Review: An XL Life

“I had loved myself at 500 pounds. I loved myself now, even with my loose skin.” page 203

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An XL Life: Staying Big at Half the Size by Big Boy (Kurt Alexander).
Cash Money Content, 2011.
Autobiography/memoir, 237 pages.
Not leveled.

The autobiography of Los Angeles radio personality Big Boy, once known for his size as much as the music he played.

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This book opened with Alexander talking about the father he never knew and how he didn’t feel that contributed to his weight at all.  It’s a marked contrast to the last biography of a black man I read, Un-Ashamed.

On the other hand, Alexander was greatly impacted by constantly moving around as a child.  His stories about homelessness and frequent moves reminded me more of Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness, although he wasn’t moving from relative to relative.  His mother must have been truly remarkable, because his six siblings stayed with the family through various moves and hardships, even after they were adults.

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Five Strategies for Reading Nonfiction

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

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: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Nonfiction November: Week One

I had no intention of doing any more challenges this year, but Wendy mentioned this one and it happened to coincide with my current goal.  Basically, although you don’t see it (because these days I schedule most of my posts), at certain times of the year I tend to focus on one type of book.

Right now I find myself with some extra time and am pushing myself to read and review as much nonfiction as possible, knowing that next year will probably be much busier and include much less reading time.  Therefore, Nonfiction November it is!

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Hidden Figures and Redefining Realness were my two favorite adult reads.  Recently I was blown away by Prisoners Without Trial.  For kids so far I liked This Kid Can Fly best; if picture books are included, this gets even tougher.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? I continue to recommend a nonfiction book from last year frequently, Born a Crime.  However, I’ve been recommending As Nature Made Him for years now.  The review with the highest stats on my blog (more than twice the views of any other post, nearly as many as my main page) is still Lion.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?  Once upon a time I used to read a lot of true crime.  I also used to read a lot of science-based books.  I’d like to read more #ownvoices stories about places in the world I’m not familiar with and the lives/careers of PoC STEM leaders.  I continue to quest for more books about indigenous or PoC people who are disabled (be sure to comment if you know of any that aren’t on my list).

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November? I have some bonus reading time and am hoping to buckle down and get through a lot of non-fiction books so I have a good pool of reviews to use in 2018 (most of my posts for 2017 are already scheduled).

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October 2017 Book Haul

TBR  I’m hoping to finish reading and reviewing all of the nonfiction books from my last book haul.  I would also like to complete or make substantial progress on the two 500+ page books on my shelf.  Basically this month I’m hoping to tackle the most difficult, lengthy, or academic works ahead of me, so that I have some reviews ready for busier times when I’m not as able to delve into deep reading or take time to write a longer review.

If you’d like to see the 25 nonfiction chapter books and ten nonfiction picture books I’ve reviewed in 2017 so far, scroll down on my 2017 Review List and they are listed by title below the fiction books.