In the last few years, the American Library Association Youth Media Awards have increasingly recognized nonfiction. By my count, between 1942 and 1983 no Caldecott medals went to nonfiction books. That’s 0 awards in 41 years. In 2014, 2016, and now 2017, the Caldecott medal went to nonfiction picture books. This week Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe won both the Caldecott and a Coretta Scott King Honor.

Other nonfiction books won big at the ALA Awards, too. Freedom in Congo Square, one of my favorite books from last year, won both a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor. The graphic novel memoir by John Lewis, March, won the Coretta Scott King Award and the Printz Award (besides snatching both of the nonfiction awards–the Sibert and the YALSA Nonfiction).

Happily I have already reviewed Freedom in Congo Square way back in March but I didn’t do so well getting the other award winners reviewed.I have a review of Giant Squid, the only picture book to win a Sibert Honor, scheduled for later this month.

Portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat as a childI have had Radiant Child on my stack of to-be-reviewed books for about a month now. When I first read the book, it didn’t grab me. But I kept thinking about the art and found myself digging out the book to show people how he used found wood, pieced together, as his canvas. I love the subtle collage elements and the shifts in perspective.

The story itself is about a troubled but brilliant grafitti artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work was cut short by his tragic end (which is discussed only in the back matter). One of my favorite parts of the book was the note in the back matter by the author/artist explaining why Basquiat’s work speaks to him.

This is a beautiful book with celebratory images of a Puerto Rican/Haitian boy. It’s fitting that a book about art would win the award for the best art in a children’s book.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe. (Little Brown: 2016).

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.



Boy stands outside in the dark, with monstrous shapes around him, but he stares at full moon above him.Today is Pearl Harbor Day. We commemorate that frightening moment when the United States was plunged into dark terror. Adults fear metaphorical darkness, but kids often have to face head-on their fear of the actual dark. The Darkest Dark is a lovely memoir by astronaut Chris Hadfield of how he conquered his childhood fear of the dark, to allow himself to take up a profession where his work is spent in the deep, unrelieved dark of outer space.

The book shows Chris as a child play-acting being an astronaut but then falling apart when he actually has to sleep in a dark room. We see all the strategies his parents employ–letting him sleep with them, checking for monsters, giving him a night light–but nothing helps. They finally hold one privilege over his head: if he can’t stay in his own bed all night, they won’t watch the moon landing.

Chris manages to tamp down his fear because he so so so wants to watch astronauts walk on the moon. I love the part of the book that depicts watching TV that night. One of my earliest memories is of my parents waking me up to watch TV in the middle of the night, which seemed to me as miraculous as people stepping on the moon. I remember, like Chris, looking at the moon with wonder that night.

But for Chris, something even more profound had happened. “Chris had changed….For the first time, Chris could see the power and mystery and velvety black beauty of the dark.”

The back matter tells about Chris’ subsequent career in space and includes snapshots from his childhood as well as his adult life.

The art is gentle pencil drawings, realistic with just enough fantasy thrown in to depict the outlines of Chris’ terror.  Shadows have creepy glowing eyes and bizarre creatures seem to lurk in corners. But the art resolves itself with a lovely wordless spread where he and his family, after watching the moon landing on TV, stand outside in the dark and look at the moon.

This is a great book for kids afraid of the dark, but it’s also a nice reminder that holding to dreams in dark times can lead to “Dreams that actually can come true.”

The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield and Kate Fillion, illustrated by The Fan Brothers. Little Brown: 2016.

Children around a globe.



I participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.