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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‘The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames’ by Lisa McMann is the first in a new middle grade fantasy series

The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames

In her new series, “The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames,” Lisa McMann creates an action-filled fantasy with children who have supernatural powers but must survive on their own after the last adult in their group dies. The five children have always lived in a secret hideaway far from civilization as their parents were master criminals who barely escaped with their lives after a heist gone bad. But gradually, the parents have disappeared after returning to civilization, the first few to gather supplies, and then others left to search for the first three adults who disappeared. The last adult, Louis, got sick and died, leaving his daughter a secret message.

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‘Code Name: Serendipity’ by Amber Smith is a sweet doggy tale of friendship, family, growing up, and most of all, compassion

Code Name: Serendipity by Amber Smith

With her new middle grade novel, “Code Name: Serendipity,” author Amber Smith presents an eleven-year-old fifth grader named Sadie. Sadie doesn’t feel as if she fits in anywhere because now that her best friend, Jude, has moved away, she has no one at school to talk to, ride the bus with, or eat lunch with. At home, her older brother Noah is often unkind and has little time for her. Her two moms are also busy, and her grandfather’s recent declining mental health means they have worries of their own. It doesn’t help that Sadie has a learning disability, even though she prefers to call it a learning difference.

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Children’s books for Black History Month and every other time of year

Moving Forward by Chris Barton

If I were going to teach a unit on prejudice, I’d start with a fabulous picture book, “Moving Forward: From Space-Age Rides to Civil Rights Sit-Ins with Airman Alton Yates,” by Chris Barton and Steffi Walthall. There are many, many wonderful nonfiction books aimed at middle grade readers, books which are perfect for research projects or just informational reading. A powerful picture book like this one about Alton Yates will elicit many emotions in readers. We admire Yates for his dedication and bravery, we are infuriated on his behalf because of the prejudice and mistreatment he endured after serving our country in the military, and we are inspired by his fight, at times endangering his very life, against the Jim Crow laws of the south. The story is factual and gripping. The illustrations are powerful. Alton is a heroic person, and his story is a wonderful example of how one man fought against injustice. It’s a fight that is ongoing. (Beach Lane Books)

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‘When Winter Robeson Came’ by Brenda Woods is a beautifully told middle grade historical fiction

When Winter Robeson Came
by Brenda Woods

I don’t think I’d ever read a book about the 1965 riots in Watts, California, until I read Brenda Woods’ beautifully written book, “When Winter Robeson Came.” There is much that is lovely about the verse in this story: the lyrical language, the way Woods compares feelings to tempos in music, the clever way she compares the discrimination in Mississippi to that in California, and how she manages to make us feel the gamut of emotions that the characters display from fear to joy.

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‘The Lock-Eater’ by Zack Loran Clark is an action-filled fantasy with plenty of twists

The Lock-Eater by Zack Loran Clark

In his debut novel, “The Lock-Eater,” author Zack Loran Clark presents us with a very unusual protagonist. Melanie Gate is an orphan, and she lives with other similarly situated girls at the Merrytrails Orphanage for Girls. Mrs. Harbargain is the kindly woman in charge of the orphanage, and she lives with the children and her cat, Abraxas, who is redeemed neither by his looks nor his personality. Melanie has the strange ability of being able to open any door or lock. Other girls in the orphanage have different abilities; one is a talented baker, another is unusually charming, another a gifted storyteller.

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‘City Spies: Forbidden City’ by James Ponti is the third in this thrilling middle grade series about an MI6 group of kid spies

City Spies: Forbidden City by James Ponti

Let me begin by saying I love the “City Spies” series by James Ponti, and his newest entry, “Forbidden City,” is no different. The story is gripping from the start as we read about Paris, one of the young spies, climbing the side of a mansion to return to the billionaire owner a priceless Fabergé egg which, unbeknownst to him, had been swapped for a exact copy containing a bug that allowed British Intelligence to spy on him. He is loaning the priceless treasure to a museum where the deception would surely be uncovered. Paris is named for the city where he was recruited. All the young spies are thusly named, Kat was recruited in Kathmandu, Sydney in that Australian city, Rio in Brazil, and Brooklyn in that New York borough. All live together in a manor home in Scotland with Mother and Monty, two MI6 agents. They attend an exclusive private school and work on spycraft in their spare time. And, in each novel, they have a mission.

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‘Ripped Away’ is historical fantasy as two kids travel back to London at the time of Jack the Ripper

Ripped Away by Shirley Reva Vernick

“Ripped Away” by Shirley Reva Vernick is a middle grade novel, almost a novella, really, at a bit over 100 pages, featuring first person narrator Abe Pearlman. In his very relatable, charming narrative he describes his lonely existence. He’s not in any school clubs nor does he play sports. And when he nods at Mitzi, a classmate he finds interesting, she can’t be bothered to respond with even a nod. As he walks through town on his way home from school, he sees a sign he had never noticed before, “Fortunes and Futures,” in the third story of a building. He decides to investigate.

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‘The Unforgettable Logan Foster’ by Shawn Peters is a middle grade superhero fantasy kids will love

The Unforgettable Logan Foster
by Shawn Peters

“The Unforgettable Logan Foster” by Shawn Peters is a middle grade story that lives up to its title — it’s charming and filled with so much adventure and so many incredible characters that the book will be just that — unforgettable. It’s both rare and wonderful to find a middle grade fantasy which features a main character who is a very different kind of kid. The protagonist, Logan Foster, tells us his story as if he’s talking to us. In fact, he lets us know from the start that he is sharing this story for his younger brother—whoever and wherever he may be. Logan was found in an airport on the jetway of a flight that had just left for Boston. He was wearing a shirt that read “World’s Best Big Brother,” and on the tag of the tee shirt was written “L. Foster.” So Logan is sure that somewhere, he has a little brother, and he spends a lot of time online searching to try to find his sibling. Logan has an eidetic memory, and we realize that he’s very definitely neurodiverse. That makes his first person narrative interesting and humorous, as he will share his feelings and then repeat the dialogue that is practically identical to the thoughts that he shared. He admits, however, that he’s not adept at reading other people’s emotions.

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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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Entertaining picture books with a message

Picture books — gotta love them for how they can entertain children while at the same time broadening their knowledge of the world, helping them make sense of it and presenting messages that will help them to become critical thinkers. Because that’s what learning is all about, isn’t it? Reading, gaining knowledge, and improving our thinking. Reading with children and inspiring them to become life-long readers is a way to ensure that they will also be life-time learners. These picture books are very entertaining, but they are also filled with messages that adults might point out to the children gently, to help them learn to look for messages in all the books they read.

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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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