Monday, November 09, 2009

Nonfiction Monday

For today's nonfiction offerings, I'm giving you a slew of books that are Cybils nominees. They're all under 100 pages, which I normally don't review, but they're Cybils books, so they get a pass.

Sacred Mountain: Everest Christine Taylor-Butler

Basically, this is a book that talks about Mount Everest and the people who live on and around it. Taylor-Butler tells of the expeditions to the top and the perils involved therein, but spends most of her time talking about life in Everest's shadow, particularly for the Sherpa people and their culture. Personally, I would have loved more information about life on the northern Tibetan/Chinese side of the mountain and how it's the same or different from life on the southern Nepalese side of the the mountain.

Beautifully laid out with great pictures and a lot of side bars and pull-out boxes, I especially appreciated Taylor-Butler's focus on how the Sherpa people and traces their initial interactions with foreign climbers who needed them to succeed while but looked down on them as backwards natives up through today, where they claim much of Everest's glory for themselves and are working to keep it a high-stakes tourist spot (good for the economy) while not letting too many people come and destroy their mountain and way of life.

Book provided by... the publisher, for Cybils consideration

The Vermeer Interviews: Conversations With Seven Works of Art Bob Raczka

A very interesting idea. Raczka interviews the subjects of seven paintings by Jan Vermeer. The people in the paintings tell of their lives, of what Dutch culture at the time of the painting, and how to read the painting, pointing out details of the painting that give clues to what's going on, and details that show why Vermeer was so good.

This is a really fascinating book that's going to be a quirky sell to kids. It's not one they're going to pick up on their own, but I think they'll really like it once they start reading it. It's getting them to read it that's going to take a stealthily guiding hand.

My one complaint is that, while the printing is high quality, there were times when areas we pointed out that had been painted over. While I'm sure these things are visible in the originals, I couldn't see most of them in the book. That might just be me, but it was frustrating.

Book provided by... the publisher, for Cybils consideration

The Anne Frank Case: Simon Wiesenthal's Search for the Truth Susan Goldman Rubin, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth

Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor, made it his life's work to track down Nazis and bring them to justice. Despite the title, the book doesn't focus much on Anne Frank. Wiesenthal's search to find the man who arrested the Franks provides an interesting frame to tell of Wiesenthal's life and work, but his overall mission, and not that particular case, are the focus.

While I can't find information in the book itself, the illustrations look like oil paintings and are done in an almost impressionistic style. While I prefer photographs to illustrate nonfiction, I appreciate that Rubin was trying to tell this story like it was a story, and a unified illustration approach helps that.

There are photographs, as well as more biographical details, further reading (some of it even for kids!) and source notes in the back of the book.

An interesting look at what people did after the war to help deal with the affects of the Holocaust.

Book Provided by... my local library

Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Abridged by Chris Van Wyk (original by Nelson Mandela), Illustrated by Paddy Bouma

This is a picture book version of Mandela's adult autobiography. The picture book version makes the material and Mandela's life accessible to 2nd-4th graders. It has a nice timeline in the back, as well as a glossary.

I have a few complaints about this book-- one is that it is fully illustrated with absolutely NO photographs. Not one! It's not like there aren't a million photos of Mandela out there! Not even one in the back matter? Really?

The book also doesn't explain the term "colored" in the South African context. In the US, colored is a term that meant African-American and we often see it in books for children about the Civil Rights Era. When explaining apartheid, it says "It classified every person in South Africa according to race, for example, as 'black,' 'colored,' or 'white.'" Later on it says "Thousands of colored, Indian, and white South Africans were against it [apartheid], too." (sorry, it's an unpaged book, so no page numbers.) It was confusing and even I had to look it up to see what it meant. (People who were of mixed race, but not "black enough" to be considered black under apartheid.)

Also, in editing the book for children, the reader fails to really grasp the full sense of what Mandela did, especially before being sent to prison. There's not a great sense of why Mandela is the hero he is, which is sad.

Book Provided by... my local library

Round up is over at Abby (the) librarian!

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