Monday, July 4, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos

This was a fascinating look at a section of history I never thought much about. I was aware that the number of slaves on Caribbean islands was far more than in the US, but I had never thought that much about the historical and economic pressures behind their presence.

Aronson and Budhos take the reader on a journey from the authors' own personal connections to sugar to the history of the sweet taste that humans everywhere have craved. We see the problems with transportation and cultivation in the Medieval period that made sugar rare to the sugar plantations and colonies on the Caribbean island that made sugar - and lives - a cheap commodity. The story ends with the conjoining end of slavery and development of industrialization of sugar production and the growth and changes in the sugar industry that bring us to modern production. Along the way, we see how sugar affected Ghandi's reforms in India, colonization all over the world, the multiculturalism of Hawai, and much, much more.

The book is illustrated with black and white photographs, maps, and images of artifacts. A brief essay at the end of the book, directed towards adults, talks about the research process and some of the contradictions to common knowledge the authors found as they created this book. Acknowledgements, a timeline, a list of websites where color versions of the photographs can be seen, lengthy notes and sources, a bibliography, websites consulted, and index are also included.

This story is as much about research as it is about history and sugar. The way history changes, and the way modern researchers investigate are both intertwined. This book would be an excellent example of a in-depth research project. But how many middle school students and teens will pull it off the shelf?

As I try to decide what direction our juvenile nonfiction section is heading in, this is something I find myself thinking more and more about. There are many great middle grade nonfiction books out there; but the audience for them seems to be progressively shrinking. More optimistically, I think many middle grade students use the school library for "serious" reading and the public library for entertainment. If they need research for a report or want a good book for assigned reading, they go to the school library. When they want to read for fun, they come to the public library. Also, most of our recreational nonfiction seems to check out to younger children and their parents (except biographies. Maybe I should move the picture book biographies to picture books? It's a thought). Kids want books with lots of facts about animals, cool machines, war, sports and crafts. As well-written and researched as this title is, I don't see a wide audience for it in our library.

Verdict: I am sticking to buying high-interest titles for our nonfiction section and sadly, that means very little history. However, if you are a school library - or a public library whose surroundings schools have limited library resources, or if you have a lot of kids interested in history, go for it! It's a truly fascinating book, as much for the topic as for the writing and research.

ISBN: 9780618574926; Published November 2010 by Clarion; Borrowed from the library

No comments: