Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Story of Ruby Bridges (Book Review)

Title: The Story of Ruby Bridges
Author: Robert Coles  
Publication: Scholastic Hardcover, 1995
Genre: Picture Book/Nonfiction
Plot: This is a children’s version of the real story about Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African American who integrated the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960. Each day she had to walk by angry, vicious protesters as she was escorted by federal marshals to her classroom. The white parents kept their children home so Ruby was taught alone by Barbara Henry. Brought up by a religious family that was proud of what they realized was her place in history, Ruby handled the pressure with dignity and grace beyond her years, praying for the protesters as she passed them each morning. Eventually, other African American children joined her at the school, and after several years, the white families sent their children back to school. Ruby graduated from this elementary school and from high school, and brought up her own family in New Orleans as well.

Audience: This is a great story to introduce civil rights issues to small children, as it is a dramatic story with a winsome heroine that hints at the underlying violence but is not too scary.

My Impressions: This is a wonderful story for all ages about the brave Bridges family: a mother who was determined her daughter would make history, and had brought up this small child to pray for her enemies and have the strength to walk by them every day. Coles captures both the incredible loneliness of Ruby’s situation and her great dignity, as she marched past her tormentors, clutching her lunch box. I am not sure a modern child used to an integrated classroom could even begin to understand why it was such a volatile issue or comprehend the viciousness of the adults who yelled death threats at Ruby. Of course, my own City of Boston had its own shameful episode during its court-ordered desegregation when white adults threw rocks at buses bringing African-American children to South Boston. As in this book, people blamed the judge instead of their own racist attitudes.

The existing teachers from the Frantz School refused to teach in an integrated school, so Ruby was taught by the amazing Barbara Henry, a teacher from Boston, whose sons later went to school with my brother. Mrs. Henry taught Ruby alone for a year before other children joined the classroom. Here is a link to the Boston Globe interview about her experience. I knew Mrs. Henry as a kind family friend long before I learned about her courage and willingness to sacrifice her own safety to advance the civil rights of African American children in the South. I love that she attributes her outstanding education at then Girls’ Latin in Boston as instilling respect for all, regardless of race or background. My sister-in-law’s niece Parker is a seventh grader at Boston Latin Academy, as it is now known, and I hope her experience there will be as enriching.

Last year, the Friends of Roslindale Branch Library, of which I am part, formed a Racial Justice and Inclusiveness Committee to plan educational events, discussions, and presentations related to race, ethnicity, religion and culture. We have had good attendance at the first events and are considering a children’s event which inspired me to read this book. Click here for more information and a schedule of events.

Note that on March 30, 2017 the Roslindale Library will be discussing Spectacle by Pamela Newkirk which was highly recommended by one of our committee members.

Ruby Bridges was escorted by federal marshals to her classroom each day
Source: I checked out this book from the Boston Public Library. There are a number of books about Ruby Bridges but I recognized the name of Pulitzer-prize winning Robert Coles, so chose this one. I did not know that as a child psychiatrist he had offered to provide counseling to Ruby and met with her weekly during her first year of school (he was stationed in Biloxi). One of my greatest academic regrets is not taking advantage of the opportunity to study with him in college.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Widow's House (Book Review)

Title: The Widow’s House
Author: Carol Goodman
Publication: Trade Paperback, William Morrow, 2017
Genre: Suspense
Purchase LinksAmazon, Harper Collins, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound
Plot: When Jess and Clare Martin sell most of their belongings and leave Brooklyn to move to the Hudson Valley, they both hope it will jump start Jess’ writing career, which has faltered after one high profile novel. The area they choose is familiar to them because it is Clare’s home town and is near Bailey College which they both attended. In fact, the professor they admired, Alden Montague, needs a caretaker for his property, Riven House, so they move into his gate house. Soon Jess is writing again and drinking with Montague, and while Clare is relieved to see him in a good mood, her own spirits have suffered after hearing a disturbing story about Montague’s father and a young woman he betrayed. Clare’s parents are gone but even as she tries to reconnect with old friends, including her high school boyfriend, the atmosphere around the house becomes so disturbing she begins to wish she had never returned. . .

Audience: Fans of romantic suspense, including authors such as Susanna Kearsley and Daphne Du Maurier (coincidentally, I chose Du Maurier’s The Scapegoat for my book group to read this month, and it too was dark and suspenseful).

My Impressions: The Widow’s House is a modern gothic which I found so compelling that I read it in two sittings. Clare is an appealing heroine, and Goodman has created memorable major and minor characters. Having visited my share of small colleges in upstate New York, I enjoyed the depiction of Bailey College and its aspiring literati, as well as the arrogant (if sometimes charming) professor who flirted with his students (hard to believe it was acceptable in my grandparents’ day). Readers will enjoy Goodman’s effortless prose and vivid descriptions of the Hudson Valley (the apples can almost be tasted) and its inhabitants, past and present, and will lose themselves as I did in a mysterious ghost story that leads to the discovery of numerous family secrets.  I give her extra credit for surprising me with some of the twists at the end; I need to reread later to see if there were clues I missed.  Just don’t do what I did – I read it late at night in bed as the snow came down and I felt very isolated!
  
I had always meant to read Carol Goodman so when I noticed that the heroine of this book shares my sister’s name I was intrigued and made that my excuse to be included in this blog tour.

Five of five stars - recommended!  I may also buy her new middle grade novel, The Metropolitans, which looks enjoyable, for my nephew's birthday.
Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes.

Please join Carol Goodman, author of New York Times bestseller, The Lake of Dead Languages, as she tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, March 21st: Caryn, The Book Whisperer
Thursday, March 23rd: Tina Says…
Monday, March 27th: Booksie’s Blog
Tuesday, March 28th: A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, March 29th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, April 5th: Why Girls Are Weird
Tuesday, April 11th: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, April 13th: Book by Book
Wednesday, April 19th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, April 20th: Jathan & Heather

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hollywood Star (Book Review)

Title: Hollywood Star (Gloria Whitcomb, #3)
Author: Gladys Malvern
Publication: Julian Messner, Hardcover, 1953
Genre: Young Adult
this blurry cover was all I could find
Plot: Gloria Whitcomb, a talented but unknown ballerina from New York, has been cast to play Anna Pavlova in a movie, and heads to Los Angeles for the filming, chaperoned by her mother and young brother. It is hard for Gloria to leave her handsome fiancĂ© behind in Manhattan, and she doesn’t realize the studio will want to promote her as glamorous and single. The stresses of acting for the first time before people who doubt her and being thrown into the company of handsome actors (with dubious motives) strain her performance and her relationship with Doug. Can Gloria triumph over Hollywood’s petty jealousies and stay true to the man she has loved for so long?

Audience: Young adult readers, fans of ballet fiction and of career novels

My Impressions: As a pre-teen I loved all of Gladys Malvern’s books, at least those found in the Newton and Brighton libraries. Most of her books were historical fiction, ranging from surprisingly compelling biblical fiction (Behold Your Queen, The Foreigner) to books set in colonial America. The Boys and Girls Library in Newton Corner had copies of the first two books in this series, Gloria Ballet Dancer and Prima Ballerina, and I read them many times, without knowing this third book existed until I was grown up. It is the weakest of the three but Gladys was clearly trying to convey as much as she could about the movie business for eager teens. She does a good job conveying the spite and backbiting that go on when an outsider is cast for a big part (luckily, Gloria has retained her girl next door personality and usually wins people over sooner or later), and she depicts two gossip columnists who must be based on Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, rivals who together had an audience of 75 million in their heyday.

On the movie set, Gloria is upstaged and belittled by her co-star, an actor who thinks he can take advantage of her lack of experience. She is assisted in standing up for herself by his rival, Jules Fletcher, not because he cares about Gloria but because Jules doesn’t want a rival male actor to gain in popularity. It is a sign of Gloria’s cluelessness that she never figures this out, and disappointing that her mother is too intimidated by Hollywood and Gloria’s success to provide the sensible mothering needed.

Those of us who suffered with Gloria during years of wondering if Doug Gardiner cared for her will not enjoy seeing her squabble with him or flirt with another man. It’s a little like when you think Betsy Ray and Joe Willard have finally worked out their differences and then you learn that in a book which doesn’t even exist, Betsy was flirting with Bob Baryhdt at the U*!
Anna Pavlova
Source: I obtained a copy of this book via Interlibrary Loan. Thank you to Rowan University in New Jersey for preserving and sharing it. This is one of what were called a Career Romance for Young Moderns. My library had only a handful because they were already dated in the 70s but I read them and so did @sadiestein.

* Maud Hart Lovelace always referred to the University of Minnesota as the U, so I did too. When I was about ten, some friend of my parents asked where I wanted to go to college, and when I said, importantly, “The U,” she asked, puzzled, “Which U?”