Monday, September 27, 2021

Banned Books Week, 2021

Banned Books Week was started by the American Library Association in 1982 as a means to fight censorship and raise awareness of the effort to censor, challenge or ban books in public spaces such as schools and libraries. 

This year, the ALA theme for Banned Books Week is "Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us."

Of course, books have always caused controversy.  Book challenges, book burnings, library destructions punctuate our past.

Galileo was threatened with death for a book he wrote. 

Controversial books in the past, like The Call of the Wild and The Grapes of Wrath are now considered classics.

And some classics are now considered controversial, like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby (To be fair, The Great Gatsby was controversial when it was published, gained classic status, and is still often challenged).

Topics contained in books make some people uneasy. But does that mean that they should not be read?

Over at Common Sense Media, author Regan McMahon argues that kids should read "banned" books. The argument is simple: it fosters critical thinking and discussion.

District 214 has not been without controversy regarding books. Back in 2006, a school board member wanted to remove several books from school reading lists. At a board meeting, hundreds of students from District 214 schools rose and spoke in the defense of those books.

The books were not removed.

This week in the Academic Resource Center, we have on display several books that have been challenged and/or banned at one time or another. There are quotes and newspaper articles that shine light on the issues.

And if you want, check one of these books out and celebrate your right to read.

You may get a button!

Monday, September 13, 2021

ARCLight Podcast S01E02: A Conversation about John Hersey With Lesley M. M. Blume

Author Lesley M. M. Blume has a deep admiration for John Hersey. Her book, Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed it to the World is a fascinating behind-the-scenes account about how John Hersey wrote Hiroshima. 

"When I came across Hersey's story, " she states, "it just seemed to me the purest example of journalistic integrity and journalistic effectiveness that one could possibly find."

On August 10, just days after the 76th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and just days before the 75th anniversary of the publishing of Hiroshima in the pages of The New Yorker Magazine, I sat down with Lesley Blume to discuss her book, John Hersey and the legacy of Hiroshima. It was a great conversation.

Listen  to the new episode of the ARCLight Podcast today featuring that conversation, and check out the display case outside the ARC. There, you will find an original newspaper from 1945, plus the rare edition of The New Yorker magazine discussed in the podcast.

Listen to the podcast on Spotify, ApplePodcasts, Google Podcasts -- or anywhere you listen to your podcasts. You can also listen below.

Check out the displays outside the ARC, which includes an original newspaper from August 7, 1945 and the rare New Yorker discussed in the podcast. We are featuring books about John Hersey and Hiroshima this month in the ARC. Check it out.

Friday, September 10, 2021

The Power of a Face

I am not good with names. After teaching for 30 years, names drift in and out. 

But faces I never forget.

This week, we are remembering 9/11 and the sacrifices that many have made over the last 20 years.

As part of this commemoration, the Hersey ARC was privileged to host the exhibit “Portrait of a Soldier.” The exhibit features the faces and names of all the service men and women from Illinois killed in action since 2001.

On Tuesday, we were in the ARC attaching the banners to the ceiling so that students and staff could view the exhibit prior to our “Meaning of Service” Assembly with Governor Quinn, Gold Star Families and First Responders on Friday.

And I saw a face. 

A face I hadn’t seen in years.

And there he was, in a beautiful hand-drawn picture. A face among hundreds.

And it hit me in the gut. 

Will Newgard was a student I had some twenty years ago. He was killed in action in Iraq on December 26, 2006. I think I knew that…but names are harder for me to visualize.

I saw a face. And it hit me in the gut.

It was Will’s smile that stood out. The artist Cameron Schilling captured the mischievous smile that was Will Newgard.

It was the kid I remembered.

Staring at me.

A face among hundreds.

And it hit me in the gut. 

And that is the power of this exhibit. Although hand drawn in graphite, these faces are real. 

They are a powerful reminder of the sacrifice made by hundreds of men and women over the last 20 years.

The exhibit began in 2004 when Cameron Schilling, then a student at Eastern Illinois University, drew a picture of his friend who had been killed in Iraq. He dedicated himself to draw the portrait of every service member from Illinois killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In 2004, Pat Quinn was Lt. Governor and discovered what Cameron was doing. Together, they created the "Portrait of a Soldier" exhibit. Today, it has the names and faces of over 300 people. 

Since its inception, the "Portrait of a Soldier" exhibit has traveled the state. It was at Hersey for several days.

Next, it is at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.  The library is hosting several events over the next week, including a discussion with the artists behind the faces.

A special thanks to Governor Quinn, his staff, the Gold Star Families and Salute, Inc. for bringing these faces to Hersey High School.

Without them, I wouldn't have truly seen Will Newgard.

But now, I will never forget.

To see the assembly with Governor Quinn, the Gold Star Families and First Responders, click here.


Sunday, September 5, 2021

"Race Music" and the Beginning of Rock and Roll

Last month we highlighted Elvis Presley. He may have been the “King of Rock and Roll,” but in no way did he invent the music. In fact, he merely copied the music that had been invented and played in the Black community for years.
Not to diminish the importance of Elvis, though. He would eventually develop his own style. But more importantly, he introduced Rock and Roll to a whole new audience.

Billboard, January 1, 1949 Public Domain

Like Blues and Jazz before it, Rock and Roll music was developed by Black musicians in Black communities. But it was not known as Rock and Roll, however. It was, at the time, called “rhythm and blues,” or “R & B.” Which, according to Little Richard, stood for “real Black.”

To White America, however, it was called “Race Music.” Major record labels refused to record it. White-owned establishments did not put the music in their juke boxes. White performers did not record the music, either. At least, not yet.

This was a pattern that had played out in the Jazz world, too. Early Jazz, which was developed in New Orleans, was also described as “race music.” There was an attempt to segregate music in a segregated America. The first recorded Jazz recorded was made by White musicians in 1917, even though the music had been around for over a decade and developed by the likes of Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and others.

Before Elvis, Rock and Roll music came from many artists and was born from jazz, blues, boogie-woogie and doo-wop. Adding electrified guitars, and a back-beat, this new style was developed by artists such as Ike Turner, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino and others. It wouldn’t have a name until 1954, when a Cleveland DJ called it “rock and roll.” Alan Freed worked the midnight show at Cleveland’s WJW radio station. And he did something that no one else was doing at the time: playing songs by original Black artists—not the cover versions by White artists that were being played on other radio stations.

White kids began clamoring for this music. Record labels became more open to recording Black artists. 

And then, in 1954, a young White kid walked into Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee and plopped down some cash to record a song. By 1956, he would be the most famous singer in America, if not the world.
Music has the ability to bring people together---and that has been the history of popular music in America. Music has broken down barriers. White kids danced to this music that adults called “race music.” They did it in 1917, throughout the 20s and 30s, and again with this new music in the early 50s. At concerts by Black artists, White kids and Black kids danced together, in spite of segregation norms. In the Jim Crow South, this was alarming. Attempts were made to ban the music.

But the music just grew in popularity.

It was these kids – Black and White – who grew up on early rock and roll who would, a decade later, engage in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, and ride through the South on busses, purposefully breaking segregation laws.

The Civil Rights Movement and Rock and Roll have a connection – a connection tethered to the stands of music, played first in Black communities, transmitted through the airwaves, first in Cleveland and then New York, and then exploded in light and sound on national television.

That is Rock and Roll.

The first rock and roll record.
It is generally accepted that the first rock and roll song was released in 1951. It was called “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. The song was written by Ike Turner. You can find it on our playlist, along with other early rock and roll songs.



For more information about the early history of Rock and Roll Music:

"Race, Hegemony, and the Birth of Rock & Roll" by  Paul Linden. Journal of the
Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association Volume 12, Number 1 (2012)

History of Rock and Roll: Episode 2 "Good Rockin' Tonight" (1995)

"Will the creator of modern music please stand up?" by Alex Petridis. The Guardian (2004)

"Elvis Rocks. But He's Not the First" by Christopher John Farley Time Magazine (July 06, 2004)

Are you wondering why "Black" and "White" are capitalized in this article?  This discussion goes all the way back to the 1920s in regard to how we discuss race in writing. The Center for the Study of Social Policy has a great explanation and I decided to follow their guidance when writing about issues concerning race. Check out the article here.


This article was written by Bruce Janu, the head librarian at Hersey High School. He was a history teacher for 30 years and taught about the history of popular music in both history and sociology classes, most notably the history of Jazz and Rock and Roll.