Tag Archives: Nonfiction

Killer Style by Serah-Marie McMahon & Alison Matthews David

Killer Style: How Fashion Has Injured, Maimed, and Murdered Through History by Serah-Marie McMahon & Alison Matthews David. April 15, 2019. Owlkids, 48 p. ISBN: 9781771472531.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 8.3; Lexile: 1060.

The clothes we wear every day keep us comfortable, protect us from the elements, and express our unique style―but could fashion also be fatal? As it turns out, history is full of fashions that have harmed or even killed people. From silhouette-cinching corsets and combustible combs to lethal hair dyes and flammable flannel, this nonfiction book looks back at the times people have suffered pain, injury, and worse, all in the name of style. Historical examples like the tragic “Radium Girl” watchmakers and mercury-poisoned “Mad Hatters,” along with more recent factory accidents, raise discussion of unsafe workplaces―where those who make the clothes are often fashion’s first victims.

Co-authored by a scholar in the history of textiles and dress with the founder of WORN Fashion Journal, this book is equal parts fab and frightening: a stylishly illustrated mash-up of STEAM content, historical anecdotes, and chilling stories. Nonfiction features including sidebars, sources, an index, and a list of further reading will support critical literacy skills and digging deeper with research on this topic.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discussion of injuries

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (March 15, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 14))
Grades 5-8. Fashion historians McMahon and David serve up looks that kill in this riveting exploration of the perils of fashion through the ages. Between lead paint, mercury-mad hatters, and exploding combs, this book is a succinct history of the hazards of fashion and cosmetic trends. But don’t be fooled; this book isn’t just macabre titillation. Though there is a healthy dose of the morbid and a quirky incorporation of myth, the authors give equal weight to the rightful debunking of tall tales. They also zero in on the dangerous business of fashion: the corner cutting and poor working conditions that caused factory fires and collapses, radiation exposure, and silicosis poisoning, all reminders of the hazards of “fast fashion.” The authors give well-researched consideration to non-Western fashion history, an inclusive take that is all too rare in surveys of this kind. Readable and well organized, the book incorporates primary-source illustrations, advertisements, and photographs into the information-rich pages, while Wilson’s quirky woodblock prints add some texture to the sleek design. The authors do an especially seamless job of using contemporary parallels as practical proof that even fashion history repeats itself. A fun, yet thoughtful look inside fashion perils past and present.

Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2019)
From lead-based cosmetics to radioactive wristwatches; from arsenic-green gowns to sandblasted denims: Fashion’s victims are sometimes the wearers and sometimes the creators. The introduction references Oscar de la Renta’s coining of the phrase “fashion victims,” noting that the pages to follow, while not ignoring his definition, will expand it to include more literal victims: “people who have suffered physical pain, injury, and worse, attempting to look more attractive, or to make others look more attractive.” Three luxuriously illustrated chapters tackle heads, middles, and legs, respectively. The first leads off with one of history’s more-famous tales of fashion-related occupational hazards: the use of mercury-cured felt by hatmakers from the 1730s into the 1960s. The text mentions the disturbing fact that, despite compelling evidence of mercury poisoning, England never banned its use; the dearth of currently ill milliners comes instead from felt’s having lost its fashion cachet. After exploring three other head-related tales, the book moves on to an entertaining history of corsets and their reputations, including a note about the 2016, Kardashian-promoted “waist trainer.” There is also an excellent double-page spread comparing two factory catastrophes: the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York and the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. The text uses puns, alliteration, and a conversational tone, but it never crosses the line into disrespect or sensationalism. Colorful, original silkscreens, historical photographs, and vintage art complement the magazine-style format. Accessible and informative. (bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 9-14)

About the Authors

Serah-Marie McMahon founded WORN Fashion Journal and edited The WORN Archive, published by Drawn & Quarterly. She sells and writes about children’s books in Toronto, Ontario.

 

 

Dr. Alison Matthews David is an associate professor in the School of Fashion at Ryerson University. She holds a PhD in Art History from Stanford University. Her research on fashion victims examines how dress causes bodily harm to its makers and wearers. She has also published on military uniforms, and on representations of fashion in literature, notably in L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. She is also interested in colour theory and the aesthetic movement.

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Soaring Earth by Margarita Engle

Soaring Earth: A Companion Memoir to Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle. February 26, 2019. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 192 p. ISBN: 9781534429536.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1190.

In this powerful companion to her award-winning memoir Enchanted Air, Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle recounts her teenage years during the turbulent 1960s.

Margarita Engle’s childhood straddled two worlds: the lush, welcoming island of Cuba and the lonely, dream-soaked reality of Los Angeles. But the revolution has transformed Cuba into a mystery of impossibility, no longer reachable in real life. Margarita longs to travel the world, yet before she can become independent, she’ll have to start high school.

Then the shock waves of war reach America, rippling Margarita’s plans in their wake. Cast into uncertainty, she must grapple with the philosophies of peace, civil rights, freedom of expression, and environmental protection. Despite overwhelming circumstances, she finds solace and empowerment through her education. Amid the challenges of adolescence and a world steeped in conflict, Margarita finds hope beyond the struggle, and love in the most unexpected of places.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Harsh realities of war, Marijuana, Mild sexual themes, Racial insensitivity

 

Reviews

Booklist (February 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 11))
Grades 9-12. Engle chronicles her high school, college, and post-college years—turbulent times for her, for the country, and for the world. She dreams of traveling to India, a place she imagines to be as enchanted as Cuba, where she can no longer visit due to the Cold War crisis. The poems in this memoir are terse, filled with the bleak imaginings of a teenager seeking emotional resonance. Despite the temporal difference, contemporary youth will find parallels with Engle as she seeks connection with a peer group, a close friend, or a lover—someone with whom she can make sense of her context. This companion to her award-winning Enchanted Air (2015) packs a historical wallop with references to Martin Luther King Jr., the Vietnam War, the Cold War, Second Wave Feminism, Watergate, Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia, and more. Engle lets all of this consume her, and she drifts for a while, living precariously. The memoir ends on a positive note, as she finds her place with nature, poetry, and a life partner.

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 15, 2019)
Young People’s Poet Laureate Engle (A Dog Named Haku, 2018, etc.) explores her tumultuous teenage and early adult years during the equally turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s. This companion memoir to her award-winning Enchanted Air (2015) is written mostly in free verse with a spot of haiku and tanka. This is a lonely dreamer’s tale of a wayward yet resourceful young woman who zigzags to self-discovery amid the Vietnam War, Delano grape strike, moon landing, and other key historical events. Dreaming of travel to far-off lands but without the financial resources to do so, she embarks on a formal and informal educational journey that takes her from Los Angeles to Berkeley, Haight-Ashbury, New York City, and back west again. With Spanish interspersed throughout, Engle speaks truthfully about the judgment she has faced from those who idealized Castro’s Cuba and the struggle to keep her Spanish alive after being cut off from her beloved mother’s homeland due to the Cold War. Employing variations in line breaks, word layout, and font size effectively, Engle’s pithy verses together read as a cohesive narrative that exudes honesty and bravery. While younger readers may not recognize some of the cultural references, themes of dating, drugs, and difficulty in college will resonate widely. Finding one’s path is not a linear process; thankfully Engle has the courage to offer herself as an example. Hopeful, necessary, and true. (author’s note) (Poetry/memoir. 13-adult)

About the Author

Margarita Engle is the national Young People’s Poet Laureate, and the first Latino to receive that honor. She is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Lightning Dreamer, a PEN Literary Award for Young Adult Literature winner. Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, received the Pura Belpré Award, a Walter Dean Myers Award Honor, and was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, among others. Her picture book Drum Dream Girl received the Charlotte Zolotow Award. Margarita was born in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during childhood summers with relatives. She continues to visit Cuba as often as she can.

Her website is www.margaritaengle.com/

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The Edge of Anarchy by Jack Kelly

The Edge of Anarchy: The Railroad Barons, the Gilded Age, and the Greatest Labor Uprising in America by Jack Kelly. January 8, 2019. St. Martin’s Press, 320 p. ISBN: 9781250128867.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

The dramatic story of the explosive 1894 clash of industry, labor, and government that shook the nation and marked a turning point for America.

The Edge of Anarchy by Jack Kelly offers a vivid account of the greatest uprising of working people in American history. At the pinnacle of the Gilded Age, a boycott of Pullman sleeping cars by hundreds of thousands of railroad employees brought commerce to a standstill across much of the country. Famine threatened, riots broke out along the rail lines. Soon the U.S. Army was on the march and gunfire rang from the streets of major cities.

This epochal tale offers fascinating portraits of two iconic characters of the age. George Pullman, who amassed a fortune by making train travel a pleasure, thought the model town that he built for his workers would erase urban squalor. Eugene Debs, founder of the nation’s first industrial union, was determined to wrench power away from the reigning plutocrats. The clash between the two men’s conflicting ideals pushed the country to what the U.S. Attorney General called “the ragged edge of anarchy.”

Many of the themes of The Edge of Anarchy could be taken from today’s headlines―upheaval in America’s industrial heartland, wage stagnation, breakneck technological change, and festering conflict over race, immigration, and inequality. With the country now in a New Gilded Age, this look back at the violent conflict of an earlier era offers illuminating perspectives along with a breathtaking story of a nation on the edge.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (November 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 5))
In 1894, workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company near Chicago went on strike against their powerful employer, George Pullman. This set off the greatest labor action in U.S. history, one that threatened a true national strike. Kelly explores this event in all its conflict and confrontation. Workers, led by the indomitable Eugene V. Debs, rebelled against a company that had dictated their living conditions as well as their working conditions. George Pullman really believed he was a model employer, but he would not respond to workers’ grievances. Unrest spread from Chicago across the nation, particularly into California. Realizing the threat this posed to the economy if not the body politic itself, President Cleveland called out troops against the counsel of Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld. Yet even army troops’ loyalty was tested when they were asked to fire on their fellow countrymen. The strike may have failed and Debs was jailed, but legislation followed that protected worker rights. Kelly vividly portrays the personalities involved, from elected officials to labor leaders, and makes the tensions of the time quite contemporary.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2018)
In which the robber barons earn their spurs—and their sobriquets.George Pullman (1831-1897) should be remembered as an innovator in the transportation sector. He was, as Kelly (Heaven’s Ditch: God, Gold, and Murder on the Erie Canal, 2016, etc.) writes, an entrepreneur who “knew how to gather resources, command men, and negotiate deals,” and even if credit for his long-distance railroad sleeper cars really goes to someone else, Pullman put it all together. At the height of the Gilded Age, he was well on the way to holding a monopoly, carving up the sector with other moguls. Put supply, demand, and sole ownership together, and you have a recipe for suppressed wages and labor unrest, personified here by firebrand organizer Eugene Debs, who called a strike when an economic recession shook the railroad industry, causing wages to fall. The railroad barons were quick to call on a reluctant President Grover Cleveland to intervene, while Debs scored early victories in the negotiations, and Pullman, who “had successfully fought against unions during his entire career,” found himself confronting a powerful movement to organize. As Kelly notes, there were many flashpoints during the unrest, as when strikes stranded trains in midcourse and “women and children were left for up to twenty hours with no water or food.” Debs renounced violence, but episodes of violence followed, most at the hands of law enforcement and the military. There are memorable moments throughout this fluid account, as when stock in the railyards of Chicago goes up in a wall of flames before which were, as one contemporary report put it, “men and women dancing with frenzy.” In the end, the strikes broken, workers’ families starved, Pullman refused to reduce his own salary: “ ‘We cannot,’ Pullman murmured, ‘do everything at once.’ ” He remained rich, but he is not well-remembered today, while Progressive Era reforms soon followed to reduce the barons’ power. Kelly’s vigorous narrative serves well to set down the facts of a turbulent, little-known history.

About the Author

Jack Kelly is a journalist, novelist, and historian, whose books include Band of Giants, which received the DAR’s History Award Medal, and Heaven’s Ditch. He has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, and other national periodicals, and is a New York Foundation for the Arts fellow. He has appeared on The History Channel and been interviewed on National Public Radio. He lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.

His website is jackkellybooks.com

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The Electric War by Mike Winchell

The Electric War: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Light the World by Mike Winchell. January 22, 2019. Henry Holt & Company, 272 p. ISBN: 9781250120168.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

The spellbinding true account of the scientific competition to light the world with electricity.

In the mid-to-late-nineteenth century, a burgeoning science called electricity promised to shine new light on a rousing nation. Inventive and ambitious minds were hard at work. Soon that spark was fanned, and a fiery war was under way to be the first to light―and run―the world with electricity. Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of direct current (DC), engaged in a brutal battle with Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, the inventors of alternating current (AC). There would be no ties in this race―only a winner and a loser. The prize: a nationwide monopoly in electric current. Brimming with action, suspense, and rich historical and biographical information about these brilliant inventors, here is the rousing account of one of the world’s defining scientific competitions.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Cruelty to animals, Violence

 

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Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 7-10. Welcome to the late 1880s and the war of the currents, a furious battle over the viability and future of electricity. The combatants were, in one corner, the legendary inventor Thomas Edison, the inveterate champion of direct current (DC); in the other corner, the eccentric Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla and his partner, the formidable George Westinghouse, champions of alternating current (AC). It was an epic battle, for the stakes were enormous, being, in short, who would light and power America. It was a battle royal with the venerable Edison emerging as the villain of the piece. But will the good guys win? In his first book, Winchell does a fine job of investing his story with considerable drama; yes, his subject is occasionally a bit wonkish, but it will delight techies. As for his style: it’s serviceable but suffers when he reaches for colorful figures of speech; thus, a building “lit up like a mushroom on fire.” Nevertheless, readers will be electrified by his three main characters and further enlightened by numerous period photographs.

Kirkus Reviews (November 15, 2018)
The war of the currents and its larger-than-life personalities are illuminated by a flickering light. In the 1870s and 1880s, two competing systems of electrical current were backed by three very different men. Thomas Alva Edison, the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” advocated for direct current, while inventor Nikola Tesla, a Serbian immigrant, and George Westinghouse were leading proponents of alternating current. The potential for acclaim and riches was high, but it all came down to which system—direct or alternating current—would prevail. Edison had the name recognition but a flawed system, while Tesla and Westinghouse were confident in alternating current’s superiority, even when it was branded too dangerous in the press. It took a world’s fair, court battles, and worldwide financial panic to yield a winner in the war of the currents. Although the men and the historical events provide plenty of drama, Winchell (Been There, Done That: School Daze, 2016, etc.) blunts the impact by spending too much time at the beginning of the book on the development of the electric chair and its first victim. Black-and-white photographs and technical drawings supplement the text, which is based on extensive primary and high-quality secondary sources. There is unfortunately no mention of influential African-American inventor and Edison employee Lewis Latimer, who patented the carbon filament. The appeal of the events shines through despite a shaky start. (timeline, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Mike Winchell is a veteran English teacher with a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. He is the creator & editor of the BEEN THERE, DONE THAT anthology series, and the author of the middle grade narrative nonfiction GILDED AGE series, beginning with THE ELECTRIC WAR: EDISON, TESLA, WESTINGHOUSE, AND THE RACE TO LIGHT THE WORLD (January 22, 2019), and followed by THE ROUGH RODE: THE GILDED AGE RISE OF THE ROUGH RIDERS (2020).

He lives in upstate New York with his wife and two children. His website is www.mikewinchellbooks.com.

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Dreaming in Code by Emily Arnold McCully

Dreaming in Code: Ada Byron Lovelace, Computer Pioneer by Emily Arnold McCully. March 12, 2019. Candlewick Press, 176 p. ISBN: 9780763693565.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

This illuminating biography reveals how the daughter of Lord Byron, Britain’s most infamous Romantic poet, became the world’s first computer programmer.

Even by 1800s standards, Ada Byron Lovelace had an unusual upbringing. Her strict mother worked hard at cultivating her own role as the long-suffering ex-wife of bad-boy poet Lord Byron while raising Ada in isolation. Tutored by the brightest minds, Ada developed a hunger for mental puzzles, mathematical conundrums, and scientific discovery that kept pace with the breathtaking advances of the industrial and social revolutions taking place in Europe. At seventeen, Ada met eccentric inventor Charles Babbage, a kindred spirit. Their ensuing collaborations resulted in ideas and concepts that presaged computer programming by almost two hundred years, and Ada Lovelace is now recognized as a pioneer and prophet of the information age. Award-winning author Emily Arnold McCully opens the window on a peculiar and singular intellect, shaped — and hampered — by history, social norms, and family dysfunction. The result is a portrait that is at once remarkable and fascinating, tragic and triumphant.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: References to drug use

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 13))
Grades 7-10. Interest in Ada Byron Lovelace and other female pioneers of science has soared of late. This young adult biography is a particularly exemplary example of the burgeoning genre and should find a home in all libraries. Caldecott medalist McCully is careful to show Lovelace as a complex, and sometimes troubled, child, teen, and woman whose love of math was as passionate as love of poetry was to her famous father, the Romantic poet Lord Byron. While Lovelace’s mother, a controlling figure who reviled Lord Byron, was rather distant, she did cultivate her daughter’s intellect. She also introduced Lovelace to Charles Babbage, a well-known figure in England who was developing a protocomputer called the Analytical Engine. It was Lovelace who foresaw its implications and who ultimately wrote “code” for its use. While her life was tragically short, she is now generally acknowledged as “the first computer programmer.” McCully’s work is eminently readable, with short chapters and lavish illustrations. It also includes meaty appendixes and source notes for teen scholars. A worthy addition to biography bookshelves.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2019)
A biography of Ada Lovelace, widely celebrated as the first computer programmer. McCully juxtaposes the analytical genius of her subject with her humanizing flaws and personality, painting a portrait of a turbulent soul and a visionary intellect whose promise was cut short by early death. After the acrimonious end of Lord and Lady Byron’s relationship, the intelligent Lady Byron sought to distance Ada from both her father himself and his unstable tendencies by giving her a challenging education focused on rational pursuits, math, and science. Lady Byron’s portrayal is complex—she’s cold and self-centered but determined to provide academic opportunities for her daughter. The book follows Ada’s education with her marriage and death from uterine cancer, but both the book and Ada focus on her collaborator, Charles Babbage. A temporary textual shift to focus on Babbage provides necessary context, establishing how advanced and revolutionary Babbage’s Difference Engine and Analytical Engine designs were. And yet, Ada was able to see far beyond his visions, conceptualizing the potential of modern computers and predicting such programming techniques like loops. McCully demonstrates that although Ada had the potential to achieve more, she was hampered by sexism, ill health, and a temperament akin to her father’s. Appendices summarize Lovelace’s notes on the Analytical Engine and present the British Association for the Advancement of Science’s rationale for refusing to support its construction. A sophisticated yet accessible piece that humanizes a tragic, brilliant dreamer. (source notes, glossary, bibliography, index [not seen]) (Biography. 10-14)

About the Author

Emily Arnold McCully was born left-handed in Galesburg, Illinois. She was a dare-devil tree-climber and ball-player who loved to write stories and illustrate them. Her family moved to New York City and then to a suburb, where she attended school. After college at Brown University, she earned a Master’s degree at Columbia University in art history. She worked as a freelance illustrator for magazines, advertisements and book publishers until a radio station commissioned a series of posters showing children playing. The first appeared in subway cars, where it was seen by a children’s book editor. It launched a long career, first as an illustrator, then as author/illustrator of picture books. McCully won a Caldecott Medal in 1993. She has two grown sons, one grandson and lives in New York City and Columbia County, N.Y., where she grows flowers and vegetables.

Her website is emilyarnoldmccully.com

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The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts

The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts. February 12, 2019. Delacorte Press, 272 p. ISBN: 9780525644767.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.5; Lexile: 1080.

In this inspiring young readers adaptation of Elizabeth Letts’ New York Timesbestseller, one American troop will save the world’s most precious horses during the final stretch of World War II.

When a small troop of American soldiers capture a German spy, they uncover an unexpected secret: Hitler has kidnapped the world’s finest purebred horses and hidden them in a secret Czechoslovakian breeding farm. But, starving Russian troops are drawing closer and the horses face the danger of being slaughtered for food. With little time to spare, Colonel Hank Reed and his soldiers cross enemy lines to heroically save some of the world’s most treasured animals.

In this thrilling young readers’ edition of her New York Times bestselling book, Elizabeth Letts details the terrifying truth of Hitler’s eugenics program during World War II and shares the story of the courageous American troop dedicated to stopping it.

Highlighting bravery in the face of incredible odds, this tale will shed light on a little-known piece of our past and speak to history fans and animal lovers of every age.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Cruelty to animals

 

Author Talk

Reviews

Booklist starred (December 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 7))
Grades 4-8. In this young-readers’ edition of her New York Times best-seller, Letts captivates readers from beginning to end. Even before WWII, Hitler’s Nazi agenda to make everything German “the best” involved confiscating champion horses from countries in Eastern Europe. Thoroughbred Arabians and Lipizzaners were especially prized. Under the leadership of Gustav Rau, Hitler’s choice for leading a eugenics horse-breeding program, the horses were held in Hostau, Czechoslovakia. As the war’s end approached, the Germans in charge of the horses realized that in order to protect them they must surrender the horses to the Americans. The glitch in this arrangement was that the Americans couldn’t cross into Czechoslovakia, but, under the command of Colonel Hank Reed (with General George Patton’s tacit approval), they did. Letts traces the dangerous mission of rescuing the horses, transporting them to the U.S., and transferring the horses to the Department of Agriculture, after which they were sold to private owners. This account of the heroism and cooperation of unlikely people to protect these horses is spellbinding. The author’s impeccable attention to detail and exhaustive sources make this a must-read.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2018)
Letts adapts her bestselling 2016 work of the same title for young readers. As World War II sweeps across Europe, the fates of several master horsemen become entwined. In Poland, Andrzej Kristalovich, head of the national stud farm, sees his life’s work disappear when Russian soldiers capture his horses. Nazi Germans, invading next, restore some of the animals in order to breed them for the Third Reich. Meanwhile, in Vienna, Olympic medalist Alois Podhajsky is desperately trying to care for the Lipizzan stallions at the famed Spanish Riding School even as the invading Germans capture the Lipizzan stud farms and move most of the horses to Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, at an American Army base in Kansas, Maj. Hank Reed is overseeing the cavalry’s transition from horses, no longer useful in warfare, to mechanized vehicles. These threads come together at the end of the war when Reed orchestrates a complex rescue of both sets of horses. This is not a particularly successful adaptation. It’s shorter than the original, but both the storyline and timeline are fragmented, making it difficult for the putative audience of 8- to 12-year-olds to follow, and extraneous details fail to advance the main narrative. Aside from a map and archival images (both not seen), there is no timeline or other visual aid to help organize the narrative. Characters are all white. If readers can make sense of this story, they’re likely able to tackle the original instead. (author’s note, characters, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Elizabeth Letts is an award winning and bestselling author of both fiction and non-fiction. The Perfect Horse was the winner of the 2017 PEN USA Award for Research Non-fiction and a #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller. The Eighty-Dollar Champion was a #1 New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2012 Daniel P Lenehan Award for Media Excellence from the United States Equestrian Foundation. She is also the author of two novels, Quality of Care and Family Planning, and an award-winning children’s book, The Butter Man. She lives in Southern California and Northern Michigan.

Her website is www.elizabethletts.com

Teacher Resources

The Perfect Horse Discussion Questions

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This Promise of Change by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy. January 8, 2019. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 320 p. ISBN: 9781681198521.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.3.

In 1956, one year before federal troops escorted the Little Rock 9 into Central High School, fourteen year old Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve African-American students who broke the color barrier and integrated Clinton High School in Tennessee. At first things went smoothly for the Clinton 12, but then outside agitators interfered, pitting the townspeople against one another. Uneasiness turned into anger, and even the Clinton Twelve themselves wondered if the easier thing to do would be to go back to their old school. Jo Ann–clear-eyed, practical, tolerant, and popular among both black and white students—found herself called on as the spokesperson of the group. But what about just being a regular teen? This is the heartbreaking and relatable story of her four months thrust into the national spotlight and as a trailblazer in history. Based on original research and interviews and featuring backmatter with archival materials and notes from the authors on the co-writing process.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Racism, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 5))
Grades 5-9. Students of school-desegregation history know of the Little Rock 9, but probably fewer are familiar with the Clinton 12, who integrated a Tennessee high school a full year earlier, in 1956. Boyce, one of the 12, recounts her story in a series of moving narrative poems that detail mid-twentieth-century segregation practices in the South; introduce her family and their place in the town; describe the early, relatively civilized integration of the school; and explain how the introduction of outside agitators heightened tensions and led to violence. Boyce’s positive attitude about her experiences invites reader identification. Yes, she and others endured unrelenting pressure and threats, but the cause was important and the results worthwhile. The poems (mostly free verse with a sprinkling of other forms) personalize this history, and interspersed newspaper headlines and quotes situate the response of the larger world. Generous back matter includes additional information about the Clinton 12, a time line, period photos, sources, and further reading. Engrossing, informative, and important for middle-grade collections.

Kirkus Reviews starred (October 15, 2018)
An autobiographical account in verse of a teen pioneering school desegregation in the South. Jo Ann Allen lives up on a hill with the other black residents of Clinton, Tennessee. They travel to Knoxville to attend the black schools, but in 1956, two years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, a judge in Knoxville tells Clinton officials that they must integrate immediately. Jo Ann is one of 12 black students who enroll in the all-white Clinton High School. With co-author Levy, she tells her story of that year in poems grouped by her relationship to her town (“Mine, Theirs and Ours”; “Fear,” etc.). Most of the white people who support the black students do so only out of civic duty to obey the law. Still, there are moments of hope, as when her white classmates elect her vice president of their homeroom; it seems she might make friends. But then hatred and violence overtake the town of Clinton, necessitating federal law enforcement to keep the peace. Readers will empathize with Jo Ann’s honest incredulity: “Mouths spewing insults. / (Do these mouths sing hymns on Sunday? / Do they say ‘I love you’?)” One timely poem remembers a local election in which “every single / white supremacist/ segregationist / candidate / lost.” Such gems relevant to today’s politics, along with the narrator’s strong inner voice, make this offering stand out. Powerful storytelling of a not-so-distant past. (epilogue, authors’ notes, photos, timeline, sources, bibliography, further reading) (Verse memoir. 9-14)

About the Authors

Jo Ann Allen Boyce was one of 12 students to desegregate Clinton High School in 1956. She has worked as a professional singer and a nurse. She lives in Los Angeles.

 

I (Debbie Levy) write books — nonfiction, fiction, and poetry — for people of all different ages, and especially for young people. Before starting my writing career, I was a newspaper editor; before that, I was a lawyer with a Washington, D.C. law firm. I have a bachelor’s degree in government and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and a law degree and master’s degree in world politics from the University of Michigan. I live in Maryland with my husband. We have two grown sons. Besides writing, I love to kayak, boat, fish, and otherwise mess around in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Her website is www.debbielevybooks.com

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The Book of Delights: Essays by Ross Gay

The Book of Delights: Essays by Ross Gay. February 12, 2019. Algonquin Books, 288 p. ISBN: 9781616207922.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

The winner of the NBCC Award for Poetry offers up a spirited collection of short lyric essays, written daily over a tumultuous year, reminding us of the purpose and pleasure of praising, extolling, and celebrating ordinary wonders.

In The Book of Delights, one of today’s most original literary voices offers up a genre-defying volume of lyric essays written over one tumultuous year. The first nonfiction book from award-winning poet Ross Gay is a record of the small joys we often overlook in our busy lives. Among Gay’s funny, poetic, philosophical delights: a friend’s unabashed use of air quotes, cradling a tomato seedling aboard an airplane, the silent nod of acknowledgment between the only two black people in a room. But Gay never dismisses the complexities, even the terrors, of living in America as a black man or the ecological and psychic violence of our consumer culture or the loss of those he loves. More than anything other subject, though, Gay celebrates the beauty of the natural world–his garden, the flowers peeking out of the sidewalk, the hypnotic movements of a praying mantis.

The Book of Delights is about our shared bonds, and the rewards that come from a life closely observed. These remarkable pieces serve as a powerful and necessary reminder that we can, and should, stake out a space in our lives for delight.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Strong language, Strong sexual themes

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (December 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 8))
On his forty-second birthday, poet Gay (Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, 2015) began a yearlong project to write, every day, about something that delighted him. The 100 of these “essayettes” shared here in chronological order—and which are most delightfully read that way—consider things as contained as a high five from a stranger and concepts as vast as existence itself. The longhand in which Gay first wrote these (one of the project’s rules) seems to uncurl on the typed page, in winding meanders and meaningful digressions that share a life-spanning spectrum of emotions and experiences. Gay discovers that his delights begin to compound and embed in one another. Stacking delights, saving up several to write about another day, is technically against the rules, but he does it anyway; and occasionally blowing off the project is its own delight. While Gay’s delights embrace the darkness of racism and death, en masse they share a profound capacity for joy and belief in humankind. This stunning self-portrait of a gardener, a teacher, and a keen observer of life is sure to inspire.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2019)
A collection of affirmations, noncloying and often provocative, about the things that make justice worth fighting for and life worth living.Gay—a poet whose last book, the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, bears the semantically aligned title Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (2015)—is fully aware that all is not well in the world: “Racism is often on my mind,” he writes by way of example. But then, he adds, so are pop music, books, gardening, and simple acts of kindness, all of which simple pleasures he chronicles in the “essayettes” that make up this engaging book. There is much to take delight in, beginning with the miraculous accident of birth, his parents, he writes, a “black man, white woman, the year of Loving v. Virginia, on a stolen island in the Pacific, a staging ground for American expansion and domination.” As that brief passage makes clear, this is not a saccharine kind of delight-making but instead an exercise in extracting the good from the difficult and ugly. Sometimes this is a touch obvious: There’s delight of a kind to be found in the odd beauty of a praying mantis, but perhaps not when the mantis “is holding in its spiky mitts a large dragonfly, which buzzed and sputtered, its big translucent wings gleaming as the mantis ate its head.” Ah, well, the big ones sometimes eat the little ones, and sometimes we’re left with holes in our heads, an idiom that Gay finds interesting if also sad: “that usage of the simile implies that a hole in the head, administered by oneself, might be a reasonable response.” No, the reasonable response is, as Gay variously enumerates, to resist, enjoy such miracles as we can, revel in oddities such as the “onomatopoeicness of jenky,” eat a pawpaw whenever the chance to do so arises, water our gardens, and even throw up an enthusiastic clawed-finger air quote from time to time, just because we can. An altogether charming and, yes, delightful book.

About the Author

Ross Gay is the author of three books of poetry, including Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Catalog was also a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry, the Ohioana Book Award, the Balcones Poetry Prize, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. He is a founding editor, with Karissa Chen and Patrick Rosal, of the online sports magazine Some Call It Ballin’ and founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a nonprofit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. Gay has received fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He teaches at Indiana University.

His website is www.rossgay.net

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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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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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