The Original Founders of America

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

Inuvialuit

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 Pueblos

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

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.

The Maya

Chichen Itza spring equinox

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 Incas

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 Vikings

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

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 raped, plundered, exploited, and killed their way through previously unexplored islands. When some of the Arawaks 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. Most indigenous people who were not murdered by the Europeans or ravaged by their diseases, were permanently displaced throughout most of the Americas.

Since the first explorers migrated to the Americas, they have passed on a wealth of knowledge and resources to generations. Agricultural, hunting, warfare, and survival techniques have been shared. Today’s citizens are the beneficiaries of their diverse cultures. Many of the valuable commodities that they cultivated still exist, such as 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. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a celebration of their rich culture and legacy.

Climate Change Is Here and What We Can Do About It

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

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

Collapse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

U.S. Presidents Who United Our Nation

George Washington Crossing the Delaware.

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 Book Rags Blog

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 Book Rags Blog

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 Roosevelt Book Rags Blog

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 Johnson Book Rags Blog

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 Secrets of Christmas Revealed

Christmas Secrets Revealed

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?

Birth of Jesus

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?

Christmas Tree

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?

Christmas 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?

Christmas Lights

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?

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.

Gluhwein

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?

Yule Log

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?

Santa Claus

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.

Why Exercising Your Right to Vote Matters

Your right to vote.

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.

Election

Election

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

America

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.

Dark Money

Dark Money

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

Fear and Loathing

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

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?

You want Women to Vote?

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 U.S. Constitution

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!

The Scariest Story Settings in the World

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 World War Z BookRags

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

Oak Hill Cemetery Lincoln in Bardo BookRags

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.

Akershus Fortress

Akershus Castle The Snowman BookRags

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

Paris catacombs Interview with the Vampire BookRags

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

Salem Witch Trials - The Crucible BookRags

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.

Murder Castle

Holmes Murder Castle - The Devil in The White City - BookRags

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness in the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson, is the true story set in the backdrop of the spectacular 1893 World’s Exposition, where over 200 grizzly murders took place. Near the Chicago Exposition Grounds, on the corner of Wallace and 63rd Streets, H. H. Holmes built his “murder castle” (which he named the “World’s Fair Hotel”) to satisfy his obsession for killing.

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

Something Wicked Comes This Way - BookRags

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 - BookRags

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

The Stanley Hotel - The Shining - BookRags

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.

Why Tiny Is So Big

Tiny-House

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 Miniaturist

The Miniaturist

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

Alice 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.

The Hobbit

The Hobbit

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.

Gulliver’s Travels

Gullivers Travels

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 Poetry 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

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.

Incredible Stories of Immigration to America From Around the World

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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

Enrique's Journey

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

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

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

Esperanza Rising

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

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 & 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

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

Brooklyn

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

The Namesake

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

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.

Revolutionary Women Who Defied Authority to Win Freedom

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The price of freedom was paid not only by our forefathers but those brave women who, through struggle and resistance, paved the way for all of us. This Fourth of July, let’s celebrate the courage of revolutionary women who refused to accept the societal expectations of their time; many are still fighting for freedom today.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai grew up in Pakistan advocating for the rights of girls to acquire an education in her homeland. Unfortunately, this revolutionary belief made her a target. In 2012, after leaving school, she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban in retaliation for her support of young girls like herself in the pursuit of education. After making a full recovery in Britain, Yousafzai decided to stand up to the fundamentalist political group instead of living in fear or hiding. Her story brought world-wide attention and support from the United Nations, leading her to write about her ordeal in the book, I am Malala. It became an international best seller. Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 and continues to inspire through her activism and fight for the rights of children and women around the world.

Angela Yvonne Davis

Angela Davis

Angela Yvonne Davis is an American author, professor and political activist fighting for the rights of the oppressed. In her youth she was one of the leaders of the Black Liberation movement and opposed the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. As a lesbian and black feminist, she supports gay rights and speaks out against racism and sexism, fighting against the exclusion and subordination of women and people of color throughout American society. In 1997, she co-founded Critical Resistance, an organization that works to abolish a corrupt private- and state-run prison system, which has been the focus of her activism in recent years. Davis continues to be an advocate for social and education reform to address homelessness and incarceration and has criticized the broken immigration system.

Bessie Head

Bessie Head

Bessie Head is one of the most influential Botswanan writers of the 20th century. She was born to an affluent white woman and black servant in South Africa, in 1937. During this time, interracial relationships were against the law, so her life was controversial from the beginning. Head was raised in an orphanage after her mother committed suicide. Then, at the age of twelve, she attended an Anglican boarding school for black girls which changed her life. Introduced to the world of books, she eventually became a teacher and journalist. The heavy burden of being a child of an interracial relationship in apartheid South Africa took its toll, and Head decided to migrate to Botswana. She then focused on racial issues and politics, along with the psychological trauma of divisions among human beings. Growing up interracial, without a family, and eventually without a country, profoundly influenced her life and writing. Despite these challenges, Head tried to rise above divisions between human beings and resists being labeled “feminist,” “black,” “African,” or “revolutionary” writer.

Harriet Tubman

Born into slavery in 1822, Harriet Tubman endured cruel beatings until she escaped from her abusive slave owner in Maryland in her early 20s. Although she made it to the North, it was not long before Tubman returned to Maryland to help free her relatives. She subsequently began helping more slaves escape by setting up daring raids in the South and establishing links with the Underground Railroad. Tubman continued these efforts in South Carolina during the Civil War, creating a spy ring to transition former slaves into a new life of freedom. Eventually, after the war, she set up a charity in Auburn, New York, to aid neglected African Americans. She also joined the women’s suffrage movement before she died in 1913, concluding a long life of heroism and activism.

Deborah Sampson Gannett

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Deborah Sampson Gannett was a Massachusetts woman who was born into hardship. At age 22 she changed her name to Robert Shurtlieff and enlisted into the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Initially she was detected after disguising herself as a male soldier, but eventually was able to pass herself off as a man and fight alongside male soldiers. Gannett was granted a uniform and military equipment, then marched with 50 other recruits to West Point, New York. Her secret was finally discovered by a doctor after she was wounded by a musket in Tarrytown, New York, in 1782. She received an honorable discharge, then went back to her home in Massachusetts. After being rejected by her Baptist church for impersonating a male soldier, she married a man and had three children. She faded into obscurity, but not before sharing her adventures on a speaking tour in 1802.

Mary Wollstonecraft

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Mary Wollstonecraft was a revolutionary English writer, philosopher and feminist in the late eighteenth century. Controversial in her time, she wrote about feminist principles and held radical views on the American and French revolutions. She is best known for her treatise, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. The book, first published in 1792, was a scandal as it advocated for women’s education and equality. It remains a fundamental text of Western feminism and continues to contribute to modern social thought. Wollstonecraft’s inspiration for her writings most likely stemmed from a difficult childhood of family instability. She endured her father’s alcoholic abuse towards her mother and frequent moves around England due to her family’s financial troubles. Eventually she married William Godwin, but then died of complications from the birth of her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Her daughter was heavily influenced by her mother’s writings, carrying on her beliefs and penning the now canonical novel, Frankenstein.

Marie Antoinette

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Marie Antoinette is best known for excesses that inspired a radical revolution. Initially, the young queen from Austria was well liked when she married the prince who would eventually ascend to the throne as King Louis XVI. However, after a reported affair, expensive spending habits, and military support for France’s enemies in Austria, the tide started to turn against the once-beloved queen. The royal couple’s popularity plummeted as they and the rest of the royal family bought expensive clothes and jewelry for elaborate celebrations, while many French people suffered in poverty. Accused and convicted of depleting the treasury and high treason by revolutionaries, she was condemned to die by guillotine like her husband in 1793. Both were buried in unmarked graves. The deaths of many more at court finally subsided with the end of the French monarchy and then the French Revolution that finally concluded in 1802.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc was a 17-year-old illiterate peasant who claimed to receive ominous spiritual visions in the early 15th century. Her courage and faith helped her convince the uncrowned King Charles VII of France to let her go to war against England. Her perseverance and tactical strategy turned the siege in France’s favor despite their having endured several devastating defeats at Orléans during the Hundred Years’ War. Eventually, after several engagements with the enemy, Joan of Arc was captured by the English two years later. She was tried, found guilty of being a heretic, and burned at the stake for the crime of crossing-dressing in male military clothing. Despite the damning label, she became known as a heroine and patron saint who changed the tide of a war that would eventually deliver her country out of the control of enemy hands.

Must-Read Books About Extraordinary Teachers and Their Journeys

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In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day on May 8, we share inspiring narratives about extraordinary teachers, acknowledging their remarkable experiences as educators and celebrating their tireless dedication to students.

The Miracle Worker

The Miracle Worker

The Miracle Worker, by William Gibson, is based both on Helen Keller’s autobiography and the letters written by Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan. An extraordinary educator, Sullivan was able to connect with her young deaf and blind student in incredible ways. Sullivan taught Keller to better communicate despite Keller’s overwhelming disabilities, showing her the meaning of language by signing into her hand. This work took patience and a unique sensibility that others in Keller’s life lacked. The result was an incredible breakthrough that led to an enduring bond between teacher and student. Sullivan and Keller became lifelong companions and friends who would both find much success in literary and academic fields.

Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society is a fictional story about a group of high school boys at a wealthy private school and the English teacher, John Keating, who changes their lives. Keating challenges both the school’s conservative curriculum and his students’ expectations by exposing them to classic works of literature, showing them how literature applies to their own lives. He encourages them to be free thinkers and focus on their creative instincts rather than the regimented and traditional methods of studying. Part of their unconventional education involves the discovery of a secret club known as the Dead Poets Society that Keating established when he was a young student at the school. Inspired by their teacher, the boys revive the club’s traditions and meet in a cave, where their journeys of self-discovery lead to unintended consequences.

The Freedom Writers

The Freedom Writers Diary

The Freedom Writers Diary is a non-fiction book about a group of at-risk students who are taught how to journal by a first-year English teacher, Erin Gruwell. Inviting her class to draw inspiration from such books as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Gruwell helps her students write about their own tumultuous lives. The Freedom Writers Diary is told from different perspectives. The students’ entries are anonymous and are often conveyed in dramatic and emotional tones. As the students progress from freshmen to seniors, their writing styles mature and develop, demonstrating the way that their education has prepared them for college acceptance.

Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuesdays with Morrie is a true story about the lasting bond between a student, Mitch Albom, and his revered college professor, Morrie Schwartz. After college, Albom abandons his dream of becoming a professional musician and eventually works as a sports columnist instead. Years later, Schwartz, who is dying, reconnects with his former student who feels like a failure. Reuniting after 16 years, they decide to meet every Tuesday to share life experiences and memories. Over the course of several weeks both men reflect on life’s lessons and the natural occurrence of death as part of life. The professor’s final instruction to his student has a profound effect on both men.

To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher

To Teach

Bill Ayers’s book, To Teach, is a nonfiction book about education reform drawn from the author’s personal experiences. Ayers is known for his prominence as a political leader in Chicago and his support of President Barack Obama’s political career. His groundbreaking arguments about the flaws of the public school system have gained popularity over the years. He insisted that school systems are too bureaucratic and rigid, thus hindering the creativity and personal development of students. Believing that standardized tests risked de-humanizing students, he touted the importance of teachers instructing interactively and holistically, while respecting the individuality of each and every student.

Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year

Educating Esme

Educating Esme, by Esme Raji Codell, is drawn from journal entries written during Codell’s first year teaching at-risk students at an urban school. Codell delves into her day-to-day observations and emotions as she attempts to help troublesome teenagers and navigate the expectations of dysfunctional parents and colleagues alike. Codell describes the difficulty of maintaining her optimism as she tries to reason with both administrators and students. Her enthusiasm is unshakable as she devises new and creative ways to battle the bureaucrats and motivate the children to learn.

Push

Push

Push, by Sapphire, is a novel about a 16-year-old girl, Precious, struggling to overcome insurmountable odds with the help of her rigorous teacher, Ms. Rain, at a special school for abused girls. Ms. Rain supports Precious’ journey of self-discovery by helping her face the consequences of her parents’ sexual abuse and encouraging her to cultivate a positive self-image.  With the help of her new support network, Precious begins to make major changes in her life and commits to following a different path. Under her teacher’s guidance she empowers herself to pursue an education and take better care of her son, refusing to follow in her mother’s tragic footsteps.