Posts Tagged ‘American Literature’

“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)

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).

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe!

Edgar Allan Poe Research Topic

Edgar Allan Poe Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

The name Edgar Allan Poe usually brings to mind stories of murder and the macabre, mysterious women who come back from the dead, premature burials and the insane. He is known mostly for such classics as “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” yet he was a very versatile author whose canon includes poems, short stories, a novel, a textbook, a book on scientific theory, literary criticism and book reviews. He is acknowledged as the inventor of the modern detective story and an innovator in the genre of science fiction. Edgar Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809, less than a month before the birth of Abraham Lincoln. (Lincoln, ever the lover of the dark and melancholy, was a fan of Poe’s “The Raven,” and he was known to have carried a copy of the poem with him while on the legal circuit, reading and quoting from it often.) Poe’s father abandoned the family in 1810, and his mother died of “consumption” a year later. Poe was taken in by the family of John Allan, which is where he got his middle name. Poe married his 13-year-old cousin in 1835. By all accounts it was a happy marriage that lasted for 11 years, until his wife’s untimely death, which may account for some of the dark subject matter in his writings.

Illustration of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Harry Clarke, 1919

“The Tell-Tale Heart” via Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

Cover of Poe's "The Raven"

“The Raven” via Library of Congress [Public Domain]










Poe’s own death is shrouded in mystery. In 1849, while on his way to Philadelphia, he stopped in Baltimore and disappeared for five days. On October 3rd, he was found on a street, delirious and in great distress. Poe was taken to the Washington Medical College, but he was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in such dire straits. He wasn’t even wearing his own clothes. He kept repeating the name “Reynolds,” but it is not clear to whom he was referring. He died on October 7, with his last words being “Lord, help my poor soul.”

Poe's Grave in Baltimore, MD

Poe’s Grave via Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

Jumping ahead, Poe’s grave in Westminster Hall in Baltimore became the subject of another mystery. For decades, every January 19th, an unknown night-time visitor called the “Poe Toaster” would leave three roses and a cognac on Poe’s grave. The Toaster’s final appearance was in 2009, the day of Poe’s 200th birthday, thus putting an end to the annual tradition.


Spend some time in the stark, frozen months of Winter to learn more about Edgar Allan Poe and other literary greats using eLibrary.



19th-Century Literature Topic Search                             American Literature Research Topic

Annabel Lee                                                                         The Conqueror Worm

The Fall of the House of Usher                                         List of eLibrary Literature Publications

The Masque of the Red Death                                          The Murders in the Rue Morgue

The Pit and the Pendulum                                                  Poetry Research Topic

The Premature Burial                                                          The Raven

Romanticism Research Topic                                           The Tell-Tale Heart


Remembering Maya Angelou

"Maya Angelou." Photo credit: www.geteverwise.com / Foter / CC BY-SA

“Maya Angelou.” Photo credit: www.geteverwise.com / Foter / CC BY-SA

Today marks exactly one year since we lost Maya Angelou on May 28, 2014. Her literary and educational contributions go beyond books and wisdom. She was an activist, actress, composer, dancer, director, editor, essayist, playwright, poet, singer, storyteller and writer. In the 86 years she spent on Earth sharing her art, voice and many gifts, it is her strength and poise we will remember most. To honor the full life she led, I thought it would be befitting to list 10 facts you may not know about Maya Angelou and reflect on the woman who published more than just poetry. She imprinted our hearts with empathy and adoration so that we always seek to understand instead of to judge.

1. She Was a Southern Soul

Maya Angelou loved country music.

2. Her Real Name Was Not Maya Angelou

She was born Marguerite Annie Johnson.

3. She Reached an Educational Milestone

Maya Angelou received over 30 honorary doctorates from universities spanning the world during her life, but never attended college.

4. She Was Very Multi-Talented

Aside from being a poet, she was a calypso singer and dancer. She also immersed herself in other artistic areas including acting, directing, editing, and playwriting.

5. Her Birthday Held a Unique Significance

April 4, 1928 was Maya Angelou’s birthday and April 4, 1968 was the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. She didn’t celebrate her own birthday for years after his death because of the shared date.

6. She Was Multilingual

She mastered French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Fanti and English of course.

7. She Earned Presidential Praise

In 1993, Maya Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” during Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration and was the first black female poet to do so.

8. She Loved Oprah

Though Maya Angelou had one son, she thought of Oprah Winfrey as the daughter she never had.

9. You Can Say She’s a Space Poet

NASA sent Maya Angelou’s poem “A Brave and Startling Truth” into space aboard the Orion spacecraft in December 2014.

10. She Was a Powerful Advocate

Maya Angelou was a strong supporter of civil rights and marriage equality.

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise,
we don’t believe in it at all.”Noam Chomsky

The idea of books being banned seems like it would be a violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of speech protections. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled in the 1982 case of Board of Education v. Pico that “local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.” Yet more than 30 years later, hundreds of books are challenged in schools and libraries in the United States each year.

ALA Banned Books Week

Image by American Library Association

The first Banned Books Week was celebrated later that same year, and it is now an annual national celebration of the freedom to read. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, it seeks to draw national attention to the harms of censorship. This year it will be celebrated from September 21−27, with an emphasis on comic books and graphic novels.

According to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least 46 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the target of ban attempts. Ironically, a science fiction novel in which firemen burn books and the state suppresses learning, is among those that have been challenged and banned in the U.S. (Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury in 1953).

In 2012, the American Library Association (ALA) created an interactive timeline celebrating 30 years of liberating literature. The ALA has also produced a map displaying banned and challenged books throughout the United States from 2007-2010. You can learn where books were challenged or banned, the rationales, and the outcomes. 

Educators can find resources to engage students and explore the topics of book censorship, intellectual freedom and the rights protected by the First Amendment with SIRS Issues Researcher’s Leading Issue Banned Books. All Leading Issues include a topic overview, essential questions and answers, a timeline, resources for critical thinking and analysis, as well as articles that cover pro/con viewpoints, global impact and statistics. Invite your students to enlist in the battle against censorship today!

Banned Books Leading Issue

Banned Books Leading Issue on ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher

Thoreau’s “Walden” Published 160 Years Ago

Walden Pond“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” (1)

This week, 160 years ago, Henry David Thoreau published “Walden; or, Life in the Woods.” For two years, two months, and two days, Henry David Thoreau spent his time in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, a plot of land just outside of Concord, Massachusetts owned by his mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. This is where the seeds of “Walden” would be cultivated and influence every environmental and conservation writer since.

Most people think of Thoreau’s “Walden” as a meditation on simply living, self-reliance, and the value of nature and wilderness. But for Thoreau the value of wilderness wasn’t just about the superficial appreciation for nature, it was also an appreciation of wilderness as a metaphor for the adventurous human Henry David Thoreau3spirit. “Be rather the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clark and Frobisher, of your own streams and oceans; explore your own higher latitudes … be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you …”. (2) With “Walden,” Thoreau became the leading light for all writers to follow in the coming environmental and conservation movement. His introspections on nature and wilderness and why it is valuable to human existence influenced the later writings of many leading environmentalists and conservationists, past and present, including John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Wendell Berry.

eLibrary has an array of resources on Henry David Thoreau, “Walden,” and other nature writers and writings on wilderness and conservation of wild places.

Explore these resources and more:

Research Topics:

Henry David Thoreau
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Walden; or, Life in the Woods

Browse Topics:

American Literature
American Transcendentalism
Conservation & Biodiversity
Henry David Thoreau

(1) Corrente, Linda. Walden, Barron’s Booknotes. Barron’s Educational Series Inc., 2004. eLibrary.
(2) Richardson, Robert D. “Walden’s Ripple Effect.” Smithsonian 01 Aug. 2004. 106. eLibrary.

Anniversary of “The Raven”: Why Poe’s Famous Poem Lives On Forevermore

On this day in 1845, Edgar Allan Poe’s narrative poem, “The Raven,” was published in the New York Evening Mirror. Although the poem earned him a mere nine dollars upon its publication, it immediately captured readers’ imaginations and made Poe a household name. More than a century and a half later, our continued fascination with Poe and his mythical bird are evident throughout popular culture. What other poem can be said to have inspired an NFL football team (the Baltimore Ravens), a rock album (Lou Reed’s “The Raven”), a Hollywood film (“The Raven,” starring John Cusack as Poe) and an episode of “The Simpsons” (“Treehouse of Horror”)? Even those who’ve never read the poem are likely to recognize its most famous line: Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

Poe considered the death of a beautiful woman the “most poetical topic in the world,” and he believed that bereaved lovers made great narrators. Thus “The Raven” follows an unnamed narrator who is beset with grief over the death of his beloved Lenore. Late one dreary December night while reading a book in an effort to distract himself from his sorrow, the narrator is visited by a mysterious guest—the raven, who answers the narrator’s every inquiry with a single, maddening word: Nevermore. The poem’s supernatural atmosphere and gothic setting give “The Raven” its spooky appeal. But the narrator’s mental anguish gives the poem its emotional power. By the end of the poem, the bereaved narrator, so distraught at the prospect of never seeing his love again, has lost his sanity. If you’ve never gotten around to reading this most famous of American poems, give it a shot! Find out why “The Raven” continues to haunt and enthrall readers. After you’ve read it, visit the Literary Corner in SIRS Renaissance to learn more about the poem and its legendary author.

Happy Birthday, Emily Dickinson!

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)Happy 182nd birthday, Emily Dickinson!  (Apologies for going against the adage that one should never ask or reveal a lady’s age.)  Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born December 10, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts. Emily lived and wrote in seclusion most of her life with the majority of her nearly 1800 poems published after her death in 1886.  Despite early criticism of her work, Emily is now regarded as one of America’s finest poets.

eLibrary offers a wealth of information on Emily Dickinson.  Articles on her life, her poetry and critical review of her work can all be found in eLibrary.  One place to begin your research is The Emily Dickinson Journal.  This journal can be accessed via the Publications tab.  Just type the name in the search box or click on the E in the Publications list to find the journal. Emily Dickinson Publication Search Another offering is the Emily Dickinson Research Topic.  Find it by typing Emily Dickinson in the basic or advanced search box or by clicking on Browse Research Topics on the basic search main page.  Click on the E and you will find Emily listed there. Browse Research Topics Finally, try searching Emily under the Topics tab.  Here you will retrieve targeted biographical information on Emily as well as information on her catalog of works.Emily Dickinson Topic Search

Celebrate Emily Dickinson’s birthday and give yourself a gift by learning more about her life and poetry in eLibrary!

Rhonda Sheehan