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Eye-opening history

The following works of narrative nonfiction for middle schoolers and high schoolers focus on events that may be overlooked by school curricula but can help make history come alive.

In 1873, a mob of armed white men massacred more than one hundred black “freedmen” in the town of Colfax in central Louisiana. In his book Unpunished Murder: Massacre at Colfax and the Quest for Justice, Lawrence Goldstone sets the stage for this horrific, unpunished event by tracing important ideas about race and equality through the early history of the United States. The book is, in large part, the story of how racism evolves, persisting in laws and politics despite major social advances. (Scholastic/Scholastic Focus, 12–16 years)

The Grand Escape: The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century focuses on a small group of WWI prisoners of war and their astounding efforts to tunnel out of Germany’s Holzminden prison camp, a place “established to hold the most troublesome Allied officers in Germany.” Plentiful black-and-white archival photos and maps and clear diagrams of the prison camp support author Neal Bascomb’s meticulously researched, detailed text. (Scholastic/Scholastic Focus/Levine, 12–16 years)

In The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix, readers learn about the German theologian and pastor who was executed for his part in a failed assassination attempt on Hitler. The book effectively employs a hand-lettered typeface, comic-panel layouts, spot art, vivid two-color illustrations (bright green and more subdued red), the occasional map, symbol, or diagram, and striking editorial illustrations reminiscent of political cartoons. The result is that this heavily textual book is also a highly visual one. (Abrams/Amulet, 12–16 years)

In the early 1930s, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker hooked up for a two-year crime spree, cutting a wide swath through the Midwest as they eluded authorities. Karen Blumenthal’s well-researched biography Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend does an admirable job of distinguishing the facts from the mythology, as well as reconstructing the timeline of the pair’s criminal activities while vividly rendering the political, social, and cultural milieu of a bygone era. (Viking, 12–16 years)

From the January 2019 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.

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