Subscribe to The Horn Book

Reviews of the 2013 Sibert Award winners

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin Winner: Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (Flash Point/Roaring Brook)
While comprehensive in his synthesis of the political, historical, and scientific aspects of the creation of the first nuclear weapon, Sheinkin focuses his account with an extremely alluring angle: the spies. The book opens in 1950 with the confession of Harry Gold — but to what? And thus we flash back to Robert Oppenheimer in the dark 1930s, as he and readers are handed another question by the author: “But how was a theoretical physicist supposed to save the world?” Oppenheimer’s realization that an atomic bomb could be created to use against Nazi Germany is coupled with the knowledge that the Germans must be working from the same premise, and the Soviets are close behind. We periodically return to Gold’s ever-deepening betrayals as well as other acts of espionage, most excitingly the two stealth attacks on occupied Norway’s Vemork power plant, where the Germans were manufacturing heavy water to use in their own nuclear program. As he did in the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner The Notorious Benedict Arnold (rev. 1/11), Sheinkin here maintains the pace of a thriller without betraying history (source notes and an annotated bibliography are exemplary) or skipping over the science; photo galleries introducing each section help readers organize the events and players. Writing with journalistic immediacy, the author eschews editorializing up through the chilling last lines: “It’s a story with no end in sight. And, like it or not, you’re in it.” Index. ROGER SUTTON

Electric Ben  Honor: Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd; illus. by the author (Dial)
With a jacket showing Benjamin Franklin as a cross between a mad scientist and a superhero standing amid wild lightning bolts and surrounded by all manner of electrical devices, this book shimmers with excitement, begging to be read. Byrd divides Franklin’s life into seventeen often whimsically labeled double-page spreads, beginning with his childhood and ending with his death. Two such spreads (“Coaxing Sparks from the Sky” and “The Wonderful Effects of Points”) deal with his fascination with electricity, with the remainder covering topics ranging from his ideas for social progress (such as a lending library and fire department) to his diplomatic roles before, during, and after the American Revolution. An informative, exploratory, nonpandering text (“Franklin’s expertise lay in making the most of the printed page, delighting those who agreed with him, and disarming those who did not; always keeping all parties anticipating his next move”) is set amid an attractive page layout. Nicely developed and designed spot art and larger illustrations on every page serve as internal end notes, explaining tangential information, giving more detail to certain ideas, and providing a visual record of Ben’s life and times. An author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and recommended readings complete the book. BETTY CARTER

Moonbird by Phillip M. Hoose Honor: Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 written by Phillip M. Hoose (Farrar)
He’s called “Moonbird” because, over a lifespan of twenty years, he’s flown some 325,000 miles, the distance to the moon and almost halfway back. This robin-sized red knot (subspecies rufa), a shorebird, is in southern Argentina from October to February and in the Arctic, breeding, for a few summer weeks; between times, his great migrating flock is like a “constantly shifting organism — now a ball, now a rippling blanket” as the birds fly nearly from pole to pole twice a year. Stops are few but strategic; after thousands of miles it’s essential to bulk up with what’s available at the same few sites each year: mosquito larvae, mussels, horseshoe crab eggs. Thanks to banding and photography by scientists, who call him B95, sightings are documented since 1995 (when adult plumage indicated B95’s age to be at least three years). Even for his species, B95 is extraordinary — “one of the world’s premier athletes” — but Hoose’s fascinating account concerns much more than this one bird. In lucid, graceful prose, Hoose details the red knots’ characteristics and strategies, sampling far-flung challenges to their survival (e.g., fishermen harvesting horseshoe crabs in crucial stopover Delaware Bay). He describes research methods (cannon nets, banding), profiles scientists in international cooperation as well as activist kids, and takes a sobering look at longterm prospects for survival not just of the rufa but of most species on earth. Glorious full-page color photographs alternate with excellent smaller photos (including one of B95 taken on November 25, 2011) and many good, helpful maps in a highly informative progression of images. Exemplary source notes, including many interviews, plus acknowledgments and picture credits; a bibliography; and an index. JOANNA RUDGE LONG

Titanic by Deborah Hopkinson Honor: Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson (Scholastic)
Hopkinson knows precisely what’s she doing in her coverage of the Titanic disaster: providing young readers with a basic introduction to the event without overdramatizing, drawing unwarranted conclusions, or prolonging the ordeal. She begins her account as the ship embarks on its maiden voyage and, once it sets sail, flashes back to cover its construction and grandeur as well as some of the crew’s responsibilities, which play major roles in the sinking of the ship and the rescue of the passengers. Hopkinson also introduces her “characters,” real survivors whose voices relay many of the subsequent events. She includes crew members as well as those traveling in first, second, and third class, showing both the contrasts between them as the voyage begins and the horror that binds them by night’s end. In this admirably restrained account, Hopkinson covers, but doesn’t dwell upon, the foreshadowing of iceberg reports, the heartbreaking choices in boarding the (too few) lifeboats, and the agony of those dying in the freezing water. For interested readers who want to read in more detail, Hopkinson includes comprehensive chapter notes, a listing of sources, and questions to get young people started on their own Titanic quests. Archival photographs, a timeline, a selected list of facts, short biographies of those mentioned, excerpts from selected survivor letters, a glossary, and an unseen index complete this fine book. BETTY CARTER

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind