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Spotlight on YALSA’s Nonfiction Award Finalists: Fiction Readalikes for The President Has Been Shot! by James L. Swanson

2014 January 14
by Guest Blogger
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ThePresidentHasBeenShotThe 2014 Nonfiction Award Finalist The President Has Been Shot! reconstructs in vivid detail the tragic events of November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, as well as the days leading up to the assassination and its aftermath. This narrative makes the reader feel like they were there, and will lead teens to want to know more about what life was like during that era.

Try the following novels for excellent fiction companions for Swanson’s account of that terrible day in US history. (The book summaries come from the publishers’ jacket copy.)

  • okay for nowThe Wednesday Wars & Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt

The Wednesday Wars is a wonderfully witty and compelling story about a teenage boy’s mishaps and adventures over the course of the 1967–68 school year in Long Island, New York. Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.

In Okay For Now (companion book to The Wednesday Wars), Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that some people think him to be. He finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer, who gives him the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.

  • countdownCountdown by Deborah Wiles

Franny Chapman just wants some peace. But that’s hard to get when her best friend is feuding with her, her sister has disappeared, and her uncle is fighting an old war in his head. Her saintly younger brother is no help, and the cute boy across the street only complicates things. Worst of all, everyone is walking around just waiting for a bomb to fall. It’s 1962, and it seems that the whole country is living in fear. When President Kennedy goes on television to say that Russia is sending nuclear missiles to Cuba, it only gets worse. Franny doesn’t know how to deal with what’s going on in the world–no more than she knows with how to deal with what’s going on with her family and friends. But somehow she’s got to make it.

The dramatic events of the 1960s were felt by Americans everywhere, including students attending the Sacred Heart Boarding School in Alaska. When one of them, Luke, hears news of the assassination of Kennedy, the first Catholic president, it triggers fierce emotions that have nothing to do with religion or politics, and everything to do with irrevocable loss.

Luke knows his I’nupiaq name is full of sounds white people can’t say. He knows he’ll have to leave it behind when he and his brothers are sent to boarding school hundreds of miles from their Arctic village. At Sacred Heart School things are different. Instead of family, there are students – Eskimo, Indian, White – who line up on different sides of the cafeteria like there’s some kind of war going on. And instead of comforting words like tutu and maktak, there’s English. Speaking I’nupiaq – or any native language – is forbidden. And Father Mullen, whose fury is like a force of nature, is ready to slap down those who disobey. Luke struggles to survive at Sacred Heart. But he’s not the only one. There’s smart-aleck Amiq, a daring leader – if he doesn’t self destruct; Chickie, blond and freckled, a different kind of outsider; and small quiet Junior, noticing everything and writing it all down. Each has their own story to tell. But once their separate stories come together, things at Sacred Heart School – and in the wider world – will never be the same

-2014 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults committee in collaboration with Hub blogger Diane Colson

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