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  • Slavery in children's books: What works?

    Slavery in children's books: What works?

    In a striking two-panel spread in the picture book "Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass," we see our 8-year-old hero, gazing at a soft blue sky from the deck of a sturdy wooden boat. Frederick is leaving the plantation where he was fed from a trough like an animal, and he isn't...

  • Young Chicago black man finds self in Darryl Pinckney's 'Black Deutschland'

    Young Chicago black man finds self in Darryl Pinckney's 'Black Deutschland'

    Sometimes all it takes is a few choice sentences to let you know you're being seduced by a maverick ironist. For instance: "The great thing about finding out I was a Negro was that I could look forward to going places in the by and by that I would not have been asked to as a white boy." Or: "All...

  • 'The First Congress' offers fascinating look at the Founders, flaws and all

    'The First Congress' offers fascinating look at the Founders, flaws and all

    We tend to speak of them, reverently and uncritically, as the Founders, a species of supermen who seemingly spent their lives writing with quill pens by candlelight when they weren't posing for Mount Rushmore. The reality was different, far messier and a lot more interesting, and the story of how...

  • Henry Marten's 350-year-old letters unearth a love story

    Henry Marten's 350-year-old letters unearth a love story

    She wasn't his wife, but Henry Marten loved Mary Ward, the mother of their three young daughters whom he called endearingly his "pretty brats," his "biddies" and, after a bout of illness, his "pocky rogues." Ward, as he told her over and over again in dozens of letters, was "my own sweet Love and...

  • Stephen Harrigan on 'A Friend of Mr. Lincoln,' complexity of Honest Abe

    Stephen Harrigan on 'A Friend of Mr. Lincoln,' complexity of Honest Abe

    About five years ago, the Texas-based novelist Stephen Harrigan and his wife embarked on a long road trip that took them through Springfield, Ill. As a writer of historical fiction — his books include 2011's "Remember Ben Clayton" and 2000's "The Gates of the Alamo," both published by Knopf — Harrigan...

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