2011 Finalists: Nonfiction for Tweens & Teens

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
by Candace Fleming
Schwartz and Wade Books
Nominated by: Monica Edinger

Amelia Earhart was America’s most famous woman pilot in the 1930s. She broke speed and distance records and constantly looked for new challenges as aviation technology advanced. She was quite a character: stubborn, willful, courageous and smart, but also prone to rushing into things and making mistakes. Her last series of flights were chosen to circumnavigate the planet at the equator — the widest point, and thus the longest distance: 27,000 miles. The final flights were across the vast Pacific, and the first stop after leaving New Guinea was to be tiny Howland Island, where the Coast Guard cutter Itasca was waiting to help signal the plane toward the island. Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan never made it.

Even though the end of the story is well-known, Fleming keeps the suspense building through the unusual structure, alternating chapters about Earhart’s life with those about the search for her missing plane. Readers see Earhart through her own notes, flight logs, private family photos and writings, as well as how the public saw her carefully created persona in newspapers, magazines and newsreels. Thoroughly researched, balanced in viewpoints and utterly readable, this is a biography for everyone.

Karen Ball

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous
by Georgia Bragg
Walker Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Karen Yingling

Just because you’re famous doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to go peacefully in your sleep. How They Croaked introduces readers to several historical figures, detailing their amazing lives and gruesome deaths. Readers learn about Henry VIII’s many wives and how he founded the Church of England, but they also are treated to a description of his bloated corpse exploding in its coffin and dribbling out the sides. President Garfield may have been shot, but it was the doctoring that actually killed him a full 80 days later. Although Bragg clearly relishes the gory details, her humor keeps the book from getting dark. Blending history, science and the arts, there is something here for almost everyone. Reluctant readers will be drawn to the short, browsable sections and the juicy details of horrible demises. In the biographies, medical history, and back matter on each person, there is more than enough to keep the most avid readers interested. A truly engrossing read.

Jennie Rothschild

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air
by Stewart Ross/Stephen Biesty
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Laura Wadley

This is the quintessential title for every armchair explorer. In engaging, informative chapters, Ross dramatically chronicles the daring adventures of such intrepid explorers as Leif Eriksson, Marco Polo, Ferdinand Magellan and Captain Cook. Readers will find themselves sailing with Pytheas the Greek to the Arctic Circle and Chinese Admiral Zheng He to India, journeying into the African interior with David Livingstone and Mary Kingsley, flying over the North Pole with Umberto Nobile, descending to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in August and Jacques Piccard’s bathyscaphe, climbing the to top of Mount Everest with Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and ending with the first moon landing.

Complementing Ross’s vivid narratives are Stephen Biestys’ intricately detailed illustrations. Each journey includes fold-out, cutaway cross-section illustrations detailing the designs of equipment, vessels, and routes used by explorers. Readers cannot only study the parts of the curragh that Pytheas sailed to the frigid Arctic in 340 BCE but also compare its design to Leif Eriksson’s knarr and Captain Cook’s Endeavour. Readers will relive some of the most daring voyages of all time in this dynamic, handsomely designed, visually stunning book.

Ed Sullivan

The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon (Exceptional Social Studies Titles for Intermediate Grades)
by Carla Killough McClafferty
Carolrhoda Books
Nominated by: Elizabeth Dingmann

Gilbert Stuart’s portraits of George Washington have left most Americans with a definite image of the first president: austere, dignified and forever elderly. The Many Faces of George Washington tells the story of the team of historians and artists who have given the world new images of the icon. The book follow the team’s creation of three life-size statues of Washington that show him as a young surveyor, the famous general and as the first president. To build the figures, the team relies on everything from existing images to 3D skeletal models — and, as the book’s copious photo illustrations make clear, lots of painstaking, though fascinating, work.

Sarah Rettger

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery
by Steve Sheinkin
Flash Point
Nominated by: Angela Frederick

From rural New York and the British Midlands, to you–here’s Benedict Arnold.

Steve Sheinkin’s obvious passion for his topic is evident in The Notorious Benedict Arnold. Starting off with a grim scene of a man about to be hanged, Sheinken jumps back in time and tells Benedict Arnold’s life story in chronological order. And what a swashbuckling story it is, with high-stakes adventure, dark deeds, and power struggles galore. Putting a brilliant but flawed man in the context of the turbulent times that swirled around him, this book is a fast and powerful read. Sheinken admires Arnold without excusing him, and judges him without being sanctimonious. He shows readers that history–even history as hallowed as the founding of the United States–can be grey. The book includes several maps that help visualize the action, particularly of some of the critical battles, and extensive source notes. The Notorious Benedict Arnold reads like a thriller, showing how biographies written for children and young adults can rise above the rote of a text book.

Kara Dean and Roberta Gibson

Unraveling Freedom: The Battle for Democracy on the Home Front During World War I
by Ann Bausum
National Geographic Children’s Books
Nominated by: Susan Thomsen

Bausum’s book is an eye-opening chronicle of how during wartime our right to free speech can be taken away. Eerily similar to events leading up to 9-11 hysteria and The Patriot Act, Bausum opens with the unexpected sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915. From there, readers are swept up in the events that led to America declaring war against Germany (April 2, 1917) through the enactment of the Espionage Act on June 15, 1917. Newspapers and individuals were forbidden from speaking out against the war. People were jailed and German newspapers where prohibited from using the US mail. Suddenly, everything German was considered “the enemy.” Bausaum’s writing is thrilling. The book’s design is equally impressive, filled throughout with historic black & white photos, cartoons, drawings and posters. There is a guide to wartime presidents (whose job it is to balance the needs for national security against the rights of individual citizens) that helps round out this thought-provoking nonfiction book.

Louise Capizzo