The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West

July 6, 2009

trouble

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a book for nonfiction Monday, but here you go…

Celebrated author Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, comes to life in this fascinating biography.  Newbery medalist Sid Fleischman describes Twain’s child- and adulthood adventures, showing readers how Twain began his writing career and offering insight on how much of Twain’s writing was based on people he knew or experiences he had.  We are introduced to the real-life inspiration for Huckleberry Finn, learn where the celebrated jumping frog was discovered, and share his experience roughing it to the West.  The biography includes occasional photographs, drawings, and newspaper clippings to supplement Twain’s adventures.  As the book’s title (The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West) indicates, emphasis is placed on Twain’s adventures in the Wild West, but his childhood, time on the Mississippi River, and time as a husband and father are also covered at varying extents.  With so much biographical material, readers will really discover who both Samuel Clemens, the subject of the first half of the book, and Mark Twain, the subject of the second half, were.  Assisting the book to become even more interesting is Fleishman’s eloquent and witty writing that truly echoes Twain’s own.  The Trouble Begins at 8 is a great book for anyone reading Twain’s works and wanting to know more about the author.

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48 Hour Book Contest

June 8, 2009

48hbcOver the weekend I participated in the 48 Hour Book Contest hosted by MotherReader.  If you haven’t heard of it, the basic idea is to read as much as you can or want to over a consecutive 48 hour period.  Time you blog about your process or the books you’ve read also counts toward your time.  This year socializing – time you spent reading other participating blogs, commenting, or twittering – was also allowed to add into your time.  My friends and I decided to participate together at NerdGirlBlogging, the blog we share, so head over there if you want to see our posts.

I ended up with a grand total of 15 hours, 30 minutes and 1162 pages.  It was a great experience, and I got to read & hear about a lot of great books.  These are the books I read.

specialsSpecials by Scott Westerfeld

This is the third book in the Uglies series, published in 2006.  It has quite a bit of action in it, especially toward the end.  I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I had Uglies.  Probably because then the series and concept of the books were still new to me.  I  see Specials as the final act of the UgliesPrettiesSpecials trilogy.  However, there is a fourth book called Extras, but Tally is not the main character.  I wasn’t planning on reading it, but I’ve been told by others that they really enjoyed it, so maybe I’ll pick it up after a little break from the series.  I would definitely recommend Uglies to any YA reader, and you can read my review of that book here.

drums20girlsDrums, Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

This is a really great story from 2004 about Steven, a geeky 8th grader trying to deal with school,  a girl who doesn’t know he exists, and an annoying five-year-old brother, Jeffrey, all while finding time to get better on the drums.  Steven’s year quickly goes downhill when he learns that Jeffrey has lukemia.  Written in first person, Drums really gives us a feel for what Steven and his family are going through.  It has a lot of really sweet, sad, funny, angry, and quirky moments, and I cannot recommend it enough.

devilishDevilish by Maureen Johnson

This was my first Maureen Johnson book, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  It turned out to be a fairly quick read with supernatural elements.  Jane attends an all-girl prep school with her best friend Allison, who has somewhat of an inferiority complex.  Allison changes drastically when new girl Lanalee arrives at school, suddenly owning expensive things, dying and cutting her hair, and stealing Jane’s ex-boyfriend.  Jane soon discovers Allison has sold her soul to Lanalee, a devil-in-training who also wants Jane’s soul.  I enjoyed the character of Jane; she’s intelligent, witty, and fiercely loyal and protective of her best friend.  Devilish is a pretty light read, though it does have some slightly graphic descriptions at times, so I would recommend it to older readers who like out-of-the-norm supernatural books.

savvySavvy by Ingrid Law

This 2008 book has won numerous honors, including 2009 Newbery Honor and ALA Notable Book for Children 2009.  Main character Mibs is about to turn 13.  A big deal for anyone, yet in her family, turning 13 means you get your savvy — a special talent.  Mibs’ oldest brother creates electricity and another brother can cause hurricanes.  Two days before her birthday, Mibs’ father is in a bad car accident.  Mibs KNOWS her savvy is to wake him up, so she, her older brother Fish, her younger brother Samson, and the preacher’s kids Will & Bobbi embark on an adventure.  Along her journey, Mibs learns a lot about herself, her family, and growing up.  This was a fantastic story with great characters and an exciting adventure.  Highly recommended!  I’m looking forward to more from Ingrid Law.

lincolnsThe Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming

I have only read the first two chapters of this massive book so far, but I’m enjoying it.  It’s a nice book to pick up every now and then to supplement reading typical chapter books.  I love the scrapbook feel, with the pictures and various chunks of text.  It’s such a great way to learn about two important figures in history and what living in their time was like.  I’m looking forward to finishing the book and learning more, but I can already see why it’s so popular and has earned so many praise.  A great book for a variety of ages!

masterpieceMasterpiece by Elise Broach

I’m still working my way through this chapter book too, but so far it’s very enjoyable.  Published in 2008, Masterpiece is the story of Marvin, a beetle who lives in a NYC apartment with a human family, including 10-year-old James.  Of course, the humans don’t know they are there, until one day when Marvin goes into James’ room to leave a birthday present and ends up creating a beautiful ink picture.  When James awakes and sees the picture, he’s amazed and even more surprised when Marvin reveals himself as the artist.  I love that the book is from the perspective of a tiny beetle.  I can’t to find out how Masterpiece ends.


The Most Fantastic Atlas of the Whole Wide World

April 20, 2009

atlasA friend once told me that a great place to learn about something is to start with children’s books.  This non-fiction picture book illustrated by Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar and written by Simon Adams is a GREAT place to learn about Earth, world culture, and geography.  It’s jam-packed with information – from the solar system to weather to oceans to people to Earth’s structure and surface.  Alternated between these more general topics are fold-out pages of each continent.  Individual countries and their capitals are clearly labeled, and significant geographical features are mentioned in the margins.  When the pages are unfolded, the four-page spread goes into more detail on the countries that make up the continent, providing facts on history, architecture, and culture.

Each page is fully illustrated and has several sections begging to be observed.  At times there almost seems to be too much information for one read-through.  It is, however, perfect for reading again and again.  The sixth time through readers will surely see something they had missed before – even if it’s the clever quips the little Brainwaves have to say on each page that parents will love.  The Most Fantastic Atlas of the Whole Wide World is more entertaining than the Eyewitness non-fiction books, and I highly recommend it!


Abe’s Honest Words

April 13, 2009

abeshonestwordsAbe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln is the second picture book by Doreen Rappaport that I have reviewed on this blog, the first being Martin’s Big Words.  As good as that one was, I think the Lincoln biography is even better.   This one, unlike the last one, is illustrated by Kadir Nelson.  The pictures are beautifully realistic – large and filled with detail.  Rappaport’s words are mixed with quotations from Lincoln.  They’re easily distinguished from one another yet flow perfectly together.

This is a great biography.  While reading it, I felt as if I were listening to a documentary and hearing the narrator speak, offering background, before Lincoln’s own voice came in.  The book goes through a quick rundown of Lincoln’s life.  Although it doesn’t go into many real details, overall it is extremely well done and should definitely be one of the frontrunners in the new batch of books on Lincoln to come out over the past year.  The end of the book offers a timeline of important dates, as well as a suggested bibliography.

For more nonfiction books, check out Nonfiction Monday Round-Up at Abby (the) Librarian!


United Tweets of America

April 6, 2009

unitedtweetsUnited Tweets of America: 50 State Birds, Their Stories, Their Glories by Hudson Talbott is a picture book about (surprise!) the U.S. state birds.  Each state is featured in alphabetical order, and readers may be surprised by some of the birds they find on each page — New Mexico’s state bird is the roadrunner, and the cardinal is the state bird of 7 states!  Besides the state bird, each page offers a few other facts about the state or the bird.

However, although United Tweets of America is definitely informative and interesting for learning about the state birds, it doesn’t offer a lot of good facts about the state – just a few here and there.  If you’re teaching or learning about the state birds, this is a great book, but if you’re more interested in the states themselves, I recommend Our 50 States by Lynne Cheney, which is a great picture book full of information.


The Devil on Trial

March 30, 2009

devilontrialIt’s been awhile since I’ve blogged about a book for Non-fiction Monday.  Recently I read The Devil on Trial: Witches, Anarchists, Atheists, Communists, and Terrorists in America’s Courtrooms by Philip Margulies.  The book covers 5 specific controversial court cases, ranging from 1692 to 2006.  The first described is the Salem Witch Trials. Next up is the Haymarket bomb trial, followed by the Scopes Monkey Trial, and the trials of Alger Hiss and Zacarias Moussaoui.  Each section offers background of the time, what happened, why the trial was significant and controversial, the outcome, and what it means for the present and the future.

The book is well organized and kept my attention more than most non-fiction books I’ve attempted to read.  The large book format and occassional pictures help make the book manageable.  I had varying degrees of knowledge on each of the cases, but after reading about them, I feel pretty informed on all of them.  For example, I knew about the case of evolution vs. creation, in general, but I hadn’t realized that the ACLU searched for someone to raise the issue or that John Scopes was only 24 at the time of the trial.  The Devil on Trial would definitely be great for young adults interested in any of these subjects or on how the justice system works in general, especially in times of controversy when the trials may seem unfair.


Volcano & Earthquake

January 26, 2009

Happy Non-Fiction Monday!  I’m instituting this new theme that’s done a lot on other book-review blogs.  I can’t say there will be one every week, but I’ll try my best.

Lately I have been exploring the Eyewitness books.  They’re full of pictures and brief notes, which makes reading non-fiction much more interesting and easier for me.  (I’m not generally a non-fiction reader.)  Volcano & Earthquake is pretty interesting.  I’ve always been fascinated with earthquakes, so I knew I would probably enjoy this book, but I have to say, I was a little disappointed with it.  The book doesn’t go into too many details because it follows the format of showing a picture and explaining a little bit about it.  So, for example, it shows a picture of Old Faithful and explains that it’s a geyser that erupts every hour.  But it doesn’t tell me WHY this happens so regularly.  (And, darn it, I really want to know.)  I guess maybe these books are just good for giving you a basic introduction and lead you to more in-depth information.

Another problem I had with it is that during the earthquake sections, the book only mentions earthquakes along the Ring of Fire.  Growing up near the New Madrid Seismic Zone, I know there are more fault lines than those.  I also know that in 1811 and 1812 there were three major earthquakes in that area, a giant seismic event that is not mentioned in the book or the timeline at the back.

Even with these two problems for me, I still enjoyed the book and learned a lot…the incredibly quick eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902 that completely decimated Saint-Pierre?  Shocking!  The early seismoscope invented in 132 CE?  Fascinating!  A decent entry into the world of volcanoes and earthquakes.