Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Subtle Grace by Ellen Gable

Award-winning author Ellen Gable has produced a stunning stand-alone sequel to In Name Only (Full Quiver Publishing, 2009).  A Subtle Grace is a historical romance, set at the turn of the 20th century.  Gable spins a compelling story of the O’Donovan Family, a wealthy and morally upright, yet down-to-earth Catholic family.  The novel is engaging, with a moving plot, while also exploring sensitive issues of courtship, chastity, family secrets, healing, and forgiveness.

The O’Donovans encourage their 19-year-old daughter Kathleen to pursue a nursing career, while carefully guiding her through her first experience with courtship.  Kathleen feels drawn to Karl, the charming son of the local police chief, while also developing a working friendship with Luke, the new family physician.   Her older brother William feels called to become a priest, while her younger brother John struggles with maintaining his chastity.

Gable makes wonderful use of symbolism, through the artwork carefully selected for her cover, descriptive scenery, and mentions of classic literary works that give subtle hints at where the plot may be going.  Yet she escapes predictability, and the story kept me wanting to read more.  The end is both surprising and satisfying.

This book is appropriate for reading by older teens.  Content includes non-graphic descriptions of mild violence, birth, death, prostitution, and attempted rape, and vague hints at self-gratification.  These issues are explored honestly but gently, and open the doors for fruitful parent-child conversations on the Theology of the Body.

Author’s homepage:


Publication information:



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Instilling the Virtue of Modesty in Children


I am writing a two-part column for Celebrate Life on instilling the virtue of modesty in children.  I have so much to say on the subject, I wish I was not limited to 500 words per column!  The first part, which appears in the Jan./Feb. issue, deals with matters of dress.  My article focuses on the principles of modesty in dress rather than on specific dress codes - which many Christians disagree widely on.  You can read it here.  The second part, scheduled for the March/April issue, will be a great deal of fun to write, although I could use 5,000 words rather than 500 - it deals with behavioral aspects of modesty.

The picture above was taken after last January's snowstorm.  Pictured is my youngest daughter, then age 6, and our dog Honey.  That storm weighed down the branches of my trees so much that they broke and I had to have them trimmed.  My backyard pictures will never be as picturesque without those snow covered boughs.  We just had another ten-inch snowfall last night, but it looks nothing like this one.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review of the Disney movie “Frozen”


[Disclaimer: Plot spoiler warning!]

This movie was a delight, with an original story set in beautiful Scandinavia, complete with some unexpected twists and elements not usually seen in a Disney movie.  Elsa is a princess born with the unusual ability to turn anything into ice, a skill she develops while playing with her little sister Anna.  However, she discovers that she loses control of her talent when she becomes overemotional.  This results in an accident in which Anna’s brain is frozen.  The magical gnomes are able to unfreeze her brain but must remove Anna’s memory of Elsa’s ability.  The overcautious King and Queen seclude the royal family and keep Elsa locked up, even keeping her away from Anna.

As Elsa attempts to keep her ability restrained, she becomes both physically and emotionally inaccessible.  Anna, deprived of her sister’s companionship, longs for love and human camaraderie.  She thinks she has found it the day that the palace gates are open for Elsa’s coming of age and crowning.  But this day teaches Elsa that by keeping her emotions and powers completely restrained for so long, she has completely lost control of both.   She escapes into the mountains, where she builds her own ice castle and feels free once again, unwittingly unleashing a powerful ice storm on her people.  When Anna follows her and tries to get her to stop the ice storm, Elsa once again loses control of her emotions and powers, sending ice through Anna’s heart.  Thus the movie teaches the seemingly contradictory concept that we must express our emotions while also controlling them.

The magical gnomes tell Anna that the damage can only be undone through an act of true love.  She assumes that this must be romantic love, but herein lies some of the movie’s surprises. First, she finds that what she thought was “love at first sight” was deceiving (a lesson not usually taught in animated movies).  Second, the love that Anna is looking for to save her does not come from a romantic admirer.  Rather, it comes from within, as she risks everything to save Elsa, and both their hearts are thawed.  In the end, the sisters save each other from the damage that was done by keeping secrets.

Whereas animated films tend to portray heroes as attractive and villains as ugly and scary looking, this film teaches children that people are not always what they seem.  Another very different element of this film is that the characters are neither purely evil nor purely good.  The complicated character of Elsa is her own enemy in this film, depicting the internal struggle that is part of the human condition*. The love of her sister is what helps her to use her unusual power for good in the end.  Thus the message of the film is a very Christian one, calling us to conquer evil by loving one another!

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good”, admonishes St. Paul (Romans 12:21).  And the First Letter of John encourages us: “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His Love has been perfected in us” (I John 4:12).  When Anna gives of herself freely she allows a pure love to operate through her, healing her wounds.  Then, when Elsa opens up her heart to allow Anna to reach her with this love, this unlocks the good in her to overcome the sinful part of her nature that is harming others.

Because of the romantic elements and the focus on love between sisters, this film will primarily attract a female audience.  However, the snow monster, talking snowman, and talking reindeer will appeal to young boys.  The unexpected turns in the plot will keep adult viewers interested as well.  Altogether this is a beautifully produced movie with an original story that is appropriate for families.

*The scriptural basis for the internal struggle of good and evil can be found in these words from the  apostle St. Paul:
“For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” - Romans 7:14-25


Saturday, October 5, 2013

A review of The Christmas Cat by Maryann Macdonald


Just on time for the season of Advent comes a new picture book that Christian parents will not want to miss.  The Christmas Cat by Maryann Macdonald is an original story, beautifully illustrated by Amy Jane Bates, that the entire family will enjoy and want to pass on to the next generation.

The author was inspired by one of a series of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, who drew many illustrations of a young child Jesus holding and playing with a cat.  Dated between 1480 and 1481, this series is known as Madonna del Gatto, or the Madonna of the Cat.  There is also a legend about a cat who purred Jesus to sleep in the stable in Bethlehem the night he was born.  Macdonald wondered if this cat could have become Jesus’ special pet and, if so, what their relationship might have been like.

The book cover shows a kitten licking the hand of a contently smiling Baby Jesus, the evening light coming through the stable window and casting a golden glow on the hay.  On the first page is a panorama of shepherds on a twilight hill, overlooking the city of Bethlehem, which is bathed in a heavenly light.  The title page depicts the Holy Family holding Baby Jesus, with stable animals looking on.  Then we are introduced to a crying Baby Jesus.  His family and the animals are unable to soothe him.  Then a kitten enters the stable, nuzzles Baby Jesus, and gently purrs him to sleep.

Baby Jesus grows into a young child, and he and his Mother Mary are portrayed playing with the cat, who has now become his pet.  When the Holy Family flees from Herod, they fear they have left the cat behind.  Just as the Child Jesus becomes upset, the cat comes out from hiding and comforts him.  The book closes with a painting of Mary, an older Child Jesus, and the cat, cuddling contentedly.  Next to the author’s endnote is a print of da Vinci’s drawing, which is similarly composed.

The story is told in a beautiful narrative style, which adults will enjoy reading aloud.  It is clear, descriptive, and does not ‘talk down’ to children.  I read this book with my seven-year-old daughter, who was delighted by the pictures and story.  I asked my sixteen-year-old daughter, a fine arts student, to critique the artwork; she admired the “loose” style of the paintings.  The artwork is soft, playful, and appealing to children.  The skillful use of light illuminates the focus of each painting.   

I loved the story and have found myself thinking about its thesis.  Although the Bible does not mention “pets” per se, it does speak of dogs being under tables in houses, eating the scraps that fall.  We know that domesticated cats were around from the time of the Egyptians – so it is possible that a stray cat could have befriended the Child Jesus.  The book comes at a perfect time, with Pope Francis bringing worldwide attention to the humble Saint Francis of Assisi, who had such a special relationship with animals.  Pope John Paul II once said, "Also the animals possess a soul, and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren." 

We think of pets as being there to comfort us, and any family with children and a dog or cat knows how animals instinctively cuddle up to them whenever they are upset.  The simple but intriguing idea that Jesus could have had a pet makes him seem more human, and thus more relatable to children.  As his humanity was God the Father’s gift to us that we celebrate on Christmas, this book presents the perfect opportunity for children and their parents to think about what Jesus could have been like when he was a child.  He cried, he got hungry, and he played – just like them – thus he can understand them and be their special friend.

Maryanna Macdonald, who grew up with seven brothers and sisters, shows that she really understands children, and is able to write at a level appropriate for their stage.  I also reviewed her young adult novel Odette’s Secret, which presents a child’s view of the holocaust.  I believe I have discovered a great writer and look forward to seeing more from her.

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers October 2013 U.S. $16.99/Canada $18.00

For publishing information see the author’s website at www.maryannmacdonald.com



Sunday, June 2, 2013

Honey Come Home!


The weekend of my daughter’s sixteenth birthday was as exciting as they come – although we had decided to forgo the traditional overblown “Sweet 16” that is popular on Long Island.  Sunday, her birthday, was to be a nice, quiet day spent at home – a welcome day of rest in the midst of preparations for varsity softball playoffs – topped with dinner out at a nice Italian restaurant.  Saturday afternoon changed that plan.

Audrey had softball practice followed by a car wash with the team.  My son Alex and I were putting together a pool ladder.  In doing so, we had removed something that was blocking a broken picket in the fence.  All of a sudden, we realized our dog Honey was gone.  My husband Kevin came in the backyard, where he had been mowing, and said she ran into the sump next door.  He tried to catch her but she ran into some humanly inaccessible brush.  The sump opens onto miles of protected woodlands in the back of our property.  Every few weeks she gets out like that, and comes back a little while later, wanting us to chase her down.  On her last romp, she had lost her identification tags.

Kevin kept mowing and my son was on the lookout for Honey, and I went to pick up Audrey.  When I got back, she still hadn’t shown up.  I drove around the neighborhood to no avail.  I had to take Alex to his travel baseball game.  It was raining, and I was sure it was going to be rained out, but it wasn’t.  When we got back from there, it was dark, and she still hadn’t come back.  Kevin said our six-year-old daughter had gone to bed crying, after standing at the back door saying, “Honey didn’t come home.”  We started to get really worried.  Honey is scared of the rain, and we were afraid she might have gotten stuck somewhere in the sump and possibly drowned.  We left food out on the front porch and hoped she would be there in the morning.

Sunday I woke up early but had to wait for one of the children to get up and go looking with me, since the overgrown and wooded sump isn’t a safe place to go by yourself.  Audrey got up and was the first to go with me.  Allison and Alex quickly followed.  We went through the sump into the wood, split up into pairs, and went through all the main paths.  We hope to at least leave our scent, since the rain might have washed away the scent for Honey to find her way home.  We walked all the miles through to the main roads to no avail.

I did a drive around all the main roads to make sure she hadn’t been hit by a car.  I called the town shelter, where dogs are brought dead or alive if hit on the road.  I was relieved no dogs had been brought in from our area.  We got dressed and went out for the birthday dinner, which got our minds off the dog for an hour or two.  When we got back, I started posting pictures of Honey on Craigslist, Twitter, and Facebook.  I told my kids we would pray that some puppy angels would guide Honey safely home to us.

On Monday, I started posting fliers.  On my way to teach religion, I got an email from Denise May, a local Rescue Coordinator for Ridgeback Rescue, a volunteer organization devoted to the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed ( www.ridgebackrescue.org ).  One of her volunteers had seen my ad on Craigslist and she wanted to help.  She asked if a humane trap might help.  I answered that I was not sure, but that I would call for her advice after my class.

When I got home, I called Denise.  I was surprised to hear her say that some people were already on their way out to my area to look for Honey!  They had already made up a flier with the information from my ad.  The volunteers working on Honey’s case were Val, Eddie, and Judi.  This is what they do with their spare time, to bring dogs safely back to their owners.  I thought maybe these were the “puppy angels” God had sent for Honey.

Valerie was the first at my house.  She had hot dogs in her car and squeaky toys (to attract the dog); she started by driving around calling Honey.  She also runs a Facebook group called Help Bring Hampton Bayz Home ( https://www.facebook.com/pages/Help-Bring-Hampton-Bayz-Home ) dedicated to finding a male golden retriever who has been missing from the Medford areas since February, but which also allows others to post lost and found dogs.  The group suggested that I set up a Facebook group just for Honey.  Honey actually does have her own page, set up by my kids, but it’s private.  A public group would allow for people to report “sightings”.

The group, accompanied by Judi’s friendly retriever Chloe, searched the sump and the woods that night.  They flooded the area with fliers, searched other adjoining roads and another wooded park.  I was really amazed at the goodness of these people.  They suggested that I set up feeding stations, so that I would know if Honey was in the area – in which case a humane trap might work.  I should hang unwashed shirts belonging to whichever family member she was closest to, where the wind would catch and carry the scent.  Another suggestion was barbecuing bacon, something that recently worked in the rescue of another dog that had been missing in the woods over the weekend.

I should call around to all the local animal hospitals, as well as my vet, and fax them my flier.  My vet at Wooded Acres told me that generally the vets and animals hospitals share this information in case a found dog with no identification is brought in.  I also should call the pounds in adjoining areas, fax them fliers, and visit my own town shelter on a regular basis.  I heard from the group, as well as several nice people I ran into while hanging fliers, that you really need to go into the shelter and look for the dog on a regular basis.  Many people have called the front desk and been told no dog matching that description has been brought in, and then found the dog there.

On Tuesday I went to the shelter.  That was such a heartbreaking experience.  When I got in through the front door I imagined I heard Honey’s voice among the many dogs howling.  My hopes were to be lifted and dashed repeatedly during this visit – there is a Proverb that says “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick”.  In each room I walked through kennels on the left and right.  I kept hoping the next dog might be her.  There were many dogs that had similar characteristics to her and I started to doubt myself, wondering if I would recognize my own dog.  One was her breed and although she sounded different and showed no sign of recognition, I looked at her for a minute and said, “This looks a little like her if she lost some weight.”  The guide laughed and said, “Except it’s a he.”  So that settled that.  That was the last dog.  It was everything I could do to hold my tears back until I could get outside.

When I got home there were a few pieces of steak missing from the bowl on the front porch, which got my hopes up a little, but anything could have taken it.  I put some sand around the bowl so I could see the paw prints next time.  That night Val was out again, and the rest of the group was hanging more fliers.  I made some bacon in the backyard and made a trail from the sump to the front porch. On Wednesday there was some bacon missing, but the prints left were the size of a raccoon’s.  Then I got a phone call.

“Good morning,” said a man with a gruff voice. 

“Good morning?” I said, hopefully. 

“I hope it’s a good morning for you,” he said, mysteriously. 

“Yes?” I prompted.

“Are you still missing your dog?” he asked.

I asked for a description – he was describing her as a “puppy”, but the size and collar description matched.  He lived on the road on the other side of the woods.  I went over there right away.  When I knocked I could see through the window her body being carried and I knew it was her. He answered the door carrying her.  She was so excited!  We got her into the car and he explained how she had shown up on his front doorstep either Sunday or Monday afternoon, wet and scared.  He had another older dog and “I don’t need another dog”, he said, but he kept her safe and fed her organic dog food.  He had gone to the food store, where people post lost and found pets.  I had given them my flier, but they swap them every other day, so it wasn’t up at that time.  When he woke up Wednesday and went outside, her flier was smack in front of his nose on a post in front of his house.  “She’s gonna need a bath.  She has some ticks on her.  I was gonna give her the works today,” he said.  He proceeded, “She is such a sweet dog and really needs loving.  You can’t ever yell at her.  She’ll do whatever you tell her to.”  I told her she had been a rescue dog and he said he figured as much.

When I brought her home, I texted the really essential people – my daughter at school and Denise and Val – first, and they had questions, but I really had to get her into the yard for her bath.  I did that, and felt bad I had to make her uncomfortable, but afterward she laid in the sun and looked so happy to be in her own yard.  She slept all afternoon.

“Never underestimate the power of a flier”, said Denise.  She and Val told me to give Honey a kiss and hug from them, a treat, and a set of shiny new tags.  I spent much of the afternoon calling around to all the places that had posted my flier so they could take them down.  I would spend the next week on a hunt for fliers throughout town to take them down. I kept the large, beautifully done posters in case she ever got on the loose again.

The reunions with the children continued for hours as they all finished up with school and sports.  Alex came home and knew something was different.  “Is Honey home?” he asked hopefully.  They had a little romp and she went back to sleep.  Allison came home from track.  She went up the stairs and I asked her to come to the windows.  “Look what’s under the trampoline,” I said, and she ran out to give her some petting.  I met the school bus with her on the leash – the bus driver was ecstatic for us – Honey jumped up and licked her on the face.  Audrey came home from softball and dove onto the couch with Honey.

Honey slept all the next day and ate quite a bit.  The following day she got microchipped.  Over the weekend she perked up a bit and by Monday was her energetic self again.  It was so nice to have my running partner back!

I asked Denise what someone should do if they find a lost dog.  This is what she had to say:
“A finder should take the dog to the local vet to have him/her scanned for a microchip. If no chip and the finder is willing to hold, they should hang flyers, list on Craig's list and/ or place a newspaper ad. The finder should put limited information. Like for Honey the sign or ad should merely say found large brown dog. This way the caller claiming the dog will have to fill in the pieces such as breed, gender, collar or no collar. What you are trying to prevent is people claiming the dog when it is not theirs, for nefarious purposes (such as dog fighting or breeding). I require a claimant to provide proof of ownership through vet records and/or photos.”


We are so happy to have our beloved Honey back!  To anyone who ever loses their dog, be persistent, and don’t give up hope!  I heard from people who lost their dog for days, weeks, even months, and their endings were happy.  I am so blessed to be able to share my happy ending with you.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Odette's Secrets by Maryann Macdonald




Every once in a while there comes along a book that I feel absolutely must be shared with as many young people as possible.  Odette’s Secrets, a young adult historical novel, lovingly and painstakingly crafted by Maryann Macdonald, is one of those rarities.  It tells the story of the Holocaust, a dark period that must never be forgotten, through the eyes of a child.

Told entirely in blank verse in the voice of a young Jewish girl, the book is filled with black and white photographs from the Meyers family album.   The story begins as Odette is beginning to realize that things for Jews are changing in Paris.  Life becomes defined by hiding, secrecy, and loss.  The Meyers family is not religious, so Odette struggles with understanding what it meant to be a Jew.  To keep her safe, Odette’s mother sends her to the French countryside to attend a convent school, with instructions to blend in as a Catholic orphan.  

Odette’s new life is much better, with room to play freely without food rationing and the fear of soldiers.  She is filled with confusion about her identity, as she is living out the lie that was designed to protect her.  She feels drawn to the Holy Family of Baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Joseph, and finds comfort in the nativity scene.  She misses her mother, but never wants to go back to Paris.

Odette’s mother joins her when Paris becomes too dangerous for her to continue her secret work.  She does not blend in as well as her daughter has, however, and when the children become suspicious Odette is chased down and beaten up.  Although a friend and protector is able to convince the country folk of the family’s story so they can continue living there in peace, Odette is never able to trust her friends again.

When the war ends, Odette and her mother return to Paris, where Odette must confront the reality of the suffering that the Jews have endured.  Only then can she finally come to terms with who she is as a girl and a Jew.  She is reunited with her father, now a prison camp survivor, who brings her the gift of a diary in which to write her story. 

Maryann Macdonald has written more than twenty-five books for children.  While living in Paris, she discovered Doors to Madam Marie, the autobiography of Odette Meyers, who grew up to be a poet and university professor.  She became fascinated by Meyers’ story and personally visited the places where she had lived and played as a child.  Meyers passed away in 2002, survived by her son Daniel, who provided Macdonald with additional materials and permission to write his mother’s story for children.

This is a story that will draw young readers in and keep them turning the pages.  It tells the sorrowful truth in a sensitive way that is age-appropriate, yet never condescending.  Young people and their parents can benefit from reading this book concurrently.

Odette’s Secrets by Maryanne Macdonald
Published Feb. 26, 2013
240 pages, Hardcover, $16.99
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Ages 10 and up


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"Curse of the Thirteenth Fey: The True Tale of Sleeping Beauty" by Jane Yolen




Pre-teens are in for a treat from renowned storyteller Jane Yolen in this newest modernization of the traditional tale of Sleeping Beauty, and parents can rest assured that both traditional and modern family values will be promoted by the story.

Yolen weaves a tale about a thirteen-year-old named Gorse, who happens to be the thirteenth and youngest child in a family of fairies known as the Shouting Fey.  They are called this because the most gifted among them are able to produce a guttural sound that can literally move mountains.  Gorse has been kept innocent and ignorant of the family secret, which is that the fey have been kept captive by a promise made hundreds of years ago.  They are bound to do whatever they are summoned to do by royalty.  Fey cannot break their promises or they will burst into thousands of stars.  There are signs that Gorse may be the promised one that can release the fey from their bondage.

Just as the family is summoned to bless a new princess, Gorse becomes extremely ill.  If she does not arrive to give her blessing as promised, her entire family could burst into thousands of stars.  On her way to the castle, she falls into a deep cave, where she finds even deeper family secrets.  She must find her way out of the cave, at the same time helping other fey relatives to regain their freedom.

In the course of her journey, Gorse develops her ability to cast spells using her “shout”.  She finds a creative way to break down the magical door that holds her and others in the cave, and devises a clever spell with which to “bless” the princess and the other royalty with sleep for 100 years, so that her family’s promise is kept and they are able to regain their freedom.  This was an extremely creative story based on the timeless values of keeping promises and loyalty to family, combined with the modern values of the power of creativity and of the female mind, that pre-teens are bound to enjoy.

Published November 2012 by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Boks
For children ages 10 and up
256 pages * $16.99 hardcover * ISBN 978-0399256646
For more information on purchasing options visit http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780399256646,00.html


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Poppy Lady



Non-fiction Picture Book Review
The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans
By Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, Paintings by Layne Johnson

This is a very different kind of non-fiction picture book that will be appreciated by any parent who is trying to instill in their children a respect for the troops. The story is about Moina Belle Michael, a schoolteacher from Georgia, who wanted to do something for the soldiers fighting in World War I.  Moina worked to establish the red poppy as the symbol to honor and remember soldiers. And she devoted the rest of her life to making sure the symbol would last forever. Thanks to her hard work, that symbol remains strong today. Author Barbara Elizabeth Walsh and artist Layne Johnson worked with experts, primary documents, and Moina’s great-nieces to better understand Moina’s determination to honor the war veterans.

The prologue begins with a biography of Moina.  A dark blue painting of the night-time bombing of an American ship by the German U-boats in March 1917 is followed by a bright green painting of Moira on the European countryside.  Next the countryside is laid waste, showing planes bombing and devastating the land, with troops in the trenches.  In April 1917 Moira is shown receiving the news of war at the University of Georgia.  Another night scene shows Moira at the campus, waiting for news and wondering what she could do.  She is shown leading women in their work for the Red Cross, rolling bandages, visiting the troops at the nearby camps, and seeing them off on the train.  She goes to Columbia University to train for the YMCA; there she serves the troops at Hamilton Hall.  She finds that by brightening the dark room with flowers, the troops are happy to come spend time there.  She is inspired by the brightly colored illustration of a battleground covered with unmarked crosses and red poppies, accompanying a poem called “We Shall Not Sleep” by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae.  It ends with the line, “We shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields”.  She starts to give the men poppies and begins a mission to have everyone wear poppies in honor of the troops.  The Epilogue explains how the poppy lives on as a way to thank those who fought to give us freedom.  The paintings are realistic and full of emotion.  The book was well-researched, and provides a Bibliography for further reading.

A portion of the book’s proceeds will support the National Military Family Association’s Operation Purple®, which benefits children of the U.S. military.


Ages: 7-11
Pages: 40
List Price: $16.95
Cover: Hardcover
Published: 9/1/2012
ISBN-13: 978-1-59078-754-0

Saturday, December 8, 2012

New picture books by Jane Yolen feature friendly dragons



Review of Waking Dragons by Jane Yolen, Paintings by Derek Anderson, 2012, Simon and Schuster.

“Don’t forget to wake the dragons before school,” says a note from Mom.  A little boy, dressed as a knight, enters a room/cave with his dog.  They climb a ladder to a giant bed, and proceed to wake the dragons.  The dragons are both friendly and sleepy, gradually becoming lively; they appropriately tumble the boy and his dog as they rise from their slumber. 

Derek Anderson’s colorful paintings will appeal to youngsters and parents alike.  With humorous illustrations, the boy is shown brushing a dragon’s teeth, feeding them breakfast, and getting them dressed.  The dragons kiss their mom goodbye and fly, carrying the boy to “Knight School”, where he says goodbye and they fly away.  The paintings are accompanied by Jane Yolen’s short, rhyming lines that use active words to keep children engaged.

This is a clever and creative book from a master storyteller who never ceases to amaze us, well matched by beautiful paintings that will keep children absorbed and encourage them to use their imagination.  The intended reading audience is children 4 to 8.  I read this picture book with my six year old and we agreed it will make a nice gift for her three-year-old cousin. For more information visit Simon and Schuster.

For the 3 and under set, just in time for the Holiday season are Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas? And How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?, new titles in Jane Yolen’s bestselling How Do Dinosaurs series illustrated by Mark Teague and published by Blue Sky Press/Scholastic.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pediatrician publishes board books for young children to encourage active exploration



Are you searching for the perfect board book to give to an infant or toddler? Beach, by Dr. John Hutton and illustrated by Andrea Kang, might fit the bill.  Winner of a Mom's Choice Gold Medal and Creative Child Book of the Year, Beach is the latest addition to the Baby Unplugged series published by Blue Manatee Press.  The purpose of the series is to encourage hands-on early learning and play through books.  The series titles to date include Ball, Beach, Blanket, Book, Box, Pets, and Yard.

Beach features Kang’s happy, brightly colored pictures that show children and animals playing, sharing, laughing, making music, and sleeping.  The objects they play with include sand, shells, balls, animals, snorkels, buckets, water, and a wagon.  They explore the sand and water.  They examine and observe shells, lobsters, fish, dolphins, and turtles. Scenic backgrounds include the boardwalk, sand, and water at the beach, with a happy sun in the sky.  The simple, rhyming text describes the dry and wet sand, shells of many shapes and sizes, salty ocean, swaying palm trees, and hatching turtles.

Beach and the other books in the Baby Unplugged series use happy images and simple, rhyming text to encourage children to explore the real world using all of their senses.  The concept is rooted in research on how children’s brains develop.  “It’s incredible that we have to remind people to reconnect with the real world . . . real-world experiences are critical during sensitive developmental stages.” says Hutton, who is opposed to the overuse of television and technological games for children.

On Dr. Hutton’s blog, Baby Unplugged (www.babyunplugged.com), he makes the points that the best gifts are those that follow the Photo Principle – they inspire the taking of photographs – and the Memory Principle – they build memories.  The giving of books with real pages that youngsters can handle and look at, and share with their loved ones, is a great tradition for Christmas, birthdays, and other gift giving occasions.

I read this book with my six-year-old.  We live on Long Island and love to frequent the ocean beaches here.  We enjoyed the book, and we agreed it will make the perfect gift for her baby cousin, who lives in the center of the continental United States and does not get to see the beach often.

For more information or to order visit the Blue Manatee Books website at www.bluemanateebooks.com

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving... or Black Thursday?



I always hated Black Friday.  When my kids were young, the thought of taking them into the crowded stores just to get a good sale never appealed to me.  I always made a point to stay home all day that day, baking and doing crafts with the kids.  Sometimes we would host team sleepovers.

The last few years have seen an appalling development.  The hours got so early into the morning that some stores were opening at midnight.  This meant that many store employees would have to leave their family dinners early to prepare for the midnight opening.  I started to call it Black Thursday.

This year, several major retailers are opening at 10 PM Thursday night, and some even at 8 PM.  This means that Thanksgiving is now ruined not only for employees, but for the families whose gatherings will end early because someone wants to go stand in line to get a good sale.  “Sorry Mom, I just have to get to this sale.  I promise to get you a really nice designer pocketbook.  Love you, bye.”

The only way for this madness to stop is if the people don’t go to these sales.  Even if a small percentage stands up for their beliefs with their actions and this does not impact the stores, what parents decide to do will make an impression on their children.  Do we place a higher value on family and special traditions, or do we value material things more?

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:21

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mark Francis Gerold



I have had creative writers’ block for months.  My Dad passed away this summer, and I thought my next post should be about my Dad, but then I just couldn’t bring myself to sit down and write about him.  How could I do justice to a lifetime of a complex man in an essay?  I am coming back now to review the notes I wrote for the Pastor who delivered his Eulogy.  I still can’t do much better than this, but I am afraid my perfectionistic tendencies will lead to its never being done.

Dad always was up for a challenge, and he always set our sights high.  He seemed to know exactly how much he could push us to do our best.  He used to take me for bike rides when I was little.  He’d get out ahead of me and go around the next corner, and I’d have to go faster to catch up, but he was always there. On one of these bike rides I said to him, “I love you Dad” and he said, “Yeah but do you like me too?” I said “of course!” Then he said “Well when kids get a little older a lot of the time they don’t like their parents.” I said, “Of course I will always like you!”  And I did. 

Dad was always one of my best friends. As I grew up I knew I could talk to him about anything.  He involved me in all of his projects around the house, and when I had my own house I would feel like he was there with me as I painted and fixed things. When I became an adult, I would have great, lengthy conversations about all kinds of topics.  Sometimes we would have arguments, but we always respected each other, and I really treasured our relationship.

Dad also taught us to be prepared for whatever life threw at us.  He would say to have a plan A, plan B, plan C, and so on, so that we could plan for any contingencies.  If we had inter-personal conflicts at school or work he would do role-playing with us to help us to stand up for ourselves.  He taught us how to play chess, checkers, and backgammon, and never just “let” us win; he taught us the right moves so that we could eventually beat him on our own.  This all taught us to be self-reliant and productive adults.  He always said to us, “You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Dad was a great role model.  He taught us by example.  Dad read his Bible every night. He kept it next to bed. His faith was solid and set such a great example for us.  Dad also taught us how to take great care of our bodies, “temples of the Holy Spirit”, by exercising, eating healthy foods, and getting a good night’s sleep.  He taught us how to manage our money, and set priorities.  He didn’t believe on spending money on status items.  He said the only things worth investing money in are land, an education, and good experiences.

He also taught us not to procrastinate.  On his desk was a plaque that said “DO IT NOW'.  This was short for:  “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”.

Other notes:

What he did for a living – builder and sales engineer – he and his brother started Gerold Brothers Home Improvement as teenagers, and in his 30s he sold large cooling systems in Manhattan.

How he grew up – in Bethpage Long Island with his 3 siblings

What his hobbies were – swimming, biking, board games.

What made him laugh – talking about what mischief he caused as a kid or what mischief his own kids got into

What music did he listen to – Beach Boys, Rocky Soundtrack.  

I think about Dad when I am doing things that we used to do together.  Swimming, going to the beach, staining the deck, doing any kind of home improvements, playing board games, reading the Bible.  Sometimes I feel his approval when making a decision that upholds the ethics he taught me.  Spending time with family, going to church, saving money, or spending it on worthwhile things and experiences.  Making sure my kids do well in school so they are on track to go to college.  Making sure they have the opportunity to do what it is they excel at.

Dad was 60 years old when he passed away, due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis.   He died the same day as my Grandfather, John S. Nagy.  I know that he is in Heaven now, in the company of my grandfather and other loved ones, free of pain.