Category Archives: Nonfiction

Shackleton’s doomed odyssey!

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi
Published by First Second 6/17/2014

ShackletonGraphic Full Disclosure: I am a Shackleton fanatic. I have read numerous books, watched PBS specials, and bought my father a 1st edition of South by Ernest Shackleton. Yep, fanatic!

Ernest Shackleton tried to reach the South Pole on numerous expeditions, but it wasn’t meant to be. Even though he missed the opportunity to get there first, he couldn’t let go of his desire to explore Antarctica. His next ambitious move – to lead the first expedition to cross Antarctica through the South Pole.

Nick Bertozzi takes the powerful story of Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914 and does a superb job of bringing it to life in his graphic novel Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey. Through his drawings and text, Mr. Bertozzi skillfully weaves a story of facts about Shackleton’s past and his current expedition with the human face of Shackleton & crew and their struggle to survive. Needless to say some of the story is horrific and Mr. Bertozzi wisely throws in hints of humor to counteract the horror via penguins, the dogs, and potty humor. Shackleton’s story is one of perseverance even in the face of disaster, a story to admire, a story to share, a story to read again and again and we are lucky to have Mr. Bertozzi’s version. Teens and tweens who love adventure stories as well as those who love history will enjoy this nonfiction graphic novel. Librarians be forewarned – keep plenty on hand.

Port Chicago & the war on Civil Rights

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin     Audio read by Dominic Hoffman
Published by Roaring Book Press                     Published by Listening Library


Narrative nonfiction master Steve Sheinkin does it again with The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. During World War II, African-Americans who signed up for the Navy were either assigned to mess duty or were given the jobs no one else would do. In Port Chicago, west of San Francisco and off of San Pablo Bay, African-Americans sailors were given the job of loading munitions onto ships. The sailors were not adequately trained and their supervising officers pushed them to load the munitions as fast as possible because of bets made on the side. The combination was a setup for disaster. On July 17, 1944 an explosion killing over 300 men incited the remaining African-American sailors to take a stand against loading munitions under these conditions. This is their story.

Mr. Sheinkin expertly weaves the Port Chicago 50 story with the bigger story – the battle of African-Americans to serve their country as equals, the battle of Civil Rights. Readers are hooked from the first sentence “[h]e was gathering dirty laundry when the bombs started falling” to the Source Notes where we learn that Mr. Sheinkin used the “Freedom of Information Act” to get access to the transcripts from the court proceedings. We are stunned when the explosion occurs, we cheer when the sailors refuse to go “column left”, and we anxiously await for the verdict to come down. In addition to the text of this remarkable story, numerous photographs are included which provide a more complete view of the events.

The audio version of The Port Chicago 50 is fantastic as well and had my teenage daughter caught up in the story – hook, line and sinker. As a result, she is doing her 20th Century project on “The Port Chicago 50”. Thank you Mr. Sheinkin for bringing us this amazing story!

70th anniversary of D-Day!

D-Day: And the Invasion of Normandy, 1944 by Rick Atkinson
Published by Henry Holt and Co. 5/6/2014


An adaptation of The Guns at Last Light, D-Day by Rick Atkinson, D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy, 1944 takes the reader to Britain and France as we learn about Operation Overlord – aka the Invasion of Normandy and the effort to take back France. The suspenseful text has us riveted to the page (even though we know the outcome) as we follow the key players, Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, Omar Bradley, and Bernard Montgomery, with the final plans and then the execute of Operation Overlord.

While D-Day has a traditional nonfiction format, Mr. Atkinson puts it together flawlessly. Maps, timelines, and key players at the beginning of the text give the reader what they need in order to delve into Operation Overlord. Quotes from letters and pictures throughout the text put us smack dab in the middle of the preparation and action. And the depth of the back matter is extensive and will answer most of the enthusiast’s as well as the novice’s questions. Readers will find everything from what the pigeons were for to what’s in a k-ration.

The Allies do triumph at Normandy, but D-Day also chronicles the horror of those two days, the mistakes that were made and the massive loss of life. Luckily for us, the extensive planning and the enormous number of allies involved along with German incompetency made the Invasion of Normandy a success. Hand this book over to your students and sit back as they enjoy the ride!

1964 – Freedom School in Mississippi

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell
Published by Scholastic Press 4/29/2014


This summer will be the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Schools in Mississippi. Civil rights workers were sent into the south to educate African Americans and to register them to vote. In June of 1964, three civil rights workers in Mississippi were murdered by the KKK: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. The Freedom Summer Murders is their story.

Don Mitchell puts together a comprehensive and cohesive text which begins with the racist actions Mississippi took in the 50s & 60s with respect to African-Americans (regardless of various federal laws) and ends shortly after the 2005 conviction of Edgar Ray Killen for orchestrating the murders. Mr. Mitchell proves and concludes that more than the KKK, these three men were “killed by institutional racism.” Included in the text are portraits of other civil rights leaders and citizens whose paths intersected in Mississippi during the summer of 1964. Extensive back matter contains a bibliography, primary source materials, and an index. This is well researched and profound book which students will read for knowledge and teachers will use for their Civil Rights units.