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1. Testament of Youth

Testament of Youth. Vera Brittain. 1933. 688 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When the Great War broke out, it came to me not as a superlative tragedy, but as an interruption of the most exasperating kind to my personal plans.

Premise/plot: In 1933, Vera Brittain published her autobiography, Testament of Youth, which covers the years 1900 to 1925. Much of the book focuses directly on the Great War (aka World War I) and its immediate aftermath. During the war, Vera Brittain left her university studies (Somerville College, Oxford) and became a nurse (V.A.D.). She worked as a nurse in England and abroad. (I believe she nursed in France and Malta.) Many of her friends actively served during the war. And those closest to her--including a brother and a fiance--were killed. She wrote honestly and openly about how brutal and devastating the war was, about how the war changed her and there was no going back after peace was declared.

When the book is not discussing the war, it often turns to education, politics, and social issues. Vera Brittain definitely was a feminist. She had VERY strong opinions on women's rights. But she didn't just speak out and speak up about women. She also was a voice for the poor and working class. She saw a lot of injustice and wanted to change the world.

Vera Brittain loved to be a lecturer or guest-lecturer. She had a LOT to say, and wanted to be HEARD wherever she went. This wasn't always the case. She was unhappy with certain groups--or clubs--that didn't value women's opinions and treat women as intellectual equals.

Also of interest perhaps, Brittain shares her experiences as a writer--her journey to publication and her thoughts on the literary world.

The very last chapter is a relief--after spending so many chapters distancing herself from humanity by focusing on POLITICS and WORLD AFFAIRS--focuses instead on her deep friendships and ultimate marriage. She struggled a lot with the idea of marriage. Can she marry and still be a feminist? Can she marry even though she has every intention of staying a career woman? Can she marry even though children are the very last thing (almost) on her mind? She spent so long speaking out against marriage and traditional roles for women, that she is almost ashamed and embarrassed that she fell in love.

My thoughts: It was REALLY long. Overall, I thought it was slightly uneven. It was at times quite fascinating and compelling, but, then at times it was also quite sluggish and boring. There would be pages that definitely kept me reading and kept me caring. I will say that the movie did a great job condensing the book and capturing the spirit of it. Not that the movie is 100% faithful to the book. (No movie is).

Quotes:
There is still, I think, not enough recognition by teachers of the fact that the desire to think--which is fundamentally a moral problem--but be induced before the power is developed. Most people, whether men or women, wish above all else to be comfortable, and thought is a pre-eminently uncomfortable process; it brings to the individual far more suffering than happiness in a semi-civilized world which still goes to war, still encourages the production of unwanted C3 children by exhausted mothers, and still compels married partners who hate one another to live together in the name of morality. (40)
I am inclined to believe that provincial dances are responsible for more misery than any other commonplace experience. (51)
Most of us have to be self-righteous before we can be righteous. (56)
How curious it seems that letters are so much less vulnerable than their writers! (124)
Even my work-driven uncle at the bank wrote a long letter, enclosing a fragment of philosophy which had recently come to England from the French trenches: "When you are a soldier you are one of two things, either at the front or behind the lines. If you are behind the lines you need not worry. If you are at the front you are one of two things. You are either in a danger zone or in a zone which is not dangerous. If you are in a zone which is not dangerous you need not worry. If you are in a danger zone, you are one of two things; either you are wounded or you are not. If you are not wounded you need not worry. If you are wounded you are one of two things, either seriously wounded or slightly wounded. If you are slightly wounded you need not worry. If you are seriously wounded one of two things is certain--either you get well or you die. If you get well you needn't worry. If you die you cannot worry, so there is no need to worry about anything at all." (306)
It seems to me that the War will make a big division of 'before' and 'after' in the history of the world. (317)


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Monopolists

The Monopolists. Mary Pilon. 2015. Bloomsbury. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: One day during the depths of the Great Depression, an unemployed salesman named Charles Darrow retreated to his basement.

Premise/plot: Love Monopoly? Hate Monopoly? Mary Pilon's The Monopolists is a fascinating read to be sure. Who invented Monopoly? Who did NOT invent Monopoly? Why does it matter?

The Monopolist tells the story of the woman who invented the game, a game with two very different sets of rules. She didn't call her game 'monopoly' but 'The Landlord's Game.' The general game board concept and rules of play were hers. This was in 1904. In her community, it became quite popular, even an obsession of sorts. So much so that it spread across the nation as one person--or one couple--would teach another and another and another and another. People would create their own homemade game boards. The rules were taught but not written down. For decades, people were playing this game, loving this game. It wasn't a game you could buy at the store, though. 'The Landlord's Game' wasn't the only real-estate game that predates Parker Brothers' Monopoly. The game Finance also did. It also being offspring of Lizzie Magie's original game. Though I think perhaps by that time, it had just one set of rules. Charles Darrow, the man whose name would be associated with the game MONOPOLY, was taught the game by friends. He later claimed he invented the game. The couple who taught Darrow spent a lot of time in Atlantic City with the Quakers who LOVED the game and changed their own game boards to reflect their lives. These place names would stay with the game and be the names that we come to associate with Monopoly. The rules, the layout of the game board, the place names, all were essentially handed to Darrow ready-made.

Most of this book focuses on a lawsuit in the 1970s and early 1980s. Parker Brothers was trying to stop one man--Ralph Anspach--from selling his own game, a game called ANTI-MONOPOLY. Anspach was an economics professor, I believe. It would take a lot of time, effort, stamina, and courage to stay in the fight.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. I don't love playing Monopoly, but, I found the game-playing culture of the twentieth century to be FASCINATING. There is something to be said for people spending time together around a table and actually talking and having fun doing the same thing. This was written in an engaging way. I'd definitely recommend it.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. LEGO Knights & Castles

LEGO Knights & Castles. 2016. Scholastic. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Knights and Castles is one of the first books in a Lego-themed nonfiction series published by Scholastic. The series is being marketed as "a Lego adventure in the real world."

What I liked about this one:

I enjoyed the nonfiction narrative. Both the main, flowing narrative that is simple and quick paced. And the overflow of facts found in the text of the side bars, asides, captions, etc. There is plenty of information packed into this one. And it's all appropriate for the elementary audience.

I enjoyed the layout. I liked the use of photographs, illustrations, and bright, bold colors. The book is designed to be appealing to readers. I think it works. It certainly looks nothing like the nonfiction from thirty or forty years ago.

I enjoyed two out of the three Lego features. I enjoyed the "Build it!" and Build it Bigger!" feature. I enjoyed the "Play it!" feature.
p. 15 Build it! Build a tournament area for your jousting knights!
p. 16-7 Play it! Find out about the stories of King Arthur's knights. What amazing adventures will your knights have? Do your knights argue, or are they friends? Is there a wizard in your knight world? Who is your most evil knight?
p. 29 Build it! Build a hospital for the Order of St. John to work in.
While I enjoyed the build it and play it features in Lego Planets, I really LOVED these two features in this one. I also found the narrative to be more compelling. (But that could be my love of history talking!!!)

What I didn't quite enjoy:

The illustrated Lego minifigures. I think there comes a point in your life where you grow up and grow beyond the kind of dialogue that these minifigures engage in. The speech bubbles are heavy on bad jokes and jests. It's just squirmy to read the text as as an adult. Kids, the intended audience, might have a complete different reaction.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. LEGO Planets

Lego Planets: A Lego Adventure in the Real World. 2016. Scholastic. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Planets is one of the first books in a Lego-themed nonfiction series published by Scholastic. The series is being marketed as "a Lego adventure in the real world."

What I liked about this one:

I enjoyed the nonfiction narrative text. The main narrative text keeps things moving. Just a few sentences per page. Each two-page spread features more text: side bars, charts, captions for photographs, etc.

I enjoyed the layout. Big, bright, bold, colorful photographs.

I enjoyed two out of the three Lego features. Some spreads include a "build it" feature. Other spreads include a "play it" feature.
p. 37 Build it! Your astronauts need a space base. Design a space station. Here are some of the important partss. Solar panels. Living quarters. Docking station. Viewing window. Laboratory. Radiator.
p. 19 Play it! Take your astronauts to the Moon and help them explore. What will they find?
p. 26 Play it! Take your rover and astronauts to Mars! It's a whole new world of adventure. What will they find on the Red Planet? Will they be safe?
What I didn't really like:

I mentioned liking two out of the three lego features of this one. The third feature, the one that predominates the book, is the dialogue between Lego minifigures. These conversations are found in speech bubbles and are heavy on bad jokes. They add no intelligence to the book, in other words.

They are illustrated minifigures, by the way.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. The Hole Story of the Doughnut

The Hole Story of the Doughnut. Pat Miller. Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch. 2016. HMH. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Few remember the master mariner Hanson Crockett Gregory, though he was bold and brave and bright. But the pastry he invented more than 166 years ago is eaten daily by doughnut lovers everywhere. This is his story.

Premise/plot: Readers learn the true story behind the creation of the doughnut. Also how that story got embellished through the years into something more of a legend.

My thoughts: I liked it. I really did. I can't say that I loved, loved, LOVED it. But it was lively, engaging, entertaining, not particularly moralistic or educational. I don't remember picture book biographies being this entertaining when I was a child. So it's easy to recommend.

Text: 3.5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4.5 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. What Are The Summer Olympics

What Are The Summer Olympics?  Gail Herman. Illustrated by Stephen Marchesi. 2016. 112 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Gail Herman's What Are the Summer Olympics? This short little nonfiction book for young(er) readers (think elementary school) covers all the basics. It provides a nice, little overview of the Olympics. Readers don't learn all there is to know about any one sport--or event--but readers learn a little bit about many of the most popular events. The chapters are actually arranged decade by decade. Each chapter typically covers two or three sports.

For example, the ninth chapter focuses on the 1980s. That chapter covers the U.S.A's boycott of the 1980 games, introduces readers to Mary Lou Retton (gymnastics), Carl Lewis (track), and Greg Louganis (diving).

Because over a hundred years worth of sports history is covered in this little volume, there isn't a lot of depth and substance. The book is a little over a hundred pages in length. BUT the book has a lot of illustrations.

Is it as FUN as Horrible Histories' Flame?!?! Sadly, no. But the book and song go VERY well together. The book, of course, covers A LOT more than any song parody could ever do it.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Let Your Voice Be Heard

Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger. Anita Silvey. 2016. HMH. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Pete Seeger became the most important folk singer of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. But he might have chosen a very different path. Although his grandfather made a fortune from sugar refining in Mexico, Pete became an advocate for underpaid workers. Though he came from financial privilege, he identified with those who had to make a living. He fought for the oppressed and poor all his life.

Premise/plot: Let Your Voice Be Heard is a biography of Pete Seeger written for children. (I'd say eight to twelve, if I had to put a label on it.) The biography is great at putting Pete Seeger's life into context for better understanding. Perhaps the author wanting to keep this one short and accessible for her audience, did not fully cover his life and music. It is not an exhaustive book on the subject. But a good, basic introduction.

My thoughts: I definitely found this one to be fascinating. I knew next to nothing about Pete Seeger before picking this one up. (I'm certainly no expert in folk music. My only familiarity at all coming from the music of Peter, Paul, and Mary.) I thought it was very well-written.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Melissa Manlove: Facts Meets Feelings - Narrative Nonfiction

Kate Messner (L) and Melissa Manlove (R)
Melissa Manlove is an editor at the legendary Chronicle Books in San Francisco. She acquires nonfiction for all age groups, and fiction for ages 0-8—mostly visual books.

Often nonfiction writers want to portray a clear view of the world with logic. The problem is that human beings respond to the world with their emotions.

Good nonfiction speaks to the heart and to the head.

We need to learn to jump from fact to feeling. As soon as your gut recognizes something that's important, the brain remembers it. "As humans we are very different from each other in the facts of our lives. But we are alike in our feelings."

"Narrative arc is about the journey from one state to another. It is about transformation." Sometimes it's about the character, and sometimes it's about the narrator who's transformed by information.

She gave us a few examples of how this works in books.

"Fear comes from knowing something terrible is happening but not seeing all of it," she said. That's dread—so that's how you'd make something scary. (See Katherine Roy's NEIGHBORHOOD SHARKS for a glorious example of moving from fear to wonder.)



Don Brown's DROWNED CITY, about New Orleans, takes us from dread to frustration to resolve.

JOSEPHINE by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson, takes us on Josephine's transformation from fear and anger to hope and pride and triumph. There is a universality in her reaction as well as a uniqueness.



OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW by Kate Messner and Chris Silas Neal explores the isolation of being on top of snow and builds connection to creatures keeping safe in pockets beneath it.



Nonfiction helps us understand ourselves and the world around us—and can change the world. "Humans are good at thinking," she said. "The thing we're even better at is caring."

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9. Fiction to Nonfiction and the New Mashups in Between


Four industry stars with four different points of view talked to us about groundbreaking nonfiction.

  • Steve Malk is a literary agent at Writers House, representing some of the biggest names in the business.
  • Susan Campbell Bartoletti writes poetry, short stories, picture books, and novels and nonfiction for young readers. 
  • Linda Sue Park is a Newbery Award winner (for A SINGLE SHARD), and the author of a NYT bestseller called A LONG WALK TO WATER as well as WING & CLAW and YAKS YAK.
  • Elizabeth Partridge has written more than a dozen books, including MARCHING FOR FREEDOM and biographies of Woody Guthrie and Dorothea Lange.


Susan Campbell Bartlett's career opened up when she started to do nonfiction. She learned everything she needed to know about nonfiction in a great 11th-grade English class: taking notes, research, writing. She's written about growing up in coal country, Hitler youth, the Irish potato famine, and the Ku Klux Klan, and Typhoid Mary.

Some of the best advice she's ever received, from Patti Lee Gauch, is to reach inside of yourself and find a personal story.

Linda Sue Park loves writing historical fiction, and she loves grounding it and basing it in fact. She writes stories like she cooks: there is no recipe. Her tinkering, especially with real life events she works into her books, makes the narratives better. She ended up writing fiction because she loves to change things.

A LONG WALK TO WATER is one of her mashups. It's historical fiction based on the true story of a friend of hers who was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. She interviewed her friend for hours and read his own writing. But the part of his life that she was writing about happened more than 20 years ago, so to make it a dramatic narrative, she wrote in scenes and added dialogue. Even though she interviewed him and got quotes from him, she considers the reproduction fiction. It's recreated from old conversations, and she doesn't think it's truly nonfiction to work this way.

Linda Sue also makes composite characters out of multiple people. Their stories are true, but the combination makes it fiction. Readers have been moved by the book nonetheless, and have raised more than $1.5 million for a water charity in Sudan. The realness of the book is what resonates with readers.

She's working on a mashup with several authors, including Jennifer Donnelly, M.T. Anderson, Candace Fleming and others about Henry VIII. It's called FATAL THRONE and will be out sometime after next fall.

Elizabeth Partridge loves to write biographies. She likes characters who are difficult. This gives grit and multiple layers to work. MARCHING FOR FREEDOM was a challenging book to write because her main characters were all earnest, hardworking, amazing kids and young adults. It's about the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, and she wanted to choose a new POV from Martin Luther King Jr's. She found photographs of kids who'd participated in marches and tried to find names of people to interview.

A New Yorker article led her to some kids who'd taken part, and before long, she'd found six or seven kids, whom she interviewed in Selma. "If I wanted this to remain nonfiction, I would have to quote them exactly."

Steven Malk has always loved nonfiction. He was a history major in college, and when he gets to read away from work, he reads all nonfiction. Nonfiction has morphed and taken on a broader definition. There's room for more voices. "It's an interesting time." He talked about Deborah Wiles documentary novels REVOLUTION and COUNTDOWN. "She's doing something very unique."
Other writers/artists to watch are Deborah Hopkinson, Kadir Nelson, Eugene Yelchin and Matt dela Pena, Stephanie Hemphill (and more—he's an encyclopedia of books and creators).

He likes it when books open up conversations about what's fiction and nonfiction. He's a bit looser about it. As long as people are reading, that's a good thing. He grew up in his parents' bookstore, and wasn't snobby about what people were reading.

What's the line between fiction and nonfiction? 

Susan Bartoletti - a book like TERRIBLE TYPHOID MARY is nonfiction. When Mary is thinking, Susan couches it in "might have thought." -

Linda Sue Park - "Facts don't interest me very much. I'm interested in truth." Facts are one tool to getting at the truth. At a Library of Congress event she met a man who wanted to read only fiction, because all nonfiction becomes untrue with future discoveries. This fascinated her, even as she depends on nonfiction writers' work to do their own.

Elizabeth Partridge - She has a hard line between fiction and nonfiction. "I will not make up anything. I will twist myself in knots to not make up something." The weather can be particularly difficult. But she's loving the mashups that are getting more and more out there. She loves how in LOVING VS VIRGINIA the author went inside the characters' heads and told the story in poetry.

"We think of nonfiction of being dry and dates and names and places. But if you can find the emotional spine of your book, it will be powerful."

Steve Malk - You need to own what you're doing. You can't say it's nonfiction if you're making up dialogue. If you say you're writing nonfiction but you don't have sources and you're making things up, it makes you look unprofessional. You need to be very clear to an agent or publisher what you're trying to do. Authors notes and backwater can be helpful, but you have to be able to articulate it for yourself when you are submitting. Don't leave that up to the publisher.

We're also starting to see nonfiction back matter in fiction books, Susan said. That's an interesting mashup.

You have to be honest with yourself about your research and what you're writing. You can't rely on your publisher to vet your work.

"If you're passionate for your topic, you want to get it right. You would be unsatisfied fudging it," Linda Sue said.

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10. Nonfiction for Fiction Writers


I'm just back from Readercon 27, the annual convention that I've been to more than any other, and for which (a while back) I served on the program committee for a few years. At this point, Readercon feels like a family reunion for me, and it's a delight.

Here, I simply want to riff on ideas from one of the panels I participated in.

Friday, I was on my first panel of the convention, "Nonfiction for Fiction Writers", with Jonathan Crowe, Keffy Kehrli, Tom Purdom, Rick Wilber. It was good fun. I'd taken lots of notes beforehand, because I wasn't really sure what direction the panel would go in and I wanted to be prepared and to not forget any particular favorites. Ultimately, and expectedly, I only got to mention a few of the items I was prepared to talk about.

However, since I still have my notes, I can expand on it all here...


First, I started thinking about useful reference books and tools. One of the things I talked about on the panel was the need I have to get some vocabulary before I begin to write anything involving history, professions I'm not highly familiar with, regions I don't know intimately, etc. I will make lists of words and phrases to have at hand. To create such a list, I spend lots of time with the Oxford English Dictionary, with specialized dictionaries (and old dictionaries — Samuel Johnson's is invaluable, but I'm also fond of the 1911 Concise Oxford Dictionary), with texts from the era or profession I'm trying to write about, and with a book I got years ago, the Random House Word Menu, a highly useful book because it arranges words in a way reminiscent of the old Roget's thesauruses (the ones not arranged alphabetically), but different enough to be uniquely useful. (For that matter, an old thesaurus is highly useful, too, as you'll find more archaic words in it. My preference is for one from the late 1940s.) Finally, I'm fond of The People's Chronology by James Trager, which is a year-by-year chronology from the beginning of time to, in the most recent edition, the early 1990s. Being written by one person, it's obviously incomplete and biased toward what he thought was important, but what I find useful in it is the sense of scope that it provides. You can get something like it via Wikipedia's year-specific entries, but it's nice to be able to flip through a book, and I find Trager's organization of material and summary of events interesting. Chronologies specific to particular people can be fascinating too, such as The Poe Log.

I'm also fond of old travel guides and atlases. I still have the Rough Guide to New York City that I bought before I went to college there in 1994, and I treasure it, because it reminds me of a city now lost.  I've got a couple editions of Kate Simon's New York Places & Pleasures. (For London, I have a 1937 edition of William Kent's Encyclopedia of London.) Similarly, old atlases are a treasure trove; not only do they show lost places and borders long shifted, but they demonstrate the ways that people have thought about borders, geography, knowledge, and the world itself in the past. See Peter Turchi's Maps of the Imagination for more on that.

That's it for the really useful reference stuff in general (individual projects often have their own specific needs for reference material). To see how I've put some of these things to use, check out the penultimate story in Blood, "Lacuna". Now for some encounters with interesting nonfiction...

One of the greatest joys in nonfiction reading is to be reading something just for information and then to discover it's wonderfully written. On the panel, I said that when I was studying for my Ph.D. general exam, I decided to strengthen my knowledge of Victorian England by skimming some of Peter Ackroyd's gigantic biography of Dickens. But once I started reading, I didn't want to skim. Ackroyd's sense of drama mixes perfectly with his passion for detail, and the book is unbelievably rich, eloquently written, and so compelling that it all but consumed my life for a couple of weeks.

Since Readercon is a science fiction, fantasy, and horror convention, I mostly thought about books to help such writers with their work. SF writers often obsess over "worldbuilding", which I put in quotation marks not only because I'm skeptical of the term, which I am, but more importantly because what such writers mean by "worldbuilding" varies. (For one quick overview, see Rajan Khanna's 2012 piece for Lit Reactor.) My own feelings are at least in sympathy with statements from M. John Harrison, e.g. his controversial 2007 blog post on "worldbuilding" as a concept and his brief note from 2012, wherein he writes: "Worldbuilt fantasy is over-engineered & under-designed. Whatever the term worldbuilding implies, it isn’t deftness or economy. A world can be built in a sentence, but epic fantasy doesn’t want that. At the same time, it isn’t really baggy or capacious, like Pynchon or Gunter Grass." The simplicities of SF are one of its great aesthetic and ethical limitations, even of the most celebrated and complex SF (see my comments on Aurora for more on this; see Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand and Pynchon's Against the Day for exemplary models of how to make complex settings in the baggy style; for short fiction, see Chekhov). Too often, SF writing seems to seek to replace the complexities of the real world with the simplicities of an imagined world. This is one of my complaints about apocalyptic fiction as well: when the history of the world we live in provides all sorts of examples of apocalypse and dystopia at least as awful as the ones SF writers imagine, what does that suggest about your made-up world?

Anyway, that all got me thinking about books that might be useful for someone who wanted to think about "worldbuilding" as something more than just escape from the complexities of reality. There are countless historical books useful for such an endeavor — even mediocre history books have more complexity to them than most SF, and analyzing why that is could lead a writer to construct their settings more effectively.

I said on the panel that if I could recommend only one history book to SF writers, it would be Charles Mann's 1491, which other people on the panel also recommended. While I'm sure there's academic writing that is richer than Mann's popular history, the virtue of his book is that it's engagingly written and thus a good introduction to a subject that can, in fact, be mind-blowing for a reader raised on all sorts of myths about the Americas before Columbus — some of which seem to have informed a lot of SF. (Really, Mann's book should be paired with John Reider's essential Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction.)

A very different approach to the complexities available in a single year is James Shapiro's A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, which I didn't get a chance to mention on the panel. It's one of my favorite books about Shakespeare for reasons well stated by Robert McCrum in an Observer review when the book came out:
The story of 1599 ... is an enthralling one that includes the rebuilding of the Globe; the fall of Essex; the death of Spenser; a complicated publishing row about the Sonnets; the sensational opening of Julius Caesar; rumours of the Queen's death; the completion of a bestselling volume of poetry, The Passionate Pilgrim; and finally, the extraordinary imaginative shift represented by the first draft of Hamlet.

Partly, 1599 is a rediscovery of the worlds that shaped the poet's development and which, in his maturity, were becoming lost — the bloody Catholic past; the deforested landscape of Arden; a dying chivalric culture. Partly, it is a record of a writer reading, writing and revising to meet a succession of deadlines.
The writer and his world, as seen via the lens of a single year.

In my notes, I jotted down titles of a few other biographies that feel especially rich in the way they negotiate the connections between the individual consciousness and the wider world: Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee and Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull by Barbara Goldsmith.

Then there is Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edward G. Burroughs and Mike Wallace, which is unbelievably rich. There are countless books to read if you want to think about how to imagine cities and their histories; this is one that has long fed my imagination.

While I've got New York on my mind, I must recommend also George Chauncey's classic Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. It's a marvelous portrait of a subculture and how that subculture interacts with the supraculture. Similarly, Graham Robb's Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century is a good challenge to a lot of assumptions about gay history.

Writers might find productive ways of working through the problems of history, subjectivity, and literary worlds by reading David Attwell's J.M. Coetzee and the Life of Writing: Face to Face with Time, which is one of the best explorations of an individual writer's process and manuscripts that I know, and one that offers numerous techniques for thinking your way out of the traps of "worldbuilding".

On another day, if someone were to say to me, "I want to write an immersive SF story in an imagined world, so what should I read?" I would be as likely to start with Noël Mostert's Frontiers as I would be with 1491 or another book. I first learned about Frontiers from Brian Slattery, and though I have read around in it rather than read it front-to-back, its range and depth are utterly apparent. It tells of the history of the Xhosa people in South Africa. It is particularly valuable for anyone interested in writing some sort of first-contact story.

A caution, though: It's important to read people's own chronicles and analyses of their experiences, not just the work of outsiders or people distant in time from the events they write about. For instance, don't miss the Women Writing Africa anthologies from the Feminist Press. Be skeptical of distant experts, even the thoughtful and eloquent ones.

Along those lines, a nonfiction book I would recommend to any writer is Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism, which I much prefer to his more famous Orientalism. Among the highly influential writers of the theory era, Said is, I think, hands down the best stylist and the least in need of a vociferous editor, so reading Culture and Imperialism is often simply an aesthetic pleasure. But more than that, it brings to fruition ideas he had been developing for decades. This is not to say I think he's always right (what fun would that be?) -- his reading of Forster's Passage to India seems to me especially wrong, as if he'd only seen David Lean's awful movie -- but that he provides tools for rearranging how we think about imagination, literature, and politics. If you want to contribute to the culture around you, you ought to know what that culture does in the world, and think about how it does it. If you want to create imaginary cultures, then you ought to spend serious time thinking about how real cultures work. There are countless other writers who can help along the way, including ones who stand in opposition to Said, but as a starting point, Culture and Imperialism works well.

For US writers especially, I must also add Mark Rifkin's Settler Common Sense, a book I read earlier this year, and which made me want to go back to a lot of 19th century American lit that I don't have time at the moment to go back to. It's a kind of intellectual sequel to Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark (another must-read), but it expands the scope beyond the black/white binary, which, as Rifkin notes, "tends to foreground citizenship, rights, and belonging to the nation, miscasting Indigenous self-representations and political aims in ways that make them illegible."

Also well worth reading are two books by Sven Lindqvist, Exterminate All the Brutes and A History of Bombing, both interesting at a formal level, but also for what they discuss. These are short books, but accomplish more both aesthetically and intellectually than most SF.

It's important to consider the ways our assumptions are constructed, and if your a writer, that includes assumptions about writing, culture, and how certain styles and techniques are valued. For that, you could do worse than read The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Frances Stonor Saunders, The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing by Mark McGurl, and Workshops of Empire by Eric Bennett. The three books work well together, and draw on each other, creating a portrait of American literary institutions in the 20th century that are far from the objective tastemakers they sold themselves as being.

Most of the books I thought of and discussed on the panel were, in some way or another, about history, since the construction of history and memory is an obsession of mine. But I had one book about science on my list, though never got the chance to recommend it: Sexing the Body by Anne Fausto-Sterling, a book that will challenge a lot of what you probably think you know about biology and gender. (On the other hand, the book has been influential enough that the common sense about gender and biology has shifted since it was published, so who knows.) Even if you are familiar with some of what Sexing the Body argues about biology, it's valuable for the stories it tells about science and scientists. Indeed, this is something that makes it hugely useful to science fiction writers, even if they're not especially interested in gender: it demonstrates some ways that science is made.

Any writer could also benefit from thinking about the ways knowledge and writing disappear, and for that Nicholson Baker's Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper is a good, if depressing, start.

Finally, I see in my notes a list of essayists I am always happy to read: Virginia Woolf, Samuel Johnson (for the construction of his sentences), Guy Davenport, Susan Sontag, James Baldwin, Carole Maso, Barry Lopez, William H. Gass, and Samuel Delany.

There are, of course, many others, and on another day I would make completely different lists and different recommendations, but these are the books and writers that come to mind now.

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11. War of Two

War of Two. John Sedgwick. 2015. Berkley. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

I definitely enjoyed reading John Sedgwick's War of Two: The Dark Mystery of the Duel Between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, and Its Legacy for America. I thought it did a good job chronicling the lives of both founding fathers. The attention is rightly divided between the two men. Readers learn not just about politics and war but also more personal affairs such as family and home life.

Part one is titled "The Roots of the Hatred." Part two is titled "The Battle is Joined." Part three is titled "To the Death." Part four is titled "And Then There Was One." Each chapter title seems to be taken from a direct quote from a primary source.

I was familiar with the basics of this story having listened to Hamilton a couple dozen times. I think anyone interested in learning more would profit from reading this one.

From the introduction, "Hamilton came to America alone at sixteen, a penniless immigrant, from the West Indian island of Saint Croix, the only one of the original Founding Fathers not born on the continent" (xxii). And, "As for the illegitimate Hamilton, Adams derided him as "the bastard brat of a Scotch peddler" (xxii). And, "Hamilton could take four hours to say what Burr could say in thirty minutes" (xxii).

From chapter five, John Adams on New Yorkers [like Hamilton], "They talk very loud, very fast, and altogether. If they ask you a question, before you can utter three words of your answer they will break out upon you again and talk away." (38)

From chapter six, "Hamilton was primarily a man of action, driven to achieve; his strongest feelings stemmed from ambition, and indignation when his aspirations were not met." (44)

From chapter eight, "As Hamilton listened to the speakers bellowing into the wind, he found the arguments against the British to be surprisingly feeble, and, unable to wait his turn, he started to speak up, unbidden, from the middle of the crowd, first timidly, unsure, and then proudly, firmly; and finally he could not stop, bringing forth a great tumbling river of argument that washed over the crowd. At nineteen, Hamilton was not the most prepossessing speaker, or the most fully voiced, but he was the most persuasive--forceful, compelling, assured--and somehow all the more so for being so boyishly slender and obviously young." (54-5)

From chapter eleven, "Hamilton, Laurens, Lafayette, all three of them young, brash, brilliant, and glamorously handsome, quickly formed a three-way attachment that was unusual by the standards of a ragtag army." (85)

From chapter thirteen, "Hamilton was a man on the prowl and had been ever since he was a teenager...No wonder Martha Washington named her frisky tomcat Hamilton." (98)

From chapter fifteen, "To Hamilton, Angelica was sunshine itself. The relationship revealed a gushing enthusiasm for a woman that ran the gamut from playfulness to desire and back again. From the first, he was so taken by Angelica, and so bad at concealing it, that many people assumed they were the lovers." (110)

From chapter twenty-four, "And so it began: From that moment forward, as in the army, Washington would depend on Hamilton as he depended on no other. He would never make a significant decision without Hamilton's advice, often doled out in ten-thousand word installments, his quill flying, and he would never question that advice, no matter how it turned out. Washington had plenty of wise men in his circle--Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Edmund Randolph, James Madison, all but the last of them in his cabinet, and all of them older, some substantially so--but it was Hamilton he turned to, over and over. He emerged as Washington's alter ego, the first among equals." (176).

There came a point when I stopped flagging all the passages that I liked/loved/found interesting.

The book is compelling and I definitely recommend it.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Best in Children's Books, 31

Best in Children's Books, Volume 31. 1960. Nelson Doubleday. 160 pages. [Source: Bought]

Let's go vintage! This title is the thirty-first volume in a long series of books called Best in Children's Books. It was published in 1960 by Nelson Doubleday. It blends fiction and nonfiction, prose and poetry. It has many contributing authors and illustrators.

Lewis and Clark: Explorers of the Far West by Smith Burnham with illustrations by Edward Shenton. This is an excerpt from Hero Tales from History (1922, 1930, 1938). If there is a politically incorrect buzzword related to Native Americans--this story has it in abundance: savage, powwow, red men, peace-smoke talk, redskins, red braves, war dance, peace dance, scalp dance, snake dance, papoose, etc. There are better stories of Lewis and Clark to share with young readers these days.

Tattercoats by Joseph Jacobs with illustrations by Colleen Browning. This little story reads like a fairy tale. It even has a little romance.

Singh Rajah and the Cunning Little Jackals by Mary Frere with illustrations by Edy Legrand. This is an excerpt from Old Deccan Days or Hindoo Fairy Legends Current in Southern India (1898). This is an animal story about a LION who is tricked by a family of jackals who don't want to be eaten--they are the last animals in the jungle. What I like best about this story are the color illustrations.

The Middle Bear by Eleanor Estes with illustrations by Phyllis Rowand. This is an excerpt from The Middle Moffat (1942). The Moffats are in a play for charity. The play is The Three Little Bears. It's quite charming.

Chips, The Story of a Cocker Spaniel (1944) by Diana Thorne and Connie Moran with illustrations by Phoebe Erickson. This is a sweet though predictable story of boy meets dog.


The Picnic Basket by Margery Clark with illustrations by Maud and Miska Petersham (1924). This is an excerpt from The Poppy Seed Cakes. This one is illustrated in color. And the illustrations are very interesting--bright and colorful. If you enjoy vintage work, then these illustrations will prove appealing. The story itself is about a boy and his Auntie going on a picnic together. There are plenty of twists and turns in this one!

Windy Wash Day and Other Poems by Dorothy Aldis with illustrations by MAURICE SENDAK. The poems come from All Together (1925, 1926, 1934, 1939, 1952). I like the inclusion of poetry. I really like the poem "Naughty Soap Song."
Just when I'm ready to
Start on my ears,
That is the time that my
Soap disappears.
It jumps from my fingers and
Slithers and slides
Down to the end of the
Tub, where it hides.
And acts in a most diso-
Bedient way
AND THAT'S WHY MY SOAP'S GROWING
THINNER EACH DAY. (86)
Go Fly a Kite is a nonfiction piece by Harry Edward Neal with illustrations by Harvey Weiss. I found it boring, you may find it instructional.

Salt Water "Zoos" is another nonfiction piece. No author is given credit. It is essentially about large aquariums and oceanariums. (This book was published several years before the first Sea World opened. My guess is it used to be a lot harder to see dolphins and sharks and the like.) The focus is on Marineland of Florida.

Cornelia's Jewels by James Baldwin with illustrations by Don Freeman. This one is short and historical in nature. The overall tone is very sweet with a focus on family. Cornelia's "jewels" are her two boys.

Three Seeds by Hester Hawkes with illustrations by Hildegarde Woodward (1956). This story is about a boy and his garden. The setting: the Philippines. Luis, the hero, misses his father who works in Manila most of the time. He can only come visit his family once or twice a month. One week he brings home a package of American seeds. The packet must have had a hole, however, because only three seeds remain. (The title spoils it all doesn't it?) The boy has hope, however, and with the help of a kind neighbor, the three seeds are planted...and from those three seeds comes a promising future.

Let's Go to Iceland and Greenland. This is a sad little feature, again no author is given. Readers do get five photographs and one map.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Best In Children's Books, Volume 6

Best In Children's Books. Volume 6. 1958. Nelson Doubleday. 160 pages. [Source: Bought]

Let's go vintage! This title is the sixth volume in a long series of books called Best in Children's Books. It was published in 1958 by Nelson Doubleday. It blends fiction and nonfiction, prose and poetry. It has many contributing authors and illustrators.

The Story of Early America by Donald Culross Peattie, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. This is an excerpt from A Child's Story of the World (1937). Honestly, I think I enjoyed the illustrations more than the text. Readers should know two things 1) These two chapters do not hold up to the test of time. They didn't age gracefully, in other words. 2) They contain passages with the potential to offend in varying degrees.

When Columbus landed, some naked red men on the shore ran away. After a while their childish curiosity got the better of them, and they came stealing out to meet the newcomers. (10)
He saw that these people were much more simple-minded than criminals from the jails of Spain. (11)
They were so evidently savages, and not the rich, civilized people that he expected to meet in India. So he called these men Indians, and so they have been called ever since, though of course our redskins have nothing to do with the real people of India. (11)
So the Spanish, Portuguese, and English sent ships to Africa to capture the jungle Negroes. They were thrown into boats and brought to America. The Negroes had powerful bodies. They did not mind the intense heat. They were afraid of the white men, and knew that they could never escape back across the sea. So they bent their backs to the hard labor and tried to be cheerful. They made good slaves. (23)
In the northern states slavery soon died out. One reason for this was that, in the North, factories and not farming were the important way of making money. Intelligent men were needed to work in factories. The Negroes, fresh from jungle life, were not ready for such work. But in the South, where tobacco, cotton, and rice were rich crops which all the world was clamoring to buy, the Negro slave could work better than the free white man. He did not have to use his head, but only his muscles. (31-2)
The Very Little Girl (1953) is by Phyllis Krasilovsky and illustrated by Ninon. This is a charming, delightful, very unoffensive little piece about a little girl who slowly but surely finds herself growing up.

The Elephant's Child (1900) by Rudyard Kipling. Illustrated by Henry C. Pitz. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this one. This is probably one of the main reasons I bought this book. In this story, readers learn about how the elephant got his trunk. A lot of spanking is involved! And the Elephant's Child isn't only the recipient of the spanking. This one makes a GREAT read aloud. While I would never, ever, ever read aloud The Story of Early America, I would share The Elephant's Child. Kipling has a way with words. "Great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo River." I enjoy the characters. Especially the elephant, the crocodile, and the snake.

Poems of the City (1924) by Rachel Field, illustrated by Harvey Weiss. A selection of eleven poems by Rachel Field. Poems include "Skyscrapers," "Good Green Bus," "The Pretzel Man," "The Ice-Cream Man," "The Stay-Ashores," "The Animal Store," "City Rain, "Pushcart Row," "Chestnut Stands," "Taxis," and "At the Bank." My favorite was "The Ice-Cream Man."

The next story is The Shoemaker and The Elves by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm illustrated by Fritz Kredel. This is the traditional story. The illustrations are something. And it is an illustration from this story that is on the cover of this book.

A Child's World in ABC by Mary Warner Eaton, illustrated by Charlotte Steiner. This piece was written specifically for this book. I liked this one well enough. I liked the illustrations especially. But that doesn't mean it aged well.

Your Breakfast Egg is by Benjamin C. Gruenberg and Leone Adelson. Illustrated by Leonard Kessler. This was first published in 1954. It is an excerpt from YOUR BREAKFAST AND THE PEOPLE WHO MADE IT. Essentially it is a nonfiction piece celebrating "modern" and "scientific" advances in how chickens are kept, raised, etc. Celebrate the fact that your hens no longer have to go outside and find their own food to eat! Rejoice that now--day and night--they are kept inside cages and are fed with "all kinds of grains and other foods that are good for them." This chapter made me shudder. I had read about this in The Dorito Effect, of course, as one of the many illustrations of what is wrong with food. But this is a period-piece, if you will, showing how silly we can be.

Life in the Arctic and This is Italy are short nonfiction pieces with no given author. Both include a few photographs.

The Saddler's Horse by Margery Williams Bianco, illustrated by Grace Paull, is a short story about a saddler's horse and a cigar-store wooden Indian having a runaway adventure together.

Dick Whittington and His Cat is adapted from James Baldwin and illustrated by Peter Spier. I read a picture book by Marcia Brown (1950) last year and really enjoyed it. This story is nice, nothing unexpected, but nice.

Concluding Thoughts: The book is "flawed" in some ways in that a few of the pieces in this one reveal an America with a very different value system. But it's an opportunity to celebrate how far we've come in understanding one another as well. Some pieces sit "heavy" and others are just very light delights.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Nonfiction Plots

Just because you're writing nonfiction, doesn't mean you can get away without a story arc.

https://eerdlings.com/2016/04/28/greatest-hits-four-tips-for-writing-nonfiction-plots/

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15. Next Year's Readers: Sharing My New Nonfiction Passion


I'm starting to fall in love with nonfiction. It started years back with a book that looked at history through the lens of the oak tree.


Then there were books by Bill Bryson, a favorite author. One looks at history through the lens of our homes, and another focuses on a single amazing year in history.




Just recently, I finished listening to a history traced by what we've been drinking.



In my Audible wish list are now histories focused on salt and cod, seeds, potatoes, food, and innovations. Suddenly, I can't get enough of this way of thinking about history! One of most prolific writers of this kind of history, Mark Kurlansky, has adapted two of his most popular books for adults into picture books. Next year, I intend to read more nonfiction aloud to my fifth graders. I'll start with these two!



by Mark Kurlansky, illustrated by S.D. Schindler
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2006




by Mark Kurlansky, illustrated by S.D. Schindler
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2011





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16. This journal doesn’t care who you are (in a good way)

Hypertronic LiteraryHypertrophic Literary (AL) is open to submissions for upcoming issues. Looking for pieces that evoke a physical reaction, make readers feel something: joy, nausea, shock, desperation. Open to submissions of poetry, fiction, excerpts, and nonfiction. Hypertrophic accepts work in all genres and “[doesn’t] care who you are, if you’ve been published before, if it’s your first book or seventy-fourth.”

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17. Wanted: Work by writers who ‘like to watch the world burn’

SlashnBurn is “an anti-art arts journal seeking to publish and bring attention to work outside the conveyor belt work coming out of most workshop-based MFA programs.” Currently accepting submissions in fiction, flash fiction, comics, creative nonfiction, memoir, poetry, reviews, and blended-genre. No hard genre work. High-concept is fine, but grounded in real human conflict and action. Deadline: Rolling.

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18. Under Earth, Under Water

Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizieliński (@hipopotam) started a revolution here in the UK, with the publication by Big Picture Press back in 2013 of their now famous Maps. With that beautifully produced book we started to see something of new departure for children’s non-fiction, with publishers realising that there was an appetite for gorgeously illustrated and finely produced information books which didn’t look or feel like school textbooks.

Since then we’ve seen several new non-fiction imprints established, dedicated to bringing us eye-catching, unusual and sumptuous non-fiction for children and young people, such as Wide Eyed Editions and 360 Degrees. This is great news, especially for younger children who report choosing to read non-fiction (42% of 7-11 year olds) almost as much as they do fiction (48.2% of 7-11 year olds, source), though you’d never guess this from the imbalance in titles published and reviewed.

underearthunderwatercoverIt’s wonderful to see the return of the founders of the non-fiction revolution with a new title, Under Earth, Under Water, a substantial and wide-ranging exploration of what lies beneath the surface of the globe.

Split into two halves, allowing you to start from either end of the book by turning it around to explore either what lies beneath the earth, or under the oceans, this compendium of startling facts and quirky, fresh illustrations makes the most of its large format (a double page spread almost extends to A2), with great visual and verbal detail to pour over and a real sense of going down, down, down across the expanse of the pages.

The Earth pages cover everything from burrowing creatures to plant life in the soil, via extracting natural resources to industrial underground infrastructure. Tunnels, caves, digging up fossils and plate tectonics are all included in this rich and varied buffet brought together though a simple concept – simply exploring what is underneath our feet.

underearth1

The Water pages explore aquatic life right from the surface down to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, ocean geography, human exploration with the aid of diving equipment, the history of submarines and even shipwrecks.

underearth2

Lavishly produced, with gorgeously thick paper it is a delight to hold this book in your hands. Wonderful design, featuring lots of natural reds and browns in the Earth section and soothing shades of blues and green in the Water section, ensures exploring the diverse content is a visual treat as much as it is a spark for thinking about the world around us in new ways.

My only question mark over Under Earth, Under Water is the lack of an index. Maybe this makes it more like a box of treasures to rummage in and linger over, the sort of space where you can’t be sure what gems you’ll dig up. Although perhaps not a resource from which to clinically extract information, Under Earth, Under Water offers a great deal to explore and a very enjoyable journey to the centre of the earth.

burrow

There’s so much we could have “played” in Under Earth, Under Water. We toyed with making submarines, visiting caves, planting seeds to watch roots grow, but in the end the animal burrows won out, and we decided it was time to make our own. This began with papier mache and balloons…

burrow8

…which when dry were set into a cardboard box frame, and surrounded by layers of “soil” i.e. different coloured felt, to recreate the layering of different soil and rock types.

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burrow6

Then the burrows needed filling! Sylvanian families came to the rescue, along with nature treasures gathered from the garden.

burrow7

And soon we had a dollshouse with a difference! (Can you spot the bones and other archaeological finds waiting to be dug up from the soil??)

burrow1

burrow2

burrow3

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Whilst making our underground burrow we listened to:

  • Underwater Land by Shel Silverstein and Pat Dailey
  • Underground Overground Wombling Free….
  • Going Underground by The Jam

  • Other activities which might work well alongside reading Under Earth, Under Water include:

  • Watching live video footage from NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer in the Mariana Trench!
  • Reading Above and Below by Patricia Hegarty and Hanako Clulow. This books explores similar territory to Under Earth, Under Water – but for slightly younger children – and makes great use of split pages.
  • Digging to see what’s under the earth in your garden. We did exactly this, as a mini archaeological excavation inspired by Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
  • Creating your own underwater volcano
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    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher, Big Picture Press. The book was translated by Antonia Lloyd Jones although she is not credited in the book.

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    19. Interview: Author Carole Boston Weatherford & Illustrator Jeffery Boston Weatherford

    By Carole Boston Weatherford
    & Jeffrey Boston Weatherford

    From Carole

    Set during World War II, You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen (Atheneum, 2016) follows the training, trials and triumphs of the U.S. military's first African American pilots.

    The book pairs my poems with scratchboard illustrations by my son, Jeffrey Boston Weatherford.

    The title is our first collaboration and Jeffery's publication debut. The book, which includes a detailed timeline and links to primary sources, connects to both the language arts and social studies curricula.

    You Can Fly had a long incubation period. The egg may have been laid during a family trip to Tuskegee Institute, Alabama. The earliest version of the text was for a picture book written in second person.

    After I was unable to sell that manuscript, I sat on the egg for a few more years. Then I began re-envisioning and reshaping the manuscript as a poetry collection for middle grades-up. I switched the point of view to first person under the title "The Last Tuskegee Airmen Tells All." Still not satisfied, I changed to third person. Finally, I settled on second person.

    Around that time, Jeffery came on board. During a summer internship in children's book illustration, he created digital art to accompany my poems. We sold the package, but just before the book was about to hatch, the flight got cancelled.

    Carole & Jeffery in 2000
    I began to wonder if the book would ever leave the nest. I continued to revise the manuscript and to add poems. Jeffery and I decided to scrap the digital art in favor of scratchboard illustrations.

    Armed with a revised manuscript and sample drawings, we sold the package to Atheneum.

    In the subsequent year, Jeffery completed the illustrations and I added a few new poems.

    In mid-April, Jeffery and I received our comp copies.

    Our first book together finally has wings.

    Fly, little book, fly!

    Author & Illustrator Interview

    Jeffery and I recently interviewed each other about You Can Fly.

    Jeffery: Why did you want to write this book?

    Carole: The Tuskegee Airmen's saga moved me personally. It is powerful—historically, politically and emotionally. I thought the story begged for a poetic treatment.

    Carole: You were a serious gamer growing up. Did gaming influence how you illustrated the battle scenes?

    Jeffery: Yes, absolutely. I had lots of residual visual references from battles across galaxies. I played everything from Halo to Call of Duty.

    Jeffery: When did you first notice my artistic talent?

    Carole: Your kindergarten teacher prodded you to finish coloring and work up to potential. By third grade, I was concerned that you were doodling planes, cars, weapons and anime characters in your notebook rather than paying attention.

    Around middle school, I realized that your drawings were good. I put you in studio art classes, starting with cartooning. By high school, you were taking private art lessons with the assistant principal who became a mentor.

    Carole: What is your favorite illustration from the book?

    Jeffery: My favorite is of the boxers Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. It's a closeup scene from their historic rematch.

    Jeffery: What's yours?

    Carole: The one where two planes on a mission have bombed an enemy aircraft. The explosion is so animated; like a comic book.

    Jeffery: What is your favorite poem from the book?

    Carole: It's "Head to the Sky," the first poem in the book and also the first that I wrote—early on when the project was envisioned as a picture book. "Head to the Sky" reflects the power of a dream fueled by self-determination.

    Carole: Tell me about your first flight.

    Jeffery: I had a window seat and was looking outside. As the plane sped down the runway, I said, "We're blasting off!"

    Carole: That was hilarious. Well, your career as a children's book illustrator is off to a flying start. How did it feel when you first saw the printed book?

    Jeffery: Like a child at Christmas.

    From the promotional copy:

    I WANT YOU! says the poster of Uncle Sam. But if you’re a young black man in 1940, he doesn’t want you in the cockpit of a war plane. Yet you are determined not to let that stop your dream of flying.

    So when you hear of a civilian pilot training program at Tuskegee Institute, you leap at the chance. Soon you are learning engineering and mechanics, how to communicate in code, how to read a map. At last the day you’ve longed for is here: you are flying!

    From training days in Alabama to combat on the front lines in Europe, this is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the groundbreaking African-American pilots of World War II.

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    20. Mental Health May: Your Brain, an Occasionally Unreliable Narrator

    If you’ve read The Great Gatsby, Lolita, or Wuthering Heights, you may recognize the phrase. It’s used to describe a narrator who isn’t telling you or can’t tell you the whole story. They could be naïve or they could be intentionally... Read the rest of this post

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    21. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #483:Featuring Jeffery Boston Weatherford

    ” … Of more than 400,000 pilots trained / by the CPTP, only 2,000 are black; / less than half of a percent. / Yet 2,000 dreams of flight / are finally off the ground.”   Today I’ve got a bit of art from Carole Boston Weatherford’s newest book, You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen, […]

    3 Comments on 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #483:Featuring Jeffery Boston Weatherford, last added: 5/15/2016
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    22. Guest Post: Jennifer Swanson on Nonfiction Picks Up STEAM!

    By Jennifer Swanson
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

    If you’ve been to a bookstore lately, you may have noticed the STEAM-y new trend in nonfiction children’s books.

    No, I’m not talking about romance novels, it’s STEAM—Science Technology Engineering Art and Math. From picture books to middle grade, to YA, STEAM topics are hot right now.

    The STEAM books can include biographies and histories of scientists, artists, and engineers, but also topics that range from the simple:

    Miranda Paul’s book Water is Water (Roaring Brook, 2015). It gives a beautiful and lyrical explanation of the water cycle for young readers.

    To the complex:

    Nancy Castaldo’s book, The Story of Seeds: From Mendel's Garden to Your Plate, and How There's More of Less to Eat Around the World on Seeds (Houghton Mifflin, 2016), talks about the genetics of plants.

    And my own Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge, 2016) which introduces the reader to the cutting edge science through high performance sports.

    So, how do you jump on board this STEAM-y trend?

    Here are a few tips:

    1. Ask questions like a kid.

    Kids are naturally inquisitive. They are always asking how things work, why things happen, and where things come from.

    Tap into your kid-side and find a topic that you’re curious about. Then dig deep and look for the cool aspects of it. Kids love trivia. See if you can find something that will make your reader say, “Hmmmm…. I didn’t know that.” Or “Wow! That’s so cool!”

    For example: Your brain can store up to 2.5 petabytes of knowledge—That’s like 300 years of T.V. shows!

    2. Think like a kid

    Kids want to understand so when explaining things, break complex ideas into simple ones. The best way is to use kid-friendly examples, something that taps into the knowledge they have.

    For instance, instead of saying something is 10meters tall, say it’s 3 stories high.

    One hundred twenty yards becomes as big as a football field.

    A nanoparticle is 100,000 times smaller than the edge of a piece of paper.

    3. Talk like a kid

    Use kid-friendly language. Activate your words! Use short sentences to amp up the excitement or tension. Use longer sentences for explanation to make sure your readers understand the concepts you want to get across. Then mix things up. Put short sentences after long sentences. Add endings like, “Now that’s tiny!” or “Bet you didn’t know that.” It makes your tone more exciting and conversational.

    4. Be gross like a kid

    Sometimes the best way to capture your reader with science is to gross them out. They are, after all, kids.

    For example: Did you know that in one day, your feet can produce more than 1/4th of a gallon of sweat. (P- Ewww!)

    5. Tap into a kid’s imagination

    Children have very vivid imaginations. By using fun rhyming, rhythmic language, and amazing descriptions, you will grab their attention and get them to think. You can also fill your book with awesome illustrations and photographs to get your reader to visualize what is happening in the book.

    Following these tips may help you to STEAM into nonfiction with your own books!

    Cynsational Notes

    Jennifer Swanson is a self-professed science geek and the author of over twenty-five nonfiction and fiction books for kids. She is the author of Brain Games (NGKids, 2015) and the forthcoming Super Gear. Her book How Hybrid Cars Work (The Child’s World) received a starred review from Booklist and also a Top 10 Books for Youth 2012 Award from Booklist Online.

    Several of Jennifer’s other books have received “highly recommended” reviews from the National Science Teacher Association, as well as School Library Journal. Her favorite saying to her students is to “notice the science all around you.”

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    23. Baseball: Then to Wow!


    I always love to find a new nonfiction sports book to add to our sports basket, so I bought this one when I saw it.  Sports Illustrated for Kids seems to publish stuff that is really interesting for kids. I figured (just by the cover) that kids would like Baseball: Then to Wow! but when I opened it I realized how packed it was with single-page spreads that I could use for mini lessons and small group instruction too.

    The visuals in this book are BRILLIANT.  Every page focuses on a different topic and then shows how things have changed over the years.  Some pages, show a timeline--for example the page on Catcher's Masks starts in the 1870s and goes decade by decade showing what they looked like and some facts about them over the years.  Another page, The Five-Tool Player compares two players in a Then and Now table. Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout.

    I don't know a lot about baseball but this book is engaging as a reader because of the amount of information and the way it is displayed.  There is a lot for kids in this book. First of all, I think they will just enjoy it for the book that it is. It is a great read packed with fascinating info. As readers, they can learn a lot about how to read visuals--there is such a variety of visual information that I can see using several pages in lessons as we learn to navigate nonfiction. I also think as writers, they'll want to try some things out.  I have lots of kids who write about sports and start out in pretty traditional ways. This gives them new ways to think about how they might best share information with readers.

    This book is packed with information as well as real photos, artifacts, maps and more.  It is definitely going to be one of my go-to nonfiction texts next year.  (If you go to the book on Amazon, you can "Look Inside" and see some of the visuals.)

    0 Comments on Baseball: Then to Wow! as of 5/16/2016 6:34:00 AM
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    24. Baseball stats & history: Two terrific new books (ages 7-12)

    Baseball season is in full swing. The weather has been fabulous for baseball viewing. Share these new books with kids who love baseball stats, stories and players.

    Baseball: Then to Wow!
    by the editors of Sports Illustrated Kids
    Time, Inc. Books, 2016
    Your local library
    Amazon
    ages 7-12
    Whether it’s looking at changes in equipment or comparing playing styles then and now, this high-interest book provides opportunities for fans to analyze different aspects of the game. Emerson 4th and 5th graders are loving this book. Here's one student's favorite page -- showing the way baseball gloves developed from the 1880s to present day.
    Great layout, photographs and illustrations engage kids and help them see the progression of the game over the past 150 years. The information is detailed, but broken into short chunks that kids can absorb.
    Excellent photographs will draw kids in, but it's really the text that will keep them coming back for more. Even die-hard fans will learn new aspects of the game's history, equipment and players.

    Check out this full review by my friend Brenda Kahn over at Prose & Kahn to read more about this new Sports Illustrated baseball book. She calls it "a fine addition to any collection. The clean layout provides an organized, humorous journey for the eyes."
    Baseball Stats and the Stories Behind Them
    What Every Fan Needs to Know

    by Eric Braun
    Capstone, 2016
    Preview on Google Books
    Your local library
    Amazon
    ages 7-12
    Baseball fans love comparing stats to get a handle on how their favorite teams and players are doing. Braun introduces kids to the math behind the stats with this clear, high-interest introduction covering everything from basic batting averages to slugging and fielding percentages. Full of up-to-date stats and photos.

    Look through this preview on Google Books to get a sense of the math and text -- I think this will be right for 4th and 5th graders, although some younger students will definitely enjoy reading this, perhaps with more parent support.

    Examples are current, up-to-date stats. I especially like how the text explains both the math and the significance of the stats. Braun really captures the excitement of the game, and the way that stats help fans compare players.

    If you're looking for a baseball math book for younger fans, you might check out The Math of Baseball, by Ian Mahaney.

    The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Time, Inc. (via BlueSlip Media) and Capstone Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

    ©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

    0 Comments on Baseball stats & history: Two terrific new books (ages 7-12) as of 5/16/2016 8:00:00 AM
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    25. Wanted: Fiction about India & the global south

    Litro MagazinePrint & digital journal Litro Magazine (UK) is accepting submissions for its October issue. Theme: India and the Global South. Accepts short fiction, flash/micro fiction, and nonfiction (memoir, literary journalism, travel narratives). Length: 4000 words max. Deadline: August 18, 2016.

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