Sy Montgomery is a master of nonfiction and research for her books has taken her all over the world from the Australian outback to the cloud forests of Papua New Guinea. Along the way she has learned transformative lessons from the animals she has encountered. Some close to home, like her beloved dogs and pig, and some far away like tree kangaroos and tarantulas. Through these animals, Montgomery tells us the story of her life and how all lives are connected. She shares these poignant stories with the reader so that they can become better creatures and take care of each other and all animals on this planet we share. Highly readable and strongly recommended for animal lovers, but keep the tissues handy.
How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery
Ona Judge was born into slavery, the property of George and Martha Washington. Her mother was an enslaved seamstress owned by Martha Washington and her father was a white indentured servant who would eventually leave them both behind. When she was twenty two, Martha decided to give Ona to her granddaughter as a wedding gift, tearing Ona away from her family and putting her at the mercy of people Ona knew to be cruel. Before she could be handed over like a piece of china, Ona took matters into her own hands and boldy planned her escape.
"Like her mother, Betty, Ona learned how to persevere in the face of extreme hardship. Like her father, Ona would eventually free herself no matter who she left behind. Finally, like America itself, Ona would risk everything so that she, too, could achieve those rights written in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
This is a much-needed perspective on American history, and I'm so glad that it came out in an edition for young readers. While the subject matter is by nature difficult, it is accessible and told in an engaging style. I strongly recommend it.
Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar & Kathleen Van Cleve Erica's Picks 5th - 8th tags: biography, history, nonfiction, people of color
Rex is looking forward to his first day of 6th grade. He prepares with a checklist to make sure he's ready for anything. But he isn't counting on getting a black eye the night before. Now all his new teachers think he's trouble. At lunch he's even more mortified when he has to yell that he's in the free lunch program to get the lunch lady to hear him. Now the whole school knows his mom can't afford to pay for his lunch. It's hard to imagine that his life could get any worse, until it does.
This memoir depicts the author's childhood experiences with poverty and abuse. There are some bright spots like friendships, a loving grandmother, and a love of comics. Rex Ogle actually grew up to work in the comic book industry. A moving, and powerful story.
Free Lunch by Rex Ogle 5th - 8th Tags: biography, family life, mental illness, nonfiction, SEL
Born in the Great Depression to two Deaf parents, Myron's native tongue is American Sign Language. As he grows up, he navigates his role as translator for his parents to the hearing world. Along the way there's emergency hospital trips, neighborhood bullies, gatherings at the beach, and landmark events. Myron's life is at turns ordinary and extraordinary but it's always fascinating.
I loved reading details about life in the 30's and 40's through the eyes of a child. The peeks into Deaf culture were great and the way Uhlberg describes the signs beautiful. My favorite parts were just reading about every day life in the past.
iNelle has lived in Monroeville, Alabama her whole life, so she knows how people there expect her to behave. But she's never felt comfortable in the frills and dresses other girls wear and would much rather climb trees or play with her slingshot than stay clean indoors. Tru is staying with relatives when he comes to town. With his fancy, big city fashions and high voice he is instantly marked as an outsider. The impeccably dressed boy and tom-boy find something in common in their love of Sherlock Holmes. Before long their pretend game of Sherlock and Watson turns into a real investigation when someone is falsely accused of a crime.
This book, based on the real-life friendship of Truman Capote and Harper Lee, contains so many gems that it's hard for a brief description to do it justice. Tru and Nelle (as they were called as children) instantly bond over their outsider status. They investigate cases while pretending to be Sherlock and Watson, hang out at the court house, write stories, and put on a memorable Halloween party. The book doesn't gloss over anything and racial prejudices, the Klan, depression, and abuse are all mentioned. These details help create an authentic sense of place. The book takes its structure from Capote and consists of a novel with a set of related short stories afterwards. Even those unfamiliar with Capote and Lee will be drawn into this story and find them easy to relate to as outsiders.
Tue & Nelle by G. Neri
Erica's Picks 4th & up Tags: biography, character driven, family life, friendship, historical fiction, issues fiction, LGBTQ, mystery, social justice, summer vacation
A city of millions cut off from the rest of the world and left to starve. People killing for ration cards, which provide a mere 125 grams of bread made with sawdust mixed in to the flour. Desperate people resorting to cannibalizing the plentiful corpses lining the street. It sounds like the premise for a YA dystopian novel, but it really happened. In 1941 Nazi forces blockaded the city of Leningrad in a siege that would last two and a half years and result in the deaths of over a million people. One of the people trapped in the city was composer Dmitri Shostakovitch. When he escaped the city, he wrote a symphony that would commemorate those lost and give hope to those still trapped. This is his true story.
This thick, nonfiction tome should have taken me ages to slog through, but instead I tore through it like it was the latest sci-fi thriller. The story is at turns moving, disturbing, and triumphant. It is a prime example of the power of narrative nonfiction.
Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
Erica's Picks 8th & up Tags: biography, dystopian, global perspectives, history, nonfiction
When Hitler invaded Denmark, the adults reluctantly accepted the occupation, too terrified of the overwhelming Nazi forces to fight back. But teenagers rose up to spark a resistance. Knud Pedersen founded the Churchill club with other students and together they started to sabotage the occupying Nazi forces. When the members were finally caught and it was revealed that the brave resistance fighters were teens, it sparked the Dutch resistance among adults. Read the history of the Churchill Club in their own words in this thrilling nonfiction account.
This is an inspiring true story of teenagers organizing themselves in a fight against overwhelming evil. The book is meticulously researched and quotes extensively from interviews the author conducted. A great choice for narrative nonfiction.
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose
Erica's Picks 7th & up Tags: biography, history, nonfiction
Danza! tells the story of Amalia Hernandez, the founder of El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. She drew from local dance traditions throughout Mexico and combined them with ballet and modern techniques to create spectacular performances. The costumes are inspired by local tradition and when the company tours it takes more than three tons of costumes with it! Tonatiuh captures these beautifully by combining digital collage with his hand-drawn illustrations. I love this mixed-media approach which uses photographs to fill in fabric, hair, and other materials and adds a wonderful texture. Amalia's life and the spread of Mexian folkloric dance is an inspiring tale. I'm lucky enough to have seen the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico perform and recommend that you do too, but first read this book!
Reading comforts me. I find magazines in trash piles. Reading leads to writing. I find poetry in tomato fields, and stories in the faces of weary workers.
-from "Tomas Rivera" by Margarita Engle
This gorgeous collection of poetry highlights many lesser-known figures from artists to activists. The poems are short but inspiring and made me want to learn more about the people described. It would be a great class share, especially with the full-page mixed media illustrations that could each make beautiful posters on their own. Brief additional biographical information is included in the back, but you will probably want to do more research on your own after reading.
Bravo!: Poems about amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle; illustrated by Rafael Lopez
A Change of Heart By Alice Walsh Growing up in the 1930s in Georgia, young African American Lanier Phillips lived in fear of the Ku Klux Klan. When he grew up, Phillips joined the Navy looking for a more just atmosphere. Instead he faced more racism and discrimination as the black sailors were made to do menial tasks. Tragedy took no note of skin color when the USS Truxtun was shipwrecked off the coast of Newfoundland with few survivors. Phillips was the only black man rescued and taken into the home of good Samaritans. Never having seen a black man, they thought that the oil from the ship had seeped into his pores. When he tells them that his skin is that color he expects their treatment of him to change. The community’s kindness and care remain constant and their affirmation of his humanity changes his outlook on life forever. He says, “I was wounded in mind and soul, but I was healed in St. Lawrence, Newfoundland .” He went on to march for civil rights with Martin Luther King, Jr. This remarkable true story celebrates the healing power of love and kindness.
Tessa's Picks, 2nd-5th grade, Biography, History, People if Color, Social Justice