These best 2018 nonfiction children’s books –picture books, chapter books, and biographies– merit reading and re-reading and buying for your home, classroom, or library as they are all high-quality with engaging writing that makes the book’s information relevant, memorable, and interesting. Happy reading!
Best Nonfiction Children’s Books of 2018
Best Nonfiction Children’s Books: Ages 4 – 8
The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds & the Life of H. Tracy Hall by Hannah Holt, illustrated by Jay Fleck
Brilliantly conceived and exceptionally written using a parallel storytelling. The structure shows the similarities between the rocks of the earth and a boy’s life using the descriptions of HEAT, PRESSURE, CHANGE, and WAITING. As we read, we learn about the graphite in the earth as well as the curious boy who finds solace in the library. We see the diamonds waiting to be discovered while the boy grows up to work in a lab where he patiently builds an invention — a machine that makes diamonds. (This is a real thing!) I love the unique presentation and beautiful wordsmithing in this 2018 book.
What Makes a Monster? Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating, illustrations by David DeGrand
Monsters — real animal monsters — is a topic that kids love reading about. Keating writes in a way that gives kids lots of information in a readable, engaging way. I love the design, too –it’s a mix of photographs, illustrations, cool fonts, and bright colors. What Makes a Monster is a must-read filled with unexpected information about fascinating, dangerous animals.
Someday is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, illustrated by Jade Johnson
There’s so much to love about this picture book — the captivating folk-art style illustrations with an earthy color palette, the repetitive text of “separate and unequal” and “someday was now,” plus the well-written, compelling true story!! It’s about an amazing woman named Clara who advocated for justice and equality during a time when black people weren’t permitted the same rights as white people. As a teacher, she inspired her students to believe that change was possible. Clara and her students went to the Katz drugstore and asked to be served — even though the store didn’t serve black people. She and her students returned day after day despite people yelling and throwing food. Eventually, the Katz store relented. They started to serve people of all races. Clara and her students finally could enjoy a Coke and burger without trouble. (And then prepare for the next segregated store demonstration.) Added to: Best Biographies for Women’s History Month and Best Biographies for Black History Month
Charlotte’s Bones: The Beluga Whale in a Farmer’s Field by Erin Rounds, illustrated by Alison Carver
Erin Rounds’ writing feels like magic as she transports us back in time and back again, capturing the beautifully tragic life of one beluga whale who swam over what is now Vermont, U.S.A. “Her milky, smooth, muscled body sliced slowly through the water like scissors through silk.” But, Charlotte gets stuck in a tide pool. Her pod leaves her. Her body dies and thousands of years pass. Woolly mammoths and giant sloths disappear from the land. The land lifts. “Charlotte lay undisturbed for 11,500 years.” In 1849, railroad workers discover Charlotte’s bones. “In the middle of a farmer’s field, ten feet beneath the ground, the bones of a white whale had whispered the truth of the valley’s distant past.” The writing is excellent! Use this book as a mentor text to teach showing not telling, imagery, and sentence fluency. It’s also a lovely example of how to make science come to life through a narrative story. Brilliant.
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington
Beautifully illustrated and inspirationally written! Little Mae dreamed of becoming an astronaut. Her parents told her she could do it if she worked hard, taking Mae to the library to find information and encouraging her astronaut pretend play after dinner. Despite her teacher’s discouragement (“Nursing would be a good profession for someone like you“), Mae listened to her mom and stuck to her dream. Mae kept dreaming, believing, and working hard. She (Dr. Mae Jemison) succeeded; she became the first African American female astronaut in space. Added to: Best Biographies for Women’s History Month and Best Biographies for Black History Month
The Eye That Never Sleeps How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes
I adore this book. First of all, the artwork is a STUNNING period style. It looks like a woodcut and is primarily orange, purple and brown plus speech bubbles with an old-fashioned typeface. Second of all, the story itself is enthralling. Allan Pinkerton stumbles into detective work accidentally– and he’s really good at it. He knows human behavior and uses deduction and observation. He founds the Pinkerton Agency which is credited with solving more than 300 murders and recovering millions in stolen money. But he’s most famous for hiring Kate Warne to protect the soon-to-be President of the United States, Mr. Lincoln, from a dangerous train assassination plot. Later, when Mr. Lincoln becomes president, he creates the Secret Service agency to spy on the Confederacy. Guess who he hires to lead it? Allan Pinkerton, of course. This is top-notch narrative nonfiction.
In the Past: From Trilobites to Dinosaurs to Mammoths in More Than 500 Million Years by David Elliott, illustrated by Matthew Trueman
Aptly-oversized to reflect many of the gigantic creatures within, these poems and gorgeous illustrations celebrate prehistoric creatures. Creatures like the weird-looking dunkleosteus or terrifying yutyrannus. Some of these creatures you’ll know, many will be new. The text is very accessible. Each creature includes their scientific name plus the geologic timeline in which they lived. SO cool, right?
No birds yet.
Only you in the sky.
the giant dragonfly!”
Best Nonfiction Children’s Books: Ages 7 – 10
The Story of Tennis Champion Arthur Ashe by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Kevin Belford
The Story of series is an exceptional new biography series for early elementary readers. The books are well-written just like a narrative story. They include dialogue, description, character development, and a sequential plot. In this book, you’ll learn about Arthur Ashe, a famous tennis player who eventually died from AIDS-related complications after a blood transfusion. Not only did this quiet, kind man work hard in tennis but you’ll learn that he also worked hard for equal rights and research funding for HIV/AIDS.
Little Guides to Great Lives Nelson Mandela by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Hannah Warren
Best Nonfiction Children’s Books: Ages 8 – 12
Beavers: The Superpower Field Guides by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Frith
Meet Elmer who, like other beavers, has superpowers such as #1 Chainsaw Teeth or #2 Unstoppable Fur or #3 Ever-Toiling Tail. Each of the 10 superpower sections is fact-filled, funny, and illustrated. After you zip through this engaging nonfiction book, Elmer will be your new favorite kind of animal — and you’ll be a beaver expert, too. Here’s an example of the kid-friendly writing: “Once the lodge is finished, Elmer and Irma begin chewing on an opening underwater. They keep chewing upward until they are above the water level. Then they chew out one or two large rooms inside the lodge. One to sleep in and one for birthday parties and other special events. (That’s not true, but I like the idea of beavers wearing party hats.)” Excellent, engaging writing — I am looking forward to more books in this new 2018 nonfiction early chapter book series.
It’s Up to You, Abe Lincoln: How I Made the Biggest Decisions of My Life by Tom & Leila Hirschfeld
Written in the second tense “you,” this book puts you squarely in the driver’s seat as Abe Lincoln. It describes your life starting from childhood with photos, fun facts, and quizzes of “What Would You Do?” For example, when you’re considering marrying Mary What Do You Do? You’ll be given a list of four choices, each with elaboration. The choices, in this case, are: A. Break up with Mary. B. Date other women. C. Marry fast, before your feet get even colder. D. Consult a pastor. Then, you’ll read the reveal — what choice you made. (A. Break up with Mary.) The writing flows smoothly, the layout is eye-catching, and the information is interesting and historically important.
Best Nonfiction Children’s Books: Ages 13+
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu (ages 13+)