The latest young adult nonfiction selections were particularly compelling. I dont envy the panel of judges who has to bestow the 2013 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults at the American Library Association meeting this month. These are some of my favorite longer nonfiction choices, with notations for finalists for the award.
Cynthia Levinsons Weve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Childrens March (Peachtree, ages 11 and up) is an award nominee. It focuses on four activists between ages 9 and 14. They were four of 4,000 black children who marched, protested, sang, got sprayed by fire hoses, barked at by dogs, went to jail and made a difference. They came from different social classes and brought differing sensibilities and religious backgrounds to their activism. I was startled to learn how much the civil rights movement needed these children. Martin Luther King Jr.s position was tenuous; many blacks questioned him as well as his philosophy of nonviolence, while terrible disagreement raged among King and fellow civil rights activists Ralph Abernathy and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Without the 4,000 children, the movement might have stalled.
Steve Shenkins Bomb: The Race to Build And Steal The Worlds Most Dangerous Weapon (Roaring Brook, ages 11 and up), another nominee, reads like a suspenseful adventure novel. The author melds the experiences of scientists at Los Alamos, spies who infiltrated and passed on secret plans to the Soviets, and espionage agents who parachuted into Norways Vemork power plant and destroyed the heavy water Germans were manufacturing for their nuclear program. All three threads combine for a fast-paced, intense and haunting book. Men and women portrayed seem more like protagonists in a well-plotted thriller than historic figures.
Sy Montgomerys Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World (Houghton Mifflin, ages 10 and up) reveals the unique experiences and the unusual life view of Temple Grandin. Grandins autism was discovered early in her life, when the condition was relatively unheard of. Apparent in the book is Montgomerys intensive research. She has skillfully merged Grandins many experiences and discoveries with her own scientific knowledge and storytelling.
Montgomery describes Grandins difficulties, but one finishes this fast-moving nonfiction with admiration for a woman who turned her autism into a gift and used her strong, image-based vision and canny sensory abilities to interpret, imagine and improve the treatment of animals.
More amazing YA nonfiction
• Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely Through a Never-Ending War, by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood, 10 and up).
• Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, by Phillip Hoose (Farrar Straus Giroux, 11 and up).*
• Master of Deceit: J Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies, by Marc Aronson (Candlewick, Press; ages 12 and up).
• Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, by Deborah Hopkinson (Scholastic, 10 and up).*
• Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different, by Karen Blumenthal (Feiwel & Friends, 11 and up).*
*denotes award nominees