Monday, February 18, 2013

Top 10 Nonfiction Picture Books - Join the Jog

Some of you may be familiar with a summertime meme that has bloggers compile their top 10 favourite picture books for the Top 10 on the 10th event.  I've participated in the last two summer events and have always come away with a largish list of new books to seek out.

This week, on Tuesday, February 19th the same people, Cathy (at Reflect & Refine), Mandy (at Enjoy and Embrace Learning) and Julie (at Write at the Edge) are hosting a similar event that is focused on nonfiction picture books.  They will create a ‘jog’ that will bring together a diverse list of fantastic books – without a doubt.

My Rules
So the challenge has been set – 10 of my favourite nonfiction picture books.
I had to set a few parameters to help pare down my selection which greatly exceeded 10.

* I focused on books for the elementary level.
* I didn't include books that made my top 10 list of picture books in the previous challenges (click here to see those lists). (Okay, I lied.  I did include one book…)
* I cheated by including an author because I could have done a list of 10 books for him alone.
* I also included a ‘type’ of book that isn't a typical picture book (but really is mostly pictures) and included a few examples to showcase this ‘type’.
* I also tried to figure our which books I turned to again and again when teaching my various workshops. 

The List
  1. 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy.
I love books that touch on social justice and global issues and make them accessible to a younger audience.  This one also plays with our expectations about an African nation that reaches out to a powerful country offering solace at a time of great confusion and despair.  Gorgeous illustrations.

  1. What does peace feel like? by Vladimir Radunsky
This one plays with imagination through the senses.  Peace can be a tricky concept to convey and make concrete for a younger audience.  Here, children between the ages of 8 and 10 describe what peace tastes, feels, looks, sounds, and smells like in very poetic terms.  For example, peace smells “like a bouquet of flowers in a happy family’s living room.” Or, peace sounds like “a growling bear of war who gets shot by a love arrow and the fighting stops…”.

  1. Toad by Ruth Brown
The Doucette Library has classified this one as fiction but I use it as nonfiction.  It demonstrates strong narrative while giving us information about this ‘vile’ toad.  I love that the illustrations add to the storyline that is not addressed in the text.  Good at building tension and predicting what is going to happen next.

  1. Red-eye tree frog by Joy Cowley
This older award winner is a fabulous reminder that nonfiction books can make great read-alouds.  The tension slowly builds as we spend some time with this frog as he wakes and begins to look for food.  But what might be looking for the frog as a meal?  The photographs are beautifully crisp, bold, and colourful. Very appealing.

  1. Trout are made of trees by April Pulley Sayre
I like this one as much for its title as for its information.  It presents the life cycle of a trout in an easily understood way with good illustrations.  But it’s the title that will pique the curiosity of children as they try to figure out and visualize what it means.  Good language arts cross over for the use of alliterative, poetic language.

6. Mathematickles by Betsy Franco
A great cross-curricular book for math, science and language arts.  Creating visual riddles/poems using seasonal topics and using math operation symbols, this picture book offers lots of opportunity for playful thinking.  I've been told by a student-teacher that a class of grade 4 students really enjoyed the challenge of trying to make their own.

7. One is a snail, ten is a crab by April Pulley Sayre and Jeff Sayre.
This is a really good math concept book.  It’s a counting book that also has come basic addition and counting in groups of 10’s all introduced by counting the feet of creatures found on a beach.  For example, 1 is for the 1 foot of a snail.  Two is for the two feet of a boy. Three is a boy and a snail together. Eighty is eight crabs (each with 10 feet/legs) or 10 spiders (each with 8 feet/legs). Clear concepts with fun illustrations makes this an exemplary picture book for math.

8. Unlikely pairs by Bob Raczka
Bob Raczka is my go-to guy for picture books about art.  He’s brilliant at combining art concepts with art works from all periods in really interesting ways.  Unlikely pairs is a particular favourite because it’s so playful with combining two pieces of art (usually from very different time periods) and juxtaposing them in such a way that they work together to give us a visual mischievous story.  The cover picture is a good example.  Placed side-by-side it looks like the Self-portrait of the artist Jean- Brederic Bazille has just been painting a paint-by-number which is in fact Do-It-Yourself, a painting by Andy Wahol.  Very clever.

  1. Steve Jenkins
Okay, here’s my first cheat.  I use many of Steve Jenkins books over and over in almost all my workshops.  He focuses on the natural world giving us books filled with intriguing facts and images.  Actual size looks at the animal world and provides pictures of the actual size of a Goliath frog, the eyeball of a giant squid or the hand of a gorilla among a few of the selected creatures.  Living color is a beautiful resource that shows animals classified according to colour.  The pages seem to glow with vivid colours. Just one bite again offers visual representation for what and how much food animals eat, from a grain of sand (meal of choice for worms) up to a fold-out spread for a sperm whale chomping on a giant squid.  He finds remarkable examples of interesting facts that he makes visual.

  1.  My second cheat is promoting coffee table books.
This type of book when done well can be amazing.  Anyone will become fascinated with books like Rainforest by Thomas Marent, The Deep by Claire Nouvain, The Life and Love of Trees by Lewis Blackwell or The Material World by Peter Menzel when we are offered high quality, interesting photographs centred around a specific topic such as the creatures found in the deepest depths of the ocean, close-ups of insects that look extraterrestrial or graphic portraits of the physical possessions of people from around the world, from the poorest to the richest countries. 

Today is Nonfiction Monday and hosted by Wrapped in Foil.  Check out this great round-up of nonfiction children's literature. 

Visit the jog to see all the recommendations by all participants.


Jeff Barger said...

This is a great list. I especially like Betsy Franco's work.

Jeanne Walker Harvey said...

Hi Tammy, I enjoyed reading your reviews, and I'm off to check out Unlikely Pairs -- what a unique concept for a book!

Stacey said...

IF I were still in the classroom f/t, I'd be on Amazon with a cart-load full of your suggestions. Great list!

Cathy said...

You made me laugh with your "parameters" set for the event. When we first started discussing the event I thought, "That will be easy." Instead I discovered that I have so many favorites and there are so many gray areas in nonfiction that I struggled to narrow my list. I guess I'm ready for next year's event. :o)

Your list is fabulous! Many of your books are new to me and I look forward to requesting them for review. I think Steve Jenkins came up across lists. It would be fun to make a list of authors we can't live without --- oh no, another event? he he


Unknown said...

Cathy I am not sure if that's another event, but it is certainly a way to begin thinking about #pb10for10 2013!!

You have a fabulous list here Tammy. I especially am interested in What does Peace feel like? I am imagining that it will launch students into their own comparisons.

Thanks for sharing.

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