A couple of times a year we like to highlight some of the recent nonfiction that we have added to the Library collection. With the new Common Core standards, many schools are placing new emphasis on nonfiction, and giving these types of terrific books some new attention. Here we have some examples of new narrative nonfiction, picture book biographies, craft books, and even writing tips from the author of the very popular My Weird School series of chapter books. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did.
Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone
You may have heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black American fighter pilots, but what about the first black paratroopers? The Triple Nickles, the 555th parachute infantry battalion, have their own story to tell, and Lee paints a vivid picture. With dynamic descriptions, compelling quotes, and many terrific photographs, Courage Has No Color shows what it was like to live as a black man in the 1940s. Lee paints their extraordinary story against the racism of the time, and shows the contradiction many felt about fighting for a country that held them in such little regard. She also shows the wonder of becoming a paratrooper, taking that first step out of an airplane and plunging into the sky. The Triple Nickles were never deployed in combat, but instead were used to fight fires on the West Coast. Woven into their story is the incredible and formerly secret tale of the balloon bombs that were launched from Japan in order to land in America and start forest fires. Here, as in her book, Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, Lee has crafted an inviting read about a group of Americans we know too little about. The Triple Nickles served their country with honor under exceedingly difficult circumstances and paved the way for Americans of all ethnicities. (Grades 5 and up)
Sneaky Art: Crafty Surprises to Hide in Plain Sight by Marthe Jocelyn
Are you familiar with the concept of yarn bombing? Knitters and crocheters add (temporary, removable) yarn cozies to everyday objects out in the world. This new Sneaky Art book lets kids in on the action too! The concept here is to make little art projects that can be hidden in plain sight. Using easily found materials like corks, clothespins, yarn, and paper, you can make tiny works of art and deposit them where they will surprise others. You could leave a teeny tiny cupcake made of tissue paper on your teacher’s desk, streamers tied to a park swing, or a little boat made of corks, paper and a straw sailing in a public fountain. Maybe outgrown baby socks could fit on the bottoms of chair legs, or put a sign below a penny on the ground that says “Lucky Day!” I’m a big fan of public art and of easy crafting, and this book is overflowing with fun and achievable ideas. (Grades 3 and up)
You Never Heard of Willie Mays? by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Terry Widener
Willie Mays was one of the greatest baseball players ever, and one of the first black players that most people saw on their television. This picture book biography, by the author of You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?, tells a folksy tale of Willie Mays’s life and intersperses baseball facts, statistics, and even quotes from radio broadcasts to paint a picture of this baseball great’s life. The “Say Hey Kid” excels through the Negro Leagues and later leaps off the page as a New York Giant, propelling his team to the World Series. This is a well-researched book that includes a glossary, information about the statistics and radio broadcasts used, and an author’s note that conveys a love of the game and of the subject. (Grades 1-3)
On A Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
Kids may know of Albert Einstein as that old man with the crazy hair, or as some genius they heard of once. This picture book biography shows Albert as a regular kid, albeit one who didn’t talk until he was three, and then inspires children to wonder about the world and to “dream up ideas never dreamt before.” Berne shows the life of this incredible genius and makes him relatable to kids, including details like that he didn’t wear socks and that he loved ice cream and sailing his boat. But more than that, it shows how thinking about big and small things – a beam of light for example, or how everyone and everything are always in motion – lead this man to make astounding discoveries about time and space. An extensive author’s note provides additional details and references. (Grades 2 – 6).
My Weird Writing Tips by Dan Gutman
The author of the My Weird School series of chapter books has written this guide for kids in his signature irreverent style. You say you don’t need punctuation, and GR8 is great enough? Gutman answers, “Sounding like a dumbhead isn’t cool.” The first half of the book is an inspiration for how to write a story, whether for school or fun, as original fiction or for a report. The last half gives tips on punctuation, grammar, the difference between they’re and their or who and whom, and the like. This easy-to-read book will be a help to reluctant writers and inspire more than a few new works of fiction. (Grades 3-7)