Children's Corner: 'Bomb,' 'Moonbird' and 'Impossible Rescue' make for riveting nonfiction
January 8, 2013 5:00 AM
By Karen Macpherson Scripps Howard News Service
Even kids who aren't normally drawn to nonfiction may find themselves swept up in some of the great new nonfiction books for younger readers. Written in a narrative style, each of these books reads like a page-turner-of-a-novel, with one big difference: Everything in them is true.
Here's a closer look at a trio of fine new nonfiction books for young readers. Adult nonfiction fans also likely would enjoy them:
• We already know how it ended, but author Steve Sheinkin still manages to keep us on the edge of our seats with "Bomb: The Race to Build -- and Steal -- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon" (Flash Point/Macmillan, $19.99, ages 10 and up).
Mr. Sheinkin, who won critical acclaim for his biography, "The Notorious Benedict Arnold," combines his considerable research skills with skillful writing to present several interrelated stories -- all centered on the intense competition among warring nations during World War II to be the first to have a nuclear bomb.
While Mr. Sheinkin writes of well-known people, such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, who led the successful U.S. effort to build the first bomb, he also delves into the stories of others involved in the race. For example, he looks at why an American named Harry Gold decided to pass on American nuclear secrets to the Russians. And, in some of the most gripping parts of "Bomb," he details how a band of hardy Norwegians, part of the Resistance, helped destroy a factory housing a critical ingredient for the Nazis' nuclear-bomb-making attempts.
Well-organized, well-sourced and filled with black-and-white photos, "Bomb" offers a riveting new take on a now-familiar piece of history. There's no wonder why it was one of five finalists this year for the National Book Award, in the Young People's Literature category. (Note: Readers also might enjoy a new novel, "Shadow on the Mountain," in which author Margi Preus gives a fictional account of Norwegian Resistance efforts in World War II; Amulet, $16.95; ages 10-14).
• Here's how award-winning nonfiction author Phillip Hoose introduces the star of his newest book: "Meet B95, one of the world's premier athletes. Weighing a mere four ounces, he's flown more than 325,000 miles in his life -- the distance to the moon and nearly halfway back. ... But changes throughout his migratory circuit are challenging this Superbird and threatening to wipe out his entire subspecies...."
So begins "Moonbird: A Year on the Wind With the Great Survivor B95" (FSG, $21.99, ages 10 and up), Mr. Hoose's elegantly written tale of an extraordinary bird facing significant environmental challenges. It's a tale of hope and courage as scientists study what makes B95 able to overcome problems such as decreased food sources along his yearly migratory route while thousands of other birds die.
As Mr. Hoose tells us, B95 is a bird called a "rufa red knot," a species that annually migrates from "the bottom of the world to the top -- from the land of penguins to polar bear country." During B95's 20 years of existence, however, the worldwide population of rufas has diminished by 80 percent because of human changes to places where the birds rest and feed during their migration.
In "Moonbird," Mr. Hoose -- whose biography "Claudette Colvin" won the 2009 National Book Award, in the Young People's Literature category -- provides important background about the birds affectionately called "knots," and also takes readers along as he joins the scientific endeavor to study the birds. But it's tiny B95 and his amazing stamina that will capture readers' hearts and minds.
Mr. Hoose's finely crafted narrative is further enhanced with dozens of color photographs, maps, sidebars, copious source notes and an extensive bibliography. He ends "Moonbird" with an appendix spotlighting specific conservation projects that interested readers can join to help save birds like B95. As he concludes: "Extinction is the greatest tragedy in nature. Will B95's descendants be able to continue?"
• It may be the greatest rescue story that you've never heard of, a story of humans somehow successfully battling unbelievable odds. It's "The Impossible Rescue" (Candlewick Press, $22.99, ages 10 and up), which is, as its subtitle indicates, "The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure."
Written by Martin Sandler, "The Impossible Rescue" chronicles how a small group of tenacious adventurers, under the sponsorship of the U.S. government, journeyed 1,500 miles in the dead of an Alaskan winter to bring food to nearly 300 whalers whose ships had been imprisoned by ice. With the aid of indigenous Alaskans, as well as countless sled dogs, the mission was, as Mr. Sandler says, "arguably the most daring rescue plan ever devised." Even at the very end, the success of the rescue mission was anything but assured.
The coffee-table-book size, the countless black-and-white photographs and numerous journal entries by those who participated in the rescue readily plunge readers into the thick of the adventure.
Mr. Sandler concludes "The Impossible Rescue" with a fascinating section titled "What Happened to Them," which details the further adventures of the main rescuers, some of whom went on to greater glory, while others came to tragic ends. There's also a timeline, source notes and bibliography for those who want to learn more.