Hana’s Suitcase: The Quest to Solve a Holocaust Mystery
To teach them about the Holocaust, Fumiko Ishioka had only an empty suitcase with a child’s name: Hana Brady. Her students were fascinated: who was this girl? What had happened to her? Ishioka needed to find answers.
Hana Brady was a sweet, fun-loving, ordinary girl in Czechoslovakia, with a loving family in a tight-knit community. But her life was cut short when the Nazis came.
This book relates these two stories in a beautifully intertwined tale. Ishioka’s dedication to uncovering the truth, and Hana’s own story, inspire readers to remember the Holocaust and take its lessons to heart. Accessible even to elementary grade students, its story is fascinating for all ages. Photographs of Hana, her family, and Ishioka and her students help younger readers feel even more connected to the characters in this true story, and it is written well and simply, being careful to emphasize the humanity of those who, like Hana, faced such terror and persecution; importantly, it shields young, sensitive children from the full depths of the horror they had to endure, instead emphasizing that this was ‘a girl like me’.
This is a wonderful introduction that will personalize the Holocaust for young readers in a beautiful, age-appropriate way.
Crown Books for Young Readers
God told me to draw these.
When reading satirical cartoons, we assume there’s an astute political mind behind them, but it’s not often we get to get to see the comics given extra weight by commentary. This book offers that, with 100 of De Salvio’s published illustrations accompanied by essays explaining their genesis (note the small ‘g’ there). Being Catholic educated, a former newspaper editor and columnist, a gifted artist and a gay man who was at Stonewall, the author/illustrator is in a unique position to invoke the tragicomic specter of homophobia. Combining laugh-out-loud humor with serious reporting, he gives readers a chance to not only revel in the ridiculousness of Rush Limbaugh and Michele Bachman quotes, but also to read a serious interview with late Randy Shilts (And the Band Played on, Conduct Unbecoming).
The topics covered here deserve everyone’s attention, regardless of orientation: Teen suicide, gay-positive school programs, international policy on gays in the military, the illogic of automatically associating same-sex orientation with child molestation, right-wing extremism, Bible literalism and distortion, landmarks in LGBT legislation, the myths of recruiting and homosexuality-as-choice, and the Vatican’s perplexing stance on the matter (it’s ok to be queer; it’s not ok to act on it).
The introduction warns that some Internet searches may be needed to fully understand the subjects, and indeed references like Thomas Jefferson’s “Wall of Separation” might be unfamiliar. But go ahead and get familiar with them. Be glad that someone who knows the Constitution as well as the Bible took the time to make a point-by-point refutation of a sermon on America being a Christian nation. Even better, that it was done by someone who follows the precepts of Jesus.
By book’s end, you’ll be all aglow with the joy of lampooning–and not the mean-spirited kind, either. As the author says, “Be kind to Creationists. Remember, they have not yet evolved.”
Beyond Schoolmarms and Madams: Montana Women’s Stories
Women’s stories from the past are starting to be told by historians, though it is slow going mostly because of the lack of sources. Hopefully this book will start to fill that gap by looking at how the women of Montana helped build the state, and made it what it is today. Because, as the title suggests, not all women were either teachers or madams. This book is filled with short articles that examines the role, life, and times of women in Montana. From the time the state was a territory; to modern day Montana and the role and impact they had. From becoming the first attorney, a doctor in a rural area, or even women working in what were viewed as traditionally male dominated. These stories help fill a void.
Each of these stories are short, around three pages or so, and often accompanied by a picture. They tell an interesting story and that is what the contributors bring to life. A story that has been ignored, and if it wasn’t for contributors like these, then these stories would likely be lost forever. Hopefully something like this will bring a closer look to other states and their stories.
The Ancient Near East, Greece and Rome, A Brief History
When it comes to reading textbooks or primers on particular subjects, the key really is that the writing keep the reader’s interest, otherwise their mind is likely to wander and/or become bored with the subject matter they are reading about. Thankfully, Jack L. Schwartzwald’s brief history on the ancient Near East, Greece and Rome has an interesting and engaging voice that grabs the reader’s attention right from the beginning and keeps them going for the whole book.
This “brief history” is still a good 190-odd pages of informational text, along with an extensive bibliography and thorough index, giving the reader quick references at their fingertips. For those readers looking to read it cover to cover, the book is divided into three chapters: “The Cradle of Civilization: The Ancient Near East,’ “The Cradle of Western Civilization: Ancient Greece,” and “The Cradle of the Nation-State: Ancient Rome.” While it seems like heavy reading to digest the entire book with just three chapter breaks, especially on this none-too-easy subject, each chapter is subdivided into sections with titles to allow for breaks and digestion of the material. The shortest chapter is the first one at 30 pages, which is sad, because it is such an import period in history that lead to the foundation and creation of so much that came after, nevertheless it is clear that while Schwartzwald knows plenty about the ancient Near East, it is ancient Greece and Rome where he dedicates his true knowledge.
The history telling is straightforward, with lots of names and dates throughout the text, as the author lays out the history and events and happenings in succinct paragraphs. There is not a lot of discussion or synthesis here, as this is a “brief history” after all and nothing more. Schwartzwald is giving you the quick history of these times and places so that you can speedily digest and understand it. If you are looking for further, deeper material, that is what the bibliography is for. But in this way the book also serves as an excellent reference tool, along with the index, so that if the reader is tackling something in depth, but wants a quick refresher on a specific period in the ancient Near East, Greece or Rome, this book does the job well.
What is perhaps surprising about the book is that it is all text, with not a single picture, table, graphic, or depiction of a graphic source. While, again, it is a “brief history” and meant for a quick and thorough reading of the time period, one would expect maybe a photo or two, a Roman statue or Greek piece of architecture, or even Hammurabi’s code of laws; something to break up the text and help make it all the more real for the reader. Nevertheless, the book does its job of providing a “brief history” of the ancient Near East, Greece, and Rome, where the reader will not become lost and overwhelmed by too much, but able to digest everything in titled sections. It is an ideal book for someone taking an ancient history class and looking to get a feel for the history they are about to learn about or for the average reader wanting to learn more about the period, but not having to absorb a heavy and overwhelming tome. The people, dates, and events in the book are all laid out in chronological order, allowing the reader to take it all in swiftly and comprehensively.
The Collapse and Recovery of Europe, AD 476-1648
The complete collapse of the Roman Empire changed the western world forever. It was a tabula rasa of sorts, as the societies of the former Roman Empire had the opportunity to start anew and redefine the way their society existed. And this is essentially what happened for the next 1200 years through trial and error, with numerous new rulers, and many deaths along the way. The end result was the more stable nation state during the thriving Renaissance.
In The Collapse and Recovery of Europe, Jack L. Schwartzwald, author of The Ancient Near East, Greece and Rome, moves into the next arena of history, tackling this important period that was pivotal in creating, and defining, Europe as a union of individual and eventual nation states. You’ll notice there is no mention anywhere of the poorly and incorrectly named “Dark Ages,” implying that the beginning of these twelve centuries was a time of stagnation and a return to “primitive” times, when in reality, important foundation blocks were being laid, paving the way for the rebirth of science, art and culture of the renaissance.
The book is divided into three parts and periods, the first covering the glorious time of Byzantium in “City of the World’s Desire,” encompassing a millennium of a minor empire that still considered itself continuing the glory that was Rome, when in reality it was a melting pot of various cultures, including Greeks, the growing Christian faith and flock, as well as Asiatic influences from the East. But as Byzantium was basking in the shadow of its paternal Rome, it, too, eventually succumbed to foreign invasion and overthrow.
In the second part, “City of God,” Schwartzwald covers the birth and explosion of the church and Catholic faith in Western Europe, as it sought to convert the people to God, and create a heaven on Earth in the same thriving glory that was Rome, but as those high up in the faith — the popes and cardinals to name a few – fought for ideals they believed to be true to the faith, derision and schism grew, leading to fracturing and fighting and wars. The Middle Ages ended with the ultimate of struggles in the Hundred Years’ War.
The final part, “City of Man,” leads off with the end of the Hundred Years’ War, and concludes with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Here, Schwartzwald focuses on the development and birth of the nation state, which was deemed the final healthy successor to the idea that was Rome. As with the previous parts, the author focuses on the political and militaristic history of the period, but in a way that keeps the reader fully engrossed. Provided at the end of each section, are “Societal Achievements,” highlighting the great strides that were made.
The Collapse and Recovery of Europe, as with Schwartzwald’s previous book, is a very approachable and readable volume, be the reader a student, or merely someone interested in the period. Since the author is covering a vast amount of time, some 1200 years, he cannot be comprehensive with the history-telling, but he is thorough with many sections, covering the political and militaristic events and occasions in a succinct way that doesn’t bog the reader down with too many details, coupled with numerous pictures, it makes for a very pleasant reading experience. These sectional divisions also help to break up the overwhelming amount of history into digestible chunks, so that the reader can read the book one section at a time, or engorge on a larger amount of history that is still well and clearly divided to make it more comprehensible. The result is an impressive history book covering a large amount of time that is made very accessible and readable for any fan or person interested in the period.
Sweet as Sin: The Unwrapped Story of How Candy Became America’s Favorite Pleasure
Sweetest Day, Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Graduations, Weddings, Birthdays all are celebrated with candy. Candy is so ubiquitous that it lurks in our vending machines, ready for purchase any time one needs to satisfy the cravings of a sweet tooth. It is used to celebrate friendship, love, or job well done. It is so much a part of not only our diet, but also our culture that it is difficult to imagine life without the sweet decadent candy.
Part personal memoir and part history of candy, this book traces the origins and development of candy – both chocolate and non-chocolate – primarily in the United States. It starts with the Native American Indians who needed the sugary treats as a means of nourishment and survival to the early twenty first century where it is intertwined with American popular culture (imagine Halloween without candy).
The historical narrative is chronological, easy to read and filled with factoids that would delight readers interested in historical trivia. The historical narrative sometimes digresses to vignettes of incidents from the author’s life. While how connected these incidents are to the overall narrative is questionable, these events do relate (at least peripherally) to candy. The text is adorned, rather than enhanced, by greyscale pictures. These pictures would benefit from a description, photo editing (some are low resolution, and others need to be rotated), and color. In one instance, the same low-res image is duplicated. Some of the websites in the reference are now dead links. This review is based on an advanced reading copy, not the released publication. The centerpiece of this book – the historical narrative – makes the book, despite its flaws, a worthwhile read.