Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Symphony for the City of the Dead

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

by M.T.Anderson

2016 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults  and Horn Book Finalist

456 pgs. (72 pages of Source Notes), photographs included.


Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony was captured on microfilm and then sent on a journey, crossing the majority of the world’s continents to reach Washington D.C. – a gift of thanks from the Russians to the Americans for their supply of armaments and food in the Russian struggle against the German Luftwaffe.  On June 2nd, 1942, after traveling almost 20,000 miles, the unthinkable happens.  The agent responsible for the safe delivery of the microfilm went to lunch and left it on his tray as he went out..

So begins a fascinating but devastating account of the period culminating in the German invasion of Russia and, in particular, the siege of Leningrad.  I think that this book should be on everybody’s shelf.  It is so well written and so expertly researched. One gets a very clear picture of both Hitler and Stalin, two maniacal dictators, both driven by  “short-sighted, almost delirious, egotism”, and who inflicted inconceivable suffering on millions of people. This book unpacks the repercussions of their capricious malevolence.

In the midst of this, Anderson tells the miraculous story of Dmitri Shostakovich.  He tells the story with compassion and understanding of the fragile and brilliant Russian composer.

Hands down, this was the best book I read this year.

Tortoise and the Soldier

Tortoise and soldier

The Tortoise and the Soldier by Michael Foreman
Age range:7-12
Hardcover, 128 pages
Henry Holt and Co, November 24, 2015

Saw this pop up in my McMillan new book feed and bought it immediately.
This one is going in our school library And my home library. (I am delivering two books to our library today so great day!)
First, full disclosure, I have a tortoise obsessed son who Loves military history so I took a chance based on the description that this would be something he would want to read.
Now this book is a bit young for his reading level (and just like me he read it in one sitting yesterday evening). But it is a wonderful story with beautiful watercolor illustrations and real photographs throughout.

The story starts in the 1950s with our narrator Trevor, going to visit an older gentleman in his small English village who has a tortoise. The Editor wants to know if the tortoise has woken up from his Winter bromation and is walking about yet. So over on his old rickety bike rushes the young teen to see what the big deal about this tortoise is. Trevor asks Mr Friston what’s the tortoises’ story. So while Trevor works around the yard, Mr Friston, recounts his story as a young sailor aboard the HMS Implacable.
Along the way we meet Mr Henry Friston as a young man, Ali Pasha (prince among tortoises), and many exotic locations where Henry was stationed during WWI. I am sure a bit of artistic liscense has been taken, but the book is filled with actual pictures of Henry, the tortoise, and artifacts from Henry’ time in the Royal Navy. The stories about Galipoli are realistic and not pretty, but Mr Foreman tempers the death and tragedy of trench warfare with occasional sometimes dark humor. My favorite is when a truce is called where both sides took “a half time in hell” for first aid and burial to be rendered to both sides. Or later when Henry is carting aboard crates of dates (Ali’ favorite food). This is a middle grade book though, and while some of the story might give sensitive readers pause, it is done in small doses with a huge dollop of compassion and humanity to balance the horror. Besides this is a story about war, and trench ware fare no less.

The author Mr Foreman does explain that he met Mr Friston driving the local bus usually filled with soldiers in WWII, and became friends with Dan, Mr Friston’ son. It was Dan who introduced Michael to Ali Pasha, and he grew up hearing stories about Henry’ time in WWI over many years. So while the story about Henry and his adventures with Ali Pasha are true, the narrative about the newspaper and a young boy learning about it over days is not.

The Bomb

This was an On A Whim pick up at my local bookstore and it wasn’t until I had read almost 100 pages …sitting on the floor at the book store that I realized this was one I had to bring home.


The Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, a Newbery Honor book

  • Age Range: 10 – 14 years
  • Lexile Measure: 920L
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Flash Point; First Edition edition (September 4, 2012)

This is a History novel about the Race to Build -by hook or crook- the first Atomic Bomb.  This is filled with a few pictures, but mostly the kind of story writing you expect to see in the best Spy novels.  I can see why this is a Newbery Honor book.  I have a WW2 obsessed son, and I am a big fan of exciting history novels in general.  Before my Dad introduced me to all things Science Fiction we read every Biography, History, Historical fiction novel we could get in the JF/TF section of our local library.  So this book delighted and intrigued me.  While most of the factual elements are known to me, this was the first time I can recall reading about it with such a compelling and complete narrative.  This story goes from the first discoveries of fission, to dropping two nuclear bombs on Japan, and the spy scandal that made headlines around the globe.  Taken from first hand accounts and primary sources this book weaves three stories:  The US and Germany trying to build a bomb, the Soviets trying to steel it, and the Allies trying to disrupt Germany’s research.

The story does more than just share dry facts, it tells about the elation and then devastation felt by the scientists over what they had done.  It gives first hand accounts from Nagasaki, and Hiroshima.  It discusses the crazy methods Soviet spies went to to steel plans, and even President Truman’s feelings on Why it was necessary to drop a nuclear bomb on Japan.  This should be on your shelves.

Parental Note:  This is not a condemnation of the bomb makers, or of America dropping the bombs on Japan.  Mr. Sheinkin does his best to just lay out facts and let you draw your own conclusions, but it is unapologetically pro American.  I encourage you to read this along with your child, especially if you are not familiar with the Manhattan Project.

When Marian Sang…

When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson


Hardcover – October 1, 2002