2018 Gift Guide: Nonfiction Picture Books


Each year, Cracking the Cover compiles a list of books that make great gifts. The following are nonfiction picture books published and/or received in 2018. They are in order by age range. All synopsizes are italicized in gray and provided by respective publishers. Reviews are by Jessica. Scroll down for the complete list or click or tap the following links to directly visit a section. AGES 5 & UPAGES 6 & UPAGES 7 & UPAGES 8 & UP

*In many cases these age suggestions skew a little high, and most of these books are accessible to younger readers with the help of an older sibling or adult.


STEAM PLAY & LEARN: 20 fun step-by-step preschool projects about science, technology, engineering, arts, and math!, by Ana Dziengel, Walter Foster Jr., June 5, 2018, Softcover, $14.95 (ages 5-6)

Preschoolers will love tackling these 20 fun, easy-to-follow step-by-step projects as they learn about STEAM topics (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math). Topics include symmetry and how light bounces to create reflections with mirror mandalas, diffusion and capillary action with tie dye towels, structural framing and bracing with marshmallow structures, and electrical currents with salty circuits. This cross-subject approach to learning will prepare young children for the subjects they will soon learn in elementary school and beyond. Each project features simple instructions and large, full-color photos. 

STEAM Play & Learn is a great way to introduce little ones to science, technology, engineering, art and math without them knowing they’re “learning” anything. At this age, all these activities are just fun “projects” they get to do with their parents. The citrus volcanoes (math and art) and marble mazes (engineering) are our favorite activities so far.

FAIRY HOUSE CRAFTS: Wonderful, Whimsical Projects for You and Your fairy House, by Liza Gardner Walsh, Down East Books, June 15, 2018, Softcover, $19.95 (ages 5-9)

Kids love making and creating things, especially fairy houses. Following her best-selling Fairy House and Fairy Garden handbooks, Liza Gardner Walsh presents a new dimension in fairy-themed activities—Crafts! This book focuses on aspects of the fairy house world and with an emphasis on making crafts inspired by nature and with an artisanal quality as an antithesis to the sparkly, throw-away fairy materials inundating store shelves. Simple steps and easy-to-follow directions will have kids and parents creating a wide new range of crafts: Recycled fairy houses, Fairy house furniture, Fairy clothing, Nature-themed gifts, Fairy decorations for your room

I was never one to make fairy houses, by my 4-year-old has been making them out of sticks, leaves and rocks for more than a year now. This book seems like the perfect jumping-off point for kids who are ready to take this activity to the next level. I love how it inspires creativity and problem-solving skills.

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THE EYE THAT NEVER SLEEPS: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln, by Marissa Moss and Jeremy Holmes, Harry N. Abrams, Nov. 6, 2018, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 6-9)

From award-winning author Marissa Moss comes the first children’s book about Allan Pinkerton, one of America’s greatest detectives. Everyone knows the story of Abraham Lincoln, but few know anything about the spy who saved him! Allan Pinkerton’s life changed when he helped the Chicago Police Department track down a group of counterfeiters. From there, he became the first police detective in Chicago and established the country’s most successful detective agency. He went on to solve more than 300 murders and recover millions of dollars in stolen money. However, his greatest contribution was protecting Abraham Lincoln on the way to his 1861 inauguration. Though assassins attempted to murder Lincoln en route, Pinkerton foiled their plot and brought the president safely to the capital. The Eye That Never Sleeps is illustrated with a contemporary cartoon style, mixing art and text in a way that appeals to readers of all ages. The book includes a bibliography and a timeline.

BIRDS AND THEIR FEATHERS, by Britta Teckentrup, Prestel Junior, June 5, 2018, Hardcover, $16.95 (ages 6-9)

Teckentrup turns her gaze to the endlessly fascinating feather. What are they made of? Why do birds have so many of them? How do they help birds fly? And what other purpose do they serve? By providing accessible answers to these and other questions, this book introduces young readers to the wonders of “plumology,.”

You can never go wrong with a book from Britta Teckentrup. Her illustrations are gorgeous. My daughter, like most 4-year-olds, is full of questions. She loves birds, and this book helps expand on her basic questions, and it does it in style. Each subject is covered in easily digestible text.

SMITHSONIAN EXPLORATION STATION: WORLD ATLAS, by John Farndon, Silver Dolphin Books; Har/Toy edition, Nov. 6, 2018, Box Set, $21.99 (ages 6-8)

Head off on a globetrotting adventure in this interactive atlas! Learn about the diverse cultures, customs, wildlife, and natural beauty that form our world through informative text and full-color photograph. Children will love the hands-on aspect to learning as they blow up their inflatable globe and build the cardstock models of some of the wonders of the world. Includes a 56-page fact book, 30 stickers, 1 inflatable globe, and 3 cardstock models to assemble: the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, and a Mayan pyramid.

My daughter has been itching to get her hands on this kit. She loves all the elements and is particularly interested in the models. I think I’d err on going with the suggested age on this one. The models were a little difficult for me to construct, and would leave a younger child in tears.

SMITHSONIAN EXPLORATION STATION: SOLAR SYSTEM, by Jon Richards, Silver Dolphin Books; Har/Toy edition, Nov. 6, 2018, Box Set, $21.99 (ages 6-8)

Take a trip into the stratosphere with Smithsonian Exploration Station: Space! With informative text and full-color photographs, young astronomers will learn about the intricate makeup of our solar system as well as distant galaxies and constellations. The 56-page fact book combined with the sticker sheet, space figurines to play with, and the glow-in-the-dark stars make this space experience interactive and engaging. Includes a 56-page fact book, 30 stickers, 22 glow-in-the-dark stars, and figurines.

Of the two Smithsonian Exploration Station kits on here, this one skews a little younger. My daughter keeps the figurines on the shelf next to her bed and has the poster of the solar system on her wall. We’d have put up the glow-in-the-dark stars on her ceiling, too, if we didn’t already have some. This is a freat option for a budding astronaut.

HOWL LIKE A WOLF!: Learn to Think, Move, and Act Like 15 Amazing Animals, by Kathleen Yale and Kaley McKean, Storey Publishing, LLC, April 17, 2018, Hardcover, $18.95 (ages 6-9)

What does it feel like to “see” with your ears like a bat or go through a full body transformation like a frog? Can you wriggle in and out of tight places like an octopus, camouflage yourself like a leopard, or do a waggle dance like a honeybee? This creative and beautifully illustrated interactive guide makes learning about animals fun for children ages 6 and up. Fifteen animals explain their amazing feats and invite kids to enter their world by mimicking their behavior — an imaginative approach to learning that fosters curiosity, empathy, and dramatic play.

Howl Like a Wolf is one of those books that could age down. I think my daughter will be old enough for it at 5, and some parts of it — she’s especially interested in wolves, dogs and their packs — she’d be ready for now. This is a really fun look at animals that encourages kids to get moving and explore.

NATURE’S FRIEND: The Gwen Frostic Story, by Lindsey McDivitt and Eileen Ryan Ewen, Sleeping Bear Press, July 15, 2018, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 6-9)

The art and writing of Gwen Frostic are well known in her home state of Michigan and around the world, but this picture book biography tells the story behind Gwen’s famous work. After a debilitating illness as a child, Gwen sought solace in art and nature. She learned to be persistent and independent—never taking no for an answer or letting her disabilities define her. After creating artwork for famous Detroiters and for display at the World’s Fair and helping to build WWII bombers, Gwen moved her printmaking business to northern Michigan. She dedicated her work and her life to reminding people of the wonder and beauty in nature.

In a world where kids are more and more tied to their phones and the Internet, it’s lovely to find a book about a girl discovers solace in nature. One of my favorite pages is where nature is like a friend pulling Gwen out to play. Gwen’s life story is fascinating, and it unfolds beautifully in this book.

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AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 PUZZLES, by Aleksandra Artymoska, Big Picture Press, Sept. 18, 2018, Hardcover, $19.99 (ages 7-9)

Inspired by Jules Verne’s iconic novel, this stunning puzzle book is a treat for readers of all ages. Aleksandra Artymowska’s imagining of the classic tale is packed with steamships, airships, railways, penny-farthings, and any other kind of transport you can imagine — and it will take you on a voyage like no other.

This is another book that skews younger. It would be perfect for a family of children of varying ages. Some of the puzzles are more complex than others, and sure to offer hours of fun.

A WORLD OF CITIES, by James Brown, Candlewick Studio, Oct. 16, 2018, Hardcover, $25 (ages 7-10)

From the lights of Paris to the cherry blossoms of Tokyo, the world is yours to explore in this comprehensive tour of thirty dazzling cities across the globe. From Shanghai, Berlin, and Cairo to Seoul, Delhi, and Rome, explore each locale by way of bold illustrations and unlock a miscellany of intriguing facts. In a follow-up to international bestseller A World of Information, printmaker James Brown has rendered each city in a stylistic nod to vintage travel posters, while incorporating historical and cultural facts.

A World of Cities is a beautiful book. I love the facts sprinkled throughout, and the bold depiction of each city. My one complaint is that each spread is oriented horizontally instead of vertically, meaning there’s a fold in the middle of each one.

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THE COMPLETE COOKBOOK FOR YOUNG CHEFS, by America’s Test Kitchen Kids, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Oct. 16, 2018, hardcover, $19.99 (ages 8-12)

Using kid-tested and approved recipes, America’s Test Kitchen has created THE cookbook every kid chef needs on their shelf. Whether you’re cooking for yourself, your friends, or your family, The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs has delicious recipes that will wow! Recipes were thoroughly tested by more than 750 kids to get them just right for cooks of all skill levelsincluding recipes for breakfast, snacks and beverages, dinners, desserts, and more. Step-by-step photos of tips and techniques will help young chefs feel like pros in their own kitchen Testimonials (and even some product reviews!) from kid test cooks who worked alongside America’s Test Kitchen will encourage young chefs that they truly are learning the best recipes from the best cooks.

We’re big fans of America’s Test Kitchen at our house. We watch the show and own a few cookbooks. This cookbook allows young chefs to take the lead in the kitchen. The recipes are easy to follow, and the tips sections are beneficial to chefs of all ages. My one wish is that the book be spiral bound for easier use.

WOOD SHOP: Handy Skills and Creative Building Projects for Kids, by Margaret Larson, Storey Publishing, LLC; Spi edition, Nov. 13, 2018, softcover, $19.95 (ages 8-12)

With step-by-step photographs and clear instructions, aspiring woodworkers learn essential skills such as how to drive a nail, use a power drill, “measure twice, cut once,” and saw correctly. Then the fun begins, with 17 cool and creative projects kids can build to furnish the wood shop, decorate their bedrooms and homes, and create their own play equipment. Favorite projects include Tic-Tac-Toe-To Go!, One-Board Birdhouse, a Tool Tote, and a hanging Twinkle Light. Wood Shop is the perfect gift for tinkerers, young makers, fans of LEGO toys, and aspiring carpenters and engineers.

The moment I showed Wood Shop to my husband, he was flipping through it and deciding what project to do with our daughter when she’s old enough. This is a great introduction to basic, and useful, skills like measuring, drilling, using a hammer and other tools.

DINOSAURIUM: Welcome to the Museum, by Lily Murray and Chris Wormell, Big Picture Press, April 10, 2018, Hardcover, $35 (ages 8-12)

With artwork from Chris Wormell, this curated guide to dinosaurs gives readers the experience of a fascinating exhibition from the pages of a beautiful book. Featuring a wonderful range of dinosaurs, from the much-loved triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex to lesser known species such as coelophysis and tsintaosaurus, Dinosaurium is a fascinating display of the impressive beasts that once ruled the world.

Dinosaurium is beautiful. It’s one of those picture books you won’t mind having on your coffee table. The illustrations are intricate and text interesting.

DINOSAUR: A Photicular Book, by Dan Kainen and Kathy Wollard, Workman Publishing Company, Sept. 4, 2018, Hardcover, $25.95 (ages 8 and up)

Using unique Photicular® technology that’s like a 3-D movie on the page, DINOSAUR brings these legendary, long-extinct creatures to life. There’s a herd of giant sauroposeidons, with their impossibly long necks, lumbering across the sun-drenched plains, a threatened velociraptor waving its wildly feathered arms, and more.

This exciting dinosaur book isn’t as extensive as Dinosaurium but it’s just as fascinating. While you might be tempted to gift this to a younger child because of the pictures, there’s a lot of text that requires a stronger reader.

STEAM LAB FOR KIDS: 52 Creative Hands-On Projects for Exploring Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, by Liz Lee Heinecke, Quarry Books; Kitchen STEAM Lab for Kids edition, May 15, 2018, Softcover, $22.99 (ages 8-11)

While many aspiring artists don’t necessarily identify with STEM subjects, and many young inventors don’t see the need for art, one is essential to the other. Revealing this connection and encouraging kids to explore it fills hungry minds with tools essential to problem solving and creative thinking. Each of the projects in this book is designed to demonstrate that the deeper you look into art, the more engineering and math you’ll find. “The STEAM Behind the Fun” sections throughout explain the science behind the art.

If your child is too old for STEAM, Play & Learn listed above, then STEAM Lab is a great option. While most 8-year-olds will be able to do these activities on their own, I’d age this book down to 5-7-year-olds with parental guidance. This is another good option for families with kids of varying ages.

MASON JAR SCIENCE: 40 Slimy, Squishy, Super-Cool Experiments; Capture Big Discoveries in a Jar, from the Magic of Chemistry and Physics to the Amazing Worlds of Earth Science and Biology, by Jonathan Adolph, Storey Publishing, LLC, May 29, 2018, Hardcover, $14.95 (ages 8-12)

Heatproof, transparent, and durable, the mason jar is a science lab just waiting to be discovered. Unlock its potential with 40 dynamic experiments for budding scientists ages 8 and up. Using just a jar and a few ordinary household items, children learn to create miniature clouds, tiny tornadoes, small stalactites, and, of course, great goo and super slime! With a little ingenuity, the jar can be converted into a lava lamp, a water prism, a balloon barometer, and a compass. Each fun-packed project offers small-scale ways to illustrate the big-picture principles of chemistry, botany, biology, physics, and more.

Secrets of Tutankhamun: Egypt’s Boy King and His Incredible TombTHE SECRETS OF TUTANKHAMUN: Egypt’s Boy King and His Incredible Tomb, by Patricia Cleveland-Peck and Isabel Greenberg, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Aug. 21, 2018, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 8-10)

Tutankhamun was born in a time of change. His father, Atakhenaten, instituted broad political and religious reform to Egypt, and his laws were controversial. By the time Tut turned nine, his whole family had died and he was named the youngest king Egypt had ever had. His rule was short and tumultuous, and around age nineteen, Tut died. More than three thousand years later, Howard Carter, a British archaeologist with a penchant for ancient history and a special skill for excavation in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, made a discovery that shocked the world: King Tut’s tomb, long ago assumed destroyed, not only survived but was fully intact. The treasures within gave a stunning and undisturbed perspective on ancient Egyptian culture and uncovered secrets that fascinated the world. —Synopsis provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

The Secrets of Tutankhamun is exactly the type of book I would have loved as a child and love now as an adult. There’s just the right balance of text and illustrations. One of the trickier things with a book like this, is making sure that the illustrations remain true to Egyptian art while conveying personality. Illustrator Isabel Greenberg has done exactly that. Patricia Cleveland-Peck, too, has done a masterful job providing comprehensive text that’s engaging and accessible.

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© 2018, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, all books — digital and physical — have been provided for free by publishers in exchange for honest and unbiased reviews. All thoughts and opinions are those of the reviewer.


About Author

Jessica Harrison is the main reviewer behind Cracking the Cover. Prior to creating Cracking the Cover, Jessica worked as the in-house book critic for the Deseret News, a daily newspaper in Salt Lake City. Jessica also worked as a copy editor and general features writer for the paper. Following that, Jessica spent two years with an international company as a social media specialist. She is currently a freelance writer/editor. She is passionate about reading and giving people the tools to make informed decisions in their own book choices.

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