Tag Archives: Non-Fiction

Staff Pick: Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot

Staff Pick: Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot

Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot

A true story. It’s 1948 during the Berlin Airlift. Pilots, who three years earlier were bombing Berlin, are now in the business of saving Berliners from a slow, wintry starvation. One of those pilots is Lt. Gail Halvorsen. In addition to his deliveries of flour and coal, he parachutes Hershey Bars to the watching children. These children have never tasted candy.  Halvorsen’s kindness is a hit.  He receives fan mail, and in one letter, a child named Mercedes asks the “Chocolate Pilot” to please drop some candy at her house.  A knock on Mercedes’ door begins a unique friendship. Author: Margot Raven Illustrator: Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen

Recommended by: Mike Hylton – Irvington Library

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She Touched the World

She Touched the World

In 1832, three-year-old Laura Bridgman and her two sisters were stricken with scarlet fever. In those days, there were no antiobotics or fever reducing medicines. Laura’s two sisters died.  Laura’s fever lasted for many weeks and left her blind, deaf and without her senses of taste and smell.  The only sense Laura had left was touch.  Like Helen Keller, who was born many years later, Laura was often frustrated and threw temper tantrums, angry about her inability to make other people understand what she wanted.

Luckily, a man named Samuel Howe was at the same time opening a school for the blind and figuring out ways to help deaf and blind children learn.  (It later became the Perkins School for the Blind.)  Laura went to live at Mr. Howe’s school and he was able to teach her to read and write.  Laura became famous.  The English writer Charles Dickens even came to visit her and included a story about her in his book American Notes.  40 years later, Helen Keller’s mother read that book by Charles Dickens and realized that her daughter Helen cold be helped!  Can you imagine her reaction when she was reading, realizing that there was another girl like Helen who had learned to read!

It was Laura Bridgman who taught Annie Sullivan how to fingerspell.  Annie Sullian became Helen Keller’s teacher.  I never knew there were deaf and blind students before Helen Keller that could communicate like her.   It was Laura, not Helen, that was the very first deaf and blind student to learn to read and write.

It is hard to even imagine…living in silence and darkness…and then having someone teach you how to share your thoughts with others.  What a miracle!  In the biography below Helen talks about what it was like to learn how to read…and then what it felt like to go to the Perkins School for the blind and meet other blind children who could also fingerspell…she had friends for the very first time.  Cool! Author: Sally Hobart Alexander

So, it was Mr. Samuel Howe who worked with Laura and taught her how to fingerspell.  Laura taught Anne and Anne taught Helen.  It all started with Mr. Howe.  His methods are still used today to teach deaf and blind students how to read and write.  Now that’s one guy who made a big difference.

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Ain’t Nothing But a Man

Ain’t Nothing But a Man

Ain't Nothing But a ManIn the folksong “John Henry,” John is a railroad worker who makes a promise to beat a steam powered drill by digging with his own two hands and his hammer.  He says, “A man ain’t nothing but a man, before I let your steam drill beat me down, I’ll die with a hammer in my hand.”  As the story goes, John indeed beats the steam powered drill in a competition just as he promised.  He also drops dead with his hammer in his hand…just like he promised!

Men swinging hammers, and later steam drills, were used in the 1800s to break through rocks to build America’s railroads.  Like the John Henry in the song, thousands of men worked to build our railroads.  Those men also died by the thousands from the tough physical labor and the dust that clogged their lungs. Those men sang songs to help them keep up a steady rhythm of hammering.  One of those songs is “John Henry.”  The song tells their story.

The author of this book set out to find out if there ever really was a man named John Henry.  Was he just a legend, like Paul Bunyan?  Was there any truth in the song?  He traced many different versions of the John Henry song over time.  He compared the lyrics to what was going on in railroad history and he uncovered the amazing and heartbreaking story of the men who made America’s railroads.  The John Henry song tells the story of a man, but it also symbolizes all the men, especially African-American, Chinese-American & Irish-American men who literally worked themselves to death.  It makes you wonder, why didn’t they quit?  Many of the men were prisoners in state prisons loaned out to the railroad to do heavy labor.  The rest were extremely poor and and had little choice but to accept this kind of work if they hoped to feed their families. Author: Scott Reynolds

Listen to this recording of men singing “John Henry”:

Simthsonian Audio of men working and singing “John Henry” (1947-1948)

Can’t you imagine yourself swinging a hammer to the rhythm?  The work would be hot and back breaking.  It would be hard to breathe.  You can hear some of the hopelessness and sorrow in the voices too.  Look at some pictures from the book:

 

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Camp Out

Camp Out

Camp Out!Camp Out! really is the ultimate kids’ guide to camping. It includes all the information you would expect, like what to pack and how to make a s’more…plus many unique ideas.  Who knew you could make a solar oven out of a pizza box or tell the temperature by counting cricket chirps?  Do you know the best time to spot shooting stars? - mid-August.  (Mark your calendar!)  There is a whole chapter devoted to shelter; how to pick a campsite, the labelled parts of a tent, how to make a tent between two trees, how to make a tent if there is only one tree…even how to make your own tepee.  Clear drawings for fire building, knot-tying, identifying animal tracks & the telltale signs in the sky for bad weather are also great.  I especially liked the section on freshwater creatures & what you find Camp Granadain a rotten log – these are the things you would actually see camping out in Indiana.  The book includes camp cooking ideas, games & crafts that are explained well, doable & unique.   As my mom used to say, “Go Outside!” Author: Lynn Brunelle Illustrator: Brian Biggs

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Super Simple Paper Airplanes

Super Simple Paper Airplanes

Super Simple Paper AirplanesFrom the very easiest to plane folding for the expert, this book will show you 40 different kinds of paper airplanes to fold; from the classic darts and gliders to fighters and stunt planes.  The model on the cover that looks like a circle…that one you throw like a frisbee.   You will also find directions for a flying saucer, a boomerang and a tiny airplane that fits in the palm of your hand.  No need for scissors, glue, or tape - just paper…and patience!  Follow the directions, decorate and fly!  The book includes diagrams, pictures and tips for making planes fly far. Author: Nick Robinson

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