We’ve got a small list of nonfiction titles to go through today — all with starred reviews, and two on year’s best lists. These are all good non-fiction, solid reads. I liked them. Understand: these are no frogs here, and I enjoyed the kisses very much. Buuuuuut… I’m not convinced that they’ll be talked about in a major way at the Printz table. [Read more…]
Hidden Like Anne Frank by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis, translated by Laura Watkins
Published by Arthur A Levine, March 2014
Reviewed from final copy
Hidden Like Anne Frank is a collection of 14 stories collected by Prins and Steenhuis, translated by Laura Watkins. The chapters each read like memoirs; they’re all presented in first person, in the voices of the Dutch-Jewish survivors of the war. The stories present a range of experiences — some are about children as young as 3, while others are the experiences of older children — although there are a number of factors that they have in common (the idea of “sperre,” the temporary prison in The Hollandsche Schouwburg). The most significant commonality is that these are all stories of survivors, and so the stories include information beyond what we often think of as “the end” of the story. [Read more…]
A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery by Albert Marrin
Knopf, April 2014
Reviewed from final copy
JOHN BROWN TAKE THE WHEEL is probably not how you expected this review to start, but let’s embrace the unexpected and just go with it. With four stars and some rave reviews happening, Albert Marrin’s A Volcano Beneath the Snow is definitely getting some love here and there. [Read more…]
It seems like everyone is talking about The Family Romanov*. Let’s set aside those stars though, because a discussion of what it means when a book earns full marks, ahem, stars, should be its own post. (Okay, here’s the TL;DR version: six stars last year were the prelude to Caldecott gold for Brian Floca’s Locomotive but weren’t so predictive for Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints—even though we wanted them to be.)
The more interesting awards discussion surrounding this book is actually about audience. Is Fleming more likely to be in the running for a Newbery or a Printz? And yes, that last sentence assumes that The Family Romanov is a serious contender for one or both, because really, if it isn’t, I’m going to have seriously re-think everything I know about the world. [Read more…]
Does literary quality mean that a writer has to have a strong authorial presence? I bring this up because Beyond Magenta is a wonderful nonfiction book. It’s easily one of the strongest contenders for this year’s YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction—but will it be a serious Printz contender? [Read more…]
I was diagnosed with Celiac disease on Halloween eight years ago. That’s eight years of politely saying, “no, thank you” when offered a delicious pastry, forgoing mom’s signature stuffing on Thanksgiving, and checking restaurant menus ahead of any dinner out with friends. As anyone with food issues can tell you, the hardest part of having a restricted diet is adjusting socially and emotionally. Lucy Knisley perfectly defines the value of food in Relish: “When we eat, we take in more than just sustenance.” She’s actually describing the cultural immersion through food she experienced in Japan, but the statement resonates because it’s about the complex role of food in our lives.
Relish has only received one star (from Publisher’s Weekly), but it’s one of my favorite titles of the year. Yeah, it speaks to me because I have a lot of complicated emotions about food, but it’s also charming and witty, earnest and playful, and it has illustrated recipes that will make you want to run to your kitchen and start cooking.
Karyn wrote about the long slog of winter break reading just before a conference/blog deadline. I understand her image, but I think I spend winter break/early January more like a muppet: waving my arms around in a flurry of indecision (and, sometimes, stress because I’ve put off so much committee reading. Blerg!); now’s the time when we’re supposed to be firming up our thoughts on books and able to talk intelligibly about the year as a whole and how any given title fits into it. (Uh, but no pressure, right?)
I actually spent a good portion of my own break trying to catch up, at last, on the nonfiction books on our contenda list. I got to read about deadly diseases (well, one), certain death in the Arctic (well, practically certain!), and a young woman’s experience of the civil rights movement. These are all strong books — engaging reads, beautifully designed (I think; I actually read two of these titles as ebooks, so I’m making a few assumptions based on what I saw on my phone screen and what other people have said), important and enduring subjects — so if the Printz process is about winnowing down, I definitely have my work cut out for me! [Read more…]
When I say, “World War II espionage” which 2012 young adult title comes to mind?
Yeah, I know Code Name Verity is the big name in this conversation, but Bomb is a gripping spy story in its own right.
There are three main threads of Steve Sheinkin’s book: the American effort to build the atomic bomb, the Allies attempts to sabotage German advances towards the atomic bomb, and the Russians’ work to steal the plans for the atomic bomb. Sheinkin has taken something sprawling and complex and molded it into a nonfiction title that reads like an epic action movie. (Seriously, read the chapter on the destruction of the German heavy water plant in Vemork, Norway and tell me you don’t imagine this scene from Inception.)
Sheinkin nails action pacing and easily incorporates real quotes from the people involved. He also makes physics and atomic theory, which would normally make my brain hurt digestible by introducing the theory in the context of actual experiments conducted prior to and during the Manhattan Project.
That juxtaposition of fiction style with nonfiction content characterizes the entire book. Bomb oozes style, and it’s the book’s greatest strength — and greatest weakness. Sheinkin has a firm command of fast pacing, snappy dialogue, and multiple storylines, which create a massively appealing read. With descriptive language and clever plot juggling, Sheinkin creates the atmosphere of life as a wartime spy (or a bomb-building physicist); it’s dangerous and exciting. This effective world building and use of stylistic tools create a book that feels light.
Dare I say it? Bomb is, at times, too easy.
Probably you have all seen the shortlist for The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction already, but just in case:
We’ve Got a Job
Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different
(Click through for descriptions/why statements and cover art.)
Of the five finalists, we thought We’ve Got a Job skewed a bit young (but will be posting a nonfiction writeup from sometimes guest blogger Joy Piedmont soon covering this and Titanic) and didn’t even consider Steve Jobs. Oversight? Or one of those books that is excellent within the narrower confines of genre but doesn’t compare in the wider net of Printz-eligible titles?
Well, perhaps less of a round up than an offering of two books — two books that I don’t think will go the distance in PrintzLand (although of course only time will tell). We’re looking at the Freedman book on Lincoln and Douglass and the Aronson book on J. Edgar Hoover. My problems with each are…interestingly contradictory, I’m afraid. (And in my struggle to work through all of this, I find myself wishing I could just link to all the amazing, inappropriate, unhelpful but hilarious videos I can find. Forgive me, you guys. And thanks, Spielberg, for releasing a movie at the perfect moment for this blog post. How timely that Lincoln is so zeitgeisty.)
And at the risk of destroying all blogging creditability up front, I will also admit that nonfiction is not at all my area of reviewing expertise. I was a history major in college, but that was a long time ago, and I don’t feel entirely comfortable looking at nonfiction from a literary perspective. Of course in PrintzLand we start and end with Printz policies and procedures. But in an effort to feel a little more prepared to write this blog post, I also took a look at YALSA’s Excellence in Nonfiction Award policies. “The title must include excellent writing, research, presentation and readability for young adults.” OK, check. Do you feel ready? [Read more…]