Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Let's Read

You have probably read the amazing book BOMB by Steve Sheinkin. It's that captivating nonfiction book about the race to build - and steal - the world's most dangerous weapon.

Well, Steve Sheinkin and his new book The Port Chicago 50 were at the YALSA Symposium in Austin last weekend, and I was lucky enough to meet Steve and get a copy of his new book.

The Port Chicago 50 is the story of World War II's worst stateside disaster: on July 17th, 1944 ammunition being loaded onto two ships bound for the Pacific exploded in Port Chicago, in Contra Costa County in California. The explosions killed 320 servicemen and injured 390 others. Most of the dead were African-American. The surviving black sailors were ordered to return to the exact same unsafe and unfair working conditions. More than 200 of the men refused, saying they were standing up for justice. The Navy called it mutiny and threatened that anyone not returning to work would face the firing squad. Fifty men did not back down; they became known as The Port Chicago 50.

From the New York Times review:
Young adult readers are likely to be shocked by Sheinkin’s portrayal of institutional racism in 1940s America. So often Americans think of the war years as a time when the nation pulled together in a democratizing common effort. That myth clearly leaves out the African-American experience. Thurgood Marshall, then the chief special counsel for the N.A.A.C.P., went to California to observe the Chicago 50 trial. “This is not an individual case,” he said. “This is not 50 men on trial for mutiny. This is the Navy on trial for its whole vicious policy toward Negroes.”
Marshall’s appeal of the guilty verdict was rejected. The trial, however, succeeded in bringing to light the unfairness of segregation in the military, and in February 1946 the Navy became the first branch to allow African-Americans to participate equally in all assignments and activities. The Chicago 50 were never officially exonerated, but were released from hard labor after 16 months and, with no fanfare, allowed to return to service.
Sheinkin tells this shameful history with the deft, efficient pacing of a novelist. And while photographs, double-spaced type and sunburst graphics at the start of each chapter make the book visually appealing to young readers, “The Port Chicago 50” is just as suitable for adults. The seriousness and breadth of Sheinkin’s research can be seen in his footnotes and lists of sources, which include oral histories, documentaries and Navy documents. It’s an impressive work and an inspiring one. These men stood up for themselves despite great personal risk. As Martin Bordenave, one of the 50, said of the ordeal, “Everything we’ve gotten, we’ve fought and suffered for.” He concluded, “You gotta holler loud, you know.”
Like we did with the book BOMB, I think we should all read The Port Chicago 50  togetherWe'll read a few chapters each week, discuss what we read in 'comments', watch a few cool videos (posted on the blog), learn some new vocabulary, and read some related articles.

If you are interested, read the first four chapters (First Hero, The Policy, Port Chicago, Work and Liberty) over Thanksgiving break, and check back here on December 1st.

If you're game for this, enter your email address in the 'Follow by Email ' box on this blog... this way you'll know what we're up to and you won't miss a thing.

My first thought as I began reading this book: I can't believe that I have never heard the story of The Port Chicago 50!

Thursday, November 13, 2014


"Telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way the wisdom gets passed along. The stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering."
— Rachel Naomi Remen

Funny Animated Short Film from Vago Tanulo on Vimeo.

Friday, October 17, 2014

to change the world for the better

This graphic novel arrived in the mail yesterday: In Real Life, written by Cory Doctorow and illustrated by Jen Wang. On the car ride to school today, V couldn't stop talking about it.

So, today, I read it…  and it knocked me over. The book is worth its weight in gold for the introduction alone. Here's a taste...
In Real Life is a book about games and economics.
When you put economics and games together, you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a bunch of sticky, tough questions about politics and labor. In Real Life connects the dots between the way we shop, the way we organize, and the way we play, and why some people are rich, some are poor, and how they seem to get stuck there.
I hope that readers of this book will be inspired to dig deeper into the subject of behavioral economics and to start asking hard questions about how we end up with the stuff we own, what it costs our human brothers and sisters to make those goods, and why we think we need them.

This short graphic novel takes on gold-farming in online games, from an economic and social perspective. It also explores the concept of having a separate online identity, specifically for teenagers who may still be forming a “real life” identity; and feminism and the myriad ways it ties into those first two items.

This is a great book for teens and tweens who want to start thinking big about injustice, our rights, organizing, and changing the world for the better.
All that is sweet was paid for, once upon a time, by principled people who risked everything to change the world for the better.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Our differences are our superpowers.

"I love El Deafo! It's everything you could
want in a book: funny and touching and oh so smart."
- R.J. Palacio, author of Wonder

I had to wait behind both of my kids to read El Deafo by Cece Bell, but it was worth the wait. It's a graphic novel memoir, full of universal emotions and unique perspectives.

Cece suffers an illness at age four that results in a hearing loss. And, as only a graphic novel can illustrate, we get to see what that feels like:

It's brilliantly clever.

El Deafo deals with being different beautifully, honestly, and lovingly. It's no wonder that R.J. Palacio loves it. This book, like Wonder, is for anyone who wants help turning their difference into a superpower. So, really, it's a book for everyone.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the end of the book. It is wonderfully profound and honest.

Here's a sample:
Today, I view my deafness as more of an occasional nuisance, and oddly enough, as a gift: I can turn off the sound of the world any time I want, and retreat into peaceful silence.
And being different? That turned out to be the best part of all. I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers

Friday, September 12, 2014

we should be brave

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

Maggie Mayfield is eleven years old, future president of the United States, and fifth grade science fair champion. Maggie is a super smart achiever who loves school. This smart, compassionate story is written as a flashback when Maggie turns twelve.

It is a beautiful story of a family. Maggie's father faces a diagnosis of MS (multiple sclerosis), and we see how it affects the family as a whole.

All that was happening wasn't just happening to me. It was happening to all five of us. And all of us were scared. All of us were confused. And none of us knew what was going to happen next. 
"Should we be scared?"Mom knelt in front of me. "We shouldn't be scared, honey. Not even a little." She took my hand and squeezed. "We should be brave."

This book is for all tweens who are trying to have a 'normal' life while dealing with something BIG.  You'll laugh at the footnotes and cry at the heartbreak. If you are faced with a great challenge, you'll find hope in Maggie's journey.
"And while there wasn't any scientific evidence, I believed with all my heart that the world progressed one wish at a time."
This story is inspired by the author's real family experiences with MS. In the Acknowledgements Megan writes:
Thank you to my family for letting me tell our story. Thank you to my mom. You're terrible at cutting bangs but you're an incredibly cool, strong, courageous, and beautiful woman. I hope I'm just like you when I grow up. Thank you to my sister Rayna for answering my desperate phone calls. You're always so encouraging and helpful even when your children are screaming in the background. I totally get why you were Dad's favorite. Thank you to my sister Alison for paying me ten dollars every time you skipped school. We could not be more different. And not just in bra size. But I love you. No matter how many times you lock me out of your room.
How could you not want to read a story based on this family?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


I love novels written in verse.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is a beautiful memoir written in magnificent verse. It is poetic and engrossing; I lingered over every page.

I highly recommend this gorgeous book. Get it into the hands of a reader.

You'll read it, and re-read it, and read pages aloud to anyone near by.

"Listen to this…" you'll say, and begin reading:

My fingers curl into fists, automatically
This is the way, my mother said,
of every baby's hand.
I do not know if these hands will become
Malcolm's - raised and fisted
or Martin's - open and asking
or Jame's - curled around a pen.
I do not know if these hands will be
or Ruby's
gently gloved
and fiercely folded
calmly in a lap,
on a desk,
around a book,
to change the world...

Or you will read a page over and over again, wondering once more about the times you have been the only one like you in a room...

William Woodson
the only brown boy in an all-white school.

You'll face this in your life someday,
my mother will tell us
over and over again.
A moment when you walk into a room and

no one there is like you.

It'll be scary sometimes. But think of William Woodson
and you'll be all right.

An author's Note and photos follow the text… they are a lovely gift from the author.

Monday, September 8, 2014

believe in the possible

Over the weekend I read The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L Holm.

It's a middle grade book that is funny and clever and fascinating. But, I loved it most because it is about science. It asks big questions, introduces technical details, names famous scientists, and discusses controversial issues. And… it may have the best first chapter ever in a middle grade novel. 

It's the story of eleven-year-old Ellie and, among many things, she is starting middle school. Ellie leads readers into the wonders of science, the big questions about life and death, the idea of family, the conviction of friendship, the perception of immortality… and possibility.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the end of the book:
All the scientists mentioned in this book were real people. The discoveries of Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, Robert Oppenheimer, and Jonas Salk changed the world in ways that still echo today.
You, too, can be a scientist. Observe the world around you. Ask questions. Talk to your teachers. Don't give up.
Be inspired by the scientists who came before you, and fall in love with discovery.
Most of all, believe in the possible.

Also, at the end of the book, there's a wonderful section called: Recommended Resources for Continuing the Conversation. Thank you, Jennifer Holm, for keeping our curiosity going.

Here is my favorite bit:
"Scientists never give up. They keep trying because they believe in the possible"
"The possible?" 
"That it's possible to create a cure for polio. That it's possible to sequence the human genome. That it's possible to find a way to reverse aging. That science can change the world." 

Well, and then there's this, too:
"Science is powerful. There are always consequences - wonderful and terrible. I suppose I lost my way for a moment in all the excitement and forgot what Salk said."
"What did he say?"
His eyes meet mine. "Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors." 

If you know a middle grade reader, get 'The Fourteenth Goldfish' by Jennifer Holm. Read it along with them or read it aloud to them. Ask questions. Observe the world. Be inspired by scientists. But most of all, believe in the possible.