Briefing Books: Two Pittsburgh orphanages: one white, one black, both fascinating

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Give me your books, yearning to breathe free, but only if they've been published in the past year. Please, no PDF files, smut, screenplays, textbooks or tear-stained manuscripts. Send fiction, nonfiction and poetry to: Tony Norman, Book Editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd of the Allies, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15222. Include your website address or email.

"Child Care in Black and White: Working Parents and the History of Orphanages" by Jessie B. Ramey (University of Illinois Press). Social history done right is as comprehensive, sprawling and complicated as the human condition. If it is also well-written and infused with a conscience, all the better. University of Pittsburgh professor and popular education blogger Jessie B. Ramey demonstrates why she is both a first-rate historian and writer.

In "Child Care in Black and White," Ms. Ramey tells the tale of two Pittsburgh orphanages -- one for black children and the other for whites -- from 1878 to 1929. Both orphanages were established by the same humanitarian, but the disparities between them are the stuff of working class inequality. Ms. Ramey's family history also threads its way through this heavily researched narrative, balancing out the statistical charts with lively anecdotes. No wonder "Child Care in Black and White" has already scored three major national awards. Ms. Ramey also writes and runs the indispensable Yinzercation blog. > available everywhere including Amazon, Kindle;

"LARP: The Battle for Verona" by Justin Calderone (42 Street Publishing Inc). Count Justin Calderone among those happy scribes who just want to have fun. In "LARP: The Battle for Verona," Mr. Calderone writes with tongue firmly planted in cheek about the occupation of Verona, a small town in the state of Washington, by Mongolian terrorists. It is up to an alienated young man named Dennis and his LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) buddies to liberate their town from the forces of, well, Mongolian medievalism. This is a tale about how nerds became men after they emerged from their basements and got some sun. > available at Amazon, Kindle;

"In the Shadow of a Badge" by Lillie Leonardi (Hay House). The subtitle of this book, "A Memoir about Flight 93, a Field of Angels, and My Spiritual Homecoming," sets the tone for this unusual autobiography about another way of "seeing" by a former police officer, Chatham University police chief and FBI community liaison officer turned writer. It opens on Sept. 11, 2001, and never lets up as Ms. Leonardi attempts to keep her sensitivity to spiritual realities and the mysterious things she says she witnessed at Shanksville that day from overwhelming her day job. How does a law enforcement professional with a knack for the metaphysical keep both worlds in check? "In the Shadow of a Badge" is Ms. Leonardi's attempt to answer that question. > available at Amazon, Kindle;

"Love's Secret Fire" by Rena Koontz (Crimson Romance). This is a romance novel by real-life journalist and Pittsburgh native Rena Koontz about Valerie Daniels, a fictional reporter whose twin brother is accused of being an arsonist. It is a very sensual novel about the struggle of wills between Adam, the handsome investigator on the case and Valerie, who is convinced that her brother is innocent. Then there is a murder that introduces a new dimension to their complicated relationship. Can these two put their suspicions aside and unveil the real killer? > available at Amazon, Kindle;,

"Ava, American Dreamer, Book One: George Washington" by Melissa Havran and Lynn Botta (Authorhouse). Writer Melissa Havran and artist Lynn Botta chronicle the adventures of a little girl named Ava who, after July 4 fireworks celebrations, goes to bed full of questions about America's founding. She dreams of meeting George Washington and getting the inside scoop on how our democracy came into being. Ms. Havran and Ms. Botta tell this children's tale with charm and wit. Ms. Botta's purposefully naive watercolor style serves the story well. > available everywhere, including Amazon, Kindle.

'People's Poetry/ People's History'

A conversation and readings with poet and Pulitzer finalist Martin Espada and University of Pittsburgh historian and author Marcus Rediker will be moderated by poet/translator Samuel Hazo. The writers will discuss "how movements from below create and use poetry and history."

The event is free and open to the public. Thursday, April 11, 7:30 p.m. Provost's Conference Room 2500/2501 Posvar Hall, University of Pittsburgh Oakland campus. Sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh's Department of History and Humanities Center.

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Tony Norman: or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.


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