Friday, December 30, 2011

Last one that I forgot: remember starting out at the Farmer's Markets this spring?

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This first full week finally brings Spring to Tioga County, with the Wellsboro and the Mansfield Growers’ Markets now in full swing, every Thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon, respectively. This past Sunday, a little extra time with Mom might have gotten shortchanged for time with the lawnmower. Most moms were probably fine with that, though, appreciating the first mown lawn of the new season, and perhaps the chance to dig in the landscaping some, too. I had to laugh this week when a good friend told me that his wife always asks for mulch for Mother’s Day.

Around here, Mother Nature and the locals move into Spring with gusto: the flowering trees all burst into bloom at once, and gardens seem to go in overnight, on the magic day that will allow the plants to escape the last frost but also enjoy the longest possible growing period. Many of us have too many jobs and responsibilities that separate us from the way food gets to our tables and can nourish our bodies. I would love to reconnect with fresh food, grown by people who live around me; to feed my body the healthy variety of food that it craves. I’m tired of washing down French fries with Diet Pepsi just because I have to put something in my body to keep it going through these busy days.

When I see the freshly turned dirt, the newly fenced in squares in my neighbors’ lawns, and the announcements for the Growers’ Markets, I turn to my Moosewood Cookbooks and start scheming. The Moosewood Restaurant is a cooperatively-owned business in Ithaca, NY, which originally opened in 1973. Over the last three decades, the Moosewood Collective has published dozens of cookbooks, featuring recipes dreamed up in the Moosewood kitchens and successfully “tested” on thousands of restaurant customers. The Moosewood emphasizes cooking with healthy, fresh foods, organic whenever possible. Vegetarianism as a lifestyle was an original influence on the restaurant when it opened, and has continued to be a part of the focus on offering an eclectic, nutritious menu. The Moosewood menu and its cookbooks, however, have expanded to use American regional dishes and international cuisine alike. Sunday nights at Moosewood are now celebrated for their various ethnic menus, and there is an accompanying cookbook, Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant.

My new favorite cookbook is The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without, by Mollie Katzen, author of the original Moosewood Cookbook. A tall, cheerful spring-green hardcover with colorful drawings of vegetables on the cover, it immediately puts me in the mind of finding fresh veggies at the local markets and bringing them home to my kitchen to experiment. Thankfully, the dishes are simple, often using only three or four ingredients. Few, if any, of the recipes require the cook to make a special trip to Wegmans for some exotic ingredient. In keeping with the Moosewood tradition, the dishes are healthy, fresh and tasty. Reading the recipes feels like talking to a friend who loves to cook. Sure, it’s fun to watch the cooking shows on TV, but this Moosewood cookbook reads like someone who understands your busy life and your limited time and energy. For those of us who want to inject some new nutrition into our routine menus but don’t want to have to spend hours in the kitchen experimenting, The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without goes a long way to meeting our needs.

As the vegetable gardens go in and the fresh veggies start coming up, grab a Moosewood cookbook, a couple of eggplant, a bulb of anise, or some zucchini, and try something new! If reading through a cookbook now has you salivating to try one of these dishes, maybe you’ll be inspired to grow something new in your garden this year. Ask the folks at the Growers’ Markets, or Pag-Omar, or Hampson’s Farm & Garden, or Rockwell’s, or Owlett’s Sunshine Market, what they recommend. Ask the ladies at the West End CafĂ© what regionally-grown food they’re serving these days, and what dishes inspire them. In the spirit of the Moosewood Cooperative, a cookbook is not just a collection of recipes, it’s an opportunity. This is a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the dirt, the rain, the sun, your body … to have fun in the kitchen rather than routine … and to make new friends in the community.

Personalized service and conversation, or “Didya want fries with that?” Tell Hobo what you think, by sending him an email (He will definitely answer! Not just an automated response!) at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com or by contacting him via facebook (just search From My Shelf). Want to see Hobo’s earlier recipes for community sustainability and fixing good eats? Coming soon: Hobo’s cookbook, featuring recipes with chicken and catnip.

Going back through the old...

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by Kasey Cox
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Okay, so I see that I was rather lax in making certain that my Gazette columns were re-posted here at the blog. This one was "Part Two" of the article series I wrote on ereaders back in July, so I'm especially naughty for not following through and posting it then. (In my defense, I DID put it on our website, and on the now-sadly-defunct Viewshound). ANY-way, here's "FAQs about e-readers".... some of this information, however, is now a little dated, since things are changing so rapidly in this area of publishing and technology. Nevertheless, I'll post this article as I wrote it this summer, and ask you to refer to the bookstore website for updates on how to use your newest ereader gadget. (www.wellsborobookstore.com)

What is an e-reader?

An e-reader is an “electronic reader”, an electronic device designed to be easily portable and light-weight, allowing the user to download books as electronic files and to be read on the device. An e-reader for books is comparable to the MP3 player for music: the same way that many people carry their music on the Apple ipod or Android or Zune, the electronics and publishing industries have sought a way for customers to use computer technology to carry many books in a small electronic device.

What’s the difference between an e-reader, like a ‘Nook’ or a ‘Kindle’, and a laptop computer, notebook, Apple iPad, or Android phone?

There are several e-readers on the market now – with many more to come – that are dedicated solely to the purpose of downloading and reading electronic books. These e-readers include the Nook, the Kindle, the Sony e-reader, the Kobo, and a number of generic devices. These devices differ from iPads, notebooks, “regular” computers, or Android devices because they are dedicated e-readers.

When the consumer wants to add more multimedia choices – music, games, Flash support for videos, web browsing, email, messaging, and more – then the best choice is clearly not an e-reader. The confusion comes from the fact that these multi-media devices have e-reader functions, which are heavily advertised by the companies that make them. Apple would much rather you buy an iPad than a Kindle, especially since the iPad costs considerably more (although, to be fair, it offers exponentially more applications and uses), and also encourages the buyer to use more services offered through Apple.

Okay, so what’s the difference between the e-readers? Isn’t a Kindle the best one?

If you’ve never heard the term “e-reader”, or if you’d heard it but didn’t really know what it means, you can thank Amazon.com. All the money that Amazon has avoided paying in state sales taxes in all the states where it operates fulfillment warehouses to ship stuff you order from them (but that’s a separate article) – all that money is going to hard-core advertising to convince the public that “Kindle” is synonymous with “electronic book reader.” Amazon would have the public say “Kindle” for “e-reader” the same way we often say “Kleenex” for “tissue” or “Oreo” for “chocolate and cream sandwich cookies.” Caveat emptor – just because a company has the most money to put into advertising does not necessarily mean they have the best product on the market.

The Kindle is one of several dedicated e-readers available now. To be honest, as far as dedicated e-readers go, the Nook and the Kindle are the best choices on the market right now, and both offer you several choices in price, memory size, and a few other whistles and bells. It is important for consumers to be completely aware of their options, however, and Amazon would rather that the public not do any real comparing or questioning.

One reason many people decide to invest in an e-reader is the ease on aging and/or fatigued eyes. E-readers allow the reader to adjust font-size, making it unnecessary to carry reading glasses, magnifiers, or heavy large-print books. What Amazon doesn’t want you to know is this: the “Pearl” screen with “e-ink” which is so heavily touted for its readability, is now standard on all major e-readers. So, whether you're getting the 2011 Nook or the Kobo or the 2010 Sony Reader or the Kindle, you're basically getting the same exact screen.

In your last article, you said that owning a Kindle meant I could only download e-books from Amazon. But my friend owns an Android, and my sister owns an Apple iPad, and they can both buy e-books from Amazon. So, is Kindle exclusive to Amazon, or isn’t it?

If you buy a Kindle as your dedicated e-reader, the only e-books that can be downloaded on your Kindle are Kindle-formatted e-books, exclusively from Amazon. However, if you buy one of the many available e-readers or devices that allow you to read e-books, you can buy or download a “Kindle app” (application) that allows you to download books from Amazon, as well as a myriad of other places. This application is an idea which is akin to Coke allowing you to buy a can of Pepsi from a Coke machine, giving buyers a great deal of flexibility. The Androids, the Apple iPad, even your own generic laptop – all of these allow you to download the Kindle app so you can read ebooks from Amazon as well as ebooks from your library, Barnes & Noble, and your favorite independent bookstores. The Kindle does not allow you those choices.

Paper or plastic? Tell Hobo your opinions on electronic readers versus paper books, at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com. Want to scroll through Hobo’s electronic archives? Follow his blog at frommyshelf.blogspot.com, or follow him on facebook at www.facebook.com/kcbookstore. Hobo tried to take his Nook in his little hobo sack, because it was lighter than taking a bunch of books, but it got wet when he fell in the pond. Read all about it in Hobo’s book, “Hobo Finds a Home” – proudly not available on the Kindle.

Stocking up for Christmas 2011

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Ho! Ho! Ho! It’s that time of year again: we’re all dashing through the snow, trying to fit everything into the crazy December calendar. I know I’ve been making a list, then losing it twice. Here’s my annual column on great books that will fit a stocking but won’t put a big pinch on your rapidly-draining wallet.

The SAS Survival Guide by John “Lofty” Wiseman: A tiny little book measuring only 4.7 inches tall by 3.25 wide (smaller than most adult men’s palms), the cover touts that this newly-revised, second edition has “practical, easy-to-follow advice with diagrams and color illustrations.” Wiseman has taught survival training to special forces military for more than 26 years. This book, however, is not full of ninja-style tricks or James Bond gadgetry. This is wisdom of the essentials, from the perspective that any actual equipment you have with you is an added bonus. The book’s purpose is clearly stated several times: it isn’t for fun ‘survival games’ in the woods; it’s a reminder and an overview of all the things a person should keep in mind when faced with a true life-or-death, emergency situation. The book covers mental attitude, careful research and interpretation of the situation and climate in which you might find yourself, essential skills such as first aid, finding water, keeping warm, finding your way if you decide to move. That’s a lot of life and knowledge for less than $8.00. (Note to those who aren’t familiar with the “SAS” initials, the SAS is the Special Air Services, a sub-group of the British special forces, whose organization served as an example for the creation of special forces units all over the world.)

Now, on the flip side, for all of you who got depressed when I revealed that the SAS Guide didn’t include the James Bond gadgets: DK Publishing – publishing house especially known for thousands of great educational books on history and science for kids – now has a line of sturdy board books, shaped like a vehicle of some kind. The tractor and the dump truck, the fire engine and the sports car, all have real wheels that roll. A Velcro flap at the front cleverly holds the book together, but when opened, allows the reader to see many colorful drawings and a few quick words about the vehicle of their choice. Why not pop the silver convertible sports car in someone’s stocking? Without a doubt, lots of people like their car toys, not just little boys! Just think about the words to “Santa Baby”. It’s easier on the budget than the keys to a real one.

Another fun toy that’s a book comes from Klutz Press, who re-invented the idea of selling a book and an activity kit together. The one I like best for the Christmas stocking this year is the perfect shape for even the longest, thinnest stocking. Stop the Watch features a top-bound spiral book, with a stopwatch attached at the bottom. This is a great book to get you and your family moving, especially when it’s cold outside and we all feel sluggish from the last month or two of indulging in sweets and huge meals. It’s you against the stopwatch, as you take on the “Hippity Hoppity Marathon” (‘Put the watch in your kneepit and hop as long as you can until the watch falls out’) or the the “Speed Freeze” (Open the door to the fridge and find 3 things that begin with the letter ‘P’, then close the door. No slamming.) All the challenges give you a place to write your time for the first time you try it, your best time, and show you the best time they got at the Klutz Headquarters. There are more than 40 solo events and team events to try, which should only spark your imagination for hundreds of others.

This next series counts as several books, since it includes many gems, such as 101 Things I Learned in Business School and 101 Things I Learned in Culinary School (by Michael Priess and Louis Equaras, respectively). These books are the perfect gift for anyone curious about the featured profession, since they are written by well-known professionals at the top of their field (Louis Equaras, for example, is a famous chef from the Le Cordon Bleu program at California’s School of the Culinary Arts.) Each book gives a wealth of information, presenting a wide range of the trade. With the Culinary book, Equaras discusses everything from how to properly hold a knife to tidbits from the history of food to important tips on restaurant management. These books are a great addition and perhaps a much better overview than the “Dummies” or “Idiot’s” guides available on many subjects, and have the bonus of being more attractively packaged, at a better price.

Well, I’d better get back to trying to cover up the … uh, dark… no, I mean, crispy parts… of this batch of cookies with lots of frosting. I love that homemade confectionary sugar and milk icing; it covers a multitude of sins. I guess someone should buy me that Culinary School book...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Feet of Clay

Kevin Coolidge

Soft mud, warm sun -- for a moment the rabbi could forget the terror of the past…almost. His was a deeper calling. A duty to the people, the people he had sworn to teach and protect. He would mold this clay into the shape of a giant man, a golem. With the power invested by the Talmud and the study of Kabbalah, sacred and mystical rituals that delved into the nature of the eternal and creation, he would bring forth a protector to defend those who could not defend themselves. He would bring forth life.

In Jewish folklore, a golem is an artificially created human that is brought to life with magical religious ceremony. The most famous story involves Rabbi Judah of Prague who is said to have created a golem who not only worked as a servant, but also served to protect the Jewish community from being prosecuted under the rule of Rudolf the Second, the Holy Roman Emperor.

David Wisniewski tells this story in the children’s book Golem. This animated creature, however, can be a mixed blessing. Golems cannot speak and are not intelligent, but are perfectly obedient. They will perform instructions quite literally, never stopping until commanded. It is said that the emperor begged the rabbi to destroy the golem when it became violent. He promised safety from prosecution for the Jews. The rabbi deactivated the golem by rubbing out the first letter of the word emet (truth) from creature’s forehead, leaving the Hebrew word met meaning dead. The body was then stored and hidden, where it could be restored to life if needed.

The tale is said to have inspired the German poet, Goethe, and his ballad The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. One children’s book inspired by the original legend, as well Goeethe’s poem, is The Golem’s Latkes written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Aaron Jasinski. In this story, Rabbi Judah molds clay into a giant man and brings it to life by writing a magic word on the creature’s forehead.

Rabbi Judah calls his giant Golem, which means lump. He uses the creation to paint, and dig, and do other work. One winter’s day the rabbi found much to do and little time to do it. The first night of Hanukkah would soon begin, and the house must be made ready for his guests, but he had other duties and had to meet with the emperor.

He told his housemaid to prepare for the holiday. There was sweeping and dusting, and the latkes (potato pancakes traditionally served during Hanukkah) still needed to be made! There was so much to do. It was only fair that she should have help. It was only fair that Golem should help her.

“Golem, make latkes,” she said. Golem began peeling potatoes and chopping onions. Mixing them with eggs, salt, and pepper. Frying them in a huge iron pan. Peel, chop, fry. Peel, chop, fry. Soon the latkes filled the kitchen, then the house. The latkes pushed open the door and spilled into the street.

Rabbi Judah arrived home to find latkes blocking the door to his house. He climbed a crispy, golden pile and forced his way into the kitchen. There was the golem cooking by the stove. “Golem, enough!” shouted the rabbi.

“Our guests will be arriving soon. What are going to do with all these latkes?”

“What else do you do with latkes?” said the maid. “Eat them!”

Rabbi Judah invited all of Prague to his Hanukkah party. People from miles around came to join the feast that lasted eight days and nights. When Hanukkah had ended, the latkes were gone. It is said that Golem still exists. Perhaps in a dusty attic, or a forgotten cellar. Patient, quiet, waiting until he is needed once again…

Feet of clay? Or a spine of steel? Drop me an email at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Hungry for past columns? Visit http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and get your fill. Look for Hobo’s new cookbook where he slices, dices, and juliennes. Pass the ketchup and don’t pass on “Hobo Finds A Home,” a children’s book about a lost cat who found a home.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Legend of the Poinsettia

Kevin Coolidge

The Christmas tree, holly, mistletoe—each of these plants has a story intertwined with the Yuletide season. Each is an ancient tradition forever connected to Christmas, yet each plant and legend is European in origin. Only one Christmas plant tradition originates in the Americas, the poinsettia. What led this beautiful, tropic flower to its place in Christmas? The legend of the poinsettia begins in Mexico.

Many years ago, a young girl named Maria anxiously awaited the Christmas season. She lived in a small village and was very poor, but still looked forward to the festivities at the local church. It was a time of joy, and a time to honor the birth of Christ. The church would display a beautiful manger that would draw crowds from miles away, and people would bring expensive gifts and place them in the soft hay around the manger. This saddened Maria, for she had no money to buy a gift for the baby Jesus.

On Christmas Eve, Maria and her brother walked to church. She desperately wished for a gift to bring. A soft, glowing light shone from the darkness and an angel appeared. The children were afraid, but the angel comforted them, and instructed them to pick some of the weeds growing by the road. This would be their gift to the baby Jesus.

As the children placed the weeds by the manger, many of the villagers stared and laughed, and Maria was embarrassed. Suddenly, the dull, green leaves turned a beautiful shade of red and the church grew silent as they watched the green plants bloom into the brilliant crimson flowers we now call poinsettias.

This lovely Mexican flower is known by many names in Mexico: flor de la Nochebuena (flower of the holy night), flor de fuego (fire flower), or the flor de Navidad (Christmas flower). A graceful retelling of this legend is told and beautifully illustrated by Tomie dePaola in The Legend of the Poinsettia.

Joel Robert Poinsett, the first United States ambassador to Mexico, introduced poinsettias to the United States in 1825. He was an amateur botanist, and had some plants sent to his home in Greenville, South Carolina. After growing them in his own greenhouse, he began to send them to fellow horticulturists.

The poinsettia is an interesting plant. What appears to be the red flower petal is actually a petal-like leaf that turns red in response to the longer nights of November and December; the actual flower is the yellow star-like cluster at the center. This cluster is sometime said to represent the star of Bethlehem. Now, giving of the flower of the holy night has become a custom and a reminder that even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable...


Deck the hall with boughs of holly? Or with poison ivy? Drop me an email at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a column? Visit the ghosts of columns past at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com. Looking for a children’s book for that stocking? Ho Ho Hobo the cat has a book called “Hobo Finds A Home” about a cat that found a forever home.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Ghosts of Owners Past: The People of the Book

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I’m leafing through a used book, and to my wonder, a check falls out. Made payable to the Tolrevo Clinic for just over $2,000!! The name in the upper left corner identifies the check as belonging to one Sarah K. Cheever, of Baltimore, MD. I silently whistle: I bet Sarah was frantic to have misplaced that check! The date reveals that the check was written in May of 1993, so this has certainly been long-canceled, an expensive “bookmark” that Sarah evidently never found.

Why was Sarah writing such a big check to the Tolrevo Clinic? Was she sick? Had she gone over the amount her insurance would cover? Or, maybe, was she paying a bill for a loved one? Perhaps it was a donation to the Clinic for some new construction project or expensive piece of medical equipment. I wonder where Sarah is now. I briefly entertain the idea of sending her a letter, telling her I found this check so many years after she must have wondered where she lost it. Ultimately, I decide my contacting her would be too intrusive, that it may bring up bad memories of nearly two decades ago. What if Sarah – or the person whose bills she was paying – is now deceased?

I’d never found a check before, and haven’t since, but on a weekly basis, I find receipts, old lottery tickets, bookmarks from other stores, postcards, family photos, business cards, Post-It Notes, grocery lists. I always wonder about the slice of life I’m being presented. Sometimes I know to whom the book belonged; many times, I don’t. I wonder whose hands it has passed through, if they enjoyed the story, why they were reading this particular book, who bought the book and where, where the book has traveled.

In her 2008 novel, The People of the Book, Pulitzer Prize winning author Geraldine Brooks traces the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, infusing her fiction story with many of the true events that surround the history of this rare, illuminated Jewish devotional book. A haggadah gives the order of readings and rituals for the Passover Seder. The Sarajevo Haggadah is believed to have been made in Spain, in the mid-1300s, and rescued by Spanish or “Sephardic” Jews who were fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Its unusual survival across centuries of war, persecution, exile, religious and political fanaticism, the call for its destruction, and many hiding places, is only one of the attributes that makes it remarkable. The other is the detailed, colored pictures, so like the illuminated Christian Scriptures of the same era, but rarely (if ever) found in Jewish work, since such illustrations were seen by many to be idolatrous.

Brooks weaves together some fictionalized characters – such as her protagonist, the book conservator and rare book expert, Hanna Heath – with the historical characters such as the Sarajevo Museum’s chief librarian, Dervos Korkut, who stole the Haggadah right out from under the noses of the Nazis who sought to destroy it.

Of course, I find this kind of mystery especially fascinating with the provenance and journey of a book, but the same curiosity can be applied to any object – a house, a piece of furniture, a painting, a musical instrument. Author and art historian Susan Vreeland created a similar kind of story in her novel, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, which traces a recently-discovered painting back through all its owners. In addition to Vreeland’s lovely prose and the life she breathes into each historical era through which the painting passes, the question that drives the novel is whether or not the painting was created by Johannes Vermeer, or merely by a talented copycat.

Before I read Girl in Hyacinth Blue, I’d been charmed by a similar theme in the 1999 film, “The Red Violin”, which traces the story of a violin – from the 17th century of its creator, forward through all the owners, including an 18th century monastery in Vienna, a series of Gypsy Rom owners, a young noble Englishman and his Russian lover, and China during the Cultural Revolution, to present day. Like “Hyacinth Blue”, the big question surrounding the violin is whether or not it was made by Stradivarius.

Though this technique is not original, it seems to me an excellent way to build a story, tie together many interesting characters, and teach some history, geography, and art along the way.

Accordian Crimes, or Girl with a Pearl Earring? Tell Hobo the books you know that share the stories of an object and the people who touched them, via email, at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com. Looking for a past slice of life? Check the archives at Hobo’s blog, http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Write Your Own Story

Kevin Coolidge

Once upon a time? No, too clichĂ©. It was a dark and stormy night? It really wasn’t. It was the best of times; it was the worse of times. Already taken, and what does that even mean? Have you ever wanted to write your own story, but wondered where to begin? Getting started can be the hardest part, and Write Your Own Story Book by Usborne Books is a fun activity book full of writing tips, techniques, and methods. It’s just the thing to help a young aspiring writer stop procrastinating and start writing.

The first half of Write Your Own Story contains explanations and prompts for the important elements of the story process. A story is only as strong as its characters, and what better place to begin? There are basic character and setting suggestions, along with helpful activities to come up with story lines, and writing from different points of view. A great story needs a great start. Your main character might set out on a journey, find a treasure map, or run away from home, but something must happen to get the action going. In Write Your Own Story, there’s even space to write it all down.

Every story needs a beginning, a middle, and an ending. It’s your basic story arc, but a great way for a novice to think of it is a mountain. You have the Beginning where you introduce the characters and setting, the Build-up, where something happens to the character to start the action, the Problem, where something goes wrong, the Resolution, where the problem is resolved, and the End, where you threads are tied up. A character can face many problems, and your story may have several peaks. You may want to write an outline first.

The second half of Write Your Own Story has lots of tips to help plan your stories and develop writing skills. Having a great title can lead to a fantastic start. A title can be funny, mysterious, or intriguing, but it should make people curious to read your story.
Your imagination is one of your strongest tools, and there are questions to help you focus that creativity.

When it comes to writing, it’s not enough to have fun characters, an action-packed plot, or an exotic setting. The words you use to describe them make a big difference. Think of interesting adjectives and verbs. Whenever you see a word you don’t understand, look it up in a dictionary and use it in your writing.

Writing is the best way to improve your writing. You could keep a diary, or keep a notebook with you so you can write an idea when it comes to you. Talk to people you have never talked to before, write about something you are passionate about, read a lot, and write about the book you read. Ask people to read your stories, and tell you what they think of them—the good and the bad. Most importantly, you must write.

Great writers aren’t born with a pen in their hand. You must decide to put ink to paper. Writing stories, like any skill, is something you get better at the more you do it. So grab some pencils, an eraser, dictionaries (or maybe a thesaurus), and scrap paper to scribble and plan your stories. Fire up your brain, percolate some ideas, and most importantly, engage your imagination. Keep on reading. Keep on writing…

To write? Or to read? Why not both? Comment and let me know! If you want to be the hero of your own story, sometimes you have to write it. My cat did just that, check out his children’s book “Hobo Finds A Home”

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Dogs of War

"Cry, 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war.” Julius Caesar", Act III, scene i.


His ears twitched. One of the soldiers whispered, “Geronimo.” He’d heard that word before, during the intensive training sessions of the last few weeks. Unlike other military dogs trained to sniff out drugs or explosives, he was a specialized search dog known as a combat tracker, who could sniff out a piece of clothing and then find the person it belonged to, even if the scent was several days old.

The humans grew quiet. Cairo sat at attention trying to decipher the emotions of his comrades. His handler placed his hands around his K9 Storm Intruder vest, a canine bulletproof flak jacket, and shook. Nothing loose, no sound to alert the inhabitants of the compound. Cairo and the members of Navy SEAL Team 6 were ready…

You’ve probably heard about Cairo, the Belgian Shepherd. He’s a member of the elite task force that stormed the hiding place of Osama bin Laden. Military working dogs have been part of the American armed forces since the 1830s, being used to track Native Americans and runaway slaves during the Seminole Wars.

So what exactly do these canines do, and how do they learn to sniff out bombs and bad guys? Are they all trained to do what Cairo did? The Dogs of War, written by Lisa Rogak, answers these questions and many more. She writes about the contributions and achievements of the military working dog around the world, and how Cairo is just one example of the thousands of loyal and highly trained dogs that protect our armed forces throughout the world.

You’ll learn how the military acquires the dogs that enter the various training programs, and the different kinds of jobs that canines perform in the military. Lisa also delves into the long and heroic history of dogs serving on the battlefield. In fact, it’s believed that the Egyptians used them in battle as early as 4000 B.C. In ancient Rome, there are references to armor-clad canines, and in the Middle Ages, soldiers trained dogs to carry fire on their backs, run into enemy camps, and shake off the fire.

You’ll read about the military veterinarians who have treated them since World War Two—America’s canine troops first served in great numbers during that conflict—both under the harsh conditions of the front lines, and in the latest high-tech facilities rivaling human soldiers.

There are funny and heartwarming stories too. There’s the tale of Rex, a Vietnam-era dog that was to be euthanized, because he had recently lost thirteen pounds and could no longer bite, an important part of a sentry dog’s job description. The diagnosis was kidney failure, but his handler thought he had lost so much weight because his teeth were hurting.

His roommate was an Air Force dentist, and he found two fractured canines inside Rex’s mouth. The dentist started a covert operation, as the orders were to put the dog to sleep. He performed two root canals, and procured two troy ounces of gold for the crowns by using Rex’s actual service number. Shortly after, Rex returned to duty, which was the only thing that kept the dentist out of Leavenworth, for going against direct orders.

Scattered throughout the book are the stories of special dogs and handlers who have gone beyond the call of duty—such as Robert Hartsock and Duke. Hartsock holds the distinction of being the only dog handler in U.S. military history to be awarded the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of his fellow soldiers, both human and canine.

The Dogs of War offers a glimpse into the lives that these special dogs lead, from pup to retirement. There’s even an index with organizations and associations that help retired military working dogs find good homes. You'll see that Cairo, while highly trained, was only one of many. One dog in an incredible program that includes thousands of loyal, brave four-legged soldiers…

This column is dedicated to all veterans. Those brave souls who have served with courage, love and loyalty. You may be gone, but never forgotten.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ghost Hunting for Beginners

Kevin Coolidge

It’s dark and it’s late. The soft glow from my camcorder gives me little comfort. I’ve been here for hours. I should call it a night, but I might not get another chance. The owner is hesitant for me to find evidence of a haunting. He doesn’t believe that anyone would pay good money to stay in a bed and breakfast that is haunted. He hasn’t experienced the terrifying and life-changing event that can come after contact with the spirit realm.

Professional ghost hunter Rich Newman knows the thrill of brushing up against the unknown, and with a little research, reading, and patience, you can too. In his book, Ghost Hunting for Beginners, he shares proven scientific methods, low-tech approaches, and the latest technology used by the professionals.

What are ghosts? Every culture, every religion, every country has these spectral entities. Are these once-living human beings lingering upon the earth, or are they just memories recorded upon the fabric of space and time that some can see and others cannot? Whatever they may be, a basic tenant of ghost hunting is that we don’t need to fear ghosts, and that we can scientifically research them.

You’ll learn what ghosts are, why hauntings occur, the different types of supernatural phenomena, and the importance of conducting responsible investigations. The book is interspersed with true accounts of historic cases—such as the Bell Witch poltergeist. There are also helpful hints, tips, and the seasoned insights that come with over a decade of fieldwork.

The lone individual can become a ghost hunter, but it is much more effective and fun when investigations are worked as a team. Deciding whom to take along on your ghostly adventures might be one of the most important decisions. Trust is implicit. If a team member tells of a full-bodied apparition appearing, there should be no doubt that it is true.

I opt to keep my team small. There’s less chance to contaminate the audio/video footage, and I can keep track of everyone. I have one male and one female, because certain entities have an easier time responding to a certain gender, and it’s crucial to be able to try different approaches.

If you wish to create a larger network, there’s information on the various types of paranormal groups, as well as advice for interacting with ghosts, how to gather and examine evidence, and how to document your investigation. Newman’s book also gives good advice as what NOT to do when seeking spirits.

Rich Newman has been investigating the paranormal for more than ten years and is the founder of Paranormal Inc. Paranormal Inc. is a group that investigates all aspects of the paranormal, specializing in fact-based (not faith-based or psi-based) techniques. Paranormal Inc. does not charge for investigations and always shares the findings with their clients. They may be contacted via email at info@paranormalincorporated.com

I check my watch, and scan the darkness. The owner hopes the report comes back negative, but a true paranormal researcher is always a little skeptical. That rattle? Just the icemaker in the kitchen. The soft ticking? The sound the heater makes, before it kicks on. A smell of lilac drifting through the air? I have no idea. It wasn’t there a minute ago. The team never wears scents to an investigation. There, in the back corner! Is that a woman in a hoop skirt? Swiftly I bring up the camera, but the display is dark. Damn batteries…

Normal? Or Paranormal? Email me and let me know. Miss a past column? Check out past columns at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Want a book with no ghosts or goblins, just a friendly cat? Then get “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s book about a cat who wanted more than just a life on the farm.

Gas Drilling & the Fracking of a Marriage

During the last year or so, all you had to do was mention “gas drilling” or “fracking” to anyone in the Potter, Bradford, or Tioga County region of Pennsylvania, and you’d be sure to get an earful. Everyone in the area has experiences, opinions, ideas, and concerns about the fact that we live smack-dab in the middle of the Marcellus Shale. “Marcellus Shale” refers to the geological formation from which energy companies are aggressively seeking to extract natural gas. The formation extends from the Catskills in New York, south and west through Pennsylvania, into West Virginia and Ohio.

What makes Stephanie Hamel’s experiences with gas drilling any different from yours or mine? In many ways, nothing – except she decided to take hers public. Hamel’s book, Gas Drilling and the Fracking of a Marriage, is a gift to all of us. In honest, thoughtful, bittersweet reflections, Stephanie shares the struggle she and her family went through, from September 2008, when they were offered a gas lease on their family land, until the book went to press in spring of 2011.

In many ways, Stephanie Hamel’s situation is no different from the story of most people living in the Marcellus Shale region. Stephanie is a wife who is concerned about the current threat to her husband’s job, a mother of two young boys, a landowner who would like to be able to put more money into her dreams for the land. Hamel, however, also has the training that gives her a special perspective on the environmental concerns at play here. Stephanie – that is, Dr. Hamel – earned her B.S. in Chemistry from Grove City College; her M.S. in Chemistry from Lehigh University; and a Joint Ph.D. in “Exposure Assessment” from Rutgers University and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. She has also done post-graduate research in the Department of Plant Sciences at Rutgers. She is a chemist who loves soil, the land, and people. She has studied extensively about the chemicals we use and the effects they have on our bodies.

Though Hamel’s background as a scientist and a researcher give her a distinctly more academic approach to looking at a problem, she nevertheless decided to write this book from a very personal viewpoint.

As Stephanie explains in her “Notes and Disclaimers” at the beginning of her book, “This is a true story, written first in diary form and in notes taken during telephone conversations… [it] reflects a developing knowledge of the natural gas industry and the legalities associated with land ownership and gas leasing.”

The story opens with Stephanie’s email to her friend, Frank, a colleague from Rutgers who works with the DEP in New Jersey, whose background is hydrogeology. Despite distractions from busy little boys, loads of laundry, this first email outlines the Hamel family’s situation in September 2008 quite succinctly:

“… Two weeks ago, Tom and I were offered $2,500 an acre to lease our natural gas rights up in Wellsboro. The whole of northern PA is singing the Hallelujah Chorus because there is gas under our land, and it is now economically feasible to drill. There is a well within 0.50 miles of my property and I listened to the drilling during my quiet, reflective time – HA! – this summer; there are two more wells within a two mile radius.

"Everyone in the area is seeing dollar signs and is signing up as fast as the lease agreement arrives on the doorstep. Tom Hamel has the unfortunate luck of being married to the only one who regards this windfall as a curse. Frank, it is very easy for me to criticize unrestrained fossil fuel consumption, but it is much more challenging to put my money where my mouth is when a large sum of money is at stake….”


One thing I love about Stephanie is that she doesn’t shirk from discussing the hard truths of our own inherent contradictions, when we strive to be both stewards and consumers; activists with principles, yet humans with wants and needs. Stephanie has both a wry sense of humor and a critical eye on her own hypocrisy. One of my favorite scenes showing Stephanie’s humor is her example of the gas grill she proudly rescued from the landfill. For a few dollars, she fixed the bad burner, pleased to reduce, reuse, recycle – that is, until she walked out on her back porch after writing, and recognized with shock what powered that grill.

Hamel writes with clarity and acute self-awareness about the acronym that all people working in the environmental field learn – NIMBY, “Not In My Backyard”. We all understand the need for finding more energy, having a landfill, building a new highway: we just want it to happen somewhere else.

As the book unfolds, there are times that you, the reader, may be as frustrated with Stephanie’s analyzing as her husband is; where you may be as confused by Stephanie’s circuitous thoughts as Stephanie herself is. There are certainly times when you may want to shout, “Just get on with it! Decide!” You may be tempted to skip to the end to find out what the Hamels ultimately decided. Don’t do it. Life is not lived that way. Hard decisions are made the way Stephanie writes about this. Experience this journey with her, even if you have already experienced it in your own home, on your own land. If you have already struggled with this, you’ll find validation. If you haven’t, you’ll find sympathy and a better understanding for your neighbors who are dealing with.

Let other books about gas drilling be for angry recriminations, for stirring up self-righteousness on one side of the fence or the other, for black-or-white answers. Stephanie’s book is about the struggle to do what is right for oneself, for one’s family, for one’s land, for the community… the earth … the environment … and what to do when those loyalties are at loggerheads. What I love most about Stephanie’s tone is her honesty, her rueful look at her own foibles and contradictions, which definitely hold up a mirror to show us our own. Ultimately, this is not an easy issue, and Stephanie’s book honors that.

Monday, October 24, 2011

2012, A Leap of Faith?

Kevin Coolidge

Where did the summer go? Already skeletal limbs scratch at the sky, proclaiming that Halloween is lurking in the shadows, and that means somewhere a fat, jolly dwarf is planning a felony, and will once again attempt to violate my chimney. Then it’s time for too much champagne, too many regrets, and too many of those damn little sausages on a toothpick, and then I get to wake up with a hangover, a bad taste in my mouth, and a fresh start in a New Year. My very last year. Don’t laugh. It’s your last year too…

Yep, in case you didn’t know, 2012 is it, the end, fini, kaputz, the final curtain call. The fat lady isn’t just singing. She’s whistling Dixie, and she’s got a mouthful of crackers. It’s all over folks. It’s an election year, but I’m not talking politics here. The universe is completely bipartisan, or maybe not. Doesn’t matter. It’s the end of the Mayan calendar, and according to the doomsayers, we all have first class tickets off this mortal coil. I’m packing light, because I hate trying to cram my baggage into those overhead bins, but I will be sure to bring along some good books, and my favorite almanac.

Take a deep breath and relax, because according to Baer’s 2012 Almanac, on December 21st, there will be light snow from Pennsylvania and New York to Maine, then fair and very cold. I think I can live with that. After all, it will be December. So, just what is an almanac?

An almanac is an annual publication that includes a calendar with long-range weather forecasts, astronomical information, home and garden advice, trivia, and articles on topics ranging from home remedies to history. You may already be familiar The Farmer’s Almanac.

These useful agricultural almanacs started publishing about two hundred years ago. At that time, printed material was scarce. Most farms possessed only two books—a Bible and a farmer’s almanac. A farmer’s almanac would tell him the best time to plant, when to expect the first frost, and if he planned to take a day off from farming, he could find out the best day to drown worms, and throw a hook in the water. Why, there would even be some great recipes for his wife.

I prefer Baer’s Almanac, because it’s calculated for the Meridian of Pennsylvania and the adjoining states, and it’s published right here in Pennsylvania – published in Lancaster by John Baer’s Sons. It contains the standard charts, weather predictions, anecdotes, and “things worth knowing”, as well as at least one feature article and small informational tidbits scattered through the pages.

John Baer founded the company in 1817. He was an early publisher of Mennonite writings, and printed his first almanac in 1825. In 1831, he added an edition printed in German called Neuer Gemeinnutziger Pennsylvanischer Calender. His almanac is among America’s oldest, but that distinction belongs to The Old Farmer’s Almanac founded in 1792.

Baer’s Almanac has not only survived, but thrives in our modern age thanks to its purchase in 1948 by Gerard Lestz, a Lancaster newspaperman and lover of all things Lancaster. He saved it when it was near extinction and today has a circulation of close to 10,000 copies annually, and is sold as far away as California. Its loyal readers love the lack of advertising as well as the abundance of good reading material.

Today, his daughter Linda continues the publication and she fills the pages with information both interesting and useful. So if want to know how to make a rhubarb sorbet, or you don’t know the origin of the “Ides of March”, you will want pick yourself up a copy. Still worried about the end of days? The great news is that 2012 is a leap year. So, you’ll have an extra day to get caught up on your reading…

End of days? Or days without end? Drop me an email at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? You can check the chart on our blog at http//frommyshelf.blogspot.com. Our cat Hobo was a farm cat, but he left the farm and the scratchy hay. You can read all about his adventures in “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s book about a cat who wanted more…

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fireside Tales

Kevin Coolidge

It’s been a long day, and now it’s a dreary night. Icy pellets rattle against the window, and the damp cold seeps into my body. A good warm fire and a snort of brandy is just the thing I need to ease into my evening and soothe my wearied bones, and nothing goes better with a crackling fire than a good smoke, and a yarn. Just let me get this pipe lit, and I’ll tell you about that night in Panther Hollow…

Pennsylvania Fireside Tales by Jeffrey R. Frazier is filled with legends and folktales of the good old days. The mountains of Pennsylvania have always called to him, or maybe it’s the stories that come out of the dark hollows and remote valleys, and their connection to the past. Regardless, he has found the work of collecting the tales a “labor of love” from the very beginning.

There have been attempts to preserve these stories before, but many of these attempts were limited to specific regions of the state. A fine example of this is Flatlanders and Ridgerunners by James York Glimm, which contains folklore and traditions from Northern Pennsylvania, especially Tioga County. Many tales were saved from extinction through these various efforts, but many others have gone unrecorded and have been lost.

Jeffrey’s endeavors have taken him from Tioga County’s “Grand Canyon” and the Black Forest in Potter County in the north, to the battlefields of Gettysburg and the mountains of Adams County in the south. To the coal regions of Carbon and Schuylkill Counties, and the farms of Pennsylvania Dutch country, as well as the mighty Allegheny Mountains of Blair, Huntingdon, and Indiana.

That’s a lot of territory to cover and a lot of people to talk to--coal miners, lumbermen, hunters, trappers, farmers, railroad men, Native Americans, dowsers, herbalists and even few reputed witches. All have been asked to share their stories.

As you can imagine this has lead to a wide variety of tales. You’ll read of the Indian wars and the Indians in Pennsylvania – including a deadly summer in 1778 when clashes between American Indians and frontiersmen were common, and escaping the scalping knife wasn’t. There are stories of the supernatural with haunted houses, ghosts, and witches, as well as early hunters’ narratives of encounters with wolves, mountain lions, elk, and other “big game” animals. There are also accounts of lost treasure, moonshiners, and huge snakes.

Some of these stories found in Pennsylvania Fireside Tales sound “far-fetched”, but that’s only because they have been embellished and romanticized as they've been told and retold over the years. None have been concocted by Frazier, as was the case with Henry W. Shoemaker, an early collector and writer know for fabrications which he presented as authentic folk stories. The tales are recorded in the same basic outlines in which they were presented to him.

Frazier does, however, go the additional step of trying to uncover any historical truths behind the tales, and this can make it more interesting for those of us who like to solve a good mystery. He’s also added historical footnotes to specific stories. So, you can decide for yourself if these stories are a part of our history, or just a good yarn to pass a cold winter’s night.

It’s time to throw another log on the fire, and enjoy one more tale before I retire for the evening. Stories are a part of our tradition here in the mountains of Pennsylvania, and Jeffrey has been helping preserve them for over forty years. The mountains are calling. Are you ready to listen???

A good yarn, a good snort, or both? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? You can catch yourself up at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com. Looking for a tale fit for a child? “Hobo Finds A Home” is about a cat, right here in Tioga County, who wanted more than a life on the farm. A portion of the royalties goes to Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries, in our neck of the woods.

Friday, October 7, 2011

…And the Home of the Brave…

Kevin Coolidge

“Minutes drag on like months; seconds are slivers of forever. I’ve waited so long for this book. Why do new books release on Tuesday? Why not Saturday? Or better yet Friday? I’d have the whole weekend to walk through the familiar stone halls of Mahanagh. I can’t wait any longer. I just knew there would be another exciting tale of Apathea Ravenchilde. I’ve had my name on the waiting list since number seven came out…”

It’s not easy being a bookworm. It’s harder when your best friend gets sent to military school, and now you have to face freshman year of high school alone. Neal Barton wants to be left alone so he can enjoy the latest book in his favorite fantasy series, but local activists are trying to get the town library to ban his favorite series: “The Adventures of Apathea Ravenchilde”.

In Americus, written by MK Reed and illustrated by Jonathan Hill, we find Neal struggling to establish his identity and sense of self. He’s learning to interact with girls, stand up for himself, and to do the right thing. He doesn’t want to fight for his favorite book, but sometimes it’s more important to express yourself. Sometimes it’s more than just a book….

Libraries do battle over controversial books. Sometimes, people want to ban a book based on their personal and religious beliefs. Sometimes a book simply offends them. A public library strives to provide equal access to all people of the community, and those needs are both public and private. Banned Book Week is an annual awareness campaign that celebrates the freedom to read and draws attention to banned and challenged books.

Banned Books Week was started in 1982, and is held every year during the last week of September. The freedom to access information and express ideas, even those considered unorthodox or unpopular, is the foundation for Banned Books Week. This campaign stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of viewpoints so individuals can develop their own opinions and conclusions.

Books featured during Banned Books Week have either been targets, or have actually been banned or restricted, but thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community, most of these books have been retained in library collections. Some may argue that these books were never completely censored, and would still be available for purchase in bookstores if removed from the library.

It is, however, a core belief of librarians to provide the public access to materials, to defend a person’s right to read as they choose. Imagine how many more books might be challenged if we did not practice our First Amendment rights, and the power of words by observing and participating in Banned Books Week, which draws attention to the dangers that exist when restraints are imposed on information in a free society. This September 24 to October 1st, visit your local library, choose a good book, and remember just how important a book and a library can be to the overall community.

Ban, burn, or borrow? Drop me an email at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com. Miss a past column. Did your Mom stop you? You can sneak a peek at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com. We won’t tell…promise. Read the book that would be banned by those crazy canines. Well, if they could read. Grab “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s story about a cat who found a friend, a home, and his very own bookshelf…

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Lucky Cat

Kevin Coolidge

You’re either a cat person, or a dog person. Me? I grew up with dogs, big dogs. Dogs so rough and wild and strong, that I’d have to pick my arm off the ground, and screw it back into the socket if a squirrel crossed our path. As you might imagine, I didn’t have a cat. Not that there’s anything wrong with cats – often I’d see scruffy toms scampering ‘round my grandparents’ farm. Good for catching mice, if they didn’t get tromped on by a clumsy cow. Yep, guess you could call me a dog person.

One day, I saw a little kitten hunting in the field. He was scrawny and wet and hungry, and running low on luck. I hate to see any animal go hungry, so I opened a can of tuna and set it out. Well, for some reason that cat just seemed to keep hanging around, so I bought some cheap cat food.

Being it was the country, there were skunks and possums and the occasional raccoon that would pilfer the food, so that tiny kitten would have to be brought inside. Just for a little while, you know. Just long enough that I would make sure he got something in his belly. Well, before I knew it, summer turned to fall, and winter was knocking on the door. To make the story short, that cat sure was a lucky cat…

Hobo, my lucky cat, wasn’t the first lucky cat. There’s a Japanese folktale about Maneki Neko, the beckoning cat. You may have seen a cat figurine with an upraised paw in your favorite Japanese restaurant or shop. Such a sculpture is believed to bring good luck to the owner.
Why is this cat waving at you? To Westerners it may appear that Maneki Neko is waving, but he’s really beckoning. Japanese beckon by holding up the hand, palm out, and repeatedly folding the fingers down and back up. So, why is this cat beckoning you?

Long ago in Japan, a cat set out in search of food and shelter. After a difficult journey, the cat came upon a dilapidated temple. The monk of the modest temple had little to share, but he was a kind man, and welcomed the shivering cat in. That cat, then, was a lucky cat.

One afternoon, a spring thunderstorm raged across the countryside. Through the pouring rain, a weary samurai approached the sagging temple. When he saw how poor and pitiable the temple was, he instead chose to seek shelter beneath a cherry tree. The wealthy man saw the lucky cat beckoning to him, and with a smile of amusement, he took a few steps towards the temple gate. CRACK! Lightning struck, and a large tree limb landed just where the lord had been standing only a moment before.

The grateful man thanked the monk and the cat by restoring the temple and helping it become prosperous. He then became a lifelong friend of both cat and man, and when the cat died, a wooden statue, the first Maneki Neko, was created in his honor.

There are several children books that tell the Japanese legend. My favorite is I Am Tama, Lucky Cat written by Wendy Henrichs and illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi. It’s a beautiful hardcover children’s book with breathtaking watercolor illustrations that offers readers a glimpse into Japanese culture while retelling a poignant tale appropriate for children. I’ve always been curious about those little white, orange and black statues. Yep, guess you could call me a cat person…

Lucky Cat? Or Lucky Dog? Comment and let me know.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 2011: Calendar of Events!

THURS. Sept. 8: Writers’ Group, 6:30 to 8:30pm

Free & open to the public. For the 1st half, we’ll do a spontaneous “free-write,” based on one of two writing prompts given at the meeting. For the second half of the meeting, writers are invited to bring up to three pages of a current work-in-progress to share. Most likely, we’ll break up into smaller groups for encouragement and constructive critique.

FRI. Sept. 9: Game Night, 6 to 9pm free & open to the public

SAT. Sept. 10: AUTHOR EVENT: 12 to 3pm
the Austin Dam disaster
Authors: Gale Largey, “The Austin Dam Disaster, 1911
as reported in the media, before radio, television, the Internet...”
Paul Heimel, “1911: The Austin Flood”

SUN. Sept. 11: CLOSED

FRI. Sept. 16: Game Night, 6 to 9pm free & open to the public

SAT. Sept. 17: KLUTZ Craft & Activity Night, 6 to 8pm!!
Join us for a night of good, old-fashioned, non-electronic fun!
Children under age 10 need to be accompanied by an older sibling or by an adult.
Adults do not need to be accompanied by children!!

PURCHASE OF ONE KLUTZ KIT REQUIRED: member discounts gladly applied.

Shrinky Dinks, Jacks, Body Crayons, Clothespin Cars, Paper Stained Glass, Marbles, Rubber Band-Powered Flying Machines, Coin Tricks, Design 'Em Yourself Stickers … and many more choices! Since each kit usually contains enough supplies to do more than one project, or is a game to share with people, we expect there to be many opportunities to swap and share!

SUN. Sept. 18: CLOSED

FRI. Sept. 23: Game Night, 6 to 9pm, free & open to the public
if you have extra folding chairs, please bring one!

TUES. Sept. 27: Book Club, 7 to 9pm
Discussing Stef Penney’s novel, “The Tenderness of Wolves”
You need not be a “regular” member; anyone who has read the book for
the month’s discussion is welcome to attend! Please join us!

SAT. Oct. 1: Author Event with Carolyn Turgeon!
12 to 3pm, light refreshments served
Carolyn is the author of the novel “Rain Village”,
as well as two ‘fractured fairy tales’:
“Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale” and
“Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story”



Normal hours: Monday – Thursday, 9am to 6pm
Friday, 9am to 9pm
Saturday, 9am to 6pm
Open some Sundays, 11am to 3pm, check calendar of events or call

From My Shelf bookstore … your hometown bookstore …
Building community, with you, one book at a time, one event at a time

www.wellsborobookstore.com
on facebook: under “Kasey Cox” or From My Shelf
(570) 724-5793

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

DUST & DECAY

Kevin Coolidge

I wake to darkness, open my eyes, and smell…nothing. I must be the first one up. Usually, if my rumbling stomach doesn’t wake me up, my nose teases me awake with the mouth-watering aroma of bacon and eggs wafting up from the kitchen. Grandpa is the best cook. I quickly pull on my jeans, toss on a shirt, unlock my door and rush down the steps. I have never beaten the old man, and today is the day! He’s in his favorite chair still asleep with a dog-eared copy of the Bible in his lap.

“Hey, lazy bones, let’s make breakfast!”

I hear his low answering moan from across the room. His head jerks up; his eyes flutter open--cold and empty--dentures clacking together. Grandpa is gone. No trace of humanity remains--just a creature driven by a need for human flesh. I must quiet him. I will give him peace. I draw my belt knife. I’m gonna have to make this quick…

In Dust & Decay, the follow-up to Rot & Ruin, author Jonathan Maberry remembers that zombies were people too. It’s just a sad fact that after “First Night”, everyone who dies comes back as a zombie. It’s been almost sixteen years since that fatal night. The night that civilization died, and the dead reanimated. We don’t know why. We don’t know how. We just know that the world we knew is gone. Mankind lives inside isolated communities behind fences with the great “Rot & Ruin” lurking outside.

In Rot & Ruin, Benny, the male protagonist, comes of age, and must pick a career. He finally chooses to apprentice with his half-brother as a zombie bounty hunter. He can’t wait to get outside and kill some “zoms”, but he learns more than just survival in the wasteland. He learns about himself, his past, and what it is his brother really does. He also quickly learns that flesh-eating zombies aren’t the most dangerous animals around.

In his young adult novels, Jonathan doesn’t skip on the brains, gore, or the action, but there’s also a lot of heart. There’s a strong focus on the complex relationship between Benny and his brother, Tom. The actions of another cruel bounty hunter drive the plot, and Benny learns more than he ever thought possible about life and death.

Seven months after the end of Rot & Ruin, we find Benny, his friends, and his brother in Dust & Decay. The “Rot & Ruin” may lie outside the secure fences of Mountainside, but what is beyond that? It’s time to leave their home forever and search for a better future. It sounds easy.

But everything goes wrong: they are pursued by the living dead, escaped zoo animals, and deranged murderers. The teens must apply all their training if they wish to stay alive, and what’s worse is that there is evidence that a former foe is still alive, angry, and evil as ever. In the great “Rot & Ruin,” everything wants to kill you, and not everyone is going to come out alive…

In Dust & Decay, we see further character development of Benny and Tom, as well as the romantic relationship with his girlfriend Nix. I found the excerpts from Nix’s diary a great addition to the story, giving the reader more background about other bounty hunters, Nix’s thoughts and feelings. This diary shows us more information about their world, as well as providing thought-provoking questions for the reader—can zombies feel pain? Why don’t they attack each other?

Benny begins to mature and build upon the lessons learned in the “Rot & Ruin”, and grow into a man who is strong, but different from his brother. This series is sure to be satisfying for anyone who enjoyed The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, or World War Z by Max Brooks. This is not just a book that I can enthusiastically recommend to lovers of the zombie or dystopian novel, but to anyone who loves a good coming of age story with heart, brains, and a little intestine…

The Rot? Or the Ruin? Drop me an email at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Taking a dirt nap and miss a past column? See them all at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Looking for a children’s book with heart? “Hobo find a Home” is a children’s book about a cat who found a home and a friend. Be sure to catch Hobo’s next exciting adventure, “Hobo and the Carnivorous Ponies”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Don't Swear in the Bookstore: A Discussion of E-readers, Part One


By Kasey Cox


A friend of mine who lives just outside Denver recently visited her nearby Borders bookstore, just after the July 18th announcement of Borders’ liquidation. She emailed me a poignant photo – not of mobs of people looking for rock-bottom prices, nor of employees packing up, but of a sign on the bathroom door. The sign read: NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS. TRY AMAZON.COM.

When we co-host our regular game nights at the bookstore, facilitator Julian Stam keeps the atmosphere family-friendly by asking that participants use G-rated language. In a spirit of fun, those who forget their tongues must do five push-ups for every infraction. Over the last year, as more bookstore visitors have mentioned their Kindles, we have considered instituting a similar policy as the no-swearing-at-game-night. When we hear potential customers say, “I bought that book for my Kindle,” we often reply – only half in jest – “please, don’t swear in the bookstore.”

People assume, then, that we as independent bookstore owners, are automatically and vehemently, against any form of e-reader. Certainly, there are reasons that bookstore owners may dislike the new electronic readers, or feel concerned about their effect on the publishing industry. Nevertheless, if you ask many people who make their living selling books what they think of the new trend of electronic books, you may be surprised at the answers you’d hear.

The American Booksellers’ Association (the “ABA”) is a national group, linking member independent bookstores for cooperative advocacy and education, so that these bookstores might continue to better serve their communities and foster the love of reading and books. Seeing the increased consumer demand for adding electronic books, or “e-books”, to the repertoire of ways to enjoy books, the ABA partnered with Google e-books to allow independent bookstores to sell e-books on member stores’ individual websites. In an article announcing this partnership launch in December of 2010, the ABA explained how “a Google eBook is a new form of cloud-based digital book that allows readers to access their libraries on almost any device from one single repository, regardless of where the e-book was purchased. ABA has partnered with Google because of its open and accessible platform, which allows ABA member bookstores to provide an easy way for their customers to discover, read, and buy e-books at competitive prices.”

Sam Droke-Dickinson, at Aaron’s Books, in Lititz, PA, explained it well in a recent newsletter to their customers. “[Independent bookstores have partnered with] Google eBooks [because they] can be viewed in any Web browser, through Google reading apps for multi-function devices, and most dedicated e-book devices, such as the Sony Reader and the Nook (but not the Kindle). The Kindle is a proprietary device made by Amazon. The only e-books that can be read on a Kindle are Kindle format books. Only Amazon sells Kindle format books, and [if you buy a Kindle] you will be restricted to buying your e-books for your Kindle e-reader ONLY from Amazon. As your local, independent bookstore, we would love to help you find the reading selections you'll enjoy most in any format — including e-books!” Google eBooks, as well as any other e-reading application or device, allows you more flexibility in your choices.

This article, then, is part one of a three-part series we’ll publish to help clarify this exciting, complicated, and confusing time of a huge leap forward in technology as a part of the publishing world. Certainly, as owners of an independent bookstore, we have biases. I’ll be as clear as possible about those biases and our reasoning for them, beyond the obvious reason of wanting to preserve our business model. In my next article, I’ll address frequently asked questions about the differences between e-readers and other electronic devices; the differences between the variety of e-readers available; and the pros and cons of electronic books. Our hope is that you’ll follow this series of articles, share the information with your friends and family, and join in a discussion of the many changes and options available to us as e-readers and e-books join the repertoire of ways to enjoy reading.

Paper or plastic? Tell Hobo your opinions on electronic readers versus paper books, at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com. Want to scroll through Hobo’s electronic archives? Follow his blog at frommyshelf.blogspot.com, or follow him on facebook at www.facebook.com/kcbookstore. Hobo tried to take his Nook in his little hobo sack, because it was lighter than taking a bunch of books, but it got wet when he fell in the pond. Read all about it in Hobo’s book, “Hobo Finds a Home” – proudly not available on the Kindle.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pennsylvania Disasters

Kevin Coolidge

Where were you the morning of September 11, 2001? I was at work when I received the first vague news report of a plane crash in New York City. Along with the world, I learned of the nightmare unfolding at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Horrified, I couldn’t stop watching. Meanwhile, an unknown life and death struggle was taking place in the skies over western Pennsylvania. A fourth hijacked plane had reversed course and was believed to be heading to Washington D.C. The passengers of United Flight 93 decided take action against the four terrorists who had commandeered their plane.

The heroic decision to fight back came with a cost. Flight 93 plowed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, just short of a school filled with nearly 500 students. At the time, my cousin was attending school in Pittsburgh. I received a call from my aunt. She was frantic with worry. There wasn’t enough information; New York City was far away, but her little girl was close, too close to this calamity. The events of 911 touched my life. It is now a part of me.

Nevertheless, I am fascinated by disasters. Acts of nature; acts of men…these tragic events touch our lives and scar our hearts. It becomes part of who we are. It becomes our history. One journalist that understands this is Karen Ivory. She’s the author of Pennsylvania Disasters. She takes us back to some of Pennsylvania’s most catastrophic events, vividly recreating moments that changed the Keystone State forever. There are twenty-two true stories arranged chronologically from The Yellow Fever Epidemic in 1793 to the Quecreek Mine Rescue in 2002. There’s an account of Three Mile Island—the most serious accident to take place at an American commercial nuclear power plant, and there’s information on the Johnstown flood that killed more than 2,000 people. Shanksville and Flight 93 are there, too, along with other stories that are a chilling reminder to expect the unexpected.

Disaster touches us all. It was a childhood experience of seeing a broken dam that first interested a young boy in the Austin Disaster of 1911. The fifty-foot-high Austin dam was built in 1910 to provide water for the Bayless Pulp and Paper Mill. Bayless often ignored the recommendations of the civil engineer he hired, and opted for cheaper methods of construction. The results were tragic. When it was over, seventy-eight people were dead, hundreds injured, and much of the town destroyed. That young boy was Gale Largey and he grew up to write a book called The Austin Disaster, 1911: as reported in the media before Radio, Television, the Internet…

Today there is instant communication. We learned of the downed helicopter in Afghanistan minutes after it happens, even though it is a war zone. But in 1911 there was no satellite network. News could take days to reach international papers. Gayle’s book focuses on what was reported about the disaster.

Many of the accounts of the Austin disaster reflect what is known as yellow journalism. Yellow journalism is journalism that exploits, distorts, or exaggerates the news to create sensations and attract readers. For some readers what happened in Austin was described as a “fiery holocaust” in which hundred were engulfed in flames, while readers of the San Francisco Chronicle were first told “…850 Drowned, 1000 Maimed,” then on the following day “…300 Perished, then “…150,”, but never the official figure of seventy-eight. Gale’s book is the result of twenty years of research, and to a large extent a continuation of his work done for his documentary he directed and produced in 1997.

Another book recently published about the Austin catastrophe is 1911 The Austin Flood by Paul W. Heimel. His book examines why the dam broke, who’s really to blame, and ultimately what lessons can be learned about this tragedy. Could it have been prevented? Did indifference and greed cause unnecessary deaths? Paul’s book comes with a list of those who died and poignant first-hand accounts of more than three dozen people who witnessed the flood and lived to tell about it. Paul’s great-grandfather was among the constables dispatched to Austin to assist in the rescue and recovery, and keep order in the stricken community.

Human tragedy…it touches us all—throwing us together, tearing us apart. Disaster may be in our DNA, but history and humanity endures…


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Still Klutzy After All These Years

Read the Printed Word!



Grandpa, what’s that? Over there! It’s a … craft kit! No, it’s a game! Is it a toy? It looks like a book, but … what is it?

It’s a Klutz kit!

For over thirty years, Klutz Press has been offering a little education and a whole lot of fun with its unique “multimedia” approach, combining reading, crafts, outdoor activities, old-fashioned games, trivia, family fun, science, and silliness. Each Klutz book gives simple but detailed instructions for activities as diverse as making clay beads, playing Pick Up Sticks, building a solar car, using face paints, creating rubber band-powered flying machines, and learning to juggle. Attached to almost every Klutz book is a kit of all the materials needed to embark on the specified project, be it a bubble wand, marbles, safety pins, embroidery floss, bean bags, or watercolor paints. Current bestsellers at our bookstore are Body Crayons, Capsters, Paper Stained Glass, and Foam Gliders. My nephew’s new favorites are the Sling-Chute, and Boom! Splat! Kablooey!, while my niece adores Make Your Own Twinkly Tiaras.

It all started as a student teacher’s attempt to keep his tenth grade remedial-reading class engaged. In 1977, John Cassidy, English and education major at Stanford University, tried to keep his sophomore reading class from falling asleep by throwing tennis balls out at them, following them with printed instructions on how to juggle. Not only did it help Cassidy determine how much his students were able to read when they were motivated, but his class had fun and most students learned to juggle quite capably. Inspired by this success, Cassidy asked two friends to help him earn money by offering sidewalk juggling lessons and selling Cassidy’s book, Juggling for the Complete Klutz, along with three beanbags. The first 3,000 copies of the book-with-beanbags sold from backpacks and the back of bicycles, within weeks; by the end of 1978, they had sold 50,000 copies. Darrell Lorentzen, the business major, wrote the official business plan; B.C. Rimbeaux, the psychology major, asked the bank for a loan. The three friends incorporated as Klutz Press, in Palo Alto, California, at the end of 1978.

Sales continued to be “steady [but] unspectacular”, says John Cassidy, on the “About Us” section of Klutz’s official website. In 1982, the group published their second book, The Hacky Sack Book, with instructions for several different ways to play the bean-bag kicking game which was growing in popularity. The how-to guide included, of course, a hacky sack, and buyers responded in a big way. Obviously, people liked having the fun, simple guides that came with the “equipment” needed to play. At this point, Cassidy committed himself to the company in earnest.

Since that auspicious point, Klutz has created more than 200 different kits, encompassing such broad categories as crafts, art (drawing, painting, sculpture), games and puzzles (remember Cat’s Cradle? Cootie Catchers? Jacks?), travel activities, science (solar cars, rockets, constellation guides and charts, battery activities) and so much more. In 1995, seven years before Scholastic, Inc. bought Klutz, Klutz was selling nearly 5 million books a year without spending money on advertising.

These days, Klutz continues to sell fun and learning to people of all ages. When Explorabook was first published in 1991 in conjunction with the San Francisco Exploratorium science museum, general manager Kurt Feichtmeir hoped to eventually sell 100,000 copies. Feichtmeir was stunned when, less than four years later, it had sold more than 800,000 copies. Many books appeal to adults as well as to children – for example, Watercolor for the Artistically Undiscovered sells extremely well with the retired population. At our store, when we issue monthly reminders for our Klutz craft and activity night, I joke that “children under 10 should be accompanied by an adult. Adults need not be accompanied by children.” Following the spirit of John Cassidy and the crew at Klutz, I love to invite the child in all of us to play.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Build a Better Mousetrap

“If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor..." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yep, build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door, but you are just going to have to reseed the lawn, and that’s not the purpose is it? You want to catch the little bugger scampering in your wall. You could just get yourself a cat. Now, living in rural Pennsylvania in what was basically a converted barn, I expected to have a rodent problem. I also expected my cat to catch mice. Luckily, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, or catch a mouse.

The traditional spring trap works with mixed results, the mouse can grab the bait and run, you can forget to check the trap, only to be reminded that you’ve caught something by the stench that greats you when you come home from a long day at work, or your children and pets can delight in setting it off. Believe me. You do not want to be weaving storytelling magic at 1AM when a trap goes off and the pet hamster goes missing. I also found sticky paper to be a cruel way to catch mice, and mice soon learned to avoid the areas containing the sticky surface.

You could go with a small live trap if you’d like, but why go to all the expense when a little duct tape, a cardboard paper towel tube, and a 5 gallon bucket can be quickly transformed into a cheap trap trick?
Just position the tube on an edge of a counter that has been visited nightly by your furry, little pests. Tape it down, leaving about two inches hanging off the edge. You are going to want to put a slight crease in the tube right at edge of the counter. Smear a little peanut butter in the tube overhanging the bucket that you have prepared to catch the vermin, and when the mouse enters the tube to take the bait, the tube bends and slides him into the waiting receptacle. You can then decide to feed him to the lazy cat, flush him down the toilet, or release him in your neighbor’s garden.

A frugal friend once suggested this to me years ago, and it has actually worked on several occasions, except for the times that Hobo, the cat actually decided to let his curiosity out, and knocked my contraption onto the floor.

I was recently reintroduced to this trick in Manskills: How to Avoid Embarrassing Yourself and Impress Everyone Else, a book by Chris Peterson and published by Creative Publishing International. It is filled with quick tips, tricks and skills that any man, or woman will find useful.

There are techniques for splitting wood, recaulking your bathtub, and snaking a clog. In just two paragraphs, you can learn out how to take care of that cigarette burn your friend left in the carpet. You may have never used a cookie cutter before, but it can be for more than just baking. Sleep easy with the money you save, and by learning how to stop that toilet from running. It’s probably just the valve seat, or a pull chain that is too short. This time, you can plan on getting all your security deposit back…

Build a better mousetrap? Or if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Drop me an email and let me know. Miss a past column? Visit http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and read them all. Hobo, the cat, would rather chase butterflies and dance in sunbeams than hunt for mice. You can read about his adventures in “Hobo Finds A Home”, a children’s book about a cat who found a good meal, a friend, and a forever home.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Not Dead Yet!" -- chick lit, sex, and retirement

Read the Printed Word!


My friend Michele is a recent retiree. Like many retirees, she is finding her post-retirement life filled with more opportunities, projects, meetings, family visits, dreams and plans than perhaps held by her former “working” life. Pursuing her dream to engage full-throttle in the community of books and writers, Michele published her first children’s book, Tales from Shrimps, this past December 2010. She’s now hard at work on her daily blog as well as a fiction novel for adults. Michele comes into the bookstore on a regular basis – for events, for books, and to talk shop.

A couple of months ago, Michele mentioned a new Lorraine Bartlett mystery she’d just read, wondering if I had other readers make the same observation that Michele had. Namely, Michele asked, was anyone else annoyed by the fact that a forty-something author would write with such seeming disdain for her own “older” characters – “and they’re only in their fifties and sixties!” Michelle fumed. Although she admits that she may be extra-sensitive about this issue, I believe Michele voices the frustration of many women “of a certain age” who continue to have active lives.

“I’m not dead!” she insists. “I’m not ready for the nursing home! I’m just recently a grandmother! I’m tired of turning on the TV or flipping through a magazine and seeing people like me represented only in ads for Depends undergarments, hearing aids, diabetes supplies, or life insurance! Ack, don’t get me started on my rants about this!” Actually, though, I am interested in her rant. In our bookstore and in the publishing business, we see more moms and grandmoms turning to young adult romance like Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, because the characters are fun and the romance is still hot without being tawdry. Yet more than one of these “older” women has asked me for recommendations for “something like” the young adult romances but “not about teenagers.”

Over a decade ago, authors like Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones’ Diary), Candace Bushnell (Sex and the City), and Jennifer Weiner (In Her Shoes), forged a new sub-genre known – sometimes derogatorily – as “chick lit”, which offers well-written, sympathetic, fun characters to female readers. These authors paved the way for more books featuring stories predominantly about the lives of contemporary women, written for women who like to read about people who sound like themselves and their friends. Nevertheless, more often than not, most of these books focus on women in their twenties and thirties, struggling with dating, work, a social life (usually in the city), and early marriage. The Baby Boomer women and their younger siblings, while they may find these books amusing, still have slim pickings when looking for fun “chick lit” about chicks dealing with retirement, aging parents, adult children moving home, empty nesting, and their own aging.

Enter author Claire Cook. Not two weeks after I had this conversation with Michele, Claire Cook sent me an advanced reader copy of her latest book, due to be released June 7 of this year, entitled Best Staged Plans. At first, I thought Plans looked like just another cute chick lit book. I was pleased to find not only a new kind of “chick lit” – one I can recommend to my mom and her friends, but one I enjoyed as well. Sandy Sullivan is ready to move to the next stage of life with her husband: they’d dreamed of selling the big New England house that they restored while raising their children, and moving to a fun beach condo. Though she continues doing some business as a home-stager for other people selling their houses, on her own homefront, Sandy’s dream of downsizing is thwarted by the heel-dragging of her adult son who moves back home to inhabit their basement, and her retired husband who is too busy playing tennis and going jogging to help with home repairs.

Frustrated by their lack of cooperation, Sandy decides to fly to Atlanta to help her best friend’s boyfriend redecorate a newly acquired boutique hotel. Since Sandy’s newly-married daughter lives in Atlanta, she plans on having some great girl-time with her daughter, earning some money and professional satisfaction, helping out her best friend, and showing the men of her family her displeasure, but the best-made plans …. Though self-confessed control-freak Sandy is flustered and anxious with the turn of events in Atlanta, in meeting a homeless woman who sleeps under the hotel’s dumpster, Sandy soon finds out that there are much worse life changes than being left alone with an overly-polite son-in-law or dealing with her best friend’s probable cheating boyfriend. Though Best Staged Plans starts out with characters who seemed a little shallow to me (anyone who knows me will tell you, interior decorating is not high on my list of priorities), Cook uses this to pave the way for a gentle but satisfying life lesson to be grateful for what we have.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Watch the Skies

Kevin Coolidge

There’s nothing better than a cold beer on a hot day, except maybe a good story to wash it all down. A good story is exactly what I got last week. I had wandered into one of our fine local establishments and ordered some refreshment. I was sitting at a table in the corner, nursing my drink, and enjoying a respite from the blistering afternoon. Yep, I was just minding my own beeswax, when I happened to overhear a couple of roughnecks razzing their buddy about a “big bird”, and if it was safe to go back into the woods. I must admit my curiosity was aroused. I wandered over to the bar, offered to buy him a beer, and commented, “I’ve heard about some damn big birds over in that neck of the woods…”

Now big birds are nothing new to the woods and wilds of Tioga County. We have several nesting pairs of bald eagles in the Pine Creek Gorge, as well as the occasional osprey, and there’s always a good chance of spotting a circling turkey vulture. I first read about freakish big birds in Amazing Indeed: Strange Events in the Black Forest, Volume 2 by Robert Lyman Sr. His book chronicles a fascinating blend of history, folklore, and wonders found in the forests of Potter and Tioga County.

Some strangely large birds have been sighted in the skies over the endless mountains. Described as an enormous black or very dark brown bird, often with a white ring around its long neck and a wingspan in excess of 20 feet, this giant bird of prey is known as the thunderbird. The legend of the thunderbird was part of Native American mythology long before the arrival of Europeans. The giant bird created a rumbling noise by flapping its immense wings. It was thought to be a myth created by the Indians to explain thunder.

Lyman himself claimed to see this massive bird back in the early 1940’s. He described it as vulture-like, dark brown in color, with “narrow wings”. The bird was observed on and then over a road north of Coudersport, Pennsylvania. By measuring the road he knew its wingspan was at least 20 feet. The creature flew off into dense woods. Lyman’s research efforts revealed that there was a history of such sightings dating back to at least the 1890’s.

The possible relationship of thunderbirds to disappearances of missing people was not the purpose in reporting on the birds, but his research included at least 11 cases of disappearances that had occurred over a period of 100 years – from 75 year-old Barney Pluff who was devoured in 1941, to a four year-old girl in McKean County, Pennsylvania who was snatched in 1937 while her parents were picking berries. Perhaps something or someone else is responsible, but eight children and three adults have disappeared without a trace.

Even today, giant-bird reports continue, though some people would like to dismiss such sightings. It’s true that there can be difficulties in human observations—such as gauging distance and scale, and tricks of poor lighting. Surely such a great bird of prey would leave a trace, or maybe – just maybe – Penn’s Woods, with its forests and swamps, offers a place where the thunderbird can linger and be seen by a lucky few…

Big birds? Or big lies? Drop me an email at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? Fly on over to http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and catch up on book reviews, newsletters and more. Looking for a story that’s not hard to swallow? Check out “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s book about a cat who left the farm, found a friend, and found a home.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels. – Francisco de Goya

For this week’s book review, ladies and gentlemen, and children of all ages, I’m pleased to present one of the most unusual books I've ever read…. By turns dark, whimsical, edgy, atmospheric and hopeful, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is full of glamours and history and things that go bump in the night. Author Ransom Riggs has collected real (not retouched or photoshopped!), vintage, black-and-white photos featuring strangely-dressed children doing odd things. These photos are intriguing enough in their own right, but they become captivating and eerie when partnered with the story Riggs weaves to tie them together. Drawing from traditions as diverse as the Lovecraft mythos, Grimm's fairy tales, and Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret, nevertheless, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is startlingly original.

When Jacob Portman was very young, his beloved Grandpa Portman told him fantastical, strange tales of the time he spent in an orphanage in Wales, living in an enchanted house with children who had unusual talents. Grandpa Portman’s stories included friends who were invisible, who could hold fire in their hands, who could lift boulders with one arm. He told Jacob that all these peculiar children lived together, watched over by a wise, strict hawk, protected from the monsters who would hunt them. As Jacob got older, he believed his father’s explanation for his grandpa’s stories: Grandpa Portman was an Eastern European Jew, part of the Kindertransport that came to the United Kingdom to escape the Nazis. Indeed, there were monsters who hunted these children; if Grandpa wanted to create fantastic stories about this, perhaps it was easier for him than explaining the horrors of the Holocaust. With this more rational explanation, Jacob stops believing his grandfather’s stories, though they continue to have a close relationship.

At age sixteen, Jacob sees himself as a boring, somewhat nerdy high schooler who will never have the talent or the chance to live the adventurous, exciting life his grandfather did – becoming a soldier, fighting in wars, traveling the world, speaking several languages, becoming a weapons expert. He knows he will end up working in the family-owned chain of drugstores. All this changes suddenly for Jacob, though, with the esoteric, dying words of his grandfather, meant only for Jacob. To shake off the nightmares of the monster who stalks his grandfather and him in his dreams, Jacob convinces his father to take him to Wales, to search for the orphanage where Grandpa Portman spent several of the war years. Jacob finds a ruined old house, hundreds more photos of the peculiar children, and much more on heaven and earth than he ever dreamt of.

To tell much more of the actual plot is to take away from your pleasure in discovering it. Riggs’ new book defies categorization – though I currently have it shelved in the young adult fantasy section, I’ll be putting this in the hands of adults who enjoy fantasy, horror, historical fiction, folktales and mythology, and anyone who loves a beautiful book. The construction of the actual pages and binding is an experience for the senses. This is not one for the e-reader. Peregrine’s Peculiar Children deserve a place in your hands and on your shelf. Note that first and second editions have already sold out from the publishers and in many stores; the movie rights were purchased BEFORE the book was even released! This one has award-status written all over it.

Monsters in your head or monsters in your family tree? Let Hobo know your peculiar stories by emailing him at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com. Looking for more things peculiar or monstrous? Search our book review archives at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bill Peet’s Magical Kingdom

Kevin Coolidge

Another horn here, just a bit more shading there, and can’t forget the smoke. It’s just not a dragon without a wispy tendril of smoke. Done! Is it time yet??? Just a few minutes more and it will be my turn. I hope Capyboppy is there. I haven’t read that one yet. It’s always out, but I can always read Chester the Worldly Pig again…

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and my little school didn’t have a library, but we did have weekly visits from the bookmobile. I always looked forward to the little green and white van crammed with books, and one of my favorite authors was Bill Peet.

Bill Peet was a doodling, daydreaming boy. He was born in Grandview, Indiana, a very small town on the banks of the Ohio River. He did all the things a boy in a small town was expected to do. He chased frogs, and jumped in haystacks. He ran through fields, and played in the woods, suffered through class, and dreamed of the future.

Drawing was the perfect indoor hobby during cold Indiana winters, but life was much too serious during the Great Depression to be dreaming of an art career. So Bill signed up for algebra, history, Latin, and physical education, and failed everything but physical education. It was a dreary time for him, until the day he ran into a boy he’d known in grade school. He encouraged Bill to take art classes.

“I got some credits in art,” he said, “and I can hardly draw at all. But you’re really good, Bill. Art would be a breeze for you.”

Bill dropped some academic courses and added some art classes, earned his credits, learned a little math and English, and was awarded a scholarship to the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis. His dream of making art a career suddenly seemed more realistic.

Bill loved art school, and won several cash prizes for paintings, but it wasn’t a regular income. One day a friend handed him a brochure from the Walt Disney Studios. They needed artists. Though he wasn’t interested in cartooning, it wasn’t a time to be choosy.

He was given a one month tryout, and even though he was warned about leaving the buttons off of Mickey’s pants, he ended up working on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Bill went on to work on several Disney classics including Pinocchio and Fantasia. He advanced to a full-fledged story man on Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland, and even wrote the screenplay for The Hundred and One Dalmatians.

While still at Disney studios, Bill Peet had his first children’s book published, Hubert’s Hair-Raising Adventure, about a much too proud lion. Soon he had five books in print, and Peet decided that after one last project for Disney, he would make his break and devote all his time to writing and illustrating children’s books. Jungle Book was it.

Kipling’s story with such a wealth of characters to develop, led to many exciting animation possibilities. There was Baloo, the playful bear; Kaa, the sly python; and the scheming Bengal Tiger, Shere Khan. But when it came to select voices for the characters, Walt Disney glowered and fumed and demanded another actor, and Bill Peet finally left Disney studios.

Bill went on to create over thirty children’s books that continue to be valued by teachers, parents, and librarians, because they are loved by children. At last his childhood ambition was realized. These books made reading fun for me, and fostered a love of reading that continues with me today, and my love of books has grown beyond my expectations…

Doodling? Or Daydreaming? Drop me an email at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? Don’t despair! They’re all here http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Hobo the cat also dreamed of a future beyond his reach. Read about it in “Hobo Finds A Home” about a cat who wanted more…