Archive for the ‘Historical’ category

Primary sources from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire

December 13th, 2012

Check out Cornell University’s collection of testimonials, newspaper articles, and letters from the time period of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Hear what happened from the people who were actually there.

My current favorites for historical fiction and nonfiction

December 13th, 2012

I put together a list for a 7th grade Social Studies teacher and I thought that others could benefit, so I’m posting it here. This is just a sampling and is in no way an all-inclusive list. If there are books that you would recommend that make history lively, mention them in the comments.

The students just learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, thus the first bit:
Books about the Shirtwaist fire like Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch:
Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix; Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner

Mr. Griggs’s Favorite Historical Fiction Books
Fire from the Rock by Sharon Draper (Little Rock 9)
March Toward the Thunder by Joseph Bruchac (Civil War)
The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins by Walter Dean Myers (World War II)
The Journal of Patrick Seamus Flaherty by Ellen White (Vietnam)
The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Operation Pedro Pan)
Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai (Sept. 11, 2001)
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (Sudanese Civil War)
Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers (Iraq War)
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (The Holocaust)
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (Revolutionary War)
Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson (Yellow Fever Epidemic)
Revolution is not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine (Chinese Cultural Revolution)
All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg (Vietnam)
Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (Civil War)

Mr. Griggs’s Favorite Historical Nonfiction Books
The Dark Game by Paul Janeczko (History of Spies)
Lost Boy, Lost Girl by John Dau (Sudanese Civil War)
Bloody Times by James L. Swanson (Lincoln’s mega-funeral and the hunt for Jefferson Davis)

Google Cultural Institute

October 11th, 2012

Check out Google’s Cultural Institute to see history in a media-rich context.

Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe

September 28th, 2012

Emmett Till is not a household name, but his death impacted the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s in the United States. Chris Crowe, author of the award-winning Mississippi, 1955, set out to inform his readers in Getting Away with Murder about the controversial murder trial of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant. Till, a young black man, whistled at Roy Bryant’s wife. That much can be verified by other witnesses. Whether Till said or did more, only Till’s accuser can tell. Roy Bryant found out about the situation and decided to “teach that boy a lesson”. Bryant and his half-brother, Milam, grabbed Till from his great uncle’s house in the middle of the night, kidnapped him, beat him, and then shot him. Milam and Bryant tied a length of barbed wire around Till’s neck and to a gin fan and then threw Till’s dead body into the Tallahatchie River.

Emmett Till’s gruesome murder was followed by a trial riddled with injustice. Sheriff Clarence Strider locked up two witnesses to the murder and filed their paperwork under different names so that they could not testify at the trial, for instance. Milam and Bryant were found innocent of the murder of the 14 year-old boy. Years later, when Milam and Bryant could not be convicted of the same crime again because of double jeopardy, the two sold their story two a magazine and admitted to everything.

Crowe’s book does a good job presenting the facts. The second chapter does make a couple of guesses about what Emmett would like to do for fun based on what other boys his age enjoyed, but other than that it sticks pretty closely to interviews and media records.

At 121 pages, it’s a quick read that I recommend to introduce students to the civil rights movement. There are a ton of pictures, which is a necessity for nonfiction for the middle grade target audience. I’m proud of Crowe for including the photo of Till’s disfigured corpse because it’s that photo that caught people’s attention to what atrocities racism can lead to.

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

September 4th, 2012

The Red Umbrella is the story of Lucia Alvarez, a Cuban teenager in 1961 whose country has been taken over by Fidel Castro and his revolution. What I love about the book is how realistic it is, which makes sense since it is based on the experience of the author’s parents. From 1960-1962, 14,000 kids without their parents emmigrated from Cuba to the United States in what eventually was called Operation Pedro Pan. Many of these kids did not have any relatives to pick them up from the airport when they landed on U.S. soil, essentially making them orphans.

The first half of the book is set in Cuba and we get to watch more and more freedoms disappear. The second half is Lucia’s trip to the United States, specifically Nebraska. Nebraska being pretty different from Cuba, Lucia has a tough time fitting in. The dialogue is spot on and some of the assumptions that people make about foster children or race are statements that I’ve heard in real life. Her foster mother gives her tobasco sauce to put on her breakfast because she “read that people in Mexico eat it”. After Lucia’s tongue nearly catches on fire, she explains that Cuba and Mexico are different countries. Lucia is able to blend in better than a character like Fadi from Shooting Kabul, but there is still a drastic adjustment period.

The setting of communist Cuba is not talked about much in teen fiction, at least not that I’m aware of (please comment if you can think of other titles), so Red Umbrella was a fresh read for me and definitely one that I will recommend for students and staff.

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

July 10th, 2012

I have not seen much Cold War fiction for middle grade students. For nonfiction, I definitely recommend The Dark Game. I was intrigued instantly by the premise of The Apothecary: a young girl’s family is accused of being Communist, so they flee to England where she meets up with a mysterious apothecary.

The first few chapters of the book meet my expectations for spies. The main characters are caught up in watching for information exchanges, secret handshakes, and scary intelligence agents from East Berlin. The apothecary and his cohorts have made amazing breakthroughs in chemistry that will greatly impact the growing nuclear threat. Yes, sign me up.

Then the kids turn into birds. (This explains the birds on the cover, which I thought were some symbol for innocence or whatever and in no way the actual main characters of the book. Nope. The kids are birds.) The story shifted dramatically for me there and I remember being disappointed that magic realism had to be thrown in. So many middle grade novels resort to magic and I was looking for something new.

On the positive, the main character is not some chosen one from an ancient civilization/order. At least we don’t have to rehash that trope – as far as I know, since this book follows another trend of setting up a series. “I will return.” Yep. This is just book one.

The Cold War paranoia and the politics of nuclear weapons is portrayed really well and makes it worth the read. There was enough action to keep readers interested; it wasn’t a bunch of people spouting off ideologies. It’s a good book that I know students will enjoy. The ones that have read it have said so. I just wish it didn’t follow the alchemy trend of books like This Dark Endeavor and others that are out right now. It’s tougher to write a book where you have to think through a character’s escape and not simply resort to, “They drink a potion and everything’s swell.”

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

May 9th, 2012

This matches up extremely well with Lost Boy, Lost Girl to compare fiction and nonfiction about the Second Sudanese Civil War. While Linda Sue Park says this is fiction, she does mention how closely she based it on the real Salva Dut’s life. Like in Lost Boy, Lost Girl, the depiction of human perseverance in spite of horrible circumstances is amazing.

The really cool part about Long Walk is that it has an interwoven story from 2009 with an update on how southern Sudan is doing. What I love is that Salva Dut, just like John Bul Dau, hasn’t just enjoyed his time in the United States; he has gone on to found Water for South Sudan, an organization to install wells for clean water. Go check them out.

The Dark Game by Paul B. Janeczko

March 8th, 2012


The Dark Game is a history of spying in the United States, from current FBI moles all the way back to the Culper spy ring that helped the U.S. defeat the British in the Revolutionary War.

Now, it’s not tough to make a book about spies interesting. The Dark Game is no exception. The short histories are the perfect length to give details about the person or events but not so long that they take away from the rest of the book.

Janeczko has done his research. I checked the bibliography for more books that I want to read. The details that he has included are not just the same old stories that I had read before, even though I was familiar with most of the events described. It’s the little details, like a photo of Juan Pujol‘s imaginary spy network (which is really funny…you have to read about it), that make history engaging and remind us that this stuff actually happened.

The Dark Game is definitely worth the purchase and fits well with the current push for more nonfiction in the library.

Bloody Times by James L. Swanson

January 10th, 2012


Bloody Times: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Manhunt for Jefferson Davis by James L. Swanson is the YA adaptation of Bloody Crimes. I really enjoyed it because I’m constantly on the lookout for nonfiction that’s engaging.

You may be familiar with the concept of Bloody Times: President Lincoln is assassinated and the country stages a funeral procession from D.C. to Illinois. At the same time, Confederate President Jefferson Davis tries to keep the Civil War going despite General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

The details are great and help to dispel some myths, like what Davis was wearing when he was captured. The myth is that he tried to sneak away in women’s clothes. In reality, he woke up one morning, saw Union soldiers outside of his tent, and put on an overcoat and a shawl to keep warm for his journey. The shawl was the same type that many men wore, yet newspapers printed mocking photos to discredit Davis. Circus owner P.T. Barnum wanted the shawl and overcoat for one of his shows, but when Edwin Stanton, secretary of war, saw that it wasn’t women’s clothing, he held onto it and the myth was born. Swanson’s attention to detail challenges what many people have accepted as fact.

Even though most readers know that Lincoln will die, Swanson still builds up the emotion leading up to and after the event. He also does a skillful job of intertwining the rival presidents’ lives. Also, no one will soon forget the descriptions of how the embalmers kept Lincoln presentable in the hot summer months.

It’s history at its best. Students who have checked it out enjoyed it. I’m going to booktalk it in time for President’s Day and I predict it to be a popular checkout.

An amazing interactive map of the Pearl Harbor attack

December 7th, 2011

National Geographic always has great resources, but this one really grabbed my attention. Check out this map that commemorates the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Just like how the JFK Library incorporated real audio and visuals in We Choose the Moon, National Geographic has included a ton of primary sources (click on the We Were There links) from the attack.

Put this one up on the LCD and let the students explore.