The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia

Jacket-6• Grade Range: 6th-adult
• Narrative nonfiction
• Author: Candace Fleming
• Title: The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia
• Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books
• 2014
• 292 pages.
• ISBN: 9780375867828
• Awards: Sibert Honor,YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults finalist
• Author’s website:


Book trailer for The Family Romanov

Nicholas the second was born into a role of absolute power. He controlled the fate of a sixth of the world’s landmass, had 130 million subjects and was the richest man in the world.

He was a very ordinary man, lonely as a boy, fond of his family, secure in his right to rule who through his sins and omissions caused streets to run with blood, destroyed a thousand years of tradition and, arguably, caused the death of those he most loved.

Candace Fleming does a brilliant job weaving together private letters, historic documents and first person accounts to make intelligible and riveting the unbelievably tragic history of the fall of the Russian Empire. To her credit Fleming covers much more than the lurid side of the story: the lecherous monk, the massacre of innocent children, the astonishing wealth. She delves into the political and economic reasons behind the revolution and provides cultural context. Page-turning revelations about the depth of the Tsar’s anti-semitism, his catastrophic mismanagement of the war effort and the sweet banality of his domestic arrangements form a riveting and chilling whole. This is an unforgettable tour de force and a superb read for anyone age 12 to adult.


Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery: The U.S. Exploring Expedition 1838-1842

Jacket-6• Grade Range: upper high school-adult
• Adventure related title
• Nathanial Philbrick
• Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery: The U.S. Exploring Expedition 1838-1842
• Publisher: New York, Viking
• 2003
• 452 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-67003-231-0
• Awards: Richie’s Picks
• Author’s website:

In 1838 a squadron of six sailing vessels set out for a four-year journey of exploration. The U.S. Exploring Expedition (Ex. Ex.) was one of the largest voyages of discovery ever undertaken. Led by Captain Wilkes, the Ex.Ex. redrew the map of the world; the 40 tons of specimens they brought back formed the foundation of the Smithsonian museum. Philbreck answers the question: ‘why have we never heard of Wilkes or the Ex. Ex?’

The story of the Ex.Ex. is filled with adventure and drama. There are many memorable moments: a snowball fight with Tierra del Fuego’s Yahgan natives: who apparently had flaps of skin that hung over their knees, some brutal encounters with Fijian cannibals: including eyeball munching, and an insanely close encounter with an active volcano. The expedition was charged with surveying Antarctica and determining if it were a continent. They were the first Americans to chart Puget Sound, the Columbia River and San Francisco Bay, establishing the United States basis for claiming those territories. The origin of the theory of plate tectonics stands out among the many scientific discoveries the expedition advanced.

Yet, as Philbrick maintains, the Ex. Ex. is fascinating not because of its successes, but because of what went wrong. Despite the expedition’s scientific discoveries and astonishing adventures, it came to be viewed as a colossal embarrassment. Captain Wilkes was insecure and egotistical with a talent for creating discord and conflict; his morbid hunger for recognition ensured his expedition ended not in glory, but in an ugly court-martial. Wilkes was universally despised by his officers and it is even alleged that Melville based Captain Ahab on him.

Melville and Shakespeare represent that personal flaws are inextricably connected to qualities of greatness; they are not just intertwined: they are one and the same. In exhaustive detail, Philbrick examines whether Wilkes successes can be divorced from his failures. Relying extensively on primary sources, including sailors’ journals, Philbrick recreates the expedition in all its drama and drudgery. Political infighting and petty squabbles sap the energy of the men. This is a fascinating study but, at over 300 pages of text, one few teenagers are likely to have the stamina to wade through. Like the member’s of the expedition: the reader’s eagerness to journey on is worn down by hundreds of Wilkes’s awful decisions and unnecessary cruelties. That said, for those who love true tales of maritime disaster and have an interest in exploration and leadership, it is a memorable and intriguing story.

Sea of Glory also acts as a fascinating counterpoint to Earnest Shackleton’s Antarctic journey seventy years later. Shackleton attempted to cross the continent Wilkes was the first to chart. Where Wilkes’ expedition succeed in its goals, lost scores of men and ended with the Captain despised and forgotten, Shackleton’s journey achieved opposite ends: he failed in his task, but due to determinedly optimistic and solicitous leadership, returned with his entire crew and is well-remembered a hundred years later.

Front matter: includes a Table of Contents, a brief author biography, and an extensive preface. Opening with Wilkes’ court-martial the preface establishes the context of the U.S. Ex.Ex. and raises the issues of leadership Philbrick addresses in the book. A modern rendering of the six ships of the Ex. Ex. Concludes the preface. Back matter: An extensive epilogue briefly explores the legacy of the discoveries of the Ex. Ex.: charts of islands in use through the second World War, the establishment of Antarctica as a continent, etc. The epilogue also discusses why Wilkes accomplishments were so quick to be forgotten, dismisses the idea that a cooler more capable Captain would have achieved more and lays the responsibility for the expeditions obscurity on Wilkes inability to partner with Reynolds, a talented officer Wilkes had severely alienated during the voyage. A notes section includes abbreviations for frequently consulted texts, several paragraphs outlining and annotating additional reading, followed by chapter by chapter acknowledgements and notes that discuss the origins of ideas and quotes. An extensive selected bibliography lists unpublished sources first, followed by published sources and dissertations and ending with a list of publications of the United States Exploring Expedition. The notes and suggestions for further reading are extremely impressive and let the reader understand the origins of information and argument. Acknowledgements thank experts and those who aided in the production of the book. An index completes the volume.

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous

Jacket-8• Grade Range: 5th-9th
• History related title
• Georgia Bragg, Illustrated by Kevin O’Malley
• How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous
• Publisher: New York, Walker & Co.
• 2011
• 184 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-8027-9817-6
• Awards: North Carolina Children’s Book Award Nominee~Cybils Award (Non-Fiction)~ALA Notable Children’s Book (ALA)~IRA/CBC Young Adults’ Choice~Kentucky Bluegrass Award Nominee~Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (YALSA)~Texas Lone Star Reading List~Truman Readers Award Nominee~Volunteer State Book Award Nominee~Garden State Book Award Nominee (Teen)
• Author’s website:

Georgia Bragg lays out the big ugly sad mess of death and how it did in 19 famous individuals. Her chatty and irreverent style is matched by Kevin O’Malley’s macabre cartoons.

Too often history for children omits the nasty bits. Bragg has single handedly righted that wrong: compiling all the grossest facts about the most gruesome ends of notable individuals from Pocahontas to Albert Einstein. As she forthrightly points out in her introduction: this is not a book for the squeamish. Even if you think you know how gruesome medicine was in the past, nothing could prepare you for the terrible ends of Beethoven or James Garfield: stomach drill or egg and whisky enema, anyone? And as King Tut, Napoleon and Albert Einstein’s corpses could tell you: even if the doctors don’t get you, the souvenir hunters will.

Bragg’s tone is often flippant: Darwin was “a few cards short of a full deck.” Her ‘take no prisoners’ style keeps the narrative rollicking along, as she blithely piles lurid fact on top of ghastly detail. Each chapter gives the circumstances of death and provides context for the historical period. Between each chapter is a two-page spread of facts tangentially related to the previous subject. Among myriad memorable items we learn a few priceless things Pocahontas noticed about King James I and the definition of Napoleon complex.

While the immediate effect of all this information may be to send you speeding to the bathroom to wash your hands, ultimately the account will impress you with both human fortitude and the endless remarkable stories history contains. Bragg’s enthusiasm is infectious and reader’s will be hard pressed not to share gruesome anecdotes and fun facts. However, as Bragg points out: “the people in this book didn’t become famous because of how they croaked but because of how they lived.” Not only does How They Croaked make an excellent elective read, it would be a fabulous way to fire up students before a biography assignment.

Front matter: Contents come complete with humorous and tastelessly named chapters: Marie Curie – You Glow Girl. An Introduction packs a strong warning advising those without ‘guts for gore’ to turn back. Back Matter: ‘One More Thing’ reminds readers of the important lives the famous dead lived and urges readers to emulate them and find something worth devoting your life to, since eventually everybody’s story ends. A diagram notes connections among the historic figures. Acknowledgements thank those who encouraged the author. Extensive bibliographic sources are divided by individual and chapter. Bless her heart-Bragg includes a wonderful annotated selection of further reading and surfing sources for kids, again divided by subject. An index concludes the book.

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World

Jacket-7• Grade Range: 5th-8th
• Current events related title
• Sy Montgomery
• Temple Grandin: How the Girl who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World.
• Publisher: Boston, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
• 2012
• 147 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-547-44315-7
• Awards: NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K—12: 2013~Booklist Top 10 Books for Youth 2013~ALSC 2013 Notable Children’s Books, Older Readers;
• Author’s website:

Autism prevented Temple Grandin from speaking until she was five, isolating her from her peers and family. Autism also allowed her to perceive as animals do: in pictures and with a similar sensitivity to stimulus. Ms. Grandin uses these strengths to advocate for farmed animals and has become a worldwide authority on how to design our food system to treat animals more humanely.

Sy Montgomery interviews Grandin, her friends and family and tells the inspiring story of her life. Lots of photographs, Temple’s drawings and attractive and informal design help to break up the text. Early in Temple’s life few would have predicted she would have a PhD., an international career and be the subject of a biopic starring Claire Danes. Montgomery and Grandin don’t sugarcoat the disruptive behaviors and learning difficulties that Temple struggled with. They chronicle the important breakthroughs: an aunt with a ranch, a kind science teacher, a discovery of a door that became a lifelong metaphor and motivator. Most important Temple learned how to persevere, despite bullies, workplace harassment, and bias. Through her close sympathy with animals she found something worth working for.

The book functions on three levels: as a triumphant role-model biography of a woman with a learning difference, as a story about an animal loving change-maker within the food industry and as a universal tale of the struggle to find one’s place in the world.

Montgomery goes to great lengths to explain autism in concrete terms that children will understand. Sometimes this is very effective: as when she explains why autistic children often twirl or engage in repetitive behavior. On a few occasions her pronouncements come off as overly reductive: “others, whose autism is milder, may be nerdy, geeky kids who grow up to make computers in Silicon Valley.” Like all ‘may’ statements this one could just as easily read ‘may not.’ What compels are the many concrete examples from Grandin’s childhood, which help establish both context and sympathy. Even as an adult Grandin retains a childlike quality that delights, as when she responds to a bullying gross-out tour at a meat packing plant by stomping her feet in the deepest, yuckiest pool of blood: liberally spattering the plant manager. According to Montgomery current data indicates 1 in 100 people are affected by autism. It is also true that an increasingly large number of children’s and YA books feature autistic characters, making this a topic with plenty of currency.

Grandin’s empathy with animals and her practical advocacy on their behalf are very appealing. Many kids, who struggle with social relationships and overwhelming emotions during adolescence, will readily identify with Temple’s assertion that animals saved her. The neatness that she, in turn, now saves them from unnecessary distress, makes sense. And, in a world where most food oriented books for kids emphasize organics and small-scale producers, it is refreshing to read one focused on large-scale applications. Grandin is eminently practical: she makes the case that partnering with huge firms like McDonalds allows her to affect the welfare of billions of food animals in the United States. Rather than being the bad guys, we see how giant corporations can be tremendous forces for reform; more than half the cattle in the U.S. and Canada are handled is systems Grandin designed.

Front matter: A foreword by Temple Grandin speaks directly to kids about her experiences and offers advice and encouragement. Back matter: An appendix offers seven pieces of advice from Temple to kids on the spectrum. A selected bibliography and resources provides books, articles, many websites and even a couple movies used in researched and/or recommended by Temple for kids, teachers and parents. The list, while divided by category, doesn’t indicate the recommended age group, thought titles are often indicative. Acknowledgements, a photo of Temple and her mother, photo credits and an index conclude the book.

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer

Jacket-1• Grade Range: 5-12.
• History related title
• James L Swanson
• Chasing Lincoln’s Killer
• Publisher: New York, Scholastic
• 2009
• 208 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-439-90354-8
• Awards: YALSA Best Book for Young Adults
• Author’s website: The author does not appear to have a website but does have a twitter account.

Outraged at the North’s defeat of the South, John Wilkes Booth took the chance fate offered him and assassinated President Lincoln. That death was the beginning of a 12-day manhunt that galvanized the nation as Union loyalists sought the conspirators and those sympathetic to the Confederacy helped them escape.

Swanson has written an unabashed thriller that plays up the astonishing details and gruesome facts of Lincoln’s assassination and the manhunt that followed. This is a condensed version of his 400+ page adult book: Manhunt. Frequently Swanson reports the thoughts and sensations of characters: Booth heard the dialogue on stage not a “words but like the last ticks of a dying clock winding down”- “Seward choked on the warm, metallic-tasting blood that spurted from his mouth and poured down his throat.” These vivid images do help propel the narrative but without source notes undermine the credibility of the text, which is a pity as there is much to be admired in the book.

Even though most readers will know of Lincoln’s assassination and the eventual capture of Booth, Swanson manages to keep readers on the edge of their seats as the events play out minute by minute. He has unearthed and brought together an impressive amount of information that lets us know what Booth did and said virtually every moment from the time he decided to kill the President until his death. Lots of period images and photographs break up the text and help create the mood of the time. Even those who think they know about Lincoln’s assassination will find lots of new information in this impressively immersive book. The lack of sources, photo and quotation credits is a serious flaw.

Front matter: a brief paragraph states the story is true, all the characters are real and text within quotation marks comes from original sources. A photo of the author as a boy accompanies a brief blurb that establishes the author’s long personal interest in Lincoln’s assassination. A list of participants helps keep characters straight. A two-page essay establishes the historic context of the civil war and its final confusing ‘lost-cause’ chapter after Robert E. Lee’s surrender but before the surrender of the rest of the Confederate army. A prologue describes Lincoln’s second inauguration and two subsequent public appearances he made. John Wilkes Booth, present at two of the speeches recognized he had missed chances to kill the president and vowed Lincoln would never make another speech.

Back matter: An epilogue provides many fascinating summaries of the fates of principal characters, including what happened to the bodies of some of the conspirators. A brief blurb about the author adds more biographical information. Acknowledgments thank those who helped and encouraged the author. A few libraries and museums are thanked but no specific experts are named. A map shows the route of the assassins. What is missing is any bibliographic information, any substantiation of facts or quotations, any credits for images and photographs or an index. Chasing Lincoln’s Killer is based on Swanson’s adult book Manhunt, which has an extensive annotated bibliography, copious notes divided by chapter and an index. I cannot understand how the publishers could have allowed this book to go to press with only a flimsy ‘everything in here is true-because I say so’ paragraph at the front.

VIncent van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist

bk_vangogh_265• Grade Range: 5th-high school
• Biography related title
• Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
• Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist
• Publisher: New York, Delacorte Press
• 2001
• 144 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-38532-806-7
• Awards: Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, 2001~ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2001~ALA Best Book for Young Adults, 2001~School Library Journal: Best Books of the Year~The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books: Blue Ribbon Book~Booklist: Editor’s Choice~A New York Public Library Book for the Teenage
• Author’s website:

Vincent van Gogh deserves to be known as more than a crazy artist who cut off his ear and painted some of the world’s most valuable art. This biography tells the detailed and very human story of van Gogh’s complex personality and his successful struggle to find his calling and create great work.

Greenberg and Jordan have collaborated together on many award-winning books about art and artists; their understanding of artists and their sympathy for them comes through in this sensitive and nuanced biography of van Gogh. The letters between Vincent and his brother Theo, among many other primary sources, allow the authors to let readers in on van Gogh’s thoughts, and also give glimpses of what friends and relatives thought of him. We learn that van Gogh struggled to find his calling, trying several different careers before he settled on painting. The authors do a good job of showing the evolution of van Gogh’s personality and the trouble he put his family through as they endeavored to help him.

No matter how interesting the details of van Gogh’s life are, it is because of his work we remember him. Excerpts from letters begin each chapter and offer insight into his art: ”I try to put the same sentiment into the landscape as I put into the figure.” Greenberg and Jordan devote a lot of text to van Gogh’s descriptions of his painting process: what it was he was trying to capture and to evoke. The reader gets a great education in art history while being given intimate glimpses into a fascinating and compulsive genius’ mind. While the book has many color plates, they are clumped together and not all the paintings talked about are pictured. For kids with Internet access, images are only a click away, but others will need to flip back and forth and check out other books to see the art.

Van Gogh’s short life span and his late adoption of painting mean that all of his work was completed in ten years, with an astonishing flurry of production at the very end of his life. This manic energy comes across, pushing through the authors’ elegant prose, making the biography crackle with energy. Readers come away with a strong sense of the passion van Gogh poured into his art. We also learn of the importance of Theo’s wife Jo; it was she who faithfully kept the paintings others urged her to throw out. She collected and catalogued letters, drawings and paintings, arranged exhibits and wrote the first biography of van Gogh. It is thanks to her that Greenberg and Jordan can show readers his vibrant art and enable us to relive his story.

Front matter includes contents, a map of the areas van Gogh lived and a prologue that vividly imagines van Gogh as he heads out from Arles to paint Harvest at Le Crau. Back matter includes a helpful biographical time line, a list of museums where his work is located, a glossary of artists and terms, extensive notes, which are divided by chapter, an extensive bibliography, photography credits and a brief biographic sketch of the authors.

The Dark Game: True Spy Stories

Jacket-2• Grade Range: 5-8
• Adventure related title
• Paul B Janeczko
• The Dark Game
• Publisher: Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press
• 2010
• 248 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-763-62915-1
• Awards: YALSA-ALA Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction finalist
• Author’s website:

Six self-contained chapters tell intriguing stories of spies and their craft, from the American Revolution through the Cold War. Janeczko makes the point that often, marginalized groups: women, African Americans, Native Americans and even one handicapped individual, made excellent spies, as bias prevented them from being perceived as either a threat or a resource.

While the chronological chapters are self-contained there are some overarching themes. Taken together the chapters tell a rough history of spying as it affected the United States from the Revolutionary War into the end of the 20th century. Janeczko traces the increasing professionalization of espionage as America moved from all amateur spies: including Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin and the amazing WWII double agent: Juan Pujol, to a trained force, schooled in combat, cyber-espionage, sabotage, survival skills, and codes and ciphers. While the professional training has lots of 007 appeal, it is the stories of the amateurs that capture the imagination, in part because they are a far more diverse group: Harriet Tubman and her 300 strong unit of African-American riverboat pilots and soldiers who rescued 800 slaves, an intrepid WWII agent Virginia Hall, who named her wooden leg Cuthbert, Choctaw code talkers, Rebel Rose the Confederate socialite spy and her opposite Van Lew the spinster who helped organize the daring behind-enemy-lines escape of 109 Union soldiers from Libby Prison.

The book is focused on spies associated with the United States; this includes double agents, Allies in both world wars and foreign saboteurs on U.S. soil. Of particular interest is the little known story of the extensive and effective sabotage carried out in the U.S. by German agents during World War I.

The organization of the book allows readers to dip in an out, reading about time periods or incidents of special interest. The text is enhanced by primary source photos and pictures of ciphers, which are a particular interest of Mr. Janeczko, (Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing, Candlewick 2004, Loads of Codes and Secret Ciphers, Simon & Schuster 1984). While most readers will be drawn to the book for the fun of it, the material is well researched enough to be useful in reports. The author’s enthusiasm and fascination with the topic comes through clearly.

The writing is plain and rather inelegant, but doesn’t detract from the compelling stories. Of course some information is missing or is debatable. After a fascinating account of the story behind the Zimmerman telegram: which precipitated U.S. entry into WWI, Janeczko repeats the assertion that “never before or since has so much turned upon the solution of a secret message”. The idea that U.S. troops were what turned the tide in WWI is a discredited theory. I could also wish there was more about the appalling Allen Dulles and the fact that, on his watch, undiscovered Russian moles sent thousands of CIA agents to their death and undercut U.S. espionage effectiveness for decades. But these are minor quibbles; overall The Dark Game is a fascinating, eye-opening and very appealing read for middle school kids.

Front matter: The Contents helpfully subdivides the six chapters into four named topics per chapter, giving readers a sense of what the chapters cover and allowing them to focus on topics or individuals of particular interest. An introduction explains the author’s historic interest in, and enthusiasm for, the subject. Back Matter: Source notes are broken down by chapter and quotes are attributed. An extensive bibliography is included. Photography credits are also broken down by chapter, making it easy to learn where an image came from.

Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H.L. Hunley

Jacket-3• Grade Range: 6th-10th
• Science related title
• Author: Sally M. Walker
• Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H.L. Hunley
• Publisher: Minneapolis, MN. Carolrhoda
• 2005
• 112 pages.
• ISBN: 978-1-57505-830-6
• Awards: Book Links Lasting Connections of 2008~Robert F. Sibert Medal 2006~ALA Notable Book 2006~BCCB 2006 Blue Ribbon Book~2006 Orbis Pictus Recommended Book~Bank Street College Best Childrens Books of the Year~Booklist Top 10 Sci-Tech Books 2005~Master List 2007 Rebecca Caudill Award~VOYA Nonfiction Honor list, 2006~2006 New York Public Library Books for the Teenage~Winner 2006 Children’s Nonfiction Award, Society of Midland Authors~Benjamin Franklin Award Finalist 2006
• Author’s website:

The fate of the Civil War submarine: the H.L. Hunley, remained a mystery for 131 years. The ship and her crew were lost, after sinking the U.S.S. Housatonic, until 1995, when underwater archaeologists discovered and raised her. Walker traces the history of the ship and reports on the cutting edge science and forensic anthropology that allowed archeologists to find the ship and unravel her story.

Chronological chapters outline the construction and design of the submarine, which was spurred by wartime necessity. Confederates desperately needed to break the crippling blockade of Charleston’s harbor and the Hunley offered a way. Walker discusses the submarine’s potential importance to the Confederate War effort but goes no further into Civil War history. The only discussion of race is the fact that it was an African American Union sailor on the Housatonic: Robert Flemming, who spotted the Hunley and gave warning. Pictures, maps, photographs and primary sources help convey the physics, drama, excitement and danger connected to the Hunley. Before her first official mission two crews gruesomely died in training exercises. These historic chapters take us up to the moments just after the Hunley earns her place in history: as the first submarine to sink and enemy ship in war, and leaves us with the questions: what happened to the ship and crew; what caused them to perish?

The second half of the book seeks to answer these questions as Walker traces attempts to locate, excavate and study the ships remains. Walker does a good job including the various elements leading to the ships successful recovery: tracing the efforts of a passionate amateur: Clive Cusssler and a team of underwater archeologists, through the legal tangle associated with finding a famous shipwreck, to the scientific and research breakthroughs necessary to piece together the puzzle of exactly what happened to the ship and her crew. Drawings and photographs help personalize and elucidate the science, which includes stratigraphy: the study of sediment, forensic anthropology: which reveals astonishing personal details from human remains and high-tech artifact conservation.

The range of topics covered by Walker makes the book appealing to kids intrigued by the Civil War, as well as those attracted to the submarine’s dangerous history and the adventure of treasure hunting. It is also a natural for kids interested in forensic anthropology. The team does full facial reconstruction for all eight of the crew. While an astonishing amount is learned from studying the ship and crew’s remains, many questions are left unanswered. Walker makes clear the story isn’t over and the preserved artifacts may yet tell a more complete tale.

A prologue sets the stage and creates a dramatic frame for both the historical and the scientific stories. We are introduced to the mystery surrounding the Hunley’s disappearance, the engineering marvel she was and the compelling science behind her recovery. Contents include not only the chapter titles but also list all the back matter including the glossary. At the end an author’s note describes Walker’s research methods and motivations and thanks various experts. A page of source notes attributes quotes and background information. Photographs are credited. A nine volume selected bibliography is included, but gives no guidance as to which works are most likely to be accessible to children. Two websites are included. Clive Cussler’s site links to reports on hundreds of shipwrecks he has investigated and the Friends of the Hunley site has lots of up to date information. A brief glossary gives definitions for twenty or so terms likely to be unfamiliar. An index concludes the book.

Bomb: The Race to Build-and Steal- the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

Jacket-14• Grade Range: 6th-Adult
• History related title
• Author: Steve Sheinkin
• Title: Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
• Publisher: New York, Roaring Brook
• 2012
• 266 pages.
• ISBN: 978-1-59643-487-5
• Awards: Newbery Honor Book~National Book Awards Finalist~Robert F. Sibert Award~YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction~Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year~BCCB Recommended Title~CCBC Choice (Univ. of WI)~Washington Post Best Books of the Year~Maine Student Book Award Master List~VA Jefferson Cup Winner (Older Readers)~Vermont Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award Master List
• Author’s website:

At secret locations in America, brilliant and eccentric scientists raced to develop the atomic bomb ahead of Hitler. Meanwhile teams of Allied spies sought to sabotage German efforts, while Soviet agents infiltrated and stole the bomb’s plans, before it was even deployed.

Sheinkin masterfully tells the big story of the creation and theft of the most destructive weapon ever invented. His cinematic style, and exemplary editing and pacing make Bomb a real page-turner. He introduces tens of characters, from Robert Oppenheimer: the original, brilliant absent-minded-professor, through Knut Haukelid: a Norweigan real-life Jason Bourne, to Harry Gould: an innocuous American whose desire to please caused him to hand the world’s deadliest weapon to one of the century’s most ruthless dictators.

Sheinkin packs his story with fascinating personalities and intriguing anecdotes. The well-chosen details and telling quotes let the reader get to know the characters and helps to keep them straight. It’s hard to forget Oppenheimer once we’ve been introduced to the fact he once got so wrapped up in thinking of physics he left a date parked in a romantic spot while he walked home and went to bed. Chapters end with cliffhangers, drawing the reader on. But like any masterful storyteller Sheinkin teases out our interest, deftly interweaving chapters on bomb development with those covering espionage and the political and practical maneuverings that led to the bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Sheinkin sets up his story with a dramatic prologue: the moment the spy Harry Gould decides to confess to the two FBI agents who had finally tracked him down: “Yes, I am the man,’ Gold said…There is a great deal more to this story. It goes way back…I would like to tell it all.” The final chapter of the book, after the story has been told, wraps up back at the beginning: with Harry Gold moments before the agents knock on his door, starting up the stairs to try to destroy seventeen years of evidence. An epilogue briefly explores the fates of some of the main characters: the spies Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold and Ted Hall and the scientist Robert Oppenheimer. A reflective essay briefly summarizes the arms race up to the present day.

Throughout the book period photographs, diagrams and relevant documents enhance understanding. The letter Albert Einstein wrote to FDR, making him aware of the danger of German development of atomic weapons, is reproduced in full. As usual Sheinkin’s source notes are exemplary: he groups his sources according to topic and provides brief annotations for each group to help readers research areas of interest. Photos are credited and all direct quotes are documented by chapter. The acknowledgments include experts who helped him vet material. An index concludes the book.

Bomb does a superb job of telling a compelling and complex story. It is clear Sheinkin respects children’s sophistication, curiosity and intelligence and that respect is both well-placed and returned. When I recently asked a seventh grade boy if he had read Bomb he replied simply: “it’s the best book I’ve ever read.”

For those who want more on this topic, check out the excellent graphic novel Trinity by Jonathan Fetter-Vorn. While it doesn’t cover much of the espionage it does an excellent job explaining the physics behind the bomb and covers the destruction of Hiroshima more thoroughly than Bomb. Another excellent complimentary book is Edward T. Sullivan’s The Ultimate Weapon: The Race to Develop the Atomic Bomb. Sullivan’s work goes into details about the secret industrial complexes, staffed by civilians, where the plutonium and uranium were produced. It also offers more material on the internal debate about using the bomb among scientists, politicians and military leaders and spends more time on the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out

• Current issues title
• Age Range: Grades 8th-adult
• Author and photographer: Susan Kuklin
• Title: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
• Publisher: Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press
• 2014
• 182 pages.
• ISBN: 978- 0-7636-5611-9
• Awards: Just published~Booklist starred review
• Author’s website:

Six transgender teens from diverse backgrounds share their experiences growing up and transitioning to their preferred gender identity. Immersive first-person accounts include brief editorial comments in a distinct typeface and, where permitted by the subject, illuminating photo essays.

Kuklin privileges the reader with an opportunity to hear the thoughtful and heartfelt reflections of six transgender teens. Despite the diversity of their backgrounds, ethnicities and experiences, what comes across clearly is the realization that as regards identity: gender is one variable and sexual orientation is another. Italicized authorial interjections help tie the narrative together and supply context but sometimes feel didactic: “School made Mariah feel like a loser, so she acted like a loser.” However the clear distinction between the teen’s stories and the editorial remarks allows the reader the freedom to keep perspectives clear and form their own judgments.

These personal reflections on identity, sexuality, societal expectations and biases, relations with peers and parents are fascinating in their own right for all readers. They are particularly useful for those who have a personal or professional stake in transgender experience. This is a valuable tool for expanding understanding of a marginalized group.

Back matter includes a detailed author’s note that outlines the research and interview process, essays that describe the work of the two featured organizations that work with transgender youth, commonly asked questions and answers about transgender issues, a glossary, and list of varies resources: including an extensive list of service and advocacy organizations.