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New Biographies in the Library: July, 2016

I’m going to start posting here about the books that I acquire for my library. For those of you who don’t know, I have a private subscription library in my home, mostly for homeschoolers, although others who are interested in quality books are welcome to visit or to join. I have a lot of older books that are no longer available from the public library as well as some new books that I think will stand the test of time.

Here’s an annotated list of some of the new/old books I’ve acquired (from thrift stores, used bookstores, library sales, donations) in the past month:

Harry Houdini: Young Magician by Kathryn Kilby Borland. Illustrated by Helen Ross Speicher. Childhood of Famous Americans series.

Albert Einstein: Young Thinker by Marie Hammontree. Illustrated by Robert Dorms. Childhood of Famous Americans series.

Kate Douglas Wiggin: The Little Schoolteacher by Miriam E. Mason. Illustrated by Vance Locke. Childhood of Famous Americans series.

George Eastman: Young Photographer by Joanne Landers Henry. Illustrated Rawson. Childhood of Famous Americans series.

I have a young library patron who devours these Childhood of Famous Americans series books. They are a series of somewhat fictionalized biographies of almost all of the famous Americans you can think of. They’re written on a primary grade/easy chapter book reading level, and the stories are engaging and adventure-filled. The bios focus on the childhood years of the subject, hence the series title, but do give information about each person’s adult life as well. I recommend them for second to fourth graders who want to read about real people. I find them to much more readable and “narrative” than more recent biography series for that age group, which sometimes tend to be dry and factual and focused on the adult lives of the biographical subject.

The War in Korea: 1950-1953 by Robert Leckie. World Landmark series is another great series for children and young adults, this one more middle grade level and usually about historical events or time periods, although some are biographies. I didn’t really have any books in my library about the Korean War or set during the Korean War, so I was glad to pick up this Landmark history book.

The Story of Beethoven by Helen Kaufmann. Another series, Signature Books from Grosset and Dunlap publishers. Excellent biographies written by top-notch authors.

Giants of Invention: Stories of the Men Whose Inventions Remade our World by Edgar Tharp. Illustrated by Frank Vaughn.

History’s 100 Greatest Composers: Life Stories of the Immortals of Music Selected by America’s Top Music Critics by Helen L. Kaufmann.

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne. I found this more recent title, a picture book biography emphasizing Einstein’s unrelenting curiosity, at a thrift store. It’s a lovely introduction to the great scientist and his work.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr.

I read Anthony Doer’s Pulitzer prize winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See, last year, but I never did review it here at Semicolon because I just didn’t love it the way everyone else did. It was OK, but I probably went into it with my expectations raised too high. So it turned out to be just OK.

However, I did like Mr. Doerr’s writing enough that when Modern Mrs. Darcy recommended Four Seasons in Rome to one of the guests on her podcast, I thought I’d give it a try. And I thought it was quite a lovely book. It’s short, about 200 pages, and sweet, all about the year that Doerr and his wife spent in Rome with their twin baby boys. The day after the twins were born, Mr. Doerr got a letter inviting him to be a fellow in literature at the American Academy in Rome. He will have a year work on writing anything he wants. He doesn’t have to produce anything or prove anything to anybody, just write, expenses paid. It’s too good an offer to turn down, even though the birth, care and feeding of their twins has thrown both Doerr and his f=wife, Shauna, for a loop.

Everyone thinks Doerr and his wife are crazy to take six month old twins and move to Italy, to Rome. But what an adventure! The author spends approximately equal time on the difficulties and joys of caring for twin boys, the beauties and treasures of Rome, and the characteristics and dilemmas of the writer’s life. It’s a good combination. Just as I became a little tired of reading about teething and toddlerhood, the narrative would switch to the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II, and then to Mr. Doerr’s studio as he attempted to work on his novel, All the Light We Cannot See, but was only able to write a short story plus the journal entries that formed the spine of this book.

On twins: “There is a circle of understanding, an unspoken fellowship, between parents of multiple babies. Two days ago a Roman mother grappled her twins onto the tram at Largo Argentina, one baby clipped to her chest and other in her arms. She flipped her hair out of her face and her gaze took in Henry and Owen, the stroller, me, and for a half second our eyes met. Something in my heart flared. I thought, Hang in there. You’re not alone.”

On writing: “I x-ray sentences; I claw away at a paragraph and reshape it as carefully as I can, and test it again, and peer into the pages to see if things are any clearer, any more resolved. Often they are not. But to write a story is to inch backward and forward along a series of planks you are cantilevering out into the darkness, plank by plank, inch by inch, and the best you can hope is that each day you find yourself a little bit farther out over the abyss.”

On Rome: “Something about this city exacerbates contrasts, the incongruities and contradictions, a Levi’s billboard rippling on the facade of a four-hundred-year-old church, a drunk sleeping on the tram in $300 shoes. Four mornings ago I watched a man chat with the baker for five minutes while half a dozen of us waited behind him, then climb into a Mercedes and tear off at fifty miles hour. As if he had not a single second to spare.”

Recommended, especially if you’re planning a trip to Rome anytime soon—or if you want to make a journey there vicariously.

Cola Fountains and Spattering Paint Bombs by Jesse Goossens and Linde Faas

A book of 47 science experiments for children to do at home. (Why 47?)

This colorful book has the basics plus a few: volcanoes made of baking soda and vinegar, a storm in a jar or clouds in a jar, a bouncy ball made of borax, cornstarch and glue, invisible ink, and lava lamps, just to name some. Each experiment has a set of symbol pictures next to the title to indicate that it might be “exploding” or “messy” or easy or difficult or requiring fire or safety goggles or a longer time period than usual.

This book is a Dutch import, but the translators and editors have done a good job of Americanizing, as far as I can see. I didn’t catch any “European-isms” in the ingredients lists for the experiments. The measurements are in the units commonly used in this country: cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons. American parents might be a little surprised by the “paint bomb” with which one can “turn your doorstep into a painting!” But it’s marked as “messy” and “explodes” and “do this outside”. Maybe there should be another symbol for “ask your parents first before you paint the front porch.”

These experiments involve lots of baking soda, lots of eggs and balloons and sugar and salt and bubbles and explosions. There is a note in the front of the book on the reverse side of the title page opposite the table of contents, easy to miss, that tells readers: “All of the experiments in this book require adult supervision, and some require careful, hands-on adult assistance. Even materials that might not appear dangerous can be harmful in certain situations if mixed, or if used improperly. Any experiments using fire are safest performed outside and require particular adult assistance and attention. Some materials and experiments may endanger people or pets, either in the process of doing them or if left unattended or stored improperly. Get adult help to decide which ones are right for you, and make sure an adult is there helping along the way. Read through the experiment completely before starting.”

I’m quite curious as to whether or not that same disclaimer appears in the Dutch edition of this book. Or is only Americans who feel the need to warn children in tiny print that fire burns and that chemicals combined may explode or poison the dog?

How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman

How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It by Arthur Herman.

What a fascinating piece of narrative nonfiction history! I learned so many things that I didn’t know before:

The Treaty of Union between England and Scotland (1706-1707), according to Mr. Herman, was actually a huge boost to Scottish commerce, progress, and culture. As he writes the story, the Scots may have given up their independence, but they received innumerable benefits from the deal, including a paradoxical and practical independence from English interference in their affairs that enabled the Scots to “invade” London and indeed England and become leaders in government, education, and business for over a century.

Philosophers Adam Smith and David Hume, historians and biographers James Boswell and Thomas Babbington Macaulay, poets Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, inventors John Macadam (macadam roads), Thomas Telford (canals and bridges galore), James Watt (steam engine), and many other men, both famous and under-appreciated, were all Scots or of Scottish extraction.

Scotswomen, other than the Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald, seem to have been quite unheard of and unremarkable in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, at least. The dearth of women in the pages of this book reminded me of the scarcity/non-mention of dwarf women in The Lord of the Rings. You know there must be women, and every once in a while a “mother” is mentioned, but the women were not part of literary, educational, or polite society. (Scotsmen remind me of dwarves, or vice-versa, anyway.)

The whole Bonnie Prince Charlie thing and Highland kilts and bagpipes made the Highlands of Scotland a tourist attraction in the early 1800’s, mostly because of Sir Walter Scott’s novels.

Scotland’s literacy rate (boys and girls) was higher than any other country in the world by the end of the eighteenth century, and printing and book-selling were major industries in Edinburgh during that same century.

And lots more. I found this book fascinating, even if it was a somewhat one-sided view of the power, influence and sheer overwhelming greatness of Scotland and its culture. If everything good, especially in the eighteenth century, came out of Scotland, what happened in England, Ireland, France, America, even China? Another fault in the book, the author begins his story with the true tale of Edinburgh theology student Thomas Aikenhead who was hanged in 1697 for the crime of “obstinate blasphemy”. Herman calls Scotland “a nation governed by a harshly repressive Kirk; a nation of an unforgiving and sometimes cruel Calvinist religious faith.” However, the rest of the book makes little of the influence of the “Kirk” or of Calvinism or indeed of Christianity in general, even though most of the Enlightenment figures in Scotland who dominate the culture for the next two centuries were professing Christians, many of them ordained ministers. With the notable exception of atheist philosopher David Hume, it’s as if their religious beliefs were baggage to be hidden away or overcome and not an influence on their thinking at all.

I would have liked to read more about how the faith of men such as educator, theologian, and philosopher Francis Hutcheson shaped their theology —or perhaps how Mr. Hutcheson was able to reconcile his Presbyterianism with his belief in the innate goodness of man. In fact, the author, Mr. Herman, does highlight the Christian faith of Hutcheson, although with less of a explanation of how that faith was worked out in his life than I would have liked. But the faith of other men who are featured in the book would have been valuable to explore and in treating to read about.

Nevertheless, even if the book is biased in favor of Scotland’s influence and standing in the world, and even if Scots Calvinism is given short shrift in the building of that Scottish moral philosophy, How the Scots Invented the Modern World certainly was a good read. It made me want to look up and find the names and histories of some of my own Scottish ancestors so that I could claim a part in the Scottish heritage that Mr, Herman so ably extols.

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch.

I forget where I saw a reference to this delightful nonfiction book about a little bookstore in rural southwestern Virginia (Appalachia), but big thanks to whomever it was that recommended the book to me. The actual name of the eponymous bookstore is just about too long to fit on the cover of the book: Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Bookstore, Crafts, and Cafe. The owners Jack and Wendy Welch serve up Scots shortbread, tea, both iced and hot, and loads of used books in every conceivable genre. Ms. Welch, in her memoir about how two inexperienced innocents started a used bookstore on a shoestring and a prayer, gives unwary wannabe bookstore owners fair warning: running a halfway profitable and successful used bookstore is hard work, especially in a small town of about 5000 people. Don’t try this at home, folks. Well, the Welches did try it at home (they live upstairs above the bookstore); however, after reading The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, I wouldn’t dare to copy their business plan. If you are an aspiring bookseller, I would at least advise reading Ms. Welch’s book to get some idea of what you may be getting yourself into.

Nevertheless, this book about books and bookish people was a great read. As you can see from this video of A Typical Day at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, the little bookstore would be a lovely place to visit, even with all the cats and dogs running loose. (I’m not an animal person, but I love my books enough to put up with a few animals.)

When Ms. Welch quoted C.S. Lewis, Edith Schaeffer, and the Dalai Lama within the first fifteen pages of her book, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. Then, the subtitle of “community and the uncommon pleasure of a good book” is so akin to my little project of creating a community of families who love good books in my little private library. I just settled in and read all about Jack and Wendy and their adventures and misadventures in their little bookstore. I promise that if I ever get anywhere near southwestern Virginia and Big Stone Gap, Tales of the Lonesome Pine Bookstore will be high on my itinerary. And just reading about it made me want to go on a used bookstore adventure trip of my own.

So, what are the best used bookstores in your neck of the woods? Where do you go when you want to browse, and smell, and dip into a multitude of old books?

The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill by Andrea Warren

The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding Kansas by Andrea Warren.

Ms. Warren says in her author’s note at the end of the book that she set out to write a book about Kansas history, “Bleeding Kansas”, during the time prior to and during the Civil War. She needed a “hook”, a young person who lived in Kansas during the time period and who experienced the difficulties and vicissitudes of war-torn Kansas. She chose Buffalo Bill Cody who moved to Kansas with his family at the age of eight in 1854 and who grew up at the center of a conflict that shattered his family, tore apart the entire region, and made Billy Cody both a responsible man and a participant in the violence and fighting at a very young age.

What was fun for me in reading this new book, just published in November of last year, was how it serendipitously impinged upon and overlapped with several things we have already been reading and discussing in our homeschool this semester. We’re studying the Civil War right now—and its aftermath. So, a biography of Buffalo Bill, especially one that concentrates on his childhood in Bleeding Kansas before and during the war, is just parallel to what we are reading and studying. Then too, we have been reading the Newbery award winner Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith as our morning read aloud book. The protagonist in that book is a young Union soldier, Jeff Bussey, from Linn County, Kansas. I was fascinated to read, in conjunction with the fictional Jeff Bussey’s adventures, about Billy Cody’s adventures as the son of an abolitionist father and later, as a Jayhawker himself. Bill Cody, at age seventeen, went on raids across the Kansas-Missouri border with a group called the Red-Legs, “one of the most infamous Jayhawker bands of them all.” Jeff Bussey encounters Southern-sympathizer Bushwhackers who come to his home on a raid and give him good reason to join the Union army.

Another intersection between this biography and our other studies came as I marveled at the age at which young Billy shouldered responsibility for tasks and decisions that we in this day would never allow or even conceive of at his age. With my adult children I have been discussing the tension between over-protection of children in our culture and the need to protect them from the over-sexualization and violence that our culture promotes. Billy’s parents didn’t seem to be interested in protecting him from hard work, hard living men, or adult decision-making. Two examples:

“Billy drove the supply wagon back and forth to Uncle Elijah’s store in Weston (MO) to get supplies—a big job for and eight year old since it meant crossing on the ferry with the wagon and horses, loading all the goods into the wagon, and then recrossing the river, driving the wagon to the store, and unloading everything. But Billy liked the challenge and was proud that he could already do the work of a man.”

“Billy (age nine) worked alongside several other herders as they moved the cattle from one grazing site to another to fatten them for market. At night the herders ate by firelight and slept under the stars. Billy missed his family and worried about his father’s health and safety. But otherwise it was the perfect life.”

At age fifteen Bill Cody was a rider for the Pony Express. At seventeen, he joined the Union Army. These freedoms and responsibilities were allowed and even expected for young Billy Cody in a Kansas that was a much more dangerous place than 21st century Houston, TX. There were Jayhawkers, Bushwhackers, horse thieves, Native Americans who were still at war with the United States, knives, guns, and all of the other possible dangers that were part of living on the frontier in a state that was near to anarchy. And we are afraid to allow our children to walk to school by themselves?

Another book that my daughter and I are reading together is Jim Murphy’s The Boys’ War: Confederate and Union Soldiers Talk About the Civil War. In that book boys as young as ten or eleven join the Union or the Confederate armies. Some of them ran way from home to join up and lied about their ages, but others were allowed or even encouraged by their parents to sign up. Boys in that era were expected to be men at age twelve or thirteen, to do a man’s work and to shoulder a man’s responsibilities. (And girls often got married at thirteen, fourteen and fifteen and saw themselves as adults, too.)

I don’t say we should go back to those times and those mores in all respects, but perhaps we should quit infantilizing our young men and women and start asking and allowing them to meet challenges and gain the pride and maturity that comes from feeling that they can do the work of a man—or a woman. (Do hard things.)

Anyway, I read this entire book avidly and found it to be a fascinating account of a boy growing up on the frontier. There’s a little bit of information in the final chapters about Buffalo Bill’s show business career, but that wasn’t the focus of the book. And that wasn’t what made it so appealing to me. Bill Cody made some bad decisions (becoming a lawless Jayhawker) as well as good ones (becoming the sole financial support for his mother and sisters after his father’s death) as he became an adult during his teenage years. But he lived a rich and mostly honorable life, full of adventure and yes, responsibility. Young men (or women) who spend their lives playing video games and watching youtube would, I think, be incomprehensible to a time-transported Buffalo Bill.

Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too by Stanley Young

If you have any young readers in your family who are planning on a military career, this biography of William Henry Harrison, one of the Landmark history series, would be a good book to share. If any of them have political ambitions, it might be of interest for them to to read at least the last few chapters of the book in which Harrison runs a political campaign and is elected president. And those of us who are fascinated by language and the history of words and phrases can find in this story of a frontiersman turned statesman, the origin of such American colloquialisms as “keep the ball rolling” and “Long Knives” (for white men) and “OK” and of course, the titular campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too”.

William Henry Harrison isn’t a well-known president. He only served in office for one month before he died of pneumonia and passed the presidency on to his vice-president, John Tyler. However, he lived quite a colorful and adventurous life, both in the military, fighting the Indians in the Northwest territories, and as a public servant, serving in the Ohio legislature, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and finally, the presidency.

The funniest part of Harrison’s story was his nomination as Whig candidate for president. Harrison was nominated instead of Henry Clay, the most famous Whig, because the party convention thought Clay might be too controversial to win over the incumbent Democrat Martin Van Buren. (Clay was furious when he didn’t get the nomination, saying, “My friends are not worth the powder and shot it would take to kill them!”) The Whigs also thought Harrison would be more discreet and more popular in the West, where he was a hero for fighting and defeating Tecumseh and his Indian confederation. One of the Whig leaders, Nicholas Biddle, warned Harrison to not say anything that could possibly be construed as taking a position on anything: “Let no Committee, no convention, no town meeting, ever extract from him a single word about what he thinks now or what he will do hereafter.” Sound political advice? Or somewhat cynical and impracticable?

I enjoyed reading about this little known president and military hero, and it made me want to read more about Tecumseh and Henry Clay and John Tyler and . . . lots of others. Oh, the serendipitous rabbit trails of a reading life! I also found out that Harrison trained and became friends with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark at Fort Pitt. And Harrison served as ambassador to Colombia for a year, where he met and supported Simon Bolivar, the great South American liberator. What a varied and fascinating life!

The pen and ink illustrations in the book, by prolific illustrator Warren Chappell, are particularly detailed and would be excellent for study or for copying by budding artists. Author Stanley Young, was, as best I can figure out, a playwright and partner in the publishing house of Farrar, Straus and Young, later Farrar Straus Giroux.

Two for Typhoid Mary

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow.

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

Gail Jarrow’s book on Typhoid Mary was well-written and informative, but I didn’t care for the tabloid style of the page layout, typography, and artwork. Tastes may vary, and kids may lap it up or at least be drawn to the yellow chapter titles on black background pages and the all-caps section headings.

I learned a lot from the book. For example, did you know that typhoid fever and typhus are two very different diseases with differing symptoms and disease-spread mechanisms? I think I used to know that, but I had forgotten. And I didn’t know that Mary Mallon, aka “Typhoid Mary” spent the rest of her life (mostly), after she was traced and found, on North Brother Island, living alone and convinced that she was not a carrier of typhoid germs and had never harmed anyone. I also didn’t know that only a very few people who have typhoid fever become lifelong carriers. Apparently the germs remain inside these particularly susceptible people (perhaps multiplying on gallstones in the gallbladder) for years and years and are excreted in their feces and sometimes urine to infect others. Most people are no longer carriers a few weeks or perhaps months after their encounter with typhoid fever germs.

The other book Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti had the better layout and narrative flow. However, I learned more from Jarrow’s book. And there’s a feminist slant to Bartoletti’s book that does a disservice to accurate historical analysis. The book indicates that Mary Mallon (Typhoid Mary) is good and justified in her belief that she is not a carrier, even though she was wrong and infected others. It’s implied that the male public health officer who forced Mary Mallon into quarantine was a bad guy, prejudiced and arrogant. (Maybe he was something of an intellectual snob.) However, the female Dr. Josephine Baker, also instrumental in finding and confining Ms. Mallon, was a heroine in Ms. Bartlett’s book.

Either of these titles, or one of the other multitude of books about Typhoid Mary and the spread of typhoid fever and the civil rights questions involved in the confinement of Mary Mallon, would lead to some good discussion and historical study among middle school and high school students. Also, comparison and contrast to the current handling of the AIDS epidemic and the Ebola virus would be appropriate and and ripe for analysis and even debate.

Baker’s Dozen: Recent Nonfiction Picture Books

I am developing a great affection and enjoyment for nonfiction picture books. The picture book seems well-adapted to the telling of a short episode from history or a scientific breakthrough or observation in concise prose with pictures to illuminate the story. The following narrative picture books would be great for “doing history” or “doing science” with elementary age children, and each one is a good introduction to an historical events, famous person, or scientific concept for even older students.

Impossible Voyage of Kon-tiki by Deborah Kogan Ray. Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft has been required reading in many schools for more than a generation. I was assigned to read it more than 40 years ago. But I didn’t finish it because, frankly, at the time, I was bored by the minute by minute account of Heyerdahl’s voyage across the Pacific. This picture book account of the journey could be a doorway into the story of Mr. Heyerdahl’s experiment to see if ancient South American inhabitants could have voyaged by raft to the islands of the Pacific.

The House That George Built by Suzanne Slade. The building of the White House. See my review here.

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune by P.J. Lynch. Candlewick, September 2015. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m told it’s an absorbing account of the Mayflower immigrants and their journey to the HNew World.

Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan. Amistad, January 2015. This picture book biography of the great gospel singer is limited in informational value, but quite lovely and inspiring. The book should inspire children to listen to Mahalia Jackson’s music, and that in itself self makes the book worthwhile.

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream by Glenda Armand. Lee & Low, August 2105. Ira Aldridge dreamed of becoming a great Shakespearean actor, but in the early 1800’s, for a black man, it seemed impossible. Nevertheless, with determination and perseverance, Mr. Aldridge was able to become a celebrated and accomplished actor, even though he had to emigrate to England to make his dream a reality.

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton. Eerdmans, April 2015. John Roy Lynch was a field slave who became a photographer, then Justice of the Peace, then Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, and then a U.S. Representative. His climb from slavery to Congress is chronicled in Chris Barton’s book. Semicolon review here.

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle. Newbury honor winner Margarita Engle writes a poem-story about 1930’s and 40’s Cuban jazz drummer Millo Castro Zaldarriaga. The book makes lovely use of words and phrases to evoke drums and music and a Caribbean atmosphere.

Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen by Monica Kulling. Illustrated by David Parkins. Tundra Books, 2014. If you’re a fan of Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel Belles on their Toes, this picture book biography of the mother of the clan, Lillian Gilbreth, will certainly be a welcome addition to your reading list. Semicolon review here.

Elvis: The Story of the Rock and Roll King by Bonnie Christensen. Elvis’s boyhood and early career are the focus of this picture book biography, with a long, tall two page spread illustration of Elvis and his guitar placed at the climax of the story when Elvis recorded his first hit song, That’s All Right. The book emphasizes Elvis’s youth, summarizing the bulk of Elvis Presley’s career with these words at the end: “With echoes of gospel, country, jazz, and blues, Elvis’ voice touched the hearts and souls of millions, then, now, and always.”

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker. A delightful lead-in or accompaniment to a read or re-read of Winnie the Pooh, which is always a good thing at any age.

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews by Kathleen Benson. Benny Andrews, African American painter, illustrator, and printmaker, provides a role model and an example for aspiring young artists. His story is told succinctly, but expansively, in this biography, and the illustrations from Mr. Andrews’ own work make the story even richer.

A Nest Is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston. Ms. Aston, the celebrated author of A Seed Is Sleepy and An Egg Is Quiet, is back with a treatise on nests of all sorts and sizes for young naturalists to savor.

Emmanuel’s dream: the true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson. Cybil’s nonfiction finalist. Emmanuel, born with only one leg, shows Ghana, and then the world, how people with disabilities can do important, world-changing work.

Baker’s Dozen: Best Nonfiction I Read in 2015

I made a special effort to read more nonfiction this year, and I discovered some gems while doing so. These are my favorite nonfiction reads from 2015. Not all of these were published in 2015, but I did read them this past year.

1. Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis by Tim Townsend. Such a good book about Henry Gerecke, the Lutheran chaplain who ministered to the high-ranking Nazi prisoners at Nuremberg.

2. Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior. I was captivated by “extraordinary life” of this woman of God, “best-selling poet, novelist, and playwright, friend of the famous, practical philanthropist, and moral conscience of a nation.”

3. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. Deeply disturbing, dare I say scary, story of the events at a hospital in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina.

4. Caught Up in a Story: Fostering a Storyformed Life of Great Books & Imagination with Your Children by Sarah Clarkson. I didn’t review those, but it’s an excellent book about the power of story in the lives of children and adults.

5. The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming. This young adult nonfiction title raised a lot of questions about the ability of religious practice and conviction to actually change our actions and subvert our cultural sins. The Romanovs were devout, but extremely misguided in many ways.

6. She Is Mine: A War Orphan’s Incredible Journey of Survival by Stephanie Fast. The almost unbelievable and harrowing story of a Korean war orphan, abandoned by her mother and unknown to her American GI father, She is Mine is an amazing testament to the courage and endurance of the author, but even more to the grace of God in her life.

7. I Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman’s Encounter with God by Bilquis Sheikh. Classic testimony of a well-to-do Muslim Pakistani woman, Bilquis Sheikh, who came to faith in Christ at the age of sixty-five through a series of dreams and visions and through comparison of the Koran to the Christian Bible.

8. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman. 1997 story of a Hmong family from Laos and their difficulties with the medical system in Merced County, California, as it related to their epileptic daughter, Lia Lee.

9. Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. Again, disturbing and riveting, this time concerning opioid abuse in the United States.

10. Sacred Marriage: Celebrating Marriage as a Spiritual Discipline by Gary L. Thomas. I didn’t review this one, but I did give my copy to my daughter who got married on January 2nd. Excellent exposition of the meaning of Christian marriage.

11. The Envoy: The Epic Rescue of the Last Jews of Europe in the Desperate Closing Months of World War II by Alex Kershaw.

12. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson. Finalist for the Cybils award in Young Adult Nonfiction.

13. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski. I finished up 2015 with this book about the Inklings I was reading it on New Year’s Eve and into 2016. Review coming soon, the book was dense, but fascinating.