“We’ve danced on the biggest stage in the world.” Five orphaned rats – Benny, Fletcher, Ella, Woody, and Monk – have dreams of following in their parents’ footsteps and making it big in show business. The adventures of the newly organized group, The Rattoons, take readers into the underground world of Rat Hallow, Big City, and the Crystal as they chase their biggest dream for a chance to perform at the legendary Boom Boom Room. Their story offers a ground up view of New York City and some important lessons that they learn along the way. Author: Elizabeth Winthrop Illustrator: Betsy Lewin
Recommended by Janet Spaulding, Glendale Branch Library
While their rambling space station home is being renovated, Art, Myrtle and their 4 million year-old space alien Mom accept an invitation to a vacation resort located out in the far reaches of the universe. The resort, it’s guests and the resort’s owner are not at all what they first appear. Creepy attack puppets, aliens disquised as hats that attach to your head and control your every thought, a maniac evil genius bent on dominating the universe…the usual for Art and Myrtle. Luckily, their favorite space pirate Jack Havock is at the resort too, undercover and ready for action. If you haven’t read Larklight, read it first, then read Starcross – you will be happy to know that a third book called Mothstorm is on the way (Oct. 14, 2008), and that the series has been optioned for a movie. Author: Philip Reeve Illustrator: David Wyatt
In 1832, three-year-old Laura Bridgman and her two sisters were stricken with scarlet fever. In those days, there were no antiobotics or fever reducing medicines. Laura’s two sisters died. Laura’s fever lasted for many weeks and left her blind, deaf and without her senses of taste and smell. The only sense Laura had left was touch. Like Helen Keller, who was born many years later, Laura was often frustrated and threw temper tantrums, angry about her inability to make other people understand what she wanted.
Luckily, a man named Samuel Howe was at the same time opening a school for the blind and figuring out ways to help deaf and blind children learn. (It later became the Perkins School for the Blind.) Laura went to live at Mr. Howe’s school and he was able to teach her to read and write. Laura became famous. The English writer Charles Dickens even came to visit her and included a story about her in his book American Notes. 40 years later, Helen Keller’s mother read that book by Charles Dickens and realized that her daughter Helen cold be helped! Can you imagine her reaction when she was reading, realizing that there was another girl like Helen who had learned to read!
It was Laura Bridgman who taught Annie Sullivan how to fingerspell. Annie Sullian became Helen Keller’s teacher. I never knew there were deaf and blind students before Helen Keller that could communicate like her. It was Laura, not Helen, that was the very first deaf and blind student to learn to read and write.
It is hard to even imagine…living in silence and darkness…and then having someone teach you how to share your thoughts with others. What a miracle! In the biography below Helen talks about what it was like to learn how to read…and then what it felt like to go to the Perkins School for the blind and meet other blind children who could also fingerspell…she had friends for the very first time. Cool! Author: Sally Hobart Alexander
So, it was Mr. Samuel Howe who worked with Laura and taught her how to fingerspell. Laura taught Anne and Anne taught Helen. It all started with Mr. Howe. His methods are still used today to teach deaf and blind students how to read and write. Now that’s one guy who made a big difference.
House Jackson, team captain and star pitcher of the Aurora County All-Stars, loves baseball. He’s had a bum year nursing a broken elbow – an elbow broken by his least favorite girl in the world, Frances Shotz. While sitting out the last season, House’s father ropes home into reading classic books outloud to a bed bound old guy the other kids call “mean man Boyd”. The thing is, House likes Mr. Norwood Rhinehart Beauregard Boyd. Embarrassed about how he’s spent his time, House manages to keep his reading aloud secret, until Mr. Boyd dies and leaves House a note that sets in motion the revelation of several town secrets. The secrets unravel as Frances and House battle over which event will occur on July fourth, the town’s bicentennial pageant or the annual fourth of July baseball game. Author: Deborah Wiles
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: