Virginia Johnson

Dig This!

Wouldn't it be cool if even a few of the old stories were true? Legends say that giants walked the Earth, Atlantis vanished under the sea, and Greece and Troy fought a devastating war over a beautiful woman. Amazing, but true: all these stories are based on facts.

Archaeologists digging in China discovered the fossils of Gigantopithecus, a giant ape standing 9 or 10 feet tall. These huge but probably gentle apes died off 500,000 years ago. Traditionally, villagers collected their bones and made them into medicines. They called their finds dragon bones. Some have wondered whether pockets of the animals may have survived into later centuries, giving rise to the legend of Big Foot.

On the Road to Lake Anna

Lake Anna State Park is a favorite local destination for campers, boaters, and families who just want to spend a summer day at the lakeside beach. For most of us, the way to the lake runs down Lawyers Road. These days, there’s not much to take in with the view from this one-lane road, which passes through as quiet a stretch of Spotsylvania countryside as remains in the 21st century. But in centuries past, the western part of the county was the scene for tribal wars, slave labor, religious awakenings, whiskey barrel politics, gold mining, and Civil War armies on the march.

Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire, by Ruth Downie

Gaius Petrius Ruso has just arrived for duty in the Britain, a far backwater of the Roman Empire. He’s been assigned to the Valeria Victrix Legion as Medicus, serving the legion and the natives living in the town surrounding the barracks. When the only other doctor on staff is poisoned by a plate of oysters at the local bar/bordello, Ruso works on alone. Tramping the town in an exhausted stupor, he encounters an odious merchant beating an unconscious slave girl—who clearly has a badly broken arm.

Ruso wants to forget he ever saw the girl. He doesn’t have the money to buy her. He has no use for her. But it’s clear that if she stays as she is, she’ll die. So Ruso does buy her, with the plan to heal her and put her to work.  But pretty and clever Tilla has other plans. As a point of honor, she wants to die, and there’s very little Ruso can do about it as she has no plans to tell him.

Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine

Once there was a little girl named Hana Brady. She lived in Czechoslovakia with her beloved family. She liked to ski cross-country with her brother and play with her wolfhound and her fluffy, white kittens. She helped her father at the family’s general store. More than 50 years later, a suitcase with her name on it was sent to an education center in Japan. School children learned all about Hana and what happened to her during the Holocaust, a story told with words and photos in Hana’s Suitcase.

The Silver Touch by Rosalind Laker

This book started to take form when an 18th-century silver spoon washed up on the beach near author Rosalind Laker’s home. It bore the proud mark of a London silversmith—a woman silversmith by the name of Hester Bateman. Fired with curiosity, Ms. Laker researched the fascinating Bateman family. During the Georgian period, the Batemans rose from potential ruin to being leading craftsmen who were known to have that elusive Silver Touch that marks a master workman.

In creating her book—which is equal parts romance and historical novel—the author took the bones of what was known about Hester Bateman and fleshed them out into a passionate story that is rooted in the solid, workaday world of the English craftsmen. 
 
The woman silversmith begins life as Hester Needham, an orphan of twelve years who is taken in by her uncle and his shrewish wife. For half a dozen years, the pretty girl waits tables at their London tavern. She is careful not to entangle her heart until the day she meets handsome John Bateman. An apprentice goldsmith, he has many months to run on his contract before he can be a free man and do as he pleases.

The Weaver's Tale: A Medieval Mystery

Wracked with sickness on a frozen day in 1473, Roger the Chapman collapses on the road in the city of Bristol. Strong as he usually was, he had overestimated his ability to lug his pack of goods the many miles in such gruesome weather. Most of the townspeople want to leave him to die—just such a one might be a plague-bearer—but a weaver’s widow and her young daughter decide to shelter him anyway in Kate Sedley’s The Weaver’s Tale.

Margaret Walker and her daughter Lillis were already regarded with suspicion by their neighbors because of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Margaret’s father. The town feels guilty for the part it played in the affair, and they have taken to bullying the Walker women. The bullying is bad now, but it seems to be getting worse—perhaps fatally so. Roger agrees to stay in the Walker cottage for several weeks until winter has passed. He can help them with their chores and perhaps, too, help in solving the mystery surrounding the weaver’s death.

The Testimony of Two Men by Taylor Caldwell

Enter a brilliant surgeon who says exactly what he thinks, no matter whom it offends. He’s almost always right on his controversial diagnoses and drives his fellow doctors mad with his insistence that things be done the right way. He drinks too much sometimes, has few friends, and never, ever suffers fools. But this is not Dr. Gregory House. This is Dr. Jonathan Ferrier, a beleaguered genius who, though acquitted of his pretty wife’s grisly death, is still held accountable for it by many of Hambledon’s citizens in Taylor Caldwell’s A Testimony of Two Men.

Hambledon, Pennsylvania, in 1901 is a small town full of fine, upstanding people and a veritable matrix of malice. Dr. Ferrier has had enough of the place and is packing his bags to light out for the territories—or a big city, or anywhere, really, as long as it isn’t Hambledon. Enter Dr. Robert Morgan, as well-meaning and wet-behind-the-ears as any of House’s famous team. He’s the chosen man, the replacement who’s to buy out Dr. Ferrier’s practice. Is it because he, too, is a budding genius who has impressed Ferrier with his surgical wizardry and diagnostic discoveries? No, in Dr. Ferrier’s words, it is simply because he is the least likely of the candidates to do harm.

The Walk by Richard Paul Evans

Richard Paul Evans’ The Walk is a remarkable journey of the spirit. At 28, Alan Christoffersen had it all. He had married the love of his life, owned a wildly successful advertising company, and was settling into a beautiful and comfortable existence in the Seattle suburbs. A good man, a happy man, Alan could not know how soon his world would shatter. When a terrible accident cripples his family life, the faithful husband stands by his beloved McKale, trusting blindly that his business partner and purported best friend will manage his workaday affairs.

At the moment that he finds himself bereaved, betrayed, homeless, and flat-out broke, he does consider a dark and quick way out of the pain.  He manages to pull away from that moment and decides instead to take a far walk from Seattle to Key West, Florida. Now that he has no one and nothing save a tent, a backpack, and very few provisions, it seems as good a thing to do as any other. Some prefer to grieve and ponder alone, and Alan is one of those people.

Deliciously Demented Daniel Pinkwater

How does this master of dry wit create? He imagines a boy, very much like he was, and tries to write a story that would please him. Like many excellent writers for kids and young adults, he has a terrific recall of what it feels like to be a bright, out-of-sync, yet amazingly well-adjusted, kid in a not totally indifferent world.

Daniel Manus Pinkwater was a well-traveled soul by his teens. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, moved to Chicago, then on to Los Angeles at age eight and back to Chicago again as a teenager. Not being a particularly tanned or svelte person, he found Chicago to be a much more friendly residence, although Los Angeles was where he first discovered art supplies. In high school, his friends were like the "Snarkout Boys" from his books-- not socially gifted in the mainstream, but together they formed a clever, friendly group of creative goofballs and truth-seekers.

Ready, Set, Draw!

All it takes is a piece of paper and a pencil to make a great drawing. Even if you don't think you have any talent, step-by-step guides will have you sketching in no time.

Drawing Cartoons and Drawing Step-by-Step

Amaze your friends by drawing pictures of cartoon characters. Looney Tunes' web site has step-by-step instructions for Bugs, Daffy, and the rest of the gang. Step-by-step instruction books from the library can give you the confidence to create cars and kittens, dinosaurs and spaceships. The youngest artists may enjoy Ed Emberley's very simple books which turn basic shapes into cool cartoons.