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31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Twenty-Seven – 2017 Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books


Well folks, we’re reaching the end of this month-long party. There are only a few lists to go, and it looks like I’ve been saving some of the biggies to the end. And because there are only so many hours in a day, and because I’ve mentioned a lot of these titles before, I’m just going to do write-ups for the ones that are making their 31 Days, 31 Lists debuts today.

Here then are the titles from 2017 that just made me exceedingly happy. If I were trapped on a desert island . . . with a library, and I was told I had to list the nonfiction picture books of the year with which to fill said library, this is what I’d take.

Nonfiction Picture Book Favorites of 2017

Apex Predators by Steve Jenkins


The question you have to ask yourself is not whether Steve Jenkins would make a Top Nonfiction list of the year, but how often. And yet, I really like choosing an author or illustrator’s best book. For me, dinosaurs win. Big, toothy, mean, dinos in books filled with the latest information. What’s not to love?

Around the World in a Bathtub: Bathing All Over the Globe by Wade Bradford, ill. Micha Archer


Aw. This book is very sweet, and rather young. In fact, it makes for excellent reading around bathtime with younger kids. Hellooooo, curricular tie-ins with everyday occurrences! Not in-depth particularly, the book still does a lovely romp around the globe, showing different forms of bathing (and different kids objecting to it vociferously).

Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, ill. Nancy Carpenter


Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp


Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, ill. James E. Ransome


Caroline’s Comets: A True Story by Emily Arnold McCully


Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, ill. Man One


Danza! Amalia Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico by Duncan Tonatiuh


Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton, ill. Victo Ngai


Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown, ill. John Parra


Germs: Fact and Fiction, Friends and Foes by Lesa Cline-Ransome, ill. James Ransome


The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon by Frances Poletti & Kristina Yee, ill. Susanna Chapman


Gorilla Gardener: How to Help Nature Take Over the World by John & Jana


Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Walmark, ill. Katy Wu


Grand Canyon by Jason Chin


Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, ill. Shawn Harris


The Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler


How Does My Home Work? by Chris Butterworth, ill. Lucia Gaggiotti


How the Cookie Crumbled: The True (and Not-So-True) Stories of the Invention of the Chocolate Chip Cookie by Gilbert Ford


This book (and you’ll see a lot of them on today’s list) doesn’t really slot into an easy category. I didn’t have a list this December of Biographies of Objects. Gilbert Ford (one of my favorite illustrators anyway) stole my heart when he did that Slinky bio last year. This book is particularly keen because it’s a marvel at showing kids unreliable histories. In fact, when Ford gets to the fact that there are multiple tellings of how this particular cookie was invented, it gives each one its own time and space, then logically explains why one or another might be unlikely. This is the fake news cookie book! If you want to teach kids about finding reliable resources when digging into history (and not believing everything they read) voila. A perfect accompaniment.

How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy


A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman, ill. Isabel Greenberg


If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams


If You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas, ill. Jaime Kim


Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing by Kay A. Haring, ill. Robert Neubecker


Look! What Do You See? An Art Puzzle Book of American and Chinese Songs by Xu Bing, ill. Becca Stadtlander


Yet another entry on Betsy’s Books I Friggin’ Shoulda Reviewed in 2017. Particularly because this book is impossible to figure out unless you read it thoroughly. You think this is a song book? It’s not. Not really. Friends, this is a code book. Look at the words above the title. You think they’re Chinese? Not even close. Those are English words written in a very specific pattern, invented by Xu Bing. Look at the first one. Do you see the big “L” the two little “Os” inside and the final “K”? See how all the letters in a word are reduced to a boxy size? It’s a brilliant code, made all the smarter by the fact that kids could easily pick it up and then fool every parent and adult they know. A spy book that disguises itself to elude suspicion? Not THAT is my kind of title!

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education by Raphaele Frier, ill. Aurelia Fronty


Malala and Pete Seeger are currently duking it out for the top honor of Most Popular Biographical Subject award. And, like Pete, I really only wanted to highlight one Malala book out in 2017. In this case, I liked the text and the art of this one quite a lot. In spite of how child-friendly Malala is, her story isn’t an easy one to simplify. Frier and Fronty do her justice and come out with something beautiful in the process.  My pick.

Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports by Phil Bildner, ill. Brett Helquist


Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, Designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Jeanne Walker Harvey, ill. Dow Phumiruk


Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote by Margarita Engle, ill. Raul Colon


Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin, ill. Evan Turk


The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano by Elizabeth Rusch, ill. Marjorie Priceman


My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis by Paul Meisel


Noah Webster’s Fighting Words by Tracy Nelson Maurer, ill. Mircea Catusanu


Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Being Disabled by Shane Burcaw, ill. Matt Carr


Our Gift-Filled Earth by Eun Hee Na, ill. Ha Jin Jung


Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, ill. Christopher Silas Neal


Pedal Power: How One Community Became the Bicycle Capital of the World by Allan Drummond


The problem with Allan Drummond is that he’s too darn good at what he does. People just take him for granted. They assume he’s going to be excellent every time and so they stop being surprised when it comes up with keen ideas like this. In this book Drummond examines a city that went from hostile to bikes to loving them wholeheartedly. Drummond’s ability to show places in the world that show their best selves is admirable. This book? Not to be missed (particularly if you know a bike lover).

Penguin Day: A Family Story by Nic Bishop


Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth by Molly Bank and Penny Chisholm


Robins: How They Grow Up by Eileen Christelow


Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter, ill. Stacy Innerst


Unlike Seeger and Malala, the RBG bios seem to limit themselves to roughly one a year. We had one last year (or was it two?), one this year, and I know for a fact we’ll be seeing one in 2018. I was a big fan of last year’s (I Dissent by Debbie Levy) and wasn’t sure if I wanted to see another version. And then darned if Winter doesn’t have an entirely different take on the iconic judge. So I’m sorry guys. I know you only thought you needed one RBG bio on your shelves, but you’d better scoot over and make room for this one as well. It’s kind of amazing.

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. Eric Velasquez


Spot the Mistake: Lands of Long Ago by Amanda Wood and Mike Jolley, ill. Frances Castle


A sharp co-worker turned me on to this particular series, and I’m grateful. Think of it was Where’s Waldo but as a force for good. The premise is simple. You’re taken back in time to different eras and you have to spot the historical inaccuracies and modern impositions on the past. I’ll put it another way. You know that moment in Spartacus when everybody says “I’m Spartacus”? Ever noticed the guy wearing a wristwatch in that scene? That’s this book. You go to different time periods and spot the things that shouldn’t be there. Sometimes they’re obvious (transistor radios!). Sometimes they’re subtle. But always, always, are they interesting. A really fun alternate take on teaching history.

Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich, ill. Adam Gustavson


I know that you, as a consumer, have a lot of Pete Seeger picture book bios to choose between in a given year. And while Reich’s may not be the shortest, it may well be the best. Making good use of those hard-core research skills, Reich doesn’t just summarize Pete’s life. She places it in the context of its times, and then places the nation’s history in the context of Pete’s life. The end result is a fully fleshed out appreciation of the singer that will make very clear why he’s worth all those biographies out there.

Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth by Don Tate


Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! by Andrea J. Loney, ill. Keith Mallett


Tell Me About Sex, Grandma by Anastasia Higginbotham


This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids From Around the World by Matt Lamothe


You didn’t think I’d forget to put this book on my list, did you? The only reason I haven’t done so before now is that it just doesn’t slot into my preconceived previous lists. That said, you’ve seen books of this sort before, right? The books that say what breakfast is like in one country and what school is like in another. The difference is that while those books are perfectly decent, this book is awesome. All the families in the book are real (and you get to meet them at the book’s end). The book makes VERY clear that this is what these individual families do and shouldn’t be assumed to represent what ALL people in that country prefer (a qualification I’d not seen in this kind of a book before). And the art? Fantastic. More of this in the future, if you would be so good, Mr. Lamothe.

A Time to Act: John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech by Shana Corey, ill. R. Gregory Christie


What Makes a Monster? Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating, ill. David DeGrand


Who Wants to Be a Princess? What It Was Really Like to Be a Medieval Princess by Bridget Heos, ill. Migy


Have I not mentioned this before? Oh, this book is just a ton of fun. It takes the Disneyfied version of princesses and then contrasts them with what a real Medieval princess would have to deal with in her daily life. Even with its jolt of reality, the realistic princess is looking pretty clean and flea-free in these illustrations. Even so, this is a perfect sneaky history lesson for kids that are all about the princesses, but need a jolt of history to put ’em all in context.

Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity by Sarah Suzuki, ill. Ellen Weinstein


The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson, ill. Vanessa Brantley Newton



Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations

December 3 – Wordless Picture Books

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – CaldeNotts

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – Translated Picture Books

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Poetry Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Comics for Kids

December 21 – Older Funny Books

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Fiction Reprints

December 30 – Middle Grade Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Betsy, would you please check the link to December 9 Picture Book Reprints. Each time I try it I get December 8 instead. Thank you.


  1. […] Dazzle Ships included on some of those lists — Fuse’s Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books and American History Books for Kids, the Nonfiction Picture Book Nerdies, and the Cybils’ […]