If you want to know what it was really like during the California Gold Rush, this book is a great place to start. It isn’t a textbook telling all the facts, this is the inside story of the gold rush told by one of the miners himself, Thomas Hartley. Thomas tells the story from the day he heard about the discovery of gold in California. All the people around him can talk about is gold, “how much and how to get it and how to spend it once you’ve got it.” Of course, they forget to talk about all the work…and the danger. Thomas’s story includes blisters and rotting teeth, scurvy, dysentery, scheamers, crooks and murderers. A true adventure that just might end in fortune. Author: Tod Olson Illustrator: Scott Allred
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Look at that cover! Talk about making history intresting. Do you know the names Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton? Both worked for George Washington during the Revolution. Eventually, Aaron Burr became Vice – President and Alexander Hamilton became Secretery of the Treasury – he’s the guy on our $10 bill. Here are two guys you would consider pretty smart…yet they both couldn’t think of a better way to settle their differences than a duel – a fight to the death. And like many disagreements, their reasons seem very silly now! That’s the thing about fighting, it usually seems pretty dumb later.
These two guys both had tempers, they were jealous, they argued, and they talked badly about each other to other people. They sound like a couple of school boy brats rather than the educated adults they were. Rather than work out their differences they agreed to have a duel, and they even sneaked off in the night to do it because they knew it was illegal. That’s a lot of bad choices made by both of them. In the end, one walked away from the duel but lived out his life in disgrace…and the other was dead. Now that’s a no-win situation!
This is a great book that brings two historic figures to full color life. It also goes to show you what a poor choice fighting is! Fighting has never been a smart way to solve differences. Thankfully, our politicians today use debates and interviews and speeches to settle their differences. So let’s hear it for the 2008 presidential election, a war of words and not of fists. Author: Dennis Fradin Illustrator: Larry Day
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A true story. It’s 1948 during the Berlin Airlift. Pilots, who three years earlier were bombing Berlin, are now in the business of saving Berliners from a slow, wintry starvation. One of those pilots is Lt. Gail Halvorsen. In addition to his deliveries of flour and coal, he parachutes Hershey Bars to the watching children. These children have never tasted candy. Halvorsen’s kindness is a hit. He receives fan mail, and in one letter, a child named Mercedes asks the “Chocolate Pilot” to please drop some candy at her house. A knock on Mercedes’ door begins a unique friendship. Author: Margot Raven Illustrator: Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen
Recommended by: Mike Hylton – Irvington Library
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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.
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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:
Photo Slide Show from Ain’t Nothing But a Man
Here is a real picture of a man working in what would become a railroad tunnel big enough for a train to go through. You can look at more photos like this one from American Memory: History of the American West 1860-1920. This one is from the Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library. It looks like lonely hard work in the tunnel.
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