The fate of displaced children is the central concern of many books published in the past few years. The practice of adoption, as we think of it today, with background checks and safeguards, has not always been the standard. In 1853, distressed by the number of street children he encountered in New York, Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society. From 1854 to 1929, the program put homeless children on “orphan trains” headed west for placement with families across the country. Though the intention was good, there was little investigation of adoptive households. Some children landed with nurturing parents, but others were used only as free labor for farms or sweatshops.
Christina Baker Kline addresses the plight of these children in her novel “Orphan Train.” The narrative interweaves two timelines and character stories. Molly, a teenager in foster care, is working off community service hours by helping the elderly Vivian get her house and attic in order, sorting through a lifetime of possessions. While they discuss the history of the keepsakes, Vivian tells of her childhood experiences as an Irish immigrant and orphan train rider. Continue reading “Literary Links: Orphans and Orphan Trains”
Dr. Viola Figueroa, a brilliant scientist and avid history buff, has gone missing. She had just taken over as chair of the local history club’s Committee on the 1980s when she vanished. She’d spoken of a secret project, one she said would “make history something we can experience first-hand.” Her nephew, Alfredo, has convinced a few club members to investigate. They begin at the library where Dr. Figueroa conducted much of her research. Continue reading “Escape Room: Trapped in the 1980s!”
When my son was five, we gave him an allowance of 50 cents per week. Usually, he took his two quarters and put them in his Thomas the Tank Engine bank with all of the other coins he’d been given during his short life. There was never anything he wanted to buy. But one day when we were taking our cat to the vet, my son insisted on carrying his life savings along with him, stating he had something important to do with it. He remembered from a previous visit that our vet’s office kept a donation box in the waiting room to collect funds for a local animal shelter. He gave all of his money to help the homeless animals.
It’s a fundamental part of human nature to want to help those in need. That’s not just the view through my rose-colored glasses. There’s been research on the subject. Stefan Klein gathers and discusses much of this research in his book, “Survival of the Nicest.” He makes a case for altruism as the key to the survival of the human race. “The Giving Way to Happiness” by Jenny Santi shows that the act of giving has as many benefits for the giver as for the recipient. And Edgar Schein examines how to make sure efforts to help have the intended effect in his book “Helping: How to Offer, Give and Receive Help.” Continue reading “Giving Tuesday”
50,000 can be a daunting number, but I’m here to bear witness that it can also be an achievable number. Last year, for the first time, I successfully crossed the National Novel Writing Month finish line, pounding out 50,000 words worth of original writing during the month of November. I followed that up with securing a lucrative publishing contract and a nationwide speaking tour. Okay, the previous sentence was fiction. What I did gain was a sense of accomplishment, greater confidence in my writing abilities and the sense that doing a big thing is possible if you devote yourself to it regularly. Continue reading “Writers, Start Your Engines: National Novel Writing Month”
On September 18, 1937, the world was introduced to Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The world didn’t pay adequate attention, and the title went out of print for years. A 1978 reprinting brought the book recognition as an American classic. Alice Walker and Zadie Smith both cite Hurston as an influence.
Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida, a town established and run by African Americans. It serves as setting for much of her novel. She went to New York for an anthropology degree from Barnard College and stayed for the Harlem Renaissance, with trips back to the south for story collection and research.
“The elephant is loved, revered and respected by people and cultures around the world…”
World Elephant Day is August 12. But why do elephants get their own day? They’re just that cool, for one thing. And they’re endangered. WorldElephantDay.org explains: “The elephant is loved, revered and respected by people and cultures around the world, yet we balance on the brink of seeing the last of this magnificent creature.”
Elephants are highly intelligent, with excellent memories and the ability to recognize themselves in reflections. They develop strong bonds with each other and live together in communities. Female and juvenile elephants herd together in groups led by matriarchs, while adolescent and adult males form their own separate herds. Elephants work collectively to protect their young, and they appear to mourn their dead. Continue reading “World Elephant Day”
On Monday, August 21, Mid-Missouri will experience the most anticipated two and a half minutes of the century, as a total solar eclipse engulfs the region. All local hotel rooms have been booked for months, and events are taking place throughout the area to celebrate our plunge into the dark.
Though totality will last for only a couple of minutes, the whole eclipse, start to finish, will take about three hours. The moon will begin its journey across the sun at 11:45 a.m., eclipsing it entirely at around 1:12 p.m., and finishing its business at 2:40.
“Where can I learn more about the eclipse?” you might ask. At your library, of course. DBRL will hold events at all three buildings, featuring Dr. Angela Speck, a professor of astrophysics. Continue reading “Eclipse Fever”
In the spirit of the Summer Reading theme “Build a Better World,” your Classics Maven has chosen to discuss a master literary world builder – Ursula K. Le Guin, winner of the Nebula and Hugo Awards for her 1974 science fiction book, “The Dispossessed.”
“The Dispossessed” is a book about walls: physical, psychological, social. The story begins with Shevek, a physicist from the moon colony Anarres, breaking seven generations of tradition by crossing the wall around the space port where ships come and go with cargo. This wall contains the only “No Trespassing” sign in all of Anarres, a utopian anarchist society where everything is shared. Continue reading “Classics for Everyone: “The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin”
John Steinbeck said, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn.’”
That’s right; our state produced the father of American letters. And don’t think we don’t know it. Take a look at our state map: Mark Twain National Forest, Mark Twain State Park, Mark Twain Cave. Never mind that Samuel Clemens (Twain’s real name) moved away as an adult and did his writing in other locations; it’s obvious his Missouri boyhood influenced his career. A visit to the cavern now named after him leaves no doubt it was the setting for Tom Sawyer’s underground adventures. Continue reading “Literary Day Trips”
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” – Carl Sagan
Let me take this opportunity to express appreciation for science writers who open the universe of incredible discoveries to the rest of us. For those of us who are fascinated by scientific discoveries, but have neither the training nor desire to get information from academic journals, popular science books fill a need. Several outstanding titles have been published in the last year. Here are a few: