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Notable nonfiction

Five books showcasing real-life drama


Notable nonfiction
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How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of ­Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure by John Rocco

We know the story, or think we do: The Soviets beat us to space, NASA was born, JFK made a speech, and eight years later Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. Most Americans who watched the historic moment on television could not imagine the countless problems solved to accomplish a feat we now take for granted. In 250 lavishly illustrated pages, John Rocco challenges that complacency.

After backtracking to Robert Goddard and the invention of rocketry, the narrative passes quickly over NASA’s Mercury and Gemini programs to arrive at Apollo. The story unfolds like a scrapbook, with capsule biographies of key figures from flight director Gene Kranz to seamstress Ellie Foraker. Diagrams and schematics clarify the science, and simple experiments allow readers to test some of those technical solutions for themselves. Much more than a science book, How We Got to the Moon is an inspiring story of trial, error, and ultimate triumph for all ages.

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Boys’ Thai Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

In the summer of 2018, the world’s attention locked on the Wild Boars soccer team, trapped by floodwaters in Tham Luang cave. The story of how an international ad hoc team of elite military, hobby cavers, and amateur scientists rescued all 13 is truly incredible. Soontornvat maintains tension even while explaining, in layman’s terms, the geology and weather issues that made the rescue such a long shot. Thai culture, religion, and lore play a large part in the narrative as well. Parents should note the prominence given to Buddhist practice and one page explaining the cave as a result of evolution. (Ages 10 and up)

On the Horizon: World War II Reflections by Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry’s father was a Navy surgeon during World War II. As a girl she lived briefly in Honolulu (just before the attack on Pearl Harbor) and Tokyo (just after Japan’s surrender). These simple, affecting poems show ordinary people casting their small shadows on history, from a little girl on the beach to a sailor on the USS Arizona, from a pilot approaching Hiroshima to a Japanese boy on a tricycle. The path of another boy, standing outside his family’s shop in Tokyo, would eventually cross the author’s. Lowry makes no judgments but acknowledges our shared humanity and hopes for a better future. (Ages 8-12)

Through the Wardrobe: How C.S. Lewis Created Narnia by Lina Maslo

Many Christians are familiar with the life of C.S. Lewis and some of his early inspirations. While telling that story at a grade-school level, this picture-book biography incorporates plenty of detail in illustration and text. The narrative of his early years includes such memories as the wardrobe carved by his grandfather, the miniature garden made by his brother, and the “Squirrel Nutkin” illustrations later described by Lewis as the awakening of his spiritual imagination. After his conversion Lewis returned to the imaginative life of his boyhood, and the wardrobe reappeared. Narnia fans will be fascinated. (Ages 6 and up)

When Stars Are Scattered by ­Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

After the Somalian civil wars of the 1990s, Omar Mohamed and his special-needs brother Hassan waited for years in Dadaab refugee camp (Kenya) for something to happen. Terrorists killed their father, but their mother might still be alive, and Omar’s dream was to find her and emigrate to the West. As the years passed, his troubles sometimes overwhelmed him. But when challenged to count his blessings, friends and community bolstered his hope. The graphic-novel format is perfect for communicating the plight of refugees to American children. A devout Muslim, Omar is grateful to all, including Christians, who helped him realize his dream.

—The next story in the Children’s Books of the Year section is on good books about race and history.


Janie B. Cheaney Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD's annual Children's Book of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.

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