Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tuesday Trivia

  1. Where does the term “salary” come from?
  2. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, Dr. Watson is said to have suffered a bullet wound during the war. Where was he shot?
  3. What famous Russian novelist and short story writer had several butterflies named after him?
  4. What best-selling author opened the first Saab auto dealership in the United States?
  5. What famous writer wished to ban Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn from American public libraries, stating it was inappropriate for "our pure-minded lads and lassies"?

Last Week's Answers

What is the most expensive book or manuscript ever sold at an auction?

The most expensive book or manuscript ever sold at an auction was The Codex Hammer, a notebook belonging to Leonardo da Vinci. It sold for $30.8 million.

When was the first novel written?

The first novel ever written contains 54 chapters and is titled The Tale of Genji. It was written in the beginning of the 11th century by Murasaki Shibuku, a Japanese noblewoman.

How old are the oldest words in the English language?

The oldest words in the English language date from approximately 14,000 years ago and originate from a pre-Indo-European language called Nostratic by linguists. Words from Nostratic that survive today include apple gold (gol), (apal), tin (tin), and bad (bad).

In old English, the word “with” originally meant what?

In Old English, the word with meant "against". This meaning is still preserved in phrases such as "to fight with"

A group of geese is called a gaggle when they are on the ground. What are they called when they are in flight?

A group of magpies is called a tiding, one of ravens an unkindness, one of turtledoves a pitying, one of starlings a murmuration, one of swans a lamentation, one of ponies a string, one of rattlesnakes a rhumba, one of crows a murder, one of cobras a quiver, one of foxes a skulk, one of emus a mob, one of elks a gang, one of cats a clowder, one of flamingoes a pat, and one of bears a sleuth. Groups of geese are named in a peculiar manner; when they are on the ground they are called a "gaggle", but in the air they are called a "skein."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tuesday Trivia

  1. Washington Irving got the idea for the story of Rip Van Winkle from which ancient poet?
  2. What was the first American novel published in 1789?
  3. What was the full name of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin?
  4. How many words in all of Shakespeare’s works begin with the letter “X”?
  5. Who was the first Chinese writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature?

Last Week's Answers

What date in history do Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis have in common and why?

Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis both died on November 22, 1963, but the day is most often remembered for the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

What literary work gives the “quark,” a building block of the proton, its name?

The quark takes its name from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, from the line "Three quarks for Muster Mark! Sure he hasn't got much of a bark".

What was the first work of fiction to be blessed by a Pope?

Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ by American Civil War General, Lew Wallace, was published in 1880 and was the first work of literature to be blessed by the Pope.

How many years older than Shakespeare was his wife Anne Hathaway?

Because Anne Hathaway's tombstone states she was 67 when she died in 1623, it is generally believed that she was eight years older than her husband. However, the figures 1 and 7 are easily confused — so she may have actually been 61, only two years older than William.

Where does the term “bestseller” come from?

The Kansas Times and Star was the first newspaper to use the phrase “bestseller” in their April 25, 1889 edition referring to six books as the “best sellers here last week.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Anne

Sunday, 14 June, 1942:

On Friday, June 12th, I woke up at six o’clock and no wonder; it was my birthday. But of course I was not allowed to get up at that hour, so I had to control my curiosity until a quarter to seven. Then I could bear it no longer, and went to the dining room, where I received a warm welcome from Moortje (the cat).

Soon after seven, I went to Mummy and Daddy and then to the sitting room to undo my presents. The first to greet me was you, possibly the nicest of all.

And thus began what was to become, arguably, the most famous diary of the twentieth century, the diary of young Anne Frank, who, on her thirteenth birthday, received the book she addresses in her first entry as “possibly the nicest [gift] of all.” She had seen the book—a red and green plaid, cloth-bound autograph book with a lock—in a shop a few days earlier and had told her father she would like to keep it as a diary.

The rest, of course, is—as they say—history. In less than a month, Anne and her family would go into hiding to prevent their being transported to a Nazi work camp. Before her sixteenth birthday, Anne would be dead.

Anne Frank: the Diary of a Young Girl is a staple of middle school and high school curricula, and deservedly so. There are so many levels on which it can be taught (though it should never be taught as a novel—because it isn’t. But it certainly qualifies as a book-length work of non-fiction, a requirement in most states’ curriculum standards.).

And young Anne’s voice still resonates with readers.

If Anne were alive today, she would be turning 80 on Friday, June 12. She received her famous birthday present sixty-seven years ago.

Somehow, I think that’s worth noting.

So, Happy Birthday, Anne; your life and story have made a difference in many people’s lives.

— Douglas Grudzina

Thursday, June 11, 2009

New Push Seeks to End Need for Pre-College Remedial Classes

Okay, so did anyone notice this article from the May 28, 2009 New York Times?

It’s certainly not “news” to any of us who have been paying attention to educational issues and various reform efforts for the past, say, two or three decades, but it does seem to be an issue that is not going to go away unless we do something about it.

I don’t think I’m treading on too thin ice when I suggest that most of us who teach (or have taught) high school (especially seniors, especially “college-preparatory” seniors) are thoroughly ambivalent on the issue of non-credit, “remedial” college courses. After all, when we know that college is the student’s goal, and high school graduation is lurking a mere nine months away, we work hard to get our students ready. We know that there are some students who are going to struggle their freshman year—and maybe a non-credit, refresher course would be helpful. We also know, however, that there are students who will simply need a little guidance and instructional attention from their professors. Remediation, for them, we suspect, will be a waste of time and money.

And there are those of us who know—in our heart of hearts—that our high school curriculum could be more rigorous; that we could be more demanding in the depth and scope of understanding we expect our students to attain; that we could be more frank in our assessment of their achievement. We secretly understand the college’s desire to stick the kid into a, say, remedial writing course because we know that our curriculum has fallen short.

We are the lone wolves at faculty and department meetings, begging for higher expectations, more rigorous assignments, more honest grading systems.

We also feel as if we’ve been fighting a never-ending uphill battle.


Over the past several years, Prestwick House has striven (strived?) to translate the pedagobbledygook of educational reform into workable classroom materials. The results have been quite successful, and if you haven’t looked at any of the following, you really should:

3 Simple Truths and 6 Essential Traits of Powerful Writing is a four-year writing program designed to pick students up at the novice level (where the five-paragraph essay is the standard for organization, and the reasons for using a compound sentence versus two simple sentences are explained) and take them to the proficient level (where they are required to experiment with literary and rhetorical devices for the sake of tone, voice, and clarity).

This complete writing curriculum includes a scoring rubric (complete with level-appropriate anchor papers) that clearly illustrates the growth expected of students as they progress from level to level (the target score for the Novice level is 4, while the target score for Proficient is 13).

Instruction, practice, models, assignments, and scoring are all provided—and students who pass their twelfth-grade English course will not need remediation when they enter college.

Grammar for Writing: Understanding the Mechanics of Grammar and How Language Works is just about the only grammar text available that immediately applies every convention covered to its role in writing. Without getting wrapped up in the esoterica of grammar-ology, this little book takes a common-sense, descriptive approach.

Students’ time is not wasted on “drill and kill” exercises and rote memorization of a single rule and its 837 discrete exceptions. Instead, they’re taught to reason out what they want to communicate and then to apply the commonly-accepted conventions that will allow them to do it.

This book makes a great companion to the Novice and Developing levels of the 3 Simple Truths series.

Maximum Impact: Perfecting Student Grammar and Writing takes a more traditional approach to grammar and mechanics for those students who need it. Again, however, the underlying assumption is that, if students are going to be college-level writers by the time they leave high school, they must master the basic conventions of the language early on so that their later instruction can focus on depth, complexity, and—yes—style. A writer who is still struggling with verb tenses and pronoun-antecedent agreement in twelfth grade is doomed to a semester or two of remediation in college—a fate that is readily avoidable with the right tools.

Other books that are not intended to form the core of your curriculum but will certainly prepare your students for college are:

Writing an A+ Research Paper: a Roadmap for Beginning and Experienced Writers (you’ll love the instruction, guided practice, independent practice, do it yourself model of instruction and the strong, practical focus on avoiding plagiarism)


Rhetorical Devices: A Handbook and Activities for Student Writers (you’ll appreciate the fact that students are encouraged actually to use the devices in their own writing rather than simply learn how to identify them).

So, if you’re tired of being that lone wolf in meetings, if you honestly want to do the best for your college-bound students, and you want to be a part of the solution and not a continuation of the problem, why not contact customer service today and request Professional Review copies of any or all of these products designed to help you “raise the bar” and prepare your students for their challenging futures.

And if your state, school, or district is charged with spending some of its stimulus money on increasing the rigor of your curriculum, here are a few products that will help you do just that.


— Douglas Grudzina

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tuesday Trivia

  1. What date in history do Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis have in common and why?
  2. What literary work gives the “quark,” a building block of the proton, its name?
  3. What was the first work of fiction to be blessed by a Pope?
  4. How many years older than Shakespeare was his wife Anne Hathaway?
  5. Where does the term “bestseller” come from?

Last Week’s Answers

What is the largest book in the world and where is it located?

The largest book in the world, a copy of the Tripitaka, the sacred Buddhist text that includes Buddha's teachings, is inscribed on 729 marble slabs, each 3.5' × 5' × 5", and occupies a thirteen-acre site on the grounds of the Kuthodaw pagoda in Mandalay, Burma.

How many of Emily Dickinson’s 1,800 poems were published in her lifetime?

Of Emily Dickinson’s over 1,800 poems, only seven were published in her lifetime — all without her consent.

Which well-known 20th century, British author was a member of the Inklings, a group associated with Oxford University, alongside other pertinent authors such as C.S. Lewis?

J.R.R. Tolkien and as his son Christopher were both avid members of the Inklings.

In what year was the first mention of an iceberg recorded in literature?

Recorded in the ninth century, the travel log of the Irish monk St. Brendan in the North Atlantic, mentions a "floating crystal castle.” Since most early literate civilizations were located in the Mediterranean, the first mention of an iceberg did not come until much later in recorded history.

What was the working title of Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone With the Wind?

Believe it or not, Ba! Ba! Black Sheep was one of several working titles Margaret Mitchell used for Gone With the Wind. She also considered the titles Tote the Weary Load, Bugles Sang True, Not In Our Stars, and Tomorrow is Another Day before finally settling on a phrase that she had used in the critical scene where Scarlett returns to Tara and asks, "Was Tara still standing? Or was Tara also gone with the wind which had swept through Georgia?"

Friday, June 5, 2009

Invisibility and the Descent into Madness: One Art Director's Journey

Invisibility as a super power, according to H. G. Wells, may have some, well… "side effects" associated with it. Insanity would be the number one, but I would guess hypothermia would run a close second. Taking this into consideration, next to flying, it still has to be one of the more popular super powers that, at one time or another, most of us have fantasized about. On a design level, I can attest to the madness associated with this ability.

I was assigned the task of creating a cover image for our Literary Touchstone Classic edition of Wells's classic novel, The Invisible Man. Definitely a challenging and creative assignment, but with some Photoshop skills under my belt I figured it wouldn't be too difficult to pull off the whole invisibility thing. This is where the madness sets in.

I never realized how difficult it would be too render an invisible person with even a slight degree of realism. Oh sure, I could have made it easy and photographed him in a dark room with bandages wrapped around his head like a jazz-age-mummy but I wanted the classic Hollywood still effect with dramatic up-lighting and maniacal hand gesturing — I would need lighting for that. Specific lighting. Casting eerie shadows on the wall.

I could visualize the image, and my next step was to set about lining up a model, the clothes, and a location. The model was a no-brainer. My first and only choice was my younger brother for a couple reasons: one he is an avid fan of the 1930’s classic horror movie genre and everything associated with the era; he's a ham and has no problem whatsoever putting himself completely out there for the sake of "art;" and finally, he's my brother and he agreed to work for free! (I had him sign a model release just in case he changed his mind.)

For the location all I really needed was a space where I could shut out all light (except for my direct source), and preferably a blank, bare wall against which the subject might stand to capture the shadows smoothly and without distortion. My brother's basement fit the bill perfectly (and again, no charge).

My vision was to photograph him from the waist up, so I only needed a jacket, shirt, and scarf in a style that would have been used in the 1930's. My brother borrowed a jacket from his wife's grandfather and the warm, brown tweed set just the right nostalgic tone. The scarf and shirt were easily found around the house. The last but most important prop was the glasses. They couldn't be just any ordinary sort of glasses and needed to have side covers (preferably leather) and appear almost goggle-like. Sure, piece of cake, just pop down to Target and pick some up on the 9.99 carousel — hmmm, no such luck. I visited a few antiques stores. Nada. So my brother ended up borrowing a very expensive pair of military issue goggles from a local Army Navy Store connection for the weekend. They looked amazing. (Okay, in retrospect, perhaps I should have paid him). The last prop was an Ace bandage that I picked up at a local drug store.

The shoot went off without a hitch and I ended up with more images than I needed. Here's a short video made with some of the photos:

The difficult and most time consuming part of the process turned out to be working in Photoshop. I had to “clone” out the model’s actual head yet leave the wall and the shadow of his partially wrapped, partially transparent head, bandage and hands casting the shadow they would have made had he really been invisible. After many, many Photoshop layers and countless hours of “cloning,” I managed to pull off the effect at least to a degree that was acceptable. Mapping a Victorian wallpaper pattern on the wall helped to break up the flat planes of color so that some of the tougher cloned spots would be less discernable. The wrists proved just as problematic but again, with some cloning and many layers I was able to achieve the desired effect.

Here's where the real insanity kicked in. While working on the cover image, I had the idea that it might be cool to have the chapter heads show Griffin fading into invisibility and, of course, into madness. Similar to the Crackerjack flipbook prize we coveted as kids, I felt it would add drama and movement to the book. The "animation" effect doesn't quite work in the printed book, as there are just too many pages in between to give the required "persistence of vision" effect needed to create the illusion of animation, but the idea that the reader might slowly discover the transformation of the novel’s protagonist without being told about it beforehand seemed exciting — something I would have gotten a kick out of when I was in school.

But now, as if the invisibility effect wasn't difficult enough, I needed to slowly fade the head, wrists, and their shadows in stages. Yikes! If I would have had this brainstorm prior to photo shoot, I might have tried to photograph the model’s jacket separately with the wrists and neck areas empty with the exact same lighting. This would have added considerably to the length of time it took for the actual shoot, and the idea of reshooting was logistically out the question.

With a little luck and some serious “cloning” and “duplicating,” I managed to pull off the effect I wanted without a lot of compromise to the quality of the image. The relatively small format of 6 x 9 eliminated the need to worry about superfine detail, and gave the desired effect.

So in short, The Invisible Man cover took longer than the some other covers in the series, but in the long run, I feel like it was worth it. Who would have guessed that designing a cover around something that can't be seen would be so labor intensive?

- Larry Knox, Art Director

Thursday, June 4, 2009

It is Hard to Retain Uniqueness in a World that Encourages Conformity...

In celebration of author Robert Fulghum’s birthday, I’d like to share a chapter from his award-winning book, All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things.

This particular chapter in a very quirky, touching book was introduced to me by one of my favorite English teachers and Declamation coach, Mr. Corrigan, while he was helping me to choose a piece for the Declamation team. This team was made up of a group of students who competed in forensics tournaments versus students from other schools in our area, each memorizing a speech to recite and then delivering it in front of peers and a panel of judges.

The following excerpt was my very first speech during my three years competing at what would quickly become my favorite after-school activity. As one of those teachers who always knew that I was a “mermaid,” Mr. Corrigan helped me to discover my love of language, develop my skills, and ultimately helped me to realize my own potential.

So as a thank you to Mr. Corrigan from a previously awkward eleven-year-old and a wish for the very happiest birthday to Mr. Robert Fulghum, an author whose “uncommon thoughts on common things” have stayed with me throughout my adult life, I give you an excerpt from the chapter entitled “Mermaids.”


Giants, Wizards, and Dwarfs was the game to play.

Being left in charge of about eighty children seven to ten years old, while their parents were off doing parenty things, I mustered my troops in the church social hall and explained the game. It's a large-scale version of Rock, Paper and Scissors, and involves some intellectual decision making. But the real purpose of the game is to make a lot of noise and run around chasing people until nobody knows which side you are on or who won.

Organising a roomful of wired-up gradeschoolers into two teams, explaining the rudiments of the game, achieving consensus on group identity - all this is no mean accomplishment, but we did it with a right good will and were
ready to go.

The excitement of the chase had reached a critical mass. I yelled out: "You have to decide now which you are - a GIANT, a WIZARD, or a DWARF!"

While the groups huddled in frenzied, whispered consultation, a tug came at my pants leg. A small child stands there looking up, and asks in a small, concerned voice,

"Where do the Mermaids stand?"

Where do the Mermaids stand?

A long pause.

A very long pause.

"Where do the Mermaids stand?" says I.

"Yes. You see, I am a Mermaid."

"There are no such things as Mermaids."

"Oh, yes, I am one!"

She did not relate to being a Giant, a Wizard, or a Dwarf. She knew her category: Mermaid. And was not about to leave the game and go over and stand against a wall where a loser would stand. She intended to participate, wherever Mermaids fit into the scheme of things. Without giving up dignity or identity. She took it for granted that there was a place for Mermaids and that I would know just where.

Well, where DO the Mermaids stand? All the "Mermaids" - all those who are different, who do not fit the norm and who do not accept the available boxes and pigeonholes?

Answer that question, and you can build a school, a nation, or a world on it.

What was my answer at the moment? Every once in a while I say the right thing. "The Mermaid stands right here by the King of the Sea!" says I.

(Yes, right here by the King's Fool, I thought to myself.)

So we stood there hand in hand, reviewing the troops of Wizards, and Giants and Dwarfs as they roiled by in wild disarray.

It is not true, by the way, that Mermaids do not exist. I know at least one personally. I have held her hand.

— taken from All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten -Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things (pp 83-85) by Robert Fulghum; a Harper Collins paperback ISBN 0-586-20892-5