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NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children

2016 Winner

Drowned City
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans
by Don Brown
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)


Read Don Brown's interviewHard Topics Can Lead to Good Kids' Books" in the March issue of The Council Chronicle.



Honor Books

  • Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
  • Growing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares (Candlewick Press)
  • Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno (Candlewick Press)
  • Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Chronicle Books)
  • Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Recommended Books

  • Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson (Scholastic Press)
  • Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game by John Coy, illustrated by Randy DuBurke (Carolrhoda Books)
  • The House that Jane Built: A Story about Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Kathryn Brown (Henry Holt & Company)
  • Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin  (Roaring Brook Press)
  •  My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
  •  Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre (Beach Lane Books)
  • Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
  •  W Is for Webster: Noah Webster and His American Dictionary by Tracey Fern, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


Nomination Deadline:  November 1

Purpose:  The NCTE Orbis Pictus Award was established in 1989 for promoting and recognizing excellence in the writing of nonfiction for children. The name Orbis Pictus, commemorates the work of Johannes Amos Comenius, Orbis Pictus—The World in Pictures (1657), considered to be the first book actually planned for children.

Eligibility:  Books must have been published or distributed in the United States during the previous calendar year. Nominations of individual books may come from publishers, the membership of NCTE, and from the educational community at large. Any title of nonfiction literature which has as its central purpose the sharing of information may be nominated. This includes biography, but excludes textbooks, historical fiction, folklore, or poetry.

Nonfiction books are defined as those written, designed, and organized to interpret documentable, factual material for children. Delimitations on the character of the book include the following:

  • Traditional literature (e.g., folktales) is not eligible for the award
  • Poetry is not eligible for the award
  • The book must be an original work
  • Reissues of a book are ineligible

Award Criteria:  Each nomination should meet the following literary criteria:

Accuracy—facts current and complete, balance of fact and theory, varying point of view, stereotypes avoided, author's qualifications adequate, appropriate scope, authenticity of detail

Organization—logical development, clear sequence, interrelationships indicated, patterns provided (general-to-specific, simple-to-complex, etc.)

Design—attractive, readable, illustrations complement text, placement of illustrative material appropriate and complementary, appropriate media, format, type

Style—writing is interesting, stimulating, reveals author's enthusiasm for subject; curiosity and wonder encouraged, appropriate terminology, rich language

In addition, each nomination should be useful in classroom teaching grades K-8, should encourage thinking and more reading, model exemplary expository writing and research skills, share interesting and timely subject matter, and appeal to a wide range of ages.

Award Specifics:  2016 Annual ConventionThe award is presented annually by the chair of the Orbis Pictus Award Committee at the Children's Book Awards Luncheon during the NCTE Annual Convention.

  • The award-winning author and/or illustrator receive a plaque and are the featured speaker(s) at the luncheon.
  • The honor book author(s) and/or illustrator(s) are recognized, receive a certificate, and are invited to present at a session following the luncheon. 

Deadline:  Nominations must be submitted to the Award Committee by November 1. One copy of each book nominated should be sent to the committee members for examination. Advanced copies or galley proofs are acceptable. Contact for award committee member information to nominate a book.

Judging:  Members of the Orbis Pictus Award Committee select the award recipient and up to five honor books annually. Although only one title is singled out for the award each year, up to five honor books are also recognized. Eight additional recommended books can be named. 

The award committee also hosts sessions, meet during the NCTE Annual Convention, and promote the use of nonfiction children's books in the classroom. Learn more about the award committee and apply to be a member.

NCTE Orbis Pictus Award SealOrbis Pictus Award seals are available to accompany winning books and their future printings. The seals serve to endorse the excellence of the books and distinguish them from among the thousands of books published each year. Seals are $.20 each and available in gold for winning books, silver for honor books, and bronze for recommended books.

To place an order, please call our customer service department toll-free at 1-877-369-6283.


Past Winners:  2010-Present, 2000-2010, 1990-2000

Past Winners:  Biography, History, Science, The Arts


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