SLJ’s Reviews of the 2019 YALSA's Excellence in Nonfiction Award Finalists

We rounded up our reviews of the five titles on YALSA’s 2019 Excellence in Nonfiction Award Shortlist.

We rounded up our reviews of the five titles on YALSA’s 2019 Excellence in Nonfiction Award Shortlist . For the first time ever, there are three graphic nonfiction works on the shortlist. SLJ starred three out of the five titles, and two are 2018 SLJ Best Books—The Faithful Spy and Hey, Kiddo.


BROWN, Don. The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees. illus. by Don Brown. 112p. bibliog. maps. notes. HMH. Sept. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781328810151.
Gr 8 Up –In the spring of 2011, a group of teenage boys are imprisoned and tortured for spray-painting “Down with the regime” on a Syrian wall. Thousands of citizens who rise up in protest are met by tanks and snipers. The demonstrations and violence escalate, and civil war breaks out in Syria. Unsure of their chances for survival but certain of the dangers at home, thousands of refugees flee to surrounding areas. Blocks of text provide context about Syria’s civil war, as well as commentary on the international response, with supporting maps and charts seamlessly incorporated into the story. The loose linework reflects the chaos, and the full-color art depicts a muted sepia and blue gray palette, with touches of brighter hues for effect. Violence is freely but not gratuitously shown, and death is depicted only rarely. The back matter includes an extensive bibliography, with citations for the numerous quotes used in the dialogue, as well as a journal summary of Brown’s 2017 trip to Syrian camps in Greece, complete with pictures and source notes. VERDICT This accessible and heartbreaking primer, with its stirring simplicity and a note of hope, should be required reading for all teens hoping to be empathetic and engaged world citizens.–Alea Perez, Westmont Public Library, IL

Here’s our interview with Don Brown

HENDRIX, John. The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot To Kill Hitler. illus. by John Hendrix. 176p. bibliog. notes. Abrams/Amulet. Sept. 2018. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781419728389; pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781419732652.
Gr 7 Up –Combining drawings and text, Hendrix presents a contemplative look at German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Readers learn of Bonhoeffer’s lifelong interest in theology and his search for God. As Hitler and Nazism came to power, he asked whether it is moral to assassinate a tyrant. Ultimately, his decision to plot with other conspirators to kill Hitler cost him his life. The author provides a fascinating examination of the man and his commitment to his Christian faith. The narrative deftly moves between Bonhoeffer’s struggles and Hitler’s ascent. Hendrix’s dynamic images complement the text, using green and red to indicate good and evil. The dense text may turn off some readers, but the illustrations are bound to entice many others. Those seeking a more traditional biography should also look to Patricia McCormick’s The Plot To Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero . ­VERDICT The bold visuals will attract graphic novel fans. An excellent introduction to a great man and his fight for justice.–Margaret Nunes, ­Gwinnett County Public Library, GA

KROSOCZKA, Jarrett J. Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction. illus. by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. 320p. Scholastic/Graphix. Oct. 2018. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780545902472.
Gr 7 Up –In this intimate graphic memoir, Krosoczka looks back on his childhood and adolescence. His mother was a heroin addict, who was incarcerated or in rehab for much of his young life, and his father wasn’t around—until Krosoczka was in the sixth grade, he didn’t even know the man’s first name. The author/illustrator was raised by his loving but often amusingly coarse maternal grandparents, who were well past their child-rearing days. Though growing up without his biological parents was painful, Krosoczka had a supportive network of extended family and friends, and his art became both his passion and his salvation. The visuals beautifully re-create his early memories, with fluid lines depicting the figures and hand-painted washes of gray with burnt orange highlights in the backgrounds. Borderless panels and word balloons deftly draw readers into the action. Artifacts from the Krosoczka family’s past are inserted into the story, such as artwork and letters, and even the pineapple wallpaper from his grandparents’ home is included between chapters. VERDICT A compelling, sometimes raw look at how addiction can affect families. A must-have, this book will empower readers, especially those who feel alone in difficult situations.– Kelley Gile, Cheshire Public Library, CT

Here’s interview with Jarrett J. Krosoczka.

PARTRIDGE, Elizabeth. Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam. 224p. bibliog. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Viking. Apr. 2018. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780670785063.
Gr 7 Up –Rather than offering a history of the causes and effects of the Vietnam War, Partridge brings the conflict to a personal level, with accounts of eight men, two women, four U.S. presidents, Martin Luther King Jr., and Maya Lin. Chapter by chapter, the author introduces an unseasoned Marine tasked with life or death decisions, a nonviolent follower of King who fires at the enemy until his machine gun is red hot, and an 18-year-old South Vietnamese woman who must flee the encroaching North Vietnamese Army. Partridge’s interviewees all survived their year in-country, but what they saw and participated in haunted them long after. Late chapters on the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial and an epilogue provide closure. Photos of exhausted soldiers, pensive presidents, a helicopter evacuating the wounded, and stacks of coffins add visual immediacy to the emotional stories of young people at war and the protests stateside. Occasional racial slurs and strong language fit the circumstances of their use. VERDICT A stirring choice. Pair with DK/Smithsonian’s The Vietnam War: The Definitive Illustrated or portions of the documentary The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick for a more complete picture of the war and its surrounding circumstances.– Maggie Knapp, Trinity ­Valley School, Fort Worth, TX

SOTOMAYOR, Sonia. The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor. 352p. glossary. Delacorte. Sept. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524771140.
Gr 4-7–Adapted from Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World, this edition brings the childhood and early adulthood of the Supreme Court justice to younger readers. Her reflections on her childhood are perceptive and poignant. She hides nothing from readers, confiding in them about her insecurities, sadnesses, and challenges in her journey from adolescence in New York City to college at Princeton University and beyond. Ultimately, this is a work that is infused with warmth and encouragement.
VERDICT A good choice for any juvenile biography collection, especially those where autobiographies and memoirs are popular.–Chelsea Woods, New Brunswick Free Public Library, NJ


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