Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Horrors of Andersonville by Catherine Gourley

The Horrors of Andersonville: Life and Death inside a Civil War Prison describes what it was like for Union soldiers in the Confederate prisoner-of-war camp at Andersonville, Georgia. While Camp Sumter was only operational for the last 14 months of the war and intended to hold 10,000 soldiers, over 3 times that men were crowded into the facility at one time and more than 13,000 men died there.  The inhumane conditions and demoralizing effects of war are described by the prisoners themselves: Gourley, through letters, diaries and war records is able to provide stories from survivors that lets readers know exactly what the soldiers went through. Indeed, Gourley follows several soldiers' stories in enough detail for readers to want to know what happens to them, including prisoner John Ransom, who kept a diary about his time at Belle Isle and Andersonville, and James Madison Page, who wrote a book about Henry Wirz. Another side to the story will make this a particularly useful book for social studies classes or debates, presenting a very balanced looking at both the soldiers and Captain Henry Wirz, commander of the inner prison at Andersonville, who was tried and executed for charges of conspiracy and murder although no conspirators were charged and no one could ever name anyone he himself killed. Admittedly, he was in charge of a horrible place -- the photograph of the Andersonville cemetery as set up by Clara Barton and Dorence Atwater is heartbreaking -- but hindsight says it is more than likely he was a very convenient scapegoat. He was in fact he only Confederate officer hanged for war crimes.
Readers will find a surprising number of photographs for a book about the 19th century, as well as a very complete index, bibliography and list of source notes. This is a worthy addition to any junior or senior high school and public library.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cleopatra Rules by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Readers will find a unique portrait in Vicky Alvear Shecter's portrayal of Cleopatra, aptly subtitled "the Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen." Shecter's use of language is quick, pithy and punny. When describing the Queen in Rome with Caesar's rather predatory 'followers', she notes that "Cleopatra probably felt like a bull’s-eye target in a room full of twitchy archers." Cleopatra did accomplish a stunning amount for a woman of her time -- much more than her relationships with Caesar and Antony. Shecter uses modern comparisons and lets students know that most of what has been accepted (or at least presented in plays, books and films) about the last queen of Egypt has either been highly subjective or presented in from a terribly one-sided point of view. Readers will find sidebars on the various ways she has been portrayed (as opposed to what we actually know about her), as well as egyptian makeup and jewelry, among other things.
Presenting a fun and balanced accounting of an interesting subject, in a book that gives readers primary and secondary sources (along with endnotes, a glossary, and lots of illustrations) is one sure way to interest readers in history.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Groundwork Guides

Librarians in public and school libraries not familiar with Groundwood Books Groundwood Guides series are in for a treat. The series introduces readers to subjects in a diverse range of subjects. A trailer for it can be found here.
The books are well researched, written and encourage debate by presenting topics, from "Being Muslim" to "Pornography" that are usually seen as highly polarizing. Banned Books Week/Freedom to Read Week, anyone?
Groundwood is also developing teacher's guides for the series, which are available as free downloads from their website.
Guides have been already been developed for the following titles:
-Being Muslim by Haroon Siddiqui
-The Betrayal of Africa by Gerald Caplan
-Cities by John Lorinc
-Climate Change by Shelley Tanaka
-Genocide by Jane Springer
-Hip Hop World by Dalton Higgins
-Oil by James Laxer
-Slavery Today by Kevin Bales

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Time to Speak

I found out this morning that Laurie Halse Anderson's Printz-honor award winning novel Speak, which has touched over 10 years of readers in many countries, been challenged a week before Banned Book Week begins in the United States. On her blog readers will find a video of Laurie reading the poem, "Listen", written in response to "tens of thousands of letters" from readers and partially composed from those readers. This is a very powerful video, one that evokes a very emotional response. This is not surprising, certainly, given the depth of feeling expressed in the letters from the book's fans, but it shouldn't be overlooked at the present time. There is also a link to the original in which a man considers the two rape scenes in this amazing book as "soft core pornography".
Speak has been taught in Alberta high schools, may be found at
Calgary Public Library (most of the copies are checked out right now) and remains one of the most relevant and realistic portrayals of teenage abuse, trauma and empowerment.