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11 Aug

For several years, in the days between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, my sister and I would ask, “When is Children’s Day?”

Every year, my mother would reply, “Every day is Children’s Day.” She was old school that way.

Apparently, Sunday, August 9th was National Book Lovers’ Day. I missed it, but can’t help channeling my mother because I believe that every day is book lovers’ day.

The pandemic has caused me to lose a bit of my reading mojo. I have lost the desire to read fiction – in print or as an audiobook. I seem to only have a desire for nonfiction, and not just the nonfiction books I have to read for the committee I am on.

I have always been able to lose myself in a fictional world. You would think that, homebound for the most part, I would easily escape to some fictional place, an armchair traveller. But, for some strange reason, I long to escape to real places: under the sea with whales and octopus, to Colombia and Washington, into politics and philosophy.

I know several people who have completely lost their reading mojo. So to lose interest in fiction isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. It’s just a thing.

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2020 YA Nonfiction Award Finalists

5 Dec

Next December, it will be my responsibility to get this list out, as I am chairing the 2021 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. For now, here is this year’s list of five finalists.

 

  • Free Lunch,written by Rex Ogle and published by Norton Young Readers, an imprint of W.W. Norton & Company
  • The Great Nijinsky: God of Dance, written and illustrated by Lynn Curlee and published by Charlesbridge Teen
  • A Light in the DarknessJanusz Korczak, His Orphans, and the Holocaust, written by Albert Marrin and published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House
  • A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II, written by Elizabeth Wein and published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
  • Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of “The Children’s Ship, written by Deborah Heiligman and published by Henry Holt, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

I’ve read three of these five and have put the other two on hold.

What is it about beavers?

5 Aug

I grew up in a country that had a beaver on a coin and I now live us a state that has a beaver on its flag. What is it about beavers?

Rachel Poliquin answers my question in her new book: they have SUPERPOWERS!!!

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Beavers: The Superpower Field Guide is the first book in her new middle-grade nonfiction Superhero Field Guide series and it is terrific!

Publisher’s Summary: Meet Elmer, an ordinary beaver. He may not be as mighty as a lion or as dangerous as a shark. He may be squat and brown. But never underestimate a beaver.

I can almost hear you saying, “But aren’t beavers just lumpy rodents with buck teeth and funny flat tails?”

Yes, they are! And believe it or not, those buck teeth and funny flat tails are just a few of the things that make beavers extraordinary.

Written in an engaging, humorous style, this book is a long way from the more serious books about animals on most shelves. It will appeal to young readers who love to read about animals, and to those who don’t, but might have to do so for a project.

Each chapter takes on a new beaver superpower, moving from their giant rodent teeth at the front , to their super stink at the back end. Like the tex, the illustrations – by Nicholas John Frith like the text – are a mix of fact and whimsy.

The second book in the series, Moles: The Superpower Field Guide, came out in June. The next book, Ostriches,  is due out in November. The fourth (and final?) book, Eels, is set for publication in June 2020. They would be a fun addition to any classroom where animals are studied.

 

An Evolutionary Tale

22 Jul

I’ve been reading a lot, but not writing about it. Let’s blame summer vacation and my deep relaxation. It’s a good thing. And I am at the point where I have a large stack of books I could write about. Some are clamoring loudly for me to write about them, but I am choosing to write about a quieter book today.

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Moth: An Evolution Story is written by Isabel Thomas and illustrated by Daniel Egnéus. It’s an excellent book that not only depicts the process of evolution, but  also allows young readers to look back at past human activity and its impact on the natural world.

Publisher’s Summary: “This is a story of light and dark.”

Against a lush backdrop of lichen-covered trees, the peppered moth lies hidden. Until the world begins to change …

A clever picture book text about the extraordinary way in which animals have evolved, intertwined with the complication of human intervention. This remarkable retelling of the story of the peppered moth is the perfect introduction to natural selection and evolution for children.

Along come people with their magnificent machines which stain the land with soot. In a beautiful landscape changed by humans how will one little moth survive?

Powerful and visually spectacular, Moth is the remarkable evolution story that captures the struggle of animal survival against the background of an evolving human world in a unique and atmospheric introduction to Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection.

The text is almost poetic prose, told with just enough detail to get the idea across. For those wanting more facts, the story of the peppered moth is included at the back in more straightforward, scientific prose. The illustrations lift this book, creating at atmosphere that captures the moth at night and the changing environment beautifully.

Almost every student learns about butterflies and moths during their primary school years. The butterfly always seems to take center stage. Moth: An Evolution Story might help the lowly moth gain more fans. A must for any classroom.

For adults who don’t like non-fiction

4 Feb

For most people, non-fiction is a black and white, either/or. They either like it or the don’t. They either read it, or they don’t.

So, adults who don’t love non-fiction , I am calling out to you today. You should read this book!

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First, it doesn’t read like non-fiction. It is an excellent example of narrative non-fiction. The “story” of the fire is interwoven with the history of the LA, the LA Public Library, and the people who make it up. You’ll be drawn in by the story, but will be fascinated by the research Susan Orlean has done. And, if you don’t already use your local public library, I hope it encourages you to renew your relationship with it.

Publisher’s Summary: On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

This week’s book talks 1/21-25

25 Jan

It’s a crazy week with only 3 book talks. Monday was MLK Day and no school, so no book talk. Today, I am on my way to Seattle for the ALA Midwinter Meeting, where the . I’ll write posts over the weekend and into next week about that.  Here are this week’s three books.

Tuesday

Be  A Changemaker: How To Start Something That Matters by Laurie Ann Thompson

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Wednesday

You Are Mighty: A Guide to Changing the World  by Caroline Paul

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Thursday

It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired and Get Going! by Chelsea Clintonchelseclintonitsyourworld_cv

 

 

 

 

The Voice in My Head Last Week

14 Jan

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Last week, knitting and driving, I listened to Philip Pullman read the collection of his essays that constitute Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling. I’ve since put the print book on hold because he says some wonderful things in it. I want to see them in print and ponder them. I want to share some of them with my students.

If you like stories, storytelling or writing, I highly recommend it. It is not written for kids, but readers and writers of upper middle school and high school age might also find this fascinating.

Publisher’s Summary: From the internationally best-selling author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, a spellbinding journey into the secrets of his art–the narratives that have shaped his vision, his experience of writing, and the keys to mastering the art of storytelling.

One of the most highly acclaimed and best-selling authors of our time now gives us a book that charts the history of his own enchantment with story–from his own books to those of Blake, Milton, Dickens, and the Brothers Grimm, among others–and delves into the role of story in education, religion, and science. At once personal and wide-ranging, Daemon Voices is both a revelation of the writing mind and the methods of a great contemporary master, and a fascinating exploration of storytelling itself.

 

2019 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award Finalists

13 Dec

As promised, here are the finalists for the 2019 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. As with the Morris Award nominees, I’ve read all the titles. They, too, will be announced at the Youth Media Awards in Seattle. These authors will also present at the same ceremony as the Morris finalists.

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  • The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor written by Sonia Sotomayor
  • Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam written by Elizabeth Partridge
  • The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler written and illustrated by John Hendrix
  • Hey, Kiddo:  How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addictionwritten and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
  • The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees written and illustrated by Don Brown

My heart is with Hey Kiddo,  which I wrote about here. I am also excited to see Faithful Spy on the list.

You can read more about all five finalists on the 2019 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award page.

 

The Hollywood Ten

19 Nov

George Santayana wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. It is often misquoted and misattributed. In this age of fake news and extreme political opinions, Larry Dane Brimner’s Blacklisted!: Hollywood, The Cold War, and The First Amendment should almost be required reading.

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Publisher’s Summary: World War II is over, but tensions between communist Soviet Union and the U.S. are at an all-time high. In America, communist threats are seen everywhere and a committee is formed in the nation’s capital to investigate those threats. Larry Dane Brimner follows the story of nineteen men—all from the film industry—who are summoned to appear before the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities. All nineteen believe that the committee’s investigations into their political views and personal associations are a violation of their First Amendment rights. When the first ten of these men refuse to give the committee the simple answers it wants, they are cited for contempt of Congress and blacklisted. Brimner brings the story of the trial and its consequences to life, giving readers an in-depth look at what it’s like to fight for the most basic of our Constitutional rights. The book includes an author’s note, a bibliography, source notes, and an index, as well as archival photographs, documents, cartoons, images, and quotations from the accused and their accusers.

Since his audience has probably never hear of the hearings held by the House Committee on UN-American Activities, Brimner takes the time to build the historical background necessary to understand why we should care. In his author’s note he states, “America and Americans need to be ever watchful that the Constitution’s guarantees are never sacrificed again out of fear, hysteria, prejudice, or political passion.”  Indeed.

The flu to end all flus

8 Nov

Just as we mark the 100th anniversary of The Great War this year, we also mark the 100th anniversary of the flu pandemic of 1918. In Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918,  Albert Marrin deftly shows how the two world issues are connected.

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Publisher’s Summary: In spring of 1918, World War I was underway, and troops at Fort Riley, Kansas, found themselves felled by influenza. By the summer of 1918, the second wave struck as a highly contagious and lethal epidemic and within weeks exploded into a pandemic, an illness that travels rapidly from one continent to another. It would impact the course of the war, and kill many millions more soldiers than warfare itself.

Of all diseases, the 1918 flu was by far the worst that has ever afflicted humankind; not even the Black Death of the Middle Ages comes close in terms of the number of lives it took. No war, no natural disaster, no famine has claimed so many. In the space of eighteen months in 1918-1919, about 500 million people–one-third of the global population at the time–came down with influenza. The exact total of lives lost will never be known, but the best estimate is between 50 and 100 million.

Marin also does an excellent job explaining the science behind the flu and research into it. I now finally understand what they mean when they call it an H1N1 flu! He talks about recent flu pandemics readers might actually have seen, though they might not have experienced directly.

All in all this is an interesting read that looks at the medical and social implications of the flu.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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