It’s 1900, and lovely, smart Hilda Johansson is one of many immigrants working as live-in servants to rich households in Southbend, Indiana. In Jeanne M. Dams’ Death in Lacquer Red, Hilda has a pleasant if strenuous life, working hard to save money to bring her other family members over from Sweden. She is being courted by a handsome Irish fireman who won’t let the fact that their families wouldn’t approve--he’s Catholic and she’s Lutheran--get in the way of the romance. Even so, a dead body in the lilac bushes does put a damper on their day out together.
The recent movie War Horse, based on the book by Michael Morpurgo, succeeded in showing the strong emotional connections between horses and people. Indeed, this bond was much a part of human history and everyday life up to the middle of the 20th century. Tamsin Pickeral’s book, The Horse: 30,000 Years of the Horse in Art, is as much about history of this relationship as it is about art.
From Neolithic horse hunters’ vivid and probably shamanic cave paintings in France to portraits of proud aristocrats and royalty with their prized possessions to scenes such as the mournful “Ownerless Horse on the Battlefield at Mozhaisk in 1812,” by Adam Albrecht, the horses depicted are as much a projection of human feeling as they are simple studies in landscape or nature.
A century ago, 2,224 people boarded the grandest luxury liner of its time. Many were rich and stayed in fine rooms with every need beautifully met. Yet about one thousand of them were emigrants from Great Britain, hardly wealthy but likely just as eager for the voyage that would start new chapters in their lives. After that terrible night when the ship struck an iceberg and broke up, only 710 passengers survived. There were not enough lifeboats for the passengers, and those drifting in the freezing sea outside the boats soon succumbed to hypothermia.
There was more than one wide-scale genocide in the 20th century. In 1916, the Turkish Minister of the Interior Talaat Pasha sent a letter to the government of Aleppo in Syria reminding them that all Armenians living in Turkey were be destroyed completely: “An end must be put to their existence, however criminal the measures taken may be, and no regard must be paid to either age or sex nor to conscientious scruples.” It was an order that was to be echoed by Adolph Hitler in 1939 in pursuing the end of “the Polish-speaking race.” Hitler added, “After all, who remembers today the extermination of the Armenians?”
Alvin Schwartz, writer of many books for children that collected and shared traditions from times past, first became interested in folklore as a child, although at the time he did not think of it as something to study. Folklore was just something that was part of his childhood: the games, riddles, rhymes, superstitions and scary stories. He grew up to become a journalist and also worked as an adjunct English professor. Later, his writing and research skills would play an important part in the job he eventually took on to make many types of folklore familiar to young readers.
It’s been almost forty years since Secretariat made horse-racing history, winning his Triple Crown races with record times. Born March 30, 1970, at Meadow Farm in nearby Caroline County, Virginia, “Big Red’s” driving runs to the finish, “like a tremendous machine,” as one sportscaster phrased it, caught the country’s imagination in a decade of woes from Watergate to the Energy Crisis.
Check out the official Web site devoted to this incredible horse, and check out books from our list, And, They’re Off: Books About Thoroughbreds and Their People.
Once, luck was as free to be had in Ireland as sunlight, and just as plentiful. It filled the air, and anyone could grab a handful of it as the need arose. This was largely due to the leprechauns, for they made luck like cows made milk.
Just in time for Saint Patrick’s Day—and Irish-American Heritage Month—comes Fiona’s Luck, a delightful picture book that lyrically tells the story of how the extra luck came into Ireland with the leprechauns and was lost again from us “big folk” when the leprechaun king decided to hoard it all away in his castle.
“Any memorable children’s book will possess drama, vitality, vividness, possibly wit and humor, and its own dignity—that is, a deep respect for the child’s quick and devastating perceptions. As for the story itself, it will convey a sense of complete inevitability, a feeling of rightness throughout the whole structure. This can only be attained by the writer’s evoking the true aura of childhood through re-experiencing that emotional state he lived in as a child, a state composed of delight in the simplest, most secret, sometimes the oddest things, of sadnesses and fears and terrors one could not or would not explain, of a continuing wonder about much that seems drab and familiar to adults”
--Eleanor Cameron writing in The Green and Burning Tree: On the Writing and Enjoyment of Children’s Books, pg. 14
Eleanor Cameron was capable of doing all these things, whether writing science fiction, fantasy or more everyday stories. She was a celebrated children’s writer of the 1960s and 1970s and was known for her lyrical style and the honesty with which she told her tales. A mature reader of That Julia Redfern, featuring an aspiring young writer living in the 1910s Berkley, can easily find grown-up themes that are layered into the story and come to fruition in books about an older Julia, such as A Room Made of Windows.
Wild Horses of the World, written by Moira C. Harris and with photographs by Bob Langrish, is a beautiful coffee table book that looks at dozens of types of wild horses around the world. Though all but one example, the Przewalski horse from Mongolia, are really more feral than truly wild, these horses have been roaming free for so many centuries and sometimes millennia that they have established their own identities, which are often interlinked with the history and culture surrounding them. Whether abandoned by explorers or left to freely roam by farmers until needed, the newly-wild horses quickly adapted to the natural herd behavioral patterns that protected them. Without human interference, only the hardiest of the lot could survive.
Virginia's many rivers were strategic points in the Civil War. Thousands of men had to cross them at a time, whether by boat or pontoon bridge, or, in shallower places, on foot. Major rivers slowed down--or, in the case of flood, could block movement entirely. Generals placed their supply depots on rivers, and gunboats patrolled the waters, blasting artillery positions as well as enemy strongholds in large plantation houses.
In Mark Nesbitt's Rebel Rivers, readers are treated to an easy-to-follow guide to river sites and their Civil War history. Rebel Rivers, published by Stackpole Books, is available to check out from the library. The author is also the creator of the Ghosts of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tours® and the Ghosts of Fredericksburg Tours.
This excerpt is used with the author/copyright holder's permission.