Please click through to my author visit page for details about school visits for the upcoming year. I am planning trips to California, Ohio, Missouri, Texas (I hope!), and the Virginia/DC area, and would be happy to talk about adding your school to my itinerary. Contact me for details.
I had a chance to talk about nonfiction writing with educator JoEllen McCarthy and two of my favorite fellow NF writers, Loree Griffin Burns and Melissa Stewart, as part of the Educator Collaborative’s Spring gathering–and it’s been archived. If you want to listen to our session, you can watch it here.
In light of the current political climate in the U.S., I thought it might be timely to re-post a blog I wrote a few years ago about the history of air pollution here in the United States. It shows pictures of what Pittsburgh and Saint Louis looked like prior to the smoke control ordinances of the mid-1940s.
The EPA is a vital organization. I fear for its future.
On Friday I blogged about the Donora Death Fog of 1948, and alluded to the city of Pittsburgh’s smoke control ordinances. Pittsburgh’s amazing turnaround will be the subject of today’s blog.
My parents met one another when they were both in graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, just after World War II. I knew from having researched sanitation and pollution that Pittsburgh was once a very smoky city, but I didn’t make the connection until just recently that my parents lived there during the smoky time. And I had no idea just how smoky the city actually was. I contacted the University of Pittsburgh Archives Center, and they very kindly gave me permission to reprint these pictures from the late 30s and early 40s. They’re kind of amazing.
What’s incredible to realize is that these pictures were shot during the daytime.
This one shows a street scene in St. Louis, which is where the smoke control ordinance was first enacted and upon which the Pittsburgh program was based.
According to the University of Pittsburgh website, the smoke control ordinances regulated the burning of coal by locomotives, the steel industry, and individual citizens. The city had been trying since 1807 to control the smoke, but for decades, people believed that heavy smoke in the air indicated high productivity. They also thought smoke was good for the lungs and for the crops. So legislation wasn’t enforced until after World War II.
This final shot is quite extraordinary, and eerily beautiful. The Heinz History Center gave me permission to run it. Remember: it’s daytime.
On Wednesday’s blog–the deadly London Fog of 1952.
Loyal readers may have noticed that I haven’t been posting very frequently recently. That’s because I have a looming book deadline (January 25th, to be exact). But as it’s the holidays, I thought I’d repost this piece I did a few years ago about the history of Santa-figures in other countries:
As a mother, I freely admit to having played the Santa card when my kids were younger. “Better stop fighting you guys. Santa is watching!” For years, that tactic scared them into submission and good behavior, at least around holiday time. But that type of psychological manipulation is pretty tame stuff, compared with what kids have had to endure in other places and times.
Recently I did a post about the special genre of nineteenth century children’s books that taught morality and manners to children. The general idea behind these books was to scare kids witless in order to get them to behave. Today’s post is a holiday version of that genre; the various European traditions that turned Christmas into a form of Judgement Day. Good kids would get presents. Bad kids got punished in various creative and harrowing ways.
This article in the New York Times breaks down some of these mostly-European Christmas traditions. In Iceland, naughty children were carted off by two thirteenth-century ogres and eaten. In Greece, mean imps jumped onto kids’ backs and forced miscreants to dance til they dropped. In France, Father Christmas (Pere Noel) had an evil sidekick named Pere Fouettard (loosely translated as “Father Spank-you.”)
But for me, at least, the scariest is Krampus. He’s a demonic character from folklore common in Austria, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, with horns, hooves, and a long tongue. According to legend, Krampus joined Saint Nicholas on his Christmas rounds. While jolly old Saint Nick doled out gifts to the good kids, Krampus dispensed coal and swatted the pretty-bad with ruten bundles (birch branches), and then stuffed the especially naughty kids into his gunnysack and hauled them away, presumably to be eaten for his Christmas dinner.
Top: a Greeting Card from the Krampus 1900 via Wikimedia
Middle: Krampus and Saint Nicholas in a Viennese home, 1896,
On Saturday, December 3rd, I’ll be signing books at An Unlikely Story bookstore at 111 South Street in Plainville, Massachusetts, along with a bunch of other amazing authors and illustrators. The event is from 11 to 2. There will be crafts. There will be books. I hope you’ll stop in and say hello and support a fantastic indie bookstore! (It’s the one owned by Jeff Kinney of Wimpy Kid fame.)