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Historical crossroads

Scratch the surface of history and you’ll sometimes find the stories behind the stories of accepted record. The following works of nonfiction encourage teens to critically examine the narrative that is history.

Fleming_presentingBuffaloBillIn Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West, Candace Fleming sets her sights on two connected myths of American history: William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s life story and the American frontier in the nineteenth century. Cody was a bodacious storyteller who imbued his autobiography with colorful, exaggerated events, many of which became the basis for his international Wild West show. In multi-paged sidebars Fleming addresses each incident, pointing out how his stories often differ from the historical record. She begins each chapter with a scene from the show to introduce a time period in Cody’s life, which, unembellished, is still fascinating. Frequent period photographs and useful back matter complete this clear, compelling, and informative biography. (Roaring Brook/Porter, 12–16 years)

davis_intheshadowKenneth C. Davis brings to light the stories of five enslaved individuals who were considered the property of four famous presidents in In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives. After a succinct overview of African chattel slavery in the United States, Davis moves into chapters featuring Billy Lee and Ona Judge, enslaved members of George Washington’s household; Sally Hemings and Isaac Granger, two of “Mr. Jefferson’s people”; Paul Jennings, an enslaved servant of the Madisons; and Alfred, who spent his life toiling for Andrew Jackson. Davis’s solid research (there are source notes and bibliographies for each chapter), accessible prose, and determination to make these stories known give young readers an important alternative to textbook representations of this historical period. (Holt, 11–14 years)

bascomb_sabotageIn Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb (the young readers’ edition of The Winter Fortress), Neal Bascomb turns his attention to a single, crucial Allied operation of WWII: the disruption of the Nazis’ atomic program by eliminating their supply of heavy water. Bascomb introduces and then follows each member of the coordinated missions intent on destroying the heavy water, admirably balancing dramatic tension and context throughout. The main text is appended with archival photographs, a wealth of back matter, and, most notably, twenty-one pages of source notes. Sabotage will find its place in a growing body of narrative nonfiction centering on military and political history, including Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, of which this operation forms one strand. (Scholastic/Levine, 12–16 years)

freedman_we will not be silentRussell Freedman’s latest photohistory — We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler — is an excellent overview of the White Rose resistance movement, a group of university students who, beginning in June 1942 in Munich, Germany, risked their lives to write and distribute leaflets denouncing the Nazi regime. Focusing mainly on siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, Freedman cogently describes the movement’s formation and activities up through the tragic execution of the siblings. As always, Freedman not only writes with clarity and pace but augments his text with primary-source quotes and photographs that add power and immediacy. The book’s large square trim size allows for spacious page design and copious photos. (Clarion, 11–14 years)

From the August 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.



  1. We Will Not Be Silent sounds especially good. I remember reading about the White Rose movement in school and would love to learn more about it.

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