Category Archives: nonfiction

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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Bold, determined, strong, persistent

lady has the floorBelva Lockwood must have driven some people nuts.  She didn’t sit down.  She didn’t shut up.  She studied science and politics when she went to college – against her father’s wishes.  She became an attorney when they told her she couldn’t do that, only getting her degree because the college president (Ulysses S. Grant) gave it to her.  She argued in front of the Supreme Court after working to get all women the right to practice law in any court.  She fought for the vote and reparations for Native Americans removed from their land and even ran for president.

And for many years, she was mostly forgotten.  Thanks to this beautiful picture book, maybe that will change.

A Lady has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights by Kate Hannigan and Alison Jay

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One person, many stories

usvjrAnyone who’s ever gotten in trouble because of who they are and not what they did will understand this one.  When the rules about segregation in the military change, Jack is following the new rules when he gets on the bus and doesn’t move to the back.  But who gets in trouble?  Jack, of course.  He has to explain himself at a court martial.  Other people on the bus make up things about how disrespectful he is, white people make threats and no one does anything, the bus driver doesn’t get in trouble for trying to force Jack to follow the old rules.  And the list just goes on and on.

Jack does win the case, when the truth finally comes out.  But this is only the beginning of a lifetime of standing up he will do.  Jack will leave the military and become the baseball-playing Jackie Robinson we all know.  One person, many stories.

The United States v. Jackie Robinson by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and R. Gregory Christie

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Surviving the lies we tell each other and ourselves

educatedOur personal demons rarely make for interesting conversation or gripping storytelling.  I often can’t sleep this time of year because of mine, but I try to talk about them only when I can’t really avoid it.  Even then, I’ve never found that sharing actually helps me or the other person much.  But the extra time I’m awake at night can come in handy, giving me a bit more time to read outside my box.

I don’t read that many memoirs, so maybe this kind of story is more pervasive in the genre than I realize.  For reasons I can’t exactly pinpoint – maybe because it’s about a woman overcoming – this reminds me a bit of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild without the hiking disasters.  (In looking at a few reviews just before I posted this, I realized a lot of other folks have made that connection.  Hmm.)  It’s an amazing book, but I know that some patrons who enjoy stories about abuse survivors will enjoy it more than I did.

There’s a certain kind of reader who is a little fascinated by just how awful people can be to each other, but reading this book as a checklist of family awfulness is the wrong way to look at it.  It is inspirational, but a large part of its power is the way Westover walks us through how she saw things at the time, the way she barely survived abuse and lies and harmful thinking again and again by telling herself that what she experienced either wasn’t happening or was something completely different from reality.  How sad to think of a child, any child, suffering so much at the hands of people she clearly and deeply loved and who loved her back.

Westover’s story reminds us of the power we all have to make a difference in others’ lives.  Having spent many years working with struggling kids and families, I understand how imperfect and sometimes dangerous trying to help someone can be.  Whatever you do often feels like not enough, but we have to hope, don’t we?  We have to keep trying.

Educated by Tara Westover

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