Book Review

By Stephanie Giunta

Author Claire N. Rubman, PhD

March is designated as National Reading Month, in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. It’s a month where Americans of all ages are encouraged to read every day and recognize the enjoyment and fun derived from one of life’s greatest pastimes. Most importantly, it’s a great time to reinforce the beauty and adventure associated with reading to young children. And that’s exactly what Claire N. Rubman is conveying to parents in her new book, This May Be Difficult to Read: But You Really Should (For Your Child’s Sake). 

Rubman, a cognitive developmental psychologist, teacher, and Three Village resident for 30+ years, has seen the first-hand struggle of chronic reading problems that impact children and can follow into young adulthood. Credentials aside, as a mother of three children, she truly believes that the key to eliciting meaning behind reading and creating a comprehensive relationship with text can be achieved by taking a rather simplistic approach: make reading fun — for both parents and children.

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, especially in the post-pandemic world that we live in, reading has become less of a priority. Most families live in dual-income homes, race the clock to complete work, start the nighttime routine, and relax. But Rubman notes that reading should be integrated into the daily structure of the home, so that it is as relaxed as a dinner table conversation.

When reading is so closely-intertwined into everyday life and isn’t viewed as a structured event, the mysteries and adventures through print and text become constant fixtures in the family setting, promoting stimulation and critical thinking in children’s minds. Rubman suggests replacing decoding with imagination; letting children explore pictures and words, bringing character development to life. And you, as the parent, are there to cheer them on through the process — regardless of their literary independence.

To create the need to read, we need to better understand how children process information. “Children are not little adults.  They process information much differently than we do. They are taught how to spell, what words are, but not to put the entire process together,” says Rubman. This level of research is what prompted the creation of her book — to demystify the differences between reading and reading comprehension in young children.  Children need the proper background information and context to truly understand what they are reading. They have phenomenal memories and rote repetition can yield positive levels of reading comprehension, but to Rubman’s point, that doesn’t mean they understand or appreciate the context. 

So, this is where parents have to step in.

Reading is the linchpin of all future learning, and though it is taught in the classroom, it needs to be celebrated within the home. Dedicating 1:1 interaction with children from a young age can show how beautiful reading is: a much more stimulating activity than passively watching TV as a family. To do this, we need to engage in a ‘reading renaissance’ and move our relationship with it into the 21st century. 

Moreover, Rubman notes that we need to slow down and enjoy the journey as parents, which ties directly into a healthy relationship with reading. Parents must focus on the big picture — the adventure and enjoyment associated with reading — as opposed to the narrow, nitty gritty of cognitive development. All children learn at different paces and will achieve educational milestones at different times. That being said, parents need to take a breath and appreciate parent/child bonding for what it is, and how reading can further enhance that bond. 

This May Be Difficult to Read is aimed to be a hopeful catalyst for parents to make positive changes at home; to meet their children at their level and learn how reading can be made enjoyable again; to create a child-centered family, embrace mistakes and celebrate differences in trajectory. Parents should learn to think as their children think, and process as they process. They should let their children lead, and learn to follow them throughout every step on their journey. 

The greatest drop in reading has occurred in the last 50 years, and Rubman is trying to turn it around by reinstating emotional value as a key ingredient in the educational recipe; by rewarding the effort and not the outcome; by helping parents help themselves; by making a trip to the library just as fun and important as going to get ice cream or a new toy. 

In our interview, Rubman left me with an insightful nugget: “Play soccer because it’s fun to play soccer — not to get on the travel team, not for college.” Parents need to set the bar to make reading into the recreational activity that it is — not a chore or step towards a greater goal. It’s an adventure, an escape from reality … a chance to learn something new … because childhood hobbies typically turn into adulthood passions; and the love of reading is a true, generational gift that we need to keep giving.


This May Be Difficult to Read: But You Really Should (For Your Child’s Sake) is the recipient of a Kirkus star, a 2023 National Parenting Product Award, Mom’s Choice Gold Award, earned “Recommended” status from U.S. Review of Books, and a received a 2023 Independent Press Award as “Distinguished Favorite” in Education. The book is available at and

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Scottish actor Alan Cumming launched to prominence with the 1998 Broadway revival of Cabaret. Having first played the role at London’s Donmar Warehouse, the Sam Mendes-directed production shifted Cumming from working actor to star. He returned to his award-winning role in the 2014 revival. In the course of a three-decade career, he has amassed a huge list of acting credits: onstage (everything from Noel Coward’s Design for Living to a one-person MacBeth), screen (Titus, GoldenEye, Spy Kids), and television (The Good Wife). 

In addition, Cumming is a director, an LGBTQ+ activist, and a gifted writer. Unlike many celebrities who have found their way onto the printed page via “as told to” or ghosted autobiographies, Cumming’s first work was the novel Tommy’s Tale (2002). The book was a darkly comic and highly revealing roman a clef. He followed this with a fascinating and complicated look at his relationship with his abusive father, Not My Father’s Son (2014), directly resulting from his appearance on the genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? 

His next work, You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams: My Life in Story and Pictures (2016), presented a mediation on his life through his personal cache of photos. The book served as almost a sketch for his powerful memoir Baggage: Tales from a Fully Packed Life (2021). 

In all his works, he is forthcoming about his struggles, triumphs, doubts, and desires. Baggage is a clear-eyed, sometimes outrageous but always honest account of a career with many highs but also an equal number of challenges. He is forthcoming about his substance use, his relationships, and his struggles. 

Unflinching accounts of partying are juxtaposed with revelations about his family and those closest to him. Whenever possible, he praises his artistic collaborators. He reserves overwhelming gratitude for friends who have stood by him in dark times. He shares his joy and appreciation for meeting his husband, Grant Shaffer. (Cumming discusses the difficulties of his first marriage to actor Hilary Lyon, with whom he planned on having children.) 

Throughout the book, his wit shines through, often in gallows humor when describing particularly difficult outings (such as his work as Nightcrawler in X2). The details in his stage and screen work beautifully portray a performer’s life, recounting and dissecting everything from  auditions to closings. He offers insight into film shoots, red carpets, and press junkets. 

Cumming balances self-deprecation with a sense of accomplishment. He reveals a strong survival streak in a man who has grappled with and overcome his demons. Even his meditation and views on the term “making love” are revelatory. “The more my life has changed, the closer I have come to a place of authenticity. Although I began this book by refuting the notion of having triumphed, I do see great victory in becoming yourself.”

Cumming will appear at the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington on Feb. 24, at 7:30 p.m. The sold-out event will include a screen of the documentary My Old School. 

A scene from ‘My Old School’

The 2022 documentary deals with the Brandon Lee scandal. In 1995, authorities discovered the supposedly seventeen year-old Bearsden Academy student, Brandon Lee, was actually a thirty-year-old former student, Brian MacKinnon. The film explores the bizarre story with a combination of present-day interviews with MacKinnon’s fellow students and teachers, animated recreations, and archival footage. While MacKinnon agreed to be interviewed, he declined to appear. Instead, Alan Cumming stands in for him, lip syncing the audio of the interviews. The film premiered virtually at the 2022 Sundance Festival. 

Following the film and a discussion, Cumming will sign copies of his book, Baggage, at a reception that includes a live jazz performance by guitarist Mike Soloway and drummer Mike Leuci.

For more information, call 631-423-7610.

Photo from Whaling Museum of Cold Spring Harbor

The Whaling Museum & Education Center, 301 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor has announced it will host a new book club beginning in February. Titled Beyond the Book, the book club will  dive deeper into stories through connections with the museum’s historic collections.

The Whaling Museum invites adults to read at home and then join us at the Museum for book club discussions and educator-led talks that use the museum’s collection to make meaningful connections to the texts. In addition, registrants will receive a brief video at the start of the month presenting a  discussion question and a highlight from the museum’s collection in relation to it. 

“History offers readers the opportunity to relive so many adventures, stories, and experiences. Our museum ‘s 6,000-item collection can help bring a deeper level of understanding and relatability about the past. We are excited to expand our ongoing partnerships with nearby libraries to increase adult programming for locals,” said Nomi Dayan, Executive Director of The Whaling Museum.

The debut session will take place on Thursday, Feb. 23 and features the book Whaling Captains of Color: America’s First Meritocracy by Skip Finley. In perfect timing with Black History Month and African American Read-In Month, this book provides a fascinating look into the lesser-known lives of African American whaling captains and is the perfect segue to the museum’s new special exhibit, From Sea to Shining Sea: Whalers of the African Diaspora. 

During the book club meeting a museum educator will guide the discussion and share special components of this exhibit relating to and expanding on the text from the book. 

On Thursday, March 23, Beyond the Book will feature In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick. This book details the loss of the whaleship Essex in 1820, the event which inspired the quintessential book Moby Dick. 

Readers are invited to get up close with the heart of this story by exploring the museum’s historic whaleboat — the only fully equipped whaling vessel with its original gear on display in New York — which truly brings the book’s theme to light. An educator-led talk and discussion will leave readers with a clear understanding of what it means to live on a whaleboat for weeks, even months at time.

On Thursday, April 27, the book club will feature Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly. This book explores the golden age of piracy and the truth behind many pirate legends. The educator-led talk and discussion will highlight the life of Huntingtonian Enoch Conklin (1763-ca.1815) a privateer during the War of 1812 as well as a ship builder, sailor and captain. Artifacts relating to Conklin’s life will be showcased for participants to see and explore.

Each book club meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. and is approximately 1 hour long. Coffee, tea and cookies will be served.

Beyond the Book club sessions are free for museum members and patrons of the museum’s partner libraries. 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 supplement on Jan. 26.

'The Last Thing He Told Me' by Laura Dave was the most requested audiobook among Suffolk County library patrons in 2022.

The Public Libraries of Suffolk County recently announced that it reached a record-breaking three million digital book checkouts on in 2022. This milestone illustrates the continued growth and importance of library lending of e-books, audiobooks and other digital media as well as the library’s success in serving all members of the community. 

Livebrary, consisting of 56 libraries in Suffolk County, is #13 of all public library consortia, one of 129 public library systems worldwide and third in New York that surpassed one million checkouts last calendar year.

The Public Libraries of Suffolk County have been providing readers 24/7 access to e-books and audiobooks for several years through the award-winning Libby app, the library reading app created by OverDrive. The large collection serves readers of all ages and interests, and usage has grown every year.

“The Public Libraries of Suffolk County continue to provide access to a diverse collection of e-books and audiobooks giving readers the opportunity to connect with a wealth of information and entertainment from wherever they may be,” said Kevin Verbesey, Director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System.

The highest-circulating title Livebrary readers borrowed in 2022 was The Last Thing He Told Me by internationally bestselling author Laura Dave. The instant #1 New York Times bestselling mystery and Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick is about a woman searching for the truth about her husband’s disappearance…at any cost. The top-circulating genre, romance, represents the most popular in a vast catalog that also includes mystery, fantasy, children/young adult and more.

The top five e-book titles borrowed through Livebrary’s digital collection in 2022 were:

1. Verity by Colleen Hoover

2. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

3. Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

4. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

5. The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

The top five audiobook titles borrowed through Livebrary’s digital collection in 2022 were:

1. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

2. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

3. The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

4. The Maid by Nita Prose

5. Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

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®, Android™, Chromebook™ and Kindle® (U.S. only). 

Download the Libby app or visit to get started borrowing e-books, audiobooks and more anytime, anywhere.

This article originally appeared in TBR News Media’s Prime Times supplement on Jan. 26.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

I love you, come for dinner! Isn’t that invitation we all want to hear? It promises an evening of good food, warm conversations, and the chance to share our lives with family and close friends.” The wonderful Ina Garten, best known as The Barefoot Contessa, opens her excellent new cookbook, Go-To Dinners (Penguin Random House/Clarkson Potter), with this call to celebration. Leading with community, she addresses the power of connection that meals bring. 

Garten’s most accessible work to date, the book offers seventy-eight detailed and plainly articulated recipes: “Make ahead, freeze ahead, prep ahead, easy, assembled.”

Go-To Dinners is just that. As with Modern Comfort Food, Garten acknowledges the desire for ease in challenging times. Specifically, she embraces the need for the occasional modest approach. “When I planned a party before the pandemic, it was always a multicourse extravaganza. But then the pandemic happened and everything seemed like so much work. I started making simple dinners for [my husband] Jeffrey and me. I often made a lighter, easier, all-in-one dinner.” 

In addition, the experiences of the last two years changed her point of view on leftovers — something she had previously disliked — repurposing one dinner into the next. “… I tried to think of new ways to be creative with what I had on hand. It became like a game to see how many different meals I could get out of the dinners I was cooking!” Throughout, she even suggests various “two-fers” (such as putting the leftover Mussels with Saffron Cream into the One-Pot Oven Risotto). 

English Cream Scones

She smartly breaks the book into six sections: drinks and apps; breakfast for dinner; light dinners (the largest chapter); family dinners; vegetables and sides; and desserts. Nothing seems overly complicated, and the directions, as always, are clear. “And just because a recipe is easy to make, it shouldn’t skimp on flavor or style.” 

There are one-pot meals (as mentioned above) and others that take fewer than a quarter of an hour to cook. Some are supplemented with store-bought items, such as a pie crust that works better for a particular recipe. In addition, she has suggestions for boards made of purchased food (shown in inviting arrangements).

Garten proposes clever insights. The trick to pulling off cocktails is to prepare them ahead of time in a large pitcher; this provides more time with guests. Often, she updates classics (as with Creamy Hummus and Easy Oysters Rockefeller). Breakfast for dinner is the perfect answer to the love for breakfast food but acknowledging that mornings present time constraints. From the relatively simple Overnight Irish Oatmeal to the more demanding English Cream Scones, there is something for every level of cook. 

Eggs in Purgatory

Garten writes with ease and frankness. She is self-revelatory that she did not grow up loving family meals, which were grim, anxious affairs. Her passion for parties and dinners came later. Now, dinnertime marks the welcome end of the day, a time to relax and engage, an opportunity to be home. She draws on a skiing metaphor, encouraging risk-taking. “… avoiding failure means we miss out on the thrill of accomplishing something new”— whether on the slopes or in the kitchen. She also is not lacking in a sense of humor: witness the aptly named Eggs in Purgatory, with the eggs floating in a red sauce. 

Of course, the proof is in the eating. My good friend, Doug, kindly made the Lemon Linguine with Zucchini and Basil, a highly recommended dish. He reported that the dish came together easily. His plans include tackling the Oven-Roasted Southern Shrimp Boil; the Summer Skillet with Clams, Sausage, and Corn;  and the Creamy Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Thyme. He also has his eye on Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Fennel, Parmesan Polenta; and Panettone Bread Pudding.

Enhancing Go-To Dinners are dozens of vivid and elegant photos from the sure and artistic eye of Quentin Bacon (who also provided the visuals for Modern Comfort Food). 

“Restaurant food is wonderful but there is something soul-satisfying about making and eating a real home-cooked dinner right at your own kitchen table.” Ultimately, Ina Garten’s Go-To Dinners is an exploration of stress-free cooking with dozens of creative, tasty options to be easily prepared, shared, and enjoyed.

Go-To Dinners is available at, and www.barnesand

Registration is now open! The Port Jefferson Free Library, 100 Thompson St., Port Jefferson hosts an Author Panel featuring Sarah Beth Durst, Catherine Asaro and Kelley Skovron on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m.  

Join them for an evening filled with mystery, interstellar fantasy, misfit animals, and a ghost with a vengeance. Hear from these award-winning authors about their newly published novels, writing process, behind the scenes info, and more in this panel-style event. 

Moderated by Salvatore J. Filosa, Head of Technical Services and Marketing & Outreach Librarian,  newly released titles to be discussed include: The Jigsaw Assassin, 2022,  published by Baen Books, by Catherine Asaro (perfect for adult readers); The Shelterlings, 2022, published by Clarion Books of Harper Collins, by Sarah Beth Durst (perfect for kids); and The Ghost of Drowned Meadow, 2022, published by Scholastic, by Kelley Skovron (perfect for kids). 

The event is open to all. To register, call 631-473-0022 or visit

Paul Newman
Based on interviews and oral histories conducted by Stewart Stern; Compiled and edited by David Rosenthal

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“I’ve always had a sense of being an observer of my own life.”  — Paul Newman

Paul Newman starred in over seventy films, including Cat on a Hit Tin Roof, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Verdict, The Sting, The Hustler, Absence of Malice, and many more. From 1986 to 1991, the iconic Newman sat down with writer Stewart Stern (best known for the screenplay of Rebel Without a Cause) for a series of intense interviews. In addition, Stern spoke with friends, relatives, and colleagues for their perspectives. Newman’s driving force in the project was public revelation: “I want to leave some kind of record that sets things straight, pokes holes in the mythology that’s sprung up around me, destroys some of the legends, and keeps the piranhas off.”

For whatever reason, the book was left unfinished. Newman passed away in 2008, and Stern in 2015. They left behind an archive of fourteen thousand pages. 

David Rosenthal has compiled and edited the chronicle into The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man (Knopf Doubleday). Presented as Newman’s memoir, Rosenthal intersperses Newman’s very personal perspective with the additional interviews. The intense, riveting work reflects a man of fascinating contradictions whose legacy lives on in cinematic history and far-reaching philanthropy. Newman’s daughter, Melissa, describes the book as “… a sort of self-dissection, a picking a part of feelings, motives, and motivations, augmented by a Greek chorus of other voices and opinions, relatives, navy buddies, and fellow artists. One overriding theme is the chronic insecurity which will be familiar to so many artists. Objectivity is fickle.”

The book is predominantly chronological, beginning with his difficult childhood. “My brother [Arthur] chose to remember the good things from our childhood, while I best recall the failures and the things that didn’t go right.” Newman grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in an almost pathologically dysfunctional middle-class family, with an alcoholic father and a narcissistic mother. (Later in life, he cut ties with the destructive matriarch.) 

Insecurities, including a sense of intellectual inferiority, plagued him from a young age. “I wasn’t naturally anything. I wasn’t a lover. I wasn’t an athlete. I wasn’t a student. I wasn’t a leader. I measured things by what I wasn’t, not by anything I was. I felt that there was something lacking in me that I couldn’t bridge, didn’t know much about and couldn’t fathom.”

The book follows Newman in college years before and after World War II. There are tales of his early years onstage, a great deal of drinking (including being thrown off the football squad because of a town brawl), and more than fleeting references to his personal life. Of the theatre work, “I never enjoyed the acting, never enjoyed going out there and doing it. I enjoyed all the preliminary work — the detail, the observation, putting things together.”

He met his first wife, Jackie Witte, in a Wisconsin summer stock, and they married in 1949. (Witte speaks frankly but without rancor about her marriage to Newman.) He admits they were relatively clueless: “We were two very young people trying to act grown-up.” They had three children: Scott, Susan, and Stephanie, before divorcing in 1958. Newman highlights his struggle in coming to terms with what it meant to be a father, particularly to Scott, who would die at age twenty-eight from complications due to drug and alcohol use.

After a short and unfulfilling stint at Yale Drama School, and with very few credits, he landed a small role and understudy job in the Broadway production of William Inge’s Picnic (1953-54). Eventually, Newman stepped into the main supporting role. During the run, he met Joanne Woodward. When Newman asked director Josh Logan if he could move into the lead, Logan responded, “I’d like to, kid, but you don’t have any sex threat.” However, this would change over the next several years. “Joanne gave birth to a sexual creature. She taught him, she encouraged him, she delighted in the experimental. I was in pursuit of lust. I’m simply a creature of her invention.”

The volatile, off-again, on-again affair with Woodward eventually dissolved his marriage. Newman and Woodward married in 1958, a union that lasted the rest of his life. The book covers the highs and lows of the famous couple, giving a less hagiographic view of the relationship that endured many personal and professional highs and lows. They would have three children: Elinor, Melissa, and Claire.

Newman details his film career, beginning with The Silver Chalice, and carrying on through some of the most famous movies in motion picture history, working with some of the highest-profile directors, actors (including his good friend Robert Redford), writers, and producers. He generously praises his many collaborators and often denigrates his own talents. Luminaries such as John Huston and George Roy Hill have nothing but admiration for his talent and professionalism.

Throughout, he touches on his politics (including work with the Civil Rights movement), his passion for auto racing (which began with the 1969 film Winning), and his many charitable endeavors. An entire chapter addresses his drinking, which he confesses could be heavy and destructive. In time, he gave up hard liquor, but there is a sense of inconclusiveness in his alcohol-related revelations. 

Over the years, Newman became less responsive to the outside world, reducing his communication to the fewest words possible. However, he is forthcoming about his frustrations with the press and fans and his reluctance to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

The final chapter is both revelatory and ambivalent, reflecting a complicated man struggling to find a center. “But I am convinced that this is only a dress rehearsal.” Newman continued to evolve and grow over the remaining years of his life, finding joy in work and family. This book — “part confessional, part self-analysis” — gives an incredible glimpse into the mind and heart of an enigmatic and fascinating individual. Pick up a copy at your favorite bookstore, or


As a tribute to Paul Newman, the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington will host a special event celebrating the publication of The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man on Monday, Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. The evening will feature a screening of Newman’s most enduring film, the 1961 sports drama The Hustler followed by a discussion with Paul Newman’s daughter, Melissa Newman. Tickets are $43 for film and discussion; $25 for the film only. To order, visit

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Waxing On, subtitled The Karate Kid and Me (Dutton Books), is a smartly written memoir of the career-making role that raised Ralph Macchio from up-and-coming actor to teen icon. He shares his professional arc in the tightly written chronicle, emphasizing the Karate Kid trilogy and the current Cobra Kai. And while he accepts that Daniel LaRusso may have pigeon-holed him in the industry, he consistently expresses appreciation for the opportunity and the people he met along the way.

Ralph Macchio with a copy of his new book@RALPH_MACCHIO (INSTAGRAM)

Before The Karate Kid (1984), Macchio appeared in a handful of films, most notably Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders, as well as a recurring role on television’s Eight Is Enough (1980-81). He was living on his native Long Island when he landed the audition for The-Karate-Kid. Dubious, given the cartoonish title, he flew back to Los Angeles. He then began the round of auditions, callbacks, and martial arts training before being officially cast in the role (originally surnamed Webber but changed to suit Macchio’s “East Coast” quality). 

Eventually, after reading with possible co-stars, producer Jerry Weintraub contracted Macchio for the original film and potentially two sequels. (Among noteworthy Daniel contenders were Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr., C. Thomas Howell, and Kyle Eastwood.)

The Karate Kid’s screenplay took its inspiration from a newspaper article about a picked-on boy and how martial arts helped him deal with his bullies. The script relied on the twin themes of bullying and mentorship. The universality spoke to a large swathe of the potential audience and helped maintain its unflagging popularity for nearly forty years.

Macchio is a straightforward, entertaining storyteller, open and direct. Whether discussing the casting process that was months in limbo or the hours of physical training, his descriptions are vivid and personal, presented with warmth and gratitude.

He devotes three chapters to each of his co-stars: Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, who played Mr. Miyagi; Elizabeth Shue, his love interest, Ali Mills; and William Zabka, Daniel’s nemesis, Johnny Lawrence. He makes clear his love and admiration for the three individuals as actors, collaborators, and people.

Morita, in particular, is singled out for his contribution. At the time, the actor was best known as a stand-up comedian and for his stint as Arnold on Happy Days. During his audition, Morita introduced the famous hachimaki (headscarf), explaining its significance. Along with the crane, the cloth became one of the film’s most memorable images. Eventually, Morita won the role of the Okinawan sensei, garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Macchio attributes much of the film’s success to Oscar-winning director John G. Alvidsen (Rocky, Save the Tiger, Lean on Me) and writer Robert Mark Kamen (Taps, Gladiator). He generously praises both men’s patience and support of the young actor, often recrafting the role around Macchio’s persona. “As an actor you often want to ‘disappear’ into a role. You feel you can demonstrate your range by losing yourself in the character. In this circumstance, ‘disappearing’ meant not being able to discern where Ralph ended and LaRusso began.”

He acknowledges The Karate Kid as a movie of its time, referencing John Hughes as well as Back to the Future. “There was an innocence, an adolescent openness and vulnerability, that we don’t often see as much in films today. Perhaps it was a simpler time. Perhaps it was a superficial representation, but it certainly had its place.” 

Macchio reflects on the 1984 release at the height of blockbusters. The Karate Kid shared the same summer with Ghostbusters and Gremlins, just on the heels of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. 

The Karate Kid was a “small” movie in comparison. And yet, it landed big due to the approachability of the Daniel LaRusso character. “For whatever reason, I felt far more like a local hero and much less like a movie star. I was treated like the guy who won the high school football game on Friday night. The kid who lived next-door. Not a celebrity you would see on the red carpet or in magazines.” 

For years, Macchio resisted a return to the franchise even though many ideas (some downright bizarre) were proffered. “Without actual material to judge, I wasn’t willing to take a next step and get involved, officially, on any project connected to The Karate Kid. It was always easier (and safer) to say, ‘No, thank you.’” He feared that anything that “missed the mark” would tarnish the legacy. 

He writes candidly about the 2010 remake, the How I Met Your Mother appearances, and the YouTube The Karate Kid: Daniel is the REAL Bully. He acknowledges these and other cultural moments kept the characters alive. 

Writer/creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg changed his mind with the proposal of Cobra Kai. The team’s respect for the source and welcoming involvement of Macchio’s and Zabka’s insights and expertise helped the project progress. In 2018, the excellent series debuted on YouTube Red before finding a home on Netflix, with the fifth season released this past September. 

Much of the latter part of Waxing On focuses on the new incarnation. The experience has been a joyful one: “I can’t express how much fun it is to play the yesterday in the today of these characters.” 

Throughout the memoir, Macchio meditates on a range of topics, including the cavalier dismissal of Shue’s character between the first and second films, his scandal-free life, the impact of the crane kick, career dry spells, and even the filming of the famous fly catching bit. 

As Macchio stated in a recent panel discussion: “When you make a movie that twenty or thirty years later people still obsess and debate about, therefore continuing to keep it relevant and important … it’s awesome!” In Waxing On, Ralph Macchio offers a welcome, often funny, and always engaging glimpse into the world of one of the most enduring family films.

Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me is available at your local Barnes & Noble or online at or

Author Sarah S. Anker at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai with a copy of her first children's book. Photo by Michael Toscanini

By Melissa Arnold 

Sarah S. Anker was born on a Navy base and lived all over the country before her family finally settled down in central Florida. She loved living amongst the orange groves, woodlands and even the swamps. But with time, the area began to change, giving way to urban development and the sprawling complex of Walt Disney World. Some of the ponds and lakes have evaporated. 

“You have to be careful with nature, because once you lose it, it’s really hard to get back,” said Anker. “And we’re seeing so much of that loss all over the world, not only in woodland but in wildlife.”

Anker raised three children in Suffolk County, which she’s called home for 35 years, and quickly became aware of issues impacting the environment here as well. 

Among them are the gyres — large systems of circulating ocean currents — that have become clogged with plastic waste, slowing the oceans’ circulation and speeding up climate change.

In addition to her ongoing career in the Suffolk County Legislature, Anker’s concern for the environment inspired her to write Below the Ocean: Keeping Our Sea Friends Safe. Through the perspective of a young seal named Sophia who becomes entangled in undersea garbage, kids will learn about threats facing ocean life and what they can do to make a difference. Vibrant and expressive illustrations will make this book captivating for children of all ages. 

How did you get interested in writing? 

My mother was a writer of short stories and poetry, and she always dreamed of getting published. I was a news reporter, photographer and graphic designer for a long time before I began my political career. So the desire to write was always with me.

Why did you decide to write a book for children?

I have children myself, and before that I loved reading lots of books to the children at the preschool where my mother worked while I was growing up. It’s important to influence children in a positive way and give them a greater understanding of how to take care of their world. Our future generation needs to understand how important our environment is, and their role in protecting it. We all need to do more.

What is this book about?

Below the Ocean tells the story of Sophia the seal as she learns about the ocean, how it affects people and sea life, and what she can do to help stop ocean pollution. 

When did you first get involved with environmental protection efforts?

I’ve been doing environmental work as far back as high school, helping out with beach cleanups and other activities like the Future Farmers of America. When I moved to Long Island, I joined the Sierra Club and other civic organizations looking to address pollution in the area, and around 20 years ago I founded a not-for-profit organization called the Community Health and Environment Coalition (CHEC) to address the issue of cancer and how it relates to the environment.

Why are these issues so important to you?

My grandmother passed away from breast cancer when I was pregnant with my daughter Rachel. The New York State Department of Health’s cancer map has shown increased rates of cancer in our area, and I have always believed that the environment directly impacts our health. We not only need to clean up the damage that’s been done in the past, but preserve our environment for future generations as well. 

What do you hope kids will learn from reading this book?

Each individual person, adults and children, has a part that they can play in helping the environment. We can all recycle. We can all help to clean up garbage that we see. We can all go to public meetings to contribute our ideas and find out what needs to be done to address problems. There is a lot of work to do, but all of us can do something.

What was the publication process like? Did you self-publish or use a traditional publisher?

With my background, I decided to create my own publishing company called Anker Books. I wanted to be able to work on the project at my own pace and have more freedom over what the final book would be like. There was a lot of research involved in learning how to self-publish, and I ultimately went through Kindle Direct Publishing for part of that process. They weren’t able to publish a large size, so I also published through another company called IngramSpark. 

Who is the illustrator for this book? 

The illustrator, Lily Liu, is a Chinese woman who lives in France. I found her on the website Upwork, and was amazed by her incredible talent and how rich her illustrations were — the vivid colors and emotion she was able to capture on the characters’ faces. I gave her creative freedom and she has been amazing to work with.

Is there an age recommendation for this book?

Not specifically, but I’d say that kids from ages 2 to about 10 would find something to enjoy about it. It’s a picture book with expressive animals and there’s a storyline to it, but there’s also scientific information and an educational component that older children can benefit from as well. 

What are some things we can all do to take care of the natural world?

Help clean up pollution you see around you. Go to local meetings and advocate for policies that protect our environment. Write to your elected officials about the issues that are meaningful to you. Try to focus on how you can reuse materials instead of always buying new.

Do you plan to write more books in the future?

This will be one of many books for children I hope to publish. I also hope to use Anker Books to support other authors as well. 


Below the Ocean: Keeping Our Sea Friends Safe is available online at popular retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Join Sarah Anker for Children’s Storytime at Barnes and Noble at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 11 a.m. followed by a Q&A session and book signing. 

Learn more about the author’s writing and how you can help the environment at

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Author Sarah Beth Durst

Like many sisters, Even and Odd shared many things:

            Their bedroom.

            Their closet.

            Six pairs of flip-flops.

            Use of the living-room TV.

            And … magic.

This is the intriguing premise of the gifted, award-winning Sara Beth Durst’s young adult novel, Even and Odd. Sisters Emma and Olivia Berry live in Stony Haven, Connecticut, having moved from the magic land of Firoth. The siblings’ powers manifest on alternate days. Thus, Emma’s nickname is Even, and Oliva’s is Odd.

As they grew, the girls took separate paths. Even has passionately embraced her training and is studying for her level five exams for the Academy of Magic; she wants nothing more than to enter the magic world as a hero. Odd’s interests are grounded in the “real” world; she spends her free time working at an animal shelter and sees her sorcery as a burden.

Durst is a consummate world builder. Her nearly two dozen books contain original mythologies, complete with unique and imaginative rules, histories, and limitations. (Three of her previous, very different novels were reviewed in this paper:  The Stone Girl, in May 2018; The Deepest Blue, in June 2019; and The Bone Maker, in May 2021). With Even and Odd, she has created a universe where the known overlaps with the enchanted. And while books about wizards cannot help but recall a bespectacled boy with a lightning scar, Durst’s current offering—with its wry, contemporary wit and easy charm—echoes Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn and Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. She writes with a smart sense of humor, penning characters larger than life but wholly relatable. As in her previous works, her dialogue is crisp and honest and always rings true.

The Berry family runs a border shop, “close to the gateway between worlds,” serving the magical community when its members are in the mundane world. In addition to supplies, it is a source of information. For example, visitors “from Firoth could ask basic questions, such as ‘What is an airplane, and is it going to eat me?” The local gateway is behind Fratelli’s Express Bagel, owned by a wizard who looks like “a carb-and-cream-cheese-bearing Santa Claus.”

A normal day immediately shifts when it appears that “magic [is] on the fritz.” Even is briefly stuck as a skunk when she is not able to reverse a transformation. While investigating the gateway, Even and Odd become trapped in Firoth. Teamed up with an energetic young unicorn traveling under the name Jeremy (real name “Shimmerglow”), they confront the villainous Lady Vell, who is draining the magic for nefarious purposes.

The unleashed turmoil has caused shifting geography, with homes landing in dangerous locations, stalked by creatures displaced from their habitats. The author subtly offers a portrait of refugees seeking haven and even a hint of vigilante justice as the population begins to question the ability of the Academy of Magic to cut through its bureaucracy and deal with the dire situation.

The book contains a wide range of unusual beings: Haughty elves, friendly centaurs conducting research, flower fairies that sting, mermaids that screech, and a curmudgeonly but helpful goblin are among the denizens.

While the action is brisk and the adventure is always engaging, Durst’s ability to balance the magical realm with true family dynamics elevates the novel. Even and Odd are close but clash. “For me to be surprised,” quips Odd, “you need not to be predictable!” They seek their parents’ approval and yet yearn for independence. The author wisely chooses for the children to hope that the adults can fix the situation (so often eschewed in literature for young people).

Durst also delves into the doubts that plague Even. She frets over the upcoming magic test:

I have to be ready [] not taking [the exam] would feel like saying she wasn’t as good as kids her age who had magic every day. Maybe even like saying I’ll never be as good as them […] It would be admitting that the little voice of doubt that nagged at her was right, that practicing every other day wasn’t ever going to be enough, and she’d never be ready to be a hero.

Once in Firoth, Even and Odd learn starling facts about their origins. They face a surprising revelation that gives an understanding of the history of the unheard of split magic. This leads to further introspection but does not deter them from entering danger for the greater good.

Even and Odd is a wonderful book about and filled with enchantment. Durst deals with misguided and false assumptions about self, but also the ability to learn and grow. The story’s heart celebrates inherently different sisters who are bonded by love. Even and Odd embraces the normal and fantastic and weaves a shared magic all its own.

Award-winning author Sarah Beth Durst lives in Stony Brook with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat. Pick up a copy of Even and Odd online at or  For more information, visit