|ornamental crabapple in full bloom|
Remember when I told you about Donna and our discussions about contemporary Young Adult Fiction? After our meeting, I asked her to please write a blog post when she came across any new, worthy books so that I could spread the word. So enjoy this guest post by my fellow book-loving friend, Dr. Donna Johnson. You have to love anyone who uses this quote at the end of their emails –
by Donna Johnson
What do you know about Florence Nighingale, Mark Twain and Helen Keller? Find a piece of paper and write down what first comes to mind about each of them. Are your notations something like mine?
Florence Nightingale – Nurse in Turkey during the Crimean War
Mark Twain – Riverboat captain. Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer
Helen Keller – overcame being blind and death with the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan
These are notable people; their names and some basic facts about their accomplishments are well known. Beyond the basics I had never been very curious about them. That is until the last few months. Starting with one about Mark Twain, I’ve recently read a biography – written for young adults – about each of these historical personages.
Did you know that Florence Nightingale’s prominent, wealthy family greatly objected to her choice of a vocation? And for good reason. So much so that she was prevented from pursuing her interest in nursing for more than a decade. The soldiers she served adored her, but she also had many enemies.
As for Mark Twain, he spent many years in places like California and Hawaii looking for an easy way to make it rich. Early formative experiences included a short stint with the Confederate militia and guilt over the death of his younger brother.
Helen Keller’s life overlapped with Mark Twain’s (they were friends), Eleanor Roosevelt’s, John Kennedy’s, and for that matter, mine. Her insatiable desire to learn and overcome her encumbrances will always stand out in history; the many interesting incidents in her 88 years are rich in detail and interest.
If you read these books, you will also learn about the courtships and (in one case) marriage of these people. You’ll become acquainted with their sometimes sound and sometimes wacky religious and political views. You will find that all of them had serious doubts about themselves, as well as critical character flaws. And yet, the accomplishments of each of them made an indelible impression in history.
Of course, you could learn most of this with a quick Internet search. If you do that, however, you’ll miss delving into three living books. Sid Fleischman’s The Trouble Begins at 8, A Life of Mark Twain in The Wild, Wild West (2008) is almost like reading Mark Twain writing about Mark Twain – boisterous and entertaining to say the least. Heart and Soul: The Story of Florence Nightingale (2000) by Gena K. Gorrell is worth reading for what you learn about military and medical history. The World at Her Fingertips (2001) by Joan Dash reveals the battle for control of Helen’s life and the faults of Anne Sullivan, someone I always thought of as a perfect teacher. Each of the three books includes photos and other interesting documents in addition to the text.
Give them a try. See what you think.