The Gift of a Good Read

While I was growing up, there was always a book with my name on it under the tree on Christmas morning.  It might be a Nancy Drew (The Mystery of the Old Clock), a popular girls’ read (Donna Parker in Hollywood), or a classic from Louisa Mae Alcott, but no matter the title,  I spent holiday afternoons off school poring over a new story.

Later, one of the things I relished while Christmas shopping for our young daughters was choosing books for them, and these days I look for just the right ones for our grandchildren.  I still try to find books for the adults on my list, though gift certificates to Barnes and Noble or Half Price Books also serve the purpose.

Here’s one I recommend for anyone who prizes history and biography.  Edmund Morris, biographer of presidents and earner of the Pulitzer and American Book Award, compiled forty years of his work in 2012 in This Living Hand and Other Essays.  Some of the 59 pieces were previously unpublished; they range from researching Roosevelt and Reagan to describing his own journey as a writer and a naturalized American citizen.

I gifted myself the book in 2014 before we heard him speak in New York City.  I have been working on it since then, but admit I have not gotten to them all.  Absorbing individual essays is quite a bit slower than taking a joyride through a novel which keeps asking you to finish just one more chapter before putting it down.

Arranged in chronological order of the dates they were written, the first is from 1972, about a boyhood experience in Kenya when he discovered an improbable and forbitten fruit called a bumstitch.  The last is an explanation of his unorthodox point of view for Dutch, Ronald Reagan’s biography.  An illustration or photograph heralds each chapter, squeezing out more of its intent.


Morris is a master of thoughts and an artist with the words to convey them.  He writes of figures in history, music and literature: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Adams, Ludwig van Beethoven, Mark Twain, Evelyn Waugh, James Gould Cozzens, Thomas Edison…

His time at work in the Library of Congress probably transcends that of any living writer.  We read about the great institution, which he compares to Thomas Jefferson’s brain, in one chapter: serendipitous experiences like holding a William McKinley autographed piece of silk once meant for promoting a campaign, and the voluminous journals of Theodore Roosevelt.  It is a place where he discovered original musical scores composed by the father of Clare Booth Luce, something Edmund’s wife Sylvia had dreamed of finding for her own book’s research.

Sylvia Jukes Morris, biographer of Luce and Edith Roosevelt, is also the subject of a chapter, but you have to read it yourself to get an idea of the admiration and respect her husband has for her.  It is great.  He paid her a high compliment in saying that if something happened to him while writing one of his books, she could finish it herself.

Edmund Morris’s writing is both serious and funny.  It comes from many years of trying to get to the bottom of what made people do what they did.  It is for readers of books, lifelong learners like himself; and not much like the noise of bits and pieces we get from electronic media today.  This is one of those books that may be called just one thing: a gift.

Author! Author!

Journalist Anderson Cooper began a week of special appearances in person at the April meeting of the Public Library Association in Denver.  He walked on stage in the theatre of the convention center there, saying, “What I want to know is: Who’s in the library right now?”

The top photo from my phone is of the big screen with captions; second from top is one live on stage.  As on 60 Minutes, CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, CBS This Morning, Kelly and Michael, etc., he is very personable and direct.

Mr. Cooper had to “book it” (pardon the pun) to New York for a morning show the next day so he did not stay to autograph copies of The Rainbow Comes and Goes, about his relationship with his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt.  He did provide some already-signed books for sale afterwards, for which I was happy to wait in line.  And it debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List as #1!


From Tuesday through Thursday there were plenty of people available to sign books they’d written.  Lauren Myracle, below, has a new novel called Wishing Day.

The next author, Alison Hodgson, brought her main character, Oliver, along to meet convention attendees.  The Pug List tells of “a ridiculous little dog, a family who lost everything, and how they all found their way home.”


An unexpected pleasure was meeting a young author named Jessica Lawson who lives in Colorado, but, I found out, is a graduate of Homestead High School in Fort Wayne.  Interesting title, and from what I’ve already read, a wonderful book.  It’s about a little boy who has more than one reason to visit the famous Masters’ Tournament in Augusta, Georgia.  Her bookmarks were golf tees.

Children’s author Natasha Wing of The Night Before picture book series has a bubbly persona.   I was able to get The Night Before Kindergarten for my kindergarten teacher daughter, and the more recent The Night Before My Birthday for our granddaughter.  Shhhh!  It’s a surprise.

Book Fare


Imagine a bunch of excited third graders in the school library for the book fair.  Then expand the scene to adult librarians in a big city convention center for the national meeting of the Public Library Association (PLA), which I attended in Denver last week as a guest of my daughter.  While she went to sessions I could peruse the booths.

The big blue bear outside the convention center really wanted in to get a book, too.


Book giveaways were everywhere.  All these were free…but you had to get them home by yourself.  Most of them had disclaimers on the cover: Advance Reader’s Edition or Uncorrected Proof/Not for Sale. 


Major and independent publishers showed their upcoming books for preview.






Lots of electronic invaders…sometimes change is good.



What’s the solution for illiteracy in America?


This would be a good start.


Next time: authors I was able to meet (and one I wanted to).

Discover Greatness


How would you like to be pitched a greeting by showman Satchell Paige?  Or stand face to face with some of his contemporaries — Rube and Willie Foster, Hilton Smith, and Josh Gibson?  Patrons of the Allen County Public Library are invited to do just that, and find out what made these athletes great, in a striking display of Negro Baseball League photographs.

Visitors may return as many times as they like to the Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery at the main branch in downtown Fort Wayne to learn more, for free, during library hours.  The photos are presented in black and white, the way the world saw baseball until segregated teams were dissolved in 1960.  Negro League games were played in major urban centers in the US and Canada.  Teams would also “barnstorm,” or travel to play their white counterparts from the parallel Major Leagues.

In 1905, a player named Samson demonstrates his form.

How many know that the first Negro World Series was played in 1924?  This took place four years after the establishment of the first league, the National Negro League.  Andrew “Rube” Foster, a former player, manager and owner, was the guiding force in its organization.  Soon rival leagues were formed in eastern and southern states.

Rube Foster.

Though most everyone knows him as “Jackie” Robinson, his wife has said he felt the name was condescending; family and friends called him “Jack.”  He began his career with the Monarchs before being famously signed by Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, breaking the color barrier for good in the Major Leagues.  He was MVP in 1949 and appeared on the cover of Life Magazine the next year.  As his popularity grew, Robinson was invited to radio talk shows and featured in household ads and on TV.

Roy Campanella began playing with the Baltimore Elite Giants at fifteen.  He joined the Dodgers in 1948, winning MVP honors in 1951, 1953 and 1955.  Then in 1957, his baseball career ended tragically when he was paralyzed in an automobile accident.

Original pennants of long-ago teams flank the players’ portraits in the gallery.  Clubs also included the Cuban Giants, Leland Giants, Chicago American Giants, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Atlanta Black Crackers, Birmingham Black Barons, Memphis Red Sox, St. Louis Stars, and Indianapolis Clowns, where a young player named Henry Aaron got his start.

More information about this chapter in sports history may be found by visiting,, and  YouTube provides excerpts from some early TV shows, What’s My Line? where you can  listen to Roy Campanella; and I’ve Got a Secret, in which Leroy Satchel Paige is a guest star.

Ken Burns’ epic documentary Baseball devotes a section to the Negro Leagues.  To read a moving interview with first baseman Buck O’Neil in his later years, see  Among other gems, you’ll find out that while in the dugout Rube Foster blew smoke rings from his pipe to signal players on the field.

The exhibition Discover Greatness, which originated from the Negro Baseball Leagues Museum in Kansas City, will be on display in Fort Wayne until December 3.  It was funded by the ACPL Friends of the Library and is the last to be organized by Gallery Librarian Amy Griffin, who has taken a new position at the Central Library in Indianapolis as Lifelong Learning Team Leader.  We are proud of your hard work, Amy.  Congratualations!


Boston and Beyond

Somewhere in the stacks or shadows of the Boston Public Library there has to be a teacher lurking, because another of their exhibits we saw a few weeks back, “Boston and Beyond,” breaks set with a lead Madeline Hunter would be proud of.  When a child walks through the doors he sees colorful pieces of original cartography — from fiction.  Narnia, Oz, the Hundred Acre Wood, Neverland, and Fairyland are all there.  Then, gradually, the course changes to maps and globes with actual locations (though I would still insist Oz is real).  A glassed-in area holds atlases to take off the shelf and read.








Along the perimeter of the exhibit room are cubbies with corresponding blue chairs which small people may stop off at — to read, to put together puzzles, to twirl a globe.  And, too, there is an invitation to join a map club just for them.  At a window near pop-up landscapes and fairy books, one may look out at an enchanting courtyard.  All work together for an afternoon of exploring Boston and Beyond.







Early Bird

During the daytime and evening, I can think and muse and search for things to write about and different ways to present them without much luck.  Why do I wake up at 4 a.m. knowing exactly what to say?

It’s not a new phenomenon.  When I was teaching I’d have the best ideas for the classroom at about that time.  Before the invasion of the PC, I’d write them in longhand.  Later on, with a light-touch keyboard, I could type away and email them to school.

There are lots of bulleted help lists for writers.  Neuroscientists who have studied the creative activities of early birds state that biological evidence supports rising early to compose.  It is related to dopamine pathways of the limbic system, or something like that.  Practical people just say that in wee hours of the morning, we’re in a better mood because it’s quiet, we’re rested, and we haven’t had t0 deal with people yet.

On the website  there’s a chart correlating famous authors’ wake-up times and their achievements.  Ray Bradbury and Stephen King were the later risers, which makes sense, because extra sleeping time would be needed to describe horror and sci-fi.  Or recover from it.  The chart displays this disclaimer: “No specific routine guarantees success.”  I concur, from observing student writers for many years.

Several people have mentioned the helpfulness of coffee during the still-dark hours of the day.  It seems Beethoven used to write music then, with 60 beans worth in his cup.

Then there’s the guy who extolls the advantages of getting up early to write, beginning at 6:30.  6:30?  That’s when I take my morning nap.

Notes on Book Notes

Last week, in the middle of spring events that seemed to whirl like blossoms from our pear tree, I gave a talk about my book for the Indiana Chapter of the Theodore Roosevelt Association.  I’d been looking forward to this for a long time.

 Is eight year-old Teedie listening from his chair on the screen?

Listeners ranged from age 9 (our grandson) to 94 (the lovely mother-in-law of our chapter president).  I tried to remember the first rule for talking in public: what your audience is doing is as important as what you are saying.  Because the TRA members already possess quite a bit of knowledge on my subject matter, I knew I had to throw out material they hadn’t heard before.  So I showed several photos in a PowerPoint, including “scoops” yet unpublished.

I was “dee-lighted” that two excellent Roosevelt re-enactors, Gib Young and Larry Marple, were in the audience.

It was great fun.  The only problem I had was choosing which information to share.  It was easy to digress from my chiseled-down notes when I was reminded of a Roosevelt family story.

 The University Club in Indianapolis provides great atmosphere for fare and conversation.

I displayed some letters of encouragement I’ve received from Roosevelt scholar/writers: Edmund Morris, Geoffrey Ward, David McCullough, Ken Burns, and my late history teacher, John Fiandt.  And it was gratifying to talk with everyone who came to get a book signed.

For the record, I am available to give more presentations about The Amazing Bird Collection of Young Mr. Roosevelt; if your school, organization or book club is interested, please say so in the comment section.  And there is a 20-page study guide, free for the asking.

Photo Credits: Drew Manges

“What Do You Think?”

I thought that rather than sending flowers, a better way to show appreciation for my high school history teacher was to go to his graveside service.

The last time I saw John Fiandt was at graduation over forty years ago.  I was fortunate to have been in his class not only for American History in the eleventh grade, but for Social Studies in junior high (not yet enlightened to the name of middle school).

I remember getting a C on his first assignment.  We had to choose a current events article and tell what we thought about it.  “This article was very newsworthy, and I learned a lot about the war in India and Pakistan that I didn’t know before.”  That was an answer for which I could have filled in the blank for anything I read.   I’m surprised he didn’t throw it in the trash.  I wasn’t used to writing opinions, at least in detail — up to then I suppose my excellent and caring teachers had been working more on the RC in RCASE (recall, comprehension, analysis, synthesis and evaluation) than on the higher order skills.

My responses gradually improved.  Good thing, because most of his tests were essays.  From class discussion (yes, it was the Socratic Method) and the books he assigned us to read, I learned a lot about history, but also that I needed to question why people acted the way they did.  I didn’t learn how to think (when someone says this it irritates me to no end) or what to think, but to just to think.  About things in my own style.  And to consider the views of others.  I liked Mr. Fiandt’s dry sense of humor, and we all knew he cared about us.

Ultimately I  taught in a fifth grade classroom for twenty-five years, only half of his long career.  I remembered his questioning, his encouragement to read, and the example of just being different.  I looked at my kids the way he used to look at us: with amusement, with understanding, with…what?  Expectation?  What would they say next?  What would they THINK next?

During a snowstorm early this year, I sent him a copy of my recent book, thinking he might appreciate that one of his students tried to write something about history.  I’m sure others of us have produced more extensive and illuminating volumes.  I got a thank you note the next week.  He’d enjoyed reading it and thought I was a good writer.  He said he’d always “trumpeted” Theodore Roosevelt’s accomplishments as president.  And that another teacher I’d mentioned as a positive influence, Thelma Hepner, had been a dear family friend.  He was interested to know about my family, and the book about World War I that I’d said I was working on.  Then, two months later, he was gone.

Mr. Fiandt never married, but judging from others’ remarks, he had a very large family: students from thirty-two years at the high school, and from twenty years at the local university.

At his service a friend told me that Mr. Fiandt had considered Edmund Morris’s trilogy of Theodore Roosevelt to be the finest biographies he’d ever read.  That is saying A LOT.  He had a legendary library, part of which he was always loaning out, especially to his young charges.  John Fiandt had several things in common with Edmund Morris: scholarship, frankness, wit, polish,  professionalism, and a generous spirit.  Always inviting others to think.  The lesson continues.

Podcast the First



In the cold outside/cozy inside days of winter, maybe you’ll have time to listen to some of my book.  Or is there a restless younger person in your house who would like to hear a different take on history?  One of the things I miss most about the classroom is reading aloud to the kids, and if you want to sit Indian-style on the floor, go right ahead!  The first reading is from Chapter Two, “Our Young Folks.”



Book cover photograph courtesy

Author Fair

From noon to three o’clock this Saturday, November 8, I’ll be at the Allen County Public Library Author Fair at the main branch in downtown Fort Wayne.  I’d love to see you there at Table #5.  About seventy authors will be on hand with books of all genres, and ten percent of sales go to the Friends of the Library.  I’m on the panel at one o’clock, Not Just for Teens: Trends in Writing for Young Adults.  Also, teachers who purchase of a copy of my book ($12) get a free study guide!