Children with book around a globe

This Monday the Siberts will be announced. I would love to see Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis honored–the art is stunning and the voice is pitch-perfect, but it has only a short author’s essay at the end. It would be a stronger contender if it had a more complete bibliography. I also loved Freedom in Congo Square and The Secret Subway, books about very different topics that both did a great job contextualizing difficult stories for young readers.

Cover of Some Writer, showing a boy feeding pigs




But my guess is that the Sibert will go to Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White. I haven’t seen another book with so many primary source documents beautifully reproduced in the book, and all contextualized and incorporated in the text. It was a can’t-put-it-down read for me.Cover of book shows tentacles of a giant squid.



I think honors will also go to Giant Squid by Candace Fleming. It is about the giant squid while, at the same time, being about the scientific method. It has fantastic back matter that invites and encourages further exploration of the concepts in the book.

frenzyI already posted about books I wish could win the Sibert but probably won’t. Here’s my list of  books I hope are in the running:


Cover of book, showing four children from different time periods, each carrying a bowl.A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins, illustrations by Sophie Blackall. This book has been the center of a firestorm because one of the families featured is an enslaved woman and her child. Many thoughtful commenters have been concerned that the book will cause pain to African American children, that its depiction of the mother smiling at her daughter, and of the two hiding to enjoy a taste of the dessert, will suggest that slavery is less than a brutal institution. Emily Jenkins, the author, has even apologized for the book.

I think, though, that it is a distinctive and fascinating book, elegantly structured. Don Tate has a thoughtful post about writing enslaved narratives, and I think many of his justifications for his artistic choices in Poet apply equally well to this book. Kelly Starling Lyons also dives into the issues, as she discusses her own books. The questions that remain for me are, first, can we write about slaves when the topic is not slavery? I surely hope so! Otherwise we eliminate many, many important stories and individuals from our collective memory. The second question is, can we write about ethnicities or races not our own? That’s a trickier question. I hope thoughtful writers can do so, being respectful of the traditions that those stories come from.

I hope that this wonderful book isn’t lost in the storm of controversy it has raised.

And now on to less controversial contenders…

Girl in a ballet pose. Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavolva by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad. Stunning text and perfect illustrations to accompany it. Nice back matter, too.

Cover of book shows portrat of Jose Guadalupe Posada with four of his funy illustrations of skeletons--one is playing the guitar, one wears a fancy hat, one rides a bicycle, and one is dressed as a banditFunny Bones: Posada and his Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh. Fascinating biography of the illustrator of early twentieth century handbills for Day of the Dead. The illustrations combine Tonatiuh’s distinctive drawings with historical reproductions of the handbills. I love unexpected topics in nonfiction picture books, and this picture book delivers!

Cover of book Trapped! A Whale's RescueTrapped: A Whale’s Rescue by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor. Dramatic retelling of a news story, this is a gripping story, well-plotted, well-told, and well-illustrated.

mesmerizedMesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. Wonderful marriage of history and science, plus a surprise ending–just when you think the book is all about the scientific method, you find out it’s also about the placebo effect! I loved it.

mary gardenIn Mary’s Garden by Tina and Carson Kugler. I loved the simple language and gentle illustrations in this biography of Mary Nohl, a folk artist who built a quirky outdoor sculpture garden at her home. The back matter tells about the continuing furor over her work.

Illustration of horseshoe crabs coming onto a beach to spawn.High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs by Lisa Kahn Schnell, and illustrated by Alan Marks. Lyrical text and luminous illustrations depict the web of dependency among horseshoe crabs, birds, and people. Extensive and fascinating back matter.

A family hugging. The father is white, the mother black.The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. There aren’t too many picture books about court cases, but this is a well-crafted story of the Supreme Court case that did away with laws that prohibited interracial marriages. I was especially impressed with how ably Alko provided historical framework for young readers.

trickyTricky Vic: The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli. Such an unexpected topic! The biography of a con man. Pizzoli’s illustrations are fantastic and the story is almost unbelievable, but it’s all true! I liked the back matter where Pizzoli talks about his experiences while he researched the story.

Those are my favorites for the year (until I think of all the ones I forgot…)


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.