The 2019 Nerdies: Long Form Nonfiction Announced by Donalyn Miller
Engaging, accurate, relevant nonfiction texts provide opportunities to expand our knowledge of the world and our perceptions of both the past and future’s potential. I have always enjoyed nonfiction books and spent a large part of my childhood reading books about animals and history. As an adult, I still enjoy reading about the natural world and peoples’ lives and experiences.
The quality and appeal of nonfiction texts written for young readers has dramatically changed since the 1970’s and 80’s when I was growing up. Gone are the dusty encyclopedias and the boiler plate biography sets. Nonfiction texts today offer more visual interest with kid-friendly formats and design features, a wider range of voices and cultures, and books about every topic under the Sun.
I am delighted and honored to share with you the outstanding long form nonfiction books selected as 2019 Nerdy Book Club Nerdies winners. Congratulations to the winners! Thank you to the hundreds of educators and families who nominated books and share them with young people all year long. Every title on this list has the power to inform and inspire young readers.
Congratulations to the Nerdy Book Club 2019 Nerdies winners for best long form nonfiction of the year!
**Book introductions are quoted from publishers’ websites and descriptions.
1919: The Year That Changed America by Martin W. Sandler (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
Winner of the 2019 National Book Award for Young Peoples’ Literature
“1919 was a world-shaking year. America was recovering from World War I and black soldiers returned to racism so violent that that summer would become known as the Red Summer. The suffrage movement had a long-fought win when women gained the right to vote. Laborers took to the streets to protest working conditions; nationalistic fervor led to a communism scare; and temperance gained such traction that prohibition went into effect. Each of these movements reached a tipping point that year.
Now, one hundred years later, these same social issues are more relevant than ever. Sandler traces the momentum and setbacks of these movements through this last century, showing that progress isn’t always a straight line and offering a unique lens through which we can understand history and the change many still seek.”
A Light in the Darkness: Janusz Korczak, His Orphans, and the Holocaust by Albert Marrin (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
“Janusz Korczak was more than a good doctor. He was a hero. The Dr. Spock of his day, he established orphanages run on his principle of honoring children and shared his ideas with the public in books and on the radio. He famously said that “children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today.” Korczak was a man ahead of his time, whose work ultimately became the basis for the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
Korczak was also a Polish Jew on the eve of World War II. He turned down multiple opportunities for escape, standing by the children in his orphanage as they became confined to the Warsaw Ghetto. Dressing them in their Sabbath finest, he led their march to the trains and ultimately perished with his children in Treblinka.
But this book is much more than a biography. In it, renowned nonfiction master Albert Marrin examines not just Janusz Korczak’s life but his ideology of children: that children are valuable in and of themselves, as individuals. He contrasts this with Adolf Hitler’s life and his ideology of children: that children are nothing more than tools of the state.
Filled with black-and-white photographs, this is an unforgettable portrait of a man whose compassion in even the darkest hours reminds us what is possible.”
A Queer History of the United States for Young People by Michael Bronski, adapted by Richie Chevat (Beacon Press)
“It is crucial for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth to know their history. But this history is not easy to find since it’s rarely taught in schools or commemorated in other ways. A Queer History of the United States for Young People corrects this and demonstrates that LGBTQ people have long been vital to shaping our understanding of what America is today.
Through engrossing narratives, letters, drawings, poems, and more, the book encourages young readers, of all identities, to feel pride at the accomplishments of the LGBTQ people who came before them and to use history as a guide to the future.”
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese (Beacon Press)
“Spanning more than 400 years, this classic bottom-up history examines the legacy of Indigenous peoples’ resistance, resilience, and steadfast fight against imperialism.
Going beyond the story of America as a country ‘discovered’ by a few brave men in the ‘New World,’ Indigenous human rights advocate Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz reveals the roles that settler colonialism and policies of American Indian genocide played in forming our national identity.
The original academic text is fully adapted by renowned curriculum experts Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza, for middle-grade and young adult readers to include discussion topics, archival images, original maps, recommendations for further reading, and other materials to encourage students, teachers, and general readers to think critically about their own place in history.”
Brave Face: A Memoir by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse)
“Shaun David Hutchinson was nineteen. Confused. Struggling to find the vocabulary to understand and accept who he was and how he fit into a community in which he couldn’t see himself. The voice of depression told him that he would never be loved or wanted, while powerful and hurtful messages from society told him that being gay meant love and happiness weren’t for him.
A million moments large and small over the years all came together to convince Shaun that he couldn’t keep going, that he had no future. And so he followed through on trying to make that a reality.
Thankfully Shaun survived, and over time, came to embrace how grateful he is and how to find self-acceptance. In this courageous and deeply honest memoir, Shaun takes readers through the journey of what brought him to the edge, and what has helped him truly believe that it does get better.”
Insect Superpowers: 18 Real Bugs that Smash, Zap, Hypnotize, Sting, and Devour! by Kate Messner (Chronicle Books)
“Insect Superpowers is an action-packed nonfiction picture book about the incredible insect abilities found in the natural world. Packaged comic book style, this book explores 18 awesomely real superheroes and supervillains, who each possess powers far beyond the average insect.”
It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (adapted for young readers) by Trevor Noah (Delacorte Books for Young Readers)
“This fascinating memoir blends drama, comedy, and tragedy to depict the day-to-day trials that turned a boy into a young man. In a country where racism barred blacks from social, educational, and economic opportunity, Trevor surmounted staggering obstacles and created a promising future for himself, thanks to his mom’s unwavering love and indomitable will.
It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime not only provides a fascinating and honest perspective on South Africa’s racial history, but it will also astound and inspire young readers looking to improve their own lives.”
Monstrous: The Lore, Gore, and Science behind Your Favorite Monsters by Carlyn Beccia (Carolrhoda Books)
“Could Dr. Frankenstein’s machine ever animate a body? Why should vampires drink from veins and not arteries? What body parts are best for zombies to eat? (It’s not brains.) This fascinating encyclopedia of monsters delves into the history and science behind eight legendary creatures, from Bigfoot and the kraken to zombies and more. Find out each monster’s origin story and the real-world history that informed it, and then explore the science of each creature in fun and surprising ways. Tips and infographics―including monster anatomy, how to survive a vampire attack, and real-life giant creatures of the deep sea―make this a highly visual and fun-to-browse book.”
Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away (young readers’ edition) by Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve (Aladdin)
“In this incredible narrative, Erica Armstrong Dunbar reveals a fascinating and heartbreaking behind-the-scenes look at the Washingtons when they were the First Family—and an in-depth look at their slave, Ona Judge, who dared to escape from one of the nation’s Founding Fathers.
Born into a life of slavery, Ona Judge eventually grew up to be George and Martha Washington’s “favored” dower slave. When she was told that she was going to be given as a wedding gift to Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Ona made the bold and brave decision to flee to the north, where she would be a fugitive.”
Owling: Enter the World of the Mysterious Birds of the Night By Mark Wilson (Storey Publishing, LLC)
“Wildlife photojournalist and nature educator Mark Wilson presents a one-of-a-kind look into the mysterious lives of these distinctive birds. Dramatic images of the 19 owl species of North America nesting, flying, hunting, and catching prey are accompanied by information about the birds’ silent flight, remarkable eyes and ears, haunting calls, and fascinating night life. Kids will learn how to spot owls; identify their calls, plumage, and pellets; and even carry on a hooting conversation with a nearby owl.”
Spies: The Secret Showdown Between America and Russia by Mark Favreau (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
“Rife with intrigue and filled with fascinating historical figures whose actions shine light on both the past and present, this timely work of narrative nonfiction explores the turbulence of the Cold War through the lens of the men and women who waged it behind closed doors, and helps explain the role secret and clandestine operations have played in America’s history and its national security.”
The Magnificent Migration: On Safari with Africa’s Last Great Herds by Sy Montgomery (HMH Books for Young Readers)
“Sibert medalist Sy Montgomery takes readers on a staggering, emotional journey alongside the greatest land migration on earth—that of the wildebeest across the Serengeti—to provide a you-are-there account of one of nature’s most fascinating occurrences. Montgomery explores the wonder of migration, asking questions like, how do migration patterns sculpt the environment? Why do animals migrate? And how do they know where to go?
With lyrical prose, abundant facts, and the inclusion of other species who undertake remarkable migrations, Montgomery makes a journey of thousands of miles fly by—but not without leaving its mark. Full color photography.”
The Other F Word A Celebration of the Fat and Fierce edited by Angie Manfredi (Harry N. Abrams)
“Chubby. Curvy. Fluffy. Plus-size. Thick. Fat. The time has come for fat people to tell their own stories. The (Other) F Word combines the voices of Renée Watson, Julie Murphy, Jes Baker, Samantha Irby, Bruce Sturgell, and more in a relatable and gift-worthy guide about body image and fat acceptance. This dazzling collection of art, poetry, essays, and fashion tips is meant for people of all sizes who desire to be seen and heard in a culture consumed by a narrow definition of beauty. By combining the talents of renowned fat YA and middle-grade authors, as well as fat influencers and creators, The (Other) F Word offers teen readers and activists of all ages a tool for navigating our world with confidence and courage.”
The Poison Eaters: Fighting Danger and Fraud in our Food and Drugs by Gail Jarrow (Calkins Creek)
“Formaldehyde, borax, salicylic acid. Today, these chemicals are used in embalming fluids, cleaning supplies, and acne medications. But in 1900, they were routinely added to food that Americans ate from cans and jars. Often products weren’t safe because unregulated, unethical companies added these and other chemicals to trick consumers into buying spoiled food or harmful medicines. Chemist Harvey Washington Wiley recognized these dangers and began a relentless thirty-year campaign to ensure that consumers could purchase safe food and drugs, eventually leading to the creation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA. Acclaimed nonfiction and Sibert Honor winning author Gail Jarrow uncovers this intriguing history in her trademark style that makes the past enthrallingly relevant for today’s young readers.”
The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out In the Streets By Gayle E. Pitman (Harry N. Abrams)
“This book is about the Stonewall Riots, a series of spontaneous, often violent demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBTQ+) community in reaction to a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. The Riots are attributed as the spark that ignited the LGBTQ+ movement. The author describes American gay history leading up to the Riots, the Riots themselves, and the aftermath, and includes her interviews of people involved or witnesses, including a woman who was ten at the time. Profusely illustrated, the book includes contemporary photos, newspaper clippings, and other period objects. A timely and necessary read, The Stonewall Riots helps readers to understand the history and legacy of the LGBTQ+ movement.”
Troublemaker for Justice: The Story of Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the March on Washington by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle, and Michael G. Long (City Lights Publishers)
“Bayard Rustin was a major figure in the Civil Rights movement. He was arrested on a bus 13 years before Rosa Parks and he participated in integrated bus rides throughout the South 14 years before the Freedom Riders. He was a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., teaching him the techniques and philosophy of Gandhian nonviolent direct action. He organized the March on Washington in 1963, one of the most impactful mobilizations in American history.
Despite these contributions, few Americans recognize his name, and he is absent from most history books, in large part because he was gay. This biography traces Rustin’s life, from his childhood and his first arrest in high school for sitting in the “whites only” section of a theater, through a lifetime of nonviolent activism.”
Two Truths and a Lie: Forces of Nature by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson (Walden Pond Press)
“You’ve heard of the game: Every story in this book is strange and astounding, but one out of every three is an outright lie. Picking out the fakes isn’t as easy as you think, however. Some false stories are based on truth, and some of the true stories are just plain unbelievable! Don’t be fooled by the photos that accompany each story—it’s going to take all your smarts and some clever research to ferret out the truth.
From a man who gave himself an appendectomy to radio signals from other planets to eagles that have been trained to take out spy drones, the stories in this third installment in the Two Truths and a Lie series will amaze you!”
Viral: The Fight Against AIDS in America by Ann Bausum (Viking Books for Young Readers )
“Viral presents the history of the AIDS crisis through the lens of the brave victims and activists who demanded action and literally fought for their lives. This compassionate but unflinching text explores everything from the disease’s origins and how it spread to the activism it inspired and how the world confronts HIV and AIDS today.”
What the Eagle Sees: Indigenous Stories of Rebellion and Renewal by Eldon Littlehorn and Kathy Lowinger (Annick Press)
“In this brilliant follow up to Turtle Island, esteemed academic Eldon Yellowhorn and award-winning author Kathy Lowinger team up again, this time to tell the stories of what Indigenous people did when invaders arrived on their homelands. What the Eagle Sees shares accounts of the people, places, and events that have mattered in Indigenous history from a vastly under-represented perspective—an Indigenous viewpoint.”
Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas. She is the author or co-author of several books about encouraging students to read and creating successful reading communities at school and home including, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009), Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013), and Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids (Scholastic, 2018). Donalyn launched the annual Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter @donalynbooks.