Thursday, December 5, 2013

2014 Contenders: On a Beam of Light, by Jennifer Berne

Here it is -- the one that I feel is unequivocally the best nonfiction title of the year, the one that can stand with last year's best efforts, and that I'd love to see receive some serious Newbery discussion.

That last part isn't likely to happen, alas, because On a Beam of Light is not only a nonfiction title, but a picture book as well. Yet the book takes the life of Albert Einstein, a figure whose achievements aren't all that easy to explain to a child, and uses them as a framework for some of the most perceptive prose of the year. My favorite passage is on the page from which the book takes its title:

"And in his mind, right then and there, Albert was no longer on his bicycle, no longer on the country road...he was racing through space on a beam of light."

Reading lines like that, I'm on that beam of light as well.

It's not, of course, relevant to the Newbery discussion, but the illustrations by Vladimir Radunsky are the perfect counterpoint to the text, full of whimsy, poignance, and huge washes of negative space. That sort of thing is relevant to the Sibert committee, however, and Rachael and I were wondering today if this might indeed be a year when the Sibert winner is drawn from the ranks of the picture book nonfiction (as in 2012, when Balloons Over Broadway took the medal).

On a Beam of Light is one of our discussion titles for the Morris Seminar in January, and I can't wait to see what the other participants think of it. I also can't wait to talk about how much I love it!

Published in April by Chronicle Books

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