Friday, November 21, 2014

Biographical Picture Books

I write about a variety of genres here on Top Shelf Text, but one thing that's fairly consistent is my choice of fiction over nonfiction when it comes to my bedtime reading material. The same goes for children's literature- I'll pick up anything that resembles a fairytale before I'm drawn to a nonfiction book. I've been changing that tendency bit by bit this year as I learn more about teaching and about development, so I'm making an effort to track down children's books that cover a wider range of topics. Today, I'm jumpstarting that effort with three biographical picture books that recently caught my attention. Not only are these all recently published (so it'll be easy to track them down in bookstores), but they're also about three men who got out what they put in- each one of them had to fight to make their specific dream a reality, and years later we get to learn from their example and be inspired by their dedication!

With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School by Suzanne Slade // Booker T. Washington had an incredibly determined spirit and ambitions to match. He was one of the last generations born into slavery, and though he was freed before age ten, he had to work extremely hard to secure an education for himself. Washington fell in love with learning and went on to build the Tuskegee Institute. This is a great biography for introducing children to a leader in education and in the African American community. Washington could also serve as a role model for working hard to achieve big dreams. 

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant // I had never given a thought to the origin of the most famous thesaurus (though I use one often) but stumbled upon this book shortly after its publication and decided to find out more. Not only is the story interesting- Roget organized his thesaurus not in alphabetical order but by meaning- but the illustrations are unlike any other picture book I've read this year. It's an eccentrically illustrated book for sure, but so creative and one that I can see becoming a quick favorite for young fans of reading. It also confirms the fact that biographies need not be boring. Definitely a must-have for your children's bookshelf.

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis // This is my favorite of the bunch, simply because I found the story to be so enchanting. When I was little, I always wanted to visit Chicago because it was home to the magical (and at the time, only) American Girl Doll Store. I visited the city for the first time last winter (to see my bestie Allie) and absolutely loved it. It's a unique place and has history around every corner, but the history feels different from the kind that we're used to here in Boston. This book tells the story of one particularly important tidbit from the city's history- the invention of the Ferris Wheel. I had no knowledge whatsoever of the origin of this landmark from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, but it's a remarkable story of perseverance and creativity, and one that would be great to share with young aspiring inventors. 

I'm on the hunt for more books that can introduce children to nonfiction stories and serve as sources of inspiration! Do you or your child have a favorite famous figure that you think would inspire others too?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Currently Coveting {November}

November is my favorite month of the year, hands down. Not only is it my birthday today (yay!), but in two weeks I'll be home stuffing my face enjoying a Thanksgiving feast, and I can finally see the light at the end of the hardest-semester-ever-tunnel. For this month's currently coveting, I picked only two books that have been on my mind for the past week straight. I tend to stick to a very predictable model of personal style, decor, etc. but my reading selection is never predictable and my bookshelf is the most varied collection of things that I own, as evidenced by the two picks below. Now I'm off to indulge in birthday treats and maybe sing a certain relevant Taylor Swift song...enjoy!

Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf // This book looks so fascinating, though it's definitely not for everyone. As a psychology major, I love learning about the ways in which the mind works. People are often surprised that a large part of my psychology education has been dedicated to learning about the technical aspects behind cognition, and that there is a heavy emphasis in my university's psychology program on neuroscience. In fact, following a neuroscience track into graduate school was one path that I seriously considered this past year. The brain is fascinating- we know barely anything about it- and I would love to be part of that movement to really dissect the workings of the body's most important organ. One of the biggest pushes in the neuroscience community right now is for neuroscientists, developmental psychologists, cognitive psychologists, and educators to work together in researching how development of the brain affects learning at an early age. In working to become an educator, an integral part of my professional knowledge (in my opinion) has to do with the workings of the brain. This book brings together two things that fascinate me: neuroscience and reading. It explores the neural processes behind reading, examines the history of the human ability to read, and pays special attention to the subject of dyslexia. I'll be adding this to my growing stack of reads for professional purposes, but from a personal perspective this looks like the perfect storm of my interests and I can't wait to get my hands on it. 

Yes Please by Amy Poehler // On the opposite end of the reading spectrum is this. As soon as I saw the announcement for this book, I knew I had to have it. Not only is Amy Poehler a force to be reckoned with in the pool of role model-worthy women, she's also beyond hilarious. Tina Fey, her real-life BFF, wrote my favorite memoir to date (I've listened to the audiobook three times and own both a hardcover and paperback copy), and I'm expecting this one to be just as good. Perfect for holiday gifts to your girlfriends and a sure way to make people judge you when you belly laugh while reading it in public. 

What are you looking forward to reading this month?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Classics Challenge Update

As I mentioned last week, I managed to wrap up my classics challenge in October and I am one happy camper. I started my first book fort the challenge in June, and today I'm doing a little roundup and reflection of the four that made it onto my list.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen // By far my favorite of the challenge, which was completely unexpected for me. I can't even tell you how many times I have picked up this book and put it back down before even reaching the tenth page. Something was different this time around, and I was in it 'til the end. I never understood all the hype about Mr. Darcy before, but my goodness he is as dashing as they say, and Elizabeth Bennet is such a strong female character for her time period-- I loved her outspoken attitude. I can't be the only one wishing there was a sequel. More Austen novels are on my reading list for winter break, but I can't decide which one to read next. Any suggestions?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald // Okay, I know last year I mentioned that this was one book that I wish I liked more, and this year I decided to bring it to school and give it another shot. I like reading short novels during the peak of the semester because they move along quickly and I spend less time making up excuses for why I need to read instead of do my homework. This time around, I paid less attention to the characters themselves and more to the language. My oh my, it's beautiful. Before, I let it all be clouded with my annoyance for Daisy's foolishness and Tom's bad choices, but this time I really got what Fitzgerald was trying to say. I can now see this being on my reading list every year. It just goes to show you that reading is largely about context, and if you're not in the right place at the right time, you might miss the best parts.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë // Now this was one that I wish I liked more. I had banked on Jane Eyre being my favorite of the bunch because I love reading books that are based on the plot, but I ended up really having to work my way through it. My favorite books are ones that feel effortless to read, and sadly this wasn't one of them. I learned my lesson from Mr. Fitzgerald though, and I'll put it on my list of try-again books.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett // This book has inspired me to put together a different kind of classics challenge next year, one with equal parts children's and adult's classics. I loved this story, and I also loved how different the language is from the children's books that we have today. I plan on reading at least one more children's classic this winter, and am brainstorming ideas for next year's list. Any favorites that I should add?

Overall, I realized that though there are always dozens of new books that I stumble upon and want to read each month, classics such as these are ones worth spending time on. I've never been a classics junkie before, but I fully intend to approach this genre with a more open mind in the future, and plan on adding many more favorites to my repertoire. 

P.S. Remember this book that I fell in love with back in September? The second book in the trilogy is out today, so if you loved it too I suggest ordering it now (and it's also available in paperback, so it won't break the bank)! I preordered the Kindle version after reading the first and I am super excited to read it this weekend.