Posts from the ‘Biography’ Category

A LIFELONG DILEMMA

Florence Nightingale: A Life Inspired

Written by Lynn M. Hamilton

This is an interesting biography that focuses on Nightingale’s personal struggles as well as her pioneering work in nursing. Florence was born into a wealthy English Victorian family. Throughout her life, Florence was torn between what was expected of woman born to a well-to-do nineteenth-century family and her strong ties to the Unitarian Church, which demanded community service to those less fortunate in society. Her family’s wide travels in Europe allowed her to meet powerful thinkers like Victor Hugo and Alexis De Tocqueville. While her family urged her to marry, Florence resisted. By the time she was thirty-two, Florence had asserted her independence by assuming a role as superintendent of a nursing home even though she received no salary. Her service in the Crimean War revealed the serious flaws in hospital care. More soldiers died from their illnesses than in battle. Nightingale demanded that abuses like poor lighting, sanitation, and ventilation be addressed. She urged proper training for nursing students and hospital sanitation, reflecting the germ theory of illness.

I was not aware of Florence’s work in India and the depth of personal struggle she experienced between her convictions and the demands of her family. The fact that she refused to sit on her laurels and accept praise for her accomplishments, but rather be self-critical about her own mistakes and failings impressed me. Her influence on modern healthcare practices cannot be underestimated.

I recommend the book for anyone interested in learning more about the evolution of nursing and modern healthcare or to learn about the life of a remarkable, Victorian woman willing to stand up and be counted. Recommended for ages ten and older.

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COURAGE AND PERSEVERANCE

Tails of Sweetbrier

Written by Deanie Humphrys- Dunne

Illustrated by Holly Humphrys-Bajaj

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A warm and moving autobiography of a girl who had a dream of riding horses. That might not seem so tough to achieve until you discover that Deanie was afflicted with cerebral palsy. Deanie convinces her parents that she will work hard to achieve that dream, and her father opens up a riding school to support that dream.

Readers follow Deanie’s journey as she learns to walk, trot and canter on her pony, Little Man. As her confidence grows, she begins to dream of loftier goals. Despite a family tragedy with a barn fire that results in the loss of her horse, Chiefie, Deanie and her family persevere and rebuild. We follow their successes and failures as well as the physical hardships that Deanie endures.

The author teachers her young readers to reach for the stars. Work hard to achieve your dreams and use the challenges and failures that occur along the way as a ladder to climb to success. Beautifully written story written in less than one hundred pages that make it perfect for a middle grade and young adult audience. Deanie’s physical challenges and determination also provide inspiration for those with special needs and learning disabilities. The black and white illustrations draw the reader into the story and personalize the narrative enhancing its appeal. Highly recommended for readers age eight and older, especially those who love horses.

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KITCHEN CHIT-CHAT

Stories Around the Kitchen Table: A Collection of Women’s Memoirs

Edited by Anne Randolph

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The editor based this collection on her creation of the kitchen table writers’ concept, which encourages women to find their creative author’s voice. A small group of women gather around a kitchen table and begin writing their thoughts with pen in hand. No need to worry about grammar, spelling or second guessing. Weekly sessions begin and end with the inspiration of a poem. Each author writes about her thoughts and dreams. Following the time allotted for writing, each of the participants listens and shares taking turns to read aloud. At the end of this nearly one hundred page collection of stories, Randolph includes short biographies of each participating author.

Topics are diverse; emotions and writing reflect the natural setting and willingness of each participant to immerse herself in the writing process, and more importantly to lend a willing ear to each other’s work. In “Belly Flops” the reader is treated to a young girl’s first experience diving into a swimming pool. “When I was Ten” propels its readers back in time to a child’s visit to Manhattan during World War II. “Learning to Fly” transports us to an airfield for a first flying lesson. “A Slow Leaving” reflects the emotional roller coaster the writer experiences as her husband is about to leave the house because their divorce has become final.

This book is a good tool to preview many styles of writing and a good conversation starter for a woman’s group on many topics up for discussion on women’s issues in the modern world. Recommended for young adult and adult readers.

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“I AM THE GREATEST”

Muhammad Ali: BORN TO WIN

Written by Stephen Croke

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The author describes Ali as one who never let others define or limit him. Croke hits the nail on the head. Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay in 1942 in Louisville Kentucky; he was named after his father. Clay changed his name when he later converted to The Nation of Islam. Ali began training for boxing at the age of twelve. His ego prodded him to be arrogant and taunting of his opponents. In 1960, Ali won the Olympic Medal in Boxing for the US. By 1974, he had defeated Sonny Liston and obtained The World Heavyweight Champion. The seventies also witnessed victories over Joe Frazier and George Foreman. After the mid seventies, Ali’s health began to decline; he would fight a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.

Ali is perhaps just as well known for his behavior outside the ring. He became a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and refused to be drafted. He opposed the Soviet War with Afghanistan and sided with Palestinian families in Israel. The boxer took part in the Long March in which Native Americans stood up for their rights. Ali was active in the Black Lives Matter Movement. With his Parkinson’s Disease rapidly progressing, Ali got to carry the Olympic Torch in 2012. After being admitted to the hospital, he died of septic shock in June, 2016 and was buried by fans and family in Louisville.

This is a well-written book that prevents a non biased portrait of the man and his times. Available in kindle and paperback, this approximately thirty page read is appropriate for readers age eight and older.

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LEARNING TO LEAD

Winston Churchill: The Inspiring Story and Lessons of Winston Churchill

Written by Anthony Taylor

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This book is an interesting reflection on the life of Winston Churchill. Make no mistake; this book is not a comprehensive biography or a carefully researched historical document, but it does provide insight into a passionate leader who was able to lead Great Britain to victory over the Nazi threat. The focus of the book is to use Churchill as an example in studying the steps and strategies necessary to become a successful leader.

Taylor reveals the challenges faced by Churchill’s lack of support from his wealthy parents who viewed him as a failure as well as his disastrous stint as Lord of the Admiralty and removal from office due to his failed naval strategy during World War I. Over the years, Churchill faced political ups and downs; he did not hesitate to switch political parties when they supported causes to which he was morally opposed. He gained first hand battle experience as a war correspondent and was taken as prisoner. He became a prolific writer, securing the Nobel Prize for Literature after the war in 1953. Churchill realized that knowing oneself was the key to inspiring people. He succeeded in this even though he had to overcome a speech impediment to do so. Winston did not know how to admit defeat; he preferred bloodshed and living with the consequences.

The crux of this book comes in chapter six in which Taylor outlines the ten life lessons to be learned from Winston Churchill. He lists them and provides examples of how Churchill used these attributes to maximum potential. These include: courage, learning from one’s mistakes, faith and persistence, good leadership skills, patience, experience, positive attitude, inspiration, knowing oneself, and patriotism. Taylor urges every reader who sees himself as a potential leader in his field to use Churchill’s life as an inspiration to follow.

I would recommend this book in particular for tweens and teens who are interested in learning more about the period between World War I through World War II. Critics who say that the book is not a carefully researched historical document or a biography in the technical sense are correct, but I believe that this short piece is an excellent supplement for teachers who want children to go beyond studying the facts to understand better the motivations and actions of Churchill during the period.

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COLLATERIAL DAMAGE

The Day Before 911

Written by Tucker Elliot

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Powerful, poignant and not soon forgotten! Elliot has done a masterful job of relating a true story of his sojourn as a sixth grade teacher in Department of Defense overseas military schools. At the beginning of the story, Elliot has just begun his position as teacher and head coach in a military school near Seoul, Korea. He is full of hope for his students, yet he is also strangely dour. The reader learns that his father fought in Viet Nam and his uncle died there. His teaching job is Elliot’s way of serving the military in his own way. Like every good teacher, Elliot is deeply concerned with his students; the story revolves around two students named Sami and Angel, and the families they share.

Tucker paints a picture of how the world changes as the terrorist attacks unfold, the school security becomes paramount, and the students whose parents serve live in constant terror of deployment and possible death. The author befriends a nine year old girl named Sami, who loves soccer and becomes the team “stud.” He suffers with her every time her father is called away. After Elliot leaves Korea and moves to teach in Germany, he meets Sami’s best friend from the states. Her name is Angel; she seeks the support of her new teacher and brings with her a multitude of new crises as her family becomes embroiled in emotional and physical terror.

The author attempts to exert the full force of his will to sincerely help these two families, but always seems to fall short when he is needed most. Circumstances seem to conspire to prevent him from fulfilling what he believes to be his obligations. This book is a must read for teens and adults who want to experience how the world indeed changed after 911. As one who lived a few miles from the World Trade Center, I can never adequately relay the feelings of helplessness and loss while waiting to hear the news of survivors. I watched the faces of children who waited to hear if their parents made it home from Manhattan that day; and myself grieved with others who lost friends and family. I would recommend this book to all military families, teachers, and parents who are looking for a way to understand in some small part the sacrifices of all those who serve our country and protect our communities.

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MICKEY’S MAGIC

Walt Disney: Saving America’s Lost Generation

Written by R.H. Farber
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I thought I knew quite a bit about Mickey Mouse and the Mickey Mouse Club TV show that I enjoyed watching on TV while growing up in the fifties. Turns out, the Micky Mouse Club involved a lot more than the TV show, and its origin happened quite by accident.

Back in 1927, the young Walt Disney signed a one year contract with Universal Pictures to do animated films with his new creation, Oswald the Rabbit. After the contract expired, Walt learned that he had been misled. A loophole in the contract gave Universal full ownership of the character. To make matters worse, the studio had stealthily hired Walt’s best animators so they could continue making the cartoon. Walt refused to deal with the studio and developed a new character, a mouse named Mortimer. His wife encouraged him to change the name to Mickey, and so the soon to be famous character was born. When Disney decided to produce his third Mickey cartoon, Steamboat Willie with sound, it met with rave reviews.

Children were flocking to the movies to see the cartoons that preceded the movie. An entrepreneur named Harry Woodin of the Fox Dome Theater had a brilliant idea. He suggested to Disney that they launch a fraternity for children which would focus on the latest Disney cartoon. Walt’s brother, Roy, worked with Woodin to develop the club with Mickey Mouse as its central character. Walt was delighted that these clubs could teach children about values he thought were important: honesty, integrity, compassion and patriotism. He insisted that these clubs be made available to all children regardless of race, creed or sex. Club membership was open for children in grades one through seven; children had to be enrolled in a school. They needed to maintain high grades and moral values. All members were eligible for election to officer positions. The first club opened in September, 1929, and by 1933, three million children were enrolled. The Saturday meeting with entertainment, contests, and child centered activities helped lift the spirits of children and parents during the Depression when there was so little to be hopeful about.

Mickey Mouse became a role model to children and adults. Merchandise and advertising sprung up everywhere. Mickey Mouse and his character friends became associated with every major holiday and event like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Mickey became a part of weddings and family vacations. The California Pacific Exposition and the New York World’s Fair featured the cartoon character. Mickey became a symbol of all that is good versus all that is evil in society. By the time World War II came around, the original Mickey Mouse Club members would find his name and image a significant inspiration in war operations.

This book contains pictures of priceless Disney mementos. There are movie posters, flyers, pictures of historical events, touching photos of Disney and his family, as well as Disney merchandise and the adorable children who enjoyed it. Personally, I wish the author would have continued the saga into the later stages in the fifties and beyond with the advent of television and the development of Disneyland. Perhaps too much time was spent on the early years. Unless, of course, the author plans to write another book finishing the story to the end of Disney’s life. If you are in the mood for some nostalgia and an uplifting read, this book is recommended for ages eight through eighty.

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