Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Boys in the BoatI don’t often review adult books. Partly because my other blogs,, are geared toward first through sixth grades. But I just finished a book that I was reading for the neighborhood book club, and it deserves to be highlighted. It also deserves to be in a lot of school libraries. Boys and girls can both learn a lot.

Listed as an ALA Notable Book for Adults, this would be a wonderful addition to any history class, as it makes history come alive. Jesse Owens wasn’t the only American who shattered the dreams of Hitler and Goebbels. The Germans wanted to show the superiority of the Aryan “race” and stick it to those who punished them for World War I. Nine University of Washington men, learning to pull for each other, showed the world what teamwork can do.

The main focus is Joe Rantz, a Washington native who led an extremely difficult life. He was abandoned – literally – by his family several times. As a result, he had to learn to trust his teammates to work toward their common goal. The reader also learns a lot about Al Ulbrickson, head crew coach, and George Pocock, the shell builder who contributed much more than shells.

In a way, the many races leading up to the Olympics are more exciting than the actual event. Because it’s obvious what the result will be. It’s more about the process and about the closeness of the gold medal race (and why it’s close) anyway. But exciting it is.

The level of research going into this book is incredible. Meticulous detail went into each and every page. I can probably build a reasonable racing shell now. The author readily admits that he improvised dialogue, but much of it comes from the people who were there. He interviewed many participants and read every diary and letter he could get his hands on. And he is careful to set the story in the history of the day, noting the effect of the Great Depression on the nation and of the Nazis on Germany and the Olympics.

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  • Title: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
  • Author: Daniel James Brown
  • Published: Penguin Books, June 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 417 pages
  • Genre: Narrative nonfiction, Biography, History
  • ISBN: 978-0143125471
  • Extras: Authors’ Note, Notes, Index
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LA – Worth the Trip

logo-scbwiThis is a little long, but it was a really great conference.

Knowing that not all of us can make the trip does not in any way keep me from getting excited when I go to the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. The atmosphere is infectious, the people are wonderful, and I learn so much. Over 1200 writers, illustrators, editors, agents, and others gathered to learn and draw energy from each other.

I can truthfully say I enjoyed every single event I attended, though I did need to take a breath a couple of times. Keynotes included:

  • Mem Fox, who not only was riveting with reading her books to us, but shared a lot about her process,
  • Meg Wolitzer, who can do it all,
  • Adam Rex, who knows how to make a picture book,
  • Dan Santat (What can I say?),
  • Jane O’Connor, a lively talk on creating characters,
  • Varian Johnson on doing the work,
  • Molly Idle, who says “Yes, and …?” a lot,
  • Deb Halverson, who knows an awful lot about the market,
  • Stephen Fraser, who shared many shining examples of great literature,
  • Shannon Hale, who wants boys and girls alike to enjoy enjoyable things,
  • Dan Yaccarino, and
  • Kwame Alexander, who slam dunked it.

And then we all said “Whew!” and collapsed.

Seriously, though, I also attended wonderful breakouts by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, Bonnie Bader, and Kristy Dempsey; intensives by Paul Fleischman and by Arthur Levine; a very informative discussion about LGBTQ issues; the marathon regional advisor training; and the sparkling and shining Saturday poolside party.


Here are some of the keys to the kingdom I gathered.

Mem Fox on picture books:

  • “Great art communicates before it’s understood” (TS Eliot)
  • A deep sense of rhythm can’t be taught. It must be caught.
  • It’s only the comfort of the right words in the right place that bring children back again and again.
  • It looks easy, but time is not the only consideration.

Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer on adding humor to nonficition: Some subjects aren’t as funny as others, so you may need to work to find an angle to add humor. Sacajawea: Lewis and Clark would be lost without me. Sonia Sotomayor: I’ll be the judge of that. Lincoln was a funny guy and told jokes. The Beatles were hilarious in their interviews. Cultivate your own sense of humor.

Dan Santat on creativity:

  • Think about why you like things.
  • Study the fundamentals, but be flexible.
  • Learn by imitation, but be careful.
  • Start improvising.
  • Immerse yourself fin life and culture.
  • Think about craft first and foremost.

Varian Johnson on doing the work: Show up for work even if the muse doesn’t.

Stephen Fraser recommends the following middle grade novels as reference for various reasons:

  1. Charlotte’s Web (EB White) – Carefully crafted writing
  2. Stone Fox (John Reynolds Gardner) – Drama
  3. Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles (Julie Andrews Edwards) – Imagination
  4. The Clockwork Three (Matthew J. Kirby) – Inventive and mixes genres
  5. Heart of a Samurai (Margi Preus) – Bringing history alive
  6. Holes (Louis Sachar) – Take two years or more if you need it to write a great story and for its humor (Don’t be afraid to be funny.)
  7. James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl) – Having fun unapologetically
  8. Junonia (Kevin Henkes) – Writing to the emotional age
  9. Missing May (Cynthia Rylant) – Place can be a character
  10. Sarah, Plain and Tall (Patricia MacLachlan) – Make each word resonate
  11. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) – Let joy spill out
  12. Harry Potter (JK Rowling) – Don’t be afraid to write a long book. Good books can be enjoyed by all ages.

Kwame Alexander on taking the creative leap:

  1. You’ll never make it if you don’t keep shooting.
  2. Work harder.
  3. You must have a good game plan.
  4. Loss is inevitable.
  5. Grab the ball. Take it to the hoop.
  6. Real teammates cheer you on.


There was way too much at the intensives to even begin to share. I highly recommend them to attendees.

Hope you enjoyed this little peek at LA.

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