Many of us gift our children with books during the holidays. We choose the next book in a series our child loves or perhaps a popular series that an older child or the child of our friends enjoyed. Sometimes we include a cookbook or a drawing book or a guide to rocks or local birds. However, nonfiction is so much bigger than the drawing books and guides we often choose. Like good fiction, great nonfiction tells a compelling story... stories of struggle, victory, and defeat.
Here are a few of the 2017 nonfiction titles I've particularly enjoyed this year.
Dazzle Ships by Chris Barton
German U-Boats were destroying the British Royal Navy during World War I, until Norman Wilkinson decided to paint the ships with colorful patterns designed to confuse the enemy... How fast was the ship going... and in which direction? In his Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, Chris Barton presents an interesting discussion about the viability of "crazy" counterintuitive ideas. Ngai's illustrations really bring the text alive. Children interested in transportation, war, or art will pour over this title.
Red Cloud by S. D. Nelson
For a quite different look at war - war between the US Army and the American Indian tribes during the 1860s, give your child S. D. Nelson's Red Cloud: A Lakota Story of War and Surrender. When the trickle of American settlers streaming across tribal lands became a deluge in the 1860s, war broke out between many of the tribes and the US Army. Chief Red Cloud led his warriors and allies in many victories before finally signing a treaty and moving his people to a reservation in order to save them from destruction. This brief biography, told from Red Cloud's point of view, features archival photographs and introduces children to an American Indian interpretation of western expansion. Nelson is a member of a Lakota tribe, and this is his third biography of important Lakota chiefs; the others are Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People and Black Elk's Vision: A Lakota Story.
Isaac the Alchemist by Mary Losure
Before Isaac Newton became known as the father of physics and calculus, he struggled to turn lesser metals into gold. Newton studied the alchemy books in the apothecary's household in which he spent his childhood. He created machines and experimented with alchemy (the chemical - and magical - rendering of gold from other metals) through his childhood and early adulthood. Mary Losure's Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton Reveal'd offers a fascinating look at one of history's most well-known scientists and last "magicians."
Mission to Pluto by Mary Kay Carson
A more recent scientific victory includes the successful robotic exploration of Pluto by New Horizons. In her Mission to Pluto: The First Visit to an Ice Dwarf and the Kuiper Belt, Mary Kay Carson follows the scientists as they built New Horizons, flew it to Pluto (which took nine years!), and made the first discoveries about the icy dwarf planet. Since it reached Pluto in 2015, the robotic spacecraft has revealed a surface covered in glaciers and possible ice volcanoes. Mission to Pluto is a part of the award-winning Scientists in the Field series. Past entries cover the scientists who study wild horses, sharks, the prairies, ocean currents, and microscopic creatures, among a plethora of other subjects.
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
For those interested in national parks or geologic struggle (or who may have a shorter attention span), Jason Chin's Grand Canyon is an amazing introduction to the rock layers, ancient environments, and current ecological communities that compose the canyon. Chin takes a complex subject with complicated concepts and vocabulary and makes it accessible to an elementary audience. His previous titles include Redwoods, Island: A Story of the Galapagos, Gravity, and Coral Reefs.
How to Be an Elephant by Katherine Roy
Lastly, for those who enjoy all things animal, Katherine Roy's How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild follows the struggle of a calf as she learns the ins and outs of being an adult elephant - walking at one hour old, using the 10,000 muscles in her trunk to drink, vocalizing across 10-octaves, and more from her family group of aunts, sisters, grandmother, and mother. Roy's Neighborhood Sharks won a Sibert children's nonfiction award in 2015, and How to Be an Elephant is just as fantastic.
The above are just a few of the fantastic nonfiction titles published for children this year. Check past Sibert winners for older (but still wonderful) titles. And enjoy adding nonfiction titles to your child's gifts (and reading list) this year!
Suzanne Davis, Children's Librarian