Category: T – Recommended for Teenagers


The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

January 21st, 2016 — 10:26pm

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 2.17.50 PMThe Wright Brothers by David McCullough

We all know that two wrongs don’t make a right. So when I showed my 9-year-old granddaughter this book that I was reading and asked her if she knew what it was about, she gave me the riddle, “What do two rights make?” An airplane of course.

David McCullough, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author for Truman and John Adams has taken on two additional American heroes, Wilbur and Orville Wright. McCullough had a trove of documents to work on, mostly now residing in the Library of Congress and in museums in the Wright Brothers hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Obviously there were no instant messages, iPhones, or e-mail correspondence during their lifetimes and like many of their contemporaries, they wrote numerous letters and kept extensive diaries. McCullough mined these sources as well as the newspapers and magazines of that era.

Wilbur was four years older than Orville. They had two older brothers and a younger sister and there were two twins born in between Orville and Wilbur who died at birth. Their father was a Bishop in the Church of the United Brethren of Christ who traveled a great deal. Their mother, who it was said to had given them their mechanical ability, died three years before their first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1902. The family was very close and supported each other. Katharine, the sister, who was a teacher shared very much in the Wright Brothers’ success and traveled with them at the time that they received worldwide acclaim.

Perhaps it is a screen memory (an unconscious one constructed in retrospect) but the brothers recalled their father bringing home a toy for them when they were quite young which was a helicopter which flew with twisted rubber bands and suggested that this possibly was the origin of their interest in flying. A first-grade teacher remembers Orville sitting at his desk with bits of wood and telling her he was making a machine of a kind that he and his brother would fly someday.

Wilbur and Orville were obviously extremely bright although they never went to college. They opened a print shop while in high school and went on to open a bicycle store where they made and sold bicycles. This was the environment in which they began working on a flying machine.

McCullough traces with the accuracy of the historian that he is, each step of the Wright Brothers journey. Initially building a glider and then the development of intricate wings that could do special movement that the brothers meticulously developed. He describes the addition of the motor and propeller. We learned about the people throughout the world who were trying to be the first in flight and their relationship with the Wright Brothers. This book focuses mainly on an approximate a 10-year period from Kitty Hawk to the glorious flights in Paris and New York.

Overall, there seemed to be great camaraderie between the various pioneers of flight throughout the world with the Wright Brothers. However, there were some conflicts and some patent disputes that the Wright Brothers had with other flyers of the day. Ultimately, there was tremendous acclaim for the Wright Brothers. I think it is worth quoting the words of President Taft upon presenting the Wright Brothers with some awards in the White House. He said:

I esteem it a great honor and an opportunity to present these medals to you as an evidence of what you have done.I am so glad perhaps at a delayed hour to show that in America it is not true that “a prophet is not without honor save in his own country.” It is especially gratifying thus to note a great step in human discovery by paying honor to men who bear it so modestly. You made this discovery by a course that we of America like to feel is distinctly American – by keeping your noses right at the job until you have accomplished which you had determined to do.

According to McCullough there was rarely friction between the Wright Brothers themselves. They were a well oiled team who understood each others’ strengths and worked very smoothly together. While their relationship was detailed very clearly, what seemed to be missing was their personal lives. Either the author chose not to include any special social interactions or there essentially were none. It is hard to believe that there is no mention of any girlfriends or romantic interests. When Wilbur died in 1912 at the age of 45, Orville and his sister Katherine moved into a new house with their father. Orville became involved in their business details which now were quite complicated as the famed inventor. When at the age of 59 his sister decided to get married, Orville was reported to be very disturbed and negative about her plan which she carried out anyway.

I, probably like most of you, take flying for granted. I am more concerned about the arrival time, legroom, and how I should occupy myself during the flight. David McCullough’s book provides an unforgettable tribute to the brothers from Dayton, Ohio who made all of our flights possible.

 

Comment » | B - Biography, HI - History, T - Recommended for Teenagers, Uncategorized

The Boys In The Boat by Daniel James Brown

May 1st, 2015 — 5:23pm

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT by Daniel James Brown

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 5.20.02 PMDaniel James Brown is an author who describes himself as someone who writes narrative non-fiction which brings compelling historical events to life. That is exactly what he does in The Boys in the Boat. To most contemporary Americans, competitive rowing is not high on the list of sporting events to follow. Even if you have heard about the 1936 Berlin Olympics, you might only think of Jessie Owens, the black track star , who won a gold medal in the face of Hitler proclaiming his master race ideas. However, there is another story that you should know about those Olympic games .

This book tells the story of nine young men from the University of Washington who had an amazing journey that also took them to the 1936 Berlin Olympics to win a gold medal. It is about much more than their Olympic triumph. It is about what they needed to overcome and how they learned to work together in a manner which transcended the teamwork required for other sports. These young men came from farms, logging towns, and other difficult backgrounds. They struggled to get to the University of Washington and then to earn a spot on the rowing team. It is also a story about their coach, Al Ulbrickson and how he coached them and treated them as individuals and as a team. It is also about George Pocock, a boat-builder who not only built the rowing shell for the University of Washington team but also for most collegiate teams throughout the country. Pocock grew up in England and intimately understood rowing from his experience with the boats on the famous Thames River. It was his wisdom and support which sustained the University of Washington team almost as much as their esteemed coach.

Mr. Brown, the author, became interested in this subject when he had a discussion with a neighbor who was the daughter of one of these rowers. He ultimately met her father, Joe Rantz, a few years before he died. He heard this story firsthand and was able to review various documents and diaries not only of this man but of the other members of the rowing team as he was introduced to their families. The result is a book which reads like a page turning novel with events and insights into the people about whom the book was based.

There is a parallel story, which the author chooses to chronicle and which adds to the significance of the triumph of the University of Washington team at the 1936 Olympics. That is the events going on in Germany as Adolf Hitler came to power and began to oppress and ultimately murder the German Jews and others. The temporary easing up by Hitler of his cold-blooded extermination plans in order to deceive the world at his showcase Olympics, was clearly spelled out in this book.

I found the author’s discussion of the German filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, quite interesting and revealing. She was given carte blanche by Hitler to film the Olympics from every angle in order to showcase Hitler’s Germany in a glorious positive image for the entire world. She worked extremely closely with Hitler and Goebbels (the Nazi Propaganda Minister) and may have been literally in bed with them. She filmed all the athletes from the best angles, sometimes from specially built trenches so she could show the marching Germans from an upward looking view. Interestingly enough, after the American team from the University of Washington won their gold medal (in a most exciting well-described come from behind victory), she was given permission to bring her cameras into the University of Washington’s boat for a special ride with them. The results can be seen in a well-preserved video of a preliminary heat won by Germany and the final won by the US for the gold medal  (see YouTube video-English  version or German  narration version  ) where she intermixes cuts of long views of the race with close ups of the rowers. Riefenstahl subsequently tried to distance herself from her close association with Hitler after the war ( see interview with Riefenstabhl). No matter what her culpability in Hitler’s propaganda show, the wonderful video of these nine men, whose self-determination, hard work, and comradeship, was very well done and will allow future generations to enjoy watching their accomplishment.

One reviewer in Publishers Weekly called this book a Nautical Chariots of Fire, which seems a very apt description. It is also rumored that the Weinstein Brothers have optioned this book for a movie which may be soon available as you read this review. I am sure it will be an exciting film but this book alone captures a vivid picture of the Boys In The Boat that you will not forget.

Comment » | HI - History, S- Sports, T - Recommended for Teenagers

Wonder by R.J. Palacio – Guest Review by Leo Blumenfield (10 Years Old)

February 16th, 2014 — 12:09pm

Wonder by RJ PalacioI decided to read this book because I had heard it was a very emotional and wonderful book from multiple people. This book is very inspiring and very different because it is written thoughtfully and caring through the eyes of someone you don’t see every day. Auggie, the main character, who feels like any other ordinary little boy inside, isn’t seen the same way by everybody else because he has a deformed face. Auggie has always been homeschooled and this book is about Auggie’s journey through his first year attending a real school—middle school. It is probably bad enough to be a new kid, let alone having a deformed face and being at a real school for the first time in your life—well imagine it would be like for Auggie.

            What I really liked about Wonder is that the author, R.J. Palaciodid a great job of capturing Auggie’s perspective and she also showed the perspectives of other people in Auggie’s life by telling the story from the views of other people in Auggie’s life. I recommend this book because it really makes the sadness, happiness, enjoyment, pleasure, and emotion come to life in the reader’s eyes and in the character’s eyes. I recommend this book to people who like to see real life—both the hardships and the happy moments.

Comment » | FG - Fiction General, T - Recommended for Teenagers, Uncategorized

Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman -Guest Review by Lucy Blumenfield – 12 Years Old

June 17th, 2013 — 7:32pm

MausMaus I & II- by Art Spiegelman Reviewed by Lucy Blumenfield (Age 12) – Although there are other books that tell the tale of the Holocaust through a survivor’s perspective, this book is unique. It is the story, and it is true, about a man—Art Spiegelman, the author—who interviews his father—Vladek Spiegelman to preserve his story of the Holocaust, and illustrating this story in the form of a graphic book. Spiegelman uses animals to express the way different groups of people in this book might act. For example, he uses mice as the Jews, cats as the Germans, and pigs for this Poles. This really intensified the book because it kind of showed you who someone was and also made a political statement in my view. Spiegelman’s illustrations make this haunting story come to life as he tells about his father’s struggles: first hiding in house to house with his wife, trying to escape Poland, and finally being captured and put into Auschwitz, and after ten months being freed and reuniting with his wife. The book changes back between Art’s visits to his not-in-great-shape father in Rego Park, and his father’s experiences told by Vladek.

This book was a unique experience because I have not seen history told by graphic novels before. However, it was an experience that I want more of! It was informative, captivating, humorous in parts, moving, and—at times—heart breaking. I highly recommend this book to everyone, from adults to children because it gives you an insight to the horrifying experiences of the Holocaust in a whole new way.

1 comment » | H - Humor, HI - History, O - Other - Specify, P - Political, T - Recommended for Teenagers

Ido in Autismland by Ido Kedar

May 13th, 2013 — 11:08am

Ido in AutismlandIdo in Autismland by Ido Kedar – Although I am not an expert in this area, I believe that this will be a landmark book for families, educators and any professionals who work with young people with autism. It is a book of short essays written by a 15 year old about his experience with his condition starting with some pieces written when he was 12 years old.

What is unusual, unique and very important about this author is that he cannot speak and only when he was about 11 years old did he begin to communicate by pointing to letters on a letter board. Up to that point no one had any idea that he was an above average intelligent kid who began to read when he was about three years old.He was terribly frustrated by being treated by well meaning experts in autism and education by drilling him on simple exercises meant for a three year old child who was having trouble learning. He was asked to point to his nose which he often could not do and was judged accordingly.  Even when he began to point to letters and make intelligent sentences, just about everyone thought that his mother was guiding his hand since she had to steady it for him to point. It took his father, who is a scientist, two more years before he was convinced that his son was truly communicating fully formed intelligent sentences. The problem would seem to be that he could not control his body. He often would have great difficulty even signaling that he could make even  simple calculations or understood basic concepts.  This was further complicated by his arm flapping which would occur when he was anxious which he referred to as “stims“ . Other times he would do unexplainable pieces of behavior such as pulling his Mom’s hair or that of beloved aide when he was frustrated or embarrassed. This pattern of behavior is common in many children who fall under the rubric of autism except they are usually not recognized to understand things and mainly have trouble in controlling their bodies to communicate. Instead they are often deemed “retarded” and/or  “developmentally handicapped.”

Ido believes that he is not “one in a million” and that he has had indication that many of his friends with non verbal autism are as frustrated as he used to be. Once Ido proved he could communicate with a letter board and then on the keys of a computer, a new world opened up to him. He was put in mainstream classes which he would attend with an aide and has entered high school with the aspiration to go to college. It is a constant uphill battle, as while the administrators of his middle school were very supportive, he found that was not the case of the first high school which he entered. Obviously, it did takes a great deal of resources and some special accommodation to allow him to function in a regular high school environment. After transferring to a second high school he seemed to be quite adjusted as he continues forth.

This book traces his progress as well as clarifying many of his characteristics and experiences. For example he sees people in different colors such as red blue, yellow etc. which are related to their emotional state perhaps in relationship to himself. He is also  is very sensitive to sound and appears to have very keen hearing . He therefore at times gets overwhelmed by loud noises, certain music. being in the presence of multiple people talking . These and other situations can cause him to have what would appear to be overwhelming panic attacks. This is not only experienced as severe anxiety but it intensifies uncontrolled movements of his body. Over the years he has found that various types of physical training and exercise actually improved his self control, something that was not initially recognized as it was neglected in any attempts to assist him.

I found it interesting, as a psychiatrist,  that he did not mention whether or not he was given a trial on any anti-anxiety and anti-panic medications which are believed to directly  effect various pathways in the brain which are involved when people have such overwhelming emotions. I would imagine that the medical experts in this field have evaluated the  effect of such drugs as an adjunct to his treatment program but if they have not, it certainly should be done.

Ido frequently mentions that he knows that he has an illness that places many limitations on him but he prefers to focus on what he can do and what he hopes to be able to do in the future. He also is dedicated to teaching the public as well as families of children with autism and experts about the potential of people like himself.   Ido would probably say “ so called experts” since he has a sense of humor and he is keenly aware of how so many experts have misinterpreted his abilities). Not only is he becoming an advocate but he must be also considered to be a hero for so many people who are locked in the land of autism.

For a view of brief video clip of Ido at a meeting as one of his speeches is read go to:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4VR1KYRX8s

2 comments » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, M - Medical, MHP - Mental Health/Psychiatry, T - Recommended for Teenagers

Back to top