Below you will find a review of my recently released book, Chalkboard Heroes, written by Mary Breu, author of Last Letters from Attu, the enthralling story of Etta Jones, an intrepid teacher and nurse from New Jersey who traveled to the Alaskan Territory as a pioneer. Etta Jones was incarcerated in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II.
Chalkboard Heroes: Review
by Mary Breu
Terry Lee Marzell, Chalkboard Heroes: Twelve Courageous Teachers and Their Deeds of Valor. Tucson, Arizona: Wheatmark, 2015. vii + 243 pp. Preface, photographs, glossary, bibliography, index.
Chalkboard Heroes: Twelve Courageous Teachers and Their Deeds of Valor is the author’s second book, a non-fiction compilation of innovative teachers who have impacted their students and our society; some names are familiar, others are not. Each profile has been thoroughly researched and includes vivid descriptions that exemplify qualities that make an excellent teacher. The reader can peek through a window and see the teachers’ early lives, watch him or her develop and see what inspired their passion for teaching. The teachers’ voices allow the reader to get a feel for the personalities and qualities of people who encouraged them to become teachers. The teachers in this book demonstrate the essence of what a teacher does; they find ways, sometimes against incredible odds, to reach his or her students and make learning more real as opposed to standing in front of the class and lecturing. Valuable backgrounds and historical events are included. The author’s writing style pulls the reader in by telling something striking about the teacher and that makes the reader eager to find out more.
Horace Mann’s niece, Olive Mann Isbell, was born in Ohio in 1824. Twenty-two years later, she and her husband found themselves at a Mission in California. The Mexican -American War was raging all around them, but Olive continued to teach her twenty students, using “a long pointed stick to draw diagrams on the dirt floor” and “charcoal from an extinguished fire to write the letters of the alphabet on the palms of the children’s hands. And she kept a long rifle by her side, just in case” (Page 2.) One hundred forty years later, another teacher “discovered that much information about the social history of the United States has been found in diaries, travel accounts and personal letters. Just as the pioneer travelers of the Conestoga wagon days kept personal journals, I, as a pioneer space traveler, would do the same.” (Page 187.) The teacher’s name was Christa McAuliffe. The author wrote, “Christa believed that such a journal, which would record space flight from the perspective from a non-astronaut, would demonstrate to students that even an ordinary person could contribute to history in very important ways” (Page 187).
Today, when teachers are in the throes of bureaucratic paperwork, subjected to administrators who make unrealistic demands, respond to parents who question a teacher’s seemingly unreasonable assignments and deal with students who, the teacher knows, come from incredibly difficult home environments, reading about these teachers’ lives will be an inspiration because, in the end, all a teacher wants to do is teach. The common thread woven into the fabric of this book is a quote from Lee Iacocca: “In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and highest responsibility anyone could have” (Page 1.) Christa McAuliffe understood that message when she proclaimed, “I touch the future…I teach!” (Page 177.)
I recommend this book to teachers of all grade levels. Middle and high school students would also benefit from the author’s clear, concise and correct telling of historical events and people.
Read More by Mary Breu
To view Mary Breu’s web page, simply click on Mary Breu.
To find Mary Breu’s book on amazon.com, click on Last Letters from Attu.