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The Century That Was: Reflections on the Last One Hundred Years

The Century That Was: Reflections on the Last One Hundred Years

by James Cross Giblin (Editor), James Giblin (Editor)
This lively, provocative, and diverse collection of essays by eleven stellar children's authors explores the "road we've traveled" as Americans in the twentieth century. Each author has written on a subject he or she was eager to explore, resulting in a unique testimony not only to a century, but to the talents and interests of these outstanding writers who have


This lively, provocative, and diverse collection of essays by eleven stellar children's authors explores the "road we've traveled" as Americans in the twentieth century. Each author has written on a subject he or she was eager to explore, resulting in a unique testimony not only to a century, but to the talents and interests of these outstanding writers who have changed the face of twentieth-century children's literature.

Russell Freedman launches the collection with a fascinating account of the predictions of two nineteenth-century science-fiction writers, H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, of what was in store for the coming century. A survey of the ups and downs of American politics and presidencies, from Theodore Roosevelt through Bill Clinton, is provided by Milton Meltzer, and Albert Marrin complements this study with a discussion of the long-term effects of World War I on America.

In a compelling essay on the conservation movement, Laurence Pringle explores the change in attitudes toward the environment as Americans began to regard it as something to protect rather than exploit. On a slightly different note, Bruce Brooks considers the shifting emphasis in sports, from the "human"-scale amateur athlete to the "superhuman" professional.

Jim Murphy discusses the dramatic evolution in transportation that came with the development of the automobile and the airplane. Walter Dean Myers's overview of the civil rights struggle is intriguing fare, as are Penny Colman's observations of the progress American women have made on various fronts, from suffrage to education.

Three writers have chosen a more personal approach to their topics. Lois Lowry chronicles the ins and outs of fashion through six generations of women in her family. Eve Bunting reveals the immigration experience in the context of her own Irish-American family. And in comparing her beliefs to those of her conservative Christian father, Katherine Paterson comments on the changing status of religion in America.

Illustrated with photographs and prints of the century's milestones, some from the authors' personal collections, this is an important retrospective on a century of great change and promise.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Giblin (The Mystery of the Mammoth Bones) assembles an impressive collection of children's authors to put into context many of the major accomplishments, setbacks and changes that have occurred over the 20th century. The 11 essays show tremendous range in voice and scope. Walter Dean Myers's essay on the civil rights movement, Penny Colman's piece on emerging roles and rights for women, and Laurence Pringle's discussion of environmental conservation spotlight strong leaders within a larger historical overview and leave readers with a call to action. Katherine Paterson, on the other hand, matches her approach to her subject in a highly personal and beautifully crafted essay on the Protestant faith she and her missionary father shared, and the many developments that impacted the religion through the course of the century. Jim Murphy and Lois Lowry offer lighter fare: Murphy takes an entertaining look at the evolution of cars and planes, while Lowry reflects on the way the women in her family reinvented themselves through clothing and style over the generations. The lasting effects of WWI in "setting the stage for murderous tyrannies" throughout the world and the paranoia it bred at home comes through in Albert Marrin's (Sitting Bull, reviewed below) chilling essay. There is also criticism of where we're going in Bruce Brooks's impassioned look at the professionalization of children in sports. What unites these perspectives are a sharp analysis of history, fine writing and, for the most part, an optimistic sense of progress to lead us into the next 100 years. Ages 10-up. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
This compilation of eleven essays written by children's authors explores various themes in American history during the last century. In each essay the authors present not only the relevance of the subject matter to them but to contemporary Americans in general. Russell Freedman begins the book with a recounting of the farsightedness of science fiction writers Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. The effects of World War I on American society are detailed by Albert Marrin. Issues of women's rights are reviewed in the writings of Lois Lowry and Penny Coleman. Historian Jim Murphy takes a look at the effects the rise of the automobile and airplane have had upon our culture. Milton Metzler traces the evolution of the presidency both as a political and moral institution. The emergence of a sense of environmental integrity is explored in a sensitive way by Laurence Pringle. The century long struggle for Civil Rights for African-Americans is chronicled in Walter Dean Myers' contribution. In one of the more effective pieces Eve Bunting traces the immigrant experience not only historically but also personally. Katherine Patterson lays out her own experiences with religion and scientific thought in an age of increasing skepticism. The shifting emphasis in athletics from fun and personal growth to money making "super professionals" is handled by Bruce Brooks. Taken as a whole these essays vary in terms of quality. The relevance of some topics to the majority of readers is evident when addressing environmentalism, women's rights, civil rights, war, and the modern world. However, some of the selections may be too personalized to have broad appeal. Therefore, while some of the content of this collection isthought provoking there may be limited use for the text as a whole. 2000, Atheneum Books, Ages 10 up, $19.95. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck
This title consists of eleven essays by well- and lesser-known young adult authors on a variety of topics related to the twentieth century. Lawrence Pringle writes about the conservation movement; Bruce Brooks looks at the concept of the superhuman athlete; and Jim Murphy tackles the explosive growth of travel by automobile and airplane. Different cultures and genders are well represented through Walter Dean Myers's essay on the changing concept of civil rights, Eve Bunting's exploration of the immigrant experience, and Penny Colman's discussion of the contributions of women to twentieth-century America. The twelve- to fifteen-page essays are supplemented by sparingly used black-and-white photographs, a further reading list that is divided by essay, and a detailed index. Giblin acknowledges that many events and discoveries were omitted and that the essays vary widely in tone and scope because their style and topic were left entirely to their authors. Some, such as Russell Freedman's survey of the forward-thinking books of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, are straightforward and objective. Others, including Katherine Paterson's description of religion in twentieth-century America, are written through the lens of personal experience. All entries are well written, although Albert Marrin's objective essay is to be singled out for his fascinating account of the legacies of World War I, valuable both for student assignments and to enliven classroom discussions. The more personal essays will be of little use for assignments. Large public and school libraries might wish to purchase this title for those essays that capture a particular aspect of the century far better than many entire books. Smallerlibraries with a limited budget might wish to pass in favor of a more comprehensive, more visually appealing book such as Peter Jennings's The Century for Young People (Doubleday, 1999/VOYA February 2000). Index. Illus. Photos. Further Reading. VOYA CODES: 4Q 1P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; No YA will read unless forced to for assignments; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, Atheneum/S & S, 176p, $19.95. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Leah J. Sparks

SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4)

School Library Journal
Gr 6-10-Eleven thought-provoking essays written by well-known children's authors explore the myriad changes that the U.S. saw in the 20th century. Some approaches are personal, such as Lois Lowry's account of women's fashions worn by six generations of her family or Katherine Paterson's comparison of her minister father's conservative Christianity to her own more liberal faith. Others are more general historical pieces, such as Russell Freedman's discussion of Jules Verne's and H. G. Wells's predictions for the century, Albert Marrin's account of the changes that World War I brought to American society, and Jim Murphy's piece on the evolution of transportation. Other selections include Penny Colman's essay on the changing status of women, Walter Dean Myers's overview of the civil rights movement, Milton Meltzer's discourse on American politics, and Laurence Pringle's look at the conservation movement. Eve Bunting weaves an account of her own family's relocation from Northern Ireland to the U.S. in 1958 into a larger discussion of immigration, and Bruce Brooks offers a humorous, somewhat regretful look at the changes in professional sports. The essays range from 9-to-21 pages in length and are accompanied by black-and-white photographs and reproductions and brief author profiles. Five-to-ten suggestions for further reading on each topic are appended. This excellent volume will be appreciated as a browsing book and as a starting point for research.-Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Kirkus Reviews
From the canny predictions of Jules Verne to the environmental and civil-rights movements, 11 eminent writers for children follow topical threads through our country's past century. Some of the history is public, some private: Albert Marrin analyzes far-reaching changes wrought in the American social fabric by WWI; Jim Murphy covers the advent of cars, paved roads, and air travel; Eve Bunting spins from her own experiences a kaleidoscopic view of immigration; Katherine Paterson reflects on changes in religious expectations and practices between her father's generation and hers. Such personal points of view often make for animated writing, especially in Bruce Brooks's indictment of the professionalization of sports ("Face it, Wayne Gretzky is an alien"), and Lois Lowry's analysis of the women's clothing in six generations of family portraits—even Milton Meltzer's otherwise dry chapter on presidential administrations is sparked by references to Reagan's "military adventures" and Bush's "well rehearsed little stunts." Though movies, music, books, medicine, and communications technology (to name a few areas) receive passing mention at best, these wide-angle surveys and ruminations make savory reading, and will give young readers intriguing perspective on the tumultuous 20th. (photos, reading lists, index, not seen). (Nonfiction. 11-15)

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
8.38(w) x 10.32(h) x 0.75(d)
1130L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt


When the twentieth century began, the most popular magazine for young people was St. Nicholas. Its readership covered a broad age span, from boys and girls in elementary school to young adults of sixteen and seventeen. Its content ranged just as widely and included short stories, myths, legends, poems, and articles about everything from anteaters to the newfangled automobile.

Curious to see how St. Nicholas celebrated the start of the new century, I turned to the January 1900 issue — and discovered that I was a year early. Mary Mapes Dodge, the magazine's editor (or "conductor," as she preferred to call herself), explained why in a note to her readers. "Many regard 1900 as marking the first year of a new century, though this is not really the case," Mrs. Dodge wrote. "The first century began with the first year of the Christian era, A.D. 1. The first year of the twentieth century will begin with the year 1901."

Properly instructed by conductor Dodge, I jumped ahead a year to the issue for January 1901. There I found a lead article titled "The Dawn of the Twentieth Century" by a writer named Tudor Jenks. "Days, weeks, months, and years pass without especial wonder," Jenks wrote. "But the ending of a century comes but once to almost all of us, and history gives to each hundred years a character of its own."

Jenks then went on to recount (briefly) what had happened in each century, from the first through the nineteenth. Near the end of the piece, he summed up the story thus far: "The steam-engine has brought the whole world within reach of every nation; the telegraph brings all happenings within knowledge;modern weapons have made the most advanced nations irresistible by untrained peoples; the printing-press brings the intelligence of whole peoples to bear on every question. Electricity becomes man's servant, and he learns to turn forces into one another."

Jenks made no predictions, however, about what was likely to happen in the century ahead. If he had, he would almost certainly have mentioned some of the topics — from politics to transportation to the changing role of women — that are explored in the pages of this anthology. He might even have begun, as this book does, with an evaluation of the science fiction writings of two of his contemporaries, Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. But it's not likely Jenks would have composed as provocative and enlightening a piece as the one contributed to this volume by Russell Freedman.

The Century That Was does not pretend to be a comprehensive chronicle of everything significant that happened in the twentieth century. There is no discussion, for instance, of the phenomenal growth and development of the movies, starting with the silent, flickering, black-and-white shorts that were projected in storefront "nickelodeons," and culminating in the special effects­filled blockbusters that are shown in mall cineplexes today.

Nor is there an account of the vast changes that took place in the way Americans obtained news of what was going on in the world. At the beginning of the century, such information came almost entirely via the written word in newspapers and magazines. By the late 1920s, radio broadcasts and movie newsreels had been added to the media mix. They, in turn, were followed by television after World War II and by the Internet in the last years of the century. As these changes occurred, the means by which most information was conveyed shifted dramatically from the verbal to the visual.

Instead of a comprehensive report, this book offers a selection of topics that the individual contributors were eager to explore. Each writer was encouraged to approach his or her subject in whatever way seemed most comfortable and appropriate. The result is a lively, stimulating, and sometimes quirky gathering of essays, no two of which are alike in terms of voice or style.

Several of the pieces are marvels of distillation, managing to depict a century of activity in a small number of pages. Notable among these are Milton Meltzer's clear-eyed survey of American politics from the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt to that of Bill Clinton; Penny Colman's entertaining and informative account of the progress American women made on various fronts; Laurence Pringle's compelling summary of the conservation movement and the campaign to protect the environment; and Walter Dean Myers's panoramic overview of the civil rights struggle, highlighted by contrasting biographical sketches of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

Other essays focus closely on a single event or development that affected American life in some major way. Examples of this approach can be found in Jim Murphy's revealing investigation of the myriad changes brought about by the automobile; in Bruce Brooks's unsettling portrayal of the shift in emphasis in sports from the amateur to the professional; and in Albert Marrin's in-depth study of the long-term effects of America's participation in World War I.

Still others assume a refreshingly personal stance. Eve Bunting frames her essay on immigration with poignant memories of her own experiences when she, her husband, and their three young children emigrated to America from Northern Ireland. Through a skillful blending of words and family photos, Lois Lowry traces the ins and outs of fashion as they were reflected in the lives of six generations of women in her family. Katherine Paterson compares her beliefs with those of her minister father as she meditates on the status of religion in twentieth-century America and the often heated conflict that developed between religion and science.

It's interesting to note how many of the essays connect and interrelate. For example, Milton Meltzer's political history incorporates aspects of the civil rights movement and the fight for women's rights. By the same token, Penny Colman's essay on women is in part a political history, as are Walter Dean Myers's account of the civil rights movement, Katherine Paterson's thoughts on religion, and Eve Bunting's survey of immigration. Albert Marrin's chronicle of World War I overlaps with the struggle for greater equality of both women and blacks.

All of the essays look ahead in one way or another toward the twenty-first century. Several emphasize the important role young people can play in advancing worthy causes. Milton Meltzer mentions the more than one hundred million Americans, eight million of them between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, who volunteer their time each week in various community activities. Laurence Pringle describes the accomplishments of young people across the country who have taken part in the fight to preserve the environment. "They knew," he writes, "that the twenty-first century would bring new problems, new challenges."

In this, young people today are not so different from the young people who greeted the arrival of the last century. They, too, looked forward to a new era filled with challenges and opportunities. One of them, Marguerite Knopf, age seventeen, expressed her feelings in a poem that appeared in St. Nicholas. Here are the concluding stanzas of Marguerite's poem, which could have been written yesterday:

Good-by, old dying century;
We welcome in the new;
And in the next one hundred years
Let's see what man can do.

The generation coming —
And that is you and I —
Will be the men and women
To whom the nations cry.

Oh, welcome to the century!
The chances that it brings
For you and me to fill the world
With grand and joyous things!

Copyright © 2000 by James Cross Giblin

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