Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Great Poetry Book: Leaves of Grass

Leaves of Grass, the only book ever penned by Walt Whitman, has an interesting story that is as compelling as the poems contained within the book itself. Whitman grew up poor. He was one of a number of children in the Whitman clan. Their father, an amateur inventor, preferred to spend his time working on inventions instead of working to support his family. Whitman worked in a number of occupations before he accepted work as a printer. He learned the craft and soon opened his own shop, writing a newsletter.

Whitman loved poetry, however. He had developed this love at some undetermined time in his life, rumored to have been around the time he visited New Orleans. Whitman began to write his poems feverishly but secretly. When he had gathered 12 poems that he thought suitable for publication, he printed them in the first edition of Leaves of Grass. Without a major backer, the slim volume, which was fewer than 100 pages, likely would have sold a couple of copies and then vanished. Whitman, though, had other plans.

He sent out the book to other writers, most notably Ralph Waldo Emerson. At the time, Emerson was considered the preeminent literary scholar in the United States. Something about Leaves of Grass spoke to Emerson, and he wrote to Whitman to tell him that he enjoyed reading. The poems, which spoke of the human experience more so than nature or human emotion as did other poems at the time, had not been well received until that point. Whitman (as legend has it) then sent the letter he received from Emerson to the New York Times, where it was published. One Whitman had received such high praise from Emerson, he became a mainstay on the American literary circuit.

Whitman produced new editions of Leaves of Grass every couple of years. Each time he added poems that spoke to what had been going on in his life and mind. Sexuality became an important theme in the poems, which did not sit well with the proper American society. Emerson denounced Whitman and said that he took back everything he said about the poems being worthy of admiration. Whitman continued to write, however, and his poems spoke to people in later generations more than in his own. Whitman abandoned verse and rhyme in his poems, which was unheard of at the time. He decided that the poems spoke for themselves, and they did not need the addition of arbitrary rhyming schemes to make them work.

Whitman was very passionate about his politics, and he believed very strongly in the Union cause during the American Civil War. He actually went to Washington DC to look for his brother, who had been wounded in battle. While there, Whitman was overcome with the plight of the soldiers, and he volunteered to serve as an Army nurse. He tended to wounded and sick soldiers for two years. That experience would become the defining experience in his life, and he would return to Leaves of Grass in 1865 with a new perspective.

Whitman found that he could write about the war, and it would help heal his emotions, still raw from everything he had seen. He wrote eloquently about the soldiers who died, about why they were fighting, and about the atrocities of war. The work Whitman did in his war writings have sparked much discussion in later wars, as Whitman seems to have been one of the first war protesters in American history.

Today, most scholars consider Whitman to be the best poet in American history. He receives accolades in classrooms across the United States, and his work is canonized in American literature. It speaks to people even now, 140 years after the last edition. Whitman may be difficult to decipher as he uses many subtleties in his writing, but he spoke of universal experiences of suffering, gladness, and fear that still resonate with modern readers.

The next time you are looking for a classic to read, think about Leaves of Grass. It is one of the less heralded classic works, but it is one that should not be forgotten because of its age. Whitman provides a unique addition to American literature.

By Julia Mercer

Only the Strong Survive by Larry Platt

The Answer in basketball, Allen Iverson poses more questions for most people. He is the highly lauded sometimes point guard, sometimes shooting guard for the Philadelphia 76ers. He is a cultural icon, and he is the subject of Only the Strong Survive by Larry Platt. In the book, Platt traces the story of Iverson, born in Newport News, Virginia to 15-year-old Ann Iverson. He learned early that he would have to be in charge of his own future and that sports could be his way out. Iverson grew up with his mother, younger sisters, aunts, uncles, and other relatives. Living in abject poverty, Iverson showed early potential at basketball that thankfully for the Iverson clan, caught the attention of others.

The childhood that Platt shows is one in which a group of people, from basketball coach Boo Williams to remedial teacher Sue Lambiotte, worked very hard to help Iverson realize his potential. Iverson struggled with the call of the streets, where the only way to make money was through selling drugs or robbing people, and the call to make something more of himself. After a brief moment in high school when Iverson was arrested for a bowling alley brawl in which he still claims his innocence, Iverson righted his path.

His mother, a now legendary figure among people who have followed the rise of this star, traveled to Georgetown University and convinced John Thompson to give her son the opportunity to play basketball. Iverson played for Thompson only two years before he made the leap to the National Basketball Association, the first player Thompson coached who left early.

Iverson joined the Philadelphia 76ers where he was supposed to be the savior of that beleaguered team. The first year did not go so well, but Iverson led the Sixers to the playoff in only his second season, which was a dramatic turnaround for the team. Iverson again found two people who would help to right his path. Pat Croce, the high-energy physical therapist made multi-millionaire who served as team president, and Que Gaskins, a Reebok executive who became close friends with Iverson, helped ensure that The Answer made it everywhere he had to be and that his life went the right way.

The problem was never Iverson himself. The problem, for those who see it as a problem, was that Iverson could never leave the call of the streets behind. Regardless of where he went or how much money he made, he would always be from the streets, and he was not willing to give that up. It cost more in social status than anything else because others, like future Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, could not understand the social forces that were part of Iverson. Brown could not reconcile the player he saw and liked at practice with the player who was constantly at the center of controversy, mostly over actions his friends had taken.

Iverson brought glory to Philly, but he brought chaos with it as well. The one area of his life where he does seem to have things under control is with his wife. Iverson and his wife, Tawanna Turner Iverson, met in high school and began dating. She stayed with him through all of the problems, and the couple now has four children together, Tiaura, Allen II (Deuce), Isaiah, and Messiah.

Platt brings Iverson to life the way that no writer has done. While Platt does not apologize for Iverson, he does his best to explain the athlete to audiences. Instead of accepting that Iverson is a bad guy who will never be good, the way many members of the media have done, Platt digs deeper and finds that Iverson is a man with a big heart who is trying to make the right decisions. For him, though, those decisions center around his being loyal to his friends, taking care of his family, and being true to himself. He does that in a way that few in the public light do, and he has taken flak for it.

Iverson, for his part, seems to brush off most of the rumors and bad press as part of his lot in life. Though he does not like it, he does accept it.

By Julia Mercer

Makes Me Wanna Holler by Nathan McCall

Nathan McCall had a life that few people would envy. He grew up in a working class neighborhood in Hampton, Virginia. Cavalier Manor was not a housing project. Nor was it a place for the unemployed. It was a place where the African Americans who were members of the working poor could begin to realize a dream. McCall moved to the Cavalier Manor when he was a small child with his mother, step-father, and two brothers. The youngest, McCall would quickly learn the ways of the streets because although Cavalier Manor itself was not a bad neighborhood, trouble was not far away.

McCall had early lessons in fighting and sticking up for oneself. His parents opted to send him to a better middle school, one that was being integrated, because they believed the experience would be good for him. It was anything but good for him. McCall learned that he had to put on a facade to make other people leave him alone, or he was tormented. Seeing how miserable he was, his parents finally allowed him to return to an all-black school, but McCall was already headed down a path to trouble. He became involved in questionable juvenile behavior and then turned to a life of crime before being arrested for robbing a restaurant when he was 19.

Sent to prison for three years, McCall had plenty of time to think about his life. In fact, it was in prison that he caught a break. Despite the trouble, McCall had always been a decent student. Before he was arrested, he had completed one year of college. That put him in the position in prison to serve as the prison librarian. That task was envied among inmates because it gave so much freedom, and the lesson that McCall learned was that a little education was helpful.

He set out trying to correct his life path. He started reading and discovered many empowering books, such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X. He located a professor at Norfolk State and began to write him. McCall eventually received a scholarship to attend college and earned his degree when he left prison. That life would not leave him, however, and he would keep many of the lessons that he learned with him.

When McCall left, he had found Islam. He followed as a member of the Nation of Islam without question. After a couple of years, McCall grew weary with what he felt was a desire to worry about smaller issues, such as the commandment not to eat pork, in favor of larger, more important social and cultural issues.

McCall eventually began writing for the Atlanta Constitution (now Atlanta Journal-Constitution). He landed a prized gig at the Washington Post but found that his past still followed him. He was always going to be a felon to some people, despite what he did. That thought motivated McCall to prove other people wrong. He wrote Makes Me Wanna Holler to show people that he was not the person they thought and that his life was far more complicated than others might imagine.

The highly acclaimed book won McCall many awards and much praise. He now teaches at Emory University in the journalism school and has followed up his first book with two more that delve deeper into the social issues he touched upon in Makes Me Wanna Holler.

This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand urban youth. Its subtitle, Growing Up Poor and Black in America, sums up exactly the message McCall wants to get across to his readers. The best part is that he does not come out looking perfect. He made mistakes, and he readily acknowledges that. In fact, the reader may not even like McCall. It is not necessary to like him to appreciate how far he has come and to begin to understand some of the social forces, far beyond the control of a young boy in Virginia, that shaped his life.

McCall should be on your reading list if you are interested in expanding your worldview or if you are a young black man who wants to gain some perspective about your life. McCall will help you do just that.

By Julia Mercer

Sitcom Style: Inside America's Favorite TV Homes by Diana Friedman

If you are a fan of pop culture, then you should definitely plan to check out Diana Friedman's book "Sitcom Style: Inside America's Favorite TV Homes". This book will give you an inside look at the set design and decorating style of over two dozen television "homes" from the past 50 years.

When you think of sitcom houses, what house comes to mind? Just about every notable and recognizable sitcom home from the most beloved shows in television history is covered in this book. With full color photos, the "addresses" of the houses, and a blow by blow description of what is in the house's most notable rooms, this book really has it all. It also includes fun trivia and pop culture facts about the set design.

I am not in film school and I'm not a huge fan of architecture. I like pop culture, plain and simple. I feel like when you turn on the television set, you are being invited into the living room of the TV family. That is why "Sitcom Style" is such a special book, in my opinion.

Some of the homes detailed include The Huxtable's townhouse from "The Cosby Show" (undeniably the defining sitcom of the 1980's), the Cunningham home from "Happy Days", the Bunker abode from "All in the Family", and the ultra-retro Brady house from "The Brady Bunch". You'll also get a glimpse into the house of The Connor family (from "Roseanne"), Jerry's apartment from "Seinfeld" and Mary Richards' Minneapolis apartment from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show".

A couple more recent shows are also included, like that great apartment that Monica and Rachel shared in "Friends", Will Truman's pad from "Will and Grace" and Carrie Bradshaw's New York City apartment from "Sex and the City".

The book also includes key style elements from the homes, which is great if you actually want to attempt to duplicate some of the style elements. You can learn how to create a sleek, sophisticated apartment like Frasier Crane's or how to use natural elements to bring the outdoors in (ala The Brady Bunch house, with all of its stone, brickwork and foliage).

Are there any glaring omissions in the book? Of course, everyone will think of at least a couple. Personally, I couldn't believe that the Stephen's house from the 1960's TV series "Bewitched" wasn't included (the best television house of all time, in my opinion), but obviously the author could only include a certain number of homes in the book.

And were there a few homes that I questioned why they were included in the book? Yes, I'm not sure why the author felt it necessary to include the loft from the TV show "Dharma and Greg" or the attic from "Third Rock From the Sun" (except for the fact that, style wise, these two sets were very different from most of the other homes in the book). And the "Fashionable Fantasy" section is a little silly-- yes, I loved "The Flintstones", but their house is not what I would call stylish(in fact, I could never get a feel for what their house really looked like, as it seemed to change in every episode). Indeed, in this book you can visit everywhere from the Cleaver home from "Leave it to Beaver" to the swinging singles pad from "Three's Company" and it makes for an eclectic mix of styles to give the book a well-rounded feel.

If you're looking for interesting TV facts, you'll find some interesting tidbits in this book. You will also get the dates that the series ran and the addresses of the homes. For instance, do you know who lived at 1344 Hartford Drive, Apartment 402 in Indianapolis, Indiana? It was none other than single mom Ann Romano and her two daughters (played by Mackenzie Philips and Valerie Bertinelli) in the 1970's hit "One Day at a Time". And I admit I had to chuckle when I read that Al and Peggy Bundy (from the somewhat-raunchy comedy "Married With Children") lived at 9764 Jeopardy Lane.

One of my favorite parts of the book are the "floor plans" that are included for some of the homes (the layout for Mary Richards' "Mary Tyler Moore Show" apartment is just too cool). And there are informative sections about the sets of the "I Love Lucy Show" and "the Odd Couple", two of my all time favorite classic shows.

All in all, this book is a must-read (actually a must-own) for any fan of sitcoms and pop culture, so definitely make it a point to check it out.

The Pregnancy Bible: What To Expect When You're Expecting

First written in the 1980s, What to Expect When You're Expecting has become one of the Bible texts of the pregnancy world.Heidi Murkoff,Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway offer practical and real world advice for the parent-to-be. The authors all have different qualifications for writing the book, but they are all familiar with the world of pregnancy and are equipped to handle questions.

At the beginning of the book, the authors go over what they consider to be the important issues when you first find out that you are pregnant. They talk about how you find out and how you tell other people. They offer good tips for letting others know about your pregnancy. The book covers pregnancy month-by-month after that.

The information about each month begins with an illustration of an emerging fetus. They offer anatomical advice about how the fetus is growing and where it is in development at this point. They also let the future mom know what she should expect as far as how she is feeling. She will get an idea for the normal symptoms during this point in the pregnancy. The authors then tell the moms what to expect when they visit the doctor at this point in the pregnant. They explain everything that will be happening.

The next portion of each chapter talks about the development of the pregnancy and other basic issues, such as diet, exercise, and sleep. The authors explain what a mom should do about certain problems and when she should be concerned.

The bulk of the chapters, however, are questions from moms everywhere. These questions are what makes the book worthwhile. They are real-life questions about dealing with future grandparents who are driving the mom nuts, finding out the sex of the baby, getting prenatal tests, getting the nursery ready and much more. The authors really cover everything related to a pregnancy, and they do it in an amusing way. They are often funny in their retorts to questions about how others are acting. They work to reassure mom that whatever she is feeling or going through probably is normal and that she should not worry. At the same time, they offer practical solutions for problems, such as how to find proper professional attire.

The last portion of the book has chapters on topics of major importance. One of those chapters is on a diet, the Best-Odds Diet, for pregnant women. The diet has easy-to-follow instructions about how to eat and how much to eat as well as some recipes for moms to try out. There is a chapter on the actual birth as well. The authors go over the various options, such as narcotic pain medicine and Cesarean-sections. They talk about the pros and cons of each form of medicine and birth and give the basic run-down of what Mom can expect.

One of the most helpful chapters is on the first six weeks at home with baby. Any new mom knows that those weeks are rough, to say the least. Those weeks seem to go by in a blur. Mom finds that her estrogen levels plummet, which causes her to be incredibly emotional. Dad has no clue what he is doing and is really scared. And baby is wondering how he started out in such a warm, cozy place and ended up in the harsh world. The chapter on the first six weeks helps with all of those problems. It goes over common baby conditions, emotions, and behaviors and works to guide parents through the trauma of those first scary weeks at home with the new baby.

This book was the first one I bought when I found out that I was pregnant, and I am glad that I did. I now have What to Expect in the First Year and soon will be purchasing What to Expect During the Toddler Years. These books are wonderful additions to any expecting parent library.

I found that anytime I had a question about my pregnancy, I could turn to What to Expect and find an answer. Instead of medical jargon or fluff answers, the authors offer real-life, easy-to-understand answers to the toughest and most sensitive questions about pregnancy in this book.

By Julia Mercer

The Entrepreneurial Parent by Sarah and Paul Edwards

The Entrepreneurial Parent is one of many books available for parents who think that they may want to work at home with their children. Paul and Sarah Edwards, however, are well-known authors on the subject. Together they have authored more than 20 books, most of them dealing with the home-based parents craze, and they began pushing this lifestyle in the 1980s before it became highly popular.

In The Entrepreneurial Parent, the Edwards writing team offers up advice and information for parents who may be thinking of taking the leap. First they offer up all of the benefits of working from home. You set your own schedule, which means that you can go to that ballet recital or stop for lunch with a friend. You have the flexibility that you need, and in many cases, you really have a fair amount of control over your own income. Plus your children are getting immeasurable benefits. They are at home with their parents so that they are not stuck in daycare all day. Many at-home parents opt to get part-time daycare for their children, which may amount to a few hours a week. These children get to experience staying with others while remaining with their parents for the bulk of the time.

Paul and Sarah Edwards also look at what makes a person a good candidate for an at-home business. Indeed, everyone is not created in such a way that he or she would be a good person to work from home. It requires self-discipline. Because there is no boss, there is no one standing over you to tell you that you have to get that press release written by 2:00 today. You have to control yourself. You also have to take on numerous tasks, at least in the beginning. You will be your own secretary, account manager, and janitor, and some people are not prepared for those all-consuming roles.

One of the benefits of The Entrepreneurial Parent over other books aimed toward the work at home parent crowd is that the Edwards look at possible careers for these parents. Some people would love to work at home, but they are unable really to get a grip on what it is that they want to do. The Entrepreneurial Parent offers up three different categories: non-tech, tech-light, and tech-heavy. Non-tech businesses include such things as being a featured speaker or making your own crafts. Tech-light fields include being a virtual assistant and starting your own newsletter service while tech-heavy fields range from running an Internet server to desktop publishing.

For each career choice, a potential work at home parent will find that he or she can read about someone who is in this field. The profiles of 101 home-based businesses available in the book include people who work these businesses and discusses what their life is like. They share the joys and struggles of the field. They talk about how they got started and offer advice for people who are considering the businesses. One of the best parts is that they also discuss the work at home life. They tell readers what they like best and also where their office is, the equipment they need, and other practical advice.

Overall The Entrepreneurial Parent is one of the better books out there on work at home parenting. The Edwards have a final section in which they discuss the potential problems, such as not being able to get enough done or trying to work when the spouse is home along with potential financial and emotional issues. They really cover the spectrum of the work at home world in this book. They give a good idea to the potential work at home parent about what the life will be like and what the parent can expect.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is considering working from home for two reasons. First it will give you the good, bad, and indifferent when it comes to the issues you will face. Second, it offers so many business ideas that you can begin to leap from them to create your own business ideas. If you are considering working from home, definitely pick up a copy of The Entrepreneurial Parent.

By Julia Mercer

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

If you have a daughter, you must know that Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret is one of the classics of literature for young girls. Judy Blume wrote this book in the late 1970s, and it remains very true to the adolescent girl experience. Blume touches on several of the issues that are central to identity formation for many pre-teen girls, and that is one of the reasons that the book is so inviting.

The book centers on Margaret, who has just moved to a new school. She is learning the ropes of this new town and sometimes does not do so gracefully. She is clumsy around boys. She is leery of her parents. She is convinced that her teacher hates her. So Margaret is a fairly typical 12-year-old. The reader will see Margaret thinking about whether or not a boy likes her and being unsure about how to act. She does not know how to reconcile what she feels, such as asking a boy to a dance, with what is considered appropriate. These struggles are ones that many teen girls can understand about the process of learning how to act and deciding how much of societal influence we want to take into our lives.

Margaret makes three friends during her first year, and together they form a club. The other girls already meet, but Margaret is permitted to join them. At first she is invited because she is the new kid, and they are curious. Over time, however, Margaret becomes a welcome part of the group. There are two central issues of concern for the group: bras and menstruation.

Every pre-teen girl has experiences with these two subjects, some not too pleasant. The girls all report back about their experiences buying new bras. Margaret, for example, is appalled that her mother and the saleslady stand in the department store in front of everyone and discuss Margaret and her developing breasts as if she were not there. The saleslady goes into the dressing room with them, and Margaret is not sure what to think or do. She immediately goes to her friends and gives them the skinny on the situation.

One of the most interesting characters is Sheila, who is one of the group members. Sheila is large for her age and very well-developed. The girls are all impressed when she gets a regular bra on her first trip out and not a training bra. As the most developed, she also is the first to start her period, which is an issue of major importance for the girls. They are all curious about what happens and how everything goes, and Sheila gives them the full report.

There are subtle issues in the book as well that make it a classic read for anyone. For example, Sheila and her family are Jewish, and the group often has to switch their schedules and plans to fit around Hebrew school. The religion issue is one that is not a huge sub-plot in the book, but it does bring up important points. The reader finds out a little about Judaism and learns about how to deal with different religious backgrounds.

This book created a firestorm when Blume first wrote it, and even now, it is banned in many school and public libraries. Of course, it is not the only book Blume has written that is not permitted in many schools because it touches on social and cultural taboos. The book is one that I believe every parent should buy for his or her pre-teen daughter because it gives real explanations of the issues facing girls that age and does it in a way that gives credibility to their feelings. So often parents take adult issues for granted, but Blume is able to capture what it was like at that age to experience the uncertainty that lay ahead. The girls are real 12-year-old girls, and you will find yourself giggling and crying along with them.

I read this book at 8, and I read it again in college. Both times I learned from the book. It now sits on the bookshelf in my bedroom where I will keep it until I have a daughter of my own to give it to.

By Julia Mercer

Monday, February 27, 2006

Coming of Age in Mississippi

Anne Moody wrote Coming of Age in Mississippi only shortly after she left public life. Few people know of Anne Moody or her contributions to American history, but her story is one that it is worth remembering. She grew up in a small town outside of Natchez, Mississippi. The daughter of sharecroppers, Anne also had a father who became absent early in her life. Moody, along with a growing brood of younger siblings, watched their mother work job after job in the 1950s South to try to raise her African American children to be proud of themselves.

Anne was able to go to college, which was a huge step for the Moody family. She would be the first one in her family to have a college education, and she was very proud of that. When Anne went to college, she knew of the burgeoning civil rights talk in the South, and she had heard of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Still she did not believe that she would get involved until she finally agreed to go with a friend to a meeting.

Anne became enthralled with what she saw as very important work. She was drawn to the cause of the struggle for the African American vote because she had begun to see how much her mother and the rest of her family had struggled. Anne worked with the NAACP and eventually the Congress on Racial Equality. CORE was a lesser-known group that was instrumental in bringing civil rights to the Jim Crow South.

Moody is part of the civil rights movement through her memoirs as well as through a photograph of her at a lunch counter sit-in. even after the Supreme Court struck down segregation in places that participated in interstate commerce, which essentially meant every business in the land, the owners of lunch counters still would not permit African Americans to eat at the counter. Groups of students would go into the diners and sit at the counters until they received service or were arrested. Anne was arrested for her work and carried out of the lunch counter after being tormented by the other customers.

Anne eventually left school for the summer and lived in what was called a Freedom House. These houses were ones that CORE and other groups had leased. They ran their operations out of the house. Although the groups officially worked to bring the vote to Southern blacks, they did much more in reality. They helped children have a place to go after school, and they worked to bring school supplies and food to families in need.

The work that Anne did with civil rights estranged her from her family. Her mother wrote to her while she was at the Freedom House to explain that her uncle had been killed. He was killed because the local white power elite, most of whom were in the Ku Klux Klan, believed that Anne was involved in civil rights work. Her own mother refused to have anything to do with her. Although it angered Anne that her mother could continue to take such treatment, she understood that her mother had to protect her other children.

Anne attended many of the major events of the civil rights era, such as the March on Washington where the Reverend Martin Luther King gave his famed I Have a Dream speech. Anne was one of the people in the audience at other great events, and she is one of the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. Her work helped pave the way for the many generations of African Americans who came after her.

Moody left college and went to New Orleans to stay. She had become exhausted from her work and needed to get her health in order. After that, she disappeared. Today, it is rumored that Moody lives in New York and that she occasionally helps with New Black Panther Party events. Still she has kept a low profile, like many of the people who were involved in the civil rights movement. Moody wrote in her memoirs that she felt she had served the cause well and that she needed to rest. Indeed she did.

By Julia Mercer

The Children's Writer's Reference, by Berthe Amoss and Eric Suben

By Christina VanGinkel

My passion is writing for children and, because of this, I am always on the search for books about this field of writing, including any reference books that I can find. The Children's Writer's Reference, by Berthe Amoss and Eric Suben is a reference book that I picked up several years ago. Separated into eight chapters, each of the eight chapters are broke into very specific subjects on the craft of writing for children, including:

Children and Books
Age Groups and Formats
Thinking Visually

Each of these chapters is chock full of information that can help anyone interested in writing for children of various ages, better their skills and their final output.

Starting with the Children and Books chapter, which helps you envision who it is you are writing for, breaking down the age groups, physical appearances, clothing, what skills they possess at different ages, and much more. With all the information included, it is helpful to both determine what age group(s) you are writing for, and what age group(s) you are writing about.

The Ideas chapter is like your own personal answer to writer's block. It has list upon list of idea generators to get you motivated with topics that have been proven to work, difficult topics, educational topics, nonfiction topics, and even topics within these topics, so that you can never again say that, you cannot think of something to write. I personally go back to this chapter each time I am planning a new project and use it to build on any idea that I might be considering as a subject of interest.

The Age Groups and Formats touches on types of books such as novelty books, books for older readers, and series. Novelty books are actually discussed at length, with well-defined descriptions of bathtub books, flap books, pop up, gatefold, touch and feel books, etc., Novelty book packages are also reviewed, as to what goes into such a package, and what can be included.

The chapter on characters is filled with enough information that it could be a book all on its own. It has information on people, pets, fantasy characters including witches, and wizards, and looks at the often picked apart subject of anthropomorphic characters. It breaks apart each of these even further, looking at gender, age, and race. It gives a perspective on historical characters and mythological characters. If you are having trouble identifying the characters in your next work, read this chapter if you read no other, as it will leave you filled with ideas that are sure to lead to the perfect hero or villain of your next best seller!

The chapters on Setting and Plot are as thorough as the previous chapters in helping you define your story in your own way. This book does not so much tell you what to write, as it feeds your story with inspiration of how to make it work.

The chapter on Writing goes over much of the basics that anyone writing should already be aware of, yet it does it in such a way, that even those of us who thought we knew it all, will take away something learned.

Thinking Visually is the last chapter of this book, and again, holds enough information within its few pages, that it alone would be worth its weight as a book by itself. It provides a writer a different way of thinking through their story. Of helping them understand, how the few words in a children's book have to work even harder than the same words in an adult's book, because they have to speak in both the words they are, and in a visual manner. While many children's book also have the aid of illustrations to explain the plot, the writer still must work extra hard to carry off the visual aspect of his or her story though the words alone, or else the illustrator will not be able to successfully do their job.

If you want to add only one more reference book to your library on writing for children, make sure it is this book, so that you will always have available to you the wonderful information stored within its pages.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is a Bantam Starfire Book. The story is about a boy named Billy, and his two hunting hounds Old Dan, and Little Ann. Billy always said that Little Ann had the brains and Old Dan had the fight and the muscle, but both of them loved Billy more than anyone else could. This is a story about love and loyalty between two dogs and their owner.

Before the book starts there is a page explaining to you an old Indian Legend, something about a red fern. The red fern was sacred to Indians, and they said that only an angel could plant the seeds of a red fern, and that a red fern never died. Wherever a red fern grew, that spot was forever sacred. Keep the legend of the red fern in the back of your mind throughout the story.

The first chapter of the book starts out when Billy is a grown man, and he is walking on his way home from work. He hears sounds of a dog fight, and looks into the alley to investigate. When he goes in the alley, he sees a bunch of dogs ganging up on just one old Redbone hound. The Redbone is fighting every last dog, and winning. However, Billy cannot just stand there and watch the dogs fighting, so he goes into the brawl of dogs swinging his coat, and yelling his head off. All of the dogs take off except for the hound, which Billy coaxes out from under some bushes by talking gently to him. When Billy finally sees the old Redbone hound up close, it brings back many great memories from his childhood.

When Billy was ten years old, he lived in northeaster Oklahoma, in the beautiful, rugged Ozarks. Billy was set on getting a coon hound, not just one actually, but two. His father was a farmer, and did not make enough money to buy hounds, but figured he would get him a collie dog. Billy was not an ungrateful boy, but a collie would not do. He needed a coon hound. Billy knew that he lived in the best hunting land around, and he wanted to hunt it. Most of all, he wanted to catch a ring tailed raccoon. It was all he could think, talk, and dream about. His mother and father were getting worried about Billy. He would not eat or sleep, and ran around with blood shot eyes. Finally, Billy's dad decided to do something about it. He bought Billy three small foot hold traps. When he gave them to him, Billy was so happy. He could finally catch a raccoon! He did put the two coonhounds in the back of his mind for awhile, but soon enough, he was thinking about them more than ever.

Billy knew that his parents would never be able to afford the two dogs he wanted, and one day when he was down by the river, he ran across an old fishermen's camp, and got a good idea. At the campsite, he found an old K.C. baking powder can, and he decided to save money in it, until he could afford the dogs. He also found an old hunting magazine, and in the classifieds, there were Redbone hounds for sale for twenty five dollars a piece. He needed fifty dollars to get both of the dogs that he so badly wanted. Over the next two years, Billy sold minnows, crawfish, fresh vegetables, and roasting ears to all the passing fishermen. Finally, one day, Billy had enough. He was so excited that he cried while counting his money over and over. He never told his mom or dad, or even his grandpa what he was planning. Billy did not want to tell his dad about the money, so he traveled to his grandpa's store, and told him his plan. His grandpa was so proud that his young grandson had worked so tirelessly for two years straight, he actually almost cried. He told Billy that since the ad was two to three years old, he would have to write the outfit to see if they were still in business. He told Billy not to mention anything to his parents, since Billy's father really needed a mule at the time. Billy was so excited for the next two weeks while he was waiting for a reply that he traveled to his grandpa's store every day. On the day that grandpa got a letter from the outfit, he told Billy that Redbone's actually went down in cost, and only cost twenty dollars per dog, so Billy would have ten extra dollars to spend, and his two dogs would be arriving in town within the next two weeks. Town was about thirty miles away, and he would have to try and catch a ride into town with another country guy to get his dogs.

When his dogs finally arrived in town, Billy could not wait for a ride, and decided to go on foot. He did not tell his parents where he was going, and his parents did not even know anything about the dogs at that point. Billy had never been in a town before, and saw a lot of things that he never had before. He saw a sheriff, which he had heard terrible stories about, but ended up becoming friends with him. The sheriff bought Billy his first soda pop ever. Billy decided to spend his ten dollars on his family and bought his mom and sisters yards of cloth for new dresses, and he bought his dad a new set of overalls. He finally went to the train station and picked up his new puppies. He fell in love at first sight.

By the time he was on his way home, he stopped in the fishermen's camp, and saw the names Ann and Dan carved in a tree. He knew that he would name his dogs that as soon as he saw it. His whole dream had started in that camp and the fishermen had made it come true. If it was not for the fishermen leaving the magazine behind, he never would have known where to buy his pups, and if they had not bought what Billy was selling, he never would have had the money to buy Ann and Dan. So, he knew it was fate when he saw the names carved in the large tree.

When Billy got home, he mother was crying with worry, and his dad was very proud of him for taking matters into his own hands, and raising the money for himself. His sisters were happy that Billy had bought them a bag of candy, and his mother and father were grateful for the new cloth and bibs. Billy's father knew that Billy was turning into a man. He decided to give Billy the farming season off so that he could train his new pups to start hunting. Billy spent every day until hunting season training his dogs to hunt the big raccoons that ran wild in the woods.

On the first day of hunting season, Billy wandered around all day until it was almost time to go hunting. He was so excited that he could not even eat dinner. His mother told him to be careful, and that she would worry until he came home. His father told her that he was getting to be a man now, and he would be fine. Billy went out hunting, and that night, him and his two dogs treed their first raccoon!

You will have to read the book to find out what exciting adventures Billy and his two hunting dogs go on. You will also find out what the old Indian legend of the red fern has to do with the story. This book is well written, and is suitable for a child or an adult to read. It is truly a great book.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The book The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is a great book, and is also a major motion picture from Francis Coppola. The story is about a group of boys who are all best friends, but are outcasts in their town. They belong to a group called the Greasers. The Greasers are poor, live in the bad part of town, and dress in leather and slick back their hair. The other group who is their rival is called the Socs. The Socs are rich, live in the good part of town, and drive fast cars. The book The Outsiders tells a story about a family who is involved in the Greasers gang, and all of their close friends who are more like family to them than friends.

Darry, Sodapop, and Ponyboy are brothers who live together in their parent's house. Their parent's died a few years before, and Darry is the oldest and the only adult in their house. Darry was a wrestler in high school, and actually hung out with some of the Socs in school. After his parent's died, Darry took over their role in the house. Sodapop dropped out of school and works at the gas station. He has blond hair, and all the girls fall in love with him very easily. Ponyboy is the youngest of the three, and does very well in school. He is advanced for his age, and is the youngest in his class.

Johnny is Pony's best friend. Johnny is a very quiet boy who barely ever talks. He had gotten jumped one time by the Socs, and got beaten up very badly. After that, he hardly ever said a word, and kept to himself mostly. He still hung out with the Greasers, because they were the closest thing to family that he had. His father beat him, and his mother acted like he was never even born. Steven Randle was also one of the boy's best friends. He kept his long, greasy hair combed in swirls, and was very proud of it. He was very smart, and Soda's best friend. Steven's favorite thing to do was steal stuff off cars. Then there was Two-bit. He was the oldest guy in the gang, and the funniest. His thing was shoplifting, and he loved his black-handled switch blade. Dallas Winston, or as the guys called him, Dally, was the toughest guy in the group. He would never put grease into his beloved hair like the other Greasers. Pony said that Dally was the toughest, coldest and meanest. He was also very wild.

The book is mostly about Ponyboy and his best friend Johnny. The book starts out when Pony decides to go see a movie by himself, and gets jumped as he is leaving the movie theater. About five of the Socs jump him at once, when he is all alone. One of the guys from the other gang pulls a knife on Pony, and one of them shove a handkerchief in his mouth. All of a sudden, people are running and yelling, and Pony does not know what is going on. It ends up being his big brother Darry, and their friends, coming to Pony's rescue. The Greasers beat up the Socs, and send them running home. When they are all walking home, they talk and laugh, and relive the fight they just got in. Most of the boys in the group love to fight and cause trouble.

One night, Pony's older brother Darry gets angry with him and hits him. Pony is so upset that he runs to his friend Johnny's house, and they decide to run away together. It is very cold outside, but they decide to stay and hang out in the park in town. When they are lying next to each other, talking, they notice a car driving by slowly. The boys realize that the car belongs to one of the Socs, and Pony and Johnny try to run away. The Socs jump them, and beat them up. One of them holds Pony's head under the water in the fountain, and Pony passes out. When he wakes up, Johnny is sitting next to him, shaking like a leaf. Johnny looks over and sees one of the Socs lying on the ground dead. Johnny can only say that he had to do it, or the Soc was going to drown Pony to death. He killed the guy to save his best friend.

Ponyboy and Johnny have to decide where to go, and what to do. They are both scared and turn to some of the guys in the gang for help. Nobody wants to see Johnny go to prison for killing a rich kid. Ponyboy and Johnny decide to run away and go into hiding. They will need the help of some of their friends to keep their secret. They also need a few things to change their appearances. Ponyboy's brothers are very worried, scared for both of the boys, and scared of what will happen to them if they are arrested for the murder of the young boy. Johnny's parents do not know what happened, but they do not even ask where Johnny went. Johnny and Pony end up finding an old, abandoned church outside of a small town to stay in. They get lonely, but are glad to have at least each other. They get to be closer friends than they ever were.

You will have to read the book to find out what happens to the boys in the future, and if the gangs will ever change their hating ways. Do the boys get caught and charged for a fight gone wrong, or do they get a chance to tell their story? Hopefully, all the boys come out alive and well, but you will have to read the story to find out!

Andrew Wyeth:A Secret Life by Richard Merryman

I have been a fan of the famous artist, Andrew Wyeth, for as long as I can remember. Living in the Chester County, PA area I am only a stone's throw away from Chadds Ford, PA, the charming village where the Wyeth family has made their home for a few generations now. So it is no wonder that when a biography of Andrew Wyeth first hit the presses, I bought it right away.

Richard Merryman's book, "Andrew Wyeth A Secret Life", is a well written account of the fascinating life of one of this country's most beloved artists. Merryman is no stranger to the art world-- his father was a painter. While working for Life magazine for more than two decades, Merryman met and befriended Andrew Wyeth when he wrote an article about him for the magazine. Later he authored a book titled " Andrew Wyeth" about the artist's paintings. It was a no-brainer that Merryman would later be the one to one the most comprehensive biography of Andrew Wyeth.

The book details Andrew's tumultuous relationship with his larger than life father, the famous painter N.C. Wyeth. It also goes into great detail about their family life (Andrew was the youngest of five Wyeth children). Growing up in Chadds Ford, the Wyeth children studied art under the tutelage of their father. Andrew, a sickly child, always seemed to be special in his father's eyes. Thus, N.C. expected more out of him.

Merryman peppers the book with quotes and interviews from family members and family friends of the Wyeth family. Most telling are the interviews with Wyeth's wife, Betsy James Wyeth and his son, Jamie Wyeth.

We learn about Andrew's relationships with many of the Chadds Ford locals and the impact they had on his artwork, including the Kuerner family and Christina Olsen (a crippled Chadds Ford woman, made legendary in Wyeth's most famous painting, Christina's World). We get to learn all about what it was like to grow up with a famous, passionate father like N. C. and all of the elaborate things that the Wyeth children were privy to thanks to their father's wealth and fame. We get the detailed story of Wyeth's courtship with his future wife Betsy and the strange observation Betsy made on her wedding day. And we get the true scoop on Andrew's mysterious "Helga" paintings, secret paintings of a local woman, Helga Testorf that made international news when they were discovered in the 1980's-- even Wyeth's wife Betsy hadn't known about them (the Helga "scandal" even made the cover of Time magazine in 1986).

The book is mostly set in two places that Wyeth has called home: Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and Maine (indeed, the family's second home in Maine was inspiration for many of Wyeth's works).

One of the most touching parts of the book is when Andrew learns of his father's death in 1945 (N.C. was tragically killed when he and his young grandson were struck by a locomotive during a drive in Chadds Ford). That event was a major turning point in Wyeth's career and his grief is apparent in the book.

Another very interesting anecdote involves the singer, the recently scandalized Michael Jackson. Merryman details a visit years ago to The Brandywine River Museum (the Chadds ford museum that houses most of Wyeth's works) by the famous pop star. Apparently, Jackson wanted Wyeth to paint his portrait. While the project never came to fruition, it is another example of how popular Wyeth is, even among today's superstars.

With Merryman's hauntingly lyrical storytelling, you actually feel as if you are walking through the hilly fields of Chadds Ford. He leaves no detail unturned and the entire book is just a joy to read, it really envelopes you into the passionate life of this famous man.

The book dozens of includes family photos and black and white (and a few color) reproductions of some of Wyeth's most famous works. This book is recommended for anyone who is interested in the Wyeth family or anyone that just likes to read a good biography. You don't have to be an art connoisseur to appreciate this book-- it's just the story of the life of an extraordinary man who just happens to love what he does for a living. What more could anyone ask for?

Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding

By Christina VanGinkel

I often read serious toned books, so when I picked up a copy of Bridget Jones's Diary, I cannot even tell you what I was thinking. After the first few pages though, I was chuckling, and not long after that I was laughing so loud my husband was giving me funny looks and asking what in the world could be so hilarious in the pages of a book!

You meet Bridget amongst the pages of her diary, starting with her New Year's resolutions. She has vowed to 'not' do all sorts of things, such as not to drink more than fourteen alcohol units a week. (Oh yeah, the main character is British, not American, but do not let that stop you from reading it, as I am glad to say the Brits are as crazy as us, so you will be able to understand the humor with no problem!).

She has also vowed to not spend more money than she earns, (don't we all?), not to smoke, and my favorite, to not act sluttishly around the house, and to imagine that others are always watching. She has many more 'I will not' resolutions, but you will have to read the book to find out what they are.

Her 'I will' resolutions are a bit more on the tame side, such as eating more fiber, and starting a pension plan. Things we all know we should do, but when one is so young, they make good resolutions, but does anybody really do them? She also aims to form a functional relationship with a responsible adult, and after her resolution to learn how to program her VCR, the story dives right in to the depths of her diary pages, and you will never look at a young woman dealing with life the same again.

From wanting to lose weight, to learning that not every man is as ideal as they may seem on the surface, there is a lot to like about Bridget. Why, you even get to meet her parents, her friends, even her boss, and after that, if you had any doubts about whether or not Bridget was likable, there are no doubts left. Throughout the pages, you are taken along on her life, both at work, at home, and into what is her social life. The same as with so many of us, young and old alike, these three things often have a way of overlapping, making one's life not as clean and easy to navigate as we might wish. Poor Bridget has even more than her fair share of ups and downs, and each one, both the ups and downs, will have you cheering her on. She may be a bit on the crazy side even as she traverses life while keeping track of things like how many cigarettes she actually smokes, how many calories she consumed, and any little fibs she might have spoke, all in good reason though.

With chapter titles the likes of Valentine's Day Massacre, and Hah! Boyfriend, not to mention A Criminal in the Family, the reader is really taken on a rollercoaster ride through the life of this British working girl. When the book wraps up with a summary of her goals met and those not, it keeps you hoping that there will at least be as second book, and the writer does not fail you on that account, coming back with more on the life and times of Bridget Jones in the pages of yet another book.

This first one though is an entertaining frolic via the personal and very workable format of a diary. There are also summations by Bridget at the start of many of the diary pages, summing up a variety of subjects including her current weight, the gains or losses on that account, number of calories consumed, alcohol units imbibed, number of cigarettes smoked, lottery tickets purchased (hey, a girl can dream!), and even amount of time spent counting wrinkles, helping to provide the reader with a quick look at how well she is doing on those New Year's resolutions! If you are looking for a read that is sure to provide a number of countable laughs, give Bridget Jones's Diary a once over.

Me & Emma, by Elizabeth Flock

By Christina VanGinkel

Carrie Parker, from Toast North Carolina had an ideal life, living with her family, which included one doting father, who could deny his young daughter nothing. When her father dies at the hands of a murderer, she finds her picture perfect life not so perfect anymore. Her mother, struggling to be a parent on her own, foolhardily marries Richard, a man who turns out be abusive to those around him. She thinks she is gaining the economic support of a man providing for a family, but all she really gains is the knowledge of beatings, and worse happenings, when a man drinks heavily. Young Carrie has a front row seat to this downfall of her once tight knit loving family. Even when the family has to move from their family home, Carrie's mother still stands by her new man, over anything she might be recognizing as happening to her children. When even the child's own grandmother fails to help the reader may become frustrated, I know I did. I also had a bit of a hard time correlating how a mother could live a happy existence with one man, and such a horrible existence with another, and not recognize the wrongs going on around her. I understand how some women get trapped early on in bad relationships, but to go from a loving family to hell, and not seeming to care, may be a bit hard for some readers to grasp. Still, I read on, wanting to know how Carrie and her younger, but obviously much more resilient sister Emma, deals with the blows this new family dynamic dishes out.

With young Carrie narrating the story, she takes you back and forth, through memories of the good times with her father, and what its like to live with the likes of Richard. When Carrie is about to be punished by her new father, and her younger sister Emma steps a up to take the punishment for her, the reader is suddenly aware that there is much more going on with this family than just beatings. Sexual abuse is the issue at hand, and this might be a strong read for some.

When the sisters can take no more, and they set out to run away from home, the reader is introduced to the townsfolk, including an elderly neighbor, who does what he can to take the young Carrie and 'Emma' under his wing. You get a glimpse of both an innocent child, and what a life gone wrong can do to that child. With the help of her neighbor, Carrie and Emma do learn a few things, including how to shoot a gun, which in turn has this story taking even more twists for the reader to follow.

For as harrowing and mixed up as this story is, the story is believable, and because it is so, you feel for the young characters in a way that makes you want to toss the book so you never have to have that poor child live through those days again. At the same time, you keep turning the pages to get to what you figure will be a happy conclusion, only to be so totally blown away by how the end twists and turns, some may be rethinking the whole story. Personally, I picked the book right back up and found myself reading the book again, this time with new eyes to the happenings within the pages. If I were to say more, it would be giving away an ending that will leave you feeling for young Carrie and Emma even more so than one could ever think possible.

Me & Emma has been compared to many other books written in past and recent years on the subject of child abuse, but having read many of those books myself, I would say that Me & Emma is strong enough to stand on its own, and it needs no comparison to make it the book it is. If you are brave enough to keep turning the pages to the very end, pick up a copy of this book, but you may have to read it twice, the same way I did, else you will be forever wondering how you never figured it all out from the beginning.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Virtuous Woman, by Kaye Gibbons

By Christina VanGinkel

This story begins four months after Ruby Pitt Woodrow has died and left her second husband, Blinking Jack Stokes alone. He has eaten through all of the carefully prepared packages of food she left him tied together in the freezer, and he suddenly has to come to terms with just how much he misses his wife. When she found out that she had cancer, and not long to live, she did what she always did, she took care of him the best she could. That is the basis of this whole book. How respect for another person can make even love seem trivial.

Ruby Pitt Woodrow and Blinking Jack Stone had met after she had run off from her well to do Carolina gentry family to be with who she thought was the lover of her life, the lowly John Woodrow. He was actually less than a con artist, more of just a facade, hoping to gain something by marrying a girl from the right side of the tracks. All she ended up with was the bad timing to walk in on him with another woman, a girl actually, all of about sixteen years old. John Woodrow took off that very same day, running off not only with the girl, but also with all of Ruby's fine lacy under things that she had taken with her when she left home, items she had kept wrapped up for safekeeping. While they were only things, they were the things that reminded her of her home, her family, a nearly picture perfect life, that she ended up throwing away for an illusion.

Little did she know that day though, that she would win in a sense, as she ended up never seeing him again, when three days later he turned up beaten up and stabbed, after getting on the wrong side of yet somebody else. When he died a few days later, Ruby was a free woman. She was too embarrassed to go back home to her family, and in the end, she married the older, but caring, Jack Stokes, the very man who broke the news to her that he man had been beaten and stabbed, and later that he had died, when his lungs collapsed. The life she would end up with might not have been the life she dreamed of, but it was not all bad.

Their life unfolds in an unlikely way, with two very different people, coming together to make a life. You get to meet some of the same people who made their lives what they were too, such as Burr, Tiny Fran, Lonnie Hoover, and June. June is as central to the story as any of the characters. She is the child that they never had, yet ended up doing a good portion of her raising. These people make this story work, they make you care about them, and they make you hate some of them.

Well, a the story begins four months after her passing, the second chapter jumps backwards in time, and you get to meet the love of Blinking Jack Stokes life herself, Ruby Pitt Woodrow, when she introduces you to what made her who she was. She talks to you as you are sitting right there next to her, and for this particular story, this format works very well. Not only do you get to meet her, you begin to care for her, as she relays to you how she felt when Jack tried to make light of her dying, by telling her she was to mean to die. Even after that, she has regrets, but not about what he said, but about how she handled it.

The chapters take you back and forth, with a chapter telling you Jack's side of their life, and the next chapter devoted to Ruby's explanations. Each is fascinating in its own way, and the story has the capability to make you care for these two very different individuals, who in the end share one very common denominator, each other.

If you are looking for a love story with a twist, or a book with much more background than a novel with double the pages could possibly provide, then this is the book for you. It is only 165 pages long, but that can be a good thing, as you will not want to put it down once you start reading it!

A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey

By Christina VanGinkel

I read A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey, before all the controversy about whether or not it was written in the sense that it was a true story, as it was being promoted as, or if it was mainly a work of fiction. Mr. Frey has since admitted that parts of the story were embellished, and many readers and those who are in the publishing industry itself, believe that Mr. Frey blatantly lied. The first time I heard what was at issue, if it was mostly fact or fiction, the first thing that crossed my mind, was how could anybody, readers, his agent, the people at the publishing house who bought the rights to it, read it, and think that he remembered enough of his years of addictions to write a book about the subject at hand! If even a portion of what he wrote were true, then he would have to embellish, and do so heavily, to create a story about that period of his life. After I read the first few pages of the book, I can recall telling my sister-in-law, who borrowed me the book in the first place, that I wondered just how much of the book was made up, and what parts of it were true.

Due to the subject matter of the book, as you read through the pages, you are keenly aware that it does not add up. That there are aspects of the whole book's progression, that make you aware that what you are reading is not as it happened. Yet, as the reader, you turn the page, and read on. Why do this, somebody who has not read it might ask you? The answer is simple, especially if you have ever known anyone with a strong drug or alcohol addiction, as I did. I wanted to peek into the mind of what they thought might have been their reality. The person, who I knew, did not succeed in pulling himself out of the wasteland that alcohol and drugs can create, so I can never ask him myself to tell me why they did what they did.

I am fully believing that Mr. Frey knew that much of what he wrote was fiction, but not in the sense of how the average editor who has now pulled back their support for the book might consider it fiction. I think that he wanted to honestly make a book that told the story of a strongly addicted person, and if that meant he had to make up parts, so be it. If he would have told the same story as fiction, with a quote that the book was based on some actual happenings, I do not believe it would have reached the audience it did as a true story. In addition, this book has an audience that both needs to read it, and wants to read it.

The story begins with a man so addicted to alcohol and drugs that any semblance of what make a human being, a human, is far from within his reach. The book itself is written in a form, that for me, someone who uses commas to make what I am saying come across clearer (I try to write as I talk), the absence of commas, or any formatting for that matter, was almost too much to bear. Yet, the story is so compelling, that even that did not keep me from turning page after page, to read the horrors that he created himself through overuse of any substance he could conceivable get his hands on. In thinking back to the lack of formatting, I wonder if that in itself was not an attempt to draw the reader into the craziness of what was his life.

While now being sold as a work of fiction, I would still recommend this book to anyone who would dare to take a look into the life of an overly obsessive alcoholic, drug addicted, crazed person. It might offer you nothing more than a glimpse of a life we would never wish on our worst enemy, yet at the same time, offer hope for someone we might know that is standing on the edge, ready to crash.

Five People you meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom

By Christina VanGinkel

From the author of Tuesdays with Morrie, comes a book that for me was much less, than I thought it was going to be, and ultimately much more than I could have hoped. Without trying to sound prophetic, I had all different ideas of what this little book was going to be about. I figured it would be some quick-witted joke about the afterlife, or otherwise it would be overly religious with many telltale quotes from the bible preceding each chapter. It was neither of these, yet after reading it, I walked away not wanting to let the book go. If you approach this book with an open mind, you will at least obtain the pleasure of reading a good story, one put together with imagination, with enough grief to make you think, enough joy to make you smile, and enough questions to make you wonder.

It is a short book, at 208 pages, and tells the story of Eddie, who on his birthday, his 83rd birthday at that, is killed in a tragic accident involving a young girl at the carnival he has worked at a good portion of his life. Before working at the carnival though, as an all around fix it man, he was in the war, coming home wounded in more ways than just physically, as so many soldiers truly do. Though the book begins with his death, you are taken on an exploration of his days as a young man and given a glimpse of how his life unfolded, and in his eyes, unfolded in an uninspiring, unaffecting way. It unfolds to show you love, and love taken away, at least as far as he was concerned.

What he does not know, but the author has a firm grasp on in his ideals for the story, is that when you die, instead of being spirited to heaven or to hell on some golden reined chariot, you are 'rewarded' by five people who have passed before you. Their task is to help you understand just what your life has meant to those around you, and in doing so; they hope to help you open your eyes, and soul, to just what your life truly meant. Each of the five people he meets in his 'heaven' has a lesson to teach him, before he can find peace, if there is such a thing.

This book at first glance seems almost too slight to express such a profound meaning to the reader, but what I found surprising, is that Mr. Albom is capable of expressing much in just a few words. He writes tight and clean, and in the end, his writing is a joy to read, both for the easy read itself, and from whatever you are able to take away from the book to use as a lesson in your own life, and there are lessons to be learned, if you are willing to listen.

I actually picked up the book on a recommendation from a friend, as I was having a hard time dealing with the passing of my brother, even though it had been some years since his death. The anniversary of the day he had passed was approaching though, and each year on the anniversary, it seems like I look for any book that might open my eyes to the possibility that there is something after death. This book was a bit off from the sort I might usually pick up, and with it being total fiction, some might even wonder why I would put stock into anything in it. However, as it was a recommended read from the friend I mentioned, after reading it, I knew exactly why he had told me to read it. It is justification that I am not the only one who wonders what is out there. If you wonder, if you dream, then this might be the book to at least let you know that you are not the only one who thinks about life's big 'what ifs'! While this book may not be, the heaven so many of us might wish for, it is not such a bad supposition of what the afterlife might be. If you are looking for book that will leave you wanting the story to continue, even after you turn the last page, then pick up this book the next time you want a good read.

Children's Writer's WORD Book, by Alijandra Mogilner

By Christina VanGinkel

If writing for children is something you aspire to do, there are books available that will help you meet that goal. Some may offer a small amount of support, others you will find yourself turning to time and time again, as you work towards completing your own work, whether it be a book itself, a magazine piece, or a compilation of shorts. One book that you will wonder how you ever lived without once you have it amongst your desk reference guides, is the 'Children's Writer's WORD Book', by Alijandra Mogilner.

This book is at first glance just a big conglomeration of lists of words. It is by far, much more. It includes a set of graded word lists, beginning with Kindergarten all the way through the six grades. The words that are listed for each grade not only include a typical variety of vocabulary words, but also words that correspond to the most commonly taught subjects for those same grades. They are, in essence, the words that are most commonly introduced to children at the corresponding grade levels. If you are writing with a very specific age group in mind, this part of the book will be invaluable. For example, if your main character is in the fifth grade, the graded word list begins with a short primer on the social changes taking place with the average fifth grade student, what common classes they are being taught, and what the average fifth grade student is encountering in magazines and other trends in publishing. There is even a short writing sample for each grade, to provide you, the reader, with a clearer understanding of where that age group is at in their reading material. This matter is followed by a list of grade appropriate words

Preceding the graded lists, is an Alphabetical list of every single word included in the graded lists, with corresponding grade by each one. This is ideal for those times you want to use a word, but are unclear if it is too big, or maybe to basic, to be used for the age group you are writing for. For example, if I were working on a picture book for the average kindergarten aged student, and I wanted to include the words afternoon, paper, and essential. Glancing through the alphabetical word list, I would quickly see that afternoon is appropriate for first grade, so that would be a good word to include, as would paper, as it is listed as right at the kindergarten level I am aiming for. The word essential though, is more appropriate for someone at the sixth grade level, so I would most likely want to find an alternate word to use in place of it. While writing a bit above your target age is fine, you do not want to write so far above that they do not comprehend what it is you are writing about.

This is when the thesaurus part of the book would come into play. The thesaurus makes up the majority of the book. I would look up the word essential, and it would provide me with a list of alternate words to us in its place, with grade levels provided by each of those alternate words. For example, the words provided to use in place of the word essential, include two in the age range I would be targeting. The words important and necessary are both listed at the first grade level. There are several other words, ranging from third through the fifth grade, so one of those listed at the first grade level would be closest to my target grade level of writing.

If all of this were not enough information to include in one book, the back of this book includes a section titled 'Some Things You'll Need to Know' and is broken into 'More on Words', 'Theme and Content', 'Age Groups / Reading Levels', and 'Other Types of Writing'. These are all chock full of information for anyone wanting to write for children. Under the heading 'Age Groups / Reading Levels', for example, is a breakdown of the terms publishers commonly use when referring to different types of children's books, from Picture Books, to Young Adult Novels.

A Review of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

The possibility of time travel has been a topic of hot debate and intriguing theories among science fiction fans and legitimate scientists alike. Time travel has also been a central theme in literature for more than 100 years. One of the first major writers to tackle the subject was H.G. Wells with the publication of The Time Machine way back in 1895.

Although The Time Machine frequently appears on junior high, high school, and even college reading lists, I managed to avoid the novella throughout my entire academic career. In fact, the first taste I got of The Time Machine was when I watched the 2002 movie of the same name starring Guy Pearce. So I actually started reading this novella expecting one thing, but of course besides the most basic plot of time travel, the two versions are not very much alike.

In Wells' novella, the reader is first introduced to a group of educated men who regularly meet for dinner at one of the member's home. This particular member is never given a name, but is merely referred to as The Time Traveler. At one of these dinners, The Time Traveler launches into a scientific discussion and urges his companions to consider time as the fourth dimension, which apparently was a ground-breaking concept back in 1895. To add credence to his arguments, The Time Traveler produces a miniature time machine from his pocket and makes it disappear -- ostensibly by sending it into the future. While The Time Traveler's dinner companions are amused, they think that they have just been treated to a magic trick rather than to a real demonstration of time travel.

What the gentlemen don't know is that The Time Traveler has a much larger version of the time machine in his laboratory and is putting the finishing touches on it. He invites his friends over for dinner once again in a week's time. Until then, he goes to work on his machine, and even his faithful housekeeper is not allowed inside the laboratory to disturb him.

The week passes, and the gentlemen convene for dinner once again. The Time Traveler, however, is nowhere to be seen. The housekeeper has a letter from him, which instructs the gentlemen to proceed with dinner because he, The Time Traveler, will be a little late. A few moments later, The Time Traveler rushes breathlessly into the room. His appearance has greatly changed since the last time the men saw him. He has gray hair now, and also has some cuts on his hands that are almost healed. After he catches his breath, he begins to tell the gentlemen about his adventures in time travel.

And so the reader is taken into the heart of the novella, which deals with the distant future. The Time Traveler had actually been to the year 802,701 A.D. and found the future to be quite different from what he had always envisioned. In fact, instead of humankind being more advanced and intelligent than contemporary times, it seemed that they had regressed. The Time Traveler puts forth several theories as to why this might be the case, which is interesting in itself.

As with most novels of Wells' time, The Time Machine contains a great deal of social commentary in its pages. For example, the Eloi race of the future world is supposed to be Wells' own feelings about communism. The Eloi shared everything and didn't have to fight for their survival. As a result, they grew soft and weak, and their intellect suffered. The Morlocks represented the other end of the political spectrum. They were supposed to be the capitalists who blindly go about their business regardless of what is going on around them. They are morally corrupt and have even turned to cannibalism: they feast on the weaker Eloi whom they hunt and capture in the dark of night.

I found The Time Machine to be very easy reading. It is a short novella, so I was able to finish it in the space of a few hours. Modern readers probably won't find the story very exciting, but I found it quite fascinating in light of the fact that it was written more than a century ago. Personally, I thought Wells' description of the future wasn't very interesting or particularly creative, but I suppose it fit the purpose of his story as well as his views on society.

One of the things I really liked about this novella was the way the actual time travel experience was described. The Time Traveler tells us how he had the feeling that he wasn't moving at all, but that everything else around him was moving. He describes the way his housekeeper looked like she was dashing across the laboratory at high speed and the way that he could tell the days and nights were passing in quick succession while he was in the machine because of the flashes of moon and sun that he saw. At first, I kind of rolled my eyes because those images were pretty much the standard way of showing time travel in some old black-and-white movies and TV shows that I remember from my childhood. My attitude quickly changed when I realized that Wells wasn't following the standard, he was actually setting it!

Overall, I thought The Time Machine was an enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Pick up a copy today and check out this original science fiction adventure story for yourself!

Mary Engelbreit's Summer

By Christina VanGinkel

Mary Engelbreit has fans everywhere that flock to purchase whatever she puts her illustrations and name on, whether it is a calendar, a pack of stickers, a card, or in this instance, a book. This book is one of a group of four, Fall, Winter, Spring, and this one, Summer, and she has once again met her fans with a winning combination.

This book, Summer, is small in size, easily tossed into a bag or purse for browsing whenever you have a few moments, but be warned that once you start reading it, it will be difficult to put down until you have completed it cover to cover. The author of the book is actually Charlotte Lyons, and she has taken the time to make sure that all the crafts that are included in the pages are easy to recreate with as little work as possible. Instructions are short, and to the point, but always clear so that making the projects will be as simple as can be. Besides crafts perfect for summer holidays and sunny beaches, there are also recipes with just as much thought put into the 'easy' aspect of making them

A Rice Salad for Memorial Day, Gazpacho for any summer brunch or lunch, and Blueberry Muffins perfect for the Fourth of July, round out the included recipes. Crafts include a Wreath of Honor and a Flag Tray for Memorial Day, and gift ideas for Father's day that include a frame, a desk set, and a tackle box. For the Fourth of July, you have a choice of a Parade Hat, perfect for those small town parades, or decorating your entryway, wherever a spot of red, white, and blue would fit, a Best-of-Show- bike, again, perfect for the town's parade, and a Folk Art Flag.

To make your backyard perfectly themed, there is a Seed Box, Plant Stakes, Porch Pillows (perfect for making your porch swing not only prettier, but also much more comfortable), and a Patio Lantern (perfect for those who love to recycle old into stunning new). There is also a fun Window Dressing for fancying up your window box gardens, and an absolutely fun Truck Garden, which is a small garden created in the bed of a toy truck that you salvage from an antique store or yard sale, or even your own treasured memories from your childhood.

If you have a child heading off for a week or whole summer of fun at an away camp, the same way kids have been doing for decades, then you do not want to miss the Painted Trunk, Laundry Bag, Letter Case, Care Package, Rustic Frame, Bunkmate Organizer, or Autograph Pillow. The Autograph Pillow is one of those ideas that kids will love now, and thank you for when they are older and have such a fun item to reminisce over. In addition, any one of these items is sure to make their stay a memory to be cherished for years to come.

Vacation themes are as much fun as the rest of the book, with a Beach Bag you can whip together in no time, simply by personalizing a store bought straw bag, or a Sand Throne, which is a beach chair that you personalize quickly and easily with acrylic paint. What is so nice about the Sand Throne, is it helps to make it easier to pick your chair out on a crowded beach from the other couple of hundred that all look the same, save for your personalized decorations. There is also a Towel Rack, a Beach Towel, a Lemonade pitcher, and a Sailing Shelf. The Beach Towel is by far my favorite in the whole book, as they used vintage linens to create pockets for books and sundries on the side of a large, otherwise unadorned, beach towel. Fun!

Contributors to the fun designs in the pages of this hardcover book, besides Mary Engelbreit, and Charlotte Lyons, include Michael Mahler for Cheap Trx., Joseph Slattery, and Stephanie Barken.

If you are looking for a book of fun crafts with a summer theme, either for your own use, or to give as a gift, this book, one of a series of four, is the ideal book with its fun illustrations, easy to read format, and full color photography.

Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown

by Christina VanGinkel
Angels & Demons is by the same author who penned the much talked about 'The Da Vinci Code'. Written and published before that national bestseller, it is in its own right a very well written mystery / thriller. I was hooked from within the first few sentences of the book. It is written is an easy to follow format, unlike many novels of this genre, that often leave the reader wondering if they missed something. If I had to find fault, I would say that the author gives too many fringe details on certain subjects, which leave the reader wanting to know even more on the subjects at hand.

This book, Angels & Demons, features the somewhat laid back main character, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, the same hero of the famed 'The Da Vinci Code'. Laid back, but nonetheless, tossed into the middle of a bizarre and fast-paced quest to save the Vatican, and the world for that matter, from a missing vial of anti matter that has been misaligned into the wrong hands. As a symbologist, when a man of high esteem is found not only dead, but also with a symbol literally seared into his chest, he is called in to help the police decipher what it could all mean. What the seared symbol is in reference to is the long secret organization of the Illuminati, a secret organization that for centuries has had one goal, and that being the downfall of the Catholic Church. However, is it really the Illuminati leaving their calling card, or just someone or some group, who has come into the means to know what the Illuminati were? Introduced almost immediately in the book is also the venerable Vittoria. As the daughter of the dead scientist who created the anti matter, and a scientist in her own right, she has a stake in the finding of the antimatter, both in the reputation of her father, and in her growing passion for Mr. Langdon his self.

Readers are soon propelled into the world of the Illuminati, its workings and missions, and seemingly cruelty at its deepest core. What is surprising, as this is a work of fiction, is that the Illuminati are believed by many to have really existed, and have members amongst their ranks the likes of Galileo and other esteemed scientists of their time. Through the centuries, this group is believed to have kept up its membership with the goal in place carrying through the centuries along with the continued life of the membership.

Also at the core of this fiction thriller, is the anti matter that has all the characters in an uproar. In the setting of the book, the missing vial is more than enough to obliterate the Vatican, and the four principal papal candidates that have gone missing. What goes on to make it all so astonishing a read is that anti matter does exist. Probably not in a vial that needs it battery recharged in matter of hours, lest it all blow up, but anti matter is real, and it does exist, and that knowledge alone makes the story line of this book work. I was so intrigued by what anti matter might be, that I spent hours online researching exactly what anti matter is, and what it can do. It made for quite a scary read all by itself, in addition to the thrilling fictionalized moments in the pages of the book.

With the entire hubbub about the Catholic Church in recent years, even a good catholic can find a storyline to like in this book, as readers soon learn what a conclave is, if they did not already know, and how this meeting to announce a new Pope has not changed its rules in centuries. It can get your mind thinking about what the church really stands for, who created it, and where it might be heading in this day and age. I would recommend that anyone who has read any other Dan Brown books, or not, read this book, Angels & Demons. If they have not yet read 'The Da Vinci Code', definitely read this one first. Even though they do not need to be read in order, as each book more than stands on its own as a thriller, the reader can learn a bit more about the character Robert Langdon, in the pages of Angels & Demons.

A Review of Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

Financial freedom is something that most people dream about at least once in a while. We would all love to make sound investments in our spare time that will continue to generate a significant stream of passive income for us for years and years to come. That way, we can quit our day jobs and spend our lives doing things that bring us the greatest joy. This is the new version of the American Dream, and judging by the number of books in the financial advice section of my local bookstore, it seems that millions of people want to chase this dream.

Whenever I buy nonfiction how-to books, I try to stick with authors that are well-known in their field. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki was the very first financial advice book that I ever purchased, and I did so only because the book has been a best-seller for such a long time. I figured that since so many people are still buying it, it must be filled with some pretty valuable advice.

The book starts off interestingly enough. Kiyosaki begins by describing the characteristics of the two dads he mentions in the title. His rich dad was actually his best friend's father. This man didn't even attend high school, yet he was able to work hard, open and operate several different businesses, and ended up being one of the wealthiest men in Hawaii. Kiyosaki's poor dad was his biological father. This man possessed advanced degrees from such prestigious institutions as Stanford University, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern University. Yet because he lacked what Kiyosaki calls "financial literacy," he had money problems throughout his life and died in debt.

Kiyosaki then goes on to talk about the way that he and his friend Mike decided from a very early age that they wanted to be rich. So they gave up their Little League baseball games and instead spent weekends with Mike's dad, learning lessons about such things as accounting and management. By the way, these boys were nine at the time.

After about an hour of reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad I started to get a bit impatient. The book is not very thick, and I was at least one-third of the way through it already and I hadn't learned anything that would help me make my financial future any more secure. I wished the childhood anecdotes would stop so the real advice could start.

Unfortunately, that never really happened. Instead, Kiyosaki seems content to give the reader very vague and ultimately useless statements. For example, he says that in order to gain financial independence, you shouldn't work for money but rather make your money work for you. He also says you should have more assets than liabilities and that you should "pay yourself" before you pay your creditors. While I admit that I am no financial guru, do generalizations such as these actually qualify as advice?

As I said before, I had never purchased a financial advice book before, so I didn't know what to expect. While I know that no book would be able to talk about the subject in-depth or present a step-by-step guide to getting rich. However, I would expect to find something more specific to take away from the book than the statements that Kiyosaki makes.

I also have to say that I was fairly unimpressed with the overall writing style. I know that how-to books are supposed to be pretty straightforward, so I wasn't expecting the author to use fancy words or clever transitions between each paragraph. Even so, Kiyosaki's work failed to meet my basic expectations. For one thing, he repeats himself so many times that I have to believe he and his writing partner, Sharon Lechter, didn't hire an editor to go over the finished product. I know that many self-help or motivational books repeat key ideas in a mantra-like fashion in order to drill the ideas into readers' heads, but Kiyosaki's repetitions weren't like that at all. His seemed to be born out of carelessness and didn't appear to serve a particular purpose.

Since reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I have read a number of different reports that dispute several claims that Kiyosaki makes. First of all, it appears that the "rich dad" of the title wasn't actually a real person, but rather an amalgam of different people that Kiyosaki has met in his lifetime. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have any problem with that. However, since this book is marketed as nonfiction and since the role of the rich dad is such a critical one, I felt rather disappointed to learn that he didn't even exist.

Second, it seems that a few of the real estate deals Kiyosaki writes about didn't exactly play out the way he said. Other people have reviewed the public real estate transaction records in the states where Kiyosaki purportedly closed these deals, but the numbers in the reports are significantly lower than the numbers Kiyosaki writes about in his book. If this is true, then it will serve as another reason for me to be disappointed in the book.

Third, there seem to be a couple of discrepancies in the timeline of events that Kiyosaki chronicles in the books when compared to things he has said during television, radio, and magazine interviews. Again, I haven't gone back to verify these things myself; I'm just point out that these kinds of allegations have been made.

Another reason I was disappointed with Kiyosaki's book is that it didn't even motivate me to change my financial habits. If a nonfiction book such as Rich Dad, Poor Dad doesn't deliver the goods as far as giving readers investment advice or anything like that, then the least it could do is motivate me to learn more about these kinds of things on my own. Unfortunately, the book left me feeling even more discouraged about my finances than before since I had spent all that time reading and wasn't any wiser for it.

Since Rich Dad, Poor Dad has been a best-seller for years, I'm assuming that other people have enjoyed it and have learned something from it. So if I were you, I wouldn't totally discount the book based solely on someone else's experience with it. What works for one person may not work for another. I would advise you to skim through it before purchasing it to see if it addresses points that you would like to see covered.

Overall, I find that I simply can't recommend this book because it is so lacking in substance. Then again, I have a feeling that I might be missing something with this one. After all, millions of people can't be wrong, can they?