Fireworks of 1870s, by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott described a fireworks display in Eight Cousins, a book published in 1875.

Uncle Mac takes 13-year-old Rose Campbell into Boston Bay to watch fireworks from his boat:

“…they are going up all over the city, and how pretty they are,” said Rose, folding her mantle about her and surveying the scene with pensive interest.

“Hope my fellows have not got into trouble up there,” muttered Uncle Mac, adding with a satisfied chuckle, as a spark shone out, “No; there it goes!  Look, Rosy, and see how you like this one; it was ordered especially in honor of your coming.”

Rose looked with all her eyes, and saw a spark grow into the likeness of a golden vase, then green leaves came out, and then a crimson flower flowing on the darkness with a splendid lustre.

“Is it a rose, Uncle?” she asked, clasping her hands with delight as she recognized the handsome flower.

“Of course it is!  Look again and guess what those are,” answered Uncle  Mac, chuckling and enjoying it all like a boy.

A wreath of what looked at first like purple brooms appeared below the vase, but Rose guessed what they were meant for and stood straight up, holding by his shoulder and crying excitedly,__

 

“Thistles, Uncle, Scotch thistles! There are seven of them, one for each boy [her cousins]!  Oh, what a joke!”  and she laughed so hard that she plumped into the bottom of the boat and stayed there until the spectacle was quite gone.

 

I think I’ve read elsewhere about fireworks in a stars-and-stripes pattern–or did I see or imagine that?

Do we have such spectacles today, nearly a century and a half after?  Has anyone seen a fireworks display with identifiable flowers or patriotic symbols?

Shiloh: A Boy and a Beagle

“The reason I don’t like Judd Travers is a whole lot of reasons, not the least is that I was in the corner store once … and saw Judd cheat Mr. Wallace at the cash register.  Judd gives the man a ten and gets him to talking, then–when Mr. Wallace gives him change–says he gave him a twenty.”

Worse yet, Judd kicks his dogs.

Marty will do anything to rescue Shiloh, the beagle who follows Marty home from the “rattly bridge where the road curves by the old Shiloh schoolhouse and follows the river.”  Trouble is, not only does “anything” includes lying, but it risks Shiloh’s life.

It’s Judd who unintentionally hands Marty a solution.  Then Marty, when he’s forced to spend time with Judd, learns that right and wrong aren’t always as simple as the difference between the truth and a lie.

Shiloh is a Newberry Medal book; even better, there are three sequels:  Shiloh Season, Saving Shiloh, and Shiloh Christmas.

Heat, by Mike Lupica

Heat has it all: Baseball at Yankee Stadium–the dream of Little Leaguers who practice within sight of it; Michael and Carlos, determined to keep “Official People” from finding out why Papi isn’t home; Ellie, a girl with a secret; Mrs. Cora who knows something about angels; the Little League coach who doesn’t like kids who pitch better than his son; and Michael’s best buddy, Manny.

Manny told Michael he’d meet him at Macombs…around three o’clock. …that could mean anywhere between three and four.  He operated on Manny Standard Time, and there was no getting around it if you were Manny Cabrera’s friend.   He was loyal, funny, smarter than he let on, loved baseball as much as Michael.  There were so many good points with Manny that Michael couldn’t keep track of them all.

But none of Manny’s good points, not a single one, involved him showing up on time for anything but a real game.

When Michael is barred from Little League and Carlos no longer has a job, it’s looking bad, and suddenly, walking across the field, come the Official People:

It wasn’t just El Grande and Ellie.

Carlos was a couple of steps behind, walking with Mr. Gibbs of ACS.  And another man Michael didn’t recognize, but one who had Official Person written all over him.

Has Michael’s dream become a nightmare?

Like baseball, basketball, and football stories with real-life type characters?  Try Mike Lupica’s The Only Game, and Last Man Out, Lone Stars, Long Shotand others–some of them New York Times Best Sellers.

Hey–I said I’m not into sports.  But I am into  Lupica’s characters.  Just give me a cozy chair and a mug of hot chocolate.

Twenty-One Balloons

The Twenty-One Balloons is a curious mixture of fantasy and fact.

“The best way of travel…, if you aren’t going in any hurry at all, if you don’t care where you are going, if you don’t like to use your legs, if you want to see everything quite clearly, if you don’t want to be annoyed at all by any choice of directions, is in a balloon…you can decide only when to start, and usually when to stop.  The rest is left entirely to nature.  How fast you will go and where is left to the winds.”

“A balloon is a wonderful way to travel, particularly if you want to travel from home to school.  On your way, many delightful things can happen, such as:

  1. the wind will be calm and you’ll never get to school.
  2. The wind will blow you in the wrong direction and take you fifty miles out into the country away from school, and
  3. You might decide to play hookey, just once, and nobody can bother you in a balloon.

So Professor William Waterman Sherman constructs a balloon, suspends a basket cabin from it, and takes off—

Part of the fun of this book  is solving the riddle of what’s true, what’s fiction.  The happy colonists using diamonds as foundations for their homes and children racing around the living room on electrified chairs are, as you would guess, fiction.  The French balloonist Gaspar Felix Tournachon, known as “Nadar,” was a real person.  In 1858 he took the first aerial photograph.  He did fly an enormous balloon named Le Géant.

With history (and added fantasy), the plot of The Twenty-One Balloons blows up on an island named Krakatoa.  Google that!

Colin Fischer


From Colin Fischer’s notebook:

“Our neighbors once witnessed me take a metal mixing bowl and some household chemicals into the garage.  After hearing a loud bang, they called the police, assuming I was attempting to manufacture drugs…What the neighbors didn’t know and my father eventually confirmed for the police was the truth:  I was trying to work out the principles of explosive pulse propulsion in spacecraft for a science project.  The police laughed, although my father made me spend a month’s allowance to replace the bowl.”

Remember Encyclopedia Brown?  The ten-year-old boy detective?  I didn’t discover him until our grandson showed me one of the 28 Encyclopedia Brown books, and then Grandpa and I shared those stories.

Colin Fischer is 14 and a high school freshman.  Most of his classmates think he’s weird because he doesn’t think or react the way most kids do.  Colin can’t “read” facial expressions the way most of us do, so he keeps index cards with smiley and other faces to help him figure out whether someone is joking, or scared, or angry, or what.  Because he collects facts the way you might collect stamps or baseball cards, and because he’s curious about the ways other people behave, he finds out who shot off the gun at a birthday party.

This book is a window into the mind of a “different” kid.  There’s a bully, there are friends, and there are kids who become better friends.   The book ends with hints of trouble yet to come from the perpetrator of the crime, and I’d like to see how Colin’s conflict with his little brother turns out, but there isn’t a sequel–not yet…

Colin Fischer isn’t a quick read like the Encyclopedia Brown books. There’s one mystery (but several problems) solved in a full-length book for teen readers.  The book is a bonus if you like odd facts, like the swimming patterns of hammerhead sharks or what is the Kuleshov effect.

Witness

Vermont, 1924

i did first meet sara chickering
when i had comings here last year
to be a fresh-air girl in vermont.

pretty quick daddy did have comings after me.
sara chickering made two rooms to be for us
in her big farmhouse
with her dog jerry.
                                               esther hirsh, age 6

willie said:
at the klan meeting last night
the dragons talked about lighting you
and your daddy up
to get them some warmth on a cold day.
you’d be cheap fuel, they said
i turned my back on willie pettibone and walked out of school
without my coat
without my hat
i didn’t feel the cold
i was that scorched
                                           leanora sutter, age 12

they say maple sugar
is becoming as old-fashioned
as the paisley shawl,
but to see esther hirsh suck on a lump,

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her face star-blissed with
sweet delight,
i think that old-time maple,
it’s still all right.
                                 sara chickering, farmer, age 42

we have anti-lynching laws on the books.
but that isn’t why necks
are less often
swinging in nooses.

it is the people
saying no.
                            reynard alexander, age 48

Why were Esther and her father targeted?

Why Leanora?

Why did the adults change their attitudes?

Do people today act that way?

Read Karen Hesse’s book, Witness, to find out.