Posts from the ‘Young Adult Nonfiction’ Category

We’ve Got a Job

We've Got a JobTitle: We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March
Author: Cynthia Levinson
ISBN: 9781561456277
Pages: 176 pages
Publisher/Date: Peachtree Publishers, c2012
Awards: Finalist for The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction (2013)

Though nonviolent, all of these confrontations were illegal. King reasoned that if enough protesters were arrested, they would fill the jails and overwhelm Connor’s ability to enforce segregation laws. […] Only a few hundred adults heard Bevel’s frenzied sermon that night, and just seventeen volunteered to go to jail. But kids got the message, especially when the preacher who followed Bevel proclaimed, “Some of these students say they have got to go to school, but they will get more education in five days in the City Jail than they will get in five months in a segregated school.” (48, 59)

Segregation in the 1960s was a violent time of upheaval. Most of us have heard the most familiar stories of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. But very few people may realize the effect that children and teens had in moving segregation efforts forward. During the entire month of April, 1963, the first in an effort to fill the jails and bring attention to the cause, only 123 people were arrested. But then a rallying cry and concentrated effort was made to enlist teenagers to a cause that would directly affect them. “Between Thursday, May 2, and Monday, May 6, almost 2,500 young people had been arrested.” (114) The treatment of these individuals, some as young as nine-years old, who flooded the streets brought national attention to events in the south. Ultimately, four children died in a church bombing that was the culmination of tensions between the black and white populations.

Cynthia Levinson spent four years tracking down and interviewing these participants and researching how history played out almost 50 years ago. Including a map, a timeline, an index, pictures of those interviewed and an assortment of notes, this book is an amazing glimpse into a time that changed America. Levinson does a thorough job of bringing to life the actions of the teenagers but also those of the adults involved. Readers finish the book with a solid understanding of how divided not only the community was on the issue of segregation, but also how disorganized the leadership was in achieving their goals. The government endorsed and encouraged the police’s prejudices against these protesters and it is hard to come to terms with their behavior based on today’s laws prohibiting such actions. At one point, government officials notified the Ku Klux Klan that they would be given 15 minutes to confront Freedom Riders, and the perpetrators who were caught after those violent fifteen minutes were given a minimal sentence.

Pair this book with The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine, which is set a few years earlier or The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon and One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, which are both set a few years later. Especially in this unsteady time when unrest is reigning and emotions are high with so many political issues, including gay rights, immigration, and gun control, teens might take notes about nonviolent actions that they can use to affect change in today’s society.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Anastasia Suen’s blog.

This book in particular was read as I participate in YALSA’s 2013 Hub Reading Challenge which challenges readers to finish 25 books by June 22nd from a list of 83 titles that were recognized and published over the last year.


MoonbirdTitle: Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95
Author: Phillip Hoose
ISBN: 9780374304683
Pages: 148 pages
Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, c2012.
Awards: Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book (2013), CYBILS Top 5 Finalist (2012), Finalist for YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

Meet B95, one of the world’s premier athletes. Weighing a mere four ounces, he’s flown more than 325,000 miles in his life—the distance to the moon and nearly halfway back. He flies at mountaintop height along ancient routes that lead him to his breeding grounds and back. But changes throughout his migratory circuit are challenging this Superbird and threatening to wipe out his entire subspecies of rufa red knot. Places that are critical for B95 and his flock to rest and refuel—stepping-stones along a vast annual migration network—have been altered by human activity. Can these places and the food they contain be preserved?
Or will B95’s and rufa’s days of flight soon come to an end. (3)

That quote summarizes the entire book very adeptly and succinctly. By focusing on B95, Phillip Hoose presents the migratory patterns of the rufa red knot, along with other similar shore birds, as they fly from South America to the Arctic Circle and back again. The migration happens each year, with the birds spending no more than a few months at any location as they follow a path that is ingrained in them. Hoose thoroughly outlines the challenges that the birds face, including changing climates, natural predators, human influences, and stock up on food that needs to last their non-stop flight patterns. Several scientists that study these birds are featured throughout the book and highlight how discoveries about these birds continue to be made. Photos are also interspersed with side bars, and the notes at the end really detail Hoose’s first-hand pursuit of knowledge about these birds.

Hoose did a good job at presenting the facts without overly personifying the bird or his flock. While the facts can be dry to people (like me) who don’t read a lot of nonfiction, taking the book in bite sized snippets and focusing on what I call the “fast facts” can keep you interested. For instance, “Studies show that fat birds fly faster than thin birds, and can stay in the air longer. [Over the course of several weeks a] red knot can consume fourteen times its own weight. To do that, a human weighing 110 pounds would need to eat 2,300 hamburgers at two thirds of a pound per hamburger, with cheese and tomato.” (30-31)

Overall, it’s a unique spin on a little known animal. The amount of interest there will be for this book remains to be seen. However, it’s very in-depth, focused, and factual account, especially when you’re trying to show how scientists conduct their research.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, head on over to A Mom’s Spare Time.

This book in particular was read as I participate in YALSA’s 2013 Hub Reading Challenge which challenges readers to finish 25 books by June 22nd from a list of 83 titles that were recognized and published over the last year.

Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

BombTitle: Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
Author: Steve Sheinkin
ISBN: 9781596434875
Pages: 266 pages
Publisher/Date: Flash Point, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, c2012.
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Awards: 2012 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, 2013 Newbery Honor Book, Winner of the 2013 Sibert Award and the 2013 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award, Cybils Top Five Nonfiction Finalist,

This is a big story. It’s the story of the creation — and theft — of the deadliest weapon ever invented. The scenes speed around the world, from secret labs to commando raids to street-corner spy meetings. But like most big stories, this one starts small [...] sixteen years before FBI agents cornered Harry Gold in Philadelphia. (7)

Not only is this a big story, but it’s also a complex and sometimes convoluted story, filled with spies and sabotage, intrigue and ingenuity, science and suspense. In 1938, German physicist Otto Hahn was the first to split the atom, an accomplishment that scientists around the world thought was impossible. Less than one year later, President Roosevelt was appraised by none other than Albert Einstein of the possibility of this discovery being used to build a super-sized bomb, and Roosevelt demanded action. Thus began the race for physical, monetary, and intellectual resources to discover the key and build a bomb before any of their enemies. In the shadow of World War II and into the Cold War, scientists worked tirelessly. Robert Oppenheimer’s team in California was the first to crack the code, but the group was plagued with security uncertainties and the government, military, and scientists involved questioned who they could really trust with this deadly and destructive data.

This book has received many accolades, from being a 2012 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature and 2013 Newbery Honor Book to winning the 2013 Sibert Award and the 2013 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. One thing that would have helped this award-winning book immensely is a timeline. As readers bounce from scientists to spies and back again across multiple continents and countries, it was almost information overload. It was difficult to differentiate everyone in the beginning, especially when the forward starts in one year and then you zip backwards in time almost a decade and another part where two people on a sabotage team both had the same first name. But for science enthusiasts and detailed orientated people, this will intrigue and enthrall them to have all the pieces of the puzzle together in one concise book. Sheinkin goes beyond the creation of Fat Man and Little Boy and their deployment on Japan, allowing readers a glimpse into the beginnings of the Cold War.

One scene mentioned in the book that particularly struck me was learning how far America went to determine who was spying on us:

While in the United States, Soviet spies had to use an American telegraph company to send information quickly to Moscow. The KGB probably knew that the telegraph company was making copies of every telegram and handing them over to the U.S. Army. This didn’t particularly worry the Soviets–the messages were always written in an extremely complex code.
In 1949, after years of failure, American code breakers cracked the code. Intelligence began decoding all the messages sent to the Soviet Union during the war. That’s when they came across a shocking note sent from New York City to KGB headquarters in 1944. [...]
The 1944 telegram summarized a top-secret scientific paper. The paper had been written by one of the British scientists working with Oppenheimer. A few phone calls later, Lamphere [a FBI counterintelligence agent] had the name of the paper’s author: Klaus Fuchs. (221)

Proving how complex the situation was, the German-born physicist named Klaus Fuchs was working with British scientists in England when his assistance was requested in America, prompting him to spy for the Russian Communist Party. When he is arrested and finally being tried in 1950, his lawyer emphasizes the fact that at the time he was passing secrets to the Soviet Union during World War II, the country and Britain were allies. This made the difference between a maximum 14 years in prison for passing secrets to allies and the death penalty if the two countries had been enemies at the time the crime was committed. Fuchs got out early for good behavior, later moving back to East Germany.

Especially interesting is a peak, however brief, into the political rational of Japan not surrendering after the first bomb was dropped. I would have liked to have read more about the bombs’ effects on the country, but sticking to the facts and not trying to sensationalize the country or its population I feel made a greater impact. The simple statement “Fat Man exploded over the city of Nagasaki with the force of 22,000 tons of TNT. At least 40,000 people were instantly killed, and tens of thousands more fatally wounded or poisoned with radiation.” leaves a power impression. I hope readers considered these stark statistics and allowed them the full attention they deserved. This is not a fast read, but you’ll feel immeasurably rewarded once you get through this dense text that presents the making of the bomb and it’s after effects from all sides.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Sue Heavenrich over at Sally’s Bookshelf.

This book in particular was read as I participate in YALSA’s 2013 Hub Reading Challenge which challenges readers to finish 25 books by June 22nd from a list of 83 titles that were recognized and published over the last year.

Titanic: Voices From the Disaster

Titanic Voices From the DisasterTitle: Titanic: Voices From the Disaster
Author: Deborah Hopkinson
ISBN: 9780545116749
Pages: 289 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2012.

[...]On Thursday morning at around 11:30 a.m., the Titanic lowered her anchor two miles off Cobh harbor, at the Irish port of Queenstown (no w called Cobh), to pick up more passengers. It would be the ship’s last stop before heading out onto open seas — and to the New World. [...]
Years later, Frank (of Father Frank Browne) recounted that at dinner the first night on board he was befriended by a rich American couple, who offered to pay his way for the entire voyage — all the way to New York. But when he wired his religious order for permission to go, it was denied. The message read: “Get off that ship.”
So Frank left the ship — along with his precious photographic plates.
And that’s how it happened that today, thanks to Frank Browne and his uncle Robert’s generosity, we have his rare, heartbreaking photographs of those first hours of the Titanic’s maiden voyage. (21)

It’s stories of the near misses of people who survived the Titanic‘s sinking that strike readers so poignantly. Frank Browne received a two-day ticket as a gift, and departed the vessel before it reached open seas. Joe Mulholland decided not to sign up for work because he saw the ship’s cat carrying her kittens off the boat and took it as a bad omen. Violet Jessop, who at just 24 was working as a stewardess and who later would survive the sister-ship Britannica’s sinking during the war. But it’s also the story of the losses, like Alfred Rush who turned 16 on the boat just the day before and refused to get in a lifeboat because he was a man and not a child. Drawing extensively from first hand accounts of the disaster along with the work of historians, scientists, and researchers from today, Deborah Hopkinson puts the sinking of the Titanic into perspective and brings it to life.

I was a little skeptical of this book when I first heard about it, being published during the year of the 100th anniversary of its sinking. But I was pleasantly surprised by its quality and the emotions that it wrings out of readers. Covering the stories of children and adults, passengers and crew, Hopkinson presents a well-rounded look of the events of that night. Drawing heavily from previous works, her over 60 pages of source notes, photo credits, facts, glossary, timelines, and index due credit to the research profession, proving to readers the right way to cite your sources and providing an amazing wealth of resources. People interested in the disaster should check it out simply for the works cited, as it details the works of some of the survivors and provides resources to hear their accounts. I didn’t fully realize that since the event was 100 years ago, we no longer have any survivors alive today. Millvina Dean was the last survivor alive, passing away in 2009, but she was just nine weeks old at its sinking so I don’t know how much she could fully remember.

The source that everyone who is intrigued by the sinking should check out is This site is an absolute wealth of information about the survivors, the victims, the crew and passengers, even going so far as to document the description of the bodies recovered from the wreckage. The BBC also has some recordings of survivors telling their stories, which is fascinating to consider that we have that information available to us. Even if you don’t consult their additional sources, Hopkinson adds depth to the events by putting the crash into historical context with information that has come to light over the years. For instance, it doesn’t seem to be common knowledge that the Californian, a liner that was just ten to twenty miles away from the Titanic, shut off their radio just minutes before the collision occurred and could have helped if they’d only recognized the flares in the sky as a distress call.

All in all, you know that this is going to be a heartbreaking account, and still I encourage readers to take a look at this in-depth record. It’s not dry (pardon the pun) nonfiction but a well written compilation of accounts, superbly strung together while relating the story from setting off to sinking down,  drawing you in and making you feel as if you were there.

This is the first in a series of posts as part of YALSA’s challenge to read all the Nonfiction Award and Morris Debut Award Finalists before the winners are announced on January 28th. You can find the list of five finalists for each award on YALSA’s blog The Hub (Morris Award Finalists can be found here), along with information about the challenge.

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition

Title: Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition
Author: Karen Blumenthal
ISBN: 9781596434493
Pages: 154 pages
Publisher/Date: Roaring Book Press, c2011.

Sometime after 10 a.m. on this shivery-cold and windy Chicago morning, seven men gathered in a nondescript garage warehouse on Clark Street.
Most of them were wearing hats and coats against the chill of the nearly empty warehouse as they waited, maybe for a big shipment of smuggled whiskey, maybe for a special meeting. These were no Boy Scouts. All had ties to a criminal gang run by George “Bugs” Moran […]. Most of them had done some jail time. […]
On the snow-dusted street outside, a black Cadillac with a police gong, siren, and gun rack—the type usually driven by police detectives—pulled up to the curb. Four or five men emerged, two dressed like police officers, and went into the warehouse. Seeing the “officers” and apparently thinking local cops were conducting a routine alcohol raid, the seven men inside lined up against the back wall and put their hands in the air.
They were still in that vulnerable position when two machine guns started firing. (1-2)

So begins Karen Blumenthal’s book about the Prohibition movement. Tracing back forty-five years to the very beginnings of the push against alcohol, Blumenthal creates a thorough account of how the 18th Amendment was added to the Constitution. After its enactment in 1919, the nation spent over a decade fighting against people who continued to traffic and sell what had become an illegal substance. With no clear way or agency willing to enforce the new law, a growing industry evolved in distributing alcohol. As public and political opinion shifted sides, the push began to repeal the law that was meant to save the nation from lawlessness.

I’d heard rave reviews of this book from multiple journals, and the sub-title gives the impression of a story of corruption that would rival the Sopranos or the Godfather. While Blumenthal does an admirable job presenting the history of the amendment and stays relatively neutral (there are some slips), it’s not the gang bang, violence filled account that you expect by the title. Besides the opening account of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (which is mentioned again later on) and some actions by Al Capone that are added almost as asides, less than 25% of the book covers the era the amendment was in affect, much less the deadly aspects of that decade.

Mostly detailing the campaigns to first invoke and then revoke the amendment, it also brings to light the audacity of the public to flaunt the system, as Blumenthal writes:

In grocery and department stores, packages of dehydrated grapes were sold with labels that read something like this: “WARNING! If the contents of this package are added to 5 gallons of water, 5 lbs. of sugar, and 1 cake of yeast, the result will be an intoxicating beverage which is illegal in the United States.” A brick of grape concentrate, customers were told, shouldn’t be put in a jug, corked, and set in a dark place for three weeks or shaken once a day because—hint, hint—it would turn into wine. (82)

It’s those little “winks” that make me question or objectivity towards the subject, but as I said she presented quite a bit more background information than most books on the subject contain.

Abundant black and white pictures give readers a window into life during the late 1800s and early 1900s. An extremely thorough bibliography and source notes also follow the text, however most of the books appear quite old based on their copyright dates, and I wonder how easily accessible they are to readers looking for more information. Since the book is being recommended for teenage audiences, I also would have appreciated some sort of indication as to which sources were appropriate for that age group. The inclusion of a timeline in the accompanying material would have also been nice.

Overall it appears to be a well researched book about Prohibition, good for projects but probably not so appealing to the merely curious.

Friday Feature Scribbling Women Blog Tour

I’m part of my first blog tour!

The publisher, Tundra Books, is running a huge giveaway contest during the blog tour!
The prize: A collection of Marthe Jocelyn books – for the very young to young adults!
All you have to do is follow the blog tour and leave a comment on any of the participating blogs, but it must be on their “Scribbling Women” blog tour posts. So go visit their posts!
Details: Here’s the best part, you can leave a comment on ALL of the blogs and that will count as 31 entries! Spamming doesn’t count, so one thoughtful comment per blog please.
Dates: Contest starts on Monday, March 28, 2011 and closes on Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 11:49pm EST. One winner will be randomly selected and announced on Monday, April 11, 2011 to receive the prize.

Title: Scribbling Women: True Tales From Astonishing Lives
Author: Marthe Jocelyn
ISBN: 9780887769528
Pages: 198 pages
Publisher/Date: Tundra Books, c2011

“A quick search in the library and on the Internet told me there were not dozens, but thousands of women who had recorded their lives–joyful, challenging, illuminating, wearisome, and passionate–on countless pages, throughout history and around the world. [...]
Most of ‘my’ women would be surprised to find themselves inside a book. They might not be surprised, however, to know that the title began as a sneer, made by a famous male writer named Nathaniel Hawthorne in a letter to his publisher in 1855, where he complained about what he considered the irritating fad of ‘scribbling women.’
Everyone has trials and sorrows, and moments of boredom or immense delight. But these scribbling women wrote it down, passed it along, told us they were here, and took the time to illuminate their worlds.” (x)

Marthe Jocelyn features eleven relatively unknown women — with one notable exception — who recorded their lives in journals, newspapers, and letters. Through these slivers of every day occurrences, readers are privy to the experiences that in many cases are only recorded in the pages these women wrote. If these pages hadn’t survived, then no one would know about the Chinese court over one thousand years ago, the life on a whaling vessel in the early 1800s, or the failed expedition to the Arctic in the 1920s where the only survivor was a Eskimo woman.

It’s hard to pinpoint what is the most impressive about the lives of these women; the fact that all these are true stories and these women really did the things they claimed, or that accounts of their lives still exist. Jocelyn is right when, in her introduction, she questions whether these types of accounts will continue in the digital age, where so little is printed. The only woman with what I consider a recognizable name was Nellie Bly, who some readers might already know of from her undercover reports that resulted in better standards of care for the mentally insane. But upon reading, I realized that I’d also heard of Harriet Ann Jacobs, a run-away slave of who hid herself for years before finally being able to reunite with her children and Doris Garimara who wrote Rabbit-Proof Fence about her Aboriginal mother’s experience in keeping her heritage alive amongst the white colonists.

However interesting these stories are, they are all just a little weak in my opinion, probably because of the lack of background information available on quite a few of these women. In some instances, these written records are the only thing remaining that these women actually existed. Additional information is nearly impossible to come by. Jocelyn does a good job in connecting the stories together, and weaving the women’s original words into her narration. But I really didn’t feel the fascination that Mary Kingsley must have felt when she spent a night with cannibals, possibly because of this contextual narration. I guess you can’t have the urgency when reflecting on past events, but I thought I would find the stories more gripping and that wasn’t the case.

The title originally gave me the impression of Louisa May Alcott’s character Jo in Little Women, scribbling away in her alcove with that jaunty little hat of hers. And that’s obviously the wrong impression, because the women in these books did everything but lock themselves in an attic. They saw the world in every way possible, and their stories live on through their writings.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book free from the publisher.

Spies of Mississippi

Title: Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network that Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement
Author: Rick Bowers
ISBN: 9781426305955
Pages: 120 pages
Publisher/Date: National Geographic, c2010.

“Twelve of the most powerful men in the state controlled a secretive network of spies and informants. A cadre of covert operatives used code names like Agent X, Agent Y, and Agent Zero. Neighbors spied on neighbors. Teachers spied on students. Ministers spied on churchgoers. Spies spied on spies. This is not the description of a Cold War-era secret police force or a futuristic sci-fi dictatorship. This government-run spy network infiltrated the lives of private citizens right here in the United States and not too long ago–in the state of Mississippi during the height of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. [...]
Despite the tracks left behind by the anti-civil rights spies and the excellent research and writing on the subject in Mississippi, the story remains largely unknown to the general public. It is usually relegated to a footnote in the history of the civil rights movement.
No longer.
This is how it happened. (1-2)

According to the book jacket, Rick Bowers conducted “a comprehensive review of the massive 134,000-page file in the Commission archive, interviews with surviving participants named in the once-secret files, reviews of the personal papers of past governors, commissioners, and investigators, and writings and oral histories of Mississippi civil rights leaders.” While I can’t say for certain that is what he did, he does present a historical situation that I have never heard of and is not mentioned in what I have read. You hear that the south was worse than the northern states during the Civil Rights Movement, but then you read this book which exposes the extent of which it differed in Mississippi from the rest of the country. Backroom negotiations between the governor and the president in enrolling a black student at an all white college were probably the most surprising and estonishing to me. The blatant racism is shocking to me, who normally doesn’t encounter any due to skin color. An accused shooter of a NAACP field secretary who was a founding member of the racist White Citizens’ Council and a Klansman, Byron De La Beckwith listed his qualilfications in an application as “Expert with a pistol, good with a rifle and fair with a shotgun-and-RABID ON THE SUBJECT OF SEGREGATION! I therefore request that you select me, among many, as one who will tear the mask from the face of the NAACP and forever rid this fair land of the DISEASE OF INTEGRATION with which it is plagued with.” (76) While he wasn’t hired, he also wasn’t found guilty until 1994 for a crime committed in 1963. He passed away seven years later. Another sad story is Clyde Kennard, who passed away from cancer after serving a hard labor sentence in jail based on trumped-up charges. It’s through these joint vignettes that Bowers showcases the horror and prejudice that was encouraged by government officials and at one point in time funded by tax dollars. It’s a horrorific part of history that cannot be forgotten, and I’m extremely grateful that Bowers brought this to the public attention.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Carol’s post over at Lerner Publishing Group.


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