Category Archives: Nonfiction

Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar & Kathleen Van Clive

Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. January 8, 2019. Aladdin, 272 p. ISBN: 9781534416178.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 8.0.

In this incredible narrative, Erica Armstrong Dunbar reveals a fascinating and heartbreaking behind-the-scenes look at the Washingtons’ when they were the First Family—and an in-depth look at their slave, Ona Judge, who dared to escape from one of the nation’s Founding Fathers.

Born into a life of slavery, Ona Judge eventually grew up to be George and Martha Washington’s “favored” dower slave. When she was told that she was going to be given as a wedding gift to Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Ona made the bold and brave decision to flee to the north, where she would be a fugitive.

From her childhood, to her time with the Washingtons and living in the slave quarters, to her escape to New Hampshire, Erica Armstrong Dunbar (along with Kathleen Van Cleve), shares an intimate glimpse into the life of a little-known, but powerful figure in history, and her brave journey as she fled the most powerful couple in the country.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Racism, Violence

 

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Reviews

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 15, 2018)
A young enslaved woman successfully escapes bondage in the household of George and Martha Washington. Ona Judge was the daughter of a white indentured servant, Andrew Judge, and an enslaved woman, Betty, on the Mount Vernon plantation, growing up to become Martha Washington’s personal maid. When George Washington was elected president, it was up to Martha to decide who among their enslaved would go with them. “The criteria were clear: obedient, discreet, loyal slaves, preferably of mixed race.” After the seat of government moved to Philadelphia, the Washingtons were subject to the Gradual Abolition Act, a Pennsylvania law that mandated freedom for any enslaved person residing in state for more than six months. The Washingtons chose to rotate their enslaved out of the state to maintain ownership. In 1796, Martha Washington decided to give Ona as a wedding present to her granddaughter—but Ona made her escape by ship to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, setting up years of attempts by allies of Washington to return Ona to slavery. Despite poverty and hardship, Ona Judge remained free, thwarting the most powerful man in America. Dunbar, whose adult version of this story was a National Book Award finalist, and co-author Van Cleve have crafted a compelling read for young people. Ona Judge’s determination to maintain control over her life will resonate with readers. The accessible narrative, clear context, and intricately recorded details of the lives of the enslaved provide much-needed understanding of the complexities and contradictions of the country’s founding. Necessary. (Biography. 9-13)

School Library Journal (January 1, 2019)
Gr 5 Up-This young readers edition of Dunbar’s National Book Award-nominated title details the account of Ona Judge, who ran away from the household of George and Martha Washington. Born into slavery at Mount Vernon, Judge began working directly for Martha Washington by the age of 10. When the Washingtons left Mount Vernon for George’s political career, Judge was chosen to make the trip north, visiting and eventually living in Pennsylvania and New York. Away from the sheltered world of Virginia, Judge encountered free black people for the first time and learned about laws such as the Gradual Abolition Act in Pennsylvania. The Washingtons went to great lengths to prevent those they enslaved from benefitting from this law. In May of 1796, then 22-year-old Judge walked out of the Washington’s mansion in Philadelphia and onto the deck of a ship that would take her to New Hampshire. Although she was never able to live comfortably, she refused to go back to a life of slavery-no matter how determined George and Martha Washington were to reenslave her. This well-written story has been skillfully reconstructed from the sparse historical record available and delicately adapted for middle schoolers. Dunbar and van Cleve effectively and consistently convey the realities of being enslaved-and invite readers to empathize with Judge. VERDICT A brilliant work of U.S. history. Recommended for all collections.-Kristy Pasquariello, Westwood Public Library, MA

About the Author

Erica Armstrong Dunbar is the Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University. She also serves as Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Her first book, A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City was published by Yale University Press in 2008. She is also the author of Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge.

Her website is ericaarmstrongdunbar.com

Kathleen Van Cleve teaches creative writing and film at the University of Pennsylvania. She has written three books, including the award-winning middle grade novel Drizzle and lives in Philadelphia with her husband and sons.

Her website is www.kathyvancleve.com

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Never Caught Curriculum Guide

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A Second Kind of Impossible by Paul J. Steinhardt

A Second Kind of Impossible: The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter by Paul; J. Steinhardt. January 8, 2019. Simon Schuster, 400 p. ISBN: 9781476729923.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

One of the most fascinating scientific detective stories of the last fifty years, an exciting quest for a new form of matter. The Second Kind of Impossible reads like James Gleick’s Chaos combined with an Indiana Jones adventure.

When leading Princeton physicist Paul Steinhardt began working in the 1980s, scientists thought they knew all the conceivable forms of matter. The Second Kind of Impossible is the story of Steinhardt’s thirty-five-year-long quest to challenge conventional wisdom. It begins with a curious geometric pattern that inspires two theoretical physicists to propose a radically new type of matter—one that raises the possibility of new materials with never before seen properties, but that violates laws set in stone for centuries. Steinhardt dubs this new form of matter “quasicrystal.” The rest of the scientific community calls it simply impossible.

The Second Kind of Impossible captures Steinhardt’s scientific odyssey as it unfolds over decades, first to prove viability, and then to pursue his wildest conjecture—that nature made quasicrystals long before humans discovered them. Along the way, his team encounters clandestine collectors, corrupt scientists, secret diaries, international smugglers, and KGB agents. Their quest culminates in a daring expedition to a distant corner of the Earth, in pursuit of tiny fragments of a meteorite forged at the birth of the solar system.

Steinhardt’s discoveries chart a new direction in science. They not only change our ideas about patterns and matter, but also reveal new truths about the processes that shaped our solar system. The underlying science is important, simple, and beautiful—and Steinhardt’s firsthand account is an engaging scientific thriller.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (December 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 7))
Two centuries after the French priest René-Just Haüy launched the science of crystallography, Steinhardt and a resourceful support team retrieved from the tundra of Kamchatka astonishing meteorite samples compelling researchers to rethink the fundamental principles of that science. As Steinhardt explains, the samples he helped discover reveal that in the astral fires of the Big Bang, nature created strange quasicrystals manifesting symmetries long thought to be utterly impossible. Readers see the culmination of years of arduous labors—conceptual, professional, legal, and logistic—as they learn how Steinhardt and a savvy research assistant transgressed the limits of the possible by imagining the radical structure of hypothetical quasicrystals, how Japanese researchers actually synthesized such quasicrystals in the laboratory, how an Italian scientist triggered an international debate by identifying a museum sample as a naturally occurring quasicrystal, and, finally, how that Italian scientist joined Steinhardt and other intrepid scientists to visit one of the planet’s remotest regions, there to verify their hypotheses about such quasicrystals and their origins. Cutting-edge science as high adventure.

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2018)
An admirable popular account of the quasicrystal, an oddball arrangement of atoms that seems to contradict scientific laws. Steinhardt (Physics and Astrophysical Sciences/Princeton Univ.; co-author: Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang, 2006), a pioneer in the field and a fine writer, makes a mighty effort to describe a complex chemical phenomenon; he mostly succeeds. Readers should carefully read his explanation of how pure substances such as minerals form periodic, symmetric arrangements of atoms called crystals, which must fit together with no gaps into which other atoms can squeeze. Only three forms qualify: the tetrahedron, the triangular prism, and the parallelepiped (six-sided box). Popular writers use the tiling analogy. To install a bathroom floor, only square, triangular, or hexagonal tiles fit perfectly. Just as you can’t fit pentagonal or octagonal tiles into the floor, no crystal can have five or eight or any larger-sided symmetry. This was the rule—not really a formal law—until Roger Penrose invented Penrose tiles in the 1970s. These can fill any room despite having bizarre shapes. Intrigued, scientists began producing five, eight, and other many-sided “quasicrystals” by heating and rapidly cooling metals in the laboratory. Thankfully, Steinhardt turns his attention from crystal theory to chronicle a gripping scientific quest. He and his colleagues searched the world’s mineralogical collections, drawing a blank until minuscule specks from Italy showed promise. Proof required finding similar pieces in a natural location, an exhaustive 10-year process that began with frustrating detective work to discover the specimen’s source, followed by an expedition to Siberia and success in 2009. Scientists figured out that natural quasicrystals form through temperatures and pressures that don’t exist on Earth; they’re found in meteorite fragments. The research continues, and it will hopefully produce technological marvels (or maybe not). Meanwhile, readers will enjoy this enthusiastic introduction to a weird but genuine new form of matter.

About the Author

Paul J. Steinhardt is the Albert Einstein Professor in Science at Princeton University, where he is on the faculty of both the departments of Physics and Astrophysical Sciences. He cofounded and directs the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science. He has received the Dirac Medal and other prestigious awards for his work on the early universe and novel forms of matter. He is the author of The Second Kind of Impossible, and the coauthor of Endless Universe with Neil Turok, which describes the two competing ideas in cosmology to which he contributed. With his student, Dov Levine, Steinhardt first invented the theoretical concept of quasicrystals before they were synthesized in a laboratory. More than three decades later, with Luca Bindi, he guided the team that led to the discovery of three different natural quasicrystals in the Kamchatka Peninsula. In 2014, the International Mineralogical Association named a new mineral “steinhardtite” in his honor.

His website is paulsteinhardt.org

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The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel

The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History: The Story of the Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel. January 29, 2019. Scholastic Nonfiction, 333 p. ISBN: 9781338251197.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1200.

Robert M. Edsel brings the story of his #1 NYT bestseller for adults The Monuments Mento young readers for the first time in this dynamic, narrative nonfiction project packed with photos.

Robert M. Edsel, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Monuments Men, brings this story to young readers for the first time in a sweeping, dynamic adventure detailing history’s greatest treasure hunt.

As the most destructive war in history ravaged Europe, many of the world’s most cherished cultural objects were in harm’s way. The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History recounts the astonishing true story of 11 men and one woman who risked their lives amidst the bloodshed of World War II to preserve churches, libraries, monuments, and works of art that for centuries defined the heritage of Western civilization. As the war raged, these American and British volunteers — museum curators, art scholars and educators, architects, archivists, and artists, known as the Monuments Men — found themselves in a desperate race against time to locate and save the many priceless treasures and works of art stolen by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Harsh realities of war

 

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Reviews

Booklist starred (October 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 4))
Grades 7-12. While Adolf Hitler and his Nazi officers were organizing the genocide of Jews, they also orchestrated the looting of millions of pieces of art and culturally significant items from museums, churches, and private collections throughout Europe. Although dubbed the Monuments Men, about 350 men and women from 14 nations volunteered in the Allied armies’ Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program from 1943 to 1951 to help preserve a shared cultural heritage. In this young readers edition of The Monuments Men (2009), Edsel focuses on 10 Monuments Men and Rose Valland, an art historian and member of the French Resistance. With precise details, incredible adventure, and mounting intensity, the author describes the responsibilities of these artists, architects, curators, and historians. Arriving in damaged cities, they tried to salvage important documents, art, and buildings. Their biggest role, however, was as art detectives endeavoring to locate the Nazi’s stash of hidden treasure, while racing against time. Although they didn’t serve on the front lines, booby traps, snipers, and other dangers made their mission risky—and even deadly. Complemented by rarely seen images of WWII, these amazing stories from history not only depict true heroes but also encourage readers to question the value of art throughout humanity and civilization. Monumental, indeed.

Kirkus Reviews (October 1, 2018)
During World War II, a team of so-called Monuments Men was formed to search for and recover the enormous collection of art treasures that Hitler and his minions looted from museums, churches, and private collections all across Europe. The tale is focused on a small, although representative, number of the approximately 350 men (and women) who served up until 1951, locating hoards of some of the world’s best loved and most culturally significant art, much of it stashed in damp tunnels scattered across Germany. Edsel’s backstories of the 10 Monuments Men covered in the tale help breathe life into these scholarly—and highly driven—men. Although the war is presented mostly as a backdrop to their energetic detective work, enough information on the struggle is included to keep the quest in context and to remind readers that these unlikely soldiers were often in peril. Based primarily upon his adult work The Monuments Men (2009) along with two others on the same subject (Rescuing Da Vinci, 2006; Saving Italy, 2013), Edsel’s effort for younger readers is still lengthy. Numerous well-placed photographs (many more than in the adult version) are included and appear on most pages. Although the book is richly engaging and highly informative, its audience may be limited to those readers who already have some awareness of the extent of Nazi thievery and the nearly inconceivable danger the art was placed in. Figures profiled all seem to be white. Excellent backmatter is included. A high-interest work on an important topic. (Nonfiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Robert M. Edsel is the best-selling author of Saving ItalyThe Monuments Men and Rescuing da Vinci and co-producer of the award-winning documentary film The Rape of Europa. Edsel is also the founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation, a recipient of the National Humanities Medal, and a trustee at the National WWII Museum. After living in Florence for five years, he now resides in Dallas, Texas.

Her website is www.monumentsmenfoundation.org

Teacher Resources

The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History Educator’s Guide

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Seven Wonders of the Milky Way by David A. Aguilar

Seven Wonders of the Milky Way by David A. Aguilar. May 30, 2017. Viking Books for Young Readers, 80 p. ISBN: 9780451476852.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 8.9; Lexile: 1070.

Witness the wonders of the Milky Way in this stunningly illustrated book that will make you feel like an astronaut!

Blast off to the oldest star in our galaxy, zoom around planetary nebulae dubbed “the butterflies of space,” circle past humongous, ringed exoplanets, and close in on newly discovered orbs that just might support alien life. David Aguilar, former Director of Science Information at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and creator of Cosmic Catastrophes and Seven Wonders of the Solar System, takes us on a unique space journey through the Milky Way.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

About the Author

David A. Aguilar  is an astronomer, artist, author of several notable books on space for children, including Cosmic Catastrophes: Seven Ways to Destroy a Planet Like Earth. He is the former Director of Science Information for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. As a member of the New Horizons Spacecraft Team, he handled the media coverage of the Pluto fly-by. He lives with his wife outside Aspen Colorado, where he’s built his own observatory. Asteroid 1990 DA was named in his honor by the International Astronomical Union.

David and wife Shirley reside outside Aspen, CO.

His website is davidaguilar.org.

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We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai

We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World by Malala Yousafzai. January 8, 2019. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 224 p. ISBN: 9780316523646.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.8.

In her powerful new book, Nobel Peace Prize winner and New York Times-bestselling author Malala Yousafzai introduces some of the people behind the statistics and news stories about the millions of people displaced worldwide.

Malala’s experiences visiting refugee camps caused her to reconsider her own displacement – first as an Internally Displaced Person when she was a young child in Pakistan, and then as an international activist who could travel anywhere in the world except to the home she loved. In We Are Displaced, which is part memoir, part communal storytelling, Malala not only explores her own story, but she also shares the personal stories of some of the incredible girls she has met on her journeys – girls who have lost their community, relatives, and often the only world they’ve ever known.

In a time of immigration crises, war, and border conflicts, We Are Displaced is an important reminder from one of the world’s most prominent young activists that every single one of the 68.5 million currently displaced is a person – often a young person – with hopes and dreams.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Harsh realities of war, Racism, Violence

 

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Reviews

Booklist (February 15, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 12))
Grades 9-12. Yousafzai recounts her own refugee journey as well as those of girls and women from political hot spots and war-torn countries, all refugees seeking a safe place to call home. Separated from family members and threatened by attack, they forge on in their struggle to survive. Yousafzai starts with her own journey. Acknowledging that, while displaced, she is not a refugee, she goes on to tell the stories of eight girls and two women, one a volunteer with World Church Services in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and the other a woman returning to Uganda, having fled to Canada with her family when she was two years old. Yousafzai starts with a preface to each story, describing how she met each person, and then tells their story in first person, lending immediacy to each narrative and capturing each voice. Her writing is lucid and accessible and will attract a range of readers. The stories are heart-wrenching, compelling, and inspirational and, one hopes, will motivate readers to become involved locally. Epilogue and back matter unavailable for preview.

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 1, 2018)
In this uplifting work Yousafzai shares the survival stories of female refugees from around the world. Before she was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Yousafzai was displaced. When she was just 11-years-old, the Taliban forced Yousafzai and her family to leave their idyllic home in the Swat Valley and join the ranks of Pakistan’s Internally Displaced Persons. Yousafzai recounts the agony of leaving behind her books, friends, and pet chickens and the disappointment of interrupted schooling. She also vividly describes the horror of seeing schools reduced to rubble as a result of bombings, an experience that both politicized her and forced her family into exile in England. The author devotes only about a quarter of the book to her own story, the remainder is a collection of oral histories from displaced women and girls from countries ranging from Yemen to Colombia to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each refugee’s tale of survival is equal parts devastating and inspiring, and the narrators do not shy away from the complex, contradictory experiences of fleeing a homeland. The narratives are filled with emotionally specific descriptive details that render each voice powerful and unique. In the prologue, Yousafzai specifically states that her purpose is to transform refugees from nameless, faceless statistics into who they really are: humans whose identities are more than just their displaced status. A poignant, fascinating, and relevant read. (author’s note, background information, biographies) (Nonfiction. 13-adult)

About the Author

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. She is known for human rights advocacy, especially education of women in her native Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school. Her advocacy has since grown into an international movement.

Her website is www.malala.org/

Teacher Resources

We Are Displaced on Common Sense Media

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Hephaistos by George O’Connor

Hephaistos: God of Fire by George O’Connor. January 29, 2019. First Second, 80p. ISBN: 9781626725270.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.6.

From high atop Olympus, the nine Muses, or Mousai, recount the story of the powerful and quick-tempered Apollo, the Brilliant One. Born of a she-wolf and Zeus, King of Gods, Apollo is destined fro the greatest of victories and most devastating of failures as his temper, privilege, and pride take him into battle with a serpent, in pursuit of a beautiful but unattainable nymph, and into deadly competition with his beloved. Watch closely as Apollo navigates the tumultuous world in which he lives. Will he rise above the rest and fulfill his destiny as the son of Zeus, or will he falter, consumed by his flaws, and destroy all that he touches?

Part of Series: The Olympians (Book 1#1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence; Mild sexual themes; Violence

 

Series Preview

About the Author

George O’Connor is the author of several picture books, including the New York Times bestseller Kapow!, Kersplash, and Sally and the Some-thing. JOURNEY INTO MOHAWK COUNTRY was his first graphic novel, a long-held dream that weaves together his passion for history and ongoing research into Native American life. He’s also the author/illustrator of a new picture book, If I Had a Raptor.
He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

His website is http://olympiansrule.com.

Teacher Resources

The Olympians Activities

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Fake News by Michael Miller

Fake News: Separating Truth from Fiction by Michael Miller. January 1, 2019. Twenty First Century Books, 112 p. ISBN: 9781541528147.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1190.

While popularized by President Donald Trump, the term “fake news” actually originated toward the end of the 19th century, in an era of rampant yellow journalism. Since then, it has come to encompass a broad universe of news stories and marketing strategies ranging from outright lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theories to hoaxes, opinion pieces, and satire—all facilitated and manipulated by social media platforms. This title explores journalistic and fact-checking standards, Constitutional protections, and real-world case studies, helping readers identify the mechanics, perpetrators, motives, and psychology of fake news. A final chapter explores methods for assessing and avoiding the spread of fake news.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (December 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 8))
Grades 9-12. This book defines fake news, describes its insidious power, and provides relevant and accessible examples. The text differentiates deliberately fake news from other means of expression, such as editorials, opinions, and propaganda, and identifies populations that are most susceptible to fake news and conspiracy theories, suggesting reasons why some individuals are so ready to accept preposterous-seeming claims and repost them as fact. The final two chapters discuss ways to spot fake news and stop its spread. The text also assesses major news outlets’ impartiality in charts, sorting sources by bias and ranking how likely they are to give fact-based versus misleading information. Two pages of source notes, a glossary, and a bibliography round out the offering. The text is accessible and assumes no previous knowledge, explaining scenarios in context. One possible area of concern: Donald Trump’s name is evoked in connection with fake news in at least 10 separate incidents; other examples include Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2018)
What is fake news and how can we recognize it? In a well-timed survey for teen readers, Miller (My iPad for Seniors, 2017, etc.) sets his introduction firmly in the present, opening with an example of President Donald Trump’s quoting of a false National Enquirer story. The author describes how legitimate news is collected and disseminated. He discusses the history of the fake news phenomenon and explains the importance of a free press. He explains bias in news sources and defines what various political labels mean in terms of ideology. Citing authoritative sources, he states that fake news is more often believed and spread by people who are politically conservative. His examples of fake or biased reports include conspiracy theories and controversies about former President Barack Obama’s birthplace, vaccinations, the 9/11 attack, the Kennedy assassination, airplane contrails, Russian interference in the 2016 election, and climate change, among others. He concludes with advice for identifying bias in news sources and offers two short lists of sources indicating the nature of their political bias and their degree of authority. He gives suggestions for combating fake news, including how best to persuade others. Informative chapter titles and subheadings make the organization clear, and excellent backmatter will encourage further exploration. Readers may find the exposition dry, but the paragraphs are broken up with color photographs and text boxes, and this subject is timely and important. A must-have for libraries serving teens. (source notes, glossary, bibliography, further information, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Michael Miller received a Marketing degree from Indiana University in 1980. After graduation, he worked for seven years in his family’s retail business, then spent twelve years in various positions at Macmillan Publishing. In his last position as Vice President of Business Strategy, he helped guide the strategic direction for the world’s largest reference publisher and influence the shape of today’s computer book publishing market. Mr. Miller formed The Molehill Group in January 1999, and is now a full-time writer.

Her website is www.millerwriter.com

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The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library Book by Susan Orlean. October 16, 2018. Simon Schuster, 310 p. ISBN: 9781476740188.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Mild sexual themes

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 22))
Libraries pulse with stories and not only those preserved in books. When creative nonfiction virtuoso Orlean (Rin Tin Tin, 2011) first visited Los Angeles’ Central Library, she was “transfixed.” Then she learned about the 1986 fire, which many believed was deliberately set and which destroyed or damaged more than one million books and shut the library down for seven years. Intrigued, Orlean embarked on an all-points research quest, resulting in this kaleidoscopic and riveting mix of true crime, history, biography, and immersion journalism. While her forensic account of the conflagration is eerily mesmerizing, Orlean is equally enthralling in her awestruck detailing of the spectrum of activities that fill a typical Central Library day, and in her profiles of current staff and former head librarians, including “brilliant and forceful” Tessa Kelso, who ran into censorship issues, and consummate professional Mary Jones, who was forced out in 1905 because the board wanted a man. Orlean widens the lens to recount the crucial roles public libraries have played in America and to marvel at librarians’ innovative and caring approaches to meeting diverse needs and cutting-edge use of digital technologies. She also attempts to fathom the truth about enigmatic Harry Peak, the prime arson suspect. Probing, prismatic, witty, dramatic, and deeply appreciative, Orlean’s chronicle celebrates libraries as sanctuaries, community centers, and open universities run by people of commitment, compassion, creativity, and resilience.

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2018)
An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down. In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all. Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

About the Author

Susan Orlean has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1992. She is the author of seven books, including Rin Tin TinSaturday Night, and The Orchid Thief, which was made into the Academy Award–winning film Adaptation. She lives with her family and her animals in upstate New York.

Her website is www.susanorlean.com

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Standing Up Against Hate by Mary Cronk Farrell

Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Changed the Course of WWII by Mary Cronk Farrell. January 8, 2019. Harry N. Abrams, 208 p. ISBN: 9781419731600.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.4.

Standing Up Against Hate tells the stories of the African American women who enlisted in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in World War II. They quickly discovered that they faced as many obstacles in the armed forces as they did in everyday life. However, they refused to back down. They interrupted careers and left family, friends, and loved ones to venture into unknown and sometimes dangerous territory. They survived racial prejudice and discrimination with dignity, succeeded in jobs women had never worked before, and made crucial contributions to the military war effort. The book centers around Charity Adams, who commanded the only black WAAC battalion sent overseas and became the highest ranking African American woman in the military by the end of the war. Along with Adams’s story are those of other black women who played a crucial role in integrating the armed forces. Their tales are both inspiring and heart-wrenching. The book includes a timeline, bibliography, and index.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Racism, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (December 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 8))
Grades 5-8. Throughout history, women have often faced limited futures. Before WWII, most women were encouraged to get married and have children. Often, educated women were allowed careers only as teachers; for black women, teaching in underfunded segregated schools was a bleak, monotonous future. With war came opportunity: though they would not make rank or receive equal pay, women were encouraged to join the military, and they began bringing about a change in perception as to what women were capable of achieving. The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was begun to help usher in this new change, though, unfortunately, it brought about more problems—segregation and racism ran rampant among the officers and enlisted. Still, black women enlisted by the droves, leaving their children with relatives in order to build them a better future. Extensive back matter, which includes a time line and notes on the primary sources used, will help guide readers as they explore how black women took advantage of these opportunities to help drive integration forward. An adventurous ride through the history of black women pioneers.

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2018)
African-American women fought for freedom at home and abroad as they served their country during World War II.When the United States Army found itself in need of personnel who could do work that would free men to report to combat, it established first the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps and then the Women’s Army Corps. Black leaders were already encouraging more wartime opportunities for African-Americans and sought to use this innovation to help end segregation. Civil rights activist Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune pushed for integration of the corps, but the country’s official “separate but equal” policy stood, although a quota of black women received officer’s training. The women who responded to the call were well familiar with the racial mores of the times, but the insults they endured hurt. Nevertheless, they worked and trained hard and put forth every effort to succeed, sometimes risking court martial for standing up for themselves. When they were called for overseas duty, the 6888th Central Postal Battalion performed their duties so well in Birmingham, England, that they went on to another assignment in France. Importantly, Farrell brings in the voices of the women, which provides clarity and understanding of what they experienced. She also highlights the role of black newspapers in keeping the community informed about the difficulties they often faced. The text is richly supported with archival photographs. The importance of this story is amplified by the inspiring forward by Maj. Gen. Marcia M. Anderson, Army (Ret.), who makes a direct link between the determined struggles of those described and the achievements of African-American women in today’s U.S. military. The stories in this valuable volume are well worth knowing. (author’s note, glossary, timeline, source notes, bibliography; index and forward not seen) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

About the Author

I’m an award-winning author of Children’s/YA books and former journalist with a passion for stories about people facing great adversity with courage. Writing such stories has shown me that in our darkest moments we have the opportunity to discover our true identity and follow an inner compass toward the greater good.

Both my fiction and non-fiction titles feature little-known true stories of history based on thorough research. Most include an author’s note, bibliography and further resources, but they are not dry, scholarly tomes! Confronting grief, adversity and failure in my own life, enables me to write stories with an authentic emotional core.

My books have been named Notable Social Studies Book for Young People, SPUR Award for Best Juvenile Fiction about the American West, Bank Street College List of Best Children’s Books, and NY Public Library Best Books for Teens. My journalistic work has received numerous awards for excellence from the Society of Professional Journalists and two Emmy nominations.

Her website is www.marycronkfarrell.net.

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Dark Sky Rising by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. January 29, 2019. Scholastic, 240 p. ISBN: 9781338262049.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1200.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. presents a journey through America’s past and our nation’s attempts at renewal in this look at the Civil War’s conclusion, Reconstruction, and the rise of Jim Crow segregation.

This is a story about America during and after Reconstruction, one of history’s most pivotal and misunderstood chapters. In a stirring account of emancipation, the struggle for citizenship and national reunion, and the advent of racial segregation, the renowned Harvard scholar delivers a book that is illuminating and timely. Real-life accounts drive the narrative, spanning the half century between the Civil War and Birth of a Nation. Here, you will come face-to-face with the people and events of Reconstruction’s noble democratic experiment, its tragic undermining, and the drawing of a new “color line” in the long Jim Crow era that followed. In introducing young readers to them, and to the resiliency of the African American people at times of progress and betrayal, Professor Gates shares a history that remains vitally relevant today.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Racism, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 7-11. A striking image on the book jacket will draw readers to this richly informative but uneven presentation on the many progressive changes during the Reconstruction era, as well as their later dismantling, which led to a resurgence of intolerance, injustice, and violence against black Americans, particularly in the South. The book is well researched, though densely packed with facts and often written in complex sentences, including many quotes from nineteenth-century documents and later historians. The writers assume that their readers have a fuller knowledge of the period and a larger vocabulary than can be expected of most middle-grade readers. Attempting to clarify a quote from Andrew Johnson, inchoate is defined within the text as embryonic, a word nearly as puzzling to most young readers. Black-and-white reproductions of archival photos, prints, and documents illustrate the text. While the topic is complex and perhaps too broad for one book, it’s also fundamental to understanding the background of racial issues in America. A challenging but worthwhile choice for somewhat older readers.

Kirkus Reviews (November 15, 2018)
“In your hands you are holding my book…my very first venture in writing for young readers,” Gates writes in a preface. And readers can tell…though probably not in the way Gates and co-author Bolden may have aimed for. The book opens with a gripping scene of formerly enslaved African-Americans celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation. It proceeds to engagingly unfold the facts that led to Reconstruction and its reaction, Jim Crow, until it disrupts the flow with oddly placed facts about Gates’ family’s involvement in the war, name-dropping of other historians, and the occasional conspicuous exclamation (“Land! That’s what his people most hungered for”). Flourishes such as that last sit uneasily with the extensive quotations from secondary sources for adults, as if Gates and Bolden are not sure whether their conceptual audience is young readers or adults, an uncertainty established as early as Gates’ preface. They also too-frequently relegate the vital roles of black women, such as Harriet Tubman, to sidebars or scatter their facts throughout the book, implicitly framing the era as a struggle between African-American men and white men. In the end, this acts as a reminder to readers that, although a person may have a Ph.D. and have written successfully in some genres and media, that does not mean they can write in every one, even with the help of a veteran in the field. Well-intentioned, well-researched, but awkwardly written considering the caliber of the scholar and his expected scholarship. (selected sources, endnotes, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

About the Author

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is a Professor of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University and Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. He is well-known as a literary critic, an editor of literature, and a proponent of black literature and black cultural studies.

His website is https://aaas.fas.harvard.edu/people/henry-louis-gates-jr

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