Friday, February 22, 2019

Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks

Tiny Stitches presents the remarkable story of a surgeon few people have likely heard of, but to whom many owe their life. Vivien Thomas, an African American doctor developed a surgical technique to save the lives of babies born with a serious heart defect. Personal circumstances and deep-rooted racism almost succeeded in preventing this remarkably talented man from the profession he felt called to.

Vivien Thomas was born in 1910 in Lake Providence, Louisiana. However, his family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where Vivien attended public school. Inspired by his family's doctor to enter the medical profession, Vivien saved his wages from various jobs including working with his father who was a master carpenter and also working in an infirmary. When he graduated high school, Vivien enrolled in the premedical program at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College. Unfortunately, the stock market crash in October 1929, wiped out Vivien's bank savings and he was forced to withdraw.

Determined to somehow continue, Vivien was hired as a laboratory assistant to Dr. Alfred Blalock at Vanderbilt University, an all white institution.  Blalock and his research fellow Dr. Joseph Beard tutored Thomas in complex surgical techniques. However, Thomas was classified as a janitor rather than a surgical assistant or researcher. Thomas became a skilled assistant whose work was so good that when Blalock was offered the post of Chief of Surgery at John Hopkins in 1941, he insisted that Thomas accompany him.

While at Vanderbilt, Blalock and Thomas determined that shock following traumatic crushing injuries required blood transfusions and fluid. Their work was used to save the lives of many World War II soldiers. This discovery was a foreshadowing of the great work that was still to come.

At John Hopkins, pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Helen Taussig approached Blalock about a congenital heart defect known as blue baby syndrome or Tetralogy of Fallot. In a normal heart, the left side of the heart pumps blood to the body, while the right side of the heart pumps blood to the lungs to be oxygenated. However, in babies with this defect there is a hole between the left and right chambers that allows some of the blood that should go to the lungs to be oxygenated, to flow back to the left chamber and to the body. Thomas replicated this defect in laboratory dogs and then devised a way to safely repair the damage. Eventually, this procedure was carried out on a desperately ill baby, with Thomas guiding Blalock in the surgery and was a resounding success.  Blalock and Taussig received recognition for this procedure, but Thomas, the real genius behind the technique which became known as the Blalock-Taussig shunt, did not.

Thomas was known for his brilliant surgical technique and his ability to suture flawlessly. He was the inspiration and surgical instructor for an entire generation of American surgeons including the renowned heart surgeon, Denton Cooley. But Thomas's abilities were never fully recognized for decades.  It wasn't until 1976 that Vivien Thomas was recognized but with an Honorary Doctor of Laws (and not Medicine).


Tiny Stitches is a well written and informative picture book that captures the real impact of racism on the lives of  black Americans. Vivien Thomas had a dream of being a doctor but his ability to attain his dream was impacted both by the economic fallout of the 1929 Stock Market Crash as well as by systemic racial discrimination. Despite his brilliant surgical skills and his outstanding abilities as a researcher, he was never afforded the opportunity to further his education when he worked at Vanderbilt because the university only accepted white students.  His immense contributions to medicine and surgery remained unrecognized for twenty-six years; instead those contributions were attributed to the white surgeons he worked with and who came to be recognized internationally. Yet despite all the obstacles Thomas faced, his life is an example of fortitude, perseverance and resiliency, and he graciously trained other doctors who came to study at John Hopkins. By all estimates, he was a remarkable man.

Hooks fully utilizes the picture book format to present her readers with many interesting details about the life of Vivien Thomas.  These details, in easy to read, bold text, accompanied by Colin Bootman's realistic watercolour illustrations,  make Thomas's life come alive and help to showcase his remarkable character and skills. Hooks demonstrates how Thomas's early life prepared him for his vocation as a medical researcher. Working with his father, a master carpenter, Thomas developed the skills and the dexterity required to perform delicate surgery and to craft the specialized surgical instruments needed for such operations. The racial discrimination he experienced in society, as when his family struggled to find a place to live in Baltimore, and professionally as when he knew he would have to leave Vanderbilt because he would likely lose his job are simply presented. Tiny Stitches will to think prompt young readers to consider what it would be like to experience this kind of discrimination.

Hooks' subject is well researched, as shown in her Author Sources at the back, where the author references interviews with Thomas's nephew and also a colleague. In Tiny Stitches readers will find an easy-to-understand explanation of the blue baby problem, known as tetralogy of Fallot, and how Thomas pioneered a surgical treatment for this serious defect.  Hooks also provides readers with further information about tetralogy of Fallot in a short note at the back and there is also a short note about Vivien Thomas.

Tiny Stitches is highly recommended as a resource for students to studying black history and individuals who have overcome significant obstacles in life to made a difference in the lives of others.

Book Details:

Tiny Stitches The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks
New York: Lee & Low Books Inc.       2016

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Third Mushroom by Jennifer Holm

The Third Mushroom is the sequel to The Fourteenth Goldfish, and continues the story of Ellie and her grandfather Dr. Melvin Sagarsky. In the first novel, Ellie's seventy-seven-year-old grandfather had discovered a way to reverse the aging process, turning himself into a thirteen-year-old teenager. Unable to continue working at his lab, he lands at the home of his granddaughter Ellie who lives with her divorced mother, a drama teacher. For the past year Melvin has been travelling via bus, across the country. However, one day after school, Ellie comes home to find a stranger in their house. Not knowing who is in the house, she calls 911. That stranger turns out to be her grandfather who has unexpectedly returned home.

Melvin, now fourteen, is his usual cantankerous, belligerent self, a typical teenage boy eating enormous quantities of food and producing large amounts of smelly, dirty laundry. While Melvin is much the same, things have changed in Ellie's life. In the past year, Ellie's mother has remarried to Ben, a video game designer. He doesn't know that Melvin is actually Ellie's mom's father. Instead, he's been told Melvin is her nephew. Melvin's sudden re-appearance isn't a problem as Ben is away on a trip to India.

With his return, Melvin must register to attend school, a prospect that he's not happy about, especially after he's placed back into the eighth grade. Depressed about his situation and missing his old lab from which he was forcibly removed when he grew younger, leads Ellie to suggest that maybe they should work together on the science project. Working on the science project means Melvin will have the opportunity to work in the school's new refurbished lab, something that thrills him.

Retrieving Melvin's "specimen" from their home freezer, Ellie and Melvin take it to lab to examine where  they discover it is not a jellyfish. Melvin tells Ellie that the specimen an axolatl, a salamander that has gills and lives underwater. Melvin tells her that the axolatl has the ability to regenerate missing body parts.Their axolatl is unusual in that it has six legs instead of the usual four.

Melvin is not sure why their axolatl has six legs; this could be due to genetic variation or the influence of the environment. Ellie suggests that their science project might be to determine if the extra legs are due to environmental variation by using the axolotl as food. Melvin agrees that this is a good idea for their experiment, so they purchase fruit flies from the pet store and mix their own fruit fly media to breed them.

As Ellie and her grandfather work on their experiment, they must both contend with unexpected events in their lives, take chances and cope with loss.


The Third Mushroom is a delightful sequel, continuing all the charm of The Fourteenth Goldfish while serving up a mixture of funny and equally sad moments. Holm continues to capture Melvin's sarcastic wit, along with Ellie's realistic middle-grade wisdom.

The Third Mushroom tackles several different themes including death and the grieving process, aging and the meaning of friendship. In this novel, Ellie learns about how her grandmother's death from pancreatic cancer deeply affected her grandfather. Melvin tells her in response to her question as to why he never dated again, "...I was destroyed when your grandmother died. You can't imagine what it was like to watch her waste away from the cancer. Two PhDs and a lifetime dedicated to science and I still couldn't stop a few malignant cells! I would have done anything to save her..." Eventually though, when Melvin begins to age again, he reconsiders when Ellie points out that perhaps the woman he's interested in - the school librarian might be a rare chance in life.

Ellie too must come to terms with her own loss, that of her beloved cat Jonas who dies after being hit by a car. As Ellie and her grandfather consider treating Jonas with the axolotl, Ellie must consider whether treating him is the right thing to do. "Should we try -- and maybe cause Jonas pain -- in the hope that he'll live? Or do we just let Jonas live out his last days and then let him die? I suddenly understand better what my grandfather and mother went through with my grandmother, because these are impossible choices..."

Holm, the daughter of two medical professionals, manages to incorporate many science facts into her story in a way that fits with the storyline line and makes her novel more interesting, especially to young readers with an interest in science. Through the character of Melvin Sagarsky, Holm is able to inform her readers about several scientists who made groundbreaking discoveries, how the scientific method is important, and how critical thinking in science can be applied to her everyday life. For example, readers will learn about several famous scientists and their discoveries; Sir Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin, William and Caroline  Herschel, brother and sister astronomers who respectively discovered comets and made telescopes, James Carroll and Jesse Lazear who confirmed that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes and Antoine van Leeuwenhoek, who developed the first usable microscope.

Ellie is impatient for their experiment to show results but Melvin explains that this isn't the way science works. Melvin asks Ellie to consider what her hypothesis is for the experiment, and what their data shows to date. "The point of having a hypothesis is not to be right. It's about the data. Sometimes the data takes you in a direction you never imagined, and you have an interesting result." Melvin explains that "Good scientists learn from their data."   

Melvin even applies the scientific method to Ellie's life. In Ellie's life, her best friend Raj, who is tall and goth, asks her out on a date. Although they are best friends, Ellie has never considered Raj in this way, but when she goes to watch him at a chess tournament, she sees Raj in a different way. "He's focused and confident. He seems so much more than my potato chip-sharing friend. I remember what my grandfather said about looking at something a thousand times and then one day seeing something new."

When her date with Raj doesn't work out and their relationship tanks, Melvin encourages Ellie to look at both her hypothesis ("...we were perfect for each other) and her data (We were great at being friends!) and draw her conclusion. Melvin tells her "But failure is part of experimentation. It's okay to make mistakes....Your experiment failed but you learned something from it."

The title of the novel, The Third Mushroom is a reference to Ellie's third attempt at trying mushrooms which she hates. Ellie first tried mushrooms in ravioli and found they tasted like dirt. Her second experience at a Chinese restaurant they were rubbery and slimy. However the third time Ellie has mushrooms is in lasagna made with portobello mushrooms. They taste like chicken to her. From this Ellie learns that it is important to experiment in life a bit, to try new challenges before writing something off completely.

The Third Mushroom is a wonderful conclusion to the story of Ellie and her eccentric scientist-grandfather. The novel ends on an upbeat tone, Melvin is aging again and has moved out to live his own life, Ellie has a new cat, her relationship with her best friend Raj is restored, and she's working on becoming friends again with Brianna. This novel is well-written, funny, and offers young readers plenty to think about without getting too heavy.

Holm includes an Author's Note, Recommended Resources for Continuing the Conversation which lists some resources to explore famous scientists, and Mellie's Gallery of Scientists which feature short bios of the scientists mentioned in the novel. 

Book Details:

The Third Mushroom by Jennifer Holm
New York: Random House LLC     2018
217 pp.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

Leia: Princess of Alderaan is the third novel in the Star Wars series written by Claudia Gray. In this novel, sixteen-year-old Princess Leia is coming of age and must prove herself worthy of the throne of Alderaan. Adopted as a baby by Breha and Bail Organa after Bail returns from a mysterious mission, Leia has grown up in the palace preparing for the day when she will oversee Alderaan.

Leia's Day of Demand has arrived and guests from worlds across the galaxy are present on Alderaan. Many of her father's diplomatic allies in the Imperial Senate, including Winmey Lenz and Mon Mothma of Chandrella, Tynnra Pamlo from Taris and Cinderon Malpe of Derella, are in attendance.

In the Day of Demand, Leia's right to be declared an heir must first see her prove her worth through a series of "Challenges". For her Challenge of the Mind, Leia will help her father in the Imperial Senate and represent Alderaan in the Apprentice Legislature.For her Challenge of the Body she plans to climb Alderaan's Appenza Peak to its summit. For her Challenge of the Heart, Leia intends to undertake aid missions to planets in need.

However, after the ceremony, Leia is left alone and she feels abandoned and forgotten by her parents who seem unduly preoccupied. Her father is often in discussions with various senators and her mother seems focused on planning her next state dinner. In an attempt to do something too impressive for them to ignore, Leia impulsively decides to undertake a mission to the planet, Wobani. This planet, never prosperous, has seen its economy destroyed by a program ordered by Emperor Palpatine. Suffering from famine and isolated by travel restrictions, Wobani is on the verge of collapse with millions of refugees. With her ship Tantive IV filled with rations, Leia along with Captain Antilles arrive to a shocking scene of thousands of starving people. Leia attempts to transport some of the refugees to her home planet of Alderaan, appealing to the Imperial officer in charge, Major Tedam. However, he refuses her request, telling her she must leave with only her crew on board. In a daring move, Leia circumvents the restriction by hiring on one hundred refugees as crew members.

Their return to Alderaan is further complicated when they stop at the deep space station, Calderos Station only to discover that it has been attacked. The Tantive IV is allowed to continue on, but Leia realizes that people are beginning to fight back against the tyranny of the Empire. When Leia returns home, the pride she feels at what she has accomplished is quickly dispelled when she learns of the possible fallout from her actions from her mother, Queen Breha.

The next day Leis travels to a region of Alderaan containing the Appenza Peak to rendezvous with her pathfinding class. The group includes the wealthy Chassellon Stevis of Coruscant, Harp Allor of Chandrila, Sssamm Ashsssen of Fillithar (a planet with serpentine-like life forms), Amilyn Holdo of Gatalenta and Kier Domadi of Alderaan. Leading their group is Chief Pangie of the Chandrilan Pathfinding Corps who tells them they will visit different climates on different worlds. This challenge is to climb partway up the mountain and then to find their way back down. When Harp breaks her ankle, the group separates into those who want to help her led by Princess Leia and those who don't led by Chassellon. During the journey down the mountain, Leia and Kier talk about her responsibilities and life on Alderaan.

Princess Leia - played by actress Carrie Fisher in the original trilogy.
Leia's next duty is to attend the first session of the Apprentice Legislature on Coruscant. Because her father is a senator in the Imperial Senate, they have a penthouse apartment known as Cantham House which Leia is familiar with. Leia and her fellow apprentices first attend a reception where they are greeted by Grand Moff Whilhuff Tarkin, who is Emperor Palpatine's second. Leia introduces her self to Tarkin, whom she finds unsettling and not entirely friendly.

Leia had hoped to spend some time with her much absent father, but when she returns to their family's apartment, she learns from her father that he must leave for a meeting with Mon Mothma and will be away on a fact-finding mission for at least a week. In his absence, Leia attends the first session of the Apprentice Legislature. After introductions are made, the young apprentices are tasked with determining which planet should be the location of Emperor Palpatine's new aeronautical engineering academy. Leia, with the help of Kier, manage to convince the assembly to choose Arreyel, a planet suffering from being on the wrong side in the Clone Wars.

Later that evening, while working late in her office at the Apprentice Legislature, Leia inadvertently stumbles upon some puzzling information regarding Calderos Station - the outpost that was attacked. While analyzing the space traffic patterns through Calderos Station, Leia discovers that several unusual planets are involved including Crait and Itapi Prime. Leia believes these unusual traffic patterns through the station are "traces of people who were rising up against the Empire..." in a very dangerous way.

Uncertain as to what to do, Leia decides to investigate herself. Using the Polestar piloted by Lieutenant Ress Batten, she travels to Crait, a planet covered in salt flats. The Polestar is able to escape a weak tractor beam and identifies a small settlement in the northern area of the planet. But once on Crait, Princess Leia is taken by unidentified soldiers while Batten is forced to remain with the ship. To Leia's shock, she meets her father who is also stunned to see his daughter.

Leia reveals to him how she was able to track the rebels to Crait. She questions her father on having attacked the Empire, reminding him that he has always maintained they "had to exercise influence through the Senate, to change the system from within."  But Leia is also amazed and wants to be a part of her father's efforts to weaken the Empire from within.Her father however is adamant that she is not to be involved, believing that if they are discovered, her ignorance will save her.

Iit is an unexpected meeting with Grand Moff Tarkin that sees Leia thrown headlong into a dangerous situation that threatens not only her family but the entire rebellion movement.


Fans of Star Wars will definitely enjoy this well-written novel about Princess Leia of Alderaan and her life before she becomes involved in the Rebel Alliance. 

Gray spends some time creating the setting for the events that happen in the novel, although those readers unfamiliar with the Star Wars canon may have difficulty understanding the various characters, different planets and life forms. The novel contains many references to characters, events and settings in the Star Wars movies. The assumption is that most young readers will know the story line well enough to understand these references. For example, when Princess Leia visits the mining colony on Onoam, a moon orbiting the planet Naboo, readers will recall that Naboo is actually the home planet of Leia's biological mother, a fact she doesn't yet know in this novel. Sometimes Gray helps her readers with descriptions that clarify. For example, Sssamm Ashsssen is a snake-like life form lacking legs and hands. His physical nature becomes apparent on the hike on the mountain as he aids Leia and her companions taking the injured Harp to safety.

The essential story line in Leia: Princess of Alderaan focuses on Leia's coming of age and her journey into the beginnings of rebellion against the Empire's tyranny. As Leia begins attending the Apprentice Legislature, she is working towards the goal of some day becoming Queen of Alderaan and representing her planet in the Senate. But her new acquaintance, Kier Domadi offers a suggestion Leia has not ever considered - choosing her own path. This concept is expressed metaphorically in the journey Leia takes on the mountain during her first pathfinder session, when Harp Allor is injured. Leia forges a new alliance with some of the pathfinders to find a route down the mountain, different from the one they took in the ascent.

When Leia uncovers her parents involvement in the resistance to the Empire, she is  inspired by their courage to forge her own path in life. She wants to act because "the battle ahead was one for her future..." At first Leia has no concept of what her role in the resistance to the Empire might be. Initially she believes that if she can document some of the Empire's excesses and get this information to those who can use it, this might be helpful. But as Mon Mothma explains to a naive Leia, "The people of the galaxy know Palpatine is corrupt and cruel." She explains, "Trillions of people understand what he truly is, and with every day that passes, more of them become willing to do whatever it takes to see the Empire fall."

As it turns out, Leia's most valuable asset appears to be her presence on Coruscant. Leia's doubts about ever playing a meaningful role in helping to bring down Palpatine are quickly dispelled when she realizes during a conversation with Moff Tarkin, that he knows about the secret armada her parents and others have been amassing at Paucris Major. Suddenly Leia is vitally important to the resistance in a way she could never have imagined, as the only one who can warn her father that the Empire knows and is coming for them. This turn of events will cost Leia dearly, but it will prove her mettle in the far more dangerous times to come.

Gray has crafted Leia's character well; she's believable and true to the character in the original movie trilogy. Leia is intelligent, decisive, a quick learner, and able to assess the people around her quickly and fairly. For example, at first she believes Kier might be standoffish and stiff-necked but quickly comes to realize that he is shy. Kier adds depth to Leia's character, acting as a love interest and as someone who questions Leia's parents involvement with the beginning rebellion because of the threat it poses to the peaceful, beautiful and wealthy Alderaan. Kier believes that Alderaan is possibly "...the one truly safe place in the entire Empire". It is as he is dying that Leia fortunately discovers his plan to inform the Empire about the rebellion fleet. Kier loves Alderaan more than he hates the Empire, something Leia understands but does not agree with. As Star Wars fans know, Kier has under-estimated the evil of the Empire, as Alderaan is eventually annihilated by the Death Star.

Perhaps the most delightful character in the novel is Amilyn Holdo, an eccentric human, with wildly coloured hair, an odd young woman with a loopy way of talking, but who, in the end, proves to be both insightful and a courageous young woman.

Overall, Leia: Princess of Alderaan is well done and will appeal to fans of the Stars Wars movies and science fiction fans too.

Book Details:

Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray
Glendale, California: Disney- Lucasfilms Books    2017
409 pp.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Girl From The Tar Paper School by Teri Kanefield

In 1951, fifteen-year-old Barbara Rose Johns and her sister Joan attended Robert R. Moton High School - a high school for black students - in Farmville, Virginia. In the 1950's, segregation which kept black and white Americans separate in schools, restaurants, theatres, and in most public areas, was legal in the United States. The high school, for students from the black community, consisted of a main brick building surrounded by temporary classrooms constructed of wood and covered with tar paper. In rainy weather, these wooden "chicken coops" as the students called them, leaked. In cold weather they were heated unevenly by the pot-bellied stoves, meaning those students near the stove were warm while those further away shivered from the cold. In contrast, the school for white students, Farmville High School, "had modern heating, an industrial-arts shop, locker rooms, an infirmary, a cafeteria, and a real auditorium complete with sound equipment."

Barbara questioned her music teacher, Miss Inez Davenport whom she had come to trust, about the unfair conditions of their school. Miss Davenport challenged Barbara to act. Barbara, who lived in Darlington Heights with her parents, considered the problem of the tar paper shacks. Eventually, Barbara came up with the idea of leading her fellow students on a strike to protest the terrible conditions and the lack of action by both the school board and the town officials. The next day Barbara called together students she felt were important leaders in the student community including John and Carrie Stokes (vice president and president of the 1951 graduating class respectively) and John Watson (school newspaper editor-in-chief and member of the school business club). The students decided to strike in the spring in an attempt to force the school board and city to act.

On April 23, 1951 the students of Robert Russa Moton High walked out of class, led by Barbara Johns. The students kept their plans secret knowing that if parents or teachers were aware of the possible strike they might lose their jobs or face other repercussions. Principal Boyd Jones was lured into town by a telephone call informing him that black students were causing trouble in the town. Once Principal Jones had left the school, notes written by Barbara informing the teachers in each class that there was an assembly in the school auditorium distributed. Once the teachers and their classes assembled in the auditorium, Barbara took the stage and asked the teachers to leave. Barbara's speech focused on the terrible conditions at the school, the inability of the parents and the city to deal with this problem and how they had to the right to the same facilities that the Farmville white students enjoyed.

Principal Boyd returned to the school and urged Barbara and the students to quit their strike, telling them that a new school was being worked on. But Barbara asked him to leave and she then led the students on a picket in front of the school. After meeting with Reverend L. Francis Griffin, the pastor at the First Baptist Church in Farmville, Barbara called the NAACP in an attempt to get them involved but they were reluctant, telling her to write a letter.

Some of the Moton High School students who attended the strike.
The (white) superintendent of Prince Edward County Schools, T. J. McIlwaine refused to meet with Barbara and the students, so she along with several other students walked to his office and met with hi in the county courthouse. He refused Barbara's demands for black students to join their white counterparts at Farmville High and insisted that a new school was in the works. He also stated there was no difference in quality between the two high schools.

Three days into the strike, on April 25, 1951, two NAACP lawyers, Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill arrived to speak with Barbara and the striking students. They encouraged the students to go back to class because their strategy had changed. Instead of seeking schools of equal quality for black students, they were now working towards desegregation. Barbara's goal for the strike was a new building. Instead, the student strike at Robert R. Moton High would become part of a much larger push to achieve desegregation. Barbara Johns' initiative to improve schools for black students had suddenly blossomed into a much larger effort, the beginning of the struggle to end segregation of black students in America.


The Girl From The Tar Paper School, which was written for children and teens, does an excellent job of recounting this important event which marked the beginning of efforts to desegregate schools in the United States.

Kanefield begins by describing the school that Barbara Johns and other black Americans in Farmville, Virginia must attend, and her decision to do something about the inequality experienced by black students in the county.

To help readers understand the factors that may have molded Barbara Rose Johns and motivated her to act, Kanefield delves into her family history. Readers get the sense of a close-knit family helping one another, with deep roots in Prince Edward County. Barbara, through the efforts of her Uncle Vernon Johns, a Baptist minister, learned about black history and was most definitely exposed to his volatile preaching which called out both blacks and whites. Like many black Americans, Barbara experienced racial prejudice, some of which is recounted.

Like her Uncle Vernon, Barbara "...put into words what needed to be said..." at the very beginning of the strike. Barbara's actions stunned her fellow students "...who saw her as reserved and something of a loner..." Her leadership qualities were very much in evidence during the initial stages of the strike. She boldly confronted the white superintendent, Mr. McIlwaine,

Accompanying Kanefield's narrative are a few family photographs - most were lost when the family home burned down in 1955 - as well as photographs of important lanmarks and areas that were important to Barbara and her story.

Social change is always difficult and often not without resistance. In the chapter titled, The Lost Generation, Kanefield recounts one of the unintended consequences of the fight to desegregate schools. Many readers will be shocked to learn that when desegregation was determined to be unconstitutional through the 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Prince Edward County school board refused to desegregate even though they were ordered to in 1959 by the Federal District Court. They closed all the Prince Edward County schools meaning that black children had no means of education while white students were able to attend a private school. This mean spirited action meant no schooling for black students until 1964, a situation that affected these families for years to come. Amazingly it took a Supreme Court decision to force the schools to reopen and "it was not until the 1980s that Prince Edward County schools were fully integrated and funded adequately enough so all children in the county could be educated."

If anything, The Girl From The Tar Paper School, helps young readers understand how racial prejudice can be so harmful both to those who hold these beliefs and to those who are victims of such prejudice. Kanefield portrays the extraordinary efforts black Americans had to go to simply to achieve the right to attend schools like other Americans and how these efforts were often peaceful and required great determination and courage.

The back matter contains an extensive Author's Note, A Select Civil Rights Timeline, Endnotes detailing the sources of quotes, a Sources page listing resources used, Image Credits and an Index. Well-written, enlightening and very moving.

image credit:

Book Details:

The Girl From The Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement   by Teri Kanefield
New York: Abrams Books For Young Readers    2014
56 pp.

Monday, February 4, 2019

We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman

We Will Not Be Silent tells the story of the White Rose Student Resistance Movement, formed during the Second World War in Nazi Germany. This group, formed to motivate and inspire the German people to rise up against Hitler and his National Socialist (Nazi) party, was founded by Hans Scholl, his younger sister Sophie and their friend Christoph Probst.

The Scholls led a relatively idyllic life growing up in the small town of Ulm on the Danube River. Their family consisted of their parents, Robert and Magdalene and five siblings; Inge, Hans, Elizabeth, Sophie and Werner. The children loved their country with its beautiful landscapes and rich culture.

Robert Scholl was not a supporter of either the Nazi party nor of Hitler. Nor was he supportive when Hans and his other children all joined the Hitler Youth Movement. Robert saw through Hitler's promises to make Germany a great nation and knew they would destroy the country. But his children were. Although membership was first voluntary, it eventually "became mandatory for all boys and girls of proven 'Aryan' descent." Hans thrived at first in the Hitler Youth, enjoying the outdoor activities and comraderie. His leadership skills resulted in him being quickly promoted to squad leader.

In 1935, a huge Nazi Party rally was held in Nuremberg, complete with a speech by Adolf Hitler. Sixteen-year-old Hans Scholl was given the honor of carrying the flag for the Ulm Hitler Youth Contingent. However, this rally marked a turning point for Hans who returned to Ulm disillusioned by the rhetoric and indoctrination of his peers. He soon lost his position as a squad leader after being caught reading a banned book and a fight with another leader over the use of a flag one of Han's boys created for their group. Instead, he joined the Deutsche Jungendschaft (German Boys' League) or d.j.1.11 which was outlawed in 1936 when membership in the Hitler Youth became mandatory.

Soon Sophie too became disillusioned. Her path was similar to that of Hans; she was a squad leader in the Bund Deutscher Madel (League of German Girls) and was caught reading a banned book. Sophie also refused to abandon her friendships with Anneliese Wallersteiner and Luise Nathan, two Jewish classmates and close friends.

Hans, Sophie and Christoph, Munich 1942. All were later executed.
The troubles for the Scholls began in 1937 when fifteen-year-old Werner and his sisters Inge and Sophie were arrested in a crackdown by the Gestapo on dissident youth groups. Their parents were shocked that children would be arrested and also because Inge and Sophie were held for a week. Hans, who was serving his two years of compulsory military service in a German cavalry unit in Stuttgart, was also arrested, placed in solitary confinement and interrogated for five weeks. Eventually all charges were dismissed.

In 1938, as conditions in Germany continued to deteriorate and Hitler secretly prepared for all out war, Hans entered medical school. In 1940, Sophie graduated high school and attempted unsuccessfully to circumvent the mandatory six months duty with the Labor Service by working as a kindergarten teacher. Finally in 1942, Sophie joined Hans at Munich University, studying philosophy and biology. She soon joined Hans and his circle of friends which included Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst and Will Graf. Although they spent time doing typical things like reading and recommending books, they often discussed the repressive political climate in Germany and what was happening in the war. The reports of death camps, mass murder of Jewish citizens along with the disappearance of many Jewish friends and neighbours were deeply troubling.

When Roman Catholic bishop, Clemens A. Graf von Galen publicly denounced the Nazi's brutal euthanasia program, Hans was impressed. Hans and his friends decided the time had come  to take a stand. It was a decision that would prove costly to Hans, Sophie and many others but be remembered as deeply heroic.


We Will Not Be Silent is a well written account that takes young readers through the events that led to the formation of the White Rose student resistance group, their brave acts of resistance against the Nazi regime, and finally to the capture and execution of Hans and Sophie Scholl and other group members.

Freedman does an excellent job of describing the Scholl's early years, providing insight as to how their deep love of their fatherland was one of the motivating factors in their decision to begin to passively resist the Nazi regime.At the same time, Germany's descent into tyranny is portrayed in a way that encourages younger readers to consider what life under Nazi rule must have been like.

Freedman portrays the complicated and terrible situation Germans now found themselves in after the infamous night of November 9, 1938. Known as Kristallnacht, mobs attacked Jews, breaking in to homes and shops, vandalizing and destroying them, beating and killing Jews and burning synagogues. "Many Germans were shocked by the brutality of the attacks. Some turned their faces away from the wreckage and wept. But the iron grip of the Nazi regime stifled any meaningful opposition. One newspaper ridiculed the 'softhearted squeamishness' of those who expressed sympathy for Jewish victims of the violence. Most Germans kept their opinions to themselves. 'The cowed middle classes stared at the Nazi monster like a rabbit at a snake,' wrote one German observer."

It was this Nazi monster that Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie and their student friends decided to confront. Hans felt it was "preposterous" that they were studying to heal people when the state was killing them by the thousands. And so they began creating anti-Nazi leaflets that encouraged the German people to "put up as fierce a fight as possible;" and to "Offer resistance - resistance- wherever you may be...before it is too late;" The series of leaflets also focused on calling to the German people's attention, the atrocities being committed in German occupied countries. Freedman lays out the dangers Hans, Sophie, Willi, Alex and others were courting just by this simple resistance.

We Will Not Be Silent portrays the tremendous courage Hans and Sophie Scholl and other resistance members displayed when finally caught, and interrogated by the Gestapo. Knowing she likely faced death, Sophie challenged the chief Gestapo interrogator, Robert Mohr, telling him, "I would do it all over again -- because I'm not wrong...You have the wrong worldview." As Sophie predicted, what they did, made waves. The White Rose leaflets continued after the execution of the Scholls and many others, even finding their way to London where the British reproduced them and dropped them by the thousands on German cities.

Freedman's account of the White Rose Resistance Movement is both moving and timely. Reader's can't help but be deeply touched by the innocence, integrity, courage and determination of Hans and Sophie Scholl. Their resistance was not violent, but peaceful and passive - an attempt to reveal the truth in a country overwhelmed by lies.

Like the miracle of St. Denis, who continued to preach the truth even while carrying his decapitated head, the truths Hans and Sophie Scholl were trying to tell their countrymen, continued to be told even after they too were beheaded.

We Will Not Be Silent is a must read for those studying war, resistance movements and the heroes of World War II. Russell Freedman included many black and white photographs from the era, which help younger readers place the events in proper context. There is a listing of Source Notes and an Index at the back. Well written, deeply moving and inspirational.


From the Jewish Virtual Library: Holocaust Resistance: The White Rose - A Lesson In Dissent by Jacob G. Hornberger

From the National Catholic Register: Remembering Sophie Scholl's Witness by Jay Copp

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Book Details:

We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman
New York: Clarion Books     2016
104 pp.