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Recommended Reading Lists

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Notable Narrative Nonfiction

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction 👀

List from the YALSA "Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction"



Vetted List of Nominees

Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke, by Andrew Maraniss. Philomel Books. 9780593116722

In this insightful and overdue biography about one of the most talented stars ever to step onto a baseball field, Glenn Burke’s major league career is cut short by policy and discrimination after he became the first player to publicly announce that he was gay. 


Meltdown: Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster in Fukushima, by Deirdre Langeland. Roaring Brook Press. 9781626727007

A day by day account of the historic event from 2011, an earthquake and tsunami, and the effect those natural disasters had on the nuclear power plant and people. The book details the destruction by providing an insightful look at the science behind the nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima.


In the Shadow of the Moon: America, Russia, and the Hidden History of the Space Race, by Amy Cherrix. Balzer + Bray. 9780062888754

This book explores the Space Race between America and Russian. It highlights the lives of the two men at the head of the Space Race: Wernher Von Braun and Sergei Korolev by elegantly weaving in little known details.


Punching Bag, by Rex Ogle. Norton Young Readers. 9781324016236

A gripping memoir of his teen years in which Ogle shares his experience of physical abuse at the hands of his mom and stepdad while working through the trauma of a sister he never got to know.


Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter, by Veronica Chambers. Versify/HarperCollins. 9780358573418

Chambers uses her writing and editing experience with the New York Times to contextualize the Black Lives Matter movement from the United States’s history with racial injustice to the current protests. Her abundant use of historical and contemporary photography robustly supports the text.


Separate No More: The Long Road to Brown v. Board of Education, by Lawrence Goldstone. Scholastic Focus. 9781338592832

A long view of the historic 1954 civil rights case Brown versus Board of Education, starting with the "separate but equal" doctrine established in 1896, and highlighting important legal cases that lead the way for that doctrine to be overturned.


Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition), by Anton Treuer. Levine Querido. 9781646140459

Using a question and answer format, Treuer addresses topics around Indigenous peoples past, present, and future, in an organized and thoughtful approach for teens. This YA version provides updated commentary on events like the Keystone pipeline as well as thoughts on topics like language preservation for Native people.


Run: Book One, by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by L. Fury and Nate Powell. Abrams ComicArts. 9781419730696

This beautifully illustrated graphic novel covers the period of John Lewis's life after the signing of the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6, 1965, through his ouster as chairman of SNCC. The first book in a new series from the creators of the March trilogy.


The Burning: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 (Young Readers Edition), by Tim Madigan adapted by Hilary Beard. Henry Holt & Co. 9781250787699

Bringing together multiple accounts and scenes from Greenwood, Beard adapts Madigan’s original text for a younger audience. Highlighting successful Black businesses and people through first hand accounts and with specificity, the book brings readers back to the time and place that the gruesome event transpired.


When Can We Go Back to America? Voices of Japanese American Incarceration During WWII, by Susan H. Kamei. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. 9781481401449 

This exhaustive history discusses the incarceration of Japanese-American young people and their parents during WWII. Using a narrative style and numerous quotes from first-person interviews and oral histories, Kamei highlights the stories of children and teens who endured this terrible chapter in history.


The Curse of the Mummy: Uncovering Tutankhamun's Tomb, by Candace Fleming. Scholastic. 9781338797084

When Lord Carnarvon and Dr. Howard Carter rediscovered Tutankhamum’s wondrous tomb, mysterious illnesses and accidents began to afflict those working on the dig. Fleming tells the engaging story of the search and rediscovery of the famed tomb against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Egypt and rumors of the mummy’s curse.


2021 Nonfiction Award Nominations

2021 Nonfiction Award Nominations

**Finalist on Shortlist

**All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team, by Christina Soontornvat. Candlewick Press. 9781536209457
On June 23, 2018, twelve young soccer players and their coach became trapped by flood waters in a northern Thailand cave. Clear maps, diagrams, photography and first hand interviews capture every detail of the rescue of all thirteen, an effort made by hundreds of volunteers. Their rescue seemed impossible but, as Christina Soontornvat shows in this page-turning book, miracles sometimes happen. 

Almost American Girl, by Robin Ha. Balzer + Bray. 9780062685094
When she was 14, South Korean teen Chuna moved to Alabama after her single mother marries. Writer and illustrator Robin Ha recounts her experience as a lonely teen, one who eventually learned to belong by concentrating on her art.

Apple (skin to the core) by Eric Gansworth. Levine Querido. 9781646140138
This memoir in verse blends personal experience with family stories, cultural traditions, and generations of cultural dislocation. Gansworth's own art is used to replicate lost family photos and develop the Beatles theme that weaves throughout the text.

Banned Book Club, by Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada. Iron Circus Comics. 9781945820427
Set in South Korea in the early 1980s, Banned Book Club tells the story of a group of young people who meet to read and discuss books banned by their government, giving a deeply personal context to government censorship and violence.

Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease, by Gail Jarrow. Calkins Creek. 9781684371761
The deadliest war in U.S. history also led to a great deal of medical progress. Jarrow's expert use of primary sources makes for a harrowing, gruesome, and enlightening account.

**The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival, Amra Sabic-El-Rayess with Laura L. Sullivan. Bloomsbury YA. 9781547604531
In 1992 Amra's life is forever changed when Serbian troops seize her hometown of Bihać, Bosnia. Her family and other Muslims face hate, violence, and unimaginable horrors of war.  A enlightening memoir of a Muslim teen trying to survive through the Bosnian genocide and the stray cat that protected her family throughout all her ordeals.

Dancing At the Pity Party, by Tyler Feder. Dial Books. 9780525553021
As the author and illustrator of this graphic memoir, Feder's voice, both funny and touching, allows the reader to understand grief through her eyes. She uses imagined events and asides to provide not only her perspective on death but as a means to teach the audience how they might, too, survive losing a loved one. 

Dragon Hoops, created by Gene Luen Yang and color by Lark Pien. First Second. 9781626720794
Gene Luen Yang expertly blends memoir, journalism, history, humor and even a little action-adventure as he details the 2015 varsity basketball team from the school at which he spent years a member of the faculty. Chapters that alternate between games throughout the season and players or coaches lead to a suspenseful story that is difficult to put down. 

**How We Got To the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity's Greatest Adventure, by John Rocco.  Crown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House. 9780525647416
This extensively researched and illustrated account demonstrates the magnitude of ingenuity and creativity involved in the years' long effort to reach the moon. John Rocco's exquisite illustrations and diagrams pair perfectly with his clear text to illuminate "the grit, determination, and hard work to achieve the goal - also the problem-solving, the organization, the science, and the sheer cleverness of it all." 

Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight For Reproductive Rights, by Karen Blumenthal. Roaring Brook Press. 9781626721654
Jane Against the World tackles the history of birth control and abortion, from ancient times to Roe v. Wade, and then shows how the fight over these issues continues today.
In prose that reads, at times like a legal thriller, unfolding Roe v. Wade in scene-by-scene exposition, Blumenthal  also exposes the misogyny, racism,  and classism that influenced the issue of unwanted pregnancies for a century and a half.

Lifting As We Climb: Black Women's Battle for the Ballot Box, by Evette Dionne. Viking Books for Young Readers. 9780451481542.
The author highlights the lives and work of numerous Black suffragists, and, importantly, provides their views of white suffragists, and their many hypocrisies.

One Real American: The Life of Ely S. Parker, Seneca Sachem and Civil War General, by Joseph Bruchac. Abrams. 9781419746574
A member of the Seneca (Iroquois) Nation, engineer, attorney, and tribal diplomat Ely Parker was at Ulysses S. Grant's side for most of the Civil War, then the Commissioner of Indian Affairs during his presidency. Archival photos and personal papers give vivid insight into the experience of an incredibly significant and overlooked historical figure.

Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation, by Candy J. Cooper and Marc Aronson. Bloomsbury Children's Books. 9781547602322
In 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan was in dire financial straits. In an effort to save money, government officials decided to switch the city's water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. This decision resulted in one of the worst public health disasters in American history. Citizens were forced to pay high prices for water that was poisoning them. Journalist Candy Cooper and writer Marc Aronson break down Flint's water crisis and show how community leaders, with the help of persistent whistleblowers, were able to reveal the truth about their dangerous water and fight for their safety.

Race Through the Skies: The Week the World Learned to Fly, Martin W. Sandler. Bloomsbury Children's Books. 9781547603442
The 1909 international air meet in Rheims, France is told through wonderful photograph, firsthand accounts and suspenseful narrative. The layout makes the narrative even more vivid and engrossing: dramatic, large photos on glossy pages bring the event and its participants alive. 

*The Rise & Fall of Charles Lindbergh, by Candace Fleming. Schwartz and Wade. 9780525646549
Charles Lindberg is one of the most complicatedfigures in American history. Celebrated aviator, dogged scientist, heartbroken father, Nazi sympathizer, anti-Semite, unapologetic eugenicist, Candace Fleming shows all the facets of a deeply flawed American hero.  In a well-researched, engaging narrative, Fleming brings Lindberg to life, warts and all.

Say Her Name (poems to Empower), by Zetta Elliott. Little Brown Books for Young Readers. 9781368045247
This collection features 49 powerful poems pays tribute to victims of police brutality and  the activists of the Black Lives Matter movement. The extensive Notes at the end tie each work to an event or a figure, a film, a poem or poet.

Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning Stamped From the Beginning, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. Little Brown Books for Young Readers. 9780316453691
In this "remix" of Ibram X. Kendi's adult work, Jason Reynolds explores the history of racism and anti-Black ideas in a way that encourages readers to ponder what they have been taught and to consider any personal biases.  The conversational tone, strong voice, and fresh approach make for an unforgettable read and call to act: "to be players on the field, on the court, in our classrooms and communities, trying to do right." 

Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy, by Kenneth C. Davis. Henry Holt and Co. (BYR). 978-1250205643
STRONGMAN explores dictatorship by focusing on the personal trajectories of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, & Hussein. Davis' documentation of these five men and defines what the dictators and their regimes share, and offers a timely warning about the need to protect democracy.

We Are Power: How Non-Violent Activism Changes the World, by Todd Hasak-Lowy. Abrams. 978-1419741111
This book effectively covers the basics, starting with a clear and comprehensive explanation of nonviolent activism, then including the greatest hits of nonviolent activism (Gandhi, MLK, Chavez), arranged in chronological order. The narratives are fresh and interesting, and often focus on lesser known events and details, such as MLK's involvement with the Children's Crusade. Includes shorter descriptions of other nonviolent activist movements at the end. 

When Stars Are Scattered, by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed. Dial Books. 9780525553908
Omar and his special-needs brother Hassan have been living in a refugee camp in Kenya for years. Every day is the same: Omar fetches water, cares for Hassan, cleans their tent, goes to school, and waits for a way out.  Artist Victoria Jamieson expertly depicts the trials of daily life in the camp and the constant sense of loss in her emotional graphic panels and spreads. This memoir relays Omar's "valiant and agonizing struggle to focus not on what you have lost … but on what you have been given" as he finds family, love, and hope in the midst of hardship.

**You Call This Democracy?: How to Fix Our Democracy and Deliver Power to the People, by Elizabeth Rusch. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers. 9780358387428
From gerrymandering and the Electoral College to voter suppression and unequal representation, Elizabeth Rusch breaks down some of the most important problems facing our country's representative democracy. This nonpartisan guide to civic engagement offers ample suggestions for how teens can become involved in political reform.

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