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Nonfiction Reviews of 2016 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Winner and Honor Books

Nonfiction Winner

sheinkin_most dangerousstar2 Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret 
History of the Vietnam War
by Steve Sheinkin
Middle School, High School   Roaring Brook   361 pp.
9/15   978-1-59643-952-8   $19.99   g

Without a wasted word or scene, and with the timing and prowess of a writer of thrillers, Sheinkin takes on a spectacularly complex story — and makes it comprehensible to teen readers: how Daniel Ellsberg evolved from a committed “cold warrior” to an antiwar activist, and why and how he leaked the Pentagon Papers — “seven thousand pages of documentary evidence of lying, by four presidents and their administrations over twenty-three years” — which led to the Watergate Scandal, the fall of the Nixon administration, and, finally, the end of the Vietnam War. From the very beginning of his account, Sheinkin demonstrates the human drama unfolding behind the scenes; the secrecy surrounding White House and Pentagon decisions; the disconnect between the public and private statements of our nation’s leaders. Throughout, readers will find themselves confronted by large, timely questions, all of which emerge organically from the book’s events: Can we trust our government? How do we know? How much secrecy is too much? The enormous amount of incorporated primary-source documentation (from interviews with Daniel Ellsberg himself to White House recordings) means not only that readers know much more than ordinary U.S. citizens did at the time but that every conversation and re-enacted scene feels immediate and compelling. Sheinkin (Bomb, rev. 11/12; The Port Chicago 50, rev. 3/14) has an unparalleled gift for synthesizing story and bringing American history to life; here, he’s outdone even himself. Meticulous scholarship includes a full thirty-
six pages of bibliography and source notes; judiciously placed archival photographs add to the sense of time and place. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books

anderson_symphony for the city of the deadSymphony for the 
City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and 
the Siege of Leningrad
by M. T. Anderson
High School   Candlewick   424 pp.
9/15   978-0-7636-6818-1   $24.99   g

Accomplished novelist Anderson presents an ambitious work of nonfiction encompassing the life of composer Dmitri Shostakovich, the early political history of the U.S.S.R., and the nation’s horrific suffering during WWII. Initially inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution, Shostakovich’s music changed as he witnessed friends and family suffer torture, disappearance, and death during Stalin’s Reign of Terror. Alternately denounced and celebrated by Soviet authorities, Shostakovich lived in fear of the NKVD arriving at his door. The book’s centerpiece is his Leningrad Symphony, embraced by audiences and the authorities alike; the varied movements offered both catharsis and hope at the nation’s darkest hour. Was Shostakovich a Soviet propagandist or covert dissenter, telling truths through his music about Stalin’s atrocities against his own people? Anderson notes the challenge of researching a subject for whose life “even the basic facts…are often contested”; this uncertainty results in the sometimes distracting reliance on perhaps and supposedly. The densely packed account changes focus throughout, from poetic descriptions of the composer’s work to stark depictions of starvation in Leningrad and the disastrous effects of Stalin’s purges. Narrative momentum rises and falls unevenly as the story shifts; it’s a lot to process for readers, for whom most of the material will be new. An extensive selection of black-and-white photographs helps define the wide range of subjects and settings; meticulous scholarship is evident in the detailed source notes, bibliography, and the author’s note addressing the credibility of research material. “There are few composers whose music and whose own lives reflect so exactly the trials and triumphs of the nation,” Anderson writes — revealing his reason and inspiration for this sweeping and emotionally charged account of events during Shostakovich’s lifetime. LAUREN ADAMS

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

weatherford_voice of freedomstar2 Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of 
the Civil Rights Movement
by Carole Boston Weatherford; 
illus. by Ekua Holmes
Intermediate   Candlewick   45 pp.
8/15   978-0-7636-6531-9   $17.99

Weatherford’s latest picture-book biography (Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, rev. 11/06; I, Matthew Henson, rev. 3/08; among many others) chronicles the life of civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer, from her beginnings as the youngest child of Mississippi sharecroppers, through the evolution of her political awareness, to her lasting impact on the civil rights movement. Weatherford incorporates direct quotes (indicated by italics and sourced in the endnotes) into her free-verse text, using a conversational, colloquial voice that makes the transitions seamless. The book tackles complex and little-addressed aspects of life under Jim Crow (such as Hamer’s forced sterilization under a Mississippi law) and of the civil rights movement (such as the battle she waged at the 1964 Democratic convention against proposed compromises that would have weakened the movement). Artist Holmes, in her children’s literature debut, elevates an already-excellent narrative with richly colored collage illustrations that layer meaning upon meaning with scraps of historical photos, newsprint, maps, musical scores, and more. Using shadows, patterns, and alternately vast and intimate perspectives, she adds emotional heft to the contrasts between Hamer’s public stature and personal experiences. This majestic biography offers a detailed, intelligible overview of Hamer’s life while never losing the thread of her motivations, fears, and heroic triumphs; and places the civil rights movement in personal, local, national, and international contexts. An extensively detailed timeline, an author’s note, source notes, and a bibliography are appended. CLAIRE GROSS

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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The 2016 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners and honors were announced — via video for the first time! — on June 2nd, 2016. For reviews of the picture book and fiction winners and more, click on the tag bghb16.

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