Happy 1st of May–otherwise known as May Day, or International Workers’ Day. May Day has long been celebrated as a spring holiday, with the most famous related celebrations including dancing around a May Pole or giving baskets of flowers to friends. While it’s not usually as large a celebration, many people still think of the first of May as a marker of the beginning of spring.
But May Day has become more than that. While most of us in the United States think of Labor Day (the holiday for celebrating the average working men and women) as the last gasp of summer in September, many countries celebrate their workers on May 1.
And finally, you’ve probably heard of “Mayday!” as the official radio cry for help. It comes from the French, “M’aidez!” (Help me!), and is used internationally in emergencies.
So here’s to May Day, and here are some books to help you celebrate:
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Outstanding Book for the College Bound). In this now-classic dystopian story, a Christian theocracy has been set up in the former United States. Women are completely disenfranchised, and the protagonist, “Offred,” is a handmaid, a fertile woman assigned to an upperclass family for the sole purpose of bearing children. As the story unfolds, we learn that there is a resistance movement, called “Mayday.” Will Offred join the resistance? Will she even survive?
Mayday by Jonathan Friesen. This one has nothing to do with either holiday, or with radio cries for help, but with the title, I had to include it, right? And the first of May does play an important part of the story. Crow has sacrificed her life to protect her sister, Adele, from someone evil–but it didn’t work. She has the chance to return to her past, but only if she goes in someone else’s body. The outsider’s perspective forces Crow to re-evaluate what really happened.
Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Three girls’ lives collide in during the early 20th century shirtwaist strikes in New York City: Bella, a new immigrant from Italy; Yetta, a bold Russian-Jewish immigrant; and Jane, a privileged daughter of wealth who wants to attend college. The budding labor movement is shown in the circumstances each of these girls faced and the choices they made.
The Minister’s Daughter by Julie Hearn (2006 Best Book for Young Adults). The title character, Grace, falls pregnant after a May Day rendezvous, and conspires with her sister to blame Nell, the local healer. Magic, history, and hysteria weave an enchanting tale about 17th century England, with a link to our own Salem witch hunts.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (2014 Popular Paperback for Young Adults). This real-life story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic racer who joined the Armed Forces when World War II broke out, narrates Zamperini’s survival despite a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean and internment in Japanese POW camps.
Breaking Sky by Cori McCarthy. In this new science fiction thriller, pilot Chase is involved in an experimental Air Force program, flying planes to outrun drones commanded by the United States’ nemesis, Ri Xiong Di. Chase’s greatest danger may not be flying against the enemy, but discovering another experimental pilot who’s supposed to stay a state secret.
I Am Mordred by Nancy Springer. In this original story based on Arthurian legend Arthur’s son, Mordred, has his say. The story opens as 40 boy babies (one, we later learn, survives), all born on May Day, are set adrift on a boat, as a remedy for Arthur’s accidental incest and its natural consequences. Many stories about King Arthur cast Mordred as the villain; this one gives him the chance to tell his side of the story.
-Libby Gorman, currently reading Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith