The Children’s Book Review | March 21, 2015
The best non-fiction picture books of 2014, as picked by the editors and contributors of The Children’s Book Review.
By Patricia Geis
Publisher’s Synopsis: No artist can put a smile on your face quicker than Alexander Calder. A sense of playfulness animates all of his work—from his signature hanging mobiles to his endlessly creative toys, drawings, and jewelry. Alexander Calder: Meet the Artist! is an exciting hands-on introduction to this beloved American sculptor. Calder’s whimsical world is brought to life by imaginative pop-ups, pull tabs, lift-the-flaps, and cutouts. A universe of artistic possibilities opens up as young readers explore Calder’s creative evolution, play with his toy designs, and even create their own sculptural circus.
Ages 7-12 | Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press | 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-1616892258
Publisher’s Synopsis: Vasya Kandinsky was a proper little boy: he studied math and history, he practiced the piano, he sat up straight and was perfectly polite. And when his family sent him to art classes, they expected him to paint pretty houses and flowers—like a proper artist.
But as Vasya opened his paint box and began mixing the reds, the yellows, the blues, he heard a strange sound—the swirling colors trilled like an orchestra tuning up for a symphony! And as he grew older, he continued to hear brilliant colors singing and see vibrant sounds dancing. But was Vasya brave enough to put aside his proper still lifes and portraits and paint . . . music?
In this exuberant celebration of creativity, Barb Rosenstock and Mary GrandPré tell the fascinating story of Vasily Kandinsky, one of the very first painters of abstract art. Throughout his life, Kandinsky experienced colors as sounds, and sounds as colors—and bold, groundbreaking works burst forth from his noisy paint box.
Backmatter includes four paintings by Kandinsky, an author’s note, sources, links to websites on synesthesia and abstract art.
Read TCBR’s summary of The Noisy Paint Box in our roundup “Biographies for Young Readers: Dip into the Minds of the Greats.”
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers | 2014 | ISBN 978-0307978486
By Katherine Roy
Publisher’s Synopsis: Up close with the ocean’s most fearsome and famous predator and the scientists who study them–just thirty miles from the Golden Gate Bridge!
A few miles from San Francisco lives a population of the ocean’s largest and most famous predators. Each fall, while the city’s inhabitants dine on steaks, salads, and sandwiches, the great white sharks return to California’s Farallon Islands to dine on their favorite meal: the seals that live on the island’s rocky coasts. Massive, fast, and perfectly adapted to hunting after 11 million years of evolution, the great whites are among the planet’s most fearsome, fascinating, and least understood animals.
In the fall of 2012, Katherine Roy visited the Farallons with the scientists who study the islands’ shark population. She witnessed seal attacks, observed sharks being tagged in the wild, and got an up close look at the dramatic Farallons–a wildlife refuge that is strictly off-limits to all but the scientists who work there. Neighborhood Sharks is an intimate portrait of the life cycle, biology, and habitat of the great white shark, based on the latest research and an up-close visit with these amazing animals.
Ages 7-11 | Publisher: David Macaulay Studio | 2014 | ISBN 978-1596438743
By Joyce Sidman; Illustrated by Rick Allen
Publisher’s Synopsis: In this outstanding picture book collection of poems by Newbery Honor-winning poet, Joyce Sidman (Song of the Water Boatman, Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night), discover how animals stay alive in the wintertime and learn about their secret lives happening under the snow. Paired with stunning linoleum print illustrations by Rick Allen, that celebrate nature’s beauty and power.
Ages 6-9 | Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers | 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-0547906508
By Patricia Geis
Publisher’s Synopsis: Pablo Picasso: Meet the Artist! takes young readers on an interactive journey through the remarkable life of the legendary Spanish painter. This engaging book uses a multitude of lift-the-flaps, cutouts, and pull tabs to explain how his art evolved over his lifetime—from his earliest painting at age seven to the great masterworks of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Guernica. Readers are encouraged to make their own cubist collage using an enclosed sheet containing an eclectic collection of images.
Ages 7-12 | Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press | 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-1616892517
Publisher’s Synopsis: For shy young Peter Mark Roget, books were the best companions — and it wasn’t long before Peter began writing his own book. But he didn’t write stories; he wrote lists. Peter took his love for words and turned it to organizing ideas and finding exactly the right word to express just what he thought. His lists grew and grew, eventually turning into one of the most important reference books of all time.
Readers of all ages will marvel at Roget’s life, depicted through lyrical text and brilliantly detailed illustrations. This elegant book celebrates the joy of learning and the power of words.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers | 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-0802853851
Publisher’s Synopsis: In a spare, powerful text and evocative illustrations, the Newbery medalist Katherine Applegate and the artist G. Brian Karas present the extraordinary real story of a special gorilla. Captured as a baby, Ivan was brought to a Tacoma, Washington, mall to attract shoppers. Gradually, public pressure built until a better way of life for Ivan was found at Zoo Atlanta. From the Congo to America, and from a local business attraction to a national symbol of animal welfare, Ivan the Shopping Mall Gorilla traveled an astonishing distance in miles and in impact. This is his true story and includes photographs of Ivan in the back matter.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Clarion Books | 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-0544252301
By Luis Carlos Montalván and
Publisher’s Synopsis: As narrated by Tuesday, Tuesday Tucks Me In is a day in the life of this service dog extraordinaire and tail-wagging ambassador for all things positive and uplifting in the world. The book takes us through a typical day of adventures, starting with Tuesday waking Luis in the morning and greeting him with dog breath in the face, and then ending with Tuesday cuddling up to Luis on their bed, the last moment they spend together before sleep.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Roaring Brook Press | 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-1596438910
By Angela Farris Watkins; Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Publisher’s Synopsis: The niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. reveals six timeless and universal principles that encompass the civil rights leader’s greatest legacy: Love will see you through.
Growing up as the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Farris Watkins witnessed firsthand the principles and values that “Uncle M.L.” practiced and lived by throughout his fight for equality. Drawing from experiences and episodes both personal and well-known, Dr. Watkins artfully details the guiding beliefs of one of the greatest men in history. Including “have courage” and “love your enemies,” these six hallmarks of virtue and nonviolence reinforce the truth that “the universe honors love” and will inspire readers of all ages.
Ages 6-11 | Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers | 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-1416986935
By Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus; Illustrated by Evan Turk
Publisher’s Synopsis: Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson tells the story of how his grandfather taught him to turn darkness into light in this uniquely personal and vibrantly illustrated tale that carries a message of peace.
How could he—a Gandhi—be so easy to anger?
One thick, hot day, Arun Gandhi travels with his family to Grandfather Gandhi’s village.
Silence fills the air—but peace feels far away for young Arun. When an older boy pushes him on the soccer field, his anger fills him in a way that surely a true Gandhi could never imagine. Can Arun ever live up to the Mahatma? Will he ever make his grandfather proud?
In this remarkable personal story, Arun Gandhi, with Bethany Hegedus, weaves a stunning portrait of the extraordinary man who taught him to live his life as light. Evan Turk brings the text to breathtaking life with his unique three-dimensional collage paintings.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers | 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-1442423657
If you like our list of the best non-fiction picture books of 2014, see our list of all the best kids books of 2014 (Coming soon!) or check out our articles and reviews tagged with “non-fiction books.”