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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

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:


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.   


TH57 BusE 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.



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.  



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.     


UNDEF9781596439542_p0_v2_s118x184EATED:  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 SHBefore She Was HarrietE 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?   

Steven Engelfried About Steven Engelfried

Steven Engelfried is the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon. 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


  1. Candice Lucas says:

    My middle school Newbery club is reading Isaac the Alchemist by Mary Losure. The response is divided so far (not all of the 40 have read it yet). We considered Undefeated – but I cannot seem to get kids into it no matter how many times I book talk it! And, true confession, I found Eyes of the World to be truly dry and a little dull…

  2. Nice list. I too have failed to sell my kids on Undefeated (even after we watched Jason Momoa play Thorpe on Drunk History, which I HIGHLY recommend) — bummer, as Sheinkin is just brilliant.

    I loved Eyes of the World, but that could be my mishegas: I grew up romanticizing the Spanish Civil War…and also found Taro and Capa’s story such an important and under-told Jewish *and* feminist narrative.

    What about The Magician and the Spirits by Deborah Noyes? Looks interesting, but haven’t read it yet.

  3. Although I’m usually a Nonfiction Nerd, I’ve not read too much Newbery-ish nonfiction (or nonfiction written in 2017, for that matter) this year.

    As a Sheinkin Fanboy, though, I read UNDEFEATED the moment it came out. For the first time in my Sheinkin-loving history, I was slightly underwhelmed. I loved the tension and the focus on Thorpe’s compelling story, but it took me nearly a month to read the book. I was bogged down in the football history, which made the narrative rather lackluster for me. The irony here is that I actually quite like football – the writing just seemed stagnant to me. Not Sheinkin’s finest moment. Still. I think it’s a worthy title to examine, and I imagine it’s a title that, with some persuasion, could get some consensus built around it.

    I hope Jordan chimes in on this post. I know he loved the book, and I’m eager to read why he loved it so much.

    • Joe,

      I just realized I had a long write up started and never got around to posting it in here…

      I really can’t think of a lot of specifics. It’s just that everything I like about Sheinkin’s style was present here. Packs so much information and research in a narrative. Effortlessly covers so many different angles and perspectives with his writing.

      I thoroughly enjoyed the history lesson on the early days of football and how dangerous it was (didn’t realize the number of deaths). It was one of those books whose themes were timely and relevant but didn’t feel overly didactic (despite Sheinkin breaking the fourth wall a few times).

      I was fascinated with Thorpe as a character.

      More rough, personal feelings that hard evidence. Sorry!

  4. I quite liked Undefeated — finding the Football history especially intriguing. However, I found myself somewhat detached from the book. It could be that I don’t find the subject (Jim Thorpe) an incredibly admirable person and thus do not care enough about his fate and struggles.

    • Yes, Roxanne! That’s the word I was looking for: detached. Sheinkin’s writing is usually so full of life. I know we aren’t to compare previous works by the author, but the writing here was not up to snuff for me.

      I did like Jim Thorpe, though. He was scrappy, and I admire that.

  5. Candice Lucas says:

    PS – Just Read 57 Bus in one afternoon. That is not to be missed. Extraordinary for sure, but to say it’s written for 14 and under would be a stretch.

  6. I saw that you might review Bound by Ice. I hope you do. I have reviewed it and a colleague and I will be using it to illustrate how to connect both Social Studies and English Language Arts at a conference. Rich and Sandra a very good authors. I think this book and Blood Brother are great examples of how we can engage students with specific moments of history that can help them think critically.

  7. You should definitely look at Bound by Ice! The Wallaces not only did painstaking research, but crafted a well written and compelling story about a fascinating moment in time. My students are really enjoying it!

  8. I, too, have been an enthusiastic reader of Bound by Ice, the latest in a series of wonderfully written and researched story by the Wallaces. What is especially inspiring about this book for students and teachers, I think, is that it offers an open-handed view of how compelling work with primary materials can be. The book tells a great story that students will enjoy, yes, but it also makes the idea of looking at logs, journals, and other primary materials seem pretty cool. The design of the book does justice to the story behind the writing of the book by representing an eclectic mix of visual representations that give the flavor of the archive. I’ll be using the book in my class for pre-service teachers this spring in order to show them that working with non-fiction can be a really rich and complex experience.

    • steven engelfried says:

      A separate post for Bound by Ice will happen for sure: second week of December most likely. Thanks for all the recommendations!

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