Reading is FUNdamental: Exciting Early Readers and Beginning Chapter Books

Early reader books, known variously as easy readers, beginning chapter books, first chapter books, or primers, constitute a category of children’s literature that is often overlooked. These books facilitate young readers’ transition into reading independently. Some may think of easy reader books as bland, simplistic, didactic, or overly commercial. As a result, early reader books tend to not get the same literary attention as picture books or juvenile novels. However, in recent years, children’s authors and illustrators have experimented more with the form and content of early reader books to expand the possibilities of this type of children’s book. Early readers have also followed the broader trend in children’s literature towards representing more diversity in identities and cultural experiences. Enjoy reading some of these fun and exciting new beginning reader books to brush up on reading skills and get ready for the new school year.

Atinuke
Too Small Tola. 2021.
In a trio of stories, renowned Nigerian storyteller Atinuke introduces an endearing character who is not too small to do important things. Tola lives in an apartment in the busy city of Lagos, Nigeria, with her sister, Moji, who is clever; her brother, Dapo, who is fast; and Grandmommy, who is bossy. Tola may be tiny, but she is strong enough to carry a basket filled with groceries home from the market, and she is clever enough to count out Grandmommy’s change. When the faucets in the apartment stop working, it is Tola who brings water from the well. And when Mr. Abdul, the tailor, has an accident and can’t leave his room, only Tola can help take his customers’ measurements. Atinuke’s witty text evokes the urban bustle and multitude of cultures in Lagos through the eyes of a little girl with an outsized will, accompanied by Iwu’s lovely illustrations. This early chapter book uses plain language, simple sentence structures, and relatable narration to help readers transition from easy readers to chapter books. Don’t miss the sequels: Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls and Too Small Tola Gets Tough.
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Gravel, Elise
The Bat. 2020.
Early reader books can also be nonfiction! One of the final installments in Elise Gravel’s “Disgusting Critters” nonfiction early readers series (see others such as The Mosquito, The Cockroach, or The Spider), this book’s conversational text and silly illustrations will have readers up past bedtime learning about the only flying mammal on Earth. Gravel covers habitat (bats live everywhere except Antarctica), species (there are over 1,200 kinds of bats), conservation (don’t disturb a bat that is snoozing), echolocation, hibernation, and much more. By using graphic novel conventions such as speech bubbles and expressive line drawings, plus straightforward, concise paragraphs, Gravel has created fun and accessible informational books for newly independent readers.
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LaRochelle, David
Illustrated by: Mike Wohnoutka
See the Cat: Three Stories about a Dog. 2020.
What happens when the book gets it wrong? Max is not a cat. Max is a dog! But much to his dismay, this book keeps instructing readers to “see the cat.” How can Max get through to the book that he is a dog? In a trio of stories for beginning readers, author LaRochelle introduces the excitable Max, who lets the book know in charmingly emphatic dialogue that the text is not to his liking. Wohnoutka depicts the dog’s reactions to the narrator and to the wacky cast of characters who upend readers’ expectations as the three stories build to a satisfying conclusion. An innovative approach to metafiction (a story about fiction) in a beginning reader format, the simple speech-bubble text and reliance on information from the art makes this an excellent book for those still trying to feel confident about their reading skills. Enjoy a similar reading experience in LaRochelle and Wohnoutka’s follow-up title, See the Dog: Three Stories about a Cat.
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Kugler, Tina
Snail and Worm: Three Stories about Two Friends. 2016.
Combining deceptively simple art with clever wordplay, this tale will have young readers delighting in these friends’ silly antics, making this a perfect book for readers transitioning between picture books and chapter books. Told in three comical, episodic stories and ranging in topic from adventuring to having pets, this book follows best friends Snail and Worm through multiple adventures involving how one defines a good day, an encounter with a dragon, and musings on storytelling. Kugler’s subsequent books, Snail & Worm Again and Snail & Worm All Day, use the same structure and tell tales that are just as goofy and accessible for readers who are beginning to read on their own.
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Khan, Hena
Illustrated by: Wastana Haikal
Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun. 2022.
Meet Zara Saleem, the queen of the neighborhood. Zara is in charge of everything: she organizes the games, picks the teams, and makes sure all the kids have a fun time (and they always do). When a new family moves in across the street, Zara’s reign is threatened by Naomi, who has big ideas of her own about how everyone in the neighborhood can have a good time. To get her neighbors to notice her again, Zara decides she is going to break a Guinness World Record, but only if her little brother Zayd doesn’t mess everything up. When she finds herself increasingly alone in her endeavor to break the record, Zara starts to wonder if sharing the crown and making a new friend might end up being the best rule of all. This is the first book in a humorous beginning chapter book fiction series starring a young Muslim girl with an endless list of hobbies who searches for ways to maximize fun for her family and friends.
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Lyons, Kelly Starling
Illustrated by: Vanessa Brantley-Newton.
Rock Star (Jada Jones #1). 2017.
Young readers will enjoy engaging with science-loving Jada Jones in this easy-to-read chapter book. When Jada Jones’s best friend moves away, she dreads going to school. She would much rather wander outside looking for cool rocks to add to her collection, because finding rocks is much easier than finding friends. So, when Jada’s teacher announces a class project on rocks and minerals, Jada finally feels in her element. But nothing’s perfect, and soon she notices that a classmate doesn’t seem to like any of Jada’s ideas, or even Jada herself. Can Jada figure out a way to make a winning science project and make peace? This science-focused early chapter book bridges between leveled readers and longer chapter books for fluent readers adjusting to the format. With short chapters and art on almost every page, this story will draw readers in with Jada’s enthusiasm for science and the natural world.
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Medina, Juana
Juana & Lucas. 2016.
Juana loves many things: drawing, eating Brussels sprouts, living in Bogotá, Colombia, and especially her canine best friend, Lucas. She does not love wearing her scratchy school uniform, math homework, or going to dance class. Juana especially does not love learning the English. Why is it so important to learn a language that hardly makes sense? When Juana’s abuelos tell her about a special trip they are planning, one that will require speaking English, Juana begins to wonder whether learning the language might be a valuable endeavor after all. Hilarious, energetic, and utterly relatable, Juana will win over los corazones (the hearts) of readers everywhere in her first adventure. Follow along with the rest of the series, including Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas and Juana & Lucas: Muchos Changes.
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Pham, LeUyen & Mo Willems
The Itchy Book! (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading). 2018.
The beloved characters Elephant and Piggie foray into the world of dinosaurs in this hilarious early reader book. Triceratops has an itch, so does Pterodactyl, Brontosaurus, and T-Rex! But Dino-Mo reminds them all of the big rule posted on a sign: Dinosaurs do not scratch! What should an itchy dinosaur do to find relief? Dino-Mo insists that he will not scratch, not even while wearing a wool sweater! True to the style and form of the other Elephant & Piggie books, with speech-bubble text and deceptively simple humor, The Itchy Book is a standout for its bold colors and will have young readers rolling with laughter.
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Quigley, Dawn
Illustrated by: Tara Audibert
The Used-To-Be-Best Friend (Jo Jo Makoons #1). 2021.
Hello/Boozhoo! Meet Jo Jo Makoons Azure, a young Ojibwe girl who loves to be herself. Jo Jo is an energetic seven-year-old who moves through the world a little differently than anyone else on her Ojibwe reservation. Much to Jo Jo’s dismay, her mom, her kokum (grandma), and her teacher seem to always have a lot to learn about how good Jo Jo is at cleaning up, what makes a good rhyme, and what it means to be friendly. Even though Jo Jo loves her best friend Mimi (who is a cat), she is worried that she needs to figure out how to make more human friends. Because Fern, her best friend at school, may not want to be friends anymore. Misunderstandings between Jo Jo and others (especially with her white teacher, who does not understand her Native cultural perspective) are the guiding tension of this engaging beginning chapter book series. Quigley incorporates Ojibwe and Michif words throughout the story and black-and-white illustrations enhance the reading experience.
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Song, Mika
Donut Feed the Squirrels. 2020.
Two squirrels (and best friends) meet their match: a donut food truck! Norma and Belly plan to start the day with some pancakes, but when Norma accidentally burns them, these two best friends set out to find a new snack. Chestnuts could be good, but what is that scrumptious smell in the distance? A new food truck is parked near their tree, and these two squirrels are determined to figure out how to get their hands on these “donuts” that seem to be coming from it. Song gives readers something to giggle about as these squirrel friends try their hardest to munch on some donuts while just about everything goes wrong. This is a hilarious early graphic novel with spare words mostly in the form of dialogue, and Song uses colorful art to highlight the zany action, tricky problem-solving, and the sweet value of working together.
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Wordless Storytelling: Building Visual Literacy

Picture books without words remain a perennially popular format among books published for young readers. And it’s no wonder! Wordless storytelling is appealing and accessible to many different types of readers. Stories told through illustrations can evoke strong feelings and stimulate the imagination in ways that differ from the written word. Limiting or eliminating the text of a story frees up space for a reader to pay attention to visual information. Further, without the benchmarks of the text’s pace, readers are free to linger over the images for as long as they want, noticing details and interpreting the art.
Wordless storytelling relies on readers’ visual literacy skills. Visual literacy is set of skills that relate to how people create meaning from images or visual information. Young people must learn to “read” images in addition to learning to decode text. Children’s book author Molly Bang theorized about the ten basic principles of making meaning through illustrations in her book Picture This: How Pictures Work. Wordless picture books are a significant part of the S-Collection, so check out some new wordless picture books (and a few graphic novels) listed below!

Becker, Aaron
The Tree and the River. 2023 (Picture Book).
In an alternate past (or possible future) a mighty tree stands on the banks of a winding river, silently witnessing the flow of time and change. A family farms the fertile valley. Soon, a village emerges, and not long after, a larger town. Residents learn to harness the water, the wind, and the animals in order to survive and thrive. As the growing population becomes ever more industrious and clever, they bend nature itself to their will and their ambition: redirecting rivers, harvesting lumber, reshaping the land, even extending daylight itself. Meticulously detailed pencil and gouache illustrations convey the fullness of life over the long view of time and human societies.
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Cole, Henry
One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey. 2020 (Picture Book).
In this wordless story that opens with an image of a tall tree growing in the forest, a brown bag finds its way into the hands of a young boy on the eve of his first day of school. So begins the journey of one brown bag that is used and re-used and re-used again. Spanning three generations of one family, the bag is transporter of objects and keeper of memories. When Grandfather comes to the end of his life, the family finds a meaningful new way for the battered, but much-loved brown bag to continue its journey in the circle of life. Sketched illustrations that are almost entirely in black and white except for the brown bag highlight the continuous nature of the bag’s lifespan.
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Colón, Raúl
Imagine! 2018 (Picture Book).
In this larger-than-life wordless tale, a boy passes a grand museum many times but never steps inside. Today is different. He rides his skateboard across a bridge into Manhattan and stands on the street. What will it be like inside? He stops to wonder and imagine. Colón tells this story, based on his own life experiences, of how an afternoon’s adventure changes a boy’s life forever. As the boy views several famous paintings, the line between art and life begins to blur. The illustrations’ saturated colors and deep textures will capture readers’ attention as they follow the story-line of this boy’s imaginative city adventure.
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Castellanos, Alexis
Isla to Island. 2022 (Middle Grade Graphic Novel).
This marvelous wordless graphic novel examines the meaning of home by following a young girl in the 1960s as she immigrates from Cuba to the United States. Marisol loves her colorful island. Cuba is vibrant with flowers and food and people, but things are changing. The home Marisol loves is no longer safe. Her parents are sending her to the United States. Alone. Nothing about Marisol’s new life in cold, bleak Brooklyn feels like home: not the language, school, or even her foster parents. But Marisol starts to realize that home isn’t always a place and finding her way can be as simple as trusting herself. Illustrations begin in vibrant color in the Cuban setting, and shift to grayscale in Brooklyn, with speech bubbles filled with squiggles, representing the language Marisol cannot yet understand. This historical graphic novel is a heartrending look at the refugee experience.
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Guojing
The Flamingo. 2022 (Early Reader Graphic Novel).
This stunning graphic novel cinematically captures the spirit of adventure and wonder through the story of an imaginative girl and her obsession with flamingos. A little girl arrives at a house by the beach, excited for a vacation with her Lao Lao. The girl and her grandmother search for shells, follow crabs, and play in the sea, but when the girl finds an exquisite flamingo feather in her grandmother’s living room, her vacation turns into something fantastical. The digital, watercolor, and colored pencil illustrations are highly detailed and emotively convey the child’s feelings and imagined perspectives sparked by the discovery of the flamingo feather.
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Kim, Jihyun
The Depth of the Lake and the Height of the Sky. 2022 (Picture Book).
It’s summertime, and together with his parents, a boy and his dog are leaving behind their apartment in the busy city. The boy’s grandparents’ home in the countryside feels like a different world. From the window, the curious boy sees a path leading temptingly into the forest. He can’t wait to explore. Without any text, this picture book tells the heartfelt and uplifting story of a child’s discovery of the outdoor world. Full of wonder and quiet delight, this book’s wordless highly detailed, monochrome illustrations are a celebration of all that is precious in nature.
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Lam, Thao
The Paper Boat. 2020 (Picture Book).
In this wordless picture book, Thao’s signature collage art tells the story of one family’s escape from the Vietnam War in a manner that is intertwined with an ant colony’s parallel narrative. At her home in Vietnam, a girl rescues ants from the sugar water set out to trap them. Later, when the girl’s family flees the war-torn country, ants lead them through the moonlit jungle to the boat that will take them to safety. Before getting in the watercraft, the girl folds a paper boat from a bun wrapper and drops it into the water, and the ants climb onto it. Their perilous journey, besieged by dangerous weather, aggressive birds, and dehydration, before reaching a new beginning, mirrors the family’s own. Cut paper collages mainly in white, gray, and black, give a solemn, three-dimensional feel, and spare hints of color highlight important themes in this moving tale of courage, resilience, and hope.
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Lawson, JonArno
Illustrated by: Qin Leng
A Day for Sandcastles. 2022 (Picture Book).
This brilliant wordless picture book celebrates creative problem-solving, cooperation, and persistence during a sunny day at the beach. A busload of beach-goers spills out onto the sand for a day of fun by the water. Three young siblings begin to create a sandcastle, patting and shaping the grains as the sun arcs over the sky. Time and again, their progress is stalled: a windswept hat topples their creation, a toddler ambles through it, the tide creeps close, and then too close. Responding to each demolition with fresh determination, the builders continually outdo themselves, until the time comes to board the bus for home. An authentic portrait of sibling cooperation, and glorious inspiration for creative people of all ages, this story channels the thrill of surrendering expectations on the path to infinite possibility.
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Robinson, Christian
Another. 2019 (Picture Book).
In Robinson’s debut picture book as an author and illustrator, a young girl and her cat take an imaginative journey into another world. What if you encountered another perspective? Discovered another world? Met another you? What might you do? This wordless story chronicles the girl’s dream-like experience of going through a portal in her bedroom into another realm and finding a mirror image of herself and her cat. With black or white backgrounds distinguishing between the two realms, and vibrant pops of color in the objects the girl encounters, this book encourages young readers to look carefully and calmly consider concepts like reality and existence.
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Smith, Sydney
Small in the City. 2019 (Picture Book).
In this wordless picture book, Smith spins a quiet tale about seeing a big world through little eyes. It can be a little scary to be small in a big city, but it helps to know you’re not alone. When you’re small in the city, people don’t see you, and loud sounds can scare you, and knowing what to do is sometimes hard. Alleys can be good shortcuts, but some are too dark. There are also lots of good hiding places in the city, like under a mulberry bush or up a walnut tree. Hand drawn scenes, often divided into quadrants on the page, show glimpses of the perspective of being small in the city during a snowstorm, all rendered in a subdued color palette. A boy narrates this story, and readers slowly realize he is giving gentle advice to his lost cat on how to be safe in the big city and to find its way home.
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Queer History: Nonfiction Books about LGBTQ+ Movements and Identities

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month! The acronym LGBTQ+ encompasses gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer identities, and the addition of the plus symbol represents the fact that there continue to be many more specific identities recognized by the queer community. As some of the informational books on this list explain in more detail, Pride Month became an event that commemorates queer activism after the Stonewall Riots in June of 1969 when LGBTQ+ people fought back against a police raid of a gay bar in New York City called the Stonewall Inn. For decades now, huge celebrations and Pride parades during the month of June celebrate diversity in gender expression and sexuality. Despite the remarkable progress in improving LGBTQ+ rights since the Stonewall uprising, queer rights are again in jeopardy, including significant nationwide efforts to ban books by LGBTQ+ authors. See the resources at the end of this post to learn about the American Library Association’s reports on censorship and the Freedom to Read Foundation’s effort to stop book banning and protect intellectual freedom.

Caldwell, S. A.
Illustrated by: Season of Victory
Pride: An Inspirational History of the LGBTQ+ Movement. 2022 (Middle Grade Nonfiction).
The LGBTQ+ community is so much more than rainbow flags and the month of June. In this dynamic book, young readers will learn about groundbreaking events, including historic pushes for equality and the legalization of same-sex marriages across the world. Taking a global view, this book dives into the phenomenal history of queer icons from ancient times to the present and describes the lives of Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, Audre Lorde, and more. Including several current personal essays from inspiring young LGBTQ+ people, this book encourages readers to celebrate their identity and the identities of the people around them. Don’t just learn about LGBTQ+ history, take pride in it!
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Gottlieb, Iris
Seeing Gender: An Illustrated Guide to Identity and Expression. 2022 (Young Adult Nonfiction).
This title is an exploration of how we express and understand the complexities of gender today. Thoroughly researched and fully illustrated, this book demystifies an intensely personal, yet universal, facet of humanity. Illustrating a different concept on each set of pages, queer author and artist Iris Gottlieb touches on history, science, sociology, and her own experience. This book is an essential tool for understanding and participating in a necessary cultural conversation, bringing clarity and reassurance to the confusing process of navigating one’s identity. Regardless of specific identity labels, this book is a must-read for intelligent, curious, and considerate people who care about how society talks about gender and sexuality in the 21st century. Although not published exclusively for a youth audience, this book is relevant to and accessible for middle and high school students.
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Grimm, Gavin and Kyle Lukoff
Illustrated by: J. Yang
If You’re a Kid Like Gavin. 2022 (Picture Book).
This celebratory and empowering story from young trans activist Gavin Grimm and author Kyle Lukoff follows the true story of how a young boy stood up for himself and made history along the way. When you’re a kid like Gavin Grimm, you know yourself better than anyone else. Gavin knew that he was a boy, even if others saw him as a girl. So when his school took away his right to use the boy’s restroom, Gavin knew he had a big decision to make, because there are always more choices than the ones others give you. Gavin chose to correct others when they got his pronouns wrong. He asked to be respected and stood up for himself. Gavin proved that his school had violated his constitutional rights and the Supreme Court upheld his case, bringing about a historic win for trans rights. There are many kids out there, some just like Gavin Grimm, and they might be any young reader to whom you hand this book.
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Lawson, Jamie
Illustrated by: Eve Lloyd Knight
Rainbow Revolutions: Power, Pride, and Protest in the Fight for Queer Rights. 2020 (Middle Grade Anthology).
This is a beautifully illustrated book featuring vignettes about moments in history that became important steps toward progress in the long fight for queer rights. On June 28, 1969, around one o’clock in the morning, New York City Police raided the Stonewall Inn, a bar in Greenwich Village, New York. What happened that night would come to be a defining moment in the LGBTQ+ rights movement and for queer people everywhere. From the impassioned speeches of bold activists Karl Ulrichs and Audre Lorde to the birth of Pride and queer pop culture, this book charts the powerful moments of the LGBTQ+ rights movement and celebrates the courageous individuals who stood up and demanded recognition.
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Pitman, Gayle E.
The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets. 2019 (Middle Grade Nonfiction).
This book chronicles the historical accounts of the Stonewall Riots, a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ+ community in reaction to a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. The riots are now known as the spark that ignited the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Pitman’s text describes American queer history leading up to the riots, the events themselves, and the aftermath, and includes her interviews of participants and witnesses, including a woman who was ten years old at the time. Richly illustrated, this book includes contemporary photos, newspaper clippings, and other archival objects. A timely and valuable read, this informational account helps readers to understand the history and legacy of the LGBTQ+ liberation movement.
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Prager, Sarah
Illustrated by: Cheryl Thuesday
Kind Like Marsha: Learning from LGBTQ+ Leaders. 2022 (Picture Book).
This nonfiction picture book celebrates 14 amazing and inspirational LGBTQ+ change makers and forward thinkers throughout history. Figures like Harvey Milk, Sylvia Rivera, and Audre Lorde are accompanied by Leonardo da Vinci, Frida Kahlo, and more in this striking collection of mini biographies. With a focus on a positive personality attribute of each of the historical figures, such as boldness, intelligence, and creativity, etc., readers will be encouraged to be brave like the Ugandan activist fighting for LGBTQ+ rights against all odds and to be kind like Marsha P. Johnson who took care of her trans community on the New York City streets. Thuesday’s colorful illustrations incorporate visual symbols that relate to each subject and bring queer history to light.
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Sanders, Rob
Illustrated by: Steven Salerno
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag. 2018 (Picture Book).
In this deeply moving picture book about a true story, young readers will learn about the life of the rainbow Pride Flag, from its beginnings in 1978 with social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker to its role in today’s world. Beginning with a brief profile of Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay lawmaker in the United States, the text highlights the origins of the pride flag as a new symbol of pride in the diversity of queer identities. Sanders’s stirring text and Salerno’s evocative images combine to tell a remarkable story of love, hope, equality, and pride. This book is the perfect primer for young readers about the origins of a key symbol of the contemporary queer rights movement.
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Sanders, Rob
Illustrated by: Jamey Christoph
Stitch by Stitch: Cleve Jones and the AIDS Memorial Quilt. 2021 (Picture Book).
Like the blanket that his great-grandmother made for him as a boy, and the friends he found in San Francisco as a young man, and the idea for a monument sewn of fabric and thread, Cleve Jones’ extraordinary life seemed to have been stitched together piece by piece. Mentored by Harvey Milk, Jones first found the inspiration for what became the AIDS Memorial Quilt during a candlelight memorial for Milk in 1985. Together with friends, Cleve created the first panels for the quilt in 1987. The AIDS Memorial Quilt grew to be one of the largest ever public arts projects and helped grow awareness of HIV and AIDS. Jones’ shining achievement, the quilt is an iconic symbol of hope and remembrance. Since its creation, the quilt has toured around the world and been seen by millions. This evocative biography is a tender tribute to Jones’ life of advocacy and the positive effects of a community working towards a common goal.
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Schrefer, Eliot
Illustrated by: Jules Zuckerberg
Queer Ducks (and Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality. 2022 (Young Adult Nonfiction).
This groundbreaking illustrated nonfiction title is a well-researched and teen-friendly exploration of the range of queer behaviors observed in animals. A quiet revolution has been underway in recent years, with study after study revealing substantial same-sex sexual behavior in animals: from albatrosses to bonobos to clownfish to doodlebugs. In clear and witty prose (aided by humorous comics from Zuckerberg) Schrefer uses science, history, anthropology, and sociology to communicate the diversity of sexual behavior in the animal world. Interviews with researchers in the field offer further insights for readers and aspiring scientists. Queer behavior in animals is as diverse, complex, and as natural as it is in our own species.
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Wind, Lee
No Way, They Were Gay? Hidden Lives and Secret Loves. 2021 (Young Adult Nonfiction).
History sounds really official, like it’s all fact, but that’s not necessarily true. History was crafted by the people who recorded it. Sometimes, those historians were biased against, didn’t notice, or couldn’t even imagine people different from themselves. As such, history has often left out the stories of LGBTQ+ people: men who loved men, women who loved women, people who loved without regard to gender, and people who lived outside gender binaries. Historians have even obscured the lives and loves of some of the world’s most famous people, from William Shakespeare and Pharaoh Hatshepsut to Cary Grant and Eleanor Roosevelt. This well-documented book is a fascinating journey through primary sources, including poetry, memoir, news clippings, and images of ancient artwork, to explore the hidden queer lives and loves of two dozen historical figures.
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References / Resources

American Library Association’s Banned & Challenged Books Page
https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks
This landing page on the ALA’s website features important information about book challenges in the United States, such as lists of the most challenged books, statistics, and advice for reporting censorship and finding support.

Freedom to Read Foundation
https://www.ftrf.org/
The Freedom to Read Foundation is a non-profit legal and educational organization affiliated with the American Library Association. The foundation focuses on educational outreach and legal actions that support the first amendment and uphold libraries’ rights to collect materials and individuals’ rights to access information.

National Coalition Against Censorship – Action Kit
https://ncac.org/resource/book-censorship-toolkit
NCAC has compiled a helpful Book Censorship Action Kit to help kids, parents, teachers, and librarians defend every child’s right to read. The 23-page document is free to use, and includes clear language about what censorship is, our first amendment rights, the common objections to books, and advocacy tips.

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Poverty, Hunger, and Homelessness in Youth Literature

The impacts of rising inflation and concerns about an economic recession have turned national attention towards the number of Americans who are experiencing poverty, hunger, and homelessness. According to the Census Bureau, about 37.9 million Americans, or 11.6% of the population, lived below the federal poverty line in 2021. Children and youth experience poverty at a higher rate than adults, with 16.9% of children under the age of 18 living below the poverty threshold.

What can be done to reduce the harmful impacts of poverty in the United States? There are many actionable steps that anyone can take, such as volunteering with organizations that directly support people experiencing hunger and homelessness as well as advocating for stronger social safety nets at all levels of government. To have a broader societal impact, another thing we can do is to spread awareness about lived experiences of poverty. Although it is an underrepresented topic, youth literature stories about hunger and homelessness can foster empathy and encourage readers to take action. The titles on this list include informational books about poverty, novels that feature nuanced conversations about socioeconomic status, and poignant memoirs about childhood experiences with hunger. Don’t turn away from this important issue.

Binns, Barbara
Courage. 2018 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Ever since T’Shawn’s father passed away, his mother has been struggling to support the family financially. When he’s offered a spot on a diving team at the local private swim club, he knows that joining would only add another bill to the pile. But T is a good student and never gets into trouble, so he thinks his mom might be supportive, until he learns that his older brother, Lamont, is getting released early from prison. Luckily, T’Shawn gets a scholarship, and he can put all his frustration into diving practices. When crime rates ramp up in the neighborhood and people begin to suspect Lamont, T’Shawn worries that maybe his brother hasn’t left his troublesome past behind after all. He tries to hold on to the hope that they can put the broken pieces of their relationship back together. This poignant novel about race, class, and second chances, is perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds.
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Brandt, Lois
Illustrated by: Vin Vogel
Maddi’s Fridge. 2014 (Picture Book).
With a non-judgmental tone, this story raises awareness about poverty and hunger. Best friends Sofia and Maddi live in the same neighborhood, go to the same school, and play in the same park, but while Sofia’s fridge at home is full of nutritious food, the fridge at Maddi’s house is empty. Sofia learns that Maddi’s family doesn’t have enough money to buy food and promises Maddi she’ll keep this knowledge a secret. But Sofia wants to help her friend, so she’s faced with a difficult decision: to keep her promise or tell her parents about Maddi’s empty fridge. Filled with bright illustrations, this story addresses the complex, significant issue of poverty with honesty and sensitivity while instilling important lessons in friendship, empathy, and helping others. Information at the end of the book includes six effective ways for children to help fight hunger and a list of organizations working to decrease food insecurity.
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Glaser, Karina Yan
A Duet for Home. 2022 (Middle Grade Fiction).
This novel is told from the dual perspectives of sixth-graders June and Tyrell, two biracial children living in a homeless shelter. As their friendship grows over a shared love of classical music, June and Tyrell confront a new housing policy that puts homeless families in danger. June is arriving at the shelter Huey House for the first time. As if losing her home weren’t enough, she also isn’t allowed to bring her precious viola inside. Before the accident last year, her dad saved a year’s worth of tip money to buy her viola, and she’s not going to let it go. Tyrell has been at Huey House for three years and gives June a glimpse of the good things about living there: friendship, hot meals, and a classical musician next door. The stakes are high as Tyrell and June try to work together to oppose the harsh policy, because if they can’t, families might be forced out of Huey House before they are ready.
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Gunti, Erin
Illustrated by: Esteli Meza
A Place to Stay: A Shelter Story. 2019 (Picture Book).
This simple, poignant story shows readers a women’s homeless shelter through the perspective of a young girl. Together, the girl and her mother use their imaginations to reduce and transform the young one’s anxiety and discomfort as they acclimate to their new environment. The book includes factual end pages with more information about the many reasons people experience homelessness and the resources available to help. Without glossing over the tough realities of housing instability, this story is encouraging and highlights the bond between mother and child.
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McDonnell, Christine
Illustrated by: Victoria Tentler-Krylov
Sanctuary: Kip Tiernan and Rosie’s Place, the Nation’s First Shelter for Women. 2022 (Picture Book).
When Kip Tiernan was growing up during the Great Depression, she would help her granny cook food for the men who came to their door asking for help. In her adulthood, as Kip continued to serve food to hungry people, she noticed something peculiar: huddled at the back of serving lines were women dressed as men. At the time, most people believed that there were no women experiencing homelessness. Kip knew that wasn’t the case, as she witnessed women sleeping on park benches and searching for food in trash cans. Kip decided to create a place to serve the needs of these women: a shelter with no questions asked, no required chores, just good meals and warm beds. Kip persevered to convince the city government of Boston to allow her to open Rosie’s Place, the nation’s first homeless shelter for women.
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Nielsen-Fernlund, Susin
No Fixed Address. 2018 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Almost thirteen-year-old Felix Knutsson has a knack for trivia. His favorite game show is Who What Where When. Felix’s mom, Astrid, is nurturing but frequently loses jobs and has mounting debt. When they get evicted from their most recent grungy apartment, they have to move into a van. Astrid urges Felix to keep their new living situation a secret. Astrid manages to enroll Felix in a nice new school despite their lack of a fixed address, but she warns him that if he tells anyone about living in a van, even his new school friends, he’ll be put in foster care. As their circumstances go from bad to worse, Felix gets a chance to audition for a junior edition of his favorite game show. He’s determined to make it happen because winning the cash prize could make everything okay again, but things don’t always work out according to plan.
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Ogle, Rex
Free Lunch. 2019 (Middle Grade Graphic Memoir).
Instead of giving him lunch money, Rex’s mom has signed him up for free lunches. As a poor kid in a wealthy school district, the other kids impatiently wait in line behind him as he tries to explain to the cashier that he’s on the free meal program. The lunch lady is hard of hearing, so Rex has to shout. This memoir is the story of Rex’s efforts to navigate the beginning of sixth grade with the added stress of poverty: who to sit with, not being able to join the football team, a handmade Halloween costume, and the persistent pangs of hunger. His mom and her boyfriend are out of work, and life at home is punctuated by outbursts of violence. Halfway through the fall, his family is evicted and ends up in government-subsidized housing right next to the school. Rex lingers at the end of last period every day until the buses have left, so no one will see where he lives. Unsparing and realistic, this memoir is a true, timely, and essential story that illuminates the lived experience of poverty in America.
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Phi, Bao
Illustrated by: Thi Bui
A Different Pond. 2017 (Picture Book).
In this atmospheric picture book, author and poet Bao Phi draws on his memories of growing up as the youngest child of Vietnamese refugees living in America. As a young boy, Bao Phi and his father awoke early, hours before his dad’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not for fun. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him stories about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam. Beautiful illustrations by Bui, who also created the graphic memoir The Best We Could Do, are filled with details and cultural specificity that support the storytelling.
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Roberts, Jillian & Jaime Casap
Illustrated by: Jane Heinrichs
On Our Street: Our First Talk about Poverty. 2018 (Picture Book).
This book is a gentle introduction to the issue of poverty from the World Around Us series of informational picture books and explores the realities of people living with inadequate resources. Using straightforward language, the text covers topics like mental illness, homelessness, and refugee status as they are connected to this issue. The format makes this book easy-to-digest, as each two-page spread addresses a question a young person may ask about poverty, such as “I go to the doctor whenever I get sick. Why doesn’t everyone do that?” Quotes from individuals and organizations such as UNICEF are included throughout to add further perspective on the topic of poverty, and the text emphasizes ways to help solve the problem.
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Yang, Kelly
Front Desk. 2018 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Ten-year-old Mia Tang has a lot of secrets. First, she lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, Mia works at the front desk of the Calivista Motel on her own and tends to its guests. Second, her parents harbor immigrants in the hotel. If the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting the immigrants stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tang family will be doomed. Third, Mia wants to be a writer. But her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language, meaning she must pursue her dream in secret. It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams? This is the first book in a series of popular stories.
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References / Resources

American Psychological Association: “Exploring the mental health effects of poverty, hunger, and homelessness on children and teens.”
https://www.apa.org/topics/socioeconomic-status/poverty-hunger-homelessness-children

This story from the APA details relevant statistics about children experiencing poverty and explains in simple terms the research about the lasting mental health effects of the adverse experiences of poverty, hunger, and homelessness in childhood.

U.S. Census Bureau: “Poverty rate of children higher than the national rate, lower for older populations”
https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2022/10/poverty-rate-varies-by-age-groups.html

This article from the Census Bureau outlines the differences among poverty rates by age in the United States. The story highlights relevant statistics from recent years and includes maps of the varying rates of poverty geographically.

KF

Rhythm, Rhyme, and Time: Youth Literature for National Poetry Month

Poetry may seem intimidating (cue flashbacks to analyzing meter in English class), but the expressive nature of poetry makes children’s verse books exceptionally emotive and interesting. Every year since 1996, the Academy of American Poets has led a national effort during the month of April to recognize the importance of poetry, an event they claim has grown to become the largest literary celebration in the world! Poetry is hard to define, but characteristics like rhythm, rhyme, repetition, and form are important for composing verse. Poets also tend to push the boundaries of language and meaning through devices like metaphors, imagery, and wordplay. The children’s and young adult books on this list include picture books written as musical poems, poetry anthologies, and middle grade or young adult novels in verse. Use these books as inspiration and consider the question: what are some fun ways you can celebrate language and poetry this month?

Alexander, Kwame
Illustrated by: Ekua Holmes
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. 2017 (Picture Book).
This picture book anthology offers a glorious ode to the poets who have sparked a sense of wonder across the world and throughout time. Out of gratitude for the poet’s art form, Newbery Award-winning author and poet Kwame Alexander, along with contributors Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, presents original poems that pay tribute to twenty famed poets who have made the authors’ hearts sing and their minds wonder. Ekua Holmes’ vibrant mixed-media illustrations complete the celebration and invite the reader to listen, wonder, and perhaps even pick up a pen.
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Elliott, Zetta
Illustrated by: Loveis Wise
Say Her Name. 2020 (Young Adult Poetry Collection).
Inspired by the #SayHerName campaign launched by the African American Policy Forum, these poems pay homage to victims of police brutality as well as the activists proclaiming that Black Lives Matter. Elliott incorporates poets from the past two centuries into this collection to create a chorus of voices celebrating the creativity, resilience, and bravery of Black women and girls. This collection features forty-nine powerful poems, four of which are tribute poems inspired by the works of Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, and Phillis Wheatley. Powerful and encouraging, this poetry collection will deeply engage older teen readers.
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Engle, Margarita
Your Heart, My Sky: Love in a Time of Hunger. 2021 (Young Adult Fiction).
The residents of Cuba are living in “el periodo especial en tiempos de paz,” the special period in times of peace. That’s what the government insists that this era must be called, but the truth behind these words is starvation. Liana can’t find enough to eat. Yet hunger has also made her brave: she finds the courage to skip a summer of so-called volunteer farm labor, even though she risks government retaliation. In the same area, a quiet, handsome boy named Amado similarly refuses to comply, so he wanders alone, trying to discover scarce sources of food. A chance encounter with a dog brings Liana and Amado together. United in hope and hunger, they soon find that their feelings for each other run deep. Love can feed their souls and hearts, but is it enough to withstand “el periodo especial?” This young adult novel in verse from celebrated poet Margarita Engle will stay with readers long after they turn the final page.
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Gorman, Amanda
Illustrated by: Loren Long
Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem. 2021 (Picture Book).
This lyrical picture book is a rallying-cry, as the opening page shows a Black girl playing a guitar, singing: “I can hear change humming / In its loudest, proudest song. / I don’t fear change coming, / And so I sing along.” In this stirring, much-anticipated picture book by inaugural Youth Poet Laureate and activist Amanda Gorman, anything is possible when we bring our voices together. As a young girl leads a cast of characters on a musical journey, they learn that they have the power to make changes, big or small, in the world, in their communities, and most importantly, in themselves.
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Guidroz, Rukhsanna
Illustrated by: Fahmida Azim
Samira Surfs. 2021 (Middle Grade Fiction).
This middle grade novel in verse is about Samira, a twelve-year-old Rohingya refugee living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, who finds peace, empowerment, and sisterhood in a local surf club for girls. Samira thinks of her life as before and after: before the burning and violence in Burma (now Myanmar), when she and her best friend would play outside, and after, when her family was forced to flee. Now, months after rebuilding a life in Bangladesh with her family, there’s before Samira noticed the surfer girls, and after, when she decides she’ll become one. With her brother’s help, Samira overcomes her fear of the water and begins surfing lessons in secret. She befriends the Bengali surfer girls and hears about a kids’ surf contest that could change her life. As more Rohingya seek refuge nearby and the dynamics of her community change, it soon becomes harder for Samira to keep her secret, potentially putting her family at risk.
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Kooser, Ted and Connie Wanek
Illustrated by: Richard Jones
Marshmallow Clouds: Two Poets at Play among Figures of Speech. 2022 (Picture Book).
A breezy tour through the worlds of imagery and metaphor, this quietly striking collection of thirty poems, organized by the four elements, is about art and reality, fact and fancy. Look around: what do you see? A clown balancing a pie in a tree, or an empty nest perched on a leafless branch? As Wanek alludes to in her afterword, sometimes the simplest sensory experiences stimulate our imaginations and ask to be represented in the alchemical language of poetry. This compilation turns elements of the everyday, like cow pies, lazy afternoons, and pillowy white marshmallows, into poetic gold. A witty and timeless collaboration that represents both the grandeur of the natural world and the mundane moments of daily life, this beautifully illustrated collection is perfect for poetry fans of all ages.
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Kuo, Jane
In the Beautiful Country. 2022 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Set in the 1980s, this middle grade novel in verse is about a young Taiwanese immigrant to the United States who must face the stark difference between dreams and reality. Ten-year-old Anna can’t wait to move to the “beautiful country,” which is the Chinese term for America. Although she’s only ever known life in Taiwan, she can’t help but brag about the move to her friends. Unfortunately, once she arrives, the beautiful country doesn’t resemble what Anna had pictured. Her family can only afford a tiny apartment, she faces bullies at school, and she struggles to understand the new language. To make matters worse, the restaurant that her parents poured their savings into is barely staying afloat. The version of America that Anna is experiencing is nothing like her dreams. How will she be able to make the beautiful country her home?
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Nadim
Introduction by: Yasmine Shamma
Illustrated by: Yasmeen Ismail
Take Off Your Brave: The World Through the Eyes of a Preschool Poet. 2022 (Picture Book).
Four-year-old author Nadim puts his thoughts on paper and gives us a glimpse of how he sees the world: filled with glitter, magical boxes, and cuddles with Mom. His perspective depicts a realm where school smells like daffodils and honey (and sometimes dirty socks), where Wednesdays are rainbow-colored, where the fish in the sea make a soothing sound, and where everyone has love, even people who are sometimes mean. The poems in this anthology make for joyful reading and are paired with Ismail’s energetic, child-friendly artwork that invites readers to wholeheartedly enter Nadim’s world. Simultaneously funny and tender, gentle and zany, this anthology may just persuade readers young and old to unleash the poet within.
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Paul, Miranda (editor)
Illustrated by: Marlena Myles
Thanku: Poems of Gratitude. 2019 (Picture Book Anthology).
This poetry anthology explores a wide range of ways to be grateful, with poems by a diverse group of contributors, including Joseph Bruchac, Margarita Engle, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Naomi Shihab Nye, Charles Waters, and Jane Yolen. Each writer uses a different poetic form and explores many ways of embodying thankfulness, from gratitude for a puppy, to gratitude for family, and gratitude for the sky. Myles’ gorgeous, colorful illustrations showcase a variety of perspectives, including broad landscapes and intimate close-ups. This poetry collection will be meaningful for readers during any season, not just Thanksgiving.
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Salazar, Aida
Compiled by: Alina Chau
Illustrated by: Various artists
In the Spirit of a Dream: Thirteen Stories of American Immigrants of Color. 2021 (Picture Book).
Triumphant and inspiring, this picture book is a tribute to American immigrants of color, written in poems and illustrated by thirteen first- and second-generation immigrant artists. In the spirit of a dream, many immigrants of color traverse continents, oceans, and borders, to move to the United States in pursuit of opportunity. The American immigrants of color featured here range from world-famous to local heroes. The biographies include engineer and astronaut Anousheh Ansari; Paralympic athlete and entrepreneur Alejandro Albor; jazz musician Candido Camero; dancer Conceiçao Damasceno; basketball player Dikembe Mutombo; politician Ilhan Omar; environmental activist Juana Guttierez; cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and the Undocupoets, a group of undocumented poets.
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Warga, Jasmine
Other Words for Home. 2019 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Twelve-year-old Jude never imagined she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind in Syria. When things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother move to Cincinnati to live with relatives. At first, everything in America seems overwhelming: too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t prepared her for starting school in the US, including her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. This life also brings unexpected surprises: there are new friends, a whole new extended family, and a school musical that Jude might just audition for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as her true self. This middle grade novel in verse is heartwarming and profound, and garnered the prestigious recognition of a Newbery Honor.
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Resources / References
Academy of American Poets: National Poetry Month
https://poets.org/national-poetry-month
Find more information about the events, activities, and social media campaigns happening during National Poetry Month on this page of the Academy of American Poets’ website.

KF

Accessibility, Neurodiversity, and Disability Rights: It’s Disability Awareness Month!

March is Disability Awareness Month! Disability is a broad umbrella term, encompassing lived experiences ranging from blindness or visual impairment to post-traumatic stress disorder. Almost a quarter of the population in the United States is estimated to be living with a disability according to the CDC. This month is an opportunity to learn more about disability experiences and to contemplate how to support the disability rights movement, which seeks to expand accessibility and create equal opportunities for employment, housing, and education. The children’s and young adult books on this list feature stories about hearing loss, autism, ADHD, dyslexia, cerebral palsy, and anxiety. To find more youth literature with disability representation, take a look at the winners and honorees of the Schneider Family Book Award, which “honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child or adolescent audiences.” The link to the award page can be found at the end of this post.

Antrobus, Raymond
Illustrated by: Polly Dunbar
Can Bears Ski? 2020 (Picture Book).
Little Bear feels the world around him. He feels the floor shake when someone stomps to get his attention, but something is missing. Little Bear is not sure what is happening. Confusingly, his family and everyone around him seem to be consistently asking: “Can bears ski?” Then Dad Bear takes him to see an audiologist and they learn that Little Bear has been experiencing deafness. With new hearing aids, he discovers that “Can bears ski?” is actually “Can you hear me?” His new world is loud and will take some getting used to, but with the love and support of Dad Bear, Little Bear will find his way.
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Burnell, Cerrie
Illustrated by: Lauren Baldo
I Am Not a Label: 34 Disabled Artists, Thinkers, Athletes and Activists from Past and Present. 2020 (Picture Book).
This book profiles 34 disabled artists, thinkers, athletes, and activists. Learn about how these iconic people have overcome obstacles, found pride in their identities, and paved the way for others to succeed. These short biographies tell the stories of people who have faced unique challenges which have not stopped them from becoming trailblazers, innovators, advocates, and makers. Each person is a leading figure in their field, be it sport, science, math, art, or the world of pop. The profiles include Henri Matisse, Temple Grandin, Frida Kahlo, Demi Lovato, and more. Reading this picture book anthology of disability experiences will challenge readers’ preconceptions of disability and mental health with the eye-opening tales of these remarkable people.
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Cotterill, Samantha
This Beach Is Loud! 2019 (Picture Book).
Patience, understanding, and an anxiety-reducing exercise save the day at the beach when a young child’s excitement turns into sensory overload. Going to the beach is thrilling, but it can also be busy and loud. Sand can feel hot, itchy, or sticky, and it gets everywhere! In this sweet picture book, a sensitive boy gets overwhelmed by all the sights, sounds, and sensations at the beach. Luckily, this kiddo’s dad has a trick up his sleeve to help his son face these unexpected obstacles. Combining accessible storytelling and playful design, this story gently offers practical advice for coping with experiences that are new to sensitive children on and off the autism spectrum.
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Hughes, Alison
Fly. 2022 (Young Adult Fiction).
In this powerful novel in free verse, Felix Landon Yarrow (with the initials F.L.Y., resulting in the nickname “Fly”), a fourteen-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, is captivated by the noble, chivalrous ideals of knighthood inspired by Don Quixote. When he fears that a school villain, Carter, poses a danger to his lady love, Daria, he knows rescuing her must be his quest. Using his wits and his own unique powers, he constructs an elaborate plot meant to culminate with him on his “trusty steed” (his wheelchair) triumphantly conquering his enemy and saving his “damsel in distress.” Alas, for this brave knight, as for most teenagers, plans often have a way of going awry. This is a moving story of courage, connection and self-discovery. In the spare first-person narrative, Felix’s sarcastic and self-aware voice explores how it feels to be constrained by the world’s preconceptions.
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Kapit, Sarah
Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! 2020 (Middle Grade Fiction).
In this epistolary middle grade novel, eleven-year-old Vivy Cohen will not let anything stop her from playing baseball, not when she has a major-league pitcher as her pen pal. Ever since her hero, star pitcher VJ Capello, taught her how to throw a knuckleball at a family fun day for kids with autism, she has been perfecting her pitch. Now she knows she is ready to play on a real team. When her social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone she knows, she writes to VJ and tells him everything about how much she wants to be a pitcher, and how her mom says she can’t because she is a girl and because she is autistic. Then two amazing things happen: Vivy meets a Little League coach who invites her to join his team and VJ starts writing back.
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LeZotte, Ann Clare
Illustrated by: Julie Morstad
Show Me a Sign. 2020 (Middle Grade Fiction).
The year is 1805 and eleven-year-old Mary Lambert has always felt safe and protected on her beloved island of Martha’s Vineyard. Her great-grandfather was an early English settler and the first deaf islander. Now, over a hundred years later, many people there, including Mary, are deaf, and nearly everyone can communicate in sign language. Mary has never felt isolated, but recent events have delivered winds of change. Mary’s brother died, leaving her family shattered. Tensions over land disputes are mounting between English settlers and the Wampanoag people. A cunning young scientist has arrived, hoping to discover the origin of the island’s prevalent deafness. His maniacal drive to find answers soon renders Mary a “live specimen” in a cruel experiment. Mary’s endeavor to save herself is at the core of this novel. An author’s note shares more details about sign language and deaf education.
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McGovern, Kate
Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen. 2021 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Eleven-year-old Maple Mehta-Cohen has been keeping a secret: she can’t read very well. She has an impressive vocabulary and loves dictating stories into her recorder (especially the adventures of a daring sleuth who’s half Indian and half Jewish like Maple herself), but words on the page just don’t seem to make sense to her. Despite all Maple’s clever tricks to hide her troubles with reading, her teacher notices, and now Maple has to repeat fifth grade. Maple is devastated. What will her friends think? Will they forget about her? She uses her storytelling skills to convince her classmates that she’s staying back as a special teacher’s assistant (because of budget cuts, you know). As Maple navigates the loss of old friendships, the possibility of new ones, and facing her reading challenges head-on, her deception becomes harder to keep up. Can Maple begin to recognize her own strengths, and to love herself (and her brain) just the way she is? Readers who have faced their own trials with school, friendships, or the experience of dyslexia or other learning disabilities will enjoy this heartwarming story and its bright, creative heroine.
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McNicoll, Elle
Show Us Who You Are. 2022 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Twelve-year-old Cora is autistic, but because she gets bullied by her classmates and patronized by her teacher, she often tries to imitate neurotypical behaviors. When Cora’s brother drags her along to his boss’s house, she doesn’t expect to strike up a friendship with Adrien, son of the intimidating CEO of Pomegranate Technologies. Adrien has ADHD and the two find refreshing companionship in their shared indifference towards social norms and expectations. As she becomes part of Adrien’s life, she is also drawn into the mysterious technological projects at Pomegranate. At first, she’s intrigued by them: Pomegranate is using AI to recreate real people in the form of a hologram after their death. As she digs deeper, however, she uncovers even darker secrets. Cora knows she must unravel their plans, but can she fight to make her voice heard, without losing her sense of self?
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Pimentel, Annette Bay
Illustrated by: Nabi H. Ali
All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything. 2020 (Picture Book).
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, Jennifer Keelan grew up facing the limitations others set for her. From a lack of cutaway curbs and bus lifts to being denied enrollment at her neighborhood school, Jennifer was continually excluded from living the life she wanted. After discovering the world of disability rights activism, she knew she had to use her voice to change things. When Jennifer was just eight years old, she participated in the Capitol Crawl: an act of defiance in which disability advocates who used wheelchairs crawled up the stairs of the United States Capitol. The image of young Jennifer crawling up the steps went viral and contributed to the pressure that coaxed Congress into passing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1989. This powerfully illustrated biography of Jennifer’s life is a celebration of youth activism and will show all children that they have the power to make a difference.
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Reynolds, Jason
Illustrated by: Raul the Third
Stuntboy, in the Meantime. 2021 (Middle Grade Graphic Novel).
Portico Reeves’s superpower is making sure all the other superheroes, like his parents and two best friends, stay super safe. He does this all in secret. No one in his civilian life knows he’s a superhero called Stuntboy! He lives in the biggest house on the block, maybe in the whole city, which basically makes it a castle, even though his mom calls it an apartment building. Behind all the many doors in the building live a bunch of different people who Stuntboy frequently saves. In fact, he’s the only reason the cat, New Name Every Day, has nine lives. All this is great except for Portico’s other secret: his parents are fighting all the time. They try to hide it by repeatedly telling Portico to go check on a neighbor “in the meantime,” but Portico knows “meantime” means his parents are entering the Mean Time and they’re about to start yelling at each other. It’s Portico’s superhero responsibility to save them, once he figures out how. All these secrets give Portico the “frets,” which his mom calls anxiety. Will Portico be able to move beyond his arch-nemesis who is determined to prove that there is nothing super about Portico at all?
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Resources / References

The Schneider Family Book Award

https://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/schneider-family-book-award

This award, administered yearly by the American Library Association, recognizes authors and illustrators for their artistic representation of the disability experience in youth literature.

KF

Picture Books to Honor Moments and Leaders in Black History

While Black stories and culture should be celebrated all year long, Black History Month is an opportunity to examine the moments in Black history that inform how we understand the world today. Moreover, Black history can be seen as both the periods of transformation and the influential people who changed the course of history. Because of the abundance of exceptional youth literature relevant to Black History Month, the list of titles in this blog post focuses on picture books, a versatile format that can be shared with people of all ages. Some of these picture books highlight the full scope of Black history in a trim page count, like Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson’s Caldecott-winning title, The Undefeated, that poignantly depicts the resilience and power of Black folks throughout eras of the past and present. Other stories hone in on pivotal leaders that broke barriers, such as Shirley Chisholm working to become the first Black woman to be elected to Congress. Read, learn, and share these stories to celebrate Black History Month.

Alexander, Kwame
Illustrated by: Kadir Nelson
The Undefeated. 2019 (Picture Book).
This picture book is an ode to the power and resilience of Black Americans in the United States. Alexander’s text is a poem that highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Nelson’s richly toned, photo-realistic oil paintings bring the poem to life, earning him the 2020 Caldecott Medal.
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Barretta, Gene
Illustrated by: Frank Morrison
The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver. 2020 (Picture Book).
When agricultural expert George Washington Carver was just a young child, he had a secret: a garden of his own. There, he rolled dirt between his fingers to check if plants needed more rain or sun. He protected roots through harsh winters, so plants could be reborn in the spring. He trimmed flowers, spread soil, and studied life cycles, and learned through observation and experimentation. It was in this garden that George’s love of nature sprouted into something so much more: his future. This picture book opens with Carver’s 1921 speech in front of a room of white men in the House of Representatives at a time when “African Americans were… treated as second-class citizens.” The rest of the book transports readers back to Carver’s dedication to his childhood farm, beginning in 1874. Morrison’s beautiful oil paint illustrations show Carver’s passion for agricultural sciences and commitment to racial equality.
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Clark-Robinson, Monica
Illustrated by: Frank Morrison
Let the Children March. 2018 (Picture Book).
In 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, thousands of African American children volunteered to march for their civil rights after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. In this semi-fictionalized picture book, an unnamed Black girl narrates her experiences at the massive nonviolent protest, which became known as the Children’s Crusade. At the march, the young people of Birmingham were harassed and beaten by police, attacked by police dogs, and many were sent to jail, including the narrator. Clark-Robinson’s poetic text immerses readers in the moment, illustrating why the unnerving but strategic decision to allow the impassioned young people to march, instead of adults, was so impactful. Facing fear, hate, and danger, these children used their voices to change the world.
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Cline-Ransome, Lesa
Illustrated by: James Ransome
Overground Railroad. 2020 (Picture Book).
As she climbs aboard the Silver Meteor train bound for New York, young Ruth Ellen embarks upon a journey toward a new life up North, which she can hardly begin to imagine. Stop by stop, the observant young narrator tells the story of her journey in poems, leaving behind the cotton fields and distant Blue Ridge Mountains. Each leg of the trip brings new revelations as scenes out the window of folks working in fields give way to the Delaware River, the curtain that separates the “colored car” is removed, and glimpses of the freedom and opportunity the family hopes to find come into view. Ransome’s mixed-media illustrations are full of bold color and texture, bringing Ruth Ellen’s journey to life, like the sprawling cotton fields and cramped train cars, the wary glances of other passengers, and the dark forest through which Frederick Douglass traveled towards freedom. This is a story, as Cline-Ransome notes, “of people who were running from and running to at the same time” as part of the Great Migration, and it’s a story that will stay with readers long after the final pages.
Q. SE. C615ov

Henderson, Leah
Illustrated by: Floyd Cooper
A Day for Rememberin’: Inspired by the True Events of the First Memorial Day. 2021 (Picture Book).
Inspired by true events and told through the eyes of a young boy, this is a deeply moving story about what is regarded as the first Memorial Day on May 1, 1865. Today is a special day. Eli knows it is important if he is allowed to miss a single second of school. He dresses up in his best clothes, Mama gathers the mayflowers, Papa straightens his hat, and together they join the crowds filling the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, with bouquets, crosses, and wreaths. Abolitionists, missionaries, teachers, military officers, and a sea of people of different races all march as one and sing for those who gave their lives while fighting for freedom during the Civil War. With poignant prose and powerful illustrations, this book shines light on the little-known history of this important holiday and reminds us never to forget the people who put their lives on the line for their country and for freedom.
Q. SE. H3837da

Johnson, Katherine G., Joylette Hylick, and Katherine Moore
Illustrated by: Charnelle Pinkney Barlow
One Step Further: My Story of Math, the Moon, and a Lifelong Mission. 2021 (Picture Book).
This picture book autobiography reveals what it was like for Katherine Johnson, a young Black mother of three and one of the now legendary “hidden figures” of NASA computing, to navigate the difficult world of the 1950s and ’60s and to succeed in an overwhelmingly white male industry. Johnson’s own narrative is complemented by the recollections of her two daughters about their mother’s work and insights about how she illuminated their paths, including one daughter’s fight for civil rights and another’s journey to become a NASA mathematician herself. The narrative weaves together Johnson’s personal story, her influence on her daughters’ formative years, their family’s fight for civil rights, and her lasting impact on NASA and space exploration. Barlow’s engaging illustrations incorporate elements of collage and show family photos of Johnson and her daughters, historical images, and even Johnson’s school report card.
Q. SB. J6338jo2

Lyons, Kelly Starling
Illustrated by: Keith Mallett
Sing a Song: How “Lift Every Voice and Sing” Inspired Generations. 2019 (Picture Book).
This stirring book celebrates the song known as the Black National Anthem and how it inspired five generations of a family. In 1900, in Jacksonville, Florida, two brothers, one of them the principal of a segregated, all-Black school, wrote the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” so his students could sing it for a tribute to Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. From that moment on, the song has provided inspiration and solace for generations of Black families. Parents passed it on to their children who sang it to their children and grandchildren. It has been sung during major moments of the Civil Rights Movement and at family gatherings and college graduations. Inspired by this song’s enduring significance, Lyons and Mallett beautifully tell a story about the generations of families who gained hope and strength from the song’s uplifting words.
Q. SE. L9956si

Todd, Traci N.
Illustrated by: Christian Robinson
Nina: A Story of Nina Simone. 2021 (Picture Book).
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in a small town in North Carolina, Nina Simone was a musical child. She sang before she talked and learned to play piano at a young age. With the support of her family and community, she received music lessons that introduced her to classical composers like Bach who influenced her for the rest of her musical life. She loved the way his music began softly and then tumbled to thunder, like her mother’s preaching, and in much the same way as her career. During her first performances under the name of Nina Simone, her voice was low and sweet. Yet, as the Civil Rights Movement gained steam, Nina’s voice soon became a thunderous roar as she raised her voice in powerful protest in the fight against racial inequality and discrimination. Robinson’s illustrations vibrantly depict the story of little Eunice who grew up to become an acclaimed singer with a bold, defiant, and exultant legacy.
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Weatherford, Carole Boston
Illustrated by: Michele Wood
Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom. 2020 (Picture Book).
Henry Brown wrote that long before he came to be known by the nickname Box, he “entered the world as a slave” in Richmond, Virginia in the 1800s. When he was an adult, his wife and children were sold away from him out of spite. Brown watched as his family left bound in chains, headed to the deeper South. What more could be taken from him? But then hope, and help, came in the form of the Underground Railroad. Escape! In concrete poems of six lines each, one line representing one side of a box, celebrated poet Weatherford powerfully narrates Brown’s story of how he came to send himself in a box from enslavement to freedom. Strikingly illustrated in rich hues and patterns by Wood, this book is augmented with historical records and an introductory excerpt from Brown’ own writing, as well as a time line, notes from the author and illustrator, and a bibliography.
Q. SB. B8782we

Williams, Alicia
Illustrated by: April Harrison
Shirley Chisholm Dared: The Story of the First Black Woman in Congress. 2021 (Picture Book).
Discover the story of the first Black woman elected to Congress and to run for president in this picture book biography. Meet Shirley, a little girl who asks way too many questions! After spending her early years on her grandparents’ farm in Barbados, she returns home to Brooklyn and immediately makes herself known. Shirley is an excellent student; she plays jazz piano instead of classical; she is spirited and opinionated and breaks her mother’s rules. As a young adult, she fights against the injustice she sees around her, affecting women and Black people. Soon she is running for state assembly and winning in a landslide. Three years later, she is on the campaign trail again, as the first Black woman to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. Her slogan? “Fighting Shirley Chisholm: Unbought and Unbossed!” Does she win? You bet she does.
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Beyond ‘Fake News:’ Media Literacy Education

Misinformation isn’t a new phenomenon, but with the high volume of information available on the internet, it has become an undeniable challenge to our contemporary society. Luckily, people can learn how to evaluate the trustworthiness of information sources with media literacy tools. For the 2022-2023 school year, the state of Illinois became the first in the nation to require media literacy education to be incorporated into high school curricula, thanks to a new bill passed by the legislature.

According to Yonty Friesem, a professor at Columbia College Chicago who helped inform the bill, there are five basic tenets of media literacy. The principles are: 1) effectively accessing information and understanding the landscape of available media, 2) analyzing and evaluating media information for trustworthiness and bias, 3) creating media, 4) reflecting on media consumption practices and societal impacts, and 5) social and civic responsibility.

To learn more about the new media literacy education mandate in Illinois, check out the resources at the bottom of this post.

Children’s and Young Adult Books

Duhig, Holly
Media and the News. 2019 (Middle Grade Nonfiction).
This concise book uses images and infographics to explain the media to middle grade readers. The book begins by defining media and news. Duhig then develops a timeline of the history of media, which makes it easy to track the changes and important innovations in media and technology over time. Other chapters explore jobs in the media, media bias, censorship, advertising, and identifying fake news. This is a dynamic introduction to media literacy for young readers and an insightful look at the role of the media in our society.
(Available online)

Grant, Joyce
Illustrated by: Kathleen Marcotte
Can You Believe It? How to Spot Fake News and Find the Facts. 2022 (Middle Grade Nonfiction).
Author Joyce Grant recognizes that most people get their information online. This book is a careful guide to discerning which digital sources of information to trust. This book takes a deep dive into how real journalism works, what fake news is, and how to spot the difference. Organized into chapters that explore fake news and why it’s so popular, how real news gets made, some common types of fake news, and how to investigate what you see online, this is a must-read guide for kids who spend time online. With hilarious examples and lively illustrations, this book teaches critical thinking skills and makes it fun. Thanks to two step-by-step guides to deconstructing fake news articles, and an additional article kids can use to test themselves, readers are empowered to build their media literacy skills. An engaging tone that never talks down to kids, and a mix of illustration styles, from comics to fake news examples, make tricky concepts appealing and accessible. Supported by an author’s note, a glossary, sources, and an index, this book contains everything kids need to become media literate.
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Grant, John
Debunk It! How to Stay Sane in a World of Misinformation. 2019 (Young Adult Nonfiction).
We live in an era of misinformation, much of it spread by people in prominent positions, including politicians, religious leaders, broadcasters, high-traffic bloggers, and, of course, websites. With frequent false or skewed statements coming from so many sources, how can anyone be expected to discover the truth? This book highlights ripped-from-the-headlines examples of misinformation, from climate change as a hoax to anti-vaccination sentiments, clearly explaining how to identify and debunk them. Grant also covers the rhetorical strategies bad actors use to influence media consumers, like logical fallacies, confirmation bias, and stereotyping. Originally published in 2015, this revised and updated edition includes a new “fake news” section and discusses how that term has become misappropriated. Although the subject matter can often be serious, the book is full of Grant’s trademark humor and perceptiveness that will keep teen readers interested.
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Gravel, Elise
Killer Underwear Invasion: How to Spot Fake News, Disinformation & Conspiracy Theories. 2022 (Middle Grade Graphic Nonfiction).
Can peanuts give you super strength? Were unicorns discovered on the moon? Did Martians really invade New Jersey? For anyone who has ever encountered outrageous stories like these and wondered whether they were true, this funny, yet informative book breaks down what fake news is, why people spread it, and how to tell what is true and what is not. With quirky illustrations and a humorous tone, Gravel brings her kid-accessible wit to the increasingly important subject of media literacy and equips younger readers with the skills needed to interact with global news.
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Jarrow, Gail
Spooked! How a Radio Broadcast and the War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America. 2018 (Young Adult Nonfiction).
Jarrow explores the famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast from 1938. She highlights the artists behind the broadcast, the broadcast itself, the aftermath, and the repercussions which remain relevant today. On the night of October 30, 1938, thousands of Americans panicked when they believed that Martians had invaded Earth. What seemed to be breaking news about an alien invasion was, in fact, a radio drama based on H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, performed by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre actors. Some listeners became angry once they realized they had been tricked, and the reaction to the broadcast sparked a national discussion about fake news, propaganda, and the role of new media in society.
S.791.4472 J296sp

Otis, Cindy L.
True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News. 2020 (Young Adult Nonfiction).
“Fake news” is not a new phenomenon. Otis, a former CIA analyst, takes readers through 3,000 years of history from the ancient Egyptians to the founding fathers to the present day to show the impact of misinformation over the centuries. She shares practical tips on how to navigate the world of digital information, including identifying doctored photos or clickbait, and how to make sense of the information we receive each day. Most importantly, readers will learn how to understand and see past their own biases, think critically about important issues, and place world events into context. Written in a concise, conversational manner, this book also includes a wealth of photos, informative inserts, and sidebars containing interesting facts to engage readers in critical thinking and analysis.
S.070.43 Ot4tr

Perdew, Laura
Information Literacy in the Digital Age. 2017 (Young Adult Nonfiction).
The flow of information through our modern digital world has led to many new challenges and controversies. Written for young adult readers in a serious tone, this book examines the challenges involved in seeking and evaluating information from the vast array of sources available through digital technology. The short chapters cover important topics such as the history of information literacy and its new requirements in the information age, finding and evaluating information, and ethics and responsibility in the digital world.
S.302.231 P4129i

Rex, Michael
Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots. 2020 (Picture Book).
What is the difference between a fact and an opinion? It can be a tricky thing to understand. Some things are facts, like the number of robots in this book. Other things are opinions, like which robot would make the best friend, or which robot dances best. Sometimes, to tell the difference between a fact and an opinion, you need to wait to get more information. That is because facts can be proven true or false, and opinions are things you feel and believe but that you cannot prove. This colorful, kid-friendly book clearly illustrates the distinction between facts and opinions (and robots), allowing for a fun and foundational media literacy lesson for younger readers.
Q. S.121.4 R329fa


Textbooks, Curriculum Guides, and Professional Development Resources

Hobbs, Renee
Media Literacy in Action: Questioning the Media. 2021.
Rapid convergence within the media environment has revolutionized the way people are communicating and using technology. Our relationship with media has never been so important nor so complex. To thrive in a media-saturated society, people need to ask critical questions about what we watch, see, listen to, read, and use. Covering topics from news and information to the internet to media consumption, this key textbook provides the tools to both empower and protect students as they navigate our increasingly complex media environment.
P63.M4 H635 2021

LaGarde, Jennifer and Darren Hudgins
Developing Digital Detectives: Essential Lessons for Discerning Fact from Fiction in the ‘Fake News’ Era. 2021.
By the authors of the bestselling Fact vs. Fiction, this book offers easy-to-implement lessons to engage students in becoming media literacy “digital detectives,” looking for clues, questioning motives, uncovering patterns, developing theories and, ultimately, delivering a verdict. This guidebook also includes: 1) lessons beyond the “fake news” protocols to determine information credibility, 2) examples for presenting media literacy skills to young people inside or outside of schools, 3) examinations of the connections between social-emotional learning and information literacy, and 4) ideas for integrating technology to create learning opportunities for students that are meaningful, memorable, and ripe for real-world applications.
CURR. 153.42 INTSTE2021

Rogow, Faith
Media Literacy for Young Children: Teaching Beyond the Screen Time Debates. 2022.
This book is about media literacy and screen usage, but more importantly, it is about how early childhood educators and professionals can prepare children for their digital future. This book is a first-of-its-kind guide for pre-service and currently practicing teachers and child care professionals looking for pedagogically sound and developmentally appropriate ways to help today’s children navigate their media-rich world with confidence, curiosity, and critical thinking. Detailed descriptions of media literacy competencies, along with dozens of activities, strategies, and tips designed for children ages 2–7, demonstrate how to integrate foundational skills, knowledge, and dispositions into existing routines as well as experiment with new lessons.
CURR. 302.23 NAEYC2022

References / Resources

NPR: “Illinois Now Requires Media Literacy Instruction in its High School Curriculum”
[https://www.npr.org/2022/09/14/1122895362/illinois-now-requires-media-literacy-instruction-in-its-high-school-curriculum]
This interview with Associate Professor of Civic Media at Columbia College Chicago, Yonty Friesem, includes information about the basic tenets of media literacy education and the anticipated impact of the new law requiring media literacy to be taught in Illinois high schools.

Illinois Civics Hub: “Media Literacy Toolkit”
[https://www.illinoiscivics.org/standards/media-literacy-toolkit/]
This media literacy toolkit from an organization supporting civics educators in Illinois provides details about the contents of Illinois House Bill 234, plus extensive lists of resources for educators to implement different types of media literacy lessons in classrooms.

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Tales and Tellings: Global Folktales to Share

As the winter season approaches, we all might be spending more time cozied up at home, but reading can take us anywhere in the world! These global folktales stem from cultural storytelling traditions around the world. Folktales are a broad genre of literature that emerges from oral storytelling practices in a particular cultural sphere. The relationship between the tale, the teller, and the audience may alter the form and content of a folktale over time. Although folktales naturally change as they are shared in different contexts, printed books capture a more stable version of the story. The folktales on this list come from countries like Finland, Japan, and Ghana, or broader regions like the Middle East and the Americas. Some are individual tales, some are collections of stories, and many are designed to be read aloud and shared with other listeners. Explore these tales and let your imagination take you to various corners of the world.

Ahokoivu, Mari
Translated by: Silja-Maaria Aronpuro
Oksi. 2021 (Young Adult Graphic Novel).
This graphic novel blends Finnish and Karelian mythology and folklore and presents the story in a visually stunning package. Umi, a mother bear, hunts and brings food home for her cubs. One of the cubs, Poorling, is a bit different from her brothers, and resembles a small humanoid figure. Mother keeps their family safe, but the forest is full of dangers. It is there that Mana lives, with her Shadow children, and above them all is Emuu, the great Grandma in the Sky. Poorling’s desperation to belong leads her to practice shapeshifting and other magic, until a violent moment changes everything. The art uses negative space and a minimal color palette to reflect emotional shifts and create a darkly beautiful atmosphere. From the heart of Finnish folklore comes a breathtaking tale of mothers, daughters, stars and legends, generational connection and trauma, and the old gods and the new.
S.741.5948 Ah68ok:E

Atwater, Barbara J., and Ethan J. Atwater
Illustrated by: Mindy Dwyer
How Raven Got His Crooked Nose: An Alaskan Dena’ina Fable. 2018 (Picture Book).
This hybrid format picture book (with graphic novel elements) is a modern retelling of a traditional Native American fable from the Dena’ina people. Framed as a tale told by grandmother to grandchild while performing traditional activities like foraging and fishing, this story represents the oral nature of folktales. Grandma describes Chulyen the trickster raven, who loses his nose one day, but vows to get it back. Luckily, he has some special powers to help him. Dwyer’s beautiful illustrations complement the tale that teaches readers an important lesson through Dena’ina mythology and includes a glossary of Dena’ina words for a glimpse into the cultural context of this story.
S.398.209798 At93ho

Crossley-Holland, Kevin
Illustrated by: Frances Castle
Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain & Ireland. 2019 (Young Adult Short Story Collection).
Ancient, rich, and strange, these magical and eerie tales from across Britain and Ireland have been passed down from generation to generation. A handsome, overconfident young man is swept up by a mysterious man on a horse and cast into a life-or-death adventure. A pair of green children emerge from a remote hollow and struggle to adapt to a strange new land. A dauntless farm girl finds that her fearlessness earns her a surprising reward. The folktales presented here are dark but humorous, lyrical yet earthy, and brief but emotionally impactful. This definitive collection of forty-eight familiar and lesser-known stories, retold by Crossley-Holland, opens a doorway to a lost world and shows the enduring power of language and imagination. The author meticulously cites the sources for the origins of these retellings in the book’s back matter.
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García Esperón, María
Illustrated by: Amanda Mijangos
Translated by: David Bowles
The Sea-Ringed World: Sacred Stories of the Americas. 2021 (Middle Grade Short Story Collection).
Fifteen thousand years before Europeans stepped foot in the Americas, people had already spread from tip to tip and coast to coast. Like all humans, these Native Americans sought to understand their place in the universe, the nature of their relationship to the divine, and the origin of the world into which their ancestors had emerged. The answers to these musings lay in their sacred stories, passed down through the generations. The talents of this book’s author, illustrator, and translator have woven together this collection of stories from nations and cultures across our two continents—the Sea-Ringed World, as the Aztecs called it—from the edge of Argentina all the way up to Alaska. The fifty-two stories in this collection convey resilience and hope, but sometimes contain events of sadness and tragedy. The limited color palette of the illustrations, rendered in blue, black, and white, leaves room for readers to imagine the details of the origins of these tales. The back matter includes a pronunciation guide, a culture guide, a map, and a glossary.
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Jones, Dan C.
Illustrated by: Weshoyot Alvitre
Living Ghosts & Mischievous Monsters: Chilling American Indian Stories. 2021 (Middle Grade Short Story Collection).
Hand this shiver-inducing collection of short stories to fans of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! Shadowy figures in the night. An owl’s cry on the wind. Monsters lurking at the edge of the wood. Some of the creatures in these pages might only have a message for you, but some are the stuff of nightmares. These thirty-two short stories—including tales passed down for generations and accounts that could have happened in the contemporary world—are collected from the thriving tradition of ghost stories from Indigenous cultures across North America. Prepare for stories of witches and walking dolls, hungry skeletons, La Llorona and Deer Woman, and other supernatural beings ready to chill you to the bone. Author Jones (Ponca Nation) tells of his own encounters and selects his favorite spooky, eerie, surprising, and spine-tingling stories, all paired with haunting art by Alvitre. Each story is attributed to either an individual or a tribe and is briefly prefaced with information about specific Indigenous beliefs that are important context for the story. These stories are not for the faint of heart, but scary story fans will be satisfied with the terror in these tales.
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Khalidi, Rodhan Al- (also known as Al Galidi, Rodaan)
Illustrated by: Geertje Aalders
Translated by: Laura Watkinson
The Three Princes of Serendip: New Tellings of Old Tales for Everyone. 2021 (Short Story Collection).
This wide-ranging collection of Middle Eastern folklore from an acclaimed Iraqi storyteller is paired with exquisite cut-paper art. The twenty folktales in this book have taken a long journey. Many have roots that stretch across Europe, Asia, and Africa, but when Al Galidi learned them in his homeland of Iraq, it was as Arabic folktales and as part of the Arabic storytelling tradition. When he migrated to the Netherlands, he shaped many of those tales into his debut book for children. Filled with wisdom about love and acceptance, and warnings against folly, these elegantly translated stories (many unknown in the United States) of donkeys and roosters, kings, sheikhs, and paupers are vibrantly illustrated by Aalders. These short stories, brief enough for elementary readers, are a rich and varied introduction to the world of Middle Eastern folklore.
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O’Neill, Richard and Katharine Quarmby
Illustrated by: Hannah Tolson
Ossiri and the Bala Mengro. 2017 (Picture Book).
A Traveller girl named Ossiri loves music and longs to have an instrument of her own, but her family cannot afford one. Drawing from her family’s tendency towards resourcefulness, she creates her own musical instrument from a willow branch and lots of recycled objects. She plays it enthusiastically, but it sounds terrible. Ignoring warnings not to awaken the ogre in the hills, Ossiri goes there to practice playing her instrument. Will she wake the ogre, and will it appreciate her playing? Written by a Romani storyteller, this original tale offers a fascinating insight into Travelling lifestyles and cultures. The text includes Roma words and phrases that are explained briefly in a glossary on the title page and the cadence of the story is perfect to read aloud. The illustrations are colorful and show many details of the tasks and activities of the Romani people.
S.398.2 On29o

Umezawa, Rui
Illustrated by: Mikio Fujita
Strange Light Afar: Tales of the Supernatural from Old Japan. 2015 (Young Adult Short Story Collection).
A bitterly jealous brother, a cold-hearted husband, a fraudulent merchant who meets his match in a supernatural river otter, a samurai who makes the ultimate sacrifice: the motives and pathologies underlying these traditional Japanese folktale characters are explored with haunting results. Prompted by the sometimes illogical and perplexing actions of traditional folktale characters (Why doesn’t the wolf kill Little Red Riding Hood right away?), experienced storyteller Umezawa revisits eight popular Japanese folktales, delving beneath their confusing plot lines to highlight the psychological motivations behind the characters’ actions. Tales of addiction, bravery, greed, abuse, and control—these stories take their inspiration from the great Japanese storytelling traditions. Evocative and haunting illustrations by Fujita add to the eerie beauty of this collection. A detailed afterword outlines the author’s approach and provides source material for each tale.
S.398.210952 Um2st

Umrigar, Thrity N.
Illustrated by: Khoa Le
Sugar in Milk. 2020 (Picture Book).
With lushly colorful illustrations, this picture book frames an ancient folktale about immigration within a contemporary setting. A young immigrant girl joins her aunt and uncle in a new country that is unfamiliar to her. She struggles with loneliness, and with a fierce longing for the culture and familiarity of home, until one day, her aunt takes her on a walk. As the pair strolls through their city park, the girl’s aunt begins to tell her an old tale about a time when a group of refugees arrived in a foreign land. The local king met them, determined to refuse their pleas for refuge. But due to the language barrier, the king filled a glass of milk and pointed to it to communicate that the land was full, with no room to accommodate the strangers. Then the leader of the group of refugees dissolved sugar in the glass of milk. His message showed that, like sugar in milk, the presence of new people in a country sweetens everyone’s lives. This folktale was a part of the author’s upbringing as a Parsi child in India and communicates a broader message of migration and belonging.
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Williamson, Emily
Gizo-Gizo! A Tale from the Zongo Lagoon. 2018 (Picture Book).
Gizo-Gizo the spider is a lazy, selfish fellow. When he starts a gold mine that pollutes the Zongo Lagoon and makes the other animals sick, naturally he ignores everyone else’s concerns. “Someday when I am rich, I will buy this place,” he tells them. “I can do whatever I want.” But when the fish groan with upset stomachs and the frogs wince from sore throats caused by the filthy water, Tortoise and Crab decide that things have gone too far. They devise a clever plan to teach their friend a lesson and make him clean up his mess. Originally written and illustrated by students from Cape Coast, Ghana, this community-created, contemporary folktale examines environmental sustainability and personal responsibility. With colorful illustrations inspired by West African textiles and a tale that includes Hausa words and phrases, it also provides a great platform for cross-cultural exploration.
Q. SE. W6765gi

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Not Boring! A Golden Age of Children’s Nonfiction

When you think of reading nonfiction in childhood, what is your first reaction? Do you imagine a dry, straightforward slog through information? If so, you might be one of many adults who assume that kids are not interested in reading informational books, even if you enjoy reading nonfiction titles yourself.

Children’s book author Melissa Stewart wants to counter this misconception by championing nonfiction books for children and young adults. Stewart frequently talks about the remarkable quality and variety of contemporary informational books published for young readers. She has outlined five distinct types of children’s nonfiction books: browsable, active, traditional, expository, and narrative. Contemporary children’s nonfiction authors can take many different approaches to making information engaging, such as using a guessing game format, displaying vibrant images to illustrate the concepts, or framing a story as a high-stakes competition, just to name a few! Recent research also indicates that young readers enjoy nonfiction books just as much or more than fiction books. To learn more about Melissa Stewart, the five types of nonfiction books, and research on children’s reading preferences, check out the resources linked at the end of this post. Give a book on this list to a young reader and see what they learn (and how much fun they have along the way)!

Balkan, Gabrielle
Illustrated by: Sam Brewster
Whose Bones? An Animal Guessing Game. 2020 (Board Book).
Set up as a guessing game with visual and narrative clues, this book invites the youngest readers to examine six animal skeletons and deduce to whom they belong. After introducing readers to the concepts of bones with illustrations of T-Rex and human skeletons, each subsequent page turn reveals a stark black-and-white image of a new animal skeleton and asks, “Who am I?” The answers are provided in vibrant, foldout reveals, each accompanied by read-aloud text that highlights the ways each animal’s bones and bodies are special. Don’t miss this creative team’s other book about skeletons for slightly older readers, called Book of Bones: 10 Record-Breaking Animals.
S.573.76 B199wh

Barone, Rebecca E. F.
Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica. 2021 (Middle Grade Nonfiction).
This gripping narrative nonfiction book chronicles two sets of groundbreaking expeditions to the South Pole that occurred more than one hundred years apart. In 1910, Captain Robert Scott prepared his crew for a trip that no one had ever completed: a journey to the South Pole. He pledged to get there any way he could, even if it meant looking death in the eye. Shortly before he ventured south, another intrepid explorer, Roald Amundsen, set his sights on the same goal. Suddenly two teams were competing to be the first to make history, and what was to be an historic expedition had become a perilous race. In 2018, Captain Louis Rudd readied himself for a similarly grueling task: the first unaided, unsupported solo crossing of the Antarctic continent. But little did he know that athlete Colin O’Brady was training for the same trek, and he was determined to beat Louis to the finish line. This story is perfect for young readers who are fans of grand adventure tales or learning about historic human accomplishments. The book also includes plenty of black-and-white photos that highlight the stunning Antarctic landscape.
S.919.89 B2687ra

Brew-Hammond, Nana Ekua
Illustrated by: Daniel Minter
Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky. 2022 (Picture Book).
Discover a world of creativity in this fascinating picture book that showcases the history and cultural significance of the color blue. For centuries, blue powders and dyes were some of the most sought-after materials in the world. Ancient Afghan painters ground mass quantities of sapphire rocks to use for their paints, while snails were harvested in Eurasia for the tiny amounts of blue that their bodies would release. And then there was indigo, which was so valuable that American plantations grew it as a cash crop using the labor of enslaved Africans. It wasn’t until 1905, when Adolf von Baeyer created a chemical blue dye, that blue could be used for anything and everything: most notably in the popular form of blue denim. Brew-Hammond also explores the emotions associated with the color, like feeling blue (sad) or out-of-the-blue (unexpected). With stunning illustrations by Caldecott Honor artist Daniel Minter, this vibrant and intriguing picture book follows one color’s journey through time and across the world.
Q. S.535.6 B7582bl

Cherry-Paul, Sonja
Illustrated by: Rachelle Baker
Other contributors: Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds.
Stamped (for Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You. 2021 (Middle Grade Nonfiction).
RACE. Uh-oh. The R-word. But talking about race is one of the most important things to learn how to do. This chapter book adapts Jason Reynold’s young adult remix of Ibram Kendi’s foundational book on the history of racism, Stamped from the Beginning, to be accessible for upper elementary and middle grade readers. Kids will discover where racist ideas came from, identify how they impact America today, and meet those who have fought racism with antiracism. Along the way, kids will learn how to notice and stamp out racist thoughts in their own lives. Educator Cherry-Paul uses short, chronological chapters that each focus on a singular concept to keep readers engaged. The book further structures the reading experience with visuals and “Let’s Pause” moments to help kids retain key ideas and reflect on their own understandings. Unlike the preceding titles, this book includes information about important recent events during the years of 2016-2020, including the widespread Black Lives Matter movement.
S.305.800973 C4244st

Fleming, Candace
Illustrated by: Eric Rohmann
Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera. 2020 (Picture Book).
Get up close and personal with Apis, one honeybee, as she embarks on her journey through life, complemented by richly detailed oil-on-paper illustrations. Beginning at birth, the honeybee emerges through the wax cap of her cell and seeks to protect and care for her hive. She cleans the nursery and feeds the larvae and the queen. But is she strong enough to fly? Not yet! She builds wax comb to store honey, and transfers pollen from other bees into the storage. The text builds suspense as readers turn page after page waiting to see if the honeybee is yet ready to fly. Apis accomplishes many tasks before beginning her life outdoors as an adventurer, seeking nectar to bring back to her hive. Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann describe the life cycle of the hard-working honeybee in this poetically written, thoroughly researched picture book, complete with an essay on environmental threats to honeybees.
Q. S.595.799 F6292ho

Jenkins, Steve
Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics. 2016 (Picture Book).
How many species exist in the world? How much do all the insects around the globe collectively weigh? How far can animals travel? Steve Jenkins answers these questions and many more with numbers, images, innovation, and authoritative science in this visually stunning work of browsable nonfiction. Jenkins layers his signature cut-paper illustrations alongside infographics and a text that is teeming with fresh and unexpected zoological facts ready for readers to easily devour. The level of scientific research paired with Jenkins’ creativity and accessible information is unmatched and sure to engage fans of fact books and animal lovers.
S.590.728 J418an

Messner, Kate
Illustrated by Falynn Koch
Plagues and Pandemics (History Smashers). 2021 (Middle Grade Nonfiction).
Myths! Lies! Secrets! Uncover the forgotten facts about the history of pandemics, from the Black Death to COVID-19. True or False: During the Black Death in the 14th century, plague doctors wore creepy beaked masks filled with herbs. False! Those masks were from a plague outbreak centuries later, and most doctors never wore anything like that at all. With a mix of sidebars, illustrations, photos, and graphic panels, author Kate Messner delivers a comprehensive and accessible account of infectious diseases like the bubonic plague, cholera, smallpox, tuberculosis, polio, influenza, and COVID-19. Great for readers who enjoy reading the series: I Survived! and Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales.
S.614.49 M5641pl

Soontornvat, Christina
All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team. 2020 (Middle Grade Nonfiction).
This enthralling account of the amazing Thai cave rescue perfectly blends suspense, science, and cultural insight. On June 23, 2018, twelve young players of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach entered a cave in northern Thailand seeking an afternoon’s adventure. When they turned to leave, rising floodwaters blocked their path out and the boys were trapped! Before long, news of the missing team spread, launching a seventeen-day rescue operation involving thousands of people from around the globe. As the world sat vigil, people began to wonder: how long can a group of ordinary kids survive in complete darkness, with no food or clean water? Newbery Honoree Christina Soontornvat combines information from original interviews with rescue workers, in-depth scientific research, and details about the region’s culture and religion to show how both the complex engineering operation above ground and the mental struggles of the thirteen young people below proved critical in the life-or-death mission.
S.796.52 So63al

Stewart, Melissa
Illustrated by: Sarah S. Brannen
Summertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate. 2021 (Picture Book).
Everyone knows about animals that hibernate in the winter, but what about the creatures that sleep all summer long? These animals estivate: a prolonged sleep during hot or dry periods. Dual layers of text awaken readers to the reasons estivating animals become dormant, including warm weather spells that threaten food supplies or simply avoiding increased body temperatures. From the ladybug to the salamander, from the lungfish to the desert hedgehog, Melissa Stewart clearly describes twelve estivating animals and their habits, both when sleeping and awake. Brannen’s soft, elegant watercolor illustrations show two perspectives of each estivating animal, and the page composition includes a small black-and-white text box that resembles a guidebook to introduce basic facts about the creature. This clever nonfiction picture book would be a perfect edition for elementary science classroom biology units.
Q. S.571.786 St497su

Sheinkin, Steve
Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown. 2021 (Young Adult Nonfiction).
This narrative nonfiction book is a spellbinding follow up to Sheinkin’s award-winning title Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, taking readers on a journey through the high-stakes conflict of the Cold War. As World War II ended, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the two greatest world powers on extreme opposites of the political spectrum. The two nations began a neck-and-neck competition to build even more destructive bombs and conquer the Space Race. In their battle for dominance, spy planes flew above, armed submarines swam deep below, and undercover agents met in the dead of night. The precarious, decades-long Cold War showdown culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world’s narrow escape from a third world war. Backed up by pages and pages of research citations, Sheinkin immerses readers in the small moments of spy operations, political conversations, and perspectives of ordinary citizens in a way that makes history feel thrilling and important.
S.973.922 Sh42fa

References / Resources

Publisher’s Weekly: “Soapbox: Children’s Nonfiction Has an Image Problem”

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/89848-soapbox-children-s-nonfiction-has-an-image-problem.html

This piece by Melissa Stewart outlines the disconnect between adults’ perceptions of children’s nonfiction books and young people’s actual reading preferences. The article includes many references to peer-reviewed research about children’s reading habits, which shows that young readers have substantial interest in learning about the world through nonfiction books. Stewart concludes with action steps to increase the accessibility of nonfiction books for kids.

School Library Journal: “The Five Kinds of Nonfiction”

https://www.melissa-stewart.com/img2018/pdfs/5_Kinds_of_Nonfiction_SLJ_May_2018.pdf

This article by Melissa Stewart in School Library Journal concisely describes the five types of nonfiction children’s books: browsable, active, traditional, expository, and narrative.

Scientific American: “Nonfiction is Cool and Our Kids Know It”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nonfiction-is-cool-and-our-kids-know-it/

This opinion piece by science writer Amanda Baker argues that at present, we are in a “golden age” of children’s nonfiction books. Baker indicates that contemporary publications have highly appealing images or illustrations and innovative storytelling and writing styles. The article also cites compelling statistics about children’s reading preferences.

The Robert F. Sibert Informational Medal

https://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/sibert

Each year, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) awards the Robert F. Sibert Informational Medal to the most outstanding informational book for youth published in the United States in English during the preceding year. Make sure to click the link to the ALSC’s interactive Book & Media Awards shelf to find further exceptional nonfiction books among the past winning titles.

KF