For the past three years I have served as a judge for the Cybils Book awards the JH/SH Nonfiction category. I placed my name in nomination to be a judge again but this year the category is extended to include nonfiction children's and middle grade books as well. I don't know if I will be selected but I thought I'd better dip my toe into the children's nonfiction water to see what I think, just in case I am. I couldn't be more delighted with the books I've read and look forward to exploring more children's nonfiction as books come to my attention.
Authors: Irene Latham and Kirim Shamsi-Basha
Illustrator: Yuko Shimizu
Publishing info: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, c. April 2020, 40 pages.
Age range: 4-8 years old
Summary: Alaa loved his city Aleppo but now that the Syrian Civil war has come to it, the city is unrecognizable and so empty---all except for cats. There are so many cats which were left behind when people fled their homes. Alaa decides he will do something to save the cats but soon he needs help from others to feed and protect them.
Review: I was touched by this true story about Alaa, his city Aleppo, and the many cats he has saved. The illustrations really drew me in. I was especially heart-broken to see the illustrations of Aleppo before the war compared to afterwards. The book would provide a good jumping off spot for parents or teachers to talk about the consequences of war and how one person can make a big difference if they put out a consistent effort.
Author: Beth Anderson
Illustrator: E.B. Lewis
Publishing info: Calkins Creek, c. January 2020, 32 pages.
Age Range: 5-9 years old
Summary: In 1854 Lizzie Jennings, a black school teacher, is denied a seat on the streetcar. She fights back against the discrimination and so begins the long struggle of equal rights on public transportation in this country.
Review: I am so pleased that publishers are finally printing books about aspects of black history other than Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. Here, one hundred years before Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat on a bus, Lizzie Jennings fights for the right to ride a streetcar. Add this book to many others for young readers to learn about the many heroic stories of blacks fighting for their rights. It is a very timely read.
Title: The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read
Author: Rita Lorraine Hubbard
Illustrator: Oge Mora
Publishing info: Schwartz and Wade, c. January 2020, 40 pages.
Age range: 4-8 years old
Summary: In 1848 Mary Walker was born a slave. After the Civil War she was freed but she had to work very hard to make a living and raise her family. In 1964, when she was 116 years old, Mary Walker learned to read.
Review: I absolutely loved this charming story of Mary Walker and her determination to learn to read before she died. And if I was handing out the Caldecott Award for best illustrations, Oge Mora would win for this book. The illustrations were created in collage style and I loved the color and the texture on each page. Young readers will be amazed that someone so old hadn't learned to read yet, and adults will marvel at Mary's long life and her final accomplishment.
Author: Candace Fleming
Illustrator: Eric Rohmann
Publishing info: Neal Porter Books, c. Febrauary 2020, 40 pages.
Age range: 6-9 years old, but everyone will like it
Summary: Get up close and personal with one honeybee, Apis, as she embarks on her journey through life.
Review: Think you know a lot about bees? Think again. You will realize you know very little about bees when you read and revel in this masterpiece about the life of one bee. I read this to my young grandson a few days ago and he really got into the story of what Apis does on each day of her short life. At the end of each page the reader is asked if Apis is ready to fly yet. The answer at the top of the next page is "Not yet!" Ian got into saying "not yet" with me. Apis has to do a lot of tasks before she is able to fly and collect nectar. This book is not only a personal favorite, it has received starred reviews from SEVEN publications, and rave reviews from many others who don't give stars. The illustrations are simply gorgeous.