Category Archives: Nonfiction

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.



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.


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


People, people everywhere

My focus recently has been picking up narrative nonfiction or photobiographies that focus solely on an individual that had some impact on the world whether it be in conservation, championing women, or entertaining. So I’d like to share the last few books that I’ve read that showcase these individuals and the book’s strengths.


  • Bull’s-Eye: A Photobiography of Annie Oakley by Sue Macy
    • This National Geographic creation is in part a dedication to a woman who preserved her reputation even when it became distorted with misinformation (about a presumed death or being jailed when in fact both were other women with similar names) she successfully sued newspapers for this and won numerous settlements, so it is befitting that her present family wanted to showcase all of the good deeds that she did over her lifetime but what struck me, aside from the lovely pictures of her throughout the course of her life, was that she remained entertained at every turn. When her husband and her went on the road for shows both in the United States and abroad, there was the public spectacle, but there were also opportunities to teach. She even offered her services to the United States military to train women on the homefront to defend us. This was also around the time that she was quoted as saying that women should be just as comfortable holding a gun as a baby. This book’s strength is in it’s ability to show Oakley as the woman she was, not who we think she was based on her public persona. She overcame adversity as a child using her sharpshooting skills and spent her life doing something she loved. And that is powerful.
  • Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey
    • This is also a National Geographic production and as with Oakley’s photobiography, champions another woman who pursued her passion. She is by far the most well-known primate specialist who then advocated for conservation and peace in war-torn countries that were decimating the primate population. And perhaps the most endearing quality was her ability to wait and be patient, literally. She is best known as a scientist of observation- staying stills for hours on end being bitten and stung just to be able to watch chimps in their natural habitat and understand just how similar humans are to them.
  • This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain
    • I didn’t know much about Audubon but perhaps similar to Goodall, he stayed the course. He loved the outdoors and nature and sought to preserve it with his drawings even if that meant being away from his family for years and doing odd jobs to keep some financial stability until the publication of The Birds of America for which he became synonymous with birds. He stuck to his guns and was the penultimate outdoorsmen who met everyone from presidents to Native Americans on his travels. The incorporation of his sketches along with this biography are seamless.
  • Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh
    • The illustrations of Posada and the calaveras make this entertaining as well as instructional. I did not know much about calaveras nor the Day of the Dead, so to understand the cultural significance of this event as well as how Posada has made his mark on Mexican culture showcases that every achievement, especially in art, sometimes comes after the artist has lived. Posada used his drawings to poke fun, to entertain, and to enlighten that was not necessarily appreciated until others took note. It’s a picture book with instructional purpose.

The narrative nonfiction coming out for middle grade and young adult is by far the best it has ever been, especially when they are focused (like the Wicked History series or a photobiography), so writers keep researching people who have made an impact and delivering high-quality and thoughtful nonfiction to inspire others by providing examples of how others pushed their limits, society’s boundaries, and came out on top.

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Posted by on November 30, 2016 in Authors, Nonfiction, Young Adult


Six sensational stories with veterans

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I wanted to highlight some of my favorites from the past and one current favorite to recognize all the men and women who have fought for our country, returned, struggled and adjusted, and continued on. I certainly could highlight many, many more including books like The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien or The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, but I’ve chosen these six sensational ones to highlight for this homage to our veterans, including my husband.

  1. In Country by Bobbi Ann Mason- The journey that Sam takes to understand why her father never came home from the Vietnam War and what her uncle and his friends are experiencing upon their return creates a beautiful arc to the story where they travel to the Vietnam Memorial fulfills Sam’s quest.
  2. I Had Seen Castles by Cynthia Rylant- This is a small story with a very big impact because it doesn’t sugarcoat the experiences of a World War II story. I’ll share a favorite quote “When I told my father, during his Sunday evening call, that I had enlisted, I think he stopped breathing. When finally he could inhale once again, it seemed to be with great labor. A man with a ton of weight on his heart.”
  3. Soldier’s Heart by Gary Paulsen- A contemporary classic using one of the oldest terms for PTSD, this is Paulsen at his best telling the story of nineteen year old Charley Goddard during the Civil War.
  4. Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19 Year Old GI by Ryan Smithson- Knowing him personally makes the impact of Smithson’s story stronger and his willingness to speak to teenagers about the impact of his service on him and his family make this a powerful memoir with a mix of emotions, facts, experiences, and heart.
  5. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers- A seminal work that makes me love Walter Dean Myers. African American service member, Perry who enlists and goes to Vietnam coming face to face with evil and danger to fight against racism in the military as well as the horrors of fighting in Vietnam.
  6. Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk- This story has many layers, but the one that spoke loudest to me as a reader was Toby’s, the World War I veteran living near Annabelle’s home in Pennsylvania. He’s disliked because he’s mysterious, a loner, and disheveled, but Annabelle knows how deeply he feels inside, especially when he becomes the target of the new, mean girl’s rage only to suffer a tragic fate that is emotionally draining.

If you haven’t read them all, add them to your to-be read pile because none of them will disappoint. Happy Veteran’s Day to all who have served as well as their families who have supported them.





With our large English as a New Language learners population at our high school as well as the students who are not reading at grade level, our library is a smorgasbord of reading options that include picture books through college-level academic texts and everything in between. And recently I have been enjoying the array of simple graphic, semi-graphic, or textual fiction and nonfiction for a range of reading abilities.

Take the “A Wicked History” series detailing the lives of “wicked” rulers, tyrants, and dictators with a format that makes learning history cool while creating smaller and shorter chapters with pointed information that give perspective to their “wickedness”.

I also enjoyed several of the Scholastic Branches’ series including the Dragon Masters, Owl Diaries, Lotus Lane, Monkey Me, and The Notebook of Doom. With the right amount of character development, setting, story, and illustrations, these series books are not boring or tired, they actually get better.

Likewise, Orca’s graphic adventure series and the Jason Strange by Stone Arch Books are equally engaging, with my new favorite the graphic adventure series that both teaches and entertains.

So whether you’re a high school library looking to diversify reading ability in your texts or a middle school or elementary school making sure you have the right stuff on the shelves, these are all perfect options with a built in audience and quantity that will keep the students coming back for the others. I advise that they be on every bookshelf.



Chain Mail 2.0

Yesterday I was tagged in a Facebook chain message. My first response, like any chain snail mail or email from years past was to ignore it, but this one was about books, so how could I resist?

The purpose was to quickly share, without too much thought, ten books that have stayed with you in some way. Here were my ten (with a brief explanation of why):

1. Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck is a beautiful piece of literature that seamlessly weaves real characters and intersecting them with everyday people. The juxtaposition between Edna St. Vincent Millay and Laura Kelley is brooding with layers of passion and sacrifice that touches me deeply.
2. A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly focuses on Mattie who wants to better herself and she does it by learning new words and seeking knowledge. This is the motto of my life.
3. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton moves me on an elemental and mystical level. It’s the deep-seated family history and Ava’s final moments with Nathaniel Sorrows that absolutely transformed me.
4. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is a modern version of The Awakening. A woman and her sacrifice, passion, and dreams dead-ended in their muck-covered Mudbound farm.
5. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez. Where do I begin with this soul-ripping, earth-shattering darkness that throws your emotions around like a rag doll? Naomi, Naomi, Naomi. Pain, passion, a quest for comfort and love.
6. Guardian by Julius Lester begins with “There are times when a tree can no longer withstand the pain inflicted on it, and the wind will take pity on that tree and topple it over in a mighty storm. All the other trees who witnessed the evil look down upon the fallen tree with envy. They pray for the day when a wind will end their suffering. I pray for the day when God will end mine.” There is nothing more to do than to read and follow the pain. One of the most uniquely beautiful opening paragraphs.
7. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a contemporary classic about a girl finding her voice when it has been silenced by rape. There have been many iterations, both well-done and not-so-much, but this one takes the cake with a simple but clear message that YA readers need so desperately. And regardless of what most think, the movie was spot-on and truly showecased the mood of the book for me.
8. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold was one of the first books that I literally photocopied pages from to keep and reread. The transcendental nature of a narrator talking from haven was unique and sad and then having read Sebold’s memoir Lucky, it all came together.
9. A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman makes me want to know more and be better. Ackerman’s knack for beautiful writing and a well-researched focus feeds my need to focus on the beauty and gratitude of nature (in the form of our five senses).
10. What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World by Taylor Mali is a force for those in education. Having been able to see him a small, eclectic bar/performing arts establishment was invigorating and his ingenuity and talent for spoken word pours from him. And though his observations are spot on and the book is a testament to that, it can only be best experienced with the ear. I’m linking my favorite here: “I’ll Fight You For the Library”.

As you can see, the books that speak to me tend to be ones where characters are experiences the darker side of emotions but are trying to chase passions regardless. There is a reason my tattoo is what it is and why I feel these books on an elemental level.

Please share yours whether it’s on social media or in the comments. Not that I need more to add to be to-be read pile, but, that’s what book sharing is all about.