Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge is my favorite reading challenge. Be sure to visit Alyson’s blog to discover more wonderful titles.
Last week, I shared ten recommendations for a starter collection of nonfiction picture books, appropriate for K-16 classrooms. (To bring your growing collection to a total of 20, check out Carrie Gelson’s wonderful recommendations for a starter collection.) Because book lists have a tendency to beget book lists, my list last week got me thinking about other ways to use picture books in my college classrooms.
Many of my college writers dread the research paper. They think that researched writing is boring, bland, the dry cereal of writing—and not the sugary kind of dry cereal either. And I confess: teaching researched writing is something I struggle with. I love reading it—in fact, I read more nonfiction than fiction. But I don’t always love teaching it. I think I have a tendency to let the research part overwhelm the writing part, and I don’t always manage to convey my enthusiasm for nonfiction writing with the pieces I tend to share as mentor texts. Just this week, I had an epiphany: instead of sharing the essays and reports I usually turn to as mentor texts, what about sharing nonfiction picture books? In an effort to cover all the content associated with researched writing, I sometimes forget that we first need to read great examples of nonfiction and simply enjoy. Nonfiction picture books are a brilliant way to show my students that researched writing can be vivid, memorable, stylish, and full of voice.
Here are 10 titles I think are especially effective for showcasing writing craft.
I’m Trying to Love Spiders, written and illustrated by Bethany Barton. Humor. An intrusive narrator. A blend of almost metafictional narrative with spider facts.
Ben Franklin’s Big Splash, written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by S.D. Schindler. Dazzling word play and an intriguing blend of fact and speculation.
Earmuffs for Everyone!, written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy. Compelling process narrative of the story behind the story. Great for a mini-lesson on how writers find topics and what they do when the topic doesn’t pan out in the way they expect.
Emu, written by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Graham Byrne. Imagery. Poetic sentences. Clarity. The telling detail.
Before John Was a Jazz Giant, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Sean Qualls. Prose like jazz poetry, bringing music to life.
A Nest Is Noisy, written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long. Luminous, lush prose, rich and resonant with metaphor.
Josephine, written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Words that dance on the page. Rhythmic. Musical.
Creature Features, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Straightforward question-and-answer format elevated by the creativity of interviewing the animals themselves. Remarkable clarity and detail in simplicity.
It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw, written by Don Tate and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Colloquial tone captures and recreates a tradition of oral storytelling in prose.
The Iridescence of Birds, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Hadley Hooper. A couple of sentences to convey an entire life in art. The value of pruning.