Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Review of Becoming, by Michelle Obama

Monday, March 25th, 2019

Becoming

by Michelle Obama
read by the author

Review written March 22, 2019, from a library audiobook plus my own print copy preordered via Amazon.com
Random House Audio, 2018. 19 hours on 16 CDs.
Starred Review

I got to hear Michelle Obama speak about this book last June at ALA Annual Conference and got excited enough to preorder the book from Amazon.com. But since it came when my Newbery reading was heating up, I decided to listen to the audiobook from the library. However, I had to stop in the middle before my trip to Seattle to choose the Newbery winner, and there was a long wait to get the audiobook again. I ended up reading part of the book in print, then listening to that part again. She is a slow and deliberate reader, so the book is extra long in audio format. But I like her so much, I was happy to hear her voice, and it was worth taking the time to listen.

As for the book – I loved every bit of it. This will be no surprise, since I already love the Obamas. Listening to the book now, with such a contrast between them and the current occupant of the White House – it makes you sad. Yet it’s good to remember that past presidents were there to serve the country. I believe it can happen again.

Part of what I loved about this book was that Michelle Obama was born the same year I was. And both of us skipped a year of school, so she graduated from high school the same year I did, too. Our lives were not terribly similar, but there are some little details about life in the 60s and 70s that felt so familiar to me. I also think that our personalities are quite similar – detail-oriented and trying to control things and achieving in school for starters. So I enjoyed reading about her growing-up years almost the most of all. Felt like I had a sister in spirit. I already knew a lot about her political years – but hearing about her childhood was extra charming to me.

And she’s a good writer. The story of her romance is told as effectively as a good romance novel. I had to turn in the audiobook when I’d gotten to where they’d just had their first kiss and was super frustrated to have to wait to hear more. Of course, it helps that I already have a crush on her husband!

Yes, this book paints her husband’s politics in a good light, so those who already despise the Obamas probably won’t like it. But if you can tolerate that, this book presents a window on American life. Michelle Obama presents herself as an ordinary person who was blessed with some fantastic opportunities, and she wants to pass on some of that good fortune to others and help young people from modest backgrounds aspire to much more.

I liked hearing about all the young people the Obamas brought to the White House with several different programs, to encourage them and give them a boost. Truly they were there to serve.

In her Epilogue, Michelle shows that she’s still living with optimism, one of her most important values. Even though this book made me discouraged for how things have gone since the Obamas left office, her optimism is contagious. America will continue to make progress. After reading this book, I can believe it again.

Here are her final thoughts in this book:

I’m an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey. In sharing my story, I hope to help create space for other stories and other voices, to widen the pathway for who belongs and why. I’ve been lucky enough to get to walk into stone castles, urban classrooms, and Iowa kitchens, just trying to be myself, just trying to connect. For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.

becomingmichelleobama.com
crownpublishing.com
penguinrandomhouseaudio.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Planting Stories, by Anika Aldamuy Denise

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

Planting Stories

The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

by Anika Aldamuy Denise
illustrations by Paola Escobar

Harper, 2019. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 13, 2019, from a library book

Here’s a picture book biography of Pura Belpré, who has a children’s book award named after her for outstanding works of literature by Latinx authors and illustrators.

In 1921, Pura Belpré was the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City. She was hired to find books and create programs at the Harlem branch that would appeal to the neighborhood’s growing Spanish-speaking community.

Since Pura didn’t find any stories from Puerto Rico on the library shelves, she told the stories herself. She ended up creating puppets to go with them and authoring several books based on those stories.

This book, with particularly beautiful illustrations, celebrates the difference a librarian made to an entire community, while telling more of the background of her life.

I was glad to discover the story of the person honored by the award. Yes, she was someone who got stories into the minds and hearts of Latinx children.

anikadenise.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of So Tall Within, by Gary D. Schmidt

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

So Tall Within

Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom

by Gary D. Schmidt
illustrated by Daniel Minter

Roaring Brook Press, 2018. 48 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 2, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

Here’s a picture book biography of Sojourner Truth, focusing on how she spoke up for Freedom.

The words used are poetic and the pictures are full of beautiful resonance.

Many spreads have a panel on the left side beginning with “In Slavery Time…” or “In Freedom Time…” along with an image.

For example, the book begins like this:

In Slavery Time, when Hope was a seed waiting to be planted,

Isabella lived in a cellar where the windows never let the sun in and the floorboards never kept the water out.

The book takes us through her many years in slavery, and then the story of how she got her freedom – and sued her former master because he sold her son out of the state of New York.

But in Slavery Time, Broken Promises were like leaves on a tree.

It tells about how she changed her name and began walking around the country speaking about Freedom and Truth.

In Slavery Time, when Tiredness stood at the doorway,

Sojourner Truth walked all the way to Washington, D. C. There she met Abraham Lincoln, and she told him he was “the best president who has ever taken the seat.”

But the panels change after emancipation.

In Freedom Time, when Hope kindled a fire in the dark and Happiness winked over the horizon,

Soujourner Truth told an audience in Massachusetts, “Children, I have come here like the rest of you, to hear what I have to say.” And what she had to say was plenty.

This book powerfully and poetically portrays a woman who rose from slavery to stand tall and change America.

mackids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Girl Who Drew Butterflies, by Joyce Sidman

Friday, February 15th, 2019

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies

How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science

by Joyce Sidman

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 144 pages.
Starred Review
Review written March 7, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2019 Sibert Medal Winner for best children’s nonfiction book of the year
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

This book has a prologue, with the heading, “The Girl in the Garden.” Quoting from it will tell you the background of Maria Merian’s life.

A girl kneels in her garden. It is 1660, and she has just turned thirteen: too old for a proper German girl to be crouching in the dirt, according to her mother. She is searching for something she discovered days ago in the chilly spring air. As she combs the emerald bushes, she looks for other telltale signs – eggs no bigger than pinpricks, or leaf edges scalloped by the jaws of an inching worm. . . .

But for years she has gathered flowers for her stepfather’s studio, carried them in, and arranged them for his still-life paintings. She has studied the creatures that ride on their petals: the soft green bodies of caterpillars, the shiny armor of beetles, the delicate wings of moths. She has looked at them closely, sketched and painted them. In learning the skills of an artist, she has learned to look and watch and wonder.

Imagine this girl, forbidden from training as either a scholar or a master artist because she is female. Aware that in nearby villages women have been hanged as witches for something as simple as showing too much interest in “evil vermin.”

Yet she is drawn to these small, mysterious lives. She does not believe the local lore: that “summer birds,” or butterflies, creep out from under the earth. She thinks there is a connection between butterflies, moths, caterpillars, and the rumpled brown cocoon before her, and she is determined to find it.

This is her story.

The biography that follows tells of a woman far ahead of her times. She was both an artist and a scientist. She was an artist because she assisted her father and her husband and learned from them – she wouldn’t have been able to study on her own merits. She was a scientist by virtue of her own patient observations. She learned which caterpillars transformed into which moths or butterflies and which cocoon or chrysalis went with each.

She made her observations known by painting them. She would paint creatures on the same plant where she found them, and she would paint a butterfly with its egg, caterpillar, pupa, and chrysalis in the same picture.

This book is lavishly illustrated with Maria Merian’s own paintings as well as photographs of caterpillars, moths, and butterflies. Quotations from Maria’s writings are included, set off in a box and printed in script. Every spread has something colorful to catch the eye.

The structure of Maria’s biography follows the life cycle of a butterfly, with chapter titles: “Egg,” “Hatching,” “First Instar,” “Second Instar,” “Third Instar,” “Fourth Instar,” “Molting,” “Pupa,” “Eclosing,” “Expanding,” “Flight,” and “Egg” again. Joyce Sidman has written a poem for each chapter, placed next to a photo of a caterpillar or butterfly at that stage.

Maria’s unique combination of observation plus art left a mark that affected scientists after her. After her death, Carl Linnaeus used her book to classify and name more than one hundred insects – names we still use today.

The exquisite paintings and detailed photographs make this a beautiful book worth browsing – even if it weren’t packed with facts about an important scientist, a woman far ahead of her time.

joycesidman.com
hmhco.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Dreamers

by Yuyi Morales

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2018. 40 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 6, 2018, from an advance F & G.
2019 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Winner
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 General Picture Books

Oh, this is such a gorgeous and timely book.

Mixing English and Spanish (without a glossary), Yuyi Morales tells her immigration story with glorious paintings and collages loaded with symbolism. A note at the back fills in the details.

She came to America with her baby, to get married. She felt bewildered and an outsider. She didn’t understand the language.

But almost the very center spread of the book is the place that changed both her and her child’s lives – the public library.

We see specific books on the shelves, but also wonders pouring out of the books she opens. All the rest of the spreads are about libraries and the wonders of books.

Thousands and thousands of steps
we took around this land,
until the day we found . . .

a place we had
never seen before.
Suspicious.
Improbable.

Unbelievable.
Surprising.

Unimaginable.

Where we didn’t need to speak,
we only needed to trust.
And we did!

Books became our language.
Books became our home.
Books became our lives.

We learned to read,
to speak,
to write,
and
to make
our voices heard.

The text alone doesn’t do this book justice. The joy of the mother and child as the world and imagination opens up is glorious to behold.

In the note, where she fills in details of her story, she explains that her child was not a Dreamer in the political way the word is used today, about undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Kelly and I were Dreamers in the sense that all immigrants, regardless of our status, are Dreamers: we enter a new country carried by hopes and dreams, and carrying our own special gifts, to build a better future. Dreamers and Dreamers of the world, migrantes soñadores.

Now I have told you my story. What’s yours?

She includes a list of books that inspired her at the back.

Oh, such a lovely book! And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a song of thanks to libraries.

HolidayHouse.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Queen of the Track, by Heather Lang, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

Queen of the Track

Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion

by Heather Lang
illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Boyds Mills Press, 2016. 40 pages.

This is another picture book biography about a person I never heard of but am very glad to know about.

Alice Coachman was the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. She won in 1948, and had to miss the 1940 and 1944 Olympics, when she was at her peak, because of World War II.

Born in 1922 and very poor, Alice faced many obstacles to living her dreams. Being black and being female were both obstacles to being an athlete.

The print in this book is small and there are lots of words on the pages, so the intended audience is older than the usual picture book crowd. However, it’s in good company with other picture book biographies.

The excellent picture book biographies written today are why I was happy our library created a children’s nonfiction browsing collection. This book isn’t designed for someone writing a report, but for someone wanting to read the true story of an inspiring person.

And she is inspiring. I’m so glad this book exists so I could learn her story.

The note at the back tells us more.

Alice credits her success to the support she received from her family, teachers, coaches, and sometimes people she hardly knew. In an effort to give back and help others, she founded the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation, which supports young athletes and helps former Olympic athletes adjust to life after the games.

Many do not know Alice’s story, since her gold medal came in the early days of broadcast television. But it was Alice Coachman who paved the way for future Olympic track stars such as Wilma Rudolph, Evelyn Ashford, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

heatherlangbooks.com
boydsmillspress.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Antsy Ansel, by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illustrated by Christy Hale

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Antsy Ansel

Ansel Adams, a Life in Nature

by Cindy Jenson-Elliott
illustrated by Christy Hale

Christy Ottiaviano Books (Henry Holt and Company), 2016. 32 pages.

Here’s a picture book biography of Ansel Adams, famed photographer, especially of our national parks. The language is simple, appropriate for younger elementary school students. But a lot of information is packed into these pages, with more in the notes at the back.

The author relates Ansel Adams’ life to kids by telling us he was a child who could never sit still.

Indoors, Ansel felt trapped and sick. At school he got into trouble. Everyone thought they knew what he needed.

“Keep him calm,” the doctor said, “away from light and sound.” Ansel yearned for wind and waves.

“Give him discipline!” the principal said. Ansel felt like a fly buzzing inside a jar.

Ansel’s father had a different idea. “Give him open air,” he said. He took thirteen-year-old Ansel out of school and let him learn at home.

The first twenty-two of thirty-two pages are about Ansel’s growing up years. Here’s the entire text of a spread about the San Francisco world’s fair, which Ansel visited every day (as we learn in the notes):

A season ticket to the San Francisco
world’s fair filled Ansel’s mind with
mysteries and marvels,
impressionists and organists,
flavors and aromas,
and fun and games.
Ansel was on fire for learning.

When Ansel was fourteen was when his family first visited Yosemite — and they gave Ansel a camera. I like the pages showing Ansel in Yosemite. The picture of Half Dome turns the book on its side to capture its tall majesty, as does a spread with a Sequoia.

So this book is a nice introduction to the story of a boy who loved to be outside and learned to make his living by staying outside and sharing the beauty he saw with others.

cindyjensonelliott.com
christyhale.com
mackids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Let Your Voice Be Heard, by Anita Silvey

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

Let Your Voice Be Heard

The Life and Times of Pete Seeger

by Anita Silvey

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2016. 101 pages.

This is a straightforward biography of Pete Seeger for upper elementary audiences. There are plenty of photographs and the print is large and lines are widely spaced, so it’s not an intimidating amount of reading.

I hadn’t known a lot about Pete Seeger’s life, and I was inspired. His approach to music — reviving folk songs, popularizing them, and collaborating with others — is partly what makes him such a likable character.

But he also stood up for causes. He provided a voice — and songs — for the Labor movement, for anti-war protesters, for the Civil Rights movement, and for cleaning up the environment.

But a big part of his life I hadn’t known much about was him being brought up before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and how much that impacted his life. I hadn’t realized how much was done against people suspected of Communist sympathies — in America.

It’s also impressive that Pete Seeger didn’t let those things make him bitter. He continued to sing and spread the belief that working together we can make the world a better place. “Pete would call up a radio station, get a spot on the air, and then be out of town before the American Legion could protest.”

Here’s how the author sums up Pete Seeger’s legacy:

Throughout his life Pete Seeger remained committed to the idea that people need to come together. “It’s been my life’s work, to get participation, whether it’s a union song, a peace song, civil rights, or women’s movement, or gay liberation. When you sing, you feel, I’m not alone.”

Support for workers. Peace. The right to speak and sing in freedom. Civil rights for all people. The preservation of the planet. The causes to which Pete Seeger dedicated his life remain relevant and evergreen. He lived with purpose and meaning. As he often said, “Nobody really knows what the world’s going to bring. . . . We always find solutions, we’re an intelligent race . . . As long as I’ve got breath, I’ll keep on doing what I can.”

His life stands as a testament for social and political change, reminding everyone to fight for what they believe in and to let their voices be heard.

childrensbookalmanac.com
www.hmhco.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Samurai Rising, by Pamela S. Turner

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Samurai Rising

The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

by Pamela S. Turner
illustrated by Gareth Hinds

Charlesbridge, 2016. 236 pages.
Starred Review

This book of narrative nonfiction for children booktalks itself. Samurai warriors! Murder and betrayal and kidnapping! Epic battles and clever strategy! And it’s all true!

Pamela S. Turner has done in-depth research about an ancient Japanese Samurai warrior, around whom many legends have sprung up. She does a good job separating what is known from what is speculated about him, and the final 73 pages of the book are back matter, including notes about the history and about her research, a timeline, bibliography, and an index.

The story itself reads like a gory and dramatic novel. Now I personally am not a big fan of war stories, but for kids who don’t mind that (and there are many), this book is filled with excitement – all the more exciting because it really happened.

The Introduction is short and explains why Minamoto Yoshitsune’s story is important:

Few warriors are as famous as the Japanese samurai. We remember those beautiful swords and those fearsome helmets. We recall, with both horror and fascination, how some chose to end their own lives. But no one can understand the samurai without knowing Minamoto Yoshitsune.

Yoshitsune’s story unfolds in the late twelfth century, during the adolescence of the samurai. Yes, cultures have their youth, maturity, and old age, just as people do. During Yoshitsune’s lifetime the samurai awakened. Their culture was bold, rebellious, and eager to flex its muscle. The samurai would ultimately destroy Japan’s old way of life and forge a new one using fire and steel and pain.

Yoshitsune was at the very heart of this samurai rising. Exile, runaway, fugitive, rebel, and hero, he became the most famous warrior in Japanese history. The reason is simple: Yoshitsune was the kind of man other samurai longed to be.

The book begins with the uprising and death of Yoshitsune’s father in 1160. It ends with Yoshitsune’s suicide before his enemies came for him in 1189. In between we hear the story of the warrior’s glory that went unappreciated except in legend.

The author does an amazing job of making this all accessible and understandable to the reader, while inserting little reminders that this is history, and we don’t know everything. She mentions eyewitness accounts, where the information is sketchy, and uses language like “probably” and “Imagine…” where she’s drawing inferences.

No child who reads this book will think that history is boring!

pamelasturner.com
garethhinds.com
charlesbridge.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Ten Days a Madwoman, by Deborah Noyes

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

Ten Days a Madwoman

The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter Nellie Bly

by Deborah Noyes

Viking, 2016. 136 pages.
Review written in 2016 from a library book.

Despite the title, this is a complete biography of Nellie Bly for middle grade readers. The episode where she infiltrated an insane asylum for ten days is the way she launched her career in stunt journalism.

Sidebars that take up an entire spread are common, and there are plenty of illustrations and photographs from the time period, so there’s lots of variety in this account.

Nellie Bly, then Elizabeth Jane “Pink” Cochran, came to New York without money, planning to get hired by a newspaper. When that didn’t happen, she decided to write an article for her hometown paper, the Pittsburgh Dispatch answering the question if women reporters could get hired in New York. She interviewed the heads of the six major newspapers — and thus introduced herself to them.

Here’s the beginning of Chapter 2:

One fateful day in September, about four months into her New York adventure, Nellie — who was already nearly broke — found that her purse had gone missing, along with the last of her savings.

In the months and years to come, she would circle the globe, marry a millionaire and be widowed, take over his manufacturing empire, and become an influential businesswoman. But for now, Nellie Bly, who came to New York in search of “new worlds to conquer,” was penniless. She was also too proud to give up. “Indeed,” she wrote later, “I cannot say the thought ever presented itself to me, for I never in my life turned back from a course I had started upon.”

That was when she went to the office of the New York World, talked her way in, and proposed to the editor that she would sail to Europe and return in steerage to expose the horrible conditions.

The newspaper didn’t accept that idea, but they proposed another. Could Nellie get herself admitted to the insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island to report conditions there? If she could get herself in, the newspaper promised to get her out again.

This story — as hinted in the title — is the one the book gives in the most detail. It was frighteningly easy for Nellie to get herself admitted. Once there, she dropped the pretense of being insane — but was completely unable to talk herself out of the asylum. Conditions were horrible and the staff were abusive. Fortunately, the newspaper did get her out after ten days, and then Nellie exposed it all.

This gave her fame, and even opened up the field to more women and “stunt journalism.” Another adventure was when she went around the world in 72 days. She met Jules Verne along the way, since it was his book that had inspired the adventure.

This book is accessible to middle grade readers with its short chapters broken up by interesting sidebars, ample illustrations, and truly surprising stories. Nellie Bly had an amazing life, even when women were expected to keep quiet and do as they were told.

deborahnoyes.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?