Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Review of The Quest for Z, by Greg Pizzoli

Monday, March 12th, 2018

The Quest for Z

The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon

by Greg Pizzoli

Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), 2017. 44 pages.

This is a really interesting story about an explorer I’d never heard of – Percy Fawcett – who searched for a lost city in the Amazon, and never returned.

But he had an interesting, successful, and adventurous life before his final expedition.

Right from the start, he was ready to be an explorer:

He was born in 1867 in Devon, England. His father was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and his older brother was a mountain climber and author of adventure novels. Adventure ran in the Fawcett family blood.

He served in the military before he got to devote full time to exploring, but that’s what he went on to do. The book tells about his preparation and training, as well the legends of an ancient city deep in the Amazon rain forest.

When British explorer Percy Fawcett heard these legends, he called the mythical city “Z.” Maybe he chose this name because the lost city seemed to be the most remote place in the world, the final stop, like the last letter of the alphabet. He made finding Z his life’s work.

There’s a map listing the expeditions he made between 1906 and 1924. (Though it’s rather hard to read – the colors of the routes look very much alike.) The book tells about some of his many adventures with giant snakes and hostile natives. I like the story where they stopped an attack by singing a medley of British songs together, accompanied by accordion. They made friends with that group of natives.

The majority of his expeditions were for surveying – to map some of the most dangerous areas of the Amazon rain forest. But he always listened for rumors of the lost city deep in the jungle.

When he finally set off to find the city, the Royal Geographic Society wouldn’t fund his expedition – so he got newspapers to do it. On his journey, he wrote about every step of the trip and sent out “runners” to bring the story to the newspapers as it happened.

But after a month on the trail, the stories stopped, and Percy Fawcett was never seen again.

There’s an interesting section of the book on the aftermath of the expedition.

In the nearly one hundred years since Percy, Jack, and Raleigh went missing, treasure hunters, fame-seekers, and even movie stars have gone into the jungle to find out what happened to Percy Fawcett. None have been successful.

It’s estimated that as many as one hundred people have disappeared or died in the hunt for Percy Fawcett and the blank spot on the globe that he called Z.

This is a fun book. The pictures are cartoon-like, but include some helpful diagrams and drawings. They fill the pages, so that they aren’t too heavy on text, and kids won’t find the story too intimidating.

It’s a fascinating story of a man who is relatively unknown now, but was a famous celebrity in his day – though unfortunately more famous for his failure than for his many successes.

gregpizzoli.com
penguin.com/children

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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 Silent Days, Silent Dreams, by Allen Say

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

Silent Days, Silent Dreams

by Allen Say

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2017. 64 pages.
Starred Review

This book is the story of artist James Castle, told from the perspective of his nephew.

James was born deaf and mute. Moving things seemed to frighten him, but he couldn’t even hear himself shriek. He eventually learned to draw, but he never did learn to speak, read, or write.

When James got upset, he’d scream. His father started locking him up in the attic to calm down. Eventually, he spent so much time there, it became his room. He’d draw pictures of the furniture he wanted to have.

For years, he went to the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind, along with his sister who had become deaf after having the measles. James didn’t learn to read or write or speak, but he did learn how to sew books together, and he did more and more drawing. Now his drawings included houses with his name on them – but that was the only intelligible word he would write. He did put in symbols that looked like the alphabet, but if they had any meaning to him, he never told anyone else. When James was fifteen, the school told his family that he was “ineducable.”

When he no longer had access to drawing materials, he made his own from soot and spit. He drew on scraps of paper and even made books out of them. He continued to draw, and even made cut-out dolls, furniture, farm animals, and birds out of cardboard.

James Castle’s art went unappreciated for most of his life, until his nephew showed some of his drawings to an art professor. The art professor arranged an exhibit, and later James got to see his work displayed in an art gallery.

Allen Say does a beautiful job of telling about this artist’s life. He does most of the drawings in the style of James Castle and communicates how difficult life must have been for the artist – without any communication. In fact, he lets drawings tell much of the story. The drawings are especially poignant that show Jimmy shrieking when he couldn’t even hear himself, or being taunted by other children.

But the story ends hopefully. When Jim’s sister got him a mobile home to work in, replacing the old chicken coop, his nephew heard him laugh for the first time.

After thirty years in the chicken coop, Uncle Jim finally got his Dream House, as the family called it. He worked in it for fifteen more years, in the same way he had when I was a kid – drawing with soot and spit on scavenged paper. I think he was happy.

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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 March, Book Three, by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

March, Book Three

by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
art by Nate Powell

Top Shelf Productions, 2016. 246 pages.
Starred Review
2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
2017 Printz Award
2017 Coretta Scott King Author Award
2017 Siebert Medal
2017 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction
2017 Battle of the Books Winner

I was at the Youth Media Awards in Atlanta, Georgia, on the Monday after Trump’s inauguration, when this book by John Lewis won an unprecedented four awards, and not a single Honor among them. Atlanta is John Lewis’ home district, so he was there, and had participated in the weekend’s Women’s March. Later that day, I went to the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award program and heard John Lewis speak. Every speaker mentioned how thrilled they were to be in the room with him. After that, I received a free copy of this book, got it signed, and shook his hand.

And this book continues the telling of his story, in graphic novel form. This volume 3 contains more violence than the earlier volumes. It begins with a bombing of a church in Birmingham on September 15, 1963, and continues through Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965, when marchers were met with violence at the Edmund Pettis Bridge and John Lewis was hospitalized, and ends with the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law.

The whole story is framed by looking back from the day of President Obama’s Inauguration – a direct result of the work that was done in the 1960s.

The book is about idealism and about conflict – from both within the movement and outside it. It’s also about nonviolence being met with violence and standing for what you know is right.

An accessible look at history through the eyes of someone who was there, this book is a monumental achievement and deserves all of the many awards it has won.

I’m putting this on my page for Children’s Nonfiction, because it is written for teens (and I don’t have a teen page for nonfiction). But be aware that the level of violence is high – because that’s what these activists faced. They put their lives on the line for what’s right.

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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 Bass Reeves, Tales of the Talented Tenth, No. 1, by Joel Christian Gill

Friday, December 1st, 2017

Tales of the Talented Tenth, No. 1
The True Story of Bass Reeves,
The Most Successful Lawman in the Old West!

Black History in Action
True Adventures of Amazing African Americans

words and pictures by Joel Christian Gill

Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, CO, 2014. 126 pages.
Starred Review

Tales of the Talented Tenth is a series of graphic novels about actual African Americans who did amazing things. The first in the series tells the true story of Bass Reeves, who was a sheriff in the old west and whose feats sound like a tall tale. I see this is a 2014 book, but it’s new to our library, and looks like a wonderful series.

The story’s told creatively, using flashbacks from when Bass learned to shoot when he was a child and a slave, paralleling a tight spot he got into later when chasing outlaws. The panels are varied, colorful and striking. This is an exciting story, and will catch anyone’s interest.

It’s a rip-roaring yarn, told with suspense and flair – and all the more amazing because it’s true.

fulcrum-education.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 A Beautiful, Terrible Thing, by Jen Waite

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing

A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal

by Jen Waite

Plume (Penguin Random House), 2017. 258 pages.
Starred Review

I thought I’d read just a chapter of this book on Friday night. But once I started, I couldn’t look away until I’d finished.

Yes, it’s the true story of an apparently wonderful husband who cheated, lied, and turned out to be a psychopath. (There is a disclaimer at the front that this is not an official diagnosis. This isn’t an official diagnosis, either.) Many of my readers know that I, too, had a husband who cheated – and the long, awful time of suspicion and being lied to and desperately trying to fix things eventually ended with finding out it had all been much worse than I’d thought.

Jen Waite’s story is different from mine. She had only five years she thought she’d had a good marriage (and came to find out, he’d been cheating very early on). But that feeling of devastation? The world-toppling discovery that leaves you not knowing what was ever real? The wondering, always wondering what he’s up to right now and compulsion to check? All of that felt horribly familiar.

When I read that her husband was working long, long hours – through the night to the early hours of the morning – I just cringed. (That one took her a long time to figure out. And I know why – He’s working so hard! You want to be supportive! He’s sacrificing so much time for his job!)

Anyway, this is a story of a marriage – how they met and fell in love quickly – and betrayal. The discovery happened shortly after the birth of their first child. Jen Waite tells the story beautifully and suspensefully. She starts with the moment she read the email her husband had written that changed her world. It’s just a paragraph, which ends like this:

What I am seeing must have a logical explanation. It must be a misunderstanding. As soon as I can talk to my husband, he will explain and everything will be OK. This is not an emergency yet. If I can just hear his voice, I will be able to breathe again. Balancing the baby in one arm, I reach for my cell phone with the other, unconsciously bouncing my knees to soothe my daughter’s screams.

After that, she alternates between sections describing “Before” and “After.” The “Before” sections deal with how they met and built a life together. The “After” sections involve finding out what, actually, happened, and how she very slowly figured out the extent of his betrayal.

Jen finishes up the book describing how she has resolved to become a licensed therapist, specializing in recovery from psychopathic relationships. Yes! So it ultimately becomes a story about wresting good out of a nightmarish situation.

For me, reading it gave me a sense of solidarity – a reminder that I wasn’t the only one who ever got cheated on. (I know this intellectually, but that’s different from feeling sympathy as the author describes going through it.) But it also gave me a lovely realization of how far I’ve come. Yes, I remember being so devastated – but I am not devastated now! I remember trying to get my life back on track and find my footing – and (Wow!) I have done so! Not only am I working full-time as a children’s librarian and youth services manager – I even had my dream come true and am on the Newbery committee! And I would never have even become a librarian if my husband hadn’t left me – I was enjoying working part-time far too much.

I liked her emphasis that life goes on and we can emerge better and stronger. Yes! This is true!

You may not have such a personal connection with this book, but either way, it’s still a gripping and emotional true story. It will give you insight, compassion, and understanding for people caught in such an awful situation.

I checked the author’s website, and she’s got further encouragement for people who are putting their lives back together. May she continue to grow better and stronger because of what she’s been through.

jenwaite.com
plumebooks.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 World Is Not a Rectangle, by Jeanette Winter

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

The World Is Not a Rectangle

A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid

by Jeanette Winter

Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), 2017. 56 pages.
Starred Review

This is a simple but brilliant picture book biography about Zaha Hadid, an architect I’d never heard of, who was an Arab and a woman and who designed buildings located all over the world.

Zaha was born in Iraq in 1950. The book simply shows how she got inspiration from nature.

When she grew up, she ventured away from her country and studied in London. She submitted designs in many competitions. When she was finally selected, the city commission refused to build it.

But Zaha continued, and the pictures show buildings she designed located all over the world – the pictures place them alongside the landscapes and natural objects that inspired them.

Zaha died in 2016, but her designs are still being built. End notes tell where each featured building is located.

Jeanette Winter doesn’t waste words, but she tells the story of a woman who added beauty to the world. And she tells it in a way I won’t soon forget.

simonandschuster.com/kids

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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 Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, by Al Franken

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate

by Al Franken

Twelve (Hachette), 2017. 404 pages.

Okay, I’m going to stop being embarrassed for liking Al Franken’s books so much. Years ago, I read Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right and enjoyed it, but I didn’t post a review because I wasn’t ready to admit how much I enjoyed it. (Though to be fair, he included more “jokes” in that one, and I thought went a little too far in spots.)

This book has a lot more restraint – and he talks about how difficult it was to learn that restraint! Yes, I also liked that he left out foul language. There’s a note right at the beginning of the book:

Throughought this volume, whenever you see a very mild oath like “Fiddlesticks!” (or some gentle name-calling like “numbskull” or “dimwit,” or some old-timey synonym for “bull—-” like “poppycock” or “flim-flummery”), followed by the letters “USS” in superscript, that means I’ve replaced something far more plainspoken with a less offensive phrase or expression. The “USS” stands for “United States Senate,” the body in which I now serve. I feel I have a duty to both my colleagues and my constituents to make at least a token effort to preserve its dignity and decorum. I wish I could say the same for that dunderhead [USS] Ted Cruz.

Call me a prude, but I found the result much more pleasant reading – and more creative language – than his earlier books where he didn’t show that restraint. (Though I did think the note was really funny!)

This book tells the story of how Al Franken got into politics and what he’s trying to do in the Senate (represent the people of Minnesota).

He’s a Progressive, and so am I, so that’s partly why I enjoyed his book so much. But it’s also an entertaining story (He does know how to write and how to entertain.) of politics in America today.

It’s funny, though – He does tell a lot of stories about jokes his staff wouldn’t let him tell! Way to get back at them! And most of them are quite funny. And the context tells the reader that they are, in fact, jokes. In almost all cases, you can see that his staff was right and he shouldn’t have told the jokes when he was initially tempted to.

The chapter on Health Care was enlightening – and timely. I also like the chapters where he shows that it is still possible to do good work on things both parties can agree on. And I like the chapters with stories of Minnesotans. These show why Al Franken is doing the work he does.

But I think my favorite chapter was the one on “Lies and the Lying Liar Who Got Himself Elected President.” He explains at the beginning that maybe it’s a little weird, but dishonesty has always gotten under his skin. I guess that rang true because I’ve always felt the same way. I feel like catching someone in a lie should be their utter disgrace.

But he goes on to say:

Back in the good old days, fact-checking politicians was a different ball game. Looking back now, it seems almost adorable that I made a decent living writing books about catching right-wing Republicans in their lies. What I did was effective, I realize now, mainly because a lot of their lies had the veneer of plausibility, and because at least some of the liars liked to pretend that they were telling the truth – which was of course a lie, but which was also part of the fun.

But now we seem to have entered an era where getting caught lying openly and shamelessly, lying in a manner that insults the intelligence of both your friends and foes, lying about lying, and lying for the sake of lying have all lost their power to damage a politician. In fact, the “Trump Effect” yields the opposite result: Trump supporters seem to approve of the fact that he lies constantly, including to them. Like a movie that is loosely based on a true story, Trump’s fans seem to feel that he is making the dull reality of politics more fun and interesting by augmenting it with gross exaggeration, and often utter fantasy.

He goes on to explain why this is important.

I really think that if we don’t start caring about whether people tell the truth or not, it’s going to be literally impossible to restore anything approaching a reasonable political discourse. Politicians have always shaded the truth. But if you can say something that is provably false, and no one cares, then you can’t have a real debate about anything….

I’ve always believed that it’s possible to discern true statements from false statements, and that it’s critically important to do so, and that we put our entire democratic experiment in peril when we don’t. It’s a lesson I fear our nation is about to learn the hard way.

That’s why my Global Jihad on Factual Inaccuracy will continue. I cling to the hope that national gullibility is a cyclical phenomenon, and that in a few short years we may find ourselves in an era of Neo-Sticklerism. And a glorious era it shall be.

One can only hope!

TwelveBooks.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 Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah

Friday, June 30th, 2017

Born a Crime

Stories from a South African Childhood

by Trevor Noah
performed by the author

Brilliance Audio, 2016. 7 discs, 8 hours, 48 minutes.
Starred Review

Trevor Noah, current host of The Daily Show was born in South Africa during apartheid. Since it was illegal for people of different races (as defined by the authorities) to have sexual relations, his birth to a black mother and white (Swiss) father was proof that a crime had been committed.

He couldn’t be seen in public with either of his parents. To walk in the park, they’d get a colored woman to walk with him, and his mother would pose as the nanny. At his grandmother’s house in Soweto, Trevor wasn’t allowed to go outside, because if police saw him, there could be serious trouble.

This book was especially good to listen to, since Trevor can speak the various African words correctly. His mother made sure he learned English first, but he learned many other African languages as well. He has some interesting observations about how you can be part of any group if you speak like they do.

Though he did have trouble fitting in. There are interesting observations on that, too. This book helped me understand how to this day, Trevor Noah’s outsider perspective helps him get to the heart of things.

This book is abundantly entertaining. The author is a comedian and shows us the funny side of so many things, while at the same time giving us perspective on things as wide-ranging as racism, poverty, going to church, and domestic violence.

This is an eye-opening and amazing story. And it’s all true. Mostly, it’s about Trevor’s life growing up in South Africa as apartheid fell. There are lots of laughs mixed in with more sobering truths. I highly recommend this audiobook.

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook 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 Real Friends, by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

Real Friends

A True Story About Cool Kids and Crybabies

by Shannon Hale
illustrated by LeUyen Pham

First Second (Roaring Brook Press), May 2017. 218 pages.
Starred Review

Shannon Hale, one of my favorite authors, has written a graphic novel memoir! And the illustrator is LeUyen Pham, who illustrates The Princess in Black books! I’m afraid there’s no way I wouldn’t like this book.

As if that weren’t enough, I heard LeUyen Pham speak about the book at ALA Midwinter Meeting — and when she signed my Advance Reader Copy, she sketched a cartoon of me!

But even if all those things weren’t true, this book is brilliant, and I feel sure it will be popular. It’s a true story of navigating friendships, being part of “The Group,” being bullied by an older sibling and others, and just wanting to have friends who actually like you.

Shannon grew up in a Mormon family; I grew up in an evangelical family. I’m afraid the panel I liked the most is from Shannon’s imagination, with her sitting, sad and alone, in the foreground, with “The Group” rejoicing in the background that she’s gone. Sitting next to Shannon is Jesus, and he says, “Well, I like you.” “Thanks, Jesus,” says Shannon. A kid tries to take comfort in the love of Jesus. But friends are important.

Shannon was already destined to be a writer, as evidenced by all the scenes where she’s imagining. She’d write stories with her friends — but really it was Shannon doing the writing.

The way things resolve is done well. In 5th grade, Shannon’s in a mixed 5th and 6th grade class, which doesn’t include most of “The Group” she’s been with for years. She makes some new friends who appreciate her for who she is — and it gives her a good perspective for dealing with The Group.

I don’t think I need to say any more. A graphic memoir about friendship and sisters. This will be every bit as popular as Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Sisters. And it’s marvelously done! Anyone who’s ever had friends — or ever felt left out — will relate.

squeetus.com
leuyenpham.com
firstsecondbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on an advance reader copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting – and had signed by the illustrator with a caricature of me.

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 March, Book Two, by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

Saturday, April 29th, 2017

March, Book Two

written by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin
art by Nate Powell

Top Shelf Productions, 2015. 187 pages.
Starred Review

I’m embarrassed I hadn’t read this book yet. I meant to, but graphic novel isn’t my preferred format, so I didn’t get around to it. But I loved March, Book One. So when March, Book Three, swept the 2017 Youth Media Awards with four wins, and I got a copy signed by John Lewis, I knew I needed to catch up.

This volume continues John Lewis’s story, still framing it against the background of Barack Obama’s inauguration.

In this book, John Lewis joins the Freedom Riders. They face tremendous violence and are arrested many times. Throughout, he remains committed to nonviolence – even in the face of violence. They wouldn’t post bail and give money to a segregationist state, but took the consequences of their actions.

I misspoke in my review of the first book. The “March” of the title is not the March on Washington, but an intended march from Selma to Montgomery to protest for voting rights. They were met at the Edmund Pettus Bridge by Alabama state troopers in a bloody confrontation.

In this second volume, they did cover the March on Washington, where John Lewis was one of the keynote speakers – and the only keynote speaker of that march who is still alive.

The book ends with the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The violence was escalating.

I like the way Barack Obama’s speech is quoted before the bombing is shown. “Mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.” Some of the sacrifices weren’t so long ago.

This isn’t ancient history, but so far, these events happened before my birth. I appreciate having the story laid out for me. It’s moving to see what peaceful, nonviolent protest can accomplish.

A timely message.

topshelfcomix.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?