Virginia Johnson

04/18/2013 - 10:29am

No one really liked Duny in A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. The boy was wild, proud, and full of temper-- well-suited to the company of the goats he herded. Then came the day when he overheard his aunt chanting a spell to call her goat down from the roof of her house. He remembered the rhyme and later spoke it to his own herd:

"Noth hierth malk man hiolk han merth han!"

The first time he said it, they came to him all together, staring with their yellow eyes. Duny laughed and shouted the rhyme again. They pushed towards him with their thick, ridged horns. Duny ran all the way to town with the goats close beside. The villagers laughed at him and cursed the animals.

02/26/2016 - 4:23pm
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdich

The Ojibwa trappers had come to trade with the villagers on Spirit Island, but what they saw caused them to turn their boats around and head for home as quickly as they could.  The entire island seemed empty of life. Smallpox, the terrible illness for which the Native Americans had little immunity, had wiped out everyone. Well, almost everyone. Still alive and crawling through the ruins was a baby girl, all alone.

Omakayas, or Little Frog, was soon adopted into another Ojibwa family on Lake Superior’s Madeline Island.  Her life is as rich and full as that of another beloved book character, Laura Ingalls, and there are many similarities between the stories, including the children’s delight in nature and wild creatures.. Omakayas’ family’s everyday activities and celebrations and tragedies are carefully set down, from season to season.  The Birchbark House is foremost a very well-written story with believable, lovable and intriguing characters, including Omakayas’ annoyingly greedy little brother and beautiful but sometimes cold-hearted big sister.  Older generations are also well-represented.  The grandmother, a gifted healer, shares stories of long-ago, and her dreams are filled with omens of things to come and solutions to real-life problems given by the spirit world.

04/05/2013 - 2:13pm

To fight a duel, whether with swords or pistols, remains one of the most romantic and violent tropes of the 17th through the 19th centuries. From Alexandre Dumas’ D'artagnan to the Firefly episode, “Shindig,” the deadly side of an old and polite society remains fascinating to today’s audiences.  But are the scenarios laid out in fiction exaggerated for our amusement? Surely, no civilized people would resort to such violence over mere words—or, would they?

Andrew Jackson, later the seventh President of the United States, fought in more than a dozen duels, and received a bullet in his lung from one of them that remained there until his death nineteen years later. What did he duel over? His first opponent was an attorney who made him look foolish in court. It ended with shots fired in the air.  He later chose to duel the first governor of Tennessee, a political rival, when that man accused him of adultery—technically true as Jackson’s wife’s divorce from her first husband wasn’t finalized when she remarried. And what was the cause of the duel that got him a bullet in the lung? An argument about a horse race. Wounded for life or not, Andrew Jackson won that duel. He took the hit in the chest and then killed his opponent.

04/04/2013 - 3:31am
Salt Is Sweeter than Gold by Andrew Peters

In Andrew Peters’ Salt Is Sweeter than Gold, an old king has three daughters, but only one will inherit his kingdom. Who should it be? When it’s time to decide, the king holds a grand ceremony and asks in front of huge crowd a simple question: how much do you love me?  The first answer pleases him very much: “I love you more than all the jewels that encrust your fingers and all the gold that lies hidden in the vaults of this castle!”  The second daughter also gives a charming answer: “I love you more than all the land that spreads like an ocean beyond this castle!” But when the youngest, who did truly love him, says simply, “Father, I love you more than salt,” the king is so insulted he banishes her immediately and tells her she is no longer his….  until the day that salt becomes more precious than gold.

04/01/2013 - 8:11am

Young Lee Bennett Hopkins was an unlikely candidate to go down in the Guinness Book of World Records for having edited the most poetry anthologies ever.  He spent half his childhood in the projects of Scranton, New Jersey, and hated school.  His father left the family when Lee was fourteen, leaving him to look after his younger brother and sister.  His mother had her own problems, but she did love her children.

What made the difference for him was a special teacher who gave him hope.  In eighth grade, Mrs. Ethel Kite McLaughlin encouraged him in his writing and urged him to go to as many plays as possible, some of which he managed to see by slipping into the theatres during intermission and catching this second act. This opened a new perspective for Lee, and he was soon on different path, away from the poverty and street life he had known.

04/09/2013 - 1:50pm

When creativity is harnessed for useful ends, that is when we get amazing inventions. Can you think of a better computer? Somebody did. Otherwise there would only be a few of them; they would be really slow--and they would take up entire rooms! Or, how about a cell phone? Those were inspired by the communicators on the original Star Trek series.

Virginia educators (and librarians!) are very interested in helping kids realize their potential in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Indeed, Virginia has a history of producing some very inventive people.

04/01/2013 - 3:30am
Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories

A lot of writers for teens have excellent memories for very painful things. Some remember what it was like to be a targeted teen--the dread of going to school every day knowing what would probably happen, whether it was going to happen in a hallway, a locker room, a classroom, or on a school bus. Being pulled apart emotionally and humiliated was often just an everyday occurrence for them. The usual.

But some writers remember high school very differently. They were the people who just stood to one side AND DIDN’T DO ANYTHING while watching their friends and classmates being bullied. And in a few, a very few, cases they did the bullying themselves. Dear Bully is a collection of reflections of writers for teens who share their true stories of hurt and regret and how these experiences changed them.

03/20/2013 - 3:31am
Roman Blood by Steven Saylor

In Steven Saylor’s debut hard-boiled historical mystery, Roman Blood, Gordianus the Finder is an intrepid soul, living in a seedy section of long-ago Rome. All roads lead here and all the up-and-coming politicians--along with displaced, often enslaved people from war-torn lands--make for a sea of trouble in an atmosphere that is by turns torrid, glittering, and dangerous.

03/06/2013 - 3:31am
Cover to The Great Good Thing

There are many fantasy books that lead you to other places filled with wizards, royalty, and magical creatures. They provide an escape for their readers.  But what if the characters wanted to escape?  The Great Good Thing, by Roderick Townley, is about a princess who wants something more out of her fairy tale life—if only she can get the chance.  

For ages and ages, no one had opened the book. Just as Sylvia sat weeping in boredom by the edge of the lake, pleading for something to happen, a fan of light began opening in a corner of the sky, sending flashes of color across the water. "Rawwwk! Reader!" screamed an orange bird. "Boooook open! Ooopen! Boook open!" groaned a bullfrog.

02/27/2013 - 3:31am
Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book

By the mid-1800s, American middle class women frequently turned to Godey’s Lady’s Book for household advice, sewing patterns, and recipes. Although founded by Louis Godey, from 1837 to 1877, it was led by Editor Sarah Josepha Hale and under her leadership, circulation rose dramatically. In Civil War Recipes, Lily May and John Spaulding have done a very nice job of selecting recipes from the first part of the 1860s run of the magazine and presenting them along with enough culinary history to make for an interesting read.

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