Thursday, July 28, 2016

What Fueled My Passion for History? by Mary Louise Sanchez

STORIES! Family stories made history come alive for me. Apparently, family stories also touch the lives of many people and give them a reason to search for their roots. A survey recently listed the top hobbies Americans engage in. Gardening was number one, and genealogy was number two on the list. I'm not surprised, because in my own large extended family, many generations of us have been interested in our ancestors and their stories, for as long as I can remember. This lead many of us to work on our genealogies even before the TV drama, Roots, played in 1977. In the process of working on genealogy, you can't help but learn history if you want to understand the people and their times.

Here are just two examples of how my family's stories have connected the past to my life.

 My mother's family left New Mexico in the 1920s to live in Wyoming, where my mother was born. Since there was no Medicare or old-age homes then, elderly parents, aunts, and uncles lived with their families.

Rufina (Maldonado) Maes and Andres Maes
Thus, my great-grandmother lived with the family and since she was blind, due to glaucoma, her days were spent telling stories to anyone who had time to listen. My mother was one of the younger children of a family of seven children. Around the age of eight, my mother didn't have many responsibilities, other than to take her eighty some year old grandmother to the outhouse. Lucky for me that my mother enjoyed listening to her grandmother's stories; remembered, and shared them.

One of the stories related how an important priest baptized my great-grandmother near Taos. This priest also provided schooling for young boys; which led my great-grandmother's uncle to became a priest. My mother knew the stories, but not necessarily the names or dates.

Fast forward to the 1970s where I had access to genealogy records at the Federal Center in Denver and large collections of Latter Day Saint genealogy microfilms.

I was determined to verify family stories through the primary documents. I also read as much as I could about New Mexico history and learned about the famous rebel priest, Antonio Jose Martinez from Taos. He was a character in Willa Cather's novel, Death Comes to the Archbishop.

I learned Padre Martinez stood up to the French archbishop, Lamy, in support of the Hispanic population. He started a newspaper and also schooled young men, many of whom became priests, including my great-grandmother's uncle.
By studying history to verify a story, I gained a different perspective than Willa Cather, of the priest and his times.

After years of turning the spindles on the microfilms, I found a gold mine—my great-grandmother's baptism record signed by this very priest in 1848 in Taos. The added gems were that the baptism record not only recorded my great-grandmother's parents, but included both sets of her grandparents, including the maiden names of both grandmothers! This information allowed me to connect to the first families who colonized New Mexico in 1598 and with those who returned to New Mexico after the Pueblo Revolt in 1680.

With the advent of the internet, and still seeking primary documents, I now have found records of my great-grandmother's uncle priest. How I wish I could share these finds with my mother. She would have enjoyed knowing that her priest ancestor was the officiate at a marriage between my father's ancestors.

I found another family story in a Newbery Award book. When I attended the University of Wyoming in the 1960s, one of my professors of children's literature required us to read a certain number of Newbery Award books. This was when I discovered...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold.
It's the story of a New Mexican boy in the 1940s who wants to take the family's flock of sheep to graze in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, but everyone thinks he's too young.

Miguel's story is basically my dad's story! As a young boy in the 1930s, my dad was the family shepherd in those very mountains. He herded about two hundred sheep for my grandfather and great-grandfather. However, my dad wasn't a hero for saving sheep. Instead, he started a forest fire because he was bored with the "dumb sheep." Can you imagine what it's like to see your own family story in a published book, when you're not used to seeing Hispanics in many books.

Family stories inspired me to write my own stories, based on our Hispanic experience in New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. Hopefully they will be published and inspire others to mine their own family stories, which will also immerse them in history.

Stories are powerful, whether oral or written and can be the impetus for someone delving into their own history and writing about it. As Isabel Camp says," Our universe if made up of 'vacant silences.' There is room for seven billion stories, one written by each person in this tiny planet."

What are your passion(s)? What has fueled them? What are your students' and patrons' passions? Now go light those fires!

You probably gathered New Mexico is another passion of mine. I hope to share some middle grade books with New Mexico settings in my next post.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Buffalo Bill

Buffalo Bill served as an inspiration for the protagonist, Will Braddock, in The Iron Horse Chronicles. Both boys embarked on a life of their own at age fourteen. It has been said that the youth of the mid-nineteenth century grew up faster than those of today. Knowing the history of Buffalo Bill, I felt comfortable that the adventurous life into which I thrust Will Braddock at that age could actually happen. I also knew from personal experience that accepting responsibility at that age was possible, since I took my first job at age fourteen.

Born William Frederick Cody in 1846 in Iowa Territory, several months before it became a state, the future showman grew up on a frontier farm. When Bill was seven, his father, Isaac, was stabbed by a pro-slavery advocate during a rally when he spoke in support of abolition. Bill helped carry his father away, displaying early on his ability to act for himself. Bill’s father died in 1857 of pneumonia attributed to his earlier stabbing. From age ten, Bill worked to help support his mother and sisters. At fourteen, Bill became a Pony Express rider earning a reputation as one of the best. I wrote about the Pony Express on this website in a post entitled "Orphans Wanted" on May 26, 2016.

In The Iron Horse Chronicles, Will Braddock becomes a hunter for his uncle’s Union Pacific Railroad survey inspection team. At the same time Will is hunting antelope for a survey team of five working on the first transcontinental railroad in Wyoming, William Cody is hunting buffalo to feed hundreds of tracklayers for what would become the Kansas Pacific Railway. The Kansas Pacific, known until 1869 as the Union Pacific Eastern Division, had lost the race to the Union Pacific Railroad in 1866 to be the first railroad to lay track to the Hundredth Meridian and earn the right to build west to meet the Central Pacific Railroad, coming east out of California.

Cody earned the admiration of several Army officers for his marksmanship while hunting for the railroad, and it is believed they bestowed upon him the nickname of “Buffalo Bill.” Bill later served as a scout for the Army in its wars with the Native Americans. His efforts earned him a Medal of Honor in 1872. In a strange political maneuver, Congress revoked the medal in 1917 (along with 910 other recipients) when they retroactively tightened the rules. Since Bill had served as a civilian scout, and not a soldier, he was deemed ineligible. Seventy-two years after Cody died on January 10, 1917, Congress restored his medal.

Bill Cody would have known about the great hundredth meridian expedition organized by Thomas “Doc” Durant, the Union Pacific’s vice president and general manager, in October 1866. I wrote about what I consider to be “the first wild west show” on my own website’s blog on June 6, 2016. You can read that post by following this link:

Perhaps it was from the Union Pacific’s Grand Excursion to the Hundredth Meridian that Cody gained the inspiration for founding Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. This show became a huge success in the United States during his lifetime. Bill and his show also toured Europe repeatedly, and they played to Queen Victoria of Great Britain on three different occasions. 

Did Will Braddock and Bill Cody know one another in the late 1860s? It’s doubtful they met, but each was probably aware that the other was considered a top hunter by his respective railroad. In Bear Claws, The Iron Horse Chronicles—Book Two, Will Braddock guides a hunting expedition for a fictional German nobleman, much as Bill Cody did for a real-life Russian prince.

Eagle Talons, The Iron Horse Chronicles--Book One, received the Bronze Will Rogers Medallion Award in 2015 in the category of books for Younger Readers. Bear Claws has been selected as a finalist for the 2016 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Younger Readers.The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, on October 29, 2016. I plan to be there.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sara K Joiner: Summertime Is Here!

Are you dreaming of going to the mountains this summer?
Or would you rather be at the beach?
photo of the Grand Tetons by Sara K Joiner
Ahh, summer. A time of fun in the sun, sleeping late, and spending time with friends. A time of vacations, camps, and picnics.

But that's now.

What about summers past? How did children pass their days then?

There was planting on the farm or fighting in a war, wasn't there? There were no lazy days or long visits with friends. It was work, work, work!

Of course, you know what you did during the summer when you were young. Maybe you spent your days working on your tan or maybe you spent your days simply working. Either way, it doesn't seem that long ago.

As adults, we often don't realize what "the past" means to current middle graders. The year 2000 can seem like ancient history to them.

And that opens up a whole new world of historical, relatable summer-set novels. Here are some historical books set during the lazy days of the more recent past.

Lucky: Maris, Mantle and My Best Summer Ever by Wes Tooke
Set in 1961, Louis is a bat boy for the New York Yankees while also having to deal with his father's remarriage and the family's move to White Plains.

Dead End In Norvelt by Jack Gantos
Set in 1962, Jack is forced to help an elderly neighbor who wants Jack to type obituaries. First in a series.
2012 Newbery Award winner
2012 Scott O'Dell Award winner

Painting the Rainbow by Amy Gordon
Set in 1965, cousins Holly and Ivy uncover family secrets and learn the truth about their uncle and his friend Kiyoshi in a Japanese internment camp during World War II.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Set in 1968, Delphine and her two sisters travel from Brooklyn, New York to Oakland, California to visit a mother they barely know. First in a series.
2011 Coretta Scott King Author Award winner
2011 Newbery Honor book

Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning by Danette Haworth
Set in the 1970s, Violet is pretty happy with her life and her friends in Florida, but a newcomer from Detroit, Michigan starts to turn her world upside down.

Dogtag Summer by Elizabeth Partridge
Set in 1980, Tracy is an adoptee from Vietnam who discovers a soldier's dogtag in her father's things that brings up painful memories for her and her father.

The Summer I Learned to Fly by Dana Reinhardt
Set in 1986, Drew helps in her family's cheese shop but has difficulty coping when her widowed mother begins dating again.

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

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mythology as a Gateway to History, by Michele Hathaway

Large Blue Horses by Franz Marc (1880-1916), 1911.
(Public Domain in country of origin and areas where the
 copyright term is author's life plus 90  years or less.)
We usually begin history with the earliest known facts: geographical origins, language families, and artifacts such as tools, pottery, and structures. It's fascinating stuff, and I love it. But what if we enter history through the gateway of mythology?

If the goal is to understand a people group at their most central level, how they perceive their world and their place in it, mythology is a logical beginning.

Peter Iverson in DinĂ©: A History of the Navajos writes
"Navajo history does not start in Alaska or northwestern Canada or along the Rocky Mountains or in the Great Basin. It does not transpire in isolation or in separation. It begins with Changing Woman, with the Hero Twins, with monsters, and with blue horses. It begins with the sacred mountains." 
Iverson is stating that Navajo mythology rather than the trickle of migratory groups is a natural starting point for Navajo history. I agree wholeheartedly. Although origins and prehistoric evidence of Navajo habitation is interesting, it is in mythology that the Navajo themselves identify their beginnings. Their mythology defines who they are and the world they inhabit. It makes sense of their world, expresses the complexities of life, and what it means to be Diné--The People.

Is Mythology Historical Fiction?

Mythology is not historical fiction, in part because it is so much more. However, I believe it may be the earliest form of the genre.

One of the essential defining characteristics of historical fiction is that it is true. It is true because it is an accurate retelling of a person or persons who lived or an event that occurred. Even if the characters are fictional, they are people who might have lived, and the story could have taken place in that time and context.

Mythology is populated with characters who previous generations believed to exist and current generations may still believe exist. It is rife with the super-natural and a universe where the impossible can and does happen.

So how can mythology be true?

Mythology reveals the world as the people understood it, and still may understand it. In this sense, mythology is true. Many cultures, for instance, express the danger and uncertainty of life in the context of their myths where humans are at the mercy of the capricious activities of their gods. For example, the Greek god Zeus could bestow favor or suddenly turn and cast a brother off Mt. Olympus, as the unfortunate Hephaestus found out. And no woman, mortal or immortal, wanted to get on the wrong side of Hera: Io, who spent the rest of her days as a cow, attests to that.

Mythology for Middle Grade

About now you may be thinking, Yes, Michele, but is this middle grade material? And I will answer Yes!  Myth is designed for the subconscious. At the middle-grade level we are not dissecting cultural constructs and looking for deep psychological structures. The beauty of mythology is that it can be digested by the young where it lies dormant for the years ahead when young adult and adult minds can rediscover it at a deeper level.

For now, parents and teachers can sow seeds while having a lot of fun. Although, there is no reason the analysis can't begin in middle grade with basic questions: Would you want Coyote as your friend? Would you have liked to be a god or mortal in Greek times? Why or why not?

Mythology is Not Going Away

The idea that myth is irrelevant to modern life has never been more false. Can any of us forget Wyle E. Coyote, after all? In numerous mythologies Coyote appears as a fool or a trickster who breaks and flaunts the rules. He gets away with things no one else can and teaches the importance of living within the established norms of the culture. On the other hand, the trickster Coyote although untrustworthy, is clever. And lets face it, we all admire that. 

In other mythologies, Coyote is powerful and dangerous. In the Marvel Universe, Loki is my favorite character: completely untrustworthy, but complex and irresistibly compelling. We want to believe him and he consistently disappoints us--which is, paradoxically, just what we want. The trickster is a reflection of our own humanity.

These are concepts that I believe upper middle-grade students can grasp. Of course, function is only a part of myth, so be sure to focus mainly on having fun, and think about entering history through this marvelous gateway.

Michele Hathaway is a writer and freelance editor. She has an M. A. in Social Anthropology and has worked in libraries in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She writes stories set in culturally diverse, historical and contemporary periods.

Subscribe to get posts automatically and never miss a post. You can use the Subscribe buttons to the right, or add to Feedly or another reader.