betty

Before Betty Shabazz became an activist, educator, mother and wife to Malcolm X, she was Betty Dean, a young and ambitious girl growing up in Detroit.

For the first seven years of her life, Betty lived in Georgia, where she was raised by her aunt, Fannie Mae. “BETTY BEFORE X” follows a young Betty as she moves to Detroit to live with her mom and her mom’s new family. Although the novel is a fictionalized account of her childhood, LLYASAH SHABAZZ, daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, and award-winning author RENEE WATSON based the story on real people, events and facts.

Betty loves her family and is an attentive older sister to her three half-sisters, but she struggles with feeling like an outsider in her own home. While her sisters play, her mother often expects her to clean and keep house.

Her activism begins because of her associations with certain friends and neighbors, particularly Helen Malloy, who steps in as a mother figure when Betty’s actual mother fully rejects her. However, events such as the lynching of a black couple in the South, the shooting of a black teen in Detroit and discriminatory hiring practices in her community fuel her work as a young activist.

Betty Before X highlights the different forms activism can take, as well as the polarizing effects it can have within an oppressed community. While the Housewives’ League encourages its members to only shop at stores that employ black workers, characters such as the mother of Betty’s friend Phyllis are angry about boycotts that exclude low-income families not able to shop at more expensive stores.

Like the story itself, Betty’s character is nuanced and realistic; she experiences anger, acceptance and happiness in equal measure when faced with friendship troubles, family problems or racism. Betty joins the Housewives’ League as a volunteer, handing out flyers and welcoming guests at luncheons; as she becomes more knowledgeable in the work, she takes on more responsibility, though she remains nervous when approaching strangers, particularly adult ones who view Betty and her organization as troublemakers.

She is also a pre-teen girl, with all of the joys and sorrows that come with that stage in life. She loves listening to records by popular acts such as Sarah Vaughn and Billy Eckstine, spending her allowance at the candy counter and talking about beauty products and boys with her best friends.

Overall, Shabazz and Watson’s story is both authentic and inspirational, and the story is compelling enough to classify as a page-turner. Don’t pass on the end papers. The author’s note, timeline and afterword provide important and interesting information that links the young Betty in the story with the important woman she became.

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Reviewed by Tammie Benham

February ijazzbabys Black History Month.  Introducing the accomplishments of some of our descendants to children when they are very young is a good way to honor these extraordinary Americans.  I took a look at offerings from the Children’s Department at Joplin Public Library and chose some old and new favorites to consider using.

 

Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler is a rhythmic, melodic romp through a day with a baby not yet old enough to walk.  “Mama sings high.  Daddy sings low.  Snazz-jazzy Baby says, ‘Go, Man, Go!’”  The story is written almost as a lyric and captivates young audiences, which is magnified by the energy of the reader.

 

specialWhat’s Special About Me, Mama? By Kristina Evans features a young child who sees himself in the faces of his family and wants to be told what makes him special.  His questioning is answered in a loving way by his mother, who reminds him that all the little things about  him add up to the special person he is.

 

hey.jpgHey Black Child, by Useni Eugene Perkins reminds children that being who they want to be is within their reach, that perceived limits are meant to be surmounted and it is within the power of every child to make the world into a better place.

 

mayaLittle People, Big Dreams: Maya Angelou, by Lisbeth Kaiser introduces the life of Maya Angelou in straight forward age-appropriate prose.  The books touches on her accomplishments, highlighting the impact she had on the world through her perseverance and unrelenting hope.

 

jazzThis Jazz Man, by Karen Ehrhardt plays with the rhythm and sounds of jazz, translating music into sound so that read aloud, the story becomes music.  The accompanying CD for this book features performance from legendary Jazz Men, who are also featured in the end pages.

 

nightA Night Out with Mama, is written by Quvenzhane Wallis, who is written also the main character in the book.  Quevenzhane is the youngest person ever to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.  This multi-talented young woman wrote of her experience attending the Oscars with her mother. Her fresh, authentic voices comes roaring through in this simple story of accomplishment and celebration.

 

Want more ideas for pictures books to share during the month?  Check out Scott Woods list at his blog, “Scott Makes Lists,” at https://scottwoodsmakeslists.wordpress.com/2018/02/07/28-more-black-picture-books-that-arent-about-boycotts-buses-or-basketball-2018/

 

 

 

 

 

51Gg7c6xadL._AC_US327_QL65_Jennifer Egan began the research for her latest book years ago. It was 2004 when she first learned of the significance of New York’s waterfront and the Brooklyn Naval Yard. The result of her years of research and interviews is a very compelling read titled Manhattan Beach.

The novel is in a way three different stories intertwined. The central story is Anna Kerrigan. She is both a secondary character and the catalyst for change in the stories of Eddie Kerrigan (her father) and Dexter Styles.

The Depression changed the fortunes of the Kerrigan family.  Before the crash Eddie and his wife Agnes worked in theater and lived well with Anna and her disabled sister Lydia. Eddie was forced to take a job with an old friend as a bagman to support his family.

He took Anna with him when he could as no one caused trouble in front of a child.  They formed a close bond that Anna believed was unbreakable until the day she accompanied him to see Dexter Styles. The meeting at Styles’ home wasn’t the normal errand she ran with her father but for a new job.

Anna didn’t know about the job but she knew instinctively that Eddie wanted her to lie about the day. Eddie began to worry about what he had exposed Anna to plus his new job took him to places a child couldn’t go.  The errands ended and the bond broke. Eddie worked long hours and one day he didn’t come home. As days turned to weeks the family accepted he wasn’t coming back and life went on.

Anna is in college when Pearl Harbor is attacked and the U.S. joins the war.  She gladly leaves college to work in the Naval Yard. She is patriotic and eager to do what she can for the war effort but longs for something more exciting than measuring small parts for ships.  Though frowned upon Anna goes out each day at lunch to explore the shipyard and witness the different jobs being done. She discovers the divers.

With so many men fighting the war women are doing jobs traditionally done by men but diving isn’t one of them. The suit alone is a deterrent because of the weight.  The dress or diving suit weighed 200 pounds with the shoes 35 pounds, then add the collar and helmet at 56 pounds and the belt at 84 pounds.  With the suit on you had to be able to walk with all that weight and perform tasks as delicate as unraveling a knot while wearing the three-fingered gloves.

Anna knows nothing of the requirements but she is determined to try. Her life outside the Naval Yard revolves around the care of Lydia but in her limited free time she visits her first nightclub. The club belongs to Dexter Styles. She remembers him and introduces herself but doesn’t reveal her true identity. Styles may hold the key to her father’s disappearance.

Dexter’s story now becomes part of the narrative. The author not only did her homework on the waterfront and naval yard but on organized crime as well. Styles runs his own small criminal empire and he married into society.  His relationship with his boss and his connections through his father-in-law make Dexter feel he is close to untouchable. But no one is untouchable.

Anna gets her chance to dive but tragedy at home has left her living alone. To escape her loneliness and to celebrate her new job as a diver Anna goes out and ends up at Dexter’s nightclub. She doesn’t see him but he finds her and what happens next changes the course of both their lives.

Anna does learn at least part of what happened to her father but not all of it. We now get Eddie’s story. Eddie was an astute, observant man and at his core moral. His jobs provided for his family and put him in a position to see things he couldn’t ignore. When one of his friends is murdered he makes a decision that changes all of their lives.

Egan’s writing style immerses you in the story but Eddie’s story was so compelling that it was as if I was reading another novel. I forgot about Anna and Dexter as Eddie’s life unfolded.

This is not a perfect novel. The switches in storyline from one character to another kills the momentum a little and she rushed to an end.  Anna’s life is glossed over at the end when before it was rich with detail.  But I’m being picky because the novel is well-done and an engrossing read.

The characters come alive in your mind and you can see the waterfront and hear the ocean. When I was a teen I read “Hannah Fowler. I don’t recall much about the story but I’ve never forgotten the character. This novel is like that – the nuances of the story will fade but I’ll remember Anna Kerrigan.

March Book OneMarch Book TwoMarch Book Three

Of all the treasures in the Smithsonian, the exhibit that sticks with me the most is a pair of petite, scuffed, rundown, women’s loafers worn during the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.  I found the shoes in a distant corner on the upper floor of the National Museum of American History, tucked safely in a display case with photographs and posters from the trek.  The case had been relocated due to renovations elsewhere in the museum, and I was lucky to run across it.  Those shoes mesmerized me.  They had been worn for all 54 miles of the march and showed it.  I can only imagine what it had been like to wear them.

I am equally mesmerized by March: Books 1-3, the graphic novel trio by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin and art by Nate Powell.  John Lewis, currently a U.S. Representative from Georgia, has spent his life in the civil rights movement.  As a young man, he chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a key group in the movement.  He organized sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters, participated in the Freedom Rides, helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, and helped lead the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery.

March is Lewis’ memoir of his civil rights work in the 1950s-60s.  It’s an insider’s look at the movement from a less well-known perspective.  Lewis lays out the motivation for his actions and decisions as well as those of the movement’s student wing.  He provides insight into the internal politics of the various organizations behind the movement.  His descriptions and Nate Powell’s drawings reflect the brutality of the struggle for equality–humiliation, beatings, incarceration, bombings, torture, death.  March accurately reflects the times it depicts; as a result, it’s not always easy to look at or to read.

Lewis bookends the movement’s history with scenes from the first presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.  Book One opens with Lewis preparing for the event; as he stops by his Capitol Hill office, he meets a woman wanting her young sons to understand the significance of the day.  Lewis pauses to relate the history of the civil rights movement to her sons, and the story begins.  Although somewhat awkward as a narrative device–additional scenes with Lewis speaking to the woman appear to serve as transitions at different points in the books–the intensity and immediacy of the art and text make up for it.  Lewis anchors his experiences around the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, hence the title.  All 3 volumes echo the call of “We’ll march!”, building up to the Alabama trek’s successful conclusion at the end of Book Three.

Nate Powell’s drawings may only be in grayscale, but they make as much impact as full color.  He uses a mix of bold strokes and detailed shadings to convey a wide range of emotions.  He incorporates large swaths of black background (sometimes a majority of a two-page spread) to highlight text or fine drawings or grave subject matter.  Powell cleverly incorporates the sizable amount of text in his drawings without sacrificing space or emotional power.  He has a tremendous capacity to capture facial expression and body language, portraying with equal skill reflective thoughtfulness and intense hate demonstrated by both black and white figures.  The books have won multiple Eisner Awards (the graphic novel world’s equivalent of the Oscars) for a reason.

March: Books 1-3 is an intense, fascinating exploration of our nation’s recent history.  It’s a natural choice for graphic novel or memoir fans and history buffs.  It has plenty to offer a wider audience, however.  Give the first volume or all 3 to high school students and adults; the books are equally interesting as part of a broader discussion or enjoyed alone.  Be prepared to provide context for or an introduction to the civil rights movement for middle students who read March as it accurately portrays the events and language of the time.  Like that unassuming pair of shoes in the Smithsonian, Lewis’ memoir holds a powerful message.

 

SWFCPV If you’re a nerd, there are pretty much two factions: Star Trek and Star Wars. I grew up on Star Trek. Sure, I watched Star Wars, but I was way more into Picard than Luke. However, I married into a Star Wars family. To keep up with family debates, I’ve had to do a little research into the Star Wars universe. When STAR WARS : FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW came across my desk, I knew I’d have to give it a look.

“Star Wars : From a Certain Point of View” is a collection of short stories from a variety of big name authors like Meg Cabot, Christie Golden, and Paul S. Kemp, along with a story from W

il Wheaton (who I know as Wesley Crusher from Star Trek). Each story is based on the Star Wars universe. In particular, this collection bridges the gap between the events of “Rogue One” and “A New Hope.” However, none of the stories focuses on the traditional heroes of the saga. Instead, we get the viewpoints of characters like a stormtrooper, Grand Moff Tarkin, and even the monster from the Death Star trash compactor.

Each story offers a unique perspective on the behind-the-scenes events of the original trilogy. These aren’t just filler stories, either. The authors involved have taken care to delve deeply into the characters and show the emotional background to some of the events from the series. Since it would take a few more words than I have here to review all 35 stories, I’ll share my thoughts on a few from the collection.

“The Bucket” by Christie Golden — TK-4601 is a young Stormtrooper who has been given an amazing opportunity: capture the rebel Princess Leia Organa. He is full of excitement at the prospect of helping crush the Rebellion. But when he does encounter her, it will change him forever. As a huge Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia fan, I loved this story for the way Golden describes Leia through the eyes of an enemy. She’s a force to be reckoned with. Those who underestimate Leia soon regret it, a fact not lost on TK-4601.

“Stories in the

 Sand” by Griffin McElroy — The Jawa are a species that lives their lives scouring the des

erts of Tatooine for anything they can sell. Jot is a Jawa who doesn’t quite fit in. Smaller but smarter than his peers, he discovers a secret compartment that lets him scavenge videos from the droids he scraps. But one day, he discovers a video stored in a blue and white droid. A video of a young woman in white asking for help. Will Jot erase the video and sell the droid? Or will he help set into motion the entire plot of the movies we love so much? McElroy does a great job of exploring a species that initially seems to have very little depth. He also reminds us that even the smallest of us can make a big difference.

“Laina” by Wil Wheaton — Ryland, a member of the Rebel Alliance, must say goodbye to his infant daughter. He’s about to go on a dangerous mission and needs to know Laina will be safe. She will go to live with her aunts. Fair warning, this is a heart-wrenching story. Wheaton examines why a single father would risk everything and join what might seem like a lost cause. What could bring him to risk his life? A fair amount of revenge and a dash of hope.

I should end this by noting that I’m a fan of the new Star Wars movies. I find they fill me with a sense of hope. And that’s a word I associate this collection. These are stories of the everyday person (or Jawa or droid). I think I “get” my in-laws love of Star Wars. Much like my love of Star Trek, it’s about heroes and hope. And these stories remind us that it’s not just the Skywalker family who can make a difference: it’s all of us.

         

I have a sickness, an affliction, an addiction. It is one my husband makes good-natured fun of, yet tolerates and even encourages.  He is an enabler.

Whenever I travel, it is inevitable that I will find a library.  If there is a library that can be sniffed out, I will be there.

I’ve seen the ruins of Hadrian’s library, the library at ancient Ephesus, the public library in old fort walls in Croatia, little public libraries in Jamaica (where by the way, the posted rules say you can’t have curlers in your hair, or allow underwear to be seen), and libraries at children’s hostels in India.  While I have thoroughly enjoyed them all, only once have I been brought to the brink of tears.

The British Library in London has an exhibit room, The Sir John Ritblat Gallery, more commonly called “Treasures of the British Library.”  There one can see “magnificent hand-painted books from many faiths, maps and views, early printed books, literary, historical, scientific and musical works from around the world.”

There I found original manuscripts by Bach and Beethoven, and Mozart amongst others, and marveled at how difficult their notation was to read, remembering the hours of tears and torment in trying to learn to play their works.

Farther away into the room, I found manuscripts of faith.  I never dreamed I’d get to see a Gutenberg Bible, but I did.  More awesome to me than the Gutenberg, however, was a Tyndale Bible from 1526, one of only three in known existence.  To know its translator had to hide while translating and had to smuggle his Bibles into England, and then was eventually strangled and burned at the stake as a heretic moved me unexpectedly.

All of this brings me to today’s books.  I’ve always enjoyed historical fiction. I have learned about events and times in an enjoyable way.  It’s important to remember, however, that historical fiction is not always 100% accurate.  Reading a book that piques my interest, drives me to learn more and do my own research. These books did that.

“The Ruby Ring” and “A Tale of Souls” are the first two books in the planned trilogy, “The Reformation – A Family Divided” by Karen Rees.  “The Ruby Ring” chronicles a family during the time during which William Tyndale began to translate the New Testament into vernacular English.  The only problem was doing this was illegal.  He knew allowing people to read the Bible in their own tongue would loosen the power the Catholic Church and priests held over them.

If Tyndale is caught, he will die at the stake as a heretic. So will anyone caught helping him.  Owen Alton, a man bound for the priesthood, catches Tyndale’s vision and is soon caught up in helping him.  Jane Horne loves Owen, and when he leaves England to follow Tyndale she gives him her ruby ring. The ring has its own story and holds a shocking key to her past.

“A Tale of Souls” picks up just prior to William Tyndale’s death during the reign of Henry VIII.  This volume tells of the tumultuous times between Henry VII and Bloody Mary.  During the reign of Henry VIII, he was a staunch Catholic until wanting a divorce and splitting from the Church over Anne Boleyn.  As he takes over the title of head of the Church of England, he abolishes monasteries, burns Lutherans at the stake and hangs Catholics.

With each subsequent king, the powers shift from Catholic to Church of England and back again.  Throw in other variations of Protestantism, Lutheran, Anabaptist and the like, and it is a royal mess.  When Catholics are in power, heretics (i.e. anyone not Catholic) get burned at the stake.

With non-Catholic rulers, monasteries are closed, church lands are seized to line the pockets of whomever is in power, stained glass windows are outlawed, and symbols such as crucifixes, rosaries and icons are illegal and destroyed.

After Lady Jane Grey’s eight-day rule, Bloody Mary seizes power and returns to a Catholic-based monarchy.  She begins again the search for heretics and anyone standing in her way.  History tells us she burned nearly 300 people at the stake.

Against these historical facts, the turmoil of a family who has people on both sides of the conflict plays out.  There is romance; there is deceit; there is suspense; and there is joy.  Rees has conducted meticulous research in making sure the history in her story of a divided family is accurate.

I look forward to the final book of the trilogy, because there were characters whom I came to care about, and I want to find out what happens to them.  “The Ruby Ring” is available now at Joplin Public Library.  “A Tale of Souls” is in our cataloging and processing department now, and will be available shortly.

 

When perusing the library’s new book offerings, Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls shone from the shelf. Particularly, the subtitle—The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women. Intrigued and unfamiliar with these shining women and their dark story, I trusted Moore to shed light on the matter. She begins by introducing us to a list of key characters, including the dial-painters (i.e. the “radium girls”), corporations, doctors, and investigators involved, and she ends with an impressive bibliography, illuminating her skillful, thorough research of the women’s decades-long struggle for justice.

Discovered in 1898 by Pierre and Marie Curie, radium is a chemical element that, not long after its discovery, was used in readily available medicines and for other common, commercial purposes. One such purpose was luminous watch-dials and instruments, which were in high demand during both World Wars. Despite radium’s increasingly apparent toxicity, which was not known to the public, corporations continued to hire young women as dial-painters in their factories or, as they were referred to, their ‘studios.’

Working as a dial-painter was an enviable position. The work was considered higher up than that of other factory jobs and, for that day and age, it paid very well. Plus, the women employed were captivated by the radium, which they regarded as a glamorous “wonder element.” From as young as 14 years old, girls and women painted watch-dials with a paint containing radium powder, which they mixed themselves without precaution. To be clear, they were told by their employers that radium was perfectly safe, that it was not necessary to use precaution.

Dust from the radium powder settled on everything, including the women—their clothes, their hair, their skin. Also, their lips, as they were taught the technique of lip-pointing when instructed how to paint watch dials. This technique became known as the “lip, dip, and paint” routine. They made a point of the brush by touching it to their lips, dipped it in the radium, and painted the dials. Over and again, all day long. It didn’t take too long for the women to start glowing at night. Literally. Onlookers were impressed, including the women themselves, and thought their radium-girl glow glamorous. And it was. That is, until it wasn’t.

Many dial-painters started experiencing health issues, such as headaches, sore or falling-out teeth, crumbling jaws, growths and tumors, and other serious symptoms. Mystified, the doctors from whom they sought treatment often did not know what to do, as they had never seen such symptoms. Too often, either the wrong treatment was administered or nothing at all. As the women and their doctors pieced the puzzle together, eventually realizing their ailments were related to working with radium, they confronted the companies for which the women worked. In the spirit of corporate greed, the companies denied exposure to radium as the cause and maintained that it was safe to work with.

Although the companies were denying the ill-effects of radium, they made half-hearted (at best) efforts to improve work environments, no longer allowing the women to lunch on the same table where they painted watch dials and providing water for the women to dip their brushes into. They also periodically brought in doctors to run tests and monitor the women’s health. However, the results were not shared, not even with the women. Sadly, some women were ensured of their health by employers only to find out later they had been in declining health all along. In addition to their claims being dismissed by their employers, the ill-fated radium girls were sometimes criticized in their communities, as others saw their actions as a jeopardy to much-needed jobs within the community.

Eventually, the radium girls’ claims were taken seriously. Rather seriously enough, I should say, though it was much too late. Admittedly, this was a challenging title to write about. What happened to these women and the impact it had on their families and their friends is, to say the least, appalling and infuriating. Although the radium girls and their advocates sought justice, it’s impossible to justify such injustice. Yet I commend them for their efforts, as I commend Kate Moore for narrating their story. Be sure to check it out.