Monday, February 16, 2015

Presidential Readings: Three Distinctly Different Presidents and their Distinctive Biographies.

It's President's Day, and what could be more appropriate than to spend this holiday reading about men who have graced the Oval Office.  This is quite an elite group of men.  In over two hundred years there have been forty-four men who have braved campaigns and won the votes to hold the title of President of the United States.  There are many biographies about these men but some have proven to be better than others.  Not too dry.  Not too condescending and very enjoyable to read.  Some are meant for sharing with others.  In honor of this day that is set aside to recognize our Presidents, here are a few good biographies and little known facts about three of our Presidents.  Seriously these titles should not be overlooked.

Most people wouldn't be surprised to know that out of all the U.S. Presidents,  Abraham Lincoln has had more books written about him, his family and his presidency.  That's quite amazing. However, it was Edwin Stanton who coined the phrase, "He belongs to the ages."  at the moment that  Lincoln died.  How keen Stanton's prediction was back then.  Could he have ever imagined that future authors, fiction and nonfiction, would be inspired by the Sixteenth President?  It was probably a good guess but fact remains, Honest Abe's story is very much as captivating today as it was when he roamed the White House.  Which is why it's so difficult to pick out one Lincoln book that is a must read.  For the purpose of this post, there is one book that definitely stands out as a must have.  Mark Levine has put together a stunning picture book title simply Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. (2010)    It's  beauty lies in the way Levine places pictures and words tougher to give full impact on what Lincoln saw, felt and  conveyed to his audience that day.

In all honesty, every president,  has had an interesting story of their rise to the Oval Office.  Most readers gravitate to the "popular" or most remembered presidents to read about.  Consider this a challenge to read about a not so popular president whose life is not a cookie cutter by any stretch of the imagination.   Can you guess the president who  was elected to office as a bachelor,  was mayor of Buffalo before becoming Presdient, won the popular vote three times but lost the election once to the Electoral College. Give up?   The answer is Grover Cleveland.  (the 22nd and 24th president).
A fascinating biography written by John Pafford entitled The Forgotten Conservative should be on a list of books to read for every American History buff.  Cleveland was probably the last Democrat President who believed in small government.

The American Lion written by Newsweek editor, Jon Meachan is about a U.S.  president who answered to the moniker of Old Hickory and Sharp Knife.   This president had more drama than most presidents.   This includes having fought in about 100 duels, most of which were to defend the honor of his wife Rachel.  In this day an age what would the headline read if our president was shot during  duel  at a bar? needless to say it would be scandalous and tabloids would be there to try to get the best picture to grace the front page.  This president was vengeful, and he was also the seventh president.   If the name Andrew Jackson didn't come to mind, a little history review might be in order.   Meachan does a wonderful job at entertaining the readers while giving a  full education on Jackson's time and life.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Jails, Reading & Second Chances

Steve Cohen wrote an article for Forbes in December of 2010 that has stuck out as one of the more interesting articles written on Literacy in America. What is striking about the article is how it grabs the reader in with the headlines.  $5 for A Children's Book or $47,000 for a Jail Cell your choice.  It's a headline that can't be ignored or forgotten.    In Mr. Cohen's article, the facts are laid out on the harsh reality of what low reading skills leads to in our high competitive society.  Although many believe  that states use low reading scores as an indicator to how many beds they will need to fill up prison is a urban legend, there is some truth to that formula.   As it was pointed out in last week's post,  low reading skills are closely tied with school drop out rates,  poverty and crime.

Take this startling statistic from Cohen's article,  60% of America’s prison inmates are illiterate. That number was from 2010.  The number have not changed much according to the website Literacy Project Foundation, which maintains 3 out of 5  incarcerated adults  can not read.   So if nothing has changed, the problem of illiteracy is still not addressed to the point of finding the right solution for the present time.   Legislating that America's young children should have a reading comprehension of third grade in order to advance to fourth grade is not a solution for those who are incarcerated.  When these men and women are released from prison they are placed back into society with much baggage. As one can imagine, it can be very disheartening to be released from prison with little hope of a place to live, a place to work or  opportunity to make a valiant effort at a second chance in life.    What's the best way to give those who want to turn their life around the second chance?

Libraries in the correctional facilities are a good place to start.   According to 2011 report  "State of Recidivism:  The Revolving Door of American's Prisons.",  published by  The Pew Center on the State, it is noted that at least 95 percent of prisoners ultimately will be returning to their communities after incarceration.    This is an opportunity for libraries to provide services to these individual and help them find their "place" in society.   Reading programs such as Adult Literacy groups which are located in many major library systems,  train volunteer tutors to teach valuable reading skills to adults seeking assistance.  However, it takes courage to take that first step in asking for help or at times even knowing where to seek help.   That is why some public libraries are now providing library services at the correctional facilities.  It has been proven that teaching life skills, especially reading skills,  that the re-incarceration numbers fall.  That is to say, that some of  incarcerated adult who took advantage of he reading skills tutoring did not become repeat offenders and return to the correctional facilities.  it actually proves that reading does give hope for a better future.

Back to Cohen's eye-catching headline:  $5 ver $47,000.  Cohen's point was that it would be ideal if as a society we'd spend $5 for a children's book to share in low income areas then to spend $47,000 on a jail cell where some of these children will end up as adults.  His point is well stated but for those who are stuck in the correctional system something has to be done today.  Why not check out what the Adult Literacy programs are doing in your neck of the woods?  If volunteering to be a tutor is not an option, monetary donations are always helpful as well as book donations.     It really does not take much to help spread the love of reading.  Quite frankly, if everyone read a little more, our society would be in a much better place.   Just a thought.