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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book Review: Just Add Water: Making the City of Chicago

Just Add Water: Making the City of Chicago
Renee Kreczmer

Lake Claremont Press

Can anything good come from Chicago?

This variation on a passage in St. John's Gospel is what I first thought when I received Just Add Water: Making the City of Chicago, written by Renee Kreczmer. Ms. Kreczmer is described as a "superstar Chicago history teacher with the Chicago Public Schools" on the back cover of her book, and she proves it with this easy to read book which was designed for grade school children.  Even though grade school for me was during the previous century, I still found the book informative and entertaining.

The book consists of fifteen chapters called 'Investigations,' which Kreczmer starts by proposing a series of questions.  The answers to all these questions are found in that chapter.  This format is similar to that of a textbook; one could see this book used by home schoolers as well as institutionalized students.  She begins with the founding of Chicago as a military and trading post back in the 1600's.  After reading this book, I understand why Chicago is where it is, as Kreczmer discusses the role it played in the fur industry, the French and Indian War, and the Revolutionary War.

Later chapters discuss the growth of Chicago.  The Chicago Fire and the Chicago World's Fair are presented.  All of the chapters include small biographies of important men and women in the history of Chicago. The challenges of the immigrants groups who settled in the city are also mentioned.  Ms. Kreczmer wrote this book for the third grade level, so there are a lot of pictures to accompany the captivating narrative.  It only took me a few hours to breeze through the book. 

Every chapter ends with Internet links or the addresses of actual places to visit in Chicago. This book would be an excellent guide for someone interested in making a tour of the city. 

The only objection I had to this book was how Ms. Kreczmer described an incident which happened in 1812.  In that year, a group of Potowatomi Indians attacked a detachment of soldiers, women, and children who were evacuating Fort Dearborn, located in what is now downtown Chicago.  The Indians outnumbered the group by a ratio of five to one.  In the fight, two-thirds of the Americans were killed, including more than half of the women and children. The survivors were held as prisoners and eventually ransomed for supplies.  In a footnote, Ms. Kreczmer defines the word massacre and then includes this sentence: "The term massacre is offensive to some, so the Fort Dearborn Massacre is sometimes referred to as the Battle of Fort Dearborn."

I wondered who would consider the term massacre offensive. Certainly the dead would think that, but who else would object to the way history would remember this event?  While she doesn't say it, I think Ms. Kreczmer is referring to the Potowatomi Indian tribe.  I know that many Indian tribes have lately taken offense to how they are portrayed in modern society.  My own Alma mater, Eastern Michigan University, changed the name of its mascot from the ‘Hurons’ to the ‘Eagles’ in deference to a complaint.  But that is a story for another time.  It is sad that Ms. Kreczmer felt the urge to soften the description of one of the less memorable moments in the history of the Potowatomi tribe. 

Every nation, every religion, every tribe on this planet has committed atrocities at some point in their history.  It is part of human nature that we tend to beat up on our fellow man.  In Ireland, surely there were ancestors of mine who fought with Protestants and even the British, but I do not feel any kind of shame for what they did in the past.  I would rather spend my efforts on making sure that my actions and those of my descendants are for the good, the true, and the beautiful.

I would not let this one little objection discourage the reader from buying this book.  Ms. Kreczmer has written a wonderful book which describes the history of one of the most important cities in the United States.  I could see where this book could help instill pride for this city in the hearts of the children of Chicago, while also piquing the interest of the tourist or historian making a visit to this city.

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Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

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Now restored with the help of some cement!

Prayer to Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Mary my mother, take my hand today, and all days.
Lead me away from all occasions of sin.
Guide me in fulfilling your last words in the Gospel,
"Do whatever He tells you."

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