Picture of girl, all in color, with adults in black and white. Caption reads, "Addie never wanted to be ordinary."In Anything but Ordinary Addie, lush illustrations and sparkling text tell the story of unconventional Adelaide Herrmann, who embarked on a career without her family’s knowledge, proposed to her husband, and transitioned from magician’s assistant to successful stage magician upon the death of her husband.

I loved the story of this gutsy woman. Rockliff keeps the text moving sprightly along without resorting to invented quotations.

When Addie told her family what she was doing, they were SHOCKED.

Our Addie? On the stage? In front of everyone? IN TIGHTS?

It’s a simple punctuation solution (NOT using quotation marks) to a common dilemma in picture book biographies.

The back matter adds additional layers to the text in the book. One back essay gives more delicious details about Adelaide’s remarkable life. The other essay, titled “Searching for Addie,” tells the story of how Adelaide’s autobiography was lost to history. The essay also talks about other sources used for this biography.

The “About the Author” information on the jacket flap is worth checking out, too. It tells what originally interested Rockliff in this subject and will appeal to just about every middle school girl I know.

The back matter also has a link to the solution to one of Addie’s mystifying tricks.

Anything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff, illustrations by Iacopo Bruno. Candlewick: 2016

Children around a globe.

I participate in Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

frenzyKidLitFrenzy is running a mock Sibert competition, asking people to nominate their favorite contenders for this years ALA award for the most distinguished informational books for children. Right up my alley!

So I’ve spent the last two weeks revisiting my favorite 2015 nonfiction picture books and reading them aloud with my family. So many great books!

But some of my favorite reads won’t make it to my Sibert list. Here’s why:

Not American


I’m a sucker for family history stories, and this import from Germany has fantastically detailed illustrations, too, that keep you looking and looking and looking. As far as I can tell, the author did her own translation, but the book was originally published in Germany, so it’s ineligible for the Sibert. It’s definitely worth reading, though, especially if you have a kid who likes Richard Scarry books or other heavily-illustrated texts.

I also loved the whimsy of both the text and the potato print illustrations of The Potato King. It was also A potato wearing a crown.originally published in Germany, but it probably would have been ineligible anyway since it’s a retelling of an unsubstantiated historical story (though the back matter does a great job talking about its status as a legend).

Not Quite Nonfiction

As a rule, I don’t like made-up “non”fiction. Why invent conversations and events for Benjamin Franklin when there’s so much documentation for his life?

But every year I fall hard for a few books where the authors make clear-eyed, hard choices to include fictional elements in order to tell a nonfiction story properly. One of my favorite nonfiction picture books this year gingerbreadis Gingerbread for Liberty, about a German immigrant, Christopher Ludwick who, at great personal cost, cooked for General Washington and the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. The author, Mara Rockliff, has a good bibliography–she used a history by one of Ludwick’s contemporaries as well as more recent scholarship as her sources. But when you’re writing about a mostly-unknown person who lived 250 years ago, you quickly run out of reliable sources where you can pull quotes. Rockliff invents dialogue to tell this story, including something she has Ludwick say over and over again: “No empty bellies here. Not in my America.” Is there any evidence that Ludwick actually said this? Not a shred. But this refrain encapsulates his life’s work in eight well-chosen words.

Maybe every now and then there’s a place for invented dialogue in nonfiction! But I’m struggling enough with this issue (in my own writing projects too!) that I’ve removed Gingerbread from my mock Sibert stack. What do you think? I especially wonder about the perspective of librarians and teachers. Am I being unfairly demanding? Can a great informational book have invented dialogue when quotations simply don’t exist in the sources? Or do we move this book to the stack of really, really great historical fiction and let it live happily there?

Unattributed Quotations

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, holding pistols, face each other, ready to duel.Finally, I loved both Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History and Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game. Both books had great pacing, lively language, and accessible quotations skillfully woven into the text. But neither of them had source attributions for any of their quotations.Cover of book titled Game Changer shows two basketball players, one leaping toward the basket with the ball in his hand.

As an author, I know that the publisher usually ends up having the decisive say in how much  material goes into the back matter. I’m certain that both those authors could cough up source references without any trouble. But in these cases those references didn’t make it into the back matter, which seems a shame for an informational book. I love rich, detailed back matters, including source references for quotations, so I’m reluctantly cutting these two books from consideration.

But I still hope they get read lots and lots!

Next week, some of the books that stayed in my Sibert stack.


Every carnival has one now, but the first Ferris Wheel was an engineering marvel. Barbara Lowell tells the story of its invention in a straightforward way:

George Ferris was an engineer who had big ideas. he turned his big ideas into bridges made of steel. Bridges that crossed high over rivers. Bridges that were strong and safe. George made sure of that.

I was especially impressed that she managed to keep the story engaging and fun to read without inventing any dialogue. Instead she uses interesting details to keep us reading. We don’t hear planners talking about the World’s Fair but we learn:

There would be lots to see and do. Including balloon rides. An ostrich farm. And Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

When the Ferris Wheel is finally finished, we don’t hear any celebratory dialogue but we learn:

George and Mrs. Ferris hopped into one car. A forty-piece marching band squeezed into another, and up, up, up they went. The band played “America.”

It’s a fun story and fun to read.

George Ferris: What a Wheel, by Barbara Lowell, illustrated by Jerry Hoare and with photos. Penguin (Core Concepts): 2014.

Goldie  This book is another biography of a recent public figure, this time Golda Meir. Who knew that she lived in Wisconsin as a child? I hadn’t! The book is based on a 1909 Milwaukee Journal newspaper article telling about a benefit that Golda and her friends organized. The author is very clear in the back matter about what she has invented:

Although the dialogue in this book is imagined, the events are true.

The story is told in first person, so it’s no surprise that the narrative voice is confident. The story opens with a club meeting where Golda tells her friends about a problem she’s noticed (children without enough money to buy schoolbooks) and closes with the end of the fund-raising benefit they put on. The word “naturally” and the phrase “then I knew what to do” work as refrains, pulling us through the action and tying it all together. They also underline the confident, assertive character of the woman who would become one of the great political leaders of the 20th century.

The book doesn’t try to explain Golda’s importance in world politics. Children who already know her name will bring that knowledge to the book, but the book will still delight other children with its argument that children can make a difference in the world.

Goldie Takes a Stand: Golda Meir’s First Crusade, by Barbara Krasner, illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Kelley. Kar-Ben Publishing: 2014.