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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.

 

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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.

Spooky!

20 Sep

I think my first exposure to the infamous1938 radio broadcast tof War of the Worlds  was a 1975 made-for-TV movie entitled The Night That Panicked America.

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In this era of “fake news” and fake “fake news” Gail Jarrow’s new work of nonfiction, Spooked! How a Radio Broadcast and The war of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America Spooked, takes a new look at that event and makes connections to the present.

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Publisher’s Summary: Acclaimed author Gail Jarrow explores in riveting detail the famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast from 1938, in this nonfiction title. Jarrow highlights the artists behind the broadcast, the broadcast itself, the aftermath, and the repercussions which remain relevant today. On the night of October 30, 1938, thousands of Americans panicked when they believed that Martians had invaded Earth. What appeared to be breaking news about an alien invasion was, in fact, a radio drama based on H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, performed by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre players. Some listeners became angry once they realized they had been tricked, and the reaction to the broadcast sparked a national discussion about fake news, propaganda, and the role of radio. Archival photographs and images, as well as an author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and index round out this stellar nonfiction title.

Making her point

26 Aug

I picked up an ARC of Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream by Ibtihaj Muhammad. It was part of my effort to get books with covers featuring people who looked like my students. Although middle schoolers aren’t the target audience for this book, I think many of my students will enjoy reading it.

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There are several reasons why I think it will work in a middle school classroom. First is Muhammad’s honesty in her descriptions of her struggles and self-doubts. Her strict upbringing and expectations of success mirror those of my students. The book is definitely more memoir than biography because she delves deeper in some parts than in others, in the same way that I encourage my writers to tell microstories that illustrate the point they are trying to make.

Of course, I love that this is the story of a women of color who has achieved success in sports. Her dedication and personal sacrifice exemplify the grit everyone needs to succeed in whatever they undertake.

Publisher’s Summary: Growing up in New Jersey as the only African American Muslim at school, Ibtihaj Muhammad always had to find her own way. When she discovered fencing, a sport traditionally reserved for the wealthy, she had to defy expectations and make a place for herself in a sport she grew to love.

From winning state championships to three-time All-America selections at Duke University, Ibtihaj was poised for success, but the fencing community wasn’t ready to welcome her with open arms just yet. As the only woman of color and the only religious minority on Team USA’s saber fencing squad, Ibtihaj had to chart her own path to success and Olympic glory.

Proud is a moving coming-of-age story from one of the nation’s most influential athletes and illustrates how she rose above it all.

A Young Reader’s Edition is also available.

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Very often, the big difference in a young readers version of  a book is the simplification of language and the expurgation  of  scenes considered in appropriate for the audience. Ibtihaj Muhammad has lived a very disciplined life and I have no problem sharing my ARC of the “adult” version with my students. I think they will understand the struggles and successes of Ibtihaj Muhammad.

 

House Sparrows

13 Aug

At my old house, I had a little house sparrow that visited me. It would hop on my front porch and, if my front door was open to catch a breeze, she would hop onto the threshold and peek in. An elderly friend of mine told me it meant the bird had something important to tell me. I never found out what that was, but I think about that little bird from time to time, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot while I read The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill.

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Publisher’s Summary:Behold the most despised bird in human history!

So begins Jan Thornhill’s riveting, beautifully illustrated story of the House Sparrow. She traces the history of this perky little bird, one of the most adaptable creatures on Earth, from its beginnings in the Middle East to its spread with the growth of agriculture into India, North Africa and Europe. Everywhere the House Sparrow went, it competed with humans for grain, becoming such a pest that in some places “sparrow catcher” became an actual job and bounties were paid to those who got rid of it.

But not everyone hated the House Sparrow, and in 1852, fifty pairs were released in New York City. In no time at all, the bird had spread from coast to coast. Then suddenly, at the turn of the century, as cars took over from horses and there was less grain to be found, its numbers began to decline. As our homes, gardens, cities and farmland have changed, providing fewer nesting and feeding opportunities, the House Sparrow’s numbers have begun to decline again — though in England and Holland this decline appears to be slowing. Perhaps this clever little bird is simply adapting once more.

This fascinating book includes the life history of the House Sparrow and descriptions of how the Ancient Egyptians fed it to the animals they later mummified, how it traveled to Great Britain as a stowaway on ships carrying Roman soldiers, and how its cousin, the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, was almost eradicated in China when Mao declared war on it. A wealth of back matter material is also supplied.

The narrative text is augmented by Thornhill’s realistic illustrations that help the reader picture the truly remarkable history of the house sparrow.

 

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