Picture This: Nonfiction

Shaw/Watha T. Daniel LibraryStaff Picks

Picture This: Nonfiction

Factual books in picture book format

When you're browsing the library with your child, you might gravitate toward the picture books for younger kids and chapter books or comic books for older ones. The nonfiction shelves, relegated to homework and science project time, sit neglected and unexplored. But don't judge a book by its Dewey Decimal number! There's plenty of nonfiction books that retain the fun, visual appeal of fiction picture books with the added bonus of teaching something new or serving as an extension of a favorite picture book or chapter book. Below, I've highlighted some of my favorites, which will appeal to kids from toddlers on up. 

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Poetic yet easy to understand text and lively, colorful illustrations effectively bring to life a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement when students staged sit-ins at Woolworth's lunch counter as a peaceful demonstration against segregation. The accessible text makes this an excellent book to use with students from first grade through fifth as a jumping off point for a discussion on the Civil Rights Movement as well as recent civil rights protests. A timeline of the Movement and a more detailed account of the sit-ins at the end of the book serve as supplementary material to extend the conversation for older kids. 

Locomotive by Brian Floca
If your child clamored for Thomas or Down by the Station as a toddler, be sure to introduce them to this Caldecott Medal winning book on America's first transcontinental railroad and westward travelers as a preschooler. Floca pairs captivating illustrations with a dynamic use of fonts, and his incredible double page spreads really convey the majesty of early train travel and the pioneer spirit. Try a picture walk through the book first where you focus on talking about the scene-stealing pictures before settling down to read the text. For older kids from six to ten and real train aficionados, the end notes and endpapers provide additional historical context. 

How Big Were Dinosaurs? by Lita Judge
Funny illustrations with tons of kid appeal show dinosaurs in comparison to more familiar animals like dogs and things like cars. You and your child will learn a fact or two about how dinosaurs looked, ate, and lived along with the names of dinosaurs beyond the usual T-rex. The fun concept will engross young dinosaur fans from kindergartners to second graders. 

ZooBorns!: Zoo Babies from Around the World by Andrew Bleiman 
It was so hard to pick just one baby animals book, but this one has a wide variety of adorable and lesser-known animals, and close up photos that'll inspire a million "awww"s. A great one for exposing toddlers and preschoolers to new words and new animals beyond doggies and kitties. 

Sleepy Little Yoga by Rebecca Whitford and Martina Selway

Short text and sweet illustrations of kids and the animals that correspond to each pose help guide your toddler or preschooler into a series of calming poses. Notes at the end of the book provide instructions to caregivers on the positions and movements as well as tips on helping your child practice and enjoy yoga in a relaxed way. Please consult your doctor before starting a new exercise routine for you or your child.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner

Join a girl in her garden from spring planning and planting to a winter of rest! Pretty illustrations show all aspects of gardening, including how plants sprout and flourish, the hidden work of how their roots grow, the animals big and small that work hard under and above the dirt, and the gardeners enjoying their harvest. This book will inspire kids from preschool through second grade to pick up their own little shovels.

Get Into Art: Animals by Susie Brooks
On each two page spread, Brooks engagingly combines large reproductions of vibrant works of art featuring animals, an easily digestible amount of information about the artist and work, and a related art project for your young artist to try.  The sampling of art is diverse, and the projects range from simple to challenging, using mostly basic arts and crafts supplies helpfully listed at the back of the book. Recommended for kids from first through fifth grade. Some of the art projects will benefit from adult assistance.

Look-alikes Around the World by Joan Steiner 
Is that a Nigerian mud hut or a muffin? A beautiful Thai palace or a coffee cup, bell, and cookies? Travel the world with Steiner through a series of iconic international post card scenes creatively reimagined with food and objects. Elementary school age kids will enjoy learning a little bit about each country or city and honing their observation skills playing I Spy with the various postcard components. Short explanations at the back of the book give more context to each scene and also list the items used. 

Larry Gets Lost in Washington DC by John Skewes
Fresh yet retro illustrations, adorable characters, and simple rhyming text make for a great picture book introduction to Washington DC. Structured around the travels of Larry (dog) and Pete (boy) as they explore the city, become separated, and triumphantly reunite, the book highlights DC's important landmarks and sites. Preschoolers might want to concentrate on just the main rhyming text and pictures, while kindergartners through second graders can learn more from the descriptions and explanations about the places, which are nicely integrated on each page. Part of a series on well-known US cities.

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill
Probably the coolest picture book biography we've got in the library. Hill tells the origin story of DJ Kool Herc and hip hop music through conversational and relatable text, which match well with Theodore Taylor III's lively illustrations. A timeline and author's note at the end flesh out the story and provide historical details. Recommended for kids from first through third grade.