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Middle Grade Nonfiction Book Review – Who’s Got Mail?

 

WHO’S GOT MAIL?
The History of Mail in America

Written by Linda Barrett Osborne

(Abrams BYR; $22.99, Ages 10-14)

 

 

Who's Got Mail cover assorted US stamps

 

Starred Review – Kirkus

 

REVIEW:

Long before there was email, there was V-mail. Short for “Victory mail” it was a system used during World War II as a way to save space for delivering other items, such as military supplies and equipment. This is just one of the many fascinating bits of information presented in Linda Barrett Osborne’s latest offering, Who’s Got Mail?: The History of Mail in America.

 

Who's Got Mail cover int pg5 intro
Interior spread from Who’s Got Mail? The History of Mail in America written by Linda Barrett Osborne, Abrams BYR ©2022.

 

Divided into ten chapters, the pages are cleverly designed to look like stamps themselves, with perforated borders. With photographs punctuating almost every page, it is very easy for middle-grade readers to remain interested in this nonfiction book and want to learn about the history of America and its postal service.

Although there is much to praise the USPS for throughout its long history, the author herself is to be praised for not shying away from addressing their treatment of African Americans and women, who each have a chapter dedicated just to them. Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans are grouped together in their own chapter as well, depicting clearly the discrimination that these minorities faced within the hierarchy of employment.

 

Who's Got Mail int pg129 women in the post office
Interior spread from Who’s Got Mail? The History of Mail in America written by Linda Barrett Osborne, Abrams BYR ©2022.

 

But it is not just the large issues that are written up so vividly. The small details are just as noteworthy. For example, this Canadian reviewer was truly surprised to learn that mail is delivered six times a week in America (as opposed to five times a week in Canada.)

Back matter includes a timeline beginning in 1753 with the British government appointing Benjamin Franklin as the deputy postmaster general of its colonies, to the present day, with the delivery of free in-home COVID-19 tests, and the signing of the Postal Service Reform Act into law by President Joe Biden thereby canceling USPS’s large debt.

 

Who's Got Mail int pg159 Asian American Firsts_
Interior spread from Who’s Got Mail? The History of Mail in America written by Linda Barrett Osborne, Abrams BYR ©2022.

 

In keeping with the subject matter of the book, both the jacket and the front and back covers are decorated with a variety of images of stamps courtesy of the National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution’s, 4000+ collection adding much information and interest. One celebrates abolitionist Harriet Tubman; another pays tribute to the Pony Express, which lasted for nineteen months beginning in 1860, using relays of riders on horses to deliver the mail.

A selected bibliography and index round out this must-read for both young (and old) history buffs who want to read about a unique and captivating subject.

  •  Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
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For President’s Day Read About Abraham Lincoln Pro Wrestler by Steve Sheinkin

ABRAHAM LINCOLN PRO WRESTLER
TIME TWISTERS BOOK ONE
Written by Steve Sheinkin
Illustrated by Neil Swaab
(Roaring Brook Press; $13.99, Ages 7-10)

 

Abraham Lincoln Pro Wrestler Time Twisters Book One cover illustration

 

 

Don’t let the title, Abraham Lincoln Pro Wrestler, convince you that this totally entertaining and educational read is comprised of our 16th president traipsing around in a wrestling singlet. It is actually the first in a clever fiction chapter book series that features lots of laugh out load moments that kept me turning the pages to see how the two main characters, step-siblings Abby and Doc, would pull off some whimsical time travel twists that bring Abraham Lincoln’s presidency to life but could also change the course of history.

The story unfolds with the kids in Ms. Maybee’s history class being instructed to read aloud from their textbook section about Honest Abe. When the teacher tries to get her students involved, the general reaction is a resounding “BORING!” It turns out, though, that their disinterest has negatively impacted historical figures including Lincoln. Because of that, when Ms. Maybee’s class attempts to read about America’s influential president and his profound impact on our country’s history, the students can only find references to Abraham Lincoln essentially doing zilch—”sitting in a chair, reading or heading off to the outhouse.”

In an interesting scene that sets the stage for all the story’s zany action, Lincoln travels to the present to offer words of caution. “Saying I’m boring, groaning in agony when it comes time to read about history. As I said, today was just a warning. If you do it again—well, you’ll see.” The next attempt to study the 16th president also fails, but instead of Lincoln returning to the library storage room to warn Abby and Doc, Doc disappears into the same box (portal) that brought Lincoln to the present from 1860 Illinois. Abby follows and the two wind up outside of Lincoln’s house. There they meet Lincoln and his wife, Mary who tells them the election is tomorrow. With her husband no longer caring, Mary and the kids are worried. “Then we’re doomed! … The country will break apart! Everything we have worked for—all thrown away!” The kids feel awful, certain they’ve screwed with fate, especially after their dad, Mr. Douglass, also a teacher, impresses upon the two how important history is. “But knowing history makes you smarter, helps you understand the world better. Mostly, it’s just fun.”

The problem is Doc and Abby now need to get Abraham Lincoln engaged again while also getting their classmates to realize how much history matters. This may not be easy. When Lincoln hears about a school fundraiser, a pro wrestling match scheduled for that evening, he’d much rather quit the past and attend the big event. He just happens to be in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame! At the same time, Doc has time travelled back to election day with the gym teacher, Mr. Biddle, who earlier dressed as Honest Abe (a term he despised) for a special surprise presentation at school. His goal: get the real Lincoln concerned enough to step back into his rightful place and accept the presidency. I especially liked this part because of all the facts about Lincoln that Sheinkin shares and how the two Abes get up to all sorts of shenanigans along with Abby and Doc. There’s so much humor infused into this history lesson that readers will not even realize how much fun they’re having learning about a time when our country was so “bitterly divided, mainly over the issue of slavery.” Kids will breeze through the eighteen chapters and will be delighted to learn there are more books available already in this pleasing series. The cartoon-like illustrations by Swaab add to the silliness as well as offer an easy way into absorbing history for the more reluctant readers.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here for Reading Guide for Teachers

Start reading the story here.

 

 

 

 

Read more about Abraham Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words.

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The Essence of Being an American Citizen

I am ashamed to admit that reading The U.S. Constitution and You ($6.99, Barron’s Educational Books) by Syl Sobel, JD, made me realize there was a lot I did not know about this very important document. This compact paperback book for children really makes it easy to understand the basic principles of one of our nation’s greatest documents.

Readers will get an introduction into America’s earliest history, how the three branches of government work, the peoples’ Bill of Rights, Amendments, the Rights of the States and more.  In the back of the book is an essential glossary, resource guide and index. What a great way to introduce young readers to what it really means to be an American citizen.

Did you know that our founding fathers are known as the Framers and that there is no limit to the number of terms for members of Congress? Read the book to find out more interesting facts about the U.S. Constitution. This book should be in every elementary and middle school classroom as well as in the home libraries of young American citizens everywhere. As our Independence Day approaches, I cannot think of a better time to pick up a copy of this enlightening book and celebrate what makes our country so special.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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