This summer, play tourist in your own city.
And if you are one of those native New Yorkers that scoff at tourist traps like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty, there is a relatively new attraction just north of City Hall that after one visit will change the way you will think about the American history you learned back in your school days. As we approach Juneteenth, a little known holiday that celebrates the emancipation of the last slaves of our nation, it’s worth a visit.
This spring on a visit back to New York City, my family went to the African Burial Ground National Monument and we all got a brush-up course on American history.
From what I remember about my public grade school education, slavery was taught like this:
- Africans were captured from their native lands.
- There was a very harsh, inhumane passage over the Atlantic where slaves chained together in the hulls of ships.
- Southerners owned slaves to work in the cotton fields and in their master’s homes.
- Northerners didn’t own slaves.
- Blacks were treated as slaves in the South so they tried to escape to the North, to places like New York City where they could be free
My kids were disappointed that the indoor museum was closed that day. However, the outdoor African Burial Ground National Monument Memorial was open, as it is daily from 9a.m. until 5p.m. except for all Federal holidays.
The burial site, used by African slaves from 1626 through the late 1700’s, was discovered only 21 years ago, when the federal government broke ground for a new building on 290 Broadway. Because archeologists uncovered the remains of 419 individual bodies of all age groups, it is regarded as one of the most important archeological findings of the 20th Century. In all, it was the final resting place for 15,000 Africans and their descendants It was the only place where Africans could be buried in the city.
The plans for the building were modified to accommodate a museum and a 6.1 acre monument that was opened to the public in 2007.
On the first approach to the memorial from Broadway, a grassy patch of ground with partially raised holds the remains of those 419 slaves. The grassy area gives way to a path marked by bricks and marble that spirals downward to what used to be the street level of the New York – or New Amsterdam – centuries ago.
The walls were marked by strange symbols and dates.
In the middle of this spiral is a map of the world that marks each native land where slaves were taken.
My kids, aged 14, 12 and seven, wandered around the site exploring. Finally, my youngest mustered up the courage to ask the Ranger what this place was all about.
All it took was that one simple question. Ranger Doug – Doug Maslenberg — brought the history of this place to life. In a narrative presentation that was no less fervent than sermon delivered like gospel at a Baptist church, Ranger Doug went into great detail to tell us about the lives of the slaves who were found buried at this very site. Through his booming voice, he brought the suffering of those people back. He spoke of the horrors of the middle passage on those ships, represented at the memorial by the 24-foot Ancestral Libation chamber:
He spoke of the bones of children that had been bent under the weight of carrying bricks and buckets of water too heavy for their bodies to withstand. Bones of men that contained evidence of whippings.
Ranger Doug looked directly into our eyes, almost a bit too long. Any preconceived notion that I had about a slave-free New York City was obliterated under Ranger Doug’s stare.
Back at home in Rochester – a city with its own past link to Abolition and Emancipation – my kids and I wanted to learn more. So we picked up a historical novel called Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. This young adult novel, a 2008 National Book Award finalist, follows the life of an African slave girl in New York City during the Revolutionary war.
Thank you, Ranger Doug, I’m glad we asked.
I will not go quiet into that Kindle light.
I don’t ever see myself curling up with a Kindle, or a Nook, or any other e-book for that matter.
I will not go quiet into that Kindle light.
I don’t ever see myself curling up with a Kindle, or a Nook, or any other e-book for that matter.
There has been so much news about books. The drop in the sale of physical books and the recent scanning of 5.2 billion books into digital form to study trends in culture and literature, as reported by the New York Times. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Barnes & Noble recently cited studies that suggest consumer spending on new physical books will fall to $19 billion in 2014 from $20.5 billion in 2009.
But books are more than carefully strung words. Books create communities and friendships. A book has physical attributes – the feel of its Tattered Cover, the texture of the dog-eared pages inside and the wonder about by whom the book has been previously held and read.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was making what she thought at the time a permanent move back to her home of Cape town South Africa. The trans-Atlantic container could only carry so much of her possessions, so she held a yard sale.
Among the precious things she agreed to part with was her vast collection of books. An avid reader, my friend always had a stack of books – from the library, finds at other yard sales or book sales – on her nightstand. From the pile of books that was spread on a blanket, I picked up “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks and offered her the asking price of a dollar. She refused to take money from me and instead, pressed the book into my hand, smiled, and just said “enjoy.”
So I took it home and read it. I’ll admit it wasn’t my favorite. But it was a book given to me by a friend, a friend I feared I would never see again short of a very long plane ride. So, the year she was away, I had her book on my shelf as a reminder of our friendship. I have given and received many previously enjoyed books, as a symbol of family and friendship. Before a family vacation, my doorbell rang and it was another friend, who, just because, wanted to give me a book to read on the beach. It was The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd.
I have also given my books away to friends: like Sarah’s Key and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan to my mom, and A Thousand Splendid Suns to my dad.
Can you do that with a Kindle?
Now I know that e-books have their advantages: less trees are cut down to make and read books, less clutter in one’s home, ease of traveling with multiple books, instant gratification of downloading the latest book, and so on. But the clutter of books is legacies of family and friendships that our society will lose with the emerging popularity of the e-book. No, I fear that this next generation coming up, if predictions hold true and purchases of physical books will fall away to one more screen that we must stare at for information. Something will be lost.
Because of paper books, a multi-generation legacy of books rests in my house.
My grandparents lived in a tiny apartment in Bensonhurst Brooklyn for over 60 years. In the foyer, they had their treasured library. Into each book that was added to their collection – books like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson- a seal was placed, saying that this book was part of the Library of Pauline and Milton Kasmere. Some of these books, with their spines embellished with fading gold lettering, are now propped on the bookshelves in my home. I hope that my kids will read these classics from the pages that their great-grandparents held, not an e-book.
In the future, what will we put on our bookshelves?
Now, call me a luddite, but I can go on about how much I like e-books, if only for sentimental reasons. I’d write more about my feelings and dislikes about e-books, but I am off to a book exchange at my son’s middle school – off to sort books that will be donated to a city Literacy project to share with inner city schools in Rochester.
Tell me, in the future, if physical books go away, will there be books to share and book exchanges to give away books?
As I write this, I realize that with the release of the first film from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows coming out on Nov. 19, I am in danger now of finding out the final fate of Harry Potter. Until now, I have sheltered the ending from myself, the final fate of Harry and He Who Must Not Be Named. Even if I had to enter my childen’s bedrooms as they listened to the book of the same title on CD and had to sing “Lalalalalala” to myself while I put their clean, folded laundry into their drawers.
No, I am in danger still. Because I know this blog post will be read by millions who will be clicking away at their keyboards to comment and tell me the end.
Okay, it might be read by three-dozen people who might bother to read it and then still take more of their precious time to comment and tell me. But really, please don’t. Give a mom a break!
I remember when we first started reading and/or listening to the Harry Potter Series as a family on paper and audio book format. My patient husband read our daughter Harry Potter and the Sourcerer’s Stone and then Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets , one chapter a night, when she was only in the first and second grades. I don’t know how we had all this time, because now I barely have time to read my third child a Dr. Seuss book.
By the time she was eight or nine, she was reading the third and fourth books on her own. She would shlep the hard-covered editions of The Prisoner of Azkaban to whatever errand we were running. I think the novel weighed more than she did. At the supermarket, I would shop and she would sit in the bottom of the cart, immersed in reading about Harry’s third year of wizarding school through the produce and cereal aisles.
I did my own reading and listening of the series. But, halfway through the Order of the Phoenix, and halfway through my third pregnancy, I just stopped. My interest went elsewhere while the rest of my family, excluding the baby of the family, gobbled up the rest of the series like it was a box of Chocolate Frogs and washed it down with Butter Beer.
My kids can’t believe I haven’t finished yet. And I tell them I will finish the series before I leave this earth.
There are a few things that I can do so I can finish the series and not have Hollywood ruin the ending for me:
- I can hire a House Elf to prepare the meals, wash the clothes and scrub the bathrooms
- I can purchase a wand from Olivander’s Wand Shop and wave it over the dinner table instead of shopping, chopping and cooking to get ready for meals.
- I can quit all three of my jobs that I work at to help pay for their Hogwarts-like overnight summer camp to free up my time.
- I can stop reading the other amazing pieces of literature I have tackled in my post, unfinished Harry Potter era. Books that took me to places and times the Hogwarts Express does not reach. Books like The Little Stranger, The Help, The Man in the White Shark Skin Suit, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and other wonderful adult novels I have finished. Not to mention The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.
So Harry, Hermione, the Weasleys, and Headless Nick, I will not cave to popular culture. You’ll just have to wait for me to finish. And when I’m good and ready.
In our debt-inflicted society, there are some who cringe at the thought that their credit card will be denied when it is swiped at the department store, or the supermarket, or the gas station. For me, it is my library card.
I am under the impression that I will personally offend the librarian if an outrageously overdue book shows up on my account, accompanied by a hefty fine. What book has slipped under a bed or retreated to the deepest recess of my son’s closet? How much do I owe in overdue fines and will I need to take out a second mortgage to pay for it?
In any case, a few dollars in overdue library books are worth it if the book is enjoyed by a child – or adult – through the summer.
There is something magical when a child puts vowels and consonants together and realizes they can read. It just clicks. Words on street signs and cereal boxes come to life. Best of all, they can pick up a book and read to themselves. Libraries in Brighton, Pittsford, and Mendon are offering plenty of incentives this summer for children to curl up with a good book, whether it is under a tree or on a beach blanket.
On June 25, the Brighton Memorial Library kicked off its summer “Make a Splash into Reading” program that runs through August 13 and is sponsored by the Friends of the Brighton Memorial Library. Beach balls hung from the ceiling as youngsters were greeted with leis and ice pops by children’s librarian Tonia Burton. Girls dressed for the occasion in Hawaiian printed dresses. They decorated paper-framed sunglasses and said they couldn’t wait to read titles such as Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale.
Registered children received game boards with pictures of beaches separated by five blank spaces. For every day they read 20 minutes or more, they move one space on the board. When they reach a beach, they return to the library to pick a prize out of a beach pail – and borrow more books. After a child reaches the fourth beach, they receive an invitation to the summer reading party in August. For every person that finishes the reading game, the Friends of the BML will donate three books to the library.
If you missed the kickoff party at your local library there is no need to worry. It is summer, after all. Register your youngster in person or online at www.brightonlibrary.org, www.townofpittsford.org-library, or www.mendonlibrary.org.
It is relatively easy to steer eager new readers to books that contain vibrant illustrations and lively prose. But what about those independent-minded tweens and teens? Deena Lipomi, circulation and young adult services manager at the Brighton Memorial Library said she rarely offers verbal recommendations because “that might seem too pushy.” Instead, she lets the books speak for themselves.
“I look for books with colorful, modern covers and turn them face side out on the shelves. For teenagers, you can’t strongly suggest a book, or they may not read it, and the book can’t look dated.” To entice this age group, Lipomi also creates book displays by theme, such as the popular vampire series. But thankfully, the classics still endure. Lipomi said that the multiple copies of Catcher in the Rye and Jane Austen are “(checked) out all the time.”
The joy of reading can also blossom in adulthood. Jodi Warner-Farnsworth, a retired French teacher who lives in Canandaigua enjoys the personal impact she makes on the adults she helps to read through Literacy Volunteers of Ontario County.
“The biggest gain I have seen in the people I tutor is the self-confidence that spills over into all aspects of their life. Sometimes, all they needed was just someone to believe in them,” said Jodi.
Jodi started tutoring because she was interested in giving back to the community. She also will be training volunteers this fall. Jodi teaches multi-sensory strategies that help adults with learning disabilities learn to read with visual, auditory, and kinesthetic teaching methods. If you are interested in becoming a literacy volunteer, contact the organization at 585-396-1686 or go to www.literacyvoc.org.