We could not help but share this letter from the astounding student Erica Eliza Smith.
“I just finished reading Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice for the second time. The first time I read it was back in eighth grade (I’m a junior now) when I was trying to figure out what it meant to be a teenager in a world run by adults. This was the same year I read We Were There, Too! and It’s Our World, Too!
I believe that every book I’ve read has changed my life. But your books have changed my life more than any other book beyond certain religious texts and the books that taught me how to read. You’re the only author I’ve found who seems to care about young people who want to read about other young people.
Young people do have stories worth telling. I understand that my school textbooks will never devote a significant number of pages to young people for the same reasons they don’t talk all that much about women or people of color. Paper and class time is limited. We can only cover the presidents and generals. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t there too. That doesn’t mean we didn’t witness historical events at the very least. And there are always untold stories about people like Claudette who changed things.
I feel like youth are the most neglected of any demographic group. My school offers a women’s history class, which I’ll take next year, and all but one of the movies we watched in U.S. History this year featured African Americans. But so far as young people are concerned, we have Sacagawea and Emmett Till. I wish they’d include more stories about youth. It would help us see history as our story instead of something that happened to old dead guys.
Reading your books, especially We Were There, Too! felt like going through a treasure trove. Here was a young person for all my favorite pieces of history. The sweatshops of the Industrial Revolution. The women’s suffrage movement. The Salem Witch Trials (I’m descended from an accused witch). The pioneer trails (them too). And more little slices of history I’d never given much thought to. I can’t thank you enough for bringing all these stories to light. Please know that your efforts to dig up these people and put them on a page was worthwhile. I recommend them to teenagers and adults alike. Keep writing great stories!”
This Q&A was excerpted from Jeannette Larson’s interview with author Phillip Hoose for BookLinks. Within the interview, Phil answers the frequently asked question of who his audience is, adult or young adult.
BookLinks: Most of your books are published for young people, but the information is so extensive that they’re also perfect for most adults. What makes your books, like Moonbird, for example, a book for children?
Phillip Hoose: Well, I don’t write for children. I write for myself; I write for my inner Phil, and that person has no age. I try to write good books for good readers using language accessible to adults and younger readers. I strive to provide a clear, compelling, suspenseful, and moving account of the subject. Any person of any age who wants to learn about the extinction of a species and the rise of environmental groups should be able to enjoy The Race to Save the Lord God Bird because all the research I did gave me a suspenseful story with strong characters.
I sort of moved into the young adult marketplace after I had made a name with We Were There, Too!, which was nominated for the National Book Award. That is something that doesn’t happen for many nonfiction books, and it got me a niche in the youth market. There are advantages to publishing books for the youth market—schools and libraries are main distribution points, and the American Library Association puts a bright spotlight on children’s books. But I present my books to a lot of adult audiences, too. Very few adults I meet seem to think the books are not for them.
With the right twang, that blog title could be a country western song. We saw this great review of We Were There Too!: Young People in U.S History on Amazon and could not help belting it out.
“My copy has been read so often that the spine had to be taped. For years, every time I needed history to write about, I went to this book. 7th grade project to research a lesser-known Latino historical figure? Jessica Govea. 8th grade historical figure painting project? Harriet Hanson. A paper about the civil war with an original topic? Five pages on Dick King and Billy Bates. Wonderfully engaging.” –Amazon Review
What book have you had to tape back together? My copy of Richard Scary’s What Do People Do All Day? has a length of duct tape running down its poor cracked spine from my childhood obsession.
“many of the [English children]…were drawn away by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous courses…to thee great greefe of their parents and dishonour of god.” –William Bradford
In celebration of Thanksgiving, author Phillip Hoose spoke to his local public radio station, MPBN, about the Pilgrim’s motivation to leave their adopted Holland because of their worry that their young people were on “extravagant and dangerous courses.” Rebellious Pilgrim kids?? Not your common view of the holiday.
Listen here to Phil’s MPBN talk or revisit the “Saints and Strangers: Bound for Hope” chapter in Hoose’s We Were There Too: Young People in U.S. History.
Phillip Hoose talks about the inspiration for Its Our World Too! and We Were There Too! with the grand folks at AdLit.org.
Pleased that Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice and We Were There Too: Young People in U.S. History are included in the University of Delaware’s Freedom Project: Teaching American History program this year. Phil Hoose will be speaking to educators there on July 26, 2011.
The goals of the TAH Freedom Project are (1) increased teacher knowledge of American history content and standards, (2) improved instruction in the area of American history, and (3) increased student achievement in the area of American history. Fine goals, indeed.
As spring training season arrives, I was pleased to speak with MPBN‘s Irwin Gratz about the two youngest pro baseball players ever.
Two 15-year-old baseball players –Joe Nuxhall and Anna Meyer–who got their professional start during World War II are among the young people featured in my book, We Were There Too: Young People in U.S. History.
Nuxhall was the youngest player in major league history and Meyer was the youngest player in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League–immortalized in the movie A League of Their Own. You can listen here.
I thank School & Library Journal for asking me to choose my “favorite children’s book about the black experience” for their article “Places in the Heart: Celebrating Black History Month“.
This article is well worth a read to build your library with recommendations from authors: Sharon Draper, Russell Freedman, Nikki Grimes, Angela Johnson, Cynthia Kadohata, Julius Lester, Grace Lin, Pat Mora, Jim Murphy, Vaunda Nelson, Elizabeth Partridge, Mitali Perkins, Andrea Pinkney, Jerry Pinkney, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Anita Silvey, Carole Boston Weatherford, and Rita Williams-Garcia.
I selected Minds Stayed On Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle in the Rural South: An Oral History (Westview Press) by the Youth of the Rural Organizing and Cultural Center. Read why…