Personal posts by public historian, Rose O'Keefe
At the Moment
I picked up two Newbery award winners at the library last week, and started Bud, Not Buddy (2000) by Christopher Paul Curtis. What a stunning story of an orphaned ten-year-old Black boy in Flint, in the 1930s. Curtis’s word choices are wonderful. The story’s pace and the plot deliver one surprise after the next. Can’t wait to find out how it ends. I have not yet started Holes (1999 winner) by Louis Sachar.
E. L. Konigsburg’s The View from Saturday, (1997 Newbery Award) showed four sixth graders from the fictional town of Epiphany, NY who became best friends despite different cultures, divorce, split parenting, racism and bullying.
In Walk Two Moons, the 1995 Newbery-Award winner, author Sharon Creech told the “extensively strange story” of Phoebe Winterbottom as shared by 13-year-old “Chickabiddy” Salamanca Tree Hiddle on a cross-country trip with her doddering grandparents. They went to every location from which Sal’s absent mother had sent her a postcard. This is a layered story, full of unusual names, characters and connections. I never predicted the outcome.
Last year I read many remarkable books with outstanding characters, settings and plots. Many thanks to: Marguerite deAngeli for Young Robin, who survived the bubonic plague in England, in The Door in the Wall (1950); to Meindert DeJong for Lina, set in a Dutch hamlet that no longer had storks, in The Wheel on the School (1955); to Harold Keith for 16-year-old Jefferson Davis Bussey and his mishaps during the Civil War in Rifles for Waitie (1958).
Lately the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle’s sports section has had a number of satisfying articles. One was the feature with photos about Najiah Knight, a 17 year-old from Oregon, who plans to champion in professional bull riding. Knight has had her eye on winning since she was 3 . Thank you to AP reporter Anne M. Peterson and others for this engaging story.
It was worth the price of a subscription to read the article in Sunday’s Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on how wrongfully-imprisoned Michael Rhynes not only endured 37 years in prison, but touched many people’s lives for the better. Rhynes studied holy books before finding redemption from his living nightmare. Thank you to Justin Murphy for local reporting that made reading the newspaper worthwhile.
I usually have a to-do list. Now that my husband and I are downsizing, my list has grown if not exploded making it harder to stay on top of my goal of reading all the Newbery Award winners. I have about 30 to go, but I’ve been sidelined by books that I plan to let go of, like two of Shel Silverstein’s: A Light in the Attic (1981) and Falling Up (1996). They brought back fond memories from our children’s school days.
After reading the “Your Turn” article in Sunday’s Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, “Support the Rights of All to Grieve and Protest” by Mical Raz and Nora Rubal, my husband handed it to me to read, saying it was good. I agreed, it was.
Saturday, while sitting by my card table at Boulder Coffee Café, one of the first people to stop by was former city photographer Ira Srole. Ira pointed to the top of the cover of my third book, Historic Genesee Country, and said he took that picture. I told him that was the first picture I ever saved on what turned out to be many long dark winter evenings scrolling through the Rochester Public Library’s online images and I still had it in my photos files. Wow. After retiring from the city a few years ago, Ira now works full time at the George Eastman Museum. He also writes plays and has one pending about the upcoming solar eclipse this coming spring.
While sorting my books to let some go, I gave in to the temptation to re-read a few. RunninÃ¢â¬â¢ Crazy, (1996) by then Rochester City Historian Ruth Rosenberg-Naparsteck with Edward P. Curtis Jr., took me by surprise. IÃ¢â¬â¢m sure IÃ¢â¬â¢d looked at the old photos after I bought it at a history talk in 2008. This time, I read all the text and felt so touched by the last-page description of the authors by the late historian Shirley Cox-Husted.
When I had to rest up after surgery eight months ago, magazines, like the monthly CITY, brightened my day – and still do. The November 2023 issue on food and drink had a lively blend of photos of people and food, and the events calendar was so entertaining. Jeff Spevak’s “End of an Error” gave a memorable overview of his 44-year career.
Our Big Day
Last night I heard acclaimed author Lesa Cline Ransome speak at our monthly RACWI meeting. Rochester Area Children’s Writers and Illustrators organizes the Children's Book Festival to be held tomorrow at Monroe Community College, and she was guest speaker ahead of our big day. Cline Ransome gave a powerful and humorous view of her writing career.
The Love of Books
I am looking forward to Rochester Children’s Book Festival this Saturday Nov. 4 at MCC from 10 am. to 4 p.m. In the morning, I will listen to other wonderful authors. Starting at 1 p.m., I will sign my books, and at 3:20 I will give a talk on “Why the Frederick Douglass family moved to Rochester.” A books lovers’ heaven.
It was a pleasure to receive the paperback proof for All Rights for All: Working for Justice on Wednesday. They say, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” and it looked good to me. The link through Amazon is https://rokeefehistory.com/product/all-rights-for-all-working-for-justice.
A kind friend told me that on Amazon you have to click through "Read More" to see the links https://rokeefehistory.com/product/all-rights-for-all-working-for-justice. Got it.
Since the fruit on the pawpaw trees in our backyard have started to ripen, I have to check them for drops and those still hanging. Pawpaws are a fussier than avocados for being edible only when exactly ripe. You have to peel the skin, remove the large seeds, and then it’s best to mash the pulp with lemon juice. The flavor is so intense, it can be a bit much, but the mash is good for smoothies or to use instead of bananas in banana bread recipes.
So Many Books
BirchBark Bookshop is a locally-owned store in an old barn in Parishville, NY that carries 75,000 used books on never-ending shelves. It’s open from 1-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays all year, and the day we visited was as glorious an autumn day in the North Country as you could wish for. After asking what I was reading, the owner steered me to the YA section where I chose Misty of Chincoteague and Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague, both by Marguerite Henry. Misty received a 1948 Newbery Honor Award, and Sea Star which came out in 1949 told of the filming of the wild-horse round up, and later led to a movie.
Congratulations to my good friend Joanne Russo Insull on her latest book: 43 Windthorpe Road. Three of us, who read through many revisions of this YA mystery, agreed we couldn’t wait to read it!
Hits and a Miss
USA TODAY’s insert for Woman of the Year in the Sept. 12 paper started with Quannah Chasinghorse, an amazing woman who has become an environmental activist, model and Native American advocate. Others honored included famous women like Goldie Hawn and Michelle Obama, and lesser knowns like a NASA astronaut, a deaf and LGBTQ+ college president, a professor, an actress, an LGBTQ+ governor, and a Chinese-American author. I didn’t read all the state honorees, but the NYS woman whose niece died in the supermarket murders in Buffalo last year, made me pause.
In A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal 1830-32, Joan W. Blos’s 1980 Newbery Award winner, 13-year-old Catherine is the mother-of-the-house for her widowed father and younger sister in New Hampshire. Her entry for January 1831 told of the sisters bundling up to watch eleven teams of oxen clear country roads after heavy snows. The day ended with their father using his axe to break off chunks of frozen soup to thaw for the evening meal. Catherine’s friendship with a neighbor, school and church attendance, weddings and deaths were honestly told.
The Six Month Mark
Last week, I passed the six-month mark after heart surgery by doing things I couldn’t have imagined at the end of February. Biggest on my to-do list was getting back to rowing on the Genesee River with my teammates on ROCCREW Naiades Rowing Over Cancer. It was as good as I remembered and much harder. What made me think I could row in June? I really enjoy cardiac rehab with the great team at URMC at Canal View Boulevard but as prepared as I was, it was still an effort. Even so, being an experienced rower in a learn-to-row boat introducing the sport to others was wonderful!