Unlikely new nonfiction

Our G6 Language & Literature classes have just started a unit on “Unlikely Heroes” and I must admit I’ve been having an amazing time finding some fantastic new biographies and memoirs to entice them into reading this genre and keeping an interest in the lives of people who may not always make the headlines, or who they may not be aware of, or who they only have an inkling of.

Two very interesting stories from the sporting realm are those of Jesselyn Silva with “My Corner of the Ring” (boxing) and Ibtihaj Muhammad with “Proud: living my American dream” (fencing). These are a double win to my mind featuring both lesser written about sports for middle grade students AND featuring young girls from non-traditional backgrounds in those sport – I have a daughter who fences and I know exactly how expensive (and sometimes snobby/exclusive) we’ve found it. There’s also the recent cliffhanger with young football players in Thailand, excellently written about by Marc Aronson in “Rising Water : The Story of the Thai Cave Rescue”.

Through my privileged connection with the Neev Children’s book awards, I’m able to encounter books that I wouldn’t otherwise be aware of such as “Like A Girl: Real Stories for Tough Kids” by Aparna Jain that showcases the lives of 56 Indian ladies, who may not be familiar to our students. Another book worth mentioning is the hybrid graphic novel / biography Indira by Devapriya Roy and Priya Kuriyan (Illustrator). What makes that book special is the way it weaves in how writing research is conducted in present day with the historical facts.

Our students are also living through history making by people in the here and now such as Autumn Peltier and Greta Thunberg (We Are All Greta: Be Inspired to Save the World by Valentina Giannella, Manuela Marazzi (Illustrator)). And our school is extremely lucky to have had a long-standing relationship with Jane Goodall who will be attending our FOEN conference next week (Hope for animals and their world. Unfortunately I wonder if that message of hope still stands ten years later).

Finally we’re also seeing more books either featuring LGBTQ+ heroes or where they are part of the narrative of other history. In a fairly conservative International environment there is always the question of how (not whether) one brings this up. I find that someone like Alan Turing is a wonderful segue into the area. (Alan Turing by Jim Eldridge; The imitation game : Alan Turing decoded written by Jim Ottaviani; Genius inventions : the stories behind history’s greatest technological breakthroughs by Jack Challoner; Stories for boys who dare to be different : true tales of amazing boys who changed the world without killing dragons by Ben Brooks ; illustrated by Quinton Winter and Queer heroes by Arabelle Sicardi ; illustrated by Sarah Tanat-Jones.)

The last three books, are ones where he is part of an anthology. One thing that we’ve started doing as part of this unit, is where there are a number of “heroes” in one book, we’ve added all the names in the table of contents to our cataloging record. That helps students to find different perspectives, formats, lengths of explanation and viewpoints of the same person. We’re hoping that some students will start with one of our many combined biographies, for example the great series of “Forgotten Women” by Zing Tsjeng or the “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls; or The Good Guys or Stories for Boys; or Stories for Kids; or “A History of the world with the women put back in” by Kerstin Lücker & Ute Daenschel and end up further researching one particular person who catches their interest.

An amazing thing has happened to nonfiction since around 2016. The visuals, design and layout has improved to no end, so books have become so much more enticing. I’m also loving the fact that biographies of women are no longer so ugly and we’re finding out about other amazing women such as Didda the ruler of Kashmir from 958 CE to 1003 CE (Queen of Ice by Devika Rangachari).

More of the wonderful books and how we categorised the various types of heroes around this unit can be found on our library guide. The revolving book lists (created with LibraryThing for Libraries) on each section lead back to our catalogue where students can see if the book is available and if necessary put the book on hold.

Next time I hope to write about some more fabulous nonfiction recent finds related to other curriculum units.

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