Extremely engaging history.

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ORPHAN TRAINS

THE STORY OF CHARLES LORING BRACE AND THE CHILDREN HE SAVED AND FAILED

O’Connor (Will My Name Be Shouted Out?, 1996) crafts a vibrant, wide-ranging narrative of Charles Loring Brace’s child-welfare movement, which had a profound influence on America’s treatment of disadvantaged youth.

Born in 1826 and raised in a staunchly religious New England household, Brace was seemingly made to serve his fellow human beings—specifically the homeless children of New York City. He founded the Children’s Aid Society in 1853, and one year later the first load of street kids hoping for job training and perhaps new families steamed toward Dowagiac, Michigan. They were never called “orphan trains” during Brace’s lifetime; he referred to his practice of sending children to the country to be indentured or (in the best cases) adopted as “placing out.” In marvelously evocative and eminently readable prose, O’Connor relates an all-American story of explosive urban growth, of families destroyed by a nascent capitalism, of the West’s myths and promises. First-hand accounts from some of the 250,000 orphans who rode the trains between 1854 and 1929 provide a window into this era, and much space is dedicated to the movement’s most stunning successes and failures—from John Brady (who became governor of Alaska) to Charley Miller (who was hanged for a double murder). O’Connor balances these stories with a well-constructed chronicle of the ups and downs of the Children’s Aid Society. He also delineates changing perceptions about disadvantaged children that eventually led much of the nation to dismiss Brace as a figurehead for outmoded philosophies. O'Connor’s meticulous research studs the narrative with many marvelous details, from a description of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Staten Island farm to the atmosphere of Brace’s Newsboy’s Lodging House.

Extremely engaging history.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2001

ISBN: 0-395-84173-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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