Welcome to the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge that Alyson Beecher hosts at Kid Lit Frenzy each Wednesday. Visit Alyson for the link-up to lots more posts about nonfiction picture books.
One of the hardest things about moving this summer is that I have hardly been to the library in person at all, which means I have hardly read any picture books, which means I feel like I am missing a limb. So I was thrilled to receive Pluto Is Peeved! An Ex-Planet Searches for Answers (Sea Grass/Quarto, 2018), by Jacqueline Jules and illustrated by Dave Roman.
I love space topics and remember sympathizing with the “Dear Earth: You suck. Love, Pluto” t-shirt back when Pluto was kicked off of the list of planets. So this nonfiction, graphic-novel style picture book really caught my eye. And I know Jackie and her wonderful books oh, so I couldn’t wait to read it.
This book surprised me. First of all, I am rather visually illiterate when it comes to reading graphic novels. I’m intrigued by the idea of picture books done in panels, but I have often struggle with them, too. In this book, I almost always could immediately tell who was speaking and in what order. That was such a relief. (Use the Look Inside feature on Amazon if you want to see some interior spreads.)
The second surprise is that it is not only about Pluto. It starts out with Pluto and its moon, Charon, having a conversation in a museum. But in the course of their conversation and their exploration of the museum, they also talk about germs and dinosaurs and rocks. Pluto not only has conversations, it has feelings. It says things like, “I’m just sad. Everybody is worth studying except me.” Later, Pluto gets excited when it discovers it could have lots of siblings in the Kuiper Belt. And Pluto comes to understand that scientists are always discovering new things. And the new things they discover sometimes make scientists reclassify or reorganize things we already are familiar with, like the former planet Pluto. So it’s about a lot more then just Pluto. It’s really about how the search for knowledge is constantly disrupting our current accepted view of the universe.
Despite the dialog and emotions, Pluto Is Peeved is classified as “juvenile literature” by the Library of Congress, which is the classification for nonfiction. It’s interesting how many picture books that are informational in intent, but that use invented dialogue and other fictional elements, are now being classified as nonfiction. My own If You Were the Moon has a talking moon, and it’s classified as nonfiction. And my picture book from this year, Meet My Family, features young animals who introduce their families in first person. It’s also categorized as nonfiction. Because all of these books have nonfiction content and concepts at their core, I like that they’re in with the straight nonfiction books. But I wonder if we need a separate categorization for nonfiction with fiction elements. But I digress. The upshot is that this story offers a fresh understanding of not only why Pluto was deplaneted but also of science and inquiry in general.
So if you’re looking for a book of straight nonfiction facts about Pluto, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re open to a mixture of storytelling and facts, and you have readers who love graphic novels and humor and drama, and you want to learn a little more about Pluto and other scientific advancements, then this would be a great choice for you.
The back matter clearly states the point of the book: “Scientists make observations and question everything–even ideas people have long considered to be facts.” It also gives more details on how scientists’ view of the topics touched on in the book have changed over the years. There’s also a glossary and resources for further learning.
One last thing. Because this story is all dialog, it could be fun to do as Readers Theater. I think the content in here would be very suitable for upper elementary, and having kids perform it would be cool. I hope someone posts a video if they do that:>) [Addendum: Coincidentally, Jacqueline has a Readers Theatre available for you at http://jacquelinejules.com/pluto_is_peeved_reader’s_theater.pdf — Maybe she already told me that and that’s where I got the idea!]
You make me wish I was back in the classroom with your reader’s theater idea. Students would love that! I will look for the book, Laura. My granddaughters love all things about space and know about Pluto being “off” the planet list. Thanks for the great review!
I loved the narrative voice in Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years and it sounds like this does great things with voice, too. I appreciate your thoughtfulness about what the limits of nonfiction are!
Jacqueline Jules says
Thank you so much, Laura, for sharing your thoughts on my book, Pluto is Peeved. I have a Reader’s Theater posted on my website at http://jacquelinejules.com/pluto_is_peeved_reader's_theater.pdf Like Laura, I would love to see a video of kids performing the Reader’s Theater for Pluto is Peeved.