Thursday, March 5, 2020

Women's History Month - Those Who Resisted

From the Writer's Almanac:  It was on this day in 1933 that the Nazi Party won 44 percent of the vote in German parliamentary elections, enabling it to join with the Nationalists to gain a slight majority in the Reichstag. Within three weeks, the Nazi-dominated Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which gave Hitler dictatorial powers and ended the Weimar Republic in Germany.

Let's honor the women who worked in the Resistance at that time and during WWII, my family included. 

Here are a few books that tell the story of some of those people:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Children of the Past -- An Interview with Lois Huey

Who can imagine what life must have been like for a kid living twenty thousand years ago? Lois Huey can! Travel back in time with author and archeologist, Lois Miner Huey, with her latest book, Children of the Past:Archeology and the Lives of Kids. Thanks, Lois, for talking with us today about this fascinating book.

What inspired you to write about kids who lived thousands of years ago?

Based on archaeological evidence, I was wondering what it was really like to be a kid years ago. My latest book Children of the Past Archaeology and the Lives of Kids (Lerner 2017) begins thousands of years ago with cave kids and goes through time to the 1790s. Finding evidence of children from various times in soil layers is exciting for archaeologists. I wanted to share that excitement and what that evidence of their lives meant in different time periods. In previous books like Forgotten Bones Uncovering a Slave Cemetery and Ick! Yuck! Eew! Our Gross American History, I've included kids in the information based on both archaeology and documents but not to the extent I wanted to do. So now I have.

Writing about the distant past must have its challenges. There aren’t diaries or other first-hand accounts to study. How did you research this subject?

Archaeologists, like children's writers, are very willing to share their research and reports. I contacted those I knew who were especially interested in this topic, and received lots of information, scientific reports, and ideas from them. I then studied their bibliographies and continued on from there.

As an archeologist, you have such a unique perspective. Did you draw upon your own work in the field for this title?

One of my favorite archaeological projects was an excavation at Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site in Albany, New York. The mansion in the 19th century became an orphanage. The upper layers of soil contained numerous doll parts, clay marbles, a jack, and even parts of toy tea sets. The doll parts clustered in one area of the site, the glass marbles in another, indicating girls and boys played in separate areas. The biggest surprise to me, though, was the fact orphanage kids had toys at all. Research in the Roman Catholic Church archives revealed how many such items were provided to the kids by parishioners as part of teaching them how to care for babies, sew outfits for them, and play fairly. I wanted to include this story in the book, but the editor persuaded me to stop at the end of the 18th century. I agreed with her.

How might a teacher use this book in their classroom?

Children of the Past covers so many time periods that teachers from the fourth grades on through the seventh grade would find it useful. Cave kids, hunters and gatherer children, the first farmers, early colonists in America, and a largely unknown southern Underground Railroad are included--something for each of many periods of history. The chapters begin with a narrative story based on the archaeological (and documentary) evidence, then goes into expository explanations of the science involved in archaeological work that yields the evidence used.

Do you have any tips for young aspiring writers?

I always was one of those who wrote stories in school and at the picnic table in the back yard for friends to read. I encourage any kid who has that inclination to continue. It's a rewarding way to get down your thoughts, the scenes in your head, information you discover--and it's fun. Writing leads to good grades in school, becoming a journalist, librarian, teacher, and even an archaeologist!

Thank you, Lois! This has been fun. We look forward to see what subjects you will focus on in your upcoming books.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trinity Church, St. Paul's, and Hamilton

I spent some time this weekend in lower Manhattan. My hotel was directly across the street from St. Paul's Chapel so I had to stop over to see this 250-year old Episcopal church that survived 9/11 and holds so much history.

The cemetery is populated by Revolutionary War veterans and New World residents who lived in New York before we were a free nation.

It is remarkable to see this tiny chapel among NY skyscrapers and to imagine an earlier New York. St. Paul's was built by Trinity Church to serve the neighborhood.

St. Paul's 

Just a few blocks away is Trinity Church, where Angelica Schuyler her sister, Eliza and Alexander Hamilton are buried. The original Trinity Church burned down. While awaiting the new building, George Washington and the gang attended St. Paul's.

Trinity Church 

He was a good guy, but.....  

John Lawrence! 

Eliza's plot

This is a great place to fill out your Hamilton knowledge. These two locations are filled with so much history. I could hear the whispers of the early parishioners while walking among the graves and standing inside these two special churches.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Book Shopping - Illustrator Stacy Innerst Brings History Alive!

I fell in love with Stacy Innerst's beautiful illustrations at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Los Angeles this month. Stacy is the recipient of the 2017 Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Art for The Music In George's Head, a wonderful book about George Gershwin by Suzanne Slade.

Seeing Stacy's books collected together made me appreciate their amazing illustrations all the more. Stacy has a wonderful way of bringing these historical biographies to life. I was amazed to learn that the Levi Strauss illustrations were actually created on denim!  Take a look at them for yourself!

 Find out more about Stacy's work and August picture book release about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Reading on the Glorious Fourth

So many great patriotic titles to read this holiday. I'm thinking the popularity of Hamilton on Broadway has a little something to do with some of these new releases. Don't you?

I can't wait to read Melissa De La Cruz's latest YA novel inspired by this famous couple.

For younger readers, Don Brown has taken a stab at the famous duel.  Brown wrote and illustrated Aaron and Alexander, described as a tale of passion, patriotism, and pride.

Here are a few others that shed light on our founding fathers. 


Friday, June 23, 2017

Reading on Russia

While Russia seems to be in the news every day, I'd thought I'd put together a reading list of books set in and about Russia.  Perhaps you might want to add these to your summer reading list.

I'm starting off with my book that, surprisingly, has much to do about Russia.

I went to St. Petersburg, Russia to research and photograph THE STORY OF SEEDS: FROM MENDEL'S GARDEN TO YOUR PLATE, AND HOW THERE'S MORE OF LESS TO EAT AROUND THE WORLD. Having grown up during the Cold War, I never imagined I would be visiting there, let alone on a research trip to a government facility. I had the unique opportunity to visit the Vavilov Research Institute, the world's first global seed bank. You can read about how this important facility survived during the WWII's Leningrad Siege and how Nikolai Vavilov created something so valuable that countries, including the US, are still benefiting from it today. It is a story of bravery, science, and vision!

M.T. Anderson's SYMPHONY FOR THE CITY OF THE DEAD: DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH AND THE SIEGE OF LENINGRAD's focuses on a different voice of the Leningrad Siege -- that of a Russian composer. Like my story, it highlights the courage and bravery of Leningrad's citizens during this terrifying period of history. The story is brilliantly told and well-researched.

This year marks the centennial of the Russian Revolution. There is one marvelous book that is a must-read -- THE FAMILY ROMANOV: MURDER, REBELLION, AND THE FALL OF IMPERIAL RUSSIA by Candace Fleming. This YA book offers readers a riveting story of the Russian royal family and the circumstances that led to their demise. Wonderfully written and impeccably researched, this book is a treat in both its written form and in audio. (I personally loved the audio version!)

I reviewed THE LOST CROWN for the Historical Novel Society in 2011 -- Sarah Miller’s well-researched novel, The Lost Crown, gives beautiful, honest voices to the teen daughters of Tsar Nicholas II in the years of their imprisonment following his abdication.   Faithful Tatiana, thoughtful Olga, comforting Maria and spunky Anastasia are brought to life within the pages of this moving young adult novel.  Knowing the fate of these girls does not make this an easy read, but certainly worthwhile.  I began reading the book in the evening and it did not leave my head until I finished it the next morning. Each chapter is told in alternating voices with a small photo of each narrator on the chapter’s first page. 
Readers may find themselves comparing these historic events to recent headlines.  As exile options dwindle for deposed leaders, many of them struggle to hold on to their sovereignty.  Tsar Nicholas’ daughters, once privileged and protected, lived under house arrest for years before meeting their brutal fate.  Bewildered by the growing hatred towards them, Sarah Miller portrays the life the girls lived behind painted windows and unlocked doors. 

Here are a few more to add to your reading list:

Please feel free to add additional titles in the comments! Spasibo!  (That is one of the few words I learned for my trip! The rest is already forgotten.)

Happy reading!


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Using Biographical Letters to Draw on the Nature of Science

I came across a useful article pouring over some old NSTA magazines -- Using Biographical Letters to Draw on the Nature of Science by William Medina-Jerez, Wayne Melville, and Dale Walker.

"Science is a human activity with a rich, colorful, and controversial history. Teaching science from a historical perspective can influence the way students perceive, understand, and apply scientific concepts and processes."

How true! The article brought to mind the story of Nikolai Vavilov in my latest book, THE STORY OF SEEDS. Vavilov's story, crucial to the history of seed science, farming, and food, shaped my ongoing research for the book and my writing. I found his story compelling and worth sharing with my readers. By the time I finished visiting Russia and writing the book  I felt as if Vavilov was a personal friend.

Readers of THE STORY OF SEEDS might take the suggestion of the article's authors and write a biographical letter about Vavilov, Burbank, or Mendel.

Other books that might inspire this activity for your classroom include Deborah Heiligman's Charles and Emma, Susan Campbell Bartoletti's Terrible Typhoid Mary, and Anita Silver's Untamed