History

History, Louisiana, Mardi Gras

The King Cake Ban

By the late 1700s, the mayor of Paris wanted to end Carnival and ban King Cake!

As early as the 14th century, historians have found documented evidence to show revelers baked King Cakes to celebrate the winter solstice. And the fève or fava bean hidden inside was associated with bringing good luck for fertility, or a bountiful harvest, and more. The holiday became quite popular across Europe and whomever found the bean, or fève, became the king or queen for the day. There was dancing in the street, lots of drinking, and other raucous behavior that accompanied the celebrations. This provided the lowest levels of society temporary relief from societal pressures imposed by the ruling class. And in the 16th century, French bakeries (boulangeries) and pastry shops (pâtisseries) both wanted the sole right to sell the cake. It was up to the king to decide.

As Christianity spread across Europe, the church prohibited the pagan festival and the worship of non-Christian gods. To assure this happened, the church influenced their followers to celebrate Three Kings’ Day or the Epiphany on January 6th which coincided with the winter solstice. And like the three wise men, Christians would celebrate and recognize the divinity of the baby Jesus. However, the fun, festivities and cake remained popular.

In fact, in France, there was a king cake war because the cake was so popular. So who won? What establishment did the king pick to make and sell their official kings’ cake, the boulangeries or pâtisseries?

Interestingly, even today, who can sell what—and where there—remains a matter of French law! You see, there’s a difference between a boulangerie and a pâtisserie. My son is in his third year at École Ducasse in Paris studying French Pastry Arts and he enjoys viennoiserie, which is like blending pastry and bread-making, but that’s a whole other topic. A boulangerie specializes in bread and other baked goods, whereas a pâtisserie sells pastries. That’s a very simplistic explanation. It’s far more complicated!

The king’s edict of 1794 granted pastry chefs the monopoly to make the Gâteau des Rois. This ring-shaped gâteau was made of a brioche with a dough using yeast.

How did the boulangers respond?

The bakers couldn’t sell the ring-shaped cake, so they created something new. They made Galette des Rois with a puff pastry in the shape of a pie! This Kings’ Cake has multiple thin layers filled with frangipane, an almond paste. And yes, a fève is hidden inside. Today, instead of a bean, there’s a trinket of some kind, perhaps a tiny porcelain or plastic figurine.

Fast forward to Louisiana, once a French colony, where the cake tradition continues. In France, King Cakes are sold from January 6th throughout the month of January. In Louisiana, the first King Cake appears on the same date, kicking off the Carnival season. But there, they are consumed until Mardi Gras Day—Fat Tuesday. The King Cake baby is the most popular fève hidden in Louisiana King Cakes. And the baby comes in many sizes and colors.

I’ve had my share of King Cake varieties from different bakeries over the years and I continue to experiment with making my own. This year’s Epiphany cake was filled with Valrhona chocolate from Tain L’Hermitage, that my son brought home and caramelized for me.

Whether you prefer a Galette des Rois, Gâteau des Rois, or a variety of the Louisiana King Cake, you have until February 13, 2024, Mardi Gras Day, to eat your share. And if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll find the fève!

Happy Mardi Gras!

History, Holidays, Louisiana

12 Days of Christmas

Did you know? Today is the first day of Christmas! The 12 Days of Christmas starts today and ends January 5th.

Many of us know the 12 Days of Christmas song. We know it’s about someone getting lots of gifts, especially birds, from their true love. A wee research led me to a number of ideas about its origin. I found reference to an early written version from 1780 published as a children’s “memory and forfeits” game, much like ‘I went to the market and bought’ game where players are tasked with remembering and repeating what was said before their turn. Others hypothesize it’s an English Christmas carol, a French folk song from 1770, and even a ‘code’ persecuted English Catholics used to practice their faith back in the 16th-17th centuries. A century later, it was described as a game played at a Twelfth-night celebration.

Fast forward to the 19th-20th centuries and the parodies ensued. Watch this family of 12 sing their own version called “Creative 12 Days of Christmas” because it’s hilarious!

https://youtu.be/0L3cdVB3H3I

Although opinions vary about the origin or meaning behind the song, today it’s rooted in both secular and Christian Christmas traditions. And it’s so much fun to sing! Whether the song is enjoyed for a secular or religious reason, we can extend the spirit of the season 12 more days, not only through gift giving but also through acts of kindness. 

And on January 6th, also known as Twelfth Night, Le Petit Noël, Little Christmas, Feast of the Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day, the celebration continues! More about that later.

I hope you’ll join me!

 

History, Media, Nonfiction

Happy Book Birthday to OPENING THE ROAD!

To celebrate OPENING THE ROAD: VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK, I created a video using Doodly. And below the video find FREE content for curious kids I created to use with the book in the classroom.

I can’t wait to hit the road with Victor’s story. Let’s go!

History, Nonfiction, Picture books

Unboxing OPENING THE ROAD!

Unboxing is popular among authors after receiving their author copies. So here’s my unboxing video of my new book releasing January 26, 2021!

OPENING THE ROAD: VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK is the untold true story of the mail carrier who wrote the Green Book travel guides published from 1936 to 1966 that African Americans used to plan safe road trips & vacations when they didn’t have the freedom to go anywhere they wanted.

Beaming Books | ISBN: 978-1506467917
40 pages | ages 4-98

January 26, 2021

Pre-order wherever books are sold!

Bookshop | Beaming Books | Amazon | B&N

History, Media

Driving the Green Book Macmillan Podcast

Driving the Green Book is a brilliant podcast series hosted by Alvin D. Hall that explores travel and the Green Book during the era of legal segregation in the United States. Listen to stories from African Americans who used the guide to travel safely. And Hall makes connections to today’s events involving traffic stops and unfair treatment of Black travelers.

Read more about it and listen to the first episode at USA TODAY. And then subscribe!

Activism, History, Nonfiction, Picture books

OPENING THE ROAD: The Story Behind the Story

OPENING THE ROAD is the true story behind the Green Book guide Black Americans used to travel safely during legal segregation and the mail carrier who wrote it. I was honored to reveal the cover of my upcoming release on author Tara Lazar’s blog. Click on the cover to see a sample spread from the book by the talented artist Alleanna Harris.

I also wrote about my inspiration, the story behind the story, and a little about my road to publication.

BEEP! BEEP! On our way, be there January 26, 2021!

And there’s a GIVEAWAY! Comment on the blog post to enter a chance to win a copy of OPENING THE ROAD: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book.

Beaming Books | ISBN: 978-1506467917
40 pages | ages 4-8

Pre-order wherever books are sold!

Activism, History, Nonfiction, Picture books

Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book

GREEN LIGHT!

I am so excited to announce my latest book deal! And I am thrilled to be working with my agent Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary, Beaming Books, editor Naomi Krueger and the talented illustrator Alleanna Harris to bring the story of Victor Hugo Green and his Green Book to young children. Stay tuned.

BEEP! BEEP!

Coming to a shelf near you on January 19, 2021

History, Holidays, Louisiana, Mardi Gras

Why is there a baby in a King Cake?

Ever wonder why there’s a baby in a King Cake? Or how the tradition of eating King Cake during the Carnival season came about? Read my guest post over at Alphabet Soup to find the answers.

Comment and enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for a signed copy of my picture book, THE KING CAKE BABY!

Happy Mardi Gras!

History, Picture books

HER RIGHT FOOT by Dave Eggers

Today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday pick is HER RIGHT FOOT by Dave Eggers. I am often asked, “Where are you from?” Sometimes I respond, “If you tell me your immigrant story, I will tell you mine.”

HER RIGHT FOOT is an important reminder that the majority of Americans are descendants of emigrants and immigrants. Maybe your ancestors were part of the early British-American colonies or the French and Spanish colonies as mine were. Maybe they came via the Gulf of Mexico as my great-grandfather did during the 19th century, or were greeted by the Statue of Liberty in the Atlantic upon arrival from a distant land. Regardless of your family origin, this story reminds us of the early motto of the United States, E pluribus unum, “out of many, one”.

Written by: Dave Eggers

Illustrated by: Shawn Harris

Publisher: Chronicle Books (September 2017)

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: Statue of Liberty, US History, Immigration

Brief SynopsisDave Eggers tells the story behind the making of the Statue of Liberty. As the story progresses, readers learn the history behind this gift from France and most importantly, that it represents how the United States is a country that embraces and welcomes emigrants and immigrants.

Opening pages“You have likely heard of a place called France.

If you have heard of France, you may have heard of the French. They are the people who live in France.

You may have also heard of something called the Statue of Liberty.

Did you know that the Statue of Liberty comes from France?

This is true. This is a factual book.”

Why I like this book: Written in second person, the narrator addresses readers directly. The author uses a playful but instructive approach to introducing kids to fun facts about the design, construction and transportation of the Statue of Liberty. It artfully teaches the fact that our country is populated with people from many countries and cultures from around the world and ties in the symbolism of Lady Liberty as a beacon that welcomes everyone to the United States.

Resources:  

Read other perfect picture book Friday reviews at author Susanna Hill’s blog.

Happy reading!

History, Nonfiction, Picture books

She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton

Today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday pick is She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World. 

When Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) voiced her objections about the nomination of Jeff Sessions for US Attorney General during his confirmation hearing on February 7, 2017, she was silenced. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) interrupted Senator Warren as she read from the letter written in 1986 by civil rights leader Coretta Scott King. That letter helped prevent the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as a federal judge for his home state of Alabama. McConnell accused Warren of making statements that impugn the character of Sessions which he determined was against Senate rules. 

The senator presiding over the hearing advised Warren that she was out of order under Senate Procedural Rule 19. “I’m reading a letter from Coretta Scott King to the Judiciary Committee from 1986 that was admitted into the record,” Senator Warren argued. “I’m simply reading what she wrote about what the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be a federal court judge meant and what it would mean in history for her.” 

Senator McConnell asked for a vote. After a 49-43 vote split across party lines, Senator Warren was not allowed to finish nor speak again. Instead, she continued reading the letter outside the door of the Senate floor. 

Defending his actions, Mitch McConnell later explained, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”  

Inspired by that event, Chelsea Clinton wrote this book and featured thirteen other women in America who also faced opposition and or adversity but succeeded because they persisted

Written by: Chelsea Clinton

Illustrated by:  Alexandra Boiger

Publisher: Philomel Books (May 2017)

Suitable for ages: 3-8

Themes/Topics: Women in US history, perseverance, resilience 

Brief Synopsis:  In She Persisted, Chelsea Clinton introduces young readers to thirteen American women throughout history who, despite resistance from others or society, made positive contributions to our nation because of their persistence. 

Opening pages“Sometimes being a girl isn’t easy. At some point, someone probably will tell you no, will tell you to be quiet and may even tell you your dreams are impossible. Don’t listen to them. These thirteen American women certainly did not take no for an answer. They persisted.” 

Why I like this bookShe Persisted is an inspirational tribute to thirteen women whose contributions to our nation deserve recognition. Some of the women featured are well known and others are not. The colorful illustrations by Alexandra Boiger include a diverse cast of characters, girls and boys, that reflect our nation’s multicultural population. 

Perseverance, persistence, fairness, and dreaming big are common themes in children’s books. I enjoyed the inclusion of women in a book that also teaches US history. As a non-fiction book, there are endless opportunities for educational use. Students could conduct more in-depth study of each character, or research other lesser known female figures who have also helped shape our nation. The adults in this book are role models children should know about and look up to. The author includes a quote that explains why every child, especially girls, should read this picture book, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” -Astronaut Sally Ride 

Resources

Read other perfect picture book Friday reviews at author Susanna Hill’s blog

Happy reading!

Activism, History, Nonfiction, Picture books

Miss Paul and the President by Dean Robbins

Today’s Perfect Picture Book pick is Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women’s Right to Vote. 

Written by: Dean Robbins

Illustrated by: Nancy Zhang

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers  (September 2016)

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Activism, Right to vote, Women’s suffrage, US history

Brief Synopsis:  As a child Alice Paul saw her father go off to vote but not her mother. Why?  She studied the nation’s laws and knew they needed to change to allow women the right to vote. Alice protested in different ways and convinced other women to join her.

One day in 1914, she organized a parade that upstaged the arrival of the newly elected President, Woodrow Wilson. He asked to meet her. However, the president told her he had more pressing issues to deal with that working on the women’s right to vote . But that didn’t stop Alice Paul. She persisted. Even the president’s daughter Margaret agreed with Alice Paul. Then one day in 1918, President Wilson agreed too!

Opening pages:

Alice Paul hurried up and down Pennsylvania Avenue in a purple hat.

She wanted to make everything perfect for her parade. A parade in Washington D. C. no one would ever forget!”

 Why I like this bookThis is a wonderful introduction to a female activist who was instrumental in the fight for the right to vote for women. Through scenes that are both playful and serious, Robbins tells the story of activism by describing the actions and persistence of Alice Paul. 

The book is a wonderful introduction to this period in history and could spark discussion about the US Constitution as well as the role of Congress in making laws. 

Resources

  • Scroll down the author’s website for Activities for Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women’s Right to Vote. 
  • A teaching unit about women’s suffrage movement can be found from Rutgers: Teach a Girl to Lead
  • Head over to A Mighty Girl to find girl-empowering resources such as toys, movies, music and books. 

Read more of today’s reviews at author Susanna Hill’s blog.

Happy reading!

Diverse Books, History, Picture books

Sewing Stories by Barbara Herkert

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

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 Month 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!

History, Louisiana

All Saints’ Day in New Orleans

All Saints’ Day or the Feast of All Saints is celebrated every November 1st. Today is the day the Catholic Church reminds us how we’re supposed to live, as saints did. Catholics love their saints and this is a special day to honor them. A saint, by definition, is a person recognized after death as a soul who’s made it to heaven because they’ve lived a holy life on earth. They are more than faithful, but rather exceptional. They were benevolent role models, teachers, miracle workers, and intercessors, who chose to live a consecrated life taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. There’s no shortage of souls who became saints in accordance to church doctrine. In fact, there’s probably a “patron saint” to pray to for guidance or even favors for anything you need or any area in your life you’d like to improve. Each known for their special interests and or talents. The belief is, since they’re already in heaven, they’ve got your back.

Today, New Orleans families traditionally visit cemeteries to clean and decorate the tombs of our loved ones in preparation for tomorrow, All Souls’ Day. Growing up, caring for your dead was a family event.

Below is a public domain photo from 1885, Harper’s Weekly “Decorating the Tombs”.

All_Saints_Day_in_New_Orleans_--_Decorating_the_Tombs

All Souls’ Day or the Feast of All Souls is celebrated every November 2nd. I wrote about the difference between these two days last year here. For centuries, New Orleans has had a special relationship with the dead. The idea that the souls of our dead live on allows us to continue to celebrate them in life. They body is gone, the spirit lives on. We want to believe our loved ones made it into heaven. But in case they lead a less than benevolent life and their souls landed in the mid-way point called Purgatory, rather than reach the ultimate destination, today is the day we pray for their mercy. The church encourages relatives on earth to celebrate the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed. For all intents and purposes it’s an annual request for free ”get out of jail cards” for Catholics.

Although I am not there today, I do visit our family tombs when I am home. For all my family members who are out at cemeteries today, thank you. I plan to return the favor one day.

 
History, Nonfiction, Picture books

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

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.

History, Louisiana, Picture books

A Storm Called Katrina

Title: A Storm Called Katrina

Written by:  Myron Uhlberg

Illustrated by: Colin Bootman

Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (August 1, 2011)

Suitable for ages: 4 and up

Themes/Topics: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, natural disasters, family, community, survival, compassion, empathy, courage

Brief Synopsis: A Storm Called Katrina is the story of a family’s experiences with Hurricane Katrina told through the voice of Louis Daniel, a 10-year-old boy who dreamed of one day playing his trumpet like Louis Armstrong. Like many in the city, the family prepared for the storm but did not evacuate. The day after the storm the water began to rise and the family was forced to leave their home. They left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing but Louis took his horn. They were rescued and ended up in the Superdome.  Although the family survived the flood waters, the conditions in the stadium were harsh and dangerous. When his father went out to find water for the family, Louis and his mother, feeling unsafe, moved to different seats. Fearing his father would not be able to find them, Louis ran down to the football field to play his trumpet. The family is reunited when his father hears him play.

Opening Pages: “HURRICANE’S COMING, Baby,” Mama said.

“I’m not a baby anymore, Mama. I turned ten last month.”

“Doesn’t matter how old you are, Louis Daniel. You’ll always be my baby,” she said. “Hush now and go to bed.”

The wind rattled my window something fierce. When the storm howled louder, I covered my ears and hid under the blanket.”

Why I like this book: Author Myron Uhlberg writes a moving story about a tramatizing event that shows how one family was able to navigate and survive a natural disaster. However it is presented in a way that is not too scary for children and is rather touching. Illustrator Colin Bootman adds to the story with his authentic images of New Orleans at the time of the flood. I especially like the page where sunlight beaming through the torn off roof of the Superdome shines on Louis as he plays his trumpet hoping his father will hear his music. This book is a wonderful tribute to family, community, and survival.

Resources:

  • Click here to find classroom discussions questions about A Storm Called Katrina.
  • Click here for Facts for Kids.
  • Click here for Education World lessons on hurricanes.
  • Click here for Scholastic site. Hurricane Katrina for upper primary and middle school kids.
  • Click here for a wealth of articles and lessons for kids from TeacherVision
  • Click here for more about hurricanes from Science for Kids.
  • In My Heart: A Child’s Hurricane Katrina Story on YouTube.
  • Children of the Storm on YouTube
History, Louisiana, Nonfiction

A Penguin Named Patience: A Hurricane Katrina Rescue Story

Title: A Penguin Named Patience: A Hurricane Katrina Rescue Story

Written by: Susanne Lewis 

Illustrated by: Lisa Anchin

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press, February 1, 2015

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: survival, courage, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, penguins, aquarium animals

Brief Synopsis: This is a Hurricane Katrina story about the rescue and aftermath of the penguins from the New Orleans Audubon Aquarium of the Americas Aquarium of the Americas. The story is told from the perspective of Patience and begins on the night the hurricane hit the city. As the oldest and head penguin, Patience had to be patient and keep Fanny, Ernie, Kohl, Bunny, Amquel, Voodoo, Rocky, Stachmo, Dyer, Zelda, Dennis and the other in line during this ordeal. Tom, the penguin keeper, helped them stay cool and fed until they were all transported to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Tom went along too, but couldn’t stay for long. Patience, once again, had to be patient. Nine months later, and the aquarium repaired, the penguins returned home in a New Orleans style celebration!

Opening pages: “Patience knew something was terribly wrong.

It was dark and steamy hot inside her home at Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans. Being an African penguin meant she was used to a warm climate, but not this warm!”

Why I like this book: Anyone with ties to New Orleans was personally affected by the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. This is one story that highlights the struggle and determination not only to survive but return. Everyone will root for Patience and her fellow penguins to go back home!

Resources: Suzanne Lewis has activities on her site here.

  • Click here for Facts for Kids.
  • Click here for Education World lessons on hurricanes.
  • Click here for Scholastic site. Hurricane Katrina for upper primary and middle school kids.
  • Click here for a wealth of articles and lessons for kids from TeacherVision
  • Click here for more about hurricanes from Science for Kids.
  • In My Heart: A Child’s Hurricane Katrina Story on YouTube.
  • Children of the Storm on YouTube
History, Louisiana

Say What? New Orleans Street Names

Say What? New Orleans street names are hard to pronounce! Yes, indeed.

There are a lot of interesting things about New Orleans. The fact that the languages, food, music, and traditions of the Louisiana Creole culture continued after the Louisiana Purchase and US statehood is unarguably unique. In my post Say What? New Orleans Speak I introduced readers to some local lingo, popular places with a bit of history, and a pronunciation guide. Today we will look at some street names. Yeah-you-right, if you want to sound like local when visiting NOLA, there are a few street names that are particularly difficult to pronounce. Tourists come across all or most of them during a visit.

Let’s start with a review. You already know locals pronounce the name of the city as  noo OR-lunz, noo OR-lee-unz, or noo AW-linz. But did you know the city is divided into Parishes and Faubourgs? A Parish is called a county in other US cities. A Faubourg (FAUX-berg) is a holdover from the French Colonial period and refers to the parts outside the city, known today as the “burbs”. The French Quarter which is the oldest neighborhood in the city today, was the original city, so the territory built up outside of that space was considered a “faubourg” or “suburbs’’. For example, there’s a Faubourg St. John, a Faubourg Marigny (MAHR-ruh-nee) and the Faubourg Tremé (tray-MAY) made popular in the HBO series Treme. However, in the TV show, the spelling Treme could be pronounced TREAM. When spelled the French way with the diacritic over the second ‘e’, Tréme, the pronunciation changes.

Here’s the thing: the blending of a handful of old world cultures that settled in Louisiana created a new culture that has over time influenced the pronunciations of old words. So a French word or a Spanish word or a word from one of the original languages from colonial or native Louisiana languages may not be pronounced as you think.

Have some fun and give these pronunciations a try. And if you get stuck, that’s okay, just ask a local, they won’t mind!

  1. Baronne: (buh-ROAN) not (bar-ro-NAY)
  2. Burgundy Street: (bur-GUN-dee) not like the wine, (BURG-gun-dee)
  3. Carondelet: (kah-ron-duh-LET) not (kah-ron-duh-LAY)
  4. Chartres: (CHART-ers) not (char-TRESS)
  5. Conti: (KAWN-tie) not (KAWN-tee)
  6. Decatur: (duh-KAY-ter), not (dee-ca-TURE) or (deck uh-TURE)
  7. Freret: (FER-et) not (FRER-ay), the French way
  8. Iberville: (EYE-ber-ville) not (IB-er-ville)
  9. Tonti: (TAWN-tee) not (TAWN-tie) ignore #5!
  10. Tchoupitoulas: (Chop-a-TOO-luhs) not, well…you can imagine
  11. Toulouse: (TOO-loose) not (Too-LOOSE)
  12. Tulane: (TOO-lane) not (tu-LANE)

After you have it all figured out, plug in New Orleans street names to a car navigation system on your visit if you want to get a good laugh.

And please, strike up a conversation with a local while out and about. When home, the local lingo is what makes it feel like home to me. A typical greeting from an old childhood NAY-bah I may see in da MAW-nin’ could go like this, “Hey dawlin’! Where y’at? How’s yamama’n’em? You bettah come pass by ma house before you leave.”

And that is music to my ears.

History, Mardi Gras

New Orleans Trivia Quiz-Mardi Gras, Baby!

New Orleans trivia quizzes are designed as a fun way to learn about one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Rich in tradition and culture, New Orleans is known as the festival capital of the United States. The culture, customs, and many traditions celebrated throughout the year started long before US statehood, which makes the city genuinely unique.

New Orleans Carville

This first quiz tests your knowledge of Mardi Gras and that includes king cake, baby!

See my other posts about Mardi Gras and king cake and another about how to catch throws at a parade.  Head over to Goodreads to take the New Orleans Trivia multiple choice quiz. For a heads up, the questions are below.

How’s your knowledge of New Orleans’ culture?

Bonne chance! Good luck!

1. What is the first day king cake is traditionally eaten in New Orleans?

2. What does the New Orleans king cake symbolize?

3. Other than a plastic baby, what else is known to be hidden in king cakes?

4. Mardi Gras is an official holiday in which of these states?

5. Who chose purple, green, and gold as the official colors of Mardi Gras?

6. What do the words Mardi Gras mean in English?

7. What happens when you find the plastic king cake baby inside the cake?

8. What New Orleans Carnival krewe uses a bean and “mock wooden” king cake to choose their queen?

9. At a new Orleans Mardi Gras parade, the following may be caught from floats.

10. Where can you go to sample the best variety of Louisiana king cakes?

History, Nonfiction, Picture books

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 May.

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

History

Like A River: A Civil War Novel

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

***

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.
 ***
ResourcesEducator’s Guide for Like a River: A Civil War Novel

Like a River 9209

History, Picture books

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.

History, Picture books

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.

History, Louisiana

Sugar – Multicultural Children’s Book Day

 

MCCB reviewer

January 27, 2015 is Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCCBD). The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press.

MCCBD raises awareness about children’s books that embrace diversity. Mia and Valarie share such titles with others. Even though census data show 37% of the US population identify as a persons of color, only 10% of children’s books traditionally published are representative of people in those groups. MCCBD’s mission is to provide information about diverse books and share with parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians. And help get them into homes, schools and libraries. To keep current, follow them on social media. Links are provided at the end of this post. The MCCBD team, sponsors, and supporters understand that it’s important for all children to see their families, cultures, customs, traditions, languages, histories, and religions in books. And it’s equally important that others see them and stories about them in books too.

To support the mission of MCCBD, I reviewed the middle grade novel, Sugar, written by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown, 2013).

sugar

 

“Everyone likes sugar. But I hate it.” Says the ten-year-old girl, also named Sugar, an emancipated slave living on a sugar plantation and working as a sharecropper in post-Civil War Louisiana. Sugar knows first-hand that working with sugar cane is hard work and it kills. She also knows what her mother told her on her deathbed, “Do. See. Feel.” Despite the hard work, and poor living conditions Sugar finds ways, often frowned upon by the elders in her community and her ex-master, to follow her mother’s advice. She gets into trouble often. And she must navigate her world in order to honor her mother’s final word, “Survive.” The plantation owner’s son and Sugar become friends and that brings trouble. Chinese workers come to work on the plantation. Sugar wants to befriend the new workers against the wishes of her community. More trouble. But for every trouble, there is also change.

Rhodes writes a story about a very difficult period in Louisiana history. It is an American story. Mostly it is a story about a girl, once physically enslaved, then bound to a life of hard labor after emancipation. But the reader soon realizes Sugar’s mind is not enslaved or held in bondage. She just has to find a way to freedom.

How to celebrate and support Multicultural Children’s Books today & everyday: 

 

 

History, Louisiana, Mardi Gras

King Cake, Mardi Gras, Baby!

King cake, Mardi Gras, parades, krewes – all traditions unique to New Orleans and Louisiana culture here in the US.

Everyone in Louisiana knows what day it is! It’s Kings’ Day, January 6th, the first day of the Carnival Season!

When people learn I am from New Orleans, they often ask about our Carnival or Mardi Gras traditions. I always include a bit of history about king cake and the tiny plastic baby that is hidden inside. The idea for my upcoming debut picture book, The King Cake Baby, came to me while making a king cake. I couldn’t find a baby and panic ensued. If you don’t have a  king cake baby to hide inside, the pastry is just a cinnamon roll!

And I was listening to New Orleans music. So first, here’s a song. Sing along!

Eh là bas! Eh là bas! [Hey over there! Hey over there!]

Eh là bas chérie! [Hey over there, dear.]

Komen ça va? [How’s it going?]

(New Orleans musician Don Vappie on banjo and vocal)

Read on if you’d like to learn more about our traditions. The history of our Carnival and Louisiana king cake practices stem from the periods of colonization as well as English tradition. Combining cake customs from the French and Spanish rulers created the foundation for this Louisiana Creole tradition celebrated on the last day of Christmas also known as Little Christmas, Feast of the Epiphany or Twelfth Night. The beginning of Carnival is always on January 6th and is also known as Kings’ Day. King cakes are baked and eaten throughout this time, known as the  pre-Lenten season. Carnival or “carne vale,” means “farewell to the flesh”. Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent, is the last day of Carnival. In 2015, Mardi Gras Day is February 17th. Although always a Tuesday, the date varies, therefore the length of the season does too. The number of days during Carnival depends on the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church. It’s the time between Twelfth Night (in New Orleans, that’s between January 6th and the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday.) Actually, the date for Easter Sunday sets the length of the Mardi Gras season.

Carnival is celebrated all over the world. And cakes are made too. In France & Québec the cake is called La galette de rois, in Spain and places they colonized like Mexico, South America, Florida, and California the cake is called Rosca de Reyes or ring of kings, in Germany its Dreikonigskuchen, in Scotland, the Black Bun, in Portugal, Bola-Rei. And many more I did not mention. In Louisiana, king cake is a symbol associated with the spirit of Carnival.

Many are surprised to hear that Carnival was not always a mass public daytime celebration in New Orleans. The first Mardi Gras parades were organized in Mobile, Alabama! In 1837, when the people of New Orleans started publicly celebrating in the streets, they were so wild that the government almost banned these celebrations. Yikes! By 1856, the private club or ”krewe” named the Mistick Krewe of Comus from Mobile came to New Orleans to save Mardi Gras. They organized a festive and safe event with floats, masked members who paraded in the street wearing costumes, and hosted masquerade balls .

Credit for the merriment of Mardi Gras seen today in New Orleans goes to the Krewe of Rex dating back to 1872. When Russia’s Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff visited New Orleans, the Krewe of Rex arranged a daytime parade. In 1875 Mardi Gras became a legal state holiday. Decade after decade the celebration grew. More krewes started, bands and throws like beads and doubloons were added to the parades. With the addition of larger krewes and celebrity participation Mardi Gras in New Orleans became an international event.

Louisiana “king cake”, known as kings’ cake or three kings cake in Europe and Latin America, takes its name from Catholic liturgical tradition commemorated on January 6th that celebrates the visit of the Wise Men or three kings to visit the Baby Jesus. The Twelfth Night Revelers, a Carnival society from 1870 chose the “Lord of Misrule” as their king at their ball, following old English tradition. The following year they started the tradition of choosing a queen for his majesty on January 6th. Today that tradition continues, using a “mock” king cake, and the event is considered a kick-off to the Carnival season. King cake eventually became a symbol for the start of the Mardi Gras among locals who were not members of these grand societies. The Krewe of Rex chose the colors associated with Mardi Gras today; purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power also used to decorate king cakes. In the French tradition, originally a bean or la fève, was hidden inside a king cake. Early on Spain used figurines to represent the Baby Jesus. In Louisiana, pecans and even jewelry were used. However it wasn’t until the 1940’s, that a beloved New Orleans bakery, McKenzie’s, started using the plastic baby we see hidden in king cakes today. In Catholic tradition, the baby represents the Baby Jesus. Whoever gets the baby or whatever is hidden inside is supposed to bring the next king cake or host the next king cake party or could be “crowned” king or queen.

Retail stores love Christmas, florists love Valentine’s Day, chocolatiers love Easter, and Louisiana bakeries love the king cake season!  By 1950, the public began buying lots of king cakes. Today, thousands of cakes are eaten and shipped around the world during the Louisiana Mardi Gras season.

And now New Orleans hosts its very own King Cake Festival! The second annual King Cake Festival scheduled for January 25, 2015 is sure to be fun!

Starting today, EAT. KING. CAKE. if you are in New Orleans, join the festival. Plan a trip to see a Mardi Gras parade. Just don’t forget the baby mon ami!

History, Louisiana

All Saints’ Day vs. All Souls Day

Today, November 2, is All Souls Day. It is a day of prayer for the dead, particularly but not exclusively, our relatives. Whereas, yesterday, All Saints’ Day, the Catholic church asks followers to live as saints did, on All Souls’ Day we honor and ask for mercy for our ancestors and the souls departed from this world as we know it.

Yesterday, on All Saint’s Day, the family back home cleaned our family tombs in cemeteries around the city, some so old they were built when la Louisiane was still a colony. Today, on All Souls’ Day we honor our dead because we believe their souls and spirits live on even when the body dies. To us death is not creepy or scary, it’s a part of life. In a way, we keep our dead alive, the lines a little blurry. Our ancestors live on in those left behind in their families and communities. Those are our customs and traditions and in our culture, that’s the way we roll.

I lost two elders recently, a 5th cousin and my mother. Today they are in my thoughts and heart as are all the family departed I was fortunate to know in their lifetimes. As our family historian, I also honor our ancestors whose stories I have uncovered, buried in documents and dusty archives. Prayers up mama, love and miss you dearly. Tell everyone I said hello.

ECCLESIASTICUS 44TH CHAPTER, VERSES 1-10 AND VERSES 13-14.

Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations. The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning. There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name for themselves by their valor; those who gave counsel because they were intelligent; those who spoke in prophetic oracles; those who led the people by their counsels and by their knowledge of the people’s lore; they were wise in their words of instruction; those who composed musical tunes, or put verses in writing; rich men endowed with resources, living peacefully in their homes-all these were honored in their generations, and were the pride of their times. Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise. But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them. But these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten. Their offspring will continue forever, and their glory will never be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.

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