Tracey’s Favorite Nonfiction of 2015
I love nonfiction! And there have been so many wonderful nonfiction titles for young readers this year. Here are some of my favorites—and though my nonfiction TBR list is quite lengthy, I’m always looking for more. Do you have any suggestions?
2015 PRIMARY NONFICTION
Hippos Are Huge! by Jonathan London (ill. by Matthew Trueman). 9780763665920. 2015. Gr K-3.
A great read-aloud about a fascinating—and THE most dangerous—animal in Africa, this picture book is about hippos! With plenty of facts and great art—including a spread of two male hippos swatting dung at each other (use search words “hippo” and “dung” to see real-life footage)—this is high-interest nonfiction at its finest!
How to Swallow a Pig : Step-by-Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page. 9780544313651. 2015. Gr 1-4.
Many animal books tell you about the amazing things that animals can do, but this one goes one step further. It tells you how to do some things you thought only animals could do. Just follow the numbered, step-by-step instructions and you’ll be able to spin a web like a spider, protect yourself from pesky insects like a capuchin monkey, and yes, how to swallow a pig—just like a python. The authors warn, however, that you might not be successful the first time you try; just remember that practice makes perfect.
Little Houses : A Counting Book by Helen Musselwhite. 9781780676135. 2015. Gr PK-1.
Musselwhite teaches children to count from one to ten with her charming collages of little houses throughout the world, including Swiss chalets, Japanese teahouses, and Swedish cabins. Readers can count not only the houses but other details in the scene, such as birds, trees, and pets.
Where Did My Clothes Come From? by Chris Butterworth (ill. by Lucia Gaggiotti). 9780763677503. 2015. Gr K-3.
Follow the thread in this engaging book to find out just where your jeans and sweaters, your sports uniform, and your boots and winter jacket come from. Starting with the raw materials—cotton plants, sheep, and plastic bottles (yes, plastic bottles!)—Butterworth and Gaggioti show how these substances are made into fabrics that are then sent to factories to make the finished clothing. Excellent for economics units on production and distribution—and for readers who just like to see how things are made.
2015 INTERMEDIATE NONFICTION
Bigfoot Is Missing! by J. Patrick Lewis (ill. by Kevin Nesbitt). 9781452118956. 2015. Gr 2-5.
Young readers who love books on monsters and other mythical creatures will get plenty of information as well as having their funny bone tickled—all while being enticed into reading poetry! Short playful poems on wanted posters, newspaper clippings, and media broadcasts introduce 18 cryptids “whose real existence has not yet been proven,” and include yetis, bunyips, the Mongolian Death Worm and the Loch Ness monster, as well as the titular Bigfoot. Graphic-style illustrations provide teasing glimpses of these fascinating and elusive creatures.
Friend or Foe : The Whole Truth about Animals People Love to Hate by Etta Kaner (ill. by David Anderson). 9781771470643. 2015. Gr 3-6.
These 10 creatures are considered to be disgusting or gross or scary. For example, a shark will vomit up its stomach to get rid of undigested stuff, and a vulture poops on its own legs to cool off on hot days. People hate these animals, but as the title states, these creatures also have fans. Each chapter is similar to a debate: Foes go first, fans respond, and then the author asks, “What do YOU think? Is it a friend or a foe?” This format, with terrific illustrations and information presented with a gob of humor, will make this a popular choice.
Game Changer : John McLendon and the Secret Game by John Coy. 9781467726047. 2015. Gr 2-5.
A secret basketball game played in 1944 in North Carolina changed the sport forever. Why was it so secret? The game, set up by Coach John McLendon, was between the North Carolina College of Negroes’ basketball team and the all-white team from Duke University Medical School. (See below for an adult/YA narrative of this event.)
Tricky Vic : The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli. 9780670016525. 2015. Gr 3-6.
Tricky Vic was born Robert Miller in what is now the Czech Republic. Though a smart student with a bright future, he left to become an “artist” instead of getting a degree at the University. What he became known for, however, were his scams, one of the most famous of which involved selling the Eiffel Tower…twice. This fascinating biography of a con artist follows Tricky Vic as he swindled people throughout Europe and the United States and even on the seas.
2015 MIDDLE SCHOOL NONFICTION
Bioluminescence : Nature and Science at Work by Marc Zimmer. 9781467757843. 2015. Gr 7-12.
Bioluminescence, or the ability of living creatures to produce and emit light, is the topic of this excellent science book. With high quality photos and engaging text, Zimmer describes what bioluminescence is, how it works, and what animals use it for. He also explains how scientists have discovered ways to use these fluorescent proteins in their study of diseases and neurological process.
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler : Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Philip Hoose. 9780374300227. 2015. Gr 7-12.
Hoose recounts the exploits of the Danish resistance movement in WWII. Fifteen-year-old Knud Pedersen and his friends were upset about Denmark’s lack of resistance to the Nazi invasion, and decided to do something about it. Sabotage was their game, and they were surprisingly successful. Hoose combines his story with quotes from a week-long interview with Pedersen in 2012.
Child Soldier : When Boys and Girls Are Used in War (Citizenkid) by Michel Chikwanne & Jessica Dee Humphreys (ill. by Claudia Davila). 9781771381260. 2015. Gr 6-8.
In 1993 soldiers forced five-year-old Michel Chikwanine and other boys to train to be soldiers in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This graphic novel memoir describes the horrors of this time, as well as how he escaped from the militia and how he has now made a life for himself and his family in Canada. Though he does not sugarcoat the events in this book, it is not too graphic for middle schoolers.
Octopus Scientists : Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk (Scientists in the Field) by Sy Montgomery. 9780544232709. 2015. Gr 5-8.
Octopus Scientists focuses both on these amazing mollusks and on the scientists who study them. We know that these animals can change color, squeeze their boneless bodies through tiny openings, and squirt ink to escape predators, but scientists have discovered that they are extremely intelligent and have quirky personalities. (All of the authors of the excellent Scientists in the Field series are excellent, but Sy Montgomery is my personal favorite.)
Tommy : The Gun That Changed America by Karen Blumenthal. 9781626720848. 2015. Gr 7-10.
At the end of WW I, John Taliaferro Thompson developed a gun that could shoot a hundred bullets in a few seconds, but the military wasn’t interested. But some people were, and the Tommy gun became the weapon of choice for gangsters, bank robbers, and others who were on the wrong side of the law. Blumenthal describes how the Tommy gun’s effects on the lawlessness of the post-WWI era to its impact on gun control arguments today.
2015 HIGH SCHOOL NONFICTION
The Bullies of Wall Street : This Is How Greedy Adults Messed Up Our Economy by Sheila Bair. 9781481400855. 2015. Gr 8-12.
Sheila Bair explains the causes of the 2008 economic collapse and the multitude of ways that it impacted individuals, families, businesses, and nations. Economics can be a complex and troublesome subject, but Bair, who was the chairperson of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation at the time of the collapse, breaks down the issues so that young adults can understand—and maybe learn from history’s mistakes.
Humans of New York : Stories by Brandon Stanton. 9781250058904. 2015. Gr 9-Adult.
In 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton began snapping pictures of the everyday folk he sees in New York City and asking them little questions about their lives—a project that eventually became the blog “Humans of New York.” From a few hundred followers, he now reaches over 15 million people. An earlier book contained only photographs, but this one includes stories about the people he has captured with his camera.
Most Dangerous : Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin. 9781596439528. 2015. Gr 7-12.
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, an ordinary government analyst, turned whistle-blower when he leaked the Pentagon Papers. The 7,000-page set of documents recounted all of the actions that the government had taken during the Vietnam War—and revealed the deceit carried on under four presidents over 20 years. PW says the book reads “like the stuff of spy novels.” Sheinkin’s book can open up discussions on patriotism and conscience.
Symphony for the City of the Dead : Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson. 9780763668181. 2015. Gr 9-12.
By the winter of 1943-1944, the city of Leningrad had been under siege by the Nazis for almost three years. The winter was cold and brutal; people burned anything they could to stay warm and resorted to eating their pets (and each other) to survive. In the midst of this, composer Dmitri Shostakovich wrote the Leningrad Symphony, a composition that buoyed the spirits of the people under siege. This narrative nonfiction, which SLJ says “has all the intrigue of a spy thriller,” recounts the life of Shostakovich, the history of Russia in the first half of the 20th century, and the drama of Russian courage in World War II.
Thing Explainer : Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe. 9780544668256. 2015. Gr 7-Adult.
Now that I am at a certain age, I often find that my excellent vocabulary will forsake me at inopportune times, and I am left using gestures and saying things like “that thing that does this and that.” Randall Munroe knows just what I mean. In Thing Explainer. he uses only the thousand most common words to name and describe complicated, though common, things. An elevator is a lifting room, a dishwasher is a box that cleans food holders, and an atomic bomb is a machine for burning cities. Despite the easy text, this book will make you think.
2015 ADULT-FOR-HIGH SCHOOL NONFICTION
Dead Wake : The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson. 9780307408860. 2015. Gr 10-Adult.
Erik Larson presents another excellent example of narrative nonfiction is his recounting of the events leading up to and resulting from the sinking of the Lusitania in May, 1915. Despite a gentleman’s policy of war that had historically kept civilian ships safe from attack, a German U-boat torpedoed the luxury liner, which was carrying a record number of infants and children.
Going to Hell in a Hen Basket : An Illustrated Dictionary of Modern Malapropisms by Robert Alden Rubin. 9781250066275. 2015. Gr 10-Adult.
Malapropism—mistakenly using a word or phrase, usually because it sounds similar to the correct one—can be very humorous. Here the author has searched print and digital resources, from blogs to highly regarded publications, to find new and time-honored malapropisms, pairing them with hilarious illustrations. Rubin has done a great job proving that English class doesn’t have to be boring.
The Secret Game : A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball’s Lost Triumph by Scott Ellsworth. 9780316244619. 2015. Gr 10-Adult.
In the fall of 1943, the all-white military team of Duke University’s medical school was trouncing all of its rivals, and they challenged any team that dared to face them. But then they received an invitation to play the Eagles, from the obscure North Carolina College for Negroes. The game that followed is not just sports history, but is also part of America’s social history and an event that broke down racial barriers before the civil rights movement started.
The Soul of an Octopus : A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery. 9781451697711. 2015. Gr 10-Adult.
Sy Montgomery is one of my favorite science authors. After she researches a topic, she has several times written both a children’s and an adult book on that subject—pink dolphins, golden moon bear, tigers—and this time around it is on octopuses. She also explains why “octopuses” is the correct plural form (science AND grammar—can you understand why I love her?). Octopuses have been considered to have a lower level intelligence with no thoughts beyond survival and reproduction, but Montgomery’s experiences suggest that they have feelings and emotions and a higher level of consciousness. Recommend this thought-provoking and compassionate book to readers interested in the sciences, especially biology.
Trashed by Derf Backderf. 9781419714535. 2015. Gr 10-Adult.
Backderf’s graphic biography My Friend Dahmer was a hit with teens and won an Alex Award in 2013. Here the three young protagonists in his latest graphic novel work at one of the worst jobs: garbage collector. Backderf has had experience working as a garbage man, and his story alternates with pages that illustrate what garbage consists of and what happens to it after we put it on the curb. Funny and gross, Trashed will appeal to teens and adults and maybe make readers think twice about what they throw away.
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