I gathered from the library the collection of Cybils Nonfiction Picture Books (Nonfiction: Elementary & Middle Grade) and read them all. Then I tried to read them to the not-quite-independent reader. Then I got my high schooler to read them. Then I enticed the junior high boy with them, with less success. And then I posted this!
The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos, Deborah Heiligman. A biography of Erdos that takes its readers seriously enough to have the numbers in the illustrations match real categories -- different kinds of primes, series, and formulas. The pictures and texts are good for reading aloud, and the extras scattered throughout and detailed at the end provide more the kid who also loves math. Also, I have an Erdos number of 5.
This was the favorite of both the high school boy and his younger brother, and my second favorite.
Volcano Rising, Elizabeth Rusch. A fun read-aloud, with good shared reading potential. It was easy for the emerging reader to handle the large text and then let me round out the information with the smaller text boxes. The pictures are bright, enticing, and informative. I have now added a'a to my general vocabulary and am just waiting for my next scrabble game.
This received top votes from me and the youngest reader.
How Big Were Dinosaurs?, Lita Judge. A cute read with colorful dinosaurs, but not really firm on the science. Everyone read it but no one had very strong feelings -- I wish I had a slightly younger volunteer to test its real audience.
Look Up!: Birdwatching In Your Own Backyard, Annette LeBlanc Cate. A chatty, enthusiastic book burbling with information and hints about watching and drawing birds wherever you go. A bit too text-tense to read aloud, but easy to read to oneself.
I enjoyed this one a lot, but my high schooler and the new reader found it dull. I suspect they recoiled whenever the author hinted that drawing was an option -- artistic talent, well, basic competence, is thin on the ground around here. The Cybils team sure liked it though! (It won.)
Locomotive, Brian Floca. My eldest son would have adored this train book back in his train-mania days. The over sized pictures give a real sense of the power and majesty of the old steam-engines, as well as the scope of the country they travelled back in their prime. The people in the illustrations seem pleasant but much dimmer than the arresting views of the engine, wheels, and scenery.
Barbed Wire Baseball, Marissa Moss. This is a new story that covers the internment of Japanese citizens that focuses on their strength and determination rather than showing them as passive victims. The biography of a Japanese-American baseball player who builds a baseball field in the internment camp shows both how American the internees were but also how they maintained their family and cultural loyalty. Also, it's a great story.
It was the second choice of the high schooler, who agreed with the great story diagnosis. The new reader found it a bit intimidating; he felt he should be able to read it but the text was just too dense. I'd definitely want my library to have this one.
Anubis Speaks! A guide to the Afterlife by the Egyptian God of the Dead, Vicky Alvear Shecter. This book seems qualitatively different from the others -- I would have put it in with the older nonfiction books. It didn't get a fair review from my team of kids -- they all thought it was in the wrong pile. I'll try to get the older ones to read it right before I start bringing in the older nonfiction finalists and see what they think.
For myself, I was interested in in the information -- it's a great companion to Rick Riordan's Egypt series. But I found myself a bit squeamish about the juvenile depiction of a religious figure -- it was clear that many people had sincerely believed in Anubis, so his more snarky comments and low humor moments rang false for me.