Tracey’s Favorite Nonfiction of 2014
On to my favorite nonfiction titles from 2014! Though I read a lot of nonfiction, from picture books to adult, there are many still on my TBR list. This year I added a new section of adult titles that high school students will enjoy. I honestly cut quite a few titles from my original list, and it’s too painful to slash off any more.
Again, these are MY favorites; I’d love if you added yours in the comments! And check back tomorrow for my favorite fiction titles.
ELEMENTARY NONFICTION – PRIMARY
10 Times 10 by Herve Tullet. 9781849762472. 2014. Gr PK-1.
You can count to 10 on your fingers, but there are so many more ways to do it. How about with paints…or race cars? Use your imagination to count as many ways as you want!
A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz (ill. by CaTia Chien). 9780547875071. 2014. Gr PK-2.
As a boy, Alan Rabinowitz loved the animals at the zoo and hated that they were kept in cages. He also had a problem with stuttering, except when he talked to animals. One day at the Bronx Zoo, Alan promised a lonely jaguar that if he ever found his voice, he would become a voice for animals. Now an adult, he is able to communicate better and has become a wildlife conservationist, speaking out on behalf of animals.
Tuesday Tucks Me In : The Loyal Bond Between a Soldier and His Service Dog by Luis Carlos Montalvan. 9781596438910. 2014. Gr K-3.
Until Tuesday is the story of a veteran suffering from physical and emotional problems caused by his time fighting in the Middle East—until a service dog named Tuesday entered and changed his life. This photographic book for primary students tells the same story from Tuesday’s point of view. It is a sweet, charming, and funny look at the relationship between a dog and his human.
Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman (ill. by Rick Allen). 9780547906508. 2014. Gr 1-4.
Here’s another wonderful book with nature poems from Joyce Sidman, this one covering the lives of animals in winter, including some that escape the cold and the different ways that those who stay survive. Beautiful illustrations add to the celebration of these creatures.
ELEMENTARY NONFICTION – INTERMEDIATE
Feathers : Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart. 9781580894302. 2014. Gr 1-4.
If you are asked why birds have feathers, you would first probably answer that birds use feathers to fly. But feathers have so many more uses than just flight. Melissa Stewart’s words and drawings will entice young readers to discover the many ways that these 16 birds use their feathers.
Hot Dog! : Eleanor Roosevelt Throws a Picnic by Leslie Kimmelman (ill. by Victor Juhasz). 9781585368303. 2014. Gr 3-6.
If I were invited to dine with the President and First Lady, I would expect all sorts of gourmet foods such as caviar, filet mignon, arugula, and stinky cheeses; and for dessert, crème brulee or flambéed vanilla-poached pears with apricot sauce. When King George and Queen Elizabeth visited the U.S. in 1939, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited them on a picnic where she served…hot dogs with mustard? Definitely unusual, but this picnic began a life-long friendship between the royal couple and the Roosevelts.
If : A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers by David J. Smith (ill. by Steve Adams). 9781894786348. 2014. Gr 3-6.
The author of If America Were a Village and If the World Were a Village uses everyday objects to explain the scale of such concepts as world population, the solar system, food production, and more.
The Right Word : Roget and His Thesaurus by Jennifer Fisher Bryant (ill. by Melissa Sweet). 9780802853851. 2014. Gr 3-6.
This picture book biography of Peter Roget illustrates his love of words and books, spotlighting how he made, created, constructed, generated, and composed lists of words and organized, coordinated, classified, arranged, and systematized them so that he could find the exact word that he needed, desired, required, or craved.
MIDDLE SCHOOL NONFICTION
Fighting Fire! : Ten of the Deadliest Fires in American History and How We Fought Them by Michael L. Cooper. 9780805097146. 2014. Gr 6-8.
I read this book because my older son is a paramedic with the Kansas City Fire Department, and I was fascinated by the tales of these ten horrific fires and the extreme bravery of the firefighters. But this book goes further than simple accounts; it explains how each disaster resulted in the development of new firefighting technology and techniques. This compelling high-interest book is for anyone, but boys will be especially drawn to it.
Harlem Hellfighters by J. Patrick Lewis (ill. by Gary Kelley). 9781568462462. 2014. Gr 5-8.
These 2000 African-American men not only fought in World War I but brought their musical instruments to the war. J. Patric Lewis and Gary Kelley also created the book And the Soldiers Sang.
How They Choked : Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg (ill. by Kevin O’Malley). 9780802734891. 2014. Gr 6-8.
Though we mostly hear about their successes, the famous people in history were also plagued by failures. As she did with the deaths of famous people in her How They Croaked, Georgia Bragg gives an entertaining portrayal of the mistakes, failures, and flaws of 15 famous people in history.
Park Scientists : Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears (Scientists in the Field) by Mary Kay Carson. 9780547792682. 2014. Gr 5-8.
Titles in the Scientists in the Field series are always on my favorites list. This 2014 title follows scientists in America’s national parks as they study salamanders, grizzlies, and geysers. Use this series to teach about the work of scientific inquiry.
The Story of Buildings by Patrick Dillon (ill. by Stephen Biesty). 9780763669904. 2014. Gr 5-8.
Dillon’s stories and Biesty’s cross-sections provide an excellent history of architecture from ancient pyramids and temples, through historical buildings such as the Taj Mahal and London’s Crystal Palace, to the modern buildings such as the Sydney Opera House.
Your Water Footprint : The Shocking Facts about How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products by Stephen Leahy. 9781770854994. 2014. Gr 4-8.
A water footprint is the amount of fresh water used to produce a product or carry out a task. Using clear infographics, Stephen Leahy shows how many gallons of water are needed to make a cheeseburger (634) or a pair of jeans (7,600), and the difference in a daily diet of meat (15 large bathtubs) or a vegetarian diet (8 large bathtubs). This excellent visual representation should make an impact on readers.
HIGH SCHOOL NONFICTION
Above the Dreamless Dead : World War I Poetry and Comics by Chris Duffy. 9781626720657. 2014. Gr 9-12.
World War I soldiers suffered through so many horrors that they are known as the silent generation, seldom or never talking about their experiences. But some soldiers were spurred to capture the reality of combat in narratives, poems, and songs. Some of these are included in this illustrated book.
The Family Romanov : Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming. 9780375967825. 2014. Gr 9-12.
Candace Fleming contrasts the life of the family of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia with the horrible circumstances of the Russian peasantry, explaining what led up to the violent uprisings and the murder of the entire Romanov family. This excellent work of narrative nonfiction reads almost like a novel.
Hidden Girl : The True Story of a Modern-Day Child Slave by Shyma Hall. 9781442481688. 2014. Gr 9-12.
Shyima Hall was a child slave to a wealthy family in Egypt before she was smuggled to the United States—and into more slavery. When she was twelve, a tip from an anonymous person resulted in her freedom. Today she speaks out against human trafficking and her plans to become an immigration officer.
Spare Parts : Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream by Joshua Davis. 9780374534981. 2014. Gr 9-12.
Four Mexican American high school students, three of whom are undocumented, enter a national robotics competition despite their lack of funds and experience, though they know that this might bring them to the attention of U.S. immigration officials. The author also discussed the issue of immigration.
Burning Down the House : The End of Juvenile Prison by Nell Bernstein. 9781595589569. 2014. Gr 10-Adult.
Nell Bernstein examines the brutal treatment of youth in juvenile prisons and argues that the current structure of juvenile prisons denies children the key to factor to a successful rehabilitation: positive and caring relationships with adults.
My Gentle Barn : Creating a Sanctuary Where Animals Heal and Children Learn to Hope by Ellie Laks. 9780385347662. 2014. Gr 10-Adult.
Ellie Laks describes how she founded The Gentle Barn in 1999 to rehabilitate abandoned and abused animals. She discusses the growth of the Barn over the years, as well as its volunteers and its work today helping at-risk teens.
The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons : And Other True Stories of Trauma, Madness, Affliction and Recovery… by Sam Kean. 9780316182348. 2014. Gr 10-Adult.
Using tales of brain injuries, surgeries, and diseases, Sam Kean describes what we know about the structure and workings of the brain and how that knowledge has changed through the years since 1500. With his wit and humor, Kean’s book is the opposite of dry and boring.
The Underground Girls of Kabul : In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg. 9780307952493. 2014. Gr 11-Adult.
In Afghanistan, bacha posh are young girls who are raised as boys in families with no sons. After having preferential treatment until puberty, they are then forced into the traditional female role of a wife and mother, hidden in their homes and subject to the whims of their fathers, brothers, and husbands. Jenny Nordberg tells the stories of several bacha posh, discussing their struggle as they try psychologically to fit into Afghan society.
Wild Things! : Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter D. Sieruta. 9780763651503. 2014. Gr 11-Adult.
An excellent and engaging book written by children’s literature bloggers, Wild Things! takes readers behind the scenes of popular children’s books. It debunks the idea that children’s lit is only about “fuzzy bunnies” and “pots of honey” by discussing the controversies, censorship issues, and the lives of innovative authors and illustrators. This fascinating frolic through the history of children’s literature would be a great read for upper-level language arts courses.
P.S. Again, if you wonder what books were on my penultimate nonfiction favorites list, you can check it out here. (Penultimate : one of my favorite words.)