I’ve been thinking a lot about the context of history in recent weeks, mostly in terms of books, but other people and events are added into those thoughts. When news arrived of Doris Day’s death, I was saddened. When I was young, her movies were considered family-friendly. The El Lago showed every one. Ms. Day produced good-hearted TV shows. She went on to dedicated work with animals. She didn’t have a smooth life, showing how effective the Hollywood marketing departments were. I’m grateful for the joy her work brought to my life and for the example she provided as an extraordinary woman … in the context of history.
I am grateful for the writing, leadership, and example that Anita Silvey has been for my life. I have long admired her books about children’s literature, the excellence of The Horn Book magazine under her editorial leadership, and her ability to hold an audience enrapt. In recent years, I have been encouraged by her example of focusing on the writing of nonfiction for young readers and especially her books about women scientists. Her biography of Pete Seeger, another one of my heroes, is the best I’ve ever read. Anita is a class act and an extraordinary woman.
We will travel to New Ulm today. At Martin Luther College, we’ll meet with teachers and librarians, members of the Southwest Minnesota Reading Council, who are gathering to hear author Aimee Bissonette speak about Everyday Heroes and Wonder Women. We are grateful for this opportunity. We admire these people who are passionate about encouraging our children to become lifelong readers. And then we’ll beat the blizzard home.
It was such a special evening. If you teach or you’re an education student or you work in a school library, you’ll want to be a part of the Southwest Minnesota Reading Council. Seriously. As I listened to their president, Dr. Cindy Whaley, welcome the students from Martin Luther College and Southwest Minnesota State University, asking them to share something about themselves, and thanking them for their commitment to the profession, I realized that this is a CARING community that dedicates part of their professional lives to educating, advocating, and supporting each other. They are so focused (you see what I did there, Jon Roux?) on making a difference in kids’ reading lives that I was brought to tears.
On a hunt through a used bookstore, nothing brings me more delight than finding a book I didn’t know existed that’s written by a favorite author. Many years ago, I discovered that Carol Ryrie Brink had written a book called The Twin Cities (The Macmillan Company, 1961).
You probably recognize her as the author of the 1936 Newbery Medal winner, Caddie Woodlawn. You may not have known that although she was born in Idaho, graduated from Berkeley, she lived in St. Paul for 40 years. Her husband, Raymond, was a professor of mathematics at the University of Minnesota. She taught creative writing while she lived here. Hamline University named her as one of twenty-eight outstanding women of Minnesota in 1954.
This book is very much a time capsule and it’s fascinating to read for that reason. With a Euro-centric view of living in Minnesota, the chapters cover figure skating, the skylines and progress of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the indoor gardens, the Winter Carnival, the Minneapolis Aquatennial, the Old Log Theatre, the anticipation of the new Guthrie Theater … and many, many more tidbits. She includes several pages about the native American tribes, all of which have a 1950s lens. Those pages are uncomfortable to read but I appreciate having this perspective on where we’ve come from.
In the chapter “Dinner and a Show,” she writes, “I remember one Sunday when friends from New York tried to take us to lunch in Minneapolis. My husband and I, like our neighbors, were unaccustomed to lunching away from home on a Sunday, but we supposed that it could easily be done. We were as surprised as the New Yorkers to find that most of the restaurants were closed, and that cocktails were entirely out of the question. The only satisfaction that our thirsty friends got out of the adventure was the dubious thrilled of finding themselves in that incredible part of the world known to them as ‘the sticks.’”
She writes about “Jim Hill” in her chapter on the “Empire Builder.” Hill advertised for settlers along his railway so goods and commerce and supplies would flow. He built a fabulous art collection. He believed strongly in education, books, and libraries, so the Hill Reference Library at the St. Paul Central Library was planned shortly before his death. In 1910, Hill published a book called Highways of Progress, in which he wanted to see beyond the present to “anticipate the needs and opportunities of tomorrow.”
It’s tomorrow. We still live in the context of our history … although we’re striving to make forward progress. I’m grateful for the discovery of book treasures like this one.
This woman has been a lighthouse for me, casting her beacon on the craggy rocks of our challenging world by speaking to truth, social action, and persistence. Her music, particularly the albums “The Joan Baez Ballad Book” and “Blessed Are,” are well loved and known by heart in this house. Heart. She has given hers to all of us for many decades. “Music can move people to do things.” I am grateful to Joan Baez for her many gifts. Read “Joan Baez: Music Can Move People to Do Things,” in The Guardian.
As a latch-key kid from 1965-1972, I had TV as a companion. Coming home after school, and while my mom worked overtime, I had the TV on while I did my homework and read books beyond my school assignments. There were three women in particular who inspired me during those years. I am grateful to Nichelle Nichols, Diahann Carroll, and Sally Fields for portraying women who increased my confidence.
As Lt. Uhura, Nichelle Nichols worked on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, responding quickly and competently to communications challenges. I loved that she worked with languages. Following my reading of A Wrinkle in Time, even my mother forbidding me to watch Star Trek (who knows why?) couldn’t keep me from traveling through space. Uhura was the woman who helped me understand what a woman could do as a professional.
Diahann Carroll portrayed Julia Baker, a nurse and mother who, like my mother, had lost her husband and was raising her child alone. She did so with grace and good humor. At a time when most families in my school and church had two parents and often more than one child, it was important to me to see these fictional lives as happy and normal.
And Sally Fields as Gidget? Well, she was the intrepid, clever, and well-dressed teen I wanted to be. I loved her sparkle and her sense of humor. When we moved to California for a year, she inspired me to try surfing … once.
I suspect we all have these role models. Who were yours?
You’ll most likely agree, some days it’s tough to swing your legs out of bed and stand up to face the hours ahead.
On those days, I think of Nancy Carlson, author and illustrator, mom and wife, school visitor, grandmother, who cared for her husband during the years when he descended into Frontotemporal Dementia. Troubles mounting, finances threatening, her husband’s mind disappearing,
Nancy wrote a blog called One Foot in Front of the Other, sharing her challenges with all of us. She posted a doodle on social media every single day. And she kept speaking at schools and conferences, writing and illustrating books.
Nancy Carlson’s doodle above, “And we all looked out to God, although He is the color of the wind.” (Laura Nyro lyric) is one of many you can see at her A Doodle a Day: Ten Year Doodle Journey show on exhibit through December 28, 2018, at Artistry in Bloomington, MN. I am grateful for this brave and talented woman, who helps me believe in tomorrow. She is an extraordinary woman.
Follow Nancy on Facebook so you can see her work firsthand.
Among the top 10 on my list of influential writers is Ngaio Marsh (ny-e-o), who wrote 32 mystery novels set in England and New Zealand, featuring Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn, with plots that involved the theater, the art world, and the two countries she knew well. She was an artist and a theater actress and director, all the while writing a novel nearly every year from 1935 to 1982. I am particularly inspired by her memoir, Black Beech and Honeydew. She was a woman engaged in a life that brought her joy and I am grateful for the legacy she left her readers. (By the way, the audio book of Death in a White Tie is read by Benedict Cumberbatch. Yes, it is.)
The illustrations of Jessie Wilcox Smith have graced our home for more than 40 years. I have marveled at her ability to capture childhood since I was a grad student. When we walk through the rooms where her art is featured, my eyes are always drawn to them. I admire her choice of colors, her ability to focus on each child, but her choice of subjects is always intriguing. She studied with Thomas Eakins and Howard Pyle, she was one of the Red Rose Girls with Violet Oakley and Elizabeth Shippen Green, and she made a very good living by painting covers for Good Housekeeping, advertising art, and portrait commissions. Jessie Wilcox Smith was an extraordinary woman and I am grateful for her continued presence in our lives.