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1. Animal Groups from National Geographic Kids




One of my students checked out Animal Groupsby Jill Esbaum from the library a few weeks ago. When I flipped through it, I knew it was a book I'd want for the classroom. There was just enough text on a page for my students to move beyond merely reading facts.  Plus I loved the umbrella that pulled this book together--the things we call groups of different animals.

When I spent a bit more time with the book, I realized that this would also be a great mentor text for informational writing. I am always struck by the quality of the writing in many of the NG Kids books.  The writing in this book can definitely be used to study the craft of nonfiction and each page is a short enough piece to be used on its own in a mini lesson for this study.

The word choice is what stood out to me at first.  The vets the author chooses are great for helping kids choose specific verbs in their writing. Lines like "parents dive for dinner" and "Flitting through sunshine" are on each and every page. Are there are also phrases that will give kids options for nonfiction writing beyond just writing facts. The page on sea otters starts out "The ocean is a perfect playground for sea otters...." and "They hang upside down, wings folded, awaiting the warmth of the morning sun."

As readers, the book is organized in a way to support readers--good headings, Did You Know? boxes with extra information, a map at the end of the book, and a list of animal groups not included in the main text.

This book is filled with interesting information and great nonfiction writing. I think kids will love it as readers and also as growing writers.   So glad to have a copy for the classroom!  It looks like Jill Esbaum has several other nonfiction books and I am definitely going to check them out as I think her writing is great for middle graders to study and learn from!

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2. Animal Bites: A Nonfiction Series from Animal Planet


I am always looking for good new nonfiction series that are accessible to my 3rd graders. I recently received a copy of OCEAN ANIMALS from the newish Animal Bites series from Animal Planet.  It looks like it will be a perfect fit for 3rd and 4th graders.

The book is filled with amazing photos so it will definitely attract readers--it is one they will pick up on their own. And there seems to be just the right amount of text on each page. Each page contains more than a few facts but not so much text that the book becomes overwhelming for young readers.

The book's text features are color-coded so readers are directed to a key on the Table of Contents page.  There are several categories covered in the book and the colored tabs alert the reader to which umbrella topic is being discussed on a page.  Topics like "Where They Live", "How They Live" and "Big Data" are some of the categories. There are also some pages that focus on one type of animal to get more information.

The book has a good progression so can easily be read from cover to cover over a few days. But the pages also stand alone so each page can be read alone and there are lots of mini lesson possibilities form the stand-alone pages.  This is a good series to use to share various ways to read nonfiction and the ways the various nonfiction text features are used to help share information.

There are a few other books in this series and I am anxious to see if my kids like them as much as i think they will. I definitely have plenty of series about animals but many of  my 3rd graders could read about animals every day and still want to read more! They are a sturdy paperback book so they seem like they will hold up well in a classroom.

The other books in the series include Polar Animals, Farm Animals and Wild Animals.

I'm excited to discover this new series!

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3. Eat Fat, Get Thin

Eat Fat, Get Thin. Why The Fat We Eat Is the Key to Sustained Weight Loss and Vibrant Health. Mark Hyman. Little, Brown. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

I almost wish that Eat Fat, Get Thin had been divided into two books. One book presenting the historical overview, the scientific research, and the essential philosophy behind the concept of eating fat to lose weight. The other book presenting his 21 day weight-loss plan. The first book which I imagine consisting of Part I and Part II (How Did We Get Into This Big, Fat Mess? and Separating Fat From Fiction), I would have given three stars. The second book which I imagine consisting of Part III and Part IV (The Eat Fat, Get Thin Plan and Eat Fat, Get Thin Cooking and Recipes), I would have given one star--or perhaps two--if I'm generous.

The premise of this one is simple. Fat has been demonized. It has been made the 'bad guy' by scientists, doctors, nutritionists, the government, the media, the food industry. But, Hyman argues, fat isn't all bad. Not all "fat" is created equal. Good fat far from being the 'bad guy' is the hero. Good fat is the hero we need as a country to rescue us from the obesity crisis. (So what is good fat? Think avocados, almonds, walnuts, olive oil, coconut oil, flax and chia seeds, olives, grass-fed beef, etc.) Diets high in good fat will help you lose weight, but, there is a catch. You have to give up eating a diet high in carbs and sugars. And you can never go back. Of course, I can't imagine *wanting* to go back. But still. That's one of those things you should know before spending time with this book.

The opening chapters are very readable. I think his writing becomes more complicated and complex in the second part. He returns to being readable in the third part, but, unfortunately he's switched from being an authentic-sounding doctor, to being an infomercial salesman.

I felt each page was saturated in a sales pitch. And also that there was a lot of 'product placement' going on as well. With every turn of the page, I heard a loud ka-ching, ka-ching. For example, buy this $70 spoonk acupressure mat; buy these $200 sheets that "ground" you to the earth's energy; buy these $50 light bulbs, etc. And that's not even mentioning the hundreds of dollars per month you'd be spending to buy all his "must-have" supplements. (Only PGX Fiber will do.) And then there's the cost of food. If he got paid a penny for every time he tells you to only buy organic, he'd be very, very rich. And he urges you to only buy organic, grass-fed, free-range, super-special meat. (You know, the stuff that costs you--at the very, very least $7 a pound but closer to $10 a pound.) Since his "diet" has you eliminating all beans and legumes--a cheaper source of protein to be sure--your only other option is organic, free-range, omega-enriched eggs. And these aren't as "cheap" as regular eggs.

I agree that it is best for your health, for your weight to give up refined/processed foods high in carbs, high in sugar, high in preservatives and additives. I agree that good fat is great for you. And if you can afford to strictly follow his plan down to every, single little detail, then perhaps you really will lose weight--a good amount of weight even...


But the book is new. Even if his 1000 participant trial run was on his plan a year ago, I don't think there's enough "evidence" that his plan is guaranteed to lead to "sustained weight loss." It simply hasn't been long enough to see if anyone who uses his 21-day plan is able to keep the weight off for five years or more! (Which is what 'sustained' weight loss is all about. 95% of the weight lost on "diets" and "plans" is not sustainable.) It would be interesting to see how 'successful' the plan is five years from now. (Though I have a small feeling that if participants gained the weight back, it would be seen as being their own fault for not following the plan 'well' enough.)

So what else should you know?

  • That the 21 day plan is the minimum, that, "the plan" is for however long it takes you to lose the weight you want to lose, need to lose. So your "21-day plan" might last a year or more.
  • While on the 21 day plan, the restricted food list is very, very, very long.
  • No processed food, no exceptions.
  • No dairy.
  • No alcohol.
  • Maximum of 2 cups per day--tea or coffee--unsweetened. He recommends adding coconut oil to coffee for your breakfast.
  • No (refined) vegetable oils. (Think: canola, corn, soy, sunflower, etc.)
  • No grains, no exceptions. (I could totally see why giving up gluten would be advisable. But this includes healthy grains like quinoa, steel-cut oats, brown rice.)
  • No beans, no exceptions.
  • Nothing sweet (not just sugar, not just high fructose corn syrup, but all artificial sweeteners (including stevia) and all natural sweeteners (agave, honey, maple syrup).
  • Also you're only allowed small allotments of fruit (half a cup per day). But *only* lemons, limes, kiwi, and watermelon. I may have forgotten the whole list. But it did not include peaches, pears, apples, grapes, strawberries, bananas, oranges, cherries, plums, pineapples, you know, the things you think of when you think FRUIT.
  • Small portions of "starchy" veggies (1/2 cup to 1 cup at a time, but, only 4 times a week) This includes beets, celeriac, parsnips, pumpkin, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, turnips, winter squash.
  • When you're ready to go off 'the diet plan' he has you transition to a "Pegan" diet that is a combination Paleo and Vegan. Some things are permanently gone forever and ever from your diet. Other things get added back into your diet in small increments, small portions, occasionally. You can add some dairy back in, for example, "locally sourced cheese from grass-fed, heirloom cows."
Quotes:
  • Dietary fat speeds up your metabolism, reduces your hunger, and stimulates fat burning. (16)
  • Dietary fat helps you reduce your overall calorie intake, not increase it. (17)
  • Dietary fat, and saturated fat specifically, does not cause heart disease. (17)
  • Dietary saturated fat raises the good kind of LDL and raises HDL (the "good cholesterol"). (17)
  • Dietary fat improves brain function and mood and helps prevent dementia. (17)
  • Food is not just a source of energy or calories. Food is information. It contains instructions that affect every biological function of your body. It is the stuff that controls everything. Food affects the expression of your genes and influences your hormones, brain chemistry, immune system, gut flora, and metabolism at every level. It works fast, in real time with every bite. This is the groundbreaking science of nutrigenomics. (56)

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Secrets from the Eating Lab

Secrets from the Eating Lab. Traci Mann. 2015. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

Traci Mann's Secrets From The Eating Lab is divided into four parts: "Why Diets Fail You," "Why You Are Better Off Without the Battle," "How To Reach your Leanest Livable Weight," and "Your Weight is Really Not the Point." In the book, Mann argues three things: diets do not work, dieting is bad for your health, being obese does not shorten your life.

The first subject she tackles is that diets do not work. Essentially, she argues that "there are two problems with saying these diets work: people don't lose enough weight, and they don't keep it off" (4). She argues that there is a huge discrepancy between how any (sane) person would define success, and, how the diet industry defines success. Sure, diets work if you lower the standards and measures of success enough. For example, a diet is "successful" if the dieter loses 5% of their body weight (their starting weight) and keeps it off three to six months. Does that sound like success to you? Say you weigh 250 pounds. Would losing 12 pounds and keeping it off three to six months...before gaining ten to fifteen pounds back...be your idea of success?

She spends some time discussing dieters expectations, how dieters themselves define success. She presents research from a study--not her own--that look at various weight goals: "Ideal weight," "dream weight," "goal weight," "acceptable weight," and "disappointed weight." Ideal weight is a now out-dated concept of a chart at the doctor's office telling you what you should weigh based on your gender, your height, your frame. Dream weight is self explanatory, I think! "Acceptable weight" is not their goal weight, where they really want to weigh at the end of their diet, but, it's a weight they could come to terms with being. "Disappointed weight" was defined as being less than their starting point, but, not enough to view as successful in any way. The study reveals that 47% fail to reach their disappointed weight. 20% reach their disappointed weight. 24% reach their acceptable weight. 9% reach their goal weight. I think you'll agree that there is a big discrepancy in how people selling diets define success and how people buying diets define success.

She spends equal amount of time talking about regaining weight lost during dieting. She writes, "the fact that diets don't lead to long-term weight loss isn't new to diet researchers. In 1991 researchers stated that "it is only the rate of weight regain, not the fact of weight regain that appears open to debate" (15).

One of her chapters focus on WHY diets don't work. She discusses our almost inescapable environment, our biology, and our psychology. One thing she mentions is that while you know you are on a diet, and, there is a purpose to your actions, your body itself doesn't. It thinks you are starving and goes into survival mode, making it increasingly difficult to lose weight and oh-so-easy to gain weight. But. It isn't just a matter of "survival." She talks genes. She writes that 70% of our weight is determined by our genes. There is nothing we can do with that 70% we've inherited. We may have some say on the remaining 30% of variables. You cannot make yourself fatter than your genes think you should be--and sustain it--and you cannot make yourself thinner than your genes think you should be--and sustain it. Every person has a set range--of about thirty or perhaps forty pounds--of what they can weigh naturally, comfortably without effort or stress.

In addition to going into survival mode, our body can turn our hormones--did you know that fat cells play a large role in producing the body's hormones?--against us.

And then there's metabolism. She writes, "When you lose weight, even if starvation has no effect on your metabolism, your body will still burn fewer calories, simply because it is now a smaller body to run. This means that the number of calories you ate to lose weight eventually become too many calories to eat if you want to keep losing weight." (23) Essentially, "A person who loses weight to reach 150 pounds, for example, is not the same physiologically, as a person who normally weighs 150 pounds. To maintain 150 pounds after dieting down to that weight, dieters must eat fewer calories per day than people who were 150 pounds all along (not to mention fewer calories per day than they ate to get to that weight) or else they will gain weight" (24).

She also looks at stress. That shouldn't come as a surprise--that stress makes you gain weight, and, that all diets involve a good amount of unavoidable stress.

She next turns to self-control or will power. And debunking the myth that the way to best control weight is to use will power.

In the second part of her book, Mann focuses on several things. First, that diets are in fact bad for your overall physical health. They leave you in worse shape than you were originally--in terms of health, not exactly appearances. Second, that one's health is not a matter of how much or how little one weighs. There are a lot of factors and variables in being healthy. One's weight is just a small factor, and, not the most important factor. She acknowledges--at some point--that unless you're in the 6% that qualify as Obese Class III--you are not at any more risk for a shortened lifespan than a normal weight person. Being stressed is bad for your health. Smoking is bad for your health. Being inactive is bad for your health. You can be healthy and overweight. If you're active and overweight. If you're an active, nonsmoker who is overweight. Third, diets aren't just bad for you physically. Diets are also bad for your mental and emotional health. Perhaps IF and only IF diets were successful--you could lose the weight AND keep it off forever, it would be "worth" doing for your health. But since 95% of diets end in you weighing more (and more and more and more and more) than when you first went on the diet, you'd be better off not dieting. (Consider how many people have dieted by the time they're in high school. People spend decades of their life dieting. Each diet that fails ends up harming your body, your health.)

The third part of the book focuses on smart regulation principles for helping readers reach their own leanest livable weight. There are twelve strategies in all shared through five chapters. I'll share just a few to give you an idea of what to expect:
  • Encounter Less Temptation By Creating Obstacles
  • Make Healthy Foods More Accessible and Noticeable
  • Be Alone With A Vegetable
  • Eat with Healthy Eaters
  • Don't Eat Healthy Food Because It's "Healthy"
  • Turn Healthy Choices Into Habits
  • Don't Eat Unhealthy Food For Comfort
The fourth and final part of this one focuses on being okay with your body AND striving to be healthy with the body you have. Part of being healthy is to be as active as possible, to make exercise a part of your daily routine. Her message is not exercise to lose weight and lose weight so you become model-thin. Her message is that exercise is good for your health: mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and, PHYSICALLY. Even if you don't lose a pound, exercise is worth doing. Don't equate exercise with reaching your dream weight or goal weight. Focus on health for health's sake. She shares three reasons why everyone--no matter their weight or shape--should exercise. She writes, "Exercise prevents death. Not forever, of course, but it does increase your life span" (170).

I personally would have loved it if Mann's book had included research on gut flora--or microbiomes--as to how it relates to health and weight. I do believe--strongly believe--that a happy gut is the key to health and happiness. And when your bad "buggies" outnumber your "good buggies" then your weight is definitely effected! The gut rules your brain, essentially--in terms of *what* you eat and *how* you feel. I'd love to read a book--or article--discussing what this might mean--or does mean--in terms of sustainability. If your body no longer "craves" and feels "hungry" are you more likely to keep the weight off? You might not ever be model-thin. But could a healthy gut keep you from regaining the weight you lost?


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Churchill: The Power of Words

Churchill: The Power of Words. Winston S. Churchill. Edited by Martin Gilbert. Da Capo Press. 536 pages. [Source: Library]

Churchill: The Power of Words is a compelling read for anyone interested in history, British history in particular. It isn't a biography exactly. Instead it's a chronological arrangement of (select) quotes taken from his writings and speeches that give you a sense of who he was. Each quote is introduced by Martin Gilbert. On the top left-hand corner, readers find the year, and, on the top right-hand corner, readers find Churchill's age. I found this layout to be wonderful. There are no chapters, no natural stopping places. I tried to use years as goal-setters. But once World War II started, I found it too compelling to read it just a year at a time. I read greedily.

I found it fascinating and thought-provoking.

Favorite quotes:
One must never forget when misfortunes come that it is quite possible they are saving one from something much worse; or that when you make some great mistake, it may very easily serve you better than the best-advised decision. (1896) p. 14
As I think Ruskin once said, 'It matters very little whether your judgments of people are true or untrue, and very much whether they are kind or unkind,'... (1899) p. 29
What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? (1908) p. 63
We did not enter upon the war with the hope of easy victory; we did not enter upon it in any desire to extend our territory, or to advance and increase our position in the world; or in any romantic desire to shed our blood and spend our money in Continental quarrels. We entered upon this war reluctantly after we had made every effort compatible with honour to avoid being drawn in, and we entered upon it with a full realization of the sufferings, losses, disappointments, vexations, and anxieties, and of the appalling and sustaining exertions which would be entailed upon us by our action. The war will be long and sombre. It will have many reverses of fortune and many hopes falsified by subsequent events, and we must derive from our cause and from the strength that is in us, and from the traditions and history of our race, and from the support and aid of our Empire all over the world the means to make this country overcome obstacles of all kinds and continue to the end of the furrow, whatever the toil and suffering may be. (1914) p. 88.
To fail is to be enslaved, or, at the very best, to be destroyed. Not to win decisively is to have all this misery over again after an uneasy truce, and to fight it over again, probably under less favourable circumstances, and perhaps alone. (1915) p. 108
Before a war begins one should always say, 'I am strong, but so is the enemy.' When a war is being fought one should say, 'I am exhausted, but the enemy is quite tired too.' It is almost impossible to say either of these two things at the time they matter. (1918) p. 138
'What shall I do with all my books?' was the question; and the answer, 'Read them,' sobered the questioner. But if you cannot read them, at any rate handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition. It is a mistake to read too many good books when quite young. A man once told me that he had read all the books that mattered. Cross-questioned, he appeared to have read a great many, but they seemed to have made only a slight impression. How many had he understood? How many had entered his mental composition? How many had been hammered on the anvils of his mind and afterwards ranged in an armoury of bright weapons ready to hand? Choose well, choose wisely, and choose one. Concentrate upon that one. Do not be content until you find yourself reading in it with real enjoyment. (1925) p. 178-9.
We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude which has befallen Great Britain and France. Do not let us blind ourselves to that. It must now be accepted that all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will make the best terms they can with the triumphant Nazi Power. The system of alliances in Central Europe upon which France has relied for her safety has been swept away, and I can see no means by which it can be reconstituted. (1938) p. 202
You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi Power, that Power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That Power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy. (1938) p. 203
Whenever we speak of 'bloodless war' it must not be supposed that it is not attended in every country in this anxious, melancholy time by strain, by loss, and, in some countries, by a very severe degree of privation and suffering among the mass of the population. Moreover, the bloodless war is becoming intensified. There is hardly a day when the papers do not show it is becoming intensified. The strains resulting from it will in this year, still more if it is prolonged, test not only the financial and economic strength of nations but the health of their institutions and the social structure of their civilization. (1939) p. 211-2
We must not underrate the gravity of the task which lies before us or the temerity of the ordeal, to which we shall not be found unequal. We must expect many disappointments, and many unpleasant surprises, but we may be sure that the task which we have freely accepted is one not beyond the compass and the strength of the British Empire and the French Republic... It is a war, viewed in its inherent quality, to establish, on impregnable rocks, the rights of the individual, and it is a war to establish and revive the stature of man. (1939) p. 224
Of all the wars that men have fought in their hard pilgrimage, none was more noble than the great Civil War in America nearly eighty years ago. Both sides fought with high conviction, and the war was long and hard. All the heroism of the South could not redeem their cause from the stain of slavery, just as all the courage and skill which the Germans always show in war will not free them from the reproach of Naziism, with its intolerance and its brutality. (1940) p. 233-4
Very few wars have been won by mere numbers alone. Quality, will-power, geographical advantages, natural and financial resources, the command of the sea, and, above all, a cause which rouses the spontaneous surgings of the human spirit in millions of hearts--these have proved to be the decisive factors in the human story. (1940) p. 236
You ask what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realized; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. (1940) p. 243
We are moving through a period of extreme danger and of splendid hope, when every virtue of our race will be tested, and all that we have and are will be freely staked. This is no time for doubt or weakness. It is the supreme hour to which we have been called. (1940) p. 259
Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. (1940) p. 264
We have but one aim and one single, irrevocable purpose. We are resolved to destroy Hitler and every vestige of the Nazi regime. From this nothing will turn us--nothing. (1941) p. 285
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Body of Truth

Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight--and What We Can Do About It. Harriet Brown. 2016. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

I found Harriet Brown's Body of Truth to be a thought-provoking read. Did I agree 100% with everything she said on every page? Probably not. But did she give me something to think about, something to consider, something to take away from reading the book? Definitely.

True or false: Our society is obsessed with weight, and, has been obsessed with weight for decades. This obsession has its dangers no matter your size at the moment.

True or false: Health is important, without a doubt, we should all strive to be healthy--healthier. But is it right--is it accurate--to say that your health is completely determined by a number on the scale or by your BMI?

I think every person--every woman especially--could probably relate to this book. Whether you end up agreeing with it or not, I think it's worth reading. Harriet Brown is one more voice in the conversation about obesity. And some readers will no doubt disagree with her conclusions.

She challenges readers to consider the fact that the number on the scale--the size clothes you wear--may not be "the determining factor" in your overall health, in predicting how long your life will be. Thin does not automatically mean healthy. Fat does not automatically mean unhealthy.

She also challenges readers to consider a few things.

She has PLENTY to say about diets and dieting. Diets don't work most of the time. If by "most of the time" you mean keeping the weight off your body for longer than a few months. Every time you "diet" you end up weighing more than you started. As frustrating as that is, she insists that diets damage your health, the way your body is able to function. She suggests that maybe just maybe "fat people" tend to be unhealthy because they've spent so many years dieting. Of course, that's just one theory. She's not saying she has ultimate proof of this.

95% of people gain back every pound they lose on a diet. Most gain a few extra pounds. Each time you start out to diet, your body has a harder time of getting it off, and a harder time of keeping it off. 5% of people are able to keep the weight off for three to five years. But most do not. I consider these fighting words! (I will be in the 5%. I will do whatever it takes to be in the 5%.)

Stressing about weight could also be a contributing factor to poor health, she argues. Stress is not good for you. We know that. People who spend decades obsessing about their weight, dieting on and off, never happy, always hating their bodies, are decidedly more stressed than people who aren't this occupied, this obsessed with their weight.

Being active is good. People who feel good about their bodies, and "accept themselves" as they are, are more likely to be active, to exercise. If you spend a lot of time beating yourself up about how you look, how "big" you are, hating yourself for eating, hating yourself for gaining weight, hating yourself for failing, then, she argues that you are less likely to be active, to exercise, to make an effort. Is this the kind of statement that IS true or does it just sound true? One point she makes in the book is that you can be classified as overweight and obese on the BMI chart and STILL be active and fit.

People come in all shapes and sizes. A healthy "right" weight for one person may not be a healthy, "right" weight for another person. We do not all have to weigh the same--around the same--to be healthy. For example, 160 may be "just right" for one person, one person's best effort at "thin and healthy." It is difficult to judge health by appearances. One should never assume that a thin person has healthy eating habits and a fat person doesn't. You cannot tell WHO is a vegetable-eater based on appearances alone.

By all means, strive for health in your life. But don't stress with numbers, with comparing yourself with others, with this racing after ultimate perfection. Be you. Be a healthy-you. But don't try to be someone else's idea of healthy.

Some people read the book, I believe, and see the premise: She's telling me I never have to diet again and that I'm healthier if I don't diet. Oh happy day, let's go to the all-you-can-eat buffet.

I don't see it in those terms exactly. I see instead: health is hard to define, and, it isn't so black-and-white as your BMI, or, your number on a scale. How do you feel? How active are you? Is your weight holding you back from living life? Or is your obsession with weight holding you back from living life? What can you let go of? What should your focus be on instead?

I agree that guilt and shame and name-calling are not good motivators to lose weight and keep it off. I know that the only true-and-right motivation has to come from within. And without that inner motivation, it's a waste of time, effort, energy. And without that inner motivation, without that true deep-down commitment you probably are just making yourself unhealthier in the long run by dieting.

Am I pro-dieting? Am I anti-dieting? That's oh-so-tricky.

I personally define diet differently than most, and a lot differently from the author. I see diet not as "what I eat in order to lose weight, or, what I restrict myself from eating in order to lose weight" but as "the food I regularly eat." My advice is simple: NEVER GO ON A "DIET" THAT YOU WOULDN'T WANT TO BE ON FOR LIFE. You could easily eliminate a lot of diets that way. It isn't just losing the weight. It is maintaining and keeping the weight off. (And as one contributor said, maintenance takes up a lot of mental real estate.) If you eat "diet food" the moment you start eating "real food" or "normal food" again, the weight comes back on. You don't need to diet. You need to commit to changing the way you eat not for weeks, not for months, not for years, but for life.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

Quotes:
We're in the midst of an epidemic, one that's destroying both the quality and the longevity of our lives. It affects not just us but our children, and likely their children, too. And while this epidemic has been around a while, it's growing at an alarming rate, not just here but around the world. You'd be hard-pressed to find a twenty-first century culture that didn't struggle with it. I'm not talking about overweight or obesity. I'm talking about our obsession with weight, our never-ending quest for thinness, our relentless angst about our bodies. Even the most self-assured of us get caught up in body anxiety: 97% of young women surveyed by Glamour magazine in 2011 said they felt hatred toward their bodies at least once a day and often much more.
We're so used to that constant inner judgment, we don't even think to question it.
Many of us spend a lot of our waking hours on a hamster wheel of self-loathing. We're screwed up about food, too; one recent survey found 75% of American women report disordered eating behaviors.
Each of us thinks our obsession with weight and body image is ours alone.
As health--or at least the perception of health--has become a social and moral imperative, judging other people's health status has become not just accepted by expected.
Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it--not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad, or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four, or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life. In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule your proximity to food, and your feelings. ~ Ellyn Satter
If each of us is willing to just consider the possibility that what we think we know about weight and health isn't as simplistic and clear-cut as we believe, we'd have the beginning of a truly constructive conversation.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on Body of Truth as of 4/22/2016 10:20:00 AM
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7. Review of the Day: Samurai Rising by Pamela S. Turner

SamuraiRisingSamurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune
By Pamela S. Turner
Illustrated by Gareth Hinds
Charlesbridge
$16.95
ISBN: 9781580895842
Ages 10 and up
On shelves now

When you read enough children’s books published in a single year, folks tend to believe that you’ve an ability to spot trends in the general literature. Trend-spotting is easy enough when you’re dealing with picture books (hot in 2016: Bears rampaging through picnics and blobfish!) but books written for older readers are trickier. I think I’ve hit on at least one incredibly popular trend for the current year, however: Overwhelming depression and sadness. Whether it’s baby foxes are getting their legs blown off in landmines, dads being deadbeat, or girls falling down wells, 2016 is officially The Year of the Hankie. So you can imagine the glee with which I devoured Samurai Rising. “A samurai fights for honor and survival in a real-life Game of Thrones,” reads the blurb for the book (minus the torture and nudity, of course). In producing a fantastic look at the true story behind Japan’s most famous samurai, Turner doesn’t just cheer up an otherwise depressed literary year. She highlights a figure too long ignored in America. Say goodbye to boredom. Say hello to crazy-eyed heroics and an anti-hero for the young masses.

On the book’s title page is written a small alert. “WARNING: Very few people in this story die of natural causes.” No lie, just fact. This is the story of Minamoto Yoshitsune. A boy who “could not yet walk when his father left him a lost war, a shattered family, and a bitter enemy.” Yoshitsune’s father (not the brightest samurai of all time) throws away his family’s comfortable existence protecting Japan’s Retired Emperor when he decides to kidnap the guy instead. Swiftly defeated by his rival Taira Kiyomori, the man’s son, little Yoshitsune, is spared but eventually sent to train as a monk. Determined to win back his family’s honor, the boy runs away and with the help of a friendly lord becomes a full fledged samurai. Not a moment too soon either. Forces are brewing and Yoshitsune’s older brother Yoritomo needs his brother’s help to revolt against Kiyomori’s reign. Through it all, Yoshitsune doesn’t just show the heart of a warrior. He shows he has the guts and brains to carry out even the craziest campaign. But with trouble brewing at home, it may be his own family that proves the deadliest enemy of all. Author’s Notes, Time Lines, a Glossary, Chapter Notes, and a Bibliography appear as well.

I was at a conference recently where the terms “creative nonfiction” and “narrative nonfiction” got tossed about like so many ping-pong balls. These terms are generally produced when someone writes a work of nonfiction that reads like a novel. In order to do this and yet still retain even a modicum of historical accuracy, the author in question must bend over backwards to get everything right. Fifty-whopping-two pages, or so, at the back of the book are dedicated to Turner’s chapter notes alone. Here you’ll find every quotation and historical detail cited (Turner also writes an intro to these notes, marking this as the first time I’ve ever seen an author sell the reader on reading them, since who could resist trying to figure out, “why Yoritomo didn’t use ninjas”?). As for Turner’s writing, you forget almost instantly that this is a work of nonfiction. This is both a good and bad thing. Good, because it proves to young readers that there’s more to nonfiction than what you’ll find in a textbook. Bad because life, unlike fiction, doesn’t always adhere to our understanding of narrative rise and fall. When Minamoto’s enemy Kiyomori died without ever having confronted Yoshitsune, I was momentarily baffled. Of course Turner, skillful as she is, is able to naturally call upon Yoshitsune’s older brother as the new enemy, and it’s done with slow, exquisite care.

When you’re watching a musical, the songs have to serve the story. You can’t just have characters burst into a melody without a reason. Likewise, a nonfiction book can be laden with facts, but only if they serve the narrative to its best advantage. Turner has all kinds of tricks up her sleeves, and integrating facts into the story is one of her greater strengths. She can move from the story of Yoshitsune learning how to be a samurai to a description of the brilliant work of engineering that is a samurai’s armor or sword with aplomb.

Even with all this, Turner’s working at a natural disadvantage. Her story is set in the 12th century. Source material from that time? Not exactly copious. So she relies upon informed speculation, i.e. what a character may have seen or may have considered in one scene or another. A number of years ago I read a book called Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron which was a true history of a child who lived in the wild and was brought back to “civilization” near the end of the French Revolution. The author leaned heavily on a plethora of “probablys” which is no crime. Honestly, it informs the reader as to what they do or do not know. Still, it can prove distracting if too many are clustered in one spot. The only time I found myself irked in a similar way here was around the beginning of the book when Minamoto and a gold merchant were avoiding the samurai. From “the homey smell of wood smoke probably drew the weary travelers to wayside inns” to “The teenage runaway probably watched, mouth agape, as entertainers performed the popular tales of his time”, I found my willingness to go along with Turner’s speculations stretched, if never quite broken. Fortunately it’s the only time in the book I found Turner’s reliance on probability too overt. For the most part, she does a fine job of keeping everything copacetic.

I was also taken with the humor of the book. Judicious use of it in any nonfiction title is a delicate art. Here, the author has the advantage of time (no one’s going to read about the beheadings of the 1100s and think “Too soon!”). So when she pulls out lines like “News of severed heads travels fast,” you can’t but help but admire the wordplay’s moxie. Ditto, “If things went badly, Kiso had the usual samurai backup plan: kidnap the Retired Emperor” (this line works better after you see how many times the poor guy gets kidnapped in the course of his life – a calming retirement it is not).

The inclusion of Gareth Hinds’ art in the book was good planning on someone’s part (mostly likely Art Director Susan Sherman, according to Turner’s Acknowledgements). Though he’s illustrated the occasional title for other authors (Gifts from the Gods) generally Gareth sticks to his own graphic novel adaptations of classics like The Odyssey or Beowulf or King Lear. A meticulous hand, Hinds’ interstitial art keeps the narrative moving without distracting from it. And while it did have the odd personal problem of making me really want a Minamoto Yoshitsune graphic novel (ahem ahem!), for the most part I think it’ll be of greatest use to those students that need a little visual stimulation with their descriptive texts.

Here’s a pretty basic question for the book: Is Minamoto a hero? The comparison to Game of Thrones on the book’s blurb isn’t all that wrong. Things get pretty ethically dicey in the midst of power plays and wars. Honestly, coming out of this book I had particular sympathy for two people in particular and neither one of them was Minamoto. Minamoto’s heroism in terms of bravery cannot be called into question, but if we’re trying to figure out why he comes across as sympathetic, a lot of that can be attributed to our innate sense of fairness, or lack thereof. He starts off clawing his way up, already at a disadvantage thanks to dear old dad, and then just when everything seems to be working out for him his own brother stabs him in the back (figuratively and nearly literally). He deals decently at times, establishing law and order at critical moments. Then again, he’s not against lighting the occasional peasant village on fire like some insane 12th century version of streetlights. And so I say to teachers and the leaders of bookgroups, if you are doing this book with a group of kids and you need a topic of discussion, just ask this: What is a hero? You’re bound to get some pretty interesting answers after the kids read this book.

As I write this review, the hottest musical on Broadway right now is Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It seems to me that we’re seeing a lot of narratives right now that discuss scrappy youngsters, eager to make their mark on the world, no matter the cost to themselves or others. So hey, if you need an idea for a new musical, have I got a book for you! Bringing to the attention of American kids new historical heroes from cultures they may not have any familiarity with is a difficult proposition. Turner and Hinds tackle the challenge with a kind of manic glee. The end result is infinitely readable and downright fun. So pile on the other tear-drenched novels for the kiddos. As long as I have a plucky samurai kid not throwing away his shot I’ll be satisfied. More fun than it deserves to be and a great read.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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8. In Memory: James Cross Giblin

From Macmillan
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Obituary: James Cross Giblin by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Publisher, editor, and award-winning children’s book author James Cross Giblin died on Sunday, April 10, following a long illness."

James Cross Giblin, 82, Wide-Ranging Author of Books for Children, Dies by Margalit Fox from The New York Times. Peek: "...for many years also a prominent children’s-book editor and publisher, was known most recently for his biographies for middle-grade and older readers, among them The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler (2002), which won the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal from the American Library Association; Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth (2005); and The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy (2009).

Goodbye, Jim by Roger Sutton from Read Roger at The Horn Book. Peek: "Back before it was even a Thing, Jim was writing narrative nonfiction about the damnedest things–windows, milk–and had the gift for conveying his own enthusiasm for his topics to readers who never knew they could find, say, chairs, so interesting."

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9. The Forest Feast for Kids - a review

 My daughter has been encouraging me to adopt a vegetarian diet. I do make an effort to eat meatless often, but a completely vegan or vegetarian diet takes a certain amount of commitment that I've never been willing to expend.  Recently, this same daughter (she is both environmentally conscious and persuasive) talked me into watching the documentary, Cowspiracy. (I challenge you to watch this and not be affected.)  In any case, The Forest Feast for Kids landed on my shelf in time to take advantage of my renewed interest in vegetarianism.  Good timing, Forest Feast!


The Forest Feast for Kids: Colorful Vegetarian Recipes That Are Simple to Make
By Erin Gleeson
Abrams, 2016

From the whimsically painted watercolor endpapers and chapter title pages to the lusciously photographed finished recipes, The Forest Feast for Kids is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.  These are recipes that are as beautiful to present as they are healthy to eat.

Contents in this generously sized book contain cookbook standards - table of contents, index, introduction, and pages of helpful hints and cooking techniques.  The chapters run the gamut of gastronomic needs: Snacks, Drinks, Salads, Meals, Sweets, and Parties.   Each chapter contains about six recipes, each one displayed on across two pages.  The left page has a painted recipe title, simple instructions in a large typewriter font,  handwritten notes offering serving hints, "cut into wedges and enjoy hot!" , and hand-drawn arrows pointing to the appropriate ingredient photo (not every child may recognize a cilantro leaf or bay leaf).  Photos are not insets or bordered, they are part of a lovely integrated palette of ingredients and text.  Beautiful photos of the finished dishes appear on the facing page.

Simplicity of ingredients (most recipes have only four) combined with attractive presentation make these recipes irresistible not only to young chefs, but also to harried caregivers who would love to put a healthy, attractive meal on the table, but have trouble finding the time.  I know that I'll be making Strawberry-Cucumber Ribbon Salad soon!

Enjoy!



I've never seen the adult version of the same book.  I'm willing to bet that it's equally wonderful!

http://nonfictionmonday.wordpress.com


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10. A Big Fat Crisis

A Big Fat Crisis by Deborah Cohen. 2013. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

I found Deborah A. Cohen's A Big Fat Crisis to be a compelling read. Did I agree with the book? Well, that's another story. First, I want to say that her approach is different from those I've read before, read recently I mean. Her approach is more psychological perhaps.

Cohen basically tries to persuade readers of two things: 1) that people who are obese are victims and they cannot possibly be held responsible for what they consume or how much they consume 2) that people who are obese are obese because of their surrounding environments and that if the environments changed, then, their behavior would most likely change as well as they adapt to a new normal.

Let's look at these individually first.

People are obese because they naturally lack the will power to say no to food that is easily, consistently available; people are obese because of an inability to think things through and make good-for-them-in-the-long-run decisions. Her argument is essentially that people fall victim to their environment, and, they physically--psychologically--can't help succumbing to cues from their environment. People aren't smart enough to 'see through' or 'see beyond' the obvious tricks of the food industry. They are fooled one hundred percent of the time, at least, that is what Cohen argues. She dismisses the third of Americans that are not overweight or obese as almost abnormal, inexplicable phenomenons. (Because their existence disturbs her findings about what is natural for humans, they're largely ignored or dismissed. What could she possibly learn from people who have self-control, when, clearly she argues for hundreds of pages that self-control isn't natural and can't be taught?!)

Let's slow it down. Is this true? Do we want this to be true really? Do we really want to argue that no one is ever responsible for their behavior, and, that they are just following the cues of their environment, and they don't have any other choice but to do what they're led to do? Think about what this argument means for all areas of life where decision making is involved--which is essentially everything.

I don't think this is true. This "excuse" may temporarily give you a "feel good" feeling if you're overweight or obese, but, isn't it also slightly insulting and condescending. At least one or the other. You can't change. You can't do it. You're not capable. It's beyond your ability or capacity. The only way you could ever change is if a lot of other people come together and act on your behalf by changing "the environment" so that you stand a chance. Isn't it better to be honest and say, "You know I understand exactly how difficult and tough it is. BUT. You can do it. It may be hard. It may mean always choosing the more difficult path before you. But you know what, you can do it. Some days will be easier than others. There will be moments of doubt and despair. But it is doable. You'll have to change how you think, how you react, how you cope. You'll have to rewire your brain and change your lifestyle. But it isn't as impossible as it sounds."

What do you think? If you struggle with weight would you rather be told that you're a victim and that it is actually impossible for you to do anything to "fix" the situation yourself OR would you rather be told that you can do something, that you can start taking steps right here, right now to be healthier?! I do want your opinions!

The second half of her argument is that the environment must be changed on behalf of the overweight/obese in society. The environment should be changed through both regulations (I'm assuming legislation?) and voluntary submission to new health guidelines. She's talking about making-over a country so that workplaces, restaurants, supermarkets, and stores of all sorts will no longer prove "a threat" to the nation's health.

Let's look at some of her ideas for restaurants. Standardized/regulated portion sizes across the nation. Most entrees--if not all--should be 700 calories or less. So that no one "accidentally" eats more than a third of their daily calories. Require 10% of a restaurant's menu to be healthy, following current government approved nutrition tips. Train waiters on health and nutrition, so they can warn customers about the risks and dangers of ordering certain things off the menu.

Let's look at some of her ideas for supermarkets. Smaller supermarkets, for one. Fewer choices overall, perhaps. All unhealthy food will be available, but, put in places where you really have to search it out to find it. Stores arranged by meal: a breakfast area, a lunch area, a supper area. If "fruits and vegetables" end up being in two or three places, all the better, in her opinion. Stores should have cooking demonstrations, lots of free samples, give out recipe books, and teach about meal planning.

Essentially, her idea is that if you happen to change the environment so that it is easier to eat healthy and more difficult to eat unhealthy, then health will probably most likely improve because people will always do what is easiest and takes the least amount of thought. Though she admits that she has no idea if changing the environment would actually work and solve the nation's obesity crisis because no one has attempted it yet, not even in a few small, "trial" areas.

Do I agree with the second half of her argument? That's a tough one. Do I think it's a good idea for waiters to start lecturing customers on what they're ordering and telling them that they shouldn't eat that because it will make them fatter?! Of course, that's an exaggeration. Cohen is not arguing for rude behavior. But still.

I do think this half of the argument isn't quite as flawed. I do wish that every restaurant had actually healthy options. Not pretend-healthy options that are slightly healthier by comparison. I do wish that restaurants were perfectly straightforward about what is in each dish and how it's prepared. I do think it's a good idea to portion things better. For example, instead of over-portioning you on carb-heavy items like rice and pasta, they'd give you exactly a serving size: half a cup. Of course, carbs aren't the only things that need to be portioned. (For example, I know a restaurant where the chicken-fried steak meal is TWO battered-and-fried steaks topped with gravy. Two is *the* portion. You have to ask for the "child's plate" or the "senior" plate to receive just ONE steak.) I would REALLY, REALLY love to see vegetable options in restaurants that aren't fried, creamed, covered in gravy, or buttered-to-death. And I would really, really, really love to see fresh fruit as an option in restaurants. I agree with her that I think it is really difficult to stay out of restaurants all together. She mentions work-related and family-related gatherings at restaurants, and, it can be tough to find that "one" healthy option at a restaurant that is doable some of the time.

As for grocery stores, they are in the promoting-and-selling business. And I'm not sure that "free samples" of vegetables are going to sell more vegetables. Though I do believe that vegetables *can* be prepared in yummy, yummy ways. I eat a LOT of vegetables myself. I don't think it's a lost cause, and, that vegetables and fruits should be neglected so scientists can work on futuristic foods that are "healthy and taste good too." (Can you tell I'm still annoyed by reading Stuffed: An Insider's Look at Who's (Really) Making America Fat?!)

One thing that she doesn't really mention needing to change is television. She does mention the Food Network, saying that if grocery stores offered cooking demonstrations and cooking classes then people would benefit after all they love to watch the Food Network. The Food Network is not in the business of creating/teaching healthy recipes designed to help people watch what they eat, to lose weight, to prevent chronic diseases. You hardly ever--if at all--see them caution you against using too much salt, too much cream, too much butter, too much sugar, too much white flour, etc.

Some ideas seemed potentially good--ideal. But I'm not sure all of them are. And even the good ideas seem like it would be an uphill battle to achieve implementation. Not that that reason alone is worth giving the matter all up. But it is asking us to potentially place a lot of trust and power/authority into the government.

Am I convinced that all of society needs to be rebuilt/redesigned with the overweight/obese victim in mind? I found it an engaging read. But it read more like a dystopia to me.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Seeking stories that ‘linger just out of reach’

WILDNESS (UK) wants work that evokes the unknown. Now seeking poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for their fourth, fifth and sixth issues. Deadline: Rolling.

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12. New art & lit journal seeks submissions

Submissions are open for the debut issue of November Bees, a quarterly online art and literature journal. Currently seeking previously unpublished nonfiction and fiction (including blurred genre hybrid) under 1,000 words, plus poetry and visual art. Deadline: July 15, 2016.

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13. Guest Post & Giveaway: Emma Dryden on Putting the Internal Editor in a Time-Out

By Emma Dryden
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

An Editor Tries on Her Writer Hat

I’ve been a children’s book editor for over thirty years. Editing’s in my blood. Little else brings me as much joy or satisfaction as coaxing, guiding, and encouraging authors and illustrators to dig deeply and express their truest passions and richest stories.

Over the course of my career, I’ve edited well over 1,000 books, which means I’ve played some small or large part in the creative process for well over 1,000 people.

Throughout the journey, I’ve been asked many times if I ever wanted to write. The long and short answer to that question is “Yes.” But that’s easier said than done.

Being a life-long editor for others comes with a significant downside: I have an aggressive, impatient editor living inside me. She’s tough.

So much so that when serendipitous events occurred and stars aligned for me to co-write a picture book last year, I had to have it out with my internal editor and it wasn’t pretty. I started out nicely, pleadingly, but soon began to rant and swear, begging her to shut up and leave me alone so I could just put down on the page whatever I wanted, without limitation, without question, without suggestion. It’s an understatement to say my internal editor had a hard time turning off. But finally, finally she did shut up and I could start to write.

Maybe it was the looming deadline and my co-author expecting to hear from me that boosted the confidence in the writer part of me to strap my internal editor into the time-out chair. Or maybe it was exhaustion and the writer part of me just didn’t care anymore what those first sentences looked or felt like, as long as there was something on the page. Or maybe it was my trust in the writing process (goodness knows I’ve told hundreds of writers over the years to trust the process!) that eventually forced my internal editor to just darn well wait her turn.

I suspect it was all of these combined that finally allowed me to write with creative adrenaline the words and phrases that would eventually become the score for What Does It Mean to Be An Entrepreneur? (Little Pickle, 2016).

Most artists are not professional editors, but artists are always contending with some sort of internal editor—that nagging, probing questioner; that voice saying something isn’t good enough; that self-doubter.

Writing is a courageous, delicate, and precious act. Creating art of any kind is a courageous, delicate, and precious act.

Editing, eventually, is critical to the process, but not during those early moments of creativity, when the words and the sketches are barely formed and just emerging from the craftsperson’s imagination.

Through the experience of quieting down my internal editor to write What Does It Mean to Be An Entrepreneur?, I received two great gifts. One was that I was reminded of the obligation I have as an editor: To be patient, supportive, and empathetic to the myriad of feelings (euphoria and despair and everything in between!) an author or illustrator is going to be feeling during their creative process.

And the second gift I received is seeing my name in the byline of a book that springs from my own experiences starting a company and of which I couldn’t be more proud. I was in a position not only to co-write the book, but to edit it and assist in design and art direction—it was the best of all possible worlds for me creatively and professionally.

And now I know, when it comes time for me to write some more, exactly where my internal editor’s time-out chair is waiting!

Cynsational Notes

Emma D. Dryden is the founder of drydenbks, a premier children’s editorial and publishing consultancy firm which she established after twenty-five years as a highly regarded children’s book editor and publisher. She works with authors, illustrators, start-ups, publishers, and app developers.

Emma has edited over a thousand books for children and young readers and during her tenure with Atheneum and McElderry Books, many of her titles hit bestseller lists in USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and other national publications, and have received numerous awards and medals, including the Newbery Medal, Newbery Honor, and Caldecott Honor. Emma’s on the Advisory Board of SCBWI and speaks around the world on craft, the digital landscape, and reinvention.

Her blog “Our Stories, Ourselves” explores the intertwined themes of life and writing. She can be followed online at Twitter @drydenbks, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three signed copies of What Does It Mean to Be An Entrepreneur? by Rana DiOrio and Emma D. Dryden, and illustrated by Ken Min (Little Pickle, 2016). Author sponsored. U.S. only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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14. I Am Malala

I Am Malala. Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick. 2014. Little Brown. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

I wish I had known there were essentially two different books called 'I Am Malala.' I read, by mistake, the one adapted for young readers. I would have preferred to read the one written for adults. Not because I have a huge problem with adult nonfiction books being adapted for younger readers, I've never really given it any thought before. I don't have strong feelings one way or the other. But because I'm probably only going to read one, and, I'd want as full a story as possible. Now, I'm curious: how are the two different, and, what was left out of the younger reader's edition. But am I curious enough to seek out the other book and read the same story twice?! See. I'm torn now. I don't think I will...at least not now. But perhaps in a year or two, we'll see. (Has this ever happened to you, what did you decide?!)

So. This one is a biography of Malala Yousafzai. She is a believer in education for girls and women. Her outspokenness, her bravery angered the Taliban in Pakistan. Threats were made on her life, on her father's life. Eventually she was shot in the face on the school bus one afternoon. The book covers several years before the incident. One gets a sense of what life was like in Pakistan at that time--around 2008 or 2009, I believe, is when it opens. One especially gets a sense of what life was like in her household. Her father started several schools for girls; and he believed his daughter should have every opportunity to learn, to study, to be free to be herself. He supported--if not encouraged--her daughter to find her voice, and, to speak up for what she felt was right. Together they decided that it was worth the risk to their own lives.

Education is important. Girls need the chance, the opportunity for education just as much as boys do. An eleven or twelve year old girl should have the opportunity to go to school instead of being married off if her family arranges it. There should be more than one way to raise a girl, more than one option of how her life could go.

Malala is an advocate for education, for girls' education. Her message to the world did not stop after the Taliban shot her. In fact, if anything it magnified--amplified it. Her international audience grew much, much larger. Now everyone knew her, knew her story, knew what she stood for. There would be no stopping her now.

What I enjoyed about this book was how real it was. It could have easily been an issue book from start to finish. A book so passionately driven by one cause--one message--that it almost drowns in it. But that wasn't the case with this one. The way her story was told was very grounded in reality, very humble. This is one girl's story. And, yes, in some ways she is extraordinary. But in other ways she's ordinary too. The way that she describes her family life, the way that she describes having friends, it just felt very down-to-earth and genuine.

I would recommend this one. But as I said I wish I had known that there were two books to choose from. If you've read the adult one and the young adult one, did you notice any differences? Were the differences big?

My favorite quote:
My school was a heaven. Because inside the Khushal School, we flew on wings of knowledge. In a country where women aren't allowed out in public without a man, we girls traveled far and wide inside the pages of our books. In a land where many women can't read the prices in the markets, we did multiplication. In a place where, as soon as we were teenagers, we'd have to cover our heads and hide ourselves from the boys who'd been our childhood playmates, we ran as free as the wind. We didn't know where our education would take us. All we wanted was a chance to learn in peace. (34)
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Death by Food Pyramid

Death by Food Pyramid. Denise Minger. 2014. 292 pages. [Source: Library]

While I'm not so patiently waiting to read my library's copy of Eat Fat, Get Thin, I decided to read Denise Minger's Death by Food Pyramid. It was quite refreshing after reading Hank Cardello's Stuffed.

Here are a few things I loved about Death by Food Pyramid:

That the goal of the book was to educate you on how to read, understand, and interpret books (and articles) about health, food, and how the body works on your own. That the goal was NOT take my word for it, trust me, I'm an expert, I know everything there is to know, and, if you want to lose weight and be healthy, just follow my advice always no matter what. That readers should stand up, take responsibility for their bodies, and get educated, seek knowledge, seek understanding.

That the book was equal parts history and science. Part of understanding where-we-are-now and how-do-we-know-what-we-know is understanding where we've been, understanding all the steps and missteps along the journey, understanding how scientific research is done, and in some cases not only how it's done, but, WHY it's done. A lot of the book focuses on research done about heart disease, and, to some extent, diabetes and cancer. A lot of the book focuses on how the research was then interpreted. And how that interpreted research was then summarized and conveyed to the public at large. But it also focuses on invention. (For example, the invention of "trans fat" and Crisco.)

The book doesn't solely focus on "bad science," "bad government," "bad food industry," or "bad media." It focuses on educating you to make the best choices available for your health based on what we now know to be true, or what we now believe to be true. It is not about choosing "good" diets over "bad" diets. But knowing all the facts, and being aware that there is not one diet that is right for every single person.

The book is well-written, well-organized, packed with just-the-right of information to empower you to think for yourself. It is entertaining; It is fascinating. Some facts may shock you. For example, did you know that the government has known since 1968 that trans fats were dangerous, and, did absolutely nothing--except encourage their use--for decades?! (See page 157-158) I also loved all the chapters on various research studies. Including the Minnesota Starvation Experiment of the 1940s.
The men's physical and mental turmoil emerged on diets averaging 1,500 to 1,600 calories per day, plus consistent physical activity--levels well within the range of many crash-diet fats plenty of us follow today. More important though, the study shows what can happen when we deliberately and severely eat less than our body is asking for. Think about that for a minute. The same health authorities propagating food-pyramid wisdom also tend to fixate on cutting calories and increasing exercise--the "eat less, move more" paradigm. Sounds familiar, doesn't it. What if calorie restricting makes our bodies think we're starving? And what if what happened to the Minnesota men at 1,500 calories is what our government and the billion dollar diet industry has been selling to modern Westerners? The answer seems clear enough: we've set ourselves up to be a nation of disordered eaters, struggling against biology, when what really needs to change is the quality of our food. (91-2).
I love how the author believes the reader can be smart enough, and motivated enough, to learn. The book is very matter-of-fact. These are the words you need to know. These are the phrases you'll see in all the books, all the articles, all the graphs, all the news stories. Here are the definitions so you can know what is being said and evaluate it for yourself. Never automatically agree with someone's spin of it. Weigh all the evidence, consider all points of view, and decide for yourself.

I loved that the message was: YOU CAN DO IT. CHOOSE TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN HEALTH. YOU CAN BECOME INFORMED. YOU CAN BECOME EDUCATED. Don't be a victim of circumstances. Don't say "Well, I didn't know any better."
If you choose to put a label on your diet, make sure it doesn't undergo a sneaky "mission creep" into the realm of your self-identity. Your current food choices may be low-carb, or lowfat, or plant-based, or any other number of descriptors--but you are not low-carb; you are not lowfat; you are not plant-based. You're a human being trying to make choices that best serve you and your specific goals at this point in time. You are not defined by the foods you eat. You are not a slave to an ideology. (243)
So why is it titled Death by Food Pyramid?! The Food Pyramid is more the work of politics and business than anything else. And that's keeping it polite. It is not actually representative of what is good and healthy for you to eat. In fact, just the opposite. Even though it has been "updated" or even "replaced," it still influences how people think about what to eat or not eat--at least for certain generations.

I loved learning about Luise Light who began working on the Food Pyramid in the 1970s. Her version never saw the light, you might say.
Unlike previous food guides, Light's version cracked down ruthlessly on empty calories and health-depleting junk food. The new guide's base was a safari through the produce department--five to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. "Protein foods" like meat, eggs, nuts, and beans came in at five to seven ounces daily; for dairy, two to three servings were advised. Instead of promoting what would soon become a nationwide fat-phobia, Light's guide recommended four daily tablespoons of cold-pressed fats like olive oil and flaxseed oil, in addition to other naturally occurring fats in food. The guide kept sugar well below 10 percent of total calories and strictly limited refined carbohydrates, with white-flour products like crackers, bagels, and bread rolls shoved into the guide's no bueno zone alongside candy and junk food. And the kicker: grains were pruned down to a maximum of two to three servings per day, always in whole form. (The lower end of that range was for most women and less-active men, for whom a single sandwich would fill the daily grain quota.) Satisfied that their recommendations were scientifically sound and economically feasible, Light's team shipped the new food guide off to the Secretary of Agriculture's office for review. And that's when the trouble began. The guide Light and her team worked so hard to assemble came back a mangled, lopsided perversion of its former self. The recommended grain servings had nearly quadrupled, exploding to form America's dietary centerpiece: six to eleven servings of grains per day replaced Light's two to three. Gone was the advisory to eat only whole grains, leaving ultra-processed wheat and corn products implicitly back on the menu. Dairy mysteriously gained an extra serving. The cold-pressed fats Light's team embraced were now obsolete. Vegetables and fruits, intended to form the core of the new food guide, were initially slashed down to a mere two-to-three servings a day total--and it was only from the urging of the National Cancer Institute that the USDA doubled that number later on. And rather than aggressively lowering sugar consumption as Light's team strived to do, the new guidelines told Americans to choose a diet "moderate in sugar," with no explanation of what that hazy phrase actually meant. (Three slices of cake after a salad is moderate, right?" With her science-based food guide looking like it had just been rearranged by Picasso, Light was horrified. She predicted--in fervent protests to her supervisor--that these "adjustments" would turn America's health into an inevitable train wreck. Her opinion of the grain-centric recommendations was that "no one needs that much bread and cereal in a day unless they are longshoremen or football players," and that giving Americans a free starch-gorging pass would unleash an unprecedented epidemic of obesity and diabetes. (23-24)
Asking the Department of Agriculture to promote healthy eating was like asking Jack Daniels to promote responsible drinking: the advice could only come with a wink, a nudge, and a complementary shot glass. (25)
Folks with low genuine skill in their field [nutrition] suffer from double trouble: not only do they grossly overestimate their own abilities, but they also don't even have the knowledge necessary to realize what they're saying is inaccurate. (53)
Anyone who's certain they're right about everything in nutrition is almost definitely wrong. (53)
Out of all the food pyramid's victims, the most brutally slaughtered was fat--particularly the saturated form. (82)
The burden is on our own shoulders to stay educated, informed, shrewd, critical, proactive, and unyielding in the face of the Goliaths that loom before us. (247)

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart

cover artI’ve never read a biography about any of the Brontës before so when the publisher offered me the chance to read Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman I said, sure! This year is the two hundredth anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth and that we are still reading her and talking about her books and her weird family really says something. Harman’s biography is advertised as “landmark” because it “transforms Charlotte Brontë from a tragic figure into a modern heroine.” I’ve never thought of Charlotte as being a tragic figure and I didn’t feel like the biography made her out to be a modern heroine. This is not a criticism of the biography itself, only of the book’s marketing.

Because the biography was pretty good. It didn’t spend much time at all analyzing the novels, which is good because while a little analysis is fine, I don’t read literary biographies hoping for a dose of lit crit. Of course the books are talked about, especially in relation to their autobiographical elements that somehow always seem to have much to do with Charlotte’s obsession with Monsieur Heger, her teacher and eventual employer in Belgium.

Let’s talk about that relationship a bit, shall we? Heger was married to the woman who ran the school. It appears that he really did like Charlotte more than he should. But it also seems like he managed to more or less skate along the border of propriety. He knew she liked him and he would write her notes or give her small gifts or “academic encouragement” to egg Charlotte on. But he never told her he loved her or made any overt overtures or promises. Madame Heger was too vigilant for one, and I get the impression that Charlotte was a teacher-student crush that got way out of hand because Heger did not expect Charlotte to crush on him so hard. Charlotte was borderline stalker and if she had been in modern times I could see her doing a Fatal Attraction kind of thing. Because Brontë.

You write about one Brontë you kind of have to write about them all. I knew they were not your normal sort of family but I didn’t realize just how crazy they all were. Anne I think was the most normal of them all and she was doing ok, had a good gig as a governess in a family she liked that also liked her. She even got her no good brother Branwell a job as a tutor for the boy in the family. Only Branwell had to go and have an affair with the lady of the house and Anne had to quit with the shame and humiliation.

Branwell was so full of himself and his entitlement because of Patrick his father who was also full of himself and his entitlement. Patrick is kind of like a male version of Mrs. Reed in Jane Eyre and Branwell is like John Reed through and through. And because of those two jerks, all the Brontë women were made to suffer.

Also, their closed little world at the Parsonage was not a mentally healthy situation. If Anne was the most normal, Charlotte was the second most normal. Sure she was a stalker, but she was at least functional and even had friends. Emily on the other hand, totally bananas. If you have ever wondered what sort of quiet retiring person could come up with the sick and twisted relationship that is Cathy and Heathcliff, I tell you this little story about Emily.

She was out walking one day and came upon a dog in the road. Emily liked animals and she stopped to talk to the dog. Only the dog bit her. Terrified she might have rabies but not wanting to tell anyone, she went home and cauterized the dog bite with a hot iron. Good thing women dressed so modestly back then otherwise can you imagine the dinnertime conversation when everyone got an eyeful of dog bite and iron burn? Not something one can easily explain away. Then again we are talking about the Brontës here so maybe they would have been like, Emily you are so badass! Or just made a collective whatever kind of shrug.

The biography details the trials and travails of the sisters trying to get published, goes into detail regarding Charlotte’s writing schedule and relationship with her publisher and her public. It seems she pretty much always refused to make any changes to her manuscripts. She was shy and socially awkward but her publisher treated her kindly, inviting her to London to meet the literati. In spite of his pleasantness, he paid Charlotte significantly less for her books than a man would have been paid. So what else is new, right?

Charlotte eventually did get married to Arthur Nicholls, her father’s curate. Her father was very unhappy about this because he was a mean, old selfish man who, instead of being happy for his only surviving child, was angry at her for not devoting her life to his care and feeding. But Charlotte smoothed it over by continuing to live at the Parsonage, much to her new husband’s displeasure. But that just goes to show how much Nicholls loved her, willing to live under the same roof as Patrick Brontë.

Unfortunately once Charlotte was married she pretty much stopped writing. She dedicated herself to the care of her husband and duties as a curate’s wife. And then she got pregnant and the pregnancy killed her. Her death certificate says she died from tuberculosis, but all evidence indicates that she had hyperemesis gravidarum. The cause is unknown but one theory suggests it to be an extreme reaction to pregnancy hormones resulting in a constantly upset stomach, nausea and other issues. These days she would have been able to go to the hospital like Kate Middleton did, but back then there was no help and Charlotte slowly wasted away and died. Given that she had stopped writing, I can’t help but wonder if, even had she lived, there ever would have been another book. It is too bad we never got to find out.

If you, like me, have never read a bio about Charlotte or the Brontës, this one was pretty good. Knowing a bit about their lives casts their books into a different light. But don’t just take my word for it, Jeanne and Jenny have both read and reviewed the book as well.


Filed under: Books, Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Charlotte Bronte, Claire Harman

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17. Wanted: Your heartwarming, your creepy, your edgy best

3Elements Review is accepting submissions for Issue 11. Theme: reflex, trace, labyrinth. All three words must be used in each submission of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction. Also accepting art and photography submissions. Deadline: April 30, 2016.

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18. Poetry for the Birds: Woodpecker Wham and Every Day Birds (ages 3-8)

Poetry can be a terrific way to explore different topics kids might want to learn more about. In particular, poetry and science make a great pair. Above all else, poets and scientists ask us to stop and notice the world around us.  I love these two picture books that celebrate our fine feathered friends, and do it with terrific word play and illustrations.

Woodpecker Wham
by April Pulley Sayre
illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2015
Your local library
Amazon
ages 4-8
Sayre’s dynamic verse brings alive the sound and movement of six different woodpecker species as they chop, bonk, tap, and slam, doing serious work.
"Swoop and land.
Hitch and hop.
Shred a tree stump.
Chop, chip, chop!"
The bouncing, rhythmic verse and the bold illustrations make this a great read-aloud. As you read, ask kids which words they think have real pizzaz--notice Sayre's word choices. Whether she's showing how the birds fly or how their tapping sounds, Sayre chooses dramatic words. Encourage your kids to try using words like this on your next walk outside.
Every Day Birds
by  Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
illustrated by Dylan Metrano
Orchard/Scholastic, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 3-6
Short simple verses and cut-paper collage illustrations introduce young readers to common North American birds. Choosing birds that preschoolers like to notice, VanDerwater displays one bird on each page, highlighting a memorable characteristic for each.
"Chickadee wears a wee black cap."
"Owl swoops soundlessly late at night."
The bold illustrations focus young readers on each bird, setting each bird against a simple background helps highlight the species and the poetry. I especially like how VanDerwater focuses on one key feature of each bird, highlighting it with strong language. The endnotes provide more detail on each species for adults to share, as kids as more quesitons.

Together, the cumulative effect leads to a rhythm and rhyming scheme that makes for a lovely read-aloud for preschoolers. "Heron fishes with his bill./ Sparrow hops in brown./ Mockingbird has many voices./ Pigeon lives in town." Perfect for budding naturalists.

Illustrations from Woodpecker Wham copyright ©2015 Steve Jenkins, used with permission of the publisher. Text from Every Day Birds written by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater. Illustrations copyright 2016 by Dylan Metrano. Used with permission from Orchard Books/Scholastic. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan and Scholastic. 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.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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19. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Gareth Hinds

  If you like the artwork of Gareth Hinds, pictured right, you’re in for a treat today. In this, his breakfast visit to 7-Imp, he shares a whole heapin’ lot of artwork, and it’s my pleasure to feature it. You may have already heard a lot this year about Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of […]

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20. Fictional Nonfiction

Can you still call a book nonfiction if it contains fictional elements?

http://www.kidlitfrenzy.com/kid-lit-frenzy/2016/2/16/nonfiction-picture-book-wednesday-fiction-in-childrens-nonfiction

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21. An interview with Andy Seed and thoughts on great kids’ Non-Fiction

logo-2015The Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize celebrates the best books that communicate science to young people and this year’s I’m thrilled to be part of the shortlisting judging panel. I’m working alongside several scientists, a teacher and a writer, Andy Seed. Andy himself was a teacher for many years, but now he’s an award-winning author with more than 20 books under his belt, for children and adults, fiction and non-fiction. His The Silly Book of Side-Splitting Stuff won of the 2015 Blue Peter Best Book with Facts Award.

To celebrate our working together I recently caught up with Andy as he jetsetted between school visits in Dundee and Lagos and we got talking about issues that matter to us both: (1) what makes great non-fiction for children and young people, (2) cheese (yes, really!), and (3) why we’re both so enthusiastic about a book award which inspires young people to read about science.

Andy Seed

Andy Seed

To ease us in gently I ask about childhood reading. It turns out that Andy wasn’t a great reader when he was at school though Dr Seuss and later ‘Stig of the Dump’ were favourites. As to his introduction to non-fiction, Andy reveals that he “became hooked when my grandparents bought me Look and Learn annuals at the age of about 9 and I discovered The Guinness Book of Records (as it was). It was the combination of pictures and fascinating details that gripped me: the things in these books were real and they stirred my imagination and left me wanting to find out more. I like facts and figures too so that helped. I think the visual element was powerful: pages of uninterrupted text by themselves are unappealing to many kids.

Perhaps it’s partly because of my blog focus on picture books, but I’m really interested in this power of illustration, so I quiz Andy a bit more on this: why is illustration so important in children’s non-fiction (CNF), what makes for great CNF illustration…? Andy responds enthusiastically:

The world of children is visually much richer than it used to be and books need to up their game to compete with electronic devices, TV and so on. But that does not mean that CNF books should be wham-bam in terms of design, colour and illustrations. In fact I saw a CNF book recently which was so violently bright that I didn’t want to read it. Another had so much shine and glitter that the info was drowned out.

The visual element is not just about illustration, it’s about layout, text formatting and page design. Text in fact books needs to be inviting, and the shape and structure of it can make a big difference: the writing and pictures need to work together and there should be ‘breathing space’ on a page too: I think that having too much stuff on crammed together leads to skimming and a degeneration of reader attentiveness. A good page draws the reader in, points him or her to the way in and the guides the best route through the content (both images and text) – the challenge is to invite the reader to take in everything while maintaining an attractive spread. The best CNF books do this.

I couldn’t agree more. But perhaps publishers of CNF are a little bit stuck in a rut? It’s my experience that for quite a few purchasers of CNF, books lavishly illustrated with photographs (such as DK Books) are often considered to be the be all and end all when it comes to richly illustrated non-fiction.

Great CNF illustration can be all sorts of things,” continues Andy “In some books the photos overwhelm the info so it’s important to strike a working balance. I’m a fan of drawn pictures because the illustrator is interpreting, complementing, highlighting and often embellishing with a little humour too. Lots of small, clean photos can work well but there are no rules really – it takes the eye of a brilliant designer to create a whole from the various parts.

Some CNF with drawn illustrations which Andy really loves include these:

NFselection

Looking at this amazing array of non-fiction I find myself wondering out loud about why on earth non-fiction doesn’t always get the airtime it deserves… why it is quite often overlooked.

Andy jumps straight in: “One of the issues for me is that the gatekeepers of children’s literature in this country are in the main people who prefer fiction and they (for very good reasons) want to promote great stories or fiction books which cover issues they consider important and worthy of children’s attention. I’m wary of bringing up the issue of gender because it puts one at the risk of being shot down in anger or misunderstood (as happened to a fellow author recently) but children’s publishing has few men in key roles and therefore few people who have directly experienced the boys’ perspective. It’s a truth that many boys prefer non-fiction (as some girls do too) but fiction is more often put in front of them.

Another reason is that children’s non-fiction (CNF) is often too narrowly viewed. It has an unhelpful association with educational books – fact books which are perhaps regarded as a little dull. CNF is far more than that but it’s this perception that holds it back. CNF includes miscellanies, biogs, joke books, puzzle books, activity books, TV/film tie-ins, and more – but these categories of books are overlooked in the main as being less important. They are in fact very important in capturing reluctant readers in particular. Everyone loves funny fiction but funny non-fiction rarely gets a look in.

A third reason connected with this is book awards: there are few prizes for CNF and those that exist get little airtime. Many awards are open to CNF but fiction always wins because of the reasons given above in my view. CNF also doesn’t get as much space on blogs and articles. Media reviews of CNF are like hen’s teeth! Some reviewers tell me that publishers hardly ever send them CNF titles. Do they ask for them?

Andy is on a roll and barely stops for breath…

Add to this the perception that the internet, in some people’s view, has made CNF redundant. For me this is nonsense and reflects the narrow view of CNF as ‘information books’. Good CNF has a magical combination of images, high quality writing and child-centredness that the web (which is 95% aimed at adults) cannot match.

Then there’s the part played by schools: I visit over 50 schools a year and so often CNF books are out of date and put on neglected library shelves. Rarely do I see displays of varied non-fiction. Horrible Histories and the series it spawned are the exception and they still feature but teachers need to give children opportunities to read and enjoy a range of CNF. And as for bookshops? They often have a tiny CNF shelf tucked away (not always) but have you have tried to find a joke book or children’s poetry in a shop? Labelling and categorisation in libraries is often unhelpful to CNF too. And we haven’t even talked yet about book festivals – they rarely feature CNF and this needs to be challenged. One prominent festival had 18 children’s fiction authors doing events and no non-fiction (for children) at all. That is inexcusable – where is the diversity, the inclusion, the variety, the choice – and why would kids who love CNF go anywhere near that festival?

Andy at a book festival last year

Andy at a book festival last year

But surely it doesn’t have to be like this? In the United States, non-fiction for children has a much higher status and seems to be more widely read and enjoyed. What do they do differently which we could perhaps model here in the UK?

As I understand it there is a requirement in the US for children to use non-fiction books as part of their programmes of study. This creates a strong market because schools actually need the books to fulfil this element of the curriculum. This leads to the necessary engagement of teachers with CNF – they have to be familiar with the books to ensure that kids use them well (and of course they want classes to have good books in front of them). So there is an interest in CNF generated by the American educational system.

This just isn’t the case here in the UK. The English curriculum certainly mentions information texts and looking at features of non-fiction books (headings, sub-headings etc) but my experience, as an ex-teacher and visitor to over 50 primary schools a year, is that teachers tend to use photocopied pages for this (so everyone is looking at the same examples) or scanned samples on a digital whiteboard or maybe even ready-made page grabs from the web. Of course some will use real books but I just don’t see teachers using CNF books in the classroom like they once did. Some use them for research still but the internet is an easy option for many.

Some of Andy's bookshelves!

Some of Andy’s bookshelves!

So apart from perhaps lobbying for a more robust inclusion of non-fiction into the curriculum what else can we do to encourage great children’s non-fiction? Here at Playing by the Book I try to highlight exceptional CNF books whenever I can, but authors and publishers surely also have a role – could they be doing something differently to support CNF? Andy comes up with some very practical suggestions:

CNF authors are usually limited by the market and what publishers are looking for so that’s a problem… but CNF authors can do the following:
– Encourage one another to work together and promote CNF
– Blog, tweet, write articles and similar
– Question or even challenge the fiction bias/predominance
– Shout about CNF’s excellent credentials in terms of capturing reluctant readers
– Come up with a natty label: YA has YA, MG has MG. Perhaps ‘CNF’ will do but we need a hashtag and twitter groups and more. A focal point is essential
– Encourage organisations like the Society of Authors and Booktrust, Literacy Trust and government agencies to back a campaign to promote CNF and raise awareness of its value

Publishers can send out more CNF for review, push their CNF authors to festivals, put more publicity money in CNF promotion, show more imagination in terms of buying/producing CNF which marries fun with fact or biogs or books which have visual pizazz. Some of this is happening and Flying Eye Books are having deserved success with many of their titles.

Marrying fun and facts with great visuals is definitely something I’d like to see more regularly (though I also believe that real engagement doesn’t only have to come about through humour). Passion, a sense of vitality, really helps when it comes to hooking readers and so I wonder if Andy, who it turns out really loves cheese (indeed “If I were a scientist I think I would study the impact of different crackers on the taste of cheese… “) might ever write about his passion?

Hmmm, interesting question! If I did write a children’s book about cheese I wonder how publishers would react. If I did I would include lots of fun elements: jokes, cheese weirdness, wacky lists, cheeses with silly names and so on. Lots of interesting facts and info too, of course. It would be appealing to children but I suspect publishers would shy away from the idea because such a book would be unusual and not sit easily into any category (making the sales people nervy perhaps?). Or maybe it’s changing…

Winners of the Young People's Book Prize from the past four years

Winners of the Young People’s Book Prize from the past four years

Andy and I are certainly getting a snapshot of what the children’s non-fiction world looks like at the moment with all the books submitted for the The Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize. I get the strong sense that Andy is just as excited as me to be on the award’s shortlisting panel. “Oh Yes! I’m really thrilled! I mean the Royal Society is one of the most respected, august and historically significant organisations in the world. I think it’s excellent that they have asked a CNF author who writes funny books to be part of the panel because it shows that they have a good understanding of the child’s perspective. There are also many great science books for kids out there and I want to help get them noticed.

Yes Indeed, is all I can say to that!

You can find out more about The Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize here.

If you’re a teacher or someone who runs a youth group, perhaps you and the children you work with would like to help choose the winning book for the award? It’s easy to register to become one of the judging panels for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize, with participation open to any group able to read and discuss the shortlist and vote for what they think is the best book.

To become a judging panel for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize you’ll need to complete this online registration form. Registration to become a judging panel will close on Monday 25 April 2016.

Huge thanks to Andy for the interesting conversation we shared. Do check out his website, or perhaps even say hello to him on Twitter (@andyseedauthor).

Some of Andy's recent books

Some of Andy’s recent books

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22. Stuffed

Stuffed: An Insider's Look At Who's Really Making America Fat. Hank Cardello. 2009. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

I was curious to read Hank Cardello's Stuffed: An Insider's Look At Who's (Really) Making America Fat. It is an interesting, somewhat informative, book.

The first five chapters focus on the 'who' is making America fat. It is part history lesson (like chapter one and the invention of frozen dinners) and part behind-the-scenes commentary (like learning how advertising and marketing works, and why grocery stores place things where they are). It covers "the food industry." Think grocery stores, restaurants, and even school cafeterias.

The next three chapters, in my opinion, focus more on the government--national and state--and various lobbies and special interest groups. He has strong opinions on how people are reacting to the obesity crisis. And he doesn't agree necessarily with how some people want to "fix" the problem.

The remaining chapters focus on clearly identifying the problem and brainstorming on how to do something about it. If I understand his position correctly, and that is something that I hope I'm being fair about, it is that he doesn't support "banning" or "forbidding" any ingredient or type of food through legislature. Instead, he is all about urging food companies (manufacturers), grocery stores, restaurants, schools and school cafeterias to voluntarily act on their own to do something about the obesity crisis.

I found the first half more interesting than the second. I didn't personally find anything 'shocking' or 'scandalous' in the book. Though I could see it being an 'eye-opener' for some readers. Essentially, he argues that there is more than enough blame to go around--we are all, in various ways, responsible for the current health crisis. It is not just the fault of the government. (Though reading about how *involved* the government is with big agricultural farmers is disgusting. In my opinion. With the government--as of 2009--paying obscene amounts of money to farmers to plant certain crops in their fields.) It is not just the fault of food companies. It is not just the fault of grocery stores. (He talks a lot about food placement, and end displays). It is not just the fault of restaurants (with their huge portion sizes and the focus on how much money can I make off a customer). It is not just the fault of consumers who with their wallets show how satisfied they are with the status quo. It is not just the fault of the individual who is, after all, the one ultimately deciding what to eat, how much to eat, how often to eat. Everyone is to blame; no one is "solely" to blame.
As long as the government controls which foods are farmed, there is little reason to expect any improvement in the overall nutritional value of the nation's food supply. Fats and sweeteners are in. Fruits and vegetables are still out. (97)
The conventional wisdom among the food industry, activists, and government is that we consumers should act in a rational, disciplined manner. If something's bad for me, I'm obliged to say no. If it's good for me, then it's okay. But life doesn't work this way, as witnessed by our increased belt sizes. (141)
I think his focus was more on fixing things for "large groups of people" and not on individuals.

I would say his ideas or suggestions for how to "fix" things were on the modest side. For example, keep all the vending machines in schools, etc. Just stock them with snacks that are 100 calories or less. Just stock them with diet drinks or sugared-sodas in an 8 oz. size. One of his suggestions, and, I'm really doubtful that this would ever happen, was that fast food restaurants should refuse to sell food to kids and teens between certain hours of the day. Another idea that seems more on the ridiculous side to me, was, teacher-controlled cupcakes as 'rewards' for academic achievement.

I was disappointed, in a way, that he thought artificial sweeteners were the solution to most things. Make all snacks 'healthier' by artificially sweetening them. Lower calories equals automatic healthy snack! I disagree with that. I think artificial sweeteners--perhaps with the exception of stevia--are to be avoided if you really, truly care about what you're putting in your body and how it will effect you. Just my opinion.

He also seemed to think that the solution to 'unhealthy' restaurant food was to add omega-3 to (almost) everything. Just add omega-3 to Big-Macs and Big Macs will be healthy. (I'm not exaggerating. I'm really not.)

Yet another disappointment, to me, was that he didn't seem to think the way forward was to focus on real food, whole food, actual grown-from-the-earth food like fruits and vegetables. His focus was on future engineered food--junk food that is suddenly because of science actually healthy for you. I don't think the answer to America's health crisis is *more* engineering of our food. I think there are companies, perhaps with the best intentions in the world, "playing God" with our food supply, and in the name of "making it better" or "making it more affordable" or "making it tastier" is doing who-knows-what to the nations' future health. I think it needs to be said: we don't have all the answers, we don't know exactly what we're doing, we're trying and experimenting, but there are still so much we don't know yet.

But to close with something I can wholeheartedly agree with:
"The Food Pyramid saga gives us a good look at what happens when the government tries to do more than it is capable of." (94)

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. #841 – My Crazy Inventions Sketchbook by Lisa Regan and Andrew Rae

My Crazy Inventions Sketchbook: 50 Awesome Drawing Activities for Young Inventors Written by Lisa Regan Illustrated by Andrew Rae Lawrence King Publishing    9/29/2015 978-1-78067-611-1 128 pages     Ages 8+ “DO YOU HAVE SOME CRAZY INVENTIONS UP YOUR SLEEVE?! “This new doodle book will speak to the imaginative and to future ‘Shark Tank’ contestants …

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24. Seeking stories of Canadian immigrants

Caitlin Press is seeking submissions by Canadian women, including queer and trans-women, for an anthology on Canada’s immigrants (migrants, refugees or others who identify with the immigrant label). Looking for deeper topics such as dealing with the sense of loneliness, alienation and disconnection from one’s old home, reconciling different cultural values, or coping with surprises (enjoyable, shocking or unpleasant) of one’s new life in Canada. Submit nonfiction 1000-4000 words. Submissions of the children of immigrants telling their parents’ stories will also be considered. Deadline: June 30, 2016.

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25. Seeking writing about interacting with women/girls (pays)

Theories of HER is an experimental anthology open to submissions of poetry, streams-of-consciousness, flash fiction, micro non-fiction (essays, opinion pieces, personal anecdotes). Theme: What it means to be, admire, and/or interact, etc. with women and/or girls. Payment (upon acceptance): $5 per poem; .025/word for flash fiction, excerpts and non-fiction (up to 700 words); $20-$35 (visual art). Deadline: May 11, 2016.

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