Friday, December 28, 2012

Pioneering Women by Jeff Savage: Book Review


 
"True Tales of the Wild West" series
Pioneering Women
Author: Jeff Savage
Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2012
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age: 12 up, Young Adult nonfiction
Pages: 48

When Agnes Morley’s father died in 1886, the family was left to fend for themselves. Agnes, her mother, and two siblings became ranchers in New Mexico, and before Agnes was even a teenager, she could saddle and ride a horse like a man, herd cattle, handle a gun, and defend the ranch against cattle rustlers. Agnes was forced to take on duties “considered man’s work,” Savage writes. However, she grew to enjoy her freedom as a young woman, and even wore a five-gallon Stetson cowboy hat, refusing to wear a sunbonnet. Agnes is representative of the brave women who traveled overland to settle the American west beginning in the 1830s, but not all women were the same, Savage explains. Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding, for instance, were the first of these women to travel west and came with their husbands as missionaries. Most women were married and had more traditional roles: raising children, cooking, running the household, etc. But like Agnes and her mother, they often learned out of necessity how to manage a homestead alone, hunt for food, and defend their property. Other more independent-minded women traveled west alone. They liked being free to do as they pleased and challenged the traditional roles of women. Calamity Jane, for example, openly drank, smoked cigars, and gambled. Some women traveled west to mine for gold. Women even became outlaws, such as Belle Starr, better known as the “Bandit Queen.” Women came as reformers and teachers, too, bringing education, morality and respect to the frontier, including suffrage. Savage does a good job summarizing the different types of women who traveled west. One chapter appears to deviate from the theme, however, and is devoted to American Indian women (e.g., Sacagawea) and Spanish women in the Southwest beginning in the 1500s. As Savage then explains, these are really the “first western women,” to settle the frontier; they share a kindred pioneering spirit with the women who traveled from the east later. Pioneering Women is aimed at older reluctant middle grade readers, but advanced readers will also find the book interesting. Black and white photos, Glossary, Index, and References are included. 

Copyright 2012 © Sharon Himsl

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Postcards from Christmas Past





"Waiting for Santa Claus"                                         "Happy Christmas"
My mother recently relocated and I helped with some of her packing. She had drawers and cupboards full of odds and ends, mostly junk she claimed, that I managed to organize into zip-lock bags and boxes. But some of our finds were family heirlooms: old black and white pictures of family members long since gone, a small fishing tool that my Norwegian grandfather had patented and used while fishing in Alaska, an antique  Stereoscope Viewer complete with stereoscopic cards for 3-D viewing, and a beautiful collection of postcards. Postcards, remember those? Many in our collection were mailed from Norway in the 1910s. The images are so different from any postcards I remember sending or receiving. What I find most interesting in both the postcards and 3-D cards are the stories that some obviously tell. They inspire the imagination, and one only needs to remember that television had not yet been invented to understand why. Many of the 3-D cards are hilarious, if not a little risque' for the time. I plan to share cards from both collections over the coming months. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. I would love to hear your impressions . . .

                               (To Marie from Mrs. Kershaw)                                             (To Carl from Amanda?) 
                     (1918; to Carl, Cecil, North Dakota)                                      (1922; from Mervin Clyde)                                                                

                          
                    


Copyright 2012 © Sharon Himsl
[Postcards from Gravseth family archive]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Liberty Lee’s Tail of Independence by Peter W. Barnes and Cherly Shaw Barnes: Book Review


 
Liberty Lee’s Tail of Independence
Author: Peter W. Barnes
Illustrator: Cheryl Shaw Barnes
Publisher: Little Patriot Press/Renery Publishing, Inc., 2012
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age: 5 up, Picture Book

Liberty Lee is one proud Yankee Doodle mouse. He helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence in 1776! Barnes's story of America’s path to freedom is told through Liberty’s perky voice, beginning with the first colony in Jamestown, Virginia more than four hundred years ago. Together, Liberty’s mouse ancestors and other brave colonists, such as Captain John Smith, worked hard at building the colony. The settlement prospered and eventually grew into thirteen colonies. And for most colonists, those were "peaceful and prosperous years," writes Barnes—until the King of England ordered a heavy tax on their food, goods and services. Angered over English rule and unfair taxes, the colonists protested by throwing a large shipment of tea overboard into Boston’s harbor. It was the start of the American Revolution. Barnes’s delightful retelling of history is told in rhyme, including the first clause of the Declaration of Independence. Detailed illustrations in bright colors fill the pages with child-friendly maps and historic scenes. Children will like searching for Liberty’s image on every page as the story unfolds, and parents and teachers will appreciate the pace of the read-aloud text. The illustrated timeline and resource at the back summarizing events will help with questions about events that are sure to arise. 

Copyright 2012 © Sharon M. Himsl

Monday, December 17, 2012

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner: Book Review

Capture the Flag
Author: Kate Messner
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2012
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age: 8-12, Middle Grade fiction
Pages: 240

 
The opening chapter of this fun to read middle grade book sets the stage and suspense when a mysterious theft takes place at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum in Washington DC during a private social gathering. The famous American flag that inspired The Star-Spangled Banner has been stolen! Added to the security chaos that follows, no one can leave Washington, DC due to a huge blizzard. Anna, Henry and José, three seventh-graders who were at the social gathering with their parents, are now stuck at the airport waiting for their flights. It is only a matter of time before the three meet. Anna, being an aspiring journalist, is the first of the three to figure out that if everyone is stuck at the airport, so is the thief who stole the flag. A lot of discussion and speculation over a suspicious man they decide to call “Snake-Arm” follows that nearly brings the story to a crashing halt. Another character, Senator Snickerbottom, keeps Anna wanting to interview him and sidetracks their investigation. But eventually they meet eight-year-old Sinan and his dog, Hammurabi. The story then picks up when Sinan and his dog disappear. Anna, Henry and José offer to look for him but it is just the opportunity they need to find out who “Snake-Arm” really is. They are certain he knows something about the flag. But they are not prepared for the shocking discovery they soon uncover, and suddenly, their lives are in danger. From there the story is a rousing, fun ride through the airport on motorized carts and a luggage conveyer belt that takes them through an octopus of connecting belts and tunnels. They even get separated, leaving Anna with some important decisions to make in the end. Having just visited Washington DC and the American History Museum in October, I found  the location of this story intriguing. The villains are stereotypical, purposely comical it seems, but appropriate for this age group, and although the story drags somewhat in the middle, Messner's book is sure to appeal to elementary age readers.      

Copyright 2012 © Sharon Himsl
   

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Journey That Keeps on Giving

My first payment as a writer/photographer was made into a  calender that still hangs on my wall. I was so excited. Payment, $52.64, from The Society of International Railway Travelers for the article I wrote while living in Malaysia (1995-1996): "Jungle Train. A Window on True Malaysia." When I returned home in the USA, I wrote a novel and several short stories based on my experience and travels in Malaysia and also Thailand, all of which were never published. I went back to college, finished my degree in American Studies, took an editing position at Washington State University, and moved to Washington state.  I continued to write, but it was mostly nonfiction. I left that position in 2010 and have been reworking  the novel I wrote in 1997-1998 ever since. My journey that began in Kluang, Malaysia, where I lived with my husband for nine months, has been the journey that keeps on giving.   

(Article was published under my middle name "Marie")







 


 

Copyright 2012 © Sharon Himsl


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Charlie Brown Christmas Greeting

     

          
      

   

Merry Christmas everyone. 

Hang on tight and take good care of each other.

We are all in this life together!!

 

 (Credits: Special thanks to the work and talent of Charles Schulz)

 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bleeding Kansas by Richard Reece: Book Review

"Essential Events" series
Bleeding Kansas
Author: Richard Reece
Publisher: ABDO Publishing Company, 2012
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age: 12 up, Young Adult nonfiction
Pages: 111


In Reece's new book, Bleeding Kansas, students studying the Civil War will gain a deeper understanding of how the war began. In 1854, the Territory of Kansas became center stage in the nation’s heated debate over slavery. Senator Stephen A. Douglas pushed through legislation (Kansas-Nebraska Act) that allowed settlers in Kansas to decide whether slavery would be legal in their territory. There were sharp divisions among the settlers. Slavery was voted in as legal, but the anti-slavery settlers questioned the handling and fairness of the election. Violence and bloodshed erupted between the two groups, culminating in bloody massacres, as in the Pottawatomie Massacre (1856), led by anti-slavery advocate John Brown; and the Confederate raid on Lawrence, Kansas (1863) during the Civil War. Some historians believe that the conflict in Kansas actually “led to the Civil War,” Reece writes. He further explains how slavery had gained a foothold in the United States, becoming vital to the country’s economy and wealth from the beginning. However, objections to slavery grew over time, but not on moral grounds alone. Many Americans argued that slavery reduced the number of jobs available to free citizens. Photos, images, and sketches bring to life the conflict, and Reece uses sidebars to describe related events, such as the Missouri Compromise, the Abolition Movement, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, the Dred Scott Decision, and the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Timeline, Glossary, Essential Facts, Resources, and Index are included.  

Copyright 2012 © Sharon M. Himsl

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