Dorothea Lange

I watched most of the documentary on PBS about Dorothea Lange, the photographer renowned for her powerful photographs of the misery in the Dust Bowl. It was very interesting. I don’t think I ever saw a photograph of her. The documentary showed her a s young and old woman. Her voice was remarkably youthful in old age. Less well known was her assignment from the uS Govt. to take photos of the Japanese internment at one particular camp, to use as  propaganda that the Japanese we happy there. But she took photos that told the true story, of the stoicism , the misery and the unfairness of it all. I had seen some of them from my research for my first novel, “The Wrong Face”. There were many more in the documentary. The photos were so disturbing to the govt. that they were impounded and not released until years later.

The suffering subjects of her work didn’t mind her hanging around, taking many photos because they felt her empathy.

The documentary mentioned a few times that she was not good at mothering, of her children and the stepchildren of her two marriages. Aside from her personality, a working mother’s life required compromise. She spent months away from home at a time to pursue her vision, of documenting social ills of the time. One year, she farmed her children to families so she could be on the road.  That was in the 1930s and 40s. The problem is still the same for working mothers today.

I hope PBS shows the documentary again. I recommend it highly.

Non fiction

Teachers  have been told by educators to assign non fiction to  students  because in their work lives in the future, they’ll be reading non fiction. They have to read manuals, instructions, documents etc. Still, I was surprised that my kindergartener granddaughter’s assignment was to write a simple book report on a non fiction book. I found one on different kinds of houses in the world.

It’s good that non fiction is introduced this early.

Humor in a sad book

My second blog about a middle grade novel.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson , published in 2017 is a sad book. A beloved teacher dying of cancer is sad, but the author injected so much humor that I was surprised  that I started to tear up at the end of the story, when the three sixth graders succeeded to smuggle the teacher out of the hospital, if only too briefly.

Again I’m not reviewing the book, which is wonderful. I recommend it highly  not just to middle graders.

Just some thoughts.

It is written in the present tense,  alternating chapters from each boy’s point of view.There are flashbacks in each chapter (of course in past tense). These flashbacks are absolutely necessary. Not one was put in just for the word count. Authors are told to present each character with a different way of speaking, of expressing. I must say  that if not for each boy’s backstory, and the title of the chapter, I’d not know who was speaking in that chapter.

I’ve never been able to put some  humor in my stories. It’s something I must learn to do.It’s not that I don’t like humor, in fact, I can be very funny.

I hope my grandchildren will have the good fortune to meet one teacher who can transform them, inspire them and bring out their best. This teacher doesn’t have to be as perfect as Ms. Bixby. Just the ability to listen, to discern the truth behind a facade of a frightened or neglected front and appreciation of specialness will go a long way.


Why I like “SHORT”.

This is not a review of SHORT, by Holly Goldberg Sloan, published in 2017. It’s my first try in detailing why I like a certain book or dislike it.

Julia Marks is short for her age and longs to be taller than her brother who is two years younger. Her age is not stated. She seems to be 10 years old. She ‘s mourning for her beloved dog, Ramon, this summer, when her mother sends her and her brother to a summer stock production audition of The Wizard of Oz. .Both  are chosen as Munchkins . She meets the director, three dwarfs  and gets t know a neighbor down the street better. Julie only knew her as an old lady who grew flowers in the front yard. In the rehearsals and getting to know these people , Julie finds that she’s not as ordinary as she thinks, a poor student and a daydreamer. She gets a second role as one of the flying monkeys. The old neighbor turns out to be a fascinating character. In fact, I l0ve the fact that this neighbor and the director are senior citizens plus! The The old lady is the most creative costume maker and a former prima ballerina- another hit with me.And she’s Asian to boot!

The story makes clear the transcending power of  theater for kids. Julia no longer minds being small, and is sort of disappointed that x-rays show that she will grow to be five feet four. She already grew this summer, “not on the outside, but on the inside.”

This book is written in the first person point of view, in the present tense. I have not used present tense in my historical novels. I will try it in my next book, a contemporary story.

Julie states or thinks of different ideas that come to her head, some are just tangentially connected with the story. While they deepen her character for the reader, too many such musings stop the story cold. Her opinions do sound like those of a ten-year old. She has a voice that I love.

I love the performing arts. The details of rehearsals, costume fittings, mishaps that can happen on opening night and the effect of a review by a critic are accurately portrayed. One more reason I like the book is that I have a secret desire to be in summer stock myself.


A middle grade reader who is not interested in the performing arts may find the many chapters about the show boring. I enjoyed the book  very much.


When I was fifteen or sixteen, I was most surprised to find myself cast by a nun( I was in a missionary convent school) to be the lead in “Saint Bernadette”. The nun must have observed that I was right for the role. The play was performed only once for the student body. I think I was a pretty good actress. Why do I say so? During a long speech about seeing the Virgin Mary, while I was sitting up in a bed placed near the wings, I felt the nun stooping to place her face near mine(out of view of the audience)  to watch my emoting. Alas, I was never a lead in anything again.

Many years later, I  watched Jennifer Jones in the title role in a black and white movie on TCM.

Fifty years later, I asked my schoolmate, Julia, why the nun had picked me for the role. She answered right away.”You alway s had that dreamy look.”

Oh, people knew!