Cindy & Lynn's Top Nonfiction 2009

marching-for-freedomCindy and Lynn: We are kicking off a week of Bookends Best of the Year posts with our top nonfiction books to coincide with Nonfiction Monday. Thanks to Picture Book of the Day for hosting. What an amazing year for nonfiction. We are glad we’ll be in Boston for the ALA Midwinter meetings and the announcements of this year’s top children’s and YA media awards. In addition to seeing some of these honored by the Sibert Informational Book and the debut YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults committees we are hoping to see a Printz or Newbery medal or honor on a few. We’re listing first our joint favorites (alphabetically by title) and then are each adding a couple of solo choices. Since we are not serving on award committees this year we are taking the liberty of also including books that might not make it through the rigors of an award selection process, but that we found to be worthy of special note. (Titles are linked to our previous Bookends Blog posts or to Booklist reviews.) Tune in Tuesday for our Top Picture Book picks.

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone. Candlewick, 2009.

Cindy: A compelling read that made me mad, made me cry, made me cheer.

Lynn: This fascinating book made me indignant for weeks! Courageous, well written and carefully researched, this will get teens thinking.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. Henry Holt, 2009.

Lynn: This book is at the top of my list this year. Flat out brilliant and if it doesn’t wear a sticker soon I’m going to be very disappointed.

Cindy: The complaint that this book is not of interest to teens is unfounded. A natural for those who enjoy Jane Austen, biography, or the complexity of the science vs. religion ongoing debate, this has found fans in our BBYA teen group. When will adults stop underestimating their teen readers?

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, 2009.

Lynn: I love the structure of this beautifully written book that includes large sections of Colvin’s own words. Accessible and eye-opening.

Cindy: Just when you think you know all the basic details of the Montgomery Bus Boycott….did I mention that we need to stop underestimating teens? Claudette was 15 when she was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat.

The Cuckoo’s Haiku: and Other Birding Poems by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows.

Cindy: One of the most beautiful books of the year, with memorable images and details captured perfectly in the haiku form.

Lynn:  I loved this quiet book with its lovely poetry and illustrations but was surprised when our focus group loved it too.  A lovely lap book for close inspection.

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum by Candace Fleming. Random/Schwartz & Wade, 2009.

Cindy: I might have learned more in this biography than in any other nonfiction book I read this year, and I was amply entertained while doing so. Fleming gave me my 25 cents worth (what Barnum charged for his museum entrance fee) on every page!

Lynn: Step right up, readers of all ages, for one of the most entertaining biographies of the year!

Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm. Scholastic/Big Sky, 2009.

Cindy: The sun narrates this magnificent explanation of the complexities and importance of photosynthesis–no small feat for its young audience.

Lynn: I’m in awe of this book that takes a very complicated subject and makes it comprehensible for very young readers – and it’s gorgeous and fun too.

Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge. Penguin/Viking, 2009.

Lynn: Want to know how to write an exemplary nonfiction book? Partridge delivers a master lesson with this outstanding book: unusual perspective, clearly presented factual material, outstanding documentation and lyrical writing that soars as well as informs.

Cindy: Just when you think you know everything about the walk from Selma to Montgomery…we really need to stop underestimating teens.

Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Dial, 2009.

Lynn: Swinging poetry and gorgeous illustrations harmonize for a perfectly orchestrated book that tells the story of an amazing band, a pivotal time and the spirit of courageous people.

Cindy: Award-winning author and illustrator create something special here with instruments telling a story that opens in a New Orleans pawn shop and closes with Hurricane Katrina bearing down.

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small. W.W. Norton, 2009.

Cindy: Yeah, yeah, I know this was published as an adult book, but our teens love this graphic novel and so do I, so I am sneaking it on to this list. I warned you we weren’t playing by the rules.

Lynn: I love this too. Small does a masterful job of telling this complex emotional story using text and illustrations. Will this end the debate about graphic novels being literature?

Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting by Jim Murphy. Scholastic, 2009.

Cindy: Yes, indeed, Mr. Churchill, “What would happen, I wonder, if the armies suddenly and simultaneously went on strike and said some other method must be found of settling the dispute?”

Lynn: Murphy does the impossible by making the chaos that was WWI seem clear and understandable, threading the history with the poignant story of the ordinary soldiers who reached out for peace.

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker. Lerner, 2009.

Lynn: I learned SO much with this book and it was filled with the most deliciously yucky facts! Who would guess you could die of a toothache?

Cindy: Fascinating to learn the intricate processes for how forensic anthropologists can unravel so many mysteries by examining graves of centuries-old bones.

Cindy’s Extras

Mr. Lincoln’s High-Tech War: How the North Used the Telegraph, Railroads, Surveillance Balloons, Ironclads, High-Powered Weapons and More to Win the Civil War by Thomas B. Allen. National Geographic, 2009.

Cindy: Abe Lincoln as an early-adapter techno geek. What’s not to love?

Words to My Life’s Song by Ashley Bryan. Atheneum, 2009.

Cindy: A celebration of life and art. My favorite feel-good read of the year.

Lynn’s Extras

Mission Control, This is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon by Andrew Chaikin and Alan Bean. Penguin/Viking, 2009.

Lynn: It’s been 40 years! This great book, filled with Astronaut Bean’s paintings, recounts the history of the effort and captures the sense of wonder for a new generation of space dreamers.

Saving the Ghost Cat of the Mountain: An Expedition Among Snow Leopards of Mongolia by Sy Montgomery. Houghton, 2009.

Lynn: It was hard to choose between this year’s entries in the fabulous Scientists in the Field series but this was my favorite of this year’s titles. How do you write an interesting book about a scientist who researches an animal he almost never sees? Sy Montgomery and photographer Nic Bishop take on the challenge and the result is this lively, fascinating and immensely informative book.

Years of Dust: The Story of the Dust Bowl by Albert Marrin. Penguin/Dutton, 2009.

Lynn: I was mesmerized by this beautifully designed book with its stunning photographs and fascinating blend of history and ecology.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

1 Comment on "Cindy & Lynn's Top Nonfiction 2009"

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  1. Ed Spicer says:

    We are in sync with the nonfiction picks! I am very pleased to see Cuckoo’s Haiku! I love this book and would not at all be sorry to see this show up on the Caldecott list. The art is stunning. Cindy also picked a book that I totally overlooked when compiling my favorites: WORDS TO MY LIFE’S SONG. I want to grow up to be Ashley Bryan when I get wiser. It will be very interesting to see whether (or how many) nonfiction books make the big three: Printz, Caldecott, Newbery. Nice collection of lists.

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