Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘non-fiction

cover image for Lulu and the Dog From the SeaLulu and the Dog From the Sea by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont

When Lulu, her parents, and her cousin, Mellie, spend a week in a cottage by the sea they discover an unexpected guest – the kind that walks on four legs.

A cute story that is designed to appeal to the large number of newer readers that love animals.  Each of the characters has personality, and while the plot may be unlikely, the day to day discoveries and frustrations and interactions ring true.

It’s not the most spectacular writing, but it’s far from stilted, which is all too common in when books for this age group.

cover image for When I Grow Up: Sally RideWhen I Grow Up: Sally Ride by AnnMarie Anderson, illustrated by Gerald Kelley

A biography of Sally Ride, written at about third grade level.

Unfortunately, this particular easy reader does all kinds of things that are common to easy readers that I hate, especially nonfiction easy readers.

The first is that it’s just not very well done. The sentences make sense, but they aren’t memorable either.  The illustrations lack elegance and just don’t flow. Worse, the practice of using photographs, and then drawing images of Sally Ride into them rather undermines the idea that this is a real person.  It’s also written in the first person, as if Ride herself was talking to us, despite the fact that Sally Ride was a real person who died recently and wrote words of her own that could be quoted.

It’s not so awful that I wouldn’t buy it for the library, especially considering the topic, but it’s the kind of book that makes me wish we had higher standards for beginning readers.

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cover image for CathedralCathedral by David Macaulay

When lightning strikes and irrevocably damages the cathedral in a medieval French town, the church and citizens embark on the century long project of building a new, modern, gothic cathedral.

David Macauley’s classic has been updated with more accurate information and new color sketches.  I have to admit that I miss the black and white illustrations, but it’s also true that that’s mostly nostalgia talking.  Macauley’s art is as detailed and absorbing as ever, and together with the story he weaves, the pages bring to life a people and time long past.

cover imafe for Ellington Was Not A StreetEllington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

it hasn’t always been this way
ellington was not a street

Once upon a time, the greats of the Harlam Renaissance were more than just a memory.  They talked and laughed and sang and played and discussed the issues and events of the day.  Presented from the point of view of a young girl whose house was a gathering place for these great men, Ellington Was Not a Street shows readers how solid and real and human these legends were.  Told in poetry and pictures, Nelson’s rich and detailed illustrations are a perfect compliment to Shange’s elegant language.

The short biographies at the end was a wonderful addition, but the book did leave me wondering where all the women were.

cover image for Thunder RoseThunder Rose by Jerdine Nolen, illustrations by Kadir Nelson

Rose was born on an auspicious night, against a backdrop of thunder and lightning. Her parents knew as early as that first night that Rose was something special, full of power and talents beyond that of ordinary children.  As she grew, so too did the tales about the amazing things Rose could do.  But when drought threatens her family’s cattle, and the survival of her frontier town, can Rose fight weather itself to bring rain and thunder back to her home?

Told in the tall tale tradition, Thunder Rose is an engaging and delightful story of a confident young heroine.  The rhythm and imagery of Nolen’s words evokes the folklore that inspired her book, and Nelson’s illustrations are as wonderful as ever, with action and expression on each page.

cover image for Nelson MandelaNelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson

Rolihlahla became Nelson when he began school and his teacher refused to call him by his Xhosa name.  Although life was not fair or easy for blacks in South Africa, Nelson Mandela worked hard and eventually became a lawyer.  As the South African government enacted more and more discriminatory and unfair policies, Nelson used his talents and education to defend his people.  Despite the danger of speaking out against apartheid, Mandela became a leader, organizing rallies in support of the rights of blacks and enduring years in jail in his fight for a better South Africa.

Kadir Nelson’s illustrations never fail disappoint, but this is a particularly gorgeous book.  His style is the perfect compliment to the history being told, presenting moments of quiet reflection or vibrant energy as needed.

cover image for We Are The ShipWe Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson

The rule that barred blacks from joining the National and American leagues was never posted on a sign or written into law, but that didn’t make it any less real.  So greats like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson played instead for the Homestead Grays and other teams in the Negro League.  Adored by fans and treated like stars when they would tour in Latin America, the players in the Negro League still had to often take care to leave town before sundown when they were on tour in the US.

Full of stunning paintings and amazing stories, Kadir Nelson’s award winning book shares a part of history that is often overlooked.  While Nelson’s artwork is always the star of his books, the research and skill that went into the text is noteworthy as well.  Told in vernacular and from the point of view of an unnamed narrator who was alive to see the Negro Leagues in action, We Are the Ship‘s memorable voice appropriately centers the black experience rather than assuming a white audience.  The dynamic artwork captures a variety of experiences and moments, and suitably brings to mind both Norman Rockwell paintings and sports photography.

cover image for Coretta ScottCoretta Scott by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

When Coretta Scott was a young girl, she would walk five miles in the early morning dew just to attend school, while the white children rode the bus to theirs.  When she grew to be an adult she fought for equality, tirelessly and despite personal tragedy.

Shange’s poetry is once again elegant and evocative, while the repetition in Nelson’s always remarkable paintings this time also echo the rhythm of the text.  A part of me wanted more particulars in the poem about her work after her marriage, but the  short biography at the end of the book helped with that.

cover image for PinnedPinned by Sharon Flake

Autumn’s learning disability means she struggles in school; Adonis is at the top of the class. Autumn is the star of the wresting team, feared by boys as well as girls; Adonis needs a wheelchair to get around.  Autumn is always surrounded by friends; Adonis is reserved and keeps to himself.  So what happens when Autumn decides that Adonis is the boy for her, but Adonis refuses to say more than the rare hello?

Told in alternating points of view, Pinned explores what it means to respect and care for others, and to understand and empathize with them and their circumstances.  Flake does an excellent job with the two characters different voices.  Autumn’s chapters are particularly well done; Flake manages to stay true to the kind of vocabulary and syntax Autumn would use without making her seem like a stereotype or less intelligent than she is.

cover image for Slimed!Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age by Matthew Klickstein

Slimed! consists of an exhausting number of interviews with a variety of people who worked for Nickelodeon from it’s inception through the 1990’s, from child actors to adult ones, producers, animators, writers, and everyone in between.

The decision to group the intervewees’ responses by topic, rather than by person, show, or chronologically was a good one.  It allows readers to get a balanced view of the range of opinions and memories are on various topics, from the the key design and marketing decisions that made the Nickelodeon we came to know and love, to more controversial topics such as the firing of the creator of the Ren and Stimpy Show and questions about about race and representation.

Unfortunately though, we also aren’t given an introduction as to who everyone is, which made following the interview responses fairly confusing at times.  I couldn’t have read this book without the help of google.  There is an index at the back of the book, but (and perhaps this is just my ereader) it’s not always as easy to flip pages on an ereader as it is with hardcopies, and it’s not evident that this index exists unless you read through the table of contents.

If you grew up watching You Can’t Do That on Television and The Adventures of Pete and Pete, as I did, it’s well worth a read, although perhaps not worth paying hardcover prices to do so.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I’m not going to try to give a synopsis the way I usually do, because OMG this book.  Also, the synopsis might make it sound like it may be worth reading, and it’s NOT.  Except to mock it, which is part of how I was bribed into reading it.

There is nothing about this book that makes sense or follows any kind of logic.  It makes me want to laugh and cry and scream all at the same time.

two cover images for Throne of Glass

First, Celaena, the main character, is supposed to be a very skilled assassin, but we pretty much never see her being competent.  She’ll win and defeat her enemies at times (a very few times), but when you read what she does to do it, you’ll wonder how in the world she managed to survive.  Most importantly, she’s still a prisoner during most of the book, and spends very little time plotting her escape. And the time she does spend plotting and planning and preparing, she doesn’t spend well or intelligently.

Secondly, the castle is made of glass. (Some of it anyway.) In a kingdom that has outlawed magic, so sorcery can’t be the reason it hasn’t fallen down. And how do the doors work?  And what about temperature control? The whole idea makes my head hurt.

Third, Celaena likes dresses – A LOT. Which is not something I’m against! I’m not even put out that the character’s appreciation of fashion lacks depth. I’m annoyed by how the book’s presentation of fashion is so incredibly shallow, considering how much time is spent on it.  There’s no world building here, in terms of fashion or textiles, and what they indicate in terms of class, status, and the like.

Fourth, Celaena recovers way too quickly from essentially being tortured via working as a slave in the salt mines.  And I don’t just mean in terms of her body recovering too fast, I mean the fact that this experience only ever seems to affect her physically, mentally, or emotionally when it’s convenient for the plot.  There is no nuance to her experiences, and no understanding of how this kind of harm actually affects people, no recognition of the suffering of real people in similar situations.  It’s all very cartoonish, in a way that minimizes what this kind of injustice and deprivation actually does to people.

Lastly, there is way too much slut-shaming in this book. It’s bad enough that were told rather than shown that Celaena is a skilled assassin.  It’s bad enough that her love of “girly” things is presented so shallowly, rather than with depth.  And it’s particularly bad that she’s given a tortured past that’s dealt with very disrespectfully.  But on top of all that we get Celaena judging other women for doing the same things she does, and the narrative supporting her in this assessment.

I won’t say you shouldn’t read this book, but I do suggest that it be read in small doses, and with lots of alcohol and access to social media for mocking.

cover image for Peekaboo!Peekaboo! by Taro Gomi

In addition to Gomi’s always wonderful illustrations, this board book has special twist. There is a small hole cut the entire way through the book and, as the cover suggests, each two page spread features a different face, with the cut-outs situated where the eyes would be.  Thus allowing the books to double as a mask – perfect for playing peekaboo with your little one.  Altogether this will make a delightful addition to any child library, or any library’s children’s collection.

cover image for Each KindnessEach Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

When a new girl joins Chloe’s class, the first thing that Chloe notices about Maya is how old her clothes are, and how her spring clothes are for the snowy winter outside.  When Maya smiles at Chloe, and asks if she can play, Chloe and her friends don’t smile back, and don’t invite Maya to join them in their games.  No matter how many times Maya asks, their answer is the same, until she simply stops asking.  But when Maya stops coming to school, Chloe wonders if she made the right choice.

My favorite thing about this book is that it allows the story to have an unhappy ending.  Maya never comes back, and Chloe never gets a chance to apologize or become friends with her.  Chloe realized her mistake far too late and now must live with her regrets.  It’s not an easy book, but it’s exactly the right kind of difficult that children need.  It’s an experience that they can relate to, and one that’s not too complicated for them to understand.  Yet at the same time it asks questions that defy easy answers.

Lewis’ illustrations, always gorgeous and detailed, are especially effective here, giving the book a quality that is both realistic and yet etherial and contemplative.

cover image for Three Observations and a DialogThree Observations and a Dialogue: Round and About SF by Sylvia Kelso

As the title suggests, this volume contains of three papers/talks on science fiction.  More specifically women and feminism and science fiction. Also included is a series of written exchanges between Kelso and Lois McMaster Bujold, who is mentioned frequently in Kelso’s essays.

I began reading this volume about a year ago, then realized that I should possibly consider waiting until I had actually read some books by Lois McMaster Bujold first!  At which point I set it aside while I did just that, only finishing it early this year.  So my memory of the first parts are a bit hazy.  What I do remember is that all of it is extremely interesting and thought-provoking, particularly when she’s discussing Bujold’s work..

Also, it’s nice it is to see two real live women respectfully arguing (also, agreeing, quite often!) in print.  It’s a good antidote for all the rivalries between women that the media tries to dredge up and/or fabricate.

cover image for Icing on the CakeIcing on the Cake by Sheryl and Carrie Berk

Fourth in the Cupcake Club series, this volume tells the story from Jenna’s point of view as she juggles the demands of being the club’s taste tester and dealing with conflict at home at the same time.  When Jenna mother announces her engagement (news that does NOT make Jenna happy) and then hires the club to make cupcakes for the reception, Jenna’s worlds collide, much to her dismay.

I don’t actually expect chapter books to be very good, or to be realistic, but I prefer them to be a little bit less farfetched than this.  Or, at least, to be farfetched for more exciting reasons than cupcakes and weddings.  And I definitely expect the interpersonal conflicts to be realistic; it’s certainly realistic that Jenna is upset that her mom is dating and then getting remarried, but it’s not well depicted here.  The same goes for the little bits of “culture” that are sprinkled in to make sure we know that Jenna is Jenna Medina and that she’s hispanic.  #WeNeedDiverseBooks, but we don’t need culture that’s layered on top like icing on cupcakes.

cover image for Balloons Over BroadwayBalloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

Tony Sarg always loved puppets, even when he was a small boy.  When he grew up and moved to New York City, he made his living creating them for plays, musicals, and even store windows.  Then in 1924 Macy’s department store was so impressed with the window displays Sarg made that they asked him to help put on a holiday parade.  But Tony Sarg knew that for his marionettes to be seen by huge crowds standing on sidewalks, he would need to come up with something new, something BIG.

I’malways full of love for well written and illustrated non-fiction picture books, but this one is particularly wonderful.  Much has been made of the illustrations, and rightfully so.  Sweet’s use of mixed media is not only beautiful and appropriate to the topic, each style is put to the best use for illuminating different aspects of the story.  The text remains clear and understandable, but doesn’t shy away from evocative phrases like “They shimmied and swayed through the canyons of New York City” or unfamiliar words, such as “articulate.”  The scope of the book is perfect as well, it includes enough about Sarg’s childhood to help kids relate, but remains focused enough on a specific achievement to keep readers engaged.

cover image for Five Silly TurkeysCover image for Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving

Five Silly Turkeys by Salina Yoon

Babies and toddlers are sure to love the shiny, crinkly feathers that stick out from each page, but there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the rhymes or illustrations inside.

Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving by Kimberly and James Dean

Like a lot of cheap paperback spin-offs of popular picture book series, the quality of this title doesn’t quite match the original books. While the illustrator is the same, the authors are not, and it shows.  It’s also a fairly typical holiday book, and repeats all of the same myths about Thanksgiving.

cover image for If You Could Be MineIf You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Sahar was six when she told her mother that she wanted to marry her best friend, Nasrin.  Maman told Sahar to not to talk about such things, that the girls could always be best friends, but to marry would be a sin.  But Sahar’s love for Nasrin wasn’t something that she could outgrow or forget.  So Sahar and Nasrin hide how they feel from everyone but each other.

How long can two teenage girls kiss and profess their love in secret? And what choice do they have in a country where being discovered means jail or death?

There are a great number of things that I love about this book.  The first is, of course, the subject matter, and how it’s handled.  If You Could Be Mine is a story about first love, and what it’s like to fear losing it.  It’s also a story about identity and relationships, and the extent to which we are shaped by who we love, and what parts of ourselves we are willing to give up for that love.  And, of course, it’s also a story about what it’s like to be different in a culture that rejects those differences, often violently.  The book handles all of these topics with grace, and in particular does a wonderful job of showing that American views on sexuality and gender are not the only way of looking at things.

The second is that the rhythm and language used feels different from what I’m used to; which makes sense, considering that the book takes place in Iran.  There is something about it that doesn’t quite match the typical cadences of American speech and writing.  Neither does it feel like Farazin is trying too hard to capture the different rhythms of Farsi, it all flows very naturally. Nothing about feels off or wrong, it’s just different, and in a way that clearly communicates that this is Iran, not America – without framing the people and culture in the book as exotic or lesser.  (Although keep in mind that I’m hardly an expert on this topic.  I could be very wrong here.)

cover image for The Letter QThe Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to Their Younger Selves edited by Sarah Moon

Just as the title says, this is a series of short letters (and a few comics) written by queer writers and addressed to the teens they used to be.  The intended audience actually consists of teens today (of course) and the letters reflect that in they way they consider how things have changed – and haven’t changed – for queer youth over the past several decades (or more).

There is an overall  “it gets better” tone to the book,  what with the letters being written by successful writers and all, but it thankfully lacks the condescension that can sometimes creep in when telling kids to hang in there.  Instead, a sense of wonder permeates the letters, as the writers reflect on the dreams they had when they were young, and marvel at how excited (or possibly disappointed) their younger selves would be to see what they will become.  The letters also cover a wide range of experiences and life paths and acknowledge that the teen years do not have a monopoly on pain, nor does adulthood have a monopoly on joy.  Thus presenting queer youth with roadmaps for the future and into a world in which they are not alone.

cover image for The ClearingThe Clearing by Heather Davis

Amy moved to the country and in with Aunt Mae to get away from the her past, specifically: an abusive boyfriend.  Henry fears the future – and what his brother’s death will do to his mother and grandfather.  They live in the same town, yet it’s impossible that they would ever meet, as Amy lives in the 21st century and Henry is stuck in 1944.  But something happened the day the letter came to Henry’s house, and now his family – what’s left of it – lives in a never-ending summer.  When Amy crosses through the fog and into Henry’s life, he begins to think that maybe it’s time to face the future after all.  And Amy starts to think that maybe she’s strong enough to face her past as well.

This was an odd book, but not a disappointing one.  I found myself asking “what? how? why?” a lot when it came to Henry’s predicament, but the main characters complimented each other well, and the ending was satisfying without being…well, any more credulous than the premise.  I’m not sure how strongly I would recommend this specific book, or who I would suggest it to, but I am interested in reading more by this author.

cover image for JaranJaran by Kate Elliot

As the younger sister and only living relative of Charles Sorenson, a duke in the alien Chapalli Empire, Tess is heir to wealth and power.  But this is not the life she wants, so when she finds herself stranded on a planet outside of Chapalli control, she finds it tempting to take her time returning home, and enjoy life with the Jaran, the nomadic people who find her and take her in.  Except that Tess’ own arrival via a Chapalli spaceship is proof of their disregard for the treaty that places the planet Rhui out of their control, and she fears the Chapalli may have plans for Rhui, ones with dire consequences for both her brother and the Jaran.

Jaran is a very different kind of science fiction, one focused on empires and culture and not just aliens and changes in technology.  It also manages to look at these themes from both an intimate and wide angle perspective.  I definitely recommend it; I enjoyed it and look forward to reading the rest of the series.  But there were parts of it (mostly concerning the romance between Ilya and Tess) that would have had me worried if I didn’t already trust the author, so that might be useful to keep in mind.