Sometimes I wish there were a label for those picture books that aren’t exactly so-called informational books and, therefore, not considered nonfiction. They explicitly teach a particular concept or explain a subject to children and often close with informational Notes from the Author, yet often are labeled fiction instead, due to the fact that the author surrounds the facts with fictional characters and situations.
The next two months will see the release of two such picture books that would be good additions to elementary classrooms and libraries. Let’s call them ficinformational books. (Just humor me.)
Out in February is Cindy Jenson-Elliott’s Weeds Find a Way, illustrated by Carolyn Fisher. Here, Jenson-Elliott celebrates weeds and their ability to thrive. “Weeds find a way to live where other plants can’t grow,” the book opens, as she goes on to note the “wondrous ways” weeds send their seeds out into the world, such as burrs stuck to socks or flight paths through the wind. In an informative closing note, she writes about how weeds are “actually misunderstood and underappreciated.” It’s how she makes her point in the pages that precede that final spread that makes this a good read-aloud. The text is tightly-constructed, often offering up moments of pleasing (and subtle) consonance:
[Weeds pinch] into pieces the minute you try to tug them out, spreading into a
spray of plant parts that find new spots to take root.
Fisher uses hand-lettering and mixed media and digital collage illustrations. She plays with perspective and gives readers spreads showing very close-up depictions of the ways in which weeds make their way through the world. In one spread, most of the text appears on the wings of an insect atop a flower, and on the very next spread we’re nearly down on the ground in a tangle of wildlife, right next to a bird and other insects. The text is rarely placed in a traditional straight-line format; sentences curve and even wind their way around plant stems, almost as if they’re unruly weeds themselves. Many spreads make us feel as if we’re just inches from a weed. Sometimes the compositional choices seem almost dizzying, but overall it works. This is artwork that plays with textures in an appealing way, and her color palette is rich. Many spreads bring to my mind the artwork of Pam Paparone.
This is neither formal introduction nor field guide, writes the official Kirkus review. The book, the review goes on to note, still “merits a place on the nature-study shelf of preschool and early-elementary classrooms.”
So, is it nonfiction? Somehow I doubt it would get categorized as an “informational book,” and when I look it up at the Library of Congress’ website, I see it is labeled fiction. Still, as the reviewer notes, it’s a book that elementary school libraries and science classrooms might want to consider.
You could ask the same fiction-versus-nonfiction question about Clotilde Perrin’s At the Same Moment Around the World, which was originally published in France in 2011. I don’t have to look this one up, though. It’s bound to be labeled fiction, but like Jenson-Elliott’s book, it would be a valuable addition to an elementary school classroom or library. This tall book comes out in March and is especially notable for Perrin’s dreamlike abstract illustrations, sometimes reminiscent of the artwork of Klaas Verplancke.
This delightful book takes readers on a trip ’round the world, showing us—as the title indicates—the same moment across time zones and countries and giving us a glimpse into the daily lives of people all over the globe. The book opens at six in the morning in Dakar, Senegal, where a young boy is helping his father count fish caught at the shore during the night.
But at the exact same moment, it’s eight in the morning in Sofia, Bulgaria, where a young boy chases after a school bus; two in the afternoon in Shanghai, where Chen practices for the Lunar New Year parade; and two in the morning in the Amazon rainforest near Manaus, Brazil, where “Ana has quite a shock.” (Mysteriously, she’s out for a very early-morning stroll in the forest next to her house, and she sees a snake curled around a tree.)
A baby is born in Peru; a girl on a train in Arizona watches the desert pass by; Lexi in Nuuk, Greenland, can’t sleep; and so on. This one will entertain children while they simultaneously wrap their heads around the notion of time zones; best of all, the art is detailed and tells many stories within the larger story for observant eyes. This is one to pore over. (And, for the record, the starred Kirkus review describes this one as no less than a “very fine working of story, information, art and culture.” That about covers it!)
The book closes with a note about time zones and, lo and behold, a wonderful world map that folds out from the very back, showing us the characters we meet in the book and where their homes are on the globe. Elementary (and even middle school) geography teachers, take happy note of this one!
How either one of these books gets labeled is secondary to the fact that each one entertains while teaching, and each is filled with sophisticated, eye-catching artwork, which every child deserves.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.