Saturday, January 31, 2009

Children's Book Award Winners

Review Contributor: Tanya of www.books4yourkids.com

CALDECOTT WINNER OF THE AWARD FOR ARTIST OF THE MOST DISTINGUISHED PICTURE BOOK FOR CHILDREN

illustrator Beth Krommes, author Susan Marie Swanson

CALDECOTT HONOR WINNERS 

Marla is definitely one of my all-time favorite illustrators. You can read me gush about her in a couple of places in my blog.

But, besides this wonderful book, I HIGHLY recommend you read two other books she illustrated. Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman is a great story about families and food and Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers is a wonderful poem about all the things babies do and love accompanied by Frazee's illustrations that honor all kinds of families and all kinds of love.

This one should be given along with Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon to every newborn everywhere.  And, finally, Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild, by the incomparable Mem Fox is the meticulously illustrated story of a mother trying to keep her cool as her child goes about her day making mess after mess...

How I Learned Geography written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz

A River of Words:  The Story of William Carlos Williams illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jennifer Bryant

NEWBERY AWARD FOR THE MOST DISTINGUISHED CONTRIBUTION  TO AMERICAN LITERATURE FOR CHILDREN


I can't believe that I have read a Newbery pick BEFORE it won an award!  And, I loved this book so, so much. As I said in my review, Gaiman created an amazing character in the person of Nobody Owens and I hope we see him on the page again sometime soon. Gaiman has already posted an amusing account of the phone call he received this morning and what was going through his head (trying not to swear at a group of children's librarians...) in his online journal.

NEWBERY HONOR BOOKS

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt with drawings by David Small

Savvy by Ingrid Law. This is Law's first book and it I loved it. She brought together a brilliant plot device and wonderful characters who feel a little like your neighbors or friends. It is one of those books that, if you read it as a child at just the right age, you squeeze it to your heart and take it through your life with you.

The Surrender Tree:  Poems of Cuba's Struggle For Freedom by Margarita Engle

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson.

Woodson has won many, many awards for her work, among them Newbery Honors for feathers and Show Way. She has won a Caldecott Honor Award for her picture book Coming on Home Soon, illustrated by EB Lewis. She has also been a National Book Award nominee and finalist for her young adult books Locomotion and Hush.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

How to Read a Picture Book without Words

Review Contributor: Tanya of www.books4yourkids.com

As an art school dropout and picture book aficionado, I am always drawn to a book's illustrations above all else. So, of course I would be drawn to a beautifully illustrated book that is all pictures. However, as a mother of a toddler and reader of story time three days a week, I need a book that will grab my audience, whether it's my son sitting in my lap or little faces looking up at me from the kid-sized benches in the Children's Department of the bookstore. Picture books without words draw the "reader" into a silent universe that is interpreted internally. To "read" a wordless picture book out loud requires that the "reader," using visual cues from the author/illustrator, create a narrative that will draw the listeners into the story and guide them through it externally. This is not always the easiest thing to do, even for someone who has read hundreds of picture books. But, I have found that, with a little thinking ahead and attention to detail, you can draw listeners in to the book and make the story last longer than the time it takes to flip through the pages.


David Wiesner is undoubtedly the master of visual storytelling, having won the Caldecott Medal for Tuesday, The Three Pigs and Flotsam, as well as the Caldecott Honor Award for Free Fall and Sector 7. But, before we dive into the wordless works of David Wiesner, I want to introduce you to Barbara Lehman, author/illustrator of The Red Book, winner of the Caldecott Honor in 2005, as well as Museum Trip, Rainstorm and Trainstop. Lehman and Wiesner both use watercolors to magnificently illustrate their books, but in very different ways. Lehman employs black outlines that give her pictures a two dimensional, almost comic book feel, making her books ideal for younger children. This isn't to say that her illustrations are simplistic. They are rich with details, crisp and colorful. And, most of all, inviting. Readers can't help but be drawn in to Lehman's books, especially The Red Book, which is about being drawn into a book, literally!

The plots of Lehman's books are often circular, ending where they began. The Red Book begins and ends with a nameless, red book stuck in a snow bank in a city somewhere. In between, the finder of the red book opens the pages to see another reader, on a sandy beach, who can see her, too. The story follows the city child as she devises a way to meet up with the other reader of the red book. Other than serving as a page turner, how can you "read" this book out loud, drawing younger children into the story and drawing out their imaginations? There are a few things you can do before you even open the book to begin engaging your audience. Whenever I read out loud, at home or at work, I like to say the name of the book and the name of the author and illustrator. After that, I usually open the book and start reading the story. However, with Lehman's books, which all have the main character on the cover, I like to tell my audience that we are going to read a book without words and I need help to tell this story. Then, I ask the audience to choose a name for the main character to get us started. Gender appropriate names, or even real names, don't matter. This is about what the audience sees and thinks. Reading a wordless book out loud requires a fine balance between audience involvement and verbal illustration enrichment on your part. As the "reader," take every opportunity to throw in adjectives when appropriate. Ask your audience to say how the main character is feeling, based on his/her expression. Ask your audience what they think the main character is thinking. Use your narrative to frame input from the audience and move the story along, page by page. As an individual reader, you know where your imagination goes as you read a wordless book to yourself. When "reading" out loud to an audience, you want to engage them and have them tell you where their imaginations are going as they look at the pictures in the book. All four of Lehman's books have main characters who are alone, and maybe lonely, but who find a connection with others, which reminds me a little bit of wordless picture books themselves - the pictures are out there on their own, waiting to connect with a reader who will give words their story.

David Wiesner's books take imagination and illustration to the next level. Some of Wiesner's artwork would not be out of place hanging in a museum next to the works of Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali. Wiesner's books are more detailed and his plots more complex than Barbara Lehman's, making for even more "reading" opportunities, but also requiring a slightly more advanced ability to understand the stories. Of course, these stories don't need to be understood or explained to be enjoyed. Simply looking at the beautiful, painterly illustrations with your audience and talking about the minutiae can make for an entertaining experience. Without words, readers (and listeners) are forced to look more closely at the illustrations, for clues and for narrative, than they would when reading a picture book with words. Words provide the cues for what to think about the story and how to look at the illustrations - without them, interpretation is up to you. Reading a book without pictures is also great practice for future museum visits and appreciation of art that hangs on the wall rather than between the pages of a book. Because of the detailed nature of Wiesner's illustrations, naming all the characters in his books might not be the best strategy, especially for the intricate Flotsam. However, this could be great fun with the more playful Sector 7 in which clouds have personalities and Tuesday in which frogs on flying lily pads have a nocturnal adventure.

However you choose to frame your narrative, calling attention to details and involving the listener is key to an engaged experience when reading a book without words. The way in which you call attention to and narrate the details determines the level of imagination and attention that your listeners will exhibit. I have always been the kind of reader who pores over illustrations and points out details. When my children were infants, this was a great strategy for engaging them in the story. While reading Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann I would always point out the mouse with the banana, who is somewhere different on each page. Eventually, I could ask, "Where is the mouse?" and my audience would delight in showing me. Looking for details has its rewards as well, especially with author/illustrators like Peggy Rathmann, who hides characters from one book in the pages of another - see 10 Minutes till Bedtime, an almost wordless book with guest appearances by the stars of Caldecott Medal winner Officer Buckle and Gloria and the cast of Goodnight Gorilla. Readers of the works of David Shannon can have fun searching for his dog Fergus, a little, white terrier and star of his own book, Good Boy, Fergus, hidden within illustrations of all of his books. Shannon is very creative with his incorporation of Fergus into his art work. In one book, Fergus appears as a logo on a bicycle. In another, he is a bit of graffiti on a desk.

However you choose to approach the experience, reading a wordless book out loud is both challenging and rewarding. Getting good at it and appreciating it is a muscle that needs flexing and developing. The more you work it, the more it works for you, and the more you get out of the wordless books you read. The ultimate gift of reading the wordless picture book out loud is the creativity it inspires in the listener. Wordless picture books are springboards to stories yet to be told, germinating in your children's minds.
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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Author Guest Post - Kathy Carmichael (and a Giveaway!)



Hot Flash - Buy the Book

Kathy Carmichael
Publisher: Medallion Press 
Today A Book Blogger's Diary is happy to welcome guest blogger, Kathy Carmichael, author of  Hot Flash, the award-winning author of Chasing Charlie, Here Comes Trouble, and My Lady Mischief.

About the Author

Award-winning comedy author Kathy Carmichael resides on Florida's west coast, along with her Scottish husband, two not-so-wee-sons, and a bevy of cantankerous felines. Two of her books have won the Reviewers International Organization's prestigious RIO Award of Excellence in two different genres.

A popular guest lecturer, she gives seminars to writers and readers. Prior to becoming an author, Kathy worked in advertising, as a paralegal and as a communications consultant. She tended bar while in college, where she served drinks mixed with advice. This gave her a unique glimpse into people's lives and motivations, which she uses in her writing.

Despite rumors to the contrary, she has never been recruited by the CIA or the other CIA (Culinary Institute of America). Kathy loves hearing from readers.

About the Book

Calm, cool, and premenopausal?

In this laugh-out-loud story about self discovery and coming to terms with aging, forty-year-old Jill Morgan Storm sets out to find the man of--if not her dreams, her son's college tuition. Thanks to survey responses from couples celebrating significant anniversaries, she's discovered the secret to a successful marriage: a man who travels. When she "auditions" traveling salesmen, she's hoping for one week of marital bliss, three weeks off, and a monthly paycheck. Will she find herself and the man of her schemes?

Without further ado, here is Kathy's humorous and insightful guest post:

*********************
Empty nest
By Kathy Carmichael

When I began writing Hot Flash, my oldest son was a high school senior. Like me, Jill, the heroine of Hot Flash, has a son heading off to college (I wonder how that happened!). However, Jill's son was an only child and she had to deal with the issues relating to an impending empty nest.

I am now facing empty nest as well. I knew this day would come eventually, I just didn't expect it to spring up on me so suddenly. My youngest son is now a high school senior and will be heading off to college this fall. Once he leaves, my house will certainly be very calm. Currently I have a full house and there's always something going on. I'm not sure how well I will handle the quiet of next year.

I'm approaching this new passage in my life with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I'll be able to write in a more peaceful environment.

On the other hand, I work out of the house and so does my husband. One of my fears is that he will begin looking to me for his paternal needs when there aren't any children here to practice on. Like yesterday, when he reminded me to take my empty cup to the kitchen. It's not as if I wasn't reaching for it when the words came out of his mouth!

However, he's probably worried that I'm going to start mothering him. Like when I mentioned he should remove his muddy shoes before coming in the house.

Another fear is that I will miss my children dreadfully.

I've been a mother for so long!

Back on the first hand, I'll finally be able to clean my kids' rooms and have them remain that way.

Back on the second hand, I don't think they know to clean their rooms! There are so many things I've forgotten to teach them. I'm sure they'll need me. With that in mind, I just added 1,000 monthly texts for each of us to our phone plan.

Back on the first hand, I could change one of their bedrooms into an exercise room. That would be nice. Maybe I'll lose weight and become fit and trim!

Back on the second hand, they won't be happy if there's no place to stay when they come home for holidays!

It seems I have an endless lists of thoughts and worries regarding their leaving home.

But one of my friends reminded me that I'll never have an empty nest. These days, kids keep returning home. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing!

If you have suggestions about how best to deal with an empty nest, I'd love to hear them :) For now, I'm planning on doing a LOT of writing -- or texting :) Or, maybe like Jill, I'll send out a survey of my own.

If you'd like to read an excerpt, click here -- KC

Wasn't that a great post, readers?! I now know what I can look forward to years from now, lol.

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GIVEAWAY
 
TWO lucky commenters will each win a paperback copy of this book, which will be mailed directly to the winners by the Author. You have until midnight CST of Feb 12th to get those comments, suggestions and questions in! US & Canada only. Good luck!

Please read the Disclaimer

As a bonus - If you sign up for Kathy's mailing list, you'll be automatically entered in her drawing for 5 copies of HOT FLASH and a $25 gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice! The 6 winners' names to be drawn on Valentine's Day 2009.


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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Author Randy Singer's Innovative Book!

If you’ve ever read a legal thriller or watched an episode of Law & Order and thought you would have rendered a different verdict—step into the jury box.

Beginning January 12, readers will have an opportunity to determine the verdict in Randy’s upcoming legal thriller, The Justice Game (Tyndale House, July 2009), which features a court case centered on the gun debate. 

The verdict voted on by the readers will be written into the story and kept under wraps until the book’s release. This is the first time in recent memory that an author has taken reader involvement and feedback to this level.

I wanted to do something different and get my readers really involved in the story,” said Singer. “This gives them an opportunity to hear both sides of the national gun debate and gets them thinking. Plus, it adds an element of fun to the book.”

Taking a new approach to the popular book trailer, Singer has produced a short, online video that mimics a cable news report. Featuring real-life talk show host Lorri Allen as the lead news anchor, the video shares the latest updates on the trial at the center of the book interspersed with segments of the closing arguments direct from the courtroom. At the end of the video, viewers are directed to a special section on Singer’s Web site to render their verdict.

You can access the video at: www.randysinger.net.

About the Author: Randy, who is a practicing veteran trial attorney as well as a teaching pastor in Virginia Beach, VA, has written seven critically-acclaimed legal thrillers. Publishers Weekly has said he, “is as enjoyable as John Grisham,” and his work has received several noteworthy reviews. His latest book, By Reason of Insanity (Tyndale), debuted in hardcover last summer and releases this month in softcover.


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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Author Guest Post - David Snowdon (and a Giveaway!)

Today A Book Blogger's Diary is a stop on the virtual blog tour of European Thriller/Espionage Novel The Mind of a Genius by David Snowdon, courtesy Book Promo 101.

About David Snowdon

British thriller writer, David Snowdon was born in London, and lives in London. He started writing in 1983, and wrote his first book, which hasn’t been published in 1984. His first published work, Too Young To die, was published in August 2006. And his second novel, The Mind of a Genius, was published in November 2007.

To learn more about David Snowdon and The Mind of a Genius, visit http://www.the-mind-of-a-genius.com and to learn more about this virtual tour, please visit http://virtualblogtour.blogspot.com/2008/12/mind-of-genuis-by-david-snowdon.html

About this Book

Special Agent, Jason Clay from the MI4 is hired to find a secret formula that was invented by the famous British scientist, Malcolm Prince. The only weak element in Clay’s strategy to accomplish his mission is Laura Prince, the beautiful wife of the scientist, who Clay has to seduce in order to obtain the formula. 

But the CIA, the Denmark Intelligence, the Australian Intelligence and many other very determined individuals are also after that formula, and can’t wait to get their hands on it. The competition is fierce, but who’s going to win?

The story develops as a travel through the world; with the action starting in London, then moving onto Copenhagen, Hong Kong and Australia. 

Clay appears to be the right man for the job; extremely handsome and a natural charmer, nothing could be easier for him than seducing a beautiful woman in order to obtain a top secret. 

For more information visit www.the-mind-of-a-genius.com

The author has graciously sent over a guest-post for your reading pleasure. Without further ado:

*********************
ESPIONAGE
By David Snowdon

Espionage is the process of using spies to procure secret information. It involves spies, procuring secret information without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage usually involves locating the secret information, or locating the people, who know the information and might reveal it. Spies normally have to receive special training and also have to travel abroad, and in the dangerous world of espionage, only best spies survive. The Espionage Act was passed by Congress in June 1917, after the US joined the First World War. The British MI6 and the American CIA are good examples of modern espionage organizations.

It was the practice of espionage that led to the creation of spy fiction. And classic James Bond novels such as Casino Royale, Diamonds Are Forever and From Russia with Love, are a very good example of spy fiction.

The James Bond 007, character was created by Ian Fleming in 1952, and has been featured in 22 James Bond films to date.

The latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, was released in the UK on the 31st of October 2008, and took nearly £103 million at the global box office in the first nine days.

Espionage has been described as the second oldest profession in the world, as people have been spying on each other for a very long time. The main attractions over the years has been the intrigue and the gadgets are sometimes used in the process.

Thank you for that wonderful post, David! Readers, please don't hesitate to leave comments for the author and his intriguing book.

**GIVEAWAY** Post comments on any of the blog tour stops and be entered in a drawing for a copy of The Mind of a Genius. To learn more about this virtual tour, just go to http://virtualblogtour.blogspot.com/2008/12/mind-of-genuis-by-david-snowdon.html

Good luck!

Book's Website Photobucket
ISBN: 978-0-9552650-1-3
Publisher: Pentergen Books
Pages: 288
S.R.P £6.99/ $13.56
Available from Waterstone’s, Blackwells, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and from the author at his website http://www.the-mind-of-a-genius.com/order.html

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Innovative Monday - Edition 26

I usually read sitting down or even lying down. How about combining the comfort of sitting with that of book storage?


Check out the innovative Magazine/Book Rack Bench.


I'd have called it perfect, but the couch doesn't really look all that comfortable now, does it? What do you think?

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review - School Years

School Years -- Families will love this cute and clever keepsake album for recording precious milestones and accomplishments. Both parent and child can fill each expandable pocket—there's one for every year from kindergarten to 12th grade—with photos, report cards, art projects, and other mementos.

In keeping track of favorite subjects, hobbies, and friends, families create an ongoing memory book to cherish for years to come.

My thoughts:

My Mom did something like this with photos for me when I was in school. But that was more like a scrapbook project. This, however, is slick, sleek and much more durable. And you can put more than photos in it. Things like report cards, art projects etc. I've already started it with Kiddo's attempts with coloring along with a picture or two.

And I look forward to adding to it over the years. I know you will too. So check it out!
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Saturday, January 24, 2009

The World Almanac 2009 Daily Calendar

The World Almanac 2009 Daily Calendar -- Greet the day with historical events, sports trivia, memorable quotes, and more in this fact-filled calendar. Based on The New York Times #1 best-seller, The World Almanac, which has sold over 80 million copies.

Beginning each day this 2009 with this reasonably priced desk calendar is fun! More than the dates, I use it to increase my general knowledge. From finding with whom I share my birthday to finding some little known facts, this is a great way to learn and enjoy.
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Friday, January 23, 2009

Messiah Interviews by Jerry Pollock


MESSIAH INTERVIEWS 
By Jerry J Pollock
ISBN-10: 0981721206
Today A Book Blogger's Diary is a stop on the virtual blog tour of  MESSIAH INTERVIEWS by author Jerry J Pollock, courtesy Pump Up Your Book Promotion.

About this Book:  The protagonist must satisfy his biblical interviewers―the angel Gabriel, Methuselah, Chanoch, Seth, King David, Moses, Jacob, Abraham, and the prophet Isaiah―and prove that he has the wisdom and character to be the Messiah. As the tale unfolds, the challenges of the interviews go beyond the protagonist and become relevant to the lives of each one of us.

The author has graciously sent over a guest-post for your reading pleasure. Without further ado:

*********************
Why Would God Pen the Ten Commandments?
By Jerry Pollock

     A qualifier before beginning this article. No human understands the Essence of God. Therefore this article is solely one man’s opinion like every other human opinion of God in this world. To truly know God’s Essence, it is written in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament that we must wait for the Messianic Age, when we shall know God as the waters of the sea at the End of Days. It is also written that at this future time, God will perform miracles incredible even to Him as He once again takes the public stage as He did back in biblical times. If you believe in an Omnipotent (all powerful), Omniscient (all knowing) and Omnipresent (He was, He is, and He will be) Supreme Being, then you realize that these biblical phrases are ways for us to comprehend God in human terms. We term this anthropomorphism in the English language. For a full accounting of the Messianic Age, see my ‘not so fictional’ novel, Messiah Interviews: Belonging to God. Our website is given at the end of the article.

      Judaism is more concerned with the “Why?” rather than the “How?” Why would God use His finger to inscribe the Ten Commandments on Two Stone Tablets? And where are these Tablets and how will we know the real ones when they show up? It is said that because God Himself penned the Ten Commandments, we shall be able to see the writing from both sides of the two stones. The stones will be transparent. The Ten Commandments were given by God thirty-three hundred years ago to 600,000 plus Israelites at Mount Sinai. These seemingly simple commandments, which in my mind are impossible to strictly follow, allow a further human glimpse into the Essence of our Creator. King David in his Book of Psalms said, “And He [God] realized that we are but flesh.” Humans are bound to stray because God created us as imperfect beings in a grossly imperfect world. King David’s son King Solomon, the wisest of men, said “There is not a righteous person on earth who has not sinned.”

      To offset harsh Divine justice, God tempered our world with mercy and kindness and gave us the gifts of Repentance in Judaism and Jesus in Christianity to counter sin. He even gave us the gift of Free Will which ironically allows us to choose to disbelieve in Him. Moreover, man may choose to be immoral and not strive to follow these Ten Commandments, but man cannot abrogate what God has commanded him to do. If we so choose, then we do so at our own risk and in my not so humble belief, I feel that we shall be accountable at Judgment Day, Acharit Hayamim, in the End Times. The lesson of the Garden of Eden was not only the implications of the original sin. It was also about God teaching Adam and Eve about accountability. Because they disobeyed and consorted with an evil serpent and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve were forced to leave the bliss of the Garden of Eden. This was the beginning of human struggle.

      The giving of the Ten Commandments quickly followed the Exodus by Moses and the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. While Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving the Tablets, the Israelites below could not sustain their heightened spirituality and they strayed badly. They melted all of their gold and created a Golden Calf, a sin of indescribably greater magnitude than the Original Sin of Adam and Eve more than three thousand years before in the Garden of Eden. In Judaism, the Golden Calf symbolizes our eternal Yom Kippur. Each year those Jews, who are believers, pray for atonement of their sins while remembering the Golden Calf in the hope that God will write them in the Book of Life for another year.

      God has simple needs. That we recognize Him as our One and only God and that we are grateful for the beautiful world He has given us. The one thing that He does not tolerate is idol worship of other gods in the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. God Himself says that He is a jealous God. At the End of Days, non-monotheistic religions such as Buddhism and Taoism will come to know God and will recognize Him over all other gods that they currently believe in and pray to. God purposely set the world up this way.

      In the Bible, God tells the Israelites that He chose them among the nations to give His Commandments and that He will therefore hold us accountable for our sins. Few Jews realize that we are accountable for the sins of past, present, and future generations. The Jews were chosen to receive the Ten Commandments because God looked into the hearts of the ancient Egyptians and idol worshipping Canaanite nations and realized that they would never give up their wicked ways. These nations represented the worst of immorality at the time. There were no Christians or Muslims living when the Ten Commandments were given. The Jews were supposed to represent a first grandchild with Christians and Muslims being the second and third grandchildren. The word “Chosen” has been misconstrued over the centuries and is the original cause of anti-Semitism. Chosen was meant that the Jews were supposed to be a nation of Priests bringing God’s spirituality to the rest of the world. The Ten Commandments are not only the basis of Civilization, they are Civilization. We cannot go back and run the double blind scientific experiment; however, I believe that we would long ago have reached our Armageddon if it had not been for the Ten Commandments.

      Simply put, God penned the Ten Commandments to begin spiritual civilization. Adam and Eve represented geographical civilization. You can read about these original concepts in my spiritual memoir, Divinely Inspired: Spiritual Awakening of a Soul. Therefore, He did this because He was leveling the playing field so that “good” now had a fair chance to stand alongside “evil” in our world. All of human history according to Shneur Zalman, the Alter Rebbe, has in fact been about discerning good from evil, and trying to unsuccessfully separate the two. They are as intermingled as love and hate. Those who know me as the scientist that I am know that although I have an unshakable belief in God, I believe in both Evolution and Creation. Further, they know that I believe God to be the Master Scientist responsible for both the Universe 14 billion years ago and for Adam and Eve 5,769 years ago. You can find this written in greater depth in an article titled “Creation and Evolution Under God’s Domain” on my Blog, http://shechinahthirdtemple.org/messiahblogs and in Divinely Inspired.

      At the time of Creation, ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt were forming and with the storing of foods, towns and villages sprung up. Evolution had been ongoing, but there was a need for God and the concept of good and evil to debut because now men would be living in close proximity to each other. They could not get along when they were in marauding bands living on the savanna, so something had to be done so that humankind did not end up going down the tubes because of their violent nature. Remember that after the Flood, God tells Noah that the imagery of man’s heart is evil from his youth. God’s entrance onto the public stage was essential at Creation to establish the scenario that we now play out in life. We are constantly challenged with God’s moral tests in our modern world where we make decisions to choose between right and wrong. How we score if God is the scorekeeper may well determine our fate at the End of Days. That is, our choices for right or wrong are the basis for God’s Judgment for our entrance into the second Garden of Eden, the Messianic Age.

      Christians and Messianic Jews believe that the Original Sin was of such enormity that only Jesus who died for their sins could bear the burden of Adam and Eve’s huge blunder. The path to God and to Heaven in the End Times focuses upon Jesus who will return as the Messiah. Many Jews believe in the original sin and in a Messiah other than Jesus, but also believe that sin can be defeated in our lifetime. Both of these concepts are predicated upon the fact that God is divorced from what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. I acknowledge and respect both beliefs, but feel that God purposely was the Creator of sin and used the serpent or snake, or Satan if you will, to fulfill His purpose. Satan is not a separate creation. He too must come before God on Yom Kippur. Metaphorically, all those who have lived on earth these past centuries or are living today to carry out evil are “descendants” of Satan. They will be resurrected at the End of Days to face the Judgment of God.

      Why create sin? Because we need to know imperfection before we can move to a more perfect world of a second Garden of Eden in the Messianic Age. This is all part of God’s plan. Good and evil enter the world in the First Garden of Eden and evil predominates through Cain killing his brother Abel because of jealousy, Noah’s building of the Ark, and the Tower of Babel. Something special happens when the Patriarch, Abraham, comes on the scene and promotes monotheism but even in Abraham’s time, we have the evil of Sodom. All of this is a preparation for the Ten Commandments to even the playing field of good and evil. And isn’t that what we have with our situation today, a balance of good and evil? 

      If the Jews could not uphold righteousness when God was in their midst, how are we of all faiths and beliefs or disbeliefs supposed to do it when He is hither and there but no longer on the public stage of life? God is still here in our world watching but He is no longer the God of Heaven and Earth and has returned to be the God of Heaven. As His plan is for us to enter the Messianic Age, He has ensured throughout the centuries and today that we don’t completely destroy our world until He is ready to offer us the bliss of the Messianic Age. We can either enter peacefully or apocalyptically through the destruction laid out in both the New and Old Testaments. Every time we don’t treat each other righteously, then I think the Creator scores that in favor of an abominable ending to our world. Every time we treat each other with respect, then He scores it in favor of a peaceful entrance to the Messianic Age. He is doing this on an individual, group and global level. The Messianic Age is the Age of God and not the Age of the Messiah. The Messiah will lead God’s charge of bringing true spirituality to the world. 

      We can disagree with each other and we don’t have to like each other. However, we do need to try to improve our character in this life in order to be admitted into the next. That means giving each other the respect we deserve. Some of us will never get along and we need to defend ourselves against extremism. There are realities that we face in the dangerous world that we live in. Having faith isn’t enough to survive those who want to destroy us. As I said at the outset, everything is opinion until God sets the record straight. The Ten Commandments were one of the Creator’s most precious gifts to us. We don’t have to be perfect, but we can use these commandments as our moral guide. If you know that all the answers are coming down the road, you can even look with humor at yourself and others. As my wife Marcia says, “life is a gift.” There is also an old adage, “It’s not what you say but how you say it.” That’s true. However, with the penning of the Ten Commandments, it’s what God said that mattered and still matters today and forever.

By Jerry J. Pollock, Ph.D.

Enter website by either www.thirdtempleinfo.com  or  www.shechinahthirdtemple.org  You can contact me by Email either at jerrypollock@bellsouth.net or thirdtemple@bellsouth.net You will find links to where you can purchase the books on the website and blog.

May I wish you the joy of life and may the Shechinah (Divine Presence) be with you.

Thank you for that wonderful post, Jerry! Readers, please don't hesitate to leave comments for the author and his intriguing book.


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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama and a Book

Instead of my usual Monday post about an unusual book storage solution, here's a picture of our new (or soon-to-be) President, Barack Obama, appropriately with a book!

From an AbeBooks article - In October, the New York Times asked Obama to provide a list of books and writers that were significant to him. Here goes – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, James Baldwin, W. E. B. DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk, Martin Luther King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory and The Quiet American, Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward, John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle, Robert Caro’s Power Broker, Studs Terkel’s Working, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and Theory of Moral Sentiments, and also Robert Penn’s All the King’s Men – a novel about a corrupt Southern governor (Rod Blagojevich anyone?). And then there were his theology and philosophy influences - Friedrich Nietzsche, Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Review - Mostly Monty by Johanna Hurwitz

Mostly Monty
Johanna Hurwitz (Author) Anik Mcgrory (Illustrator)
Candlewick Press
ISBN-10: 076362831X
About the Book

Six-year-old Monty doesn’t have a brother, a sister, or a pet. What he does have is asthma, which sometimes makes it hard to breathe and often makes him feel like he’d rather be somebody else. And now that he’s starting first grade, he’s very nervous about being with all those kids he won’t know. Luckily, he loves to read -- even really hard books -- and has a talent for finding things, from a cocooning caterpillar to classmates who want to be in his very own club.

With familiar situations and gentle humor, Johanna Hurwitz follows an endearing character as he discovers that being himself can be pretty great after all.

My Thoughts

Anyone who's ever had or known someone with this condition, will easily associate with Monty. It's no fun living with Asthma. And author Johanna Hurwitz writes of this with compassion and with a voice that's endearing. It's also interesting to read how the story turns out. It gives an interesting perspective to those who don't know what it is to live with and/or overcome this condition. In short, this is a gem of a story!

About the Author

Johanna Hurwitz is the award-winning author of more than sixty books for young readers, including the Riverside Kids series and Ethan Out and About and Ethan at Home. She lives in Great Neck, New York.

Anik Scannell McGrory has illustrated several books for children. She lives in Tarrytown, New York.

Buy the Book - here.
Visit the Publisher - here.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Book Excerpt - The Five Lost Days by William Petrick

The Five Lost Days
by William Petrick
Today A Book Blogger's Diary is a stop on the virtual blog tour of The Five Lost Days by William Petrick, courtesy Pump Up Your Book Promotion.

About The Author

William Petrick is an Emmy Award-winning documentary producer/director who has created programs for National Geographic, Discovery, MTV, Court TV and many other cable and broadcast networks. He is currently a senior producer with Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. You can visit William Petrick’s website at www.thefivelostdays.com.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Struggling documentary producer Michael Burns has traveled to the remote Maya Mountains of Belize to capture exclusive footage of the last surviving curandero. The traditional Mayan healer may hold the key to discovering new medicines among the vast, uncharted flora of the rain forest.

But with a violent civil war spilling across the border from neighboring Guatemala - and Burns inexplicably drawn to the aging curandero's American apprentice - the filmmakers stumble into a more explosive story than they ever could have imagined.

At once an adventure and an exploration into the nature of perception, THE FIVE LOST DAYS exposes the clash between modern culture and ancient beliefs.

BOOK EXCERPT:
1
Sa’x jolom Chacmut: Rain forest plant used in treatment of madness and headaches; leaves are crushed in cold water, and the liquid is drunk and used to bathe the head

They drove along the Belize highway, a narrow, sun-beaten lane that wound through miles of savanna. The rainy season had just ended, but the lush grasses were already the color of straw. Scattered palmettos drooped listlessly, some of their crowns shriveled like dried tobacco leaves. Even the sky had lost its semitropical brilliance, the blue faded into the dull pewter of an overcast afternoon. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Burns had carefully planned his brief shoot for the shoulder season, when there would be few downpours to interrupt the filming and less of the oppressive, stultifying heat of the dry season.

“How much further to Cayo?” Burns asked as the van bounced over another dry pothole. Burns grabbed the shoulder strap and peered out the window. They were still the only car on the road.

“No to worry,” Gilbert said. The driver grinned, his head bobbing to the reggae music. The same Bob Marley tape had been thumping from the front dash speakers since they had driven off the airport’s dirt lot earlier that morning.

“What’s that in hours, Gilbert?” Burns wanted to escape this maddening sea of parched grass and chalk it up to a bad dream.

“You smoke some ganja?” Gilbert offered, gesturing to the hand-rolled joint he kept handy just behind his ear.

Burns didn’t get high even in normal circumstances. He rarely even drank alcohol, preferring the buzz of strong, sweet coffee.

“Your friends?” Gilbert asked, grinning again. Three crew members dozed shoulder to shoulder in the back seat like frat boys on a road trip. Burns had hired them for enough shoots over the years that he’d come to think of them as family. His cameraman’s young son even called him “Uncle” Mike.

“We’re all on the clock,” Burns answered. “We can party when this is over.”

Gilbert shrugged and motioned to the blowers that blasted cool air throughout the van. “We have air-condition. Relax.”

Relax. Burns had been told this so many times that the word barely registered anymore. He picked up his bible, a three-ring binder stuffed with contact names, photocopied pages of books and articles, a shot list and a detailed production schedule for the week.

“I tell my wife we make a movie,” Gilbert said. “She is very excited. I tell her maybe we stop at our home later. After.”

“It’s a documentary, not a movie,” Burns said. “It’s not make-believe.”

He distrusted fiction and fantasy. Burns wanted facts and true stories. He sought people and places that really existed and were not merely the creation of someone’s overactive imagination. The real world didn’t need any embellishment.

Gilbert nodded agreeably, then described his house, which was set just off the highway with its own small milpa, which teemed with healthy stalks of maize and sugar cane.

“Your house is on this road?” Burns asked. He couldn’t imagine anyone living or wanting to live in the middle of this emptiness.

“Si,” Gilbert said. “Is very near.”

Burns searched the grasslands.

Finally, pale green spikes of palmettos had begun to sprout in the distance like overgrown weeds. But there were no houses, still no sign of traffic on this road that had been grandly named the Western Highway.

“You have boy, girl?” Gilbert asked.

“Kids?” Burns said, surprised by the question. Even marriage was something he hadn’t given much thought about. He was devoted to filmmaking. If he wasn’t producing a documentary, he was watching one, studying images and techniques for something he might use.

Gilbert appeared puzzled, his wide, cueball eyes narrowing as he squinted through the dirty windshield. Suddenly, he screamed and slammed on the brakes. Burns grabbed the hanging strap and heard his crew tumble forward from the back seat, bouncing into each other and the seat backs.

Without an apology or explanation, Gilbert turned off the engine, cutting off his reggae music, then hopped out the door. The dank, humid air rushed in, sour-smelling, like a sewage drain in the city. Gilbert hurried around to the front of the van and stooped down by the front grill just out of sight.

“We blow a tire?” Vic Colt asked. It was the first time his cameraman or any of his crew had spoken for hours. Burns didn’t answer, unsettled by the utter quiet that surrounded them. The empty lane continued far into the distance like the road to nowhere.

Moments later, Gilbert reappeared at the side of the van alongside Burns, wearing a big, scarecrow grin and holding a turtle the size of a hubcap.

“Beautiful, yes?”

“It’s big,” Burns managed to say, relieved they hadn’t broken down after all.
Gilbert shuffled into the dry grass, his narrow shoulders stooped and his skinny legs bowed from the awkward size and weight of the turtle. He talked to the animal as he set it down, as if he were soothing an old friend. Before he backed away, Gilbert bowed and wished the turtle a safe journey.

“I worry to run over him,” Gilbert said, climbing back behind the steering wheel.

“He’s not kidding,” Vic said. He yawned and slid back into his seat.

Burns knew many of the Maya were devout animists, believing spirits dwelled in everything from a plant leaf to a jaguar. But he’d assumed the Creoles and islanders were more practical and less superstitious.

“No more stop,” Gilbert announced as he powered the van back to highway speed.

“Good,” Burns said. “We don’t have much time as it is.”

Five days on location, to be exact. Burns needed weeks, if not months, to get inside the subject, to get to know the people and their world. But this project was filmmaking-on-the-cheap. The budget was so low that Burns felt like he was part of a rapid deployment force. This was fast becoming the business model for all the networks and production companies. In the end, he had jumped at the chance, drawn to the prestige of a foreign story—so rare in television and even the big screen. Burns, like so many of his colleagues, was also hoping to hit “the one,” the documentary that would make his name.

“I love to drive,” Gilbert said, gazing ahead as if they were speeding through paradise. “Time all mine. That is what I will do when there is enough money. I go to the States and get a job driving a semi coast to coast.”

“Well, the roads are better,” Burns said. “But you’ll have lots of company.”

“That’s what we do here,” Gilbert said. “We get enough money, we leave. Go to New York or Los Angeles.”

“You don’t want to go to New York.”

Burns was only too happy to have escaped the cold, hostile canyons of Manhattan. It was less a home for him than a base from which to launch trips elsewhere.

“New York has jobs,” Gilbert said. “And money. Many are rich.”

Burns was reminded of his own tiresome struggle to pay the rent on his fifth-story walk-up. It wasn’t the kind of life he had imagined for himself when he was younger. By now, he assumed he would have made it and not be living like a student.

“Not so many are rich,” Burns said. “Not so many as you think.”

“No. But more than Belize.”

Burns had glimpsed the poverty as they drove past the outskirts of the city. There had been that tired group of skeleton-thin black men standing barefoot in puddles that glistened with turgid sewage. Behind them, under the palm trees, were candy-colored shacks perched uneasily on skinny stilts that looked out over mounds of scattered trash. But the image that stayed with him was the toddler playing in a cardboard box, a live toucan perched on the tattered edge like a stuffed toy. At the time, he decided that it was too National Geographic to stop and film. Burns wanted images that were unique and different, that would set his documentary apart.

In his view, filmmaking happened long before the camera was turned on. For this shoot, he had spent days working up a shot sheet, a long list of possible images and scenes they might film. He had scoured photo books, magazines and other films for inspiration. He knew what to expect. Except when it came to the old Mayan healer. There were pictures of bush doctors, village elders and shamans. But not a single curandero. He was believed to be the last surviving curandero in those mountains—what was once the heartland of the Mayan empire.

“You ever go to see a curandero when you’re sick?” Burns asked.

“Brujos,” Gilbert said without hesitation. Witches. “My wife’s sister. She feeling very tired, not happy. Lonely. So she try anything. She go and pay him, and he tell her problem she have no lover.”

“Like a psychiatrist,” Burns said.

“Yes. But this brujo, he is very powerful. He keeps a blanc.”

Gilbert explained that the old curandero was said to have put a spell on a white American woman who followed him everywhere. It was said they went into the forest together for hours at a time gathering dangerous plants and barks that the curandero used to put a spell on others. The blanc deferred to him like a servant, yet she was married and owned a huge estate near the Macal River that had electricity and clean water.

“The woman is a scientist, an ethnobotanist,” Burns said.

“You know her?” Gilbert asked.

“Why do you think you’re taking us all the way to Cayo?” Burns was about to explain the research partnership between the blanc woman and the curandero, but given Gilbert’s distrust of the curandero and his traditional medicine, he decided it was best to leave the topic alone. Yet he was intrigued by Gilbert’s opinion, if only because there were plenty of people in New York and Boston who also believed that the ethnobotanist might be under some kind of spell.

Burns was startled by what seemed to be a massive movement off to the west. At first, he thought it was a flock of birds rising out of the unending savanna. Instead, spinach green hills appeared on the horizon with the suddenness of an apparition. A dense, milky steam drifted languidly above the round, gentle peaks. He felt a quickening sensation, a kind of primal, anticipatory excitement.

“Cayo,” Gilbert said.

Burns was about to give an order to stop so they could set up the video camera and get some beauty shots. But the rain started without warning. It dropped in heavy, thick sheets, pounding the roof of the van. Gilbert slowed the van and turned on his lights to try to see through the falling water.

“Rain,” Gilbert said. “We have been without for long. Is good.”

An hour later, they were churning through mud the color of peanut butter. Black men and women, their skin much lighter than Gilbert’s, began appearing alongside the van, trudging through the rain. They walked without apparent concern, as if slogging through this weather were routine. Gilbert blew the van horn. Arms were raised in greeting without anyone’s turning around.

“You know them?” Burns asked.

“Neighbors. They come to work in the big sugar cane milpa. As everyone does.”

“But not you.”

“Me?” Gilbert asked, not smiling. “No. Never.”

“You drive.”

“Yes,” Gilbert grinned with the satisfaction of being understood. “Me drive all the time.”

The heavy rains stopped abruptly when they finally reached the concrete bridge that led over the river into San Ignacio. The wet road gleamed under the van’s headlights, the reflection offering a glimpse of the weathered, clapboard homes that were slung at the road’s edge. They reminded Burns of the Mexican shacks in Baja, where he’d done a shoot a few years earlier. There, too, he’d been struck by the hapless poverty, a place far beyond development schemes.

Gilbert guided the van uphill toward a cluster of weak, flickering lights. The engine whined under the combined weight of the passengers and the television equipment, burning oil as it struggled up the steep slope. Gilbert pointed out the town’s electrical generator as they crept by, apologizing in advance for its frequent breakdowns. Burns listened pensively, his attention riveted on the crest of the hill that was still fifty yards away.

“Is no trouble,” Gilbert said.

The van was aimed at the starless night sky, inching along like a roller coaster on its final ascent, everyone acutely aware of each painstaking rotation of the tires. Burns peered ahead into the dark with a tense, forced stoicism. If the van lost traction on the wet road, he knew it would slide backwards, down the hill, careening into one of the distant shacks, maybe not even stopping until the black river. But he would not let himself think about this, would only listen to the whine of the engine as if it were a distant sound that demanded intense concentration.

When the front wheels slipped, Burns dug into the hanging strap, his eyes drawn to the ambient light that hovered at the crest of the hill. He sat on the lip of the seat, breathing faster, his head pounding.

Gilbert let out a small grunt of surprise. His face was taut and serious. The van was at a standstill, the engine shaking violently, threatening to stall. Gilbert gave it more gas and the wheels slid again, moving them sideways, the tires spinning uselessly. He stretched himself further over the steering wheel, muttering incoherently, and peered down at the road as if it were a living thing, threatening their progress.

“Lay off the gas,” Burns warned. “You’re going to lose control.”

Gilbert ignored him, obstinately waiting for the road to cooperate. The crew was unnerved, their fear charging the close air. At once, all three men searched frantically for a door handle, groping over and across one another, desperate to be the first one to safety.

The wheels caught in the midst of the commotion. But the crew continued to scramble until the van began to creep forward once again, climbing toward the light. A squat, oversized bungalow appeared behind it, an American Express sign dangling from a rusted hook near the entrance. The van lurched over the crest of the hill, and the whining engine collapsed into the next gear as they leveled off, the wheels crunching over the gravel driveway of the hotel. Gilbert let the van drift up to the glass doors.

“Hotel San Ignacio,” Gilbert informed them. “Three stars.”

Burns stumbled out of the van, his crew following. The heavy, humid air drifted around them like a vapor, obscuring the outlines of the tin-roofed hotel, making the building seem to float in the gray mist. The air reeked of burnt oil.

Burns let his crew unload the huge anvil cases one at a time. The heavy silver boxes were packed with portable quartz lights and stands, rolls of light gels, screens and scrims, a battery-powered sound mixer, a selection of microphones from a boom to tiny, wireless lavalieres, a new composite tripod with a fluid head, one shrink-wrapped case of raw video stock, and a Beta-cam, complete with backup batteries and remote control.

Gilbert watched grimly as the cases piled up in the lobby, almost blocking the entrance. By the time the crew was finished, he stood so still and fearful that Burns worried for him. Maybe it was exhaustion.

“What’s wrong?” Burns asked, wiping sweat from his forehead. The humidity clung to him like his damp clothes.

“Guns,” Gilbert said, his voice low and soft. “It is like the army with all these equipment.”

“What army?” Burns asked. There were fewer than six hundred soldiers in the entire Belize Defense Force, a token band of locals set up by Great Britain a few years earlier.

“Rebels,” Gilbert said. “They cross the border to steal food, clothes, shoes, anything. Bandits. They shoot anyone.”

“Guatemalans?”

Gilbert nodded soberly.

Even if there were wandering bands of soldiers, it hardly mattered. The landscape alone protected his assignment. The research camp and surrounding jungle where they were going was isolated and best reached by boat. Besides, Burns was certain no one was foolish enough to mess around with Americans.


Well, Gilbert, the only thing inside those cases that can shoot anything is a camera. Nothing to fear.”

Gilbert stared at the anvil cases, unconvinced.

“So we’ll see you in the morning?” Burns asked. “You’ll take us to the river landing?”

Burns was relieved to finally escape to solitude. He sprawled across the clean but musty bed, closing his eyes to the yellowed ceiling, the paint crumpled or peeling from the onslaught of humidity. There was no fan to stir the air, heavy with the ringing of insects that roamed outside in the darkness. The noise would not let him sleep. He tried covering his head, but that only made the thick, humid air more difficult to breathe. Burns finally relented and got out of bed. He tried taking a shower, but the warm water lasted only a few minutes before it abruptly turned cold and made him leap through the vinyl shower curtain.

Burns put on his jeans and unlocked the warped screen door that led to the small porch. The pale light of his bedside lamp leaked through, giving a faint definition to the plastic chair that rested against the cement wall. But beyond the porch, there was only a black wall of sound, the starless sky nearly indistinguishable from the land underneath. For a moment, Burns felt that he had truly reached one of the ends of the earth. The still, thick air reeked of decay like a hole filled with compost. A strange, hostile chatter seemed to grow louder as he stood peering out into the darkness, as if all those insects and birds and whatever else foraged through the night were somehow watching him, waiting. Burns yawned nervously and slipped back inside his room, latching the screen door behind him.

Intriguing, wasn't it?! As always, I encourage you to leave comments for the author and his exotic book.
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Book Excerpt - My Splendid Concubine by Lloyd Lofthouse


My Splendid Concubine
by Lloyd Lofthouse
Today A Book Blogger's Diary is a stop on the virtual blog tour of My Splendid Concubine by Lloyd Lofthouse, courtesy Pump Up Your Book Promotion.

About The Author

As a field radio operator, Lloyd Lofthouse was a walking target in Vietnam in 1966. He has skied in blizzards at forty below zero and climbed mountains in hip deep snow.

Lloyd earned a BA in journalism after fighting in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine. Later, while working days as an English teacher at a high school in California, he earned an MFA in writing. He enjoyed a job as a maitre d’ in a multimillion-dollar nightclub and tried his hand successfully at counting cards in Las Vegas for a few years. He now lives near San Francisco with his wife, with a second home in Shanghai, China. Lloyd says that snapshots of his life appear like multicolored ribbons flowing through many of his poems.

This link takes you to Lloyd's 'Vietnam Experience' page filled with photos. He took many of them. Since Lloyd still has to edit the photos so they load faster, this page may load slow for older computers.

This link will take you to a media piece from a Southern California newspaper that Lloyd copied and posted on his Website that will give you an idea about his teaching years.

If you are interesting in learning more about Lloyd's teaching experience, you are welcome to read about it at AuthorsDen. 'Word Dancer' is a memoir of the 1994-1995 school year. He kept a daily journal that year. He is using that journal to write 'Word Dancer'. Everyday, when he arrived home, Lloyd wrote an entry in that journal. It sat on a shelf in his garage for fourteen years gathering dust. Spiders moved into the binder and built a nest. After all those years, Lloyd forgot he'd written it. When he was cleaning the garage, he found it again. Lloyd started reading, remembering and writing. Everything he writes in 'Word Dancer' happened. He's using a primary source as his guide. Memory may be faulty, but a daily journal written the day an event took place is as accurate as it can get from the author's point-of-view.

Accomplishments: Lloyd's short story "A Night at the Well of Purity" was named a finalist for the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards.

As a teacher, Lloyd found satisfaction in the number of students that published nationally and internationally while attending his English and journalism classes.

You can visit his website at www.mysplendidconcubine.com.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Driven by a passion for his adopted country, Robert Hart became the “godfather of China’s modernism,” inspector general of China’s Customs Service, and the builder of China’s railroads, postal and telegraph systems, and schools, but his first real love is Ayaou, a young concubine.

BOOK EXCERPT:
It didn’t take Ayaou and Shao-mei long to turn the four rooms into a home. Before they arrived, Guan-jiah had completed all the repairs Robert had requested. Soon after moving in, Ayaou and Shao-mei went out during the day and found items that added Chinese touches to the house—crafted objects, carvings and ink paintings. Everything they did to decorate the house pleased Robert.

When he arrived home each evening, the first thing he saw was an inked wall hanging two feet wide and five feet long. It read harmony and tranquility in Chinese. It was printed on white rice paper. The calligraphy was in black ink, and a thin red border ran around the perimeter about three inches from the edge. There were several red ink stamps in the lower right-hand corner that showed the name of the artist.

The girls also got rid of the stale, sour odor of the house and replaced it with the smell of garlic and ginger and sometimes hot spices sautéing in the wok. Almost every dish they ate came with these flavors until Robert grew so use to it that food tasted bland without them. Somehow the rooms didn’t feel as small as they had the first day that he inspected the place. The girls had breathed life into the place.

"Guan-jiah," Robert said, "the evil spirits that lived here must have gone into hiding."

Guan-jiah stood in the entrance to the house and looked around. “Yes, Master, the evil is gone, or your girls caused the spirits to act agreeable.” What they didn’t know was that the evil had just gone into hiding and was waiting for the right moment to return.

The girls were cooking dinner, and Robert had invited his servant to join them. “It could be the garlic,” Guan-jiah said. “That will also drive away evil spirits.” He walked over to the tranquility and harmony inked wall hanging and stood before it.

“If I could only learn to paint calligraphy like this,” he said in a subdued, yearning tone, “but my hands are clumsy. They refuse to cooperate. Everything I paint looks like a cripple.”           

“It can’t be that difficult, Guan-jiah. It’s just Chinese writing but big.”           

“Oh no, Master. The horizontal lines in this painting are like a horsetail blowing in the wind. Can’t you see the force of it? The artist has watched horses running, and he has spent time studying oak trees. He has gone into the countryside many times until he discovered what works for him. He spent years developing these strokes.           

“There is swiftness in each horizontal stroke, but the vertical strokes are like the trunks of mighty oak trees that are anchored to the earth. See here where they look fat but solid. There is more to this than just the meanings of the words themselves. No artist is the same, Master. Some have no strength in their strokes. They are blind to what nature teaches us, but this artist is skillful in giving strength to his characters so they are fleshy. This is divine. Your concubines know what to look for.”           

Robert had to step back to see what Guan-jiah was so excited about, and he started to understand. It must have cost a lot of money. Robert wondered how much the girls had spent on it.           

It was because of Guan-jiah, Ayaou and Shao-mei that Robert discovered the true meaning of Chinese art, and a new door opened for him. In his later years he developed a further love for Chinese art, crafts, antiques and calligraphy. Although he dressed in Western style clothing in public, his taste in things gradually changed to Chinese.           

Guan-jiah questioned Ayaou and Shao-mei about the wall hanging. He discovered that the artist was seventy-four and had sold them the painting for five yuan, because they had flirted with him. And the reason they bought this one over hundreds of others was because of exactly what Guan-jiah had said.           

“It may have taken minutes for the artist to paint this,” Guan-jiah said, “but it took a lifetime to harmonize with nature and develop the talent—the ability to make the brush do what he wants.           

“You see, Master, the artist cannot erase mistakes. He has to have control of the brush and know what he is doing. Once the brush touches paper and the ink flows, it is over. The artist can not fix mistakes. He has to throw out the paper and start again.”

Interesting! Readers, I encourage you to leave comments for the author and his enchanting book.