Fabulous nonfiction is a source of joy for me. What an astonishing world full of curiosities, ideas, people, and places we live in! Expand your horizons with these top-notch treats from 2020:
There’s a Skeleton Inside You!, by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost
published in 2020 by Roaring Brook Press
With high-octane imagination, ladles of silliness, and ten gallons of imagination, this book introduces young’uns to the glories hidden inside their wee hands.
Oort and Quog are en route to a birthday party when Quog gets a tad reckless with the ol’ spaceship and crash lands on Earth. Problematically, these two have not got hands equipped for fixing the ship. But what’s this? You, the reader, have hands capable of pushing, lifting, feeling? Thanks to our aliens’ x-ray vision we get to see just what lurks under our skin that makes our hands so handy!
Incredibly effective at communicating just enough about bones, muscles, and nerves to wow kids without a whiff of boring. It’s a winner for ages 4 and up.
Flight for Freedom: The Wetzel Family’s Daring Escape from East Germany, written by Kristen Fulton, illustrated by Torben Kuhlmann
published in 2020 by Chronicle Books
Another story of flight, but this time a riveting, true journey. It’s the gripping account of two families’ escape from East Germany during the Cold War via hot air balloon.
Astonishingly, their only guidance as to how to construct a balloon large enough for this audacious plan to succeed, to engineer the heating and cooling of the air so they would rise high enough and fly far enough to avoid being shot down or crashing down on the East German side — was a smuggled photo of a balloon fiesta in New Mexico. Nevertheless calculations were made, materials were secretly stockpiled, trial runs were conducted, always with the sickening fear that the Stasi would discover and halt them.
Torben Kuhlmann is an outstanding illustrator and his artwork here marvelously brings the era and location to life. Back matter discusses more technicalities of the balloon, the families’ escape attempts, the Cold War and Berlin Wall, and the author’s interactions with the father of one of these families. A phenomenal story for ages 5 thru adult.
Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, written by Alexandra Stewart, illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton
published in 2020 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Speaking of courage and tenacity, those traits run through this fabulous account of the two men who were first to reach the top of the world back in 1953.
Sir Edmund Hillary, a modest New Zealand beekeeper, and Tenzing Norgay, an ambitious Tibetan climber, overcame fierce obstacles and deathly dangers in their passion to summit Mount Everest. Stewart’s book strikes the perfect balance of detail and pacing as she fills in the stories of their growing-up years, the pivotal points at which they became mountain-obsessed, the many other failed attempts to summit prior to 1953, and the staggering challenges on the route to the top.
We also learn about what it takes to survive at these elevations, and get a peek at these mens’ lives after they became world famous mountaineers. Throughout the book, Todd-Stanton’s illustrations are a complete treat, a delicious, upbeat mix of detail and atmosphere that dominate every page. It’s a super choice for adventurous kids ages 7 and up, and the adults in the household will enjoy it as well.
Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey, written by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Chloe Bristol
published in 2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Gashlycrumb and Wuggly Umps! Up next is this pert portrait of eccentric Mr. Gorey, a fellow whose moxie led him in entirely different directions from the aforementioned wild adventurers. From the tantalizing text to the idiosyncratic illustrations, tip to tail, top to bottom, this biography is the bees knees!
Edward Gorey was an unconventional fellow to say the least, who penned off-beat tales, imagined bizarre beasts, and conjured up a stunning stylishness both in his own person and his remarkable illustrations which have been immensely influential. Even if you don’t recognize it, Gorey’s fingerprints are all over the illustration world today when it comes to tales of the weird. Lori Mortensen introduces us to all his nonsense impeccably and the artwork by Chloe Bristol is swoon-worthy. Don’t miss making Gorey’s acquaintance along with kids ages 6 and up. A lengthy Author’s Note fills in many more biographical details of his life.
Tree Beings, text by Raymond Huber, illustrations by Sandra Severgnini
published in 2020 by EK Books
I have loved trees as far back as I can remember. Growing up in northern Minnesota, some of my earliest memories are of the sound of wind in the tall Jack Pines surrounding our house, a sound that gentles my anxious heart still.
Thus I resonate deeply with the passion for trees exuding from this book. Tree beings are people who love trees. This lovely collection features well-told stories of heroic tree beings from around the world, as well as segments devoted to intriguing facts about trees. Discover world record trees, the intriguing ways trees communicate with one another, and more.
One of the things I especially like about this book is its narrative format. It reads like a storybook. The colorful, child-friendly artwork complements that. There is nothing stiff or dry in the whole package. Just look at the intriguing cover with figures hidden within the branches and trunk of the tree. There are 70 of them to spot! And other hidden treasures to find throughout the book. It’s a fabulous title to share bit by bit with children as young as 5, yet of interest to much-olders as well.
A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals, written and illustrated by Millie Marotta
published in 2019 by Chronicle Books
Turning from amazing humans to astonishing animals — this gorgeous book fairly thrums with wonder and sparkle as we are regaled with the unique, odd, dazzling, majestic, hidden lives of dozens of our world’s endangered animals.
Marotta wisely, skillfully dishes out just a brief, enticingly-written description for each of these creatures, just enough to astound us, woo us into loving these fellow-Earthlings, and make us want to know more. Arranged by habitat, we travel to oceans and forest, deserts, grasslands, mountains, and the tundra, to fresh water and wetlands. Her stunning artwork dominates every page. End pages give tiny summaries of each species with its Latin nomenclature, threatened status, number of remaining mature individuals, particular threats, and location in the world.
Again, this is a gem that can be shared, bit by bit, with children ages 5 and up, as well as thoroughly-appreciated by adults.
The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t, written by Artie Bennett, illustrated by Dave Szalay
published in 2020 by NorthSouth
Horses are certainly not endangered, but the subject of our next story is still one-of-a-kind. He is famous for a most unusual reason!
Zippy Chippy — his actual name! — was a horse who counted legendary champions as his ancestors, who was coached by personal trainers and cosseted with scrummy oats and sweet hay. Despite all that, this thoroughbred became known for one thing — he was the losingest horse at the racetrack!
Zippy loved to enter the races but completely blew off any pressure to perform on the track. Despite his owners’ frustration, Zippy eventually accrued a devoted fan base who loved to love this eternal underdog. Cheer along for a horse who danced to the beat of his very own drummer. A happy find for ages 5 and up.
Clever Hans: The True Story of the Counting, Adding, and Time-Telling Horse, written by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Mike Lowery
published in 2020 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Another story; another famous horse. This one’s name is Hans. He lived in Germany in the early 1900s. Hans was also a crowd favorite, but for an entirely different reason. His owner, Mr. Wilhelm von Osten, had taught Hans an incredible repertoire of skills.
Packs of people thronged Hans’ stable to see him solve math problems, read, tell time, and generally perform marvels. Skeptical scholars also found their way to Hans trying to prove that this level of horse-sense was impossible. But Hans’ record for correct answers remained unblemished until one perceptive fellow named Oskar Pfungst solved the mystery. Oskar’s insight paved the way to a more accurate scientific methodology which is still practiced today. Read all about it in this puzzling, peppy account. Ages 6 and up.
I hope you all become as affectionate for the nonfiction book world as I am! Later this week I’ll have some top -notch nonfiction choices for holiday gifts that span the ages.
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