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Local Book Notes: Racial Literacy, Tootsie Rolls & The Softball King

"Recognizing the financial difficulties students have, Jonathan Tomkin, associate director of earth, society and environment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, created a solution to high-priced textbooks," USA Today reports.

With the help of professors at two other University of Illinois-affiliated schools - the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois at Springfield - Tomkin created a stand alone "open-source" textbook called, Sustainability: A Comprehensive Edition, which is available online to students free of charge.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and the Department of Education awarded the University of Illinois a $150,000 one-year grant in 2012 to develop open-source textbooks in students' curriculum. The grant aided the funding for Tomkin's book, which provided a stipend to the contributing authors.

The online textbook is used for "ESE 200: Earth System" and "ENSU 310: Renewable & Alternative Energy," both of which are taught by Tomkin. The 560-page book, which took more than a year to fully develop, features content on varying topics such as climate and global change and environmental and resource economics.

Click through for a video of students' reactions.

We All We Got
"Siretha White was at her 11th birthday party when she was killed in 2006. Nugget, as she was known to her family, had been celebrating in her cousin's home when gunman Moses Phillips, who had reportedly been aiming at a man who was on the porch, shot through the front window fatally wounding her as she ran toward the back of the house. It was a sudden, shocking death that devastated the Whites and many others in their neighborhood of Englewood, Chicago," Time reports.

The young girl's story quickly caught the attention of photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz, who had planned on documenting the effects of gun related violence on communities not long before. Shocked by the brutal nature of the incident - and struck by how similar it was to the death of 14-year-old Starkesia Reed, who had been killed by stray gunfire a few blocks away just days before - he approached the White family with the aim of documenting the aftermath.

"The next day I was at the house. There was a birthday cake on the table that didn't get cut [and] I spent about two hours talking to [Siretha's] mother's cousin outside," Ortiz says. "We talked about a lot of things that were wrong in this neighborhood."

Englewood often leads the city of Chicago in homicides, though there was a reported 19 percent decrease in 2013.

"[Siretha's] mother called me that same night, she is a really good friend of mine now, [and said]: 'I want you to do something. I want you to come to the radio station with me tomorrow and photograph me.' [And then] she basically let me follow her home."

Starting that day, Ortiz embedded himself with both the Whites and a larger community, locally and nationally, in an attempt to start a conversation about gun violence and its consequences. It evolved into a project that spanned eight years, and one that saw him travel between neighborhoods in Chicago and Philadelphia. Now, much of the work appears in his newest book, We All We Got, which will be on show at the Bronx Documentary Center in New York until March 22, 2015.

With all due respect, that 19 percent drop in the Englewood murder rate in 2013 is part of downward trend that is now two decades old; we need to change the frame of our discussion.

Also, the New York Times link attributing that drop to Chicago police tactics fails to explain how the whole nation has experienced a similar drop without the help of the Chicago police. In other words, local tactics don't explain national trends.

Softball King
"Known as 'Mr. Softball' and 'Eddie the Edge,' Eddie Zolna assembled, managed and pitched for championship teams that dominated Chicago's 16-inch softball scene throughout the 1960s and '70s," the Tribune reports.

Mr. Zolna's team, the Bobcats, won 12 national titles by collecting a group of talented players who won year after year under the direction of their competitive, charismatic player-manager. A pitcher in more than 5,000 games over a six-decade career, Mr. Zolna is a member of the Amateur Softball Association's National Softball Hall of Fame.

"In Chicago, when you talk about softball to anybody, the name that always popped up was Eddie Zolna," said longtime teammate Willie Simpson. "He wanted to be the best. He wanted to win. He hated losing, that's what drove him to be the way he was."

Mr. Zolna, 85, died of complications from Alzheimer's disease Tuesday, Jan. 20, at his home in Frankfort, said his daughter Jayne Zolna.

And here's why this item is appearing here: "He wrote the book Mastering Softball with former Tribune columnist Mike Conklin, published in 1981."

Jessica Hopper's New Book
"Having been a force in the music world for over 20 years, luminary journalist and culture critic Jessica Hopper is ready to showcase a selection of her finest works in a new book titled The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic. The book hits stores May 12 through Featherproof," Exclaim reports.

Hopper recently joined Pitchfork.

Tootsie Roll Guy
"Melvin J. Gordon, who ran Chicago-based candy-maker Tootsie Roll Industries for more than 50 years, held the distinction of being the oldest CEO of any business listed on the two major stock exchanges," the Tribune reports.

"Mr. Gordon, 95, died Tuesday in Boston after a short illness, said his wife, Ellen. The couple had homes in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood and in the Boston suburb of Wellesley Hills, Mass."

And here's why this item is appearing here: "Outside of work, Mr. Gordon took an interest in what then was the Soviet Union. He visited the country with his family in 1934, and in the 1950s he wrote a book titled, Better Than Communism."

Driving King
"For his book Along Martin Luther King: Travels on Black America's Main Street, author Jonathan Tilove visited nearly 500 Martin Luther King streets across the country. In his book, he described a 'nation within a nation' as 'a parallel universe,'" DNAinfo Chicago reports.

"'For many whites, a street sign that says Martin Luther King tells them they are lost,' Tilove wrote. 'For many blacks, a street sign that says Martin Luther King tells them they are found.'"

Racial Literacy
"'Race and Justice Letter to Parents,' said the e-mail in my inbox. It was from our daughter's school. This was not the kind of email that parents routinely get from the school. This was a letter directly addressing the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, speaking to parents about the school's role in shaping conversations around race and social justice. This school, the e-mail's subject signaled, was not going to tiptoe around the elephant in the classroom," Sujatha Shenoy writes for Quartz.

Unusual as the e-mail was, it was even more unusual that it was sent out at all. Amidst the media focus on New York and Ferguson, the many discussions on race and the sharing of personal experiences, the rallies and die-ins, the majority of schools have been conspicuously silent.

As news about events in New York and Ferguson ebbed and flowed, I have had conversations with other parents about the role of schools, particularly those of elementary schools. Do schools have a role in speaking to students and parents about news events that transfix the nation but can also hit home? Or should elementary schools steer clear of news that could lead to messy and potentially divisive conversations? Are these teachable moments or are these times to shelter our children for just a while longer? At a time when many private schools speak of a triangle between the student, the parent and the school, why were so many schools silent?

And here's why this item is appearing here: "'Schools struggle with what to say,' said Howard Stevenson, a University of Pennsylvania professor who has long studied emotional and racial skills and earlier this year published a book, Promoting Racial Literacy in Schools: Differences That Make A Difference. 'Most policies focus on not saying the wrong thing, as opposed to being proactive and saying the right thing.'"

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on January 23, 2015


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SPORTS - Ryan Pace's Narratives Are Killing Us.

BOOKS - Chicago For Dummies.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - The Sears Motor Buggy.


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