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Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom
The love of good books flows steadily through my bloodstream–always has. I have to admit, though, that I tend to stick to the tried-and-true classics, titles that have staying power and have inspired readers for generations.
But I also love stumbling across a new-to-me book on a library’s shelf and flipping through to discover that it has the makings of a classic after all–it inspires, it teaches, it tells a deeper story. And in the past year there have been many such books released.
Here are ten nonfiction titles, along with excerpts from the reviews they’ve been given, that you and yours might enjoy checking out:
by Deborah Heiligman (Author), LeUyen Pham (Illustrator)
“Growing up in Hungary during WWI, Erdos tried school but chafed at the rules and convinced his mother that he should study at home. (Jamie’s note: Woot! Homeschool alert!)
Unable to do common tasks such as cooking, laundry, or driving, he spent his adult life flying around the world, staying with other mathematicians, and working collaboratively on challenging math problems.
This excellent picture-book biography celebrates a man little known outside his field, but one well worth knowing.” ~ Booklist Starred Review
by Michelle Markel (Author) , Melissa Sweet (Illustrator)
“In the winter of 1909, a brave girl named Clara Lemlich, only five feet tall, picketed for workers’ rights. She arrived in America along with hundreds of other immigrants from eastern Europe, hardly speaking any English.
But instead of her father being hired, it’s Clara the factories want, and off she goes to make women’s clothing in a garment factory from dawn till dusk.
While the men at the factory don’t think girls are strong enough to strike, Clara proves them wrong, eventually leading the “largest walkout of women workers in U.S. history.” ~ Booklist Starred Review
by Patricia Polacco
“The very shy Clara was especially close to her brother, Davie, who understood that she had a severe lisp. After classmates teased her about her speech, Clara, an excellent student, was taught at home. (Jamie’s note: And another homeschool alert here!!)
She and Davie visited the library and borrowed books about nature. Soon, Clara was borrowing medical books as well. Word of her ability spread and she began treating the neighbors’ livestock.
This heartwarming story of sibling devotion and overcoming obstacles will whet readers’ interest and lead them to further study.” ~ School Library Journal Review
Locomotive (Caldecott Medal Book)
by Brian Floca
“Locomotive is a breathtaking look at a family’s 1869 journey from Omaha to Sacramento via the newly completed Transcontinental Railroad. The unnamed family is a launching point for Floca’s irrepressible exploration into, well, everything about early rail travel, from crew responsibilities and machinery specifics to the sensory thrills of a bridge rumbling beneath and the wind blasting into your face.
It’s impossible to turn a page without learning something, but it’s these multiple wow moments that will knock readers from their chairs. Fantastic opening and closing notes make this the book for young train enthusiasts.” ~ Booklist Starred Review
by Paul Fleischman (Author) , Bagram Ibatoulline (Illustrator)
“When a young girl meets her great grandfather, she asks him about his old collection of little matchboxes, and he explains that at her age he could not read and write.
To remember his experiences, he kept symbolic things in matchboxes: bones from the cannery where his family worked in the U.S., a tooth he lost when bullies threw rocks at him, a ticket for his first baseball game, and other things he kept to show his progress as he learned to read and rose to become a successful adult.
An excellent title for sharing and discussion, this will resonate with the many kids who will recognize how small, ordinary things can become treasures.” ~ Booklist Starred Review
by Jennifer Berne (Author) , Vladimir Radunsky (Illustrator)
“It’s not easy to explain the work of Albert Einstein to a young audience, but this marvelous book pulls it off. It does so by providing an overview of Einstein’s life: the way he thought and how his remarkable ideas changed the way scientists think. Berne begins with baby Albert, who didn’t say a word.
And as he got older, he didn’t say a word—but he looked and wondered. When he was a student, his teachers thought he was too different, but his differences led him to think about natural phenomenon like light and numbers in new ways.” ~ Booklist Starred Review
by Jen Bryant (Author) , Melissa Sweet (Illustrator)
“Born in Pennsylvania in 1888, Horace Pippin loved to draw and paint as a child. When he was in eighth grade, his father left the family. Horace quit school and worked to support them. Later wounded as a soldier in WWI, he never regained full use of his right arm.
Back home, Pippin began painting again, using his left arm to guide his right. Painting subjects drawn mainly from observation, memory, family stories, and the Bible, this self-taught African American artist was eventually discovered by the art community.” ~ Booklist Starred Review
by Barb Rosenstock (Author) , John O’Brien (Illustrator)
“This attractive picture book uses Thomas Jefferson’s love of reading and collecting books as a lens through which to view the story of his life. Even as a young child, Tom reads through his father’s library, and as a young man, he collects his own.
He uses what he has learned from books to write the Declaration of Independence, and other papers through his presidency and retirement to 1814, when a fire destroyed the Library of Congress.
The story concludes with Jefferson selling his beloved books to form the basis of the new collection there. An informative author’s note rounds out this appealing introduction to Jefferson.” ~ Booklist Review
by H. Joseph Hopkins (Author), Jill McElmurry (Illustrator)
“Katherine Olivia Sessions, who grew up in Northern California in the 1860s, always loved trees. Girls back then weren’t supposed to get their hands dirty, but Kate did. Girls were also discouraged from studying science, but Kate graduated from the University of California with a degree in science in 1881. Postgraduation, Kate moved to San Diego, a desert town with little greenery.
She wrote to gardeners far and wide, seeking out seeds that would thrive in a harsh desert climate, and by the turn of the century, oaks, eucalypti, and palms sprung up throughout the city. A lovely tribute to the pioneering (and environmentalist) spirit, topped off by an author’s note.” ~ Booklist Starred Review
by Tanya Lee Stone (Author) , Marjorie Priceman (Illustrator)
“Women not able to be doctors? There’s a crazy thought! Yet one woman had to be first. Stone and Priceman combine their considerable talents to tell the story of Elizabeth Blackwell, who fought the scorn, the sneers, and the barriers on her way to becoming a physician.
As an adult, prompted by a friend who wished for a woman doctor, Blackwell decided to apply to medical school—and so the rejection began.
Once accepted, she was treated abysmally by her fellow students, until she proved herself smarter than any of them. The extended author’s note will further intrigue readers.” ~ Booklist Starred Review
Enjoy the reading and the inspiration!
“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”
~ Mark Twain