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Did you know that dogs and cats donned masks during the Great Influenza? Or that Alexander Hamilton fled Philadelphia in 1793 to escape Yellow Fever? Or that scientists have found smallpox pustules on the mummy of an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh? As the world confronts the devastating spread of Covid-19, we look back to previous epidemics to understand their grave impacts and the lessons we’ve learned. We also examine the way everyday people learned to adapt, coexist, and persevere among these severely frightening historical moments.
How much do you know about historical pandemics? Here are the most significant facts and surprising trivia of the deadliest outbreaks in U.S. history:
COVID-19 is a new and emerging infectious disease with ongoing outbreaks that continue to threaten the health of people in the United States and worldwide.
Although the disease can infect and kill anyone, the majority of infected young people tend to remain asymptomatic and never develop the illness. Whereas, older infected adults often develop either a mild case or serious illness, which requires hospitalization and can quickly lead to death.
Spread of this new strain of the novel coronavirus occurs when a person is exposed to an infected person’s respiratory droplets through close contact.
Infected people often appear healthy in the asymptomatic phase of the disease for 2-14 days after exposure to COVID-19, during which time they could be unknowingly spreading the disease.
The most common symptoms of this highly contagious virus includes fever, cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath which typically presents 2-14 days after being exposed.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 was identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in November 2019.
In January 2020, the first documented case in the U.S. was confirmed in Washington state. The man had just returned from a trip to Wuhan.
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus which can lead to AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
HIV is caused by a retrovirus, which attacks the body’s immune system leaving its victim more susceptible to potentially fatal infections.
A type of chimpanzee from Central Africa has been identified as the source of HIV. The virus may have mutated and infected humans as a result of hunting practices as far back as the late 1800s.
In 1981, the virus was first officially identified in the U.S. after it started spreading through the gay community.
HIV is typically spread through body fluids during sex or needle sharing with other people.
The chances of an HIV-positive person infecting another person increases the higher their viral load.
One of the first drugs, AZT, that was developed to treat AIDS caused side effects that half the patients could not tolerate.
There is no cure for the disease, but more infected people are living longer due to educational outreach and advances in modern medicine.
Preventative measures include abstinence, using condoms, and avoiding the sharing of needles. Prevention medicines include prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
Approximately 32 million people have died of AIDS worldwide since the HIV virus was first identified.
Although AIDS was first identified in 1981, President Reagan failed to address the epidemic in a constructive way. His first notable mention of the crisis was in a 1985 press conference when he shared his doubts in allowing children with AIDS to continue to attend school. It was not until 1987, after thousands had already died of the disease, did his chilling silence end by recommending equal doses of medicine and morality to tackle the illness.
Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a crippling viral infection that affects the spinal cord which can lead to chronic shortness of breath, permanent paralysis, and death in humans.
The virus, which can be traced back to ancient Egypt, spreads through fecal matter and contaminated food and water that is ingested.
Milder symptoms of the disease can plague a person years later—causing joint pain, chronic fatigue, and muscle weakness.
Young people under five years old are most vulnerable to catching the disease. After exposure, some caught a severe form of the disease while most had mild symptoms and fully recovered.
In the U.S. alone, polio outbreaks caused approximately 15,000 cases of paralysis every year prior to the mid-20th century.
Polio was eventually eradicated in the U.S. after the introduction of the poliovirus vaccine (IPV), developed by Jonas Salk in the early 1950s. By the 1970s, there were fewer than 10 cases recorded.
In the United States, this strain of flu first infiltrated military personnel in Kansas, then spread east with the troops during World War I.
The mortality rate was high in young, healthy people; including the 20-40 years old, which are unusual casualties during common flu epidemics that typically kills the older population.
By the time the disease ran its course in 1920, it killed approximately 675,000 U.S. citizens and a staggering 50-100 million people worldwide.
Although commonly referred to as the Spanish Flu, there is no consensus on where it originated. The name stuck because Spain devoted so much coverage to the outbreaks.
While in pursuit of a cure, scientists incorrectly assumed the flu was caused by bacteria instead of a virus during the time.
At the height of the pandemic, U.S. officials encouraged citizens to wear face masks to prevent spread of infection. Many were distributed by the Red Cross or made at home using gauze or handkerchiefs.
Cholera is an illness caused by the bacteria V. cholerae that attaches to the intestines causing severe diarrhea, dehydration, and death.
The bacterium can be transmitted from person to person.
This disease is most often contracted from infected human skin, untreated sewage, and through contaminated food and drinking water.
Cholera was documented as early as 2,500 years ago.
In 1832, a new wave of immigrants crossing the Atlantic brought cholera to North America.
Up until the late 1800s, many doctors did not believe the disease was contagious.
The bacterium was not discovered until the last half of the 19th century by Italian anatomist Filippo Pacini, and then by German bacteriologist Robert Koch who made subsequent advancements in Pacini’s discovery.
After the link between sanitation and cholera was established, New York City created a board of health to manage the disease in 1870.
Public health improved when the city alleviated poor sanitation and quarantined those exposed to cholera.
The last major outbreak in the U.S. occurred in New York City after infected people from Italy arrived by steamship in 1910.
Typhoid fever is caused by Salmonella serotype Typhi and Salmonella serotype Paratyphi.
The bacteria is treated with antibiotics.
The disease spreads through impure water, tainted food, and human waste.
Symptoms of the disease include red marks on the skin, upset stomach, headache, and high fever.
In the early 1900s, the disease sickened approximately 3,467 people and killed 639 in New York City. The bacteria was lethal because antibiotics to treat it were not discovered until decades later.
Although typhoid fever is rare today, approximately 350 people are diagnosed with the illness in the United States each year.
Mary Mallon was nicknamed “Typhoid Mary” after infecting several New York households with the illness, in 1906. A total of 53 people were infected and 3 died due to her poor food-handling practices. When authorities finally tracked down the cook, she reluctantly tested for the disease with positive results. However, she refused to stop working as a cook and continued to knowingly expose other unsuspecting victims. Finally, Mallon was arrested and forced to quarantine for several years by court order—only to resurface again years later and sicken more people after her release.
A yellow fever epidemic devasted Philadelphia, in August 1793.
The invisible plague was brought to the New England town by war refugees from the Caribbean.
Because doctors were unaware of the existence of viruses and bacteria at the time, fatalities surged as officials argued about how to best treat and eradicate the disease.
By the time yellow fever finally started to slow with the arrival of cold weather the following October, the virus had claimed the lives of approximately 6,000 men, women, and children.
Sporadic outbreaks continued over the next 100 years in the Eastern United States, killing thousands more until 1905 when the last major outbreak of the scourge concluded in the U.S.
Tree-living monkeys in Africa and South America were the most likely source of the virus.
Mosquitoes are carriers of yellow fever.
Although there is now a vaccine against yellow fever, there is no cure.
Smallpox, or the variola virus, has plagued humans with random outbreaks for thousands of years. It was commonly spread on trade routes throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Smallpox is one of the most feared diseases because of its disfiguring rash which can leave permanent scars and cause blindness. Highly contagious, it has a 3 percent death rate.
Europeans first brought the disease to the New World via the slave trade in the 16th century, killing many indigenous peoples in America.
In colonial America, Benjamin Franklin’s son died of the virus when he was only 4 years old, in 1736. This founding father advocated for the distribution of pamphlets to the colonists instructing them on how to inoculate their children at home.
Dating back to China as early as the 15th century, this inoculation method called “Variolation” exposed healthy people to the mild form of the virus before they acquired it naturally. They would either rub their arm or inhale ground smallpox scabs from a smallpox patient. This treatment protected people from dying of a more severe form of the disease.
Scientific advancements perfected a smallpox vaccine, resulting in the eradication of natural outbreaks in the U.S. since 1949 and worldwide since 1977.
Scientists found traces of smallpox pustules on the head of a mummy thought to be Pharaoh Ramses V, who reigned in Egypt, during the 3rd century BCE.
Other early cases of the disease described as smallpox were documented in China during the 4th century and in India during the 7th century.
All of these examples show that diseases have flourished as long as human beings have congregated for survival. Often insidious, highly contagious viruses and bacteria can easily spread silently and swiftly through human populations. These deadly epidemics usually hit cities first and often claim the most vulnerable among us; generally, the socio-economically disadvantaged and immune compromised are impacted the most. Eventually, many of these infectious diseases disappear as mysteriously as they arrived, but not before wreaking immeasurable havoc—indiscriminately leaving destroyed economies and lives in their wake.
Have you ever wondered who the earliest people were to discover America and where they originated from? Because Christopher Columbus arrived on the Caribbean Islands in the fifteenth century, many history books focus on him as the first European founder. However, recent archaeological evidence reveals other stories seldom told.
In fact, the first explorers to inhabit North and South America were from Asia, not Europe. Scientific tests show that Asians and Native Americans share a large percentage of the same mitochondrial DNA. Therefore, most anthropologists believe that ancient people migrated from Asia and settled in the Americas thousands of years ago; these are the ancestors of today’s indigenous people. These first pioneers likely crossed over the frozen Bering Land Bridge—which connected modern-day Siberia to Alaska—during the last Ice Age.
As the Paleoamericans journeyed south throughout these vast continents, they adapted their survival skills and then opened up communication channels and established trade routes. Their innovative hunting and agricultural practices enabled a multitude of new societies to form and prosper. Advancements in science and architecture followed.
Here are just a few of these indigenous cultures and their significant accomplishments—long before the arrival of Europeans to the “New World” who would eventually change their way of life forever.
The Inuvialuit are the Inuit indigenous people of Western Canada, who currently live in the Arctic region. They are the descendants of the Thule culture who migrated eastward from the Bering Strait around 200 B.C.—then eventually settled in Alaska, Northern Canada, and as far away as Greenland by the thirteenth century. Archaeologists have found specialized tools for harvesting whales and other artifacts at early Inuvialuit villages near the Mackenzie River. The modern-day Inuvialuit still practice the same hunting and fishing techniques as their ancestors. They are considered the world’s best fishermen and big game hunters, and remain closely connected to animal migrations in one of the world’s most extreme environments.
The People of Cahokia
The great Native American city of Cahokia is considered one of the most advanced civilizations ever discovered in the United States. The founders—who were accomplished hunters, farmers, and builders—settled Cahokia close to the modern-day city of St. Louis. Like most Native Americans, they were expert hunters who employed sophisticated techniques such as wearing camouflage, setting traps, and utilizing bird calls to capture prey. They started growing beans, corn, and squash near the shores of the Mississippi River around the eighth century. They constructed elaborate pyramids that are still standing today. These mound builders created approximately 120 large pyramids—surrounded by fortified plazas—which housed temples, mortuaries, workshops, and elaborate works of art. At its height, the city supported 20,000 people. Eventually, the Cahokia ceremonial center was slowly abandoned in the fourteenth century. Most likely, the people of Cahokia exhausted a variety of natural resources and were no longer able to sustain their large population.
The Puebloan culture began to thrive at the Four Corners region of the United States around 1,500 B.C. At Mesa Verde, in southwest Colorado, they built elaborate structures carved from stone as early as the seventh century. There are hundreds of cliff dwellings containing long houses, storage units, and family spaces. The Pueblo farmed squash, beans, and corn using reservoirs and irrigation systems in a fragile environment that was susceptible to soil erosion and low rainfall. The Pueblo people of this region also raised turkeys and hunted rabbits to subsist. The Mesa Verdeans abandoned their homes around the thirteenth century most likely due to drought, then assimilated into other Native American cultures which included the Zuni and Hopi tribes. The Puebloan settlements still exist as a reminder of their advanced culture. Eventually, the Navajo tribe migrated into the Four Corners region around the fifteenth century and remain in the southwest today.
The Aztecs were an advanced civilization who ruled several ethnic groups in central Mexico, between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. These Nahuatl-speaking peoples were well educated and at its pinnacle the civilization was over one million strong. They constructed vast architectural complexes with plazas, pyramids, temples, markets, and irrigation canals. This Mesoamerican culture developed a complex writing system conveyed in artwork, such as calendars, which guided their cyclical rituals and government-controlled agriculture. To further consolidate power, the Aztecs conquered additional tribes and sacrificed prisoners of war to their god Huitzilopochtli.
The Aztecs continued their economic and territorial expansion until the Spaniards arrived, in 1519. The natives’ weapons were no match for the Europeans’ steel arms. Eventually, the Aztec ruler Motecuhzoma surrendered to the Conquistadors after he gifted them a substantial amount of gold treasure to go away. However, the tribute only encouraged the foreign invaders to continue their expedition. The king was imprisoned in the capital city of Tenochtitlán where he died soon after. By 1521, the conquest of the Aztecs and their great cities was nearly complete. Tenochtitlán was then rebuilt as Mexico City under Spanish rule.
As early as 2,000 B.C. the Maya civilization started to form permanent villages. Their complex society relied on agriculture, trade, and science. Through the ages they evolved into a highly sophisticated society, which at its peak spanned from southeastern Mexico to Central America. The Maya were accomplished artists, engineers, and astronomers who created great cities that served as religious and cultural centers throughout the region. Many of the Maya sites aligned with the astronomical constellations. This Mesoamerican culture is best known for its massive pyramids which functioned as observatories, religious edifices, royal tombs, and calendars.
At Chichén Itzá, in the Yucatán Peninsula, the 91 steps on each of the four sides of the pyramid are thought to represent the days of the four seasons. All sides total 364 steps, with the top platform representing the 365th step to complete the giant calendar. The steps are so accurately positioned that the shadow of what appears to be a serpent aligns with a stone sculpture exhibiting a reptile’s face at its base. This shadow snake rises from the ground then slithers back into the Earth during the spring and fall equinoxes. Despite the Maya’s superior abilities to master the Earth and sky, their culture started to collapse by the tenth century. Over the next several centuries they abandoned their cities due to overpopulation, drought, and depletion of natural resources.
The Inca Empire inhabited a large swathe of the South American west coast between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Incas were the largest civilization in that region during this time. They operated a highly organized central government that relocated diverse groups of people in order to unite the empire. The Incas were highly adaptable to the extreme elevations and landscapes of the Andean Mountain range and deserts. They established a vast trading network throughout these regions where they grew potatoes, corn, legumes, and grains on steep inclines.
Machu Picchu was an important agricultural center located on a 7,970-foot mountain ridge in Peru. It is where the Incas expertly engineered elaborate buildings, stone walls, and terraces. The Incas were able to successfully grow crops in the rugged terrain by optimizing their environment to avoid the threats of soil erosion, poor drainage, and landslides. Abandoned in the sixteenth century, after the Incas were defeated by European diseases and superior weaponry, it still stands as a testament to their exceptional civic and agricultural capabilities.
The Norse explorer Leif Erikson sailed to Canada from Greenland five centuries before Columbus arrived in America. His seafaring father, Erik the Red, previously founded an original Norse settlement in Greenland where Leif spent most of his youth. With the same pioneering spirit as his father, Leif embarked on a voyage to discover new lands in the late tenth century. His adventurous curiosity led him to become the first known European to make landfall and erect temporary shelters west of Greenland, on the mainland of North America. The land he discovered in northeastern Canada was referred to as “Vinland” by the Vikings because of the wild grapes they found there.
According to The Vineland Sagas, Thorfinn Karlsefni was inspired by Leif’s tales of new lands. With his permission, Thorfinn repurposed those same shelters Leif had established years earlier to build the first European settlement in America. Thorfinn constructed the small encampment made of timber and sod, which anthropologists strongly suggest might be the Norse settlement identified as L’Anse aux Meadows, at the tip of Newfoundland. The Viking settlers huddled into their completed longhouse for the winter, then had a violent encounter with indigenous people by spring. The Norse referred to them as Skrælingjar, who were most likely native Algonquian-speaking people. After skirmishes with them over trade negotiations gone wrong, the Viking settlers were attacked and driven out. Isolated and without reinforcements, the Norse abandoned their North American settlement then returned to Greenland. Thorfinn eventually moved back to his homeland of Iceland.
Christopher Columbus made four voyages to the New World from Spain, between 1492 and 1502. While he explored the Caribbean Islands extensively—and portions of Central and South America—he never ventured further afield to the U.S. mainland. Initially, Columbus believed he had found Asia, hence why he called the indigenous people he discovered “Indians.” Columbus’ second trip to the New World was more dangerous. Some of his men were killed and by his third voyage they had mutinied against him. This led to a formal inquiry by the monarchy that sent him back to Spain in chains. Columbus was freed eventually to make his fourth and final trip back to the New World. He died after his return to Europe, in 1506.
Long before Columbus sailed to America, the Arawaks were well established throughout South America and the Caribbean. This culture was among the first the mariner encountered after he landed in the Bahamas on October 12. Columbus’ ambitious pursuit of gold, spices, and other natural resources emboldened him to take advantage of the Arawak people, who he noted were gentle and bright, but ignorant in nature. He forcefully enslaved 500, but only 300 survived the trip to Spain.
On subsequent voyages back to the New World, Columbus and his men plundered their way through previously unexplored islands. When some of the Arawak tried to defend themselves, the Spaniards overwhelmed them, burning some and hanging others. Those who remained took their own lives rather than be enslaved. As more Europeans immigrated over the next several centuries, this same model of conquest played out time and again. The indigenous people who were not enslaved by the Europeans, or ravaged by their diseases, were permanently displaced throughout most of the Americas.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a celebration of their rich culture and legacy. Agricultural, hunting, warfare, and survival techniques have been passed on for generations. Today’s citizens are the beneficiaries of their diverse cultural heritage, including the cultivation of these exotic New World crops which all originated from America: corn, sunflowers, avocados, blueberries, cranberries, papayas, peppers, pineapples, tomatoes, pumpkins, beans, chestnuts, black walnuts, cashews, pecans, peanuts, potatoes, cotton, maple syrup, tobacco, chocolate, and vanilla.
Climate change is perhaps the worldwide challenge of our time. As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22, global temperatures and sea-levels are rising in unprecedented ways, and we are losing more and more animal and plant species to extinction. Human life as we know it is at stake. How can we face the facts of global warming? We know that radical change is necessary, but it is all too easy to feel hopeless. How do we open our eyes to our rapidly evolving world and empower ourselves at the same time?
Our study guides below offer not only the history and facts of climate change, but also provide models for how we narrate this crisis. The problem is dire and the politics frustrating, but we still have time to act. As so many of the books below remind us, don’t give up—not yet.
The Uninhabitable Earth, Life After Warming
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, by David Wallace-Wells, explores the horrors of climate change on an unprecedented scale. He reveals how global warming has already started to affect us and why it is much worse than most of us are probably aware. Wallace-Wells explains how the intricate ecological and geopolitical systems behind these disasters are only beginning to unravel throughout the world. Many scientists believe there is still time to save the planet even though most of humanity has done little to tackle the problem of climate change over the last two centuries. Even if we could gain world-wide consensus and action to cut carbon emissions, we would still experience the negative consequences of global warming for centuries to come. However, if this generation continues to do nothing in the interest of reaping short-term profits, then the consequences will be catastrophic—making the earth uninhabitable in the near future.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
In the book Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, author Jared Diamond examines the environmental factors that influence the rise and decline of civilizations throughout history. Societies often fail when natural resources are depleted and there is no political will to recognize the problem adequately and mitigate impending disaster. Diamond uses case studies from ancient to modern-day civilizations around the world—including the United States—revealing how each society failed to implement conservation solutions that contributed to their demise. History shows us repeatedly that damage to our fragile ecosystem has long-term consequences to the survival of the human race and our planet.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert, documents the author’s journey around the world to gather evidence of mass extinction on earth. Consulting with scientists and naturalists about loss prevention, she explores the theories behind the natural extinction process versus swift, mass extinction events. As Kolbert investigates the historical data further, she begins to understand the causes of the current mass extinction underway. It’s due to man-made global warming. As mankind advances rapidly, it is inevitable that species in the natural world will be disturbed—such as the death of coral reefs and other marine life. Since we are closely connected to nature, these abrupt changes have powerful impacts on humans—putting us at serious risk for survival.
Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water
Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, by Marc Reisner, exposes the creation of a subsidized and expensive “hydraulic society” in the Southwestern United States. This harmful dependence on irrigation canals and dams was built on and maintained by greed in pursuit of the American Dream. These ambitious infrastructure goals have disrupted the fragile ecosystems of the desert and damaged the environment. Driven by corruption and profits, corporations and government powers have mismanaged our national resources in their attempts to get rich from taming the American West.
This Changes Everything
This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein, tackles the complexities of the climate change debate from different perspectives. Conservative think tanks and lobbyists employ experts to craft misinformation campaigns about fossil fuels to influence legislation. These efforts favor Big Oil players and other polluters who are contributing to the majority of greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, approximately 97% of climate scientists continue to present overwhelming evidence that man-made carbon emissions are threatening all life on Earth. As governments remain deadlocked and hinder solutions to the highly politicized issue of global warming, catastrophes escalate around the world along with the soaring profits of major polluters. Most environmentalists believe the answer begins with replacing capitalism—which focuses on making profits at the expense of our environment—with the development of an alternate economy to effectively combat climate change.
The Control of Nature
The Control of Nature, by John McPhee, examines the price humans pay manipulating their environment instead of respecting the unpredictable forces of nature. The author investigates how societies have created their own disorder and suffered the tragic consequences as a result. Geopolitics and corruption influence destructive policies that disrupt the natural order of things. The author visits the people that chose to live near beautiful, but fragile habitats that are susceptible to earthquakes, floods, lava flows, draughts and other natural disasters in places like Los Angeles, Southern Louisiana, Iceland, and Hawaii. Working with nature to successfully protect society is key, instead of trying to subdue it at all costs.
The Ecology of Commerce
The Ecology of Commerce, by Paul Hawken, examines the ways industrialization has negatively impacted the environment. Our economic system and the processes of industrialization do not support nature, where most waste is not recycled the way it is in natural world. Hawken argues that society must transition to a restorative economy in order save the planet from destruction. However, the author acknowledges this will be a challenge to accomplish since corporations are driven solely by profits. The costs of not transitioning will be far greater than the dividends and lead to the destruction of the earth, eventually, if we don’t convert to an ecologic economic system which yields no waste.
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William A. McDonough, explores alternative and environmentally friendly building and manufacturing practices. The author focuses on utilizing environments that dictate designs in order to take advantage of the surrounding landscape’s natural ability to heat and cool. Designers and manufacturers are encouraged to consider various ways of planning buildings and industrial complexes using nontoxic and biodegradable materials. Challenging designers to employ uncomplicated, healthy design options using recycled materials is the optimal was to build durable and eco-friendly structures.
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, by Paul Hawken, evaluates the cost of industry on the natural world. The author argues that the United States has a responsibility to lead the world into the next alternative industrial revolution in order to restore our environment. Communities and cities should be organized around pedestrian accessibility rather than reliance on cars. Businesses must form a new model for industry by avoiding waste and recycling everything they take from nature. The simplicity of systems that are efficient use less energy and are more cost effective in the long run. Since humans cannot manufacture anything better than what nature has already provided, we must find better ways to protect the environment from industrial waste and destruction.
Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming
Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming, by McKenzie Funk, focuses on the economic perspective of climate change issues around the world. As global warming increases ice melt, floods, and draughts at a rapid rate, companies are starting to pay attention to how to profit from loss. Greenland is gaining access to vast stores of minerals as glaciers disappear into the sea. Canada is looking to capitalize from ice breaks that are clearing the way for new commercial shipping routes in the Northwest Passage . The Netherlands is stepping up investment in water infrastructure to help with sanitation issues that threaten to overwhelm Bangladesh. As the Southwestern United States struggles with lack of water, it is becoming a hot commodity bought and sold on the open market. These case studies show the continued drive to place profit ahead of the protection of the environment.
For many Americans, Presidents’ Day does not elicit serious reflection about our nation’s turbulent history, but it’s a time for recognition nonetheless. Dating back to the early 19th century, Presidents’ Day began as a way for citizens to commemorate George Washington’s birthday on February 22. Eventually, the day evolved into a federal holiday observed on the third Monday of February, which also honors other U.S. Presidents—including Abraham Lincoln who was born in the same month.
These Presidents are acclaimed not only for their superior leadership, but also for their renown in strategically bringing together people of polarized ideologies. Here are the most important Presidential figures who challenged our country to rise above distrust and hostility, in order to forge a more peaceful union.
President George Washington
George Washington was an aristocratic planter born in Virginia, in 1732. He was elected Commander in Chief of the Continental Army at the start of the Revolutionary War, in 1775, and then elected the first President of the United States after the war ended. He risked his life of privilege to become a traitor of the British Crown, resisting taxation without representation and other unfair acts imposed on the British Colonies. Although many colonists sided with the Crown, Washington demanded discipline from his soldiers and respect for all civilians—loyalists and patriots alike—who were on opposite sides of the deep political divide during the war. Once the war concluded, the commander quelled a military coup, called the Newburgh Conspiracy. He met with his subordinates directly and subsequently lobbied a newly formed Congress successfully to distribute pensions his soldiers were due, in 1783.
Washington regularly sought advice from people with the best minds of the day. In 1787, at the Constitutional Convention, he conferred with delegates and Alexander Hamilton about supporting a more stable and centralized form of government, to avoid anarchy in the newly formed and fragile union. The former commander was elected President in 1789 after the Constitution was ratified. He focused on continuing to unite a war-torn nation, employing his astute diplomatic skills to bring influencers together, often with opposing political views, including Thomas Jefferson. He also dined on food and beer with convicts locked up in debtor’s prison. Perhaps one of Washington’s most enduring and unifying acts was the establishment of Thanksgiving Day on November 26, in 1789.
President Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was born into a humble beginning in rural Kentucky, in 1809. He was primarily self-educated before becoming a lawyer, then a representative in the U.S. Congress. Lincoln was adamantly against the expansion of slavery into other U.S. states, which prompted him to enter the Presidential race. He won the election in 1860, becoming the 16th President. When Southern States then seceded from the Union to form the Confederacy, the Northern States refused to recognize the succession. The Confederacy’s firing on Fort Sumner ignited the American Civil War in 1861, which lasted four brutal years and claimed a minimum of 620,000 of lives. During this time, Lincoln was forced to contend with radical factions on both sides, each of whom threatened to tear the Union apart forever.
As a newly elected President, Lincoln was thus tasked with bringing together a young republic radically divided by geography and ideology. He ultimately succeeded by using a combination of political strategy and public relations. Lincoln was able to leverage the wealth and resources of the North to cripple Southern trade with blockades and keep foreign interference at bay. He freed slaves in states in active rebellion, with the Emancipation Proclamation, and delivered the powerful Gettysburg Address, in 1863—promoting freedom and equal rights for all. This powerful speech further strengthened the resolve of the North. Finally, the passage of Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery for good. Ultimately, Lincoln was reelected and, as the war was ending, assassinated in 1865. Despite this tragic end to a distinguished life, President Lincoln’s enduring legacy of uniting a nation under constitutional crisis lives on.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt was born to a wealthy New York family, in 1882. He became the 32nd president of the United States, in 1933, during the Great Depression. His optimism, strong will, and extraordinary leadership during World War II, allowed him to rebuild an impoverished nation.
Almost immediately after he was elected President, Roosevelt implemented numerous federal relief measures, helping millions of poor citizens during the worst depression in U.S. history. The “New Deal” included banking reform and agricultural, mortgage, and job assistance programs. The most popular acts were Civilian Conservation Corps, which hired thousands of unemployed workers, and The Public Works Administration, which constructed massive public works projects across the nation.
When World War II arrived, President Roosevelt tried his best to keep America out of the war. However, when Japan attacked a U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, in 1941, he delivered the famous and inspiring “Day of Infamy” speech. Immediately, Congress declared war on Japan and Americans volunteered enmasse to join allied forces in eventually defeating Nazi Germany, Japan, and Italy in 1945. His unification and leadership skills were so popular, he was reelected for an unprecedented third term as President, in 1940.
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson was born in Texas in 1908. He was a school teacher, senator, and Vice President before becoming the 36th President of the United States after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, in 1963.
Johnson’s vision for a “Great Society” included the expansion of public broadcasting, the arts, and healthcare, including Medicare and Medicaid programs. His “War on Poverty” included releasing federal funds to aid the poor in housing, jobs, and public education—creating food stamps, Head Start and Work Study programs.
America was severely fractured, riotous and racially divided in the early 1960s. Although highly criticized for escalating U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, Johnson was able to bring the country together by signing into law the Civil Rights Act. He succeeded where his predecessor, President Kennedy, had started but failed. As a former representative and senator, he understood how to expertly navigate Congress and was a master statesman. He managed tactically to gain consensus from key Southern senators who were blocking the civil rights legislation with a filibuster for over a month. Johnson rallied enough powerful legislators to his cause through compromise and capitalizing on his familiarity with the political motivations and delay tactics of key players, having deployed similar strategies while serving as senate majority leader previously. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is arguably one of the most important acts ever passed—making it illegal for public facilities to discriminate based on color, race, national origin or religion. It also guaranteed equal employment rights for women.
The wonder of Christmas is upon us again. Every year we participate in time-honored traditions—Yule logs, eggnog, Santa hats, and ugly sweaters—mostly unaware of the holiday’s origins. If you’ve ever asked why, come December, we risk our sanity propping up and decorating fir trees in our living rooms, wonder no longer. Keep reading to discover the answer to these mysteries and more.
Why do we celebrate Christmas in December?
The holiday honors the birth of Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. Although early Christians did not agree on the exact date of his birth, by the 4th century December 25 became the official holiday. This day aligned with pre-Christian pagan festivals that would continue to be celebrated throughout Europe during the Medieval winter solstice.
When did we start bringing trees into our homes?
Staging trees to celebrate winter festivals is a long-held tradition dating back to the Romans. Decorating evergreens for Christmas extended from Medieval Northern Europe to the Victorian era, when a German emperor brought the custom to England. The Christmas tree was soon after adopted by Americans. Starting in the Renaissance, celebrants decorated conifers with candles, glass figures, garlands, ribbons, snow-like cotton candy, pastries, and fruits. By the mid-20th century, decorators added flocking to simulate snow, sugar ornaments and a wide variety of modern accoutrements we still use today.
Why so many balls?
Some of the first adornments on Christmas trees were apples, believed to be the forbidden fruit that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. However, these edibles did not have a long shelf life. Eventually the red and green objects morphed into shiny round spheres of the same colors hanging from our cherished trees.
Why the holiday lights up our lives?
Until the 20th century, wealthy Europeans used candles to shine light on the tree ornaments. They usually glued the melted wax or attached lanterns to the branches, until light bulbs were invented. By the early 20th century, American businesses started displaying Christmas lights to illuminate their store windows. Most people could not afford the luxury of expensive lights until the 1950s, when they became the norm.
Why do we buy Christmas presents?
You can thank the Magi for the season of giving. Although some lament that the true spirit of Christmas has been lost in crass commercialization, gift-giving is an ancient tradition with strong religious roots. Its origins can be traced to three foreign kings who, having traveled far from home, bequeathed treasures to the infant child Jesus. Each of the wise men gave expensive presents fit for a king—including gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts likely helped finance Jesus and his parents’ subsequent migration to Egypt, an attempt to escape violence in their homeland.
This traditional spice-giving ritual continues today as well. The festive drink called Glühwein (pronounced “glue-vine”), literally “glow wine,” is consumed customarily at Christmas parties and markets throughout Northern Europe. The mulled wine is served warm with cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange, and rum. Likewise, Americans traditionally spike their eggnog drinks not only with rum, but also with similar aromatic spices including nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla.
What is a Yule log and why is it necessary?
The Yule log is a handsome piece of wood that is placed in a hearth and burned during Christmas celebrations. Originating in Northern Europe during the Middle Ages, the burning brightness of logs in the gloom of mid-winter symbolizes good, while the ashes left over represent the triumph over evil. While the forces of darkness are typically not considered when these logs are burned today, this holiday tradition continues to warm reclining pets and merrymakers throughout the season.
Does Santa Claus really exist?
Warning: spoiler alert. The answer to this question depends on your age and willingness to believe in the magic of Christmas. While many American children under eight believe Santa Claus delivers toys via a reindeer-guided sleigh and climbs down countless chimneys every year, others remain skeptical. The origins of Santa Claus can be traced to a monk named St. Nicholas, who was born in a Greek town during the late 3rd century, in present-day Turkey. He currently lives at the North Pole.
Politicians often remark of civil participation, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” This admonition sums up the importance of voting in the United States of America; it is the foundation of our democracy. And yet, this constitutional right was not always available to all people. Historically, Native Americans, African Americans, and women have been excluded from the process and in some places, voting is still suppressed.
Over the last century, many have fought long and hard for voting rights. Still, many citizens today choose not to exercise this prerogative, despite overwhelming evidence that voting has a profound impact on legislative policies that affect the distribution of wealth and our quality of life. The following fictional and historical books delve into the struggles, controversies, and stakes involved in casting a ballot in America.
It’s high drama at a New Jersey high school where the political process during a student election goes awry. Election, by Tom Perrotta, is a fictional story that explores important themes such as Social Darwinism, justice, and hypocrisy that are often the focus of modern political elections. The idea of Social Darwinism is appropriately applied to the cutthroat world of politics where the novel’s main characters—teachers and students alike—manipulate and take what they think they are entitled to at the expense of others. Justice eventually catches up to a teacher whose actions and schemes undermine and betray his role as an educator. His co-conspirator and student nemesis must face the consequences of their actions as well in this risky quest for power.
America: A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction
Comedian, Jon Stewart, takes a satirical look at the failure of American culture and its political institutions in the book, America: A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction. Stewart explores the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and how each have become corrupt in various ways. Stewart starts by arguing that the executive branch, which was intended to have limited power, has overreached its authority. He then mocks the legislative branch for how it is influenced by special interest groups, which ultimately alters the substance of bills before they become law. Finally, judges are charged with being partial to ideologies inconsistent with the values of the American majority. Since these three branches of government fail to function as they were intended, they have failed to promote the common good.
In Dark Money, Jane Mayer explains how corporatization of politics, oligarchy, and fear are the tools special interest groups use to garner votes. While it’s a commonly held belief among the electorate that most politicians are corrupt to some degree, the financing of elections by the super-rich is not as commonly understood. Mayer uncovers how the nation’s richest oligarchs used their wealth to bankroll think tanks, philanthropies, educational institutions, and newly formed political movements to shift society’s political ideology from the ground up. In a representative democracy, elected officials are supposed to champion the interests of their constituencies. Instead, Mayer reveals how politicians, enabled by wealthy contributors, now disproportionately represent the profit margins of big business, at the expense of the middle class and poor in America.
Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72
Renegade journalist Hunter S. Thompson gives a self-deprecating and subjective account of his coverage of a presidential campaign in Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72. His observations of the media are revealing as are his scathing accounts of politicians’ tricks of the trade used to court the toughest votes. Always in a tense and symbiotic relationship, politicians tend to view journalists as pigs hungry for any truth or falsity they can print, while journalists likewise view politicians mostly as liars and thieves. Thompson brutally deconstructs the voting populace, including the youth vote which is historically underrepresented. Ultimately, Thompson’s rock-n-roll style of journalism coalesces with American politics to reveal emerging cultural trends.
A Testament of Hope
Martin Luther King, Jr., fought tirelessly and nonviolently for Civil Rights in the 1950s and 1960s to gain equality for African Americans. These rights included equal access to housing, education and employment opportunities; freedom from discrimination; and the right to vote. In A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., King shows how only a small percentage of African Americans at the time were allowed to register. Many Southern leaders feared that if African Americans exercised this constitutional right, they would become a powerful tool for change. Brutality, abuse of laws, complex voting registration, and literacy tests prevented many African Americans from voting. King proposed change through automatic voter registration requiring only basic details from the applicant; abolition of any literacy tests; the application of registration laws to all levels of government; registrars appointed by the president; and versatile laws affecting the South and North. Eventually, these struggles lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, or religion; required equal access to employment and public places; and enforced the right to vote and desegregation of schools.
You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton?
Women were not allowed to vote in the U.S. until 1920. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, mild-mannered American suffragist who pioneered the women’s rights movement, was one of many who stood up to this injustice. She endured harassment and threats on her life while setting the tone for public debate on civil liberties for women beginning in the 19th century. This unassuming activist compared women’s lives and their lack of empowerment to those of slaves. She gave many speeches on the controversial movement and wrote others that were recited by Susan B. Anthony, who was put on trial for illegal voting. Only after decades of courage and activism was the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ratified.
The Constitution of the United States
The Constitution of the United States, written and signed in 1787, is a beautifully crafted document describing the fundamental characteristics of American governance. In the Preamble, the founding fathers justify the need for a representative democracy:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Now in 2018, we are the “Posterity” referred to by these men and as such have a duty to uphold our inherited rights. These include the 15th amendment, which gave citizens of all races the right to vote, in 1870; the 19th amendment, which established the right to vote regardless of gender, in 1920; the 24th amendment which prohibited states from denying the right to vote due to delinquent taxes, in 1964; and finally, the 26th amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 years old, in 1971.
The right to vote is a privilege we enjoy today because many Americans have fought to protect it. Preserve it by clicking here to register to vote!
Ever wonder where horror writers find inspiration for their most frightening novels? Well, search no more. We’ll guide you on a journey to the creepiest ends of the Earth and show you the scariest story settings and places only the living fear.
Fengdu Ghost City
Fengdu Ghost City, referenced in the apocalyptic zombie novel World War Z, by Max Brooks, is where the King of Hell and its gates reside. In the novel, the Three Gorges Dam on China’s Yangtze River was taken over by zombies resulting in the dam bursting and killing thousands of souls downriver. This curse was unleashed to punish the living for building this massive structure and flooding the sacred city of the dead upriver years earlier.
In reality, by 2002, portions of the ancient site and scary story setting were preserved and relocated to higher ground to avoid being completely deluged upon completion of the dam. The Gate of Hell still awaits anyone brave enough to visit the vast complex of temples, shrines, and hideous statues torturing the dead. If you want to explore the underwater portion of ancient Fengdu, dive into the underworld of the abyss at your own risk. The dead await you in their watery graves.
Oak Hill Cemetery
Lincoln in Bardo, by George Saunders, is based on a true story of the death of William Wallace “Willie,” the son of President Abraham Lincoln, in 1862. The President makes several visits to the mausoleum locked behind an iron gate at Oak Hill Cemetery, in Washington, D.C., to grieve the loss of his son, who died when he was only 11 years old. Spirits surround them both as Willie descends deeper into a state of limbo, delaying his transition into the afterlife.
Over the centuries, the cemetery has been host to many other famous residents and departed spirits who reportedly do not rest in peace. Several white horses have been observed near John Van Ness’ tomb. Other headless apparitions haunt the garden cemetery regularly, making this one of the scariest story settings.
The Scandinavian town of Oslo, Norway, is the mysterious setting for the fictional novel, The Snowman, by Jo Nesbø. The horrific story follows detective Harry Hole’s race to catch a serial killer who stalked and murdered women who had extramarital affairs that resulted in children being born with hereditary illnesses. Not far from the penthouse of character, Arve Støp, owner of the magazine Liberal, is the infamous Akershus Fortress.
This medieval castle is one of Europe’s most terrifying former prisons. Many locals believe it is haunted. This infamous landmark suffered several fierce sieges since the Middle Ages, including Nazi occupation during World War II, when several captives and traitors were executed. The most famous residents today are the apparitions of a woman and demon dog who wander the castle grounds.
Catacombs of Paris
The Catacombs of Paris are home to a diabolical coven of vampires in the novel, An Interview with the Vampire, by Anne Rice. Louis’ adopted daughter Claudia meets her unnatural end here at the hands of the coven. The distraught father later gets his revenge by burning the unholy beings while they rest deep within the catacombs.
The catacombs beneath the city of Paris are actually the final resting place for the skeletal remains of over six million people. You can see the departed stacked on top of each other in a ghastly display of mortality within this labyrinth of horrors. The underground network of tunnels was used to ease the problem of the city’s overflowing cemeteries in the 18th century. Tourists and the dead alike are always welcome.
The Witch House
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, is a dramatic play based on the true story of the infamous Salem Witch Trails that took place in the early 17th century. The story follows John Proctor’s pursuit for justice as he and others stand falsely accused of the crime of witchcraft.
The Witch House in Salem, Massachusetts, is the last site still standing in this small New England village that was associated with the trials. By the time the mass hysteria subsided in this cruel chapter of colonial American history, 20 men, women, and children were tried and executed. The home belonged to Judge Jonathan Corwin. This witch investigator was part of the panel that condemned the majority of the accused to their cruel deaths—mostly by hanging. Now the museum hosts visitors worldwide, including the ghostly voices of children who still can be heard within its haunted walls.
Holmes began his murdering spree before the fair opened. He would seduce women before he killed them and their children. It was suspected that he took the innocent lives of approximately 200 men, women, and children by the close of the exposition. However, the courts could only prove nine killings.
Although this scary story setting no longer exists, there were numerous reports of supernatural activity before the building was torn down in 1938. The castle’s former caretaker reported that the house was haunted before taking his own life after months of suffering from hallucinations.
Lake Shawnee Amusement Park
In the tale Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury, strange happenings occur when the carnival comes to town. The fictional story follows two thirteen-year-old boys named Jim and Will, who discover the evil that lurks at Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. A variety of bizarre transformations occur, many of them connected with the carousel ride. It seems to have the power to turn adults into children and children into adults.
People of all ages are strangely drawn to weird amusement parks, unaware of the dark consequences that lurk in every dimly lit tent or poorly maintained ride. The age-old troupes of creepy clowns, fortune tellers, and strange potions are all suspect, but the real dangers are much worse. Horrific deaths by electrocution, fires, and derailed roller coasters are the most hazardous. So are the spirits of several accident victims believed to still haunt the Lake Shawnee Amusement Park in West Virginia. Even though it’s been closed since the late 1960s, the rusted rides still remain. They serve as a ghostly reminder of the perils that await carnival goers anywhere one comes to town.
Old Dutch Burying Ground
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving, follows the story of a school teacher pursuing his love interest in a small secluded town in New York that was settled by the Dutch. His plans are thwarted by a Headless Horseman who is believed to be a soldier beheaded by a canon during the Revolutionary War. The ghost runs nightly in search of his head, always returning to the buried body in the cemetery by daybreak.
The cemetery referenced in the book is the Old Dutch Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow, New York. It’s where some of the oldest graves of European settlers can be found in the United States. Some of the famous bodies buried there include Carnegie, Rockefeller, Chrysler, and the author, Irving.
Visitors often report whispers from the mausoleums and the woods beyond this scariest story setting. Some speculate it’s the apparition of a decapitated soldier who was found and later buried in the cemetery during the Revolutionary War. Irving’s Headless Horseman was based on this unlucky casualty of war. Go for a midnight stroll through the graveyard if you dare.
The Stanley Hotel
A boy’s perception and a possessed hotel interact with deadly results in the novel The Shining, by Stephen King. Five-year-old Danny Torrence and his parents, Jack and Wendy, are spending the winter at a resort high in the Colorado mountains. As Jack becomes more and more obsessed with the hotel, he becomes its possession. He even tries to follow through with its demand to kill his wife and son. It is the hotel’s one weak spot, its aging boiler, that allows Danny and his mother, along with his friend Hallorann, to get out of the hotel without becoming its victims.
According to King, he was inspired to write the disturbing novel after he and his wife spent the night at The Stanley Hotel, in September 1974. They were the only guests because the staff was in the process of closing down the seasonal vacation spot for the winter. That night he had a disturbing dream about his young son running and screaming down the halls of the hotel. After he woke up shaking he decided to write the book about a possessed writer.
Tourists are encouraged to visit the historic hotel that opened in 1909 and still hosts a Shining Ball on Halloween. Guests often request Room 217 referenced in the novel. An early check out time is expected.
Whether it’s tiny houses, miniature books, bite-size burgers, small airplane seats, or mini cars, we are obsessed with all things teeny. Sometimes the world feels like it’s getting bigger, while everything seems to be shrinking around us. At one time or another we have all been expected to make a huge impact with very little, in which case courage, resourcefulness, and quality-over-quantity must prevail. The following books feature small objects of greatness where tiny has never been so big.
The protagonist in The Miniaturist, Nella, navigates her way through betrayal and self-discovery in seventeenth-century Amsterdam. Mystery surrounds the newly married woman as she hires an unknown miniaturist to craft tiny objects for her wedding gift: a lavishly ornamented cabinet that contains an exact replica of her house. The items Nella receives from the anonymous miniaturist represent various conflicts throughout the novel. The dolls reflect the puppetry of manipulation and control that dominates her in-laws’ relationships. A piece of marzipan symbolizes both the sweetness and innocence of the childhood she left behind. The small cradle conveys her sexless marriage to her gay husband and a prediction that there will be a child in her house. A miniature wedding chalice commemorates the married life she aspired to and a symbol of hope that she and her husband may still live out the ideal life of a bride and groom.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
In this classic children’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice follows a rabbit hole into a strange world where she shrinks herself with a potion then encounters tiny objects that alter her existence. Her journey into a miniature realm begins with a tiny door located behind a curtain in a long hallway. It can only be opened with a tiny golden key. It is an entrance way to the garden. A bottle marked “Drink Me” appears on the little glass table as Alice is trying to get through the tiny door. She drinks its contents, which make her shrink to a height of 10 inches. Once through the door, eventually, she finds another little bottle in the White Rabbit’s house. It has no label at all; however, when Alice drinks it, she immediately grows almost too large to fit in the house. When she fills up the Rabbit’s house and prevents him from entering, he and his neighbors throw pebbles at her. The pebbles turn into little cakes as they hit the floor. Alice eats one and shrinks to a height of 3 inches. Her adventure continues as she explores various spatial relationships and fantastical characters that ultimately teach her important life lessons about the value of knowledge and the burden of suppression.
Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit, a small creature half the size of a man who has the courage of a giant. He is invited on an adventure by Gandalf, a wizard, but is not interested in leaving the familiarity of his home. Bilbo has no desire to travel or increase his world view in the face of incomprehensible danger. Gandalf finally convinces the Hobbit to embark on the adventure in search of stolen treasure that will change him into a hero by the end of the journey. Early in the tale, Bilbo finds a magic ring that makes him invisible. This ability helps him become brave. He frees dwarves from spiders and wood-elves and faces a dragon with great courage. In the end, although Bilbo is profoundly altered by his journey, he is happy to live a simple life when he returns home again. The Hobbit is content with the knowledge and honor he has earned from making personal sacrifices and taking risks to help others despite his small size.
Lemuel Gulliver, in Gulliver’s Travels, is a doctor and seafaring explorer who finds himself stranded on the island of Lilliput after a violent storm. He wakes up surrounded by thousands of miniature people, called Lilliputians, who have tied him to the ground. His presence as a giant in this land offers a new perspective on humanity to Gulliver, as he befriends these tiny humans. They slowly come to trust Gulliver and he is integrated into their culture helping them in an important military victory with neighboring Blefuscu. Gulliver is commended and named an honorable man at Lilliput. However, after several years there, he must flee the island when the government intends to arrest him for treason. Brobdingnag the second land to which Gulliver travels is the complete opposite of Lilliput—it is a land of giants. Now, he is the size of Lilliputians when compared to these inhabitants. Gulliver sees much of the grotesque aspects of humanity through his new microscopic view and is repulsed by many of their cultural habits. He eventually flees back to England for fear of his life and his desire to be with people his own size once again.
The Poetics of Space
The author of The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard, is a French philosopher who explores the subjectivity of the soul expressed in poetic imagery. Poetry uses images to provoke a response in the reader that seems to come from a forgotten likeness. The author observes that imagination is a major power of human nature. The certainty that poetic imagery is not subject to rules of logic does not diminish its reality. Poets are able to communicate images and stimulate values through the use of fantasy in miniature. Size in a fairytale is not absolute and the perspective of distance can make a dreamer feel larger or more able than he is. Often people choose to ignore the miniature worlds and objects in tales and miss their value. By allowing yourself to absorb the absurdity of small things we are transported back to the perspective of our childhood imagination.
In the Small
The book In the Small describes how mankind has created many dangers for itself including terrorism, nuclear weapons, economic collapse, and global warming. However, none will take a final toll on the world like its biggest threat: an eerie blue light that encompasses the globe known as “the Gaia Effect.” The Earth has become so enraged with the damage that man has caused, nature has no choice but to strike back with this phenomenon. Now, in a cruel twist, the blue light that she is emanating is targeting mankind and shrinking them to a smaller size so they are no longer a threat. People are now forced to adapt to their new size by wearing dolls clothes and creating weapons to defend themselves against creatures like cats and dogs that now threaten their existence. The survivors raid miniature museum displays and convert a normal-sized skateboard into a supply transport. Their new reality of being smaller than rats poses many more challenges and demonstrates the strength of the human spirit and its infinite drive to survive and adapt.
Since the beginning of our young republic, the United States of America has been recognized as a nation of immigrants. America is a rich melting pot of people from every country around the world, where the freedom to become a citizen and pursue happiness, regardless of race or ethnicity, has served as the bedrock of our ideals. The following books share the struggles of immigrants who risked everything to be part of this unique democracy.
Enrique’s Journey, by Sonia Nazario, is the harrowing true story about a son’s desperate attempt to reunite with his mother after their separation. When the 17-year- mother leaves Enrique and his siblings in Honduras to find work in the United States, it is so she can feed her family. Enrique decides to search for her on his own despite great danger, traveling across Mexico with little food, and hopping trains even as he encounters violent banditos and corrupt officials. He finally enters the United States, but is deported several times before he is able to reside there permanently. This tale of courage, determination, and love depicts the challenges faced by immigrant children after being separated from their parents.
The Devil’s Highway
The Devil’s Highway, by Urrea Luis Alberto, is a non-fiction book that recounts the dangerous trek of 26 Mexican migrants crossing the United States border. The true story describes in tragic detail the challenges they face traveling through a desolate stretch of desert called the “Devil’s Highway” in order to avoid border patrol and tougher immigration enforcement. After getting lost, 14 of the travelers die from heat stroke or hypothermia due to the extreme weather conditions. This loss of life has a profound impact on not only the group of remaining migrants, but the Border Patrol that discovers them.
The Sun is Also a Star
The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon, is a young adult novel about love, fate and immigration. The protagonist is Natasha, a Jamaican-American teen, who meets and falls in love with Daniel, a Korean-American, in New York, on the same day she and her family are facing deportation. Natasha resists being forced to leave the United States while Daniel is on his way to a college admissions interview at Yale. A romance develops between the two teenagers as their lives are about to drastically change. They focus on God’s plan for their own lives, even as they inevitably intersect with the lives of others.
Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan, is an inspiring story about an affluent Mexican girl’s migration to the United States in the 1920s. Esperanza has an idyllic life living on a large and successful vineyard in Mexico until her father’s sudden death at the hands of bandits. Due to Mexican laws unfavorable to rich landowners, Esperanza and her mother are stripped of their property and forced to flee to America. Esperanza must come to terms with poverty and learn the importance of familial ties, as she faces the difficulty of earning a living in a migrant camp.
Dreams of Joy
Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See, takes place in the 1950’s and is told from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old, Joy, and her adoptive mother, Pearl. After Joy’s adoptive father hangs himself, she naïvely steals her college fund and runs away to China, hoping to find her birth parents and the true meaning of life. The communist government has sent her birth father, an artist, to live with peasants in the countryside. Joy travels with her father, Z.G., to their new home where they will work collectively among the peasants. Although Joy misses the conveniences of America, she enjoys her new home, eventually falling in love with a promising young artist named Tao. After suffering terrible setbacks, as well as becoming a mother, Joy discovers her true sense of identity.
Of Beetles and Angels
Of Beetles and Angels, by Mawi Asgedom, is the true story about Selamawi Haileab Asgedom, or Mawis, as he journeys from a refugee camp in Sudan to America, where he is eventually accepted to Harvard. As a young boy, Mawi is taken on a dangerous trek through the desert to reach a refugee camp in Sudan. Eventually, his family arrives in Chicago with the help of the World Relief Christian organization outreach. With the church sponsorship, Mawi’s family settles in a suburb where he overcomes the challenges of cultural differences, language barriers, and poverty. Through hard work and his father’s influence, he becomes a Harvard graduate.
What Is the What
What Is the What, by David Eggers, is based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng who travels from Southern Sudan to United States. The author tells the story of Deng, mixing fictional and non-fictional elements. The protagonist faces many dangers during his journey through Africa, including disease, wild animals, and corrupt soldiers. While suffering from hunger and illness, Deng and many other refugees walk through his war-torn country to reach refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. After eventually arriving in America, he is robbed and forced to contend with more challenges and hardships as an impoverished immigrant.
Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín, is a historical romance novel set in New York City. The fictional story follows a young Irish immigrant, Eilis Lacey, from her hometown of Enniscorthy, Ireland, to America after World War II. After arriving alone and settling in Brooklyn, Eilis dreams of finding steady work that was unavailable to her back in Ireland. Eventually, she finds a job at a department store during the day and begins taking evening classes to study bookkeeping in the evening. When she discovers a new love interest, a family tragedy strikes and she is forced to revaluate the new life she has created for herself in America. She must choose between independent self-discovery and the familiar life she left behind.
The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri, is a novel that follows the life of Gogol Ganguli as he struggles to discover his place in the world as a second-generation immigrant in the United States. In his youth, he finds it difficult to deal with the unusual name and traditions his parents have passed on to him. However, as Ganguli grows older, he begins to appreciate what his parents sacrificed to move to America from India and the difficulties they faced in their adopted country. He eventually strikes a peaceful balance despite being caught between two conflicting cultures with very different social, religious, and ideological differences.
America Is in the Heart
America Is in the Heart, by Carlos Bulosan, is an autobiography about the Filipino-American poet and activist. It follows the author’s life as a poor young man growing up with his father on a farm in the Philippines, while his mother and siblings must live separately in another city to survive. His story continues with his migration to America in the 1930s, where he hopes to find a better life. Instead, the author discovers a land torn apart by racism and its exploitation of workers. Bulosan details the plight of migrant laborers and his struggles with inequality. Despite his negative experiences and difficulties, he grows to love America and has hope for a better future in his adopted country.