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Published: Sunday, 8/26/2007

Sibert awards honor works of nonfiction

This is one in a series of monthly reviews of books for young people written by four area teachers of children s literature. Today s are by Alexa Sandmann of Kent State University.

These books earned the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, bestowed by the American Library Association since 2001. This award is given to the most distinguished informational book published during the preceding year. Honor books are also named. The award is sponsored by Bound to Stay Bound Books and given in honor of Sibert, the longtime president of the publishing company.

Nonfiction has changed dramatically in the last decade or two. Gone are unappealing drawings and text. Colorful illustrations or photographs now support equally engaging text. Nonfiction texts are vibrant invitations to learn. More and more standardized testing requires that students read and interpret nonfiction or informational passages. The more experiences that students have reading and understanding informational text, the better prepared they will be to handle passages similar to them in their textbooks, other informational books, or in testing situations.

Many children and adults prefer nonfiction to fiction. On various topics the race to the moon, an inside look at the civil rights movement, a scientific expedition in search for an endangered species, and becoming a ballerina these books are definitely worth reading and discussing, both in and out of school.

Archival photographs abound in this stunningly created book. From the dream to the challenge to the accomplishment, the teamwork involved in landing Apollo 11 on the moon is highlighted throughout. The text is poetic as it is placed on each page, but the hard-hitting facts reveal this historical event. Thoroughly researched and documented, the author s note reinforces the concept that the stories contained within the text are but snapshots of the handful of players from the greatest team ever. This notion is epitomized by the Apollo 11 mission patch, which unlike every patch which preceded it, does not include the astronauts names. Landing on the moon, they believed, belonged to all. A powerful reminder of what committed groups of individuals can accomplish.

Uncompromising describes the Freedom Riders. White or black, those who chose to work toward civil rights placed themselves in bodily harm. They knew it each time they protested but refused to relent because they knew equality among people was truly a right that belonged to all a sentiment that others physically tried to dissuade them of on a regular basis. Archival photographs capture the poignancy and violence of this era. First-hand accounts by John Lewis, a black man, and Jim Zwerg, a white one, reveal their experiences in the fight; commentary provides the significance of their actions, along with that of their companions, both male and female. Bausum has created an inspiring story for all generations.

The search is on for the Tree Kangaroo because it is an endangered species. This nonfiction text chronicles the efforts of a research team to tag and learn about Tree Kangaroos which look like bears and climb trees like monkeys but are neither. Spectacular photographs capture this important scientific work in a way that makes it seem like a personal mission. Written in first person, readers feel as if they are on this expedition as well, part of a universal family that cares for all of its creatures. (An equally fascinating read is The Tarantula Scientist, also written by Sy Montgomery and photographed by Nic Bishop. It was a Sibert Honor book last year.)

The autobiographical story of Siena Cherson, this graphic text reveals Cherson s quest to become a ballerina. While she began ballet lessons at six, she decided at nine when she saw the Bolshoi Company perform that ballet was her future. At eleven, she auditioned for the School of American Ballet in New York and was accepted. Her family moved from Puerto Rico so she could attend. The tensions, stages, sacrifices and joys of living in the ballet world are accurately revealed. Ballet aficionados will recognize dancers whose lives intersected with Cherson s: Baryshnikov and Balanchine, Farrell and Kirkland. Cherson ultimately leaves ballet at eighteen to pursue a different career, but several years later returns to the barre because Dancing fills a space in me. The graphic approach provides for an insightful and innovative glimpse into the life of a dancer.



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