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Charlie Stewart

Totally Booked
As the gift-giving season approaches, you can always count on books. No need to worry about size or color. Just find something of interest to that special someone on your list and you’ve got the perfect present. This year, as you make your list and check it twice, consider adding some local flavor to your selections. A number of area writers and illustrators have recently had their works published, and one of these books might be just the gift you’re looking for. Here are a few.

Holiday 2005

CSSecrets of a Bar Mitzvah Mom

Secrets of a Bar Mitzvah Mom is by O’Hara Township’s Nancy Berk, a clinical psychologist who uses her humor and professional training to address common dilemmas related to bar and bat mitzvah preparation and planning. With an “Erma Bombeck meets Dr. Phil” approach, Berk provides a witty self-help resource with advice on everything from religious school carpools and adolescent indecision to tablecloth obsession and just-in-the-nick-of-time home renovations. If you are not sure where to end the guest list, Berk suggests you can always rent the convention center! With the practical experience of her own two sons’ bar mitzvahs under her belt—one having occurred just last month—Berk has the wisdom to match her wit.



CSOnly the Sea Keeps

Poets Joan E. Bauer of Highland Park and Judith R. Robinson of Shadyside teamed up with Sankar Roy of Peters Township to edit a collection of poems dedicated to the victims of the December 26, 2004 tsunami. After receiving hundreds of poems from around the world, they selected 80 poets for Only the Sea Keeps. It is already a literary bestseller in India. Among the contributors are awardwinning New York poet Hal Sirowitz, renowned poet Joseph Bruchac, and Pittsburgher Ben Hartlage.

Proceeds from book sales will go to survivors of the tsunami and of Hurricane Katrina, while royalties will be distributed to the Library Disaster Relief Fund, Mercy Corps, and the American Red Cross for Hurricane 2005 Relief.

What was here is no longer here. The here has gone out of this place, it is like an open wound. The land is delivered again to the sea, it sustains us, tears us apart. We sweep it from the street like a broken mirror… —Ben Hartlage An excerpt from The Land is Delivered Again to the Sea

CSHenry and the Buccaneer Bunnies

Highland Park’s John Manders was chosen by Candlewick Press to illustrate Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, a whimsical children’s story about a piratical band of floppy-eared rabbits, starring Barnacle Black Ear, the baddest bunny of all time, and his too-studious son, Henry, who finds reading to be more enlightening than making prisoners walk the plank. Though Manders has lived in land-locked Pittsburgh for the past 16 years, he has always loved reading about pirates and nautical history and supplements his research with visits to the children’s and art departments at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.



CSThink Cool Thoughts

“One summer, in the hottest part of the summer, came a day so hot after a week so hot after a month so hot that chocolate bars melted before you could eat them, and the pavement stuck to your sneakers,” begins Elizabeth Perry’s recently published Think Cool Thoughts. Imagine it being so hot in the city that seven-year-old Angel has to conjure up images of a thousand ice cubes melting in an effort to “end the hotness.” Finally, at the urging of Aunt Lucy, who recalls what she and Angel’s mother did when they were little to beat the heat, they all drag a mattress up to the roof of their apartment building to find some coolness. And just when they are falling asleep it starts to rain… In addition to copy editing for SHADY AVE, Perry is a new media artist working at The Ellis School, where she helps teachers integrate technology into a K-12 curriculum and teaches classes in digital media.

CSIf Instead Of Apes/We Had Come From Grapes/We wouldn’t just yet be wine

If Instead Of Apes/We Had Come From Grapes/ We wouldn’t just yet be wine is the thought-provoking lyrical title of Alan Van Dine’s collection of poems, some of which have appeared in the Saturday Review. Van Dine, former chairman of Van Dine/Humphrey advertising agency, writes poetry that abides by the basic axiom: never underestimate the power of humor and of poets to stimulate and to annoy, sometimes simultaneously. The first lines of VanDine’s poem Pittsburgh, from the section of the book called “Rhymes & Ditties for Middle Size Cities,” display his verse-atility. “Tear it down,” said Frank Lloyd Wright “—except the jail.” Tear it down? Upend U.S. Steel, I-beams toppling Left and right? Tear it down? … This book is the seventh work for the multi-talented Van Dine, a denizen of Squirrel Hill, who also created the whimsical drawings that appear throughout the book. He can often be found at the Murray Avenue Starbucks on Saturday mornings surrounded by other local coffee-loving authors.

CSNew World Waiting

Native Pittsburgher, Anne Faigen, from Squirrel Hill, is the author of a young adult novel titled New World Waiting. The story, as told from the point of view of fifteen-year-old Molly Klein, features the challenges and opportunities of being an immigrant who has just settled in Pittsburgh in 1900. Molly develops a mentoring relationship with a tough young teacher named Willa Cather, the real-life author who actually taught at Old Central High School and then Allegheny High School, where she was head of the English Department. [According to her obituary in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, Cather “often referred toPittsburgh as the ‘birthplace’ of her writing career.”] After a long career teaching literature and writing at the college and high school levels,Faigen is currently a book reviewer, freelance journalist, and volunteer reader of novels at RIS, the Pittsburgh radio station for the blind and visually handicapped.

CSThe Company of Truth

Shadyside’s George Shames, a retired licensed speech pathologist and psychologist, draws from his specialization in stuttering to write The Company of Truth. As stuttering becomes almost another “character” in its role throughout this thriller, the realistic challenges facing the main character, Hank, result in embarrassment, frustration and, ultimately, triumph. On the book’s back cover, Dr. J. Scott Yaruss, co-director of the Stuttering Center of Western Pennsylvania writes, “Shames has created a sympathetic character who puts a human face on the struggles experienced every day by people who stutter.” The author hopes readers see an even bigger picture. “It’s a story in part about stuttering,” says Shames. “But
it’s also a story about how the truth can get you in
trouble, and also out of trouble.”

CSHis Cross Never Burns

His Cross Never Burns is the biography of Reverend Samuel W. George by his wife, Alethia George. She recounts the life of this remarkable man, a product of the 1940s and ‘50s in South Carolina, who chose to enter a theological seminary over the possibility of a pro football career. Mrs. George describes his challenges faced both from within the African-American community for being “too radical,” and from the white community for being an educated and cultivated black man. As president of the NAACP in Broward County, Florida in the ‘60s, Rev. George managed to keep the lid on a tense situation while riots raged in other cities. Concerned about the lack of equal education opportunities for blacks and the inequality in pay scales for both blacks and women, Rev. George marched with Martin Luther King in both Atlanta and St. Augustine, Florida. In 1971 Rev. and Mrs. George moved to Pittsburgh where he was minister at Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church until his retirement in 1991. Alethia George is a former English teacher at Peabody High School. She and her husband currently live in Oakland.

CSReports From Above Ground

Mary D. Edwards (a.k.a. Mary Foster) lived just long enough to see the publication of her first book, Reports From Above Ground, an assemblage of thoughts and memories written to her ancestor, Jonathan Edwards, in an endeavor to explain to someone who lived 300 years ago what it is like to be alive today. The glossary at the end of each report patiently puts in plain English terms that were unknown three centuries ago, such as:

Psychopharmacology—“It seems Hypochondria is the National Pastime.”
Brainwashing—“Pray there will always be many who will resist the TV bombardment by advertising, and the political rhetoric along with evangelical fakery.”
Baby-sitter—“Today mothers get a job to pay someone to stay with the baby while she goes out to get a job in order to pay a baby-sitter. Round and round.”

Devoting her later life to reading, thinking, writing, and exercising up until her stroke at age 90, Foster, a life-long resident of Shadyside, stayed young by trying to understand the ideas of men and women in the modern world. Daughter Polly Mullins says, "She read and wrote for 50 years, trying to figure it all out. She never had a conversation without passing on her analysis of things and concluding with her wit and wisdom. She was all of my friends’ favorite mother.” Copies may be ordered through www.wordassociation.com.

CSLavi the Lion Finds His Pride

When local civic leader Linda Dickerson was asked to be a celebrity reader at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children in Oakland, she made up her own story, about the school’s mascot, Lavi the Lion. That story has now been published by The Local History Company. The school’s library chairperson, Bernita Buncher, helped Lavi the Lion Finds His Pride come to life when she selected Jennifer Rempel of Edgewood to illustrate the book. The story follows Lavi on his adventure from the African savannah to Pittsburgh via Katmandu, Rome, and Texas. Development and Community Relations Associate, Jillian Pritts, says the book has been a “wonderful vehicle to raise awareness of the school, which has been a part of Western Pennsylvania since 1897.” Braille copies are available with raised dot illustrations, so a student who is blind can experience each colorful spread.

CSOpera in Pittsburgh

Hax McCullough of Fox Chapel combines both of his loves of history and the opera in his eighth book, Opera in Pittsburgh, a 196-page illustrated history of Pittsburgh Opera. McCullough, who published the opera’s programs from 1971 to 1991, wrote the text gratis and raised the necessary funds from foundations and individuals to cover the costs of design and printing. General Director of Pittsburgh Opera, Mark Weinstein says, “Hax McCullough truly did this because he loves the company. It was his idea and his execution from start to finish. We are very appreciative, and our audiences in the future will appreciate it.” Designed by artist Robert L. Bowden, a lifetime Pittsburgher from Point Breeze, the book includes 350 illustrations covering many of the 332 opera productions since the first in 1940. Copies are available through the opera. All of the above books, except where specially noted, are available at Jay’s Book Stall in Oakland and Barnes and Noble. _SA_ __ Our own Charlie Stewart has also just published a collaboration with his wife, Franny. “God’s Palette” is a series of six children’s books for ages three to five. Each book features animals in their natural colors along with a cleverly written poem describing the unusual characteristics of each creature. It is available at Barnes and Noble.

With many thanks to SHADY AVE magazine for granting me permission to reprint on my website.


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