December 29

2014 Nerdy Awards for MG/YA Nonfiction Announced by Donalyn Miller

Nonfiction is the only genre defined by what it is not. Not fiction. Comparisons between fiction and nonfiction based on perceptions of what each offers readers elevate one over the other—depending on whom you talk to about it. Fiction entertains and inspires us. Nonfiction informs and persuades us. And never the twain shall meet. Arbitrary distinctions created for teaching that author’s purpose lesson that have little basis in reality.

Bob Probst tells us, “Fiction invites us into a world that the writer has invented. Nonfiction intrudes into our world and purports to tell us something about it.” I like this definition, but I contend that memorable books can do both. Whether fiction or nonfiction, the best books lift the veil—offering readers glimpses into our world and ourselves.

The winners of this year’s 2014 Nerdy Book Club Awards in Nonfiction exemplify outstanding storytelling, scholarly research, and rich understanding of how to engage young readers. From the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to our imperiled ocean ecosystem, these incredible books take readers on a journey through our human experience—from past upheavals to our hopeful future.

Three Nerdy Award winners received a landslide of nominations—appearing as the top picks in several categories. We have placed these books where the received the most votes, although they were overwhelming favorites in their respective graphic novel and poetry categories, too.


Tom Angleberger made a special award badge just for Cece Bell’s Nerdy win.

Cece Bell’s graphic novel, El Deafo, reveals young Cece’s difficulties with progressive hearing loss and her struggles with self-esteem and friendship. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson shares Jackie’s experiences as a young girl who dreams of being a writer, and her life growing up with her challenging, but loving family. Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters, the companion to her beloved memoir, Smile, takes readers on a road trip filled with family tension and one sneaky reptile. These memoirs capture the extraordinary in each author’s ordinary experiences and invite young readers and writers to celebrate and appreciate the importance of their own stories.

Oscar Wilde said, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Two of this year’s Nerdy Award winners illustrate the connections between life and art. Dreaming in Indian edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, gathers poetry, photographs, essays, song lyrics, and graffiti from young Native American artists—capturing lives shaped by contemporary and historical influences. This Star Won’t Go Out by Esther Earl memorializes the short life of a young woman who influenced John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and the lives of everyone who knew her.

When we look beyond the often dry, cursory overview presented in most textbooks, history provides fascinating insight into our human story. Four Nerdy Award winners tell the compelling stories of real people, a collection of saints and sinners, who have shaped our past and influenced the modern world. The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming masterfully explains the cause and effect chain that led to the Bolshevik Revolution and the assassination of the Russian Imperial Romanov Family, Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei. Steve Sheinkin’s The Port Chicago 50 unearths the forgotten story of 244 African-American sailors who refused to work in hazardous conditions after an explosion killed 300 sailors at the Port Chicago Naval Base. Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain by Russell Freedman shares the stories of thousands of American immigrants who entered our country through California instead of New York. Gail Jarrows’ Red Madness describes the U.S. pellagra epidemic in the early 1900’s and scientists’ efforts to determine its cause and develop effective treatment.

Our interactions with the natural world have long-term consequences for our planet’s ecosystem and its inhabitants. Three Nerdy Award winners describe the delicate interactions between people and our universal home. Beetle Busters by Loree Griffin Burns describes the invasion of Asian longhorned beetles into American forests. Plastic, Ahoy! by Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley reveals how our plastic trash clogs ocean habitats. Eyes Wide Open by Paul Fleischman explores the science and politics behind environmental issues like fracking and climate change. All three books explore how scientists are working to solve these problems and how everyday citizens can help.

Our final three NF Nerdy Award winners inject a dose of humor into serious subjects like middle school, epidemics, and death. Sarah Albee’s Bugged explores the role insects have played in shaping civilization. How They Choked by Georgia Bragg uncovers the salacious details behind the failures of the famous. Jon Sciesczka’s fifth installment in the Guys Read series, Guys Read: True Stories, gathers exciting, surprising, and hilarious memoirs and essays from notable authors and journalists like Sy Montgomery and James Sturm.

Congratulations to our 2014 Nonfiction Nerdy Award winners! Thank you for sharing your stories and bringing our human stories to life on the page. Here are our fifteen winners listed in alphabetical order.

angel island

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain by Russell Freedman

beetle busters

Beetle Busters: A Rogue Insect and the People Who Track It by Loree Griffin Burns

brown girl dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Book Review

bugged sarah albee

Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee

Author Post

dreaming in indian

Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices edited by Lisa Charleyboy

el deafo

el deafo collage 3

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Book Response

Book Review

eyes wide open

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman

guys read true stories

Guys Read: True Stories Edited by Jon Sciesczka

how they choked

How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg

Book Review

plastic ahoy

Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley

port chicago 50

Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steven Sheinkin

red madness

Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat by Gail Jarrow


Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Author Post

family romanov

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

this star won't go out

 This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl

Lori Earl’s Post


Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies. She is the author of two books about encouraging students to read and fostering lifelong reading habits, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chats, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp) & #bproots (with Dr. Teri Lesesne), and facilitates the Twitter reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.