Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Nonfiction Monday - the roundup!

It’s been a pleasure to host Nonfiction Monday!  Here is the final roundup for the 
February 25, roundup.

In the Nonfiction Picture Book category,

According to Jeff, "Henry and the Cannons is the story of a determined man who led a group in bringing 59 cannons to Boston from Fort Ticonderoga." I like Don Brown. He does a great job of making history accessible to younger readers.

"It's a terrific, fast read with great images, and it introduces the concept of staying healthy and safe. It shows kids that children all over the world do and need basically the same things to stay strong and healthy, but they go about it in different ways.”

When I was younger, these were numbers that were barely used except when calculating distances in outer space. Today, these numbers are most commonly used in discussing money. Kids need to know them. Thanks, Abby.

"It's not a book you'll quote in a research paper, but it is a fun book that may inspire you to pick up some more on the topic."

"Terrific new book with engaging format listing random, fascinating facts about birds."

  • Cindy and Lynn, the librarian duo of Bookends, are taking it slow and easy with A Little Book of Sloth. Their consensus is that it's an "adorable picture book about sloths that is packed with fascinating information about this unusual creature." The cover certainly is adorable!

Her post "is a review of a stunning picture book about Lincoln.  It includes textbook-like facts along with commentary by the narrator.  The illustrations communicate emotion that can't be communicated with words."  

In Middle Grade Nonfiction,

"This new Scholastic title will appeal to boys who want more information on the Vietnam War. It is graphically appealing and gives short biographies of major players."

Jennifer describes Boydguards! as "an interesting look at bodyguards through history, both male and female, with career advice for kids interested in this field and comic panels."

She's featuring this book "by Glennette Tilley Turner to highlight this important moment in history."

In Young Adult Nonfiction,

"I'm celebrating the SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books on my blog over the next three weeks by giving away signed copies of the winners in the YA, middle grades, and picture book categories. (My own book, Citizen Scientists, won in the hands-on category.) The celebration starts this week with Terrie Williams' page-turner, THE ODYSSEY OF KP2. It's a great read for teens, particularly those with a scientific bent."

  • The LibrariYAn has a review and discussion of a memoir, Grayson. Sharing more than just a review, Alicia tells us, "Grayson is one of the most heavily circulated nonfiction titles in my middle school library. It is a short memoir of swimmer Lynne Cox's encounter with a baby gray whale."

What we think often doesn't matter. If a nonfiction book has broad kid-appeal, then it's probably worth having in your library.

And last, but not least, in the biography category,

She notes that, "Pippin's inner strength and creativity shone throughout this book." Coincidentally, Jen Bryant was interviewed today on NPR's, Radio Times. Listen to the interview here:
  • Janet at All About the Books with Janet Squires has the second Abraham Lincoln title of the day, Abe's Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Doreen Rappaport. Janet writes, "Rappaport sheds her light on the life of Lincoln by skillfully detailing both the major events in his life and personal moments and balancing her narrative with relevant quotes from our sixteenth president that provide context through his words and a heightened sense of emotion through his voice."

  • At Stacking Books, Reshama is featuring Monsieur Marceau: Actor Without Words. "This is a beautiful dedication to Marcel Marceau , the world's greatest Mime. This picture book is an excellent dedication to his lifetime work. We loved seeing what a Mime does, what inspired Marcel, learning about his life before and after he discovered "Bip the Clown" and his performances. We hope this book inspires kids to have fun and mime!"

That's a wrap, everyone! Thanks so much for participating.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Women's History Month is coming!

The popular, not-for-profit, educational Women’s History Month website returns in March!

Now in its third consecutive year, the blog, KidLit Celebrates Women’s History Month founded by me and fellow librarian, Margo Tanenbaum, of The Fourth Musketeer, brings together distinguished authors and illustrators of books related to women’s history with librarians and bloggers from across North America.

Each day features a new essay, commentary or review by some of the most noted writers in the field of literature for young people. Contributors for 2013 include Jane Yolen, Sy Montgomery, Roger Sutton, Tanya Anderson, Michelle Markel and Kathleen Krull, among others.

The blog will publish daily from March 1 through March 31, and will once again feature original posts from well-known, award-winning writers, illustrators, and bloggers. A complete lineup of contributors may be found on the site. Interested readers can sign up to “follow” the blog, or receive it via email. Visit the site at to see “following” options, an archive of past contributions, and links to educational resources.  Don't miss a single day.  It's going to be a great month!

I am this week's host of the weekly Nonfiction Monday meme, a weekly gathering of bloggers who discuss nonfiction books for children each Monday.

Here at Shelf-employed, I will feature links and descriptions to each participating blog. Please check back later or tomorrow to see all of today's contributions to Nonfiction Monday. Thanks so much.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Peace - a review


Despite what John Lennon urged, as adults, it's hard for us to imagine peace.  As a global community, we've never had it; we've never seen it.  It's more the stuff of imagination than possibility.  Heck, even the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) for Wendy Anderson Halperin's new book, Peace, is 172.42, translation - "political ethics." Pragmatic, yes - but lacking in idealism to be sure.

But talk to children (even teenagers) and many can envision peace - and they have ideas on how to achieve it.  That's one of the many things that make children so wonderful.  They haven't lost the ability to hope and dream and imagine the to-date unachievable.

Wendy Anderson Halperin's new book, Peace (Atheneum, 2013), seizes on that idealism, reflects it, and feeds it with new possibility.

Groupings of Halperin's delicate and peaceful, pencil and watercolor illustrations decorate each page in this circular story of peace which begins,
For there to be peace in the world ...
there must be peace in nations.
Accompanying each line is a collection of quotes from the likes of Walt Whitman, Dalai Lama, Kofi  A. Annon, and other lesser-known individuals.  The quotes serve as borders between the many illustrations on each page, each one, a story in itself.

The circular narrative leads inward, with the continuing theme of
For there to be ...
there must be ...
until the "heart" of the book is reached,
For there to be peace in homes,
there must be peace in our hearts.
Here the double-spread layout features the art of schoolchildren from Michigan, Ohio, and New York, and moving then outward, the refrain changes to
When there is ...
there will be ... .
Culminating in the elusive,
There will be peace in our nations.
And we will have peace in our world.

Peace is a beautiful and inspiring piece of work, or perhaps more aptly, a work of peace.

Much thought went into the design and concept for the book, as evidenced by its companion website, "Drawing Children Into PEACE."  The page with suggested Peace Projects has some great ideas.  As a matter of fact, I have an old chair that would make a fine "peace chair."  It may not turn out as well as the one below, but I'm inspired to give it a try.

See several pages of Peace at the author's website.

It's Nonfiction Monday.  This week's host is Wrapped in Foil.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds - a review

There is no easy segue from yesterday's Captain Underpants review to today's In the Shadow of Blackbirds. I primarily review children's books.  This one is definitely for young adults.

Winters, Cat. 2013. In the Shadow of Blackbirds. New York: Amulet.
Advance Reader Copy supplied by NetGalley.

Through the windows, I watched the boys proceed to a line of green military trucks that waited rumbling alongside the curb. The recruits climbed one by one beneath the vehicles' canvas coverings with the precision of shiny bullets being loaded into a gun. The trucks would cart them off to their training camp, which was no doubt overrun with feverish, shivering flu victims. The boys who didn't fall ill would learn how to kill other young men who were probably arriving at a German train station in their Sunday-best clothing at that very moment. (From Chapter 2, "Aunt Eva and the Spirits")

The year is 1918, and 16-year-old Mary Shelly Black is on her way from Portland to San Diego to stay with her widowed 26-year-old aunt. Her mother is dead. Her father has recently been arrested - swept up in the anti-German immigrant frenzy that's sweeping the country.

The sign in front of the eatery claimed the place specialized in "Liberty Steaks," but that was simply paranoid speak for We don't want to call anything a name that sounds remotely German, like "hamburger." We're pro-American. We swear! (from Chapter 13, "Ugly Things")

Young men are eagerly enlisting to fight in the trenches of Europe, and amidst it all, the "Spanish flu" ravages the population - their flimsy gauze masks are no match for the deadly virus.

The businessmen in smart felt hats rode with me, probably on their lunch break. They buried their gauze-covered noses in the San Diego Union, and one of them felt the need to read the October influenza death tolls out loud. "Philadelphia: over eleven thousand dead and counting - just this month. Holy Moses! Boston: for thousand dead." The use of cold statistics to describe the loss of precious lives made me ill. (From Chapter 17, "Keep Your Nightmares to Yourself")
The bleak situation is made all the worse by her recent discovery that her dearest Stephen, the only bright spot in her sad existence in San Diego, has enlisted in the Army, not because he desires to fight and kill German soldiers, but to show love for his country and free himself from living under the same roof as his brother, a drug-addled, "spirit photographer,"

So this is war. The declaration changed Coronado and San Diego overnight. The men are all enlisting and everyone is hurrying to make sure we all look like real Americans. One of our neighbors held a bonfire in his backyard and invited everyone over to burn their foreign books. I stood at the back of the crowd and watched people destroy the fairy tales of Ludwig Tieck and the Brothers Grimm and the poetry of Goethe, Eichendorff, Rilke, and Hesse. They burned sheet music carrying the melodies of Bach, Strauss, Beethoven, and Wagner. Even Brahm's "Lullaby."
In the Shadow of Blackbirds takes a decidedly darker turn when Mary Shelly learns of Stephen's death in the trenches of Europe.  She attends his funeral, but something is very wrong.  She can hear him, she can feel his torment.  His spirit is not at rest; and amidst the horror of war and the flu pandemic, something else is terribly, terribly wrong.  Spirit photography and séances are commonplace as millions across the country yearn to connect with loved ones lost to war or disease; but Shelly is a girl of science, of rationalism - raised in a house of reason and education.  But how can science and reason explain the anguished pleas of her deceased love?

In The Shadow of Blackbirds is gripping historical fiction and Mary Shelly Black is a tragic yet strong protagonist. Containing some of the same themes as Avi's dark, Seer of Shadows (Harper Collins, 2008) (spirit photography, rationalism vs. spiritualism), In the Shadow of Blackbirds examines these themes as well as romantic love and post-traumatic stress syndrome. The setting (San Diego and nearby Coronado Island) and the juxtaposition of love and war, disease and science combine to offer a dark and gritty debut novel.  The descriptions of trench warfare and everyday life during the massive flu pandemic are gritty and graphic, reminiscent of Mary Hooper's novel of Europe's 17th century plague, At the Sign of the Sugared Plum (Bloomsbury, 2003). The fear of death is almost palpable, made even more so by the reader's knowledge that garlic amulets and gauze masks are powerless against the killer flu. To read In the Shadow of Blackbirds is to be immersed in a grim period of American history that at times, bears resemblance to our own.

From the Author's Note,

...the influenza pandemic of 1918 (this particular strain was known as the "Spanish flu" and the "Spanish Lady") killed at least twenty million people worldwide. (Some estimates run as high as more than one hundred million people killed." Add to that the fifteen million people who were killed as a result of World War I and you can see why the average life expectancy dropped to thrifty-nine years in 1918 - and why people craved seances and spirit photography. 

Note: If you've ever watched the classic Academy Award Best Picture, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), this warning from Mary Shelly to her love will foreshadow and haunt,

 "Please stay safe. It's not everyone who has the patience to photograph a butterfly."

Period photographs of life during the influenza pandemic of 1918 available at these sites:

There are great resources of all kinds (music, vintage video footage and photos) at Cat Winters' site.

Here's the trailer, just released today at the Mod Podge Bookshelf. I wish it hinted at the book's rich historical detail.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers - a review

Pilkey, Dav. 2013. Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers. New York: Scholastic.

Maybe you're not a fan of Captain Underpants, the superhero alter ego of mean, Jerome Horwitz Elementary School Principal, Mr. Krupp.  Maybe you're not a fan of the frequent misspellings of Mr. Krupp's troublesome 4th graders, George and Harold.  However, it's hard not to be a fan of one of the most wildly popular series for young and reluctant readers.  This goofy, irreverent series continues to gain new fans and flies off the shelf with as much regularity and enthusiasm as the flying Captain Underpants himself. "Tra la la!"

This latest adventure finds George and Harold travelling through time with pets Crackers and Sulu, to correct the events of an earlier time-travelling venture that had disastrous consequences for the future.  Pitted against Tippy Tinkletrousers, Tiny Tippy Tinkletrousers, and Slightly Younger Tiny Tippy Tinkletrousers and their Freezy-Beam 4000, George and Harold will have to use their wits if they are to save Captain Underpants and return to the future.  Six great Flip-O-Ramas are included (they make a fun art activity), as well as a 24-page wordless comic featuring Ook and Gluk.

Although the series is suggested for ages 7 and up, I find that much older kids will read Captain Underpants, too - and not just reluctant readers.  I know high-level readers that enjoy Dav Pilkey's Three Stooges brand of humor and art as well.  I'm not much for bathroom or pratfall humor, but Chapter 2, "Let's Get Serious, Folks," had me laughing out loud.   Explaining why we miserable, regretful and grumpy grownups discourage all kinds of fun, the narrator offers readers this bit of advice,

     Keeping this in mind, you might not want to smile or laugh while reading this book.  And when you get to the Flip-O-Rama parts, I suggest you flip with a bored, disinterested look on your face or some adult will probably take this book away from you and make you read Sarah, Plain and Tall instead.
     Don't say I didn't warn you.
When I checked today, Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers was ranked #213 on  Not #213 in children's books, #213 in all books. Not too shabby.  And the reviews?  All 5 stars.

If you think kids are the only ones who follow the adventures of Captain Underpants, guess again. Captain Underpants was even featured on NPR's Morning Edition.  Read or listen to "Hold On To Your Tighty Whities, Captain Underpants is Back!" here.

DreamWorks Animation has the film rights to the Captain Underpants series, but no timeline for production has been announced yet.

Oh yes, and he's got an app, too. Preview the Adventures of Captain Underpants app here.

Update: Forgot to add that Advance Reader Copies were provided at my request by Scholastic and NetGalley.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Wooden Sword - an interview with Ann Stampler

Today I am pleased to welcome Ann Redisch Stampler, author of The Wooden Sword, the winner of a 2013 Sydney Taylor Honor Book Award*  in the Older Readers category.

Ann Stampler

First of all, my congratulations on your book's Sydney Taylor Honor Award.

What did you do when you heard the news?
Thank you so much!  Receiving recognition from the Association of Jewish Libraries is extremely significant to me personally, and in my career as a writer.

I feel a sense of responsibility and stewardship when I retell folktales --  in terms of language and humor and all of the things that make picture books work, but also in terms of presenting tales in a way that is authentic to their cultural context. The version of The Wooden Sword that I retold here is from Afghanistan, far from my Eastern European background, and my editor, the illustrator, and I worked hard to remain true to its roots.  So when Aimee Lurie called to give me the news, I was overjoyed!  An award from people who know and love Jewish children’s books is always enormously gratifying, but with this particular book, receiving the Sydney Taylor Honor was a very special affirmation.

The awards hadn’t been announced publicly yet, so I couldn’t share the news with the world, but I immediately told my editor, Abby Levine, my husband and kids, and of course, my mother, all of whom know how much Sydney Taylor recognition means to me, and who celebrated with me.
You mentioned in the author's note that you grew up knowing a "mean-spirited" European telling of "The Wooden Sword." How did you find this Afghani version?
I didn’t realize that the Afghani version of The Wooden Sword existed until Natalie Blitt, who was then with PJ Library, told me it was her favorite folktale.  Given the version I knew (and didn’t love), I was more than surprised.  But as I probed to find out why on earth she was so fond of this story, it emerged that the version she was thinking of came from Afghanistan.  And as I researched the Afghani story, learning more about the culture of the Jews who lived with their Muslim neighbors in Afghanistan for a thousand years, I loved it. It was hilarious, but at the same time, its message was profound.
Given that many older folktales are "mean-spirited" or have grim (no pun intended) endings, do you think that they impart different lessons than the milder, gentler versions written for modern children?
This is a complex question that has inspired some brilliant writing; I would refer people who find the question as fascinating as I do to Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses Of Enchantment and Alison Lurie’s work on folk and fairytales.
Suffice to say, for myself, declawing and misrepresenting folktales is right up there with drawing overalls on Maurice Sendak’s Mickey in In The Night Kitchen so as not to offend library patrons with his nakedness.  (Not sure if this actually happened, but as a folklore person, I love urban legends – especially those that pertain to books!)  I am crazy about fractured fairy tales and stories that riff on well-known folktales, but bowdlerizing folktales – no!  Just no.
As a child, "The Princess and the Pea," was my favorite folktale. Which were your favorite folktales as a child and which did you share with your own children?
The folktales I retell in book form tend to be my favorites, so I can answer this question by pointing to my books.  Also, my father was very fond of Chelm stories*, so I heard a lot of those as a child as well.  With my own children, there was a strong desire to hear tales turned on their heads, and I can’t even tell you how many times I read them Trivizas’ The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig.
Your commitment to popularizing folktales is admirable. I would hazard a guess that among the world's nations, our country does not rank among the highest in the sharing of traditional folktales - even ones that originated in our own country. I am always surprised to see how few American children are familiar with traditional songs and tales. The Sydney Taylor Award seeks to address this problem as it relates to Jewish culture, but it addresses a larger issue as well. What do you think we (modern society as a whole) lose when we forget our traditional stories?
America is an immigrant culture populated with families that arrive here with folktales that reflect their diverse backgrounds.  I love that when I go to a library in Glendale, California and share a Jewish story from Poland, a Syrian Christian woman tells me of a similar folktale she learned growing up in Aleppo.  
The stories I learned from my family growing up were not American in the sense of coming from Native American communities, Pilgrims or pioneers.  They were European stories my grandparents brought with them, but that changed to reflect their American immigrant experience. There is something profoundly American about those Syrian-American children, who arrive at school knowing more about the folklore of Aleppo than Babe the Blue Ox, enjoying a Jewish folktale from Eastern Europe in their family’s new country.
While our children might not share a common body of folklore, we can rejoice in the many different traditions their stories represent, and encourage them to share their tales with one another, to let them know that their parents and librarians can lead them to books and other resources that tell stories from their ancestral homes, as well as their common, very diverse home in America.
Of course, traditional stories deserve a place in our children’s lives, and in all of our lives. They can teach us not only about ourselves and our own families’ roots, but about our friends’ and neighbors’ communities.  The tales that survive beyond academic collections tend to be extremely entertaining, wise, deep, satisfying, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.  Folktales convey our values, our challenges and triumphs, in a way that is accessible and moving, and that affects us on a deep, personal level that is very difficult to reach with didactic instruction.
In many religious and cultural traditions, our most deeply held convictions and beliefs are explored through stories about our ancestors, bringing their beliefs and struggles into our daily lives, illuminating our path.  I would never suggest that folktales elevate us to that level or should be revered, but I do think that before dismissing our time-honored stories, we ought to think about how relatable, profoundly meaningful, and successful in conveying our values, folktales can be. 
Thank you so much for sharing your time and your thoughtful answers.  It's truly been a pleasure.  I hope you have as much success with your newest book, The Cats on Ben-Yehuda Street.

* Note: If, like me, you are unfamiliar with the Chelm stories that Ann mentioned, this article by Matti Friedman from The Times of Israel  (March, 2012) will shed some light on their origin. LT

All of the medal and honor winners will be on blog tour this week.  A complete schedule of  the Sydney Taylor Award blog tour is available below and at the Association of Jewish Libraries.


Ann Redisch Stampler, author of The Wooden Sword
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Shelf-Employed 

Carol Liddiment, illustrator of The Wooden Sword
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Ann Koffsky’s Blog 

Doreen Rappaport, author of Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Teen Readers Category
At Bildungsroman

Linda Glaser, author of Hannah’s Way
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
At This Messy Life 

Adam Gustavson, illustrator of Hannah’s Way
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger ReadersCategory
At Here in HP 

Louise Borden, author of His Name was Raoul Wallenberg
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Randomly Reading 

Deborah Heiligman, author of Intentions
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
At The Fourth Musketeer 


Sheri Sinykin, author of Zayde Comes to Live
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Read, Write, Repeat 

Kristina Swarner, illustrator of Zayde Comes to Live
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Writing and Illustrating.


Linda Leopold Strauss, author of The Elijah Door
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Pen and Prose 

Alexi Natchev, illustrator of The Elijah Door
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Madelyn Rosenberg’s Virtual Living Room 


Blog Tour Wrap-Up at The Whole Megillah

*From the Association of Jewish Libraries website:

The purpose of the Sydney Taylor Book Award is to encourage the publication of outstanding books of Jewish content for children and teens, books that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience. It is hoped that official recognition of such books will inspire authors, encourage publishers, inform parents and teachers, and intrigue young readers. The committee also hopes that by educating readers about the Jewish experience, they can engender pride in Jewish readers while building bridges to readers of other backgrounds.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Dreaming Up - a review

On Fridays, you may find many bloggers participating in STEM Friday or Poetry Friday

Here is a book that covers both bases.

Hale, Christy. 2012. Dreaming Up: A celebration of building. New York: Lee and Low.

As a youth services librarian in a public library, I don't have the same type of interaction with children as  a teacher or school media specialist might. I see more preschool than school-aged children, and though my goal is to "teach" the love of reading and the power of information, children and parents often come to the library seeking pleasure and entertainment. Teaching and learning moments are offered in the form of story time programs, book clubs, or crafts. 

That's why a book like Dreaming Up is so perfect!  Imagine a book that "teaches" architecture,  concrete poetry, design, and the power of imagination. Now imagine that book is suitable for preschoolers  up to grade 4, that it sparks opportunities for imaginative play, that it is factual (Architecture, DDC 720), that it is properly sourced, that it is multicultural, and yes - it's attractive, too!

On the page facing each illustrated poem is a photograph of the famous or architecturally significant structure which inspired the poem. Featured buildings are from locations around the globe and include the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. Back matter includes information on each of the fifteen structures as well as biographical information on each building's architect.

No need to dream; there is such a book and it's Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building.  Go. Read it. Share it.  

Get out some boxes, and blankets, and pillows, and playing cards, and Popsicle sticks and building blocks. Encourage the young people you know to "dream up."

Note: I purposefully did not quote from the book because in concrete poetry, you must see the structure of the words themselves.  Please preview a few pages of Dreaming Up here on the publisher's site.

View suggested companion learning activities on author Christy Hale's site.

Today's Poetry Friday is at A Teaching Life.

STEM Friday may always be found at - use it as a great resource for children's books featuring Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. 

Join STEM Friday!
We invite you to join us!
  • Write about STEM each Friday on your blog.
  • Copy the STEM Friday button to use in your blog post.
STEM Friday
  • Link your post to the comments of our weekly STEM Friday Round-up. (Please use the link to your STEM Friday post, not the address of your blog. Thanks!)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Black History Month - fact and fiction

  • "Frederick Douglass appealing to President Lincoln and his cabinet to enlist Negroes," mural by William Edouard Scott, at the Recorder of Deeds building, built in 1943.
  •  Highsmith, Carol M., 1946-, photographer

Last year, I reviewed a copy of Russell Freedman's, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012).  The story of their friendship and the "back story," was so interesting, that I thought it might make a good topic for a Black History Month program for younger children.  I began searching for a way to communicate to a young library audience the connection between the history of African Americans and these two great men. In researching, I found that the founder of African American History Month (it was originally called Negro History Week), Dr. Carter G. Woodson, initiated this cultural celebration in 1926, and chose February because the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass are both celebrated in February. (1)   I then discovered an earlier book, Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship (Henry Holt, 2008), that recounts the friendship but targets a younger audience.  Even better, it has a companion DVD.  So, I planned a Lincoln and Douglass birthday celebration, featuring the Lincoln and Douglass picture book and an explanation of the founding of Black History Month. Perfect, right?

Well, not quite.  In reading Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship, I found several discrepancies.  As it turns out, the timeline included in the picture book's back matter is correct, but some dates within the book's narrative are not. For example, Freedman's thoroughly researched book has the initial meeting of Lincoln and Douglass as a central theme. The picture book gets the date wrong.  Though the picture book still has merit and will be useful to introduce Douglass and Lincoln to a young audience, I can also use it as a teaching moment.  Always check to see that a book has been properly researched if you plan to use it as a representation of factual material.

Oddly, the same thing happened to me last year.  I sketch out my programs many months in advance to satisfy printing and publicity deadlines.  I fill the details in later.  Last year, I offered a Black History Month program on Follow the Drinking Gourd (Knopf, 1988).  While investigating resources, I found that the story, while well-known and generally accepted, is more folk legend than truth. (2)  Again, the story is not without merit and I was again able to use it as a teaching moment.  Besides the obvious lesson, we looked at ways in which to read the stars without a compass.

I understand narrative license.  I understand that it's particularly useful in treatments of difficult topics for younger children.  I also understand, however, that there is a concerted effort by our nation's leaders to raise a new generation of critical thinkers, and to achieve that end, the use of nonfiction books will rise dramatically.  It is up to us as librarians, teachers, caregivers and parents to discern fact from fiction, even when the line between them may be indistinct.  In doing so, we will help children to navigate a world where information is everywhere for the taking, but truth must be mined.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Apples with Many Seeds.

And don't forget, February is a perfect time to head over to The Brown Bookshelf; each day in February will feature a different artist in this annual celebration of Black History Month and children's literature.

(1) Library of Congress, "African American History Month" (Douglass' actual birthdate is not known conclusively)
(2) Follow the Drinking Gourd

Beneath the Waves - a review

As we read disturbing news accounts of dying manatees , environmental disasters caused by toxic waste, and ocean pollution on the scale of ...