True Stories Will Turn Boys and Girls into Eager Readers

BookendsCindy: I’ll drink my own urine and eat my peeling, sun-burned skin if anyone can name a more solid nonfiction collection of informational short works! Okay, I highly doubt I would ever really agree to do that, but I think you’ll find it hard to ante up a nonfiction short “story” collection to rival True Stories, book five in the Guys Read series edited by Jon Scieszka. The survivors in the lead story, “Sahara Shipwreck,” by Steve Sheinkin, do drink their urine and eat their peeling skin in order to survive their trek across the hot sands after they are shipwrecked and then captured and enslaved. Me? I wouldn’t have survived the first day. Fans of Sheinkin know the man can spin a story, and this one is no exception.

Oh, and librarians, your booktalk is already written.

He’s joined in the collection by many other award-winning nonfiction authors, such as Jim Murphy, who will make your next dentist visit oh-so-much better after you read his horrifying account of the ” . . . Painfully True Story of Dental Care.” We have a tattered copy of an out-of-print book called Hugh Glass, Mountain Man: Left for Dead by Robert McClung, very popular with my reluctant male readers, True Storiesso I was delighted to see Nathan Hale retell Hugh’s story in graphic novel format. Woo-hoo! There’s also science-themed poetry and memoir among many other delights. I knew the fate of Jumbo, Barnum’s famous elephant, but the details and storytelling provided by Candace Fleming had me in tears and I’m guessing there will be some guys in the same boat. She included some gruesome bits in that story for the less sentimental readers. Nonfiction collections like this one are rare . . . I hope it starts a trend. Oh, and librarians, your booktalk is already written. Thank Jon—his introduction will serve very nicely.

Lynn: Cindy is right again! This is a terrific collection and although guys will love it, so will girls. Each contribution is quite different from the others in subject, style, and even format but they’re all extremely engaging. Readers can pick and choose but I expect they will find it as hard as I did to put the book down once they start it. I just gobbled it all up, start to finish.

That first story is a doozy, but my favorite has to be Sy Montgomery’s “Tarantula Heaven,” which provides a behind-the-scenes look at the physical reality not only of being a scientist in the field but also what it is like to be a writer or photographer trailing the scientist around. Can you say ONE HUNDRED tick bites?? ACK! I also loved Thannha Lai’s evocative story of growing up with 6, yes 6, older brothers in Saigon. This is a perfect piece to pair with her Newbery Honor book, Inside Out and Back Again (2011). And last from me, don’t miss Doug Florian’s funny science poetry in “Uni-Verses.” I dare YOU to write a poem about quantum physics!

Common Core Connections

Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).

Compare and contrast one author’s presentation of events with that of another (e.g., a memoir written by and a biography on the same person).

Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources; assess the credibility of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources.

I almost hate to take such a fun book and add lessons for Common Core, but if this helps a few more teachers take time to read aloud from this anthology, then I’m willing to do so. One of the problems facing teachers and librarians is having enough copies of a nonfiction title for Common Core lessons. With this anthology, a teacher could read one of the entries in a class period and then do any number of Common Core related activities. Students could research the subjects and compare and contrast the author’s presentation, for instance. Keep in mind that this book was published simultaneously in hardcover and paperback, so multiple copies might be more affordable. And you can find a teacher’s discussion guide at the HarperCollins True Stories website.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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