Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesdays – September 9, 2015

nonfictionThis week has been a bumper week for reading, so I have a couple of fascinating nonfiction titles to share with you today as part of Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday.


Title: Jemmy Button
Author: Jennifer Uman, Valerio Vidali, Alix Barzelay
Illustrator: Jennifer Uman & Valerio Vidali
Publisher: templar publishing
Publication Date: 2012
Genre/Format: Nonfiction/Picture Book 
Publisher’s Summary: Jennifer Uman and Valerio Vidali discovered a mutual interest in this story and overcame language obstacles with the help of translators. Jemmy Button, a native of Tierra del Fuego, was brought to England in the mid-1800s to be “educated and civilized.” The book illustrates Jemmy’s adventures in England, his extraordinary encounters, his homesickness and experiences as an outsider in a strange land, and his return home.

My Two Cents: I first came across the story of Jemmy Button in Evolution’s Captain, an excellent account of the voyages of the Beagle to Tierra del Fuego. I was curious to see how this story could be translated into a children’s picture book. The result is a bit of a curious affair – an admittedly fictionalized version of history that provides Jemmy with a much happier ending than the one he actually experienced. Jemmy Button would probably work best as a classroom text – although there is a brief historical note at the end of the book, critical information is still missing. Children may not grasp the complexity of this historical event, which is a far sadder tale than the text makes it out to be. By all accounts Jemmy Button was kidnapped, and was treated more like a circus animal than a guest by his new owners. Upon returning to his homeland he was left trapped in limbo between his original self and his European identity, struggling to readjust to his traditional way of life.

Jemmy was also only one of several locals who were taken to Europe as souvenirs – the other individuals are not mentioned in the text, but their stories were no less fascinating, or sad. The group included a young girl, labelled Fuegia Basket, who was less than 14 years old. The circumstances surrounding Jemmy’s return to his homeland are also shown in a more positive light – the text notes that “the visitors agreed that he should go back and teach his people what he had learned”, and suggests that Jemmy himself decided it was time to go home. In reality it was a series of scandals that motivated the groups’ return to Tierra del Fuego, and which became source of great embarrassment to the English captain who first purchased them.

The true story of Jemmy Button is a dark tale of kidnapping, abuse and neglect. It is a story of imperialism, slavery, racism, and cultural disintegration – the people to whom Jemmy Button belonged were eventually driven to extinction. If Jemmy Button were an entirely fictional account, rather than a fictionalized version of actual events, I might be more comfortable with its edited, more optimistic storyline. Readers who aren’t familiar with the original historical event, however, might simply enjoy this beautifully illustrated, simply told, and quietly elegant story.This picture book will likely appeal to adults and older children, rather than to the younger children to whom picture books are typically marketed.

Woodpecker Wham!

Title: Woodpecker Wham!
Author: April Pulley Sayre
Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Publication Date: 2015
Genre/Format: Nonfiction/Picture Book 
Publisher’s Summary: Enter woodpecker world and get a bird’s eye view of everyday life: hiding from hawks, feeding hungry chicks, and drilling holes to build homes. Woodpeckers are nature’s home builders, creating holes that many other animals live in when the woodpeckers move on.

A variety of woodpecker species fly through these pages–perhaps some that live near you!

My Two Cents: Here’s a fun nonfiction picture book that could easily be incorporated into story times. The rhyming text is rhythmic and repetitive, with plenty of opportunities for audience participation. The mixed-media collage illustrations are the true stars of this picture book, with bright, bold colours and inviting textures bringing different woodpeckers brilliantly to life. A comprehensive facts section at the end of the book provides extensive information, making Woodpecker Wham! an ideal classroom text. This is a visually-attractive informational picture book that would work well for independent or group reading.


Title: Everyone Smiles!
Authors: Ashley N. Grisham, Gary L. Kersey, Jr.
Publisher: Ambassador International
Publication Date: 2015
Genre/Format: Nonfiction
Publisher’s Summary: Everyone Smiles is a child’s educational step-by-step guide on how to keep one’s smile clean and healthy. The steps empower all children with an independent sense of pride and responsibility that they too have the ability to keep their smile strong. Advocating that the power of the smile touches each and every culture around the globe, in addition to the easy to learn dental health lesson for kids, this book includes pediatric diversity in the form of age, race, gender, and both mental and physical disabilities.

My Two Cents: The rhymes are sometimes clunky and the rhythm can at times lack smoothness, but none of that really matters, because it is the incredible photography in this book that makes it a winner. Everyone Smiles really means everyone – boys and girls of all ages, sizes, colours, abilities and backgrounds are celebrated in this beautifully inclusive children’s book. Even more beautiful is the fact that many of these children are depicted together, enjoying each other’s company in joyfully diverse groups.There’s even a lovely photo of little girl with a cleft palate – showing that all smiles are truly beautiful. I will happily overlook any faults of the text (and they are pretty minor faults) to have a book this positive, diverse and inclusive in my collection. It might not be a picture book per se, but a book this awesome I just had to share.

Quite the range of material this week – what are your favourite nonfiction books this week?