Unsolved! II: More Famous Real-Life Mysteries

Title: Unsolved II
Author: George Sullivan
Pages: 119
Recommended Ages: 10 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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I find mysteries absolutely fascinating. So, when I found this book of unsolved real-life mysteries, I was more than intrigued.

The Cases.

Murder at Random. On September 29, 1982, a man named Adam Janus took the prescribed dose of Tylenol to relieve chest pain. He died before the doctors could determine the cause of his illness. Later that same morning, Mary Keller felt a cold coming on and took the proper dose of Tylenol to ward off the symptoms. Minutes later she was taken seriously ill and she too died before the day was out. There was a rash of similarly mysterious and unconnected deaths. Unconnected, that is, until someone noticed that each of the cases involved Tylenol… Could someone have slipped poison into the capsules?

The Brief Life of a Superhero. Bruce Lee, the King of Kung Fu, was beloved by millions when he unexpectedly died on the set of his latest film. A few doctors thought that they had explanations – all contradictory – but each explanation left questions unanswered. Why did Bruce Lee really die?

The Hindenburg Disaster. It was a glorious moment. The Hindenburg, the biggest airship ever built, was preparing to land in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Its passengers were waving from the windows, the press was gathered in force to observe the landing of the giant aircraft. And then, the unthinkable happened. While still hovering in the air, the craft burst into flames! How was this fire started?

Movie Star Mystery. Natalie Wood was not an unhappy woman. And she had no enemies – at least none who would’ve had the opportunity to push her off of her husband’s yacht and leave her to drown. But that’s exactly how she was found – floating in the water, dead. Was it an accident? Murder? Suicide? No one knows.

A President’s Mysterious Death. President Warren G. Harding, the first president to be elected after the completion of World War I, found himself in an administration that was being engulfed by corruption and scandal. Rumor had it that he, Warren Harding, was involved in the dishonorable intrigues. Two years into his presidency, Harding was taken violently ill and died. The official report was that he had died from food poisoning, but his wife, a power-seeking woman, refused to allow an autopsy on his body. Many still believe that she poisoned her husband to avert guilt being placed upon him.

Vanished! Helen Brach was a wealthy woman. One day she traveled from a hotel in Minnesota to her home in Glenview, Illinois. Her caretaker, Jack Matlick, reports that he picked Mrs. Brach up at the airport in Chicago and brought her to her home. She remained there for four days before catching a flight to Florida. He is the last person to claim to have seen Mrs. Brach – no one else saw her during the time that he claims she was at home. After her disappearance, the police investigation discovered that Mrs. Brach had written several large checks out to Matlick; but when examined, the signatures proved to be forgeries. Was Matlick responsible for Mrs. Brach’s disappearance?

Death of a Big Shot. Sam Giancana ruled the Mafia in Chicago before being imprisoned in 1965. When he was released in 1966, he found that his power was gone – he had been replaced on the syndicate – no one was afraid of him now. But when the government offered Giancana immunity in exchange for revealing all he knew, the gangsters began to get uncomfortable. The only solution was to get rid of Giancana…

“Remember the Maine!In 1898, the American battleship, Maine, exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. While the cause of the explosion was unclear, it was clear enough to send America into a war with Spain. But experts still wonder – was the explosion of the Maine accidental or purposeful?

Who Killed Karyn Kupcinet? Karyn Kupcinet was an actress; sweet, happy, and definitely not of a suicidal bent. But when she was discovered, dead, in her apartment, there were no signs of a struggle. Therefore, either it was suicide, or her murderer was someone she knew…

Discussion.

As a lover of mysteries, I knew I was going to love this book. And did I? Yes and no. I love the idea of real-life mysteries – real people, real actions – instead of entirely fictional ones. However, in this case, they were unsolved. Yes, that was obvious from the title. No, I didn’t fully realize what that would mean.

For some people, the lack of resolution would fire their imagination, which would thence race at once to seventeen different possible conclusions. (I’m looking at you, Sherlock.) But for me, it just left me feeling a bit unfulfilled. There’s no possible way I can solve the mysteries – experts have tried and failed, I’d have to wade through pages and pages of evidence, conjectures, reports, et cetera, and in the end, I don’t think I’d be smart enough to come up with a theory to fit the facts. However, children love this pursuit of the unknown.

Of the nine mysteries, only two really captured my attention – Murder at Random and Vanished! I would love to do more reading about these two cases.

Cautions.

In the Bruce Lee case, a film is described in which “a murdered rock star, through supernatural power, takes the form of a bird to avenge his girlfriend’s death and his own.” [pg. 25]

In Vanished, it is mentioned that Helen Brach was interested in “automatic writing” – communication with the spirit world.

In Movie Star Mystery, it is mentioned that Natalie dated several famous men and was divorced.

The words ‘hell’ and ‘God’ are each used once. These are in quotations from the actual cases, not inserted by Mr. Sullivan.

Conclusion. Interesting – conspiracy / mystery oriented children will enjoy it.

The Book of Presidents

Title: The Book of Presidents
Author: Orville V. Webster
Pages: 128
Reading Level: 9 – 14
Star Rating: ★★★★

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I’ve recently begun to look upon listing all the names of the Presidents as a sort of hobby – an entertainment, a tour de force. However, I was unable to list them in chronological order – until I read The Book of Presidents and memorized their order in one sitting. #yesimproud

Anyway, that was just a side effect. The book itself follows a definite pattern – the name of the president was presented, then the years of his service as President. Next came his nickname (or motto, whichever was more popular), then the dates of his birth and death. Thence followed a two-to-five page biography of the president. His life in a nutshell, so to speak.

Of course, having been published in 1991, The Book of Presidents fell rather short of the description “up-to-date”. The book ends with President “George Bush” (no H. or W. in sight! Shocking.) However, its reports on the other Presidents were not falsified by this lack of foresight. :)

Here are a few interesting facts

  • Abigail Adams is the only woman in U.S. history to be the wife of one President and the mother of another.
  • When he died in 1836, James Madison was the last surviving signer of the Constitution.
  • Of the five Presidents who participated in the American War for Independence, three of them – Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe – died on a Fourth of July.
  • Andrew Jackson participated in approximately 100 duels during his lifetime.
  • Martin Van Buren was the first President born after the United States became an independent nation.
  • William Henry Harrison is known for having given the longest inaugural address in U.S. history – it consisted of 8,578 words and lasted for one hour and forty-five minutes – and for having the shortest Presidential term!
  • John Tyler’s second wife was thirty years younger than himself.
  • One of Zachary Taylor’s daughters married Jefferson Davis!
  • Ulysses S. Grant finished his autobiography just four days before his death.
  • Garfield was able to write with both of his hands simultaneously – in different languages!
  • Teddy Roosevelt was the first President to leave U.S. soil while in office. He was also the first President to ride in an automobile, fly in an airplane, and submerge in a submarine.
  • Franklin Roosevelt was related to eleven former U.S. Presidents.
  • Gerald Ford was the first man to become President without having run for the office of either President or Vice-President.

Lincoln haters should be informed that, although practically nothing is said about the War Between the States, Lincoln is referred to as “one of the greatest men in all American history.” [pg. 51]

Conclusion. An excellent resource.

… If You Lived at the Time of the Great San Francisco Earthquake

Title: …If You Lived at the Time of the Great San Francisco Earthquake
Author: Ellen Levine
Illustrator: Pat Grant Porter
Pages: 64
Recommended Ages: 8 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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The If You… series.

Q & A.

What did San Francisco look like after the earthquake?

Everything was a mess! There were cracks in the streets that looked like giant zigzags. If you stood in one, it might be as high as your waist.

Telephone and electric wires had snapped and were hanging down from the poles. Cable car tracks that were in the ground were suddenly sticking up like huge, bent paper clips. And trolley car tracks lay twisted in the street.

Some trees had been pulled up by the roots. Branches were cracked and scattered around.

Chimneys had broken off rooftops throughout the city. Some chimneys had fallen inside homes; others were lying in the streets. In parts of the city, whole buildings had collapsed.

Walls of the new city hall building had fallen down. The dome was left standing on top of steel pillars. It had been the largest building in the state of California. After the earthquake, it looked like a skeleton.

The front wall of one hotel fell off completely, and the bedrooms looked like rooms in a doll’s house. Can you imagine sitting in your bed and looking outat the street – with no windows in between!

Some buildings that were three or four stories high sank almost all the way into cracks in the ground. One nine-year-old girl remembered that her father took her out of their hosue through the attic window right onto the street.

Houses moved forward, backward, or sideways. If you went to bed on April 17th on one side of the street, you might have gotten up on April 18th across the street.

After the quake, one man climbed to the top of a hill and looked down on the city. From up high, people in the streets looked as if they were “running about like… excited insects.” [pg. 7-8]

Were any babies born during the disaster?

Yes. One man wrote to his relatives outside of San Francisco. He said that more than thirty babies were born in Golden Gate Park on the very day of the earthquake. A newspaper reported that triplets were born in a tent. And every day during the week after the quake there were stories about more births.

Babies were born in the streets, in the parks, in doorways, and just about any place you can think of except hospitals. [pg. 48]

Where would you live if your house was destroyed?

In the first days after the earthquake, more than half of all the people in San Francisco had to sleep outdoors. The quake and fires had ruined their homes.

Many went to the parks around the city, spread their blankets, and slept outdoors on the ground. Some people made tents. They tied ropes between poles and hung rugs, blankets, sheets, or even tablecloths over them.

Refugees are people who leave their homes because it’s not safe to stay there any longer. They find new places to live. After the earthquake and fires, the homeless people of San Francisco were called refugees. Many stayed in camps that were set up in the parks all around the city.

At first, most of the refugees lived in homemade tents. But then President Theodore Roosevelt and the United States Army Commander in Washington, D. C., ordered Army forts all around the country to ship tents and blankets to San Francisco.

The Army also built barracks for some of the refugees. These were large wooden buildings that had a number of small apartments in them. In the fall, in became too cold and rainy to stay in tents. And there were not enough barrack apartments for everyone who had lost a home. So the city built little cottages, which were called refugee shacks. The smallest had only one room, and the biggest had three rooms. The shacks were painted green and were lined up in rows in the parks.

The city let you keep the shack if you would move it out of the camp. You had to get the shack lifted up and wheels put underneath. Then horses or mules would pull it away. By the summer of 1907, more than a year after the great earthquake, many people began to move their shacks. Everywhere you went, you saw little green houses traveling up and down the streets.

People moved their shacks to small plots of land that they bought or rented. They set the houses down and sometimes painted them, or added porches. Some people even put two shacks together to make bigger houses. A few of these old refugee shacks are standing today, and people are still living in them.

But there was housing even more unusual than tents or barracks or shacks. Cable cars!

The earthquake had broken the cable car tracks. They had to be fixed before the cars would run again. The cable car company moved its cars to an empty lot, and the refugees moved in. Your family might have set up house in an empty cable car. The platforms in front and in back of the cars were perfect as porches. [pgs. 36-39]

Could you mail a letter after the earthquake?

The post office was one of the few buildings in the center of San Francisco that was still standing after the earthquake and fire. Ten brave post office workers fought off the fires day and night, and by April 10th, they were ready to send out the mail again.

There was only one problem. Almost no one had paper or envelopes or stamps. But that didn’t stop anybody.

People wrote messages on the collars or cuffs of their shirts and blouses. They wrote on pieces of wood, scraps of newspaper, pages of books, and pieces of wrapping paper. So long as you had written down the correct address, the post office would send whatever you had written. You didn’t even need a stamp. [pg. 52]

Conclusion. Entirely worthwhile and very helpful. Could be read in conjunction with Earthquake! and The Earth Dragon Awakes.

 

…If You Lived in Williamsburg in Colonial Days

Title: …If You Lived in Williamsburg in Colonial Days
Author: Barbara Brenner
Illustrator: Jenny Williams
Pages: 79
Recommended Ages: 8 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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The If You series.

Q & A.

How did people pay for what they bought?

In colonial Virginia, you could pay for goods with coins. The coins had been made in other countries and were brought to Williamsburg by merchants and traders. The most common coins were Spanish silver.

The value of the money was based on the English system. Merchants weighed foreign coins to figure out their value in pence (d), shillings (s), and pounds (L). To make change, they would cut up a coin.

A pound in any form was a great deal of money. It was several weeks’ pay for many people. If you were lucky, your parents might give you a few pence to spend at the market. You could but a pencil for 3.25 pence or a pack of playing cards for 7.5 pence. But a pound of chocolate would have been beyond your budget at two shillings and sixpence (2/6).

The most common way grown-ups made a big purchase, such as a horse, was by using a tobacco certificate. A tobacco certificate was something like a check. But instead of being backed by a certain amount of money in a warehouse. You could buy a horse, a wagon, or a whole set of furniture with a tobacco certificate.

You could also trade, or barter, instead of using money. If you were selling corn and you wanted to buy a rooster, for example, you might give so many bushels of corn for the rooster. [pgs. 12-13]

Did children have storybooks to read?

There were no lending libraries in Williamsburg in 1770. Your parents could order books from England or buy them at the Printing Office on Duke of Gloucester Street. A Bible was the only book some families owned, although others had books for both children and adults.

In addition to nursery rhymes, you might have read classic English children’s stories such as Jack the Giant Killer. As you got older, you would have graduated to popular novels – Gulliver’s Travels and The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. [pg. 49]

What kind of clothes did men and boys wear?

Baby boys and girls of colonial Williamsburg wer dressed almost alike, in a long gown (dress), a shift (a nightgownlike garment), or a shirt. Early on, parents began to train their children to stand up straight. As a toddler, you would have been put into stays, a kind of cloth brace stiffened with whalebone, which would keep your back straight and give you good posture.

When a boy was about four years old, he was breeched. He graduated from babyhood to boyhood by getting his first pair of breeches, pants that came down just over the knees, the way mens’s beeches did. The stays came off, and the boy dressed like a smaller version of his father. [pg. 16]

What was an apprentice?

Being an apprentice was a kind of work-study program. In colonial times, a boy was sent to work without pay for a tradesman – a carpenter or printer, for example. In return, the man taught the boy his trade.

The apprentice lived with his master for as long as seven years. At the end of that time, he was considered a journeyman. He could now get a paying job with another master or go into partnership with the man who had trained him. [pg. 61]

Discussion.

I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but I appreciated a choice of words that Ms. Brenner made. Instead of referring to those in slavery merely as ‘slaves’, she called them ‘enslaved people’. I thought this really emphasized the active nature of slavery – the state of being enslaved – as opposed to the more passive ‘slaves’.

Another very clever choice on the part of Ms. Brenner was to place historic jingles under questions concerning the same topic. For example, underneath the question concerning the duties/occupations of women in colonial Williamsburg was the rhyme –

My Maid Mary, she minds the dairy,

While I go a-hoeing and mowing each morn;

Gaily run the reel and the little spinning wheel,

While I am singing and mowing my corn. [pg. 62]

One question reads,

What happened when a child misbehaved?

A great many parents of the eighteenth century still believed in paddling, spanking, and whipping with a cane. [pg. 69]

While this is true at face value, it makes the practice of corporal punishment sound old-fashioned and obsolete.

One question mentions a few superstitious cures.

Conclusion. Wonderful. A great addition to any study of Colonial American.

Race Against Time

Title: Race Against Time
Author: Paul May
Illustrator: Peter Dennis
Pages: 64
Recommended Ages: 8 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★★

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Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise have just launched into outer space in Apollo 13, a space rocket. If all goes as planned, they will be touching down on the moon in just three days. Jim can almost feel the surface of the moon beneath his feet.

But all does not go as planned. On the second day of their mission, a deep thud reverberates through the spaceship, followed by an awful shudder. The instruments say that half of their power is gone, several of the fuel cells are empty, and that there is no oxygen in tank two. Are the instruments malfunctioning, or are these really the stats? And which would be better…?

As malfunctions and complications escalate, the Apollo 13 crew is faced with dilemmas never before faced by man.

Conclusion. An excellent introduction to the famous Apollo 13 flight.

The Story of the Battle of Antietam

Title: The Story of the Battle of Antietam
Author: Zachary Kent
Pages: 31
Recommended Ages: 9 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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September 17, 1862. The Battle of Antietam. The single bloodiest day of the War Between the States. The battle in which General Lee’s Maryland Campaign was repulsed by General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. The day which left thousands of mothers desolate.

The Story of the Battle of Antietam is by no means exhaustive – on the contrary, it was written primarily for children. But it provided a comprehensive examination of the battle, including the days preceding and succeeding it. The movements of both armies are discussed and pictures are provided of the key leaders of the battle as well as the locations, campsites, and battlefields involved.

Discussion.

In explanation of the beginning of the war, Mr. Kent says,

“Since 1861, the United States had been gripped by civil war. A long, raging argument over slavery and states’ rights had torn the country in two. In the North, where factories thrived, thousands of European immigrants were willing to work for low wages. Most northerners had no use for slavery, and many considered it cruel and immoral. In the South, however, cotton was the major crop. It was grown on large plantations worked by African slaves. The southerners depended on slavery for the success of their farming economy.” [pg. 7]

While this paragraph may be true as far as it goes, it gives an imbalanced version of the causes of the war. This could easily be remedied by a little parental instruction.

‘My God’ is used once in the middle of the battle.

Conclusion. An excellent resource that describes the Battle of Antietam in language that children can understand and adults can learn from.

Project Gemini

Title: Project Gemini
Author: Ray Spangenburg & Kit Moser
Pages: 112
Recommended Ages: 9-14
Star Rating: ★★★★

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In 1959, NASA began its human spaceflight program with Project Mercury, a series of spaceflights designed to provide the foundation for knowledge and exercises which would be need later during the Apollo Program which would actually place men on the moon. But between Mercury and Apollo came the pivotal program, Project Gemini.

While Project Mercury placed the first American in space, Project Gemini tested astronauts abilities to maneuver in space through rendezvous with other spacecraft, spacewalks, atmospheric reentry, and extended flights. Through a series of ten manned flights from 1965 through 1966, these goals were accomplished. This book provides a step-by-step, mission-by-mission account of these flights, replete with real life photographs on almost every page.

‘Gosh darn’ is used once.

Conclusion. An excellent study on the Gemini missions.

Operation Rawhide

Title: Operation Rawhide
Author: Paul Thomsen
Pages: 70
Reading Level: 9-12
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Few Presidents were as well loved as Ronald Reagan, but there were some who hated him….. and were willing to express that hatred in steel.

The Story.

President Ronald Reagan – nicknamed Rawhide – is only sixty-nine days into his presidency, but already he’s become accustomed to the routine of meetings and press conferences. March 30, 1981 is just such another day; President Reagan has completed a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel and he is preparing to return to the White House when a man steps forward. This man fires six bullets at the President, missing him with each shot. But the sixth, ricocheting off of the limousine door, pierces his chest, grazes a rib and pauses an inch from his heart. With the President coughing up blood, Secret Service Agents direct his course to the George Washington University Hospital. If medical help is not found soon, the President will die.

Dr. Aaron has just come off of a grueling heart surgery. He needs a rest. But there is no time to rest with the President’s life at stake. With a prayer to God for help, Dr. Aaron makes ready for surgery. If Reagan lives he will be the first President to ever survive an assassination attempt. But will he live?

Praises.

As part of the Creation Adventure Series, Operation Rawhide incorporates short pieces describing God’s creation and explaining why it could not have come about by evolutionary processes. For example,

The heart is a perfectly organized mechanism that begins its work shortly after conception in the mother’s womb. Beating, beating, three thousand times an hour, eighty thousand times a day whether at work or asleep – never resting, never stopping, millions and billions of times over a lifetime. That masterful combination of muscles and electrical impulses draws in oxygenated blood from the lungs and superboosts it to the other body organs – to the millions of receptacles on the back of the eyes that help give us sight, to the millions of nerve endings on our fingers giving us touch, to the millions of electrical connectors in the brain giving us the ability for thought, wisdom, and feelings. Feelings that are inherent to all mankind – the sensation of beauty that one feels while viewing a golden sunset across a fall-colored, hushed lake; feelings of power watching a surging, crashing ocean; feelings of love when a mother holds her newborn baby. None of these sensations – beauty, power, or love – could have just happened by time and chance. This incredibly complicated, perfectly organized, functioning, living heart could not have come about or developed by mutation over billions of years of mistakes through evolution. The most evident, perfect example of a Sovereign Creator God is life itself, for only a Supreme Being has the capability of producing it – only God could have put the breath of life into this President’s heart.” [pgs. 51-52] 

On this account, Operation Rawhide was interesting as well as apologetically informing.

Mr. Thomsen correctly identifies America as a Republic several times. He says that

“The very foundation that glued the republic together was cracking and beginning to crumble  from within. Massive racial violence was erupting. Violent crime was on the rise, and running amuck was an exploding drug addiction that was eating at the very core of the nation – its youth. Torn and twisted, the backbone of the nation – its moral fiber – stood on the brink of catastrophic collapse.

This was a battle of foundational values – the collective conscience of the people. It was spiritual warfare.” [pgs. 4-5]

Cautions.

Mr. Thomsen states in one place that he and his family had accepted Christ as their personal Saviour and made him Lord over their lives. In another place Mr. Thomsen refers to a man as ‘demon-controlled’.

Mr. Thomsen describes the events that led to John Hinckley’s Jr.’s assassination attempt on Reagan. He says that

“Hinckley also had a mad fascination for a young movie star he had never met. She had played the part of a teenage prostitute in a film about a demented young man who planned to kill a high political figure and then stalked his victim relentlessly. Time after time he sat through the film, burying into his drug-filled, mesmerized mind the satanic plot – stalk and kill, stalk and kill. As his plan to get the President took form in his mind, he wrote the starlet a letter. In it he said, “I would abandon this idea of getting Reagan in a second if I could only win your heart and live out the rest of my life with you. . . . I will admit to you that the reason I’m going ahead with this attempt now is because I just cannot wait any longer to impress you.”

This demon-controlled, sick man went on to close the letter, “I’m asking you to please look into your heart and at least give me the chance with this historical deed to gain your respect and love.” [pgs. 8-9]

Mr. Thomsen says that Hinckley spent the night before his attempt at

“the pornographic stores, filling his mind with corrupting, lewd pictures. His senses were dulled by drugs, pornography, hard rock music, and Nazi doctrine—everything God opposed.” [pgs. 10-11]

These passages aren’t immdediately defiling, but they are sure to raise a lot of questions in the minds of children regarding words and ideas.

There is a reference to crematoriums.

This story includes several accounts of heart surgeries. Because their goal is to heal, these do not have the nasty feeling that brutality induces, but they are enough to make a person squeamish. The following passage describes the beginning of a heart surgery.

“Taking a scalpel, he made the incision from the top of the breastbone to the bottom, working the bottom area a bit more open. Having done that, he slipped the foot of his saber saw under the sternum and squeezed the activator button, sending the blade into an up-and-down blur. Pushing the instrument forward, he proceeded to saw the sternum in two, a slight whiff of smoke rising as the blade easily buzzed through the bone structure. Removing the saw, he inserted the chest spreader, screwing it open. With each twist, the chest cavity yawned wider, exposing the diseased heart in its protective sac, the pericardium. Carefully he cut the sac open – the heart with its four plugged arteries now in full view….

Before the heart could be operated on, it had to be shut down; the heart-lung machine would take over the function of the heart and the lungs by both pumping the blood and recharging the oxygen. To connect the tubes leading to the heart-lung machine, Dr. Aaron first made an incision in the aorta, the big main artery at the top of the heart where blood comes out and flows to the whole body. Into the small incision, he sutured the small tube leading back to the heart-lung machine. Once completed, he made a second incision in the right atrium, the chamber of the heart that pumps the blood to the big aorta. Into the second incision he sutured the other tube, about the size of a thumb. As the tubes cut off the blood supply to the heart and bypassed it to the heart-lung machine, the patient’s heart, having no blood to pump, naturally stopped pumping; however, it continued to beat.

“Sorta looks like a flopping, deflated volleyball,” said the anesthesiologist as he adjusted the anesthetic gas that kept the patient unconscious. [pgs. 28-30]

Something that aspiring doctors and scientists may enjoy, but as for the rest of us….

Conclusion. I knew next to nothing about Ronald Reagan’s assassination attempt prior to reading this story, but now I feel as though I understand the events that occurred and why they occurred. If you believe that your child can handle the above cautions, I recommend that you purchase your copy here.

…If You Grew Up With Abraham Lincoln

Title: If You Grew Up With Abraham Lincoln
Author: Ann McGovern
Illustrator: Brinton Turkle
Pages: 79
Recommended Ages: 9 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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…If You Grew Up With Abraham Lincoln, written by Ann McGovern, is unique. It reads neither like a biography nor a pure history – rather, it is a cross between both. Many of the questions dealt specifically with Lincoln while others concerned the general period of history in which he lived.

Q & A.

What kind of clothes did people wear on the frontier?

People on the frontier did not wear fancy clothes. All the clothes were made at home.

Men hunted deer and used the deerskins to make pants and jackets and shoes. They called the deerskin buckskin.

Buckskin breeches were fine – unless you got caught in the rain. Then the breeches would shrink. As they dried, the breeches would get tighter and tighter around your legs. Abe had a blue mark on each leg all his life, from wearing buckskin breeches that shrank after a rain. [pgs. 17-18]

What kind of school would you go to?

You would go to a blab school! The schools were called blab schools because everyone blabbed – that is, everyone said his lessons out loud at the same time. That is how the teacher could tell if each pupil was doing his work.

You might live miles away from a schoolhouse. When he lived in Indiana, Abe Lincoln had to walk about four miles though the woods to get to school. [pg. 33-34]

How would you send a letter?

If you wanted to send a letter, you would give it to the postmaster. Abe Lincoln was postmaster of New Salem for three years.

You would write your letter on a sheet of paper.

There were no envelopes. So you would fold the paper and seal the folds with hot sealing wax. You wrote the address on the outside. There were no stamps either. In the upper right-hand corner, the postmaster wrote down how much it would cost to send the letter. But you wouldn’t pay to send the letter. The person who got the letter paid for it. The farther away he lived, the more he had to pay.

If you wrote a letter on one sheet of paper to a friend who lived thirty miles away, your friend would have to pay six cents. But if you used two sheets of paper, your friend would have to pay twice as much. So people tried to crowd everything onto one sheet of people. [pgs. 55-56]

Cautions.

Lincoln is treated neither as a villainous ogre nor the savior of the world. He is depicted simply as a person who existed and whose life is worth recording. I found this “neutral” position acceptable, but then I am not a die-hard Lincoln hater…

One answer mentions the practice at corn husking events of exchanging a red ear for a kiss.

In the answer to one of the questions, Abe jokes about one of his father’s prayers.

One answer discusses the local beliefs and superstitious healing practices.

One answer mentions The Arabian Nights and its magical stories.

Conclusion. Helpful study of the life and times of Abraham Lincoln.

The Titanic

Title: The Titanic
Author: Bob Temple
Pages: 112
Recommended Ages: 8-12
Star Rating: ★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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This volume is subtitled ‘An Interactive History Adventure’. That is a very sophisticated name for the ‘Choose your own Adventure’ genre. Not sure what that is? Let me explain.

A setting is chosen, in this case the Titanic. Several different ‘story paths’ are presented, in this case the choice to travel as a first class member, a third class member, or a crew member. Once you choose your ‘story path’ you encounter different scenarios between which you must choose – as a first class member, will you have dinner with the Allisons or the Astors? Will you go to top dock at the first alarm, or go to warn your friends? Each choice sends you to a different page where different consequences await you.

There are fifteen different endings that can be reached, depending upon what choices you make. In some of them, you live. In others, you go down with the ship or freeze to death in the waters before you can be rescued.

Because it covered so many different lines, The Titanic was not thorough – it did not include any educational information or historical detail – but it did bring forcibly to mind the consequences of foolish choices. It made me realize just how much (humanly speaking) hangs upon the decisions we make – even as to whether we will live or die. The Titanic made me wonder how I would have responded if I had been the one jolted out of sleepy security to the knowledge that I had not long left to live.

The inside of the book was very pretty – it was not ornate, but it was detailed. The pages were a light brown in color (giving an antiquated look) and lots of pictures and realistic illustrations were included.

‘Luck’ and ‘fate’ are referred to once each as determining outcomes.

Conclusion. Good, but not necessary.