Category Archives: nonfiction

For library nerds and all the Goody Two-Shoes sorts out there…

balderdashHow have I lived this long without knowing the story of the “real” Little Goody Two-Shoes?  Apparently, she was a raggedy little girl who always bettered herself despite misfortunes.  And of course, she ended up with a rich husband who had a coach and six.  Holy cats!  Why didn’t anyone tell me this?

Calling someone a goody two-shoes was still quite a popular way to taunt nerdy girls in my youth, although it was directed less at the smarts of the girl in question and more at being a rule-follower of any kind.  All kinds of things stay hidden in the back of your brain for years, and I never thought to look into where that particular taunt came from.

Then, today, I was zipping through an awesome new picture book about John Newbery, and there she was!  John Newbery published some of the first books specifically written for children, including The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes.  No one’s sure who wrote the book, but it was a hit, and Newbery went on to publish many other children’s books.  Some 150 years later, his name was the one attached to the American Library Association’s Newbery Medal — to recognize the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children each year.  And while this book, despite excellent illustrations and a fun story, might not seem like the first thing a kid would pick out, it’s got a lot of discussion starters and eye candy for slightly older kids, especially those who love learning about history and books.  And now I can think about that childhood teasing in a whole new way, too.  Nicely done.

 


 

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Sculptures and graffiti and murals, oh my!

keith-haringThere’s a Keith Haring piece in the sculpture garden up the road from me.  Red, yellow and blue dancing figures are intertwined and turning around each other.  People like to take pictures there – I’ve done it, too—mimicking the actions of the figures.  There’s something bright and joyful about it, even on very gloomy and gray days.

This book is a little like that, twisting and turning through Keith Haring’s life.  What was it like for him growing up?  How did he end up doing murals and making graffiti and becoming a successful artist?  Examples of his work are scattered throughout the illustrations, and it’s a bright and joyful journey.  Take a look.

Keith Haring: the boy who just kept drawing by Kay Haring and Robert Neubecker

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Because hirolas and pink fairy armadillos are cool, too

I might have gone with something a little less bizarre for the cover, something cuter like the Amazon river dolphin, but I guess if you’ve got “The World of Weird Animals” on your cover, why not go with the blobfish?  And it seems like there are plenty of weird and wonderful variations out there in the animal world – the Cuban solenodon with the poisonous bite, the pink fairy armadillos, the rare hirola antelope.

Animal facts and animal ickiness appeal to all ages, so I’m sure these two will fit right in with the other great stuff out there.  If you’re needing a break from reality, animal books are a great choice.  Right about the time you get over how creepy the red uakaris look, you’ll be motivated to learn more about how to protect them, and BOOM, you’re back in reality!

Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink by Jess Keating and David DeGrand

Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Creatures You’ve Never Heard Of by Martin Brown

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Fancy party gowns and civil rights

fancy-party-gowns-the-story-of-fashion-designer-ann-cole-lowe-9781499802399_lgGlorious party dresses do not play a big part in our collective memory of the civil rights movement, but fashion designer Ann Cole Lowe’s life is illuminating because of that.  People live their daily lives, even now, and it’s possible to overlook injustice simply because you are too busy to stop and involve yourself.  People are there fighting injustice in big and small ways all the time, even while you are getting ready for a charity benefit.  (In all truth, I don’t think I’ve ever worn a fancy party gown to any charity to-do, but you probably know what I mean.)

Ann Cole Lowe grew up sewing with her mother, making fancy dresses for wealthy women.  When her mother died, Alabama’s governor’s wife was still waiting for a gown, so she finished the job and kept on, struggling to survive financially, often bumping up against racism.   Her elegant dresses made her well-known enough to create Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress, even though the butler didn’t want to let her come through the front door to deliver it.

As the author notes, there are inconsistencies in what is known of Ms. Cole’s life, but that makes her all the more human.  The text is relatively simple but clear, and the art is beautiful.  Worth a look–even if you are still trying to leave behind your tea length powder blue prom dress with the puffy sleeves.  Pastels have never been good for me.  Still, I can appreciate the beauty of Ann Cole Lowe’s fashion and her life.

Fancy Party Gowns: the Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal and Laura Freeman

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Never give up

undefeated When I was in a different job and the kids were in first grade, we’d sit together and read in a quiet corner or a loud hallway.  Some would ask me, “Why don’t you just read it?”  Maybe they weren’t interested, didn’t want to, or were afraid they’d do it wrong – it could be any number of things stopping them.  But when you’re learning to read, you need the practice.  You need a lot of practice.

Jim Thorpe practiced constantly.  Even when he sat down, he visualized the next race or what he could do differently the next time. Things might have slowed him down once in a while, but it doesn’t sound like anything stopped him.  Whether on the football field or in an Olympic stadium, he and his teammates worked and prepared for excellence, even when many of the words written and thrown out at them were racist, belittling, and just plain wrong.

I’ve been waiting for this book for several months, because I’ve enjoyed Steve Sheinkin’s past work for young people.  The Port Chicago 50 and Most Dangerous are non-fiction favorites of mine, and this is a great addition.  Even if you aren’t a football fan, you might find yourself reading about the big games with a surprising amount of intensity.

I’m also a fan of Bill Bryson–graduate of the high school up the road from me.  I’m always telling people how much I like his work.  He could write about pineapple plantations or particle physics, and I’d read it.  He can write about things I’m not interested in at all, and I know I’ll still love reading it.  Bill Bryson, here’s your new buddy.  Write about anything, Steve Sheinkin.  I’ll read it.

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin

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Pathfinders and Visionaries

There’s nothing like a nasty cold to get me reading nonfiction.  I don’t know why.  Is it a strange attempt to keep some kind of grasp on reality?  Does it remind me how lucky I am compared to historical figures?  Do I just like the pictures?  No idea.

For whatever reason it happens, though, it’s a gift.

My latest cold brought me these two:

  • Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls by Tonya Bolden. Whether it’s Venture Smith’s memoir or Jackie Ormes and cartooning, there is much to learn here about both leaders and regular people.  There are a lot of pictures (yay!) and infographics, which help move the text along.  For kids learning about history and biography, this will be a great addition to the wide range of books highlighting forgotten historical figures which have come out in the last few years.
  • Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson. Ada Lovelace keeps popping up lately.  Even though I knew her story, this picture book adds a joyful and creative boost to the mix.  The artwork is expressive and fun, and it manages to represent math concepts and the emotional struggles of a woman trying to excel within a system that limited her.

For more books with similar themes, see these past posts:

https://liowabrary.wordpress.com/2016/11/21/women-in-science-and-math-a-few-favorites/ (Women in science and math)

https://liowabrary.wordpress.com/2016/11/07/3-more/ (Smartypants biographies)

https://liowabrary.wordpress.com/2016/09/12/5-on-getting-the-vote/ (5 on getting the vote)

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Not so hidden now

hidden-figuresI haven’t seen Hidden Figures in the theater yet, but having just finished the young readers’ edition of the book, I can appreciate what we’ve been missing all these years—one more chapter of our history that should have included much, much more.  The African American women “computers,” mathematicians, and engineers who worked on the race to build better and faster aircraft and then the space program were up against a host of low expectations, not because they weren’t good at what they were doing, but because they were not white and not men.  It’s an inspiring story, and one that will be interesting to kids and teens on its own or as part of any curriculum that addresses the civil rights movement or how the workplace has changed for women since World War II.

Looking for more on women in science?  See this post for even more recent resources.

Hidden Figures: Young Readers’ Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly

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Infographics to soothe the soul

animalsSome time ago, I taught a college class as an adjunct.  In a somewhat futile attempt to make working with numbers and data interesting and exciting, I did a mini-lesson on infographics and challenged the students to find an interesting way to visually represent some date on refugees and immigrants.  I brought in probably a dozen books, including a few by Steve Jenkins, to show them the really different and interesting ways you can get your point across using accurate information, color and images.  Was this successful?

Hmm.  Not really.  I mostly got back bar graphs and the occasional pie chart, even for a few things you can’t really use a pie chart to represent.  So it might have been a teaching fail, but it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for great infographics.

When Animals by the Numbers popped up in my stack of holds this week, I could tell from the cover it would be a good one.  (The word “infographics” was my first clue…)  The facts are super cool—want to know about the loudest animals?  Woo hoo, you’re covered!  Whether it’s finding how the cheetah compares in speed to some superfast birds or understanding just how many insects there are in the world, there is a lot to learn here and a lot to look at.

It’s a big, weird world out there.  Get your nerdy hat on and get ready for some fun.

Animals by the Numbers:  a book of animal infographics by Steve Jenkins

 

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Women in science and math – a few favorites

 

I happened to notice that Hidden Figures, a book about African-American women mathematicians, will be available in a youth edition soon.  (I’m on the list for it when it comes into the library already – woo hoo!)  That got me thinking about all the great books about women in science I’ve come across lately.  So, today I offer a short list of recent goodies:

 Finding Wonders:  Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins.  Maria Merian, Mary Anning, and Maria Mitchell had a few things in common – they loved science and they lived in times which didn’t accept women as scientists.  This novel in verse imagines their lives and research.  It’s very accessible and would be a new way to get younger readers thinking about the wonders they see in their own lives and the extent to which they’d be willing to fight for the right to investigate them.  What matters enough?  When do you stand up for yourself, even if it’s uncomfortable?  Do others still face these challenges now?  So much to think about…

I am Jane Goodall by Brad Meltzer & Christopher Eliopoulos.  This one’s part of the “Ordinary People Change the World series, and it’s a keeper.  It’s a sort of picture book-graphic novel blend, and it really shows how the kid who hid in the hay to observe chickens became the woman who studied chimpanzees and taught us so much about animal relationships.  This one was so fun that I’ll be adding the others in the series to my TBR pile.

Ada Lovelace:  Poet of Science by Diane Stanley and Jessie Hartland.  I mentioned this one in an earlier post.  When I checked it out again to show to a friend, I reread it.  Still great!

Trailblazers:  33 Women in Science Who Changed the World by Rachel Swaby.  You’ll find Ada Lovelace, Maria Mitchell and Mary Anning in this one, along with thirty other amazing women – some well-known and others not so much.  Their biographies are short but very readable, and a nice way to find out about someone you might want to learn even more about!

Rad Women Worldwide and Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz.  These books cover everyone from political leaders to athletes and singers, but some of the noted women are scientists, mathematicians, and environmental activists.  Like the Trailblazers, these biographies are quick bites, not in-depth, but they’re perfect for kids looking for report subjects (they can research them more through other sources) and adults who are looking for shorter pieces to read on a commute, while waiting at a doctor’s office, eating lunch or whatever.

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs & Sophia Foster-Dimino.  This one’s super sassy and full of unexpected fun.  Annie Smith Peck was both a suffragist and a mountaineer.  Brita Tott was a spy and forger. Jacqueline Felice De Almania was a physician.  Again, it’s all in quick bites, but when you think about women from what seems like long ago doing all these amazing things…. well, the future looks a little brighter.

So much to learn!  So much to uncover!  So much fun!

 

 

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Lift your light and make some noise

I feel like I’m spending a lot of time in the children’s biographies section lately.  It used to be a rather dry place, with series of books about historical figures whose stories were told as if there’d be a multiple choice test at the end of it.  But the last few years have brought a boatload of reading options for kids (and adults) who want to read about important people and little guys (and girls) who made a difference in the world.  More hit my stack this week.

Lift Your Light a Little Higher:  The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer by Heather Henson and Bryan Collier.  Who knew that there were slave guides showing tourists around Mammoth Caves, now a national park, in the 1830s?  Not me.  It’s a weird and uncomfortable thing to think about – a tourist spot with slave-led tours?  Apparently Stephen Bishop was known to the Queen of England and was a science enthusiast.  He also discovered two new species and created the first extensive map of the caves, even though he was not supposed to learn to read and was sold along with the caves at least once.  What?  Call this one “eye-opening” in many ways. The art is wonderful, too, with a combination of photo-like illustration and collage.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe.  It’s a wild, bright messy life — the life of an artist like Jean-Michel Basquiat.  The illustrations are so loud and vibrant, with bits of collage and bits of graffiti, and Basquiat’s life story is equally bold.

Esquivel! Space Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood and Duncan Tonatiuh.  If Duncan Tonatiuh has illustrated it, I’ll read it.  Seriously.  Just sign me up for whatever he’s got in print.  I’ll read any text on the page with his illustrations, and as it turns out, that’s meant learning more about the Day of the Dead (Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras) and school discrimination (Separate is Never Equal) in addition to Esquivel. Tonatiuh explains in the author notes that his art, like Esquivel’s creative use of traditional music, is inspired by ancient Mexican art and the Mixtec codex.  And there’s an interesting story here, too.  Bonus!

Preaching to the Chickens: the story of the young John Lewis.  John Lewis is amazing, as I have noted in earlier posts on his graphic novels, the March series.  (You can read more about them here.)  This picture book is about his childhood, his love for his chickens, his growing sense of responsibility, and his powerful public speaking — even at a young age, even to chickens.

Funny thing.  (To me, at least.)  I’ve had to edit this post twice before even getting it up, because I keep finding new things to add, which tells me life is at least a little good.  Yes, a little bit.

 

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