Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill

Written by Lee Wind

What an amazing debut for Lee Wind! He perfectly captures teen angst, shows the devastating effect of circumstances that get out of control, and presents likeable characters the reader can identify with. Quite a juggling act. Wind never drops the balls.

Fifteen-year-old Wyatt knows he’s gay but is not ready to come out. When he’s assigned a book report, to be prepared as a blog entry, he discovers that Abraham Lincoln may also have been gay. Of course, that one idea is more than anyone can handle. His little high school blog entry goes viral, causing all sorts of repercussions.

Although Wyatt is far from perfect, the reader can’t help but pull for him at every turn. His best friend, a girl named Mackenzie, and his new friend, Martin, are also wonderfully human. Then there’s the provocative television talk show host, who is pure evil, and Wyatt’s former friend, Jonathon, who is as hard to figure out as many teens are.

The story itself may be specific to Wyatt, but the themes are universal. All adolescents struggle with their identity. Sexual identity is a large part of that, a very timely part to be sure. Adolescents, and often adults too, struggle with who to trust and what price you want to pay for being open with others. How much blame can you take for your actions and how much will others blame you when you lose control of the situation? These are all themes we all need to explore – teens and adults alike.

  • QueerTitle: Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill
  • Author: Lee Wind
  • Publisher: I’m Her. I’m Queer. What The Hell Do I Read?, 2018
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 300 pages
  • Grade level: 6 up
  • Genre: Young adult, Adolescence, Sexual identity
  • ISBN: 978-1-73222-811-5

Heroes of History: Alexander Hamilton

Written by Time Editors

While you’re listening to a recording of the musical, Hamilton, try reading this book from Time books. It’s packed with information about our first Treasury Secretary. However, you may want to take the details of the musical with a grain of salt. According to Time, “Historians point out that while the events depicted are real, the show emphasizes Hamilton’s abolitionist cred to an unrealistic degree. Hamilton was an abolitionist, but his priorities lay in creating a national bank….”

With numerous illustrations and photos and a lot of detail, the authors outline Hamilton’s short but productive life. Born on the Caribbean island of Nevis, Hamilton’s early life was anything but easy. In spite of his relatively humble beginnings, he managed to get a solid education. His grasp of economics was nothing short of astounding, especially considering economics as a field of study didn’t even exit in his time. His passions often landed him in trouble, however. From a falling out with his mentor, George Washington, to an ill-advised affair with a married woman with the help of her husband, he often forgot to think before he acted. Of course, that’s what ultimately caused him to pay the ultimate price – in a duel against Aaron Burr. He was a soldier, a writer, and single-handedly established the national bank.

There is definitely enough in this great little book to keep a reader entertained and enough solid information to spark further study.

  • HamiltonTitle: Heroes of History: Alexander Hamilton
  • Author: Editors
  • Published: Time Inc. Books, 2018
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 144 pages
  • Grade Level: 6 Up
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
  • ISBN: 978-1-68330-850-8
  • Extras: Table of Contents, In His Own Words (explanation of quotes and when he spoke or wrote them), The Life and Times of Alexander Hamilton (timeline), Index, Credits

Heroes of History: George Washington

Written by Editors

In an extraordinary addition to the enormous documentation of George Washington’s life, the reader will not only be entertained, but will learn more about motivations and causes of the events in Washington’s life. Rather than appearing godlike as in some biographies, Washington is shown as human with human concerns plus strengths and frailties.

Of course, the bulk of the story centers on his adult life, since less is known about his childhood. As the leader of a small group of militia at age twenty-one, Washington helped start the French and Indian War by making the British aware of the readiness of French troops. After a time working for the British, he spent sixteen years as a farmer at Mount Vernon. During that time, unrest was building. Then, when the Revolutionary War began, the country needed experienced officers. They looked to Washington. From that time until his death, Washington had little time that was his own. He did well, but was often caught in the middle of political fights. Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists strongly disagreed with Madison and the Republicans. How to strike a compromise? The French and England went to war. Who to defend? He faced many no-win situations.

Heavily illustrated, this is a great start for any project about our first president. It will hold the reader’s interest and explain events in ways they may not have considered before.

  • WashingtonTitle: Heroes of History: George Washington
  • Published: Liberty Street/Time Inc. Books, 2018
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska                                                     
  • Format: Paperback, 144 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 Up
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
  • ISBN: 978-1-68330-849-2
  • Extras: Table of Contents, In His Own Words: George Washington, The Life and Times of George Washington, Index, Acknowledgments, Picture Credits

Sinking the Sultana: A Civil War Story of Imprisonment, Greed, and a Doomed Journey Home

Written by Sally M. Walker

Meticulous research and a riveting and little-known story highlight this new work from the master of nonfiction. Had the Sultana not sunk at the same time the country was mourning Abraham Lincoln’s death, history might have taken more notice.

At the end of the Civil War, a naval disaster occurred that rivaled the Titanic in casualties. The author carefully explains each aspect of the factors leading up to the disaster, as well as the disaster itself and the aftermath. One chapter gives great descriptions of steamboats and how they became a favorite mode a transportation. Then the reader learns about the Civil War itself. Next is a description of Civil War prisons, how they were set up, and how overcrowding became the norm. One of the more graphic chapters, this is not for the fainthearted. A series of missteps caused the Sultana to be wildly overcrowded for the transport north of former prisoners from Andersonville and other prisons. Leaving Memphis, the Sultana’s boilers exploded. At least 1,500 people perished as a result. Due to spotty rescue and utter confusion, an exact count was never determined. In fact, survivors were often denied pensions because the Army thought them dead. And many listed as surviving had, in fact, perished in the explosion.

Because many individuals are tracked throughout the story, the reader will wait with the people of the time to learn the fates of the passengers. Great resource for classroom and home.

  • Sinking the SultanaTitle: Sinking the Sultana: A Civil War Story of Imprisonment, Greed, and a Doomed Journey Home
  • Author: Sally M. Walker
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 208 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 6
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Civil War
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7755-8
  • Extras: Roll Call, Author’s Note, Glossary, Source Notes, Bibliography, Image Credits, Index

March: Book Three

Written by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin
Illustrated by Nate Powell

It’s so easy to see why this volume has won so many awards and gotten so much attention. Packed with emotion and written by one who was there, it never steps outside of John Lewis’ experience and always speaks to how he felt at the time. It’s written in a way that draws in even the most reluctant reader.  

By September of 1963, John Lewis was coordinating the efforts by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to register blacks to vote in Mississippi and Alabama. As a student, he’d spent prior years with the Freedom Riders just trying to gain the right to ride public transportation and eat and sleep as a regular citizen. When the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed in 1963, killing four young girls, even more people were inspired to register. Time after time, long lines waited while the clerks and police devised more ways to deny them the right. No lines on the sidewalk. Only four in the courthouse. Impossible literacy tests. They fought an uphill battle against the FBI, an uncaring Washington, and those within the movement who would respond with violence, but fight they did. They even fought the Democratic Party, who refused to recognize the delegation from the Freedom Democratic Party, led by Fannie Lou Hamer, at their convention. Eventually, after many years of beatings and other violence, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law. And, of course, John Lewis went on to become a Congressman and to see an African-American President.

It’s so difficult to underestimate the importance of this book. It’s a must read.

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  • Title: March: Book Three
  • Author: John Lewis & Andrew Aydin
  • Illustrator: Nate Powell
  • Published: Top Shelf Productions, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 184 pages
  • Grade Level: 6 up
  • Genre: Graphic memoir
  • ISBN: 978-1-60309-402-3

To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party

Written by Skila Brown

By focusing on one member of the Donner party, the author makes one of the most mysterious episodes in American history come to life. Written in verse, the story comes across well as the voice of the real nineteen-year-old traveler.

Mary Ann’s father decided to move the family from Illinois to California in 1846, just as the gold rush and the Mexican-American War were beginning. They set out with husband and wife, nine children, a son-in-law, and a hired hand. Seemingly, they planned well and took along sufficient supplies. It was a few mistakes, the decisions of others on the trail, and the very early winter that proved to be the party’s downfall.

Due to the unusually harsh nature of the story, this book is not recommended for younger children.

From Father (p. 218)

If there was a final moment,

last glance,

thick sigh as all the air left his lungs

for good,

I missed it.

However, the reality of the situation and learning about the fragility of life can be important for young adults. The author takes a matter-of-fact attitude and is open about the natural revulsion present in the cannibalism that did occur. Most of the story is about the long, long journey prior to the great snowstorm, with the heat of the desert and lack of water, plus many other factors.  

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  • to-stay-aliveTitle: To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party
  • Author: Skila Brown
  • Published: Candlewick Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
  • Grade Level: 6 up
  • Genre: Novel in verse, history
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7811-1

To Catch a Cheat

Written by Varian Johnson

Hacking and technology geeks get the upper hand over classic classroom cheats in this fun, Encyclopedia Brown type novel. Jackson Greene, hero of book one, The Great Greene Heist, returns with his diverse gang that meets in an old shed to plan their projects. A couple of the gang are super tech savvy, while Jackson remains the leader and master mind. They use invisible ink, tricky watches and new light bulbs to bring about interesting results.

A couple of classic bullies have produced a phony video of Jackson and his team, causing mayhem and a flood at the school when they were nowhere near the stopped up toilets. In order to clear their names, Jackson sets up an elaborate plan seeming to go along with the bullies in stealing a final exam. There are twists and turns today’s middle grade readers will enjoy as they understand the video systems and computer gadgets at work. This series looks ready to gain a big following.

Teachers and librarians will want to introduce this series to the techno geeks as well as the readers in their middle school. It is fast paced with well-developed characters. It would make a great book club read, or a fun read aloud for a small group of reluctant readers. English teachers can use it to satisfy literacy standards in the common core in many areas, including: characterization, setting, dialogue, and main idea. But the students will love the revenge, the planning, and maybe even all the start trek movie references.

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  • To Catch a CheatTitle: To Catch a Cheat
  • Author: Varian Johnson
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine, Scholastic, Inc., 2016
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-72239-1
  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Grade level: 5 to 9

Watch Out for Flying Kids

Written by Cynthia Levinson

Everyone loves the circus!  What better way to bring young people together from across cultures that might not otherwise every meet one another. Certainly, they would not understand each other.

This beautifully done, fascinating book tells of just such a program call the youth social circus. It is an arts education program that brings nine teen-aged troupers from two circuses together. They learn professional level skills of juggling, twirling burning hoops and entertaining audiences all over the world. At the same time, they are learning from one another about rural, suburban, and city life. They are learning about tribal customs of the Middle East, Jewish traditions in Galilee and inner-city life in St. Louis.

It is a wonderful example of learning about others by walking in their shoes, or, in this case, dancing and performing in their shoes. The students learn about each other in down time and by traveling together. The photographs were taken during the project and show lifelong friendships being made.

This would be a wonderful addition to every middle school, high school and public library. Teachers and librarians will fulfill many core curriculum standards in English, Social Studies, Literacy, and Geography by reading and discussing this text with students. It could easily lead to an Eagle Scout project or some sort of graduation project.

Even if it doesn’t bring about another encounter, it will begin worthwhile thoughts and dialogue concerning how we treat people from another culture and how we might get to know them better in the future.

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  • Watch Out for Flying KidsTitle:  Watch Out for Flying Kids
  • Author:   Cynthia Levinson
  • Publisher:  Peachtree, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 216 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-56145-821-9
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Circus
  • Grade level: 5 to 8
  • Extras: Photographs throughout, Index, Lengthy Author’s Note

be*liev*a*rex*ic

Written by J.J. Johnson

This new book is recommended for anyone who eats. Heartfelt and very readable, this is a memoir from a recovering bulimarexic, an eating disorder featuring low weight and purging. She shows how personal issues, especially those with food, can affect everything you do and your relationships with everyone.

At fifteen, Jennifer had gotten very good at hiding her problems from her family and friends, but it became obvious to her that she needed help. So, when she suggested to her parents that she check into the eating disorders unit of a psychiatric hospital, they thought she was looking for attention. Turns out, she really did need help and so did her family. Of course the unit was way worse than she could have imagined, with forced eating, monitored bathroom visits, nasty co-patients, and despicable staff. Jennifer did find the help she needed, though, to set her on the road to a healthy life and a better relationship with her family. Jennifer also learned that, even though others around her also need help, she couldn’t always provide the help they needed.

The subject matter is often complex and for mature students. Sixth graders and up should have no problems with it, though. They can learn a lot about health – both physical and mental – and about interpersonal relations. Despite the page count, the book reads very quickly, as it’s set up as a diary.

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  • BelievarexicTitle: be*liev*a*rex*ic
  • Author: J.J. Johnson
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 464 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 Up
  • Genre: Memoir, Eating disorders
  • ISBN: 978-156145-771-7

 

 

Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad

Written by Martin W. Sandler

There was a lot more to building the transcontinental railroad than can be packed into those four words. Certainly a lot more than you’re taught in history class.

Sandler did extensive research for this great new book and includes many sidebars with details of various aspects of the project and biographies of important players, as well as numerous photographs and maps from the Library of Congress and other archives.

The brain child of Asa Whitney, distant relative of Eli Whitney, the plan began in earnest in 1845. After several proposals to Congress, the Central Pacific, starting from the west, and the Union Pacific, starting from the east, finally won the approval to lay rails from Omaha to Sacramento. It wasn’t until 1869 that the last spike was driven at Promontory Summit. Facing labor shortages, company corruption, extremes of weather, shortage of funds, just plain difficult terrain, and other hardships, the construction itself took more than six years.

The real value to sixth graders is as reference material, but Sandler does a great job of relating the true impact on the workers – Irish, Chinese, Mormon, and other – and on the indigenous residents of the American West. The story is compelling, well-told, and riveting.

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  • Iron RailsTitle: Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad
  • Author: Martin W. Sandler
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 Up
  • Genre: History, Biography
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6527-2
  • Extras: Table of Contents, Timeline, Source Notes, Bibliography, Photography Credits, and Index
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