Giving Voice to Children in History
In 1843, thirty-one-year-old Charles Dickens had money problems. His wife was expecting their sixth child, he was in debt, and he supported a slew of needy relatives. He was known for long novels that were published in weekly installments, but because time was of the essence, he decided to write a short story (actually a long story by our standards, but short by his) that he could publish quickly.
The British were enamored with the paranormal, so he decided it would be a ghost story. To increase interest, he included THREE ghosts. And to seal the deal, he added a bonus apparition that appeared at the stroke of midnight, dragging its chains from hell. That would get readers’ attention.
He didn’t intend to simply entertain them. He was Charles Dickens, after all, and his writing was also meant to inspire. His family had once been poor, and his quest, as always, was to help the less fortunate. The tale he crafted happened at Christmas, a holiday that in England included charitable giving—the perfect setting for his message that charity must come from the heart, and that it’s never too late for redemption.
From his fertile imagination he conjured up Ebenezer Scrooge, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” whose refrain to anything distasteful was “Bah, Humbug!” Scrooge represented the self-serving upper classes, while his poorly paid clerk, Bob Cratchit, and his family, including sickly Tiny Tim, represent the deserving poor.
Dickens sent Scrooge on a wild night’s journey, led by the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future. Scrooge visited his childhood and learned why he’d become such a miserable miser, and he saw a grim future awaiting him if he didn’t change his ways. By sunrise Christmas morning he was a new man: his hard heart had melted and he became a good friend to the poor, beginning with the Cratchit family. He resolved to “honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
To Dickens’ delight, his readers did the same. In example after example, A Christmas Carol inspired the upper classes to be more charitable to the lower classes. And because the book became a bestseller, it eased Dickens’ financial worries.
Dickens’ ghost story remains popular today, reminding us all that it’s never too late to do the right thing, and allowing us to proclaim with Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Every One!”
You can learn more about Charles Dickens and his stories in Andrea Warren’s book Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London and on her website.
Andrea Warren 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
Warren, Andrea. "Dickens' A Christmas Carol: How a Short Story with a Big Message Helped the Poor." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 12 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/Dickens-a-christmas-carol.
You need to write a biography, a story of someone’s life. What do you do to discover the person’s silly quirks or darkest secrets? Probably you go online. That’s a good start, but that’s all it is—a start. Real authors—and students completing assignments—dig deeper. Only by checking a variety of resources can you find the juiciest facts to make your biographies come alive.
For example, when I write about someone, I start by reading an overview of their life. I might check a general resource, such as Wikipedia, But not all information is accurate in this or other websites, so I play detective to locate resources that confirm what I’m reading. One way to find good resources is to look at the bottom of the Wikipedia article and see which articles and books that author used as resources. If these sources seem credible to you, click to find the original articles the author used.
Another source of information is your librarian. Librarians love to delve into the craziest topics. Need to locate a long-lost relative of your biography subject or trail where that person lived over the years, ask your librarian. Librarians locate books, specialized online resources, and newspapers and magazines that can help you.
When I researched Dolores Huerta Stands Strong: The Woman Who Demanded Justice, I wanted more personal resources. So I looked for people to interview who knew her at different times of her life. I called up volunteers who marched with Dolores to protest unfair treatment of farm workers. I found others who helped the public learn not to eat table grapes until farm owners agreed to pay farm workers fair wages and provide clean housing, breaks in the fields, and places to go to the bathroom. When I wanted to learn how Dolores Huerta worked to improve lives of women, I contacted Gloria Steinem, a leader of the 1970s women’s movement. I talked with Huerta’s children.
I prepared before each interview. I learned about connections between the interviewees and my biography subject. I wrote questions ahead of time, so I wasn’t wasting interviewee time. At the end of each interview, I asked: “Is there something else you remember?’ That’s when I got some of the best stories.
Between interviews, books, magazine and newspaper articles, I found enough material to tell Huerta’s life. You can with your biography, too.
Once you've researched and written your biography, you will probably want to add a picture of your subject. You've probably seen many pictures during your research, but you must be careful about permission to use photographs or drawings. You can find some good guidelines at How to Find Free Images With Google's Advanced Image Search.
This photo of Delores Huerta is from her Wikipedia article. Most photos from Wikipedia may be used for non business purposes. By clicking on a picture, you are taken to Wikimedia, the place where photos reside. You will be able to download a photo and decide how you want to caption it.
Here's what it says about this photo in Wikimedia:
Description English: Dolores speaking at an event in Phoenix, Arizona.
Date: 20 March 2016
Author: Gage Skidmore
This information will allow you to tell your reader about the photo in the form of a caption and also credit your source:
Delores Huerta speaking at an event in Phoenix Arizona on March 20, 1916. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia
Marlene Targ Brill's Dolores Huerta Stands Strong follows Huerta’s life from the mining communities of the Southwest where her father toiled, to the vineyards and fields of California, and across the country to the present day. As she worked for fair treatment for others, Dolores earned the nation’s highest honors. More important, she found her voice.
Stories that surprise and inspire
On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, Cornelia Fort was doing something few people expected a woman to do. This 22-year-old was in a small two-seater plane, flying over Honolulu’s Pearl Harbor, teaching a student to fly. At that time, most people felt that flying was a “man’s job.”
Cornelia had fallen in love with flying about two years earlier when, just for fun, she took a ride in a small plane. That ride changed her life. She took flying lessons and became such a good pilot that she was hired to teach others, one of the few flying jobs open to women in those days.
On that sunny December 7 morning in 1941 in the skies over Pearl Harbor, something happened that changed her life yet again—and the lives of many others. Cornelia saw a military-type plane zoom straight at her. She pulled up on her plane’s controls to keep from being hit. She was accustomed to seeing military planes because there were U.S. Navy and Army bases nearby. But the plane that almost hit her wasn’t American. It had a big red circle on its wings—the symbol of Japan. Looking down, she saw smoke billow up from ships in Pearl Harbor. A squadron of foreign planes flew by. Something shiny dropped from one plane and exploded in the harbor. As Japanese fighter planes sprayed her plane with bullets, she skillfully managed to land safely at a nearby airport,
She and her terrified student had just had a bird’s-eye view of Japan’s surprise attack on U.S. military ships and bases in Pearl Harbor, an attack that forced the U.S. to enter World War II. But the U.S. military wasn’t ready to fight air battles around the world. It didn’t have enough pilots. So it called on women to help. Cornelia joined the first women pilot’s unit to fly for the U.S. military, a group that became known as the WASPs--Women Airforce Service Pilots. They weren’t allowed to fly in combat overseas, but they handled much of the military flying in the U.S. Nevertheless, their missions were often dangerous. Sadly, through no fault of her own, in March 1943, Cornelia Fort became the first woman pilot to die flying for the U.S. military. The excellent job that she and the more than 1,100 other WASPs did showed that being a pilot could very well be a “woman’s job.”
Click here for article sources.
Amy Nathan's book Yankee Doodle Gals tells the stories of many women who served as pilots from 1942 to 1944, including Jacqueline Cochran and Nancy Love, the true leaders of the WASPs. The history of the group, the hardships they faced, the obstacles they overcame, and what has transpired since the end of the war are supplemented by numerous photos that complement the text.
For more information on the book, click here.
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/
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.