Happy Birthday, Laura!

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Today is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday!  She is my all time favorite children’s book author and possibly one of the reasons why I love history so much. I grew up watching the show “Little House on the Prairie” and read all of her books – several times.  I related to Laura in many ways.  Laura hated her brown hair and compared it to the color of “mud” unlike her sister’s blond hair which she describes as the color of “golden wheat.” Growing up in the 70s and 80s, blonds were the big sex symbols (Farrah Fawcett, Suzanne Somers, Heather Locklear, Heather Thomas) and I remember thinking that when I grew up, I was going to get blue contacts and dye my dark brown hair blond to be like them.  (Of course, I did not realize how ridiculous I would look, but hey, I was a kid!)  Laura also had trouble sitting still in church and school (like me) and liked to hoot and holler and play with the boys more than do “proper ladylike” things like sewing and sitting quietly.  My mom tried to teach me how to do cross stitch and basic stitches several times, but I did not have the patience for it.  When I would read Laura’s books, I felt like I was reading about myself, which made me want to read more. Little did I know, I was also learning history.

For decades, her books were a required part of the curriculum in schools all over America. I am very sad to say that that is no longer the case and because of that, we are cheating our children out of a great American story. Laura’s is one that was shared by many.  She tells of the challenges that the pioneers faced as they created and shaped the world we live in today.  She also shares stories of  basic human emotions that we all feel and that every child can relate to – feelings of love, anger, jealousy, joy, surprise, hope, fear,  frustration and determination.  It is historical fiction at its best.

I am not sure why her books are no longer required readings in elementary schools.  When teaching Westward Expansion to my 6th graders, I often read excerpts from her books describing the bumpy journey in a covered wagon on an unpaved road facing all types of weather, the fear of crossing streams and rivers.   My students looked forward to hearing these snippets and many of them would check out the book or borrow it for silent reading. There are also excellent examples of  life lessons with values and morals in them, teaching empathy, respect and tolerance.

I encourage every young child to read the Little House on the Prairie series.  It is normally recommended for 4th graders, but I think a few years before or after that is also appropriate. Laura Ingalls Wilder is an important person in America’s history and certainly in children’s literature.   She and her books will always and forever hold a special place in my heart.

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Bravery

I love to read all kinds of books and will definitely share my opinions of them with you.   I like fiction, historical fiction, thrillers, mystery,  romance and regular old non-fiction.  Perhaps it was because I was a history teacher for 14 of my 16 years in the classroom that I feel non-fiction books are the ones that truly inspire me.  After all, they are about real events, real bravery, real people and bring out real emotion in me each and every time.

Right now, I am reading a book on World War II.  I am proud to say that both of my grandfathers served during the war. One joined voluntarily and one was drafted.  Grandpa Alehnovich joined the army and saw a great deal of action. He  faced a lot of hand-to-hand combat in France, Holland and Germany.  Thankfully, he made it back okay.  Grandpa Incalcaterra was drafted and was in the Army Airborne (the precursor to today’s Air Force).  He was a side gunner on a B24 bomber. He also saw a great deal of action, but from the air and also returned safe and sound.  Both families were very lucky and I am beyond proud to say that my grandfathers were among those of our “greatest generation.”

Currently, I am reading about World War II and the USS IndianapolisIn Harm’s Way is an incredibly griping book about the story of the young men aboard the Indy and the story of their beloved captain, Charles McVay. You might remember hearing a snippet of this story in the movie, Jaws.   During one of the more emotional scenes in the movie, Hooper, Brody and Quint are all discussing their scars and Quint starts talking about a tattoo he had removed, one from the USS Indianapolis.  The character reveals a pretty accurate depiction of what happened in July 1945.  The USS Indianapolis was sent to deliver uranium for the bomb that was to be dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.  The majority of the men on board had no idea what they were carrying, but knew something was up.  After delivering the cargo, they were headed to Philippines to join an armada that would partake in more attacks against Japan.  McVay was not told that Japanese subs that had been spotted on his route and at 12:05 A.M. on July 30th, two Japanese torpedoes hit and sank the decorated battleship. It sunk in just 12 minutes and out of over 1,100 men who went into the ocean, only 317 survived.  Several of them lost their lives to shark attacks, but not all.  These men were in the water for five miserable days facing horrible conditions. The stories of love, courage, bravery, despair, hope and faith will amaze you.

I don’t want to give too much away, but in a disgraceful move by the US Navy, Captain McVay, who survived and by all accounts was the driving force in the survival of the men who were with him, was blamed for the sinking because he did not engage in proper evasive sailing techniques.  He was not just blamed, he was court-martialed and found guilty! UGH!! That is a sad blemish on the face of the Navy.   And then, when I read that distress messages were received that the ship was sinking and that others saw that the Indy had not arrived on time and just assumed that they were rerouted, I wanted to scream!  These men could have been rescued much earlier and lives could have been saved if people had investigated why the Indy had not arrived on time.  It gives new meaning to what ASSUMING does. That time, it cost lives.

I could not put this book down and highly recommend it for all Americans to read. These men were truly amazing and their real story of survival beats any and all reality survival TV shows.  Read it and let me know what you think.

One more thing – if your child has to do a report on an event from World War II, this would be a great book for him/her to read. I would recommend it for students above the 7th grade. It is disturbing and sad, but told in a tasteful way.  It gives new meaning to the realities of war.