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Category Archives: Nonfiction

Stepping back in time

After a short long weekend away from home where we were able to travel back in time and breath in the history of a long ago time while enjoying what it is in 2017, it got me thinking about the books that make me want to travel to a specific time or place.

  1. Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck uses the Fitzgerald’s specifically Zelda and her private nurse, Anna to bring readers to the 1930s using a main character whose husband is MIA from the war, a young daughter who died, and her new charge, the unstable Zelda Fitzgerald to bring the Jazz Age to life.
  2. Mary Coin by Silver is a haunting, heartbreaking, and lyrically romantic interpretation of the subject of Migrant Mother, the photographer, and a possible relative focusing on the Great Depressions far-reaching effects.
  3. Garden of Stones by Littlefield uses the same concept as Silver with the comparison of different generations in one story and how they all persevered. In this story it focuses on a woman’s survival at all costs during the Japanese internment.
  4. Into the Wild by Krakauer takes us to the wilds of Alaska and leaves us to wonder, what was Chris really thinking?
  5. Mudbound by Jordan shows us the dead-end life that Laura is feeling she’s living after relocating to the Mississippi Delta in 1946. The intricacy of relationships romantic and otherwise bring this story to life.

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All of these are adult titles whose authors have a particular penchant for historical fiction or in Krakauer’s case, writing nonfiction with a bevy of research and purpose, that provide readers with an experience. The kind of experience I had sitting for brunch with a pomegranate mimosa and eggs benedict  in the oldest tavern in the United States that opened its doors in 1697 and where the Colonial Legislature would meet. All you need to do is close your eyes and listen to the creaking of the wood floors and feel the bustle of life that long ago. I’m guessing it would be far noisier and smokier and sans white linens.

 

Hop, skip, and jump

I love when books give me a taste of something I didn’t know before and leads me to other things; one thing should always lead to another, just like thinking about chocolate almost always leads to peanut butter or reading one book by a gifted author (hi, Ruta!) always leads to reading everything she publishes.

In fact, I blogged about my discovery of “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne after reading A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry. I adore authors like Sarah Cross who revitalize fairy tales. I picked up Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast after delighting in Ericka Robuck’s Hemingway’s Girl. Even though I disliked the new The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle, I read Christina Rossetti’s 1862 poem “Goblin Market” (adored it!) And though I still haven’t read Shakespeare’s play “A Winter’s Tale” which inspired E.K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear, I look forward to it soon.

Switching gears from books that lead to other books, what about books that lead to field trips? I anticipate an on-site tour of the Albany Shaker site after reading Ann Sayers’ book “Their Name Is Wicks…”: One Family’s Journey through Shaker History.

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Living in a state like New York, and upstate no less, provides rich history lessons everywhere we turn, so I took the opportunity to dive into the world of the Shakers. And it didn’t hurt that I know the author and went to the book launch at the Shaker Heritage Site. You can see my post published yesterday after finishing the book that day. But it brought life to these people and this location.

I remember joining a book group that read the beautiful All The Light We Cannot See by Doerr and having the very real conversation about going on a field trip to France as I’m sure most book groups who read it thought about doing too.

So, what books have you read that ultimately led you to another book or embarking on an adventure? Likewise, have there been books that completely transported you to another time and place providing the cheapest vacation money can buy?

 
 

Reclaiming Conversation

In January 2017, I read Sherry Turkle’s 2015 book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age and I find myself referencing it frequently in my own conversations with others. So I wanted to share it in the context of this week’s #edublogsclub challenge prompt around digital citizenship. My stance aligns similarly to Turkle’s in that she isn’t anti-technology, she’s pro-conversation.

ReclaimingConversationYes, we need to have digital citizenship lessons, but we have forgotten to continue the lessons on personal citizenship because of and ignorant of our digital lives. We believe we know people because we are connected with them on social media. We believe we are better than or worse than people because of what we see on their feeds. We compare ourselves to Photoshopped images in advertising. We reserve the right to demean others either because we are behind a screen or because we think it is our right. Turkle shares a few stories that I can only compare to why teenagers are less likely to get their drivers license. We have scared them with advertisements, statistics, and more. And the same thing is true in real life. We have scared teenagers into speaking less because they see what happens when people say the wrong thing. The instant screenshot or video immortalizes a misstep. For whatever reason, Turkle’s example of a teenage boy who ignored a phone call from a college recruiter so he could email him instead later was explained by the boy as a fear of saying the wrong thing over the phone. He shared that a phone conversation is too quick for him to think about what he wants to say and the fear of saying the wrong thing drives him to email instead because he can think as he types.

How many of us have seen or engaged in inflammatory Twitter conversations? How many have posted a rant on Facebook? We know things can get out of hand quickly but it’s coupled with the positive use of social media as demonstrated in the Middle East and North Africa during Arab Spring in which youth were protesting their governments and convening for the cause. In this case, the instant spread of information was beneficial.

So it’s the quickness of the digital age that means that we must still empower everyone’s voice outside of their digital presence and how they are IRL. How should we prepare to ask the right question to the customer service representative over the phone? How can people guide conversations deeper when most everyone wants a shallow conversation they can maneuver in and out of because what’s on the their phone is more important?

These are the gems that Turkle shares and truly made me think about how I am and how I want to raise my kids and how I want to teach my students. I want to reflect on Turkle’s lens through Thoreau’s thoughts on the subject in which he said his cabin had three chairs: one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society.

We need to remember how to be by ourselves and know ourselves before we know others, we also need friendship, the real kind not the followers kind, and we also need to know how to interact in groups. Turkle’s book was for me the kind of book that comes at the right time and has left an impact on me. While the last third of the book was recycled lessons, the first two thirds of the book provided enough material to think on that I must have used an entire pad of Post-its. It should give anyone thinking about digital citizenship thinking not only about the digital side, but also the personal side.

 
 

Red, white, and blue titles

USA

Not necessarily red, white, and blue covers, but sharing American experiences. I realized I could write multiple posts on favorite titles (both fiction and nonfiction) that discuss the American experience, but I’ll share a few that highlight different time periods in the history of the United States of America.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America trilogy

Last year I reviewed the final book in the series, Ashes, as an appropriate, haunting, and gorgeous finale to her series highlighting the American revolution. The sisters Isabel and Ruth and the most vivid character, Curzon, delve into the harshness of the revolution, especially along color lines and the reality of those that fought for freedom and those that they left at home.

The Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi

This is a young reader’s edition both sentimental and uplifting of Welles Crowther, a young man who helped rescue people inside the Twin Towers after the planes struck on September 11th. Crowther died when the towers fell, but it’s the signature red bandanna given to him at a young age that survivors were able to identify after the fact, making him a national figure that then-President Barack Obama knew. Rinaldi’s nonfiction account recognizes Crowther’s heroism and bravery.

Don Brown’s graphic novels Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans and The Great American Dust Bowl 

These graphic novels demonstrate the power of a graphic novel in that both provide a visual narrative of traumatizing and debilitating events in different parts of our country. And Brown’s rich style breaks readers’ hearts through pictures of grief and loss with several panels so bold that they’re mesmerizing.

I’ll certainly revisit the idea of books about American history in future posts, but in the meantime, learn about the revolution, dust bowl, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina with these titles in a variety of genres and formats.

 

Six sensational recent reads

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present to a room of librarian colleagues (and a few teachers thrown in for good measure) about the hottest books for 2017 while reviewing some of the best from 2016. But what have I read recently? A lot. But not everything was a home run, so I’m picking through the trash to get to the treasures.

  1. When Breath Becomes Air by Kalanithi
    • An insightful and introspective approach to science and facing death from a doctor experiencing the end to his own short life.
  2. Geekerella by Poston
    • A quirky retake on Cinderella with a Con, a pumpkin food truck, evil twin stepsisters, and one spunky Elle.
  3. The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found by Sandler
    • Who doesn’t want to find treasure, especially when it unlocks secrets of the past. But it’s significance is in Sandler’s approach which is to demystify pirates and change the bad reputation they have earned that is uncalled for.
  4. The Takedown by Wang
    • Attempting to take down a vile post on the internet isn’t an easy feat, but Kyla is ready for the challenge and has the guts to see it through even when it’s not pretty.
  5. Saints and Misfits by Ali
    • With a rich voice, Janna details those that are saints, misfits (like herself), and saints like others through her eyes as a Muslim teenager where her actions must match her beliefs.
  6. The Book of Chocolate: The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy by Newquist
    • Who doesn’t love chocolate? The depth and breadth of this book is its strength, learning about the rivalries, chocolate during wartime, and the history of what was really a drink became the world’s favorite candy.
 

Six sensational new releases

I spend most of my free time reading. Both because it’s my favorite hobby and it’s also my job. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a six sensational list, so let’s get back into it since my #edublogsclub challenge this week is to create a listicle (if you don’t know what that is, look it up!) Here are six sensational new releases in order of their publication date.

  1. What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold
    • Not for the faint of heart, Arnold packs a punch. Nina’s relationship with her mother, who does not believe in unconditional love shapes Nina’s relationship with Seth. It’s dark and vividly portrayed and oh, so necessary.
  2. Ronit & Jamil by Pamela Laskin
    • This is Romeo and Juliet where Ronit is an Israeli girl and Jamil is a Palestinian boy and what happens when they fall in love… in verse. Breathtaking!
  3. Crazy Messy Beautiful by Carrie Arcos
    • If you’re named after the poet Pablo Neruda, you must use his poetry to woo the ladies. And Neruda is a hopeless romantic and an artist, but it’s the friendship he forms with Callie, a girl in class that allows him to work through his own feelings about friendships and relationships, especially when one closest to him is fractured and he’s caught in the middle.
  4. The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak
    • Remember those early video games? Know how popular virtual reality is now? Well mix the two and you’re back in 1987 with Bill and Mary, the main characters of the story where Bill’s friends want to see Vanna White naked and Mary is a girl coder working on her family’s computer in their store. It’s about their relationship to coding, to each other, and darker secrets that will be uncovered.
  5. The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu
    • I’m a fan of offbeat stories and this one is an homage to one of my favorite adult novels, Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides. In this story, the girls of Devonairre Street cannot fall in love because the men always die. They’re a curiosity that is now attracting tourists to this quaint street. It’s the story of their pain and what kind of future they can have with this awful power.
  6. Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef
    • A powerful look at a woman who is known as a legendary nurse yet wielded significant power as a manager with adeptness at numbers and charts. Her style made some cry and her work essentially drove her sister mad since she felt that Nightingale overshadowed her.

As always, these are just a few of the many I’ve read and a snapshot of some of the newer titles that will be released soon (or were released in the recent past) worth reading if you are a fan of young adult literature.

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How far we’ve come

Within three weeks, I read two books that highlighted the achievements of Vivien Thomas, the African American would-be doctor who led the charge to cure “blue babies”: babies that weren’t getting the oxygenated blood they needed. One delivered the content via a picture book format that would work well to be incorporated into a STEM lesson while the second was a shorter narrative nonfiction text that not only focused on Thomas, but Drs. Blalock and Taussig.

In Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks, she focuses on the triumph of Thomas’ work in the face of adversity. The book angered me as much as inspired me because of the obstacles put before Thomas, yet his drive for success pushed him to help when it was unlikely he’d be recognized or accepted. And that was the case for many years.

And it wasn’t until I read Breakthrough!: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever by Jim Murphy which came out in 2015, that I understood a fuller picture, since Tiny Stitches literally focuses on the man, Breakthrough! focuses on three people. Thomas included, and more about the experiments and elbow grease that exists when perfecting medical procedures, especially when the instruments to perform them didn’t exist.

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I love to learn, which is why narrative nonfiction has be so enamored over the last five years, and while both gave me a portrait of Thomas, I am humbled to know that medicine will never be the same without his contributions. The long hours, the intelligence, the dedication in the face of discrimination will leave anyone wondering about all of the others that we never hear about (alas, a post for another day– the great nonfiction being published about those that we need to know more about). I advise librarians to be sure you have a copy of both accessible texts for your shelves and science teachers to read them aloud and use chapters in the study of advancements in medicine.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2016 in Childrens, Nonfiction, Young Adult