Monday, December 04, 2006

Celebrating 100

Today's post is my 100th! I am planning on some other special posts later in the week celebrating my favorite literature. But today I have for you another review.

Armstrong, Jennifer. 2006. The American Story: 100 True Tales From American History

This rather heavy book entitled simply The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History is written by Jennifer Armstrong and illustrated by Roger Roth. It features 100 small portraits of American history from the sixteenth century (1565) to the twentieth century (2000). Some stories are about famous people, places, or events. Other stories are truly unexpected gems highlighting some forgotten heroes and the like. Others highlight some of America's greatest legends. Some stories feature notes that provide more details. It also features Story ARCS (subject guide), bibliography, and index. Readers will find familiar tales about George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, etc. But they will also find unfamiliar tales. Ordinary tales of what makes America great.

Here is just a highlight of what you can find within its pages:

1655 Keeping Watch, Keeping the Faith

New Amsterdam. The governor-general Peter Stuyvesant is unhappy when the first Jewish immigrants fleeing from Catholic Spain (during the Inquisition) arrive. Wanting at first to throw the Jews out of his city altogether, he is refused permission by the Dutch West India Company. But he's a persistent man "determined to place as many restrictions on the Jews as possible. He would not allow them to become burghers, or citizen. They were not to be trusted to keep the watch but instead would have to pay a fee to make up for not performing guard duty" (21). One Jew, Asser Levy was equally persistent. Determined to prove his worth, he refused to pay the tax and began (without permission) to join the other men in guard duty. "He marched with the burghers, kept guard duty with the burghers, and acted like a burgher, until there was no one in New Amsterdam who could honestly say that he was not a burgher. By his unceasing efforts to keep the watch, Asser Levy at last gained the rights of citizenship for all the Jews of New Amsterdam, and there was nothing that Peter Stuyvesant could do about it" (22). Armstrong's note further elaborates: "Asser Levy became the first Jew in North America to own a house and to sit on a jury, and he was a founding member of the first Jewish congregation, Shearith Israel. By 1662, he was one of the wealthiest men in New Amsterdam" (22).

1804 Going Bananas

In this brief story, readers find out the fascinating history of America's importation of bananas. "But possibly the most unusual thing brought into the harbor [of New York City] in 1804 was a shipment of bananas from Cuba" (63). People had no idea what they were or how you ate them. So they rotted. "The next time bananas made an appearance was in 1830, and pushcart vendors at the docks bought the ripening fruit to sell that very day before it spoiled. As the decades wore on, more and more people were introduced to the banana, but for a while it was so exotic that it was reserved for special occasions such as wedding banquets and holiday feasts. In 1876, bananas were sold at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia for a princely ten cents each. By the turn of the century, tropical fruits were so popular that the country was willing to go to war to protect its agricultural business interests in the Caribbean. By 1905, a mere 101 years after its introduction to the United States, the banana was so popular and so easily available that it was known as the 'poor man's fruit.' Today it is the most widely eaten fruit in America" (64).

1812 Uncle Sam

If you're like me you might have always secretly wondered what the deal was with "Uncle Sam" and how "Uncle Sam" became a patriotic symbol in this country...Armstrong presents this fascinating story. In 1812 during the war with Britain, America needed to keep soldiers and sailors well supplied and fed. A meat packer in Troy, New York, Sam Wilson was given a contract to supply soldiers (and sailors) with cured beef in barrels. Since each barrel was intended for the government, it was stamped U.S. But "since Wilson was known locally as Uncle Sam, people began saying 'U.S.' stood for Uncle Sam Wilson" (69). "And as the barrels rolled their way down from New York, the term rolled along with them...eventually the entire nation adopted Uncle Sam as the nickname for the federal government" (70).

1849 This Side Up

Henry Brown's story is a fascinating one. Born a slave on a plantation in Virginia, he remained a slave most of his life until one day while he was praying an idea came to him. "One night while he prayed for deliverance, the word "box" came into his mind. I'll put myself in a box and mail myself to freedom, he thought with wondering awe. He could deliver himself" (99). With help from some local sympathizers, he mailed himself to an abolitionist in Philadelphia. "The box they constructed was just big enough to hold him. It was two and a half feet deep, two feet wide, and three feet long. They lined the rough boards with cloth and drilled airholes for ventilation. Henry packed a canteen of water and supplied himself with some biscuits" (100). Though the box said "This Side Up: Handle With Care," his journey was not easy but when he arrived he was finally free.

1851 Ain't I A Woman

I won't go into too many details here, but I am so glad that Jennifer Armstrong chose to include the story of Sojourner Truth in her collection. Her speech, which Armstrong highlights extensively, is such a powerful piece of literature. I am happy that young readers will discover this story long before they reach college literature classes which is where I discovered this gem.

1884 Hold Your Horses, Here Come The Elephants!

A year after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, people were still fearful that the bridge would collapse. Enter onto the scene P.T. Barnum and his circus, and the crowd need never fear the bridge's stability again: "Barnum would march part of his parade from Manhattan to Brooklyn, across the bridge. The sacred white Incian elephant that had joined Barnum's circus was a celebrity attraction, but no elephant in the world could match the mighty Jumbo in popularity" (161). His circus parade concluded with Jumbo bringing up the rear. "The most prodigious pachyderm in the known world came marching along on ponderous feet, flapping his great ears and tossing his trunk in the air. 'Hooray for Jumbo!' came shouts of delight. Horses reared and snorted at the wild-beast smell of the elephants, and the toll keeper at the end of the bridge let the parade through without asking a nickel: he didn't know what toll to charge an elepant" (162).

1907 The Woeful Plight of Mary Mallon

Typhoid Mary's story told in a kid-friendly style.

1956 All Shook Up

The story of Elvis.

1980 The Fire Mountain

The eruption of Mount Saint Helens.

Each story varies in length between two to five pages, often depending on how large the accompanying illustrations for that particular story are. It concludes with the election of 2000. It is arranged chronologically, but readers will find it easy to browse and scan as well. The subject guide at the back of the book is also convenient for making connections and establishing patterns in history.

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I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

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I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

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