Tracey’s Favorite 2016 Nonfiction
I love nonfiction! And 2016 has seen so many wonderful nonfiction titles for young readers. 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?
2016 PRIMARY NONFICTION
A Beetle Is Shy by Dianna Hutts Aston (ill. by Sylvia Long). 9781452127125. 2016. Gr 1-4.
In the same lovely style as their A Butterfly Is Patient, A Nest Is Noisy, A Rock Is Lively, An Egg Is Quiet, and A Seed Is Sleepy, the team of Aston and Long highlights the life cycle, physical characteristics, behavioral traits, and habitats of various types of beetles around the world.
Big Dogs, Little Dogs : A Visual Guide to the World’s Dogs by Jim Medway. 9781770858282. 2016. Gr PK-2.
Readers will pore over this illustrated guide to various dog breeds, arranged in categories such as hound dogs, working dogs, and sporting dogs. I admit that I chose this book because I am a dog person, but so are a lot of kids!
Circle by Jeanne Baker. 9780763679668. 2016. Gr K-3.
A young child in a wheelchair watches from the shore as a godwit bird departs on a non-stop, nine-day flight from New Zealand to Alaska. Eventually, the bird returns to the same beach, where the child who was wheelchair bound now chases a dog and a pair of crutches lie unused nearby.
Feathered Dinosaurs by Brenda Z. Guiberson (ill. by William Low). 9780805098280. 2016. Gr K-3.
Guiberson describes a number of dinosaurs who most likely had feathers and are the ancestors of modern birds in this timely book. Dinosaurs are a popular topic among children (and adults!), and this timely attractive book follows the discovery of many feathery dinosaur fossils.
First Light, First Life : A Worldwide Creation Story by Paul Fleischman (ill. by Julie Paschkis). 9781627791014. 2016. Gr 1-4.
Fleischman and Paschkis take the same approach to the creation story as they did Cinderella in Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal. Many cultures in the world have a story about the beginning of the world, and many of those stories have the same elements, which are tied together using art from those various cultures. This beautiful book showcases the connection between the world’s peoples.
I Dissent : Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy (ill. by Elizabeth Baddeley). 9781481465595. 2016. Gr K-2.
When she was a child, RBG’s mother decided that girls didn’t need an education. She protested, and has been standing up for what she believes in since then. She is quite famous for her feisty dissenting arguments as a Supreme Court justice.
Miss Mary Reporting : The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber by Sue Macy (ill. by C.F. Payne). 9781481401203. 2016. Gr K-3.
When Mary Garber became a sportswriter in the 1940s, women were not allowed in the press box or even on the sidelines; they had to sit with the players’ wives. But Mary was spunky and determined, and she loved sports. Highly respected, Mary wrote for 56 years—and an award is named after her, given to women role models in sports media. An excellent autobiography about a lesser-known, but inspiring trailblazer.
The Secret Subway by Shana Corey. 9780375970719. 2016. Gr K-3.
On February 26, 1870, Alfred Ely Beach unveiled his masterpiece under the crowded cobblestone streets of New York City: the city’s first subway. Although funding to extend the subway dried up and Beach never saw the system take effect, he laid the groundwork for the future.
2016 INTERMEDIATE NONFICTION
Animals by the Numbers : A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins. 9780544630925. 2016. Gr 2-6.
One of my favorite science author/illustrator presents a collection of numerical facts related to animals, shedding light on such topics as how much all humans on earth weigh and how long animals’ tongues are. Along with his signature collage illustrations, he clarifies his information with graphs, charts, and diagrams.
Crossing Niagara : The Death-Defying Tightrope Adventures of the Great Blondin by Matt Tavares. 9780763668235. 2016. Gr 1-4.
Jean Francois Gravelet, a.k.a. the Great Blondin, became the most famous tightrope walker in the world. At Niagara Falls, he was hooked on the idea of crossing it on a wire. After his first crossing in June 1859, he did the stunt again and again, using different and more dangerous tricks each time. (His final trick had me holding my breath!) This exciting biography should entertain even the boldest of daredevils.
Dining with Dinosaurs : A Tasty Guide to Mesozoic Munching by Hannah Bonenr. 9781426323409. 2016. Gr 2-5.
Find out what dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures ate. Includes a food web, pronunciation guide, glossary, index, and photosynthesis activity. (On a similar theme, check out Worms for Breakfast : How to Feed a Zoo by Helaine Becker, also out in 2016.)
Giant Squid by Candace Fleming (ill. by Eric Rohmann). 9781596435995. 2016. Gr 2-4.
Fleming’s free verse text and Rohmann’s beautiful close-up illustrations plunge into the depths of the ocean to describe what little we know of the giant squid.
Inside Your Insides : A Guide to the Microbes That Call You Home by Claire Eamer (ill. by Marie-Eve Tremblay. 9781771383325. 2016. Gr 4-6.
Many microbes live in the human body and play an important role in our health. Illustrations describe the symbiotic relationship between humans and microbes and discuss the different types of microbes that thrive in the body.
Some Writer! : The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet. 9780544319592. October 2016. Gr 2-5.
This fully-illustrated and captivating biography of E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web and more, is some book!
Their Great Gift : Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land by John Coy (photo. by Wing Young Huie). 9781467780544. 2016. Gr 1-4.
In this excellent book, author Coy and photographer Wing Young Huie present American immigrants as they work, play, and study in a new land that they strive to make their home. Young readers can see the visual differences between immigrants and those already citizens, but they will also see the shared qualities that make us all American, and the universal joy of freedom.
To Burp or Not to Burp : A Guide to Your Body in Space by Dave Williams & Loredana Cunti. 9781554518548. 2016. Gr 3-6.
One of my favorite adult science books is Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars : The Curious Science of Life in the Void. For kids who like the same combination of space travel and weird science, give them this great book, which would also be useful in STEM courses.
The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk by Jan Thornhill. 9781554988655. 2016. Gr 4-6.
With all of our endangered species today, it is good for everyone to learn that some species haven’t made it, and are extinct because of human predation. The story of the great auk is told here as very good narrative nonfiction; though we know from the title that the tale is tragic, Thornhill has created suspense in the telling. Though best for middle grades, it would make a great picture book selection for units on humanity’s effects on wildlife.
2016 MIDDLE SCHOOL NONFICTION
Bridge to the Wild : Behind the Scenes at the Zoo by Caitlin O’Connell. 9780544277397. 2016. Gr 5-8.
What do the zookeepers actually do at the zoo, besides feeding the animals and cleaning cages? What do the animals do when they’re not on display? What can we learn about wild animals by studying their counterparts in zoos—and how does their behavior change in captivity? The author is a scientist and tells us about her 5-day behind-the-scenes visit at Atlanta Zoo—and shares her passion for conservation.
Crow Smarts : Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird (Scientists in the Field) by Pamela S. Turner. 9780544416192. 2016. Gr 5-8.
Crows have recently been recognized as intelligent and able to use tools and solve problems. This latest Scientist in the Field title highlights (one of my favorite nonfiction series) several crows living on a Pacific island who are learning and adapting in surprising ways and the scientists who are studying them.
Ghosts by Rayna Telgemeier. 9780545540612. 2016. Gr 4-8.
Catrina and her family have moved to the coast of Northern California for the sake of her little sister, Maya, who has cystic fibrosis–and Cat is even less happy about the move when she is told that her new town is inhabited by ghosts, and Maya sets her heart on meeting one.
Mighty Jack (Book 1) by Ben Hatke. 9781626722651. 2016. Gr 4-8.
The first in a series, Hatke’s latest is an exciting retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk, starring a responsible young man who, with his autistic sister and feisty friend, battle some really nasty plants.
Saved by the Boats : The Heroic Sea Evacuation of September 11 by Julie Gassman. 9781515702696. 2016. Gr 5-8.
The mention of dramatic sea evacuations brings to mind that in Dunkirk. But on September 11, 2001, in what is now known as the greatest sea evacuation in history, almost 500,000 people were rescued from Manhattan after the Twin Towers fell in just nine hours. The heroism of police and firefighters has overshadowed this story, but it is time that the boat crews received their due praise.
Snow White : A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan. 9780763672331. 2016. Gr 5-8.
An inventive graphic retelling of Snow White, set in New York City in 1928.
Ugly by Robert Hoge. 9780425287750. 2016. Gr 5-8.
This real-life Wonder (Palaccio) story is of a boy whose facial tumor left him disfigured, even after surgery removed it. In his memoir, he tells how, despite bullying, he persisted in acting like a regular boy, finding a sport he loved, and thriving.
The Way Things Work Now by David Macaulay. 9781596437630. 2016. Gr 6-9.
“Things” have changed a lot since Macaulay last revised his The Way Things Work. This updated edition replaces outdated machines with newer technology, adds color, and retains all of the humor and clarity from earlier editions. If your kids love the earlier titles, it’s time for a new model.
You Can Fly : The Tuskegee Airmen by Carole Boston Weatherford. 9781481449380. 2016. Gr 5-8.
Weatherford, using free-verse poetry, describes the creation of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Dozens of African American men learned engineering, mechanics, code communication, flying, and map reading—all while facing racial discrimination.
2016 HIGH SCHOOL NONFICTION
Balcony on the Moon : Coming of Age in Palestine by Ibtisam Bakarat. 9780374302511. 2016. Gr 7-12.
In this follow-up to Tasting the Sky : A Palestinian Childhood, Bakarat describes her childhood and adolescence from 1972-1981. She wanted to be a writer, but in that time girls were expected to marry, rather than continue their schooling. Her dreams were supported by her mother, who also decided to finish her education.
Blood, Bullets, and Bones : The Story of Forensic Science from Sherlock Holmes to DNA by Bridget Heos. 9780062387622. 2016. Gr 9-12.
Heos details the history of forensic science in crime-solving, using real-life cases from ancient Chinese detectives to the Jack the Ripper case, and up to modern developments. Though not for the squeamish, this book will be extremely popular with history buffs, those who love to solve mysteries, and forensic science enthusiasts.
Comics Confidential : Thirteen Graphic Novelists Talk Story, Craft, and Life Outside the Box edited by Leonard S. Marcus. 9780763659387. 2016. Gr 7-12.
Interviews by thirteen comic book artists and writers explains how they fell in love with comics and started working on their own. Each artist and writer contributed a graphic short on the theme of “the city,” set wherever and whenever the artist wants.
March : Book Three by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin (art by Nate Powell). 9781603094023. 2016.
I usually don’t put series titles here unless it is the first book of the series, but I had to include the last book of the March graphic novel trilogy. Beginning with the bombing of the Birmingham Baptist Church, it records the violence against the civil rights movement through President Johnson’s signing of the 1965 Civil Rights Act. This powerful series is a must for any library and classroom.
Misunderstood : Why the Humble Rat May Be Your Best Pet Ever by Rachel Toor. 9780374303082. 2016. Gr 7-12.
The author has had a lot of joy in keeping rats as pets, and here she argues that rats are misunderstood and poorly characterized as disgusting creatures. Actually, with rats’ intelligence and personalities, they can actually make very good pets. I would agree, and we had two of these social creatures—our rats Oreo and Lint.
The Plot to Kill Hitler : Dietrich Bonhoeffer : Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero by Patricia McCormick. 9780062411082. 2016. Gr 9-12.
With many people, including religious leaders, following the Nazi program with enthusiasm or fear, Bonhoeffer was a pastor who argued that people should “heil” only God. Though a pacifist, he became part of a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.
Sabotage : The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb by Neal Bascomb. 9780545732437. 2016. Gr 7-12.
One of the greatest acts of Allied sabotage took place not in Germany, but in Norway. German scientists had discovered the importance of heavy water for its development of nuclear weapons, and after his invasion of Norway, Hitler gained access to the plant at Vemork that produced heavy water. Bascomb tells the exciting story of how Allied resistance fighters fought the Norwegian winter as they attempted to prevent Hitler from building the atomic bomb.
Samurai Rising : The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela S. Turner (ill. by Gareth Hinds). 9781580895842. 2016. Gr 7-12.
As a baby, Minamoto Yoshitsune was exiled to a monastery when his father was killed fighting against a rival samurai family. At age fifteen, he escaped and, though small and skinny, he trained to become a warrior. When the time was right, he set out with his half brother to rise up against the most powerful samurai in Japan. Though much of what is known about Minamoto is legend, the author did a great deal of research in writing about the brave—and mostly bloody—deeds of a great warrior.
The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan. 9780545946124. 2016. Gr 9-12.
Shaun Tan created sculptures to illustrate tales from the Brothers Grimm. Pictures of the sculptures are accompanied by excerpts from the fairy tales they belong to, from “Brier Rose” to “The Elves and the Shoemaker.”
2016 ADULT-FOR-HIGH SCHOOL NONFICTION
Born a Crime : Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. 9780399588174. 2016. Gr 9-12.
The author, comedian Trevor Noah, shares his personal journey from his birth in South Africa to his job at “The Daily Show.” During apartheid, it was illegal for people of different races to have sex with each other, so his birth to a white father and a black mother was a crime. He details the difficulties of growing up biracial, including the fact that he could not be seen alone in public with either of his parents.
City of Thorns : Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp by Ben Rawlence. 9781250067630. 2016. Gr 10-Adult.
Rawlence examines the lives of nine residents in Dadaab, a refugee settlement in the desert of northern Kenya, highlighting their struggle to survive, the loss of hope, and the escape in dreams of a better life.
The Fire This Time : A New Generation Speaks about Race edited by Jesmyn Ward. 9781501126345. 2016. Gr 10-Adult.
This collection of eighteen essays, memoir pieces, and poems address race in the United States. They were written in response to James Baldwin’s 1962 “Letter to My Nephew” in which the author lamented that, 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, it felt like African Americans were celebrating too soon—an indictment of society that still is true today.
Grunt : The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach. 9780393245448. 2016. Gr 10-Adult.
Read about the scientific aspects of keeping soldiers healthy, awake, uninfected, and sane in the often bizarre and extreme conditions of war. In her research, the author explored different military circumstances—from taking part in a US Marine Corps Paintball Team drill in order to study the effects of hearing loss on the battlefield, to staying up all night with a crew tending missiles on a nuclear submarine.
I Contain Multitudes : The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong. 9780062368591. 2016. Gr 11-Adult.
Yong argues that one cannot study bacteria on their own, but that they must be examined just like we would examine any other living thing—as part of an ecosystem. This book would be great for a more mature audience, such as an AP class. Some will find that reading about things like parasites and bacteria can be pretty gross, but I have quirky tastes and enjoy this topic.
Idiot Brain : What Your Head Is Really Up To by Dean Burnett. 9780393253788. 2016. Gr 10-Adult.
My favorite “popular science” authors are Mary Roach and Sam Kean, but I think I have to add Dean Burnett to the list. His accessible language and personable tone make reading even about a difficult subject like the brain an enjoyable treat. He reflects on “how the human brain does its own thing despite everything the modern world can throw at it”—its “thing” covering memory, personality, intelligence, anxiety, and other quirks of behavior.
The Red Bandanna : A Life, a Choice, a Legacy by Tom Rinaldi. 9781594206771. 2016. Gr 11-Adult.
Welles Crowther carried the red bandanna that his father gave him all his life, even in his adult Wall Street job at the top of the World Trade Center. After 9/11, his body was never found and his family didn’t know anything about his final hours until they read a story about the heroic deeds of a man with a red bandanna.
Rise of the Rocket Girls : The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt. 9780316338929. 2016. Gr 11-Adult.
In the 1940s and 50s, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory turned to women when it needed experts in math. Called “human computers,” these women revolutionized rocket design, making it possible to send satellites into space and explore the solar system—all using just pencil and paper and their own abilities. Until recently, the history of man’s journey into space has been a history of men’s achievements—but Holt’s book should help to change that.
The Science of Why : Answers to Questions About the World Around Us by Jay Ingram. 9781501144295. 2016. Gr 10-Adult.
Science writer Jay Ingram answers (or at least discusses) all those thorny science questions that the nerd in you has always wondered about. Topics covered include why leaves change color, why some animals throw poop, why onions make you cry, and—my favorite, why do all the mosquitoes congregate on me? Find out about farts, the T-rex’s tiny arms, Bigfoot, and more!
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