An Interview with 2021 Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist John Rocco

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 top five represents the best of the best in nonfiction, each of them handily able to rival the most action-driven novel for engagement and intrigue. These titles, however, also aim to inform, to reveal, and to enlighten.

How We Got to the Moon by John Rocco

John Rocco’s How We Got to the Moon (also a 2021 Sibert honoree) is remarkable on all those counts. It is also the only finalist this year where the author is also the artist. Rocco’s Blackout was a 2021 Caldecott Honor title, and his work has seen wide circulation via the Percy Jackson titles, for which he created the covers. Besides the sheer beauty of his work, in How We Got to the Moon, Rocco uses the art to teach, to tell the whole story of what it took to successful send astronauts to the moon and return them safely. It is a compelling story, full of narrative details to keep the pages turning; however, it is also a highly effective series of lessons in science and mathematics and engineering.

Thanks to John for sparing the time for this interview and for his wonderful book. To hear more from John and the other four finalists, click here to watch the Virtual Excellence in Nonfiction Celebration.

author John Rocco

THE HUB: The thing that might surprise readers is that you drew every illustration in the book. Despite a wealth of primary source documents and photos, you decided the illustrations should all be drawn. What lead to that decision?

ROCCO: I’ve seen many books that use mixtures of photographs and diagrams and maybe one or two illustrations scattered throughout, and I always felt there was a bit of a disconnect. I think for kids, especially when you’re handling such complex information, having it created all in one style and by one hand, gives it much better accessibility.

When you’re looking at historic events, like the Apollo program, there are so many fantastic photographs. They documented everything! But a lot of it was in black and white, and you’re seeing a photograph of a bunch of people working on a rocket, or the astronauts, and it’s hard to place yourself in that world. There’s a wall there. That is something that happened back then. And I wanted to create a book where you’re going through it in real time, so you’re in it. I think it’s a lot easier for readers to suspend their disbelief with that feeling of being part of the process, and I think that can be done with illustrations. So I had to just decide, OK, I’m going to illustrate this whole thing.

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Celebrating Women in Science

February 11 is the day set apart by the United Nations for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. To learn more, click here and watch this video about the experiences of nuclear scientists from around the world.

And for your collections, here are some notable titles by women and/or focusing on the achievements of women in the sciences.

The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another by Ainissa Ramirez

The Alchemy of Us by Ainissa Ramirez

This title, winner of the 2021 AAAS/Subaru Prize for Excellence in Science Books for Young Adults, is also on the 2019 Outstanding Books for the College Bound Science list. This blurb from the publisher helps explain why this book is a must for today’s teen collections:

Filling in the gaps left by other books about technology, Ramirez showcases little-known inventors—particularly people of color and women—who had a significant impact but whose accomplishments have been hidden by mythmaking, bias, and convention. Doing so, she shows us the power of telling inclusive stories about technology.

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Mathematics Awareness Month: Math Is All Around

As we wind our way through April, many of us take the time to celebrate poetry, but how many of us pause for Mathematics Awareness Month? It seems like the perfect time to dust off and update my second Hub post ever, Fiction + Math = <3.

Fiction math screenshot

In that post, I looked at math-related books in several categories, among them making money, sci-fi/fantasy, making sense of the world, puzzle books, amateur detectives/solving crimes, and nonfiction. Since then, protagonists Colin Fischer and Don from The Rosie Project have both lent their logical worldviews (each is on the autism spectrum) to making sense of the world. Danica McKellar has added Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape to her series of magazine-style math instruction books. And fiction books that simply put math themes front-and-center are still around, as with The Absolute Value of Mike, in which Mike’s dyscalculia prevents him from connecting with his math-professor father. Continue reading Mathematics Awareness Month: Math Is All Around