Apr 21, 2013

Interesting Non-Fiction Picture Books (and a plug for I.N.K.)

The recent release of the movie, 42 (The Story of Jackie Robinson) has garnered accolades from all quarters. Some reviewers have commented that Robinson's story is "new" to younger generations, but is deeply ingrained in the DNA of the boomer generation. The hallmark of the movie's success is its ability to be relevant, instructive, and entertaining across audiences of any age or prior knowledge.

Sandpiper (Paperback), 1992
 I haven't seen the movie yet, but my favorite picture book depicting Jackie Robinson's story is TEAMMATES, by sports journalist and author, Peter Golenbock, illustrated by Paul Bacon. It has that same capacity to touch all ages with the facts and the heart of Robinson's story.
The brutal racist attacks leveled at Robinson when he integrated major league baseball far exceeded what we call bullying. His strength of character and resilience in the face of such attacks serve as a beacon for anyone being bullied. Of equal importance in this book is the role of PeeWee Reese, who  put his own popularity (and safety) at risk to step forward and take a stand against the vicious assaults against his teammate. Another life lesson for discussions of bullying.

Carolrhoda Books, 2013
A recent release portrays the equally cruel but longterm attacks of racism in the years before Robinson's courageous breakthrough. SOMETHING TO PROVE: The Great Satchel Paige vs. Rookie Joe DiMaggio, by Robert Skead and Rob Skead, illustrated by Floyd Cooper tells the story of rookie DiMaggio being tested against the best. He would have to try to get a hit against the undisputed (and unhittable) best pitcher anywhere- who just happened to pitch in the Negro League.
You don't need to be a baseball fan to appreciate the intensity and imbalance of the challenge game. Paige and DiMaggio shine through as personalities, and as extraordinary talents. Di Maggio passed his test, and Paige was told he'd be signed in a minute at top salary for the time, if only he were white.
The final pages and the author's note provide further details about segregation and Paige's eventual arrival in the Major Leagues and in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Albert Whitman & Co.,
Paperback, 1996
This next title suggests I'm moving the discussion of baseball to Chicago, but WHITE SOCKS ONLY, by Evelyn Coleman, illustrated by Tyrone Geter is a story of Jim Crow segregation in the south.
When a young girl heads into town to test the theory that you can fry an egg on hot summer cement, she's dressed for the occasion. Experiment over, she needs a drink. The "Whites Only" sign is no problem, because she wore her best white socks. The confrontation that ensues involves the whole town, an ancient neighbor rumored to have magical powers, and the disappearance of the Whites Only sign.  In this case the story is fictional, but the situation is an accurate reflection of the practices of the time and place.

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
An Anne Schwartz Book, 2001
Another fictional story is based on real events of the 1964 civil rights work in Mississippi. In this case the author's note precedes the narrative, setting the stage for  FREEDOM SUMMER, by Deborah Wiles, illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue. The author experienced questions and confusions as a white child in the deep South when the Civil Rights Act was passed, planting the seed for this story.
It depicts a common situation: two young boys, one black and one white became friends, but no amount of denial erased the fact that changing the law could not change the attitudes of the adults. The boys might now have equal rights, but they would have to take a stand for equal treatment and equal respect. 
The illustrations are a remarkable blend of detail and blurred edges, pulling the reader into the situation to fill in the blanks and participate in the situations.

In each case the books, like the movie, have the capacity to transport readers back through time to situations that are otherwise inconceivable to today's youth. Whether non-fiction or historical fiction with author notes, they turn dry facts, names and dates into vibrant characters and events. They stir the soul, stimulate curiosity, and generate empathy. 

I hope you'll click on this link to another blog, I.N.K. (Interesting Non-fiction for Kids). This collaborative effort by non-fiction writers for kids is always worth reading, but this particular post calls attention to the diverse and valuable topics in the posts. Along the right margin you'll find active links to the many award-winning contributing-authors' websites. Do yourself a favor and explore even a few. Then subscribe to the blog. It's a great way to get to know some of the finest writers and titles you'll ever want to read or share with kids.


  1. Sandy,

    Fantastic titles. Thank you!!

  2. Miranda,
    They each offer information with voices and images that are not only engaging but eye-opening. Thanks for stopping by!


Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.