Friday, July 18, 2014

Spotlight on Nonfiction 2014

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life
by Lois Ehlert

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life is like a mini-presentation Lois Ehlert printed and bound between two 8 ¼ inch-square covers.  With just a sentence or two per page (and an occasional third), Ehlert tells of her childhood, the inspiration for her art and stories, and her process for creating books.

Photographs of her parents, tools, supplies, and workspace, along with her artwork (both in progress and from her books) fill the pages, while notes label the pictures and provide additional detail.  She even shares a few art project ideas that readers can try.  The book’s scrapbook style is perfectly suited to the colorful collage art.

Fans of Lois Ehlert will love learning about her work, and budding artists may be inspired to create collages of their own.

He Has Shot the President!: April 14, 1865: The Day John Wilkes Booth Killed President Lincoln

by Don Brown

He Has Shot the President! is the most recent title in Don Brown’s Actual Times series--a series that

belongs in every library.  These excellent nonfiction books for younger children chronicle significant moments in America’s history such as the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the start of the Revolutionary War, and the discovery that triggered the California gold rush.

He Has Shot the President recounts the events of April 14, 1865--the day John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln, detailing not just the assassination, but also, the larger story of the conspiracy to cripple the Union’s leadership and the ensuing manhunt.

Brown’s use of sharp angles and diagonal lines creates emotion and movement in the watercolor illustrations.  With impeccable pacing and a tightly spun narrative, this book is enough to make a history fan out of anyone.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights 
by Steve Sheinkin

On July 17, 1944, just after 10 p.m., two explosions destroyed the 1200 ft pier at Port Chicago Naval
Magazine in California. 10 million pounds of ammunition packed into a naval ship created an immense bomb, destroying a second docked ship, disintegrating the locomotive and box cars on the pier, and killing 320 men. 202 of those men were black. (65-68)

Although the Navy began accepting black volunteers to train as sailors in 1942, they were strictly segregated, and at Port Chicago, the dangerous job of loading ammunition went only to black sailors. The men were not adequately trained to handle explosives, and white officers sacrificed safety for speed as they raced their divisions to load the most cargo. (47)

When the 328 surviving men from Port Chicago were ordered to return to loading ammunition at Mare Island Naval Shipyard a few weeks after the explosion, over 200 refused. After threats of court-martial, 50 men still refused to load ammunition under the same officers with unchanged conditions. These were charged with mutiny, resulting in the largest mass trial in U.S. Naval history.

Sheinkin is one the best writers of children’s historical nonfiction today. His narratives are engaging, powerful, and eminently readable. This story of 50 men primarily follows Joe Small (the man accused by prosecutors of leading the mutiny), keeping it focused and personal. Brief examples of segregation and racial discrimination endured by servicemen elsewhere give a broader context to the story. And contemporary reports and transcripts, recollections of participants, and photos bring this compelling moment in history to life.

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia
by Candace Fleming

In 1903, 1.5 per cent of the Russian population owned 90 percent of the country’s wealth. (4)  While peasants and factory workers struggled just to get enough food to eat, this small minority enjoyed unparalleled privilege, fabulous wealth, and “an unshakable belief in their own superiority.” (4)  Foremost among these were the Romanovs: Tsar Nicholas who was ill-prepared to lead when he became Russia’s “Little Father” at age 26; Alexandra, his German-born wife, who was aloof and superstitious; the four Grand Duchesses who disappointed the Russian people by being born girls; and the heir, Alexei, who held a deeply-guarded family secret. (24, 31, 45, 55, 58)

Extensive research and first-hand accounts make this story of Russia’s last Imperial Family strikingly personal.  Fleming looks at people and events that were inextricably linked to the Romanovs (Lenin, Rasputin, peasants, factory workers, and World War I), but adroitly contains the details so they never threaten to eclipse her primary subject.  This bigger picture helps readers understand the social and political forces that led to unrest, revolution, and ultimately, the Romanovs’ demise.

This is Candace Fleming at her best.

*Review copy received from publisher.

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