#FridayFive: September 28th, 2018
Greetings, friends! It’s finally Friday (thank goodness!) and in Washington, DC, where I’m based, it’s been raining practically nonstop for weeks – we need some great books to let a little sunshine in! Luckily, I’ve got 5 of them to share with you: here are a handful of the best recent non-fiction releases I’ve come across recently.
David Stabler, Ill. Doogie Horner
I love learning about the real people behind my favorite books. This fun and informative book gives biographical details of not only the usual suspects (Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, and L.M. Montgomery), but also some of the less frequently discussed ones, such as Stan Lee, creator of the Spiderman comics, and writers of color like Langston Hughes, Sherman Alexie, and Zora Neale Hurston. With fabulously appealing, cartoonish illustrations and a fun organization of information highlighting their down-to-earth beginnings, this well-written collection is full of fascinating facts and will help kids relate more easily to these lauded luminaries of literature. Stabler also acknowledges that there are more authors he didn’t have time to cover and shares fun tidbits about them at the book’s end (did you know that Virginia Woolf had a pet squirrel and a pygmy marmoset? Neither did I…). If you dig this one, Stabler and Horner have a whole series of Kid books: Kid Presidents (2014), Kid Athletes (2015), and Kid Artists (2016) are the heirs apparent to Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt’s superlative Lives of the… non-fiction biographical series.
I can think of very few people more inspiring than activist, writer, and scientist Dr. Temple Grandin, who – perhaps more than anyone – has shown that autistic people’s atypical ways of looking at the world can make them valuable contributors with unique perspectives to offer the world. With 25 appealing, varied projects emphasizing the science behind them, Grandin shows mechanically-inclined, curious kids the rich history behind many of the most critical ideas to shape inventions and highlights many inventors and thinkers not usually given their proper due (such as Maria A. Beasley, who patented the Life-Raft, and Patricia Bath, the first African-American doctor to receive a medical patent). There are five chapters with different categories of projects included: things made of paper, things made of wood, things that fly, optical illusions, levers and pulleys, and a detailed bibliography closes the book so that kids can follow up on what interests them most. Many diagrams are included, some new and some reprinted from patents and other old sources, that will make kids feel like they can become the next DaVinci, Tesla, or Edison. If this book is a hit with your child, there are a number of excellent biographies of Grandin for them to read as well, such as Julia Finley Mosca’s The Girl Who Thought in Pictures (2017), or you could hand them Catherine Thimmesh’s outstanding, newly updated edition of Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women (2018).
Chris Barton, Ill. Victo Ngai
It’s not every day that you get to read a fascinating, well-researched, gorgeously illustrated, and even playful – yes, playful! – piece of nonfiction that combines history, subterfuge, and art, but that’s what Chris Barton and Victo Ngai have accomplished exactly that with the dazzling Dazzle Ships. They tell the story of a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve lieutenant commander named Norman Wilkinson, who suggested painting the British ships in wild, optically confusing patterns to combat German torpedo attacks. Complex military history and strategy are made comprehensible without resorting to oversimplification, with terms like U-boats and Allied Power explained in clear, concise language. This would be an excellent book to pair with other books on the topic of camouflage, perhaps some of those focused on its use in nature such as Invisible to the Eye: Animals in Disguise (Kendra Muntz, 2014) or even a photo riddle book of disguised creatures like What in the Wild? Mysteries of Nature Concealed – and Revealed: Ear-Tickling Poems (David M. Schwartz, 2010). Or you could use it as a gateway into one of the many fictional and nonfictional accounts of WWI for kids – I particularly recommend the scrapbook-style graphic novel Archie’s War (Marcia Williams, 2007).
G. Neri, Ill. David Litchfield
Admittedly, I’m not as familiar with human music as I am with books, but ever since I was introduced to the songs of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, I’ve been crazy about them. That’s probably because Simon’s lyrics are as close to poetry as it gets and I’m wild for poems. At any rate, this poem-based biography of the dynamic duo is a treasure for parents, grandparents, and kids who are seasoned or brand-new fans. It’s not only an excellent way to deepen one’s enjoyment of S&G’s musical output, but also gives kids a better sense of what life was like in the U.S. during their heyday and of music history in 20th century America more generally. The crisscrossing chronology and structure (song titles and lyrics are borrowed as section headers) and lyrical language perfectly mimic the Simon and Garfunkel vibe while commenting intelligently on why it worked so well (Neri describes the blend of their voices as “autumn and spring/rolled into one”). A music lover and biographer of musicians such as Johnny Cash, Neri also gives attention to Simon and Garfunkel’s diverse musical influences, including a section at the book’s end entitled “Musical Connections,” and features a discography and bibliography as well so that the story of these lives can be paired with the music it inspired.
Jamia Wilson, Ill. Andrea Pippins
One month – that’s all the time allotted for black history in most American schools. And in my opinion, it’s far from enough. Most American kids know who Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were, but few have heard of Malorie Blackman. That’s one of many reasons why I’m so glad this excellent anthology of achievers from Beyonce to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor exists: it “will help the next generation to chase their own dream…whatever it may be.” Thrillingly modern in its design, with lively colors and geometric backgrounds, it includes not only basic biographical information about each included individual, but also samplings of their most moving quotations and brief explanations of their historical and/or cultural significance. One of the things that sets this volume apart is that it isn’t just about Americans: Mo Farah, England’s long distance gold medalist born in Somalia, Crimean war nurse Mary Seacole, and writer/activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche of Nigeria are also included, to name a few. There are also Americans profiled who kids might not have encountered in school, like Matthew Henson, the first African-American explorer of the Arctic regions, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, or painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. Everyone should read this book and can follow up with individual biographies of those profiled in it!
Thanks for reading up on my #fridayfive – I hope you’ll let me know what you think if and when you read them yourself! Until next time, read on!