Author Archive

100 Years Ago This Week: “It’s War!”

America in WWI Research Topic

America in World War I Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Calling all History teachers!  Don’t let this week go by without talking to your students about World War I. This Thursday, April 6, marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ declaration of war on Germany. On April 2nd, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson had asked Congress for the declaration, stating that it would be a “war to end all wars” and that it would “make the world safe for democracy.” All-out war had been raging in Europe since August 1914. Wilson had kept America out of the fighting, even after the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915, which had 128 Americans on board. Germany had resumed unrestricted submarine (U-Boat) warfare on all commercial ships heading toward Britain.  In addition, British Intelligence intercepted a secret German diplomatic communication, called the Zimmermann Telegram, which proposed a military alliance between Germany and Mexico. These events, plus the fact that the United States had loaned massive amounts of money to the allies and feared it would not get that money back if the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) won, tipped the scales in favor of war.

Tom Young Mason Draft Card

Thomas Young Mason Draft Registration Card [Ancestry Library via ProQuest]

The Selective Service Act was signed May 18, 1917. In the United States, over 9-and-a half million men, ages 21 to 31, signed up at their local draft boards. One of those men was my grandfather, Thomas Young Mason. Tom was a 30-year-old farmer from Logan County, Kentucky, when he signed his draft card on June 5, 1917. The reason I know this is because I found a copy of his draft card while searching AncestryLibrary.com, available via ProQuest. I was surprised at how easy it was to find information about my grandfather. I can’t say that I know a lot about his time during the Great War. He died years before I was born, and my family never was much for telling war stories. I do, however, have some nice photographs of him in his WWI uniform. I also have, at home in my basement, the very hat he was wearing in those photos.

Thomas Young Mason (1886-1953)

WWI Photo of Thomas Young Mason [Image Courtesy Blog Author]

Grandma & Grandpa Mason

Grandma & Grandpa Mason [Photo Courtesy Blog Author]








My grandfather was one of the lucky ones who made it home from the War. Europeans bore the brunt of the casualties with 9 million military men killed and over 30 million wounded. World War I was one of the most tragic events in modern world history, and the “peace” that was reached at its end led directly to the Second World War.

eLibrary has many resources teachers can use to explain this momentous time in world History. A really good high school lesson plan called “Wilson & American Entry into World War I” can be found at EDSITEment!, a National Endowment for the Humanities website.  While you and your students are conducting research on this topic, don’t forget to check out ProQuest’s awesome Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War, a digital collection of writings produced near the trenches and on the home front.  During this 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, it might be a good idea to take some time out from your regular class assignments and get your students involved in a discussion on this timely topic. One idea would be to have your class watch the American Experience documentary The Great War,” which premieres on PBS April 10.


While Woodrow Wilson often gets credit for the phrase “the war to end all wars,” delivered during his April 1917 speech before Congress, many historians assume that he got the idea from a 1914 book by H.G. Wells entitled “The War That Will End War.”

The United States officially declared war on Austria-Hungary on December 7, 1917. Twenty-four years later, on December 7, 1941, FDR asked Congress for a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan, marking America’s entry into World War II.


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March Madness!

March Madness Research Topic

March Madness Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

It’s that time of year again when the grass is greening, leaves are sprouting, tornado sirens are wailing, and all are wondering who will be cutting down the nets in college hoops! In 2017, the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four will be held at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, while the women’s Final Four will be decided at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. A little history: The University of Oregon defeated Ohio State University 46-33 on March 27, 1939 in the first-ever NCAA men’s basketball tournament. For the first 12 years of the tourney, only 8 teams were invited to play. Today, 65 teams participate. The 2017 men’s Final Four will begin April 1 with the championship game on Monday, April 3rd.

The most successful team in NCAA men’s history is UCLA, with a record 11 titles, 10 of those under head coach John Wooden. The University of Kentucky is 2nd with 8 banners, followed by Indiana, Duke and North Carolina, each with 5 championships. The NCAA held the first women’s basketball tourney in 1982. The Connecticut Huskies are the most dominant team in the women’s tournament with 11 titles under coach Geno Auriemma. The Tennessee Volunteers are a close second with 8 championships under legendary coach Pat Summitt.

Pat Summitt Research Topic

Pat Summitt Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

John Wooden Research Topic

John Wooden Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary









We have Illinois basketball players to thank for the nickname “March Madness.” The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) began a boy’s tournament of 8 teams in March 1908 (Peoria High soundly beat Rock Island 48-29). The actual name “March Madness” probably comes from a 1939 article by IHSA executive secretary Henry V. Porter. In that article, entitled “March Madness,” Porter writes of the fans’ obsession with the thud of the ball on the court and the swish of the ball through the net.

Teachers can use students’ enthusiasm for March Madness in the classroom. Brian Sztabnik, an AP Literature teacher in Miller Place, New York, uses AP Lit March Madness, a method to determine the best work of literature that students have read during the year. Sztabnik has his students create brackets, form committees and vote on books they have read. Here is a link describing Brian’s neat idea: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/march-madness-meets-ap-lit-brian-sztabnik.

So, no matter which team you are rooting for (or against), don’t forget to fill out your brackets, and may the best team win!

NCAA March Madness BONUS

WKU Hilltoppers

The WKU Hilltoppers Photo by J. Glover [CC BY-SA 2.5]




The best mascot in all of sports: Western Kentucky University’s Big Red.  (Now you know who I am rooting for!)

75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066

Executive Order 9066

Executive Order 9066 Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese military conducted a bombing raid on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In the wake of that attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on February 19, 1942, signed a document that would itself live in infamy and have lasting consequences for Japanese Americans. Executive Order 9066 authorized the Secretary of War to prescribe “military areas” which would confine persons who were restricted from living in or traveling to coastal areas, mainly the West Coast of the United States. As a result of the Order, the Western Defense Command began the removal and detention of tens of thousands of residents of Japanese ancestry, mostly from California. (Anti-Asian prejudices had existed in California since the mid-1800s, beginning with Chinese immigrants. Anti-Japanese movements became widespread in California around 1900.) Within six months after FDR signed the Order, some 122,000 men, women and children were involuntarily taken to assembly areas. They were then moved to and confined in relocation centers, or, internment camps, that were isolated, fenced-in behind barbed wire and under military guard.

Japanese-American Internment

Japanese-American Internment Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary










Entire communities of Japanese Americans were uprooted. The U.S. government made no official charges against them, nor could they appeal their relocation and incarceration. Most of those relocated were American citizens. All lost their personal liberties; many lost their homes and personal property. There were ten relocation centers in remote areas in six western states and Arkansas: Heart Mountain, Wyoming; Tule Lake and Manzanar in California; Topaz in Utah; Poston and Gila River in Arizona; Granada in Colorado; Minidoka in Idaho, and Jerome and Rowher in Arkansas. For the next two-and-a-half years, Japanese Americans endured extremely difficult living conditions and poor treatment. Several prisoners used the legal system to challenge the government’s actions. Fred Korematsu, a U.S. citizen of Japanese descent, refused to go to an internment camp and was arrested, tried and convicted in federal court. He challenged FDR’s executive order, and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the Justices upheld Korematsu’s conviction on the grounds of military necessity.

Grave of Fred Korematsu

Grave of Fred Korematsu [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

These Japanese Americans were not allowed to return to their homes until January 2, 1945. In an ironic twist of history, during the course of World War II, only ten Americans were convicted of spying for Japan, and not one of them was of Japanese ancestry. In 1988, calling the internment of Japanese Americans “a grave wrong,” President Ronald Reagan signed a bill authorizing that each surviving internee receive a check for $20,000 along with an official apology from the United States government.

You can find out more about this important topic in U.S. history by searching eLibrary. Here are just a few related resources:

German- and Italian-American Internment (Research Topic)

Japanese American Internment (Reference Book)

Japanese Canadian Internment (Research Topic)

Racism (Research Topic)

90th Anniversary of “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”

The Bridge of San Luis Rey Research Topic

The Bridge of San Luis Rey Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

“On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.” That is the opening line of Thornton Wilder’s 1927 novel, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.” Makes you want to read more, does it not? In Wilder’s story, five people were walking on a century-old Inca rope bridge, a bridge which many in Peru thought would never collapse. Well, collapse it did, killing the five people who were walking across. The incident was witnessed by a Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk, who began to wonder if the accident occurred due to a divine plan, or if it was simply a random tragedy. His curiosity led him to investigate the lives of the five victims in order to prove that God intended those people to die together at that moment in time. After his research, he wrote an enormous book about the subject that was found to be heretical by the Church, resulting in both Brother Juniper and his book being burned in a town square. But, in a creative device used by Wilder, one copy of the monk’s book survived, which is supposedly the basis of the novel.

Thornton Wilder Research Topic

Thornton Wilder Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

A year after “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” was published, Wilder wrote to a friend: “It seems to me that my books are about: what is the worst thing that the world can do to you, and what are the last resources one has to oppose it. In other words: when a human being is made to bear more than human beings can bear—what then? . . . The Bridge asked the question whether the intention that lies behind love was sufficient to justify the desperation of living.” What makes Wilder’s book the enduring novel it is has everything to do with the questions it poses about our purpose on Earth. It begins as a book about truth, and ends as a book about love. The end of the novel goes as follows: “But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

The year 2017 marks the 90th anniversary of Thornton Wilder’s novel. Even after all this time, it is still read in many high schools, often assigned along with a reading of Wilder’s play “Our Town.” The novel has appeared on TIME Magazine’s list of the 100 best novels since 1923, and it ranked 37 on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century. I recommend blocking off a few hours this year (the novel is very short: I remember my brother’s copy was around 125 pages) to read Wilder’s excellent story. And while you are at it, please use eLibrary to brush up on Thornton Wilder and his other famous works.


Thornton Wilder was the winner of three Pulitzer Prizes: for his novel “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” (1928); for his play “Our Town” (1938) and for the play “The Skin of Our Teeth” (1942).

The Bridge of San Luis Rey” has been filmed three times: in 1929, 1944 and in 1994. The latest version starred Robert De Niro, F. Murray Abraham, Kathy Bates and Harvey Keitel.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair quoted from the novel when he was giving his remarks after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry

The Gift of the Magi Research Topic

“The Gift of the Magi” Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Talk about your twist endings! If you are an educator looking for ways to round out the ELA curriculum before the Christmas break, you might consider having your elementary/middle school class read O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi.” Full disclosure: I was aware of this short story for many years but never really took the time to read it until recently. As short stories go, this one is very short; it can be read in about 15 minutes or less.

O. Henry (aka William Sydney Porter) was known for unexpected endings to his stories. “The Gift of the Magi” provides a good example of comic irony. You all know the story: A young couple (Jim and Della Young) lives in a small apartment in the city. They each have one possession in which they take much pride: Jim, his grandfather’s pocket watch and Della her beautiful long, flowing hair. It’s Christmas Eve, and Della has only $1.87 to spend for her husband’s Christmas gift. She wishes to buy him a fob chain for his watch. To get the rest of the $21 she needs, Della cuts and sells her beautiful hair (evidently a common practice at the turn of the 20th century). She then buys the watch chain and hurries home.

O. Henry Research Topic

O. Henry Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary


If you haven’t guessed by now, Jim arrives home from work, stunned to see Della with her hair shorn in a chic Audrey Hepburn boy-cut! She presents him with the watch chain. Here comes the twist: Jim, surprised that she has cut her hair to buy him a gift, now gives his Christmas gift to her: a set of combs for her long hair. But, to get the money to buy the combs, Jim had to sell his watch. And, if you surmised that after this the couple grows bitter with the loss of their cherished belongings, drifts apart and that their marriage ends in a messy, public divorce…you would be WRONG!

O. Henry’s story was first published in The New York Sunday World in 1905 and later in book form as part of a short-story collection called “The Four Million” (1906). The tale has been adapted several times into plays and TV specials. One version that immediately jumps to mind is Disney’sOnce Upon a Christmas” (1999) in which Mickey and Mini Mouse play the lead roles. Another adaptation is a short-film anthology called “O. Henry’s Full House” (narrated by John Steinbeck), in which “The Gift of the Magi” is featured (1952). It can often be seen on Turner Classic Movies this time of year. Other than A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, this is probably one of the most-loved stories read during the holidays. The title, of course, gets its name from the Three Wise Men who presented the Christ child with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

"Gifts of the Magi" (1905)

O. Henry’s Original “Gifts of the Magi” (1905) [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Using eLibrary’s resources, teachers can find adaptations of “The Gift of the Magi” that would be perfect for an upper elementary or middle-school in-class play. If you want to teach your students about comic irony, or if you just want to present a heart-warming example of self-sacrificial love, take a few minutes of class time and read O. Henry’s classic tale.

eLibrary Resources:

American Literature (Research Topic)

Common Core ELA Grade 8: Literature (Research Topic)

Features of a Short Story (Hutchinson Encyclopedia)

The Gift of the Magi Classic Play (Scholastic Scope Magazine)

The Gift of the Magi Play (Scholastic Action Magazine)

The Gift of the Magi Adapted Play (Storyworks Magazine)

A Reading of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” (CBC Radio Website)

Using Irony (Website)

70 Years Later, and It’s Still “A Wonderful Life”

"It's a Wonderful Life" Research Topic

“It’s a Wonderful Life” Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

When it comes to Frank Capra’sIt’s a Wonderful Life,” people usually break down into two camps: They either love it or hate it. Critics typically have the same response – some praise it as an example of great American cinema, while others complain that it is sappy and overly sentimental. But one thing on which both fans and critics agree is the power of Jimmy Stewart’s performance as the decent, yet frustrated, George Bailey. As most of you know, the movie starts out as a comedy with flashbacks detailing important moments in Bailey’s life. Then, the film abruptly switches gears when George’s Building & Loan business suddenly loses $8,000. George, realizing he and his family will be financially ruined and that he might end up in prison, decides to kill himself.

Frank Capra, 1930s

Director Frank Capra [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

James Stewart Research Topic

James Stewart Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary










Jimmy Stewart’s performance from this point on becomes quite interesting. No longer the dependable son and father and citizen, Stewart summons up the dark side of George Bailey….a darkness that he was feeling in his own life. During World War II, Stewart flew B-24 bombers for the 703rd Bomber Squadron. Stewart spent over 4 years in the military and 15 months of that time in dangerous bombing runs. According to the book “Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe,” by Robert Matzen, Stewart suffered from PTSD and battle fatigue after he came home from the war. He was so thin and gaunt, that some of his friends were worried about him. Men who served with him said that Jimmy was not afraid of being shot down; he was more afraid of making a mistake and killing his own American troops down on the ground.

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Donna Reed & Jimmy Stewart

Donna Reed with James Stewart [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]










After the war, when Stewart went back to Hollywood, he was extremely anxious because he had not acted in a film in almost five years. Frank Capra (who was battling his own PTSD issues after filming documentaries of the war) approached Stewart with an idea for a movie. Stewart was reluctant, but agreed to do the project. Co-star Donna Reed said there were some tense moments during filming, and it was “not a happy set.”  Stewart’s character was deaf in one ear, just as Stewart himself had suffered hearing loss due to the sound of the planes in long bombing missions. Behind the scenes, Stewart was questioning whether he should quit acting because it was such a superficial profession. It was then that Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter) said to him, “So, are you saying it’s more worthwhile to drop bombs on people than to entertain them?” After hearing this, Stewart threw himself fully into the role of George Bailey, giving one of the best performances of his career.

"It's a Wonderful Life" Screenshot

Iconic Scene from “Wonderful Life” [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

This Christmas season, being the 70th anniversary of the release of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” take time to watch the movie with a fresh set of eyes, paying close attention to Stewart’s performance, especially during the scenes where George Bailey seems at his most desperate. After the war, these same scenes may have been acted out in homes in small towns all over America.


Wonderful Life Trivia:

For the role of Mary Hatch, Capra wanted his favorite actress Jean Arthur, but since she had Broadway commitments, he sought out Ginger Rogers and then Olivia de Havilland, but then found Donna Reed.

The film is based on the short story “The Greatest Gift” (1943) by Philip Van Doren Stern.

The fictitious Bedford Falls is based on the real-life town of Seneca Falls, NY.

The character of Mr. Potter is likely based on Norman J. Gould, a Seneca Falls businessman who had control over the politicians and much of the economy of the town.

It’s a Wonderful Life” was Capra’s favorite among films he directed, and he screened it for his family every Christmas.

The famous swimming pool scene was filmed in the gymnasium at Beverly Hills High School. Built in 1939, the pool is still in operation.

Jack London Died 100 Years Ago Today

Jack London Research Topic

Jack London Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Jack London doesn’t make many reading lists these days, but in the early 1900s, he was one of the most-read and best-loved American authors of his time. He was born John Griffith Chaney in 1876 in San Francisco. The son of an unwed mother and a father who was never part of his life, Jack grew up hard. He quit school at the age of 14 to work in a factory. As a teen, he rode trains, pirated oysters, shoveled coal and served on a seal-hunting schooner in the Bering Sea. When he had free time, Jack soaked up all the novels and travel books he could find in the local library. His life as a writer began in 1893. After surviving a harrowing sea voyage, the 17-year-old London entered a writing contest and won first prize ($25) by writing about the event. Years later, he briefly attended the University of California at Berkeley but quit and headed to Canada and the gold rush in the Yukon. He moved back to California and began writing in earnest. London found international fame at the age of 27 with his novel “The Call of the Wild” (1903) and later with the publication of “White Fang” (1906).

The Call of the Wild Research Topic

The Call of the Wild Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

While writing novels, short stories and travel tales, London also found time to cover the Russo-Japanese War for William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers. A colorful, controversial figure, he was often in the news for his adventurous exploits. Between 1900 and 1916, London wrote more than 50 fiction and non-fiction books, hundreds of short stories and magazine articles. London also supported many social issues of his day including women’s suffrage and workers’ rights. He was among the first writers to work with the movie industry. His novel “The Sea Wolf” (1904) became one of America’s first full-length silent motion pictures in 1907.

The Sea Wolf

The Sea Wolf [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

White Fang

White Fang [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]










Jack London’s hard-driving lifestyle eventually caught up with him. His doctor urged him to change his work habits and his diet and ordered him to stop drinking. London refused to comply. He died on November 22, 1916, at the age of 40. On a personal note, if you read only one of Jack London’s books, I recommend “The Sea Wolf.” It is a great psychological thriller involving shipwrecks, rescues, and a mutiny. The novel is propelled by the brilliant, but savage, Wolf Larsen, captain of the doomed ship Ghost. If you can’t find time to read the novel, check out the 1941 film of the same name starring Edward G. Robinson as the title character. While not completely faithful to the novel, it is a very fine movie in its own right. And don’t forget to search eLibrary’s many literary resources!

November 22 Death Trivia:

Q: Jack London shares a death anniversary date with which U.S. President?

A. John F. Kennedy (November 22, 1963).

Q: Which two famous literary figures also died on November 22?

A: C. S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley (both on the same day JFK was assassinated).

Winnie-the-Pooh Turns 90!

Original Winnie-the-Pooh Toys

Christopher Robin Milne’s Original Toys [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

The story of Winnie-the-Pooh begins, as many great stories do, in 1914 at the beginning of the Great War. At the outbreak of World War I, Canadian troops from Winnipeg, Manitoba, were being transported by train to eastern Canada where they would then be shipped off to Europe to join the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade. When the train stopped at White River, Ontario, Harry Colebourn, a lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, bought a small female black bear from a hunter who had killed the cub’s mother. Colebourn paid $20 for the cub and called her “Winnipeg” after his hometown, and then nick-named her “Winnie.” The cub became the brigade’s mascot and was shipped overseas to Britain with the Canadians. When the brigade received its orders to depart for the battlefields of France, Colebourn donated the bear to the London Zoo, where she lived until 1934.

Harry Colebourn & the Original "Winnie"

Harry Colebourn and Winnie [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Fast-forward to 1921 when British playwright A. A. Milne’s wife Daphne gave her son, Christopher Robin Milne, a stuffed bear she bought at Harrods Department Store. Christopher named the bear “Edward.” When Christopher was a bit older, his parents would take him to the London Zoo where “Winnie” became his favorite animal. The bear was so tame that Christopher was even allowed inside Winnie’s cage to feed her. Christopher then began to call his stuffed bear “Winnie.” Daphne purchased other stuffed animals for her son, which he named Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo and Tigger. Young Christopher invented voices and personalities for his stuffed toys which began to inspire his father to write poems and stories about the animals.

Technically, Christopher’s bear Edward made his first appearance in print in 1924 in a poem called “Teddy Bear,” but the first book written about “Winnie” was published on October 14, 1926, under the title “Winnie-the-Pooh.” It was followed in 1928 by “The House at Pooh Corner.” Milne’s collaboration with illustrator E. H. Shepard proved to be literary dynamite. The Pooh stories have sold well over 50 million copies in 25 languages.

A. A. Milne Research Topic

A. A. Milne Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

This October, you can wish Pooh a happy 90th birthday by having a cup of tea and reading the Milne/Shepard books and researching other classics of Children’s Literature in eLibrary.


*The name “Pooh” came not from a bear but from a real swan that lived near Milne’s county home. The swan appears in the poem “The Mirror” in the book “When We Were Very Young.”

*The characters of “Owl” and “Rabbit” were the only ones not inspired by Christopher Robin’s stuffed animals.

*Walt Disney brought the characters to film in 1966. Pooh is 2nd only to Mickey Mouse in the list of Disney’s most-loved characters.

*Ashdown Forest in Sussex, England, is the setting for the Hundred Acre Wood in the books.

*Christopher Robin’s original stuffed toys can be seen on permanent display at the New York Public Library’s branch on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street.

*The actor Sterling Holloway was the voice of Pooh in the original Disney films.

*Harry Colebourn served for 3 years in France, rising to the rank of Major. After the War, he returned to Winnipeg where he opened a private veterinary practice. He died in 1947. There are statues of both Colebourn and Winnie at the Winnipeg Zoo and the London Zoo.

Above the Dreamless Dead: Interview with Editor Chris Duffy

Here we are, right in the middle of the 100th anniversary of World War I (1914-1918). Those of you who read these blogs may have noticed that eLibrary has been posting occasional entries relating to various topics of the “Great War.” I have been perusing many articles and books about the First World War and was searching around on Amazon for something else to read when I came across the book “Above the Dreamless Dead.” It is a unique mixture of poems from the Trench Poets of World War I and artwork from today’s finest cartoonists. The collection was edited by New York Times bestselling editor Chris Duffy. Thinking that this book would be a great resource to use in schools for teaching both history and poetry, I reached out to First Second Books for an interview with Mr. Duffy.  Here are the questions and responses from that interview:

Editor Chris Duffy of First Second Books

Chris Duffy of First Second Books [Photo Used by Permission]


1. First of all, what made you want to compile a book of WWI poetry in graphic form?


2. Have you always been interested in WWI?          [Mr. Duffy answered both questions at once]



Mr. Duffy: The idea came from editor Calista Brill at First Second. She called me up one day and said “We have this idea for a book to round out our season.” She described the idea of current cartoonists adapting the work of the Trench Poets as part of the centennial of the start of World War I. She asked if maybe I would edit it, but she had someone else in mind if I said no. I thought it was a pretty bad idea at first and I almost passed–I mean, what do we have in common today with men who lived in muddy trenches and watched their buddies die (and who died) a hundred years ago? Didn’t seem like a great fit with the cartoonists I know, who are for the most part sheltered from war. Then I started reading a lot of World War I poetry just to see. There’s a lot of it, the best of it is amazing, and all of it is compelling–and I started to really see how visual and narrative a lot of it was/ is. Then I started thinking about cartoonists who have spent their careers engaging with war and related themes–Pat Mills, Sarah Glidden, George Pratt, Peter Kuper, Garth Ennis, just to name a few. The project started seeming like a GREAT idea. In the end, I think the book is both about the poetry and about cartoonists of today engaging with the past and with a specific group of writers.

3. Why do you think that WWI has been a neglected topic in classrooms over the decades?

Mr. Duffy: I really don’t know, but I’m asked that a lot. I think people feel a distance there and want to bridge it. I highly recommend anyone read the work of the war poets and writers to bridge not only the distance between them and the past, but with them and soldiers in general.

4. What is your favorite WWI poem?

Mr. Duffy: “As the Team’s Head Brass” by Edward Thomas. It’s a home front poem. A soldier, probably Thomas, watches a ploughman at work and every time he passes by they exchange some words–about the war, the weather, the tree that fell that the ploughman can’t remove because all the younger men are at war. It’s an everyday scene but the poem is about life, death, alternate worlds, young love, death, and maybe a great tragedy to come. I believe it’s Seamus Heany’s favorite World War I poem, so I feel pretty good about my choice. It didn’t make it into the book; several cartoonists turned it down when offered. Maybe I should have pushed harder!

5Who is your favorite WWI-era poet?

Mr. Duffy: Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and Edward Thomas. But it’s hard to choose.

"Above the Dreamless Dead" from First Second Books

“Above the Dreamless Dead” [Image Used by Permission of First Second Books]


6Are you yourself a graphic artist?

Mr. Duffy: I draw and make comics, but not professionally.

7. Any ideas on how educators could use Above the Dreamless Dead to get the discussion started with students concerning both poetry and WWI?

Mr. Duffy: I think it would be a good follow up to a unit on World War I–maybe the students could read one poem, talk about it, and then look at the adaptation and discuss the choices the cartoonist made. I also think it’s a good opportunity for students to research one poet–his life, war experience, and career. In one way or another World War I was a huge part of every one of the poet’s lives. In many cases it ended their life. But I’m not a teacher, so beware of these tossed-off suggestions!

8. Why do you think WWI inspired such an outpouring of poetry, whereas other wars do not seem to have generated such literary creativity, especially in poetic form?

Mr. Duffy: I don’t know. I postulate that poetry was something read and written by more people at that time than after. I have also read that this was the first generation of young British men to benefit from big education reforms–the average soldier would have been more literate than in previous wars. But I don’t know the whole story about why!

9If you could go back in time and say something to one of these Trench poets, what would it be?

Mr. Duffy: That’s a little too ahistorical for me. We can’t go back in time. You have to read to learn about them.

10. With the tremendous amount of poetry produced during and after WWI, are there any more such anthologies in the works?

Mr. Duffy: I hope so! Not by me, but I think poetry is a rich topic for cartoonists.

(Thanks to Chris Duffy and a special thanks to Gina Gaglinao of First Second Books for setting up the interview.)

The best review I can give for the book is this: I was in my basement reading it when my son Josh, who has ZERO interest in poetry but likes comic books, stopped and asked what I was reading.  I told him a little about the book and showed it to him. He said something like, “Hmmm. Interesting.” Later that evening, when I walked past his room, I saw him sitting in his “gaming chair” reading “Above the Dreamless Dead.”

If you wish to contact First Second Books to ask about ordering this book for your classroom or school library, please follow this link:   First Second Books

During this 100th anniversary of World War I, please use the many resources available in ProQuest’s eLibrary to learn more about the War to End All Wars:

America and World War I (Research Topic)

British Poets of World War I (Research Topic)

Canada and World War I (Research Topic)

Canadian Poets of World War I (Research Topic)

Common Core ELA: History/Social Studies (Research Topic)

Common Core ELA: Reading Literature (Research Topic)

Poetry (Research Topic)

ProQuest Research Topic Guide: World War I (Research Topic)

Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War (ProQuest)

Trench Warfare of World War I (Research Topic)

World War I: A History in Documents (Reference Book)

And just some of the Research Topics for WWI-era poets:

Rupert Brooke, John McCrae, Robert Graves,

Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and Siegfried Sassoon

Aces & Eights: The Death of “Wild Bill” Hickok

Wild Bill Hickok Research Topic

Wild Bill Hickok Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Everyone loves a good Western. Whether it be a novel, TV show or movie, the Western is a uniquely American genre. How many times in countless films has the lone gunfighter faced seemingly insurmountable odds and come out victorious in the end? The hero (or anti-hero) of the Western has become so woven into the fabric of the lore of the United States that it is often hard to separate fact from fiction. While there are many false stories floating around about Wild Bill Hickok (many of them invented by Wild Bill himself), it appears that James Butler Hickock was the real deal. In fact, the image of the lean, tall laconic gunfighter comes mostly from contemporary accounts and descriptions of Hickok. Born in Illinois in 1837, Hickok moved to Kansas Territory in the 1850s. During the Civil War, he fought for the Union in a vigilante group known as the Jayhawkers. It was there he met William Cody, who would later become Buffalo Bill. It was also during the War that he began to call himself William Hickok (or Haycock) instead of James. After the war, his reputation as a scout, lawman, gunfighter and gambler began to grow. He became marshal of Abilene, known to be one of the toughest towns in the West. His fame was solidified after a shootout in Nebraska during which he shot three men. A story about the gunfight was printed in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine under the title “Wild Bill Hickok.” The name stuck.

Wild Bill, Texas Jack & Buffalo Bill

Wild Bill, Texas Jack & Buffalo Bill [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Wild Bill Hickok

Wild Bill HIckok [CC0 Public Domain] via Pixabay










Hickok carried two Colt Model 1851 Navy revolvers in a red sash around his waist, their ivory handles turned forward for an underhand “twist draw.” His numerous shootouts in several western towns earned him the notoriety of being a man not to be trifled with. Wild Bill loved to gamble. It was also his habit to sit in a saloon with his back to the wall so that no one could sneak up on him from behind. On August 2, 1876, in Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory (now South Dakota), the only chair left at a table put Hickok’s back to the door. He asked Charles Rich to change seats with him. Rich refused, forcing Wild Bill to sit with his back exposed to the swinging doors of the bar. Not long afterwards, in walked Jack McCall who had lost heavily playing poker with Hickok the previous day. McCall pulled a pistol and shot Wild Bill in the head from just three feet away. The men were playing five-card draw at the time of the murder, and the cards that fell from Hickok’s hand were a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights, which have ever since been known as the “Dead Man’s Hand.”

Aces & Eights

Dead Man’s Hand via Tage Olsin C.C. 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

Many of the Old West legends are just that…folklore, fabrications, exaggerations and tall tales. Just like this blog, some parts may be true, some not so much. Why don’t you do some research in eLibrary in these waning days of summer and discover more about the myths and realities of the American West.

Calamity Jane (Research Topic)

eLibrary Basic Search

Famous Figures of the Old West (Topic Search)

ProQuest Research Topics

Westward Expansion (Topic Search)

Wild West (Magazine)

Wyatt Earp (Research Topic)