I never gravitated towards non-fiction. It sounded dull. Tedious books full of dry information. I never walked by the non-fiction shelves unless I needed to find something specific. However, the Yellow Cedar nominees made me rethink my entire view of non-fiction. Part of the Forest of Reading Program, this category consists of ten fact-based titles written by Canadian authors. I discovered so many interesting things in these books. They go beyond just facts. They are full of real-life stories that inspire empathy. They also dive into how we have progressed as a human race. Non-fiction is really an insight into how we relate to the world around us. And there is nothing boring about that. Here are my top three picks from this year’s category.
Fred and Marjorie: A Doctor, a Dog and the Discovery of Insulin by Deborah Kerbel
In 1920, Frederick (Fred) Banting was a young doctor working at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. He watched as parents brought in their children who had a disease now called Type 1 Diabetes. There was no treatment. The disease was always fatal.
One day after studying the pancreas, Fred developed a hypothesis about a treatment for Diabetes. He wished to research his theory further, but this required testing on animals. In this case, his test subjects were dogs. Surgery was performed to remove the pancreas, which rendered the dog diabetic. Then secretions from a healthy pancreas were injected into the dog. Fred had a difficult time experimenting on animals. But at the time, it was the only way medical treatments could be tested.
Fred took pictures of all the dogs who sacrificed their lives in the name of his research. He felt they were heroes and wanted them to be remembered. One of his favourite dogs was named Marjorie. She ended up playing the most important role of all in his research. It was because of her sacrifice that insulin was made available to diabetics all around the world. Since the discovery of insulin, over 100 million lives have been saved. I would encourage parents to read this book first and before deciding if its right for their child. It deals with a lot of difficult issues. The subject of animal experimentation is not sugar-coated. That said, I think the story does an excellent job of explaining the research process, as well as exploring both sides of the animal-testing debate.
Can You Believe It: How to Spot Fake News and Find the Facts by Joyce Grant
The internet changed how we access information. Before the internet, research was done using books and newspapers. These sources were credible. Facts were checked. Bylines were included. Now with the internet, anyone is free to share almost anything online. There is no fact-checking process involved. This leads to the spread of misinformation or fake news.
Fake news can be created for a variety of reasons – to make money, to sway opinions or to create entertainment. Spotting what is real news from fake news is difficult. It is a critical skill to be able to analyse a source of information.
Can You Believe It: How to Spot Fake News and Find the Facts teaches children the difference between creditable news sources and ‘click bait’ articles. The books details what proper journalistic reporting entails, as well as how bias factors into the information we read.
This book is an informative read for anyone, but it is especially helpful for young students who are just learning to locate information sources. The text is broken up into easy-to-read paragraphs, highlighted with illustrations and graphics. Both teachers and parents can use this book as a teaching tool for young learners.
The Science of Song: How and Why We Make Music by Alan Cross
Humans have always made music. The earliest instrument dates back 40,000 years ago when a flute made from a bird bone was discovered in a cave in Germany. Anthropologists believe music played a large role in forming communities. No matter the era of history, music in some form has always existed.
The way we listen to music all changed in 1877 when Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. It could record sound waves and then play them back. For the first time, people could listen to music in their own homes instead of having to see a live performance. A few decades later came the invention of radio. Now, people could listen to a variety of music, news and entertainment from all over. But perhaps the biggest impact on how we listen to music was the invention of the Walkman. It was light, portable, and private. Until the Walkman, listening to music was usually done in groups. Since it’s invention, listening to music individually has become the norm. This eventually led to the development of streaming apps we have today.
How we listen to music has changed drastically over the years. This book covers how music is made and why it has such a powerful impact on our lives.
Make sure to check out the other nominees in the Yellow Cedar category:
Amazing Athletes: An All-Star Look at Canada’s Paralympians by Maire-Claude Ouellet
Arab Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook by Kari Alrawi
Growing Up Trans: In Our Own Words by Dr. Lindsay Herriot
The Hanmoji Handbook: Your Guide to the Chinese Language Through Emoji by Jason Li
Sky Wolf’s Call: A Gift of Indigenous Knowledge by Eldon Yellowhorn
Snoozefest: The Surprising Science of Sleep by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
The Witness Blanket: Truth, Art and Reconciliation by Carey Newman