An Interview with 2021 Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist Elizabeth Rusch

YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction is awarded each year, chosen from a field of 5 finalists (2021: Candace Fleming’s The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh). This year’s finalists covered a wide range: the space race, an international rescue, the memoir of a genocide survivor, and a biography of a complex figure in the narrative of the United States. But none is more immediate and practical than You Call THIS Democracy? by Elizabeth Rusch.

Cover Art

This primer on “how to fix our government and deliver power to the people” is clear and thought-provoking, delivering lessons and suggestions in accessible and meaningful ways. And in this interview, she expands on some of those lessons, reminding us that we all have a part to play in forming a more perfect union. With great thanks to Liz for this book and for her time in answering our questions!

author Elizabeth Rusch

THE HUB: Nonfiction titles such as You Call THIS Democracy? often make use of infographics and other visual features. These feel particularly effective, and I wonder how that process of design worked for you. How involved were you in the book’s design and graphic elements? How do you feel about the interplay between the text and the graphics?

ER: When I envisioned You Call THIS Democracy? I knew I wanted some powerful visuals. Sometimes readers need to see something to understand it. For instance, when I made the point that politicians draw bizarre voting district maps to manipulate the outcome of elections, I thought it was important for readers to see examples of these strange maps. 

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ALA Annual 2014: Stranger Than Fiction: Reader’s Advisory for Nonfiction

One of best programs I attended at the recent ALA Annual Conference in alaconfVegas was the very popular session on Monday afternoon presented by Jennie Rothschild and Angela Frederick called Stranger Than Fiction: Reader’s Advisory for Nonfiction.

It seems like everyone’s talking about nonfiction these days because of the emphasis on the Common Core. Rothschild and Frederick suggested a large number of interesting and appealing nonfiction titles for teens, many from YALSA’s award and selection lists like the Alex Award, Excellence in Nonfiction Award, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and Outstanding Books for the College Bound. They also had a lot of suggestions for great nonfiction read-alikes for popular fiction titles.

The books they recommended are notable for their interesting subject areas that can be read for pleasure, not just for assignments; have appealing layout/style or design, and, despite that so many are published for adults, still have great teen appeal. Rothschild noted that since there isn’t a lot of teen nonfiction published compared to children’s and adult, teens are used to reading up or down. Many of the nonfiction titles are notable for their narrative style that reads like fiction and the fact that they complement so many popular fiction books.

Here are some of the highlights:

Copy of BombSubject read-alikes for Bomb: The Race to Build –And Steal –The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (YALSA 2013 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, 2013 Sibert Award Winner, 2013 Newbery Honor Winner; National-book-award-finalist for Young People’s Literature):



  • The Ultimate Weapon: The Race to Develop the Atomic Bomb by Edward T. Sullivan (YA)
  • Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, graphic novel (adults and older teens)
  • The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein (adult)
  • The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Keiran (adult)

Narrative-style read-alikes:

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