by Colette Crowther
I have to confess I do not read nearly as much nonfiction as I probably should. However, with the advent of Senior Projects and Common Core Standards, I have been obligated to find and read nonfiction to promote to my high school students and I am pleasantly surprised to find these books have come a long way since I was in high school.
Narrative nonfiction is what we are focusing on acquiring these days. Nobody wants to read the single-topic books for fun. What I am looking for is a true story with a factual foundation, lively characters, and a vivid setting. My logic is if I find it interesting, so will my high school clients.
One such book is Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. I became aware of this book since the author is a Pulitzer Prize winner and this book earned a National Book Award. It takes place in the Annawadi slum of Mumbai and follows the lives of two families. The reader can smell the odors from the sewage pond in the slum’s center, see the brilliant colors of the women’s saris, and feel the desperation as these people struggle to survive. We get a glimpse of how they came to live in this place and why it is so hard to escape from these circumstances. It was so much more interesting to read than a country book about India.
I have come to learn the names of some authors who write nonfiction winners. Mary Roach (Stiff, Packing for Mars, and Gulp) takes icky, uncomfortable topics and spices them up with snarky comments—perfect for a high school audience. Simon Winchester (Krakatoa and Atlantic) takes us to far-away times and places. I can also recommend Malcolm Gladwell (Outlier and Tipping Points) and Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse). I know that any title by these authors will be well researched and approachable for the high school student.
Presently reading: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Colette Crowther began her career as a deck officer in the Merchant Marine, where she worked on tankers, freighters, and bulk carriers. After that, she moved into the ‘harder career as a mom’. For the past ten years, she has worked as a library clerk, presently at the Napa High School library. “My biggest joy is bringing students together with books.”