Fallout – Sheinkin’s Terrifying Look for Teens at How Close the World Came to Destruction

Lynn: FalloutWhere were you in October 1962? I know a whole lot of you weren’t even on this planet yet but how much do you know about how close we came to annihilating this place we call home? I was a young teen at the time, going to junior high in Belmont, MA and I remember those days quite well. I think I especially remember them because I realized my father was grimly worried, even scared. We watched the reports on the news and when I asked my dad if there would be a war, all he would do was shrug. I remember too, the sigh of relief when Russia “blinked” but I also remember an overwhelming sense of helplessness at these events that could wipe out the world and there was nothing I could do.

That is a long way of saying that if you read any historical nonfiction book this year, make sure it is Steve Sheinkin’s Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown. (Roaring Brook, 2021). Yes, it was 1962 but there are parallels here that need to be understood by all of us who inhabit this same fragile wanderer in space.

Sheinkin is a master of narrative nonfiction, of careful research, and is a compelling storyteller. He takes an event for which we know the trajectory and manages to keep readers hanging on by a thread as his chronicle unfolds. And in this book, he relates a tale as complex, convoluted, and shrouded in secrecy as anything in history. It is a tale of personal courage, thoughtful reflections, and a willingness to resist the pressures of other dominant opinions. It is equally a tale of luck, bungling, and terrible timing. I paused with awful frequency to shake my head in wonder and horror at the incredible chain of events that we call the Cuban Missile Crisis.

How close did we come to nuclear war? Closer than any of us outside of a very few people knew. There are true heroes in this story as well as reckless fools and power hungry zealots. This is a marvel of nonfiction writing. Succinct, wonderfully researched and cited, and thoughtfully recounted. It is also has the terrible fascination of watching a train wreck. If you were around then or are just now encountering the story, this book will hold you captive and maybe haunt your dreams with what could have been. As Robert McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, said, “At the end we lucked out. It was luck that prevented nuclear war.” See if you agree.

Cindy: Besides being stellar works of nonfiction, Steve Sheinkin’s books are a booktalker’s dream. Here’s the opening paragraph of the prologue, titled: “The Paperboy.”

“The kid hiked up the dark stairwell to the sixth floor, hoping only for a decent tip, maybe fifteen cents. Busting up a Russian spy ring was an unexpected bonus.”

Read that sentence to your students and stand back, hoping you’ve purchased a lot of copies! One of the nickels the paperboy received was a hollow coin that popped open after falling on the stairs and the boy discovered a tiny piece of film inside. Hmmmm….and away we go!

Bomb by Steve SheinkinI couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, and I was holding my breath in places (when I wasn’t gasping) even though I knew the outcome. What I didn’t know was many of the details and stories behind the Cold War build-up, the dangerous rescue efforts after the Berlin Wall went up, and the last hour unlucky mishaps during the Cuban Missile Crisis, any one of which could have could have been more than disastrous, but for some added good luck. Obviously, this is a natural sell to teen readers who were fascinated by Sheinkin’s earlier YA book, Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, but adults will want to read this as well.

The Power of Style – an Inclusive Guide to Fashion

Lynn:

Power of styleLynn: Most of us have grown up with the sort of fashion and style books that showed us how we SHOULD look within a very very narrow definition: thin, tall, white, shiny hair, clear-skinned and perfectly coordinated from head to toe. I gave up reading them as a teen, knowing I would never measure up. For many teens who didn’t fit that narrow mold, those guides often felt cruel and demeaning.

Christian Allaire’s Power of Style (Annick, 2021) is a fresh look at fashion. The wonderfully written book by Allaire, an Ojibwe writer who is now the Fashion and Style writer for Vogue, sets out the philosophy right from the first page.

“This book is for anyone who has never felt represented, who has felt inferior or less beautiful, and who has questioned their roots.”

While acknowledging that fashion has great power, he goes on to introduce readers to people who are using fashion and beauty to promote cultural activism, empowerment, diversity, and inclusivity. It is a powerful and inspiring message and it should be heard by all of us, young or old, and of any culture, size, or race. The book is absolutely gorgeous and inviting with outstanding photography and layout. Divided into 6 broad categories, the chapters examine Sewing Tradition, Hair, Cosplay and Size, Hijab and modest clothing design, Men’s Heels, and Makeup.

There is so much to think about and celebrate in these pages and readers will come away with a new interest and respect for what fashion and style can do for all of us. Of particular note for me was a small section on Cultural Appropriation VS. Appreciation that was respectful and extremely helpful as many of the fashions shown throughout the book are incredibly beautiful and readers may yearn to wear them. This is a book that should be on the shelves of every high school and public library. Don’t miss it!

Free Youth Lit Seminar from KPL

Background image of three solid color bars featuring orange, green, and blue with three people in small squares with the words reading 2021 Youth Literature Seminar.Cindy and Lynn: Have we got a treat for you! The Kalamazoo (MI) Public Library is hosting its annual Youth Literature Seminar this coming Friday, November 12, 2021 and you can attend virtually (for free) by signing up here. Keynote speakers include Betsy Bird, Meg Medina, and Gene Luen Yang. Bookends Blog is proud to continue our booktalks for this seminar in the afternoon breakout session. This year’s theme for our booktalks is a diversion from our usual “Best Books of the Year” session. Nothing was usual about the past year and a half. This year we are presenting: Overcoming Pandemic “Languishing”: Cindy & Lynn’s 2020/2021 Comfort Reads. You may recall our earlier post this year that defined “Languishing” in terms of reading. Well, we worked hard to overcome it and will be presenting the books that held our attention. While the rest of the world comforted themselves by baking banana bread, we sought comfort in books that we could escape into, or at least that were so compelling we could forget the outside world.

We hope you can join us. The seminar, with its theme of “Celebrating a New Beginning” is free and offers a wide variety of engaging speakers. To trauma and beyond! See you there!

This Very Tree – a story of hope and resilience following 9/11

Lynn: This Very TreeLike so many adults, the memory of that day in September 2001 is harshly strong. And like many of us, I find it difficult to talk about the enormity of the experience to children. I’ve approached the growing number of picture books on the subject with mixed feelings. Sean Rubin’s new picture book. This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience and Regrowth (Henry Holt, 2021) doesn’t try to explain the event. Instead he takes the event as a given and focuses instead on the strength, determination and resilience of the people of New York City and America to restore their city.

He does so by using the voice and perspective of the very real Callery Pear tree that stood by itself in the World Trade Center Plaza. Planted in the 1970’s the tree heralded spring each year with early blossoms and provided welcoming shade. Rubin addresses the issue of the attack with these simple sentences, “It was an ordinary morning. Until it wasn’t.” The peaceful green scene is replaced by a series of dark and angular panels that gradually lighten with a view up to light and firefighter faces looking down. No explanations are used here but the sense of something dark and catastrophic is clear.

The tree itself was seriously injured, with broken limbs, roots snapped, and branches burned. The tree relates how it was transplanted and gradually began to regrow. The New York Dept. of Parks tended the tree carefully for 9 years before it was finally returned to the Memorial Plaza where it now thrives among over 300 other trees. Called the Survivor Tree, the pages chronicling the healing and regrowth of the tree itself and the city are full of green life and a hopeful spirit. And I dare you to read them without tearing up! Yes, this is a story of 9/11 but it is also a story of resilience and hope and coming together and perhaps this is what we all need right now.

Cindy: Trauma and recovery are serious subjects for picture books, but so many children have experienced big and little traumas that even if they are too young to understand the world-changing event that was the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there is a healing story here that may help them. There is plenty for adults here, too, including the opening poem by E.B. White from Here is New York, that ends with the titular line, “This very tree.” Rubin’s art illustrates not only the storyline but the emotional path from trauma to recovery and hope. Along the way are lots of details of city life, construction equipment, and pockets of nature for young readers to explore. 

An author’s note explains how Rubin came to tackle this difficult story with its survivor tree, and a double page spread gives a brief history of  the World Trade Center, 9/11, and the Survivor Tree for older readers. Many tiny details (such as using the same typefaces as those used on the cornerstone of the One World Trade Center) make this a lovely tribute to New York City, its people, and to hope.

Not Your Ordinary Summer Vacation!

Sunrise SummerLynn: A bright cheerful cover of a new book on display at the public library recently caught my attention. Even with summer fading fast, the cover of Sunrise Summer (Imprint, 2021) by Matthew Swanson made me smile and I grabbed it thinking I was in for one last trip to the beach via picture book. Well, I was but this is not like any summer beach vacation picture book I have ever read! What surprise this book was to me and it is one I’m eager for kids and adults to be amazed by too.

The opening pages reinforced my first estimation of the content. A young girl tells us that summer, her favorite time of year, is here and her family is packing for their vacation. Here is where I began to wonder as this family was packing onions, potatoes, batteries, and spark plugs! This young family is headed to Alaska, specifically a place called Coffee Point in Egegik far far to the north. They own a property there where they go to commercially fish sockeye salmon each summer and this year our young narrator gets to join the fishing crew. She describes the process and that first summer of hard work and excitement, setting the nets and pulling in the salmon. Told with a joyful buoyancy, the story is immensely interesting and full of sensory descriptions that will fascinate kids. The sense of the hard work comes through clearly but so does the excitement, and sheer joy of this very unusual summer experience.

Cindy: I’m going to appreciate my salmon dinners much more after having read this story that clearly shows all the hard work that goes into catching those fish. The mixed media art is colorful and vibrant, but dark when the fishing happens in the wee hours of the morning or during storms. This is not a summer vacation for anyone but the hardy! The artist, Robbi Behr, has been summering in Alaska since she was 2 years old when her family decided to buy property at Coffee Point and have summer “adventures.” She now carries on the tradition with her husband, who wrote the text, and their four children. The final two spreads of the book include family photos, and illustrations, diagrams, and text to further explain the Alaskan salmon fishing industry and the indiginous history and current traditions. What a great catch, Lynn.

Once Upon a Camel – How Stories Still Save Lives

Once Upon a Camel by Kathi AppeltLynn: Once upon a time there was a camel named Scheherazade, who was called Zada. Kathi Appelt tells us Zada’s story, in her charming new book, Once Upon a Camel (S&S/Atheneum, 2021) Zada is a story teller just like her famous namesake and her story of family, love, courage, and holding on to memories is a story that saves the lives of her friends, the Kestrel family, and Zada herself.

It all started in a West Texas sandstorm in 1910. No, wait, it all started in Smyrna, Syria in 1850. Two tiny camels were born into the Pasha’s famous stables, destined to become best friends and prize racers. Zada and Asiye were fast friends and as fast of the winds of the desert. Zada and her Kestrel family’s story of danger and adventure comes later. So let us return to the Texas wilderness of 1910 and the towering haboob that blows Pard and Perlita into the choking sand and leaves Zada to care for their chicks, Wims and Beulah, and to somehow get them to safety at the Mission so many miles away.

It is a tale of dangers and fears, of bravery and love, and above all it is all about the power of story. And isn’t that something we all need to lighten our way through the darkness of whatever storm we walk through?

Kathi Appelt’s newest story is guaranteed to win the hearts of every reader. With richly developed and endearing characters, a spellbinding plot, and, of course, a happy ending. I love the historical facts that sparked this story. Yes, there really were camels brought to Texas just prior to the Civil War! This is the PERFECT book for reading aloud in a classroom. The chapters are short, packed with humor and perilous moments that will have listeners begging for just one more chapter!

Cindy: Put this book on display and Eric Rohmann’s gorgeous and slightly silly cover illustration will have it fly off the shelf as fast as an American Kestrel! Zada with her two nestling kestrel babies perched on her head will have kids giggling before they even start to read. His art sprinkled throughout the book is a treat as well.

Shadow Spinner by Susan FletcherI agree with Lynn about this being a great read-aloud, whether in a classroom or between parent and child. The time-shifting plot and stories within stories structure will require a strong reader or a little explanation from an adult, but the payoff is delightful. My middle schoolers were always fascinated by my booktalk for Susan Fletcher’s Shadow Spinner (Atheneum, 1999), because I started with an introduction to Scheherazade, a legendary character they did not know. Some had heard of the tales of the One Thousand and One Nights, and of course, Aladdin, thanks to Disney, but they did not know of the storyteller or the way in which she saved her life, and that of the other women in ancient Persia. In fact, we stenciled a quote from that book on the library bulkhead to remind our students every visit of the power of story. “Stories can save your life.” Indeed.

A Saucy Read: Tomatoes for Neela

Tomatoes for Neela by Padma LakshmiCindy: My husband rarely gets credit for his support of Bookends Blog or his suggestions for my to-read list. He saw an interview with the host of Top Chef and Taste the Nation, Padma Lakshmi, on this Today Show segment about her new picture book, Tomatoes for Neela (Viking, 2021) and told me he wanted to read it and that I should consider it for the blog. Now, I’m not a fan of “celebrity author” childrens books, but this one, illustrated by Caldecott Honor Winner Juana Martinez-Neal is an exception. I am a fan of any food books that encourage healthy eating and that promote families spending time cooking together. Lynn found the book at the public library and read it and then handed it off to me the day I had spent the morning canning tomatoes and tomato sauce! Perfect timing.

IMG-2622Young Neela loves to cook with her amma (mother) and copies their recipes in her own notebook just like her amma and her paati (grandmother) have always done. To Neela, these books seem magical, like a wizard’s spell book. A trip to the green market that day is highlighted by a stunning display of tomatoes in all sizes, shapes, and colors. I could hang that spread on my tomato red  kitchen wall and never tire of looking at it. The acrylic and colored pencil illustrations beautifully showcase the the fruit and the love between Neela and her amma and their joy in purchasing such treasures in season.

In addition to the lessons on making the sauce and dishes using the sauce (recipes included), the story is infused with family tradition, Indian culture, and information about tomatoes and the farmworkers who bring those fruits to market. The backmatter includes more information including a list of books for children about Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

I wish I’d read this gorgeous book before canning this year, as I didn’t fry my garlic before adding it to the sauce, nor did I know to cut x’s in the bottom of my tomatoes before boiling them to loosen the skins, but I will try both next year. I learned to can tomatoes from my mother but it became a tradition my father and I did together every August while my mother was selling antiques on the weekends. 

It is one I continue with my husband as I spend the day thinking of my father and enjoying the satisfaction of putting away a bit of summer to enjoy in the cold days of winter. 

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A Picture Book about Hineographs – Changing Child Labor

Traveling cameraLynn: My introduction to Lewis Hine came through Russell Freedman and his memorable book, Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor (Clarion, 1994). It was a book we used constantly in our middle school collection and the photographs in it have always stayed in my mind. I have seen very few if any books for students since Freedman’s book and the issue of child labor is still a problem in the world today. So I was truly excited to learn about a new book about Hine, this time a picture book, The Traveling Camera: Lewis Hine and the Fight to End Child Labor (Getty, 2021) by Alexandra S. D. Hinrichs.

Basing her text on Hine’s letters, reports, and photo captions, Hinrichs introduces young readers to Lewis Hine and his pivotal work, photographing child workers all across America in the early 1900’s. Hired by the National Child Labor Committee in 1908 to take pictures to bring awareness of the horrendous conditions children worked in. His jarring photographs helped to bring about legislation to protect children in this country. Having worked himself as a child, Hine became a teacher, then a photographer, eventually working for the Red Cross. His work was critically important in changing public opinion but sadly it was gradually forgotten until long after his death.

Hinrichs does an excellent job of bringing Hine and his work to life for kids today. As an amateur photographer myself, I especially appreciate the background she provides on the awkward and heavy equipment Hine had to use. For kids used to point and click cameras, the process will be eye-opening as is the information about Hine having to disguise himself in order to get into work places to get his pictures. Well written, and beautifully illustrated by Michel Garland, this is a terrific book to add to all collections.

Cindy: On the opening page of the book is a quote by Hine under his own portrait photograph defining his goals with photography. He met them both:

There are two things I wanted to do.
I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected;
I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated.

Illustrator Michael Garland does a beautiful job with his combination of digital and traditional pastel and sepia-toned paintings, many of which are “snapshots” of the scenes behind Hine’s photographs. A sliver of each page spread holds the free verse poetry that tells “a big story/in a small space” as did the photographs of these children at work. The rest of the page is given to the visual story, in a design that is very appropriate for the subject.

For readers who haven’t seen Hine’s work, the story ends with a spread of some of his photographs. Others are sprinkled throughout the backmatter. There’s a Note to the Reader with information about child labor and other topics related to the book. A Time line of Hine’s life and child labor in the US is included as well as a good list of selected sources and quotation sources.

Older students interested in the subject should also get their hands on Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s child labor books, Growing Up in Coal Country (Houghton Mifflin, 1996) and Kids on Strike! (Houghton Mifflin, 1999). This is a world-wide problem that isn’t going away. I’m grateful for the photographs and the books that help “show the things that (have) to be corrected.”

Return to the Old Kingdom – Terciel & Elinor

Lynn: Terciel & ElinorNice things often land on my porch and recently something especially nice arrived. It was an unexpected surprise too—one I didn’t even know was coming. Inside the box was an advanced reader copy of Terciel & Elinor (Harper/Katherine Tegen, Nov. 2021) by Garth Nix, a prequel to one of my all time favorite series, The Old Kingdom series. I read it immediately, no putting it on my to-read stack nonsense! I am happy to report that this was an entirely absorbing and wonderful reading experience! From the very first sentence, I slid effortlessly back into the Old Kingdom. There are few authors who do world building as well as Garth NIx and the world he has been developing since Sabriel published in 1996 has been captivating readers ever since. Terciel & Elinor gives us the backstory of Sabriel’s parents and begins with their two separate story lines.

Terciel is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting to his Great Great Aunt, the Abhorsen Tizanael. The bells came to Terciel, a poor orphaned street child, when his sister, the previous Abhorsen-in-Waiting died. Now a young man, Terciel is learning the art of necromancy, preparing to take his place in time helping to the lay the dead to rest and to assure that the Dead do not arise and walk again.

On the other side of the Wall from the Old Kingdom, 19-year-old Elinore lives a sheltered life in a large estate slowly falling to ruin. Her mother, a cold and distant figure, lies dying. Elinor, who has been raised primarily by her governess and groom, a famous ex-circus performer, discovers that the her house and estate is about to be foreclosed by creditors. Elinor has no knowledge of the magic of the Old Kingdom or of her own deep connections to it. But the wind is blowing from the North and the Dead are stirring and gathering power. Terciel arrives to reveal that evil is present in the house and what has lain in her mother’s bed is not her mother. The plot that awaits them threatens all on both sides of the Wall and Elinor’s life will never be the same.

Richly developed characters, a breathless plot, and masterful setting are all trademarks of this series and Nix provides them once again in this immersive story. Readers new to the series can begin here and fans of the series will be enthralled by this addition. I admit to slowing my reading as I neared the end, I was so reluctant to leave the Old Kingdom behind. And, now, of course, I cannot resist re-reading the rest of this wonderful series once again. See you when I surface!

Cindy: I received this magical package as well and made the mistake of loaning it first to one of our teen book club alumni who had to fight her own mother for it! I got it back quickly, though, as neither of them could put it down, and I add my praise to that of Lynn and my fellow Nix fans. 

Sabriel opened with this line:

“The woman who had staggered into their forest camp was dead, only holding on to life long enough to pass it on to the baby at her side.”

Now we have some of Sabriel’s mother’s backstory, and her father’s, and what a story it is. The Old Kingdom series is for teen and adult readers who don’t care about the romantic triangles prompting readers to choose “teams.” Nix’s female characters are strong and capable and aren’t sitting around waiting for the male lead to save them. His stories demand focus and attention and provide a rich reading experience. The descriptions of the dead use all of your senses (!) but there are touches of humor and wit to lighten the darkness. I’m left wanting to reread the series, too, but I’ll probably opt for listening to them, if only to hear Tim Curry read them to me again! Antici………….pa-tion. 

Grief and Loss for the Youngest Readers

Lynn and Cindy: Grief and loss is a sad part of the natural cycle of life even for our youngest readers. This past year’s events have made that experience much more widespread. Difficult even for mature individuals, the struggle to understand loss can be particularly challenging for young children. We have reviewed other helpful books in the past and we have recently found more sensitively written picture books that are a wonderful addition to the list. Books cannot cure grief but they can help children understand that what they feel is normal and begin to heal.

My Nana’s Gardenmy nana's garden (Candlewick/Templar, 2020) by Dawn Casey.

This lovely gentle picture book shows the story of the changing seasons in a garden and the relationship that flourishes there between a grandmother and young granddaughter. The delicate illustrations show the passing years as the child grows taller and the grandmother frailer as they share their joy in the natural world. Then, with a page turn, readers find a stark and wintry scene and the grandmother’s empty chair. The young girl stares out of the house at the snow covered garden. But the renewing cycle of life returns and the reassuring story reveals the following seasons of the enduring beautiful garden and the new generations that come to share in Nana’s garden. Quietly encouraging, this beautiful told tale reaffirms the love of a shared experience and the healing cycle of life.

Tears (Owlkids, 2021)tears by Sibylle Delacroix.

“Everyone cries,” begins this wonderful picture book that addresses an experience that is universal. For a young child, tears and crying are a fundamental part of their lives. But they may not have really thought about the complexity of what lies behind the tears or the variety of ways in which we cry. Delacroix uses simple sentences in this story for the youngest readers, with examples that they will easily understand. She reinforces each example with adorable illustrations created in soft aqua and white tones, often using teardrop shapes in the sketches. While this is not specifically a book about grief, it is a book that young children will find both interesting and comforting.

The Boy and the Gorilla (Candlewick, 2020) by Jackie Azúa Kramer.

Boy and the Gorilla by Jackie KramerThis gentle, spare picture book story will help many young children who have lost a parent. In the story, a gorilla follows a young boy home from his mother’s funeral. The boy asks the gorilla questions like “How do you know when someone has died?” Or “Will we all die?” The gorilla answers in short, truthful sentences, “Yes. We all do. But you have many more kites to fly.” The gorilla stays with the boy through the dark days as he and his father struggle to rise from their own grief to connect fully with each other. Eventually, the boy and his father find their way back to each other and that connection is wrapped in a big hug surrounded by a gorilla hug before he wanders off, perhaps to help the next child who needs him. Cindy Derby’s expressive watercolors highlight the moods and emotions with a mostly somber palette that lightens on the brighter days. Even in the darkest times, though, there are tiny sparks of color…a red cardinal, red and blue kites, bright crayons, hinting that while the dark is overwhelming, there is still joy to be found. This is simply a  beautiful book to share in hard times.