All things literacy — Authors, Books, Connections . . .

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Valentine's Day - February 14

 A Look Back on Valentine's Celebrations

Kolaches at special events.
Although I can not claim Czech heritage, my grandmother did met my grandfather on 16th Avenue in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Those familiar with the area will recognize the 16th Avenue reference as being in the heart of the Czech district in Cedar Rapids.  So here is my holiday/entertaining homage to my grandparents.

Locate more information about the history of Kolaches at
"In America, kolache became common not only for all special events but also as a beloved comfort food and vehicle for ethnic identification. Czechs in America enjoyed their coffee with kolache, becoming a way of entertaining neighbors..."  I love serving kolaches when I have friends over for coffee.  If you are interested in making your own the site has a great recipe that is very close to the recipe used by my family.
These truffles were made using my friend Jean's truffle recipe.  I'll share it here.

Heart shaped cookie cutters are perfect for cutting shapes out of melons or heart shaped pats of butter for toast or buns.  We served melon and lots of fruit (pineapple, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries and bananas), along with granola for yogurt.

Put the butter in a dish or on the toast to melt as it wishes.

Flowers • Flowers • Flowers
I love flowers and on Valentine's Day, flowers, candy, and fruit are essential to the mood of the day.


And for dinner -- chicken cordon bleu; or stuffed with broccoli and cheese, asparagus wrapped in bacon, and scalloped potatoes -- finished off with desert -- here is one offering: a chocolate covered strawberry with three miniature cheesecakes arranged on a dessert plate; and a depression era ruby red dessert bowl with New York Vanilla ice cream sprinkled with crushed red and white peppermint.

The dinner ware we used on this occasion is Franciscan stoneware in the  Desert Rose pattern.

We have the Grandmug - perfect for coffee klatches, but fine for dinner as well.  The desert rose pattern  is perfect with red napkins and these large rose napkin rings -- pink and red vases of flowers follow the theme.

Other Valentine Day’s posts on this blog.

Valentine Day Fun Facts – Happy Valentine’s Day at

Valentine's Day - 2012 -- Books and Roses

Valentine’s Day 2011 – Lace and Roses

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Quick and Simple - Cord Keeper

5 Minute Project -- iPAD and iPHONE cord keepers.

Wrapping an iPAD or iPhone charging cord and stuffing it in a box or bag just results in a tangled mess.  These cord keepers are quick and simple to make -- if you sew... if not solicit a friend.  The sewing will take 5-10 minutes.

Step 1: You'll need two  5 in. x 3 in. pieces
of fabric (lightweight cotton works
best).  A great use for sewing scraps.

Step 2: Turn the pieces of fabric so that
the rights sides are together, sew three
sides of the fabric together.

Step 3: Turn the fabric envelope, right
side out.  Fold the raw edges of the open
end, inside and top sew the edge closed.

Step 4: Sew a small strip of Velcro® to
the top of one side of the fabric rectangle.
Flip the rectangle and sew the second piece
of the Velcro® to the opposite end and opposite
side of the rectangle.

Step 5: Fold the rectangle in half.  Sew a
seam 1/2 inch from the fold, to create a
pocket through which you will be able to
string the charging cord.

Step 6: String the charging cord through
the pocket that you have sewn.  The pocket
should be a little tight so that the cord does
not slip out when you open the keeper to
extend the cord.  The keeper should hold
onto the cord so that it is convenient for
rewrapping the cord.

Step 7: Wrap the cord and fasten the
Velcro®.  If you are making a cord keeper
for a fatter cord - make the keeper longer
than the 5 inches.  The cord should fit
tightly in the keeper however, so that the cord
will stay folded and together in the keeper.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Jean Fritz - celebrating 100 years

Happy 100th Birthday - Jean Fritz 

Jean Fritz was born on November 16, 1915, and thus, this year (2015) she is celebrating her 100th birthday.  She was born in Wuhan (Hankow), China while her parents were working there.  She is known for having solidified the notion that biographies for children should be accurate to a word.  Mr. Revere and I (Little Brown, 1953).
Fritz had declined to name Revere's horse in her book And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1973).  But she eventually, after the book was published, found that the real name for Paul Revere's horse was "Brown Beauty."  If she had known that when the book was published it is doubtful that picturing Revere's horse on the cover as a gray dapple would not have passed her critical eye.
Any information she included in a book was done so with verification from meticulous research.  She was not shy about expressing her dislike for the fact that Robert Lawson named Paul Revere's horse Scheherazade;  "Sherry" for short in his supposedly historical novel
Jean Fritz is credited for making history interesting. Anyone who has read the biographies she has authored, especially those of her six revolutionary figures, will view some of the people of history in the same light as prior to reading her books.
As I think about Jean Fritz's amazing writing career and her absolute meticulous research in preparing for a book, without thinking about how she must have felt when she discovered an illustration in one of her books that took her book out of the true historic realm.  Various illustrators provided illustrations for the individual books in her books about revolutionary war figures.  And Then What Happened to Paul Revere was illustrated by Margot Tomes as was Where was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May? (1975) and What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? (1976).  Tomie dePaola illustrated Can't You Make Them Behave, King George? (1977). Trina Schart Hyman illustrated Why Don't You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? (1974) and Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? (1976). 
 It was this book about John Hancock that became a subject for some discussion shortly after it was published.  To explain the concern, I must share some information about the illustrator, Trina Schart Hyman.
Hyman was known for putting interesting bits and pieces into her illustrations, bits that often slipped right past the art editors and others at the publishing house.  It was as if she was playing a game with the publishers and art director.  Some were quite harmless but often very personal.  For example, she managed to get one of her illustrations published that included her ex-husband as one of the dwarfs in Snow White; and the "engaged" couple on the ornate edge of a table in King Stork. But the one illustrative bit that involved Jean Fritz is the message she put on the tombstone of Will You Sign here, John Hancock?
 It seems that Hyman's edition of Snow White was reviewed in Kirkus Reviews while Hyman was working on the illustrations for Will You Sign here, John Hancock?  The reviewer in Kirkus reviews (then run by the stalwart Virginia Kirkus) panned her edition. That caused Trina to be a little cranky -- well maybe more than cranky.   In the scene where Hancock is walking in the cemetery grieving over his young son's death in an accident -- there are tombstones throughout the cemetery.

One of those tombstones, the one in the lower right hand corner carried this inscription:

Virginia Kirk
us a nasty soul
is its own

After Jean Fritz was made aware of the insertion -- the publisher air brushed out the inscription in all subsequent editions. In following editions and to this day any copies have a completely blank tombstone in the lower right hand corner of that page (43).

Rumor had it that Jean Fritz would not allow Trina Schart Hyman to illustrate another of her books.  However, she did.  Hyman illustrated The Man Who Loved Books (Putnam, 1981).  This book authored by Jean Fritz told the story of Saint Columba, an Irish saint who was known for his missionary work in Scotland and for his love of books.

Jean Fritz has not published a book for several years, but her wealth of contributions to children's literature are a testament to her superb writing and research, and to the respect she garners from readers of all ages.
Fritz's husband Michael passed away in 1995, a year after a botched surgery landed Fritz in a wheelchair.  Fritz has a son David, and a daughter Andrea, and two grandsons: Dan and Mike.  In November 2003, she was presented a National Humanities Medal by President George W. Bush, and her family and long time editor Margaret Frith were in the audience. The award is presented annually to 10 Americans. Her medal was embossed with the phrase: ''Expanding our understanding of the world.'' 

Jean Fritz - circa. 1995

For over 50 years Fritz and her husband lived in a house in Dobbs Ferry, New York.  In 2006 she moved to a retirement home overlooking the Hudson -- and she continued to write despite not being able to go to the library as conveniently as she once did.

Andrea Pfleger

Fritz's first drafts are always written in long-hand, and her daughter Andrea Fritz Pfleger, who lives in nearby Monroe, NY, is available to retrieve books she needs and to type up her manuscript pages as needed.


Frith, Marjorie (2010 November 11) Who are you writing about today, Jean Fritz? Historian Jean Fritz's longtime editor looks back over their many years of collaboration. Publisher Weekly.  Retrieved from

Jean (Buttery) Fritz (1915-_ Biography - personal, addresses, career, honors awards, writings, sidelights.  Retrieved from

McElmeel, Sharron (various dates).  Miscellanea in Jean Fritz. File: Sharron L. McElmeel Papers.  University of Iowa Special Collections.  University of Iowa: Iowa City, Iowa.  Collection no. MsCO991.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Challenge for Writers - Inspired by The Inventor's Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford

The Inventor's Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford

 Suzanne Slade and illustrator Jennifer Black Reinhardt created a book that emerged in September 2015 -- The Inventor's Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford. (Charlesbridge, 2015).  Here's some interesting background about the book -
And a YouTube booktrailer at

Now the challenge -- we need to think about inclusion of diverse subjects.  This book fits nicely into an inventor's focus but so often the only inventors included are those that came as European white men.  In response to this book  share a collaborative read about inventors that feature an inventor that is not white or not male.

For example do you know of Granville T. Woods (if there is not a book about him -- are there alternative ways to share information about him?)  Do you know who invented the potato chip? Or how about Elijah McCoy, Benjamin Banneker, Garrett Morgan, and Chester Greenwood (earmuffs), Earl Dickson (band-aids®), Clarence Crane (life savers®), William Russell Frisbie (guess what he invented?), Igor Sikorsky (helicopter), Catherine Greene (ideas provided Eli Whitney with refinements making his cotton gin a success), Margaret Knight (safety mechanism on loom & the paper bag- and 26 patents), Sarah Breedlove Walker (hair products), Bette Graham (white-out), Ann Moore (SNUGLI - a baby carrier, and later a carrier for oxygen tanks), Stephanie Kwolek (strong fiber - Kevlar), Gertrude B. Elion (drugs for leukemia and popular organ rejection drugs), Mary Anderson (windshield wipers), Josephine Cochrane (dishwasher), Marion Donovan (disposable diaper), Melitta Benz (automatic drip coffee maker), & George Washington Carver (over 300 different products, many using peanuts [but not peanut butter]). What other inventors are out there?
Books about these non-white or non-male inventors are often difficult to find.  How can information be shared -- or can you find books/articles about any of these inventors?
Share your findings in the comments section below... .

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Day with Thomas (the Tank Engine)

Riding the Rails with Thomas -- Was it Worth it?

The long awaited day came - September 26, 2015... we were headed 2 hours away to ride the rails pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine.  The event would take place in Boone, Iowa - Boone  & Scenic Valley Railroad.

We, my friend Karon and I, and the little one headed out at 9:45 a.m. since our tickets were for 1 p.m. and we were advised to arrive an hour early.

The little one slept on the way down so was refreshed and ready for some fun.  The advertising said, "Take a ride with Thomas, meet the railway controller Sir Topham Hatt, have fun in the Imagination Station, see authentic engines and enjoy tons of other activities in a city near you! This year some events featuring Thomas's best friend Percy! All Aboard!"  We had purchased our tickets in advance and had them at the ready.

The imagination station was a large tent filled with tables of play tables and train sets.
There was a train-shaped blowup bounce house but there were too many big kids in there for a 2-year-old to go in unaccompanied.  Not appropriate for grown-ups to be in there and without a "bigger kid" the bounce house was not the experience that was non-threatening for a 2 year old.  One station with a the IPTV guy showed films from IPTV - pretty much what we have seen a million times.  We were able to take a picture of the IPTV guy who exudes excitement about Thomas, IPTV, and Reading -- and both of us gave a thumbs up.  Pryor was able to chase bubbles being produced by a bubble machine at the end of a large red caboose.  Chasing them and climbing onto the platform at the back of the caboose was entertaining.  Just right for a two year old.

Then here comes Thomas down the track.  Whistle was very underplayed and one might have missed his arrival if one hadn't been right there.  Once he moved into the stopping spot pictures would not have been possible as he was beyond the area where passengers were allowed.

 The wheels were VERY big... and then we moved down the path to board the train.  Our tickets were punched and we climbed on.

The ride was short - 15 minutes by houses and through the countryside.  Five minutes standing still and then pulled back into the station.  Only action on the train was the conductor coming by to high-five the youngest passengers, and a photographer offering to take family pictures (to be purchased at an inflated price - we declined).  When we disembarked there were plenty of gifts to purchase in the train station, and the Thomas gift tent, a lot of food vendors -- although we were told Sir Topham Hatt was around -- we could not find him.  But surely he was there somewhere as the photographer on the train quoted a price for a combination package with Sir Topham Hatt and the train pictures.  But once we were near the gift tent we did get a Thomas the Tank Engine balloon ($12.00) and a mechanized James the engine train set ($33.00)

Now to answer the question:  Was it worth it?  Not really, it could have been done so much better.  But you know a 2 year old has little or no concept of too many food vendors, very little variety in the imagination tent, and too little "Thomas" on the train ride.  The delight in his eyes was worth every penny.  However, he did repeatedly comment, " We couldn't find Sir Topham Hatt."  But once putting on his new t-shirts (from our friend) and helping Grandpa put together the train track - he forgot all about missing Sir Topham Hatt.

What could the organizers done differently?
  • Perhaps playologists in the imagination tent to supervise and manage when a larger child takes trains away from littler children (parents should not have to manage other people's children) -- Pryor managed on his own but several other children and parents had difficulties.  No assistance was available in the craft area (which wasn't really too exciting anyway).
  • Something, anything, on the train to make it speak "Thomas."  If one had not seen the engine - and that is quite possible, one would not have a clue that they were on the Thomas train.  How about:  some music from some of the Thomas shows, could Sir Topham Hatt come through the train?  Perhaps a baseball card type of souvenir rather than the b/w hand out.  
  • There was no welcome (at least that we could hear in our car), and nothing that made the train ride anything but an ordinary train ride.  So perhaps a more energizing welcome with a special whistle as we moved out.
  • Some type of organization to the grounds -- seemed very disorganized and no "map" of what was where (such as where was Sir Topham Hatt?).  Staff was around but mostly for selling things  ... few had any answers about where something or somebody was, or who was responsible for a beverage machine that took money but delivered nothing. 
Will this make any difference to organizers?  I doubt it but for those who are contemplating buying tickets for the 2016 rides (too late for the 2015 season at least here in Iowa) perhaps this might be of some help.  Remembering that you (the adult) are probably not going to appreciate much about the situation (although I got to spend a day with a good friend who was a BIG help in keeping track of a little one), but the experience is really for the little ones -- and they do not care what you pay, they just want to have fun.  And I think the little one we took did have fun... because he had nothing to compare it too (including no expectations).

Books about Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends are written by the Rev. Wilbert Awdry, and later his son Christopher.  The books were part of the series The Railroad Series.  Thomas is a steam engine with the #1 painted on its side. He emerged as the most popular of the characters and is now the star of a television spin-off called Thomas & Friends.  The books were originally published by the Golden Press (Little Golden Books) which is now owned by Random House Books for Young Readers.  There are many versions and many stories. Thomas made his first appearance in 1945.  So this year 2015 Thomas is 70 years old.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate

George Moses Horton - POET

Don Tate, a talented author and illustrator, has recently had a new book released by Peachtree (2015).
It is the story of  George Moses Horton.  Horton was born on a tobacco plantation, in Chatham County, North Carolina, approximately 1798.  His master who enslaved him from birth, was William Horton. George Moses Horton taught himself to read and during his teen years, around 1815 he began to compose poems.  He recited them aloud and sold them to people who crowded around him at the Chapel Hill farmers market.  Those attending the University of North Carolina encouraged him by purchasing his love poems and giving him books.  A professor's wife and novelist, Caroline Lee Whiting Hentz helped him publish his poems in the local newspaper.  She was instrumental in helping him publish his first collection of poetry, The Hope of Liberty (1829).  He became the first African American man to publish a book in the South.  He was also one of the first to protest slavery with his poetry.  His efforts to earn enough money to buy his freedom were blocked but he did manage to use his income from his poetry to buy his time and he became a full-time poet and handyman at the university.  This continued for over 30 years while he was gathering his poems to publish The Poetical Works in 1845, and Naked Genius in 1865.  Finally after 68 years enslaved in the south, he was freed by the Civil War and settled in Philadelphia where he lived the last 17 years or so, in freedom.  He died in approximately 1883.  Chatham County, North Carolina has honored him by naming a middle school in his honor, and in 1978, June 28 was declared George Moses Horton Day.  Horton has received several awards and accolades.

Photo by Don Tate - Circle City Books and Music
Pittsboro, N.C.
Don Tate wrote and illustrated a picture book about Horton, and while on a trip to North Carolina, he took this picture, without noting the location or the particulars about the picture - noticing only the name of George Moses Horton, the subject of his just released book.

Mysteries (or unanswered questions) always interest me. So I went on a search to figure out where and what this picture was part of.  Thanks to Angela Burt, Branch Manager of the Chatham County Library in Pittsboro, NC - I now know the location of this picture. A call to the library, and sharing the picture yielded this information.  This is a mural on the side of the Circle City Books & Music. The store is located in Pittsboro, NC at 121 Hillsboro Street.

Ms. Burt also told me that Doris Betts was a local writer as well. Maya Angelou was not from Chatham County but a little research tells me that Angelou visited Bennett College (Greensboro, N.C.) and the Horton Middle School students who had been immersing themselves in the writing of Angelou were able to hear her speak there in 2007. Tantalus in Love by Alan Shapiro was an acclaimed book of poetry from 2005 - which tells me this painting was executed sometime after 2005, and since Angelou is mentioned I'm betting after her visit to NC in 2007. Shapiro's connection to NC is that he is an American poet and professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Charles Frazier whose name is shown on the corner of this photo is an American historical novelist. ... Frazier was born in Asheville, North Carolina. He won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction for Cold Mountain (1997) which I am guessing is the book represented here as the cover was blue -- his other many books are other colors.

A visit to the store's Facebook page indicates that as of August 16, 2015 when Circle City Books & Music updated their cover photo to use the photograph below, the mural was indicated, by a comment posted, as being a beautiful addition to downtown Pittsboro (mural and shop!)."
And further, Tate's photograph was just a snippet of the entire mural long the side of the building.  Kudos to Circle City Books & Music, to Don Tate for making me aware of George Moses Horton, and to Angela Burt at the Chatham County Library for responding to a patron -- even if that patron was nearly 1000 miles and 16 hours away from her library.
After reading Don Tate's book Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton some older readers may wish to explore Horton's life and writing by reading:

Sherman, Joan R. (1997) The Black Bard of South Carolina: George Moses Horton and His Poetry. Chapel Hill Books: University of North Carolina Press.  ISBN  978-0-8078-4648-3.

Horton, George Moses.  (2012) Poems By a Slave. (Classic Reprint Series) Charleston, S.C.: Forgotten Books.  ASIN: B008XDI74C

Horton, George Moses. (2010) The Poetical Works of George M. horton: The Colored Bard of North-Carolina, to which is prefixed the Life of the Author, written by himself.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN-13: 978-1456323240