Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Second Hand Cat

Kevin Coolidge

It’s a common misconception that all blue-eyed, white cats are deaf. Though not true, hereditary deafness is a major concern for many domestic white cats, especially those with one or both irises that are blue in color. There is no cure for congenital deafness.

Cats that are deaf from birth can be great pets. I knew such a cat. His meows were a little too loud, but he could tell when someone called him, and where someone was stepping by the vibration of their steps. He just had to be an inside cat where he would be safe from dogs and cars and auditory cues he would never hear.

Phantom is such a cat. He’s all white with one blue eye and one yellow eye, and he is deaf. His life is the inspurration for The Second Hand Cat, written by Vell Sweeny and illustrated by Elizabeth Mifflin Sweeny. This book is dedicated to all homeless cats everywhere and the people who help them.

Phantom was a shelter cat, but he was different than the other cats. He lived in silence. He saw other cats. They never stayed and he did. One day, Phantom saw he saw a note on his cage that terrified him. Was this his last chance to find a family?

This isn’t Old Yeller. There’s a happy ending: Phantom finds a loving home, and has a wonderful life, all because the Sweeny’s took a chance on a second hand cat. I loved this book, the illustrations, and the story. I’m quite familiar with it.
My wife and I have two and half rescue cats—Hobo, the bookstore cat; his ‘bff’ (best feline friend), Gypsy; and tiny little Velvet, the mighty huntress. We took a chance on a cat no one seemed to want. Next time you are considering a feline companion, hopefully, you will too.

Vell Sweeny and her daughter Elizabeth Mifflin Sweeny will be visiting From My Shelf Books & Gifts in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania November 30, 2013 for an author visit and signing. Come by and say hello, scratch Hobo’s ears, and take a chance on a Second Hand Cat…

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Art of War

Kevin Coolidge

“Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War

A fine figure of a man astride a great white steed, his visor closed. Roasting, boiling in his armor, his great steel sword heavy. Yet, he does not waver. He does not move. He will not hesitate when the moment comes. Only the finest horses were good enough for the warrior elite. It was important to be seen by friend and foe. Meant to inspire pride and confidence in their followers, and instill fear and disorder to the foe.

Personalization of weapons was a symbol of authority, but machines would come to dominate the art of war. Early in the twentieth century, a new type of warfare would create another class of elite warrior, the fighter pilot, and no pilot would gain more fame than the German ace, Baron von Richthofen, the Red Baron.

By the end of WWI, aircraft were emblazoned with personal names and markings. History doesn’t record the first pinup girl on a warplane, but the biggest, early influence, according to the authors of Boneyard Nose Art, is clearly the “Flying Tigers”, a small group of American pilots fighting in Burma and China in the early days of WWII.

The Flying Tigers displayed a fearsome shark mouth under the noses of their P-40s. Their success against the Japanese soon became major news back home. It was not long before excited, young airmen, eager to stand out, found a place on the nose of their aircraft. Nose art of all styles and sizes took off.

The practice of applying nose art was neither encouraged nor discouraged. Once a crew had been assigned an aircraft, the pilot and crew made the decision. Lt. Robert Morgan wanted to name the aircraft after a special woman in his life, but the other crew members had their own thoughts. It would take some persuasion to make that happen.

The idea to name the B-17 after his girlfriend was not going to fly with everyone else, but a John Wayne movie would solve his dilemma. He was watching the film Lady for a Night, and something caught his eye. Featured in the film was a riverboat called the Memphis Belle. Morgan’s special lady, Margaret Polk, just happened to be from Memphis, Tennessee, and he soon convinced the crew to name their new B-17, the Memphis Belle.

Now that the name was chosen, it was time to choose some special artwork. Pinup art was popular in Europe and America. Alluring images of beautiful, young women were featured in magazines and calendars. The highlight of each Esquire magazine was the “Petty Girl”, drawn by the graphic artist, George Petty.

Lt. Morgan started with a call to the New York office, and began to tell his story. He soon had George’s attention, and he promised to send one of his Petty Girls for the Memphis Belle. He never dreamed of the fame that this artwork would soon achieve.

The 91st Bomb Group and the Memphis Belle flew their first mission on November 7, 1942. By Christmas, after only a few missions, twenty-nine of the thirty-six aircraft were lost and they had yet to fly a mission into Germany. The losses mounted month after month, and the chances of reaching the magic number of twenty-five and returning home was bleak.

The crew and her new captain endured. After completing her missions, the Memphis Belle and crew returned home to begin a nationwide public relations tour from June through August 1943. With all the newspaper, magazine, and newsreel coverage, nose art and the Memphis Belle became part of the American psyche. Her achievements and those brave souls who flew her through those deadly skies still capture our imagination…

A machine of war might take you to the enemy, but it takes a friend to see you home. My thanks to all who serve, may you always find your way home…

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Story Behind the Story: The Elf on the Shelf

Read the Printed Word!
Who is behind the popular new Christmas tradition of “The Elf on the Shelf”? If you thought it was just Santa Claus and the folks at the North Pole, you would be missing an even more inspirational part of the story. The story behind the story of The Elf on the Shelf takes us not to the cold reaches of the Arctic Circle, but to the balmy suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. The magic here lies not in the hands of a jolly, fat man in a red suit, but in the determination of three steel magnolias who can now wear power suits.

In 2004, self-described “empty nester” Carol Aebersold, then in her early sixties, was talking with one of her twin daughters, Chanda Bell, about finding a way to share their family tradition of a little elf who watched over the family during the holiday season. Chanda and Carol decided to write a book about “the elf on the shelf”, a pixie scout elf who would stay with a family from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, flying home to the North Pole each night to talk with Santa. The elf would help Santa maintain his naughty and nice lists, sure, but he would also tell Santa about all the holiday activities going on at the family's house, and share with Santa each family member's Christmas wishes.

After writing the cute book all in rhyme, Chanda and Carol enlisted the help of Chanda's twin sister, Christa Pitts, who had been working as a host on the QVC network. With Christa's experience in PR and marketing, and the space donated by Chanda and Christa's father, who owned a small manufacturing company, the three women set out to find a publisher for their book and a producer for their toy.

No one would take them up on it. According to a Washington Post article in November of 2011, The Elf on the Shelf was “[r]ejected by publishers far and wide.” One publisher told them flatly that their product, if ever produced, was “destined [only] for the damaged goods bin.” Undeterred, the women formed their own company, Creatively Classic Activities and Books, LLC (CCA & B), found a company that would produce the soft elf dolls, and began selling their book-and-elf package in two holiday festivals – one in their home stomping grounds of Marietta, GA, and one in Charlotte, NC. They funded their first year's production by selling Christa's house and by opening one credit card dedicated exclusively to the business.

For their first Christmas season in 2005, they had 5,000 book-and-doll packages, to sell at $30 each, out of a decorated trailer in their two markets. Since they were a company of three women plus a few volunteering friends along for the ride, they couldn't stay long at each location, which actually ended up helping their cause: "Families would experience the Elf on the Shelf; when we left there would be a vacuum," Pitts explained, in a CNN Money article in 2012. Soon, retailers began reaching out to CCA & B, hoping to carry the new product their customers were demanding. By the end of 2005, eighteen storefronts had signed on to sell The Elf on the Shelf.

For the first three years, the proceeds from the past year's sales went straight into business expenses to produce and market the next year's books and elves. Then, suddenly, the Elf hit a tipping point. In 2007, some reporter snapped a photo of popular actress Jennifer Garner, carrying an elf-and-book package. A Dallas affiliate of the Today Show did a segment on the pixie scout elf and its book, and the Today Show ended up running the same segment on their national, prime-time spot. The orders came flooding in. The three woman of CCA & B organized the “EERT” (Elf Emergency Response Team), where friends and family worked with them, without stop, for several days, to meet every order. Pitts believes that if they had failed to respond with those efforts at that point in time, their business would not be where it is today.

Before going into the holiday season 2013, The Elf on the Shelf has sold nearly 3 million packages, for about $20 million in sales. This October, the company launched a birthday package, a birthday elf doll and book to celebrate a child's special day. For the holiday season, new clothes are available for the elf dolls, for boys and girls, who now come in both light and dark skin tones.

The Elf on the Shelf has won numerous awards, as has the company who started it all. Last Christmas, the Elf got his own animated TV special, joining the classics like Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph the Reindeer. The animated film got quite a bit of criticism, with comments that is was banal; an outsourced production of vague, commercialized Christmas sentiments, but the folks at CCA & B have yet to let naysayers get in their way. However you feel about elves and commercialized Christmas, the story of the women at CCA & B can be an inspiration to us all.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Invasive Species

Kevin Coolidge

Seven billion, give or take a million, 267 being born every minute, that’s almost five every second. The Earth will soon be filled with Homeo sapiens, humans. How will we feed the masses? Some experts claim that an all vegetarian diet will take care of the teeming hordes. So, would cannibalism. I say don’t join them if you can’t beat them, eat ‘em. There’s another solution. Introduce an invasive species.

An ecosystem is a delicate balance. For example, the introduction of snakes in the Hawaiian Islands has resulted in at least nine forest bird extinctions, adding mongoose to take of the snakes, has added to the problem Mongoose are now eating the eggs of sea turtles and birds, including the endangered state bird, the Hawaiian Goose.

Introducing a predator into an environment among prey that has not evolved adaptations and behaviors is going to cause a problem, sometimes, a big problem. Imagine a remote African wilderness. A species has evolved using monkeys as hosts, but any primate will do. What happens when mankind discovers this animal? What will happen when this animal discovers humans?

If you don’t mind losing a little sleep, read Invasive Species by Joseph Wallace. This swarm moves and breeds at a cataclysmic rate. Governments want to downplay the danger. Can an adventurer and a small band of determined scientists find a weapon to stop this menace? Will mankind discover that it’s no longer Earth’s dominant species?

I enjoyed this fast paced apocalyptic novel, and was lucky enough to be able to read it before it’s available to the public. It’s going to be available December 3 at From My Shelf Books for just $9.99 and $7.99 for members. We have several copies on order, but let us know if you want to pre-order this book. Joseph Wallace is an experienced writer, and you will not be disappointed.

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Cow-Pie Chronicles

Kevin Coolidge

Nothing beats a slice of my grandma’s lemon Bundt cake and cold glass of milk. My grandma would send me down to the barn to fill the glass bottle. Nothing beats farm fresh milk.

The dairy farm in Coolidge Hollow has been in the family for five generations. I spent many a Sunday afternoon plinking at rats, making hay forts, and jumping out of hay mows. I enjoyed visiting the cows, and seeing the milk pour into the stainless steel vat. I just had to be careful of the cow-pies.

If you’ve spent time on a farm, chances are you know what a cow pie is. It’s cow poop. When I saw a book called The Cow-Pie Chronicles, I just had to check it out. This book for kids 7 to 9 years old, but I enjoyed how it made me remember parts of my own child hood. I also liked the addition of a glossary with such words such as silo and stubble field defined.

The book follows ten year old Tim Slinger and his sister Dana as they grow up on their family dairy farm. Life on a farm is hard work. There aren’t any days off or milking sessions skipped. If this happened the cows’ udders would get too full and get upset, and stop producing milk.

There are lots of chores to be done. The cows poop everywhere and someone has to shovel it. There are fences to be mended and apples and pears to be picked, but there is fun and adventure too. There’s the sport of cow skiing, and the neighbors bull to tease, and then there’s the rope swing.

Growing up in the country is different than the city. Author James Butler grew up on a farm. He spent the first eleven years in the Midwest on a dairy farm. This book is based on his experiences as a farm boy in the 1960s. Those years were often filled with hard work and adventure, but they served him well…

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Writing Scary Stories

Kevin Coolidge

The Thing at the Foot of the Bed, The Woman with the Golden Arm--I’ve always loved scary stories. A cold, dark night next to a warm fire immersed in a book that made the shadows dance and my skin crawl. I couldn’t get enough of them. I even wrote my own, and you can too.

How do you get ideas for a scary story? When should you introduce your main characters? How do you use dialogue to bring your characters to life? You can get these answers from Writing Stories: Scary Stories published by Heinemann Publishing and written by Anita Ganeri.

Adventure, animal, funny, mystery—there are lots of books in this series, but this book introduces young writers to the dark and creepy world of scary stories, appropriate for those 6 to 9 years of age. If it’s too scary, your young author might not go to bed tonight.

A scary story should have a spooky setting, maybe a haunted house. It should also have frightening characters and be exciting as well as terrifying. You can get ideas from reading stories, watching movies, or from your own imagination. You can write ideas in a notebook when you think of them, so you don’t forget.

Before you start writing, you’ll need to plan your plot. This is what happens in your story. The plot needs a beginning, middle, and an end. Imagine a mountain. The beginning is where you introduce your main characters. The middle is where most of the action happens, and your character gets in trouble. The end is where the problem is solved and the story ends.

Your story is a piece of fiction. It’s about people and places you make up. A good story feels like it could be real. You do this by bringing your characters to life and making them believable. You can do this with dialogue. This is the words people say, and it will bring your readers into the action. Just be sure to put quotation marks around the spoken words.

There are more tips to make your story more dramatic. A writer needs to choose their words carefully, and interesting adjectives will make your writing exciting. You might want to end your story happy or sad, or with a surprise twist, but you can’t do that if you give away too much early in your story.

Read your story over and correct any mistakes. Sometimes it helps to read it out loud. This will help you hear how your characters sound and if they talk the way real people talk. There’s even a spooky story running throughout the book to give you examples of how to use these tips. So, grab your notebook and a pen and prepare to scare…

Spooky stories? Or Funny tales? Email me at and let me know. Miss a past column? Don’t be scared. You can visit and read all past columns. Hobo is a ginger-colored cat that knows a leopard may not be able to change its spots, but he can be anything he dreams of. He’s picturing himself now as a little lion, a mountain lion…

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Prep for Life

Read the Printed Word!
Best-selling, award-winning author John Green wrote his first novel, Looking for Alaska, about teens at a prep school in Alabama. Not your stereotypical setting for a private school for high school students, Culver Creek Boarding School doesn't have particularly beautiful buildings or fancy landscaping, but otherwise offers the same experiences as any highly-regarded prep school. When Miles Halter comes to “the Creek” as a new student, for his junior year, he finds this experience includes challenging classes, professors with doctorates, sharp divisions in social class between the scholarship kids (like himself) and the wealthy kids, dorm rooms full of all kinds of contraband, pranks and angst, typical teen rebellion mixed with striving to reach the bar of high expectations. Lucky for Miles, his roommate, Chip Martin, takes him firmly under his wing, gives him a nickname, introduces Miles to his group of friends, and tells him all the rules that aren't in any handbook.

The relationship between Chip (“The Colonel”) and Miles (“Pudge”, because Miles is super-skinny) reminded me of Phineas and Gene in John Knowles' classic coming-of-age novel, A Separate Peace. Especially in the beginning, Miles, like Gene, is an introvert, uncomfortable in many social situations, preferring to spend time alone, reading. Chip, on the other hand, is the one with a rebellious streak, pushing or circumventing the rules. Chip is “The Colonel” because he is the strategist and mastermind behind the elaborate game of pranks that is part of the tradition and the social structure at “The Creek.” In Green's more contemporary take on the prep school novel, this scene is co-ed. This is where Alaska Young comes in. Alaska provides the spark: she is charisma, the larger-than-life character who, Phineas, draws people to her like moths to a flame. She is beautiful, chaotic, fiercely intelligent, melodramatic, and it would seem she enjoys leaving jealousy, love, frustration, annoyance, inspiration, and tragedy in her wake. As Gene learns at Devon Academy in the 1940s, so Miles learns at Culver Creek in the present: ultimately, the coming-of-age experience is more about the people you meet, and the relationships you have, then the actual setting.

Author Curtis Sittenfeld highlights many of these same themes in her young adult novel, Prep. Lee Fiora leaves her middle-class family in Indiana to study at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts for her four years of high school. Like Gene in A Separate Peace and Miles in Looking for Alaska, Lee usually views life at Ault feeling like an outsider. She, like Miles and his friends, is a scholarship student, and the money which “was everywhere on campus, but … usually invisible” turns out to be more intimidating and divisive rather than the way it looked charming in the brochures. As a narrator, Lee becomes a keen, wry observer of prep school life – both as the teenage student she was, and as the twenty-something adult looking back on her experiences.

All three of these novels were the first for authors who have gone on to become well-known for their writing. It is interesting to note that all three debut novels focused on the prep school setting as a place to explore teens' first opportunities to wrestle with the complexities of socio-economic class, gender politics, sex, social mores, romantic relationships, friendships, interactions with authority figures and mentors, hope, tragedy, and forgiveness. Each author beautifully guides the main protagonist to a place where he or she can forgive themselves for being young, naïve, ignorant, or scared when faced with the intense situations they encounter at school, on their own for the first time. Each novel, in the capable prose of John Green, John Knowles, and Curtis Sittenfeld, becomes a springboard for discussing larger life truths.

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!