Nearly everyone I know has used a field guide at some point in their lives. Birdwatching? Identifying tree leaves? Preparing a school report on insects?
Field guides, while useful, are not what I'd call picture books in any traditional sense. They are meant to be utilitarian, a convenient resource for occasional use.
And yet, some manage to offer many of the benefits and much of the appeal of great nonfiction picture books.
Here's my post about some amazing field guides, two of my favorite nonfiction nominees for Cybils finalists from among the many outstanding titles I've been reading. Each is clearly labeled FIELD GUIDE, but each has won my heart with picture book qualities, and will do the same for readers of many ages. Each elevates the category of FIELD GUIDE through excellence in writing and design. Both broaden the appeal of truly unusual topics of study to audiences of many ages and backgrounds. And each utilizes a voice that reaches out to fully engage individual readers.
First, I'll celebrate CRYPTID CREATURES: A FIELD GUIDE, written by Kelly Miller Halls and cleverly illustrated by Rick Spears with retro style and color tones. I won't be the least bit offended it you pause right here to click on Kelly's name above to check out her website.
You'll be gone a while, because her website is subtitled "WONDERS OF WEIRD", and it's almost impossible to look away.
Kelly, you see, is a renowned writer, researcher, presenter, and expert on "cryptids".
She explains in the introduction of her new book that CRYPTOZOOLOGY is the study of mysterious sightings.
Yes, this is science.
In fact, if/when scientific investigations conclusively prove that a previously unknown creature is actually real, it moves from this crypto-label into a scientific classification within known categories, or even sprouts a new branch on our zoological tree.
As you must know though, the vast majority of various unexplained sightings are more often disproved than proved, Often the evidence leaves unexplained creatures hovering in the crypto-zone.
This hand-sized manual will entice even the most reluctant reader to dive and delve deeply into the world of the weird. Author Halls is an established expert on the subject of unexplained/unconfirmed sightings and claims of lifeforms that have yet to be established in science. Her research involves travel, interviews, analysis of conflicting reports, and examination of artifacts and locales. Over time, her reputation for approaching claims of unexplained lifeforms elevates her writing to a level of mentorship for others in navigating the fine line of describing and defining the range of credibility and reasoning for each claim.
Kids (and adults!) struggle to separate fact from fiction, even when hard data and direct observation are available. In cases of claims and hoaxes, Halls's field guide examinations invite readers to identify standards of proof, to question claims without cynicism or gullibility, and to generate hypotheses and possible research to pursue further understanding.
The creature-claims included here are classified by types, with added content threaded throughout offering individual pages of related subject matter, from cartoons to museums to rewards for hard evidence. Challenges to the reader's curiosity abound.
Hall's website (and her excellent prior titles) provide even further deep explorations of unknown and intriguing subjects for investigation. Her school visits and presentations are consistently a hit with audiences of any age, but especially with the kids who have struggled to connect with more typical topics and genre. I urge you to check out this remarkable title and share it with kids you know who need a portal to potential!
The next offering is MOLES, subtitled THE SUPERPOWER FIELD GUIDE. Cover captions like "Featuring Rosalie the Bionic Burrower!", "96 Pages of Gobsmacking Facts", "Mole Illustrations Galore", and "ARMS OF HERCULUES! SUPERSONIC SNOUT FINGERS! BOOD OF THE GODS! AND MORE!" use a comic-book style dynamic. It felt a bit over-the-top to me at first, but I soon saw that was not the case with the kids who picked it up.
Within minutes of opening the book I realized that author Rachel Poliquin had dug deep. (<<< See what I did there?)
And it shows.
Illustrator Nicholas John Firth brings comparable hyperbole and retro style to his illustrations with limited color tones and unlimited fun while adhering closely to the scientific facts about amazing moles.
I'll admit that moles were low on the appeal-meter for me, even though I'm an animal-lover. I tolerate deer nibbling my foliage, squirrels and chipmunks uprooting my bulbs for tasty snacks, and rabbits raiding my veggies and can't suppress my smiles.
However, moles undermining my garden hovered in the irritation-zone, not far from cabbage worms and slugs.
This book won me over, though, and I've read it several times. My admiration for moles now is immeasurable! Those over exclamations are more than merited.
The author manages to make clever comparisons from from page one- inviting readers to see a typical garden mole as potato sized-and-shaped critter. She backs up her raves about this squinty-eyed, super-powered wonder with astonishing facts.
Naming her model mole Rosalie, the author provides all the science detail you could imagine (and more!) while layering in humor and stacking up page after page of impressive accomplishments and adaptations for this little powerhouse.
The writing itself is a perfect blend of lighthearted explanations and informed admiration for moles. After reading this field guide, it's easy to describe Rosalie and her relatives as charming. Back matter includes suggested further reading (both fiction and nonfiction) and a helpful glossary.
If you are wondering what kinds of books might hook a digitally-obsessed kid you know, or one who has been heard to say, "I can't find any books I like," these two titles are exactly what you need to add to your gift list for holiday shopping.