February is Black History Month

Signal of LibertySignal of LibertyThe best way to celebrate and honor Black History Month is to delve into history. What better place to do that than the Library?

This February, AADL has several events and resources to help you mark Black History Month by honoring those who came before, their traditions, and our hopes for the future.
EVENTS:
April Ryan, a 30-year journalism veteran, the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, and the only black female reporter covering urban issues from the White House has just released a new book, The Presidency in Black and White: My Up-Close View of Three Presidents and Race in America, a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of race relations as it relates to the White House. She will be at the Downtown Library on Monday, February 16 at 7 pm to discuss the book, her career, the three presidents she’s covered, and her experiences.

The Sankofa Ensemble takes their name from a word that means “to retrieve the goodness from the past”. They will teach us about the traditions of Ghanaian and West African music and play authentic instruments from Ghana. Families will especially enjoy being able to get up and dance to the music, and learning more about traditional African dancing. The Sankofa Ensemble will perform on Saturday, February 21 at 2 pm in the Downtown Library’s Multi-Purpose Room.

The last very special Black History Month event features the relatives of a prominent Civil Rights figure: Rosa Parks. Sheila McCauley Keys is Rosa Parks’ niece, and she and her siblings grew up very closely with their aunt when she moved to Detroit. They have recently released a new book of memories of their aunt, Our Auntie Rosa: the Family of Rosa Parks Remembers Her Life and Lessons, and Sheila will visit the Downtown Library on Tuesday, February 24 at 7 pm. She will talk about her new book and her Auntie Rosa, and she will take questions from the audience.

PRIMARY SOURCES:
Of course, libraries are fantastic resources for more than just events. Here at AADL, we have the African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County’s Living Oral History Videos. These are recorded interviews with local African-Americans discussing what they witnessed and experienced and their perspectives relating to race, gender, education, equality, faith, housing, employment, community building activities, and social infrastructure in our area. These amazing videos show what a historical resource our own people are, and make learning about history as easy as a conversation with your grandparents.

Newspapers are also great historical resources. AADL has digitized copies of local abolitionist newspaper Signal of Liberty which was started in April 1841 and published almost every week from an office on Broadway Street in Ann Arbor. Issues featured local and national news, anti-slavery poems, interviews with emancipated slaves, minutes from anti-slavery meetings, and stories by abolitionists about helping people escape from slavery. Reading these articles helps us to understand issues surrounding slavery, why people opposed this dark part of our past, and how ordinary people participated in the fight for freedom.

Whatever part of history you are interested in, your library is a resource for research, learning, and commemorating.

Four Perfect Pebbles: A Talk with Holocaust Survivor and Author Marion Blumenthal Lazan

Thursday February 12, 2015: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: 4th Floor Meeting Room

This event is intended for adults, teens and youth (grade 4 and up)

Author Marion Blumenthal Lazan will share her message of understanding and tolerance through recounting her experience as a young girl interned by the Nazis during WWII. Born in Germany, Lazan and her family were attempting to escape through Holland when the country fell to the Nazis. Her family spent more than six years imprisoned in various refugee and labor camps, including Bergen-Belsen. Shortly after their release, her father died of typhus contracted while in the camp. Three years later, at age 13, Lazan emigrated to the United States with her mother and sister, ready to start a new life in Illinois.

Lazan is the author of Four Perfect Pebbles, a memoir for young people about her family's struggle to survive the horrors of the Nazis. Copies of her book will be available for sale and signing.

Cool new nonfiction for kids: Skyscrapers!

Are you curious about how huge buildings like the John Hancock Center, the Eiffel Tower and the Chrysler Building were constructed? I know I am, and I’ve always been interested in the architectural feats that keep such towering structures upright for—in some cases—over a hundred years. The amazing new book Who Built That? Skyscrapers, by Didier Cornille, is an introduction to familiar skyscrapers and their architects geared towards kids… but absolutely fascinating for all ages!

My favorite part of the book are the amazing illustrations that show different stages of construction of each building, including the inside skeleton and the frame, so readers can find out how the structure manages to stand so tall. It is so cool to see! Readers can also learn a little bit about each architect including what inspired them to build the featured structure, and what other unique buildings they constructed during their careers.

If you want to learn even more about skyscrapers, try Skyscrapers: Inside and Out, Unbuilding, or Skyscraper, all available at the AADL.

The Warren Commission Report is an awesome graphic novel!

I sat down to read The Warren Commission Report: A Graphic Investigation into the Kennedy Assassination, and finished it in one sitting. I loved it! I didn't know too much about the JFK assassination prior to reading this super-cool graphic novel, and it was so great to learn about it and its aftermath through Dan Mishkin's carefully chosen language and information, accompanied by the beautiful art of Ernie Colon and Ann Arbor resident Jerzy Drozd. This book details the events of the assassination itself, the findings of the Warren Commission, and explores the controversies and conspiracy theories that still surround the event. The book "speaks to theorists and skeptics alike, breaking down how decisions made in the days that followed the assassination not only shaped the way the commission reconstructed events, but also fostered the conspiracy theories that play a part in American politics to this day," reads the jacket, and I agree wholeheartedly. I appreciated that the book was not the least bit didactic, but simply well-researched and presented clearly and concisely.

If you're at all interested in learning more about the JFK assassination, I would highly recommend starting with this fantastic graphic novel.

Laura Ingalls Wilder and Her Place in the World

Monday March 23, 2015: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

This event is intended for adults and teens grades 6 and up
This event will be recorded

Interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder is at a peak – especially with the recent publication of her autobiography Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography.

At this special AADL evening, explore the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose experiences traveling and homesteading with her pioneer family spawned her series of popular children's books. Author and Wilder scholar William Anderson and University of Michigan History professor Michelle McClellan lead us on a journey through Laura's life and tell the story of how the places she lived have now taken on a life of their own.

Wilder's legacy extends far beyond her Little House series; millions know her from the 1970s television show based on her books, and the locations she wrote about, including Kansas, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Missouri, have become tourist destinations for her devoted fans.

Josephine Baker Biography

If Jacqueline Woodson’s award-winning memoir Brown Girl Dreaming has you craving more stories-in-verse that share the African-American experience, check out this fantastic title:

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Christian Robinson is picture-book biography of dancer Josephine Baker. Beginning with her childhood in the segregated South, the book traces her life as a teenager in a traveling dance troupe, her star-making Paris debut, her work as a spy during World War II, and her adoption of twelve children of different nationalities, always highlighting her desire for racial acceptance. With its bright, bold illustrations and free-verse text that mixes quotations from Baker with energetic narration, this 100-page picture book is a perfect showcase for the dancer’s story.

Jane Smiley's Some Luck depicts americana beautifully

If you’re a Jane Smiley fan like me, you’ve been eagerly awaiting the publication of her newest novel, Some Luck, which is the first in a projected trilogy appropriately titled The Last Hundred Years. Smiley won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Thousand Acres, and similar to A Thousand Acres, Some Luck follows several generations of a twentieth century Iowa farm family. The book is broken up into 34 brief chapters, each marked with the start of a year, beginning in 1920 and ending in 1953. As expected, some major life events are recounted over this period, but I enjoyed Smiley’s poignant telling of the day-to-day activities and situations that come together to create a family and a life. Because of this, the pace of Some Luck is truly unique: I found myself eagerly turning each page, not because of any unresolved plot lines, but rather because the book follows the unexpected pacing of life itself.

“Smiley depicts isolated farm life with such precision that readers can understand exactly how little boys help their father shorten lambs’ tails, and how Rosanna copes when she must deliver her baby alone,” states the review of Some Luck in the Washington Post. Some Luck is far from just another Midwestern nostalgic farm novel, however. “Smiley’s version is weirdly bold in a different way, stubbornly telling the story with the same kind of unadorned (and sometimes unspoken) language its characters use,” writes the review.

If you’re unfamiliar with Jane Smiley but enjoy the works of Marilynne Robinson and Annie Proulx, I would highly recommend giving Some Luck, and other of Smiley’s works a try. Early Warning, the second book in the trilogy, will be published in 2015.

Royal Reads (and movies, too!)

The recent release of a great new imperial biography, Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts, got me thinking that nothing could be more intriguing this wintry season than a little courtly intrigue! You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy stories about rulers of old. So, here are some suggestions for other books and movies that compliment each other nicely.

Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey offers a terribly readable and riveting account of Elizabeth I’s early years – a fascinating chapter of history with a totally astonishing young ruler at its helm. For a stunning film experience, try Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett and it’s sequel Elizabeth, The Golden Age.

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir, gives us a portrait of an educated, strong-willed ruler of her own lands as well as wife of two kings and a complicated family dynamic, to say the least. If you only have time for one film featuring this queen, The Lion in Winter is a must. With incredible performances from Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, this is a must regardless!

Turning to fiction books, why not try Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund – lush and yet attentive storytelling from the perspective of this most infamous of queens. The movie Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst offers eye candy galore in the form of sumptuous sets, costume, and cinematography, in addition to some experimental touches that keep things fresh. And, well, it’s hard to stick strictly to fiction here when the movie is based on such a good bio: Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser.

Last but definitely not least, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel chronicles the oh-so sticky politics of Henry VIII, seen through the sharp lens of his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. Mantel endows this narrator with a bitingly intelligent voice that is exceedingly refreshing in the genre. I'm coming up short on films focusing on Cromwell’s perspective, but Anne of the Thousand Days focuses on the Boleyn side of the story, and A Man for All Seasons highlights Sir Thomas More’s role in the courtly goings on (both of which feature heavily in Wolf Hall).

Film & Discussion: ‘Never a Bystander‘

Monday April 20, 2015: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

This event is intended for adults and teens grade 6 and up.

"Never a Bystander" is a documentary made by Ann Arbor filmmaker Evelyn Neuhaus, about Holocaust survivor Dr. Irene Butter. At age 14, Irene, along with her family, endured deplorable conditions during internment in two concentration camps in Nazi Germany. "Never a Bystander" tells Irene's story, and shares her message of optimism and courage in the face of injustice. We will screen the 30-minute film, then Irene will give a talk about her work and experiences educating and uplifting audiences with her story.

National Book Award Winner for Young People's Literature

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature at last night's awards ceremony. In the book the author shares her childhood memories and reveals the first sparks that ignited her writing career in free-verse poems about growing up in the North and South. The other finalists in this category were:

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Revolution: The Sixties Trilogy, Book Two by Deborah Wiles

See the full 2014 National Book Award list of winners in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. (And AADL's list of the titles in the catalog for quick hold placing!)

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