Nonfiction picture books to inform and entertain

Picture books aren’t just for little kids. Savvy educators and parents use picture books as a way to share information with kids as old as middle schoolers. Because picture books are fun, quick, and colorful. And like the picture books listed below, they can be filled with information. Reading a picture book about something like, say, mushrooms, just might lead to a curious child’s exploration into the world of fungi. Here are some great choices that might just pique inquisitive minds.

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‘Wayward Creatures’ by Dayna Lorentz is an important story about a boy and how difficult it is to deal with emotions when feeling isolated

Wayward Creatures by Dayna Lorentz

I was captivated by the title and the cover of “Wayward Creatures” by Dayna Lorentz. In all honesty, the cover is a bit misleading — the boy does not interact much with the injured coyote, and, very appropriately, they do not become friends. Nor should they. The story of these two wayward creatures, both juveniles of their species, is told in alternating first person narratives. Gabe and Rill are both suffering, each in their own way.

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Fabulous nonfiction children’s books you need on your bookshelf: Part One

I know from my decades of teaching elementary students that using nonfiction picture books is an amazing way to begin discussions of events and people, and to share information with students in an entertaining way that keeps them interested in learning (and reading). Here are some nonfiction children’s books for children of all ages from picture books through some middle grade books and even a young adult choice. All of them would be great picks for gifts for your children, their teachers, or even the school library. This is a long post, but read it through. You’ll be glad you did as there are some fabulous offerings here.

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‘A Blizzard of Polar Bears’ by Alice Henderson is a combination of mystery, thrills, and wildlife adventure

A Blizzard of Polar Bears by Alice Henderson

It’s not often that a novel can combine thrilling action with fascinating characters and a setting that is depicted so precisely that we shiver while reading about venturing out onto pack ice in Northern Canada. Alice Henderson accomplishes all that and more in “A Blizzard of Polar Bears,” as she shares another adventure for wildlife biologist Alex Carter, who takes a job researching polar bears for a report for Canada’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. Her job in Montana working with wolverines has just ended, so this job offer seems fortuitous.

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‘Willodeen’ by Katherine Applegate; because Nature knows more than we do

Willodeen by Katherine Applegate

Award-winning author Katherine Applegate’s last series, “Endling,” was about the near-extinction of a species. In her newest magical novel, “Willodeen,” she presents an alternative world with strange, exotic creatures. As in our own world, some creatures in this magical one are cute, and others are not only ugly; they smell atrocious. They are called screechers because of the sound they make at night. Main character and first person narrator Willodeen and her father had enjoyed watching them — from a distance — because if you get too close to them, you smell, too. They both loved creatures, and the yard of their cottage was filled with domestic animals and wild ones, like the “ancient river otter who could no longer swim.” Together, Willodeen and her father observed nature and enjoyed watching animals, both ugly and beautiful, until one of the ever-increasing fire events destroyed Willodeen’s house and killed everyone in her family but her.

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‘Hostage’ by Clare Mackintosh is a seat-of-your-pants thriller about betrayal, love, and family

Hostage by Clare Mackintosh

With “Hostage,” Clare Mackintosh gives us a thriller with nonstop action and not one set of hostages, but two. The family at the center of these hostage situations is the Holbrook family: Adam, MIna and Sophia. Adam is a police inspector and Mina is a flight attendant. Sophia is their adopted daughter, and we learn a lot about the harmful effects of neglect in the first year of a child’s life. Sophia has an attachment disorder which makes her difficult at times, and she is also extremely bright. Mackintosh does a fabulous job introducing the three main characters, and we learn about them from the first person narratives Adam and Mina provide, each chapter detailing the time and the narrator.

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Picture books and beginning chapter books: Biographies about important people and events

Reading biographies about important people—those who live near and far—is crucial for young minds to learn that at heart, we are all alike, and also to learn about people whose actions can inspire the rest of us to be better and think about how our actions can affect others.

Some American heroes include Dr. Fauci, the physician and scientist who led the fight against COVID-19 during the pandemic; Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress; and Hallie Morse Daggett, the first female fire guard in the US. All of these people serve as inspiration to others to fight for what they believe in as well as to help others. There are also quiet heroes, people whose names aren’t familiar in most households. Frieda Caplan was a woman who changed the way we eat, and Nicholas WInton saved the lives of children in the Holocaust. These people, and others, are featured in these children’s books which should all be considered for classroom and library shelves.

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National Geographic Kids hits a home run with summer reads kids will LOVE

Ask any teacher what they want kids to do over the summer and most will reply: read. Of course we teachers all want kids to be outside, enjoying the summer weather and swimming and playing, but we also want them reading. Learning to enjoy reading, and reading for the sake of enjoyment, is a pastime that will have lifelong benefits. A person who reads is an informed person who is better able to analyze what is fact and what is fiction.

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‘Black Coral’ by Andrew Mayne is a detective series with an underwater twist

Black Coral by
Andrew Mayne

“Black Coral” by Andrew Mayne is the second book in a new detective series, “The Underwater Investigation Unit Series.” While that’s not exactly a snappy name for a series, it certainly describes what makes this new group of law enforcement officers — the small group that works in law enforcement to solve crimes in and around Florida waterways — different from other law enforcers whose work limits them to more terrestrial endeavors. Sloan McPherson is the main character, and while she’s a bit of an outlaw, she’s an extremely likable one. While this is the second book in the series, not having read the first book didn’t leave me feeling left out. Mayne carefully catches us up on the backstory, and while the events of the first book are referenced occasionally, it doesn’t feel as if there are important details missing in this one.

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‘Charlie Thorne and the Lost City’ by Stuart Gibbs is a worthy sequel to the first middle grade adventure about a young genius

Charlie Thorne and the Lost City by
Stuart Gibbs

The first book in this series, “Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation” pitted young genius Charlie against none other than Albert Einstein. In its sequel, “Charlie Thorne and the Lost City,” author Stuart Gibbs pits Charlie against Charles Darwin, and it’s not surprising that Charlie comes out as the more compassionate genius.

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‘Endling: The Only’ is the magnificent conclusion to a middle grade series about truth, power, and standing up

“Endling: The Only’ by Katherine Applegate

The “Endling” series by Katherine Applegate, of which “The Only” is the conclusion, is her most powerful story yet. And that’s huge. “The One and Only Ivan” is rightly beloved by almost every student in my elementary school, and by children and adults around the world. It’s a story that grabs hearts and connects readers with the characters in a manner that becomes unforgettable. The “Endling” series will also grab hearts, and readers will absolutely connect with the narrator, Byx, a Dairne, and practically the last of her species. But readers will also learn about what happens when greed is allowed to reign supreme and when power becomes more important than humanity. It’s a story that follows one young very human-like narrator in a story that’s not only a coming-of-age story but also an allegory about our world. As with “The One and Only Ivan” and all of Applegate’s novels, we are enthralled with her brilliantly drawn characters and the plot that takes us on an emotional rollercoaster.

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