On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

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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

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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

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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

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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

 

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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

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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

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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.


Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Lohman identifies eight flavors that she believes are integral to and representative of American cuisine and explains the history behind each.

What made me pick it up: I was browsing new books just before lunch and something about food sounded appealing.

My favorite things: I found it interesting to read the reasons behind each flavor’s inclusion. Lohman does a good job of providing historical context for each and discussing the impact of immigration on cuisine. She also visits a variety of production facilities and it’s kind of cool to get a peek into how the different flavors are cultivated. Plus, there are recipes included for each flavor if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Who it’s great for: Fans and readers of culinary history. Cooks and food lovers interested in the story behind the flavors they enjoy.

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

YALSA Nonfiction Award Finalists

Toward the end of every year, YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) releases a shortlist of titles for the Award for Excellence in Nonfiction. The winner is announced at the ALA Youth Media Awards in January. This year’s winner was John Lewis’ March:Book Three. Here’s a quick rundown of the other titles that made the list of finalists.

What made me pick them up: Each year I try to read all of the finalists before the winner is announced, but this year I’m running a little behind.

Hillary Rodham Clinton:  A Woman Living History by Karen Blumenthal

What it’s about: This book follows Hillary Clinton’s life and political career through the beginning of her 2016 Presidential campaign.

My favorite things: I appreciated that the author didn’t shy away from the controversies that have popped up throughout her life and career. Blumenthal effectively explains many of the difficulties and criticisms Clinton has faced throughout her career and how she has worked to overcome them.

Who it’s great for: Teens and adults who want to know more about Clinton’s life and career leading up to her history making campagin as the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party.

Abby’s rating:  four-shells

In the Shadow of Liberty:  The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives by Kenneth C. Davis

What it’s about: Davis presents the lives of five enslaved people and the four presidents who counted them as property.

My favorite things: There’s a very powerful section at the beginning where Davis names several beloved founding fathers and their contributions to the nation, and then lists how many enslaved people they owned. He does an incredible job throughout the book of highlighting the complexities of slavery in early American history and pointing out the inconsistencies in the words and actions of the men who designed the nation.

Who it’s good for:  Teens interested in concrete examples of the contradictions between the rhetoric of liberty and the reality of slavery during the early days of the United States.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells

Samurai Rising:  The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune  by Pamela S. Turner.  

What it’s about: This traces the early years of samurai rule in Japan by following the life of Minamoto Yoshitsune.

My favorite things: This is a really fun, and often funny, look into the history of samurai rule in Japan. Turner blends storytelling and historical accounts for an exciting peek into the life of a Japanese legend: Minamoto Yoshitsune, the “ultimate samurai”.

Who it’s good for: Teens interested in learning about Japanese history and samurai culture. Reluctant nonfiction readers who need an action packed story to maintain interest.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells

This Land is Our Land:  A History of American Immigration  by Linda Barrett Osborne

What it’s about: A concise history of immigration into the United States.

My favorite things: Osborne looks at more than immigration statistics. She considers the lived experience of immigrating to the United States by examining the restrictions and hostile attitudes that have targeted various immigrant groups throughout the nation’s history.

Who it’s good for: Teens and adults who want to understand the history of immigration policies and why it is such a divisive issue.

Abby’s rating: four-shells

March: Book Three by Andrew Aydin and John Lewis

 

Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: This is the third and final volume in the graphic memoir series tracing Representative John Lewis’ participation in the Civil Rights Movement, culminating in the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1967-known as Bloody Sunday.

What made me pick it up: I read the first two installments so was planning on picking it up, but since it’s won roughly one billion awards* I scooted it to the top of my read-ASAP list.

My favorite things: This final volume is reliably great in a number of ways: the black and white art is strongly affecting, the storytelling is compelling, and the content is relevant and important as ever. One of my favorite things, throughout the series, are the brief scenes from the 2009 presidential inauguration. They effectively illustrate the impact of civil rights activists’ relentless efforts and remind us of how much can be accomplished within a single generation.

Who it’s great for: Teens and tweens who want to understand the Civil Rights Movement. Fans of history and memoir. Graphic novel and comic readers interested in real-life human superheroes.

*Awards: National Book Award** for Young People’s Literature; Coretta Scott King Award (Author); Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award; YALSA award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults; Michael L. Printz Award

**See Stamped from the Beginning for my review of another National Book Award Winner.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells