Category Archives: non-fiction

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl

this star won't go outEsther Grace Earl was an exceptional teenager.  She was a kind, thoughtful, and generous Nerdfighter who managed to bring out the best in herself and the people around her while simultaneously battling thyroid cancer.  Esther bravely endured lengthy and painful treatments with the hope that she could live long enough to “make a difference, to help someone.”  Well, she definitely succeeded.  Not only did she inspire people while she was alive, but her legacy continues via a charity called This Star Won’t Go Out.

This book is a collection of Esther’s blog posts, letters to her family, CaringBridge entries from her family, and reflections from people who knew her, interspersed with photos.  There is an introduction by John Green, which explains how he met Esther and the role she played in inspiring him while he wrote The Fault in Our Stars.  I found it difficult to read this story because I found myself getting depressed and angry about the unfairness of it all.  How can there be healthy “bad people” in the world while innocent children and teens die from cancer?!?  As I finished the book last night, and I came to the section where Esther’s parents recalled her final words and moments, I couldn’t help but sob.  Thankfully, there was a small samples of stories Esther had written to lighten the mood at the end of the book.

Happy Reading!

I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

I am MalalaWhen I first heard of the assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai, I was in shock.  The fact that the Taliban treated women and girls so poorly was no surprise, but the fact that they actually tried to kill a girl who merely fought for girls to be educated was practically unbelievable.  I was so relieved to hear the reports that Malala not only survived but that her fighting spirit was still intact.  While I find it terribly depressing to know that she cannot safely return to her home, it is heartening to know that Malala has the attention of many world leaders and is being kept safe as she travels the world to continue her work — fighting for the basic right to education.  After watching Malala’s interview on The Daily Show — which left Jon Stewart absolutely speechless — I knew I had to read this book!

While I was already familiar with the general history of unrest in the Middle East, I appreciated Malala’s overview of the formation of Pakistan.  I think it went a long way toward explaining how people could have “let” the Taliban take over; how low literacy rates meant that people had to trust what they were told, and how the intolerance and hatred crept in so slowly that many people did not see what was coming.  The overview of her family’s history, specifically how her own father fought so hard for his education and the education of others, also explained how Malala grew up to be so passionate about the right to an education.  Even though she didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize, it’s great that she was nominated — her nomination has the possibility to inspire a whole generation.  I can only hope that the youth of the world are paying attention and that Malala’s virtues are contagious, because there’s no limit to what a generation of people with her drive, courage, and enthusiasm can accomplish.

Happy Reading!

Rapture Practice: My One-Way Ticket to Salvation [a true story] by Aaron Hartzler

rapture practiceAaron Hartzler credits his acting ability to all the practice he got at home.  After all, having questions about his faith and his sexuality weren’t exactly encouraged by his strict, Christian parents.  If he wanted to stay out of trouble, he had to pretend to believe what they believed and to behave as they thought he should.  As a child, he found it easy to get swept up in the excitement over the thought that Jesus might come down and take them all away to heaven at a moment’s notice.  As a teen, though, Aaron had begun to enjoy his time on Earth too much to hope for the rapture.  He also began to question many of the strict rules his parents upheld in the name of religion — especially the rules against listening to popular music and going to the movies.  He began sneaking around and breaking rules and, what started off as smaller/more innocent lies, soon became intricately planned deceptions and full-fledged rebellion.  Though I grew up attending church, my Presbyterian upbringing was very liberal and I found it fascinating [and sometimes horrifying] to see how vastly different it could have been even though his religion was based on the same holy book as mine.

Happy Reading!

Secrets of an Organized Mom by Barbara Reich

Secrets of an Organized Mom[NOTE:  I get that this was not written to be a tween/teen book, but I think even tweens and teens could benefit from the organizational tips and tricks given.  Plus, I know I have adult followers who would totally appreciate hearing about this book!]

When I saw this book on display among the new books of the Parenting section, I swear I heard it call my name!  Though I have OCD and clutter has always been able to cause me undue anxiety, my house has never been completely organized.  Many of my friends seem to think that it is well organized, and maybe it is pretty good compared to some other houses, but I know there is still a lot of room for improvement.  Being a working mom, I rarely have enough time to do more than get by from one week to the next.  After all, keeping a house organized while staying on top of the billion or so other things a mom needs to do is not an easy feat!  I often say that I practice “subsistence living” — I am not falling behind, but I only seem to get the bare minimum accomplished.  I would love to feel like I am actually making headway on the clutter [i.e. getting rid of it] instead of barely getting by, though, so I figured I would read this book and give her methods a try.

The first chapter lays out Reich’s ground rules, and subsequent chapters help you tackle specific areas of the house.  I like that you can apply her four-step method and her “Ten Commandments of Organizing” to pretty much any room/organizational challenge.  And, while she does talk about children’s areas and children’s stuff, this book could work just as well for people without children if they simply skip the parts that don’t apply.  The practical advice paired with a “tough love” attitude made me give it a try… and seeing the end result in my 8-year-old son’s room sealed the deal!  He is happy that he has more room to play and that he can find all of his toys, and I’m thrilled that the “place for everything” structure empowers him to clean it all up when he’s done. Almost one week later, his room still looks like it belongs in Better Homes and Gardens:-)

I absolutely love this book!  So much, in fact, that I just ordered a copy of my own — to reference in the future and maybe even to lend to friends/family who want to check it out.

Happy Reading!

Passive Aggressive Notes: Painfully Polite and Hilariously Hostile Writings by Kerry Miller

passive aggressive notesIf you’re looking for something funny and light to read during your winter break, this is just the ticket!  It almost made me wish I would have saved the passive aggressive notes I’ve encountered throughout my life so I could send them in to the author for inclusion on her website (or calendar!).  For a taste of what the book has to offer, or for more once the book is done, check out her website:

Happy Reading!

Regine’s Book: A Teen Girl’s Last Words by Regine Stokke

Regine's BookI couldn’t possibly do any better than the publisher’s book description, so I am copying it verbatim:  Regine’s blog about living with Leukemia gained a huge following, and eventually became this book. She writes openly about emotional and physical aspects of her 15-month struggle to recover, and explains how her disease impacts her life. In the course of her illness, Regine has photography exhibits, goes to concerts, enjoys her friends & family, and advocates for registering as a blood and bone marrow donor. She was a typical teenager with an amazing will to live; and the lessons she learned have relevance for all of us. She died at home on December 3, 2009 with her family and cat by her side.  This book actually reminded me quite a bit of Jenny Downham’s book Before I Die, aside from the sad fact, of course, that Regine’s story wasn’t fiction.

Reading this book has helped me to better understand what many cancer patients go through, and it has also helped me to put some annoying bits of my own life into perspective.  Is is the end of the world if I get stuck in traffic on the way to work?  No one will die if I get to the library five minutes late.  Is it the end of the world if I forget a coupon and accidentally pay an extra dollar or two for my groceries?  Hardly.  Poor Regine really did get some “end of the world” news — as a teenager, no less — and still managed to stay extremely positive.  Even after reading her blog/book, I can’t wrap my brain around how she was able to muster up the will to carry on and to hope for a cure when every indication was that her condition was beyond hope.  Though her life was short, she lived as fully as possible and gave her life purpose.  She did a lot to raise money and awareness for cancer treatments like bone marrow transplants — and she inspired me to go to to add myself to the national bone marrow registry.  (You can register yourself, too, if you’re a healthy adult between the ages 0f 18 & 44!)

Happy Reading!

Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America by Joan Wehlen Morrison, edited by Susan Signe Morrison

Home Front GirlWhen it comes to World War II, there is historical fiction aplenty.  Many authors have done intense research to create rich stories of things that could have happened in that time, but there is nothing like a primary document to help readers appreciate exactly how people felt and what they actually went through.  I’m guessing that is exactly why the Diary of Anne Frank resonated with me when I read it in middle school.  Anne was a real girl, she was about my age [13], and she had actually lived through the things I was reading about.  As I read Anne’s record of her time spent in that tiny apartment, hiding from the Nazis and hoping to make it out alive, I gained a new appreciation for the simple things in life.  Until I read her diary, I took it for granted that I had enough food to eat, was able to spend time with my friends, and could open a window for extra light and fresh air whenever I felt like it.

Joan Whelen Morrison’s diary is both similar to and completely different from Anne Frank’s diary.  It’s different, obviously, because Joan lived in America and didn’t live in fear of being found and killed by the Nazis; her location afforded her a great many freedoms Anne was denied.  Joan’s diary is extremely similar, though, because she was also a teenage girl whose writing not only chronicled her daily life and the events unfolding around her but also revealed some incredible insights about life.  Joan’s diary gives readers a peek into the life of a typical [American] teenage girl who lived during the time of the Great Depression and leading up to World War II.  The tone of her diary ranges from light and funny entries about school and boys to more serious, with topics like the explosion of the Hindenburg and the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  People who enjoy reading and learning about this time in history won’t want to miss Home Front Girl.

Happy Reading!

Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and Marke Bieschke

Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for TeensNot only does this book receive my YA Librarian Seal of Approval for including lots of factual information and providing helpful resources for the teens who need them, but it also receives the Queer Teen Seal of Approval from one of my patrons.  He saw the book sitting out on my desk [as I was about to start my review] and asked if he could look at it.  I decided to hold off on my review until after he and I had a chance to discuss what he thought of the book.  I figured this was the perfect test, after all, because he is currently in the process of coming out to his friends and is trying to figure out when/how he will come out to his family.  After about an hour, he returned and told me, “It’s awesome!”  He went on to say that he liked how it was “pretty much a ‘how to’ guide for gay teens.”  I smiled and said, “That’s pretty much the idea!”  So, yeah…  I think this book is a “must own” for all libraries that serve teens — whether you think you have queer teens or not.

Happy Reading!

Don’t Sit on the Baby: The Ultimate Guide to Sane, Skilled, and Safe Babysitting by Halley Bondy

Despite the silly title and humorous “TALES FROM THE CRIB” anecdotes from real-life babysitters, this book is not a joke — it’s a wealth of helpful information!  I especially like the fact that it begins with information about what you can expect as a babysitter and includes a quiz to see if you’re ready for the job.  The book is presented in three major sections: Babysitting Breakdown, Essential Skills, and Business Basics.  Aside from the thorough index, there is also a list of resources for the topics Basic Training, In Case of Emergency, and Edu-tainment.  I would recommend this book to anyone who thinks s/he is ready to babysit, and I think it belongs in the YA non-fiction collection of every school or public library.

Happy Reading!

Stuff on My Cat: The Book by Mario Garza

This is NOT a book for serious readers…  It’s just a book of funny pictures that people took after putting stuff on their cats.  That being said — this book is hilarious!  I am pretty sure my favorite was the picture [near the middle of the book] of a kitten dressed up in a red shirt and a tutu-like pink skirt.  Darn near melted my heart!  This would be a fun book to look at with a friend or two when you have nothing better to do.

Happy Reading!