fabulous nonfiction for children and their grown-ups!

I love juicy nonfiction.
It’s an often overlooked category for kids’ leisure reading
but makes an especially great choice for those
reluctant to wade into a novel.

The books on today’s list fit many different readers.
There’s one astonishing rescue drama + one tome of science-geek candy —
both fantastic reads for teens and adults;
there’s a lovely nature catalog calling us to slow down and savor
that’s just right for young children and their caregivers;
there’s a soccer smorgasbord to satisfy fans of all ages;
and a deep dive into an overlooked, under-appreciated watery denizen
for curious kids and grown ups.

Don’t forget to tap the nonfiction tree at your library this summer for yourself and your kids.

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team
written by Christina Soontornvat
published in 2020 by Candlewick Press
280 pages

This riveting account of the extraordinary 2018 rescue of twelve young Thai soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave held me spellbound from start to finish. Even though I followed that international operation during those long, tense days, this award-winning book reveals an enormous amount of the drama I had not heard and lays it all out masterfully with clarity and respect.

Follow in the footsteps of the team as they explore the cave, an established tourist destination that typically would not be closed for the rainy season for several more weeks.
Vivid descriptions, color photographs, and helpful maps of the massive chambers and cramped, meandering passageways of the cave system tremendously help us visualize the setting.
Learn the emotionally-charged and technically-challenging details of the rescue efforts from those first on the scene to the many highly specialized, skilled strategists, SEALS, medics, cavers, and even wild birds’ nest collectors who arrived from around the world to assist in this touch-and-go operation.
Understand the extreme dangers of sump diving, a rare specialty even within the field of cave divers, and the unique parameters which made this rescue seem nearly impossible to the world’s top experts,
then swim right alongside them in the absolutely remarkable extraction of these boys.

Along the way, Soontornvat explores related subjects such as Thai Buddhism, the background of the remarkable 25-year-old coach, regional conflicts, and stateless people in Thailand.
She lifts up the efforts of the local Thai people who significantly contributed to the rescue and follows the boys through some of the events that transpired after their return to safety.
All of this is done in such a compelling fashion that I felt literally claustrophobic for long sections of the story and had to put the book down! The entire account functions as a tribute to the courage, humanity, resourcefulness, and determination on the part of so many including team members themselves.
Top notch read for ages 13 to adult.

How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure
written and illustrated by John Rocco
published in 2020 by Crown Books for Young Readers
256 pages

Are you or is someone you love a complete science geek? Engineering nerd? Space travel super-fan? Then you are the bulls-eye target audience for this award-winning deep dive into the science behind the space race to the moon.

This coffee-table sized volume is dense with material, folks. Beginning with the first beep-beep-beeps of Sputnik in October, 1957, and ending with a quiet nod to Gene Cernan, the last man to step off the surface of the moon and back into his rocket ship on December 14, 1972, Rocco packs every ounce of techno-fascination possible onto the glossy pages focusing largely on the Apollo 11 mission.

Cameos of key individuals, cutaways of rockets and engines and space suits, diagrams demonstrating how heat transfers from one object to another, how the cooling systems for the instrument unit functioned, and Newton’s laws of motions, layouts of instrument panels and control room personnel, stats, timetables…it truly feels like if you can think of something you want to know about this mission — it is here!

Want to know about space food? Learn from the leader of the food systems team herself.
Want to know about the cranes that assembled this monster space ship, the crawler-transporter that lugged it to the launch pad, the quarantine facility astronauts were taken to after re-entry?
It’s all here, along with a mind-boggling array of detailed explanations about everything from core rope memory in the computers to F1 engines to the lunar module. I am telling you, it is encyclopedic in scope.

Uber-talented illustrator John Rocco has chosen to illustrate every aspect of this undertaking. He explains why and some of the fascinating processes of research he did to create this masterpiece in his final notes in the book. A book to pore over for long hours, a great gift for someone who eats science for breakfast, this will mesmerize mechanically-minded folks ages 13 to 100.

The Big Book of Soccer, by Mundial, illustrated by Damien Weighill
published in 2020 by Wide Eyed Editions
109 pages

If you’ve got someone in love with The Beautiful Game, they’ll relish leafing through this jam-packed guide to all things soccer…or football…or futbol…or whatever moniker you use.

Here you will find a quick guide to the basics of the game, the history of how the game developed over time as well as specifics like the evolution of the ball itself, cameos of some of the greatest teams, players, and coaches of all time, awesome stadiums around the world, coolest uniforms and haircuts, epic soccer celebration styles, how-to guides for particular skills and the players who are best at it…and much more!

It’s delivered in typically-engaging Wide Eyed style with colorful, contemporary graphic design appeal on every page and to-the-point text-bits and panels. Great fun to browse on your own or to do some spontaneous quizzing of one another. Grab it for ages 6 through all-grown-up.

Slow Down: 50 Mindful Moments in Nature, written by Rachel Williams, illustrated by Freya Hartas
published in 2020 by Magic Cat Publishing
111 pages

This gorgeous catalog spreads a banquet of nature’s glories before us in fifty small bits and pieces, inviting us to take the time to observe and appreciate them ourselves.
Browsing through we find events that transpire in just a few moments —  like shifting cloud formations, the sudden dive of a kingfisher, or a shooting star– as well as processes that go on for long periods of time — the slow transformation of a butterfly within its cocoon, the daylong motion of a sunflower tracking the sun, the incessant work of ants building a nest.

Each of these wonders is observed, briefly narrated, and stunningly illustrated on a two-page spread. We read, for example, a few lines about pollination, then watch a bee find a purple coneflower, drink its nectar, collect pollen on her legs, buzz over to another flower and shed the pollen.
Peer into a mole’s tunnels and his earthworm pantry.
Watch a snowflake grow from a water droplet and discover the various shapes they take on.
Spot a dragonfly dancing in the air, skillfully maneuvering to catch a mosquito dinner.

The message is clear — slow down! Take time to stop and stare, to notice and wonder, to marvel and savor. There is so much curiosity, beauty, and richness in the natural world, yet we impoverish ourselves and our children when we don’t check our pace to take it in. Prep yourself by sampling some of these pages, then head out and see what you can find in your own corner of the world. Ages 4 and up.

Eels: The Superpower Field Guide, written by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Frith
published in 2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
95 pages

Any of the Superpower Field Guides are brilliant choices for kids curious about nature.  I love that this team has chosen mainly to shine the light on non-charismatic creatures — that is, animals less obviously lovable than for instance a polar bear or tiger who more easily garner adoration and allegiance based on their powerful visual appeal.

This volume is a case in point. Eels!  Who could possibly 1) care about eels so very much and 2) make me think they are amazing and want to protect them? Rachel Poliquin and Nicholas John Frith, that’s who.

Discover gobs of cool facts about European eels delivered in the freshest of narrative voices, the snappiest of formats, with gallons of sizzle and humor and enthusiasm. These could be read aloud with kids ages 6 and up or handed to interested readers ages about 9 and up. I find them super-fascinating!