Friday, April 25, 2014

Environmental Hero: Diane Wilson

Diane Wilson was a Texas shrimper—a fourth generation Texas shrimper. She had started working on her family’s boat at age eight. By the time she was twenty-four, she was a captain.

Then she read a newspaper report saying that her county was the most polluted in the United States. She confronted four chemical plants to stop them from dumping toxins into the bay.

You can find out more about Diane Wilson in Nobody Particular: One Woman’s Fight to Save the Bays, written and illustrated by Molly Bang.

You can also visit this PBS website

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Earth Day's Legacy

Earth Day made the environment a voting issue.

Despite heavy lobbying by industry, months after the first Earth Day, a strong new version of the Clean Air Act passed the Senate unanimously and the House by a voice vote.

President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency by executive order.

Congress enacted the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. More environmental legislation was passed in the decade that followed
than at any other time in U.S. history.

Now Earth Day is celebrated around the world, reminding us that we need to care for the earth that sustains us. Our future depends upon it.

In the words of Gaylord Nelson, "Are we able to meet the challenge? Yes. Are we willing? that is the unanswered question."

Find out how you can do your part at the Earth Day Network. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The First Earth Day

They filled Central Park and spilled into the streets of New York City. Old people and babies, blacks and
whites, people in suits and hippies. They raised banners, acted out skits, and swept the streets clean.

In Miami, Florida, they held a "Dead Orange Parade" where the winning float sported a statue of the Statue of Liberty wearing a gas mask.

In Omaha, Nebraska, they collected 156,000 cans and built a tin mountain.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico they played mariachi music and marched to protest the stench of a sewage treatment plant.

Over 20,000,000 people took part in the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, a tenth of the population of the United States. It was the largest demonstration in U.S. history.

“Earth Day 1970,” CBS News with Walter Cronkite,

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day's 44th Anniversary

Denis Hayes was a college student when Senator Gaylord Nelson invited him to organize the first Earth Day.
There was no email, twitter, or cell phones. So Hayes used newspaper ads, mailings, and fliers. He reached out to professors and students, hunters and housewives, cub scouts and kindergarteners. 

He began with this ad in the New York Times:
A disease has infected our country. It has brought smog to Yosemite, dumped garbage in the Hudson, sprayed DDT in our food, and left our cities in decay. Its carrier is man.

Earth Day is a commitment to make life better, not just bigger and faster; to provide real rather than rhetorical solutions. It is a day to re-examine the ethic of individual progress at mankind’s expense. It is a day to challenge the corporate and governmental leaders who promise change, but who shortchange the necessary programs. It is a day for looking beyond tomorrow. April 22 seeks a future worth living. April 22 seeks a future.

The result was the largest demonstration in U.S. history. Check out these images from National Geographic.

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Senator Gaylord Nelson and the First Earth Day

The Vietnam War, desegregation, nuclear disarmament—there were so many issues demanding attention in 1969. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin was dismayed by the degradation of the environment, but how could he convince his fellow legislators to act to save it?

After a major oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, he was invited to speak at a conference in Berkley. While flying in, he read an article about college teach-ins protesting the war in Vietnam. Nelson said, “It popped into my head. That’s it! Why not have an environmental teach-in and get everyone involved?”

That idea was the seed of the first Earth Day.

Here’s Senator Nelson speaking at a rally in Milwaukee on the first Earth Day.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Killer Smog

In When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story, I talk about the 1948 smog in Donora, PA, which killed twenty people there.

But the United States wasn’t the only country with smog problems. The deadliest smog in recorded history was a “killer fog” that struck London in December 1952. 

It was so thick that people couldn’t see their feet. Thousands of people were hospitalized, lips blue, struggling for breath. At least 4,000 people died. The death toll could actually be many times higher. 

This incident led to Britain’s Clean Air Act.

Find out more at the History Channel website:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Cuyahoga River or Dump?

Need to move oil from one tank to another? Just dig a trench and let it flow downhill. So what if it soaks into the soil and washes into the river.

Need to get rid of the waste from your paint or chemical factory? Just dump it in the river!

Throw in guts from the slaughterhouse, garbage, and sewage overflow. It’s all perfectly legal—or at least it was in 1969, before the first Earth Day.

That noxious stew made great fuel for the fire on the Cuyahoga River, a fire which would help spark an environmental movement.

Check out this video: The Cuyahoga River Fire: "Don't Fall in the River" put out by the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Earth Week Energy Audit

In honor of Earth Day, I'll be blogging about the environment for the coming week. 

And in the spirit of taking personal action, today I had an energy audit done on my house. 

This is a fantastic service, offered free from National Grid. 

For two and a half hours two men went through my house. They tested airflow with this impressive contraption. 
They checked my insulation, pipes, and ducts.
They changed lightbulbs and tested the efficiency of my refrigerator.

When they were done, they drew up a Home Energy Action Plan, showing me how I could add insulation to prevent heat loss. 
National Grid even offers incentives to help with the installation costs. 

Next winter I'll be warmer and use less energy. What could be better than that! 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Gwenyth Swain Author of Hope and Tears and American Adventures: Voices for Freedom

Today I’d like to welcome Gwenyth Swain, author of Hope and Tears: Ellis Island Voices,
(Calkins Creek, 2012) and “Riding to Washington: the 1963 Freedom March,” part of the anthology American Adventures: Voices for Freedom (Sleeping Bear Press, 2013). Currently a freelance writer and a library aide, Gwenyth formerly ran a middle school and was a senior editor at Carolrhoda Books. Gwenyth loves great stories, both in fiction and nonfiction.

What captured your imagination in the story of Ellis Island? Did any of your ancestors enter the country there?

None of my ancestors entered through Ellis Island. They came too early, before the immigration station opened in 1892. But my grandmother told me once about visiting there, more or less as a tourist, in the early 1900s. She was a girl, and her do-gooding aunts were handing out Bibles to the new immigrants.

Your book has a unique format, a combination of narrative history and letters, diary entries, poems, monologues, and dialogues about individuals, some real people, some fictional, but representative of real group. In essence, this is combination of nonfiction and historical fiction. How did you come up with this format?

I really don’t like it when a nonfiction book has what are clearly fictional (made-up) bits. I wanted to have a combination of fiction and nonfiction but make it clear which was which. Also, I wanted to make sure that all of the fictional elements—the poems, monologues, diary entries, letters—were based solidly in fact.

From the tale of a Lenni Lenape boy to the Irish immigrant Annie Moore, and the workers who helped process the immigrants, the personal entries in your book resonate with emotion. Do you have favorites among these individuals? Who?

One favorite is the story of Danny and Grandpa Salvatore. In it, a grandfather reluctantly and with great fear tells his grandson the truth about how he came to America. I based the story on a true story told to me by Jeff Dosik, one of the Ellis Island librarians, about a man who had wanted so desperately to become American that he swam from Ellis to Jersey City.

Did you travel to Ellis island? Could you describe something of your research process?

I’ve been to Ellis Island twice, once as a tourist and once as a researcher. When researching, I made sure to visit the Bob Hope Memorial Library. It’s full of great information and photographs. I also spoke with people in the Oral History department and listened to interview with immigrants to Ellis Island.

Did your writing process differ when dealing with the historical narrative versus the individual entries? Which did you enjoy writing most?

It was important to make the chapter introductions—the nonfiction bits—as clear as possible to give readers context for the fictional pieces. I really loved writing the fictional monologues, dialogues, letters, diary entries. In general, I started with a particular written source or a historical photograph, which helped to ground the fiction in historical fact.

How have your readers responded to the book? How does it support the Common Core?

I’ve had great responses presenting the book to kids, particularly in middle schools. Hope and Tears fits in nicely with the Common Core requirement for reading informational texts.

In terms of specific standards, look at RI 5.6: Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent. Students can read multiple accounts of the immigrant experience, looking for similarities and differences in the journeys and in what happens upon arrival at Ellis Island.

Your other work is a short story from a much later period in history, the 1963 Freedom March. What drew you to this topic? You have a family connection to the event, right?

The story itself comes from the real-life journey my father and grandfather took in August 1963, when they boarded a bus in Indianapolis bound for the historic March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech. Along they way, the “mixed” crowd of blacks and whites on the bus had trouble finding restaurants that would serve them.

Why did you choose to focus on the trip to the Freedom March rather than the march itself?

I was intrigued by the idea of focusing on the journey to the March, rather than on the event itself. After all, anyone who went to the March on Washington was making history, even before the speakers started talking from in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

What were some of your challenges in writing this story?

The challenge with “Riding to Washington” was taking a real story and transforming it into fiction. I knew right away that I wanted to make the story interesting to kids, so even though none of the children in my family went to the March, I made sure the main character in “Riding” was a child—a girl who’s a bit of a trouble-maker at home.

How did this anthology come about? What was it like working on a collaborative project like this?

Riding to Washington was first published as a picture book with illustrations by David Geister. The publisher, Sleeping Bear Press, is very savvy. They’ve seen that kids in grades 2-4 are avid readers of history. So they re-formatted three historical picture books (one by me and two by Gloria Whelan) and put them together as American Adventures: Voices for Freedom. All three stories touch on some aspect of black history.

You’ve written over two dozen other books on a wide range of historical topics. Could you tell us about some of your other work?

My other recent book is a You Choose adventure. You know, the books where at the end of every few pages, you have to decide what the character does. Mine is World War I: An Interactive Adventure, published by Capstone, which has many You Choose books. It was fun to write, and I’ve even gotten fan mail from readers!

What are your plans for the future? What other topics have captured your interest?
On my story slinger blog, I’m doing a series of posts on a favorite topic: the history of one-room schools in America. I’m calling the series “One-Room Nation.” It’s a chance to showcase my research and photos of one-room schools, and I’ve gotten a great reaction so far.

Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog!

Thank you, Linda. It’s a treat to be interviewed by you!

Readers can find out more about Gwenyth Swain and her work at You can also visit her blog at