Book Review – Lincoln’s Grave Robbers

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

Lincolns grave robbersI didn’t know that a group of men wanted to steal President Lincoln’s body until I read Steve Sheinkin’s book Lincoln’s Grave Robbers. This compelling tale is based on numerous primary sources. My hat is off the Sheinkin for his arduous research.

One of the most surprising aspects of the story is the grave robbers wanted to be paid a ransom of $200,000 and one of their friends, Benjamin Boyd, released from jail.  Why?  Boyd was a master engraver of  plates that were used to print counterfeit money.  At the time, his plates produced the most realistic looking counterfeit bills.

James Kennally, the mastermind behind a huge counterfeit operation, cooked up the idea to steal Lincoln’s body and recruited men to help him.  His business was in jeopardy with Boyd in jail. He needed his engraver freed so he could make more plates.

Sheinkin’s story alternates between the grave robbers and the Secret Service Agents who were trying to catch them. Adding to the drama of the story are two double agents spying on the grave robbers and reporting back to the Secret Service.

An interesting bit of trivia that Sheinkin shares is that by 1864, fifty percent of all paper money in the US was counterfeit and the Secret Service’s sole purpose of was to stop counterfeiters.

20 dollar billsCounterfeit bills were called “coney” and the men who passed them in a community were called “shovers.” This is how it worked.  A “shover” would go into a store with a fake $20 bill and buy $5 word of merchandise. He would get $15 back in real money. When the owner of the business went to the bank, he would find out he had a $20 counterfeit bill. So he lost his $5 in merchandise and his $15 in change.

Did the grave robbers actually get their hands on Lincoln’s body? Was the Secret Service able to catch them?  What happened to Benjamin Boyd?  No spoilers here.  You will have to read the book and find out.

Happy Reading!


My Picks – Books for Veteran’s Day

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

The WallThe Wall

By Eve Bunting and Illustrated by Ronald Himler

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

In memory of his grandfather, a young boy travels with his father to Washington, D.C. to find his grandfather’s name on the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.  This poignant story is well told by a master story teller.


Jill BidenDon’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops

By Jill Biden and Illustrated by Raul Colon

Published by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

The Vice President’s wife, Jill Biden, tells the story of what it is like to have a family member in the military stationed overseas.  Her story is inspired by her granddaughter Natalie’s experiences when her father was deployed to Iraq.  This story is beautifully illustrated with pencil-and-water color illustrations.


Poppy LadyThe Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans

By Barbara Walsh and Illustrated by Layne Johnson

Published by Calkins Creek

Miona Belle Michael, a school teacher in Georgia, wanted the soldiers who had lost their lives in WWI to be remembered.  She diligently worked to establish the red poppy as a symbol of honor to be used to remember the fallen soldiers.  This is an informative and beautifully illustrated picture book.


Happy Reading!

Book Review: Dolores Huerta – A Hero to Migrant Workers

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

Dolores HuertaIn her carefully written text, Sarah Warren introduces Dolores Huerta, a feisty Latina woman, who used nonviolent strategies to improve the lives of migrant workers and their families.

Huerta, a teacher, found it hard to teach hungry and sick children who had no shoes. She visited their families and found they were poorly paid.  They had no money to buy nutritious food, medicine, and shoes for their families.

This made Hureta angry.  But instead of promoting violence, she used “her words” to call attention to the migrant workers plight and get their bosses attention.  She also encouraged the farm workers “to use their voices” until their bosses learned how to be fair.

This is an inspiring story illustrated by Robert Casilla’s charming watercolor and pastel drawings.  I highly recommend this book.  It should be in every classroom.

[Note:  Sarah Warren will donate a portion of the proceeds from the sales of her book to an organization benefiting migrant workers.]


Book Review: If the World Were A Village

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

if we were the world

A Biography of the World


“If the World Were a Village – A Book of the World’s People,” is not a biography of a person but of our world.  The author David J. Smith breaks down our world of 6,400,000,000 people to a village of 100 people.  Statistically this means in the village 22 people speak a Chinese dialect, 20 people earn less than a dollar a day, and 17 people could not read or write.


Even more shocking, there is no shortage of food.  But the food is not equally divided.  Thirty percent of the people always have enough to eat, 50% of the people go hungry some of the time, 20% are severely undernourished.


If this statistically relevant village was made up of our ten most populated countries: 21 people would be from China, 17 from India, 5 from the United States, 4 from Brazil, 3 from Pakistan, 2 from Bangladesh, 2 from Russia, 2 from Japan, and 2 from Nigeria.


In his author’s note, Smith explains that his book is about “world-mindedness” which he feel “is vital to the well being of our planet.”  He points out that people who are going to solve world crises in the future are the children of today.  Smith has over 25 years teaching experience and is the creator of the award-winning curriculum “Mapping the World by Heart.”  Shelagh Armstrong illustrated the book and her thoughtful and colorful drawings brought the text to life.

I highly recommend this book and have added it to my personal library.




Book Review: We Are One – The Story of Bayard Rustin

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

We Are ONeI knew about the march on Washington D. C. on August 28, 1963 to bring people together to walk for freedom and jobs.  The photographs of nearly one hundred thousand people  surrounding the Washington Monument made a tremendous impact . I was proud that so many Americans could peacefully come together and have their say without violence. But I didn’t know who organized it.  Not until I read Larry Dane Brimner’s book “We Are One:  The Story of Bayard Rustin.”


Bayard Rustin was raised by his grandparents – Julia a Quaker and Janifer who had been born a slave.  One day when Rustin complained to his grandmother about the racial injustice he witnessed, she challenged him “to use his mind and talents to find solutions.”


Rustin made his first attempt after speaking at a meeting in Indianapolis.  He stopped at a small diner for a hamburger.  The owner refused to serve him because she said whites would not eat at a diner where blacks were seated.  Rustin asked the owner to join him in an experiment.  He asked her to serve him a hamburger and told her he would leave it untouched for fifteen minutes.  During that time if no whites sat down in the restaurant, Rustin promised to leave.  The experiment was a success. During the fifteen minutes, many whites entered the diner and didn’t seem to notice Rustin.  At the end of their experiment, the owner served Rustin another hot hamburger.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Rustin was instrumental in encouraging Martin Luther King to form an organization that would encourage nonviolent protests.  Hence the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was formed and King became its first leader.  In 1963, President John F. Kennedy introduced a civil rights bill before congress and many black leaders felt it was time for a large scale, non-violent protest.  They chose Washington D.C. as their site for the demonstration and Rustin was asked to organize it.

Brimner’s book is well researched and masterfully presented. I highly recommend it.  He has chronicled the life of a man that young people can learn from.


How to Speak GOODer by Liz Goodgold

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Liz GoodgoldThis title may not appeal to writers because “gooder” is not a recognized word.  But trust me, if Liz Goodgold has her way, it will be in the dictionary next year.  Why?  Because we all need to speak better in this digitally distracted world.

According to Liz the goal of her book “is not teach you to speak like me, but to speak like you better.” Here are some of her tips:


  • Get to your presentation early and greet your audience.
  • Have someone introduce you and make sure they know how to pronounce you name.
  • Wear a name tag (she suggests you have one made) before and after your presentation but not while on stage. It might be a distraction.
  • Have a visual brand. For Liz the color red is part of her visual brand.  She has numerous red jackets.
  • Be sure to wear comfortable clothing and shoes when speaking. It is hard to be convincing when your feet hurt.
  • A memorable talk contains stories.  Data is easily forgotten but according to Liz “stories stay.”
  • Avoid carbonate beverages, Vaseline rubbed on your lips and gums will keep your mouth moist, and hot tea is a good way to keep your voice smooth.

Hera Hub Writer’s Salon

Last week Liz spoke at a Hera Hub Writer’s Salon in Carlsbad and began her lively talk with an activity.  She challenged her audience to break into groups of two and come up with a “Quip on the Hip.”  Something to say when someone asks about your day.  The goal of the exercise was to respond with a short statement about you that starts a conversation.

Driving home I keep thinking about Liz’s presentation and it hit me.  All writers need to have a “pitch in their pocket.”  We always need to be able to talk intelligently about our work and what better way to start a conversation than to have a short pitch ready about our current project.

So here is the pitch in my pocket for today:

“Hey, Lynda.  How is your day?

“Great, I discovered that George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, loved Lemon Pie and I have his recipe.”

Do you have a pitch in your pocket?

How to Write a Book Review

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

Book ReviewsBook Reviews are more important than they ever were.  Why?  Because readers are always looking for recommendations for their next good read.  They also help sell books. One of the best things you can do for a fellow author is review their book and post it on Amazon and Goodreads.

A book review does not have to be long or complicated, either.  The most important thing is to let people know how you feel about the book.  A good length for a review is 250 to 400 words.


Take Notes

While reading a book, I write down what I am thinking on a post-it note and attach it to the page. I also use the post-it to mark the page by using it as a tab. That way, I can thumb through my notes without looking at each page again when I am writing my review.


The best way to start a review is with an introduction.  What lead you to read the book in the first place?   Was it the title? Did the cover attract your attention?  Was it written about a topic that interested you?  My interest in Anastasia lead me to read Candace Fleming’s book “The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia.”  In the introduction, I share the fact that when I was a teenager I saw the movie Anastasia staring Yul Bryner, Ingrid Bergman and Helen Hayes.  The thought that the Anastasia, the youngest Grand Duchess of Russia, might have survived the death of her family always intrigued me.

Brief summary of book

Next, I try to give a brief summary of the book. This is also a good place to quote from the book.  In my review of “The Impossible True Story of Tricky Vic:  The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower,” I quote from the first page: “In 1890, the man who would one day be known for forty-five different aliases was born to the Miller family…” I thought this was a great way to start the book.  I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would need forty-five aliases.


While writing my evaluation of a book, I ask myself the following questions. What is my overall opinion of the book?  Did I like the book? What was my favorite part of the book? How many stars would I give the book?  Did the book meet my expectations?   Was the writing clear and concise? Was the ending satisfying?  Was there something that really stood out and impressed me about the book?


In conclusion, I like to summarize my thoughts and mention the author and, if the book is illustrated, the artist.  If a book has won any special awards, I also like to mention it.  For instance, Candace Fleming won Orbis Pictus award from the National Council of Teachers of English for “The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia.”

 My Final Advice

Don’t wait too long to write your review.  The book needs to be fresh in your mind.

Book Review: The Impossibly True Story of Tricky Vic, the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

I would have never thought tTricky Vico write a book about a con artist.  But, luckily Greg Pizzoli did.  From the beginning I was intrigued by the book’s title and had a lot of questions.  Who was Tricky Vic? Where did he come from? When did he sell the Eiffel Tower? How did he do it? Did he get away with it?  What else did he do?

Pizzoli skillfully sets the stage for his story with the first line of the book, “In 1890, the man who would one day be known for forty-five different aliases was born to the Miller family …” From there Pizzoli tells us about Tricky Vic’s various cons.  My favorite was when he conned Al Capone, the mob boss of Chicago.

Pizzoli’s text is both interesting and informative.  He skillfully illustrated his book with various multi-media sources such as rubber stamps, silk screen prints, halftone photographs and pen and ink drawings. My favorite illustration is how he depicted Tricky Vic’s face.  No, I am not going to tell you. Sorry, you will have to read the book.

I highly recommend this book.  It has a lot of kid appeal and is both thought-provoking and entertaining.

Happy Reading!!!!

Note:  Greg Pizzoli lives in Philadelphia and his first picture book The Watermelon Seed received the Theodore Seuss Geisel Award.  Visit his web site at