Category Archives: American history

Sewing Stories by Barbara Herkert

Sewing Stories by Barbara Herkert

Today’s pick for Perfect Picture Book Friday is Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist Sewing Stories

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Written by: Barbara Herkert

Illustrated by: Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (October 2015)

Suitable for ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: folk-art, quilting, community, survival, determination, resilience, US history, women’s history, slavery, emancipation, Civil War

 

Brief Synopsis: This story is about the life of Harriet Powers who is not well known, yet whose legacy of early African-American folk art is displayed in the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Even though she lived her early life enslaved and remained poor throughout her adult life, Harriet believed, “You gotta take what you’ve been given and make something out of it.” And that she did.

 

After enslaved women labored in the fields and or made textiles for the plantation, they used their craft to create story quilts. Over time, sewing became a source of pride and income for Harriet. I imagine the craft had to have helped strengthen her community during the dark times of unfathomable oppression while living either enslaved or free.

 

Given the recent discussion about the picture book, A Birthday Cake for George Washington, some question why Sewing Stories has not received the same criticism for “smiling slaves”. In my opinion, this book includes facts in the sidebars that touch upon a shameful part of US history while at the same time weaves a story of hope, resilience, determination, and community, despite the oppression. This author does take liberties in a couple sidebars. In this example she intuits, “For a few daylight hours, they might have felt free.” Although sewing and quilting was done for the master, Harriet and her community made the craft their own. After emancipation she used her skills to eventually earn enough to help buy a small farm. The images of characters smiling shows a universal human emotion. Yes, the enslaved had the ability to feel those same human emotions of joy, pride, and hope too. This story is not only about individual pride, it is representative of the grit and struggle people like Harriet demonstrated.

 

Opening pages:  “See that sweet baby girl lying on a quilt her mama made? What could she be dreaming of?

 

On a plantation near Athens, Georgia, Harriet’s mama worked from rise to set while Harriet slept between the cotton rows.”

 

Why I like this book: I recently had a discussion with a fellow writer about depicting slavery in picture books. She told me her 5-year-old mentioned something about slaves one day. When probed, he said, “They ran away. Brave people helped them run away and they were safe.”

 

In a sense, Harriet ran. She ran toward developing a craft that helped her contribute to her family’s income, create a sense of self-worth, and hope for herself, and her community. At the end of the story, Harriet had to sell one of her quilts after falling on hard times. An art teacher named Jennie Smith purchased it, recorded her story, and kept her promise to exhibit it. Jennie was brave.

 

As writers, we will make mistakes despite our good intentions. But there are many stories that need to be told. For this bright 5-year-old eager to learn, we must continue to create stories that help him understand sensitive and complex topics. And that will take courage.

 

Resources:

 

*School & Library Journal listed other picture books that celebrate African-Americans in the Arts here.

 

*KidLitTV shared Librarian  Scott Woods’ list of diverse books –28 Black Picture Books That Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball can be found here.

 

*Lee & Low’s collection of books to celebrate Black History Monty can be found here.

 

*Addressing the topic of slavery in the elementary classroom can be found here.

 

Check out author Susanna’s Hill’s Perfect Picture Book page here.

 

Happy Reading!

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The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is today’s pick for Perfect Picture Book Friday!

Written by: Chris Barton 

Illustrated by: Don Tate

Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (April 1, 2015)

Suitable for ages: 7 and up

Themes/Topics: US History, Reconstruction, Civil Rights, Mississippi politics, racism, slavery, perseverance, hope, courage, inspiration

      Born: 1847 – Died: 1939
CaptureLynch

Brief Synopsis: The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is a picture book biography about the inspirational life of a man born enslaved, freed as a teenager after the start of the Civil War, and 10 years later elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives during Reconstruction.

John Roy’s father, Patrick Lynch, was an Irish overseer, his mother enslaved on the plantation where they lived. Patrick planned to save enough money to purchase and ”own” his family since by law he could not free them. But in 1849, when his son was a mere a toddler, Patrick became ill. He entrusted a friend to free his family in case of his death, but instead this man sold them to a new owner.

Opening pages:  John Roy Lynch had an Irish father and an enslaved mother. By the law of the South before the Civil War, that made John Roy and his brother half Irish and all slave.”

Why I like this book: Let me start by saying I am a genealogy addict which involves a lot of historical research. And for that reason, I love this book!

Barton does a phenomenal job recounting the life of this extraordinary man who overcame so much hostility and oppression to become a justice of the peace and a state representative in Mississippi during a time when laws marginalized people of color. The author’s research is impeccable. The use of primary documents gives us a sense of the man John Roy was and brings readers into the world in which he lived. Barton does not sugarcoat the history nor the inhumane treatment a select group of people suffered. He does give us a history of how one man was able to rise above the fray despite insurmountable obstacles.

The watercolor illustrations by Don Tate carries the lengthy story helping young readers digest these harsh periods in US history.

This book is well done all around and for this reason it is a must read for all ages, not just kids. Many citizens have not learned the history presented in this book. The historical note, timeline, author’s note and illustrator’s note are supplements that add even more to this remarkable story. And of course it is a treasure because -#weneeddiversebooks that are this well researched and written.

“When every man, woman, and child can feel and know that his, her, and their rights are fully protected by the strong and generous and grateful Republic, then we can all truthfully say that this beautiful land or ours, over which the Star Spangled Banner so triumphantly waves, is, in truth and in fact, the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

John Roy Lynch

United States House of Representatives 1876

Congressional Record, vol. 2, Part 5, 43rd Congress, 1st Session (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1876), pp. 4782-4786.

Resources:

Click here to find more books and facts about John Roy Lynch.

Click here for the educator’s guide.

Click here to see the book trailer.

For more of today’s book reviews, click here go to author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book page.

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Happy 4th of July Estados Unidos!

Happy 4th of July Estados Unidos!

Happy 4th of July Estados Unidos! Actually Louisianians would have said something like Feliz el 4 de Julio or Heureux le 4 éme Juillet. Thanks Google!

Language aside, the Spanish Colony of Louisiana under the leadership of Bernardo de Gálvez (photo below) joined forces with the British-Americans to fight for their independence against the British. Indigenous Native Louisianans fought alongside those of French, Spanish, African, German, Acadian, and Swiss descent. The rest as they say, is history. Why did Spanish Louisiana help British-America?

md-governor-bernardo-de-galvez  KCB 4th of July

European wars profoundly affected the fledgling French colony. Spain supported the American Revolution because of their losses to Britain during the Seven Year’s War (1756–1763). On the same day France relinquished most of her empire east of the Mississippi to Britain at the end of the Seven Years’ War, she ceded all her possessions west of the Mississippi to Spain, her ally in the conflict. Spain lost all of her North American territories (Spanish Florida) to regain control of Cuba and became the new ruler of the Louisiana Colony. In order to recoup her losses and to protect what was left of her colonies in the Americas, Spain used both international and domestic policies to guard and develop her holdings. Internationally, Spain’s support of the American Revolution helped protect her borders from Britain, while on the domestic front Spain needed to develop a prosperous Louisiana colony.

Allowed to access supplies through the port of Havana in Cuba as well as the port in New Orleans during the revolution, Spanish Louisiana played a crucial role in American Independence.  

You’re welcome America! Just sayin’!


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Swing Sisters by Karen Deans

Swing Sisters by Karen Deans

Swing Sisters: The International Sweethearts of Rhythm by Karen Deans is my pick for today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday in honor of Jazz Fest in New Orleans and Teacher’s Appreciation Week, both celebrated in the month of May.

Swing Sisters

Illustrated by: Joe Cepeda

Publisher: Holiday House (January 1, 2015)

Suitable for ages: 7-11

Themes:  women in music, educational activism, integration, jazz, gender studies, perseverance, inspiration, US history, Jim Crow laws, stereotypes

Brief Synopsis: This book brings attention to the first interracial all female jazz/swing band, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm formed in 1939 at Piney Woods Country Life School in Mississippi. The band became popular in the 1940’s and toured the US and Europe.

The story opens by bringing attention to Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones, a black educator who started a school in 1909 for orphans in Mississippi. Music education eventually became a part of the school’s curriculum and many of the Sweethearts were part of the school band.

Swing Sisters highlights the struggles these women endured from society because of both race and gender.

Opening pages:  “Way back in 1909, not far from Jackson, Mississippi, there was a special place for orphans It was called Piney Woods Country Life School.

A man named Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones started the school. He wanted to make sure these African American kids had a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and a good education. In return, the children worked at the school to earn their keep. Some planted seeds and picked weeds outside on the farm; others chopped vegetables in the kitchen or did laundry.”

Why I like this book: A great example of history using a story that inspires and educates. During one of the most difficult times in US history when the intent of oppression from Jim Crow laws was to prevent African Americans from achievement, this band of talented women, black and white, formed and succeeded in entertaining Americans and Europeans.

Further research shows Dr. Jones came from a family of educators, with an uncle who started a school back in 1846. When Dr. Jones learned about a county in Mississippi that had an eighty percent illiteracy rate, he moved there from Missouri and eventually started Piney Woods Country Life School.

Resources: See the Teacher’s Guide here. Listen to their story on NPR. Listen to them play! Dare you not to boogie!

For more of today’s book reviews from May 15, 2015, go to author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book page.

http://www.npr.org/2011/03/22/134766828/americas-sweethearts-an-all-girl-band-that-broke-racial-boundaries

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Like A River: A Civil War Novel

Like A River: A Civil War Novel
Title: Like a River: A Civil War Novel
Author:  Kathy Cannon Wiechman
Publisher: Calkins Creek (April 2015)

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With the country at war with itself, Kathy Weichman creates a story that gives us a glimpse of life during the Civil War in this coming of age story about 15-year-old teens Leander, from Ohio, and Polly, from West Virginia. Leander enlists in the army to prove to others he is a man, and a motherless Polly does too because she refuses to be left behind by her father when he joins the Army to help keep the Union whole. Through a twist of fate, their lives cross while they navigate death, loyalty, friendship and survival. Through the author’s historical research and authentic voice, readers experience life in Civil War Army camps, a makeshift hospital, the misery of imprisonment in one of the largest Confederate military prisons, Camp Sumter at Andersonville, and the devastation brought by the Sultana explosion two weeks after the war ended. A great story to introduce one of the most difficult periods in American history to tween and teen students.
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ResourcesEducator’s Guide for Like a River: A Civil War Novel

Like a River 9209

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A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families…

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families…

It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday! My pick for today is A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat

a fine desert

Title:  A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat

Written by Emily Jenkins   

Illustrated by: Sophie Blackall

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (January 2015)

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: food history, American history, family, historical genealogy, geography, technology

Brief Synopsis: Follow four families over four centuries make the same blackberry fool dessert. The book opens in 1710 in England and the reader sees the mother and daughter picking the blackberries, beating the cream from their cow with twigs. Fast forward a hundred years to 1810 in South Carolina, then 1910 in Boston and finally to San Diego today.

Opening pages:  “A bit more than three hundred years ago in an English town called Lyme, a girl and her mother picked wild blackberries.

Their hands turned purple with the juice.

The thorns of the berry bushes pricked the fabric of their long skirts.

Why I like this book: As a family historian I spend a great deal of time researching and rummaging through genealogical records.  This book is a delightful and can be used in so many ways to introduce change over four centuries. Kids are introduced to technological advances that affected the daily lives of people. Every hundred years a new kitchen tool is used to make the cream- twigs,  a wire whisk, a rotary beater, and finally an electric mixer that affects the time it takes to prepare it. They also see sociological change through the family units presented. The illustrations show the evolution of the family over four centuries from high society, slave society, to a more middle class society that becomes more inclusive and less formal.

The author and illustrator include notes about their research lagniappe for any teacher or researcher. And of course there’s a recipe for blackberry fool!

Resources: A Fine Dessert Poster and Activities (with CCSS tie-ins) is available on the Random House website here.

For more of today’s book reviews, go to author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book page.

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New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer

New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer
It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday! My pick for today is New Shoes. 

 

newshoes

Written by: Susan Lynn Meyer

Illustrated by: Eric Velasquez

Publisher: Holiday House, January 2015

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: courage, determination, activism, community, cultural  awareness, racial discrimination

Brief Synopsis: Ella Mae is excited about getting new shoes. But she is not allowed to try on shoes at the local shoe store because she lives in the southern United States during a time when Jim Crow state and local laws ensured African-Americans did not have equal rights and were treated unfairly. She and her cousin Charlotte find a way to overcome such humiliating treatment. They work together to create an atmosphere for their community where they feel welcomed and will never experience discrimination.

Opening pages:  “My cousin Charlotte hands me the package as we stand outside Johnson’s Shoes.

“If you could have any shoes in the window,” I ask, “which would you choose?”

Why I like this book: Although a fictional account, this story is based on real life experiences of Americans who suffered from discriminatory laws and practices across the southern United States. Such laws began as early as 1890 with the Supreme Court ruling of Plessy vs. Ferguson legalizing “separate but equal” treatment for black Americans. These discriminatory laws expanded during Reconstruction after the Civil war into state and local laws known as Jim Crow. US President Johnson signed the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended Jim Crow. This book however is a reminder that these citizens did not sit by idly and accept their situation. In fact, Ella Mae and Charlotte represent the resistance and the resilience of a people in that era.

Resources: Educator’s Guide

For more book reviews, go to author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book page.

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