BIBLIOGRINDAdventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture
Y/A non-fiction titles
The library is something that we all cherish, though seldom think about in terms of where so many books come from. For the child student, books are integral sources for scholarship from which they can gain important knowledge—for use in simple homework assignments and extended term papers to leisure reading and to find all those new interests that the little knowledge sponges continually seek.
I recall my elementary school years searching through library stacks and card catalogues. The books I often needed to consult (though I probably didn’t know what that word meant at the time) were long, written at a too-high reading level, and forced me to search and search for the little, concise information that I needed at the time. In the last 20 years, however, school libraries have had the benefit of subject-specific books, where reading level is appropriate for an age/grade level, content is specific to a point of exactness (often), and the length is just long enough for almost any student to read in a single sitting.
In 2000, I began to write for library market book publishers, and it has been one of the more gratifying writing tasks I’ve enjoyed. To know that you could make a difference in a student’s education makes the task of cramming a life into 3,300 words, or an historical period into 1,500 words that much more a challenge to succeed. I have had the pleasure of wading through history that too few people even knew of, outside a select group of historians: “Emmanuel Ringelblum: Archivist of the Warsaw Ghetto” and “Heinrich Muller: Gestapo Chief” are two such projects that, through the writing process, I discovered taught me more about history from a personal basis than so many books I had already read on the subject.
Below are just a few (with more to come) photo-facsimile samples of the books I wrote for the library market. I wrote biographies, histories, sports how-tos, socio-political books, and books on government, careers, technology; even first-grade readers (a challenge on any given day!).
“The Election of 1800”
Books written for 5th–8th graders who read at a 3rd–4th grade level are important both to encourage students and help them progress successfully through school. Since history textbooks often gloss over important subjects just by the nature of dealing with so much information, a library book that looks beneath the surface will enlighten students to the people, actions, and outcomes of events from history.
“Homeland Security: Are We Safe?
Within weeks of the 9/11 attacks on America, Rosen Publishing discovered an opportunity to get information to students that delve beyond what could be found in newspapers. The result was “The Library of Weapons of Mass Destruction” for which I wrote two books: “Homeland Security: Are We Safe?” and “WMD and the Cold War: A Perspective “
“Extreme Careers: Demolition Experts”
It’s never too soon to entice kids into reading, or to help them see what kinds of cool careers exist in the world. “Extreme Careers” is written as a hi-low book (high interest level with low reading-level for middle school kids) to help difficult-reading students get through books and learn something along the way.
“Heinrich Muller: Gestapo Chief”
Muller ran Hitler’s Gestapo, but little was known about him during the Reich’s years or after. This seemed to be Muller’s intention, a situation which helped him escape detection at the end of the war with the allies surrounding Berlin. Then, as the world political map changed, Muller was needed.
The series “Holocaust Biographies” brought together the stories of eight figures from the Nazi years of terror, genocide, and European conquest. The books mixed both the good and the bad from those years, as well as the righteous—Sophie and Hans Scholl, German college students who worked against the Nazis, and were executed for their work born of conscience—to show students that history is not about a bunch of dates, wars, or political movements, but in fact the people who shape history through actions and reactions. Written for the middle school market, the reading level was composed for 6th-8th readers.
“Emmanuel Ringelblum: Archivist of the Warsaw Ghetto”
Ringelblum understood the dangers of the Nazis in Germany almost immediately. From 1933, the year Hitler rose to power, Ringelblum collected any information he could find (and enlisted others to help him) so that, should the need arise some day, he could show the world the true goals and evils that he saw within the Nazi party and Hitler’s army. Ringelblum died in the Warsaw Ghetto, but not before storing his huge collection, along with notebooks of his days in the ghetto, underground. These archives were found, and serve today as a reminder of what can happen when good men do nothing to stop stormclouds of war and destruction.
“Apollo 13: Crisis in Space”
This middle school “hi-low” book captures the intensity of both the astronauts caught in the seemingly star-crossed moon mission of 1971, and the scientists on the ground trying to get them home before air and time ran out. Hi-Low books are geared toward readers aged 12-17 who read at a 5th-6th grade level. The “hi” means hi interest; the “low” means low reading level. Such books are integral to improving a young reader’s ability to progress and succeed in school, as the story captures some heated action in simple, readable language to bring the reader along.
Ray Charles is iconic for his piano style and his life-style. This at-reading-level bio of the blues/jazz great brings to life the man hidden behind the music, the hype, and the tragic headlines.
“Temperance and Prohibition”
This curriculum-based 6th-8th grade at-level book chronicles the events and people that shaped the movement to outlaw liquor in America, first culminating in Prohibition begun in 1920 and its final repeal in 1933.
“A Day with a Bricklayer”
Kids learn to read through the language/picture/text relationship. To correctly grasp the significance between text and image, first-grade readers are essential tools in forming literacy in our children. These books were great fun to write: the perfect challenge for a novelist to bring all the basic building blocks of print language onto the page. After having edited more than 500 of these puppies, I understood what the key to writing these books was: patience.
Square Dancing is another first-grade reader. The key to getting children to understand the picture-text relationship between printed and spoken language is focusing on a story. With A Day with a Bricklayer, we saw the process by which a bricklayer takes raw materials to build, step by step, a brick wall. Now, with Square Dancing, we see the process by which square dancing is formed by grouped dancers, put to a caller and music, and progressing through dance steps and specific movements on the square. All these have a marked effect on the child mind in figuring out how to read.
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