For the past few years, I have had the opportunity to serve as a second round judge for the Cybils Awards. This is my third year as an Elementary Nonfiction judge and I am excited to share the winners of the Elementary and Juvenile nonfiction winners along with the Middle Grade and Young Adult winners. I was excited that this year, we divided the Elementary category into two categories - Elementary, which focused on picture books and Juvenile, which focused on longer titles.
Thank you to my fellow judges for another great experience:
Debbie Tanner (The Booksearch); Michelle Leonard (The Winged Pen); Carrie Gelson (There’s a Book for That); Angela Reynolds (Valley Storytime) and Jennifer Wharton as moderator.
Elementary Non-Fiction: Giant Squid by Candace Fleming; Illustrated by Eric Rohmann (Roaring Brook Press)
This love song to the giant squid stands out in a sea of nonfiction ocean books. The oil paintings illustrating the book are as dark and mysterious as the creature they depict. There are close-up pictures that define details, putting the reader right into the deep water with the squid, while others offer fleeting glimpses of the elusive creature to pique readers’ interest.The poetic text gives ample, fascinating information about the giant squid in a short amount of space but also raises questions about the many things scientists don’t yet know about this mysterious creature. Fleming shows how scientists have had to piece together information about the giant squid based on bodies that have been found on shore or in fishing nets. Giant squid have only rarely been seen in the wild, which is surprising, given that they are as big as a bus! An afterword expands on the spare text, and an excellent list of resources at the end of the book provides additional research possibilities. This lovely work answers questions and leaves readers wanting more, opening the “dark unknown” that exists between the simple lines of prose and lovely artwork.
Juvenile Non-Fiction: Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet (HMH Books for Young Children).
There are readers who revisit E. B. White’s classic works every year, in a classroom or for their own satisfaction; there are young readers meeting Charlotte, Stuart, and their friends for the first time. Melissa Sweet’s stunning biography of E. B. White is a book that will reach the heart of every reader. Her incorporation of personal papers and photographs from E. B. White’s life into the mixed media artwork provide the reader so much to see, in so many details. Before you even get to the title page there is information to absorb. The masterful design includes White’s words, images from his stories, his letters, and photographs from his life, all coming together to create a book that allows the reader to feel as though she is walking through his life with him–the sights, the smells, the feelings — yet the rich detail is never distracting. Rather, the illustrations give the reader a place to pause and reflect, to consider the person who wrote some of our favourite childhood stories. The story of White’s life and writings flows well, making it an interesting read more than a straightforward biography. The narrative is not only informative, but evocative and shows how cherished White’s books are for many different readers. We even see drafts of White’s writing, allowing a young writer a glimpse into the process of creation. Sweet uses rich vocabulary, yet the text will still be accessible to young readers. The impressive end matter includes an afterword, timeline, detailed notes, bibliography, and other works. Sweet has truly created a book to study, reread, and treasure.
Middle Grade Non-Fiction: Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story by Caren Stelson (Carolrhoda Books)
In summer 1945, when their chicken lays just one egg, only the youngest child will eat; in these days of war, all of Japan is hungry, and 6 year old Sachiko’s family in Nagasaki is no exception. When the air-raid siren wails, run for cave; when it stops, it is safe – but not on August 9th, when an atomic bomb hits their city.
Facts are the framework of this well-known historic event, but Sachiko’s personal story, as relayed by author Caren Stelson, is its bruised yet beating heart and soul. The author’s extensive research supplements her many visits with Sachiko Yasui in Nagasaki over a number of years, as the young girl’s heart-wrenching memories and determination to live fill these pages with both truth and hope as she grows up.
Surviving the blast when her playmates perished, being bullied and shunned as a bomb victim, losing friends and family members to radiation-caused burns and cancers, nearly losing her own voice to thyroid cancer as a young woman – after that terrible bright blast, nothing was right for Sachiko.
For many years, she kept all these memories to herself, but Sachiko became inspired by the nonviolent philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Deciding as an adult to speak out for peace, she quotes Helen Keller, who visited Nagasaki when Sachiko was young: “All the world is suffering. It is also full of the overcoming.”
This book’s many historic pictures and photos from Sachiko’s family album bring the people and places to life. Historic notes, glossary of Japanese words used in the story, endnote about the author interviewing Sachiko, sources list, bibliography, and thorough index make Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story a great source for research on this key event of World War II and its aftermath.
Young Adult Non-Fiction: Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee and Susan McClelland (Amulet)
As a privileged child in Pyongyang, Sungju Lee grew up admiring his country’s magnificent leader, Kim Il-Sung. He planned to join the military to protect his beloved country against the evil Americans always threatening North Korea’s peaceful way of life. But soon after their leader’s death, Sungju’s parents mysteriously take the young man “on vacation” to an impoverished factory town far from the capital city.
Readers will realize long before Sungju that this “vacation” is actually a forced relocation after his father is removed from the military. Food and clothing are in short supply, Father reluctantly leaves to find more, Mother doesn’t return from visiting relatives, and suddenly Sungju finds himself living on the street and running a gang of homeless kids. While the fall from privileged childhood to teen thief isn’t a new tale in itself, we know so little about life in North Korea that this memoir packs a punch. The constant stream of lies told to the populace is astounding, and the young men are faced with harrowing violence and depredation even before their families are split apart. This story would seem unbelievable if we didn’t know that North Korea is a real place.
Despite the unfamiliar setting and extreme circumstances, teen readers will relate to Sungju’s day-to-day dilemmas and decisions. Sungju was far more educated than any kid in the factory city, but street smarts, violence, and gangs became necessary in his desperate scramble to stay alive. Friendship and family play a huge part in his life and his survival, and mystery underpins this story as both of his parents go missing. Readers will continually wonder how Sungju escaped to write this harrowing true story for us.
Like a dystopian tale set in the still-dark nation of North Korea just yesterday, Every Falling Star is a compelling story deserving of a wide audience.
Look for all of these books at your local independent bookstore or community library.
Don't forget to link up your nonfiction reviews....