Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Service of the Difference Between Writing Books for Children and Adults: Author Meadow Rue Merrill Tells All

Thursday, November 8th, 2018

Meadow Rue Merrill signing the contract with RoseKidz for the Lantern Hill Farm series

Author Meadow Rue Merrill, a 2018 Christopher Award winner for Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores, an inspirational memoir, sent me a copy of her new book, The Christmas Cradle, for children 4 to 7. [I promoted the 2018 Christopher Award winning books for adults and young people which is how I met her.]

I took advantage of her generous spirit to ask her questions because of her expertise in so many writing genres.

Speaking of generosity, the mother of six donates 10 percent of her royalties from the Lantern Hill Farm series, [The Christmas Cradle is one], to Compassion International. All of the royalties from Redeeming Ruth support orphans and children with disabilities in Uganda. More about Merrill at the end of–and throughout–the Q & A.

Do you think of different ideas for children’s vs. adult books?

Ironically, I began experimenting with ideas for children’s books long before I sat down to write a book for adults. Writing for children seemed more accessible—not because it is easier but because I strongly connect with my childhood. However, while taking workshops and attending conferences to develop my skills as a writer, my family adopted Ruth, an abandoned baby from Uganda who had multiple disabilities. So many people began asking about Ruth, I started writing her story, which turned into my memoir, Redeeming Ruth. A few months after it was published, I received a contract for a five-part children’s picture book series, Lantern Hill Farm. So you never know where you’re writing journey will take you.

Is your inspiration from a different place?

I’m inspired by events and images and words that touch me deeply—whether something that makes me laugh or cry or makes me question why the world is the way it is and how to make it better. I began writing Ruth’s book as a happily-ever-after adoption story, but when Ruth unexpectedly died from health complications shortly before her eighth birthday, it became both a spiritual lament and a treatise on the power of faith and love.

Many ideas for books come from my life and family, like The Backward Easter Egg Hunt, the first book I wrote for the Lantern Hill Farm series. A friend had asked me to organize an Easter egg hunt for a party. She had a basket full of plastic eggs, but I’d neglected to buy the candy. On the way to the party with my kids, I scratched down some ideas for a scavenger hunt based on the Easter story and gave the kids empty eggs to fill. They liked it so much, I turned it into a book, and my agent suggested a series. Walah! Lantern Hill Farm was born. Each story is designed around an activity to help children share God’s love with their family and friends around holidays.

How complex can you make subject matter for kids?

For the youngest readers, a picture book typically needs to focus on a single issue or problem. But that issue or problem can come from a complex experience. The challenge is writing about that experience in a way that is truthful and compelling but with a very limited number of words. My Lantern Hill Farm books are available in a longer version for older readers and as board books for the youngest readers. Reducing the text of each story from 800 words to about 150 was a real challenge, but I was surprised how many words I could eliminate and still have a complete story. I tend to write a much longer first draft to find my way into each story. Then I reduce, reduce and reduce to make that story stronger.

Are there techniques to simplify a basic story?

Once you know where your story is going, take out everything that isn’t necessary to move the story forward. That goes for writing for children or adults. Since I don’t always know where my story is going, it takes me a lot of extra writing to get there. The more I discover of the story, the more I know what to get rid of.

Because a book for young children is usually much shorter than one for adults, is it easier—and faster—to write? 

Photo: amazon.com

Faster, yes. But only because a picture book contains fewer words to place in order. I suppose that also makes it easier, but I wouldn’t call it easy. Publishing my first picture book came after two decades of reading picture books to my own children. Thankfully I have a houseful! During that time, I was also working on my memoir and a middle-grade novel. For me, writing is a slow journey of discovery. The greater the number of words, the longer that journey takes. While my picture books take less time to write, I’ve been thinking about them ever since having children.

How did you choose your illustrator—or does the publisher select the illustrator?

My publisher, RoseKidz, selected the illustrator for the Lantern Hill Farm series. When the first book in the series, The Christmas Cradle, came out this fall, the characters were different from how I had pictured them, but I love how the artist, Drew Krevi, who has worked for Disney and Marvel Comics, captured the fun and excitement of the story.

Do you think today’s children’s book authors have different challenges than those writing before the Internet, smartphones, electronic games and gizmos existed?

I’m not sure if the authors have greater challenges or if the children do. Maybe it is a little of both. But certainly, technology has a way of disrupting attention spans of writers and readers alike. In my own home, I limit how much tech my kids (and I) have access to. For instance, we don’t have Wi-Fi. We run our Internet through a cord in the wall, so it is only available in a single spot. That opens up the rest of the house for reading—and we keep plenty of books.

What were your favorite children’s picture books when you were a child?

Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent, by Bill Peet, about a misunderstood sea monster, any and everything by Beatrix Potter and a children’s picture Bible that I carried around my childhood farm while my mother took care of her sheep and chickens. Regrettably, I had few picture books as a child and was rarely able to go to the library because my single mom was in college and had a farm to run. But the books I did have, I clung to like keys to a magical kingdom. They opened my mind to a world where things weren’t always what they seemed, where animals talked and life was ordered by something beyond what I could see. Perhaps because books were somewhat rare, I valued those I did have all the more.

Do you have other questions to ask this prolific writer? What were your favorite books when you were young?

Photo taken at The Christmas Cradle launch party in the 200-year-old barn of the real-life Jenny, whose generosity and love for others inspired the character in the book. Merrill reads to Ezra, her youngest child.

former journalist, Merrill was a correspondent for The Boston Globe, wrote parenting essays for The New York Times, was a contributing editor to Down East magazine and co-wrote a history for Harvard University–all while raising six children. She currently writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine, where she lives with her family, one pig, an all-kinds-of-cute rescue puppy and a flock of mischievous chickens.

Service of Contests for Kids: We’re All Winners

Saturday, August 18th, 2018

Contests that teach, encourage and reward kids to better themselves and/or their communities help us all.

Author Karen Russell told NPR “New Yorker Radio Hour” listeners on a recent August weekend about how proud she was to treat her family to a pizza when she was a kid. An avid reader, she’d qualified for a free pie with one topping through Pizza Hut’s Book It program. She’d read 10 books.

Books tossed recently at the Millbrook, NY Transfer Station

Book It was founded in 1985. It runs from October 1 to March 31 for children from Kindergarten to the sixth grade and homeschoolers can also participate.

Things may have changed since Russell won her pizza. She read printed books and today many children use Kindles and other tablets. Some may still record their books on paper and some access an app that reaches teachers who track their participation. But the goal remains–to promote reading.

The National Road Safety Foundation [NRSF] conducts contests for kids to help its campaign to drive down the number of traffic accidents, deaths and injuries here. I know about it because a colleague, David Reich, runs and promotes the contests. One is “Drive2Life,” in its seventh year, in which teens submit messages to be turned into public service announcements [PSAs] to warn drivers about the dangers of speeding. This year’s winner, a California 8th grader, received $1,000 and a trip to New York where he collaborated with Emmy Award-winning producers to script, film and edit his winning PSA, “Cars Aren’t Toys.” The PSA aired on “Teen Kids News” on 150 TV stations.

Photo: fcclainc.org

In addition to Drive2Life, there are NRSF Drive Safe student contests in Washington DC, LA, Chicago and Atlanta as well as Safe Rides Save Lives for members of Family Career and Community Leaders of America [FCCLA] and #DrivingSkills101 for Students Against Destructive Decisions [SADD] Chapters nationwide.

Can you name other great contests for children? Did you participate in any when you were a kid?

Photo: washingtonautoshow.com

Service of Hope

Monday, May 21st, 2018

Forgiveness, grief, perseverance, guilt, disabilities, World War II, 9/11 and racism are all powerful, life-changing emotions, conditions and events that don’t always evoke hope.  Yet the books, TV programs and films that The Christophers selected for their 2018 Christopher Awards, celebrated last Thursday in NYC, characterize and exemplify optimism and courage. The 69 year old awards laud writers, producers, directors, authors and illustrators whose films, TV/cable programs and books “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.”

Here are just a few examples from this year’s winning books:

Dr. Edith Eger, who at 90 lives in La Jolla, Calif., was a holocaust survivor pulled barely alive from a pile of bodies when the camp that held her captive was liberated. An eminent psychologist, she maintains a busy clinical practice and lectures around the world helping survivors of abuse, soldiers suffering from PTSD and others she wrote about in her memoir “The Choice.” She experienced and observed that many live within a mind that has become a prison. She described how she achieved freedom by confronting her suffering and how she helped others do the same. Far from a Pollyanna take on her life, “The Choice” is a compelling, thoughtful–and helpful–read.

Rev. Jonathan Morris presents Meadow Rue Merrill her Christopher Award.

Meadow Rue Merrill, in “Redeeming Ruth,” wrote about her severely disabled adopted child, abandoned at birth in Uganda, whose short life she and her husband Dana and their three kids made the best possible. “She was more than just our daughter; she was an ambassador, who opened our hearts to the needs of children with disabilities in the developing world,” said the award-winning journalist. “We miss Ruth every day, but we wouldn’t trade one day we had with her for the world.” Ruth’s spirit lives on well beyond the hearts of her loving family. Proceeds from “Redeeming Ruth” support orphans and children with disabilities in Uganda and Meadow and Dana Merrill are dedicated to assisting these otherwise helpless people and to drawing attention to their plight.

From left Jameel McGee, Father Morris and Andrew Collins

“Convicted” is about a crooked white police officer, Andrew Collins and the innocent African American man, Jameel McGee, he sent to jail. Collins arrested and charged McGee, who was launching a business at the time, with possession of crack cocaine. Sentenced to 10 years in federal prison McGee served three until his conviction was overturned when Collins admitted to falsifying evidence. Collins resigned due to an investigation for misconduct and was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for drug possession with the intent to distribute, serving 18 months. Years following their release, the men worked together at Café Mosaic, a coffee shop and community development program in Benton Harbor. Spoiler alert**: McGee forgave Collins, they are friends today and they travelled to and attended the Awards together. **I’m being silly as the subtitle, “A Crooked Cop, An Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Forgiveness and Friendship” gives away what happened. And you thought your sister in law was unforgivable.

Children 8 and older will read about an American child who makes the decision to stay with her French grandmother, whom she doesn’t like, on a farm in Alsace just as World War II breaks out. They’ll see what happens when Nazi’s move into their home. Thanks to Patricia Reilly Giff in “Genevieve’s War,” they’ll learn about deprivation, hunger, fear and anxiety when Genevieve shares a secret with someone who may be collaborating with Germans. She was warned not to whisper a word. In addition to seeing how a clash of cultures can affect family members, they’ll observe the child’s change of heart when love and respect take the place of the disdain Genevieve once felt toward her grandmother.

This year’s Christopher Life Achievement Award winner, Ken Burns, who has also won previous Christopher Awards said that it will be through storytelling, not political debates, that people will change their minds.  “In an awards environment that is all ego, it is refreshing to have the Christopher Awards around to remind us all of the real purpose of our work. Without much fanfare or hoopla, and with the simple grace that echoes their objectives perfectly, The Christophers reaffirm the best impulses we have – that is to transform humanity for the better with our hard work, compassion and art.”

Have you read books or seen films/TV programs or experienced dire situations in which the ancient Chinese proverb “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness” led the way? In addition to The Christophers, for which that proverb guides all its programs, there are other sources that celebrate people who turn negatives into positives such as “The Moth Radio Hour” on NPR and “The Kindness Challenge” on Facebook. They share instances that build people up and shed light on possibilities and solutions. Can you name others?

Authors at Christopher Awards from left Amy Guglielmo, “Pocket Full of Colors;” Kate Hennessy, “Dorothy Day;” Andrew Collins and Jameel McGee, “Convicted;” Meadow Rue Merrill, “Redeeming Ruth” and Jacqueline Tourville, “Pocket Full of Colors.”

Service of Book Reviews: Is it Fair to Select a Reviewer with an Ax to Grind?

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

Photo: myeducomer.com

Could Bernie Sanders write a fair review of a book about Donald Trump or President George H. W. Bush, known to dislike broccoli, a balanced opinion of a cookbook about that vegetable? I read Joseph Epstein’s review of Richard Aldous’s new book “Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian,” in The Wall Street Journal and learned more about Epstein’s dislikes—Harvard, the Kennedys and Schlesinger’s career choices—than about the book.

He started by sharing his resentment of the importance of Harvard in its heyday as a stepping stone to a successful career no matter how ineffectual a person turned out to be. He gave as an example a friend with a Harvard sheepskin who went higher and higher in job after job, and who “improved none of these institutions in any way I could determine, which did not stop his relentless progress in the world.” Next he criticized the University today for “having committed intellectual hara-kiri through multiculturalism, political correctness and the general surrender to victimology.”

Why Harvard? The university impacted the first half of Schlesinger’s life. Epstein wrote: “Richard Aldous frequently notes the services that a Harvard connection afforded Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.” His father, Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr., “was on the Harvard history faculty and, along with being an historian of originality, was a clever academic politician.” He then shared a long list of how Jr. benefited in Cambridge, subsequently landing an interesting job during WWII thanks to connections. Epstein acknowledged Junior’s many talents during this period. Schlesinger, Jr. returned to Harvard after the war but subsequently made a frightful career choice, according to Epstein, who was clear in his disdain for the Kennedy family.

Arthur Schlesinger Jr Photo: anb.org

According to Epstein, “Few young men could have seemed more promising than the younger Schlesinger, until he met a Waterloo named the Kennedys. Once that fatal encounter occurred, Schlesinger went from boundlessly promising brilliant historian—with three volumes of an anticipated five of his never-finished Franklin Delano Roosevelt biography already completed—to a man variously called ‘a servant,’ ‘a stooge,’ a ‘poodle’ and ‘a hagiographer.’”

“During World War II, with its rationing and shortages of gasoline, a popular poster asked, ‘Is This Trip Necessary?’ The same question might be asked of this biography. Is its subject worthy of the full-dress biographical effort Mr. Aldous, a professor of history at Bard College, gives him? No one would claim great-man status for Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.”

Epstein described how ineffectual Schlesinger, Jr. was in influencing President Kennedy: “In taking his White House job, Schlesinger saw it as his duty to steer Kennedy onto a liberal track and keep him there. His success at the task, we learn from Mr. Aldous, was slightly less than minimal.”

Photo: Amazon.com

Epstein disliked the award winning book about President Kennedy, “A Thousand Days,” for his pandering. As for “Robert Kennedy and His Times,” wrote Epstein: “the jig, you might say, was up. Reviewers called it ‘a 916 page promotional pamphlet of exculpation and eulogy.’ …Even Mr. Aldous, who strains to be fair to Schlesinger, reviews his various coverups of Bobby Kennedy’s more egregious behavior and concludes that ‘it is difficult for the reader not to wince.’”

Epstein gave the author credit for keeping his political views out of the book, [which is more than I can say for the reviewer]. And he complimented Aldous for describing the “inner conflicts of presidential politics.”

There is one political commentator on Cable who asks questions of his panelists and doesn’t give them a chance to answer because he then bellows his opinions and talks over them. I felt this review was like that. It reminds me of a restaurant review I read eons ago in which a perfectly good restaurant was trashed by a sainted reviewer because a couple next to her table argued loudly throughout dinner. She interspersed their uncivil conversation in her copy and blamed the owner for not kicking them out and gave the place a bad mark because her neighbors spoiled the meal.

Do you think that a person with an ax to grind should be chosen to write a review even if, like Epstein, he’s a crackerjack writer with sharp wit? Might Epstein be irritated that Schlesinger became the darling of café society and the publishing world as a result of his political connections made after he sold out and dropped the life of academia and a promising career writing serious history?

Photo: youtube.com

Service of No Room for Sentimentality in Business: The Plaza and Eloise

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

The Plaza Hotel is for sale again. It’s natural for things to change yet it still makes me sad to see what’s happened to this landmark which launched a trend to transform legendary NYC hotels into condos. The Chinese owner of the Waldorf Astoria has followed suit: Condo owners, not hotel guests, are the focus of both former hotels.

In an article, “The legendary Plaza Hotel is, once again, up for sale,” on curbed.com, Amy Plitt wrote what she called the short version of the hotel’s ownership history: “Let’s revisit how the hotel got here: It’s had many owners over the years, including the Hilton clan and current president Donald Trump; El-Ad purchased it in 2004, and led the conversion of more than 100 of its hotel rooms into luxury condos. In 2012, Sahara Group purchased a majority stake in the company, valuing it at about $575 million. But things spun out of control quickly for the firm and its president, Subrata Roy; after defaulting on loans, Roy was imprisoned in India, and Sahara was said to be shopping the hotel around to help get him out of jail. (WSJ says he’s been out on parole since 2016.)”

Photo: theplazany.com

A memorable childhood birthday–tea in the Plaza’s Palm Court–and subsequent visits there in its heyday were always a treat for me as were weddings and posh business and personal events in the ballroom.

Fondness for the hotel and for its most famous fictional guest, Eloise, was why I visited–and enjoyed–the “Eloise at the Museum” exhibition at the New York Historical Society [open through October 9, 2017]. It was a charming celebration of the character, books about her as well as author Kay Thompson and illustrator, Hilary Knight.

Ms. Thompson was a piece of work and would have fit well in the self-centered, cutthroat business atmosphere in which some find themselves today. According to Wikipedia, “in 1964 Thompson was burned out on Eloise; she blocked publication and took all but the first book out of print.”

Wikipedia coverage about illustrator Knight—who at 90 writes, draws and lives in Manhattan–shed additional light: “The live CBS television adaptation on Playhouse 90 (1956) with Evelyn Rudie as Eloise received such negative reviews that Kay Thompson vowed never to allow another film or TV adaptation.” She didn’t care about the financial impact on Knight that closing down the book publishing element had. In addition to lost royalties for the Eloise books–he also illustrated Eloise in Paris, at Christmastime and in Moscow–while Thompson was alive he also didn’t see a cent for the illustrations he had created for “Eloise Takes a Bawth,” which was scheduled for publication in 1964. It saw the light of day 38 years later.

Do you have memories of The Plaza Hotel? Did you read the “Eloise” books as a child and/or to children? Is the Eloise appeal to NY children only? Why do some books capture generations of children’s attention–is it the story, the illustrations or a magical combination?

Service of Essential Answers: The Christopher Award Winners Have Some

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

From Left Katie Sullivan, Patti Ann McDonald, Conor McDonald

I’ve asked the question in many posts over the last nine years of this blog: How do people get over feelings of adversity, anger, frustration, helplessness and loss? Some of the answers were peppered throughout the room this Tuesday at the 68th annual Christopher Awards by the authors, writers, producers, directors, illustrators and special award winners honored.

Was it a gloomy occasion? No. Joy, hope, support and love stared pain, disappointment and loss in the face. It truly was a stunning affair.

Nell & Matt Weber with baby Rose

One of the winners for his book “Operating on Faith,” Matt Weber, brought newborn Rose and wife Nell from Boston to celebrate while Patti Ann McDonald, widow of NYPD Detective Steven McDonald who died in January, brought her son Conor. She was given the Christopher Leadership Award. Matt’s book tells with humor how Nell helped him through a life-threatening illness months into their marriage. Conor and his girlfriend Katie Sullivan are supporting Patti Ann who is suffering with the loss of her husband. From the time he was shot and paralyzed in 1986, Detective McDonald credited Patti Ann with giving him the will to live.

Caron Levis’s book for children, “Ida, Always,” helps young ones deal with loss through a story about two polar bears who lived in the Central Park zoo. The HBO documentary “Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing,” provided an intimate look at the lives of those who lost limbs in the Boston terror attack, the physical and emotional battles they faced in the recovery process, and their unyielding efforts to reclaim their lives.

From left authors Joan Bauer, Kobi Yamada, Mike Massimino, Susan Hood, Susan Wern Comport & Caron Levis

Kathy Izard’s book, “The Hundred Story Home,” shares her journey from award-winning graphic designer to soup kitchen volunteer to developer of housing for chronically homeless men and women.

Dr. Chuck Dietzen

Mary Ellen Robinson, The Christophers and Dr. Chuck Dietzen

won two awards: The James Keller Award, named after The Christophers’ founder, recognizes individuals who are positively shaping the lives of children. He also won for his book “Pint Sized Prophets: Inspirational Moments that Taught Me We Are All Born to be Healers.” Dr. Chuck, as he likes to be called, is a pediatric rehabilitation doctor. He founded Timmy Global Health, which enlists students and medical volunteers in its mission to bring healthcare to those in need around the world. “We weren’t all born to be doctors and nurses, but we were all born to be healers,” he said. He arrived at the awards fresh from a trip to China.

This is just a sample. There were 22 winning feature films, TV/Cable programs, and books for adults and young people honored this year.

The ancient Chinese proverb—“It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”— guides The Christophers’ publishing, radio and awards programs. The 72 year old organization has lived through plenty of periods of extraordinary rancor and divisiveness and it never loses hope. Have you read books or seen films or TV/Cable programs that fit this saying?

Marathon HBO producers, writers from Left Jameka Autry, Jake Abraham, a guest, Nancy Abraham and the Christophers’ Tony Rossi

Service of Making the Best

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Photo: news.bbc

Photo: news.bbc

Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out,” is credited to three-time All-American basketball player and coach John Wooden. I’ve chosen three examples to illustrate this great quote.

Patrick Donohue

Patrick Donohue

I first heard it at The Christopher Awards last week. If there is one person who took this quote to heart it’s Patrick Donohue who said it in accepting the James Keller Award, named after the organization’s founder. His daughter’s baby nurse shook the infant so violently that she destroyed 60 percent of the rear cortex of the child’s brain. That was 10 years ago. Since then Donohue founded a research initiative as well as the International Academy of Hope—iHope—the first school for kids with brain injuries like Sarah Jane’s and other brain-based disorders. It’s in NYC and he plans to expand to other US cities. 

Father Jonathan Morris, Carol Graham, Major General Mark Graham [retired]

Father Jonathan Morris, Carol Graham, Major General Mark Graham [retired]

Carol Graham and Major General Mark Graham [retired] accepted Yochi Dreazan’s award. Dreazan was honored with a Christopher for his book, “Invisible Front.” The Grahams also illustrate the Wooden quote. The book is about how the Army treated the deaths of their sons. Jeff was hailed a hero after being killed while serving in Iraq and Kevin’s death, by suicide, was met with silence. Today the Grahams work to change the Army’s treatment of soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], to erase the stigma that surrounds those with mental illness and to remind active duty, National Guard, Reserve, veterans and family members that seeking help is a sign of strength. This summer General Graham and associates plan to convert two call centers into one which will be supported with private funding: Vetss4Warriors.com @ 855-838-8255 and Vet2Vet Talk @ 855-838-7481. The keys to their crisis prevention telephone program: Trained peers counsel and advise callers, provide referrals and follow up with them. 

Murray Liebowitz

Murray Liebowitz

Murray Liebowitz is the third example in this post. A stranger to us, we attended his memorial concert at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College last Sunday. A passionate music lover with a special appreciation for Gustav Mahler, Liebowitz paid for the concert–Mahler’s Symphony No. 9–so that it was free to the mourners as well as to the community. He made the arrangements with Bard president Leon Botstein before he died. Tributes in the program described Liebowitz as “modest,” “kind,” “direct,” “generous,” “loyal,” “disarmingly unpretentious,” “delightful,” and “warm.” But he wasn’t always successful. This Bard board member went bankrupt when his first business failed. His New Jersey egg farm thrived until supermarket chains put him out of business. He earned his fortune in his second career as a Florida real estate developer.

Botstein wrote in the program, “Murray Liebowitz was a true gentleman. He was a man who enjoyed enormous success in business but one who never let success in life go to his head. We live in an age where money and wealth appear to be valued above all other achievements. They stand uncontested as the proper measure of excellence. To be rich, it seems, means that one might actually be superior to others. This corrosive calculus is one in which Murray never believed. He was without arrogance.”

Many face personal tragedy, devastating business reversals—and even overwhelming success—and make the best of the way things work out. Can you share additional examples?

making the best of bad situation 1

Service of Grownup Books for Children

Monday, May 11th, 2015

 

MaddisFridge9781936261291

Eliza bingThe grownup subjects for books written for even the youngest children is a trend I’ve observed since I first wrote about The Christopher Awards and its winning children’s books in 2010. Forgiveness, hunger, ADHD, being an outcast orphan in Africa and dyslexia were topics for youngsters in pre-school, kindergarten and those aged six, eight and 10. These mature topics are moon miles from my beloved Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline series or Dick, Jane and Spot. The Christophers honor these hardbacks for young people along with books for adults, films and TV/cable programs and present the awards to authors, illustrators, writers, producers and directors whose work “affirms the highest values of the human spirit.”

Hope SpringsPersonal experiences inspired the authors to pick their topics whether Henry Winkler–the Fonz—who is dyslexic; Carmella Van Vleet whose daughter suffers from ADHD; Lois Brandt whose childhood friend’s refrigerator was shockingly empty and Eric Walters who founded and runs the Creation of Hope, an organization to care for orphans in Kenya’s Mbooni District. As for Nicole Lataif’s subject–forgiveness–who hasn’t struggled with this?

Are you surprised at the sophistication of these subjects for little ones? Do you think that topics covered in children’s books reflect their era? If this is so, how come some last for generations? What books you read as a child–or to your children–made the biggest impression on you?

###

Preschool and up: I Forgive You (Pauline Books and Media) by Nicole Lataif, illustrated by Katy Betz ; Kindergarten and up Maddi’s Fridge (Flashlight Press) by Lois Brandt, illustrated by Vin Vogel; Ages 6 and up Here’s Hank: Bookmarks Are People Too! (Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin) by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver; Ages 8 and up Hope Springs (Tundra Books/Random House) by Eric Walters, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes; Ages 10 and up Eliza Bing Is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter (Holiday House) by CarmellaVan Vleet

9780448479972_large_Bookmarks_Are_People_Too!_#1I forgive you noon

Service of Reviews

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

reviewstars

Father/daughter travel gurus Arthur and Pauline Frommer warned listeners to their weekly radio show several Sundays ago about taking online reviews to heart. So many are written by friends and family of the hotel or bed and breakfast covered, they cautioned and, they claimed, some hire marketing firms to generate positive reviews.

arthurpaulinefrommerThe Frommers [photo, right] admitted that they sounded self-serving in addressing credibility when they advised listeners to read what the media had to say about a place. Pauline said that countless times she’d find a bed and breakfast that was far nicer and cheaper than the ones in an area with all the so-called great online reviews by guests.

I admit to being an article saver and when I visit a place, I’ll give a particularly toothsome sounding restaurant or tempting boutique I’ve read about a try or look-see. I have been led astray plenty by the press. In Spain, we were treated abominably by the restaurant staff in a place that got a rave review and pages of photos in a major food magazine and in Paris I went out of my way several times during different stays to visit totally nondescript, not worth a detour spots in bland neighborhoods that had been touted by a reporter writing for a major newspaper.

As a PR person my disappointment may drive me more nuts than your standard disillusioned reader as it is very difficult to get coverage in these venues for valid businesses and services. I wonder who vetted the dumps I wasted my time and sometimes my money on.

newspaper-reporterYet I agree with the Frommers. You are generally better off depending on media over “other customers” when making a choice of a product, service or place.  I’ve had clients whose businesses thrive on good reviews by tech bloggers. Their products are put through rigorous tests by knowledgeable enthusiasts and reporters. Buyers of apps or gizmos do well to check them out. Some examples: crunchgear.com, engadget.com, geardiary.com, techtrackr.com or tnerd.com.

As for movie reviews, at least you get an idea of what the subject is or if a flick is an abysmal flop even if you don’t always agree with a reviewer’s rave. We saw “Sarah’s Key” the other day with benefit of no reviews but that’s the exception. We liked the film a lot.

I love a well written, informative and entertaining book review.

Businesses have a terrible time when a nut writes an unfair review on a website or blog. It can’t be erased and appears every time potential customers Google the name of the business. I’ve known reputable, responsive business owners who tear out their hair when this happens.

Have you fallen for inaccurate reviews written by other customers or the press? Do you rely on or ignore reviews? Are reviews in some industries better than others?

 moviehouse

Service of College

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

college

To promote the children’s book winners of the 2011 Christopher Awards, I was looking for mommy bloggers who cover books on an electronic database. Of 570 mothers who post about issues relating to children, families and parenting, there were 14 identified with books. This analysis is unscientific. It could mean that bloggers didn’t check off “books” or respond in any way to the list collector’s query for details. Still, there were generous numbers of bloggers associated with new products, arts and crafts and other suitable subjects.

Nevertheless, my mind jumped to two articles I read last week: Caleb Crain’s New York Times book review, “Lost in the Meritocracy,” about Professor X’s “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” and Daniel B. Smith’s New York Magazine article, “The University Has No Clothes.”

Before I continue, I remind you that I am a volunteer director of a mentoring program for graduate students, for years have been a mentor to college and grad students and as a foundation board member I direct development for programs and scholarships for college and grad students in the communications  industry. 

Back to the articles. Crain wrote that report-card-2Professor X makes a range of points but a salient one was “What grade does one give a college student who progresses from a 6th-to a 10th-grade level?” Crain notes: “Professor X can be caustic about the euphemism and somewhat willed optimism that sometimes befog discussion of how to teach unprepared students. To relieve his and his students’ unhappiness, he proposes that employers stop demanding unnecessary degrees: a laudable suggestion, unlikely to be realized until the degree glut has dried up.”

And then there’s the cost. Wrote Crain: “In 1940, there were 1.5 million college students in America; in 2006, there were 20.5 million. In X’s opinion, a glut of degrees has led to a spurious inflation of the credentials required for many jobs. Tuitions are rising, and two-thirds of college graduates now leave school with debt, owing on average about $24,000. A four-year degree is said to increase wages about $450,000 over the course of a lifetime, but X doubts the real value of degrees further down on the hierarchy of prestige.”

In his New York Magazine article, Smith focuses on two college-educated successful men leading what he calls the “anti-college crusade.” According to Smith, James Altucher, father of two girls, a finance writer and venture capitalist thinks “higher education is nothing less than an institutionalized scam-college graduates hire only college graduates, creating a closed system that permits schools to charge exorbitant ­prices and forces students to take on crippling debt.” Smith quotes Altucher:  “‘The cost of college in the past 30 years has gone up tenfold. Health care has only gone up sixfold, and inflation has only gone up threefold. Not only is it a scam, but the college presidents know it. That’s why they keep raising tuition.'”

college-sportsThe second anti-college crusader in Smith’s article, Peter Thiel, was the first Facebook angel and a PayPal founder. Smith wrote that he “contends that American colleges have transformed from rigorous scholarly communities into corporate-minded youth resorts, where some presidents command salaries of more than $1 million and competition centers on outdoing one another in acquiring high-end amenities (duplex-apartment dormitories, $70 million gyms).” Thiel thinks that middle class parents consider a college education as an insurance policy that ensures that their children remain in the middle class.

According to Smith, Altucher said his goal was to reduce demand and therefore tuition cost. Theil’s mission was similar, backed by a fellowship he’s funding in a program he’s calling 20 Under 20. The winners get both $100,000 each and mentorships with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. They must also stay out of college for two years.

Do you think that the pictures painted by Professor X, Altucher and Theil are dire, bleak and wrong or spot-on? Should employers require college degrees for most jobs? Do you see a connection between the exorbitant cost of college, countless students unprepared for university-level work, crippling debt resulting from four years of college and most mommy bloggers covering every topic under the sun but books?

 kids-and-books

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