Smoky Mountain Family Historian

Friday, January 25, 2013

Black Potatoes





Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

While this book may have been aimed at middle school readers, it is a very readable account of the Irish potato famine which led to so many Irish immigrants arriving in U.S., Canadian, and even Australian ports. It is very well researched, yet readable. While it's lack of footnotes may bother adult readers seeking well-documented accounts of the famine, the bibliography does include a discussion of the sources used and how they were used in the work. One must consider its intended audience. It would be a great book to use with a budding young genealogist who has just discovered an ancestor who moved from Ireland  during this time period. The illustrations greatly enhance this book and its appeal. I can picture a young reader asking a lot of "Why?" questions as he or she is reading the narrative. Highly recommended.  (5 stars)

This is part of the series on children's literature and genealogy.

Friday, January 18, 2013

DNA: Window to the Past





Ollhoff, Jim. DNA: Window to the Past. (Your Family Tree) Edina, Minn.: ABDO, 2011.


This book on DNA and genealogy written for children was published less than a couple years ago, yet some of the information is far more dated than that, and some of it was somewhat inaccurate even then. The author addresses only Y-DNA and mtDNA testing and completely ignores autosomal testing which was being offered by all the major players in genetic genealogy testing by that time. The author made a statement about the "two types" of DNA tests saying that "one test is for males, and the other is for females." This statement is completely wrong for the latter. The mtDNA test is offered to both sexes although it will only test the direct maternal line. He later clarifies that it is "usually conducted on females." There is a high enough percentage of males doing mtDNA testing that it is also an inaccurate statement. Some of the photos used to illustrate the book were dated. One such photo was illustrating "current genealogy work on a home computer," yet the photo showed a CRT monitor with a very dated looking genealogy program. I do think that the author's chapter on "Famous DNA Discoveries" would engage young readers. His stories about Christopher Columbus, Captain Cook, and "Cheddar Man" would be useful to use with the young readers.  I would, however, encourage the use of a different book or website to discuss the types of genetic tests offered, even if they are written for adults.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Roots of My Family Tree





Alling, Niki. The Roots of My Family Tree. Seattle, Wash.: CreateSpace, 2012.

This is a great book to introduce younger children to the topic of genealogy/family history. The book focuses primarily on geographic origins rather than the specifics of researching. It is a book that will create interest rather than a "how to" book. The illustrations which depict things about the countries mentioned provide springboards for discussion of what is pictured in relation to the country.  I was prepared to rate the book higher, but the final sentence was weak and left me a bit disappointed. I still think this book will be interesting to children.  (3 stars)

Friday, January 04, 2013

Letters from the Heart





Bryant, Annie. Letters from the Heart. (Beacon Street Girls, no. 3). New York: Aladdin MIX, 2008.

I read this book because the synopsis mentioned that the students would be involved in a family history project at school. Although I was excited about finding a book for middle school age students about researching their roots, I quickly became disappointed as the details of the girls' everyday existence seemed to play more importance to the narrative than the pursuit of their class project. Although each student finds items relating to their families, there was a lot of missed opportunity in this book to illustrate ways of conducting research. I did like the manner that one student researched the education of African Americans in Boston when she discovered her ancestor had been one of the early African American Boston educators. A lot of the text is gimmicky which would probably be enjoyed more by the intended audience more than by me. This book may work better for some readers than others.  (2 stars)

This is a part of the Friday series on children's books and genealogy.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Kiku's Prayer


Endo, Shusaku. Kiku's Prayer: A Novel. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.

Mitsu and Kiku grew up in a Japanese village just down the road from a village with many Christians. It was during a time in which Christianity was banned, so their elders told them to stay away from the other village and its villagers. One day, Kiku has a chance to meet a boy (Seikichi) from the other village and falls in love with him. She and Mitsu are sent to work for a very demanding employer. Seikichi gives her a medallion of the virgin Mary and tells her to pray to her. Kiku is still not a Christian. She goes to work for the Christians, but still does not become one herself. The Christians are persecuted tremendously. What will become of Kiku and Seikichi? Will she ever realize her dream to marry him? This is not an easy book to read. The persecution suffered by the Japanese Christians in this period of the 1860s and early 1870s was horrific. Of course, the persecution of some of their forebears was as great or greater. One is reminded of the suffering that the Lord endured for all of mankind. Some of the words that Kiku spoke to the virgin Mary made you wish that Kiku had known more of the story of Jesus and the Gospels. She had no idea that Mary knew exactly how she felt as she had watched her own Son suffer. It's definitely more of a Catholic work than Protestant one, but it's one that all Christians should appreciate for the parallels between so many passages of Scripture. I do believe that persons other than Christians can appreciate Endo's work, but I do think the meaning will be richer for those who are more familiar with the New Testament. This review is based on an advance e-galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley. (4 stars)

The Tutor's Daughter





Klassen, Julie. The Tutor's Daughter. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2013.

Emma Smallwood assists her father in his preparatory school for boys. As she's going through the accounts and trying to find ways to bring more students to the school, she notices that the younger brothers of Phillip and Henry Weston have not come as she had expected. When she writes on her father's behalf to inquire if they might be interested in attending, her father receives an invitation to come to Cornwall as their private tutor. Emma is surprised by her father's acceptance, and as soon as their home is rented, they travel to Cornwall only to be to not be met at the station and greeted by a bit of surprise on the wife's part although the letter of acceptance and information about their time of arrival was sent in advance. Emma finds Henry and Phillip away upon arrival although Henry soon returns from his trip on behalf of their estate and Phillip takes a break from his studies at Oxford to come home. Things are disappearing, music is playing, and some try to blame it on a ghost. Emma doesn't believe in ghosts and sets out to prove that wrong. She receives a little help from one of the brothers. As one might expect, there comes a point of danger for Emma and that brother. This novel reminds me so much of the Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt novels that I enjoyed in junior high and high school. Many of today's romantic suspense novels add an occultic element to the novel that, as a Christian, I'm uncomfortable reading. Klassen's work gave me the enjoyment of those novels without that uncomfortable feeling. Although this is produced by a Christian publisher, it is not really evangelistic in nature, relying upon prayer in the face of danger and difficulty instead to communicate the faith of the characters. I look forward to going back and reading other books by Klassen now that I've discovered her work. Thanks to the publisher for providing the advanced e-galley of this book through NetGalley.  (4 stars)