Nonfiction Featured CollectionFor millions of children and teachers now enjoying their first days back in the classroom, school this year may be feeling just a little different.

Forty-five states (along with the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity) have now adopted the new Common Core standards, and many of those states are implementing them for the first time in the 2013-2014 school year.

Along with many other curriculum changes big and little, the new standards call for a greater emphasis on studying informational texts in English Language Arts. It’s a paradigm shift that has put English lovers everywhere in a minor flap, fearful that children will now be encouraged only to read what C. S. Lewis in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader called “the wrong books” — books with “pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools”; books with “a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but . . . weak on dragons.”

We at Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, however, feel strongly that books for children can be both informational and beautiful — and that just because a book happens to be nonfiction does not mean that it can’t also be good literature.

To prove our point, we’re featuring Common Core-friendly books of nonfiction this month on Read on to discover five great titles, or browse the full collection on our website.

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau
The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau
Written by Michelle Markel
Illustrated by Amanda Hall

Winner of the 2013 PEN/Steven Kroll Award for Picture Book Writing

Henri Rousseau wanted to be an artist. But he had no formal training. Instead, he taught himself to paint. He painted until the jungles and animals and distant lands in his head came alive on the space of his canvases.

Henri Rousseau endured the harsh critics of his day and created the brilliant paintings that now hang in museums around the world. Michelle Markel’s vivid text, complemented by the vibrant illustrations of Amanda Hall, artfully introduces young readers to the beloved painter and encourages all readers to persevere despite all odds.

Watch the book trailer

Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation
Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation

Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation
Written by Pat Sherman
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Ben, a young slave, uses every chance he gets to teach himself to read, practicing with the words he sees on street signs and in shop windows and even in cast-off newspapers he finds in the gutter. But after the Civil War breaks out, his master leaves town and Ben finds himself in a slave prison. One night, the prisoners bribe a guard to get their hands on a newspaper, and to the applause of his fellow slaves, Ben reads aloud the momentous news of Mr. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — surely one of the most remarkable readings of that document ever.

Based on the true story of Benjamin Holmes, Pat Sherman’s stirring text and the memorable illustrations of Coretta Scott King medalist Floyd Cooper pay tribute to the power of freedom — and to the power of the written word.

A River of Words
A River of Words
(Click to order.)

A River of Words
Written by Jen Bryant
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Willie loved to write — words gave him freedom and peace. But he also knew that he needed to earn a living, so when he grew up he went off to medical school and became a doctor — one of the busiest men in town! Even so, he never stopped writing.

In this Caldecott Honor-winning picture book biography of poet William Carlos Williams, Jen Bryant’s engaging prose and Melissa Sweet’s stunning mixed-media illustrations celebrate the amazing man whose poems about ordinary, everyday things will inspire young readers to create poems of their own.

Princess Ka'iulani
Princess Ka’iulani

Princess Ka’iulani: Hope of a Nation, Heart of a People
By Sharon Linnéa

On March 1, 1893, Princess Ka’iulani, the seventeen-year-old crown princess of Hawaii, stepped onto the pier at New York City. She was greeted by a crowd of reporters and onlookers who knew that, in many ways, she stood at a crossroads in history. Fully aware of the significance of her visit, she prayed that she could help persuade the American government to return her beautiful islands to the Hawaiian people.

This biography tells the fascinating — and little-known — story of Princess Ka’iulani’s life and courageous fight for Hawaiian independence. Using many newly translated journals and letters, Sharon Linnéa introduces young readers to the most beloved figure in Hawaiian history, and one of America’s most overlooked Christian heroines.

Young Jerry Ford
Young Jerry Ford

Young Jerry Ford: Athlete and Citizen
By Hendrik Booraem V

Rare has been the president whose life blended the individual drive that propels one to high office with the social responsibility of being an exemplary person. Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006) was one of those rare men.

In this biography Hendrik Booraem traces the early life of Gerald Ford in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to his high school graduation in 1931, showing how he developed the outlook and ideals that he brought to the White House. Ford’s childhood offers telling glimpses of family and school, sports and recreation, and Western Michigan life in the Jazz Age and the Depression. Amply illustrated with photos from the 1920s and ’30s, Young Jerry Ford shows the 38th President of the United States in a new and colorful light.

Read an excerpt from the book and a blog post by Booraem on EerdWord.

Click to browse the rest of our featured collection of nonfiction books for young readers.