Nonfiction is the new black
When he was a young man in his mid-twenties, future Roman leader Julius Caesar was voyaging across the Mediterranean Sea. Pirates swarmed over his ship. They took him to their base on tiny Farmakonisi Island, which lies off the coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and held him for ransom.
When he learned how much the pirates were demanding for his release, Caesar laughed. Do you have any idea who I am, he asked. I belong to one of Rome’s most important families. So you can get more money for me—a lot more—almost three times as much. The astonished pirates were only too happy to oblige him.
Keeping a friend and two servants with him on Farmakonisi, Caesar ordered the rest of his traveling party to go to Asia Minor and raise his ransom. While they were doing that, Caesar acted as if he were the ruler of the tiny island, rather than a captive cowering in fright. He ordered the pirates to attend lectures and poetry readings he gave, and prodded those who nodded off as he droned on and on and on. When he wanted to sleep, he ordered the pirates to either speak in whispers or go to another part of the island. He even played games with them. He also told them that when he was released, I promise I will hunt you down and execute you. In the spirit of bonhomie he engendered, the pirates apparently thought he was joking.
He wasn’t. Though outwardly he was friendly with the pirates, he seethed inwardly at the humiliation of being taken prisoner. After the ransom was paid, Caesar sailed to a nearby port. He raised a fleet of ships and scores of armed men. He returned to Farmakonisi, captured the pirates, and reclaimed the ransom money. He threw his former captors into prison. They didn’t stay there long. Caesar crucified them. He did show some mercy. Since crucifixion was a long, lingering death, he cut their throats so they died instantly.
Jim Whiting has written on many subjects. Check out his page on Amazon.com
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "A Man of His Word." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 26 Mar.
“It is at these times you realize the blessing of a good, thick skirt,” said Mary Kingsley after she crashed into a cleverly concealed leopard pit lined with twelve-inch ivory spikes.
The year was 1895, the place Equatorial West Africa, and the spunky lady saved, thanks to her observance to the dress code of the day, was a young Englishwoman collecting species of fish and beetles for the British Museum.
Mary Kingsley was the daughter of a physician who spent most of his time traveling. Although she received no formal education (reserved for her brother Charles), Mary learned to read, becoming fascinated with subjects such as science, exploration and piracy.
At one point she was granted permission to teach herself German, but only after she could iron a shirt properly. Mary learned chemistry, experimented with gunpowder and electricity, and became engrossed by the intricacies of plumbing. After years of caring for her invalid mother, in 1892 both her parents died. With the small inheritance left to her came the fulfillment of a dream: to explore West Africa.
When Mary crashed into the leopard pit, she was traveling in what was then the French Congo, getting to know the Fangs, reportedly a tribe of cannibals. Traveling by canoe, she was once marooned in a crocodile-infested lagoon. When one tried to climb aboard, she was there with a paddle, ready to “fetch him a clip on the snout.”
After two trips, she wrote a book called Travels in West Africa. She became a sought-after lecturer and celebrity. In public appearances she was both funny and serious, peppering her narrative with jokes, often at her own expense, but also being critical of the way the British had steamrolled into the African continent, with little regard for its ancient cultures.
In 1900 she sailed to Africa for the third time, responding to an urgent call for nurses in South Africa, where war was underway. Assigned to a hospital where hundreds of soldiers were dying from a raging epidemic, she became ill herself, and died two months later. She was buried at sea with military honor.
In her book, she remembers: “Indeed, much as I have enjoyed life in Africa, I do not think I ever enjoyed it to the full as I did when dropping down the Rembwe… Ah me! Give me a West African river and a canoe for sheer pleasure.”
Rave reviews for Roxie Munro's book Market Maze:
"A great way to introduce kids to their foods' origins and to prepare them for a greenmarket visit of their own." Kirkus (Starred review!) excerpt.
"From a parent’s or teacher’s point of view, here’s a good way for kids to gain the visual discrimination skills needed for reading, while they learn about the sources of food at their local farmers’ markets. For kids, though, the combination of mazes and hidden objects is just plain fun. It’s a winning combination." Booklist review excerpt.
Roxie Munro is a member of iNK's Authors on Call so you can meet her face-to-race through interactive videoconferencing. Learn more about her programs here.
MLA 8 Citation
Munro, Roxie. "Mary Kingsley." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 15 Mar. 2018,
Giving Voice to Children in History
One of the joys of research is uncovering the unexpected. Most recently this happened to me when I was writing Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London. Dickens was a patron of the London Foundling Hospital, a charitable home for orphans founded in 1741. (Foundlings were children whose parents were unknown, and hospital meant shelter back then.)
Researching the Foundling, I learned that a century before Dickens, German composer George Frederic Handel was one of its greatest benefactors. I thought this must be a mistake since he was German. Curious, I took a side journey into Handel’s life to find out.
Brimming with musical talent, Handel moved to London at age 26 to find work and quickly became a popular composer and performer. He decided to stay, eventually becoming a British citizen. Londoners readily recognized him, for he was a great bear of a man who wore stylish clothes and an enormous wig. He spoke with a thick German accent, and when angry, his words tumbled together in German, Italian, and English. He never married or had children, but he had a big heart and readily assisted the needy and destitute, especially children. It’s been said that no other composer contributed so much to the relief of human suffering.
He often helped charities by donating all proceeds from a concert. In 1749 when he learned that the Foundling did not have funds for its proposed chapel, he offered a concert to introduce his newest composition, Messiah. The packed audience was enthralled. A second concert quickly sold out, and the chapel was completed.
Handel became a member of the Foundling’s Board of Governors and continued his financial assistance by personally directing Messiah in the chapel at least once a year, always to overflow crowds. When the king attended a performance, he stood for the “Hallelujah Chorus”--and audiences have been standing ever since. Because Handel knew people would pay to see it, he willed the Foundling an original copy of Messiah.
I listen to Handel’s compositions differently now. It’s no longer mere music from the past; instead, it feels alive, created by a fascinating man with a charitable heart who helped provide for orphans. I attend Messiah whenever I can, and when we all stand for the “Hallelujah Chorus,” I smile to myself, feeling a strong connection to history, for I know exactly why we are doing it.
As much as Andrea Warren loves writing, she also loves research. Getting distracted can pay off, because she's now writing a book on a subject she discovered while researching another book. To learn more about Handel and how he not only helped the poor but also inspired Charles Dickens, take a look at Warren's book "Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London." You'll learn more about it and about her other books at www.AndreaWarren.com .
Andrea is also a member of Authors on Call. Bring her into your classroom via interactive video conferencing. Here’s where you can learn more about her and her programs.
The great Paris tower was underway. From each corner of a broad base the size of a football field, four spidery iron structures rose, curving inward in one majestic sweep toward the middle. The construction – a web of connecting girders – called for 300 workers to assemble some 15,000 pieces of iron and snap 2.5 million rivets into place. This would be the world’s tallest man-made structure, reaching a height of 300 meters (934 feet). A glorious demonstration of engineering, it was conceived by Gustave Eiffel, the most illustrious engineer of nineteenth-century France.
The tower was to be the focal point of the International Exhibition of Paris in 1889, commemorating the 100th birthday of the French Revolution. After that, since it had no practical use, it was to be torn down.
It took two years, two months, and three days to build the Eiffel Tower. Eiffel used wrought iron, which was a relatively new building material at the time, used primarily for bridges and aqueducts. As the tower rose, becoming the city’s most prominent feature, not everyone approved. “Useless and monstrous,” one newspaper called it. Another described it as an “odious column of bolted metal.”
Called the Magician of Iron, Eiffel’s mathematical prowess and attention to detail was legendary. To put the tower project on paper took 30 draftsmen working full time for 18 months. Every rivet of the 2.5 million needed for the structure had its designated place, down to a fraction of a millimeter.
The Tower became the hit of the International Exhibition, with nearly two million people visiting it. Still, not everyone loved this prodigious web of steel girders. A famous writer was once asked why he ate lunch there every day, since he was known to hate the sight of it. He replied, “Because it’s the only place in Paris where I can’t see the damn thing.”
So why wasn’t the Eiffel Tower torn down? It almost was. What saved it was the radio broadcasting center and the weather station that Eiffel installed at the top.
Now France’s most famous landmark, it is not the only national symbol that Eiffel was involved with. He also built the iron skeleton of a lady we’re all familiar with: The Statue of Liberty.
As for the Eiffel Tower, “I ought to be jealous of that tower,” he once said. “She is more famous than I am.”
The Eiffel Tower under construction highlights the intricacy of the design as well as the massive size of the project in relation to the city of Paris. Art by Roxie Munro
Eiffel's most famous works are still major tourist attractions in the 21st century. The Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world. An average of 25,000 people ascend the tower every day. Approximately four million people visit New York's Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island each year. Photo Benh Lieu Song viia Wikimedia Commons. Art by Roxie Munro
One of Roxie's most recent, Masterpiece Mix, is a book about art. As an artist searches for inspiration, she explores thirty-seven paintings of different genres, and comes up with a grand finale, using all of them. The book has "smart, concise, marvelously amplifying backmatter" (Kirkus), a dedicated web page, and free downloads.
MLA 8 Citation
Munro, Roxie. "The Magician of Iron." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 7 Mar.
Nonfiction is the new black
Though Dr. Seuss died in 1991, new works continue to be published. Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories, four brief stories in Redbook magazine during the 1950s, appeared last year. Last July, a picture book entitled What Pet Should I Get? was released. It features the brother and sister originally in One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, published in 1960. It’s likely that he wrote this new book at about the same time, then set it aside. It was recently unearthed when his widow cleared out his former office. Reportedly there will be at least two more books.
Dr. Seuss’s real name was Theodor Geisel. Born in 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts, he became a cartoonist after graduating from Dartmouth College. For years, most of his work involved illustrations for advertisements. Returning on an ocean liner from a European trip in 1936, Geisel was fascinated by the continual throbbing of the ship’s engines. That throbbing gave him the rhythm he needed for his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Marco’s father asks him what he saw one day. Marco only saw a horse and wagon. But he wants to impress his father, so he spins an elaborate story.
It was hardly an instant success. Twenty-seven publishers turned it down. In fact, Geisel was ready to give up.
A chance encounter changed everything. Walking home one day, “He bumped into a friend…who had just become an editor at a publishing house,” explains Guy McLain, director of the Springfield Museum. The publishing house was Vanguard Press, and it accepted the book. Geisel used the pen name of Dr. Seuss, his middle name.
The rest is history. As Dr. Seuss, he wrote more than 40 books, including Green Eggs and Ham, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Horton Hears a Who. He’s probably the best-known children’s writer ever, with several books made into popular films. His birthdate of March 2 is the annual National Read Across America Day.
If you’re ever in Springfield, check out the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. His stepdaughter Lark Grey Dimond-Cates created four bronze sculpture groupings that include his most memorable creatures.
And all of this was the result of a long-ago decision that Dr. Seuss probably made without even thinking about. “If I had been going down the other side of Madison Avenue, I’d be in the dry-cleaning business today,” he said.
From humble beginnings, Charles Schulz developed a love of comics and a strong desire to draw cartoons. His only training in art came from a correspondence course he took shortly before World War II. When he was 28, in 1950, United Feature Syndicate picked up his comic strip with Charlie Brown and decided the strip would be called "Peanuts." Seven newspapers carried that first cartoon and Schulz was paid $90 for it. Over the next fifty-plus years, Charlie Brown and Snoopy became icons in the comic world. And when their author died on February 12, 2000, millions of fans mourned. Jim Whiting tells the story of a man nicknamed "Sparky" and the lovable characters he created. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Dr. Seuss Lives!" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 2 Mar. 2018,
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The NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee is pleased to inform you
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