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Nonfiction Reviews of 2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Winner and Honor Books

Nonfiction Winner

fleming_family romanovstar2 The Family Romanov:
Murder, Rebellion, and
the Fall of Imperial Russia

by Candace Fleming
Middle School, High School 
 Schwartz & Wade/Random  287 pp.
7/14 978-0-375-86782-8 $18.99
Library ed. 978-0-375-96782-5 $21.99 g
e-book ed. 978-0-375-89864-8 $10.99

Marrying the intimate family portrait of Heiligman’s Charles and Emma (rev. 1/09) with the politics and intrigue of Sheinkin’s Bomb (rev. 11/12), Fleming has outdone herself with this riveting work of narrative nonfiction that appeals to the imagination as much as the intellect. Her focus here is not just the Romanovs, the last imperial family of Russia, but the Revolutionary leaders and common people as well. She cogently and sympathetically demonstrates how each group was the product of its circumstances, then how they all moved inexorably toward the tragic yet fascinating conclusion. Each member of the Romanov family emerges from these pages as a fully realized individual, but their portraits are balanced with vignettes that illuminate the lives of ordinary people, giving the book a bracing context missing from Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra, still the standard popular history. The epic, sweeping narrative seamlessly incorporates scholarly authority, primary sources, appropriate historical speculation, and a keen eye for the most telling details. Moreover, the juxtaposition of the supremely privileged lifestyle of Russian nobility with the meager subsistence of peasants, factory workers, and soldiers creates a narrative tension that builds toward the horrifying climax. Front and back matter include a map, genealogy, bibliography, and source notes, while two sixteen-page inserts contain numerous captioned photographs. JONATHAN HUNT

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books

The Boys Who Challenged Hitlerstar2 The Boys Who 
Challenged Hitler:
Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club

by Phillip Hoose
Middle School, High School   Farrar   198 pp.
5/15   978-0-374-30022-7   $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-374-30272-6   $9.99

This account of a little-known resistance movement in which Danish adolescents stood up to their Nazi occupiers is an outstanding addition to the WWII canon. In 1940, Germany invaded Denmark under the guise of friendship. While nearby Norway fought back against the Nazis, the Danish government let Hitler set up shop. Enter teenaged Knud Pedersen, who — along with his brother Jens — decided that “if the adults would not act, we would.” Knud and Jens joined up with some mates to form the Churchill Club (so named for the British prime minister). The group used civil disobedience to pester the Nazis, creating disturbances ranging from relatively restrained (switching German signs around, cutting enemy telephone lines) to positively dangerous (arson, stealing German firearms). These actions fired up “Hitler’s tame canary” — as Winston Churchill himself described Denmark — leading to a larger-scale Danish revolt against the Germans, but Knud and his friends missed much of the excitement due to imprisonment (many for just a few months, Knud for over two years). To research the project, Hoose visited Pedersen in Copenhagen, conducting nearly twenty-five hours of interviews; the two men then exchanged some one thousand email messages. Hoose brilliantly weaves Pedersen’s own words into the larger narrative of Denmark’s stormy social and political wartime climate, showing how the astonishing bravery of otherwise ordinary Danish teens started something extraordinary. A bibliography, notes, illustration credits, and index round out this essential title. SAM BLOOM

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

woodson_brown girl dreamingstar2 Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
Intermediate, Middle School Paulsen/Penguin
328 pp. 8/14 978-0-399-25251-8 $16.99 g

Here is a memoir-in-verse so immediate that readers will feel they are experiencing the author’s childhood right along with her. It starts out somewhat slowly, with Woodson relying on others’ memories to relate her (1963) birth and infancy in Ohio, but that just serves to underscore the vividness of the material once she begins to share her own memories; once her family arrives in Greenville, South Carolina, where they live with her maternal grandparents. Woodson describes a South where the whites-only signs may have been removed but where her grandmother still can’t get waited on in Woolworth’s, where young people are sitting at lunch counters and standing up for civil rights; and Woodson expertly weaves that history into her own. However, we see young Jackie grow up not just in historical context but also — and equally — in the context of extended family, community (Greenville and, later, Brooklyn), and religion (she was raised Jehovah’s Witness). Most notably of all, perhaps, we trace her development as a nascent writer, from her early, overarching love of stories through her struggles to learn to read through the thrill of her first blank composition book to her realization that “words are [her] brilliance.” The poetry here sings: specific, lyrical, and full of imagery: “So the first time my mother goes to New York City / we don’t know to be sad, the weight / of our grandparents’ love like a blanket / with us beneath it, / safe and warm.” An extraordinary — indeed brilliant — portrait of a writer as a young girl. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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The 2015 Boston Globe—Horn Book Award winners and honors were announced on May 27th, 2015. For reviews of the picture book and fiction winners and more, click on the tag bghb15.

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