Nonfiction is the New Black
Eighty-nine years ago today [11/18/1928], the world’s best-known rodent burst onto the national stage. Steamboat Willie, a seven-minute cartoon starring Mickey Mouse in the title role, launched the animated mouse on his road to global recognition.
By the 1920s, cartoons had become an important part of the movie business. In 1927, the fledgling Walt Disney studio created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald was a huge success. The company that distributed Oswald cartoons around the country repaid Disney by hiring nearly all his employees and offering him less money for future Oswald cartoons. Disney and his most important remaining employee—Ub Iwerks—secretly developed a new character—a mouse based on one of Disney’s former pets.
Originally the two men named him Mortimer. Disney’s wife Lilly didn’t like the name. At her suggestion, the new character became Mickey. He made his first appearances in the early summer of 1928 before test audiences. The viewers were underwhelmed. Nevertheless, Disney and Iwerks forged ahead. For Steamboat Willie, they added a soundtrack that was synchronized to the on-screen action—something that had never been done with cartoons.
It was a brilliant move. Sound films had debuted just the previous year, and moviegoers loved them. From its very first screening, Steamboat Willie was a huge hit.
It opens with Mickey piloting a river steamboat. Pete, the real captain, appears and kicks Mickey out of the wheelhouse. Mickey loads livestock during a brief stop, then helps Minnie Mouse board the boat after it has left the dock. The two of them play the song “Turkey in the Straw” using animals and objects strewn about the deck as musical instruments. The captain is angry at Mickey for wasting time and orders him to peel potatoes instead. A parrot makes fun of Mickey, who throws a potato at him and knocks him overboard. The cartoon ends with Mickey laughing at the sound of the parrot’s struggles in the water.
Disney and Iwerks worked feverishly to take advantage of Steamboat Willie’s success with a succession of additional Mickey Mouse cartoons. It became the nation’s most popular cartoon series. Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse were both on their way to becoming American icons.
Jim Whiting hasn't written a book about Walt Disney or Mickey Mouse--but he has written one about a pair of interesting entertainers named Gilbert and Sullivan. These two men wrote very very funny operettas, the most famous of which was the H.M.S Pinafore. Their work was so entertaining that in the late 19th century, it was greeted with the same excitement that we associate with a major rock concert or blockbuster movie today. To find out more, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "The Mouse That Roared." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 20 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ the-mouse-that-roared.
Nonfiction is the new black
When Julius Caesar took control of the Roman government, he decided to reform the calendar. Because it was a lunar calendar—based on complete cycles of the moon—it had fluctuated widely for centuries. Some years had as few as 355 days while others nudged 380, often seemingly by whim. After lengthy consultations with the Egyptian astronomer Sosigenes, Caesar established a calendar that is virtually the same one we use today. The lengths of the months alternated between 30 and 31 days, except February which had 29. The new calendar came into effect on January 1, 45 BCE (Before the Common Era). A grateful Roman Senate immediately changed the name of the month of Quintilis—Julius Caesar’s birth month—to July in his honor. As is the case today, it had 31 days. Caesar had only one year to enjoy “his” month, as he was assassinated the following March.
His successor was his grand-nephew Octavian, who took the name of Augustus Caesar when he officially became the first Roman emperor. In 8 BCE the Senate decided that he also deserved a month. Because several noteworthy events during Augustus’s reign had occurred in Sextilis, the month following July, they chose it. Big problem. Sextillis had only 30 days. No way would the Senate allow Augustus to be “inferior” to his great-uncle in any way. So it took a day from February and tacked it on at the end of August. That created another problem. Three consecutive months—July, August, and September—were now 31 days long. The fix was simple: the Senate simply flipped the lengths of the remaining four months. September and November went from 31 days to 30, while October and December bulked up to 31.
The Senate wasn’t finished with its tinkering. Nearly 70 years later, it honored the notorious emperor Nero by changing Aprilis to Neronius. The new name never gained traction. Nero. who had murdered his brother, mother, and wife, committed suicide in 68 CE (Common Era). The Senate—undoubtedly relieved at his demise—hastily returned Neronius to its original name.
Here is Jim's biography of Julius Caesar, who became a very successful military commander who added more than 200,000 square miles to the territories under Rome’s control. But his triumphs created powerful enemies in Rome. Eventually he was assassinated in the Roman Senate.
MLA 8 CItation
Whiting, Jim. "July, August and Neronius." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 14 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/july-august-and-neronius.
Nonfiction is the new black
During much of the sixteenth century, England was wracked by violence between Catholics and Protestants. Hundreds of Protestants were executed during the reign of Queen Mary (1553–1558), earning her the nickname of “Bloody Mary.” Her Protestant successor, Queen Elizabeth (1558–1603) returned the favor by persecuting and killing Catholics. She was followed by James I, whose Catholic mother had been executed. James’s wife had recently converted to Catholicism.
English Catholics therefore hoped he would be more tolerant than Elizabeth. While the number of executions dropped off, James ordered Catholic priests to leave England and said that Protestantism was the one true faith. Despairing Catholics decided on a desperate measure. They would assassinate James and install his nine-old-daughter Elizabeth as a Catholic monarch.
The plotters secreted three dozen barrels of gunpowder in the basement beneath the House of Lords a few days before the opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605. Guy Fawkes, one of the plotters, planned to ignite a fuse when King James entered the chamber and then scurry to safety. With most members of Parliament and other high officials dead in the explosion, the resulting chaos would make it easier for the schemers to seize control of the government.
However, some of the conspirators realized that this plan would kill a lot of innocent people, including Catholics. So in late October, one of them sent an anonymous warning letter to a Catholic Member of Parliament. He passed along the message to the king’s guardians. Shortly after midnight on November 5, a search party discovered Fawkes and the concealed gunpowder. He was tortured for several days to reveal the names of the other conspirators and then executed. His body was hacked into several pieces. The grisly chunks were displayed in several parts of England as a warning to would-be traitors.
In celebration of the king’s salvation, many people lit bonfires on the night of the discovery. That began a tradition that continues to this day in what is known as Bonfire Night. Tonight in nations of the British Empire, revelers, many wearing Guy Fawkes apparel, are shooting off fireworks and building huge bonfires to burn effigies of the man regarded as England’s most notorious traitor.
Happy Guy Fawkes Day!
Jim Whiting has written more than a hundred books on many subjects. His is a very interesting person. Check out his website on Amazon.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Let's Blow Up the King!" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 6 Nov. 2017, http://www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/lets-blow-up-the-king.
Nonfiction is the new black
You’ve probably heard of Marco Polo, who left his hometown of Venice, Italy in 1271 as a teenager and traveled for the next 24 years. He spent most of his time in China, where he became an advisor to the country’s ruler Kublai Khan. He published The Travels of Marco Polo in 1300 and it became an instant best-seller.
Four years later Ibn Battuta, who became known as the “Muslim Marco Polo,” was born in Tangier, Morocco.
When he was about 21 he undertook the hajj, the trip to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula. During the month he stayed there following a two-year journey, he heard fascinating tales of far-flung lands from his fellow pilgrims. Rather than returning home to the career as a lawyer that awaited him, Ibn Battuta decided to see those lands.
He joined a camel caravan to Persia. From there he went to Africa, then to Asia. He crossed hot deserts and snow-covered mountain passes. He survived bandit attacks and voyages on stormy and pirate-infested seas. He enjoyed long periods of living in luxury, as well as other periods of soul-crushing poverty.
He finally returned home to discover that his parents were dead. So he crossed the Straits of Gibraltar to visit the remnants of Islamic Spain. Then, at the “request” of the sultan of Morocco, who wanted to establish trade relations with the mighty Muslim empire of Mali, West Africa, Ibn Battuta toured that region for nearly three years. He came back to Morocco for good in 1354, ending 29 years of traveling. During that time, he covered about 75,000 miles. By contrast, Marco Polo’s journeys encompassed roughly 15,000 miles over a 24-year period.
Like Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta published an account of his travels, A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Traveling, more commonly called the Rihla (or “Journey”). He spent his remaining years before his death in 1368 as a judge—finally involved with the legal career he had avoided so many years earlier.
If you would like to learn a lot more about Ibn Battuta, click here to go to a website that includes student activities.
And, if you would like to learn more about author Jim Whiting, click here to go to his website. He has a great new series on the NFL Today, with a book about each of the teams.
nonfiction is the new black
Accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth embarked on a tour of the then-British colony of Kenya in early February, 1952. Her father, King George VI, had been too ill with lung cancer to join them.
The royal couple stayed at Treetops, a three-room hotel built into the top of a large tree overlooking a water hole and salt lick. Just getting there could be dangerous. Angry elephants could unexpectedly charge arriving guests as they walked the considerable distance from the parking lot. Then guests endured a twisting 30-foot climb up a rickety ladder. At night leopards often prowled in the trees just outside the rooms.
The place was so perilous for guests that the hotel actually hired an experienced hunter named Jim Corbett. He had made a reputation for hunting men-eating tigers in India. Corbett remained on high alert through the night of the royal visit, his high-powered hunting rifle at the ready. Nothing happened.
Something very important happened in London, however. At some point during the night, the king died. Under the communication systems operating at the time, there was no way of contacting Treetops to inform Princess Elizabeth of her father’s death.
Unaware of what had happened, Elizabeth rose at dawn, added more photos to go along with those she had taken the previous day, then had a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon. She and Philip drove to Sagana Lodge, a wedding gift to her from the Kenyan people. Officials there had received word of the king’s death and notified Philip. He took Elizabeth for a walk in the garden in mid-afternoon and broke the news to her. She was now the queen, and in fact had become Elizabeth II while she was still asleep at Treetops the night before.
She immediately made arrangements to return home and boarded an airplane that evening. When the plane was airborne, she excused herself and went to the restroom. Returning several minutes later she said nothing, but it was apparent to everyone on the flight that she had been crying.
Elizabeth has been queen ever since. If she is still reigning on September 15, 2015, she would surpass Queen Victoria and become the longest-reigning British monarch in history.
Jim Whiting has written on many subjects. Check out his page on Amazon.com
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "The Princess Who Went up a Tree and Came down a Queen." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 24 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/the-princess-who-went-up-a-tree-and-came-down-a-queen.
nonfiction is the new black
The word “mania” refers to feelings of frenzy, increased physical activity, and an especially good mood. So when four mop-haired musicians from Liverpool, England were taking the world by storm in 1963, Canadian music writer Sandy Gardiner thought it was the perfect term to describe the effect they had on audiences: “A new disease is sweeping through Britain, Europe and the Far East...and doctors are powerless to stop it. Its name is—BEATLEMANIA!”
The following year, Beatlemania came to the United States when George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, a popular television program. During the show and the live concerts that followed, members of the audience—largely teenage girls—screamed and shrieked.
The Beatles weren’t the first musicians to inspire a mania. That honor belongs to 19th century Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt, whom many music historians call the world’s first rock star for his scintillating performances in solo recitals. The frenzy he induced in his audiences prompted the German poet Heinrich Heine to coin the term “Lisztomania” in 1844. Liszt enjoyed many of the same perks as the Beatles: hero worship, adoring groupies, hobnobbing with royalty, widespread media coverage, and more.
Liszt was very handsome and fully aware of his good looks. Everything he did on stage was calculated to produce the maximum dramatic effect. As his fingers rippled over the piano keys, he flung his head from side to side as his shoulder-length hair cascaded around his face. He was so energetic that globs of sweat sometimes sprayed the front rows.
His audience—mainly women in their 20s, 30s and 40s—totally bought into his act. Like Beatles spectators, they screamed at dramatic spots in the recital. Often they went further. As the last notes of the concert rang out, many rushed the stage in their zeal to obtain a souvenir. Almost anything would do—a piece of his clothing, strands of his hair, broken piano strings, the fabric of the chair he had sat on. They especially wanted the still-damp handkerchiefs Liszt used to wipe his face. Perhaps the ultimate prizes were his discarded cigar butts. Women lucky enough to snatch one would light it and thereby gain quite literally a taste of their hero.
There’s a tangible connection between the two manias. They both inspired movies--A Hard Day’s Night (1964) for the Beatles, and Ken Russell’s Lisztomania eleven years later. In the Russell film, the role of the Pope is played by…Ringo Starr!
Listen to Franz Liszt's music by hitting the arrow above. Can you understand why the ladies had romantic thoughts when they listened to him?
With more than 170 (and counting!) non-fiction books Jim Whiting is Washington State’s most prolific children's author.
For more about Jim, read his biography and background.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Musical Mania." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 19 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/musical-manias.
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