Cover of The Quest for Z shows the silhouette of a man running in a jungle past a giant letter "Z"When I’m on the hunt for a nonfiction picture book topic, I’m drawn to the transcendent, to the tranformative…to the hero. I think most picture book writers are! But Greg Pizzoli seems to be making his mark in the nonfiction picture book world by writing about anti-heroes. In Tricky Vic, he profiled a con-man. In The Quest for Z he tells the story of a failed explorer. And in both books, the story is utterly compelling.

The Quest for Z tells the story of Percy Fawcett’s lifelong obsession with finding a mythical city in South America. Along the way, he explored many places and had many adventures, several lovingly and in detail retold in these pages. But when he finally gathered together enough resources to set out on his ultimate quest, he simply…disappeared. Only in Pizzoli’s hands could that anti-climactic ending feels so haunting and multi-layered.

The art in this book is absolutely gorgeous. Every spread is carefully laid out with keen graphic design. The back matter includes photographs, an author’s note, and glossary, in addition to bibliographic material.

Like Tricky Vic, this book is written for older readers, but they will slurp it up in all its unsettling uncertainty. (And though I haven’t seen it, there’s also a new film about Percy Fawcett, for those who can’t leave the topic alone.)

The Quest for Z: The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon by Greg Pizzoli. Viking: 2017.

Children with book around a globe

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

Cover of book showing a young girl with gardening equipment in front of the White House, with FDR's dog Fala.This charming book tells the true story of how a little girl helped with Eleanor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s White House Victory garden during World War II.

Diana Hopkins lived in the White House with her father, the president’s chief advisor. Eager to do her part to help the nation fight its war, Diana ended  up as the nation’s First Kid Gardener, dealing with the frustrations and disappointments any gardener knows but eventually growing a crop of vegetables for the White House staff to cook with.

The book has a very traditional picture book structure. As I watched Diana try, unsuccessfully, different ways to help the war effort before hitting on the victory garden idea, I kept being sure I was reading authorial invention. The cover says “based on a true story,” so I figured that part of the book must have been made up. But the back matter verifies that each of those experiences I had doubted actually happened. The back matter also has a wonderful photo of Diana holding Eleanor Roosevelt’s hand on the White House lawn.

The back matter explains the importance of the victory garden movement in the war effort, so it might be worth sharing at least parts of it with young readers. But the book itself would pair delightfully with an urban gardening book, like Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, or with another book about kids helping the war effort during World War II, like the historical fiction Knit Your Bit.

Front endpaper showing newly-planted garden in front of White House.



Back endpaper showing lush garden in front of White House.Don’t miss the delightful endpapers. The front endpapers show a newly-planted garden in front of the White House, but at the end we see the garden verdant and bursting.



More information about victory gardens is available through the National World War II Museum.

Diana’s White House Garden by Elisa Carbone, illustrated by Jen Hill. Viking: 2016.

Children around a globe.


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

Bugs. What’s not to love?

Plenty for most of us. Icky, creepy, crawly critters send most of us running. But even ugly pest animals deserve their own books, don’t they?

Cover of book showing acartoon of a housefly talking to a class full of childrenI, Fly: The Buzz about Flies and How Awesome They Are has a housefly narrator who argues the case that ugly bugs are every bit as interesting as the beautiful ones. Along the way he shares lots of amazing housefly facts. (Did you know that houseflies go through metamorphosis?) And in the funny surprise ending, he finally decides to embrace his position as pariah of the insect world.

This is a great example of the book that tiptoes along the border on fiction/nonfiction. The talking housefly is clearly fictional, but the bug facts it shares are squarely on the nonfiction side of things. The fictional narrative framework opens up space for humor and lightness that makes the nonfiction all the more attractive.

Cover of book showing a spider spinning silk around a heart shapeI’m Trying to Love Spiders walks the divide a little differently. The unseen narrator struggles with her aversion to spiders. She shares lots of fascinating facts about spiders but occasionally is startled into smashing her subjects (with a funny handprint in the illustrations instructing us to “Squish here”). This verges into postmodern meta-fiction (like Press Here) but uses it to convey solidly nonfiction content.

I’m not sure if I love bugs, but I loved both of these witty, cleverly-structured books about bugs.

I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are, by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas. Henry Holt: 2015.

I’m Trying to Love Spiders, by Bethany Barton. Viking: 2015.

Storytime video of I’m Trying to Love Spiders. 

Children surrounding a globe and the words "Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2016"


I participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy



I’m a sucker for heist movies, and Greg Pizzoli wisely realizes, with this book, that kids may find themselves unaccountably drawn to clever bad guys, too. Without glorifying him, Pizzoli tells the story of Robert Miller, aka Count Victor Lustig, the man who tricked the wealthy into giving him thousands, sold the Eiffel Tower, and escaped from jail before being successfully locked away.

The illustrations are sleek and sophisticated (and there’s an interesting note in the back matter about how he did the art) and the book includes several sidebars about topics like Prohibition, counterfeiting, and the Eiffel Tower’s critics. Pizzoli included an impressive bibliography and an interesting author’s note where he talks about trying to figure out the narrative arc of the book and the real world cons still going on today in Paris.

Betsy Bird has a thoughtful review of the book at Fuse #8, and there’s a podcast at “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” completely unrelated to the book but about the man.

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli. Viking: 2015