By Miranda Paul
Illustrated by Jason Chin
Published by Roaring Brook Press
(A Division of MacMillan Publishing)
ISBN 978-1-59643-984-9

Science and easy vocabulary are hard to work together. WATER IS WATER by Miranda Paul achieves that partnership on each of the thirty pages in this book. The reader will learn of water and its many forms and uses, each page using no more than a handful of one-syllable words and a few others to dress up the story. After the final page and those few words, the reader has learned a great deal about the world of water in a delightful way that will stay with the reader for a long time. Some of the concepts of water forms can be quite complex, but Ms. Paul, with the use of her words, has brought it into easy grasp for the reader.

The words, in fact, are also part of a song performed by Emily Arrow, available on YOUTUBE at

The illustrations by Jason Chin are a wonderful match for the words. Clearly, he devised a landscape to tell the story, plotting out a two-dimensional map for his own reference and then creating a three-dimensional illustration for each page for the reader to see, using different views of his “Water World” to follow along with Ms. Paul’s text. Color shines off every page as each scene unfolds with children bouncing through each step of the story – children in rain, in snow, in the mud, watching clouds – all delightful illustrations detailed right down to the pattern on a kite or another child holding a lizard as he comes off the bus.

After the final page of text, the book also includes a short glossary of terms and some interesting facts, as well as some further readings that may interest others.

Kids under the age of ten would probably enjoy this book the most, with its sparse words and eyefuls of illustrations. It is still enjoyable for others as well.

The hardcover version is listed at $18.99. I gladly review this book through the help of Becky Flansburg and the Multicultural Children’s Book Day organization.



mcbd label.jpg
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.
Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.
Current Sponsors: MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica Appleton, Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Delores Connors, Maria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin, Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson, Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-Levy, Teddy O’Malley, Stacy McAnulty, Cerece Murphy, Miranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg Ransom, Sandra Richards, Elsa Takaoka, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

Storms, Google, and Nature

I really must be amazed at the world of Google Maps and the WCCO weather app on my phone.  These tools allowed me to capture aerial pictures that I’ve been hoping to find.  And here’s the product of waiting.

Pre and post storm smaller.jpg

On July 12, 2015, a windstorm hit the Brainerd Lakes area, taking out an abundance of trees and inflicting damage to many homes, cabins, and businesses.  Above is a demonstration of how that storm impacted us and our friends at the Donnybrook Homeowners Association at the end Johnson Road, about five miles north of Brainerd.  The picture on the left is before the storm – and the one on the right is after the storm.

The RED X marks the spot of our place.  The picture on the left is from GOOGLE MAPS, before the storm hit.  The picture on the right is from the WCCO weather app; it appears this picture was taking the spring following the storm.

Notice the trees nearly covering our place.  These oaks had been there a long time – three of them, to be exact.  One of them came down and covered our park model from stem to stern, including a branch through the roof of the living space and another through the deck roof.  A second tree covered our shed (to the lower left of the home) and a third came down between our place and the place to the south, leaning on our grill, which we still use.

The whole homeowners association lost many, many trees.  Here’s a larger shot of before and after the storm . . . the difference is amazing.

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It took weeks to clear all the trees. But now, 2 ½ years later, all is well, more or less.

So I marvel at the photographic tool known as GOOGLE and Photoshop Elements, but I also marvel at the power of nature and the power of the people who worked together and recovered from that natural power.

TV Trivia – Early and Late

I was born in 1953. Eisenhower. Black and White. Rock ‘n’ Roll was in its infancy. My sister was born in 1952, and my other sister wasn’t even on the way yet. I hadn’t been in any plays, I hadn’t written anything, nor bowled, nor played my trombone.  But I liked TV.


But by the time I hit the age of ten, TV was a big part of it all. At first, out of Duluth, we had KDAL (CBS – channel 3) and WDSM (NBC – channel 6) which later became KBJR, WDIO (ABC – channel 10, with a sister station out of Hibbing on channel 13) and even a public station, WDSE (channel 8).


Our Primetime Schedule – at least in part


Sunday – Ed Sullivan, Bonanza, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color
Monday – Lucile Ball shows, Gunsmoke, Laugh-In, which was the precursor to political satire that eventually gave us Saturday Night Live
Tuesday – Red Skelton – the first show where I saw the comedians crack up on stage, later perfected by Tim Conway and Harvey Korman on Carol Burnett.
Wednesday – The Virginian, Batman – but only after the ABC network appeared on our airwaves via the new station, WDIO, out of Duluth.
Thursday – Dragnet, Dean Martin
Friday – Flintstones
Saturday – Andy Williams and, for my folks and grandma, Lawrence Welk

At first, it was just black and white. Color came along in the early 60s, when NBC came up with their big fancy peacock logo with the colorful tail. That’s also when THE WIZARD OF OZ came on and we got to see that color explode onto the tv screens.


And in the mid-60s, when I was a pre-teen, the ‘old’ shows were The Honeymooners, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, I Love Lucy, Perry Mason . . . and none of those . . . yes, NONE of those, were more than 15 years old themselves, if even that.

To keep it short, I don’t even want to get into game shows and soap operas. Let’s skip over Saturday morning cartoon and live action shows started in the 50s and lasted into the 60s/70s. News, as well, was certainly a different matter back then. Late night? Also, let’s pass on that for now, too. In fact, such things would make a whole article of its own, so let’s leave it there. Let’s stick to prime time.

Summarizing: I had 3 commercial channels and one public channel until I left home for college in 1972 – and I knew it well, and loved the trivia books I had. In all, maybe a total of 20 years of broadcast TV.


So let’s jump to today. It’s 2016, fifty years further along the line than back then. TV is six times older now than when I first started watching. No more getting up from the chair to change channels. Remotes rule the living room. Then we had the BIG satellite dishes, then the little ones, and of course cable.

We could all zip off big classic shows over the entire body of TV history … cop shows, doctor shows, comedies, mini-series . . . and even shows that were so bizarre that they are good for nothing but TV trivia contests – shows that lasted only a season or two but had some important cast member who ended up famous or had some unusual feature about them.

I thought I had it beat when I realized I could do some serious TV trivia when I started teaching in 1976. Well, fool that I was! That was forty years ago – I can do quite well on shows of the 80s and 90s, but with the arrival of cable, there is so much more to know.

And what’s fifteen years old these days? For Heaven’s to Betsy, shows of that age now started in THIS century . . . sure makes The Honeymooners and those like it seem so much further back.

So I bow with awe at the feet of those who have the whole range of TV catalogued in their heads and can rattle off TV trivia from that much larger universe of what is now TV. May your TV trivia be as much a joy to you as my few decades’ worth of TV information is to me.

On the Friday before the Big Vote . . .

Person voting

Person voting

My wife and I voted earlier this week. We are done with it. I am just some schmuck out of over 100,000,000 voters, but my single vote matters – and therefore give the appropriate weight to what I put down here. I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do until I stepped up onto the stairs into the courthouse. I won’t tell you what I finally did, but here were my choices as I saw them.

I could not vote for Mr. Trump. If I said some of the things he has said in my teaching career, I would have been fired, and probably unemployable at any other school. His lack of experience would be like hiring a little league coach to manage the Cubs – even with such personnel as the Cubs have, there’s no way he could have a successful season. He comes across as unstudied, showing no intention of doing so. If I were a Republican, no matter how wonderful I thought the Republican platform may be, I couldn’t see him carrying that standard for the Republicans.

Mrs. Clinton is a policy wonk, plain and simple. All those awkward emails and Bill Clinton controversies and other matters aside, I just have never been comfortable with her since she carpetbagger her way into a senate seat in New York. That never made any sense to me, and it has colored my opinion of her ever since. To continue in the teaching vein as I did with Trump, she reminds me of the teacher in the movie “TO SIR WITH LOVE” who received a love note from a student who had a crush on that teacher, and then promptly corrected the letter for grammar and structure, totally missing the message from that student. Too much procedure, not enough heart. A technical politician in the tradition of some professorial, book-learned savant, not a Happy Warrior like Humphrey or Ronald Reagan.

Third party candidates. Gary Johnson needs a geography lesson. There’s just no ‘there’ there when it comes to what he has to offer. Jill Stein appears so uneducated for an educated person. There were a good amount of names on the ballot in addition to these two. Anonymous is as anonymous does, to borrow a phrase.

Write-in candidates. A waste of a vote? A way to say ‘enough of this crap’? But who the heck would listen?

Not voting at all. Well, no. This is not an option for anyone at all.

As I sit here on my easy chair on the Friday morning before the election, it looks like both major candidates are going to get 40% of the vote each. The two third-party people might get 8% between them. Perhaps 1% will write in a candidate. That leaves 11% of you out there who will make the difference.

Go make the difference.


By Candace Simar
267 pages
Published by North Star Press

My taste in reading favors people; real people. I’m not much for murder mysteries or romances. Give me ordinary folks who live ordinary lives but yet have their own stories to tell.

You can’t get much more ordinary than a community of farmers in a nondescript Minnesota township. Yet, that’s what Candace Simar gives us in this novel. Her ordinary people become folks we all know from our own lives; the blabbermouth gossip lady, the simple village idiot, the old maid to be, the mothers and fathers who have hopes for their kids, the kids who might dash those hopes . . . and let us not forget the community built around the businesses in those townships, from the farm supply dealers, across the street to the merchants, and down the road to the ramshackle Lutheran church which serves as the social and spiritual center for the people in this book.

Candace Simar’s writing style is warm and neighborly. Taking from her pool of wonderful words, she gives us descriptions that finds us saying to ourselves, “Hey, I know someone just like that!” There’s Tia the spinster to be, who could just as well be your own cousin Barbie. There’s Harvey, the struggling farmer who never gives up, even though his son Eddie is a simpleton – just like the guy down the road from your house. You’ve all met someone like Tillie – she’s the one who knows everything about everyone in the town and for sure will you can bet she will tell you everything about everyone in the town, often in one breath.

Your mind sees and feels each character – their clothing, their posture, their ethics . . . and you have felt their emotional disappointments, their victories, their hopes and dreams. You know what it’s like to not be properly dressed for certain social occasions. You know what it’s like to observe an awkward moment at a public gathering – or even have been the center of one of those awkward moments. All of this is here, made clear by the hand of Candace Simar in SHELTERBELTS.

The novel takes place at the very end of World War II. The boys that have left the farms to serve Uncle Sam haven’t quite returned yet; well okay, one does. Those in the township go through their lives, doing mundane chores, observing the weather and all conditions that concern farming, planning on money coming in from crops and egg sales. The radio is a big source of news. A few farms have been innovative enough to allow their houses to be wired for electricity, who some find uppity, while others become jealous.

But at the top of it all, the theme of community commands the reader’s attention. The mechanics of the social interplay become a stage of action for Simar’s writing – and she generates hearfelt actions out of that mechanical world. Through her characters, she reminds us that the community is out there, so full of support and hurt, all at the same time . . . and not letting us forget that our own community, flawed as it may be, is still so very near and dear to us.

There is a list of emotions that appear here – elation, disappointment, jealousy, spiritual glory, the joys of simple life – Simar paints all of them with a clarity and realism that draws deeply upon our own wells of emotion.

I just wish the book didn’t end so quickly – I wanted to know more about the characters and where they were headed. I wanted to read more about the improvement in their lives as the effects of World War II faded. Perhaps there will be a SHELTERBELTS II.

There are several books about community that I read over and over again, year after year – Steinbeck’s EAST OF EDEN, Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and Hassler’s GRAND OPENING, come to mind. I’m adding Simar’s SHELTERBELTS to that list.

*I have had the pleasure of meeting Candace Simar, a writer living in central Minnesota. Other books she has written include ABERCROMBIE TRAIL, BLOOMING PRAIRIE and FARM GIRLS. I must also add that she is a fine SCRABBLE player, having bested me more often than not in the online version of that game of words.

Chanticleer and Cantus in Concert: Minneapolis

A Concert Review
Cantus and Chanticleer in Concert
Orchestra Hall
Minneapolis, Minnesota
October 3, 2016

cantus                                                                                                    orchestra-hall-auditorium_main

For her birthday, I ordered tickets for my wife Sue and me to see these two premiere vocal groups, teaming up for the first time. We have seen several wonderful concerts over the years; few of them top this one.

The eight men of Cantus call Minneapolis their home. They have developed quite a following, especially here in Minnesota where there is a deep vocal tradition, including the well-known Lutheran college choirs like St. Olaf (Northfield), Concordia (Moorhead) and Gustavus Adolphus (St. Peter). A group of men from St. Olaf found themselves hungry to continue with choral music for men, giving birth to Cantus.

An even dozen men make up Chanticleer, based in San Francisco, California. The group itself has been around longer than Cantus, starting in 1979.

Earlier this year, the two groups happened to find themselves in the same area while on tour. They got together informally over a drink or two. Of course, then next thing you know they are singing right there in the bar, enjoying their common music and wowing the patrons in the bar. A video from that night has gone viral on YOUTUBE, providing the groups with the impetus to join forces in a concert, as seen here . . .


We drove the two hours to Minneapolis, took care of some business, dined at the BRITS PUB, and took our seats in row 19 of Orchestra Hall, and oh, what we heard and felt as we were part of a sold out performance there. We knew something excellent was afoot when the audience erupted with applause as each group entered to do their pieces even before a single note came out of their mouths. This was especially true for Cantus as they entered – the audience gave them a clear home town welcome upon their entrance.

The concert began with a few pieces by Chanticleer, all from the sixteenth century, followed by Cantus with three of their own, all of which come from their upcoming concert regarding Veterans’ Day – a very compelling text (the poem “Five Ways to Kill a Man” by Edwin Brock) was put to music by Bob Chilcott, giving me one of the best pieces of the night. More from Chanticleer – two pieces done in Russian, and then Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise”, done without words. Cantus returned to the stage with a Polish piece, a setting of In Flanders Field and then a piece by Minnesota composer Libby Larson. To end the first portion of the concert, the groups combined to sing the same Ave Maria (by Franz Beibl) that got them together on that Youtube video a handful of months ago.

Following intermission, the groups populated the stage together, joining voices for a piece by Giovanni Gabrielli and then a piece based on Bach’s “Jesu Meine Freude”. Next came the two groups bringing the audience to an emotional high with Steven Paulus’ “Pilgrims’ Hymn”. I teared up, I’m sure Sue did, too. No doubt, we were not alone. The piece was performed with such clarity and blend – such strong vocal power – that there was no other option but to be tugged down the emotional road of the thrill of the music. They concluded this portion with Deep River.

Cantus brought their spiritual chops with them and sang “There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonight”, only to be answered by Chanticleer’s version of “Shenandoah”. To wrap up the concert, the groups rejoined with the song “Ride the Chariot”. A standing ovation brought the singers back onto the stage, who listened to strong, long applause and shouts of pleasure and encouragement to do another.

Not to disappoint, two more spirituals served as encores: “We Shall Walk Through the Valley of Peace” and “Good News, the Chariot’s Coming” brought the crowd to their feet once again.

The concert was more than a concert. It was a collaboration of two groups so well matched and blended in their voice. It was cooperation in programming. It was an effort that, as far as I know, may never be matched. We can only hope that the two groups will again put together another strong concert to give the world another great musical moment.

The concert itself is available for a short while through the MPR Facebook page. You can find it here at:

You can read more about Chanticleer and Cantus through a link to MPR and their choral streaming service here:

Book Review: The Cello Suites


Book Review:
The Cello Suites
By Eric Siblin
Published by Grove Press
270 pages

Bach and his music. Boring? Pablo Casals, that old Spanish cello player. Boring? Combine the two in one book? Boring squared? Not at all. This fine study it totally interesting and innovative in many ways.

Eric Siblin has penned a truly interesting and well researched book about these two musical men and their connection through a set of six pieces written for the cello. Siblin, who has made a name for himself by reviewing rock music, suddenly found himself wrapped in the classical music world of Bach and Casals as he learns of the story of the search for the original copy of the six cello suites by Bach, and how Pablo Casals single handedly brings these pieces to the world.

The structure of the book is unique; there are 36 chapters in the book, one named for each movement of the six suites, including preludes, allemandes, courants, gigues, sarabandes and gavottes. Each chapter centers on biographical work on Bach or Casals, or on the families of either man, or on the nature of the music, or on Siblin’s own reflections as he experiences these pieces, or on music history.

One would think that such material would be dry and thunderously dull. Think otherwise, reader. Siblin uses his writing to present a book that offers a conversational tone about his subjects, allowing the reader to settle into his chair and enjoy the lives of these men, and of these works of music. The language, though scholarly, is not highbrow. This is not for musical snobs only; it reads well for all.

We meet Bach and his family. We read of his moves from German town to town as he builds a career that he hopes will increase his stature with each city. We meet the princes and lords of the German city –states as they parry over his skills, and as he performs for and against other musicians. We meet his kids, his wives, especially Anna Magdalena, and how many of them build their own musical careers.

We meet Pablo Casals as a child in the Catalonian part of Spain, and how he develops his love for the cello. We meet his mother, his family, and ultimately his wife – when they marry, he is 80, she is 21. We watch Casals tour with his cello. We see his directorial work as he creates his own musical group. We learn of Casals and his political influences in Europe, starting in the 1920s, then on into the Spanish revolution in the 1930s, on into World War II and even into the halls of the United Nations, and then into Puerto Rico, where he concludes his time on earth, having been a consummately admired musician.

The suites themselves become characters in a way as Siblin describes the personality of each of the suites. Once intended as mere practice pieces, because of Casals’ recording of them in the 1920s, they became true virtuoso pieces for all cellists. Siblin also delves into the unknown of the pieces. He wonders who the suites were intended for. He asks if they were indeed meant for the cello or for a unique five-stringed instrument of his own devising.

THE CELLO SUITES is interesting, informative, and a good read. Congratulations, Mr. Siblin, on your fine job.