Monthly Archives: August 2014

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Otis and the Scarecrow’: Delightful Picture Book for Very Young Readers


I’m always happy to see a book for young readers that teaches a valuable lesson, and Loren Long’s “Otis and the Scarecrow” (Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (U.S.A), 40 pages, written and illustrated by Long, $17.99) accomplishes this goal with aplomb.

Otis and the scarecrowIt’s big, square format book that’s perfect for solo readers ages 3 to 5 and for adults reading aloud. It’s the sixth entry in Long’s Otis the friendly farm tractor series. Growing up on a Michigan farm, I never thought of our three tractors as particularly friendly, but Long transforms these mechanical workhorses into a lovable creature called Otis.

From the publisher:

“On the farm where Otis the tractor lives, the farmer has introduced someone new — a scarecrow to shoo away the pesky crows. But when Otis and the animals greet the scarecrow with friendly smiles, the scarecrow’s frown never leaves his face. So everyone leaves him alone.

“Then one day, when a cold autumn rain sets in, Otis and the animals snuggle close and play Otis’s favorite game: the quiet game. Otis knows the puppy and ducks can’t sit still for long, and soon the farm friends begin to giggle and squirm, feeling warmed by one another’s friendship . . . but on this day, Otis can’t seem to take his eyes off the lonely figure in the cornfield.

“A deeply resonant book about subtle acts of compassion and standing up for others, featuring everyone’s favorite tractor, Otis.”

A story featuring a big-hearted, compassionate tractor like Otis is a good a way of teaching young children about the values that humans so often don’t practice. In an age where bullying — particularly via electronic devices and “social” websites — has become all too common by even very young children, the lesson that Otis teaches the other farm creatures — and by, extension, readers of this book is particularly valuable.

About the author

Loren Long (born 1964 in Joplin, MO) has putt puff puttedy chuffed his way all over the bestseller lists with such titles as Otis, Otis and the Tornado, Otis and the Puppy ,Drummer Boy, The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper, Toy Boat by Randall de Sève, Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna, and Of Thee I Sing by President Barack Obama.

A graduate of the University of Kentucky (BA graphic design) Loren lives in a suburb of Cincinnati with his wife and two sons, all frequent visitors to his studio, where they see the art and hear the stories first.

His websites:, and


BOOK REVIEW: ‘Please Stop Helping Us’: Black Conservative Deconstructs Unintended Consequences of Affirmative Action, Minimum Wage Laws, Public Schools


Ever since it was published in June, Jason L. Riley’s “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed” (Encounter Books, 184 pages, index, $23.99) has been attacked by the liberal establishment and black talking heads who continue to deliver the “It’s not our fault, it’s white racism” argument as an explanation for lack of progress for African-Americans. They pour boiling oil on Bill Cosby and Riley and others who call for an end to destructive black culture that despises intellectual activity and extolls the gansta hip-hop culture.

please-stop-helping-us-how-liberals-make-it-harder-for-blacks-to-succeedAt the end of this review, I’m including a HuffPost Live interview of Riley; I’m doing this to make this review as fair and balanced as possible. I say this as I argue that I’m 100 percent with Riley, who has also been attacked because he’s married to a white woman, New York Post columnist Naomi Shaefer-Riley. I haven’t seen similar attacks on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who’s married to an African-American.

I’ve often wondered about liberals — including Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — extolling the benefits of inner city public education — while sending their own children to private schools like Sidwell-Friends in Washington, DC. Riley makes this point, too, in arguing for more education choices for urban African-American parents and their children.

African-Americans deserve as many choices as affluent liberals who tell blacks to support public schools and then go and send their kids to expensive private schools, Riley argues. He tackles the argument — made by liberals who support teachers’ unions because the teachers’ unions — both the AFL-CIO one, AFT, and NEA — support Democratic candidates — that charter schools and voucher programs harm the traditional public schools that most minority and low-income students attend. This argument says that charter schools and voucher programs siphon off from public schools the best and the brightest. Riley says that most inner city schools are staffed by union members who care more about job security than educating their students.

What about other unions? Riley gives his readers a historical look at unions and how the traditional AFL craft unions refused to admit blacks and came up with minimum-wage laws and legislation like the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act (–Bacon_Act) were originally intended to prevent the employment of cheaper non-union African-American workers from the South.

What about affirmative action programs? Don’t they help blacks? No, says Riley, who says that well-intentioned affirmative action programs for higher education designed to address past discrimination actually results in mismatching black students to highly selective schools like the University of California-Berkeley, where they are destined to fail because of the poor education they received in inner-city public schools. The result is fewer black college graduates than would otherwise exist. Too, he writes, affirmative action isn’t working in highly selective public universities because Asian-American students outperform whites, blacks and Hispanic students.

In a particularly touching example of how much of black culture denigrates learning as “acting white,” Riley quotes basketball great Kareen Abdul Jabbar — back when he was still Lew Alcindor — describing his experiences as a studious kid at a predominantly black Catholic school in Philadelphia in the 1950s (Pages 42-43):

“I got there and immediately found I could read better than anyone in the school. My father’s example and my mother’s training had made that come easy. I could pick up a book, read it out loud, pronounce the words with proper inflection and actually know what they meant. When the nuns found this out they paid me a lot of attention…when the kids found this out, I became a target.”

Riley describes how, when living in his hometown of Buffalo, NY and living and working in the DC area, he was profiled by police. He says he understands the profiling, because of the overwhelming disproportionality of blacks committing crimes. He says that abolishing stop-and-frisk laws and being soft on crime makes crime-ridden majority black enclaves even more dangerous.

To those who believe that Jason Riley is another black mouthing white racist ideology, I say read the book and look at the facts. As the saying goes, “you are entitled to your opinions, but not your facts.”

Jason L. Riley



About the author

Jason L. Riley is an editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal, where he has worked since 1994, and a Fox News contributor. He lives in suburban New York City with his wife, New York Post columnist Naomi Schaefer-Riley, and their three children.

Jason Riley on Huffington Post discussing his book:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rumble’: Ellen Hopkins Returns with Young Adult Novel in Verse That Lays Bare Virtually Every form of Social Problem, Family Dysfunction

If there’s a social problem or addiction that isn’t dealt with in “Rumble” ( Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing Division, 560 pages, $19.99), Ellen Hopkins’ young adult novel set in the greater Eugene, Oregon area, I was hard pressed to find it.

Rumble jacketHopkins — the New York Times’ bestselling author of “Crank” and “Smoke” and several other Y.A. titles — focuses on the Turner family, specifically Matthew “Matt” Turner, an 18-year-old high school senior in Cottage Grove, OR, who’s still grieving over the suicide of his younger brother Luke.

Luke, a standout freshman basketball player and sweet kid who idolized Matt, hanged himself after being outed as gay on social media and was subsequently bullied by his high school classmates (don’t get me started on the horrors caused by the improper use of Facebook, Twitter and all the other electronic forms of poisoning the air! And don’t get me started on the inherent meanness of many teens!)

Matt’s dad, Wyatt Turner, was a standout basketball player for the University of Oregon (the “Ducks”) and now teaches science and coaches the basketball teams. Matt believes his dad’s homophobic comments contributed to Luke’s suicide, but he blames his former best friend Vince for posting the photoshopped pictures that outed Luke.

Matt’s atheism has become public with an essay he wrote for an English class that has gone viral. Even his therapist has a copy of an essay Matt believed to be private. In the document he writes that Luke’s death proves that there is no God: “There is no God, no benevolent ruler of the earth, no omnipotent grand poobah of countless universes. Because if there was…my little brother would still be fishing or playing basketball instead of fertilizing cemetery vegetation.”

Despite his lack of belief in a higher power, Matt is in love with a believing Christian classmate, Hayden. He’s also attracted to Hayden’s former best friend Alexa. Matt discovers that his disintegrating family is even more dysfunctional that he thought, with his dad having an affair with the woman he was in love with before he met and impregnated Matt’s and Luke’s mom. His mom, a real estate agent, is clearly an alcoholic, as is his dad. Matt’s uncle, Middle East war veteran Jessie Turner, who operates a gun range, has a veteran customer who suffers from PTSD. This customer, Gus, plays a pivotal role in the novel.

Everybody tells Matt to let go, to put the death of his beloved little brother behind him, to pick up the threads of his life. But it’s easier said than done for the troubled teen.

While “Rumble” is squarely aimed at Y.A. readers, I believe adults — particularly parents of teens — can benefit from reading it. Hopkins has the understanding of a therapist and the skill of a bestselling writer to put issues before readers. She’s a baby boomer, but she thoroughly understands the younger demographic groups. Plus, the book is a page turner! Don’t let the big page count scare you: Hopkins keeps the narrative moving quickly.

About the Author

Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Louise Hopkins (born March 26, 1955) is a novelist who has published several New York Times bestselling novels that are popular among the teenage and young adult audiences. Hopkins began her writing career in 1990. She started with nonfiction books for children, including Air Devils and Orcas: High Seas Supermen. Hopkins has since written several verse novels exposing teenage struggles such as drug addiction, mental illness,and prostitution. She has also written novels in verse for adults, including “Collateral” and “Triangles.” Her next adult novel, “Tangled,” is slated for Spring 2015 publication.

Her website:

For my review of “Smoke”:

For my review of her adult novel, “Collateral”:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Supreme City’: Wonderfully Readable Account of Contributions Manhattan Made to U.S. Architecture, Engineering, Culture

“Don’t give the people what they want. Give them something better than they expect.” — Samuel L. “Roxy” Rothafel (1882-1936), American theatrical impresario and entrepreneur

* * *

Roxy’s axiom fits the scores of people profiled in Donald L. Miller’s “Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America” (Simon & Schuster, 784 pages, in-text and photographic inserts, notes, bibliography, index, $37.50) as well as the book itself. It’s the kind of big book a fan of architecture, city planning, politicians and gangsters (often the same people!), the birth of radio, show business, tabloid newspapers, book publishing, music, fashion and just about everything that emerged from New York City in the Roaring Twenties doesn’t want to end.

Supreme City jacketMiller leads off with an account of New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker, who wanted to be a song writer and ended up resigning in disgrace over his corruption.

Miller’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, is part of the story in his account of pioneering publisher Horace Liveright, founder (with Albert Boni) of Boni & Liveright. BL was the publisher of Ezra Pound, William Faulkner, Hart Crane, Theodore Dreiser, Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson, among many other authors. Max Schuster’s friend, Richard L. Simon — father of singer-songwriter Carly Simon — was a book salesman at Boni & Liveright. They joined forces to form S&S. Their first book was a collection of crossword puzzles and it was a bestseller. The company was saved when the crossword puzzle craze fizzled by the publication of Will Durant’s “The Story of Philosophy” which was a bestseller.
Bennett Cerf, one of the founders of Random House, also worked at Boni & Liveright. As a book reviewer and avid reader, of course I’ve heard of Boni & Liveright. I didn’t know that Horace Liveright’s name is pronounced “Live Right”, not “Liver Right”. Like many of the people Miller writes about, he was Jewish and his father anglicized the name from the German “Liebrecht” — which translates to “Live Right.” Cerf and his partner, Donald Klopfer, got off to a grand start at Random House with their purchase of Boni and Liveright’s Modern Library for $210,000, a poor decision on Horace Liveright’s part, but a brilliant move on the part of Cerf and Klopfer.

Much of “Supreme City” describes of how Manhattan’s development arc moved from its historic downtown birthplace — the area around City Hall — to Midtown, especially around Grand Central Terminal, completed in 1913. The New York Central rail yards at Grand Central were roofed over, creating Park Avenue, which quickly became one of the prime residential areas of the city. The gigantic mansions on Fifth Avenue were demolished by real estate developers — many of them Jewish — and luxury co-operative apartments were built there and on Park Avenue in one of the biggest building booms in the city’s — and America’s — history.

Miller describes the building of the George Washington Bridge, connecting Fort Lee, New Jersey, with upper Manhattan. The bridge — in the news lately over N.J. Gov. Chris Christy’s alleged “BridgeGate” — was the creation of a young Swiss immigrant Othmar Ammann, who later went on to build other several bridges in the city, including his last one, the Verrazano Narrows bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island. The story of the Holland Tunnel is also part of Miller’s book.

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, from a wealthy Washington, D.C. African-American family, called the city “the capital of everything.” His connection with Jewish music publisher Irving Mills led to his success in records, radio broadcasting and his performing at Harlem’s Cotton Club, owned by gangster Owen “Owney” Madden, a native of Leeds, England. Only white audiences were admitted to the club, which featured black musicians.

If there is one recurring them in Miller’s supremely readable book, it is how people from elsewhere — like Chicago-born Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld Jr. and Philadelphian William Paley, founder of CBS — became successful in New York. His arch rival, David Sarnoff of NBC, was a Russian-Jewish immigrant. They were joined by many talented NYC natives.

The list of out-of-town successes is lengthy: Baltimore’s George Herman “Babe” Ruth; Coloradan boxer Jack Dempsey; Texas-reared sports entrepreneur Tex Rickard, who promoted Dempsey’s fights with Firpo, Gene Tunney and other boxers; Waco, Texas-born speakeasy hostess Mary Louise Cecilia “Texas” Guinan; Kansas-born auto manufacturer Walter P. Chrysler, who used his own money — not his firm’s — to build the iconic Chrysler Building at 42nd and Lexington. (The Panama Smith character in the 1939 movie “The Roaring Twenties”, played by Gladys George, is based on real-life “Texas” Guinan.)

The list goes on: Chicagoan Joseph Medill Patterson, cousin of Robert R. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune, came to the Big Apple in 1919 — a city with more than a dozen dailies — to start his own tabloid, New York’s “picture” newspaper, The Daily News. It quickly became the city’s largest circulation newspaper and survives to this day.

Cosmetics and fashion figure prominently in “Supreme City.” Canadian farm girl cosmetics specialist Elizabeth Arden and Polish-born cosmetics innovator Helena Rubenstein — who never talked to each other — set up their businesses on the new commerce driven Fifth Avenue. Thanks to building efforts by visionary developers like Abraham Lefcourt, Seventh Avenue became the center of ready-to-wear fashions, while fashion driven department stores like Bergdorf Goodman moved to Fifth Avenue with great success.

“Supreme City” is an important book by a renowned historian about a remarkable decade that saw the spectacular rise of Manhattan. It’s written with such engaging prose that most readers will agree with my assessment that I didn’t want it to end!

Donald L. Miller

Donald L. Miller

About the author

Donald L. Miller is the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College, Easton, PA. He hosted the series A Biography of America on PBS and has appeared in numerous other PBS programs in the American Experience series, as well as in programs on the History Channel. He is the author of eight previous books, among them the prize-winning City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, The Story of World War II, and D-Days in the Pacific.

OP-ED: Inaccuracies of Cable TV Reporting Continue With Gaza Coverage

arthursolomonBy Arthur Solomon

Big story news coverage is supposed to be the hallmark of cable TV. Now it’s the protests in Ferguson, Mo. But for the past several weeks it was the reporting on the Israeli-Gaza war that once again showed big story reporting is also cable’s Achilles heal because getting it first is often more important than getting it right.

Journalism has always had its share of inaccurate reporting, sometimes because of rushing to meet a deadline, sometime because “reliable sources” that reporters trusted proved unreliable.

For decades erroneous reports were swept under the rug by newspapers. It is only recently in the journalistic time line that corrections are now promptly published.

But the same is not true of cable TV reports. Too often the rush to get it first instead of getting it correct is the result. Unlike newspapers, where at least one editor reviews stories before they are published, live TV reports of major stories are what cable TV news is about, resulting in viewers hearing reports often colored by the biases or fears of on-the-site reporters losing access to interviewees, like Amnesty International that managed to equate what is happening in Ferguson to the Gaza situation as the reporter remained mute.

It’s a little early for media watchers to detail all the wrong information and biased reports that will emerge from the Ferguson reporting.

Not so the examples of faulty reporting from anchors and front line correspondents covering the Gaza war. Tough questions are continuously asked of Israeli spokesmen by the reporters and condemnation of Israel’s army conduct is a constant. Scant mentions are uttered that the destruction of the Jewish state is in Hamas’ charter and that Israel is fighting for its survival.

The biases of cable TV reporting on the conflict are seen 24/7. Footage of the devastation of Gaza is continuously repeated on CNN. Instead of just reporting the news, CNN continuously provides a propaganda platform for Palestinian and Hamas supporters. Missing are the tough

questions by CNN reporters and their challenging erroneous statements.

United Nations spokespersons also are allowed an open anything goes mike by CNN, resulting in additional anti-Israel propaganda. Missing also are the tough questions by CNN asking why the U.N. permits Hamas to store its rockets in U.N. schools. (CNN is now focusing on Ferguson, at least for a while, but that is sure to change the moment things calm down there.)

While the latest examples of shoddy reporting are from Gaza, cable TV has a history of journalistic errors on important stories.

Example: Less than a year after misreporting the Supreme Court decision on President Obama’s health care legislation on June 28, 2012, CNN (no longer the most trusted name in news) and Fox News Channel(never fair and balanced) co-opted Britney Spears’ “Oops!… I Did It Again”and mistakenly reported that either an arrest was made or a suspect was in custody for the Boston Marathon bombing of April 15, 2013. So much for the reliability of their trusted inside sources.

Example: During the wall-to-wall coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing, after so much inaccurate reporting on April 18, the race to report unconfirmed news continued the following day with reports that a woman tipped off the police to the hiding place of the younger bomber. Wrong again. It was a man who noticed something amiss with the boat in his back yard after the police had issued its “all clear.”

Repeating information from “reliable” sources, which turns out to be unreliable, can have unfortunate consequences for individuals.

Example: On April 21, 2013, the New York Times reported that a young man, who some news organizations mistakenly thought looked like one of the bombers, resulted in his sister receiving 58 harassing telephone calls from reporters between the hours of 3 a.m. and 4:11 a.m.

The excuse that cable reporters give when disseminating inaccurate information is that everyone has “reliable sources” that have to be trusted when reporting on a fast-breaking story. However that does not excuse shoddy journalism. Journalism’s mission should be to get it correct, not get it first, which seems to be the rule that NBC’S Pete Williams follows.

In my opinion, he is the best in both reporting the news and putting it into context. Chuck Todd’s The Daily Rundown on MSNBC, which he’s leaving, served the same purpose for political junkies. But unfortunately he kept silent when an Israeli spokesman on his show said that an inaccurate report by an NBC reporter regarding the Gaza conflict merited a correction. Todd ignored the request without replying. Not good journalism.

The “Opinionators” – print columnists and TV pundits – show their anti-Israeli biases by bemoaning their fear that if Israel continues to defend itself the country will surely evolve into a war-like society resembling Sparta, the ancient city-state of Greece (or maybe the U.S.–- that has never seen a war anywhere that was not in our national interest –- and Palestinians?)

But these journalistic worriers fail to mention that there would not be an Israel if it didn’t continuously fight off attacks by Arab countries since its founding in 1948, or that the Hamas charter calls for the elimination of Israel.

The biased TV coverage of the Gaza conflict is also evident on none news show. Jon Stewart, long an Israeli critic on his The Daily Show, once again showed his biases by faulting Israel’s defense of its citizens. His mockery of the situation, which resulted in thousands of deaths over decades, showed how lame his take is compared to the master of political satire Charlie Chaplin, whose movies are still available on TCM.

What is especially interesting is that when French and India TV provided footage that Hamas was launching its rockets right next to supposedly “off-limits” humanitarian targets the resulting media coverage was similar to a twig falling off a Redwood.

Getting it wrong doesn’t seem to be the only problem with cable TV’s reporting on the Israeli-Gaza war. Lack of asking tough questions by journalists is important in order to prevent their networks from being nothing more than a propaganda outlet. But that’s TV show biz.

* * *

Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles on national and international sports and non-sports programs. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations and sports business publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at HYPERLINK “”

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Words for Pictures’: Exhaustive, Entertaining Look at the Writer’s Role in Creating Comics and Graphic Novels

In one of those strange coincidences that often occur in my life, the review copy of “Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels” by Brian Michael Bendis (Watson-Guptil Publications, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC; foreword by Joe Quesada; large format paperback, $24.99, index, profusely illustrated) arrived in the mail the same day I saw the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
words for pictures cover

Bendis has written for the Marvel comic book series “Guardians of the Galaxy”, as well as “The Avengers,” “Ultimate Spider-Man,” “All-New X-Men,” and more. After describing how a comic book obsessed kid growing up in Cleveland became first an artist and finally a writer for comics and graphic novels, Bendis describes the role of writers in the extremely collaborative genre.

I’m guessing that most people think the artist writes the words in a comic or graphic novel, just as many people still believe actors make up the dialogue in movies and plays. I’m probably exaggerating about the latter part of the previous sentence, but Bendis says that — with a few exceptions — writers and artists engage in a collaboration that Bendis says — somewhat tongue in cheek — that is a lot like dating!

“Words for Pictures” takes readers step by step through the creative methods of a writer at the very top of his field. Bendis guides aspiring creators through each step of the comics-making process—from idea to script to finished sequential art. He even reveals the word processing program — Final Draft — that he uses, noting that it is one of the most popular screenwriting software products in use today.

One of the best parts of the book are the conversations Bendis elicits from many artists and writers in the graphic novel and comic book genre. I found these passages — often very emotional — full of useful information for both the aspiring writer and the fan of comics and graphic novels. I’ve reviewed a number of graphic novels and have often wondered about the creative process.

There are many illustrations in this beautifully printed — in China — book. There are also many scripts, notes and other products of writers engaging their artist collaborators. The reader is also presented with examples of artwork that Bendis created early in his career. He’s overly modest about his artistic abilities: I think he could have done very well as an artist.

While not specifically a how-to book, “Words for Pictures” will help both writers and artists in the creative process. It’s ideal for the beginner, but it’s also useful for the experienced practitioner, too. The section about the business aspects of Jinxworld Inc., Bendis’s business, is vital, too. Jinxworld is headed by Alisa Bendis, Brian’s wife. In the interview with her, she says her husband is a wonderfully gifted writer, but not the world’s greatest business manager. Alisa Bendis provides valuable information on the business/legal aspects of the process.

Both entertaining and supremely informative, “Words for Pictures” is a must-read book for brian michael bendiswriters, artists and the many fans of comics and graphic novels. It was an eye-opener for me.

Brian Michael Bendis

About the Author

Brian Michael Bendis is an award winning comics creator and one of the most successful writers working in mainstream comics. For the last twelve years, Bendis’s books have dominated the top of nationwide comic and graphic novel sales charts. As a leading writer for Marvel Comics, he works on their best-selling properties like The Avengers, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and Guardians of the Galaxy. In addition, his original projects include Scarlet, Brilliant, Powers (currently in development as a TV series at FX), Torso (being developed as a film by Circle of Confusion), and the Hollywood tell-all Fortune and Glory. The winner of five prestigious Eisner Awards, Bendis lives with his family in Portland, where he writes and teaches comics and graphic novel writing at Portland State University and the University of Oregon.

For more on Bendis: