Saturday, June 28, 2014

Two by Pat Walsh

I recently read two books by Pat Walsh. They're the Crowfield Curse and The Crowfield Demon and both are scary and exciting.

The books take place in the 1300s and the main character is an orphan boy, William, who works at a monastery for his room and board. He's someone we quickly learn to care about.

Both books include a lot of supernatural stuff about demons and might be too scary for some kids. But there are also angels involved and each one has a satisfying conclusion while leaving the reader wanting more. I assume there another book in the series will be published in the future.

One thing I enjoyed about these books is the way the author managed to make the fictional, fantasy setting show a realistic portrayal of what life in a monastery during that time period must really have been like. Combining accuracy and imagination is an impressive feat.

Anyone who enjoys fantasy and historical fiction will enjoy these books.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Reason I Jump

Usually I review books for or about kids, but this one is different. It was written by a kid, a thirteen year old boy.

And he's autistic.

The author of The Reason I Jump is a Japanese boy named Naoki Higashida and it explains how the mind of an autistic person works. It was translated into English by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell and is easy to read.

If you know me, you probably know I care a lot about kids with Special Needs. I raised a long-term foster son on the Autism Spectrum and have met lots of other autistic kids as a teacher, so that's a condition that especially interests me.

The Reason I Jump answers questions I've had for years and makes much better sense than other books I've read on the topic.

It even includes an interesting fiction story written by the author.

The book is a quick and easy one to read, and it opens the readers eyes to a unique world. If you've ever wanted to understand people with autism you should definitely read this book.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


Long ago, people usually stayed in or near the towns where they were born for most of their lives.

Even if they traveled to a new continent or across one to start a new life, they usually settled in one place and stayed there from then on.

Of course some families, like those with a parent in the military, or families of ministers who were assigned to various parishes, did move fairly often. And there have been gypsies, entertainers, and others who have traveled often for centuries.

However those were exceptions.

But today people move around a lot.

Even those of us who tend to stay in one place for decades at a time may live far from the places where we once lived.

I was born in one place, grew up in a house far from my birth city, moved away from there when I went to college, and spent many years in several different cities as an adult. Now I live in an area quite distant from all of those locations.

I have fond memories of most of the places where I've lived and still have friends and family in many of them.

So, how do I decide which location is my home town?

I guess in our modern world the idea that people have just one home town has become obsolete because, to me, lots of those places still seem like home towns to me.

What about you? Do you have just one home town, or many?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Oh, The Places I've Been!

No, this post isn't about the book by Dr. Seuss. It's, perhaps selfishly, all about me.

I sometimes feel a bit envious when I hear about other people traveling to foreign lands and exotic destinations.

Since coming to California when I was not quite five years old the only places I've visited out of this state are Athens, Ohio, Lubbock, Texas, and Bend, Oregon. None of those are exactly famous tourist destinations. I've also been to the outskirts of Reno, Nevada, but never saw the impressive parts of that city.

Between my food allergies and my husband's extreme fragrance allergies, traveling has been difficult.

Poor little me.

But I clearly remember the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Bronx Zoo that I often saw as a young child. And I remember driving across the Great Plains and over the Rocky and Sierra mountain ranges when we came to California.

And I've lived most of my life in a spectacularly beautiful state.

I've stood on top of Glacier Point in Yosemite, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge more times than I can count, and visited zoos in San Diego, San Francisco, and Oakland. I've been to beaches at Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Drake's Bay and many other locations, and climbed Mount Tamalpias and Mount Whitney. I've been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Lawrence Hall of Science, and dozens of museums in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Gold Country of the Sierras. I've toured the state capitol building in Sacramento and gone camping beneath the trees in many beautiful places.

Come to think of it, I've been to lots of places other people pay thousands of dollars to visit.

Lucky me!

Where do you like to go on vacations?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Flag Day

Today in the USA it's Flag Day.

When I was a kid the American flag only had 48 stars, so you can tell I'm old.

In school we saluted the flag as we said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang America the Beautiful every morning. (The Star Spangled Banner required greater voice range than most kids had.)

Many schools still say the pledge, but public schools, at least those in my state, no longer allow a song that mentions God because of separation of church and state.

Back then we were taught that the American flag should never be up outdoors after dark, or during rain or snowy weather. Schools, Girl and Boy Scouts and military bases had flag raising and lowering ceremonies at the beginning and ending of each day.

The reason flags were lowered when it was dark or stormy is because they were made of fabrics like cotton and would become damaged easily. When synthetic materials like polyester became available flags made of those things could be safely left outside in all kinds of weather. That's why they don't get lowered and raised all the time anymore.

But one tradition should be kept and often isn't. We were taught that the American flag should never be allowed to touch the ground. Of course aflag should be kept clean and touching the ground, even on pavement or floors, it's likely to gather dirt.

After the terrorist attack of September 11th, 2001 millions of Americans displayed flags. I was sorry to see lots of them draped over the hoods of parked cars and trucks with the edges dragging in driveways, and displayed in other places where they would get dirty.

Flags that are torn or dirty shouldn't be displayed. That's basic manners.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Why Do They Appear?

Although I didn't plan it, all of the books I've had published seem to deal with Special Needs in some way.

In The Peril of the Sinister Scientist one of the main characters uses a wheelchair.  

Signs of Trouble is about kids with learning disabilities who get separated from their Special Ed class on a field trip.  

Secret Service Saint isn't specifically about  Special Needs, but the main character secretly helps someone who is sick.

Slime & All is about a giant, talking worm who wants to be accepted and lots of kids with physical, mental, or emotional limitations can identify with him.

And I have a story in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I Can't Believe My Dog Did That, about a deaf dog who helps a child.

So, why do things like that keep appearing in my writing?

Well, when I was a kid I had severe, chronic asthma and was sent to a convalescent home where I met lots of kids with handicaps. (Yes, I know that term isn't politically correct now. Too bad.)

In high school I volunteered with the local Society for Crippled Children. Later I worked at California School for the Deaf so my husband and I raised several Deaf foster kids who had various special needs. I worked as an aide in a Special Education class, then became a substitute teacher and worked in lots of other Special Ed classes.

I guess all that experience somehow got into my subconscious. Those "Special" people have been part of my life for so long they pop up in my mind when I'm writing. They aren't unusual to me.

I wish everyone would feel that way and treat them as they do everyone else.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Never Say Boo to a Frilly

What is a Frilly?

Why shouldn't you say "Boo" to one?

You'll have to read Margot Finke's newest book, Never Say Boo to a Frilly, to find out.

While the book looks like a picture book at first glance, it's intended for kids from seven to twelve years old and teaches them all sorts of interesting information about animals native to Australia. Both kids in the Northern Hemisphere and Down Under will find the book informative and enjoyable.

The author, Margot Finke, is from Australia herself so she knows what she's talking about.

She uses clever rhymes to introduce the young readers to information about Frillneck Lizards, various colorful birds, and Tasmanian Devils. Readers will learn about the creatures' habitats, food, and other information while enjoying the colorful illustrations by Aysin Eraglu. Kangaroos aren't mentioned, probably because most kids already know about those. (If they don't they can learn about them in Finke's previous book, Kangaroo Clues.)

Vocabulary words are listed at the bottom of the pages and would be helpful for use in schools. The whole book is educational, but it's also fun.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Almost Halfway There

It's June!

In the next few weeks we'll celebrate Father's Day, Summer will begin, and in one month we Americans will honor the fathers of our country on the Fourth of July.

The year is almost half over.

And that reminds me that it was not quite six months ago when many of us celebrated the beginning of this calendar year by making New Year's resolutions.

I'm ashamed to say I can't even remember what I resolved to do this year. Can you remember your resolutions? Did you keep them?

Maybe this would be a good time to make new resolutions for things we want to accomplish in the rest of 2014. Or we could go back to those things we had planned to do this year but haven't done so far, and try again.

In two weeks we can celebrate the beginning of Summer with New Season resolutions. If each of us accomplishes something, even something small, during the second half of 2014 we can help to make the world a better place.

Who is willing to take that challenge?