Scholastic
  • Anita’s Picks

Anita's Picks: Top Nonfiction (organized by era)

by Anita Silvey
November 2, 2011
The Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac celebrated its first year at the end of October. During this time I have presented many superb narrative nonfiction books. Narrative nonfiction develops a cast of characters; it tells a story. But it also appeals to those children who want to read “just the facts!” Here are a dozen of the best offerings from this year. The archive of the Almanac provides many more—classified under Nonfiction and Biography.

Founding of America
WRITTEN IN BONE by Sally M. Walker
"Discussing how forensic anthropology has contributed to our understanding of history, this fascinating treatise might encourage more than one reader to become part of an archaeological team. History, science, a passion for details, and a reverence for human life saturate these pages, which have been lavishly illustrated with photographs, maps, historical documents, and anatomical drawings."

Revolution
THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD by Steve Sheinkin
"Now, I admit, I love the bad boys of history—always have, always will. So Arnold is a personal favorite, and I have read scores of books about him...THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD adds something new to what is available. Arnold was always restless when not in the height of action, and so is his biographer."

1790s
AN AMERICAN PLAGUE by Jim Murphy
"In AN AMERICAN PLAGUE: THE TRUE AND TERRIFYING STORY OF THE YELLOW FEVER EPIDEMIC OF 1793 Jim Murphy, who can write like an angel even when describing a world of destruction and chaos, brings an absolutely gripping account of these events to young readers ages ten through fourteen...AN AMERICAN PLAGUE allows the reader to be swept up in events, breathlessly turning the pages."

Civil War
CHASING LINCOLN’S KILLER by James L. Swanson
"Every now and then, an author of a book for adults adapts that work into an important book for young readers…James L. Swanson revised his bestselling novel MANHUNT: THE 12-DAY CHASE FOR LINCOLN’S KILLER to create CHASING LINCOLN’S KILLER, a book that reads like a thriller and works perfectly for ten- to sixteen-year-olds."


1880s
BLIZZARD! by Jim Murphy
"In this book, ideal for third through seventh grades, Jim Murphy brings to life the snowstorm that changed America, giving us the United States Weather Bureau and city governments ready to respond to disaster. Many classes use the book in a snow unit this time of year. Otherwise it makes compelling reading in a warm house by a fire. No one describes disasters—fire, snowstorms, or the plague—to children better than Jim Murphy."

Early 1900s
BOOTLEG by Karen Blumenthal
"The book begins with the Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, certainly an event to get the attention of readers aged eleven to fourteen, an ideal audience for the information that follows. In this well-written, thoroughly researched volume, the author explores how America came to embrace the 18th Amendment and why the country abandoned it less than fourteen years later...As she moves along the journey, she brings fascinating historical details into the text."

World War II
ELEANOR ROOSEVELT by Russell Freedman
"Perfect for ten- to fourteen-year-olds—I needed this book as a child myself. I once made a fool of myself in class because I thought that 'FDR' was a swear word—so vehemently was it used at home. Imagine my surprise to find out these initials acknowledged a president of the United States. Russell has always admitted that he loved FDR’s wife a bit more than he loved the president, and the resulting tribute to her certainly shows his enthusiasm."

ANNE FRANK: HER LIFE IN WORDS AND PICTURES by Menno Metselaar and Ruud van der Rol
"No book written by a young writer has ever had the impact of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. Perfect to use with it, ANNE FRANK: HER LIFE IN WORDS AND PICTURES extends the text, elucidates it, and adds to reader’s understanding. Produced in cooperation with the Anne Frank House where a million visit each year, this small volume can be appreciated by those who tour the house and those who only can do so by visiting the house website."

BALLET FOR MARTHA: MAKING APPALACHIAN SPRING by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
"Of all art forms, dance, which depends on movement, remains the hardest to convey in a book—particularly a book for children. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan took on this task in BALLET FOR MARTHA: MAKING APPALACHIAN SPRING and succeeded brilliantly. At the beginning of the book, they write that though art is sometimes created by one artist, other times 'it is the result of artists working together—collaborating—a forge to something new.'"

MARCHING FOR FREEDOM: WALK TOGETHER, CHILDREN, AND DON’T YOU GROW WEARY by Elizabeth Partridge
"Explores in vivid detail the eight tumultuous months in 1965 that ended with the Voting Rights Act. On January 2 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma: 'We’re not on our knees begging for the ballot. We are demanding the ballot.' On March 7, Bloody Sunday, troopers turned tear gas and billy clubs on peaceful marchers. By the time readers come to the events of March 21, they completely understand what is at stake—and just how brutal the fight for voting rights was."

Contemporary
THE RACE TO SAVE THE LORD GOD BIRD by Philip Hoose
"In a book that covers two hundred years of bird history, readers first see those bird lovers of the 1800s, who shot, drew, and preserved their specimens. Then Audubon, another hunter, comes on the stage, who records details of his prey through art. Some years later women’s hat fashions devastate the bird population. Everyone wanted a distinctive plume to wear in their chapeau. Consequently, the Audubon Society was created—to try to convince those with a fashion sense to leave out the birds. Hoose moves with grace and dexterity through American history—the need for timber, the shrinking habitat of the Ivory-bill, and the wanton collectors."

ALMOST ASTRONAUTS: 13 WOMEN WHO DARED TO DREAM by Tanya Lee Stone
"With extensive research into the period and interviews with the Mercury 13 women— who thought they might actually get to travel into space during a time when only men were considered fit to do so—Stone explores little-known events of the NASA space program. In ALMOST ASTRONAUTS she brings to life the 1960s, a time when women had to think and act outside the box if they wanted to do something other than be a housewife."

With a unique career in children's books, Anita Silvey has served both as the editor of THE HORN BOOK MAGAZINE and publisher of a major children's book imprint. She is the author of several books, including HENRY KNOX: BOOKSELLER, SOLDIER, PATRIOT and I'LL PASS FOR YOUR COMRADE: WOMEN SOLDIERS IN THE CIVIL WAR. Her latest project, The Children's Book-a-Day Almanac, is an interactive website that she describes as a "daily love letter to a book or author," with each entry offering a glimpse into the story behind the story.

© 2012 Anita Silvey. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE
High Noon BooksScholastic FACEScholasticJoin IRA Today!Join IRA Today!