Category Archives: History

Artist Spotlight: Terry Lee Caruthers

In this Artist Spotlight, we talk with children’s book author and librarian Terry Lee Caruthers about her new book The Big Day, her entry into children’s books, and her East Tennessee roots.

 

Star Bright Books (SBB): What inspired you to begin writing books for children and young adults?

 

Terry Lee Caruthers (TLC): A Christmas legend. In December 1995, I was requested to give a storytelling performance for a woman’s group at an area church. While I was preparing, I ran across a two-sentence Christmas legend used as filler in a newspaper circular. Intrigued, I tried to find more information. When I could not, I decided it was a tale that I would have to write myself. I did and titled it A Gift of Thanks. That was the first book I wrote, and I hope that one day it will find a publisher. 

 

SBB: Your book ideas often spur from real people and real events. Why? 

 

TLC: I attribute that to my innate curiosity. An article will catch my eye, and the next thing I know there is a story germinating in my head. Sometimes they are fact-based like a picture book manuscript I wrote on Beauford Delaney titled Shoes Led The Way or my “A Glimpse of Knoxville, Tennessee History” picture storybook series that’s currently in progress. Other times they are fictional like the middle grade novel I am currently working on. The idea was inspired by an NPR StoryCorps episode.

 

SBB: Tell our audience about your Knoxville, Tennessee, roots and how they inspire your storytelling.

 

TLC: I am a lifetime resident of South Knoxville, an area near and dear to my heart. The Tennessee River separates it from the east, west, and north areas of the city. That’s why in South Knoxville’s early history it was referred to as “South America” and was slow to develop, even after Chapman Highway was built in the 1930s as the gateway to the Smoky Mountains. Nature still abounds from its kudzu-covered ridges to the limestone rock formations peeking out from the sides of the highway to the ubiquitous sinkholes that deter any type of development. 

Even though I live in a 1940s city subdivision, I can glimpse deer, fox, coyotes, rabbits, possums, raccoons, and the occasional bobcat wandering through my yard. On rare occasions, even a black bear. I guess that’s why I love it. I sit in my swing on the screen porch and let nature inspire me, like watching the crows bully a red-tailed hawk. It’s a description that I’ve used in at least two of my writings.

 

SBB: What message do you hope to convey to young readers through your work? 

 

TLC: As a librarian, I want to covey the importance of facts, even in fiction. Everything I write is researched through verifiable sources. For instance, I have a middle grade Civil War manuscript titled The Faithful Dog that I’m currently submitting to publishers. It was inspired by an actual event following the Battle of Shiloh. Even though this is a fictionalized account, I researched several genealogical databases to find background information on the dog’s family, as well as articles and books regarding the military unit they were associated with. As a result, the novel has a ten-page bibliography!

 

SBB: Your latest work, The Big Day, tells a fictionalized version of events that took place on September 6, 1919, when Agnes Sadler became the first Black woman to vote in Knoxville. Can you describe the impetus of the book?

 

TLC: Upon discovering Agnes Sadler’s name in a 1919 newspaper article [about the first women voters in Knoxville], I kept thinking what a momentous day that had to have been for her. Of course, at that time I knew nothing about Mrs. Sadler. I did, however, know that I had managed to discover a significant person in our city’s history. Then as I drove home, the words “It’s big day” began rattling around in my head. That night, Tansy made her appearance and I began drafting the story of Big Mama.

 

Cover from The Big Day by Terry Lee Caruthers

SBB: Why did you feel Agnes Sadler’s story was one worth telling and pursuing? 

 

TLC: I lived though the feminist movement in the 1970s. When I attended the University of Tennessee I minored in women’s studies. Susan Becker’s history classes were eye-opening, exposing me not only to the role of women in our country from its founding, but [also] the role of people of color, both male and female. I became impassioned about it. What is truly frustrating is that, even today, so much of this history remains hidden. Lost. Untold. When I was indexing that newspaper article and saw that little ‘c’ beside Agnes Sadler’s name, it took my breath away. Here was a woman who had a pivotal role in the history of our city, and she had been lost for nearly a hundred years. I immediately shared the news with Bob Booker, Knoxville’s local civil rights icon and author of several books on our local Black history.

 

SBB: You’ve developed an acquaintance with Agnes’s descendants through The Big Day. What does that mean to you? 

 

TLC: When I started researching Agnes Sadler’s life, I had so hoped to be able to connect with her family and share the significant role she had in Knoxville’s history. I’ve often wondered if she knew herself. I had just about given up when a research breakthrough connected me with her great-grandson. I was delighted to share, not only this historic moment, but [also] the information I had gleaned about her that is contained in the book’s biography. Perhaps that’s the librarian in me, being able to connect people with information.

 

SBB: Can you reveal what you’re working on now?

 

TLC: Many, many things. I have a variety of picture books that I’m seeking publication on. Then there’s my middle grade novel titled Red and Me that is under review by my critique group. It has been described as a cross between To Kill A Mockingbird and Old Yeller, with one agent calling its characters “timeless.” Hopefully, it will soon find a home with a publisher. One of my unfinished projects that I’m currently concentrating on is a middle grade novel titled If Love Was a Smell. I’m about two-thirds of the way through and hope to finish it by the end of the year.

 

2020: The Year in Review

As we bid farewell to the trying and difficult year of 2020, it is important to reflect on everything that has happened, both on a worldly scale and within the publishing community.

 

The year started with whispers of a deadly, fast-spreading virus. By April, it seemed the whole world was on total lockdown to try and slow the spread of COVID-19. With every month that passed, a new hardship came to light: calls for racial justice, the fight for a new presidency, and the general uncertainty of the COVID-19 outbreak.

 

In this piece, we recap last year’s hardships and look to 2021 with a new hope.

 

A Look at What Happened

 

Last year brought with it many unbelievable challenges.

 

At the end of 2019 and start of 2020, a mysterious virus started to spread across the world in rapid succession. By mid-February, many countries had instituted restrictive measures, such as lockdowns and shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders to try and contain the virus. The United States declared a national emergency in March.

 

With the restrictive measures in place many stores and other establishments closed their doors to the public, leading to a downturn in business and an increase in unemployment. Those who were fortunate to avoid unemployment transitioned to remote work, which brought its own challenges. However, December ushered in a wave of hope in the form of COVID-19 vaccines, one of which is reported to be 94% effective.

 

Along with the lockdowns and economic instability, there was an increased awareness of social injustice across the US and the world. Calls to end systemic racism and implement changes in police training are not a new concepts, but with people more connected than ever through the Internet and the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, these issues were broadcast around the world. In a recent roundtable interview with NPR’s David Greene, Lynsey Chutel, a South African journalist, said, “There is a George Floyd in every country.”

 

On top of these obstacles, 2020 was a presidential election year that brought several Democratic candidates. In the end of a divisive election cycle, Democrat Joe Biden defeated incumbent Republican Donald Trump to win the presidency.

 

Finally, 2020 was the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. The Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, was ratified on August 18, 1920. It marked the end of a decades-long fight for women’s suffrage and publically declared, for the first time, that American women, like men, deserved all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Young Tansy helps Big Mama vote in “The Big Day.” (illustrated by Robert Casilla)

COVID-19’s Effects on Publishing 

 

The spread of COVID-19 also had a profound effect on the publishing world in 2020. At the end of March, when COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, book publishers made tough decisions to delay publication dates for key books. This resulted in a bit of a printing jam when the delayed books ran into the production cycles of other forthcoming titles. Needless to say, the backlog created havoc for authors and publishers alike.

 

The publishing world was forced to learn how to quickly pivot to virtual learning and reading. Publishers turned to more virtual offerings such as book tours, school visits, and book events—all offered online instead of in-person.

 

Many publishing houses also enforced remote work as the new standard. The day-to-day life of producing a book shifted in 2020—from spreading out printing proofs, artwork, and advance copies across huge conference tables to share with office colleagues to sending printing proofs and advance copies by mail to reduce touch points.

 

Dan Potash, VP and creative director at Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, recently said in an Publishers Weekly article, “Working from home has magnified the incalculable value of the impromptu meeting, the in-the-elevator exchange, the outside-my-doorway-lunch-plan-turned-brainstorming-session, or spontaneous detour to a designer’s office to tell them how impressed I am with their work. It’s both the obvious and the subtle power of these moments that are missing these days.”

 

In spite of these challenges, some workflow changes have been greatly beneficial, such as the reduced cost and time efficiency of sending digital book copies for review. Increases in Zoom, Skype, and phone meetings, as well as email communication all worked together in 2020 to ensure that book production continues forward. Due to the expansion of homeschooling and remote learning, sales in juvenile and adult nonfiction books skyrocketed last year.

 

A Peek into Star Bright Books’s Year

 

Star Bright Books was equally impacted by 2020. Like many publishing houses our list was much smaller than usual, but all the more special. We published four new books last year: Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! (June 30), The Little Red Crane (August 17), Shapes at Play (October 15), and The Big Day (October 30).

 

Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! is available in English and Spanish/English. (illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu)

 

We also added books in Swahili, Punjabi, and Hopi, bringing us to 29 different language offerings. Hopi is the third Indigenous language on our publishing list.

 

Even with last year’s struggles and uncertainty, 2021 is a time for hope and coming prosperity. With the world working together to produce and distribute COVID-19 vaccines and the increasing demand for books, it is only a matter of time before a return to normalcy takes place.

 

All of us at Star Bright Books wish you a wonderful 2021 filled with new hope, and most importantly, new and inspiring stories.

How To Start (And Continue) Talking To Kids About Race

Talking to children about race, racism, and police brutality can be intimidating and challenging, but we believe it is imperative in the fight for an anti-racist community. Here are 10 multimedia resources (articles, podcasts, interviews, etc.) to assist parents, teachers, educators, and caregivers in starting and continuing conversations with children.

 

Articles

UNICEF: Talking to your kids about racism: How to start the important conversation and keep it going, June 9, 2020

Comprehensive and age-specific advice for talking to children about race. Research is based in some scientific background.

 

PBS: How to Talk Honestly With Children About Racism, June 9, 2020

General advice for talking to younger children. Includes links to outside resources.

 

VOX: How to talk to kids about racism, explained by a psychologist, June 9, 2020

More specific information about discussing protests and police brutality. Information is provided by a licensed psychologist.

 

ADL: Race Talk: Engaging Young People in Conversations about Race and Racism

Information and advice for teachers and educators on talking about race during late childhood/early adolescence.

 

CHLA: Talking With Children About Race and Racism—an Age-by-Age Guide, June 10, 2020

Age-specific, science-based advice from doctors on talking about race with children.

 

Podcasts

EmbraceRace: Supporting Kids Of Color In the Wake Of Racialized Violence, 2016

Interviews with parents, teachers, and expert guests, including several people of color. Discusses when and how to support children of color in the aftermath of racialized violence.

 

NPR: How White Parents Can Talk To Their Kids About Race, June 4, 2016

Discusses some of the negative consequences of not talking to white children about race and racism.

 

Resource Lists

EmbraceRace: 20 Picture Books for 2020: Readings to Embrace Race, Provide Solace & Do Good, 2020

A list of picture books to assist in talking to kids about race and racism. Includes Spanish options.

 

ECEA: Resources for Educators Focusing on Anti-Racist Learning and Teaching, 2015

Resources to assist teachers seeking to cultivate an anti-racist classroom environment. Provides links to many outside sources.

 

Discussion

NYT: Talking to Children About Race, Policing and Violence, December 7, 2016

A roundtable discussion between New York Times employees who are parents (primarily people of color) about how they talk to their children about race/racism.

 

Tips and Tricks for Trilingual Households

Photo from Clean Up, Up, Up! / ¡Arriba, arriba, arriba a limpiar! by Ellen Mayer.

It can sometimes be intimidating to think about teaching children multiple languages—especially if one or both parents are not fluent in all of the languages. Living in a trilingual household often comes with its own set of challenges. But, while language learning can, and most likely will, be difficult, it doesn’t have to be scary! Below is a list of tips and tricks for trilingual households to start at birth and continue throughout childhood.

 

Start Early and Use Native Languages First

Many trilingual households in the US are made up of two bilingual parents living in an English-dominated culture. It is thus recommended that each parent only address the child in their own native language. For example, if Parent 1 speaks Spanish and English and Parent 2 speaks German and English, Parent 1 should address their child in Spanish and Parent 2 should address their child in German.

 

Beginning this practice in infancy improves a child’s language acquisition in each language and teaches the child to distinguish between languages depending on audience. This is sometimes called the Minority Language at Home strategy, in which a child will speak and native languages at home while speaking and learning English in public (at schools, parks, shopping centers, etc.).

 

Quality Language Exposure Over Quantity Language Exposure

Children will be less likely to master a language if learning becomes tedious or feels like a task. To avoid this, it can be beneficial to incorporate language learning into a child’s interests. For example, if a child likes singing and dancing, they may enjoy learning a non-dominant language through song lyrics rather than books or worksheets. Similarly, if a child enjoys playing with toy cars, asking questions about what they’re doing in a non-dominant language will expose the child to new vocabulary during playtime. Often, if the child has a positive association with the process of language learning, they will be more receptive to learning and using the non-dominant language in these same scenarios.

 

Photo from Clean Up, Up, Up! / ¡Arriba, arriba, arriba a limpiar! by Ellen Mayer.

Incorporate Culture into Language Learning

Maintaining multiple languages in a household can also mean maintaining multiple cultural identities. A fun way for children to learn native languages at home is by associating the language with an aspect of their cultural identity. This can mean incorporating food, music, books, holidays, and more from each respective culture into a child’s everyday life. Doing so allows the child to make associations between the languages they are speaking and the culture from which they come. It can also make speaking each language feel more relevant and applicable in their daily life.

 

Affirm a Child’s Multicultural Identity and Multilingual Abilities

Throughout the process of language learning, it is important to affirm (and reaffirm!) the progress a child is making in language learning. It will allow a child to see value in their multilingual abilities, as well as instill feelings of pride in their multicultural identity! The more positively the child feels, the more progress they will make. 

Taking Time to Reflect on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today, January 27, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day dedicated to remembering the atrocities of the Holocaust, with the ultimate goal being that the memory of these crimes will, hopefully, enable us to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again in the future. It is important that today we take a moment to reflect on the history of the Holocaust and how this day came to be.

 

Photo courtesy of FreePik.com.

The Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its allies. Nearly 2 out of every 3 European Jews were killed. Other groups who were targeted for persecution included Roma, people with disabilities, Slavic peoples, and homosexuals, to name a few. People were rounded up and sent to Nazi concentration camps on cattle-car trains where they were either immediately killed or forced to live and work in horrific conditions. It was, in short, genocide fueled by racism and oppression.

 

January 27 was specifically chosen by the United Nations to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, one of the most notorious concentration camps. This year, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The International Holocaust Remembrance Day was launched by the Holocaust and United Nations Outreach Programme in 2006 through the passing of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/7. The resolution rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or in part, and commends nations that have actively engaged in the preservation of sites once used as Nazi death camps, concentration camps, forced labor camps, and prisons during the Holocaust. In 2006, the first ceremony drew over 2,200 people, and was viewed by countless others globally via webcast and live television broadcast.

 

Regarding the importance of this program, the United Nations says: “The Programme works to ensure the voices of survivors are heard and heeded as warning against the consequences of anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of discrimination and prejudice. The disturbing spread of neo-Nazism and other extremist groups and the growing climate of intolerance and anti-Semitism makes the work of the Programme particularly urgent. Through its educational activities about the Holocaust, the Programme calls on all generations to use their voice to stand up for human rights, challenge discrimination, anti-Semitism and racism, and defend essential democratic values in their communities.”

 

While the United States does participate in International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it also has the Days of Remembrance between April 28 and May 5. These days serve as the annual commemoration of the Holocaust in the US.

 

The Holocaust was a devastating and tragic series of events that should have never occurred. The world began to say the phrase “never again” after these events—and we need to remain constantly vigilant and outspoken to ensure they never do.

 

Today, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, please take a moment to reflect on the global impact of the Holocaust. Do some research using reputable sources, such as on the websites for the UN or the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Read books on the subject. At Star Bright Books, we’ve published books such as Hidden Letters, Lonek’s Journey, Defying the Nazis, and I Only See the Person in Front of Me, which all provide different perspectives of the Holocaust. Watch a Holocaust documentary or videos of survivors talking about their experiences. Have a discussion with family and about the Holocaust, what it was, and why we remember it. If you can, go to a Holocaust Remembrance event near you.

 

We will never forget.

Regarding Rabbits and Eggs: The Origins of Easter Traditions

Easter is almost upon us, and soon the legendary Easter Bunny will make its annual Sunday morning appearance, delivering chocolate, candy, and toys, and (of course) hiding Easter eggs. The Easter Bunny, or Easter Rabbit, is certainly the most well-known secular symbol of this Christian holiday. But how did this beloved animal become so deeply ingrained in the celebration of Easter?

 

As with many ancient legends, the origins of the Easter Bunny are primarily unknown. One theory suggests the Easter Bunny’s beginnings are with the ancient pagan festival of Eostre. This celebration honored the goddess of fertility, Eostre, whose animal symbol was the rabbit. Even separate from this particular festival, some sources note that the pagans historically viewed the rabbit as a “symbol of fertility and new life.”

 

No one really knows how this rabbit of antiquity morphed into the Easter Bunny we know and love today. Research suggests the legend of the Easter Bunny may have traveled to America with German immigrants in the 1700s. German traditions at the time upheld the tale of the egg-laying Osterhase or Oschter Haws (Easter hare) that appeared specifically for Easter. German children would create nests for this creature to lay its colored eggs. After German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, the custom soon spread to other areas of the United States.

 

Like the Easter Bunny itself, colorful eggs may also originate from pagan traditions. Eggs were traditionally regarded as a symbol of new life and were consequently incorporated into many different festivals celebrating the coming of spring. With the advent of Christianity, the egg and its accompanying symbolism were given new meaning and came to “represent Jesus’ emergence from the tomb and resurrection.”

 

The custom of decorating eggs for Easter Sunday may have begun as far back as the thirteenth century. In addition to its status as a symbol of new life, the egg was also on a list of prohibited foods—thought to date back to the fifth century—that Christians could not eat during Lent, the forty days of fasting and penance before Easter. In preparation for Easter, Christians during the 1200s began to come together to decorate the eggs they could eat again that Sunday. While eggs are no longer banned for modern observances of Lent, the practice of decorating eggs has since become a permanent fixture in Easter celebrations.

 

Whatever its history may be, the myth of the Easter Bunny and its colorful eggs is fully ingrained in culture today. In fact, the Easter Bunny is such a mythical creature that even rabbit children are convinced their father could be this legendary figure! This scenario is exactly what occurs in Lorna Balian’s Humbug Rabbit: while Grandma prepares for Easter, five little rabbit children, who live below ground, learn the legend of the Easter Bunny for the first time and are quick to believe their own father is the culprit. Watch the two worlds meet in a joyous celebration of Easter!

Leprechaun Lore

St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, and with it comes the ever-popular figure from Irish mythology and folklore: the leprechaun. Though not connected with the historical figure of St. Patrick, or the original celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, the leprechaun is now a well-recognized symbol of Ireland and Irish culture.

 

The earliest origins of this mythical creature are thought to date back to before the arrival of the Celts in Ireland. Some scholars speculate that leprechauns were originally linked to “faerie forts” and “faerie rings,” small mounds of earth with unknown origins scattered throughout Ireland. At some point in history, the leprechaun morphed into its own entity, distinct from the other fairy beings of Irish folklore. These early leprechauns were characterized as little old men and were thought to be shoemakers or cobblers for these fairies.

 

Leprechauns Never Lie by Lorna Balian

The legend of the leprechaun soon came to describe these supernatural beings as “crotchety, solitary, yet mischievous creatures”—diminutive shoemakers who hid the gold they made from their labors in a pot at the end of a rainbow or scattered throughout the mountains and forests. Additionally, leprechauns were originally thought to wear red, and only in the twentieth century did the image of the leprechaun change to a figure in green, coinciding with a general shift in associating the color green with anything Irish.

 

Today, leprechauns in popular culture are perhaps not as cranky, yet they still maintain a reputation for mischief. In Lorna Balian’s Leprechauns Never Lie, Ninny Nanny and Gram are in a bad state—the rain barrel is empty, the potato field needs digging, and all they have for food is rainwater soup! Yet, Ninny Nanny is lazy, so she decides to catch a leprechaun and find out were he has hidden his pot of gold. But finding the leprechaun’s fortune turns out to be much more than Ninny Nanny and Gram bargained for. The leprechaun leads them on a merry chase throughout their farm—all with the best intentions!

 

If young readers would like to catch their own leprechaun, consider helping them set up a leprechaun trap to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Construct a trap that lures the leprechaun onto a fake floor with spray-painted “gold,” or assemble a trap that uses a shoebox, a dowel, and (of course) gold to catch the leprechaun under the box.

 

Have fun building and decorating a trap, but don’t forget that leprechauns are mischievous and smart creatures, so you never know what to expect!

The Origins of Black History Month

February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the essential role of African Americans in United States history and commemorate African American achievement. It is important to take a moment to understand how and why Black History Month came to be.

 

Widely regarded as the “Father of Black History,” African American historian Carter G. Woodson made it his life’s mission to remedy the dearth of information about black historical achievements and black contributions in the making of the United States as we know it today. The son of former slaves, Woodson felt a proper education was vital in understanding and upholding the right to freedom, noting: “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” In 1912, Woodson graduated from Harvard University with a PhD in history, the second African American ever to obtain a doctorate from the school. (The first was W.E.B. Du Bois, who graduated in 1895.)

Carter G. Woodson

 

Given his academic focus, Woodson was acutely aware of both the distinct lack of attention given to black history and the potential consequences this could hold. Consequently, in September 1915, he joined forces with Jesse E. Mooreland, a prominent minister at the time, to found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). Today, this organization is known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

 

In 1926, under Woodson’s guidance the ASNLH sponsored a national “Negro History Week” and chose the second week of February for the event, since the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14) are celebrated during this time. Woodson, together with the ASNLH, printed and distributed photographs, books, historical bibliographies, and other literature that suggested different ways to celebrate, such as parades featuring notable African American figures, banquets, speeches, poetry readings, and lectures.

 

The week then began to gather momentum. US cities and towns held various celebrations, founded history clubs, and hosted events, while teachers enthusiastically gathered relevant materials and dedicated coursework to the occasion. Soon, the Departments of Education for various states like Delaware, North Carolina, and Virginia partnered with the ASNLH to promote the event.

 

Over the next few decades, mayors throughout the country established proclamations that recognized “Negro History Week” every year. In 1969, African American professors and members of the Black United Students group at Kent State University proposed extending the week to an entire month, and, in 1970, students and faculty celebrated the first Black History Month. Other colleges and universities soon followed suit.

 

On the fiftieth anniversary, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling on American citizens to seize the “opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since this announcement, every US president has put forth proclamations that officially endorse the ASALH’s annual theme for Black History Month.

 

Since 1928, each of these weeks—and later, months—has been oriented around a specific theme in order to even further direct the attention of the public. Such themes have ranged from “Civilization: A World Achievement” to “African Background Outlined” to “African Art, Music, Literature: A Valuable Cultural Experience.” ASALH provides the full list of these themes for further exploration. This year, the theme for Black History Month is Black Migrations, which, as the ASALH describes, specifically highlights the “movement of people of African descent to new destinations and subsequently to new social realities.”

 

Today, Black History Month is celebrated throughout the United States in schools and communities through lesson plans and classroom activities, history clubs, lectures, performances, museum exhibitions, and so much more. Starting in 1987, other countries also began celebrating Black History Month: Canada in February, and the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Ireland in October. Be sure to research what events are being held in your area for Black History Month so you and your family can participate!

Remembering Kristallnacht

It has been 80 years since Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night”), yet today there are still eerie echoes of the horrific event. Kristallnacht was an organized attack against Jewish people in Nazi Germany that took place on November 9 and 10, 1938. Kristallnacht is also known as the Night of Broken Glass, named for the shattered glass from store windows and synagogues that blanketed the streets in the aftermath of the attacks. These attacks devastated the Jewish community, leaving over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed and nearly 100 Jews dead. More than 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

 

Although news of the brutal event was met by shock and outrage internationally, Kristallnacht was the culmination of anti-Semitic policies and beliefs in Nazi Germany. Prior to the rise of the Nazis, Jews in Germany generally had the same legal rights as all German citizens, although they were banned from university teaching positions. However, after Hitler came to power as chancellor in 1933, the Nazis began to broadcast propaganda that singled out German Jews as the reason for various misfortunes, such as Germany’s loss in World War I. This was quickly followed by anti-Semitic laws that systematically removed Jews’ rights. Jewish people could no longer be employed in civil service posts, including any teaching positions, not just at the university level. The Nazis also organized a boycott of Jewish businesses, and German businesses stopped serving Jews.

 

These policies culminated in the Nuremberg Race Laws in 1935. The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour forbade marriage and extramarital intercourse between Jews and Germans. It also prevented the employment of German women under 45 in Jewish households, under the assumption workers would be forced into such relations by Jewish men. Another policy, the Reich Citizenship Law, stated that only those with “German or kindred blood” were citizens of Germany; everyone else would be subjects of the state, stripped of basic rights. This law never defined “German or kindred blood,” but it did identify Jews as a race, rather than a religious community. Therefore, anyone who had a grandparent born into a Jewish religious community was considered Jewish, whether or not they identified as one. German allies such as Italy, Romania, and Slovakia passed similar laws. It is important to note that although these laws specifically targeted Jews, they also applied to black and Romani people.

 

The Nuremberg Race Laws allowed Hitler and the Nazis to spread the anti-Semitic sentiments that fueled their party in an organized manner. Many Jews sought to emigrate elsewhere, but faced difficulties both domestically (they were required to pay 90 percent of their wealth to Germany as tax for leaving) and internationally (other countries condemned Germany’s anti-Semitism, but refused to take in Jewish immigrants). The Nazis wanted to further escalate their anti-Semitic campaign; they just needed the right opportunity.

 

And then came the perfect scenario: the shooting of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath at the German embassy in Paris. The perpetrator was Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish-Jew refugee born in Germany. The shooting is commonly thought to be politically motivated, as anti-Semitism displaced the Grynszpan family from Germany, where they had lived for many years. Grynszpan made no attempt to escape arrest after the shooting. In custody, the French police found in Grynszpan’s pocket a postcard addressed to his parents that, in part, read, “. . . I could not do otherwise, may God forgive me, the heart bleeds when I hear of your tragedy and that of the 12,000 Jews. I must protest so that the whole world hears my protest, and that I will do. Forgive me. . . .” Grynszpan was taken into Nazi custody, but his scheduled trial was canceled and his fate remains unknown to this day.

 

In response, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels ordered Nazi Stormtroopers to ignite violent riots disguised as German people protesting against Jews. Then, he sent instructions to the police and army to only interfere if the rioting threatened non-Jewish businesses. And thus, Kristallnacht commenced.

 

Kristallnacht has been largely regarded as a precursor to the “Final Solution” and the Holocaust. Although several countries severed diplomatic relations with Germany over the attacks, there were largely no consequences to the Nazis, enabling them to further destroy the Jewish community.

 

It is more important now than ever to teach tragic events like Kristallnacht so we as a society do not repeat the atrocities. By studying Kristallnacht and the Holocaust, we come to understand how these events were not isolated incidents, but rather a climax of variables such as authoritarianism, racism, dehumanization, and the neutral response of people not directly affected by such policies. It is only by becoming aware of the cause and effect of Kristallnacht, the Holocaust, and other similar events that we can work to prevent future brutal incidents.

 

Here at Star Bright Books, we aim to do our part to teach the lessons gleaned from the Holocaust by engaging readers with books about the time period from varying perspectives. Hidden Letters provides a look at life under Nazi rule. Philip “Flip” Slier, only 18 when he was sent to a concentration camp in Holland, wrote detailed letters to his parents almost every day, chronicling his life under German occupation. In Poland, German officer Wilm Hosenfeld lived his life in accordance to his own moral compass, despite the contradiction with the beliefs of Germany’s leadership. Defying the Nazis follows Hosenfeld’s life from his youth absorbed in nationalist propaganda to his maturity into a brave soul who helped rescue dozens of people from the Nazi regime.

 

Never again.

Thanksgiving: An Origin Story

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and many people are already planning what to cook for their dinner spread. While feasting and giving thanks this season, consider the true origin of this long-standing tradition. The idea of Thanksgiving has changed quite a bit in the few hundred years it has been around, but how did it become the ingrained celebration it is today?

 

Modern-day Thanksgiving celebrations still heavily rely on the myth of the joyous first Thanksgiving feast between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. However, it is important to know the true context from which this holiday was born to help prevent further erasure of the injustices inflicted upon Native Americans. While this does not make up for the past, it is certainly a step toward recognizing the oppression indigenous tribes have faced, and still face today.

 

“The First Thanksgiving” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, which depicts the romanticized version of the holiday. 

The common knowledge of the holiday depicts the first Thanksgiving as a harmonious meal between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe in 1621. The Wampanoag extended aid to the Pilgrims, who were near starvation, by bringing them much-needed supplies and teaching them how to grow their own crops. To commemorate their alliance and an abundant harvest, the Pilgrims invited the Wampanoag to a three-day celebration.

 

This, however, is a misrepresentation of the true history behind Thanksgiving. Although the feast did take place, the situation was quite tense. The two groups were distrustful allies who partnered up out of necessity. The Wampanoag needed more people to defend against other tribes; the Pilgrims viewed the Wampanoag as uncivilized, but were at great risk of dying out without aid. An influx of colonizers and a change in leadership on both sides ended the temporary peace. After the relationship dissolved, the possibility of fostering similar peace treaties squickly soured.

 

Increasingly, historians are pointing to a much darker event as a precursor to Thanksgiving: the Mystic Massacre. The Mystic Massacre was the culmination of the Pequot War, a three-year struggle with colonists over the tribe’s land. In 1637, Puritan forces and their Native allies launched a surprise attack on the Pequot tribe as they celebrated their own Thanksgiving in present-day Mystic, Connecticut. Colonial forces surrounded the Pequot tribe’s enclosed settlement and set fire to it, effectively trapping and murdering the people inside, from warriors to children.

 

The Mystic Massacre and two similar bloodbaths decimated the Pequot tribe. Surviving members were either sold into slavery or assimilated into neighboring tribes. Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop expressed gratitude for the successful destruction of the tribe, and thus every massacre thereafter was subsequently followed by feasting and giving thanks.

 

In 1789, under the new US constitution, George Washington issued the Thanksgiving Proclamation, but the holiday was only recognized in the New England states for many years. Sarah Josepha Hale, an author and editor most famous for writing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” started a campaign to have Thanksgiving recognized as a national holiday in 1827 by sending letters to the president, starting with Zachary Taylor. Her efforts paid off with Abraham Lincoln. Seeing an opportunity to unify the country in the middle of the Civil War, Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Although the Civil War would not end for another two years, Thanksgiving entered the public consciousness as a moment when two opposing factions could peacefully come together.

 

Similar to many aspects of modern-day Thanksgiving celebrations, turkeys did not rise to prominence until fairly recently. This particular tradition also came about thanks to Sarah Josepha Hale. In 1854, Hale heard the journal of William Bradford, former governor of Plymouth Colony, had been rediscovered. She became fixated on one innocuous sentence about the Pilgrims hunting wild turkey in the fall. Eating turkey for Thanksgiving was never stated in Bradford’s account, but Hale began publishing recipes for roasted turkey in conjunction with the holiday and the pairing gained in popularity.

 

Turkeys are now synonymous with Thanksgiving, but what if the turkey you want to eat is your friend? In Sometimes It’s Turkey, Sometimes It’s Feathers, written by Lorna Balian and illustrated by Lecia Balian, Mrs. Gumm raises a turkey to eat on Thanksgiving, but her plans go awry. This twist on tradition will help children understand one part of modern-day Thanksgiving customs. Next time you and your family are at a Thanksgiving dinner with a roasted turkey on the table, take a moment to remember the long history of this holiday.