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Category results for 'nonfiction'.

The Story of Ruby Bridges is a children's book which tells the story of the desegregation of William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. The story focuses primarily on Ruby's bravery, her faith, and her desire to find forgiveness for the mobs of angry people who wanted to stop her from attending the school.

Speaking of the mobs, author Robert Coles does an excellent job of describing the troubles that Ruby faced, at an age-appropriate level for a children's book. He speaks of angry mobs, and shouting, and protest signs, and of people wanting to hurt Ruby, but avoids discussing any of the specifics of the threats she faced. I liked this choice on the author's part, as it gives parents the freedom to discuss the more vicious aspects of the story when they feel it is most appropriate for their own children.

Robert Coles was probably best suited of anyone to write this book, as he was the child psychiatrist who met weekly with Ruby during her first year at Frantz Elementary. His work with Ruby led him, eventually, to write a book titled Children of Crisis: A Study of Courage and Fear, which he eventually developed into a series of books that won for him the Pulitzer Prize in 1973.

Of course, any children's book is dependent not just on the author, but also on the illustrator; an illustrator can make or break a book. In this case, George Ford is an integral part of making this book a success. The illustrations are beautiful, with great use of light, shadow and coloration to draw attention to the focus of the book - Ruby herself. Whether she is sitting alone in a classroom, with her family at church, or dwarfed by an angry mob and the marshals protecting her, it is always Ruby that captures your eye. 

This is a fun and informative series of books that introduces some basic science concepts to children. They are geared toward a range from preschool to third grade, though they can be enjoyed by any age. 

Our favorite of the ones we've read is How Do You Lift a Lion? which introduces simple machines such as the lever, wheel, and pulley. The illustrations are clear and clever, and show how a lion could be lifted if you had enough leverage. We are also shown how to pull a panda on a pallet, and how it could be possible to deliver a big basket of bananas to a baboon birthday party using pulleys. 

Is a Blue Whale The Biggest Thing There Is? is another entry in the series. This shows us progressively bigger things from whales to earth to stars, until we get to the size (or what is known of it) of the whole universe! You definitely feel small after reading this book, and the illlustrations are very amusing at times (such as a crate of "sun-sized oranges" to demonstrate how our sun compares in size to a red supergiant). 

What's Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew? covers the same idea, but getting progressively smaller, from a shrew to a ladybug to protozoa and protons. This one may be harder to wrap one's mind around, but it's a great way to introduce children to the idea that there is a whole kingdom of living organisms that are too small for their eyes to see.

We also enjoy What's Faster Than a Speeding Cheetah? which shows us that there are things that are much faster than a cheetah, such as peregrine falcons, rockets, and meteoroids!

These are the only titles we've read, but there are several others that sound just as interesting, such as Why Do Elephants Need the Sun? and Can You Count to a Googol?



This is one of my favorite Usborne books from my childhood. Well, we actually had it as individual books, and we didn't have the fourth section, so I was even more excited to see a version where they're all together. I don't know whether this was ever used in my schooling or not -- it probably was, but what I remember most is finding it/them on the bookshelf and going back to it over and over again, looking at interesting tidbits. 

In typical Usborne illustrations (lots of detail and explanations), we get to explore history through the lens of four basic issues that everyone has had to find solutions for throughout time (and very different ones, as we see): food, clothes, houses, and transportation. Each section is presented chronologically, from the earliest known people groups, to Egyptians, and Roman, Medieval, and Victorian times, among others, ending with (almost) modern day. It was always fun to compare and contrast the different time periods and find the same time period in each book to get a fuller picture of what life was like.

In 1985, Neil Postman wrote a frightening and prophetic book called "Amusing Ourselves to Death," in which he analyzed the state of public discourse in our country. In fact, he subtitled his book, "Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business."

This book should be required reading for all students before graduating high school.

In his Foreword to the book, Postman explains the difference between Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and George Orwell's "1984," and then he writes, "What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one..." and "This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right."

From there Neil Postman goes on to argue persuasively that we are becoming a society which would rather be entertained than informed, and that more and more the media will pander to our desire for entertainment, until we reach the point that all conversation is "sound bite conversation."

To me, the most extraordinary thing about this book is that Postman wrote it when the internet was in its infancy, and the concept of "social media" hadn't even entered anyone's minds. And yet, everything Postman wrote about in 1985 describes perfectly where we are as a society in 2016. Nobody wants to think deep thoughts or read in-depth analysis of anything. The basic premise of our society is: "If it can't be expressed as a facebook meme," it's not worth considering.

Postman, on the other hand, would probably have argued, "If it can be expressed as a facebook meme, it has been robbed of any surrounding context and is therefore good purely for entertainment."  And even though Postman could not have predicted social media, he predicted the effect it is having on our society: it has become the cornerstone of our hunger for entertainment over understanding.

And it's not just reading, it's also listening. Postman writes about the Lincoln-Douglas debates, in which presidential candidates debated policy for 3 hours straight, took a one hour break for supper, and then continued 3 more hours. And the hall was packed with spectators. Imagine that! People thought it was worth their time to sit and listen to people argue policy for six hours in one day! Today, debates have become circuses in which we're more interested in watching a train-wreck than listening to anything substantive.

It reminds me of a quote which is often (and probably incorrectly) attributed to Mark Twain: "The person who does not read has no advantage over the person who cannot read." We have become a society that can't be bothered to learn, study, read, and understand. And so we are no better than a society that can't do any of those things. 

If you want to gain a better understanding of the migration of blacks from the south to the north and west during the twentieth century, while reading personal stories of those involved in the migration, I highly recommend Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns.

The book can look a bit daunting for people who, when they see the words "non-fiction" expect something dry, pretentiously academic, and tedious. But this book is anything but dry; its narrative will keep your attention from start to finish. Considering the book is 538 pages long (not including acknowledgements, notes, and indices), you'll want to set aside a good block of time for it.

The book follows the lives of three migrants (and their families) from the south: Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster. Each of these people left the south for different reasons, during different decades, and for different areas of the country (Chicago, New York, and California).

Even though the stories of these three people are separated by many years, their stories are told concurrently. Thus, we read about each of the migrants' living situations in the south, then about their reasons for leaving, then their actual exodus, etc. At first glance, I thought I would have a hard time keeping the stories and people straight, because of the way the book jumps from one story to another (and because Ida Mae's husband was named George, giving us two main characters named George!), but actually there was very little confusion; the events of each subject's life were so distinctly different from the others that I had no trouble keeping track of the people involved.

In the spaces between the stories of these three migrants, Wilkerson occasionally elaborates on general conditions in the north, the south, and the west; the advancement of the Civil Rights movement, and other related subjects. She also inserts related stories from other people she interviewed, as they help support the information she provides about the broader social and political picture.

For the most part, Wilkerson is not heavy-handed in her analysis of the events; she lets the characters' stories speak for themselves. The writing style is engaging, and the events are interesting, making this a quick read (for a 500+ page history).

I have read some complaints from other reviewers that by the time she gets through the first part of the book, she begins repeating herself, and the book should have been better edited. It is true that she does occasionally repeat herself, and the sudden repetition of something you've already read can be a bit disconcerting. However, it's good to remember that when she does this, it's typically because she's referring to a "minor character" that she previously mentioned a hundred pages earlier, and she wants to make sure that we remember this person she's talking about. Perhaps there are better ways to refresh our memories than to spend a paragraph recapping what she's told us before about this person, but I considered it to be a minor flaw in the writing.

I'd like to share one of my favorite paragraphs from the book - a paragraph about Ida Mae Brandon Gladney:

"Many years later, people would forget about the quiet successes of everyday people like Ida Mae. In the debates to come over welfare and pathology, America would overlook people like her in its fixation with the underclass, just as a teacher can get distracted by the two or three problem children at the expense of the quiet obedient ones. Few experts trained their sights on the unseen masses of migrants like her, who worked from the moment they arrived, didn't end up on welfare, stayed married because that's what God-fearing people of their generation did whether they were happy or not, and managed to not get strung out on drugs or whiskey or a cast of nameless, no-count men."

This paragraph resonated strongly with me, because it reminds me that still today, we struggle with the same sorts of broad-sweeping generalizations; we see the very worst of a group of people, and then associate that "worst" with every member of the group, without stopping to look clearly and carefully: people who are not Christian like to look at groups like Westboro Baptist and lump all Christians with them; people who are not Muslim like to look at the worst terrorists and assume all Muslims are just like that; irresponsible, right-leaning "news" sites like to look at the worst atrocities perpetrated in the name of "black lives matter" and arbitrarily and illogically call the entire movement a "terrorist organization" or a "hate group."

It seems that nothing has changed.

And now I'll step down from my soap box and say: I highly recommend reading this book, and if you have teen children who are voracious readers, and are prepared for a handful of stories of graphic violence, this book is a great educational tool.  You will learn how the "Great Migration" affected the south, the north, and how it affected the lives of individual people and families along the way.

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