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Amy's Blog: 'One Author's Life'

The Lazy Days of Summer: Where Did They Go?

You asked, so here it is, one of the most popular blogs posts I've ever written. Re-posted from July 3, 2015:  

 

One of the saddest moments when you've become an adult is when you realize that summer is not what it used to be.

 

Gone are the days of playing hopscotch, climbing trees, and getting on your mother's nerves.

 

Gone are the days when the only deadline is getting home in time for supper.

 

The lazy hours reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books, or playing King of the Mountain with the kids next door, has become a thing of the past. Long afternoons sprawled out in the grass, with nothing to do except study the shapes of clouds, are a luxury.

 

Strange that you have failed to notice that Mom has been working very hard to make your summer carefree. Picnic food miraculously appears in the refrigerator. It is prepared to perfection and placed in front of you, its nutritional value calculated in Mom's ever-vigilant mind. Dad comes home from work, where he has earned the money to pay for the summer road-trip, which he will plan with care.

 

(We will, as always, stay one night at a roadside motel because the owners have a goat, and all year long you – the youngest child – have been hollering, "Can we stay at the place with the goat?" Not only do you stay at the place with the goat, but Mom, who thinks of everything, has thoughtfully brought carrots.)

 

Somehow, the station wagon has got itself tuned up and filled with gas. Somehow, everything falls into place.

 

The hardest thing you have to do is decide which toys and books will fit into your little suitcase.

 

Next thing you know, you're in junior high. You are now moody and hormonal. Skinned knees have been replaced with zits. You have braces on your teeth. You quarrel constantly with your older siblings. Mom suddenly decides that what you need in the summer is a "schedule." You become a babysitter with regular gigs and a five-day-a-week volunteer at United Way.

 

You now own an alarm clock, and you own a watch.

 

In a flash, you have grown up. You have graduated college. You find your first real job, and are shocked to realize that you will work 60-plus hours a week, including most weekends and holidays, and – gasp – all summer long. There is nothing special about summer. Alas, it is just another part of the year.

 

You grieve.

 

But somewhere along the line, you fight to get summer back. Your older siblings begin to have children, which provides you with a great excuse. You take time off from work to be a doting auntie, and get to act like a child again.

 

You now look for ways to re-live the summers of your childhood. You arrange for the old family boat to be removed from storage, and rehabilitate it. You learn to pilot the old boat yourself.

 

You read outside. You lay in the grass.

 

You watch the clouds float by.

 

And you thank dear old Mom and Dad for teaching you the joys of simple summer pleasures which last a lifetime.

Were We Better Off Before Social Media?

Before I start my little rant, please note that I do recognize the irony in the fact that you're reading it on a blog and that a lot of other people will see it when it's re-posted and shared later on Facebook et al. 

 

This is what I want to say: I have a love-hate relationship with social media!


There are moments when I think it's the best darned thing that ever happened. There is so much sharing and caring, if you pick your friends carefully and you don't engage with negativity. 

 

As a person who was raised to be polite, however, I am dismayed that social media tends to reward the noisiest and snarkiest among us. Evidently, it brings out the inner bully in a large number of people.

 

At its absolute worst, social media could lead to a world-ending war. It's an incubator and a megaphone for rage, conspiracy theorists, and terrorists.

 

On a day to day basis for most users, the dangers are two-fold: We are surrendering our privacy (to varying degrees, depending on how cautious you are). And, we are accepting a lifestyle that moves too fast.

 

Much too fast.

 

I have noticed that when I've been overly-connected to social media I'm not nearly as likely to watch a bird building its nest, to spontaneously call an old friend, or simply sit and watch the clouds go by. And yet those are among the things that nurture my soul.

 

There are certainly days when I wish we could turn back the clock.

 

But I can't give up on it – at least not yet. Right now it's a new invention. It's the wild west of our lifetime. Let's hope someone figures out a way to emphasize the good and get rid of the bad.

Librarians Choose "Streetcar to Justice" as Notable Book

Good news! Streetcar to Justice: How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York, made the ALSC Notable Books list! (ALSC is the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.)

 

This means a lot to me. I worked so hard on this book, perhaps harder than on any other book I've done. The research was extraordinarily challenging. The events took place in 1854-55, which may as well be a thousand years ago, and I was determined to use original resources. 

 

This meant countless hours at historical societies, universities, and, of course, libraries. Without the New York Public Library's main branch, and the Schomburg branch in Harlem, this book could not have been written. The archives there are priceless. 

 

Being selected for the Notable Children's Book 2019 list is special to me for an additional reason. When I was growing up I wanted to become a librarian. I remember the first time I said it and how my mother smiled with pride. Well, I never became a librarian but I'm one of those persons who writes the books that fill the shelves of libraries, so that's close enough.

 

Mo Rocca/CBS Podcast Interview to Air Jan. 31

Mo Rocca and CBS have announced a new podcast series and I will be included in the one that airs Jan. 31. The topic is a certain person who lived a long time ago.....and whose name I'm not supposed to mention yet. If you listen to the trailer you'll hear my voice. Please share and subscribe. The link to the trailer is on the upper left side of this page. 

Each Book is a Leap of Faith

People usually see a book only as a finished product, and while they can easily imagine the satisfaction and pride an author must feel when seeing her book on the shelves of a bookstore they have no idea what has gone into the creation of it.

 

Some books are easier to write than others. I have published ten, all with major publishing houses. This means I came up with an idea, my literary agent gave it a green light, and then a publisher chose to take it on. Just getting a book deal is a huge accomplishment. Once the proposal is sold to a publishing house, however, then the real work begins.

 

My most recent book was a challenge in many ways. Streetcar to Justice: How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York (HarperCollins/Greenwillow 2018) is the first biography of a woman who is sometimes called the Rosa Parks of New York. My goal was to write her back into history.

 

I had been reseraching her story and the era for many years as a hobby of sorts when a writer-friend gave me a nudge (a very big nudge; more like a shove) and said I had a responsibility to pull it together and turn it into a book. She was right. But what a responsibility!

 

I wrote it for middle-grade students because that's the age when most American children first learn about Rosa Parks, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights heroes. Writing about someone who was famous and then forgotten one hundred years prior to Rosa Parks's arrest, however, required that I provide a tremendous amount of context. Because so little is known about the era by most Americans, many adults are buying the book, too.

 

Looking at the stacks of boxes of research in my home office, I felt overwhelmed. Why on earth was I taking this on? It was one thing to do the research (a journalist's idea of fun) and another thing to write a book. Even after I had written the basic narrative, I needed to add sidebars and timelines. I spent countless hours looking for the right illustration, photograph, or painting to go with each part of the story, and then acquiring the rights to use each one.

 

Again, I felt a strong sense of responsibility. I had grown attached to my subject. Elizabeth Jennings was a woman of great courage. Unknown to most people today, segregation was rampant in the North, includiing Manhattan. Miss Jennings,  a black schoolteacher and church organist, was assaulted and removed forcibly from a streetcar in Manhattan meant for whites. She had hoped the streetcar conductor would let her ride, rather than making her wait for a car bearing the sign for "Colored People." She didn't want to be late to church. Her actions that day led to the first significant step in the fight to desegregate New York City's public transportation.

 

And yet no one had written a biography of her. This year marked 164 years since she was assaulted and 163 years since her unlikely victory in court. 

 

But again the word that defined my decision to be the person who wrote it was "responsibility." Yes, it was a joy. Yes, I am proud. The critics gave it two thumbs up. The book received a coveted "starred" review from both Publisher's Weekly, which called it "a book that belongs in any civil rights collection" and Kirkus, where the reviewer wrote that the book is "completely fascinating and unique." And, of course, I'm thrilled.

 

I'm also relieved. The satisfaction of having created the book is a lot more complex than simply seeing it displayed on the shelves of bookstores. I know what went into it. I know the hard work, the late nights, the cups of coffee consumed, the dinners I missed with family. I gave this book everything I had, including a chunk of my life and a piece of my soul. The writing of Streetcar to Justice was, put simply, a leap of faith. That's the part you don't see when you hold the book in your hand. #GreenwillowBook #HarperChildrens #RosaParks #middlegrade

How to Cultivate a Love of History in Your Child: 7 Tips

Many parents complain that their child finds history boring, and yet the development of a love of history will make his or her life far richer. A person who finds history fascinating will have an enhanced view of the world and will be a better citizen. He or she will understand that to be fully alive in the present, it is imperative to know what life was like in the past.


Exploring historical topics can be an exhilarating experience. This has happened to me in my career many times but one of the most memorable moments occurred in lower Manhattan when I successfully retraced the steps of a black schoolteacher named Elizabeth Jennings, who was the Rosa Parks of old New York. Most of the buildings were gone, several streets were re-named, and indeed the shape of Manhattan island itself was different than it had been that fateful day in 1854 when Miss Jennings refused to leave a segregated streetcar and was physically assaulted. She went to court, and the result was the first significant step in the fight to desegregate New York City's public transportation. As I was re-tracing her steps I came across a small patch of old cobblestones with streetcar tracks still visible. From my reaction, passersby might have thought I had struck gold.


But, indeed, that is the point. It was gold! It was a tiny piece of the past that ignited my determination to tell the Elizabeth Jennings story to the world. She deserved a book, so I wrote one.


Where does this determination and joy come from? Parents, teachers, and librarians ask me if I was born with a love of history or if I acquired it. The good news is that it is learned behavior! Here are some suggestions that I can share with you:


1. START EARLY. My parents took my siblings and me to historical sites and museums from a very young age. A particular favorite that I remember was Fort Ticonderoga on the upper reaches of Lake George, N.Y. Another memorable place – which wasn't even a developed as a landmark yet – was Cowpens, a Revolutionary Battle site in South Carolina.

 

2. SHOW YOUR OWN ENTHUSIASM. My dad loved history and his enthusiasm was contagious. I remember other kids at museums or historic sites who seemed bored and I recall their parents acting bored, too. If you act like it is a chore, your child will follow your example.


3. STEP ASIDE. My dad had a way of (sometimes) overselling his own interests, but my mom would listen and watch carefully to see what caught each of our imaginations. Then she supported and built on that interest.

 

4. RESEARCH apps and games that tie in to places you'll visit. In my day we didn't have such things but we did have an encyclopedia, World Book, and Dad would read aloud before we went on an excursion. Today, there are more books than ever and for all ages that parents should investigate to help pique the child's interest ahead of time. If you're not sure, ask a librarian.

 

5. ARTIFACTS ARE IMPORTANT. The first historical object that captured my imagination was an artifact my great-great grandpa had brought back from the Civil War: two bullets that had hit head on during a battle, and melted together. That's a pretty spectacular artifact but the reality is that most people have all kinds of objects that could lead to fascinating discussions with a child. Look around you. You may have old tools, horseshoes, paper artifacts such as passports. Even an old typewriter could spark a conversation.


6. ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD TO RESPECT ELDERS and to listen to their stories. I was lucky to have a number of relatives who lived into their nineties and even past 100. Our old folks were the center of our lives. If great-grandma wanted to eat lunch at noon, that meant we all ate lunch at noon. If you respect your old folks you will be interested in their stories. (Tip: If you don't know how to start asking an elder about the past, start by looking at an old photo album together.)

 
7. EVERYONE HAS A STORY: That is an old saying worth teaching your child. Reach out to your community to hear other people's stories. If a Holocaust survivor, for example, is speaking at your local library, by all means go, and bring your child. Search your neighborhood, visit a local nursing home, ask at your church, synagogue, or other place of worship, and you will find older people, many of them lonely, who have stories to share of the old days.


In sum, to love history is to enjoy a richer life, yet many Americans have lost sight of the past. How can we make decisions for the future if we don't know what happened before our time? History is not "over" nor is it dead, as some would say. Rather, it is the foundation of all things here and now.

 

Amy Hill Hearth is the author, most recently, of STREETCAR TO JUSTICE: HOW ELIZABETH JENNINGS WON THE RIGHT TO RIDE IN NEW YORK, written for middle-grade to adult readers. She has written nine other books including HAVING OUR SAY: THE DELANY SISTERS' FIRST 100 YEARS. Find out more at www.amyhillhearth.com

 

Special Podcast on Elizabeth Jennings this Fall

I spent the morning of July 16 visiting the precise locations where the dramatic Elizabeth Jennings story unfolded in Lower Manhattan. Why July 16? Because that is the anniversary of the date in 1854 when she was assaulted and removed from a segregated streetcar. While walking from place to place, and trying not to get run over, I was being interviewed by a Famous Person and his recording team for his new podcast. Famous Person was a swell guy and a good sport. In fact, he carried my purse so that I could juggle my map and a bottle of water. (We were all desperately drinking water. It was 90-plus degrees which meant that on the pavement it must have been closer to 100.) Despite the challenges, I believe the podcast may turn out well! I'm very grateful for the opportunity. Stay tuned! I'll let you know when I can share more about it.   

Middle-Grade Readers Captivated by the “Yuck” Factor

If you think Manhattan is dirty now, consider what it was like in 1854. That was the year Elizabeth Jennings, the Rosa Parks of New York, had her fateful encounter on a segregated streetcar, as I wrote in my book Streetcar to Justice, the first biography of the all-but-forgotten civil rights hero.

Dirt roads that reverted to marshland every time it rained, no sanitary sewer system, tons of horse manure (and even the occasional dead horse), packs of stray dogs and wild hogs  Read More 

Where does prejudice come from?

Whenever I hear of someone acting with prejudice toward another person, and after I get over my shock and disgust, the lyrics of an old song come to mind. It’s not a song that many people know today because it dates to a play (and then a movie) called “South Pacific”  Read More 

Story of Elizabeth Jennings in “Streetcar to Justice” Is a Shock to Many

Slavery and Jim Crow in the Northern states?

Signs for “Colored” Riders in Manhattan?!

A slave market in New York City?!

That’s just a portion of the back-story I included in my new biography of Elizabeth Jennings, a black schoolteacher who refused to leave a segregated streetcar in Manhattan in 1854, setting into motion  Read More