Book Review

Christine Pendergast with her late husband Christopher

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Kindness. It is not a noun but rather an action word. As I’ve been reflecting on the state of our nation and our world and how out-of-control we are, I was thinking about what is profoundly missing and it is genuine kindness.

Random acts of kindness seem to have been lost in the storm of selfishness and narcissism. We can’t have a simple conversation about anything. Words like us and them have further paralyzed any bridge building. Finding common ground seems like an impossible task.

We are a polarized nation. The extremists on both sides are weaponizing our justice system, our schools and even our religions.

I am disappointed in all of our major religious traditions including my own, because our silence means complicity — supporting behaviors and attitudes that lack mercy, compassion and humility.

Our religious voices should be urging that we find a common ground with respect as our foundation. I believe we can change the world for the better with kindness.

Contrary to the cynicism and negativity that is so infectious, I have seen how the heart of kindness can transform people’s lives.

Fifty-one years ago this year, two young idealistic teachers who wanted to change the world got married. One was a science teacher, the other a special education teacher and school administrator; their power of example and kindness inspired generations of students.

Ten years into his teaching career the science teacher was struck with a terminal illness known as ALS-Lou Gehrig’s disease. For more than 27 years, Dr. Christopher Pendergast lived with ALS. He lived with courage, compassion and kindness. His lifelong companion, his wife, walked with him on this challenging journey.

He and his wife founded “The Ride for Life” — a program to raise awareness and money for ALS research that hopefully someday will find a cure. As this disease continued to limit Dr. Pendergast’s ability to move freely, it never impaired his kindness and compassion for others. His random acts of kindness touched so many people throughout his life.

The book that he and his wife co-authored, “Blink Spoken Here: Tale From a Journey to Within,” is a powerful reminder of how kindness and compassion can transform people’s lives.

Having been blessed to know both of them for more than twenty-five years, I saw firsthand the power of kindness and how it touches people’s hearts and changes people’s lives. When my brother at the age of 36 was struck with ALS, they couldn’t do enough for him, his wife and their two children. My family will never forget their compassion and their kindness.

Their power of example reminds me every day that kindness can change the world and be a bridge for building a better tomorrow.

Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Author Sarah Beth Durst with a copy of her new book, 'Spy Ring.' Photo by Heidi Sutton

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

The prolific and talented writer Sarah Beth Durst has published over two dozen books, with several reviewed in this publication: The Stone Girl’s Story, The Bone Maker, The Deepest Blue, Even and Odd, and most recently, the thriller The Lake House. Durst has a particular gift for world-building, which is most prevalent in her fantasy works. With the Young Adult novel Spy Ring [HarperCollins/Clarion Books], she embarks on a different setting—Long Island and the very real Setauket and its environs. 

Rachel and Joon have been best friends since kindergarten, when they bonded over a pirate fantasy. Now, eleven years old, in July, between fifth and sixth grade, they have decided to be spies. Additionally, the inseparable pair are facing Joon’s imminent move out of the district, both fearing the toll the distance will take on their friendship.

Rachel’s mother is marrying Dave, her longtime boyfriend, of whom Rachel likes and approves. Rachel overhears Dave telling her mother that he wants to give Rachel a family heirloom, a ring that might have belonged to Anna “Nancy” Smith Strong. Strong was possibly the only known female member of the famed Culper Spy Ring that fed vital information to George Washington from 1778 to 1783. (Thus, the double meaning of the title.) Given an opportunity, Rachel sneaks a look at the ring. Engraved on the inside is “August 1 6, 17 13. Find me.” With this first clue, Rachel and Joon initiate a quest to solve the significance of this cryptic inscription. 

Rachel and Joon’s search takes Nancy off the page and makes her real to the two young detectives. The story briskly zig-zags throughout the Three Village area, with visits to the Setauket Presbyterian Church’s cemetery and Patriots Rock, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, the Vance Locke murals at Setauket Elementary School, the Setauket Village Green, Frank Melville Memorial Park, the Setauket Grist Mill, and Caroline Episcopal Church. Durst describes each locale colorfully but succinctly as their hunt becomes an almost “history alive.” Central to the quest is time spent at the invaluable Three Village Historical Society, where they receive help, insight, and encouragement.

Durst has a terrific sense of humor, with the pair garnering one clue by remembering “the worst field trip ever.” She also gives insight into the complicated issue of historical accuracy.

“‘Sometimes historians make mistakes […] or more often, they don’t have all the information yet […] reconstructing history is like piecing together a puzzle where there’s no picture on the box, half the pieces have fallen on the floor, and the cat has eaten a quarter of them. You try to guess what the picture looks like as best you can with what you have.’”

Rachel and Joon learn that the Culper Spy Ring was the most effective espionage organization of the Revolutionary War. None of the spies ever admitted to being spies in their lifetime. Everything is theory, but much unearthed evidence supports these hypotheses. 

The author nimbly weaves historical facts and intriguing gems that paint a vivid picture of the time. She vibrantly imparts Rachel’s excitement:

The fizzing feeling was back. She had in her possession the ring of a spy who’d defied her enemies, aided George Washington, and helped found America. Even better, this spy had sent a message with her ring: Find me. This felt like the moment right before the sun poked over the horizon. Or right before a batch of dark clouds dumped buckets of rain. Or right before she bit into a fresh slice of pizza. 

The ability to communicate not just the narrative but the roiling feelings of the young—this aptly labeled “fizzing”—separates Durst from many less accomplished YA writers. The narrative is more than a mystery but a real novel of summer—of bike rides and bonds that run deep, about the fear of loss and the expectations of the future. 

One of the most evocative descriptions is that of a school during vacation:

It felt so strange to be in the school in July. The hallways looked as if they’d been abandoned. Half the bulletin boards were naked—only plain brown paper with a few leftover staples. Some staples had tufts of colorful construction paper stuck to them, like bits of party food caught in one’s teeth. 

Perfectly conjured is the combination of stillness and expectation. “It was strange to see a classroom without any students in it, in addition to the empty halls. It felt as if the whole school were holding its breath.”

A ring, a stone, a key, a powder horn, a codebook, a family Bible—even rudimentary invisible ink—are all part of this journey that is not so much historical fiction but history adjacent. 

In the end, one of the most powerful statements is the realization of why Strong left the clues. Rachel recognizes that “[Nancy] wanted someone to see her.” Sarah Beth Durst’s engaging Spy Ring offers two heroes. The first is a woman who may or may not have been the burgeoning nation’s Agent 355. The second is a spirited, insightful young person in a lively, magical adventure story.


Meet the author at a book launch hosted by the Three Village Historical Society at the Setauket Neighborhood House, 95 Main St., Setauket on Monday, May 20 at 7 p.m. The event is free. To pre-register, visit For more information, visit

By Melissa Arnold

Author Deborah L. Staunton

Just about every kid has trouble getting to sleep at some point. Whether they’re scared of the dark, worried about monsters under the bed or can’t turn off a chatty brain, restlessness is always unsettling. Through the lens of a curious, resilient protagonist named Josie, Deborah L. Staunton’s new children’s book, Owls Can’t Sing, helps kids face their nighttime fears and celebrates what makes them special. Gorgeously illustrated and fun to read, this book could be a big help — at bedtime or otherwise. 

Tell me about yourself. Did you always want to be a writer?

I grew up in Port Jefferson … I’ve always loved books and writing from as early as elementary school. I can remember my second grade teacher putting on my report card that she loved reading my stories, and I kept a journal beginning around 10 years old. Family, friends and teachers were always so encouraging of my writing.

What did you pursue as a career?

I went to college at the Clarion University of Pennsylvania [now PennWest University Clarion] for early childhood education, and while I was there I fell in love with the theater. So I was still majoring in education, but I was at the theater every free moment I had. Later, I went back to school for theater arts ­— I spent one year at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, and ultimately graduated from SUNY New Paltz. I developed a background in both children’s theater and adult theater, did a lot with stage management and lighting, and worked on the tech side of those things for many years.

So you’re trained in education and theater — where does writing fit in?

Writing plays such a huge part in my life. In so many ways, it’s what saved me. I’ve been through a lot, and writing is my coping mechanism. It’s the way I sort through things. I’ve had many pieces published in literary journals and magazines, and I also had a book come out last summer called Untethered, which is a memoir in poetry and short prose. It’s about my growing up with a mentally ill father, raising a mentally ill daughter, and experiencing four miscarriages along the way.

Is Owls Can’t Sing your first foray into children’s literature?

Not really — but it is my first work for children that was published. I always thought children’s literature would be my path toward publishing. I started sending out different manuscripts as far back as 1990, but the market is so inundated and I never got anywhere. I continued to write and attend writing conferences, publishing short pieces here and there until Untethered took shape, but I never gave up on kids’ books.

How did you finally publish Owls Can’t Sing?

I belong to the Author’s Guild [a national, professional organization for published writers], and a woman from there posted that her sister was starting a new publishing company called Two Sisters Press. They were seeking submissions, so I sent in my memoir and the children’s manuscript. Ultimately, they loved both, so I went from nothing to having two books published in less than a year! It’s been wonderful. 

Did you ever think about self-publishing? Why did you go the traditional route?

I pursued traditional publishing because, truthfully, I wanted validation that I really was talented and had something to offer. It was a dream of mine, and I was willing to do the hard work, taking rejections and feedback and eventually having someone choose me. It wasn’t without its disappointments or frustrations, but it was absolutely worth it.

How did you connect with the illustrator, Akikuzzaman Utshoo?

My publisher had a few illustrators I could choose from, but their styles weren’t what I had in mind, So I took on the financial responsibility of finding someone on my own. I went on the website Fiverr and saw an example cover illustration which was very similar to what is now the cover of Owls Can’t Sing. I just loved it. It was a painstaking process of working on one illustration at a time while navigating language barriers between us. Pictures are such a big part of children’s books, and I’m so glad it came out the way I envisioned.

What was the writing process like? Was this the original concept from years ago?

No, I had written a different children’s book back in the 1990s. In 2013, I met a woman at a writers’  conference who had many children’s books published. I asked if she was willing to work with me privately, and we talked weekly on the phone for eight weeks. When I gave her the manuscript, we started formulating a totally new idea. She asked me what my daughter was studying in school, and at the time it was owls. By the end of eight weeks, we had a new manuscript that didn’t resemble the original at all.

Is the main character, Josie, based on someone in your life?

My daughter is 18 and my son is 14. The character of Josie is inspired by my daughter, who has struggled with a lot in her life, including sleep. I want people to know that we don’t all fit into the same box. We don’t all have to be neurotypical, or exactly the same as everyone else, to be “normal.” We are who we are, and that’s fine.

Is there a recommended age for this book?

It’s good for all ages, but would be the best fit for ages 3 to 8. 

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a collection of poetry in memory of two friends that I’ve lost, and hopefully another children’s project, including one with my dad.

What advice would you give to people who are thinking about writing a book?

Never stop writing, and don’t be afraid to share your story because we all have a story to tell! Find the right people who are willing to give you good feedback along the way and help you to become a stronger writer. It doesn’t have to be a fancy program. But don’t go through the writing process alone.


Owls Can’t Sing is available at your favorite online booksellers. Partial proceeds from the book will go to the International Owl Center ( Meet Deborah L. Staunton at Rocky Point Day at Rocky Point High School, 82 Rocky Point Yaphank Road, Rocky Point on May 19 where she will be selling and signing copies of her books from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Follow her online at and on social media @DeborahLStaunton.

2014 — 2024: This year marks a decade of celebrating the creative writing and artistic talent from junior high and high school students of the Three Village community. 

Emma Clark Library is overjoyed to reach this significant milestone. Those in grades 7 to 12, who reside in the Three Village Central School District, created an original picture book for children, in hopes of winning a substantial monetary prize and recognition. Their hard work paid off. Library board members & staff, the family of the late Helen Stein Shack, local elected officials, representatives from the Three Village Central School District, and guests all gathered on Monday, April 8 to honor the winners of the 10th annual Helen Stein Shack Picture Book Award:

First Prize in the Grades 7 to  9 category was awarded to Elizabeth Wright, a 9th grader at Gelinas Junior High School, for her children’s book titled Danny’s Birthday while Julia Hou, a 10th grader at Ward Melville High School, captured first prize in the Grades 10 to 12 category for her book Billy the Unusual Giraffe.

Juni Een, a homeschooled 8th grader, won second prize for her children’s book Our Trip to Estonia in the Grades 7 to 9 category and Sleepless Saturday, authored by Claire Sloniewsky and illustrated by Justine Bushman, both 11th graders at Ward Melville High School, snagged second prize in the Grades 10 to 12 category.

Library Director Ted Gutmann, along with the family of the late Helen Stein Shack, presented the winners’ books — bound and added to the Library’s Local Focus Collection — along with $400 checks to the first prize winners and $100 checks for the second prize winners.

Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich and a staff member from Assemblyman Ed Flood’s office were in attendance, and they presented certificates to the winners. The winners also received certificates from New York State Senator Anthony Palumbo.

Mr. Gutmann remarked that he thought the illustrations were particularly impressive this year.  One of Ms. Stein Shack’s daughters, Karen Shack Reid, reflected on the past ten years and recalled many of the wonderful winning entries throughout the decade. She also emphasized that it’s not just about the creativity, but also about the confidence that this contest builds and how important that confidence was to her mother. 

Library Board President Christopher Fletcher and Treasurer David Douglas were there to congratulate the winners.  President of the Three Village Central School District Board of Education Susan Megroz Rosenzweig, Superintendent Kevin Scanlon, Gelinas Junior High School Principal Corinne Keane, Ward Melville High School Assistant Principal Stacey Zeidman, Three Village Art Department Chairperson Jennifer Trettner, Gelinas Junior High English Department Chairperson Joanna Cadolino, and the Ward Melville High School Librarian April Hatcher were all in attendance.

Guests enjoyed sweets by The Bite Size Bake Shop, a local Three Village-owned business that has been donating desserts to the ceremony for the past ten years 

Eleven years ago, the children of the late Mrs. Shack approached the Library with the idea of establishing an endowment as a tribute to their mother, a teacher and lover of libraries, especially Emma Clark Library. After meeting with staff and discussing possibilities, the idea for this cherished contest was born. Their gift covers the cost of the awards and passes along Ms. Shack’s joy of reading and lifelong learning to future generations. 

The Helen Stein Shack Book Contest calls for teens in grades 7 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 between an author and an illustrator. The contest was divided into two grade categories, grades 7 through 9 and grades 10 through 12, with one First Prize Winner and one Second Prize Winner selected from each group.  

In speaking to the family of the late Ms. Stein Shack, Councilmember Kornreich remarked, “I just want to thank you for this beautiful living gift that you’ve created for this community in honor of your mother. It really is such a beautiful opportunity for these kids to develop and shine and for us all to share. Thank you very, very much for the palpable love that you brought to this endeavor.”

“Here’s to the next ten years,” proclaimed Ms. Shack Reid.

Author Maria Dello with her dog Theodor.

By Melissa Arnold

Author Maria Dello at a recent book signing.

Maria Dello of Westbury has spent the past 20 years teaching others how to improve their lives through good nutrition. She also has a deep love for animals, and over time she began to consider how she might make a difference in their lives, too. As shelters filled again when the pandemic eased, Dello wanted to spread the message that dogs require a lifelong commitment of time, love and care. Her first book for children, Theodor Says: Dogs are People Too!, draws connections between human and animal needs through the adventures of her real-life pup, Theo. This book is an excellent introduction to animal care, especially for early readers.

Did you have pets growing up that made a big impact on you?

I grew up in Westbury, and our street was comprised entirely of our relatives. We all had dogs, and there were also chickens, some rabbits, a lamb, and a pony. I was always a nurturer — the one that would be out feeding a baby chick in the incubator with a little eyedropper of sugar water. I was the youngest of five children, and I always had a German Shepherd who would be my buddy, so my love for them began when I was young. I learned compassion from my grandmother and the other members of my family. They taught me that all of us need to be cared for, and that animals give us such love. 

Tell me about Prince, the dog on the inside cover of your book.

Prince was my previous German Shepherd that I had for almost 13 years. I learned so much from Prince, especially his incredible intelligence and the skill he had for reading body language and understanding what was going on with the people around him. He was a constant source of comfort for my elderly parents, and we were amazed at the depth of his feelings. That was a real “a-ha” moment for me — that he felt many of the same emotions that humans do, and that there are great health benefits to sharing our lives with them. After his passing, I really wasn’t ready to get another dog, so I started working with rescue organizations and doing some schooling toward training dogs.

You ended up becoming a nutritionist. How did you become interested in animal nutrition?

I went to school for science at SUNY Farmingdale, and then went on to study nutrition at the American Health Science University. During that time, I became fascinated by all of the natural ways of treating various conditions. I was constantly learning and going to seminars, and had a lot of exposure to alternative medicine that made a big impact on me. I ended up working with a cardiologist and eventually opening my own nutrition practice. My focus was on human patients, but I always had an interest in doing what I could to support the nutrition of my animals as well.

I would take a variety of online courses about nutrition and dogs. During the pandemic, so many people were getting dogs to keep them company during the lockdown. My patients would occasionally ask me questions about their dogs, from nutrition questions to advice about behavior. 

So when did you first start thinking about writing a children’s book? 

Theodor the German Shepherd poses with Dello’s first children’s book.

As people went back to work [post-pandemic], so many dogs were struggling with their families no longer being home, or just not being given the same degree of care. But they still need walks, food, baths, medicine, companionship. You make a serious commitment when you bring a dog home, and they can’t just live in a crate or in a doggy daycare. Some people don’t understand that puppies like to chew on things, or they might pull on their leash during a walk. That’s not their fault — they need our help to learn manners. 

As rescues and shelters began to fill, I felt the need to educate others about what dogs need. They have so many of the same needs and feelings that we do, which inspired the title of the book: Dogs are People, Too. 

I’ve been writing a nutrition column for more than 15 years, so I have writing experience. I decided that a children’s book would be the best place to start because that’s where learning begins, when we’re young. Look at me — the compassion I developed for animals began when I was small and was exposed to those good habits.

Did you pursue traditional publishing or self-publish?

I started writing in 2022, and it took about two years to complete. I did a lot of work researching publishers, and I appreciated that this publisher, Fulton Books, was like a one-stop shop. They provided everything I needed, including an in-house illustrator. 

Is there a target age in mind for this book?

It’s short and sweet, but when you show this book to a kid, they respond to the bright colors and the activities that Theodor is doing. It’s written in simple language, but it will be a great teaching tool for kids of any age, from 3 to 13.

Are there health benefits to having a dog?

First, it’s important to do your research before you get a dog, and choose the kind of dog that matches your lifestyle. Someone who isn’t very active wouldn’t do well with a German Shepherd. They need a calm lap dog that will keep them company.

Even the simple act of petting a dog has been shown to lower blood pressure, and there was a study done recently that showed people were 33% more likely to survive a heart attack if they had a dog at home. If you walk your dog for 30 minutes in the morning, then a few times later in the day, suddenly you’ve walked an hour together. You get fresh air, you bond with the dog, you meet people around you … it doesn’t just benefit them, but it also improves your health, physically and emotionally.


Theodor Says: Dogs are People Too! is available now at your favorite online booksellers. Join author Maria Dello for a book reading and book signing at The Next Chapter, 204 New York Ave., Huntington on Tuesday, April 16 at 7 p.m. Keep up with Theodor at, and learn more about Maria Dello at

The Public Libraries of Suffolk County recently announced that its patrons reached a new milestone: 3.6 million digital books borrowed on in 2023. Consisting of over 56 libraries in Suffolk County, is #15 of all public library consortia and one of 152 total public library systems worldwide that surpassed one million checkouts last calendar year. member libraries have been providing readers 24/7 access to e-books, audiobooks, comic books and other digital content for several years through the award-winning Libby app, the library reading app created by OverDrive. Member libraries include Smithtown Library, Sachem Public Library in Holbrook, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket, Middle Country Public Library in Centereach and Selden, Longwood Public Library in Middle Island and Northport–East Northport Public Library. 

“The Public Libraries of Suffolk County continue to meet the needs of their communities by providing patrons with much-needed access to a wide variety of entertainment and learning opportunities through e-books and audiobooks,” said Kevin Verbesey, Director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System. 

The highest-circulating title readers borrowed in 2023 was Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. The New York Times bestseller tells the story of Elizabeth Zott, who becomes a beloved cooking show host in 1960s Southern California after being fired as a chemist four years earlier.

The top-circulating genre, romance, represents the most popular in a vast catalog that also includes thriller, suspense, mystery, children/young adult and more. 

The top five e-book titles borrowed through’s digital collection in 2023 were:

1. Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

2. Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult

3. It Starts with Us by Colleen Hoover

4. Verity by Colleen Hoover

5. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

The top five audiobook titles borrowed through’s digital collection in 2023 were:

1. Spare by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex 

2. Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus 

3. Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros 

4. It Starts with Us by Colleen Hoover 

5. The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

Suffolk County residents just need a valid library card from a member library to access digital books from Livebrary’s OverDrive-powered digital collection.  Readers can use any major device, including Apple(R), Android™, Chromebook™ and Kindle(R) (U.S. only). Download the Libby app or visit to borrow e-books, audiobooks and more.

This article originally appeared in TBR News Media’s Prime Times senior supplement on 01/25/24.

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'Hope and Freckles: Learning to Live in a New Land' cover

By Melissa Arnold

Author Bill Kiley

Four years ago, Bill Kiley of East Northport published his first book for children, Hope and Freckles: Fleeing to a Better Forest. The book follows a mother deer, Hope, and her young fawn, Freckles, as their lifelong home in the Olden Forest becomes increasingly dangerous. Food is also scarce, and the pair have no choice but to run away in search of a safer place to live.

Now Kiley has published a second book in the series, Hope and Freckles: Learning to Live in a New Land.

As the newest residents of the Big Pine Forest, Hope and Freckles each struggle in their own ways to adjust to life in their new home. The language spoken in Big Pine Forest is unfamiliar, and while young Freckles catches on quickly, Hope lags behind and needs help communicating with others.

Big Pine’s reaction to Hope and Freckles is mixed, and not all of their neighbors are kind. Some are curious about the newcomers, who have a different fur color and eat strange foods, while others are suspicious or even rude. Hope and Freckles have to make daily decisions about when to blend in and when to honor their own ways of doing things.

As in the previous Hope and Freckles installment, this story gives young readers a first glimpse into the difficult choices made by refugees and immigrants seeking a fresh start in the United States. The book gently and compassionately explains concepts like asylum-seeking, discrimination, cultural traditions and assimilation in an age-appropriate way.

There’s something for everyone in this book — toddlers will love the vivid wildlife art and adorable faces of the characters. Illustrator Mary Manning has a classic style that’s perfect for a children’s book, and it’s hard not to think of Bambi while moving through the story.

For older readers who are ready to explore the book’s deeper message, a useful collection of vocabulary words, questions and resources will help kick off discussions about real-world issues. Teachers, parents and other adult leaders can easily build a lesson around this material.

Kiley spent more than 30 years in law enforcement and was profoundly impacted by the experiences of immigrants and refugees he met. Their reasons for leaving home spanned from famine and drought to political upheaval and oppression.

Following his retirement, political issues and humanitarian crises around the world led Kiley to do more research on refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates there are currently 37 million refugees around the world.

“I became frustrated by the negative opinions held by some people toward all immigrants, and I wanted to do what I could to change those views. So I thought, what if I wrote a book series geared toward children that could introduce them to the difficulties faced by refugees, while also making an impact on the adults who read along with them?” he recalled.

Since then, he’s spoken in schools and churches about immigration issues, and even visited college students to talk about writing children’s literature.

While the Hope and Freckles books are geared towards younger readers, one especially poignant memory for Kiley came from a visit to a local high school. He told the students to imagine coming home from school and being told they needed to leave their home forever in 30 minutes, and could only bring a backpack.

Their teacher had the students do the exercise at home, then write a reflection about what items they packed and how they felt throughout the process.

“I was so impressed by the feelings they shared about that experience … most importantly, that they had never considered what it would be like to have to leave everything you love behind and that their eyes were opened to what other people are facing,” Kiley said. 

The author hopes that his books encourage readers to reach out to people who are different from them, including those of various races, cultures, economic backgrounds and social identities.

Kiley is currently working on a third Hope and Freckles book that focuses on what causes “othering” and discrimination. He aims to include animal characters with disabilities, as well as different family structures and religious beliefs.

“I have a deeply-held belief that we are all brothers and sisters,” he said. “We can choose to ignore people who are suffering, we can choose to reject or demonize them, or we can educate ourselves, talk to one another and work to find solutions.”

Hope and Freckles: Learning to Live in a New Land is available at your favorite online booksellers. For educational resources, updates and more from Bill Kiley, visit

The Whaling Museum & Education Center, 301 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor has announced its third season of Beyond the Book club. After two successful seasons of this unique, thematic book club, the museum has gained a consistent member base. Even so, there is still room for more bookish folks enamored with the sea to participate. Participants will enjoy fascinating stories paired with the museum’s collection and a special matching snack.

This unique book club series has the museum education team hand selecting texts that are inspired by the sea and utilizes the museum’s collection of over 6,000 artifacts to bring club members closer to the story. Participants are invited to make connections, personal and historical, through up close interactions with relevant objects and facts from Long Island’s maritime past.

Through this tangible way of interacting with objects, book clubbers are immersed in the theme of the text and find new perspectives to understand the narrative. In addition, the museum education team pairs a special snack with the text for each session, further engaging participants. 

Liz Cousins, a participant in this past fall and spring book club sessions, had this to say about Beyond the Book — “Thanks again for putting this book club together! I’m not usually a “book club” type  […] but THIS, I LOVE.” The Whaling Museum’s book club aims to gain a new audience of readers through this unique approach. 

The January session will take place on Jan. 25. Book clubbers will gather to discuss The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery followed by an examination of historical documents from the museum’s collection that reveal how 19th century whalers viewed whales and how these views have changed over time.

The February session will take place on Feb. 29 featuring Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. Enjoy an intimate look at the museum’s special exhibit From Sea to Shining Sea: Whalers of the African Diaspora and discover the surprising role the whaling industry played in carrying people to freedom.

Lastly, on March 28, book clubbers will gather to discuss Ahab’s Wife, or The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund. Participants will inspect artifacts and writings left behind by Cold Spring Harbor whaling wives to see how closely Naslund’s fiction imitates fact.

“It has been an absolute joy to watch our book club continue to grow and to be a part of the wonderful community that has formed during these sessions.  We can’t wait to share more of our collection and explore new stories with this group in the new year,” said Brenna McCormick-Thompson, Curator of Education.

Each book club meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. and is approximately 1 hour long. Coffee (compliments of Starbucks of Huntington Village), tea and cookies will be served.

Beyond the Book club sessions are free for museum members and patrons of the museum’s partner libraries, Huntington Public Library and South Huntington Public Library. All others may attend for $15 per session. Register at For more information, call 631-367-3418.

This article originally appeared in TBR News Media’s Prime Times senior supplement on 01/25/24.

Douglas Pfeiffer. Photo from SBU

Douglas Pfeiffer, associate professor in the Department of English in the College of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook University recently received an honorable mention from the Modern Language Association of America (MLA) for his book “Authorial Personality and the Making of Renaissance Texts: The Force of Character.” The MLA recently reported Pfeiffer’s distinction through a news release announcing the 2023 MLA Prize for a First Book, which was awarded to Vanderbilt University’s Akshya Saxena.

According to the MLA, this annual award honors an exceptional scholarly work authored by one of the association’s 20,000 global members and published the previous year as their first book-length text. Eligible works include literary or linguistic studies, critical editions of important texts, and critical biographies. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the award.

“I feel extremely gratified and proud to see a project that I’ve been following since its early stages get recognized as a major contribution not only to Professor Pfeiffer’s field of early modern studies, but to the general field of literary scholarship,” said Andrew Newman, professor and chair of the Department of English. “Anyone who reads it will come away with a much richer understanding of authorship.”

In addition, Pfeiffer’s book was also recently awarded the Roland Bainton Prize which was selected  by the Sixteenth Century Society which recognized its quality/originality of research; methodological skill and/or innovation; development of fresh and stimulating interpretations or insights and the book’s literary quality.

Professor Pfeiffer is an expert on the history of rhetorical and literary theory, Renaissance humanism, and English poetry of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A former professor at the University of California, Irvine, he joined the faculty at Stony Brook in 2007 and went on to receive a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in teaching in 2022. He holds a PhD from Columbia University.

The MLA announcement cites Professor Pfeiffer’s book as “a tremendous achievement. In this substantial volume,” it continues, “Pfeiffer traces the phenomenon of author centrism to the scholarship of early Renaissance humanists. Focusing on several well-chosen case studies, this deeply researched multilingual monograph brings welcome new interpretations and insights not only to Renaissance studies but to literary studies more broadly.”

The Prize for a First Book, along with 21 additional MLA awards, will be presented at the association’s annual convention in Philadelphia on Friday, January 5, 2024.

Reviewed by John Turner 

We humans have done a pretty good job at mucking up the planet, scraping away the planet’s skin for minerals and timber, farms and ranches, not to mention the type of development that characterizes so much of Long Island — shopping centers, industrial parks, and residences. These impacted places, especially the first few, lend themselves well to rewilding to restore the natural, living fabric that was once there.  

You might reasonably ask “What is rewilding?” not to mention what wilding means. As we learn in The Book of Wilding: A Practical Guide to Rewilding Big and Small (Bloomsbury Publishing  PLC) by Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell, it is a form of ecological restoration (to restore to the wild condition). What separates it from typical ecological restoration efforts, however, is that the rewilder may not try to restore exactly what was once there or definitively know what species end up colonizing a rewilded site. In this regard rewilding falls in between active, intense hands-on ecological manipulation and non-intervention or just letting “nature take its course.” 

The concept of rewilding developed in the late 20th century when several conservationists offered a vision of North America, rewilded through the implementation of three “C’s” as guiding principles — cores, connectors, and carnivores. Cores involve the expansion of national parks and other public spaces; connectors involve land protection work to connect these expanded public spaces so wildlife can move between sites to promote genetic health among species through genetic exchange and as a hedge again local extirpation in one area; and, lastly, carnivores means the introduction of predators such as wolves, bears, etc. where possible, recognizing the critical role they play in maintain the health of ecosystems.

In Europe, where there are not the expansive wilderness areas like those found in North America, rewilding has taken on a slightly different definition or tone. Here it is viewed as “kickstarting the ecosystem” or as the authors state: “Putting nature back in the driver’s seat.” They do this by restoring rivers and wetlands by restoring their hydrology, promoting keystone species (species that play a disproportionate role in maintaining the stability of a natural community just as a keystone in an arch keeps an entire arch intact), reintroducing missing species (or if they cannot be reintroduced due to extirpation introduction of surrogate species that behave in a similar way ecologically) and implementing strategies to promote biodiversity, which as its name suggests is the full suite of living things in a specific area.       

We learn this and so many other things in this rewilding guide. And what a guide it is, all 559 pages worth, providing both breadth and depth on insights, principles, ideas, and strategies on rewilding. It is easy to get intimidated by this book given its level of detail and the sheer amount of information it contains. However, it is written in a clear and straightforward style, the authors recounting years of experience in their effort to rewild  a 3,500 acre estate in West Sussex, Great Britain. 

The book is a “how to guide,” covering all the elements necessary to make places that have been compromised once again ecologically diverse and stable, thereby providing the numerous benefits in the form of goods and services intact wild areas provide (e.g. clean water and air, soil creation, timber and wild food production). 

While some chapters on wilding have limited applicability to Long Island or New York State, such as introducing large herbivores, a number of chapters in the book have specific relevance to Long Island.

One such chapter is the discussion on “rewilding water.” As the authors note,  wetlands — rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, bogs, marshes etc.  — cover a tiny percentage of the Earth’s  surface, estimated to be about 1 to 2%, but contain habitat for 10% of  all animal species and 30% of all vertebrate species. It is clear: wetlands are important from an ecological and biodiversity perspective. 

What are the elements of rewilding a wetland, say, a stream? 

◆ Restore naturally meandering, S-shape channels in the waterway if previously straightened (so many streams and rivers have been in an effort to carry water away); 

◆ Revegetate the banks to eliminate erosion and plant trees along the banks to create shade that create cooler water conditions conducive for fish like trout (the authors recommend 50% of the water surface be shaded);

◆ Leave tree trunks and branches that have fallen in the stream since they provide hiding places for aquatic wildlife; 

◆ Create pools in the stream bed so water remains for invertebrates and fish during low water periods and create gravel bars that provide microhabitat for invertebrates; 

“Daylighting” streams by unburying them and removing structural conduits; and

◆ Removing weirs, dams and other impediments to the movement of fish and other aquatic animals.  

This last recommendation has special relevance to Long Island as the overwhelming number of streams contain obstacles from past road and railroad construction and placement of grist mills. Dam removal would immediately help a number of species such as river herring and American eel. 

The book makes similar constructive recommendations relating to other rewilding elements such as vegetation and with animals. A section entitled “Rewilding Your Garden — Applying rewilding principles in a small place” may be of special interest to homeowners. It contains great tips on how to make the surroundings around a home more diverse and environmentally friendly, not to mention beautiful.  

Each chapter has an introduction and then for ease of reading has distinguishing green colored pages which highlight a separate but related section providing informative specifics of the rewilding effort; these are called “Putting It Into Practice”. This approach is useful in distinguishing theoretical and scientific underpinnings of rewilding from the practical steps needed to achieve the desired rewilding element.  

Underpinning this book is an optimistic perspective that with careful, sensitive and appropriate human intervention, nature can heal itself, if given half a chance. 

As the book makes clear, if the ideas, strategies, and recommendations flowing from rewilding principles are implemented in your backyard garden, neighborhood park, or on a much larger scale knitting together national parks, the natural world will be a more healthy, diverse, richer and beautiful place.  

The Book of Wilding: A Practical Guide to Rewilding Big and Small is available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.