Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum

10 09 2012

I’ll admit it… I’m not a huge fan of non-fiction books.  There’s just something about an interesting character or a twisting and turning plot that I love, and most non-fiction lacks those qualities.

It’s weird, when I was a kid – probably from 4th through 7th grade – about all I read was non-fiction.  I couldn’t get enough about animals, dinosaurs, ancient mythology, and marine biology.  Thinking about it, I’m pretty sure I read every book that my public library had on those topics – but I never read a book about China or cars or chickens or crafts.  There were just a few topics that really worked for me.

I was really into marine biology, and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember what it was about that subject that hooked me, so I asked my mom if she remembered.  She did.  She said it was one book – a fictional story about a boy in the Pacific Northwest who rescues an injured seal.  After that, I couldn’t get enough about aquatic animals and marine research.  I guess sometimes it just takes one thing to trigger that.

None of this has anything to do with Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gumexcept to say that I don’t think non-fiction texts were written like this one back in the day.  If they had been filled with clever writing, fun illustrations, and an interesting part of history – perhaps I would have read more.

Meghan McCarthy’s got a ton of books like this one – strange little moments in history that won’t be in the text books (maybe that’s why the textbooks are so boring), but give you an insight into a unique moment in time.  This one, which is nominated for the Monarch Award (Illinois award for best book grades 1-3), tells about Walter Diemer, a pencil-pusher for a candy company who decides that chewing gum would be so much more fun if you could blow bubbles – so he works and works and works some more, eventually coming up with bubble gum.

There’s a lot here – unsung history, an interesting character, a lesson in innovation and determination, and some really fun illustrations.  Meghan McCarthy’s other books will definitely be on my list for my next library visit.  Who knows, maybe she’ll make a non-fiction reader out of me yet.

Hurricane Hunters!: Riders on the Storm

8 08 2012

Sometimes my son just seems to grab a book at random when we’re walking through the library.  I wish I knew what it is that draws him to certain books, but there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it – not colors, not subjects, not the pictures on the front cover.  Hurricane Hunters! by Chris L. Demarest was one of those random picks.

I’m glad he grabbed it though.  Coincidently, we had recently watched a TV special about Hurricane Katrina, and I spent most of the hour trying to explain to Andy that I’d just been in the middle of not one, but two typhoons while touring Japan.  As far as I know, typhoons and hurricanes are pretty much the same thing, and Andy couldn’t quite understand my story about the storms we drove though outside of Tokyo or the damage Katrina did to The Gulf Coast a few years ago.

However, Hurricane Hunters! just happened to be sitting on the shelf – there from our last trip to the library.  We sat down and read through it, and both of us learned a ton about hurricanes, the scientists that study them, and how these brave folks risk it all to try and understand these storms better.

The text was great, but the pictures were even more helpful for both of us.  Nonfiction picture books usually aren’t at the top of my list, but I highly recommend this one for anyone interested in a better understanding of meteorology or meteorologists.

This was my 49th book this summer.  I’m trying hard to finish 90 books in 90 days over break.  

Jack and Larry

9 07 2012

I enjoy baseball books, but this is a very different sort of baseball book.  Jack and Larry: Jack Graney and Larry, the Cleveland Baseball Dog is not so much about the game as it is about the relationships we form in sports.

Barbara Gregorich is a local author who has an affinity for unique baseball stories.  Her previous book is about a women’s baseball league in the 1940s and this one is about a baseball dog.

Yup, you read that right – a baseball dog.  You see, Jack Graney was the Cleveland Naps’ (this is before they were the Indians) left fielder and lead off hitter.  The team was bad.  Real bad.  Jack felt a great deal of that was because of the lack of camaraderie on the team.  Then in 1912, the team’s trainer won a bull-terrier in a card game.  He brought the dog, Larry, to the ballpark and he became the team’s mascot.

Slowly, Larry brought the team together.  They started to play like more of a unit, more like a real team.  It took some time, but they improved in the standings.

This book is about the team while Jack and Larry are there – from 1912 until the early 1920s, how the team fares during that time period, and the relationship built between man and dog, as well as the friendship Jack has with some of his famous teammates (Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, and Ray Chapman.

The whole book is written in a very simple, free verse poem form that feels like a baseball historian is having a very relaxing conversation with the reader.

It’s a great book for baseball fans, fans of novels written in verse, and history buffs.  The best part is that it tells an unknown piece of baseball history in a very unique way.  As much as I know about baseball (and a few years ago I read a pretty long adult book about the 1920 Indians season), I hadn’t heard of Jack Graney and never knew Cleveland had Larry as a mascot, and even without Larry, Jack is a pretty interesting guy – first batter to face Babe Ruth, first player to wear a number on his uniform, and the first former player to become a major league broadcaster.  I highly recommend this one.

I’m on a mission.  I want to read 90 books in 90 days this summer.  Jack and Larry was #34.

The Plant Hunters

29 06 2012

I don’t read much non-fiction.  I really should, because whenever I do, I really enjoy it, but I very rarely pick up a non-fiction book.

Each year I read a few non-fiction books about the countries I’m going to visit with Minooka TAP, and I read a few books every year about teaching, but other than that…  not a whole lot.

However, in the group of teachers and school librarians I follow on Twitter The Plant Hunters: True Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth by Anita Silvey was getting a lot of buzz.  People were talking about it like it was about real life Indiana Jones’s, so I was intrigued.  I ask my students to read several non-fiction books each year, I’d better put my money where my mouth is.

The last time I had the thought that I’d better put my money where my mouth is, it was because I told all my students in Japan that they should try weird foods, step out of their comfort zones, and not be afraid of something new.  “Just taste everything once,” I said, trying to encourage them to be adventurous, “if you don’t like it you don’t ever have to eat it again.”  Little did I know that I’d have to follow through on that request when they handed me a bucket of soy sauce flavored grasshoppers.  So, I ate a bug.  It was awful.

Now, realizing that I ask my kids to read non-fiction, when I don’t do it myself, I had to step up.  Reading this book was way better than eating a bug.  Actually, this book was fun.  I read the whole thing in one sitting, and learned a lot about plants, flowers, and the explorers who discovered and cataloged them.

It really was a lot like a whole bunch of real life Indian Jones characters.  These botanists fought their way through jungles, swam crocodile and piranha infested waters, were chased by pirates and native warriors, survived storms and wars, and even outran jungle cats to live another day.  Who knew that plants could be so exciting?

Reading this book really changed the way I look at flower gardens, the forest preserve near my house, and the medicines on my shelf.  Thanks to some brave botanists, the world is a different place.

I’m trying to read 90 books on 90 days this summer.  This was book 31.  

Boys Should Be Boys

8 06 2012

Even though I teach kids and read lots of kids books, I do enjoy reading some grown people books sometimes too.  While I’ve been working on all these awesome books for middle schoolers like Squish, Babymouse, Smile, and The One and Only Ivan, I’ve also been slowly working on Boys Should Be Boys.

I don’t think this one will interest any of my students, but I enjoyed it.  Written by Dr. Meg Meeker, it’s kind of an owner’s manual for having a son.  No matter what I do in my life: teaching, writing, traveling, coaching, cooking, drawing… I like to read more about those subjects to get better at things.  I read a ton of books about teaching.  I read a lot of blogs written by authors to get ideas and tips.  I have stacks and stacks of travel guides and travel essays in my room.  I have a whole shelf of books on coaching young actors, baseball players, and basketball drills.

So why not read about how to be an even better parent to my sons?

Another teacher at school who also has boys about the same age as my sons recommended this one, and I’ll definitely be passing it on to a few other parents that I know.  Hopefully it really does help me become a better dad.   Maybe it will even make me a better teacher.

This was my 20th book this summer.  My goal of reading 90 books in 90 days over break looks like it might be a real possibility.