Today I’ve got dozens of captivating nonfiction gems for all ages. I’ve linked the titles to the online site for independent booksellers, bookshop.org. I’m now an affiliate with them which means I get a little dab if you order books after clicking through from one of my links. Thanks to all of you who shop from indies this year!
Farm Animals, by Phoebe Dunn
Random House; 1984
This dear book is an old favorite, always one of my go-to titles for the wee ones. Tiny-hand size, but chunky in girth, with photographs of the familiars to coo at or teethe on as the case may be.
The Babies and Doggies Book, by John Schindel and Molly Woodward
HMH Books for Young Readers; 2015
Lots of things babies do, doggies do, too! Here we have darling photos of babes and pups, both sitting, splashing, kissing. Cute. Happy. Enough said.
Can You Eat?, by Joshua David Stein and Julia Rothman
Can you eat…chocolate mousse, Alaskan moose, a mouse? How about a grape or an ape? Jolly illustrations accompany these delicious, amusing questions.
Circle Triangle Elephant, Kenji Oikawa and Mayuko Takeuc
Giggle while learning some basic shapes. Circles, triangles, squares, and rectangles are here to be sure, but throw in some elephants, lemons, and goofy faces and it’s a whole lot more fun!
These Colors are Bananas, Jason Fulford
Apples are not always red, but that’s almost the only color they appear in your average book for babies. Not here. See a cool range of colors for common objects in a child’s world, including apples, eggs, grass.
Hats of Faith, Medeia Cohan and Sarah Walsh
Chronicle Books; 2018
I’m posting this book once again because I think it is so brilliant. Colorful portraits of followers of a wide variety of faiths, each wearing their religious head covering. Come meet your neighbors!
ESPECIALLY FOR AGES 4-7:
The Skies Above My Eyes, Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer
Words and Pictures; 2018
Accordioning out to a massive 8 feet, the format alone of this book holds an enormous wow factor. Here’s a partially-unfolded book:
Colorful, absorbing artwork on both sides of the l-o-n-g page zooms us to outer space and back taking stock of all that’s encountered on the journey, from hang gliders and weather balloons to the International Space Station and the Solar System. Phenomenal!
Over and Under the Rainforest, Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal
Chronicle Books; 2020
The most recent entry in this dynamite series exploring the wonders of the world, this jaunt takes us to the dripping, dramatic, diverse rainforest.
Toucans and butterflies, monkeys and sloths, and much more await our discovery. Lovely.
Everything & Everywhere: A Fact-Filled Adventure for Curious Globetrotters, by Marc Martin
Chronicle Books; 2018
Think of this book as a confetti storm of splendors from all over the globe.
From Hong Kong to Reykjavik, Ulaanbaatar to New York City, we’re on the move finding out just what makes each of these home towns so very special. Such a juicy volume!
Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera, by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann
Neal Porter Books; 2020
One of my top favorite nonfiction books from this year, I expect this gorgeous, fascinating introduction to the honeybee to win some big time awards.
Come right into the hive and discover all the amazing tasks a honeybee must learn to do in her life span. Amazing.
Sports Are Fantastic Fun, by Ole Könnecke
Gecko Press; 2018
Humorous, high-energy introductions to the widest assortment of sports imaginable, all of which are fantastic fun!
There’s nothing quite like this quirky catalog of activities! It’s a blast to peruse for young and old.
The Story of Jane Goodall, by Susan B. Katz
Rockridge Press; 2020
Here’s an entry from a new series of short chapter books designed for young, steady readers or for reading aloud. In this volume, meet one of my heroes, Jane Goodall.
64 pages of clearly-written text accompanied by bright artwork. Quite a satisfying read for curious, newly-capable bookworms.
ESPECIALLY FOR AGES 8-13:
Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, by Alexandra Stewart and Joe Todd-Stanton
I just featured this in my nonfiction list earlier this week. It’s a splendid account of these two mountaineers from their disparate childhoods through the beginnings of their passion for climbing, and on to the harrowing journey to the summit of Everest.
Copious enticing illustrations dominate the pages of this intriguing, well-told story.
Born to Fly, Steve Sheinkin and Bijou Karman
Roaring Brook Press; 2019
A superb author tackles an incredible story, one I was totally unaware of before I read this book. Follow a group of intrepid pioneer women aviators in their dangerous, suspenseful 1929 Air Derby, a race across America. It’s an outstanding account!
All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, by Christina Soontornvat
Scoring rave reviews, this is the account of the extraordinary experiences of the Wild Boars soccer team, trapped in a cave for 17 days, blockaded by floodwaters, and the brilliant, international search-and-rescue operation that riveted us around the world. I can’t wait to read it!
50 Adventures in the 50 States, by Kate Siber and Lydia Hill
Wide Eyed Editions; 2020
While we’re waiting for travel to become feasible once again, at least we can dream about possible expeditions.
Here are fifty cool adventures from mountain climbing to horseback riding to surfing, one for each state, to spark some happy scheming!
How We Got to the Moon, by John Rocco
Crown Books; 2020
John Rocco is an award-winning illustrator whose books I love. Here he brings his stunning approach to the epic Apollo story. In particular, this book emphasizes the ingenious engineering, technology, and workmanship courtesy of 400,000 individuals which concluded in a successful moon landing.
I haven’t had a chance to read this yet, but it sounds fabulous and I trust John Rocco to bring us a gorgeous, riveting read. It would make a great choice for adults as well.
When Stars are Scattered, Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson
Dial Books; 2020
I love this graphic novel memoir of Omar, a Somali refugee who landed in a Kenyan refugee camp as a young child, parentless and in charge of his younger brother.
Their challenging world comes vividly to life in these pages. Refugees are an important and ever-growing group of people for us to understand and love in this tumultuous world of ours. Excellent choice for adults as well.
ESPECIALLY FOR AGES 13 THRU ADULT:
The Racers: How an Outcast Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Challenged Hitler’s Best, by Neal Bascomb
Adolf Hitler was obsessed with proving the greatness of the Third Reich in every capacity including, apparently, race cars. With his financial backing, Mercedes-Benz created a line of Silver Arrows, enabling German drivers to dominate European Grand Prix racing. One driver, René Dreyfus, a French Jew, was eventually banned from German and Italian teams, but he was tapped by an American heiress to drive a new, little-known French car in direct competition to the Nazi crews. This is the story of these racers and the challenge to Hitler’s superiority. I have not read it but Neal Bascomb is a master nonfiction writer. I’ve loved everything I’ve read of his and am sure this is a spellbinding tale.
Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, by Randall Munroe
Houghton Mifflin; 2015
Using only the thousand most common English words and cool, labeled diagrams, Munroe sets out to explain exceedingly complicated bits and pieces of our world, from cells to helicopters to tectonic plates.
That is quite a challenge! This oversized book is humorous, clever as can be, and a blast to browse. Easily shared with young kids or enjoyed by Grandpa.
Alphamaniacs: Builders of 26 Wonders of the World, by Paul Fleischman and Melissa Sweet
Meet an array of folks who have done surprising, astonishing things with letters and words. One man cleverly rewrites classic texts using only the letter and number combinations found on California vanity plates!
Another invented Klingon, the language spoken by ridgeheads in Star Trek. Others craft poetry using letters only or write novels entirely without the letter E. Page after page of gobsmacking pursuits, especially tantalizing for any wordsmiths on your list.
Diary of a Young Naturalist, by Dara McAnulty
published in the UK in 2020 by Little Toller Books
Okay, this doesn’t come out until June 2021 in the U.S. when Milkweed Editions will publish it. However, you can order it from Amazon in the meantime as it has been out in the UK this year. This is on my wish list, so I’m adding it here for those who want to pursue a copy. It’s the mega-prize-winning work of a teenager. McAnulty chronicles his 15th year, exploring the natural world around his Northern Ireland home, as well as journaling about his experiences living with autism. Many readers say it’s the best nature writing they’ve ever read.
Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March, by Lynda Blackmon Lowery
This is the riveting story of one of the youngest marchers to journey all the way from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Jailed eleven times before her 15th birthday for her activism in the Civil Rights movement, her courage amazes me. I love this memoir, and in this year of 2020 with the resurgence of social justice protests, the leading roles taken by thousands of young people, and the struggle to maintain and attain voting rights for all Americans, I think it’s the perfect time for teens or adults to read it.
Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism, and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Little Brown Books for Young Readers; 2020
This young-readers edition of Kendi’s landmark book, Stamped from the Beginning, ricochets with the beats of Reynolds’ high-energy, hip style. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s created with teens in mind — the content is direct, gripping, and eye-opening, as these two capable authors reveal the long, long history of racist ideas woven into our nation’s narrative, and what it means to be actively anti-racist. Powerful and enlightening.
AND A FEW ADULT NONFICTION READS WE’VE ENJOYED IN 2020:
Why We Can’t Wait, by Martin Luther King, Jr.
this edition Signet Books; 2000
MLK’s astonishing ability to articulate the injustices of racism and the imperative for creating a society of true equality stuns me on every page of this small book. When I finished it, I felt I could turn right around and read it again, and gain even more the second or third time through. It’s heartbreaking that this book, written sixty years ago, is still painfully relevant. Highly recommended.
The Body: A Guide for Occupants, by Bill Bryson
My husband read this tome this year and could not help but regale me with many fascinating bits along the way. He gives it two thumbs up, and that’s only because he only has two thumbs. Tour the human body and marvel at its amazing design courtesy of a beloved, outstanding writer.
A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, by Aldo Leopold
this edition Oxford University Press; 2020
One of my top favorite reads of 2020 is this small book by one of America’s early environmentalists, Aldo Leopold. A Wisconsinite, Leopold had a deep love for the outdoors and captures the magnificence of nature in his beautiful, plainspoken writing. This is a book I will certainly read again, at least once. I really like the Sketches that are included with this particular edition which is not listed on Bookshop.org but is available on Amazon.
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, by David Treuer
Riverhead Books; 2019
This is a tome, but Treuer’s fabulous writing meant I sailed through it because I simply could not put it down. I’ve written a lengthier review of it here. It’s a fascinating history including accounts of pre-Columbian civilizations and the devastations of European contact and oppression. What sets it apart, though is the way Treuer kicks back at the death-of-the-Indian trope, instead showcasing the resilience that has allowed Native peoples to survive and thrive to this day. Utterly compelling and highly recommended.
March, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
all 3 volumes in one slipcase, published by Top Shelf; 2016
I keep bringing this set of graphic novels to the fore because they are just so good. With the death of John Lewis this year, it’s a fine time to read his life story in this format. My kids gave the whole set to my husband for Father’s Day, so now they’re handy for me to re-read as well. Profoundly moving, of the utmost important for us as we push forward to a just society, this trilogy follows the arc of Lewis’s life but fills in many details of the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s as a whole. Highly recommended.
You can find hundreds and hundreds more A+ nonfiction titles via my Subject lists.
Find dozens of outstanding fiction titles in my earlier 2020 holiday list…here.
Next week — children’s books ideal for the adults on your gift list!
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