One-Minute Book Reviews

February 18, 2008

Writing Levels of the U.S. Presidents — Can You Write at a Higher Level Than George W. Bush? — Here’s How to Find Out (Encore Presentation)

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Who wrote at a higher level, Ronald Reagan or Abraham Lincoln? Check the results of a survey that calculated their grade levels using the readability statistics on Microsoft Word in this special encore presentation of last year’s Presidents’ Day post

Need a reason to feel good about the direction our country is taking on Presidents’ Day? Try this: George W. Bush can write at a higher level than Thomas Jefferson.

Not long ago, I found that novelist Mitch Albom writes at a third-grade level when I typed part of For One More Day into my computer, then ran the Microsoft Word spell-checker www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/11/16/. When you do this, you see the Flesch-Kincaid grade level at the bottom of the column of numbers that appears on your screen. (If you don’t see the grade level, search Microsoft Word Help for “Readability Statistics,” then select “Display Readability Statistics,” which will tell you how to make them appear.)

So I wondered: Could any of our presidents write at a higher level than a No. 1 best-selling novelist? I used Microsoft Word to calculate the reading levels of the presidents’ books, if these were easily available, and their best-known speeches if not. Here are the results:

John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage Grade 12
Jimmy Carter, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid Grade 12
Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Four Freedoms” Speech Grade 11.2
Ronald Reagan, An American Life Grade 11.1
Dwight Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe Grade 11.1
Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address Grade 10.9
George W. Bush, A Charge to Keep Grade 10.8
Bill Clinton, My Life Grade 8.2
Gerald Ford, A Time to Heal Grade 8.1
Lyndon B. Johnson “Why Are We in Vietnam?” Speech Grade 7.3
Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Abigail Adams,
July 1, 1787 Grade 5.3

I entered 305 words from each book, beginning on page 24, because the first chapter of a book often doesn’t represent the whole. A typical book chapter has about 20 pages, so I started on page 24. And because a paragraph or two may not represent the whole, either, I entered 305 words, or more than a page, which usually has about 250–300 words. When I used a speech, I entered the whole speech.

This survey showed that George Bush wrote in A Charge to Keep – what, you’ve forgotten it? — at a higher level than Thomas Jefferson did in a letter to Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams. Bush also wrote at higher level than Bill Clinton did in My Life and LBJ did in his “Why Are We in Vietnam?” speech at Johns Hopkins University. But Jefferson comes out ahead if you give him credit for writing the Declaration if Independence single-handledly. It’s written at the level of Grade 12.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 14, 2008

Valentine’s Day Quote of the Day on Love (Anne Enright, ‘The Gathering’)

“There are so few people given to us to love. I want to tell my daughters this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen. And if you can, at nineteen, count the people you love on one hand, you will not, at forty, have run out of fingers on the other. There are so few people given to us to love and they all stick.”

Anne Enright in her novel The Gathering (Grove/Atlantic, $14, paperback), winner of the Man Booker Prize for fiction www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/01/21/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

February 12, 2008

Do Love Stories ‘Give Love a Bad Name’? Quote of the Day (Jeffrey Eugenides)

“Love stories depend on disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name.”

Jeffrey Eugenides in the introduction to the new My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories, From Chekhov to Munro (Harper, 587 pp., $24.95) www.harpercollins.com, which he edited, as quoted by Moira Hodgson in “The Puzzle of Love,” the Wall Street Journal, Feb. 9–10, 2008 online.wsj.com/article/SB120251134693455033.html?mod=2_1167_1.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 28, 2007

Junior Kroll Celebrates New Year’s Eve and Other Special Days in Witty, Rhyming Poems for Children for Ages 4 and Up

  

Junior Kroll had a date

With Grandfather Kroll to celebrate

New Year’s Eve, home alone,

Just two guys on their own …

 

Junior Kroll. By Betty Paraskevas. Illustrated by Michael Paraskevas. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 36 pp., varied prices.

By Janice Harayda

In the realm of picture books, New Year’s Eve is an outcast, perhaps because publishers think that 4-to-8-year-olds should be in bed by the time the fun starts. And yet, young children often do celebrate the day, either in their own way or their parents’.

Betty Paraskevas acknowledges this in Junior Kroll, a collection of 15 witty, rhyming poems about a mischievous little rich boy who lives in monied seaside enclave resembling the present-day Hamptons. By the give-me-camouflage-or-give-me-death standards of many children, Junior Kroll is a fashion anachronism: He wears a bow tie, white shirt, navy-blue short-pants suit, and the sort of bowl-shaped haircut that used to be called a Buster Brown (which, to judge by his infectious smile, he never minds). In the poem “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” he adds a paper hat, and he and his grandfather spend a lovely evening together eating pizza and watching W.C. Fields on the VCR as the year ends:

The pizza arrived along with the sleet

That tapped on the windows and danced on the street.

In paper derbies they watched TV,

And they dined with the king of comedy.

Other poems in Junior Kroll have a rhythm just as lively, and though they are about people with money, they aren’t materialistic: They celebrate warm and often amusing ties to family and friends. Junior Kroll cheers up an ailing neighbor in “The Old Lady Who Lived Down the Lane.” And in “The Thanksgiving Day Guest,” he gets to know his mother’s perhaps underappreciated great-aunt Flo:

She told him of traveling to Istanbul

On the Orient Express,

Long ago when women reporters

Were rare with United Press.

 Junior Kroll was popular and well-reviewed when it first appeared more than a decade ago, so it’s easy to find online and in libraries if not in bookstores, and it’s worth tracking down in the new year if you can’t find it by the time you break out the noisemakers on Monday night. “The Thanksgiving Day Guest” ends with Flo’s departure on the day after the feast:

The next morning her cab was waiting

Under a cold gray sky.

From the doorway Mrs. Kroll watched Junior kiss

A remarkable old lady good-bye.

Published: 1993 (first hardcover edition)

Furthermore: The adventures of Junior Kroll appeared in comic-strip form in East Hampton’s Dan’s Papers and in Hemisphere magazine on United Airlines. Betty and Michael Paraskevas are a mother-and-son team who have written more than a dozen books and produced several animated television series en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Paraskevas. They created the Tangerine Bear, the subject of two poems in Junior Kroll and an ABC home video Christmas special.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 23, 2007

Henry Van Dyke’s Christmas Classic, ‘The Story of the Other Wise Man’

A parable about the meaning of  faith that first appeared in 1896

The Story of the Other Wise Man. By Henry Van Dyke. Ballantine 112 pp., $7.95, paperback. Available in other editions, including abridged picture-book versions for children.

By Janice Harayda

What is the meaning of faith? Does it involve saying prayers? Attending religious services? Making pilgrimages to shrines or holy places?

Henry Van Dyke (1852–1933) never raises these questions directly in The Story of the Other Wise Man. But they lie at the heart of this classic parable about the meaning of faith in a secular age.

Van Dyke invents a fourth wise man, Artaban, who trades his belongings for gifts for “the promised one” foretold by prophets:  a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl. Artaban plans to give the jewels to the infant after meeting up with his companions Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, who have gold, frankincense and myrrh. But he misses the connection after he stops to nurse a dying man, and later on, he parts with his jewels. He uses the ruby to ransom a child whom King Herod had ordered slain and the pearl to free a girl about to be sold into slavery.

Artaban believes he has missed all opportunities to meet the promised one until, near the end of his 33 years, he reaches Jerusalem just before the Crucifixion. There he realizes that his search has ended when he hears a faint voice saying: “Verily I say unto thee, Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.”

On his journey Artaban wrestles with what The Story of the Other Wise Man calls “the conflict between the expectation of faith and the impulse of love.” But Van Dyke resisted appeals to explain what his book “meant.”

“How can I tell?” he asks in his foreword. “What does life mean? If the meaning could be put into a sentence there would be no need of telling a story.”

Furthermore: Van Dyke was the minister at Manhattan’s Brick Presbyterian Church, where he first told Artaban’s story. He later became a professor English at Princeton University and Ambassador to the Netherlands. Van Dyke may be best known today as the author of the text for the hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” set to the tune of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from the Ninth Symphony. Click here to read Van Dyke’s words and listen to the music www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/j/o/joyful.htm. You will also see a picture of Van Dyke if you click on the link.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

http://www.janiceharayda.com/


December 22, 2007

General George S. Patton’s Christmas Message to Soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge (Quote of the Day, ‘The Patton Papers’)

By the winter of 1944, Germany had all but lost World War II. But Adolf Hitler made a last bid for victory by attacking U.S. Army divisions in the snowy and forested Ardennes Mountains of Belgium in mid-December. By Christmas, the American soldiers had been fighting for more than a week in weather so cold that frozen bodies were stacked like firewood.

General George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. Third Army, gave this Christmas message on a wallet-sized card to every serviceman under his command:

“To each officer and soldier … I wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessing rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day.”

As quoted by Martin Blumenson in The Patton Papers: 1940–1945 (Houghton Mifflin, 1974), Illustrated with maps and photographs by Samuel H. Bryant, p. 605. In 2003 Replica Books published a newer edition of The Patton Papers under the bylines of Blumenson and Patton.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 21, 2007

Find Award-Winning Children’s Authors at the Site for the Kate Greenaway and Carnegie Medals

A great place to browse if you’re looking for top authors or illustrators

By Janice Harayda

The British equivalents of the Caldecott and Newbery awards are the Kate Greenaway and Carnegie medals, awarded by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CLIP). And CLIP has a well-designed site www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/home/index.php that’s a great place to learn about some of the best children’s authors and illustrators of the past 70 years. The “Living Archive” page lists all the winners. And if you click on the link that says “Shadow Site,” you’ll go to another site that has reviews and more.

Many books that have won Greenaway or Carnegie medals are available in American libraries if not always in stores. And some of their creators have won worldwide fame and have delighted children in the U.S. for years – Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs, Shirley Hughes, John Burningham, Helen Oxenbury, Edward Ardizzone, Jan Pienkowski and others. So if you can’t find a medal-winning book, you can often find others by the same author or illustrator. The judges of the Greenaway and Carnegie awards tend to take more risks than the American Library Association’s Newbery and Caldecott committees www.ala.org, which have to satisfy more constituences. So the British medalists often include worthy books that would have had little or no chance of an American prize.

One Greenaway winner that’s in stock on Amazon and elsewhere is Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s interactive The Jolly Christmas Postman (Little, Brown, $17.99, ages 3 and up) www.allanahlberg.com. In this sequel to The Jolly Postman, a letter-carrier calls on well-known characters from fairy tales or nursery rhymes and gives them small items tucked into pockets in the book — Humpty-Dumpty gets a get-well jigsaw puzzle – before ending with a visit to Santa. This is an ideal Christmas gift for 3-to-5-year-olds for whom getting mail is still a thrill.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 19, 2007

My Dear Watson, It’s Arthur Conan Doyle’s Classic Sherlock Holmes Christmas Story – ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’

The world’s most famous detective must figure out how a priceless gem ended up in a white goose

By Janice Harayda

Great holiday crime stories are rare. Set a murder mystery against the backdrop of a celebration of the birth of Christ and you risk accusations of trivializing the season or playing it for heavy irony. And who wants to be reminded that the wreath-draped mall teems with pickpockets or that burglars may strike after we leave for the airport?

Part of the genius of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” is that it implicitly acknowledges such realities. Arthur Conan Doyle begins this Sherlock Holmes tale on the second morning after Christmas. It’s a holiday story without the freight it would carry if it took place two days earlier. And it has a plot perfectly attuned to the season. Holmes has the benign Watson by his side as usual. But he doesn’t face his arch-foe, Moriarty, or a killer armed with a gun or a trained swamp adder as in “The Dancing Men” or “The Speckled Band.” He needs only to find out why a priceless gem – the blue carbuncle – turned up in the gullet of a Christmas goose abandoned on a London street.

Of course, it isn’t that simple. But Holmes resolves the case, in fewer than a dozen pages, with panache and in a spirit of holiday generosity. You could probably read “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” aloud in 20 minutes or so as a yule log burns. And it appeals to nearly all ages – not just to adults but to children who need more dramatic fare than The Polar Express.

Part of the allure all the Sherlock Holmes tales is that, while their stories are exciting, Holmes is imperturbable. “My name is Sherlock Holmes,” he tells a suspect in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” “It is my business to know what other people don’t know.” How nice that, in this case, he knows how to set the right tone – in a secular if not religious sense – for the season.

Furthermore: You can download “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” for free at the online Classic Literature Library, which makes available at no cost books in the public domain: sherlock-holmes.classic-literature.co.uk/the-adventure-of-the-blue-carbuncle/. At top left is the Audio CD “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes — The Blue Carbuncle” (Mitso Media, 2006), read by James Alexander, available on Amazon www.amazon.com and elsewhere.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. It is also for people who dislike long-winded weasel reviews that are full of facts and plot summaries but don’t tell you what the critic thought of the book.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 18, 2007

Why Does ‘A Christmas Carol’ Work So Well As a Holiday Story? Quote of the Day (Jane Smiley)

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol — a sentimental novella about the redemption of a miser — could easily have turned to drivel. Why didn’t it? Here’s an answer from the novelist Jane Smiley:

A Christmas Carol, like Martin Chuzzlewit, concerns itself with the social ramifications of selfishness, but the characters of young Martin and old Martin are combined in that of Ebenezer Scrooge, and his moral journey, which takes place in three acts in one night, has the force of a revelation rather than the tedium of a lengthy trek by ox-drawn wagon. Some of the narrative had its origins in one of Dickens’s own vivid dreams, and surely the idea of of using dreams as a structural device had its origins there as well …

“But what makes A Christmas Carol work — what makes it so appealing a novella that William Makepeace Thackeray, Dickens’s most self-conscious literary rival, called it ‘a national benefit’ — is the lightness of Dickens’s touch. Instead of hammering his points home, as he does in Martin Chuzzlewit, he is content (or more content) to let his images speak for themselves.”

Jane Smiley in Charles Dickens: A Penguin Life (Viking/Lipper, $19.95) www.penguinputnam.com. Smiley’s novels include A Thousand Acres www.randomhouse.com, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

For more on Dickens, visit the site for the Dickens Fellowship www.dickensfellowship.org, a 105-year-old organization based at the Charles Dickens Museum in London, which has chapters throughout the U.S. and world.

The “Christmas Carol” in the title of Dickens’s novella is “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” which mentioned in the story. To listen to it, click here http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/g/o/godrest.htm.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 15, 2007

Good Gift Books for Children and Teenagers — What to Wrap Up for Everyone From Babies and Toddlers Through College-Bound High School Students

Season’s readings for ages 1-to-16 and up

Source: http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

New books don’t always make the best gifts for children and teenagers. These suggestions include 2007 books and classics that young readers have enjoyed for years or generations

By Janice Harayda

Ages 1–2
Nobody does board books better than Helen Oxenbury, who has twice won the Kate Greenaway Medal, Britain’s equivalent of the Caldecott. Oxenbury’s great gift is her ability to create faces that are simple yet expressive and never dull or cloying, which is just what young children need. You see her skill clearly in her engaging series of board books about babies at play, which includes Clap Hands, All Fall Down, Say Goodnight and Tickle, Tickle. (Simon & Schuster, about $6.99 each) www.simonsayskids.com. Any infant or toddler would be lucky to have one of these as a first book.

Ages 3–5
Children’s poet Jack Prelutsky pays homage to Lewis Carroll’s “The Crocodile” in Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: And Other Poems (HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 32 pp., $16.99, 3 and up) www.jackprelutsky.com, a collection of brief rhyming poems about imaginary animals. But this picture book stands on its own with amusing poems about fanciful creatures such as an “umbrellaphant” (an elephant with an umbrella for a trunk) and sparkling illustrations by Carin Berger.

Ages 6–8
Elizabeth Matthews makes a stylish debut in Different Like Coco (Candlewick, 40 pp., $16.99, ages 6–8) www.candlewick.com, a witty and spirited picture-book biography of Coco Chanel. Matthews focuses on the early years of the designer who learned to sew at a convent school, then revolutionized 20th century fashion with clothes that reflected and fostered the emancipation of women. The result makes clear that Chanel owed her success not just to hard work but to boldness and staying true to herself and her artistic vision.

Ages 9–12
Brian Selznick has had one of the year’s biggest hits for tweens of both sexes in The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures (Scholastic, 533 pp., $22.99) www.scholastic.com, a cross between a picture book and a chapter book. Selznick’s novel involves a 12-year-old orphan and thief who lives in a Paris train station and, in the days of silent movies, tries to complete work on a mechanical man started by his father. The beautiful packaging of this book helps to offset the so-so writing and unresolved moral issues it raises (including that Hugo rationalizes his thievery and mostly gets away with it) www.theinventionofhugocabret.com.

Ages 13-15
Three-time Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner says in The Art of Reading (Dutton, $19.99) that as teenager he was captivated by Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (Roc, $7.99, paperback) us.penguingroup.com. And that modern classic might still delight a teenager who likes science fiction (with or without a companion gift of the Stanley Kubrick’s great movie version). Or consider Mindy Schneider’s Not a Happy Camper (Grove, $24) www.not-a-happy-camper.com, an adult book being cross-marketed to teens. Schneider remembers her eight weeks at an off-the-wall kosher summer camp at the age of 13 in this light and lively memoir. (Sample experience: A bunkhouse burned down when a group of boys put candles under their beds to see if they could warm them up by nightfall.) This book is about wanting to fit in and never quite achieving it — in others, about the essence of being a teenager.

Ages 16 and up
Finally, a book for the college-bound, especially for the sort of high school student who might like to join a sorority or other all-female group: Marjorie Hart’s charming Summer at Tiffany (Morrow, $14.94) www.harpercollins.com, a book for adults that many teenagers might also enjoy. In this warm and upbeat memoir, Hart looks back on the summer of 1945, when she and a sorority sister at the University of Iowa became the first female pages at Tiffany’s, the Fifth Avenue jewelry store. They arrived just in time to watch the city erupt with joy when the Japanese surrender ended World War II and to have a much larger experience than they had expected. Hart’s account of all of it has none of the cynicism that infects so many books for teenagers, and that’s partly what makes it so refreshing.

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. You can read others by clicking on the “Children’s Books” and “Young Adult” categories under the “Top Posts” list at right.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

 

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