New Non-Fiction Picture Books Inspire And Enlighten

By Lee Littlewood

February 18, 2013 6 min read

Babe Ruth, Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, the bravest woman in America, and more notable people are introduced in these true picture book tales.

"Annie and Helen" by Deborah Hopkinson and Raul Colon; Schwarz & Wade; 42 pages; $17.99.

Most children have heard of Helen Keller and that she was blind and deaf. But many do not know the entirety of Helen's dramatic, hopeful story. As a relative of Helen's, this beautiful picture book made me smile, with its amazing reminder that even with the most serious adversities, hope and happiness can be restored. With gentle watercolors and clear, friendly writing, "Annie and Helen" begins when the 20-year-old teacher arrives at the home of frustrated, wild-child Helen. It explains carefully how Annie taught Helen by tracing letters on her palm and showcases Helen's joy at discovering she can communicate about wriggling piglets, how chickens got inside eggs, her "sick eyes," even that one stone is small, while another is very small.

Ending with a heartfelt letter Helen wrote to her mother while away from home at just age 7, "Annie and Helen" also includes lots of photographs of the pair and a sample of a raised Braille alphabet on the back cover.

"Becoming Babe Ruth" by Matt Tavarea; Candlewick Press; 40 pages; $16.99.

This rare view into Babe Ruth's formative years focuses on the famed baseball player's school years at Baltimore's Saint Mary's Industrial School for Boys. Sent there at age 7, Babe, (George), idolizes Brother Matthias, who regularly joins the boys for daily baseball games and hits the ball out of the park over and over again, inspiring the young sports hero-to-be. After Babe becomes a baseball star, he doesn't forget his days at the reform school and even invites their marching band to play at professional games.

Gorgeous illustrations capture Babe's personality throughout his journey to the big leagues. The story of Babe Ruth is a true American fairy tale, and, as the author notes, "even at the height of his fame, he remained eternally grateful to those who helped him become Babe Ruth."

"The Bravest Woman in America" by Marissa Moss; illustrations by Andrea U'Ren; Tricycle Press; 32 pages; $16.99.

A Junior Library Guild selection, Moss' exciting story, based on the life of Ida Lewis, the most famous lighthouse keeper in America, celebrates brave girls everywhere. Ida and her family took charge of Lime Rock lighthouse, in Rhode Island, when the girl was 15. When her father got sick, it was Ida who took control, even rescuing a group of boys when they lost control of their wayward sailboat. For 39 years, Ida was the keeper of Lime Rock, saving numerous lives. She even received the Congressional Life Saving Medal in 1874.

A fantastic, colorful, inspiring picture book perfect for school libraries, "The Bravest Woman in America" was certainly that, and also a beacon of courage for girls and boys alike.

"The Poppy Lady" by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh; paintings by Layne Johnson; Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills Press; 40 pages; $16.95.

Subtitled "Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans," this lovely picture book tells the motivational true story of Georgia teacher Moina Belle Michael, who launched the national campaign of the red poppy as a symbol of sacrifice and courage during World War I. Moira's motto, "Whatsoever your hands find to do, do it with all your might," guided her through her years as a college troops advocate to a bandage roller for the Red Cross who even invited soldiers home for dinner.

But when the young soldiers boarded the buses to go off to war, Moira decided to do more. Though she was told in 1918 she was too old to go overseas, Moira, inspired by a famous poem, decided to buy and donate red poppies to honor soldiers. Her movement grew and grew, with a goal that every American wear a poppy to remember the soldiers killed.

Richly colored paintings add drama to this inspirational story of a single woman who was driven to honor those who gave their lives for freedom.

"Knit Your Bit" by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia; Putnam; 32 pages; $16.99.

Another World War I help tale, Hopkinson's fun, lighthearted tale, peppered with cartoonish, retro illustrations, is based on a real "Knit-In" event in Central Park in 1918. Told from the perspective of a boy named Mikey whose father is fighting overseas, the funny story encourages kids to contribute any way they can. Here, Mikey and has friends roll their eyes when presented with the idea to knit for the troops; after all, knitting is for girls! But when the girls turn it into a competition, the boys feel compelled to meet the challenge.

Certainly a cool story that will capture youngsters' attentions and maybe even inspire a few to help out in any way they can, "Knit Your Bit" is a winner.

To find out more about Lee Littlewood and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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By Lee Littlewood
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