If Nina and I have anointed THE PORT CHICAGO 50 and THE FAMILY ROMANOV as the most likely Newbery nonfiction candidates there is a bevy of wonderfully written books that may also get a look from the committee.
ANGEL ISLAND by Russell Freedman has four starred reviews and while it dovetails nicely with the fourth and fifth grade curriculum here in California, I actually think his other book–BECAUSE THEY MARCHED with three starred reviews–is a stronger award candidate. My problem with that book, however, has nothing to do with any Newbery criteria. It simply covers the same ground as MARCHING FOR FREEDOM by Elizabeth Partridge, and since Freedman already scored a Newbery Honor for THE VOICE THAT CHALLENGED A NATION, which likewise seemed inspired by a previous book, in this case WHEN MARIAN SANG by Pam Munoz Ryan, I’m not too keen to see it pick up lots of accolades.
EYES WIDE OPEN by Paul Fleischman likewise has four starred reviews. It’s a book that’s going to challenge us on two fronts. First, the publishers have designated it as a book for 14 and up, although I personally think this is fine for ages 12 and up. Second, this is not a narrative work of nonfiction, but rather expository and persuasive. It would be a perfect textbook for an information literacy class for secondary level students. I fear it will be too much for us to wrap our heads around here, but I think it would be a virtual shoo-in for being a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction.
THE VOLCANO BENEATH THE SNOW by Albert Marrin is the last book with four starred reviews that we’ll cover here (Nina is planning to post in the future on JOSEPHINE). Marrin has been especially prolific this year with three books that ironically span American history. This one, published in the spring, covers the middle 19th century, while THOMAS PAINE: CRUSADER FOR LIBERTY and FDR AND THE AMERICAN CRISIS cover the 18th and 20th centuries respectively. If this book is good–and it is very good, dear reader–it only serves to show how very distinguished THE FAMILY ROMANOV really is.
FRIDA & DIEGO by Catherine Reef with three starred reviews is the latest in a string of books over the years that have celebrated one or both artists. Off the top of my head: DIEGO RIVERA by Susan Goldman Rubin from last year and VIVA FRIDA by Yuyi Morales (a picture book) from this year. It’s clear that, separately and together, these artists have captured the popular imagination in a way that few others have, thanks to their powerful art and interesting lives. I’ve long admired Reef’s biographies of artistic types–you may remember her last book was the biography of the Bronte sisters–and she obviously shows herself in good form here. I just don’t think it rises to the very top.
SEARCHING FOR SARAH RECTOR by Tonya Bolden with three starred reviews is probably the book that presented the most information that was entirely new to me, and therefore it holds a special little place in my heart. I’ve found that others aren’t quite as smitten with it, so I’ll be curious to know if there are other fans out there. The focus of the book is on the “Searching for” more than the “Sarah Rector” and if you expect a fully formed portrait of the latter than you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you would like to explore a little known corner of American history and if you would like to know how historians research their stories then look no further.
STRIKE by Larry Dane Brimner concludes our list of books with three starred reviews. It’s a powerful story of the migrant farm workers in California fighting for better working conditions, starting with some early strikes in Southern California before moving to the Central Valley for the pivotal Delano grape strike and the emergence of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. The story is a nice counterpoint to the civil rights struggles that were happening in the South at the same time. I found the acronyms hard to keep straight, but after awhile it just let them wash over me.
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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