Posted in Education, Family, history, Library, literature, Opinion, reading, Uncategorized

Why read nonfiction at every age

You either love it or you hate it. There’s not many people who are in between (I’m sure you exist just bare with me). I’ve heard the argument many times “I don’t read nonfiction because it’s boring”, “It’s too hard to read”, “I just like stories that are made up”. All are valid points for certain titles and authors. However, there’s a whole world of nonfiction that is far from boring, hard, and read so much like fiction you’ll be amazed that it’s not made up.

Reading nonfiction is beneficial to you as an adult, and even more so to children. Since common core was initiated, nonfiction became a higher percentage of what children had to read per grade which is a good thing and a bad thing. I hate the idea of children and teens growing a resentment or dislike for nonfiction because they are forced to read it (much like what happens with the classics) but I do like that they are at least being more exposed to it.

Why Read Nonfiction?

0-5

Early literacy education focuses mostly on just inspiring the idea of reading

and the want to read. However, most of the books that children get exposed to in these younger years are fiction. There’s nothing wrong with that, the cartoons and illustrations are one of the main things that draw young children into books in the first place. There are nonfiction books though that are great for this age range. The series of books called the “tabbed board books” that feature real photos of different topics are wonderful for young readers. They see things they can relate to, things they see everyday, and start to learn names for all of these things. Plus they are bright and colorful so they keep their attention.



6-12

I read an article awhile back (I believe the stats were from 2013 or 2012) that said students only spend 5% of their free time reading nonfiction. While it’s not that hard to believe it’s still such a small percentage that I get worried. Obviously, there is a huge correlation between student’s who read on their free time receiving good grades, versus students who do not read on their free time receiving bad grades (not everyone, just the stats).

Nonfiction is great for hesitant readers in this age group. The nonfiction titles may not be as “age defined” as some of their fiction cousins. For example, there are some nonfiction books about the Titanic that a six year old could enjoy or a twelve year old could enjoy. Nonfiction is also great for boys. Yes, I’m being sexist here but again statistics show that after the third grade boys are much more likely to stop reading on their free time than girls are. I still don’t know why that it is I wish I did so I could fix it. However, some of my reluctant boy readers took really well to nonfiction. Sports, war, history, science, things like that are interesting when they are written about the right way. Do some exploring with your student until you find something they like to read about.

                   

12-18

Teens should read nonfiction for the same reason that middle school and elementary school students should: it will help their grades. Period. They will be smarter. You can’t read a nonfiction book (a well written one anyway) and not be a little bit smarter afterwards (unless it’s a political book but we won’t go there).

I feel like when I was in high school there wasn’t a lot of “YA Nonfiction”. Young Adult wasn’t even really a “genre” the way it is now. There was a handful of titles considered “teen” but it wasn’t the powerhouse it is now. YA Nonfiction has come light-years and is sometimes more entertaining than adult nonfiction. Again, it’s just finding what your student is interested and will take to the most.

                                     

18+

You’re not a student (well you may be a college student I don’t know, for argument’s sake we’re going to say you’re not). You’re not a student, you have no papers to write, no reports to be had. Why in the world would you waste your precious free time reading nonfiction? Reading is supposed to be fun, relaxing, enjoyable. Nonfiction is all of those things if you find the right authors. There’s more to nonfiction than studies and statistics being spit at you in the text of page after page of information.

If you are hesitant, or you have tried several nonfiction books but just cannot seem to get into them, try memoirs or true crime. Sometimes true crime can get a little sciencey, but a lot of true crime I’ve read reads more like a soap opera. I adore memoirs if they are well written.

                         

My favorite is history, usually American history but some eras in European history are also pretty fascinating. Some people just skipped this whole section as soon as they saw history. I get it, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. However, there are some amazing authors in this category to try.

Health and wellness is a new topic I’ve been reading. It’s one of the most popular topics at my library but I’ve never really been interested enough to read a whole book on a wellness topic. Now, I can say I have read a few that I didn’t get through because I thought it was boring, and I’ve read a few within a night or two because they were very interesting. Just have to find your niche.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Science and medical nonfictional can definitely fall into one of those harder to read categories. Certain authors make it more “story like”. Mary Roach is a really good one, and Bill Bryson.

                              

Folklore and fairy tales are categorized as nonfiction. Oddly enough this is one of the most frequent questions I get asked by students and adults; “why?”
Well technically, classic literature and poetry should be in nonfiction as well. All of these forms of writing give a scholar, or whoever is reading the work, a glimpse of the culture that the work came from. So for example, by reading Native American folklore, historians can learn what different values tribes held that may not be documented anywhere else.

 

Feel free to post any other suggestions!

 


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Posted in Education, history, Library, pop culture, Uncategorized

Black Cats & the Black Death

Another interesting historical tidbit that will hopefully inspire the desire to learn more. I received a lot of positive feedback about the Mad Hatter post so I thought I would hurry up and do another one.

cats

I am an animal person. Being a librarian, I kind of have to be a cat person. It’s a prerequisite to get into a Library Science program. So, from my research and gatherings of cat history over the years I have learned that cats became domesticated sometime around 7000 B.C. in the Middle East. Wild cats are found all over the world except in polar regions. They aren’t natives to Australia but were introduced by Europeans and are now considered a huge pest. The Australian war on cats is a whole separate post topic to be honest.

Cats were worshiped in many cultures, and even mummified in ancient Egypt. In Africa, Asia, and even in most Germanic tribes, cats were kept as pets to help ward off vermin and for companionship.

They weren’t completely without contempt however; the saber tooth tiger, and other largecats2 cats, created a fear of “man eating cats”. Which, back then, may not have been false. The Celts had legends of shape-shifting cats. Cat Sidhe or Cait Sidhe, could transform into a witch. They could also steal the souls of the dead before they could reach salvation. So, not a pretty picture of them there.

After Pope Gregory IX came to power in 1227, he was considered well liked for the most part, at least in the beginning. He was fierce in his beliefs and started to do some questionable things to cats3defend them. In the 1230s he called Vox in Rama, which expressed that black cats were part of satanic cults and represented Satan. Yes, thee Satan.

At the time, many “witches” and even a few “wizards” had been burnt at the stake for suspicion of witchcraft. Decades of cat killing began.

The Middle Ages, which is about 470-1450 A.D., was rampant with witchcraft accusations and the murder of hundreds of men, women, and children. Women were the most susceptible to the crime and along with them were their cats. More precisely, black cats.

So became of this decree? In 1346 trade ships anchored in Sicily. The ships had just returned from a voyage to Kaffa, which is present day Ethiopia, and were filled with items from Asia. Sailors aboard started to have these large, black, boils erupt on their skin. They were painful and covered their bodies, along with high fevers and (unbeknownst to them) internal bleeding. The pain only lasted a few days however, since most of them died quickly. These were the first European victims of the bubonic plague, or the Black Death.

The plague was spread from a bacteria that lived in the bloodstream of rats. Fleas would bite the rats then spread it to humans. Or, if a rat just bite a human they could bypass the flea altogether. Without as many cats roaming the streets and killing off wild vermin (rats for instance), the rodent population skyrocketed. It took about five days for an infected person to show any signs. Most infected people did not know they were sick. That means they were walking around, talking others, and infecting others unknowingly.

Illustration of Victims of Bubonic Plague from the Toggenberg Bible
Painting shows a scene of people suffering from the bubonic plague in the 15th century from the Toggenberg Bible. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

The bubonic plague was one of the worst epidemics this planet has ever had. It killed thirty percent of Europe’s population with its peak years being 1347-1351. This is estimated to be twenty-five to thirty-five million people. The crowded cities of Europe were great breeding grounds for the plague to spread. With no cats around, and no way for people to know at the time that’s how the disease spread, it seemed unstoppable.

The only logical explanation that could be thought of at the time was that the plague was punishment from God for all of mankind’s wrongdoings. First the Jews were persecuted for bringing the plague to kill off the Christians. Because it only makes sense that they would start a disease that also killed millions of Jews. They were expelled from parts of Europe and even killed from this accusation. Pope Clement VI thankfully used common sense and put an end to that. So the next logical explanation were the Gypsies, the Turks, and of course; witches.

cats5With the fear of new outbreaks of the plague, witch hunts ensued for decades after. The most murderous years took place during 1500’s to the 1650’s. The plague did have several small outbreaks arise, which only furthered the ideals of paranoia among the general public and the substantial need to continue these witch hunts.

 

 

Finding a total number of people killed for suspicion of witchcraft in Europe is almost impossible. Many of the court records are long gone, many of the convictions were not documented anywhere at all. The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe by Brian P. Levack estimates the total is under 90,000. Depending on where in Europe someone was accused may have meant the difference of life and death. In some areas only 10-15% of the accused were put to death, while in others, like Switzerland, 90% of the accused were put to death.

So how were witches spotted? Basically if you were a single woman over the average marrying age you were probably a witch. If your neighbor didn’t like you, you were probably a witch. If you were succeeding at life, you were probably a witch. If you owned a cat, petted a cat, fed a cat, or just looked too long at a cat; witch. People would claim that black cats would sneak into their homes at night and turned into a witch (someone in their community) to harm them. Many people did confess to this but most were under some sort of physical torture or knew it was coming.

 

 

 

Today, there is still a depleted population of black cats throughout Europe. More visible though, is our association with black cats and witches. Around Halloween you can see dozens of decorations of black cats in witches hats and witches petting a black cat.

Posted in Education, history, Library, literature, pop culture, teaching, Uncategorized

Mad as a Hatter

Occasionally, I do research things other than crafts and educational activities. History is a subject, like I mentioned in the Teaching Teens Tolerance post, that is sugar coated and glazed over a lot in my opinion. I am going to try to post interesting historical tidbits now and then to better help bring history to life and in turn (hopefully) inspire you and your kids to want to learn more. This post is rated PG-13.

With the release of the new Alice in Wonderland movie (which I heard has mixed reviews, I personally haven’t seen it yet) I decided to put up a post about Mad Hatter Disease, which is still a term used today for mercury poisoning. 

 

The felt hat industry started in the 1600’s namely in France, and migrated to England in the early 1800’s. Basically, it was found that a mercury complex made the process of turning fur into felt much easier. In turn, hatters would be breathing in these chemicals. During this time, workshops were not monitored or kept to any sort of standards so most were poorly ventilated.

Most people know by now that hat-makers were known to be mad because of the mercury in the felt. The story of how this came to be is kind of gross but in a nutshell, hatters were using urine to process fur into felt prior to mercury. One hatter, who was being treated for syphilis with mercury, seemed to have the best felt product. People started to see the connection and used mercury instead. The validity of this account isn’t one I would bank on but I have seen it mentioned more than once.

Once mercury starts to accrue in someone’s system the following things can (and did) happen:

  • “Hatter’s shakes” (trembling)
  • Tooth decay and loss
  • Excess drooling
  • Coordination problems
  • Irritability and depression
  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Hallucinations and paranoia
  • Antisocial behavior or extreme aggression

 

Mercury poisoning is not a thing of the past. Mercury can still be found in things like:

  • Fish such as tuna, shark, and salmon (also why pregnant women are advised to not eat these in excess)
  • Pesticides
  • Some cosmetics
  • Adhesives
  • Air conditioner filters
  • Dental fillings called “silver fillings”

 

Obviously, the Mad Hatter from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is probably the most famous of all the hatters who have lived. However, there are others who made an impression on our history who you may not be aware of.

For instance, Boston (Thomas) Corbett. Boston Corbett grew up in New York after his family emigrated there when he was seven in 1839. He became a hatter and soon after was married. Tragically his wife died in childbirth, as did their infant. He became severely depressed and moved to Boston. As the tale goes, he was drunk one night walking the streets and heard a preacher. That experience apparently turned him into a religious fanatic and he grew out his hair and beard to look more like Jesus. Even more strange (and painful) was the fact that he castrated himself in order to not have any feelings of lust (with a pair of scissors I might add).

Once the Civil War erupted he did end up joining the Union Army. His high morals seemed to get him into trouble during his training and first attempts to serve. When his commanding officers would swear, Corbett would step forward to protest, which as you can imagine did not go well.

What Corbett is famous for however, is not his eccentric behavior, but for being the man who killed John Wilkes Booth. As detective Everton Conger tried to smoke Booth out of a barn by setting it on fire, Corbett crept up to an opening in the barn door and shot him in the neck.
Theophilus Carter, was an eccentric furniture maker and inventor, who always wore a top hat. He displayed his invention the Alarm Clock Bed at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851. The bed was supposed to tip the sleeper out of their at the set time. Carter is believed to be the inspiration behind Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter.

 

 

Some reading recommendations for those interested in Mad Hatters: