Nonfiction Books



1000 Play Thinks by Ivan Moscovich. il Tim Robinson.
Workman Publishing: NY, 2001.

This is an amazing book of puzzles, illusions, paradoxes and games. It's an exciting adventure for the mathematical mind. Too overwhelming for those who are not, but specific puzzles can be used from the book to be shared with a child or class less mathematical. It is a great resource to go back to again and again for a challenge or to demonstrate fun aspects of math.

related-geometry, numbers, logic and probability, topology, points and lines, graphs and networks, curves and circles, perception, shapes and polygons, patterns, mathematical concepts, science recreation, dissections
RL=5th & up, as young as 1st grade for single puzzles

Ain't Gonna Study War No More by Milton Meltzer.
HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 1985.

I was amazed when I first found this book. During the Vietnam War, I was too young to understand the resistance to the war. Through all of the formative years of my life the subject was taboo. The implication was that the resisters were not behaving properly. The implication was that this was the first time in U.S. history that there was major opposition to war. Meltzer documents resistance to all of the major wars in which the U.S. has participated (until 1985). He puts into words things that I feel deeply in my heart. One of the most important freedoms of all is to decide individually whether you are willing to participate in a specific war or wars-and to what extent. If a government can coerce you into war, do you truly have freedom? Is it a positive thing to be willing to go to war and kill other people without thinking objectively about why both sides are fighting?

I believe this is a very important book. These questions need to be thought about and discussed openly and respectfully. Both sides of the issue may never agree, but it is my hope that people will not be called cowards because they believe killing is wrong. It is my hope that people will not teach children that patriotism is more important than thinking and morals. It is my hope that people will look beyond propaganda to other factors of war that are not talked about openly and would be considered less acceptable (ex. economics, control of resources).
RL=7th-YA

Alone Across the Arctic: One Woman's Epic Journey by Dog Team by Pam Flowers with Ann Dixon.
Alaska Northwest Books/Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company: Portland, OR, 2001.

Read this exciting account of Pam Flowers's trip across the Arctic. She completely changed her life to follow her dream. As an adult, she decided to learn to raise sled dogs and learn the survival skills necessary for travelling alone with a team in the wilderness. She eventually became the first woman to journey alone across the Arctic with a team of sled dogs. She has written in detail about the preparation, routine, coping, and teamwork required for them to succeed against so many odds.

Her story is awe-inspiring and beautiful and so full of wisdom and love for her dogs. She is an inspiration for all who have a dream that may seem impossible. Or one that will not gain support from those around you. Her message is not just that you can do extraordinary things if you have the motivation and discipline, but also that you should be yourself even when that self is totally different from what is considered normal.

I had the great fortune to hear Pam Flowers speak at the Bangor Public Library, ME. She has a great gift of storytelling, and her stories are true. She has so much strength and emotion in her presentation.
related-Alaska, Arctic regions, dogsledding, journeys, survival
RL=4th-adult

Amazing Sun Fun Activities by Michael Daley.
Learning Triangle Press/McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc: NY, 1998.

Discussion of how solar energy is used and easy activities that can be done with household materials to further understanding and inspire continued inventiveness.
RL=3rd-7th

Americans Who Tell the Truth by Robert Shetterly.
Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Group USA: NY, 2005.

Shetterly's portraits of famous Americans are awesome. Even more powerful are the quotes chosen to go along with them. I know that it will inspire readers to learn more about these incredible people. What a great idea it was to combine the two!

My husband and I had the good fortune to view the portraits as well at the Bangor Public Library, Maine.
RL=6th-YA (Due to the content. 5th may understand also.)

The Ancient Technology Series by Michael Woods and Mary B. Woods.
Runestone Press/Lerner Publishing Group: Minneapolis, MN, 2000.


Ancient Agriculture
Ancient Communication
Ancient Computing
Ancient Construction
Ancient Machines
Ancient Medicine
Ancient Transportation
Ancient Warfare

This is an awesome World History series. I found the books at my local library and introduced them to my sons to show them different types of technology. I wanted to impress on them the brilliance and importance of discoveries made thousands of years ago. Many things are still used today because they are still among the best ways to accomplish tasks. I also wanted them to learn that there are things that ancient people knew that were lost for centuries and needed to be rediscovered.
RL=3rd-6th

The Animal Atlas by Barbara Taylor. il. Kenneth Lilly.
Dorling Kindersley Limited/Alfred A. Knopf: NY, 1992.

The animals are grouped by habitat and continent with maps showing their locations. The pictures and captions are much like the popular Eyewitness series.
RL=3rd-5th

Archimedes: Greatest Scientist of the Ancient World by D. C. Ipsen.
Enslow Publishers, Inc: Hillside, NJ, 1988.

In searching for biographical information for my children, I came across this book at the library. Certainly I had heard of Archimedes, but I had no idea how interesting his life was. This book left me wanting to learn more about him and other people from history who were so focused on the problem at hand.
RL=5th-YA

Around the World in a Hundred Years: From Henry the Navigator to Magellan by Jean Fritz.
G. P. Putnam's Sons: NY, 1994.

The Ancient Greek philosophers wondered about what lay beyond places marked on their maps. Some of them tried to mathematically find answers about the unknown. When the Romans conquered, they destroyed the phenomenal library in Alexandria where much of the scolarship was happening. Neither the Romans nor the Christians (who came to power later) encouraged questioning the unknown. As a result, maps prior to 1400 A.D. were not too accurate. However, during the 1400's people did start to be curious again about what lay beyond their regions (possibly because regional rulers were gaining in power and they were less controlled by the Church). They also believed there were fortunes to be made in trading foreign goods and wanted to be the first to acquire these trade goods. Jean Fritz has done an excellent job of exploring the trips of the adventurers who started to map the world.
RL=4th-6th

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François.
St. Martin's Press: NY, 2007.

All of my adult life I have wanted to make good crusty breads. After having my second child, I did try, using a book written for bread machines. The idea was to mix with the bread machine and bake in the oven. The dough was too sticky to handle. The bread ended up too heavy, and I still had a mess to clean up.

My first reaction to this title is that it must be an exaggeration. After reading the introduction and mixing a batch, I learned that the hands on preparation is really that short and simple. Hertzberg (a chemist) and François (a professional baker) systematically worked through the baking process, eliminating unneeded, time-consuming procedures. Those who have made or tried to make bread know that mixing and kneading, rising, shaping, and cleaning all add to the aggravation of making bread. In the Five Minutes a Day approach, mixing is simple and quick. It can be done with a wooden spoon in a couple minutes, cutting down on cleanup. There is no kneading. You mix, let it rise for two hours and refrigerate. You make a large amount and take out only the amount needed each time. Shape it quickly, let it rise for a short time on the wooden paddle you use to put it in the oven (or a baking pan), then bake (with a small amount of water in a pan underneath). It is easy enough that teens and pre-teens with oven experience could make the bread. And amazingly there is little mess.

The basic recipe does what it says it does. I had good (not just edible) bread on the first try. I'm ready to move on to the next bread type (after only one batch). The basic is white bread. Variations include rye, wheat, pumpernickel, olive, oat, potato, semolina, bagels, flatbreads, and dessert breads. There are more, but these are common breads. Some require more ingredients, others different handling.

A pizza stone and peel (paddle) are recommended, for ease and proper baking. The two factors that are easiest to mess up are the amount of dough you shape and bake and the time for baking, since the amount is not very specific and the amount affects the time. Read from the beginning through the master recipe before making a batch. There are techniques and things you should know about ingredients before baking.

related-breadmaking, baking, recipes, food
RL=6th and up

The Atlas of Oceans by Linda Sonntag.
Aladdin Books Ltd: London, 2001.

This is a very nice introduction to the oceans of the world. It is both a geographical resource and science reference with maps and beautiful pictures relating to the ways local creatures and people rely on the oceans. It also discusses how the ocean works and early exploration.
RL=3rd-5th

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts On Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama.
Crown Publishers/Random House, Inc: NY, 2006.

Senator Obama speaks to our people in an uncommonly forthright and personal way about issues that have long remained unaddressed. In his book, he discusses why politics since the Vietnam War has been a never-ending haranguing of opposite campaigns. He suggests a way to start to move beyond the partisan politics that has existed for so long in order to alleviate the difficulties that are looming-the growing economic insecurity of our families, racial and religious tensions, and global threats (political, economical and environmental).

One of the things that strikes me about the book is Obama's talking of proud American traditions. One of those traditions is democratic discourse. He says that between World War II and the Vietnam War politicians may have disagreed, but they still worked together to solve the problem at hand. It has not been that way since (my whole lifetime). And he says "What is needed is a broad majority of Americans-Democrats, Republicans, and Independents of goodwill-who are reengaged in the project of national renewal, and who see their own self-interest as inextricably linked to the interests of others."

related-politics and politicians, legislators of the United States, African Americans, Congress, Senate, national characteristics, ideals, governmental philosophy, values, opportunity, faith, race, family-his and in general
RL=YA-adult

Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang.
Bloomsbury Press: NY, 2008.

I found this book to be an excellent critique of free trade dogma. The author uses history (the development of countries now rich and crises of those practicing neo-liberal economics) to refute the all too common harangue that free trade is the only way to succeed in the global market. With my limited knowledge of economics (basic economics and government classes), I have never believed the free trade mantra and have not read or heard anything giving a convincing argument-only that it is the best and necessary for success. In fact, it seems that, as in politics, supporters believe uttering the phrase is all that is required to win an argument. The author states that some degree of globalization is necessary but that protections need to be in place for developing countries to be able to compete (as has been true of all of the rich countries as they were developing). The author only discusses how the reigning policies affect developing countries (as he is from Korea and most concerned with their issues) not how the policies affect even the rich countries themselves (i.e. the loss of manufacturing and production in the U.S. and lower standard of living for the middle and lower classes). I think many of his comments also apply to our (the U.S.) situation in the past 3 decades, though we may not have been as greatly impacted as developing countries-yet (or maybe it's just happening more slowly). All of the success stories given have a mixture of open trade and protectionism, instead of following the orthodoxy that regimes of recent decades have tried to force on us, and the IMF, World Bank, and World Trade Organization have tried to force on developing countries. My belief is that, if it isn't working for either us or developing countries, we need a new direction.

Bad Samaritans is accessible to those with at least an average high school education level (whether from school or life) and a desire to know about the subject. It is clear and sensible, and those wanting a stronger American economy could learn from it. It would also be a good selection for government or economics classes.

I believe the title is unfortunate for distribution in the U.S., as is the repetition of referring to rich countries as "Bad Samaritans." It is interesting to me that the author dismisses culture as too broad to define economics and then lumps us all into the category of "rich countries." Our country as a whole has little control over what is happening economically (and is suffering from current policies). It is a few forceful people who control the situation-not countries. Everyone else is following blindly, because they don't understand. However, with a little education and understanding a movement can be created which can have some effect on those controlling. For now, my advice is to ignore the stigmatization and read the overall message.

My local library had a running list this summer of book suggestions for the Presidential candidates to read. I missed my chance to add it, but I recommend this book!

related-free trade vs protectionism, capitalism vs subsidies and state ownership, IMF, World Bank, WTO
RL=YA-adult (adult book)

Bees, Snails, & Peacock Tails by Betsy Franco. il Steve Jenkins.
Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2008.

Bees, Snails, & Peacock Tails is a delightful mixture of mathematical design, the science of nature, poetry, and art. The focus of the poems is on designs found in the Animal Kingdom and on characteristics of the animals specified. Some of the patterns are decorations on their bodies, and some are related to their behavior. There are extra notes about each creature afterwards.

I enjoy the whole book, but the best part is the mixed media collages. The 2 page spreads are stunning. Out of 13, there are about 7 I think are perfect, and 3 others I found appealing. I love the variety of paper textures and the use of color and balance. I appreciate the delicacy of the details.

related-nature, poetry, mathematical patterns and designs, animals, illustrators, paper art and crafts
RL=2nd-4th, read aloud toddler-1st

related books:
Birdsongs by Besty Franco. il Steve Jenkins
Living Color by Steve Jenkins
What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Robin Page. il Steve Jenkins

Ben Franklin's Almanac by Candace Fleming.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing: NY, 2003.

The layout of this book is great. It has the look of Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack. It starts with a timeline for Ben's life, and then each article is an interesting part of Franklin's life. The illustrations are period drawings, and there are engaging tidbits that are unusual in children's biographies. It's not only a fascinating portrayal of Ben Franklin but also a unique peek at the beginning of our country.
RL=4th or 5th & up

Between Earth & Sky: Legends of Native American Places by Joseph Bruchac. il Thomas Locker.
Harcourt Brace & Company: NY, 1996.

This book shows the land we love in a more sacred and majestic way. The legends remind us of lessons that are important to us all.
RL=2nd-3rd

The Big Bug Search by Caroline Young. il. Ian Jackson.
Usborne Publishing Ltd: London, 1996.

This is an excellent book for curious young ones who are not yet reading or reading well. There are large habitat pictures in which you look for various insects. The names of the insects and pictures are given with a sentence or two as a hint of where they can be found.
RL=PreK-1st

Bowman's Store: A Journey to Myself by Joseph Bruchac.
Dial Books/Penguin Books: NY, 1997.

I knew about Joseph Bruchac before reading his autobiography, so I do not know if this has influenced my thinking. Bruchac is a renowned storyteller of Abenaki folklore. He is known for researching and passing on traditions and supporting other Indians/Native Americans in regaining their heritage as well. I didn't know, however, that he was not raised in those traditions - manner of life, yes, but not the stories. His grandfather hid the fact that he was Abenaki to avoid harassment.

Bruchac's life is interesting. His family life was unusual, living with his grandparents instead of his parents, who he saw occasionally. His grandparents drew from different heritages in raising him - a strong moral background and outdoor and indoor learning were equally important, with lots of time to explore on his own. As I described it, not so different from my own, but for different reasons. I lived with my family, a large family, but they tended to go their own ways, so I was often alone.

Bowman's Store is largely about the things that are related to his grandfather and his heritage, and the love and protection he felt from his grandparents. Bruchac weaves in Abenaki stories in many of the chapters. Besides his passionate story (heartaches and affirmations), the book is also an accounting of rural life in New York state, primarily in the 1950s.

In my reading of biographies, I have found many to be plain and of interest only for the information. This is the opposite. The telling itself is worth the reading. The Abenaki perspective also adds to the personal history. It made me see some things about history that I hadn't noticed before. One of the truly wonderful aspects of biographies, multiple perspectives.

related-Abenaki Indians, Indian authors - United States, Native Americans, storytelling and storytellers, folklore, traditions, heritage, conduct of life
RL=7th and up

The Boys' War by Jim Murphy.
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin: NY, 1990.

Jim Murphy describes the American Civil War through the eyes of youth soldiers using excerpts of first hand accounts. The excitement and adventure that the boys expected upon enlisting is depicted as well as the dreariness and deprivation of the camps and horrors of the war. Not only does the book accurately depict the Civil War, including pictures from it, but also war in general. The realities of war as described ought to be emphasized more in school studies, including the involvement of children and civilians, since they are standard in all wars, not anomalies. The Civil War is the best example Americans have of what war is really like, and if it were truly taught, it would serve as an indication of why our country ought to be trying more seriously to avoid war. War does, in fact, devastate the region it is being waged in, always.

The Civil War was the last war in which large numbers of young American boys were involved, because rule changes were made soon after. Historians of the time, however, largely ignored the part underage boys played. This concept has been portrayed in many children's novels, such as The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane and Charley Skedaddle by Patricia Beatty. related-United States history, personal narratives from the American Civil War, children as soldiers, recruiting, enlistment, battles, prisons and mobile hospitals, lack of supplies, disease
RL=7th-YA

Bread Comes to Life: A Garden of Wheat and a Loaf to Eat by George Levenson. photos by Shmuel Thaler.
Tricycle Press/Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2004.

This is an exciting nonfiction book. Who doesn't enjoy a nice piece of bread? The author shows a baker sowing his own wheat in his backyard, the wheat growing through different stages, the processes of his harvesting and separating the seeds and grinding it into flour, and then the making of the dough for a loaf. It is shown in such a simple way that it appears that any of us could try it ourselves. Great photos, by the way.

Most of the book is simple, like a picture book. The last pages discuss wheat a little more - as a staple food, backyard growing, harvesting wheat grass to eat, chewing the grains to make a chewing gum, how bread rises, and a simple recipe for a loaf.

I have been wanting to try to make some bread for a while and have been procrastinating. I can make my own pizza dough. So, when I read this book, it inspired me. I'd like to try growing some of my own wheat. Somehow I thought the process would be more difficult or would require a larger space to grow. If you're used to some gardening, it sounds pretty simple. Check it out, and maybe try it yourself. If not, the book will at least give young ones a greater appreciation of what they are eating, the loving process from start to finish.

related-bread, wheat, baking, gardening, bakers, food
RL=K-5th, all ages, read aloud to toddlers-K

Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?: The Great Depression 1929-1933 by Milton Meltzer.
Facts on File: NY, 1991.
Originally published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc: NY, 1969.

This is not a new book, but it is gaining in importance as our economy is being pushed closer towards a catastrophe. Within our country there has been argument about how the 1930s Depression was handled ever since it happened. There are some people now saying that the sooner we have a collapse the better-we will then be able to start rebuilding. They are ignoring the widespread devastation that would result, and there are many people again who would do little to help individuals through the devastation. This is an account of the 1930s Depression by a historian who lived through it.

The primary focus of the book is how the American people were affected by not just the October 1929 Stock Market crash, but also the massive laying off of workers and salary cuts resulting from working at all having more importance than the salary or conditions. He touches on FDR's New Deal but does not give many details of the programs or their effects.

I put off reading this book because I know enough about this period of widespread unemployment, poverty, and homelessness to know the book would be depressing. There is no cheerful book about the Great Depression.

This is a subject that was barely covered in my years of American history classes. We read maybe a chapter in 9th grade and some in 5th grade, too. It was never really discussed. Yet, it is such an important subject to learn about, particularly now, since for the last two and a half decades (1980s-2000s) parallels have been appearing. We have seen massive layoffs by corporations (with the corporations showing profits as a result of the layoffs), many years of cutting workers' benefits and increasing workload, the ceasing of manufacturing in our country, huge increases in prices (especially food, fuel, and real estate), home mortgages and other debt that people cannot hope to pay, a larger gap between the wealthy and everyone else, a frenzy of buying plus stock and real estate speculation similar to that of the 1920s, and a great lack of confidence in the economy as a whole by both businessmen and workers.

In the early 1990s, there was a trend emerging indicating the possibility of another Great Depression. Investors have, since the late 1980s, used one industry after another to try to prop up the economy (and when that industry is maximized they move on to another). The latest industries (real estate and oil) cannot be sustained, and their crash could bring the whole thing down because of their importance as necessities. In the 1990s, a shift in priorities might have stopped the crisis. That shift didn't happen. Since the election of G. W. Bush in 2000, it seems there has been instead a rush towards an inevitable crash. It is so important to study the 1920s and 1930s to learn how we can avoid or alleviate the worst conditions.

This time around we are facing some frightening differences. In the 1930s, there was a lack of jobs, but a workforce skilled in manufacturing, so they were prepared to work once given a job-not this time. Also in the 1930s, there were many more families involved in the growing of food. The ones who still had their homes could at least grow some food and possibly feed others. It has been generations since the bulk of our people grew their own food. Knowing these dangers you would think our government would want to avoid a crash, but now as then, they are refusing to interfere in business whatever the cost.

As with many Meltzer books, this is just a starting point. He does give references at the end for further reading, and hopefully, his readers will read more.
RL=YA-adult

Buried Blueprints: Maps and Sketches of Lost Worlds and Mysterious Places by Albert Lorenz and Joy Schleh.
Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers (no copyright page).

My sons love this catalogue of fourteen legendary places. Included are an incredibly detailed, fold-out illustration of each place and an introductory description of each place and time. Many of the places are known historically, but little is known of them. Some are only legend or fiction even.
RL=3rd-5th

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman.
Henry Holt and Company: NY, 2009.
Printz Honor Award

The focus of this biography is Charles Darwin's adulthood, primarily his married life, but also showing his own struggle with the subject he chose to study. After returning from his world trip on the Beagle, Charles set about cataloging his specimens and mailing some to experts who could verify his own suspicions of rarity. Even before he decided to marry, he realized the importance of his independence for his career and that he would be lucky to find a wife (in that time period) who would accept the controversial material he was compelled to study.

The newish field of biological study, which included the collecting and comparing of specimens, was in fact leading biologists towards the understanding that species do change over time. He was not the only one to come to this understanding on his own, though he also used his observations of people and pets to form his views. Unfortunately, this was counter to the Christian world view of the time. Darwin knew the difficult decision he had to make for himself regarding the contradiction. So it would be that much harder for others to accept, because either they were more religious than him or they were not looking at variations of creatures day after day. Then, after coming to the conclusion that his theory was right, to publicize the knowledge in such a hostile environment was something he feared to do. He delayed publishing his theories for about twenty years, partly because he wanted them to be irrefutable, but also somewhat out of fear of the public's reaction.

Darwin found a wife who respected his work, his cousin Emma, but she also did worry about the contradictions between his work and religion. They had a happy marriage, but he exhibited recurring illnesses, which likely were related to his anxiety over his work and his fear that it would not be accepted. Partly because Emma could not embrace his views. He was compelled to do the work, because to him it was incontrovertible. But knowing oneself and broadcasting the knowledge are two different things. It took another biologist publishing a very similar belief to motivate him to finally publish his work.

I like Heiligman's approach to Darwin's life and work. Nowadays this subject is still seen mostly as the contradiction between science and religion, with little of the actual work involved in the discussion. It is good to see the struggle within the man himself and interactions with his friends, family and colleagues on the subject. It is also good to have some clarifications about the religious environment of the time, to see past beliefs that have changed (like the idea that God created each species as unchangeable). It is important to understand that some of his work can be accepted by all, even if the whole of evolution theory is not accepted for religious or other reasons.

For me, there was a little too much focus on Emma's resistance to Charles' theories. It was reiterated too many times, but I like that the book centered around the idea, because her concerns are the crux of why his work is still not accepted by many. As open as she was to her husband, she still feared to accept his evidence. Also, the religious and social climate was so different then than now. Religion permeated all of life for so many. I think it is important for people to see how much our beliefs have changed since then, whether we are religious or not.

related-Charles Darwin, Emma Wedgwood Darwin, naturalists, evolution, British history, The Origin of Species
RL=YA-adult

Circles: Fun Ideas for Getting A-Round in Math by Catherine Sheldrick Ross. il. Bill Slavin.
Addison-Wesley Publishing Company: Reading, MA, 1992.

Many interesting circle facts are included-and some ways to explore circles, too. Some of the exercises can be done with young children, but most require good motor skills.
RL=3rd-5th

Cities by Robert Royston. ed by Isaac Asimov.
Facts On File Publications: NY, 1985.

The book was written with a view towards the future. Although it was published a while ago, it still has interesting and futuristic information. Certainly, the cities are still getting larger. However, technological growth is slower than it was in the 20th century-other than that of computers and other electronics. Problems are still largely not being resolved-although that must change soon.

related-cities, city planning, urbanization, past and future of cities
RL=5th-up

Civil Liberties of the Opposing Viewpoints series. ed by Auriana Ojeda.
Greenhaven Press/Gale Group/Thomson Learning: Farmington Hills, MI, 2004.

This book is a part of a series that includes controversial issues of today with arguments from people on both sides of the issues. Some of the people are well-known, others not. Much of the information is taken from periodicals and speeches, some from books. The viewpoints given are only a starting point to encourage the readers to learn more, to show another side than to what the readers have so far been exposed, to emphasize the necessity of listening to another viewpoint, to help the readers to develop skills in filtering information and forming opinions, and to give the readers a better understanding of their own viewpoints. There is a brief introduction before each issue, and there is no conclusion, as the readers are meant to consider the ideas themselves. These are not questions that have one easy answer. Both sides have merit. Both sides deserve thought.

This particular book addresses Constitutional Amendments; freedoms of citizens such as freedom of expression, religion, and privacy; and how our rights have been affected by the War on Terrorism.

Again, this is only a starting point. But I believe it is important, since it is not possible to have anything resembling a democracy without recognizing others' views. We are at a point in our society when there is little honest discussion of political ideas. What we have is a screaming match with those in the middle abstaining from any view and people afraid to talk to anyone for fear they may disagree. We have very important matters to fix, but it cannot be done without truly listening to each other and ending the us vs them mentality. Nobody is going to have their way totally without totalitarianism. We need to end the mentality of If I can't have my way, then we won't do anything. I believe we ought to be able to discuss things if we approach them honestly and consider the feelings of other people. It is mostly the labeling of others, as if it somehow makes them less of people, that stands in the way of discourse. I know it is a difficult thing to learn how to discuss heated topics without an all-out argument. But it is imperative that we learn, children and adults alike. None of the problems our society faces will improve otherwise.

I see this book as being an effective tool for promoting discussion in the classroom, especially government classes. It is also an excellent source for essay questions, and I would recommend it for all young adults in honing skills in discerning and making judgements. This is not the only book I've read in the series, but this one is far more important. I do like the series in general, as it is a way of learning about issues with less of the demagoguery.

related-civil rights in the United States, freedom of speech, separation of Church and State, right to privacy, terrorism, government, politics
RL=7th-adult

Comic Strips: Create Your Own Comic Strips From Start to Finish by Art Roche.
Lark Books/Sterling Publishing Co: NY, 2006.

Everything you need to know to create your first comic strip and more! Roche starts with a brief explanation and history of comics. He gives tips about beginning and developing drawing skills, plus discusses building and polishing stories. He talks about publishing your strips in different formats and for different media and audiences in order to get feedback to launch your successful career-whether your purpose is strictly for fun or to become a professional. He has suggestions for continuing to brainstorm and look for new ideas and for keeping a portfolio.

The book is accessible to fairly young readers, but has enough information to be useful for any beginning comic strip artist.

related-drawing techniques, writing process, continue reading, layout & design, finishing product, self-publishing, internet, syndicates, other media & products
RL=4th & up

Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes: A Cookbook for Preschoolers. by Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson.
Tricycle Press: Berkeley, CA, 1994.

Honest Pretzels: And 64 Other Amazing Recipes for Cooks Ages 8 & Up written and il by Mollie Katzen.
Tricycle Press: Berkeley, CA, 1999.

Katzen's books are organized and written in a simple format to get young people involved in the cooking process. The recipes are simple and appealing to kids. The books get them excited about meal preparation and help them to see how we cook. It is also an experience to do with an adult, so that's a plus for them. Cooking together is a great experience. A bonus for parents is that if the kids are involved, there will be less whining about the food.

RL=1st and up **One of the books says preschoolers. I don't know how involved they can be at that age. Certainly they will like the pictures and food and be interested, but the adult would be doing most of the work.

Review by Magdalena.

Cristo and Jeanne-Claude: Through The Gates and Beyond by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.
Roaring Brook Press/Holtzbrinck Publishing : NY, 2008.

The main focus of this book is Cristo and Jeanne-Claude's process of constructing their large scale art projects, which are as much a managerial achievement and public discourse as they are artwork. The Gates in New York's Central Park are their most recent temporary display. For 2 weeks in 2006, The Gates (7503 orange, rectangular arches with free-flowing fabric) stood along the paths of the park. The project was proposed in 1979 and was 26 years in the making.

A short history of the artists' work is given, as well as the next 2 upcoming projects: the Arkansas River Project, CO and The Mastaba of Abu Dhabi for the United Arab Emirates. For the Arkansas River Project, forty miles of the river will have a silvery fabric ceiling, temporarily. The Mastaba will be a huge structure made of oil drums, taller than the largest pyramid at Giza.

Although orange would not have been a color I would choose, The Gates would have been exciting to experience. A splash of color in the New York winter, the fabric flowing with the wind, crowds of people sharing the experience. If I had known it was happening, it might have been a reason to visit New York. I think it would have been amazing to see from above, maybe from some nearby skyscrapers. I would have liked to have seen the fabric rippling. I'm sure many people view the artists' projects as stunts, but I find them intriguing. They require public discussion and agreement before they can be constructed, and they are a shared public experience. The magnitude is amazing for their self-imposed temporary events.

I was first introduced to the artists' work in college. The Surrounded Islands of Biscayne Bay, FL had been a recent project. They were controversial then, too. I liked the idea, but I don't think I knew at the time what they were trying to accomplish.

Something else I would like to have seen was The Umrellas, Japan and California in 1991. 3100 umbrellas, 19 ft 8 in high and 28 ft in diameter, split between the two locations.

Greenberg and Jordan's book is a great introduction to Cristo and Jeanne-Claude's art projects. The pictures are wonderful, of course, and the process towards completion is enlightening.

Searching for pictures online, I found a community blog of The Gates event. Unfortunately, I didn't find many more pictures, other than the posters for sale.

related-artwork and artists, public events RL=4th and up

A Curious Collection of Cats by Betsy Franco. il Michael Wertz.
Tricycle Press/Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2009.

This is a delightful collection of concrete poems in celebration of cats. Cats in every imaginable situation. The essence of cats. The graphical depictions are fantastic in a rainbow of colors. Bright, dynamic, and totally appropriate to the poems. From a cat's tail to cat perches to a cat standoff, each poem-picture combination is a treasure. This book is one for all cat lovers to share and go back to again and again.

related-cats, children's poetry, concrete poems, monoprints
RL=2nd-5th, read aloud to toddlers-2nd

Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life by Jan Reynolds.
Lee & Low Books Inc: NY, 2009.

This is an awe-inspiring discussion of the growing process of rice in Bali, Indonesia - a sustainable farming and living cycle which has been in place since the ninth century. The author describes a network of human-made waterways, seasonal growing practices, and community understanding and cooperation, which as a whole provide proper irrigation, replenishing nutrients, and pest control. She also explains that in the 1960s their government abandoned this system for a modern, technological approach. The result was devastating and unexpected. An American anthropologist (J. Stephen Lansing), with much effort, proved to the Balinese government that the traditional system worked far better and needed to be restored. They have moved back towards their centuries-old system, but damage still remains.

Reynolds' description is full of life, and there is a sense of awe for the farming process. The Balinese people understand life and balancing nature in a way that seems to be lost to Americans. The long history of such an unbroken cycle of sustainability is spiritual and amazing. I hope that this book will give our children a greater understanding of sources of their food. A greater understanding can reduce both waste and overeating.

The photographs are beautiful and are a perfect accompaniment.

related-rice, Indonesia, Bali, sustainable agriculture, J. Stephen Lansing, conservation, chemical fertilizers and pesticides
RL=3rd & up, use for Social Studies 4th-6th

Dragon Bones and Dinosaur Eggs: A Photobiography of Explorer Roy Chapman Andrews by Ann Bausum. photos from the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
National Geographic Society: Washington, D.C., 2000.

This is an impressive biography of someone I never would have known about and in an industry I would not have been likely to research. Dinosaurs are not particularly interesting to me, but what is fascinating is the way archaeologists go about finding evidence. I wanted to keep reading for the fantastic photos alone, and the content is compelling in its uniqueness.

While Andrews was not an archaeologist as defined today, he was an adventurer with enough knowledge, daring, and organizational skills to make it possible to search unexplored areas in a huge way. He was one of the first expeditioners to find dinosaur bones and eggs, although his first find was unintentional. He was looking for human remains instead.

Another aspect which is interesting is that besides the journals, letters, and other witings he did (and most others do) he also wrote books about the dinosaurs for children. After one of his first experiences (with whale hunts), he gave lectures for school children as well. The first American to be allowed to explore the area after him (in the 1990s) grew up reading his books. A possible learning extension would be to search in the periodical guides to find more current information regarding this area, the Gobi Desert.

related-naturalists, dinosaurs-eggs, paleontologists, Central Asiatic Expeditions
RL=3rd-6th

An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Aston. il Sylvia Long.
Chronicle Books: San Francisco, 2006.

This book is beautifully illustrated with many types of eggs, and their birds on the end pages. There are pages with some very simple text and the pictures illustrating the points. In other places, the text is more descriptive. The most appealing aspect is the gorgeous illustrations, but I also enjoyed the adjectives used as titles or categories. The book is all about eggs, including the life cycle of an egg. Much more attractive than the nonfiction when I was a child.

related-comparisons, colors and patterns in nature, shapes, sizes, camouflage, beauty and variation in nature, textures, fossils, gift of life, hatching
RL depends on how you want to use it. It can be used for introducing words to toddlers and for reading by 1st-2nd graders.

Eight Hands Round: Patchwork Alphabet by Ann Whitford Paul. il Jeanette Winter.
HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 1991.

This is an alphabet book that focuses on traditional patchwork patterns and historical references that likely inspired the creation of the patterns (nature, chores, events, people, etc). The names of the patterns are alphabetized. The descriptions are fairly simple historical bits. Most refer to ordinary occurrences in colonial or pioneering life. A few are quite specific and may need more explanation.

I enjoyed the influences for the patterns. Some are obvious; others have names I never would have guessed. The patterns are displayed as the basic square and repeating squares to show what a whole quilt would look like.

related-quilt patterns, patchwork quilts, alphabet, United States history, frontier and pioneer life
RL=2nd-4th, read aloud with preK-1st, could be used for elementary history

Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery by Russell Freedman.
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin: NY, 1993.
Newbery Honor 1994

Eleanor Roosevelt was unquestionably the most influential woman of her time. She still is one of the most inspirational. Raised in a very proper manner, expected to fulfill the traditional womanly role, Eleanor showed exceptional promise even as a girl in boarding school. From there her talents blossomed with her attempts to be useful - teaching and volunteering. In supporting her husband's career, she became a reporter, representing him in an official capacity when he could not be present and researching or spying on his behalf. In the process, she became a passionate advocate of the disadvantaged and oppressed. No cause too small and none too big. After FDR's death her influence extended throughout the world as a representative in the United Nations. Through much of her political life, she also maintained jobs teaching, writing, and hosting radio and TV shows. She was the first President's wife to have her own career and public life.

Russell Freedman's photobiography is, as usual, a wonderful book. Informative, fascinating, and inspiring. He has a flowing style that captures the importance of the moment and doesn't make you feel like you are reading boring history. Instead, you are reading about life.

The more I read of Eleanor, the more I admire her. I have only managed to read a small portion of her own work, about half of "My Day," 3 volumes of Eleanor's newspaper columns, plus half of an adult bio and a couple YA bios. Freedman's biography is fairly comprehensive of what I have read elsewhere. And it reminds me that I do want to read further, if I can find the time.

related-wives of presidents, First Ladies, United States history
RL=6th and up

Emily Dickinson: A Biography by Milton Meltzer.
Twenty-first Century Books: Brookfield, CN, 2006.

In Emily Dickinson's time, only the most daring women were publicly known. Only her inner circle knew Emily's intelligence, passion for life, and her poetry. She spent most of her days quietly, keeping house and writing. Some of her poetry was published in periodicals but anonymously and not by her. It was only after her death that her family learned the extent of her writing. Her sister found more than 1700 poems-lovingly kept.
RL=6th-YA

An End to Suffering by Pankaj Mishra 2004.In An End to Suffering by Pankaj Mishra(2004), the author journeys in search of Buddha, the man, and his teachings. He starts out as a freelance scholar, and I can tell by the tone that he finds much more than he expects-possibly a new direction in life. It is fascinating-a blend of biographical, historical, and philosophical. The Energy Question: Thinking About Tomorrow by Martin J. Gutnik.
Enslow Publishers, Inc: Hillside, NJ, 1993.

The history of energy usage and all the major sources of power are explained in a clear and precise manner. The need to move away from fossil fuels towards renewable sources is also clearly stated. Sadly, though it has been more than a decade since publication, the U.S. has still not moved much in the direction of renewable sources. There has been much talk and some research, but little funding and actual implementation. This book has not become outdated because we have not moved forward.
RL=5th-8th

Exploring Colored Pencils by Sandra McFall Angelo.
Davis Publishing, Inc.: Worcester, MA, 1999.

This is a useful textbook of drawing techniques for beginners through advanced. Many of the techniques also apply to those who don't wish to use colors. It can be used for selflearning or as a guide to plan lessons for students. There are exercises at the end of the chapters for all levels.
RL=5th-adult

Exploring Shapes (MATH for fun Series) by Andrew King.
Copper Beech Books/Millbrook Press: Brookfield, CT, 1998.

Fun exercises to do with shapes-games, designing, and communication. Some suggestions can be used through middle school, and some can be done with preschoolers, too.
RL=3rd-5th

Extreme Dinosaurs by Luis V. Rey.
Chronicle Books LLC: San Francisco, 2001.

The biggest, the smallest, and the most deadly dinosaurs are explored by continent. Changes in thought regarding dinosaurs is discussed as well as the fact that new findings are happening.
RL=3rd-5th

Four Hats in the Ring: The 1912 Election and the Birth of Modern American Politics by Lewis L. Gould.
University Press of Kansas: Lawrence, KS, 2008.

I found this to be a fascinating read. In the cover blurb, it says that the election was between four strong candidates - incumbent President William Howard Taft, former President Theodore Roosevelt, up-and-comer Woodrow Wilson, and Eugene Debs, with his last attempt. All of them were distinguished, with great reputations. They also were in the fight of their lives to influence the direction of U.S. policy. All, but Taft, were pushing the agenda in a more progressive direction, as was the popular sentiment of the times. The personalities and concerns of the candidates leading up to and through the election have been analyzed here. My understanding of the times has certainly increased through reading this, and I am struck, as I have been many times, by how similar some of the issues are today, how the same concerns come back over and over or don't ever change.

I am not sure exactly what is meant by "modern American politics." There are a few trends that started with the 1912 election, however. One important difference is the change from candidates being determined by the legislature to being determined by the primaries and caucuses, making the two dominant parties much stronger than they had been in the past. Prior to this change, it was not uncommon to have parties splinter off and have a good showing. In fact, leading into the 1860 election, that is what formed the Republican party, and Lincoln won. Another huge change is that the candidates did not travel all over the place campaigning; their party members did it for them, and they had journalist backers that were far more important to their campaigns. They also did not attend the conventions; they waited at home for results. It is possible that the switch to primaries was a factor in less involvement by the people regarding government. Prior to that, individuals had been following politics closely. The fact that they had to be in one of the parties to be involved may have decreased involvement. The book discusses a downward trend, but says that it may also have been due to more distractions and opportunities than citizens had previously had. So, not just a change in politics was occuring, though there was a push toward reform in many areas, but also big changes socially in the country.

The book is intended for adults, but it is also quite accessible, so appropriate for young adults and others who might be interested at a young age. Perhaps, as a book for a report during the study of Presidents in elementary school.

related-United States Presidents and elections, Presidential candidates, political campaigns, politics and government, biographies, William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Eugene Debs, Socialists, reforms, progressivism, Bull Moose Party, 20th century
RL=YA-adult

Interesting side note: I later started reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which is largely about the campaigning leading up to the 1860 election. This book also focuses on 4 strong candidates, though there were more involved in the election than that. The 4 candidates were all vying for the Republican nomination. Lincoln was not the frontrunner, but became the strongest option for those opposed to Senator William H. Seward.

Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Russell Freedman.
Holiday House: NY, 2006.

When I was in 9th grade, our class read about Rosa Parks. The information was brief, and the gist was that she deserved the credit for the boycott and desegregation. Freedman describes the factors leading up to the boycott and the amazing coming together of the community to make it happen. The boycott was precipitated by Rosa Parks's arrest and willingness to appeal, but the tremendous change happened because the black community was determined that there would be change. Can you imagine the sense of pride and determination the people had who walked miles every workday for more than a year?

The strength of the book lies in Freedman's telling of all the events of the boycott (not just Rosa Parks's part) and the "sacrifices and determination of thousands" who normally relied on the buses of Montgomery, Alabama.

related-African American history, civil rights, bus boycott, 20th century, Montgomery-Alabama, segregation, transportation, race relations, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jo Ann Robinson, Claudette Colvin, protesters, civil disobedience
RL=6th-YA

The Freedom Writers Diary by The Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell.
Broadway Books/Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group: NY, 1999.

Wow! What an indescribably powerful book. I cannot believe it took so long to learn about it. The contents are eyeopening, insightful, intense. It is awe-inspiring in many ways: the techniques the teacher uses to engage students disregarded by everyone else, the lengths she went to show them the relevance of both literature and strangers, the progression from the hopelessness of depressing living conditions to the determination to not only improve their own lives but stand for social change, and the excruciatingly honest, personal and insightful discussion of the students in their diaries.

Erin Gruwell, a young and fledgling teacher in 1994, committed herself to truly making a difference in the education and lives of her misfit students. She had her English class for freshman and sophomore years. Then, because the class had been so successful, where they were expected to fail and drop out, she was allowed to continue teaching her students, who had become close and committed to each other, all four years. Her class was a much needed safe haven for them. Through those four years, the class became an instrument of social change. The catalyst for the incredible change included the high level of participation of the class, the topics and books picked to correspond with the lives of the students, unusual opportunities given to the students, and the teacher's belief in her students.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the book is the deep discussion in the diaries with evidence of growth within each student. They poured their hearts and souls into their writings-inspired by Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic of Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo. In the process, their minds and hearts opened in a way they could never have imagined. Just reading the book (halfway through), I could see the truth of this. These students, having seen so much suffering, were profoundly studying issues most adults refuse to face-and learning to approach them from a standpoint of wisdom and equality. The breadth of the issues is also astounding. There is something there for everyone to relate to. In the beginning, the entries were mostly about racism, violence and uselessness. But the more open the students became, the more profound the discussion.

In all of my homeschool years, I have believed in a key part of these students' success. For any struggling readers, subject matter relevant to the readers' lives can make all the difference in their desire to read and learn. The emphasis on involvement is important, too. In this case, the affirmation that the students' stories mattered. Because they wrote anonymously, they were willing to be honest about the secrets of their lives. They proofread each others' diaries and learned of others' painful experiences. They found common ground. Their class grew and grew in scope and depth, because they had learned that education is about life-and it doesn't stop outside of the classroom.

related-teenagers, tolerance, Wilson High School, Long Beach, California, relevance of education and literature, reaching and inspiring underprivileged youth, teaching techniques, journals
RL=YA-adult, mature content

Garden Crafts for Kids: 50 Great Reasons To Get Your Hands Dirty by Diane Rhoades.
Sterling Publishing Co, Inc: NY, 1995.

Garden Crafts for Kids is a resource for helping kids to get started as gardeners. Everything they will need to know is here, from potting plants and transferring trees to growing from seeds to designing a garden and composting. In fact, it can be used as a guide for any beginner gardener - adults, too. It's less crafty than most of the kids' gardening books, concentrating more on gardening itself. The crafts are more useful than average as well. There are some experiments also, such as generating electricity with an onion, and recipes.

The pictures are what drew me to the book at first. Much of the information is things I've already been exposed to as a gardener. Even so, there are some things I have not tried. The potato layers is one thing I would like to try, only I think I will make some bottomless boxes to stack instead of using tires. We have also not kept worms. I did already use one of the recipes and am thinking of a variation for next year when the spruce has new growth.

For beginners, you may want to read through and then try a little at a time. It may be too overwhelming to try all of the interesting projects at once. Refer back to the book when you are ready for more. Gardening is something that takes years to feel comfortable with. Adding on more and more as you go. Definitely worth the time. Soon you will be coming up with your own ideas, since gardening also leads to innovation.

related-gardening, gardens, nature crafts, woodworking, experiments, recipes
RL=4th or 5th-adult

Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Glenna Lang and Marjory Wunsch.
David R. Godine: Boston, 2009.

This is the biography of a woman who was rocking the boat her whole life. She is primarily known for saving city areas from demolition in the U.S. and Canada. Also known for changing the way developers look at those city areas. Living in a city herself and biking around her own city, she noticed the wonderful details that make up the life and character of the city. With urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s, large development projects were planned which would destroy much of the character of the neighborhoods, leaving many families and businesses no choice but to move out of the city.

Jane Jacobs wrote a book about the life that was being demolished, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, pointing out what was being lost to urban renewal. She also helped to organize several protests by communities who were labeling "slums" in order to cheaply proceed with the building projects and hopefully avoid question. The citizen protests were successful as they proved the areas were not slums, and the communities continued to thrive.

I love this book. I didn't already know about Jane Jacobs. I now want to read her books. Though unknown to me before, I suspect her legacy was passed down to me through my college Art and Architecture class. It seems so obvious to me about glorying in the history and diversity of the old neighborhoods. The messages are loud and clear about the underdog winning against uncaring planners and the fame and money they expected to receive and the citizens getting their way because their way of life was at stake. Also, Jane Jacobs had no credentials that City Hall had to respect. She had determination and knowledge that made sense, so citizens can prevail now also, if they try.
related-women, city planners, life in the city, diversity, city development, urban renewal, United States, New York City, 20th century, sociology
RL=5th-adult, mature 5th

G is for Googol by David M. Schwartz. il by Marissa Moss.
Tricycle Press: Berkeley, CA, 1998.

G is for Googol, besides having one of the best names, is one of my favorite alphabet books. It's unique and delightful, explaining some great math terms in clear and simple speech. It also has fabulous graphic depictions and comical commentary. The reading level is about 3rd to 5th grade level, but it is really a book for all ages. Everyone can enjoy the comics. Elementary on up through adult can benefit from the clarification of ideas, and in turn discuss with children better, encouraging them to enjoy the concepts of math enough to persevere through the figuring they might not like as much.

Besides the educational value, it is a fun book. It shows that math is fascinating, something worth knowing for the pleasure of it. I think maybe a fault of school systems is that too often math is taught as just memorization and figuring from the beginning through half or all of high school. It isn't just a skill to acquire; there are exciting, mindblowing concepts involved.

G is for Googol and its counterpart Q is for Quark are books to buy for youngsters and keep and cherish. They are not quick reads; they serve as reminders as well as introductions. I have to say these books helped me to understand some of the terms better and explained terms I hadn't bothered to understand. Here's hoping that these books will lead to further exploration.

related-mathematics, alphabet, ABCs, educational comics, exploration
RL=all ages

Gone Wild by David McLimans.
Walker & Company: NY, 2006.
Caldecott Honor 2007

Drawing on the idea of pictograms McLimans has graphically depicted the letters of the alphabet. Each letter becomes an endangered animal of the world. An attempt was made to pick animals whose characteristics worked well with their respective letters. It is an old idea to use pictures to help learn the sounds and shapes of letters. Some children (such as those taught in Waldorf schools) still learn their letters through tracing or drawing object-shaped letters. McLimans has taken the idea beyond the basic and also turned it into a lesson of diversity and ecology.

The book may be used for several ages, starting with familiarizing toddlers with the sounds of the letters. It can also be used up through 5th grade for lessons of biology, ecology, and art.

related-alphabet books, art of illumination, endangered species
RL=toddler-5th

Good Times Travel Agency by Linda Bailey. il Bill Slavin.
Kids Can Press: Tonawanda, NY.


Adventures in Ancient Egypt 2000
Adventures in the Middle Ages 2000
Adventures with the Vikings 2001
Adventures in Ancient Greece 2002
Adventures in Ancient China 2003
Adventures in the Ice Age 2004

The Good Times Travel adventure series is an uproarious, informative, high interest series. Three children travel to historical settings through a travel agency. In order to get back home, they must finish reading the book of facts related to the setting. It is written in comic book format with facts, instructive remarks, and funny asides.
RL=3rd-5th

The Great Circle: A History of the First Nations by Neil Philip.
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 2006.

This book includes pivotal moments in the history of the Native Americans from first contact with Europeans to Tecumseh's movement to unite the First Nations. It also includes the resistance of several tribes as well as massacres that influenced thought on both sides. It demonstrates the varied beliefs and practices of the many tribes and explains some of the ideas that made war inevitable. Lastly, it honors the First Nations for who they were and are and for their persistence and rebirth.

I do not know enough about the subject to know how well researched the book is, but it seems to be an excellent introduction to the theme.

related-Indians of North America, government relations, Native American social life and customs
RL=6th-ya

The Great Little Madison by Jean Fritz.
G. P. Putnam's Sons: NY, 1989.

So much importance is placed on Thomas Jefferson and George Washington (while Madison is mostly left out) that I didn't realize how important James Madison was to the founding of the U.S. before reading Jean Fritz's book. It is one of the most exciting of her biographies (of which she has done many). Not only did Madison write the initial proposal for the Constitution, he also had to explain it to the other delegates and persuade them that it wouldn't take away the powers of their states. Through the convention called to solve the problems of the Continental Congress, he took his own secrets notes of everyone's reactions so that he could address their concerns. He also persuaded Washington of the importance of his presence. The other delegates would feel safer starting a new government knowing Washington would be the new leader. Madison's influence did not stop with the ratification of the Constitution. He continued to play an active role in the federal government until the end of his life. Sure of what was best for the country and determined to convince the rest.

This is a great book for clear understanding of the founding of the U.S. government. It is a short book but gives a much more in depth and clearer picture than textbooks.
related-U.S. Presidents, James Madison, friendship with Thomas Jefferson, the Constitution of the United States of America, slavery, history of Virginia, War of 1812, Dolley Madison, 18th-19th century, Revolutionary war
RL=6th-8th

Growing Patterns by Sarah C. Campbell. il Sarah C. and Richard P. Campbell.
Boyds Mills Press: Honesdale, PA, 2010.

This is a simple and beautiful explanation of Fibonacci numbers: description of the pattern, its existence in nature, and historical notes regarding the observance of the pattern and similar number theory, such as the Golden Ratio and Lucas numbers.

The book starts by encouraging the reader to count petals of flowers. Each new one adds petals as the pattern grows, and previous flowers are displayed in the formation of the nautilus depiction of the pattern. Spirals of pine cones, sunflowers, and pineapples are also discussed, and a geometric spiral is shown at the end.

I like the simple, tactile discussion. I have found as a homeschool teacher that young children love number theory. It takes a certain type of mind to enjoy figuring numbers, but discussion of the importance of numbers can be quite engaging. Fibonacci numbers are a little mysterious. They're like a key to decoding the world, and this book gives children access to the secret.

related-Fibonacci numbers, numbers in nature, number patterns, number theory, number sequences, observing nature
RL=1st-3rd, could use for math classes up to 5th

Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Beecher Preachers by Jean Fritz.
G. P. Putnam's Sons: NY, 1994.

Despite having 6 children and housework, Harriet wanted to do something important. Her father was a preacher who raised his sons to become a preacher and speak publicly about political issues. Harriet had lived for years in Cincinnati, Ohio on the edge of slave territory with the issue of runaway slaves being important in the town and in her family. She became passionately opposed to slavery during her years in Cincinnati. She decided that writing a book depicting aspects of slavery could be her contribution to the movement to end slavery. The book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, was and still is widely read.

Harriet Beecher Stowe's family and life were more interesting than I would have guessed. This book is one of Jean Fritz's more fascinating books-maybe partly because Harriet Beecher Stowe is a lesser known person than Fritz's other subjects.

related-women authors, 19th century, Congregational Churches, ministers, Beecher family, American authors, abolitionists, writing club
RL=6th-YA

Hip-Pocket Papa by Sandra Markle. il by Alan Marks.
Charlesbridge Publishing: Watertown, MA, 2010.

The gorgeous cover is what first attracted me to this book. With a title like a music celebrity's name, I didn't know what to expect from the contents. Looking inside, there is page after page of beautiful nature-related art, mostly frogs in different surroundings.

Seeing that it is a nonfiction book, I didn't expect to like the text as much as I did. Markle addresses the subject by telling the story of this particular frog's days as he protects the eggs, tadpoles, and young frogs until they are ready to explore the world. Also, there are several subjects incorporated in this one short story, a story balanced between the more personal level and scientific description.

I don't know if I would have been quite so interested if the type of frog wasn't unusual, though frogs are different enough to catch any young one's imagination. There are some specific aspects of the hip-pocket frog that lend themselves toward an interesting story. For example, having pockets at the hip for carry babies. I like the similarity with marsupials, though the baby frogs are not interacting with the parent.

I do absolutely love the illustrations. Markle and Marks work perfectly together. As beautiful as the art is, we are not just seeing a frog on a page; each drawing illustrates precisely the thought from the text.

I can see this being a favorite on the shelves of animal and nature loving children.

related-frogs, life cycle of frogs, hip-pocket frog, miniature wildlife habitats, life in the forest floor, nurture and and care of babies, protection from predators
RL=1st-3rd, read aloud with toddlers-1st

A History of US by Joy Hakim.
Oxford University Press: NY.


Book One: The First Americans
Book Two: Making Thirteen Colonies
Book Three: From Colonies to Country
Book Four: The New Nation
Book Five: Liberty for All?
Book Six: War, Terrible War
Book Seven: Reconstruction and Reform
Book Eight: An Age of Extremes
Book Nine: War, Peace, and All That Jazz
Book Ten: All the People 1945-1994

As a homeschool teacher, I rely on the library for most of our History information. When I found Joy Hakim's books, I found a goldmine. I needed an overview to use for general information for the different time periods-to use as a springboard. I did not expect to find the detail of a ten volume set. Thinking back to the History textbooks I read in school, I was delighted to read an intelligent, and at times witty, account of our history. These books inspired me to read beyond what I already knew about U.S. history. The books also recommend books for more specific information. The series is interesting enough to read solely for pleasure.
RL=5th-YA

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.
Scholastic Inc: NY, 2005.
Newbery Honor 2006

Until now, most of what I have read regarding Germany in the 1930s through 1940s was about the war itself or the Holocaust. I had known that Hitler's rise to power was a reaction against restrictions upon them as a result of WWI. I find it hard to understand why witnesses of WWI would have wanted another war. This book brings a new perspective-the idea that the preparation and desire for war was a product of the youth being targeted by NAZI propaganda.

In the U.S., not much time is spent studying the build up to war by the Germans (nor the reactions of other countries). It is important to realize that the Hitler Youth organization was growing for 7 years before Hitler was appointed chancellor at which time it was nearly 100,000 youth. Within the next year it increased more than 2,000,000. There were 6,000,000 members of Hitler Youth before Germany invaded another country. Given that it is the young who are sent to war, many of the soldiers would have participated in NAZI rallies and spreading of propaganda. The youth were the key. They helped him gain power at a time when they felt little hope for the future, and they enthusiastically did what was asked in order to rebuild their country.

The narrative focuses on 12 young people, most of whom were involved in the Hitler Youth organization. One was killed supporting the NAZI party before Hitler became chancellor. Five were arrested as traitors. Four contined to support Hitler throughout the war. Their stories are complicated. Maybe this is a step in understanding why the events happened. The same sort of singlemindedness is apparent in out country now and others around the world. It is frightening to think it could happen again, but to assume that it couldn't is foolish.

related-Hitler-Jugend, National Socialism and youth, Germany, 20th century, education, propaganda
RL=7th-adultIf You Hopped Like a Frog by David M. Schwartz. il. by James Warhola.
Scholastic Press: NY, 1999.

This is a fun and thought-provoking tribute to the awe-inspiring things animals can do. It also happens to be a wonderfully visual demonstration of ratio and proportion. Wouldn't you like to leap from home plate to first base in one bound? How about eat 700 hamburgers in one day?
RL=1st       math explanations L=4th-5th

In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America's Bill of Rights by Russell Freedman.
Holiday House: U.S., 2003.

Our founding fathers knew that the U.S. Constitution did not have strong protections for individuals. So, they immediately introduced ten amendments to the Constitution (the Bill of Rights) that had not been ratified yet. This enlightening book explores court cases that have defined for us what these amendments mean regarding our individual rights. Many things we consider rights today were won for us by these cases. Also, there are things we think of as rights today that may not actually be backed up legally despite the Bill of Rights. This is a good place to start learning about complicated civil rights issues.
related-U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, Constitutional amendments, civil rights
RL=7th-YA

The Inventor's Times: Real-Life Stories of 30 Amazing Creations by Dan Driscoll, James Zigarelli, and the Staff of The Inventor's Times.
Tangerine Press/Scholastic, Inc: NY, 2002.

These are 30 of the most famous articles taken from The Inventor's Times-a newspaper reporting on the latest inventions of the times. There are also some portions on the sides that are ridiculous and must have been as jokes for the publishing of the book.
RL=5th-8th

Jane Addams: Pioneer for Social Justice by Cornelia Meigs.
Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1970.

As children we learn about certain time periods in history lessons-particularly surrounding major wars. We can see the differences in how people lived and thought, but there is not much focus on how or why people's lives changed. What happened to create change or improvements in social standing? I believe that a significant factor is people like Jane Addams and Eleanor Roosevelt. If we want to understand why we have the rights we take for granted today, we must read about these people who saw injustice around them and demanded that it be changed. If we want to keep the rights we have, we need to understand that those rights exist because of social pressure initiated by people like Jane Addams. Congress did not just decide one day to pass laws in favor of working class citizens-ordinary people (and lots of them) demanded it. Cornelia Meigs's biography of Jane Addams is a thorough work about an extraordinary champion-a woman with an unswerving dedication to better the lives of the people around her. I learned from this book things that were skipped over in high school history, and I gained a better understanding of history in general and how politics (and life) work through time.
RL=YA

King Arthur: In Fact and Legend by Geoffrey Ashe.
Thomas Nelson Inc: Camden, NJ, 1969.

Ashe discusses the legend of Arthur and its history and evidence of Arthur in history. He uses Malory as the basis for the legend and refers to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Nennius, and Welsh and British legend and rumor to establish a believable reference point for Arthur in British history. He also mentions a few archaeological findings to strengthen the conclusions.

The evidence that has been discovered regarding a true King Arthur is fascinating. The use of the legend through history is also intriguing-particularly King Henry VII's claim that he fulfilled the prophecy of Arthur's return. From reading of the history of Arthur, I have a much clearer understanding of British history. If what Ashe says is true, then that would make Henry VII the 1st truly British King of all England. The real Arthur was not, and between him and Henry VII are Saxons and Normans. No wonder the Tudors were popular.

There is also some discussion of the rebirth of the legend in the 20th century to present in which there are many variations. Some of this is due to discoveries and revelations about the 6th century Arthur. Some of it is due to more widespread knowledge of Welsh and British legend, and some has to do with more creative license on the part of the writers. For whatever reason there is much more available on the subject, and Ashe lists works I hadn't heard of.
RL=6th-adult

Learn To Speak Music by John Crossingham. il by Jeff Kulak.
Owlkids Books: Toronto, CA, 2009.
This is a great little book! It's a conversation on all steps to music expression - small and huge. There is an awesome amount of information stuffed into it. Looks like a basic children's nonfiction book with short discussion and 1960s style graphics to draw you in. But the conversation takes the reader seriously. This is a book about creating, with the idea that anyone picking it up is mature enough to get started. And they are. While there is a ton of info here, it can be used as a textbook. Take a bit here and a bit there and run with it. Refer back to it when you are ready for another taste or challenge or need a confidence booster. Definitely try the ideas, and you will be on your way to serious musical expression - or not so serious.

One of the best things about the book is the tone. I would guess it is probably directed at middle graders, but it speaks to readers on an equal level. So the book's range would be for 5th graders, with a creative bent, all the way through adult.

Composition, performance, organization, experimentation, and recording are encouraged. Then, once you have enough to want an audience, promotion is discussed as well, including artful creations. My teen son read the book, too. He's been learning guitar for about a year only. He's already tried some recording tracks, and the book excited and inspired him. He wants to work with a band now and is thinking of himself as a musician, a necessary step in becoming one.

I love to see people creating whether it's their own costumes, videos, riffs, stories, or art on paper. This book is a tremendous inspirational aid for getting the juices flowing.

related-musical experimentation, composition and performance, artistic creation, videos, media mixing
RL=5th-adult

Leonardo da Vinci for Kids by Janis Herbert.
Chicago Review Press: Chicago, 1998.

Da Vinci remains one of the most interesting people for children to read about. This book talks about his life and ideas in ways which inspire children to try some of the ideas themselves. There are prepared activities as well as gorgeous pictures. I believe it is primarily da Vinci's ideas and experiments that draw so much attention.
RL=4th-5th

Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer by Robert Byrd.
Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Young Readers Group: NY, 2003.

Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer is a biography for young readers focusing on Leonardo's notebooks, as that is where most of the knowledge of Leonardo da Vinci's thoughts, explorations, and discoveries come from. The writing is accessible to 1st through 5th graders (though a challenge for some 1st and 2nd graders) without watering down the content too much. The text could stand alone, but the illustrations add greatly to the appeal of the book. I selected the book first of all for the beauty of the design and pictures, and the reading experience was excellent with both combined. The illustrations draw the reader in, and with so many details, children will want to pour over the pages.

This may not be what you would normally think of as a picture book, but it can be used for young ones, primarily looking at the pictures or skipping over some of the content and discussing some, too. I do think there is enough information to appeal to 5th graders still, but the illustrations, blending many of da Vinci's own sketches with scenes from his life, are so fascinating that the illustrations are most of the book. Any child reading the book will come away with a greater understanding of Leonardo da Vinci than I had in my pre-college years.

related-Leonardo da Vinci, artists and paintings, scientific exploration and discoveries, observation and curiosity
RL=1st-5th, read aloud with pre-K through 1st

Let's Investigate: Number Patterns by Marion Smoothey.
Marshall Cavendish: NY, 1993.

This is a fairly simple introduction to number theory that isn't normally taught before college level. The purpose is to explore the fascinating study of number patterns. It isn't that it can't be taught sooner. It's not considered important for students to learn, but it can encourage more interest in mathematical studies.

related-square numbers, magic squares, triangular numbers, Fibonacci sequence, relationship of dots and lines, number chains, probability, Pascal's triangle, patterns in a number square
RL=4th and up

The Life and Death of Crazy Horse by Russell Freedman. il. Amos Bad Heart Bull.
Holiday House: NY, 1996.

Crazy Horse grew up in the mid-1800s when the Sioux were desperately trying to save their hunting grounds and way of life. He became the greatest of all the Teton Sioux warriors-leading his warriors against General Custer in the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Freedman's account of Crazy Horse's life displays the wisdom, courage, and idealism of an extraordinary man. He fought and died for his beliefs when many others had given up. Yet, in the end he also allowed his followers to live instead of being killed with him.

The drawings were taken from a tribal pictoral history by Amos Bad Heart Bull. He was too young to take part in the battles, but he was Crazy Horse's cousin, and he learned first hand from those who did participate in the last struggles of the Sioux.
RL=4th-8th

Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 1987.

Newbery Award Winner 1988

In my opinion, no biographical list would be complete without a book about Abraham Lincoln. I have been fascinated by his life and character since I was in 5th grade. He had wisdom and sensitivity beyond most people's capability, and yet he could also captivate crowds with his humor. There are, of course, many biographies available, but Russell Freedman has a knack for exhibiting an individual's personality. It almost feels like you know Lincoln after reading this account-instead of having read through a list of dry facts. The photos are striking, and there are some of Lincoln's writings at the end along with some other good sources.
RL=5th-8th

Lincoln: In His Own Words edited by Milton Meltzer. il Stephen Alcorn.
Harcourt Brace & Company: NY, 1993.

Years ago I compiled a list of books to read for a unit study on the American Civil War. I haven't posted it yet, because I made the list before I started reviewing books. I wanted to reread and review first. Somehow this book escaped my notice at the time. Odd, considering Meltzer is one of my favorite historians.

Because I have read several books on Lincoln, there was not much new to me in this one. It does cover the important points, and since the approach is different it adds in some ways also. Meltzer has a series of books in which he uses the speaker or writer's words for perspective regarding the person's character and deeds. This works perfectly for Lincoln because he was a fluent and eloquent communicator-spoken and written. He is one of the few in history that stands out for his speaking and writing skills, and he is accessible to the average person.

Certain words of his reach out to me across time and still seem appropriate and right. For ex., he made a statement, which I hadn't heard before, against preemptive war as a Congressman regarding the war with Mexico. Given that the book was published in 1993, I found that interesting. Before G. W. Bush I had never thought about the issue. I would guess his words seem so right, because he was contemplative and analytical, not just spouting off. He was principled and stuck to his principles amid chaos, and he used his own words, which is rare nowadays. What I have read of his speeches makes me want to read more. What else did he say that others didn't care enough to note?

A wonderful surprise is the graphics in the book. They aren't necessary, but they are beautifully done. There are black and white, full page, engraving style prints-many of them portraits. They incorporate motifs of the period. The chapter heads are bordered with monotone, block prints. Much of the graphics remind me of quilting and embroidery from that time. Even some of the portraits have motifs within them. A friend who saw the title said she thought it sounded boring. But when she opened the book, she was amazed by the graphics. She studied them for a while and took down the name of the book for future reference. I know that I have seen the illustrator's work before in historical books and will search for more.

related-Abraham Lincoln, United States Presidents, Civil War, US politics and government, 1849-1865, political and social views
RL=6th-adult

Listen to the Wind by Greg Mortenson & Susan L. Roth.
Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Group: NY, 2009.

This is an adaptation of Three Cups of Tea by Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. The story is an account of his mission to build a school for the remote village of Korphe, Pakistan, after the villagers cared for him when he was lost in the mountains. This version of the events is told from the children's viewpoint. Amazing things told in a matter-of-fact style. It must have seemed like a miracle to them. The children ask "Can you hear our voices?" I can certainly hear the excitement.

The illustrations are multi-media, painted backgrounds with the school and people as collages. There are photos of the actual village at the end. The backgrounds are my favorite part of the pictures, but the combination works well for the story.

The story is what most impresses me about the book. It's exciting and needs to be shared. I first saw the picture book, but what is even more exciting is the story from which it was adapted.

related-rural schools, Pakistan, hospitality, friendship, mountain village
RL=2nd-4th, read aloud to toddlers-1st, use for geography 1st-3rd grades

Living Color by Steve Jenkins.
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 2007.

Living Color is an eye-catching display of creatures and their colors. It has great discussion of the various purposes of color in the Animal Kingdom. The color in some of the creatures is exaggerated. The text is as vibrant as the illustrations. It also has facts and animals I didn't already know about. I do have to admit my kids know more about animals than I, due to the number of PBS programs and books to which they have been exposed. However, it is sure to generate interest in life sciences for young readers. The back section has FAQs related to color and more facts about the creatures presented.

related-camouflage, protection, attracting mates, warning of poison and other noxious characteristics, recognition, imitation, distraction, illusion (trick of the light), emotion, food (you are what you eat), surprise, communication, habitat for others
RL=2nd-4th, maybe as young as Kindergarten

The Man Who Said No by Sally Edwards.
Coward-McCann, Inc: NY, 1970.

This is an absorbing biography with background information of life in pre-Civil War South Carolina. It is about a farm boy who became an important lawyer in Charleston. He rejected secession and continued to live and practice in Charleston during the war struggling to maintain some sense of justice in the city as the war progressed and hotheads prevailed-both Southern and Northern.
related-Civil War, Charleston (SC), Union, integrity, loyalty
RL=6th-YA

Mathemagic!: Number Tricks by Lynda Colgan. il by Jane Kurisu.
Kids Can Press: Tonawanda, NY, 2011.

Mathemagic! features a mix of mathematical tricks. All of them have explanations; some of them even have a history. They are meant to be performed for others, exhibiting your genius. Two of them have to do with properties of the digits 6 and 9 which make them easier to calculate multiplication. Some of the tricks are puzzles in which the audience participates. Mathematical operations are performed to confuse the audience. Quicker participants may figure out what the magician is doing.

The most interesting part of the book to me is the four entries which are different ways of calulating. The Egyptians had a doubling technique making it easier to multiply larger numbers quickly. Binary cards are used for guessing a participants number choice within a given range, and a discussion of binary is included. Napier's Bones, used by merchants in the 1600s, are also discussed for multiplication. They are charts of multiplication facts carved on bone which simplify the process when used together. This is a process that is done in multiplication anyway; Napier set it out visually. The fourth is division dowels, a set of rulers for division similar to Napier's multiplication. In the 1800s, Henri Genaille and Edouard Lucas worked out all of the possible quotients and remainders for a table to be used for simplifying long division. It looks complicated, but it is a simple way of accurately figuring.

The book is designed to encourage thinking about number theory. Math can be like puzzles, something to figure out for enjoyment. And there is always the fun of knowing something that stumps someone else. The author presents these tricks as ways to calculate problems quickly and mentally. Some of them can be used to figure quickly for any reason. When a student can develop this proficiency in mathematics, he/she can start to really enjoy the theory (reasons for doing math).

related-mathematical puzzles, figuring, calculating, multipication, division
RL=3rd and up, a challenge for 3rd graders, probably better for 5th-8th

Mathematicians Are People, Too: Stories from the Lives of Great Mathematicians by Luetta Reimer & Wilbert Reimer.
Dale Seymour Publications: Palo Alta, CA, 1990.

Not only are mathematicians people, too, but they can have very interesting lives. The usual mathematicians are discussed here (Pythagorus, Archimedes, Newton, tec) plus others less well-known such as John Napier, Leonhard Euler, Sophie Germain, and Srinivasa Ramanujan. Half of the people I had either never heard of or only heard the name before reading the book. The biographies are short but fascinating and hopefully will generate more interest in mathematics since they show math as a process of thinking and logic not just figuring.
related-problem solving, geometry, number theory, algebra, computation, probabilty, measurement, mathematical symbols, women in mathematics
RL=5th-8th

A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
Alfred A. Knopf: NY, 1990.
Received Pulitzer Prize and Bancroft Prize in 1991 for History

This book is one of the best biographies I've read and is dear to my heart. It has extra meaning for me, since we live within 45 minutes of Martha Ballard's home in a frontier town on the banks of the Kennebec River now known as Augusta, Maine. Even more so, because when I first read the book I had had a homebirth with midwives 1 to 2 years before. It was an incredibly awesome, life-changing event, and this was my 2nd child's birth.

There are several noteworthy aspects of this book. It is a well-written, exciting, and quite readable biography to start. Second, it has segments of Martha's diary in the book to compare and see where the biographer was getting her information. Because the Ballard family was important in the growth of this frontier town, we see not only Martha's reactions to events of the day, but also many of the activities that her family participated in regularly.

Martha was a frontier, homebirth midwife and natural healer, attending an average of 33 births per year (a total of 814 during the diary's span) and treating the townspeople (especially women and children) for their ailments and lending physical and emotional support. Her husband ran a lumber mill and was a surveyor for the region and was expected to participate in the militia. Martha and her daughters as well as the other women in the town wove their own cloth. Besides growing much of the family's food, Martha also grew the herbs she used to treat her patients. In her diary, she kept a record of the births and deaths-including those attended by others. She also noted transactions of family business.

Another fascinating aspect is that Martha practiced her profession at a time when doctors were starting to cut into the business of the midwives. Given my experiences, I wanted to know why anyone would choose a doctor for birth instead. A Midwife's Tale does partially address this question. Martha Ballard and Dr. Cony had very different practices. At the time, I believe the women preferred midwives. But the doctors actively (and sometimes aggressively) sought the business for themselves. They tended to have more education and were wealthy, respected, male citizens. They had greater influence with the men of the area, who were the ones to go for help at the time of the birth. In later years, they also campaigned against midwives. Migration also had an impact as women moved away from family and friends and lost the influence of the women's circle.

This is a more personal and detailed glimpse of history than we normally see. It is a fascinating read for anyone due to the historical content. But especially for women who have an interest in women's history.

A PBS documentary was made by American Experience (same title) in 1998. I did not see it, but may one day.

The book also notes that Martha Ballard was the sister of Clara Barton's grandmother, Dorothy Barton.

related-Martha Ballard, Hallowell and Augusta, Maine, Kennebec River Valley, social life and customs, midwives, frontier life 18th-19th century, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, women's history, labor/work of women in United States history, medical practices
RL=YA-adult

Milton Meltzer: Writing Matters by Milton Meltzer.
Franklin Watts/Scholastic Inc: NY, 2004.

Writing Matters is an updated version of Meltzer's previous autobiography, Starting From Home. The earlier one has more details about his parents and ends with his beginning college. Writing Matters has a more personal tone, explains the details of his professional life, and tells about why he writes.

Milton Meltzer is one of my favorite history writers. From his many books I can tell that he writes for the same reasons that I want my children (and others) to read historical books-so that they understand better what has happened in the past, so that the same mistakes are not made again, and so that we can all move closer towards equality and an understanding of each other. Milton Meltzer brings the past to life. Many of his books have the actual words from people of the time period-including ordinary citizens. He concentrates on people's experiences instead of boring facts that are not memorable when taken out of context.

I did not start reading historical books (besides novels and a biography here and there) until I was considering homeschooling my first child. Suddenly it became important to understand history better, and as I read I learned how little of history is taught in school. Much of what is skipped or glossed over is uncomfortable or controversial. With his books, Meltzer fills in many of the gaps in order to encourage students and adults to think about the issues. If we do not know the people and the struggles that have brought us to where we are, how can we hope to continue moving forward, or even not regress? Few Americans vote because they have not been taught about the ongoing struggles in a real way that matters to them. They also have not been taught that they can look at the whole picture and make meaningful decisions. Reading, learning, thinking, and discussing the information and ideas is all it takes to make better decisions.

related-Milton Meltzer, biography, authorship, education, writing, historian
RL=6th-YA

Nature Got There First by Phil Gates.
Kingfisher: NY, 1995.

Nature is spotlighted here with descriptions of how inventors have copied natural phenomenon. Detailed pictures help us to see the parallels in this fantastic book. From architecture to transportation to energy nature has again and again lead the way.
RL=3rd to 5th

One World, One Day by Barbara Kerley.
National Geographic Society: Washington, D.C., 2009.

I love Kerley's books in partnership with National Geographic. The photography is so great! The meaning that she conveys with so few words (rich words, but few) and the life captured in the pictures. Some of the shots are just beautiful photographically as well. There is so much humor, and I love the spirit of the project, the motivation to bring the world together, the visual evidence that we share the same basic needs and desires each day. And if that's not enough of a treat, there are her comments about each photograph and place at the end of the book. I've seen 3 of the 4 books now and thoroughly enjoyed each. The other 2 are A Little Peace and A Cool Drink of Water. I highly recommend this series.
related-children, social life and custom, pictorial works
RL=all ages, 1st grade reading level, but reading isn't necessary to enjoy

Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis by Jimmy Carter.
Simon & Schuster: NY, 2005.

In searching for a book title of Jimmy Carter's regarding Israel and Palestine, I came across this book at the public library. As Carter has lived his life with an emphasis on moral values, including his governing of his state and the nation, I wanted to see what he had to say. The book was written at a time when I, too, felt that our people were (and still are) moving away from living based on moral values, no matter how much people say they are important. Money has become the all important motivation for most of our society. For some, out of necessity.

I was surprised by the focus of the book. He talks about the merging of politics and fundamentalist religion and how that is shaping governmental policy. For a President who was and is strongly religious (even teaching Sunday school post government life), this was not what I was expecting to hear. However, as a person who is much more knowledgeable of the workings and players in our federal government, he saw connections between religious communities and politicians that I did not know existed. For ex., growing up in Texas, in the 1970s through 1980s, I was aware of the Moral Majority and the Christian Right, but they were considered extremist, fringe groups, and mostly not taken too seriously. I moved to New England in the early 1990s, and apparently, they started to become a stronger force within the Republican Party, with church leaders becoming politicians. It seemed to me that, as the Republican Party started to use the phrase "family values" more often in the 1990s, it started to move farther away from social responsibility. Communities and any funding of them through the 1990s and 2000s became less important to their supporters. We used to have hospitals and family clinics everywhere that were supported by the communities. They are mostly gone now, greatly adding to the health care mess that confronts us. In this book, Jimmy Carter confirms things that I felt, but did not talk about much, because I thought that what I was feeling was a personal struggle. What I thought was just Republicans using buzz words to cover over their motivation towards money and power was also a takeover of the Party by an extremist agenda, paralleling a takeover within the Christian churches (Though Protestants and Catholics have different leaders, their hierarchies have moved a similar direction).

Jimmy Carter addresses many controversial issues in this book - science and religion, women's rights, human rights, civil rights, and foreign policy among them. He discusses historical positions and where we are headed with governmental policy. While this book was written in 2005, the issues are still relevant. In many ways, policies have not changed since then. It is a good discussion of governmental policy between 1995 and 2005, and sadly through 2012.

related-social values, Christianity and politics, church and state, United States politics and government, moral and ethical issues, human rights, foreign relations, religious fundamentalism
RL=YA-adult; adult book, but accessible to YA.

Out of the Shadows: An Artist's Journey by Neil Waldman.
Boyds Mills Press: Honesdale, PA, 2006.

Illustrated with Waldman's paintings as well as his relatives', his autobiography consists of anecdotes from his formative years. They create stirring images of the experiences which influenced his career as an artist and writer.

His stories are glimpses of his old journals which he says were important in developing his talent. He encourages students to keep journals both as a form of practice (for sketching and writing) and as reminders of what they have already learned and experienced. Another point not mentioned is that using a journal focuses attention and emphasizes the particular idea being recorded at that moment. So, it becomes imprinted more firmly in the mind.

Out of the Shadows is enjoyable reading and also enlightening and inspirational for hopeful young artists and writers.

related-Neil Waldman, childhood and youth, illustrators, Jewish artists, American history and biography
RL=4th-8th

Palestine Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter.
Simon & Schuster: NY, 2006.

I remember, five to ten years back, learning of some of the behavior of Israelis toward the Palestinians and being shocked. Our culture is saturated with the idea that Arabs/Palestinians are hostile and unreasonable. I grew up with the concept of them as terrorists, period. With the knowledge that our government economically and militarily backs Israel. Imagine my surprise to finally learn that the United Nations, including the United States has consistently stated that Israel has been occupying land illegally since 1967. I knew of the Camp David Accords, led by Jimmy Carter as President, but not details. Imagine my surprise that it was agreed upon in the 1970s that those lands should be given back as the only way forward to peace and that Israel instead has continued to build more settlements all this time. They have also bulldozed homes and businesses of Palestinians, geographically isolated them and imprisoned them within their neighborhoods, not to mention military attacks. Does this sound like a people willing to work towards peace? Does this sound like a country we should be backing militarily?

In this book, Jimmy Carter describes his trips to the Middle East, from when he was Governor of Georgia through 2006. He also discusses his concern with the region and his communication with people of the whole area. After his Presidency, he formed the Carter Center which uses its influence to negotiate peacefully with those that otherwise might not be cooperative with each other. They oversee elections in those areas.

Jimmy Carter clarifies official US policy regarding Israel and Palestine in his book. He delineates the progression of peacekeeping gatherings, the setbacks, the growth of Palestinian leadership, and behavior of several key figures. He describes a picture of a more and more totalitarian relationship of Israeli leaders towards the Palestinians under their rule. In reading, I was struck by the difference between UN and US policy and our media and culture which seems to be only pro-Israel. Why the drastic difference? Why has the US government not acted in accordance with its policy statements? Why are we helping them to continue their oppression of Palestinians who live on land the UN says is legally Palestinian? I was impressed also by Carter's certainty that peace is possible in the region. A majority of people on both sides want it. A majority agree on necessary steps. He believes it likely will happen from within the contested areas and Israel.

The book is eye-opening and thought provoking. It would be ideal for a high school current events class. A good starting point on the issue, and then extend with periodicals and the internet to continue the timeline since 2006. Also, go further and learn how the states surrounding Israel are tied to wars the US has been involved in since the 1970s. It might also work for a nonfiction book club. The point would be to get some discussion going, rather than lectures, and maybe some problem solving brainstorming. Members of the group could bring articles to share. At the very least, it will encourage awareness of the issue instead of propaganda.

I have to say also that the predominant statements about Jimmy Carter as President have been negative. However, the more I read about him and from him, the more I think he was the best President in my lifetime. His unpopularity came from his facing the facts instead of pretending. Maybe also not going along with Big Business. He was called weak, but really he was striving for peace. That is not weak. It is intelligent and courageous. Far easier to give in to the nutcases that always push for war, who benefit from war. I would like to see more Presidents with his vision.

One thing I really like about Carter's writing is that it is accessible. It should be easily understood by young adults and interested middle schoolers.

related-Arab/Israeli conflict, peace, United States-foreign relations, Middle East-especially Israel, Jordan, Egypt, West Bank of Jordan River, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, politics and government, negotiations, United Nations resolutions, President Jimmy Carter
RL=8th-adult

Peace: A Dream Unfolding ed by Penney Kome and Patrick Crean.
Sierra Club Books: San Francisco, 1986.

I came across this book many years ago when I was shelving books at my public library. I was curious about the name and noticed eye-catching graphics and other artwork. When I took it home to read it, I was astounded and determined that my children would read it when they became old enough to appreciate the importance of the contents.

The book is a little daunting. Much of the first third is dedicated to quotes and passages by known figures throughout history speaking out about the need to stop warring. Through time many reasons are given. The middle section deals with all aspects of nuclear energy, especially but not limited to nuclear weapons and the increased danger to the world regarding them. The last portion discusses organizations that have been active in limiting the dangers, the huge numbers of people who are concerned. So, it goes from a very hopeful beginning (though also intellectual) to the fear and utterly mind-blowing facts to hope again that we can act from a standpoint of awareness to end the fear and devastation, that there is more knowledge of the fact that we have no choice but to end it.

What is astounding to me is how much of the information I had no clue about. Very little is broached in history classes, and most of it is not common knowledge. Being from the generation after the Vietnam War, I thought that our country had learned its lesson (obviously not). In the 1980s, there was much activism against both nuclear weapons and nuclear power generation. As a result, the public knew the seriousness of the hazards (although we were still missing important information), and plants were closed. Maybe I just assumed that our citizens were more aware than they actually are. Imagine my surprise when I heard President Bush talking about making "usable" nuclear weapons. Imagine my outrage when my Senator wrote in a response to my concern that it was okay if we spent millions of dollars to research building the weapons since they hadn't agreed to actually use them yet. Dumb and dumber.

This is why I feel the book is so important. It states in no uncertain terms the things that all humans need to know about nuclear weapons. It describes Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a way that cannot fail to reach people. It also states that the public reason for those bombings was nonexistent. Our government ordered the dropping of those bombs knowing Japan was ready to surrender. To me this means no government can be trusted with the power of these weapons. None.

I am reading the book for the second time, and it is as powerful today as it was years ago. I guarantee that this subject will not be addressed fully in curriculums. I know that it is disturbing, but if we are to safeguard our future, we cannot leave it in the hands of politicians and the military complex. There is too much money wrapped up in the whole deal for politicians to care about what is best for the world or even our homeland. Only pressure from people of the world (us) will influence nuclear policy.

related-peace, nuclear weapons and war, nuclear energy and accidents, nuclear disarmament, environmental hazards
RL=YA-adult

A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence
by Ray Raphael.
The New Press: NY, 2001.

My youngest son is high school age now. I wish I had had this book year ago when the other two were studying history. (One still does on his own.) It is a truer depiction of the American Revolution than most in our country will ever encounter.

I disagree with the way history is taught in American schools. I have never seen a textbook that has enough depth to say that any category was sufficiently covered. Further, American history has surface dressing for years through elementary, and a little more in middle school, to the point that when the students are finally capable of understanding the complexity of events, they are thoroughly sick of the subject. Unless they happen to have a fantastic teacher or are exposed to an unusual source, they no longer care. Consequently, our people are ignorant in the subject of history and have little desire to read historical books. I would, instead, have a textbook as a summary to be used only as a starting point. I would also have a running list of books that are accessible (maturity-wise and physically through libraries and other sources), a recommendation list broken down by time periods or subjects. I would require that a certain number of books be read, but some flexibility is required to ensure continued interest. Not everyone has the same interests. Accessibility, exposure and guidance are important in education, but we do not all require the exact same education, nor will we retain the same knowledge when exposed to it. It is more important to stress the fundamentals of learning, so that students (all people) will continue to search and learn beyond the classroom. There should be discussion groups in class (one-on-one discussion if homeschooled). Discussion and writing are how you determine if the students are reading and understanding. History is fascinating! But, truthfully, it wasn't until I was reading on my own that I really believed that.

This book would definitely be on my list. It shows different viewpoints regarding war and separation. It shows war as a nasty business and the ruthlessness of the times. There is no sugarcoating, and there shouldn't be. Schools are teaching such a whitewashing, no wonder our people have such a skewed concept of what war is. All wars, in reality, destroy the areas where they take place. All become civil violence, no matter the starting. This book also shows that this revolution was also a civil war, with the conclusion of opposing citizens forced to leave or be executed. Some of the things I knew or inferred from other readings. This book has details I would never have guessed about. It is very clear about the hostility and devastation that took place. Many sources are letters and newspapers.

An interesting fiction/nonfiction partnering would be this book and The Spy by James Fenimore Cooper, which also shows the civil disagreement and pillaging for supplies. I read another book after this one which picks up where this one leaves off, The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy by Jeffrey L. Pasley. It also will be on my recommended list. It discusses the rocky beginnings of the new government - the popular dissatisfaction with new legislation and treaties and the impact that the French Revolution was having on that transition period. There was and is disagreement about how much the people should be allowed to influence governmental decisions. This transition is a period glossed over in school. All the more reason to read about it!

related-American Revolutionary War, 18th century, American colonies, civil war, Native Americans, slavery, economic conditions, land speculation, land and property
RL=adult, accessible to YA

Picture Pie by Ed Emberley.
Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1984.

Emberley shows how circles can be cut into 4 basic shapes and the pieces fit together to form limitless designs. The pictures range from very basic with step by step graphics to quite complex. There are also suggestions for variations, such as cutting differently or using printed paper.

I was excited to find this book, because it is a technique my mother told me she used in her art class for elementary grades. It teaches that art on a basic level is shapes and also can be an introduction to fractions.

To encourage children's natural desire to create sometimes requires showing them how to have an end product that is great. Simple projects like this help them to succeed, and so, they will keep creating. While the process is what is most important, a child who doesn't feel successful in art will stop creating. I did not learn until I was an adult that practice is essential, and that I can also be happy with my creations if I continue to try.

related-drawing technique, circles in art
RL=K-5th

Pocahontas by Joseph Bruchac.
Silver Whistle/Harcourt, Inc: NY, 2003.

Written in journal form, this is an account of the Jamestown, VA settlement from two points-of-view (Pocahontas and John Smith). John Smith's chapters are based on Smith's writings as well as others by his fellow settlers. The viewpoint of Pocahontas is based on scholarly writings of the Powhatan culture and information gathered from storytellers and elders in the Native American community. It is so refreshing to have both sides of the story displayed for events that were such a turning point for both cultures.
RL=6th-7th

Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem From the Inside Out by Ralph Fletcher.
HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2002.

This book consists mostly of tips for writing the substance of poems. There is some discussion of poetry forms, but mostly the book deals with inspiration, observation, word play and revising lines that don't quite work. The author visits schools, helping the students to become involved in poetry. There are several excerpts of poems illustrating his points, many of them by students. Also three interviews with successful poets and recommended poetry books for study and enjoyment.

Fletcher quotes a young student as saying

It's [poetry] like you're at a party, and you hear some fresh music, and you want to get up and dance.

I don't think of myself as a poet or even a writer, but my haiku writing at Christmas and my contest have gotten me excited about putting my thoughts into poetry. The poetry in The Tree That Time Built increased my desire to do so. I realize now that it is something that literally anyone can do for their own pleasure or emotional release, not just for Literature majors.

I originally picked up the book for my sons' high school writing work. It is simple to read and probably the most help I've seen regarding writing poetry.

related-poetry and poets, authorship, creative writing
RL=5th and up

The Power of One: Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine by Judith Bloom Fradin & Dennis Brindell Fradin.
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 2004

Daisy Bates co-published the newspaper, State Press in Little Rock, Arkansas. Because of their leadership against racial violence and injustice, Mrs. Bates became Arkansas' president of the NAACP in 1957. She guided the "Little Rock Nine" in their struggles to integrate Central High and sought to protect them from the worst of the violence.

This book follows her life-her childhood, her motivations, her involvement in the State Press, her activism, and of course, the struggle revolving around Central High and the consequences of being involved.

Nothing I have read before has so thoroughly depicted the abuse that these people suffered. I've seen short clips on TV and brief descriptions from books. Mostly the big protests are discussed-not 1 1/2 to 2 years of day to day verbal and physical abuse (some of that while National Guardsmen and teachers watched). I cannot fathom how there could be so much hatred that students could attack other students repeatedly on a day to day basis with no retaliation from the victims. In the book there is a well-known picture of Elizabeth Eckford facing the mob alone. I wonder about the girl behind her with such hatred captured on her face.
RL=7th-YA

Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden by George Levenson. photos by Shmuel Thaler.
Tricycle Press/Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 1999.

This is a nonfiction poem celebrating the life cycle of pumpkins. Every aspect is lovingly described. The parts of the pumpkins seem to have personality as exhibited by Levenson and Thaler. The cycle is a circle, seeds to plants to pumpkins to seeds. I love the backyard full of pumpkin plants, vines everywhere.

The photos are great! You can feel the texture of the closeups. They match the wonderful description perfectly. The combination invites the readers to come play in the garden, and certainly to start their own special pumpkin patch that renews itself from year to year.

Besides how the pumpkins grow, there is further information in back for growing a pumpkin garden.

What a fantastic book! Another great garden book by Levenson and Thaler is Bread Comes to Life.

related-life cycle of pumpkins, backyard gardening, food, jack-o-lanterns, stories in rhyme, poetry for children
RL=1st-5th, read aloud to toddler-K

Q is for Quark by David M. Schwartz. il. Kim Doner.
Tricycle Press: Berkeley, 2001.

Q is for Quark is one of my favorite alphabet books, has a super cool name, and is one of the best science books for elementary students. It's style is unique and hilarious, explaining science terms and concepts in clear and simple speech, with humorous graphical depictions and comical commentary. The reading level is about 3rd to 5th grade, but it is a book for all ages. Everyone can enjoy the comics. Elementary on up can benefit from the clarification of ideas, promoting the discussion of the concepts with children, which encourages their exploration and willingness to persevere through science classes they may find difficult.

Q is for Quark is a fun book. I wish that my elementary science (what little there was) had been approached in this way. I would like to see more science taught in this way. The book uses normal terminology, but it also explains it without complicated terms which confuse the discussion. It shows science as the explorative subject that it is, something to play around with and observe results and reactions. There are some great concepts within the sciences that don't take a rocket scientist to understand. This book mostly is involved with fairly simple ones (unlike G is for Googol which explains some less elementary ideas), but it is a good book to start some exploration into the science world.

Q is for Quark and its counterpart G is for Googol are books to buy for youngsters and keep and cherish. They are not quick reads; they serve as reminders as well as introductions. I have to say these books helped me to understand some of the terms better and explained terms I hadn't bothered to understand. Here's hoping that these books will lead to further exploration.

related-science, alphabet, ABCs, educational comics, exploration
RL=all ages

Quest for a King: Searching for the Real King Arthur by Catherine M. Andronik.
Atheneum/Macmillan Publishing Company: NY, 1989.

This is the first source I read regarding the documentation of a real Arthur in British history-although from the 6th century A.D. not medieval times and as a general instead of King of all England. Conflicting information is presented, so obviously some of the facts are only claims. It is intriguing to see the possible connections between local legends, British/Welsh history, and the King Arthur stories. The author sites Geoffrey Ashe and Leslie Alcock as the foremost authorities on Arthur.

related-King Arthur, history of Arthurian romances, British antiquities, Anglo-Saxons, Celts, kings & rulers
RL=6th-YA

Race: A History Beyond Black and White by Marc Aronson.
Ginee Seo Books/Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2007.

There could not be a better time for an honest discussion of racism. Aronson maps out a history of the idea, plus preceding prejudices. He says his view is controversial, but that is not surprising considering the charged nature of the issue. I hope that people will read and discuss this book. I hope in the coming months people will take a hard and honest look at how easy it is to be influenced by prejudiced and hateful dialogue and learn to be more objective.

I think this book is important right now, because I strongly believe Barack Obama will be a great President, if given the chance. However, I also have a heavy dose of realism, even cynicism. I grew up in Texas, so I have no doubt the primary focus of McCain's campaign will be racism. It is the only way he could win, and it will be nasty. I do believe times are bad enough that Obama's grasp of what is needed, his message of hope, and his ability to ignore what is petty and stick to the issues may prevail. When given the choice between the hatred and cronyism of the Bush agenda (McCain has become no more than a parrot or puppet) and the chance to really fix some of our country's growing list of crises (not just talk about them), what do you think people will choose?

Obama's speaking and graciousness is reminiscent of Martin Luther King, Jr. But he reminds me even more of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln also spoke directly to the people. He was a popular candidate, with little experience, who won the nomination despite his Party insiders' distrust of him. He also took office during a time of great stress and exhibited wisdom beyond his years (I'll take wisdom over experience, anytime). We need this now, and I hope people will not let racism determine our future.
RL=YA-adult

Raggin' Jazzin' Rockin': A History of American Musical Instrument Makers by Susan VanHecke.
Boyds Mills Press: Honesdale, PA, 2011.

The title sort of says it all. The book focuses on eight huge names in music-making. Within each company there were one or more people who revolutionized a part of the industry. At least one of those names, Steinway, was so prevalent at one time that most people knew of them. Their stories are also linked to historic times, such as the beginnings of jazz, life under a 17th century Sultan, and 19th century German guilds. Famous musicians who played the instruments are also featured.

This is an exciting collection of histories. The entries are short with some excellent pictures. It is accessible to 4th graders, yet fascinating to all ages. I particulary like the mix of historic times with the more biographical information.

While I have heard of most of the manufacturers, I did not know most of the histories. Besides the business startups, a general understanding of the instruments is conveyed along with the innovative ideas.

related-musical instrument makers, development and progression of musical instruments, United States history, high interest
RL=4th and up

Rebuild the Dream by Van Jones.
Nation Books/Perseus Books Group: NY, 2012.

Van Jones is a former special advisor to the Obama Administration regarding green jobs. He was appointed because of his work within cities providing jobs for unskilled workers while implementing green renovation and other ecological services. After resigning as advisor, he worked to found the grassroots organization Rebuild the Dream. He also wrote The Green Collar Economy.

In Rebuild the Dream, Van Jones compares three movements: Obama's presidential campaign, The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. He discusses the hope that people had with Obama's election and why it fell short. He discusses the importance of the Tea Party, how it has been successful. He talks about why Occupy Wall Street resonated with millions of people and how it can move forward, participating in the needed changes for our economy.

The organization Rebuild the Dream was growing before the initial protests. They were a fledgling group. It has a platform called the Contract for the American Dream with ten points to follow for strengthening the middle class, to reestablish the dream that has been at the heart of our country for so long. The points are included in the book as well as at RebuildTheDream.com. As the group supported the Occupy movement, Jones believes their organization can support the movers of Occupy in becoming a greater part of the political and electoral dialogue. Rebuild the Dream networks with other grassroots organizations in support of rebuilding our economy. Several miscellaneous measures are discussed as necessary for improving the economy.

Like Van Jones, I was not a part of the Occupy movement, but my heart was totally with them. When the media kept harping about their lack of agenda, I thought about the many obvious reasons they were protesting and that it was enough for them to force people to look at the problems. I knew that they were standing for the same things I believed. It was heartbreaking to see the city authorities' responses. Even more upsetting was Washington's wish to pretend it wasn't happening or there wasn't justification. I also want to see the many issues addressed. I hope that this will be back front and center at election time, with no politician able to hide from the demands of our people. Ideally, there would be some progress before then, but I'm not counting on it. I am looking forward to the impact that the millennial generation could make on United States policies, and I hope many of them will read this book.

related-United States, social and economic conditions, 21st century, politics, government, political participation, social movements, protest movements
RL=7th-adult, adult book but accessible to YARestless Spirit: The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange by Elizabeth Partridge.
Viking Press/Penguin Group:NY, 1998.

Written by the daughter of Dorothea Lange's apprentice, colleague, and friend, the biography is an account of homelessness and poverty during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and the San Francisco shipyards during the 1940s. It is also a documentation of the difficulties of trying to have a great, meaningful career and care for a family as well. I have known few people who could do both well-at the same time.

Dorothea Lange was an incredible photographer, but she lived at a time when the mother was expected to be the caregiver. She was torn between her work and her family. In the beginning of her career, most of her time and energy was spent on caretaking. As she became more of a photographer (a field photographer), she pulled away from her family. I believe this is an issue that many women are forced to agonize over.

Dorothea Lange was a smart, strong woman with an amazing life. The documentation is enlightening about subjects that are not covered well in history classes, and I think it is a positive thing for teenagers to learn about the balance of career and family life-instead of waiting until they have babies to figure out what to do. We are not all meant to make the same choices, but it is good to have an idea of what to expect.

Also, most of the pictures were taken by Dorothea Lange herself. Some quite beautiful pictures.
RL=8th-YA

The Rough Guide to Blogging by Jonathan Yang.
Rough Guides, Ltd: London, 2006.
Distributed by Penguin Group, NY.

This is a comprehensive guide for beginners - both new bloggers and those wishing to explore the blogosphere. The book describes the growth and importance of blogs, gives advice about getting started viewing blogs, discusses a number of successful blogs, and gives instructions on starting and improving your own blog. Already having a blog, it was comforting to see that I have incorporated most of what I need. But as a viewer I found several blogs I might want to check out myself. Blogging doesn't allow much extra time for me to explore the web, but the links are a reminder to me of some I'm missing out on. Some of the links may be out of date now, but the general information is still helpful for beginners.

related-blogs, podcasts, videoblogs, writing, marketing, business
RL=YA-adult, written for adults

The Saga of Lewis & Clark: Into the Uncharted West by Thomas Schmidt and Jeremy Schmidt.
Tehabi Books/DK Publishing, Inc: NY, 1999.

This is an awe-inspiring recounting of the Lewis & Clark Expedition including excerpts from the journals of the expedition's members, pictures and descriptions of artifacts, topographical maps and gorgeous photographs of the landscape. The 2 authors (a historian and a naturalist) retraced the charted routes before creating the book.
RL=6th-YA

The Seasons by Steven Schnur. il Leslie Evans.
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY.


Autumn 1997
Spring 1999
Summer 2001
Winter 2002

Schnur has created an alphabet acrostic book for each season. Eye-catching linoleum-cut illustrations partner acrostic poems for each letter of the alphabet. What a beautiful way to share the seasons with young ones! Full of wonder, overflowing with descriptions.
related-abc, poetry, seasons
RL=3rd-4th     read aloud to PreK-2nd

The Seasons Sewn: A Year in Patchwork by Ann Whitford Paul. il Michael McCurdy.
Browndeer Press/Harcourt Brace & Company: NY, 1996.

This book is much like Eight Hands Round by Ann Whitford Paul. It also describes historical themes in relation to patchwork squares and their names. They are different patterns, since there are so many from which to choose, and they are presented based on seasons of the year. Many of the patterns are more difficult than in the other book. As in the other, the patterns are shown first as squares, and then repeated squares for maximum effect. The illustrations in The Seasons Sewn are more precise and much more detailed. I love the historical information and the presentation. I can't wait to try some of the patterns myself.

related-patchwork quilts, quilting patterns, frontier and pioneer life, United States history, seasons of the year
RL=2nd-4th, read aloud with preK-1st, could be used for elementary history

Ship by David Macaulay.
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 1993.

Macaulay uses narration and journal form to blend stories of marine life, archaeology and shipbuilding. The presentation is fictional, but it is almost entirely based on archaeological and historical information. The subject is the building and recovery of 15th century sailing ships.
related-caravels, underwater archaeology, shipwrecks, antiquities, exploration
RL=4th-6th

Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed The Declaration of Independence by Denise Kiernan and Joseph D'Agnese.
Quirk Books: Philadelphia, 2009.
Distributed by Chronicle Books, San Francisco.

To my knowledge this is the first book for youth which gives biographies for each signer of The Declaration of Independence. There are some adult versions, and they are listed in the bibliography. Each short bio is headed with a personal designation, some funny or odd, and the signers are in order by states and geographic regions. Though some of the profiles are almost blurb length, the book is a little long due to the number of signers. However, it can be read in segments, enjoyed leisurely, due to the structure of the book. You can even skip around, reading the accounts that promise to be more interesting or important.

The significance of the book is primarily background information for the American Revolution. More than most juvenile books it seriously delves into the whole period - the factors leading to the conflict, the concerns of people from different backgrounds, the consequences for the decisions they made personally, the importance of the work of more people than you would normally hear, a better idea of the number of people involved in the Revolution (history classes only point out a few), plus significant events. The book also underscores the magnitude of the decision to sign The Declaration, given that until this point most of the colonies had not committed to breaking away from England. Not only were the men handpicked in their colonies for representation, but their signatures were a written record that singled them out for any retribution by the Crown. Their actions were a hanging offense.

This anecdotal style brings history to life, making it enjoyable while learning. Books like this are my preferred sources for teaching history. They have all the info you get from text books plus personal accounts which make history a more real experience. The more a student (of whatever age) enjoys the process, the more the mind is engaged. This form of learning leads also to the study (and ideally discussion) of philosophical questions which are necessary for progression of mankind - whether the nature of the subject is social, spiritual, economical, etc.

Many of the signers went on to fill positions in the new levels of government, state and federal. Whether that is due to the positions they already held or because they had already "signed their lives away" would be difficult to determine but interesting to consider. Many also have descendants that are well-known, more than I would have thought.

related-American history, colonial period of the United States, colonies of Britain, British empire
RL=7th-YA

Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China During the Cultural Revolution by Moying Li.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2008.

Moying Li was twelve at the start of the Cultural Revolution. She attended a prestigious international language school. Everything changed, however, when student Red Guards denounced her teachers, administrators and other students. Public humiliations and arrests became the norm.

The beating of her headmasters was the last straw, and she retreated to her home. On arrival, she found her grandmother, with whom she had lived as a child, denounced, the house ransacked and books taken or destroyed, and her father forcibly removed. Her mother earlier had been forced to teach at a school far removed from their home.

The next decade was chaotic. She managed to avoid being sent to a labor camp, but some relatives and friends were not as lucky. After a few years, she was able to return to school, but with restrictive conditions. She continued to study on her own with a mentor, retired and forgotten by officials.

Moying Li has written about frightening times in a way that is not totally depressing and hopeless. She was fortunate in the progression of her own life, though she was ravaged by misfortune and fear throughout the Cultural Revolution.

Moying Li's story is a tiny piece of history in, for me, unknown territory. I grew up during this period also, when China cut itself off from the West and the Communist scare was still fresh in the minds of adults (though she is a little older than me). Little news was given then or since, and it is hard to know what is real or propaganda. I am struck by the gentleness and love of the Chinese people I have met. It does not fit with the image portrayed those long years ago. So, naturally, I would like to know more. How much has China changed since the end of the Revolution? How many of the students who came to study in the U.S. or other Western countries went back to live in China?

related-personal narratives, People's Republic of China-history, Cultural Revolution, Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong, communism, coming of age, secret reading club
RL=YA-adult

Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman? by Patricia C. McKissack and Frederick McKissack.
Scholastic Inc: NY, 1992.

This is an inspirational biography about a strong, intelligent, and charismatic woman. Sojourner Truth was a Northern slave until she was 28 and by New York law had to be freed. She was one of the first black women to win a lawsuit against a white man. The man had illegally sold her son to a Southerner. For many years she wandered the Northern U.S. speaking against slavery. She did not read and write, but she had her autobiography transcribed. She needed no preparation for her speeches. Everything she needed to speak was in her mind and heart. She absorbed everything she heard, and her courage and conviction matched her intelligence. Sojourner Truth also became an important speaker on behalf of women's rights. Arguments of female weakness could not stand with the evidence of her life before the audience. She knew how to counter every argument placed before her. After the Civil War, she worked tirelessly to gain support for a bill to give Western land to freed slaves so that they might become self-supporting citizens.
related-slavery, women's suffrage, social reform, abolitionists, black history
RL=6th-YA

The Solitude of Self: Thinking About Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Vivian Gornick.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2005.

I read The Solitude of Self (Gornick), because I was looking for biographical material regarding Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Gornick says in the bibliography that the book is not a "work of scholarship." I don't know if I totally agree with that statement. She has done a fair amount of research, and she clearly portrays Stanton's work towards, and thinking and frustration regarding, women's rights. The book is short, not a long dissertation. It also does not cloak the passion of the author. But it does give me the view of Stanton that I was searching for. It also makes me want to read further, including some of Stanton's writings - a mark of good biographical material.

The author's purpose was to explain her own feminist experience and compare it with that of Stanton. Through this brief view of Stanton's life, focusing primarily on the long period of her activism on behalf of women, I learned things I didn't know (ex. that Stanton was responsible for The Woman's Bible, which was still controversial in the 1970s and that the movement started well before the Civil War).

I think this would be a good starting point for young adults and others looking for information on Stanton's importance in the movement, an understanding of the movement itself, and cultural factors impeding progress. There is more biographical information in the book than I expected to find. The book was written for adults, but is brief and accessible to young adults.

related-Elizabeth Cady Stanton, women's rights and suffrage, feminists, social activism
RL=YA-adult

Spiderwebs to Skyscrapers: The Science of Structures (Experiment! Series) by Dr. David Darling.
Dillon Press/Macmillan Publishing Company: NY, 1991.

Darling explains a few principles of structural engineering. He has provided easy experiments using household objects to illustrate his points, and the text is clear and interesting.
RL=5th-7th

Talking Peace: A Vision for the Next Generation by Jimmy Carter.
Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Books USA Inc: NY, 1993.

Obviously there have been some changes since it has been more than a decade since publication. However, the things that cause wars remain the same. The needs of people all over the world remain the same. The necessity of learning to live without waging war is as important as it has ever been. Our lives are more intertwined globally than ever before, and if we are to avoid global war, we must develop a greater degree of respect for others. Our culture, for the most part, does not encourage that respect.

We are given countless reasons to start or fund wars. They are rarely fought for the reasons given. Usually it has something to do with profit not necessity. It is important that people understand that there will always be reasons to fight and even kill. It takes a stronger and wiser person to stop it from happening or continuing.
RL=7th-YA

The Teenagers' Guide to School Outside the Box by Rebecca Greene.
Free Spirit Publishing Inc: Minneapolis, MN, 2001.

The book explores exciting opportunities and learning experiences for teens who want more than the standard experience. The author discusses volunteer work, classes (from colleges, universities, and community programs), internships apprenticeships, and travel. As a homeschool teacher, I believe these are the kinds of learning opportunites of which all teens should be taking advantage when possible. They help people to grow personally as well as give them valuable work experience and knowledge. They can be highly interesting and fun, and they are a key to why homeschooling is so successful.
RL=YA

TeenVestor.com by Emmanuel Modu and Andrea Walker.
Gateway Publishers: Newark, NY, 2001.

This is a great resource for beginners to understand investment choices (teens and adults). It is straightforward and fairly easy, but does require some focus. There is a section on teaching children the importance of saving money, how to save, and managing money. A simple, teen-based business is used to illustrate the concepts of investment statements and balance sheets. Then this is compared to a larger company. The last third of the book deals with stock market terms, understanding the market, and learning how to choose investments.

The book has a partner website to help with hands-on learning as well as assignments throughout the book. There is resource information such as industry publications, educational websites addresses, research and business news, and a list of online brokers.

The book is a starting point. Enough to understand initial choices and monitoring. Hopefully, the resources listed will help readers to continue educating themselves about this important moneymaking tool.

I believe investing has become very important, and I want to help my children to make wise choices. But it should be noted that the economy is much weaker than it was even in 2001, when the book was published. Invest with extreme caution! Invest only what you can afford to lose, and pick companies that are not likely to tank if more banks close. Or if you can risk some, invest in companies that you believe in and want to help succeed or weather difficulties.

I did find the book informative and helpful, as a relative beginner. If you read it and notice the blatant self-advertising (address throughout the book, address as title), remember the info is important enough to keep reading.

related-investments, evaluating stocks, mutual funds, teenagers, personal finance, stockmarket, getting & managing money, business & financial concepts, income
RL=YA-adult

Ten Queens: Portraits of Women of Power by Milton Meltzer. il Bethanne Andersen.
Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Putnam Inc: NY, 1998.

This interesting and informative book is for all-not just girls. It spans many periods and describes customs that are quite different from our own.

All of the queens chosen except Esther actually ruled their people whether or not they had kings beside them. The fact that they were women brought a distinctive perspective to their roles as leaders. They all used their power or influence to make improvements in their people's lives. Yet, they were not always benevolent.

I included the illustrator here because her bold and emotional oil paintings add to the strength and appeal of the book.
RL=5th-YAThomas Jefferson: The Revolutionary Aristocrat by Milton Meltzer.
Franklin Watts: NY, 1991.

Milton Meltzer takes on the challenge of explaining the greatness and ambiguities of Thomas Jefferson. Certainly, Jefferson achieved much, put forth ideas liberal and radical for his generation and class, and pushed for reforms his colleagues feared and rejected. He also did ignore obvious truths, as did his fellow statesmen, and take for granted the labor of others because to truly live by his ideals would mean living a totally different life. A life which would have prevented him from achieving as much as he did.

In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was the first to state what came to be known worldwide as universally applicable human rights. As one man among the legislators, he could not form the emerging country to fit his beliefs, but he did insert the issue of equality/inequality for all of those coming after to consider and improve upon-not just for the U.S., but the world.

I wonder if Jefferson started in his youth truly hoping for equality for all, but the years of learning the limits of what could be done in his time wore him down. Rather than continue to deal with his painful conscience, did he begin to pretend that equality was not possible or desirable? It is interesting to me also that he did not seem to be bothered by the herding of Native Americans westward.

This is a fairly balanced accounting of Jefferson. To truly understand his motives would require much more reading. However, this book is not a bad start.

related-Declaration of Independence, French Revolution, Governor of Virginia, Monticello, Secretary of State, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, University of Virginia, equality, representation, slavery, freedom, public school
RL=6th-YA

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin. adapted by Sarah Thomson.
Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Group: NY, 2009.

It isn't often that I read a nonfiction book that is as gripping as Three Cups of Tea. Greg Mortenson was on a mission to do one great thing as a thank you to the village that saved his life in the mountains of Baltistan, Pakistan. A lost mountain climber, he stumbled into the remote village of Korphe. He was nurtured and welcomed as a guest until he was strong enough to find his way home. Noticing the children at their lessons, drawing in the dirt and sitting in the cold, he promised the village chief he would be back one day to build a school.

Returning to America with little money, he got a job and proceeded to raise funds by writing letters to celebrities. After receiving only one check, he talked to a fellow mountain climber who published an article about Greg's mission in a newsletter for climbing enthusiasts. One man gave him the money he needed to start. From there, the process was slow going, but he eventually built his school, with many obstacles. His benefactor persuaded the American Himalayan Foundation (the group responsible for the newsletter) to support Greg's work. With his success, a foundation (Central Asia Institute) was started to build more schools, with Greg as the director.

This book is about an ordinary person determined to fulfill a promise. His goal might not seem so extravagant, but difficulties arose regarding the geography of the village (lack of bridge and seasonal roads), lack of personal money, the necessity of people of different cultures communicating with each other, and the growing unrest in Pakistan regarding Americans. Besides the project of building the first school and others, Greg's interaction (friendship) with the villagers and other contacts is detailed. Though the villagers lived mostly secluded from the world outside, Greg learned much from them, including patience and the need to use trusted locals instead of walking into an unknown place without support.

I like the story for not only its adventure and integrity, but also the relationships between Greg and others. I also really like that it is biographical. I strongly believe that our people need to be more focused on doing good, real things and less on making money. I believe that is how America has lost its way, the money factor. I also do believe that building schools and other needed projects are what ends war and hatred not the conquering of "enemies."

On a side note, CAI also founded a group called Pennies for Peace to teach students about Pakistan and Afghanistan and to promote education in remote areas.

related-schools, hospitality, heroes, charity, philanthropist, nonprofit organizations, peace, Pakistan, friendship
RL=6th & up

There is also an adult version of Three Cups of Tea and picture book Listen to the Wind.

Tiger With Wings: The Great Horned Owl by Barbara Juster Esbensen. il. Mary Barrett Brown.
Orchard Books: NY, 1991.

Attractive pictures will delight young readers. The clear and informative text is absorbing.
RL=2nd-4th

The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination selected by Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston.
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky: Naperville, IL, 2009.

This poetry book is a lovely surprise. Knowing the intent of the collaboration, I was expecting something more heavily scientific or education oriented, and biased at that. What I found instead was beautiful and thoughtful contemplation of nature and many aspects of life. It is educational in that there are informational extras, on the pages and in the glossary and poet sections in back. Also in that it is a thinking experience for all readers, or listeners. There are many delightful observations, and as is normal with poetry, so much play with language.

The overall themes are gradual evolution through time and biological curiosity. I like the approach of the book. It is primarily a nature poetry book. I think if Darwin could be taught in this way (mainly observations that he had, that we all can have if we look closely) the subject would be less controversial. The poetry is exciting. There are many facts or points that increased my own curiosity about creatures, things I never thought of before, as well as comparisons between the creatures and society of mankind.

I can see this collection being used as a middle school poetry textbook. Different forms of poetry are represented by well-known poets, including Mary Ann Hoberman, U.S. Children's Poet Laureate of 2008. The biology teachers will love it, too, for the promotion of exploration in the natural world, looking closely at unique features and tiny elements normally overlooked.

The collection includes a CD with selected poems performed, mostly by the poets. Twelve of the poems selected were poems that I picked out as favorites before checking the tracks. The title poem by Mary Ann Hoberman, Cross-Purposes by her also, Think Like a Tree by Karen I. Shragg, Just Living by Hans Christian Andersen, Rain Forest by Marilyn Singer, and Locust by Hoberman are among my favorites of the collection, and all are on the CD.

The poet biography section leaves me wanting to find many of their own collections for further reading. There are also recommended books for further interest in evolution, Charles Darwin's books and others.

Here's a link to a great interview with Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston, cultural anthropologist and teacher, about the inspiration for the collection and some of the audio poems.

related-figurative language, poetry, scientific observation, biology, anthropology, philosophy
RL=4th and up, mainly for middle graders

Truce by Jim Murphy.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2009.
What would happen, I wonder, if the armies suddenly and simultaneously went on strike and said some other method must be found of settling the dispute?
wrote Winston Churchill to his wife November 23, 1914. This is how Murphy starts Truce regarding a spontaneous ceasefire agreed upon by the soldiers, both German and Allied along the Western Front, during World War I. The time was Christmas the same year after months of unproductive battling in the trenches and the No Man's Land in between them. In spots, the soldiers were near enough to listen to conversations of the enemy (or Christmas carols). It was only a matter of time before they started to see each other as people instead of the enemy, despite the efforts of military command.

I have heard of this incident before. It was explained as Christmas fellowship, but after reading Truce, I believe it was more than that. The Front stretched longer than I knew and so did the truce. The details Murphy includes make it clear that the soldiers had had enough, most of them, and they wanted the war to stop. Some of them realized it was pointless, some that they had been lied to and used. The wonder to me is that after that experience they could go back to brutally killing each other, for 4 more years. It was a fleeting moment of peace and truth.

I'm glad there are some authors like Murphy who can sift through the endless battling of history to point out events such as this. The wars (American Revolution, WWI and WWII specifically) were the reasons I had little interest in history before college. This is an incident worth remembering and broadcasting, with the hope that other soldiers will dare to go against their ruthless orders for the good of mankind as well, with the belief that all men have the ability within themselves to ascertain whether the cause is worth the price, even after they have a contract with the military, with the understanding that the government can be wrong (and often is).

related-Christmas truce 1914, World War I, Western Front-France, European history, armistices, ceasefire, peace
RL=6th and up, looks like it might have been targeted for younger but because of content I wouldn't give to younger unless the person has a specific interest.

Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability by Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon.
Oxford University Press: NY, 2009.

Sperling and Gordon are in the thick of creating energy policy for the world's future. They have together written a comprehensive analysis of the situation today and possibilities - and even necessities - that will put the world on track toward energy sustainability, concentrating on transportation. The discussion starts with what California has done to lead the way, and what they plan to do. Options are described in detail along with the policies that are likely to be implemented in the U.S. A chapter focuses on China, because they are in a unique position in which startup companies can develop innovative products and ideas cheaply, and the hope is that their accomplishments in the transportation field will spread globally. The book explains not just vehicles and fuels but also behavior and practices that can lead to more energy efficiency, a cleaner environment, and a robust economy.

I appreciate such a thorough examination of the transportation issues. I, like many others, want very much for a sustainable transportation culture to be created, but have little concept of how it will come to be. I would like to invest in alternative industry for my own use and in support of our future as a whole (country, world), but given the economic situation in our country, we have little money to invest - even when it comes to buying a vehicle or updating our heating system. Because of the state of our economy, I do not think the authors' suggestion that we have a gasoline price floor of $4 is a good idea. When gas reached this price in 2008, it hurt many families. Those families cannot make alternative choices because of the expense. Even when gas was only at $2, it was driving inflation that I believe was a major factor (though not publicly noted) in the mortgage crisis. A price floor was discussed in the 1990s as well and dismissed, because it was thought to be political suicide. I do think the carbon budgeting is an idea with great merit, partly because it would push people to educate themselves about alternatives, and partly because they could make choices that are not only extra expenses. I also like the possibilities of the new mobility options. I have seen some, such as the Zipcar. I'm hoping to see more, such as small vehicles more flexible than bus systems and bus fleets that behave similar to rail traffic with more flexibility.

There are a couple important points that were left out. In the discussion of why the price of oil was so high, the author mentioned that the Big Oil (Western) companies refused to invest their excess profit due to investments in the 1980s not panning out. Instead, they decided to hand 40% of the profits to the shareholders. Left out of the discussion was that U.S. citizens were told that the price was tied to the stock value, with an increased buying of stock because the companies were paying higher dividends.

In discussion of the Prius as an icon, it was noted that customers were buying the Prius symbolically, as a social statement both about themselves and as a message to automakers and the public - a message about being socially and environmentally conscious and about breaking the oil companies' hold on us. Most did not buy the car to save money, because the accrued amount saved per gallon was less than the higher price tag (at least it was with gas $2 per gallon) - especially when compared to cars similar in size such as the Corolla and the Civic (though the Prius is slightly roomier). Two things not mentioned in this discussion are that the Prius was the first alternative vehicle that could be used as a family car while being close to what an average family could afford and that consumers hoped that the Prius was a step again toward mass marketing electric vehicles for families. I believe the key to success with electric vehicles will be the mass marketing of family cars. Until an automaker does this, success will be limited. Toyota is no longer looking like the company to do it; they are too comfortable in their lead spot today. Tesla Motors may be the next possibility, though they may not be ready for mass marketing. Possibly another company to watch is Nissan, as Arizona is experimenting with charging stations to be used with Nissan cars. Nissan may be looking to go electric in a big way, since it would propel them up to the level of Toyota and Honda. I found the discussion of Chinese entrepreneurs regarding small vehicles interesting, as that is also a sector from where the electric vehicles in the near future could spring (providing the Big Three is not able to shut them out of the U.S. market).

related-future of energy and transportation, automobiles, alternative fuel vehicles, motor fuels, fuel consumption, environmental issues
RL=YA-adult, written for adults

Unsettled: The Problem of Loving Israel by Marc Aronson.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2008.

The Israeli Palestinian Conflict, it has been at the forefront of American politics (world politics) most of my life. Most of that time I remained ignorant about it, because I don't understand how people can live all of their lives with the willingness to kill others. I hate war, and I think war is stupid. It seems to me somewhere along the line of their history they could have tried to see the other's point-of-view. (Some, in fact, did.) In recent years, I have learned there is no avoiding this issue. It needs to be settled - in a manner that addresses both sides' losses. Maybe I have this understanding, because I am not personally religious. But does it make sense that the more religious a person is the more he/she seems to think killing the other side is okay?

In his book, Aronson discusses the founding of Israel, the driving forces behind its growth and strength, key points in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict, and reasons for the willingness to allow it to continue. I commend Aronson's exploration of this topic. Hardened views are the standard on this issue, igniting heated conversations, fierce arguments, and prejudicial feelings. Difficult questions are involved, such as: What kind of Israel should exist (a Jewish or democratic state)? and Does Israel have a moral obligation to the non-Jews living in Israel and those that fled when Israel conquered their lands? As a Christian child, I was taught that Israel was right and deserved all of our (the US) support and Palestinians were bad people - this despite being born only one year before Israel conquered much of the Arabs' land. Obviously, the issue is more complicated than that.

Aronson approaches the questions as an American Jew with family living in Israel. I thank him for opening a conversation regarding Israel. It is a conversation that needs to be continued until a peaceful settlement can be reached. I also thank him, because I understand the situation better myself now.

related-founding and history of Israel, Palestine, Jews, Arabs, Zionism and Zionists, democracy, theocracy, military occupation, Gaza, West Bank, Sinai Peninsula, Jerusalem, socialism, kibbutz
RL=YA-adult

Walt Whitman: Words for America by Barbara Kerley. il Brian Selznick.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2004.

Kerley and Selznick make such an excellent team! The text and illustrations capture the spirit of Whitman and of the country in a time of great growth and excitement. What it must have been like to experience the bustle of New York City during that time period! (Yes, it bustles now, too-but then it was a time when you could see people at work and building in a more personal way. Now, it is mostly people coming and going). I love the discussion of Walt Whitman's printing and writing experience. The words and pictures are full of excitement about Whitman's profession.

I have long heard of Whitman's desire to be the poetic representative of America. It was very effective to focus the story on Whitman's nursing of the soldiers during the Civil War and his grieving for the soldiers and country-his grieving mirroring that of President Lincoln's.

Another feature I think is excellent is the notes of the author and illustrator about their influences, research, and experiences while creating the work.

The illustrations in the book are some of Selznick's best.

One of the things Whitman writes is "I love the President personally." Despite being far removed from Lincoln's time, I have also felt this way. When I read this statement, I immediately thought of one I feel that way about now, too. I believe Barack Obama will be President, because he is the politician who seems to totally understand what is going on and where our country should be heading. He, like Lincoln did, is attempting to hold honest discussions of how we can move forward. I'm frustrated and irritated by the Clintons' dogged determination to have their way when our country so obviously needs something different. Their methods seem to me to be more of the same political nonsense that our people have been tired of sense the early 90s.

related-Walt Whitman, United States history, medical care during the Civil war, American poets, biography, nurses, Abraham Lincoln, printing and writing
3rd-5th

War Is . . . ed by Marc Aronson and Patty Campbell.
Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA: 2008.

Aronson and Campbell have compiled fiction and nonfiction by soldiers, survivors, and storytellers. Most of the entries are remembrances of people who were immersed in a war, several different wars. Aronson again is addressing a subject most people don't want to look at honestly. Soldiers and survivors have no choice in the matter. So here is their chance to talk in a place where, hopefully, young people will listen.

I have to say I have mixed feelings about this book. I think it is important, but I also disagree strongly with some of the sentiments. For ex. I cringe at some of the reasons given for soldiers being in war. But I also do believe more than my opinion needs to be heard. Read it for yourself, but then, please, please, discuss it, too.

I am opening a thread for this in my forums for anyone wishing to discuss it. I know this is a highly charged issue, but most important. Please be respectful of others.

Written for young adults, but adults should definitely read it, too.

related-war, soldiers, draft, survival
RL=YA-adult

Where in the Wild? by David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy. photos by Dwight Kuhn.
Tricycle Press/Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2007.

This book has three layers blending together: the awesome photos exhibiting camouflage in a fun and interactive manner, the descriptive poems that act as clues to the creatures hidden, and the biological information given for each.

The spectacular photos can be enjoyed by all ages. The poems work perfectly with their respective pictures. I also like that the habitats are used for the borders and poem titles. The text is informative, yet not strictly factual. It is a pleasure to read.

related-ladybugs, coyote, tree frogs, fawns, weasels, moths, killdeer, shorebirds, crab spiders, flounder, green snakes, red-spotted newts, camouflage, animals
RL=3rd-5th     read aloud to 1st & 2nd

Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials by Marc Aronson.
Athenuem Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2003.

In the wake of terrorism fear, two historians have given a fresh recounting of the events of the Salem witch trials of 1692, Aronson and Mary Beth Norton. Norton has given different facts to consider. Aronson's book is mostly a compilation. There has also been new interest in the subject, since there was a 300 year anniversary not too long ago. Surprisingly, there have been new things to consider, though the history is mostly new to me. It isn't a topic discussed at much length normally.

My impression had been mostly of the unyielding Puritanical religion, no real history. I was exposed to Arthur Miller's The Crucible in high school, read it recently, and wanted to look at a historical context for comparison. When I saw Aronson's book at the library, I grabbed it, because I have liked other books by him.

Aronson has done some summarizing of past historians and discusses the play as well. The history is different from the play in details. What is the same is the control of the accusatory group in the events - the accusing of people on an opposite social side of events, group hysteria which the judges feared and couldn't really explain, the anger turned on people who protested the situation, and the fact that it took well respected citizens being hanged to stop the insanity. Aronson points out that this subject continues to be of interest for the same reason that Arthur Miller wrote his play. It is a warning regarding allowing a mob-like group to accuse citizens for prosecution, conviction and execution with little evidence; it is a warning against allowing faith, instead of reason, to determine guilt. In Arthur Miller's case, the warning was about McCarthyism. In our times, there are a number of prejudices being stirred up. And yes, so much fear to go with it.

The Tea Party group seems to be an almost all inclusive list of grievances looking for prosecution. Aronson's book predates the Tea Party people, so he does not say this. I think they are very much a mob that cannot rule through reason, so they are threatening everyone else instead, playing on common fears to gain political control. There was this element in the witch and communist trials, and I think it is not coincidence that the label of communism is being thrown around again.

To get back to the book, Aronson speaks of a particular family with supporters which made up most of the accusers. He also talks about the sheriff making arrests, who had three relatives on the panel of judges. He mentions some accused that were never arrested. He discusses political unrest of the times which may have influenced behavior of the citizens, ministers, and judges. He points out one particular woman whose calmness and logic impressed the judges and was instrumental in changing the prosecution of the cases, bringing them to a final swift conclusion. Aronson also references parts of The Crucible that are fiction, but points out the significance of the play other than that it is how the subject is usually introduced. While most people don't know about the real events, it is good to remember that this occurrence is a glaring example of why our laws include a separation of Church and State.

related-witchcraft trials, Salem, Massachusetts, 17th century history, United States colonial period, British colonies, rule by religious group
RL=YA-adult

"The horror inspired by hanging witches helped to insure that Puritan laws, and ultimately the doctrines of any faith, would not set the rules by which all peoples in what was first British North America and later the United States would live...There was simply too much danger of using faith to destroy innocent people." from Witch-Hunt by Marc Aronson

With Needle and Thread by Raymond Bial.
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 1996.

"Certainly the number and variety of quilt patterns are remarkable, often breathtaking, but I wanted With Needle and Thread to be more about people and their connection to quilts. Feelings about quilts run deeply through quilters' lives, and it is this abiding love and respect for quilts and quiltmaking that I have sought to evoke in With Needle and Thread: A Book about Quilts."

Quilts are remarkable, and Raymond Bial has selected some great examples for illustration. I would have liked to have seen even more, because as a quilter I can't get enough. I hope that it is enough to convey to non-quiltmakers the awe that I feel regarding quilts.

Bial explains the history of quiltmaking. If it's not amazing enough that women used to make all of the blankets for their homes by hand, piecing them from old clothing and scraps when material wasn't available, consider how little time women had to do anything for themselves. Or that thinking beyond household work was discouraged. Sewing was one of the only arts that allowed women and girls freedom of expression. Even slaves were able to create art through quilting. It is incredibly uplifting to know that you can and have created such a work of art.

Traditions of quilting are described, including patterns, styles and quilting communities. Regions are also noted, as well as trends such as the pioneering migration and quilts in support of causes.

Quilting is still done in a traditional manner, but even more freedom is practiced. Quilting is also going in a new direction in that it is now viewed publicly as an art, pieces made to be hung on the wall and viewed rather than only to be used as household items.

It was great to see this conversation of an art that I absolutely love. The author has noted that he took extra care in choosing the pictures and text to make a "patchwork."

I was introduced to quilting by my sister Evelyn who has made many quilts for family members. I had no idea that it would become such a part of my own life when I tried my first. Now it is a heavenly thing to walk around a quilters' show. I've only been to our state show, but what a time I had viewing so many quilts at once.

related-quilting history, United States history, patchwork, arts and crafts
RL=4th and up

The World of King Arthur and His Court: People, Places, Legend, and Lore by Kevin Crossley-Holland. il by Peter Malone.
Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers: NY, 1998.
Originally published by Orion Children's Books: London, 1998.

Every aspect of King Arthur and his kingdom is described here: the knights and knighthood, the enchanters and enchantresses, the ladies of the court, manners and life in the Medieval world, the places associated with Arthur's life, writers and troubadours, popular stories, the differences between the romances and real Arthur, and fantastic beasts and magical happenings. The thorough discussion along with the attractive paintings are a delight for those wanting to know King Arthur's world.

related-Merlin, Uther, Excaliber, Lady of the Lake, sword in the stone, Knights of the Round Table, Avalon, Glastonbury, the Holy Grail
RL=4th-6th

Yoga of the Heart: Ten Ethical Principles for Gaining Limitless Growth, Confidence, and Achievement by Alice Christensen.
Daybreak Books/Rodale Books: NY, 1998.

A month ago, I checked out 3 books about yoga. The first was an exercise manual, since I need some physical work. The second was on breathing, since I have some experience with the uplifting qualities of attention to breathe. Breathe has a healing aspect. The third, this one, I chose as a light philosophical read, for in the evening when I'm too tired for concentration. Instead, I found a book that does require focus, but taken slowly is easy enough and uplifting and possibly the one most likely to change my life.

The book discusses 10 ethical principles of yoga. It references a spiritual body, a deeper concept of the inner self. Your instincts and emotions are ways that this spiritual body try to get your physical body's attention. If you actively try to live by these principles, then you are connected to your spiritual body and in tune with the universe. The more aware you are of your spiritual inner self, the more you are uplifted by it, giving your daily self, the physical self, what you need to live in the world and deal with whatever experience.

Years ago, I stopped working on my spiritual life. I had decided religion was not for me. For a while, experiences in nature and choices I made gave me awesome uplifting, sustaining moments. However, I hit a brick wall with the Middle Eastern wars that our country started and perpetuated. From there, I feel that the mentality of our society has been mostly downhill, along with our economy. I have been struggling with depression due to our society and family issues for many years now. Finally, I decided that yoga might provide enough respite that I can get my life back on track. I was looking for just rest from the anxiety our society is causing. But I think the concepts in this book will provide a new direction as well and give me the hope I so desperately need. I have always tried to live by some of these principles anyway. Now, I may be able to find something that will support me as well. Something I've wanted for a long time, but was afraid to look for. I knew that it would mean looking closely at myself, and given the negative feelings and pain I have had, I resisted self-reflection.

So, I have chosen this book as a Book of the Month, hoping to reach others needing support. Maybe even some who don't know they are looking for it.

related-Hatha yoga, self-care, self-help, health, spiritual growth, confidence, achievement, ethical living
RL=YA-adult, adult book

Note: I think the book in the image link is the same. Though the secondary title is reworded, the author and picture are the same.

Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic.
translated by Christina Pribichevich-Zoric.
Viking/Penguin Group: NY, 1994.
Originally published as Le Journal de Zlata by Fixot et editions Robert Laffont: 1993. trans copyright 1994 Fixot et editions Robert Laffont.

Zlata Filipovic started writing her diary at the age of 10 a few months before war broke out in Sarajevo. She had no idea that war was imminent. In fact, even when she saw news footage of Dubrovnik, Croatia, she couldn't conceive of war coming to Sarajevo. She couldn't imagine that the surrounding area would be devastated by shelling and that she would be confined to one room in her family's apartment without the basic necessities of life.

Zlata wrote her diary as a 10-12 year old girl trapped by circumstances. The writing is mature for that age. Her diary has been compared to The Diary of Anne Frank. It doesn't have the same eloquence, but it does capture the hopelessness and desolation of a town with innocent bystanders caught in the viciousness that war is (all war, no matter the cause). It captures the emotions and thoughts of a girl cheated of her childhood and wondering when it will stop, if it will stop. During the invasion of her town, Zlata faced deprivations, devastation, and the death of those around her. Friends and family fled, while she and her family were stuck suffering through the chaos. She remains brave and hopeful through much of the book, but also heartbroken by the loss of her childhood.

Zlata's Diary was published before the end of the war (even before the end of the diary). The published version ends abruptly-without a resolution. The UN helped her family to move out of Sarajevo before the ceasefire, but that, too, is not in the diary.

I first heard of Zlata's Diary in The Freedom Writers Diary. The Freedom Writers (students) were inspired by Zlata's story even after having read The Diary of Anne Frank. So inspired that their teacher arranged for Zlata to travel from Europe to California to meet them. The students felt a strong connection to her, because they felt like they also were living in a war zone, in a ghetto area of Los Angeles.

related-Sarajevo 1991-1993, Croatia, Bosnian War, Bosnia-Herzegovina, life in a war zone
RL=7th & up, as young as 5th depending on circumstances

Judgement Day: The Science of Discworld IV by Terry Pratchett with Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen.
Ebury Press: 2013.
Discworld series

This is a fusion of fiction and nonfiction, alternating Pratchett's short story chapters with science and history discourses on wide-ranging subjects, and comparing Discworld with Roundworld (Earth). I have never read anything quite like it. Not what I expected at all. Fascinating! I'm amazed at how much was packed into the book and how interesting it was to read it. Expect to take some time reading it. The science is slower going than the story.

Ultra-Condensed

  • Funding of Big Science, such as Manhattan Project, NASA, Large Hadron Collider

  • History of studying particles

  • Human-centered vs universe-centered

  • Life and consciousness, animate vs inanimate

  • "As we came to understand our world more deeply, and asked new questions, comfortable answers in terms that we could intuitively understand began to make less and less sense."

  • Majorie Daws arrives in Discworld, a wizardly experiment gone wrong.

  • Discworld universe, swimming turtle with disc and references on Earth

  • "One of the big puzzles about causality is that once you start to trace the causes of even the simplest features of the world, you find an ever-branching backward tree, with many unlikely things coming together at just the right instant to make something else happen. We rest on an infinite pile of coincidences, and the pile gets wider the further back we go. The probability of anything specific happening seems to be zero."

  • Genetic combinations and recombinations, exponential possibility and variation

  • Evolving of nature and technology

  • "Well, here in Unseen University we take the view that sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. However, as I understand it, you seldom need to say a mantra to get some engine to work...though I rather suspect that some people do." Ridcully

  • Shape of Earth, history of determining it

  • Ownership of Roundworld in question, claimed by Omnians

  • RNA, ribosomes, emerging life on Earth

  • New data muddling the waters, transcending theory and laws

  • Arrangement of the parts makes the difference

  • "Life has lifted itself out of the simple laws of nature, where it started, and is now a whole complex world, at least as different from that origin as a modern aeroplane is from a flint axe. The scene at the beginning of the film 2001, where the ape throws up a thighbone and it morphs into a space station, is a lovely illustration of just that kind of evolution. And that transformation is minor, compared to how life has transcended its origins."

  • "Within that world [complexity of biological evolution], one of its beasts has acquired language, imagination, and a penchant for stories: a special, wholly new thing in the cosmos. Narrativium has escaped from Discworld into Roundworld; now some things do happen because there is a creature that wants them to."

  • The Dean and Rincewind, exploratory visits to Roundworld

  • Again, causality - change creating other changes in the surrounding world

  • "Each new capability causes a particular technological path to branch, leading to new roads. Stuart Kauffman, one of the founders of complexity science, introduced the term 'the adjacent possible' to mean the possible behaviours of a complex system that are just a short step away from wherever it currently is. The adjacent possible is a list of what potentially might develop. In a sense, it is the system's potential."

  • Adaptations and exaptations

  • "[Besides imagining other possibilities] The other trick that minds can do to improve technology is to copy: to take a technical trick used in one invention and to spread its use to others."

  • Trajectory of development and niche-driven communities and cultures

  • Irrelevance and extinction

  • Spheres abound

  • The flat torus and hyperspheres and Escherverse

  • Vast and expanding universe

  • Much discussion of origin, shape and movement of the universe. Recent new data adds more questions and discussion, not answers.

  • "Most sane, rational human beings learn quite early on that you feel just as certain even when you're wrong; the strength of your belief is not a valid measure of its relation to reality. If you have scientific training, you may even learn the value of doubt. You can certainly have religious beliefs and still be a good scientist; you can also be a good person and understand that people who disagree with your beliefs need not necessarily be evil, or even misguided. After all, most of the world's people - even the religious ones - probably think your beliefs are nonsense. They have a different set of beliefs, which you think are nonsense."

  • Beliefs are formed through interaction of the brain with the person's surroundings, comparing new data with what is already known or believed. Complicity is the the chain of reactions that form that interaction, creating a unique experience between the two (or more).

  • Variety of belief systems

  • Intuition vs logical analysis

  • "Our senses are imprecise, and their inputs to the brain are subject to 'noise' - random mistakes. The workings of the brain, being evolved wetware (the organic material of the nervous system) rather than carefully engineered hardware or software, are also subject to errors. The signals that the brain sends to the body suffer from unavoidable variability."

  • Bayesian inference for probability, degree of confidence, prior belief influences perception of new data and vice versa

  • Om called as a witness regarding the ownership of Roundworld

  • L-space links libraries across all space and time. The concept of a flat world leaked into roundworld, and that of a round world leaked the other way into Discworld.

  • Omnian assassins foiled

  • Inadvisably Applied Magic group

  • "What proportion of people do we need to be rational, to keep civilisation running? More to the point, these days: how many people does it take -gangsters or terrorists, bigots or zealots - to break down the workings of a civilised society?"

  • "People live their lives, and are acquainted with all kinds of events, but for most people it's a small world. In an African tribe, there may be fasts and festivals, intimate relationships with about twenty people, mostly relatives, and a nodding acquaintance with about another hundred; just like Orthodox Jews in Golders Green, or Muslims in Bradford. Workmates, hobbyists, football supporters, pub acquaintances and friends can bring the total up to about 150. Humans seem to be able to remember about 200 faces, at most."

  • "Since the beginning of recorded history, which is defined by the invention of writing by the Sumerians around 6000 years ago, historians have catalogued over 3,700 supernatural beings, of which 2,870 can be considered deities. So next time someone tells me they believe in God, I'll say 'Oh, which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra...?' If they say 'Just God. I only believe in the one God,' I'll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don't believe in 2,870 gods, and they don't believe in 2,869."

  • "The default is to disbelieve. An atheist is not someone who believes that God doesn't exist. It is someone who doesn't believe that God does exist. If you think those are the same, ponder this statement by the comedian Penn Jillette: 'Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.'"

  • "In both [embryological and cultural development], evolutionary changes occur through complicity between several programmes, each of which affects the future of the others. As time passes, each programme not only affects its own future by its own internal dynamics: it also changes its future by the changes it causes in the other programmes."

  • "It [Science] replaces blind faith by carefully targeted doubt. It has existed in its current form for no more than a few centuries, although precursors go back a few thousand years. There is a sense in which "know" is too strong a word, for scientists consider all knowledge provisional. But what we 'know' through science rests on much more secure foundations than anything else that we claim to know, because those foundations have survived being tested to destruction."

  • RL=adult, accessible to YA

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