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Staff Picks: Books

Steamboat school : inspired by a true story, St. Louis, Missouri 1847

Steamboat School is wonderful picture book that highlights yet another little known Black History fact.  It tells the story of the courageous and determined Reverend John Berry Meachum who ran a school on a steamboat that sailed up and down the Mississippi River. The story begins with young James, a free black growing up in Missouri during the 1840s.  While attending Reverend John’s school in the basement of a church, with only candle lights to see, James comes face-to-face with the harsh reality of the 1847 Missouri law which made it illegal to educate any Blacks (slave or free) in the state.  Author Deborah Hopkinson and illustrator Ron Husband have create an inspirational must-read with Steamboat School.


Rad Women

Rad Women Worldwide and Rad American Women A-Z tell the stories of women who did amazing things, some well-known and, maybe more importantly, some not so well-known. From Angela Davis to Zora Neale Hurston, Rad American Women A-Z came first and focuses on American women. Rad Women Worldwide focuses on forty women from all around the world who moved beyond boundaries. From punk rockers to polar explorers to authors, organizers, athletes, artists, and more, both of these great collections of biographical profiles feature amazing cut-paper illustrations by Miriam Klein Stahl. Both are great for all ages but reside in the library's Children's and Teen materials collections. Check them out if you are interested in being inspired and learning some real-life amazing stories!

 


News of the World

The Civil War is over. Army Captain Jefferson Kidd is traveling through Texas from one remote community to another reading the news to residents from newspapers around the country, telling them about distant countries, scientific experiments, an upcoming census, explorations. Along the way, he is asked to escort a 10-year old girl, captive for four years among the Kiowa, back to her aunt and uncle in southern Texas. She is the sole survivor from an Indian raid and has few memories.

In one sense, this is a western – the wild west, Indians, good guys and bad guys – but in the boarder sense it is a snapshot of a time and place, a sense of duty, and ultimately of love.

This slim volume was a National Book Award Finalist and on many “best of” lists for 2016. Reviewers have described is a “jewel”, “not to be missed”, “excellent in every respect”, “beautifully written”. I agree.


The Youngest Marcher

After last month's historic marches, I smiled when I happened upon the book The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist. This picture book tells the story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, the youngest participant in the Birmingham Children's March in 1963. She was nine years old when she volunteered to participate in coordinated action challenging racial segregation.

This book is most appropriate for readers in elementary school. Older readers should check out We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March for more in-depth information on Audrey Faye Hendricks, other young participants, and the history of the march.


Passing

 It’s Black History Month! A time to celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans, but also a great time to examine some of the social issues and complexities of race in America.  For all of the insistence upon inherent difference between races, it is actually just a social construct based on appearance with a few cultural differences thrown in for good measure. Or as Maya Angelou put it in her poem Human Family, “we are more alike, my friends/ than we are unalike.” 

In the 1920’s when Black Americans were treated poorly and granted way less opportunities for success, many fair-skinned Black Americans decided to cut ties with their family and friends to  try and live out the American Dream the best way they knew how—by pretending to be White. Americans were all too aware of this, and as a result, there were many films and novels focused on the subject of passing.

My absolute favorite novel from this time period is Passing by Nella Larsen. Published in 1929, during the Harlem Renaissance, the story follows two women, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, childhood friends who meet later as adults. Irene is married, and living in Harlem right in the hub of the Black social circle, while Clare, a wealthy socialite who married a racist White man, is passing for White.

Passing explores themes of deception, jealousy, loyalty and betrayal. It’s a tale of fashionable frenemies, scandalous parties, and a crazy twist ending I’d love to talk to you about if you get a chance to read it. I love it to pieces and hope you will too. 

 


The life of a Pullman Porter

The Pullman Porter: AnAmerican Journey touched my heart. Not just because there is a lot information that is not generally known but also because my father had been a porter many, many years ago. My brothers, sisters and I romanticized his journeys and thought my dad looked handsome in his uniform. We were not aware of how demanding, degrading and difficult the job was. After all, what did being a Pullman Porter have to do with shining shoes, babysitting, making beds and other forms of servitude?

 After reading this book, I realized also that my dad was traveling and learning things about this country. He was able to learn what was important to share with his children and to teach us what we needed to know in order to survive in America. The Pullman Porter: An American Journey was written by Vanita Oelschlager. Vanita Oelschlager publishes books for children that teaches morals and values I personally appreciate her acknowledgement of the Pullman Porters.


Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about what happened in the years leading up to the atrocities. The question people always ask is "how could this happen?" The following books discuss, in great detail, the events that led to genocide in Europe.

The Coming of the Third Reich and The Third Reich in Power by Richard J. Evans

Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922-1945 by William Sheridan Allen

The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a great website examining the history of the Holocaust, and also features resources on preventing future genocides.


Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe

When Jacqueline Bouvier married John F. Kennedy, she wore an exquisite silk dress made by Ann Cole Lowe.  I did not know that Ann Cole Lowe was African American until I discovered this wonderful picture book written by Deborah Blumenthal and illustrated by Laura Freeman. Despite dealing with segregation and prejudices, Cole’s designer fashions were highly sought after by the Vanderbilts, the Rockerfellers, and the Roosevelts. In addition, she established a prosperous design studio on Madison Avenue in New York City. Included at the end of the book are citations for further readings on Ann Cole Lowe and other historical African American fashion designers. This book is a great read for young children and just in time for Black History Month.

 


Ten Prayers That Changed the World

Subtitled Extraordinary Stories of Faith That Shaped the Course of History, this is a 2016 book published by the National Geographic Society. In it are stories about ten prayers selected by author Jean-Pierre Isbouts, historian and doctoral professor at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California. The book is naturally divided into ten chapters which are: Abraham's Plea, Jesus' Prayer to Abba, The Dream of Constantine, The Voices of Joan of Arc, Martin Luther's Hymn, George Washington's Prayer, The Prayer of St. Francis, The Prayer for Bastogne, Gandhi's Prayer for Peace, and Mother Teresa's Daily Prayer. As can be seen, these chapters cover a wide variety of religious persuasions, thought, and practice. Thus this volume can be used as an aid in personal devotion or as a historical study.


The Last Battle

During the last few hours of the last day of World War II, in a remote medieval castle in an otherwise sleepy part of the Austrian countryside, US and German troops joined forces during one of the strangest and least-likely battles of the entire war. The Last Battle is an account of the hours leading up to that battle, when a small unit of defecting German conscripts and a handful of battle-weary US soldiers fought off two hundred Waffen-SS loyalists trying to take control of the Schloss Itter castle and capture the six French VIPs held captive inside. Desperately low on ammunition, and with only a single battle-damaged tank parked on the castle entrance, the US and German troops- along with the support of dozens of concentration camp survivors, Austrian resistance fighters, and the bickering French VIPs themselves- managed to hold off the invading SS troops long enough for reinforcements to arrive. That this book hasn't somehow been turned into a huge-budgeted Hollywood film is almost as astonishing as the story itself.