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.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
Do you know that the Plains Indians lived in North America for centuries before they got horses? These people were nomads, moving from place to place through the seasons as they sought protection from winter weather and hunted for buffalo, their main source of food. Can you imagine how difficult it was, walking many miles in soft moccasins across the rough prairie ground with only dogs to help carry their possessions? The dogs dragged goods on a travois, a set of wooden poles strapped together. A big, strong dog could manage a load of just seventy-five pounds or less. It took an Indian band a long time to get from one place to another, and the people couldn’t bring very many things along.
Then, in the 1500s, Spanish explorers and settlers brought horses with them to North America. Indian slaves in the Southwest took care of the horses on Spanish ranches but were forbidden to ride them. Of course they figured out how useful horses were, and soon the Apache tribe had horses. In 1680, the Indians rebelled against the Spanish, driving them out of New Mexico and forcing them to leave many horses behind. From then on, horses spread northward and by 1750, tribes all the way into Canada had horses.
These powerful animals revolutionized Indian culture. With horses, the Indians could ride instead of walk. They could bring along more goods, as a horse could drag a travois load of three hundred pounds. Just five horses could transport everything needed by a family, including enough buffalo hides to make a big, comfortable tepee. Old or sick family members could be carried along on a travois as well.
Just as the Indians were embracing the horse, European Americans were moving into Indian lands, forcing some tribes to move westward onto the prairie and adopt the horse culture. Within a generation, Indians became supreme horsemen and used horses to hunt buffalo and to wage warfare. They fought against one another as well as against the U.S. Army, which was trying to clear the way for white settlers to make their homes on the prairie. By the late 1800s, the Plains tribes had been beaten and forced to live on reservations.
The Indians still value their horses, competing with them in rodeos and races as well as for recreation and transportation.
Every winter, a group of young Indians show their pride in their cultural traditions by challenging themselves to repeat the frigid 287-mile ride of Lakota Chief Big Foot and his band to Wounded Knee, South Dakota, where they were massacred by the U.S. Army in December, 1890. Indian Teens, Wm. Munoz
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent says about her book, The Horse and the Plains Indians: "This book was truly a labor of love and respect. Within a few years of acquiring horses after the Spanish brought them to America, Indians became among the greatest horsemen in the world and created vibrant new horse-related aspects to their cultures. I wanted to communicate these achievements to young people and to show them that despite all they have suffered at the hands of European American culture, the Indians heart and soul attachment to horses endures." For more information, click here.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "How Horses Revolutionized the Lives of the Plains
Indians." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 5 Mar. 2018,
Among the fiercest foes the United States ever fought were its Native Americans. Our Indian Wars blazed over the West after the Civil War and lasted 45 years. It was a bitter struggle on both sides. The U.S. enforced a harsh peace on the warring tribes and didn’t grant Native Americans citizenship until 1924. They weren’t allowed to vote until after WW II. Native American children were often boarded in harsh schools where they were forbidden to speak their own language. But those nearly-lost languages were to save American lives.
Even after shoddy treatment from the government in Washington for more than a century, American Natives quickly volunteered to defend “their country” against enemies in World War I France. A group of Choctaw Natives were hurried to the trenches to send critical messages in a language wire-tapping Germans couldn’t possibly understand.
In World War II, Comanche Code Talkers waded ashore with our troops on D-Day, June 6, 1944, in Normandy. Our technically advanced enemies in Europe and the Pacific were listening to our radio messages. Mechanically coding and decoding orders could take hours when seconds meant lives. The Code Talkers’ messages in their undecipherable language were quickly delivered, and replies came back immediately. Their tongue was taught orally, never written down, and the Talkers made it even harder by using a shorthand code within a code: a tank was a “turtle,” chay da galli; a fighter plane was a “hummingbird,” da he toh hi.
United States Marines in the bloody battles of the Pacific hopped from one Japanese-held island to another with Navajo Code Talkers. The Navajo tongue was even more difficult than the Comanche’s because one word could mean many things when paired with other words, and subtle pronunciation changed meaning. Neither the Comanche nor the Navajo codes were ever broken.
The Code Talkers were so successful that their service was kept secret until 1968, when heroic Code Talkers could finally tell their families about their part in winning the war and saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
In 2014 Chester Nez, the last of the Navajo Code Talkers, died at 93. Three years earlier he and all 29 of the original Navajo Code Talkers were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for distinguished service to a country that finally recognized a debt to its Native Americans, and to their language.
You know all about cowboys, right? They're the good guys in the white hats, carrying six-shooters and wearing fancy boots. Well, no. Cowboys weren't like that at all. Come inside with Jan Adkins and meet Jake Peavy. He's the real deal. Jake's a crackerjack cattle herder but he wears a grubby hat and he limps from when that horse fell on him. He's small, wiry, has bad teeth, and it's been a while since he washed. Come spend some time with Jake, his saddle-mates, and his fleas. You'll learn all about riding the range, roping dogies, and surviving in the down-and-dirty world that was the REAL wild West. For more information, click here.
Adkins, great story-teller, is a member of Authors on Call. You can invite him to your classroom using the iNK Zoom Room. For more information look here.
MLA 8 Citation
Adkins, Jan. "Code Talkers: Native Americans Come to the Rescue, But Why?"
Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 6 Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/
The United States, in the 1880s, had become an industrial power in the world, but factory workers could hardly feed their families. Miners spent long days down in the dangerous dark, digging a wealth of coal out of the earth, yet they were dirt-poor. Farm families were going broke too. They barely had the money to pay rich bankers the interest on loans they took out to buy seeds or to pay what the railroad charged to ship the crops that hadn’t dried up in a drought or got gobbled by hungry grasshoppers. Many a broke homesteader went back east. Lettered on the covers of their wagons: “IN GOD WE TRUSTED. IN KANSAS WE BUSTED!”
Mary E. Lease, a Pennsylvania schoolteacher, went to Kansas, but she stayed there. And she was among the multitudes, who wondered why so many Americans were so poor in a country that was so rich? Where was the money going? Judging from what she read in the papers and heard down at the general store, the money seemed to be in the pockets of men who owned the mines, factories, railroads, and banks. And rather than pay people decent wages, they seemed to be paying politicians to make laws to help them stay rich and get richer. Sound familiar?
In the early 1890s, folks got together and formed their own “People’s (or Populist) Party.” What did they want? Fairness, more government regulations, less silver, and more printed paper money. It wouldn’t be worth as much; but at least there’d be more of it to go around! And right in the middle of this uprising was fiery Mrs. Lease.
At rallies around the Midwest, the South, even at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, Mrs. Lease whipped up the crowds, crying out, “We are for humanity against the corporations – for perishing flesh and blood against the money bags!” People called her a “Patrick Henry in petticoats,” after the great Revolutionary War speechmaker. “Wall Street owns the country. When I get through with the silk-hatted easterners, they will know that the Kansas prairies are on fire!”
Oh, they knew it all right, for a while anyway. While it raged, this political tornado blew nine Populists into Congress. But the people’s movement fizzled out in the early 1900s. At least old Mrs. Lease lived to see some populist dreams come true. In the early 1930s, when so many Americans hit bottom, Franklin D. Roosevelt became President. Under FDR’s “New Deal” policies, the people got help from their very own government and the Wall Street banks and businesses were reined for a considerable time. Ah, but they’ve regained much of their former power and Mary E. Lease lies restless in her grave.
The perfect browsing volume for Women's History Month, Cheryl Harness's Rabble Rousers offers short, spirited profiles of twenty women who, like Mary E. Lease, impacted life in America by speaking out against injustice and fighting for social improvements. The folksy, friendly narrative introduces such fascinating figures as Sojourner Truth, abolitionist preacher; Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War physician; Margaret Sanger, birth control pioneer; and Doris Haddock, a ninety-two-year-old champion of campaign-finance reform. The book spans over two hundred years of American history and includes time lines for such important social movements as abolition, woman suffrage, labor, and civil rights. Readers inspired by these fiery women can use the civil action tips and resources in the back of the book to do some of their own rabble-rousing. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Mary E. Lease: Queen of the Populist Tornado." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 12 Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
The United States entered World War II after December 7, 1941, when Japanese carrier-based aircraft destroyed our warships and airfields at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. At the same time, they attacked United States, British, Dutch and Australian targets all over the western Pacific Ocean with overwhelming force.
The British battleship Prince of Wales and the heavy cruiser Repulse were destroyed three days later. A ragtag fleet of smaller Allied warships was crushed at the Battle of the Java Sea on February 27, 1942. Scattered and discouraged, remaining Allied ships retreated south to Australia.
The Dutch minesweeper Abraham Crijnssen (CRANE son) was a little boat: 184 feet long, 25 feet wide (56m X 7.5m). She mounted a small cannon and a few machine guns, and she was slow—not a match for any Japanese warship or airplane. Her captain, Commander Anthonie van Miert, called “all hands” for a meeting. Rather than scuttle the boat and surrender, he meant to escape. The chances were slim. He wanted only a crew of volunteers and allowed most of the crew to leave.
Two other minesweepers set out to escape before him as his volunteers covered the Crijnssen with camouflage netting. He caught up with them next morning but they weren’t camouflaged, and van Miert steamed on to another anchorage. A wise choice: both minesweepers were spotted by Japanese aircraft. Neither survived.
Van Miert couldn’t be caught in the open! His crew repainted the hull to look like shore rocks. Before dawn each morning they pushed up against a jungle island to cut fresh tree branches and foliage. They tied the greenery to the masts and stuck it into the netting. They sat through the day disguised as an innocent island. When night came the little vessel steamed south. She rushed through dangerous, narrow straits then slowed down to save fuel. No lights, all her portholes covered, her lookouts sharp and worried. Toward morning, they found a new island and rigged a new disguise.
For eight days the lonely little ship steamed at night and became an island during the day. On March 15, 1942, she docked in Geraldton, Australia. The Crijnssen escaped and survived World War II.
Commander van Miert and nine crew members received the Dutch Navy’s Cross of Merit for courage, and for imagination. Today you can visit the tough little island . . . er, ship, at the naval museum in Dan Helder, Netherlands.
Adkins' latest book is about the first drive in an automobile. The wife of the inventor took her kids to see their grandparents. Learn more about it here.
The author/illustrator is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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