I love children’s non-fiction!
Through it, I’ve learned a whale of a lot about a vast number of things.
About a chef who fed England’s upper crust as well as her desperately poor.
About the African American fashion designer who created Jackie Kennedy’s wedding gown.
About bogs and bugs, bombs and bilbies.
Jazz and jumpshots.
Pufflings and potters.
Curiosity is a precious gift, innate in newborns, yet too easily snuffed out, bored out, regimented out, entertained out, adulted out of us.
Today’s titles are ammunition against worn-out imaginations. Enjoy them, with or without kids!
A History of Pictures for Children, written by David Hockney and Martin Gayford, illustrated by Rose Blake
published in 2018 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
120 + pages
Wouldn’t you love to listen in as David Hockney and art critic Martin Gayford discuss, comment, and reflect on art-making over the thousands of years of human history?
That’s the feel of this fabulous new art history book.
It’s unlike some others I’ve featured earlier (notably this beauty from a few years’ back) in its structure and intent. Rather than adhering to a strictly chronological scheme focusing on individual artists and art movements, this book attends to processes and questions of what lies behind the art. The whys and hows, more than the whos and whens.
Why do we make pictures? How has mark-making evolved over the years? How have artists approached light and shadow? Conversational in tone, yet astute in content with no talking down, Hockney and Gayford hand the baton back and forth from page to page, discussing various pieces and artists. Many reproductions are included, as well as charming contemporary illustration work by Rose Blake that creates a welcoming, fresh, engaging feel for us all.
Handsome. Hugely informative. High quality production. A gem to peruse bit by bit, to accompany art appreciation lessons, to read and re-read. Ages 9 and up.
Beavers, written by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Frith
published in 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Look closely at the cover of this book and you’ll immediately get a feel for its tone:
“96 pages of gobsmacking facts!”
“Nature illustrations galore!”
“Featuring Elmer the Amazing Wetland Warrior!”
Exuberant, factual, humorous, retro. It’s chock full of super duper interesting information about beavers that will make you stand up and salute these hard-working fellas, narrated with verve and plum full of swell illustrations.
Seriously. I learned a whole lot about beavers while thoroughly enjoying this first installment of the Superpower Field Guides! I’d pick up the next one in the series (Moles! coming out this June) in a heartbeat. Ages 8-9 and up.
Birdhouse and Bug Hotel, text by Libby Walden, illustrations by Clover Robin
first American edition 2018 by Kane Miller
These stout, clever books are so very tantalizing!
Thick, glossy, cardboard pages will stand up to lots of investigating as we lift the flaps to discover all sorts of interesting things about a variety of bird retreats — dovecotes and bird baths, owl boxes and bird feeders…
or the ingredients that make a bug feel at home — from a winter butterfly house to a hollow bamboo cane for bees…
…as well as cool facts about a number of typical backyard visitors. Jolly illustrations, curious hidden secrets, and valuable information about living harmoniously with our bird and bug friends. A treat for ages 2 and up. You can purchase these books here and here.
The Book of Comparisons: Sizing Up the World Around You, text by Clive Gifford, illustrations by Paul Boston
first American edition 2018 by Kane Miller
There’s a huge wow factor sandwiched between the covers of this book as we encounter all sorts of new ways of looking at our world by comparing something unfamiliar with something very familiar.
For instance, did you know the weight of a blue whale’s tongue is more than half the weight of an elephant?! Or that a racing pigeon can outfly the wind speed of a tornado?? Or that the gigantic Barzan container ship is as long as four soccer fields??!
Which animals can survive the longest without food? Not the shrew, which can only go a couple of hours without food. Not the camel, which can go about 60 days without eating. The answer was very surprising to me! One animal can go 10 years without food!! I’ll leave you to discover the answer in this full-out fascinating book.
Well-laid out pages, crisp, helpful graphics, a plethora of topics, and almost 90 pages of curiosities make this a winner for kids ages 8 and up. Take it along on a long trip or anywhere kids have to while away the hours and prepare to hear lots of, “Listen to this!!” Purchase the book here.
Eye Spy: Wild Ways Animals See the World, written and illustrated by Guillaume Duprat, translated by Patrick Skipworth
first published in France; first English edition 2018 by What on Earth Books
33 oversized pages
This sensational book features a wildly inventive approach to understanding the variety of ways animals see.
Surveying numerous mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, even worms, Duprat explains what unique vision needs each animal has, and how their particular biology accommodates that. Fields of vision vary widely, with the woodcock winning the contest with its 360 degree range! Yup, they really do basically have eyes in the backs of their heads. Color receptors, night vision, ability to focus, movement sensors — all of these traits help animals do what’s needed to survive in the wild.
But, as Lavar Burton would say, you don’t have to take Duprat’s word for it! Because the animals in this book have flaps that open up allowing us to see through their eyes. We look at the same scene from each animal’s point of view. It’s immediately noticeable if there is no red/green differentiation, for example, or if everything’s a bit fuzzy, or if some are seeing much more of the scene than others. Ingenious and fun!
There’s a lot of information packed into this book, presented with sophistication and cleverness for ages 9 and up!
The Grand Escape: The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century, written by Neal Bascomb
published in 2018 by Arthur A. Levine Books
229 + pages
Finally, this riveting account of the biggest POW breakout of World War I. This is an incredible story, people!!
The German POW camp, Holzminden, was reserved for the most dangerous POWs, meaning those most likely to attempt a run for freedom. The place was deemed inescapable by German leaders and was overseen by a particularly ruthless commandant.
Yet for a large number of indomitable, ingenious, extraordinarily brave Allied soldiers and pilots, none of this could prevent a relentless, long-haul, audacious effort to tunnel a way out. You just cannot believe what these men endured, what items they devised and obtained, what dangers they confronted, nor how noble they were in service to their country’s war efforts.
I am a huge fan of Neal Bascomb’s nonfiction writing, and here, again, he crafts his narrative with spellbinding details, captivating pacing, clear and pleasurable prose. The details are harrowing, but not unnecessarily disturbing. It’s a fabulous read for ages 10 through adult. Got a kid who’s just not into fiction? Hand him this!