Nonfiction picture books for readers of every age

Nonfiction picture books for children are a great way to introduce information to kids about the world around them in a very digestible manner with vocabulary that’s just right for them to understand. This group of nonfiction picture books about animals and plants is for a range of ages. Two books are a part of the “Meet Your World” series. One is “You Are a Honey Bee!” and the other is “You Are a Raccoon!” for young readers who will enjoy the book’s physical suggestions to move like those animals. “Stinkbird Has a Superpower” is about a hoatzin, an Amazon bird that lives in the rain forest. This picture book is filled with information but also with lots of humor that will engage young readers and cause them to want to read and reread this adorably illustrated book. “A Home for Every Plant: Wonders of the Botanical World” is a large, information-filled book about plants from all over the world. “Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-Floor Ecosystem,” begins with a sad event, the death of a seventy-year-old whale, but then we learn about how that death goes on to nourish other creatures for half a century. “Cicada Symphony” is all about the cicadas we see every summer, and this colorful book is chock-full of information. “We Are Starlings: Inside the Mesmerizing Magic of a Murmuration” is filled with stunning watercolor illustrations of the birds and the fantastic and beautiful shapes they make as they fly together, as the story is told in first person plural, the band of starlings to fly together so amazingly. And three books in the “Save the…” series are about blue whales, frogs, and giraffes, and would be great informational texts for a classroom.

“A Home for Every Plant: Wonders of the Botanical World” by Matthew Biggs and illustrated by Lucila Perini is a beautiful and creative work. From the table of contents, carefully organized by locations such as “Tropical,” “Mediterranean,” “Temperate,” and “Cold,” among others, to the glossary and index at the end, this book hits all the nonfiction text features that teachers love presenting to students. There is information at the end of each chapter with suggestions for four plants that can be grown at home and information about how to do so successfully. We learn, for example, that there are plants that camouflage themselves among desert pebbles in South Africa! Children (and adults) might also be fascinated to learn that the idea behind velcro came from a burdock plant and the manner in which its seeds stick to the fur of dogs. Some plants have long taproots to find water during a drought. Reading about the Sonoran Desert, we learn not only about the Saguaro cactus, but also about the animals who help spread seeds and who live in the cacti. This is a large book, and the pages feel substantial and rich. It’s a book that would be right at home in any information section of a classroom or school library. A very minor complaint is that there is no information about the importance of planting native plants wherever you live to help with the indigenous insects and animals who rely on them. Generations of insects have adapted to only lay eggs on certain plants (like the monarch with milkweed), and when we plant species that are not native, or are hybrids, we are often depleting the biodiversity in our environment. Gardeners are realizing the vital need to plant more native plants to try to help overcome the frightening decline in the insect population. Perhaps getting this book into the hands of children is the first step in getting them interested in plants and how important they are to our environment. (Phaidon)

“Stinkbird Has a Superpower” by Jill Esbaum and illustrated by Bob Shea is a book that kids will love because not only is it packed with information about this unusual bird from the Amazon rain forest, it’s hysterical. Really, really funny. There is truly clever dialogue between the parent and the baby chick which leads to lots of information and even new vocabulary words. When Papa hoatzin (pronounced WHOT-sin) brags about his superpower: “My poopy smell!” his chick is embarrassed. But as his dad points out, “Stinking keeps me alive!” Spoiler alert: part of the chick’s protective strategy involves dropping from their nest into the raging river below, but no worries — these chicks have claws on their wings! You have to read the book to find out what the claws are used for, but a good time is guaranteed! Really, the narrative is humorous and engaging. And there is a “True or False” quiz at the end to see how well young ears were listening. Because seriously, the brightly colored, attractive and attention-getting illustrations are so fabulous, they might have just been looking at them. This will be a book that kids (and adults) will want to read more than once! It’s also a book that just begs to be read aloud. Teachers and librarians — take note. (G.P Putnam’s Sons)

Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-Floor Ecosystem” by Melissa Stewart and Rob Dunlavey is appropriately illustrated almost totally in shades of blue and mauve and other ocean colors. It’s a rather macabre story of those who clean the flesh, blubber and all that remains from the carcasses of deceased whales. It’s a quiet story told in beautiful prose, as exemplified by the first sentence, “When a whale dies, its massive body silently sinks down, down, through the inky darkness, finally coming to rest on the soft, silty seafloor.” We learn that the whale fall “is a bountiful gift that can sustain life for another fifty years.” And page by page, we see the animals from sharks to other scavengers who come to feast on the whale. My six-year-old grandson cleverly pointed out that the scavengers decrease in size as time goes by. And at the back of the book is more information about whale falls, about the species mentioned in the book (along with large illustrations that show the animals clearly), and selected sources including books, articles, photos and videos for further exploration. I think budding scientists will be fascinated by the information in this picture book, and perhaps they will be motivated to do research of their own about what happens to dead animals in the ocean. (Random House Studio)

“We are Starlings: Inside the Mesmerizing Magic of a Murmuration” by Robert Furrow and Donna Jo Napoli and Marc Martin is an artistic creation that glorifies the magnificent shapes and images the starlings create as masses of the birds fly together in intricate patterns and designs across the sky. The language is poetry as we read what we can imagine the birds would say to us, “We twist through the sky like giant snakes. Or fan out like humongous wings. We loop back over ourselves in figure eights. We dance. And dance. And dance.” There is information about how they manage to fly together like a choreographed ballet. And at the back of the book is More About Starlings with four tightly printed paragraphs about where the starling originate from (not North America), and about their social nature. Shockingly, flocks may consist of millions of starlings, but they fly together without crashing into each other! We learn how. This is not just a picture book for classroom shelves and school and public libraries—art teachers might enjoy sharing this book before beginning a unit on watercolor painting. Enjoy it for the information contained within, but also for the evocative art and the beautiful prose. (Random House Studio)

“Cicada Symphony” by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Gareth Lucas is about an insect that might just be part of the diet of the starlings in the previous book. Depending on where you live, cicadas might be those noisy insects that foretell the end of summer when they begin their mating cry in the hot, humid afternoons of late July. Fliess’s rhyming couplets are accompanied by informational text in slightly smaller font on the facing page. Readers learn how harmless the cicadas are, and that’s an important lesson to teach kids about being kind to cicadas. They are loud and many find them ugly, but they only live for five weeks and they don’t bite or sting. They just fly around and make noise. At the end are text features that are simple but great for introducing kids to a glossary and author’s note. There is also a detailed illustration of the body parts of a cicada. This is a superb choice to get kids ready even if the huge brood in your area isn’t due for a few years. Every summer, in many locations, we hear a smaller group of cicadas whose noisy calls let us know summer is at its peak. (Albert Whitman)

The series titled “Meet Your World…” by Laura Ann Thompson and illustrated by Jay Fleck features different animals and makes learning about them engaging for young readers by describing the movements of the different animals as they grow up and go about their daily lives. One thing that makes this series unique is the emphasis on describing the animals and insects through their actions. This would be an excellent book for even older grades to use when teaching what verbs are. When, in “You Are a Raccoon!” the baby raccoons jump, wrestle, and chase each other, there are illustrations of children enacting those movements and jumping, wrestling and chasing. It’s clever because it definitely will encourage children to pay attention to the words in the story as they think about how they can demonstrate the actions that the animals are performing. It’s a great series for younger readers, and the illustrations are appropriately simple and aimed to showcase the movements. As with any good nonfiction book, there is additional information at the back of the book. In “You Are a Honey Bee!” we learn “Fun Facts About Honey Bees” and there is a Glossary. Under the heading “Be a Honey Bee!” there is more information about behaving like a honey bee. Parents will love that the first thing a newly hatched honey bee does is clean the room, so kids are encouraged to clean their rooms to make them spiffy for the queen! “Why Honey Bees Are Important” explains the vital importance of bees in our world, and lastly there is “How to Help Honey Bees” with information about planting flowers and not using harmful chemicals. This is a perfect series for a preschool or kindergarten where the kids will love acting as animals and insects. (Dial Books for Young Readers)

Another series that is aimed at older readers is the “Save the…” series which includes animals as diverse as whale sharks, tigers, polar bears, lions, gorillas, and more. Newest releases are “Save the Blue Whales,” “Save the Frogs,” and “Save the Giraffes.” The books in the series have wonderful cover illustrations and an introduction by Chelsea Clinton. They have different authors, and the chapters cover different topics, but all have a section with “fun facts” about each animal, a chapter on “How you can help save the…” and references. These books seem perfect for students from third grade through sixth grade. There are headings within the chapters to give readers clues about what the following paragraphs will be telling them. To be honest, I’m not sure if these books will be picked up by a student to read purely for fun as there are no color photographs inside. My grandson opened the books, but lost interest when he saw only black and white illustrations. Of course, he is six years old, and while he’s capable of reading the content, he wants bright illustrations as well. Older readers who need information text to write a report or for their own edification will certainly find these books suit their needs. I can see these as good choices for a school library or to include in grade-appropriate classroom bookshelves for practicing information research and writing. (Philomel)

Please note: This review is based on either the final hardcover book or the advanced reader’s copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.