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Books and Beyond

“Home of the Brave: 15 Immigrants Who Shaped U.S. History” by Brooke Khan, c 2019, is another book you can pick up and read any chapter that draws you in. The book was written for middle school students. I have in mind asking a great-niece or great-nephew to read the book this summer and have conversations with me about it in letters, telephone calls, and/or emails.

Brooke Khan was a middle and high school teacher. Now she creates materials for teachers.

I started my reading on p. 41 about a filmmaker, lecturer, and writer who was born in Ukraine in 1917 — Maya Deren. Her birth name was Eleanora Derenkowsky. She was brought to the United States in 1922 when, as a Jewish family, they were the target of anti-Jewish pogroms.

Although she died at a young age (44), she left behind many creative ideas for filmmaking. In 1955, she started the Creative Film Foundation, which supported new filmmakers.

At the end of each chapter, the reader is given ideas for books and activities to continue learning more about the subject of the short autobiography. An unexpected follow-up for me was finding in my closet a lounging dress that was made in Ukraine. (I have been searching for a book about how and why we wear clothes made in many countries. My closet includes clothes made in Sri Lanka, Japan, Portugal, Indonesia, Taiwan, India, China, Vietnam, Canada, Philippines, and the U.S.A..)

I knew already that John Muir (1838-1914) lived according to ways that protect nature. I didn’t know he was born in Dunbar, Scotland. (I grew up in central Iowa near a small town named Dunbar. You see now I can learn more about this small town, and if Scottish immigrants settled there. I’m part Scottish.)

The Muir family sailed for America when John was 11 years old, and they settled on farmland in Wisconsin. In his early 20s, he walked one thousand plus miles from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico. Next, he lived for four years in Yosemite Valley, herding sheep.

He wrote articles about conserving native land, and as a result, Congress created Yosemite National Park in 1890, and other parks in California, Washington, and Arizona. President Theodore Roosevelt traveled to Yosemite and helped create “five national parks, eighteen national monuments, and 150 national forests” (p. 20).

John Muir eventually married, had two daughters, and lived in a small town near Oakland, Calif. You may have seen pictures of him in magazine articles about him and his love of nature. A Muir quote featured is “in every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks” (p. 21). For each person, there is an illustration.

I chose Mikhail Baryshnikov because I saw him dance in January 1981 at Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota. I was going to graduate school there at the time, traveling to and fro in a Greyhound bus. Will you believe me when I write that I just found the performance folder for this program?

The first paragraph says “he is often considered one of the greatest dancers in the world” (p. 87).

He was born in Latvia in 1948, and went to a ballet school in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) when he was 15 years old. At age 19 he began to dance with the Kirov Ballet Company. In his 20s he performed in Toronto, Canada, and didn’t return to Russia. He did move to New York City and performed with American Ballet Theatre.

President Jimmy Carter invited Baryshnikov to give a Sunday afternoon performance at the White House in 1979. There was a standing ovation.

He continued to be active in ballet, and created the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation to make available ways to support dance.

The Explore More section introduces Misty Copeland, an African American who danced at the American Ballet Theatre. She has written a book, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina.”

Then I decided to read about Mary Harris Jones. She was born in 1837 in Cork, Ireland, and died in 1930. Her father decided to take his family to America when many in Ireland died because they didn’t have enough to eat. The loss of the potato crops led to starvation for many.

The family lived in Toronto, Canada, at first, where Mr. Jones worked on railroads.

Mary came to the United States where she worked as a teacher and a dressmaker.

When she lived in Tennessee, she married George Jones, an iron molder, and they had four children. The deadly yellow fever came to Memphis in 1878, and killed everyone in the family except Mary. Students can look this up online and read that 18,000 people died in a matter of months.

Now in Chicago, again she was a dressmaker. She lost all her possessions in the Chicago Fire in 1871. For many years she worked with the Knights of Labor, an organization who worked for better pay, fair working hours, and safe working conditions. She also was concerned about how children were hired as workers. On July 7, 1903, she led a children’s march from Philadelphia to the home of President Theodore Roosevelt in New York. Then she supported coal miners in their strikes in West Virginia. She spent some time in prison for charges that she worked with a conspiracy to commit murder. Mary worked with strikes in other states, too, and in Mexico.

When she died in 1930, “thousands of miners attended her funeral to pay their respects” (p. 14).

In 1976, a magazine was created to honor her for supporting worker’s rights: Mother Jones, which is still published in print and online.

I feel that reading this “Home of the Brave” is very timely. I ordered this title through MnLINK. Although it is not currently available with MnLINK shut down, your Marshall-Lyon County Library has many collective biographies you may enjoy. Search for them at marshalllyonlibrary.org

Current hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, with the main library open for browsers and the Childrenís Department open by appointment. Take out and delivery is still available. Contact the library at 507-537-7003 or email library@marshalllyonlibrary.org.

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