2020 Finalists: Middle-Grade Nonfiction

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team (AmazonIndieBound)
by Christina Soontornvat
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

Even though the title gives away the ending of this nail-biting narrative nonfiction, this true story set in Thailand will keep you on the edge of your seat from the time the soccer team realizes they are trapped until the last boy makes it out of the cave! The author keeps readers captivated with the story while seamlessly weaving in scientific and cultural information about Thailand, the cave systems, cave-diving and international relations during a rescue mission. Grab two copies of this middle-grade title because you will want to share this reading experience so you’ll have someone to discuss it with after you finish!

Rachael Fryman, Rachael Fryman

How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure (AmazonIndieBound
by John Rocco
Crown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Heidi G.

Strap on your seatbelts as you rocket out of the world while diving into this brilliantly informative and visually stunning journey of how we – humans – got to the moon. John Rocco effortlessly imparts information without making it text-book like – about the history of the race to outer space and to the moon, about rocket science itself, and of course, the technology and all the talents behind this amazing journey. The present-tense narrative provides a thrill that has readers turning the pages as Rocco introduces both well-known figures and many others who are nonetheless important cogs in the man-to-the-moon-journey-wheel, and all the efforts put towards this ultimate journey. Readers will be delighted to discover cool snippets of information, like the women nicknamed the Little Old Ladies who weaved sequences of one and zero cores by hand that made up the software to get the first men to the moon, while young readers will definitely love learning about the UTS (or the Urine Transfer System!).

The book easily engages and retains the attention and the emotions of the readers as it takes them on a trip from the beginning of the space-race between the then-USSR and the USA, to Armstrong’s historic first step on the moon and beyond. Rocco uses beautiful and detailed hand drawn illustrations with thoroughly researched details – both visuals and text perfectly tailored for the audience – to engross the reader from the beginning to the end, and then start all over again! The must-read backmatter includes an epilogue, a note about the research done for this book, information about other Apollo missions, and sources as well as recommendations for further reading.

Vidya Tiru, Lady In Read Writes

Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey (Amazon, IndieBound)  
by Magdalena Newman and Nathaniel Newman, illustrated by Neil Swaab
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated by: Becky L.

One family’s memories dance across the page in this engaging memoir by mother and son duo Magdalena and Nathaniel Newman. Nathaniel was born with a genetic condition called Trecher Collins, which causes both visible and invisible health problems. Although his craniofacial disorder remains present throughout the book, this is a story about the love and nurturing that the Newman family shows each other. Readers who enjoyed R. J. Palacio’s Wonder will appreciate the Newmans’ discussion of both the book and film adaptation. Normal is a wonderful and rewarding read with much to offer audiences.

Jennifer Miller, Raise Them Righteous

Plasticus Maritimus: An Invasive Species (AmazonIndieBound)
by Ana Pego and Isabel Minhós Martins, illustrated by Bernado P. Carvalho 
Greystone Kids
Publisher/ Author Submission

In PLASTICUS MARITIMUS: An Invasive Species, a marine scientist provides key information about marine plastic in an innovative and engaging way. Dubbing plastic “an invasive species,” she formats the book as a field guide, laying out facts about where plastic comes from, how it gets into the ocean, and the harms it does there. Bright and personal illustrations and photographs illuminate the text. The author describes efforts by individuals and groups to reduce plastic waste and includes practical tips for readers. There are a solid bibliography and a list of additional sources.

Christy Mihaly, GROG

STEM in the Final Four (Amazon, IndieBound
by Meg Marquardt
Abdo Publishing Group
Publisher/ Author Submission

The middle-grade STEM in Sports series brings to light all of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (and hard work!) that goes into our favorite sports! In this particular volume, readers take a deep dive into the Final Four, and we see all the STEM elements that are interwoven into a basketball tournament. From sneakers to installing the court flooring, to the physics of the movement of the ball, to those beloved brackets, readers, fans and players alike will have a new appreciation for all the moving parts and academics required to bring March Madness to life.

Rachael Fryman, Rachael Fryman

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON STEROTYPES: How Science Is Tackling Unconscious Bias (AmazonIndieBound)
by Tanya Lloyd Kyi, illustrated by Drew Shannon
Kids Can Press, Ltd
Nominated by: Sandy Brehl

Not only does this book ask us to question our stereotypes, but it teaches us how to do it, and why we have them in the first place. In five short chapters, each one packed with stories, sidebars, and illustrations, the authors address us and educate us about the history of neuroscience, racism, sexism, and stereotype. Eye-catching and highly readable, this book appealed to kids from the whole age range (and more!) and met our standards for excellence in nonfiction. The text reads like a conversation, uninterrupted by bolded vocabulary words, but new terms are defined within the text. The beefy index and colorful illustrations will help readers return to their favorite parts.

Alysa Stewart, Everead

The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth (AmazonIndieBound
by Wade Hudson (Editor), Cheryl Willis Hudson (Editor)
Crown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Laura Gardner

The foreword of The Talk, Conversations about Race, Love and Truth begins with “There are many reasons why parents and caregivers share “The Talk” with their children…. There are myriad versions of the “The Talk” because there are myriad ways to be human.” It was edited by the wife and husband team, Cheryl Willis Hudson and Wade Hudson, who founded Just Us Books, a publishing company for Black Interest and multicultural books for children and young adults.

Here is a collection of seventeen discussions, in the form of letters, lists, poems, short stories and essays lovingly written from the older generation to the younger. They are written and illustrated by a diverse group of outstanding authors and illustrators and go beyond from their focus on race, identity, and self-esteem. Each discussion is three to five pages. Every one is visually inviting because the font and word spacing are easy on the eyes. If the selection is not illustrated by the author, its illustrator has been chosen carefully to enhance the expression of the content of the selection.

A number of us, first-round Cybils judges, wondered at first if middle-grade students would pull this book off the shelf. The outstanding quality of the selections, candid, lovingly rendered, and deeply insightful, convinced us, however, that kids would seek this book out.
Sources and notes from the authors and well as short biographies of the authors and artists are included.

Julie Neitz Wielga, Partners in Literacy