So Much Nonfiction, So Little Time
I’ve thought about doing separate posts for some of these titles, and still may, but my list of nonfiction-books-I’d-really-like-to-discuss keeps getting longer. So here’s sort of a catch-up post of a half-dozen titles (in Dewey Decimal order) that could be worthy of Newbery consideration:
FAULT LINES IN THE CONSTITUTION: THE FRAMERS, THEIR FIGHTS, AND THE FLAWS THAT AFFECT US TODAY by Cynthia and Sanford Levinson
This takes an innovative approach to the Constitution, connecting modern examples with the intent of the Framers, identifying problems, comparing the U. S. to other countries, and bringing it all together with engaging text. There’s a clear point of view here: the Constitution is flawed and could be improved. It’s strongly supported with thought-provoking questions and real-life situations. It provides information that will be new to most readers, in memorable and meaningful ways, and may actually change the way they think about things, which is a high achievement for juvenile nonfiction.
THE 57 BUS by Dashka Slater
A distinctive journalistic style is used to tell the story of the victim and the perpetrator of a horrible crime. I could not put this one down and found the multiple viewpoints very effective. You can’t help but be angry and dismayed at Richard, but it’s also hard not to empathize with him at times, which is a considerable surprise after the horrifying opening scene. The author brings us close to the characters while also providing broader looks at how the legal system, public opinion, and support from friends and family impact individual lives.
EYES OF THE WORLD: ROBERT CAPA, GERDA TARO, AND THE INVENTION OF MODERN PHOTOJOURNALISM by Marc Aronson and Marina Tamar Budhos
A fascinating look at two wartime photographers, the Spanish Civil War, and early photojournalism. It’s on the upper end of the Newbery age range, and seems more directly aimed at high school and up, compared to something like VINCENT AND THEO, for example, but it’s first-rate history, and accessible for some 12-14 year olds.
WRITING RADAR: USING YOUR JOURNAL TO SNOOP OUT AND CRAFT GREAT STORIES by Jack Gantos
I wonder if we’ll ever see a how-to book win Newbery recognition some day. Gantos’ guide to becoming a writer through journaling is filled with funny stories from his life, and he uses them to provide very useful instruction for young writers. The stories and instruction go well together, but I was surprised and impressed that it was such an inspiring book as well. His love of the process of writing and his immense satisfaction with the results comes through so strongly, and he clearly wants his readers to experience the same.
UNDEFEATED: JIM THORPE AND THE CARLISLE SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM by Steve Sheinkin
I read this early in the year and keep meaning to re-read. It’s a strong combination of biography and nonfiction. Sheinkin again displays a skillful use of multiple viewpoints, quotations from people of the times, and just plain old good nonfiction storytelling. I thought the football history was fascinating; the game descriptions that could potentially have appealed mainly to sports fans are highly engaging because we’re so involved in Jim Thorpe, Pop Warner, and the school’s underdog status. This won a Boston Globe – Horn Book Award honor for nonfiction.
BEFORE SHE WAS HARRIET by Lesa Cline-Ransome
The only picture book nonfiction title on this list, and yes, the illustrations are excellent and contribute a great deal. But the text is highly effective. The poetic language is set in a patterned structure that takes readers back through different roles that Harriet Tubman played: suffragist, general, Union spy, and so on, all the way back to Minty, her childhood name. It ends by relisting all the roles consecutively and connecting the young child and old woman in a highly satisfying conclusion: “…Araminta / who dreamed / of living long enough / to one day / be old / stiff and achy / tired and worn and wrinkled / and free.”
Next on my nonfiction list are POISON: DEADLY DEEDS, PERILOUS PROFESSIONS, AND MURDEROUS MEDICINES by Sarah Albee, BOUND BY ICE: A TRUE NORTH POLE SURVIVAL STORY by Sandra Neil Wallace, and OLDER THAN DIRT, Don Brown’s history of the earth in graphic novel format. All three sound like my kind of books (though that doesn’t mean they’re Newbery kind of books). Any other nonfiction we should be looking out for? Or opinions on the six mentioned above?
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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