Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Review of Drowned City, by Don Brown

Friday, October 19th, 2018

Drowned City

Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans

by Don Brown

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 96 pages.
2016 Sibert Honor

Nonfiction in comic book form is an idea whose time has come. What could be more memorable? Do you want to teach history in a way kids will pay attention, absorb, and understand? In fact, speaking for myself, this is a way adults can read it and absorb much more information than reading regular text.

Now, the story of Hurricane Katrina is not a pleasant story at all. This feels more hard-hitting than The Great American Dust Bowl, since the people involved, including those who bungled the response, are still alive. Though both stories are horrific. And the reader can understand that better with the graphic illustrations.

Don Brown uses a variety of panel arrangements and colors to keep interest high. Leafing through the pages, you get a sense of action.

The book does end on a hopeful note. The last spread is a picture of new construction. The text on the last page says:

One ruined neighborhood, the lower ninth ward, is overgrown with plants and weeds and has just 15 percent of the population it had before Katrina. But new houses are going up, built atop deeply driven piles, giving them firm roots to stop them from floating away during the next Katrina. The man setting the piles is a “born and raised” New Orleanian.

“We’re coming back. This is home. This is life.”

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Hour of Land, by Terry Tempest Williams

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

The Hour of Land

A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks

by Terry Tempest Williams

Sarah Crichton Books (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 2016. 389 pages.
Starred Review

I got to hear Terry Tempest Williams speak about this book at an ALA conference before it was published and got a chapbook of the first chapter, so I was watching eagerly for it to come out. However, it still took me a long time to get it read. I tend to read nonfiction slowly, a chapter at a time, and this one continued to be on hold at the library, so I couldn’t just renew it and keep going. I finally buckled down to finish and was even more impressed than I expected to be.

I expected a lot of meditations on the beauty of our National Parks, but what I found is a lot more than that. There is much information about their history, and yes, about the wildlife and landscape, but there’s also a great deal about current concerns, such as oil companies taking over the land all around a national park and creating environmental devastation inside the park. Or the devastation wrought by an oil spill on a national park on the coast. Since this was written before the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, it was hard to read about the challenges and be pretty certain that things aren’t getting better.

Here are some things Terry Tempest Williams has to say in the introductory chapter.

In my wanderings among these dozen national parks, my intention was to create portraits of unexpected beauty and complexity. I thought it would be a straightforward and exuberant project, focusing on the protection of public lands, as I have done through most of my life. But, in truth, it has been among the most rigorous assignments I have ever given myself because I was writing out of my limitations. I am not a historian or a scientist or an employee of a federal land agency privy to public land policy and law. My authority is simply that of a storyteller who lives in the American West in love with this country called home.

I have been inspired by the photographs and people included in this book. I have learned that there is no such thing as one portrait or one story, only the knowledge of our own experience shared. I no longer see America’s parks as “our best idea,” but our evolving idea; I see our national parks as our ongoing struggle as a diverse people to create circles of reverence in a time of collective cynicism where we are wary of being moved by anything but our own clever perspective.

“The purpose of life is to see,” the writer Jack Turner said to me on a late summer walk at the base of the Tetons. I understand this to be a matter of paying attention. The nature of our national parks is bound to the nature of our own humility, our capacity to stay open and curious in a world that instead beckons closure through fear. For me, humility begins as a deep recognition of all I do not know. This understanding doesn’t stop me, it inspires me to ask questions, to look more closely, feel more fully the character of the place where I am. And so with this particular book, I have sought to listen to both the inner and the outer landscapes that spoke to me, to not hide behind metaphor or lyricism as I have in the past, but to simply share the stories that emerged in each park encountered.

At a time when it feels like we are a nation divided, I am interested in how a sense of place can evolve toward an ethic of place, especially within our national parks….

This is the Hour of Land, when our mistakes and shortcomings must be placed in the perspective of time. The Hour of Land is where we remember what we have forgotten: We are not the only species who lives and dreams on the planet. There is something enduring that circulates in the heart of nature that deserves our respect and attention.

The national parks she explores in this book are Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, Acadia National Park in Maine, Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa, Big Bend National Park in Texas, Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska, Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida and Mississippi, Canyonlands National Park in Utah, Alcatraz Island and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California, Glacier National Park in Montana, and César E. Chavez National Monument in California.

What she discovered in these parks is fascinating and surprising and thought-provoking. This book is a treasure and a challenge.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Grover Cleveland, Again! by Ken Burns

Monday, September 24th, 2018

Grover Cleveland, Again!

A Treasury of American Presidents

by Ken Burns
illustrated by Gerald Kelley

Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 94 pages.

This is a big, beautiful book packed with facts about all the presidents up to Obama (since it was published before the 2016 election). Here’s where Ken Burns explains the title:

I have four daughters – Sarah, Lilly, Olivia, and Willa. When they were little and had trouble falling asleep, I would recite the names of the presidents to them. (Yes, that’s a historian’s idea of a lullaby!) After a while, they knew the names so well, we turned it into a memory game. We’d start with our first president and work our way up. I’d say “George” and they’d say “Washington”; I’d say “John” and they’d say “Adams.” Their favorite part was when we got to Grover Cleveland, the only president who had two non-consecutive terms. I’d say “Grover” and they’d say “Cleveland”; I’d say “Benjamin” and they’d say “Harrison”; then I’d repeat “Grover” and they would giggle and say “Grover Cleveland, again!” I vowed to my oldest, now a mama of her own, that one day I’d do a children’s book on the presidents called Grover Cleveland, Again! It’s been almost thirty years, but I’ve kept my promise.

I read this book alongside Your Presidential Fantasy Dream Team, by Daniel O’Brien. I’d read about one president at a time, from both books. This one has much nicer, full-color pictures. It gives the basic facts and many insights into the times of each president. It would be great for reports, and draws you into browsing its oversize, inviting pages. It doesn’t compare the presidents to superheroes like that one does, but one book can’t have everything.

Ken Burns takes a more positive approach, leaving out things like Ulysses Grant’s drunkenness. He doesn’t draw decisive judgments about the presidents’ actions. But Ken Burns is trying to inspire kids by telling about our history. He also says in the introduction:

How could someone who had never voted in an election become president? How could someone who had hardly ever gone to school keep the country from being torn in two? How could a man with dyslexia lead the country through a world war, and one with a serious physical disability guide us through another? How could the son of a peanut farmer bring together two countries whose people had been ancient enemies? This is amazing stuff!

Learning about American history might not teach a child how to become a famous scientist or the CEO of a major corporation. But it can make a huge difference in their lives. It certainly has in mine.

kenburns.com
geraldkelley.com
randomhousekids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, by Susan Goldman Rubin

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

The Quilts of Gee’s Bend

by Susan Goldman Rubin

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. 56 pages.

The Quilts of Gee’s Bend tells about an African American community where for generations families taught their girls to quilt.

The book is filled with photos of quilts made by these women. There are common patterns, common themes, but every quilt is unique.

The book also tells of the history of the community and the way the quilts – when discovered as art – helped pull them through some hard times.

Here’s how the book begins, jumping right into the story of one of the quilters:

When Nettie Young was eleven years old, her mother gave her a pile of cloth strips and told her to make a quilt all by herself. Nettie had always sat with her mother and watched her quilting, picking up the scraps at her feet, but this time her mother walked away. She was testing her daughter to see if she was independent as well as talented. The cotton and corduroy scraps were in different colors and patterns: plaids, checks, dots, even a little yellow animal print. The odds and ends came from old work shirts, dress tails, and aprons. Looking back, at age eighty-nine, Nettie said, “When I was growing up, you threw nothing away. . . . You found every good spot for a quilt piece, and that’s how you made your quilts.”

Nettie arranged the strips to form squares in a brilliant geometric design. She called her finished quilt “Stacked Bricks.” From then on, she became known as one of the best quilters in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. “I always loved sewing,” she said. “Didn’t need a pattern . . . I just draw it out the way I want it.”

There’s a photo of that very quilt, which was created in 1928.

We get stories of many of the quilters, along with an abundance of color photos of the quilts. The women didn’t think of their quilts as art. Making them was a way to keep warm and work together.

Pieces of cloth that had been tucked away safely were brought out at night, when, at last, it was time for quilting. “We had no radio, no TV, no nothing,” recalled Mary Lee Randolph. “That’s the way we learned – sitting watching our mamas piecing the quilt. When the sun came down, you be in the house together, laughing and talking. We were more blessed then.

This book celebrates beautiful art created by a community of women in a practice passed down from mothers to daughters.

abramsyoungreaders.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Hole Story of the Doughnut, by Pat Miller, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

The Hole Story of the Doughnut

by Pat Miller
illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 36 pages.

Can you imagine a time before doughnuts? I didn’t realize that the world knows who invented them – a ship’s captain named Hanson Crockett Gregory.

But before he was a ship’s captain, he was a sixteen-year-old helping the ship’s cook. They’d fry cakes in lard for the crew’s breakfast – and the cakes were always raw in the middle and heavy with grease. The sailors called them “Sinkers,” because they sat so heavily in the stomach.

Hanson got an idea to help them cook better – and cut holes in the center of each circle of dough with a pepper shaker. Now they cooked perfectly, all the way through.

So that’s about how simple the story is, but the author and illustrator do embellish the tale. They tell about the rest of Captain Gregory’s life and some alternate legends that developed.

There are notes at the back giving more details, enough to convince me that it’s true – We should be thanking Captain Hanson Gregory every time we eat a delicious, well-cooked doughnut.

This light-hearted picture book is especially suited to interest kids. They’ll get a taste of very practical biography.

patmillerbooks.com
vincentxkirsch.com
hmhco.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Nantucket Sea Monster, by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Peter Willis

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

The Nantucket Sea Monster

A Fake News Story

by Darcy Pattison
illustrated by Peter Willis

Mims House, Little Rock, AR, 2017. 32 pages.

What a timely idea! This book tells the story of an actual hoax carried out in 1937 that was reported as news.

For the 1937 Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, Tony Sarg, who created the puppets for the parade, created a giant sea monster puppet. Later, when a group was discussing publicity, they decided to stage a sea monster sighting. They submerged the puppet offshore from Nantucket.

Lots of people were in on the publicity stunt, including the newspapers. Plenty of people were fooled. The eyewitnesses declared, “It wasn’t a whale.” Later, giant footprints were found on the shore.

Finally, the news broke that Tony Sarg had caught the sea monster. He brought it up on shore, and they saw it was a giant balloon. All was revealed. Both Nantucket and the Macy’s parade got lots of publicity.

I like the way the book ends with a spread titled “A Free Press and the Fake News.”

However, when the press is free to print what it likes, sometimes it will print things that are false. Some laws make sure the press doesn’t write slander. Slander means you write a lie about someone. Otherwise, newspapers can print what they like….

From the beginning of the United States, free press has printed both truth and lies. When things are working right, there’s more truth than lies. Sometimes, though, like in the story of the Nantucket sea monster, editors will deliberately print something false. At the time, the editor said the articles were fine because 1) no one was hurt, and 2) Macy’s company didn’t commercialize the event. However, they freely admit that the publicity for Nantucket Island was worth thousands of dollars.

Was the publicity right or wrong?

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Card Catalog, by The Library of Congress

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

The Card Catalog

Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures

The Library of Congress
Foreword by Carla Hayden

Chronicle Books, 2017. 224 pages.

A history of the card catalog – it’s surprising how interesting that turns out to be. Well, okay, it’s interesting to me!

This book traces the development of the idea to put catalog information for libraries on 3 x 5 inch index cards. Originally, the Library of Congress would publish a book listing the books in its collection. So listing the information on cards was much more practical. Eventually, the Library of Congress was producing catalog cards for libraries across America.

But that’s only a small portion of this book. The bulk of the pages are pictures of items in the Library of Congress collection – along with pictures of their catalog cards.

There are many classic books, also interesting memorabilia – and on the facing page you’ve got the catalog card – some of them yellowed and beat up – for that item.

This is a beautifully designed book and is lots of fun to browse through. Because it’s mostly pictures, it doesn’t take too long, either.

loc.gov
chroniclebooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Bessie Stringfield, Tales of the Talented Tenth, volume 2, by Joel Christian Gill

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

Tales of the Talented Tenth, Volume 2

Bessie Stringfield

The amazing true story of the woman who became The Motorcycle Queen of Miami!

by Joel Christian Gill

Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado, 2016. 122 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2017.

I think that nonfiction in graphic novel form (okay, necessarily fictionalized a bit) is one of the best things that could happen to education. Joel Christian Gill has started a series about remarkable African Americans, telling their amazing stories in comic book form.

I’d never heard of Bessie Stringfield, but she was the sole woman in the U. S. Army’s civilian motorcycle courier unit during World War II, and the first black woman inducted into the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame and the Harley Davidson Hall of Fame.

The book begins with her childhood. After her family moved to America from Jamaica, her mother died and her father just abandoned her in their hotel room. The book tells about her unusual upbringing after that and how she grew a passion for motorcycles and traveling.

She traveled across the United States eight times, and ended up doing lots of traveling in the Jim Crow South. (I like the way the author pictures bigoted people in this series as giant crows. It’s disturbing, as it should be.) She had run-ins with people who wanted to harm her, but was always able to outrun them on her motorcycle.

The story of her varied exploits is a quick but very entertaining read. And you’ll learn about someone who deserves to be remembered, the Motorcycle Queen of Miami, Bessie Stringfield.

joelchristiangill.wordpress.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Obama: An Intimate Portrait, by Pete Souza

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Obama

An Intimate Portrait

by Pete Souza
Former Chief Official White House Photographer
Foreword by Barack Obama

Little, Brown and Company, 2017. 352 pages.
Starred Review

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve got a crush on Barack Obama.

However, like so many of my crushes, the biggest thing I admire about him is how much he loves his wife and how dedicated he is to her. At this rate, I’ll never fall for someone who’s available.

That sort of crush, though, encourages me by reminding me that faithful men who love and are committed to their wives exist. In this case, I’m also reminded that government leaders who honestly care about the people they’re serving and are trying to help people do exist. Even though he’s out of office, he still gives me hope by providing an example of someone who honestly cared about people and tried to do good things. (I don’t always agree as to what will be good – but it was obvious that’s what he was seriously trying to do. You can see it in these pictures.)

Okay, he’s also a handsome, classy man with a gorgeous family. And he’s adorably cute with small children. And not afraid to show emotion. And, yes, I enjoy looking at a book full of pictures of him.

And Pete Souza is an amazing photographer. Barack Obama says about him:

In fact, what makes Pete such an extraordinary photographer, I think, is something more than his ability to frame an interesting moment. It’s his capacity to capture the mood, the atmosphere, and the meaning of that moment.

Pete Souza has documented 8 years of history in a powerful and moving way. Here are some of his words from the introduction:

But in the 12 years I’ve known him, the character of this man has not changed. Deep down, his core is the same. He tells his daughters, “Be kind and be useful.” And that tells you a lot about him. As a man. A father. A husband. And yes, as a President of the United States.

This book represents the moments I captured of President Obama throughout his Presidency. The big moments and the small moments. Fun moments. Moments of crisis. Moments of laughter. Moments when I had to hide my own tears behind the viewfinder. Intimate family moments. Symbolic moments and historic moments.

I have had the extraordinary privilege of being the man in the room for eight years, visually documenting President Obama for history. This book is the result of that effort; I gave it my all. I hope that the photographs that follow, accompanied by my words, will show you the true character of this man and the essence of his Presidency, as seen through my eyes and felt through my heart.

Reading this book makes me a little bit sad, yes. But it also gives me hope – still – that it’s possible to have dignity and kindness and a servant’s heart in the Oval Office. May that day come again.

petesouza.com
littlebrown.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Quest for Z, by Greg Pizzoli

Monday, March 12th, 2018

The Quest for Z

The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon

by Greg Pizzoli

Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), 2017. 44 pages.

This is a really interesting story about an explorer I’d never heard of – Percy Fawcett – who searched for a lost city in the Amazon, and never returned.

But he had an interesting, successful, and adventurous life before his final expedition.

Right from the start, he was ready to be an explorer:

He was born in 1867 in Devon, England. His father was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and his older brother was a mountain climber and author of adventure novels. Adventure ran in the Fawcett family blood.

He served in the military before he got to devote full time to exploring, but that’s what he went on to do. The book tells about his preparation and training, as well the legends of an ancient city deep in the Amazon rain forest.

When British explorer Percy Fawcett heard these legends, he called the mythical city “Z.” Maybe he chose this name because the lost city seemed to be the most remote place in the world, the final stop, like the last letter of the alphabet. He made finding Z his life’s work.

There’s a map listing the expeditions he made between 1906 and 1924. (Though it’s rather hard to read – the colors of the routes look very much alike.) The book tells about some of his many adventures with giant snakes and hostile natives. I like the story where they stopped an attack by singing a medley of British songs together, accompanied by accordion. They made friends with that group of natives.

The majority of his expeditions were for surveying – to map some of the most dangerous areas of the Amazon rain forest. But he always listened for rumors of the lost city deep in the jungle.

When he finally set off to find the city, the Royal Geographic Society wouldn’t fund his expedition – so he got newspapers to do it. On his journey, he wrote about every step of the trip and sent out “runners” to bring the story to the newspapers as it happened.

But after a month on the trail, the stories stopped, and Percy Fawcett was never seen again.

There’s an interesting section of the book on the aftermath of the expedition.

In the nearly one hundred years since Percy, Jack, and Raleigh went missing, treasure hunters, fame-seekers, and even movie stars have gone into the jungle to find out what happened to Percy Fawcett. None have been successful.

It’s estimated that as many as one hundred people have disappeared or died in the hunt for Percy Fawcett and the blank spot on the globe that he called Z.

This is a fun book. The pictures are cartoon-like, but include some helpful diagrams and drawings. They fill the pages, so that they aren’t too heavy on text, and kids won’t find the story too intimidating.

It’s a fascinating story of a man who is relatively unknown now, but was a famous celebrity in his day – though unfortunately more famous for his failure than for his many successes.

gregpizzoli.com
penguin.com/children

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?