Posts tagged ‘Nonfiction Monday’

Coretta Scott King Awards 2014

The American Library Association announced their Annual Youth Media Awards earlier this year, and I’ve been slowly but surely catching up on reading all the winners and honorees. The Coretta Scott King Awards are a set of three awards that honor African American authors, illustrators, and new talent of outstanding literature for children and young adults. I’ll be focusing on the Illustrator and New Talent Awards in this post, with the longer author winner and honorees in a separate post once I finish reading them. I have to say though, there were really no surprises in these categories, as the same people are continually recognized for their contributions.

For the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Book Award, the committee chose one winner and one honoree.
Nelson MandelaTitle: Nelson Mandela
Author/Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
ISBN: 978006178374
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2013.
Publication Date: January 2, 2013

The honor was given to Kadir Nelson, who authored and illustrated a picture book biography on Nelson Mandela, published at the very beginning of 2013. Nelson Mandela’s passing at the end of 2013 serves as an ironic footnote to the book’s publication and award recognition. Kadir Nelson’s name has cropped up a host of times, and his work has been recognized over an over again.
Won the 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
2012 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans.
Caldecott Honor for Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
Caldecott Honor for Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, for which he also garnered a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and won an NAACP Image Award;
Won Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange
Won Coretta Scott King Author Award for We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

Are you sensing a theme here? Whenever he writes something, he gets recognized by someone! And most people will say rightfully so. In his newest book, readers see Kadir Nelson’s signature style of life-like renderings from the cover (which mimics the design of his biographies on Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr.) all the way to the end. Most striking I think is the first page, where we see a young Nelson playing with the village boys and the sun shines forth from behind the hill with such warmth your eye is immediately drawn to the contrasting shadowed silhouettes. The sparse, poetically formatted text supplements the pictures, that carry the light and dark themes throughout the book.

My one complaint about this and other picture book biographies is that very few specifics are included. Annual biography assignments for school children often have a checklist of facts that need to be contained in the books or require an inclusion of a time line. While this would be a great asset to children studying biographies, especially during February’s Black History Month, readers would be hard pressed to find specifics. Would it have been so hard to add a timeline in the back of the book along side the author’s note, or include specific dates in the text instead of “in early 1990″? Or am I the only person getting frustrated by this oversight?

Knock Knock My Dad's Dream for MeTitle: Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me
Author: Daniel Beaty
Illustrator: Bryan Collier
ISBN: 9780316209175
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2013.
Publication Date: December 17, 2013

More recently published Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me won the Illustrator award. Bryan Collier is another illustrator who has been recognized time and time again, with three Caldecott Honors and four Coretta Scott King Awards over the years. Collier’s collages and Beaty’s text follows a young boy as he experiences the loss of his father’s influence. The author doesn’t specify in the story that the father has been incarcerated until you read the end notes, which I appreciate because it lends versatility to the story and could be used for divorce situations in addition to incarceration. The illustrations follow the boy as he grows into an educated man and an involved father in his own right, but at the end you still see the influence his own father had on him, regardless of or maybe because of his absence.

The more symbolic structure of the illustrations lend the impression this is meant for older audiences, and I can see where this might be a recommendation for patrons specifically looking for material of this nature. Most poignant is the subtle nods to the father’s absence, such as the main character wearing his father’s tie as he peruses his dreams, and an elephant statue peeking out of his office background mimicking the child’s bedroom wallpaper. The ending picture seems slightly out of context with the rest of the story, but although overall I think the less abstract images make the most impact when reading, that last picture makes a memorable ending to a tale of perseverance.

When the Beat Was BornTitle: When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop
Author: Laban Carrick Hill
Illustrator: Theodore Taylor III
ISBN: 9781596435407
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2013.

According to the ALA website the John Steptoe New Talent Award was “established to affirm new talent and to offer visibility to excellence in writing and/or illustration which otherwise might be formally unacknowledged within a given year within the structure of the two awards given annually by the Coretta Scott King Task Force.” This award is often overlooked because it’s not awarded every year.

I can understand why this book was recognized by the committee, as it sheds light on the start of Hip Hop, something that most people have never considered. The story focuses on DJ Kool Herc rise from Jamican music lover peering over the fence at party set-ups to hooking up his father’s super-sized speakers to street lamps and christening the break dance style that evolved during his days of being a DJ. While Laban Carrick Hill includes a personalized author’s note and a partial time line of hip hop in the 1970s and 1980s, just like Kadir Nelson’s picture book biography he avoids specific dates and details.

The pictures by Theodore Taylor III are well drawn, with clean lines showing children what the different break dancing moves look like. His work showcases the old technology of speakers bigger than people, boomboxes bigger than babies, and turntables plugged into one another instead of through wireless connections. It’s almost a time capsule for readers, where parents can talk about the music they used to listen to, and I wish it had a compilation CD that featured some of the “Hip Hop” beats that are discussed in the book. I especially enjoyed the scene of community where Herc is playing street parties in the park and we see people of all ages, including one gray haired woman and a small child with a jump rope, listening to the music. As someone who grew up in the suburbs and didn’t have that type of environment, I’m surprised to find myself wanting to seek out that community network.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. Check out the blog for other reviews of nonfiction books.

Truce

0-545-13049-2Title: Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting
Author: Jim Murphy
ISBN: 9780545130493
Pages: 116 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc.

In a matter of days, six million soldiers would find themselves facing weapons of unimaginable destructive power. Many of them would be blasted from the face of the earth, while others would be left permanently wounded in horrible ways. None of these young men realized that their leaders had lied to get them to fight in a war that did not have to happen. Nor could they know that on December 25, 1914, they would openly defy their commanding officers and meet on the battlefield in what can only be described as a Christmas miracle. (x)

Since I’ve read Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan I know that World War I started when the Austrian Archduke was assassinated while visiting Bosnia-Herzegovina. I’d also previously heard about the impromptu truce that was called between troops in order to celebrate Christmas, which when the war started was when everyone thought the war would be over. Little did they know at that point it was just starting. But Jim Murphy glosses over the causes of the war and strives to put the focus on the soldiers involved in the conflict. There are copious photos of soldiers in the trenches, close-ups of the no-mans land that they could not cross, and the aftermath of the futile charges when they did attempt an attack. Soldiers from both sides are quoted extensively, with first-hand accounts taken from journals, letters home, and official correspondence. Even if you’d previously heard about the impromptu and imperfect truce, there’s new insight to be gained.

For instance, did you know that the truce was previously coordinated? Mini-truces had been organized between the troops, as they exchanged songs and sometimes supplies over the crumbling walls. Murphy relates that one area even had a shooting competition, where a target was placed in the middle and each sides shot until it was hit. But arranging the truce depended upon the individual platoons, battalions, and soldiers.

The most surprising thing was that it was frowned upon by the superior officers!

Back at headquarters, [English] General Horace Smith-Dorrien had been disturbing reports all day about strange goings-on at the front. [...] The commander of all British troops, Field Marshall John French, was just as angry. “When this [fraternization] was reported to me I issued immediate orders to prevent any recurrence of such conduct, and called the local commanders to strict account, which resulted in a good deal of trouble.
The German High Command took much the same view and issued a terse order: “Commander Second Army directs that informal understandings with enemy are to cease. Officers . . . allowing them are to be brought before a court-martial.” (82-83)

As a result, some of the opposing officers in the field met to warn their enemies that they’d be resuming their hostilities. Some soldiers initially refused to resume firing, and others warned their counterparts each time they were forced to give the impression that they were still fighting, such as when they were being inspected by higher ranking members. While most places continued to fight by the new year, soldiers stationed on both sides at Ploegsteert Wood kept the friendship until March. I laughed at some of the comments, as I’m sure the commanding generals did not, such as when one captain declared that the men waved at each other and made tea and acted “most gentlemanly” and that “this useless and annoying sniping can have no real effect on the progress of the campaign.” (88)

A truly intriguing idea that begs the perpetual and never solved “What if” question that is probably hanging over the heads of every soldier involved. “What if the fighting had stopped there?” How different would history and the world be? Especially how reluctantly some of the parties were to even get involved in the conflict, I wish the practice of listening to the troops and the people would have enacted some change. As the holidays approach and we hear about “Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men,” consider reading this book and learning about how this idea was practiced in the worst of circumstances.

This was posted in conjunction with Nonfiction Mondays, a drive around the internet to encourage reading and reviewing nonfiction titles.

Bird Talk and Alex the Parrot

I’m usually trying to pair unique books with each other, whether it’s for story times or simply to promote them together on a display. Two books published last year both have wonderful illustrations and complement each other with their subjects.

Bird TalkAlex the Parrot

Title: Bird Talk: What Birds are Saying and Why
Author/Illustrator: Lita Judge
ISBN: 9781596436466
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Flash Point, an imprint of
Roaring Brook Press, c2012.
Title: Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird
Author: Stephanie Spinner
Illustrator: Meilo So
ISBN: 9780375868467
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf,
an imprint of Random House Children’s Books,
a division of Random House, c2012.

On a completely unrelated note… “Look Ma, COLUMNS!” So pretty. Ahem, regaining my train of thought…
While I knew about Koko the gorilla who was taught sign-language, I was not familiar with Alex, which stands for Avian Learning EXperiment. In Alex the Parrot Stephanie Spinner goes into detail about the raising and training of Alex, and African grey parrot that eventually would go on to learn hundreds of words and concepts taught to children in kindergarten. He would combine words to make sentences, answer questions, and compare items by their shape or color. No one expected these abilities from a bird with a brain the size of a walnut, but Alex proved them wrong. Spinner also talks about the lengths that trainer Irene Pepperberg took to avoid acusations that the bird was simply mimicing her or responding to unconscious cues.

As a comparison with what other birds do naturally, pair it with the book Bird Talk by Lita Judge. You might have to either explain or alter the language for younger audiences when she says “attract a mate”, “fledgling” or “species”, but she does include a glossary at the end to assist with that task. There are over two dozen of introductory exmples of birds around the world, varying from the common robin, blue jay and crows to the more exotic Scarlet Macaws, Blue Bird of Paradise, and yes even the African Grey Parrot. It does seem that the subtitle might be viewed as a misnomer, since the book doesn’t just cover vocalizations, but also explains how different types of birds behave when defending their flocks and about half the book is mating/courship behaviors. Overall though, the pictures are engaging and well-drawn and the listing in the back makes an easy reference of where you can find those species featured.

Maybe slightly more detailed than is ideal for classroom sharing, the books overall would both go over well for kids with birds on the brain, and I would hand them together to anyone who’s hearing the call of the wild outside their window.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, you’ll have to head on over to Julie Azzam’s blog, Instantly Interruptible.

We’ve Got a Job

We've Got a JobTitle: We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March
Author: Cynthia Levinson
ISBN: 9781561456277
Pages: 176 pages
Publisher/Date: Peachtree Publishers, c2012
Awards: Finalist for The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction (2013)

Though nonviolent, all of these confrontations were illegal. King reasoned that if enough protesters were arrested, they would fill the jails and overwhelm Connor’s ability to enforce segregation laws. […] Only a few hundred adults heard Bevel’s frenzied sermon that night, and just seventeen volunteered to go to jail. But kids got the message, especially when the preacher who followed Bevel proclaimed, “Some of these students say they have got to go to school, but they will get more education in five days in the City Jail than they will get in five months in a segregated school.” (48, 59)

Segregation in the 1960s was a violent time of upheaval. Most of us have heard the most familiar stories of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. But very few people may realize the effect that children and teens had in moving segregation efforts forward. During the entire month of April, 1963, the first in an effort to fill the jails and bring attention to the cause, only 123 people were arrested. But then a rallying cry and concentrated effort was made to enlist teenagers to a cause that would directly affect them. “Between Thursday, May 2, and Monday, May 6, almost 2,500 young people had been arrested.” (114) The treatment of these individuals, some as young as nine-years old, who flooded the streets brought national attention to events in the south. Ultimately, four children died in a church bombing that was the culmination of tensions between the black and white populations.

Cynthia Levinson spent four years tracking down and interviewing these participants and researching how history played out almost 50 years ago. Including a map, a timeline, an index, pictures of those interviewed and an assortment of notes, this book is an amazing glimpse into a time that changed America. Levinson does a thorough job of bringing to life the actions of the teenagers but also those of the adults involved. Readers finish the book with a solid understanding of how divided not only the community was on the issue of segregation, but also how disorganized the leadership was in achieving their goals. The government endorsed and encouraged the police’s prejudices against these protesters and it is hard to come to terms with their behavior based on today’s laws prohibiting such actions. At one point, government officials notified the Ku Klux Klan that they would be given 15 minutes to confront Freedom Riders, and the perpetrators who were caught after those violent fifteen minutes were given a minimal sentence.

Pair this book with The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine, which is set a few years earlier or The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon and One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, which are both set a few years later. Especially in this unsteady time when unrest is reigning and emotions are high with so many political issues, including gay rights, immigration, and gun control, teens might take notes about nonviolent actions that they can use to affect change in today’s society.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Anastasia Suen’s blog.

This book in particular was read as I participate in YALSA’s 2013 Hub Reading Challenge which challenges readers to finish 25 books by June 22nd from a list of 83 titles that were recognized and published over the last year.

Moonbird

MoonbirdTitle: Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95
Author: Phillip Hoose
ISBN: 9780374304683
Pages: 148 pages
Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, c2012.
Awards: Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book (2013), CYBILS Top 5 Finalist (2012), Finalist for YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

Meet B95, one of the world’s premier athletes. Weighing a mere four ounces, he’s flown more than 325,000 miles in his life—the distance to the moon and nearly halfway back. He flies at mountaintop height along ancient routes that lead him to his breeding grounds and back. But changes throughout his migratory circuit are challenging this Superbird and threatening to wipe out his entire subspecies of rufa red knot. Places that are critical for B95 and his flock to rest and refuel—stepping-stones along a vast annual migration network—have been altered by human activity. Can these places and the food they contain be preserved?
Or will B95’s and rufa’s days of flight soon come to an end. (3)

That quote summarizes the entire book very adeptly and succinctly. By focusing on B95, Phillip Hoose presents the migratory patterns of the rufa red knot, along with other similar shore birds, as they fly from South America to the Arctic Circle and back again. The migration happens each year, with the birds spending no more than a few months at any location as they follow a path that is ingrained in them. Hoose thoroughly outlines the challenges that the birds face, including changing climates, natural predators, human influences, and stock up on food that needs to last their non-stop flight patterns. Several scientists that study these birds are featured throughout the book and highlight how discoveries about these birds continue to be made. Photos are also interspersed with side bars, and the notes at the end really detail Hoose’s first-hand pursuit of knowledge about these birds.

Hoose did a good job at presenting the facts without overly personifying the bird or his flock. While the facts can be dry to people (like me) who don’t read a lot of nonfiction, taking the book in bite sized snippets and focusing on what I call the “fast facts” can keep you interested. For instance, “Studies show that fat birds fly faster than thin birds, and can stay in the air longer. [Over the course of several weeks a] red knot can consume fourteen times its own weight. To do that, a human weighing 110 pounds would need to eat 2,300 hamburgers at two thirds of a pound per hamburger, with cheese and tomato.” (30-31)

Overall, it’s a unique spin on a little known animal. The amount of interest there will be for this book remains to be seen. However, it’s very in-depth, focused, and factual account, especially when you’re trying to show how scientists conduct their research.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, head on over to A Mom’s Spare Time.

This book in particular was read as I participate in YALSA’s 2013 Hub Reading Challenge which challenges readers to finish 25 books by June 22nd from a list of 83 titles that were recognized and published over the last year.

Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

BombTitle: Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
Author: Steve Sheinkin
ISBN: 9781596434875
Pages: 266 pages
Publisher/Date: Flash Point, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, c2012.
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Awards: 2012 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, 2013 Newbery Honor Book, Winner of the 2013 Sibert Award and the 2013 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award, Cybils Top Five Nonfiction Finalist,

This is a big story. It’s the story of the creation — and theft — of the deadliest weapon ever invented. The scenes speed around the world, from secret labs to commando raids to street-corner spy meetings. But like most big stories, this one starts small [...] sixteen years before FBI agents cornered Harry Gold in Philadelphia. (7)

Not only is this a big story, but it’s also a complex and sometimes convoluted story, filled with spies and sabotage, intrigue and ingenuity, science and suspense. In 1938, German physicist Otto Hahn was the first to split the atom, an accomplishment that scientists around the world thought was impossible. Less than one year later, President Roosevelt was appraised by none other than Albert Einstein of the possibility of this discovery being used to build a super-sized bomb, and Roosevelt demanded action. Thus began the race for physical, monetary, and intellectual resources to discover the key and build a bomb before any of their enemies. In the shadow of World War II and into the Cold War, scientists worked tirelessly. Robert Oppenheimer’s team in California was the first to crack the code, but the group was plagued with security uncertainties and the government, military, and scientists involved questioned who they could really trust with this deadly and destructive data.

This book has received many accolades, from being a 2012 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature and 2013 Newbery Honor Book to winning the 2013 Sibert Award and the 2013 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. One thing that would have helped this award-winning book immensely is a timeline. As readers bounce from scientists to spies and back again across multiple continents and countries, it was almost information overload. It was difficult to differentiate everyone in the beginning, especially when the forward starts in one year and then you zip backwards in time almost a decade and another part where two people on a sabotage team both had the same first name. But for science enthusiasts and detailed orientated people, this will intrigue and enthrall them to have all the pieces of the puzzle together in one concise book. Sheinkin goes beyond the creation of Fat Man and Little Boy and their deployment on Japan, allowing readers a glimpse into the beginnings of the Cold War.

One scene mentioned in the book that particularly struck me was learning how far America went to determine who was spying on us:

While in the United States, Soviet spies had to use an American telegraph company to send information quickly to Moscow. The KGB probably knew that the telegraph company was making copies of every telegram and handing them over to the U.S. Army. This didn’t particularly worry the Soviets–the messages were always written in an extremely complex code.
In 1949, after years of failure, American code breakers cracked the code. Intelligence began decoding all the messages sent to the Soviet Union during the war. That’s when they came across a shocking note sent from New York City to KGB headquarters in 1944. [...]
The 1944 telegram summarized a top-secret scientific paper. The paper had been written by one of the British scientists working with Oppenheimer. A few phone calls later, Lamphere [a FBI counterintelligence agent] had the name of the paper’s author: Klaus Fuchs. (221)

Proving how complex the situation was, the German-born physicist named Klaus Fuchs was working with British scientists in England when his assistance was requested in America, prompting him to spy for the Russian Communist Party. When he is arrested and finally being tried in 1950, his lawyer emphasizes the fact that at the time he was passing secrets to the Soviet Union during World War II, the country and Britain were allies. This made the difference between a maximum 14 years in prison for passing secrets to allies and the death penalty if the two countries had been enemies at the time the crime was committed. Fuchs got out early for good behavior, later moving back to East Germany.

Especially interesting is a peak, however brief, into the political rational of Japan not surrendering after the first bomb was dropped. I would have liked to have read more about the bombs’ effects on the country, but sticking to the facts and not trying to sensationalize the country or its population I feel made a greater impact. The simple statement “Fat Man exploded over the city of Nagasaki with the force of 22,000 tons of TNT. At least 40,000 people were instantly killed, and tens of thousands more fatally wounded or poisoned with radiation.” leaves a power impression. I hope readers considered these stark statistics and allowed them the full attention they deserved. This is not a fast read, but you’ll feel immeasurably rewarded once you get through this dense text that presents the making of the bomb and it’s after effects from all sides.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Sue Heavenrich over at Sally’s Bookshelf.

This book in particular was read as I participate in YALSA’s 2013 Hub Reading Challenge which challenges readers to finish 25 books by June 22nd from a list of 83 titles that were recognized and published over the last year.

Bill the Boy Wonder

Title: Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman
Author: Marc Tyler Nobleman
Illustrator: Ty Templeton
ISBN: 9781580892896
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Charlesbridge, c2012.

Bob told Bill that Bat-Man would be published and asked Bill to write it–without credit. Because such an arrangement was fairly typical, and because writing gigs were tough to get, but mainly because Bill was an agreeable sort, he said yes.
With that, Bill took on his second secret identity.
However, he would soon realize that he had been blind about this Bat.

I’ll be the first to admit that while I know slightly more than the uninitiated about comics, I do not follow them religiously like some people I’ve met in my journey. I can have a conversation about the movies, but whether or not they follow the “cannon” or the comic books is beyond what I know. So I was somewhat comforted to find out in my reading this book that MOST people wouldn’t know about this secret second creator of the superhero who become Batman. It’s incredible to think that this story first came to fruition 1939 and is still, over 70 years later, going strong and attracting new followers.

While Nobleman makes a valiant effort to present the facts in an impartial manner, you can tell that this lack of recognition sticks in his craw. Bob Kane hired Bill to do the writing and other artists to do the drawings, and insisted they all work anonymously. Nobleman reveals that even after word got out that Bill wrote the stories and at the very least contributed to the creation of Batman (although it was never proven how much), Bob still would not amend his contract “requiring that he always be listed as the sole creator of Batman.” And then, readers find out in the extensive author’s note that Bill’s only granddaughter wasn’t receiving any of the few royalties that Bill could claim for his contributions to such an iconic piece of our culture. Nobleman’s passion for this topic really shows by the work, and he strongly suggests that the only reason DC Comics hasn’t added Bill’s name is that their hands tied by legalities.

Templeton’s artwork is very eye-catching, and distinctly suited for a story revolving around the early age of comics. With very minimal shading, the bright and bold pen drawings use vibrant colors that really draw readers into the story. The layout also mimics panels of a comic book, although understandably the text boxes are larger than what you usually find in a comic.

The author’s note reveals the research that went into writing this book, with references to interviews, published articles and books, and containing previously unknown photos of Bill. And just like Batman, Nobleman’s research ultimately resulted in “writing” a wrong. While he can’t do anything about the legal side or the past, Nobleman has ensured that future generations will know the truth behind the mask. A definite point of interest considering all the recent Batman movies, this book could serve as a possible bridge for comic book fans to pursue non-fiction titles.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Lizann Flatt over at The Flatt Perspective.

The Fairy Ring

Title: The Fairy Ring:  or Elsie and Frances Fool the World
Author: Mary Losure
ISBN: 9780763656706
Pages: 184 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2012.

Sometimes Elsie drew gardens in faraway countries.
Once, she drew Titania, the queen of the fairies from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The fairy queen lay sleeping on a bank, her lovely dark hair spread all around her.
Elsie had copied her out of a book illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Arthur Rackham was a real artist, famous for his illustrations of fairies.
But Elsie’s own fairies–the dancing ones that everyone said were so beautiful–were torn up and buried in the beck. The painted paper gnome was long gone. Their photographs lay forgotten in a drawer. For all Elsie knew, no one would ever look at them again.
And maybe that’s what would have happened if, one winter day, Elsie’s mother hadn’t decided to go on an outing. . . . (55-57)

Nine-year-old Frances was tired of being made fun of when she claimed to see fairies in her cousin’s backyard where she was staying during the war. Her older cousin Elsie had an idea to prove that the fairies existed by painting paper fairies and taking Frances’ picture with them. Once the photos were developed, that sure put a stop to the teasing. It was only meant for their parents, but things got out of hand and eventually people were requesting more photos and using these photos as proof that fairies actually existed. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote those great mysteries about the detective Sherlock Holmes, thought the pictures were real! What are Frances and Elsie going to do, and how far should they go to save their secret?

This book is somewhat unique in that it is a work of nonfiction but it reads like a novel. Readers are in on the joke from the very beginning as we see Frances and Elsie scheme to trick the adults. But Frances maintained until her death that she had seen real fairies in that glen and that while they had staged most of the photographs, one of them wasn’t staged and was real. Nonfiction typically doesn’t leave questions, but this book does. There’s still a mysterious quality about fairies and their existence that I think the author intentionally attempts to leave open-ended.

I think the other interesting aspect of this story is that they never meant for it to draw international attention to themselves. In fact, they were very hesitant and reluctant to talk to the press, and I get the impression they wanted to bury the story but just didn’t know how. But they also continued to tell people close to them, such as their ultimate husbands and children, so in a way they were continuing the story even as they told their children to never mention it again. Their attitude about it seemed so fluid that’s hard to really know what they were thinking, especially since the trick seemed to last about 60 years until it was conclusively determined to be a hoax. But as I mentioned before, Frances and in turn the author maintains that pestering feeling that something is missing and not quite determined. I think I’ll end with the fact that these uncertainties create a slightly unsettling story out of a very well researched and documented occurrence.

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass

Title: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship
Author: Russell Freedman
ISBN: 9780547385624
Pages: 119 pages
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2012.

Douglass and Lincoln had never met, but they had some things in common. They had both risen from poverty and obscurity to international prominence. Both were self-educated. Lincoln, born dirt poor, had less than a year of formal schooling. Douglass, born a slave, wasn’t permitted to go to school. He taught himself to read and write in secret, hiding the few books he was able to get his hands on. And in fact, the two men had read and studied some of the same books.
Even so, in the year 1863 it required plenty of ‘nerve,’ as Douglass put it, for a black man to walk unannounced into the White House and request an audience with the president. [...]
He was determined to wait. (3)

Describing the relationship that Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass had as a friendship might be hard for us to believe, considering they only met each other three times. But since some friendships these days are formed solely through digital communication means like the phone and the Internet, it might not be so hard for people to accept this description as I might think. In this book, Russell Freedman returns to his roots. Having already written a Newbery Medal winning photobiography about Lincoln, I can only imagine the resources he has at his disposal to investigate the relationship between Lincoln and Douglass.

But really the book isn’t just about those three meetings. It covers Lincoln’s and Douglass’s lives before they met up to Lincoln’s assassination. The unique part about this book is it discusses the evolution of Lincoln’s thoughts about slavery. Most students only learn about the Emancipation Proclamation and that Lincoln was against slavery. Freedman’s book shows that Lincoln’s actions and beliefs were never that black and white (pardon the pun). Lincoln maintained during the early part of the war that his only goal was to restore the Union, and didn’t end up issuing the Emancipation Proclamation until over a year into the war. He appears to be a political strategist from the beginning, and he always hesitated before slowly enstating further liberties for African-Americans because of his fear of the public’s response. Douglass had so such fears, and actually fled the country twice to avoid the public backlash against him and his beliefs.

While I can see it being added to numerous African-American History Month reading lists, students will probably have to consult other sources in order to get a complete view of these two influential men and the circumstances that brought them together.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Jennifer Wharton over at Jean Little Library.

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition

Title: Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition
Author: Karen Blumenthal
ISBN: 9781596434493
Pages: 154 pages
Publisher/Date: Roaring Book Press, c2011.

Sometime after 10 a.m. on this shivery-cold and windy Chicago morning, seven men gathered in a nondescript garage warehouse on Clark Street.
Most of them were wearing hats and coats against the chill of the nearly empty warehouse as they waited, maybe for a big shipment of smuggled whiskey, maybe for a special meeting. These were no Boy Scouts. All had ties to a criminal gang run by George “Bugs” Moran […]. Most of them had done some jail time. […]
On the snow-dusted street outside, a black Cadillac with a police gong, siren, and gun rack—the type usually driven by police detectives—pulled up to the curb. Four or five men emerged, two dressed like police officers, and went into the warehouse. Seeing the “officers” and apparently thinking local cops were conducting a routine alcohol raid, the seven men inside lined up against the back wall and put their hands in the air.
They were still in that vulnerable position when two machine guns started firing. (1-2)

So begins Karen Blumenthal’s book about the Prohibition movement. Tracing back forty-five years to the very beginnings of the push against alcohol, Blumenthal creates a thorough account of how the 18th Amendment was added to the Constitution. After its enactment in 1919, the nation spent over a decade fighting against people who continued to traffic and sell what had become an illegal substance. With no clear way or agency willing to enforce the new law, a growing industry evolved in distributing alcohol. As public and political opinion shifted sides, the push began to repeal the law that was meant to save the nation from lawlessness.

I’d heard rave reviews of this book from multiple journals, and the sub-title gives the impression of a story of corruption that would rival the Sopranos or the Godfather. While Blumenthal does an admirable job presenting the history of the amendment and stays relatively neutral (there are some slips), it’s not the gang bang, violence filled account that you expect by the title. Besides the opening account of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (which is mentioned again later on) and some actions by Al Capone that are added almost as asides, less than 25% of the book covers the era the amendment was in affect, much less the deadly aspects of that decade.

Mostly detailing the campaigns to first invoke and then revoke the amendment, it also brings to light the audacity of the public to flaunt the system, as Blumenthal writes:

In grocery and department stores, packages of dehydrated grapes were sold with labels that read something like this: “WARNING! If the contents of this package are added to 5 gallons of water, 5 lbs. of sugar, and 1 cake of yeast, the result will be an intoxicating beverage which is illegal in the United States.” A brick of grape concentrate, customers were told, shouldn’t be put in a jug, corked, and set in a dark place for three weeks or shaken once a day because—hint, hint—it would turn into wine. (82)

It’s those little “winks” that make me question or objectivity towards the subject, but as I said she presented quite a bit more background information than most books on the subject contain.

Abundant black and white pictures give readers a window into life during the late 1800s and early 1900s. An extremely thorough bibliography and source notes also follow the text, however most of the books appear quite old based on their copyright dates, and I wonder how easily accessible they are to readers looking for more information. Since the book is being recommended for teenage audiences, I also would have appreciated some sort of indication as to which sources were appropriate for that age group. The inclusion of a timeline in the accompanying material would have also been nice.

Overall it appears to be a well researched book about Prohibition, good for projects but probably not so appealing to the merely curious.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 74 other followers

%d bloggers like this: