Category Archives: nonfiction

Meet my new BFF

youre on an airplaneYou have to like someone who subtitles their book a “self-mythologizing memoir.”  Or maybe you don’t, but I do.  Especially if it’s Parker Posey.  She’d probably have a hoot talking with me and Dolly and all my other imaginary friends.

Such a memoir is probably not for everyone, because it really is like sitting next to someone chatty on an airplane.  Someone who launches into slightly snarky stories about family members and celebrities.  Someone who makes their own mistakes part of the whole ridiculous parade.  Someone you tell your friend picking you up from the airport about and then fondly recall several years later when you’re trapped in an airport with a toddler and your ex-boyfriend’s new wife and a three-hour delay.  Well, something like that anyway.

When I mull it over at length (and I have), imaginary Parker has been there for any number of important life moments – wandering around New York, cackling through Party Girl, in the hospital after my son’s birth (Best in Show), musicals of all kinds (Waiting for Guffman).

It’s really not for everyone, but I loved it, the whole crazy, disjointed flow, the break from a turbulent world with a little drama thrown in.  Maybe a lot of drama.  But also excellent yoga tips, a few recipes, and a perimenopausal puppet troupe.

You’re on an Airplane by Parker Posey

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Borders and who we are

northlandWe spend a lot of time looking at the southern border of the United States these days, but there is much to learn looking in the other direction as well.  Northland does this, following the U.S.- Canada border from the east to the west, traveling by boat, car and foot, and meeting folks of all kinds of backgrounds and opinions along the way.  The history of the border is also fascinating, full of twists and turns and war and quirky personalities.

It’s a fascinating trip to follow, and well worth the 4,000 miles.

 Interested in some other great travel literature? Try one of these:

In Patagonia  by Bruce Chatwin

Journeys  by Jan Morris

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon

Great Plains by Ian Frazier

Notes from a Small Island  by Bill Bryson

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes


Northland by Porter Fox




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Love and curiosity meet nature – Rachel Carson

SAS_JCKT_03a.inddIt’s got to be hard to simplify any person’s life into a picture book.  There are ups and downs and whole years you’d have to leave out.  But adding extra information in author notes helps a lot, and if a reader wants to find out more, they can always use a life story to launch into chapter book level biographies and go on from there.

Spring after Spring brings you right into the life of Rachel Carson, her lifelong love of nature, and the early movement to care for the environment.  It’s colorful and informative and has you thinking about the questions scientists ask and how “regular” people can ask those same questions.  Super.

Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement by Stephanie Roth Sisson

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Come for the cursing. Stay for the grief.

calypsoDavid Sedaris is the prince of dysfunctional families, or maybe, like Prince, he is more of an unpronounceable symbol.  One you enjoy.  (Also like Prince.)

If anyone can make death humorous, he’s your guy.  Dysfunctional families?  He’s on it.  Tumors on turtles?  Got that covered, too.  Need to know how to curse bad drivers in other languages?  It might take a few minutes, but it’ll be worth the wait.

Is he the perfect person?  Clearly not.  He’s kind of awful, but also kind of wonderful.  And he’s got that niece who’s kind of vicious at Sorry.  Is she sorry?  Is he?

I don’t know if you’ll laugh out loud, but I did.

Calypso by David Sedaris

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Sweetness, light, Audrey Hepburn

for-audrey-with-love-9780735843141_lgThis probably never entered the mind of Philip Hopman, but this is a picture book that Frank from Julia Claiborne Johnson’s Be Frank with Me would love.  (And if you’ve missed that novel, please find it and put it in your stack for summer reading immediately.)

I have no idea how creating a picture book like this seemed like an excellent financial decision to a publisher.  Maybe it could sneak into Common Core nonfiction stuff for younger kids?  It’s a wonderful story of friendship and growing up into the person you most want to be.  It’s really only that Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy’s relationship was so long ago and part of a time and place very unfamiliar to children today that made me wonder who its target audience was.  Maybe fashion-loving kids?  Maybe Frank?  Maybe me?

Who knows?  Who cares?  Just read and enjoy.

For Audrey with Love by Philip Hopman

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Love, love, science, science

There is so much to be sad about today and, seemingly, every day.  The moments of light and silliness are so quickly overshadowed by politics and just plain meanness.  People are unsettled.  Animals are struggling to survive.

Although they seem to spring from two completely different ideas, these books are a nice pair to read when you are feeling overwhelmed by it all.  Look at how science connects us all!  Look at the love in the world!  It’s a place to start, anyway, and a way to talk with kids about our roles and choices in this battered world.  Can we change it all?  Maybe not.  But we aren’t powerless, either.  Be strong, brothers and sisters.  Look forward.  Persist.

Fur, Feather, Fin: all of us are kin by Diane Lang and Stephanie Laberis

All of Us by Carin Berger

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Future Batgirl wins the day

library on wheelsMary Lemist Titcomb – Miss Titcomb – was a fierce advocate of libraries, pushing aside those people who said working people and children weren’t interested in reading, charging forward to provide more varied library services to people who didn’t live close to physical libraries.  AND she thought up a plan which she put into action to get the first bookmobiles out into parts of the community that did not have access.  What a gem!

The pictures and documents are fascinating, and though Miss Titcomb is not a well-known figure today, learning about her is sure a treat.

Library on Wheels:  Mary Lemist Titcomb and America’s First Bookmobile by Sharlee Glenn


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Girl power — rebels and visionaries

what would sheIt feels like there have been just loads of books about interesting women coming out in the last few years–rebel girls, mathematicians, Hidden Figures, and all–but it’s never enough when you come across a really good one.  I wasn’t expecting much from this one, but it delivered in content, art and discussion potential.  The biographies are short and highly readable, full of interesting tidbits, and very colorful, both in descriptive words and engaging art.  Sometimes the “what would X do?” questions seem a little forced, but it’s maybe a fun way to translate everyday situations into lifetime decision-making skills.  The message is always “never give up,” whether those words are used or not.  So persist some more, friends.  Get out there and lead the future.

What Would She Do? 25 true stories of trailblazing rebel women by Kay Woodward and many illustrators.

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Girl power with sneakers

girl runningBobbi Gibb loved running, even though it wasn’t a “girl” thing to do.  So she ran.  And ran some more.  And one day, she decided to train for the Boston Marathon, even though they didn’t allow women to run, telling her that women were not “physiologically able to run twenty-six miles.”

Well, they were wrong, weren’t they?  Bobbi showed up and ran, and it turned out she beat two-thirds of the men on her way to the finish line.  So there.  You go, girl.

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon by Annette Bay Pimentel and Micha Archer

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Girl power with science and butterflies

girl who drewMaria Merian very definitely did not grow up in a time and place that valued her skills and abilities as a scientist and an artist.  She managed to find ways around the many expectations put upon her as a woman in the late 1600s, learning to draw and paint from her father and then using that as a way to further her interest in science, eventually leaving her husband and moving to a religious community and then Amsterdam and then traveling the world.

It’s not just that the illustrations are – not surprisingly – wonderful in this book.  Maria’s story is a well-written, dramatic tale, full of interesting details, explanatory sidebars, and a clear picture of what Maria’s daily life might have held.  You go, girl.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

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