Friday, December 28, 2012

Pioneering Women by Jeff Savage: Book Review


 
"True Tales of the Wild West" series
Pioneering Women
Author: Jeff Savage
Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2012
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age: 12 up, Young Adult nonfiction
Pages: 48

When Agnes Morley’s father died in 1886, the family was left to fend for themselves. Agnes, her mother, and two siblings became ranchers in New Mexico, and before Agnes was even a teenager, she could saddle and ride a horse like a man, herd cattle, handle a gun, and defend the ranch against cattle rustlers. Agnes was forced to take on duties “considered man’s work,” Savage writes. However, she grew to enjoy her freedom as a young woman, and even wore a five-gallon Stetson cowboy hat, refusing to wear a sunbonnet. Agnes is representative of the brave women who traveled overland to settle the American west beginning in the 1830s, but not all women were the same, Savage explains. Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding, for instance, were the first of these women to travel west and came with their husbands as missionaries. Most women were married and had more traditional roles: raising children, cooking, running the household, etc. But like Agnes and her mother, they often learned out of necessity how to manage a homestead alone, hunt for food, and defend their property. Other more independent-minded women traveled west alone. They liked being free to do as they pleased and challenged the traditional roles of women. Calamity Jane, for example, openly drank, smoked cigars, and gambled. Some women traveled west to mine for gold. Women even became outlaws, such as Belle Starr, better known as the “Bandit Queen.” Women came as reformers and teachers, too, bringing education, morality and respect to the frontier, including suffrage. Savage does a good job summarizing the different types of women who traveled west. One chapter appears to deviate from the theme, however, and is devoted to American Indian women (e.g., Sacagawea) and Spanish women in the Southwest beginning in the 1500s. As Savage then explains, these are really the “first western women,” to settle the frontier; they share a kindred pioneering spirit with the women who traveled from the east later. Pioneering Women is aimed at older reluctant middle grade readers, but advanced readers will also find the book interesting. Black and white photos, Glossary, Index, and References are included. 

Copyright 2012 © Sharon Himsl

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Postcards from Christmas Past





"Waiting for Santa Claus"                                         "Happy Christmas"
My mother recently relocated and I helped with some of her packing. She had drawers and cupboards full of odds and ends, mostly junk she claimed, that I managed to organize into zip-lock bags and boxes. But some of our finds were family heirlooms: old black and white pictures of family members long since gone, a small fishing tool that my Norwegian grandfather had patented and used while fishing in Alaska, an antique  Stereoscope Viewer complete with stereoscopic cards for 3-D viewing, and a beautiful collection of postcards. Postcards, remember those? Many in our collection were mailed from Norway in the 1910s. The images are so different from any postcards I remember sending or receiving. What I find most interesting in both the postcards and 3-D cards are the stories that some obviously tell. They inspire the imagination, and one only needs to remember that television had not yet been invented to understand why. Many of the 3-D cards are hilarious, if not a little risque' for the time. I plan to share cards from both collections over the coming months. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. I would love to hear your impressions . . .

                               (To Marie from Mrs. Kershaw)                                             (To Carl from Amanda?) 
                     (1918; to Carl, Cecil, North Dakota)                                      (1922; from Mervin Clyde)                                                                

                          
                    


Copyright 2012 © Sharon Himsl
[Postcards from Gravseth family archive]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Liberty Lee’s Tail of Independence by Peter W. Barnes and Cherly Shaw Barnes: Book Review


 
Liberty Lee’s Tail of Independence
Author: Peter W. Barnes
Illustrator: Cheryl Shaw Barnes
Publisher: Little Patriot Press/Renery Publishing, Inc., 2012
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age: 5 up, Picture Book

Liberty Lee is one proud Yankee Doodle mouse. He helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence in 1776! Barnes's story of America’s path to freedom is told through Liberty’s perky voice, beginning with the first colony in Jamestown, Virginia more than four hundred years ago. Together, Liberty’s mouse ancestors and other brave colonists, such as Captain John Smith, worked hard at building the colony. The settlement prospered and eventually grew into thirteen colonies. And for most colonists, those were "peaceful and prosperous years," writes Barnes—until the King of England ordered a heavy tax on their food, goods and services. Angered over English rule and unfair taxes, the colonists protested by throwing a large shipment of tea overboard into Boston’s harbor. It was the start of the American Revolution. Barnes’s delightful retelling of history is told in rhyme, including the first clause of the Declaration of Independence. Detailed illustrations in bright colors fill the pages with child-friendly maps and historic scenes. Children will like searching for Liberty’s image on every page as the story unfolds, and parents and teachers will appreciate the pace of the read-aloud text. The illustrated timeline and resource at the back summarizing events will help with questions about events that are sure to arise. 

Copyright 2012 © Sharon M. Himsl

Monday, December 17, 2012

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner: Book Review

Capture the Flag
Author: Kate Messner
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2012
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age: 8-12, Middle Grade fiction
Pages: 240

 
The opening chapter of this fun to read middle grade book sets the stage and suspense when a mysterious theft takes place at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum in Washington DC during a private social gathering. The famous American flag that inspired The Star-Spangled Banner has been stolen! Added to the security chaos that follows, no one can leave Washington, DC due to a huge blizzard. Anna, Henry and José, three seventh-graders who were at the social gathering with their parents, are now stuck at the airport waiting for their flights. It is only a matter of time before the three meet. Anna, being an aspiring journalist, is the first of the three to figure out that if everyone is stuck at the airport, so is the thief who stole the flag. A lot of discussion and speculation over a suspicious man they decide to call “Snake-Arm” follows that nearly brings the story to a crashing halt. Another character, Senator Snickerbottom, keeps Anna wanting to interview him and sidetracks their investigation. But eventually they meet eight-year-old Sinan and his dog, Hammurabi. The story then picks up when Sinan and his dog disappear. Anna, Henry and José offer to look for him but it is just the opportunity they need to find out who “Snake-Arm” really is. They are certain he knows something about the flag. But they are not prepared for the shocking discovery they soon uncover, and suddenly, their lives are in danger. From there the story is a rousing, fun ride through the airport on motorized carts and a luggage conveyer belt that takes them through an octopus of connecting belts and tunnels. They even get separated, leaving Anna with some important decisions to make in the end. Having just visited Washington DC and the American History Museum in October, I found  the location of this story intriguing. The villains are stereotypical, purposely comical it seems, but appropriate for this age group, and although the story drags somewhat in the middle, Messner's book is sure to appeal to elementary age readers.      

Copyright 2012 © Sharon Himsl
   

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Journey That Keeps on Giving

My first payment as a writer/photographer was made into a  calender that still hangs on my wall. I was so excited. Below is the small check I received from The Society of International Railway Travelers for the article I wrote while living in Malaysia (1995-1996): "Jungle Train. A Window on True Malaysia." When I returned home in the USA, I wrote a novel and several short stories based on my experience and travels in Malaysia and also Thailand, all of which were never published. I went back to college, finished my degree in American Studies, took an editing position at Washington State University, and moved to Washington state.  I continued to write, but it was mostly nonfiction. I left that position in 2010 and have been reworking  the novel I wrote in 1997-1998 ever since. My journey that began in Kluang, Malaysia, where I lived with my husband for nine months, has been the journey that keeps on giving.   

(Article was published under my middle name "Marie")







My first paycheck! (on top of the calendar 
displayed next to my desk) 



Copyright 2012 © Sharon Himsl


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Charlie Brown Christmas Greeting

     

          
      

   

Merry Christmas everyone. 

Hang on tight and take good care of each other.

We are all in this life together!!

 

 (Credits: Special thanks to the work and talent of Charles Schulz)

 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bleeding Kansas by Richard Reece: Book Review

"Essential Events" series
Bleeding Kansas
Author: Richard Reece
Publisher: ABDO Publishing Company, 2012
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age: 12 up, Young Adult nonfiction
Pages: 111


In Reece's new book, Bleeding Kansas, students studying the Civil War will gain a deeper understanding of how the war began. In 1854, the Territory of Kansas became center stage in the nation’s heated debate over slavery. Senator Stephen A. Douglas pushed through legislation (Kansas-Nebraska Act) that allowed settlers in Kansas to decide whether slavery would be legal in their territory. There were sharp divisions among the settlers. Slavery was voted in as legal, but the anti-slavery settlers questioned the handling and fairness of the election. Violence and bloodshed erupted between the two groups, culminating in bloody massacres, as in the Pottawatomie Massacre (1856), led by anti-slavery advocate John Brown; and the Confederate raid on Lawrence, Kansas (1863) during the Civil War. Some historians believe that the conflict in Kansas actually “led to the Civil War,” Reece writes. He further explains how slavery had gained a foothold in the United States, becoming vital to the country’s economy and wealth from the beginning. However, objections to slavery grew over time, but not on moral grounds alone. Many Americans argued that slavery reduced the number of jobs available to free citizens. Photos, images, and sketches bring to life the conflict, and Reece uses sidebars to describe related events, such as the Missouri Compromise, the Abolition Movement, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, the Dred Scott Decision, and the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Timeline, Glossary, Essential Facts, Resources, and Index are included.  

Copyright 2012 © Sharon M. Himsl

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving


A single grateful thought toward heaven is the most complete prayer.
-Gotthold Lessing

HAPPY THANKSGIVING



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Amazing Cockatoo



Just had to share this! Listen and hear for yourself. There is a reason this beautiful bird is called a Cockatoo. The Cockatoo actually belongs to the parrot family. It has a lifespan of around 70 years, but has been known to live much longer. They range in size from 12-26 inches, and also in color. Their native habitat is in the southeastern part of the world in countries like Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Philippines and Indonesia. Its name, Cockatoo, is Indonesian in origin.

 In Malaysia, the Cockatoo is called Kakatua, and there is a popular Malay folk song that children in Malaysia grow up singing. It is a song I use in my book when my characters Callie and Lucas travel to Malaysia to find their mother's family. Listen and you can hear the Malay version.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Trip to Washington DC


It's been awhile since my husband and I have traveled far from port in Eastern Washington—on the Idaho border where we live. But when Southwest Airlines handed us two flight vouchers during an unscheduled flight delay last Thanksgiving, it opened the skies for a
U.S. Capitol Building
(We accessed from underground via a tunnel system,
thanks to an intern in our congressman's office at
the Rayburn House Office Building across the street;
just contact your district's congressman for information)
future trip (other than our usual jaunts to Utah and California). Vince and I just couldn't resist seeing a part of the country we've never seen before. And what better place could there be to visit than Washington DC, with the election just around the corner? But all politics aside (because Washington DC offers so much more), I discovered a writer's paradise when it comes to research and entertaining new ideas. Virtually all of the museums (with the exception of a few private ones) are free and exceptional in quality.

We began our Smithsonian tours on the fourth floor of the National Museum of American History and worked our way down through decades of history in about 4 hours. But we could have easily spent a day there—me, maybe two. We just had too much to fit in (only 3 days in DC). And with a background in American Studies, that wasn’t easy for me. The Americans at War display is especially good. It covers the Revolutionary War and upward through present day wars. What a thrill it was to see a life size model of one of our founding fathers, George Washington, wearing his original Revolutionary War uniform—blue wool coat, breeches and knee-high black boots; he was surprisingly tall and long-armed . . . Others are similarly depicted and the authenticity of each display is impressive. http://americanhistory.si.edu/militaryhistory/exhibition/flash.html?path=1.3.r_763

Washington National Monument.
(A constant presence wherever we
went; larger than expected; closed
for repairs due to earthquake Aug)
The display of the American flag created after the War of 1812 is inspiring. The flag is spread out flat under glass like a giant bedspread, all tattered and torn but as proud it seems as those who made and fought for it. It's the same flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star-Spangled banner. "Oh, say can you see . . ." Can't you just hear it?

Moving on to other displays depicting our era and culture, I discovered Julia Child’s complete kitchen. What fun! I know of no one else who has made cooking such fun, French no less.

Unfortunately, the rest of the display was blocked off  from view (for remodeling), but I could still hear Julia’s cute accented speech in my mind. “Bon appétit!” Wasn't Meryl Streep's recent interpretation of Julia in the movie Julie and Julia great?

 Another section documents the lives of our past presidents (and current); the gowns of the first ladies also displayed here are a rare visual treat; you really get a sense of the culture and fashion of the day. Grace Coolidge’s flapper-style dresses are especially stunning, and I understand she had a personality to match. And Michelle Obama's inaugural gown is lovely. 
 
We also did a quick tour of the Natural Museum of History, which is wonderful for families with children because of all the bones and dinosaurs (and mummies if not too gross). I’m afraid I rushed through this section too fast to benefit. Many of the skeletons are cast replicas, so that was a disappointment. I did think the precious gem exhibit was rather interesting. The famous Hope Diamond is on display, which I loved seeing since I had to research precious gems for a famous ruby I invented in my book. There is an amazing story behind this diamond. 


Perhaps the biggest highlight, since Vince is a pilot and I’m his passenger occasionally, was the Air and Space Museum. Holy moly
Apollo II - space capsule
. . . the actual lunar capsule that brought Neil Armstrong and his crew back home from the moon is on display! Where were you when they first landed on the moon in 1969?   was sitting at a switchboard taking calls as a long distance telephone operator
for Pacific Northwest Bell in Tacoma, WA. One by one, my co-workers and I were given breaks so we could watch the moon landing on TV. Pretty exciting day.

And Orville and Wilbur Wright’s original plane and Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis! I had forgotten how much I love Lindbergh’s wife (Anne) and her writing, although I’ve only read one of her books, A Gift from the Sea. Anne Lindbergh wrote twelve more, I discovered; I plan to read at least two of those books, North to the Orient (1935) and Listen! The Wind (1938); both describe her and Charles’ world travels in their Lockheed Sirius airplane (purchased in 1929). I can’t wait. Anne was Charles’ co-pilot apparently and sat behind him in their tandem cockpit. My pilot husband who built a tandem RV8) of course found this interesting as well. Although I'm far from being his co-pilot; does 'white-knuckle' ring any bells? Well . . . needless to say, we visited this museum twice.

The Wright Flyer (Orville and Wilbur Wright 
were bicycle builders and mechanics by trade)
Vince at his favorite museum :)

Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, 1st soloflight ever across the Atlantic Ocean

Admiring the Charles and Anne Lindbergh display
(Behind, a replica of the Lockheed Sirius plane they flew)








Aviator face masks (with oxygen tubes) worn
by pilots in the 1920s and 1930s
We also saw the Holocaust Museum, which is a sobering, emotional experience. That there are those in existence today who still believe this ghastly period in history never happened to Jewish people just boggles the mind. The massacre also included non-Jews who were judged by the Nazis to be racially, religiously, culturally, mentally, and socially inferior; as well as bystanders who attempted to help and were arrested. Few children survived the holocaust, I learned. At the Auschwitz Concentration Camp alone, the policy was to exterminate all children under 15! The museum gives each visitor a passport with the name and biography of someone who had actually died, adding to the effect. There is also a special area designed for families with young children. I didn't have time to see this section, but I've been told it's exceptionally well done.


Library of Congress
 Lastly, we toured the Capitol (thanks to our district congressman), the Library of Congress (wow—another amazing research source); the Lincoln Memorial (hmm…for some reason I thought it was bronze like the penny (ha-ha); Vince thought it was bigger), the National Monument (damaged in an August earthquake), the Viet Nam Memorial (quiet, sobering), and the White House lawn on Pennsylvania Avenue (last of all). A funny thing happened at the Library of Congress that we still laugh about. Vince and his brother were shushed by a librarian at the Library of Congress. Vince is rather proud of that moment . . . but then, he and librarians have never quite gotten along. (A date at the library when we were sixteen is one of our best stories).
 


The White House was a special treat, because as we were walking towards it, three (?) ‘White House’ helicopters (Vince saw four) suddenly appeared overheard and landed on the other side. We didn’t see the president or the first family, but there was definite excitement in the air (and security personnel were everywhere on top of buildings and on the ground). 

Vince and brother on path to Lincoln Memorial
  
Lincoln Memorial

Statue on grounds at Vietnam Memorial

White House (Pennsylvania Avenue); next time we hope
 to tour; tours are limited and difficult to get due to
 high security; apply well in advance.








Protestor across street from White House


Old Ebbitt Grill
(Food and service great!)

We left for dinner—one block over across from the Department of Treasury—to a restaurant called Old Ebbitt Grill, which I dubbed “Old Debit Grill.” The evening (our last night in DC) was topped off by a protest march that paraded by in front as we waited. They moved so fast, I'm still not sure what exactly they were protesting.

Protest Marchers




Weather was hot and muggy for the first week in October (high 70’s, low 80’s) all three days, and our legs got a more than expected workout (hotel was wrong about walking distances!). But it was SO-SO worth it. I came home with a renewed sense of patriotism and a pride in our country’s achievements, despite all the flack in the news and uncertainty our nation faces right now. An intern from American University, the young man who gave us a guided tour of the Capitol and House of Representatives, did a great job instilling hope in our country’s future leaders.

Go to DC if you’ve never gone before . . . I don’t know why we put this off so long!












Copyright 2012 © Sharon Himsl

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Charles Schulz Philosophy

(I like this a lot. It further underlines my feelings about the importance of being ourselves. Good to remember in our writing and other endeavors. Not always easy to do!!)

The following is the philosophy of Charles Schulz, the creator of the 'Peanuts' comic strip:

1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world. 
2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners. 
3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America pageant. 
4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize. 
5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress. 
6. Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners.

How did you do?
The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. 
These are no second-rate achievers. 
They are the best in their fields. 

But the applause dies . . .
Awards tarnish. 
Achievements are forgotten. 
Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here's another quiz. See how you do on this one:
1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school. 
2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time. 
3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile. 
4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.

Easier?

The lesson: 
The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with
the most credentials, the most money...or the most awards. 
They simply are the ones who care the most

''Be Yourself. Everyone Else Is Taken!"





Monday, April 16, 2012

Always be Yourself

Some years back I visited the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton, Oregon. I have never forgotten that afternoon. The institute is one of the best Native American museums I have ever experienced. The museum (actually 3 total) spans 10,000 years of history on the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes. The Living Culture Village was the most memorable, but all of the exhibits were interesting and instructive (I was a student of Native American history at the time). 

On a postcard purchased there, I was drawn to the words of Coyote, a popular mythological character in the legends of many Native American cultures. Coyote is often the playful, mischievous, trickster character in such stories, but he plays an important transformative role as well. I love the wisdom he imparts in the following:


"They call me Ispilyay.
Well we are brothers.
I am the same thing.
The people saw him,
and said, "Oh, another one!
Don't be another one.
Always be yourself."

So why is this important to me? A writer's work is scrutinized under a 'powerful microscope' before being published--by critique partners, agents, and editors, and sometimes our families and friends. I cannot help but wonder, when it is all over with, what is left of mine in the final manuscript. But of course, it is all part of the long polishing process in making one's work better. I am quite blessed to have some very adept and efficient readers who have my best interest in mind and want to see my book published. But when I get discouraged with the process, it helps to remember that I really only need to worry about one thing: being true to the story I wish to tell, which in essence means being true to myself.


Copyright 2012 © Sharon Himsl

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fantasy or Reality?

Clay vases author purchased in 
Kota Bharu, Malaysia

Happy New Year! I wish I could claim credit for the following inspired thoughts. I heard this discussion on talk radio a long time ago, took notes and posted it on my bulletin board. While cleaning up my office recently, I discovered my notes and thought how perfect for the start of the New Year. It goes something like this . . .

There are four stages in the transformation of an idea . . . into reality:

1) Fantasy Stage (dream an idea). This is the soaring stage where you let your imagination go the limit. It sends me running to my computer or notepad to jot down an interesting character, a plot or funny incident before I forget. No editing, nothing pretty--just get it down. Sometimes it's a newspaper clipping, a picture, something someone says, or even a dream I've had that inspires me. 

Enjoy this phase and only share it with fellow dreamers, for only they will understand. This is your creative time.

2) Clay Stage. Ask yourself, what are the things that need to be done to develop your idea? What are the things I can feasibly do today, tomorrow, and this year? Seek the advice of others but only from helpful entrepreneurs. This is hard butt-busting work, but I love this stage. This is where I take a serious look at an idea, expand it into possible chapters and characters, and begin to work out the intricacies of plot, conflict, character development, and theme. I enjoy the research and the process.  

This is where a dream takes shape, like clay in a mold. 

3) Firing Stage. This can be scary. Here your dream is finally put to the test. Be brave and courageous. You may find yourself returning to the clay stage, but always keep your eyes focused on the dream--the ultimate goal. Inch forward (if that is all you can do).  This is where I finally bare my underbelly to fellow writers to check my progress. It is the hardest stage of all for me. Did I do what I intended to do? Do they like what I've written, or is it back to the drawing board to edit, revise and try again? For me the temptation is to stay in the security of the clay stage. 

Don't give up, because the next stage is just around the corner. 

 4) Finishing Stage. The submission stage . . . another challenge for sure, with query letters and finding an agent or a publisher, but this time you have a product in hand!


I'm in the Firing Stage and ready to submit my book to my writers' group for review (next week), but it's not the first time this book has been critiqued. I believe it is close if not ready for submission. I am so close to the Finishing Stage, I can taste it. How about you?
 




Copyright 2012 © Sharon Himsl