Friday, April 20, 2018

Napoleon Buonaparte, Emperor of France by E.W.C. Junner

The Montréal Museum of Fine Arts is currently hosting an exhibition ‘Napoleon – art and court life

in the Imperial Palace’. The number of visitors has been such that the Museum has extended the

exhibition till 10th May, 2018.

Who was Napoleon Buonaparte, as he was named in my elementary school history books?  Why do

we continue to be fascinated by this man two hundred years later? He was an enigma of a sorts,

militant, an excellent strategist in battle, possessed of ruthless ambition, a lover of  the arts and at

ease in fashionable salons. 

Atlas publishing has issued a beautifully illustrated pictorial history. Napoleon Buonaparte was born 
Atlas book cover/

on the island of Corsica to a lawyer and his wife. Since

France had acquired Corsica from the Italians, he was

considered French, and later adopted the French spelling of

his name. He was sent to mainland France for his education

and to learn the language. He graduated from a French

military academy in 1785, and became a second lieutenant

in the French army four years before the start of the


By 1792 the revolutionaries had overthrown the monarchy and declared France was now a republic. Napoleon spent most of the revolutionary years on leave at home in. When the Bonaparte family left Corsica for France, Napoleon returned to his army duties and was speedily promoted to major general. He married Josephine de Beauharnais, a glamorous widow, in 1796. She already had two teenage children.

The French Revolution was not welcomed by the rest of the European nations, and Bonaparte
soon found himself involved in military conflicts. He commanded the French army in Italy
where he defeated much bigger Austrian forces. However, he declined to invade Britain,
opting to invade Egypt in an effort to destroy Britain’s trade routes with India. Instead, the
British navy destroyed Napoleon’s army.
In the end he abandoned his army in Egypt and returned to France, where he became the country’s First Consul and leading political figure. At first he did work hard to restore political stability to France. He brought about reforms in education and banking, centralised the government and supported the arts and science. He also tried to improve relations between his regime and the Pope. He introduced the Napoleonic Code, which streamlined the French legal system and continues to form the foundation of French civil law. Indeed, in Québec the current legal system is based on the Napoleonic law.
At the Battle of Marengo 1800 his forces defeated the Austrians and drove them out of Italy.
This undoubtedly served to stoke Bonaparte’s enormous ego, as did his increasing military
successes. By the early 19th century Napoleon dominated continental Europe. In 1804 he had
himself crowned Emperor in a lavish ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral, with Josephine  as his Empress.

Napoleon's talents were not confined to the battlefield; he loved the arts and culture, and was much at home in the various salons and social gatherings. According to the Englishwoman Mary Berry, he was short – a little over five feet in height – with enormously broad shoulders. He had grey eyes, good teeth, and a very sweet smile and gave one his whole attention in conversation. However, at home as elsewhere, Napoleon was a dictator. At one of his dinners in 1802 Lady Jane Maxwell, Duchess of Gordon, attempted to arrange a marriage between her youngest daughter and Eugene, Josephine’s son. The young couple really liked each other, it seemed a happy match.  It did not suit Napoleon who wanted his stepson to marry royalty, and he ruthlessly nipped the blossoming romance in the bud.
His own marriage to Josephine produced no children, therefore Napoleon had the marriage annulled and in 1810 he married Princess Marie Louise of Austria. She gave birth to a son, Napoleon François Joseph Charles, who was given the title King of Rome.   
In the end, Bonaparte’s megalomania led to his downfall. His disastrous Russian invasion resulted in the loss of 450,000 men. He was forced to abdicate and exiled to Elba. A year later, he escaped and once more raised an army. He invaded Belgium, won the Battle of Ligny but was defeated at the Battle of  Waterloo. Again he was forced to abdicate and exiled, this time on the British island of St. Helena. As befitting an emperor, the British housed him in style in Linwood House, where he lived with all the trappings to which he was accustomed.
He died at Linwood, probably from stomach cancer, aged only 51.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Our History, Our Nation, Our Voices

Discovering a personal story in my family history inspired me to begin my current work in progress, set in New England in the 1660s. The same people who fled the religious divisions and wars in England came to North America only to set up churches and governments with little tolerance for religious differences. My book is framed by that era of religious persecution in Massachusetts and I'm writing it for today's teens so they might understand that certain problems persist.  My family also includes Dutch traders and French trappers from the same era, and Danish immigrants who arrived following conflicts between Denmark and Prussia. Then there are my Scotch Irish folks, who having been subjected to English oppression, populated the Appalachian Region in the late 1700s.

 All of these people displaced native people with their settlement and many of them enslaved and profited from the labor of African people. Among my ancestors I find much to be proud of, and much that needs atonement for. But the institution they established and fought for that we all share is our democratic government and the value that our nation is "of the people, and by the people."

This democracy is messy and often unjust. We struggle to include all people with equal rights and privileges - but so far, we have endured.

Last night I helped organize a neighborhood meeting where we introduced candidates for our Congressional District. It was well attended and I was reminded again, of the power of our democracy. But I'm also reminded that with the free press under attack, the twisting of information in our digital-virtual age, and the questioning and restriction of voter rights, that our democracy is fragile. It is a living entity that must be nurtured and fed. This is the responsibility we've inherited.

My ancestors include men who were executed at the Tower of London, veterans of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, immigrants who risked hurricanes, disease, and starvation to settle here. I find translators of Ojibwe and Kansa, slave holders and members of the Underground Railway. There is a man who went insane from his experiences in World War II and another who served in the cavalry in World War I. This road is not an easy one.

So what about today? In my state, Nevada, almost 80% of the registered voters voted in the 2016 election. But in the 2014 non-presidential year, that number dropped below 50%. In the 2014 PRIMARY election, we had 19% of registered voters turn out. Yikes! One in five registered voters determined who might represent our state in the federal, state, and local governments. We are starving our democracy.

Our ancestors, no matter who they are, didn't endure hardships, fight for themselves and their children, stand up to oppression, only to see us sleep in on Tuesday morning and fritter away their legacy. They'd expect us to demand good clear information and the right to vote for all. I read and write about history because it gives our children an understanding and a foundation on which to build their future. It elucidates the human condition. And our condition right now is precarious.

No matter what your political bent, I urge you to stand up for our Republic, our press, and our right to vote. Learn about your candidates and vote in your primary. Take your kids with you to the polls (or the mail box).  If the Democracy fails, we've lost more than an election. We've lost a long held dream.

I'll end by quoting Abraham Lincoln at another turning point in our history. Please share it with your students and your children:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Antarctic Exploration

Robert Lee Murphy on his first trip to Antarctica in 1976.

This time of year, as the austral winter commences in the Southern Hemisphere, my thoughts turn to Antarctica. South of the Antarctic Circle, the continuous days of sunlight are fading. The summer scientists and the large contingent of support personnel have departed The Ice. A few intrepid winter-over scientists and support people will remain isolated for more than half a year throughout the coming long winter’s night. I never "wintered-over," but I did make fourteen trips to the South Pole during my years of working with the United States Antarctic Program. 

More people attended the Super Bowl this year than have ever visited the South Pole. Realize that the antarctic continent is equal in size to the United States and Mexico combined. If you were to visit Antarctica on a cruise ship and dock at McMurdo Station (America's principal support base), it would be like arriving in Houston. The South Pole is located at Chicago! There are no roads between the two locations.

The polar regions of Earth were among the last places explored on our continent. The South Pole was reached only a little over a century ago. Man first set foot at the North Pole less than three years prior to that. Serious consideration is currently being given to sending a manned expedition to Mars. Today’s middle-grade students will probably participate in that momentous event. Interestingly, one of the first places that might be explored on Mars will be the polar regions. Water ice may exist there, making supporting life for human explorers somewhat easier. Middle-graders with an interest in space travel should study the history of the exploration of Antarctica.

In order to appreciate the historical fiction presentations of antarctic exploration, it would be helpful to know about the polar regions. There are no polar bears in Antarctica, and there are no penguins in the Arctic. One of the best books currently available about the two polar regions is DK Eyewitness Books: Arctic and Antarctic by Barbara Taylor. This is a beautifully illustrated volume loaded with information about the flora, fauna, and the geography of the polar regions. This book also contains an excellent introduction to the exploration of both the North Pole and the South Pole. The reader will learn the facts about the differences between the polar areas. The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land, while the Antarctic is land surrounded by oceans.

The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge presents a fictional account of the doomed 1910-13 South Pole expedition of Robert Falcon Scott. It is written in first-person narrative format by five of the members of the expedition: Captain Scott, Petty Officer Evans, Doctor Wilson, Lieutenant Bowers, and Captain Oates. The book received strong reviews when it was published in 1991. Publishers Weekly wrote . . . "gripping, moving and hair-raisingly readable novel . . ." School Library Journal stated the book . . . "conveys a vivid sense of the era and of the pride, idealism, and bravado of the explorers." The novel glosses over the final fateful loss of life when Scott and his companions perished on their return journey from the South Pole.

Roald Amundsen: The Conquest of the South Pole by Julie Karner is not a fictional account of Amundsen's journey to Antarctica. This biography does do a nice job explaining how the Norwegian explorer set out secretly for the South Pole in 1910 with the intention of beating Robert Scott in the race to discover the South Pole. This book points out that Amundsen relied on his prior arctic exploration experience, his expert dog-handling skills, his willingness to eat his dogs for survival, and his pure luck in finding the route that allowed him to reach the South Pole a month earlier than Scott. 

One of the most thrilling exploring stories of Antarctica is that of one of Sir Earnest Shackleton's voyages. Shackleton originally was part of Scott’s expeditions, but he later struck out on his own. Nick Bertozzi’s graphic novel, Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey, relates in a format familiar to middle-grade readers the harrowing tale of how Shackleton’s ship Endurance was crushed in the ice. This disaster nearly resulted in the loss of all lives on board. The book covers the two-year trip as these shipwrecked explorers struggle to save themselves. Perhaps, after reading this comic-book presentation, middle-graders will be inspired to tackle South: The ENDURANCE Expedition. Written by Sir Earnest Shackleton himself, the book is a classic about leadership and survival.

When I set out to write this blog post, I was sure I would find numerous fictional accounts about polar exploration oriented toward the middle-grade reader. I was disappointed. As an author with antarctic experience, perhaps I will have to tackle writing such a book myself.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Sara K Joiner: Youth Activists Leading Change

With the student walkouts for gun control reform last week and the upcoming March for Our Lives, I've been thinking about how social movements often begin with children and young people. There are a number of fiction and nonfiction books that show the world as it was, and how children and young people agitated for change.

Civil Rights Movement
  • A Thousand Never Evers - Shana Burg
    As the civil rights movement in the South gains momentum in 1963--and violence against African Americans intensifies--the black residents, including seventh-grader Addie Ann Pickett, in the small town of Kuckachoo, Mississippi, begin their own courageous struggle for racial justice.
  • Let the Children March - Monica Clark-Robinson
    Under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, children and teenagers march against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.
  • Just Like Martin - Ossie Davis
    Following the deaths of two classmates in a bomb explosion at his Alabama church, fourteen-year-old Stone organizes a children's march for civil rights in the autumn of 1963.
  • The Rock and the River - Kekla Magoon
    In 1968 Chicago, fourteen-year-old Sam Childs is caught in a conflict between his father's nonviolent approach to seeking civil rights for African Americans and his older brother, who has joined the Black Panther Party.
  • March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine - Melba Pattillo Beals
    A member of the Little Rock Nine shares her memories of growing up in the South under Jim Crow.
  • Through My Eyes - Ruby Bridges
    The autobiographical story of Bridges' involvement, as a six-year-old, in the integration of her school in New Orleans in 1960. 
  • Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice - Phillip Hoose
    Presents the life of the Alabama teenager who played an integral role in the Montgomery bus strike, once by refusing to give up a bus seat, and again, by becoming a plaintiff in the landmark civil rights case against the bus company.
  • We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March - Cynthia Levinson
    Discusses the events when more than 4,000 African American students marched and were jailed to secure their freedom in May 1963.
  • The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist - Cynthia Levinson
    A picture book biography of the life of nine-year-old Hendricks who became the youngest known child to be arrested for picketing against Birmingham segregation practices in 1963. 
  • The March Trilogy - John Lewis
    This graphic novel series is Congressman John Lewis' first-hand account of his lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation.
  • Today the World Is Watching You: The Little Rock Nine and the Fight for School Integration, 1957 - Kekla Magoon
    On September 4, 1957, nine African American teenagers made their way toward Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Armed soldiers of the Arkansas National Guard blocked most of them at the edge of campus. The three students who did make it onto campus faced an angry mob of white citizens who spit at them and shouted ugly racial slurs.
Girl's Right to Education 
  • The Breadwinner - Deborah Ellis
    Eleven-year-old Parvana lives with her family in one room of a bombed-out apartment building in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital city. Parvana's father, a history teacher until his school was bombed and his health destroyed, works from a blanket on the ground in the marketplace, reading letters for people who cannot read or write. One day, he is arrested for the crime of having a foreign education, and the family is left without someone who can earn money or even shop for food.
  • Dear Malala, We Stand With You - Rosemary McCarney with Plan International
    Captures the impact Malala has had on girls from all walks of life. In powerfully simple language and stunning photographs, the struggles from poverty and violence faced by girls everywhere become a catalyst for change.
  • I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World - Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick
    Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school.
  • Malala's Magic Pencil - Malala Yousafzai
    As a child in Pakistan, Malala made a wish for a magic pencil. She would use it to make everyone happy, to erase the smell of garbage from her city, to sleep an extra hour in the morning. But as she grew older, Malala saw that there were more important things to wish for.
Workers' Rights 
  • Iqbal - Francesco D'Adamo
    A fictionalized account of the Pakistani child who escaped from bondage in a carpet factory and went on to help liberate other children like him before being gunned down at the age of thirteen.
  • On Our Way to Oyster Bay: Mother Jones and Her March for Children's Rights - Monica Kulling
    Though eight-year-old Aidan and his friend Gussie want to go to school, like many other children in 1903, they work twelve hours, six days a week, at a cotton mill in Pennsylvania instead. So when the millworkers decide to go on strike, the two friends join the picket line. Maybe now life will change for them.
  • Kids on Strike! - Susan Campbell Bartoletti
    Describes the conditions and treatment that drove workers, including many children, to various strikes, from the mill workers strikes in 1828 and 1836 and the coal strikes at the turn of the century to the work of Mother Jones on behalf of child workers.
  • Kid Blink Beats The World - Don Brown
    A story of the newsboys (and girls) who took on the world's most powerful press barons--and won.
  • Iqbal Masih and the Crusaders Against Child Slavery - Susan Kuklin
    An account of the former Pakistani child labor activist whose life and unexplained murder has brought the evil of child bondage to the attention of the world.
Social movements, alone, aren't the only place where children try to make lasting change. Some turn into activists and fighters when they see truly horrible situations arise and cannot remain silent.

  • Aluta - Adwoa Badoe
    For eighteen-year-old Charlotte, university life is better than she'd ever dreamed, a sophisticated and generous roommate, the camaraderie of dorm living, parties, clubs and boyfriends. Most of all, Charlotte is exposed to new ideas, and in 1981 Ghana, this may be the most exciting and most dangerous adventure of all. 
  • Finding Zasha - Randi Barrow
    Twelve-year-old Ivan has escaped from the siege of Leningrad, but when the town he has taken refuge in is occupied by Hitler's troops, he sees his chance to help the partisans he has met--and to rescue two German shepherd puppies, Zasha and Thor, from the cruel Commander Recht. 
  • Ahimsa - Supriya Kelkar
    Gandhi asks for one member of each family to join the fight for independence from the British, and when ten-year-old Anjali's mother is jailed for doing so, Anjali must step out of her comfort zone to take over her mother's work. 
  • Kiss the Dust - Elizabeth Laird
    Her father's involvement with the Kurdish resistance movement in Iraq forces thirteen-year-old Tara to flee with her family over the border into Iran, where they face an unknown future.
  • Number the Stars - Lois Lowry
    In 1943, during the German occupation of Denmark, ten-year-old Annemarie learns how to be brave and courageous when she helps shelter her Jewish friend from the Nazis.
  • The Bicycle Spy - Yona Zeldis McDonough
    Twelve-year-old Marcel loves riding his bicycle, and dreams of competing in the Tour de France, but it is 1942 and German soldiers are everywhere, stopping him as he delivers bread from his parents' bakery around Aucoin--then one day he discovers that it is not just bread he is delivering, and suddenly he finds himself in position of dangerous secrets about his parents and his new friend from Paris, Delphine.
  • When My Name Was Keoko - Linda Sue Park
    With national pride and occasional fear, a brother and sister face the increasingly oppressive occupation of Korea by Japan during World War II, which threatens to suppress Korean culture entirely.
  • Shadow On the Mountain - Margi Preus
    In Nazi-occupied Norway, fourteen-year-old Espen joins the resistance movement, graduating from deliverer of illegal newspapers to courier and spy.
  • When Morning Comes - Arushi Raina
    Zanele is skipping school and secretly plotting against the apartheid government. The police can't know. Her mother and sister can't know. Her best friend Thabo, schoolboy turned gang member, can tell she's up to something. Across the bridge, in the wealthy white suburbs, Jack plans to spend his last days in Johannesburg burning miles on his beat-up Mustang--until he meets a girl with an unforgettable face from the simmering black township--Soweto. Working in her father's shop, Meena finds a packet of banned pamphlets. A series of chance meetings changes everything. A chain of events is set in motion. And the students will rise. 
  • The War Within These Walls - Aline Sax 
    Misha and his family do their best to survive in the appalling conditions of the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, and ultimately make a final, desperate stand against the Nazis. 
  • The Fall of the Red Star - Helen M. Szablya
    Fourteen-year-old Stephen takes up arms and joins the resistance in this novel of the Hungarian Revolution.
  • Hans and Sophie Scholl: German Resisters of the White Rose - Toby Axelrod
    Profiles the brother and sister who founded White Rose, a student group at Munich's Ludwig-Maximilians University which attempted to build resistance against Hitler through anti-Nazi leaflets and graffiti.
  • The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pederson and the Churchill Club - Phillip Hoose
    At the outset of World War II, Denmark did not resist German occupation. Deeply ashamed of his nation's leaders, fifteen-year-old Knud Pedersen resolved with his brother and a handful of schoolmates to take action against the Nazis if the adults would not.
  • We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Hitler - Russell Freedman
    The true story of the White Rose, a group of students in Nazi Germany who were active undercover agents of the resistance movement against Hitler and his regime.
  • Who Will Shout If Not Us? Student Activists and the Tiananmen Square Protest, China, 1989 - Ann Kerns
    In the spring of 1989, university students in Beijing grabbed world headlines with a courageous stand against decades of Communist authoritarian rule in China. Thousands and then millions of students and workers from all over China gathered on the city's Tiananmen Square to support demands for democracy, clean government, and increased personal freedoms.
But activism also doesn't have to mean great upheaval. It can be as simple as trying to encourage yourself and others to think about the life you want to have in the community in which you live.

  • Edwina Victorious - Susan Bonners
    Edwina follows in the footsteps of her namesake great-aunt when she begins to write letters to the mayor about community problems and poses as Edwina the elder.
  • Steinbeck's Ghost - Lewis Buzbee
    Unhappy after his parents move to a weird subdivision and become workaholics, thirteen-year-old Travis returns to his old Salinas neighborhood and becomes actively involved in saving the John Steinbeck Library.
  • Imogene's Last Stand - Candace Fleming
    Enamored of history, young Imogene Tripp tries to save her town's historical society from being demolished in order to build a shoelace factory.
  • Going Going - Naomi Shihab Nye
    In San Antonio, Texas, sixteen-year-old Florrie leads her friends and a new boyfriend in a campaign which supports small businesses and protests the effects of chain stores.
  • Teenage Rebels: Successful High School Activists, from the Little Rock 9 to the Class of Tomorrow - Dawson Barrett
    Provides a glimpse into the laws, policies, and political struggles that have shaped the lives of American high school students over the last one hundred years.
  • Marley Dias Gets It Done and So Can You! - Marley Dias with Siobhan McGowan
    Drawing from her experience, Marley shows kids how they can galvanize their strengths to make positive changes in their communities, while getting support from parents, teachers, and friends to turn dreams into reality.
  • Activism: The Ultimate Teen Guide - Kathlyn Gay
    explains why people become activists, the types of causes they advocate or oppose, and how teenagers can get involved.
  • Luna and Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest - Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
    Social activism combines with environmentalism in this picture book bio of Julia Butterfly Hill and Luna, the thousand-year-old redwood tree whose life she saved.
  • Political Activism: How You Can Make a Difference - Heather E. Schwartz
    Describes what political activism is and serves as a guide explaining how youth can make a change in their world.
The changes these children and young people sought to make are still being felt around the world. In some places, these changes are slower to arrive. In other places, these changes have paved the way for even more changes to move society toward a more just and stable place.

As we can see throughout history, there will be setbacks and obstacles, but change will come.

Sara K Joiner is the author of After the Ashes. She is also a public librarian.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"Beyond the Bright Sea" : A review by Michele Hathaway

"My name is Crow.
When I was a baby, 
someone tucked me into an old boat
 and pushed me out to sea." --Lauren Wolk

The opening lines of Lauren Wolk's 2017 Scott O'Dell Award winner, Beyond the Bright Sea, offer promise and mystery that do not disappoint. Crow's assertion of her name pitches the entire story, forming a perfect bookend. First sentences don't get much better than this.

"I washed up on a tiny island
like a seed riding the tide."

Chapter by chapter questions wash up on the sands of our imagination:

  • What kind of name is "Crow"? Who is she?
  • Who would put a baby in a leaky, old boat and push it out to sea?
  • And Why?

Wikipedia Cuttyhunk Islands
(original Source: Bosley Wilder, Travel Editor,
The Block Island Times)
Crow's persistent quest to answer these questions lead her to the site of a former leper colony, into the path of a ruthless criminal, to buried pirate treasure, and to the brink of losing everything.

"The Island where we found each other was small but strong, anchored by a great pile of black rock that sheltered our cottage--a ramshackle place built from bits of lost ships--nestled on a bed of earth and sea muck, alongside a small garden and the skiff that took us wherever our feet could not."

Although set in 1925, Beyond the Bright Sea has a timeless quality.  Crow's quest and circumstance could be any when. The spare artifacts of life dovetail with the setting. Place, perhaps the most magical element of story, lends its power for symbol and emotional connection. Wolk's masterful use of place is lovely. She herself identifies the tiny island, part of the Elizabeth Islands of Massachusetts, as a character in her story.

This sense of place permeates the narrative to its deepest levels. Crow is doubly isolated, connected by a tenuous strip of sand at low tide to the larger island of Cuttyhunk, which in turn is separated from the mainland. More than this, she is socially isolated. Suspected of coming from the now abandoned leper colony on Penikese Island, Crow is treated as a pariah in her community. No one touches her or anything she has touched--ever--except Osh, her rescuer and guardian, and Miss Maggie, her only friend.

Breaking Nets

I think, like Crow, people can be complicit in the forces that shape them. Crow accepted the shunning of her island neighbors, but when she learned the truth about herself, she found the courage to test that shunning. She began to break the net enclosing her.

Beyond the Bright Sea offers children and adults a beautiful story where they can safely test the nets that bind them from discovering who they truly have always been and perhaps find what they never lost.

A Few More thoughts:

Diversity: We know that Crow's skin is darker than Osh's, but we never learn her ethnicity. This opens the door for a diverse audience to see themselves in Crow.

Loose threads?  We never learn Osh's given name or why he actively avoids recognition and his past. Miss Maggie is a mystery as well: How did she come to live on Cuttyhunk? Why is she alone? We don't need to know these things for the story to work. Rather, it is essential that we don't know because they steer us to the point of the story. For Osh, and eventually for Crow, what matters is not who or what they were but who they are now, in this time. And so it is for all of us. 

Thoughts for Parents, Teachers, and Librarians: 

Beyond the Bright Sea is a wonderful opportunity for cross-curriculum studies: Science--disease, marine biology, islands; Geography; Sociology--the nature of prejudice, the isolation of people with diseases; History--leprosy, immigration, orphanages; English--vocabulary, analogy, lyrical writing.

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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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Picturesque Scotland in Lay and Legend Song and Story
by E.W.C. Junner
That's the title of a school prize awarded my father in 1907. When new, this would be a handsome volume, with many colour plates as well as black and white sketches to accompany the text; it still retains an air of faded dignity. 
The late Hugh Trevor-Roper, Lord Dacre of Glanton, has this to say at the beginning of his book on my native land: 'The early history of all countries is obscure, but the mist which envelopes the early history of Scotland is unique, both in density and duration.' 

I recommend Trevor-Roper's historical, ah, piece as being both highly readable and entertaining. That man's fascination with the legend-laden land of my birth has prompted many a book, poem, song, play and film is indisputable and in this blog I’ll show just a few examples.
To take film first. I have not seen - nor have I any intentions of seeing - Mel Gibson's film 'Braveheart'. From what I read, the film sounded ridiculous and the trailer I saw confirmed that opinion. Sir William Wallace, a national hero to the Scots, stood closer to seven feet than six in height, while Mr. Gibson, who as director, producer, and actor plays the lead part, measures five foot something. Travesty! I cry (okay, tongue in cheek).
As a small girl I saw two movies set in Scotland. 'Brigadoon' was a light-hearted musical starring Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, and Van Johnson. The plot followed the adventures of two Americans who got lost in the woods while on a hunting trip to Scotland. There they stumbled on the village of Brigadoon. In order that the village and its way of life would be forever preserved, it appeared only once every hundred years and was ephemeral. Naturally, one of the American lads would fall in love with a Scots girl and, equally naturally, complications would ensue.                 
Wikipedia describes the film 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', made in 1948 as 'historical'. All I can say is the director took liberties with what was surely the saddest episode in Scotland's history.
Photo of 'Scene from the Battle of Culloden' painting by David Morier

The only clear memory I have of the film is one which caused great hilarity in the cinema. As Cumberland's victorious troops cleared the field, the renowned actor Finlay Currie rose from his death throes to cry, "I guess it's all over McDuff!" I guess... though the audience's reaction wasn't quite what the director intended, I'm sure.
Among the songwriters Carolina, Lady Nairne, was a poetess and songwriter who kept her identity secret. Her father, Laird Laurence Oliphant, was a Jacobite and Carolina's songs, such as 'Charlie is my darling', reflect this. Today Robert Burns is better known world-wide for his Scots poetry and songs than is Carolina. It is reported she was most put out when Rabbie Burns was credited with her work; had Carolina chosen to reveal her identity she could have refuted this, but she never did, contenting herself with complaining to a friend.
There are numerous modern Scots songwriters and poets; are any as (in)famous as William McGonnagal (1825 - 1902)? McGonnagal's   poetry was so excruciatingly bad he was in demand as a music hall turn. His work is rather painful to read.
Literary works set in Scotland, classic and light, for adults and for children, are plentiful. Sir Walter Scott's Rob Roy is a stirring novel set around the time of the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion. Anyone who can wade through Jane Eyre can surely follow the adventures of Frank Osbaldistone when he meets and joins Rob Roy MacGregor Campbell.
It's still worth a read, as are the books of Robert Louis Stevenson. Of the latter's works, Kidnapped is my personal favourite.
And now we come to legends. Many are the tales of the powerful properties of the rowan tree, the Wee Folk, and Michael Scott the wizard. One of the most famous legends is that of the Kelpie. Kelpie is a water sprite who can assume any form he pleases. He most often likes to take the shape of an enormous black horse. It was said should anyone chance to mount him while he was roaming the glens, he would plunge into the loch and drown his overbold rider in the depths.  Since he's chancy and mischievous, and mostly not to be believed, people were wary of Kelpie. Two books for middle graders deal with Kelpie. Molly Hunter's The Kelpie's Pearls is the story of Morag who lived in a tiny croft above Loch Ness. She rescued a Kelpie, who insisted on giving her a necklace of pearls from the bottom of the loch. It is also the story of Torquil, an orphan who loved animals which, thanks to Morag, he could keep safe. A trapper saw Morag's pearls, heard from whence they had come and tried to dredge all the pearls from the bottom of the loch. By fashioning a cross from rowan twigs and reciting an old rhyme, Morag intervened before Kelpie, in shape of a huge black horse, could kill the trapper. Unfortunately, thanks to the  trapper's loose tongue,  poor Morag was thereafter dubbed as a witch. led to all sorts of misery for her, It is a gentle story, with an appropriate ending.
Kelpie, by William Mayne, has a very different, more modern take. Children from England’s Lake District had gone on a camping trip to the Scottish Highlands. Lucy found a pretty, glittering thing which she didn’t realise was the Kelpie’s bridle.
The story follows Kelpie leaving his loch for Vendale Water in an attempt to retrieve his bridle. A warm, funny little story.
Now for a tale from the Borders. George MacDonald Fraser’s The Candlemass Road

is a tale of Lady Margaret Dacre’s trials and tribulations with the Border Reivers. Before the Union of the Crowns in 1603 the strip between Scotland and England, known as the borders, was totally lawless. Raids, theft, especially of cattle, burning of properties, murder and blood feuds were commonplace. It took stern action by King James Vl to bring some kind of order.  George MacDonald Fraser has also written many, very funny, books on army life in the Sottish Regiments during the second world war. After the war he did Hollywood screenplays, notably Flashman.

Running Scared is a super, very exciting book for middle graders. The three Lang children are staying in a remote Highland village with their grandfather for Christmas. He has to go to Glasgow overnight; they go on a hike, get trapped in a blizzard, and involved in a dangerous game with an undercover agent and murderous smugglers. A really gripping tale of suspense.

Much, mostly starry-eyed romance, has been written about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite uprising of 1745. The Jacobites, by Jacqueline Riding is an extensive work on the uprising, which I found fascinating although it turned upside-down the history dunned into our little Scottish heads in elementary school.  In her book, Riding portrays Charles Edward Stuart 

in very unflattering light. He engineered this uprising against the advice of his father; he ignored the wisdom of the intelligent and competent Lord George Murray, relying instead on his own inexperience and that of his Irish friend O’Sullivan in the battle of Culloden. He fled the rout which ensued and escaped back to France. Such a waste of life by a wastrel.

Finally we have Tim Newark’s compelling Highlander, The History of the Legendary Highland Soldier. This book takes the reader from the disaster of Culloden to U.S. camp Dogwood at Fallujah. He starts with the tale of Captain John Maclean, a soldier in the Black Watch regiment and ends with the betrayal of the Highland Regiments. The troops on the ground have lost something irreplaceable.