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This week organizers of Glenview Elementary’s Read-A-Thon, Co-Chairs Megan Simmons & Suzanne McKaig-Laber, announced that the festival raised more than $35,000. And the donations are still coming in. Eric Londgren, a Glenview Elementary parent who photographed the event, shares his images with OaklanderOnline.

Glenview Elementary students make bookmarks and door hangers in the library.

The Dr. Seuss classic, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” marked the theme of Glenview Elementary’s 12th Annual Read-A-Thon, which kicked off on what would have been author’s 106th birthday. For two-weeks, students gathered sponsors for their after-school reading.

Readers log their book hours to raise money for school enrichment programs.

Back in February, Oakland Tribune columnist Martin Snapp posted on his blog that one Glenview Elementary’s second grade teacher reprised his promise from last year. Mr. Miller pledged that if his students clocked 2,000 hours, he would shave his head.

Snapp quoted Mr. Miller: ”We won’t have to sweep up afterward. The kids think a clump of my hair would be a great souvenir, so they scoop it up as soon as it hits the ground.”

The Glenview Elementary PTA organized the event to "to inspire the importance of reading as a fundamental skill."

The culminating event came on March 16 with “Celebration of Literacy Day.” Students sporting their PJs brought sleeping bags, pillows and books to every classroom, as if to stage a Read-In. Every hour students spent with a book translated into funds for enrichment programs that were impacted by state budget cuts.

KPIX-TV (Channel 5) anchor Wendy Tokuda made an appearance on Celebrating Literacy Day.

Neighbors, parents and local celebrities came out in support of literacy. Glenview resident Jon Carroll, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, dropped by Mr. Miller’s portable to read. He shared a picture book about a farmer named Mr. McGreeley, whose garden had a bad case of hungry bunnies.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll reads to Mr. Miller and his class.

As for their goal, Mr. Miller’s class fared very well in its efforts. They came just a hair short of the 2,000 needed to win the bet.

“But, I figured in this economy we did really well,” Mr. Miller told the class. “So soon the lady who owns the Cutting Place will come by to shave it off.”

Carroll introduced himself as someone who has loved his job for thirty years. “I like to write about my cats,” Carroll shared with the group. One student responded, “Will you write about the Read-A-Thon?”

And the next week, he kept his promise. The March 26 issue of the Montclairion pictured an exuberant crowd of second graders surrounding Mr. Miller’s new buzz cut. Eric Londgren returned to photograph the event:

LeAnn from the Cutting Place performed the head-shaving in Mr. Miller's classroom.

The hair shearing continued as second graders looked on.

The last lock of hair was shorn…

The students sweep up their souvenirs…

Students swept up their souvenirs…

…and Mr. Miller has another year to grow until his next Read-A-Thon challenge.

Overall, Glenview Elementary’s Read-A-Thon was a success, surpassing its goal by more than $5,000. The students brought in more than 90% of the total raised; other sponsors included businesses like Ultimate Grounds. The neighborhood coffee shop hosted the kick-off event, which donated a coffee and bagel for each $20 donation.

Event Co-Chair Suzanne McKaig-Laber said this was her second year participating in the event. She said she appreciated that the Read-A-Thon spans two weeks.

“It’s very cool to have this concentrated period of time for the community businesses to get involved in donations,” she said, “and kids to really hunker down and focus on reading as a priority. This event really got my 1st grade daughter reading on her own which was exciting.”

McKaig-Laber also noted that the Celebration of Literacy Day was a highlight. “Hearing personal stories about how moved the readers were,” she recalled, “and seeing how inspired the students were made for a truly energizing community event.”

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Emma Too Tom - Courtesy of Art Tom, and "Images of America: Oakland's Chinatown" by William Wong Arcadia Publishing Co. (2004)

Chinese New Year is a time of fireworks, red envelopes and lots of food. In case you missed the party in Oakland’s Chinatown this month, you can still get a taste of Chinese culture. The recently released book, “Historic Photos of the Chinese in California,” author and historian Hannah Clayborn curates a century of Chinese life in black and white.

Clayborn, an Oakland native, offered OaklanderOnline a little context for her compilation with Turner Publishing:

OO: Oakland is just one of the cities featured in “Historic Photos of the Chinese in California.” But of the photos taken in the city, a few images stand out. One is of a stunning woman in a floor-length dress, who looks at the camera with confidence. The caption reads,Emma Hoo Tom, activist and daughter of Oakland Chinatown’s prominent Lee family.” Who was she?

HC: Oh, yeah, my heroine. Here is the story with info from William Wong: Emma Hoo Tom was one of two Oakland Chinese-American women to be the first of their race and gender to register to vote in the United States. She achieved that in 1911, when she was 22 years old. The other woman was Clara Chan Lee, wife on pioneering Oakland dentist Dr. Charles Lee. Their history-making activism came at a time when American women had just won voting rights. Their husbands, who were active in the Native Sons of the Golden State (later called the Chinese American Citizens Alliance), were said to have encouraged the two women to break new ground. They could register to vote because they were born in the Unites States and thus were citizens.

OO: Another picture frames a WWII-era Chinatown storefront with a sign reading, “I Am an American.” Where exactly did this storefront stand?

HC: Actually in the research for my next book, “Historic Photos of San Francisco Crime,” I discovered that Bill Wong had the location for that photo wrong. It was San Francisco, and it is a superb image of the era from Dorothea Lange, who hung around skid row near Howard Street in the 1930s and caught that heartbreaking image in S.F. just after Pearl Harbor. It appears with the correct information in my new book:

In January 1942, the Japanese in San Francisco were ordered to turn in radios and cameras, and on February 19, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066, giving military commanders authority to remove persons of Japanese ancestry from the Pacific Coast. General DeWitt issued a voluntary evacuation order on March 2 and a mandatory order on March 27. The order would eventually result in the relocation of 110,000 people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, and some with relatives serving in the military. Most were sent to remote areas between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. Photographer Dorothea Lange recorded this sign at 13th and Franklin streets erected by a Japanese American store owner, a U.S. citizen and U.C. Berkeley graduate, the day after Pearl Harbor. It did not save him from evacuation. According to author William Wong, he was forced to sell this store to four Chinese families.

OO: What’s your Oakland story?

HC: I was born in Providence Hospital in Oakland in 1954. My mom was twice widowed, the second time when I was seven years old, and I was second-to-youngest of seven children. We were never poverty-stricken, but a woman with by then six children who lived on pensions from her two husbands, the first of whom was killed as a young man in WWII, could not be considered well off. In 1968, Oakland was a very tough place to live. The hippie era had begun, and my next oldest sister and I were enthusiastic young converts. But the mafia drug peddling had already moved into certain neighborhoods and my mom felt that her only chance to save her younger kids was to get us out. I was going to St. Elizabeth’s HS in 1968 when she moved us, first to her home town in Fresno for less than a year (thank god) and then to a “ghost town” of less than 250 people in rural Sonoma County called Bloomfield, it was true culture shock. And yet I must say that I think she made the right decision despite that I fought it all the way. I lived in various cities in Sonoma County until my husband and I started moving for his career (commercial architect) in 1998. We lived in Palo Alto and then moved to Walnut Creek in 2000, where we remain.

I will always love Oakland, where I grew up running wild all day, fog until noon in summer when we came home ONLY for lunch, playing “army” with my friends from St. Cyril’s and St. Lawrence O’Toole’s on the Mills College Campus, and my mom had no idea where we were roaming. I remember the great parts and the not-so-great parts. One things that amazes me when I think back to it: when we were about 10 to 12 years old a couple of my friends and I would take the 15D bus from where we lived to downtown Oakland to shop at Capwells and the Emporium. We were cautioned not to go west of Smith’s Clothing Store on Broadway, but other than that we could roam downtown and wound down through all parts of town with every color of people and never felt unsafe for a moment and never had a single bad thing happen. That was Oakland for me, pre-1970.  And I have to tell you, one of my later boyfriends who was raised in San Francisco, never tired of calling me a true “Oakland Tough.”

OO: In the book, you discuss how Chinatowns across the state were constantly under threat. (Certainly, your compilation is an effort to recover Chinese history in California, photo-by-photo.) In your preface, you touch on the fact that after WWII, restrictions lessened for Chinese immigrants. As an Oakland-grown native, have you seen any evidence of “the gilded cage” having opened at home?

Because I was born in Oakland in 1954, I never witnessed the “gilded cage” and its much underestimated discrimination and tragic effects in California history. As a young person growing up in Oakland, however, I can remember the very guarded reserve of the Asian kids in our schools, and now I can appreciate that reserve and caution. And let me tell you one other treasured memory in my childhood, which may have had a great deal with doing this book. When we lived in Maxwell Park on Madera Avenue we bought every grocery item we ever ate in that era from Willy Pons corner grocery store. Even before my father died when I was seven, my mom would send us down to Willy’s store with a grocery list and Willy and his wonderful, large family would find all the items, bag them, add them to our credit bill and send us off home–but never without some kind of treat.  We shopped for years at that store and Willy often delivered groceries to us at home in cardboard boxes. My mom only sent us to the store for daily items. Every time Willy came into our home he was so cheerful and he ALWAYS had a special “gift” or “treat” for all of us little rugrats. After my father died, I think I remember that those “gifts” sometimes were more practical items, like a pound of lunchmeat.

I was probably about six years old; but I remember very well standing at the meat counter at Willy’s store. Willy’s mother, a wizened tiny, old lady, was trying to answer my question about the Chinese lettering on the bags that lay around on the floor. She became animated and took an old bag and began to draw on it for me, speaking in very fast words that I could not understand at all. Her granddaughter, a tall, lovely girl who looked very glamorous to me, looked down at her little grandmother and said something like, “Yes, yes, grandmother, Chinese letters are all pictures. You tell me that all the time.” The granddaughter looked at me with something close to embarrassment, but I–a white kid–was genuinely fascinated. Willy and his family used to live in the flat above the store. But after working for years, they built a beautiful home up in the Oakland Hills. One tough Irish Catholic kid from Oakland remembers them with affection. That, for me, is the true end of the gilded cage.

To learn more stories from the past and present,
visit the Oakland Chinatown History Project,
and author William Wong’s site: www.oaklandchinatownhistory.org.

How to write an Oakland, CA history? This question has undoubtedly occupied many a writer’s mind who stepped up to the task. Part unruly city, part sylvan town, Oakland is as complex as an entire nation.

In 1942, authors G.A. Cummings and E.S. Pladwell put pen to paper and wrote Oakland from the ground up. They approached the city history as a multi-storied skyscraper, in an era when the wartime economy was kind to Oakland. Shipyards brimmed with supplies; 714 miles of paved streets stretched across town; and Downtown had become a cultural nexus.

The structure and voice in “Oakland…A History” reflects this kind of pro-industrial tone. The book divides into three parts of development, and the major milestones center around transportation and construction. In dry and certain terms, Cummings and Pladwell devise a mechanical history with more facts than narrative flair. City histories like “Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898,” winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for History, hadn’t yet set the standard for nonfictions that read like novels. The city story that Cummings and Pladwell present reads more like a textbook. That the owner of Grant D. Miller Mortuaries, Inc. published the book seems fitting.

But it is Miller’s conclusory contribution that breathes life into the book. His memoir-like epilogue adds character to what otherwise reads like yearbook of Dead White Dudes on parchment pages. His reminiscing about “a city still in a state of adolescence” says a lot about the crossroads his city found itself at the time of publication:

“We [older residents] recall the muddy streets, many of which lacked even sidewalks; the dim and insufficient street lighting; the primitive means of transportation—clumsy, slow horse cars, and early steam strains and cable cars.

“Those were the days when a trip from Oakland to Fruitvale took us through ranches, woods and vast fields of grain; when there were miles of open country between the northern boundaries of the city and Berkeley. When the land from Market Street, west to the waterfront, was mostly marsh, and the water system was so inadequate that there were windmills and wells in many residential areas.”

Miller presents a skyline that today any Oaklander is hard pressed to imagine. Perhaps then what is most redeeming about “Oakland…A History” is the mirror the authors hold up to a city in transition. Like the new high-rise condos that reflect Lake Merritt and its necklace of lights, Cummings and Pladwell tell an Oakland story through a city they saw outside their windows: a steel-framed, car-lined metropolis in-waiting.

Take a peek into “Oakland…A History” at the main branch of the Oakland Public Library, or purchase it online at Amazon or Alibris. You may find it’s a fitting addition to your Oak-book collection.