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Reviews of the 2017 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Award Winner and Honor Books

Nonfiction Winner

heiligman_vincent and theostar2 Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers
by Deborah Heiligman
High School    Holt    451 pp.
4/17    978-0-8050-9339-1    $19.99    g
e-book ed.  978-1-2501-0969-9    $9.99

Heiligman (Charles and Emma, rev. 1/09) again examines the impact of a family member on her main subject, this time unpacking the friendship between artist Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo. After vividly setting the stage with brief sections that introduce Vincent and Theo near the end of their lives, Heiligman takes readers back to their beginnings. We learn of other siblings and of supportive parents; we gain a sense of their childhoods in their father’s parsonage. Structured as a walk through an art museum, the book proceeds through the years, each section a gallery: “Gallery Two: Dangers (1873–1875)”; “Gallery Three: Missteps, Stumbles (1875–1879).” We see Vincent moving restlessly from one job to another, at times acting and dressing oddly, walking huge distances when short on funds, coping with unrequited love, and slowly embracing the life of an artist. We see Theo, the art dealer, struggling with his own trials, consistently supporting Vincent throughout his life. Heiligman mostly employs a present-tense, purposely staccato narration that effectively heightens the brothers’ emotional intensity, their sufferings and pleasures (physical, emotional, intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual), and, most of all, Vincent’s wild and original art. The layout, which incorporates sketches, subheads, and a generous use of white space, is a calming counterpoint to the turbulent narrative. Documenting the author’s research involving visits to sites, along with academic and primary sources, the extensive back matter includes a list of significant people, a timeline, a bibliography, thorough citations, and an author’s note. The result is a unique and riveting exploration of art, artists, and brotherly love. MONICA EDINGER

From the March/April 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

sheinkin_undefeatedstar2 Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team
by Steve Sheinkin
Middle School, High School    Roaring Brook    280 pp.
1/17    978-1-59643-954-2    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-59643-955-9    $9.99

Football icon Jim Thorpe is the indisputable star of Undefeated, although other compelling narratives come into play, including those of the infamous Carlisle Indian Industrial School, legendary coach Glenn “Pop” Warner, and the game of football itself. The book’s “First Half” identifies the discriminatory societal and political factors (including the Indian Removal Act) that “shaped the world Jim Thorpe and the other Carlisle School students would grow up in.” Sheinkin follows Thorpe’s and Warner’s separate trajectories until 1907, when the teenage Thorpe (who was Sac and Fox) tries out for the Carlisle football team, coached by Warner. The “Second Half” takes a deep, season-by-season (and often play-by-play) dive into Carlisle’s remarkable football history and the sport’s evolution from a barely controlled brawl to its more nuanced modern-day structure — thanks in large part to Warner, Thorpe, and the other Carlisle teams’ innovative play. Brief, action-packed chapters evince Sheinkin’s consistently multi-layered approach, as he connects various subplots (including Thorpe’s domination of the 1912 Olympics and subsequent scandal), includes noteworthy cameos (Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Geronimo make appearances), and uses genuine cliffhangers for a propulsive reading experience. In direct address, Sheinkin (Bomb, rev. 11/12; Most Dangerous, rev. 9/15) encourages readers to challenge their assumptions regarding key figures and consider important contemporary questions (“in the twenty-first century, should any team, at any level or in any sport, continue to call itself the Indians?”). Production values — thin paper and light-colored captions — are less than ideal; thorough back matter includes extensive annotated source notes, a list of works cited, photo credits, and an index. PATRICK GALL

From the March/April 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

sweet_somewriterstar2 Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White
by Melissa Sweet; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Houghton    164 pp.
10/16    978-0-544-31959-2    $18.99    g

Salutations! Sweet raises her collage skills to new heights while bringing her love and admiration for fellow Mainer E. B. White to the page for everyone to appreciate. Just as her astounding collages blend materials that might have been found in a barn in Maine, the text carefully blends her words with those of the beloved writer of children’s books, New Yorker essays, and The Elements of Style (the essential treatise on grammar, co-written with William Strunk). One can imagine Sweet’s studio filled with snippets of quotations from White’s works ready to find the perfect place on her pages, to meld seamlessly with her words and bring the story of his life to a new generation of readers and admirers. Sweet has written and drawn a fast-moving, thorough, deeply researched, and accessible biography. White’s own words are signaled by a typewriter font, and each quote is accompanied by a simple tan label that sets it off from the main text without being distracting. Charming photographs of young  White, whether he is playing the mandolin, gliding in a canoe, or dangling from a log over a river, additionally inform the reader about his childhood and young adulthood, making the origins of his writing come alive. Sweet inserts just the right amount of detail about his personal life (for instance, his wife Katherine Angell divorced in order to marry White) but is never gossipy. In the end, whether readers are weeping at White’s death or smiling at stepson Roger Angell’s wry memorial comments, they will rejoice that Sweet has caught up with an old favorite in White. With this book, we all have. ROBIN SMITH

From the September/October 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The 2017 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners and honors were announced at Day of Dialog on May 31st, 2017. For reviews of the picture book and fiction winners and more, click on the tag bghb17.

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