Remembering September 11th, 2001

Middle school-age children are too young to remember the events of  that tragic Tuesday morning. Teenagers have only a sketchy memory. Most elementary-age children were not yet born. Ten years later, there are plenty of horrific images on the airwaves of airplanes crashing, the towers falling, and the Falling Man but it is the stories behind the death and destruction that matter most. Fortunately, there are some excellent stories for young people that capture the fear, grief and loss of that day, and also the great acts of heroism and gestures of compassion that day brought.

  • Brown, Dan. America is Under Attack. Roaring Brook, 2011.
    An excellent chronicle of the tragic day for readers too young to remember or not yet born. I especially like the focus on individual victims and survivors. Vivid, emotional and powerful.



Deedy, Carmen Agra in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah. 14 Cows for America. Illus. Thomas Gonzalez. Peachtree, 2009.
While in New York studying medicine, Kimeli witnesses the September 11th attacks. When Kimeli returns to his village in Kenya, he tells his Maasai elders that he will offer his cow to the people of America. The elders agree and invite a diplomat from the United States Embassy in Nairobi to visit the village where he is greeted with a ceremony and presented with not one, but fourteen cows. A wonderfully told, beautifully illustrated true story.

Gerstein, Mordicai. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Roaring Brook, 2003. Gerstein’s Caldecott Medal-winning story of how in 1974 French aerialist Philippe Petit threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky. A poignant and riveting tribute to the lost towers.


Kalman. Maira. Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey. Putnam, 2002.
Reissued this year, this is my favorite book for children about the September 11th attacks. Nearly scrapped  by York City in 1995, the fireboat John J. Harvey was called in to help put out the fires at the World Trade Center site.


Maynard, Joyce. The Usual Rules. St. Martin’s, 2003.
Maynard brings the September 11th tragedy to readers through its effect on thirteen-year-old Wendy and her extended family. Sensitive, real and powerful.



9-11: Artists Respond, vols. 1&2. DC Comics, 2002.
Two volumes of original stories and powerful illustrations about the September 11th attacks from a stellar group of contributors, including Will Eisner, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, John J. Muth and dozens more.



Speigelman, Art. In the Shadow of No Towers. Pantheon, 2004.
Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman presents his very personal observation of and response to the destruction of the World Trade Center. A resident of lower Manhattan, with children attending school on the morning of September 11th, Spieglman vividly conveys his experiences of the day’s events. Powerful and revealing.


Winter, Jeanette. September Roses. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004.
The true story of how roses, originally destined for a flower show, were used to recreate the image of the World Trade Center Towers and help heal people’s hearts. A moving story of compassion, generosity and kindness.

Published in: on September 8, 2011 at 9:20 pm  Comments (1)  

Bread and Roses, Too: Books about the Labor Movement

“What the woman who labors wants is to live, not simply exist—the right to life as the rich woman has it, the right to life, and the sun, and music, and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses too.”  —Rose Schneiderman, 1912

A recent, troubling trend among many governors and state legislatures is to wage war against organized labor. Unions have become the scapegoats to blame for all sorts of troubles, real and imagined. This crusade against the rights of working people to bargain for fair wages and benefits has made me think of some of the books about America’s labor history that are written for young people.

  • Auch, Mary Jane. Ashes of Roses. Henry Holt, 2002.
  • Aside from the dreadful title, this is a superb work of historical fiction. Auch tells the story of sixteen-year-old Margaret Rose Nolan, newly arrived from Ireland, who finds work at New York City’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory shortly before the 1911 fire in which 146 employees died.


  •  Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Kids on Strike! Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
  • Bartoletti tells the compelling story of children who stood up for their rights against powerful company owners, from a “turn-out” in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1836 led by eleven-year-old Harriet Hanson to the dramatic strike of 1912 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Illustrated with more than one hundred photographs from newspapers and journals as well as with the work of photographer Lewis Hine, Bartoletti chronicles labor strikes led by young people throughout the United States.


  •  Colman, Penny. Strike! The Bitter Struggle of American Workers from Colonial Times to the Present. Millbrook, 1995.
  • An overview of 200 years of labor struggles, Colman emphasizes three facts: that throughout our history employers have not willingly shared their profits with workers, that the federal government has backed the employers, and that workers have fought bravely and endured much to improve working conditions and achieve fair wages.


  • Dash, Joan. We Shall Not Be Moved: The Women’s Factory Strike of 1909. Scholastic, 1996.
  • In 1909, teenage girls led some 30,000 shirt cutters, pressers, and finishers in the “largest strike of women workers ever known in the United States.” Not only did it unite factory workers, it gained crucial support from college-educated suffragists and from women in high society, often called “the mink brigade.” The strike, which began in New York and spread to Philadelphia, ultimately led to a settlement between more than 300 manufacturers and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

 Freedman, Russell. Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor. Clarion, 1994.
This photobiography profiles early twentieth-century photographer and schoolteacher Lewis Hine, whose photographs of children at work were so devastating that they convinced the American people that Congress must pass child labor laws.

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Uprising. Simon & Schuster, 2007.
In 1927, at the urging of twenty-one-year-old Harriet, Mrs. Livingston reluctantly recalls her experiences at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, including miserable working conditions that led to a strike, then the fire that took the lives of her two best friends, when Harriet, the boss’s daughter, was only five years old.

Marrin, Albert. Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Factory and Its Legacy. Knopf, 2011.
This excellent history places the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 in the context of tenement life for new immigrants in early 20th century New York City and the rise of the labor movement.

McKissack. Patricia and Frederick. A Long Hard Journey: The Story of the Pullman Porter. Walker, 1989.
This excellent introduction to labor history recounts the saga of Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, first major black labor union to be admitted to the AFL. Organized by A. Phillip Randolph just after the Civil War, the union brought together many freed slaves who were hired by George Pullman to pamper the passengers in his sleeping cars.

Meltzer, Milton. Bread and Roses: The Struggle of American Labor, 1865-1915. Random House, 1973.
Meltzer uses original source material to offer an insightful portrait of the momentous changes that took place in American labor, industry, and trade-unionism following the Civil War.

Paterson, Katherine. Bread and Roses, Too. Clarion, 2006.
Through the eyes of Rosa, the sixth-grade daughter of Italian immigrants, and Jake, a thirteen-year-old homeless boy, Paterson portrays the events leading to the mill worker strike of 1912 in Lawrence, MA.

Stanley, Jerry. Big Annie of Calument: A True Story of the Industrial Revolution. Crown, 1996.
The story of Annie Clemenc who helped organized and led a 1913 strike by copper miners employed by the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company in upper Michigan.

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 5:50 pm  Comments (3)  

Eulogy for a Beloved Bookstore

 The Knoxville area is suffering a great loss. Flossie McNabb, a co-owner of Carpe Librum Booksellers in Bearden, pulled me aside to give me the heartbreaking news that the only independent book store in the Knoxville area will close its doors the end of this year. She wanted to tell me the news personally before the official announcement. I have been a “constant reader,” what they call their regulars, since the store opened its doors six years ago. It’s always sad to see locally owned businesses disappear, but Carpe Librum’s closing is an especially devastating loss. It is the only independent book store in the Knoxville area. For the past six years, Carpe Librum has been an oasis for book lovers. The owners created a vibrant community through author appearances, book discussion groups, supporting local writers, and wonderful programs for readers of all ages.

Carpe Librum is one of the most attractively and tastefully designed bookstores I have ever seen. They have a gift for displaying books in such a way that compells you to stop and browse. What I especially appreciate is that the store space devotes one-third of its space to children’s and young adult books. There is an abundance of picture books, folktales, and poetry. The latest releases in young adult fiction and nonfiction are prominently displayed. They stock titles from small, independent publishers you will never see on the shelves in a chain store.

Since Carpe Librum announced its closing, more tragic news about independent booksellers in Tennessee has followed. Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville is going out of business, as will its store in Memphis. Davis-Kidd once also had a store in Knoxville but was unable to compete with big box retailers. An independent bookstore in Chattanooga is also closing its doors the end of this year. Beginning in 2011, Tennessee’s four largest cities will be without an independent bookseller.

The causes for Carpe Librum’s demise are similar to those of other independent booksellers forced out of business: a sluggish economy, the burgeoning popularity of e-readers, and an inability to compete with discounts offered by chain bookstores and I could have saved a few dollars buying my books at Barnes & Noble, Borders, or Books-a-Million, and a few more buying them from I spend my money at Carpe Librum because there is a cost to discounts that few people consider. To, I am nothing more than a “cookie” full of data. To chain stores, I’m an anonymous customer purchasing a product. To Carpe Librum, I’m Ed, the eclectic, voracious reader who loves to talk about books.

I do not understand the attraction to e-readers. They are not environmentally sound—like all the electronic gadgets we currently embrace, the discards leave behind waste that cannot be recycled and toxic to the environment. The convenience argument carries little weight with me. I have never found it a hardship to carry a few paperback or even hardcover books in my travels, and flipping through the pages of newspaper has never caused me discomfort. I can easily wash the black ink from my hands with a little soap and water.

Any genuine lover of books knows that the bound book is a perfect technology. E-readers do not represent an evolution in reading technology. If they were, the makers of e-readers would not be trying so hard to mimic the “experience” of reading a bound book. Reading a digitized text on an illuminated screen is no substitute for or enhancement of the singular experience of reading a bound book.

Whatever alleged “value” an e-book may have, it cannot compensate for the loss of a community’s only independent bookseller. At Carpe Librum, I’m greeted by my first name. I know the owners and the employees by their first names. I feel a kinship with them. They share my passion for reading. They treasure books as valuable artifacts and works of art. We not only talk about books, we talk about our work, families, travels, hobbies and interests.

What I will miss most about Carpe Librum, besides the lovely people, is the serendipitous joy of browsing the beautiful displays and discovering wonderful books, new and old. I have visited independent bookstores in cities throughout the country, but I have seen few as aesthetically pleasing, warm, and inviting as Carpe Librum. Book lovers everywhere should mourn the loss of this community jewel.

Published in: on November 13, 2010 at 12:09 pm  Comments (9)  

Animal Friends

In a previous post, I talked about being a sucker for a good dog story. The truth is I’m a sucker for animal stories of all kinds. I’m especially a fan of stories about animal friends like Sheila Burnford’s The Incredible Journey, Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath, and Mo Willems’s City Dog, Country Frog. Of course, you can make any relationship work in fiction.  It’s the true stories I enjoy the most. Here are some favorites.

  • Buckley, Carol. Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends. Putnam, 2009.
  • Retired from the circus, Tarra became the first resident of the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Other elephants moved in and developed close friendships, but Tarra remained a loner until the day she met a stray mixed-breed dog named Bella and they have been inseparable ever since. Illustrated with color photographs.

  •  Houston, Dick. Bulu: African Wonder Dog. Random House, 2010.
  • After Anna and Steve Tolson moved from England to an isolated home in Zambia to found a wildlife education center, they wanted dog, but are warned that no pet would be safe there. In spite of this, they adopted Bulu, a Jack Russell terrier-cross puppy, who readily adapts to life in the bush and proves a courageous, scrappy survivor. He also finds his calling as a foster parent to many orphaned baby animals, including warthogs, monkeys, elephants, baboons, and bushbucks. It’s impossible to not love Bulu.


  • Kerby, Johanna. Little Pink Pup. Putnam, 2010.
  • When Pink, the runt of a large litter of piglets, is pushed aside by his siblings. The Kerby family, fearing for Pink’s survival bring him into the house and their dachshund, Tink, adopts him as one of her pups. He learns to prefer dog food to pig food and soft blankets to scratchy straw. Illustrated with color photographs.


  • Larson, Kirby and Mary Nethery. Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival. Illus. Jean Cassels. Walker, 2008.
  • Bobbi and Bob Cat are the best of friends. Abandoned during the Katrina evacuations, they spend four months wandering devastated, debris-strewn streets before being rescued by the Best Friends Animal Society. At the shelter, the Bobbies show distress when separated but remain calm when together. Workers discover that Bob Cat is blind and that Bobbi  serves as his seeing-eye dog. A national news appearance results in the animals’ shared adoption in a happy new home. A remarkable, touching story.

Owen & Mzee’s StoryThe devastating 2005 tsunami brought together the orphaned baby hippo named Owen and a 130-yr-old giant tortoise named Mzee. The two adopted each other and became inseparable friends. Owen and Mzee captured the world’s imagination and their story inspired three excellent children’s books.

  • Bauer, Marion Dane. A Mama for Owen. Illus. John Butler. Simon & Schuster, 2007.
  • Of the two illustrated stories, this one is warmer and more soothing in its approach to the subject and probably most suitable for sharing with preschool audiences.


  • Hatkoff, Isabella and Craig and Paula Kahumba. Owen & Mzee: The Story of a Remarkable Friendship. Illus. Peter Greste. Scholastic, 2006.
  •  This book takes a photo-essay, traditional nonfiction approach that appeals to both older and younger readers. The team followed up with  Owen and Mzee: The Language of Friendship (Scholastic, 2007).


  • Winter, Jeanette. MAMA: A True Story, in Which a Baby Hippo Loses His Mama During a Tsunami, But Finds a New Home, and a New Mama. Harcourt, 2006.
  • Winter’s stark, minimalist approach to the story packs a lot of emotional power. Using just two words throughout the text, Winter brilliantly and beautifully conveys the bond between a mother and child.


Published in: on September 29, 2010 at 10:33 pm  Comments (2)  

Blessed are the Peacemakers

The church I attend in Knoxville pledges itself to a “just peace covenant.” One part of the statement is “to seek the elimination of the causes of war by building a world that is free of poverty, of oppression, and of the violation of human rights.” Click here to read the whole statement. What I particularly like about the covenant is that it defines peace as more than the absence of war, which is the definition you will find in most dictionaries. Not everyone who attends my church is a pacifist, but I believe everyone would agree that they try to live their lives in a way that promotes a culture of peace. Elise Boulding, a Quaker sociologist, defines a “peace culture” as: 

[A] culture that promotes peaceable diversity. Such a culture includes lifeways, patterns of belief, values, behavior, and accompanying institutional arrangements that provide mutual caring and well-being as well as an equality that includes appreciation of difference, stewardship, and equitable sharing of the earth’s resources among its members and with all living beings. It offers mutual security for identity as well as kinship with the living earth. There is no need for violence. In other words, peaceableness is an action concept, involving a constant shaping and reshaping of understandings, situations, and behaviors in a constantly changing lifeworld, to sustain well-being for all.

I love the idea of peaceableness as an “action concept.” Pacifism is too often equated with passivity. Living a life of peaceableness is proactive and deliberate. The peacemaker seeks not just an end to war and other hostilities, but an end to all the injustices in the world that make those hostilities possible. Here are a few favorite books of mine depicting people actively engaged in peaceableness.

  • McPhail, David. No! Roaring Brook, 2009.
  • The word “No” repeated three times is the only thing said in this otherwise wordless book that speaks of profound courage. On his way to mail a letter to the president, a young boy witnesses planes dropping fiery bombs from the sky, tanks attacking homes, and soldiers breaking down doors and beating people. When the boy confronts a bully at the mailbox, shouting “No!” to the bigger boy, the entire order of the universe is reversed. Walking back, he sees the soldiers bearing gifts, tanks plowing fields, and planes dropping down a bicycle, which the boy and the former bully use to ride together. A beautifully illustrated fable with a powerful message.

  • Meltzer, Milton. Ain’t Gonna Study War  No More: The Story of America’s Peace Seekers. Random House/Landmark, 2002.
  • Originally published in 1985, this updated edition offers an authoritative and readable history of the peace movement and nonviolent resistance in America. Meltzer raises interesting questions, such as how the early Christian church turned from pacifism position to just war doctrine. Meltzer also discusses the evolution of anti-war arguments and discusses various moral conflicts that split anti-war movements, such as abolitionism vs. peace.

  • O’Brien, Anne Sibley and Perry Edmond O’Brien. After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance. Ill. Anne Sibley O’Brien. Charlesbridge, 2009.
  • This book chronicles the history of nonviolent resistance through profiles of significant adherents from 1908 to 2003 including individuals such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, César Chávez, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Wangari Maathi and groups such as the student activists of Tiananmen Square and the Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Disappeared) in Argentina. Illustrated with handsome black-and-white drawings. The authors have an excellent web site featuring downloadables and other extras.

  • Radunsky, Vladimir. Manneken Pis: A Simple Story of a Boy Who Peed On a War. Walker, 2002.
  • In Brussels, there is a bronze statue of little boy peeing called Manneken Pis. Several legends are associated with the statue and Radunsky offers his own entertaining take on it in this story about a distraught little boy who loses his parents in the midst of a raging battle Scared, sad, and needing to urinate, he climbs on a wall and pees on the combatants. They stop and stare, then break into laughter. Fear and anger turns into giggles and guffaws, and the war is quickly forgotten. The boy finds his parents, a legend begins, and, eventually, a statue is cast.

  • Suvanjieff, Ivan and Dawn Gifford Engle. Peace Jam: A Billion Simple Acts of Peace. Viking, 2008. 30-minute DVD included.
  • The PeaceJam Foundation utilizes Nobel Peace laureates to model for and motivate youth to improve our world. This book profiles how some of these figures work with young adults on issues related to human rights, peace, the environment, and equity. The book is a wonderful introduction to social activism, showing young people that they can make a difference in their world.

  • Winter, Jonah. Peaceful Heroes. Ill. Sean Addy. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, 2009.
  • This collective biography profiles peacemakers from ancient through contemporary times from all parts of the world. Better-known figures include Jesus, Gandhi, and King, while less well-known activists include Islamic leader Abdul Ghaffae Khan, who led a nonviolent protest against the brutal British colonizers of Pakistan, and  Paul Rusesabagina of Rwanda. The detailed portraits never deny the horrifying realities that the peace-seeking leaders are fighting against. The stunning illustrations nearly overwhelm Winter’s chatty, interactive text.  The stirring profiles are great introductions, but Winter offers no suggestions for further reading.  
Published in: on March 18, 2010 at 10:28 pm  Comments (2)  

A Sucker for a Good Dog Story

I’m an animal lover. Were it up to me, my home would be overrun with critters furry, feathered, and otherwise. Fortunately, my practical-minded wife helps me resist the impulse. Animal stories, however, are impossible to resist and dog stories are the most irresistable. Call me sentimental. Call me a sap. I’m a sucker for a good dog story.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of seeing Gary Paulsen at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Gary, of course, has hundreds of great dog stories. He told several in the course of his talk: the psychotic, seizure-prone dog who led trap runs; the fiercely competitive but hopelessly dumb lead sled dog who bareled through a crowd of spectators during Gary’s first try at the Iditarod; his beloved Cookie, who led Gary on future Iditarod runs. Gary also talked about his current bunch of geriatric dogs at home. He gets them by calling the shelter and telling them to send over the ones that are about to be destroyed. Is there anyone on Earth who loves dogs more than Gary Paulsen? Listening to all those great dog stories got me to thinking of some of my favorites.  

  • Booth, Martin. War Dog. McElderry, 1997. 
  • When Fred Parry is arrested for poaching, he makes the policeman promise to find Jet, his well-trained black Labrador, a good home. When no home is found for Jet, she is turned over to the army and trained for patrol work. She and her handler are wounded during the evacuation of France. After recovering from her wounds, Jet is retrained to find people wounded in bombings. She and her handler are later sent to Sicily where Jet finds a badly wounded Fred Parry, who is now a soldier. After the war, Parry and Jet are reunited. Jet lives out the remainder of her days comfortable and loved. It’s impossible not to sympathize with the many ordeals this heroic dog must endure. Sadly, this British import is out of print. If you are fortunate enough to have it in your library collection, keep it. If you see it in a used book store, grab it!

  • Harlow, Joan Hiatt. Star in the Storm. McElderry, 2000.
  • Kirkus Reviews said it best when it described this novel as “a dog story in the best tradition of the genre.” Along with all other dogs not herding sheep, Sirius, a Newfoundland, has been banned from the community. To save him from being shot, twelve-year-old Maggie hides him in the woods. When a passenger ship founders off the coast during a storm and Sirius’ swimming skills are needed for the rescue, Maggie risks her beloved dog’s life. This heartwarming adventure story is rich in historical detail and has a thrilling climax. See also Thunder from the Sea (McElderry, 2004), another excellent novel about a Newfoundland.

  • Kadohata, Cynthia. Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam. Atheneum, 2007.
  • This riveting, realistic story of America’s war in Vietnam uses the alternating viewpoints of an army dog named Cracker and her 17-year-old handler, Rick Hanski, who enlists to “whip the world” and avoid a routine job. In this heartfelt tale, Kadohata explores the close bond of the soldier-dog team, relating how it detects booby traps and mines, finds the enemy, rescues POWs, and returns home to a heroes’ welcome.


  • Lee, Ingrid. Dog Lost. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2008. 
  • When Mackenzie’s father wins a pit bull puppy in a card game, he gives her to his son. Raised by an angry, alcoholic father, Cash is the one bright in the boy’s life. When Cash tries to defend Mackenzie from one of his father’s rages, he abandons the dog on the streets. Cash survives well until she’s captured by a teenager who is part of a dog-fighting ring. After escaping, her performs heroic deeds, dispelling local concern about the viciousness of pit bulls. All the while, boy and dog search for one another. The ending predictable, but this simply told story is moving and gripping.

  • Martin, Ann M. A Dog’s Life: The Autobiography of a Stray. Scholastic, 2005.
  • From the comfort of her new home, a dog recounts the she spent 10 years mostly as a stray. Squirrel describes the circumstances of her birth, and conveys sadness and grief upon the disappearance of her mother, separation from her brother, and fear when fighting mean, starving dogs. The animal perspective is convincing. Squirrel has experienced many harrowing and sad events in her life that may shock softer hearted readers. See also Everything for a Dog (Feiwel & Friends, 2009), a parallel story about Squirrel’s brother, Bone.

  • Paulsen, Gary. Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers. Harcourt, 1998.
  • Nobody tells a dog story better than Gary Paulsen and he has written several excellent ones over the years, but he is in top form in this affectionate, heartwarming tribute to his sled dog, Cookie. Paulsen previously introduced Cookie in Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod (Harcourt, 1994). There is plenty of action and adventure here, too, as Paulsen recounts his exciting experiences running the Iditarod. The book is illustrated with warm, charming paintings by Ruth Wright Paulsen. This book may be nostalgic and sentimental, but it is completely irresistable.
Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 12:06 am  Comments (1)  

When Nonfiction Becomes Too “Creative”

On February 22nd, the Associated Press reported that Charles Pellegrino, author of Last Train from Hiroshima told The New York Times that he was “likely duped” by Joseph Fuoco, a key source who claimed he flew on Necessary Evil, one of the Enola Gay’s escort planes for the bombing of Hiroshima. Fuoco, who died in 2008,  claimed he was a last-minute replacement for flight engineer James R. Corliss. The family of Corliss, who died in 1999, produced evidence that he was on the plane. In a statement issued by publisher Henry Holt, Pellegrino said that since learning of his error that his ”only concern has been to get the history right, in other words, to make sure that flight engineer James R. Corliss takes his rightful seat on that plane.” Stephen Rubin, Holt president and publisher, announced that a revised edition would be released that would eliminate all references to Fuoco and include an author’s note. To make the corrections, Holt said Pellegrino is interviewing the family of Corliss and surviving service men from the mission. The changes would affect fewer than five pages of text and one illustration.

A press release issued by the Veterans of the 509th Composite Group cites further factual errors: 

“Pellegrino falsely claims that a radiation accident took place in the Tinian Island assembly shed containing the Hiroshima-mission atomic bomb (nicknamed ‘Little Boy’) on the evening of August 4th that resulted in the death of a young (unnamed) civilian scientist. Author Pellegrino speculates this might explain why ‘even Tibbets became sick at the time of the Hiroshima mission, and was bed-ridden on Tinian during the Nagasaki mission.’ Enola Gay Navigator Major Theodore J. Van Kirk vehemently denies that claim. ”Tibbets was never sick during the Hiroshima mission and was never bed-ridden during the Nagasaki mission. This is utterly preposterous.’

In his book, author Pellegrino claims Los Alamos scientist Luis Alvarez participated in the final assembly of the Little Boy atomic bomb. He states that a portion of the uranium assembly had ‘surged long enough to reduce the weapon’s efficiency’ to the point of it acting like a ‘dud’ when dropped on Hiroshima. Nothing could have been further from the truth. According to a Los Alamos document in the National Archives, all of the uranium and the four initiators had been inserted into Little Boy on July 30th (five days before the falsely alleged August 4th accident) and ‘no further handling of these parts was necessary.’ While the nuclear components were not touched again, the bomb casing was opened after that date only to install fresh batteries just before it was rolled out of the assembly building on August 5th and placed inside the Enola Gay.

Retired scientist Richard Malenfant devoted most of his long Los Alamos career studying not only the Little Boy atomic bomb, but its effects on the residents of Hiroshima. Referring to what he had read, Malenfant wrote ”The observations regarding Little Boy and the Hiroshima mission are ridiculous fabrications and attempts to revise history. They don’t even make interesting science fiction. The radiation effects described in the book are generally not factual.’ He added, ‘There is no merit in Pellegrino’s work.’

Mr. Pellegrino claims in his book that a person named Joseph Fuoco flew on a B-29 escort plane, named Necessary Evil that was to take photographs of the Hiroshima explosion. He writes that Fuoco, at the last minute, was ‘transferred from his beloved, battle-hardened plane Bad Penny’ and replaced Flight Engineer Sgt. James R. Corliss aboard Necessary Evil by orders of Colonel Costalati.

The official records containing the names of the over 1,800 members of the 509th Composite Group show that no person named Joseph Fuoco was ever a part of the 509th much less on the airplane. There is no record of a ‘Colonel Costalati’ being present on Tinian in connection with the 509th nor does the name Joseph Fuoco appear on the Bad Penny crew lists. Any last minute crew changes on Necessary Evil would have been recommended to Colonel Tibbets by the Airplane Commander Capt. George W. Marquardt, whom author Pellegrino also misspelled ‘Marquart’ throughout this book.”

Holt has now announced it will cease printing and shipping copies because of further questions about Pellegrino’s sources. A Holt spokesperson stated that there were questions whether the Reverend John MacQuitty, a priest quoted in the book, and another priest, a Father Mattias, named by Pellegrino, actually existed. The publisher also has questions about the legitimacy of Pellegrino’s doctoral degree. The publisher is offering refunds to retailers and wholesalers for the book. The company printed approximately 18,000 copies of the book.

How could this happen? Pellegrino’s credibility as a researcher has been questioned before. He is either appallingly inept or pathologically dishonest. In this case, it is apparently the latter. Pellegrino’s first response to the scandal was that he was duped by Fuoco. Some simple fact-checking on Pellegrino’s part would have revealed that what Fuoco told him was false. Holt’s statement that Pellegrino was interviewing surviving members of the mission to make the corrections is laughable. Why didn’t Pellegrino do that in the first place as part of his research? Now that further factual errors and fabrications have come to light, Pellegrino claim that he is the victim of a fraudulent source carries no weight.

What responsibility does the publisher have for this mess? How far should a publisher go in fact-checking and verifying an author’s sources? Given Pellegrino’s past credibility problems, should there have been greater diligence in double-checking facts and sources in the editorial process?

Reviews were universal in praising the book. Writing for The New York Times, Dwight Garner praised the book as “sober and authoritative.” In The Washington Post, Joseph Kannon called the book “the most powerful and detailed [account] I have ever read.” A starred review in Publisher’s Weekly states: “Pellegrino dissects the complex political and military strategies that went into the atomic detonations and the untold suffering heaped on countless Japanese civilians, weaving all of the book’s many elements into a wise, informed protest against any further use of these terrible weapons.” In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews calls the book: “Enormously painful to read, but absolutely essential to do so.”  The review outlets cannot be blamed for being duped. When a reviewer receives a nonfiction book from reputable publisher like Holt, he or she should be able to reasonably assume that the author is reliable and that the content has been properly vetted in the editorial process.

The argument can be made that reviewers of nonfiction books should have to be experts on the subject matter so that factual errors and questionable sources can be more easily identified.  It would be possible to do this for reviews that appear in scholarly journals, but it would be much more difficult for publications like Booklist, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly. Reviewers for those publications are typically librarians who can easily verify information if they suspect factual errors or questionable sources but mostly likely lack the specialized content knowledge to recognize the problems.

It is interesting to see wh0 contributed the blurbs of praise for the book jacket. None of them are historians or authors who have written about nuclear weapons. One blurb is by Bill Schutt, a bat biologist with the American Museum of Natural History and author of  a book about blood-feeding creatures called Dark Banquet. Schutt hails Pellegrino’s book as a “definitive account” that “sets the record straight about what actually happened.” Is a bat biologist qualified to praise the book as a “definitive account” of the Hiroshima bombing? Apparently not. Other blurb contributors include a NOAA ocean explorer, the founder and president of something called Droycon Bioconcepts, and motion picture director and producer James Cameron.

According to his web site, Pellegrino, who identifies himself as a “forensic archaeologist,” has been a “scientific consultant” to Cameron for the past 12 years. Cameron had optioned the book as part of developing a film about the Hiroshima bombing.

This is not the first time that there have been problems like this with nonfiction books and it certainly will not be the last. I purchased Last Train from Hiroshima at my local independent bookstore before the stories about Pellegrino’s dishonesty broke.  As an author of a book about the development and use of the first atomic bombs, I am interested in reading anything published on the subject. I have not gotten around to reading the book. I could return it to my bookstore for a refund, but I’m thinking I may hold on to it. When I do presentations about nonfiction writing, I can use it as an example of what NOT to do.

Published in: on March 2, 2010 at 10:59 am  Comments (1)  

Casualties of War

Two recently published novels, Back Home by Julia Keller and Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick, both tell the stories of soldiers who suffer traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq. These and many other novels are powerful reminders of the fact that the wounds of war take many forms. Scars and missing limbs are visible, but there are many types of wounds unseen–emotional, psychological, and the internal organic traumas like brain injuries. These stories are also important reminders that both civilians and soldiers are casualties of war, including the families who must cope with the damaged loved ones who return from the battlefields.

  • Back HomeKeller, Julia. Back Home. Egmont, 2009. 978-160684-005-4 
  • Thirteen-year-old Rachel struggles with depression, grief, and anger when her father returns home from his National Guard deployment in Iraq missing an arm and leg, and suffering from traumatic brain injury. Keller poignantly depicts the frustrations and grief of Rachel’s family as they struggle to cope with their tragic loss.


  1. Day of the PelicanPaterson, Katherine. The Day of the Pelican. Clarion, 2009.
  2. This finely crafted novel chronicles the harrowing experiences of a Muslim Albanian family as they desperately flee genocide in the Kosovo civil war of the 1990s. Told from the perspective of eleven-year-old Meli, Paterson vividly depicts the terrifying, danger-filled ordeal of a refugee family who eventually find safe haven in the United States.


Johnny Got His Gun

  1. Trumbo, Dalton. Johnny Got His Gun. Bantam, 1984.
  2. Originally published by J.B. Lippincott in 1939, I first read Trumbo’s searing indictment of war in high school. Joe Bonham, a young soldier serving in World War I, awakens in a hospital bed and gradually realizes he has lost his arms, legs, and face, but still has a perfectly functioning mind leaving him a prisoner in his own body. After unsuccessfully attempting suicide, Joe eventually finds a way to communicate. Seventy years later, this grim story has lost none of its power.


  1. Purple HeartMcCormick, Patricia. Purple Heart. Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins, 2009. 978-0-06-173090-0
  2. Eighteen-year-old Private Matt Duffy is recuperating from a traumatic brain injury in a hospital in Iraq when he receives his Purple Heart. With his memories foggy on the circumstances that led to this honor, Matt tries to sort through the contradictions of the event. Full of memorable characters and psychological tension, McCormick’s gripping, tragic story offers a penetrating look at the hypocrisies and lies that are endemic to war. She challenges readers to reflect on their own beliefs about duty, honor, and loyalty.
  • Refresh, RefreshNovgorodoff, Danica. Refresh, Refresh. First Second/Roaring Brook, 2009. 978-1-59643-522-3
  • In this disturbing graphic novel, Cody, Josh, and Gordon are three young men in the Pacific Northwest struggling to deal with the wartime absences of their fathers while also coping with their own adolescent angst. Their anguish and frustrations frequently manifests into violence with the boy fighting one another to “make each other tougher.” This dark, psychologically intense story is a powerful reminder that casualties of war can include the emotionally wounded who never see the battlefield.  
  1. Soldier's HeartPaulsen, Gary. Soldier’s Heart. Delacorte, 1998.
  2. Based upon the real-life experiences of a Civil War soldier, Paulsen tells the story of fifteen-year-old Charley Goddard who lies about his age in order to enlist with the First Minnesota Volunteers. Seeing action in major battles like Bull Run and Gettysburg, Charley is physically and psychologically wounded. Dying at the young age of twenty-three in 1868, Charley lived an erratic and unsettled life after the war, suffering from “soldier’s heart.” What was described as “soldier’s heart” later came to be known as shell shock, battle fatigue, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Paulsen’s raw, lucid narrative vividly conveys the brutality and horror of war. This novel is a great choice for readers not ready or unwilling to read Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage.
Published in: on September 30, 2009 at 2:25 pm  Comments (1)  

Remembering Milton Meltzer

It is with great sadness that I announce the death of author Milton Meltzer. He passed away peacefully this past Saturday morning at age 94 in his New York City home. For the last several months, Milton had been terminally ill with esophageal cancer.
Milton was a first-generation American, the son of Benjamin and Mary who were immigrants from Austria-Hungary. Born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, Milton attended Columbia University but dropped out in his senior year. The Great Depression was at its worst, and continuing with his studies seemed pointless. Milton got a job writing for the WPA Federal Theater Project. When he lost his WPA job in 1939, Milton spent several months traveling the country with two friends, like John Steinbeck would later do with his dog Charley. Milton’s experiences living through the Great Depression, working for the WPA, and seeing America profoundly influenced his political views and strong sense of social justice. Milton married his wife Hildy on June 22, 1941, the same day Hitler’s armies invaded the Soviet Union. Drafted in August 1942, Milton was assigned to the Army Air Corps, in which he served as an air traffic controller. After the war, Milton worked as a writer for CBS radio and in public relations for Pfizer. Milton leaves behind two daughters and grandchildren. Hildy Meltzer passed away last year.
For those of you not familiar with the scope of Milton’s long, distinguished career as a writer and his profound contributions to the field, here are some highlights. In the fall of 1956, at the age of 40, Milton published his first book, A Pictorial History of the Negro American, co-written with Langston Hughes. A landmark publication, the book went through six revised and updated editions and remained in print through the 1990s. Milton and Hughes became good friends, collaborating on another book. Milton wrote a biography of Hughes, published in 1968. That book received the Carter G. Woodson Award and was a National Book Award finalist. Three other of Milton’s books were National Book Award finalists.
Milton continued publishing books through 2008. Among his last titles were a biography of John Steinbeck for Viking’s Up Close series and his second historical novel, Tough Times, published by Clarion. Milton’s history books addressed such subjects as  ancient Egypt, the Civil Rights Movement, crime, the Great Depression, the Holocaust, the immigrant experience, labor movements, photography, piracy, poverty, racism, and slavery. A personal favorite of mine, The Amazing Potato, chronicled the impact of the potato on civilization through the centuries. Milton also explored the impact of horses and gold in books with a similar approach. Milton’s many biographies included champions of social justice like Mary McLeod Bethune, Lydia Maria Child, Samuel Gridley Howe, Dorothea Lange, Margaret Sanger, and Thaddeus Stevens, and favorite American writers like Dickinson, Poe, Sandburg, Thoreau, and Twain.
Among Milton’s many groundbreaking contributions to nonfiction for young people was his “warts and all” approach to portraying historical figures. He offered young readers the best and least admirable sides of such giants as Andrew Carnegie, Christopher Columbus, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and George Washington. Equally groundbreaking was Milton’s commitment to presenting history from the bottom up, much in the way Howard Zinn did with the milestone A People’s History of the United States. In books like The Black Americans: A History in Their Own Words and similar titles focusing on Jewish Americans, American revolutionaries, and immigrants, and perspectives of northerners and southerners in the Civil War, Milton helped readers understand the role ordinary people play in the making of history. Milton was also one of the first authors of nonfiction for young people who truly respected his audience. He had faith in the power of young people to reason, to think critically, to draw their own conclusions. We have Milton to thank for setting the standards of excellence and quality we see in the best biographies and history books published for young people today.
Milton could also cause a stir with insightful and provocative essays he wrote for professional journals. One well-known article is “Where Have All the Prizes Gone? The Case for Nonfiction” published in 1976 in Horn Book.
In 2001, the Association for Library Services to Children awarded Milton the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for his substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.
I am in the process of writing a biography of Milton Meltzer. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview him several times over the last few years and maintain a correspondence. He was and always will be a profound influence and inspiration to me as an historian and writer.
Let me close with one of my favorite quotes from Milton. It is from an article originally published in Wilson Library Bulletin in 1969. It is a good summation of his approach and philosophy as a historian and writer for young people. It resonates as much today as it did 40 years ago.
“You may ask, what is the relevance of all this history to the young? It has the meaning of all true history, the meaning of what it is to be American. We cannot endure as a people, as a nation, unless we can distinguish between that which is true and that which is false about this country. Ours is not a past of sweetness and light, no matter what the textbook tells us. Textbooks avoid conflicts and the disorders that have taken place in our past. No wonder they bore students. In the recounting of our past we have been the victims of censorship, a censorship more disastrous by far than any brought about by the hunters of the obscene and the pornographic. For when we have not learned the truth about our past, we cannot find the truth in the present.”

That’s what Milton’s work was all about, helping young people connect with the truth of the past so they can find the truth in their present.

Milton’s body of work comprised over 100 books. Below are some of my personal favorites, my “Meltzer Top 10.”
  • All Times, All PeoplesAll Times, All Peoples: A World History of Slavery. Illus. Leonard Everett Fisher. Harper Collins, 1980. 0-06-024187-X
  • Meltzer shows readers that slavery is as old as humankind and a universal tragedy, and that it persists in some parts of the world. This is a particularly outstanding book for readers middle school age and younger.  An excellent, in-depth study of the subject appropriate for high school and adult readers is Meltzer’s Slavery: A World History (De Capo, 1993).


Amazing Potato

  • The Amazing Potato: A Story in Which the Incas, Conquistadors, Marie Antionette, Thomas Jefferson, Wars, Famines, Immigrants, and French Fries All Play a Part. Harper Collins, 1992. 0-06-020806-6
  • How can anyone not love a title like that? Meltzer explains the great impact the seemingly unassuming potato has had upon civilizations through the centuries in this entertaining, fascinating, and concise history.


Andrew Jackson

  • Andrew Jackson and His America. Franklin Watts, 1993. 0-531-11157-1
  • This biography is a perfect example of Meltzer’s “warts and all” approach to writing about historical figures. Meltzer’s compelling portrait reveals to readers that there is much to admire and much to loathe about the seventh President of the United States.



The Black Americans

  •  The Black Americans: A History in Their Own Words, 1619-1983. Harper Collins,1984. 0-690-04418-6
  • This collection of individual views and experiences is an excellent example of Meltzer’s approach to presenting history “from the ground up,” much as Howard Zinn did in his groundbreaking work, A People’s History of the United States.


Brother, Can You Spare a Dime

  • Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? The Great Depression, 1929-1933. Facts On File, 1991. 978-0-8160-2372-1
  • Milton provides readers with vivid glimpses of people from all regions and walks of life who suffered through the Great Depression. Milton also wrote about the Great Depression in Violins & Shovels: The WPA Arts Project (Delacorte, 1976) and the historical novel Tough Times (Clarion, 2007).

Hunted Like a Wolf

  • Hunted Like a Wolf: The Story of the Seminole War. Pineapple Press, 2004. 1-56164-305-X
  • The war against the Seminoles was the longest of the Indians wars and the costliest in money and human life. Milton portrays white Americans at their ugliest, taking advantage of the Seminoles’ innocence, and driving them from their homeland with greed and treachery. An absorbing, revealing book about America’s violent, racist history. The book was originally published in 1972 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


Never to Forget

  • Never To Forget: The Jews of the Holocaust. Harper Collins, 1976. 0-06-024175-6
  • An outstanding, unflinching history. Milton uses excerpts from letters, diaries, memoirs, poems, and songs to reveal what everyday life was like for Jews struggling to survive in the ghettos, and labor and death camps. Another excellent Holocaust book by Milton is Rescue: The Story of How the Gentiles Saved Jews in the Holocaust (Harper Collins, 1988)


Pictorial History of the Negro in America

  • A Pictorial History of the Negro in America. Crown, 1956.
  • Milton’s first book, co-authored with the great Langston Hughes, was revolutionary for its time. The idea that African Americans had a history worth reading about was a fairly radical one, and most publishers did not think of black Americans as a book-buying audience. With the Civil Rights Movement building serious momentum, however, the timing was perfect for such a book. This landmark publication went through six major editions (the last titled A Pictorial History of African Americans) and remained in print through the 1990s. Milton and Hughes became close friends working on the book. That would collaborate on another, Black Magic: A Pictorial History of the Negro in American Entertainment (1967). That book would also go through several revisions.

Starting from Home

  • Starting from Home: A Writer’s Beginnings. Viking, 1988. 0-670-81604-3
  • In this entertaining and revealing memoir, Milton recounts his childhood and adolescent experiences growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts. Milton offers a great deal of insight into what it was like being the first-generation son of immigrants and Jewish in a predominantly gentile city. He speaks vividly of his educational experiences, his friendships, the brutal impact the Great Depression had upon his family, and other events that would shape his view of the world and direction as a writer.


Tongue of Flame

  • Tongue of Flame: The Life of Lydia Maria Child. Crowell, 1965. 0-690-04903-X
  • Milton says he was drawn to the story of Lydia Maria Child because “hers was an extraordinary life.” Abolitionist, author, Indian rights activist, journalist, novelist, poet, women’s rights crusader–extraordinary indeed! Milton’s admiration for his subject is evident in this lively and vivid portrait of one of America’s greatest champions for social justice. Milton also co-edited a collection of selected letters by Child.
Published in: on September 21, 2009 at 5:19 pm  Comments (3)  

The Final Frontier

The 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission prompted the publication of a slew of books about the moon landing. Here are a few of my favorites and a couple of other notable titles about the space race.

  • Laika Abadzis, Nick. Laika. First Second/Roaring Brook, 2007. 978-1-59643-101-0 $17.95
  • The launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 began the space race between the Soviet Union and United States. For a dramatic sequel, Soviet Premier Khrushchev called for a living creature to be sent into space. Laika is a down-and-out, plucky stray caught by local officials and sent to the canine lab at the Institute of Aviation Medicine. The dog’s special ability to withstand g-force and consume the special gel food given to the test subjects make her the obvious choice to be the sole passenger on Sputnik II. The plan is only to monitor her in her few hours of life in space, though, not to bring her home. Abadzis’s heartbreaking and solidly researched graphic novel treatment of Laika’s poignantly tragic story is a standout, not just for its sympathetic point of view but for its refusal to anthropomorphize what is an undeniably cute dog whose life was full of suffering.
  • MoonshotFloca, Brian. Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11. Atheneum, 2009. 978-1-4169-5046-2 $17.99
  • Of all the books published about the moon landing this year, this is unquestionably the best for younger readers. Floca’s gloriously illustrated, stirring account retraces Apollo 11’s historic mission in brief but precise detail, and also brilliantly  captures the mighty scope and drama of the achievement. Intelligent and stunning.
  • T MinusOttaviani, Jim. Illus. Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon. T-Minus: The Race to the Moon. Aladdin, 2009. 978-1-4169-8682-9 $21.99 
  • Beginning with dreamers and visionaries from as far back as the 1880s and moving through the scientists and astronauts of later years, T-Minus is a fictionalized graphic-format examination of the race to reach the moon. Historical and technical details abound, but the book succeeds as both a human drama and a recollection of a bygone era, when the world was mesmerized listening to Sputnik’s beeping signal on the radio and caught up in President Kennedy’s challenge to overcome the Soviets in the space race. The bulk of the narrative focuses on the dedicated American and Russian scientists, and the early Soviet victories provide fascinating contrast into the wo cultures’ differing ambitions, work ethics, and notions of heroism. The precise black-and-white art and page compositions invoke an appropriate nostalgic look.
  • Almost AstronautsStone, Tanya Lee. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream. Candlewick, 2009. 978-0-7636-3611-1 $24.99
  • Stone tells the fascinating, dramatic true story of the “Mercury 13,” a group of women aviators who proved to be as courageous, intelligent, and fit as any man, but were nonetheless barred from NASA’s astronaut program because of their gender. When NASA was created in 1958 and the astronaut training program established, visionaries like Randolph Lovelace, the physician who tested the Mercury 7 astronauts, were determined to prove women as capable as men to meet the demands of space travel. At the center of the story is Jerrie Cobb, a veteran pilot who successfully completed every test given to male astronauts. Through the tests of Cobb and others, Lovelace proved women had the “right stuff,” but these findings were not enough to overcome the prevailing prejudices of the time. It took 20 years before NASA admitted women into the astronaut program. Stone poignantly chronicles how the efforts of Cobb and her colleagues were ridiculed and thwarted by everyone from Vice-President Lyndon Johnson to Mercury astronauts Scott Carpenter and John Glenn. In a bitter irony, their campaign was also sabotaged out of jealousy and spite by Jackie Cochran, a highly respected, trailblazing female pilot. Stone offers great insight into how deeply ingrained sexism was in American society and its institutions. Handsomely illustrated with photographs, this empowering story will leave readers inspired.
  • Team MoonThimmesh, Catherine. Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon. Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 978-0-618-50757-3 $19.95
  • There is no better nonfiction account of the Apollo 11 mission than this behind-the-scenes look that has an almost cinematic quality in its breadth and detail. Opening with several photographs of people huddled around televisions to view the event, Thimmesh then delves into the back story of the organizations and hundreds of thousands of people who made the 1969 mission possible. Readers meet 24-year-old “computer whiz kid Jack Garman,” who helped work through worrisome computer glitches during the Eagle’s landing, as well as one of the seamstresses who sewed the spacesuits. The narrative flows chronologically and seamlessly, from John F. Kennedy’s 1961 speech to Apollo 11’s splashdown. This fascinating, engrossing account was showered with honors, incluing the 2007 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award.
Published in: on August 31, 2009 at 9:57 pm  Leave a Comment