Thursday, December 10, 2015

Stories that Capture Holiday Traditions

By Nina Kendall

Storytelling is an essential part of the human experience.  No matter the form the urge to record tradition, explain events, and share experience continues. Great works reach out to us and touch on memories, knowledge, and tradition.  The words create familiar places that we know but haven’t visited full of activities we have enjoyed and stuff we treasure.   This is never more true that at Christmas. 

Generations have enjoyed classics like A Visit From St. Nicholas, The Nutcracker, and A Christmas Carol in one form or another.  The novella, A Christmas Carol, and the ballet, The Nutcracker, are performed live each year, and captured on film.  Each work engages the senses of viewers young and old. A Visit from St. Nicholas or Twas the Night before Christmas is often repeated and freely adapted poem more than 100 years after its first publication by Clement C. Moore. My favorite version from childhood is the recording of The Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street recording released in 1975. 

The works created to tell the story of the holidays continue to grow. Books, movies, and songs continue to be created to capture the story of the holidays. Popular works vie for position among holiday classics. Do you have a favorite popular holiday work? Is it a recent discovery or something you have treasured since childhood? How does it highlight a moment in history? How does it connect to your tradition? My favorite holiday works draw upon childhood memories. Here are a few works that touch on traditions I have enjoyed. 

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson written in the 1970’s focuses on the Herdman’s. The Herdman’s are group of unruly children who are the center of gossip in this small town. At the opening of the book, the Herdman’s come to church for the first time on the day the Christmas Pageant is planned. The rest of the book traces the adventures of Herdman’s through presentation of the pageant. I enjoyed this book as a child and again as an adult. Each new detail of the story evokes memories of community pageants and homemade angel wings.
 

“A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote is another Christmas story I treasure. This short story was published in the 1950’s two relatives, Buddy and a young child, during the holiday season. It was first read to me by my middle school teacher, Libby Kurninec. I have read it many times since. The relationship between Buddy and the child as they prepare for the holidays takes me back to holidays as a child when shelling pecans, baking fruitcake, and making decorations were annual activities.

No matter your preferred form in the holiday genre share your favorite holiday work with someone you know. Make literature part of your annual traditions. Holiday celebrations have room for works new and old.  You may stumble across a common memory or lead a young reader to a new treasured holiday tradition.  Happy Holidays!


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Diaries and Letterbooks: A Personal Look into History

By Nina Kendall

Are you looking for a more intimate glimpse into history? Diaries and Letterbooks are unique entries into the historical record. Diaries are running accounts of individual lives while letterbooks are running accounts of enterprises or businesses. These records, often created for personal not public reasons, reveal the experience of ordinary people in different periods of time. Stories of individuals unfold against the backdrop of state and national events engaging the reader with new, relatable detail. The Diary of Young Girl by Anne Frank is the most famous of these published works. Many other diaries and letterbooks are available to readers of history.


One interesting book to consider is the Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1739-1762: Intriguing Letters by One of Colonial America's Most Accomplished Women. Her letters offer interesting insight into the colonial frontier and life on a plantation. The struggles of the new colony of Georgia and the challenges with Native Americans in the region are revealed with engaging detail in her entries.

Another work to consider is Camping with the Sioux: The Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher.  This online of edition of her diary of living with and studying the Sioux is available from the National Museum of Natural History. Her work reveals as much about her life, and 19th century attitudes toward Native Americans. A more extensive version of her work was recently published in Life Among the Indians: First Fieldwork among the Sioux and Omahas.

The Princes of Cotton: Four Diaries of Young Men in the South, 1848-1860 compiled by Stephen Berry provides a separate view of the Antebellum Era. The diaries of four young men of the South reveal more depth and variety in the experience of men. These accounts offer a look into the private thoughts of men who would go on to fight in the Civil War.

Want to read unpublished historical diaries? Check out the online collection available at Women Working, 1800-1930 from Harvard University Library Open Collections Program. These works give you the opportunity to look into the life of working women in the 19th and 20th century. Among the works, you will find the diary of Josephine Sherwood Hull. Hull was an actress who starred in the film Harvey with Jimmy Stewart.  Read Hull’s thoughts and gain insight into the life of women in film in the early 20th century.

Interested in a different era? Look for a diary or letterbook in an era that interests you. These works offer the combination of private thoughts and public events that draw readers and have sparked epistolary fiction. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fall Into a Great New Book

By Jeff Burns

My “to-read” list is getting longer and longer.  Sometimes I think it’s too bad that I have to teach for a living; work is getting in the way of the important stuff:  reading.  This fall, there are number of great books about history being released, and I think my list is only going to get longer.  You might also want to be on the lookout for these titles.

The Last of the President’s Men by Bob Woodward is the heretofore untold story of Alexander Butterfield, a top Nixon aide at the heart of the Watergate Scandal.  It promises more shocking details of the goings on within the Nixon administration.



One of my favorite authors, Sarah Vowell, is releasing a new book called Lafayette in the Somewhat United States.  Vowell is an essayist, humorist, and keen observer of life whose previous books have combined history with current events, always in a funny, engaging, and challenging way.  This book is about the Marquis de Lafayette and his relationships with George Washington and the fledgling United States.

War of Two is about the infamous rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, a rivalry that led to the most famous, and most tragic, duel in American history.


Bill O’Reilly is following up Killing Kennedy, Killing Lincoln, and Killing Jesus with Killing Reagan, a biography of Reagan through the prism of the assassination attempt made early in his presidency.



Paul Theroux is one of the most famous travel writers working today, and Deep South is his take on the region.

While on the subject of the South, Rick Bragg has published a new collection of essays, never before published.





Finally, three music icons (and three of my favorites) have published autobiographies.  Each one is said to be an unflinching and honest account.


These are just a few.  Are there any new books about history that are on your list?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

History Books and Historical Fiction for Kids

By Nina Kendall

Are you a reader? Do you want to share your love of reading and history with your young reader? Are you looking for a good place to start? History books for children and historical fiction for children offer some great options for inspiring young readers.

The love of history and reading grew together in my house. I grew up reading about history and visiting historical sites. History and books inspired conversations and trips. I have fond memories of Johnny Tremaine, The Witch on Blackbird Pond, and Little House on the Prairie. I could share in their experiences and adventures.  

As a teacher and a parent I have had the chance to share the love of reading about history and visiting historical sites with a new generation. From the Magic Tree House series to Bud not Buddy; I have continued to share books about history written for young readers.

Today we all benefit from the growth of books being published. Books published about history or with historical themes continue to grow.  If you are looking for a history book to share with your young reader, check out our list of old and new favorites.  It would be a great way to share your love of history with a new generation. You both may find a history book to love.


Do  have a suggestion to share? Let us know in the comments or send us a pin on Pinterest. We are always on the lookout for a good book.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Piecing History Together

By Jeff Burns

A while back, I wrote a blog called “Patchwork Revival” about my wife’s quilting hobby.  (http://histocrats.blogspot.com/2014/10/patchwork-revival.html ) She finds old unfinished quilt tops, squares, and vintage fabric and repurposes them into new placemats, potholders, and other decorative items for the kitchen and dining room.  She’s also found some great books for inspiration, and we thought we’d share for crafty history lovers among our readers.

First, there’s The Civil War Diary Quilt, by Rosemary Youngs.  It’s quite a novel idea.  Youngs took entries from the Civil War diaries of ten different women.  The reader gets a brief introduction to each of the women and ten or twelve fascinating diary excerpts.  For each entry, Youngs has designed a quilt square and provided the pattern ad details that a home quilter can easily follow.  She has followed up with The Civil War Love Letter Quilt, which is pretty much the same concept.  Check out Youngs website at  http://rosemaryyoungs.com/ . A woman named Barbara Brackman has also written several  books about Civil War quilts and Civil War inspired works as well.

 
Second, there’s Laurie Aaron Hird’s series based on letters written to The Farmer’s Wife magazine in the 1920s and 1930s, The Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt:  Letters from 1920s Farm Wives and the 111 Blocks They Inspired and The Farmer's Wife 1930s Sampler Quilt: Inspiring Letters from Farm Women of the Great Depression and 99 Quilt Blocks That Honor Them.  These letters are from women all over the country, and Hird has created a square from 1920s and 1930s reproduction fabric.  Detailed templates and instructions are included in the book and on an accompanying CD. The author blogs at http://thefarmerswifequilt.blogspot.com/.

 
Finally, there’s A Quilted Memory: Ideas and Inspiration for Reusing Vintage Textiles, by Mary Kerr.  It’s a great introduction full of ideas for using vintage family fabrics, doilies, feedsacks, quilts, and clothes to make beautiful contemporary items that preserve family memories and history.  She’s also done seral other books on the theme. Her website is http://www.marywkerr.com/.

Whether you’re a talented quilter or hobbyist like my wife, or just a history buff like me, these books are great windows into American history.
  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tears and Laughs: TV Comedy Legends

By Jeff Burns

I’m a fan of classic TV.  I’ve seen just about every show from TV’s golden age, the 50s when most televisions in the country were tuned in to the Jack Benny Show, I Love Lucy, or the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.  When I come across these shows, I’ll usually park and watch for a while.  This summer, I discovered some books about comedy legends (and most of them were free through Kindle Unlimited, an added bonus). 

First up was Laughs, Luck...and Lucy: How I Came to Create the Most Popular Sitcom of All Time by Jess Oppenheimer, the producer, director, and head writer of arguably the greatest sitcom of all time, I Love Lucy.  In his autobiography, Oppenheimer details his early days in radio and how he came to be involved with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. It’s a real behind the scenes look at them and their show which transformed how television was made forever.

 
Next was Raised Eyebrows - My Years Inside Groucho's House, originally published by Steve Soliar in the 1990s but updated and published again in 2011.  Stoliar tells an incredible story about his three years as the personal secretary of Groucho Marx.   Through an unbelievable chain of events, Stoliar got the job as a 19 year old and began work in Marx’s home in Marx’s last three years of life.  Stoliar was witness to moments of legendary wit as well as to the sad decline of the comedy legend who was unfortunately manipulated, some say abused, by his mentally unstable companion.  There are great stories about Marx when he was at his most vulnerable, really humanizing him, and Stoliar was involved with many other Hollywood legends in the process of his work. It’s a real page-turner.

I Stooged to Conquer: The Autobiography of the Leader of the Three Stooges written by Moe Howard is one of the older titles I read.  The book does not go into great depth about the stooges’ personal lives, but it is a thorough recounting of their professional lives.  Moe’s journey from a school dropout who started acting in as a child in silent movies, his vaudeville acts with brother Shemp and Larry Fine, and all the permutations of the stooges that followed.




Two other books are on my list to read, but I haven’t gotten to them yet.  Moe Howard’s daughter, Joan Howard Maurer, wrote a biography of her uncle Curly Howard, AKA Jerome Horowitz, maybe the most beloved stooge. Curly’s life was much more tragic than Moe’s, full of failed marriages, problems with alcohol and insecurity, and ending with a tragic early death.

Last year, Richard Zoglin published Hope: Entertainer of the Century, billed as the most definitive biography of Bob Hope.  Zoglin was dismayed that Hope didn’t seem to be getting the recognition that he deserved and set out to correct it.  When I read it, I look forward to comparing this version of Bob Hope to the one described in several vignettes in Stoliar and Oppenheimer’s books.




Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

As a teacher, I have attempted to engage students in learning about the Oregon Trail in a variety of ways, including playing the Oregon Trail video game.  So, I was genuinely excited to read about Rinker Buck’s journey to travel the epic trail.  I found the book to be a quick and easy read that tells the story of Buck and his brother Nick, and Nick’s Jack Russell terrier, Olive Oyl making a modern day crossing of the Oregon Trail.

As a reader, I was in awe of Buck’s attempt to travel the length of the Oregon Trail the old-fashioned way—in a covered wagon with a team of mules.  Such a journey had not been attempted in more than a century.  The fact that so much of the trail is still accessible was quite the revelation.  As an East Coaster, many of our original trails and pioneer roads are long gone, replaced by modern roads, cities and suburban sprawl.

Buck gives an overview of the Oregon Trail, which spans two thousand miles and crosses six states from Missouri to the Pacific coast. Once Buck sets up the history of the trail, he then begins the narrative of the crossing. Buck and his brother set out from St. Joseph, Missouri, to travel to Baker City, Oregon, a journey that would last four months.

The book can be broken down into three distinct parts, a journal of the trip, an all-around history of the trail, and the relationship Buck had with his father.  As a reader, I most enjoyed the journal and historical aspects of the book.  Believe me, you will have a good idea of what it takes to change a wagon wheel or how precious water can truly be.  In the beginning of the book, Buck talks about wanting to do the crossing alone.  However, as the book unfolds, it is hard to imagine this journey being possible without the aid of his brother Nick.  Indeed, the banter between the two is quite fun. 

I would highly recommend this book. It is very entertaining, as well as educational. The reader will be transported to an earlier time and a chance to “Go West!” Plus, you will learn more about what many of the Great Pioneers had to endure to make such an arduous journey. If you are like me and love the idea of taking a great road trip, I would enthusiastically recommend picking up this book.  It is definitely worth a read!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Author Spotlight: David O. Stewart

By Jeff Burns

David O. Stewart became a writer of history after a long legal career in Washington D.C., and his legal training and career provide an interesting perspective in his work.  His first book, The Summer of 1787, is about the tumultuous constitutional convention, and he was inspired to write it by a Supreme Court case he was working on.  His second book, Impeached, is about the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson and was inspired by a judicial impeachment case he worked on in 1989.  His third book, American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America, is about Burr’s alleged conspiracy to commit treason by creating his own personal empire in the Louisiana territory and the trial that resulted.




All three books were great sellers and accumulated praise and acclaim.  Summer was awarded the Washington Writing Prize for best book of 2007, and Stewart received the 2013 History Award of the Society of the Cincinnati as well.  In 2013, he released his first historical fiction novel, The Lincoln Deception, about the John Wilkes Booth Conspiracy.  His most recent book, Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America is a unique biography of the fourth president, told in terms of five pivotal personal relationships, each of which was crucial in some way to the development of the United States.


Whether it’s the result of his own personality and interests or the result of his legal training and career, Stewart is not the typical historian.  His books are different and fresh, well worth checking out.




Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Unwrapping Madison’s Gift

By Jeff Burns

Quick, name a founding father. (Yes, I know that’s not a PC term, but anyone who knows me would agree that PC is one of the last descriptors that anyone would use for me.)  You probably immediately thought of Washington, Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson for example. And because you are intelligent and interested enough to follow the Histocrats, you probably thought of James Madison too.  However, I’d be willing to bet that he wasn’t the first name that crossed your mind.  What do you know about “Little Jemmy” as he was nicknamed?  Many people know that he was the smallest president to date (hence his nickname), standing at 5 ½ feet or less and barely crossing the 100 pounds threshold.  They know he was the fourth president, and that he led the United States into the War of 1812, becoming the only sitting President to actively command troops in war during the disastrous British invasion and occupation of Washington D.C.  They probably also know that his young and vivacious wife, Dolly, was a social butterfly and society trendsetter who heroically oversaw the rescue of important objects in the White House. 

Some people, though, may not remember as much about his pre-presidential career, his leading role at the Constitutional Convention, not only in the writing of the Constitution, but also in its ratification as advocate and co-writer of The Federalist essays.  In Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America, historian David O. Stewart seeks to restore Madison to his proper place in the framer/founder pantheon, as one of the most important, if not the most important. 

As Stewart points out, Madison’s contemporaries recognized his importance in the founding of the United States; more cities and counties in the country have been named after Madison than after any other presidents. However, over the years, the soft-spoken, seemingly introverted, bookworm has been overshadowed by other figures.

Stewart accomplishes his goal by exploring Madison’s relationships with 5 important figures, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Dolly Madison, and James Monroe, writing about each relationship separately.  He uses letters and documents (plenty of notes and citations) by and about Madison and each of the other figures to create an elaborate picture of the relationship and how that relationship was crucial in shaping the direction of the young country.  According to Stewart,

“Madison’s Gift” was the ability to work with each person, in spite of occasional differences and rivalries, and to make compromises and adjustments on order to reach his ultimate goal of a self-sustaining constitutional republic.

Madison’s relationships were very fluid.  For example, he worked extremely closely with Alexander Hamilton in the development of the Constitution and the ratification struggle, but them found himself a leader of the political party formed specifically in opposition to Hamiltonian ideas.  Through the first years of the Washington administration, Madison was the chief presidential advisor, but he found himself pushed aside as Hamilton became closer.  Madison and Monroe were close friends but also intense political rivals at times.  And of course, Dolly brought a tremendous personal change in the older, stoic Madison, drawing him out of his shell.

Madison’s Gift is a very interesting book that accomplishes the goal of restoring Madison to his rightful place, and the reader gains insights into the personalities of all the characters.  Learning about them through the deep personal and political relationships they shared brings them to life in a way that other histories and biographies might not.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Heritage Food and Food Heritage

By Jeff Burns

Southern cuisine’s popularity continues in the foodie world, and southern cooking has been called the quintessential American cuisine.  Americans also seem more and more interested in traditional crafts and nostalgia. Three recently published books examine southern food traditions and efforts to revive them.

The most recent is Southern Provisions:  The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine by David S. Shields.  For more than ten years, Shields has researched early American agricultural and cooking practices, and he has produced what chef Sean Brock has called “the most important book written about southern food.”  He writes about both “cuisine” and “cooking”, which might seem synonymous, but there are differences in connotation.  “Cuisine” is often used in a more elevated, formal way to refer to a style of cooking of a region or people; “cooking” refers to informal, basic home food.  Part one of Provisions is about cuisine, the uniquely southern dishes that found their way onto fancy menus prepared by top chefs  in hotels and restaurants across the antebellum South and drew lots of attention and praise from travelers. Part two is about southern foods in the marketplace of the 19th century, and part three is about the crops and agriculture.  Shields’ points out that we’ve developed cultural amnesia and have forgotten many of the crops that were once staples across the South like sorghum and benne (a West African form of sesame).    Along the way, the reader meets colorful historical characters like Sally Seymour, a free black pastry chef in Charleston who was herself a slave owner and founded a thriving business, and Colonel Francis Dancy, a citrus pioneer who developed the tangerine.


The aforementioned chef Sean Brock is an expert on southern cuisine himself. He’s a renowned chef in Charleston, South Carolina whose book Heritage is a winner of both the  James Beard Foundation Award for Best Book of the Year in American Cooking and the Julia Child First Book Award.  Heritage is an all-in-one volume based on Brock’s personal southern food experiences from his Appalachian childhood to his life in the South Carolina Low Country.  It is a cookbook full of delicious recipes running the gamut from home comfort food to high-end restaurant food, but it also contains Brock’s essays on the history and culture of the region through the food prism.  Finally,  the beautiful photos taken by Peter Frank Edwards make it an art book that you will want to display.


Marcie Cohen Ferris’ book The Edible South:The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region is not a cookbook and is not about specific foods.  Instead, it’s a history of the South told through food, starting from the first interactions of African, European, and Native American cultures and progressing all the way through the civil rights movement.  It is the story of southern identity and the importance of food in shaping it. Ferris also explores the connection between food and power, economic and political. The book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in southern history and culture.  ( Also, check out Ferris’ book Matzoh Ball Gumbo:  Culinary Tales of the Jewish South)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Author Spotlight: David McCullough

By Jeff Burns

David McCullough is one of the leading historians in America today, a multiple times winner of the Pulitzer Prize in history and the National Book Award.  He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award that a civilian can receive.  He is also an accomplished narrator and lecturer.

His work includes highly acclaimed Presidential biographies Truman and John Adams, both Pulitzer Prize winners and both adapted into TV productions by HBO.  Mornings on Horseback is a fascinating account of seventeen years in the early life of Theodore Roosevelt.  1776 focuses on that pivotal year of independence and revolution, especially the life and leadership of George Washington.



However, he’s not just a presidential historian.  His most current book, just released recently, is   The Wright Brothers, which tells the story of the first flight with the same attention to detail that one expects from a McCullough book.   HBO and Tom Hanks just acquired the rights to produce a film based The Wright Brothers.   Other McCullough works include The Great Bridge, about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and The Path Between the Seas, about the building of the Panama Canal. The Greater Journey is the story of prominent 19th century Americans who spent time in Paris and how that time affected and influenced their later achievements in life.   His first book is about one of the greatest natural disasters in American history, The Johnstown Flood.


 

For more information about McCullough’s books and short interview clips go to this site http://authors.simonandschuster.com/David-McCullough/938 .

Friday, May 1, 2015

Enjoy a New Book: The Wright Brothers

The Wright Brothers by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough’s is the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright, and their struggle to be taken seriously as they taught the world how to fly.

McCullough uses a vast array of sources to bring the Wright Brothers to life. Family and determination are key elements to the success of Orville and Wilbur.  At the heart of who they were was the fact that they were bicycle mechanics with no formal engineering education, but would conquer flight like no other.  Their first attempts to fly at Kitty Hawk show the vast stamina and determination they had.  After reading the Kitty Hawk descriptions, you will be left in awe that they were ever able to take flight.   

The Wright Brothers like other McCullough books transports the reader will be to an earlier time and to learn more than you ever thought possible. If you like the world of aviation or history, we enthusiastically recommend picking up this book.  It is definitely worth a read!


Want your own copy? This is your chance to enter to win The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. We have one copy of The Wright Brothers for the giveaway. To enter, please complete the form below.





Terms and Conditions
  • Competition open to residents of the USA only,
  • No P.O. Boxes
  • Must be 18 years of age or older. Winner will be chosen at random from correct entries.
  • No cash alternative.
  • Competition closes Saturday, May 9, 2015 at 11:59pm
  • Winner will be notified and contacted via email within 24 hours after contest ends.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Missions Possible and Impossible

By Jeff Burns

I just completed an interesting historical novel by well-known Japanese author Shusako Endo, Silence, set in 17th century Japan.  It is the story of a Portuguese Roman Catholic missionary determined to minister to the once-burgeoning Christian population in Japan, threatened by a period of harsh oppression which had as its goal the elimination of Christianity, Which was deemed a threat to the social and political order, or as the main antagonist said “a seedling which cannot grow in the swamp that is Japan.”. 

The priest, Sebastian Rodrigues, and his companion, Francis Garrpe, embark on an idealistic journey to minister to the Japanese flock despite the stories of torture and execution subjected upon previous Catholic missionaries.  He finds his journey paralleling the life and passion of Christ, complete with his very own Japanese Judas Iscariot.  In the process, he must deal with serious questions about his own faith, the righteousness of his mission, and God’s perceived silence in response to the immense suffering of the faithful.  It’s a fascinating novel, a bit slow-moving at times but maybe that allows for the proper amount of contemplation, but the reader learns a lot about the culture and history of Japan.

No matter how one feels about religion or the Roman Catholic Church I particular, there is no doubt that the Church’s missionary efforts around the world, spearheaded by the Jesuits,  have shaped world history in many ways, both good and bad.  There are a number of novels and films that have explored that theme.


          
Silence immediately reminded me of James Clavell’s epic novel Shogun, a book I read in high school when it was made into one of my favorite television miniseries of all time.   It’s also set in the 16th century, just before the oppression against Christians, when Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and English commercial interests vied for control of Japan,  economically and religiously.  In this work, the protagonist is an English merchant sailor who becomes involved in Japanese court intrigue, and the Catholic missionaries are portrayed as the antagonists, enemies of the English and Dutch Protestants.

The Mission  is a 1986 film set in 1750s South America.  It is not based on a single novel but historical facts surrounding the Treaty of Madrid in 1750 in which Portugal and Spain exchanged territory in modern Paraguay and on The Lost Cities of Paraguay, a collection of stories by C.J. McNaspy.   It’s a sprawling big screen adventure  that follows Spanish Jesuit priest Father Gabriel in his attempt to establish a mission.
 

The Black Robe by Brian Moore is set in New France, North America in the 18th century and was also made into a film.  Father LaForgue, another young idealistic zealot, embarks on a mission to Christianize a group of Hurons.  He is immersed in the strange and savage world of New France and finds his breaking points, both as man and as priest, challenged.

These are great stories of history, adventure, and faith, all make for fascinating reading and/or viewing.