Saturday, February 4, 2012

Books about history: truth vs. fiction

Sometimes truth really can seem stranger than fiction! Here is a selection of books, some non-fiction and others fiction based on fact, for readers who enjoy reading about unusual history -- and the almost-unbelievable stories of some American heroes. Find these books here on BookBag by using the World Catalog and search boxes.

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum, by Candace Fleming; illustrated by Ray Fenwick (Schwartz & Wade Books) Nonfiction. Lay-dees!... and!... Gentlemen! Children of All Ages!! Step right up and be AMAZED by the story of a man who hauled himself up from the depths of poverty by fooling people for a fee--and making them like it! That's right: this self-avowed "humbugger" made preposterous claims about the wond
ers in his traveling exhibitions, but folks still clamored to see them. He was the infamous P.T. Barnum, and among other things, he founded the circus known as "The Greatest Show on Earth." This entertaining biography presents the facts--both flattering and appalling--of Mr. Barnum's life in stories, pictures, and memorabilia that are almost as much fun as the circus that still bears his name.

Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali
, by Charles R. Smith, Jr., illustrated by Bryan Collier (Candlewick Press) Nonfiction. As nimble with a rhyme as he was in the boxing ring, world-champion boxer Muhammed Ali is duly honored in this collection of poems and artwork that tell his life's story. Boldly illustrated, Twelve Rounds to Glory tells about some of Ali's most famous fights--not jus
t his rounds against opponents like Joe Frazier and George Foreman, but also his resistance to racism, his refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam war, and his ongoing battle with Parkinson's disease.

Riot, by Walter Dean Myers (Egmont USA) Historical Fiction. Desperate for more Union troops, President Lincoln has instituted a draft requiring all able-bodied men--except those wealt
hy enough to pay a $300 waiver--to serve in the Civil War. This doesn't settle well with Irish immigrants who can't afford the waiver and who are already angry because they believe that black people are "stealing" their jobs. On July 11, 1863, the first names are drawn for the draft in New York City, and simmering racial tensions explode--Irish mobs loot stores, set fires, and attack black people in the streets. Told in a screenplay format like the author's book Monster, this powerful story centers on 15-year-old Clare Johnson, who, as the daughter of a black father and an Irish mother, is caught between the two warring sides.

A Season of Gifts, by Richard Peck (Dial Books) Historical Fiction. When 12-year-old Bob Barnhart's family moves in next door to Mrs. Dowdel -- aka Grandma Dowdel from A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago -- he isn't sure what to think of his grumpy and odd new neighb
or. But then Mrs. Dowdel helps Bob get back at the town bullies for pulling a humiliating prank on him, and their friendship is well on its way. Chock full of memorable characters and small-town Illinois charm, this homey story brings the late 1950s (when Elvis was king and not everyone had indoor plumbing) to vibrant life.

Murder at Midnight, by Avi (Scholastic Press) Historical Mystery. Orphan and former street-urchin Fabrizio, newly apprenticed to Mangus the magician, is eager to prove his worth to his master. When Mangus is accused of treason against the king, Fabrizio gets his chance to be useful by proving the charges false--before he and Mangus are executed. Set in Italy during the Renaissance, this fast-paced and suspenseful prequel to Midnight Magic includes fascinating history about the first printing presses, which were thought by some to run on the power of evil magic. [Would-be time-travelers, take note: don't show off any modern technology to citizens of the past--they're liable to burn you at the stake for it.]

The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat, by Michael Pollan, adapted by Richie Chevat (Dial Books) Nonfiction. Do you know where your dinner came from? If you'd like to find out, this is the perfect book for you. It explains how many processed foods, like chicken nuggets, "are really corn wrapped up in more corn" and that, if you wash 'em down with a soft drink, "you are drinking corn with your corn." Breaking down what most Americans eat, where their food comes from, and why it matters, author Michael Pollan also answers a nagging and fascinating question: since human beings are omnivores and can eat just about anything, what should we eat? Environmentalists, foodies, and fans of the movie Super Size Me will find plenty of food for thought in this kid-friendly version of the best-selling book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.

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