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Books

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Old school. It’s a phrase that suggests someone, like yours truly, does something one way, even if there might be an easier, more efficient or modern alternative method for doing things.

Take reading a book. My teenage children think nothing of doing their assigned reading for classes on electronic devices.

That just doesn’t work for me. For me, reading has
always been a multisensory experience. I enjoy finishing a page and flipping to the next one, anticipating the next set of words even as I know how many pages are left in the book by the size of the stack to the left and right.

When I was young, I used to figure out the exact middle of a book. I had an understated celebration when I reached the midpoint, even though the prologue, or introduction, often tilted the balance slightly.

Of course, I could do the same thing with an electronic version of a book.

And yet it’s just not the same for me. I also liked to see the names of the people who read the book in school before me. These students had perused the same pages, found the same shocking revelations and associated with the characters as they moved through the same year in their lives.

When I reread a chapter, searched for symbols or literary devices, I could recall exactly where on a page I might have seen something.

In an e-book, every page is the same. None of the pages is slightly darker, has a bent corner where someone might have stopped, or has a slightly larger “e” or a word that’s printed above the others on a line. The virtual pages are indistinct from each other, except for the specific words on the page or the chapter numbers.

I suppose people like me are why a store like Barnes & Noble can still exist, despite the ease and low cost of uploading books. And, yes, I understand when I travel how much lighter my suitcase would be if I uploaded 100 books without lugging the weight of the paper. I also understand that e-books are more environmentally friendly. Once a paper book is produced, however, it no longer requires constant battery recharging.

Passing along books read by earlier generations connects us to our parents and grandparents. We can imagine them holding the book at a distance as their eyes started to change, falling asleep with the book in their laps, or sitting on the couch until late at night, eager to finish a book before going to bed. We can also picture them throwing a book that frustrated them across the room or out the window.

Among the many Titanic stories that sticks out for me is the tale of Harry Elkins Widener, a 27-year-old book collector who boarded the ill-fated ship with his mother and father in Cherbourg, France. Legend has it that he died with a rare 1598 book, “Essays” by Francis Bacon, that he had bought in London. Harry and his father died aboard the ship, while their mother survived the sinking. After her son perished, she donated $2 million — an enormous sum in 1912 — to Harvard to construct a
library which is still on the main campus.

While I’m sure it’s possible to pick a random section of an e-book, I have grabbed books from a shelf and leafed to a random page, trying to figure out where in the story I have landed.

I am delighted to hold children’s books, including many of the Dr. Seuss collection. Also, I remember my children searched each page of “Goodnight Moon,” by Margaret Wise Brown for the mouse. There’s probably a mouse in the virtual version and touching it may even make the mouse grow, scurry across the virtual page or offer lessons about rhyming couplets.

Still, for my reading pleasure, I’m old school: Hand me a book and I’ll carry around a friend.

The 300-book collection, acquired by late Northport resident Marvin Feinstein, contains several first editions

The Feinstein family stands with a Walt Whitman impersonator in front of new Norman and Jeanette Gould Library collection. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The unveiling of a new library collection at the Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site has allowed it to lay claim to having the second largest Whitman-related book collection in the world.

The Walt Whitman Birthplace Association publicly celebrated its acquisition of approximately 300 Whitman-related books collected by late Northport resident Marvin Feinstein April 26.

“This collection will be of tremendous value to Walt Whitman scholars and historians,” said George Gorman, deputy regional director of New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “It’s an amazing treasure.”

“Ever since I knew Marvin, I knew how much he admired the writing of Walt Whitman.”
– Miriam Feinstein

Miriam Feinstein said her husband, Marvin, was a lifelong book collector turned bookseller. Together, the couple ran M&M Books selling out-of-print, rare volumes at large book fairs up and down the East Coast since the early 1980s.

“Ever since I knew Marvin, I knew how much he admired the writing of Walt Whitman,” she said. “It was always his dream to acquire a full collection of Walt Whitman’s books.”

She recalled how almost every day, her husband, would set off and “invariably” come home with a bag of books. Sometimes he would purchase books by Whitman or one of his other favorite writers, Mark Twain.

Upon her husband’s passing, Feinstein and her sons, David and Allen, reached out to the WWBA offering to donate 40 Whitman-related books, according to Executive Director Cynthia Shor — one of which was a volume containing the complete works of Walt Whitman.

The family then offered to donate half of the remaining collection, about 250 books, which had been appraised at $20,000. The collection contains many rare books including 25 first editions, among which are “Leaves of Grass” and “November Boughs.” The association was only able to come up with funding to purchase 10 additional books and sent Shor to the Feinstein’s home to pick them out.

“This collection will be of tremendous value to Walt Whitman scholars and historians.”
– George Gorman

“When I got there I realized there was not a best book, they were all the best books,” Shor said. “I came back and said, ‘We have to do something more than this. We have to secure this for history.’”

WWBA Trustee Jeffrey Gould stepped forward to donate $10,000 through his Jeffrey S. Gould Foundation to acquire the entire collection, which will become known as “The Norman and Jeanette Gould Library” in honor of his parents.

Jeffrey Gould said his parents started up a publishing company in Queens during the 1950s, like Whitman, and ran their own printing presses.

“It’s such an amazing parallel to our own lives,” he said. “We can help spread the word of literacy with Walt’s magnificent writings.”

The collection will be housed and preserved in a bookcase on the birthplace’s premises, among its other exhibits in the main hall. It will be available to the public for scholarly research, historic documentation and those who generally appreciate Whitman’s writing.

Trustee Tom Wysmuller said with this addition, the birthplace’s collection of Whitman-related books is second largest only to the Library of Congress.

“They don’t have to go to Washington D.C. anymore, they can come right here,” Wysmuller said. “You can come here and steep yourself in history.”

Comsewogue Library Director Debbie Engelhardt, third from left, and Port Jefferson Free Library Director Tom Donlon, second left, with others, cut the ribbon on a Free Little Library in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

Steering a community institution as it crosses the half-century mark in its existence is an enormous responsibility. But when the institution has the inherent added degree of difficulty associated with morphing to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world, fulfilling that responsibility likely feels like threading a needle. As the third director in Comsewogue Public Library’s 50-year history, Debbie Engelhardt has gracefully and masterfully threaded that needle.

Engelhardt got her start in the library world as the director of Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton in the early 2000s. She was also the director of the Huntington Public Library from 2009 to 2012, before being selected as just the third director in the history of the Comsewogue Public Library.

The Comsewogue Public Library’s only three directors — Richard Lusak, Debra Engelhardt and Brandon Pantorno — in front of the newly dedicated Richard Lusak Community Room. Photo by Alex Petroski

In October 2017, Engelhardt played a vital role in planning, organizing and conducting a 50th anniversary celebration for the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community staple. The day, according to many of her colleagues, had fingerprints of her enthusiasm, one-track community mindedness, and passion all over it, though that can be said about every day she’s spent at Comsewogue’s helm.

“Very rarely do you find anybody as dedicated to her profession and to her community like Debbie,” said Richard Lusak, Comsewogue Public Library’s first director from 1966 through 2002. The Oct. 14 anniversary celebration included the dedication of the building’s community room in Lusak’s honor, an initiative Engelhardt unsurprisingly also had a hand in.

“Those who come to know her quickly value her leadership ability and her insight into things,” he said. “She never says ‘no,’ she says, ‘Let me figure out how to do it.’”

The director tried to sum up her feelings about the anniversary as it was still ongoing.

“The program says ‘celebrating our past, present and future,’ so that’s what we’re doing all in one day with the community,” she said in October.

The event featured games, a bounce house, farm animals, crafts, giveaways, snacks, face painting, balloon animals, music, a historical society photo gallery and tour, and a new gallery exhibit.

“We thought of it as a community thank you for the ongoing support that we’ve had since day one, across all three administrations,” the library director said.

Engelhardt’s vision has been a valuable resource in efforts to modernize the library and keep it vibrant, as Amazon Kindles and other similar technologies have infringed on what libraries used to be about for generations. As the times have changed, Engelhardt has shown a propensity to keep Comsewogue firmly positioned as a community hub.

“I think she’s done a superb job with respect to coordinating all of the interests of input from the community as to what services are being requested by the public, whether it’s the children’s section, the adult reference and the senior citizens, including all of the activities we offer and the different programs,” said Edward Wendol, vice president of the library’s board of trustees who has been on the board for about 40 years. He was the board’s president when Engelhardt was selected as director.

Wendol credited Engelhardt with spearheading efforts to obtain a Free Little Library not only for Comsewogue, but for several other area libraries. The program features a small, outdoor drop box where readers can take a book to read or leave a book for future visitors.

“Anybody can use it as much as they want and it’s always a mystery when you open that box — you never know what you’ll find,” Engelhardt said during its dedication over the summer. “There are no late fees, no guilt, no stress. If you want to keep a book, you can … we are pleased to partner with the historical society to bring this gem. The books inside will move you and teach you. We say that libraries change lives and, well, little free libraries can too.”

The Little Free Library, a free book exchange, is located near the playground, alongside the shack at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Fred Drewes

Wendol said she also played a huge role in reorganizing the interior structure of the library. Engelhardt has created reading areas on all levels, placed popular selections near the entrance of the building, and taken an overall hands-on approach to the look and feel of the library. He also lauded her role working together with the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, an organization dedicated to serving the 56 public libraries in the county and assisting them in sharing services, website designs, group purchases and other modernization efforts.

“She’s great at what she does and seems to be having a great amount of fun while she’s doing it, and it’s kind of infectious,” said Kevin Verbesey, director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System and a friend of Engelhardt’s for more than 20 years. “She is one of the leaders in the county, not just in Port Jeff Station and Comsewogue, but somebody who other library directors turn to for advice and for leadership.”

Her community leadership efforts cannot be contained by Comsewogue Public Library’s four walls however. Engelhardt is a member and past president of the Port Jefferson Rotary Club; a member of the board of trustees at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital; and vice president of Decision Women in Commerce and Professions, a networking organization dedicated to fostering career aid and support, and generating beneficial community projects.

When she finds time in the day, she participates in events like the cleanup of Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck in Center Moriches, a facility for children with special needs. This past November she helped, among many others, clean up the camp with  husband, John, and son, Scott.

have hundreds of new friends I’ve never met, and a profound appreciation for the people who created them or shared their lives.

I recently attended my first BookExpo at the Javits Center in New York City, where I was surrounded by booksellers, librarians, agents, book publishers and authors including Stephen King, James Patterson and John Grisham, with numerous budding luminaries in the mix.

A highlight for me was a panel of children’s book authors, which included actress Isla Fisher, who has starred in movies including “Wedding Crashers” and “Definitely, Maybe.” While I was intrigued to see Ms. Fisher in person, the other authors owned the stage, as Fisher readily admitted that she wasn’t a writing peer to her fellow panelists.

Jason Reynolds, an African-American writer for middle-grade and young adult novels, electrified the audience.

He talked about how he used to visit his great Aunt Blanche in South Carolina, where the sun was so scorching it burned his neck. His aunt, who was 85, sat on her hot porch, smoking cigarettes and watching the children.

Aunt Blanche planted a pecan tree — as he said, a “pea can” — when she was 4. The tree had become enormous by the time Reynolds was a child, providing shade for the younger crowd.

Reynolds, a 2016 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature with “Ghost,” suggested that books offered the kind of shade he desperately needed, providing relief from the heat.

Reynolds asked himself, “What if I get to be the pecan tree?”

Jennifer Weiner, meanwhile, has ventured from the world of adult fiction and “Good in Bed” to writing for a younger audience, which includes her recent book, “The Littlest Bigfoot.”

Weiner said she does much of her writing in the equivalent of a large closet in her home, although she completed “half of a book waiting in a carpool line.”

Dutch author Marieke Nijkamp shared some insights into her latest book “Before I Let Go,” which is about a girl named Corey who loses her best friend Kyra.

Nijkamp, with fans waiting in a long line for the blue-haired author’s signature, said she “definitely goes for a walk right after I kill a character.”

While circling the Javits Center exhibits, I bumped into Owen King. He is the son of acclaimed author Stephen King, and is promoting a book he wrote with his father called “Sleeping Beauties,” in which all the women but one in a small Appalachian town become wrapped in a cocoon when they go to sleep. If someone awakens them, they become violent. That leaves the men without the civilizing and calming influence of women. It sounded to me like an adult version of William Golding’s classic “Lord of the Flies.”

In describing the novel, Owen King said he enjoyed the time writing and editing the book with his father. He described how a King dinner time activity includes coming up with story ideas, many of which never see the light of day.

I asked Owen, who was clad in an untucked plaid shirt and looks remarkably like his father, what caught his eye at the Expo. He highlighted a book by Steve Steinberg about a Yankees pitcher named Urban Shocker. King said he loved the name and found the story compelling, about a pitcher who went 18-6 in the Yankees’ famous 1927 season despite battling heart disease. I picked up a copy, which was autographed for my son, and I look forward to learning about Shocker’s world.

Children's book review: "Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure" by Sheree Jeanes

Image of the cover of ’Simon and Sedef’ from author Sheree Jeanes

By Melissa Arnold

Sheree Jeanes has always loved animals, and last fall she channeled that passion into a captivating new children’s book. Jeanes, who grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Huntington, published “Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure” in November. A portion of the book’s proceeds will be donated to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Jeanes about her book and what’s in store for the future.

Tell me a little bit about your background.
I’ve worked in marketing for close to 20 years now. I’ve also done grant writing, and I have my own copywriting business called Redwing Copywriting.

Have you always been interested in writing?
I always wanted to write children’s books. I have a collection of children’s books at home that inspire me, and I finally found the courage to do it.

Huntington author Sheree Jeanes/photo by Pat Dillon
Huntington author Sheree Jeanes/photo by Pat Dillon

Briefly summarize the plot for us.
“Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure” is about a young seal who gets swept up in a sudden storm and is separated from his mother, Sedef. He needs to tap into his own resiliency, to see what he’s capable of, and learn to lean on others with trust.

What inspired you to write “Simon and Sedef”?
My mother-in-law lives in Rockaway Beach, which is a part of the story. Several years ago there was a story in her local paper, The Wave, about a little seal that got washed up on the beach, and it sparked my imagination. Simon’s story grew around him. When I got the idea for this book, I could see where it was going. I knew how it would end and that there could be sequels. I was able to enlist a friend who very generously edited and story boarded the book for me, and we went from there.

There are so many ways to write about marine life conservation efforts. Why did you choose to write a children’s book?
Honestly, I love to learn through stories. Historical novels are a great way to learn about different periods in history, for example. I did a lot of scientific research for the book, and when I do readings, I always bring someone from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. They always have an incredible wealth of knowledge to share and are able to answer additional questions about marine life while sharing how important it really is to all of us.

Who is your favorite character in the book?
My favorite character is Rita, a little girl that Simon meets on the beach. She’s actually named after my mother-in-law. Part of the book is about connection and being sensitive and kind to animals. She embodies what kids are able to do (if they encounter an animal), to engage them with respect on (the animal’s) own terms. She reflects the connection that humans and animals share and the animal part that exists in all of us. It’s a really beautiful part of the story, and she’s a lot of fun.

“Simon and Sedef” is full of vibrant, lifelike illustrations. Were you involved in the art development?
I’m not an illustrator, but I was a part of the process. I went onto (arts and crafts sale website) Etsy and put out a job request. I got a bunch of responses and spent a lot of time looking through portfolios. The artist I chose worked with these brilliant watercolors, and she was able to paint animals with so much expression and sensitivity. I ended up choosing her to do the illustrations — her name is Luminita Cosarenu and she’s from Romania. She was just lovely to work with. I told her what I had in mind and we went back and forth for a while until it was just right. She started with pencil drawings and finished with watercolor. They are just magnificent.

The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation plays a big part in your story. Can you tell me a bit about what they do and your decision to work with them?
The foundation would have rescued Simon in the real world and they do such incredible work — it only seemed fair to include them in this way. We’ve been working together from the early stages of the publication process to figure out how to best promote the book and all of the great things they do. They do a lot of animal rescue, particularly of seals and sea turtles. They’re also affiliated with the Long Island Aquarium, where some of the rescued animals will remain for a while or even their lifetime if they can’t be released.

Is there a recommended audience for “Simon and Sedef”?
I think the littlest of kids should probably have the book read to them, but there’s nothing inappropriate for them in there. I did make it a little scary, but even younger children really tend to enjoy that.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
Every human character in the book is kind and also respectful to animals. That’s really the central message of the book — living and treating others with compassion.

What are some things we can do right now to help preserve marine life?
We can pick up after ourselves! So much garbage ends up going out to sea, where animals end up being choked or swallowing things that can impair their digestion or kill them. As for the bigger picture, go and experience the wildlife that’s all around us. Bring your kids. Lastly, really support the people who are out there doing the work of preserving marine life, whether that’s the foundation or another organization you care about.

What’s next for you?
I’m really enjoying the adventure of self-publishing and self-promotion right now. There is a sequel for Simon in the works right now that will be coming out soon — as you might expect, he has plenty more adventures to go on!

Where can people learn more about you or purchase the book?
My website is www.shereejeanes.com. I also have a Facebook page and an Instagram account to keep people up-to-date about the latest developments in my writing.

In celebration of World Oceans Day, Sheree Jeanes will hold a book launch on Wednesday, June 8, at the Long Island Aquarium, 431 E. Main St., Riverhead from 3 to 5 p.m. “Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure” may be purchased online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as at Book Revue in Huntington.

Judy Blundell writes under the pen name Jude Watson. Photo from Blundell

She may often write about a galaxy far, far away, but Judy Blundell does so from a home in Stony Brook residents’ own backyard. Blundell, also known as Jude Watson, is a best-selling author of fiction for children and young adults.

She has written somewhere around 70 books since she began writing in the mid-1990s, though she said in a phone interview last week she lost count. More than 40 of those are “Star Wars” novels written in the time that falls before, after and between the stories depicted in the seven films released to date.

Blundell, as she’s known when writing historical fiction stories for young adults, lives close enough to Stony Brook Harbor to hear seagulls and ferries while she sits in her office. She also spent time living in California, New York City, Florida, Washington and Delaware, among others.

“Coming back to Long Island is a place I know really well, and it has really been a joy to wind up in this beautiful place, Stony Brook—it has been wonderful,” Blundell said. She was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens.

Her mystery and adventure stories for children, usually in the ages 8 to 12 range, get the byline Jude Watson. The scenery in her hometown coupled with her own curiosity are her major sources of inspiration, she said.

“I think the world around me is a varied and fascinating place,” Blundell said. “I’m always interested in people, overheard conversations, things I witness on the subway if I’m in New York or in Target or wherever. Writers are always looking for characters. And very often, books, for me, start with a character rather than a situation and then you sort of write your way into figuring out what the story is.”

Blundell conceded she has had plenty of days with no inspiration, but her remedy is to power through. She offered that as advice to aspiring young writers: Even if you think what you’re producing is terrible, you have to keep writing. “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working,” Pablo Picasso once said, and Blundell said she shares that philosophy.

Blundell has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list several times in her career. In 2008, she received a National Book Award for young people’s literature for the first story she ever put her real name on: “What I Saw and How I Lied.”

Blundell’s husband of more than 30 years, Neil Watson, executive director of the Long Island Museum, said he’s her biggest fan.

“I have the highest respect for her and as a writer, I think it’s tremendous that she has gotten the critical and popular acclaim that she deserves,” Watson said of his wife in an interview. “She is a wonderful writer. She’s a very generous person with her craft and with her ideas.”

Together the couple has cultivated a love of the arts in their 15-year-old daughter Cleo, who is a talented artist in her own right. She is a member of the National Junior Art Society.

“It’s just a part of our house,” Watson said of art in their Stony Brook home. “It’s the home of a museum curator and a writer. Music is constantly on—all types.”

Blundell spoke fondly of her foray into the world of Star Wars, but also mentioned she had fun writing her last novel, “Sting,” which was a follow up to a story she wrote called “Loot,” about a successful jewel thief and his son.

“It was difficult to write because it was a ‘heist’ book, so the plots are very tight and obviously I’m not a jewel thief, so there’s a lot to figure out,” Blundell said, laughing. “But they’re meant to be fun to read and they can’t be fun to read if they’re not fun to write on some level, as hard as they are.”

Blundell said one of her goals is to write stories for kids who view reading as more of a chore than a pleasure.

“I consciously wrote [Loot and Heist] for kids that don’t normally like to read, what we call reluctant readers,” she said. “So the chapters are very short, there’s a lot of action, there’s a lot of fun; there’s a lot of jokes for that reason.”

Blundell said she is currently working on a novel that will be geared more towards adults, though that’s the most she wanted to divulge about it at the moment. To learn more about Blundell and her work, visit her website: www.judyblundell.com.

Caroline Woo, above, plays with therapy dog Beau. She named her black Labrador stuffed animal after her regular reading companion, Malibu. Photo by Giselle Barkley

A book and a calm canine companion are all Caroline Woo needs to practice reading.

Every Thursday afternoon, this 11-year-old from Setauket visits the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library for its Books Are Read to K-9s program. Caroline joined the program and fell in love with it last November, after her mother, Eydie Woo, learned of the club. But BARK didn’t just allow her to interact with a calm canine, it also improved her reading skills.

Last month for her birthday, Caroline asked her friends and family to make a donation to the program instead of buying presents. The $270 she received went toward training more dogs for the club and other therapy dog-related programs. For Caroline, reading to Patchogue Rotary Animal Assisted Therapy certified dog Malibu, a black Labrador, helped her tackle the big words she struggled to say when reading out loud.

“Malibu, she’ll … just sit down and they’ll kind of listen and it is better because the dogs, they mostly maintain one expression,” Caroline said. “It’s easier since she’s less judgmental than people”

According to Malibu’s handler and owner Fred Dietrich, the program hasn’t only helped her reading skills, but it’s also boosted her confidence. He added that he’s seen Caroline become more outspoken since she joined BARK.

Her mother agreed with Dietrich, saying Caroline “feels comfortable with Malibu and it’s translating into other settings.” The fifth-grader met Malibu when she started the program and they’ve been regular reading partners since. Malibu, like all eight dogs involved in the reading program, is PRAAT certified.

Stony Brook resident Jo-Ann Goldwasser established the Doggie Reading Club program, which is called BARK at the library, three years ago after learning about a similar program in Chicago. The Windy City’s Sit Stay Read program has served kids in Chicago’s inner-city schools for several years. Goldwasser wanted to help children overcome their reading difficulties with this program. Her club started with Rocky Point Middle School’s sixth-grade students and has expanded to the Comsewogue school district, two schools in Brentwood as well as the library. She plans to establish the program in Hauppauge school district.

Goldwasser said the school and library programs are somewhat different.

“Children who generally like to read, who go to the library, think it’s kind of a fun thing to come to the library and read to a dog,” Goldwasser said. “In the schools however, we go into … the same classes … every other week. It’s more academic in that we listen to the same children read week after week; we know what they’re reading [and] we know how to help them.”

Fellow therapy dog handler Linda Devin-Sheehan said it’s hard to track the program’s success in the library because the club is only three-years-old. A lack of regulars like Caroline also makes it difficult to monitor a student’s improvement.

Parents must register their children to participate in the library’s program, which is held every Wednesday and Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the library’s kids’ section.

According to the handlers, a dog’s patience and calm demeanor are helpful to students like Caroline. While the program has helped Caroline in the past few months, she simply enjoys being around dogs as they come in various shapes, sizes and dispositions.

“You can see [a dog] on the street and pet it and get to know it for a short minute but … you can already tell that they’re such a sweet dog and it’s nice getting to meet a ton of different dogs,” Caroline said.

Buzz Aldrin signs a copy of "No Dream Is Too High" at the Book Revue on April 5. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
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Buzz Aldrin signs a copy of “No Dream Is Too High” at the Book Revue on April 5. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step on the Moon during NASA’s Apollo 11 mission in 1969, visited the Book Revue in Huntington on Tuesday evening to sign copies of his new bestseller, “No Dream Is Too High: Life Lessons from a Man Who Walked on the Moon.”

A large crowd gathered in the aisles of the bookstore on New York Avenue to get a glimpse of Aldrin, now 86, as well as his John Hancock.

Buzz Aldrin signs a copy of "No Dream Is Too High" at the Book Revue on April 5. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Buzz Aldrin signs a copy of “No Dream Is Too High” at the Book Revue on April 5. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Aldrin rose to prominence for his role in the first lunar landing, stepping out from the lunar module Eagle onto the Moon’s surface right after Commander Neil Armstrong, as command module pilot Michael Collins stayed behind in the spacecraft Columbia in orbit around the Moon. But Aldrin has more recently been noted for his statements and advocacy for reaching Mars, including authoring books on the subject.

In addition to signing copies of “No Dream Is Too High,” Aldrin signed copies of his children’s books.

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Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. File photo by Michael Ruiz

Put it in the books: Emma S. Clark Memorial Library has announced the winners for the Helen Stein Shack picture book award, a contest which showcases the young writing and artistic talent in the Three Village Community.

The grand prize for grades seven through nine went to “Good Night, Judy,” by Katie Zhao. Honorable mention went to “Rainbow,” by Nicole Freeley.

The grand prize for grades 10 through 12 went to “Sal the Sock,” by Michelle Pacala. Honorable mention went to “Honu,” by Samantha White.

“Good Night, Judy,” by Katie is a story with a familiar subject that many young children and their parents can relate to — a girl’s fear of the dark and the noises in her home at night.

“Sal the Sock,” by Pacala is a fun, colorful book whose story is told in a sing song, rhyming tone about a sock who loses his friends in the laundry.

Winning authors will be recognized at a private awards ceremony at Emma Clark Library on April 17, 2016, at 2 p.m. At the reception, a $500 scholarship will be awarded to both grand-prize winners, and bound books for all winning entries will be presented and added to the library’s Local Focus Collection.

In addition, an e-book will be created and made available for all winning entries. Light refreshments will be served at the reception, and desserts are once again being generously donated by The Bite Size Bake Shop, a local Three Village business.

All contest entrants will receive a certificate of participation at the awards ceremony. They will also be given the opportunity, on another date, to record a video reading their book for Community Service credit.

After the awards, at 3 p.m. on April 17, there will be a special story time of the grand prize-winning books. All Three Village residents may register on the library’s website, www.emmaclark.org, for this unique opportunity — to hear the newest winners read their books for the first time — beginning April 1.

The Helen Stein Shack book contest called for teens in grades seven through 12 who live in the Three Village Central School District to create a children’s picture book. Each entry could be the work of a single author/illustrator or a collaborative effort.

The contest was divided into two grade categories, grades 7 through 9 and grades 10 through 12, with one grand prize winner from each group, as well as an honorable mention winner from each category.

This award is given in memory of Helen Stein Shack by her family. As a teacher, Mrs. Shack was committed to the education of children and she especially loved literature written for them.

She was a frequent visitor to the library where, even in retirement, she kept current with the latest children’s books.

At least year’s awards ceremony, Sherry Cleary, daughter of the late Helen Stein Shack, told the audience that the teens who enter this contest “demonstrate empathy, creativity, intellect and a tenacity. This looks sweet, but it is really hard work.”

The cover of Michael Medico’s new novel, The Sainted. Photo from Medico
The cover of Michael Medico’s new novel, The Sainted. Photo from Medico
The cover of Michael Medico’s new novel, The Sainted. Photo from Medico

By Melissa Arnold

Michael Medico of Northport has written for decades in marketing, but now that he’s retired, he’s decided to explore writing fiction. His first novel, “The Sainted,” was released this past fall, and the 69-year-old couldn’t be happier.

The book finds Chris, a devout Catholic from Long Island, experiencing visions and dreams from the saints — ordinary men and women who lived extraordinary lives for God. The dreams begin as helpful advice and guidance, but their messages soon turn dire as the saints warn of impending doom. Chris is thrust into a classic battle of faith and doubt, good and evil, that can speak to readers of all backgrounds.

Medico took some time recently to share what it’s like being a newly published author.

Tell me a little bit about your background.
I was born in Manhattan, raised in the Bronx and then moved out to Long Island when I was about 13 years old. I was in the Navy, and after I got out I was in the advertising industry for 45 years before I retired. I’ve written pretty much my entire life, but it was mostly commercials and articles — not something really ambitious like fiction.
I love reading fiction in my spare time, especially books that deal with suspense, thrillers and the supernatural. I read Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Tom Clancy and many more in that vein. That genre has always interested me, and I thought if I wanted to write fiction, I would try that.

What was it like for you to get published?
I have an agent, Alan Morrell, and we’ve been friends for 25 years. He was able to help me find a publishing company called Brick Tower Press. The process took about a year. It’s beyond a rush, both fun and frustrating, but certainly a very rewarding experience.

What gave you the idea to write a faith-based book? Are you a person of faith?
I’m a lapsed Catholic but am very much a man of faith. I’d gone to both parochial grammar school and high school. So I have a background in Roman Catholicism and have always been inspired by the saints — these real people who lived their lives in an amazing way, regardless of whether they were single or married. Some were even martyred. There are over 10,000 people that the Church honors as saints, and I wanted to help give people an understanding of who they are while writing something entertaining at the same time.
St. Agnes is someone who amazes me. She came into the world surrounded by lights, and her devotion to God throughout her life, even as a little girl, is so inspiring. So many [saints]have faced terrible evils but   are still totally consumed by their love for God.

Early in the book, you described the main character, Chris, in great detail. Is he based off of you in any way?
We do have similarities — we’re both Italian, both grew up Catholic, both raised in the Bronx and moved to Long Island, but he’s a far better man than I am. He continues to go to Mass as an adult. We’re all sinners, and Chris has his flaws, but he’s a truly good man. He represents every man, all of us. He embodies the good and bad of human life. And I think that’s important for the way Satan sees him in the book. Chris is like a trophy for [the devil] — if he can get Chris, he can get anyone.

Michael Medico. Photo from Medico
Michael Medico. Photo from Medico

You’ve paid a lot of homage to New York and Long Island in this book. Why did you choose to have the story take place here?
I guess I really could have set it anywhere, but I grew up in the Bronx and moved to Long Island. My wife and I settled in Huntington — it’s beautiful and has a great culture. They have the arts, restaurants, live music and, most of all, good people. It’s home. I thought that would be the best place for Chris to be.

This story has a classic good versus evil theme. How do you think people today relate to that?
Chris is thrust into the middle of this terrible evil, and I think a lot of us can relate to that in seeing the senseless tragedies that happen here on earth. We all have to find a way to respond to those things.

The book is part of a trilogy. What are your plans for the next two books?
The second book is already finished. We’re just editing it now. And I’ve written the first chapter of the third book.
Those stories will explore how the events in the first book affect people around Chris and, later, the rest of the world. The series will culminate in a great confrontation of good and evil, but I haven’t decided exactly how that will go yet.

Do you hope to write other books after this series is completed?
I’m thoroughly enjoying my writing, and I hope to do it as long as I’m able. It keeps my mind sharp. I’m contemplating writing at least one book for children in the future.

Where can people find the book or learn more about you?
I’ve set up a website at www.thesaintednovel.com. There’s a short bio on me, a sample of the book and ways to purchase it, plus a form to contact me. You can also buy the book online just about everywhere books are sold, including for Kindle and Apple devices.

Michael Medico will hold a book signing at Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington, on March 9 at 7 p.m. For more information, call 631-271-1442 or visit www.bookrevue.com.

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