The 2017 Nerdies: Long Form Nonfiction Announced by Carol Jago and Donalyn Miller

I have always adored nonfiction books and spent a large part of my childhood reading books about animals and history. As an adult reader and teacher, I still enjoy learning about our natural world and its people. The quality of nonfiction texts written for young readers has dramatically improved since the 1970’s and 80’s when I was growing up. Texts are more visually interesting with formats and design features that engage children, and nonfiction books for kids include a wider range of voices and topics.

It is my honor to collaborate with Carol Jago, educator, author, and fellow book lover, to announce the 2017 Nerdy Book Club Award winners for the Best Long Form Nonfiction (longer than a picture book) of this year. The books on this list include an outstanding array of subjects, formats, and writing styles. Each title deserves wide reading and belongs in both school and home collections.

The 2017 Nerdies for Best Long Form Nonfiction are:

#Not Your Princess: Voices of Native American Women by Lisa Charleyboy & Mary Beth Leatherdale

Annick Press

This compelling collection of stories, essays, artwork, photographs, and memoir offers young readers the authentic voices of women who have often been invisible in literature. While the circumstances depicted by the 58 indigenous contributors are sometimes grim, the overarching song that holds the compilation together is one of hope and power. The editors have arranged the images and text in such a way that they seem to be in conversation with one another, juxtaposing the visual with the written, color with black and white, the shocking with the sweet. This is a book that will fly off your classroom shelves and be passed from reader to reader. Consider purchasing multiple copies.–CJ

Lisa Charleyboy’s website

Mary Beth Leatherdale’s website

American Indians in Children’s Literature review of #Not Your Princess by Debbie Reese

not your princess

Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough

Feiwel & Friends

Lin Miguel Miranda’s musical has brought sudden attention to the life of Alexander Hamilton. Martha Brockenbrough’s biography is a welcome addition to the musical’s libretto, offering detail and background for the scenes and characters so many have come to love. Illustrated with historically accurate artwork and written in a lively fashion, this is an accessible volume both for young readers and for anyone daunted by Ron Chernow’s 800+ page tome. (The author describes herself as a “writer for smart kids and juvenile adults.) While extolling Hamilton’s astonishing achievements, the book is no hagiography. Brockenbrough describes the man’s weaknesses and shortcomings even-handedly, resulting in a well-rounded portrayal of this remarkable American immigrant.–CJ

Martha Brockenbrough’s website

alexander hamilton revolutionary

Alice Paul and the Fight for Women’s Rights: From the Vote to the Equal Rights Amendment by Deborah Kops

Calkins Creek

Did you know that shortly after women won the right to vote in 1920, Alice Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment, which if passed would have made all laws that discriminated against women unconstitutional? This relatively unknown woman was an important figure in the early women’s rights movement and an unflagging advocate for equality throughout her long life. Deborah Kops biography includes stunning historical photographs that help bring the past to life for readers young and old. Raised a Quaker, Paul graduated from Swarthmore, and then moved from the quiet of Moorestown, PA to the most crowded corner in America, the lower east side of New York. It was there that her activist spirit was kindled. Alice Paul’s story is an inspiration to mighty girls of any age.–CJ

Deborah Kops’s website

alice paul and the fight for womens rights

Bound by Ice: A True North Pole Survival Story by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace

Calkins Creek

With the financial support of James Gordon Bennett Jr., the owner of the New York Herald, and the backing of the U.S. Navy, Lt. Commander George W. De Long led an ill-fated expedition to explore the North Pole in 1879. In spite of the skilled crew, De Long’s vessel, the U.S.S. Jeannette, became trapped in ice two months into the journey. The ship eventually sank and its 33 sailors attempted to reach Siberian settlements—struggling against arctic weather and the loss of most of the crew. The authors expertly integrate primary source documents, journal entries, maps, and photographs into a riveting adventure story of fellowship and survival.–DM

Sandra Neil Wallace’s website

Rich Wallace’s website

bound by ice

Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson

Peachtree Publishers

In the summer of 1787, the leaders of the new United States of America gathered to develop the laws that would govern our nation. After months of debate and compromises, the Constitution was written to define the rights of citizens and the role of government, but it wasn’t perfect. Over 200 years later, we are still affected by the flaws in our Constitution, such as the Electoral College and the scope of our civil rights and liberties. Award-winning author, Cynthia Levinson, and her husband, Sanford Levinson, a Constitutional law scholar, join forces in this lively and relevant exploration of the U.S. Constitution, its continuous evolution and interpretation through amendments and Supreme Court cases, and how it affects our daily lives. A must-read for all Americans and a vital text for American History classrooms and school libraries.–DM

Fault Lines in the Constitution blog

Cynthia Levinson’s website

Cynsations blog interview with Cynthia Levinson

fault lines in the constitution

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, illustrated by Yutaka Houlette


After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which called for the removal of all residents and American citizens of Japanese ancestry from their homes and forced thousands into internment camps. Fred Korematsu, a young man from Oakland, California, resisted his internment and became a fugitive before his eventual arrest. Speaking out against the unlawful detention of American citizens, Korematsu appealed his conviction for violating the internment order and became the primary plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, Korematsu vs. United States, which concerned the constitutionality of the internment order. Korematsu lost the case, but he continued to speak out against racism and civil rights for the rest of his life. Mixing poetry with alternating pages of primary source documents and historical information, this first book in the new Fighting for Justice series will introduce young readers to an American hero and spark interest in social activism.–DM

Laura Atkins’ website

Uma Krishnaswami’s interview with Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi 

 fred korematsu speaks up

Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time by Tanya Lee Stone

Wendy Lamb Books

Around the globe, millions of girls are unable to attend school or denied the ability to pursue an education. Many are forced into marriages and early motherhood, sold into slavery, or become victims of gender-based violence. Through their films and outreach efforts, the Girl Rising Campaign seeks to educate girls and inform others about the importance of empowering girls as a means to ameliorate poverty and improve communities. Talented author and advocate, Tanya Lee Stone, gives young readers a behind-the-scenes look at the 2013 Girl Rising documentary and explores the factors that prevent girls from acquiring an education and equality. This important work offers an informed look at the complex issues that contribute to oppression and inequality for many women and girls.–DM

Tanya Lee Stone’s website

Girl Rising website

girl rising

How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana and Abigail Pesta

Katherine Tegen Books

Fleeing turmoil in her home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sandra Uwiringiyimana witnessed the murder of her mother and little sister by rebels in a refugee camp. Through a United Nations program, Sandra and her surviving family members eventually immigrated to the United States, but her transition was difficult due to intense trauma, sorrow, and the prejudice and racism Sandra encountered. As a activist, Sandra shares the suffering of refugees and the need for worldwide advocacy and humanitarian aid. Sandra’s heartbreaking and inspiring memoir, written with journalist Abigail Pesta, introduces young readers to the political and social issues that force many people from their homelands to seek better lives in the United States and reminds us all that refugees are not pawns, but people.–DM

Abigail Pesta’s website

CBS News interview with the authors

how dare the sun rise

Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d by Mary Losure


Isaac Newton’s scientific discoveries changed the world, but long before his legendary experiments and formulas, Newton was a lonely boy who lived in an apothecary shop. Fascinated with alchemy, the transmutation of common materials into something more valuable like gold, Newton developed his unique look at the world and his processes for conducting and recording experiments at a young age. This well-researched and engaging biography offers readers a foundation in fundamental physics and chemistry, and a deeper look into one of the greatest scientific minds of all time. Don’t miss the back matter which includes extensive resources and a fascinating description of Mary Losure’s research processes.–DM

Mary Losure’s website

isaac the alchemist

Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island by Loree Griffin Burns

HMH Books for Young Readers

Dr. Loree Griffin Burns is one of the best science writers creating books for kids today. With her descriptive writing style and her ability to break down complex scientific processes into accessible ideas, her books provide inviting entry points for young scientists and not-interested-in-science-yet kids. In this new installment in HMH’s stellar Scientists in the Field series, Burns explores the newly-formed volcanic island, Surtsey, and spends time with the scientists who are studying the island’s creation and evolution. Surtsey’s raw, dangerous beauty and its significance to scientific study will intrigue readers and promote interest in conservation, biology, and geology. An effective and engaging model of scientific writing for young writers, too.–DM

Loree Griffin Burns’s website

Loree Griffin Burns’s Nerdy Book Club post about Life on Surtsey


Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls by Tonya Bolden

Abrams Books for Young Readers

Lauded historian and Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author, Tonya Bolden, presents a collective biography of sixteen notable black women and men who made significant contributions to science, art, and business. Many of them never received recognition for their accomplishments during their lifetimes and overcame tremendous obstacles to achieve even modest success because of racism and inequity. This important book gives young people a more accurate and inclusive portrayal of history and the incredible people who influenced our world. Each individual featured deserves further inquiry and discussion.–DM

Tonya Bolden’s website

pathfinders journeys of 16 extraordinary black souls

Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines by Sarah Albee

Crown Books for Young Readers

In this humorous and humorously illustrated history of poison, Sarah Albee chronicles the many ways in which deadly substances have influenced events in literature and real life. You will be happy to hear that this is not a “how to” guide to poisoning but rather a tongue-in-cheek exploration of the ubiquity of poison through the ages. Of interest to any budding scientist and a must-have in any STEM school, the book will engage young readers on may levels, including otherwise reluctant readers who are drawn to tales of gross mayhem. Albee has included a remarkable author’s note and research guide that serves as a springboard for further learning.–CJ

Sarah Albee’s website

NPR interview with Sarah Albee

poison sarah albee

Red Cloud: A Lakota Story of War and Surrender by S.D. Nelson

(Abrams Books for Young Readers)

Artist and author S.D. Nelson, member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the Dakotas, continues his biography series of great Lakota leaders with this dramatic and informative portrait of Oglala Lakota chief, Red Cloud. Driven to accept a treaty with the American government in order to protect his people from genocide, starvation, and war, Red Cloud agreed to move with his tribe to a reservation—in opposition to other Lakota leaders (including Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull) who refused to surrender. Red Cloud continued to lead his people in negotiations with government agents for the rest of his life—in spite of repeated betrayal and the American government’s refusal to abide by its own treaties. An honest, well-researched portrait of a courageous man forced into an impossible position. Nelson’s vibrant artwork enhances the text and stands out as important storytelling elements.–DM

S.D. Nelson’s website

red cloud a lakota story of war and surrender

Shackles From the Deep: Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship, a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy by Michael Cottman

National Geographic Children’s Books

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author, and avid scuba diver, Michael Cottman, explored the recovered slave ship, the Henrietta Marie, as part of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers in the early 90’s. After years of research and diving expeditions, Cottman published The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie: An African American’s Spiritual Journey to Uncover a Sunken Slave Ship in 1998, describing his experiences with the Henrietta Marie recovery operation. Working with National Geographic Children’s Books, Cottman has created a book for young readers based on his exploration. Rich with primary sources, this is a gripping look at the African slave trade and Cottman’s spiritual and archaeological journey. Rich with resources and primary source material including maps, timelines, and references.–DM

Michael Cottman’s website

National Geographic’s Educators Guide

shackles from the deep

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees by Mary Beth Leatherdale and Eleanor Shakespeare

Annick Press

Through interviews and historical and information, Mary Beth Leatherdale introduces readers to five children who fled their homelands and sought asylum via boats and ships. The powerful stories of real children from Nazi Germany to Cuba to Vietnam to Afghanistan to the Ivory Coast illustrate the uncertain futures of families forced to leave their home countries and their dependence on other countries to offer aid. Illustrated with Eleanor Shakespeare’s lush collages combining photographs and original art. An #ownvoices pairing for Alan Gratz’s historical fiction book, Refugee.–DM

Mary Beth Leatherdale’s website

Eleanor Shakespeare’s website

sotrmy seas

The 57 Bus: Two Sides of the Same Crime/ Two Ends of the Same Line by Dashka Slater

Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR

Dashka Slater first wrote about this story a New York Times Magazine article in 2015. It is the tale of two high school-age kids on a bus to school in Oakland, California and a moment that changed both of their lives forever. Sasha is white, self-identifies as agender, attends a private school, and is dressed in a gauze skirt. Richard is black, from the poor side of town, and attends the public school. Impulsively flicking a lighted match at Sasha’s skirt and setting Sasha alight results in serious injury to Sasha and a charge of a hate crime and possible life imprisonment for Richard. Their story is sure to inspire powerful discussions about race, gender, tolerance, and redemption.–CJ

Dashka Slater’s website

Dashka Slater’s 2015 New York Times magazine article on the events that inspired her book

the 57 bus

The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power by Ann Bausum

National Geographic Children’s Books

The last great march of the Civil Rights Movement, the March Against Fear, traveled from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi in June 1966. Begun by James Meredith, the first African-American to be admitted to the University of Mississippi, the march grew to 15,000 people and resulted in 4,000 black voter registrations. Ann Bausum (Stonewall) uncovers the factors that led to the march, describes the dangerous conditions for marchers in hostile Mississippi, and explores the march’s long-term consequences for the Civil Rights Movement and the rise of Stokely Carmichael’s Black Power Movement. Includes extensive supporting information including primary source material such as first hand accounts, photographs, and additional references.–DM

Ann Bausum’s website

the march against fear

The Quilts of Gees Bend by Susan Goldman Rubin

Abrams Books for Young Readers

In the rural community of Gees Bend in southern Alabama, women have been quilting for generations, producing works of art out of scraps of material from overalls, sacking, anything they could lay their talented hands on. The resulting quilts were things of everyday use until they attracted the attention of the art world, first at the Museum of Fine Arts in Huston in 2002 and later at the Whitney. The Metropolitan Museum of Art now displays a permanent collection of the quilts of Gees Bend. Susan Goldman Rubin tells the story of the women who have been creating these startlingly original compositions since post-bellum times through to the present. Her book includes not only reproductions of the quilts but also historical photos that depict the conditions under which they were created.–CJ

Susan Goldman Rubin’s website

Interview with the author about The Quilts of Gees Bend 

the quilts of gees bend

Two Truths and a Lie: it’s Alive! by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Thompson, illustrated by Lisa Weber

Walden Pond Press

In this era of Fake News, faced with the urgent need to teach children to evaluate the credibility of information, this book is a timely and entertaining resource. Authors Paquette (Princess Juniper) and Thompson (Be A Changemaker) use the classic two truths and a lie game to frame stories about the natural world—two out of three stories are true, but one is false. Children will love learning bizarre facts about animals and plants (Zombie ants, anyone?) while developing and practicing critical information literacy skills. The first book in an exciting new series.–DM

Ammi-Joan Paquette’s website

Laurie Thompson’s website

two truths and a lie

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman

Henry Holt and Co. BYR

National Book Award Finalist (Charles and Emma’s Leap of Faith) Deborah Heiligman has again written a biography that sets forth a claim. In the case of the Van Gogh brothers, it is that without Theo there would have been no Vincent. Using the 658 letters Vincent wrote to Theo and the 40 Theo wrote to Vincent as her source material, Heiligman charts the course of a relationship that was surprisingly interdependent and based upon unconditional love. While some readers may be drawn to the book by their love for Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, others are likely to find that his life story sends them to the Internet to search for images of the art being described.–CJ

Deborah Heiligman’s website

vincent and theo

Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories by Jack Gantos

Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR

With inimitable humor and wit, Jack Gantos — winner of the Newbery Medal for Dead End in Norvelt — offers young readers the inside scoop about writing. The book will be of interest not only to your budding young writers but also to student writers who feel they never have anything to write about. Gantos provides guidance on developing one’s radar for good stories, the kind that can be found in anyone’s life. Along with how-to chapters on “Story Maps,” “Action and Emotion,” and “Good Habits Lead to Great Inspiration,” Gantos reflects on the power of storytelling and its importance in all our lives. The book abounds in ideas for powerful writing lessons.–CJ

Jack Gantos’s website

Writing radar

Congratulations to the winners of this year’s nonfiction Nerdies and thanks to everyone who nominated titles during the ballot process this year.

Carol Jago has taught English in middle and high school for 32 years and served as president of the National Council of Teachers of English. After years of reading only fiction, she has fallen in love with nonfiction. You can find Carol on Twitter @caroljago. 

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.