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Bad-Ass Librarians

21 Jul

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This button has been pinned on my ALA Conference lanyard since I picked it up in Boston in January. I would have moved it to my school lanyard, except that it has the word ASS on it and that is certainly a middle school no-no.

When I first picked up the button, I didn’t realize it was meant to promote Joshua Hammer’s book  The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. 

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During the school year, the book came up in discussion with a former school library colleague who was on the verge of retirement (and whose retirement party I will attend tomorrow).

Well, I finally read the book. It is about the librarians who saved the thousands of Arabic manuscripts housed in and around Timbuktu, bit it also gives background to why the effort was necessary.

Publisher’s Summary: To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.

In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.

In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.

Over the past twenty years, journalist Joshua Hammer visited Timbuktu numerous times and is uniquely qualified to tell the story of Haidara’s heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali’s—and the world’s—literary patrimony. Hammer explores the city’s manuscript heritage and offers never-before-reported details about the militants’ march into northwest Africa. But above all, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is an inspiring account of the victory of art and literature over extremism.

Fiction/Nonfiction Pairing: The Great War

29 Apr

I’ve had the First World War on my mind since before the 100th anniversary of its start, almost two years ago. Quite a bit was done and written in the months just before August 2014, and there have been trickles since. This week, I’ve become enamored of a delightful pair of books that look at the Great War through a literary lens.

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The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War is a collection of modern stories, written by an amazing array of  contemporary YA authors (David Almond, Michael Morpurgo, John Boyne, AL Kennedy, Marcus Sedgewick, Adele Geras,Tracy Chevalier, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Sheena Wilkinson, Ursula Dubrovsky, Timothee de Fombelle) and illustrated by Jim Kay.

Publisher’s Summary:A toy soldier. A butter dish. A compass. Mundane objects, perhaps, but to the remarkable authors in this collection, artifacts such as these have inspired stories that go to the heart of the human experience of World War I. Each author was invited to choose an object that had a connection to the war—a writing kit for David Almond, a helmet for Michael Morpurgo—and use it as the inspiration for an original short story. What results is an extraordinary collection, illustrated throughout by award-winning Jim Kay and featuring photographs of the objects with accounts of their history and the authors’ reasons for selecting them. This unique anthology provides young readers with a personal window into the Great War and the people affected by it, and serves as an invaluable resource for families and teachers alike.

In a powerful collection, eleven internationally acclaimed writers draw on personal objects to bring the First World War to life for readers young and old.
That collection of short stories would pair nicely with this collection of biographies of 12 men and three women, who participated in the First World War, and who later gained fame in other ways.
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In the Fields and Trenches:The Famous and the Forgotten on the Battlefields of World War I is written by Kerrie Logan Hollihan and published by the Chicago Review Press.
Publisher’s Summary: When it started, many thought the Great War would be a great adventure. Yet, as those who saw it up close learned, it was anything but. In the Fields and the Trenches traces the stories of eighteen young idealists swept into the brutal conflict, many of whom would go on to become well-known 20th-century figures in film, science, politics, literature, and business. Writer J. R. R. Tolkien was a signals officer with the British Expeditionary Force and fought at the Battle of the Somme. Scientist Irène Curie helped her mother, Marie, run twenty X-ray units for French field hospitals. Actor Buster Keaton left Hollywood after being drafted into the army’s 40th Infantry Division. And all four of Theodore Roosevelt’s sons—Kermit, Archibald, Quentin, and Theodore III—and his daughter Ethel served in Europe, though one did not return.In the Fields and the Trenches chronicles the lives of heroes, cowards, comics, and villains—some famous, some not—who participated in this life-changing event. Extensive original material, from letters sent from the front to personal journals, brings these men and women back to life. And though their stories are a century old, they convey modern, universal themes of love, death, power, greed, courage, hate, fear, family, friendship, and sacrifice.
Together, these two books give readers a glimpse into the impact of The Great war on ordinary lives.

The Salt of the Earth

24 Apr

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Although the Publisher’s summary gives you the gist of the story, it hardly does it justice.

Publisher’s Summary:World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, and Elizabeth Wein’s Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloffthe greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity and love can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.

  The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is possibly the worst single-ship loss of life in history. We all know about the sinking of the Titanic,  but who has ever heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff?

Sepetys is a master of shedding light on hidden bits of history and illuminating how it impacted ordinary people, the salt of the earth. In this book we meet compelling characters, some with secrets, some good, some not so good. Through them we see how war impacts civilians and the panic that ensues as armies are about to over run them: the rumors and fears that drive each character  to the sea.

This is not an easy story to read, but it is fast paced. We meet each of the four narrators separately,and, at first, I had a little trouble remembering who was who. Eventually, their stories become interconnected and each story sheds more light on the others, and I felt empathy for the refugees, though not for Alfred, the fanatical  German sailor,  who is portrayed less sympathetically.An excellent book for readers who love historical fiction.

You can see Sepetys talking about the story in this video.

A truth bigger than the stories and the lies

22 Apr

Yesterday, I wrote about one boy, facing the consequences of his grandfather’s WWII experience. Today, I am writing about another: The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones.

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Publisher’s Summary: The ghosts of war reverberate across the generations in a riveting, time-shifting story within a story from acclaimed thriller writer Tim Wynne-Jones.

When Evan’s father dies suddenly, Evan finds a hand-bound yellow book on his desk—a book his dad had been reading when he passed away. The book is the diary of a Japanese soldier stranded on a small Pacific island in WWII. Why was his father reading it? What is in this account that Evan’s grandfather, whom Evan has never met before, fears so much that he will do anything to prevent its being seen? And what could this possibly mean for Evan? In a pulse-quickening mystery evoking the elusiveness of truth and the endurance of wars passed from father to son, this engrossing novel is a suspenseful, at times terrifying read from award-winning author Tim Wynne-Jones.

Wynne-Jones’ writing, as always is rich and multi-layered. I will admit it took me a couple of chapters to get going with the story, but once I did, I was hooked. The story moves seamlessly between fantasy and reality, present and past. There is text and subtext, and stories within stories.

Griff laughs. “What I said was, the truth is bigger than the stories people tell themselves and bigger than the lies they live with.”

The book received seven starred reviews!!!

Kirkus Reviews 
“Dual stories of strength and resilience illuminate the effects that war has on individuals and on father-son relationships, effects that stretch in unexpected ways across generations as Evan and Griff make their way toward a truce. An accomplished wordsmith, Wynne-Jones achieves an extraordinary feat: he eliminates the hidden depths of personalities and families through a mesmerizing blend of realism and magic.

Publishers Weekly 
“Readers will be swept up quickly in the tense relationship between Evan and Griff, as well as the unlikely friendship between enemy soldiers fighting for survival in a surreal landscape. Without spelling out the metaphoric significance of the story within the story, Wynne-Jones provides enough hints for readers to make connections and examine the lines between war and peace, as well as hate and love.”

Booklist 
“Wynne-Jones writes with a sure hand and a willingness to take readers into uncharted territory. The main characters in both time periods are complex and vividly portrayed, while the stories, both supernatural and realistic, quietly take note of nuances that standard narratives overlook. A riveting, remarkable novel by a reliably great Canadian writer.”

School Library Journal 
“Offering a unique take on the World War II period, this intergenerational tale is an excellent addition to most YA collections.”

Shelf Awareness 
“English-Canadian author Tim Wynne-Jones (The Uninvited, Blink & Caution) crafts a truly spellbinding novel in which the mystical, desert-island, wartime chronicle is as riveting as the modern-day story… and the ways they begin to fuse together are breathtaking.”

The Horn Book 
“There’s a whole lot going on here: Evan’s and Griff’s shared heartbreak, exhibited in very different ways, and their own increasingly complicated relationship; the stark contrast between the mainly nondescript “Any Place” of Evan’s suburban Ontario and the horror of the desert island; and the unlikely friendship between enemy soldiers in the story-within-a-story. All these seemingly disparate parts come together in fascinating ways, resulting in an affecting and unforgettable read.”

* Bulletin of the Center for Children’s 
“The layers of intergenerational strife, savage warfare, lingering suspicion and gradual healing are quilted into a warming narrative that is both uncompromisingly tragic and holistically redemptive. Readers will carry this haunting story with them for a long time.”

YALSA’s 2016 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge Check-in #4

7 Jan

I usually write this post on Sunday, but, I will be in Boston on Sunday, anticipating ALA’s Youth Media Awards.

I finally got a copy of First Flight Around the World: The Adventures of the American Fliers Who Won the Prize by Tim Grove.

First Flight

Publisher’s Summary:In 1924 the U.S. Army sent eight young men on a bold attempt to be the first to circumnavigate the globe by flight. Men from five other countries—Great Britain, France, Portugal, Italy, and Argentina—had the same goal. The race was on!

First Flight Around the World documents the exciting journey of four American planes—the ChicagoBostonNew Orleans, and Seattle—and their crews on a race around the world. The trip held many challenges: extreme weather, tricky navigation, unfamiliar cultures, fragile planes, and few airfields. The world fliers risked their lives for the sake of
national pride.

Based in part on the journal of one of the crew members, First Lieutenant Leslie Arnold, along with commentary, newspaper reports, and archival images, First Flight Around the World is a captivating tale about American ingenuity, gumption, and perseverance.

The first this that struck me as I was reading was that this happened only 21 years after Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight, making this, to my mind, a truly audacious plan.

To be honest, this was my least favorite of the five finalists for the 2016 Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award. In part, this is due to my interest in the topic, in part because it seems to skew a bit toward the younger end of YA.

My prediction is that Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War  by Steve Sheinkin will win, but, having served on a committee now for a year, I know that anything could happen. I’ll have to wait until Monday to find out.

YALSA’s 2016 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge Check-in #3

3 Jan

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I’m rereading the Morris award finalists in reverse order: my favorite first, and working my way down to number 5. My logic is this: I have a favorite, but I need to give the other four an objective opportunity to convince me that they also deserve to be the winner. Reading them in this order, I will arrive in Boston with my #5 fresh in my brain and ready to discuss all five finalists well. I hope my strategy works.

I also managed to reread two nonfiction finalists this week, before I have to go back to work tomorrow . (It is a good thing I love my job!)

Symphony for the City

My first journey through Symphony for the City if the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad,  by M. T. Anderson, was via audiobook. This time through, with the hard copy in hand, I was able to enjoy the text along with the many photos included.

When I first heard that Margarita Engle’s Enchanted Air was a nonfiction finalist, I was a little surprised because, although it is a memoir, it is written in poetry. I love this bold move on the part of the committee!

Enchanted Air

I always talk to may students about the need to reread and a second reading of Enchanted Air,  was a real treat. If nonfiction isn’t your thing, this would be an excellent place to start.

I still have one more nonfiction book to go, and my hold is waiting for me to pick it up at the library this afternoon.

It is hard to believe that, in a week, I will be a in Boston and on a week and a day, we will know the winners. The 2016 Youth Media Awards will be announced at 8 a.m. Eastern time on Monday, January 11, 2016, during the ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibition in Boston. If you can’t make it to Boston, you can watch the presentation live HERE.

YALSA’s 2016 Nonfiction Reading Challenge Check-in #2

27 Dec

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The rereading of the Morris Award finalists continues. I can’t believe it is only 12 days until I go to Boston.

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I finished Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War  by Steve Sheinkin. It is interesting that it all took place during my childhood. I remember bits of it in the news, but never really put it all together.

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I also read This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain.

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I never really gave Mr. Audubon much thought. Although I’ve read a few novels in which he is featured, I just sort of imagined him in a studio, painting. This Strange Wilderness really sheds light on the struggles he had to simply make the paintings and what it took to get the book published. This book feels much more like a  traditional biography than Most Dangerous, but it is very well-written and researched and, reading it, I got a real feel for the times in which Mr Audubon lived.

I have two of the other three books checked out from the library.I’ve already read these, but will reread them with a more critical eye. The third is on hold ad, of course, it is the one I haven’t read. I’m hoping to get it this week.

YALSA’s 2016 Nonfiction Reading Challenge Check-in

20 Dec

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School ended Friday and now I have two fantastic weeks stretching out before me. I have some plans to knit myself a pair of gloves, read a stack of books and generally lounge about.

Yesterday, I started reading Steve Sheinkin’s Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War.

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Like the other books Sheinkin has written, this is extremely readable nonfiction, which I suppose is why it is a YALSA nonfiction finalist, a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature finalist and on several end of the year “best” lists.

Publisher’s Summary: From Steve Sheinkin, the award-winning author of The Port Chicago 50 and Bomb comes a tense, exciting exploration of what the Times deemed “the greatest story of the century”: how Daniel Ellsberg transformed from obscure government analyst into “the most dangerous man in America,” and risked everything to expose the government’s deceit. On June 13, 1971, the front page of the New York Times announced the existence of a 7,000-page collection of documents containing a secret history of the Vietnam War. Known as The Pentagon Papers, these documents had been commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Chronicling every action the government had taken in the Vietnam War, they revealed a pattern of deception spanning over twenty years and four presidencies, and forever changed the relationship between American citizens and the politicans claiming to represent their interests. A provocative book that interrogates the meanings of patriotism, freedom, and integrity, Most Dangerous further establishes Steve Sheinkin as a leader in children’s nonfiction.

I think what makes this even more compelling is the fact that  Sheinkin wraps it up by bringing the issues central to the Vietnam War crisis up to the present day story of Edward Snowden. Yeah, I peeked at the ending. But, to justify my peeking, the back of the arc I have says

“Forty years before Edward Snowden and Julain Assange were household names, Daniel Ellsberg became the first large-scale government whistleblower. He would be called a hero, a traitor, and, by some, “the most dangerous man in America”.

If you, or someone you know, enjoys nonfiction, this is an excellent choice.

блокада Ленинграда, or The Siege of Leningrad

23 Nov

From September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944, 872 days,  the city of Leningrad was under siege by Nazi German forces whose mandate from Hitler was to wipe Leningrad off the face of the Earth. It is estimated that over a million people died, mostly from starvation, stress and exposure. The perseverance and defiance of the people of Leningrad was remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that Dmitri Shostakovich decided to dedicate his 7th symphony to the city of Leningrad, his hometown.   The work remains one of Shostakovich’s best-known compositions.

In Symphony for the City of the Dead, long listed for the National Book Award, M. T. Anderson weaves together Shostakovich’s life, work, hometown, and the siege.

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The book is told in three parts. Part one tells Shostakovich’s story. Born in 1906, he was really a child of the Revolution. A prodigy who embraced the art and music of Russian futurism and the avant-garde. Eventually, though, he fell foul of Stalin and feared that he would be swallowed up in the purges of the 1930’s banished to exile or to the Gulags. Eventually, he regained his footing and, by the time of the outbreak of what the Russian;s call the Great Patriotic War, he was more or less safe.

Part Two covers the period of the war and the composition of the 7th symphony. Anderson provides excellent background information to the war and, although I consider myself fairly well read on the subject of WWII and the Soviet Union, having read a lot of Solzhenitsyn in my youth, I learned facts about Stalin I’d never heard before. We see Shostakovich composing as the situation in Leningrad deteriorates, composing the first three movements in besieged Leningrad. Eventually he, along with his wife and children and other  important residents of Leningrad, are evacuated and we see him struggle to finish the 7th symphony in exile while he worried about family members who were left behind.

Part three covers the post war period and the rise of the Cold War. Shostakovich found himself once more a victim of Stalin’s criticism and denounced by former friends and colleagues. Stalin’s death in 1953 saw Shostakovich’s rehabilitation as a creative artist.

The book includes extensive photo, notes and a bibliography. It is an excellent piece of research and shines a light on the importance of the arts in a world gone mad.

Publisher’s Summary: In September 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history—almost three years of bombardment and starvation that culminated in the harsh winter of 1943–1944. More than a million citizens perished. Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, their relatives having neither the means nor the strength to bury them. Residents burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and—eventually—one another to stay alive. Trapped between the Nazi invading force and the Soviet government itself was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who would write a symphony that roused, rallied, eulogized, and commemorated his fellow citizens—the Leningrad Symphony, which came to occupy a surprising place of prominence in the eventual Allied victory.

This is the true story of a city under siege: the triumph of bravery and defiance in the face of terrifying odds. It is also a look at the power—and layered meaning—of music in beleaguered lives.

 

 

Love, friendship and Winnie-the-Pooh

16 Nov

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I’ve written before about Winnie-the-Pooh’s  Canadian connection.

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear is an interesting twist on the story. It is written by the great-granddaughter of Captain Harry Colebourn, Lindsay Mattick,  the Canadian soldier who adopted the baby bear who later took up residence in the London Zoo and befriended Christopher Robin Milne.

The story is framed as a tale, told by the author to her son, Cole, named for his great-great-grandfather. Like Christopher Robin in the Pooh stories, Cole’s voice is part of this story, asking questions and helping move the story along.  This is a deceptively simple story, which delivers a factual story in a very engaging manner.

Sophie Blackall’s illustrations elevate the is lovely story. She has a lovely series of four blog posts that talk about the process and research  she went through to make historically accurate illustrations.

Here is my favorite page, where Winnipeg the bear captures the heart of Colebourn’s Colonel by standing up in his hind legs as if in salute. The Colonel simply says, “Oh hallo.” And she (yes the real Winnie was a she) became the company’s mascot.

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Working together, Mattick and Blackall have really made clear the deep affection Colebourn and Winnie shared.

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“Love is taking a few steps backward maybe even more… to give way to the happiness of the person you love.”

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