August 4, 2016

Sometimes the Political is Personal

When Hillary Clinton won the Democrat nomination for US president last week, many thought that she was the first woman so honored.

Not so. Several women, Victoria Woodhull and Shirley Chisholm among them, had their names placed in nomination across the years.

The name that rings in my mind is Margaret Chase Smith, Republican senator of Maine, who was nominated at the Republican Convention at San Francisco’s Cow Palace in 1964. US Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, a right wing Republican, won the nomination. 

Smith is remembered for taking on Sen. Joseph McCarthy in his crusade to ferret out Communists from the US during the 1950s:  
 I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to a political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny—Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.

My mother, Charlotte Logan of Oak Park, Ill., was there. Recruited by a church friend, Mama served on Smith’s campaign committee and flew to San Francisco. I was 13 at the time, and I remember vaguely catching a glimpse of her on our black and white TV. 

She returned home full of stories. What stuck with me was her outrage at Goldwater’s people, who blocked the restrooms to anyone not wearing a Goldwater pin! There was more, but not for this page.

In my zeal to find a clip of Senator Smith on YouTube, I went hunting. I came on a British film reel and as I watched, there was Smith. I thought, what if I happen to see Mom there?
AND THERE WAS MY MOTHER! Behind Smith, holding a placard, arm raised.
Years on, I wrote a book about women’s suffrage. Mom would have liked it. 

From Rightfully Ours: How Women Won the Vote, comes this learning activity: Dress Up For Women’s Suffrage! Or like an Olympian.  Men wear togas, too.

July 1, 2016

Five Years of Hands-On-Books and Happy July 4th!

By Brandon Marie Miller

[Activity: Make A General's Epaulets]

It is hard to believe 5 years have passed since Mary Kay Carson, Kerrie Hollihan and I began Hands-On-Books! We hope you've enjoyed our bits of history, science and activities. We've had some wonderful guest bloggers along the way, too. Thanks to everyone who has checked us out!

Since I've written books about several Founding Fathers, I've had the July blog a few times in honor of Independence Day. So here we go again.

1776: Washington has abandoned Boston and in mid-April marches his troops to New York, a town of about 20,000 people, but mostly an area of farmland and forest. He has too few men to occupy Brooklyn Heights, Harlem Heights, Long Island, Manhattan Island and Staten Island, and protect the Hudson and East Rivers. The Americans wait for sight of the British fleet.

Soldiers in New York hear the Declaration of
Independence read in this 1870 print from
Harper's Weekly. Library of Congress
On July 9, a few days after the first British forces landed on Staten Island, Washington gathers his "motely crew," as one British officer calls the American troops. The soldiers listen as an incredible document is read. Only days before in Philadelphia, Congress has approved a Declaration of Independence, severing ties between Great Britain and the free and independent states of America. This war, these men, will now fight-- not just to insure their rights as British citizens-- but for the birth of a new nation.

But Washington knows each man views his own state or region as his country. He needs a united single vision of what America can be. "The Honor and Succces of the army, and the safety of our bleeding Country, depends upon harmony and good agreement with each other," he urges his men. "Let all distinctions of Nations, Countries, and Provinces therefore be lost."

By August, 32,000 British soldiers camp on Staten Island and the masts of their vast fleet appear like a forest on the water. Washington has 19,000 men, but many of the militia soldiers will slip away as their enlistments end. The Continental Army suffers a series of failures in New York. At one point, as American soldiers dump their packs and guns and run, Washington gallops towards the British lines: "Are these the men with whom I am to defend America?" he cries. "Good God! Have I got such troops as these?" Aides rush forward, grab the reins of Washington's horse, and pull their general to safety.

Washington always needed more soldiers. A recruiting poster.
 Library of Congress.

Well, we know things turn out just fine. But in those dark summer days of 1776, nothing was sure and failure seemed very likely.

Activity: Make A General's Epaulets



June 1, 2016

Get Ready to ROAD TRIP!

by Mary Kay Carson

School's almost out and summer is nearly here! What better time for a road trip? No matter if you're headed off on a grand tour of America's national parks to celebrate the NPS Centennial, or simply visiting relatives in a nearby town, allow students and children the opportunity to help with trip planning.

A fun way to get kids involved and excited about traveling is to map your route and work on an itinerary together. The map above was generated online, but a paper map works great, too. If you'd like to go high-tech, Google maps lets you plan routes and save places and there are many other apps, too. Just search for "route planner."

Once you've roughed-out a route, start adding sites to see and places to stay. Perhaps let one student or child choose a single day to completely plan his or herself. 

Not going to make it anywhere this summer? You can always take a mini-trip inside the pages of a book! Try Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in America's Own Backyard, a book for young readers in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Scientists in the Field series. 

Happy Trails!

May 1, 2016

Celebrate the National Park Service Centennial!

This summer the National Park Service (NPS) will turn 100 years old. Green-uniformed rangers in their iconic calvary hats started serving America in 1916. The National Park Service manages and protects some of the continent's most treasured places—from Acadia to Zion. Our national parks have been called “America’s best idea” and welcome more than 270 million visitors each year.
credit: Wallace Keck

I'm an unabashed national park fan, as is my photographer husband Tom Uhlman. Our book about science projects going on in national parks required years of travel, research, and photography—lucky for us! We tagged along with a scientist studying synchronous fireflies and another investigating salamanders in Great Smoky Mountain. Geyser experts gave a tour in Yellowstone and ecologists let us help track Gila monsters and measure cacti in Saguaro. The result was Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in America's Own Backyard, a book for young readers in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Scientists in the Field series. 

As part of the celebration, NPS is encouraging everyone to discover nearby national parks. It's called Find My Park and displays parks by state or zip code. Try it out! Not able to travel right now? Engage young people in the centennial with a virtual road trip to a national park or national monument. How? First, invite kids to choose a national park or national monument to profile using a road map or the online NPS map. Then have them research the park or monument to fill out this graphic organizer.
Click to download the Teaching Guide!

Encourage students to turn their information into a travel poster, brochure, or audio/video advertisement. The resources on the graphic organizer include links to fantastic images they can download.

Want more ideas? Check out the standards-aligned activities in the free reading and teaching guide for Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in America's Own Backyard!

Happy 100th, National Park Service!! 

April 4, 2016

Four years ago, Rightfully Ours was just ready for publication. This month I'm taking a look back at my first post about this middle grade history of women's suffrage in the United States. 

When Mary Kay, Brandon, and I launched this blog last summer, we took the advice of digital  media guru Jane Friedman, who writes Electric Speed ( and tried to make it useful. Hence a book blog that offers you, our readers, activities to print and share. Activities help our readers grasp something about the people and times we write about.

Which leads to my new book, Rightfully Ours: How Women Won the Vote with 21 Activities.   Reviews are out, and it’s been gratifying to see that a year of hard work -- and planning and writing up 21 themed, hands-on activities -- has gotten positive reviews.  Here’s one:

Activities, which make the suffragist years come alive, are educational and fun and related to chapter materials. Included are detailed instructions for making soap and an oil lamp, making and wearing a corset, china painting, and designing suffragist postcards and signs.

And another: 

The only downside is the activities, which range from slightly silly (dress up like an ancient Greek for suffrage!) to simply wrong (cake mix does not taste as good as a cake made from scratch).

The second review left me scratching my head. Yup, I rely on cake mix in an activity in Rightfully Ours. It’s “Bake a Cake for Suffrage” iced with a recipe from the Woman Suffrage Cook Book (1890). After all, today’s parents have little time to ferret out some of these 19th century recipes, so I figured making icing from scratch on the stove was good enough. But it was the reviewer’s take on the dress-up activity that made me wonder whether s/he had read the whole book. 

Suffragists did indeed dress up like Greek goddesses when they staged a “tableau” on the Treasury Department steps.  And I assure you that the little girl who served as my student helper thought it was pretty cool -- she was all excited about making the laurel wreath.

From time to time all of us have been chided for our activities -- that they’re too easy, too esoteric, too “silly” (that from Kirkus), require adult supervision (often an editorial must) -- but be assured that we take them seriously.  Teachers tell us there are  lots of middle grade kids, especially boys, who have no clue how to follow simple directions, enlarge patterns, score a piece of cardboard, or even cut a circle with a pair of scissors.  

Besides, when you look back on your days in school, which do you remember most: all those hours of desk work, or the special projects you made at home or built in school?
Bake a cake, ice it with homemade frosting, and dress up for suffrage!