Friday, June 15, 2018

Pitbulls - Their History and a Defence, by Elizabeth Junner and Isobel McLaughlin

Pitbulls - Their History and a Defence

by E.W.C. JUNNER in collaboration with ISOBEL McLAUGHLIN

If you were to take a survey about Pitbulls, 90% of the people polled would call them vicious monsters. Yet half of these people probably haven’t even encountered a Pitbull, basing their judgement on media accounts. The truth is any dog breed can be aggressive; the majority of dog attacks come from animals with vicious and otherwise problem owners.
Centuries ago ‘bull-baiting’ was a popular sport in Great Britain. Though this was mainly for the people’s entertainment, in particular wealthy gamblers, there was a belief that a bull’s meat was tenderer after he had bled profusely. This belief was so strong that some areas in England had a law requiring a bull to be baited before it was slaughtered.
  Before being enclosed in a pit with a dog thrown in to bait it, a bull would be taunted and tormented by the men handling it. The purpose of this was to have the bull already angered, so when the dog harassed it even more there would be a ferocious confrontation between the two.
Well-to-do gamblers (picture - public domain)
The dog would flatten itself low to the ground to protect its soft belly, creeping as close as possible to the bull before darting up and trying to nip the bull on either the head or nose. The bull for its part would attempt to drive its horns into the dog’s belly in order to toss the dog high into the air.
The intention in bull baiting was for the dog to grip the bull by his tender nose, thereby to hold him and perhaps bring him down. Tremendous jaw power was necessary for this, therefore the breed usually chosen was a bulldog because of his incredible strength – they were developed as pulling dogs - and powerful jaws. Gambling was a major lure in bull baiting.  On the outcome of each round great sums of money were wagered and fortunes frequently lost.
Since, regardless of their courage, few dogs had the strength and stamina to take down a bull or pull it around a ring, it was very much a matter of who struck first. Once it got a grip of the great animal’s snout, the bulldog hung on for dear life. The harassment must have seemed to go on forever to the enraged and maddened bull as it shook its great head violently from side to side in an attempt to shake the dog off.
(from public domain) see the dog's ribs - probably underfed to keep him aggressive
The gamblers continued using bulldogs in this horrible practice, until they realized that bulldogs were hefty dogs and weren’t agile enough to escape the lethal horns of a bull. There was, however, an agile and fast breed popular in Europe which was called the American Terrier, and so the two breeds were combined to produce the Pitbull – the breed to combat the bull tethered in the pit.
 There had always been a public outcry against the whole cruel spectacle and finally in 1835 this barbarous practice was outlawed in Britain.
What was to become of the dogs? The original British Bulldog was taller than the modern one, but very fierce and not a particularly sociable animal, certainly not suitable as a household pet. So people who genuinely loved the dogs set about breeding them for sweetness of disposition as family pets. Though their legs are now much shorter, their heads are still as broad and wrinkled, their jaws as undershot – and their strength every bit as formidable. The main difference is their lovely, friendly nature.
Another breed similar to the Pitbull is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. One of the main differences between the two breeds is in height. Staffordshires are roughly three or five inches shorter than Pitbulls. The coat colour is another difference in breed standards. Pitbulls can have any colour of coat other than merle. Staffordshires can be white, red, fawn, blue, black or brindle. Both breeds can have patterned coats. Pitbulls and Staffordshires have very similar body structure,both are very stalwart and muscular breeds, but Staffordshires are on the whole a lighter dog. If you look closely, Pitbulls have shorter muzzles, shorter than the length of their head, and tend to have broader heads than Staffordshires. Both breeds have assertive, playful, faithful and loving personalities. They are highly energetic and will happily join you on an adventure at any time of day. Except, perhaps, if it’s raining!
The  Pitbull features in fiction. Pete the Pup was the faithful American Pitbull used in the Our Gang movies; in 1994 a remake called The Little Rascals featured an American bulldog as Pete.
Pete the Pup (public domain)
Carol Lea Benjamin’s entertaining and instructive mysteries feature P.I. Rachel Alexander and her Pitbull Dashiell. Aimed at the adult market, they may nevertheless be enjoyed by a literate middle grader. 

 And finally we have Daisy. She had one object in life – to be happy and have everyone around her happy. She loved pop music. She would climb on the sofa, lay her head along the back and nod meaningfully towards the player, her signal she wanted a record or CD played. Her favourites to ‘sing along with’ were Tangerine Dream and Abba. Her soulful “OOooOOOh”in accompaniment has been captured on tape.
It was amazing the number of children who were immediately attracted to Daisy, and she submitted happily to their various demonstrations of affection, however rough at times.When she died, many people, including the town workers, came to offer their condolences. She was one well-loved little dog.
Daisy the well-beloved
To conclude our Pitbull defence we have the magnificent Greyfriars Bobby. Named for the famous little Skye terrier, Bobby, like Daisy, was a rescued dog. Although he’s a big, powerful dog and very protective of his family, he associates well with other dogs, and is calm and obedient. He is also patient, even when disappointed:
Who closed my store???
An excellent all-rounder, his family are very proud of Bobby's  Canine Good Neighbour Certificate, which he gained on his first course in the programme.
Greyfriars Bobby, CGNC.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Freedom of Religion by Mary Louise Sanchez

According to a statement by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of current law on religion in the public schools, "students may be taught about religion, but public schools may not teach religion."

Thus, our government gives us the right to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. However, we don't see many current children's fiction books where religion plays a central part in the lives of the characters.

These are some fiction books where religion or at least spiritual thoughts and feelings play a role. 

 I appreciate the fact that people in the children's book world are embracing diversity and for me, some of that diversity involves religion. In my soon-to-be published middle grade historical fiction novel, The Wind Called My Name, religion is a part of the characters' lives and culture. My book is loosely based on the lives of both sides of my family whose ancestors were Hispanic colonists during the 16th and 17th centuries to present day New Mexico. They came to this land for gold, glory, and God. 

In my story, the Sandoval family moves from northern New Mexico during the Great Depression, and brings their Hispanic and Catholic religious identity with them to the small southern Wyoming town. Thus, they decorate their home with their various, familiar santos and crosses.
Santo Nino de Atocha

They pray before meals and Margarita invokes the saints to help her family when her father and brother's railroad jobs are not secure. Even though there is no Catholic church in the town, the family has a makeshift altar where Abuelita spends much of her time praying the rosary.

The family's conversations reference their religious traditions too. In one scene where the family is finally reunited, the seven-year-old son, Ernesto, remarks how the meal they are sharing is a Good Saturday.
La Sagrada Familia
Perhaps he thinks this, because the family is eating torta de huevos, which is a traditional meatless New Mexican Lenten dish for Good Friday. 

Another nod to religion in my story is that each chapter is titled with the name of a saint familiar to New Mexicans.

San Isidro-Patron of Farmers

In the first chapter, the family is leaving their ancestral home and their abuelita who wants to save the land from the creditors. The saint I thought that best fit this idea was San Antonio de PaduaInvoked for Lost Items.

 I hope teachers are willing to share my book with their students so that they come away with a sense of importance religion plays in culture and traditions. As the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said, "one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion, or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization." 

What are some books you've read for children that show a character's religion?

The debut for The Wind Called My Name is September 18, 2018. It can be preordered now from Amazon. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

MG Books About Native Americans

Earlier this month, on May 10, the one hundred forty-ninth anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit occurred. Major activities will undoubtedly be planned next year by the National Park Service for the sesquicentennial celebration of this historical event. Over the coming year, it would be appropriate for students to study the impact this event had on the history of the United States. I write about the importance of the railroad to the westward expansion of the “white man” in my Iron Horse Chronicles trilogy. Throughout all three books, there is a strong sub-plot involving the respect that develops between the youthful white protagonist and a mixed-blood Cheyenne Indian boy. 

The completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869 signaled the end of the way of life for those Native Americans who still struggled to be free. European settlers in North America had been pushing the Indians off their ancestral lands for over two hundred years by the late 1860s, but now Manifest Destiny could be more easily be implemented. It is suitable at this time to remember the legacy of those original inhabitants of the western hemisphere. There are several award-winning, historical novels that will help educate, as well as entertain, the middle grade reader as he or she learns about some of the difficulties the Indians faced.

An overview of Native Americans would be helpful in understanding the lessons contained in the novels. North American Indian by David Murdoch, published by DK Eyewitness Books, is an excellent place to start. Beautifully illustrated with color photographs, drawings, and maps, this book covers the subject from initial peopling of the continent, through the struggles to survive against the encroachment of the white man, to the present-day status of the Indian. The differences among the various tribes and the geographical areas each inhabited are well explained.

We begin with one of the earliest encounters that Europeans had with the Native Americans. Blood on the River: James Town, 1607, by Elisa Carbone tells the tale of a young man who joins the expedition of Captain John Smith, which established the first European colony in Virginia. The young settler featured in the novel gets to know Chief Powhatan and Pocahontas of the Algonquian Indians. Powhatan takes offense at the way the colonists treat him, and it is through the efforts of Smith and Pocahontas that the settlers avoid destruction. This book received a starred review from School Library Journal.

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare is a Newbery Honor book telling the story of a thirteen-year-old white boy who struggles to survive on what was then considered the “frontier” in New England in the 1700s. The protagonist is assisted by a Native American boy, and the two of them become friends. Ms. Speare is a multiple Newbery winner. Her The Witch of Blackbird Pond, set in colonial Connecticut, won the Newbery Award in 1959. The Bronze Bow, set in Israel during the time of Jesus Christ, won the Newbery Award in 1962.

Sign Down the Moon by Scott O’Dell is a Newbery Honor book. It is the story of the forced march of Navajo people from their land of pueblos to desolate Fort Sumner, New Mexico, in the mid-1800s. This book will acquaint young readers with the problems of a civilized people who inhabited what are now the western states of Arizona and New Mexico. Mr. O’Dell, too, is a multiple Newbery winner.

O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins won the Newbery Award in 1961. This book takes the reader to an island off the coast of California in the early 1800s and relates the story of a young Indian girl struggling to survive alone. The tale is based on a historical event wherein the girl must defend herself from wild dogs that killed her brother. She must also guard against Aleutian sea otter hunters, while obtaining and protecting her own food supply.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Sara K Joiner: Royal Reads

Trees from William and Kate's wedding
in Westminster Abbey in 2011.
photo by Sara K Joiner

With the wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle only days away, it's a great excuse to dig into some historical fiction set in the world of real-life royal families.

Since this is a British royal wedding, it's only fair that we start with historical fiction featuring the British royal family, a.k.a. Harry's ancestors.

Victoria Rebels - Carolyn Meyer
Using diary entries, this novel covers the life of the second-longest ruling monarch in British history from age eight to 24.

The Redheaded Princess - Ann Rinaldi
Young Elizabeth grows up on an estate away from her father and faces danger and intrigue on her way to becoming queen.

VIII - H.M. Castor
Hal is skilled in battle, intelligent and gifted, but once he becomes king and his power grows, he falls into despair and paranoia that ultimately consumes the lives of many around him.

The Case of the Perilous Palace - Jordan Stratford
Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley, two young crime-solvers, tackle the case of finding Princess Alexandrina Victoria's missing diary.

Gilt - Katherine Longshore
When Kitty's friend Catherine Howard becomes queen, Kitty must learn the complex world of the royal court, including who to trust.

My Name Is Victoria - Lucy Worsley
Miss V is sent by her father to be the companion to Princess Victoria and to make sure the princess follows his strict rules. As her friendship with the princess grows, Miss V must decide whether to serve her father or her future queen.

In light of the fact that Queen Elizabeth II's last Corgi died recently, here are two books that celebrate her history with the breed.

Susan - Kate Klimo
The corgi given to Princess Elizabeth on her 18th birthday tells readers about life in Buckingham Palace.

Titus Rules! - Dick King-Smith
The queen's youngest corgi manages to prevent multiple disasters at Windsor Castle and earns his own special title.

The following books feature royals from other countries.

The Potato King - Christoph Niemann
Frederick the Great of Prussia wants his citizens to eat potatoes, but they refuse. When he plants a field and has armed guards keep people out, they become more interested.

The Haunting of Falcon House - Eugene Yelchin
A young Russian prince travels to Saint Petersburg to begin his royal training, but the house he's inherited is haunted.

Blueberries for the Queen - John & Katherine Paterson
During World War II, the Queen of the Netherlands finds safety in Massachusetts where a boy who lives down the street decides to bring her some blueberries.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Place: The Life of Fiction

Place is the home I inhabit in a story until the last word shoves me back to a present reality. If I don't feel rooted in place, I am an itinerant soul. I don't stay long, never read that last word. 

Eurdora Welty once said, "Fiction, depends for its life on place.” If this is true for fiction, historical fiction isn't even conceived without place. Johnny Tremain needed Boston, Kit a Blackbird Pond, and the Watsons had to go to Birmingham. Anywhere else and they would have been different stories—or no story at all.

"Somehow it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum." --Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Lee had me at "sweet talcum."

God is in the Details
Sometimes called the canvas of story, setting is broad and sweeping, but also filled with details--and great historical fiction balances the two. Cast Off by Eve Yohalem achieves this balance brilliantly.  Set in 1663, Cast Off is a high seas adventure about a stowaway Dutch girl and a mixed race boy. Yohalem did her research down to the nutmeg, weevil infested sea biscuits, and bloodletting medical remedies, which is only a fraction of a percent of her detail. The characters and plot are fantastic, but the details are what made me believe it.  

"...we all hate generalities, and so does place. Yet as soon as we step down from the general view to the close and particular, as writers must and readers may and teachers well know how to, and consider what good writing may be, place can be seen, in her own way, to have a great deal to do with that goodness, if not to be responsible for it." --Eudora Welty

Setting as a Character

Authors create a powerful ally when setting is a character in their story. Dickens' London is often cited as such a character--that Good Olde City with it's fog-choked alleys, counting houses, and Bob Cratchets. Place as a character sets and changes mood with daybreak or sunset, the onslaught of storm or the shell of a bombed out church. Crow's island and the ocean are characters in "Beyond the Bright Sea". Anchored to the earth on solid black rock, the island was home, prison, or trap depending on its mood.

Setting as Complication

Sometimes referred to as the Twister Effect, setting as complication fuels plots and entire stories. At the outset we suspect Eveningstar Macaw will end up in The Well of Sacrifice (written by Chris Eboch). This and other complications of setting move the story forward in exciting and nail-biting action .  Zane and the Hurricane required Hurricane Katrina for its life, but it is the predicaments of the aftermath which Zane and his new friends must overcome that make the story.

Setting as Theme is my favorite use of place. May B. by Caroline Starr Rose required an isolated dugout on the prairie for its birth. Rose used this external complication to symbolize an internal theme. Isolated by her dyslexia, May struggled with shame and a failure. By surviving and overcoming her physical isolation, she gained agency to believe in herself, to overcome her internal isolation.

The best stories are complicated layers woven of the threads of character, plot, setting, and the indefinable magic of the words themselves. No one element but all in orchestration make the best books. Yet all of the best books have a strong grounding in place.

Michele Hathaway is an author and freelance editor. She has an M. A. in Social Anthropology and has worked in libraries in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She writes middle-grade nonfiction and stories set in culturally diverse, historical periods.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Violinists in Middle Grade Historical Novels

I attended the New Mexico Philarmonic’s final Neighborhood Concert of the season last weekend. The theme of the concert was “Hail Britannia!,” and the music, by Tallis, Purcell, Vaugh-Williams,and Handel was superb, but the highlight of the concert was, for me at least, the guest musicians.

In addition to the members of the Philharmonic and the University of New Mexico Chamber Singers, the Orchestras from two local middle schools, Jackson and Cleveland, played the first and last pieces: “Hail, Britannia!” and “God Save the Queen.” Having those young performers changed the whole dynamics of the performance. While the audience is usually composed mostly of retirees, this audience had many families and young children. It was obvious that the young violinists were very excited to be able to perform with professionals, and equally obvious that the audience was thrilled to have young people performing. The evening was inspiring for everyone involved.

The concert made me wonderif there were middle grade historical fictions that might just feed the inspiration of aspiring violinists and other young musicians. Here’s what I found:
Ayumi’s Violin, by Mariko Tatsumoto
Twelve-year-old biracial Ayumi must leave Japan to live with the American father she has never met after her mother dies. It is 1959, and she is confronted by racism and rejection. She finds solace in playing her violin until even that is taken from her. This book won the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Award, was a Paterson Prize for Books for Young People Honor Book, and a finalist for the Colorado Authors' League Award.
The Dollmaker of Krakow, by R.M. Romero
In this work of historical fantasy set in Poland during World War Two, a dollmaker with unusual power spirits a live doll, Karolina, out of the Land of Dolls, a fantasy world that is being destroyed by rats. The two befriend a Jewish violin-playing father and his daughter who are threatened by the Nazi takover of Poland. A mix of fantasy and brutal, sometimes painful to read reality, this book may be hard for younger readers.

Under a Painted Sky, by Stacey Lee
It’s 1849, and Samantha dreams of leaving Missouri and moving back to New York to be a professional violinist. When disaster strikes and leaves her an orphan and fearing for her life, the Chinese girl joins up with a runaway slave named Annamae and the two of them, disguised as boys, light out for adventures in the Wild West.

The Way to Stay in Destiny, by Augusta Scattergood,
While not about a violinist, this novel, set in 1974,  tells the story of a young boy named Theo, who finds happiness by playing piano at a local dance studio after he and his Uncle, a Vietnam veteran, move to a new town. This book the only one of the four with a male protagonist, also has a baseball mystery thrown into the plot, so might appeal more than the other three to boys.

 Got any personal favorites to add to this list?