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AWARD WINNERS: Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a November 1 – October 31 publishing year.

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Popular : a memoir : vintage wisdom for a modern geek

Wagenen, Maya van.


Maya Van Wagenen’s memoir, Popular, is one part 1950s popularity guidebook mixed with two parts courage and one truly modern geek girl. Van Wagenen takes on the social hierarchy of middle school and through the use of Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide manages to achieve acceptance and understanding. Her memoir is charming, funny, and shaped by the tools every ‘50s girl used to secure her standing in the social order—girdles, hats, makeup, diet, and a properly erect posture.

2015 Winner

The Port Chicago 50 : disaster, mutiny, and the fight for civil rights

Sheinkin, Steve.


As World War II escalated overseas, African American sailors at Port Chicago were under pressure to load bombs faster and faster onto waiting ships, until finally a horrific explosion killed hundreds. In the days that followed, 50 men refused to work under such unsafe conditions and were charged with mutiny. Sheinkin masterfully weaves interviews, court records, and other primary sources with his driving narrative to tell the complex and little-known history of the Port Chicago Disaster of 1944. Tightly written, this slim volume is rich in information about the history of a segregated military, the emerging civil rights movement, and the exceptional leaders and individuals of the time.

2015 Finalist

Laughing at my nightmare

Burcaw, Shane, author.


In this focused, intelligent, and most of all hilarious memoir, Shane Burcaw recalls both the normal and deeply unique experiences he has endured living with spinal muscular atrophy. With a sharp wit, Burcaw is self-deprecating but never defeatist, even in the face of his terminal condition. His anecdotal essays are thought-provoking, and his whip-smart style puts him in a league with some of today’s best humorists. In his eminently readable and relatable memoir, Burcaw’s positive attitude is inspirational without being the least bit cloying.

2015 Finalist

The family Romanov : murder, rebellion & the fall of Imperial Russia

Fleming, Candace, author.


Fleming deftly illuminates the fascinating life of Czar Nicholas II; his wife, Alexandra; and their children, describing their ostentatiously privileged upbringing, the dramatic fall of the Russian Empire, and their tragic deaths in this moving and insightful biography of Russia’s Romanov family. She unflinchingly exposes the flawed but human side of the royal family while simultaneously interweaving details about the rich historical context, from Rasputin and Lenin to the narratives of the poor and working class, told in excerpts from the diaries and letters of Russia’s peasants, factory workers, and soldiers. With captivating photos, extensive primary sources, and recent research about the fate of the Romanov family, Fleming tells a gripping, comprehensive story of life in a pivotal period of Russian history.

2015 Finalist

Ida M. Tarbell : the woman who challenged big business--and won!

McCully, Emily Arnold, author.


Born before the Civil War and living in what was truly a man’s world, Ida Tarbell was one of the first practitioners of what we now call investigative journalism. Although she is not well known today, she made a name for herself in her own time by taking on the exploitative practices of John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Company. In this fine biography that also serves as a social history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, McCully presents a readable and captivating account of this unusual woman, showing the reader her inconsistencies and faults as well as the grit, determination, and intellect that allowed Tarbell to support herself and her family with her writing.

2015 Finalist

The Nazi hunters : how a team of spies and survivors captured the world's most notorious Nazi

Bascomb, Neal, author.

364.151 BASCOMB

At the end of World War II, Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi leader responsible for organizing the deportation and imprisonment of millions of Holocaust victims, went into hiding under an assumed identity. Eventually he fled to Argentina where he lived and worked under a false name for 10 years. Bascomb tells the story of Eichmann’s crimes, his years in hiding, and his eventual capture and trial with rich detail and riveting suspense. At the same time, Bascomb introduces readers to the courageous Israeli agents, Holocaust survivors, and their families who worked together to track down, capture, and bring Eichmann to justice.

2014 Winner

Go : a Kidd's guide to graphic design

Kidd, Chip.

J 740 KIDD

This innovative book offers an introduction to the history and basic concepts of graphic design from one of the most successful designers working today. Using real world examples and rich visual aids, Kidd teaches readers how effective design can communicate ideas and messages, and he suggests ways to think critically about the design elements that infuse the media around us. Kidd invites readers to experiment with design themselves by ending the book with a series of 10 design challenges and offers a venue to share their work online.

2014 Finalist

Imprisoned : the betrayal of Japanese Americans during World War II

Sandler, Martin W.

J 940.5317 SANDLER

After the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, forcing the internment of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans. This detailed and compassionate chronicle of the internment years incorporates many first-hand accounts and photographs. Sandler skillfully provides context for the internment and also examines its lasting legacy by examining anti-Japanese sentiment in America before World War II and then the redress movement, which advocated for compensation and formal apologies for internees after the war.

2014 Finalist

Courage has no color : the true story of the Triple Nickles : America's first Black paratroopers

Stone, Tanya Lee.

J 940.5412 STONE

“What is it like to jump out of an airplane? Imagine.” From these opening sentences, Stone chronicles the courage and persistence that were the hallmarks of the Triple Nickles, the African Americans who pushed through military barriers to become the first black paratroopers. Their individual efforts, the eventual recognition of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, and the broader issues of segregation during the war period are illustrated with a with a rich collection of interviews, letters, and photos. Stone’s afterword, the timeline, and the detailed source notes offer valuable insights into her research methods. Ashley Bryan’s foreword and artwork add personal insight and extend the power of this skillfully told story.

2014 Finalist

Swanson, James L., 1959-


James Swanson takes readers back in time with a thoroughly researched and tightly written narrative of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Beginning with a succinct introduction to Kennedy’s early life and presidential administration, Swanson sets the scene for a detailed and engaging examination of the events before, during, and after November 22, 1963, when JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald crossed paths in Dallas with tragic results. The book brings events to life with extensive photographs, diagrams, and primary documents, and illuminates Swanson’s research and writing process with detailed source notes, an extensive bibliography, suggestions for further reading, and a comprehensive index.

2014 Finalist

Bomb : the race to build-- and steal-- the world's most dangerous weapon

Sheinkin, Steve.

J 623.4511 SHEINKI

In this suspenseful combination of science and history, Sheinkin masterfully exposes the international race to develop an atomic weapon and bring an end to World War II. This true-life spy thriller features an international cast of characters and will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Period photographs of key players and an abundance of primary sources bring this well-researched story to life. Sheinkin gives readers insight into what happened with all of the major players after the end of the war. A thought-provoking epilogue on the long term implications of atomic weaponry reminds readers that the results of scientific inquiry have long term implications for everyone.

2013 Winner

We've got a job : the 1963 Birmingham Children's March

Levinson, Cynthia.

J 323.1196 LEVINSO

Focusing on the experiences of four young people who were at the center of a pivotal moment in the American civil rights movement, this is the story of 4,000 black children and teenagers who voluntarily went to jail between May 2 and May 11, 1963. In the end, the children succeeded where adults had failed, and one of the most racially violent cities in America was desegregated.

2013 Finalist

Titanic : voices from the disaster

Hopkinson, Deborah.


This moving, exciting history of the 1912 disaster reads like an action movie with cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. The additional material, ranging from the only surviving photos of the inside of the boat during its journey to diagrams and timelines to accounts of what happened to the survivors afterwards, is exhaustive and meticulously researched. Readers will find themselves hoping that this time, the boat doesn’t sink.

2013 Finalist

Moonbird : a year on the wind with the great survivor B95

Hoose, Phillip M., 1947-

J 598.0723 HOOSE

Moonbird is a fascinating look at the life of rufa red knots in general and B95, one long-lived and tough little bird in particular, and the worldwide efforts to understand and save this subspecies of bird from extinction. Through maps, photos, and descriptions of his journey, the reader will fly with B95 from near the bottom of the world to the top and back again.

2013 Finalist

Steve Jobs : the man who thought different : a biography

Blumenthal, Karen.


Equally reviled and revered — often by the same people — Steve Jobs, the man who operated from his own “reality distortion field,” was an extraordinary “tweaker” who transcended the visionary to perfect the simple and transform the world as we know it. Skillfully crafted and meticulously researched, Blumenthal’s accessible biography presents an intimate and fully dimensional portrait of a complex American icon and the multiple trajectories of influence on our technological paradigms that define his enduring legacy.

2013 Finalist

The notorious Benedict Arnold : a true story of adventure, heroism, & treachery

Sheinkin, Steve.


Treating history as mystery, Sheinkin takes readers through means, motive, and opportunity as he outlines Arnold’s path towards treason. This well researched (with liberal use of primary sources) cradle to grave biography emphasizes the political, social, and military issues within the Colonial army and how Arnold ambitiously maneuvered his own career through grit and determination.

2012 Winner

Music was it : young Leonard Bernstein

Rubin, Susan Goldman.


Rubin entices readers with her lively account of the challenging and passionate life of young Leonard Bernstein, beginning with his childhood in Boston and concluding with his brilliant conducting debut, at the age of twenty-five, at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic. A short epilogue relates the remainder of Bernstein's memorable life. A timeline, brief biographies of friends and colleagues, a discography, a bibliography, sources of quotations, photo credits and permissions, and an index add to the informative value of this fascinating glimpse into the formative years of a musical genius.

2012 Finalist

Wheels of change : how women rode the bicycle to freedom (with a few flat tires along the way)

Macy, Sue.

J 796.6082 MACY

With the invention of the bicycle, women began by riding sidesaddle but quickly switched to riding astride sleek two-wheelers as they left their restraining corsets and petticoats in the dust with bloomers their preferred bicycling outfit. Adventurer or activist, young or old, African American or white, many women quickly adopted this new mode of transportation. As the period photographs, colorful advertisements, sidebars, and primary source material proclaim, bicycles empowered women to seek the freedom they’d long been denied.

2012 Finalist

Sugar changed the world : a story of magic, spice, slavery, freedom, and science

Aronson, Marc.


Blending facts with a fascinating personal narrative, this true tale of the sugar trail provides readers with an intimate and troubling portrait of the white grains that sweeten everything from their coffee to their bubblegum. The authors use both their own family histories and as many individual accounts as possible to demonstrate that sugar changed the course of commerce, government, slavery, invention and immigration. This complex and challenging history is supported by sharp black and white photos (with links to color images) and detailed source notes.

2012 Finalist

Bootleg : murder, moonshine, and the lawless years of prohibition

Blumenthal, Karen.


This impeccably researched account of the history of the Temperance movement provides an interesting look at the societal issues and historical figures behind the passage of the 18th Amendment. Blumenthal also describes the unintended consequences of gangsters (including the famous Al Capone) committing alcohol-related crimes, as well as adults and children ignoring the law to bootleg and smuggle during the 13 years it was in effect. Black and white photos, archival materials, and a glossary enhance this engaging and readable work.

2012 Finalist

Janis Joplin : rise up singing

Angel, Ann, 1952-


From her humble beginnings in a small town in Texas to her marquee life as a superstar of '60s rock, Janis Joplin remains an icon of music. Despite her short life, she left an indelible impression on the music of an era.

Winner 2011

The dark game : true spy stories

Janeczko, Paul B.

J 327.73 JANECZK

This compilation of different spies carries readers from the Revolutionary War through the infamous Cold War era. Delve into stories about the Choctaw Code Talkers of WWI, Soviet moles, Mata Hari and more as you uncover just how they changed the course of history.

2011 Finalist

Spies of Mississippi : the true story of the spy network that tried to destroy the civil rights movement

Bowers, Rick, 1952-

TEEN 323.1196 BOWERS

In 1958, the state of Mississippi began an undercover operation, The Sovereignty Commission, to spy on and potentially squelch the Civil Rights movement. Bowers' expose of this unknown organization reveals the extent to which some were willing to go to see segregation remain the law of the state.

2011 Finalist

They called themselves the K.K.K. : the birth of an American terrorist group

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell.


Bartoletti provides readers with an in-depth look at the formation of the KKK and its subsequent evolution into a violent organization. With primary source material, she details the horrific history of the Ku Klux Klan and the people who fell victim to its reign of terror.

Finalist 2011

Charles and Emma : the Darwins' leap of faith

Heiligman, Deborah.


After creating a list of the pros and cons of marriage, science-minded Charles Darwin chooses to marry his strictly religious first cousin. Little does he know that he is about to embark upon the most loving, creative, and intellectually important relationship of his life.

2010 Winner

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