Nonfiction does not have to be dry and dulling. There are so many skillfully written books, too numerous to list them all. There are some authors who stand out, so I have listed a few of them here. Many more will be added.
Rhoda Blumberg – Everything that she writes!
The Incredible Journey of Lewis and Clark
First, I read Scott O’Dells, Streams to the River, River to the Sea, then I read Blumberg’s nonfiction book about the Lewis and Clark expedition, then I read an edited version of the journal entries. The entries of both men tended to overlap a bit. This edition is one I recommend: The Essential Lewis and Clark edited by Landon Y. Jones.
Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun (Newbery Honor)
When a nonfiction book wins a Newbery award, take note. The Newbery is awarded to best in writing. The text will not be boring and dry, but highly readable and interesting.
In 1850, Commodore Perry was instrumental in opening Japan’s closed society to trade. Blumberg explains the medieval feudal society that prevailed in Japan at that time including the shogun and samurai. (Because I read this book, I was able to follow Nick Lake’s Blood Ninja horror series better.)
Terry Deary – Horrible History series: The Awesome Egyptians, The Measly Middle Ages, The Vicious Vikings, and 50 more.
This series is the same format as the Horrible Science series. Information is presented with factoids, text, cartoons, whatever it takes to get the information across.
Betsy Kuhn – Angles of Mercy: The Army Nurses of World War II
Interesting book and a quick read because of the user-friendly format. Short blurbs and articles and plenty of photographs. Very little is published for the YA audience regarding the role of women who served during WWII and this one is very well done.
Jim Murphy – Everything he writes! His nonfiction is award winning and he strives to include primary
source documents when possible. Some of his titles that should be in most school and public libraries:
An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 (Newbery Honor)
Take note that this won the Newbery Honor, an award for outstanding writing. Captivating!
The Boys’ War: Confederate and Union soldiers Talk about the Civil War
This is one of my favorites. When one of my daughters was assigned a report about some aspect of the Civil War, I recommended this book to her. She loved it.
A Savage Thunder: Antietam and the Bloody Road to Freedom
Blizzard! The Storm that Changed America
This is another book by Jim Murphy book that I highly recommend. People died just blocks from their apartments in New York City during the blizzard of 1888. The blizzard was so dense, they lost their way and froze to death. The East River that separates Brooklyn from New York City froze so solidly that thousands walked across the ice until the ice was broken.
The Great Fire (Newbery Honor)
The Chicago fire of 1871 decimated the thriving city so much that many doubted it would ever be rebuilt. Chicago was a city of wooden structures at the time, connected by wooden sidewalks and roads. The fire, started at the O’Leary’s barn, spread quickly.
Martin W. Sandler – The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure
The synopsis from the publisher: In 1897, whaling in the Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast was as dangerous as it was lucrative. And that particular year winter blasted in early, bringing storms and ice packs that caught eight American whale ships and three hundred sailors off guard. Their ships locked in ice, with no means of escape, the whalers had limited provisions on board and little hope of surviving the many months until warmer temperatures arrived. Here is the incredible story of three men sent by President McKinley to rescue them. The mission: a perilous trek over 1,500 miles of nearly impassable Alaskan terrain, in the bone-chilling months of winter, to secure two herds of reindeer (for food) and find a way to guide them to the whalers before they starved. With the help of journal entries and photographs taken by one of the rescuers, Martin W. Sandler leads us on every step of their riveting journey, facing raging blizzards, killing cold, injured sled dogs, and setbacks to test the strongest of wills – with their own survival at stake.
Beyond an incredible story of survival, determination, and succeeding against the odds, the story is told in a well-structured format. There were so many components to the rescue operation, that switching between them is seamless. I envision many applications for this book. Students required to read a nonfiction or informational books will enjoy this. The story would meld nicely with our district’s Heroes unit so that multiple copies could be utilized in the classroom. This is an example of nonfiction at its best and should make the lists for the best nonfiction of 2012.