Virginia Johnson

06/25/2012 - 3:30am
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

It was the goat that gave it away.

Some young wizards-to-be discover their destinies through an engraved invitation. But for Sparrowhawk, unscrubbed and unbiddable goat herder on the island of Gont, an overheard word in the true, magical language was enough to get him started. Not just one stubborn goat but the whole herd was brought to heel with a single word. Clearly the lad had potential.

06/21/2012 - 11:03am

The opening months of the Civil War had a certain boldness and cachet to them. Young men in particular signed up in droves.  Picnickers came down from D.C. to take a gander at the First Battle of Manassas, discovering all too quickly that war is no theatrical entertainment.  However, four years later when the South was playing an end-game, the damage to not just its army but also to its civilians was clearly a factor in its surrender. In 1863, there had been bread riots in Richmond.  In 1864, the Shenandoah Valley’s crops and businesses had been burned by Union General Sheridan who was advised by his commander Grant to ”Give the enemy no rest ... Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can.”

And so it was. The civilians and soldiers alike were hit with shortages, and the last year of the war was a particularly brutal time. In William C. Davis’ and James I. Robertson, Jr.’s Virginia at War: 1865, the editors include eight essays by modern scholars and a diary from a Virginia woman, the wife of a minister, who observed that last year from her refugee quarters in Richmond where she served as a nurse and a clerk.

06/20/2012 - 5:21am
Watership Down by Richard Adams

Hazel was young and strong and a bit clever.  His best friend, however, was a runt no one thought much of.  But Hazel knew something about Fiver that made him respect the little fellow. Fiver was gifted with the Sight. He somehow could tell in advance what might be coming, and just then Fiver was terrified to the very marrow of his bones.

Rabbits such as Hazel and Fiver who live in the English countryside usually lead a pretty nice life. There are predators, sure. Foxes, hawks, and even stray dogs might grab an unwary rabbit. But rabbits are sociable creatures, living in cozy warrens underground, usually staying in the same place for years at a time. They eat together, play together, and follow a leader. And so it was at Sandleford warren.

Rabbits are usually rather biddable beings of habit so when Fiver, with Hazel backing him up, tries to convince their chief rabbit Threarah  that death and disaster are coming—and soon—it’s a losing situation.  After all, "The Threarah doesn't like anything he hasn't thought of for himself."  His Owsla guards don’t believe them, either, and it is against the rules of the warren to leave it without permission.  But they’re going to do it anyway.

05/25/2017 - 2:37pm

Fast Facts:

Born: New York City, June 27, 1928
Education: Graduated from Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, in 1950
Military service: Korean War, infantry, discharged in 1951
Family: married Carol Burrows in 1952. They had two children: Geoffrey and Andrew. Divorced his first wife and married Ida Karen Potash.
Work: worked as a magazine editor from 1952 to 1958 in New York City; also part-time trombonist at jazz clubs in Greenwich Village during the 1950s. He gave up the editing work and became a freelance writer full-time in 1958 and continues to work occasionally as a jazz musician.
Currently  Lives in: New York City
First Books: Cheers, an adult book, in 1961; Battleground: The United States Army in World War II, a non-fiction children’s book, in 1965; The Teddy Bear Habit; or, How I Became a Winner, a children’s novel, in 1967.
Selected Awards: My Brother Sam Is Dead, Newbery Honor book, ALA Notable Book, Jane Addams Honor Book Award, National Book Award Finalist, Phoenix Award; War Comes to Willy Freeman, Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People; Chipper, Notable Studies Trade Book for Young People; Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787, Christopher Award; Jump Ship to Freedom, Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People; The Making of Jazz, American Book Award Finalist.

05/09/2012 - 1:06pm
Bidding Farewell to Maurice Sendak

When it first appeared in 1963, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are didn’t look like or read like any other children’s book out there. It was full of mystery and wonder--and Wild Things with attitude, including the King of all Wild Things, our hero Max.

But Max of the wolf suit wasn’t originally supposed to voyage to the Land of the Wild Things. He was first scheduled to be visiting the Land of the Wild Horses--which was how the book was planned and given to Maurice Sendak to write and illustrate. The problem was, the author/illustrator did not know how to draw horses. So his editor let him change them to Wild Things, a take on the Yiddish phrase "Vilde chaya,” meaning boisterous children.*   This changeover was magic.

05/02/2012 - 3:30am
In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff

Set in the first decade of the 20th century, In the Shadow of Gotham, by Stefanie Pintoff, combines the atmosphere of a gothic novel with the more invigorating pace of a police procedural.  Simon Ziele has buried himself in a quiet town in Westchester County to escape the memory of his lost love. He was an up-and-coming detective in the New York City police force when tragedy drove him to seek a quieter position, far away from the violence of Manhattan’s darker quarters.

And yet, when the call came to investigate a murder at the home of one of Westchester’s finest families, Detective Ziele is drawn in by duty to find out who killed the lovely, young mathematics genius in such a shocking and brutal way before it happens again.

01/31/2017 - 12:52pm

It's true: most people would do just about anything to get out of having to speak in public, whether it's the standard "everyone in this class will give an oral report" situation or an acceptance speech for some nifty award you've just received. The knees knock, the heart pounds, and the words you've practiced and practiced and practiced fly right out of your mind. You find yourself resorting to reading from the index cards with your eyes down, your voice a droning monotone, and the sweat beading on your forehead. Yuck. Not a good situation. It's painful for you as the presenter and even more painful for your audience to watch. Here's a bit of advice for beginning public speakers.

09/08/2016 - 11:40am

May is the perfect time to visit a zoo. It's not too hot or crowded, and the animals are at their springtime best. If your kids are begging for pandas, then the National Zoo in Washington is the place to go, but there are some places about an hour's drive from our area where kids can get a different kind of beastly experience.

09/29/2016 - 12:49pm

Leo Lionni was born into a family that appreciated art, and, from a very young age, he knew he wanted to be an artist. He loved nature and started keeping small creatures--minnows, birds, fish, and more--in his attic room in Amsterdam. He also created terrariums, and many of these natural details found their way into his later work.  Like so many successful children’s authors, Leo Lionni was able to remember and tap into the things that were important to him when he was a child.

04/25/2012 - 3:31am
Around My French Table: More than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours by Dorie Gre

Upon first glancing at Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, I very nearly put it aside to be reshelved. It was too beautiful. Huge and heavy--laden with photographs--and featuring a cover shot of something that looked as though it took a heck of a lot of time, money and energy to pull off, it didn’t seem like something that would work for me.

But first glances can be deceiving. Almost every recipe involves relatively normal if delicious ingredients. The techniques used are not difficult at all for someone who knows her way around a basic kitchen. These are the sort of recipes which will be made again and again--and be shared with demanding friends. Each is introduced very charmingly, in a way that conveys much about the author’s French experiences.

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