March 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

No Fail Nonfiction for YA | JLG’s Booktalks to Go

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So many books, so little time. It’s hard to sell something to readers that you haven’t had time to read yet, so SLJ is introducing JLG’s Booktalks to Go Teen. This monthly column will provide you with ready to use booktalks on new releases for your young adult readers. In addition, you’ll find resources for teaching the titles, such as links to supportive websites, including lesson plans or media when available.

In this first column of the new year, we’re tackling nonfiction. The following books, selected by the editors at Junior Library Guild, are informational texts that not only connect to the curriculum and Common Core State Standards (CCSS), but will completely capture the interest of your readers―whether there’s a test or not.

BASCOMB, Neal. The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi.  Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. 2013. ISBN 9780545430999. JLG Level:  NH : Nonfiction High (Grades 9 & Up).

Nazi HuntersAdolf Eichmann was responsible for the “Final Solution of the Jewish question.” Hitler had ordered the physical elimination of the Jews, and it was up to Eichmann to make it happen. His plan had three parts: isolate the Jews, secure Jewish wealth for the Third Reich, and send them to ghettos until extermination camps could be constructed. After the war was over, Eichmann knew he would be arrested as a war criminal, so he disappeared. Fifteen years later, a teenage girl who lived in Buenos Aires meets his son. It would turn out to be the lead that investigators needed to locate the world’s most notorious Nazi. But could they bring him to Israel for trial without being caught?

Narrative nonfiction at its best will heighten reader interest. Bascomb’s title combines details of the investigation with the mystery of a spy novel. Filled with photographs, letters, fake passports, and navigator logbooks, the goal to capture Eichmann unfolds in a well-designed plan. An extensive bibliography and notes illustrate the depth of the author’s research.

Teachers and librarians using The Nazi Hunters will find a plethora of material to support its teaching. You might begin with the author’s website. Readers may also enjoy watching an author interview. For additional research, students can see related photographs at the Library of Congress or read the police examination reports. Though lesson plans for teaching the Holocaust abound, educators may find the PBS lessons and the EDSITEment! plans to be most helpful. Both the US Holocaust Museum and the LA Museum of the Holocaust provide additional support for this book.

Dead MountainEICHAR, Donnie. Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident. Chronicle. 2013. ISBN 9781452112749. JLG Level: NH : Nonfiction High (Grades 9 & Up).

February 1959. Winter in the Russian Ural Mountains. Ten experienced college-aged hikers are found dead a mile away from their neatly organized tent. No shoes. Most with no warm outer garments. Several of the hikers have brutal injuries. Forensic testing shows high levels of radiation on their clothing. Their tent has several cuts―made from the inside. A final photograph found in their camera shows a mysterious orb of light. With no living witnesses, investigators are baffled. Why would trained hikers leave the safety of their tent in the dead of night, under-dressed, and wander a mile from camp?

Dead Mountain reads like a mystery, with flashback chapters that lead up to the last known details of the ill-fated adventure. Author Eichar is a documentary filmmaker who fell into the 50-year-old mystery. Determined to unravel the clues, he takes a winter hike into the same mountains. His research leads him to sort through the classic explanations―avalanche, attack by the local Mansi people, high winds, armed men, weapons testing, and even aliens. Punctuated with primary source documents, readers will be riveted to the final conclusion of the true story of the Dyatlov Pass incident.

Dead Mountain has its own website with a book excerpt and some of the backstory on the tragic event. You might want to follow a study of the work by sharing the book trailer which features the author at the scene of the mystery, reflecting on what scared the students enough to run into subzero temperatures to their death. Eichar writes about his research experience on the publisher’s blog. Share a Russian newspaper article (translated into English) that explains that the mysterious deaths are still unresolved. Pictures of the team can be found at this Russian site. Readers may become interested in reading about other unexplained mysteries, so you can refer them to Mysterious Universe or World Mysteries. And of course, upon finishing the book, they will want to learn more about the scientific explanation Eichar gives in his conclusion. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website has many of those answers.

MEISSNER, David and Kim Richardson. Call of the Klondike:  A True Gold Rush Adventure. Calkins Creek. 2013. ISBN 9781590788233. JLG Level: NM : Nonfiction Middle (Grades 5–8).

1814Call of the KlondikeIn 1897 Stanley Pearce and Marshall Bond walked nearly 8 miles a day for 33 days, carrying at least 50 pounds of supplies on their backs. They hiked the same trail as much as three times to get their supplies to the bottom of Chilkoot Pass. Then they hiked up 1,500 “Golden Stairs” to get to the top, only to slide down the hill to make another trip. Once over the Pass, they maneuvered through 500 miles of lakes and streams, often over white water rapids before reaching their final destination, Dawson City, in the Yukon Territory. Traveling 1,500 miles, mostly on foot with freezing temperatures and often with rain hardly seems like an ideal hiking trip. Only 40,000 men would make it to Dawson City out of the estimated 100,000 who tried. What was so special about this town in the Klondike? Gold. Millions of dollars in gold. Pearce and Bond were determined to find it.

Meissner and Richardson recount the difficult journey of these two stampeders. Richardson is the great-great nephew of Stanley Pearce and inherited a bag full of old letters, telegrams, and newspaper articles from his relative’s gold rush experience. They use these primary source documents to retell the experience. Author David Meissner, a teacher, has written an educator guide and discussion questions for use in teaching their book. You might want to show a twenty minute Canadian video on the City of Gold. The film depicts the Klondike gold rush at its peak. Students will also get a peek at life in Dawson City at the time of the filming in 1957. You may want to pair this nonfiction title with the fictional Call of the Wild (Jack London was their neighbor). has free downloads of London’s novel for all devices. You’ll also see lesson plans, an audio book, and quizzes. The National Park Service provides useful research information at their Seattle Unit and at Klondike National Historic Sites.

SHEINKIN, Steve. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. Roaring Brook. 2014. ISBN 9781596437968. JLG Level: HH : History – High School (Grades 10 & Up).

Port Chicago“From the moment they arrived at Port Chicago, most of the men lived in constant fear of a catastrophic explosion. Seventeen-year-old Spencer Sikes was convinced he’d die at the base.

‘Boy, I’ll never make it back home,’ he thought as he worked. ‘I’ll never see my mom again.’”

As it turned out, Sikes was on a date 30 miles from the base when a massive blast destroyed two ships, the pier, and everyone who was anywhere near it. The disaster took the lives of 320 men and wounded hundreds. That date saved Sikes’s life. His job, like every other Negro sailor on base, was to load ammunition into ships. When his division was called back to duty, 50 men refused to handle the ammunition. They were arrested and labeled mutineers. If they were found guilty, they could be shot. The year was 1944. The little-known event sparked the beginning of desegregation in the U.S. military.

Known as The Port Chicago 50, this naval trial, involving only black soldiers, caught the attention of Thurgood Marshall. Even with his involvement, the soldiers were doomed during this time of civil injustice. Told from the point of view of the sailors, Sheinkin recounts the Port Chicago story after doing an enormous amount of research, which he includes in his source notes. An extensive bibliography of books, articles, oral histories, and U.S. Navy records rounds out the back matter.

A view of the author’s website includes historic photographs of the sailors and their work. If students wonder how to say his name, share the pronunciation in his own voice from At the Naval Historical Center website, students can read the Court of Inquiry to see the facts, opinions, and recommendations from the trial. The National Park Service has information about the Port Chicago National Memorial.

In an effort to organize these links, I have created a LiveBinder. All websites will be posted within the LiveBinder, along with the accompanying booktalk. As future columns are posted, more books and their resources will be added. Simply go to JLG Booktalks to Go where you will see LiveBinder blue tabs. Each blue tab is a book title. Under each blue tab are gray subtabs with links to media, websites, and other related documents. Everything you need to teach or share brand new, hot-off-the-press books is now all in one place. For audio/video versions of these booktalks, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at

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Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.

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  1. Leslie Beatty says:

    Thank you for a very enlightening and so helpful article re: the nonfiction books you chose to highlight this time. The research you did to find these books, nevermind the research to interest readers, is first rate! I’ll look forward to reading comments on other terrific-sounding titles!

  2. Cristina Jordan says:

    Great list of books! I am looking forward to reading them and sharing them with the teachers and students at my school. With the common core emphasis on non-fiction, I’d love to see more titles for middle and high school students. Thanks!