Nonfiction Award Finalist: The President Has Been Shot by James Swanson

ThePresidentHasBeenShotJames Swanson, author of the highly acclaimed Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, has done it again with this gripping account of another assassination that also altered the trajectory of history and changed America forever.

Swanson presents the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to young readers in this 2014 Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults finalist a way that is accessible but never condescending. The first part of the book is called “Introduction to John F. Kennedy,” and that is exactly what it provides—a brief outline of Kennedy’s life, the circumstances of his election, and his major accomplishments in office. This section portrays Kennedy in a mostly positive light, perhaps glossing over some of his personal flaws, but in this particular book, I think that decision works. It is not a biography, and readers do not necessarily need to know all the lurid details of Kennedy’s personal life to understand the kind of leader he was and what he represented to the American people. The other thing the book does exceptionally well in those initial chapters is to build a historical context for the events. Swanson condenses the complex climate of world affairs in the early sixties into a few succinct pages, helping readers understand the times without bogging down the narrative in a glut of unnecessary information.

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Morris Award Finalist: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In the Shadow of BlackbirdsIn 1918, in the heart of World War I and the influenza epidemic, sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black finds herself living in San Diego in the care of her widowed aunt, a woman only ten years her senior. All around her, the world is responding to the tragedies occurring overseas and at home by seeking answers in the paranormal. Mary Shelley, a scientist and skeptic, does not buy into the concept of “spirit photographers” and seances, believing that these are ways for people to take advantage of the grief of others. However, a personal loss leaves her with experiences that cannot be explained through her normal scientific mind.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is Cat Winters’ debut novel. It is historical fiction built on an intriguing tale that is part mystery, part ghost story. The book is full of beautiful prose with vivid descriptions. As I read, I felt as if I could taste, see, and feel the scenes playing out on the pages. With the theme of spirit photography running through the plot, Winters’ storytelling mimics the creepy, yet beautiful feel of this art. While many novels use World War I as a backdrop, Winters has added a layer of threat by placing her characters in the middle of the influenza epidemic. Mary Shelley’s world is a very real, very frightening one. Far from the battlefields, she has to arm herself with a gauze mask before leaving her home. With doors and windows kept shut tight, her world is both literally and figuratively stifling.

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Gearing up for the YMAs

Are you ready? The ALA Youth Media Awards will be presented in Philadelphia at the ALA Midwinter Meeting on Monday, January 27, starting at 8 am Eastern! With this exciting event just around the corner, the Hub bloggers thought it would be fun to share how we celebrate these prestigious awards.shutterstock_102813506 [Converted]

Mia Cabana: This year I am getting ready for the YMAs by helping some friends (Lori Ess and Betsy Bird) make graphs and charts for the live YMA pre-show they will be hosting through School Library Journal.

Cara Land: The past few years I’ve been at the ALA Midwinter Meeting, so I try to always attend the awards ceremony in person. There’s something really exciting about actually being there when you can be. In the past I’ve tried to livetweet the event, but my fingers aren’t nimble enough to catch all the honorees and I get way too distracted amidst the cheering!

Becky O’Neil: Last year was the first time I did two new things: watched the livestream and watched Twitter. It was so fun! I had a couple co-workers with me, and we were geeking out over both. It was fun to watch some of the tweets actually get ahead of the livestream, and send out our own excited tweets, feeling like we were part of the fun, even from a library workroom in Ohio. :)

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Morris Award Finalist: Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Charm & StrangeStephanie Kuehn is a finalist for the 2014 William C. Morris Award with her debut novel, Charm & Strange.  The award honors previously unpublished authors with the year’s best books for young adults.

This story is about the struggle of Andrew Winston Winters and will keep you guessing to the end.  We know his family suffered a tragedy and that he was somehow involved.  His brother and sister are dead and he was shipped off to a boarding school.  Before the traumatic event he was known as Drew.  After that he goes by his middle name, Win.  Win excels in science.  The title gets its name from both the names of quarks and how people see Win.  Some find him charming, but most will agree he is strange.

The story is told in alternating chapters in the present and the past.  The present is “matter” and the past is “anti-matter.”  Kuehn does an excellent job weaving the details of Win’s current war within himself while giving us clues to his past.  Win has some serious anger issues and is prone to violence.  In one instance, he takes it out on a boy who beats him at tennis.  Win’s family is full of secrets that will have the reader wondering whether they have supernatural powers or issues with abuse.  Win has problems with his roommate.  Kuehn weaves the details of their relationship as she develops both characters.

It is too simple to call this a werewolf book.  The book is beautifully written.  I read through the book quickly because I had to know what happens next.  Readers who like more cerebral supernatural fantasy will eat this one up.

-Kris Hickey, currently reading Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

An Interview with Morris Finalist Elizabeth Ross, author of Belle Epoque

I am happy to continue our series of 2013 Morris Award finalist interviews with a chat with Elizabeth Ross, author Belle Epoque. Check out Alegria’s review of Belle Epoque, the story of a plain girl hired to become a beauty “foil” for an attractive society girl in 1880s Paris. Elizabeth was kind enough to answer some questions about her novel and even provided us with some pictures used in her research!

In Belle Epoque’s afterword, you mention that Emile Zola’s story ‘Les Repoussoirs’ in part inspired the story, but what made you want to set the book in this time? What do you think is so fascinating to many people of this time in history, and especially in Paris? I’m thinking the enduring love for the paintings of Toulouse Lautrec and other Post-Impressionists, and the continuing romance of the bohemian lifestyle. What is it about that time?

Salon at the Rue des Moulins, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
Salon at the Rue des Moulins, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

Paris at the end of the 19th century was a pivotal time in history. Technology, architecture, art and culture were exploding. It was the dawn of the modern age, where the ‘new’ was at odds with old ways of thinking in so many fields.

I’m glad you mentioned Toulouse Lautrec because his art was a huge inspiration for my repoussoirs. The world he painted and the Paris Zola wrote about show the ugly underbelly of a city that we usually associate with romance and luxury. These unbeautiful elements, such as extremes of class and gender inequality, helped augment the stakes and drama for my characters.

Lastly, setting my story in belle époque Paris meant I could examine lots of ideas about today’s society but disguise them in another place and time.

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An Interview with 2014 Nonfiction Award Finalist Neal Bascomb

The Nazi HuntersNeal Bascomb is the author of The Nazi Hunters, a finalist for YALSA’s 2014 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction. The book is a rewrite of his 2009 book for adults, Chasing Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World’s Most Notorious Nazi, and tells the story of the effort to capture Nazi Adolf Eichmann after he was discovered to be living in Argentina. The book is a work of narrative nonfiction, and also includes throughout archival photos and objects, like passports, travel documents, and more. 

Congratulations on your nomination! I understand The Nazi Hunters is an adaptation of your previous work, Hunting Eichmann. What prompted you to approach this subject again? How did you go about creating this new work from the old one (i.e. how much is new, how much is reshaped, etc)?

While researching the story of Eichmann’s hunt and capture, I came across a statement by David Ben Gurion, the leader of the Israeli State, on why he ordered the dangerous operation to seize the Nazi war criminal and bring him to Tel Aviv to face a trial. It would have been much easier—and much less risky on many levels—to simply have Eichmann killed quietly. But Ben-Gurion wanted Eichmann captured alive for two reasons: 1) To remind his country’s youth why the State of Israel needed to exist; 2) To remind the world what happened in the Holocaust.

At its heart, this secret operation was about education, about informing the world of deeds past. In that sense, the story was tailor-made to be written for a younger audience. Unfortunately, I was too dim to see it myself, but then I received a call from a wonderful editor at Scholastic, Cheryl Klein, who had read Hunting Eichmann and saw its potential for this audience.

To adapt the book for younger readers, I focused more on the narrative of events than the layers of history that surrounded it. I wanted to get to the center of who these individuals were who captured Eichmann and explain why they risked their lives to bring him to Israel. Everything else hit the cutting room floor. One could say that Nazi Hunters is truer to the events than the much longer adult book!

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Teens’ Top Ten: Thoughts from a Book Giveaway Winner

Charlefour_TTT_2It has been such an honor to be selected as one of the recipients of YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten Book Giveaway. My library is located in Michigan and we are a medium sized library—not small but not big either. Our library’s budget has been dwindling and the teen budget is the smallest as is the case with most libraries budgets across the country. With winning this giveaway, I would have multiple copies of the titles my teens were clamoring to have! Success, as it is always our goal to have titles available that we know that our teen users are going to want to have on our shelves.

What I have found is having these titles on display with signs, labels and also bookmarks listing the titles has brought even more attention to these titles. With the popularity of these titles, they are honestly not always available in the library. For instance, Veronica Roth’s Divergent series– I cannot keep the copies I have on the shelf, let alone on display for less than a day before someone snatches them up.  Perhaps, with the already given mass popularity of these titles, this would not surprise you but with them being on the list it shows the teens browsing the list that there are well known books on the Teens’ Top Ten lists.

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Nonfiction Award Finalist: Courage Has No Color, by Tanya Stone

CourageHasNoColorHistory and biography are among my favorite types of nonfiction to read. There is something extra powerful about a story that reads like fiction, is filled with the same themes that make the best fiction unforgettable, but rests on a foundation of truth and having actually happened. Even the most exciting fiction asks the reader to eventually think “what if this was real?” while nonfiction brings me to constantly reflect on how amazing humans are, and what can be accomplished in the face of incredible odds.

So in some ways I was predisposed to enjoy the YALSA nonfiction nomination Courage Has No Color, The True Story of The Triple Nickles: Americas’ First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone from the title alone. I should probably also admit here to a paralyzing fear of heights, so the idea of jumping out of a plane voluntarily is pretty unimaginable to me. Choosing to face prejudice, train independently, and jump out of a plane in the context of military combat is even more incredible, but that is just what the brave members of the “Triple Nickels,”  U.S. army’s 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, did.

During World War II, the U.S. military service remained deeply segregated. As the book introduced me to the men who would go on to become the Triple Nickles, it was humbling to me how many enlisted in the army when the war began through a deep desire to serve a country that would not fully accept them and afford them the same privileges as their white counterparts– a feeling reinforced as I learned that for most black men enlisting in the service at that time, the only jobs available were service jobs, such as oiling machinery, working in mess halls, or in the case of the founding members of the Triple Nickles, working as night guards at the paratrooper training grounds of Fort Benning, GA. Walter Morris noted that morale among his men was low, and formed a plan to start training in secret with the same drills that paratroopers practiced by day while on their night watch. This sets the tone of the whole incredible story: men who chose to become the best they could be at a job that was both dangerous and thrilling, in spite of receiving little or no support.

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Everyone is a Designer: An Interview with YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist Chip Kidd

GoChip Kidd is a graphic designer (he created the iconic book cover for Jurassic Park) and a novelist (The Cheese Monkeys), a comic book creator (Batman: Death by Design), and a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist (for his book GO! A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design). Mr. Kidd took some time out of his busy schedule to chat on the phone about his book, about how design is intrinsic to everyone’s life, and about which soap opera star he thinks he’s most like.

The Hub: Well first of all congratulations on being a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction finalist.
Chip Kidd: Thank you, I appreciate that.

TH: Why should teens care about design, unless they’re going to be designers?
CK: Well because they already care about it, even if they’re not designers. And PS, I also have the theory that pretty much everyone is a designer whether they realize it or not. There are all sorts of things about your life that you design either consciously or unconsciously. Whether it’s putting together whatever look you’re going to have for that day, or the way you have things arranged on your desk, or in your room, or in your house. I think there are so many design aspects to young people’s lives and I think it helps for them to just consider them and think about them and to, at the very least, understand some of the thinking that goes into pieces of design that they see or interact with every day.

TH: In an interview you gave to the New York Times, you spoke about how the idea of writing for teens made you uncomfortable and that discomfort was actually appealing to you.
CK: (laughter) It’s called masochism! It’s the cliche of being in or out of your comfort zone. I mean, I certainly don’t like being out of my comfort zone all the time but I think that it helps to spur creativity. And most creative people I know want to be challenged. If everything was easy all the time, it just gets boring. I think it’s an interesting, valuable trait for creative people to have.

Continue reading Everyone is a Designer: An Interview with YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist Chip Kidd

Nonfiction Award Finalist: Imprisoned by Martin W. Sandler

ImprisonedThis finalist for YALSA’s 2014 Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award focuses on the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II in a bold and compelling way. It’s vivid in detail and doesn’t hold back in its telling of a dark part of America’s history.

In my reading of many other books on the same topic, I’ve learned that the vocabulary used to describe this event holds a great deal of weight. The official term most of us learn in history class, “internment,” is considered sanitized and inaccurate by many who actually experienced this disruption and trauma in their lives. Japanese-American advocacy groups such as Densho tend to use the term “incarceration.” Therefore, Sandler’s choice to use the word “imprisoned” for the book’s title and “betrayal” as part of the subtitle immediately informs the reader that this book holds a strong position about the injustice of the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II– and the text most certainly supports that position.

Sandler’s clear, well-organized writing draws on personal narratives of Japanese-Americans who lived in the “internment” camps and is accompanied by a wealth of black & white photographs. The narrative is thorough; Sandler not only details life in the camps, but also puts the incarceration in context by touching upon the prejudice against Japanese-Americans before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He also addresses the aftermath of the incarceration during the following decades. The reader will come away with a clear understanding of this piece of history and its significance.

Reading this book brings to mind the dystopian fiction trend in YA lit. A government-sanctioned incarceration of innocent citizens, with little warning or a valid explanation? It sounds like the latest Divergent readalike, but sadly, it’s our history. Sandler’s book comes at a time when teens can make a clear connection from the futuristic fiction they love and the stark recounting of true-life events.

I think this book is an example of nonfiction that teen readers will really connect to. Kudos to YALSA’s Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award committee for recognizing Imprisoned.

-Allison Tran, currently reading an ARC of The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew