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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Utah Social Studies Conference Saturday October 11

This fall's Social Studies Conference is a joint effort from the Utah Council for the Social Studies and the Utah Geographic Alliance.

Date of Conference: Saturday October 11

Venue: Butler Middle School 7530 S 2700 E, Cottonwood Heights, UT 84121

Cost to participants: teachers and administrators $25.00 (dual membership in UCSS and UGA) 

pre-service teachers $10.00

Breakfast and Lunch provided, .5 USOE credit available

Online registration is available through the Nebo School District Store; select "Utah Social Studies Conference" from the menu.

Session topics include:

  • World War I, Versailles, and the Modern Middle East
  • Teachers as Historians
  • John C. Fremont and the pre-Mormon Exploration of the Utah and the West
  • Oral Histories
  • How to Teach Current Events
  • Geography Week
  • Agriculture in the Classroom, Utah State University
  • AP Human Geography
  • Territorial Issues between Korea and Japan
  • National History Day
  • Russia, Ukraine, and Modern Conflict
  • Mapptivities
  • Architecture as a Primary Source
  • Baseball Through the Ages
  • State Historical Markers


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Review: Hidden History of Utah

There's a misconception outside of Utah, and okay, even inside Utah, that all of Utah's history is about the Mormons.  Mormon pioneers coming to the Beehive State in 1847, setting up their polygamist kingdom, and then fighting against the U.S. government for fifty years to become a state.  It wasn't until the Mormons agreed to give up polygamy in 1890 that the United States allowed them to move from being a territory to a state, which finally happened in 1896. For many people, that is the history of Utah.  But it's much more than that.

Eileen Hallet Stone is a reporter and columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune.  One of her ongoing columns has been Living History, revived after being dormant for some time.  As a Utah History teacher, I've enjoyed the articles in the paper when I've caught them--but there have been many I've missed.  Thankfully, 58 of those short stories have now been collected in Hidden History of Utah, a 2013 book published by The History Press.  The 200 page book is an interesting series of snapshots into the "other history" of Utah, and it's a great resource for Utah residents or simply history buffs who want to know more about the Western United States.

Most of the stories cover the century from 1850 to 1950, and are each only two to three pages long.  It's a great one to read in short batches, when you've only got a few minutes to get your history on.  The articles are grouped into categories: 

Early Towns, Different Stories

Western Entrepreneur's True Grit

Matters of Inequity

Rails, Wires, Wheels and Roads, 

Uniquely Utah

Suffragists in the West

Working the Mines

...you get the idea.  There are stories from World War II, from the Great Depression, about Prostitution and Prohibition.  Many of her stories are meant to bust the myths that Utah has always been dry (it hasn't, and still isn't), or that we're all a bunch of white bread Mormons (okay, I am, but there's more diversity here than people realize).  The stories are entertaining, succinct, and well-written.  The one caution is that Stone seems to be so interested in telling the "other stories" of Utah's History that she doesn't include the traditional Mormon stories at all.  Filling in gaps is good, but if a reader picked this up expecting to cover all of Utah's History, there would be some series chunks missing.  

with that caveat in mind, if you're interested in Utah History, this is a good place to start.  There are other contributors to the Living History column, including longtime Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley--I'd love to see more collections in this series.  Past publications by the Salt Lake Tribune have included It Happened in Utah by Gayen and Tom Wharton, and In Another Time, by the late Harold Schindler.  All are worth tracking down, for the same reasons that Hidden History of Utah is.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Book Review: Bad Guys and Gals of the High Seas

Kids are fascinated by villains.  I suppose adults are too--but in the middle grades, kids are exposed to more of the evils that they were shielded from as younger children.  So from about 4th to 8th Grades, there are a lot of non-fiction books out there about villainy.  

TIME For Kids has an ongoing series, Bad Guys and Gals.  They've got one about the Wild West, one about the Ancient World, one about Pirates.  And that's this one: Bad Guys and Gals of the High Seas, by Dona Herweck Rice.  The 2013 book is only 64 pages long, each page with colorful pictures of pirates, their equipment, their allies and enemies.  

The book kicks off with things like "How to Spot a Pirate," and "A Pirate's Life." It compares fact and fiction, using Pirates of the Caribbean and Treasure Island as examples of how we get the wrong ideas of pirates in our head--before exploring seven very real pirates.  The pirates profiled include:





Blackbeard

Black Bart

Edward Low

Anne Bonny (and Mary Read)

Lady Mary Killigrew

Mrs. Cheng

I had heard of some of these before, of course, but others were new to me.  Rice continues to separate fact from fiction in their mini-biographies, and explains where some of the legends about them could have come from.  I found the female pirates particularly interesting--and a little disturbing.  Overall, the book is informative and entertaining, and has sidebars like "Think Links" that encourage readers to dig a little deeper, comparing the text to their own opinions or real lives.  There's also a glossary, index and bibliography, so if kids like this introduction to piracy, they can branch out on their own and learn more.

All things considered, if you've got a little pirate in your house who is ready for a new book on the subject, Bad Guys and Gals of the High Seas is a good pick.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book Review: World War II Pilots

When I was a kid (a long time ago), there was a series of books called Choose Your Own Adventure.You'd start with a basic storyline, then get asked to make simple yes/no, left/right, eat/don't eat decisions.  Each decision would take you to a different page in the book, and in this manner, the story would branch off in different directions.  Some directions would lead to success, others to failure.  

Michael Burgan has revisited that format with his World War II Pilots: An Interactive History Adventure.  The 2013 hardcover is part of his ongoing series of You Choose books; he's got seven others with different World War II themes and settings.   

The first short chapter sets the stage for World War II, and why the United States gets involved.  By Page 11, you need to make a choice: become a British pilot in the Royal Air Force, an American pilot in the Pacific, or a Tuskegee Airman.  From this point on, there are many choices to be made, but Burgan lets each of the three storylines run their course.  As with the Choose Your Own Adventure series I loved as a kid, some of these end up with the reader "dying," others to successful missions.  We see the racism and triumphs of the Tuskegee Airmen, and the differences between the Spitfire, Mustangs, and other types of military fighters and aircraft.  Altogether there are twenty different endings you can find, with 36 choices for kids to make as they read.  

Throughout the book, Burgan inserts historic photographs with captions that give context to them.  He works in factoids about World War II both in the ongoing storyline and in sidebars.  The design of the book is cool, with the text looking like it's been printed on aluminum plates screwed into the pages, and the page numbers are on dog tags that drop off the sides.   

I really enjoyed this book--enough that I want to pick up some of the other books in the series for my sons.  It's the kind of high-interest, informative reading that they love.  If you're interested in World War II, and have kids between about 4th and 8th Grade, check out Michael Burgan's series of You Choosebooks.  I've only read one, but I'm hooked.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: Miss Moore Thought Otherwise

I've loved libraries since I was a wee lad.  My parents, being intellectual hippie-types, taught me to read by the age of three, and by four I was checking out stacks of library books.  Sure, they were mostly Dr. Seuss, but it was something.  Had I been born 100 years earlier, I never would have been able to go into a library.  In the 19th Century, most libraries were off-limits to children. A new picture book explains how all that changed: Miss More Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children, by Jan Pinborough, and illustrated by Debby Atwell.  

Anne Moore was raised with fairly progressive parents, who taught her to read and encouraged her reading.  This was at a time when female literacy was still on the back burner for most families, preferring instead to prepare their daughters to run households.  Embroidery, cooking, those were respectable pastimes.  Teaching their girls to read was a waste of time.  

Well, as the book's title explains, "Miss Moore thought otherwise." After leaving home, she graduated from library school, and got her first job at a library that had something unique--a section of the library dedicated to children.  She loved the idea, and set up programs and activities for kids.  Her fame spread, and soon she was in charge of children's sections in all of Boston's libraries.  

Her crowning achievement came with a move to New York City, where they were building a new central public library--one of the most famous in the world.  She was asked to design the children's reading room, and she planned out every detail.  

The book does a good job of describing Moore's philosophy about reading and children, and explains the programs she established for children's librarians across the country.  My sister is a children's librarian, and this book gave me some insights into her job and the history of her career.  The colorful illustrations help tell the story, and give personality and life to Pinborough's words.  

If you're a bibliophile--and if you're reading this, you probably are--this is a fun book that will make you look at libraries differently.  Thank goodness for Miss Moore.  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Book Review: The Kitchen House

My wife is in a book club.  It's with a bunch of ladies from the neighborhood, and the way she describes it is "we talk about the book we all read for about ten minutes, and the rest of the time we're talking about everything and everybody else." Which to me, sounds like...well, just a bunch of gossip.  Which is cool. We all do it, why not organize?  

Last month they read a book that my wife thought I'd enjoy, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. The 2010 novel takes place in the antebellum South, on plantations in Virginia.  My wife knows I like historic fiction, and even though this is centered on women, she figured I'd like it.  She was right.

The story is of course about the interactions between the slaves and the whites who own and run the plantation.  Most elements are things we've seen before in similar books and movies.  The curveball that Grissom throws us is in the person of Lavinia, an Irish immigrant who arrives in the United States in the late 1700s. She's just a child of six when we meet her, and both of her parents died on the voyage over from Ireland. She had a brother, but she was separated from him when they were both taken to be indentured servants.  

While there are many stories about slaves and slavery (and there should be), I'm not aware of many about indentured servitude.  The idea was that the indentured would live with a family for a period of time (seven years was the standard), where they'd work off the price of their voyage to the United States, their upkeep, etc.  Lavinia ends up in this situation, which, although she's white, essentially confers upon her the status of a slave.  She lives with the slaves who work in the "kitchen house," which would be the most upper class of the slaves for this particular plantation.  She's taken in by them as family, and calls the heads of household Momma and Papa.  As she grows older, she comes to understand the hierarchy of the plantation, the social fabric of the larger community, and what her role in it might be.

The resulting book is more complicated than I expected, with doses of joy, but a lot of tragedy.  There are many heroes, but the villains have such power over all of the lives around them that it can become oppressive. Each character is carefully drawn, and we get insights in every side of the complicated institutions of slavery, agriculture, and Southern society.  

If you're a fan of the time period, this book covers approximately 1790-1820, which is earlier than most of these stories.  The Civil War is still a few generations away, and emancipation isn't on the horizon.  Despite that, there's some hope in The Kitchen House

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Book Review: Proxy

Dystopia.  Thanks to the success of The Hunger Games, there's been an onslaught of dystopian young adult literature over the last five years.  Some of it's been pretty good, most of it has been Hunger Gamesripoffs. It's gotten to the point that I'll see that a book is set in a dystopia, which used to excite me...and I'll immediately shut down.  

Despite those feelings, I found a book recently that I really enjoyed, Proxy, by Alex London.  The tagline for the 2013 novel is "some debts can not be repaid," and that's an ongoing theme in the book.

The story takes place some time in the future, where the world has been divided into the haves and the have-nots.  The "haves" live in unbelievable luxury, and everyone else scrambles for the scraps.  There are are walls and systems that separate the two groups, and one of the wealthiest kids in town is Knox.  Knox's father is fairly high up in the security agency that is like the police force for his city, but that doesn't keep Knox out of trouble.  He parties, he's foolish, he crashes cars, he ends up killing a friend.  The twist here is that Knox is never punished for anything he does.  Instead, he's forced to watch a monitor where he sees a proxy, a poor boy named Syd, punished for his actions.  They don't know each other, Syd doesn't know the name of the person whose actions result in his pain and imprisonment.  Knox, a kid who lacks any kind of empathy, doesn't care that his actions are hurting Syd.  

Eventually the two meet, figure out each other's identity, and end up trying to kill each other.  Until they find they have more in common than they expected, and this knowledge puts them onto a path that will take them beyond either of their worlds.  

There were many elements of this world that reminded me of the recent movie Elysium, parts of which I really enjoyed.  The gulf between the rich and the poor is something that we're seeing grow as time goes on, and the scenarios in Proxy don't seem that far away from what's happening around us. There are people who live in gated communities, separated from the commoners, who are driven in a fancy car from their fleet of fancy cars.  Some of these people even run for president.  In any case, there are disparities around us, and Proxy exaggerates them a bit to tell a surprisingly compelling story.  

If you're looking for a fresh take on dystopias with a very interesting story, hunt down Proxy.  It's a good read.   My only caveat -- it ends with a cliffhanger.  So there will be another book in the series.  I'll be reading that one too.