Picture books aren’t just for babies. There are many thoughtful, informational picture books that are wonderful reads for children of all ages. Here are just a few.
“God Bless America: The Story of an Immigrant Named Irving Berlin” is a very timely nonfiction picture book by Adah Nuchi and illustrated by Rob Polivka. The author is the daughter of immigrants, and this book is chock-full of references to the contributions of immigrants to our country. And the man who wrote such American classics as “God Bless America,” “White Christmas,” “Blue Skies,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” to mention just a few, was an immigrant. In fact, Izzy Baline, more famously known as Irving Berlin, was a prolific, brilliant songwriter. Yet his family escaped from Russia where Jews were being persecuted, and they came to America with their children, their work ethic, and nothing else. When Berlin’s father died, the family was even more in need. So young Berlin went to work, kept writing songs, and eventually sold one, which led to more work. As much as this story is about Irving Berlin, it’s also very much a story about the contributions that immigrants make to our great country. Nuchi writes, “And while some people didn’t like that the voice of America belonged to an immigrant and a Jew, most people felt that a refugee was just the right person to celebrate the hope America held.” Ain’t that the truth. (Disney-Hyperion)
“The Dinosaur Expert” by Margaret McNamara and G. Brian Karas is a lovely fictional account of a class trip to the natural history museum and a girl who knows all there is to know about dinosaurs. But Kimmy’s excitement is silenced when a boy responds to her sharing of information by telling her that “Girls aren’t scientists.” When others laugh at what they see and hear, Kimmy stays silent. But Kimmy’s teacher is observant, and when Kimmy, having been hurt, doesn’t want to share information, he shows her a famous discovery by a woman paleontologist. Kimmy blossoms. When she points out that dinosaurs were always evolving, her teacher comments, “We’re always evolving.” This is a great choice for gender discussions about professions and the fact that anyone can try to do anything he or she wants — there is no limitation because of gender. At the end are two pages, “My Favorite Paleontologists” by Kimmy. (Schwartz & Wade Books)
Here lies the body of John Crow,
Who once was high but now is low;
Ye brother Crows take warning all,
For as you rise, so much you fall.
by John Paine, age 8
“Thomas Paine and the Dangerous Word” by Sarah Jane Marsh and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, is about Paine, born not to wealthy, educated parents but to a poor corset-maker and his wife. But they must have been special parents because they scraped together enough money to send Paine to school. At age twelve, Paine left school to work for his father, making women’s underwear. He worked for seven years and then, determined to change his life, he went to sea to fight against the French. After six months, he returned to London, lived off his savings, and studied. He attended lectures on math, physics, astronomy and philosophy. But life in England was not kind to Thomas. He lost his jobs, one wife died, and one left him. A lucky chance led to an introduction to Benjamin Franklin who told him he should journey to America and wrote him a letter of introduction. In America, Paine found a chance to use his finely developed sense of justice. He wrote about the evils of slavery, and five weeks after one powerful essay, the Pennsylvania Abolition Society was formed. It was the first antislavery organization in America. When America and England went to war, the word “independence” was a dangerous word, and Paine was not allowed to write about it in the Pennsylvania Magazine, where he worked. But a friend suggested that he write a pamphlet on the subject. While pamphlets were usually written for the educated in the colonies, Paine wrote his pamphlet for the common people, in plain and simple language. He wrote and edited for months. Against the advice of friends, he used the dangerous word “independence” twenty-two times in his pamphlet. He called it Common Sense and published it on January 9, 1776. One thousand copies were printed and sold out in eleven days. The rest, as they say, is history. At the end of the book are several pages of information: “Thomas Paine and The American Crisis,” “What Happened to Thomas Paine?” “Legacy,” “Timeline,” and a “Selected Bibliography and Recommended Websites.”
Another picture book that celebrates the importance of words is Peter H. Reynolds’ “The Word Collector.” This clever book introduces Jerome, who, instead of collecting stamps or coins, collects words. He collects words he has seen, heard, and read. He loves all kinds of words — short words, two-syllable words and multi-syllable words. But when his carefully curated word collection becomes mixed up, Jerome realizes that mixing different words together can make beautiful music. Reynolds writes (beautifully): ‘Some of his simplest words were his most powerful. “I understand.” “I’m sorry.” “Thank you,” and (to a stray dog), “You matter.”‘ The book is filled with beautiful words and words beautifully strung together. It’s a thoughtful book and one that will make readers think. And, just maybe, string together a few beautiful words of their own. (Orchard Books)
“Quiet Please, Owen McPhee!” by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton is a sweet story with a lovely lesson about Owen McPhee, a boy who just doesn’t know how to keep quiet. He talks to people, he talks over people, he talks when he shouldn’t, and he doesn’t know when to stop. Finally, when Owen loses his voice, he finds out something rather surprising. This is a book that is perfect for children to start a conversation about when it’s okay to talk and when it’s better to listen. It’s definitely a great addition to any classroom library. (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
“Bully” by Jennifer Sattler is the story of a bullfrog whose spirit matches his name — he’s a bully. He is selfish and greedy and wants all the lilies in the pond for himself. He demands that everyone leave him alone and leave the lilies alone because they are his! Can anyone change Bully? The answer will surprise readers, but the concept of getting a group of friends together to stop bullying is a great one. This is a wonderful choice for readers to contemplate when considering how to effect change. (Sleeping Bear Press)
Please note: These reviews are based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.