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The Queens of Animation

In this eye-opening, fascinating, and heartbreaking account, author Nathalia Holt takes readers through the history of female animators at the storied Walt Disney Company. Women faced great obstacles personally and professionally (harassment, intimidation, abuse), making this story difficult to read at times. And yet, it's gripping. The stories of Mary Blair, Sylvia Moberly-Holland, and Bianca Majolie intertwined with the detailed history of the studio and the larger world make for a compelling read. While the focus is on the early years, the author takes readers through the studio's renaissance of the early 90s and the 2013 blockbuster Frozen. Warning: life at Disney wasn't always a fairy tale.

If you enjoy hidden histories (such as Hidden Figures), you'll appreciate The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History (2019). The engrossing story is well worth a listen, thanks to the fantastic performance by Saskia Maarleveld.



Pocket Full of Colors

Explore the colorful and magical world of Mary Blair in this junior biography told with beautiful pictures. While we can now find Blair listed among top Disney artists, animators, and designers, we get to see how her childhood love of colors and sketching led to that future working with Walt Disney himself. It is not an easy journey, trying to compete with men as well as color cynics (perhaps somewhat surprising for the world of Disney we know today). Ultimately, though, Blair receives an invitation to help create arguably the most recognizable and nostalgic theme park ride of all time—and my personal favorite—It's a Small World, truly epitomizing Blair's talent and vibrant imagination.

Check out Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire (2017) by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville. For more information, visit Oh My Disney for The World Behind "It's a Small World" and The Life and Work of Mary Blair.

The Radium Girls

Be prepared: this book is heartbreaking and infuriating. But it is so worth the read. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women (2017) tells the true story of a tragic time in American history. In the early 20th century, advertisements touted radium as a miracle cure. During World War I, factories in the U.S. were employing women to paint watch faces. Their method? Lip, dip, paint.

The constant exposure to radium eventually led to workers' horrific pain and suffering—and the companies denied any wrongdoing. Author Kate Moore shares the personal stories of these women, their fight for justice, and the impact their perseverance had on workers' rights and labor laws.

There is a local thread about a radium plant in Ottowa, Illinois. Check out the NPR Illinois article for more details.

If you enjoyed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or The Girls of Atomic City, try this book. It has a mix of hidden history and compelling characters—and it's great for book clubs.



The Montessori Toddler

Are you already a follower of Montessori principles, or are you curious to find out what it's all about? In The Montessori Toddler: A Parent's Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being (2019), Simone Davies, a parent and Montessori teacher, gives background on the Montessori philosophies that you can apply at home. Even if you aren't ready to adopt the whole lifestyle and education, you'll find great information about toddlers and their development, as well as activity guides and resources to encourage creativity, cooperation, and responsibility.




Where Am I Now?

Did you enjoy Matilda, Mrs. Doubtfire, or the remake of Miracle on 34th Street? These 90s films feature a delightful performance by the adorable Mara Wilson. She's all grown up now, and has written an engaging series of essays. In Where Am I Now?True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame (2016), Wilson covers her childhood in the spotlight (both good and bad), her struggles with OCD and depression, and coming of age as an aspiring storyteller in New York City.

Don't let the childhood stardom fool you. Wilson pursued the creative arts (both performing and writing) in high school and in college at NYU. She is a gifted writer and experienced storyteller, and those talents shine throughout her memoir. It is full of heart, featuring both heartbreaking and humorous stories.

Listen to her memoir via Overdrive. Watch a video with Mara on mental health for Project UROK. 



The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton (2018)

An unforgettable, haunting, and especially inspirational memoir by Anthony "Ray" Hinton, an innocent man who spent almost 30 years in solitary confinement on death row. What makes The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row so powerful is his enduring faith, hope, and compassion while living in the depths of "hell."

His friendships, family, and capacity to forgive are on display in this compelling work. His best friend, Lester, visited him every week for 30 years! Ray adopted the other death row inmates as his new family. He brought inspiration, laughter, and faith to them, and started a book club, which encouraged many of them to read.

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, eventually became Ray's lawyer and was instrumental in getting his release. I especially appreciate Stevenson's quote: "I believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done." Listen to his TED Talk to get an inspiring and personal glimpse into his motivation for his life work. 

There are many disturbing and heartbreaking elements to this story as well – deep-seated racism and discrimination, inhumane treatment of prisoners, and our damaged, and often corrupt, judicial system, to name a few. However, Hinton's positive inspiration definitely outweighs the negative details. I highly recommend this book, which was also one of Oprah's Book Club Picks.




Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016)

Trevor Noah has a gift for storytelling (which makes it no surprise that he is now a comedian). I would have liked this book more if it were told in chronological order, but ultimately, I assume the order in which it is presented goes back to the fact that he's a comedian and likely thinks anecdotally vs. chronologically. That said, Noah tells such fascinating stories of his childhood, teen years, and young adult life, all while intertwining the cultural setting of South Africa while he was growing up. I highly recommend the audio to fully appreciate both the variety of languages Noah references and the emotion and humor in his storytelling.

Check out Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood and other titles on this year's 2019 Lincoln Award (PDF): Illinois Teen Readers' Choice nominee list.

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans (2018)

inspired“Let it be known that Natalie loves this book. Read it. Pass it on. May it find its way back to her again.” This is the note that I wrote in this book. I had already borrowed the book from the library, then checked out and listened to the audiobook twice, before deciding that I needed to buy a copy to share with my family. This book, part tales and part essay, weaves together ancient storytelling and traditions with modern theology and current politics.

Rachel Held Evans thoughtfully addresses some of the most difficult contradictions (such as how can a good God allow such terrible things?) and problematic issues (such as slavery, genocide, and gender inequality) in the Bible. She creates common ground and challenges all readers regardless of religion affiliation or political allegiances. Inspired is an incredibly entertaining and engaging book.

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonny Sun (2018)

gmorninggnightThis delightful gem is the perfect way to kick off a new year. Gmorning, Gnight is comprised of brief motivational reminders that Lin-Manuel Miranda shared on Twitter at the beginning and end of the day. Paired with illustrations by Jonny Sun, this short book can be read cover to cover, or flipped through at leisure. Find the uplifting words that you need to improve your outlook that day.

The longest part of the book is the introduction, which you can read courtesy of Vulture. Below, I’ve shared one of the most memorable affirmations:
Gmorning.
YOU ARE SO LOVED AND WE LIKE HAVING YOU AROUND.
*ties one end of this sentence to your heart, the other end to everyone who loves you, even the ones you haven’t heard from for a while*
*checks knots*
THERE. STAY PUT, YOU. 
Gnight.
YOU ARE SO LOVED AND WE LIKE HAVING YOU AROUND.
*ties one end of this sentence to your heart, the other end to everyone who loves you in this life, even if clouds obscure your view*
*checks knots*
THERE. STAY PUT, YOU.
TUG IF YOU NEED ANYTHING.

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home by Denise Kiernan (2017)

jacketI adored Denise Kiernan’s first book (The Girls of Atomic City) on a little known piece of history. Now, she turns her attention to the creation of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

In The Last Castle, Kiernan details the lives of Edith and George Vanderbilt (grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt) along with the construction of the massive house and the development (and protection) of the surrounding forests and land. The author effortlessly weaves the threads of the stories of people, places, and events in American history from the Gilded Age to WWII. An engaging and fascinating slice of history.

 
 
 
 

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018)

educatedTara Westover’s Educated is the fascinating true story of a young woman raised in a survivalist family in the southern mountains of Idaho. Throughout her childhood, Tara’s father uses end-of-days fear, isolation, and the threat of eternal damnation to maintain control over his family. Every decision the family makes is informed by their father’s religious doctrine, so formal education is out of the question. Tara’s interest in the outside world combined with a desire to escape a life of working in the family’s scrapyard leads her to challenge her father’s ideas and, eventually, the lifestyle her family leads.

This compelling book is at times both heartbreaking and horrifying, but Westover’s matter-of-fact style of storytelling makes the reader feel right at home in this extreme, unfamiliar world.

 
 
 
 

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis (2018)

girlHave you ever told yourself a lie and believed it? Maybe that you're not good enough, don't know how to be a mom, or should be further along by now in reaching your goals? In her most recent book, Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis opens each chapter with a lie she once believed about herself, telling personal stories and sharing what helped her overcome those lies. Covering a wide variety of topics from relationships to parenting to careers and more, Hollis' life experiences will touch women in all different walks of life.

Hollis reads the audio version (available on CD or downloadable on hoopla and eMediaLibrary), which I highly recommend!

Ugly by Robert Hoge (2016)

uglyhogeIn this real-life Wonder story, Robert Hoge describes his early life being born with not only a large tumor on his face affecting the placement of his facial features, but also legs which were underdeveloped. While he addresses some of the surgeries he underwent as baby up through high school, this autobiography centers around his family life and his determined spirit, despite challenges with his physical appearance and abilities along the way. I highly suggest the audiobook, read by the author himself.

Check out Ugly and other titles on this year's 2019 Bluestem nominee list targeted for grades 3-5.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016)

51v55l2fxflWhen I checked out Born a Crime, I knew vaguely that Trevor Noah was a comedian. I even remembered sharing a post of his on social media since I thought it was funny. Yet somehow, I did not expect to have to pull my car over to the shoulder to finish listening to one of Noah's stories. I was laughing so hard, I was crying.

And if that's not a ringing endorsement of an audiobook, I don't know what is.

I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version of this book because you hear Noah speaking the different South African languages with accuracy. And you get to hear Noah's voice imitation of his mother, among other people in his memoir.

Oh? And the story I had to pull over to finish on the road? I've been telling it to everyone, convincing them to read the book. If you do read Born a Crime, stop by the K&T desk upstairs and see if you can guess which story made me laugh so hard I cried.

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan (2013)

dadisfatI just listened to Dad is Fat on audio. Read by author Jim Gaffigan, it is a laugh-out-loud collection of essays of what it is like to be the father of five kids and their adventures of living in New York City. The humor is universal and the love for his family comes through in each chapter.