APRIL 30

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ON THIS DATE in 1956, thirteen-year-old Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers released “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” a doo-wop hit that would go to number one in Great Britain Britain and peak at number six in the U.S. Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 ranked it 307th in its list of Top 500 rock-era songs.

Frankie Lymon

Frankie Lymon

Initially titled “Why Do Birds Sing So Gay,” the song’s title and focus were altered by Frankie and his bandmates. Doo-wop was a rhythm-and-blues style characterized by upbeat harmonies that often included nonsense words such as “shoop de do de do wop.” The group followed “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” with five more songs that made the R&B charts but fizzled after Lymon’s youthful voice deepened. The singer developed a heroin addiction and died of an overdose in 1968 at age twenty-five.

Lymon and the Teenagers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. Five years later a movie of Lymon’s life, titled Why Do Fools Fall in Love, was released.

APRIL 29

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APRIL 29

ON THIS DATE in 1429, seventeen-year-old Joan of Arc entered the occupied French city of Orléans to lead a victory over the English.

Known as Jeanne la Pucelle (Joan the Maid) during her lifetime, she was thirteen when she first heard “a Voice from God to help me govern my conduct.” The message, she said, was “sent to me by God and, after I thrice heard this Voice, I knew that it was the voice of an angel.” Joan believed the Voice belonged to the archangel Michael, who spoke to her several more times and gave her a mission at age seventeen: she was to drive the English from Orléans, a city in north-central France that had been occupied by the enemy for seven months, and to lead Charles VII to the city of Reims, where he could be officially crowned king of France.

Unable to read or write and unacquainted with the ways of warfare or diplomacy, Joan seemed a preposterous candidate to aid France in its Hundred Years’ War with England. She said she told the the Archangel Michael that she “was just a poor girl who knew nothing about riding or leading in war,” but received assurance that she would be assisted by other angels, and that her mission “was by God’s order.” The English and their allies, the Burgundians, controlled most of France, including Paris, when Joan attained an audience with Charles VII and talked him into giving her command of a small force of troops in which to fight the enemy at Orléans.

Meant to be a figurehead, Joan showed “herself to be an inspirational leader with a distinctive strategy for winning,” wrote Larissa Juliet Taylor in 2009’s The Virgin Warrior: the Life and Death of Joan of Arc. In just 10 days, the French thrust the English from Orléans, followed by other victories in other towns as Joan and the army marched toward Reims. The crowning of Charles VII at Reims, however, proved more divisive than unifying for the French. Joan wanted to keep fighting and was distressed when the king signed a treaty with the Duke of Burgundy, who had been an ally of the English. Many in the king’s circle, and perhaps the king himself, came to see Joan as a threat.

In 1430 the Burgundians captured Joan and sold her to the English, who put her on trial for heresy in 1431. Charles made no effort to rescue or ransom her. After a mockery of a trial, Joan’s captors burned her at the stake. Twenty-five years later, a rehabilitation trial decreed the earlier judgment in error and declared Joan an innocent martyr. She was declared a saint of the Catholic Church in 1920.

APRIL 28

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APRIL 28

WHEN TEENAGE female heroes were hard to find, a sixty-seven-year-old fiction publisher in his last year of life had a novel — actually a series of novels — idea. Edward Stratemeyer, the brain behind The Bobbsey Twins and Hardy Boys books, suggested a series of stories starring “an up-to-date American girl at her best, bright, clever, resourceful and full of energy.” In a memo, he said the girl should be the sixteen-year-old daughter of a district attorney. Her name? Stella Strong.

Although her name changed, Stratemeyer’s vision came to pass with the publication of three Nancy Drew books on April 28, 1930 — 49 days after his death. Supposedly penned by a Carolyn Keene, most of the early novels were actually written by a Toledo Blade reporter named Mildred A. Wirt. The tales usually had young Nancy sniffing out a non-deadly crime — there were no murder mysteries in the first 56 books — while racing around fictional River Heights in her stylish blue roadster. Perpetually popular with young readers, Nancy Drew books, consisting of more than 370 different titles, had sold 65 million copies in the U.S. and 200 million worldwide through 2010.

Nancy’s age was advanced from sixteen to eighteen in 1959. The fictional sleuth has been cited as a role model by, among others, Bette Davis, Barbara Walters, Hillary Clinton, Mary Tyler Moore, Fran Lebowitz, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

APRIL 26

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APRIL 26

LIKE A FEMALE, Connecticut-based Paul Revere, sixteen-year-old Sybil Ludington leaped on her horse and raced through the countryside to tell of a British attack on the town of Danbury on April 26, 1777. Her warning resulted in some 400 men gathering at the Ludington home, then driving the British back to their ships on Long Island Sound.

That’s the story, anyway. Although there’s plenty of documentation about the actions of Col. Henry Ludington and his militia that day, nothing in the 18th century records mentions a late-night ride by his sixteen-year-old daughter. The earliest known mention of Sybil’s sojourn appeared 130 years later when a 1907 biography of Henry Ludington stated that the colonel “turned to his daughter, Sybil, who a few days before had passed her 16th birthday, and bade her to take a horse, ride for the men, and tell them to be at his house by daybreak.” The author concluded that “the child performed her task, clinging to a man’s saddle, and guiding her steed with only a hempen halter, as she rode through the night, bearing the news of the sack of Danbury.”

Despite a lack of solid evidence, many historians believe the account of Sybil’s ride, and the tale has taken hold in popular culture. A larger-than-life bronze statue of Sybil was erected in 1961, her image appeared on a postal stamp in 1975, and Sybil’s ride became the basis of a Manhattan opera in 1993.

APRIL 25

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APRIL 25

ON THIS DATE in 2007, eighteen-year-old Monica Lin Brown saved the lives of five U.S. soldiers after a roadside bombing in Afghanistan. When the bomb struck a Humvee, Brown shielded the five victims and dragged them to safety while under attack from enemy gunfire. The military said Brown’s “bravery, unselfish actions and medical aid rendered under fire saved the lives of her comrades and represents the finest traditions of heroism in combat.” She received the second Silver Star given to a woman, and the first awarded to a teenage woman.

APRIL 24

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APRIL 24

ON THIS DATE in 1967, eighteen-year-old S.E. Hinton published The Outsiders, a novel about young people involved in gang fights and homicide that launched what The New York Times Book Review called a “new realism in adolescent literature.” Hinton had always wanted “to read books that showed teenagers outside of the life of, ‘Mary Jane went to the prom,’” she said. “The books available just didn’t read true, they didn’t deal with the real lives of teenagers.”

200bt6cSold to Viking Press for $1,000, The Outsiders received mixed reviews, with some praising its realism and others condemning its sensationalism. “The vast majority of teenagers personally experience nothing close to the violence of Hinton’s characters,” wrote a reviewer in Nation magazine. Many school libraries banned the book, but that didn’t hurt its steadily increasing sales. “It built gradually, from teachers telling teachers, and kids telling kids,” said Hinton. The Outsiders eventually became “The best-selling young adult novel of all time,” according to Puffin Books.

In 1983, The Outsiders was made into a Francis Ford Coppola-directed film starring a platoon of emerging film stars, including C. Thomas Howell (who played Ponyboy Curtis, the lead character), Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, and Diane Lane.