February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

YALSA Reveals 2016 Excellence in Nonfiction and Morris Finalists

The children’s and young adult book awards season continues and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), made its contribution this week with its announcement of the best nonfiction finalists and debut YA finalists.

A committee of nine librarians has elected five finalists for the 2016 Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award. The award honors the best nonfiction books written for young adults between November 1, 2014 and October 31, 2015. The works range from a poignant memoir-in-verse about a girl caught between two cultures to a harrowing account of the first flight to circumnavigate the globe.

Among the 2016 nonfiction finalists are two School Library Journal Best Books (M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead and Steve Sheinkin’s Most Dangerous) and Top 10 Latin@ pick (Margarita Engle’s Enchanted Air). See below for SLJ’s reviews and coverage of the Excellence in Nonfiction finalists.

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir

SLJ starred review:

TOP10_Latino_enchanted-airredstarEngle, Margarita. Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir. illus. by Edel Rodriguez. 208p. S. & S./Atheneum. Aug. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481435222; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481435246. LC 2014017408.
Gr 6-10–A deeply personal memoir-in-verse filled with Engle’s trademark intricately woven lyricism. The author’s memories focus on the first 14 years of her life, beginning with idyllic summers spent in her mother’s homeland of Cuba and ending during the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequent travel ban. Engle captures the heart of a quiet, young girl torn between two cultures. This historical memoir/love poem to Cuba couldn’t be more timely. With the recent easing of relations with Cuba, teachers can use the text as an accessible entry point into the history behind this very current event. And while the narrative unfolds over 50 years ago, Engle’s experiences will still resonate with adolescents and teens today. Any child who has felt like an outsider will recognize themselves in Margarita’s tale. When the Cuban Missile Crisis ended and everyone’s focus shifted, the author was left confused, empty and unfulfilled by her school’s seemingly senseless focus on what felt like irrelevant historical events. What American child with ties to a country experiencing turmoil couldn’t relate to the lingering after-effects of far off events in our era of two-minute news bytes? VERDICT A more than worthwhile purchase for any library in need of a universally applicable coming-of-age tale, a fantastic new memoir-in-verse, or a glimpse into Cuba’s past.–Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, Montclair, NJ

Top 10 Latin@ Books 2015 http://ow.ly/VqWQy

Long-Awaited Mirrors: Latino Lit for Teens | Libro por libro http://ow.ly/VqSOj

First Flight Around the World: The Adventures of the American Fliers Who Won the Race

first flight grove_Grove, Tim. First Flight Around the World: The Adventures of the American Fliers Who Won the Race. 96p. bibliog. glossary. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. Abrams. Apr. 2015. RTE $21.95. ISBN 9781419714825. LC 2014024665.
Gr 5-8–This gripping, well-designed title details the United States’ 1924 successful attempt to become the first nation to circumnavigate the globe by flight. The U.S. Army sent four planes; other nations, eager to make their marks, took up the challenge as well. The journey began on April 6, 1924 in Seattle and concluded on September 28, 1924, when the Chicago, one of the two American planes that made the entire trip, landed back in Seattle. This volume recounts the story of the Americans’ adventures, detailing hardships, such as harsh weather and mechanical breakdowns. Despite the obstacles they faced, the crew of the Chicago achieved the goal, learning about different cultures and becoming goodwill ambassadors along the way. The writing is accessible, while the composition and page layout are extremely attractive, featuring tons of maps and historical photographs, and are sure to captivate readers through the stunning use of color. The back matter is thorough and includes an itinerary based on the official report of the flight. VERDICT Offering a look at a lesser-known historical event, this beautiful, well-written book is an essential addition for all collections.–Patricia Ann Owens, formerly with Illinois Eastern Community Collage, Mount Carmel

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

SLJ starred review:

NF_Sheinkin_MostDangerousredstarSHEINKIN, Steve.Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. 384p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. Roaring Brook. Sept. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781596439528.
Gr 7 Up–In this thoroughly researched, thoughtfully produced, and beautifully written book, Sheinkin delves into the life of Daniel Ellsberg, former Pentagon consultant and a self-described “cold warrior,” who gradually made an about-face with regard to America’s presence in Vietnam. Ellsberg famously leaked the Pentagon Papers, a lengthy document written by military insiders about the Vietnam War, to various members of the press in 1971. He was quickly labeled an enemy of the state and a traitor to his country, aka the most dangerous man in America. With access to many of the key players in this real-life drama, as well as mountains of source material, Sheinkin builds a narrative that is at once accessible and suspenseful, with revelations and details coming at just the right moments. In Sheinkin’s careful hands, Ellsberg and others, including Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and Robert McNamara, are fully realized characters with strengths, flaws, and motivations that grow ever more clear as the story unfolds. Direct quotes, primary source documents, and archival photographs are peppered throughout, supplementing and complementing the text. Meticulous source notes indicate the level of research and time that the author has put into this particular work. With the news filled with stories about Edward Snowden and the NSA, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, and privacy rights and government overreach, this brilliant work about an extraordinary whistle-blower taking a stand should be on everyone’s reading list. VERDICT A timely and extraordinary addition to every library.–Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA

Best Books 2015: Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War | Nonfiction http://ow.ly/VqXiR

Five Finalists Announced for the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature http://ow.ly/VqXpW

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

SLJ starred review:

redstarSymphonyCityDeadAnderson, M.T. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad. 464p. bibliog. ebook available. index. notes. photos. Candlewick. Sept. 2015. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780763668181.
Gr 9 Up–This ambitious and gripping work is narrative nonfiction at its best. Anderson expertly sets the scene of the tumultuous world into which Dmitri Shostakovich was born in 1906 and traces his development as an artist and a public figure. He also tells the story of the composer’s beloved Leningrad, focusing on the creation and legacy of the symphony written in its honor at the height of World War II. In his author’s note, Anderson poses an intriguing question: “How do we reconstruct the story of someone who lived in a period in which everyone had an excuse to lie, evade, accuse, or keep silent?” The compelling, well-researched narrative relates what is known of Shostakovich’s story, what is speculation, what is revisionist history, and what new sources have revealed. The chilling details of the Stalin regime and the plight of the Russian people even before the Germans arrived will be eye-opening to many teen readers. The book has all the intrigue of a spy thriller, recounts the horrors of living during the three year siege, and delineates the physical oppression and daunting foes within and outside of the city. This is also the story of survival against almost impossible odds. Through it all, Anderson weaves the thread of the composer’s music and the role it played in this larger-than-life drama. VERDICT A must-have title with broad crossover appeal–Luann Toth, School Library Journal

Best Books 2015: Symphony for the City of the Dead | Nonfiction http://ow.ly/VqXGa

Ten Titles Make Longlist for the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature http://ow.ly/VqY0p

Strike Up the Band | M.T. Anderson and the Story Behind the Leningrad Symphony http://ow.ly/VqR8D

Video Interview: M.T. Anderson and the Symphony for the City of the Dead | A Fuse #8 Production http://ow.ly/VqRc5

This Strange Wilderness:  The Life and Art of John James Audubon

This Strange Wilderness_Plain_Plain, Nancy. This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon. 112p. appendix. bibliog. ebook available. glossary. illus. index. notes. reprods. Univ. of Nebraska. 2015. pap. $19.95. ISBN 9780803248847.
Gr 7 Up–In this insightful biography, Plain demonstrates how naturalist and artist John James Audubon’s groundbreaking The Birds of America, published in England in 1827, rocked the art and science worlds through its depictions of birds in naturalistic poses and in their own habitats. Born in Haiti and raised in France, Audubon (1785–1851) displayed a passion for drawing early on. As an adult, living and working in the United States, he struggled to portray birds realistically, eventually using wires to hold his specimens on boards in lifelike poses. Readers will get a strong sense of how devoted the man was to his cause, often leaving his family to roam the American wilderness hunting birds or to work on his book in England. Through beautifully crafted prose, Plain vividly describes the land Audubon loved, often in his own words, quoted from his letters. Audubon’s stunning artwork is beautifully reproduced and paired with his thoughts on specific illustrations. Readers will also appreciate the inclusion of relevant paintings, photographs, and other images. This narrative of the life of a dedicated and hard-working figure is the story of an amazing individual and a glimpse into the natural history of the early United States. VERDICT An excellent addition to science and biography collections.–Frances E. Millhouser, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA

Au Naturel | SLJ Spotlight http://ow.ly/VqSGz

A committee of nine selected five books as finalists for the 2016 William C. Morris Award, which honors the year’s best books written for young adults by a previously unpublished author. The titles range from a quirky epistolary novel about friendship to a provocative retelling of the Grimms’s “The Handless Maiden.” Among the finalists is SLJ Best Book, Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert. The 2016 finalists are:

Because You’ll Never Meet Me

Because You'll Never_ThomasThomas, Leah. Because You’ll Never Meet Me. 352p. Bloomsbury. Jun. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781619635906.
Gr 9 Up–Ollie and Moritz are at the center of a unique and oddly compelling friendship in this epistolary debut. Ollie has a form of epilepsy that renders him “allergic to electricity,” while Moritz, born without eyes, has a pacemaker to help control his cardiomyopathy. Both boys live in reclusive isolation, but when they begin to exchange letters, they find an unexpected opportunity to share their hopes, challenges, sorrows, and the tragic secrets that unite them. Ollie and Moritz are memorable characters with engaging and often humorous voices, and the dual narration creates tension as they reveal more of their lives to one another—including their struggles with loneliness, self-acceptance, brutal tormentors, first love, and the weight of the past. The story flirts with several genres before settling into science fiction by its close. Coupled with the questionable reliability of its narrators, this lends it a quirky, almost whimsical feel even as Thomas grounds it in heartfelt and often painful emotion. VERDICT Despite shades of melodrama and a few plot contrivances, this will intrigue readers with its unusual premise.–Lauren Strohecker, McKinley Elementary School, Abington School District, PA


SLJ’s starred review:

Conviction_GilbertGilbert, Kelly Loy. Conviction. 352p. Disney-Hyperion. May 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781423197386; ebk. ISBN 9781484719435.
Gr 8 Up–Braden’s dad is in jail, awaiting trial for allegedly killing a police officer, supposedly backing up, swerving, and running the officer down during a routine traffic stop. Braden dreads having to testify. His father is a well-known religious radio host, and Braden’s own faith is wavering as he wrestles with the realities of the relationship he has with his father. He wants to believe that his father is a good man, but the facts in the case seem to point in another direction. Flickers of his dad’s drinking, violence, and judgmental tendencies make Braden increasingly apprehensive about providing his version of the events of the night the officer was killed. He also has lingering doubts about why his older brother would leave home, not returning for more than a decade. When he arrives back to care for Braden during their dad’s incarceration, Braden eventually learns the truth: his dad disapproved of the brother’s secrets and beat him mercilessly. The story flashes forward and back in time, interweaving baseball vignettes as metaphors for strained relationships. The sophisticated pacing requires effort to push through; this is a multilayered story that provides meaty sustenance for those seeking insights into rifts between fathers and sons. Readers who do push through will find a poignant look at the messiness of love, faith, and humanity. VERDICT A strong debut for readers who enjoyed E.M. Kokie’s Personal Effects (Candlewick, 2012).–Leah Krippner, Harlem High School, Machesney Park, IL

Best Books 2015: Conviction | Young Adult http://ow.ly/VrXEb

Hidden Things: A #FSYALit discussion of the book CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert, a guest post by Ally Watkins —Teen Librarian Toolbox http://ow.ly/VrXzO

Pulling Back the Veil, a #FSYALit discussion of CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert, part II —Teen Librarian Toolbox http://ow.ly/VrXwh

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

SLJ’s review:

Simon_AlbertalliAlbertalli, Becky. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. 320p. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. Apr. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062348678; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780062348692.
Gr 8 Up–Simon Speir, high school junior, walks away from his computer at school for just a moment, and that is when his biggest secret is discovered. He has been emailing a boy in his grade anonymously ever since a poetic waxing on his high school’s gossip Tumblr caught his eye, and now Martin Addison has taken a screenshot and has a powerful way to blackmail Simon into getting his friend, Abby, to date him. Although it is filled with trendy pop-culture and digital-age references (Tumblr, Justin Beiber, The Bachelor, etc.) that may not stand the test of time, the message will resonate. Rife with realistic, high school relationships and drama, with a laugh or two at every turn, this is a coming-of-age, coming-out, and defying-the-odds story with which many teens will identify. With a very tidy, feel-good ending, the book will appeal to readers who enjoyed Tim Federle’s Better Nate Than Ever (2013) and Five, Six, Seve, Nate! (2014, both S. & S.) and will find a familiar, slightly more mature home with Simon.–Brittany Staszak, St. Charles Public Library, IL

Ten Titles Make Longlist for the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature http://ow.ly/VrXXE

Secrets and Lies | New YA Fiction http://ow.ly/VrY2y

It’s Not All Death, Dystopia, and Disaster: YA Novels to Tickle the Funny Bone http://ow.ly/VrY65

Boys Will Be…Knitters and Lovers and Funny, Oh My—Someday My Printz Will Come http://ow.ly/VrYcQ

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

SLJ’s review:

The Sacred Lives_OakesOakes, Stephanie. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly. 400p. Dial. Jun. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780803740709; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781101633700.
Gr 9 Up–Minnow Bly survives when her hands are chopped off as punishment for refusing to wed the self-proclaimed “Kevinian” Prophet, leader of an oppressive, polygamous Montana wilderness cult in which she was raised. When someone sets fire to the Community and the Prophet is killed, Minnow runs away. Furious, frightened, and heartbroken, she lashes out and commits a hideous random assault, almost kicking a mentally disturbed young man to death—hence the gruesome, startling opening sentence, “I am a blood-soaked girl.” Imprisoned for this crime in a juvenile detention facility until age 18, Minnow is coaxed to reveal the truth about the demise of the Community. As she struggles to understand the world around her and to choose what secrets to keep or let go, her tough yet wise cellmate Angel, murderer of an uncle for sexual assault, becomes a friend and guide. Minnow learns to read; discloses a secret, forbidden romance with Jude, a biracial boy she met in the forest; and finally reveals what actually happened the night the Community went up in flames. Based on Grimm’s fairy tale, “The Handless Maiden,” the powerful, fluent writing; engrossing and well-layered mystery; compelling characters; and provocative ideas about family, faith, honesty, loyalty, and friendship are engaging. VERDICT Ellen Hopkins devotees and fans of The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009) will seek this one out.–Diane P. Tuccillo, Poudre River Public Library District, CO

They Still Break Girls, Don’t They: A Reflection on THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY for #FSYALit —Teen Librarian Toolbox http://ow.ly/VrZbL

The Weight of Feathers

SLJ’s review:

Weight of Feathers_McLemore_smallMcLemore, Anna-Marie. The Weight of Feathers. 320p. ebook available. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne. Sept. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250058652.
Gr 7 Up–For almost an entire generation, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals in a steadily escalating feud that is fueled by hearsay and fantasized superstitions. Both families’ livelihood is dependent on their itinerant performances, from one town to the next, and both family shows have turned competitive, with the Corbeaus performing tightropelike acts in the trees and the Palomas presenting mermaid exhibitions in the natural waterways. Members of the families are born with particular marks that brand them according to their lineage. The Corbeaus have a patch of feathers at the base of their hairline, and the Palomas have a series of patterned scales. No Paloma, under any circumstance, should dare touch a Corbeau, or vice versa, for fear that this simple act could cause a potentially fatal catastrophe. This mandate does not keep Lucien “Cluck” Corbeau from rescuing Lace Paloma from a chemical disaster. That fateful moment spurred the beginnings of their star-crossed romance and forever changes the lives of the two clans. In this tale of magical realism, the magic is so deftly woven into the fabric of the story, readers might overlook the more subtle moments. VERDICT Told with skillful poetic nuances, this Romeo-and-Juliet story of forbidden love will entice fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” (Scholastic) who wished for a little more romance.–Sabrina Carnesi, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, VA

It’s a Circus Out There | SLJ Spotlight http://ow.ly/VrZrh

Teens Review the Latest from Erin Bow, Gary Schmidt, and More http://ow.ly/VrZBH

YALSA will name the 2016 winners for each award at the Youth Media Awards on January 11, in Boston during the ALA’s Midwinter Meeting. YALSA will host a reception honoring the finalists and the winner, as well as YALSA’s Nonfiction Award finalists and winner, from 10:30 a.m. to noon on that same day at Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, room 205BC.


Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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  1. Thank you so much for this list! I am really excited to read most of these books, especially Enchanted Air. I love books that are ‘hybrid’ genres.