Monday, February 23, 2009

Great Nonfiction: Brave Men In Tanks and Singers Who Still Rock The World

Hey, everyone, the Great and Powerful CARLMAN has returned! I've just fought off a cold brought on by the Giant Germs of Jupiter. They're big and deadly, let me tell you, but couldn't keep the CARLMAN down for long. Before I tell y0u about some good stuff, let's hear a comment from Ms. Yingling about Dave Barry's book Science Fair:

Science Fair was really good, but as only an honorary guy, there were some things that I found... puerile. Luckily, there wasn't any language or potty humor. Just yesterday I had the speech therapist bring a boy in to tell me that Chris Lynch's Extreme Elvin had the sh** word in it. Sigh. Only so much we can do.

I agree, Ms. Yingling. This just goes to show that boys read a lot better than people think. I've actually read articles that say guys have to have potty humor to get them to read. Give us a break! Write a good story and we'll read it! Make sure it has excitement and humor and we'll love it! Doesn't have to have language and potty humor; in fact, some guys in last year's Percy Jackson book club said that one thing they appreciated about Mr. Riordan was that he didn't put that stuff in his books. Doesn't have to! He's got a great story, good characters, lots of action and humor. Just what guys love!

Of course, guy humor doesn't have to potty but it doesn't have to be sophisticated either! Puerile humor is just what we like! Wait---does everyone know what "puerile" means?? No?? I'll give a free copy of Jerry Spinelli's book The Library Card to the first guy who sends me a dictionary definition, plus the name of your dictionary.

Now, on to some great nonfiction. I wanted to find something good for Black History Month, but, as I did last year, I waited to almost the end of the month. My bad! We get insanely busy sometimes and it's hard to get to all the books I want to read. Anyway, the first one is a really good story and also a good look at why it's important to hold Black History Month. The 761st Tank Battalion by Kathryn Browne Pfeifer tells about the first group (and only) of African-American tank soldiers in World War II. They were tough and brave men who fought the Nazis for 183 day straight! In the snow! In some of the most crucial battles of the war. Yet these incredible men were overlooked, ignored, or discriminated against simply because they were black. In fact, after the war, one member was beaten by a redneck sheriff so badly that he went permanently blind. This book will make you admire the men and also make you angry over their circumstances, yet their courage and determination in their battles on and off the battlefield will lift your spirits.

How did African-American people cope with all their troubles? One way was through music. That's what makes The Blues Singers: Ten Who Rocked the World by Julius Lester and Soul and R&B by Christopher Handyside so good--they tell about this fantastic music. Much of what we listen to now came down from them. The Blues Singers is written as a grandfather telling his granddaughter about all the great singers he's heard. He starts with the blues with singers like Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, and Muddy Waters, goes to gospel (Mahalia Jackson), the great soul singers (Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin), and dynamic performs like James Brown and Little Richard. All of them came from terrible backgrounds. Most of them had parents die when they were children., but they all made some of the best music you'll ever hear. A couple of them have died since the publication of this book (James Brown and Ray Charles) but many are still going strong--Aretha Franklin sang at President Obama's inauguration!

The Soul and R&B book covers more ground, going from the Rhythm and Blues (R&B) of the late '40's and early '50's, the exciting sounds coming out of Memphis and Motown in the '60's, the funky, stylistic, and disco music of the 70's, and the innovative '80's sounds, including the beginnings of hip-hop. This is good quick reading, giving you short chapters that leave you hungry to know more. Plus there are great pictures, good information in the sidebars, a timeline at the end, and an excellent list of places to visit and recordings to listen to.
Now, how did African-Americans cope? They did like James Brown--they looked the world and all its troubles right in the eye and shouted, "I FEEL GOOD!!" See if this video by James Brown, The Godfather of Soul, The Hardest Working Man In Show Business, doesn't make you feel the same! (If you see any pop up ads, just click out of them)

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