Sunday, January 30, 2011

Between Home and School

Book Review

Between Home and School
Letters, Notes, and Emails

By Bill Harley
To order, go to or call 800-682-9522. $8.00

Reviewed By Linda Goodman

Good parents want their children to be happy and to do well in school. Good parents also want their children to have teachers who will work hard to accomplish that lofty goal.

When children fall short of expectations, the responses from parents and teachers vary widely. Some parents ignore the situation and hope that teacher and student will work things out between themselves. Other parents go on the offensive and accuse teachers of not doing their jobs. Conversely, some teachers get defensive. Other teachers blame parents for a child’s failure to achieve.

Bill Harley wisely chooses to model positive, effective communication between the fictional parent, Rhonda Bennet, and the various teachers, from kindergarten through high school graduation, who had a hand in educating her son, Tyler.

Rhonda’s first letter to Tyler’s kindergarten teacher, for instance, states the problem, asks about the reason for the problem, asks what can be done by both parent and teacher to correct the problem, and compliments the teacher (Tyler loves the frogs on her desk) to end on a positive note.

The teacher responds by agreeing that there is a problem, stating the reason for the problem, offering a suggestion for the parent to help solve the problem, and complimenting the parent (she asks if Tyler’s father will read some of his books to her class) to end on a positive note.

Some years are better for Tyler than others. When Mrs. Bennet is overly concerned about what she perceives to be Tyler’s lagging reading skills, his first grade teacher assures her that Tyler is perfectly normal. Tyler’s fourth grade teacher, concerned about upcoming testing, laments that she would do things differently if she were actually in control of the curriculum.

When Tyler’s eighth grade teacher writes to Mrs. Bennet that Tyler is talking out of turn in class, Mrs. Bennet takes the action needed to correct the situation. When Tyler is discouraged by a failing grade on a science test in the ninth grade, Mrs. Bennet explains his history and the strengths and weaknesses that she has observed in him as a student. She does not lay blame on the teacher; rather, she details the problem and asks for the teacher’s help and understanding.

Only Tyler’s fifth grade teacher fails to address Mrs. Bennet’s concerns. Mrs. Bennet wisely seeks the advice of one of Tyler’s former teachers as to how to handle this lack of communication.

Tyler’s teachers help him deal with death, social problems, and learning difficulties. They take the time to let both him and his mother know that they have a vested interest in his doing well in school. What a lovely contrast to the premise of the recent film Waiting for Superman, which, while an important and thought provoking piece of work, blamed teachers and schools for the failure of the education system in the United States today.

When Tyler is accepted into college, his mother writes an appreciative letter to the ninth grade science teacher who wrote a recommendation for him. In the letter, she states that, while she realizes that her son is a product of his family, he is also a product of all his teachers and that “they have made him in ways that I never could.”

If only all parents were willing to communicate as coolly and truthfully as the fictional Mrs. Bennet! If only all teachers were willing to be the compassionate yet firm educators who have the fictional Tyler as a student throughout his school years! Perhaps then America would once offer an educational system that is respected internationally. Harley’s book, which can be easily read in one half-hour, models proper communication between parent and teacher. He makes it looks easy. Perhaps that is what the problem has been all along. We make simple things too hard.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stories By The Sea

Storyteller Linda Goodman to Be Featured at Virginia Beach Festival

Virginia Beach United Methodist Church continues to promote the art of storytelling as it hosts its 6th annual Stories by the Sea, a storytelling festival with something for everyone. This year, the festival will be held on Friday, January 14 through Sunday, January 16, 2011. Appalachian storyteller, author, and playwright Linda Goodman, currently a resident of Chesterfield, Virginia, will be the featured storyteller.

The festival will begin at 7:00 p.m. on Friday with Goodman’s program Memories of a Former Kid, which features stories that Goodman heard as a child and personal stories from her own life. This 1 ½ half hour performance is appropriate for ages 6 years through adult, and admission is free. Free childcare will also be provided.

On Saturday from 9:00 until noon, Goodman will lead a workshop titled Your Story – Pass It Along. Participants in this workshop will learn to mine their own lives for anecdotes and craft them into finished stories that will appeal to their intended audiences. This workshop is intended for teens and adults who want to learn or hone storytelling skills. The cost of the workshop is $25.00 per person, with special rates for families. Childcare will not be provided for the workshop.

“There is a saying that when an old person dies, it is as if a library has burned down,” says Goodman. “My father passed away in 1987, but he still lives in my heart through the stories that he told of his life adventures. My goal with this workshop is to encourage folks to polish and share their own life stories now so that their loved will always have a piece of them in their hearts.”

On Saturday evening from 7:00 to 9:00 Goodman will share stories for adults and teenagers from her program Tales from the Tapestry, which will include stories from Goodman’s book Daughter of the Appalachians, as well as personal stories written by Goodman. These stories will take listeners to another time and place where life, though simpler, presents challenges, blessings, and lessons gleaned from experience. Just as for the Friday night concert, admission is free and free childcare will be provided.

Goodman will also be delivering her story sermon The Mustard Seed at the 8:00 a.m., 9:30 a.m., and 11:00 a.m. services on Sunday, January 16. The Mustard Seed is a humorous yet touching tale of a young girl who is inspired by a minister at a mountain church to “move a mountain.”

“Storytelling is a powerful tool for entertaining, enlightening, and teaching the principles by which we try, not always successfully, to live,” enthuses Goodman. “People are hungry for stories. As a storyteller, I seek to satisfy this hunger by sharing what I have learned from life through stories that touch the hearts of everyone.”

While Goodman is a native of Wise County, Virginia, she has been a resident of Chesterfield County for the past twelve years and has performed at various venues around the country. This is her third appearance at Stories by the Sea. Her stories have been published in both the Chicken Soup for the Soul and the Stories for the Heart series. Her book Daughters of the Appalachians won a Storytelling World Honor Award and has been performed as a play in Massachusetts, California, and Virginia.

Dr. Gwendolyn Nowlan, Artistic Director of the Storytelling Institute at Southern Connecticut State University, which presented Goodman with the Excellence in Storytelling Award, has written to Goodman, “We have many excellent storytellers coming to my institutes, but it seems quite apparent that you are the highlight. You are the storyteller that sweeps listeners off their feet…You strike a chord in every listener’s heart.”

Both the storytelling concerts and the workshop will be held at Virginia Beach United Methodist Church, located at 212 Nineteenth Street. For further details and information, please contact Betty Bridges at or Norris Spencer at Workshop registrations forms are available at or by calling 757-428-7727.


Compact Disc Review

Available from Ellouise Schoettler or
Email: Phone: 301-951-1213; $15.00
Recommended for teens and adults.

Reviewed By Linda Goodman

She may appear to be a mild mannered grandmother, but, make no mistake, Ellouise Schoettler is the Vigilante so proudly extolled in this CD’s title. In the personal stories on this CD, she polices airplanes, draws stories from men with tattoos, bids at auctions on a whim, “walks the plank,” and writes in books! Watch out for this one. She’s a maverick.

Air Vigilante, the CD’s first track, begins with Schoettler’s discourse about her discomfort with air travel practices that don’t seem quite legal, and then segues into a touching tale of an overheard conversation between a man and his higher power.

When Schoettler meets The Tattooed Man at an orthopedist’s office, she is not shy. She asks about his tattoos and, with his answer, is given a tale about conquering tragedy, overcoming obstacles, and sharing compassion.

In the story Dalmatian Blurt, which she shared at the Exchange Place at the 2009 National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, we learn that Schoettler has a weakness for auctions. When she wins a bid for an ill-advised purchase, her forty-one year marriage hangs in the balance. Fortunately, a most unusual solution is found.

The crown jewel of this CD is its fourth track, Swimming, a funny yet poignant reminiscence about teaching her youngest daughter, Robin, to swim. Schoettler, we are informed, is a “bather,” married to a “swimmer” who expects everyone in the family to learn to swim well. When Robin balks at the idea, Schoettler puts her faith in a peripheral lifeguard with a long hook and “walks the plank” to encourage her. Her daughter not only learns to swim, but “pays it forward” in a way that supplies an unexpected extension and ending to the story. This story will delight those of us who have more in common with anchors than with buoys.

Writing in My Book is a short, humorous tale about defying convention and facing the consequences of such actions. Librarians will love this story.

This is a good CD to wind down to at the end of the day. It is heavy on heart, with just enough humor and poignancy to balance the scales. It offers further proof that no life is ordinary.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"SHA! Don't Tell!"

CD Review

Written and performed by Corinne Stavish. Order by emailing or by calling Corinne at (248) 356-8721. Recommended for teenagers and adults.

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

Nothing can beat being a grandmother. While my daughter challenged my every word and deed, my granddaughters think of me as a sterling role model. One of them has even told me that she thinks I am “cool.” That must be why I am so enamored of Corinne Stavish’s CD “SHA! Don’t Tell!” a heartfelt and loving tribute to Stavish’s grandmother.

From the first track on the CD, Bargain Shopping with Grandma, we learn that Stavish was educated about bargain shopping on Manhattan Island, which was paid for by “$24.00 of baubles, bangles, and bright shiny beads.” Could there ever be a better place to go hunting for a bargain? Stavish’s grandma, at just four feet eleven inches tall, was a formidable shopper who could go to S. Klein’s, the “biggest bargain basement in the world,” and execute an “Esther Williams swan dive” into bargain displays and retrieve prizes for sale at rock bottom prices every time. Grandma is diligent at teaching life lessons as well as shopping maneuvers, however. “Life is the greatest bargain because you get it for nothing,” is her favorite saying.

In Secret Letters to Lou, the CD’s second track, Grandma admires her granddaughter’s extravagant handwriting style, with its curling letters and waving lines penned in peacock blue ink. Grandma, you see, has a secret boyfriend named Lou, who lives in Florida, “the Jewish Lourdes of the fifties.” Not confident in her own handwriting skills, Grandma convinces Corinne to pen letters to Lou for her. The result is a charming conspiracy that produces joy and angst in equal measures.

The CD’s title track, a thriller flirting with espionage, finds Stavish realizing that the picture of Vladimir Lenin in her history book is the same heavily framed photo hanging in her home, the one that grandma warns her not to ask about. Stavish’s mother’s family, we find, is “left of left,” – Communists! A child’s imagination knows no bounds, and Stavish’s fantasies are fed by the men in trench coats who visit her father during the McCarthy era, when it was “better to be dead than Red.” Some secrets are meant to be kept. “SHA! Don’t tell!” her grandmother warns her. Those of us who are old enough to remember the McCarthy era can understand why this was important; but seeing history through the eyes of a child yields an entirely new outlook on one of the most shameful eras of our country’s history.

On the CD’s back cover, Stavish states that her grandmother “left her voice and stories permanently rooted in my head and heart.” I would like to thank Stavish for sharing the wealth. Now her listeners may cherish grandma’s stories and words, as well.