THE 2016 NERDIES: LONG FORM NONFICTION ANNOUNCED BY DONALYN MILLER
Since my childhood, I have been fascinated with nonfiction books. I read our family World Book Encyclopedias and Time-Life books from cover-to-cover and methodically worked through every biography and wildlife book in my elementary school library. My lifelong fascination for natural and human history, geography, and life sciences began in that library, and I still love to read nonfiction books written for adults and children. I am honored to share Nerdy voters’ picks for the most outstanding 2016 long form nonfiction books in today’s Nerdies Award post.
The twenty titles selected for the 2016 Nerdy Book Club Award for Best Long Form Nonfiction include forgotten stories from history, explore the edge of scientific discoveries, and expand our awareness and appreciation for the contributions of diverse voices. These exemplary books provide delightful reading experiences and spark further inquiry about featured topics. Whether you’re curious about animal intelligence and behavior, investigative journalism, technology, World War II, or civil and human rights, you’ll find something on this list to read and share.
Congratulations to the 2016 Nerdy Book Club Award winners for Long Form Nonfiction. Your books reveal the vastness of human potential, emphasize the connectedness of our global family, and illustrate the importance of caring for our planet and each other. Thank you!
2016 Nerdy Book Club Award for Long Form Nonfiction
Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights
by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace
Rich Wallace’s website: http://richwallacebooks.com/
Sandra Neil Wallace’s website: http://sandraneilwallace.com/
A white seminary student from New Hampshire, Jonathan Daniels went to Alabama with other white ministers in 1965 to help register African-American citizens to vote. He never went home. Released from jail after a protest, Jonathan Daniels was murdered outside a convenience store, while shielding seventeen-year old activist, Ruby Sales, from the gunman. Using source material from Jonathan Daniels’ letters, court transcripts, interviews with first hand witnesses, and newspaper stories from the period, Rich and Sandra Wallace have created a vivid account of the institutional and social structures perpetuating racism, the violence employed to prevent integration and equality, and the story of one man’s sacrifice. Best suited for mature readers due to graphic descriptions of violence.
Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America
by Gail Jarrow
Gail Jarrow’s website: http://www.gailjarrow.com/
In the final book in her Deadly Disease trilogy, which includes Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat (2014) and Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary (2015), Gail Jarrow investigates bubonic plague, plague outbreaks throughout history, and medical advances developed to identify and treat the disease. Jarrow focuses her storytelling lens on several plague outbreaks in San Francisco at the beginning of the 20th Century. Jarrow writes riveting nonfiction blending history and science into books that read like forensic thrillers. Read aloud the first chapter and young adults will be hooked!
Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird
by Pamela S. Turner
photographs by Andy Comins, illustrations by Guido de Fillippo
HMH Books for Young Readers
Pamela Turner’s website: http://www.pamelasturner.com/index.html
The Scientists in the Field series: http://www.sciencemeetsadventure.com/books/
In this latest installment in the reliably outstanding Scientists in the Field series, regular series contributor Pamela S. Turner follows scientists studying New Caledonian crows and these birds’ remarkable capacity for tool making and problem-solving. New Caledonian crows shape twigs into curved tools that help the birds locate and catch insects and grubs. Mature crows model and teach these tool making skills to young crows, and tool making has evolved into a vital skill for ensuring future generations of crows will survive and thrive. Turner’s humor, fondness for the crows, and her in-depth research and interviews communicate her passion for science and illustrate how much we can learn from studying animal behavior.
National Geographic Kids Everything Robotics: All the Photos, Facts, and Fun to Make You Race for Robots
by Jennifer Swanson
National Geographic Children’s Books
Jennifer Swanson’s website: http://jenniferswansonbooks.com/
Visually appealing with bright colors, dynamic call out boxes and sidebars, and National Geographic’s stellar photography, this latest installment in the Everything series gives young readers a fun overview of the history of robotics, including modern uses for robots in space exploration, home efficiency, and manufacturing. Jennifer Swanson’s lighthearted tone and kid-friendly presentation of factual information will be a hit with kids and a marvelous addition to maker spaces.
Feminism: Reinventing the F-Word
by Nadia Abushanab Higgins
Twenty-First Century Books
Lerner Publishing Group interview with Nadia Abushanab Higgins:
Through interviews with activists, celebrities, historians, and scores of every day people, Higgins explores the concept of “feminism” and the controversy surrounding it, encouraging readers to reexamine their connection to this F-word. Each chapter examines one aspect of human rights affecting women and their families including reproductive rights, workplace discrimination, and rape culture. An intriguing entry point on a complex topic, this book provokes further discussion and research.
In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives
by Kenneth C. Davis
Henry Holt & Company
Kenneth C. Davis’s website: http://dontknowmuch.com/
Told through the stories of five people: Billy Lee, Ona Judge, Isaac Granger, Paul Jennings, and Alfred Jackson enslaved to four American presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Jackson, this intriguing and highly-readable book presents a chronological account of the early years of American history and the ethical hypocrisy of our Founding Fathers’ beliefs in freedom and self-determination while denying these fundamental rights to so many. Rich with primary source material including personal accounts, this book is a vital addition to text sets and units of study needing underrepresented perspectives.
Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History
by Kate Schatz
illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl
Ten Speed Press
Kate Schatz’s website: http://www.kateschatz.com/
Miriam Klein Stahl’s website: http://www.miriamkleinstahl.com/
Showcasing the accomplishments of women throughout history and around the world, this companion to Rad American Women A-Z (2015) presents 40 stories about groundbreaking women—many of them unknown to young people outside their home countries. Readers will find role models like Filipino doctor, Fe del Mundo, the first woman to attend Harvard Medical School, to Grace “Granuaile” O’Malley, an Irish pirate pardoned by Elizabeth I (a formidable woman in her own right), to Jamaican National Heroine, Nanny of the Maroons, and many others. The final story describes the loss and hope of refugee women who dream of better lives for themselves and their children. Engaging to read and beautifully illustrated with Miriam Klein Stahl’s block prints, Rad Women Worldwide provides a wonderful resource for inquiry and inspiration.
Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb (Young Adult Edition)
by Neal Bascomb
Arthur A. Levine Books
Neal Bascomb’s website: http://nealbascomb.com/
When Hitler’s army invaded Norway, his forces captured a powerful resource high in the mountains—the Vemork hydroelectric power plant. Vemork was the first power plant to produce large amounts of heavy water, integral to the creation of nuclear bombs. Concerned that the Nazis would use this resource to create devastating weapons, Allied forces coordinated several sabotage missions to destroy Vemork with mixed success. Renowned historian and author, Neal Bascomb, presents a suspenseful account of sabotage missions carried out by Norwegian fighters and scientists.
Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story
by Caren Stelson
Caren Stelson’s website: http://www.carenstelson.com/
Longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award, Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story details one woman’s heart-wrenching personal account of her experiences on August 9, 1945, when United States forces dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan and its long term effects on her life. Only six years old when her city was bombed, Sachiko Yasui suffered the loss of many family members and friends, and endured bullying and ostracism as a bombing survivor. Based on extensive interviews with Sachiko over several years, Caren Stelson frames Yasui’s personal story with enough historical information to provide context. A moving and honest account of war and its aftermath.
Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minimoto Yoshitsune
by Pamela S. Turner
illustrated by Gareth Hinds
Pamela S. Turner’s website: http://www.pamelasturner.com/index.html
Gareth Hinds’s website: http://www.garethhinds.com/
Traveling back to 12th Century Japan, Pamela Turner recounts the dramatic story of Minamoto no Yoshitsune, the legendary samurai warrior. When Yoshitsune’s father is beheaded after a failed attempt to overthrow a rival samurai leader, the young boy is sent to a monastery. Eventually, Yoshitsune escapes the monastery, trains as a samurai, seeks revenge for his father’s death, and becomes one of the most powerful and successful leaders of his time. Divided into short chapters, filled with graphic battle scenes, and brilliantly illustrated by Gareth Hinds, this book will captivate readers who love history and those who claim they don’t. Includes extensive endnotes and sources for further reading and research.
Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White
by Melissa Sweet
HMH Books for Young Readers
Melissa Sweet’s website: http://melissasweet.net/
Award-winning author and illustrator Melissa Sweet presents a tender and lively portrait of legendary author E.B. White in this authorized biography. Combining her signature artistic style of collage, word art, and watercolor illustrations with White’s family letters and photographs, quotations from his work, and iconic characters from his book like Wilbur and Charlotte, each page is a visual delight. For fans old and new, readers will enjoy learning more about White’s childhood, his life as a writer and journalist, and his love for nature. Universally lauded by reviewers, teachers, librarians, and young readers, look for Some Writer! to become a classic in its own right.
Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter Nellie Bly
by Deborah Noyes
Viking Books for Young Readers
Deborah Noyes’s website: http://deborahnoyes.com/
In the 19th Century, Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, known by her pen name, Nellie Bly, was a well-known investigative journalist, adventurer, and outspoken advocate for poor and disabled people, particularly women and children. In this entertaining and informative book, Deborah Noyes details Nellie Bly’s life story and accomplishments, most notably the ten days Bly spent undercover as a mental patient at Bellevue Hospital, investigating the inhumane conditions at the notorious facility. Packed with references and resources, including Nellie Bly’s articles and photographs from the period.
The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden & the Trial of the Century
by Sarah Miller
Schwartz & Wade
Sarah Miller’s website: http://www.sarahmillerbooks.com/Welcome.html
On August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered with an ax in their Massachusetts home. Authorities quickly honed in on a suspect–Andrew’s 32-year old daughter, Lizzie. Sarah Miller constructs a thrilling true crime drama detailing the facts of the case and Lizzie Borden’s sensational trial, which made her a national celebrity. Includes extensive research and documentation from newspaper reports and court documents.
The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero
by Patricia McCormick
Balzer + Bray
Patricia McCormick’s website: https://patriciamccormick.com/
“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor whose book, The Cost of Discipleship, has become a classic work in modern theological thought, but his role as a co-conspirator in a failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler is the focus of this riveting book about his life. As a young pastor in 1930’s Berlin, Bonhoeffer was horrified by the rise of the Nazi party, especially its restrictions on religious worship and the marginalization of Jews in German society. Working with family members and trusted colleagues, including his siblings, Bonhoeffer participated in several failed attempts to kill Adolf Hitler. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his co-conspirators were eventually caught and he was executed at the Flossenburg Concentration Camp in 1945, two weeks before American soldiers liberated the camp.
Filled with primary source material, two-time National Book Award finalist Patricia McCormick effectively captures the life and legacy of the quiet German pastor who willingly paid the ultimate price for his beliefs.
The Story of Seeds: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate and How’s There More of Less to Eat Around the World
by Nancy Castaldo
HMH Books for Young Readers
Nancy Castaldo’s website: http://nancycastaldo.com/
If you doubt a book about seeds can be compelling to read, I challenge you to pick up The Story of Seeds. Nancy Castaldo explores the history and politics of agricultural science from Gregor Mendel’s famous pea plant experiments to the work of modern day “seed warriors” who fight to protect native plants species and safeguard people around the world from famine as a result of war, natural disasters, and climate change. Castaldo issues a challenge to all of us about the importance of protecting our biodiversity before we lose our agricultural heritage and irrevocably limit future resources.
This Land is Our Land: A History of American Immigration
by Linda Barrett Osborne
Harry N. Abrams
Linda Barrett Osborne’s Abrams Contributor’s Page:
This Land Is Our Land describes the experiences of three centuries of American immigrants and the social and political factors that have shaped American immigration policies and personal views about immigrant groups throughout our country’s history. Extensively researched and sourced using first hand accounts, legislative documents, photographs, and other primary source materials, Linda Barrett Osborne has created a powerful work of scholarship about immigration and the role immigrants play in shaping our national identity.
Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II
by Albert Marrin
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Albert Marrin’s website: http://www.albertmarrin.com/
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, U.S. officials rounded up over 100,000 Japanese-American citizens, stripped them of their personal rights and property and forced them to live in “relocation camps” for the duration of World War II. While many Japanese-Americans were serving bravely in our armed forces, their families lived in bleak conditions back home. In this thorough and well-crafted book by National Book Award finalist, Albert Marrin, young readers will learn about this shameful period in American history and examine the tenuous nature of our rights as citizens. Supported and enhanced with numerous primary sources including newspaper articles, political speeches, diaries, letters, and recommended readings.
Vietnam: A History of the War
by Russell Freedman
Russell Freedman’s Wikipedia page:
Russell Freedman is one of the most well-regarded and prolific children’s nonfiction authors writing today. For 40+ years, his books on notable people and American history have become library and classroom staples, and his books regularly garner awards and critical acclaim. Freedman continues to find untold stories from history to share with young people.
In Vietnam: A History of War, Freedman delivers an interesting and concise introduction to the events and conditions that led to the Vietnam War, the United States’ involvement, and the long term consequences of the war. Supported and enhanced with extensive primary source documents including photographs, newspaper and television reports, and interviews and first hand accounts from soldiers and civilians.
We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler
by Russell Freedman
Russell Freedman’s Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell_Freedman
Like many German children, Hans and Sophie Scholl joined the Hitler Youth when they were young, but the siblings became increasingly disillusioned with the Nazi regime and atrocities committed by Hitler’s forces. Working with other students and teachers at the University of Munich, the Scholls helped form the White Rose resistance group, which wrote and distributed pamphlets denouncing the Nazis and calling on German intellectuals to fight Hitler’s policies. Although many members were eventually imprisoned, tortured, and executed, the White Rose group’s message reached beyond Germany and inspired other resistance campaigns. Legendary nonfiction author, Russell Freedman, creates a gripping account of the Scholl siblings and the White Rose group using extensive primary source documents, including photographs, first hand accounts, and court transcripts.
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World
by Rachel Ignotofsky
Ten Speed Press
Rachel Ignotofsky’s website: http://www.rachelignotofskydesign.com/
Women in Science features the stories and accomplishments of 50 groundbreaking women who made significant scientific contributions and expanded opportunities for women in STEM fields. From lesser-known scientists like Maria Sibylla Merian, a German insect researcher and illustrator in the 1600’s, to Mae Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut, readers will feed their interest in science and expand their knowledge of the dedicated women who’ve shaped their fields. Lovingly illustrated with playful sidebars and bright colors on a black background, Women in Science blends science and art into a visually stunning and informative book.
Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas. She is the author of two books about encouraging students to read, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy Book Club co-founder, Colby Sharp). Donalyn launched the annual Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.