Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Review of Samurai Rising, by Pamela S. Turner

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Samurai Rising

The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

by Pamela S. Turner
illustrated by Gareth Hinds

Charlesbridge, 2016. 236 pages.
Starred Review

This book of narrative nonfiction for children booktalks itself. Samurai warriors! Murder and betrayal and kidnapping! Epic battles and clever strategy! And it’s all true!

Pamela S. Turner has done in-depth research about an ancient Japanese Samurai warrior, around whom many legends have sprung up. She does a good job separating what is known from what is speculated about him, and the final 73 pages of the book are back matter, including notes about the history and about her research, a timeline, bibliography, and an index.

The story itself reads like a gory and dramatic novel. Now I personally am not a big fan of war stories, but for kids who don’t mind that (and there are many), this book is filled with excitement – all the more exciting because it really happened.

The Introduction is short and explains why Minamoto Yoshitsune’s story is important:

Few warriors are as famous as the Japanese samurai. We remember those beautiful swords and those fearsome helmets. We recall, with both horror and fascination, how some chose to end their own lives. But no one can understand the samurai without knowing Minamoto Yoshitsune.

Yoshitsune’s story unfolds in the late twelfth century, during the adolescence of the samurai. Yes, cultures have their youth, maturity, and old age, just as people do. During Yoshitsune’s lifetime the samurai awakened. Their culture was bold, rebellious, and eager to flex its muscle. The samurai would ultimately destroy Japan’s old way of life and forge a new one using fire and steel and pain.

Yoshitsune was at the very heart of this samurai rising. Exile, runaway, fugitive, rebel, and hero, he became the most famous warrior in Japanese history. The reason is simple: Yoshitsune was the kind of man other samurai longed to be.

The book begins with the uprising and death of Yoshitsune’s father in 1160. It ends with Yoshitsune’s suicide before his enemies came for him in 1189. In between we hear the story of the warrior’s glory that went unappreciated except in legend.

The author does an amazing job of making this all accessible and understandable to the reader, while inserting little reminders that this is history, and we don’t know everything. She mentions eyewitness accounts, where the information is sketchy, and uses language like “probably” and “Imagine…” where she’s drawing inferences.

No child who reads this book will think that history is boring!

pamelasturner.com
garethhinds.com
charlesbridge.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 Elizabeth Started All the Trouble, by Doreen Rappaport and Matt Faulkner

Sunday, January 6th, 2019

Elizabeth Started All the Trouble

written by Doreen Rappaport
illustrated by Matt Faulkner

Disney Hyperion, Los Angeles, 2016. 40 pages.

This is an accessible overview for elementary school children about the struggle for women’s rights. Reading it, I discovered that I hadn’t realized myself just how long the battle had taken.

The Elizabeth of the title was Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The book does begin earlier than Elizabeth Cady Stanton by mentioning Abigail Adams’ request to her husband when working on the Constitution to “Remember the ladies.”

Seventy-two years later, Elizabeth started the trouble when she and Lucretia Mott were forbidden to even be seen at a convention in London against slavery. They couldn’t be delegates, and had to sit behind a curtain to hear the men’s speeches.

After this, Lucretia and Elizabeth planned the first National Women’s Rights Convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York. Elizabeth modified the Declaration of Independence to be a Declaration of Sentiments, which was a rallying call for the women’s suffrage movement.

The book shows how long and slow and adamantly opposed that movement was. It also pictures many, many of the additional women who took part. One page shows many women who worked for the war effort during the Civil War on both sides.

Emancipation came for the slaves with the Thirteenth Amendment on January 31, 1865.

Then the lawmakers began debating giving the vote to black men.

Now, Elizabeth thought, now is our chance to get the vote, too.

But they didn’t

The next phase of working for women’s rights involved demonstrations, parades, and arrests. Some states individually gave votes to women. The people who started the struggle, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, grew old and died.

The book ends with a double-page spread showing women from many time periods (including the present) standing together.

On August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote, became law. The lawmakers had finally done what Abigail Adams wanted the Founding Fathers to do in that big room in Philadelphia so long ago.

The women had triumphed after battling for the vote for seventy-two years. But they knew their work was not over. There were still many unfair laws to change so that women could have true equality with men.

And we’re still working on it.

doreenrappaport.com
mattfaulkner.com
DisneyBooks.com

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

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Review of Ten Days a Madwoman, by Deborah Noyes

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

Ten Days a Madwoman

The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter Nellie Bly

by Deborah Noyes

Viking, 2016. 136 pages.
Review written in 2016 from a library book.

Despite the title, this is a complete biography of Nellie Bly for middle grade readers. The episode where she infiltrated an insane asylum for ten days is the way she launched her career in stunt journalism.

Sidebars that take up an entire spread are common, and there are plenty of illustrations and photographs from the time period, so there’s lots of variety in this account.

Nellie Bly, then Elizabeth Jane “Pink” Cochran, came to New York without money, planning to get hired by a newspaper. When that didn’t happen, she decided to write an article for her hometown paper, the Pittsburgh Dispatch answering the question if women reporters could get hired in New York. She interviewed the heads of the six major newspapers — and thus introduced herself to them.

Here’s the beginning of Chapter 2:

One fateful day in September, about four months into her New York adventure, Nellie — who was already nearly broke — found that her purse had gone missing, along with the last of her savings.

In the months and years to come, she would circle the globe, marry a millionaire and be widowed, take over his manufacturing empire, and become an influential businesswoman. But for now, Nellie Bly, who came to New York in search of “new worlds to conquer,” was penniless. She was also too proud to give up. “Indeed,” she wrote later, “I cannot say the thought ever presented itself to me, for I never in my life turned back from a course I had started upon.”

That was when she went to the office of the New York World, talked her way in, and proposed to the editor that she would sail to Europe and return in steerage to expose the horrible conditions.

The newspaper didn’t accept that idea, but they proposed another. Could Nellie get herself admitted to the insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island to report conditions there? If she could get herself in, the newspaper promised to get her out again.

This story — as hinted in the title — is the one the book gives in the most detail. It was frighteningly easy for Nellie to get herself admitted. Once there, she dropped the pretense of being insane — but was completely unable to talk herself out of the asylum. Conditions were horrible and the staff were abusive. Fortunately, the newspaper did get her out after ten days, and then Nellie exposed it all.

This gave her fame, and even opened up the field to more women and “stunt journalism.” Another adventure was when she went around the world in 72 days. She met Jules Verne along the way, since it was his book that had inspired the adventure.

This book is accessible to middle grade readers with its short chapters broken up by interesting sidebars, ample illustrations, and truly surprising stories. Nellie Bly had an amazing life, even when women were expected to keep quiet and do as they were told.

deborahnoyes.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 How to Build a Museum, by Tonya Bolden

Sunday, December 23rd, 2018

How to Build a Museum

Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

by Tonya Bolden

Smithsonian (Viking), 2016. 60 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a beautiful book, published just in time to hit the gift shop of the National Museum of African American History. Here’s the complete Preface, which gives you an idea what to expect:

A museum is a treasure trove of things. Things lost then found. Things perennially prized. Objects once deemed worthless.

Whatever a museum collects – paintings, pottery, or playthings – its aim is the same: to safeguard remnants of history and culture that inspire, enlighten, and kindle the curiosity of the children and adults who come through its doors, generation after generation.

Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is a treasure trove of paintings, photographs, posters, playbills, pottery, documents, dolls, diaries, books, balls, bells, benches, medals, medallions, and more: objects that deepen our understanding of the black experience in America and so strengthen our grasp of American history.

This is the story of how that magnificent and monumental museum got built.

The first half of the book indeed describes how the museum came to be. The dream actually took shape 100 years ago, but only recently became an actual plan. Then the book tells about that planning process, including choosing a location – the last available space on the National Mall – and designing the building.

The second half of the book talks about the collections contained in the museum and their significance.

What makes this book wonderful is the abundance of photos – first of the building process, then of many items contained in the museum (and in some cases pictures showing how they got into the museum).

Reading this book has made me eager to visit the new museum, which opened only a few weeks ago. And now I have a better grasp of what I will see. This book is a nice overview for children’s and adults. It tells all that goes into building a museum as well as what you should look for in the finished museum.

tonyaboldenbooks.com
nmaahc.si.edu
www.penguin.com/youngreaders

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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 Hello World, by Jonathan Litton

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

Hello World

A Celebration of Languages and Curiosities

by Jonathan Litton
illustrated by L’Atelier Cartographik

360 Degrees, Wilton, CT, 2016. 16 pages.

Wow! I’m not sure how long this book will hold up in the library, but it would be a wonderful book to own. Mainly, this book consists of how to say Hello in many, many languages all over the world.

The method used is large maps of the continents, with speech bubbles showing how to say “Hello” in different languages, pinpointed by location. The words are printed on flaps. When you lift the flap, you get a phonetic pronunciation and the number of speakers of that language in that country. Other language facts are listed throughout the book.

The pages are made of sturdy cardboard, so it’s made to take some tough usage – but, well, lift-the-flap books in the library are generally doomed to suffer from overenthusiastic usage. Once enough flaps are ripped off, this book won’t be as useful. (Reserve it quickly, while our library’s copies are still new!) But this would be a book worth owning and poring over.

I can imagine a child who enjoys highly detailed illustrations getting a lot of joy out of this book – at least as much joy as finding Waldo! And if you could then take that child to where some other languages are spoken, they would have an excited appreciation of being able to say Hello.

This is a lovely idea, and it’s carried out beautifully. May the flaps endure through many, many check-outs!

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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 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.”

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 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.

fsgbooks.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 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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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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