here

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In this fascinating, highly readable biography, Fred C. Kelly, a former newspaperman, author, and an old friend of the Wrights, tells the story of the two brilliant, dedicated, flight-obsessed bicycle mechanics from Ohio who first realized mankind’s age-old dream of conquering the skies.

Long considered the definitive Wright biography (the manuscript was read and approved by Orville Wright), this book recounts the Wrights’ small-town boyhood, their early interest in all things mechanical, the establishment of the Wright Cycle Shop, and the complete behind-the-scenes story of how they designed, built, tested, and flew (December 1903) the first “Flyer.”

Enhanced with sixteen rare photographs, Mr. Kelly’s engaging account avoids minute technical description, yet describes simply and clearly the technological innovations that enabled the two brothers to succeed where so many others had failed. Anyone interested in the mechanics of flight or early aviation will find this volume a splendid introduction to the Wright brothers and their epochal achievement.

Grade level from a sample of four chapters in the Flesch-Kincaid analysis is 10.3.

Last Flight from Singapore with Maps and Illustrations by Arthur G. Donahue

Fighting on after the Fall of Singapore

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As one of the storied few who defeated the Nazi Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain, American Arthur G. Donahue-Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross-wished to continue his service and requested overseas duty. 

In October 1941, he was sent to the British protectorate of Singapore as a precaution against a possible threat from Japan, which was already conducting a war in China. This posting soon put him on the spot as the Japanese Army swept down the Malayan peninsula to assault the fortress island.

Within two months, all of Asia was thrown into turmoil as Japan simultaneously bombed Hawaii and invaded the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. Japanese forces swiftly conquered much of Southeast Asia and began moving toward Burma and India. Standing in the face of this onslaught was the British stronghold of Singapore. 

Donahue and his squadron began around-the-clock sorties, reminiscent of their battle against Germany a little more than one year earlier. This time, however, the British forces were overwhelmed and they were forced to surrender the city to the Japanese in February 1942, an event Winston Churchill called “the worst disaster” in British history.

During the final phase of the battle, Donahue was wounded while strafing Japanese transports unloading troops to storm Singapore. He managed to land, and was airlifted on the last flight from the city and ultimately to a hospital in India. In Last Flight from Singapore, Donahue tells his dramatic story, accompanied by photographs he took himself, of the intense and futile battle against the Japanese for control of the gateway to the Malay Peninsula. He continues his story through his convalescence to his return to England, where he once again began patrols over Europe. The manuscript for “Last Flight from Singapore” was found among his effects after he did not return from a patrol in 1942 and was presumed lost. 

From the New York Times review:
“Donahue is no literary artist and he makes no attempt either to dramatize or to underplay his experience. He tells them in a simple, unvarnished manner, much as if he were sitting down with some friends back home. The result is pretty close to what the real thing must have been. There are times when the horror and futility of the Singapore incident shine through with sickening clarity…
“Donahue was one of the expendables, one of the few who stood in the breach while the rest of us found out what was happening. He was one of the few of whom Churchill spoke when he cited the great debt of the many.”


Flight to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad by Henrietta Buckmaster

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This is a story of almost unbelievable heroism and great daring, told with gusto and sincerity. It is told through the lives of courageous men and women—some of them known to us by name; most of them, unknown.

The Underground Railroad maneuvered the escape of Southern slaves to the North. It was carried on at first by a handful of people: Quakers, ministers, farmers, journalists, the escaped slaves themselves. The movement spread, and eventually the network extended from Georgia to Iowa, from Alabama to Canada.

The North Star was the slave’s hope . . . “keep on going north, and if you do not die, you will find freedom.” Going north meant careful planning, hairbreadth escapes at night, slow journeys through swamps and forests, careful disguises along open roads. It meant hunger, weariness, and dread. But the rewards of freedom from slavery were worth all the suffering.

Henrietta Buckmaster has told this little-known story against a background of the times.

But history is made by people. So Flight to Freedom is the story of people: Harriet Tubman, Levi Coffin, Wendell Phillips, Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass—and Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose vivid picture of slavery hastened the climax of a conflict that had been brewing since the first slaves were brought to these shores from Africa in chains.

It is a glorious story the author tells, a dramatic chapter in our history. It is a story that is not yet finished.

Cover showing Cossacks on horseback

The Cossacks and The Raid by Leo Tolstoy with Maps

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A brilliant short novel inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s experience as a soldier in the Caucasus, “The Cossacks” has all the energy and poetry of youth while also foreshadowing the great themes of Tolstoy’s later years. His naïve hero, Olenin, is a young nobleman who is disenchanted with his privileged and superficial existence in Moscow and hopes to find a simpler life in a Cossack village. As Olenin foolishly involves himself in their violent clashes with neighboring Chechen tribesmen and falls in love with a local girl, Tolstoy gives us a wider view than Olenin himself ever possesses of the brutal realities of the Cossack way of life and the wild, untamed beauty of the rugged landscape.

This novel of love, adventure, and male rivalry on the Russian frontier—completed in 1862, when the author was in his early thirties—has always surprised readers who know Tolstoy best through the vast, panoramic fictions of his middle years. Unlike those works, The Cossacks is lean and supple, economical in design and execution. But Tolstoy could never touch a subject without imbuing it with his magnificent many-sidedness, and so this book bears witness to his brilliant historical imagination, his passionately alive spiritual awareness, and his instinctive feeling for every level of human and natural life.

Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

The Long Black Schooner: The Voyage of the Amistad

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Men, women, boys, girls—all are chained together on the slave ship Amistad. Only yesterday they were free in their beloved African villages. Then slave catchers kidnapped them, and are taking them in chains across the sea to be sold.

But Cinque, their leader, has an iron file….

On the night of June 30, 1839, the slaves cut their chains and take over the ship. Here is the true story of a breathtaking and little-known event in American history.

Here is what one reader had to say in a review on Amazon:

The book tells the story surrounding the Amistad. However, it is told in a way that is appealing to both youth and adults. The language is simple and the story is straightforward. There is no historical gobbly-gook here.

I found the book to be rather interesting, quite informative, and fairly easy to read (I read it in less than two days). It makes a great gift for any young history buff or anyone who is interesting in learning more about the Amistad but who hasn’t studied much history.

Book Cover Image with Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry: Firebrand of the Revolution by Nardi Campion, Reading Level is 5.6

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“Firebrand” is an engaging biography of a pivotal figure in America’s fight for independence.

A reviewer from Goodreads writes “This is an older biography of Patrick Henry (1961), with target audience of middle school/junior high. Overall, this was a really excellent read, with plenty of details about Henry’s life and career, but not too overwhelming. It’s written to engage younger readers, so there is some dialogue and little anecdotes along the way, but most of these stories added to the character development of Henry, helping us to see what shaped him throughout his younger years and even as an adult.”

Pioneers of Freedom by McAlister Coleman

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In simple, vigorous fashion, and in a style so clear that it can be read with pleasure by high school students, Mr. Coleman tells the stories of nine men and one woman whom he has chosen as the outstanding leaders of the forces of democracy in America. Some of them are known to every schoolboy, a few of them have almost been forgotten, but all of them again glow with life in these vivid pages.

Here they are — Jefferson, Paine, Wendell Phillips, ‘Gene Debs and the rest—leaders of American democracy. Unforgettable portraits of great men who have pointed the way to a new America.

Edward Jenner and Smallpox Vaccination by Irmengarde Eberle

His Discoveries Saved Millions of Lives

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The Mad Dog of Europe by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Albert Nesor

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From a review of the print edition on Amazon:
While I have read other books about Hitler and WWII, I was drawn to read “The Mad Dog of Europe” by Albert Nesor because of its publication date – 1939. The story drew heavily on first hand accounts of immigrants who had recently left Germany. I was curious to know how prescient the Germans were about Hitler’s intentions. While Nesor gives a detailed account of how and when Hitler took over the country, the main narrative focuses on a circle of friends in the small Bavarian town of Gronau. They had lost sons in WW1 and the ones that did return were disillusioned and struggling to find work. The names of the people and the town were changed because in 1939 it was, of course, very dangerous to make negative remarks about the Reich. There actually is a town in Germany named Gronau but it is way to the north of Bavaria.

Among the book I have read about Hitler, Nestor’s account was the most graphically negative. Hitler is shown to work toward his goal of saving Germany from “Jewish Communism” with obsessive intensity. In his tirades against communism Hitler made me think of Senator Joseph McCarthy on steroids. Both also targeted and persecuted homosexuals. Fortunately McCarthy’s means were more limited. Hitler had a private army during the 30’s of well over a million ruthless men that he used frequently in the streets. The Nazi’s anti-communism was generally supported not only by many Germans, but also by people in other countries and many people in the United States. It was a major platform for his rise to power. When Hitler became Chancellor his political opponents were sent to concentration camps. When I lived in Bavaria (1979 ) my somewhat older neighbor said she would never have anything to do with politics because her father died in a concentration camp for being a communist. With my limited German vocabulary of two thousand words, all I could say was “Hitler war ein Teufel”.

Nestor’s characters were not prescient about Hitler until it was too late. Like us they went about their daily lives even though they did not approve of what they read in the papers. After the Nazis took over everyone in Gronau was terrified. Even high ranking Nazi party officials had saved foreign currency, exit visas and money in American banks in case of a Teutonic armageddon which they vaguely felt might come but did not perceive when or how. In the end the main character of the novel holds off the Nazi storm troopers with a pistol while his brother tries to escape across the border. He has the sentimental hope that Germans will regroup in America and then save his beloved country from Hitler. As we now know it was Hitler’s declaration of War on the USA that forced a response. Not Germans but German-Americans – Dwight Eisenhower, Chester Nimitz, Carl Spaatz – led the troops against Hitler. German immigrants did provide valuable service as translators and as spies.

The Curies and Radium by Elizabeth Rubin

Grade Level on the Flesch-Kincaid readability scale is 6.4.

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PIERRE and MARIE CURIE are perhaps the most remarkable husband-and-wife team in the history of science. Together they set out to isolate the mysterious radioactive substance in the masses of pitchblende ore available to them in the old shed that was their laboratory.

It was back-breaking work, but Marie and Pierre kept at it. Finally, they obtained a product whose radiation was four hundred times greater than that of uranium! Marie called the new element Polonium, after her beloved native Poland. Later, they isolated their famous element radium — nine hundred times as active as uranium!

Pierre’s brilliant career was cut short by his tragic death in 1906, but Marie went on with their courageous work alone. In 1911, she received the Nobel Prize for the discovery of radium.

True, it was Marie’s long exposure to radium and X-rays that caused her death. But out of her death came life, for radium is one of modern medicine’s greatest life-savers. The basic idealism and determination of the Curies are captured for budding scientists to ponder. Scientific language is suitable for young readers.

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