Archive for the ‘Non-Fiction Reads’ Category

The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life

In Middle Grade Book Review, Non-Fiction Reads on February 22, 2017 at 11:41 pm

by Kwame Alexander

Non-Fiction/©2017/Recommended for Middle School

Book Info (Courtesy of Goodreads)

You gotta know the rules to play the game. Ball is life. Take it to the hoop. Soar. What can we imagine for our lives? What if we were the star players, moving and grooving through the game of life? What if we had our own rules of the game to help us get what we want, what we aspire to, what will enrich our lives?

Illustrated with photographs by Thai Neave, The Playbook is intended to provide inspiration on the court of life. Each rule contains wisdom from inspiring athletes and role models such as Nelson Mandela, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Carli Lloyd, Steph Curry and Michelle Obama. Kwame Alexander also provides his own poetic and uplifting words, as he shares stories of overcoming obstacles and winning games in this motivational and inspirational book just right for graduates of any age and anyone needing a little encouragement.

What I Thought:

I enjoyed Crossover and Booked by this author, so I couldn’t wait to read his latest one. It did not disappoint. This is an absolutely visually stunning book with its mixture of pictures and graphics, so it just grabs your full attention from the very beginning. It is not a story told in verse like his other books, but a piece of nonfiction full of short stories and quotes that are truly inspirational and thought provoking. I especially enjoyed reading the short pieces he wrote about himself, as well as the one about LaBron James that gave me a whole new insight into an athlete for whom I had had a very negative opinion. Scattered among these short pieces was a wide selection of great quotes from the likes of Steph Curry, Michael Jorden, and Sonia Sotomayo. It is a quick read, but it packs a punch. I honestly think it could be life changing for many. Great addition for the middle school library, but a worthy read regardless of age.


Undefeated Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

In Middle Grade Book Review, Non-Fiction Reads on January 29, 2017 at 11:03 pm


by Steve Sheinkin

Non-Fiction/©2017/233 pages/Recommended for Middle School and Above

Publisher’s Comments (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Before these men became legends, they met in 1907 at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, where they forged one of the winningest teams in the history of America’s favorite sport. Called “the team that invented football,” Carlisle’s innovative squad challenged the greatest, most elite teams—Harvard, Yale, Army—audaciously vowing to take their place among the nation’s football powers.

This is an astonishing underdog sports story—and more. It’s an unflinching look at the U.S. government’s violent persecution of Native Americans and the school that was designed to erase Indian cultures. It’s the story of a group of young men who came together at that school, the overwhelming obstacles they faced both on and off the field, and their absolute refusal to accept defeat.

My Thoughts:

This is definitely a piece of history that needs to be told, and no one tells it better than Steve Sheinkin. His intended audience is middle school/high school, but it will appeal to adults as well. It is thoroughly researched and brilliantly written, and manages to focus on the inspiring story of Jim Thorpe and the obstacles he and the undefeated Indian football team faced, as well as the evolution of football in America. Equally important, he also included our country’s deplorable treatment of Native Americans. It is a quick read, but it packs a punch.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars


March (Book One, Book Two, Book Three)

In Non-Fiction Reads, YA Book Reviews on August 31, 2016 at 5:42 am

by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, Art by Nate Powell

NonFiction/Graphic Novels©2016/Recommended for 7th Grade and Above

Publisher Info (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.

Book Two: After the success of the Nashville sit-in campaign, John Lewis is more committed than ever to changing the world through nonviolence – but as he and his fellow Freedom Riders board a bus into the vicious heart of the deep south, they will be tested like never before.Faced with beatings, police brutality, imprisonment, arson, and even murder, the young activists of the movement struggle with internal conflicts as well. But their courage will attract the notice of powerful allies, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy… and once Lewis is elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, this 23-year-old will be thrust into the national spotlight, becoming one of the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement and a central figure in the landmark 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Book Three: The third volume continues where the second left off and chronicles the heartbreaking and gut wrenching details of the struggle to assure that every African American secures his/her right to vote.

My Thoughts:

I read all three books in one day. I just could not stop reading. I had my doubts about the suitability of a graphic novel format for such an important subject as the Civil Rights Movement, but those doubts were quickly put to rest. . The graphic art was stunning and will most assuredly attract young adult readers. The incredible story of John Lewis and the Civil Rights Movement will amaze them and pull them in.

The second book in this trilogy is just as powerful as the first. I am amazed at how much information is contained in this graphic novel and how accurately it captures everything that went on at the time.  I grew up while all this was happening, yet there was so much I didn’t know.  In addition to the focus on John Lewis’s part in the Civil Rights Movement, the author also shines the light on so many others who likewise made significant contributions. They all most assuredly deserve the recognition for what they did.

The final book in the series just took my breath away. It captured every important event and recognized many of the individuals who put their lives on the line to help secure the right to vote for every African American. So many people showed such courage and conviction – awe inspiring beyond words.

This truly eye-opening and thought provoking series fully deserves to be widely read and not just by the target audience of young adults.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Companion Books:

Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy Book 2) by Deborah Wiles

We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson


Dead Wake

In My Book Club Books, Non-Fiction Reads on May 16, 2016 at 3:30 am


 by Erik Larson

Book Description (Courtesy of Goodreads):

On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love.

Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.

My Thoughts:

I had basic knowledge of the Lusitania disaster, but this book gave me a much better understanding of the times and the circumstances, as well as clarifying some of the details that I had misconstrued. For some reason, I was under the impression that the sinking of the Lusitania  immediately  pulled the hesitant US into WW I. Actually, it was more like two years. That pretty much characterizes what I knew about World War I, which, quite frankly, wasn’t much. That was one of the reasons I was looking forward to reading this book. It was full of historical details, yet it was not dry and boring. Mr. Larson made it come alive with real people from all sides of the story. For a non-fiction book, it was amazingly engaging.

Book Club Discussion:

This is the third book by Erik Larson that our book club has read and discussed together. We never fail to be amazed by his ability to integrate the historical details into a well told story with significant information about the very real people who lived through it.

As with his other books, we were all impressed with the depth of the author’s research and attention to historical details. Most felt that the book started off slowly, but we all appreciated how masterfully he introduced the passengers and how he included so many critical details that most of us had not been previously aware of. Some of those details about the actual people was sometimes a lot to take in, and, on more than one occasion, brought us to tears.

One member commented on the organization of the book, with one chapter about what was happening on the passenger liner and the alternate chapter about what was happening on the submarine. It was extremely interesting to get the view from both sides, and it was absolutely fascinating to find out so much detail about life on those submarines.

One member noted that the author spent a lot of time on President Wilson’s love relationship. That opened up a discussion about his actions (or inactions) during this time period. President Wilson did not fare well in our discussion, and we all agreed that we came away thinking less of him. But what really shocked all of us was how much the English knew of the dangers to the Lusitania and how little they did to intervene at any point – including the rescue. Clearly they were intent on pushing America into the war. That led to a deep discussion on the impact that might have had on ending the war earlier and reducing the terrible loss of life.

All in all, a highly informative read. One member noted that this outstanding synthesis of the the author’s tremendous amount of research makes the price of the book an absolute bargain!

*The paperback version has a Readers Guide, a conversation with the the author, and an essay from the author about writing.

Book Club Rating: 4+/5 Stars

Book Club Menu

English Tea

An Assortment of Tea Sandwiches


Cranberry Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Carrot Cake Tea Sandwiches

Black Forest Ham and Cheese Spirals

Nut Bread and Cream Cheese Sandwiches

Cheese and Onion Canapés

Irish Current Scones

Strawberry Preserves, Clotted Cream and Lemon Curd

Assorted Sweets

Lemon And Gingerbread

Brownie Bites

Served with Assorted Murchie’s Teas
Government Blend


Eyes WIDE Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines

In Non-Fiction Reads, YA Book Reviews on July 16, 2015 at 2:24 am


 by Paul Fleischmann

YA Non-Fiction/©2014/208 Pages/Recommended for Ages 12+

Publisher’s Blurb (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Paul Fleischman offers teens an environmental wake-up call and a tool kit for decoding the barrage of conflicting information confronting them.

We’re living in an Ah-Ha moment. Take 250 years of human ingenuity. Add abundant fossil fuels. The result: a population and lifestyle never before seen. The downsides weren’t visible for centuries, but now they are. Suddenly everything needs rethinking – suburbs, cars, fast food, cheap prices. It’s a changed world.

This book explains it. Not with isolated facts, but the principles driving attitudes and events, from vested interests to denial to big-country syndrome. Because money is as important as molecules in the environment, science is joined with politics, history, and psychology to provide the briefing needed to comprehend the 21st century.

Extensive back matter, including a glossary, bibliography, and index, as well as numerous references to websites, provides further resources.

My Thoughts:

What an incredible book! Paul Fleischmann clearly did extensive research on the topic of climate change and managed to explain it in a clear, straight forward  way that seeks to inform, not alarm. The layout of the book is visually appealing and engaging, full of references for a reader who has been inspired to pursue more information on his own. While this book is aimed at middle and high school students, adults who are looking for more clarity on the subject would also benefit from reading this book. He provides an incredible list of suggested resources at the end, as well as a great section on “How to Weigh Information”. For a nation that seems mostly to rely on sound bites, this is an invaluable resource for us all.

My Rating: 5/5

Other Thoughts and Resources:

Interview with the Author

Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience

In My Book Club Books, My Favorites, Non-Fiction Reads on October 13, 2014 at 8:51 pm


 Compiled by Shaun Usher


Publisher’s Comments (Goodreads):

This spectacular collection of more than 125 letters offers a never-before-seen glimpse of the events and people of history—the brightest and best, the most notorious, and the endearingly everyday. Entries include a transcript of the letter; a short contextual introduction; and, in 100 cases, a captivating facsimile of the letter itself. The artfulness of Shaun Usher’s eclectic arrangement creates a reading experience rich in discovery. Mordant, hilarious, poignant, enlightening—surprise rewards each turn of the page. Colorfully illustrated with photographs, portraits, and relevant artworks, this handsome hardcover is a visual treat too, making Letters of Note an utterly distinctive gift, and an instant classic.

My Comments:

This book is, indeed, an Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience. Each letter touched and enlightened me in some way. A few of the ones that especially stand out for me include Bill Hicks on Freedom of Speech, the two letters from former slaves to their former masters, Jackie Robinson’s letter to President Eisenhower, Alabama attorney-general Bill Baxley’s 1976 response, on official headed paper, to a white supremacist’s threats (“Kiss my ass”), Dr. Ernest Shuhlinger’s response to a question about why we explore space, JFK’s correspondence carved on a coconut shell to the Allied Forces letting them know he and his men were alive, and Francis Crick’s letter to his 12-year-old son Michael explaining, with illustrations, his joint discovery of the “very beautiful” structure of DNA. There are more, and each one is well worth reading. The book’s size and content make it the ultimate coffee table book, where the letters can be conveniently read or constantly re-read and enjoyed. I found this to be an absolutely fascinating read.

Book Club Discussion:

Our discussion started with one member stating that she thought this book was the best book she has ever read for our book club. That was high praise, indeed, and a great start to a great discussion! We all took turns talking about the different letters that spoke to us, and those included most of the ones that I mentioned above. Additional letters that were singled out for discussion included the two letters written to the London Times regarding the man known as The Elephant Man (such empathy and compassion for a fellow human being!), the Kurt Vonnegut letter to one of the school boards that banned his book Slaughterhouse Five, the letter written by Ernest Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald, a young boy’s letter to Frank Lloyd Wright asking him to design a dog house for his dog, the letter of condolence written to the aunt and uncle who had raised James Dean, and Einstein’s response to a sixth-grader who had asked him if scientists pray. There was just one letter after another, each one meriting the spotlight.

We also agreed that Shaun Usher did an amazing job compiling this collection. It is truly a work of art, with each letter getting an introduction with a short descriptor piece giving invaluable background and context to the letter. Each entry also contained the formal transcript of the letter itself, and, in most cases, the copy of the actual letter, as well as an additional photo or illustration that added the perfect extra touch. It is an absolutely visually stunning book, as well as an absolutely stunning reading experience.

Our Rating: 5/5


Menu – Book Club Luncheon – October 12, 2014
Eclectic Collection of My Favorite Recipes Deserving of A Wider Audience

Sunday October 18

Eclectic Collection of Cheeses

Autumn Chopped Salad

Caramelized Onion Quiche

Apple Crepes


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

In Non-Fiction Reads, YA Book Reviews on March 18, 2014 at 6:00 pm


by Steve Sheinkin

Non-Fiction/©2014/170 pages/Recommended for 7th Grade and Above

Publisher’s Intro (Goodreads):

An astonishing civil rights story from Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin. 
On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California, killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, critically injuring off-duty men in their bunks, and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9th, 244 men refused to go back to work until unsafe and unfair conditions at the docks were addressed. When the dust settled, fifty were charged with mutiny, facing decades in jail and even execution. This is a fascinating story of the prejudice that faced black men and women in America’s armed forces during World War II, and a nuanced look at those who gave their lives in service of a country where they lacked the most basic rights.

My Thoughts:

I think Steve Sheinkin is my new favorite author. I read his last award winning book, BOMB: THE RACE TO BUILD – AND STEAL – THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON, and I was so impressed with how he made it read like a political thriller. I could not put it down. Despite the fact that his target audience is basically 7th -9th grade, his writing is equally appreciated by readers of any age. That book was well researched and well written, and I was amazed about how much I did not know about that issue.

When his latest book came out, I couldn’t wait to read it. I knew about the Port Chicago disaster, as I should, since I it is practically in my backyard. However, I had absolutely no idea about what had happened immediately after and the critical part it played in the fight for civil rights. This book rocked my world. Steve Sheinkin did an amazing job in terms of researching and writing about this little known event. What those 50 men did and what they stood up for deserves every bit as much credit as what Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., did just a few years later.  I hope this book gets the widespread attention and recognition it so richly deserves. Perhaps it will even spur the action necessary to get justice and exoneration for the Port Chicago 50.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Other Reviews: