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Partial Non-Fiction Roundup
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.
Eyes Wide Open by Paul Fleischman
Candlewick, September 2014
Reviewed from an ARC
First up (alphabetically, because we likes it that way around these parts): Eyes Wide Open by Paul Fleischman. It’s received 4 starred reviews and made two year-end lists (Kirkus and SLJ, in case you’re wondering). Lots of stuff to appreciate here: it includes good, clear information and a straightforward presentation; it’s a nice approach to the subject matter. It wants to function as a call to action — not just a list of things you can do, but an assist in helping readers adjust their mental lenses so that they’re more information literate. I really wanted to like that aspect; that’s so going the extra mile, you know? But I wonder if that part stuck at the back of the book on information assessment could have informed more of the major part of the text. To be honest, I don’t know what that would have read like; it could have been distracting and dry. (I keep thinking about Bizup’s BEAM Method of writing, and finding new ways to include lenses in reading and writing, and I wonder what information assessment viewed through the lens of climate change would read like. This is, perhaps, my most librarian-ish moment of my life, so I’m just going to…leave that here and back away.) I also wonder about the layout: it’s very textbook-y. The black and white, the call outs, the underlining — particularly when coupled with the straightforward approach — feels like a very young read.
Frida and Diego: Art, Love, Life by Catherine Reef
Clarion Books, August 2014
Reviewed from final copy
Next up we’ve got a dual biography. As the title says, it’s an opportunity to examine art, politics, love, life — it looks at all aspects of these two artists’ life and works. With three starred reviews and a mention on Kirkus’ best of the year list, there’s a certain amount of appreciation floating around for this title, too. It is balanced in its approach and the information included on both artists; as a dual biography it could be hard to give each individual equal time, discussion, and attention, but Reef uses it as an opportunity to show how their art and their work and their love was really a complicated, lifelong conversation. Unfortunately, as a dual biography, this short volume also feels a little rushed, condensed. And for a book about artists, to have the majority of the artwork at the end rather than in with the text is a strange choice, though the photographs round out the story nicely. This is a satisfying read, and as a total art philistine, it gave me, personally, a lot of new information, but I want more from a Printz title.
Stories of My Life by Katherine Paterson
Dial Books, October 2014
Reviewed from final copy
Katherine Paterson’s collection of memories is not officially considered a memoir; she dismissed that notion in the introduction. It’s a collection of short stories, brief memories, and vignettes that intertwine information about her personal life and her professional writing. They are all tied together by her warm and welcoming tone, and her thoughtful and often funny anecdotes. Although I do love many of her books, I hadn’t done a ton of extra research on her or her writing, so it was new and fascinating information on what started her writing Bridge to Terabithia, or her real life inspiration for Jacob Have I Loved — what fan doesn’t want access to all the “DVD extras”? What rubs me wrong, at least in this Printzly context, is the idea of audience here; her concerns and her focus are really on adulthood (I mean, I am here for any story about parenthood you want to share; it’s where I’m at. Where are the teens at, though?). I also think that there are stronger works of memoir-ish collections published this year that illustrate and illuminate the power of memory (I’m thinking in particular of Brown Girl Dreaming and I Remember Beirut). This is a lovely read, and gives wonderful insight on a beloved author.
So to sum it all up, this is a set of perfectly nice nonfiction — all three are satisfying reads and are worth your reading time/budget dollars/space on the shelves. But to make it into the final five, I think we need a little more…more. In such a strong non-fiction year, I’d be surprised to see them last long at Printz Table discussion. (Seriously strong year. I have even more non-fiction titles that I’m reading/re-reading for next week.)
Filed under: Nonfiction
About Sarah Couri
Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.
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