Category Archives: nonfiction

I’m useless after 100 billion

hundred billionI admit it.  I have to count out zeroes to figure out billions and trillions, even in a book where they’re written in words below for me.

This does not make such a book any less cool, though, since it reminds my brain of how huge and amazing the world really is, kind of like the information in the book.  It’s perfect for lovers of numbers and math and people who like making connections between the big-ness of the world and the smallness of an individual and all of the things that tie us together.

The art is also vibrant and diverse and detailed when it needs to be and simple when that works better.  There won’t be only one of me reading it, though.  I might have to share it with a few people.

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman and Isabel Greenberg

 

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Ignorance shackles us like chains

schomburgBeethoven had an African ancestor.  So did John James Audubon, Alexandre Dumas, and Alexander Pushkin.

Arturo (anglicized to Arthur) Schomburg spent a lifetime tracing the history of Africans and their influence around the world.  He read, thought, collected, shared, and challenged society’s views about the past.

It’s an amazing life, and one that includes libraries, making it all the more wonderful, I think.  It’s not a quick read even as a picture book, however, but that’s really for the best of reasons.  The text is detailed and includes such impressive combinations of words that you have to sit and re-read and think about a few of them before moving on to the next page.  And the illustrations are so vivid and beautiful that you really need to look at them more than once or twice.

Schomburg: the Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford and Eric Velasquez

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One architect, one activist, one strong man

I suppose that “architect, activist and strongman” could all work together in the right person.  However, today I’ve been reading nonfiction picture books about three very different people: Zaha Hadid, Jane Addams, and Eugen Sandow.

You might not think they’d have a lot in common, but all faced challenges from people who maybe thought they’d fit in better if they’d grow up and do something just a wee bit more “normal.”  Eugen Sandow, the strong man, grew up not so strong, with people who encouraged him to become a doctor.  He ran off with the circus before eventually becoming a bodybuilder, starting a gym, and working with people on nutritious eating. Jane Addams never seemed particularly interested in following society’s expectations for young women when she was young.  She was shocked by the conditions poor people lived in, founded Hull House, and later ruffled feathers by speaking out for peace during a war, also winning a Nobel Peace Prize.  Zaha Hadid loved to design things even as a child.  She left Iraq to study architecture and mathematics and eventually designed buildings (and shoes and furniture, too) inspired by patterns, shapes, nature, and whatever else sparked her interest.

Take a look.  There’s inspiration all around here.

The World is not a Rectangle:  a portrait of architect Zaha Hadid, Jeanette Winter

Dangerous Jane, Suzanne Slade and Alice Ratterree

Strong as Sandow, Don Tate

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When 63 pages = powerful…

dear ijeawele

If you’re a feminist, you’ll love this engaging, funny, thoughtful essay on raising feminist daughters.  It works for grown-ups, too, since many women rethink their place in society at challenging moments.

“Being a feminist is like being pregnant,” Adichie says.  “You either are or you are not.  You either believe in the full equality of men and women or you do not.”

I am a feminist.  I did love it.

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Luck and love and survival

survivors clubI first heard Michael Bornstein’s story on Iowa Public Radio this spring.  By the time I remembered to put myself on the holds list for it, there were quite a few people in front of me.  Anything they talk about on public radio, whether on the local shows or national shows, gets a bump in holds at the library.  It’s a nice reminder that there are other people out there listening to the same things I like, although I sometimes have to wait a while.

It’s such an incredible story – at any point, a wrong word or move could have and did mean that people he loved were led off in a different direction and killed.  Why is it that we humans seem to find, over and over, so many opportunities to dehumanize and kill each other?  It’s horrifying, and yet unsurprising, that after surviving Auschwitz and other camps, Michael and some members of his family returned home, only to be kept out of their homes and attacked by local bands of thugs who were looking for someone to brutalize and blame after the fact.

Michael was very young and very lucky.  What a gift to all of us that he shared the story, particularly now.

Survivors Club:  the true story of a very young prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

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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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