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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The Lightning Thief

June 12, 2009

lightningthief1Another series that I picked up later than I should have is Rick Riordan‘s Percy Jackson & the Olympians.  I knew it had won awards and praise from pretty much everywhere, but I think maybe I expected it to be a little bit too much of a boy book for me.  I was so wrong!

If you haven’t read the series yet, book 1 is called The Lightning Thief.  Percy Jackson is a 12-year-old boy who tends to get in a lot of trouble.  He’s been in numerous boarding schools already, and he’s about to get kicked out of another one.  Percy eventually learns that he is a half-blood:  His mother is mortal, but his father is one of the Greek gods.  He sets out on a quest to help his father, knowing that he may not return alive.

The Lightning Thief was really enjoyable.  It has a lot of the same elements as Harry Potter – boy hero finding out something about himself that allows him to enter into a new world, heading off on a quest still learning about this new world, and he even has two sidekick friends- Grover, a satyr who also serves as Percy’s keeper; and Annabeth, another half-blood.  True, Harry Potter also had references to Greek mythology, but it didn’t rely on it as heavily as Percy Jackson, nor did it make Greek mythology as interesting.  Several times while reading I stopped to find more information on an important figure.  Rick Riordan deserves a lot of credit for making the subject so interesting.  Another thing that I think is great about this book is that it may help kids with dyslexia and ADHD feel less self-conscious.  Percy and the other half-bloods do too as it’s a sign of being a demi-god.  The book had a lot of adventure, mystery, action, and humor.  I highly recommend it, especially to Harry Potter fans.  I will definitely be reading the rest of the series!


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.


Prairie Town

March 11, 2009

prairieBonnie Geisert has written four picture books based on various types of towns in the United States.  Each one was illustrated by her husband Arthur Geisert.  The first, published in 1998, is Prairie Town.  Next came River Town, which was followed by Mountain Town and Desert Town.

riverAlthough I haven’t read Desert Town yet, I expect it to have the same style as the others.  In each one, Geisert uses simple narration to describe the town over the course of a year and explain how the seasons affect it and the people living there.  Her husband’s birds’-eye-view illustrations make readers feel they are silent, secret observers.

mountainThese books are great for depicting towns and people across the United States.  They are realistic examples of specific parts of America.  Although they’d be great for geography lessons, these books work best in one-on-one reading.  The details in the pictures are best seen up close.  With so much detail in the pictures, however, the story is new every time it’s read.

desertAt the end of each book, Geisert also includes a note to mention events that happened throughout the year (a wedding, carnival, dedication, etc.) that the reader may have missed.  It’s fun to go back through the pages of the story to find evidence of those events in the town.  These are definite reads for anyone interested in small towns across the country.