What History Books Don’t Teach: Two Great NF Books!

History teaches us a lot, and students are taught how the past has changed the present in classes like American and European history. Students learn about different wars, different generals, and different campaigns. But what textbooks don’t teach are the great stories hidden between the lines of history. The next two books I’m reviewing are exactly that…amazing stories about heroes and survivors of World War I and II and the accomplishments and trials they went through.

grand escapeThe Grand Escape by Neal Bascomb.  Arthur A Levine Books, 2018

World War I was fought so much differently from technology they had to the rules of war.  The planes flown during WWI weren’t much more than a frame and canvas with an engine.  But men, both young and old wanted to join to help fight for their cause, whichever part of the divide they supported.  And when they were taken as prisoners of war, they faced the conditions in prison camps as found in other wars.  

In 1899 and 1907, delegations across the globe came together to set out rules on the treatment of prisoners.  These rules included that if an enemy surrendered his arms or couldn’t defend himself, he could not be killed or wounded.  Anoterh rule were prisoners were to be treated as fairly as the government of that country as they would their own.  But golden rules don’t last long in warfare.  

Holzminden was one such prison camp.  Located in Germany, the commandant was cruel and heartless.  Those who were in this camp were considered “trouble makers” who tried time and again to escape their confines.  Commandant Karl Neimeyer bragged that his camp could not be escaped.  This became a challenge for the prisoners there, especially a specific group of prisoners from around the country.  They learned how to hide their work and tunnel under the compound to escape.  What was even more ingenious was how they were able to secure uniforms, create documents, and work together to ensure their secret was safe. 

Bascomb has become one of the leading YA non-fiction authors for good reason.  He uses his skills as a researcher and author to tell the soldiers’ narratives from the beginning of their ordeal until well after the war was over and the bond of brotherhood that was created during this time.  Images, maps, artifacts and written letters are incorporated very nicely into this  book to keep readers engaged and intrigued.  Excellent all young adult readers, JH-HS.  

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greatest treaureThe Greatest Treasure Hunt in History: the story of the Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel.  2019, Scholastic Focus.  

Many atrocities against humanity occur during war, especially World War II.  Hitler stood at the forefront of these atrocities that are remembered to this day.  Stealing a person’s identity through torture was only one part of what Hitler did.  He also made sure to steal their identity through theft of their cultural, religious, and national artifacts and monuments. 

Because this war would be fought in countries that were hundreds of years in the making, the United States and England worked together to create a small team of men to help preserve as much as possible the heritage and culture of priceless works of art and architecture from the ravages of war and to find those the Nazis stole and bring them back.  

War in Europe claimed many lives and damaged many cities and towns.  The Monuments men, made of up museum curators, artists, sculptors and architects, were asked to come after the battle to see what treasures the Nazis pillaged and assess damages to famous and monumental buildings that had withstood the test of time.  

The Nazis stole from museums such. as the Louvre, and from private collections, such as the Rothschild family collection.  They stole priceless work from Rembrandt to Michelango; Da Vinci to Rembrandt and many many more.  And each time theft occurred, the Monuments men could only hope they found the pieces safe.  But not all they found came back in one piece and many are still missing today.  

Edsel’s novel is narrative non-fiction in its truest sense.  The reader follows different characters in the book on their journeys, whether it be in Italy or elsewhere.  They get to see and experience everything the characters did, including landing on a beach during D-Day to walking the streets of Florence and seeing it ripped apart.  What makes this book richer are the images of priceless treasure that was stolen, maps that showed where the Monuments men found them, and the letters they wrote home to their families.  Excellent for young adult readers JH-HS.  

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NF Graphic Novels That are Short but Powerful

As a YA enthusiast, I read as much as I can.  Most of the times, these books take a a few  days (or a week with a busy schedule!) to read.  So it’s a nice little surprise for me when I get to read shorter YA books.  And these three were SO SATISFYING!!  Not only are they short, but they are also graphic novels.  It’s like a two-for-one treat for me!!  Another bonus?  Any type of reader can get through these and hopefully, they’ll leave wondering and actually searching for more information on them.  Perfect for junior high and high school!  Here’s a quick review for each book:

36086562I Am Gandhi by Brad Meltzer.  2018, Dial Books.

We all have heard or know about the great leader and inspiration Gandhi was.  But what made him do what he did?  This graphic novel starts at his early childhood and tells his story from all aspects of his life.  It answers a questions as to what shaped him to become an inspiration to millions and why he chose to live the way he did.  What makes this graphic novel stand out is that 25 diffrent acclaimed illustrators take on their piece of his life and artfully depict it.  Meltzer then takes them all and crafts a wonderful biography replete with beautiful images.

37955650Jane Austen: Her Heart Did Whisper by Mannuela Santoni.  2018, Graphic Universe

Jane Austen had a pretty….ordinary life.  She took what she knew best and put pen to paper, writing her famous novels (Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice) based on her life experiences, which consisted of dances, vacations, life at home, family and love.  Another thing she wrote were a lot of letters, but unfortunately, many of them were burned by her sister Cassandra, according to Jane’s wishes.  But in a few that survived, we see the name Tom Lefroy mentioned, and how mad she was about him.  And this is what this graphic novel is about…the “what could have been” life of Jane and Tom and where it would have taken her.  So for fans of Austen, they’ll love this book.  For those who haven’t read her books, read this graphic novel and perhaps…just perhaps….you’ll want to read them afterward.

36912588The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown.  2018, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The struggle for democracy in Syria began seven years ago when some teenaged guys graffiti-ed a wall that read “Down with the regime.”  The dictator, Assad, was quick to put down any rivalry against his rule and the boys were quickly taken to jail and tortured.  But little did the dictator know this one event would change Syria and its citizens profoundly.  At the onset of civil unrest (and war), Syrians began leaving the country to make a new life for themselves.  And that is the foundation and basis for this book.  Don Brown knows how to weave a graphic novel and he does it again with this one.  The reader will get perspectives from those who fled…what happened, who survived and the hardships they endured.  Religion and politics were left out, but the reaction to these victims of war shows the ripple effect that happened across the globe.  After reading this and more importantly in the middle of this GN, readers may start to search about the war in Syria and everything else.  At least this reader did!

A Heapin’ Helping of Non-Fiction

Living out in the country, there were a few fun things to do during the summer and one of them was to read.  We had all sorts of books, but I remember in particular a biography of the Red Baron, (Manfred von Richthofen, not the pizza) and became intrigued with non-fiction.

My love for non-fiction has never been quenched and I still read it and love it.  But what has changed in the format of non-fiction.  It’s more narrative and comes in hardcopy or graphic novel.  It comes as stand alones or in series.  It’s also disguised as great fiction too!

So here’s a list of non-fiction you should dive into this summer….so worth it (and you’ll learn a lot in the process!)

brazen

Brazen by Penelope Bagieu:  This is a great book that takes a unique approach to women in leadership roles.  Some you may have heard of, others perhaps not.  The author goes into details about women from history (Nzinga and Agnodice to name a few) to current (Betty Davis (the singer, not the actress) and Mae Jemison) to well-known names

(Peggy Gugenheim and Nellie Bly)If only all of the women

who kicked booty throughout history could have been added…

mary's monster

Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge: While this is a

fictional account in novel in verse AND graphic

novel, this book is a must read.  Filled with beautiful images, that author takes the reader down a long, hard road along with Mary Shelley, who wanted to live a beautiful life in love but ended up being emotionally torn and pulled by the relationships she created.  Then along came her monster….

Devils highway

The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea:  I actually stumbled on this read through the Audiosync Summer reading series and boy, am I glad I did.  This is considered an adult non-fiction book, but definitely is on the forefront of current social issues in the US and one teens can enjoy.  The reader goes on a journey from Mexico to the US with a coyote, who smuggles over 20 men into the Arizona dessert…and where few come out alive.  The perspective is layered and the facts can be grim and difficult…altogether a fascinating read.

this is really

This is Really Happening by Erin Chack: This is an autobiography, but not just any autbiography.  This is one written by someone people may or may not know or follow, but who works for an online site most everyone has heard about:  Buzzfeed.  You have to be a unique writer to capture the attention of millions, and this is just what Erin has done.  She takes us through her life from before middle school to her life now and all of its ups and downs, from boyfriends to marriage, to cancer and friendship, all with that unique and humorous prose Buzzfeed is known for.  Short and sweet, a great read for teens and adults.

heart were young

Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner: I really should look up to see if Cornelia and her friend Emily are still alive, but I was sucked into their story of their escapades of the 1920s.  What is so unique about this book is that is was written over 76 years ago and details teenaged girls wanting the same independence, fun, and relationships teens want today.  Just another time period that can’t be “faked.”  You’re sitting front and center in this book to experience their lives unfold in very different but similar ways.  Great companion book to The Great Gatsby!

Great YA Books to Put in Your Library!

Yesterday, I had a workshop with YA librarians to share some great titles to add to their collection.  Here’s the pdf of the presentation along with a link to the ppt online 🙂  There are all STELLAR novels in all genres, including non-fiction!  Think about adding them as audiobooks and e-books too 🙂

ESC Region X booktalk April 2108ESC Region X booktalk April 2108

We Are #Diverse: YA Fiction and Non-Fiction pair, Then and Now

NOTE:  I have been told by several people that Loving Vs. Virginia is a work of fiction.  I have adjusted the blog post as necessary to reflect that.

When you get your hands on a great non-fiction book and fiction book pair, it can make an impact far beyond than just being a satisfying read.  This is true of the next two books.

Both happened during my lifetime.  One I had heard about, but only in passing; the other I never heard about even though it took place within the last five years.

Both books made an impact on their social culture.  One became a law; the other created awareness.  One challenged society behind a curtain; the other challenged society with the shutters open wide.

Both books allow the reader to see what happens when the status quo is challenged.  One book showed the horrors of segregation and violence found in our history books that our grandparents or even our parents knew/experienced first hand.  The other shows that this is still happening today and something teenagers could experience first hand during their lifetimes.

Both books also show strength in individuals.  One woman refused to live apart from her husband and was sparked to make a difference, never knowing what path that would lead her down and the strength she would need through herself and others to impact our nation.  One young man showed strength through hours of physical and emotional pain to find the power to forgive and understand the power they created through social media and broadcasts.

Both are books that should be read or listened to.  Written in narrative non fiction format and novel in verse fiction format, they are compelling, each in their own way, but both books are alike in that they show how endurance through a time a change and acceptance can be powerful.

I read The 57 Bus, which is the story of Sasha.  They identify as agender and was more comfortable wearing a skirt that pants or shorts.  They also knew the difficulty of being different, but with the school Sasha attended in Oakland California, they were accepted.  But one day on the bus going home, someone saw the uniqueness that was who this quiet person who loved Russian literature and history was and decided to mess with them.  A lighter came out, and skirt was set on fire, and Sasha was severely burned on over 20% of his body.  But this book is also about teens and the way they think.  It’s about different cultures and opportunities, it’s about the love of families and the pain of making bad choices.  I especially like the fact that the author wasn’t biased in her writing on guilt or innocence but stayed factual through eyewitness accounts, courtroom testimonies and interviews. (non-fiction)

I listened to Loving vs Virginia.  I had heard about this case but really didn’t think anything about it.  Sometimes that happens to important Supreme Court Cases…we don’t really think about them because they happened so long ago.  But this audiobook hit to the heart.  Listening to how Mildred and Richard’s romance blossomed and turned into something deeper through their individual voices and viewpoints created a depth of understanding that this is something we still deal with today in our culture.  The couple’s voices take you through their secretive marriage to the struggles they faced trying to live as husband and wife in the state of Virginia; having their home and lives invaded through police bullying and threats; and the tipping point and amazing people who supported their decision and never gave up.  It took years for interracial marriages to become law, but their were the pioneers.  HIGHLY recommended as an audiobook but keep a hardcopy on the shelves as well. (fiction)