Friday, February 6, 2009

PiLibrarian's Best YA Non-Fiction for Adult Readers

Why read non-fiction for teens when there's so much out there written especially for you, a grown-up?

I offer several reasons, aside from the best one of all, Quality Reading.

Time - A well-written, engaging 160-page book (with pictures!) is a great way to start learning about something new. If you are hungry for more at the end, there's always the 500-page biography for later.

Appeal -
If you tend to be a novels/fiction-only type, good YA non-fiction is perfect for you. The narrative is often written as a story (rather than an analysis of an event or person), with character and plot development. And did I mention lots of pictures? Russell Freedman's photobiographies (Martha Graham, Marian Anderson, Abraham Lincoln and several others) simply can't be beat. They're also easier to share with differently-aged people in your house than are many adult-targeted books.

Variety - Young adult non-fiction includes a range of really interesting topics, presentations or formats that aren't usually found in the adult market: a blank-verse biography of George Washington Carver, for instance, or the life and death of Malcolm X in comic book (graphic novel) format. Also, the page design itself offers more variety: unlike in adult books, where the pictures are often bunched together in 8 page sections, in YA non-fiction, text and illustration appear on the same page, working together to entertain and inform.

Price - Books published for teens are usually $5-$15 less expensive than similar books marketed to adult readers. Important if you're not among the millions of clever folks who get most of their reading from the local library.


In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke

A first-person account of everyday resistance and heroism, written with Jennifer Armstrong, author of several notable YA non-fiction works. Opdyke was seventeen, blonde, Polish and fluent in German when WWII began. Captured by the Russians, she escaped and returned home to Poland. Pressed into working for the Nazis, she had access to food, supplies and information, and hid Jewish refugees in the basement of her employer, a Nazi officer.

Irena's Vow, a play based on Opdyke's story, premiered in New York last fall and opens on Broadway in March 2009.

Good Brother, Bad Brother by James Cross Giblin

A dual biography of brothers Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, two of the most commanding stage presences of the late 19th century. Edwin was dreamy, moody, and an outstanding classical actor. John was dashing, impulsive and a ladies man. Imagine if today, one of the Sheen or Baldwin brothers shot the President! Using historical documents, Giblin re-creates in detail the plot to assassinate President Lincoln and the intense manhunt for John Wilkes Booth. United States history was changed forever, as was Edwin Booth's life. Despite great later success on the stage, the ghost of his disgraced
brother overshadowed all.

The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler is another outstanding title by Giblin.

Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX by Karen Blumenthal

In 1972, Congress passed a little law with a little name, Title 9, that said any school receiving government funds couldn't treat boys and girls differently because of their gender. Originally written with math & science classes in mind, the law soon reached outside the classroom, and schools who wanted to have sports programs for boys became required to offer sports for girls too. You know the Olympic women's gold medal soccer teams? The WNBA? This is where those stories start.

Carver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson

In 1864, a slave girl named Mary and her infant son George were stolen from Moses and Susan Carver. Only the baby was found by the bounty hunter.
When I handed him to Missus Carver,
you never seen such a carrying-on.
All that over a puny black baby.
You'd have thought that Mary
was her sister or something.
Carver give me his best filly as a reward.
The Carvers raised George, who grew to be a botanist, an artist and a gifted teacher. George Washington Carver spent most of his adult life at Tuskegee Institute, working to find solutions to black poverty through better agriculture and new uses for common crops. The poems are illustrated with photographs of Carver and important people & places in his life.

Marilyn Nelson has written other non-fiction works in verse. Find them via the Library Catalog.

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marion Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman

How did a quiet, hard-working woman who lived only for singing become a seminal figure in the Civil Rights movement? Marian Anderson's voice was so beautiful, strong and compelling that everyone, black and white, royalty and commoners, wanted a chance to hear her sing. Racism denied her an indoor auditorium in the Nation's Capitol, so First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, thumbing her nose at racist society, arranged a alternate. On Easter Sunday, 1939, Anderson gave a stunning, record-breaking concert from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, to a crowd of 75,000, plus a national radio audience. She later came to take her own stand against racism, and because she refused to sing for a segregated audience, in 1955 Anderson became the first African American soloist at the Metropolitan Opera.

Freedman is the author of many other award-winning (and highly recommended) photobiographies. Add his books on Abraham Lincoln, Martha Graham, The Wright Brothers, Eleanor & Franklin D. Roosevelt, Crazy Horse, The Declaration of Independence, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott to your youth non-fiction must-read list. The Library Catalog shows all the Russell Freedman books we own.

Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography by Andrew Helfer and Randy de Burke.

The short life and times of charismatic civil rights fighter Malcom X, in words and sharp black-and-white drawings. The narrative draws heavily on The Autobiography of Malcolm X (written with Alex Haley), but also points out the inconsistencies in X's self-reported history. Compelling reading for both those familiar with the autobiography and readers new to his story.

America Dreaming; How Youth Changed America in the 1960s by Laban Carrick Hill

Almost as big as an LP cover (remember them?), this book is a illustrated portrait of the Boomer generation. It includes full-page photos, captions, sidebars, and chapters on the several civil rights & protest movements, the Kennedys and Camelot, the Space Race, and fundamental shifts in society that took place during this nation-changing decade. A great introduction to the era for readers who lived it, and those just visiting for the first time.

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