Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Historical Nonfiction for Young Readers

One pleasing result of the increased emphasis on nonfiction literature in school curricula is all the new and fabulous history books aimed at young readers that have come out in the last couple of years. I love history. I loved it even as a kid. I like to think that a book like this would have sparked my interest when I was in middle-school. And, although I'm not the target audience, I can see myself incorporating more and more of this type of books into my reading diet. I hope that some of them turn their young audiences into young historians.  

The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding Kansas by Andrea Warren:
Andrea Warren's book is a great way for young readers to learn about Bleeding Kansas and the frontier. Billy, a true frontiersman, was friends with Native Americans, went on cattle drives, trapping expeditions, served in the Civil War, and hunted buffalo. He was even a rider on the short-lived Pony Express! And he did this all before the age of eighteen. Basically, Buffalo Bill encapsulates the Old West perfectly. I lived just outside of Kansas City for seven years. I so wish I could have read this book while I was living there! Full review here.

Radioactive! How Irene Curie & Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling:
Radioactive! is about the contributions that two women, Lise Meitner and Irene Curie, made to the development of the atom bomb. All the science in Winifred Conkling's book is fascinating, but what I enjoyed most about this book was learning about these female scientists who were working in an age when being a scientist was not really something that women did. On top of that, much of the book takes place in the years leading up to and during World War II, creating further complications for the pair both personally and professionally.

Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman:
Escape! was one of the great children's author Sid Fleischman's last books, and I loved the personal touches he included in his biography of Harry Houdini. As a young magician, Fleischman knew Houdini's wife Bess. In Escape! the reader follows the Houdinis on their journey to success. Born Ehrich Weiss, the son of a rabbi, Houdini transformed himself into the showman that has become a household name. 

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, & and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming:
In The Family Romanov Candace Fleming tells the story of the last Czar of the Russias. She melds the intimate family matters and the current events of Russia and Europe in order to create a complete picture of this tumultuous time in Russian history. Perhaps because we know that oppression is coming with the Soviet Union, there is so much romanticism that surrounds the last Russian Imperial family. I love that this book is the real deal. It tells the story straight, and what results is a fabulously demystifying.

The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller:
Andrew Borden and his wife Abby Borden were brutally murdered in their own home on August 4th, 1892. Andrew's grown daughter Lizzie Borden would become the prime suspect. Lizzie was the fodder of countless rumors and tabloid and newspaper articles. Miller has sifted meticulously through all of this in order to present the facts of the case. The final trial, especially, reads like a courthouse drama. The Borden Murders is like the Serial of the nineteenth century. I honestly have no idea if Lizzie killed her parents or not. Full review here.

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti:
Mary Mallon was an Irish immigrant who worked as a cook in New York City in the early 1900s. She was also a healthy typhoid carrier. Terrible Typhoid Mary's story has either been forgotten or taken on a mythic quality at this point in history. Susan Campbell Bartoletti unravels the story of Mary Mallon's life. She sheds light on the beginnings of a public health system and the newness of germ theory. This is an intriguing story about the rights of the individual vs. the public's health.

Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman:
I really enjoyed this biography of Charles Darwin. Deborah Heiligman focuses on Darwin's relationship with his wife, Emma, and their family life. It was incredibly interesting to learn about their remarkable relationship and how they raised their children. In Heiligman's book, Darwin's doubts about God and Emma's religiosity are a microcosm from the greater conflict between the theory of evolution and the Christian society. I thought that Heiligman treated each side with respect.

Symphony for the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson:
This book about the life and work of Dmitri Shostakovich, the great Russian composer, is absolutely exquisite. Anderson deftly navigates the atrocities of Stalin's reign, the siege of Leningrad, the experimental art of the 1920s and 30s, and explorations of what art can do. I read most of it while listening to Shostakovich's music, which proved a powerful backdrop to the Great Terror and the siege. I am incredibly impressed by how well Anderson is able to convey music with his words. This book will make you want to listen to Shostakovich's symphonies.

Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin: 
Bomb is a book you don't want to miss. I already knew quite a bit about the building of the atomic bomb, but this book taught me a lot about the Soviet spies who stole the atomic bomb technology from the United States. There's a lot of think about or discuss in this book, such as science and morals; spies and attempts to thwart the German's ability to build the bomb; the bombing of Japan and the impact of the bomb.  

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