Category Archives: history

Trailblazers, thinkers, smart girls

I woke up thinking about picture books today–specifically picture book biographies and how much interesting history and culture you can learn from them.  So instead of a lot of words today, I offer you a reminder of just a few amazing women’s lives:

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The particular sadness of the news cycle

unwantedNot long ago, our government announced that it would again cut refugee admissions, following the whole ridiculous farce last year about needing to make an already multi-year process more difficult.  Do I have strong feelings about this?  Yes, yes, I do.

As this book notes in the postscript, “There are about 5.7 million Syrian refugees.  In the first three months of 2018, the United States has accepted eleven for resettlement.”   Eleven!  When I wrote the White House about the issue, the reply I got back was a full page of what a wonderful job ICE agents are doing on the border.  I wasn’t at all surprised, but it was a little depressing.

I look at all that refugees I have personally known have done to make this country, state, and city a better place, and I am appalled that our government feels like it’s ok to do so little in the face of unspeakable horror and tragedy.   But that’s the news cycle for you.  It’s as if it isn’t even happening anymore.

Do yourself a favor and read this book.  It’s probably not ideal for younger kids –there are some visuals suggesting executions, bombings and other violence – but it would be eye-opening for teens (and adults).

The Unwanted: stories of the Syrian refugees by Don Brown

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Have we learned anything? Do we ever learn?

1947It’s easy to feel like the world is in chaos, but hasn’t it always been a little that way?

1947: where now begins  is a reminder, not just of how much can happen in one year – a lot – but that some fights we think we’ve won really just putter on, hiding out or growing or morphing into some new awful thing over weeks, months, years.  People in power make dumb decisions that hurt people all the time and frequently lose little sleep over it.  Justice can be more about keeping people in their places than fairness or democracy.

I wouldn’t call it a fun read, but it is a powerful one.

1947: where now begins by Elisabeth Åsbrink

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One person, many stories

usvjrAnyone who’s ever gotten in trouble because of who they are and not what they did will understand this one.  When the rules about segregation in the military change, Jack is following the new rules when he gets on the bus and doesn’t move to the back.  But who gets in trouble?  Jack, of course.  He has to explain himself at a court martial.  Other people on the bus make up things about how disrespectful he is, white people make threats and no one does anything, the bus driver doesn’t get in trouble for trying to force Jack to follow the old rules.  And the list just goes on and on.

Jack does win the case, when the truth finally comes out.  But this is only the beginning of a lifetime of standing up he will do.  Jack will leave the military and become the baseball-playing Jackie Robinson we all know.  One person, many stories.

The United States v. Jackie Robinson by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and R. Gregory Christie

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We children led the way

let the childrenSometimes adults are afraid to speak up.  But when children use their voice, they can be heard, too.  Their message can be just as powerful or even more powerful.

This one’s a good reminder to kids that they can change the world, too, and it presents civil rights history in a way that young kids can understand and relate to.  The art is a much-appreciated bonus.

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson and Frank Morrison

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Good guys and bad guys, survival and struggle

1saboteurI’ve loved historical fiction about World War II since I was first reading chapter books.  One of my all-time favorites as a kid was Snow Treasure, a story about kids who foil the Nazis by sneaking gold out of the country on their sleds.  Over the years, I’ve also read a lot of nonfiction on the topic, everything from Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts to Double Cross by Ben Macintyre and quite a lot in between.  I also have a fondness for World War II era mysteries – everything from the Foyle’s War TV series to the Bernie Gunther novels of Philip Kerr, Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series (which actually starts at the end of World War I) and the Maggie Hope mysteries by Susan Elia MacNeal.

So it’s no surprise that I loved The Saboteur: the Aristrocrat who Became France’s Most Daring Anti-Nazi Commando by Paul Kix.  French Resistance, Nazis, escaping certain death several times – I’m there!  The story of Robert de La Rochefoucauld reads like a spy novel instead of a series of documented life events, which has ensured that I’ve suggested it to all of my patrons who like reading about spies, war, or French history.  It’s also a wonderful book, because it addresses the gray areas in which people exist during war.  Not everyone is 100% good or bad; there are compromises and bad decisions in addition to all of the luck and occasional happy endings.

While I can see many adults and even some teens enjoying this book, you might also consider some fictional favorites of mine on similar topics.  Some are specifically for younger readers; others work for many ages.

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Luck and love and survival

survivors clubI first heard Michael Bornstein’s story on Iowa Public Radio this spring.  By the time I remembered to put myself on the holds list for it, there were quite a few people in front of me.  Anything they talk about on public radio, whether on the local shows or national shows, gets a bump in holds at the library.  It’s a nice reminder that there are other people out there listening to the same things I like, although I sometimes have to wait a while.

It’s such an incredible story – at any point, a wrong word or move could have and did mean that people he loved were led off in a different direction and killed.  Why is it that we humans seem to find, over and over, so many opportunities to dehumanize and kill each other?  It’s horrifying, and yet unsurprising, that after surviving Auschwitz and other camps, Michael and some members of his family returned home, only to be kept out of their homes and attacked by local bands of thugs who were looking for someone to brutalize and blame after the fact.

Michael was very young and very lucky.  What a gift to all of us that he shared the story, particularly now.

Survivors Club:  the true story of a very young prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

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For library nerds and all the Goody Two-Shoes sorts out there…

balderdashHow have I lived this long without knowing the story of the “real” Little Goody Two-Shoes?  Apparently, she was a raggedy little girl who always bettered herself despite misfortunes.  And of course, she ended up with a rich husband who had a coach and six.  Holy cats!  Why didn’t anyone tell me this?

Calling someone a goody two-shoes was still quite a popular way to taunt nerdy girls in my youth, although it was directed less at the smarts of the girl in question and more at being a rule-follower of any kind.  All kinds of things stay hidden in the back of your brain for years, and I never thought to look into where that particular taunt came from.

Then, today, I was zipping through an awesome new picture book about John Newbery, and there she was!  John Newbery published some of the first books specifically written for children, including The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes.  No one’s sure who wrote the book, but it was a hit, and Newbery went on to publish many other children’s books.  Some 150 years later, his name was the one attached to the American Library Association’s Newbery Medal — to recognize the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children each year.  And while this book, despite excellent illustrations and a fun story, might not seem like the first thing a kid would pick out, it’s got a lot of discussion starters and eye candy for slightly older kids, especially those who love learning about history and books.  And now I can think about that childhood teasing in a whole new way, too.  Nicely done.

 


 

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Never give up

undefeated When I was in a different job and the kids were in first grade, we’d sit together and read in a quiet corner or a loud hallway.  Some would ask me, “Why don’t you just read it?”  Maybe they weren’t interested, didn’t want to, or were afraid they’d do it wrong – it could be any number of things stopping them.  But when you’re learning to read, you need the practice.  You need a lot of practice.

Jim Thorpe practiced constantly.  Even when he sat down, he visualized the next race or what he could do differently the next time. Things might have slowed him down once in a while, but it doesn’t sound like anything stopped him.  Whether on the football field or in an Olympic stadium, he and his teammates worked and prepared for excellence, even when many of the words written and thrown out at them were racist, belittling, and just plain wrong.

I’ve been waiting for this book for several months, because I’ve enjoyed Steve Sheinkin’s past work for young people.  The Port Chicago 50 and Most Dangerous are non-fiction favorites of mine, and this is a great addition.  Even if you aren’t a football fan, you might find yourself reading about the big games with a surprising amount of intensity.

I’m also a fan of Bill Bryson–graduate of the high school up the road from me.  I’m always telling people how much I like his work.  He could write about pineapple plantations or particle physics, and I’d read it.  He can write about things I’m not interested in at all, and I know I’ll still love reading it.  Bill Bryson, here’s your new buddy.  Write about anything, Steve Sheinkin.  I’ll read it.

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin

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Pathfinders and Visionaries

There’s nothing like a nasty cold to get me reading nonfiction.  I don’t know why.  Is it a strange attempt to keep some kind of grasp on reality?  Does it remind me how lucky I am compared to historical figures?  Do I just like the pictures?  No idea.

For whatever reason it happens, though, it’s a gift.

My latest cold brought me these two:

  • Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls by Tonya Bolden. Whether it’s Venture Smith’s memoir or Jackie Ormes and cartooning, there is much to learn here about both leaders and regular people.  There are a lot of pictures (yay!) and infographics, which help move the text along.  For kids learning about history and biography, this will be a great addition to the wide range of books highlighting forgotten historical figures which have come out in the last few years.
  • Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson. Ada Lovelace keeps popping up lately.  Even though I knew her story, this picture book adds a joyful and creative boost to the mix.  The artwork is expressive and fun, and it manages to represent math concepts and the emotional struggles of a woman trying to excel within a system that limited her.

For more books with similar themes, see these past posts:

https://liowabrary.wordpress.com/2016/11/21/women-in-science-and-math-a-few-favorites/ (Women in science and math)

https://liowabrary.wordpress.com/2016/11/07/3-more/ (Smartypants biographies)

https://liowabrary.wordpress.com/2016/09/12/5-on-getting-the-vote/ (5 on getting the vote)

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