Team Nonfiction: The Second Wave
November 29, 2009 By 24 Comments
We’ve already celebrated the merits of CLAUDETTE COLVIN, CHARLES AND EMMA, ALMOST ASTRONAUTS, and MARCHING FOR FREEDOM on this blog. I must say I agree with Peter Sieruta when he notes that what’s really exciting about many of these titles is the original contribution that they make, not just to children’s literature, but to literature, period. It’s one thing to synthesize a bunch of secondary and tertiary sources–what I sometimes derisively refer to as regurgitative nonfiction–but quite another to go out and beat the bushes for those primary sources, oral history interviews, and period illustrations in order to craft a wholly unique perspective on a topic. Anyway, the field of nonfiction books is very, very deep this year. Here are some more worth considering.
I’m still investigating Debbie’s claim about the fabricated letter quoted at the end of YEARS OF DUST by Albert Marrin, and if true it remains to be seen how it might hurt the book during award deliberations, but I’d like to point out that Marrin takes great pains to highlight how the American Indians took care of the natural resources of the Great Plains and how their communities were ravaged by the Dust Bowl crisis. A wonderfully comprehensive book with an invigorating mix of science and history.
Two-time Newbery Honor author Jim Murphy gives us a pair of war-themed books. A SAVAGE THUNDER describes how the bloody Battle of Antietam was pivotal in nudging Lincoln toward the Emancipation Proclamation, while TRUCE describes the remarkable Christmas Truce during World War I. Both books have proven popular with my students, but I’m not sure either of them attain the greatness of THE GREAT FIRE or AN AMERICAN PLAGUE, nor am I sure that they necessarily jump out in this outstanding field.
Of course, Murphy is a also Sibert Medalist and there are several of those publishing this year, too. Catherine Thimmesh offers up LUCY LONG AGO (Lucy having recently been dethroned by Ardi as the oldest hominid skeleton) and Sally Walker gives us WRITTEN IN BONE which just misses the Jamestown anniversary. But, for my money, the best book by a Sibert Medalist is THE RISE AND FALL OF SENATOR JOSEPH McCARTHY by James Cross Giblin which, like CHARLES AND EMMA, sits more comfortably in the Printz field.
THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM by Candace Fleming is just as wonderful as her previous work, however Barnum does not carry quite the same gravitas as Franklin, Roosevelt, and Lincoln (but here’s hoping that doesn’t work against the book.) I know Nina mentioned earlier that she finds the scrapbook format does not lend itself well to Newbery consideration, but perhaps this more conventional approach will do the trick.
Kathleen Krull’s excellent Giants of Science series has been sorely overlooked. They all feature a great synthesis of the personal lives and professional accomplishments of their subjects in a very breezy, readable style–and ALBERT EINSTEIN is no exception. Like CHARLES AND EMMA, the text here is clearly the star of the show–no book design or illustrations to detract from it. And kids will read–and like–it!
Viking’s Up Close series of Twentieth-Century Lives is another overlooked nonfiction series. The most recent standout entry is HARPER LEE by Kerry Madden which does a wonderful job of fleshing out a reclusive icon. This one’s not quite Printz material, but I wouldn’t mind a spot on the new YALSA Nonfiction Award which announces its shortlist next week.
Quick! The last time the Newbery committee recognized a science book? Umm, yeah, that would be VOLCANO by Patricia Lauber in 1987. THE FROG SCIENTIST by Pamela Turner is a great book in a great series. Yes, the book design is the star of this photoessay, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the writing is unworthy. I have the same worry about MARCHING FOR FREEDOM: the book design and the illustrations outshine the text, but the text is still remarkable, too!