Nonfiction Picturebook Wednesdays – 10/7/15


Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015 is a weekly celebration of imaginative children’s nonfiction materials hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy.

I think this is my favourite post of the week to write – I really love sharing some of the awesome assortment of nonfiction picture books I discover in my library. It’s also encouraged me to “shop my shelves”, browsing the collection for hidden gems that deserve to reach a wider audience. Here’s what I’ve come across this week:

Title: Noah Webster and His Words
Author: Jeri Chase Ferris
Illustrator: Vincent X. Kirsch
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Publication Date: 2012
Genre/Format: Nonfiction/Picture Book 
Publisher’s SummaryWebster’s American Dictionary is the second most popular book ever printed in English. But who was that Webster? Noah Webster (1758–1843) was a bookish Connecticut farm boy who became obsessed with uniting America through language. He spent twenty years writing two thousand pages to accomplish that, and the first 100 percent American dictionary was published in 1828 when he was seventy years old. This clever, hilariously illustrated account shines a light on early American history and the life of a man who could not rest until he’d achieved his dream. An illustrated chronology of Webster’s life makes this a picture perfect bi-og-ra-phy [noun: a written history of a person’s life].

My Two Cents: I’m of two minds about this book. On the one hand, it’s a great story of perseverance and dogged determination. Noah Webster was a man who believed without hesitation or question in himself and his goals, and was willing to do whatever it took to make his dreams a reality. That’s a great message to share with children, especially because Webster’s road to success was a long, rocky and winding road, full of disappointments and setbacks which he refused to let deter him. That part is excellent. The illustrations are a little weird but entertaining, and the use of dictionary definitions throughout is a clever little feature. On the other hand, this is definitely a book about an American, written by an American, for American children. As a Canadian, I spell words the British way, employing words that Webster strove to replace (hello “colour”, “neighbourhood” and “plough”!). So, for Canadian children this might be a bit of a confusing read, and one that lacks the same “hurray for us!” meaning.

Title: Miss Moore Thought Otherwise
Author: Jan Pinborough
Illustrator: Debby Atwell
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Publication Date: 2013
Genre/Format: Nonfiction/Picture Book 
Publisher’s Summary: Once upon a time, American children couldn’t borrow library books. Reading wasn’t all that important for children, many thought. Luckily Miss Anne Carroll Moore thought otherwise! This is the true story of how Miss Moore created the first children’s room at the New York Public Library, a bright, warm room filled with artwork, window seats, and most important of all, borrowing privileges to the world’s best children’s books in many different languages.

My Two Cents: From a book about American spelling, to a book with an American flag on the cover….Still, as a children’s librarian, this book has a very special place in my heart. People take it for granted today that librarians cater to children and families, but as “Miss Moore Thought Otherwise” reveals, the idea of a children’s library department is actually very recent. Anne Carroll Moore was a librarian light-years ahead of her time, whose ideas wouldn’t be out of place in today’s libraries. She believed that children needed their own library spaces, spaces that we inviting, comforting and friendly, and which encouraged children to read and spend time together. She believed that reading was important for all children, girls and boys, and provided children’s books in different languages. She believed in providing story times and performances for children. She even used a little doll to help encourage shy children to read, much in the same way we use puppets, or even dogs, to help support shy or struggling readers. Moore truly was a children’s library pioneer and evangelist, and her trailblazing ideas and tireless efforts should be celebrated in every children’s library. We owe early librarians like Moore a great deal of gratitude and respect, especially considering they were working in a time when women weren’t afforded the same respect as men.

.Title: Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?
Author: Tanya Lee Stone
Illustrator: Marjorie Priceman
Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books
Publication Date: 2013
Genre/Format: Nonfiction/Picture Book 
Publisher’s Summary: In the 1830s, when a brave and curious girl named Elizabeth Blackwell was growing up, women were supposed to be wives and mothers. Some women could be teachers or seamstresses, but career options were few. Certainly no women were doctors. But Elizabeth refused to accept the common beliefs that women weren’t smart enough to be doctors, or that they were too weak for such hard work. And she would not take no for an answer. Although she faced much opposition, she worked hard and finally–when she graduated from medical school and went on to have a brilliant career–proved her detractors wrong. This inspiring story of the first female doctor shows how one strong-willed woman opened the doors for all the female doctors to come.

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? by Tanya Lee Stone is an NPR Best Book of 2013

My Two CentsGirl power! Elizabeth Blackwell, like Anne Carroll Moore, was a women a century ahead of her time. Brave, determined, hardworking, self-confident and brilliant, Blackwell shattered gender expectations and set the groundwork for generations of women to come. This is a brilliant, brilliant story, and I am so glad I can share books like this with children. While this is definitely an inspiring story for girls, providing an exceptional role model who refused to let herself be held back by gender stereotypes, its audience shouldn’t just be limited to girls. Anyone can be inspired by this story of determination, stubbornness and self-confidence. Children may face a range of potential limitations that they feel prevent them from achieving certain goals. Perhaps they think they’re too short or too tall, too shy or too slow or too poor, the wrong colour, the wrong gender, the wrong culture, the wrong body type. Whatever they think is stopping them from being themselves, Elizabeth Blackwell’s story might help them develop the confidence they need to at least try. Like the other stories in this book, Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors doesn’t pretend that Blackwell’s journey was easy. She faced terrible obstacles and opposition, and had very little support. The road to success can be scary, painful and lonely. But that’s no reason not to at least try. An inspiring picture book that’s also a great read.


16 thoughts on “Nonfiction Picturebook Wednesdays – 10/7/15

  1. Hi Jane! I love your non-fiction reviews, thanks! This week’s reminded me of writing an essay on Elizabeth Blackwell in grade 6, and how inspiring she was for me. I’m really enjoying your blog.


  2. There are features that don’t always fit & I’m glad you pointed them out, Jane, like the facts about Webster making spelling changes. I’m happy to see these books about people who made a path where others hadn’t been, brave & determined people, weren’t they? I loved Miss Moore thought otherwise. I am old enough to remember being questioned about checking out ‘adult’ books, & I had to have one of my parents do it for me-ugh! I still need to read the one about Elizabeth Blackwell. What a tough woman she was! Thanks for all!


    • As you might imagine, many, if not most, of the picture books available on the shelves in Canadian librarians are actually American. Much of the time this isn’t a problem, as great stories can cross all boundaries. Webster’s story is pretty funny, since the way we spell is one of the most obvious differences between Canadians and Americans! 🙂 Still, spelling aside, Webster was a determined, hard-working man with unwavering self-confidence, who believed in bringing people together through words – I think we can all agree on that!


  3. A great trio of biographies. I love girl power and had no idea about Anne Carroll Moore and let’s hear it for Elizabeth Blackwell. Thanks for sharing these, Jane.


    • Isn’t it great? This is such a good time to be working with children’s literature – the variety of people being celebrated in print is so exciting and inspiring. Lots of amazing people to look up to and admire.


    • Great stories cross cultural and national borders, don’t they? We can all be inspired by amazing people – anyone might face barriers or periods of self-doubt that could stand in the way of achieving their goals. These individuals can touch each and every one of us in some way!


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