Bootleg by Karen Blumenthal

Cindy: The 7th graders that I booktalked Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition (Roaring Brook 2011) to last week were shocked that alcohol was once illegal. They are quite familiar with medical marijuana legislation but only one student in eight classes could tell me what the word “prohibition” meant. One girl did make the connection between the title and bootleg dvds. Blumenthal writes a fascinating history of the temperance movement and the resulting 18th and 21st constitutional amendments that found me reading snippets aloud to my husband while I read. For instance, in 1758 when George Washington was running for the House of Burgesses he provided a wide range of alcoholic beverages to the voters, and won the election!

The first half of the book examines the societal problems that fueled the temperance movement to push for the ban and includes archival photographs and advertisements that will amaze young and old readers, like the ad from Detroit, Michigan of a young child in a high chair holding a mug of beer with this rhyme:

The youngers, ruddy with good cheer
Serenely sips his Lager Beer.

Did you know that the spread of public water fountains grew out of the temperance movement in an effort to provide clean water as a beverage of choice? Or that in 1920 after the passing of the 18th Amendment that librarians were faced with the quandary of whether or not to keep the books that told how to make alcohol? And I learned the history behind the term “teetotaler.” This is also a good resource for inclusion in women’s rights history units as women’s involvement in the temperance movement was critical and also impacted the sufferage movement.

The second half of the book chronicles the resulting lawlessness of Prohibition and the rise of Al Capone and alcohol-related crimes, and eventually the repeal of the amendment. Here in West Michigan we just recently overturned a law that prevented the sale of alcohol on Sundays. While cleaning out my mother’s house for her estate sale, I found this ironic set of shot glasses promoting Prohibition. You can see Carrie Nation with her hatchet and slogans like “Bread not Booze” on the glasses. I kept these from the sale, not knowing that they would come in handy as a blog prop! I also learned that my alcohol of choice, gin, was originally nicknamed “Skip and Go Naked” and “Blue Ruin.” Hmmmm. I love good nonfiction.

Lynn: I too loved the amazing tidbits Blumental tucked into the text of her fascinating book.  Did you know that the Puritans brought beer and hard liquor with them on the Mayflower or that in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s many families started their day with a glass of whiskey?  Aside from all the terrific listen-to-this moments though, there are two elements that I found especially interesting.  One is the careful depiction of how Prohibition moved through the political process and become law in what amounts to blinding speed for a constitutional amendment.  The second is the examination of the impact on American society and how routine it became for ordinary people to completely ignore the law of the land.  Jaw-dropping stuff. Blumenthal presents both the positives and negatives of Prohibition and invites young readers to note the connections to contemporary efforts.  Carefully documented and thoughtful, the book is also lively and engaging and brings to life all aspects of this “grand social experiment.”

Check out other nonfiction books on Nonfiction Monday, hosted today by Playing By the Book.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

2 Comments on "Bootleg by Karen Blumenthal"

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  1. Very timely recommendation. Did either of you watch the recent documentary about Prohibition on PBS? Really interesting. This books also sounds fascinating. Thanks.
    Tammy
    Apples with Many Seeds

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