Tag Archives: nonfiction

Wait, What? by Heather Corinna and Isabella Rotman

by Heather Corinna and Isabella Rotman
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

The subtitle of this book is “A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies, and Growing Up” and that’s basically what it is. The first half of the book, the puberty / bodies part, dragged a little for me, but the second half, which talked about gender, sexual attraction (or lack thereof), and especially consent, was great. There were some really clear metaphors for understanding, again especially about consent (including one that even might bump the tea metaphor out of first place!). The book is sort of narrated by five teens of different races, genders, and sexualities, but who don’t really have distinct voices and sometimes come off as really didactic.

The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity by Amy Alznauer

by Amy Alznauer
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Alznauer, herself a mathematician, portrays this 19th century math genius growing up in India. She tells of his family, how he didn’t speak until he was 3, how school bored him and he went to a new one each year until finally a teacher saw his potential and encouraged his brilliant questions about math and numbers. Somehow he was able to connect with professors at Cambridge and trade ideas with other fine minds of his time. Daniel Miyares’ beautiful illustrations more than do the story justice – they bring it to life.

Double Review: U.S. Myth-Busting Books

Plymouth Rocks! The Stone-Cold Truth
by Jane Yolen

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I was surprised to see a Jane Yolen book get a lukewarm Kirkus review, even moreso when I read the title and synopsis. Americans are in need of some serious history myth-busting, particularly around Thanksgiving. So I requested a copy to see for myself. It turns out that I do not happen to agree with that particular reviewer and I’m glad I bought a copy for my library. Yolen’s anthropomorphized rock, and the historian (appearing to be a woman of color) correcting the rock, delve into some of the myths around its history as an American symbol and readers learn new facts (I even learned some new-to-me myths, that were then busted). The pair don’t get too far into the myth of the first Thanksgiving, disappointingly – maybe Yolen thought the full gory truth a bit much for a book aimed this young (2nd-3rd grade).

The Statue of Liberty Wasn’t Made to Welcome Immigrants
by Therese Shea

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Short text and wide spacing make this accessible to readers who have recently gotten the hang of it – probably best for second grade and up. Shares a myth about each of 11 different US landmarks and then shares the truth. Some myths I wasn’t even aware of! Included in information about Mount Rushmore is the fact that in 1980, the land was deemed stolen from the Sioux nation.

Double Review: Two by Jason Reynolds

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Reynolds says over and over that this is NOT a history book, and I have to agree because this was way more readable than a history book, especially because it felt like Reynolds was talking directly (and pretty informally) to me. Also, though it went chronologically, Reynolds made connections between different historical events that I had never seen before (some events I had never heard about). He did seem to be very focused on Angela Davis; the last section of the book sounds like the whole history of the country comes back to her. And maybe it does – I’m new to learning about her life. The main thing that blew my mind was the idea that the American Revolution was fought over slavery – in the same way that the South wanted to keep slavery in the Civil War, apparently the colonies wanted to keep slavery in the Revolutionary War. There were other interesting connections and explanations but I don’t want to spoil them – go read it!

Ghost
by Jason Reynolds
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

In the first book in the Track series, we meet Ghost, aka Castle Cranshaw, as he is discovering an innate ability to run and learning for the first time what it means to be on a team. He stumbles across a city track team with a cab driver for a coach who becomes almost a guardian angel for Ghost, bailing him out of a few scrapes. Ghost struggles to deal with his feelings and trauma of being chased by his abusive father out of the house with a gun. (His father has been in prison for the past three years because of it.) Befriending the other team newbies, not to mention Coach, helps Ghost start to work through it, while giving him something productive to do with his youthful energy rather than continuing to get in trouble.I read this as an audiobook and the reader was great – really nailed Ghost’s voice!

Monument Maker by Linda Booth Sweeney

by Linda Booth Sweeney
illustrated by Shawn Fields
Overall: 4. 5 out of 5 stars

Daniel Chester French was the sculptor who made the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. This book might not have caught my eye at all except that I randomly visited Chesterwood, his summer home, this past summer. I had never heard of French before that visit, though I’ve certainly been to, and seen many pictures of, the Lincoln Memorial.

Sweeney’s text is simple enough for a 9-year-old to follow and spends a good amount of time on this most famous work, which means that she skims over some aspects of his life (all of a sudden on page 20 he has a stepmother? also at some point gets married and has a kid, mentioned only in passing). Because the text is so focused, I mostly wasn’t too worried about it, though it did confuse me a bit. I found more information in the detailed timeline at the back.

Most of my praise for this book goes to its illustrations by Shawn Fields. I’m a little surprised this book didn’t earn a Caldecott, or at least a Caldecott Honor. I would categorize the illustrations in three types: color illustrations of two modern kids learning about French; black-and-white pen sketches of French and the people and places in his life; and softer, almost sepia-toned, representations of his sculptures. One particularly enjoyable spread had a sketchy French in front of his smooth illustrations, working away on them.

At the back is a detailed timeline of French’s life, an Author’s Note, a page about his inventions, a section on the Lincoln Memorial itself, a list of U.S. cities with at least one statue, and more resources. I especially enjoyed the illustrator’s note explaining his choices of media and the parallels in his life and French’s.

If I Ran For President by Catherine Stier

If I Ran For President by Catherine Stier
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This gentle first-person subjunctive shows six different kids of varying races and genders running presidential campaigns. Stier doesn’t shy away from using the real terms for things, like “declare my candidacy” and “electoral college.” Overall, a nice, broad strokes overview of how running for president of the United States *should* work. She doesn’t get into how it takes a lot of money to run and campaign finance rules; she also doesn’t discuss racism, sexism, etc. With a publication date of 2007, there’s no specific reference to the fact that all presidents were white Christian men. Only the pictures of the six kids were an implicit message that anyone can be president (plus one line in the introduction). This seems to be a companion book to Stier’s “If I Were the President” from 1999.

1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan

9781492629887by Thomas Phelan
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

This parenting book shows a discipline strategy of counting a child’s misbehaviors (Stop Behaviors, or things you want them to stop doing, such as hitting their sibling or throwing a tantrum) until you get to three and then giving the child a break (or timeout, if you prefer). You count without emotion, and without extra talking or explanations of why you’re counting or what the kid did wrong. The break time is supposed to get them to calm down, not be a punishment, per se, which is how they tend to get misused, he explains. The flip side to this is Start Behaviors, or times when you want the kid to start doing something (putting on their shoes, doing their homework), and he offers some tactics for that, but specifically you are NOT supposed to do the counting for Start behaviors.

I read this for a (short-lived) childcare job at the suggestion of the parents who were already using it, so some of the information on how to introduce it to your child didn’t apply, but it was still well laid out and well explained. I also appreciated that they didn’t just go through the best case scenario but also potential unexpected responses from the child. He also shows three different ways to handle the same situation (one bad, one better, and one best), which was helpful for clarifying. One situation he didn’t go much into, but which would have been helpful in my situation, was actually how to handle more than one child at once, especially more than one behavioral situation at once.

A few caveats: I came into a pandemic confinement situation, which exacerbated all of the behavior issues, plus this family of 3 kids was on the verge of adding #4, among other challenges, so there was a lottttt going on. I also think I overdid it on the discipline side and did not have enough positive experiences with the kids to balance it out (Phelan does talk about the importance of creating bonding times with your kids, which I didn’t really get to do).

I will say that once or twice, when I was able to count without emotion and just walk away (which is SO HARD!), it worked exactly like the book said (“Whyyyyy?…. Aw, man” and stopped). I have a feeling that with enough repetition and in a different situation, this might have worked really well. It requires a LOT of work and self-control on the adults’ part, depending on how short a fuse you have (mine is pretty short, apparently!).

Follow Your Stuff by Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka

9781773212548by Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I am very interested in how things are made and this book does not disappoint. I loved their other book, Follow Your Money, and this one is even better, though possibly for slightly older kids. I’d say this book is great for middle schoolers; one of the items they track is cell phones and there’s a lot of references to “your phone.” Around Boston, kids seem to get a phone sometime in middle school; also some of the detail they get into would best be understood by a middle school-aged kid.

Sylvester and Hlinka track 4 different items: a t-shirt, an asthma inhaler, a book, and a smartphone. They do a really good job of simplifying the process and introducing it. Along the way they insert really thought-provoking questions and at the beginning of the book they said they wouldn’t try to answer them, but they’re questions you should be asking yourself as you buy things. Questions like, should workers be paid a fair wage, do you know the working conditions where [x] was made, and so on. Only at the end do they get outright preachy and say that you should never steal an artist’s work. They take some time to talk about how each of the links in the chain is a real live human being and even though the cost of living may be much lower in some places, that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be paid for their work. They also talk about how the artist might be a millionaire but the person who helped produce their CD isn’t and that person depends on their 50-cent earning from each CD.

The authors talk about how you are part of the system, and how you will someday enter it as a worker. Two questions are posed at the end: “How Big is Too Big?” (about monopolies) and “How Much Profit is Too Much?” (which raises one of my pet issues, shareholders). They also get into a fifth product, eyeglasses, and explain why they couldn’t, in the end, include it – because most eyeglasses are made by one company and it wasn’t possible to accurately calculate how much it would cost to make. This is interesting in itself and I’m glad they included it.

Mamaleh Knows Best by Marjorie Ingall

9780804141413by Marjorie Ingall
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Generally my coworker, who is herself already a Jewish mother, tries to dissuade me from reading parenting books, especially since I do not yet have children. And generally I disregard her because, not only do I need to know what’s out there to advise patrons, but I also enjoy storing up tidbits for someday. This book I enjoyed so much that I am actually recommending it to her!

Ingall’s writing is funny and confident, though her premise seems to be based more on her own observations and ponderings than on any studies about what is “actually” recommended. She draws heavily on her experiences of attending Jewish Day School and raising her two daughters, who are now teenagers, and draws conclusions I had never thought of about how certain aspects of parenting are rooted in Judaism.

Such conclusions include: teaching independence (and therefore rejoicing when your child challenges authority), telling stories, asking questions, and modeling tikkun olam. I realized in reading this that these are some of my foundational memories of how my mother raised me, and what I feel strongly about instilling in my own children. They also happen to overlap with traits my partner does not possess in spades and make me a bit hesitant about how our future children will be raised. But Ingall claims that children with only one Jewish parent are more likely to identify as Jewish if that parent is a mother, so I feel good about our odds of success in raising Jewish kids. (And it reinforces that Judaism is a matrilineal religion – a practice that has been controversial due to its non-inclusivity to people whose fathers were Jewish and identify strongly as Jewish. But I digress.)

Most importantly, Ingall does not claim that only Jewish kids are capable of being raised this way, nor are they genetically predisposed to end up with these traits. The purpose of this book is that lessons from Judaism can be very easily picked up by non-Jews, and to explain why Jewish people, though very small percentages of nearly any population, excel and thrive.

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

9781432849269

by Dashka Slater
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

In October of 2013, an agender teen named Sasha fell asleep on their bus ride home. When they woke up, they were on fire. Dashka Slater tells the story of how this happened, who Sasha was, who Richard, the teen who set Sasha on fire was, and what happened after. It’s told in a narrative nonfiction style that worked extremely well and there were only two things that bothered me.

One was that each chapter was very short, ranging from a half page to maybe 5 pages at the longest. While this worked very well for keeping suspense (and keeping me turning pages quickly), it also had the effect of creating a somewhat disjointed narrative, and making me think that Slater couldn’t write a longer chapter on any given topic. The book’s five sections did help me see the overarching themes, and it was roughly chronological, but it felt made for someone with the attention span of a flea. Having recently read similar adult narrative nonfiction such as The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, I felt that the short chapter style shortchanged both the readers and Sasha and Richard.

The other thing that bothered me was that Slater went into some detail about restorative justice and in the end it seems that nothing really happened with that. I felt a bit betrayed by that, since I was getting pretty invested in having that tie everything up with a nice, neat bow. But as it is, the story is one of forgiveness and learning more about people who are different. There is a lot about the gender spectrum and pronouns and romantic orientation (which is different from sexual orientation) and overall I think an important and well-told tale.