I was off my nonfiction picture book game in 2016, but even though I wasn’t posting weekly reviews, I was still reading. Here are my 10 favorite nonfiction picture book titles from the year.
RBG! It’s probably not even possible to write a bad book about Ruth Bader Ginsburg; she’s just too interesting of a human being. Debbie Levy had such rich and engaging material to work with here. A book still needs to be crafted and shaped, however, and Levy does a beautiful job here of crafting a story that focuses on RBG’s interest in equal rights and justice.
Ada’s Violin tells the inspiring story of a children’s orchestra in Paraguay. The children in this impoverished community wanted to learn how to play music but had no instruments. But where there’s a will, there’s a way: discarded and broken items and trash were repurposed to create instruments that the children could learn to play.
Dave Eggers tells the story of how the Golden Gate Bridge became that iconic orange in this quirky picture book. Tucker Nichols’s cut-out paper art worked so effectively for this story.
Andrea Davis Pinkney honors picture book author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats in this biography/praise poem. I wish more picture book biographies would take risks with text as this one does.
Phillip Stead takes the reader on his morning walk with his dog as he tries to find an idea to write about. A mix of painting and photography with a strong message about creativity.
Is it a picture book? Well, not exactly. But I couldn’t leave Melissa Sweet’s incredible portrait of E.B. White off this list.
Javaka Steptoe introduces a new generation to the influential art of Jean-Michel Basquiat in this biography. As that cover no doubt suggests, the art is the star here, but the text is also finely crafted. I hope this book will be a trailblazer and give other authors and illustrators (and publishers!) confidence that even lives that don’t seem ready-made for picture book treatment can be presented to children in this format.
Margarita Engle tells the story of a Cuban girl who longs to play the drums at a time when only boys are allowed to become drummers. Gorgeous writing, an inspiring story, and beautiful illustrations by Rafael Lopez.
Cloth Lullaby has some of the most beautiful picture book art I saw this year. The well-written story focuses on the life and art of Louise Bourgeois, particularly how the seeds of her art were planted in childhood through relationships with people, especially her mother, and relationships with place.
Carole Boston Weatherford’s Freedom in Congo Square told a story about slavery I didn’t know: how every Sunday, slaves in New Orleans had a day off and gathered in Congo Square to hear music, dance, talk, eat, and exchange goods. All the other days of the week, there is hard work in often brutal conditions, as Weatherford’s text and R. Gregory Christie’s powerful art make clear, but on Sunday there was space for joy.