non-fiction

The Sixth Extinction

 

lgcover-9780805092998 I read Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: an Unnatural History in June of 2014, and I think about it more often than any other book I’ve read in the last two years. The Sixth Extinction explores the five mass extinctions in earth’s history, and the man-made sixth extinction currently underway.

Kolbert builds off the research from scientists across different practices, often following them into the research field whether they’re researching the mysterious deaths of bats, the disappearing Panamanian golden frog, or the Great Barrier Reef. Despite the immense amount of scientific research and scientific subject, this book is written for the general reader. I am not a scientist, nor do I understand or speak in a scientific jargon– and Elizabeth Kolbert doesn’t write in one. She makes a case for our natural world illuminating the destruction currently happening and using Earth’s brutal history as a framework.

It’s a horrifying history and the scariest book I’ve read.

The Sixth Extinction: an Unnatural History was the 2015 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. It’s an incredible book that changed the way I think about the world, what my role is in this destruction, and what I can do to change it.

You can buy a copy of The Sixth Extinction here and here, or borrow it from your local library here.

children's fiction

Where’s the Elephant?

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Barroux’s Where’s the Elephant? begins innocently enough as an image-search picture book— looking on each page for an elephant, a snake, and a bird. They’re camouflaged in the forest and initially pretty hard to find, but when parts of the forest are cut down it becomes easier to find the animals on the page as more of their forest is cleared.

Man-made structures: homes, roads, and larger buildings begin to creep into the cleared land until little wildlife is left.

Where’s the Elephant? is told primarily through vibrant images and with dramatic effect. Young readers can understand the images and the story being told. It’s an excellent example of deforestation and the consequences of urbanization for even the youngest reader.

You can find a copy of Where’s the Elephant? here, here, and here, or from your local library.

children's fiction

The Journey

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The Journey by Italian author-illustrator Francesca Sanna, is an emotional and poignant picture book about a family forced to leave their war-torn home. Francesca Sanna does a beautiful job in telling and illustrating a story that shares so much of the refugee crisis that is currently reshaping western and world politics.

In her author’s note she says, “The Journey is actually a story about many journeys, and it began with the story of two girls I met in a refugee center in Italy. After meeting them I realized that behind their journey lay something very powerful. So I began collecting more stories of migration and interviewing many people from many different countries. A few months later, in September 2014, when I started studying a Master of Arts in Illustration at the Academy of Lucerne, I knew I wanted to create a book about these true stories. Almost every day on the news we hear the terms ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’ but we rarely ever speak to or hear the personal journeys that they have had to take. This book is a collage of all those personal stories and the incredible strength of the people within them.”

It is difficult to understand the complexities of politics and wars, but it is not difficult to understand basic human rights, which children so frequently excel at—understanding right from wrong, recognizing kindness or the absence of. The Journey is a testament to the physical and emotional hardships that come with fleeing your home. It provides an opportunity to share and discuss with children the complexities of the world, home and safety, and a reminder that we are all human.

You can find a copy of The Journey here and here, and your local library.

children's fiction

Let’s Talk About Race

letstalkaboutraceIf you’re black, brown, color of any kind then you’ve probably talked to your children about race already. It is part of living, but I think it’s something that is uncomfortable for white people to address, or figure out how to talk about, or something forever postponed to be taught by a teacher.

Am I generalizing? Of course. This picture book, Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester, provides an excellent framework for having that conversation, not only what race is and means, but also that there’s more to a person beyond that.

Just as I am a story and you are a story

and countries tell stories

about themselves, race is a story, too.

Whether you’re black like me or Asian, Hispanic

or white, each race has a story about itself.

And that story is almost always the same:

“MY RACE IS BETTER THAN YOUR RACE.”

Some stories are true. Some are not.

Those who say

“MY RACE IS BETTER THAN YOUR RACE”

are telling a story that is not true.

I’m having a hard time holding myself accountable to the kind of person I want my children to be. I’m very angry and frustrated with the political climate and feel like every new appointment is a slap in the face. The message in this book is one of empathy and peace.

Do I look at you and think I know your story

when I don’t even know your name?

Or, do I look at you and wonder:

What’s your name?

When were you born?

Where were you born?

Where do you live?

What do you like?

What don’t you like?

Gee, maybe we like and dislike

some of the same things.

You can find a copy of Let’s Talk About Race here, here, and from your library here.

middle grade · young adult

We Will Not Be Silent

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We Will Not Be Silent tells the true story of the White Rose Society— a student led resistance against Hitler. Russell Freedman adeptly shares this history with younger readers (middle-grade and up) focusing on Hans and Sophie Scholl, their classmates and friends at the University of Munich who worked together to write, print, and distribute thousands of pamphlets calling for active resistance against Hitler.

The Nazi party controlled everything, there was no room for critical and independent thinking. The White Rose Society brought together the students who recognized evil, recognized the restrictive government, recognized the hateful actions and rhetoric and came together to fight.

I read this book this past summer and cried and cried— for their bravery, their lives, their selflessness, and their conviction to stand up against evil. I can’t think of a better book to put in every middle school and high school library right now.

Why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanized state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right – or rather, your moral duty – to eliminate this system?

from the Third Leaflet, White Rose Society

You can get a copy here and here, or borrow one from your library. The intended audience for this book is middle school and up, but if you want more information on the White Rose Society, there’s plenty out there.

young adult

Beyond Magenta

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My local newspaper this morning had an image of a car tagged with the hate speech, die fag, painted in red on the hood of a car belonging to a young college student. If you’ve been paying attention to social media, the news, your life, etc. then you’ve seen emboldened racist behavior manifested in all its different forms.

Susan Kuklin’s photography collection, Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out is a beautiful book. The teens interviewed for her photography collection shared their stories and experiences that are as varied and unique as they are in these transcribed interviews and essays. Beyond Magenta is incredible in it allows room for the teens that fill the pages to dictate their own story, a freedom that so often the media, popular culture, their classmates, families, and their world doesn’t even allow.

I’m not going to pretend that all these stories are filled with hope, sunshine, and rainbows. It’s in there, the sunshine and the hope, but there is also so much pain and loss.

My biggest comfort in this book is that you can read it, you can buy it here, here, here, and borrow it from a public library found here. And you can meet these teens, ON THEIR TERMS, thank god for that.

Be active, protect yourself, and protect each other.

children's fiction

The Chickens Build a Wall

The Chickens Build a WallHave you ever had the pleasure of watching chickens strut around? They scratch and dig in the dirt. They eat literally everything trying to grow. And if there’s a strange noise or anything out of the ordinary, those poor little chickens freeze or find a bush to hide under immediately. They’re fearful little biddies, and the perfect animals to build a wall when a strange looking hedgehog shows up in the hen yard.

Jean-François Dumont is the author and illustrator of this gem of a book. The book comes together very cleanly, but it gives our children hope, and maybe hope is what they need when we try to explain why on earth someone would want to build a wall to shut people out. When we take the time to look at our similarities rather than our differences there is arguably less to fear. And so many of the issues we face and the lies that have been told rely on fear. Let’s move beyond fear. Let’s show our children the way.

Check your local library for a copy, your local bookstore, Powell’s, or Amazon.