I recently enjoyed The Prairie Girl’s Guide to Life by Jennifer Worick (2007).
In this book, Worick described information about 1800s prairie life, such as curing meat or making button lamps. She also gave instructions for 50 prairie-type projects that us modern folk can try. The projects range from quilting and embroidery to panning for gold and saddling a horse.
In the past, people did lots of these activities because they had to, we can do them because we find great satisfaction in DIY and making-do.
I loved the reminders of how satisfying it is to do handcrafts.
“I continually meet women (and men) who are embroidering and canning and putting their own twists on old-school crafts and skills. Forget about granny chic; this is prairie chic, and it’s spreading like wildfire.”
I’ve done various handcrafts since I was a young child, partly because sometimes I needed to make-do.
For instance, I didn’t have a Barbie house. So, I spent hours making my own house. I used boxes, wallpaper samples, and household trash to make rooms and furniture. I believe I had more fun making the house than playing with it later!
One of my favorite hobbies has been crocheting. However, in the last few years, I’ve put most of my creative time and energy into writing. I miss crocheting.
In fact, I have a nearly-completed afghan that I began for one of my sons when he was about nine years old. He’s 17 now. I should get it done while he still lives at home, don’t you think?
I also want to learn to knit, spin yarn, and decorate a dollhouse.
What old-school hobbies or activities do you do? What would you like to learn how to do?
This month’s book for My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge is the 1996 winner, The Bomb, by Theodore Taylor.
The Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction is awarded each year to a children’s book by an American author, usually set in the Western Hemisphere.
In The Bomb, a teen boy named Sorry is one of the 167 people living on the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean who are moved to make way for testing the new atomic weapons in Operation Crossroads immediately following World War II.
This young adult novel begins with Sorry and his family and neighbors living under Japanese occupation. Eventually, the Americans take control of the atoll as they advance toward the Japanese mainland. Uncle Abram listens to radio reports and keeps their neighbors informed of the progress of the war, including the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
However, soon after the war, the U.S. military pressures and manipulates Bikini residents into leaving their home because the U.S. has decided their atoll is the best place to test atomic bombs.
Sorry determines to stop the test.
Bikini Atoll and Operation Crossroads–My knowledge of this was rudimentary, at best. I appreciated learning about the residents of Bikini.
The U.S. dropped two bombs in the first round of testing. One detonated in the air and one in the water. There were many further tests during the next decade.
Although Taylor wrote in his author’s note that his novel was loosely based on the people moved from Bikini, he had personal experience with Operation Crossroads. He was a sailor on the USS Sumner, the ship which headquartered much of the operation’s early implementation. In Taylor’s epilogue and author’s note, he also wrote about what happened later to Bikini’s “nuclear nomads.”
Two Stories in One–Taylor used a interesting structure to tell two stories at the same time. The text of the novel is Sorry’s story. However, Taylor also interspersed between chapters a short nonfiction narrative of the history of atomic research, weapons, and Operation Crossroads.
In nonfiction books or magazines, this is called a sidebar. I’ve seen these in picture books, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen a sidebar like this used in a novel. This was an effective way of giving the reader historical context without bogging down the story.
Join me Feb. 28 as I talk about the history and writing lessons I learn from the 2002 award winner, The Land by Mildred D. Taylor.
For more info:
What do you know about Bikini’s nuclear nomads? Have you seen nonfiction sidebars used in other novels?
A couple of my recent reads were manga versions (in the Manga Classics series) of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
The Scarlett Letter was adapted by Crystal S. Chan and illustrated by SunNeko Lee, and Pride and Prejudice was adapted by Stacy King and illustrated by Po Tae.
Past posts about manga:
Because I began 2017 ill, I’m now very behind. For the next couple weeks I will focus on some other writing/teaching projects, and my next blog post will be on Jan. 31.
What have you read recently?
“But soon history no longer seemed a clutter of dates and names in some dim, cold antiquity but became a storied road of time when dad told her old tales of wonder and the pride of kings. When he told the simplest incident with the sound of the sea in his voice, it seemed to take on such a coloring of romance and mystery that Jane knew she could never forget it. Thebes…Babylon…Tyre…Athens…Galilee…were places where real folks lived…folks she knew. And, knowing them, it was easy to be interested in everything pertaining to them.”
—Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery
This is pretty much how I feel about history. What about you? What makes people from the past become people you know?
This month’s book for My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge is the 1990 Scott O’Dell Award-winner, Shades of Gray, by Carolyn Reeder.
In this middle grade novel, set in Virginia after the conclusion of the Civil War, 12-year-old Will is the son of a Confederate officer who was killed in battle. Will has also lost the rest of his family to violence and illness and is sent to live with his aunt–and her husband who refused to fight in the war.
Shenandoah Valley–Some of the more well-known battles of the Civil War took place in eastern Virginia. However, some lesser-known, but important battles took place in the Shenandoah Valley in the far western part of the state.
What I previously knew about the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War came from the Jimmy Stewart movie, Shenandoah, in which farming families suffered at the hands of both sides–Union and Confederate.
In fact, the valley was an important geographic area. The farms supplied food to the South, and the valley was an access point into the North. The two sides fought each other in the valley multiple times, with each side occupying at alternating times. Finally, in the summer and fall of 1864, Union forces went in again to retake the Valley, cut off the Confederates access into Union territory, and destroy food sources for the Confederacy.
Union General Philip Sheridan achieved all those goals, and his troops laid waste to the Shenandoah Valley.
In Shades of Gray, Will is from the city of Winchester, where there was major fighting in the 1864 campaign.
Lack of dialect–This book is set in the post-Civil War South, and Will lives with his poor, lesser-educated relatives. Yet, because Reeder didn’t use the phonetic, heavy dialect that books such as Tom Sawyer used, her novel is very readable, especially for young readers.
However, Reeder used enough Southern vocabulary to give readers a sense of the setting, and she occasionally used either vocabulary, pronunciation, or grammar to show some of the characters had less education than others. Here are a couple examples:
“I’ll make a stew to go with the poke greens Meg cut along the road this afternoon.”
“That must smart right bad.”
For more info:
Join me Jan. 31 to talk about the 1996 Scott O’Dell winner, The Bomb by Theodore Taylor.
Have you read about or visited the Shenandoah Valley? Have you visited Civil War battlefields? Do you have family stories connected to the Civil War?
Gingerbread houses are a fun, wintery decoration. Yet, they are also a fascinating bit of food craft, architecture, artistry, history, and literary tradition.
In the 1500s–in what’s now Germany–the Brothers Grimm story of Hansel and Gretel featured an edible house. The story may have come first, or the gingerbread houses may have been an inspiration for the story. But, the story and the making of gingerbread houses seem to be linked.
Gingerbread dates back thousands of years ago. The ginger root was grown in China. But, a couple thousand years before Christ was born, the Greeks were using ginger to make gingerbread. This would have been a hard-style of gingerbread they used in religious ceremonies.
By the 11th Century, Europeans were making gingerbread shaped like people, animals, flowers, etc. Gingerbread was a festival food. In fact, some of the festivals were called gingerbread fairs.
Americans have adopted the hard-type of gingerbread for cookies and houses, but Americans also historically had a cake-like version of gingerbread. Both George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, and Laura Ingalls Wilder were known for their cake-like gingerbread.
But why are the houses a winter tradition? I’m not sure, except of course, the frosting looks like snow, and the candies and gingerbread epitomize the sweets we eat at Christmas.
There is one other reason of a very practical nature alluded to in the book, The Gingerbread Architect by Susan Matheson and Lauren Chairman. The hard gingerbread stays hard in the dryer air of winter and furnaces (in the northern hemisphere). In a humid environment, the gingerbread would soften, and the houses wouldn’t be able to hold their shapes.
Sources and more info:
Do you like to eat gingerbread? Have you ever made gingerbread people and/or houses? What other literary and/or historical links are there to gingerbread houses?
[New York, 3 October 1789]
By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Happy Thanksgiving! See you in a couple weeks!
Recently I was in one of my local book stores looking for several particular books. I didn’t find them.
Instead I found a book I didn’t know existed–and that I’m loving!
The World of Little House by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Ericksson caught my attention as I browsed the children’s history and biography sections.
It uses colorful illustrations by Garth Williams and original ones by Deborah Maze, including maps, diagrams of the various Little Houses, recipes, activities, and lots of information about Laura’s life and the world of the 19th Century pioneers.
One fun (or slightly gross?) fact I learned is that the pioneer women ironed everything, including undergarments, not just for appearance sake, but also for hygiene. You see, the heat from the ironing would eliminate insects and germs that washing alone didn’t do.
Another fun thing I learned was that Ma once made a square Thanksgiving Day pie. I was taken aback–a square pie? Why not? Ma used the pan she had available, and that was her square pan she normally used for baking two bread loaves at a time.
I also liked the timeline at the end of the book that put events of Laura’s life in perspective with events happening in the United States.
This is a wonderful book for any Laura fans or anyone wanting to learn more about the daily life of pioneers.
What was your last unexpected book find?
My recent trip to Britain had a decidedly bookish flair.
We visited some sights made famous by C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, as well as some places with Harry Potter connections.
But, we also visited many book stores. Some were historic book stores that sell new books. Some were modern book stores connected with big companies. Some were small stores that sold used (and often rare and collectible) books.
Photos by Bruce and Deb Watley
In Oxford, we visited Blackwell’s Book Shop. Our family joke is that it is like the Tardis–bigger on the inside. This historic store has it all–new books, old books, and lots of academic books.
In London, we walked down Charing Cross Road and found a concentration of book stores, including Foyles, Henry Pordes Books, Any Amount of Books, and Francis Edwards Antiquarian Booksellers (now Quinto and Francis Edwards).
Hatchards on Piccadilly was on my must-see list. It opened in 1797 and is the oldest book store in London.
We also toured the Bodleian Library in Oxford. It’s earliest origins in that location reach back to the 15th Century. During the Reformation, however, many of its books were removed and some destroyed. Thomas Bodley is credited with saving and re-invorgating the library in 1598 (with it opening in 1602). Although the many universities in Oxford have a library, the Bodleian Library is the library for the whole Oxford system. It now includes multiple separate libraries and buildings.
We were allowed to take photos in some of the gathering rooms at the Bodleian Library, but not in the collections rooms.
Do you take bookish vacations? To where? What are your favorite book stores and libraries?
Earlier this fall my husband and I traveled to London for vacation. One of my sightseeing must-do’s in London was to tour 36 Craven Street, the only surviving residence of Benjamin Franklin, one of the United States’ Founding Fathers.
Part of the reason I wanted to see this home was because I’m teaching a high school literature class this fall, and we were reading Ben Franklin’s autobiography the same month I was in London.
Franklin was born in Boston in 1706 and moved to Philadelphia when still a kid. Although, he lived in Philadelphia most of the rest of his life, he lived in London for a short time as a young man learning more about the printing trade; in London from 1757-75 as the representative of several of the American colonies’ to the British government in London; and then later during the American Revolution when he represented the Americans’ interests to the French in Paris.
When Franklin arrived in Britain in 1757, he thought he’d be there for less than a year. However, he stayed until 1775 trying to broker some sort of peace between the American colonies and Britain.
Although he wasn’t successful in bringing peace, he did make lots of friends, conducted scientific experiments, and wrote many letters and articles.
During most of his pre-Revolution time in London, he rented his lodging from Margaret Stevenson 36 Craven Street, and this home became the unofficial first American embassy in Britain.
After Franklin went back to Philadelphia, the house continued as a boarding house, and later a hotel and office space. By the time The Friends of Benjamin Franklin House obtained the house about twenty years or so ago, it had even been lived in by squatters. This cloud had a silver lining because the squatters didn’t destroy the house, nor did they do any remodeling, so many of the house’s architectural features of Franklin’s time were still there.
The house was originally built in about 1730, and it’s located between the Thames River and Trafalgar Square.
Now visitors can tour the house, noting its architecture, or they can participate in a multi-media historical experience that focuses on Franklin’s time in London and connections with the house.
An interesting story is that when the home was obtained by the preservationists, human bones were found in what would have been the back garden while Franklin lived there. Archaeologists were brought in, and they determined that these remains were from the private anatomy school run by Mrs. Stevenson’s son-in-law.
I enjoyed the tour! It was interesting to walk in the same rooms Franklin did, and intriguing to think this small home housed him, Mrs. Stevenson and her extended family, as well as servants. It’s a simple home, yet Franklin was such a multi-faceted person. He was interested in science, business, music, literature, politics, and medicine.
For more information, see Benjamin Franklin House.
What was the latest place you visited that had a historical connection? What do historic homes reveal about the personalities of historic people? Have you ever been to 36 Craven Street? What do you know about Benjamin Franklin?