The 20th Century | By the Book

This past year has seen a number of 20th-century histories published for secondary students on topics ranging from women's suffrage and World War l to the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Here's a select list, with reviews.

This past year has seen a number of 20th-century histories published for secondary students on topics ranging from women's suffrage and World War I to the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Below is a selected list, with reviews.

ARONSON, Marc & Susan Campbell Bartoletti, eds. 1968: Today's Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change. 208p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. Candlewick. Sept. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780763689933.
Gr 7 Up–This anthology addresses “the seismic shifts and splits” that characterized the late 1960s and early 70s, including entries on the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the influence of Communism on democracy, and the influence of democracy on Communism. The book also touches on the rise of technology, the history of comedy, and the place of athletes in activism. Many of the essays are personal narratives, which lends the collection a sense of immediacy and emotional intimacy. The editors have crafted a comprehensive work, and while not every essay will compel every reader, there is something to appeal to almost every interest. That said, there are chapters where sexual assault and beatings are described, and David Lubar’s “Running with Sharp Shticks” is a miss; Lubar hints at controversy surrounding various comics and their routines but doesn’t really dive in, using “the lens of twenty-first century sensibilities and sensitivities” as reasoning why a joke “might be seen as an example of racism, a brilliant parody of racism, or an uncomfortable mix of the two.” To encourage research, several of the writers include teasers in the forms of names and terms that might be interesting to explore. The book begins with the essays, but points back to scholarship, or into the world itself, in a delightful way. VERDICT This wide-ranging anthology is useful as both a print symposium on the topic of 1968 and as a source book for further study.—Sheri Reda, ­Wilmette Public Library, IL

BASCOMB, Neal. The Grand Escape: The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century. 288p. bibliog. diag. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. Scholastic Focus. Sept. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338140347.
Gr 8 Up–Bascomb presents the horrid conditions that prisoners of war at the notorious German prison camp Holzminden, run by the brutal Karl Niemeyer, experienced during World War I—and the band of men who were determined to break free. Their goal: to never get caught and do whatever it takes. They proved successful by digging a tunnel from this fortress prison through the foundation and out to freedom. The author carefully explains their extensive plans, bolstered by images and maps, and focuses on the science of the escape (milk used as invisible ink, makeshift bellows to provide fresh air into the tunnel) and how the men defied recapture. It is a tale of triumph that became a template for future prisoners of war, and Bascomb’s heavy, well-cited research provides the information readers need. The dozens of names and intricate details occasionally slow down the narrative a bit, though the subject matter alone is compelling. VERDICT A fantastic pick for avid history readers.—Alicia Abdul, Albany High School, NY

BRIMNER, Larry Dane. Blacklisted!: Hollywood, the Cold War, and the First Amendment. 176p. bibliog. filmog. index. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Calkins Creek. Oct. 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781620916032.
Gr 7 Up–In the years following World War II, anticommunist sentiment reached a high in the United States with the formation of a congressional committee tasked with finding communists who were supposedly involved in spreading subversive messages in movies. The House Un-American Activities Committee started out in 1947 with a list of artists from the motion picture industry and ended up creating a blacklist that would affect at least hundreds. Those subpoenaed included director Edward Dmytryk and screenwriters Adrian Scott and Dalton Trumbo; 10 would be convicted for contempt. There is a careful presentation of the order of testimony, how questions were asked and answered—or not allowed to be asked or answered. There were a number of ways in which those summoned avoided answering if they were or had ever been a member of the Communist Party. Their answers are quite fascinating and relevant to today’s polarizing political environment. Copious quotations are integrated into the story of 19 men forced to make a choice between their beliefs and their livelihood. Librarians could pair this with James Cross Giblin’s The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy. VERDICT This is a fascinating look at a part of U.S. history that should be included in public and school libraries.—Betsy Fraser, Calgary Public Library, Canada

BRIMNER, Larry Dane. Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961. 112p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. websites. Calkins Creek. Nov. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781629795867.
Gr 5 Up–An engaging and accessible account of the 13 original Freedom Riders as they attempted to make their way from Washington, DC, to New Orleans, LA, to celebrate the seventh anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The riders, "men and women, young and old, black and white," planned to sit anywhere they liked on the buses and to make use of all facilities available at bus stations. Despite federal laws prohibiting segregated seating and facilities serving interstate passengers, many parts of the South ignored these laws and continued to enforce Jim Crow segregation. As they traveled, white Freedom Riders used "Colored" facilities and black Freedom Riders used "White" facilities. The farther south they went, the more intense and violent the opposition they faced. Despite their commitment to nonviolence, the Freedom Riders were attacked and beaten, and by the time they made it to Alabama, their bus was fire bombed and several riders sustained serious injuries. Brimner, author of several other books about civil rights in this era, knows the material well and presents a straightforward narrative approach to the subject that will appeal to readers. The stark, black-and-white design of the text emphasizes the directness of the prose, while the riveting, full-page photos and descriptive captions enhance the reading experience. VERDICT An essential part of civil rights collections and a worthy addition to all nonfiction shelves.—Kristy Pasquariello, Wellesley Free Library, MA

DAVIS, Kenneth C. More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War. 304p. appendix. bibliog. chron. index. notes. photos. reprods. Holt. May 2018. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250145123.
Gr 7 Up–Davis, author of the “Don’t Know Much About” series and In the Shadows of Liberty, applies his wide-ranging knowledge to this history of World War I and the Spanish Flu. Davis pulls no punches in his gruesome descriptions of medical wards, of entire families found dead in their homes, of a troop transport ship that became a “floating chamber of horrors,” and how doctors were totally at a loss. He includes an abundance of first-hand testimonies, statistics, and a variety of images: a young, uniformed Ernest Hemingway; an advertisement designed by an up-and-coming Walt Disney, who survived the flu; and scenes from the trenches. The details often hit forcefully home, providing context. However, the three narrative threads—the story of war, the evolution of virus, and a history of medicine—are not as tightly ­woven as in Albert Marrin’s Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. VERDICT A solid work of nonfiction, but in the light of better options, a secondary purchase.—Blake Holman, St. Joseph County Public Library, IN
 

FAVREAU, Marc. Crash: The Fall and Rise of America in the 1930s. 240p. bibliog. chron. glossary. index. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Little, Brown. Apr. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316545860.
Gr 7 Up–In this engaging and comprehensive look at the Great Depression, the text is divided into four sections addressing the crash of the economy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies, setbacks to progress, and the eventual end of the Depression. Moving beyond the typical analysis of the time period, Favreau carefully crafts an enjoyable narrative that vibrantly depicts individual experiences, including little-known stories within the context of national trends. Not only is it enjoyable to read, it is also a powerful research source. Each chapter is rife with primary sources, such as telegrams, photographs, posters, song lyrics, speech transcripts, and more. (Besides the extensive primary source section, there is other comprehensive back matter.) While President Herbert Hoover often bears the blame for the Federal government's initial response to the financial crisis, the author provides a very balanced portrayal of his presidency. This same balance, however, does not extend as much to Roosevelt. There is a section on societal setbacks, but there is no opposing perspective provided in response to Roosevelt's expansion of executive power, his constitutional challenges, or his attempt to pack the courts. Still, this impressive resource would be valuable, when used in tandem with other resources, for students conducting research. VERDICT An insightful addition to libraries and recommended even for those with a robust collection on the topic.—Paige Rowse, Needham High School, MA

HARTFIELD, Claire. A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919. 208p. bibliog. notes. photos. Clarion. Jan. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780544785137.
Gr 7 Up–When 17-year-old Eugene Williams was murdered while rafting on the unofficially segregated beaches of Lake Michigan and a white police officer refused to arrest the murderer, Chicago became the site of a deadly race riot. Hartfield backtracks from that moment to explore how turn-of-the-century Chicago was a beacon for both African Americans from the South and European immigrants. However, with the end of World War I, the numerous job opportunities turned scarce and white gang activity against black residents increased. Powerful stories of resistance and inspiring profiles of John Jones, Ida B. Wells, and others who created libraries, hospitals, The Chicago Defender, and other initiatives balance the narratives of discrimination and violence. The stoning of Williams and the riots that followed are not the primary focus; rather, Chicago’s history as a destination in post-Reconstruction era United States, its labor movement, the Great Migration, and how all these factors were the underlying elements for the riots make up the bulk of the book. Under 200 pages, this is a relatively slim but powerful account of early 20th-century U.S. history. A plentiful amount of clear and intriguing photography, as well as primary source materials, is included. Back matter includes research citations, an extensive bibliography, and picture credits. VERDICT A worthy and gripping account of early 20th-century African American, immigrant, and labor history framed by the haunting murder of a young black man.—Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA

HENDRIX, John. The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot To Kill Hitler. illus. by John Hendrix. 176p. bibliog. notes. Abrams/Amulet. Sept. 2018. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781419728389; pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781419732652.
Gr 7 UpCombining drawings and text, Hendrix presents a contemplative look at German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Readers learn of Bonhoeffer’s lifelong interest in theology and his search for God. As Hitler and Nazism came to power, he asked whether it is moral to assassinate a tyrant. Ultimately, his decision to plot with other conspirators to kill Hitler cost him his life. The author provides a fascinating examination of the man and his commitment to his Christian faith. The narrative deftly moves between Bonhoeffer’s struggles and Hitler’s ascent. Hendrix’s dynamic images complement the text, using green and red to indicate good and evil. The dense text may turn off some readers, but the illustrations are bound to entice many others. Those seeking a more traditional biography should also look to Patricia McCormick’s The Plot To Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero. ­VERDICT The bold visuals will attract graphic novel fans. An excellent introduction to a great man and his fight for justice.—Margaret Nunes, ­Gwinnett County Public Library, GA

HOPKINSON, Deborah. D-Day: The World War II Invasion That Changed History. 400p. bibliog. chron. glossary. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Scholastic/Focus. Sept. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545682480.
Gr 7 Up–Hopkinson has compiled a comprehensive and absorbing overview of the largest military operation in history: the Allied invasion of Normandy, on June 6, 1944. The author describes the thoughts and feelings of individual soldiers and paratroopers, the extensive planning by the leaders, the horrific battles on various beaches, the work of reporters and photographers (Ernie Pyle and Robert Capa, respectively), as well as segregation and the effect it had on the military. Lengthy quotations by those who experienced the invasion add depth to the content. The text is accompanied by an abundance of half- and full-page black-and-white photos and sidebars, called briefings or dispatches here, that are one to four pages long. However, the captions are probably the weakest part of this title; many don’t provide enough information. For example, one image of smiling soldiers lacks context (“Troops headed across the English Channel.”). Still, frequent “Look, Listen, Remember” boxes lead readers to various websites for additional information. The back matter is extremely thorough and contains a list of the key figures and more online resources. ­VERDICT Even with some minor faults, this insightful title, chock-full of primary sources, is a strong purchase.—Eldon Younce, Anthony Public Library, KS

MARRIN, Albert. Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. 208p. further reading. index. notes. photos. Knopf. Jan. 2018. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9781101931462.
Gr 7 Up–Seasoned nonfiction author Marrin returns with a thorough and entertaining telling of the Influenza Pandemic that swept the world during World War I, described as “the greatest medical holocaust in history.” The narrative relays the progress of human disease from hunting and gathering days to the rise of “scientific medicine,” with a discussion of biological agents from bacteria to viruses. Readers experience the public health crisis from its believed beginning in Kansas through its evolution from outbreak to epidemic to pandemic. The story allows for the wider context of the intertwined fates of the war and the disease, from trenches to overcrowded hospitals. Marrin’s story of the flu in his own family (fighting with the Red Army, his father was stricken while stationed in Siberia and survived) adds an interesting personal touch. This anecdote emphasizes a key point: the pandemic was unique in its target population in that it disproportionately affected young adults. Marrin’s exhaustive research leaves no topic untouched. The back matter of extensive notes and suggestions for further reading emphasize the meticulous degree of Marrin’s research. Pair with Makiia Lucier’s A Death-Struck Year for a fictional complement with a personalized perspective. VERDICT A solid nonfiction selection to middle and high school collections that emphasizes history, defense strategy, and medicine.—Deidre Winterhalter, Oak Park Public Library, IL

PARTRIDGE, Elizabeth. Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam. 224p. bibliog. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Viking. Apr. 2018. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780670785063.
Gr 7 Up–Rather than offering a history of the causes and effects of the Vietnam War, Partridge brings the conflict to a personal level, with accounts of eight men, two women, four U.S. presidents, Martin Luther King Jr., and Maya Lin. Chapter by chapter, the author introduces an unseasoned Marine tasked with life or death decisions, a nonviolent follower of King who fires at the enemy until his machine gun is red hot, and an 18-year-old South Vietnamese woman who must flee the encroaching North Vietnamese Army. Partridge’s interviewees all survived their year in-country, but what they saw and participated in haunted them long after. Late chapters on the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial and an epilogue provide closure. Photos of exhausted soldiers, pensive presidents, a helicopter evacuating the wounded, and stacks of coffins add visual immediacy to the emotional stories of young people at war and the protests stateside. Occasional racial slurs and strong language fit the circumstances of their use. VERDICT A stirring choice. Pair with DK/Smithsonian’s The Vietnam War: The Definitive Illustrated or portions of the documentary The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick for a more complete picture of the war and its surrounding circumstances.—Maggie Knapp, Trinity ­Valley School, Fort Worth, TX

PRICE, Planaria with Helen Reichmann West. Claiming My Place: Coming of Age in the Shadow of the Holocaust. 272p. glossary. maps. photos. Farrar. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374305291.
Gr 7 Up–During her childhood in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland, Gucia Gomolinska had access to a good education, and she actively participated in a Zionist youth group. All of that changed in 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. After losing her mother to typhoid and seeing many family members, friends, and neighbors murdered by German soldiers, Gomolinska realized that her survival depended upon hiding her identity. Under the name Danuta Barbara Tanska, Basia for short, she moved away and found work in Polish and German towns that were safer because they were supposedly Judenrein, “cleansed of Jews.” Told in a present tense, first-person narrative, this true story was written based on extensive interviews with Basia. The account describes how she survived the war and also tells the stories of family and friends, such as Heniek, her longtime boyfriend, and Sabina, her companion and roommate. Basia’s determination and strength of character is skillfully emphasized. An episode from her early childhood hints at this for readers (she refused to wait a year to start school after her father forgot to register her). VERDICT Thanks to the detailed memories and the conversational tone, this book provides an engaging and informative reading experience with as much appeal as a fiction title. Recommended for most YA nonfiction collections.—Magdalena Teske, West Chicago Public Library District

SANDLER, Martin W. 1919: The Year That Changed America. 192p. bibliog. further reading. index. photos. Bloomsbury. Jan. 2019. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781681198019.
Gr 7 Up–This readable journey through the year 1919 begins with an attention-grabbing and rather strange episode in U.S. history, the Great Molasses Flood. Each subsequent chapter follows a different large-scale event in 1919 that greatly affected the United States: Prohibition, women’s suffrage, the red scare, labor strikes, and the Red Summer. At the end of each section, a “One Hundred Years Later” segment takes the historical social issue previously covered and shows how it affects contemporary society, with relatable examples included. Time lines throughout the volume demonstrate for readers how progress isn’t always linear and how change can happen slowly, if at all. Filled with full-color pictures and extremely descriptive captions, students are transported in time to a period of turmoil and victory. VERDICT Well researched and presented in an attractive manner, Sandler’s text delivers a solid look at a pivotal year.—Stephanie Wilkes, Good Hope Middle School, West Monroe, LA

STONE, Oliver & Peter Kuznick. The Untold History of the United States: Young Readers Edition, 1945–1962. adapted by Eric S. Singer. 320p. chron. diag. index. maps. notes. photos. S. & S./Atheneum. Aug. 2018. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781481421768.
Gr 9 Up–Filmmaker Stone and American University history professor Kuznick cover the Cold War with a critical perspective in this fascinating look at the years 1945–62. The tone is set immediately in the opening chapters, as the effects of the atomic bomb are explored from a variety of angles. From the devastating and lingering effects on the people of Hiroshima and Bikini Atoll to the odd mix of reactions in the United States, teens are treated to a unique narrative. Riveting and inspiring portrayals of people who took a stand are featured to highlight lesser-known aspects of the established history. For instance, a group of U.S. mothers who refused to participate in mandatory atomic bomb drills in New York City and led protests, often accompanied by their children, which helped change the conversation around civil defense initiatives. Stone and Kuznick cover a wide variety of other topics: the Korean War, unrest in Iran, and the tumultuous relationship between Cuba, the United States, and the Soviet Union. VERDICT Detailed, ambitious, and opinionated, this engaging narrative lays out a view of U.S. history often overlooked in standard texts and deserves a place on most library shelves.—Kristy Pasquariello, Westwood Public Library, MA

Voices from the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today. 320p. glossary. index. photos. reprods. Candlewick. Mar. 2018. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780763694920.
Gr 5-8–This collection of memoirs of World War II survivors was first published in England by First News, an award-winning children’s newspaper, and the Silver Line, a helpline dedicated to serving older adults. Present-day children were asked to interview elderly family members and friends who had served in the military or had been children during the war. Most of the stories, told in first person, are recollections of what the individuals experienced as children. Some interviewees describe their lives as young adults or as members of the military. At least eight different nationalities are featured, including English, French, German, Italian, and Japanese. Among those profiled are the navigator of the Enola Gay, authors Shirley Hughes and Judith Kerr, and an atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima. Many of the pieces are accompanied by a photo of the biographee and the interviewer or early and current photos of the subject. Full-page vintage black-and-white photos are paired with the introduction of each chapter. (The artwork on the colorful cover is reminiscent of 1940s war posters.) ­VERDICT This title will help readers understand that war affects real-life people, including children. A solid choice for collections that serve middle school students.—­Eldon Younce, Anthony Public Library, KS

WILSON, John. A Soldier’s Sketchbook: The Illustrated First World War Diary of R.H. Rabjohn. illus. by R.H. Rabjohn. 112p. chron. further reading. Tundra. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781770498549.
Gr 7 Up–A quiet narrative based on the diary of a young Canadian soldier during the First World War. Eighteen years old at the time of his enlistment, Rabjohn was eventually sent to England and then to France. Since he was a trained artist, he was assigned the task of mapping the trenches, drawing dugouts, and sketching the graves of his fallen comrades. This position allowed him to depict the scenes around him, whereas other soldiers were not permitted to do so. The text is a combination of Rabjohn's selected diary entries and the author's explanatory comments arranged around the profusive illustrations of Rabjohn's detailed pencil drawings, at least one per page and quite often large in size. Diary dates are in full capital letters, with a similar lower-case font for the entries. The font for the author's comments resembles that of an old typewriter. Many of the entries are concerned with day-to-day life and activities, such as going on leave, while others are graphic descriptions of casualties and death. Rabjohn would eventually return to Canada in March of 1919. VERDICT Ideal for sophisticated readers for its firsthand account of World War I.—Eldon Younce, Anthony Public Library, KS

ZIMET, Susan & Todd Hasak-Lowy. Roses and Radicals: The Epic Story of How American Women Won the Right To Vote. 168p. index. notes. photos. Viking. Jan. 2018. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780451477545.
Gr 6-8–Zimet tells the story of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States beginning with the efforts of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott and concluding with an epilog about the Equal Rights Amendment. Zimet does not idolize the movement or the women involved. She reveals their complexities by discussing their marital and family choices, their racial backgrounds, their personality and generational differences, and their opinions on how efforts were to be organized. Readers will be captivated from beginning to end, in large part due to sidebars with titles such as “Know Your Radicals.” Zimet deftly exposes readers to the strengths and flaws of these women, particularly the racist attitudes held by some of the white leaders. In a “Putting It in Perspective” section, Zimet highlights the racial divide surrounding voting rights, noting that universal suffrage did not occur until the 1960s; however, the suffrage struggles of Native American women are not mentioned. In addition, the word massacre is used in reference to the murder of Anne Hutchinson and her family. Zimet’s position on women’s rights is evident, yet her passion does not overshadow the story. VERDICT This engaging book educates, but it is slight on the history of voting rights for women of color.—Hilary Writt, Sullivan University, Lexington, KY

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