Nonfiction is the New Black
Baseball fans were fascinated by an article in Sports Illustrated magazine just before the start of the 1985 major league baseball season. It profiled Hayden Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch, a rookie pitcher who was in spring training with the New York Mets. According to the article, he could throw a baseball at a top speed of nearly 170 miles per hour. That was twice as fast as many other pitchers. Photos accompanying the article showed Finch with his excited teammates. Teams that would be playing the Mets contacted the league office. They feared that their batters would be in danger when Finch was on the mound.
There was, however, a problem with the article. “Finch” in the photos was actually Joe Berton, an Illinois junior high school art teacher. The article’s subtitle provided a clue about its real purpose: “He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga —and his future in baseball.” The first letters spell “Happy April Fool’s Day—ah Fib.”
The issue was dated April 1.
The Sidd Finch saga is one of the best-known hoaxes that occur every year on April Fool’s Day. It’s not clear when the custom of playing tricks on this day originated, or even why. The first clear reference seems to come in 1561, in a work by Belgian poet Eduard De Dene. A nobleman orders his servant to run silly errands on April 1. De Dene was almost certainly making a reference to a custom that was already well-established.
By the end of the following century, it had spread to England. In 1698, a London newspaper reported that “Yesterday being the first of April, several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed.” This was a prank that city dwellers played on bumpkins from rural areas. There were no lions, nor was there any washing.
In Scotland, April Fool’s Day actually became two days. The first day was “hunting the gowk” (a gowk was a cuckoo bird, a symbol of fools), sending people on ridiculous errands. Then came Tailie Day, which involved pinning tails or “kick me” signs on people’s butts.
It’s not clear when April Fool’s Day came to the United States. But today Americans love “celebrating” it. So if someone tells you a story that seems like a hoax or a joke, check the calendar. If it’s April 1, someone is probably fooling you.
Crack! It's going, going, it's gone! Professional players make it look easy to hit a home run. But without science, they’d be left in the batter’s box. In The Science of Hitting a Home Run, you can take a closer look at the science that makes a home run possible. Check this and Jim's many other titles out at his website.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "April Fool's Day." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 30 Mar.
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.
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,
When seamstress Rosa Parks boarded a bus after work in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955, she had no idea she was about to make history.
At that time, Montgomery buses were strictly segregated. According to city law, whites had the right to the first few rows of seats. Under a long-standing custom, blacks had to give up their seats as additional whites boarded. So when that happened, the driver ordered Parks and three other blacks to move further back. The other three did. Parks didn’t. The driver repeated his order. Again Parks refused. She was arrested.
Years later, a legend grew up that she was tired from a long day on her feet. But as she explained, “No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Black leaders, who had long shared her frustration, sensed an opportunity. They quickly formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and selected a young minister who had just moved to Montgomery as leader. His name was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Under his leadership, Montgomery blacks ordered a boycott of the bus system. They used many methods of alternate transportation, sometimes walking for an hour or even more. Despite whites’ burning of several churches and an explosion that destroyed Dr. King’s home, they persisted: day after day, week after week, month after month. Since blacks formed about 75 percent of the normal ridership, the loss of their fares began crippling the system. Finally, on December 20 the following year Montgomery repealed the law requiring segregated buses. The victory also catapulted Dr. King to national prominence.
Parks didn’t fare so well. She was fired from her job and received numerous death threats. She and her husband moved to Detroit.
Honors began pouring in. In 2000, Time magazine named Rosa Parks—often called the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement”—as one of the 100 most important people of the twentieth century.
Parks had another honor that year. In 1994, the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan had announced a plan to clean up a portion of Highway I-55 near St. Louis, Missouri under the federal Adopt-a-Highway program. That meant signs would be posted to acknowledge the Klan’s “public service.” The Missouri Department of Transportation objected, but a series of court cases concluding in 2000 deemed the objection as unconstitutional. The state quickly responded by naming that portion of I-55 the Rosa Parks Freeway. The Klan never did clean it up.
On the morning of December 1, 1955, hardly anyone in Rosa Parks s home town of Montgomery, Alabama had heard of her. By the time that night fell, she was on her way to becoming a household word all over the United States. Jim Whiting tells the story in his book What's So Great About Rosa Parks? For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 26 Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Nonfiction is the New Black
French aristocrat Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863–1937) was a scholar of ancient Greece. With the sting of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 in his mind, he believed that strong young men were better able to fight wars. He especially admired the English school system, in which academic learning and physical fitness worked side by side. His studies convinced him that this harmony of mind and body originated in the gymnasia of ancient Greece.
This harmony reached its highest level in the Olympics, which originated in the Greek village of Olympia in 776 BCE. They continued every four years until being suppressed in 393 CE as a pagan ritual. The Games began with a single event—a sprint of about 200 yards—and eventually encompassed a wide variety of sports. The Games were so prestigious among the Greeks that winners were set up for the rest of their lives.
To reintroduce this sporting ideal into the modern world, de Coubertin proposed reviving the Olympics. Olympia was too small and too remote to serve as the site, so de Coubertin and his associates chose Athens, the Greek capital and largest city, instead.
Two hundred forty one athletes from 14 nations descended on Athens in April 1896 to compete in nine sports: track and field, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling. Only track and wrestling had been part of the ancient Olympics.
Another event not in the original Games was the marathon run. Organizers wanted a signature event to recall the glory of ancient Greece. In 490 BCE, a messenger supposedly ran from the plain of Marathon to Athens to announce a stunning victory over a much larger invading Persian army. So the route of the first-ever “marathon race” was about 22 miles, from the battlefield to the Olympic Stadium. The winner, Spiridon Loues, had done no formal training. His occupation of water carrier in the hills overlooking Athens gave him considerable stamina and he became an instant national hero. A prominent Greek industrialist reportedly offered his daughter in marriage. Loues was already engaged. He settled for a horse and cart for his business instead.
Today the Olympics are regarded as the premier sporting event in the world. In the 2012 Olympics in London, England, 10,768 athletes from 204 nations competed in 26 sports. Nearly 4,800 were women—something that never happened in the original Olympics. All the entrants then were men.
Jim Whiting has written a book on the ancient Greek writer Herodotus, who is known as the father of history. Herodotus provides most of what is known about one of the most important periods in world history. It began in 490 BCE. An invading Persian army was defeated at the Battle of Marathon. It concluded just over ten years later with Greek victories at Salamis and Plataea. The triumph allowed the Greeks to develop ideas and institutions in politics, economics, science, and even sports. These are the bases for how the Western world thinks and acts today. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Reviving the Olympics." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 20
Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
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