In the folksong “John Henry,” John is a railroad worker who makes a promise to beat a steam powered drill by digging with his own two hands and his hammer. He says, “A man ain’t nothing but a man, before I let your steam drill beat me down, I’ll die with a hammer in my hand.” As the story goes, John indeed beats the steam powered drill in a competition just as he promised. He also drops dead with his hammer in his hand…just like he promised!
Men swinging hammers, and later steam drills, were used in the 1800s to break through rocks to build America’s railroads. Like the John Henry in the song, thousands of men worked to build our railroads. Those men also died by the thousands from the tough physical labor and the dust that clogged their lungs. Those men sang songs to help them keep up a steady rhythm of hammering. One of those songs is “John Henry.” The song tells their story.
The author of this book set out to find out if there ever really was a man named John Henry. Was he just a legend, like Paul Bunyan? Was there any truth in the song? He traced many different versions of the John Henry song over time. He compared the lyrics to what was going on in railroad history and he uncovered the amazing and heartbreaking story of the men who made America’s railroads. The John Henry song tells the story of a man, but it also symbolizes all the men, especially African-American, Chinese-American & Irish-American men who literally worked themselves to death. It makes you wonder, why didn’t they quit? Many of the men were prisoners in state prisons loaned out to the railroad to do heavy labor. The rest were extremely poor and and had little choice but to accept this kind of work if they hoped to feed their families. Author: Scott Reynolds
Listen to this recording of men singing “John Henry”:
Simthsonian Audio of men working and singing “John Henry” (1947-1948)
Can’t you imagine yourself swinging a hammer to the rhythm? The work would be hot and back breaking. It would be hard to breathe. You can hear some of the hopelessness and sorrow in the voices too. Look at some pictures from the book:
Camp Out! really is the ultimate kids’ guide to camping. It includes all the information you would expect, like what to pack and how to make a s’more…plus many unique ideas. Who knew you could make a solar oven out of a pizza box or tell the temperature by counting cricket chirps? Do you know the best time to spot shooting stars? - mid-August. (Mark your calendar!) There is a whole chapter devoted to shelter; how to pick a campsite, the labelled parts of a tent, how to make a tent between two trees, how to make a tent if there is only one tree…even how to make your own tepee. Clear drawings for fire building, knot-tying, identifying animal tracks & the telltale signs in the sky for bad weather are also great. I especially liked the section on freshwater creatures & what you find in a rotten log – these are the things you would actually see camping out in Indiana. The book includes camp cooking ideas, games & crafts that are explained well, doable & unique. As my mom used to say, “Go Outside!” Author: Lynn Brunelle Illustrator: Brian Biggs
From the very easiest to plane folding for the expert, this book will show you 40 different kinds of paper airplanes to fold; from the classic darts and gliders to fighters and stunt planes. The model on the cover that looks like a circle…that one you throw like a frisbee. You will also find directions for a flying saucer, a boomerang and a tiny airplane that fits in the palm of your hand. No need for scissors, glue, or tape - just paper…and patience! Follow the directions, decorate and fly! The book includes diagrams, pictures and tips for making planes fly far. Author: Nick Robinson
It is with a lot of sad feelings that we read about the flooding in Indiana and the tornado in Iowa that killed four boy scouts. As the story of those events continues to unfold, a single message is very clear: knowing what to do saves lives. The story of the boy scouts in particular points out the fact that kids like you can, and do, make a difference in an emergency. It’s good to know about the different kinds of disasters so you can be prepared to take care of yourself, and maybe some of the people around you:
Thinking about these disasters can be scary. Sometimes, it helps to read about events that are scary in a fiction book. Reading about the event helps us live the experience…without actually having to live it. We can envision ourselvs in the situation and ask good questions while we have time to get good answers. Where should I go at home if a tornado is coming?
There is a fiction book some of you might be interested in called Night of the Howling Dogs. It is the story of a boy scout troup that is camping in Hawaii on Kilauea (a volcano) when an earthquake strikes and their campsite is overrun by a tsunami. It sounds like an, “oh, that would never happen” kind of story…but it is based on the true experience of a boy scout troup in 1975. One of the boy scouts that was actually there, is the cousin of the author. Like the boy scouts in Iowa, the scouts in this story use their knowledge of first aid & search & rescue, as well as courage and strength, to help each other survive. Author: Graham Salisbury
Two thumbs up to all boy scouts and the skills they learn, and our sympathies for the losses they have suffered this week.
Another book of poems from Jack Prelutsky, the guy who brought you the lines “Homework! Oh Homework! I hate you! You stink! I wish I could wash you away in the sink.” (from The New Kid on the Block) Laugh outloud poems to last all day. Author: Jack Prelutsky