Shaking Things Up by Susan Hood


Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: Fourteen women and girls who have changed the world throughout history.

What made me pick it up: It was about women and girls who have changed the world.

My favorite things: I always love reading about women who have had an impact on history, especially when they are unfamiliar to me, as some in this book were. The one I enjoyed the most was about a librarian (of course) — Pura Belpré was the first bilingual public librarian in New York City. It’s even better when the inspirational women you’re reading about reflect your career path. In this case, it made me that much prouder of all these great individuals and their work. The stories are written in verse, with little bios at the bottom of the pages and vibrant illustrations. There is so much to enjoy in this book!

Who it’s great for: Women and girls of all ages.

Erica’s rating: four shells

Find this book in your local library.


Quackery by Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen


Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A look back through history at some of the questionable medical and pseudo-medical practices.

What made me pick it up: How could I not? It was full of miscellany which is my favorite thing and it was about medicine something which endlessly fascinates me. Perfect combo.

My favorite things: It’s so informative! I learned so many horrific things that I can now share awkwardly at social gatherings. And it was told with such candor and humor. The authors acknowledge that a lot of the things mentioned in this book are totally bananas, and have a brief laugh at how off the mark they were, but they also make a point to say that the science didn’t exist yet and people were unfortunately doing the best they could. The ampules of human (cadaver) fat almost made me lose my lunch though, not gonna lie.

Who it’s great for: Science, medicine, and history minded individuals who can stomach a lot of detailed information and discomforting descriptions of some practices.

Erica’s rating: four shells

Get this book in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton


Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A collected biography of some great female icons throughout history.

What made me pick it up: It seemed like a fitting book to kick off my 2018 reading with.

My favorite things: I liked that this profiled Claudette Colvin, who predated and inspired Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat. It’s always great to see women who are not the usual reference points for a specific time in history also get their stories told.

Who it’s great for: Everyone. Especially little girls who need role models from all walks of life.

Erica’s rating: four shells

Find this book on Amazon (affiliate link).


On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder


Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Tyranny and actions you can take to prevent it.

What made me pick it up: I was looking for new downloadable audiobooks and this one was quite short (less than two hours).

My favorite things: Give to charities, join organizations of shared interests, travel, read. This book has many good, and somewhat unexpected, lessons and suggestions on how to keep your country (any country, although specifically aimed at Americans) from devolving into a tyrannical, fascist state. It leans heavily on examples from pre-WWII Europe, especially Nazi Germany, which can be hard to stomach for the simple fact that it feels so familiar and we know how atrocious it ended up being. This is less political than you might expect, but it does spend some time pointing out behaviors in current American leadership that mimic those that led to disastrous consequences in other countries in the past. It’s short enough and generalized enough to make it worth dipping into by readers on both sides of the aisle.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who feels like we are far too polarized for our own good. Fans of history, politics, current affairs, or international relations

Erica’s rating: four-shells

Get this book in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers by James Gulliver Hancock

artists writers

Originally published in: 2014

What’s it about: A visual biographical encyclopedia of innovative individuals throughout history.

What made me pick it up: I was intrigued when I stumbled across it while browsing an ebook and downloadable audiobook collection curated to inspire writers during NaNoWriMo.

My favorite things: Hancock believes that the objects and people that individuals surround themselves with can be very revealing. He enhances the understanding of notable historical figures by focusing on these aspects of their lives, rather than simply on their achievements. Hancock’s cartoonish drawings are an engaging jumble of small images that help to paint a picture of each subject’s life.

Who it’s great for:  Readers intrigued by the daily lives of famous artists and thinkers. Fans of graphic biographies.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells

Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin


Originally published in: 2012

What it’s about: A group of 50 African-American soldiers who were tried for mutiny for refusing to work in unsafe conditions in the Navy during WWII after a catastrophic explosion and how it led to the desegregation of all military forces for the US.

What made me pick it up: It was part of a Stand Strong & Stand Together collection of Overdrive titles the library offered in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy and it was short.

My favorite things: This story was so well told. I am really into learning more of the stories I never learned in school about civil rights heroes and this is one. These men stood up for better treatment for people of other races and prevailed. Not without hardship or penalty and despite threat of death. It tells an important story that your small, personal decisions can benefit larger groups and have lasting positive repercussions.

Who it’s great for: History buffs. Civil rights students. Readers looking for diverse books.

Erica’s rating: five-shells

Find this book on Amazon(affiliate link) or in your local library.


Unbound by Ann E. Burg


Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: A family who escaped slavery and their journey to join the colony of maroons in the middle of Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp to live freely.

What made me pick it up: A coworker came down to tell me she was working on her book talk for it and I realized I had read the author’s previous work (Serafina’s Promise) and love a novel in verse so I took it from her when she offered and checked it out.

My favorite things: This book is powerful. The verse nature of the writing makes it go very quickly. The first-person narration helps bring to life the experience of slavery for Grace. As someone who once was a nine-year-old who had trouble keeping her thoughts in her head and not saying whatever she thought, it really brought home how that once had much worse consequences. I could relate to all of Grace’s emotions — especially guilt. Even though you are fairly certain of the outcome, it’s still an edge-of-your-seat read as Grace and her family flee for their lives.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who wants to learn more about a lesser known group of runaway slaves/slave settlement. Readers who want an emotional portrayal of the slavery and runaway experience.

Erica’s rating: four-shells

Get this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color by Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson



Originally published in: 2007

What it’s about: Poems and biographical notes tell the story of the first school for African American girls in Connecticut and the challenges it faced.

What made me pick it up: It was reviewed by a friend on Goodreads and I had never heard of either the book or the story of Prudence Crandall and her school. Thankfully the library had a copy so I ordered it in.

My favorite things: This book is written in poems and they give powerful snippets of both Crandall’s and the students’ experiences and the backlash they faced trying to get an education. They are difficult experiences which can be hard to read about but the authors work to not only tell the story but also impress upon readers why the students thought getting an education was important enough to risk it. The poems are accompanied by lovely illustrations.

Who it’s great for: Those looking for stories of African American history outside the usual characters.

Erica’s rating: four-shells

Find this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson


Originally published in: 2012

What it’s about: A man escapes his nursing home on his 100th birthday and goes off on a new adventure.

What made me pick it up: It was suggested by Amazon when I was watching the film version of A Man Called Ove. Since I hadn’t read the book, I knew I should before watching the movie. I can’t seem to stay away from old men going on adventure novels, so this was right up my alley.

My favorite things: Allan Karlsson is a great character. Both hapless and lucky, he reminded me strongly of Forrest Gump. And speaking of adventures, he sure has had a lot of them – meeting world leaders, affecting key moments in history. I enjoyed tagging along on all of them, including those that took place in the present day. This jaunt was just a lot of fun.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who liked Arthur Pepper or Harold Fry. Those looking to go on an journey through history and around the world.

Erica’s rating: four-shells

Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or your local library.


Never Caught by Erica Armstrong Dunbar


Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Never Caught tells the story of Ona Judge’s time as a woman enslaved by George Washington, her escape from the President’s home, and the rest of her life as a fugitive.

What made me pick it up: I first read about Ona Judge in the YALSA Nonfiction Award Finalist In the Shadow of Liberty by Kenneth Davis. When I saw an entire book dedicated to her I knew I needed to know more.

My favorite things: This is a compelling read that is never dry. Dunbar seamlessly weaves Judge’s own account with other recorded details from history to create a well contextualized and more comprehensive report. Dunbar repeatedly reminds her readers that no matter how “good” or “kind” slaveholders were or tried to be toward the people they enslaved, those that they considered property would choose freedom of any kind every time they could.

Who it’s great for: Teens and adults interested in learning more about the reality of slavery and the lives of the fugitives who escaped during the early days of the United States. Readers who struggle to engage with nonfiction and history will appreciate Dunbar’s style of narrative nonfiction.

Abby’s rating: four-shells

Want a copy? Find one at Amazon (affiliate link) or see if it’s available at a library near you.