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Friday, December 9, 2011

Helping Cousins

There are a few elements, I believe, that ought to be included in order to make a good children's book a great children's book. For one, the writing, in itself, must be clear, concise, and enjoyable to read, appealing to the intended age group. For two, the content must be "timely," relevant, and believable, even if the story is fiction and/or fantasy. And, for three, the content should teach and instruct; not in a pedantic way, but in a way that the young reader assimilates new knowledge while enjoying the story. 

A wonderful example of how these elements can be delightfully and enlighteningly combined is the Help Is On The Way series1 by A. M. Brimmar, the second book of which was just released this past Tuesday. Help Is On The Way: South America, like its predecessor, was actually written by four Cousins2, ages nine through thirteen, who, a few years ago at the tender ages of seven through ten, founded the Animal Protection Club (APC) out of a growing concern for the endangered animals of this world. Through their studies and drawings of the animals, they conceived the idea of writing a seven-book series. Each part centers on saving a representative member of each of four endangered species on one of the seven continents. As the children do their extensive and exhausting research, they write and illustrate their stories, which their beloved grandmother types, edits, formats, compiles into book form, and publishes. 

I must admit that I LOVE these books. First of all, they are enjoyable to read, especially when you consider that the words are the actual words, thoughts, ideas, and imaginatively creative plot constructs of the Cousins, who, it is quite evident through reading their works, are bright, intelligent, caring, and concerned children. They do their parents proud! Secondly, these first two books are not only enjoyable to read, but they appeal to just about every age group from age seven on through adulthood. And thirdly, and most importantly, they are not only educational, but they teach us all a vital lesson: We are not the only inhabitants of this small planet; we co-exist with myriad other animal species, many of whom are threatened with irreversible extinction by the thoughtless, selfish, greedy actions of homo sapiens—us—both individually and corporately. 

In the second book, as in the first, each Cousin selects an animal to save. With the assistance of one gimongeously huge and wondrous Great Eagle, who quite plausibly communicates with the adventurers through "thought-talk" and provides all the information and tools they need via feathered scrolls and a "magical" sketch pad, they effect each rescue together. Each Cousin takes the "lead" and directs the others in marvelous examples of true teamwork that is seldom found in adult groups that might be faced with similar, daunting tasks. I marveled as I read each adventure at how kind and cooperative each of them are; and how "adult" they are to form such a cohesive and loving group.

Besides this, each rescue is totally believable, with accurate descriptions of each animal’s native habitats, what is threatening them, and how they wound up in perilous circumstances that required their rescue in the first place. There are also precise details, including the exact length of rope needed to turn over the Tortoise on Galapagos Island flipped helplessly on his back and the length of time left before the incoming tide drowns them all out while saving the Marine Otter caught in a defective crab trap. In Book Two, there are even Addenda with salient, important facts about each animal depicted in it.

Of course, all of the animals are saved by the Cousins. And there are happy endings for each of the representative specie member, the wish here is that there would be, in real life, happy endings for all the animals—and species—that need rescue.

I urge everyone to buy, read, and enjoy these books, especially the second one. Help Is On The Way: South America is very cleverly written--the kids are learning and are getting the "hang" of being authors--with precise illustrations and charming "punny" titles that tersely capture the essence of each chapter. If you are a parent, you will enjoy sharing this with your children; it's a great, fun, read-it-out-loud book. If you are a youngster or a young adult, you will find it amusing, entertaining, and, hopefully, inspiring enough to consider how you, too, may want to help the less fortunate animals. And for older, responsible adults? Please read, assimilate, and, if you can, act upon what the helping Cousins are telling us.

There is a powerful message here that we all, young and old alike, should take to heart. The Cousins have passed on their knowledge and concern to us in a lesson that we should have learned and acted upon as adults and are now being taught and urged to do so by children. 
1This series is available at these links: Help Is On The Way: North America and Help Is On The Way: South America.
2The author's name is an amalgamation of the first two letters of each name of each of the four cousins, who give aliases to each of their literary avatars. 

1:29 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


On cold, slate gray days such as this one was, with snow threatening to burst through steel clouds, I tend to kick back, build a fire, warm up some laced cocoa, and settle in on my overstuffed sofa wrapped in an old quilt, reading a book. What else would a bibliophile like me do? 

After this morning's chores, including putting the electric Christmas candles in nine of the ten windows of my townhome--why an outlet is not on the same wall as the master bathroom window, I cannot phantom--and hauling up three loads of firewood from the garage, I found myself for a few hours this afternoon, indulging once again in my most favorite pastime.
 This time I was transported in my "magical" faded quilt by Madeleine L'Engle to the planet Camazotz, where IT, the Black Thing "lives" as "evils" incarnate, threatening to destroy whole worlds of the known universe...and beyond. A Wrinkle in Time1, to my knowledge her first entry in 1962 into the world of literature for older children and adults, is the first of two or three books in a series about Meg Murry and her family of three younger brothers, her brainy, loving parents, who are scientists, and her new found friend, Calvin O'Keefe. My paperback copy, published in March 1976 by Dell Publishing, a division of Bantam Dell Publishing, New York, NY, sat among many more of L'Engle's works, most of which are first editions, in a middle shelf in my library. It was, for today, the perfect read-by-the-fire getaway book.

As the story opens, Meg's father has been missing for two years; where he is, is a mystery. Meg, her mother, and her three brothers brave the future together in the hope that he will be found and returned to their loving household. Meg, a finely carved character study, is despondent about her father's absence and acts out her anger and frustration in school and at home. Rescued from a fight with bullies who were mocking Charles Wallace, her five-year-old genius of a brother, she meets Calvin. Then along comes Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Witch, and the adventure begins. Along with L'Engle's characters I was tesseracted2 to Camazotz to fight the forces of evil, an allegory that parallels real worlds of evil, and to save Meg’s father. I'll comment on this in a bit, but first I must tell you a personal story about Madeleine L'Engle.

L'Engle (November 29, 1918 – September 6, 2007), was "all the rage" in the 1980s and 90s. As a matter of fact, she was my most favorite author for a time and I collected—and, as I said, still have—just about all her books, both for children and adults. I even have a first edition of her diary of prayers, Glimpses of Grace (© 1996 Crosswicks, Ltd., published by HarperSanFransciso) for each day of the year, which she wrote and published with Carole F. Chase--from what I gather, this a rarity in the book collector's world. I found only five sites that carry it: bookfinder.com. I cherish my copy and often refer to it for spiritual inspiration. 
 In the mid-1990s L'Engle came to the Episcopal Cathedral in Philadelphia to give a lecture and sell and sign her books. I drove down to meet and greet her with a cadre of her followers from church---our caravan was six cars long, each filled with devoted readers. 

My most favorite of all time author was wrapped in silk scarves, wearing a long, woolen sweater, enthroned in the Bishop's chair, in front of the massive marbled altar, high above the "masses", extolling the virtues of writing, her love of and faith in God, and her belief that all things can be conquered with Love—in all its many forms and expressions. I was enthralled, hugging my own two paperback copies of her A Wrinkle in Time  that I was hoping she would sign—one for me and one for a young teenager in my neighborhood, who was just as enamored of L'Engle's writing as I. I don't remember all the words of her lecture, but I do remember her telling us writers to "write, write, write", and her warm, generous smile that radiated like the sun across the enraptured faces of her audience.

When it came time to join the long lines to meet her and have her sign our books, I noticed people who were in front of her doing a strange thing: they were rubbing the toe of her left shoe, which was the color of Santa's suit. Apparently, rubbing her toe brought one great luck, a “tradition” her followers had been doing for years. Imagine rubbing a shoe of Charles Dickens, or Mark Twain (I wonder what he would say?), Esmeralda Santiago, David Martin, Lewis Carroll, Lisa Scottoline, or even Margaret Mitchell? I don’t think so. This is not quite my style of honoring my favorite authors. But, you know what? Caught up in the emotion and “thrill” of the moment, I did it anyway. And I was rewarded with one of her bright, though slightly impersonal, smiles and her signature in only one of my two copies, which, of course, I gave to the young teenager!

Despite the quasi-superstitious act of shoe rubbing and the subtle slight of not having two copies signed instead of one, I still thought back then, and still do now, that Madeleine L'Engle was a great author, with lots to say to us, even two decades after the publication of her last work, and four or more years after her death. And to reread her book this afternoon for the third time was indeed an early Christmas present unto itself.  

Okay, back to the evil on Camazotz, which when pronounced correctly, sounds a lot like "comatose", which is what all of the inhabitants of the planet are—early versions of today's zombies of popular "literature", movies, and television. Every one was alike, the same, and moved in the same conforming patterns and rhythms, all controlled by a massive human brain encased in a dome. The planet's inhabitants were deprived of their individuality, their creativity...even the very essence of their own souls. Again, I leave it to you to read the book and lose yourselves in the fine, lyrical, concise writing style of the author to learn the basic details of the plot. But, suffice it to say, this book spoke volumes to me on many levels. One in particular.

How many of us have been in similar, parallel situations where someone else, larger then ourselves--an employer, company, association, manager, political entity, social organization, or even a close friend or family member, has tried to totally control us? To squelch our individual, creative nature? To deny our basic rights to be different, yet equal, from everyone else. As Meg yells at IT, who tries to get her to join the comatose masses, "like is not the same as equal!" Think about it.

And how many of us have sought to control those around us? To make people we know "like" and be "like" us? How many forces of darkness are there in our world, in all shapes and sizes, that we consciously and inadvertently are becoming—if not already are—a part of? As L'Engle points out, their shadows are slowly covering our earth, threatening to consume us as it has Camazotz, but that we are trying to do the best we can to fight them off. Are we really?

Not many of us have the help of the delightfully angelic Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Witch—with her empowered eyeglasses—to assist us to tesseract to other places, planets, and times But all of us, deep down inside, do have the capability and inner strength to stand up for what we think is right and fair and just, to actively resist and rebel against what we perceive to be the forces of evil, enabling ourselves to live reasonably healthy, productive, spiritual, and enjoyable lives.  

With perseverance, determination, and, more importantly, with all our God-given strengths, and talents, and abilities and trusting forthrightness, coupled with what is the major theme in A Wrinkle in Time—the gift of Love, which is abundantly portrayed by the various interactions between the protagonists—we can conquer just about anything and thus bring our lives and our world back out of darkness into the light. 
1Many versions, also in other languages besides English, can be found here: bookfinder.com.

2 A tesseract is a "wrinkle" in time; a fold in the linear line, so that one can travel to distant places, like other planets that would take years to reach, in just a few moments.

5:07 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Like many children, Noah’s story was the first Biblical tale, besides the Christmas Story, that I learned. Already an animal lover at a very early age, I was fascinated by the gathering of pairs of beasts and creatures--even creepy-crawlies--of every kind into the ark. I was also morbidly mesmerized by the forty days and forty nights of torrential rains that covered the earth and destroyed "...every living thing that I have made…blot out from the face of the ground," as God tells Noah [Genesis 7:4]. For most of my childhood, I was afraid of thunderstorms. If it rained for longer than an hour or so, I hid in our basement coal bin, trusting that its wooden walls, smeared with tar just like those of the ark, would protect me should God decide to flood us out again. Eventually, I outgrew my fears and went on to write about Noah, as hundreds of others1 have before me and, I am sure, hundreds will in the future.

About a decade or so ago, I wrote the book and song lyrics for the musical Noah's Rainbow2The plot was a fusion of the very popular Biblical story of the Great Flood (Genesis 6:1--8:22 [NSRV]) and the theory presented in Noah's Flood3authored by Drs. William Penn and Walter Pitman, senior marine geologists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. While espousing Ryan's and Pitman's plausible theory that the catastrophic Deluge was caused by the bursting of the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus Valley into the Black Sea, my musical also faithful renders the great faith its main character, Noah, had in God. (It played, if I may brag, to standing-room-only receptive audiences in February 2002 when it was first produced by the Christ Church Players of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.) A few years ago, I wrote "Why Dogs have Wet Noses", now a "tail" in my most recent book, The Basset Chronicles4. Based upon an earlier short story by Stanley Cohen, it relates how "Frankie", a doggedly determined Basset Hound, saves the ark and all those on board. It was a fun story to write and, I hope, proves to be a fun story to read. 

During the writing of both the musical and the short story, I did a goodly amount of research about Noah and his family; most of it beyond the realm of the study notes in various translations, versions, and commentaries of the Bibles that are crammed into a bottom shelf of my library. I learned a lot of trivia as well as some amazing facts, both theological and secular—I won't bore you with all of that here. However one thing I did not come across was who Noah "really" was.  What was his personality like? Was he really a "righteous" man in a good relationship with God, or just, out of fright, following Yahweh's commands? What about his sons, Chem, Seth, and Jephath? We learn in Genesis that they went on to sire whole nations, but what were they really like as well? And what about Noah's wife? There is nothing written about her in the Biblical story except God saying He would save Noah, "your sons, your wife, and your son's wives". That's about it.  

These questions have always piqued my curiosity until I came across The Preservationist5, a novel written by David Maine (© 2004) and published by St. Martin's Press, New York, NY. This wonderfully written book has a delightfully designed cover and a three-quarter sized dust jacket that mimics the ark floating above the waters. When you remove the jacket, the animals are dispersing from the ark to repopulate the earth. Visually, it is aesthetically pleasing and belies the old adage, "Do not judge a book by its cover." because the cover firmly leads one to believe that this is a great read. And, yes, it is.

Mark Twain once said not to judge a man "by what he's read, but by what he's read twice". There are any number of volumes in my motley collection that I intend on re-reading; some, even, for the third time. However, The Preservationist is one, like The Collected Words of Lewis Carroll and Mom's first edition of Gone with the Wind, that will now be read over and over and over again. I first read my first edition copy back in July of 2004, a month or so after it was first released and, having found it this week while searching for yet another book to write about here, am re-reading it for the second time. 

Maine's writing is pure lyrical prose—although I am having a bit of difficulty with the usage of em dashes instead of quotes to delineate dialogue, often confusing "he said" and "she said" as part of the character’s words. Despite this minor flaw, I find no other flaws in his often humorous depictions of the many flaws and human foibles and failings of Noe and his three sons: Chem and wife, Ilya; Sem and wife, Bera; and Japheth and his wife, Mirn. Note that Maine uses the original names as written in the 1609 Douay Bible. Curiously, Noe's wife still does not have a name and is still referred to as "the wife". (Even “more curiouser”, in Noah's Rainbow, Noah's wife also doesn’t have a name. I cannot phantom why I, a staunch supporter of women's rights, even did that.) 

Maine faithfully follows the Biblical story line, as Noe goes about, with the aid of his sons, building the ark "three hundred cubits6 long, fifty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high", but fleshes it out with more interesting sub-plot lines, such as describing their adventures as Ilya and Bera travel on long journeys south and north to collect representative samplings of all of the animals upon the earth. Mirn, while she stays at home becomes, in her own right, the collector of “creepy-crawlies”—worms, bugs, snakes, beetles, spiders, voles, frogs, and toads (warts and all!). Birds, however, arrive on their own and crowd the deck in droves as the rains come, threatening to capsize them all. One of the wives asks at one point, “What about the fishes?” Does God destroy them because they are not on the ark, but already under water? Another questions the quirk of fate that saves her from being part of doomed humanity. Maine brings alive the taunting of the “damned” villagers, Noah’s neighbors, as they jeer his determination to build the ark.  

This author also has a knack, through letting some of the protagonists in individual chapters tell their own stories, of precisely forming and molding each of them with his or her distinctly unique traits, talents, faults, and imperfections. Japheth is a bit of a wastrel, preferring to sleep with his wife to working on the ark; Chem, the master boat building, is taciturn and defiant of his father; Sem is steadfast and, in some ways, the peace maker. “The wife” is the prosaic glue that holds Noe together, despite his rambling “visions” of and with God and being, at times, a downright curmudgeon. After all, he was over six hundred years old when the Great Flood hit. I would think he would hae beeen a bit grumpy and cantankerous, despite his great faith in Yawheh—and Yewheh’s great faith in him. Added to these are many minutiae and descriptive details of every day life, giving us the sum total of a grand whale of a tale.  

It has oftentimes proven to be disastrous for writers, authors, playwrights (myself included), and screenwriters to create novels, plays, and films that are based upon Biblical characters and stories. Our own personal beliefs and visions—what we imagine them to be after learning about them through sermons and in Sunday School, and, of course, reading the Bible ourselves—is often denigrated and/or distorted, and, unfortunately, likely as not, totally misrepresented, especially without the broad foundation of proper research. 

But David Maine, in this, the first of five or so books, has done his A-plus homework and has provided us, through his vast knowledge coupled with his great imagination and skillful, artistic writing, what I consider a truly delightful, poignant, and enlightening representation of what Noe and his family might really have been like—with all their intimate interactions, their strengths and weaknesses, fears and faith, as they forge through and survive the great floodwaters of their lives.  
The supposed first story of a great flood to destroy the earth was written in the ancient Mesopotamian tale of Gilgamesh. There are also varied Babylonian and Sumerian accounts upon which, some scholars claim, the Biblical story is based.
2© 2001 June J. McInerney and Linda F. Uzelac. A perusal script and a sampling of the music can be obtained by contacting me at JuneJ@JuneJMcInerney.com or through www.stagedoormusicals.com.
3Noah's Flood, © 1998 Walter C. Pittman III and William B. F. Ryan, Simon& Schuster, Inc., New York, NY. If you don't already have a copy and/or one is not availabe in your local library, this book can be purchased through one of the links found here: bookfinder.com.
4Available through CreateSpace and on amazon.com.
5Available from a number of on-line booksellers on bookfinder.com. The Flood , with a different title and cover, is the version published in the United Kingdom.
A cubit is an ancient measurement of length, roughly equivalent to the length of a forearm; approximately three feet. You can do the math to determine how huge the ark was—not titanic by today's standards, but big enough.
12:05 pm est          Comments

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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Miss Elmira's Secret Treasure: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
Colonial Theatre: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Roarin' 20s 
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
Columbia Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast


Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood



Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She is currently working on her sixth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,