NONFICTION MONDAY: The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

THE FAMILY ROMANOV
Murder, Rebellion & The Fall of Imperial Russia

by Candace Fleming

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-375-86782-8

YA Nonfiction

Source: purchased

All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

“[A] superb history…. In these thrilling, highly readable pages, we meet Rasputin, the shaggy, lecherous mystic…; we visit the gilded ballrooms of the doomed aristocracy; and we pause in the sickroom of little Alexei, the hemophiliac heir who, with his parents and four sisters, would be murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.” —The Wall Street Journal

Here is the tumultuous, heartrending, true story of the Romanovs—at once an intimate portrait of Russia’s last royal family and a gripping account of its undoing. Using captivating photos and compelling first person accounts, award-winning author Candace Fleming (Amelia Lost;The Lincolns) deftly maneuvers between the imperial family’s extravagant lives and the plight of Russia’s poor masses, making this an utterly mesmerizing read as well as a perfect resource for meeting Common Core standards.

“An exhilarating narrative history of a doomed and clueless family and empire.” —Jim Murphy, author of Newbery Honor Books An American Plague and The Great Fire

“For readers who regard history as dull, Fleming’s extraordinary book is proof positive that, on the contrary, it is endlessly fascinating, absorbing as any novel, and the stuff of an altogether memorable reading experience.” —Booklist, Starred

“Marrying the intimate family portrait of Heiligman’s Charles and Emmawith the politics and intrigue of Sheinkin’s Bomb, Fleming has outdone herself with this riveting work of narrative nonfiction that appeals to the imagination as much as the intellect.” —The Horn Book, Starred

REVIEW

I’ve heard about the murder of the Romanov’s, I mean, who hasn’t, what with the Disney movie Anastasia and everything.  But there was a lot I didn’t know.  This book has filled in a lot of the blanks.  There will always be things that aren’t known, but Fleming does an amazing job of making the events leading up to and including the murder of the Romanov’s quite understandable.  The book is divided up into chapters that address both the Romanov’s life before and during the revolution but also takes a look at some of the people behind the revolution, including Vladimir Lenin, who became the first face of Communist Russia (Soviet Union).

It’s not a particularly happy story as it involves great suffering, poor leadership, and a great deal of ignorance. Tsar Nicholas II contributed a great deal to the events that lead up to the revolution by making very poor decisions about how to handle his people’s discontent.  Unfortunately choosing to follow in his father’s brutal steps, Nicholas shut down the rebellion, but only for a time.  Add to that World War I and more suffering and death, and what to the soldiers seemed like an uncaring Tsar only increased the anger and hatred that culminated in the revolution. 

What I found especially interesting were the descriptions of the chaos that created the opening the Bolsheviks needed.  Reading about the last days of the Romanov’s was sad, but it was also sad to think about the tens of thousands of others who died during World War I as well as the civil war between the tsar’s supporters and the Bolsheviks.  It just reminded me that war hurts everyone it touches.  Ironically, even Lenin eventually realized that the Bolsheviks communist vision had failed.  When Lenin died and Stalin took control, Russia ended up with a government even worse than what they had had under the tsar.

A vividly portrayed and eminently readable account of an important and intriguing series of events that we can still learn from today.  Highly recommended.  I heartily agree with the talk about this title as a possible Newbery winner.

Advertisements

Nonfiction Monday: Master of Deceit by Marc Aronson

MASTER OF DECEIT

J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies

by Marc Aronson
Candlewick Press, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7636-5025-4
YA Nonfiction
Grades 9 and up
Source: purchased
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

A fascinating and timely biography of J. Edgar Hoover from a Sibert Medalist.

“King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. . . . You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

Dr. Martin Luther King received this demand in an anonymous letter in 1964. He believed that the letter was telling him to commit suicide. Who wrote this anonymous letter? The FBI. And the man behind it all was J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s first director. In this unsparing exploration of one of the most powerful Americans of the twentieth century, accomplished historian Marc Aronson unmasks the man behind the Bureau- his tangled family history and personal relationships; his own need for secrecy, deceit, and control; and the broad trends in American society that shaped his world. Hoover may have given America the security it wanted, but the secrets he knew gave him— and the Bureau — all the power he wanted. Using photographs, cartoons, movie posters, and FBI transcripts, Master of Deceit gives readers the necessary evidence to make their own conclusions. Here is a book about the twentieth century that blazes with questions and insights about our choices in the twenty-first.

REVIEW

Before reading this book I had heard of J. Edgar Hoover and the control he wielded over the FBI as well as the illegal activities he and his agency engaged in in their pursuit of ‘justice.’  But after reading this book I now have a much better understanding of exactly the sort of things Hoover and the FBI accomplished, both good and bad.  Aronson does a great job of showing that while Hoover went too far in many cases the threats he feared were all too real. As I read this, the question that presented itself to me over and over was, Do the ends justify the means?  In my opinion, the answer is no.  If we use the same methods that our enemies use then we become just like them. But Hoover didn’t agree and it shows in the atmosphere of secrecy and illegal procedures that Hoover created.

One thing that I really liked about Aronson’s presentation was his detailed presentation of the environment in which Hoover lived.  The gangster era, the Depression, World War II, and the anti-Communist era all helped create Hoover and the other men in power.  That does not of course justify the often illegal means they used to get their way or the lives they ruined along the way, it just creates a clearer picture of the time period.

Interestingly enough, Hoover himself generated numerous rumors and secrets that even today don’t have definitive answers. Aronson does not shy away from these issues that would have been very scandalous during Hoover’s time.  This creates a book that presents many issues that would make for some very interesting discussions.  As always, I appreciated the author’s note at the end that explained the approach the author took in researching and presenting his subject.

For more reviews, visit my blog here.

1

Nonfiction Monday: National Geographic Readers

I’ve long enjoyed National Geographic’s books, especially the beautiful photography.  The leveled readers are especially well done.  Today I’m highlighting several Level 3 readers. Level 3 readers are for fluent readers.  These are books that I plan to use with my students to highlight nonfiction text features.  Not only do they have beautiful photographs but the information is interesting and well-presented.  These books work for both learning and pleasure reading.

National Geographic also has a Super Reader Program that encourages students to read, play games, take quizzes, and earn prizes. 

WATER

by Melissa Stewart

National Geographic, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4263-1474-2

Water is all around us; we drink it every day. In this level 3 reader, kids will learn about the water cycle, discovering how rain and snow flow into our lakes, rivers, and oceans, and later evaporate into the sky again. Vivid photography and accessible text make this book an ideal introduction to the science of water.

* * * * * * * *

ANNE FRANK

by Alexandra Zapruder

National Geographic, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4263-1352-3

Anne Frank is one of the first of many National Geographic Readers that highlight important historical figures. This level-3 reader brings an understanding of her historical significance to a whole new audience. Young readers will learn about the brave and tragic life of the young girl whose diary kept while in hiding from Nazis is one of the most important and insightful books of the World War II era. National Geographic Readers: Anne Frank explores not just the diary, but her life and the important role she played in 20th-century history.

* * * * * * * *

ROBOTS

by Melissa Stewart

National Geographic, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4263-1344-8

Discover the coolest robots of today and tomorrow in this colorful, photo-packed book. In this inviting and entertaining format, kids will learn about the science behind these amazing machines. This Level 3 reader is written in an easy-to-grasp style to encourage the scientists of tomorrow!

National Geographic supports K-12 educators with ELA Common Core Resources.
Visit www.natgeoed.org/commoncore for more information. 

* * * * * * * *

MARS

by Elizabeth Carney

National Geographic, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4263-1747-7

Discover the fascinating world of Mars in this colorful book packed with amazing imagery. In this inviting and entertaining format, kids will learn about the newest information on Mars, the Mars Rover, and our ongoing exploration of the Red Planet. This Level 3 reader is written in an easy-to-grasp style to encourage the scientists and explorers of tomorrow!

NONFICTION MONDAY: A World of Her Own by Michael Elsohn Ross

A WORLD OF HER OWN
24 Amazing Women Explorers and Adventurers

by Michael Elsohn Ross
Chicago Review Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-61374-438-3
Source: Publisher for review
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

An inspiration for any young person who loves the outdoors, wildlife, or science, A World of Her Own tells the stories of 24 brave women from different cultures, epochs, and economic backgrounds who have shared similar missions: to meet the physical and mental challenges of exploring the natural world, to protect the environment and native cultures, and to leave a mark in the name of discovery. Among the many bold women profiled are Rosaly Lopes, who worked for NASA and discovered 71 volcanoes on one of Jupiter’s moons; Helen Thayer, the first woman to walk and ski the Magnetic North Pole accompanied by only her dog; Kay Cottee, the first woman to successfully sail nonstop around the world completely unassisted; and Anna Smith Peck, who set the record for the highest climb in the Western Hemisphere at the age of 58. These and other engaging profiles, based on both historical research and firsthand interviews, stress how childhood passions and interests, perseverance, and courage led these women to overcome challenges and break barriers to achieve great success in their adventurous pursuits and careers. A bibliography and annotated list of exploration resources and organizations make this an invaluable resource for young explorers, parents, and teachers alike.

REVIEW

A fascinating account of the lives of 24 women who worked hard to achieve their dreams despite the challenges they faced. Basically this is a collection of 24 short biographies. The amount of text makes these most appropriate for advanced high school readers who like stories about real people. It’s thanks to women like these that a lot of opportunities have opened up for women in many different fields. These stories focus on women as explorers and adventurers. To be honest, I would have a hard time doing what these ladies did, but I can admire them for their dedication and determination. This book would be great for reports as well as general interest. More photographs and fewer editorial mistakes would have been nice but I still really enjoyed reading about the remarkable accomplishments of these ladies.

For more reviews check out my blog, Geo Librarian.

Nonfiction Monday: More Civil Rights Books

Image

SUPERMAN VERSUS THE KU KLUX KLAN

The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate

by Rick Bowers

National Geographic Children’s Books, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4263-0915-1

MG/YA Nonfiction

Grades 7 and up

Source: purchased

All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

This book tells a group of intertwining stories that culminate in the historic 1947 collision of the Superman Radio Show and the Ku Klux Klan. It is the story of the two Cleveland teenagers who invented Superman as a defender of the little guy and the New York wheeler-dealers who made him a major media force. It is the story Ku Klux Klan’s development from a club to a huge money-making machine powered by the powers of fear and hate and of the folklorist who–along with many other activists– took on the Klan by wielding the power of words. Above all, it tells the story of Superman himself–a modern mythical hero and an embodiment of the cultural reality of his times–from the Great Depression to the present.

REVIEW

I found this a very readable, fascinating account of the creation of Superman and how this fictional superhero was used to fight the Ku Klux Klan.  I’ve heard the story of Superman’s creation before but not in as complete a fashion as is explained here.  It’s an interesting story about two Jewish teenagers growing up during the Great Depression who desperately wanted to join the comics industry.  But neither could ever imagine their creation becoming the phenomenon it did.  Unfortunately for them, they turned the copyright over to DC Comics (normal procedure at the time) and as a result didn’t receive the benefits they should have. But Superman has throughout his history provided not only entertainment but the idea that good can defeat evil, even the real thing.

The Ku Klux Klan may not have started out as an organization of evil but it certainly became one.  What I didn’t know was that it petered out after their extreme acts of violence got out of control.  Reading about the deliberate reincarnation of the organization was a bit sickening, but ironically it seems that the people responsible for its recreation were more interested in money than ideology. Unfortunately, many of those who joined the organization did fully buy into the hate and fear that the organization encouraged and often acted on it, violently.

Seeing these two stories come full circle when the Superman radio show decided to have Superman face an organization that clearly represented the KKK.  This book represents the impact that even a fictional character can have on the history of a nation.  The power of propaganda for good or evil can easily be seen in this story, a story that happens to be true. A great example of the kind of history book that children will want to pick up and read.  There is however a lot of text here, more photos and extras would have been nice.  But the story is compelling enough to make up for that, but reluctant readers will be put off by the amount of text.  A great read though for more advanced readers.

Image

SPIES OF MISSISSIPPI

The True Story of the Spy Network That Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement

by Rick Bowers

National Geographic Children’s Books, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4263-0595-5

MG/YA Nonfiction

Grades 7 and up

Source: purchased

All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

The Spies of Mississippi is a compelling story of how state spies tried to block voting rights for African Americans during the Civil Rights era. This book sheds new light on one of the most momentous periods in American history.

Author Rick Bowers has combed through primary-source materials and interviewed surviving activists named in once-secret files, as well as the writings and oral histories of Mississippi civil rights leaders. Readers get first-hand accounts of how neighbors spied on neighbors, teachers spied on students, ministers spied on church-goers, and spies even spied on spies.

The Spies of Mississippi will inspire readers with the stories of the brave citizens who overcame the forces of white supremacy to usher in a new era of hope and freedom—an age that has recently culminated in the election of Barack Obama.

REVIEW

Fear and hate, two of the most dangerous weapons on the planet.  And boy did the segregationists use them to manipulate the public. Segregationists in Mississippi were so determined to undermine the civil rights movement and the legal decisions that were increasingly turning against them that they set up the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission to combat it.  They recruited spies to check on civil rights workers and anyone they considered a threat.  Generally they tried to use more subtle methods to stop the movement, things such as manipulating jobs, white supremacist organizations, etc.  All to undermine and stop integration.

Bowers shares the stories of men who worked for both sides, those who worked against integration and those who worked for it.  Some of these stories were encouraging and some of them were sad.  It just bothered me what these men were willing to do to preserve their way of life, no matter how distorted.  A powerful example of how much some people hate change and yet how impossible to avoid.   

This is an important book about the dangers of too much power in the hands of a few and how easily it can be misused.  It’s also an important book about the courage of individuals in making a difference despite the sacrifices that are sometimes required.

Image

A MARKED MAN:

The Assassination of Malcolm X

by Matt Doeden

Twenty-First Century Books, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7613-5484-0

MG/YA Nonfiction

Grades 7 and up

Source: publisher giveaway

All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

February 21, 1965. Controversial civil rights leader Malcolm X is gunned down during a speech in Manhattan. Few were shocked by the news of Malcolm X’s death. Since 1952 the former member of the Nation of Islam had supported the Nation’s philosophy of violence as the method to achieve justice for blacks in the United States. But in March 1964, after a major shift in his philosophy, Malcolm changed his message. He no longer agreed with the Nation of Islam and feuded with its leaders. The 39-year-old was shot in public at point-blank range. The news devastated Malcolm’s followers. But other people reacted to his death with relief. Three men were found guilty of the murder. But rumors of conspiracy and cover-up still swirl. In this chronicle of an assassination, find out the answers to these questions and learn more about the impact of Malcolm X’s life, and his death, on civil rights in the United States.

REVIEW

I’ve long had mixed feelings about Malcolm X. On the one hand, the man had a great passion for his cause and he expressed himself powerfully.  But on the other hand, his long expressed ideas about hate for whites and the use of violence to achieve black rights I don’t agree with at all.  Yet I learned some really interesting things reading this book.  The information about Malcolm’s background caused me to empathize with tragedies of his life. His father’s death when he was six, watching his home burn at age four, having his mother committed to an asylum when he was 13 and of course the constant bigotry he faced because he was black.  It wasn’t hard to see what lead Malcolm to hate whites and why the Nation of Islam appealed so much to him while he was in prison.

The irony in all this is that after spending so many years working for and promoting Nation of Islam, his own ideas and passion led him away from it.  A pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia changed some of Malcolm’s extremist views and pointed him toward greater cooperation with the mainstream civil rights movement.  This infuriated Malcolm’s former allies with the Nation of Islam.  He himself expected to be targeted and he was right.  The book explains what is known about the circumstances surrounding the assassination including the questions that remain.  While many suspected the Nation of Islam of being behind it, it was never proven.

What I found so sad was that if greater precautions had been taken, it might have been postponed or not occurred at all.  A well put-together book about a controversial figure from history who left his mark on the world.  The book is beautifully designed with quotes, photographs, a glossary, index, and brief biographies of some of the major players.

2

CIVIL RIGHTS

Today, I have three civil rights related books to share.  I thought it would be appropriate to share them now because the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer murders was just two days ago. I hope that none of us ever forget the sacrifices that have been made to achieve civil rights.

ABOUT THE BOOK

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.

Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1950s comic book “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.” Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations.

REVIEW

This graphic account of John Lewis’s life is very well done. I am assuming this is the first of several volumes about Lewis’s involvement with the Civil Rights Movement.  It starts with Lewis as a Congressman getting ready to leave for Obama’s inauguration.  Visitors arrive and he starts sharing pieces of his life.  A beautiful depiction of the powerful drive that led Lewis and others like him to face serious abuse and persecution in the name of civil rights.  This is a great beginning book for those looking to learn about the civil rights movement and some of those involved in it.

ABOUT THE BOOK

To coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer murders, this will be the first book for young adults to explore the harrowing true story of three civil rights workers slain by the KKK.

In June of 1964, three idealistic young men (one black and two white) were lynched by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi. They were trying to register African Americans to vote as part of the Freedom Summer effort to bring democracy to the South. Their disappearance and murder caused a national uproar and was one of the most significant incidents of the Civil Rights Movement, and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

THE FREEDOM SUMMER MURDERS will be the first book for young people to take a comprehensive look at the brutal murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, through to the conviction in 2005 of mastermind Edgar Ray Killen.

REVIEW

I found this to be a powerfully told story about the Civil Rights era.  During the Freedom Summer of 1964 when several groups were working to obtain voting rights for blacks throughout the south, three young men disappeared.  Mitchell explains the circumstances surrounding their disappearance before giving a brief biography of each of the three young men, two white and one black. Even in death there was great bigotry. The two white young men were shot, the black young man was severely beaten and probably dead before he was shot. The author then shares the events leading to the discovery of their bodies and the trials and memorials connected to their deaths.

This story illustrates in a sickening way the circumstances existing in the South during the 1960s and long before. The sad thing is, that it’s apparent from the get go that if two of the three hadn’t been white, the case would not have drawn the attention that it did.  The KKK did so much harm to so many and yet was so rarely brought to justice.  Once again that is illustrated here.  The main instigator was let go until 2005 when he was finally convicted yet even then he was only convicted of manslaughter rather than murder which it so clearly was.. And many of the others got off with just a few years in prison.

One of the things that stuck with me the most is a statement made by the author, “Many people feel that this country is not yet at the place where the killing of a black mother’s son is as important as the killing of a white mother’s son.  But the United States is closer to that goal than it was in 1964.” (pg. 183)

I hope that we keep moving forward toward the day when as the author says the killing of a black mother’s son is a tragedy equal to the killing of a white mother’s son.

BLACK & WHITE

ABOUT THE BOOK

In the 1950s and early 60s, Birmingham, Alabama, became known as Bombingham. At the center of this violent time in the fight for civil rights, and standing at opposite ends, were Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene Bull Connor. From his pulpit, Shuttlesworth agitated for racial equality, while Commissioner Connor fought for the status quo. Relying on court documents, police and FBI reports, newspapers, interviews, and photographs, the author first covers each man’s life and then brings them together to show how their confrontation brought about significant change to the southern city.

REVIEW

I think the thing that sticks out to me most about this book is the power that one person can have to make a difference for either good or evil. Despite tremendous pressure and attempts on his life, Shuttleworth refused to back down from his efforts to end segregation. He was arrested numerous times, beaten up several times, had his home blown up and he still refused to give in.  Connor on the other hand was just as committed to keeping segregation in place and wasn’t above using his political position to fight for the status quo. In the end though his hatred and violent methods backfired on him.  Shuttleworth’s commitment to the nonviolent approach even in the face of great violence helped win the day.

This is a fascinating comparison of two men who were completely committed to a cause but who used very different methods and the chosen methods ended up determining the end result.  A great example that indeed the end does NOT justify the means.

Be sure to visit my blog for other review, Geo Librarian.

1

Nonfiction Monday: D-Day, The Invasion of Normandy, 1944

D-DAY:

The Invasion of Normandy, 1944

by Rick Atkinson

Henry Holt & Co, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62779-111-3

Grades 7 and up

YA Nonfiction

Source: Purchased copy

All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Adapted for young readers from the #1 New York Times–bestselling The Guns at Last LightD-Day captures the events and the spirit of that day—June 6, 1944—the day that led to the liberation of western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control. They came by sea and by sky to reclaim freedom from the occupying Germans, turning the tide of World War II. Atkinson skillfully guides his younger audience through the events leading up to, and of, the momentous day in this photo-illustrated adaptation. Perfect for history buffs and newcomers to the topic alike!

REVIEW

With the 70th anniversary of D-Day having recently passed, I thought it appropriate to highlight this title this month.  Overall, I thought the book was beautifully designed with plentiful photographs and highly readable text.  I did find one factual error on the caption of one photograph (Teddy Roosevelt Jr. did not establish the Rough Riders during the Spanish American War, his father did), but I’m assuming that will be fixed in coming editions.

The book breaks up the book into several sections: The Plan, The Invasion, Epilogue with a number of appendixes.  The appendixes I found very interesting as they looked at specific aspects of the war, including total numbers of soldiers, approximate number of casualties, weapons used, care of the wounded, etc. The photographs do a nice job breaking up the text so the book is more readable for young adults.

Content-wise, the main events leading up to and including the invasion itself provide for fascinating reading. The quotes from actual participants added a human touch.  The violence and some bad language make this most appropriate for more mature/older readers.

See my other reviews at Geo Librarian.