The 2015 YA Non-Fiction Finalists

Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist

by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle, and Michael G. Long

Quaker Books of FGC

Publisher/ Author Submission

An engaging biography about an important civil rights activist that most people haven’t heard of. Raised with a deep belief in pacifism and justice, Rustin practiced nonviolence to protest the wrongs he saw in the world, including segregation and war. His strong belief in nonviolence inspired the Civil Rights movement–he was a close advisor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and organized the March on Washington. His work was largely hidden, erased, and forgotten because Rustin refused to closet his homosexuality. This book is a wonderful introduction to an influential figure who deserves to be remembered.

Jennie Rothschild, Biblio File

Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark

by Deborah Hopkinson


Nominated by: Hayley Beale

Acclaimed author, Deborah Hopkinson, winner of over forty awards, exhibits her great skill with this thrilling account of the resistance movement in Denmark during World War II. Hopkinson weaves into her narrative real voices, based on documented interviews, of those men and women who risked their lives to disrupt the Nazis during their occupation of Denmark. The book covers not only the actions to hamper or impede the Nazis, but also the rescue of 95% of their Jewish population. Included are photos, and ample back matter to make this important story a compelling read.

Louise Capizzo, The Nonfiction Detectives

Give Me Wings: How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World

by Kathy Lowinger

Annick Press

Nominated by: Lyn Miller-Lachmann

With faith and song during the Reconstruction era, a group of former slaves became world famous for their musical interpretation of the songs of their parents and grandparents, spirituals or “slave songs” as they were called. It all started when, freed from slavery after the Civil War, seventeen year old Ella Sheppard asked to exchange work for an education at Fisk Free Colored School (now Fisk University) in Nashville, TN. She knew how to work hard, and she knew how to sing. Both talents would be useful since the school was almost out of money. The students, including Ella and along with their treasurer and choirmaster, George Leonard White, set out to raise money for Fisk with a series of concerts. The nine students became known as The Jubilee Singers. Although they faced persecution, prejudice, and indifference, these young former slaves went out across the nation “in God’s strength . . . to sing the money out of the hearts and pockets of the people.” Read their inspiring story in Give Me Wings: How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World.

Sherry Early, Semicolon

I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives

by Martin Ganda

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Nominated by: Patricia Tilton

In 1997, when her seventh grade English teacher announced a pen pal program, Caitlyn thought the crazy-sounding place of Zimbabwe piqued her interest. I’d never heard of Zimbabwe. But something about the way the name looked up on the blackboard intrigued me. Little did Caitlin know that this seemly reckless decision would not only change her life forever, but that of her pen pal, Martin, as well.

Far off in the Mutare, Zimbabwe, Martin is the smartest student in his tiny school. To Martin, America is the land of Coca-Cola and the WWF, World Wrestling Federation. Men had big muscles, [who] wore skullcaps and knee-high boots and made lots of money. Martin was thrilled with his pen pal. He had a friend. In America! This duel memoir is a great introduction to social activism. Told in alternating chapters, readers are pulled into this story of how an upper middle class American over time grows from a self-centered girl to someone who cares about a person she had never met, raising money enabling Martin, her African pen pal, can reach his dream of attending college in America. An inspiring account of two very courageous, and caring young people.

Louise Capizzo, The Nonfiction Detectives

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War

by Steve Sheinkin

Roaring Brook Press

Nominated by: Benji Martin

In a piece of history that has ramifications and echoes in today’s headlines, Sheinkin introduces readers to Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers leak. Ellsberg was initially a great supporter of the war, working at the Department of Defense, the RAND Corporation, and even doing a tour of duty, before becoming so disillusioned he ended up smuggling out a secret report commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara that detailed a very different version of the war than the government was telling the public. Sheinkin’s trademark engaging storytelling brings home the horrors of the war, and the tense, gripping days when the Pentagon Papers were being published.

Jennie Rothschild, Biblio File

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

by M.T. Anderson

Candlewick Press

Nominated by: Julie Larios

In a tour de force of lyrical and understated prose, M.T. Anderson writes about the events of composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s life, despite the fact that many of those same events are shrouded in Communist propaganda and lies or in the half-truths of people who were trying to live under the threat of Communist oppression. But he also writes about Shostakovich’s music, which is similarly vague and uncertain and shrouded, as various experts disagree about the music’s message and meaning. So there are questions, and Anderson asks the right ones while also laying out the facts, when those are available, in a readable, narrative form. Older teens who can deal with the sometimes harrowing and disturbing details about the siege will be inspired, as I was, to listen to Shostakovich’s music with new appreciation, particularly to his (Seventh) Leningrad Symphony, and to admire the sacrifice and endurance of the Russian people under the twin evils of Stalin and Hitler.

Sherry Early, Semicolon

Tommy: The Gun That Changed America

by Karen Blumenthal

Roaring Brook Press

Nominated by: Cathy Potter

The inventor of Thompson Sub-Machine Gun wanted to win WWI, and had no idea how his product would come to be used in so many criminal activities in the first half of the 20th century. Outlining not only the gun’s use during the war but also the myriad ways in which the gun was used in illegal activities, making the need for gun control laws apparent. Blumenthal crafts a detailed and interesting picture of a pivotal twentieth century invention in a beautifully constructed book filled with period illustrations and ephemera.

Karen Yingling, Ms. Yingling Reads

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