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<<November 2014>>
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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: NonFiction, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 1,889
1. Nonfiction

Do nonfiction books always have to have a story arc? 


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2. Call for Submissions: pacificReview: Vivarium

pacificREVIEW 2015: Vivarium


Submission Period: October 1st 2014 – February 28th 2015

A vivarium (Latin for "place of life") is an area for keeping and raising animals or plants for observation or research. Often, a portion of the ecosystem for a particular species is simulated on a smaller scale, a microcosm with controls for environmental conditions.

We, as human beings, create vivariums for both ourselves and other species. In these environments of our own design (zoos, shopping malls, universities, cathedrals, etc.), we breathe simulation, observe phenomena both natural and unnatural, speak in symbols, and cypher our dreams. We are inhabitants of our creations, thriving in the flux between the abstract and the absolute. The newest issue of the pacificREVIEW seeks dynamic work that speaks to this theme and interrogates the ever-blurring line between "real" and "unreal" settings.

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3. Hand to Mouth: Review Haiku

A cold slap of water
in the face on the problem
of poverty.

Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado. Putnam, 2014, 195 pages.

0 Comments on Hand to Mouth: Review Haiku as of 11/21/2014 6:38:00 AM
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4. Review of the Day: Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy

NeighborhoodSharks 235x300 Review of the Day: Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine RoyNeighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands
By Katherine Roy
David Macaulay Studio – Roaring Brook (Macmillan)
ISBN: 9781596438743
Ages 7-12
On shelves now.

When you’re a librarian buying for your system, you come to understand that certain nonfiction topics are perennial favorites. You accept that no matter how many copies you buy, you will never have enough train or joke or magic books. And the king daddy topic to beat them all, the one that leaves a continual gaping hole in the Dewey Decimal area of 597.3 or so, is sharks. Kids can’t get enough of them. Heck, adults can’t get enough of them. Between Shark Week and movies like Sharknado, sharks haven’t been this pop culturally relevant since the good old days of JAWS. And sure, we’ve plenty of truly decent shark books on our shelves already. What we don’t really have are books that combine the blood and the facts with the beauty of full-color, wholly accurate paintings. We’ve never truly had a shark book that’s as accomplished and stunning as Katherine Roy’s Neighborhood Sharks. It’s crazy to contemplate that though shark books are never unpopular, only now did someone take the time and effort to give them a publication worthy of their terror and wonder.

A single great white shark cuts through the waters surrounding San Francisco’s Farallon Islands “just 30 miles from the city”. Prey comes in the form of a fine fat seal and before the mammal realizes what’s happening the shark attacks. What makes a shark the perfect killer? Consider its weapons. Note the body, covered in “skin teeth”, capable of acting like a warm-blooded fish. Observe its high-definition vision and five rows of teeth. Did you know that a shark’s jaws aren’t fused to the skull, so that they can actually be projected forward to bite something? Or the method by which you would go about actually tagging this kind of creature? With candor and cleverness, author/artist Katherine Roy brings these silent killers to breathtaking life. You may never desire to set foot into the ocean again.

It’s hard to imagine a book on sharks that has art that can compete with all those shark books laden with cool photographic images. Roy’s advantage here then is the freedom that comes with the art of illustration. She’s not beholden to a single real shark making a real kill. With her brush she can set up a typical situation in which a great white shark attacks a northern elephant seal. The looming threat of the inevitable attack and the almost Hitchcockian way she sets up her shots (so to speak) give the book a tension wholly missing from photo-based shark books. What’s more, it makes the book easy to booktalk (booktalk: a technique used by librarians to intrigue potential readers about titles – not dissimilar to movie trailers, only with books). There’s not a librarian alive who wouldn’t get a kick out of revealing that wordless two-page seal attack scene in all its horror and glory.

The remarkable thing? Even as she’s showing an eviscerated seal, Roy keeps the imagery fairly kid friendly. Plumes of red blood are far more esoteric and even (dare I say it) lovely than a creature bleeding out on land. You never see the shark’s teeth pierce the seal, since Roy obscures the most gory details in action and waves. There are even callbacks. Late in the book we see a shark attacking a faux seal, lured there by researchers that want to study the shark. Without having seen the previous attack this subsequent wordless image would lose much of its punch. And lest we forget, these images are downright lovely. Roy’s paintbrush contrasts the grey sea and grey shark with a whirling swirling red. You could lose yourself in these pictures.

Yet while Roy is capable of true beauty in her art, it’s the original ways in which she’s capable of conveying scientific information about sharks that truly won my heart. She’s the queen of the clever diagram. Early in the book we see an image of a shark’s torpedo-shaped body. Yet the image equates the shark with an airplane, overlaying its fins and tail with the wings and tail of a typical jet plane. Seeing this and the arrows that indicate airflow / how water flows, the picture does more to convey an idea than a thousand words ever could. I found myself poring over diagrams of how a shark can let in cold water and convert it in an internal heat exchange into something that can warm its blood. It’s magnificent. The close-up shot of how a shark’s five rows of teeth tilt and the shot that will haunt my dreams until I die of projectile jaws will easily satiate any bloodthirsty young shark lover hoping for a few new facts.

The projectile jaws, actually, are an excellent example of the tons of information Roy includes here that feels original and beautifully written. Roy is consistently child-friendly in this book, never drowning her text in jargon that would float over a kiddo’s head. Using the framing sequence of a shark attacking a seal, she’s able to work in facts about the creatures and their environment in such a way as to feel natural to the book. Neighborhood Sharks is one of the first books in the David Macaulay Studio imprint and like Mr. Macaulay, Ms. Roy is capable of artistic prowess and great grand factual writing all at once. The backmatter consisting of additional information, a word or two on why she decided not to do a spread on smell, Selected Sources, Further Reading, and a map of The Farallons is worth the price of admission alone.

The book is called “Neighborhood Sharks” for a reason. When we think of big predators we think of remote locations. We don’t think of them swimming along, so very close to places like the Golden Gate Bridge. Plenty of adults would be horrified by the notion that they might run into an unexpected shark somewhere. Kids, however, might see the prospect as exciting. Neighborhood Sharks has the potential to both satisfy those kids that have already read every single book on sharks in their local library and also convert those that haven’t already made sharks their favorite predator of all time. Remarkably beautiful even (or especially) in the face of straightforward shark attacks, this is a book that sets itself apart from the pack. If you read only one children’s shark book in all your livelong days, read this one. Disgusting. Delicious. Delightful.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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1 Comments on Review of the Day: Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy, last added: 11/21/2014
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5. Stand There! She Shouted (2014)

Stand There! She Shouted: The Invincible Photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. 2014. Candlewick. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Stand There! She Shouted is a biography of Julia Margaret Cameron, a noted photographer of the nineteenth century. From birth to death, details of her life are highlighted for young readers. She was born in India, raised in France, recuperated from an illness in Cape Town, South Africa, where she met her future husband, Charles Hay Cameron. The book does spend some time on her personal life: daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother. But it also spends plenty of time on her hobby/career as a photographer. How she learned about photography. Her first camera. Her first photographs. Her first failures. Her first successes. Who she photographed and why. Her favorite techniques and unique style. (She liked the subject to be slightly out of focus. She liked the softness.) How many photographs she took--3,000. One thing the book did really well was focus on how her sitters or posers felt. Did they like posing for her? How did they describe the experience? I liked these accounts of her work.

The book is illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. I love his work. I do. But. I wish there had been more photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron.

Favorite quotes:
She selected her sitters carefully. In a letter to a friend, she said that there were three reasons she photographed: "great beauty--great celebrity--and great friendship." (58)
As a photographer, she was ruthless. Children, her favorite subject, feared her. Julia Margaret lurked by the door, ready to stop a passing child for hours of posing. Edith Bradley Ellison recalled that the children of Freshwater "loved" her but "fled from her." When they saw her, they'd call out, "She's coming! She'll catch one of us!" And when Julia Margaret caught them, she bribed them with candy to pose. (46)

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. The Story of Money from bartering to bail out

storyofmoneyThe Story of Money written by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura is a humorous, wide-ranging tale about the evolution of money, starting with what people did before money was invented, exploring why it came into being and how money systems developed before coming right up to date with a discussion of modern day bank crashes and their consequences.

Although satisfying and curious facts about (for example) money’s relationship to the evolution of writing, the everyday use of official IOUs even in the 21st century and the remarkably tiny total volume of gold that exists on planet Earth pepper the conversational text, Jenkins presentation of these nuggets is unusual; rather than short, sharp fact boxes, or framed individual paragraphs (writing styles which are very common in non-fiction for children), he weaves a story together creating sustained texts over each 2-3 page chapter (each with their own funny title, echoing Victorian novels).

This slim hardback volume, ideal for upper primary aged children, is richly illustrated throughout with Satoshi Kitamura’s quirky and slightly wonky comic strip style images; they bring their own brand of humour to an enjoyable, approachable economics text which manages to make things as foreboding as inflation, deflation and taxation come to life.


The Story of Money is a digestible and entertaining introduction to many aspects of pecuniary history which offers up plenty of starting points for both practical and philosophical discussions about the value of money. An index and short bibliography add to the book’s utility both at home and in the classroom. Prepare to finish it feeling surprised: Surely there aren’t many other economics books which end by reminding us that there’s a great deal more to life than accumulating as much money as possible?


A numismatist was selling low value world currency at a charity table-top sale we recently visited and I took the opportunity to by a bag of coins for £5 (yes, the girls and I did see the irony at using money to buy… money).


I threw in a few chocolate coins for good measure and then we set about investigating where our coins came from.


On a cheap wall map we highlighted the countries we had coins from, noting those countries which we had coins for but which no longer existed (e.g. Yugoslavia), and also those countries who have currencies are now something other than that which we had coins for (for example we had lots of pre-Euro-era European coins). Some coins also opened up new stories in history for the girls; we had several coins from former UK colonies which referred to their ‘Emperor’.


That £5 I spent opened up so much exploration; from what coins are made out of, to the sometimes exquisite art on them, via the history they reflect as well as the geography they open up, I was quite amazed at how much interest and enjoyment we got out of a small coin collection (to say nothing of the very tactile and romantic experience of handling coins that have somehow landed up on your kitchen table even though they were made 1000s of miles away, sometime more than 100 years ago – what stories led them into our hands we wondered?).

Whilst mapping our money we listened to:

  • Money makes the world go round sung by Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey in Cabaret
  • Money for Nothing by Dire Straits (every child’s education ought to include _that_ guitar riff, right?)
  • Money, Money, Money by Abba
  • Money (That’s What I Want) by Barrett Strong (though I also like the Flying Lizzards version)
  • Other activities which go well with reading The Story of Money include:

  • Designing your own coin. The Royal Mint recently ran a UK-wide competition for the design of a new £1 coin. Whilst the competition is now closed you could still use their “Hints and Tips” as a starting point for designing a coin. There was also a recent bitcoin design competition, and a United States Mint competition – just keep your eyes peeled and maybe another such competition which you could enter will turn up.
  • Cleaning coins at the same time as gaining a little bit of scientific knowledge: use electrolysis to make tarnished coins shiny!
  • Creating a Chinese Money Tree, or collecting coins from your birth year.
  • What are your favourite activities for helping your kids learn about money?

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of The Story of Money from the publisher.

    3 Comments on The Story of Money from bartering to bail out, last added: 11/17/2014
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    7. Call for Submissions: Tiferet

    Tiferet is currently accepting new writing submissions! 

    We look for high-quality creative work that expresses spiritual experiences and/or promotes tolerance. Our mission is to help raise individual and global consciousness, and we publish writing from a variety of religious and spiritual traditions. 

    We seek and publish the following types of work:  

    Fiction: We interpret the word "spiritual" broadly. First, we seek well-written stories, pure and simple, that engage us in some small pocket of humanity.  

    Nonfiction: We like to publish essays and interviews that shed light on personal experiences of grappling with the invisible...or different aspects of spiritual traditions.  

    Poetry: We look for the highest quality poems that display mastery of content and craft. Technical proficiency is extremely important, along with clear expression of various aspects of the human spirit.  

    Art and Photography: We seek original art and photography which in some way captures the spiritual or contemplative in a visual representation. 

    For complete submission guidelines or to submit your work, please visit our website.

    The deadline for all submissions is December 31st, 2014.  

    Thank you for being a part of the global Tiferet community. We look forward to reading all submissions!

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    8. The Port Chicago 50: Review Haiku

    A infuriating story,
    masterfully told.
    Justice not served.

    The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin. Roaring Brook, 2014, 208 pages.

    0 Comments on The Port Chicago 50: Review Haiku as of 1/1/1900
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    9. Honoring Our Veterans: Tuesday Tucks Me In, by Luis Carlos Montalván (ages 5-10)

    As students and families celebrate Veterans Day, I always think about how to honor our veterans in a way that young students today can understand. My older students love reading historical fiction, but what about younger students? This week I am sharing a new book that introduces young students to the difficulties soldiers can face returning from war, and the loving help that service dogs can provide.
    Tuesday Tucks Me In
    The Loyal Bond between a Soldier and his Service Dog

    by Luis Carlos Montalván
    Roaring Brook Press / Macmillan, 2014
    Your local library
    ages 5-10
    Former Army Captain Luis Carlos Montalván was wounded during his two tours in Iraq. Montalván suffered from a traumatic brain injury and also post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recovery was difficult when he returned home, and he ended up withdrawing from friends and family.

    In this picture book, golden retriever service dog Tuesday shows readers what his life is like helping Montalván through daily life. He provides companionship and encouragement. Tuesday can even sense when Montalván is about to have a panic attack and can help him get through it. "Every morning my friend Louis wakes up to this... "
    "Rise and shine," I tell him with a lick. "The sun is up."
    Children will really like the full color photographs that help them get a sense of Tuesday's life as he navigates the subway, sidewalks and life in the city. The narrative helps readers understand the support Tuesday provides and, even more importantly, helps them empathize with Luis.
    "Luis has trouble with balance, and he used to struggle on the stairs. But now he grabs my handle and knows that I am there."
    I especially liked the author's note at the end, where Montalván explains service dogs to young readers. "Tuesday is a service dog. Service dogs are trained to help people with disabilities live more independent and happy lives."

    I absolutely agree with the Horn Book's assessment:
    "Children, even if initially just drawn in by the adorable dog pictures, will come away with a much greater understanding of the lives of both a returning vet and a service dog.”
    If students found this interesting and wanted to learn more, I would direct them to these books:
    Helping Dogs
    by Mary Ann Hoffman

    Dogs On Duty: Soldiers' Best Friends on the Battlefield and Beyond

    by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

    Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle
    by Brian Dennis, Kirby Larson, Mary Nethery
    The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

    ©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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    10. Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood: Review Haiku

    For Armistice Day,
    a look at a truly pointless,
    horrible war.

    Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood: A World War I Tale (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales) by Nathan Hale. Abrams, 2014, 128 pages.

    0 Comments on Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood: Review Haiku as of 11/11/2014 7:01:00 AM
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    11. Being Wrong

    I’m not sure how much of a write-up I can give you of Kathryn Schulz’s marvelous book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error since, if you recall, I borrowed it as an ebook from my library and was reading it on my Kindle when it decided to no longer highlight things. And frankly, if you can’t use either the highlight or bookmark function for ebooks, you’re screwed when you finish and try to write about them. There is no going back skimming the pages for a memory refresh nor is there a collection of passages to pull interesting tidbits from. That my Kindle crapped out while I was reading Being Wrong makes me giggle though it also makes me growl because I loved this book and wish I could share all the fascinating stuff I learned with you. I did eventually manage to get Kindle to highlight again but by then it was far too late because I was almost at the end of the book. Oh well.

    Not only is Being Wrong a fascinating book with tours into human behavior, memory, biology, psychology and culture, it is also quite literary. Schulz flings out the literary references with wild abandon — Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Don Quioxte and so many more. She makes these references in such a way that it is obvious she is a reader and familiar with the books and characters in a way that someone who only mines them for relevant quotes is not. Also, she’s really funny.

    Who among us doesn’t like being right? Who among us isn’t usually certain that we are right and everyone else is wrong? Who hasn’t made up excuses or reasons when discovered being wrong? Schulz sets out to examine why we are so certain about things and why we hate being wrong. In the process she looks at some spectacular instances of being wrong — Alan Greenspan anyone? In another less public example she goes over the case of a woman who was raped, identified her assailant, was instrumental in the man’s conviction and found out eighteen years later that it was not him but another man who looked very similar who had raped several women before her and several more after. How do you get over being so wrong and causing someone else to spend eighteen years of his life in prison?

    But it’s not just the big errors, it’s the small things too. Schulz talks about how she and her friends, none of them physicists, were sitting around one day discussing string theory as though they were all experts. They had a good laugh at themselves and invented an imaginary magazine called Modern Jackass. Thereafter they would chide each other when someone was insisting on their rightness on a topic they really knew nothing about saying things like, oh you should write that up and submit it to the science section of Modern Jackass. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way and we all hold forth like experts on things like the economy, medicine, the weather, life, the universe and everything. And if you are saying to yourself right now, I never do that, I am too humble and never make such assumptions. To you my friend I say, you are WRONG. No one is immune.

    Schulz discusses the many reasons we like to be right and why we are so afraid to be wrong. At the same time she talks about how being wrong is necessary in order to make creative leaps in art and science and our general everyday understanding of who we are and what the heck this thing called life is all about. She wishes more than once that we could find a way to be nicer to ourselves and others about being wrong. After all, to err is human and all that.

    One of the especially fascinating sections of the book is when Schulz discusses belief and what happens when a belief we have held that is integral in how we see ourselves and navigate in the world is suddenly wrong. She tells the story of one young woman who was raised as a fundamentalist Christian. She moved to New York, met a man who was an atheist who became her boyfriend, and then she found herself going from believing in God to not believing in God. When she and her boyfriend broke up a few years later she was left adrift when she realized that she wasn’t an atheist but neither could she believe in the fundamentalist Christian teachings she was raised in. Schulz talks about the uncomfortable place something like this brings us to, feelings of being unmoored and adrift, not knowing who we are now or who we want to be tomorrow. It’s really fascinating stuff!

    While reading and since I have finished the book, I have been more aware of my own rightness about things and noticed how quickly I get defensive when challenged. Sometimes I am able to catch myself, to back off, to not insist that I am right but instead actually listen to the other person and really consider what they are saying. And let me say, it is a weird feeling when I manage to do this. Not a bad feeling, just unfamiliar, a sort of limbo of not knowing that is hard to stay in because darn it, I want to be right. But I think if we could all become more comfortable with this limbo state at least some of the time, it sure would make for some interesting possibilities.

    So, in summary, good book. You should totally read it. You can’t go wrong.

    Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews

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    12. The Family Romanov (2014)

    The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. Candace Fleming. 2014. Random House. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

    I've had this one checked out from the library for months, it seems. But once I actually started reading it, it moved quite quickly. That doesn't mean it was an "easy" read, however. It was just as dark and depressing as you might expect. It isn't always easy to read a book when you know the ending.

    This one is rich in details, I thought. And it did a great job of putting everything into context, especially in terms of social classes. One got a feel for what life was like for the rich and the poor. It was easy to understand WHY the masses were ready for change, ready to rebel, ready to have a voice, ready to be taken seriously. Desperation. The book dwells on the desperation felt during these decades. That and despair. It's not an uplifting book. It's not a book with a lot of hope to it.

    I think it authentically captures the times, the injustice of the times. And in a way, it is fascinating enough. But it's also heartbreaking. Because it doesn't matter if you're looking at the before or after picture, life was HORRIBLE, living conditions were awful.

    © 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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    Anton Treuer's Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask is one of the books I think every teacher ought to have on her shelf, and that every library ought to have, too, in multiple copies.

    Published in 2012 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, the information in Treuer's book is presented in a question/answer format. If you've already got Do All Indians Live in Tipis from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), add this one to your shopping cart or order form right away. Though there is some overlap (both, for example, discuss use of "American Indian" versus "Native American"), there are definitely a lot of things that are not in the NMAI book, and, because Treuer is Ojibwe, we get more depth on that nation, in particular.

    The contents of the book are in question/answer format, with the questions ones that Treuer is asked in lectures and workshops. He's the executive director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State in Minnesota.

    Here's the table of contents:

    Introduction: Ambassador
    Religion, Culture & Identity
    Tribal Languages
    Perspectives: Coming to Terms and Future Directions
    Conclusion: Finding Ways to Make a Difference

    Some highlights:

    In History, Treuer addresses the land bridge theory of the continent's first inhabitants by pointing to new research of archeological sites that forces us to reconsider that theory. He also answers the oft-posed question "why does it matter" when Indians got here. He says that the question itself is one whose subtext is that everyone is immigrant to this continent, and as such, is an attempt to undermine Native Nations.

    In Perspectives, Treur takes on the "my great grandmother was a Cherokee princess" statement that so many of us hear. He does the usual rebuttal that royalty is not part of Cherokee societal structure, but he also says this:
    If your great-grandmother was Cherokee, then one of your grandparents was too, and one of your parents, and in actuality you are Cherokee as well. Someone who truly identifies with his or her native ancestry will say, "I am Cherokee."
    He goes on to say that the "my great grandmother" statement, though well-intended, demonstrates a level of ignorance about Cherokee history and culture, and posits that those who have actually investigated that family story and Cherokee culture would come away saying "I'm Cherokee" (if the story is legitimized) and would abandon the "princess" claim because it is not valid.

    In the Conclusion, Treuer writes about a grassroots effort amongst local businessmen in Bemidji to add Ojibwe words to their signage. A simple action, it brings visibility to a people and their language that is rare. And, it welcomes Ojibwe people in ways that affirm who they are. Here's a photo from the book, showing the signage at the hospital:

    If you want to make your classroom, school, or library more welcoming to Native peoples, signage is a good option. A couple of years ago, I pointed to a number of resources you can turn to do that.

    If you've got a choice, I encourage you to get Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask from an independent bookstore like Birchbark Books.

    I like Treuer's book. He writes directly and conveys nuances to, amongst the 500+ federally recognized tribal nations. I highly recommend you add it to your collections.

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    14. The Writer’s Garden

    When the publisher offered to send me a copy of The Writer’s Garden: How gardens inspired our best-loved authors by Jackie Bennett, how could I possibly say no? When the large-format book arrived with a full-color glossy cover I thought, uh-oh, it’s just going to be all photos. So I was pleasantly surprised to open the book and discover good text too.

    The gardens in the book belong to the likes of Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Walter Scott, Rudyard Kipling and more. In all, twenty writers and nineteen gardens are represented and what glorious gardens they are. Some of the writers were themselves avid gardeners. George Bernard Shaw died at the age of ninety-four after falling while out in the garden pruning a tree. Of course, Beatrix Potter was a very hands-on gardener and sometimes it is hard to tell which parts of her stories were inspired by her garden and which features in her garden were reproduced from her stories. Thomas Hardy, who grew up farming, was also very hands-on as was Robert Burns who would work on his farm and garden all day composing poems in his head which he would then write down in the evenings.

    There were plenty of writers who had beautiful gardens but hired other people to take care of them. Henry James knew absolutely nothing about gardening when he moved to Lamb House. While he eventually learned the names of flowers and trees, he left the actual work to someone else.

    Walter Scott knew plenty about gardening, he designed his house and most of his extensive gardens, but other than lending a hand planting trees and doing a few other chores now and then, he left the actual work to his hired gardeners.

    A common theme among many of these writers whose gardens were all at minimum an acre and often larger than that, is some sort of shed/hut/cottage/house located somewhere in the garden, usually amidst the trees, where they would go and escape the house to write. Roald Dahl had an actual Gypsy caravan that he bought and installed in his garden. For the few writers who did not have a writing hut, they all had studies, generally on the second floor of the house, that looked out over a part of the garden.

    Some of the gardens were purely ornamental, but a good many included large kitchen gardens that helped feed the household. Most of the gardens also had orchards as well with apple, pear, cherry and plum trees. All of the writers had woods, either as part of the garden or, for the smaller estates, wooded common areas just over the fence that provided quiet, shady walks.

    I found myself supremely jealous of all these gorgeous gardens. When I finished the book it seemed that writing and gardening went hand in hand that one could not possibly be a writer without garden acreage. No wonder I am not an author, I only have a small city lot and there is no chance of a writing hut. I might be able to build a small closet big enough for a chair but I would not be willing to give up even that small spot of soil. I do have a room with a window that looks out onto the garden but the cats get the window and me and my desk are left facing the wall. All of the gardens in The Writer’s Garden are in the UK so I also suffered from a bit of envy over what could be grown in some of the gardens that I could never grow in my own.

    The book itself is beautiful. The pages are thick and glossy and the photos are all in color. For each writer there is a list of the books written while in residence at the particular house/garden and Bennett is kind enough to provide an update to the current state of the garden. Many of them are now owned by the National Trust but not all. At the end of the book is information on how to visit most of the gardens as well as a short list of further reading.

    The holidays are fast approaching and this book would make a wonderful gift for the reader-gardener in your life. Or perhaps it might be one you yourself should put on your list for Santa. I’ll be keeping my copy handy to browse through in the winter months when my eyes need bright color and my spirit needs to imagine itself in a snug writing hut beneath the leafy green trees.

    Filed under: Books, gardening, Nonfiction, Reviews

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    15. Facts Here, Facts There, Facts Everywhere

    I was very taken with Peter Sis's book The Wall back in 2008, so when I heard he'd written and illustrated another book, this one about Antoine St. Exupery, for whom I'm a groupy, I was enthusiastic. I've never really understood The Little Prince, and I don't really get Sis's The Pilot and the Little Prince, either. It's beautiful (and very well reviewed), but I'm embarrassed to say that I find the layering of information difficult to manage. There's narrative, sometimes there's little facts in circles in a straight line above the narrative, and sometimes there are facts sprinkled above that. An older child who is into nonfiction and just plain loves facts might eagerly suck this stuff up. This older reader is stuck in her ways and needs a more linear reading experience.

     A New York Times reviewer said, " Sis suggests in his new title that the Pilot of “The Little Prince” is Saint-Exupéry and the Little Prince his child self." I totally missed that. I'm not saying it's not there, just that I didn't get it.

    However, I did pick up on the fact that Guerlain named the perfume Vol de Nuit for one of St. Exupery's books. That's the kind of thing a St. Exupery groupy wants to know.

    The Pilot and the Little Prince is a Cybils nominee in the picture book category.

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    16. Review of The Iridescence of Birds

     maclachlan iridescence of birds Review of The Iridescence of BirdsThe Iridescence of Birds:
    A Book About Henri Matisse

    by Patricia MacLachlan; 
illus. by Hadley Hooper
    Primary    Porter/Roaring Brook    40 pp.
    10/14    978-1-59643-948-1    $17.99

    “If you were a boy named Henri Matisse who lived / in a dreary town…” Thus begins this speculative exploration of the painter’s early encounters with color, worded as a book-length query. It’s his mother who brightens Henri’s gray surroundings (“Painted plates to hang on the walls…she let you mix the colors”), brings him fruits and flowers to arrange, and swathes a room in red rugs. Most inspiring are the changeable colors of pigeons (given to Henri by his father). The brief text culminates with a second question: “Would it be a surprise that you became / A fine painter who painted / Light / and / Movement / And the iridescence of birds?” While MacLachlan addresses these mind-opening thoughts to the reader, Hooper visualizes what might have influenced the artist-to-be. Using relief prints and digital techniques with a decisive and economical rough-edged black line and colors that echo Matisse’s evolving palette, Hooper sets the happily involved small boy amongst images that become bolder and brighter as the book progresses while fluidly incorporating the painter’s own imagery. It’s a spacious and beautiful book, as much a lesson for adults on visual enrichment and nurturing a creative spirit as an introductory biography for children. Back matter comprises notes by both author and illustrator and a list of four biographies for children.

    From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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    17. Investigating about explorers: a range of resources (ages 8-12)

    Do you have fond memories of reading your history textbooks? Probably not. So how can we make history more interesting for our children?

    We want our children to envision what it would have been like to live long ago, to make the messy decisions that people had to make, to struggle and wrestle with life, warts and all. And yet we also need to convey basic information about historical periods and figures. How do we balance the facts with the engaging material?

    As a case in point, I've been helping 5th grade students gather information about famous explorers from different eras. They're investigating Marco Polo, James Cook, Hernando Cortes, Amelia Earhart, Sally Ride and many others. Their teachers want them to practice note-taking skills. What resources will help them the most?

    World Book Encyclopedia: building background knowledge
    "How are we supposed to choose which explorer to do our report on if we don't know anything about them?"
    Students need to begin their research process by learning some basic facts about their subject. This should be pretty easy for the children to read, since they need to focus on building a clear framework in their minds. I would suggest just reading at this point, not taking notes. We start with World Book Kids, the junior version of the World Book Encyclopedia.

    Web Path Express: guided Internet research
    "I call this Google for 5th graders."
    We have recently added WebPath Express to our Follett Destiny library catalog. This service guides students in their Internet searches, helping them go directly to accurate, age-appropriate sites. Students are able to find reliable resources quickly, without having to filter out commercial or college-level sites.
    by Chris Oxlade
    Kingfisher Readers, level 5
    Kingfisher, 2014
    Your local library
    ages 8-10
    Students will like the clear sentences and frequent illustrations in this brief introduction to nearly twenty explorers from ancient to modern times. Each explorer's major achievements and struggles are covered in a two-page spread, so the pace moves quickly. Sentences are relatively short, and drawings keep interest high.
    "Marco Polo was born in Venice, in Italy. In 1271, when he was just 17 years old, he set off for China with his father and his uncle. They took gifts for Kublai Khan, the powerful ruler of China in the 1200s CE."
    This type of book will help students develop a "research report" tone to their own writing. It is factual and straight forward. But it does not have much depth, it does not really prompt students to connect to what they're reading or to ask questions.
    Lives of the Explorers:
    Discoveries, Disasters (and What the Neighbors Thought)
    by Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt
    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
    Google Books preview
    Your local library
    ages 8-12
    Krull engages readers with dynamic writing, as she introduces them to the lives of twenty ancient and modern explorers. While this is more difficult to read, it is also much more interesting. She begins the chapter on Mathew Henson, African American explorer of the North Pole in the early 1900s, this way:
    "Matthew Henson and Robert Peary shared many an unappetizing meal in the frozen land around the North Pole. But in the United States they wouldn't have even been allowed to eat together, as restaurants were segregated into 'black' and 'white' sections."
    In just three pages, Krull helps readers get a sense of the challenges Henson faced and his remarkable achievements. She incorporates quotes from Henson to give a sense of his perspective. Teachers and librarians should note, however, that she does not indicate the sources for her material, but just provides sources for further reading.
    Into the Unknown
    How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea and Air
    by Stewart Ross
    illustrated by Stephen Biesty
    Candlewick, 2011
    Your local library
    ages 9-14
    *my full review here*
    Stewart Ross and Stephen Biesty absolutely captivate me each time I read a section of Into the Unknown. Biesty's intricate illustrations draw me right into each scene, helping me imagine what it would be like to be part of an expedition. Students love the fold-out illustrations and the cut-aways that show you the inside of ships. Ross's descriptions include enough detail to engross me without overwhelming me. They have a strong narrative flow, conveying the dramatic pull of these stories but also helping young readers start forming their own questions and conclusions.

    The review copy of Explorers came from our public library. The review copy of Lives of the Explorers was kindly sent by the publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The review copy of Into the Unknown was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

    ©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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    18. Port Chicago 50

    The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. Steve Sheinkin. 2014. Roaring Brook. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

    Wow! What a book! Port Chicago 50 is a compelling nonfiction read. It is informative and detailed, but, it never felt like it was too much, like it was too-information-heavy. It was fascinating and at times shocking. It examines HOW African-Americans were treated in the navy during the second world war. It deals with prejudice and discrimination and injustice. Specifically it focuses on a select group of soldiers stationed at Port Chicago. The soldiers moving explosives from docks to ships were all African-Americans. These soldiers received no special training or instructions. It didn't take them long to figure out that disaster could come at any time, that every day came with big, big risks. Disaster did come. It was awful. It changed the survivors--haunted the survivors. So when these men are asked weeks later to go back to work with explosives, well, some decide to say no. The book is ultimately about 50 men who decided that they did not want to obey orders to load explosives. About the consequences of their actions--or inaction as the case may be. The men were charged with mutiny and put on trial. Would justice be served? Would they have a fair hearing?

    The Port Chicago 50 is emotional and fascinating. It was a beautifully written story about the fight for justice and equality. It was everything a nonfiction book should be.

    Definitely recommended.

    © 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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    19. Books mentioned in the October 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book

    Unexplained phenomena

    Extraterrestrial Life series

    Allman, Toney Are Extraterrestrials a Threat to Humankind?
    Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint     2011
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-60152-170-5

    Kallen, Stuart A. The Search for Extraterrestrial Life
    Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint     2011
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-60152-171-2

    Marcovitz, Hal Aliens in Pop Culture
    Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint     2011
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-60152-154-5

    Netzley, Patricia D. Alien Encounters
    Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint     2011
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-60152-169-9

     Whiting, Jim UFOs
    Middle school, high school     80 pp.     ReferencePoint     2011
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-60152-172-9

    Arnosky, Jim Monster Hunt: Exploring Mysterious Creatures with Jim Arnosky
    Gr. 4–6     32 pp.     Hyperion     2011
    Trade ISBN 978-1-4231-3028-4

    Everett, J. H. and Scott-Waters, Marilyn Haunted Histories: Creepy Castles, Dark Dungeons, and Powerful Palaces
    Gr. 4–6     146 pp.     Holt/Ottaviano     2012
    Trade ISBN 978-0-8050-8971-4

    Halls, Kelly Milner Alien Investigation: Searching for the Truth About UFOs and Aliens
    Gr. 4–6     64 pp.     Millbrook     2012
    Library binding ISBN 978-0-7613-6204-3

    Unsolved Mysteries series

    Pelleschi, Andrea Crop Circles
    Middle school, high school     112 pp.     ABDO     2012
    Library binding ISBN     978-1-61783-300-7

     Zuchora-Walske, Christine The Bermuda Triangle
    Middle school, high school     112 pp.     ABDO     2012
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-61783-298-7


    Earl, Esther This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life & Words of Esther Grace Earl
    With Lori Earl and Wayne Earl
    Middle school, high school     240 pp.     Dutton     2014
    Trade ISBN 978-0-525-42636-3

    Ehlert, Lois The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life
    Gr. K–3     72 pp.     Simon/Beach Lane     2014
    Trade ISBN 978-1-4424-3571-1

    Kehret, Peg Animals Welcome: A Life of Reading, Writing, and Rescue
    Gr. 46     175 pp.     Dutton     2012
    Trade ISBN 978-0-525-42399-7

    K’naan  When I Get Older: The Story Behind Wavin’ Flag 
    With Sol Guy; illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez
    Gr. K3     32 pp.     Tundra     2012
    Trade ISBN 978-1-77049-302-5

    Leyson, Leon, Harran, Marilyn J. and Leyson, Elisabeth B. The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible…on Schindler’s List
    Gr. 46     232 pp.     Atheneum     2013
    Trade ISBN 978-1-4424-9781-8 


    Domestic Animals

    Dog Heroes series

    Goldish, Meish Science Dogs
    Gr. 4–6    32 pp.     Bearport     2013
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-61772-887-7

    Goldish, Meish Shelter Dogs
    Gr. 4–6    32 pp.     Bearport     2013
    Library binding 978-1-61772-886-0

    Green, Jen Inheritance of Traits: Why Is My Dog Bigger Than Your Dog? [Show Me Sciences series]
    Gr. 4–6    32 pp.     Raintree     2014
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-4329-8747-3
    Paperback ISBN 978-1-4329-8754-1

    My New Pet series

    Johnson, Jinny Guinea Pig
    Gr. K3    24 pp.     Smart Apple     2014
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-62588-029-1

    Johnson, Jinny Hamster and Gerbil
    Gr. K3   24 pp.     Smart Apple     2014
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-62588-030-7

    Johnson, Jinny Kitten
    Gr. K3    24 pp.     Smart Apple     2014
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-62588-026-0

    Johnson, Jinny Puppy
    Gr. K3    24 pp.     Smart Apple    2014
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-62588-027-7

    Johnson, Jinny Rabbit
    Gr. K3    24 pp.     Smart Apple     2014
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-62588-028-4

    Horses That Help with the American Humane Association series

    Spiotta-DiMare, Loren Draft Horses: Horses That Work
    Gr. K–3    
    48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary     2014
    LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4220-9

    Spiotta-DiMare, Loren Performing Horses: Horses That Entertain
    Gr. K–3     48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary     2014
    LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4219-3

    Spiotta-DiMare, Loren Police Horses: Horses That Protect
    Gr. K–3     48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary     2014
    LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4218-6

    Spiotta-DiMare, Loren Therapy Horses: Horses That Heal
    Gr. K–3     48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary     2014
    LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4217-9

    Animals on the Family Farm series

    Stiefel, Chana Chickens on the Family Farm
    24 pp. Enslow 2013
    LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4204-9

    Stiefel, Chana Cows on the Family Farm
    24 pp. Enslow 2013. LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4205-6

    Stiefel, Chana Goats on the Family Farm
    24 pp. Enslow 2013. LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4206-3

    Stiefel, Chana Pigs on the Family Farm
    24 pp. Enslow 2013. LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4208-7

    Stiefel, Chana Sheep on the Family Farm
    24 pp. Enslow 2013. LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4209-4

    Stiefel, Chana Turkeys on the Family Farm
    24 pp. Enslow 2013. LE ISBN 978-0-7660-4207-0


    Big ideas

    Adler, David A. Things That Float and Things That Don’t
    Illustrated by Anna Raff
    Gr. K3        32 pp.      Holiday     2013
    Trade ISBN 978-0-8234-2862-5

    Andregg, Michael M. Seven Billion and Counting: The Crisis in Global Population Growth
    Middle school, high school   
    88 pp.    Twenty-First Century     2014
    Library Binding ISBN 978-0-7613-6715-4

    Ross, Catherine Sheldrick Shapes in Math, Science and Nature: Squares, Triangles and Circles
    Gr. 46     192 pp.     Kids Can      2014
    Illustrated by Bill Slavin
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-77138-124-6

    Schaefer, Lola M. Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives
    Gr. K–3     40 pp.     Chronicle     2013
    Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
    Trade ISBN 978-1-4521-0714-1

    Zoehfeld, Kathleen Weidner Secrets of the Seasons: Orbiting the Sun in Our Backyard
    Illustrated by Priscilla Lamont
    Gr. K—3        40 pp.      Knopf (Random House Children’s Books)     2014
    Trade ISBN 978-0-517-70994-8
    Library binding ISBN 978-0-517-70995-5


    Barlow, Melissa Noodlemania!: 50 Playful Pasta Recipes
    Illustrated by Alison Oliver
    Gr. 46     112 pp.     Quirk Books     2013
    Paperback ISBN 978-1-59474-617-8

    Elton, Sarah Starting from Scratch: What You Should Know About Food and Cooking
    Illustrated by Jeff Kulak
    Middle school, high school      96 pp.     Owlkids      2014
    Trade ISBN 978-1-926973-96-8

    Yummy Tummy Recipes: Seasons series

    LaPenta, Marilyn Fall Shakes to Harvest Bakes
    Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport      2013
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-61772-742-9

    LaPenta, Marilyn Spring Spreads to “Nutty” Breads
    Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport      2013
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-61772-744-3

    LaPenta, Marilyn Summer Sips to “Chill” Dips
    Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport      2013
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-61772-741-2

    LaPenta, Marilyn Winter Punches to Nut Crunches
    Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport      2013
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-61772-743-6

    Checkerboard How-To Library: Cool Young Chefs series

    Wagner, Lisa Cool Backyard Grilling: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
    Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO      2014
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-62403-085-7

    Wagner, Lisa Cool Best-Ever Brunches: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
    Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO      2014
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-62403-086-4

    Wagner, Lisa Cool Cooking Up Chili: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
    Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO      2014
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-62403-087-1

    Wagner, Lisa Cool Game Day Parties: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
    Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO      2014
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-62403-088-8

    Walton, Ruth Let’s Bake a Cake [Let's Find Out series]
    Gr. K3     32 pp.     Sea to Sea      2013
    Library binding ISBN 978-1-59771-386-3

    These titles were featured in the September 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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    20. Teach Us To Sit Still

    I must give a hearty “thank you” to Ian Darling for telling me about Teach Us to Sit Still by Tim Parks after I read The Miracle of Mindfulness. When you read a book like Thich Nhat Hahn’s on meditation and he is telling you how good it is and how it will change your life it is easy to dismiss it because of course this Buddhist monk is going to say that. To then read a book like Parks’s, a personal story that leads him kicking and screaming to meditation where he discovers that it really does work, it makes you pause and think.

    Parks’s story begins when he was 51 and tired of suffering from severe pains and trips to the bathroom 5-6 times a night, something that he has been experiencing for years and keeps getting worse. Parks live and teaches in Verona, Italy and happened to have a good friend who is a top urologist in the country. His friend diagnosed him with prostatitis and referred him for tests and consults with top doctors. Through test after test and scan after scan, all the doctors said that if he weren’t having such pain they would say there was nothing wrong with him. The suggested treatment was an invasive and painful surgery that may or may not work, though all the doctors assured him it would. Parks rightly hesitated.

    On a trip to India for a conference he decided to visit an Ayurvedic doctor on the spur of the moment. The doctor told him he could give him all kinds of herbs and recommend all sorts of expensive supplements but none of them would work and he would never be cured until he confronted the “profound contradiction” in his character. “There is a tussle in your mind,” the doctor told him. Parks left kicking himself for wasting his time. But he could not get over this idea of there being a tussle in his mind.

    On the internet he discovered a place in California that treated men with problems like his. They had a book. Parks ordered the book. Basically, their theory was that his condition was muscle-related, that his body was so full of tension that the muscles around his prostate could not relax. Treatment was an hour of “paradoxical relaxation” and regular prostate massage. Parks decided even though he didn’t feel tense, he’d give the relaxation a go since he had nothing to lose.

    “Paradoxical relaxation” is pretty much meditation done laying down. The paradox is that once you are comfortable, you are supposed to focus on an area of your body that feels tense but not try to relax it. Only by not relaxing the tension will the tension go away. And there was to be no verbalization, no talking to yourself in your head, just an empty mind and focus.

    Parks was surprised when he quickly learned that the body he thought was not tense at all was nothing but tense. His first few efforts ended up giving him moments of increased pain. But he kept at it and after a few more tries had a moment when something let go and he felt a warm wave wash through him. He was so excited by this that he immediately ruined the moment. But he had made progress. Eventually he had pain-free hours during his day but he still had to get up frequently during the night.

    He visited a Shiatsu massage specialist. The massages caused pain but also relieved pain. His masseuse eventually recommended Parks try Vipassana meditation. Parks was reluctant but realized that he had gone as far as he could with his paradoxical relaxation so he signed up for a weekend retreat.

    In Vipassana meditation you begin by focusing your attention on feeling your breath move across the top of your lip, in and out. You aren’t supposed to think. You are supposed to sit completely still. Parks quickly discovers how very hard this is. Even with his paradoxical relaxation he had supreme difficulty not thinking, not verbalizing, now it was even harder. But there were exquisite moments when it would all come together and he would feel so calm, relaxed and completely free of pain. After two years and regular meditation, he found himself cured. He still had to get up during the night but only twice a night instead of 5-6 times.

    Throughout the book he keeps going back and mulling over what the tussle in his mind could be, and he discovers there are a number of unresolved issues with his parents, especially his father, with his writing and his ambition. At one point he even decides he needed to give up writing entirely but when he told the leader of the retreat he was on when he came to this conclusion, the man just laughed at him and said he had it all wrong.

    Eventually he figures it out. He realizes that holding on so tight to language, to words, the “I” that language asks us to create is the problem. Meditating helped him let that go, helped him get out of his head and into his body, gave him a sense of wholeness and calm and taught him that there is pleasure in letting the self disappear.

    Of course everyone will have different reasons for meditating and derive different benefits, but Parks’s experience is encouraging and uplifting. He makes you believe that if he could do it, everyone reading his book certainly can do it too.

    Filed under: Books, Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Tim Parks

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    21. Mr. Schu reveals the cover of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

    John Roy Lynch cover tease

    Over at his blog Watch. Connect. Read., librarian John Schumacher has unveiled the cover of my spring 2015 picture book biography, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers).

    So please go, feast your eyes on Don Tate’s artwork, and enjoy a few words from me about the unusual journeys of our subject and our book alike.

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    22. Review of Because They Marched

    freeman because they marched Review of Because They MarchedBecause They Marched:
    The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America

    by Russell Freedman
    Middle School    Holiday    83 pp.
    8/14    978-0-8234-2921-9    $20.00
    e-book ed.  978-0-8234-3263-9    $20.00

    With characteristically clear prose sprinkled liberally with primary source quotes and carefully selected photographs, Freedman documents the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march that featured the horrific Bloody Sunday confrontation between the marchers and the Alabama state troopers. Captured on television footage by all the major networks, these events convinced the nation — and Congress — that something finally had to be done. That something turned out to be the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “the crowning achievement of the civil rights movement.” Freedman’s introduction is particularly effective because it focuses on the teachers’ march to the courthouse to register as a major trigger for the movement: “For the first time, a recognized professional group from Selma’s black community had carried out an organized protest.” If the book is not quite as visually striking as its notable predecessor, Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching for Freedom (rev. 11/09), nor as invested in the youth participation, its later publication date allows the book to touch on the controversial 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. A timeline, source notes, selected bibliography, and an index are appended.

    From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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    23. Call for Submissions to Anthology: My Brush with Death

    Deadline--January 31, 2015
    Rain Drop Press, is reading for its first anthology, Life is a Journey. . . not a destination: Topic: My Brush with Death. Rain Drop Press  strives to share stories of those who survived a harrowing experience and are willing to leave their story as a legacy of their emotional journey.
    My Brush with Death stories are inspirational, true stories about ordinary people facing extraordinary experiences; stories that will open the heart and rekindle the spirit. They are personal and filled with emotion and drama. For some who have had a personal brush with death, reading this anthology will be a moment of reflection and realization of their own mortality. For others, it will be a realization of how fragile life can be.
    Read the complete guidelines here.
    No Entry Fee

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    24. Wild Things: Review Haiku

    Worth it for the
    James Marshall shoe story alone.
    Read it and weep, folks.

    Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta. Candlewick, 2014, 288 pages.

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    25. The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets – a Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize shortlistee

    7277409-MThe Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets written by Emily Bone, illustrated by Fabiano Fiorin is a first primer in astronomy, full of simply explained and rather beautifully illustrated facts about the Solar System, different types of stars and how they group together, and space exploration and observation. Four large flaps fold out (a little like the expanding universe), to reveal further facts and some lavish astronomical vistas.

    Usborne has history when it comes to astronomy books and the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize: Last year Usborne’s Look Inside Space (which I reviewed here) won the prize, and in 2011 The Story of Astronomy and Space (which I reviewed here) was shortlisted. So how does The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets compare? Is it an award winner?

    Many Usborne books are characterized by cartoony illustrations, and here, The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets does something rather different and really worthwhile in my opinion: Fiorin’s illustrations do justice to the beauty of space, with the use of vivid watercolours, particularly effective in the section on nebulae.


    As to the information presented, I have come up against a problem. Whilst I don’t fact-check everything in the non-fiction books I review, I do always check a few “facts”, to get a feel for how the book presents information. Unfortunately with The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets I very quickly came across a few statements which made me slightly concerned: the thickness of Saturn’s rings and the length of Uranus’ day don’t match what is stated on NASA’s website (65 ft thick vs 30-300 ft thick, 17 hours and 54 minutes vs 17 hours and 14 minutes). I know that “facts” are often much more complicated than presented, especially in books for the youngest of readers, and that simplification is sometimes necessary (and that my research skills can always be bettered) but it makes me uneasy when with just a little investigation I can find contradictory information from reliable sources.

    I love the look and feel of The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets but I can’t help feeling unsettled by it too; why doesn’t the information I’ve looked up elsewhere match with some of the information presented in the book? Hmm.


    Inspired by the patterns and colours of the planets in the illustrations, and such photos as the one below, where Jupiter appears in pastel colours because the observation was taken in near-infrared light, we decided to make our own set of planets.

    Triple Jupiter Eclipse. Photo:  NASA on The Commons, ESA, and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)

    Triple Jupiter Eclipse. Photo: NASA on The Commons

    We used marbling paint and different sized polystyrene balls to replicate the colours and patterns.


    Having created a swirly pattern with a toothpick the girls slowly dipped their “planets” into the paint/water. (In order to hang up the planets to dry, we attached string to them before we dipped them).

    The effects were just lovely!


    Once dry, we put our planets into orbit in the windowsill:


    We shall never have a dull sky at night now.


    Whilst marvelling at our marbled planets we listened to:

  • The Monty Python Universe Song
  • The Planets suite by Gustav Holst. ‘Mars’ recently featured in the BBC’s 10 Pieces, a project designed to get primary school aged children really excited about classical music. The BBC created a video to go with the music, which you can view here.
  • For the Planet Pluto by The Music Tapes

  • Other activities that would go well with reading The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets include:

  • Making a scale model of the Solar System down your garden path or along the pavement to school. Here’s how we did it (all measurements included).
  • Watching some of the experiments carried out by Chris Hadfield when he was in the International Space Station. He’s got his own YouTube channel where you can hear him sing (not just the Bowie song) as well as explore many of the amazing things that happen in space.
  • Signing up to find out next time you can send your name into space! Occasionally NASA sends probes into space on which you can have your name inscribed – my girls’ names will be launched into space with Bennu in 2016 – and if you sign up you can find out when the next such opportunity arises.
  • When you read reviews of non-fiction books do you expect some commentary on factual accuracy? When can a book still be worth recommending even if it appears to contain errors? I wrote a review of a non-fiction book for a print publication at the start of this year. The book contained an error (double and triple checked by me), but my review was never published, and in all the other reviews I’ve seen of the book, the error has not been mentioned. What do you think of this? Should errors be overlooked because they can be corrected in future editions?

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets about Your Body from the Royal Society.

    royalsocietyprizebuttonEach year the Royal Society awards a prize to the best book that communicates science to young people with the aim of inspiring young people to read about science. The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets is on this year’s shortlist for the The Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize. The winner will be announced 17th November.

    4 Comments on The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets – a Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize shortlistee, last added: 11/3/2014
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