When looking for family read-a-louds with the best illustrations to captivate the imaginations, we often first think of fiction.  That does not mean, however, that they are not just as many stories of friendship, magic, humor, and wonder about the world around us.  Whether you are looking for facts or an inspiring story, try one of these popular picture books from our non-fiction sections.  All are new releases published in the last three years and appropriate for ages three and up.  This winter season, they might provide a different kind of enchantment for the whole family.

Except Antarctica by Todd Sturgell

Fans of humorous stories rejoice!  You will forget you are learning facts from the coldest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica to the way cold blooded creatures work as you read the story of an intrepid turtle who will not stay where he is meant to be.  As the book tries to tell readers facts about animals, including the turtle, who can be found on every continent in the world except Antarctica, our turtle friend invites them all on a trip to the frozen continent itself just to show that it can be done.  With a dash of page-turning adventures, fun dialogue, and a hilarious ending, Except Antarctica is a great book for first-time non-fiction readers.  It presents facts alongside a fantastical story that anyone can get lost in.

Life-Size Animals: An Illustrated Safari by Rita Mabel Schiavo

Animal fans looking for pictures more than words should check out Life-Size Animals: An Illustrated Safari.  Standing at over a foot high, this book shows how much bigger a tiger’s head is than a domestic cat’s head and lets readers compare their hands to life-size wolf prints, giraffe tongues, and saber tooth fangs.  Each two-page spread presents its own topic from wings to eggs to teeth with short accompanying captions to explain its illustrations.  While this means the book is not the best for reading straight through at bedtime, it allows you revisit your favorite pages again and again to make more and more scientific discoveries.  A best-bet for visual learners who want to know “How big IS that?,” Life-Size Animals: An Illustrated Safari is an example of a great concept done well.

Creature Features: Dinosaurs by Natasha Durley

Do not let the fact that this is in our board book section fool you; Creature Features: Dinosaurs is the best picture book for dino-fans who can already spell diplodocus. Up to date with the latest scientific discoveries, the book looks at early dinosaurs, sea animals, and mammals by physical characteristics they shared, talking about how these creatures used their claws, wings, fins, necks, feathers, and fur.  Along with a short description and dozens of labeled dinosaurs, each page has a “seek and find” challenge to look through the pictures for the creature with the longest tail or widest wingspan.  This turns reading the book into an active experience that leaves audiences beaming.

Magic Ramen by Andrea Wang

If all these picture books are making you hungry, look no further than Magic Ramen, the true story of how Momofuku Ando invented instant ramen.  Illustrated with many Japanese conventions, the book shows Ando learning through trial, error, observation, and repetition. His constant refrain that “peace follows from a full stomach” shows his drive to create healthy food that anyone could eat anywhere.  While the Author’s Note and Afterword provide even more information to readers, telling them how to pronounce the Japanese phrases used in the book and explaining what happened to Ando and his ramen after the story, these facts only add to the sense of success readers feel when Ando finally makes his “magic ramen” work.

Headstrong Hallie: The Story of Hallie Morse Daggett, the First Female “Fire Guard” by Aimee Bissonettee

Like Magic Ramen, Headstrong Hallie is a story of perseverance and heart.  Only, instead of taking place in a kitchen in postwar Japan, Headstrong Hallie takes place in the Siskiyou Mountains of California.  There, Hallie Daggett grows up hiking, hunting, seeing the destruction fire can bring to the forests, and following her heart to become a part of the U.S. Forest Service despite the fact that, at the time, it did not admit women.  The book has illustrations that seem to light up from the inside and move with an invisible wind as they show Hallie’s determination to keep her mountains safe.  It also has an Author’s Note that contains the few black and white photographs of Hallie that still exist and tell readers where they can learn more about Hallie and her U.S. Forest Service Work.  Through all of Hallie’s ups and downs, however, my favorite part of the book is that it redefines “headstrong” as a wonderful thing for a girl to be.

Rebecca Mincher is the Children’s Librarian Assistant at Graham Public Library. Contact her at rzimmerman@alamancelibraries.org or 336-570-6730.