She never knew her father the farmer. But in Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks, Kim is determined to do something to connect with him, though he died before she was born in far-off Vietnam. Her mother and sisters remember him with incense and candles on the anniversary of his death. However, that’s not enough for Kim. She has something else in mind even though the prospect of carrying it through is unnerving. The Cleveland neighborhood her family can afford to live in is scary. But outside the apartment building is vacant lot. Well, it’s not exactly vacant. It’s filled with junk—an old couch, tires, all kinds of trash—a real haven for rats. But it’s ground that’s not spoken for. And Kim has a plan.
In his autobiographical novel for young people, Bad Boy, Walter Dean Myers wrote of a world--1940s Harlem--that was markedly different from that of today. Most families were tightly-knit as was the community itself. Even so, it wasn’t a perfect place. As he grew up his family struggled to get by, and, as he became a teenager, he became more aware of racism and how it could affect his future.
But during his early years, he didn’t think too much about race. He had friends who were white and black, and the woman he thought of as his mother was of German and Native American ancestry. The man who raised him, though not his biological father, was African American. Herbert and Florence Dean took Walter and his half-sisters in to be fostered when they needed a loving and caring home.
The tribes who lived in the Western Hemisphere before the coming of the Europeans were as different from each other as the countries that came to claim their lands. The many stories of the people who farmed, hunted, and herded in the plains, forests, deserts, and hills of what we call North America tell how they saw the Universe and the wisdom that they found in Nature.
History, particularly popular history, need not be dull, something that Cormac O’Brien demonstrates readily in his book, The Forgotten History of America. Written in a conversational tone and broken into vignettes, old history is made new when written this way. Even so, it’s not the standard stuff taught in schools. It’s about wars and both sides in those wars, reaching back to the country’s colonial beginnings in the 16th century. With personalities writ large on both sides and a good understanding of the differences in modern and historical society, O’Brien leads his readers on journeys back in time:
It begins with the first permanent European settlement in North America:
Pedro Menedez de Aviles anxiously paced the deck of his flagship, San Pelayo. Two days earlier, off the coast of Florida, he had gone ashore and met with Indians who offered valuable information about the prey he was desperately seeking. Now, confident of success, he led his five vessels northward along the coastline, scanning the beaches for any sign of European settlement. The day was September 4, 1565, and Menendez was hunting heretics.
Colonial Churches of Virginia is a beautiful and beautifully-written work that does a good job of giving the history and architectural highlights of more than 50 historic churches in the Old Dominion. Most are Anglican or Episcopal, but representative early churches can also be found for Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Mennonite, and Lutheran congregations. Current service times are noted for each church.
“...it makes me uncomfortable to know that my story Tuck Everlasting is required reading in some classrooms. My sympathies are entirely with the children, for many will react to Tuck as I well might have with a shudder. Many will find its language too ‘fancy,’ its pace too slow, its topic unsettling, the behavior of its hero incomprehensible.” — Natalie Babbitt in "Saying What You Think." The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress*
It is perhaps surprising that an author would almost prefer her books were not required reading. But it is less surprising in Natalie Babbitt’s case. Her best-beloved books are sweet and strong and true in spirit while containing enough wonder and marvel to lend a sparkle to a reader’s otherwise mundane childhood. This children’s author, like many of the best, remembers what it is like to be a child. What she liked to read—and what she didn’t. She understands that children have strong opinions on their favorite books, even if they may not be comfortable in expressing them. She certainly remembers what she liked:
You can find them on a map. Barely. Little towns that used to be rather important hubs dot the Virginia countryside, dating from the days when agriculture ruled along with the horse and buggy or mule and wagon. These central spots, often near rail stations, rivers, or better roads, were communities in their own right and many have faded away as the interstate system grew. The Lost Communities of Virginia, by Terri Fisher and Kirsten Sparenborg, takes a look at these fading places, several of them near our area, including Mineral, Woodford, and Milford.
Fans of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café can relate to little Milford, situated in Caroline County and still located on a railroad line. Originally the popular area here was Doguetown, named for the Dogue Indians who used the Mattaponi River for transportation. Milford, named for a nearby plantation in 1792, also used the river as a point for shipping—and inspecting—tobacco. The Mattaponi River was connected to both the York River and the Chesapeake Bay. By the early 1840s, the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad ran from Richmond to Aquia Creek with a stop in Milford. Milford’s North-South railroad connections made it a target in the Civil War.
For those who have followed Charlotte and Thomas Pitt from their awkward yet charming days of courtship in The Cater Street Hangman, Anne Perry’s recent Dorchester Terrace is a very enjoyable continuation of the series. Thomas has risen far since his days as a regular London policeman. He’s now head of Special Branch, a reward for his brilliant detective work and, probably not incidentally, saving Queen Victoria from a dastardly plot.
But, in class-conscious, 19th-century Britain, family background matters a lot to some people. Thomas, a gamekeeper’s son, often encounters people who question his ability to do his job when they find out who he isn’t. One of those is his immediate predecessor as head of Special Branch, Victor Narraway. In the preceding novel, Victor lost his job to Thomas almost but not quite disgracefully and rather lost his heart to Thomas’ clever and kind wife, Charlotte. Charlotte, born to live in Narraway’s world of privilege, has assisted her husband’s investigations through the years, but now that he is privy to so many state secrets, that will surely change—won’t it?
It was the goat that gave it away.
Some young wizards-to-be discover their destinies through an engraved invitation. But for Sparrowhawk, unscrubbed and unbiddable goat herder on the island of Gont, an overheard word in the true, magical language was enough to get him started. Not just one stubborn goat but the whole herd was brought to heel with a single word. Clearly the lad had potential.
The opening months of the Civil War had a certain boldness and cachet to them. Young men in particular signed up in droves. Picnickers came down from D.C. to take a gander at the First Battle of Manassas, discovering all too quickly that war is no theatrical entertainment. However, four years later when the South was playing an end-game, the damage to not just its army but also to its civilians was clearly a factor in its surrender. In 1863, there had been bread riots in Richmond. In 1864, the Shenandoah Valley’s crops and businesses had been burned by Union General Sheridan who was advised by his commander Grant to ”Give the enemy no rest ... Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can.”
And so it was. The civilians and soldiers alike were hit with shortages, and the last year of the war was a particularly brutal time. In William C. Davis’ and James I. Robertson, Jr.’s Virginia at War: 1865, the editors include eight essays by modern scholars and a diary from a Virginia woman, the wife of a minister, who observed that last year from her refugee quarters in Richmond where she served as a nurse and a clerk.