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Friday, September 30, 2011

Mildred D. Taylor, Hear My Cry

"We have no choice of what color we're born or who our parents are or whether we're rich or poor. What we do have is some choice over what we make of our lives once we're here." - Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
In 1977, Mississippi native Mildred D. Taylor won the Newbery Medal for her book Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. In 1986, my mother gave it to me for Christmas. (They've redone the cover art since I was in elementary school, but this image is the one I remember.) The book is the third in a semi-autobiographical series about an African American family living in Mississippi. (Taylor based the books on her own family history.) It's set during the Great Depression, when lives were hard for farmers in the Delta, and even harder if your skin wasn't white.

This book was seminal to my understanding of race relations in my home state. I had heard the "N" word before and I knew it was a bad word that I wasn't supposed to say. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry explained why. It explained the front page of our textbooks, which even in the 1980s had a place for the race of the child using a book for the year. It explained the hurt that happened when someone was discriminated against for the color of their skin and the awful, insurmountable hatred that people inexplicably feel for their fellow human beings. It made me realize that words can do much more than hurt, that they can carry the prejudice, hate, meanness and unfounded superiority of past generations. After reading Mildred D. Taylor's book, I vowed that I would never say or even think words like the "N" word. I would never be like the people in her book.

Despite being an award-winning book for tweens and teens, the short novel has been the focus of several discriminatory groups:
  • In 1993, a Louisiana high school removed it from its reading list because of "racial bias."
  • In 1998, a California middle school challenged it because of "racial epithets."
  • In 2000, an Alabama elementary school library challenged it because of "racial slurs."
  • In 2004, a Florida school district challenged it because it was "inappropriate" for the age group reading it. Also, it uses the word "nigger."
To these detractors, I say, "Pish!" It is vital that children read more books like this. Books can entertain, true, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is entertaining. Exceptional books, however, do much more than just entertain. They enlighten. They educate. They expand our minds. So much better to read, understand, and learn to form our own opinions than to sweep everything under the proverbial carpet.

Doyle, Robert P. Banned Books: Challenging Our Freedom to Read. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 2010. Print.
Taylor, Mildred D. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. New York: The Dial Press, 1976. Print.

Then Again, Maybe I'll Read Deenie Forever.

I’ve put off writing about my favorite banned book this week because there are just so many to choose from. I’ve decided to go with ALL of Judy Blume’s books as my favorite banned books--because almost all of them have been challenged for one reason or another. I am grateful that my parents let me read whatever I wanted to growing up--or perhaps they just weren’t paying attention--because having the freedom to read is a gift.

When those books you want to read contain topics that you absolutely do NOT want to talk to your parents about, Judy Blume is a lifesaver. And contrary to censors' opinions, reading about someone doing something doesn't mean you're going to run out and do the same thing. Some of my favorites include the following Blume titles--I’ve also included the number of times they’ve been challenged in school and public libraries:

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret: 7 challenges
Blubber: 15 challenges
Deenie: 13 challenges
Forever: 21 challenges
Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself: 3 challenges
Then Again, Maybe I Won’t: 12 challenges

Of those, I think Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself is my favorite. I reread it a few months ago, and I was oblivious to the “profane, immoral, and offensive” content that parents have objected to. The worst thing I can remember is that Sally thinks Hitler is living in Florida.

When I was in middle school, Forever was a big deal. A BIG DEAL. Copies were always getting confiscated by teachers. I remember that my friend Carrie got in trouble for talking in science class and was banished to the science lab, a small room in between two regular classrooms. There she found a confiscated copy of Forever, which she snatched up, read, and then passed around. A true first amendment hero (and minor delinquent)!

There is good news: according to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, the agency that records information on challenged books, challenges are at their lowest since 1990.

You can look here for more information on challenged titles—lists of titles by year, lists of authors, classics that have been challenged and banned, and more.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Banned Books Week!

It's banned books week! We'll be posting our favorite banned books here for the remainder of the week.

Here is my favorite:

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
This is my FAVORITE book. Period. The Bell Jar, published in 1963, is the only novel that was ever written by famous American poet, Sylvia Plath. Plath first published the book under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The novel tells the story of Esther Greenwood, a young lady from Boston, Massachusetts. Esther dreams of being a writer and spends a summer interning for a popular women's magazine in New York City. After her internship, she had plans to attend a writing course from a famous author. Upon her arrival home she learns that she did not make it in to the course. The book chronicles Eshter's life as she struggles with serious depression and adjusts to life in a mental institution. Many of the events in Esther's life mirror those of the author, Sylvia Plath. The book has been said to be an autobiography of Plath's life, but with a fictional character as the focal point. Of course, not everything that Esther goes through really happened to Plath.

The book has faced its fair share of opposition over the years. In 1979 it was prohibited in schools in Warsaw, Indiana. In 1981 300 residents signed a petition in an attempt to get the book removed from libraries because it contains sexual material and promotes an "objectionable" philosophy of life. In 1998 it was challenged for use in English classes in the Richland, Washington high school district because it stressed suicide, illicit sex, violence, and hopelessness.

Stay tuned for more of our favorite banned books!

Doyle, Robert P. 2007: Banned Books: 2007 Resource Book. Chicago: American Library Association.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Meebo and the Phenomenal Governor William Winter

Governor William Winter,
Marshall Bouldin III, 1983.

Last week, a Meebo friend asked us a question about the portrait of former Governor William Winter hanging in the Hall of Governors at the New Capitol. With a little bit of help from our friends at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, I was on my merry way. They pointed me to an article in The Clarion-Ledger that was written when the governor left office in 1984. I learned all about the former Mississippi governor, his portrait, and his celebrated portraitist, Marshall Bouldin III. Winter's portrait is unusual in that there are six other people portrayed in the picture. They are:  
  1. An African-American man who represents that population of the state of Mississippi.
  2. Governor Winter actually appears in his portrait twice. He's man in the dark suit, and he's mimicking a pose he liked to strike.
  3. The third man from the left in the picture is David Crews. He was Winter's press secretary.
  4. Elise Winter, Governor Winter's wife.
  5. If you peer closely at the portrait and look between Elise Winter's head and the large column, you will see the head of Herman Glazier poking up. He was Governor Winter's executive assistant.
  6. Last but not least is Jason Bouldin, who at seventeen, represented the youth of the state of Mississippi.
Our former governor also has a sense of humor. At the unveiling of his portrait, Governor Winter related the following anecdote:
"You know, I was on my way down here and I heard one man say to another, 'What's that crowd down there for?' And the other one said, 'Why, they're getting ready to hang the governor."
Black, Patti Carr. Art in Mississippi, 1720-1980. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. Print.
Holland, Elizabeth. "Winter's portrait joins predecessors in hall." The Clarion-Ledger, 5 Jan. 1984: B3. Print.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New Books!

It occurred to me a moment ago as I scurried to the new book shelf to snatch up Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones, and Butter that we haven't done a list of interesting new books lately. Let's remedy that!

Here are some of the new books we've recently acquired:
Gourmet Today
The Essential New York Times Cookbook
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman (such a good book!)
Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon (this is on my list)
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larsen(a great read!)
The Disappearing Spoon: and Other Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean (also on my list)
The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman
Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel
The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks
My Father Married Your Mother: Dispatches from the Blended Family
Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent
Hellhound on his Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Manhunt for his Killer by Hampton Sides

If any of these strike your fancy, come on in, get a card, and browse our new book shelf, why don't you?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rockets on the River

Today I got a Meebo request asking if I could find some information on NASA transporting Apollo rockets by river. At first I was a little skeptical: a rocket floating down the river? That’s crazy! It turns out it actually happened and Mississippi played a role in it!

With the Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik in October of 1957, America really began to feel the pressure in the space race. In answer to Sputnik, America began designing and building several Saturn rockets as part of NASA’s Apollo program. The Saturn rockets were built in three different stages. The first and second stages were assigned to Chrysler and Boeing. The companies were given the Michoud Ordnance plant in New Orleans to set up production. The plant was huge! 46 acres under one roof! Static testing of the first and second stages were to take place at the Mississippi Test Facility in Hancock County, MS, now known as The John C. Stennis Space Center. Stennis is now America’s largest rocket engine testing facility! In fact, there is a saying that goes, “If you want to go to the moon, you first have to go through Hancock County, Mississippi” ( From Stennis, the rockets then made their way to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL.

Shipment of the oversized pieces from Huntsville, AL to Michoud to the Mississippi Test Center to the Kennedy Space Center proved to be a challenge. The pieces were so large that transportation on the road was impossible. To solve this problem NASA opted to use a fleet of barges and ships. If things needed to get somewhere in a hurry NASA also used two Stratocruisers called “Pregnant Guppy” and “Super Guppy” to fly parts to their destinations.

Parts of the Saturn V being transported by barge is escorted by two tug boats.

Above is a map of the Saturn Barge route. The route began in Huntsville and ended in Cape Canaveral with stops along the way in New Orleans at Michoud and in Hancock County, MS at the Mississippi Test Center.

The Super Guppy! The front of the plane opened 110 degrees for easier loading.

I hope this answers your question, Meebo patron!

Cortright, E.M., Ed. (1975). Apollo Expeditions to the Moon. Washington, D.C.: National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Monday, September 19, 2011

All the News That's Fit to Print, Newton County Style

Last week I was helping a patron look for genealogical material in one of our reference books, Newton County, Mississippi: Newspaper Items 1872-1875 and W.P.A. Manuscript. While she studiously scanned census rolls, I swallowed my snickers over some of the newsworthy items of the late 19th century. I shared a few with my patron and we chatted a bit about what an experience it must have been to live in a small, rural Mississippi town nearly 150 years ago. Everyone knew everyone else. Everything and anything was worth at least a mention or a remembrance in the local town paper. Resources like this can provide invaluable clues for genealogy research in addition to a fascinating glimpse at small town life. Here's a small sampling of my favorites:
(The comments in parenthesis are my own.)

Thursday, September 26, 1872

A grey eagle was captured near Brandon the 17th that was 7 ft. from wing tip to wing tip. It had been carrying off young pigs. (My mom once gave a kitten to our across-the-street neighbor. An eagle or hawk carried it away. It did not make the news.)

Thursday, January 2, 1873

The thermometer dropped to zero this week. (It's always a hot topic in Mississippi when the weather gets cooler.)

Thursday, March 13, 1873

Marine Watkins will place his horse in a quarter race against any other Miss. horse. Purse unlimited.

James Taylor had a bad fall while painting the residence of Marine Watkins. (After reading this, I decided that Marine needed to make some extra cash to help James with medical expenses. That could be completely false, but it makes for a nice story, right?)

Thursday, April 3, 1873

W.H. Wilcox, formerly of Newton Co., has swindled people in Rankin Co. and deserted his wife and children. (News! I'm surprised that the wife and children's names weren't listed.)

Thursday, May 15, 1873

Capt. Scanlan gave a party Friday night that lasted long past midnight. (I'm sure the town biddies were all aflutter about this shindig.)

Mrs. Judge Watts has the best arranged gardens in town.

Mrs. Thos. Thompson has beets as large as Mrs. Watts. (Oh, yes. Keeping up with the Watts.)

Thursday, June 5, 1873

R.K. Batt was bitten by a moccasin while hunting last Friday. He was in pain for several hours, but is now up again.

Jno. Bynum wounded Martin Warren of 7 miles NE of Decatur during a quarrel over some dogs. Warren is not expected to survive.

Thursday, June 12, 1873

We have more dogs and goats in town than any other town of the same size in MS.

Mr. Warren has died of the wounds inflicted by Bynum.

Thursday, July 10, 1873

Mr. Chas. Burns brought us a beautiful coffee pot. He has many others. (How many coffee pots do you suppose he owned? Two? Three? Thirty?)

Mrs. Eliza Eubanks of Newton, grandmother of J.K. Warner who was killed by Martin Bynum, offers a reward of $200 for the apprehension of Bynum described as being 25 years old, tall & slender, light complexion & hair, with blue eyes.

Thursday, July 17, 1873

The coat of Dr. T.S. West was stolen from his room. He will be confined to his room until a new coat can be made. (You do realize it was July? I suppose a proper Southern gentleman just wouldn't go out without the correct attire.)

Thursday, July 16, 1874

Dr. Watts has a cucumber 36 in. long that looks like a swamp moccasin. (Couldn't you say that all cucumbers look like moccasins?)

Thursday, April 29, 1875

D.L. Young age 16 of Winona is a mathematical prodigy.

Mr. L. Young showed us some turnips as large as coffee cups. (I'm surmising that the Youngs visited town that day with D.L. and turnips in tow. Poor turnips. Poor D.L.)

From the WPA Manuscript portion of this genealogical treasure trove of a book, I found this summary of the happenings between Bynum and Warren:
Martin Bynum killed John Warren on June 3, 1873. Warren had caught up Bynum's stray cows and was holding them for payment of damages the cattle did his property. Words passed between the two, and without promise of future settlement of their disagreement, they began fighting. Bynum killed Warren with a barlow knife. Another act of self-defense.
"Without promise of future settlement of their disagreement..." What a pretty way to say they were stubborn as mules and couldn't work things out without fighting!

I hope you've enjoyed this trip down Memory Lane to small town Mississippi. Don't forget: In addition to providing great ancestral clues, old newspapers can provide a fun and insightful look at life long ago.,_English_-_Indianapolis_Museum_of_Art_-_DSC00628.JPG#file
Strickland, Jean and Patricia Nicholson Edwards. Newton County, Mississippi: Newspaper Items 1872-1875 and W.P.A. Manuscript. Ben Strickland, 1998. Print.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Google News Archives & Dear Abby.

It's a beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon here in Jackson, and while the reference desk phone keeps ringing and people keep asking interesting questions (what is the mortality rate in Coahoma county for emphysema? for example), between calls I find myself drifting back into something I find highly entertaining.

First off, did you know that many newspapers are available digitally (and free) through Google News? What's most interesting for me is the Archives category. From there, you can search for older articles from a variety of newspapers and read the text for free.

This week as I was doing some research, I was looking on microfilm for some information. Now, searching microfilm is not always fun. (Do it long enough, and you might need some Dramamine.) What I like to do as I'm searching a newspaper is stop by and enjoy the scenery: I read the funnies, and I look at the movie listings, but my favorite thing is to read the advice columns.

One of the Dear Abbys I read from the 60s Clarion-Ledger I was searching was about a woman whose husband hasn't bathed since their son's wedding...THREE YEARS AGO!

In the 60s and 70s, Dear Abby and Ann Landers were almost nothing like what they are now. Besides the infrequent bather, many, many women wrote in to complain about their husbands' chest hair -- having too much, too little, whatever. Abby's and Ann's responses are also very unhelpful, which adds to my amusement.

While I can't sit around at the microfilm reader and continue to read hilarious letters all day, I CAN, when I have a minute, "refine my search skills" and "practice utilizing resources that are available to me" by doing a little Dear Abby/Google News Archives searching.

To search yourself and see what I mean, go to Google and click on News. Enter "dear abby" and any word at all. You may not get any results, but on the lefthand side, choose Archives. And let the fun begin! I tried "dear abby" and hamburger as my search, and got this article about a poor girl whose boyfriend is so cheap he only buys her hamburgers. And another girl whose boyfriend always gets ONIONS on his hamburger, which makes parting at the end of their dates awkward!

I find these letters so entertaining. However, I should point out that I hear you can also use Google News Archives to find real information as well.

Let us know if you find anything good in your searching!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Letters About Literature: Let's Go Writing, Mississippi!

It’s time to start thinking about Letters About Literature, the national reading and writing competition for students in grades 4-12. Letters about Literature is sponsored by the Center for the Book (in the Library of Congress) and Target stores nationally; locally, the Mississippi Center for the Book has partnered with the Friends of Mississippi Libraries.

In the contest, students write a personal letter to the author—living or dead—of their favorite books, explaining what the book meant to them, how the book changed their life, how they related to the characters…or anything at all, as long as it is a personal letter! Books can be nonfiction, fiction, or even a short story, poem, or speech.

There are three Levels of Competition:

Level I: Grades 4-6
Level II: Grades 7-8
Level III: Grades 9-12

State prizes include a $100 cash prize for first-place winners in each Level of Competition; a $75 cash prize for second-place winners in each Level of Competition; and a $50 cash prize for third-place winners in each Level of Competition. First-place winners will also receive a $50 Target gift card and will advance to the National Level Judging.

The national judges will select six National Winners (two from each Level of Competition) and twelve National Honorable Mention Winners (four from each Level of Competition). The National Winners will receive a $500 Target gift card, along with a $10,000 Letters About Literature Reading Promotion Grant for their community or school library. National Honorable Mention Winners will receive a $100 Target gift card and a $1,000 Letters About Literature Reading Promotion Grant for their community or school library.

Yes, that’s $10,000!

The contest runs from September 1 through January 6, 2012. Entries must be accompanied by an entry coupon, found here.

For more information, visit the Letters about Literature website at or contact Mississippi Center for the Book Coordinator Tracy Carr Seabold at or 601-432-4450.
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