Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Dangerous Path to Tread, by Elizabeth McLaughlin

We’re very nearly into March, which, I have been informed, is now to be known as Women’s Month.  Therefore, I make no apologies for writing about women in history, from earliest ages to present times.  I am focusing on women who followed and carried the Christian message to a dangerous world.  There are so few captivating books for young readers on any Christian missionary, never mind on women missionaries.  Yet today, to proclaim Christianity is almost as dangerous – and certainly as ostracizing – as it was in the days of Herod Antipas.

I’ve just been reading Two Women of Galilee, a historical fiction by Mary Rourke (Mira publications).  While it’s aimed at adult readers, it would appeal also to middle graders and young adults.  This gentle tale is the story of Joanna, a Galilean whose parents adopted Roman ways, and her association with Mary, the mother of Jesus.  The latter’s family, of course, kept the Hebrew faith and laws.  Joanna suffers from consumption, from which she is cured by Jesus. Slowly, although faced by imprisonment and death for her decisions, Joanna returns to her Hebrew faith and follows Jesus. 

Song of The Magdalene, by Donna Jo Napoli (Scholastic Inc).  Intended for Young Adults, it is a sensitive, beautifully told of doomed young romance.  Miriam, the Magdalene, was an epileptic.  Abraham was crippled.  In ancient Israel, they were considered sinners – else why were they penallised thus? – and so outcasts. 

The women in both these books risked their all by becoming followers of Jesus, by recognising Him as the Messiah.  Down through the centuries since, courageous women have faced hardships, danger, and death in order to spread the Gospel.  My compatriot Mary Slessor, ‘White Queen of Calabar’ was but one.

Just a few years ago, the missionary son of some American friends had to attend an important meeting with his wife.  He left his four children at home in Uganda, under the care of the eldest daughter.  While they were gone, natives invaded the home; hearing a commotion, the eldest daughter, with tremendous courage and great presence of mind, hid the tiny four-year-old under the bedclothes.  She is a latter-day, and very young, heroine.  Armed men burst in, ordered the children to lie face down on the floor, arms above their heads, and not to move a muscle.  When the parents returned, the poor children were still lying there, too terrified to move.  The faithful servants were either slain or had fled for their lives.  This is history.  History which, in the present climate, is politically incorrect to tell.  There are many, many such stories to be told and so very few in existence. 

I intend to write a modern historical fiction on what is happening today; the suppression of any Christian emblem, such as a cross or crucifix, being worn at work, and the plight of genuine Middle Eastern immigrants and refugees faced with an implacable government bent on bringing hundreds of migrants to this country.  The very people who wish to follow Sharia law, and from whom the aforementioned immigrants and refugees came to escape.  The history that needs to be told now is that of the Middle Eastern Christians who seek refuge in the west from the horrors of ISIL, the Muslim immigrants who may want to become Christians, and those who are happy with their Muslim, Hindu, or whatever faith they have but long for the freedom we enjoy here – while we still have it.  I hope I’m up to the challenge.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Making Sense of the Political Noise - for Kids and Adults

By Suzanne Morgan Williams

We're preparing for our presidential caucuses here in Nevada - phones are ringing, television and internet sites are full of political ads, and campaign volunteers are knocking on doors. It's no wonder I'm thinking about books for kids with political themes. But I came up short on titles that actually talk about the political process, historical fiction or not. So that's my first question. Do any of you know of YA or children's books that address politics? Elections? I can think of lots of books that have to do with war, homelessness, drugs, and other social issues but very few about the process. Yes, there are biographies of politicians, but what else?

Instead of featuring books about politics this week, I want to recommend a book for eighth grade and up about how to assess the rhetoric and political claims that we're all bombarded with. It's no surprise to me that politics uses the vocabulary of war - contest, campaign, captains, ground game, target precincts.This is serious business that creates fortunes, gathers or shares power, and changes lifes. Our children, the future voters and citizens who will guide the country long after we're gone, need to be educated so they aren't just swept along by the media. They need to think carefully.

So, everyone please read Paul Fleischman's Eyes Wide Open, Going Behind the Environmental Headlines.  It's not directly about politics, and some of you may disagree with his point of view on the environment, but the lessons are clear and can be applied to most messaging, statistics, or claims we hear. Fleischman says on his website: "THE GOAL: Giving readers 14 and up the briefing they need to comprehend their moment in history. And a riveting moment it is."

This easy to understand book is a primer in media, democracy, and how the point of view of those behind the advertisements and articles determines the information they provide. I'd say in this election year, Eyes Wide Open is a must read for all ages. Comments are welcome!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Historical Fiction Book Buzz at the Movies by Mary Louise Sanchez

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 Movies have been on my mind lately, perhaps because we watched a few during the holidays. Also, we recently visited Palm Springs, California and side-stepped around the stars on the sidewalks honoring movie stars and various people in the entertainment business.

Recently  I was browsing the collection of movies at our local library and noticed it had E.T. the Extra-terrestrial.
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Even though I've seen the movie, I didn't think our seven and nine-year-old grandchildren had seen it. So, I checked the movie out. Our grand kids gave it glowing reviews. It got me thinking that I should now browse the library more intently for children's movies based on history.

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The 2016 Oscars will be broadcast on February 28.
This brings to mind the fact that many fine movies were first children's books—specifically historical fiction. There are other fine movies which are animated or were television shows that also help teach history. You can rent these movies or even purchase them. Many fine documentaries and some movies are even on YouTube. I encourage you to look at reviews and the ratings to see if these are appropriate for your children.

Be aware that movie producers and directors take artistic license when these movies are produced, and the movies may not be accurate portrayals of the historical events or people. They may also veer from the original book. While watching the movie, children could note where they think history may have been fictionalized; and then they could search for the facts. Even so, movies make the time periods come alive with the costuming, settings, and often the language and music. 

In the past I have hosted Oscar parties for our family, which included young children. Everyone was requested to attend the party dressed in their "red carpet attire." Our granddaughters and nieces came dressed in their Disney princess Halloween costumes.
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(That's one way to get more use from the costumes.) We also had a red cloth at the entry way, complete with paparazzi (husband with a camera). We have played many games at various
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Oscar parties, but one game that was particularly fun was where everyone, including children, had to find something in our house that called to mind a prop in a movie. The rest of us had to figure out which movie the prop was in. What Oscar parties have you had or attended that were memorable? What are your ideas for an historical movie family/classroom premiere?

 My favorite historical fiction movie was made for adults and is based on the book  Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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Here are some movies based on children's historical fiction books, and my nominees for an historical fiction film fest with your classroom or family. What are some of your favorite movies based on an historical event, time period, or person that would appeal to children?

Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

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Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

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 Miracle at Midnight (TV movie) based on Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

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Miracle at Moreaux based on, Twenty and Ten by Clair Hutchet Bishop

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Revenant and the Mountain Men

The Revenant, an award-winning 2016 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, dramatically tells of the hardships endured by the  mountain men who hunted, trapped, and explored the western regions of the United States in the early decades of the nineteenth century. I recently wrote about this subject on my personal website, and some of what follows is copied from that post. You can read the original post here:

Hugh Glass, the real-life character DiCaprio portrays, suffered more than many of his mountain men compatriots. The Revenant, based upon a 2002 novel of the same title by Michael Punke, describes a heart-wrenching tale of injustice and revenge. Because of the level of violence depicted and the occurrence of some nudity, the movie is rated R, making it “not recommended” for middle-grade viewers. I personally think the level of violence is probably no greater than what is encountered on many video games. Too bad it is not readily available for young students of American history.

Hugh Glass

In the movie, as in real life, Glass was abandoned to die by two fellow mountain men, Thomas Fitzpatrick and Jim Bridger. Glass endured excruciating hardships in saving his own life and in pursuing his vendetta against the two who left him for dead. Although I had not read Punke’s novel when I wrote my trilogy, I was aware of the Glass story and the role Bridger played in it.

In Eagle Talons, The Iron Horse Chronicles—Book One, I introduce Charles “Bullfrog Charlie” Munro, a mountain man who befriends young Will Braddock, the protagonist. Bullfrog helps Braddock learn about the wilderness and aids him in overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Bullfrog is 65 years old when he first appears in Eagle Talons, where he reveals that Jim Bridger gave him his nickname. Bullfrog could have been with Bridger on the expedition when Glass was attacked by the bear, but we will never know for sure.

In Bear Claws, The Iron Horse Chronicles—Book Two, Will Braddock is with Bullfrog when the old mountain man is mauled by a grizzly bear. Later in the book, while leading a hunting expedition, Will is himself attacked by a grizzly. During the time period of The Iron Horse Chronicles, Bridger was very much alive and serving as a guide for the US Army. Bridger does not appear personally in Bear Claws, but Bridger Pass and Fort Bridger appear frequently in both Eagle Talons and Bear Claws. James Felix Bridger is justifiably considered one of the greatest of the mountain men.

My search for books about Hugh Glass and the other mountain men written specifically for middle-grade students was not very productive.

Hugh Glass, Mountain Man, by Robert M. McClung, fits the category, but is apparently out of print. A new copy is listed on Amazon for $2,400 and on Barnes & Noble for $2,000. That’s probably more than most young reader’s budget can manage. Both booksellers offer access to used copies of the book for less, but still not cheap. Copies should be available in libraries.

Jedediah Smith: And the Mountain Men of the American West, by John Logan Allen is a generalized study of many of the mountain men. As the title implies, the book is heavily oriented toward another famous mountain man, Jedediah Smith. Smith was with the expedition when Hugh Glass was attacked by the bear. In a later incident, Smith was mauled badly by a grizzly, and his compatriots had to sew his scalp and ear back in place. This is another book that is out of print, but new and used copies are available from Barnes & Noble. I found a copy of this book in my local library.

Because of my difficulty in finding books written for the middle-grade student, I recommend two books that I used while researching grizzly bear attacks and mountain men experiences in general. Both books are written at a reading level with which middle-grade students should have no difficulty.

Cowboys, Mountain Men & Grizzly Bears by Matthew P. Mayo contains what its subtitle explains: “Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of the Wild West.” Each of Mayo’s fifty articles is only two or three pages long, and the book contains several illustrations. One of those tales presents what is considered to be the true story of Hugh Glass. Author Mayo is a fellow member of Western Writers of America and a winner of that association’s Spur Award.

The Mountain Men by George Laycock is subtitled “The Dramatic History and Lore of the First Frontiersmen.” Among the book’s twenty-five stories, one is about the amazing survival experience of Hugh Glass. The book also includes eight special “side-bar” articles with beautiful illustrations explaining how the mountain men trapped beaver, made fire without matches, and did many other things to survive. These exciting articles reminded me of my dog-eared copy of the official Boy Scout Handbook from years ago.

My experience in putting this article together for Mad About MG History indicates a need for a middle-grade novel about the mountain men. I’ll have to think more about that.