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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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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

Written in bone : buried lives of Jamestown and colonial Maryland

Walker, Sally M.

J 614.17 WALKER

By presenting a detailed examination into the work of different types of forensic archaeology at excavations in both Jamestown, Virginia, and Colonial Maryland, readers are rewarded with both a picture of this fascinating work and an appreciation for what it contributes to our knowledge of history.

2010 Finalist

Almost astronauts : 13 women who dared to dream

Stone, Tanya Lee.

J 629.45 STONE

In the early 1960s, the doctor in charge of testing NASA’s astronauts decided to find out if female pilots were capable of passing the grueling qualification tests required of male pilots. Feasible? Yes. Allowed? No. All testing of women’s potential for the Mercury program was done outside NASA’s purview and without their permission. The reasons why will stun readers.

2010 Finalist

Claudette Colvin : twice toward justice

Hoose, Phillip M., 1947-


Hoose recounts the largely untold story of Claudette Colvin, who was arrested and jailed at the age of 15 after refusing to relinquish her seat on a bus to a white woman. Interviews with Colvin create a vivid picture not only of the Montgomery bus boycott but also the Browder v. Gayle case, in which she was a key defendant.

2010 Finalist

The great and only Barnum : the tremendous, stupendous life of showman P.T. Barnum

Fleming, Candace.


Thrill to the audacity! Gasp at the hucksterism! Come one, come all to the jaw-dropping, larger-than-life biography of expert humbugger, relentless curiosity seeker, and unparalleled showman P. T. Barnum.

2010 Finalist

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