It’s summer (in the USA), and for some reason, I always feel like taking stock of what books I’m reading during this season. Maybe because I associate summer with the beach and beach-reading, relaxing… Anyway, here’s what I’ve been working on lately…
When you have kids (and maybe when you don’t), you tend to read a lot of children’s literature — some are bad (think Cinderella’s wedding…urgh) and some are really good. Here’s a very good one my son convinced me to read:
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is based on a real-life gorilla who was forced to live in solitary captivity for more than 20 years. In the novel, Silverback gorilla Ivan befriends a baby elephant, Ruby, a scrappy mutt named Bob, and a little girl who helps him find his artistic side. Winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal, it’s a heartfelt, well-written book. Appropriate for adults and kids (mature readers starting around 9, but more likely 10+) who like honest, bittersweet stories.
My daughter started reading the Amulet series but stopped because the drawings were a little bit too dark for her. I took a look at the first book and realized she was right — scary pointy-toothed elves and creepy houses and parents going missing. Adults and kids (over 10) who don’t mind the darker side of things, plus some awesome adventure, will probably love these books. They’re a quick read but very intense and pull you right along.
Okay, so I have to plug my daughter’s book, The Mysterious Glowing Rock. She wrote it under the pseudonym F. Nighthawk (ever dramatic!) and we used Kindle Vella to publish it. Basically, Vella lets you publish one chapter at a time. The first three chapters are free, and then readers must purchase a bundle of “tokens” with which they can read lots more chapters. It’s a fun, easy way to publish chapter books — just don’t expect to earn big bucks! So, The Mysterious Glowing Rock is about a seventh grader who finds a magical gem that gives her strange powers. Avid readers 8 and up will enjoy this quick-paced adventurous read!
Grown up books
Currently, the books I’ve read for adults are few and far between. But here’s one I’m nearly finished — it’s not new, but it’s by an author I really like, Kate Atkinson.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum is definitely not a light read, but once you pick it up, it’s hard to put down. The book follows a family during different generations and time periods (World War II, the sixties…). It’s taking me a while to read because I only read it before bed, and often I’m too tired to read for very long. But every time I open the book and read the first sentence, I’m back into the story as though I’d never left. Sometimes I will forget who certain family members are, but there’s always a detail to jog my memory. Sad, funny, and witty, it’s definitely worth a read!
In summary, at this time in my life, it’s clear I read more children’s books than adult books. But I have to say, literature for kids can be extremely well written and poignant. I am in awe of writers who write about seriously deep topics in a beautiful, compassionate voice that resonates with young audiences. And so, I will keep taking my children’s book recommendations! What are you favorite reads this summer? Please let me know in the comments!
Hi again! I’ve added another postcard template — this one is a design I created around a public domain photograph of Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman in Congress (1968) and the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major political parties (1972). She’s pretty amazing! You can read more about her here.
As I was thinking about how so many politicians (mainly Republican) accept money from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has contributed to the mass gun violence recently through its fear mongering and manipulation, I was reminded of Shirley Chisholm. Her motto and autobiography title is Unbought and Unbossed, and I wish she was here today to help steer us out of this mess.
Please watch the video, so you can learn more about Shirley Chisholm and be inspired by her honesty and courage. And here is the link to the template for my gun control postcard. I hope Ms. Chisholm would approve of me using her image, but I cannot see how she would be opposed to stopping the NRA’s tactics. She stood for integrity and did not accept endorsements from “fat cats” or big-name celebrities.
You may have to print a couple of postcards to figure out how your printer does this — but I chose double-sided, flip on “short side.” Also, you might have to manually feed the cardstock. If you want to, you can also send this file to a print shop and pay to have it printed. Please send these out to as many Republican senators as you can and Joe Manchin, Democratic senator of West Virginia.
If you’ve not yet heard, there was another school shooting yesterday. It happened in Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott and other lawmakers have repeatedly relaxed gun-ownership laws. I don’t have words to talk about this now — I can’t even begin to think about the pain those families are going through, the staff at the school, the other children… But all the more reason to ACT NOW!
If you live in the U.S.A., or even if you don’t, you can do one simple thing by letting law makers (mainly Republicans) know they are complicit in gun violence. I have created a very basic postcard template for those of you who have access to double-sided printers.
All you need is cardstock to print the postcards on. They are already sized and set up for the U.S. Postal Service. They are black and white because not everyone has access to color printers. When you are ready to print the pdf, make sure you select double-sided and “flip on short edge.” (This is what worked for me, anyway.) Then, cut them to size, sign your name somewhere on the card, and fill in the address.
Last year, I wrote about a family trip to Montgomery County, NC, and I promised to follow up on a few “mysteries” of the little town Mt. Gilead. Better late than never, right? Today, I’m writing about one of the faces painted on a mural in Mt. Gilead: Julius L. Chambers.
Obviously, Mr. Chambers was an important person in the town of Mount Gilead — but why? Well, it turns out that he made a huge impact on the Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina (and beyond). He was born in Mt. Gilead in 1936, the third child of William and Mathilda Braton Chambers (they would have four children, all of whom attended college and graduate school). His father owned an auto-repair/general store in Mount Gilead.
Education was extremely important to the Chambers family, and Julius’ older siblings attended the Laurinburg Institute, a private Black preparatory school (its history is another story in itself!). However, Julius didn’t have this advantage because of an incident that happened around 1948, when a white customer refused to pay his father for service.
“But one April day, fighting back tears, William Chambers told his son that the $2,000 he’d saved to send him to school was gone, thanks to a white customer whose 18-wheeler Chambers had maintained and repaired for months, buying parts out of his own pocket. That morning, the man had refused to pay the bill and jeered as he drove off with the rig. William Chambers spent the afternoon going door to door, asking for help from the few white lawyers in town. They all turned him away. That was the day Julius Chambers vowed to study law.” (Article by Dannye Romine Powell and David Perlmutt, The Charlotte Observer)
So, Chambers attended the public Black high school in nearby Troy — as well as having no library, “students had to kill and cut up hogs on the principal’s farm” (The Charlotte Observer). Julius joined a Book of the Month club to make up for gaps in the school’s curriculum, but still wasn’t as prepared for college as his older siblings, who’d attended the much better Laurinburg Institute. (As a side note, that’s not to say that Black teachers were lacking. Malcolm Gladwell has a great podcast, Revisionist History, where he talks in great detail about this. Check it out!)
Despite the odds, Chambers powered forward and earned admission to “North Carolina College” in Durham (now N.C. Central University), where he became student body president and graduated “summa cum laude.” He went on to earn a Master of Arts in European history at the University of Michigan, followed by a law degree at the UNC Chapel hill, newly integrated only eight years earlier. At UNC, he became the first Black editor-in-chief of the North Carolina Law Review and ranked first in his class of 100 upon graduating.
“Although he graduated first in his law school class of 1962, he could not attend the school’s celebratory banquet because of its location at a segregated country club.” (blackpast.org)
But Chambers didn’t let this incident derail him. In 1964, he worked toward his second Master’s degree from Columbia University Law School and began interning for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall himself selected Chambers for the position, which was the start of a long and historic career in civil rights.
After finishing up at Columbia, Chambers moved back to North Carolina and opened a civil rights law practice in Charlotte. The first lawyer he recruited was white — Adam Stein from Washington, D.C., — marking the first time a Black and white lawyer had joined forces in the South (not just in NC). With the recruitment of more lawyers, the firm became “Chambers, Stein, Ferguson, & Atkins” and took on hundreds of civil rights cases, challenging everything from discrimination in public hospitals to saving the jobs of Black teachers unfairly dismissed during integration. One of his most famous cases was Swann V. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education:
“Together with lawyers of the LDF, they helped shape civil rights law by winning benchmark United States Supreme Court rulings such as the famous decision of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), which led to federally mandated busing, helping integrate public schools across the country.” (https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/julius-chambers-39)
In retaliation for shaking up a system that had always favored them, disgruntled White people used violence to try to intimidate Chambers. It didn’t work. In 1965, after Chambers sued to integrate the “Shrine Bowl,” an annual all-star football game held in Charlotte, his home and the homes of three other Charlotte civil rights leaders were blown up. Chambers and his wife, Vivian Giles Chambers, had been in bed when the sticks of dynamite were thrown into their home.
“I threw up next to the house. I was angry,” he told the Observer recently. “I didn’t know who did it. I didn’t know why they would do it. I had my ideas. We knew getting with the Shrine Bowl was going to cause a lot of problems. And it did.” Chambers told the Observer he felt the Shrine Bowl lawsuit was one of his most important civil rights cases. “We were able to reach a lot of parents, teachers, principals, who played very important roles in black and white communities,” he said. (Charlotte Observer)
Chambers’ office and his car were also firebombed. But he kept on.
“The animosity toward him and his positions was just heavy and real. You could feel it,” said C.D. Spangler, former UNC president, who came on the school board in 1972 after Chambers had sued that board and won. “But he never let that change him personally.… He didn’t hate the people who hated him.” (Charlotte Observer)
Chambers’ is described as a “quiet” and “softspoken” person, which makes me think of the saying, “Still waters run deep.” His opponents underestimated him, it’s clear, and he used this to his advantage in the courtroom.
“A lot of people were surprised to see Chambers in court,” said his partner James Ferguson. “Some people expected him to be bombastic and always on the attack. Chambers never raised his voice. He was always very low key and very calm, and because of this approach, he disarmed the witness.” John Gresham, a former law partner, said Chambers had a habit of playing with string or a rubber band, often making a cat’s cradle, while interrogating a witness – lulling the witness into a false sense of security. Another tactic, Gresham said, was to start out asking innocuous questions that appeared to be aimed at finding out very simple things about the company’s policies. “You could see the witness relaxing and thinking, ‘This guy doesn’t even know how we operate.’ Then Chambers would very carefully draw a circle around what he wanted to know, and as soon as he had the loop closed, he would bore in, and you could see the witness thinking, ‘Oh, my God!’” (Charlotte Observer)
The second half of Chambers’s life was no less active — from serving the NAACP-LDF as their third director-counsel and successfully defending affirmative action and other civil rights laws to leading North Carolina Central University as the chancellor. It is impossible to capture all of Chambers’ accomplishments and struggles in one blog post, but at least we have a small understanding now why Mt. Gilead is so proud to call Julius Chambers one of their own. Mr. Chambers died in 2013 and the age of 76 in Charlotte, NC, survived by his two children Derrick and Judy, and three grandchildren. Among many honors, a statue, high school, and highway now bear his name.
Sources/For more information:
Reading, Writing, and Race: The Desegregation of the Charlotte Schools, by Davison M. Douglas
On a family trip to Lake Tillery this week, we traveled into Mt. Gilead one afternoon to check out a coffee shop. As we got out of the car, the North Carolina August heat rippled up from the sidewalk and silence wrapped us in a blissful blanket of quiet — no constant roar of engines or music blaring from car speakers. A stately red brick Methodist church stood across the street, and a colorful “Welcome to Historic Downtown Mount Gilead” mural hung from a facing wall.
I love murals and street art (check out my Las Vegas post), so I was immediately curious about the town we had stumbled upon.
Next, I saw an old-timey Coca-Cola ad painted on the side of a building. Then, an R.C. Cola one:
We passed a sewing shop, a frame and gift shop, and when we got to the next cross-street, we saw a historical-looking mural:
And opposite this mural, another important-looking one:
A fifth mural up ahead displayed an image of a Native American man. Who were these men, and who commissioned and painted all these murals? We walked back the way we came, crossing the street at the coffee shop, which I later found out had once been a doctor’s office building. I took a photo outside as a record:
Kyle and Myra Poplin own Speckled Paw Coffee and were more than happy to tell us how they started the coffee shop, which is much more than a coffee-and-ice-cream shop. It’s a community center, a place for people to gather and chat. Mt. Gilead didn’t really have a place like that until 2018, when the Poplins bought the old building, which had stood empty for two decades. The Poplins took out the office walls of the main room but kept the original windows (and all the glass except for one pane, which had to be replaced.) Now, it’s an airy, open space with lots of light flowing in.
I love mysteries, and Mt. Gilead is full of them. The town is tiny — only about 1000 people — but it has the feel of a place much bigger. The Poplins had the wherewithal to start an online community newsletter to replace the defunct local newspaper, and everyone has jumped on board. Elderly readers often get their children to print out the newsletter so they can read it more easily, Myra says.
The owners of Thistle Ridge Soap just down the street from Speckled Paw, rely on their Internet sales, as well as ones from their brick-and-mortar store. A husband-and-wife team, they make their own soap and sell crafts by local artisans.
Less than 10 miles away stands Town Creek Indian Mound, a State Historic Site. I’ve lived in NC for more than 20 years and have hardly heard anything about this archeological site of the Pee Dee people, other than that it exists. Why? I want to learn more — we arrived about 15 minutes before closing and didn’t have much time to look at the displays inside the museum — so I will need to research this.
Unlike other places I’ve visited (and lived in), Mt. Gilead seems to peacefully embrace its history and the modern, digital reality forced upon it. The residents I met are friendly and optimistic, proud of the past but also excited about the future. This feels like a healthy place to be!
What’s different about this little town, located near the geographical center of the state, next to the Uwharrie National Forest? Nearby, the bigger towns of Troy and Albemarle get more traffic (and more press), but Mt. Gilead has mysteries to uncover. I’ll be following up with answers to my questions in upcoming posts. If you want to visit Mt. Gilead (and Speckled Paw Coffee), it’s about 90 minutes south of Greensboro, in Montgomery County. And if you live in Mt. Gilead, or know more about this town, please share in the comments!
Phew! It’s been one of those years, months, weeks… Know the feeling? When life gets hectic and stressful, what’s your go-to “summer reading” genre? For me, I like “cozy mysteries.” But not too cozy. At one time, the cozier the better (cat-themed, knitting sleuths, baking detectives, and even ghost-loving detectives), but now I like cozy mysteries with a slight edge. Like Sue Grafton — her alphabet murder mysteries have a tinge of “noir” about them, and I love the fact that they’re set in the 1980s! Just a touch of nostalgia.
Another writer I enjoy is Nevada Barr. If you love nature, you’ll want to pick up one of her Anna Pigeon mysteries. Anna is a no-nonsense U.S. park ranger, and each of her mysteries is set in a different National Park. The last one I read (A Superior Death) was set at Isle Royale National Park, Lake Superior, Michigan, and features scuba diving on ship wrecks and floating dead bodies!
I tried reading Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series, but it’s not quite for me. Set in Sicily, the books DO have lovely descriptions of Italian food, and there is a pleasant, unhurried feel about the way Chief Inspector Montalbano goes about his days. I finished The Patience of the Spider and started reading another but found some irritating similarities in Camilleri’s style; beautiful women keep appearing half-dressed in front of the inspector, their robes just happening to fall open in front of him. I have nothing against this happening as part of the story, but when it keeps happening, I suspect the author’s penchant for nude women is getting in the way of the plot!
Please share your “escapist” books — fiction or nonfiction? Cozy or Edgy?
Yesterday, I heard on the BBC that the UK government is planning to cut aid to a United Nations family planning program by 85%. The program provides contraceptives and maternal health care to women in poverty-stricken areas of the world, including Africa. It also works with local governments so that they can provide for their communities in the future.
“When funding stops, women and girls suffer,” UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem, said in a statement, “especially the poor, those living in remote, underserved communities and through humanitarian crises.”
This news made me so angry because it seems that always women and girls, especially those of color and in poverty, are the ones left out in the cold whenever government cuts are announced. And women and girls are vitally important to our global health! No birth control means unplanned pregnancies, leading to unsafe abortions and maternal deaths.
Girls having babies means less chance of them getting an education. Those girls will not have the opportunities to study, have careers, and give back to their communities and the global community. It’s a cliché, but it’s true — we are all connected. When poorer countries suffer, we all suffer.
So, last night, I started a petition. My goal is to raise awareness of the potentially devastating effect these cuts would have on women and girls (and their communities). If enough people sign, we can sent a strong message to the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office that the world sees what they are doing. And we don’t approve!
When I was 16, my grandmother and I had a falling out. She died in 2010, still furious (or perhaps oblivious). I had written to her a year earlier in a final attempt at resolution. But she wasn’t interested and informed me that if I was after her money, she’d already told her lawyers not to give me a dime.
Fast forward to 2021… I see a post on Twitter about a new app that can bring old photographs back to life; I’m not a fan of “deep fake” technology, but I have to admit, I was curious. I tried it on an old photograph of my grandfather (my grandmother’s late husband who died before I was born). His younger self beamed back at me, his smile wide and infectious, eyes twinkling, and I was charmed!
Right away, I began digging to find out more about my grandfather and my late dad’s side of the family. It turned out my grandfather used to work in a mental health institution, and his dad was a blacksmith. His mother was a school teacher. In the 1950s, he and my grandmother lived in Malaysia, my dad traveling on a troop ship when he was only about seven or eight. The timeline began to shift around, blurred spots becoming clearer, pieces floating into place like a magical jiggle puzzle, and a gap that I hadn’t even realized existed began to fill inside of me.
It turns out, the past takes up a lot of space if it’s not resolved. The unknowns, misunderstandings, and falsehoods hit each other at odd angles, leaving empty pockets. Those “pockets” stick around until you open up the photo albums, read the old letters, study the registers of births, death, and marriages, and have the difficult conversations with family members who don’t really want you to hash it all up again. With dust motes and the bitter scent of dried glue on the backs of black-and-white photographs hovering in the air, that’s the time to talk, cry, think, sigh, take a deep breath, and let it all go.
Right now, I don’t know where this path is going. But I already have a couple of good ideas for story characters –a mysterious secretary who lopes around a graveyard at night and a proud woman who secretly hates herself for being born a girl. It’s all fodder, after all.
If you have relatives in Great Britain you’d like to research, here are some of the sites I’ve found helpful:
FreeBMD Home Page – this is a great FREE resource to find listings of births, deaths, and marriages in England and Wales.
ancestry.co.uk – you can get a free 14-day trial, and this site will help you build your family tree and keep it organized!
Home | Search the archive | British Newspaper Archive – you can search for free, but if you want to read the actual articles, you have to pay. Still, once you know the name of the newspaper and the date, you can always look the actual paper up through a library or other type of archives.
This is a re-post from the excellent website, “Women Writers, Women’s Books.” They always have interesting articles by women authors. This one caught my attention because Ms. Holloway talks fondly about her grandfather, and my grandfather started writing stories later in his life, so we had that connection that I’ll always hang on to.
After my grandfather had a heart attack four years ago, I moved in with my grandparents during his recovery. Late in the evenings, as my grandmother slept in her recliner beside him and my poodle sprawled across his feet, he and I would watch movies. His preference, inevitably and humorously, was Hallmark movies. I worked…
While my writing has been … a bit slow, I’ve been taking on other creative projects. My podcast, Train Your Brain to be Creative (I know, not a very creative name!), has been really fun to work on. And now, using ideas from my online graphic design classes, I’m creating designs in zazzle.com to put on tee shirts, tote bags, and postcards.
My latest “collection” (sounds fancier than it is!) is of powerful female leaders, inspired by Kamala Harris’s recent win! It’s really fun to take a photograph from the Creative Commons and edit it, adding colors and swirls and all sorts of thing. My goal is to improve my tech skills, have fun, and spread some positive images out there!
Whatever I sell in this collection, I’m going to donate the profits to the Malala Fund, which advocates for girls’ secondary education in Afghanistan, Brazil, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. Malala Yousafzai is a hero of mine, having survived being shot by the Taliban when she was only 11 years old. She didn’t let that stop her and went on to become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate!