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Best & Brightest Children's Nonfiction of 2019

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This Best & Brightest list was created by Denver Public Library librarians to celebrate our favorite recently published children's nonfiction books. Enjoy!

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The Big Book Of Monsters: The Creepiest Creatures From Classic Literature
Johnson, Hal, author.
5th-8th grade. Who’s scarier: Medusa, Dracula, or the Headless Horseman? This delightful, frightful and well-researched monster mash enthusiastically covers literary villains from ancient Japan to Victorian London. Buoyed by striking pop art illustrations in deep purples, oranges and greens, Johnson’s brief, humorous and creepy retellings of monster tales incorporate satisfyingly ghastly snippets from their source material. A witty callout box summarizes each villain’s monstrous qualities, from powers like “Immortality; being ridiculously handsome” (Dorian Gray), to dastardly deeds like “Just nonstop eating people” (Beowulf’s Grendel). Sure to thrill monster fans and book lovers alike, The Big Book’s unique combination of wit, literary history, horror and electrifying artwork will make it a wide-ranging hit.
Just Right: Searching For The Goldilocks Planet
Manley, Curtis, author.
2nd-5th grade. Have you ever wondered if we are alone in the universe? Just Right invites young readers to explore this question through the playful lenses of history and science. A young girl and her family guide readers through each concept via a museum visit that bursts the bounds of reality. Incorporating comic book-style paneling and speech, luminous watercolor illustrations whisk readers back in time and across the universe to discover scientific theories of the past and what, exactly, it takes to make a planet hospitable to life. The book is thoroughly researched, with new scientific discoveries reflected in the illustrations. As the journey through space and time draws to a close, an all-black, two-page spread representing the unknown invites readers to continue pondering the mysteries of the universe. Just Right is truly just right for young budding scientists.
The Woolly Monkey Mysteries: The Quest To Save A Rain Forest Species
Markle, Sandra, author.
3rd-5th grade. In the Amazon rainforest’s canopy, there is a mystery-animal eating fruit: It’s the woolly monkey. Scientists don’t yet know much about the species, but there’s an urgent need to know more in order to protect this enigmatic creature. Woolly monkeys live one hundred feet above the ground; how can scientists spot them, let alone study them? Lush wildlife photography, photos of scientists in action and maps and line drawings depicting levels of the rainforest show young readers how scientists are tackling studying the woolly monkey with the 21st-century solution of camera traps. Pairing information about camera technology with plenty of monkey facts (including just-gross-enough tidbits), this book appeals on multiple levels. Back matter has an excellent author’s note, a glossary and details about how to be a scientific detective. Pick up The Woolly Monkey Mysteries to learn how scientists solved a mystery and met a monkey species in the process.
You Can Be An Entomologist!
Martins, Dino J., author.
Kindergarten-3rd grade. Why do scientists study insects? Dr. Martins, a Kenyan scientist, introduces young readers to the thrilling field of entomology. Published by National Geographic, exceptional wildlife photography elevates this clear and engaging guide. Brightly colored headings, captions and callout boxes in high-contrast hues create a seamless design for younger readers. Martins highlights job topics that have plenty of kid appeal, including how entomologists safely capture and study insects, how insects get their names and how kids can practice being scientists by making and recording observations of bugs in their backyards. Readers interested in learning about insects should give it a try and let Dr. Martins teach them about the fascinating world of insects.
Killer Style: How Fashion Has Injured, Maimed, & Murdered Through History
McMahon, Serah-Marie, author.
4th-8th grade. Punchy writing and exceptional design make this book about fashion’s deadliest trends a winning option for leisure reading and research alike. Witty chapter headings follow body segments (“Horrified Heads,” “Miserable Middles” and “Unlucky Legs”), framing the book’s cheerfully macabre tone. A nearly square trim size, colorful callouts and block print illustrations give the book a substantial but accessible feel that balances sophistication and cheek. Vibrant primary source images laid out scrapbook-style highlight garments, advertisements, medical documents and more in a nimble tension of horror and humor. At first, each fashion disaster sits squarely in the past, but, with a light touch, the book slowly introduces horrors from the modern fashion industry that invite readers to think critically about present-day ethics. A bibliography, photo credits and an index round out the back matter. With just enough “yuck” factor for upper elementary readers, Killer Style entertains as much as it educates.
Hey, Water!
Portis, Antoinette, author, illustrator.
Toddler-1st grade. What do lakes, snowmen and tears all have in common? They are all ways water exists in and all around us. Hey, Water! is carefully designed with young readers in mind, treating water like a playful friend encountered each day in different forms. Pen and sumi ink illustrations incorporate shapes, colors and textures that reinforce new water-related vocabulary words on each page. Textured digital brush strokes remind readers that even ink, too, requires water. In addition to each new word, the text flows with lively language (“You cover most of the earth--/salty, surging and mysterious”), giving way to soft vowels and hard consonants as the story explores all of water’s forms (steam, ice, puddle, etc.) Simple text and bold colors make it an ideal pick for reading aloud with children. Illustrated back notes on the water cycle, water forms, and conservation also make this a useful teaching tool.
Stonewall: A Building, An Uprising, A Revolution
Sanders, Rob, 1958- author.
1st-5th grade. Decades before becoming a flashpoint for LGBTQ+ rights, the Stonewall Inn was a pair of stables, then a bakery, then a restaurant. In a narrative device that’s particularly effective for young readers, the story unfolds from the building’s perspective. The book’s landscape orientation is ideally suited for rendering thronging street scenes across time, as well as spreads of the crowd before, during and after the riot. A blue and brown color palette evokes the warmth of city brick, and illustrations saturated with light or shadow underscore the emotions of hope, excitement, anger, fear and celebration in the story. Glimpses of recognizable figures, including drag queens and trans activists of color appear in crowd scenes, and the book ably bridges gaps between the terminology of the 1960s and today. Back matter with historical notes, photographs and an interview contextualizes the story.
Can You Crack The Code?
Schwartz, Ella, 1974- author.
3rd-7th grade. What do you do when you want to send a message but want it to stay secret to everyone but the intended reader? This question has been on human minds since the days of ancient Greece and continues to puzzle modern hackers. Information security professional Ella Schwartz explores this topic in-depth while also engaging readers in Can You Crack the Code? Covering the history of cryptography extensively, this title is a must for older readers curious about codes, history and mysteries. Puzzles to test readers’ knowledge are interspersed throughout the book, bringing interactive elements to the reading. Primary source photos, informational sidebars and lighthearted cartoon illustrations also aid in making this book accessible, entertaining and informative.
Our World Is Relative
Sooy, Julia, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. This agile picture book distills the concept of relativity for the youngest readers. Firmly grounded in a child’s world, digital illustrations that read as hand-painted watercolors illustrate the relative size, speed, direction and distance. Readers follow a child and her family through the pages, exploring everyday moments that offer much to ponder. To portray size, successive illustrations show the same scene from low to the ground and then high up in the sky. Passengers on a train demonstrate relative movement and stillness, and a family picnic at sunset illustrates the movement of light. Overlaying each image are chalk-like symbols and measurements that enrich understanding without sacrificing visual clarity. The large, uncomplicated text contrasts crisply with each full-bleed illustration, while illustrated back matter extends the science, rewarding readers who are hungry for more. Our World is Relative is ideal for storytime sharing, preschool STEM exploration and any child who loves to ask “Why?"
Riding A Donkey Backwards: Wise And Foolish Tales Of Mulla Nasruddin
Taylor, Sean, 1965- author.
1st-5th grade. Do your kids love to laugh at silly adults? Nasruddin is silly. He rides his donkey backward and takes silver coins instead of gold. Nasruddin has many names throughout the Muslim world, but stories about him have the same essence: They are silly and philosophical tales to make people laugh. Authored in part by the Khayaal Theater, a drama education company dedicated to exploring Muslim world literature, each short tale comes marvelously to life with the help of Adl’s papercut art. Collage elements including fluffy cotton, textiles and metallics complement characters’ gleeful, expressive faces, and the pithy text is worthy of belly laughs. A glossary and the “Meet Mulla Nasruddin” section contextualizes the folklore and highlights the diversity of language and storytelling in Muslim literature.
Moth: An Evolution Story
Thomas, Isabel, 1979- author.
Preschool-2nd grade. Have you ever wondered how an insect adapts to fit with its environment? Follow the Peppered Moth in this picture book to learn how it has changed throughout various periods of human history in order to keep safe from predators. Before mass industrialization, Peppered Moths’ speckled color was an evolutionary advantage, helping them blend in with tree bark and the natural world. As humans’ impact on the environment increased, the moths made a remarkable change: They turned to smoky black, matching the industrial smog that colored their environment. The moths continue to evolve today, with peppery speckles once again on display where pollution is mitigated. Contrast-filled digital illustrations bring the story to life along with bold, wide-spaced typography beneficial to new readers. Notes on adaptation, natural selection and evolution are included at the end of the book.
It Feels Good To Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity
Thorn, Theresa, author.
Preschool-8th grade. While not the first book for young children about gender identity, this title’s straightforward text, joyful illustrations and creators’ lived experience with the subject make it a standout. Readers meet Ruthie, her brother Xavier and their friends, who each cheerfully relate their gender identities. Thorn’s text supports children’s social-emotional development by offering precise language and a message that there are many ways to be a girl, boy or non-binary. Potentially unfamiliar vocabulary around gender identity are given definitions that are accessible to caregivers and kids alike. Trans illustrator Noah Grigni’s artwork is infused with an affectionate queer aesthetic. This book’s exuberance, warmth and relatability will make kids and families of all backgrounds feel at home in their own skin.
The Roots Of Rap : 16 Bars On The 4 Pillars Of Hip-hop
Weatherford, Carole Boston, 1956- author.
Preschool-3rd grade. Long before Lil’ Nas X and Lizzo became mega-stars, hip-hop was born on the streets of the Bronx with MCs, DJs, B-Boys and B-Girls. Starting with hip-hop’s origins in poetry, spoken word, folklore and funk, The Roots of Rap offers young readers a vibrant look at the history of a musical genre that continues to shake the world. Bold, colorful graffiti-style illustrations from Morrison (I Got the Rhythm!) stand out and inspire readers. Meanwhile, Weatherford’s rhythmic, rhyming and triple timing text completes this tour of hip-hop history. A glossary of key terms and notable performers can be found in the back of the text, along with notes from the author and illustrator about their processes.