Tag Archives: Black History

The Nine Pound Hammer

The Nine Pound Hammer

The Nine Pound Hammer

Ray and his sister Sally are on an orphan train in hopes of finding new parents out West. On the train, Ray realizes that Sally would stand a better chance at getting adopted if she didn’t have an older brother – so he jumps off the train to adventure on his own.

Ray has one thing to remind him of the life he used to have, a stone his father gave him. It is a lodestone, a magnetic stone used to make compasses. The stone is acting funny. It seems to be pulling Ray South, so Ray decides to go wherever the lodestone leads.

The stone leads Ray to Cornelius T. Carter’s Mystifying Medicine Show, a sideshow that travels in a steam train from town to town performing tricks and selling medicine oil. The band of performers includes a blind sharpshooter, a snake charmer, a fire-eater, a sword swallower and a strong man. Ray discovers that these performers are more than they first appear. The strong man, Conker, is John Henry’s son. John Henry was a legendary railroad worker who defeated a steam powered hammer, man against machine, in a contest. John Henry won the challenge, but then dropped dead from the effort. His stories are legends like Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan.

Ray discovers that John Henry’s legend is actually real and that John Henry didn’t just win a competition, he defeated a demonic machine built by a man (the Gog) who was determined to dominate the world with his evil mechanical inventions. Ray finds out his dad helped John Henry beat the evil machine…but that the Gog and his evil machines are back. It is up to Ray and Conker and their friends to do battle again.

This story draws a lot of characters and personality from tales of the American South, African American Folklore and tales from the frontier West. I liked reading about traveling by steam locomotive. It’s hard for us to imagine now, but back in those days there were trains owned by individual people that traveled all over the country – trains decked out like fancy RVs inside.

The story is science fiction meets the frontier meets steampunk. (Steampunk is a story that involves technology before that technology was actually invented. The evil gunius in this story uses robotic creatures that are built with technology not known in the 1800s.) Ray’s adventure is like Harry Potter because there is an ensemble cast of kids that have inherited the fight from a previous generation.

There are no unicorns or dragons or wizards in this magical story, but magic still, a kind of magic that has its roots in African-American history and the American South called hoo doo. People knowledgeable in hoo doo are called conjurers or root doctors. They make potions from herbs, animals, or items owned by a person. Sometimes, the hoo doo knowledge is what we might call a folk remedy. Hoo doo uses a bit of science and a bit of the spiritual unknown to conjure up its magic. Author: Claude Bemis Series: The Clockwork Dark

  • Look Inside The Nine Pound Hammer
  • The Nine Pound Hammer on CD
  • Disney’s John Henry Part One and Two
  • Listen NPR Author Interview with Claude Bemis

There is a really cool book about the song The Ballad of John Henry. The book traces the history of the song and takes a guess at who John Henry really was. This book is called Ain’t Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry. Generally, legends are based on at least a tiny bit of truth and this book shows the historical treasure hunt the author went on to track down the bits of truth in the John Henry story.

The video below is the blues artist John Jackson singing the John Henry song. Blues music came out of African-American communites in the South in the 1800s. Songs included spirituals and work songs and chants. A lot of times the songs told a story in a ballad – John Henry is a ballad and work song.

Continue reading Ray and Conker’s story in The Wolf Tree and The White City. Ain’t Nothing But a Man is the story of John Henry – very interesting with outstanding pictures.:
The Wolf Tree The White City Ain't Nuthin But a Man American Tall Tales
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The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had

The Best Bad Luck I Ever HadDit Sims lives in tiny Moundville, Alabama in 1917. He’s got nine brothers and sisters and his Dad routinely forgets his name. It’s summer, it’s hot and Dit’s best friend is away for the summer. When he finds out that a new postmaster is coming to town, Dit hopes the new postmaster, Mr. Walker, has a son close to his age that will want to go fishing and play baseball.

The postmaster comes, and Dit is disappointed to learn that he doesn’t bring a son, he brings prissy, brainiac Emma who always has her nose in a book and doesn’t know one thing about baseball. Dit’s town is disappointed to learn that the Walkers are African-American.

Dit’s family welcomes the Walkers and the two families slowly build a relationaship sharing chores and helping out when family members are sick. Dit and Emma start building a friendship too. Dit teaches Emma how to throw and hit a baseball. Emma helps Dit with math and introduces him to exciting adventure books like Treasure Island. Slowly, over the summer, the two kids become best friends.

Some people in Dit’s town don’t welcome the Walkers, especially the town sheriff. Some people object to Dit and Emma’s friendship, even object to the Walkers living in Moundville at all. When the two kids witness a racially motivated shooting and realize their friend, the town’s black barber, is unjustly blamed and sentenced to hang, they secretly come up with a daring plan to save him.

This story brings the injustice and horrors of racial bigotry to life. It’s a story about friendship between people and how that friendship is stronger than the forces around it that try to tear it apart. Two thumbs up historical fiction. Author: Kristin Levine

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Seven Miles to Freedom: the Robert Smalls Story

Seven Miles to Freedom: the Robert Smalls Story

Seven Miles to Freedom

Robert Smalls was born a slave in South Carolina in 1839.  Robert’s owner sent him to Charleston work.  He waited tables, made deliveries, loaded and unloaded the cargo from ships – and all of the money he earned went to his master.  What Robert could keep, was what he learned working on the docks.  He eventually became a wheelman – the person who steers a boat.  One night, Robert and his crew – all of them slaves – sneak their families aboard the ship Planter, stealing the ship and sailing North towards freedom. This is the story of an extraordinary man, a man who eventually bought his master’s plantation and was elected to the United States Congress in 1875! Author: Janet Halfmann Illustrator: Duane Smith

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The Ground Breaking Chance-taking Life of George Washington Carver

The Ground Breaking Chance-taking Life of George Washington Carver

The Chance Taking Groundbreaking Life of George Washington Carver

This reads more like a story than like a timeline of George Washington Carver’s Life. I liked the way the author told about what was going on around Mr. Carver at the times he made important decisions about himself.  He did some really interesting things, but the road to how he got there is even MORE interesting. In this book you hear about his family, friends and co-workers, other African-Americans scientists and educators whose presence and thoughts influenced him. These people are characters in his life story, because to understand him, it’s good to understand everything and everone around him.  I would read this one for fun – not just for homework. Author & Illustrator: Cheryl Harness

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We Are the Ship – Coretta Scott King Author Award 2009

We Are the Ship – Coretta Scott King Author Award 2009

I told you about this book a few months ago already, but since it just won the Coretta Scott King Award, I thought I would show it to you again. It is great words and great pictures together -the perfect book!

I’m not really into baseball very much and I loved this book! It is the story of Negro League baseball. Did you know that there was a league in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s for African-American players because they were not allowed to play in the Major Leagues? This book is the story of those players and the league they made great that only came to an end when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League baseball. The story is told like you are listening to an old player remember. The narrator tells about how the league was formed, who the owners, managers and players were…but more. The narrator doesn’t just list the facts. There are many sad, surprising, horrifying, funny & interesting stories about the players and what they endured to play baseball. On top of that, the pictures in the book are astounding! The author/artist, Kadir Nelson, did a lot of reasearch to get the ballparks and players, uniforms and other details just right. It is like looking at painted photos from someone who was actually there. This is a good one. Don’t miss it. Author: Kadir Nelson

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