Tag Archives: nonfiction

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


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.

Hey Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka


by Jarrett Krosoczka
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

You wouldn’t know Jarrett’s somewhat tumultuous childhood from the lighthearted books he’s known for, like the Lunch Lady graphic novel series and Platypus Police Squad. His mother struggled with drug addiction and was in and out of his life. When Jarrett was five, his grandparents successfully gained custody of him. Though they were salty, smoking and swearing and fighting with each other, there’s no doubt that he was better off in their care than with his mother. As they gained custody, she began drifting in and out of his life, in and out of prison and rehab. He recounts eventually meeting his father and half siblings, and the power of his first real art class with a teacher who encouraged him and believed in him. He shows us a school visit from Jack Gantos and how that impacted him. I would give this to a high schooler who either enjoyed Jarrett’s work when they were younger or someone going through some of the same things (absent parent, drug addiction, prison, being raised by grandparents).

Children’s Book of Philosophy by Sarah Tomley and Marcus Weeks


by Sarah Tomley and Marcus Weeks (DK Publishing)
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Years ago, I struggled through Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. An overview of philosophy and philosophers through the ages, with a narrative feel – what could be better? Yet the presentation was a bit too in-depth for me. This book, however, was nearly perfect. It presented each philosopher (not all by a long shot, but many of the big names likely to be familiar) and a quick biography in clear, large text with similar formatting on a sidebar, and the rest of the spread was devoted to their main ideas, again in simple clear language and large, uncluttered text. Not all of the pictures really matched the ideas, but some concepts are hard to show visually. I got a bit antsy at the end when the ideas turned political in nature, but it was good to know how some of our political ideas came out of philosophy.

The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene


by Ross W. Greene
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Why would a children’s librarian with no children of her own read parenting books? I’m so glad you asked! Not only do I get asked for recommendations (happened just tonight, and I recommended this very book which I just finished), but also sometimes the situations addressed occur in our storytimes and programs. In fact, I’ve got a kiddo in one of my storytimes that I was thinking about the whole time I was reading this book. Some of the information can even be applied to adults I know, or be filed away for use with my own future kids. Of course, in the library, I can’t really implement Greene’s strategies without a caregiver’s consent; but even if I could, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective as it would with his compliance as the solution works best when it involves other adults in the child’s life.

Greene advocates what he calls Collaborative Problem Solving to address “explosions”. He explains that many parents rely on what he calls “Plan A,” or just sheer authority (“do what I say”) which usually results in a meltdown that seems to come out of nowhere, be willful and manipulative on the child’s part, and lasts for a long time (in some cases, hours). This, he argues, does not allow the child’s needs to be met or even, in most cases, be heard. In attempting to choose battles, some parents choose “Plan C” where they don’t address the issue at all, in which case their own needs are not being met. A happy medium, he says, is Plan B, or Collaborative Problem Solving.

Plan B can be implemented in the moment of a meltdown, but is most effective when brought up in a calm moment before the meltdown occurs. It requires the adult (parent, teacher, caregiver… librarian?) to identify the event that appears to set off the meltdown and use that as a jumping off point for a conversation with the child that allows the child to express whatever their frustration with that situation is. Sometimes this takes a little digging, and sometimes multiple sessions, before the child is able to both trust that the adult wants to hear and they’re able to articulate it. Greene argues that often the underlying issue is that there is a skill required for the task that the child doesn’t yet have, and in the frustration occurs the meltdown.

Greene gives many, many examples and is quite thorough. I recommend this book as one way to think about approaching temper tantrums with the child in your life – maybe not as the be-all end-all, but food for thought.

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy


by Bruce Handy
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

My Adults Who Read Kids’ Books book club had a good time dissecting this one, and especially making our own list of books and authors that could have been included. I did notice, however, that neither our list nor Handy’s was especially diverse, except for gender-wise (ours had more female writers; Handy’s had few). Overall, it was fun – not only a trip down memory lane, but Handy apparently did a lot of research. I found it a bit technical at first, but eventually got into it. I liked that each chapter had a theme (like Christianity or Death) and fit a few things together into each. I was prepared for it to be total fluff, but was pleased that there was a bit more thought put into it (though he mentioned and completely dismissed an entire book, Was the Cat in the Hat Black?, out of hand, which irked me because I thought it had important things to say, and white people dismissing claims of racism really irks me. But other than that, this was a well-researched trip down memory lane, with a few surprises.