On Our Way to Oyster Bay by Monica Kulling

On Our Way to Oyster Bay by Monica Kulling On Our Way to Oyster Bay: Mother Jones and Her March for Children's Rights by Monica Kulling
Illustrator: Felicita Sala
Published by Kids Can Press on September 6, 2016
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Picture Book, History
Pages: 32
Format: eARC
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Though eight-year-old Aidan and his friend Gussie want to go to school, like many other children in 1903, they work twelve hours, six days a week, at a cotton mill in Pennsylvania instead. So when the millworkers decide to go on strike, the two friends join the picket line. Maybe now life will change for them. But when a famous labor reformer named Mother Jones comes to hear of the millworkers' demands, she tells them they need to do more than just strike. Troubled by all she had seen, Mother Jones wanted to end child labor. But what could she do? Why, organize a children's march and bring the message right to President Theodore Roosevelt at his summer home in Oyster Bay, of course!

Good points:

Excellent introduction to Mother Jones and her cause. To be honest, I had never heard of her before and found her fascinating.

Told from a kid’s point of view, allowing children to relate

Takes others’ problems, like child labor, and reminds us that Americans have dealt with the same issues

Very good artwork, detailed and added to the story

Includes factual information for parents/adults at the end

Gives a call to action encouraging children that they can make a difference in the world

Negative points:

I can’t see this one being any kids favorite. It’s good and historical, just not engrossing.

May need some explanations, depending. Some kids may not be familiar with the sewing machinery terms, some may not even be familiar with what a strike is.

It’s disappointing that the kids don’t actually get to meet President Roosevelt.


A good one to borrow from the library.

A must-buy for an elementary school classroom library.


About Monica Kulling

Monica Kulling was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. She received a BA in creative writing from the University of Victoria. Monica Kulling has published twenty-six fiction and nonfiction books for children, including picture books, poetry, and biographies. She is best known for introducing biography to children just learning to read and has written about Harriet Tubman, Houdini, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Amelia Earhart among others. Monica Kulling lives in Toronto, Canada.

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist
Published by Crown on October 28, 2014
Source: On shelves
Genres: History
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
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Empire of Sin re-creates the remarkable story of New Orleans’ thirty-years war against itself, pitting the city’s elite “better half” against its powerful and long-entrenched underworld of vice, perversity, and crime. This early-20th-century battle centers on one man: Tom Anderson, the undisputed czar of the city's Storyville vice district, who fights desperately to keep his empire intact as it faces onslaughts from all sides. Surrounding him are the stories of flamboyant prostitutes, crusading moral reformers, dissolute jazzmen, ruthless Mafiosi, venal politicians, and one extremely violent serial killer, all battling for primacy in a wild and wicked city unlike any other in the world.

Empire of Sin focuses on New Orleans, 1890-1920. It’s a compelling look at the politics, crime, and culture of the city. The mayhem starts with the killing of Police Chief Hennessy. The acquittal of the killers ignited mob violence that just astounded me. Around the same time, the vice-district Storyville was established. This era saw the birth of jazz, music that made some of the upper class in the city nervous. Jim Crow laws were established in the city, which, until this time, had been relatively tolerant of integration. We see New Orleans during WW 1 and prohibition. A lot happened in those years and the book is filled with names I was familiar with, especially the first generations of jazzmen.

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but books like this make me wonder why not. The people in these pages are as fascinating, absurd, outrageous and inventive as any fictional characters. The things they do, from lynchings to shootouts to somehow keeping a niece from knowing her aunt was a madam of one of the most successful brothels in Storyville made my jaw drop. I found myself rooting for the jazz players and the madams and the bar owners, not the reformers who were trying to clean up – and segregate – the city. The writing style brings the era alive, it’s not a dry recitation of facts, although those are there. Krist makes history readable.

If the book suffers from anything it’s the broad scope. Krist seems to deal with everything happening in New Orleans during that time. Yes, it all interrelates, but I felt like it was almost two, or three, books crammed together. The politics and fight against vice was one topic, the birth of jazz another, and the axman murders that framed the book could have been left out for all I cared.

The book fizzled out a bit at the end. It’s like the time we were looking at was over and now we’re done, except for a mention of Hurricane Katrina. I don’t know if there really was a better way of ending, but it didn’t quite hold up to the rest of the book for me.

I’m glad I finally pulled this one off the shelf. Krist has taken what was already a colorful city and made it more vivid. Now, I a.) want to read more non-fiction and b.) visit New Orleans.

About Gary Krist

Gary Michael Krist (born 1957) is an American writer of fiction, nonfiction, travel journalism, and literary criticism. Before turning to narrative nonfiction, Krist wrote three novels. He has also written two short story collections.

He has been a frequent book reviewer for The New York Times Book Review, Salon, and The Washington Post Book World. His satire pieces have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post Outlook section, and Newsday, and his stories, articles, and travel pieces have been featured in National Geographic Traveler, The Wall Street Journal, GQ, Playboy, The New Republic, and Esquire, and on National Public Radio’s Selected Shorts. His short stories have also been anthologized in such collections as Men Seeking Women, Writers’ Harvest 2, and Best American Mystery Stories.

Krist lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife and daughter.

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Dead Wake by Erik Larson Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
Narrator: Scott Brick
Published by Random House Audio on March 10, 2015
Source: Purchased
Genres: History, Non-fiction
Length: 13 hrs 4 mins
Format: Audiobook
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On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era's great transatlantic "Greyhounds" and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship--the fastest then in service--could outrun any threat.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger's U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small--hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more--all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don't, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.

Dead Wake is not a book I would usually pick up. I don’t tend to read much non-fiction and I actively avoid war books, but I’ve enjoyed Larson’s books in the past and his “narrative non-fiction” style works for me. He tells the story with a personal touch, not just a recitation of facts. This one is pretty fascinating, the boat itself, the people on board, and all the events in the outer world that conspired against them.

I listened to this one on audio and Brick did a good job. He kept me interested, made it exciting and tension-filled. There were a lot of people, but it’s non-fiction, so there wasn’t really any dialogue to worry about. The individuals were heard through their journals and letter, which doesn’t require any distinction voices.

There are a lot of people involved in the story of the Lusitania, from the captain, crew and passengers, government officials on both sides of the Atlantic,  to the German U-boat commander. Larson makes each of them feel real.

I was surprised by how much could have been done to avoid the tragedy. It felt like Britain wanted it, or something similar, to happen, to get the US into the war. I didn’t really get attached to any of the characters, but the stories are touching, sad, inspiring. Honestly, I think my big take away is how effective the U-boats could be.

I don’t know why I tend to veer away from history books. I enjoy them when I read them. Granted some can be boring, but so can some fiction.

Any non-fiction books you would recommend I read?

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