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The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.

With the (winter) Olympics coming up and my aforementioned current interest in the 1930′s, The Boys in the Boat was just the ticket for reading on a very cold day in January. The nine Americans in the title were: Don Hume, Bobby Moch, Stub McMillin, Johnny White, Gordy Adam, Shorty Hunt, Roger Morris, Chuck Day, and Joe Rantz. They were the crew of an eight-man shell for the University of Washington. Their coach was Al Ulbrickson, and George Pocock, famous for building racing boats for Washington and for many other championship rowing teams, was their mentor and the builder of their shell, the Husky Clipper.

The story focuses on crew member Joe Rantz, since he was the member of the Olympic team that the author first met and from whom he heard the story of the “boys’” journey to the Berlin Olympics. I put “boys” in quotation marks because by the time their story was published last year (2013), the boys in the boat had all passed on. But Mr. Brown got to interview some of them before they died, and he spent a great deal of time researching the backgrounds of the boys, talking to family members, reading journals that some of the boys kept, and preparing to write an inspiring and flowing account of their rise to glory at the Olympics.

One of things that the book emphasizes is that rowing is not easy:

“Competitive rowing is an undertaking of extraordinary beauty preceded by brutal punishment. Unlike most sports, which draw primarily on particular muscle groups, rowing makes heavy and repeated use of virtually every muscle in the body. . . And rowing makes these muscular demands not a odd intervals but in rapid sequence, over a protracted period of time, repeatedly and without respite. . . The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Royal Brougham marveled at the relentlessness of the sport: ‘Nobody ever took time out in a boat race,’ he noted ‘There’s no place to stop and get a satisfying drink of water or a lungful of cool, invigorating air. You just keep your eyes glued on the red, perspiring neck of the fellow ahead of you and row until they tell you it’s all over. . . Neighbor, it’s no game for a softy.’”

I was filled with admiration for these college boys who practiced in rain, sleet, wind and snow to go to a total of two races: one in their own Washington waters against arch rival, the University of California, and the other in Poughkeepsie, competing against California again and against all of the East Coast teams who saw the westerners as country cousins who were out of their league in the East. The persistence and fine-tuning of the team and its precise movements required all that the nine member team could give, mentally and physically–and then, a little more.

The book also made much of the contrast between Depression-era country boys struggling in Washington State to get an education and make the Olympic team at the same time, and Hitler’s desire to make the Berlin Olympics into a showcase for the Nazi regime in Germany and the Aryan youth of Germany who would be competing for the glory of the Reich. The impending war serves as a focus and a frame for the story, even though the boys in the boat were completely unaware of the imminent approach of a world war that would change all of their lives.

Some interesting mentions in the book:

Actor Hugh Laurie’s father, Ran Laurie, was member of the British eight-man crew at the 1936 Olympics.

Louis Zamperini (Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand) is mentioned once in this book, as possibly the only athlete on the boat to Europe for the Olympics who had a bigger appetite than rower Joe Rantz.

Swimmer Eleanor Holm was expelled from the U.S. Olympic team for drunkenness on the boat over, after an all-night party with some journalists, who then proceeded to make headlines with The Eleanor Holm Story in newspapers all over the United States.

The coxswain for the team, Bobby Moch, found out for the first time in a letter from his father just before he left to go to the Olympics, that his relatives in Europe, whom he had never met, were Jewish, and therefore that he was of Jewish heritage.

Hitler’s pet filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, made a well-regarded propaganda film about the 1936 Olympics, called Olympia. The film was secretly funded by the Nazi government, and it was shown all over the world to great acclaim.

All in all, The Boys in the Boat is a great book for anyone interested in sports stories in general, rowing in particular, the rise of Nazism, the 1930′s, Olympic history, and just plain inspirational stories of perseverance and courage. If there were a few extraneous details, they were details that I enjoyed learning. And the prose was well above average.

12 Best Nonfiction Books I Read in 2013

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. Recommended at Book Diary.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard.

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life by Rod Dreher.

Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with his Father’s Questions about Christianity by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd and Edward K. Boyd.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield.

Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton by Joseph Pearce.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright, reviewed at Semicolon.

Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent by N.D. Wilson.

The Girl in the Picture by Denise Chong, featured at Semicolon.

C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath.

Saving a Life: How We Found Courage When Death Rescued our Son by Charles and Janet Morris.

Beautiful Nate: A Memoir of a Family’s Love, a Life Lost, and Heaven’s Promises by Dennis Mansfield.

Two biographies (Chesterton and Lewis), two autobiographies/conversion stories (Denise Chong and Rosaria Champagne Butterfield), two memoirs of the loss of a son (the last two on the list), a couple of inspirational apologetics titles (Boyd and Wilson), exposes of Scientology and of poverty in Mumbai, a narrative history of the assassination and death of President James Garfield, and a memoir of Rod Dreher’s encounter with death and community in small-town Louisiana: those were my favorite nonfiction reads this year. I recommend any or all of them, if you’re at all interested in the subject matter. Ms. Butterfield’s conversion story and Mr. Wright’s book about the history and inner workings of the Scientology movement were particularly thought-provoking.

Cybils YA Nonfiction Trio

The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb.

The Nazi Hunters tells the story of how, in Argentina in May, 1960, a crack Israeli spy team captured the infamous Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews and other people during World War II, and took him back to Israel to stand trial for war crimes. The story could have been an exciting and thought-provoking read, but unfortunately the pacing of the story was uneven and off-putting. I never got to know the members of the Israeli team well enough to remember which was which, and the author was unwilling or probably unable to help to understand the mind and motives of Eichmann and his family members either. This book is adapted from Bascomb’s adult nonfiction book, Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World’s Most Notorious Nazi. Maybe more somehow would have been better, and I would have developed an interest in these characters by reading the adult version.I don’t think teens will be intrigued by this YA abridgment, and I’d point anyone who was interested in another direction.

Wild Animal Neighbors: Sharing Our Urban World by Ann Downer.

The author focuses on various animals, one per chapter, that have adapted to living in urban areas and tell the story of how they have managed to co-exist with humans in cities –or not. The animals Ms Downer highlights are: bears, raccoons, mountain lions, crows, coyotes, flying foxes, turtles, and alligators. The alligator chapter interested me the most because the gators in question live and sometimes stroll down the sidewalks in Houston where I live. However, her diagnosis of the “alligator problem” seems inadequate: “For the residents of Houston, the best weapon against gators may prove to be greater understanding and appreciation of these amazing creatures—and a lot of caution and common sense.” Really? I can agree with the “caution and common sense” part, but I plan to follow the Pearland (suburb of Houston) Parks and Recreation Department instructions: “Don’t tease the gators, don’t feed the gators, and if you hear an alligator hiss, you’re too close.” My appreciation for alligators, and other wild animals in cities, will be strictly photographic in nature, thank you. Other people’s photographs.

Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley.

If one were researching the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and/or the French Resistance during World War II, this memoir would certainly be a helpful resource. However, just for reading, it’s a little dry, and the author leaves out key transitions and information that would make her story more understandable. There’s an odd sort of summary at the beginning of each chapter, and then the chapter itself backtracks in time and fills in more detail for each episode in the life of this intrepid heroine. Fans of Code Name Verity might enjoy reading about a real WWII agent and comparing her adventures to the fictional ones. I just wish someone else had written and organized the story of Ms. Cornioley’s life as a resistance fighter to make it more coherent and more evocative of the spirt of the times.

Fifty Years Ago Today, RIP Jack

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

'C.S. Lewis' photo (c) 2010, Owen Massey McKnight - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Fifty years ago a not-so-quiet man whose friends called him Jack slipped quietly from his home near Cambridge, England, into his Real Home and found True Joy. While most of the world, certainly the United States, were mourning the violent death of another Jack, Clive Staples Lewis had died about an hour before Kennedy and gone through “a door out of a little, dark room (that’s all the life we have known before it) into a great, real place where the true sun shines and we shall meet.” (Till We Have Faces)

And today, fifty years after his death, a memorial will be dedicated to Lewis in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey. Others are celebrating all month and on through the end of the year, not his death but his life and work and legacy. On Pinterest, 50 Fans, 50 Years Later quotes authors and other who laud the influence of C.S. Lewis. And this post at the C.S. Lewis blog collects links to news articles celebrating the legacy of Lewis.

“Comparisons are odious,” said the philosopher, but they are inevitable. I venture to guess that Lewis’s influence and legacy will last a lot longer than that of a certain U.S. president. No disrespect intended to the other Jack, but how many people has God used to such great effect for His kingdom as He has used C.S. Lewis, that reluctant convert?

“You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (Surprised By Joy, ch. 14, p. 266).

Till we all—Jack Kennedy, “Jack” Lewis, and the rest of us, reluctant to face a holy but loving God–till all of us “have faces”, may the grace of God sustain us until we are surprised by the joy of His presence.

Women of the Frontier by Brandon Marie Miller

51aDnzTnIKL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of Trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers by Brandon Marie Miller.

This collective biography/history was a fascinating book, although I found myself skimming the explanatory material at the beginning of each chapter to go directly to the stories of the women themselves. Some of the women I knew something about: Margret Reed, a survivor of the ill-fated Donner Party; Narcissa Whitman, missionary to Oregon; Carry Nation, prohibition campaigner; and Cynthia Ann Parker, captive of the Comanches and mother to Quanah Parker, famous Comanche chief.

Even about these women I learned new things:
According to the author, Narcissa Whitman grew to nearly despise the Native Americans she traveled to Oregon to minister to and convert.

After years of “smashing” saloons to protest the evils of alcohol, Carry Nation settled in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and opened a home for the (abused) wives of alcoholics. The home was called Hatchet Hall.

Indian captive Cynthia Ann Parker was taken back from the Comanches when her son Quanah was only twelve years old, and she thought he was dead. She did not know that he became a great warrior chief of the Comanche.

Then, there were the many seemingly ordinary, actually extraordinary, women who managed to survive a life of hardship and vicissitudes that would have put me into an early grave. Amelia Stewart Knight traversed the Oregon Trail, “out of one mud hole into another all day.” And she was four months pregnant when she and her husband and their seven children left Iowa to head for Oregon. Luzena Wilson learned that she could make more money by cooking and cleaning for the 49ers in the California gold fields than she or her husband could by mining. Then, she learned by experience with both that a fire or flood could destroy everything she had built and earned, and she learned to start all over again.

Mary Lease fought for government regulation of the railroads, the graduated income tax, the direct election of senators, and suffrage for women. She lived to see all of these things enshrined in law. Sarah Winnemucca and Susette La Flesche, on the other hand, both championed the rights of Native Americans, but lived to see most of the promises of the U.S. government to the Native peoples broken and the Native people themselves mistreated and disrespected.

I was inspired and a bit humbled by the stories of these ladies. Again, I’m not sure how I would have done, given their circumstances and faced with their choices. I’d like to say that I would have persevered and made a life despite the difficulties and adversities they faced, but I don’t really know.

Said one Kansas woman:

“It might seem a cheerless life, but there were many compensations: the thrill of conquering a new country; the wonderful atmosphere; the attraction of the prairie, which simply gets into your bloom and makes you dissatisfied away from it; the low-lying hills and the unobstructed view of the horizon; and the fleecy clouds driven by the never failing winds.”

Maybe those things, and more, were enough.

Yoko Ono, Collector of Skies by Nell Beram and Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky

51zA84zWYPL._SX258_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_I wouldn’t say that Yoko Ono would be someone I would be interested in reading about on my own, but since this biography was nominated for the YA Nonfiction Cybils award, I gave it a go. And I learned some interesting things.

First of all, I was confirmed in my preconceived opinions about so-called “rebels” and “nonconformists.” Yoko Ono was “sick and tired of that middle-class scene”—”the value system adopted by her parents.” So she turned to her avant-garde friends in Greenwich Village—composers John Cage and Philip Glass, artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and art patron Peggy Guggenheim— for validation. The biographers tell us over and over that Yoko struggled all her life to impress and leave a mark on the art world, and later the music world. She was just as conformist as her parents; she just chose a different culture to conform to and inhabit.

Yoko Ono:
“The thought of being able to do something, that thought that I may be able to leave a mark on the world excited me tremendously.”

“Many people thought that I was a very rich girl who was just ‘playing avant-garde.’ . . . I had to say, ‘I know you are a talented artist. All you have to do is reciprocate that and just realize that I am a talented artist.’”

“I was an outcast in avant-garde because the rest of the avant-garde was trying to alienate the audience. . . . I was trying to communicate. I was trying to say ‘love’ and ‘yes’ and ‘peace.’”

Finally, after becoming frustrated with the art world and its critics and their failure to recognize her genius, she found her own worshipper, John Lennon. The biography descends into hagiography as the biographers try to justify and be completely non-judgemental about Lennon’s desertion of his wife and child and Yoko’s abandonment of her (second) husband and child so that the two could be together and revel in their misunderstood genius-ness. When Yoko and John later travel to Majorca to kidnap the daughter that Yoko had abandoned for the previous three years, the authors assure us that “all she (Yoko) wanted was her fair share of time with her daughter.”

They did it all for art’s sake. I did find some of Yoko Ono’s “art instructions” interesting and somewhat thought-provoking. But she was much less profound than she thought she was. “Yoko believed that words, and even ideas themselves, could be art. She wanted viewers to ask: What makes something a painting? What makes something not a painting?”

Well, I would answer those questions rather simply. Words and ideas may be art, but for something to be a painting, it requires paint. An idea in the artist’s head, especially if communicated very imprecisely to the viewer by means of words and/or enshrined objects, is not art, and it is certainly not a painting. I would say that so-called “found objects” are not sculpture either, since sculpture requires an artist who manipulates a medium in some way. “Found poems” are only poetry if a real, live poet puts the words together in a way so as to create meaning.

And primal screams do not make music either. So, Ms. Ono and I are in disagreement about the nature of art, the definition of music, and the art and discipline of making a beautiful and loving life. Still, I found her life story interesting, but rather sad.

Becoming Ben Franklin by Russell Freedman

51texp1OeLL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Becoming Ben Franklin: How a Candle-Maker’s Son Helped Light the Flame of Liberty by Russell Freedman.

I have several books about Benjamin Franklin in my library, including Franklin’s own autobiography. However, the other four Franklin books that I own are all written for younger readers. Becoming Ben Franklin, despite its relatively short seventy-seven pages, is written on a middle school or high school level as a basic introduction to the life of our most celebrated founding father.

Russell Freedman, of course, is quite well-known himself in the field of children’s nonfiction, having won the Newbery Award for his photobiography of Lincoln and Newbery Honors for books about Eleanor Roosevelt and about the Wright brothers. He begins his book on Benjamin Franklin with Franklin’s arrival in Philadelphia at the age of seventeen, a runaway apprentice “with a mind of his own.” In Freedman’s treatment, as in most other biographies of Franklin, Benjamin Franklin comes across as the quintessential self-made man. He asked for financial help from his father when he decided to set up a print shop in Philadelphia, but dad was not prepared to give such help without some proof that Benjamin was serious and likely to succeed. Pennsylvania Governor William Keith promised young Ben introductions and letters of credit and sent him off to England to pick out equipment for his new business, but when Ben arrived the introductions and the loans were nonexistent. So Ben was again on his own.

It seems from the narrative that although Benjamin Franklin was something of an eccentric with his “air baths” and his experiments in electricity, he won his place in the world by dint of hard work, experimentation with good ideas, and perseverance. Ben Franklin is a good subject for a children’s biography because the author can choose whether to emphasize Ben’s quirkiness, hard work, innovative ideas, or influence in politics or science or international affairs.

'JOIN, or DIE' photo (c) 2011, DonkeyHotey - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/As I said, this biography would be a good, solid middle school introduction to the life of Ben Franklin. Only one caveat: On page 28, there is a picture of this cartoon from the pen of Mr. Franklin. The caption reads in part: “The parts of the segmented snake are labeled for South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and New England (which was actually four colonies). Delaware and Maryland are missing.” Obvious mistake. I’m not sure what is missing (Connecticut? Or was it one of the four NE colonies? Maybe Georgia?), but Maryland is NOT missing. Picky, I know, but children’s informational books should be accurate to the nth degree. I wouldn’t buy it with that error in it. However, you may be willing to overlook it since the book is well-written and informative otherwise.

51kaQGvFQzL._SX258_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Some other Ben Franklin titles for younger children:

Aliki in The Many Lives of Benjamin Franklin writes: “Benjamin Franklin was born with just one life. But as he grew, his curiosity, his sense of humor and his brilliant mind turned him into a man with many lives.” Aliki’s prism for Ben Franklin is the “man of ideas.” It’s good book that would fit right in to today’s popularity of “graphic” nonfiction with its cartoon panel pages, but it’s out of print.

What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? by Jean Fritz takes much the same perspective as Aliki’s book, but with an emphasis on Franklin’s comical and entertaining side and his nonconformist, can-do attitude. “Benjamin would have liked to do nothing but experiment with his ideas, but people had discovered that he was more than an inventor. Whatever needed doing, he seemed able and willing to do it.”

Poor Richard in France by F.N. Monjo is narrated by Franklin’s grandson, Benny, and focuses on Ben Franklin’s time in France during the American Revolution when he was working to get the French to support the Americans in their fight against the British. In this story Franklin is a wise and indulgent old grandfather who always answers Benny’s questions and outfoxes both the British and the French. The emphasis is on Franklin’s wisdom. (This one is my favorite of the lot. The voice of young Benny and his interactions with his grandfather are a delight.) Unfortunately, Monjo’s book is also out of print.

Benjamin Franklin: Young Printer by Augusta Stevenson is one of the Childhood of Famous Americans series of fictionalized biographies of great Americans. Stevenson’s Ben Franklin is more serious and mature for his age. He gives good advice to his age mates, and he’s “the best apprentice in the world.” Stevenson tells stories about young Ben in the same vein as George Washington and the Cherry Tree, stories that emphasize how Ben was, even in his youth, a diligent, honest, and tenacious young man, a character to be admired and emulated.

Becoming Ben Franklin is a good addition to the stable of children’s biographies about the great man. It’s pitched for an older audience, but still quite accessible with an easy to read layout and design and lots of period illustrations, and at least one factual error that should have been noticed by a proofreader before it got into print.

Home Front Girl by Joan Wehlen Morrison

Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America by Joan Wehlen Morrison

Joan Wehlen Morrison’s journal from 1937 (age 14) to 1943 (age 20) “allows us to eavesdrop on what everyday Americans thought and felt about” the years before and during World War II.

I’m not so sure how “everyday” Miss Wehlen was. She was, first of all, a prolific writer of poetry and essays and journal entries, of which only a selection are represented in this compilation. Joan was an intelligent young lady and quite aware of political and current events, much more so, I believe, than I was at her age. “As early as 1937, Joan believe[d] that the year 1940 will be a decisive year in history.” She was a pacifist, daughter of a “working class Swedish immigrant with socialist political convictions.” And, finally, she was a Catholic, who wove “personal reflections on love, nature, and God with commentary on contemporary political events.”

Some of her more insightful entries:

Thursday, September 29, 1938
Well—our mythical “peace” is again floating over the land of Europe while four statesmen pretend to come to an agreement. The headline says, “War Averted”—but I know—it should say “War Postponed”—I know.

Sunday, February 5, 1939
I have found beauty in color and line and life and the shadows our little red lamp makes . . . I shall not forget life even if I lose it. It is a lovely world: the sky is blue and the snow is melting and I can hear the Earth expanding. Spring only comes once when you’re 16. I must keep my eyes open for it or I shall miss it in the rush.

Wednesday, December 18, 1940
Oh, world—the years so quickly gone—all the nice boys with the nice shadows in their faces . . . the war could kill them all—

Sunday, December 7, 1941
Well, Baby, it’s come, what we always knew would come, what we never quite believed in. And deathly calm all about it. No people in noisy excited little clusters on the streets. Only silent faces on the streetcars and laughing ones in windows. No excitement. Only it’s come. I hardly knew it, never believed in it. . . . Today, Japan declared war on the United States. She bombed Pearl Harbor and the Philippines while her diplomats were talking peace to Roosevelt. This afternoon at 2:30. My God, we never knew! We were drying dishes out at Evelyn’s place, and I churned butter and went for the well water with Ruth like Jack and Jill. . . . And the earth was turning and it had happened.

Tuesday, January 20, 1942
Mr. Benet was talking about diaries in history and I believe I have written mine with the intention of having it read someday. As a help, not only to the understanding of my time—but to the understanding of the individual–not as me—but as character development. Things we forget when we grow older are written here to remind us. . . . I rather like the idea of a social archeologist pawing over my relics.

So we readers are transformed into “social archeologists,” who read Miss Wehlen’s “relics” and ponder what it was like to grow up in such a time. I was in high school during the Vietnam War, but I doubt my diary, if I had one, would be nearly so interesting or insightful as Joan Wehlen’s is.

She calls Winston Churchill “Pigface”; she was apparently not a fan.

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, & Other Female Villains by Heidi E.Y. Stemple and Jane Yolen

Harlot or Hero? Liar or Lady? There are two sides to every story.

That tag line states the basic premise of this collection of tales about female villains and misunderstood molls of history. The book begins with Biblical bad girls Delilah, Jezebel and Salome, then moves on to Cleopatra, Anne Boleyn, Bloody Mary (Tudor), and my personal favorite: Countess Elisabeth Bathory, a Hungarian widow who did more than dabble in witchcraft. She killed hundreds of young women and girls so that she could bathe in their blood.

Actually, the story of Countess Bathory is a perfect example of the problem I had with this book. It’s lively and full of very human interest, but it’s also over-simplified and sensationalist, playing fast and loose with the known facts in the interest of engaging readers. In the chapters where I knew something bout the subjects, the story seemed just a tad embroidered. Here’s the Wikipedia take on “The Blood Countess”:

She has been labelled the most prolific female serial killer in history and is remembered as the “Blood Countess,” though the precise number of victims is debated. Her story results mainly from those who accused her and was apparently recorded more than 100 years after her death. It quickly became part of national folklore.
After her husband Ferenc Nádasdy’s death, she and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls, with one witness attributing to them over 650 victims, though the number for which they were convicted was 80. The purported witnesses testified to only 30-35 deaths. Supposedly due to her rank, Elizabeth herself was neither tried nor convicted, but promptly imprisoned upon her arrest in December 1610 within Csejte Castle, Upper Hungary, now in Slovakia, where she remained immured in a set of rooms until her death four years later.

And Wikipedia (not itself the most accurate source of information) later says that none of the witnesses actually said anything about the “bathing in blood” story. That tale grew up later. Although the authors discuss “context” over and over again in the cartoon summaries that follow each chapter in the book, there is very little context given in the text itself. But there is a lot of extra ahistorical information presented as fact.

Delilah is described as “young, beautiful, smart and sly” with “sexy eyelashes.” Then the authors tell us that after betraying Samson to the Philistines, “Delilah took her silver coins and left quickly.” The problem is that Judges chapter 16, the only historical source for the story of Delilah and Samson, says nothing about Delilah’s appearance or sexiness and nothing about her escape, although they could be deduced.

In the story of Jezebel, Jehu, the rebel commander gets a new line. Instead of saying “throw her down” when he orders the death of Jezebel, in Bad Girls he says, “Throw the witch queen down!” It’s much more dramatic, but not accurate according to, again, the only source for the story.

In Bad Girls, Salome is said to have danced the “dance of the seven veils.” The Bible simply says she danced. Oscar Wilde and Richard Strauss are the ones who added the “seven veils.”

Mary Tudor “hated the red-headed baby Elizabeth,” according to Stemple and Yolen. Really? Is there any evidence for this supposed hatred? One source I read indicates that Mary at least tolerated Elizabeth and taught her little sister to play the lute, that the two exchanged gifts and played cards together. Others say that Mary seemed fond of Elizabeth as they were growing up, but when Maary became queen and various Protestant plots to put Elizabeth on the throne in her place came to light, Mary understandably began to distrust her ambitious half-sister.

So, as the book continued with such infamous bad girls as Bonnie Parker, Calamity Jane, and Typhoid Mary, I was never sure exactly how factual and how fanciful the details of the stories were. In their introduction to Bad Girls, IF the authors had told us that these were their own versions of the stories of these women, what they imagined might have happened, I would have been much more comfortable with the book. It did get me interested in some of the women I had never heard of or didn’t know much about. I just think this book blurs the lines between fact and fiction too much, and the untrustworthiness of the narrative makes it of dubious value for readers who want to know what really happened.

Oh, and by the way, Bad Girls is not a graphic novel or “graphic nonfiction” despite the cover (great cover!) and the cartoon panel at the end of each bad girl story.

Andew Jenks: My Adventures as a Young Filmmaker by Andrew Jenks

Before reading this book I had never heard of Andrew Jenks, and now I’m something of a fan, albeit a fan who has never seen an episode of his MTV series, World of Jenks. I’ve also not seen either of the two documentaries that jump-started his filmmaking career, Andrew Jenks, Room 335 and The Zen of Bobby V. So I classify myself as a fan on the basis of the book and the video series I watched on YouTube called It’s About a Girl. (I recommend the video series. It’s sweet.)

The book grabbed me. From his childhood as a geek who carried around a video camera everywhere he went, to his first documentary in which he arranged to live in a nursing home for a few weeks, to his next project which took him to Japan and Japanese baseball, to his debut on MTV, I followed Andrew Jenks as he followed other people and made films out of the stories of ordinary, and extraordinary, people. And I started feeling all motherly toward. I hoped he wouldn’t get himself into trouble when he filmed a former criminal, turned rap producer, and a “houseless” young woman on the streets San Francisco. I wanted to give him some advice about slowing down and savoring the moment and being careful not to let his success go to his head. (I’m not sure he needs my advice, but I wanted to give it anyway.)

I guess you could say I was invested in the book and the young man who wrote it and who had all of the adventures. I know three twenty-something young men who want to make movies. One of them is my nephew, and two others go to my church. I think they would enjoy reading through Andrew Jenks’s adventures. It’s inspiring to read about or watch someone who is living his passion. In a way, it wouldn’t matter that Mr. Jenks has been so successful as a filmmaker at such a young age (except that it takes money to make movies so most of the adventures in filmmaking wouldn’t have happened without the initial success); I would just enjoy reading about someone who is doing what he wants to do and having so much fun and working so hard at it.

“The reward for all this work isn’t fame. . . No, the reward for working hard is getting to do more work. And better work. . . For me putting the world down on film is living. Giving people a voice.”

I like that, and I wish Mr. Jenks all the best in his filmmaking endeavors. Even if he is an Obama fan.

Andrew Jenks: My Adventures as a Young Filmmaker has been nominated for the Cybils Award in the category of Young Adult Nonfiction. The thoughts in this review are my own and do not reflect the thoughts or evaluations of the Cybils panel or of any other Cybils judge.