book review: Black and White: The confrontation between Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor

title: White and Black: The confrontation between Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor

author: Larry Dane Brimner

date: Calkins Creek; December 2011


White and Black takes us back to the 1950s and 60s when two strong leaders, Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor, confronted each other almost daily over the issue of segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Without commentary or analysis, Brimner guides readers through series after series of tumultuous events between Blacks and Whites, between religious and political leaders and between Shuttlesworth and Connor. While images and sidebars manage to help readers distinguish characters and understand events, the events themselves do sometimes get a bit confusing.

I thought the author’s notes did more to explain what kept motivating these men, particularly Shuttlesworth who had to have believed he would not live to see then end of his crusade to end segregation. Brimner does effectively convey the intensity of the times and the varying degrees to which both Shuttlesworth and Connor were accepted by the public.In reading we learn how Rev. James Bevel brought children into the movement, who guided Martin Luther King Jr.  to develop a message of nonviolence and what the relationship was the relationship between King and Shuttlesworth.  The work of undercover agents who worked to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan is revealed as well as the role of J. Edgar Hoover and Connor in the management of various government agencies to thwart attempts to end segregation.

By framing the civil rights battle in Birmingham within the relationship between these two men, Brimner gives young adults a manageable perspective on a complex chunk of history.

Brimner published a variety of non-fiction articles for adults while teaching in El Centro. He became interested in writing children’s picture books and middle-grade novels while working on an M.A. in writing at San Diego State University. Brimner left Central Union High School in 1984 to write full-time, but soon began teaching education courses at San Diego State University where he would remain until 1992. Although aspiring to write children’s fiction, Brimner realized his teaching experience gave him a unique ability to write non-fiction. He has published over 150 books for children and young adults. (bio source)

Kirkus Review

Chicago Tribune Review

Books for Teens

This from YALSA’s Books for Teens:

Christmas has come and gone and Hannukah is on its last of eight nights.  But maybe you have it in you to give one more gift this year.  How about giving a teen in an under-resourced community the gift of reading by making a donation to YALSA’s Books for Teens?  Your year-end gift to Books for Teens is especially important because a generous donor has offered an incentive: If we can raise $500 during the month of December, the donor will donate an additional $500.
Books for Teens mission is to empower the nation’s at-risk teens to achieve more by providing them with free high quality, new, age-appropriate books.  Funds raised through Books for Teens will be distributed to libraries in communities with a high level of poverty, where teen services librarians will purchase and distribute new books, encourage teens to get library cards and provide teens with reading-focused events and activities.
Help make the holidays happy for teens in low-income communities by making a donation of any size to YALSA’s Books for Teens.  Make a donation through the Books for Teens’ Causes page, on Facebook at, or through the American Library Association fundraising page (make sure to select ALA Divisions and Offices and scroll down to YALSA, then select Books for Teens).
For more than 50 years, YALSA has been the world leader in selecting books, videos, and audiobooks for teens. For more information about these awards or for additional lists of recommended reading, go to For more information about YALSA, please contact us via e-mail,, or by phone, at 1-800-545-2433 ext. 4390.
Happy Holidays!

Alicia Blowers
Chair, YALSA Books for Teens Jury

Merry Christmas/Cookie Traditions

Merry Christmas!

Feliz Navidad!

Joyeux Noel!

Bon Natale!

click here to read an excerpt

I wish each of you a joyful, safe, healthy and warm holiday season! And, I wish you delicious cookies to munch while you read a wonderful book!

This is my last cookie post! I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting authors and bloggers and finding recipes for new cookies! I know that the next time I’m in NYC I’ll be heading to Marche Madison. I’m not certain which of these recipes I’ll try next, but I’m glad to add to my recipe collection! The final one I’ll be adding is from Karen Simpson. Karen is the author of Acts of Grace. She’s a quilter, dog and horse lover, historian and food. She  blogs at Grace Notes . Thanks Karen, for sharing your cookie traditions!

Favorite holiday book

 The title of my favorite holiday book is the Velveteen Rabbit. The story starts on Christmas Day and the rabbit is given to the boy as a stocking stuffer. It’s a beautiful story of hope, miracles, love and faith.

 Names of holidays CDs I love listening to

 The Blind Boys of Alabama: Go Tell It On The Mountain

Aaron Neville’s Soulful Christmas

If On A Winter Night by Sting 

My Holiday Cookie: Spicy Ginger Bread

 Spicy Gingerbread has become my nieces and nephew favorite Christmas cookie. These cookies are easy to make and the addition of black pepper to the other spices adds a nice little fiery snap. I usually make them for our family’s Christmas Eve Dinner.

 Spicy Gingerbread Cookies 

6 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup unsalted butter

1 cup dark-brown sugar, packed

4 teaspoons ground ginger

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cloves

1-1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

2 large eggs slightly beaten

1 cup unsulfured molasses

 In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder set aside.

 In an eclectic mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in spices and salt then eggs and molasses.

 Add flour mixture; combine on low speed. Divide in thirds; wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill for about 1 hour.

 Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll dough 1/8 inch thick( or ¼ inch for a thicker softer cookie) between two pieces of waxed paper. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Transfer shapes to ungreased cookie sheets. If desired, decorate with raisins, dragées, and/or red hot candies. Refrigerate about 15 minutes. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until crisp but not dark. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 1 minute, then remove to wire racks to cool completely. If desired, decorate with icing.

Cookie Traditions

O yes, it’s Christmas: I woke up this morning to find a bright red Mercedes in my garage! My son and DIL are here!! This is one of the rare holidays that all my children are home and it’s one of the best holiday’s I’ve had in a long, long time! Adding to the special events is the post from my dear friend, Amy Bowllan. Amy is one of the few people posting recipes that I’ve actually met in person. She blogs at Bowllan’s Blog on the School Library Journal site.
Her FB posts this past year took us through quite a challenging year confronting Amy and reminded us what a strong, determined woman that she is. Her ‘recipe’ is so appropriate for Christmas Eve, one of the most hurried days of the year! O! Please remember to come back tomorrow for my last post of the season. Be safe. Be warmed. Be at peace. Happy Holidays!
Cookies Make The Holidays GR8T by Amy Bowllan
My knack for baking is minimal but knowing where to go for yummy treats is maximal.  Looking for the best cookie to chomp on in the quiet of your home, while the snow glistens on the trees outside your window. Before you leave work, do take a stroll (or the MTA) up/down the majestic Madison Avenue to Marche Madison. They have the perfect chocolate chip cookies to snuggle with while you listen to Johnny Mathis’ Christmas tunes after a long day of work.
I remember as a little girl, leaving homemade chocolate chip cookies for Santa and the “big guy” was too polite to eat them all.  There were always leftovers for me on Christmas morning, as well as warmed (too warm to drink) milk.
Every holiday I am driven to find new and diverse books and this year I am eager to meet Virginia from The Christmas Coat Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (HOLIDAY HOUSE, 2O11).

book reviews

Have you been missing my book reviews? I have been reading books, just not writing much! I have several book reviews today on four very different books.

I’m now 5 posts away from 1000!

We the Animals

by Justin Torres

date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2011

We Are the Animals is the story of one family, three brothers, told in connected vignettes. We don’t see the boys at school or interacting much with neighbors because they really only have each other.  While there are a few patches that indicate this is Torres’ first book, the entire book indicates Torres is a real storyteller.

With parents who are as unreliable s they are immature, the three boys are not just rough and tumble; they’re jagged. They’re animals because growing up just isn’t easy when the children are growing up right alongside the parents. While there are moments of happiness, there are mostly volatile relationships from which the boys want to escape.  The characters never redeemed themselves to me and were impossible to like, even when they most needed to be liked just for who they were. Was Torres giving us reason to like his characters or to detest them?

Torres writes a rather short story that explodes with characters who live in a tightly woven family. So tightly woven that when one of them “breaks” the others pull even tighter together.

review copy provided by publisher

 Cleopatra Moon

by Vicky Alvear Shecter Arthur A Levine 2011

main character: Cleopatra Selene

Cleopatra Moon is a fictionalized account of the life of Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra VII and Marcus Antonius. Schecter frames the story with a character list at the front and historical notes in the back which help keep the people, places and events in order.

Cleopatra Selene is taken from her homeland in Egypt when her mother is defeated by the Roman emperor, Octaviunus. She and her brothers are forced to live with her captors and adapt the Roman life style. It’s interesting to learn how easily people of this era moved about, how they exchanged knowledge, rulers and materials. The ancient Mediterranean was truly one of diversity!

Shecter is quite clear about what details she had to change or create for the sake of the story, but as much as possible, she stayed with the historic details. I think writing in the first person voice of a child limited the scope the story could have had, and created a character who seemed at times a bit too wise for her years. I do think 21st century girls will be impressed to read about a young woman who lived such a long time ago who was intelligent, educated and able to impact history.

signed review copy provided by the author

Dreams of Significant Girls

Author: Christina Garcia

date: Simon and Schuster; 2011

main characters: Vivien; Shirin and Ingrid

I picked up Dreams of Significant Girls expected a fluffy, romantic book about three spoil aristocrat brats in a boarding school. What I got were three very unique young ladies who confronted issues that were anything but lighthearted.

With chapters in alternating voices, we learn about Vivien, a German Canadian with a wild and vibrant person that hides her journey to find herself; Shirin, an Iranian princess who is pampered and protected and Ingrid, a Cuban Jewish girl with a talent for cooking. It’s hard to believe these girls become friends, but as they return to their Swiss boarding school every summer, they become closer and closer. They grow as individuals as they learn to accept the differences in their friends. Did you catch that one girl has a German background while the other, Jewish? That gets quite interesting!

Garcia writes a fascinating story about rather independent girls growing up and growing in friendship. Their mischievous antics, boy troubles, family issues and self doubts are something that every reader can relate to even though the ethnic and class culture of these girls may be a bit different. Readers can easily slip into these character’s lives and want only the best for them.

I reviewed a purchased copy of this book.

 Acts of Grace

author: Karen Simpson

date: Plenary Publishing

main character: Grace Johnson

I have to confess that I read Acts of Grace months ago and kept putting off writing this review. I’m not sure why, because this was one of my favorite books of 2011. I’ve tried nominating it for several awards only to find that it was originally released as an adult novel. I’ve tried ordering it for my school library only to find that none of my vendors carry it! Unfortunately, I read a Nook version of it and cannot donate that. One more disadvantage to ebooks!

I know that I didn’t want to read the book because it’s promoted as being the story of a young Black girl who saves a racist white person from death and Black people don’t like her for that. This book is much more than that.

It’s the story of Grace’s spiritual and emotional coming of age.

Simpson simply states at the beginning of the book that this is a story of African American shamanistic practices. There are appearances of spirits, bottle trees, magical colors and talk of demons and saints. As with the faith practice of many Blacks in or from the south, these are syncretic practices within the context of Christian beliefs. Grace grows in her faith, in her belief in higher powers (in god, in self and in others) in this story. At first, we see her as a very unlikable, bitter child. She eats to bury her problems and to fill her voids, so she is consequently a very heavy girl. We explore the depths of her relationship with her mother, the source of Grace’s bitterness and see Grace blossom as other adults come into her life and help her see her real beauty.

There is an underlying story of racial hatred and the need for forgiveness in this town of Vigilant, Michigan but the message is that we need to more than just forgive the past to be able to rise up and move on from the hatred that racism perpetuates. Simpson gives us a story of forgiveness void of all the stereotypes. She puts a lot on this one child, but after all her name is “Grace”.

I reviewed a purchased copy of this book.


Cookie Traditions

Neesha Meminger, author of Jazz in Love and Shine Coconut Moon is sharing today’s recipe. She’s also featured on The Book Smugglers today where she shares a rather unusual recent experience as well as an opportunity to win a copy of her new book, Into the Wise Dark. Reading that book and munching on some of these delicious cookies, that’s what I’m looking forward to in 2012!

My favorite cookies, ever, are chocolate chip. I’m not a fan of chocolate chunk, white chocolate, peanut butter, or oatmeal. But give me some moist, warm chocolate chip cookies any time of the day and I am a happy, happy gal!
Here is the recipe I’ve used for years, and it’s the same one we use at our home for the night that Santa visits:
1 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Line 2 baking sheets with waxed paper
3. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy
4. beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat well after each egg
5. Add vanilla and beat well
6. Combine dry ingredients in separate bowl
7. Add to egg mixture and beat
8. Add chocolate chips!
9. If dough is very soft, cover and refrigerate about 30 minutes
10. Drop, using a tablespoon, onto cookie sheets and bake 12-14 minutes until golden brown around the edges.
11. ENJOY!!
These cookies always feel like home and comfort to me. They add a really special touch on Christmas eve when anticipation and excitement are high. Usually, the kitchen is warm from the oven being on all day and the house is full of yummy smells. We have lights up and lots of pine decorations, so the food smells are mixed with the smells of pine and candles. H and I have the gifts all hidden throughout the house, or loaded up in the trunk of the car and we know we’re going to be up ’til late, wrapping. Last year, we got parakeets — you can imagine the challenge in keeping those hidden from a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old!
I love *all* Holiday music. We play holiday CDs from Thanksgiving right through to the first few weeks of January. My favorite Christmas carol ever is “The Little Drummer Boy” sung by Whitney Huston. A close second is “Do You See What I See?” (don’t know who sings the version of that one that I love). I’m also quite partial to Celine Dion’s holiday songs — I love the way she belts out some of those notes.
The holidays are really magical to me. I moved to Canada from India when I was about five and I don’t think I ever got over the trauma of Winter, LOL. But three years or so later, when I was about eight-years-old (around the age I am in the pic, above), I started going to school early so I could sit in the gym and sing Christmas carols. Sitting there, in a gym full of kids, singing at the top of my lungs while outside snow blew in little tornadoes in the school yard, is one of my most cherished memories. That was when I connected with the magic of this time of year. It really felt like Hope, and I wished so fervently that my family celebrated Christmas like “everyone else.”
Maybe now I go a bit overboard now with my own kids as a result. But I truly believe this is a magical time of year — a time when hopes and dreams are sown deep into the sleeping earth, and are nurtured there until they wake and rise, and bloom, in the Spring. I love making magic happen for my kids. Maybe it’s another way to keep the magic that I discovered when I was eight, alive and vibrant.
Happy holidays, all, and may your most cherished wishes come true.

Cookie Traditions

I hope you’re enjoying all the’ recipes’, all the ways my special guests have for supplying holiday cookies! If I hadn’t already baked my cookies, I know I’d be making several of these recipes myself! Yes, I’d be baking because there just aren’t many bakeries here in Indianapolis where I could go to purchase a good cookie. I find that if I eat a really good, rich cookie I can be satisfied with just one or two, and not half the bag.

Today, my friend Sandy stopped by with cookies for me. Her visit made me remember that when I was in Taiwan, Sandy mailed me a package of her wonderful homemade cookies and they arrived exactly on Christmas!  I really needed that touch of Christmas and it arrived just in time! That’s a special memory for me.

Tanita Davis certainly knows how special cookies are when you’re in a foreign land! Tanita is the author of Mare’s War, A La Carte and the forthcoming Happy Families. If you’ve read A la Carte then you know Tanita is quite talented whether her recipe be for a good meal or fascinating story.  Today from across the pond, she shares her recipe for Faux Oreos. I love the idea of stamping cookies and am so glad Tanita shared this recipe. Thanks!

  • 1 1/4 cup plain/all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • scant 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar (Seriously? You can get away with 3/4 c.)
  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened (Seriously: you can get away with less.)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. milk

Sift together your dry ingredients, except for the sugar. In a small bowl cream sugar with your margarine, vanilla and milk, then add dry ingredients, a little at a time, until you have a dark, fragrant and smooth blend. This may give your hand mixer a run for its money; it’s quite a sticky dough.

We rolled out our dough between two layers of plastic wrap, then scored them so that we had four rows of nine squares. With moistened hands, we took each small square and rolled it, placing it about an inch and a half apart on the Silpat. (Parchment paper or a plain pan will do, too.) When our pan was filled with little balls of cookie dough, we lay a plastic wrap over the lot of them, and flattened them with a bench scraper. (If you want to flatten your cookies to an individual thickness, a guide like a pair of chopsticks comes in handy. We used these for the large cookies.)

Because Oreos are stamped (actually they’re probably baked in a pan with concave lettering so it stands out on the cookie when it’s baked) with words, we thought we’d make our own cookies specific and Christmas related. From my box of rubber stamps we located (and thoroughly washed) a star stamp, and used it to mark each cookie. The stamp must be one with a simple pattern and a lot of deep grooves to work.

We baked these cookies at 350°F/175°C for nine minutes per batch.

The filling of the cookies is easy enough — but recently I cheated. We had leftover cream cheese frosting from Tech Boy’s workplace going-away-party cinnamon buns, so we added icing sugar to that and a bit of mint extract. For a from-scratch cookie filling, we’d suggest

2/3 c. of butter,

about a cup and a half of powdered or icing sugar,

a scant teaspoon of mint, orange, or almond extract. Or a high quality vanilla, if you must.

Cream the butter and add the sugar a little at a time, on a low speed, until you have a fluffy frosting.

We used a parchment paper bag and piped a half-inch circular schmear of frosting on a single cookie, and twisting on the cookie caps. We ended up with far more frosting than we needed, and tried to open the cookies and add more — be careful! The cookies want to stay together, once the frosting is set. A gentle twisting motion will reopen them as necessary, but it’s better to err on the side of adding too much filling instead of too little. Too much will at least squish out!

We photographed the steps:

The memories that come with these cookies are fairly recent. For the last four years I have  been That Girl Who Brings the Cookies because now that we’re in the UK without family close at hand, there’s no ravenous eighteen-year-old brother and chocoholic sixteen year old sister to scarf down everything in sight. I have to take cookies to my fellow chorus members, strangers at the pharmacy, people at Tech Boy’s job, and the neighbors… because I must bake! Especially this time of year, the house simply smells friendlier with the scent of chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon in the air.

That’s all from me right now. I’m going to grab a cup of tea, another book, and hunt around my cookie jar.