Narrative Nonfiction Picture Books

Narrative nonfiction is a favorite in our household. What’s better than learning something new through engaging storytelling? Here are a few that we have loved.
Affiliate links are included. Summaries are from Amazon.com

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Anything But Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff and Iacopo Bruno
Grades: 2-4
Rating: ♦♦♦♦
Some girls are perfectly happy never doing anything out of the ordinary. But Addie was anything but ordinary. She longed for thrills and excitement! At a time when a young lady appearing onstage was considered most unusual, Addie defied convention and became a dancer. And when she married the world-famous magician Herrmann the Great, she knew she had to be part of his show. Addie wanted to shock and dazzle! She would do anything to draw the crowds, even agree to be shot out of a cannon. But when Herrmann the Great died, Addie couldn’t disappoint her loyal fans — the show had to go on. What could she do? She would perform the show all by herself!


 

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Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

In the early 1900s, Robert Miller, a.k.a. “Count Victor Lustig,” moved to Paris hoping to be an artist. A con artist, that is. He used his ingenious scams on unsuspecting marks all over the world, from the Czech Republic, to Atlantic ocean liners, and across America. Tricky Vic pulled off his most daring con in 1925, when he managed to “sell” the Eiffel Tower to one of the city’s most successful scrap metal dealers! Six weeks later, he tried to sell the Eiffel Tower all over again. Vic was never caught. For that particular scam, anyway. . . .


 

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Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff and Jacopo Bruno

The day Ben Franklin first set foot in Paris, France, he found the city all abuzz. Everyone was talking about something new—remarkable, thrilling, and strange. Something called . . . Science!

But soon the straightforward American inventor Benjamin Franklin is upstaged by a compelling and enigmatic figure: Dr. Mesmer. In elaborately staged shows, Mesmer, wearing a fancy coat of purple silk and carrying an iron wand, convinces the people of Paris that he controls a magic force that can make water taste like a hundred different things, cure illness, and control thoughts! But Ben Franklin is not convinced. Will his practical approach of observing, hypothesizing, and testing get to the bottom of the mysterious Mesmer’s tricks? A rip-roaring, lavishly illustrated peek into a fascinating moment in history shows the development and practice of the scientific method—and reveals the amazing power of the human mind.


 

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Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls

Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.

Thompson’s lyrical prose and Qualls’s bold collage illustrations offer a powerful celebration of triumphing over adversity.


 

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The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls

For most children these days it would come as a great shock to know that before 1967, they could not marry a person of a race different from their own. That was the year that the Supreme Court issued its decision in Loving v. Virginia.

This is the story of one brave family: Mildred Loving, Richard Perry Loving, and their three children. It is the story of how Mildred and Richard fell in love, and got married in Washington, D.C. But when they moved back to their hometown in Virginia, they were arrested (in dramatic fashion) for violating that state’s laws against interracial marriage. The Lovings refused to allow their children to get the message that their parents’ love was wrong and so they fought the unfair law, taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court – and won!


 

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One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon

Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use. But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way. One plastic bag became two. Then ten. Then a hundred.

The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease. Some bags were burned, leaving behind a terrible smell. Some were buried, but they strangled gardens. They killed livestock that tried to eat them. Something had to change.

Isatou Ceesay was that change. She found a way to recycle the bags and transform her community. This inspirational true story shows how one person’s actions really can make a difference in our world.


 

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Aaron and Alexander by Don Brown

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were both fierce patriots during the Revolutionary War, but the politics of the young United States of America put them in constant conflict. Their extraordinary story of bitter fighting and resentment culminates in their famous duel. For young patriots who may not yet know the shocking and tragic story, Aaron and Alexander captures the spirit of these two great men who so valiantly served their country and ultimately allowed their pride and ego to cause their demise.


 

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Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker and Jonathan D. Voss

When Harry Colebourn saw a baby bear for sale at the train station, he knew he could care for it. Harry was a veterinarian. But he was also a soldier in training for World War I.

Harry named the bear Winnie, short for Winnipeg, his company’s home town, and he brought her along to the training camp in England. Winnie followed Harry everywhere and slept under his cot every night. Before long, she became the regiment’s much-loved mascot.

But who could care for the bear when Harry had to go to the battleground in France? Harry found just the right place for Winnie while he was away―the London Zoo. There a little boy named Christopher Robin came along and played with Winnie―he could care for this bear too!
Sally Walker’s heartwarming story, paired with Jonathan Voss’s evocative illustrations, brings to life the story of the real bear who inspired Winnie the Pooh.


 

 

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I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are by Bridget Heos and Jennifer Plecas

Fly is fed up with everyone studying butterflies. Flies are so much cooler! They flap their wings 200 times a second, compared to a butterfly’s measly five to twelve times. Their babies―maggots―are much cuter than caterpillars (obviously). And when they eat solid food, they even throw up on it to turn it into a liquid. Who wouldn’t want to study an insect like that?

In an unforgettably fun, fact-filled presentation, this lovable (and highly partisan) narrator promotes his species to a sometimes engrossed, sometimes grossed-out, class of kids.


 

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Gingerbread for Liberty by Mara Rockliff and Vincent X. Kirsch

Christopher Ludwick was a German-born American patriot with a big heart and a talent for baking. When cries of “Revolution!” began, Christopher was determined to help General George Washington and his hungry troops. Not with muskets or cannons, but with gingerbread!


 

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Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.


 

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The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

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.


 

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Galápagos George by Jean Craighead George and Wendell Minor

This is the story of the famous Lonesome George, a giant tortoise who was the last of his species, lived to be one hundred years old, and became known as the rarest creature in the world. His story gives us a glimpse of the amazing creatures inhabiting the ever-fascinating Galápagos Islands.


 

 

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When the Beat Was Born by Laban Carrick Hill and Theodore Taylor III

On a hot day at the end of summer in 1973 Cindy Campbell threw a back-to-school party at a park in the South Bronx. Her brother, Clive Campbell, spun the records. He had a new way of playing the music to make the breaks―the musical interludes between verses―longer for dancing. He called himself DJ Kool Herc and this is When the Beat Was Born. From his childhood in Jamaica to his youth in the Bronx, Laban Carrick Hill’s book tells how Kool Herc came to be a DJ, how kids in gangs stopped fighting in order to breakdance, and how the music he invented went on to define a culture and transform the world.


 

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The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins and Jill McElmu

Katherine Olivia Sessions never thought she’d live in a place without trees. After all, Kate grew up among the towering pines and redwoods of Northern California. But after becoming the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science, she took a job as a teacher far south in the dry desert town of San Diego. Where there were almost no trees.

Kate decided that San Diego needed trees more than anything else. So this trailblazing young woman singlehandedly started a massive movement that transformed the town into the green, garden-filled oasis it is today. Now, more than 100 years after Kate first arrived in San Diego, her gorgeous gardens and parks can be found all over the city.

Part fascinating biography, part inspirational story, this moving picture book about following your dreams, using your talents, and staying strong in the face of adversity is sure to resonate with readers young and old.


 

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Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox and Brian Floca

Here is the incredible story of Elizabeth, a real-life elephant seal who made her home in the Avon River in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. When Elizabeth decides to stretch out across a two-lane road, the citizens worry she might get hurt or cause traffic accidents, so a group of volunteers tows her out to sea. But Elizabeth swims all the way back to Christchurch. The volunteers catch her again and again—each time towing her farther, even hundreds of miles away—but, still, Elizabeth finds her way back home.


 

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Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate and G. Brian Karas

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.


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Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtmakers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel and Melissa Sweet

When Clara arrived in America, she couldn’t speak English. She didn’t know that young women had to go to work, that they traded an education for long hours of labor, that she was expected to grow up fast.

But that didn’t stop Clara. She went to night school, spent hours studying English, and helped support her family by sewing in a shirtwaist factory.

Clara never quit, and she never accepted that girls should be treated poorly and paid little. Fed up with the mistreatment of her fellow laborers, Clara led the largest walkout of women workers the country had seen.

From her short time in America, Clara learned that everyone deserved a fair chance. That you had to stand together and fight for what you wanted. And, most importantly, that you could do anything you put your mind to.

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