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What Most People Don't Know

The Oswego Public Library opened in 1857, one year before Boston's first purpose-built public library.  While Boston's building is long gone, Oswego's "Castle on the Hill" continues to serve and is America's oldest public library still in its original building.

Ink drawing of library building

The first overdue notice ran that same year in an Oswego newspaper:

NOTICE.—Many valuable sets of books
belonging to the old Oswego Library, and also
to that of the Mechanics' Association, are broken
by missing volumes. Among the missing are... 
Whoever may
hold these missing numbers, or any others be-
longing to the Libraries now consolidated in the
new "Oswego City Library," are respectfully re-
quested to return them, with the assurance that
no motive for their retention will be ascribed,
other than that oversight to which we are all
liable. C. HULL, Librarian.

Gerrit Smith, in an 1853 letter, promised to fund the Oswego Public Library with $25,000 for the building and books. This is the equivalent of $2,000,000 today and was Mr. Smith's largest philanthropic gift. Considered the richest man in the state, he was also a social reformer, three time U.S. Presidential candidate without ever campaigning, and an ardent Abolitionist. The tugboat play center in the Oswego Public Library Children’s Room is named in his honor.

From the opening of its doors there were no restrictions on usage because of race, gender, or social standing. Oswego Public Library patrons have always included African-Americans and prominent members of the local community. Early borrowing records confirm that several African-American families used the library during its first years. For example, Tudor E. Grant (a former slave then Oswego barber) and his son George Franklin Grant, 11-years-old when the library opened, are listed in the books.

Booktalking Bitter End by Jennifer Brown

cover for Bitter End bookAlex is smitten by a new hot boy that she meets in her class, Cole Cozen. He is sexy, fun and he seems so nice. He is sweet, and he hugs her warmly. The boy waits for her while she is working at The Bread Basket, and then he takes her home. The teen is loving the feeling of being loved. She likes the idea of having a boyfriend... someone to care about and share her life with.
Alex can always count on her best friends forever, Zack and Bethany. They have been a threesome for years. They recall her awkward moments as a seven-year-old. The friends are currently planning a fantastic skiing trip together. They go out to eat, attend parties and support each other in life. They have so much fun joking together and fooling around. Alex does not know what she would do without them. 
Then, Cole gets jealous of Alex's relationship with Zack. He insists that Zack wants to be her girlfriend, even though she tries to assure him that their relationship is purely platonic. Cole randomly shows up at her house and admits that he has been following her. He swings her too fast at the playground and refuses to stop even when she pleads with him. Cole is too rough with her, but he apologizes. Then she visits him, and he calls her a slut because he observed her roughhousing with Zack. Alex gets angry and argues with him. Then, he does something unforgiveable.
Cole grabs Alex roughly and punches her twice in the cheek.
Alex sees flashes of light and she experiences searing pain. Her hip, face and other parts of her body have never known so much pain. She is forced to miss two days of school. Even makeup and clothing do little to hide the marks and bruises. Her sister, father and work supervisor are concerned, and they try to entice her to talk about her problems. The girl desperately wishes to confide in Georgia, her supervisor, but something holds her back. Cole brings her flowers, sweet apologies and promises to mend his ways. Alex knows that she should leave Cole, but she is hesitant to make the break and trapped in her own silence about the abuse. 
Bitter End by Jennifer Brown, 2011
This work was a stark look into the reality of teenage domestic violence.

Booktalking The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris

The Truths We Hold cover imageIn 2020, Kamala Harris became the first Black and Indian American US vice presidential nominee. In 2017, she became the first woman of color Californian district attorney. Prior to that she was the San Francisco district attorney. Harris has been a lot of firsts in her career, and she does not want to be the last of anything.
Harris' mother was from India, and her father is from Jamaica. She appreciates her relatives from both sides of her family very much. As a kid growing up in California, she attended one of the first integrated schools in the 1960's. The rich diversity and exposure to a variety of cultures in the unique learning environment had a lasting effect on her. When she was a teen, her mother took a job at a Canadian university so they moved to Canada. After that, the young woman attended Howard University in Washington, DC. 
Harris has a passion to work for the people, and she feels compassion for individuals who are facing financial and other hardships. She fights for disenfranchised groups. Kamala Harris is indefatigable in her struggle for justice and equity in this society. This woman is a force to be reckoned with on the political landscape of America today. 
  • Bail reform - Harris believes in busting wide open the school-to-prison pipeline, the poverty-to-prison pipeline, and the young man of color-to-prison pipeline. Incarcerating juveniles only subjects them to the high recidivism rate that plagues individuals in jail and perpetuates the cycle of chronic incarceration.
  • Back on Track - Many young people will reform their ways if given educational and job training opportunities.
  • Elementary truancy - 92% of high school drop-outs were truant in elementary school. She understands that impoverished, overworked parents may ask older children to care for younger ones, but this trend must be stopped. With appropriate supports, the kids can be helped to attend school. 
  • Making health care affordable - Most people cannot afford health care in the United States. We need to fund health care for all, perhaps through a single-payer system. We should stop making big pharmaceutical companies filthy rich. 
  • Home Foreclosure Crisis - During the Great Recession of 2008, many homes were foreclosed upon. This was largely the fault of big banks that approved loans to individuals who did not have the collateral to repay them. Harris turned a proposed $2 - $4 million dollar settlement into a $18 - $20 million dollar settlement by withdrawing from negotiations, then having a heart-to-heart talk with the CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  • Marriage equality - Harris fought to expedite the right to wed regardless of gender of the spouses. She officiated in 2013 at one of the first gay marriages in California.  
  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) - Harris fights for Dreamers to become citizens and continue contributing to the American economy. She deeply values their contributions, and she wants to prevent the cruelty of kids being ripped from their parents' arms by immigration officials. 
Kamala Harris became a legal prosecutor in order to represent the people of the United States because a crime against any American resident is considered to be a crime against us all. She has worked to reduce the prison population of the most overincarcerated nation in the world. Harris stands for women's rights, the rights of minorities and incarcerated persons. She also strongly believes in preserving our environment for future generations; and she has vowed to end fracking and the use of harmful fossil fuels. The USA is so lucky to have her as its Democratic vice presidential nominee. 
Kamala Harris inspires people to take action and change societal for the better by contacting their local legislators. I hope that the parole system will be reformed. Parolees could be given lawyers to help plead their cases. In many instances, only "the nature of the offense" is considered when individuals come up for parole consideration, and the importance of good behavior and other factors are dismissed. This leads to warehousing individuals who are not a danger to society at the taxpayers' expense. 
I also read her picture book for kids, Superheroes Are Everywhere. I liked the structure of the children's book, the illustrations, the photographs and the positive, empowering message for kids.  

Booktalking Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix

cover for Uprising by HaddixNew York City in 1910, site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Bella, Yetta and Jane. Three young women, seemingly so different, yet so entwined in their thought, attitudes and actions. Three teens devoted to cause, workers' rights and women's rights. Females who are ahead of their time with progressive ideas.
Bella works diligently in the factory to make a life for herself and to send money back home to her family. She tries to accomplish her work systematically and carefully, but she is goaded into speed by threats of not being paid. Every needle broken and every shirtwaist with threads still dangling means a deduction from her week's pay. The workers are watched constantly, and bags are checked upon departure to ensure that no shirtwaists are stolen. Her landlord takes her money and promises to send it to her relatives.
Yetta is a worker in the same factory... until some of the workers go on strike. She stands outside in the freezing cold and chants with the others, demanding better pay, hours and working conditions. Police bloody and arrest the striking workers. They send them to work camps. Fatigue, hunger and poverty wear on these young women, yet they carry on. The union leaders come back to them with a deal from the bosses: better hours and pay, but no closed shop. This means that management can hire non-union workers and treat them as they please. Yetta and her colleagues find this deal completely unacceptable. Yet the union settles with management.
Jane lives in the lap of luxury, but she detests it. Her father is one of the owners of a factory, and she is appalled by how little he pays his domestic staff. He will not allow her to attend college as her friend, Eleanor, does. Jane is bored out of her mind, staying home with nothing to do but dress fittings and society balls. She longs to be active in the world and not passively allow her life to slip by. The teen gets the opportunity to watch the workers' strike, and she attempts to help the workers that she meets and comes to care about.
Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 2007
This book blew my mind. The women's lives are intricately woven together. The social issues of the time, women's suffrage and workers' rights, are brilliantly highlighted. Yetta, Bella and Jane have staunch, iron wills that they put to good use.

Booktalking Becoming by Michelle Obama

cover of Becoming by Michelle ObamaMichelle Obama became the first black First Lady of the United States in January of 2008. In order to get there, she had to be better, stronger, and faster than the rest. Being a first anything is tough, but Michelle Obama did an excellent job at promoting physical fitness and healthy eating at a time when childhood and adult obesity rates were at epic proportions. She epitomized grace in her role, inspired young women, and supported her family through all of the ups and downs of constant surveillance. Her opinions influenced the presidency of Barack Obama and their daughters thrived throughout the experience, which is no small feat. I am so glad that Michelle Obama was the First Lady of color en la casa blanca.
Getting to the Oval office was no small feat. Michelle honestly did not think that her husband could win, but she went above and beyond to make sure that it happened. She reduced her hours at a Chicago hospital to three days per week so that she could spend more time out on the campaign trail. She and the girls spent hours in transit between events in order to promote the Obama-Biden ticket. She spoke about her personal experience with Barack and her belief in what her husband had to offer so many times. In thanks for her efforts, the press labelled her as "angry," which caused her to adjust her nonverbal communication.
Michelle Robinson and Barack Obama met in Chicago in the 1980s as young lawyers. Barack was an intern that the law office assigned to Michelle. Her job was basically to mentor and woo him to the firm as a permanent employee. Michelle was struck by his nonchalant and humble manner. Barack was still in law school, but he was a few years older than her. He quickly became known in the firm as a rising star. Michelle was unsure about the appropriateness of dating him. Nevertheless, the two were soon together, and staff of the firm were aware of this. They eventually moved in together, married, and had Malia and Sasha. The demands of Barack's work put some strain on the marriage, but counseling helped them resolve their issues.
Michelle never thought of herself as the political type. However, her sprint through schooling and the bar exam towards societal standards of success left her feeling empty. Her law career earned her much money and took up all of her time, but it did not provide fulfillment. Michelle found herself working in the mayor's office for much less money, but she liked it. She became an assistant commissioner then she took an administrative job in a local hospital. Being a great mother is what she did when not on the job. She and Barack always made sure that the girls had everything they needed, including happiness.
Becoming by Michelle Obama, 2018
This is the story of a remarkable woman who did everything under her power to promote her husband's talents and shatter the barriers of color and socio-economic status. She shared her husband's talents with the world. Through sheer exhaustive effort, she persevered in helping America elect its first black president and first black family. Millions of individuals were elated to experience the historic moment of just one more step towards racial equality in this country. Thank you for all that you do and all that you did for America, Michelle Obama.