Skip to main content

Nonfiction

My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs by Brian Switek

Posted in
My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs by Brian Switek

Last November, the library hosted a Paleo Preschool program with the St. Louis Science Center, before which I had a conversation with the scientist who came to present the program. During this time, she recommended My Beloved Brontosaurus, dino non-fiction for adults, updating all the old facts we've come to hold near and dear to our hearts for all these years. I finally requested it, and wow! Is it great!

Self-proclaimed "fossil fanatic" and amateur paleontologist Brian Switek gives us the low-down on the dinosaurs we love and new scientific discoveries, many of which bust a lot of myths we've come to believe. In here you'll find out how dinos may have been much more colorful, befeathered, and melodic than how they're represented in pop culture. Switek, a regular contributor to many renowned publications like Scientific American and National Geographic, is incredibly accessible, referencing movies and making jokes the whole way--from how stegosauruses had sex to the the demise of the titular beloved brontosaurus. I checked this out on audio--a fabulous listen, read by the author--which needs to be accessed through interlibrary loan if you'd prefer to listen to it, but don't miss the hardcover for all the pictures!

Number of Pages: 
256

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Posted in
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me is a short yet weighty book. Written as a letter to his 15 year old son (Baldwin's The Fire Next Time used the device first but was addressed to the author's nephew) Coates relates his personal struggles with racism in America. We recently read this book for our Brentwood Book Club and I think we could have devoted several meetings to this one selection because there is so much on offer. Coates's descriptions of the "body" are particularly revealing. He relates what it means to walk around as a black man in America. Specifically in Baltimore where he grew up. What it means to feel and live with fear in your body as some of your first remembrances. It's relatable to me as a woman. I wasn't expecting to gather feminist feelings from this reading and yet I did. I feel that this book is a departure from the prescriptive viewpoint in books talking about race and racism in our society. Coates is presenting a struggle that is omnipresent. You are supposed to wrestle with this book, not take it as a cure for what ails us. So don't look for answers in this book, but be prepared to carry it around with you for awhile after finishing. The best kind of book, yes?

Number of Pages: 
152

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh

In 1989, Sudhir Venkatesh, a first-year sociology grad student, wanders into the projects wondering if he might be able to get a glimpse of what life is like for the underserved and unserved populations of Chicago. He manages to get in good with a leader of the "Black Kings" (the gang's name was changed for the book) and winds up spending the next seven years grappling with the political and economic structure within the Robert Taylor homes.

Gang Leader for a Day introduces readers to the complexity of urban poverty, a multifaceted institution that leaves more gray area than black-and-white. Venkatesh's naivete throughout his studies allowed him a certain level of intimacy that journalists often don't find, though it also frequently compromised the well-being of the residents as well as Venkatesh himself. Recommended for a gritty, eye-opening read.

Number of Pages: 
302

I'm Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton

I'm Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton

What do you want to do when you see a spider? Cuddle it? Pet it? Smash it to pieces? Spiders may look scary, and sometimes you may hear scary stories about them, but did you know that spiders are really neat animals? Even when spiders are venomous, so few can even bite humans and fewer will harm you. This is a fun book on a sometimes-scary topic. It's full of splotches and bugs (and burritos and Wanted signs...) and interesting facts that will make you consider trying to love spiders.

Number of Pages: 
40

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

"As incandescent as was her personality, Cleopatra was every bit Caesar's equal as a coolheaded, clear-eyed pragmatist, though what passed on his part as strategy would be remembered on hers as manipulation."

This quote gives you a little perspective on this updated biography of Cleopatra. Cleopatra stands as one of the most powerful women in history. She was the last Ptolemaic pharoah; an intellectual; a keen strategist; and proved a successful and just ruler for much of her reign. Yet, as a strong woman, she challenged the patriarchal structure of the budding Roman Empire, and as such, history has stripped her of most of her agency and achievements--we are left with the popular image of her witchy social graces and how her lust took down both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

Stacy Schiff looks at Cleopatra's life and career as a whole, not just her sexual conquests. It is a biased biography, to be sure (as is most non-fiction I've read), but when one of the most powerful women in history has been reduced to the destruction caused by her lust, it's easy to see how biased other historians have been as well. Whether or not you reach the end of this riveting biography with a greater and more well-rounded appreciation for Cleopatra, you'll for sure begin to question the motives behind those in charge of relating history--past, present, and future. Anyone with an interest in the Hellenistic Era and Roman Empire will enjoy the drama set forth here as well.

I was hooked by this book, and the audio is excellent if you want to take a listen.

Number of Pages: 
368

Grandmother Fish: A Child's First Book of Evolution by Jonathan Tweet; ill. by Karen Lewis

Grandmother Fish: A Child's First Book of Evolution by Jonathan Tweet; ill. by Karen Lewis

Grandmother Fish is a fantastic introduction to evolution that children can grasp. Jonathan Tweet introduces the reader to different familiar animals, asking for participation in the animals' actions, and diagramming how that animal evolved into its more recent relatives. The colorful pictures are bright and simple, and a bunch of extra evolution facts are provided at the end. This is a terrific, accessible book for young children to look into a large topic.

Number of Pages: 
40

The Trainable Cat: A Practical Guide To Making Life Happier For You and Your Cat by Sarah Ellis and John Bradshaw

The Trainable Cat: A Practical Guide To Making Life Happier For You and Your Cat by Sarah Ellis and John Bradshaw

The Trainable Cat is an interesting mixture of training guide and scientific descriptions of how your cat's brain works. This combination helps to understand why certain training methods work, whereas traditional training methods used on dogs are less effective on cats. I found certain parts very helpful, having started with dogs and not knowing much about cats when I ended up with one. That being said, it's a pretty hefty book of cat psychology to read straight through. Luckily, each chapter works independently, and can be read separately. It would be great to have on hand when you first get a new kitten or cat, or notice problems with your pet already, but I think it's easier to read the chapters as you need them rather than all at once.

Number of Pages: 
325

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden

In late 2010, cartoonist Sarah Glidden went along with two of her friends--co-founders of The Seattle Globalist--and a former Marine as they researched the impact of the Iraq War on the region and the refugee crisis. Glidden's focus to document the overall process of journalism and how it was conducted for this specific purpose, but it also comes to encompass the Marine's own experiences and reactions along the journey. Rolling Blackouts, constructed largely from transcribed audiovisual material collected on the trip, offers a glimpse into the horrors of war, complicated history, and voices of both the well-known and unheard victims of the region's violence.

I really enjoyed Glidden's graphic memoir, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, a few years back and found this book to be as enlightening and thoughtful. There is so much food for thought here--the less-documented tragedies of refugees' displacement, ruminations on ethics in jounalism, U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, what it means to be progressive, and so much more. I found it really interesting, too, in the window of time it occurred--just after heavy U.S. military presence from the Iraq War and just before the uprisings from the Arab Spring. For a graphic novel, this is slightly more text-heavy, and Glidden's use of soft-toned watercolors lend to the reflective nature of the book. There are no clear answers, but there are plenty of viewpoints; reading this will likely spark plenty of contemplation and conversation. This is definitely one of my favorite reads this year.

Number of Pages: 
298

Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx/La Juez que Creció en el Bronx by Jonah Winter; ill. by Edel Rodriguez

Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx/La Juez que Creció en el Bronx by Jonah Winter; ill. by Edel Rodriguez

Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx follows the life of the first Latin American to ever become a Supreme Court justice (and the most qualified one at that!). As a young girl raised by a single mother in the South Bronx, Sonia loved reading, studying, baseball, and playing games with her Puerto Rican American family. At age 8, she was diagnosed with diabetes, but she didn't let that stop her dreams of becoming a judge. She went on to graduate at the top of her high school class and attend Princeton, eventually breaking the glass ceiling and becoming a U.S. District Court judge and Supreme Court Justice. She achieved all this despite so many obstacles--this is truly a compelling, uplifting story for any reader.

I love this picture book biography of this incredible woman! It is so inspiring watching her persevere page by page, building to ever greater achievements. The illustrations are expressive yet simple, each focusing on Sotomayor's experiences as she reaches new heights. The bilingual text, in English and Spanish, enables the book to reach a larger audience and touch more lives...and I sincerely hope it will!

Number of Pages: 
40

Reading Picture Books with Children by Megan Dowd Lambert

Reading Picture Books with Children by Megan Dowd Lambert

The subtitle of Reading Picture Books with Children is "how to shake up storytime and get kids talking about what they see." Lambert discusses at length the technique she pioneered of exploring picture book artwork with children and allowing them time to discuss and process what they see in addition to the words on the page. She discusses the many parts of a book that can be discussed with children, beginning with the physical qualities of the book itself such as its size, the jacket, the cover, and the endpapers. She points out the hidden information and clues that may be found on the title page or dedication page and how they can enrich a child's understanding of a book. She also discusses the layout of the page itself, the typography, where the gutter of the page lies, and more. Lambert also gives tips about how to put this sort of deep analysis to work with a real group of children.

I've been using these methods for several weeks now at my daughters' school library and the results are indeed astonishing at times. By giving children the time and space to explore the physical book and the artwork as much as the words, so much more can be learned. Very rarely do children lose interest and the true challenge lies in keeping the pace moving so we don't run out of time. I recommend this book very highly to anyone who reads picture books to children, whether your own at home or larger groups in educational or library settings.

Number of Pages: 
176