Tag Archives: social history

Stand Up and Sing!

Folk music has always held a special place in my heart. Summer camp meant singing time honored songs of this genre, and while others were listening to 80s hair bands, I was happily ensconced in American folk. I grew up knowing the words to almost every song by Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon & Garfunkle, Joan Collins, Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills & Nash. From an early age this style of music touched me deeply and probably helped form some of my pacifist and liberal ideas.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books has just put out an amazing account of the life of Pete Seeger, one of the fathers of the American Folk movement called Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice. Covering his life from early childhood to his death in 2014, author Susanna Reich put together a book that might help the next generation think more deeply about the world around them and the music they listen to.

For Seeger, music was in his bones, but he also was a very well read and aware of politics at an early age. He was a child of the Great Depression and had a really difficult time understanding why some people had great wealth and some had nothing. His father took him to parades and marches for working people and he saw how music could unite people.

Reich does a great job of showing how Seeger learned various music styles by traveling and being exposed to a wide variety of cultures and experiences. And just as Pete Seeger influenced a slew of other artists, it was Woody Guthrie who took him under his wing and showed him that “music could fill a room with peace and harmony.”

Pete Seeger used his music to try and make important changes in our world. He dreamed of a world where there were fewer people struggling to get by. He believed strongly in workers’ rights and racial equality, things that were considered “un-American” in his time. In the time of McCarthy, Pete was blacklisted for his beliefs.

An interesting part of the book comes when it talks about Seeger’s friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the fact that it was Seeger who introduced King to the song “We Shall Overcome.”

When I think of American Folk music, I think of the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s. Some of my all-time favorite tunes were ones that Seeger wrote but which I heard performed by Peter, Paul & Mary – If I Had a Hammer, Turn! Turn! Turn!, and Where have all the Flowers Gone. These were the songs that ached for peace and lamented a war that took so many lives and accomplished little to nothing.To me, folk music is all about bringing people together and lifting them up. Get the right group of adults together today and you can have a really awesome singing fest of music old and new. Music is a tool to inspire people. Pete Seeger inspired a generation of singers and songwriters along with activists and believers. This book is an awesome tribute to his life and his genius.

Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the  Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!

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Nonfiction 10 for 10 2017 – Black History Month

Every year there is a meme for lists of nonfiction picture books called the 10 for 10. I don’t always remember to participate, but I am thrilled that I managed to get my act together this year. I started thinking about my list when I was deep in the throws of Multicultural Children’s Book Day and also finding some really wonderful books about strong women. So for my contribution this year, I give you 10 picture books about important aspects in African American History and one book that is less picture book and more a great listing of important people and moments in Black History.

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Thank you to Cathy Mere from Reflect and RefineMandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning  and Julie Balen of Write at the Edge for hosting this meme. Click here to read all of the top ten lists shared.

28daysEvery February we are reminded that it is Black History month. Author Charles R. Smith, Jr. admits that he has a love-hate relationship with Black History Month and I can see his point. Why? Because school children hear the same few stories over and over again and don’t really learn anything. In 28 Days, we are shown 28 subjects in chronological order from Crispus Attucks in 1776 through Barack Obama. This masterpiece brings Black History month to life.

apple-for-harrietAn Apple for Harriet Tubman brings to life what it was like to be a slave, to work endlessly but never taste the fruits of your labor in a way that children can understand. To continuously fear being whipped, to fear that you would be sold and separated from your family. It also teaches of the miracles that Harriet Tubman and those working on the Underground Railroad achieved.

henry-boxThe stories that people tell of escaping from slavery through the Underground Railroad are amazing, but learning of Henry’s story in Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad was astonishing. As a slave, his life was difficult, but with his family around him he made it through. When his wife and children were sold to different owners, however, he could no longer take his life. A few weeks later, he devised a plan along with help from others to literally ship himself to freedom.  His story became famous and is a very interesting perspective for children to read.

juneteenthEvery year there is apparently a celebration of freedom that I had never heard of. According to author Floyd Cooper in Juneteenth for Mazie, every June 19th “Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of African-American citizens throughout the entire United States.” This sweet story is told as a father reminds young Mazie of the important time when her great-great-great-grandfather crossed into liberty. It reminds all children of the hardships that African-Americans faced in this country, the struggles that they continued to deal with after earning their freedom, and just how far they have come.

first-stepWhen we think about the fight to end segregation in schools, we usually think about Brown vs the Board of Education in 1954. But in The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial, we learn the story of how Sarah Roberts and her family started that fight back in 1847 in Boston. Her family knew that the Otis School was for white students only, but it was also tremendously closer than the closest school for African-Americans and far superior. She went to the Otis school without a problem until the school board realized and a policeman came and escorted her out. Her parents fought the rule of school segregation, led by a law team of Robert Morris and Charles Sumner, an African-American and a white man who “despised the way his country treated African Americans.” They lost, but they started a spark. Sarah’s father got people to sign petitions that said that all children should be able to attend their neighborhood schools and the people of Boston agreed. In 1855, Boston became the first major American city to integrate its schools. This outstanding book showed how the fight had to continue through the Civil War, the KKK, Jim Crow laws and finally with Linda Brown and her family taking the case to the Supreme Court but this time winning. A very powerful and moving book.

books-and-bricksEducation plays a common theme in books about the African American experience. In With Books & Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School, we see the amazing story of how Booker T. Washington created what is now Tuskeegee University. As a child, Booker T. Washington got a glimpse of a schoolhouse while a slave and felt a magical pull. When slavery ended, Washington wanted to learn to read more than anything else, and while he did learn, he still had to work back-breaking hours in salt and coal mines. When he heard of a school in Virginia that actually taught Black students, he saved money to find his way there.  After getting his own education, he became a teacher himself. He got a job in Tuskegee, but there was no building. He slowly built a school, brick by brick. Amazing perseverance and determination.

thestoryofrubybridgesWe can all learn an invaluable lesson from young Ruby Bridges as eloquently described in The Story of Ruby Bridges. In 1960 she was the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. Every day, she was ushered into school with Federal Marshalls because the local police didn’t want to help her and there were large crowds of angry white people telling her that she didn’t belong. She learned to read and write in a classroom all by herself for, out of protest, none of the white children were sent to school. Each day, before and after school, she prayed for the people around her, not for herself, “because even if they say those bad things, they don’t know what they’re doing.” Ruby Bridges showed true bravery and this is a wonderful tribute to her.

ruth-and-green-bookWe take for granted that we can drive across the country and find the amenities we need just off the road. We even have signs telling us what food, gas, and lodging awaits us at the next off-ramp. But for African-Americans, that was definitely not always the case. Ruth and the Green Book tells us of young Ruth who was leaving Chicago for the first time to drive to her grandmother’s in Alabama. Along the way, they struggled to find bathrooms and hotels that would give them the time of day. In Tennessee, a friend gave them a warning about Jim Crow laws and struggles as they went further south and told them to look out for Esso gas stations. At the first Esso they found they were told about the Negro Motorist Green Book which listed places that black people would be welcome and it changed the rest of their travels. A wonderful lesson about a trying time in American history and the power of a group of people to band together, support each other, and make the best of it. The book also has a wonderful page of the history of the Green Book in the back.

ellingtonA look at Black History would be incomplete without a look at jazz music. One of the jazz greats was Duke Ellington. This colorful book by Andrea Davis Pinkney tells of Ellington’s early years and how ragtime music brought him back to playing the piano. He became a legend in the musical world. With great illustrations and lyrical text, this book tries to bring jazz to the reader.

charlestonHey Charleston! The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band brings us the history of the Charleston along with the wonderful story of Reverend Daniel Joseph Jenkins. Reverend Jenkins inadvertently set up an orphanage for young boys in 1891. To drown out the colorful words coming from the prison next door, Jenkins had the boys singing. That gave him the idea to teach the boys how to play musical instruments along with their regular school lessons. Before long, the Jenkins Orphanage Band was playing music with a rhythm and style known as rag and some of the boys would lead the band by doing a dance inspired by their Geechee heritage. When they went to play in New York City, people didn’t know the name of the band and would instead yell out, “Hey, Charleston! Give us some rag!” People would dance along with the leaders in what would become the Charleston. This was a fascinating book about an important part of musical and cultural history not to be missed!

willieBaseball is America’s sport. Willie and the All-Stars  gives voice to the time before Jackie Robinson, a time when African-Americans were not allowed to play on the white teams. Back then, there was the Negro League where exceptionally talented Black men could play baseball. The story is a wake-up call for young Willie who loves baseball, but doesn’t even realize that there is a Negro League. He dreams of being a baseball player and the Major League is where the “real” players play. But Ol’ Ezra teaches him that “being a Major League ballplayer is about a lot more than how good a fella is. It’s also about the color of his skin. And yours is the wrong color.” The Negro Leauge is an important part of baseball history, just as the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League is. This is a marvelous book for baseball fans and historians alike, although I think it would have also been great to mention the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Back in 2014 when this blog was only a  few months old and I was trying to find my voice, a blogger that I followed announced that she and another blogger were starting a day of awareness for multicultural children’s books. The reasoning behind this was because so many of the books available for children showed a very monochromatic view of the world. As a Jew living in the rural south not able to find the same selections of books that I would have while living in Los Angeles or New York, the notion truly hit home. I jumped on board and have never looked back.

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Since then, it turns out that I seem to be oddly drawn to multicultural texts, but I do realize that they are not the norm and that not all children are exposed to them. A big reason behind starting Multicultural Children’s Book Day was because more kids should be able to see themselves in the books that they read as children. I agree with that, but I also see that unless children are exposed to other cultures and ideas, they don’t always realize that people who are different than they are exist. I desperately want my children to understand that there is a large world out there and we all need to respect and hopefully try to understand all of the different ways of thinking.

cambodian dancer cover
This year, I was sent an absolutely beautiful book called The Cambodian Dancer: Sophany’s Gift of Hope by Daryn Reicherter. This book was inspired by the true story of Sophany Bay, a dancer in Cambodia who had to escape the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s.

The book does not focus on the negativity of the Khmer Rouge, but instead focuses on Sophany and her love of dance. The beautiful illustrations by Christy Hale bring the reader to Cambodia. The dancers clothing and costumes during performances depict the culture and the importance of the traditional dance in their history.

cambodian dancerThen after the Khmer Rouge came, beautiful shadow puppets are utilized to show the sadness that people felt in a way to soften the blow and to show how devoid of emotion Sophany felt. As the pages say, “Many of the dancers disappeared. Those who were left behind became as shadow puppets, secret and saddened.” As the author’s note in the back of the book explains, the Khmer Rouge took away the arts, culture, religion and education. And “Sophany was forced to move far away,” or escape as the case may be.

In America, it saddened Sophany that young Cambodian children did not know the dances of her lost home. “She remembered the dance that was forced into hiding,” and decided to teach it to the next generation. Teaching children again gave her back her happiness and a sense of joy in her life and helped keep her culture alive.golden gate

Talking to children about horrible things that have happened in other countries is incredibly difficult. Each year, I struggle to talk to my Hebrew School class about the Holocaust, even though each year that they grow older, they are able to understand it on a better level. My children know that historically the Jews have struggled with persecution, but we are not the only ones by far. Showing situations like what happened in Cambodia can help make some sense of what is going on in Syria for them now. This book was a beautiful depiction of how people went through an absolutely horrifying situation and still were able to find beauty in the world and keep their culture alive.

never fall down coverInterestingly, at the end of December I also read the book Never Fall Down, by Patricia McCormick. It is the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond who defied the odds to survive the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979 and the labor camps of the Khmer Rouge. Definitely aimed at a much older audience then The Cambodian Dancer, Never Fall Down also expertly tells the story of what happened in an accessible, if sometimes painful way

It is through these stories that we learn things. I don’t remember learning much at all about what happened in Cambodia as a child, expect for seeing the Disney movie “The Girl who Spelled Freedom.” Similarly, many people have strong memories of the Diary of Ann Frank. Books that show the strong spirit of those impacted by these horrible experiences are spectacular for everyone to read.

The following is everything you need to know about Multicultural Children’s Book Day. There are a world of wonderful bloggers who post great lists of multicultural books all year round and some truly fabulous publishing houses who bring these marvelous books to the public.

Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

 The Multicultural Children’s Book Day mission to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.

Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors! #ReadYourWorld

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books*Lil Libros

Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk*Candlewick Press,* Bharat Babies

Silver: Lee and Low Books*Chronicle Books*Capstone Young Readers T

Tuttle Publishing ,NY Media Works, LLC/KidLit TV

Bronze: Pomelo Books* Author Jacqueline Woodson*Papa Lemon Books* Goosebottom Books*Author Gleeson Rebello*ShoutMouse Press*Author Mahvash Shahegh* China Institute.org*Live Oak Media

Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Host and you can use the links below or view them here.

All Done Monkey, Crafty Moms Share,Educators Spin on it,Growing Book by Book,Imagination Soup,I’m Not the Nanny,InCultural Parent, Kid World Citizen,Mama Smiles,Multicultural Kid Blogs,Spanish Playground

This year there is an additional part of the celebration – The Classroom Reading Challenge. This very special offering from MCCBD offers teachers and classrooms the chance to (very easily) earn a free hardcover multicultural children’s book for their classroom library. These books are not only donated by the Junior Library Guild, but they are pre-screened and approved by them as well.

Connect with MCCBD on Facebook

Connect with MCCBD on Twitter #ReadYourWorld

For additional multicultural dance books, check out this post by MCCBD founder Mia Wengren.

I am also including this in my challenge to myself to post weekly about non-fiction titles thanks to the blog Kid Lit Frenzy. These books are not truly non-fiction, but I felt that they are true to the spirit on non-fiction and they encourage young children to delve deeper into the non-fiction. Check out more great non-fiction titles there.nfpb16

Separate is Never Equal

Most of us are well versed with the history of school segregation in the American South, but did you know that there was a massive issue in California as well? The issue in California was not with the segregation of African Americans, but rather, with the Hispanic community. When we found the book Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh at the library, it was eye-opening.

separate-is-never-equal-sylvia-mendez-and-her-familys-fight-for-desegragationAlmost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Instead, Sylvia and her siblings had to go to “the Mexican school.” Their school was a clapboard shack surrounded by a cow pasture. The kids had to eat outside, pestered by the flies from the cows, and there was no playground for them to use.

Her father’s initial course of action was to mobilize the other Hispanics in their community, but the other families didn’t want to rock the boat – they feared that they would lose their jobs if they supported his petition. A truck driver who had heard of their plight encouraged Mr. Mendez to file a lawsuit. Someone had recently done that in San Bernardino to help integrate the public swimming pools and won. Mr. Mendez hired the same lawyer who had won that case and they found other families dealing with segregation throughout Orange County, CA  who were willing to participate.Sylvia3

In 1945 the lawsuit went to court and the dialogue from the trial is horrifying. Duncan Tonatiuh actually interviewed Sylvia Mendez and took parts of the court scenes from actual transcripts of the trial. The superintendents at the time claimed that they were separating the Mexican children so that they could work on their English more, but they never tested their abilities. It was also claimed that they “need to learn cleanliness of mind, manner, and dress. They are not learning that at home.” The superintendent at the time honestly felt that white students were superior to Mexicans in personal hygiene, scholastic ability, economic outlook, clothing and ability to take part in the activities of the school. When children came forward to testify, they showed how senseless his comments had been.

RGB_SylviaMendez_INT_32largeIt took a year for the ruling, but the judge ruled in favor of the Mendez family. Of course, the School Board appealed, but since it had moved to state court, more organizations joined in the battle – the NAACP, Japanese Citizens League, American Jewish Congress and others. Sylvia’s mother puts it perfectly by saying, “when you fight for justice, others will follow.”

In April, 1947, the judges of the Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in favor of the Mendez family.

Sylvia found it difficult at the integrated school in Westminster, but she remembered how they fought to have her attend the school and to have equal opportunities. She ignored the whispers and pointed fingers and held her head high, “and by the end of the year, she had made many friends of different backgrounds.”

This book is so vitally important for children and adults and it is written in a truly accessible manner. Everyone needs to understand that when we talk about integration, it wasn’t just for African-Americans in the 1960s. The Mendez trial paved the way for the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Freedom is something that we will continue to fight for, be it religious, social, political, racial or gender (or many other things). It is due to the fights and struggles that so many people have gone through in years gone by that allow us to have the freedoms we take for granted today. This book is wonderfully written about a topic you simply don’t hear a lot about.

Learning from the American Girls

Last weekend I had an unusual opportunity to have a long uninterrupted conversation with my soon-to-be-8 year old as we drove to see Wicked. She was telling me about books that she was reading in class when they have some opportunity for free reading. Apparently, she is almost finished with the Addy books from the American Girls series.

addy collageJ has really enjoyed reading this series. She told me about how she learned that Addy’s family was slaves and that her father and brother were sold off and then later in the series, they were able to go North. That led to a conversation about the Underground Railroad and how people went out of their way to save others.

History is something that isn’t talked about in huge amounts in 1st and 2nd grade. They do a little, but I know that this year they have done more general social studies than history. But it is important to learn about what came before and we have loved the way that the American Girls series puts the stories out there.

This is one of those great series that I encourage any young reader to pursue.

sitting in for change

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, I wanted to try and bring some books about civil rights into J’s reading rotation. Since I also know that getting her to read anything other than Harry Potter and Land of Stories would be a challenge, I thought that I needed some kind of hook to entice her. I found two books about the Greensboro sit-in that fit the bill. We live an hour and a half from Greensboro and two of J’s favorite museums are there, so we were starting from a place of knowledge. The hook worked.

The first book we read, Sit-in: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, was a true non-fiction telling of the four men who began the lunch-counter sit-in in 1960. With wonderful repetition it explains how they quietly sat at the counter and wanted only a doughnut and coffee with cream on the side. They followed Dr. King’s words and sat tall while insults were hurled at them. The book was especially powerful when it told how they sat quietly while milkshakes were thrown in their faces and ketchup was poured on their heads. The book is filled with amazing quotes in larger fonts that also teach the lesson of the Greensboro sit-ins.

“We must…meet hate with love.” 
“Being loving enough to absorb evil.”
“We must meet violence with nonviolence.”
“We are all leaders.”

The students started a nonviolent revolution that helped change a nation. This book shows how young people can truly make a difference. It was a powerful book that was great for my first grader to comprehend.

The other book that we picked up, Freedom on the Menu, was a fictionalized telling of the events around the sit-ins. As the front cover says, they “offer a child’s-eye view of how ordinary citizens stood up for themselves and caused a revolution, both close to home and far beyond.”  The story is told from a little girl’s perspective and how devastating it was for her to find signs all over town telling her where she could and couldn’t go. A dream of hers is to be able to sit at the lunch counter and order a banana split just like the little white girls.  Dr. King comes to town and soon after that, her brother and sister joined the NAACP, and they all went door to door to register people to vote.The little girl and her mother happened to be in Woolworths on the first day of the sit-ins and recognized the boys as friends of her brother. When the little girl questions that the boys should know not to sit there, her mother responds that “Some rules have to be broken.” The little girl has other questions and her family answers them in wonderful ways that a child can comprehend. This was a truly moving story which happily ends with the little girl getting her banana split.

This post is a part of Kid Lit Frenzy’s nonfiction picture book Wednesdays. We have currently read 7 non-fiction picture books this year, out of our goal of 50, but I’m holding off on reviewing some of them until upcoming Wednesdays.

Also, I am firmly standing behind Multicultural Children’s Book Day:Celebrating Diversity in Children’s. It is important for our children to the full rainbow that makes up our world. January 27th is Multicultural Children’s Book Day. For more information about Multicultural Children’s Book Day: Celebrating Diversity in Children’s Literature, please check out Jump Into a Book and Pragmatic Mom. The mission of this event is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. The event itself is sponsored by Wisdom Tales PressLee & Low BooksChronicle Books, and Susan Daniel Fayad: Author of My Grandfather’s Masbaha.

biographies of three strong women

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I am always on the lookout for something new to strike J’s fancy. Since starting this blog, I also look for books that I think are cool. I found these books from a variety of sources and was thrilled when our local library had them. I know that J liked one of these books, but we have been in the midst of packing, moving and unpacking, so she didn’t read any of them with me. But if you are looking for a good picture book that also introduces your child to the world of biographies, these are great. What I find extra special about these books is that they focus on strong women who changed the world that we live in. They are about women who made a difference and remind us that we all need to stand up and make a difference too.

miss-moore-thought-otherwise_hresMiss Moore Thought Otherwise, by Jan Pinborough, might be one of my favorite books of the year. This book tells the story of how Anne Carroll Moore created libraries for children. What is truly amazing about the book is how it continually shows how things were done in the late 1800s when Anne Moore was growing up and in the early 1900s, but when Miss Moore was faced with people telling her that girls “didn’t” or “shouldn’t” do something, the common refrain was “Miss Moore thought otherwise.”

It is hard for children today to comprehend that we live in a world where girls are not expected to just stay home and take care of the children. They can be stay-at-home moms, and my children see me and many others happily doing that, but a woman can choose to be almost anything she wants depending on the sacrifices that she is willing to make (just like a man). However, we are all well aware that this wasn’t always the case. As the book says, “In the 1870s many people thought a girl should stay inside and do quiet things such as sewing and embroidery.” But Anne Moore wanted to be like her 7 brothers out having fun and she wanted an education like them too.

It is also hard for children, and adults for that matter, to comprehend a time when children were not welcome in libraries. When librarians didn’t want kids to touch books for fear that they would hurt them (a la The Library Dragon). It was not until 1896 that the first library room designed for children was even created, and Miss Moore was given free rein to implement her ideas about how it should be run, including a pledge for kids wanting to take out books, story times, and the removal of “silence” signs. Miss Anne Moore was a major force behind publishing companies seeing the sense in publishing more books aimed at children and to make sure that they were quality books.

This book is full of wonderful history about Miss Moore and about the public library system.

doctors

In the same feminist vein, I would also recommend Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors?, by Tanya Lee Stone. It starts out with the same point that Miss Moore Thought Otherwise was saying – “I’ll bet you’ve met plenty of doctors in your life. And I’ll bet lots of them were women. Well, you might find this hard to believe, but there once was a time when girls weren’t allowed to become doctors.” This book tells the story of Elizabeth Blackwell who became the first woman doctor in America.

In a very straight-forward manner, the book gives a great sense of who Elizabeth Blackwell was and how she wound up becoming a doctor. She was a girl who was spunky, strong, smart and who never walked away from a challenge. She was a curious girl who wanted to know more about the world around her She also never imagined being a doctor until a friend who was very ill put the idea in her head. Of course she was laughed at and rejected, but one school finally admitted her. “Elizabeth proved she was as smart as any boy.”

The book does breeze over the fact that even after she graduated she struggled immensely as people were still not ready to accept a female doctor. The information is there in the author’s note and is a good place to start a conversation with your child about what people can and cannot do. It is also a great lesson about how strong women from many years ago got us to where we are today. We need to be strong and smart in our own ways for future generations.

Brave-Girl-Markel-Michelle-9780061804427Brave Girl is the story of young Clara Lemlich who helps organize a strike of shirtwaist makers in 1909. I’m not sure how much we enjoyed this book given J’s age and interests, but it still deserves a place on this list.

When Lemlich’s family immigrates to the United States from the Ukraine at the turn of the century, Lemlich must go to work in the garment industry to help her family. There she is confronted by the exceptionally harsh rules of the time – 5 minutes late and you’re docked a half a day’s pay, prick your finger and bleed a drop on the cloth and you can be fired, not to mention the actual working conditions in cramped rooms without enough air where they are often locked in. Lemlich helped organize many strikes, including a massive general walkout where 20,000 employees refused to work.

I liked the concept of this book, but am not sure exactly what age group it was intended for. I think this makes more sense for 8-10 year olds, which is unfortunate, because there are a lot of great things to be learned from the story.  This is one that we will have to check out again when J gets older or perhaps if she starts to study this period of history.

a history lesson wrapped up in a nice story

The words “American Girl” used to strike fear in my heart. For a long time, American Girl meant overpriced dolls with overpriced accessories. If your child is a big doll aficionado, perhaps the cost could be justified, but I knew early on that this was not the case with my girls. Neither ever had a particular “lovey” so there was no way that I would spend $100 on a doll with the expectation of buying extras to go with it.

rebeccaThen last Hanukkah J got her first American Girl book – Meet Rebecca. While she was able to read this book at 5 1/2, she wasn’t enticed by the story enough to read more. Recently, however, we have rediscovered these books and J has read the few that her first grade teacher has in the class. We have moved on to the books at the local library, and I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with these books.

So far we have only read the historical books in the series. I see them as a great way to introduce kids to different parts of American history through various lenses. For example,  the Rebecca series are about a little Jewish girl living in New York City in 1914 and shows the plight of immigrants struggling to maintain their traditions and get by in the new world. As a different illustration, Kit is a little girl living in Ohio in 1932 who shows the struggle of her father losing his job due to the Depression and how that impacts her entire family.

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What is wonderful about these books is that they show social history (a favorite of mine) and encourage young girls to think outside of their everyday world and especially out of the magical worlds of fairies and princesses. When J was reading Meet Kit she was asking me things from “what is a typewriter?” to “what was the Great Depression?” From what I can tell, these books feature strong girls who use strength and intelligence to get through various difficult situations. This is a series that would also be really good as a read aloud bedtime book since there are so many great opportunities for questions.

This morning we read a chapter from Kit’s Surprise and it was great to hear J so excited. She learned who Amelia Earhart was and had to ask for help on a number of new words. We had to discuss why people got evicted from their homes and why Kit’s family took in boarders. All of this happened while reading about a little girl who dreams of being brave like Amelia Earhart instead of yearning to be a movie star which is her best friend’s dream.

I’m still going to keep my girls as far away from the American Girls Store as possible, but they can definitely read these books.