Friday, February 3, 2012

The Notorious Benedict Arnold Wins YALSA Nonfiction Award

The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin
received YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction on January 23, 2012.

“In this illuminating biography, Sheinkin proves that spoilers don’t matter—it’s not whether or not Arnold betrayed his country, but why,” said YALSA Nonfiction Award Chair Jennifer Hubert. Although the YALSA award honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults, this is a book that adults can enjoy, as well.

Sheinkin was not able to attend the award ceremony held at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in-person, but he supplied a heartfelt video message (now on youtube) in which he thanked YALSA for recognizing his “child.”

He described Arnold as America’s first action hero. As a textbook writer, he had always been trying to insert Arnold into history books, and his editors had always insisted on deleting him. “He makes people nervous,” Sheinkin said.

This book had its genesis as a work of fiction. The longer he worked on it, the worse it got. YA nonfiction saved him, because he was able to throw all of his “pretentious nonsense” out the window and stick to a straight-forward action story. He hopes the book’s readers will learn a lot about U.S. history without even realizing it, “until it’s too late.”

Finalists Karen Blumenthal (Bootleg) and Sue Macy (Wheels of Change) were in attendance at the award ceremony held from 10:30-noon at the Omni Hotel in Dallas, TX.

Blumenthal, who lives in Dallas, thanked her favorite local librarians. She delivered a candid, funny speech about publishers' resistance to her idea to share the Prohibition experience with young people. She said that, "nonfiction provides context for a complicated world," and "Real life is many shades of messy; in real life the girl doesn't always end up with the sexy vampire."

Macy shared an entertaining powerpoint presentation that included items from the private collections of bicycle enthusiasts that she'd met while conducting research for her book. Many of the images, advertisements and sheet music that appear in her book came from these collectors, who she met simply by being in the right place at the right time. She was inspired by This Fabulous Century, a series of Time-Life books that she grew up with. She credits this series for providing the roots to her thematic approach to history.