Strongman – Book Recommendation

Title: Strongman The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy

Author: Kenneth C. Davis

 Publisher: Henry Holt and Co., 2020

Ages: 12+

Themes: fascism, Communism, genocide, democracy, communism, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, authoritarianism,

Genre: Nonfiction


What makes a country fall to a dictator? How do authoritarian leaders—strongmen—capable of killing millions acquire their power? How are they able to defeat the ideal of democracy? And what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

By profiling five of the most notoriously ruthless dictators in history—Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein—Kenneth C. Davis seeks to answer these questions, examining the forces in these strongmen’s personal lives and historical periods that shaped the leaders they’d become. Meticulously researched and complete with photographs, Strongman provides insight into the lives of five leaders who callously transformed the world and serves as an invaluable resource in an era when democracy itself seems in peril. (publisher)


I am going to quote the ending, as I love it.

In the beloved children’s book, “The Cat in The Hat”, after two children spend an afternoon of chaos and messiness with a mischievous cat while there mother is out, a boy wonders whether he and his sister Sally should tell her what took place. His question is the same one these terrible stories force us to ask:

“What would YOU do if your mother asked YOU?”

Why I like this book:

This book is soundly researched, clearly structured, and written in a way that students from middle school and up can gain a strong introduction to the five dictators included and make connections to the past and present threats to democracies such dictators pose. The chapters are short and make engaging reading as well as being packed with dates, photos, political explanations and especially the correlation often to wars that create the opportunity for these “Strongmen” to flourish.

The author doesn’t avoid depicting the genocidal policies pursued by these men, nor does he shy away from the alarming parallels between the dictatorships discussed and present day American politics. It is a wake up call, not to be passive when faced with such attacks on democracy. In the final chapter, “Never Again”, Davis offers a call to active resistance. Protests, writing letters to elected officials, and asking lots of questions are depicted as requirements of citizens in a healthy democracy. Ultimately it is asking the reader, “If faced with a Strongman what would I do?”

This book would be great addition to units about the dictatorships of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, or Saddam Hussein, or any lessons looking at the rise of democracies and republics from their roots in in ancient civilizations. Or, lessons of a more philosophical and societal nature, looking at complicity. A solid introduction to dictators, despots and democracy and a terrific addition to middle and high school libraries.

I felt that Election Day, 2020, was an appropriate date on which to post this book review.
Highly recommended, and thank you to the publisher for my review ARC.


The author draws from an extensive lineup of thinkers and writers, from Primo Levi, Thucydides, Madeleine Albright, and Dr. Seuss to George Orwell and more. The book concludes with an extensive bibliography and endnotes, providing a wealth of resources for further research

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Love is Love – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Love is Love

Author: Fleur Pierets

 Illustrator: Fatinha Ramos

Publisher: Six Foot Press, 2020

Ages: 4-8

32 pages. 

Genre: nonfiction/fiction

Themes: marriage, marriage equality, queer love, love, lgbtqia+, marriage traditions, lesbian couple


We are Fleur and Julian, and we are two women in love. 13 is the number of countries where we have gotten married. 13 times we said, “I do!” We travel around the world to talk about marriage, to let people know it is an act of love between any two people, not just between a man and a woman.

Our love is about looking in the same direction and making the world a better place. So after 13 countries, we are going to 15 more.


The worldwide adventure continues as Fleur and Julian celebrate marriage in 15 more countries that allow same-sex unions, completing the journey they started in Love Around the World (2020 Rainbow Book List).

Fleur Pierets and Julian P. Boom are two women in love. They live together, eat together, sleep together, and work together. When Fleur asks Julian to marry her, Julian says “Yes!” But in most countries, a man cannot marry a man and a woman cannot marry a woman. There are 195 countries in the world, but they can only get married in 28 of them. They think this is unfair! So they decide to get married in all 28 countries that allow same-sex marriage. 

Inspired by a true story, Love Around the World, was the first in this two-volume children’s book series about Julian and Fleur’s adventures. In Love Is Love: The Journey Continues, they pick up where they left off, exploring the marriage traditions of fourteen countries: Argentina, Austria, Colombia, Denmark, Ecuador, Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. (publisher)

Why I like this book:

This is biographical and stunningly illustrated in a bold and vibrant style and palate! The colorful art and simple text take Julian and Fleur on a journey to all of the countries where same sex marriage is legal so that they can celebrate their love union. The illustrations incorporate local clothing, landmarks, and flags, making this a great teaching tool. 

The story itself is heartwarming and explains same sex marriage in a simple way. Love is love. The book also contains only 2-3 sentences for each country, which is perfect to hold a young reader’s attention. I adore the UK page with the kids & the lines about bullying / taking care of each other.

This beautiful journey of love is all the more poignant when you read the author’s note at the back that after wedding #4 in France, Julian was diagnosed with brain cancer and died shortly thereafter, but Fleur continues the wedding journey.


Especially good for upper elementary students when they can understand a bit more about the fight that continues on, so that they can appreciate the whole story. When Julian and Fleur launched the project in 2017 there were 22 countries that legalized same sex marriage, since then the number has grown to 29.

Maybe a world map could be created to show where such unions are legal.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Posted in Book recommendation, children's books, Children's literature, diversity, LGBTQIA, Perfect Picture Book Friday, Picture Books | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Halloweensie YA Book Recommendation – The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-GReat-Great-Granddaughter

Title: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-GReat-Great-Granddaughter

Author: Brea Grant

 Illustrator: Yishan Li

Publisher: Six-foot Press. 2020

Ages: 12+

Genre: graphic novel

Themes: writing, authors, famous authors, family, monsters, humor, gothic, Mary Shelley,



Everyone expects sixteen-year-old Mary to be a great writer. After all, her mother, her aunt, and her grandmother are all successful writers (as they constantly remind her)?not to mention her famous namesake, the OG Mary Shelley, horror author extraordinaire. But Mary is pretty sure she’s not cut out for that life. She can’t even stay awake in class! Then one dark and rainy night, she’s confronted with a whole new destiny. Mary has the ability to heal monsters… and they’re not going to leave her alone until she does.

With the help of a mysterious (and mysteriously cute) stranger, a Harpy, a possessed stuffed bunny, and her BFF Rhonda, Mary must uncover her family’s darkest secret if she’s going to save the monster world… and herself. (publisher)

Why I like this book:

This is a quirky, creepy, fun coming-of-age story with amazingly rich art panels full of gags on every page. It is a cool gateway for tweens/teens into gothic horror (with a humorous twist) and the classics. I could imagine teens wanting to read more about Frankenstein or Mary Shelley after this.

The novel is a fun twist on Mary Shelley’s literary legacy. Her descendants are successful female writers who also possess the gift to heal real, live monsters. Our protagonist Mary is an angsty contemporary teen not interested in following in the family authorial traditions. She learns of her inherited gift after a dissection lab results in Frankenfrog. At first she doesn’t want to get involved with the monsters who want her help, but she wants to do the right thing.

It is an adrenaline-pumping spooky romp of a teen trying to define herself in light of the entrenched family legacy. It is dark and heart-warming at the same time, and a great Halloween read with family friction, friendship stress, passing bio…. It is bizarro but fully teen-relatable’ including the almost kiss with the crush. I love the diversity amongst the monsters, which include a harpy, a demon possessing backyard rodents, ghosts, a large egg, and more. 

If you have a teen who likes gothic, graphic novels, or is perhaps toying with the idea of reading classics but feels intimidated, this is a great doorway read, though it definitely will have a wide readership too.


If you loved especially all the Mary Shelley references, I highly recommend reading the illustrated novel, Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge.

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