Friday, January 09, 2015

2014 Favorite Reads: Children's and YA Nonfiction

Last week, I told you about my favorite 2014 adult fiction and nonfiction picks. Every Friday in January, I am discussing my favorite reads in 2014. This will lead us right to the Youth Media Awards on February 2, in which the Newbery, Caldecott, and other awesome children's and young adult book awards will be revealed. Cannot wait!

We are experiencing a renaissance of fabulous children's and young adult nonfiction. I read 56 children's and nonfiction titles, ranging from nonfiction picture books to lengthy young adult nonfiction. 10 were exceptional:

Lita Judge is one of those phenomenal author-illustrators who can do it all, apparently. Her specialty is illustrating endearing yet incredibly realistic animals; her nonfiction picture books entertain and educate readers of all ages. Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents features the unique relationship between newborn animals and their parents (mostly mothers, but several fathers as well!).

One of my favorite awards announced on Youth Media Awards day is the Schneider Family Book Award, which honors children's and young adult books that portray a character with a disability (which is deliberately broadly defined and may include physical, mental, or emotional conditions; however, books that feature death of a character as the main theme are generally disqualified). I'm hopeful that A Boy and a Jaguar is among the group of books chosen. Dr. Alan Rabinowitz's depiction of his severe speech disorder and how working with animals helped him (literally) find his voice and become an advocate for animals in captivity is inspiring and gratifying.

The more I learn about birds, the more I marvel at the amount of ingenuity and brainpower in these small creatures. Sure, birds use feathers to fly, but did you know that birds use them for protection against the sun, to soothe thirsty youngsters and for courtship? Feathers: Not Just For Flying introduces readers to 16 birds in this enlightening and engrossing picture book.

The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kadinsky's Abstract Art is a remarkable picture book biography of the Russian abstract artist Wassily Kadinsky. Kadinsky had a neurological condition called synesthesia, which caused him to interpret colors as sounds. Although this is a difficult concept to grasp, Barb Rosenstock and Mary Grandpre explain and explore it so that readers understand Kadinsky's unique condition.

The Scientists in the Field series is one of the best ongoing series in children's nonfiction (I include the Who Was/Who Is/What Is/What Was series and the You Choose in that as well). Each entry explores a current problem or situation in the natural sciences and how scientists and laypeople are working together to solve it. Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in America's Own Backyard  features scientists studying animals who live in America's national parks. The pictures are phenomenal (especially of the gila monsters!) and the narrative is sure to grab the attention of young naturalists.

My Caldecott pick. Right here. Illustrator Melissa Sweet has created a masterpiece. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus pays tribute to an intriguing wordsmith. It is gorgeous and a joy to read.

The Scraps Book: Notes From a Colorful Life
Legendary author-illustrator Lois Ehlert presents her creative process, art education and support from her parents in this brilliantly illustrated (she is famous for her collage technique) and written biography. This is my #2 Caldecott pick.

Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond Between a Solider and a Service Dog  is also on my list of hopefuls for the Schneider Family Book Award. Although it doesn't specifically name PTSD, it introduces the condition in a gentle and age appropriate manner. This is based on Montalvan's memoir for adults.

Young adult nonfiction yielded tremendous titles this year:

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia is one of Candace Fleming's finest, and that's saying a lot! Children's nonfiction fans have been hoping for a nonfiction title to win the Newbery ever since 1988, which is the last year a nonfiction book won the Medal (several have earned honors).  Many have picked this for their Newbery hopeful. As someone who is burnt out (for the time being) on all things Romanov, I found this to be an unforgettable read. The struggles of ordinary Russian men and women under the rule of Nicholas II come alive through their letters and diaries, and makes for interesting juxtaposition against the extremely secluded and isolated family.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, And the Fight for Civil Rights is another winner from Steve Sheinkin (author of Newbery Honor book Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World's Most Dangerous Weapon). This exploration of a little-known catalyst in the fight for the civil rights of African-Americans is heartrending and powerful.

Next week, I'll highlight my 2014 favorite children's novels!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

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