Personal posts by public historian, Rose O'Keefe
Another Binge-read Afternoon
I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling disoriented by the shift to a strange new normal. Besides some tasty snacking, reading is my favorite way to handle things. The weekly lists from Kidlit411 are to blame for ordering books by the same author and binge reading after coming home from the library.
Audrey Penn was someone I wasn’t familiar with and I read The Kissing Hand (1993 and 2006) a touching and beautifully illustrated story about Chester, a young raccoon afraid of going to school; A Pocket Full of Kisses (2006) has Chester learning to adjust to the presence of his baby brother and learning there is more than enough love to go around; in A Kiss Goodbye (2007) Chester’s family of Mom and baby brother have to leave their tree home for a new location. Gorgeous illustrations soften the reality of their neck of the woods being slated to be cut down.
Sassafras (1995) shows how animal friends teach a young skunk to accept his unique trait and relax. Much as I enjoyed the marvelous illustrations, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed by the charming fantasy of all kinds of baby animal playing together. In Chester the Brave (2012) our little racoon wants life to stay cozy and safe to avoid the new and scary step of reciting his lessons at school. The beautiful images soften the tension of trying something new.
An Irish Night Before Christmas by Sarah Kirwan Blazek (1995) offers an upbeat and off-the-wall take on an Irish Father Christmas and his seven elves.. Definitely original and funny.
Years ago, I knew a different version of the traditional song, Today Is Monday in New York (2011) adapted by Johnette Downing. The rhymes and pacing work most of the time, but the words paired with marvelous collages of a growing picnic and foods are truly striking.
Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie by Laurie Jacobs (2012) is one of a kind. This well-worn library book must be popular. The things that happen when Grandma babysits her granddaughters are zany, whacky and fun.
There are two Snow Days: one by WNY author Peggy Thomas from 2008, a delightful tribute to the joy of playing in the snow and forgetting all the to-dos. The other, by Leslie Evans from 1997, is a reminder of simpler, more innocent times. Some of the rhymes are truly fun.
F Is for Firefighting by Dori Hillestad Butler (2009) is an impressive A-Z primer about the work that firefighters do and the tools they use. Honestly, it’s a real page-turner and I couldn’t wait to find out what she had for Z. Strong, clear illustrations add to the text.
Sometimes in order not to overdo, I need keep myself quietly busy. Thank heavens for so many good books.
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley (2015) had me hooked from the beginning. Good names, setting, surprises, wonderful illustration. What an imaginative story about a boy, his dying grandfather and grouchy aunt. I read it (292 pp. easy-size print) in one afternoon and evening.
The Magic in Changing Your Stars by Leah Henderson (2020) is enchanting. The layout, the story, the setting and characters are both familiar – parents, Grandpa, boy and students. They’re also portrayed so as to be believable and entertaining and the MC character’s challenge to get over brain freeze takes a surprising twist to another time. The outcome in one time zone is moving beyond words. The final outcome is a delightful surprise.
Fish in a Tree by Lunda Mullaly Hunt (2015) is an astounding drop into the mindset of a brilliant girl who can’t read. The way she thinks but can’t speak up and how she makes friends in the jumble of a new class are well told. This has painful truths and in this case, things work out marvelously well. I can’t think of how many really smart people I know who don’t thrive in a conventional classroom. Makes me want to shout from the rooftops!
Sorry to say, after reading three of Jess Keating’s impressive NF Shark Lady, Ocean Speaks and Eat Your Rocks, Croc, I couldn’t make the switch to her fiction for young readers like How to Outrun a Crocodile. No biggie. So many books, only so much time.
I finally finished 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann (2011). What an amazing re-write of conventional history! I understand the need to tell the complete story. His four appendices are as good as the rest of the book. The bibliography is 60 pages – yikes, all in that small print!
Just because I spend too much time on the computer and it’s been too cool for gardening, I’ve been reading a lot. Here’s the latest batch:
Together We March by Leah Henderson (2021): this is a remarkable and disturbing illustrated collection of activists from 1905 to 2018, from the United States and around the world. Part of me wishes this book didn’t need to be written; part of me is glad it was. Much as I love to rush through a good read, this one took several sittings to digest.
Dark Was The Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars, by Gary Golio (2020): What a beautiful story, so well told and illustrated. I have yet to listen to the Johnson’s recording that was selected for the Golden Record message to the Universe from Planet Earth that was included on Voyager I in 1977. Just reading about it was inspiring.
Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed The Ocean’s Biggest Secret: by Jess Keating (2020): This is both a wonderfully illustrated and told story of the woman who mapped the deepest mountains in the oceans. Despite constant pressure not to go into the sciences, she never gave up. In the face of rejection and disbelief she found a way to let her talents speak for themselves.
Eat Your Rocks, Croc: Dr. Glider’s Advice for Troubled Animals by Jess Keating (2020) is a delightful way to learn little-known facts about the animal world. It is a perfect break.
Mamie On The Mound: A Woman in Baseball’s Negro Leagues by Leah Henderson (2020) is another marvelous example of little-known stories coming to light. This one’s about Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, who was such a good pitcher that at age 19, she and a few other women traveled around the country for several years with the Indianapolis Clowns, a men’s team in the Negro Leagues. Amazing!
Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating (2017): here’s another remarkable true story about a young girl who never gave up on learning everything she wanted to know about sharks. Clark died at age 92 in 2015. How I wish I’d learned about her sooner.
Forward: My Story by Abby Wambach (2016): An honest story with good-sized print got me through this page turner in one sitting.
FYI, I read all but Together in one afternoon. Better than a box of chocolates. A 1,000 and 1 thank-yous to Monroe County Public Library for so many books to choose from at the touch of the keyboard. This was the first time in over a year in which I checked out my books at the front desk at the F. D. Community branch library. (5.14.2021) Such odd progress, right?
More on tell the truth
More on 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann. It is a slow but compelling read. Out of the ten-thousand-and-one facts listed, I keep going back to one. In May 1539 when Hernando de Soto landed near Tampa Bay, Florida, he arrived with 600 soldiers, 200 horses and 300 pigs. The soldiers built barges and crossed the Mississippi River near (today’s) Memphis. De Soto and his soldiers were the first to glimpse pre-contact native North America. They were also the first Europeans in the area for over 100 years.
In 1682, when Robert Cavelier de La Salle traveled down the Mississippi, fifty settlements noted in De Soto’s day had shrunk to ten. By the time de la Salle arrived, disease had wiped countless natives out. How? Small pox and measles would have wiped out De Soto’s soldiers as well. It was the pigs.
In keeping with the theme of “Tell the truth and shame the devil” The Water Is Wide, is Pat Conroy’s account of his year teaching on Yamacraw Island, S. C. His own growth from a dyed-in-the-wool conventional thinker about race to a staunch advocate for the lowliest of the low is heart-wrenching and heart-warming.
I love good reads like Gary Paulsen’s fiction and non-fiction. Once I start certain books though, I feel compelled to finish them. One of those slow reads is Blackface Nation: Race, Reform, and Identity in American Popular Music, 1812-1925, by Brian Roberts. The beginning of the book seemed so bawdy, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. Then it shifted. If you’ve ever decried the sexualization of advertising to change the public’s mind, it begins here. It is a sobering read.
Another is America’s First Frontier: New York’s Pioneers and Their Fight for Freedom, by Francis Whiting Halsey. The Halsey name has local connections around Trumansburg and Rochester, NY, so I wanted to find out what the author had to say. This book was first published in 1901. The reprint in 2020 is by HVA Press in Warwick, NY. I checked, and it’s near the New Jersey state line. While I have been open to versions of history written with a strong slant, this one tested my open-mindedness because it is so pro-Protestant preaching in the Mohawk region. It is also anti-native, and lists lots of settlers whose names mean little now unless you have a strong interest. Even so, Halsey wrote a remarkable tribute to Mohawk leader Joseph Brant. I also kept wishing for a map.
As for a third, I’m still treading through 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann. What an amazing re-write of conventional history! I understand the need to tell the complete story-but. At over 400 pages, with small print, this one is tough on the eyes and I need to take it in small doses.
Time to Heal
I’ve just finished three books about Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan founder of the Green Belt Movement and the first African Woman to win a Nobel Prize, in 2004. The first book, Wangari Muta Maathai, (2018) in the How I Changed the World series, is a MG biography that I thought would be a fast, easy and cheerful. What a wake-up call about the challenges, setbacks and hardships she faced. The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience (2003) was more of a manual detailing the ten steps toward creating working tree nurseries to empower rural women and men to reclaim their deforested lands. The third, Unbowed: A Memoir (2006) is a dense and at times disturbing account of her unrelenting path towards democracy, dignity and equality first for her beloved rural Kenyans and then beyond. The environmental effect colonization wrought across Africa contrasts badly with Maathai’s family's traditional links to the land. It made me think of what colonization did all across North and South America. It’s time to heal in so many ways.
My second appearance on the Carla Murphy Show
Appearance on Carla Murphy Show
Hello, History Friends,
I recently had the pleasure of speaking on The Carla Murphy Show Uniquely Different
On The Personal Side Part 2
My heroes: Joan of Arc, a Pacific Islander girl Karana and her dog Rontu, and Martin de Porres.
I used to read comic books like Archie and Veronica, Superman but between 1957 and 1961, I read French Catholic comic books of the lives of the saints. That’s how Joan of Arc, patron saint of France, became my shero.
For my 10th birthday I received a copy of The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell and kept it for years, weeping every time I read it.
A biography of Martin de Porres touched me deeply. He was a lay monk who lived in 16th-century Lima and is the patron saint of mixed-race people and those who seek racial justice. He’s a life-long hero.
I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott several summers in a row, and Anne of Green Ga
On The Personal Side Part 1
Family Facts: Three sisters and three brothers, one son and one daughter; one grandson and one granddaughter.
My husband and I have had four dogs and about 10 cats. I’ve kept a compost pile for 45 years.
Favorite books from when I was a girl:
Anderson’s Fairy Tales and Peter Rabbit
Several of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables