Last month in Atlanta, I had the honor of announcing the winners of YALSA’s Nonfiction, Printz, and Morris Awards at the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards. Serving as one of the emcees of the “Oscars of the Youth Lit World” was a once-in-a-lifetime event, but I’ll admit that while backstage I was listening carefully to the previously recorded announcement that began the show. Alex Awards Chair Kristen Thorp announced the list of 10 Alex winners, and I was silently thinking, “Yes! AB4T reviewed that one!” and “What? I’ve never heard of that book!” As we promised last March, it’s time for some reflection—how well did Adult Books 4 Teens (AB4T) do picking the winners of the Alex Awards?
Last year, the column reviewed four out of the 10 Alex winners and 14 out of the 40 Alex vetted nominations. This year? The column reviewed five of the 10 Alex winners and 11 of the 51 vetted nominations. During this column’s three-month hiatus, two Alex winners and 10 vetted titles were supposed to be reviewed, but unfortunately weren’t. So, I’ll call this year a success!
What were the five titles that both the Alex committee and our reviewers thought were perfect for teens? In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, Arena, Every Heart a Doorway, The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko, and Romeo and/or Juliet: A Choosable-Path Adventure. I’ll conveniently not discuss at length the AB4T Best Books list, because none of our selections matched the Alex winners this year. I prefer to think it’s because Mark and I were not sitting around the Alex table in Atlanta—pouring our hearts out to persuade our committee members.
Last year, our 2016 “That Looks Interesting” list had 482 adult books. Of those, our fantastic reviewers examined 278 titles and reviewed 120, and 97 of those reviews were published in this column. Eighty-seven reviews made it into the print version of SLJ, and I hope that our readers found our lists and reviews essential for collection development.
As Mark and I begin our first complete year together as cocolumnists, be assured that we will continue to search for high-quality, teen-friendly materials, like the four curriculum-supporting nonfiction titles reviewed today.
Published in December 2016, Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars is too important to not mention, as it highlights women in the astronomical community. Another title that spotlights achievements of women, Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team That Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory, is perfect for sports readers. True crime enthusiasts will be fascinated by the last two titles. First, Grace Humiston, a female lawyer in the early 1900s, earned the nickname Mrs. Sherlock Holmes for her ability to solve mysteries as she defended disadvantaged clients. I’d like to think that she would have spoken up for Trayvon Martin if she were still alive today. In Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin, Trayvon’s parents present the troubles with their son’s murder investigation, all while acknowledging how his death became a call for social justice action.
FULTON, Sybrina & Tracy Martin. Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin. 352p. ebook available. Spiegel & Grau. Jan. 2017. Tr $26. ISBN 9780812997231.
Four years after Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, was killed walking home by George Zimmerman, a white neighborhood watch coordinator with a gun, the teen’s mother and father, in alternating chapters, share the devastating experience of losing a son to senseless violence: “We tell it in hope for healing, for bridging the divide that separates America.” Evident throughout are Fulton’s and Martin’s anger and frustration with the way the case was handled by the Sanford (FL) Police Department, the makeup of the jury, the prosecution’s weak performance, and the often outrageous behavior of the defense. Why was Zimmerman allowed to go home with evidence on his body? Why was Trayvon, but not Zimmerman, subjected to drug and alcohol tests? Why were there background checks on Trayvon but not on Zimmerman? Both parents also chronicle the numerous protest marches that propelled a national movement. Pointing out the blatant missteps they encountered, Fulton and Martin come across as caring and compassionate individuals who remain hopeful that their son will live on through their continued work with the Trayvon Martin Foundation. VERDICT A well-told and gripping portrayal of the killing of a son and the subsequent legal process, with all its twists and turns.–Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District, CA
REEDER, Lydia. Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team That Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory. 304p. ebook available. notes. photos. Algonquin. Jan. 2017. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9781616204662.
In the early 1930s, Sam Babb recruited farm girls to play for his basketball team at Oklahoma Presbyterian College in Durant. At the time, most women’s teams were sponsored by the companies for whom the players worked. Some, including Lou Henry Hoover, wife of President Herbert Hoover, thought that competitive sports were not an appropriate activity for young women. But Coach Babb knew that basketball helped participants develop critical thinking and good judgment. He also believed that a winning team could bring a whole community together and raise spirits that had been battered by the Great Depression. Reeder employs player interviews and scrapbooks to tell the true story of the Cardinals, who in 1932 became the first women’s collegiate team to win the American Athletic Union’s National Basketball Tournament. Her personable narrative is as much about the daily lives of the players as it is about the sport of basketball, and young adults will love details that bring the time and place to life (for example, because many of the players came from farms with no indoor plumbing or electricity, the hot water in their college dorm seemed extravagant). VERDICT Useful for curriculum support, this compelling offering makes for good recreational reading, too. Hand it to fans of A League of Their Own or to anyone who relishes a good sports underdog tale.–Hope Baugh, Carmel Clay Public Library, Carmel, IN
RICCA, Brad. Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York City’s Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case that Captivated a Nation. 448p. bibliog. ebook available. index. notes. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2017. Tr $27.99. ISBN 9781250072245.
In 1917, an 18-year-old went missing in broad daylight. In 1905, a newly minted female lawyer took on a seemingly impossible case and won. Alternating between Ruth Cruger’s 1917 disappearance and earlier cases, Ricca’s vividly written narrative brings to life the groundbreaking work of attorney Mary Grace Quackenbos Humiston, who championed the rights of immigrants, the poor, and young girls. She often successfully made appeals to overturn wrongful convictions, saving several people from execution at the last minute. As a detective, she took on cases, such as Cruger’s, that the police had abandoned, becoming the first female U.S. district attorney and, later, a special investigator with the New York Police Department. Though this is a thoroughly researched example of nonfiction, with extensive notes and bibliography, Ricca’s storytelling ability easily allows readers to forget they are reading history instead of a novel. The descriptions of Humiston’s work, with its tension and danger, offer a fascinating window on daily life and policing in New York in the early 20th century, and many of the causes she backed remain current social problems. VERDICT A compelling look at a forgotten and inspiring trailblazer, this absorbing narrative will appeal to fans of true crime, history, and mysteries.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington Public Library, VA
SOBEL, Dava. The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. 336p. bibliog. ebook available. index. Viking. Dec. 2016. Tr $30. ISBN 9780670016952.
Railroad heiress Anna Draper was introduced to a love of the stars by her husband, Dr. Henry Draper, whose stellar photography was recognized throughout the United States. After his death, Anna Draper wished to continue his work photographing stars and reached out to one of his many prominent scientific colleagues, Edward Pickering, a professor at the Harvard College Observatory. Henry Draper’s work reflected the changes in the late 1800s in the field of astronomy as advancements in photography improved the quality of stellar images. As technology progressed, more people were needed to analyze and preserve the images. The Harvard College Observatory expanded their staff (previously only men) to include the wives and other family members of the astronomers working at Harvard; eventually graduates of women’s colleges such as Vassar, Radcliffe, and Wellesley were employed as well. The women were originally hired as human calculators, but their roles grew to encompass cataloging the images as well as participating in the astronomical studies conducted by the male astronomers. Over time, the women’s contributions to the field of astronomy ranged from identifying new stars to developing a stellar classification system that is still in use today. Relying on primary source materials such as letters and memoirs, Sobel crafts a story that illuminates the crucial role women played in the scientific community. VERDICT Teens interested in astronomy and the recent Hidden Figures will be fascinated by the work and discoveries made by these ambitious and talented women.–Lynn Rashid, Marriotts Ridge High School, Marriottsville, MD
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