Our Past and Present | History Series Nonfiction

In years past, history taught to children was dry, punishing, boring, whitewashed, and incorrect. Happily, publishers and educators now realize it’s worth their while to make stories of the past more engaging, taking on unique features, telling truths, and dismissing ingrained half-truths.


In years past, history taught to children was dry, punishing, boring, whitewashed, and incorrect. Happily, publishers and educators now realize it’s worth their while to make stories of the past more engaging, taking on unique features, telling truths, and dismissing ingrained half-truths.



Eason, Sarah. Army Rangers: D-Day Rescue! ISBN 9781647476397.
––––. Green Berets: Mission Critical! ISBN 9781647476410.
––––. Pararescue Jumpers: Out of a Hurricane! ISBN 9781647476434.
ea vol: illus. by Diego Vaisberg. 24p. (Mission: Special Ops). Bearport/Bear Claw. Jan. 2021. Tr. $28.50.
Gr 3-5 –This series features graphic fiction/nonfiction hybrids. Fictionalized dialogue bubbles mix with fact boxes to give an action-packed feel. Green Berets take on a rescue mission during the Iraq War, while pararescue jumpers work around the clock to save Hurricane Katrina victims. Army rangers fight off the Germans during D-Day. The writing is reader friendly, with harder words bolded and explained in the glossary. The artwork is expertly executed, ready to draw the audience in. These stories of true heroes end with photos showing the special ops in action, and what gear they use. A glossary, index, and link to find online sources are appended in each title. VERDICT Perfect for fans of graphic fiction and nonfiction, and ­budding ­military aficionados.

Peterson, Christy. Secret Spy Codes and Messages. ISBN 9781728404240.
––––. Secret Spy Gear. ISBN 9781728404257.
––––. Secret Spy Hacks. ISBN 9781728404271.
––––. Secret Spy Skills. ISBN 9781728404264.
ea vol: 32p. (Searchlight Books: Spy Secrets). Lerner. Jan. 2021. Tr. $30.65.
Gr 3-5 –The smoke and mirrors world of espionage is introduced in these thrilling titles. Throughout each book, spy methods, talents, and equipment are detailed. “Meet a Spy!” boxes are shown in each text. These invite readers to meet real-life spies of all stripes, many of whom were women. (And pigeons, during World War I!) These books are heavily illustrated with historical and modern photos, adding intrigue to the titles. The writing is gripping, as are the stories. Short glossaries, bibliographies, and indexes are included. ­VERDICT Great for research and browsing. Excellent choices to add to the 327.12 area.


Upper Elementary to Middle School

Buckley Jr., James. Sacagawea: Courageous Trailblazer! illus. by Cassie Anderson. Feb. 2021. ISBN 9781645174356.
Shulman, Mark. Albert Einstein: Genius of Space and Time! illus. by Kelly Tindall. Apr. 2021. ISBN 9781645174318.
––––. George Washington: Soldier and Statesman! illus. by Kelly Tindall. Jan. 2021. ISBN 9781645174103.
ea vol: 96p. (Show Me History!). Portable Pr. Tr. $12.99.
Gr 4-7 –Friends Sam and Libby help tell the stories of the subjects in these graphic biographies. The histories are complete, and most of the time lighthearted. A dog thinks Lewis and Clark should have rented a motorboat, for example. There is, of course, a darker side. Albert Einstein is showed leaving Nazi Germany. Still, the dialogue tends toward being jovial. The writing is completely engaging. The illustrations go a long way to further engage the audience. Additional biographical information is appended in non-graphic form in a “Did You Know?” section. There is a time line, bibliography, glossary, and index to finish off each title. VERDICT These are fine selections for libraries’ growing ­graphic nonfiction collections.

Carey Jr., Charles W. The Emancipation Proclamation. ISBN 9781503853683.
De Capua, Sarah E. The Tuskegee Airmen. ISBN 9781503853737.
Dolbear, Emily. Juneteenth. ISBN 9781503853799.
Hobkirk, Lori. Madam C. J. Walker: Entrepreneur. ISBN 9781503853768.
Jones, Amy Robin. Mary McLeod Bethune: Pioneering Educator. ISBN 9781503853751.
Laughlin, Kara L. The Tulsa Race Massacre. ISBN 9781503853713.
Maupin, Melissa. Benjamin Banneker: Astronomer and Mathematician. ISBN 9781503853782.
Meadows, James. Slavery. ISBN 9781503853744.
Neshama, Rivvy. Nat Turner and the Virginia Slave Revolt. ISBN 9781503853720.
Jensen Shaffer, Jody. Barack Obama: First African American President. ISBN 9781503853775.
Somervill, Barbara A. The Amistad Mutiny. ISBN 9781503853706.
Venable, Rose. The Civil Rights Movement. ISBN 9781503853690.
ea vol: 32p. (The Black American Journey). The Child’s World. Jan. 2021. Tr. $31.36.
Gr 5-7 –To say “Lincoln freed the slaves” is too simplistic to be real history. Students should learn the actual reasons for his actions. Black Americans have withstood horrific conditions throughout American history and these books speak to their heartbreaking struggles and considerable triumphs. The writing is approachable and the texts are evenhanded. Period photos, drawings, and maps are generous. Historical illustrations are devastating at times, such as a boy drinking out of a “colored” water fountain or a poster advertising enslaved people for sale. Photos of archival documents such as the Emancipation Proclamation are included. Back matter includes a “Think About It” box, with questions for further thought about the subject at hand. This series was clearly painstakingly researched, but one quibble is there are no source notes. VERDICT This is true Black American history everyone should know about. Highly recommended for schools and public libraries.

Huddleston, Emma. Civil War Spy Stories. ISBN 9781503844803.
––––. Cold War Spy Stories. ISBN 9781503844834.
––––. Modern Spy Stories. ISBN 9781503844841.
––––. World War II Spy Stories. ISBN 9781503844827.
London, Martha. Revolutionary War Spy Stories. ISBN 9781503844797.
––––. World War I Spy Stories. ISBN 9781503844810.
ea vol: 32p. (True Spy Stories). The Child’s World/Momentum. Jan. 2021. Tr. $29.93.
Gr 5-7 –Each title starts off with a “Fast Facts” section, giving brief background information on the particular era. It also includes spies and their tools. The writing is serious. Mini biographies of spies and their actions are included. Anna Smith Strong, a spy during the Revolutionary War, cleverly used a clothesline to communicate with fellow spies, for example. These biographies give a personal touch to the stories. Illustrations include period photographs, posters, maps, charts, etc. One photo shows the Rosenbergs, found guilty and executed during the Cold War. A “Think About It” add-on asks readers for questions to further consider the subject matter. VERDICT Perfect for reports and downtime reading, these titles should prove popular among students who like spies, especially during wartime.

Knutson, Julie. Centralia Mine Disaster. ISBN 9781534180154.
––––. Church Rock Uranium Mine Disaster. ISBN 9781534180161.
––––. Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. ISBN 9781534180178.
––––. Flint Water Crisis. ISBN 9781534180208.
––––. Love Canal. ISBN 9781534180185.
––––. Three Mile Island. ISBN 9781534180192.
ea vol: 32p. (21st Century Skills Library: Unnatural Disasters: Human Error, Design Flaws, and Bad Decisions). Cherry Lake. Jan. 2021. Tr. $29.93.
Gr 4-6 –The disasters recorded here were caused by misguided humanity. These six titles explain what went wrong in particular instances. All catastrophes in this set took place in the United States. Three main chapters discuss what happened before, during, and after the event. The history of each tragedy is explained with helpful time lines. Photos, both color and black-and-white, are smallish and add interest. Fact boxes complement the texts. The writing is clear, if a touch pedestrian. Ideas for how to help and do further research are included, as well as glossaries and indexes. VERDICT Good presentation. Select where there is a need for research on man-made disasters.

Rusick, Jessica. American Leaders: Then and Now. ISBN 9781532194481.
––––. Ground Zero: Then and Now. ISBN 9781532194498.
––––. The Heroes of 9/11: Then and Now. ISBN 9781532194504.
––––. September 11, 2001: Then and Now. ISBN 9781532194511.
––––. United We Stand: Then and Now. ISBN 9781532194528.
––––. The War on Terror: Then and Now. ISBN 9781532194535.
ea vol: 48p. (The 9/11 Terrorist Attacks). ABDO/ABDO & Daughters. Dec. 2020. Tr. $31.36.
Gr 5-8 –These titles bring to light the complicated events stemming from a devastating day in American and world history. The “Then and Now” aspect is interesting to see after 20 years. In American Leaders, George W. Bush is the “then” on the cover, while Joe Biden is the “now.” The writing is accessible. Each book is short and the type size is quite large, which might make this superficially OK for a younger audience, but the content and language are for older readers. Abject despair is shown in many of the photographs, which complement the text. Time lines, glossaries, indexes, and resources finish off the books. VERDICT Thorough and worthy for libraries serving middle schoolers.

Smith-Llera, Danielle. Betsy Ross and the U.S. Flag. ISBN 9781496695628.
––––. Paul Revere and the Midnight Ride. ISBN 9781496695659.
Yomtov, Nel. Abner Doubleday and Baseball’s Beginning. ISBN 9781496695369.
––––. Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address. ISBN 9781496695642.
ea vol: 32p. (Fact vs. Fiction in U.S. History). Capstone. Jan. 2021. Tr. $29.32.
Gr 4-6 –Americans love their myths. However, contrary to what many may think, Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball. There’s no proof that Betsy Ross sewed the first flag. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the main speaker at Gettysburg. These are all part of the myths of U.S. history, explain the books in this series. Each compelling story is heavily illustrated with photos showing period settings set among large type. The language is age appropriate and chatty. This series is great for report writers, especially those who dare to expose ingrained myths. VERDICT Myth-dispelling can be an interesting way to look at history. These titles are solid choices for school and public libraries.


Upper Middle School to High School

Kurkov, Lisa. Nonfiction Companion to Al Capone Does My Shirts. ISBN 9781731643438.
––––. Nonfiction Companion to Bud, Not Buddy. ISBN 9781731643407.
––––. Nonfiction Companion to Esperanza Rising. ISBN 9781731643414.
––––. Nonfiction Companion to Hatchet. ISBN 9781731643421.
––––. Nonfiction Companion to Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party. ISBN 9781731643391.
––––. Nonfiction Companion to The War That Saved My Life. ISBN 9781731643384.
ea vol: 48p. (Nonfiction Companions). Rourke/Connections. Jan. 2021. Tr. $34.22.
Gr 5-9 –This series takes popular novels and works historical facts around them. Each book opens with a brief synopsis of the fiction title and a short biography of the author. Then the facts are exposed. Snippets of the stories are interspersed with nonfiction. Report writers who read the books will find much fodder here for research. The writing and illustrations work together to engage readers. Sections on discussion questions and writing prompts and projects are great for classroom use. VERDICT Students who enjoyed the novels will like reading about actual events and settings. These are solid choices, especially for school libraries.

All the series featured above offer a lot to their intended audience, and are solid considerations for libraries. Graphic titles continue to be popular among readers, and it is good to see more graphic nonfiction being published. Outstanding series in this section include “The Black American Journey” (The Child’s World) and “Mission: Special Ops” (Bearport/Bear Claw).

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