Friday, March 15, 2019

Fake News

There is so much talk about "fake news" in the media that it's time to take a closer look. Michael Miller does in this new book.

Fake News: Separating Truth from Fiction
by Michael Miller
112 pages; ages 12-18
Twenty-First Century Books (Lerner), 2019

Fake news is real and it matters, writes Michael Miller. The term “fake news” has been applied to stories that pose as news but are untrue and deliberately designed to mislead. But in recent years some people – especially those in power – are using the label “fake news” to cast doubt on legitimate news stories. Especially when those stories are critical of their policies.

But fake news isn’t always political. There are false medical as well as stories aimed at businesses. Maybe you heard that you could cure diabetes by eating carrots, that an X-box console killed a teen, or that a particular brand of bottled water contained “clear parasites” that no one could see.

Fake news isn’t new; it’s been around since the time of the Romans, when a senator read a false document accusing a military general of being a traitor. And, of course, fake news was a “vital part of spreading anti-Semitism in Germany before and during World War II,” writes Miller.

Why should teens care about fake news? Because a democratic society depends on educated voters, and relies on a free press to hold elected leaders accountable to the public. A free press is so important to democracy that the founding fathers gave it specific constitutional protection: the First Amendment.

Miller devotes an entire chapter to how real news works: how journalists do their jobs, how they document facts, and how they correct mistakes. He reveals the “many faces” of fake news, from tabloids to faked online news sites, propaganda, and satire. Yes – satirical, funny stories in the Onion are not “real news”.

He talks about how fake news is created for profit and for political ideology, and how social media comes into play. Miller dives into why people believe in fake news, bias confirmation, and even how political affiliation affects who is more susceptible to believing fake news. And he addresses the question: when fake news results in violence, can we ban it?

In the last two chapters, Miller describes how you can tell fake news from real news, and what you can do to fight fake news. The most important take-aways: get your news from reputable sources (he lists least-biased sources); read before you share; and when a news story is breaking, wait for information to be gathered rather than jumping on the first bandwagon that goes by. And though Miller urges kids to “debunk misinformation with facts”, there’s research that indicates biased people are fact-resistant.

As all good journalists do, Miller provides source notes and a bibliography. He also includes lists of books, websites and other media for further study. If I gave stars, this book would get a handful! Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, March 8, 2019


by Peter Bunzl
368 pages; ages 12 & up
Jolly Fish Press, 2019 (US edition)

Action! Adventure! Danger and Daring! What a great kick-off for the new series of Cogheart Adventures .

Thirteen-year-old Lily Harman is stuck at Miss Octavia Scrimshaw’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies. She would rather be anywhere else, especially if it involved adventures and piracy, like the stories she reads in her penny dreadfuls – the Victorian equivalent of comic books. Instead, she’s condemned to classes on deportment and posture and the Art of Making Polite Conversation (in French, no less).

Then her father, a famous inventor, disappears on what should have been a routine zeppelin flight. Suddenly Lily’s life is turned upside down. Her father’s housekeeper Madame Verdegris, becomes her legal guardian and brings her back home. Lily is happy to be away from the pretentious school. She is happy to be reunited with Mrs. Rust, a mechanical servant who cooked so many of Lily’s meals.

But something strange is going on. Madame Verdegris is selling some of her father’s mechanicals off for salvage, and strange men metal-eyed men lurk in the shadows.  Then there’s the clockmaker’s son, Robert, who has rescued Lily’s mechanical pet fox, Malkin. Why were metal-eyed men chasing – and shooting – at her fox?

I love the wild adventure that takes Lily and Robert across the rooftops of town. I love the mechanicals – and how each has its own winder. They are as precise as clockwork. I love Mrs. Rust’s wonderful lexicon of alliterative idioms. “Cogs and chronometers!” she exclaims. “Smokestacks and sprockets!”

And I love how the secret of the Cogheart is revealed. I’d say more, but there are metal-eyed men lurking in the shadows, so I must be off. I look forward to more exciting adventures in this series.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle , so hop over to see what other people are reading. And drop by one of his earlier posts where he reviews Cogheart. Review from Advanced Reader Copy provided by Blue Slip media.

Friday, March 1, 2019

How to Dress Like a Girl - or a Princess

Apparently, when I was very young I insisted on wearing dresses – the frillier the better. I’m told that I wanted to be a princess. What I remember, though, is playing cowboys and spies, and wanting to be a fashion designer (this will be a surprise to all my friends who know my taste in clothes). So here are two books that celebrate the complexities of growing up girl.

theme: girls, growing up, friendship

Dress Like a Girl
by Patricia Toht; illus. by Lorian Tu-Dean
32 pages; ages 4-8
HarperCollins, 2019

What does it mean to dress like a girl?

There are, apparently, rules one should follow to look your best. Perhaps you have heard someone say you shouldn’t wear white after Labor Day or never wear socks with sandals. Thank goodness Patricia Toht reveals secrets in how to heed rules “in your own way”. With great fun, she shows a diversity of ways that girls can interpret fashion advice.

On how to wear white, for example, think beyond the linen pantsuit to: a lab coat, angel wings, or perhaps a space suit! As to that “little black dress” – imagine it as a gown and you could be conducting a symphony. Or, adding a lace collar, be sitting on the Supreme Court.

What I like about this book: It’s fun! It encourages kids to think about fashion as an art, and as a way to self-expression. As Patricia notes, “Can’t find what you like? Then design something new!”

The Absolutely, Positively No Princesses Book 
by Ian Lendler; illus by Deborah Zemke 
36 pages; ages 4-9
Creston Books (Lerner), 2018

Greetings dear reader! My name is Lilliana Arianna de Darlingsweet-Amazingface!

But we can call her LaDeeDa for short. She is princess pink and speaks in fancy font. But Lita, who sports plain overalls and an attitude, insists that there is no room in the book for princesses. LaDeeDa offers to help Lita. She suggests a fancy dress, or bedazzling with glitter. Lita would rather work on a ranch, and tries very hard to push LaDeeDa off the page. Boundaries are crossed. Words are said. Feelings are hurt.

What I like about this book: despite my loathing of pink, this is a fun book to read. I love that the story is told through dialog, and that each character has her own font. And color. I like that this dialog begins before the first page, when LaDeeDa says Lita’s font has no flair. I smiled when LaDeeDa finds herself stepping in cow poo. At which time she pointedly says, “You don’t like glitter, but you have allowed a cow to poop in your book.” But what I really like is when LaDeeDa says that a real princess can do anything she sets her mind to. And I realized, it’s not princesses I don’t like, but the way they’ve been portrayed in our books and movies. But I still don’t like pink.

Beyond the Books
Make a paper doll model and design your own fashion line. This is way faster than sewing clothes for a doll. Here, one blogger tells how. Here’s another downloadable template for a doll. Now create some clothes. Hint #1 – if you don’t have tracing paper, tape your doll to a window and you can see its outline through a sheet of paper. Hint #2 – remember to include tabs for clothes.

Create your very own Superhero cape from an old (large) T-shirt. Here's how (video)

Check out this interview with Patricia Toht where she talks about the inspiration for her book, Dress Like a Girl.

What sort of things can a princess do if she puts her mind to it? Queen Elizabeth served in WWII as a truck mechanic. Check out this historic footage.

We're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It's a weekly event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies & ARCs provided by publishers.

Friday, February 22, 2019

It's NOT Hansel and Gretel BLOG TOUR

Today I'm hopping aboard the Blog Tour for Josh Funk's brand new fairy tale mash-up, It's NOT Hansel and Gretel. And I'm excited to share this book.

But first, a brief station-break to remind fellow writers about ReFoReMo - Reading for Research Month. Next month we'll be reading and researching mentor texts, and "picking the brains" of established authors. Authors like Josh Funk... So if you'd like to join in on the fun, head over to ReFoReMo and sign up. And now, back to our regularly scheduled BLOG TOUR!

I grew up with Fairy Tales. Thick volumes from the local library: Grimm's Fairy Tales, the Green Book of Fairy Tales, and on and on. So when authors write mash-ups and fractured fairy tales, I'm always game to read on!

It's NOT Hansel and Gretel
by Josh Funk; illus. by Edwardian Taylor
40 pages; ages 4-8
Two Lions, 2019

themes: fairy tales, imagination

Once upon a time, Hansel and Gretel lived with their mama and papa on the outskirts of the woods.

So far, so good. This is how fairy tales - wait! Is that Jack, from "Jack and the Beanstalk"? What's he doing in this story? And what's with the narrator? Instead of sticking to telling the story, the narrator is warning the kids; telling them "that's not how the story goes!"

Who's in charge of this story, anyway? The characters.... who come up with crazy idea. When it's cold outside, Gretel thinks hanging out in an oven sounds like a great way to warm up. And when she's forced to do chores, Gretel rebels. She even scolds the narrator for calling the story Hansel and Gretel. Why not Gretel and Hansel?

What I like about this book: It's zany. If something could happen, it probably will. Why not have a unicorn in the story? I like how the text shows narration, and dialog is easily found in speech balloons. I also like how Hansel and Gretel modify the witch's recipes by substituting other things for "children" in the recipe.

If you like candy, the end papers will definitely appeal to your sweet tooth.

Beyond the Book:

Create your own fractured fairy tale, or mash-up. Start with a fairy tale character you like, toss in some characters from other tales, add a few tangents and side trails, and shake it up real good. Remember to let the characters talk to each other!

Think about the roles girl and boy characters have in fairy tales. What if they were reversed? What if a girl knight rescued a boy locked in a tower? Try switching roles in some of the fairy tales you read and see what sort of story you end up with.

Try your hand at making candy. You don'y have to live in a gingerbread house to make candy. But you might want to make some treats to share with a friend. Here are some kid-friendly recipes.

Want to know more about author Josh Funk? Here's his website. Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It's a weekly event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by Blue Slip Media.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Lost in the Antarctic

A couple months ago I read Tod Olson's book, Lost in Outer Space, a story about Apollo 13. It was so fun to read that I knew I had to grab a copy of one of his new titles in the Lost series. It being one of those winters where the polar vortex comes whistling down with below-zero temperatures, this one seemed the perfect choice!

Lost in the Antarctic: the doomed voyage of the Endurance
by Tod Olson
224 pages; ages 8-12
Scholastic, 2019

Weddell Sea, Antarctica. 
October 26, 1915
The ship didn't stand a chance, and Frank Hurley knew it. He'd been in the engine room with the carpenter, trying desperately to keep the water out.

The ship is the Endurance, trapped in a sea of ice 1,000 miles wide. She is being squeezed to death by the ice. With no time to spare, the crew rescues crates of food and pike tents and sleeping bags on the ice. For fourteen months the crew and scientists of this expedition to the Antarctic had made this ship their home. Now, in zero-degree weather, they would leave it and head off onto the ice. And, if they are lucky, to safety.

Lost is the tale of Ernest Shackleton's 1914 expedition. His goal: to cross the Antarctic continent by dogsled - a trek of 1800 miles. But to get to the continent they first had to navigate the Weddell Sea. And they were stuck in the ice.

Like other books in this series, it is a page-turning read. Gleaning stories from journals and letters, Tod Olson gives readers an inside look at an expedition that went sideways. There are maps, photos, packing lists, and enough ice and frigid weather to make you head to the kitchen for a mug of cocoa. He puts it in historical context: England was on the cusp of entering World War I as the Endurance set sail. While young men fought and died in trenches, Shackleton's men fought the elements and, sometimes, each other to survive.

There are moments of shared fun: a soccer game beneath the midnight sun; a race to determine once-and-for-all the fastest sled dog. There are moments of sheer terror: watching the ship sink with their stores of food; a wild slide down a glacier. There is no way you can read this book and not come away with a greater appreciation for central heating and a neighborhood grocery store.

Back matter provides perspective on Antarctica in this age of climate change, a list of sources, and end notes documenting dialog and events. If you're interested in learning more about the Endurance, check out the Weddell Sea Expedition. An international crew of scientists are exploring the Weddell Sea off Antarctica, using underwater robots, drones and other state-of-the-art technology. You can read their expedition blog here. But you may want to put on some gloves and a hat first!

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle , so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by Blue Slip Media.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Teach your Giraffe to Ski

I wanted to squeeze this review in before the end of winter. In case you need to...

Teach Your Giraffe to Ski 
by Viviane Elbee; illus. by Danni Gowdy
32 pages; ages 3 - 5
Albert Whitman & Company, 2018

theme: winter sports, family

Uh-oh. It’s snowing and your giraffe wants you to teach her to ski.

The illustrations shows her pointing to her skis, which are leaning against the wall by the coat hooks. So of course, you offer alternatives: hot cocoa, making snow giraffes –  but no! She gallops off to the ski slopes.

What I like about this book: it’s SO fun! As a former ski instructor, giraffe reminded me of some of my young charges. We didn’t call wedge turns “pizza” back in the stone age, but we did holler “snowplow!” when kids (and adults) forgot how to slow down. I also love the exclamations that the kid makes: Great spotties! Jumping spotties! I may incorporate them into my family-friendly list of thing to say.

What I really like: when giraffe does get to the Big Scary Slope, her kid – er, instructor – has to take a deep breath, figure out how to get off the scary ski lift, and go after her. Because giraffe needs her!

The ending is fun and surprising – and I won’t ruin it for you. Strap on a pair of skis and schuss to the nearest bookstore/library/bookmobile to get your own copy.

Beyond the Book:

Do some “before skiing” exercises: stand with feet under your hips (wide stance). Reach down to your toes. Then reach up to the sun. Lift your knees like you’re marching. Then do some jump ropes. Now stand on one foot. Then the other. Back to both feet, and bend your knees. Now you’re ready to hit the slopes!

Strap on imaginary skis and let’s go “skiing”.
First thing we have to learn is how to make our skis into a pizza slice – so we can slow down.
Next, make your skis like French fries, going in the same direction. Bend your knees a little.
Now we have to walk up the hill so we can ski down. We walk sideways like a crab.
Make an obstacle course of things to ski around – like a slalom course.
Try “skiing” backwards!
Use your imaginary skis like skates… that’s how you ski on flat roads.

You could make some indoor skis out of cardboard. These are great on kitchen floors and down long hallways. Here’s some directions, but be creative.

Create a ski hill for little people or lego people. Here’s how.

We're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It's a weekly event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy shoveled off a shelf at the library.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Waiting for Pumpsie

This book, published a couple years ago, is as timeless as ever. And now, author Barry Wittenstein has created curriculum materials to go along with it. So I can't think of a better way to kick of Black History month than with a story about baseball - plus spring training has already started, so .... batter up!

Waiting for Pumpsie
by Barry Wittenstein; London Ladd
32 pages; ages 5-8
Charlesbridge, 2017

themes: equality, biography

I'm Bernard, and I'm crazy, crazy, crazy about the Red Sox. Everybody in Boston is. It's just something you get born into.

Set in 1959, more than a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, the Sox still field an all white team. The Giants have Willie Mays, Bernard points out to his parents, so how come Red Sox don't have a black player?

Like any other fan, Bernard wants the Sox to win. They're having a dismal season (no news to regular fans....) and fans want to know why the team won't bring up Pumpsie Green from the minors.

If you're a SOX fan, you already know the ending to this story. He plays. They lose - that game.

What I like about this book:
There is great writing to be found within these pages. Like when Pumpsie smacks the ball and "rounds first base and runs like his own uniform can't keep up." It probably doesn't hurt that Barry Wittenstein grew up a fan of the game and wrote for Major League Baseball. There are plenty of verbs in this book. I like the wonderful. illustrations by London Ladd. And I really like that there's back matter. Wittenstein points out that by the time Pumpsie was called up from the minors, Jackie Robinson had already been retired for two years!

But this story is about more than baseball, he says. "It's about moving toward equality and how sports can help change society for the better."

Beyond the book:

Learn more about Pumpsie Green. Look for information in books, and online. One place to find info is the Society for American Baseball Research.

Create a Baseball Card. You can make one for Pumpsie - or your favorite player. Of course, you'll need some stats: information about the team they play for, the positions they play, and their batting record.

You can find more activities about Pumpsie at Barry Wittenstein's website. Look under "downloads"  for the curriculum guide.

And head over to Archimedes Notebook today to check out another book by the same author - about accidental inventions! We're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It's a weekly event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by Blue Slip Media.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Picture books that make me smile

During the dark days of winter, I look for books that will make me smile. Here are two that I found on the shelves of our library.

themes: friendship, seasons

Sloth at the Zoom
by Helaine Becker; illus. by Orbie
40 pages; ages 3 - 7
Owlkids, 2018

One bright day, a truck whizzed up to the front gate of the Zoom. There was a new animal being delivered.

As you can tell by the cover, the new animal is a sloth. And he's a bit out of place, because the Zoom is a place filled with hustle and bustle. Zebras gallop so fast they leave their stripes in puddles! Cheetahs race so speedily that their spots fly right off their backs!

What I like about this book: I love sloths, so of course I loved this character. Upon arrival he stretches. He does sloth things (yoga maybe? lots of naps, and definitely hanging around). The dialog is written in balloons, so sloth's conversation can be... divided... into small bits... that take... as long to read... as you might expect... a sloth to... speak.

The problem: nobody at the Zoom has time to spend with sloth. Except for one small creature- a snail. They become fast friends who share slow conversations. How other animals react is priceless.

I also like the end pages: a map that shows exactly where the delivery truck made the wrong turn. You see, sloth was supposed to end up at the Zzzzzoo!

Sometimes Rain
by Meg Fleming; illus. by Diana Sudyka
40 pages; ages: 4 - 8
Beach Lane Books, 2018

Sometimes drizzle.
Drop-drip drain.
Sometimes picnic.
Sometimes rain.

This is a wonderful journey through the seasons, written in rhyme.

What I like about this book: I love that there are children out exploring the world through the seasons. They are waiting for spring near a brook, losing boots in mud, sitting in the grass with a hand lens for observing snails and frogs... I love the spread where trees change from summer to fall, and the frosty speech bubbles that freeze in winter air. A perfect book to read no matter the season.

Beyond the books

Have you ever turned the wrong way and ended up somewhere completely different from where you expected to be? In my case, it was a hike. The trail went one direction; I went the other... Create a story about your wrong-way adventure. Draw a map to show where you turned off from your planned route.

Spend a day at sloth speed. Slow down. Eat slowly. Move like a sloth. Hang out. Find a friend. Learn more about sloths here.

Explore the world around you this season. What do you see outside? Follow footprints, find birds, admire frost designs on windows.

We're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It's a weekly event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies discovered at the library.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Walls are no obstacle in these books

Sometimes walls are an obstacle. Sometimes they're not. Here are three different takes on walls in recent picture books.

themes: friendship, problem-solving

Douglas, You're a Genius
by Ged Adamson
40 pages; ages 3-7
Schwartz & Wade, 2018

Nancy and Douglas were playing ball in the backyard, when Nancy hit one too hard.

The ball disappears through a hole in the fence. Oh, no! And then it comes back. Thank you!

Douglas wants to know who is over there, on the other side. So they lay track and send a message by train. And then they wait.

And wait.

What I like about this book: When the message comes back it's ... escrito en español. Now they really want to find out who lives on the other side of the wall. Nancy comes up with all kinds of plans - some involving trampolines, bungee cords, even a kite. Then Douglas has an idea, and it was the most genius plan of all!

I also like the brilliant plans, drawn on graph paper, and how the characters work together as an "engineering team". And I like the Spanish glossary at the front, so readers can familiarize themselves with some of the phrases used, such as "queremos conocerte" (we want to meet you).

I started wondering how many kids' books feature walls. Turns out this is becoming a theme in some picture books. I really like Brick by Brick, by Giuliano Ferri (Minedition, 2016).

Giuliano is an author-illustrator who lives in Italy. But no translation was needed for this book, because Brick by Brick has no words. At the heart of the story is this question: what happens if a brick falls out of the wall?  And then you and your friends take out more bricks... and what could those bricks be used for instead of building a wall?

From the jacket: "...walls can become bridges when everyone pitches in." And that, right there, is What I like about this book.

In picture books, walls can show up in totally unexpected places, and sometimes overnight.

The Only Way is Badger
by Stella J. Jones; illus. by Carmen Saldaña
26 pages; ages 5-8 years
Tiger Tales, 2018

Deep in the forest something wasn't right. Overnight, a wall had appeared.

Plus there were posters tacked to the trees. They had messages such as "Be More Badger!" and "Badgers are Best!" Of course, Badger is the one who put up the posters. And now he's in charge of making sure that the animals who live on his side of the wall are sufficiently badgerly.

What I like about this book: Badger thinks his way is best, so he devises tests to weed out animals that aren't badgerish enough. Can't dig like badger? To the other side of the wall with you! Too big to fit in a badger den? Over the wall with you, too! But soon... there's no one left on badger's side of the wall. Plus it's deadly boring. So badger climbs up, up, up, and peeks over the wall to the other side. And then he makes the best sign of all (which I will NOT reveal) - suffice it to say that badger learns to appreciate his diverse friends.

Beyond the Book:

Some walls create habitats. In some places in the northeast I find old stone walls meandering through the woods or along the edges of fields. The stones are so old that they are covered by lichens and mosses. Sometimes grasses and other plants have taken foothold, and insects and other tiny creatures have built their homes in the nooks and crannies of the wall.

Over, Under, and Around... When I was a kid, everyone in our neighborhood had wooden privacy fences along the border of their back yards. Like Douglas and Nancy, we always wanted to find ways to the other side - even though we already knew everyone on the block. We thought of crazy ideas, too: bouncing someone over using a teeter-totter was one. Put your best engineering skills to use and design a way to get to the other side of a wall. Hint: drawing on graph paper makes it more fun!

Can you use walls to make art?  Street art - painted murals and mosaics - are a highlight of my visit to Ithaca, NY. Check out this review of Hey Wall: A Story of Art and Community posted by Patricia Tilton.

If you are looking for artistic inspiration check out the artwork of these illustrators:
Ged Adamson
Giuliano Ferri 
Carmen Saldaña 

 We're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It's a weekly event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies discovered at the library.

Friday, January 11, 2019

I Just Like You

I love books that lift up my spirits and make me feel positive about the world. Here's a recently released picture book by one of my favorite authors - and (only a few towns away) neighbor.

Themes: friendship, diversity, acceptance

I Just Like You
by Suzanne Bloom
32 pages; ages 3-7
Boyds Mills Press, 2018

You don't look just like me.

An elephant and cat contemplate each other... turn the page and there's a pig and a llama imagining shapes in the clouds. They don't see the same thing. Over the next two pages we meet creatures that don't walk or talk like each other. But the cool thing:

You just like me!

What I like about this book: The idea is simple enough - we're all different from each other, but we like each other. We can be friends! As Suzanne Bloom shows, there are so many different ways to move, dress, think, and be. And yet, there we are, sharing meals and playing on the playground. And even though some of us may be turtles and some may be giraffes, we can embrace and celebrate what we appreciate about each other.

Suzanne visited our Ithaca-area SCBWI Shop Talk last month, bringing her portfolio filled with sketches for I Just Like You. It was really fun to see how the characters changed over time, and how the ideas in the book evolved as the animals became part of the story. Should the chickens be on the table? Where should the crocodile go? And how did that five-layer cake sneak past the skunk?

Beyond the Book:

How are you different from your friends? Do you do the same things? Find a way to celebrate the ways you are different and alike. Maybe you'll paint a picture, write a list, or build something that you can share with your friends.

How do writers and illustrators get their ideas? Great question. Visit Suzanne's webpage "Watch me Work" where she shares photos and a video about how she gets ideas onto the page.

We're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday today. It's a weekly event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy from publisher. 

Friday, January 4, 2019

Unpresidented ~ a biography of Donald Trump

Before I get to the review of this wonderful new piece of nonfiction I've got a quick reminder for writers. Whether you're working on picture books, chapter books, sci-fi, nonfiction, YA or MG -  if you're brainstorming ideas, then head over to StoryStorm at Tara Lazar's blog. For the month of January she'll post inspiring words for writers of all genres. StoryStorm started January 1, but registration is open through Monday, January 7. Register here. Thirty ideas in thirty-one days. That's doable.

And now... onto some great nonfiction writing!

Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump
by Martha Brockenbrough
432 pages; ages 12 - 18 & older
Feiwel & Friends, 2018

Weighing in at 400-plus pages and more than an inch thick, this biography doesn’t waste words on frivolities. Author Martha Brockenbrough dedicates her newest book to the Parkland generation (“You know what to do”) and then dives into a very readable – and critical – biography of a sitting president.

But first she takes time to clarify journalism’s role in history. In particular, how journalists and other nonfiction writers uncover facts and – more importantly – take the time to verify them. In particular, Brockenbrough writes about the spread of false information, and how we know that Trump does, indeed, spread lies. She clarifies what fairness and balance mean in the context of telling truths, and then tosses in this caveat: it’s difficult to write accurately about Trump because “he often speaks inaccurately about himself.”

I like the structure of the book: beginning with the election, flashing back to his immigrant parents, and then to Donald J’s childhood. Born into wealth, he started life lucky, writes Brockenbrough. But he lost his mother at a young age and, as he grew older, he became a bully. He caused so much trouble that his father sent him to a military academy, hoping the experience would make him shape up.

 Brockenbrough follows Donald through his business ventures where his driving goal was to do whatever it took to win. Those brash – and questionably ethical – tactics followed him into entertainment and then into his candidacy for the highest office of the land.

“Trump appeared to be looking at the campaign the way a salesman looks at a product he wants to move,” writes Brockenbrough. “What do people want to hear?”

Brockenbrough writes about the Russia connections, the debates with Hillary Clinton, FBI investigations and hacking. She shows how unprepared he was to win and how little he did to prepare himself for the transition of power after the election. Brockenbrough does a marvelous job comparing and contrasting Trump and Robert Mueller, and details the ways the 45th president is using his office to enrich himself. She lays out clear evidence for his assault on democracy and a free press.

Provable facts matter, says Brockenbrough. “It’s one thing to make a partisan argument based on different political philosophies. But it’s another thing to ignore or misstate facts to protect a political party or its leader.” Once you leave facts in the dust, you’re on your way to fascism.

Brockenbrough provides a hefty section of back matter: a timeline of Trump’s life, his presidency, thumbnail bios of key campaign staff and political advisors – names you’ve heard in news reports and many of whom are under indictment. There are more than 50 pages of endnotes documenting quotes, and a handy index with entries including “racism” and “Russian election interference”.

I appreciate that the title of this book came about in the most organic fashion possible: from a tweet by Trump. And though it is considered a YA book, I think many adult readers will find it a handy reference.

You can find out more about Martha Brockenbrough and her books at her website.

On Monday we'll join the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy is from my personal library.