Rajpur: Last of the Bengal Tigers by Robert McClung

New in the library, but published in 1982, Rajpur tells the story of a Bengal tiger, born in the forests of southern Nepal and later orphaned when hunters kill both his father and his mother. Rajpur’s sister, Rani, dies of weakness caused by an infection, and Rajpur must hunt and survive alone.

The hallmarks of a “living book” are its narrative power and its full use of language to engage and delight the reader. Mr. McClung, in all of his books, uses both story and descriptive language to make his readers care about animals, the Bengal tiger, in this particular book, and to pull them into the story of one special tiger, Rajpur.

Take these examples of fine descriptive language:

“Kumari growled softly to herself, then turned to the cubs and licked them. The smell of smoke made her uneasy. After a few moments, she left the den and peered across the sea of grass. In the distance, red tongues of flame flickered under billowing clouds of smoke, and the breeze carried the strong smell of the burning vegetation.”

“One mild evening in late February the cubs followed their father as he padded along the edge of a grassy meadow. Many of the trees and bushed around them were still bare of leaves. Others were beginning to unfurl tender new leaves or flower buds. Spring was on its way. Raja Khan was rumbling softly as he sauntered along.”

“Rajpur chased a half-grown wild pig one evening and finally succeeded in seizing it. Squealing with pain, the pig wriggled around and slashed at Rajpur with its sprouting tusks. The sharp weapons tore a bloody furrow in the young tiger’s side. Surprised that the pig was fighting back, Rajpur released his hold and let it go. The pig promptly scrambled to its feet and ran away through the underbrush.”

The story itself also sustains interest as Rajpur grows from a cub into adulthood and as he learns to live alone, after losing his mother, father, and sister. Can Rajpur find a territory of his own? Can he avoid the dangers of cobra, leopards, rogue tigers, and most of all, the deadly human hunters? Can he find a mate?

Mr. McClung was a naturalist and an artist as well as a writer. He worked for the Bronx Zoo for many years, and then as an editor for National Geographic magazine. He wrote more than fifty books for children with titles such as Luna, the Story of a Moth, and Redbird, the Story of a Cardinal, and Spike: The Story of a Whitetail Deer. I would love to have all of these animal stories in my library.

Rocks in his Head by Carol Otis Hurst

I’ve seen this picture book biography recommended on several lists of “living books”, particularly living science books, and I agree that it’s a beautiful and inspiring story. The author’s father, who is never actually named in the text, was a collector of rocks. But more than a collector, he was a student and archivist who carefully curated and labeled his collection of rocks from all over the country.

Since Ms. Hurst’s father and his family were living through the Great Depression, her father’s day job was minding his gas station. When the gas station went broke, he took other jobs to support his family. Because he had never been to college or formally studied geology, most people thought Carol Hurst’s father’s passion for rocks was simply an amusing hobby. However, he eventually met someone who appreciated the informal study he had done and the depth of knowledge he had acquired.

Rocks in his Head is the kind of story our children need. They need to see that if they pursue an interest with persistence and passion, they can become experts. And they can do that whether or not this interest or passion becomes their job. I have an adult daughter who is teaching herself Polish because she is interested in all things Polish at the moment. I have a son who is becoming a talented and expert musician, in his spare time. I am an amateur, part-time librarian. So far, none of my children has “rocks in his head”, but if that were to be someone’s passion, I would encourage them to study and collect and learn with all the resources available to them. Because our economy is generally much better than that of the time during the Great Depression when Ms. Hurst’s father was living, we have much greater opportunities to both make a living for our families and pursue our own interests. Encourage your children and yourself to take advantage of every opportunity.

The Flight and Adventures of Charles II by Charles Norman

This Landmark history book is not the best example of the series, nor is it bad. The narrative could have afforded to be a little more narrative, if you know what I mean. More story, fewer travelogue facts about where Charles ran to next. But it’s still a great improvement on the history books from nowadays with little boxes of facts all over the pages and no story at all. And although I searched at Amazon, I couldn’t find any books for children that told this story about Charles II and the English civil war and restoration at all.

The illustrations are delightful. The illustrator, C. Walter Hodges, won the annual Greenaway Medal for British children’s book illustration in 1964. He illustrated many, many children’s books in the mid twentieth century, including Ian Serraillier, Rosemary Sutcliff (The Eagle of the Ninth), Rhoda Power (Redcap Runs Away), and Elizabeth Goudge (The Little White Horse). Mr. Hodges also wrote books of his own and was an expert on Shakespeare, particularly Shakespeare’s theater. The book he won the Greenaway Medal for was called Shakespeare’s Theater. It’s a really lovely book, and I’m pleased to be able to say that I have a copy in my library.

To get back to Charles II, the Earl of Rochester is said to have composed an epigram about the rather frivolous king:

Here lies our sovereign lord, the King,
Whose word no man relies on;
Who never said foolish thing,
And never did a wise one.

Charles’ response: “Od’s fish! That is easily accounted for–my words are my own, my actions those of my ministers.”

He sounds just like some current day politicians I’ve heard–disclaim responsibility, and blame everything on the minor bureaucrats.

This Strange Wilderness by Nancy Plain

This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain.

I wanted to compare this biography to a few others that I would like to have in my library, but the truth is that I don’t have them. And my public library doesn’t have the following biographies of artist and ornithologist John James Audubon for children/young adults either:

Audubon by Constance Rourke. Harcourt, 1936. This book won a Newbery honor in 1937, the same year that Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer won the Newbery Award. Ms. Rourke wrote another biography, Davy Crockett, that won a Newbery Honor in 1935. I do have the latter book in my library, and it is quite engaging and readable.

John James Audubon by Margaret and John Kieran. This biography is No. 48 in the Landmark series of history books, and I would very much like to have a copy of it. John Kieran was a sportswriter, radio personality, and an avid bird watcher. He wrote this biography of Audubon with his wife, Margaret, also a journalist and an editor for the Boston Globe newspaper.

My public library does have the following books about Audubon for children:

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon (Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12) by Jacqueline Davies and Melissa Sweet. HMH, 2004. I like Melissa Sweet, but I haven’t seen this particular book.

Audubon: Painter of Birds in the Wild Frontier by Jennifer Armstrong and Jos. A. Smith. Abrams, 2003. A picture book biography. It looks very nice with full color illustrations, some of them copied from Audubon’s paintings.

Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream by Robert Burleigh. Another picture book that focuses on Audubon’s failure as a shop-keeper and his decision to become an artist and wilderness explorer.

So, with all those options, why do we need another biography of john James Audubon for children or young adults?

Well, the first two titles are great and most likely well-written, but they were published quite a few years back, and they probably don’t have many examples of the art for which Mr. Audubon was most famous. This Strange Wilderness has many, many full color images of Audubon’s birds and other paintings, along with text that illuminates the man and his work.

On the other hand, the three picture books that are readily available are just that, picture books, not really adequate for older readers in middle school and high school who want to find out more about John James Audubon and his legacy. At 90 pages with lots of full page and half page illustrations, this bio is anything but exhaustive; however, it’s much more informative than the picture books referenced above. Any budding ornithologist would enjoy This Strange Wilderness along with Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now, a fiction title in which Audubon’s masterpiece, The Birds of America, plays a large role. Then, of course, a real bird-lover would need his or her very own copy of The Birds of America, available from Amazon in small (about $10.00), medium (about $30.00) and large sizes (over $100.00). Or the most famous of the paintings are reproduced in Ms. Plain’s book, so most readers might be content with it.

This Strange Wilderness is only available as a paperback or an ebook, but the paperback is a quality book, with a heavy cover and bound in signatures so that the pages fold back easily to allow one to see the full reproductions of the paintings.

Nonfiction November: Week 2 Lists!

Lu/Leslie at Regular Rumination asks us to Be/Become/Ask the Expert:

Share a list of titles that you have read on a particular topic, create a wish list of titles that you’d like to read about a particular topic, or ask your fellow Nonfiction November participants for suggestions on a particular topic.

Well, I have two three ongoing projects, and I’d love to have suggestions for either.

My U.S. Presidents Project is stalled at the moment, but I’d like to take it back up in January. I have a copy of David McCullough’s Truman waiting for me to get around to it. And here I have a list of presidential biographies I’d like to read. What books should I add to my list? Leave me a comment about any biographies of U.S. presidents that you’ve read and enjoyed, and please leave a link to your review, if you wrote one.

My Africa reading project is also ongoing. I was trying to focus on one are of Africa each year, but that idea fell by the wayside when I would find a book set in another part of Africa that I wanted to read. So any nonfiction about Africa or African countries?

I almost forgot about this list of 50 Nonfiction Books for 50 States. Do you have any suggestions to add to this list?

I am going to enjoy exploring other bloggers’ nonfiction reading lists and projects. I may have to restrain myself from taking on another reading project as a result of reading others’ lists.

Breakfast on Mars, edited by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe

Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays: Your Favorite Authors Take a Stab at the Dreaded Essay Assignment, edited by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe.

These 38 essays by children’s and YA authors such as Elizabeth Winthrop, Rita Williams-Garcia, Kirsten Miller, Laurel Snyder, and Wendy Moss, are not your average English assignment, get it written and turn it in, essays. These essays sparkle. From the introduction to this collection:

“For too long, we have held essays captive in the world’s most boring zoo. We’ve taken all the wild words, elaborate arguments, and big hairy ideas found in essays, and we’ve poached them from their natural habitat. We’ve locked essays in an artificial home.


Essay, we must tame you We must squish you into five paragraphs, and we must give you so much structure that you cower in the corner, scared for your life.

The essay’s fate has long looked bleak. But do not despair, for change is brewing. In the following pages, you’ll catch a glimpse of something most people have never seen in the wild. We’ve let essays out of their cages, and we’ve set them loose. We’ve allowed them to go back to their roots.”

So, in this collection we have a variety of essays, all written with creativity and flair.

How about a personal essay: Ransom Riggs on “Camp Dread, or How to Survive a Shockingly Awful Summer”? It’s a new twist on “What I Did Last Summer.”

Or perhaps a persuasive essay on why we should (Chris Higgins) or shouldn’t (Chris Higgins again) colonize Mars or why the author (Kirsten Miller) believes “Sasquatch Is Out There (And He Wants Us to Leave Him Alone)” or “Why We Need Tails” by Ned Vizzini.

A character analysis essay on Princess Leia (Cecil Castellucci, who is a female, by the way) or Super Mario (Alan Gratz).

The authors take on subjects such as memories (Rita Williams-Garcia), time machines (Steve Almond), life before television (Elizabeth Winthrop), invisibility (Maile Meloy), humpback anglerfish (Michael Hearst) and names (Jennifer Lu).

Did you know you can write graphic essays with pictures (“Penguin Etiquette” by Chris Epting) or cartoons (“On Facing My Fears” by Khalid Birdsong)?

My favorite essay of the bunch, because it spoke to me as a parent, was Lena Roy’s “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll”. I won’t tell you the details of Ms. Roy’s adolescent adventures with being “cool”, but I will refer you to the essay in which her dad makes some very wise parenting decisions and gives the young Lena some very wise words to live by:

“Words matter, Lena. What we say about ourselves matter. The words we use to represent ourselves matter. You know that. We only have so many ways we can express ourselves, and words are the most powerful.”

These essays are examples for teens (and adults) of how words can matter in a good way, how, to use the title of yet another essay in this collection, “A Single Story Can Change Many Lives” (Craig Kielburger). It’s time for us all to start writing those stories— in un-squished, wild, and powerful essays.

What a great tool for teachers and what a great illustration of what the essay can be for students of all ages!

Africa Is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight and Mark Melnicove

“Africa is not a country—it is a vast continent made up of 53 nations. . . From the tiny island nations of Comoros, Syechelles, and Sao Tome and Principe, to its largest country (Sudan), Africa is the only continent with land in all four hemispheres.”

Z-baby (age 10) read this book, and commented as she read:

“You mean Africa is bigger than the United States?”

“It says Africa is almost as wide as it is tall. No way!”

“Here’s what I don’t understand: why is it when they talk about Africa on the radio they always talk about the children? Something’s always happening to the children?”

“Pula is the name of the money in Botswana and it also means rain.”

“It told about this girl who sold milk, and she carried it on her head.”

I thought this book, consisting of several brief stories of children in various African countries and colorful illustrations depicting the children’s lives, was a good introduction to the continent of Africa and the idea that it is a vast place with many different nations and cultures. Z-baby learned some things, but she was not terribly impressed with the book or its content.

Unit study and curriculum uses for Africa Is Not a Country: Africa, world geography, Black History Month, cultural geography.

Nonfiction Monday is being celebrated today at the blog Wrapped in Foil.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Amazing story. If it weren’t so heavily footnoted and corroborated, I would find it difficult to believe such a miraculous survival story. Louis Zamperini, the subject of this riveting biography, was an Olympic runner. He won a bronze medal in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and he planned to compete in the 1940 Olympics. Louie, as he was called, was getting close to breaking the four minute mile, but World War II derailed Louis’s Olympic and world record hopes. However, the rest of the story which chronicles Louie’s experiences during and after World War II is even more astounding and transcendent than any world record in a sporting event. I don’t think I’ve ever read about anyone who survived the multiple ordeals that Zamperini was able to live through and then also managed, by the grace of God, to live a full and joyful life afterwards.

One of my urchins says she doesn’t believe in miracles. I think she’s saying she’s never heard a Voice from on high or seen a person instantly healed or witnessed the sudden appearance of manna from heaven. However, if what happened in the life of Louis Zamperini wasn’t a series of miracles, I don’t know what to call it. First of all, Louis and the pilot of his B-24 bomber survive a crash in the Pacific and forty plus days on a raft without supplies in the ocean. And it only get worse when the two Americans land on the Marshall Islands and are “rescued” by the Japanese army.

But the greatest miracle of all comes after the war is over for everyone else, when Louie is still trapped in the prison of his own mind.

No one could reach Louie, because he had never really come home. In prison camp, he’d been beaten into dehumanized obedience to a world order in which the Bird (a cruel Japanese prison guard) was absolute sovereign, and it was under this world order that he still lived. The Bird had taken his dignity and left him feeling humiliated, ashamed, and powerless, and Louie believed that only the Bird could restore him, by suffering and dying in the grip of his hands. A once singularly hopeful man now believed that his only hope lay in murder.
The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them, believing that their release from pain will come only when they make their tormentors suffer. In seeking the Bird’s death to free himself, Louie had chained himself, once again, to his tyrant. During the war, the Bird had been unwilling to let go of Louie; after the war, Louie was unable to let go of the Bird.

This book actually brought me to tears, something that seldom happens to me while reading. I was reminded that as Corrie Ten Boom often said, “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.”

I was also reminded of my conviction that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary evils. The Japanese were not planning to ever surrender to the Allies. In the book, Hillenbrand tells how the POWs in Japan saw women and children being trained to defend the homeland to the last person. And the Japanese had a “kill-all policy” which ordered prison camp commanders to kill all the prisoners of war if it ever became evident that they might be rescued and repatriated. This policy was carried out in several Japanese prison camps, and “virtually every POW believed that the destruction of this city (Hiroshima) had saved them from execution.”

Man’s inhumanity to man continues on into this century, but if we are to avoid and prevent future horrors, we must remember the past. And we must be presented with stories that affirm the possibility of redemption, even from the darkest of atrocities.

Nonfiction Monday: The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

The Day-Glo Brothers is subtitled “The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors.”

These are the closest examples I could get of Day-Glo (fluorescent) colors:

Fluorescent Green
Day-Glo Yellow
Day-Glo Orange

They’re those colors that crossing guards wear and that characterized the 1960’s, and they glow in the daylight or when illuminated by an ultraviolet light source. The Switzer brothers, Bob and Joe, invented these colors just before World War II, and the colors became useful in wartime, especially on aircraft carriers and in naval warfare and rescue, and later in peacetime as companies and individuals began to think of multiple uses for these easily visible colors.

I can see how a book like this one might inspire young inventors and scientists who are still in elementary school to think about the many unexplored areas of science and about the intersections between science and other disciplines, in this case art and advertising. Mr. Barton tells the story in straightforward prose and yet includes enough anecdotes about the Switzers’ lives and personalities to keep readers interested. The bright Day-Glo illustrations on black background complement the story perfectly.

Buy some Day-Glo make-up.
Day-Glo Brothers Activity and Discussion Guide
Chris Barton’s blog, Bartography.

This book has been nominated for the Cybil Award in the Nonfiction Picture Book category. I received my copy of Day-Glo Brothers from the publisher for the purpose of review. Nonfiction Monday is hosted today at Jean Little Library.

Nonfiction Monday: Indians Who Lived in Texas by Betsy Warren

IMG_0323This out-of-print book by Texas author Betsy Warren gives details about the dress, food, and other customs of ten Native American groups that lived in the area we now call Texas. These tribes were the Caddo and the Wichita of Northeast Texas, the Karankawa, the Coahuiltecans, and the Atakapans of the Texas Gulf coast, the Jumanos who farmed in West Texas along the Rio Grande, the Tonkawa of Central Texas, and the hunting tribes of the West Texas plains: Kiowas, Lipan Apaches, and Comanches.

This book has been around for quite a while (first published in 1970), but the information and the treatment of the subject remain valid and respectful, other than the fact that the author uses the term “Indian” to refer to the native groups that lived in Texas. I gather that the preferred term is “Native American.”

I found two other books about native Texans while searching at Amazon and at my library’s website.

The first Texans: sixteen tribes of native peoples and how they lived by Carolyn Mitchell Burnett obviously covers more tribes of Indians. This book was published by Eakin Press in 1995.

Learn about– Texas Indians: a learning and activity book: color your own guide to the Indians that once roamed Texas, text and editorial direction by Georg Zappler. University of Texas Press, 2007. This one is the most up-to-date text that I found on the subject, but as noted, it’s a coloring book. My seventh and eighth graders might be a little insulted by being given a coloring book for informational purposes.

I think I’ll stick with Betsy Warren’s old stand-by survey of Texas Indians for my upcoming seventh/eighth grade Texas history class even if I have to buy multiple copies of the book from used book sellers. It’s a good book, 46 pages long, with pictures and maps showing the areas where each Native Texan tribe lived. Short, sweet, and informative. What more could you ask for?