Teaser for Kate DiCamillo’s forthcoming Louisiana’s Way Home

Out in October, Louisiana’s Way Home hones in on one of the three Rancheros from Raymie NightingaleHaving been fortunate enough to receive an advance reader’s copy along with some peanuts and an O’Henry bar, I dropped into Louisiana’s story penned in DeCamillo’s unmistakable prose and was unable to stop until I was done. Thanks, Candlewick PR folks, for the sustenance as I craved them as soon as they were mentioned. As the book isn’t out for a while all I’m going to say is that it is

Melancholy, heart-wrenching, full of gorgeous writing, and complicated. One to ponder.

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Elizabeth Partridge’s Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam

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“This indispensable volume brings a wise and humane lens to a confused and brutal conflict.”

Please check out my starred Horn Book review of this outstanding book.

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Watch Hamilton at the 2018 Olivier Awards in London.

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In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ve posted this over the years in honor of Dr. King and do so again today:

Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1922, my father Lewis J. Edinger, who passed away in 2008, fled with his mother to America at the age of fourteen; his father chose to stay, hoping to ride things out, but was deported and killed. Years later, as a newly minted PhD, my father took whatever jobs he could find; one of those was in Montgomery, Alabama at the time of the bus boycott where, among other things, he met Martin Luther King, Jr.  Here are some excerpts from his memoir about that time in his life.

I got my haircuts at Maxwell Air Force Base from a black barber with unsteady hands named Raymond Parks  — a negro for polite white Montgomery society, a “n-” for most of the whites, and a darky for those who might say one and think the other. Raymond’s wife Rosa was a seamstress I had never head of until she was arrested. She had refused to comply with a city segregation ordinance that required her, like any black, to give her seat in the front of a city bus to a white man and find one in the back. Legend had it that Rosa Parks was defiant because she was simply too tired to surrender her seat. Actually it was a deliberate protest against the all-pervasive racial discrimination by a prominent activist of  Montgomery’s black community. Her arrest started the now famous, well-organized boycott of all the city’s public transport by half of its population. Fifty years after that unforgettable experience I remain proud to have had some part in it.

Early on I had an opportunity to challenge Martin Luther King Jr. on adopting Gandhian non-violent principles for the boycott. I owed our meeting to my wife Hanni and, more directly, to a mutual friend, Virginia Durr, a white woman from a prominent family who played a role in the boycott. She and Hanni had become friends through the small local chapter of the League of Women Voters that often met at our place and then through our membership in the Montgomery branch of the anti-segregationist, interracial Southern Conference for Human Welfare. At that—for me memorable—meeting with King I told him that while Gandhian tactics wore down law-respecting Englishmen in India they could not overcome white segregationists in Montgomery. Virginia Durr set the outside agitator –me — straight with an anecdote.

A debutant and prominent member of the Junior League in Mobile, the young Virginia was sent out of the Deep South where she was raised to get a degree from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. When she came to the dining room for her first breakfast she found the only available seat was next to a black girl and promptly returned to her room, true to her segregationist upbringing. Her grandpappy had fought and died to preserve Southern ways, as she put it to me, and her family expected her to remain loyal to a tradition that put negroes in their place below and most certainly not next to whites. That’s what she told the dean to whom she rushed to explain her position, whereupon that lady told her that if she could not abide by the rules at Wellesley she was free to leave. As she found that impossible Virginia stayed on and learned to live by new rules. And that, the knowledgeable Southern insider predicted, was how it would go with the segregationist rules of Montgomery once they had been declared unconstitutional. And indeed, respect for the law carried the day after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the city ordinance that triggered the precedent-setting, non-violent protest movement led by King.

Some incidents in our direct involvement with the boycott remain unforgettable. One was the impressive evening when a few of us white supporters were just for once allowed to stand in the back of a packed church to witness one of the  mass rallies that  sustained the commitment of the blacks. It took the form of a Baptist religious service with one after another of the local clergy evoking ever more fervent supportive responses from the congregation, capped by shouts of “who is the king – he is the king” when the boycott leader appeared for the climax.

Another time Hanni was driving our young cleaning woman  home when she was flagged down by a Montgomery policeman. He gave her a ticket for an alleged traffic offense, a mild form of harassment in light of what others in our support group experienced. A librarian living alone was driven by ever more threatening anonymous phone calls to commit suicide.

When the boycott did not end quickly the board of Montgomery’s city commissioners joined the radically-segregationist White Citizen Council and that led our little group to draw up a petition in which “we white citizens of Montgomery” asked them to reconsider such an action directed against the black half of their constituents. We decided to submit this petition if we got enough signatures to make an impression and then a work colleague and I approached those we thought would sign. Some did, others would not. It was an unpleasant surprise when supposed liberals from the North lacked the courage to stand by their expressions of anti-segregationist convictions. Phony excuses were induced by fear of McCarthy-style retribution.

Our principled position was put to the test when we asked a visiting black historian Hanni knew from New York for dinner. It seemed a great idea until it struck us that the parents of children Monica played with in our complex would then no longer let them do that. Reluctantly we decided that we could not let our three-year old suffer for principles that were beyond her understanding and moved the dinner to friends who lived in a house and not an apartment.  We thought it the right decision but were never entirely reconciled to it. It left us with a better comprehension of family conformism in Nazi Germany.

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The American author Jacqueline Woodson is the laureate of Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2018

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

The American author Jacqueline Woodson is the laureate of Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2018

Jacqueline Woodson is an American author, born in 1963 and residing in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of more than thirty books, including novels, poetry and picture books. She writes primarily for young teens, but also for children and adults. One of her most lauded books is the award winning autobiographical Brown Girl Dreaming (2014).

The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) is the world’s largest award for children’s and young adult literature. The award amounts to 5 million Swedish krona (approx. $613,000 or EUR 500 000) and is given annually to a single laureate or to several.

The citation of the jury reads:
“Jacqueline Woodson introduces us to resilient young people fighting to find a place where their lives can take root. In language as light as air, she tells stories of resounding richness and depth. Jacqueline Woodson captures a unique poetic note in a daily reality divided…

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Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Journey of Little Charlie

I am on the record as being a huge fan of Curtis’s Buxton books –from Elijah of Buxton (was on the Newbery Committee that gave it an honor) to Madman of Piney Woods (my starred Horn Book review). This one is as terrific as the others.

While the other two books featured black male protagonists in this one Curtis is featuring a young white male, the child of poor white pre-Civil War sharecroppers. After horrific events that leave him without family, Little Charlie Bobo (actually a twelve-year-old the size of an adult man) is forced to go with the local plantation’s overseer to capture some runaway enslaved people. Little Charlie’s voice and dialect is spot-on for a person of his class and situation; he has never been to school and can’t read. That is, spot-on, as much as I can tell — I’m certainly no expert on what it would sound like. Some have referenced Twain which makes sense as he certainly did use such dialog himself in his writing. Some have complained that it was challenging to read — I found it quite easy. Curtis is able to give you such a great sense of his boy protagonists — they are always a tad “fragile”, pensive, and so so good at heart.

From the start Little Charlie is good, everything that happens early on makes that very clear. What he is also is racist, prejudiced, and extremely ignorant. His journey with the evil slave catcher is one of learning, growing, and changing — what we would wish for all who are as limited in early experience as Charlie is.

There are some very dark moments in this book, extraordinary cruelty and brutality, yet all presented in a way that older children can definitely manage — this is very much a middle grade book. I noticed someone writing that she planned to read it aloud to her 5th graders. I would be cautious with this, be mindful of the listeners — who they are, their own lives, and how this could make them feel. I see it as for those ready for this harsh history lesson, say 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.

There are also some warm moments, Curtis’s trademark humor, and description. I feel that I can recognize his style when he describes the slave catcher’s rankness, a train ride for a boy who has never been on one, and the pain of enslaved people being retaken and separated. Most of all, there is the strength and power of the Canadians — whites and blacks together.

This feels like a book of the moment, a #blacklivesmatter for the 19th century and today. Outstanding.

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My Jaunt to Vienna: Sensitive Sisi, Comfy Cafes, and Over-the-Top-Opulence of the Hofburgs.

I am just back from a quick visit to Vienna. It was just the right amount of time for me — three days. I decided to go as I’ve long been curious, I’m fluent in German so it is easy, I wanted to get far away for a few days, and I’m not a beach and sun sort of person. Some highlights:

I arrived from my flight late morning so had plenty of time to wander about the center. I toured the Opera, looked about St. Stephen’s Cathedral, stopped by the  legendary confectionary Demel’s (where I picked up some contraband Kindereier), enjoyed some open-faced sandwiches at  Trzesniewski, spent the first of my daily visits to the Cafe Schwartzenberg, a classic Viennese cafe, and enjoyed a glass of wine at my luxurious hotel (a worthwhile splurge), the Grand Ferdinand.

I arose on the second day to snow and cold. Bundled up I headed out to the summer residence of the Habsburgs, Schönbrunn Palace. I always seem to visit these places in cold months when the gardens are all pretty bare, but I like that sort of bleakness so it was fine for me. I’ve been to Versailles and Sans Souci more than once under similar conditions. It was as opulent and over-the-top as I expected. I am not a fan of zoos, but went to this one as I was curious about it when it started, but it was as depressing as I find most zoos, up-to-date as it surely is. I did enjoy (and get briefly lost in) the maze, the walk up and view from the Gloria, the palm house, the carriages, and the insanely opulent royal rooms (no photos of allowed for most of these).  There was even a little holiday market!
I started my final day exploring the charming Naschmarkt, picked up some fancy chocolates at a tiny shop, and then headed to the Hofburg Palace. More mind-blowingly opulent royal apartments. The Sisi Museum where you learn of the life and times of the eccentric and fascinating Empress Elizabeth. The treasury with extraordinary ancient stuff — crowns, orbs, jewels, and regalia galore. My favorite exhibit, surprisingly, was the Silver Collection as the audio guide and wall cards gave a remarkable social history — describing meals and fascinating details such as a foot washing ceremony, meal behaviors, and even washing (say collections of objects for this, among them women’s chamber pots, aka bides). I then spent significant time in the Welt Museum, intrigued by the way the curators grappled with their ethnographic collections and its position in the world today. No photos allowed for the palace exhibits, but some of it can be seen here.
Headed home just ahead of today’s storm. A very very worthwhile few days.

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