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Best Informational Picture Books of 2015

A much-needed picture book that will enlighten a new generation about battles won and a timely call to uphold these...

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LILLIAN'S RIGHT TO VOTE

A CELEBRATION OF THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965

In a book commemorating the Voting Rights Act of 1965, readers are introduced to 100-year-old black Alabaman Lillian, who recalls her long-delayed journey to exercise her American right to vote 50 years ago.

As Lillian climbs the “very steep hill” to the courthouse to vote, she reminisces about the struggles that African-Americans faced and overcame on the way to the passage of the historic law that dismantled the widespread exclusionary practices that African-Americans encountered to that point and guaranteed their right to vote. She’s reminded of the legacy of slavery that her great-grandparents Edmund and Ida survived and of the 19th Amendment, which allowed women to vote, yet angry mobs of white locals forced her parents to back away, holding little Lillian by the hand. She pauses to recall the actions in Selma, 1965. She arrives at the voting booth and presses the lever. In Evans’ mixed-media illustrations, a stooped Lillian makes her slow way up the hill as the tableaux of history play out on the page. She is dressed in vibrant colors, contrasting with the faded, translucent historical images. A burning cross figures in one powerful spread; another joins 100-year-old Lillian to her 50-years-younger self at the gutter, emphasizing her determination to claim her rights.

A much-needed picture book that will enlighten a new generation about battles won and a timely call to uphold these victories in the present. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: July 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-39028-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

While the author justifiably bemoans the disproportionate number of titles about African-Americans that focus on slavery,...

POET

THE REMARKABLE STORY OF GEORGE MOSES HORTON

Tate paints a portrait of a North Carolina man who pursued his passion for language through long years of enslavement.

Nothing about the life of a slave could truly be deemed “lucky,” but George Horton was fortunate to live where he did. When he was growing up, literacy was not yet against the law for slaves. Fascinated by the power of words, Horton taught himself to read and began composing verses. His owner eventually allowed him to live in nearby Chapel Hill and work as a writer. His earnings were not his own, and he deeply felt the pain of his circumstances, but writing poems and living among educated people was better than the back-breaking labor most slaves performed. Straightforward, accessible text covers the basic facts and evokes, albeit in an understated way, the hardships Horton faced. Created in mixed media, including gouache, pencil, ink, and digital, luminous illustrations provide context and convey emotion. Double-page spreads, insets, and vignettes show George as he ages and moves from the rural life of his childhood to town and, for a brief period, out West.

While the author justifiably bemoans the disproportionate number of titles about African-Americans that focus on slavery, his decision to illuminate this remarkable man’s life offers a new perspective with remarkable clarity. (bibliography, author’s note, acknowledgements) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-56145-825-7

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Peachtree

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

Wonder-full in every way.

RAINDROPS ROLL

With lyrical words and striking images, a poet, photographer and veteran natural history writer celebrates rain.

“Rain plops. / It drops. // It patters. / It spatters.” From the beginning of a storm to the return of the sun, this splendid presentation reveals the wonder of water in the form of rain. Short, rhythmic lines, often only two words but rhyming or alliterative, are set one to a page against a full-bleed photograph. Sayre’s close observations, many in an ordinary garden, will lead readers and listeners to look more closely, too, both at her photographs and at the world around them. There are insects hiding from a shower; drops cling to flowers, leaves and insect legs. There are even tiny reflections in the globules. Raindrops bend down grasses, highlight shapes and band together. Some of the pictures harbor extra secrets. (A fly is barely visible on the front cover photograph.) These carefully chosen images have been thoughtfully arranged and beautifully reproduced. Preschoolers can appreciate the poem and pictures, but middle graders will want the facts in the concluding “Splash of Science,” which provides some background and explanation for the short statements and goes on to describe “Raindrops Inside You,” connecting the reader to the water cycle.

Wonder-full in every way. (further resources) (Informational picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-2064-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

Profound and entirely wonderful.

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WILD IDEAS

Finding solutions to sticky problems can be a mind-expanding adventure.

The creative team behind You Are Stardust (2012) again blends science with a philosophical spark that demands thoughtful inquiry. Employing well-researched facts, Kelsey focuses on the rather remarkable adaptations and achievements of animals. Watch how chimps fold leaves to spoon water or how orangutans create a safe place in which to study a problem and make plans. Sea otters use rocks to crack crabs. Other animals cooperate to carry out actions that will provide food or safety. Animals large and small use both their natural gifts and surprising powers of invention and innovation to negotiate their ways in the world. Kelsey speaks directly to young readers in carefully constructed, elegant, accessible language that transcends the ordinary and demonstrates not even the slightest hint of condescension With this approach, she inspires them to observe, learn, listen to advice from knowledgeable, trusted adults, and then leap enthusiastically and let their imaginations soar to find solutions to even the most perplexing problems. Kim’s richly hued, exquisite dioramas are textured and detailed, placing realistic, accurate forms into fantastically dreamlike scenes that have depth and movement. This is a work that will be read and examined again and again, with something new to be discovered at every turn.

Profound and entirely wonderful. (author’s note) (Informational picture book. 5-12)

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-77147-062-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Owlkids Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

TIPTOE TAPIRS

Tapir’s courage and quiet steps show a leopard how to change his ways and avoid a human hunter.

This charming pourquoi tale is set in a Southeast Asian jungle where tapirs, rhinos, hornbills, apes, crocodiles, porcupines, and leopards coexist. Ably translated from the original Korean, the text is spare, gentle, and repetitive. “The leopard ran with loud, heavy steps. / THUD, THUD, THUD. / Tapir ran with soft, silent steps. / Hush, hush, hush.” In the art, created with watercolor, drawing ink, and marker pen, most animals have a distinctive color. Tapir is gray and white, while Little Tapir is a pleasing reddish brown. The jungle is more suggested than shown in these allusive images, reminiscent of Korean landscape paintings, and the figures and text both are set on an expanse of white. The placement of text and picture varies, sometimes together, sometimes opposed on a spread, but each spread is a self-contained idea until the climactic page turns of the leopard attack. The pacing is perfect. There is humor in the tiptoeing animals, the dancing rhinoceros and elephant, and Little Tapir’s dream of a birthday mud cake, but it is gentle, befitting the overall quiet tone of this appealing import.

Exquisite. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8234-3395-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

While Greenwood was indeed an interesting character, the more valuable—even revolutionary—takeaway is that history isn’t...

EARMUFFS FOR EVERYONE!

HOW CHESTER GREENWOOD BECAME KNOWN AS THE INVENTOR OF EARMUFFS

A look not just at the invention (or not) of earmuffs, but at the process of inventing and the way that history can rewrite itself.

Every year in the beginning of December, the town of Farmington, Maine, has a parade in which all the participants (cars, buses, trucks, included) wear earmuffs. This parade celebrates Chester Greenwood, who was not the inventor of earmuffs. Wait. What? That’s right. Chester Greenwood did not invent earmuffs; he improved the designs of other inventors, applied for a patent and is misremembered today as the inventor of the ubiquitous ear coverings so popular in cold climates. In her latest nonfiction title, McCarthy looks at how this happened, along the way delivering tidbits about patents; the lives of Greenwood and his wife, Isabel, who was active in the suffrage movement; other inventors who were really improvers (Edison and his light bulb); and the movement to dedicate a day to Greenwood. McCarthy’s acrylic illustrations nicely bring history to kids, mixing the familiar and the new. They realistically portray history (and Farmington!) and feature her characteristic big-eyed, round-faced people. Two photographs show Greenwood, sporting earmuffs of course, and a portion of the Chester Greenwood Day parade in downtown Farmington. Backmatter includes a fascinating note about the research for the book, more about patents and a bibliography.

While Greenwood was indeed an interesting character, the more valuable—even revolutionary—takeaway is that history isn’t necessarily reliable; it can change, and McCarthy’s genius is that she communicates this so easily to her audience. (Informational picture book. 4-10)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-0637-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

From the author’s heart to America’s readers: a tribute to a man who believed in and lived black pride.

THE BOOK ITCH

FREEDOM, TRUTH, AND HARLEM'S GREATEST BOOKSTORE

A man with a mission leaves a memorable mark in Harlem.

The National Memorial African Bookstore and its owner, Lewis Michaux, were vibrant Harlem fixtures for many years. Nelson, who told her great-uncle’s story for teen readers in the award-winning No Crystal Stair, also illustrated by Christie (2012), now turns to the voice of Michaux’s son as narrator in this version for a younger audience. The son is an enthusiastic and proud witness to history as he talks about visits to the bookstore by Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. Michaux’s commitments to reading, knowledge, and African-American history shine brightly through the liberal use of boldface and large type for his pithy and wise sayings, as in “Knowledge is power. You need it every hour. READ A BOOK!” Christie’s richly textured and complex paintings, created with broad strokes of color, showcase full bookcases and avid readers. His use of a billboard motif to frame both scenes and text evokes a troubled but strong neighborhood. Faces in browns and grays are set against yellow and orange backgrounds and depict intense emotions in both famous and ordinary folk. The Michaux family’s deeply felt sorrow at the assassination of Malcolm X will resonate with all readers.

From the author’s heart to America’s readers: a tribute to a man who believed in and lived black pride. (afterword, author’s note, selected bibliography, photographs) (Picture book/biography. 7-10)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7613-3943-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

An appealingly colorful, deadpan account of a remarkably audacious and creative criminal.

TRICKY VIC

THE IMPOSSIBLY TRUE STORY OF THE MAN WHO SOLD THE EIFFEL TOWER

Geisel winner Pizzoli turns from early readers to biography with this story of a consummate 20th-century con man.

In the early 1900s, Robert Miller moved from Eastern Europe to Paris to pursue a university education, ending his studies when he discovered his calling as a professional gambler. Trouble forced Miller to reinvent himself as “Count Victor Lustig” and take to the high seas, where he conned passengers on ocean liners. When World War I ended trans-Atlantic travel, “Lustig” operated in several major European cities. After numerous arrests, Miller went to the United States, where he earned the trust of crime boss Al Capone and pulled off many successful scams. When the police caught on to his schemes, Miller returned to Paris, where he orchestrated his ultimate con, selling the Eiffel Tower to scrap metal dealers. Pizzoli tells this remarkable story with straightforward economy, informational sidebars offering insight into Miller’s times and crimes. The truth behind Miller’s exploits is often difficult to discern, and Pizzoli notes the research challenges in an afterword. His mixed-media graphic artwork perfectly complements the quirky, humorous tone of the story. A particularly nice touch is the use of a fingerprint to stand in for Miller’s face, most appropriate for a man who would be known by 45 different aliases.

An appealingly colorful, deadpan account of a remarkably audacious and creative criminal. (glossary, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 7-9)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01652-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

A vast amount of information on monkeys is expertly delivered in both text and image without patronizing either readers or...

MAD ABOUT MONKEYS

An informational picture book about monkeys throughout the world.

Tackling a topic as general as monkeys is a tall order for a picture book, but this one succeeds admirably. Author/illustrator Davey begins with the basics: what a monkey is (part of the mammal group of primates), when they evolved (about 35 million years ago), where they live, and what they eat. He moves on to more specific information, such as the differences between Old World and New World monkeys (following this with a colorful visual quiz), social life, size and physical characteristics, and monkeys in mythology, and he ends with a section on the deforestation of monkey habitat that manages to deliver at least a sense of hope. All this information is related in an engaging conversational style—“ ‘But why such colourful bums?’ I hear you ask.” Davey keeps things lively by relating specific traits of various monkey species; for example, long-tailed macaques swim underwater, mandrills have colorful rumps, black-capped capuchins use tools, and these serve not only to pique readers’ curiosity, but also to highlight the primates’ diversity. The design of the book is stellar, interweaving text and stylized-but-accurate illustrations into a vibrant, cohesive whole that stands out for its appeal and clarity.

A vast amount of information on monkeys is expertly delivered in both text and image without patronizing either readers or monkeys—a delight. (index) (Informational picture book. 5-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-909263-57-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Flying Eye Books

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

This inventive look at maritime history has significant modern child appeal.

WHALE TRAILS, BEFORE AND NOW

The young first mate on the Cuffee sightseeing boat, descendant of generations of men who worked whaling ships, compares whaling long ago with a whale-watching excursion today.

The cover reveals what makes this enjoyable field trip stand out; the narrator is female, a child of color. In her chatty spiel, the fictional tour guide offers plenty of facts. These are set on spreads that contrast views from the present-day expedition with the past. (The sepia tones of the latter add historical distance). She contrasts historic and modern attitudes toward whales, shows ways in which times have changed on shore and on the boats, and describes whaling techniques. She points out that the crews of early whaling ships included "escaped slaves and free blacks," and indeed, the crews in the historical pictures, like the crowd of tourists, are racially diverse. A double-page spread shows the excitement of a whale sighting today; the next spread shows a tiny whale boat from the past, its sailors attacking a massive whale with puny lances and a harpoon. Their sailing ship waits in the background. Backmatter provides further information about commercial whaling and whale watching, a glossary and good suggestions for further research. Karas’ pencil drawings, colored with gouache and acrylics, add intriguing detail.

This inventive look at maritime history has significant modern child appeal. (Informational picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9642-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

Despite the gentle way this book unfolds, the language and images deal a blow to racist thinking and just might inspire the...

THE CASE FOR LOVING

THE FIGHT FOR INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE

Biography and autobiography intertwine in this account of the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia.

Richard Loving, pale-skinned and vulnerable to sunburn, and Mildred Jeter, a brown-skinned woman of African-American and Cherokee descent, fell in love in 1958. But in the state of Virginia, miscegenation was illegal and punishable by imprisonment. They traveled to Washington, D.C., to marry legally, but when they returned and moved in together, the local police arrested and jailed them. This story makes palatable for young readers a painful, personal and true story of the injustices interracial couples suffered as recently as 60 years ago. Alko and Qualls reveal the double-layered nature of this story with a photograph of themselves; this was the perfect story for a collaboration since their journey echoes the Lovings’. In the backmatter, Alko cites the current statistics on gay marriage and hopes that “there will soon come a time when all people who love each other have the same rights as Sean and I have.” The “Suggestions for Further Reading” mentions both earlier books in the same tradition, such as Arnold Adoff and Emily Arnold McCully’s Black Is Brown Is Tan (1973, 2002), and contemporary ones that detail other civil rights struggles.

Despite the gentle way this book unfolds, the language and images deal a blow to racist thinking and just might inspire the next generation of young civil rights activists. (artists’ note, sources) (Informational picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-47853-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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