Category Archives: Other

In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Reposting this from last year:

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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Time Magazine’s So-Called 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time

Dear Time Magazine,

Among your 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time are a significant number (I found 31) that were written for certifiable children, prepubescents, say seven, eight, nine, and ten year-olds. That is, they are NOT YOUNG ADULT BOOKS. For example, are you aware that Beverly Cleary’s Beezus and Ramona (to point to the most mind-boggling mis-categorized book on your list) was written for children and is read by and to children typically aged seven and younger? As is Charlotte’s Web? Little House on the Prairie?  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? These are books for teens? Please.

Of course these books can and are read by those of any age, but please give this audience their due. They exist as a distinctive part of the reading population, an audience that reads more than picture books (the bulk of the titles in your 100 Best Children’s Books of All Time), books that were written and published specifically for them.

I suggest that you rework these lists to make three: 100 Best Picture Books of All Time, 100 Best Children’s Books of All Time, and 100 Young Adult Books of All Time. (That would also give you an opportunity to invite others into the process who could help broaden the diversity of titles, something notably lacking on the current two lists.)

Sincerely,

Monica Edinger

 

 

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Five Children on the Western Front wins Costa Award

How awesome that days after I read and posted my admiration for Kate Saunders’ Five Children on the Western Front it won the UK Costa Award. More about the award, the author, and the book here.  Also, I’ve just finished the author’s Beswitched and was totally charmed by it. Now off to read more of her books.

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Families in Books

The Guardian has a lovely series on families in literature. My favorites:

I was a 26-year-old living by myself when I first read The Mouse and His Child. I spent my evenings reading on an old, yellow sofa my mother gave me when I left home. It was uncomfortable and covered in stains, but it was a fixture in family pictures of the house I grew up in – a grainy bit of furniture in the background, sat next to a bookshelf and a little wooden seesaw. It reminded me of living with my sisters, of the posters on the wall and the dusty globe on the shelf. As I sat on it and read Russell Hoban’s book, I thought about my family.

I’m with Robert Freeman, Russell Hoban’s The Mouse and his Child is absolutely about family. It is lyrical, beautiful, melancholy, witty, demanding, and wonderful.

All of this makes Tove Jansson’s adorable Moomin family a joyous anomaly. There is a nuclear family at the centre – the boyish Moominpappa, the serene Moominmamma (who, wonder of wonders, encourages children to smoke) and Moomintroll, gullible and guileless, intending to do good and invariably getting into trouble….Yet it’s the fringes of these Finnish hippopotami-things that is intriguing. Moomintroll’s on-off girlfriend, the Snork Maiden, seems to live in the house with them at some point. Is she and her brother the Snork even the same species as the Moomins? …Why do they have that lucre-loving weaselish creature, Sniff, as a semi-permanent houseguest?

considers Tove Jansson’s delightful non-traditional Moomin family.

I didn’t like the March household at seven, when they were pressed on me as a warm refuge from my own family’s ungenteel poverty …. There are a few glimpses of a harsher world outside, as in the opening, when Marmee inspires the girls to give their Christmas breakfast to the children of a destitute immigrant (three of whom later die of scarlet fever offstage), but Alcott pulled a quilt of cosiness – a comforter, as the Americans say – over the Marches. As a child, I couldn’t have explained exactly why they felt phoney, but I was sure there was something much darker to Marmee/Abigail Alcott, and that Jo/Louisa faced more than trivial tribulations.

Veronica Horwell on her difficulties with Louisa May Alcott’s March family.

Dickens and Christmas are so intertwined that those of a literary disposition often think of them together. It is usually Ebenezer Scrooge and the Cratchit family who spring to mind, as we make our yearly return to A Christmas Carol and the otherChristmas Books. In contrast to these tales of hope and good cheer, Bleak House is, to use a phrase from the first chapter, “perennially hopeless”. Instead of the small and close-knit Cratchit family, we have the infamous Jarndyces: not so much a family as a disparate group of ill-matched individuals whose only real connection is their involvement in the never-ending legal dispute of Jarndyce v Jarndyce.

That’s Daniel Gooding on my favorite Dickens’ novel, Bleak House.

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Jean Merrill and Ronni Solbert’s The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars

I’ve served notice here and elsewhere over the years of my devotion to Jean Merrill’s The Pushcart War and am now beyond delighted that the wonderful new York Review Children’s Collection has brought it back in print.  Along the way I came across another of her books, The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars and, guess what — they’ve brought it back in print too! I adore this book and recommended it wholeheartedly. So much so that I was invited to provided this quote to the publisher. Too cool to be able to blurb one of their books and this one most of all!

From bubble wrap to bugs, the urge to smash and smush seems to be a part of the human condition. Just think of that group of four-year-olds building towers of blocks and then merrily knocking them down. Or those older kids bashing into each other during recess. Here’s a wonderfully subversive little book that captures the joy of that impulse and highlights the results. A perfect read aloud for all ages.
—Monica Edinger, author of Africa Is My Home and proprietor of the blog Educating Alice

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Corporate Storytelling

Andrew Linderman tries to teach people how to find that balance. A story coach, he works with companies including American Express, PBS and Random House, charging $1,800 to $3,500 for workshops and $500 to $5,000 for one-on-one training (less for nonprofits and start-ups). For $40, you can also take one of his two-hour classes,Storytelling for Entrepreneurs.

“The specifics of storytelling are relatively easy to articulate,” he said. “It’s the nuances that make a story distinct.”

Ah, Random House — the irony!  From “Storytelling Your Way to a Better Job or a Stronger Start-up.

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All Lives Matter

“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.”
—DR. PAUL FARMER, Chief Strategist & Co-founder, Partners in Health

Ebola was on the US media radar when a tiny number of people came to this country with the illness. There were government officials saying that anyone who had been anywhere near the affected countries would be quarantined. Fear-mongering was rampant here and not a whole lot of compassion. And when those sick individuals either recovered or died, interest waned. Although the disease has not. It continues to rage in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Yet for too many Americans, those African lives don’t matter.

Tack that on to Ferguson.

Add on the Eric Garner decision.

The above quote from Paul Farmer says it all.

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