Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Dr. Livingston, I Presume?"

When I engaged in my research about the construction of the first transcontinental railroad in preparation for writing my trilogy, I discovered the delightful, comprehensive reports that Henry Morton Stanley wrote for the St. Louis Missouri Democrat in the late 1860s. As a youth, I was fascinated with the history of world discovery and had read books about the man who uttered the famous phrase: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

To my surprise, I discovered that Stanley’s “explorations” included extensive travel in the western United States. Stanley’s newspaper articles are contained in his autobiographical book My Early Travels in America and Asia, Volume 1. In my book, Eagle Talons, The Iron Horse Chronicles—Book One, I initially included Stanley as a historical character my protagonist, Will Braddock, meets in Julesburg, Colorado, in 1867. Subsequently, I eliminated Stanley, deciding it was an “information dump.” I did rely upon Stanley’s extensive descriptions of the hell on wheels town of Julesburg and the dozens of wagon trains gathered in eastern Colorado.

In searching for books containing information about Stanley that would appeal to middle grade readers, I found two older history/biography books. Unfortunately, I have not located any historical fiction nor have I found any recent history books on the subject. Certainly, Stanley’s own autobiographies are readable by middle grade students. Stanley was a prolific writer, and his works cover all aspects of his interesting life.

Henry Stanley and the European Explorers of Africa by Steven Sherman, Chelsea House Publishers, New York and Philadelphia, 1993, presents a broad description of the better known explorers of Africa. Sherman introduces the reader to the efforts of several African explorers, including Mungo Park, Hugh Clapperton, Richard Burton, John Speke, and of course David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley. Sherman’s book includes a short summary of Stanley’s life prior to his explorations in Africa. The reference to his work as a journalist in the American West is brief and provides little information about that period of Stanley’s life. The book does contain extensive modern and period illustrations and maps that make for an interesting read.

Henry Stanley and David Livingstone by Susan Clinton (a volume in The World’s Greatest Explorers series), Childrens Press, Chicago, 1990, might more appropriately be classified as a dual biography. Clinton provides alternating chapters on the lives of the two explorers. She delves into their early years in some detail. The reader learns that Stanley’s birth name was John Rowlands, the son of an unwed mother. At age seventeen, he escaped his dismal life in Wales and sailed as a cabin boy to America. He deserted in New Orleans, where an English cotton broker took him under his wing. The ensuring relationship resulted in John changing his name to that of his new mentor, Henry Morton Stanley. The American Civil War began when Stanley was twenty years old. He enlisted in the Confederate Army and was captured at the Battle of Shiloh. After several weeks in a northern prison camp, he switched sides. He only lasted a few days as a Yankee because he came down with dysentery, and the Union Army discharged him. Over the next few years he bounced around at various jobs including merchant seaman and legal clerk. He even tried his hand at prospecting for gold in Colorado. In 1866 Stanley began submitting articles about his travels in the American West to the St. Louis Missouri Democrat.

James Gordon Bennett, editor of the New York Herald, impressed with Stanley’s writing, hired him to find the “long-lost” Dr. David Livingstone. Early in his journey into Africa, he happened to be present in 1869 at the opening of the Suez Canal in Egypt. It was this engineering feat that put an end to one of the hoped for benefits of the first transcontinental railroad across the United States. The railroad lost the anticipated China trade to the new canal.

Stanley continued deeper into Africa in his search for the missionary-doctor, and in late 1871 uttered: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Livingstone did not realize he was lost, and he did not want to be rescued. When Stanley returned to England, he was snubbed by the Royal Geographic Society. This so infuriated the new explorer that he subsequently embarked upon additional journeys throughout Africa, becoming the first known individual to cross the entire continent. His books describing his adventures became best sellers, and Stanley gained the reputation of being the greatest African explorer.

Perhaps my research contributed to the success of my first book, because on October 24, in Ft. Worth, Texas, Eagle Talons, The Iron Horse Chronicles—Book One, was awarded the 2015 Bronze Will Rogers Medallion for historical fiction for young readers. I obviously owe Henry Morton Stanley and his wonderfully descriptive writing for providing me with fascinating material to use about the rough and tumble life engaged in by the builders of the first transcontinental railroad.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Sara K Joiner: After the Ashes Book Launch

The official book release of After the Ashes was October 15, and I held a book launch at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston on Saturday. If you've never visited Blue Willow, you should. It is an amazing bookstore, and they host hundreds of events each year.

After the Ashes on display. Note the perfectly-
placed tropical plants.
photo from Sara K Joiner
When I walked in, I saw a gorgeous display of multiple copies of After the Ashes complete with tropical-looking plants.  So perfect!  There was also a customer there who was picking up her pre-ordered copy of the book in preparation for the book launch at 2 p.m. Here's the important part of that: I did not know this person!

The event took place in the rear of the store. My mother made a chocolate cake, which we christened Dutch chocolate in honor of the book. I also had Dutch cookies available, and I decorated the signing table with giant plastic stag beetles similar to those the main character might have collected.

Prizes, including Lava soap, Dutch mints in a tin, and a copy of Krakatoa by Simon Winchester, were given out to people who asked the first questions.

Cathy Berner, a former librarian herself, introduced me, and we were off! I talked about how long it took me to write the book, and how often I revised it. I pointed out early readers who were in the audience and had given me helpful tips.
Me and a member of my critique group. She 
brought me roses!
photo from my critique partner

Me signing books for a friend. She'll 
be doing a giveaway on her blog.
photo from my critique partner
I read a brief passage to whet people's appetites, and then I answered questions. Once the questions were over, I signed books and took pictures like a real author! It was a bit surreal, to be honest. People I've known for years were buying something I wrote and getting me to sign it.

There were about twenty-five or thirty people there, including some I did not know. More than the person I mentioned earlier. That was a thrill! Blue Willow sold out all their copies of After the Ashes. My mother didn't even get to buy one!

My roommate, me and my friend—
all Texas Lutheran alumnae!
photo from my friend
It was also a little mini-reunion of sorts for some Texas Lutheran alumnae. My roommate, one of my friends and a former co-worker all came down from Austin and Seguin to attend. Thanks so much, y'all!

Even these two books were gone before 
the end of the event.
photo from my critique partner
I cannot thank Blue Willow enough for all they did to make the day special, and I cannot thank all my friends who came and supported me. Honestly, it was better than I could have imagined, and I'm still smiling!

Sara K Joiner is a librarian and the author of After the Ashes. This post was originally published on her website.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Michele Hathaway on "The Single Story"

One of the things I love about World War II stories is how many of them there are--and how many continue to be written. As a child, some of my most memorable were Children of the Resistance,  Anne Frank (of course), and my absolute favorite, Snow Treasure; what child wouldn't want to smuggle gold bullion on a sled right under the noses of Nazis? In addition to books, there are dozens of films, produced both during and after WII: The Sound of Music still sings to us all.

 But what if we didn't have all those stories? What if we had only one? How could we begin to know anything about WWII through only one story?

 "The Danger of a Single Story"

In 2009, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian author, speaker, and teacher gave an excellent Ted Talk on "The Danger of a Single Story."  The single story, says Adichie, shows "people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become." As a middle-class child in Nigeria, she perceived her family's house boy, Fide, as poor, as having nothing. Then one day she went to visit Fide's family and discovered that although they were poor, his brother made beautiful raffia baskets. What she learned was that they worked hard and could create beautiful things. She no longer had a single story about Fide and about the poor. 

When Adichie went to college in the United States, she experienced the single story as her roommate applied it to her. Adichie says "She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me." Her roommate pitied her, expecting her English to be poor, her music to be tribal, and her knowledge of the world to be provincial and ignorant. I will not attempt to tell more of her honest and moving story here. I could not do it justice. I urge you to follow the link above and listen for yourself. The point is that,

"The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story."-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Limited Views

If you only had the photo on the left to go by, could you identify this mountain? You can probably tell that it is a volcano, and you might guess some of the more famous ones around the planet, but could you know for certain? Hold that thought. I'll come back to it.

If we only had one story about the Lakota, could we assume we know all about the rest of the North American Indians or even the rest of their related Sioux tribes? Ridiculous, right? There were hundreds of tribes at the time of the first European contact, and even if we had one story about each of them, we would still have a limited view of Native Americans in North America. For that, we would need stories from different periods of history, from female and male perspectives, from the young, the old, the middle-aged, from people with various roles, skills, and  experiences. The list goes on. 

First the Good News

What this means for historical fiction and writers of historical fiction is that there is a great need for more stories! We need stories written by people from around the world. We need them to be written for their own people, and we need them to be translated so others can read them. 

The Bad News

Right now, most of these stories are unwritten. For some topics, such as WWII and perhaps a few others such as the American Civil War, there are enough stories that we have a more accurate picture, but there are always more stories. 

Some Possibilities

Teachers: I would urge teachers to consider the danger of a single story and include multiple books and short stories into a unit of study. It may be better to read three books from different perspectives on a subject, than to read three books on three different subjects. If this is not feasible, perhaps summer reading could focus on one subject. In the classroom, perhaps students could work in teams, each reporting on a different story to their team. You'll know best how to plan. Be sure to request books from your school and public librarians! 

Librarians: Check your collection and try to add multiple books on the same period or country. I know collection size is limited, but larger library systems may be able to handle this, and even small libraries can specialize.

Parents: Suggest purchases to your school and public libraries when you find gaps. One of the things I love about my local public library is how open and responsive they are to patron requests. Try it!

If you guessed Mt. Fugi, you were right. The danger of the single story is a mountain to overcome, but the view is worth it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Bat (H)er Up: Women Making History in Sports

Senator Bayh exercises with Title IX
athletes at Purdue University, ca. 1970s.
Photo in p
ublic domain, via Wikimedia Commons
It's been 43 years since Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana introduced the legislation, now commonly called Title IX, that gave girls a chance to compete in athletics. The law made sure that schools gave equal opportunity to play sports by offering separate teams and fair funding opportunities. Suddenly, girls weren't just cheering from the sidelines; they were playing volleyball and softball, swimming and running cross country.

But what about girls who don't want to play the sports usually reserved for girls? Unfortunately, girls are still facing a lot of resistance in their efforts to break into sports that are traditionally in the domain of men.

The Sweet Spot, Stacy Barnett Mozer, is a great book for athletic middle school and upper elementary girls. Thirteen-year-old Sam Barrette’s baseball coach tells her that her attitude's holding her back, but how can she not have an attitude when she has to listen to boys and people in the stands screaming things like “Go play softball,” all season, just because she's the only girl playing in the 13U league. Lovely and sensitive, this book will help guide girls through the difficulties of asserting themselves and becoming leaders in a man's world.

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies, by Mick Cochrane, is another book about a girl trying to play baseball. After her father's death in a car accident, eighth grader, Molly Williams decides to join the baseball team and show off the knuckleball her father taught her how to throw. Although the author does a little more telling than showing, this book also gives a fair picture of a girl overcoming hardships, both on the field and in her personal life.

Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock tells the story of fifteen-year-old D. J. Schwenk, the only daughter of a farmer in Red Bend, Wisconsin who loves football so much that he names his cows after football players. D.J. knows a lot about football because of her brothers, but when she decides that she wants to join the team, the opposition nearly sacks her courage.

Because all of these books are set in the present, none are really historical novels. However, time passes, and present novels become historical. Let us hope that the opposition to girls in male dominated sports truly becomes an historical issue soon.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Chris Eboch on Learning History through Ghost Stories

Many people, children and adults, love Halloween. Decorations, costumes, and of course candy make for a fun holiday. But ghost stories can also be a way to get young people interested in history, even if they think they don’t care about the past.

Some ghost stories have historical settings, but many features contemporary characters – except, of course, for the ghost. While a ghost could theoretically arise from a recent death, they are often decades or even centuries old. (In children’s books, this provides some distance from the emotions of death. A hundred-year-old ghost can be a fun fantasy in a way the recent ghost of a loved one would not be.)

In many ghost stories, the ghost is a rather vague presence, perhaps more a series of strange happenings to add mystery and chills. The ghost may be an ordinary person from a few decades prior, and not really bring in any history. Sometimes novels with “ghost” in the title don’t even have real ghosts. However, a few titles have ghosts strongly rooted in history. These spectral figures provide a glimpse of the past, without requiring the reader to be totally immersed in the historical setting.

Here are a few middle grade ghost novels to consider for young readers who like thrills and chills.

The Ghost Wore Gray, book 2 of The Nina Tanleven Mysteries, by Bruce Coville: Nina and her friend Chris meet the ghost of a Confederate soldier. What is he doing hunting a hotel in New York State? A mystery as well as a ghost story, this fun novel touches on both the Civil War and the Underground Railroad.

Ghosts I Have Been, by Richard Peck: While it’s set in 1913, the humor, chills, and spunky heroine will appeal to contemporary readers. Blossom Culp has visions, and here they connect her to the sinking of the Titanic.

The Ghost’s Grave, by Peg Kehret: A summer visiting his aunt in small-town Washington state turns into an exciting adventure when Josh meets the ghost of a coal miner who died in 1903. The mystery is stronger than the historical element, but it's a fun read.

Lady Margaret’s Ghost: A Felicity Mystery (American Girl Mysteries), by Elizabeth McDavid Jones: Set in the 1770s, this mystery will especially appeal to young horse lovers because of scenes of horses and horse racing.

In my Haunted series, thirteen-year-old Jon and his eleven-year-old sister, Tania, are typical modern kids – except for the fact that Tania can communicate with ghosts. In The Ghost on the Stairs, the kids help investigate a hundred-year-old tragedy in Colorado silver mining country. The Riverboat Phantom puts them on the Mississippi River on an antique riverboat. For The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, Jon and Tania travel to the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, where the ghost of an old miner is still looking for his lost mine.

While ghost stories are seldom the most historical of historical fiction, they can be a bridge for young readers who prefer the paranormal to the historical.

What other middle grade ghost stories can you think of that use realistic historical elements?

Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with 30+ traditionally published books for children. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure, and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Learn more at or her Amazon page.

Chris is also the author of You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Revolutions - Not So Long Ago

Traditionally, history is presented to young people as events which occurred in the distant past.  What is seldom pointed out is the news of today will be the history of tomorrow.   In twenty years time, for example, how will the current Muslim immigration to Europe, with its resultant chaos, apportioning of blame, and hand-wringing, be presented?    What stories will emerge, fact or fiction?     And, as always, fact is so much stranger, so absolutely beyond belief, than fiction.
            We know history is all about people, power and politics.  When it is presented in textbooks as facts and dates, it is no wonder history appears dry and ditchwater dull to Middle Graders.    History is all about people; what they were like, how they lived, and how they most likely thought.  Strong characters drive history.
The French Revolution, which took place a mere two hundred and thirty-seven years ago, was one of the bloodiest times  in history. And in it, we find some of the world’s most naïve, vicious, glamorous and perhaps most tragic characters.  
The   history books I had in school attributed the cause of the French Revolution to the terrible conditions in which the peasants lived, and also to the apparent callousness of the nobility.   If memory serves me right, the final straw was when a Marquis drove his coach at such speed through the narrow streets that a young boy was knocked under his carriage and killed.   (Or perhaps that was Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities! ).   
When Louis XVl became King of France, the country was in total disarray   The economy was a mess, the court was totally debauched, and there were problems with the nobility. 
The middle classes were becoming wealthy through trade, manufacturing, and banking.  The nobility lived high on the work of the peasants, who were becoming increasingly resentful and  restive 
Louis was only twenty, shy, inexperienced, naïve, and rather narrow-minded.   He reinstated the courts of justice, the parlements, thinking they would solve his problems.   They didn’t.   Like Charles l of Britain, Louis believed in the Divine Right of Kings.  He soon tired of his country’s problems and preferred to listen to the counsel of his beautiful, cosseted, and sheltered from reality child-bride, Marie Antoinette.   Neither Louis nor Marie-Antoinette had the merest inkling of what a struggle life was for those not born into a world of wealth and subservience to one.
It did not help the mood of the peasants that rainstorms and hail ruined the crops of 1788,  People were starving, and riots broke out.   Louis was put in the position of acknowledging the National Assembly and relinquishing his power.  Instead, he vetoed the Assembly and the Revolution began.   On 14th July, a mob stole 30,000 muskets from les Invalides, and stormed the Bastille.   Five years later, in January 1793 Louis was guillotined.  Marie-Antoinette followed him to the guillotine that August.
Revolutions are never the solutions; the after-effects, the destruction, the crippling socialism is prevalent in modern day France.  The great churches, even the ‘glorious towers of Notre Dame’ are absolutely devoid of any Spirit.  Desecrated under Robespierre.
.  The arrogance of the nobility gave way to the Reign of  Terror under Robespierre. 
What wealth of history lies here!  What fabric of modern Americans, many who can weave their genealogy into this rich, colourful, tragic fabric.
As for Marie-Antoinette herself, the young child bride… Many years ago I visited an exhibition in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, of her jewels.  Everything was so lovely, but what struck me, and has stayed in my mind ever since, as particularly poignant, were her beautiful matched pear drop diamond earrings.
Truly, I have never seen anything so beautiful.  I have seen my own country’s Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, but never have I seen anything which tugged at my heartstrings as did these.   Poor lovely Marie-Amtoinette, they say you had a good heart.  You loved your husband and your children dearly.  Were you kind to your maids, the personal maid who dressed you, did your hair?   How many stories lie here, just begging to be told.

Marie Antoinette – Picture Courtesy of Smithsonian Pictures in the  Public Domain