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My Favorite Books of 2017- Part I: Non-Fiction

28 Dec

It’s that time of year when people share their best of lists- in my case, I’ll be sharing my favorite books.

Heads up: I may have gotten carried away with the number of favorites so there’ll be multiple posts to cover all the categories.

First, I’ll be sharing non-fiction favorites since I did proclaim 2017 as the year of non-fiction picture books. And, I don’t think I was wrong at all!

Non-Fiction Picture Books

Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept DrawingKeith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing by Kay Haring
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I’ve seen Keith Haring’s art before, I didn’t know anything about him. I’m so glad I read this new nonfiction picture book about him written by his sister. What a creative, inspiring life! I loved that his focus what on creating and making his art accessible to as many people as possible. I definitely want to read more about Keith Haring, especially his altruistic side.

What makes this book even greater is Robert Neubecker’s illustrations and incorporating Keith Haring’s art into it. There’s a gallery of it at the back of the book as well as an Author’s Note and more information about Keith Haring and his foundation.

Grand CanyonGrand Canyon by Jason Chin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is such an outstanding picture book and it’s my first pick to be Caldecott contender! The fact that it’s nonfiction shouldn’t deter readers from picking it up as a read aloud. It follows a father and daughter as they hike through the various eco-systems of the Grand Canyon.

You’ll learn about the living organisms that call it home, even traveling back through time to see how things have changed. The best part of any nonfiction book in my opinion is seeing how much research was done and to present it in a way that makes people wanting more. This book was full of information- with an impressive back matter content to boot!

Readers will want to explore this book over and over again!

John Ronald's Dragons: The Story of J. R. R. TolkienJohn Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J. R. R. Tolkien by Caroline McAlister
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m currently in the middle of reading Lord of the Rings. I’ve watched and loved the movies- as well as The Hobbit and its films. Before I couldn’t see why people were such fanatics about Tolkien and Middle-Earth but now it all makes sense. What he’s accomplished in world making and storytelling is unparalleled so to read about the man behind the genius has been great. The picture book includes author and illustrator notes that will enhance the reading experience. Definitely one of the best picture books- nonfiction or otherwise- this year!

Silent Days, Silent DreamsSilent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Portland author/illustrator Allen Say delivers another stunner with his upcoming picture book Silent Days, Silent Dreams. The life of artist James Castle is explored in this imagined biography. Although I read an advanced copy and artwork may not be final, the different styles Allen Say shares is incredible. An author’s note of how the project came to be and his art method is included in the back matter. Expected pub date is October 31st.

Her Right FootHer Right Foot by Dave Eggers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is worth your read. Surprising in how it manages to talk about what you know it’s going to talk about (the Statue of Liberty) but manages to talk about something relevant and important. I read an unbound advanced copy and I can’t wait to see the finished product.

Manjhi Moves a MountainManjhi Moves a Mountain by Nancy Churnin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love stories like this where a situation is questioned and a solution is presented and a new better life is created for lots of people. And the fact that this is based on a true story makes it more incredible. Even after reading the author’s note at the end, I want to read more about Dashrath Manjhi and the circumstances of his monumental act.

Up in the Garden and Down in the DirtUp in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked Over and Under the Snow a lot but for some reason I was completely enamored with the second book in this nature nonfiction picture book series. This time, a girl and her grandmother are planting a garden. Spanning many months, we see it grow and we learn about the various animals and insects that help or hinder with its progress.

Raid of No Return: A World War II Tale of the Doolittle Raid (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, #7)Raid of No Return: A World War II Tale of the Doolittle Raid by Nathan Hale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nathan Hale delivers another hit with this World War II tale that seemed entirely impossible but managed to carry out its mission with varying degrees of success. Readers will be riveted as they learn about this top secret mission and follow the various planes and pilots as they plan an attack. It’s crazy this was just one piece in a huge jigsaw puzzle that was World War II.

The Complete Maus (Maus, #1-2)The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It takes a special skill to write about something so horrifying and yet have it be a must read for anyone who considers themselves a true reader. Maus is a great example of how graphic novels have elevated themselves into literature. It’s the account of a Holocaust survivor and I don’t think I’ve read anything else that made me sick to my stomach of what happened there. A panel of black smoke from a chimney has never been drawn to evoke such heartbreaking emotions.

On another level, this is also a story about a father and son and how they’re trying to understand one another through the experience of the dad, the profession of the son, and their shared loss.

The two stories are definitely meant to be read together to get the complete story and to fully appreciate it.

Anthology Non-Fiction

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary WomenGood Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women by Elena Favilli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since, we got this in at the store, it’s been selling consistently well. It’s one hundred biographies told as one-page fairy tales illustrated by sixty female illustrators from around the world.

I only just read it and I was amazed by how good it was. (There were a few stories that could have been rewritten to showcase more what they did.) I ended up looking up more info about certain women- and certain subjects- in the book. This will truly inspire lots of readers. And, no doubt, this will become a starting point for many people to find out more and perhaps write more books about these girls and women.

Towards the back of the book, there are a couple of pages where readers can write their own story and draw their own portrait!

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 by Elena Favilli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was very excited- along with everybody else- that there was going to be more Rebel Girls. Because the world truly needs more Rebel Girls- and Rebel Boys- making positive changes in the world. I enjoyed reading about the lesser known people more than some of the more famous subjects but only because I was annoyed at who was excluded. (Then, again, it means we need more of these volumes in the future!) I love hearing from people just how these books have changed their lives. To see that impact and hear those stories is why I am such a huge fan of these. May we all be inspired to write our own stories!

Queer There and Everywhere: 22 People Who Changed the WorldQueer There and Everywhere: 22 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Young Adult nonfiction book about Queer people throughout time from the creator of the Quist app which shares LGBTQ moments in history.

I appreciated the very conversational tone which always helps when dealing with lots of information. Some parts definitely seemed more opinion than fact but readers can usually tell when they get to those sections.

Lots of information and source guides are found for each person at the back of the book because some of them, you’d definitely want to read more about- or even check if what you read was true. Includes a glossary as well.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black HistoryLittle Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A collection of mini-biographies featuring “bold women in black history” that will introduce readers to some new and some familiar faces but all incredible fierce females. It was like reading about behind the scenes or invisible players in various walks of life and different historical moments. I love getting the feeling that these aren’t just individual stand alone stories but a cumulative narrative that relies on everyone standing together and the standing on the shoulders of giants.

Adult Non-Fiction

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth CenturyOn Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder. Probably the best and most important book I read this year. It was what I needed to read at this moment. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what to do, this will give you action steps. It also provides historical context and examples of how we got to where we are now. I highly encourage you to pick up a copy for yourself and share it with others. This is a quick read that will have a lasting impression on any of its readers.

Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's BooksWriting with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books by Uri Shulevitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A must read reference guide for any aspiring children’s book creator. Goes into details about the importance of sequencing and creating dummies and will make you look at the picture book as a whole in a new even more appreciative way. The second half gets very technical in terms of the illustrating aspect of things. It may have been first published over thirty years ago but I can see how the advice remains relevant even now.

View all my reviews

Life Is Like a Musical: How Broadway Can Help You Live Your Best LifeLife Is Like a Musical: How Broadway Can Help You Live Your Best Life by Tim Federle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you need a pick-me-up or advice about life in general and your BFF is somehow not available via phone, text, email, social media, or to meet in person over a drink or two, Tim Federle and this book is the next best thing. A quick read full of practical advice to practically change your life for the better- or, better yet, “for good.”*

*Wicked reference.

Audio Book Non-Fiction

Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, I have to say I’m so glad I got a new phone- and an unlimited data plan- because now I can listen to audiobooks again when I go on my walks. (Portland just needs to make sure it remembers it’s spring and we could use some sun!)

I love Leslie Knope from “Parks and Recreation” and the character is a lot like the actress who plays her. Amy Poehler just seems to encourage girl power and teamwork in a positive and kind way. Even the title denotes that- Yes Please.

The book is biography (her childhood, her career in comedy) and bits (Plastic Surgery Haiku, My Books on Divorce). While I missed out on pictures listening to the audio book, it was a great production (with special guests Kathleen Turner and Seth Meyers) including a live improv reading of the last chapter. If you’ve read and enjoyed the physical book, listen to the audio book for a different experience!

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition)I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just finished listening to the audio book of I Am Malala (Young Reader’s Edition.) And I am inspired by the young girl who only wanted to go to school and who spoke out against those who tried to silence her. I am inspired by the young girl who has become a champion for children’s rights to get an education.

It was eye-opening to read her thoughts on how her piece of paradise turned to a war zone and how the weak and cowardly can prey on people’s fears and insecurities (and twist religious beliefs for personal gain) to gain the upper hand and suppress them. It’s a lesson we practically have to learn over and over again.

The audio book has a prologue and epilogue read by Malala as well her UN speech in full. I may end up listening to the regular audiobook edition as well to see what the difference are.

I appreciated that despite everything happening around her and then everything that’s happened to her she was still a normal girl who still worried about homework and tests, fitting in, and fighting with her brothers.

I hope her story will inspire many others (young and old, male and female) to be activists.

I am also very aware that despite my ups and downs, my frustration of certain situations and my moments of overwhelming gratitude, and my many rants or raves depending on what has transpired that day, that I am a lucky guy surrounded by great people and offered many opportunities if I only choose to take them.

I am inspired by my family and friends who are everyday heroes because we all know how difficult it is to try and make ends meet. And yet they do.

They also try to make the world a better, more loving, place for others. They fight. They resists. They persists. Because they know this world- and all the beauty it has to offer- is not just for a select privileged few but for every one.

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People's Lives Better, Too)The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t think I would have liked this as much as I did despite the fact I’m a fan of all of her books. It just seemed too gimmicky at first but it’s actually quite insightful and provides suggestions on how to deal with other tendencies different than yours and also how to overcome one’s own weaknesses with their tendency.

I’m an obliger!

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