Dec 7, 2020

Best Nonfiction of 2020

Last year's nonfiction roundup caught the attention of Kimberlie Hamilton, author of Fearless Felines: 30 True Tales of Courageous Cats, and we became best friends. Okay, so we didn't exactly become best friends, but she did like the shoutout and we absolutely loved highlighting our favorite nonfiction titles. That brings us to this year's list. From protests to baby cheetahs to the mysteries of the stars, here are ten nonfiction books that we loved reading in 2020. 

Packs: Strength in Numbers by Hannah Salyer
The illustrations in this picture book are gorgeous, but the message is even more beautiful: “Packs, herds, huddles, and pods… Together, we are better.” Each two-page spread features a vast number of animals and their group name, such as a pod of dolphins or a herd of bison, and simple facts about the species’ characteristics and how they work together. The final pages of the book note extinction dangers and ways we can help various species survive. This would be a thoughtful book to share with elementary classes for conversations about community and teamwork. 

Exciting Sensory Bins for Curious Kids by Mandisa Watts 
The sheer number of Pinterest boards and blogs about sensory bins is overwhelming to say the least. Enter this guidebook for parents from the creator of Happy Toddler Playtime. Watts breaks down sensory bins into an easy, step-by-step process. First, Watts describes sensory bin basics, such as how to make colored pasta or salt, potential tools, and storage options. She then categorizes bins into simple themes such as Scoop and Pour, Messy, Nature, Pretend Play, and Math. Her instructions are detailed and even include what to talk about with your little one as they engage in sensory play, or simple adaptations that can be made to fit your needs. I’m hoping to use this book as the foundation for a future “Sensory Bin 101” program for caregivers.    
 
A Garden in your Belly: Meet the Microbes in Your Gut by Masha D’yans
Our bellies are full of tiny creatures, microbes, that love to eat, move, and grow along the river of our intestines. Some of these microbes are good for us and create a beautiful garden in our bellies, and some… well, some not so much. Inspired by her own struggles with food allergies and stomach aches, D’yans created this watercolor confection as a peek into our personal biologies. D’yans describes in very simple language what microbes do and how our diets and stomachs impact our overall health. The additional facts in the back of the book are a bit sparse, but the easy language and whimsical illustrations make this book worth a read. 
 
Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease by Gail Jarrow
Fair warning: Squeamish young readers may want to pick another book; some of the photographs in this one are gross and gruesome. That being said, this book contains everything I would have wanted to uncover as a history-obsessed kid and everything I love as a grownup librarian. From the moment it came into the Library, I’ve been pushing it off the shelves. The Civil War was a four year bloodbath that left hundreds of thousands of Americans dead and countless others with disabling wounds and disease. Jarrow follows the types of injuries and diseases Civil War soldiers encountered, including those in prisoner of war camps, and the era’s torturous treatments and medical training in response. She presents a wonderful mix of history and science. For instance, Jarrow explains that sanitation was the most serious threat to soldiers and that more men died due to contaminated water, bugs, and other sanitation issues instead of from bullets on the battlefield. The book contains plenty of photographs, firsthand accounts, a detailed glossary and index, and massive amounts of additional resources to explore. Jarrow also gives a nod to the many contributions of women during the Civil War and argues that without their assistance, the death count would have been even higher. The best part? This is just the first gem from Jarrow in what is going to be her “Medical Fiascoes” series. This book is an amazing addition to any TBR list. 

The Teachers March! by Sandra Neil Wallace
This is just one of several high quality books being released about social justice and protesting. The Teachers March! follows the story of science teacher Reverend F.D. Reese and his peaceful march of 104 teachers to the Dallas County Courthouse in Selma, Alabama in 1965 to demand black voting rights. This little known march was actually a catalyst for bigger protests in Selma and across the nation. Wallace uses interviews with Reverend Reese and other protesters as the foundation of the book. Furthermore, Wallace shows not only the brutality and danger the teachers faced by protesting, but the careful, detailed planning and communication that took place to make the march happen. As a history major, this is a huge point of favor for me. Too often moments in the Civil Rights Movement are characterized as spontaneous, ignoring the vast amount of effort that it took for such protests and events to actually take place. It’s incredibly timely and relevant, and worth putting on your TBR pile. 
 
The Secrets of Astrology by D.K. Publishing
Are you a fire, earth, water, or air sign? What exactly is a ruling planet? How do you even begin to decode a birth chart? This book is perfect for young readers looking to dip their toes into the wonders of astrology. The text is simple and clear, and the illustrations are bold and colorful. The book outlines each of the twelve zodiac signs, the roles of the planets and houses, birth charts, horoscopes, and a brief history of the evolution of astrology. The book is a nice companion to D.K. Publishing’s 2018 guidebook Astrology: Using the Wisdom of the Stars in Your Everyday Life. The title is a fun, informative read for any reader fascinated by the sky and its influence on our lives. 
 
WildLife Ranger Action Guide: Track, Spot & Provide Healthy Habitat for Creatures Close to Home by Mary Kay Carson
When we think of endangered animals or threatened habitats, our minds tend to go to polar bears, rhinos, or other creatures in far off places. This guidebook, however, illustrates how there are many bees, butterflies, frogs, skunks, and other critters close to home that could use our help. Over six thematic chapters Carson profiles various animal species, and provides maps, observation activities, and various crafts and projects to encourage young readers to engage with the natural world around them. Particularly fun activities include anti-window crashing clings for birds, upcycled homes for bees, and nut wreaths for squirrels. A good introduction for young citizen scientists.    
  
My Wild Life: Adventures of a Wildlife Photographer Book by Suzi Eszterhas
How do you go from taking pictures of cats in your backyard to snapping pictures of cheetah cubs in Kenya? Eszterhas gives an inspiring look at her journey as a wildlife photographer in this compact, colorful biography. Eszterhas doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of her profession. Yes, there are plenty of amazing moments like becoming so familiar to cheetah cubs that you can take a picture of them while they play on your jeep. Other moments are extremely challenging, such as waiting for hours for the perfect shot, wearing seven layers of clothing in the arctic, being charged by rhinos and gorillas, and even having to have a pee bottle while working in the field (and making sure not to mistake it with your water bottle). There are plenty of pictures of baby animals, Eszterhas’ favorite subject, and an “Ask Suzi” section at the end of the book for further inspiration. Young readers will come away with a true sense of the skills and hard work required for the rewarding career of a wildlife photographer.    
 
Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices by Lindsay Metcalf
Since learning about this book in the early fall, I’ve been eagerly awaiting its arrival at the Library. It did not disappoint! Do “tractorcades” and Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid concert sound familiar? In the late 1970s, farmers across the United States drove their tractors into public spaces to protest failing grain prices, rising fuel and land costs, and Americans’ indifferent attitude concerning the farms that supplied their grocery stores. Metcalf, having grown up on a farm and now a journalist, methodically details the importance of social justice and how the farmers’ protests led to change by the end of the 1980s. The text is simple and straightforward, but the true standout is the book’s use of photographs. Large color and black and white images show the massive seas of tractors that farmers created at the nation’s capital, near President Carter’s home in Georgia, and more. This is a great read about a little-discussed point in history and the power of protest.
     
The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez 
This alphabet book comes out on December 8th, but the buzz surrounding it suggests it’ll be an excellent addition to any library or reading list. Instead of learning the ABCs to the typical A is for apple and B is for bat, this lyrical picture book highlights defining figures and events in black history, such as H for Harlem, J is for Juneteenth, and V is for Vote. The illustrations are vibrant, and a list of terms in the back expands on the history of black moments. Make sure you grab this title as soon as it hits our shelves.