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In the first half of the 20th century, racial segregation was common in America, including in sports. At the time, Major League Baseball (MLB) did not have a single Black player. That changed in 1947 when Jackie Robinson made history by becoming the first Black athlete to join a Major League team. In his book “Jackie and Me,” author Dan Gutman imagines a boy traveling back in time to meet Robinson on the eve of his first Major League game. Listen to hear an excerpt from the book and fifth-graders discuss the man who broke baseball’s color barrier.
James and the Giant Peach is a classic fantasy and adventure story that explores friendship, family relationships, and the fortunes of a young orphan. James is living with his cruel aunts when a peach magically sprouts in the yard. When the enormous fruit breaks from the tree and rolls into the ocean, James is stuck inside the peach with a group of insect friends, and together they set sail on an epic adventure. Listen to hear an elementary book club respond to the book’s funny and scary moments and discuss the lessons they took away from the novel.
James Baldwin’s legacy and words are still very much alive and relevant today. A 2017 Oscar-nominated documentary was inspired by Baldwin’s writing on race, class, and the Civil Rights era in America. The documentary, called "I Am Not Your Negro," examines the lives and work of three Civil Rights leaders: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X. At the same time, it urges audiences to consider how racial tensions and attitudes continue to influence our culture today. Listen to hear more about how James Baldwin and this documentary challenge us to work toward positive change in our communities.
Established in 1607, Jamestown, Virginia, was the first successful English colony in North America. In 2010, scientists discovered four skeletons that had been buried in what was the colony’s first church. The archaeologist working on the site theorized that these must be the remains of members of the colony’s elite. Listen to this story to learn what led to the evidence scientists uncovered to support this theory.
Jane Goodall is a well known advocate for ecological preservation. Her book "Hope for Animals and Their World" is about her experiences rescuing endangered animal species all over the world. She makes the case for not only saving animals like chimpanzees, but for preventing rare plants and insects from dying out, because it’s vital for sustainability and the proliferation of all kinds of life. Listen to learn more about her experiences with species near extinction and preserving entire ecosystems on our planet.
In 2005, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi issued an apology on behalf of the Japanese people for its colonial rule and aggression before and during World War II. The apology came at a time of increased tensions between Japan and its east Asian neighbors, including anger over Japanese textbooks that seemed to downplay the atrocities Koizumi was apologizing for. The story touches upon present day circumstances that can limit the effectiveness of such an apology. The story also raises powerful questions about how societies make meaning of the past, the legacy of oppression, and the degree to which history impacts the present day.
Even beautiful plants can sometimes be detrimental to the environment. This public radio story takes place in Michigan where the sale of Japanese knotweed has been outlawed following unchecked growth of the large ornamental plant. Japanese knotweed is fast-growing, aggressive and hard to control. It can destroy pavement and even houses and it is unlikely to be eradicated any time soon.
Kendo is the name of the centuries old martial art of Japanese fencing. It’s still being practiced today. This audio story describes the popularity of kendo. The college tournament, held annually at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the largest intercollegiate kendo competition in the United States, and it reflects the growing popularity of this sport.
Thomas Jefferson’s vegetable garden at Monticello contains over 300 varieties of more than 90 different plants, demonstrating the diversity of Earth’s ecosystem. The former President and founding father prided himself on his diversified and rare collection of plants. And he never failed to record his gardening achievements in his famed “garden book." Listen to learn more about the history of Jefferson’s garden and its current state following restoration.
Children of immigrants can often feel like they’re never completely accepted either in their adopted home country or their parents’ country of origin. The author Jhumpa Lahiri was born to Indian parents in London and raised in Rhode Island. She is an author of many books, including "The Namesake" and "The Interpreter of Maladies." But she says she’s struggled to feel like she belonged in America. Mixed feelings about identity form a central theme in her work. Listen to hear how Jhumpa Lahiri has dealt with the difficulties of immigration and the struggles of tradition and how these themes have influenced her writing.
In 1939 Marian Anderson an African-American opera singer was prevented from singing to an integrated audience at Constitution Hall. At the time, Washington DC was a segregated city but didn't have the "Whites Only" signs familiar in the South. Anderson instead performed an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial. This audio story describes the controversy over a recent children’s book about Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial that showed “Colored Only” signs in public places. You'll hear from people living in the capital at the time talk about when the de facto racial segregation that did exist in the city was exposed when Marian Anderson was not allowed to sing in Constitution Hall.
Joan of Arc is famous for believing she received visions from saints, successfully leading armies into battle, and, ultimately burning at the stake. She has been portrayed in a variety of books, movies, and paintings. A new play takes a different perspective on the teenager’s life: her mother’s. Listen to learn about the role Isabelle played in her prominent daughter’s life from the well-known actress who now portrays her.
Joan of Arc was an uneducated girl who followed the voices of angels and worked to free France from England’s domination. When she was captured by the English, she was burned at the stake. Later she was pronounced a Catholic Saint. Listen to learn how her religious and political legacy still inspire French politicians today.
John Calvin, one of the central figures in the Protestant reformation more than 500 years ago, has left an indelible mark on American culture. Though we think of his theology as representing the most joyless version of Protestantism possible, some of what we think about him now isn’t particularly accurate to who the man was and what he believed. Listen to find out how one historian views Calvin’s legacy, and what more we can learn from his example.
When American author John Irving was 14 years old, he read "Great Expectations," by Charles Dickens and it changed his life forever. That book played a pivotal role in shaping Irving’s success as a writer. Now the author of more than a dozen narratives and an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Irving continues to base his works on similar themes and ideas found throughout the novels of his literary mentor. Listen to the audio story as Irving explains the ways that Dickens impacted his accomplishments and which one book remains for Irving to read when he can no longer write.
The book "Into the Wild" chronicled the journey of twenty-four year old Christopher McCandless who died in April of 1992 after attempting to survive alone and virtually unaided on a remote Alaskan hiking trail. While McCandless’ official cause of death has been recorded as starvation, author Jon Krakauer has evidence suggesting otherwise. Krakauer, who wrote "Into the Wild," has conducted extensive research on McCandless’ death even after he first published the book chronicling McCandless’ experiences. His findings have led him to believe that McCandless’ death may have been caused by the ingestion of a poisonous potato seed that is only deadly if you are malnourished. Listen to hear what evidence led Krakauer to this conclusion.
Writer Joyce Carol Oates is the successful author of more than 50 novels and even more works of non-fiction, poetry, plays and short stories. Her writing, known for its high quality, is filled with ideas, themes and subjects across multiple genres. Many readers and fans of her work are aware of the violent, dark nature of some of her stories, but may not realize that many of these themes are based on events she experienced in her early years. Oates shares these stories in her recent memoir, “The Lost Landscape.” Listen to hear Oates explore how her early life shaped her not only as a person, but as a writer.
Senator Joseph McCarthy led a crusade against Soviet spies he believed were operating in the United States government. He called Democrats "soft" on the war on communism. This audio story describes why the American public's view of Republican Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist campaign in the early 1950s continues to be sharply divided.
Julia Alvarez is a Dominican-American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her novels include “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents” and “In the Time of the Butterflies.“ Growing up in the Dominican Republic, she learned about the massacre of over 20,000 Haitians living in the Dominican Republic in 1937. She was consistently presented with negative stereotypes of her Haitian neighbors. For these reasons, Alvarez felt too ashamed and even afraid to visit Haiti. But she made the trip and then visited again to attend a wedding after the 2010 earthquake. Listen to learn more about how Alvarez needed to cross many borders—internal, historical, cultural—that stood in her way.
Certain events in U.S. history are recognized by some and unknown to others. June 19th, also known as Juneteenth, commemorates the anniversary of federal troops arriving in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 to ensure that all enslaved people were freed, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Tulsa, Oklahoma, was the location of a violent 1921 race massacre that destroyed an entire prosperous Black community overnight. Listen to historians explain how they learned about these historical events as adults and why they believe many Americans do not know much about them.
From 1975 to 1979 a terrorist organization called the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia, an east Asian nation. The Khmer Rouge launched a genocide against its own people, killing men, women, and children. Two million people out of a total population of 8 million were killed. Today, survivors of the genocide are left to cope with their difficult memories while young people in Cambodia either don’t know about the genocide or don’t believe it happened.
The importance of home and the healing power of friendship are two universal truths that affect every human being. Many people feel homesick when they must leave familiar places and people behind to move somewhere new. Fear of new places and people can be relieved, however, as one becomes more familiar with their new community. Listen to hear how Kate DiCamillo, the author of Because of Winn-Dixie, used her childhood feelings of homesickness to write her first children’s book.
Mementos are objects that people keep to remind them of someone or something special. Sometimes mementos help people remember a loved one they have lost or a place they have left. Treasured mementos may be passed down through generations and even studied as historical artifacts. People often have stories to tell about why a particular everyday object became meaningful to them and the memories they associate with it. Listen to hear people talk about some of their favorite mementos and what makes them special.
In the 1970s, a communist regime called the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, a Southeast Asian country. The Khmer Rouge rounded people up, forced them to work in labor camps, tortured them, and executed many of them, all to supposedly create a better society. One of the survivors of the Cambodian genocide wrote a book about her experiences, called “First They Killed My Father.” Well-known actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie recently made this memoir into a film. Listen to learn about the survivor’s story and find out how Jolie translated it to film.
Narratives imagined by children are often delightfully unbounded by adult conventions and logic. In this audio interview, a 6-year-old author and 13-year-old illustrator describe how they imagined and created an unusual picture book about some chickens who leave their farm to become pirates. Their parents, who collaborated on the project, compare their children’s creative processes to their own and analyze how observing and helping their children changed their own ideas about creativity. Listen to hear about a multi-generational collaboration that transformed one young child’s imaginative tale into an actual book.
Biologists studying killer whales face the challenge of studying organisms that spend a majority of their time underwater. From extensive research, scientists have learned that killer whales have adapted their sounds to help them catch prey. Scientists are looking to do more research, but it's difficult to find the whales in the first place. Listen to learn more about the methods scientists use to understand killer whale noises.
In the 17th Century, civil war gripped Great Britain. Over the course of the century, war and revolution would eventually lead to the transformation of England into a constitutional monarchy in which the monarch was to share power with Parliament, and the rights of the people would be legally protected. Along the way, England would experience political turmoil and incredible amounts of bloodshed. Part of this story is the trial and execution of King Charles I. Listen to the story of Charles I’s trial and execution, the motivations of the men behind it, and the important legacy it left behind.
Tutankhamun was a pharaoh from New Kingdom Egypt. Known today as “King Tut,” this ancient leader died young. His reign as pharaoh was unremarkable. What sets Tutankhamun apart was the discovery in 1922 of his tomb, which, unlike others, was found with its ancient burial artifacts still in the tomb. Remarkably preserved, his tomb has been a source of fascination ever since its discovery. This audio story details the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Egypt, featuring many artifacts from King Tut’s tomb. The story describes many of the artifacts and the insight they provide into ancient Egyptian life.
Acclaimed American author Kurt Vonnegut is known for his legacy of satirical literature, including his best-selling novel Slaughterhouse Five and his short-story collection Welcome to the Monkey House. His writing often mixed dark humor with speculative fiction, calling attention to important issues in American society, politics, and life. Listen to learn more about Vonnegut’s influential work from interviews with the author himself.
Cesar Chavez was an advocate for social change and a founder of the United Farm Workers of America. After years of agitating for workers’ rights, Cesar Chavez is now universally acknowledged as an inspirational leader for justice. When he was honored with a stamp by the US Postal Service, Chavez’s son was interviewed about his life and legacy. Listen to learn more about how Chavez fought for workers and what work still needs to be done.
Idioms are developed within a culture and are like a language of their own. They convey meaning that extends beyond the definition of individual words to express a fuller collective meaning. Many times, idioms are able to pack more meaning into fewer words because they directly translate a familiar sentiment. A dictionary of idioms is essential for communication in America. This story reveals the origin of idioms that allude to art, history, and American politics in the latest edition of “The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms”. Listen to hear how idioms reveal a snapshot of American society in different time periods.
When Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women at the request of her publisher it became an instant hit. The story of four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March, still inspires young women nearly 150 years later. What do these four women represent? How can we understand Jo’s independence in the context of her era? And how does the novel reflect and differ from the life of its author Louisa May Alcott? Listen to learn more about the lasting legacy of Little Women.
Christianity and Islam share many things in common. Their holy books contain some of the same narratives and many religious scholars would say they worship the same God. However, war and terrorism have led to widespread misunderstanding and hostility towards Islam and Muslims. Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, a Catholic raised in England, believes that one key to combatting this hostility is through education. As a believer in this, Fitzgerald has dedicated his life to learning about, and teaching, Islam to both Christian and Muslim students. His goal is for students to have a deeper appreciation for the particular beliefs and customs that make Islam distinct.
Many schools now have gardens where students grow and harvest food that they cook themselves in class. The “Let's Move Initiative,” a program created by former First Lady Michelle Obama in 2010, has generated awareness about school gardens and teaching cooking skills that enable students to learn about healthy lifestyle habits in an effort to fight the national obesity epidemic. Listen to learn more about how a gardening and cooking project at a school in Maine is a rewarding way to learn about nutrition and healthy lifestyle skills through hands-on class activities.
In 2016, a police officer shot and killed an African American man named Philando Castile at a traffic stop. Castile’s girlfriend published videos of the incident online, and it received national attention. Castile was a beloved school cafeteria worker who made a positive impact on the students he encountered. In honor of her son’s memory, Castile’s mother created the Philando Castile Relief Foundation. Listen to hear about how he connected with students and find out how the foundation is working to carry on Castile’s legacy of generosity toward the students he served.
The 1960’s are remembered for many turning points in American History. Undoubtedly, two of these are the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Perhaps no president of the time period is more intimately associated with America’s commitment to each than Lyndon Johnson. In 2014, on the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library hosted an event to honor civil right law and Johnson’s civil rights legacy. This audio story discusses that event and provides some of the historical background behind Johnson’s civil rights achievements, including his early relationship with MLK and other leaders, the impact of Kennedy’s assassination, and his eventual successes.
Ray Bradbury is regarded as one of the greatest imaginative writers of the last 100 years. His stories and novels showed us the promise and wonder of traveling the stars in books such as “The Martian Chronicles” and “R is For Rocket.” But just as often as Bradbury’s fiction looked outward, the future and the cosmos, it also turned its powerful eye inward, peering into the human condition in books such as “Fahrenheit 451” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” His written works continue to influence and inspire people from filmmakers to astronauts. This story offers a brief profile of Bradbury on the occasion of his death in 2012. Listen to learn more about Ray Bradbury and how his stories have influenced others.
On September 18, 2020, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away. The second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States, Ginsburg was a trailblazing lawyer and justice who was known for her brilliance, passion for the law, and commitment to gender equality. In later years, she also became a celebrity, the subject of movies and Saturday Night Live parodies. With her death, she leaves behind a powerful legacy. Listen to learn about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s family life, her career path, and the cases she argued that transformed the workplace for American women.
In the early 20th century Americans streamed to the middle of the country because of the Homestead Acts. These were federal laws that gave people ownership of the land for free. In this audio story you will hear from people who grew up on homesteads in Montana in the early 20th century. Both families were fairly isolated and self-sufficient, working hard to make a living off the land, but their affection for that lifestyle is still strong.
Leonardo da Vinci was the model of a Renaissance man and studied anatomy, botany, music, sculpture, and design. He painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. He also used the scientific method 100 years before Galileo Galilei, who was previously believed to have discovered it. This story describes how da Vinci’s study of patterns in nature was different from other scholars of his time who relied on the Greek and Roman classics. Listen to discover more about the scientific discoveries of Leonardo da Vinci.