Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction: Cybils Suggestons

Do you need a suggestion for a book to nominate for the Cybils in the category of Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction? Nominations are open through October 15th, and anyone can nominate a book, as long as the book was published between October 15, 2014 and October 15, 2015. And here’s a link to the nomination form.

The following books are a few titles that haven’t been nominated yet that I’ve either read or heard good things about. I would like very much to get my hands on the ones I haven’t read.

Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan. Amistad, January 2015.

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden by Kevin DeYoung. Crossway, August 2015.

Fur, Fins, and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo by Cassandra Maxwell. Eerdmans, August 2015.

Fire Birds: Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests by Sneed B. Collard III. Bucking Horse Books, December 2014.

Whale Trails, Before and Now by Lesa Cline-Ransome. Henry Holt, January 2015.

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream by Glenda Armand. Lee & Low, August 2105.

The House That Jane Built: A Story About Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone. Henry Holt, June 2015.

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune by P.J. Lynch. Candlewick, September 2015.

Marie Durand by Simonetta Carr. Reformation Heritage Books, June 2015.

Abe Lincoln: His Wit and Wisdom from A-Z by Alan Schroeder. Holiday House, January 2015.

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews by Kathleen Benson. Clarion, January 2015.

Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History by Don Brown. Roaring Brook Press, October 13, 2015.

The Fantastic Ferris Wheel: The Story of Inventor George Ferris by Betsy Harvey Kraft. Henry Holt, October 13, 2015.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Hallmark. Preston Books, October 13, 2015.

High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs by Lisa Schnell. Charlesbridge, April 2015.

The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins by Sandra Markle. Hillbrook, October 1, 2015.

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton. Eerdmans, April 2015.

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford. Albert Whitman, February 2015.

My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner. HarperCollins, January 2015.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Linda Blackmon Lowery

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Linda Blackmon Lowery, as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley.

Young Linda Blackmon was jailed nine times before her fifteenth birthday. She was beaten and tear gassed on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, as she participated in a civil rights demonstration in Selma, Alabama. Then, she became the youngest person to join the historic 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and she celebrated her fifteenth birthday while on that march.

Her story is presented in this book in brief, stark, simple prose spread out over 120 pages. Multiple photographs and color illustrations, interspersed throughout, enhance the text and make the events seem real and immediate. Linda Blackmon Lowery is honest about her fears and about her determination to overcome those fears. She says:

“I couldn’t let George Wallace or my fear from having been beaten take control of me. If I did that, I would never become the person I wanted to be. And the person I wanted to be was a person who would stand up against what was wrong. I wanted not only to protect myself, but to protect others; not only to fight for myself, but to be out there fighting for others.”

I was quite impressed with Ms. Blackmon’s courage and honesty, and I think teens would be, too. Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom would be a great read, not only for those studying the history of the civil rights movement, but also for teens who are looking for heroes to emulate. This book will make my list of books to recommend to my fourteen year old for her American history studies later this year. I especially liked the simple, direct style of the writing, and I know that Z-baby would, too.

If you’re interested in learning more about the book or about Linda Blackmon Lowery, here’s a link to an interview with her at NPR.

I Don’t Know How the Story Ends by J.B. Cheney

Setting: Hollywood, 1918, the silent motion picture era of Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, the Keystone Cops, and director D.W. Griffith, all of whom make at least a cameo appearance in this rollicking tale of movie-making and adventure.

Characters: 12 year old Isobel Ransom of Seattle, whose surgeon father, Robert Ransom, is faraway in Europe at war and whose mother, Matilda Ransom, decides to take the remainder of the family to Los Angeles to soak up some summer sunshine.
6 year old Sylvie Ransom, Isobel’s little sister and mischievous menace.
Aunt Buzzy Bell, Mother’s sister, who married Mr. Titus Bell when she came to tutor his son from his first marriage, 13 year old Ranger Bell. Ranger’s beautiful Indian mother is dead, and Ranger himself is a what my mama would call a ring-tailed tooter: movie lot lizard and would-be film director.
Samuel Patrick Service, Ranger’s secret and secretive partner in the movie-making business, seemingly a partner because he mysteriously has access to a camera and other film-making equipment and know-how.

Plot: Well, a plot summary, or scenario as it’s called in the movie world, might divulge
“how the story ends”, and we wouldn’t want to do that, now would we?

Suffice it to say, that it was the setting and the characters and their madcap adventures that drew me into this cinematic narrative, and wouldn’t let me go until, well, I found out how the story would end.

Will Ranger and Sam make their movie? Will director D.W. Griffith see the completed film and give Ranger his big break in the movie business?

Will Isobel get the ending she wants—in her life and in the movie?

Will Isobel’s and Sylvie’s father come home safely from the battlefields of World War I? Will he be the same jovial and kind dad who left them to volunteer in a war that he didn’t have to fight?

Will Sylvie survive Hollywood, movie-making, and her own penchant for accidental near-death experiences?

Will Mother agree to appear in one of the romantic Charlie Chaplin’s movies?

Will Ranger be forced to return to the school he hates before he finishes his movie?

All will be revealed in I Don’t Know How the Story Ends by J.B. Cheney, available today, October 6, 2015, from your favorite book retailer.

I found the book to be fun and thoughtful at the same time, a combination which suits me just fine. Isobel is a proper, early twentieth century young lady, and at the same time she is intelligent and quite able to articulate her thoughts and desires. Ranger is a pill. And Sylvie is another. Sam is the strong, silent type, a young John Wayne or Gary Cooper. And because it’s set in 1918 Hollywood, the kids are able to run around all over the small town of Hollywood without the author having to get rid of the parents completely. In fact, the two sets of parents in the story have integral roles in the plot and the denouement, as Isobel in particular gets a glimpse of her parents as people with their own problems to solve and growing to do.

I’d recommend the book to anyone interested in early silent films, the history of Hollywood and the movies, the World War I era, or even just adventures and happy endings.

Remembering Inez, edited by Robert P.J. Cooney, Jr.

Remembering Inez: The Last Campaign of Inez Mulholland, Suffrage Martyr, Selections from The Suffragist, 1916 by Robert P.J. Cooney, Jr., editor.

This is an odd little book. Edited by the author of a comprehensive and adult-focused tome about the women’s suffrage movement, Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement, this 90-page gem is billed as a “brief tribute” which “pays homage to this fallen leader and her last campaign.” The introduction has a brief biographical about Ms. Mulholland, but the first part of the book is made up of the text of her famous speech, “Appeal to the Women Voters of the West”, in which she asked the women in western states where women’s suffrage was already in place to vote against Democrat candidates for national office because those Democrats had promised women the vote but had not done anything to make that happen. In particular Inez Mullholland railed against presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson, who said that, although he supported woman suffrage, he could not do anything about votes for women until the women themselves convinced the majority of Democrats to back their right to vote.

The rest of the book is a series of articles and obituaries from The Suffragist, a weekly publication of the National Woman’s Party. Inez Mulholland died in 1916 at the age of thirty. She died of pernicious anemia, a “martyr” in the eyes of her fellow suffragists. I doubt that she and I would have seen eye to eye on many issues.

However, I was reminded of the current political and social controversies as I read of the dehumanization of women that Mulholland and others preached so forcefully against.

“There are people who honestly believe—honestly believe!—and they are not only Democrats—that there are more important issues before the country than abortion suffrage, and that (it) would be very becoming on our part to say nothing more of the matter, to retire at this time and take the crumbs from the table—if there are any. Now I do not know what you feel about such a point of view, whether it finds sympathy among you,—but it makes me mad!
Have infants women no part in the world’s issues? Have they we no brains? Have they we no heart? Have they we no capacity for suffering? Have they we no needs? Have we hopes? To believe that they we have no right to breathe part in the determining of national events is to believe that babies in the womb women are not human beings.
Now there are people that do not believe that babies women are human beings . . . But I believe, and every woman of spirit and independence believes, that babies women are human beings, with a definite part to play in the shaping of human events.”

The parallels should have been obvious even without my strikeout substitutions. We dehumanize and deny basic rights to others at our own peril. Inez Mulholland is remembered partly for her poignant question which was taken up as a banner slogan by the woman suffrage movement, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” I would ask, “Mr. President and citizens of this country, how long must babies wait for the basic right to live?”

The author has a website where you can find out more about Inez Mulholland.
Read more here about the dehumanization of persons, propaganda to that end, and the will not to believe.

Young Adult Nonfiction: Cybils Suggestions

Do you need a suggestion for a book to nominate for the Cybils in the category of Young Adult Nonfiction (my judging category)? Nominations are open through October 15th, and anyone can nominate a book, as long as the book was published between October 15, 2014 and October 15, 2015. And here’s link to the nomination form.

The following books are a few titles that haven’t been nominated yet that I’ve read or heard good things about:

Cyber Attack by Martin Gitlin and Margaret J. Goldstein. Semicolon review here.

Place Hacking: Venturing Off Limits by Michael J. Rosen. Semicolon review here.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Student Edition) by Eric Metaxas. Thomas Nelson, May 2015. Bonhoeffer’s own writings and Eric Metaxas’ biography are quite inspiring. Someone should write a teen version of The Cost of Discipleship, or teens should just step it up and read the original.

Stories of My Life by Katherine Paterson. Dial, October 16, 2014.

Hidden Gold: A True Story of the Holocaust by Ellen Burakowski. Second Story Press, October 1, 2015.

The Boys in the Boat (Young Readers Adaptation): The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics by Daniel James Brown. Viking, September 2015. I read the adult version last year, and it was great. NOMINATED

Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation): An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive by Laura Hillenbrand. Delacourte, November 2014. If ever a book cried out for a wide audience, this one does. NOMINATED.

Give Me Wings: How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World by Kathy Lowinger. Annick Press, August 2015.

Springs of Hope: The Story of Johann Sebastian Bach by Joyce McPherson. CreateSpace, May 2015. I have a wonderful biography of John Calvin by this author in my library, and I would very much like to read this biography of Bach.

Make It Messy: My Perfectly Imperfect Life by Marcus Samuelsson and Veronica Chambers. (Teen edition of autobiography Yes Chef) Delacourte, June 2015.

The Making of a Navy SEAL: My Story of Surviving the Toughest Challenge and Training the Best by Brandon Webb. St. Martin’s Griffin, August 2015.

The Case for Grace (Student Edition) by Lee Strobel. Zondervan, February 2015.

Noah Webster: Man of Many Words by Catherine Reef. Clarion, August 2105. I read her book on the Bronte sisters and really enjoyed it.

The Courage to Compete: Living with Cerebral Palsy and Following My Dreams by Abbey Curran and Elizabeth Kaye. HarperCollins, September 2015.

Real Justice: Branded a Baby Killer: The Story of Tammy Marquardt by Jasmine D’Costa. Lorimer, September 2015.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Readers Edition) by William Kamkwambe and Bryan Mealer. Dial, February 2015. I read the adult version and found it to be quite an inspiring story.

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow. Calkins Creek, March 2015.

Legends: The Best Players, Teams and Games in Baseball by Howard Bryant. Philomel, March 2015.

Remembering Inez: The Last Campaign of Inez Milholland, Suffrage Martyr by Robert P. J., Jr. Cooney. American Graphic Press, March 2015. Semicolon review here.

Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Roaring Brook Press, September 2015. NOMINATED

Smart and Spineless: Exploring Invertebrate Intelligence by Ann Downer. 21st Century Books, August 2105.

Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army by Greg Rauch. BYR, February 2015. NOMINATED

The Prisoners of Breendonk: Personal Histories from a World War II Concentration Camp by James M. Deem. HMH Books for Young Readers, August 2015. NOMINATED

Somewhere There Is Still a Sun: A Memoir of the Holocaust by Michael Gruenbaum and Todd Hasak-Lowy. Aladdin, August 2015.

Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery by Janet Willen and Marjorie Gann. Tundra Books, September 2015.

This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain. University of Nebraska Press, March 2015.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Linda Lowery, with Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley. Dial, January 2015.

The Many Faces of Josephine Baker: Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy by Peggy Caravantes. Chicago Review Press, February 2015.

What have you read in the category of Young Adult nonfiction this year? What book(s) can you recommend? What will you nominate for a Cybil award?

Saturday Review of Books: October 3, 2015

“Read as you taste fruit, or savor wine, or enjoy friendship, love, or life.” ~George Herbert


Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday.

Chocolate by Kay Frydenborg

Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat by Kay Frydenborg

This book, marketed to a young adult audience, is a quite exhaustive (272 pages) history of chocolate, cocoa, cacao, and the growing and marketing thereof. Ms. Frydenborg covers the origins of chocolate and cacao beans, the uses of chocolate as medicine, food, and candy, the growing of various species of cacao, the history of slavery in connection with the chocolate industry, and recent efforts to map the genomes of and preserve various types of cacao plants. And I love the cover. It’s delectable.

I wanted to recommend this book to a friend of mine who is working on developing mixed-use and sustainable farming in a mountainous part of the world that is suited for growing coffee, not chocolate. I think he would find quite a few parallels between the kind of farming he is trying to promote and the type of cacao farming that the scientists in the book are helping farmers to implement.

The book has great information and adequate writing and organization. There is some repetitious material that could have been left out or edited down. But the main problem is horrible copyediting. I did NOT read an ARC of this book; it was a final published copy that I borrowed from the library. I found multiple typographical and syntax errors. Dozens of them. Do publishers hire copyeditors nowadays? Or do they just depend on a computer program to copyedit the book? If it’s the former, someone should have gotten a better copyeditor, and if it’s the latter, shame on them.

I can’t recommend this book to anyone because of the shoddy copyediting. And that’s too bad because it would have been a nice addition to the library of anyone interested in the history of chocolate or in modern agricultural practices and innovations in relation to cash crops such as cacao and coffee.

Place Hacking by Michael J. Rosen

Place Hacking: Venturing Off Limits by Michael J. Rosen.

“Place hacking” is not a term found in my New Oxford American Dictionary. One definition of “hack” is to gain unauthorized access. And that’s about what place hacking is: gaining unauthorized access to a place, like a bell tower or an abandoned mine or the sewers of Paris or even a state dinner at the White House. The author defines place hacking as “recreational activities that explore an adventure in off-limits spaces.” Yes, place hacking often involves breaking the law, and it can be dangerous.

Leaping from the Eiffel Tower in a wingsuit. Scaling Shanghai Tower, one of the world’s tallest buildings. Camping on the roof of Philadelphia’s abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary. These scenarios are real examples of explorations, adventures, and infiltrations of the built environment. Thousands of people around the globe engage in the recreational activity of place hacking: climbing, wading, jumping, or even ironing their way into prohibited or obscure spaces.

There’s a whole list of warnings and disclaimers near the beginning of this attractively designed, 72-page book about people who do crazy things. I wouldn’t give this book to a teenager who’s already inclined to break the rules and indulge in dangerous, exploratory behavior, but for the teen who wants (needs?) to experience some vicarious adventure, it might be just the right fit. Of course, the one who’s already place hacking and venturing off limits probably wouldn’t slow down long enough to read even a 72 page book.

Anyway, I thought the book was interesting, although I would have liked to know more about what makes the “place hackers” tick. Their answer to the “why” question was some variation on George Mallory’s famous reason for climbing Mt. Everest: “Because it’s there.” I would have liked a little more probing into why people might want to iron (clothes) on the side of a cliff or explore an abandoned subway tunnel. But maybe the target readers won’t care about the why, but rather just be fascinated by the how and where.


Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Some people are not going to be happy with this book because the children (seventh grade, so about twelve years old) are dealing with rather teenage issues: boyfriends, girlfriends, body changes, peer pressure, divorce, feminism, bullying, gossip, sexting, etc. My thought is that these issues are going to confront children at a younger and younger age in our wired and sex-crazed society, and I’d much rather they read about such things and tried to grapple with them that way than be surprised and not know what to think or do later. And the book keeps things in the seventh/eighth grade realm, nothing too heavy or tragic, but still taking these kids seriously as thinking, growing, decision-making (good and bad) people. It’s a middle grade book for middle grade readers who find themselves changing into adults in surprising ways and at surprising times.

Newbery award winning author Rebecca Stead pulls the multiple narrative strands of this novel together quite skillfully, and I enjoyed the suspense of not knowing and trying to guess whom the chapters written in second person were about. I’m not sure why they were written in second person (you), and I found it disconcerting at first. But I got used to the device and tried to ignore it as the story pulled me in. Maybe the author was trying to say, “This could easily be you. You might find yourself in similar situation?” Or she just wanted to heighten the suspense and mystery?

Anyway, I recommend Goodbye Stranger to older middle grade readers and high school readers who don’t mind some mature themes (nothing graphic) and a bit of tension in not knowing what’s going on or to whom the things are happening at first. Trust the author, and all will be revealed.

Oh, I thought the little epilogue at the end could have been omitted. Too much information.

Cyber Attack by Martin Gitlin and Margaret J. Goldstein

Well, I certainly know a lot more about cyber crime and computer security and hacking than I did before I read this young adult nonfiction treatment of the history and current state of cyber attacks on the information we keep in our computer networks, thumb drives, hard drives, cell phones and and other internet connected devices. I also don’t feel nearly as safe as I did before I read about worms and viruses and bots and phishing and ransomware and Blackshades and lots of other nasty cyber-stuff.

Cyber Attack provides students and computer innocents (like me) with a basic introduction to the state of the internet, security-wise. Anyone with an interest in the subjects of cyber crime and cyber warfare is going to want to go deeper, and a bibliography in the back of the book provides readers with several avenues for exploration. I was freaked out enough by the information in the 72 pages of this little book to want to go off-grid for the duration.

Did you know that the computer software called Blackshades, which can take over the camera in your personal computer and take pictures of you in your own home, is a reality, not a myth? According to the author, “one Dutch teenager used his copy of Blackshades to take secret pictures of women and girls on about two thousand computers.”

Did you know that the U.S. has been involved in a secretive cyber war with Iran, trying to shut down or damage their nuclear facilities and capabilities, since 2008? And it’s probably still going on.

Did you know that the Russian and Chinese governments are actively engaged in cyber spying and attacks on U.S. companies and government computer networks, trying to get information about our economic secrets as well as military and other governmental information? And they’ve been quite successful in stealing quite a bit of information that has been of use in business negotiations and could be useful in the future if we ever do have a military confrontation with either country.

Did you know that the entire nation of Estonia–government services, banks, media outlets and other computer networks—came under cyber attack in 2007 from hackers located inside Russia? And even when the hackers were identified, Russia refused to arrest them or do anything to restrain or punish them.

Maybe you knew a lot of this stuff and more that’s in the book, but I didn’t. Again, Mr. Gitlin’s little book is a good introduction to the subject of cyber attacks. And how can a simple little old woman keep her herself and her information secure? Well, says the book, “You could cancel your Internet service, ditch your cell phone, close your bank account, throw away your debit card, and turn off your electricity. You could quit school and never take a job, vote in an election, get a driver’s license, or fly on an airplane. Of course, such a solution is completely unrealistic.”

Of course, the information in this book, published in 2015, is already incomplete and out-dated, to some extent. There’s a publisher’s note in the front of the book:

“This book is as current as possible at the time of publication. However events change rapidly and hacks, big and small, occur on a daily basis. To stay abreast of the latest developments related to hacking, check the New York Times and other major national newspapers for current, up-to-date information.”

Here are a couple of hacking-related news items that were not included in the book because they just happened in 2015:

Hillary Clinton, our Secretary of State, kept her emails on a privateserver located in some part of her house. (Hackers’ goldmine!) She says her information was secure, but no one really knows. “Was her server hacked? We don’t know. Private servers are considered more difficult to protect, in general, than the ones big e-mail hosts like Google use.” (Everything we know about the Hillary Clinton emails, September 15, 2015)

A hackers’ group calling themselves The Impact Team stole and published the private information for millions of users of the website Ashley Madison, a portal for people (mostly men) who wanted to commit adultery. Reporters and cyber security insiders keep saying that if it could happen to Ashley Madison, it could happen to any company on the web. So just know that your financial and personal information is not really safe anywhere on the web.

And the cyber attacks go on.