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Three nonfiction books | Class #3, 2016

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin    Claudette Colvin    marching for freedom

Bomb: the Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steven Shenkin

Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose

Marching For Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge

Good nonfiction shares many of the qualities of good fiction; the best writers pay as much attention to narrative, style, and characterization as to careful research of the facts. Design is another important feature of much nonfiction. Which literary elements are most notable in the works for this week?


Lauren Adams About Lauren Adams

Lauren Adams teaches English and ELL at Natick High School and adolescent literature at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Formerly a Senior Editor for The Horn Book Magazine, she regularly contributes book reviews.



  1. Faye Maison says:

    Claudette Colvin was the first person arrested for refusing to change seats on a segregated bus but many students do not know her story. Rosa Parks is often the first person who comes to mind. Phillip Hoose’s book opens the reader up to a different narrative with stories that are often left out of how the Civil Rights Era was taught. The book allows curiosity to linger and imagination to build the story. At times Hoose places a picture and a quotation next to each other when the text does not quite explain the purpose of either. With a turn of the page it will – and it allows a curious child to think about how the words and images go together. It’s a puzzle.

    In Claudette Colvin, the reader gets two storytellers. There is a back and forth between Colvin’s retelling and a matter-of-fact narrator explaining the news of the time. While reading I can visualize Colvin sitting and personally telling me a story while an onlooker comes in to help me understand the conditions of the Jim Crow South. Ultimately the book speaks to the realities of storytelling. For any reader, the book will tell Colvin’s story in a way that was never shared. I would ask students to consider how someone would describe the times we live in if they only watched the news. I would then ask the student to describe the times we live in from what that student knows and has experienced. How different are those two stories? That is what we see in this book.

    Marching For Freedom is another book that flips the narrative. The voices of young people become much louder in this retelling of the march from Selma to Montgomery. Most stories about Civil Rights are about Rosa Parks and Dr. King. The stories of this book come from children. Children marched. Children were arrested. Children sang. The use of song in this book stands out. The storyline is interspersed with protest songs that bring life to every page. The lyrics bring the reader in to feel like part of a church congregation or hand in hand with someone marching.

  2. Karen Tlili says:

    In Bomb…by Steven Sheinkin, the reader is pulled in by the narrative style. This is a history book that follows the story of the making of the atomic bomb. The power in this story is how the focus is shifted from events and dates, the more traditional focus of history, to the people involved. The story is focused on the scientists involved in creating the bomb in the US, Germany, and the USSR as well as spies employed for the USSR during that time. The story comes alive as we hear the motives for the scientists in creating the bombs, sharing the information with the Communist, and the shift in beliefs when the bombs came into being. The history took on so much humanity that the reader really could sympathize with the scientists at this time and see how much they wanted to see their project succeed, but how frightening it was to realize that they created such a dangerous weapon. The reader also leaves the book with moral questions surrounding duty, loyalty to your country, weapons and war. Sheinkin’s work read like a spy novel and made the historical content much more powerful and lasting than any traditional textbook ever could. I would love to read other works by him written in this style. The lasting human impact of history is made clear through his narrative nonfiction style.

  3. Natalie Nihill says:

    I think it is important to note for my post that I listened to the book “Bomb: the Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon” by Steven Shenkin on audiobook because my experience with the story was definitely influenced by listening to a dramatic reading. With pauses during moments of anticipation, and inflections in the narrator’s speech which induced suspense in the listener that may not have been evoked during solitary reading, the book unfolded thrillingly, even though I already knew the historical outcomes.
    But, Shenkin also used narrative devices, like breaking up the countdown of the bomb drop by cutting to vignettes of different characters and revealing their own anxiety and anticipation. And so, even though the thread of the book was the building of the atomic bomb, it was the interweaving of individual character stories that history had forgotten that made the story compelling and exciting. By pulling passages from their letters and journals, the authentic voices and memories of these characters situate the story in reality and emotion. I was struck by how detailed and how much imagery the character used in the personal writings, and wondered if the art of letter writing and journaling has been lost. I also considered that I could use this text as a way to introduce a writing exercise that centered on recalling a memory.

  4. Ilana Habib says:

    Bomb certainly read like no other non-fiction title that I had ever read. By jumping in en media res, I felt like I was in the midst of a thriller, not a text recounting historical events. Shenkin’s focus on people allowed me to create a more personal connection to the story of the atomic bomb. By jumping from person to person, Shenkin kept my attention and created a narrative that was both exhilarating and comprehensive. Additionally, the inclusion of photographs gave me a clearer idea of who these “characters” actually were and solidified the connection to historical events. The book’s graphical style made it feel like found spy documents, like released files from the FBI with old typewriter font and a certain grittiness that was just absolutely delightful. Even though the book did not have any tactile elements, it still had the feel of one of those books about spies you might have picked up at a school book fair with the string bound pouches and flip-up question boxes. A riveting read – I was quite pleasantly surprised!

  5. Hannah Flint says:

    Natalie and Ilana both note that their experiences were influenced by the form of the book. Mine was as well. I read the book on my kindle app and so was not aware of the images incorporated into the print edition. As I was unaware of what I was missing, my pleasure in the tracking the fast moving pieces of the saga was undiminished. In fact, the book felt quite cinematic, with suspenseful scenes playing out in my head as I imagined they might on screen. The style of the book came through, even when it was not in the authors intended form. However, my experiences with this cinematic style gave me a sense that this narrative might be fictional, and I wonder if having the photographs and artifacts might have better grounded me in the reality of the story. Knowing the truth of the history, for much of the book I worried that making and stealing of the bomb was being portrayed as a bit too “sexy,” and without a sense of the deeply troubling ramifications of our characters’ actions.

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