Four Fabulous New Non-fiction Picture Books

Ok friends, get your library cards ready, because today I'm telling you about more of the awesome finalists for the Cybils award that I got to read this year! They're so good!

Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature by Kristen Nordstrom illustrated by Paul Boston

Mimic Makers was a big hit at my house. I think all four of my kids (ages 13, 11, 8, and 4) read all or part of it. 

I know that biomimicry is a topic discussed in first/second grade classrooms because I helped my daughter with a project about biomimicry when her school was online during the pandemic. So, when I opened this book, I hoped for some fresh examples. The shinkansen is a well-known example and I was starting to roll my eyes, but then every other example in the book was something I had NOT heard about and found absolutely fascinating.

The information is presented with a clear structure, with human interest elements, and is just so fascinating that I found myself bringing the inventions up in everyday conversations I was having. I love the way inventors from around the globe were interviewed! And, you can tell from the stories shared in the book (as well as her backmatter) that the author interviewed the inventors personally.

Meticulously researched! Fabulously written! Broad appeal! When I finished reading this book I immediately wanted to gift a copy to my daughter's teacher. (And don't tell all the other books, but I pitched this one as my personal favorite to our panel of judges.) 

I really enjoyed reading this book! Of the books on the Cybils Elementary Nonfiction shortlist this year, this was the book I was most excited to read to my family. It is a beautiful story and it did make my voice catch when I read it aloud. 

The Elephants Come Home has broad appeal. My 4 year old was very interested in it. When faced with all the nominees, a 9 year old friend of the family picked it as the most appealing cover. My kids and Jacob all read it or listened to me read it. I myself loved it. The first page gets a reaction! It seems like a love-it-or-hate-it beginning and it does hook you in. Then, the writing is crystal clear. You’re guided seamlessly through the story, which is a beautiful human and animal connection story! There’s no doubt in my mind it has both kid appeal and literary merit. 

The one thing that gives me pause is the book's treatment of race. The only time race is overtly mentioned in the book, it doesn’t put Zulu people in a positive light. Race is depicted in the illustrations, but the people of color in the book are not named. When I read it aloud to kids now, I plan to point out some of the illustrations and wonder aloud what the names of the people of color are. I think they were purposely left off to keep the story simple and the writing very crisp. The writing is crisp, but it does anonymize people of color. Despite this, I still highly recommend The Elephants Come Home.  

This book was the first of the Cybils finalists that Jubilee (age 8) read this year, and she quickly asked me if I had read it yet. "It's really good," she said. 

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter tells the story of Elizebeth Friedman, who broke SO many coded messages  and invented and taught code breaking in WWI, WWII and beyond. Her work has only recently come to light because it was kept classified for years. 

Jubilee and I both liked the page that tells about Elizebeth testifying in court and proving the opposing counsel wrong when they said she was making up the answers to the decryptions she had solved. Victory! Jubilee also liked the story of her sousing out the solution to a code that involved code words and suspicious letters about dolls. I liked the tidbits about Elizebeth's personal life and dreams - the mysterious party hosted by the Friedmans in which invitations were sent in code, and the priority that Elizebeth put on her family and home life. 

The illustrations are done in colored pencil (or colored pencil style...it's so hard to tell these days with digital art making huge strides!). The images obviously contain hidden codes that it would be super fun to try and decipher. Sadly our copy was overdue at the library all too soon! We did crack the one cypher in the back of the book that is meant to be cracked, but I have a feeling that there are many more hidden messages in the illustrations.

My book club read The Woman Who Smashed Codes, a biography of Elizebeth Friedman, last year. I didn't finish it in time for our club meeting but found it interesting and recognized a lot of the details of Friedman's life from that book. However, The Woman Who Smashed Codes has over 400 pages in which to tell her story. I think it spoiled me a little bit, because I felt like the picture book left too much out. But, that's just a personal problem. 

Multi-layered digital art made this gorgeous book stand out among the forest of options, and it was a close contender for the winning spot. 

The Leaf Detective tells the story of Meg Lowman, "Canopy Meg," as she is sometimes called. She revolutionized the way that trees are studied, invented canopy walkways, and educated countless people about trees and how and why to protect them. 

One thing I loved about this book was that aside from the main text, on a leaf on each page, new insights and facts added to the narrative. For instance, before Lowman revolutionized the field, did you know that most scientists studied tall rainforest trees by chopping them down to see what the top looked like? Or sometimes they gassed the trees so that all their leaves would fall and they could study the leaves that way. I mean, that's mind blowing! Meg sewed herself a harness and hoisted herself up into the trees to study them without killing them. You go, girl!   And her work as an inventor and educator is no less inspiring, but I'll stop ranting and let you read the book.

If I read a picture book biography, I want it to impress me with facts and research as well as story and have the answer to that all-important question that I ask myself as I pretend to be a grade school boy who could be playing video games right now, "Why should I care?" Check, check, check. The Leaf Detective was a great read. 


1 comment:

  1. Each of these books sound really fun and informative. I'll have to share them with the little kids in my life. Thanks for the recommendations.


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