Five Strategies for Reading Nonfiction

How I manage to read some non-fiction with a busy life, and where my system fails.

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This is a question I’ve gotten a few times lately and thought it might be good to address.  I work full time plus most of the year and the family keeps me pretty busy too.  However, I still read a lot of non-fiction.  How do I do it?

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Review: Flygirl

“Sure, they’d only been around a few years, they were dangerous, and quite frankly, only a handful of colored people knew how to fly.” page 29

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith.
Scholastic, New York, 2008.
YA historical fiction, 275 pages.
Lexile:  HL680L  ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  4.3 (worth 11.0 points)  .

Ida Mae Jones just wants to fly.  But her mother’s dead set against her even going North to get her pilot’s license.  So using her light skin color to join the WASP shouldn’t even be an option, but Ida will do anything to get in the air and help her military brother.

Flygirl

Those of you who have been reading for a while will recall that I’m pretty tough on historical fiction.  I want it to be inclusive of diverse characters and perspectives, but also realistic.  (A character might be targeted with hateful language, but the author should also make clear that those words are wrong.)  Depending on the grade level, I’d also like it to be appropriate for the age recommended, not too graphic nor too idealistic for young readers.  And, of course, it should be well written and have an interesting plot and intriguing characters.

I’m happy to share that Flygirl succeeds on every count.

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Review: The Kidnapped Prince (YRE)

“Still I do not believe that traders in slaves are born worse than other men. It is the slave trade and the greed it brings that hardens men’s minds and kills their capacity for kindness.” page 81

The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano, adapted by Ann Cameron.  (With an introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1995.  My edition reprinted, Yearling, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2005.
Lexile:  840L  .
AR Level:  5.7 (worth 4.0 points)  .

Olaudah Equiano was an African prince from Benin who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, in which condition he traveled widely and had many different experiences.  Ann Cameron abridged and adapted this book for young, modern readers.

The Kidnapped Prince resized

Although this book has a great deal of adventure, the prologue is more of a moral lesson, and in the first chapter Olaudah describes home life during his early years.  For this reason, I’d recommend getting through the first bit quickly to hook kids into the narrative.  If you are in a library or another setting where you can’t, then tell the kids about Olaudah’s life so they stay interested.

After chapter two, the pace increases.  Cameron breaks the narrative up into short, topical chapters.  Some reviews complained about the narrative ending before Olaudah’s book finished, but the afterword summarizes the rest of his life.

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Review: Major Taylor

“Asked by reporters how he managed to keep calm despite attacks by other cyclists, Marshall answered ‘I simply ride away.’ ” page 19

Major Taylor: Champion Cyclist by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome.
Antheneum Books for Young Readers imprint, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2004.
Picture book biography, 32 pages.
Lexile:  AD1020L  (What does AD mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  5.7 (worth 0.5 points)

Major Taylor became the World Champion of cycling in the early 1900s.  He combined perseverance, an incredible athleticism, and a little luck to set world records and popularize the sport of bicycling in America.  Yet his story is largely unknown today.

Major Taylor cover resized

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Review: Two Tickets to Freedom

“Mrs. Hilliard had to tell her that slave catchers had come from Georgia and that she and William had been right to be suspicious.” page 65

Two Tickets to Freedom: The True Story of William and Ellen Craft, Fugitive Slaves by Florence B. Freedman, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats.
My edition Scholastic, New York, 1995.  Orig. pub. Simon & Schuster, 1971.
Nonfiction, 96 pages.
Lexile:  1030L  .
AR Level:  6.8 (worth 3.0 points)  .

This book tells the life story of husband and wife William and Ellen Craft, best known for their famous escape from slavery.

Two Tickets to Freedom
Two Tickets to Freedom by Florence B. Freedman, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats.

In case you are not familiar with this couple, William was a skilled tradesman whose entire family was separated by slavery.  Ellen was given to her sister as a wedding present from her father’s wife.  They had better lives than many slaves – Ellen was a house servant with comparatively light duties, William was allowed to do extra work and earn his own money, and their owners permitted them to live together in a common-law marriage (it was not legal for slaves to complete a religious or civil marriage ceremony).

However, both deplored the condition of slavery, and they decided not to have children as slaves.  One day, William came up with an idea.  Ellen was light-skinned and could easily pass for white.  They had money from William’s extra work.  Ellen would disguise herself as a young man (since a white woman would never travel alone with a male slave) and William as her slave.

It’s a fascinating story, and I’m often surprised that it isn’t better known.  We read a book about it (that also includes a reader’s theater) back during the 30 day project., so I was excited to learn more.  The kids kept asking what happened next, and the picture book only gave a page of text to tell what happened in the next part of their life.

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Review: Rosa Parks – My Story

“All those laws against segregation have been passed, and all that progress has been made. But a whole lot of white people’s hearts have not been changed.” page 187

Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks, with Jim Haskins.
Puffin, Penguin Group, New York, 1992 (my edition 1999).
Middle grade autobiography, 192 pages including index and timeline.
Lexile:  970L  .
AR Level:  6.2 (worth 6.0 points)  .

This is Rosa Parks’ own telling of her story – the story of her life, and the story of that fateful day when she became the icon of a movement.

Rosa Parks My Story resized

Some books are ubiquitous – this is one of those books.  As far as I can recall, every school library I’ve been in has this book, though I haven’t checked them all.  However, I’d never read it before, so when we saw a cheap copy at the used bookstore, we bought it.

I have no regrets about adding this to our collection.  While the book is accessible to children, it works as a quick adult read too!

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Exciting News from WPT

I know, two posts on the weekend!  But I am finally catching up on old (aka non-urgent) emails and saw the news that Wisconsin Public Television is going to be coming out with a new series about Wisconsin First Nations!

We’ve really enjoyed The Ways and I’ve used it at home and school.  Their Wisconsin Biographies series has a few diverse figures as well.  Both are free to the public.  They also have a lot of free resources in various categories just for WI educators.  I have high hopes for the quality of their new series.  If nothing else I hope to at least educate myself further about WI indigenous peoples – ideally it will work for my students and family as well.

WI tribalgovernmentmap600
The twelve tribes of Wisconsin locations and seals (image from UW Madison School of Education)