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Bomb: The Race to Build-and Steal-the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

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Cover art for Bomb nonfiction book

Bomb: The Race to Build-and Steal-the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

Roaring Book Press, Macmillan

Introduction

Award-winning author Steve Sheinkin sends readers on a global race in his latest nonfiction masterpiece Bomb: The Race to Build-and Steal-the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Coded messages, scientific discoveries, and top secret missions set against the drama of World War II weave together to create a thrilling story about an international race to build the one weapon that will indelibly change the nature of war. Honors for Bomb and its author include the 2013 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award and 2013 Newbery Honor Book recognition, among others.

Story Line

It’s 1938 and while Hitler’s leading a destructive and imperialistic march across Europe triggering fear and alarm around the world, German physicists make an astounding scientific discovery that will set in motion a race to build a mighty war weapon with astonishing and deadly power.

In a tale of spies, kidnappings, resistance groups and scientific tests, a desperate race to learn the secret of building the atomic bomb will throw three powerful nations into upheaval: The United States, Russia, and Germany. In America, the federal government asks a brilliant physicist named Robert Oppenheimer to gather the best and brightest scientific minds to a remote location where they will work on a classified assignment ambiguously called “The Manhattan Project.”

Meanwhile, German scientists are quickly trying to decode the key ingredients to the bomb but are thwarted by a small group of Norwegian resistance fighters in a remote location high on a mountainside in Norway. Not to be left out of the race, Russia, who once sided with Germany but who now claim a precarious Ally relationship with the United States, is sending out spies to quickly gather information. Who will build the bomb first? And who will leak the information? The possible outcomes may seem like many, but there is only one sobering conclusion at the end of this race.

Awards and Honors

2012 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature
2012 Washington Post Best Kids Books of the Year title
2013 John Newbery Honor Book
2013 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award
2013 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

Author Steve Sheinkin

Steve Sheinkin is a former textbook writer who believes history can be taught in an exciting and educational way. From his Web site the author humorously admits, “Yes, it’s true. I use to write history textbooks…But I don’t do that kind of thing anymore. Now I try to write history books that people will actually read voluntarily.” (Source: Steve Sheinkin’s Web site)

The author of the acclaimed book The Notorious Benedict Arnold was born in Brooklyn, New York and is an admitted fan of adventure stories. After graduating from Syracuse University he worked for an environmental group and then ventured into making movies with his brother. He decided he liked writing and dabbled in screenplays and comics until he got a job with an educational publishing company where he edited and checked facts for history manuscripts.

Sheinkin has written several historical books for young readers, including King George: What was His Problem? and Two Miserable Presidents.

My Recommendation

Sheinkin has done it again. In his first narrative nonfiction book, The Notorious Benedict Arnold, he brought to life the adventurous story of a Revolutionary War hero turned traitor. In Bomb, he creates a fast-paced global spy adventure with high stakes in the middle of a world war.

Masterfully executed, Sheinkin opens his narrative by throwing readers into the tension-filled moment when Harry Gold, an American spy for the Soviets, is fielding questions from FBI agents. With such a challenging hook, how can any reader not keep turning the pages to find out what events lead to this final moment? Readers easily forget they are reading an informational text because they are so immersed in the engaging and steadily moving story line.

While Sheinkin delivers a historically tight narrative of events, some readers might want to know how well he explains the discovery of fission and the physics behind building an atomic bomb. As a person who is not very knowledgeable in physics, I was pleased with Sheinkin’s simple and satisfying explanation. As this book is more historical in nature rather than scientific, I feel Sheinkin helps readers understand basic physics and then underscores the revolutionary and global repercussions of this scientific discovery.

Sheinkin clearly knows how to keep his readers’ attention. He knows when to leave readers hanging at the end of each chapter with ominous statements, such as, “It was a decision that would haunt him for the rest of his life.” In addition, his writing styles carries readers along at a galloping pace and then smoothly shifts from one scene to the next, leaving readers to ask inevitable questions like, “What happened to Harry Gold?” “Will the spies inside the Manhattan Project be revealed?” Thankfully, Sheinkin leaves no questions unanswered, and by the end of the book I was thinking, This is my American history; it’s exciting, thrilling, and yes, quite sobering.

Although Bomb is an informational text, it reads like an adventure story, which categorizes it as narrative nonfiction - a great addition to the new Core Curriculum. While there are no traditional sidebars of information, there are vintage photographs and a plethora of resources and Web sites listed at the end of the book. Bomb is a wonderful cross-curriculum book that should be in every science, English, and history classroom. Highly recommended for ages 10-18. (Roaring Book Press, Macmillan, 2012. ISBN: 9781596434875)

(Sources: Steve Sheinkin’s Web site, ALA News Release: American Library Association announces 2013 youth media award winners, 1/28/12)

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