Monday, November 24, 2008

More Cybil Nonfiction Picture Book Nominees


Baby Polar Bear by Aubrey Lang

I was happy to discover that this book is not just about wonderfully cute and photogenic baby polar bears. It actually covers the entire life of a polar bear. The photographs are captivating and the text is kid-friendly, using comparisons with things children are familiar with and providing details children are interested in. Because there are so many photographs, many of them are very small, too small to share in a read aloud, but that is a small gripe.

The author and photographer are a husband and wife team who have worked on books and films about nature for eighteen years. Baby Polar Bear is part of a series including Baby Porcupine, Baby Grizzly, Baby Penguin, and many others.

Animals Robert Scott Saw: An Adventure in Antarctica by Sandra Markle

A better title for this book would be Scott's Adventures in Antarctica. I'm not really sure how "animals" got into the title, though the animals Scott encounters are a big part of the story. But the book is really about all the experiences Scott had in the Antarctic.

This is the kind of book my husband would have loved reading when he was a little boy. I am certain there are many readers today who would love hearing and reading about the dangerous adventures of these explorers. It is full of scary stories about Scott and his men while they were traveling in Antarctica. I couldn't stop reading to find out more about their frightening exploits. The use of a combination of drawings and actual photographs adds a lot to the book. The sidebars with interesting additional information were a plus.

It is not a simple read and there is a lot of text, so if it is to be an independent read, it would be best for older elementary readers or middle school readers.

Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship by Nikki Giovanni

The book opens at a big celebration at the White House. President Lincoln is there and he is watching anxiously to see if his friend will come. Then the story segues into parallel stories about Lincoln and Douglass's early years, their common struggles to learn and find out more about the world. The two men meet and form a friendship based on their common beliefs.

The most moving page of the book is a four page fold out; the two pages on top show the inaugural reception but the pages fold out to show what everyone is thinking about: the terrible war that is going on even during the celebration.
Then Douglass arrives and the two men speak together about their hopes and dreams for the future. Were the words the men speak on the pages actual words the men used or were they provided by the author? They are eloquent and inspiring; one can only hope they are genuine.

No information is given about source material.

We the People: The Story of Our Constitution by Lynne Cheney

I don't know about children and this book, but I will say that reading this book made the whole story of the creation of the Constitution very clear to me.
The war had been won and England was starting leave, but the people who had come together to fight a common enemy were not fighting amongst themselves. A need was seen to find a way to have bind the states together so that every state was happy.

It was a difficult task.

The men who worked to form the Constitution made compromise after compromise, sacrificing many individual wishes and dreams for the good of the one nation.

It is an inspiring story. The pictures add an air of authenticity to the book, with detailed depictions of costume and architecture. The author provides an exhaustive list of source material in the back of the book.

The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum by Kathleen Krull

Kathleen Krull has never disappointed me; her biographies are fun and full of inside information about the people she writes about.

This biography of L. Frank Baum is no exception. Krull presents a picture of a boy lost in his imagination who grows into a man who never really wants to leave the world he loved as a boy. Baum tries to find a way to make a living as a grownup, and has many triumphs along with an equal number of abysmal failures.

I liked Krull's use of parenthesis as asides from the author, though I'm not sure they would be widely esteemed by academics. Krull provides additional information about Baym in a Storyteller's Note at the back of the book and she also briefly lists her sources. But the audience for Krull's book is not academics, fortunately, but children, and I think children would find this to be a fun read.

Smart-Opedia Junior: The Amazing Book About Everything

Kids are wild about this kind of book. I call it a browsable book, the kind of book you can spend hours reading through, though not really reading every sentence, every word. It is full of fun facts about the human body and the home and the city and school, starting with what children know and moving outward in concentric circles of wider experience. It manages to cover pirates and firefighters, insects and plants, ocean life and the planet, everything children want to know about, in 184 pages, with an extensive index.

I have one important question, however, and that has to do with the 184 pages. It was my understanding that this category of the Cybils was limited to books with 48 pages or less. Do we make exceptions for encyclopedic books?

The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby by Crystal Hubbard

The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby is a beautifully written story about a man who won the Kentucky Derby two times, Jimmy "Wink" Winkfield. Wink was a jockey during the time in American history when most jockeys were African-American, though that began to change rapidly during Wink's lifetime. Wink grew up poor, one of seventeen children, the son of a sharecropper. His dream was to become a jockey. He worked hard and achieved his dream.

But Wink suffered greatly from the prejudice of the day against African-Americans. He was treated shabbily time and again. Eventually he went to live in Europe where people were less cruel to nonwhites.

I found it fascinating to see that twice Wink did not achieve his goals and both times it was because he pushed too hard too soon.

Wink achieved great victories and suffered great defeats. The struggles of a jockey is depicted in clear detail; for the first time, I could see the terrible difficulties of riding horses.

The author provides a note at the end of the book which gives more information about Wink's life, but little is provided about where she drew her information outside interviews with Wink's daughter.

March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World by Christine King Farris

Christine King Farris tells the story of her brother, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Washington. She tells the story from her own point of view, relating the events of the day as King and five prominent civil rights leaders helped change America by showing the support of millions for equal rights.

The pictures look like photographs. The text, with some words presented in caps, emphasizes the oratory styles of the speakers of that day.

One small irritation to me was that Farris was not there for this day, though she writes of the day as if she were. A small irritation.

Gone Fishing: Ocean Life by the Numbers by David McLimans

McLimans presents a beautiful look at our oceans and ocean life. But it is a beautiful look with a dark underside; the oceans, he writes, are threatened. His book is a look at both the natural beauty and wonder of the oceans and ocean life, but also the dire need for saving our oceans from the dangers that confront them and the creatures that inhabit them.

This book is a counting book and an artistic wonder and a wealth of information about our oceans and ocean life. Delicious and nutritious.

Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter

Two books on our list of nominees for the Cybil nonfiction picture book award are about the same person, Wangari Maathai, an environmentalist and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. That is a testimony to the worth of her work.

This book features Winter's characteristic simple drawings and simple text to create a beautiful picture of a life.

The author adds a final page of text to provide detailed information about Maathai's life.


  1. Thanks for these short reviews. I would think that librarians and teachers and homeschoolers, among others, would find these quite useful

  2. Great post! I'll be featuring it--specifically The Road to Oz--on the Cybils blog later this week. :)


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