Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. If your kids are intrigued, check out Rocket to the Moon! by Don Brown, a history of rockets in graphic novel format. Starting with the first Chinese firecrackers, Brown traces the innovations and discoveries that led to the manned missions to the moon.
This book is full of interesting information. Larrabee read it in a day and quoted facts from it to me for weeks afterward. My personal favorite tidbit is that three early rocket scientists from three different countries were all inspired by the same novel: Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon. Hooray for science fiction!
Rocket to the Moon! is the first book in Brown’s Big Ideas That Changed the World series. I’m looking forward to the next one.
My dad is a big Civil War buff, and I grew up among the battlefields of Middle Tennessee, so I was intrigued by a middle grade novel about a twelve-year-old Civil War reenactor. The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody by Matthew Landis did not disappoint. It’s a terrific school friendship story with a historical mystery on the side.
Oliver is an expert on the Civil War, so he’s thrilled about his new social studies project. But then he gets paired with Ella, a girl who never does her homework and is rumored to be failing the 7th grade. To make matters worse, they’re not assigned one of the famous generals he knows so much about. Instead, they’re tasked with researching Private Raymond Stone, a low-ranking soldier who lived near their Pennsylvania town and died of dysentery.
Both Private Stone and Ella turn about to be a lot more surprising–and complicated–than Oliver expected. The same could be said for this book. I recommend it.
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War is another excellent history book for middle and high school readers by Steve Sheinkin, the author of Bomb. Blaine, Mark, and I all enjoyed it.
The book tells Ellsberg’s story from his first day of work at the Pentagon, coincidentally the day of the Tonkin Gulf incident, to his decision to leak the Pentagon Papers and his trial for violating the Espionage Act. At the same time, it recounts many events of the late 1960s and early 1970s: the U.S. military escalation in Vietnam, the anti-war protests at home, the Watergate break-in.
To an adult, this is recent history, but to a young person, it’s just history. Yet, it’s incredibly relevant to today’s news. For example, American military action overseas is often criticized as “another Vietnam.” Watergate spawned a long list of “-gate” scandals, including the recent “deflategate.” And in the epilogue, Sheinkin draws a parallel between Ellsberg and Edward Snowden.
Most Dangerous is a fast-paced, compelling read.
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas is a semi-autobiographical novel about an middle school-age Iranian girl living in Southern California during the late 1970s.
It’s not easy being from a place few Americans can find on a map. Her name (Zomorod Yousefzadeh) is hard to pronounce, her mother needs her to translate everything into Persian, her kitchen is stocked with different food than her friends’ houses, and her family doesn’t celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Then, in 1979, the Iranian Revolution and the Iran hostage crisis make everything worse. Her father loses his job, her parents worry constantly for their relatives in Iran, and her family faces growing anti-Iran sentiment in the U.S.
It Aint’ So Awful, Falafel is a serious story told with a light touch. It’s full of astute observations about American and Iranian culture, and it made me laugh.
As a child of the 1970s myself, I also enjoyed the period details. For example, Zomorod’s neighbor has cats named Captain and Tennille, and her friends give her a banana-flavored Bonne Bell Lip Smacker on a rope for her twelfth birthday. She mentions the yellow ribbons tied around trees all over town during the hostage crisis and the long lines at gas stations during the oil crisis.
Dumas dedicates this book to “all the kids who don’t belong, for whatever reason.” On her website, she shares information about the Falafel Kindness Project that encourages kids to befriend kids who may feel like outsiders.
I’ll confess that I usually prefer fiction to non-fiction. But I’m willing to make an exception for Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. It’s a history of the atomic bomb told with thriller pacing.
Starting with the discovery of nuclear fission in 1938, the book follows three interrelated stories: the American efforts to build a bomb, the Soviet spies’ efforts to steal the bomb design, and the Allies’ efforts to prevent Germany from developing the bomb. Sheinkin does an amazing job of weaving in quotations from primary sources to create an informative and readable narrative.
Blaine enjoyed this book too. More than once, I overheard him telling his dad about something he learned from it. His concise review: Bomb is bomb.