Monday, March 20, 2017

MMGM- What life was like in the 1950s.

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and  #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

31212941Holbrook, Sarah. The Enemy
March 7th 2017 by Calkins Creek
ARC from the publisher at ALA

Marjorie Campbell is trying to navigate junior high in Detroit in 1954. Her best friend Bernadette is frequently absent with earaches, and things are odd at home. The family has taken in a high school boy, Frank, whose parents are dead, and her father suffers PTSD from being in WWII. Her mother is hiding books that the public library was going to burn because of their "Communist" themes. When a new girl sits by Marjorie during class, she is friendly, but doesn't want to be friends with Inga because she is clearly German, although she claims to have moved from Canada. With all the talk about Communist sympathizers, Marjorie doesn't want to get drawn into friendships that may make her look suspect and put her father's job in jeopardy.
Strengths: Wow. I don't know that I've ever read a book that drew me so clearly to a particular time. The details of every day life in 1954 Detroit are exquisite. The thing that really blew me away, however, was the depiction of a time when almost all of the fathers had fought in the war. We don't think about that aspect of the Baby Boom, but it's true. Kurlansky's Battle Fatigue talked about it a little, but this really brought the concept home. It made the whole idea of fighting Communists in the public library seem a little more plausible to me. The other thing that I've not read in another middle grade book is the idea of rampant prejudice. Bernadette (whom I'm assuming is Catholic) isn't allowed to have Lutherans in her home. Negroes live south of 8 Mile Road. We just fought the "Japs" and the "Krauts", so we certainly don't want to hang out with them. I grew up hearing this sort of talk from my aunts and uncles, and being appalled by it, but it was certainly a part of the culture. Given the current circumstances, I think this is important to find out. Children today really don't understand why people were opposed to Kennedy-- hopefully, it won't take 50 years for other prejudices to work themselves out! We clearly need more books about the Baby Boom experience! (I missed being in that generation by 6 months!)
Weaknesses: The print is a bit small, and there's not a huge general plot. Not that I minded-- Marjorie's relationship with Inga would have been enough for me.
What I really think: This is worth buying if only for the scene where Marjorie and Inga's fathers get together for coffee and talk about their experiences during the war-- fighting on opposite sides. Chills. So good! (And one of my students, who normally only likes murder mysteries, loved it as well!)

30840370Shetterly, Margot Lee. Hidden Figures (Young Readers' Edition)
November 29th 2016 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

This narrative nonfiction title follows the lives of several women who worked at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in Langley, Virginia. NACA later became NASA, so some of the women who were instrumental in working with calculations for airplanes during World War II also went on to work with the engineers who were responsible for putting a man on the moon. Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden had a variety of backgrounds but shared several important characteristics-- they were very bright, very motivated to make better lives for themselves and their families, and very unusual for their time. As African American women, their opportunities were limited, and working with the government gave them more opportunities than many women had. There were certainly challenges, both in their personal lives and with the general climate for women in the work force at the time, but they all persevered and contributed greatly to the US air and space programs.

I haven't seen the movie that is based on this book, but the trailers look much more emotional than this text. While the hardships that the women faced aren't glossed over, they are presented in a more matter of fact way. I found this to be effective, and the juxtaposition of individual experiences with the general sociopolitical climate of the time made history come alive for me.

The most amazing part was how long ago women like Vaughan were able to break through barriers to excel in mathematical and scientific fields! I knew that women had made some strides in employment in the 1930s, and that there were lots of opportunities during the war, but many women were forced out of "men's positions" after the war was over. The intrepid women in this book managed to hang on to their positions. The other noteworthy part was how they managed to raise children while working long hours during a time when child care was not as readily available.

Not only is Hidden Figures an interesting book to read for pleasure, but it is also a very useful title when researching women's history or African American history. Hidden Figures joins Blumenthal's Let Me Play, Macy's Wheels of Change and Farrell's Pure Grit as a must read for girls who want to investigate women who fought for opportunities even when they came with a high price.

32278678Edwards, Sue Bradford and Harris, Duchess. Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA
December 15th 2016 by Essential Library (Abdo)
Copy received by the publisher at ALA

Covering the same topic in a more research-friendly format, this nonfiction book presents information about black women at NASA in a way that makes it a bit easier to follow the time line. There are also plentiful photographs to support the text, and informative sidebars that explain a variety of topics. I especially liked the last chapter, that talked about the impact of earlier women working at NASA on the state of women in science and technology today. The appendices are very useful, offering a time line, glossary, resources and an index.

I'm definitely looking into some of the other titles in the Hidden Heroes series: The Belles of Baseball, The Muckrakers, and Women with Wings, just for a start!


  1. THE ENEMY is not a book I would typically gravitate toward. Your review convinced me otherwise. Thanks for your insights. I've added it to my books to read list.

  2. I've often thought about what that immediate post-war period must've been like, when so many men and women must've had some form of emotional or psychological trauma from their experiences in the war, but societal restrictions discouraged healthy conversations about mental and emotional health. I know my own grandfather suffered for years in silence from the emotional scars, and I can only imagine how he might have been helped if he'd been able to get professional support, or at least felt able to talk about what happened. It's so tempting to look at the past, especially the 1950s, with pink-tinted nostalgia glasses, but for many people it must've been a difficult time.

  3. You shared some really great books today. I haven't read any of them, but I especially want to read The Enemy because the time period. It sounds like a great piece of historical fiction. As well as Hidden Figures -- one of my favorite movies this year! Can't wait to buy it. Hidden Human Computers sounds like it would compliment Hidden Figures. Great shares today!

  4. The Enemy sounds really good! The fact that my husband is from Detroit adds another level of interest for me! I also want to read Hidden Figures. Trying to decide if I should just read the young readers or the adult.

  5. All of these look great!

  6. I have half a mind to purchase Hidden Figures, the adult novel! :)