How to Nerd: Nonfiction Titles for This Quest We Call Life


Perhaps the ever-fabulous John Green said it best in a vlogbrothers video from 2009 when he summed up a nerd as someone who is “unironically enthusiastic about stuff.” For bigger-picture context, John had just seen the latest Harry Potter movie and was thrilled not only by the movie itself, but also by the sense of community and camaraderie he experienced in the theater while waiting for the movie to begin. And while this post isn’t about Harry Potter, the quote (and video) did make me think about exactly what it is to be a nerd.

For me, being a nerd is something I am immensely proud of. It’s come to be a defining factor in my life, something I embrace openly and enthusiastically. Tuesday nights find me at my local tabletop game store playing Carcassonne or Dominion with friends. Weekends are for sci-fi movies and 8-hour video game marathons. I own a Batman backpack, TARDIS lamp, and Master Sword/Shield of Hyrule/Ocarina combo. I pride myself on loving my fandoms passionately, even obsessively.

But what I’ve learned is that just because I read a lot of Batman comics, that doesn’t necessarily make me an expert on the universe. What I love about nerd culture and fandoms is that there is always something new to learn, to obtain, to work toward. But even for someone who already has a base-level knowledge, it can be daunting to jump into a fandom without some guidance. It’s dangerous to go alone, dear readers, take these resources to guide you on your journey! Continue reading How to Nerd: Nonfiction Titles for This Quest We Call Life

Browsable Nonfiction for Teens

With the Common Core and it’s emphasis on nonfiction throughout all subjects being adopted across much of the country, nonfiction seems to be on everyone’s mind. In a lot of ways, I think it’s a great opportunity for libraries and schools to more robustly and interestingly use nonfiction. I’ve recently begun to really enjoy nonfiction – especially history, exploration, and stories of true survival – and I’m glad that we are making strides to promote nonfiction to teens.

Just a handful of titles the teens at my library have looked at recently.
Just a handful of titles the teens at my library have looked at recently.

This is not really the type of nonfiction I’m going to talk about today. The books I’m talking about may not check out the most often from the library, or they may not be the ones you’d necessarily pick up in the subject sections of your favorite bookstore. They may also be unlikely to win a Sibert medal. But this doesn’t mean that they aren’t great books, it just means that they are a different kind of book.

I’m talking about browsable, high-interest nonfiction. These are the type of books that you can page through for a few minutes, show a funny picture to your friends, and then go on  with your day. You may check it out, or you may just look at it when you go to the library.

At my library, some nonfiction subjects that seem to get used a lot – that aren’t Common Core material – are Minecraft books (these definitely get checked out), music, cosplay, fandom related books like Doctor Who or Hunger Games materials, and crafts. Some teens also like to look through the books about music and dating. Here are some titles used by teens recently and I think are definitely work a look.

Rookie Yearbook One and TwoThese editions collect some of the content from Tavi Gevinson’s brilliant rookie website. Focused on girls, indie, DIY, and alternative cultures there are some great essays, photoshoots, and songs lists in here. Plus, some of the books have goodies like stickers or tear out Tarot cards!

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die : The title says it all really, but this books is really a primer of popular music history from the 1950s on. Definitely an interesting page turner and might help a teen find a new band or type of music! Continue reading Browsable Nonfiction for Teens

Librarians Love: Biographies for Teens

YALSA-bk is a listserv with lively discussions among librarians, educators, and beyond about all things YA lit. Sometimes one listserv member will ask for help finding books around a certain theme or readalikes for a particular title. This post is a compilation of responses for one such request.

by flickr user urbanworkbench
by flickr user urbanworkbench

The original request
Does anyone have a list of recent biographies that might be of interest to teens? My YA Biography section could use some new blood but it’s not a genre I read in overly much.

Suggested titles

  • A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown
  • Driven by Donald Driver
  • This Star Won’t Go Out by Esther Grace Earl
  • The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel
  • The Way I Am by Eminem
  • Girlbomb by Janice Erlbaum
  • Minecraft: The Unlikely Tale of Markus “Notch” Persson and the Game That Changed Everything by Daniel Goldberg and Linus Larsson, translated by Jennifer Hawkins
  • Continue reading Librarians Love: Biographies for Teens

And Now For Something Completely Serious: Biographical Comics

Baby's in BlackLately, I’ve been wanting to branch out from my superhero reads into something a little more serious.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some super serious superheroes out there (my fave right now – Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads’s run on the Punisher, but I digress), but for the sake of my family and friends, I thought I would branch out and read some brand new nonfiction comics so that I could add more to the conversation than just “Did you know that the Punisher has a coyote now?”  Lucky for me and other interested readers, nonfiction comics have just been getting better and better.

In fact, there are so many for me to choose from, it was hard for me to get it down to my top 5 for this post, so I narrowed my search to just books of a personal interest and biographical stories.  For fans of true crime, professional wrestling or The Beatles, there’s something on this list for everyone.  I hope to open it up to a broader nonfiction list later on, since I found so many great reads these past few weeks that will appeal to readers who prefer the true as opposed to the fiction.  And, trust me, I was trying to think of any way possible to get something in about Batman in this, my list of favorite biographical comics, but, alas, I could not.  Oh, well.  We’ll get back to Batty in the weeks to come.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf:  Okay, so this book isn’t exactly brand new, as I had promised in that opening, but this is seriously my favorite nonfiction comic of recent years, so that’s how it goes.  A perfect book for older teens and adult readers interested in true crime and history, My Friend Dahmer brings readers the story of the early life of Jeffrey Dahmer, the horrific serial killer.  Derf grew up with and went to Middle & High School with Jeffrey in the 1970s.  And, this book is neither sensationalistic nor opportunistic.  It’s a story of sadness – Derf, in his narration, often wonders what, if anything, could have been done that would have prevented what happened.  The black and white line drawings that Derf provides gives readers some distance from the subject matter, and his research is meticulous and documented in the bibliography at the end.  (a 2013 Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection) Continue reading And Now For Something Completely Serious: Biographical Comics

Teens Behaving Historically: The Civil Rights Movement in YA Literature

Martin Luther King Jr. March on Washington
image from U.S. Embassy The Hague’s flickr

Today, we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a leader and legend in the Civil Rights Movement of 1950s and 1960s.   And what better way to celebrate here at the Hub than to round up some of the incredible young adult fiction and nonfiction exploring this pivotal time in history?

While the major events and people of the Civil Rights Movement might be familiar, one aspect in particular is frequently under-appreciated: the incredibly significant role of children and teens.  From elementary school kids to high school & college students, young people contributed their time, energy, and passion while risking their futures, bodies, and even sometimes their lives for the fight for justice.  Nowhere does the strength of their commitment come through more clearly than in these young adult novels and nonfiction narratives.

Many of the significant civil rights events in the 1950s occurred at places central to the lives of children and teens: schools.  In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its monumental decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, unanimously declaring that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.  The ruling set into motion a renewed push for school integration across the country.

warriors don't cryWarriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High – Melba Pattillo Beals (1995 ALA Notable Book)  Drawing on memories, historical documentation, and her own teenage diaries, Melba Pattillo Beals shares her harrowing and life-altering experience as one of the Little Rock Nine–the nine black teenagers who integrated Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 amid violent protests and an eventual federal military intervention.  Her straightforward and honest prose and the inclusion of her diary entries make this monumental historical event personal and alive in a whole new way.  For another view on Central High’s integration, check out her fellow Little Rock Nine member Carlotta Walls LaNier’s memoir, A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School. 

lions of little rockThe Lions of Little Rock – Kristin Levine (2013 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults)

A year after the contentious integration of Central High, tensions in Little Rock remain high. However, shy Marlee Nisbitt is mostly worried about starting middle school.  But when her new outspoken friend Liz suddenly leaves school after rumors spread that she’s a black girl passing as white, Marlee must put her newfound voice to the test to stand up for her friend–and a larger cause.

Continue reading Teens Behaving Historically: The Civil Rights Movement in YA Literature

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

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

Spotlight on YALSA’s Nonfiction Award Finalists: Fiction Readalikes for The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb

The Nazi HuntersIn 2014 Nonfiction Award Finalist The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi, author Neal Bascomb recounts the heart-pounding search for a man who was responsible for the deaths of thousands during the Holocaust, and explores the aftermath of that horrific time. If you’re riveted by this compelling true life narrative, try the following novels that also deal with the Holocaust and its aftermath.

(The following book summaries are from the publishers’ jacket copy.)


  • TamarTamar by Mal Peet

When her grandfather dies, Tamar inherits a box containing a series of clues and coded messages. Out of the past, another Tamar emerges, a man involved in the terrifying world of resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Holland half a century before. His story is one of passionate love, jealousy, and tragedy set against the daily fear and casual horror of the Second World War — and unraveling it is about to transform Tamar’s life forever.

  • roseunderfire-weinRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbruck, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her? (Companion novel to 2013 Printz Honor book Code Name Verity)

Set in contemporary Israel, this powerful novel is narrated in real time by many voices: Sixteen-year-old Thomas, from Berlin, seeking answers to questions about his grandfather, a Nazi officer in World War II. Vera from Odessa, reclaiming her Jewish heritage. Baruch Ben Tov, a Holocaust survivor. Sameh Laham, illegally employed at a diner. His boss. Sameh’s friend Omar. A Palestinian doctor in an Israeli hospital. A mother. A soldier.
A newscaster . . .
Minute by minute, hour by hour, these lives and many others unfold—and then intersect in one violent moment on a highway outside Jerusalem. Each is drastically and irrevocably changed. What do secrets, hopes, dreams, and future plans mean after such a catastrophe? Can what was destroyed be made whole again?
  • mother_nightMother Night by Kurt Vonnegut

Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense. American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy during World War II, is now on trial in Israel as a Nazi war criminal. But is he really guilty? In this brilliant book rife with true gallows humor, Vonnegut turns black and white into a chilling shade of gray with a verdict that will haunt us all.

  • gentlehandsGentlehands by M.E. Kerr (Best Books for Young Adults 1978)
Buddy and Skye are from opposite sides of the tracks, but that doesn’t stand in the way of their love. To impress Skye, Buddy takes her to visit his cultured grandfather. But when a reporter comes searching for a vicious SS officer known as “Gentlehands,” Buddy realizes that his grandfather’s sophisticated bearing may hide a sinister past.
-2014 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults committee in collaboration with Hub blogger Diane Colson