We all can learn so so much from picture books (I know I do!). So here’s a list of 18 standout non-fiction picture books that illuminate historical figures, events, science, nature, culture, math, art, and more! I hope you get to check out some of these because all of them will speak of our world and inspire kids (and you) to know more, to care more, to experience more.
Nina: A Story of Nina Simone words by Traci N. Todd pictures by Christian Robinson (2021). This treasure of a book pops and sings and draws you in. “Nina was done with being polite. As far as she could tell, politeness had gotten her people nothing.”
One Sun and Countless Stars by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (2022) is part of a wonderful series, and in this newest installment, Mehrdokht Amini’s illustrations struck me even more—particularly the ones whose compositions zoom in so the rich colors and textures come alive.
Where the Wee Ones Go by Karen Jameson, illustrated by Zosienka (2022) is soothing and illuminating (and just the right amount of sad and hopeful) about the “vulnerable animal babies” the author and illustrator capture in this bedtime book.
The People Remember by Ibi Zoboi and Loveis Wise (2021) is an extraordinary illustrated poem that’s also an expansive history of the African diaspora while illuminating the principles of Kwanzaa. It’s about the past, but also about the present and future and the myriad ways Black Americans have shaped the world.
Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! by Art Coulson, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (2021). A story that fabulously incorporates interactive math as Bo searches for just the right container to display his marbles at his family’s booth at Cherokee National Holiday. You can learn some Cherokee words in the back as well!
Circle Under Berry by Carter Higgins (2021) is an imaginative, spatial exploration of shapes, of prepositions, of how we see, what we see, and the relationships of things. And it is deeply smart and satisfying.
A Shape Shifting Adventure in Hawai’i written by Daniel Frates, illustrated by Jamie Meckel Tablason (2021) is the tale of a line who takes many exciting shapes while traveling around their Hawai’i home.
The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith (2021) starts with a genealogical school assignment that leads to an honoring history of the main character’s African ancestors. It celebrates African cultures and peoples, unflinchingly describes being stolen and enslaved, and praises Black resistance, joy, and pride.
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper (2021) speaks the unspeakable and doesn’t turn away from the truth of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in a truly incredible book.
This picture book contains humor, invention and so much delight. Not only that, but fabulous surprises await both the main character and the lucky reader!
I would sum up the heart of Off-Limits this way: art and expression are all about following your curiosity—as well as sometimes getting messy and breaking the rules.
That’s exactly what the main character does. She follows her curiosity. She breaks the rule that her dad’s office is off-limits. She creates fun stuff, expressing herself while making not just a mess, but lots of JOY.
(click image(s) to enlarge)
There is a wonderfully sneaky quality to the opening spreads of Off-Limits that builds throughout. The main character takes one curious, playful step into her dad’s off-limits space. And then another. She starts to tinker, to make, to play. First, one piece of tape, then whole a lamp scarf made of tape, then PAPER CLIPS AND BINDER CLIPS!
Each new office supply brings another moment of discovery. Of fun. Of creativity (and not a little bit of festive chaos). And just when the main character’s doing some more sneaking around, well, let’s just say there’s a BIG, JOYFUL SURPRISE! But I cannot give it away here. That’s for your own moment of discovery.
This new favorites shelf picture book had me engaged, captivated, delighted, and finally amazed and laughing aloud.
Off-Limits is such a perfect book to craft with, to make a beautiful mess with, to celebrate with! I’m so happy that my friend Mayel, paper artist extraordinaire, is here to show us how with an office supplies garland or two!
Hello, my name is Mayel. I’m an artist, designer, creator of fun and pretty things at mayelcreates.com. I often create artful activities for kids to encourage making and life filled with art. This is my second craft here on This Picture Book Life (here’s my first one) and it’s my pleasure to collaborate with Danielle again.
Off-Limits is such a delightful book. My children are obviously welcome and encouraged to create whatever they want with all my supplies, and I have a lot of them. Though sometimes they are still attracted to create things out of the stuff you’d least expect, e.g. cardboard boxes, paper clips, staples. All are fun to see!
So here’s a couple of fun garland crafts you and your kid can do together with some office supplies you probably already have in your home.
Let’s get started!
What you’ll need:
Scrap paper (any old paperwork or school paper will do fine)
Stapler with staples
Step 1: First take one of your scrap paper and fold it accordion style about 4-5 folds like in A and B. I used old school work paper so I can repurpose them. You can use any used paper work.
Step 2: Cut the folded paper into 3 equal pieces (C). Then carefully cut out a heart shape with each piece. Make sure to not cut the sides that are connected to each other when cutting the heart out so the hearts will stay attached (D). Now you can unfold the piece and you’ll have your first garland. Repeat this process if you’d like a longer garland. You can staple the ends of your heart garlands together to make them into one long piece.
Let’s start with the heart garland.
Now, let’s play with the Post-Its.
Step 1: Take a few sheets of Post-Its in a stack, maybe 3-4, so you can design a few sheets at a time. Make sure to turn the sheets so the sticky tab part is at the top of your design. Use your scissors to make designs on the bottom of the Post-Its. I have different types of scissors. I have one that cuts patterns and one that cuts strips at one time. They are fancy, I know, but they are so much fun to have. You can get them at any craft store or online. If you do not have these fancy scissors, no worries, just use regular simple scissors and cut any design or lines you’d like on the Post-Its. For example, I just cut out triangles on picture I.
Step 2: Then, when you feel like you have enough Post-Its sheets to put a garland together, peel off each sheet from one another and line them up. Use the corners of the sticky sides to attach each sheet together like in picture J. Keep adding on sheets to make a longer garland.
Let’s see them all together! I’ve placed my garlands on a blank wall. The Post-It garlands will fortunately stick on by themselves. I made a few different ones here, some alternating colors, some the same color and design. Then, add on the heart scrap paper garlands you’ve made on top with pieces of tape on the ends.
Now you have fun decor out of office supplies!
Hope you’ve enjoyed this crafting activity with ordinary office supplies and had fun with your kids at the same time. See more of my activities and crafts on Insta: MayelCreates.
I’m thrilled to offer another online picture book revision workshop, this one a special half-day event! It’s three and a half hours and it’s supportive, interactive, and will help you revise your manuscript, reflect on your writing journey, receive inspiration, and revitalize YOUR storytelling—all in one sitting! Well, there will be a few breaks sprinkled in.
This is truly a meaningful revision method that focuses on you as a writer and your picture book manuscript in a unique way that will have a lasting impact on your story—and your vision of yourself as an artist! Writers and writer-illustrators welcome. (I use this method myself for every project.)
Saturday, February 26th, 2022
9 am Pacific (noon Eastern) to 12:30pm Pacific
You can sign up immediately via that PayPal button below (Pay $175)! If you have any questions or would like to sign up for a full scholarship—there are three available for creators with marginalized/underrepresented voices in publishing—please do drop me a line! I’d love to have you join, and those spots will go fast!
Within 48 hours of payment, you should get an email confirmation directly from me after I’ve had a chance to log your sign-up (please reach out if you don’t hear from me in a couple of days as that means there was a snafu).
SUMO COUNTING and SUMO OPPOSITES are companion board books that are totally charming, like all of Sanae Ishida’s creations—I’ve featured her Little Kunoichi series before here and here. These two total cuties illuminate and delight in Japanese culture. Adorable characters and pleasing surprises are in store for every kid (every one!) who reads them.
This joyful, colorful board book duo celebrates many styles of Black hair as well as the wonderful kids who rock those styles! Full of affirmation, self-love, and, yes, HAPPY HAIR and COOL CUTS for kids!
Little You and We Sang You Home (not technically a series, but from the same duo) by Richard Van Camp, illustrations by Julie Flett.
From a wonderful pair of Native creators, the first, a gently rhyming lullaby to a little one, bursting with admiration. The second, another song to a child that contains an origin story brimming with love.
Beautiful companions to Vashti Harrison’s Leaders & Dreamers picture books profiling visionary, change-making Black American women in history and women around the world, this board book series is for the youngest set to dream and think and be inspired by those who’ve come before them.
Taro Gomi totally gets kids, and this transportation board book series is further proof. Darling, bright illustrations in pleasing palettes combine with succinct and straightforward text to tell cheerful stories of a character on the move.
What are your favorite board book series to share?
This picture book is, as the title suggests, an alphabet depicting 26 different feelings, from anxious to zany with delightful illustrations. It’s a useful compendium for kids to learn the names of specific emotions and to understand the breadth of theirs—and how that spectrum of feelings is totally okay, expected, important to name and know and explore.
In a few instances of Bonnie Lui’s book, the two sides of a spread serve as question and answer or are related in some way—and those are most effective and engaging. For example, kids who are SCARED on their own at a campout experience the feeling of being TRUSTING on the opposite side when they join a parent, snuggly in bed together.
My favorite spread is the pairing of WISHFUL and XENIAL, the second a word I didn’t know, because it tells a complete story that is unexpected, sweet, and magical.
Overall, ABC of Feelings shows kids that feelings come in all kinds and that they’re part of life—to be noticed, celebrated, expressed, and sometimes soothed.
And ABC of Feelings is also a good jumping off point to explore more books and feelings with kids!
Here are 20 picture books that explore feelings of all kinds either directly or embedded in the story: longing, grief, disappointment, love, hurt, pride, sadness, loss, uncertainty, fear, worry, misery, hope, inspiration, happiness, curiosity, and joy. These titles (and others) may be useful for discussions with kids about how they’re feeling.
You might ask a child: “What is the character feeling? How do you know? Do you ever feel like that? What are you feeling today, right now? Would you like to draw your feeling? To write about it? To sing a song? To tell me how it feels or why it might be here? I will share my feelings too.”
In a recent Washington Post article by Lakshmi Gandhi, “Books Can Be An Entry to Talking About Sadness with Your Child,” the writer interviews Erin Entrada Kelly, Tracy Subisak (creator of Jenny Mei Is Sad from this list), and Christine Day about their children’s books and the difficult feelings they explore with authenticity and compassion.
Books, indeed, are conduits of connection to the internal lives of characters that reflect the internal lives of us all.
Here’s the list:
I Wish You Knew written by Jackie Azúa Kramer illustrated by Magdalena Mora (2021).