November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

5 Nonfiction Titles To Stave Off the Summer Slide | Adult Books 4 Teens

If you’re lucky enough to work in a year-round school, you don’t have to worry about summer slide (or the phenomenon of students forgetting what they’ve learned while out of school) as much as those of us who are surrounded by teenagers spending their summers working or playing ball. Hopefully the students in your community can take advantage of summer learning programs—full of maker spaces, creativity, and new discoveries. Summer is also the perfect time for library staff to work on collection development. In this column, I’ve collected five nonfiction books that are bound to combat the deadly summer slide—two memoirs, a true crime graphic novel, a devastating historical account, and a title on physics.

Physics (typed with a deep breath). Not one of my favorite subjects in school, but it would have helped if I had had someone like Neil deGrasse Tyson to follow on social media. He’s a rock star of the science world, and his latest, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, is a perfect example of how he earned that title. In this conversational read, he expertly explains complicated topics such as the cosmos, time, black holes, and the search for life on other planets. The book is perfect for teens who need an introduction to these subjects, and it can serve as curriculum support for science courses, too.

Science teachers and students will also appreciate Leland Melvin’s Chasing Space: An Astronaut’s Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances. Melvin, a self-proclaimed nerdy athlete, wasn’t deterred when an injury forced him to leave the NFL. He went back to school, endured another injury, entered the space program, and served on the space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station. He addresses what it was like to be an African American engineer in a workforce dominated by white men, and he has worked for years to give more women and people of color the opportunity to enter STEM fields. Those working in libraries that also serve younger readers may want to consider Amistad’s young readers edition for children ages eight to 12, which features STEAM experiments that can be performed at home.

Another memoir that focuses on an outsider making inroads is Mary Jennings Hegar’s Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman’s Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front. In 2012, Hegar became the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Defense Department that argued that the exclusion of women from combat roles was unconstitutional. As a result, the defense secretary and joint chiefs of staff lifted the ban on American women serving in combat. Major Hegar served three tours in Afghanistan as a helicopter pilot and after being wounded and saving her crew, received the Distinguished Flying Cross with a Valor Device. She explains that anyone should be allowed to fight, and she acknowledges that some people, both men and women, have a warrior’s heart—the drive to run to a traumatic event to help rather than fleeing. Her autobiography has been picked up by Tristar Pictures, and American Sniper screenwriter Jason Hall is working on the script. Rumor has it that Angelina Jolie will play Major Hegar, and I’m hoping the current box office success of Wonder Woman will ensure that this movie comes to fruition.

I grew up reading Scholastic’s “Sunfire” young adult historical fiction, and I still enjoy learning about the past through novels. Earlier this year, I read Jennifer Latham’s much-discussed YA title Dreamland Burning, about the 1920s Tulsa race riots. I had never heard of this dark period in our history, and I didn’t know why one of the main characters faced discrimination for being half Osage and wealthy. David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI provides answers. It explains the treatment of the Osage in 1920s Tulsa, especially the murder of Native landowners. Our reviewer starred this book for its readability and curricular connections—it’s an exciting crossover title for teens.

Finally, we have a graphic novel collection of three previously published tales by Rick Geary, A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: Compendium I. Covering the Lindbergh kidnapping, a serial killer in New Orleans, and the murder of architect Stanford White by Harry Kendall Thaw, this sordid volume is perfect for teens who love true crime and graphic novels. If you don’t have all three of these works already, this is an ideal purchase.

Enjoy these nonfiction reads, and I hope some of you are recuperating from an amazing ALA Annual Conference!

GRAPHIC NOVELS

redstarGEARY, Rick. A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: Compendium I: Including the Lindbergh Child, the Axe-Man of New Orleans, and Madison Square Tragedy. illus. by Rick Geary. 240p. bibliog. maps. NBM. Apr. 2017. Tr $27.99. ISBN 9781681120638.

Geary has compiled previously published graphic novel representations of three of America’s most sensational murder investigations at the turn of the century: the kidnapping and death of the Lindbergh baby, the Axe-Man of New Orleans, and the fatal shooting of Stanford White. Excellent black-and-white pen sketches grimly bring each account to life; readers will feel as though they’re watching a true crime documentary. Geary provides plenty of background information for those unfamiliar with these crimes, along with a brief bibliography before each chapter for further reading. Each case is fully dissected, but particularly chilling is the retelling of the murders of the Axe-Man of New Orleans, a serial killer who targeted immigrant grocers in 1918 and 1919, leading authorities on a wild goose chase and raising puzzling questions: Why were the victims’ valuables left untouched? Why immigrant grocers? Did the Axe-Man know his victims, or did he attack at random? Geary evokes mystery and suspense, creating a truly spine-tingling read. VERDICT With the popularity of true crime shows such as Making a Murderer and The Keepers on the rise, this compendium of death will no doubt have loads of teen appeal. For every YA collection.–Tyler Hixson, Brooklyn Public Library

NONFICTION

redstarGRANN, David. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. 352p. bibliog. notes. photos. Doubleday. Apr. 2017. Tr $28.95. ISBN 9780385534246.

In 1920s Oklahoma, many members of the oil-wealthy Osage Nation were dying untimely and suspicious deaths. The widespread crimes against the Osage and the inability to identify those responsible led to the establishment of what is now known as the FBI. Grann, author of the best-selling The Lost City of Z, makes a complex web of violence and deception easy to follow by keeping the focus on one Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, whose family members were murdered one by one. This gripping title uncovers a baffling level of corruption. The author points his investigative lens at the perpetrators of the murders, reveals cover-ups by authorities all the way up to the national level, and illustrates that the deception continued almost a century later. There are plenty of curriculum connections: Native American and Osage tribal history, economics, law enforcement, and journalism. A varied selection of photographs helps to set the scene for readers. End pages include comprehensive source notes, citations, and a bibliography. VERDICT This thoroughly researched, suspenseful exposé will appeal to followers of true crime programs such as the podcast Serial and the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer, as well as to fans of Louise Erdrich’s The Round House.–Tara Kehoe, formerly at New Jersey State Library Talking Book and Braille Center, Trenton

HEGAR, Mary Jennings. Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman’s Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front. 304p. New American Library. Mar. 2017. Tr $27. ISBN 9781101988435.

From the time Hegar was very young, she knew she wanted to be a fighter pilot. Despite sexism, military politics, and emotional setbacks, she persisted until she was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force as a combat pilot, and then served three tours in Afghanistan. As a combat search-and-rescue team member, Hegar earned a Purple Heart and other honors. Her book is more than a mere account of her accomplishments, detailing the obstacles she encountered yet encouraging other women eager to join the military. Hegar also describes how, with the ACLU, she waged a legal battle to give women the right to officially serve in combat roles in the military. The writing is candid, and the message is a resounding one: “Sometimes the biggest asset on your team isn’t the one who looks like Superman. People will surprise you with the strength they can summon when tested.” VERDICT For students with military aspirations and those who appreciate uplifting memoirs.–Pamela Schembri, Horace Greeley High School, Chappaqua, NY

MELVIN, Leland. Chasing Space: An Astronaut’s Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances. 256p. HarperCollins/Amistad. May 2017. Tr 25.99. ISBN 9780062496720.

Featuring an eye-catching cover of Melvin in his spacesuit with his two dogs lovingly gazing at him, this memoir of an “unexpected astronaut” will appeal to a wide audience. It opens with a description of how ruptured eardrums nearly ended years of training before he even had the chance to go into space. Melvin persevered, just as his family taught him, and 10 years later became a crew member on the space shuttle Atlantis and worked aboard the International Space Station. His experiences in space will intrigue readers, as will the details of his pre-NASA life. As a young man, Melvin had received a scholarship to play NCAA football while majoring in science at the University of Richmond. He briefly played for the NFL but was sidelined because of an injury. The author makes his seemingly larger-than-life experiences relatable to readers, emphasizing how his hard work and confidence were crucial to his success. Young athletes will especially appreciate the discussion of how a sports team can act as an extended family, and Melvin’s account of the difficulties he encountered as an African American man in an often predominantly white setting will resonate with teens. VERDICT A heartfelt offering for fans of inspiring memoirs, sports lovers, or those interested in the STEM fields.–Sherry J. Mills, Hazelwood East High School, St. Louis

TYSON, Neil deGrasse. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. 224p. index. Norton. May 2017. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9780393609394.

Celebrity scientist Tyson’s profound intellect is matched by his charm and wit. In this slim title, he attempts to explain some of the most complex astrophysics concepts in layman’s terms. Readers should be prepared for a challenging yet edifying experience from the get-go: “In the beginning…all the space and all the matter and all the energy of the known universe was contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence.” Tyson riffs on topics such as gravity, the speed and makeup of light, the shape of space, and dark matter, maintaining as chatty a tone as possible as he tries to make these important principles comprehensible to the uninitiated. VERDICT Likely to resonate the most with those with a scientific bent, but Tyson’s pop culture appeal expands the audience somewhat.–Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library

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Sarah Hill About Sarah Hill

Sarah Hill is SLJ's Adult Books 4 Teens cocolumnist and an information services librarian at Lake Land College in Mattoon, IL.

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