Autobiography

Inspirational Stories: The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

hidingplace4Elderly watchmaker, Casper ten Boom and his middle-aged spinster daughters, Corrie and Betsie, lived a quiet life in Haarlem, Netherlands at the time of the Nazi invasion in 1940. The ten Booms joined the Dutch resistance and built a hiding place in their home for Jews sought by the Gestapo, a stop on a twentieth century “underground railroad”, manned by Gentiles who would not bow to the occupying force.

It is estimated that 800 Jews were housed, fed and moved to safety through this family’s efforts, until they were betrayed in February 1944 and subsequently imprisoned, first in a local jail and ultimately in concentration camps.

Corrie ten Boom survived Ravensbruck and told her story in gripping detail in The Hiding Place, co-authored by Elizabeth and John Sherrill, first published in 1971 and reprinted in 2006 by Chosen Books in a 35th Anniversary edition.

Casper ten Boom, Corrie’s father, was a man of 84 at the time of his arrest by the Gestapo. He was truly remarkable – a compassionate and uncompromising Christian who took heroic measures to save Jews in the face of great pressure to mind his own business.

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Corrie recounts this excerpt of the interrogation her father’s underwent after his arrest:

“The Gestapo chief leaned forward. I’d like to send you home old fellow,’ he said. ‘I’ll take your word that you won’t cause any more trouble.’

I could not see father’s face, only the erect carriage of his shoulders and the halo of white hair above them. But I heard his answer.

‘If I go home today,’ he said evenly and clearly, ‘tomorrow I will open my door again to any man in need who knocks.’” (The Hiding Place)

In The Hiding Place, heart wrenching reality mixes with hard won faith to inspire the reader.

The State of Israel honored Corrie ten Boom for service to the Jewish people by issuing her an invitation to plant a tree in the Avenue of the Righteous at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum near Jerusalem. http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/

A worthwhile tribute to Corrie ten Boom is found on the following blog: https://unexpectedincommonhours.wordpress.com/2015/04/16/corrie-ten-boom-i-remember-you/

This amazing survivor traveled the globe speaking about God’s love and the power of forgiveness, often accompanying Dutch countryman, Brother Andrew whose story is told in God’s Smuggler also co-authored by Elizabeth and John Sherrill. She authored more than 25 books before her death on April 15, 1983 at the age of 82.

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In the final pages of the Hiding Place, Corrie issued this challenge and encouragement:

“And so I discovered that it is not on our own forgiveness any more than on our own goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When he tells us to love our enemies, He gives along with the command, the love itself.” (The Hiding Place)

Keeping the inspiring story alive in the 21st century, volunteers give free tours of the ten Boom house in Haarlem, Holland only thirty minutes by train from the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.hidingplace3

Categories: Autobiography, Biography, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Plan Ahead for Summer Reading

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s almost summertime and I am pushing my “read more” agenda again! Here are some specific ideas for getting more from your reading this summer:

1) Read more – set higher personal reading goals! Summer reading is a special experience because is often takes place out of doors, on a beach or a porch swing. We can allow ourselves a large allocation of time to read during this season because our routine is changing as we welcome our children home from school and make vacation plans.

My goal: Read a minimum of an hour a day June -August.

2) Connect with others in your reading! Reading is not a solitary happening, but a satisfying conduit for building common experiences. Use your inner circle’s reading recommendations – children, spouses, parents, librarians, and friends. Target your children’s favorite book and watch their pleasure as you become familiar with the plots and characters they love.

My goal: Read The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

3) Stretch your mental muscles! All have the capacity to enjoy a classic book. Although there is no harm in seeking a “light” read; the mental challenge in reading classic literature propels you into new depths — past the shallow water of superficial plots and stereotypical characters.

My goal: Read The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

4) Re-read a childhood favorite! Go down memory lane and enjoy that classic children’s book again. Perhaps a family member might join you in this endeavor, but even when you read something independently, you can still take time to share excerpts that you felt most impacted by; whether it be humorous, serious, or touching.

My goal: Read Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne.4cd2e-the_sweetness_at_the_bottom_of_the_pie

5) Listen to an audio version of a book! On a family car trip or even during your mundane work commute, pop in an audio book and enjoy a good story as the miles roll by.  As a side effect, if your children are listening too, audio versions of books allow them to participate and experience literature above their own reading level.

My goal: Listen to the fourth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (Book #1 is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – all the books are narrated splendidly by Jayne Entwhistle)

6) Be a good reading example to others! Maybe this summer is the time to read purely for enjoyment. Others watch what you do more than what you say, so if you especially want your spouse or children to pick up a book in their spare time, – to “read for pleasure” – as the phrase goes, then you must do the same.  Show them by example that reading isn’t always work!

My goal: to put up my feet in the daytime and read when the chores are not yet done.

7) Hit the library! Make use of your tax dollars and browse the local library for good ideas and free books to borrow. Library summer reading programs for kids and adults help direct our goals to increase reading with their prizes and recognition.

My goal: Sign us all up for the Dauphin County Library summer reading program on June 1st.

da69a-girl-reading1So, enjoy some special reading adventures this summer and please tell me about them!

Categories: Autobiography, Biography, British novels, Chick lit, Children's Books, Christian Fiction, Classics, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Mystery, Read Aloud, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Cheaper By the Dozen – Quirky and Profound

cheaper by the dozen 3Cheaper By the Dozen, the memoirs of two of the twelve children born to Frank B. Gilbreth, Sr. (“Dad”) and Lillian Moller Gilbreth (“Mother”), was an instant hit upon its publication in 1948. Hollywood made a movie of the story shortly afterward, in 1950, starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy.

This true story weaves anecdotes of the quirky Gilbreth tribe together with an unmistakably strong cord of familial affection; “Dad” and “Mother” love each other unreservedly and welcome each new “model” with delight.   Even in the 1920s, a family with twelve children was an anomaly, but these parents eschewed convention, followed their hearts, and discovered creative ways to deflect the pitying or disapproving reactions of others.

According to Frank Jr.’s and Ernestine’s account, their mother and father jointly decided to have a large family – an even dozen, discussing it on their honeymoon and making a pact to try to achieve their goal. With no twins, “Mother” successfully gave birth to and raised their hoped-for dozen.

The stories inside the 180 pages of Cheaper By the Dozen, albeit full of wry humor, are inextricably linked to the Frank’s and Lillian’s professional contributions. In contrast, the modern movie, Cheaper By the Dozen, released in 2003, starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt, while charming, lacks the vital connection to the real-life parents who pioneered the field of motion study and engineering improvements; the modern movie dad is a football couch and the mother, an author, writes only about family life.

As a parent, “Dad” carried on the legacy of his own mother: “Dad’s mother, Grandma Gilbreth, believed that her children were fated to make important marks in the world and that her first responsibility was to educate them so they would be prepared for their rendezvous with destiny.” (Cheaper By the Dozen)

When financial privation steered young Frank away from his aspiration to attend MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), he made his own way, rising from bricklaying work to his eventual calling as an efficiency expert.

“Dad” couldn’t help but use his large family as a “laboratory” for his experiments in increasing productivity and making work easier. The most bizarre example included having his children’s tonsillectomies filmed to help improve surgical efficiency.

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The adult children who authored Cheaper By the Dozen seemed fond and proud of their parents, taking all the idiosyncrasies in stride:

“Dad offered his services to President Woodrow Wilson at the start of World War I with the following telegram: ‘Arriving Washington 7:03 p.m. train. If you don’t know how to use me, I’ll tell you how.’”

“Mother was a Phi Beta Kappa and a psychology graduate of the University of California. In those days women who were scholars were viewed with some suspicion. When Mother and Dad were married, the Oakland paper said: ‘Although a graduate of the University of California, the bride is nonetheless an extremely attractive young woman.’”

In her autobiography As I Remember, Lillian described herself as “shy and bookish”, yet she was the perfect partner for brilliant and ambitious Frank. Anna M. Lewis describes young Lillian as having“ a knack for time management and organization that was beginning to show itself. She would carefully calculate how long the streetcar trip was from home to school.” (Women of Steel and Stone: 22 Inspirational Architects, Engineers, and Landscape Designers)

The couple’s collaboration and mutual respect extended throughout their marriage. Frank convinced Lillian to get her doctorate in psychology after their first four children had been born.

SPOILER ALERT: The authors’ foreword in my edition of the novel warned me that tragedy loomed ahead for the family;  Frank died young, at age 55. The novel ends with this event and the heroic actions of his widow to carry the load of both their professional work and family life.

“Dad” had a bad heart and knowing his time was limited, set out to give his children the best home education possible. His was not a motivation of pure eccentricity, though many of his ideas seemed peculiar. “It was also why he had organized the house on an efficiency basis, so that it would operate smoothly without supervision; so that the older children would be responsible for the younger ones. He knew a load was going to be thrown on Mother, and he wanted to lessen it as much as he could.” (Cheaper By the Dozen)

After Frank’s death, Lillian continued to work in the industrial design field. In her research, she brought time motion and efficiency into the home and kitchen to find the one best way to perform household tasks. Among the many ideas Lillian implemented for aiding the handicapped, was a design of an ideal kitchen layout for the disabled homemaker or veteran. (Women of Steel and Stone)

cheaper by the dozen 1In later years, Lillian became a professor of management at Purdue University, received over twenty honorary degrees, and, above all, loved her family.

On the Dedication page of their heart-warming book, Frank Jr. and Ernestine offer a profound tribute to their parents:

“To Dad who only reared twelve children.“

“To Mother who reared twelve only children.”

The sequel, Belles On Their Toes, also authored by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, picks up with the family’s adventures after the death of their beloved “Dad”.

Categories: Autobiography, Biography, Children's Books, Classics, Humorous, Inspiration, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

unbrokenThis biography stands head and shoulders above the countless others published for our edification. Not only did author Laura Hillenbrand research the details of the story meticulously, but she also wrote about deep themes such as human dignity, man’s cruelty to man, the will to live, and the type of love that sustains. In my opinion, Hillenbrand is one of the best contemporary writers of narrative history, and it is well worth the time it takes to read all 406 pages of this true story.

The facts horrify and defy belief and are definitely not for the faint-hearted. Adults and older teens would be the best candidates to survive the ordeal of reading the life story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini, a hellion who only “settled down” when he began to run, thanks to the guidance of his older brother, Pete. World War II interrupted his promising running career, although he ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and was congratulated personally by Adolf Hitler.unbroken3

After joining the Army Air Corps, Louie successfully trained and fulfilled missions as a bombardier in the Pacific Theatre. When his B-24, the Green Hornet, crashed in the Pacific on May 27, 1943 only three men survived.  The terror of shark attack led many airmen to crash their disabled planes outright versus “ditch” them in the Pacific Ocean. During days the survivors of the Green Hornet waited for rescue, sharks were an ever-present danger, swimming around continuously, rubbing their backs under the deteriorating rubber rafts, and at times, attacking with ferocity over the sides.

During these endless days of suffering in the life rafts, Louie, Phil and Mac drew from the experience of World War I ace pilot Eddie Rickenbacker whose story of twenty-four days adrift was familiar to the soldiers. “Exposure, dehydration, stress, and hunger had quickly driven many of Rickenbacker’s party insane, a common fate for raft-bound men. Louie was more concerned about sanity than he was about sustenance… Louie was determined that no matter what happened to their bodies, their minds would stay under their control.” (p. 152)

Publicity stills photography on the set of NBC Universal's movie 'Unbroken'

The well-being of the three survivors depended also on their hopefulness: “Though all three men faced the same hardship, their differing perceptions of it appeared to be shaping their fates. Louie and Phil’s hope displaced their fear and inspired them to work toward their survival, and each success renewed their spiritual and emotional vigor. Mac’s resignation seemed to paralyze him, and the less he participated in their efforts to survive, the more he slipped. Though he did the least, as the days passed, it was he who faded the most. Louie and Phil’s optimism, and Mac’s hopelessness, were becoming self-fulfilling.” (p. 155)

Shockingly, Louie’s plight worsened after his “rescue” from the sea by the Japanese navy. In the years that follow he was passed through a series of horrific prisoner of war camps in Japan. The shame of imprisonment that was indoctrinated in the Japanese military may be one of the reasons for the savage treatment of prisoners in the Japanese camps. Sadistic and continual torture served to rob men of their dignity so essential to human life.

Persevering to the end of the story offers the reader a final relief and a surprise – a revelation of how to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder through spiritual awakening and forgiving one’s tormentors.

Unbroken is the culmination of seven years of research, seventy-five interviews with Louie who, according to Ms. Hillenbrand, had a prodigious memory. Louis himself provided the author with his journals, original newspaper clippings, memorabilia, and private photos. Due to the author’s battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, all the interviews were conducted by phone. When Louie learned of Ms. Hillenbrand’s courageous battle with the disease he sent her his Purple Heart medal, claiming that her suffering was greater than his. Louie and Laura did finally meet in 2012 just a few years before Louie’s death at age 97. Physically active and cheerful until the end of his life, Louie is no longer available to tell his story. This lends great importance to the narrative finely crafted by Ms. Hillenbrand.

Although Unbroken chronicles the life of one man, many others who served in WWII in the Pacific Theatre are honored in the storytelling.   Japanese POW “Hap” (Raymond) Halloran is one such man who Laura Hillenbrand praised in the book’s acknowledgements: “Very few human beings have seen humanity’s dark side as Hap has, and yet he is ever buoyant, ever forgiving. Hap’s resilient heart is my inspiration.”

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In my opinion we need this story of a flawed hero who survived terror and torture and received his life back in the end. As goodreads reviewer and fellow veteran Jason commented: “In 10-15 years America will lose all its primary sources from WWII. You will have no reference, no great-grampa to reveal that epoch to you in lost military jargon and GI colloquialism. Great-grampa, the leatherneck, that, when you were a punk adolescent, sat alone in the warm sunroom with paper-thin skin on the backs of his hands, spots of lentigo, and steaming black coffee in winter. Gut-rot coffee, the way he learned to drink it back then, in a hole, or at predawn prep for takeoff. And so, I’m afraid that younger generations will lose the silken threads that link living history. I’m afraid that kids who think nothing unusual of presidents with no military experience will view WWII simply as another knuckle in history—something to study, fodder for a paper—but no less important than history that piles up each year and must be studied in turn.” (For more on this review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/451396288?book_show_action=true&page=1

More information about the author and the Unbroken story can be found on the author’s official website: http://laurahillenbrandbooks.com. The major motion picture, Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, is scheduled for release on Christmas Day 2014.

I wrote a post a while back about another good Japanese POW true story: https://pineneedlesandpapertrails.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/to-end-all-wars-a-japanese-pow-tells-his-story/

Categories: Autobiography, Biography, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

A Double Header: The Outsiders and The Cross and the Switchblade: Gangs, Violence, and Redemption

The OutsidersThe Outsiders, written in 1963, speaks in the voice of a 14-year-old boy, “Ponyboy” Curtis, who struggles to find his way in the midst of the gang violence in his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In The Outsiders, the rival gangs, the Socs and the Greasers are separated by economics, not race or geographic location.

S.E. Hinton began writing the novel when she was just fifteen in response to a ruthless beating a friend received at the hands of “The Socs”, the gang of teens represented by the wealthy members of her city. Her main character, Ponyboy, puts into words the angst of surviving in a society that leaves adolescents to their own devices, either through benign neglect or outright abuse.

Ponyboy’s situation differs from the other characters in the novel in that he has two older brothers who truly love him and look after him. The three brothers stick together after their parents are killed in a car crash and try to maintain a clean house so that they aren’t pulled apart by Social Services. Darry, age 20, is the oldest brother, who sacrifices his future plans to work and hold the family together.

Events in the lives of the boys take a dramatic turn for the worse and make for a suspenseful and tragic story. “Many of the issues that adolescents in the novel face are still very prevalent today. Teenage suicide, pregnancy, smoking, drinking, and the importance of staying in school are still areas of concern for teens. Perhaps the only area that is missing is illegal drug use. Today, undoubtedly, at least one gang member would be using an illegal drug.” http://www.cliffnotes.com

The 1983 movie, “The Outsiders” starred Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, and C. Thomas Howell, among others.

The-Cross-and-the-Switchblade-292322The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson, deals straightforwardly with life-threatening heroin drug addiction in its story of redemption of gang members in New York City in the early 1960s.

One of the most hardened gang members, Nicky Cruz, recounts how as the president of the Mau Maus, he was the most ruthless in his violent acts, even to the point of murder. When the skinny preacher from rural Pennsylvania showed up on the streets of his city, Cruz mocked and spit at him, but Wilkerson persevered, giving him the message that Jesus loved him, and stayed in the city to establish the first house for rehabilitation for drug addicts and other homeless teens.

The Cross and the Switchblade documents the transformation of Wilkerson’s own life as he followed the seemingly irrational call of God to the streets of New York City and the amazing changes that took place in the thrown-away teens that society had given up on.

Published in 1962, the autobiography sold more than 15 million copies in 30 languages, and was later made into a movie in 1970 starring Pat Boone and Erik Estrada. Another autobiography, Run, Baby, Run tells the life story of Nicky Cruz, who is still actively traveling and speaking to teens about life transformation through the Holy Spirit.

Tragically, David Wilkerson died in a car accident in 2011, but his legacy lives on in the Teen Challenge centers helping those struggling with addiction, and the Times Square Church founded in 1987. Wilkerson’s son and ministry partner, Gary Wilkerson, is releasing this September the full story of father’s life in David Wilkerson: The Cross, the Switchblade, and the Man Who Believed.

Categories: Autobiography, Inspiration, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

To End All Wars: a Japanese POW Tells His Story

Many of us have enjoyed the Academy Award-winning film The Bridge on the River Kwai starring William Holden and Alec Guinness (released in 1957).  Undoubtedly it is a great film, but it is also historically inaccurate according to Ernest Gordon, the author To End All Wars.  Mr. Gordon, a Scottish captain during World War II, told his story as a first-person narrative, not just in order to set the record straight, but also because he was there and desired to bring to life again the many Allied prisoners of war who shared the tragic horror of inhumane treatment by the Japanese.

Japanese POWS

The Burma-Thailand railway, nicknamed the “Railway of Death” for the tragic toll it incurred, was the notorious 280-mile stretch passing through rainforest and malarial swampland that caused death through injury, starvation, overwork, and tropical diseases. A quarter of a million Asian workers were forced to work with sixty thousand Allied prisoners of war.  Over eighty thousand men died during the railway’s construction – 393 lives lost for every mile of track constructed.

The brutality of the prisoner of war camps under the Japanese not only killed human beings, it destroyed souls.  In To End All Wars, Mr. Gordon describes “the law of the jungle” that took over the hearts of prisoners and caused them to succumb to death even faster.  The author takes readers on much more than simply a horrifying journey, however, because he found a way to rise above the suffering.   Compassionate fellow inmates reached out to Gordon while he was in the “Death House” expected to die of complications of beriberi and began a transformation in his life that led to outward changes in camp life.

This fascinating story offers graphic details of prison life and authentic historical context of the war in southeast Asia.  I am not a war novel or autobiography “buff”, but I was both mesmerized and uplifted.  Mr. Gordon had a gift for storytelling and used it well to offer a narrative filled with passion, humility, and honesty.  I believe one of the primary reasons he survived this experience was so he could tell us about it to help us  overcome evil with good in our own war-torn 21st century.

“My father’s message and mission could be summed up in the word fellowship, a concept that guided him throughout his life.  During his three-and-a-half years of captivity in the POW camps of southeast Asia, he learned the hardest lesson of all: to forgive- and even love- one’s enemies.  These weren’t allegorical opponents from biblical times, but modern men of the twentieth century.  While so many of his comrades were consumed by anger, he discovered a sustaining belief in God and the capacity for love – even in a death camp. “ Alastair Gordon, “In Memory of Ernest Gordon” 1916-2002, preface of To End All Wars).

Mr. Gordon’s book was first published in Great Britain under the title Through the Valley of the Kwai (1963) and subsequently in the U.S. as Miracle on the River Kwai (1965).


To End All Wars, (231 pages) was published by Zondervan in a 2002 edition with photos of the author, a preface by Mr. Gordon’s son offering a heartwarming epitaph of his father, and the author’s own reflections on his experience of returning to the River Kwai during the shooting of the film To End All Wars, a major motion picture starring Robert Carlyle and Kiefer Sutherland (released in 2001 and directed by David L. Cunningham).

For an in depth look at the 2001 movie, check this out: http://www.allinoneboat.org/2012/10/18/to-end-all-wars/.

Categories: Autobiography, British novels, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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