Some of these picture books are completely nonfiction while others skirt the line between fiction and nonfiction. I’ve included a few that are really fiction but that include enough nonfiction information that I think they impart content that merits inclusion in this collection. I hope you enjoy reading about these and share a few with your favorite young reader!
“The Ocean in Your Bathtub” is by Seth Fishman and illustrated by Isabel Greenberg, the same partnership that produced “Power Up,” reviewed in “Nonfiction books that bring the beauty of Spring to readers.” In this nonfiction picture book, readers learn about the importance of the ocean through simple facts that are presented with illustrations that make the information even more easily accessible. For example, the page that explains that “Five oceans cover 71 percent of our planet and contain 97 percent of our water” shows an illustration of a map of the world’s oceans in a fishbowl with the two cartoon main characters pushing the fishbowl against a bright background. The page also says that “Almost four out of every ten humans live within 60 miles of one of those oceans.” But the book also contains many pages without the math — pages where the water cycle is explained and how important the oceans’ roles are in that cycle. It also explains how “the ocean’s hiding in your afternoon snack!” (read the book to find out why!) The information also shows how we need to help the oceans by protecting them. At the end of the book is an “Author’s Note” that explains more about phytoplankton, the water cycle, aquifers and everyone’s part in helping. I think that a great activity to do with older students when using this book would be to start a research project using fractions and percentages and the information in the book about oceans. For example, what fraction is 71 percent? Are there any equivalent fractions, and if not, why? There are many more facts that kids can find about our planet’s oceans and the numbers of species that live in them. The possibilities are virtually unlimited. (Greenwillow Books)
While “The Ocean in Your Bathtub” is probably best aimed at slightly older picture book readers, “Boats Will Float” by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and Brett Curzon is certainly one that younger readers will enjoy. The rhyming text and bright, cartoonish illustrations will keep young readers engaged. There aren’t a lot of facts but rather simple language about the different kinds of boats from “Fishing boats with nets and line” to “Coast guard, freighter, ships that cruise, offer front-row ocean views.” There’s a submarine, and there are even flags that represent each letter of the alphabet. Toward the end, it’s night, and as many readers are getting ready for bed, so are the boats. The last double-page spread has illustrations of the different boats and a short description of each. It’s a lovely introduction to boats! (Sleeping Bear Press)
“Am I Yours?” by Alex Latimer is a fiction/poetry picture book about dinosaurs. The main “character” is a dinosaur egg who has been separated from his parents and is trying to find them. He asks each dinosaur who comes upon the egg if he belongs to that particular species of dinosaur. And over the course of the story, readers learn about many of the characteristics of the different dinosaurs, with extra information at the beginning and end in the form of a page of illustrations of the dinosaur species and their names. A great activity would be to try to match the dinosaurs throughout the book with their titled illustrations on those pages. All the illustrations are in bright, bold colors, and the rhyme is lovely and clever throughout. (Peachtree Press)
“All the Birds in the World” by David Opie is a stunning collection of beautiful illustrations about the many, myriad types of birds on our planet. Opie shares what all birds have in common and then goes into detail about how each of those general commonalities looks different in the different species of birds. For example, while all birds come from eggs, the colors are almost as many as the rainbow, and the sizes are just as varied. The details are also fascinating in regard to the functions of the bodies of the birds from their claws to their beaks. The extraordinarily descriptive text is non-rhyming poetry, filled with images almost as beautiful as the accompanying illustrations. Throughout the story, the Kiwi asks, “What about me?” as if the author is forgetting that he exists and is different from all other birds. Opie kindly responds to the Kiwi’s plaintive cries at the end and explains how the kiwi is different from other birds. And…how the Kiwi is the same. At the end is “A Note from the Author” in which he explains his fascination with birds and lists, page by page, the species of birds with detailed illustrations, including additional information about the fascinating Kiwi. This is a must for school libraries and for any house in which bird watching is a pastime. (Peter Pauper Press)
“Child of the Universe” by Ray Jayawardhana and illustrated by Raul Colón is a lovely picture book that clearly illustrates with both fantastical pictures and romantic but entirely true ideas the fact that we are, indeed, made of stardust, and that we are all part of one beautiful universe. Colón’s striking and unique style of illustration adds to the romantic mystery of the universe — and all of us. (Make Me a World/Random House Children’s Books)
“One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey” by Henry Cole is a nonfiction picture book that takes readers through the process of creating a brown paper bag. The ingenious black and white artwork is created with ink, and the only color on the pages is the light brown of the trees which are made into the brown paper that becomes the paper bag. Without text, with just beautifully detailed ink sketches, Cole shares the story of one paper bag and its importance in the lives of a family. Readers will consider many themes and motifs while “reading” this fine book: passing of time, paper in our lives, the joys of familial love, cherishing beloved memories, and perhaps, most of all, the ubiquitous nature of trees and paper in all our lives. The author’s note at the end shares the impetus for this lovely picture book and is a story in itself. (Scholastic Press)
“The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark” by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Henri Sørensen tells us of the legend of the king of Denmark during the dark days of WWII. His determination to save all the Jews of Denmark from Nazi persecution is symbolized by the story of his encouragement to all Danes to wear the yellow star that was intended to mark the Jews for persecution, but resulted in a demonstration of the unity of all Danes and their refusal to be separated by different beliefs or religions. Deedy explains in the Author’s Note that the story is really a legend. But it does accurately symbolize the resistance of the Danes to the Nazi persecution of Jews that occurred everywhere else in Europe. She ends her note with powerful language: “And what if we could follow that example today against violations of human rights? What if the good and strong people of the world stood shoulder to shoulder, crowding the streets and filling the squares, saying, ‘You cannot do this injustice to our sisters and brothers, or you must do it to us as well.'” (Peachtree Press)
“Extreme Ocean: Amazing Animals, High-tech gear, record-breaking depths, and much more!” is a National Geographic Kids book/magazine with information that will keep kids fascinated for weeks as they explore the oceans via the extraordinarily informative text and illustrations. This is truly a nonfiction study of the oceans and all its parts. There is a table of contents that includes various elements and components of not only oceans, but also the reasons they are in trouble and what we must do to save them. As in any nonfiction book, there is a glossary, index, and information about further reading. The attention-grabbing graphics are colorful, with simple headings, which make the information quite accessible to people of all ages. The illustrations are terrifically detailed, colorful, and informative. Not only are there illustrations of the hundreds of ways in which the oceans help us, but also the hundreds of ways we must help the oceans. Our own survival, it is clear, rests on our care of and for our oceans. (National Geographic Kids)
Also read “Pandemic-perfect picture books Part One: Books to make you laugh,” “Pandemic-perfect picture books Part Two: We’ve Gone to the Dogs,” “Pandemic-perfect picture books Part Three: Four “beary” adorable books,” and “Pandemic-perfect picture books Part Four: Books about feelings and self-care.”
Please note: This review is based on the picture books sent by the publishers for review purposes.