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Mind builders

A five-book selection of outstanding nonfiction

Mind builders

Our nonfiction selection committee chose five books published in 2017, in four categories: Real Lives, Real Adventure, Real Heart (a tie), and Science and Stewardship.

Real Lives


Simonetta Carr

Carr introduces young readers to the quiet, second-century scholar who became a vital voice for truth in the early church. Only two generations removed from Christ, Irenaeus survived periods of persecution while battling challenges to orthodoxy. Against Heresy, his best-known work, not only exposed false teaching but also helped establish sound doctrine. This biography is engagingly written and beautifully produced, with numerous quotations from Irenaeus himself. (Ages 8-12)

Runners-up: Alexander Hamilton by Teri Kanefield; Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

Real Adventure

Bound by Ice: A True North Pole Survival Story

Sandra Neil Wallace & Rich Wallace

In 1879 an American expedition set off for the North Pole with adequate equipment but inaccurate information. Imaginative speculation pictured a ring of ice surrounding a temperate sea: We know better now because of courageous adventurers like Lt. Cmdr. George De Long and his crew of explorers. Sadly, only a few members of the expedition survived their two-year ordeal, but De Long’s careful record-keeping supplies the main source material for this gripping saga. (Ages 10-14)

Runner-up: Higher, Steeper, Faster: The Daredevils Who Conquered the Skies by Lawrence Goldstone

Real Heart

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance

Nikki Grimes

Using poems from the Harlem Renaissance as a springboard, Grimes employs the “golden shovel” technique for this portrait of modern-day African-Americans. Each word from the model poem becomes the last word of each line in the new poem. Besides illuminating the struggles, faith, and ambitions of African-Americans, One Last Word introduces readers to a literary form they may want to try. (Ages 10-14)

Soldier Song: A True Story of the Civil War

Debbie Levy

Soldier Song also uses a literary form—popular ballad—for its perspective on the Civil War. Though the Battle of Fredericksburg serves as a set piece, most of the narrative takes place in camp among men longing for home. Stylized illustrations and winsome text deliver emotional impact along with a surprising amount of information. The appendix includes the words and music to “Home Sweet Home.” (Ages 6-10)

Science and Stewardship

Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish are Saving the World’s Largest Rainforest

Sy Montgomery

The author tags along with marine biologists from Boston’s New England Aquarium as they monitor the natural habitat of the small, shy piaba fish, better known as tetra. A once-thriving industry in the Brazilian rainforest supported the fishermen who supported the fish, but artificial hatching threatens both human livelihoods and native habitats. That’s where “Project Piaba” comes in, a partnership between scientists and fishermen meant to benefit both. Written in an engaging style and threaded with “fun facts,” Amazon Adventure demonstrates responsible stewardship in action. (Ages 10-14)

Runner-up: Exploring Space: From Galileo to the Mars Rover and Beyond by Martin Jenkins

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.