Category Archives: Books

And Then I Read: THE BEE AND THE ACORN by Paula Susan Wallace

Cover art by Emily Isabella.

This is a non-fiction book, an account of the conception, founding, and development of the Savannah College of Art and Design by the woman who conceived it, was one of the four founders, and is its President today. SCAD, as it’s long been known, is one of the largest and best colleges in the world for education and career-training in arts of all kinds, with over 100 degree programs and over 12,000 students. In addition to their home base in Savannah, Georgia, they have satellite schools in Atlanta, Hong Kong, Lacoste, France, and online. The reason I read it? Ellen’s nephew is a freshman there, and next week she and I will be visiting SCAD along with Ann and Dave, the parents of student Zack. We’re looking forward to the trip, and Ann gave us this book to read about the school and the people behind it.

Paula Wallace’s story is, indeed, inspiring and amazing. She was an elementary education teacher with a big dream: to start a school for the arts. One that would be different from every other art school and university program out there: it would focus on the students, not only developing their skills and talents, but teaching them how to sell themselves and find careers. There would be no giant lecture halls, no teaching aides drawn from the student body. Classes would be small, and each taught by full professors. It would be inclusive rather than exclusive, it would spread the classroom out to the larger world, and help the community as much as the students.

Paula shared that dream with her family, and her husband Richard as well as her parents, May and Paul Poetter, agreed to help. With little money except May and Paul’s retirement nest-egg, they bought a derelict Armory in downtown Savannah in the late 1970s, a time when that part of Savannah was itself derelict and dying. They were beset with many serious difficulties: a hurricane that struck the town a few weeks before they planned to open, skepticism and distrust from some locals, doubt and disbelief in their dream from the accrediting groups that needed to approve them, and lots more. Somehow they made it work, and this book is a testament to that effort through Paula’s memories and stories. Yes, it’s slanted toward their successes, but also explains the ideas and attitudes that made the school attractive to students and successful in the long run, even with many roadblocks.

It’s a great story, and if you have any interest in the topic, or perhaps know someone who might be thinking about an arts education, I highly recommend it.

And Then I Read: ATLANTIC CIRCLE by Kathryn Lasky Knight

You’d think someone writing a travel book about sailing across the Atlantic Ocean twice in a small boat as well as through the waterways and canals of Europe would be enthusiastic about it. Not so much in this case. Kathryn’s husband Chris loves sailing, and comes from sea-faring families. Kathryn is from the midwest and happiest on land. Despite that, she agrees to Chris’s plan to sail from Massachusetts to Europe in their thirty-foot ketch. Once there they will explore the waterways of England and Europe over three summers (leaving the boat to fly home between) and finally sailing back across the ocean to the Caribbean in the fall of their third year.

Kathryn continues to tell us she is not suited for a life on the water, doesn’t like it, doesn’t want to be there. When preparing for the trip she is more concerned about how many kinds and amounts of Pepperidge Farm cookies she can pack aboard, as well as other comfort foods than preparing in other ways. Her husband Chris does all the hard work of preparing the boat, charting their course, and getting everything ready. The entire first two sections of the book, which delve deeply into family history and their relationship, and are full of complaints and denial from Kathryn, get pretty tiresome, and I almost gave up on the book several times.

Finally, in Chapter 14, page 80, they get sailing. Kathryn continues to hate the Atlantic crossing, which is admittedly rough and scary, but does write about it well. And once they arrive in England in Chapter 20, the book becomes much more fun to read. River and canal sailing are clearly much more the thing for Kathryn, and she writes appealingly about the places they go, always being sure to include lots about the food and people they meet. Travels through Europe don’t always run so smoothly, particularly in the rivers, where their small boat is often in danger of being run down and swamped by much larger ones, but the travel experience is fascinating, and well worth reading. The final Atlantic crossing goes much better than the first one, and the continued story of their lives after the epic voyage is entertaining too.

In all, I’m glad I read this, but I do prefer travel adventure books where the writer wants to be there. Kathryn and Chris are still together, surprisingly, as I learned on her website. The book was published in 1985, and the author has written many more books, mostly for children, under the name Kathryn Lasky.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: MIDNIGHT MAGIC by Avi

Cover illustration by Laurel Long.

It’s 1491 in the small Italian kingdom of Pergamontio. Fabrizio, a twelve-year-old servant boy to Mangus the Magician answers a knock on the door of their humble home one stormy night to find that Mangus has been summoned to the royal castle. Mangus does magic of the stage trickery kind, but recently he was arrested and tried for witchcraft. Since then, his career in ruins, Magnus and his wife, and Fabrizio, have been struggling to survive. A summons to the castle can’t be good news. Fabrizio is determined to go with the old man and help him however he can.

It turns out the King and his chief advisor, the powerful Count Scarazoni, want Mangus’s help and advice with a family problem. The King’s daughter, Princess Teresina, has been seeing a ghost at midnight in the hallway near her bedroom, and declares it an omen of dread, and perhaps a sign from her missing older brother. The King, who is superstitious, wants Mangus to investigate and prove the ghost is some kind of trick. Count Scarazoni wants the same thing, as he has convinced the King to agree to his marriage to Teresina, but the King will not allow the wedding until the ghost problem is solved.

Magnus and Fabrizio take up residence in the castle, and are soon embroiled in all kinds of court intrigue. Teresina befriends Fabrizio, and together the two of them see her ghost. It’s very convincing, but Mangus remains sure it can’t be real. Before long, Fabrizio is haunting the castle himself at night, using the many secret passages shown him by Teresina…until the first murder happens. Then Fabrizio is arrested and thrown into the dungeon. Who will help him now, and who will help his master, Mangus?

An excellent read with great characters and a plot and story worthy of the stage, full of clever turns and witty dialogue. I’ve only read a few books by Avi (pen name for Edward Irving Wortis), and enjoyed all of them. I should look for more, and I will.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: SWIFT RIVERS by Cornelia Meigs

Cover illustration by Tim Tanner.

About 70 years ago, Cornelia Meigs was a big name in books written for children. She won the Newbery Award for her biography of Louisa May Alcott, “Invincible Louisa,” and three of her other novels were Newbery runners-up. Now her books are often hard to find and out of fashion, but I like them. This is one of her Newbery Honor Books I bought recently.

Chris Dahlberg lives in the recently settled area of north-central America which is now the state of Minnesota. He’s been raised by his Uncle Nels, who is very hard on Chris, and the two don’t get along. Chris is much happier when he can be with his grandfather further up in the mountains, helping the old man now struggling with arthritis, but Uncle Nels has a claim on Chris that he must honor. At least until that claim is broken when Nels throws Chris out of his house. Soon the boy and his grandfather are reunited, but only after some difficult winter travels for Chris. While in the mountains, Chris meets Pierre Dumenille, a river pilot on the Mississippi who gives Chris an idea of how to make enough money to support hhimself and his grandfather: by cutting prime timber and floating it down the small river nearby all the way to the Mississippi, and then to be sold to timber buyers. This plan is carried out through many adventures and difficulties in which Chris and another new friend, Stuart, nearly meet their own deaths several times. When the logs are successfully brought to the place where they can be made into huge rafts and floated down the Mississippi, Chris and Stuart decide to stay with them, hiring on as raft hands with their pilot friend, Pierre. More adventures and dangers follow in this exciting story, and Chris learns a lot about America and his own place in it on the way.

A fine read, recommended.

And Then I Read: GHOST HAWK by Susan Cooper

Cover illustration by Alejandro Colucci.

I’ve been enjoying the work of Susan Cooper since her first fantasy, “Over Sea, Under Stone” in 1965, the beginning of her “The Dark Is Rising” sequence. One thing I admire about Cooper is that she’s always trying new things, entering new areas of fiction. This book takes place in Massachusetts at a time when the Native American population was still large, but colonists from Europe were arriving steadily, creating friction between the two groups. The narrator is Little Hawk, a boy of the Pokanoket tribe undergoing a survival ritual that will usher him into manhood if he comes through it. Left in the woods far from home with only his knife, tomahawk, bow and arrows in early winter, he must find a way to survive for three months there on his own. While he has been well trained for his ordeal, it’s far from easy, and he comes close to death at times, but Little Hawk does win through.

When he returns home, everything is greatly changed. Most of his tribe is dead from a disease brought by the white men. Only his grandmother and sister remain from his own family, and they have joined another decimated tribe in a new home. Little Hawk does his best for them, even befriending a white man’s son who visits the tribe, but later that friendship leads to a horrible misunderstanding and violent attack on the Native American boy. The white boy, John Wakely, is horrified, knowing Little Hawk was only trying to help him, and a spiritual bond is forged between them that will last for the rest of their lives. There is definitely a fantasy element to the tale, but I’ll refrain from explaining further, as it might spoil the story for readers.

Through the eyes of the two boys, we see how the conflicts between the settlers and natives play out in many ways. The settlers have come to gain religious freedom, but many of them are so strict in their own religion that freedom is impossible for young John, and he must leave home to become an cooper’s apprentice, learning to make barrels. Eventually he finds a life for himself, with Little Hawk always watching and helping when he can. They are not easy times for anyone, especially the Pokanoket and other tribes whose long-held territory is shrinking, and their traditional way of life becoming ever more difficult. John Wakely does what he can to help them, too.

Beautifully written, historically accurate, and with great knowledge of the land, the ways of both peoples, and human nature. Highly recommended.