The 2020 Nerdies: Long Form Nonfiction Announced by Carol Jago and Donalyn Miller

The world shrank in 2020. Many kids lost connections and opportunities to pursue their interests. The global shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and libraries, cancelled after school programs and field trips, and ended or postponed indefinitely many enrichment opportunities. High quality, engaging nonfiction remains a powerful way to keep the world open–through the real stories of people who inspire and intrigue us, the topics that fascinate us and spark inquiry, or the social issues that compel us to ask questions and act.

This year’s Nerdy Book Club Award winners for 2020 span a range of voices and subjects. Each text is structured and designed to capture young readers’ interest and expand their understanding of the world and themselves. We are honored to highlight each title and hope you will find some new titles for reading and sharing. We did!

Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle against Wounds and Disease

By Gail Jarrow

Calkins Creek

In an awesome blending of history and science, Gail Jarrow once again knocks it out of the park with Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle against Wounds and Disease. The author of Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary, Bubonic Plague, and Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat has turned her attention to how disease influenced the Civil War. Twice as many soldiers died from typhoid fever, smallpox, and pneumonia than perished on the battlefield. Jarrow teases out of this tragedy the story of medical progress. According to her author’s note, this is the first in a planned trilogy about medical fiascos. As we find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic, it’s hard not to wonder if our own times might someday be captured in a similar volume.

Gail Jarrow’s website

Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy edited by Kelly Jensen

Edited by Kelly Jensen. Features 37 contributors.

Algonquin Young Readers

From the publisher:

Thirty-seven writers, models, actors, musicians, and artists share essays, lists, comics, and illustrations—about everything from size and shape to scoliosis, from eating disorders to cancer, from sexuality and gender identity to the use of makeup as armor. Together, they contribute a broad variety of perspectives on what it’s like to live in their particular bodies—and how their bodies have helped to inform who they are and how they move through the world.

Another outstanding anthology edited by former librarian and Book Riot blogger, Kelly Jensen (Here We Are: Feminism For The Real World and (Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start The Conversation About Mental Health). Organized in fresh groupings like “Cosmic Forms” and “Things You Cannot See,” teens will encounter affirming and inspiring voices that communicate and model body positivity, self-advocacy, and activism. Share one or two essays with students during First Chapter Fridays or memoir writing lessons, then offer the rest of the book for independent reading. That small sample will entice kids to read more!

Kelly Jensen’s website.

Finish the Fight: The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote 

By Veronica Chambers and the staff of The New York Times

Versify/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

At a moment when voting rights and voter suppression is much in the news, Finish the Fight offers insight into the history of women’s struggle for full citizenship. This volume published by Kwame Alexander’s imprint Versify goes beyond the familiar stories of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul to include the work of many other women from the movement, particularly women of color. 

Kate Clarke LeMay explains why this book is sorely needed, “The way we frame suffrage needs attention. It is thought to be kind of dowdy and dour, whereas in fact it is exciting and radical. A fresh way to think of it would be this: women staged one of the longest social reform movements in the history of the United States. This is not a boring history of nagging spinsters; it is a badass history of revolution staged by political geniuses.”

To read an online excerpt from the book provided by The New York Times:

Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates Who Resisted the Nazis

By K.R. Gaddy

Dutton Books for Young Readers

From the publisher:

The true story of the Edelweiss Pirates, working-class teenagers who fought the Nazis by whatever means they could.

Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean were classic outsiders: their clothes were different, their music was rebellious, and they weren’t afraid to fight. But they were also Germans living under Hitler, and any nonconformity could get them arrested or worse. As children in 1933, they saw their world change. Their earliest memories were of the Nazi rise to power and of their parents fighting Brownshirts in the streets, being sent to prison, or just disappearing.

As Hitler’s grip tightened, these three found themselves trapped in a nation whose government contradicted everything they believed in. And by the time they were teenagers, the Nazis expected them to be part of the war machine. Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean and hundreds like them said no. They grew bolder, painting anti-Nazi graffiti, distributing anti-war leaflets, and helping those persecuted by the Nazis. Their actions were always dangerous. The Gestapo pursued and arrested hundreds of Edelweiss Pirates. In World War II’s desperate final year, some Pirates joined in sabotage and armed resistance, risking the Third Reich’s ultimate punishment. This is their story.

Flowers in the Gutter is an excellent text to extend students’ interest in World War II and the Holocaust, especially the roles that young people played in resistance movements across Europe. Well-sourced with additional resources in the back matter.

Thirty-minute video presentation of Flowers in the Gutter with K.R. Gaddy

History Smashers: Women’s Right to Vote

By Kate Messner, illustrated by Dylan Meconis

Random House Books for Young Readers

Covering much the same historical material as Finish the Fight — though written in a very different tone — History Smashers similarly debunks many of the myths surrounding the women’s suffrage movement. Kate Messner employs a breezy style to explore the long battle for voting rights. Any young readers who enjoyed her earlier History Smashers book illustrated by Dylan Meonis on the Mayflower are likely to be immediately drawn to this addition to the series. And the good news is that there are two more volumes soon to come: History Smashers Pearl Harbor and History Smashers The Titanic.

Kate Messner’s website

How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure

By John Rocco

Crown Books for Young Readers

Longlisted for the National Book Award

From the publisher:

This beautifully illustrated, oversized guide to the people and technology of the moon landing by award-winning author/illustrator John Rocco (illustrator of the Percy Jackson series) is a must-have for space fans, classrooms, and tech geeks.

From the shocking launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik to the triumphant splashdown of Apollo 11, Caldecott Honor winner John Rocco answers every possible question about this world-altering mission. Each challenging step in the space race is revealed, examined, and displayed through stunning diagrams, experiments, moments of crisis, and unforgettable human stories.

This comprehensive and lovingly rendered reference will make a great gift for space-obsessed kids and enhances library collections and texts sets about space, art, and exploration.

Space.Com Interview with John Rocco

Lifting As We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box

By Evette Dionne

Viking Books for Young Readers

Longlisted for the National Book Award

2021 Orbis Pictus Award Honor Book

From the publisher:

Susan B. Anthony. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Alice Paul. The Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. The 1913 Women’s March in D.C. When the epic story of the suffrage movement in the United States is told, the most familiar leaders, speakers at meetings, and participants in marches written about or pictured are generally white.

That’s not the real story.

Women of color, especially African American women, were fighting for their right to vote and to be treated as full, equal citizens of the United States. Their battlefront wasn’t just about gender. African American women had to deal with white abolitionist-suffragists who drew the line at sharing power with their black sisters. They had to overcome deep, exclusionary racial prejudices that were rife in the American suffrage movement. And they had to maintain their dignity–and safety–in a society that tried to keep them in its bottom ranks.

Lifting as We Climb is the empowering story of African American women who refused to accept all this. Women in black church groups, black female sororities, black women’s improvement societies and social clubs. Women who formed their own black suffrage associations when white-dominated national suffrage groups rejected them. Women like Mary Church Terrell, a founder of the National Association of Colored Women and of the NAACP; or educator-activist Anna Julia Cooper who championed women getting the vote and a college education; or the crusading journalist Ida B. Wells, a leader in both the suffrage and anti-lynching movements.

Lifting as We Climb is a vital and timely resource for humanities courses, inquiry projects, and independent reading for students interested in history or activism. Pair with texts like Finish the Fight in media sets on women’s suffrage, voting rights, civil rights, and social justice.

Fun and informative Pigeon Pages Interview with Evette Dionne!

One Real American: The Life of Ely S. Parker, Seneca Sachem and Civil War General

By Joseph Bruchac

Harry N. Abrams

Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki) has assembled a huge body of historical information around the life of an oft-overlooked character in the American story, General Ely S. Parker. This extraordinary individual was Sachem for the Seneca nation, a civil engineer, a lawyer, a general, and Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Did I mention that he served by the side of Ulysses S. Grant and was present at the Appomattox Court House when Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1895? Each chapter begins with a quotation from Parker inviting young readers/young historians to put primary source material into context. Bruchac doesn’t shy away from the controversial nature of Ely Parker’s life – he was criticized by some of his own people for associating too closely with white society – but comes down in the end for the man who tirelessly advocated for Native Americans in the face of enormous discrimination and greed. Ely Parker navigated the dangerous space between two very different worlds.

Joseph Bruchac’s website.

A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Created the Paralympic Games

By Lori Alexander, illustrated by Allan Drummond

HMH Books for Young Readers

Along with being a compelling biography of a remarkable man whose research into spinal injuries changed how paraplegics are treated, A Sporting Chance argues for the importance of competitive sports. Ludwig Guttmann believed that sports were “of even greater significance for the well-being of the severely disabled than the able-bodied.” He observed how competition could help a person overcome fatigue, one of the main symptoms in the early stages of healing from a fracture, amputation, or paralysis. Who knew?

Guttmann watched as his patients played wheelchair polo and became inspired to institute a series of competitions at his facility in Stoke Mandeville: archery, wheelchair basketball, and table tennis. These games grew in popularity and expanded to what is now the third-largest sporting event in the world, the Paralympics.

For more information and historical videos about the Paralympics go to:

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

By Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi

Little Brown Books for Young Readers

From the publisher:

This is NOT a history book.
This is a book about the here and now.
A book to help us better understand why we are where we are.
A book about race.

The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.

Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas–and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.

If you have somehow missed the buzz around Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You, I will presume you have avoided social media all year. No judgements, but this title, a remix of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award winning history, Stamped from the Beginning, in collaboration with literary giant and kid-favorite, Jason Reynolds, is one of the most important books published for young people in the past decade. Both a validation of teens’ experiences with racism and a call for societal change, this book offers numerous entry points for discussion, further inquiry, and action.

NCTE has collected these resources for teachers using Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You in classrooms.

Little Brown Books for Young Readers’ Educator Guide created by Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul.

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh

By Candace Fleming

Schwartz & Wade Books

I’ve been a fan of Candace Fleming’s writing since Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart. When she won the Orbis Pictus Award for The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia, I knew this would be a writer whose work would have a place of pride on my nonfiction shelves. Imagine my excitement when her latest biography was released. What Fleming does so well is to embed biographical detail within an historical context. Reading about Lindbergh – his prowess in a cockpit, the kidnapping of his baby, the pursuit of the culprit, his foray into politics — one can’t help but reflect upon current events. Drawing from a vast array of primary sources, Fleming paints a picture of a man who, for better and for worse, made an indelible mark on American history. The photographs which accompany the story help readers (including me!) visualize the era. I predict The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh will garner many 2020 awards. 

Candace Fleming’s website

Teacher’s guide for Amelia Lost

The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth

By Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson

Crown Books for Young Readers

Concerned about how to invite students to engage in courageous classroom conversations? This collection of stories, essays, and artwork provides the perfect vehicle for initiating discussion around race, prejudice, exclusion, self-esteem, and much more. Contributors include Renée Watson, Grace Lin, Duncan Tonatiuh, Nikki Grimes, Meg Medina, and Christopher Myers. To whet your appetite, here’s a short excerpt from Renée Watson’s entry: 

“So remember to be courageous. Remember you will only know how brave you are if you do the thing you are afraid of.

It is okay to be afraid.

It is okay to have emotions, Black Girl.

It is okay to be angry, to be sad. Don not deny yourself the freedom to feel.”

The Wade and Cheryl Willis Hudson’s JustUsBooks website

This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work

By Tiffany Jewell, Illustrated by Aurelia Durand

Francis Lincoln Children’s Books

From the publisher:

Who are you? What is racism? Where does it come from? Why does it exist? What can you do to disrupt it? Learn about social identities, the history of racism and resistance against it, and how you can use your anti-racist lens and voice to move the world toward equity and liberation.

“In a racist society, it’s not enough to be non-racist–we must be ANTI-RACIST.” –Angela Davis

Gain a deeper understanding of your anti-racist self as you progress through 20 chapters that spark introspection, reveal the origins of racism that we are still experiencing, and give you the courage and power to undo it. Each chapter builds on the previous one as you learn more about yourself and racial oppression. 20 activities get you thinking and help you grow with the knowledge. All you need is a pen and paper.

An engaging and empowering guide about social justice and activism. Provides concrete, accessible steps and encouragement for young people striving to dismantle biases and become more socially aware and active in their communities.

Educator and family guides and downloadable posters available here.

Congratulations to the creators of these incredible nonfiction books!

Carol Jago has taught English in middle and high school for 32 years and is associate director of the California Reading and Literature Project at UCLA. She served as president of the National Council of Teachers of English and has published many books with Heinemann including The Book in Question: Why and How Reading Is in Crisis. You can find Carol on Twitter @CarolJago.

Donalyn Miller has taught upper elementary and middle school English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas for almost two decades, and currently works as an independent literacy coach, consultant, and teacher & reader advocate. She is the author or co-author of several books about encouraging students to read, including The Book Whisperer, Reading in the Wild, and Game Changer!: Book Access for All Kids (co-written with Colby Sharp). Donalyn launched the annual Twitter summer reading initiative #bookaday and co-founded The Nerdy Book Club. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.