Saturday, February 10, 2018

Nonfiction Picture Books to Inspire Informational Writers #nf10for10

Today's the day for our nonfiction picture book event:  #nf10for10.  This is our 6th annual nonfiction event.  In the past, Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning, Julie Balen of Write at the Edge, and I have cohosted this event.  Again this year all activity will be collected in our Picture Book 10 for 10 Community.  Stop by to read, share your favorites, and/or link up.

Ways to participate:

My 2018 List:  10 Nonfiction Picture Books to Inspire Informational Writers
As a student, I remember writing research papers year after year after year.  I think we all do.  Sometimes the process required some time with an encyclopedia and an assigned topic, others it required a large stack of notecards.  Always the paper ended up about the same.  I'm sure my teachers were tortured by my voiceless writing and lack of passion for my subject.

A lot has changed since then.  Since I began teaching, there seems to have been an explosion of new informational text.  (Thank you, authors!)  Inquiry and research no longer require a research paper; thanks to today's authors, writers can envision so much more.  Moving our thinking beyond research papers, to new possibilities in genre and craft, can open new doors for our writers.  It might have saved my teachers from falling asleep while reading my research papers all those years ago.

Here are 10 nonfiction picture books to inspire writers.

Animals by the Numbers by Steve Jenkins

Did you know that nearly 1,000,000 insect species have been named with new discoveries happening all the time?  Did you know that termites have the largest biomass with a combined weight of 700,000,000 tons!?  Did you know that giraffes only sleep about 2 1/2 hours a day?  In today's world, infographics are everywhere.  Oh, the possibilities in this book!  From graphs to charts to unique visual representations, Jenkins shares a variety of ways to compare and contrast information across a topic.

This book not only makes an outstanding mentor text for infographics, but it is sure to be a book children will return to again and again.

Little Leaders:  Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

This collection of essays describing the important contributions of black women will surely bring readers back again and again.  Featuring essays of over 40 women who have had an impact on our world for over two centuries.  Each essay tells about the leader's childhood, life experiences, and accomplishments.

This book would surely work as a mentor to help writers to understand the power of the essay in sharing important information with others.

Freedom Over Me:  Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan

In this book, Ashley Bryan discovers a real historical document about property auctioned from a plantation including a houseful of slaves.  Bryan was moved by the document and decided to use poetry to imagine the stories of their lives.  She features eleven slaves in two poems.  The first poem describes their role at the house, and the second their dreams.  The possibilities abound with this book.

Poetry provides informational possibilities for writers of all ages and the mentor text possibilities continue to grow.  After narrowing my collection I still had a stack of five books including When the Sun Shines on Antarctica by Irene Latham, Shaking Things Up:  14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood, River Friendly, River Wild by Jane Kurtz, National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry edited by J. Patrick Lewis, and When Thunder Comes:  Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis.

Miracle Mud:  Lean Blackburne and the Secret that Changed Baseball by David A. Kelly with illustrations by Oliver Dominguez

This book just stays among my favorites.  You can't go wrong with a story about baseball, but this one has the stretch of mindset.  Kelly tells the story of Lena Blackburne who wanted to be a baseball great.  Things didn't go as planned for Lena, but he found a way to contribute to a sport he loved.

Narrative nonfiction uses story to tell about people, places, topics, time periods or other important information.  It takes a deep understanding of a topic to be able to weave it into a narrative.  This is another stack I struggled with as it is a favorite of mine.  In the end, my literary nonfiction stack also included The Water Princess by Susan Verde and Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson with impressive illustrations by Frank Morrison.

How To
How to Swallow a Pig:  Step-by-Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Want to know how to trap fish like a humpback whale?  Build a dam like a beaver?  Dance like a grebe?  Then you'll want to check out this book by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page.  It offers step-by-step advice on how to do each of these things, and so much more.  Illustrations complement the steps of each of these tasks.

In the You Tube age, everyone wants to know how to do something.  Beyond videos, there are many possibilities in books to learn something new.  Sharing mentor texts with students can open up the possibilities.  While some picture book mentors carry one how-to task across many pages (like Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka), this mentor text puts readers in the place of the animal to help them understand some of their interesting behaviors.

Consider a Side Bar
Fabulous Frogs by Martin Jenkins with illustrations by Tim Hopgood

Readers will love this fun, fast-paced, book about frogs.  Perfect for read aloud because of its way with words, colorful illustrations, and interesting information, this book is sure to be a hit.  I also love that it has two layers.  First, it is possible to just readd the narrative of the author who shares interesting descriptive information about frogs.  Next, readers will love to return to the side bars for more information.

Many nonfiction authors include side bars, often placed at the side or bottom of the page, to give readers more information.  Often easier to make sense of information because of their placement (as opposed to including it in the back of the book), side bars are often seen in literary nonfiction or alongside informational poetry.

Question - Answer
Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Steve Jenkins

In this book, Stewart playfully takes a look at the sounds animals make through the use of questions.  Can a porcupine whine?  Can a dingo bellow?  Can a giraffe laugh?  You might be surprised by the answers.  Stewart answers these questions while using questions to compare and contrast the sounds animals make.  (Yep, more side bars too.)

This mentor text can help young writers see the way questions can be used to tell readers more about a topic.

Circle Text

Because of an Acorn by Lola M. Schaefer and Adam Schaefer

This book is a delight for young readers.  It begins with the acorn that becomes a tree.  Because of the tree so many things happen in nature.  As the story ends the acorn returns.  The author's rhythm of words, "because of a ____, a _____," will make this a book young readers will want to read again.  Beautifully illustrated, students will want to take time to notice all the detail the illustrator has provided.

When I think about a circle text structure, where the end brings us back to the beginning, I often think of this craft move for fiction, yet it works well with informational text as well as is illustrated by this book.  This structure would also work well for steps in a process, "before a ___, a ____," or "after a ____, a ____."  It seems this would also make sense when trying to write about a system or cycle.  This mentor text might open the door to a lot of new possibility for young writers learning to understand the world around them.


Woodpecker Wham!  by April Pulley Sayre with illustrations by Steve Jenkins

This book makes a delightful read aloud.  Full of beautiful words and catchy rhythm, this story of the woodpecker just rolls as you read it.  Young readers will be drawn to the illustrations full of strong shapes and bold colors.  At the end of the book, Sayre has included more information about woodpeckers.  Readers will enjoy digging into these pages to learn more about woodpeckers.

This mentor text is perfect for thinking about informational books that might include sounds.  What would a woodpecker book be without sounds like "CHOP, CHIP, CHOP?"  There are just some informational texts where sound might make a difference.  This crafting technique might be useful in writing about observations or topics where sound is important.

Words Beautiful Words
If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian with photographs by Barbara Lember

Young readers will enjoy the way the author talks about the many different kinds of rocks that can be found in the world.  The photographs enhance the text, making it perfect for read aloud and revisiting.

Nonfiction writing requires curiosity, reading, recording, and often some observation.  This book, not only demonstrates the power of deep observation but, uses beautiful words to help readers know more about each rock.  If you want informational writers to be thought about words, this book is the perfect mentor to start that conversation.


  1. My "extras" were Can An Aardvark Bark? and Because of An Acorn-both also favorites. Wonderful list, a few new to me, so on the growing list! Thanks, Cathy, for this and for hosting this fabulous day with Mandy!

  2. What a great list. Thanks for sharing.

  3. What great choices! I always love If You Find a Rock! Thanks for hosting!

  4. You are my first post, and I can already tell I'm going to need to hide my debit card! I fell in love with FREEDOM OVER ME last year, and I think I have all of the ones by Steve Jenkins, who is one of my favorite Colorado author/illustrators, but I am going to need to check out ACORN, MUD, and LITTLE LEADERS. I'm going to open up my library hold page now!

  5. Dear Co-Host and Friend, I just love this post. It totally comes from a coach's view and I love all the different ways you thought about nonfiction writing. I need to expand my writing options for this in my classroom. I also only have two/ten books on this list so I think I have some shopping/borrowing to do. Thank you for helping spread #booklove with me. Books make life easier and more enjoyable.

  6. Hey, I have my own label on your blog? I'm totally touched!