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By Scott Reynolds Nelson with Marc Aronson (National Geographic, 2008)

Ain’t Nothing but a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry: I love this book. It is one of my favorite nonfiction books for young adults. Sure, I edited and produced it—with Marc Aronson, who also co-authored—but discounting my involvement, it is a truly exciting story of history-in-action (and lovely to look at, too, with lots of wonderful archival photographs and illustrations). The reader has an over-the-shoulder view of historian Scott Reynolds Nelson’s detective work to uncover the truth behind the legend of John Henry. We’re whisked along as he parses old song lyrics for clues, scours archives, and inspects an abandoned railroad tunnel, until a vintage postcard leads him to a grim discovery at the Virginia Penitentiary in Richmond. Here’s my favorite quote from the review by Lawrence Downes in the New York Times (4/18/2008):

Not since that scene in All the President’s Men, with Woodward and Bernstein sifting through mountains of checkout slips in the Library of Congress, has the tedium of a paper chase been made to seem so cool.”

We delivered the book to our publishing partner, National Geographic, as a disk ready for prepress.

Honors: Winner of the Aesop Prize, awarded by the American Folklore Society • Jane Addams Children’s Book Honoree • Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year.

Reviews: Booklist and Publishers Weekly “starred” reviews; New York Times.