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Weird But True! USA

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 208 pgs.
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Weird But True! USA from National Geographic Kids is a slim volume of unusual facts about many U.S. states and American history. What state has plastic pink flamingos as their state bird? Which state named their fog Karl? Did you know that there was a dog in WWI who could salute? Did you know Russian salad dressing was not invented in Russia and originally contained part of a sea creature? There’s a really cool gargoyle on the National Cathedral in D.C., which I never knew about! And oh, how I wish I had a time machine to go back and have the original Twinkie filled with banana cream!

My daughter and I read this book off an on over a few weeks. Her favorite facts naturally had to do with ice cream and cats. She also wants to check out whether money is magnetic or not. And there are bound to be some facts that you already know, particularly if you live in the D.C. area — many are well known.

Weird But True! USA from National Geographic Kids is part of a series of books that are always informative, fun, and engaging for the entire family. This fourth of July, why not brush up on some weird facts about our country.  You won’t be disappointed.

RATING: Cinquain

The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 3+ hours
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The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams is a quick look at the effects of being out in nature and how it can “calm” the brain. Cognitive neuroscientist David Strayer, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Utah, found in his studies that creativity increases after three days spent in natural settings and his subjects improved in cognitive testing.

She takes several nature trips with different groups of people. The first group of veterans tackles the obstacles and hardships of nature easily, while the second group of women who have faced abuse in the past have a harder time dealing with nature’s struggles. Williams also takes a trip in Utah with her city friend, who writes about the benefits of city living.

Williams clearly sees the benefits of nature, but the 3-day effect may not have the same impact on everyone. The veterans took to the hikes and time in nature as a way to get some peace from the PTSD they normally experience at home with their friends, family, and others. The second group of women needed a bit of modification to see the benefits of nature, as they lived in fear for many years, reinforcing those fears in the elements was not the best option. One women who had been homeless and lived outside expressed serious concerns about camping outside where wild animals would be. Williams’ friend struggled with some of the hiking and was less than convinced that the effort to reach summits was worth it.

The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams offers some scientific data and testing, but I wouldn’t call this a scientific study as there are no control groups for comparison and many of the data sets are too small. I also wouldn’t recommend this to people who are likely to take these anecdotal experiences and drop their medications and treatments on a whim without medical advice from a professional. I did find the book interesting to listen to and see how people reacted on the hiking trail and sleeping in nature, as well as how they felt afterward and what effects the stint in nature had on their productivity and real life.

RATING: Tercet

Make This! Building, Thinking, and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You by Ella Schwartz

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 160 pgs.
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Make This! Building, Thinking, and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You by Ella Schwartz is a magazine quality book chock full of experiments for kids to do with one another or with a supervising parent over spring break or summer break from school. This allows kids to learn how to create functioning items out of recyclable materials and repurpose them. It has been a delight to watch our daughter choose a project and run with it.

My daughter made the solar oven mostly on her own over spring break, but our weather was uncooperative most of the time for her to see it in action making s’mores. Once she was back at school, we had a sunny day so I put the solar oven outside for her. The chocolate on the s’mores did start to glisten and look a bit melted, but unfortunately, her pencil that held the foil at an angle kept blowing open, making it hard for the heat to be sustained and actually make the s’mores.

Since initially getting this review ready, my daughter spent some more time with the book and picked out a project she was confident in tackling on her own. She was on a break from electronics on a rainy day, and this one fit the bill. She built her own catapult.

Not too many supplies were needed, and she even let me take a video of her trying it out. There were several takes in making this video, but she was happy with this one.

Make This! Building, Thinking, and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You by Ella Schwartz is a book that every inquisitive kid should have at home. I’m sure we’ll be using this one again and again, especially when I hear the phrase, “Mom, I’m so bored.” She needs direction now and this book will get her active and creative at the same time.

 

RATING: Cinquain

Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hours
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Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith is an Audible original that mixes  Smith’s memoirs, poetry, and music into one live performance. In spoken-word style and deadpan tone, Smith takes listeners on a journey into her creative life where they will meet Robert Mapplethorpe, Allen Ginsberg, and so many others. She talks about her early nomad days in New York and the freedom it afforded her, but also the deep hunger for food she couldn’t afford. Working to feed her belly became an early goal.

Her children, Jackson and Jesse Paris Smith, accompany her performance as well, making this a delightful family affair. Even though I’ve read her memoirs, I really loved hearing them spoken aloud in her own words and accompanied by her music. It creates an intimate portrait of the singer and writer. Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith is a great addition to her memoirs on the shelf and the music in your ears.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred debut albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

Beautiful Justice by Brooke Axtell

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 241 pgs.
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“Although approximately one in six women will be sexually assaulted, more than 90 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.” (pg. XI)

Beautiful Justice by Brooke Axtell will inspire those who have been abused, trafficked, and left feeling unworthy to rebuild their self-esteem, create their own sacred places, and heal from their abuse. Axtell’s memoir is more than a look at her life and recovery, it is a call to those with similar stories and experiences.

She asks nothing of them but to care for themselves, to rediscover their own worth, and to find a community that can support them in that endeavor. Throughout the memoir, she offers poems she wrote throughout her experiences as a way to speak about the suffering and long road of recovery.

“Beautiful Justice is the art of taking back our lives and reclaiming our worth after abuse. It is a form of Justice that does not depend on what happens to our perpetrators. It is centered on our recovery as a creative process.” (pg. X)

Axtell’s recovery from abuse and trafficking was a long one. But with the help of her parents after a tumultuous time, she had two champions for her self-worth. At one point, her father praises her and reaffirms her as an intelligent young woman, while her mother helps her find places to seek out the help she needs. Even as she succeeds in some areas of her life, she is still battling demons.

“I strive for perfection in every dimension of my life — my dance, my studies, my spiritual path. I want to shine so brightly the shadows cannot consume me.” (pg. 16)

Axtell does not dwell on the horrors she experienced, but on the emotional trauma, the PTSD, and the dark shadows that follow her. Her recovery also provides lessons in how you can fool yourself into believing that all is right with your own world, even when you have not resolved the darkness that follows you. She offers moments of joy, her struggles, and her poetry in an effort to demonstrate the hard road of recovery but also the hope that can be found around you, if you are willing to ask the right questions of yourself. What makes you happy? How can you reclaim your life? How can you rebuild your worth without connecting it to what happens to the perpetrators of your abuse?

We are the untamed.
We are the unashamed.
We are beautiful justice
Just watch us rise. (pg. 143)

In addition to her story, she offers journal prompts in the back to help other survivors get started on their own recoveries, she provides them poems of strength and hope, and she provides mantras they can use to reaffirm their own worth. While she speaks a lot about how her ties to Christianity helped in her recovery, she also cautioned readers on how some doctrine and those who offer it can lead you away from your recovery journey. Axtell says that you need to find your own touchstones and paths to recovery, and many of the answers are within yourself. Self-reflection, self-care, and creativity can help those in recovery blossom and rebuild their lives. Beautiful Justice by Brooke Axtell is a journey of reclaiming self-worth and identity, while manifesting the beauty inside in the form of art and celebrating the value we bury inside.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet and Author:

Brooke Axtell is the Founder and Director of She is Rising, a healing community for women and girls overcoming gender violence and sex trafficking. Her work as a human rights activist led her to speak at The 2015 Grammy Awards, The United Nations and the U.S. Institute for Peace.

Her work as a writer, speaker, performing artist and activist has been featured in many media outlets, including the New York Times, LA Times, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, Wall Street Journal, CNN and The Steve Harvey Show. Brooke is an award-winning poet, singer/songwriter and author of the new memoir, Beautiful Justice: How I Reclaimed My Worth After Human Trafficking and Sexual Abuse.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (audio and print)

Source: Purchased
Paperback and Audible, 447 pgs. or 14+ hours
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The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, which was a book club pick from last year and took me more than the month allotted to read, is a look at Chicago’s endeavor to build a World’s Fair to rival that of Paris. Larson attempts to contrast the beauty of the white city created by some architectural greats with the dark serial killings of  H. H. Holmes. The story is one of a city growing up and expanding, which generally brings with it the darker elements of crime. As women began to seek out jobs and not marriage, many were preyed upon by criminals, including Holmes. These comparisons are easy to see, but the main bulk of this book is focused on the political issues of the 1893 World’s Fair and its construction.

“Jane Addams, the urban reformer who founded Chicago’s Hull House, wrote, ‘Never before in civilization have such numbers of young girls been suddenly released from the protection of the home and permitted to walk unattended upon the city streets and to work under alien roofs.'” (pg. 11)

“To women as yet unaware of his private obsessions, it was an appealing delicacy. He broke prevailing rules of casual intimacy. He stood too close, stared too hard, touched too much and long. And women adored him for it.” (pg. 36)

Like the previous book I read by Larson, the narrative is big on detail — too much detail in some places — and this often bogs down the narrative and leaves the reader wondering if the book is about the fair or the serial killer. To finish this pick, I ended up reading along with the audiobook to keep my attention focused, as I found it wandered too much just listening to the audio and too much when reading the book — I started scanning pages rather than reading them.

The most interesting parts of the book for me were those short chapters about Holmes, and it makes me wonder if Larson had a hard time finding enough about him and his crimes to write about him alone — hence the need for the World’s Fair and its comparison with the darker side of Chicago. This was less boring than the previous Larson book I read, which isn’t saying much.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson was a mixed bag for me. The World’s Fair parts of the book were interesting but too long winded, while the parts about Holmes are too little throughout the book until the end. Saving the show-stopper for last is a detriment for this book. These subjects are not really related to one another, and the only thread holding them together is Larson’s slight juxtaposition of them and the fact that they both occurred around the same time. It would make readers wonder if Holmes would have been as successful as a serial killer if the World’s Fair had not distracted the police, officials, the government, and tourists alike.

RATING: Tercet

Other Reviews:

Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories by Sarah Lerner

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 192 pgs.
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Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories edited by Sarah Lerner is deeply moving and filled with passion — a passion for making a difference and a passion for the lives that were cut too short and should be remembered. From students to teachers, these essays, poems, photos, and drawings will make you an emotional mess. Reading through this collection, you can tell how scared these kids were when the shooting occurred on Feb. 14 , 2018. The lives of these unsuspecting students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was upended by one school shooter.

The initial reaction was disbelief because many thought the second fire drill was just routine, but the rapid fire soon became the scariest thing they had ever heard. Many lamented they didn’t stick to their routines and wait for friends, while others wanted to have done more to save their friends. There was the interminable wait for their friends to respond, but the silence was deafening. The heavy weight of sadness was soon wielded as a weapon against those who dare not to talk about gun reform, with many kids marching and lobbying for change still.

From “Can’t You Hear?” by Alyson Sheehy

You can blame what you want, pull on whatever thread
Bully us into silence and treat us like we don’t matter.
However, don’t forget there is no future when all of us are dead
Although it seems that is still not enough for all lives to matter.

Can’t you hear the screams now? Cause they are only growing louder.

The speech from Emma Gonzalez is widely known, but it bears repeating.

From “We Call BS” speech by Emma Gonzalez

“The students at this school have been having debates on guns for what feels like our entire lives. AP Gov had about three debates this year. Some discussions on the subject even occurred during the shooting while students were hiding in closets. The people involved right now, those who were there, those posting, those tweeting, those doing interviews and talking to people, are being listened to for what feels like the very first time on this topic that has come up over 1,000 times in the past four years alone…”

Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories edited by Sarah Lerner must have been a cathartic experience for the writers, artists, and photographers who participated in sharing their stories, emotions, and trauma with readers. It’s a must read for anyone who does not understand the movement toward gun control. Our world has changed, our children are no longer safe in school, and more guns are not a viable solution.

Rating: Quatrain

Shimmer and Shine: Kitchen Magic

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 64 pgs.
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Shimmer and Shine: Kitchen Magic is a cookbook for younger kids to start learning how to cook simple meals with the help of an adult. The recipes come with a little bit of story from Shimmer and Shine and their friends, as well as an ingredient list and step-by-step instructions. These recipes are easy enough to read that early readers can follow along themselves. Some elements will require help, including pre-heating the oven and taking the items in and out of the oven, etc. I will caution that there are some odd recipes in here for Pizza and ice pops, but they do make for healthy alternatives.

My daughter loves helping in the kitchen with recipes and the Blue Apron boxes (which I have 5 free boxes to give out so if you want one, let me know — you can’t have been a previous customer or previously received a box before).

For her first recipe, she selected Sparkle Cakes from the book, though we did not have the ingredients to make the frosting. We did have some other store-bought frosting, which we used on the cupcakes and improvised with the fruit topping since we also didn’t have raspberries. The recipe for the chocolate cupcakes was easy to follow, though when we added the hot water at the end after everything was mixed, it took a bit to get the right consistency for the mix before putting it into the cupcake pans. Since I’ve baked before, I knew the consistency wasn’t right when we poured it in, so I had to help her mix it more thoroughly. For this recipe, I would have added the water earlier in the recipe.  Otherwise, the cupcakes turned out nice and fluffy and moist.

 

Our second recipe, Cheesy Noodle Flowers, was messy and fun to make, though we had no-bake lasagna noodles, which made it a little harder to roll our flowers up. Eventually we got them rolled up and ready for the oven, even though some noodles cracked and broke.  Despite the messy look of this one, I can tell you it was a big hit in the house and was nearly eaten in one evening with very few leftovers. My daughter was extremely proud of how well it tasted and how much everyone ate.

Shimmer and Shine: Kitchen Magic would make a perfect gift for kids who want to cook with their parents. It makes cooking more of a family activity and helps kids see how things are measured, how long they take to cook, and how much prep time is needed for some recipes. In today’s instant gratification world, kids can learn that taking our time and putting in additional work can lead to some great results.

RATING: Quatrain

The Sun Is Kind of A Big Deal by Nick Seluk

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 40 pgs.
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The Sun Is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk imagines the sun as a rock star of sorts in the solar system where everyone knows his name and his importance. Even Pluto is in the background of this one. My daughter loves books where she’s learning without realizing it. Nonfiction told in a way that’s fun and engaging will always be a big hit with her. Seluk achieves that for the most part in this book.

The book includes a main dialogue about the sun as well as some sidebars about specific facts on the solar system and space terms like “asteroids.” The pictures are colorful and fun, especially since space can be very black and colorless.  My daughter loved how the planets introduced themselves, with Saturn being the “Hula-Hoop Champion.” And Seluk uses a racetrack to illustrate the rotation of the planets around the sun. Very helpful for younger readers just learning about space. The visuals explaining direct and indirect sunlight and its affect on Earth were helpful as well.

However, there are some larger words like Condensation, Evaporation, and Precipitation that make an appearance in the water cycle section, which younger readers may stumble over. Challenging words, however, should never be a discouraging thing. My daughter and I made a game out of mispronouncing the word and breaking each down into smaller, more pronounceable parts until she got them right.

One of our favorite parts of the book is the visual of the sun’s roll in the water cycle where the sun is putting raindrops down an enclosed slide for precipitation. It’s cute. At first my daughter thought the book was too challenging until she realized how fun the pictures were and the thought bubbles became amusing to her.

The Sun Is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk is chock full of facts about the solar system, nature’s cycles, and so much more. The pictures are bright and engaging, and the characterizations of the planets and other elements are amusing for young readers.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Nick Seluk worked as a graphic designer before becoming a full-time illustrator. He is the creator of the popular Awkward Yeti comic and author of the New York Times bestselling Heart and Brain, and its follow-ups Gut Instincts and Body Language. His work has appeared on CBSNews.com, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, reddit, and blogs across the internet. Nick lives in Michigan with his wife, three kids, and a very awkward dog.

Fly With Me by Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, Adam Stemple, and Jason Stemple

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 192 pgs.
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Fly with Me: A Celebration of Birds Through Pictures, Poems, and Stories by Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, Adam Stemple, and Jason Stemple is gorgeous. The photographs and reproductions of artwork are stunning, bring each bird to life for young readers. With these colorful pictures, it will be hard for young readers to turn away, and parents will be able to use this as a resource for not only the biology of birds, but also in geography lessons in which state birds are talked about. The giant state bird map is wonderfully detailed, as are the pages about migration, ancient birds, evolution and extinction, and so much more.

I originally wanted to review this book because poetry is included, and Yolen’s poems are always accessible to a number of audiences. I wasn’t wrong about that here, either, as her poems in this book are a great way to introduce young readers to birds. There also are poems from Heidi E.Y. Stemple, which are equally accessible. I loved sharing with my daughter how Stemple’s poem, “Vee,” not only examines the migration of geese but is also shaped like the “V” formation of geese.

Fly with Me: A Celebration of Birds Through Pictures, Poems, and Stories by Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, Adam Stemple, and Jason Stemple is a collection that the whole family can share. It was big hit for its colorful pages and its poetry, but there is so much more to explore in these pages.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Authors:

JANE YOLEN is an author of children’s books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children’s literature.

HEIDI STEMPLE was 28 years old when she joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published 20 books and numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children.
Stemple, her two daughters, her mom, and a couple cats live in Massachusetts on a big old farm with two houses.

JASON STEMPLE is an author and photographer. He lives with his wife and children in Charleston, South Carolina.

ADAM STEMPLE is a novelist and musician. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Nevertheless, We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage Foreword by Sen. Amy Klobuchar

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 320 pgs.
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Nevertheless We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage with a foreword by Sen. Amy Klobuchar is a collection of essays from some of the bravest humans in society — those who have taken bad experiences, traumatic events, and more  and come out the other side into a brighter future for themselves. What’s inspiring about these people is not how they have taken their hard journey and learned lessons, which they applied to their own lives, but that they have taken these hardships and lessons and used them to create better futures for others facing similar obstacles.

Each essayists’ style is different and each journey is nuanced. At the heart of this collection is the strength of the human mind and its emotional and psychological flexibility to recover and to move forward and to contribute to society in the best ways. From a Holocaust survivor to an actress who saw acting as a way to be someone other than herself, these essays are about perseverance and strength.

Alia Shawkat’s career, for example, was no longer a way to escape, but a way for her to embrace who she truly is and to show that to others — breaking down those stereotypes. These essays are inspiring. The young and old should read this collection. Jump in head first and learn to let go of the fears that hold them back.

“Music would be no longer something to dabble in but something to swallow me whole if I surrendered to it. Like the ocean, I both longed for it and feared it.” (pg. 102, “You, Sailor” by Erin McKeown)

“It can be a lonely business, this persisting.” (pg. 104, same essay)

The collection touches not only on those most marginalized by society as a whole, but also those lives in the shadows of great basketball players and others finding their own way out of the darkness. Nevertheless We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage with a foreword by Sen. Amy Klobuchar is a collection that should be on everyone’s shelves, and read and discussed by book clubs, friends, strangers, and more.

RATING: Cinquain

PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 228 pgs.
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PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey is a comprehensive resource for poets who want to gain a wider audience for their work. For novice marketers, Gailey includes in each chapter an overview of marketing terms and set of action items that poets can tackle within an hour to get themselves started.  What’s beautiful about this book is how well various aspects of marketing are explained from the platform to website to social media interaction.

It’s clear that she’s taken her experience marketing her five poetry collections to create this guide, which poets who have a website or don’t can use to market their art. Overall, much of poetry marketing begins with community. Creating a community online, creating a community in your neighborhood or city, and giving back to those communities through helping other poets with reviews, sharing their books, and even smaller things.

I cannot wait to start putting PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey into action when my manuscript is done and publishable. There are some really challenging parts for me in this book, particularly reaching out to libraries and others to promote my future book.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter and, Field Guide to the End of the World, the winner of the Moon City Press Book Award and the SFPA’s Elgin Award. She also wrote a non-fiction book called PR for Poets to help poets trying to promote their books. Her poems have been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and on Verse Daily; two were included in 2007’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She was awarded a 2007 and 2011 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize for Poetry and a 2007 Washington State Artist Trust GAP grant. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner.