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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: biography, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Writing What You Don’t Know: Tips for Telling Another Person’s Story

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BY AMY PARKER

“Write what you know,” the adage goes. But when my heart pulled me way outside my knowledge base to help Rwandan Frederick Ndabaramiye write his unbelievable story, I knew that I had a lot to learn.

Here are a few pointers based on what I did, what I didn’t do, and what you must do … from someone who now knows.

What I Did

I saturated myself in the culture—as much as a Tennessee girl can, anyway. I asked Frederick for photos, read Rwandan news and books set in Rwanda, and listened to Rwandan (Internet) radio. Much of that information never made it into the book, but it enriched my ability to feel the surroundings, see the scenes, and hear the voices that later would be woven into the story.

I went! None of the remote research will enhance your knowledge and sense of setting as much as seeing it for yourself. If I hadn’t, I would have never known that the whole country smells like a campfire or why—almost everyone cooks over an open fire. I would have never known the inexplicable warmth and kindness of the people, felt the breathlessness of climbing the steep Rwandan hills, or known the awe of looking into the eyes of a mountain gorilla.

You’ll learn things that the native people would never think to tell you, and you’ll discover answers to questions that you would never have known to ask. Sure, it can be costly, but it is worth every cent—or Rwandan Franc—you’ll spend.

I begged the advice of those gone before me. And I got answers about everything from car rentals and hotels to what kind of shoes and electrical adapters to take.

This proved to be invaluable, especially in hiring a driver. We tried to rationalize that particular piece of advice away (the per-day fee was as much as a weekly car rental in the States), but in the end, we caved and were greatly rewarded for our investment. Our guide Charles had actually fought with the RPF (the army that ended the genocide) and shared knowledge and experiences beyond what I could find in any book. And as for the driving, we honestly could have never navigated the steep, rutted roads ourselves.

What I Didn’t Do

Learn the language. Of course, I bought the book and practiced some phrases, but I had no working knowledge of the language. So when the Rwandan pastor said something from the front of the church that prompted the entire congregation to turn and look at us, I didn’t know whether to smile or hide. (Thankfully, he was welcoming us.) If you even think that you may be traveling to a foreign-language location, start practicing the language yesterday. I can’t imagine how much more I would have learned if I had.

Ask permission to take photos. Every. Single. Time. It’s a courtesy common to most cultures, and I asked most of the time. But the one time I didn’t—in the market, when I wasn’t really photographing a person, but a place—I greatly offended one lady. And I didn’t need to speak Kinyarwanda to know it.

What You Must Do

Keep a journal. I did this but wish I had done more, had noted more details, went more in-depth about daily experiences. Stay up for an extra thirty minutes each night and jot down every single detail you remember about your day. This will be a priceless gift to yourself, not to mention the much-needed descriptions it will provide for your story.

Try something new. I ate sambaza, best described as fried minnows. And it was delicious. I fell in love with African Tea (like a chai latte with a kick). I’m not an athlete—in any sense of the word—but I eagerly signed up for the mountain gorilla trek. I drank in the culture, and I am forever changed.

Share the experience. I quickly shared my photos on Facebook, but two years later, I have yet to compose the dozen blog ideas that I jotted down while riding in that bumpy SUV. (Okay, so I did write a book, but still.) Find the time—share your experiences.

After all, it is our duty to the world as writers. And in many cases, it’s the only way readers will experience another world for themselves—through your writing, now that you know.


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Amy Parker has made her mark as an experienced and versatile writer and editor who has a particular enthusiasm for children’s books. She authored the bestselling A Night Night Prayer and has collaborated with authors ranging from a New York Times bestseller to her own son.

She is the co-author of Frederick: A Story of Boundless Hope from Thomas Nelson, which releases September 16, 2014. You can find her on amyparkerbooks.com or Facebook.

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2. Mythmaker: Life of J.R.R. Tolkien

Mythmaker: The Life of J.R.R. Tolkien. Anne E. Neimark. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Mythmaker: The Life of J.R.R. Tolkien is a biography ideal for young(er) readers, perhaps readers who have shown an interest in reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. This biography may not satisfy adult readers who want more or need more. (Then again, it may be a good place to start if you just want the basics.) But as a basic biography with a literary focus, it works well.

Readers learn the basics: where he was born, what his childhood was like, the hardships and successes of his growing years, his influences, his school years, his time as a soldier in World War I, etc. Readers learn about how he met his future wife, what their courtship was like, when they got married, how many children they had, where they lived, etc. But most of the focus I would say is on his writing. Readers learn about how he came to create his fantasy world, his own languages, his own mythology. Readers get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of his writing of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. And also The Silmarillion. I knew he years writing that one, but, I didn't realize he spent DECADES. He started writing it during World War II and was still working on it in the 1970s! I liked how the focus was on his books, writing and publishing and the fans!
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Was Paul Goble adopted into the Yakima and Sioux tribes?

Within the framework of children's books, one thought that comes to mind when I hear the word "adopted" is Paul Goble. Let me preface this post by saying that I find his children's books highly problematic. See Paul Goble's The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses for background.

For years, I've read that he was adopted by Chief Edgar Red Cloud. Here's an example from the World Wisdom website:

Paul Goble was adopted into the Yakima and Sioux tribes (with the name "Wakinyan Chikala," Little Thunder) by Chief Edgar Red Cloud.
I've been skeptical of such statements and have started some research into that statement. I kind of doubt he was adopted into either one. Maybe Chief Edgar Red Cloud adopted him into his own Lakota family, but I doubt it was an adoption into the nation itself, wherein Goble's name was put down on the tribal census. The Oglala Lakota tribal constitution says members are those who are born to a member of the tribe.

The Yakima and Sioux are two distinct nations, by the way, and using both in that sentence tells us that the person who wrote it doesn't understand that they are two different nations. 

I did some searching using "Paul Goble" and "Little Thunder" and found this at the website of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library:
His interest in Native Americans was so deep and genuine that he was adopted into the Yakama (Yakima) tribe by Chief Alba Shawaway and into the Sioux tribe by Chief Edgar Red Cloud.
Alba Shawaway was Yakama and maybe he did adopt Goble into his immediate family, but again, I doubt he would have been adopted into the tribe itself. 

Doing some research on Edgar Red Cloud, I came across Phil Jackson's book, Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior. Jackson is a big name in the National Basketball Association. Edgar Red Cloud gave him a name, too in 1973: Swift Eagle.  Jackson writes:
Call me Swift Eagle. That's the name Edgar Red Cloud gave me during the 1973 basketball clinic that Bill Bradley and I conducted at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Edgar, the grandson of the famous chief Red Cloud, said I resembled an eagle as I swooped around the court with my arms outstretched, always looking to steal the ball. Swift Eagle. Oknahkoh Wamblee. the name sounded like wings beating the air. 
In the next paragraph, Jackson writes that Edgar Red Cloud gave Bill Bradley a name, too: Tall Elk.

But let's get back to Goble. I haven't found anything he's written himself that says he was adopted. Here's the dedication in his Adopted by the Eagles: 



See that? He says he was given a Lakota name and called son by Chief Edgar Red Cloud, but Goble doesn't say he was adopted. He doesn't say anything about it in an interview at the Wisdom Tales website.* And he doesn't say anything about it in his autobiography, Hau Kola-Hello Friend published by Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc. in 1994.  

So... what is the source of information that says he was adopted? I'll keep looking. If you find something, do let me know.

Why it matters: Having his work cloaked with an adoption story suggests that he's got an insider perspective. As my post on The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses indicates, I find his work problematic, and so do Doris Seale, a librarian who is Santee, Creek, and Abenaki, and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, an American Indian Studies professor who is Crow Creek Sioux. At the bottom of that post, you'll see a link to a post where I quote them. That post is About Paul Goble.


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4. Enemy of the Reich - The Noor Inayat Khan Story

Back in September 2011, I reviewed a book called Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance and Rescue by Kathryn J. Atwood.  This is a truly wonderful book about such brave women and ideal for young readers interested in history.   One of the women that Kathryn wrote about was Noor Inayat Khan.

Noor was the daughter of an Indian father and an American mother.  She was born in Moscow, but lived and was educated in France.  She was raised in the Muslim faith.  After college, Noor began to write and illustrate children's stories, but then, World War II began.

Noor went to England and joined WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force), ferrying planes for the RAF.  She learned how to operate a radio in the WAAF and was eventually noticed by the SOE (Special Operations Executive).  Because Noor spoke French with native fluency, she was an ideal candidate for their overseas operations.

After training as an SOE agent, Noor arrived in France, using the code name Madeleine, during the night of June 16, 1943.  She successfully evaded the Nazis and sent hundreds of radio messages, including some about the upcoming D-Day invasion, until she was arrested by the Gestapo around October 13, 1943.  Eventually, after being repeatedly beaten and tortured, she was sent to Dachau, where she was executed on September 13, 1944.

Last night, local PBS stations aired a one hour program called Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story.  This excellently produced program really brings Noor's life and her activities fighting the Nazis to life in this docudrama starring Grace Srinivasan as Noor and narrated by Helen Mirren.  Noor's story is one you won't want to miss and luckily, since it is on PBS, it will probably be repeated.



Or, you can watch the entire program HERE until September 30, 2014.

And you might want to check out Kathryn's book to see who else she have included in her book of women heroes during WWII.

Oh, I said that Noor wrote children's stories after college.  Well, her stories have been translated into English and are still available:

This program is recommended for viewers age 13+

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5. Little Author in the Big Woods by Yona Zeldis McDonough

Little Author in the Big Woods: a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Yona Zeldis McDonough; illustrations by Jennifer Thermes Henry Holt. 2014 ISBN: 9780805095425 Grades 3-5 This reviewer used an ARC supplied by the publisher. Laura Ingalls Wilder, who began her writing career in her 60’s, based her Little House books on experiences she had as a child. Though Laura was true to actual

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6. Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming  by Jacqueline Woodson Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014 ISBN: 9780399252518 Grades 4 and up On shelves Aug. 26, 2014 The reviewer received an advanced copy of the book from the publisher. I read Brown Girl Dreaming on an airplane flying over the midwest on the way home from the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas. I devoured it in one sitting then handed the book to Louise who also

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7. Excavation

In this searingly honest memoir of growing up during the '80s and '90s in Southern California, Ortiz brilliantly narrates her five-year relationship with a teacher 15 years her senior. This is a work of startling incandescence and raw beauty. Books mentioned in this post Excavation: A Memoir Wendy C. Ortiz Sale Trade Paper $10.50

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8. Paul Otlet, Google, Wikipedia, and cataloging the world

As soon as humanity began its quest for knowledge, people have also attempted to organize that knowledge. From the invention of writing to the abacus, from medieval manuscripts to modern paperbacks, from microfiche to the Internet, our attempt to understand the world — and catalog it in an orderly fashion with dictionaries, encyclopedias, libraries, and databases — has evolved with new technologies. One man on the quest for order was innovator, idealist, and scientist Paul Otlet, who is the subject of the new book Cataloging the World. We spoke to author Alex Wright about his research process, Paul Otlet’s foresight into the future of global information networks, and Otlet’s place in the history of science and technology.

What most surprised you when researching Paul Otlet?

Paul Otlet was a source of continual surprise to me. I went into this project with a decent understanding of his achievements as an information scientist (or “documentalist,” as he would have said), but I didn’t fully grasp the full scope of his ambitions. For example, his commitment to progressive social causes, his involvement in the creation of the League of Nations, or his decades-long dream of building a vast World City to serve as the political and intellectual hub of a new post-national world order. His ambitions went well beyond the problem of organizing information. Ultimately, he dreamed of reorganizing the entire world.

What misconceptions exist regarding Paul Otlet and the story of the creation of the World Wide Web itself?

It’s temptingly easy to overstate Otlet’s importance. Despite his remarkable foresight about the possibilities of networks, he did not “invent” the World Wide Web. That credit rightly goes to Tim Berners-Lee and his partner (another oft-overlooked Belgian) Robert Cailliau. While Otlet’s most visionary work describes a global network of “electric telescopes” displaying text, graphics, audio, and video files retrieved from all over the world, he never actually built such a system. Nor did the framework he proposed involve any form of machine computation. Nonetheless, Otlet’s ideas anticipated the eventual development of hypertext information retrieval systems. And while there is no direct paper trail linking him to the acknowledged forebears of the Web (like Vannevar Bush, Douglas Engelbart, and Ted Nelson), there is tantalizing circumstantial evidence that Otlet’s ideas were clearly “in the air” and influencing an increasingly public dialogue about the problem of information overload – the same cultural petri dish in which the post-war Anglo-American vision of a global information network began to emerge.

What was the most challenging part of your research?

The sheer size of Otlet’s archives–over 1,000 boxes of papers, journals, and rough notes, much of it handwritten and difficult to decipher–presented a formidable challenge in trying to determine where to focus my research efforts. Fortunately the staff of the Mundaneum in Mons, Belgium, supported me every step of the way, helping me wade through the material and directing my attention towards his most salient work. Otlet’s adolescent diaries posed a particularly thorny challenge. On the one hand they offer a fascinating portrait of a bright but tormented teenager who by age 15 was already dreaming of organizing the world’s information. But his handwriting is all but illegible for long stretches. Even an accomplished French translator like my dear friend (and fellow Oxford author) Mary Ann Caws, struggled to help me decipher his nineteenth-century Wallonian adolescent chicken scratch. Chapter Two wouldn’t have been the same without her!

Photograph of Paul Otlet, circa 1939. Reproduced with permission of the Mundaneum, Mons, Belgium.

Photograph of Paul Otlet, circa 1939. Reproduced with permission of the Mundaneum, Mons, Belgium.

How do you hope this new knowledge of Otlet will influence the ways in which people view the Internet and information sites like Wikipedia?

I hope that it can cast at least a sliver of fresh light on our understanding of the evolution of networked information spaces. For all its similarities to the web, Otlet’s vision differed dramatically in several key respects, and points to several provocative roads not taken. Most importantly, he envisioned his web as a highly structured environment, with a complex semantic markup called the Universal Decimal Classification. An Otletian version of Wikipedia would almost certainly involve a more hierarchical and interlinked presentation of concepts (as opposed to the flat and relatively shallow structure of the current Wikipedia). Otlet’s work offers us something much more akin in spirit to the Semantic Web or Linked Data initiative: a powerful, tightly controlled system intended to help people make sense of complex information spaces.

Can you explain more about Otlet’s idea of “electronic telescopes” – whether they were feasible/possible, and to what extent they led to the creation of networks (as opposed to foreshadowing them)?

One early reviewer of the manuscript took issue with my characterization of Otlet’s “electric telescopes” as a kind of computer, but I’ll stand by that characterization. While the device he described may not fit the dictionary definition of a computer as a “programmable electronic device” – Otlet never wrote about programming per se – I would take the Wittgensteinian position that a word is defined by its use. By that standard, Otlet’s “electric telescope” constitutes what most of us would likely describe as a computer: a connected device for retrieving information over a network. As to whether it was technically feasible – that’s a trickier question. Otlet certainly never built one, but he was writing at a time when the television was first starting to look like a viable technology. Couple that with the emergence of radio, telephone, and telegraphs – not to mention new storage technologies like microfilm and even rudimentary fax machines – and the notion of an electric telescope may not seem so far-fetched after all.

What sorts of innovations would might have emerged from the Mundaneum – the institution at the center of Otlet’s “World City” – had it not been destroyed by the Nazis?

While the Nazi invasion signalled the death knell for Otlet’s project, it’s worth noting that the Belgian government had largely withdrawn its support a few years earlier. By 1940 many people already saw Otlet as a relic of another time, an old man harboring implausible dreams of international peace and Universal Truth. But Otlet and a smaller but committed team of staff soldiered on, undeterred, cataloging the vast collection that remained intact behind closed doors in Brussels’ Parc du Cinquantenaire. When the Nazis came, they cleared out the contents of the Palais Mondial, destroying over 70 tons worth of material, and making room for an exhibition of Third Reich art. Otlet’s productive career effectively came to an end, and he died a few years later in 1944.

It’s impossible to say quite how things might have turned out differently. But one notable difference between Otlet’s web and today’s version is the near-total absence of private enterprise – a vision that stands in stark contrast to today’s Internet, dominated as it is by a handful of powerful corporations.

Otlet’s Brussels headquarters stood almost right across the street from the present-day office of another outfit trying to organize and catalog the world’s information: Google.

Alex Wright is a professor of interaction design at the School of Visual Arts and a regular contributor to The New York Times. He is the author of Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age and Glut: Mastering Information through the Ages.

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9. The Queen whose Soul was Harmony

By James Anderson Winn


In 1701, one year before Princess Anne succeeded to the throne, musicians from London traveled to Windsor to perform a special ode composed for her birthday by the gifted young composer Jeremiah Clarke. The anonymous poet addressed part of his poem to the performers, taking note of Anne’s keen interest in music:

Portrait of Anne of Great Britain by Charles Jervas, 1702-1714, Royal Collection, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Anne of Great Britain by Charles Jervas, 1702-1714, Royal Collection, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

With song your tribute to her bring,
Who best inspires you how to sing;
None better claims your lays than she
Whose very soul is Harmony.
O happy those whose art can feast
So just, and so refined a taste.

As the poet evidently knew, Anne’s just and refined taste was shaped by her own musical experiences. Her music teachers included Francesco Corbetta, the leading guitarist in Europe, and Giovanni Battista Draghi, the harpsichord player who composed the first setting of Dryden’s “Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687.” Henry Purcell wrote the music for her wedding and for other occasions at her court; when he died, still in his early thirties, his widow dedicated a posthumous collection of his keyboard pieces to the Princess, thanking her for her “Generous Encouragement of my deceas’d Husband’s Performances in Musick, together with the great Honour your Highness has don that Science in your Choice of that Instrument, for which the following Compositions were made.”

I have paid particular attention to music written for the often misunderstood Queen, a musician and lover of the fine arts. The four examples I offer here are especially rich and complex.

We begin with an excerpt from Purcell’s last substantial work, an ode for the sixth birthday of William, Duke of Gloucester, Anne’s only child to survive infancy. The political situation at this moment was complex. After the armed coup of 1688, which deposed Anne’s father, James II, and replaced him with her sister Mary and her brother-in-law William, the two sisters had quarreled. Their estrangement continued until Mary’s death in 1694, and although William went through the motions of a reconciliation, his relationship with Anne was edgy at best. In praising the little Duke, the poet paid court to Anne in language that might easily be read as praising the Princess at the expense of the King:

She’s great, Let Fortune Smile or Frown,
Her Virtues make all Hearts her own:
She reigns without a Crown.

Evidently aware that the last line might be offensive to the King’s supporters, Purcell set it only once and surrounded it with two longer settings of the previous line—“Her Virtues make all Hearts her own”—a safer expression of Anne’s growing popularity. He devotes eleven measures to the line about Anne’s virtues, stretching it out with extensive melismatic treatments of the word all, disposes of the line about reigning without a crown in only six measures, and then returns to the words of the penultimate line for another eighteen measures. His setting thus alters the rhetoric of the poem, moving what had been a climactic and cadential line in the poem into a much less prominent position. Purcell had good reasons to look forward to the accession of Anne, who knew more about music than her predecessors, but he had far too much tact to crown her prematurely.

Henry Purcell, excerpts from Who can from Joy Refrain? Performers: Bradford Gleim, baritone; Teresa Wakim and Brenna Wells, sopranos; Jesse Irons and Megumi Stohs Lewis, violins; Peter Sykes, harpsichord; Sarah Freiberg, cello.

Our next example comes from the birthday ode of 1701. At this moment, Anne was just emerging from six months of mourning for her son Gloucester, who had died a few days after his eleventh birthday. In a touching and delicate aria sung by the tenor Richard Elford, who soon became Anne’s favorite singer, the words express the hope that she might bear another child.

In her brave offspring still she’ll live,
Nor must she bless our age alone;
But to succeeding ages give,
Heirs to her virtues, and the throne.

After an innocent string ritornello in B-flat major, the vocalist enters in d minor; Clarke’s wistful expression of the hope for more heirs to Anne’s virtues thus delicately acknowledges her sorrow for the lost Gloucester. The contrast with earlier birthday odes, in which composers saluted Gloucester with martial fanfares, is striking.

Jeremiah Clarke, excerpt from Let Nature Smith, birthday ode for Princess Anne (1701 ?). Performers: Owen McIntosh, tenor; Jesse Irons and Megumi Stohs Lewis, violins; Sarah Darling, viola; Peter Sykes, harpsichord; Sarah Freiberg, cello.

Our third example is an anthem composed by John Blow for the thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s cathedral in 1704, celebrating the Duke of Marlborough’s victory in the Battle of Blenheim. The Bible reading for the day tells the story of the prophetess Deborah, who sent her general Barak to defeat the Philistines. As a married non-combatant who ruled her nation, Deborah was a close biblical analogue for Anne, and one detail in the song’s description of the battle matched the events at Blenheim with eerie accuracy: “The river of Kishon,” sings the prophetess, “swept them away,” and at the end of the recent battle, at least 2,000 French cavalrymen had drowned in the Danube. In constructing his anthem, Blow carefully rearranged a few selected verses from the recommended chapter. After one soloist sings verse 21 of the biblical story, the description of the river, the other joins him in verse 13, celebrating Deborah’s “dominion over the mighty” in a canonic duet involving several hair-raising dissonances, after which the first singer, again alone and safely back in triadic harmonies, declaims verse 31, which prays that all the Lord’s enemies will perish.

John Blow, excerpt from Awake, awake, utter a song (1704). Performers: Owen McIntosh and Marcio de Oliveira, tenors; Peter Sykes, organ; Sarah Freiberg, cello.

We end, as we must, with Handel, whose music the Queen clearly appreciated: she awarded him a generous pension of £200 a year (roughly £40,000 in modern money). Handel’s “Serenata” for the queen’s birthday in 1713 celebrates the impending Treaty of Utrecht, ending a long war on favorable terms. The text, by the Whig poet Ambrose Philips, has seven stanzas, each ending with the same couplet:

The Day that gave great Anna Birth,
Who fix’d a lasting Peace on Earth.

In his first stanza, the poet asks the sun, the “Eternal Source of Light divine,” to “add a lustre to this day,” and for this aria, Handel featured Richard Elford, Anne’s favorite singer in her Chapel Royal, and wrote a trumpet obbligato for John Shore, a versatile and inventive musician who had served the queen and her late husband for years. At thanksgiving services during Anne’s reign, Shore and Elford often performed the prominent parts for high tenor and trumpet in Purcell’s Te Deum and Jubilate, so Handel was honoring the traditions of the Chapel Royal by using them as soloists, by writing in the same key (D major), and by composing a canon between the voice and the trumpet that imitates Purcell’s compositional practice. Like the other composers, he was evidently confident that the queen’s musical ear would allow her to hear and appreciate the compliment he was paying to English music.

George Frideric Handel, aria from Eternal Source of Light Divine (1713). Performance: Jason McStoots, tenor; Robinson Pyle, trumpet; Dorian Bandy and Emily Dahl, violins; Anna Griffis, viola; Peter Sykes, harpsichord; Denise Fan, cello.

Three hundred years ago, on 1 August 1714, Queen Anne died in the Kensington Palace in London. James Anderson Winn is William Fairfield Warren Professor of English at Boston University. His six earlier books include Unsuspected Eloquence (1981), a groundbreaking history of the relations between poetry and music; John Dryden and His World (1987), a prize-winning biography; and The Poetry of War (2008), praised by one reviewer as a book “for anyone who cares about war and truth.” His new book, Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts, includes 23 musical examples, each of which is printed in full score; a companion website allows the reader to listen to performances of each of the excerpts, many of them not heard since Queen Anne’s time.

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10. How much do you know about early Hollywood’s leading ladies?

By Sarah Rahman


Clara Bow, whose birthday falls on 29 July, was the “it” girl of her time, making fifty-two films between 1922 and 1930. “Of all the lovely young ladies I’ve met in Hollywood, Clara Bow has ‘It,’” noted novelist Elinor Glyn. According to her entry in American National Biography, “With Cupid’s bow lips, a hoydenish red bob, and nervous, speedy movement, Bow became a national rage, America’s flapper. At the end of 1927 she was making $250,000 a year.”

Clara_Bow_1920

Clara Bow by Paramount Photos. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In recognition of the numerous leading ladies of the early days of Hollywood, the American National Biography team has put together a quiz to test your knowledge of early Hollywood and its stars. Film buff or not, the experiences of these iconic actresses may surprise you.

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

Sarah Rahman is a Digital Product Marketing Intern at Oxford University Press. She is currently a rising junior pursuing a degree in English literature at Hamilton College.

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11. A Boy and a Jaguar

A Boy and a Jaguar  by Alan Rabinowitz illustrated by Catia Chien Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014 ISBN: 9780547875071 Grades K-5 The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from the public library. Wildlife conservationist, Alan Rabinowitz, stuttered as a child. However, he had a gift for talking to animals. Alan's parents took him to doctors and specialists looking for a cure for his stuttering,

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12. The Ideal Literary Life


I've never seen the life of the writer Raymond Roussel condensed so marvelously as in David Macey's The Lives of Michel Foucault (Foucault wrote a book on Roussel), where it becomes a kind of perfect literary life: a life of weirdness, alienation, mental illness, addiction, and suffering, all capped with a mysterious death:
Enormously rich, [Roussel] travelled the world but rarely left his hotel room or his cabin. He financed the publication of his own writings and the staging of his own plays, which were invariably expensive failures accompanied by riots among the audience. His writings excited little interest in his lifetime, though some of the surrealists — notably Breton in his Anthologie de l'humour noir — appreciated them. For much of his life Roussel suffered from serious neurotic illnesses provoked (or at least triggered), it is thought, by the spectacular failure of La Doublure (1897), a long verse-novel, written in alexandrines, about a stand-in actor. He was treated by Pierre Janet, who failed to see any literary talent in him and described him as un pauvre petit malade; Roussel is the "Martial" whose case is discussed in the first volume of De l'Angoisse à l'extase (1926). Roussel was a homosexual, though little is known about his sexual tastes and activities, and became totally dependent on barbituates in his later years. He died in Palermo, where his body was found in his hotel room, lying on a mattress which he had — presumably with great difficulty, given his physical state — pushed up against the door connecting his room to that of his travelling companion. The door, habitually left unlocked, was locked. Whether Roussel was murdered or committed suicide has never been determined. (125)
You have succeeded as a writer if someone can describe your work as "invariably expensive failures accompanied by riots among the audience".

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13. Hidden like Anne Frank by Marcel Prins

Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 true stories of survival by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis; translated by Laura Watkinson An Arthur A. Levine Book; Scholastic. 2014 ISBN: 9789545543620 Grades 7 thru 12 To review this book, I checked a copy out from my local public library Anne Frank recorded in her diary the two years the Frank family spent in hiding during World War II. Though Anne’s story

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14. Akbar Jehan and the dialectic of resistance and accommodation

By Nyla Ali Khan


To analyze the personal, political, and intellectual trajectory of Akbar Jehan—the woman, the wife, the mother, and the Kashmiri nationalist, not simply an iconic and often misunderstood political figure—has been an emotionally tempestuous journey for me. The Kashmiri political and social activist is my maternal grandmother. I am so interested in studying her life and work because, to my mind, there is a historical value in challenging the historical narratives about the political actors of pre-and post-1947 Jammu and Kashmir and the movement for an autonomous and pluralistic Kashmir. I have attempted to steer clear of delimiting and constricting narratives about her life and work in my recent book. It is important to reshape the collective historical memory so that it includes the humanitarian and pluralistic endeavors of leaders of the movement at that critical time after the partition of India.

While teaching classes on Women’s and Gender Studies at the Universities of Nebraska and Oklahoma, I realized that history has done a rather inadequate job of memorializing the contributions of women political and social activists. Akbar Jehan’s work of sustaining the community, caring for the marginalized and disempowered at a turbulent time, has not been captured by professional historians, who have peripheralized the work of women in rebuilding societies following armed conflict.

With the oral and historical resources available to me, I investigated the impact of Akbar Jehan’s work on the legal, social, and economic status of women in Jammu and Kashmir. She was a passionate advocate of women’s education who sought to place girls—including those of impoverished backgrounds—in the modern and vibrant world of intellectual and scientific pursuits. Working with Lady Mountbatten, wife of the first Governor General of post-Partition India, Lord Mountbatten, Akbar Jehan advocated for repatriating young women who had been forcibly removed from their families during the partition of the country. According to my mother Suraiya and her older sister Khalida, Akbar Jehan also worked to restore the honor of those women who had borne the brunt of communal vendetta. Following the partition, she helped to form the Relief Committee and served on the chair of the Food Committee, which sought to address economic losses resulting from the collapse of the tourism sector and the subsequent rise in the cost of living. Later, Akbar Jehan founded the institute Markaz Behbudi Khawateen, still in operation today, which imparts literacy, training in arts and crafts, health care, and social security as tools of empowerment.

All of these efforts constitute a powerful rebuttal of the tendency among Western observers to conflate Islamic norms with practices. Western feminist epistemologies in particular, as I have observed in Islam, Women, and the Violence in Kashmir, can impair the research paradigms, hypotheses, and field work on women in Islamic societies. Akbar Jehan believed that women citizens should be accorded equal rights with men in all fields of national life—economic, cultural, political, and in government services. She reinforced the idea that women should have the right to work in every line of employment for terms and wages equal to those for men; women would be assured of equality with men in education, social insurance and job conditions, though she argued that the law should also give special protections to mothers and children. In contrast to many Western feminists, however, Akbar Jehan gave equal credence to the path-paving work of women within religious, familial, and communal frameworks. Moreover, she sought to motivate education within minority communities (as opposed to state-controlled education), and above all she recognized culture and history as sites of political and social struggle.

Akbar Jehan understood that reforms and consciousness-raising could occur most decisively at the grassroots level, not in the corridors of power in New Delhi, nor in the plush halls of parliament. I would venture to say that the many harangues, digressions, dogmatic statements, and red tape of parliament could not intimidate an activist who had worked in the trenches and walked shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of the anti-monarchical, anti-colonial, and Independence movements of the Indian subcontinent. Akbar Jehan was of the opinion that enfranchisement of both women and men, and assuring women of equal opportunities in education, are not empowering in themselves, but would cause a momentous shift in traditional gender relationships. To address these political obstacles, women who were active in politics in the 20th century sought not only to improve the position of their particular organizations but also to forge connections between the various women’s groups. One of their major accomplishments came in 1950, when the government of Jammu and Kashmir developed educational institutions for women on a large scale, including the first University, as well as a College for women. There remains much scholarly work to be done in exploring how women in civic associations and in government led the way toward a peaceful pluralistic democracy.

By virtue of her status among the major Kashmiri institutions, Akbar Jehan earned the authority to make major policy decisions. Thus, she enjoyed a privilege that other intelligent visionary women did not have. For example, she represented Srinagar and Anantnag constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian parliament from 1977 to 1979 and 1984 to 1989, respectively. Akbar Jehan was also the first president of the Jammu and Kashmir Red Cross Society from 1947 to 1951. She was the first lady of Jammu and Kashmir from 1948–1953 and again from 1975–1982. So, it would be difficult to deny that making one’s vision a reality, particularly for a woman in the South Asian context, is contingent, to a certain extent, on socioeconomic privilege and political clout. And though Akbar Jehan’s critics have pointed out that her elite position gave her visibility and access to the echelons of power, this by no means diminishes her legacy.

khanNyla Ali Khan is a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma and member of the Harvard-based Scholars Strategy Network. She is the author of The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, and The Life of a Kashmiri Woman. She is also the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir, a contributor to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women (2013), and a guest editor for Oxford Islamic Studies Online.

Oxford Islamic Studies Online is an authoritative, dynamic resource that brings together the best current scholarship in the field for students, scholars, government officials, community groups, and librarians to foster a more accurate and informed understanding of the Islamic world. Oxford Islamic Studies Online features reference content and commentary by renowned scholars in areas such as global Islamic history, concepts, people, practices, politics, and culture, and is regularly updated as new content is commissioned and approved under the guidance of the Editor in Chief, John L. Esposito.

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15. Everybody Paints!

Everybody Paints!: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family  by Susan Goldman Rubin Chronicle Books, 2014 ISBN: 9780811869843 Grades 5 and up As a child growing up in Maine, Wyeth was a well-known name in my home. I vividly remember visiting the Portland Museum of Art with my parents the year I was in 6th grade for a special exhibition of Andrew Wyeth's tempera paintings. I was pleased to learn

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16. The Other Side

In this exceptional literary memoir, Johnson paints a candid self-portrait of a life bearing the weight of a horrendous event — getting kidnapped, bound, and raped by an ex-boyfriend. This is a story that insists on being told, and it is conveyed with incredible grace. Books mentioned in this post The Other Side Signed Edition [...]

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17. Women in the House (and Senate) by Ilene Cooper

A Woman in the House (and Senate): how women came to the United States Congress, broke down barriers, and changed the country. By Ilene Cooper; Illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley Abrams. 2014 ISBN: 9781419710360 Grades 7 and up I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library. It is interesting what we take for granted, especially the opportunities for women. Now girls are

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18. Daniel Mendoza: born on the 4th of July (249 years ago)

By Ronald Schechter


This past 5 July was Daniel Mendoza’s 250th birthday. Or was it? Most biographical sources say that Mendoza was born in 1764. The Encyclopedia Britannica, the Encyclopedia Judaica, Chambers Biographical Dictionary, and the Encyclopedia of World Biography all give 1764 for Mendoza’s year of birth, as do the the websites of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the International Jewish Hall of Fame, WorldCat, and Wikipedia. The blue plaque on the house in Bethnal Green where Mendoza lived states that he was born in 1764. Indeed, Mendoza’s own memoirs claim that he was born on 5 July 1764.

But the records of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue at Bevis Marks in London indicate that Mendoza was actually born in 1765. Thanks to the work of Lewis Edwards, who reported his findings in a lecture to the Jewish Historical Society of England in 1938, and whose paper was subsequently published in the Transactions of that society, we know that the Mendoza was circumcised on 12 July 1765, 249 years ago today. Jewish law requires infant boys to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth, and this would suggest a birth date of 4 July 1765. (Edwards writes that “we must take the date of birth to have been 5 July 1765,” but in that case Mendoza would only have been seven days old when he was circumcised, which would have violated Jewish law.) It would be quite a coincidence if another Daniel Mendoza had been born on 4 July 1765, and our Daniel Mendoza, whose family belonged to the same synagogue, had been missing from the circumcision records of the previous year. It is equally unlikely that Mendoza would have been circumcised at the age (almost exactly) of one year. Moreover, Edwards consulted the records of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons and found that “Daniel Mendoza, tobacconist, of Bethnal Green, aged 22,” was initiated into the society at some time between 29 October 1787 and 12 February 1788. We know from his memoirs that Mendoza had worked in a tobacconist’s shop between 1782 and 1787, and letters he wrote to the newspapers in 1788 gave his address as “Paradise-Row, Bethnal Green.” So it is reasonable to assume that the new initiate was Daniel Mendoza the pugilist.

Is it possible that Mendoza was mistaken about his own birth date? This seems unlikely, since if he knew he was 22 in late 1787 or early 1788 when he registered with the Freemasons, he should have known he was born in 1765. A printer’s error is more likely the cause. One can easily imagine a printer, or an apprentice, switching the type and accidently entering his “5” after “July” and placing his “4” after “176,” thereby changing 4 July 1765 to 5 July 1764. Whatever the reason for the error, once it was made it was bound to be repeated. When reporting on Mendoza’s death in September 1836, the Morning Post wrote that the boxer “had reached his 73rd year,” as did Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, when in fact he died in his 72nd. And the proliferation of this false information in the years following Mendoza’s death made made it “common knowledge.” Despite Edwards’s careful research, most of the people who have written about Mendoza in the last three quarters of a century have repeated the earlier mistake.

mendozap6-xsWhy does any of this matter? What difference does it make if Mendoza was 21 and not 22 when he defeated Martin the Butcher? Probably not much. Am I being pedantic by trying to determine the exact date of Mendoza’s birth? Not entirely. If historians are less than rigorous with details that “don’t matter,” we are likely to be lax when they do matter. Moreover, there is a case to be made that Mendoza’s birth year does matter. After all, we are dealing with a commemoration. The bicentennary of the French Revolution was commemorated in 1989, and any attempt to move it up to 1988 would have been seen as misguided. Similarly, Americans would have balked at the suggestion that they celebrate the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1975 rather than 1976. The birth of a famous boxer is in a different category of world-historical importance, to be sure, but commemoration is commemoration, and it obeys certain rules. Centuries and half-centuries are more important than decades, which take precedence over individual years. How would you feel if you went to celebrate your grandmother’s 100th birthday only to find out when you arrived at the party that she was 99 (and that her birthday was the previous day)? You would wish her well, but somehow it wouldn’t be the same.

So let’s find some fitting way to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mendoza’s birth, but let’s do it next year, and on the 4th of July.

Ronald Schechter is Associate Professor of History at the College of William and Mary. He is the author of Obstinate Hebrews: Representations of Jews in France, 1715-1815 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003) and translator of Nathan the Wise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing with Related Documents (Boston and New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004). He is author of the graphic history Mendoza the Jew: Boxing, Manliness, and Nationalism, illustrated by Liz Clarke. His research interests include Jewish, French, British, and German history with a focus on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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Images from Mendoza the Jew: Boxing, Manliness, and Nationalism, illustrated by Liz Clarke. Do not use without permission.

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19. Going Somewhere

Going Somewhere is an adventure, a love story, and an utterly addictive read. Benson's tale of crossing the country by bike with his girlfriend might make you think twice about making the same journey, but you won't be able to tear yourself away from this sharp-eyed, hilarious memoir. Books mentioned in this post Going Somewhere: [...]

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20. Babe Conquers the World

Babe Conquers the World: The Legendary Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias  by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace Calkins Creek (an imprint of Boyds Mill Press), 2014 ISBN: 9781590789810 Grades 4-12 The reviewer received a galley from the publisher. Most children probably don't realize there was a time when women weren't allowed to play professional sports or when society frowned upon women

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21. Margot Asquith’s Great War diary

Margot Asquith was the opinionated and irrepressible wife of Herbert Henry Asquith, the Liberal Prime Minister who led Britain into war on 4 August 1914. With the airs, if not the lineage, of an aristocrat, Margot knew everyone, and spoke as if she knew everything, and with her sharp tongue and strong views could be a political asset, or a liability, almost in the same breath. Her Great War diary is by turns revealing and insightful, funny and poignant, and it offers a remarkable view of events from her vantage point in 10 Downing Street. The diary opens with Margot witnessing the scene in the House of Commons, as the political crisis over Irish Home Rule began to be eclipsed by the even greater crisis of the threat of a European war, in which Britain might become involved…

Friday 24 July 1914

The gallery was packed, Ly Londonderry and the Diehards sitting near Mrs Lowther—myself and Liberal ladies the other side of the gallery. The beautiful, incredibly silly Muriel Beckett and M. Lowther rushed round me, and others, pressing up, said ‘Good Heavens, Margot, what does this mean? How frightfully dangerous! Why, the Irish will be fighting tonight—what does it all mean?’ M. ‘It means your civil war is postponed, and you will, I think, never get it.’ I looked at these women who had been insolent to me all the session, when I added ‘If you read the papers, you’ll find we are on the verge of a European war.’

Margot Asquith

Redmond told H. that afternoon that if the Government liked to remove every soldier from Ireland, he would bet there would never be one hitch; and that both his volunteers and Carson’s would police Ireland with ease.

War! War!—everyone at dinner discussing how long the war would last. The average opinion was 3 weeks to 3 months. Violet said 4 weeks. H. said nothing, which amazed us! I said it would last a year. I went to tea with Con, and Betty Manners told me she had heard Kitchener at lunch say to Arthur Balfour he was sure it would last over a year.

Wednesday 29 July 1914

Bad news from abroad. I was lying in bed, resting, 7.30 p.m. The strain from hour to hour waiting for telegrams, late at night; standing stunned and unable to read or write; two cabinets a day; crowds through which to pass, cheering Henry wildly—all this contributed to making me tired. H. came into my room. I saw by his face that something momentous had happened. I sat up and looked at him. For once he stood still, and didn’t walk up and down the room (He never sits down when he is talking of important things.)

H.           Well! We’ve sent what is called ‘the precautionary telegram’ to every office in the Empire—War, Navy, Post Office, etc., to be ready for war. This is what the Committee of Defence have been discussing and settling for the last two years. It has never been done before, and I am very curious to see what effect it will have. All these wires were sent between 2 and 2.30 marvellously quick. (I never saw Henry so keen outwardly—his face looked quite small and handsome. He sat on the foot of my bed.)

M.          (passionately moved, I sat up, and felt 10 feet high.) How thrilling! Oh! Tell me, aren’t you excited, darling?

H.           (who generally smiles with his eyebrows slightly turned, quite gravely kissed me, and said) It will be very interesting.

Margot Asquith’s Great War Diary 1914-1916 is selected and edited by Michael Brock and Eleanor Brock. Until his death in April 2014, Michael Brock was a modern historian, educationalist, and Oxford college head; he was Vice-President of Wolfson College; Director of the School of Education at Exeter University; Warden of Nuffield College, Oxford; and Warden of St George’s House, Windsor Castle; he is the author of The Great Reform Act, and co-editor, with Mark Curthoys, of the two nineteenth-century volumes in the History of the University of Oxford. With his wife, Eleanor Brock, a former schoolteacher, he edited the acclaimed OUP edition H. H. Asquith: Letters to Venetia Stanley.

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Image credit: Margot Asquith. By Philip de László. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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22. War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus written and illustrated by Kathryn Selbert

It isn't surprising that Winston Churchill was an animal lover, but you would expect he would have a larger dog than a little poodle as one of his beloved pets.  But during the darkest days of World War II, one of his great comforts and his constant companion was his little dog named Rufus, a spunky brown poodle.

War Dogs is written from the point of view of Rufus and introduces readers  Churchill when he was Prime Minister of Britain during World War II from 1940 to 1945.

In this vividly imagines picture of their life together, at times Rufus accompanies his master through the rubble of the bombed out streets of London, or sits nearby as Churchill writes his famous speeches delivered in the House of Commons and over the radio to the British citizens.  Other times, they go out for quiet walks, or spend time in the underground bunker, where Rufus likes to inspect every nook and cranny while Churchill works.

Rufus is privy to all the secret plans for the D-Day landings at Normandy long before most people, and he is by Churchill's side when victory finally comes and the two companions could retire to the country.  As readers go along, they learn not only about the special relationship between this great man and his dog, but also some important preliminary facts about the war and they will be able to read some of the more famous lines of Churchill's speeches scattered along the pages:
Source:Charlesbridge Publishing
The detailed, realistic acrylic and collage illustrations for War Dogs are done in a palate of earth tones,  emphasizing the different moods of the war years and moving the narrative along nicely.  Two of the most effective illustrations are two page spreads of London at night during the blackout where only the faint outlines of buildings, including St. Paul's Cathedral, can be seen and the last two pages showing Churchill and Rufus from the back, the two war dogs, sitting side by side on a grassy knoll, looking over the  tranquil grounds of Churchill's home after the war and a job well done.

War Dogs is Kathryn Selbert's debut work and it is an excellent beginning for this talented artist.   In addition, Selbert has also included back matter which includes a timeline, information about Churchill and poodles and about Churchill himself.  There are also websites, books and a bibliography for more in-depth information.

This is also an excellent book to use as a teaching aid in the classroom or for home schooling.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was bought for my personal library

The is a wonderful Discussion Guide available for use with War Dogs that can be downloaded HERE

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23. First Dog Fala by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illustrated by Michael G. Montgomery

On Wednesday, I wrote War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus by Kathryn Selbert, detailing the relationship between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his little pet poodle Rufus, his constant companion during WWII.  Well, Rufus wasn't the only dog to have a master who was also a world leader.  American President Franklin D. Roosevelt went through the war years with a little black dog named Fala.

In her dog biography, Elizabeth Van Steenwyk writes that Roosevelt spent much of his time during his first term as president alone at the end of the day.  His children were grown and away, his wife traveled to different parts of the country giving speeches   And so, one day, his cousin Margaret Suckley brought him a little Scottish terrier.  The two took an instant liking to each other.  Roosevelt promptly named his new puppy Murray the Outlaw of Fala Hill (Murray was an old Scottish relative of the Roosevelt's), shortened to Fala.

Once trained, it didn't take Fala long to settle in as the first dog, whether he was at the White House, the president's home in Hyde Park, NY or just riding around in the presidential car.  Because Roosevelt was confined to a wheelchair do to polio, Fala often has to rely on visitors and cabinet members to throw his toys for him to fetch.

Fala was apparently a somewhat adventurous dog and managed to escape the White House and wander the streets of DC before being brought home by the secret service.  Unfortunately, Steenwyk doesn't tell us how Fala managed to get or if his escape hole was ever discovered.

Not only is this a book about Fala, but it also introduces and gives insight in the kind of man Franklin D. Roosevelt was, and how he conducted a war in Europe and the Pacific without the same kind of mobility other world leaders had.

First Dog Fala proves itself to be a very engaging picture book for older readers.  Each two page spread has a page of text accompanied by a detailed corresponding illustration.  The illustrations, which have somewhat of an Edward Hopper quality to them, are done in oil on canvas and give a warm sense of companionship, but also the darker tones reflect the seriousness of the times.  

While this is a wonderful historical look at the times, it does lack any back matter, such as more information, a time line and sources Steenwyk used.  Still, I would definitely recommend First Dog Fala and I would also pair it with War Dog: Churchill and Rufus.  These are perfect books for dog lovers and/or budding history buffs.

If you ever are in Washington D.C., you might want to visit the relatively new Franklin Delano Memorial where you will find not only the President memorialized, but also his canine companion Fala.


This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was borrowed from the Bank Street School Library

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24. Songs for the Games

By Mark Curthoys


Behind the victory anthems to be used by the competing teams at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, which open on 23 July, lie stories both of nationality and authorship. The coronation of Edward VII in 1902 prompted the music antiquary William Hayman Cummings (1831-1915) to investigate the origin and history of ‘God Save the King’. While the anthem had become ‘a sacred part of our national life’, Cummings could find no reliable trace of single authorship of its words, though concluded that the aptly-named organist and court musician John Bull (1559×63-1628) had the strongest claim to have composed its tune.

What, though, of the anthems of the nations of the United Kingdom, each separately represented at the Commonwealth Games? The national anthem itself was only gradually adopted as such after its first recorded performance in September 1745. Half-a-century later, its standing was sufficiently established to attract subversive parody. ‘God Save Great Thomas Paine’ was penned in 1793 by a Jacobin sympathiser, the Sheffield balladeer Joseph Mather (1737-1804), who was later subject to criminal proceedings which, for a year, prevented him from performing in public. By the late nineteenth century, public performances of ‘God Save the Queen’ itself provoked occasional hostile reactions in Ireland and Wales, as was noted by the encyclopaedist of music Percy Scholes (1877-1958), author of a definitive study (1954) of what he dubbed ‘the world’s first national anthem’. Political nationalism and cultural revivalism, respectively, inspired alternatives.

‘God Save Ireland’ (1867), written by the journalist and MP Timothy Daniel Sullivan (1827-1914), was rapidly adopted as a de facto national anthem. The more militant ‘A Soldier’s Song’ written in 1907 by the Irish revolutionary Peadar Kearney (1883-1942) did not initially catch on – it was said to be difficult to sing – but in the wake of the Easter Rising in 1916, it eclipsed Sullivan’s anthem and was later adopted by the Irish Free State and its successor Republic of Ireland. Remaining within the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland in turn adopted ‘Danny Boy’ (1912), a ballad composed by a west of England barrister and prolific, commercially-successful songwriter Frederic Edward Weatherly (1848-1929) and set to the traditional ‘Londonderry Air’.

‘Land of my fathers’ (‘Hen wlad fy nhadau’), the national anthem of Wales, dates from 1856 when James James [Iago ap Ieuan] (1832-1902), an innkeeper, composed music to accompany words written by his father Evan James [Ieuan ap Iago] (1809-1878), a cloth weaver from Pontypridd. Like other anthems, its adoption was gradual, but its enthusiastic reception by people of Welsh descent around the world signified its status. ‘O land of our birth’, the anthem of the Isle of Man, also represented at the Commonwealth Games, was composed by William Henry Gill (1839-1923) of Manx parentage and education, who spent most of his life as a civil servant resident in the south of England. A Ruskinian folk revivalist, he visited the island at the end of the nineteenth century to collect folk songs, one of which he used for the musical setting of the anthem, first performed in 1907.

iStock_000038277552Small

The early twentieth century was a fertile period for patriotic song writing, most obviously ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, written in 1902 by the schoolmaster and don Arthur Christopher Benson (1862-1925) as a Coronation Ode to Edward VII, and sometimes proposed as a national anthem for England. Team England will instead use ‘Jerusalem’, whose musical origins lie in the Great War when, in early 1916, at the request of the ‘Fight for Right’ movement which sought to ’brace’ the nation to pursue the war in the face of mounting losses, Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918) set William Blake’s words to music.

At the Commonwealth Games between 1962 and 2006 Team Scotland used ‘Scotland the Brave’, whose lyrics were written by the Glasgow journalist Cliff Hanley (1922-1999). Recent research has established that they were a product of Hanley’s writing for the variety stage in Glasgow, and were originally performed as a rousing patriotic finale to the first act of a pantomime during the winter of 1952-3. Both the words and music of ‘Flower of Scotland’, the current anthem of Team Scotland, and a leading contender for an official national anthem, were written in about 1964 by Roy Williamson (1936-1990), a former art student in Edinburgh, and a leading figure in the city’s folk music revival. By 1990 hostility to the playing of ‘God Save the Queen’ at rugby internationals when England played Scotland at Murrayfield, Edinburgh, prompted the Scottish Rugby Football Union to seek a more acceptable sporting anthem. The choice of ‘Flower of Scotland’, with its echoes of Bannockburn, heralded a memorable Scottish rugby victory over England that year.

A musical acknowledgement of the multi-national basis of the United Kingdom awoke early morning listeners to BBC Radio 4 for nearly thirty years at the end of the twentieth century. The day’s broadcasts began with ‘UK Theme’, a medley of tunes representing the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, including Rule Britannia, Scotland the Brave, Men of Harlech, and the Londonderry Air, composed and conducted by Fritz Spiegl (1926-2003), an Austrian refugee from Nazism. It was removed from the schedule in 2006.

Dr Mark Curthoys is the Oxford DNB’s Research Editor for the nineteenth and twentieth century.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is a collection of 59,102 life stories of noteworthy Britons, from the Romans to the 21st century. The Oxford DNB is freely available via public libraries across the UK, and many libraries worldwide. Libraries offer ‘remote access’ allowing members to gain access free, from home (or any other computer), 24 hours a day. You can also sample the ODNB with its changing selection of free content: in addition to the podcast; a topical Life of the Day, and historical people in the news via Twitter @odnb.

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Image credit: Union Jack face paint on girl, by Nathanx1, via iStock Photo.

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25. What Is It? Genre Part II

Hopefully you enjoyed What Is It? Genre Part I, it’s now time to delve a little deeper.

Let’s take a look at the differences between: biography, autobiography and memoir? Often confusing, are they all the same?

A biography is the life story of a person written by someone else.

An autobiography is the life story of a person written by themselves.

A memoir is a collection of memories from a person’s life, told in the first person. It’s different from an autobiography, because it does not tell the entire life story.

Now that we’ve got that straight, what is the difference between an authorised or unauthorised biography?  An authorised biography is a biography written about a person with the subject or family’s permission.

An unauthorised biography is just that.  A biography that has no approval from the subject, which naturally means the subject has not contributed information or personal material to the biography.  A well known unauthorised biography is Oprah: A Biography by Kitty Kelley.

Just when you thought that was the end, I bring you fictional autobiography.  Essentially, it’s when an author creates a fictional character and writes a book as if it were a first person autobiography.  Sound confusing? A popular example of a fictional autobiography is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This also brings us to the controversy of autobiographical fiction.  This is when an author will write a book and claim it is their autobiography, although it contains falsehoods and may not be true at all.  A great example of this is A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, originally sold as a memoir but later found to contain much fiction.

Many readers will suspend disbelief in order to enjoy a good fantasy or fairytale, but if an autobiography is found to contain false claims or fiction, is it any less enjoyable?  I like to know what I’m reading beforehand and resent it if I find out later that a book was not all I thought it was.  What about you?

Let’s look at a few more genres before I close off this What Is It? article on genre.

The Hunter by Julia Leigh is an example of Tasmanian gothic literature

Gothic literature is very popular and includes such novels as Dracula by Bram Stoker and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  Gothic novels contain some of the following elements: horror, secrets, romance, madness, death, ghosts, supernatural and gothic architecture including haunted houses and castles.  Characters in a gothic novel will often include: women in distress, tyrannical males, maniacs, heroes, magicians, angels, ghosts and much more.

Gothic horror or gothic literature is a great genre, but what about Tasmanian gothic literature?  Yes, you read right, there are a number of novels now classified as Tasmanian gothic literature and if this tickles your fancy, you may want to check some of them out: The Roving Party by Rohan WilsonThe Hunter by Julia Leigh and Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan.

Whatever your reading tastes may be, you are bound to enjoy some genres more than others and at some point in your reading life, continue to read from your favourites.  Just remember to keep exploring and venturing into new reading territories because you never know what you’ll find.

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