Bookworm: A tale of segregation, war, racism, and horror

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace”

  • By Ashley Bryan
  • c. 2019, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • $21.99, $29.99 Canada; 108 pages

Before you even begin to take notes, the page is full of doodles. You can’t help it: it’s human nature to scribble stars and squiggles, to write your name, make boxes around words, and draw silly faces. If there’s a pen in your hand, you use it, right? And in “Infinite Hope” by Ashley Bryan, one man used a pen to stay alive.

More:Bookworm: ‘Doctor Dogs’ and ‘Kid Activists’

Like every child with some crayons and paper, Ashley Bryan loved to make art. Even his teachers noticed his talent and they nurtured it but alas, Bryan couldn’t land a scholarship to art colleges because of the color of his skin. It was the early 1940s, and Jim Crow laws didn’t allow it.

“Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace” by Ashley Bryan.

On the advice of others, Bryan applied to attend The Cooper Union in New York City and he loved it there. The school helped grow his talents and he was eager for the future – but then, at age 19, he received his draft notice.

Bryan was headed for World War II. For someone who grew up in the North, Basic Training was quite unexpected. Men at the military induction center were told “’Whites on one side. Blacks on the other,’ ” and Bryan was shocked! It took a minute to understand that the military was segregated but, like all Black soldiers then, he hoped that serving during wartime might lead to “equal treatment for all.”

Sometimes, soldiering was boring, so Bryan drew. He sketched fellow soldiers, their bunks, and their jobs. He drew the children who befriended him near his first post in Boston. He painted pictures of the docks. When he went overseas, he sketched castles in Scotland and villages in the countryside. He wrote letters home to his cousin, Eva, and he drew card games and cold mornings until June 2, 1944, when Bryan and his brothers-in-arms were sent to Normandy. There, he drew cathedrals, people, despair, and destruction. He wrote to Eva about what he saw and when the war was over, that was that.

“I left my drawings in the map-case bureau for 40 years … ”

Readers looking for “Infinite Hope” may be left scratching their heads. It’s likely to be found in the Teen or even the kids’ section of your local library or bookstore – and yet, this book is absolutely perfect for any adult.

Without a lot of narrative, author-illustrator Ashley Bryan tells a tale of segregation, war, racism, and horror but while it’s vividly told, readers aren’t left aching: threaded in with every chapter of Bryan’s life is also sense of joy. He takes obvious delight in the people he meets, and he has his art: soaring sketches, pensive portraits, and single lines drawn thick to depict the chaos of war. These are accompanied, collage-like, with letters home that are multi-layered over the art and that will leave an impact on newly-aware teens and adults who remember all too well.

More:Bookworm: Getting ahead in business and life

Either way, give “Infinite Hope” and then borrow it back to see yourself. Any reader ages 15 to Grandpa, will be quickly drawn in.

“Atlas Obscura: The Second Edition”

  • By Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton
  • c. 2019, Workman
  • $37.50, $55 Canada; 472 pages

It’s never a bad time to take a vacation. You never want a bad destination, though: no places that are disagreeably seasonal. No locales that are too people-y, too remote, too kiddish, or too 1950s. It’s never a bad time to take a vacation but there are better places to visit than the same-old, same-old, so grab “Atlas Obscura: The Second Edition” by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton, and get packing.

More:Bookworm: A dog’s love and tech challenges

In 2020, you’re going to cross a few things off your bucket list.

You’re going to travel, see the world, meet new people – or at least you’ll read about them, anyhow, which is where this book comes in. Starting with the British Isles and moving about, “Atlas Obscura” offers unique and hidden places to visit and things you won’t normally see. It’ll make your wanderlust, lust.

“Atlas Obscura: The Second Edition” by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton.

If you’re heading for London, for example, stop and see Jeremy Bentham’s headless body. Being mummified was what Bentham wanted when he died but alas, his noggin was stolen too many times by mischief-makers, and it’s under lock and key.

Collectors will understand the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania, where more than 100,000 crucifix and cross statues stand. “Atlas Obscura” says that the Soviets tried to do away with this field of Christian symbols by bulldozing it thrice, but it was rebuilt each time. Conversely, if you’re in La Paz, Bolivia, look for the Witches’ Market, or the Devil’s Swimming Pool in Zambia.

Visit a tannery in Morocco (but be prepared: urine and fecal matter are prime ingredients there). See a cave in Guam that was home to “holdouts” from World War II for nearly 30 years. Spend a night in a hanging sphere on Vancouver Island.

Or maybe you’d rather stick closer to home: Visit the Museum of Death in Hollywood. See the world’s largest organism in Utah; tour a paper house in New England. Visit Spirit Houses in Alaska, hike inside a mountain in South Dakota to see a waterfall, and gaze upon the Loretto Chapel Stairs in New Mexico.

Are you packed yet?

For sure, a few dozen words don’t do “Atlas Obscura: The Second Edition” justice. Revised, updated, with new information and more destinations to see, this is the kind of book you really need to put in your hands to fully appreciate.

In a way, it does double-service.

For anyone with means and a way, it’s like throwing a dart at a map to determine your next vacation site, only in book form. Authors Foer, Thuras, and Morton offer up the kind of locales that you’ve either never heard of, or just don’t think about – and they make these places easy to visit by including travel information as well as phone numbers, fax numbers, and other tips for a good visit.

For the reader who’s not going anywhere for now, well, you will – in your mind – with “Atlas Obscura: The Second Edition.” It’s browse-able fun. It’s useful and interesting, full-color, wide-scoped, and if you’re tossing things in a suitcase, leave room. Pack this.

More:Bookworm: The animals in your life; stuff stories

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.