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.
Stories that Surprise and Inspire
The song “We Shall Overcome” was an important part of the civil rights movement of the 1960's. It gave hope and courage to thousands of blacks and whites who protested peacefully against unfair treatment of African Americans. The song is easy to sing, but its words carry a powerful message. Here’s its main verse:
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome some day,
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe
We shall overcome some day.
Often protestors faced hostile crowds, were arrested, or even beaten up when they took part in nonviolent demonstrations that called for all Americans—no matter their skin color—to have the same right to vote and be treated fairly in restaurants, stores, businesses, schools, buses, trains—and even amusement parks.
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a main leader of the civil rights movement, urged demonstrators not to fight back, no matter how badly they were treated. This song helped them do that. Holding hands and joining their voices in “We Shall Overcome” during demonstrations—or in jail—helped them feel they weren’t alone and that despite the danger, their efforts would lead to a better America.
The protests did indeed lead to new laws being passed. The 1964 Civil Rights Law makes it illegal for any business that serves the public to discriminate against people because of race, religion, gender, or national origin. The 1965 Voting Rights Law outlaws rules that make it hard for blacks to vote.
News about these nonviolent protestors—and their song—spread around the world. Before long, people protesting for fair treatment in other countries began singing “We Shall Overcome” in their own languages. It has been sung by demonstrators in such varied countries as India, Czechoslovakia, Romania, China, and Britain.
While I was doing research for a book on civil rights, a man told me how the song helped him when he was surrounded by a hostile mob that hurled insults (and some rocks) during a 1963 demonstration at an amusement park that refused to let in blacks. When police arrived to arrest the protestors (not the stone thrower), the demonstrators held hands and sang the song as they walked through the mob to the police van. Their voices were shaky as they sang the verse “We are not afraid,” because they were very afraid, but the song gave them the courage to keep going.
Click here for source notes on this article.
Amy Nathan is the author of Round and Round Together: Taking a Merry-Go-Round into the Civil Rights Movement, which tells the tale of the nearly ten years of protests that were needed to finally end segregation at an amusement park, placing the story of the park—and its merry-go-round—within the context of the civil rights movement as a whole. For more information on the book, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Nathan, Amy. "'We Shall Overcome': The Power of a Song." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 23 Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
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.
by Andrea Warren-Giving Voice to Children in History
St. Paul's Cathedral during the blitz of World War II.
When I interview people in my work as a writer, I soak up the stories they share about their lives. This is what brings history alive. I’ve always wished for a way to interview historic buildings, because they could tell stories from such a different perspective, having seen it all and heard it all. My dream interview would be St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, a place rich with history—and therefore, with stories.
I have learned that those with the most to say can be wary of interviewers. Sometimes employing a little charm can help them warm up. So I would begin by complimenting St. Paul’s on how wonderful it looks for a building that opened in 1708. I would reference its great architect, Christopher Wren, who was also an astronomer and mathematician, as is evidenced in many of its design elements. I’d mention its magnificent dome and its massive booming bells that can be heard for miles.
“You’re the prize jewel in a city rich in architectural beauty,” I’d say. “No wonder so many notables have been baptized, married, and had their funerals here.”
Flattered but still reserved, St. Paul’s might ask me what I like best about it. “I have two favorites,” I would reply earnestly, mentioning first the Crypt, where many of England’s war heroes are buried, along with famous painters and poets. (Writers and composers are at nearby Westminster Abbey). Other notables, like Florence Nightingale and Lawrence of Arabia, are here, too. It’s altogether quite a congenial place.
Starting to thaw a bit, St. Paul’s might wonder aloud about my second favorite, and I would single out the American Memorial Chapel, located behind the High Altar and dedicated to the memory of the 28,000 Americans who died defending England in World War II.
“And speaking of that war,” I would tell St. Paul’s, “I am awed by Londoners’ resolve that you, their national treasure, would not be destroyed during the Blitz when so much of the city burned. Volunteer firefighters, both men and women, were stationed at all times on your roof. When bombs exploded, starting fires, they were right there to put them out, a number of them sacrificing their lives.”
St. Paul’s would nod, remembering.
“The British love you very much,” I would say.
St. Paul’s would pause, clear its throat, and then reply, “Let me tell you some of my stories.”
© Andrea Warren, 2014
MLA 8 Citation
Warren, Andrea. "How to Interview a Historic Building." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 13 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/category/warren-andrea.
During the Civil War, soldiers loved to eat and to sing. One of their favorite songs was about food they hated: “Hardtack, Come Again No More!” It was a parody of composer Stephen Foster’s popular 1854 tune “Hard Times Come Again No More.”
Hardtack was a thick cracker that formed the men's basic ration. Nearly every soldier received nine or ten every day. Hardtack lived up to the “hard” part of its name. Soldiers often had trouble crunching the rock-like crackers and gave them nicknames such as “teeth dullers,” “sheet-iron crackers,” “jawbreakers,” and so on.
According to a popular joke, a soldier bit into a piece of hardtack.
“I found something soft!” he told his comrades.
“What is it?” they asked.
“A nail!” he replied.
To make hardtack easier to eat, soldiers often bashed the crackers with the butt end of their rifles. They scooped up the crumbs and mixed them with bacon grease and salt pork to make a kind of mush called skillygalee.
Hardtack had another nickname: “worm castles.” Worms frequently burrowed into the crackers. To get rid of those little wrigglers, soldiers dunked the crackers in hot coffee. The hardtack fell apart and the worms floated to the surface. Sometimes the men had contests to see whose hardtack had the most worms. Reportedly, the record was 32!
Not everyone threw the little creatures away, though. One soldier explained that “They eat better than they look, and are so much clear gain in the way of fresh meat.”
If hardtack had all these problems, why was it such an important part of the soldiers’ daily diet? First, it was easy and inexpensive to make. Every day 3 or 4 million crackers popped out of bakers’ ovens and were shipped to the armies in the field.
Second, hardtack hardly ever spoiled. In 1898, U.S. Navy sailors in the Spanish-American War chowed down on hardtack baked more than 30 years earlier during the Civil War.
Third, the crackers didn’t weigh very much. Soldiers could carry enough hardtack in their backpacks to eat for several days.
Soldiers joked that they could stitch together crackers to make a bulletproof vest, though it’s doubtful that anyone actually did. Maybe they should have. In 2010, college students performed an experiment by firing pistol shots into chunks of hardtack. They were astonished to find that the crackers stopped the bullets!
© Jim Whiting, 2014
Jim Whiting has written 250 nonfiction books. He's known as Washington State's most prolific children's book author.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Hard Crackers in Hard Times." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 12 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/hard-crackers-in-hard-times.