Monday, December 10, 2018

CYBILS SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION: Nevertheless We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage


A powerful collection of essays from actors, activists, athletes, politicians, musicians, writers, and teens, including Senator Amy Klobuchar, actress Alia Shawkat, actor Maulik Pancholy, poet Azure Antoinette, teen activist Gavin Grimm, and many, many more, each writing about a time in their youth when they were held back because of their race, gender, or sexual identity--but persisted.

"Aren't you a terrorist?" "There are no roles for people who look like you." "That's a sin." "No girls allowed." They've heard it all. Actress Alia Shawkat reflects on all the parts she was told she was too "ethnic" to play. Former NFL player Wade Davis recalls his bullying of gay classmates in an attempt to hide his own sexuality. Teen Gavin Grimm shares the story that led to the infamous "bathroom bill," and how he's fighting it. Holocaust survivor Fanny Starr tells of her harrowing time in Aushwitz, where she watched her family disappear, one by one.

What made them rise up through the hate? What made them overcome the obstacles of their childhood to achieve extraordinary success? How did they break out of society's limited view of who they are and find their way to the beautiful and hard-won lives they live today? With a foreword by Minnesota senator and up-and-coming Democratic party leader Amy Klobuchar, these essays share deeply personal stories of resilience, faith, love, and, yes, persistence.


Books like this one that have multiple authors often carry the risk of being uneven in quality, depending on the authors included.  I was impressed by the high quality of all the selections in this book.  That's rare for a book like this.  I found each account compelling and thought-provoking.  I also appreciated the variety of experiences that were included.  Obstacles of many kinds are shared by those telling their stories in this book.   Physical disability, childhood trauma, bullying, racism, lack of diversity in various professions, and other challenges are described in various accounts.  What I found especially inspiring is the way each of these people found ways past the obstacles in their lives to find success.  Now it certainly wasn't easy for any of them, and many of them still face opposition in a variety of ways, but they persisted in the face of serious challenges.  Whether one agrees with their actions or politics or activism or not, one can't help but admire the determination and courage they exhibited along the way.  A truly inspiring collection of stories that reminds the reader that life is hard but it doesn't have to be impossible. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

CYBILS JUNIOR HIGH NONFICTION: Champion: The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree by Sally M. Walker


American chestnut trees were once found far and wide in North America's eastern forests. They towered up to one hundred feet tall, providing food and shelter for people and animals alike. For many, life without the chestnut seemed unimaginable—until disaster struck in the early 1900s.

What began as a wound in the bark of a few trees soon turned to an unstoppable killing force. An unknown blight was wiping out the American chestnut, and scientists felt powerless to prevent it.

But the story doesn't end there. Today, the American chestnut is making a comeback. Narrative nonfiction master Sally M. Walker tells a tale of loss, restoration, and the triumph of human ingenuity in this beautifully photographed middle-grade book.


I had no idea that trees could be so fascinating.  But Sally Walker's account of the near extinction of the American chestnut tree and the numerous efforts being made to save it was informative and intriguing.  She starts by giving an introduction to the tree itself and what made the tree valuable to so many people and creatures.  Then she discusses the blight that attacked the trees and started killing them off rapidly.  The rest of the book is spent explaining the various methods different scientists have and are using to re-establish the tree in it's former habitats.  Walker does a nice job of explaining some complicated science concepts in a reader-friendly way.  And she makes it clear the tremendous amount of work that has been put into saving this species of tree.  The appendices at the end cover various related material such as a study of rodent nut preferences and an elementary classroom's participation in growing American chestnut trees.  A great book that shows the good that science can do when it's used properly.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: Tough Cookie by Edward Hemingway


 When a cookie discovers he does NOT taste delicious, he has to find a new identity in this clever picture book twist on a holiday classic.

Once upon a time, while Fox was visiting the land of Holiday Treats, a little cookie—still warm from the bakery oven—burst out the front door looking sweet and ready to be devoured. But, as it turns out, Cookie is not as fast as he thinks and when Fox finally catches him, they’re both in for a big surprise: Sugar Cookie does not taste delicious—and he’s certainly not fit to be eaten. What’s an unsavory cookie to do? Is there another option for this not-so-sweet treat?

This inventive story celebrates the joy of being accepted for who we are.


Edward Hemingway is the creator of Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus, Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship, and Bump in the Night, as well as the illustrator of My Miserable Life by F.L. Block. He has written features in GQ magazine and comics for Nickelodeon Magazine, and his artwork has been published in The New York Times. The youngest grandson of Ernest Hemingway, he lives in Montana. To learn more, and for some fun downloadable activities, visit his
Twitter: @EdwardHemingway
Instagram: @edwardhemingway
“The funny identity comedy is sprinkled with cookie puns (“Everything I do is half-baked!”) and cinematic compositions.” —Horn Book

“Hemingway (Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus) bakes up a clever case of mistaken identity in this holiday treat–inspired tale.”—Publishers Weekly

“This sweet and silly story is about friendship and making the best of what you’ve got.”—Kirkus Reviews


This delightful twist on the Gingerbread Man tale is as yummy as it's main character is not.  When Sugar Cookie Man takes off down the street bragging about his speed and sweetness, Fox can't resist the challenge.  After catching the cookie and tasting him, Fox spits him out.  He tastes terrible and he isn't all that fast.  Cookie is heart-broken.  What is he good for then?  Fox kindly decides to help him out by taking him to the spa to be sweetened up and when that doesn't work, entering him in a running contest.  But Cookie doesn't seem to fit anywhere.  The delicious tale about finding one's place in the world is delivered with just the right amount of sweetness, along with some seriously cute illustrations.  The answer to Cookie's dilemma is right there in the illustrations, but I still didn't catch it until the climax.  A refreshingly new book that would make a great holiday read-a-loud.

Monday, December 3, 2018

CYBILS SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION: Failing Up/Courageous Women of the Vietnam War


Leslie Odom. Jr, burst on the scene in 2015, originating the role of Aaron Burr in the Broadway musical phenomenon Hamilton. Since then, he has performed for sold-out audiences, sung for the Obamas at the White House, and won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. But before he landed the role of a lifetime in one of the biggest musicals of all time, Odom put in years of hard work as a singer and an actor.

With personal stories from his life, Odom asks the questions that will help you unlock your true potential and achieve your goals even when they seem impossible. What work did you put in today that will help you improve tomorrow? How do you surround yourself with people who will care about your dreams as much as you do? How do you know when to play it safe and when to risk it all for something bigger and better?

These stories will inspire you, motivate you, and empower you for the greatness that lies ahead, whether you're graduating from college, starting a new job, or just looking to live each day to the fullest.


Books that intend to be inspirational don't always click with me.  Sometimes I just don't relate to the author, or the advice is bad or unrealistic, and sometimes the content is simply to sugary sweet or positive to be really helpful.  But I thoroughly enjoyed this one by Leslie Odom, Jr.  Not only is it very well written, making it easy to read, but the stories are relatable and relevant to the principles and concepts he talks about.  I especially enjoyed the peek into his experiences getting into show business and the ups and downs that followed.  The concepts shared are applicable to anyone young or old and I found them truly inspiring.   


One of just a handful of women reporting on the Vietnam War, Kate Webb was captured by North Vietnamese troops and presumed dead—until she emerged from the jungle waving a piece of white parachute material after 23 days in captivity. Le Ly Hayslip enjoyed a peaceful early childhood in a Vietnamese farming village before war changed her life forever. Brutalized by all sides, she escaped to the United States, where she eventually founded two humanitarian organizations. Lynda Van Devanter was an idealistic young nurse in 1969 when a plane carrying her and 350 men landed in South Vietnam. Her harrowing experiences working in a combat zone hospital would later serve as inspiration for the TV series China Beach.

In these pages readers meet these and other brave women and girls who served in life-threatening roles as medics, journalists, resisters, and revolutionaries in the conflict in Vietnam. Author Kathryn J. Atwood presents a clear introduction to each of five chronological sections, guiding readers through the social and political turmoil that spanned two decades and the tenure of five US presidents. Each woman's story unfolds in a suspenseful, engaging way, incorporating plentiful original source materials, quotes, and photographs. Resources for further study, source notes and a bibliography, and a helpful map and glossary round out this exploration of one of modern history's most divisive wars, making it an invaluable addition to any student's or history buff's bookshelf.


The collection of stories included in this book includes a nice variety of experiences.  It's clear the author worked hard to gather information on the lives of many women who experienced Vietnam in some way.  The stories included range from civilians and victims to nurses, reporters, volunteers, a North Vietnamese surgeon, and even a war protester.  This provided me with a variety of different perspectives on the war and the experiences these women had.  Many of the stories are heartbreaking in the suffering and destruction these women witnessed or were a part of, directly or indirectly.  No one could read these stories and remain untouched by the horribleness of war.  The ladies themselves had/have different views on the rightness and wrongness of the war and while the author includes these views, she doesn't try to say who is right or wrong.  She simply tells the stories.  As I looked at the notes and references and suggested resources, I was pleased to see so many primary sources listed.  Many of the women who are included in the book have told their own stories elsewhere, making this book a jumping off point for those who want to learn more.  This book is a valuable resource for those who want to look at the historical experiences of an often overlooked group of war veterans/survivors.  
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