Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Sibert Smackdown Wrap Up

2019 was an incredible year for children’s nonfiction. Maybe even the best yet. 

There were so many wonderful titles, including some that stretched our thinking about what nonfiction is and what it might be come in the future. 

The amazing abundance of riches made it so, so, SO difficult to select just 10 nonfiction picture books for the #SibertSmackdown. But here are the titles I ended up recommending:

On Monday morning, I was glued to my computer screen, watching the livestream of the ALA Youth Media Awards. I couldn’t wait to see which books actually won the Sibert (and all the other awards too). 

This year the Sibert committee chose some very odd titles, especially when it comes to picture books. While Hey, Water technically qualifies because it's informational fiction, Fry Bread is fiction pure and simple. I wish the committee had selected some of the wonderful nonfiction picture books published in 2019. Their choices are undoubtedly confusing to students who participated in Mock Sibert activities.

And there were a lot of them. Here are some inspiring photos of students around the country participating in the Sibert Smackdown to build excitement for the award. 

As always, schools could use my list of recommended titles or they could develop their own. This year, I was delighted with the variety. I was also impressed with all the creative ways teachers and students evaluated and celebrated the books. Here are some of the highlights.

Reading the books:

Discussing and debating:

Choosing a favorite:

Sharing books with the world:

Check out these Flipgrid videos created by fourth graders in Upstate New York. It’s so interesting to hear their thoughts about the books.

At this point, 2020 has just barely begun, but it already looks like it’s going to be another fact-tastic year for children’s nonfiction.

Happy Reading, Everyone!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Get Ready for NF Fest!

NF Fest is a month-long crash course in writing nonfiction for children. Throughout February, you’ll learn the craft from 29 award-winning authors through daily posts and activities to get you writing and researching in small steps. It's all free, and there will even be prizes!

Join our NF Fest Facebook community at for updates and discussion.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Best Nonfiction of 2019 Roundup

Next Monday is a big day in children’s literature. The winners of the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards will be announced. So today seems like a good time to look back at some of the highly-regarded titles published last year.

There’s no doubt about it. 2019 was a phenomenal year for nonfiction, and it seems like more people were paying attention than ever before. 

Here’s a roundup of the lists I’m aware of. Please let me know if there are others I should add.

Mock Sibert Lists
Alyson Beecher at Kidlit Frenzy

The staff at Anderson’s Bookstore

My list

Individual Lists
Alyson Beecher at Kidlit Frenzy

Betsy Bird at A Fuse #8 Production: Nonfiction Picture Books

Betsy Bird at A Fuse #8 Production: Nonfiction Books for Older Readers

Betsy Bird at A Fuse #8 Production: Unique Biographies

Betsy Bird at A Fuse #8 Production: Science & Nature Books

Betsy Bird at A Fuse #8 Production: Math Books

My favorite STEM titles

Group Lists
ALA Notables 
(Scroll past fiction.)

AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize Finalists

CRA Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Book Awards

CybilsAward: Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction Finalists

CybilsAward: Junior/Senior High Nonfiction Finalists

Nerdy Book Club: Nonfiction Picture Books

Nerdy Book Club: Long-form Nonfiction

NCTE Orbis Pictus Award


NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students

Nonfiction Detectives: Best Books

SCBWI Golden Kites Awards

YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award

(Scroll alllllll the way down for nonfiction.

New York Public Library Best Books for Kids
(This link leads to a wide range of lists, but the nonfiction link isn’t properly populated. Let's hope they fix it.)

Review Journals
Booklist Editor’s Choice Books for Youth
(Would you believe nonfiction is first on this list? Hooray!)

Booklist Top Ten Sci-Tech Books for Youth

Horn Book Fanfare 2019  
(Scroll to bottom for nonfiction.)

Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book Biography of 2019

Kirkus Reviews Best Informational Picture Books of 2019

Kirkus Reviews Best Middle Grade Nonfiction of 2019

SLJ Best Nonfiction of 2019

Now it’s time to look ahead to 2020. So far, it seems like we’re going to have another great year of nonfiction. Time to start reading!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

This fabulous picture book won the NCTE's Orbis Pictus Award back in November. Will it also win the Sibert Medal at the ALA Youth Media Awards Next week? We'll soon find out.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Overlooked Benefits of Expository Nonfiction

Since the 2019-2020 school year marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays, I’m resurrecting and updating old posts that sparked a lot of conversation or that still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today’s essay, written by the uber-talented award-winning author Jess Keating, originally appeared on November 15, 2017.

As a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, I experience a lot of variety when it comes to readers. Some kids prefer stories and narrative, while others embrace facts and figures. Both are equally valid, but as a society, we often send the message that stories and storytelling are the key to connecting with others. How do we connect with friends or share parts of ourselves? We tell stories. It’s something we’ve been doing since the dawn of humanity.


But what about the kids whose strengths don’t connect them like this? 

When we portray narrative as the most powerful way of connecting to each other, we’re leaving out a lot of kids. To dig into this, we need to look at the hidden benefits of expository nonfiction. To avoid generalizing kids and their tastes, I’ll use myself as an example.

I was a “nonfiction” kid. STEM-focused. Analytical. I loved facts and figures, and clear diagrams labeling what something was, how it lived, and so on. Don’t get me wrong—I loved stories (and still do!). But stories aren’t as easy to share, especially when you’re learning the ins and outs of your social world. If you’ve ever seen someone fumble the punch line of a joke (or done so yourself!), you know that even short narratives have their dangers. Some kids intuitively grasp narrative and become storytellers from a young age. But what about the rest? 

In contrast, expository nonfiction is easy to share. And when something is easy to share, it has incredible social benefits.

Think of how you feel when you’re attending a cocktail party, or some function where you don’t know a lot of people, but want to make a good impression. That’s what it’s like every day for kids, especially at school. The stakes are high. They want and need to connect socially, but for those STEM-focused, “facts and figures” kids, narrative is easy to botch. It can also require long stretches of time, uninterrupted. 


Enter expository nonfiction, to save the day. Well crafted expository nonfiction is all punch line:

“Did you know sea cucumbers breathe out their butts?”

This is a fact I share with many kids, and their response is instantaneous: they love it. But more than that, it becomes immediately apparent that they want to share it. It’s neat. It’s fun. It’s just edgy enough to sound cool. For those kids, this simple, goofy fact is more than a fact: it’s social ammunition. It’s a doorway to open a conversation, make an impression with another kid, or catapult to a belly laugh with someone. 

It’s a way to express some part of themselves, or their personality, that’s handy, simple to share, and extremely adaptable. Different kids will embrace different subjects, and that’s perfect. There should be enough expository nonfiction to fit every kid’s personality and interests.

By giving kids quality expository nonfiction, we give them access to more than just facts: we give them confidence. Confidence to start a discussion or join in on one. Confidence to connect with someone who has a similar mindset. A solid tidbit that embodies a kid’s personality can be just as engaging as a new outfit, fancy shoes, or a well-timed story shared around the lunch table. 

As a child, I felt a rush of excitement when I learned some new fact or figure. That fact was mine. I owned it. I couldn’t wait to share it, and more than that, I felt like I was participating in real science, just by knowing something and passing it along. It’s a remarkable feeling for a kid. 

Confidence is great, but what else? We’re also sending another important message when we share expository nonfiction with students. We’re telling kids that facts alone can be enough. No window dressing, no intros or poignant endings. We’re saying that facts can be wondrous enough to be meaningful. Truth, at its core, is more than enough and deserves our attention.

This might seem like a small point, but consider that this is how many kids see the world. By not focusing enough attention on expository nonfiction, are we tacitly telling kids who connect with it that their strengths and perspectives don’t matter?   

By invalidating or underestimating expository nonfiction, we also invalidate and underestimate the kids that speak this language: the language of facts, figures, statistics, and patterns. Every kid should feel like the lens through which they see the world is valid, and better yet, exciting. Expository nonfiction validates kids as seekers in their world, and encourages them to pursue their goals (particularly in STEM fields). It shows kids that their worldview is valuable, and just as worthy of attention and interest as that of any other kid.

Another hidden benefit of quality expository nonfiction lies in its essence: with it, we say that some things are knowable. To an adult, this isn’t that big of a deal. But think back to when you were a kid. How much of your life was really knowable? With friend dramas, teachers, parents, difficult school subjects, and the stressors of life, what could you depend on no matter what? Suddenly, a solid truth feels like a hug. 

Life can be tough and uncertain for a lot of kids, and solid facts and figures can provide a foothold in an otherwise rough climb. With STEM-focused expository nonfiction, we’re showing kids that something can be trusted and learned through a reliable method. Chimpanzees use tools. Earth orbits around the Sun. Every known thing builds a picture of reality that can help stabilize a tumultuous inner world.

Not all kids will relate to this, but for those who do, there’s a quiet confidence to be found in knowing how trees release oxygen for the rest of us to breathe. Expository nonfiction can be a social tool, a validating perspective, and an emotional balance.

I meet expository-loving kids every day. Sometimes they’re quiet. Sometimes they’re class clowns. But all of them deserve to feel like their strengths and world view are valuable. Representation matters, in all facets of the word. By including expository nonfiction on our bookshelves, we’re one step closer.

As a zoologist turned middle grade and picture book author, Jess Keating has been sprayed by skunks, bitten by crocodiles, and been a victim to the dreaded paper cut. She is the author of the award-winning and quirky ‘World of Weird Animals’ series, which kicked off with Pink is for Blobfish, the picture book biography Shark Lady, and middle-grade novel series Elements of Genius. Jess has a Master’s of Science, a love of nerdy documentaries, and a pile of books threatening to take over her house. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Sibert Smackdown! There’s Still Time

The American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards are a little less than 2 weeks away. I can’t wait to find who the winners will be, can you? 

As a nonfiction lover, the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal is my favorite award of all. And that’s why I started the Sibert Smackdown four years ago. It’s a fun activity for students in grades 3-8. And there’s still time for you and your school to participate. 
Check out this post for all the details, including my list of recommended titles. I hope you’ll join us. Please use the Twitter hashtag #SibertSmackdown to share what you and your students are doing.

Monday, January 13, 2020

A Delightfully Disgusting Sneak Peek

I’m excited to kick off 2020 by sharing something I’m pretty excited about—the cover AND three spreads from my upcoming book Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses. 

This book has been a looooong time in the making--23 years in all, so I can’t wait for it to officially enter the world on June 23, 2020. With 112 pages of fascinating information, it’s perfect for summer reading. 

I’m thrilled with the amazing photos National Geographic was able to track down. And I love the design. It’s so colorful and dynamic. I think kids (and adults) will love it.

Here’s the publisher’s description:
Get ready to be totally grossed out as you discover the incredibly icky ways animals eat, make their homes, and defend themselves.

From ants to zebras, you’ll discover some seriously strange animal behaviors. Slurp up soupy insides with houseflies, spit sticky saliva to build nests with birds, and fend off predators with poop-flinging caterpillars and farting snakes. And that’s just the tip of the dung pile! These yucky habits may seem surprising to us, but they’re totally normal for these animals. In fact, their survival depends on them.

Lively text, incredible photography, and all kinds of fun features make this book a must read for curious kids. Ready to chew some fingernails with cockroaches? Dive into the disgusting world of animals!
And the good news is that you can pre-order it now.