observations of African American youth throughout the year. This beautifully designed book begins with “Just enough of snow / For a boy’s finger to write / His name on the porch,” and ends with “A spring sky so clear / That you feel you are seeing / Into tomorrow.”

Ages 9–11

Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery. Sandra Neil Wallace. Ill. Bryan Collier. 2018. Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster.

Between the LinesThis picture book biography, with stunning watercolor-and-collage artwork, tells the story of African American Ernie Barnes (19382009), who kept his childhood dream of being an artist alive, even during his time as an NFL football player. Today Ernie Barnes’ paintings hang in art galleries. Back matter includes author and illustrator notes, a bibliography, a list of museums exhibiting Barnes’ paintings, and sources.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science. Joyce Sidman. 2018. Houghton Mifflin.

The Girl Who Drew ButterfliesOne of the first naturalists to observe insects directly, artist Maria Merian's (1647–1717) paintings of the life cycles of insects set the standard for scientific illustration for centuries. Her careful observation of the life cycle of insects disproved traditional beliefs about how they developed. This picture book biography includes reproductions of Merian’s paintings and excerpts from her journals.

A History of Pictures for Children: From Cave Paintings to Computer Drawings. David Hockney & Martin Gayford. Ill. Rose Blake. 2018. Abrams.

A History of PicturesIn this children’s edition of A History of Pictures: From the Cave to the Computer Screen (2016), artist David Hockney and art critic Martin Gaylord let readers listen in on their lively conversation about how artists have pictured the world from cave painting to computer-generated imagery. The book ends with a thought-provoking “What’s next for pictures?” discussion. Back matter for this engaging and accessible history of art includes a timeline, glossary, endnotes, bibliography, list of illustrations, and index.

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King. Andrea Davis Pinkney. Ill. Brian Pinkney. 2018. Scholastic.

Martin RisingThirty-nine lyrical poems written by Andrea Pinkney and stunning impressionistic gouache-and-India ink paintings by Brian Pinkney follow Martin Luther King, Jr. from cradle to grave in a moving requiem presented in three sections: “Daylight” (King’s life), “Darkness” (his death on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee), and “Dawn” (his legacy). Back matter includes reflections by the author and the illustrator on their creation of Martin Rising, a “Now Is the Time” section providing historical context, a time line, and a bibliography.

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. Chris Barton. Ill. Ekua Holmes. 2018. Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster.

What Do You Do With a Voice Like ThatAfrican-American Barbara Jordan (19361996), who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas in 1972, confidently used her strong voice throughout her life. This picture book biography of extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan ends with an inspiring answer to the question posed in the title: “We remember it, and we honor it by making our own voices heard.”

Ages 12–14

Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin. James L. Swanson. 2018. Scholastic.

Chasing King's KillerSwanson’s meticulously researched and documented narrative focuses on the murder of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, and the manhunt for his assassin, James Earl Ray. The epilogue ends with thought-provoking questions: “Where do we go from here? How long will it take? How long?”

Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon. Suzanne Slade. Ill. Thomas Gonzalez. 2018. Peachtree.

CountdownIn 1961, President John F. Kennedy committed to landing a man on the moon and safely returning him to earth within a decade. Beautifully composed verse, dramatic paintings, informational double-page spreads, and extensive back matter tell the Project Apollo 11 story that became a reality 2979 days later (on July 20, 1969) when the Eagle landed on the Moon’s surface and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to step onto the Moon.

Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man. Tonya Bolden. 2018. Abrams.

Facing FrederickBolden chronicles the life and accomplishments of Frederick Douglass (18181895), who used his experiences with slavery and racism—what he called the “twin-monsters of darkness”—to enhance his effectiveness as a voice for the anti-slavery movement. Quotes, archival photographs, drawings, and documents contribute to the reader’s understanding of events and decisions that shaped Douglass’s life and U.S. history.

The Hyena Scientist (Scientists in the Field). Sy Montgomery. Ill. Nic Bishop. 2018. Houghton Mifflin.

The Hyena ScientistIn their latest collaboration, naturalist/author Montgomery and biologist/photographer Bishop challenge popular negative perceptions of the hyena with an engaging account of their observations and experiences working with zoologist Kay Holekamp and her research team at Camp Fisi in Masai Mara, Kenya. Sidebars and numerous close-up photographs of the spotted hyena provide information on the carnivore and the researchers studying its behavior.

Jabber-Walking. Juan Felipe Herrera. 2018. Candlewick.

Jabber-WalkingJuan Felipe Herrera (U.S. Poet Laureate, 20152017) created this zany and imaginative stream-of-consciousness poetry-writing handbook with black-and-white scribble artwork to help writers turn their “Jabber Burbles” into “Poetry” that can “make all life so beautiful your heart becomes a diamond-galaxy that shines out fast flickering, moving, turning on lights—everywhere.” Experimental forms of poetry-writing exercises are interspersed with excerpts from Herrera’s “Jabber Notebook.” 

Ages 15+

Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam. Elizabeth Partridge. 2018. Viking/Penguin.

Boots on the GroundPartridge’s well-documented story of the war in Vietnam is presented from the perspectives of eight individuals (six American soldiers, a nurse, and a refugee) and complemented with archival photographs and sidebars about the roles of four presidents (John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and Gerald R. Ford), as well as other influential individuals, during the conflict that divided the nation.

Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction. Jarrett J. Krosoczka. 2018. Graphix/Scholastic.

Hey, KiddoAuthor/illustrator Krosoczka’s graphic memoir covers his childhood and teen years of being raised by his maternal grandparents, Joe and Shirl, in Worcester, Massachusetts, while having only sporadic contact with his heroin-addicted mother through letters and visits and not knowing who his father was. Supporting Jarrett’s love of drawing, his grandparents enroll him in a comic book class at the Worcester Art Museum, and art becomes a means for dealing with the ups and downs of his unconventional family life. An author’s note and a note on the art add to the reader’s understanding of this inspiring memoir.

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees. Don Brown. 2018. Houghton Mifflin.

The Unwanted Stories of the Syrian RefugeesUsing a graphic novel format, Brown weaves together stories of refugees of the Syrian Civil War, which began in March 2011. In the intervening years, millions of people have fled the conflict, overwhelming neighboring countries and making desperate escapes to Europe. In a postscript, Brown addresses how the Syrian refugee crisis has “sparked a present-day backlash against immigration of all kinds and upended politics across the globe.”

Votes for Women!: American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot. Winifred Conkling. 2018. Algonquin.

Votes for Women!Conkling’s captivating account of the long-fought battle for women’s suffrage in the U.S. focuses on the personal stories of leaders in the suffrage movement including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Alice Paul and key events from the 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls to the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. Back matter includes an “In Her Own Words” section of primary sources, time line, bibliography, chapter-by-chapter notes on quotations, and index.

All Ages

Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year. Fiona Waters (Ed.). Ill. Fran Preston-Gannon. 2018. Nosy Crow/Candlewick.

Sing a Song of Seasosns“Sing a song of seasons! / Something bright in all! / Flowers in the summer, / Fires in the fall!” (from the last stanza of “Autumn Fires” by Robert Louis Stevenson). The poems in this collection by writers from the past and the present vary by subject, length, form, and mood and are arranged on double-spread pages of colorful mixed media illustrations. A delightful celebration of the world of nature for readers of all ages.

Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California. Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.

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