Nonfiction for (and about!) school

The following education-related titles for elementary-school-aged readers explore fascinating nonfiction topics and should help keep learners engaged. For slightly older readers, see also Dreyer’s English.

Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua
by Gloria Amescua; illus. by Duncan Tonatiuh
Primary, Intermediate    Abrams    48 pp.    g
8/21    978-1-4197-4020-6    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-68335-738-4    $15.54

Luz Jiménez was an Indigenous Nahua girl from Milpa Alta, on the outskirts of Mexico City, who grew up to realize her dreams of becoming a teacher and working to preserve the Nahua language and culture. As a child, she was not allowed to go to school — that is, until the government realized that education could be used as a tool to control Indigenous people (“to turn the native children into modern ones, like the descendants of the Spanish who ruled the country, who thought only their ways were right and proper”) at the cost of preserving their traditional ways of life. When the Mexican Revolution came in 1911, Jiménez’s father was killed in the fighting and chaos, and the family moved to Mexico City, where Luz was fortunate to find work as a model for some of the leading artists of the day, including Diego Rivera. When the war ended, she returned to Milpa Alta and found her true calling as a teacher. Tonatiuh’s (Soldier for Equality, rev. 1/20; Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns, rev. 11/20) hand-drawn, digitally collaged illustrations, with an iconographic nod to the Mixtec codices, are rich in color and texture. Indeed, it’s this complicated relationship between old traditions and modern influences that makes his art such a good complement to Amescua’s text. Flowers, a Nahua metaphor for poetry, are incorporated throughout. An author’s note, a timeline, a glossary, source notes, and a bibliography are appended. JONATHAN HUNT

The Magic School Bus Explores Human Evolution [Magic School Bus]
by Joanna Cole; illus. by Bruce Degen
Primary, Intermediate    Scholastic    56 pp.    g
4/21    978-0-590-10828-7    $17.99

Ms. Frizzle’s latest adventure (published posthumously for Cole, alas) takes her class, joined by newcomer Bo who’s visiting from China, back 3.5 billion years in Earth’s history, then forward through the path of human evolution. Before they board the bus, the students present their own family trees, bridging that familiar concept to “the family tree of the whole human race.” Then the antics begin, with the characters taking on the shapes of life forms of increasing complexity across the timeline, from single- and multi-celled organisms through fish, amphibians, reptiles, and primates. Extra time is spent on early and modern human species, including the development of culture and language. A helpful graphic appears every few pages to mark progress through geologic time. As always, the cheerful illustrations pack in entire subtexts: humorous speech-bubble dialogue among the classmates and numerous facts contained in reports and other visual asides. Additional explanations of the evidence for evolution and how natural selection works are appended. DANIELLE J. FORD

You Are a Reader! / You Are a Writer!
by April Jones Prince; illus. by Christine Davenier
Primary    Ferguson/Holiday    40 pp.    g
8/21    978-0-8234-4625-4    $18.99

Rhyming text in an upbeat, singsong-y rhythm winds through soft spot art, cheering on new readers and writers in this two-books-in-one picture book. The effective format celebrates becoming a reader on one side and becoming a writer on the flip side. The two stories meet in the middle with a circle of repeating text — “and readers are writers and writers are readers” — to underline the eternal connectedness of the two. Each side of the book mirrors the other in structure, providing strategies, acknowledging challenges, and championing the many ways of being a reader or writer. “Storybooks aren’t quite your speed? / So many other things to read! / Labels, / programs, / comic books. / A recipe that you can cook.” The gently illustrated vignettes give deeper context to the words and depict many different children in a wide variety of situations, ranging from funny to heartwarming. Each child appears twice in the book, once on each side, creating even more stories to imagine within the main story itself. JULIE ROACH

We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know
by Traci Sorell; illus. by Frané Lessac
Primary, Intermediate    Charlesbridge    40 pp.    g
4/21    978-1-62354-192-7    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-63289-973-6    $9.99

In this informational picture book by the team behind We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga (rev. 11/18), a diverse group of students and families are headed to (the fictional) Native Nations Community School for Indigenous People’s Day presentations. Each spread depicts a different student’s report on a subject significant to Native people’s experience since the late 1800s. Topics include assimilation, allotment, termination, language revival, and more; although these are dense and complex areas, Sorell makes them comprehensible for readers through the book’s unique format. Each classmate’s “presentation” includes a brief summary or definition (“Assimilation: Most U.S. leaders did not respect our ways and thought it would be better for us to adopt their beliefs and practices”) with a handful of supporting details. Every presentation concludes with the line: “We are still here!” Warm gouache illustrations help support the historical context while personalizing the contemporary setting. This book provides information that is omitted from most curricula (“Most people do not know what happened to Native Nations and our citizens after treaty making stopped in 1871”) in an easy-to-understand manner. Above all, the message is reinforced for all readers: Native people are still here. Appended with a glossary, a timeline, sources, and an author’s note. NICHOLL DENICE MONTGOMERY

The Teachers March!: How Selma’s Teachers Changed History
by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace; illus. by Charly Palmer
Primary, Intermediate    Calkins/Boyds Mills & Kane    48 pp.    g
9/20    978-1-62979-452-5    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-63592-453-4    $11.99

The 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery is well known, especially with the death in 2020 of leader John Lewis, which brought renewed attention to the historic event. Less known is the teachers’ march, which happened six weeks before as part of the larger voting rights struggle in Selma. This book dramatizes how the teachers planned their protest, risking imprisonment and violence, leaving the classroom and taking to the streets, holding “their toothbrushes in the air, ready to go to jail for freedom.” The lively text incorporates lots of dialogue (sources indicated in the back matter), making for dramatic reading, and in particular weaving in the narrative of fifteen-year-old Joyce Parrish and her mother. But the illustrations are the star here, with Palmer’s beautifully lit acrylic-on-board paintings that are at times impressionistic or, as he writes in the illustrator’s note, “abstract and primal.” He effectively plays with perspective — an upward view of Brown Chapel, following the spires to the sky, and a double-page spread showing legs and feet with polished shoes marching down the street. The selected bibliography mainly includes adult books, but many excellent books for young people are available, including Partridge’s Marching for Freedom (rev. 11/09), Lewis’s March: Book Three (rev. 9/16), and Freedman’s Because They Marched (rev. 9/14). A strong addition to the literature on a pivotal event in civil rights history. DEAN SCHNEIDER

From the August 2021 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
Horn Book

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