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OHS Librarian Patricia Erkenbrack talks about some books for young readers while Oskaloosa Public Library Director William Ottens and William Penn Librarian Julie Hansen look on Tuesday evening during a presentation at the OHS library. The librarians recommended additional books about slavery and the Civil War to enhance people's experience reading "Twelve Years A Slave."

OSKALOOSA — If you are reading "Twelve Years a Slave" with the Mahaska Reads program or would like to learn more about slavery and the Civil War, local librarians have selected 10 books to expand your knowledge of the era.

Oskaloosa Public Library Director William Ottens, William Penn University Librarian Julie Hansen and Oskaloosa High School Librarian Patricia Erkenbrack presented the books at a discussion held in the OHS library Tuesday evening.

"We put together a short list of titles that have stuck with us as librarians through the years," Ottens said.

Ottens presented three fiction books. The first one was "Beloved," by Toni Morrison.

The book poses the question: How far would you go to protect your children?, Ottens said. The main character "murdered one of her children rather than have her child sold back into slavery," he said.

Ottens said that the book's plot "bounces around."

"For me, it was a challenging read," he added.

The second book Ottens spoke about was "Ride with the Devil," by Daniel Woodrell.

"This has Quantrill's Raiders as the central plot," Ottens said. The raiders were Confederate guerrillas who were famous for being brutal. The main character joins the raiders but questions his loyalties as he sees what the raiders do.

Finally, Ottens spoke about "The Kitchen House," by Kathleen Grisson. This books looks at the life of an Irish orphan who lives in the South as an indentured servant, Ottens said.

Hansen presented four non-fiction books.

Hansen's first book was "Harriet Tubman: Imaging a Life," by Beverly Lowry. Tubman was an Underground Railroad organizer who helped slaves escape from the South.

"Quakers played a part in the Underground Railroad," Hansen said.

Hansen said that the book uses oral history and the author verifies the facts.

"I'd highly recommend reading this," she said.

Next, Hansen recommended "Booker T. Washington's Own Story of His Life and Work."

Washington put himself through school and became a teacher. He founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

"He believed education was the pathway to equality," Hansen said.

"Bloody Crime: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse," by James Swanson tells the story of a chaotic month in American History. The book details Lincoln's assassination and aftermath, and the hunt for Confederate President Jefferson Davis as the South surrendered, Hansen said.

"I love this book," she said.

Finally, Hansen recommended "Outside In: African-American History in Iowa 1838-2000," edited by Bill Silag.

"It's all about African-American history in Iowa," Hansen said.

Hansen pointed out some facts about Iowa's history: Iowa schools were integrated in 1868; Iowa had civil rights laws in 1923; and the first African-American professor west of the Mississippi River taught at William Penn.

Erkenbrack presented three titles for young readers.

"The Last Runaway," by Tracy Chevalier is a story about a Quaker who helps with the Underground Railroad.

"It's not billed as a YA (young adults) book," Erkenbrack said. However, it does have some content that is not appropriate for a middle school audience, but it is in the high school library, she said.

"It's very readable and historically accurate," Erkenbrack said.

"March," by Geraldine Brooks details the life of the absent father in Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women," Erkenbrack said. The book has a non-linear plot that "weaves in and out," she added.

Erkenbrack said said the author did a good job of describing what it was like to be a soldier in the Civil War.

Finally, Erkenbrack presented "Bull Run," by Paul Fleischman. The book tells of the first big battle of the Civil War from both sides.

"This book begs to be performed as a reader's theater," she said.

The Battle of Bull Run was an indication that the Civil War would not be a short war.

"Nobody expected it to last as long as it did," she said.

Herald Editor Duane Nollen can be reached by email at

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