Danger, intrigue spice history for young readers
Saratoga Springs author nominated for National Book Award
SARATOGA SPRINGS The best review author Steve Sheinkin can get is from a child who thought history was boring until reading one of Sheinkin’s books.
The former textbook writer brings history to life with what he calls “thriller nonfiction” — true stories so gripping they need no embellishment to keep a reader enthralled till the last page.
“I’m always looking for stories that will grab young readers,” said Sheinkin, who lives in Saratoga Springs. “I’m always looking for stories that will break through that.”
Online bookseller Amazon.com is full of rave reviews for Sheinkin’s young adult nonfiction books, from parents whose children have read his books numerous times to adults who weren’t sure they’d like a young adult book and were pleasantly surprised.
His most recent young adult nonfiction book, “Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon” was one of five finalists for the 2012 National Book Award’s young adult category, one of the most prestigious writing awards. On Wednesday, the award went to William Alexander for “Goblin Secrets.”
The awards ceremony for the prestigious honor was held in New York City, with one winner announced in each of four categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young adult. Sheinkin attended with his wife, Rachel Person.
“Bomb” is a tale of scientific discovery, espionage, secrets and deceit spanning the United States, Britain, Norway, Germany and the Soviet Union in the 1930s as the bomb was being developed in laboratories and tested at Los Alamos, New Mexico.
“You couldn’t make up a cast of characters like that,” Sheinkin said.
“Bomb” is recommended for ages 10 and up.
He said he’s always writing and researching with his readers in mind, thinking of himself at that age and frequently checking in with youngsters he speaks to in school groups around the country.
He also thinks of his own children, ages 6 and 3, when he’s writing, and though they’re not quite old enough to read his books yet, his 6-year-old daughter is a voracious reader.
“She keeps asking, ‘When can I read this new book?’ ”
In an Oct. 10 appearance on the TV show “Morning Joe,” David Steinberger announced the 20 nominees in four categories, saying the National Book Foundation chose the finalists from “tens of thousands of books.”
“The theme we see with young people’s literature is more and more serious themes, more and more serious plotting. That’s the trend,” said Steinberger, the chairman of the foundation’s board of directors, referring to the finalists in the young adult literature category. “In every case you’ve got young people in danger, young people facing challenges.”
Sheinkin found out he was on the short list a day before the finalists were announced, but had to keep the knowledge under wraps.
“It was fun to have that secret for a day,” he said.
“Bomb” is Sheinkin’s fifth book. His fourth, “The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism and Treachery” was released last year and in January won the 2012 American Library Association’s Young Adult Nonfiction Award.
The Arnold book examines the complicated history of America’s most famous traitor.
His previous books are “King George: What was his Problem?” about the American Revolution; “Two Miserable Presidents,” chronicling the Civil War; and “Which way to the Wild West,” about the period after the Civil War.
Before he started doing freelance writing, Sheinkin wrote fifth-grade textbooks, and said earlier this year that he “grew to hate it,” because the material was dry and he knew it would only reinforce young people’s dislike of history books.
Sheinkin is a Brooklyn native and went to Syracuse University. He spent most of his adult life in Washington, D.C., and New York City before moving to Saratoga Springs in 2009.