Thursday, January 23, 2020

"Hey Tree, What Should I Be?"; "Imagine A World"

A new series of picture books aims high, aspiring to guide "children both big and small upon a journey through many of life's timeless questions. We intend for these books to send out ripples of joy, unity, and love, while providing subtle support to the ascension and enlightenment of our human family." 

In their "'I AM' Adventures," Chicoans Josh Shelton (writer) and Sam Pullenza (illustrator) focus on questions kids have about careers and, given that "our planet's in a jam," how they might make a difference.

The introductory book is "Hey Tree, What Should I Be?" ($14 in paperback from White Magic Books,, and Conscious Dreams Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle). It begins with a child facing quite a task: "I've been given a whopper assignment/ it's a doozy indeed/ I've got to choose what it is/ I'll grow up to BE!" And no dawdling: "... I haven't the time/ to ponder or wallow/ I'm supposed to figure this out/ and share it tomorrow!"

Well, how about becoming a "professional mud puddle splasher"? The child consults his friend the tree as he sees this isn't realistic. Maybe become an author? He realizes that as time goes by he'll change, just like the tree: "Just days ago/ it clearly wanted its leaves// And today it's released them/ to soar in the breeze." So, finally, he will "let my heart be my guide/ when change comes to call." That is the way to happiness.

There's great change coming, the creation of a global consciousness, and that's the topic of "Imagine A World" ($14.99 in paperback; also for Amazon Kindle). "So strap up your light boots/ Unbuckle your heart/ Free your mind.../ It's 'create-with-our-imagination-time'!" Pullenza's vibrant and exuberant pictures reflect the story's imaginative joy.

"Imagine our seas/ Vibrant and free/ No oil or plastic/ Or wasteful debris"; "Imagine a world/ Where we can visit the stars.../ Play tag on the moon/ And hopscotch on Mars." With love and acceptance, the book asserts, "so it will be!"

An art installation, featuring the tree in the story, is on display through January at Ellis Art and Engineering Supplies on Broadway in Chico.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

"Guys Like Me: Five Wars, Five Veterans For Peace"

Michael Messner graduated from Chico State University and is now Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. In his undergraduate days at Chico State he "opposed the American War in Vietnam." His father, a veteran of World War II, had "no patience for the antiwar movement."

It was different for his grandfather, who served in World War I. Back in 1980 "I tried to cut through Gramps's cranky mood by wishing him a happy Veterans Day. Huge mistake. 'Veterans Day!' he barked.... It's not Veterans Day! It's Armistice Day.'" The politicians did this, he said: "'Buncha crooksThey don't fight the wars, ya know. Guys like me fight the wars.'"

Messner, though not himself a veteran, was drawn to those connected with an organization called Veterans for Peace. In a sobering new book he interviews some of the vets who were deeply troubled by what they had participated in and who found some measure of healing from PTSD and various addictions in challenging the Pentagon's version of the history of U.S. warfare.

The result is "Guys Like Me: Five Wars, Five Veterans For Peace" ($24.95 in hardcover from Rutgers University Press; also for Amazon Kindle). Messner ( writes an insightful essay on the roots of peace activism, and the interviews--including a World War II Army veteran and a Navy veteran of the Iraq War--are raw and deeply moving.

Included is Gulf War Army veteran Daniel Craig, pictured on the front cover in Santa Fe, New Mexico, amid crosses, displayed by Veterans for Peace, representing U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Activism and "spiritual healing" for Craig, Messner writes, is a way for him to overcome "his anger over having killed people for what he now sees as lies."

To those who thank these veterans for their service, Ken Mayers, a fellow vet and friend of Craig's, replies: "That was very nice of you. But you should know that the things we did when we were in the military, we did because we were told to. This work that we are doing right now--working for peace--this is our service."

Thursday, January 09, 2020

"VanOps: The Lost Power"

When the twins arrived at their father's Napa vineyard, thirty-something Maddy Marshall and Will Argones wondered what was going on. Their sister Bella had been invited as well. Why all the family togetherness among siblings who had been dispersed far and wide?

Suddenly, a gunshot. The twins' father, the target of a Russian sniper, lives only long enough to speak the words that will propel Maddy and Will into Dan Brownian motion to find a mysterious other-worldly weapon.

"VanOps: The Lost Power" ($16.49 in paperback from Black Opal Books; also for Amazon Kindle), by Grass Valley novelist Avanti Centrae (, is a page-turner that takes its protagonists from a medieval Spanish castle to a secret underground city in Israel--and beyond.

Centrae's debut novel is the first in a series featuring VanOps, short for "Vanguard Operations," a top-secret CIA group chartered "to keep an eye out for any sort of advanced or obscure technology that threatened the security of the United States." 

Winner of the Genre Grand Prize at the Chanticleer International Book Awards, and a Hollywood Book Festival Honorable Mention, the story is a quest within a quest. 

A thousand years ago Ramiro I, the first King of Spain, founded a dynasty that "contributed to, not only the current Spanish ruling class, but also to the royal families of nearly all the other current European monarchies." Ramiro wielded obelisks of amazing power, said to be passed down from Alexander the Great, and said also to be part of the legacy of his descendants, Ferdinand and Isabella.

Maddy and Will are part of that great lineage. She is a world-class athlete, skilled in aikido; he is an engineer. Together they must find those who guard the ancient weapons, and then solve a series of clues to find the weapons themselves, all the time tailed by Russians who seem to know their every move.

They are joined by Teddy "Bear" Thorenson, an old high school classmate with "an embarrassing one-way crush" on Maddy, whom they just happen to run into, and who turns out to be a covert VanOps agent.

Will it be enough to win? Readers will have a thrilling time finding out.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

"The California Camp Fire: Reflections And Remnants"

An extraordinary coffee-table book explores the emotional interior of those who survived the Camp Fire and then looks outward at the terrible beauty wrought by the flames and heat. "Monochromatic portraits" by Chico photographer Ron Schwager are paired with fourteen verbatim accounts of those who escaped. Chico screenwriter and novelist Phil Midling writes in the prologue that the images are "beautiful in their simplicity and starkness yet also convey a rich complexity. ..."

Midling, who also provides the epilogue, writes that the second half of the book features stunning full-color patterns, "many resembling paintings of abstract art. Among the piled rubble and cindered ash, Ron was able to extract the images of devastation; contorted remnants and skeletal configurations of heat-fused plastic, steel, and glass viewed through a kaleidoscope of tertiary-like colors--odd hues of oxidized orange-rust, and red-violet, and turquoise-blue embedded within the bleak and grayish landscape."

"The California Camp Fire: Reflections And Remnants" ($45 in hardcover, self-published, from, with local pickup and mail orders available), designed by Connie Ballou, is a masterpiece that will cause readers to pause and reflect with every turn of the page. 

A few haunting words from the accounts: "And so we had no other choice but to drive directly through the flames. ..." (Paradise High School coach Seth Roberts, 60); "I texted a goodbye message to my boyfriend who had been calling me because I really didn't think we were going to make it out alive" (Feather River Hospital security employee Tameekah Abdullah, 28). "I remember receiving texts from certain retirement homes. ... We just couldn't get the engine to that location. I knew those residents were about to be burned to death at any moment and there was nothing we could do. And we knew a lot of those people personally" (Paradise fire captain Alejandro Saise, 45).

In the color photograph section, Schwager writes that as a photographer, though he is "drawn to the chaos, my presence seems to be unobjectionable. But amongst the hive of debris removal activity I feel I am treading on hallowed ground. I feel I need to record this in some meaningful way." 

He has done so.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

"The Trees Of Bidwell Park"

"John Bidwell ... planted a variety of exotic trees," writes Chicoan Roger Lederer. Subsequently many groups worked to maintain Chico's reputation as a "City of Trees." 

During a 1905 celebration thanking Annie Bidwell for the donation of Bidwell Park, she told those assembled that "a sadness has at time oppressed me as the thought has been borne in on me that some day the beautiful, beloved Chico creek would be destroyed by the diverting of its waters and the slaughter of its trees."

For Lederer, stewardship and awareness are keys to the preservation of Annie's legacy. To that end comes "The Trees Of Bidwell Park" ($19.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing) with color illustrations by Carol Burr. It's a companion volume to the couple's "The Birds Of Bidwell Park" and is available locally from Made In Chico, Bird In Hand, the Bookstore downtown, ABC Books, and Magnolia Gift And Garden.

The book is dedicated to botanist Wes Dempsey, now retired, who "for over a half century has led trees tours of Chico." Think of this essential volume as a tour in print form of the park's tree variety. 

From trees found only on the university campus (considered by Lederer "the western end of the park"), to many common species found in upper, middle, and lower park areas, the entries are designed "to stimulate your interest in the tall, stately plants around you. ..."

The guidebook lists families of trees in the park, shows various leaf shapes, and provides a glossary and index to the trees. But the glory is in the trees themselves, each given a page showing its leaves and the tree's shape, along with a description, general location in the park, and interesting facts. Though not comprehensive, the listings help readers "see" more clearly what is all around them and too often taken for granted.

There's the Dawn Redwood, once thought extinct, which is found on the university campus. Then take the Pacific Ponderosa Pine, which grows throughout the park. "Some people describe the scent of the bark as turpentine-like while others smell vanilla or butterscotch; some find no smell at all."

Get the book, then marvel at the trees.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

"Far From Home: A Story Of Loss, Refuge, And Hope"

Chicago-based children's book editor Sarah Parker Rubio was born in the US but grew up in Costa Rica and Ecuador and is married to a Columbian composer. One day she heard a story about the global refugee crisis, and could hardly imagine what she'd tell their two sons if suddenly the family had to leave for another country. 

Yet she realized that the children and their parents caught in such a crisis were not so different from her own family. She imagined "a little boy who ... surely loved his bed and his toys and his grandparents. ... But the little boy in my imagination had to leave it all behind just because of where and when he had been born."

So she wrote "Far From Home: A Story Of Loss, Refuge, And Hope" ($14.99 in hardcover from Tyndale Kids; also for Amazon Kindle), beautifully and sensitively illustrated by Fátima Anaya.

A young boy, clutching Rabbit, is suddenly awakened one morning by his parents. "We have something to tell you," his father says. "I opened one eye. Mama and Daddy tried to smile. 'I don't think I want to hear what you're going to say,' I said. I was right."

They had to leave home. Now. "'For how long?' I asked. 'A long time,' Mama said. 'Maybe forever.'"

Eventually they arrive at a place where others like themselves are waiting, and a wrinkled old woman tells him a story about another boy long ago who also had to leave his home suddenly. 

"His mama and daddy tried to tell him why, but nothing they said made any sense." But he survived. "He grew up and helped many people. He could heal people when medicine didn't work. He could feed a crowd with one person's food. ... But he never forgot what it was like--the leaving and the waiting and the different."

We realize loss, too, is part of the Christmas story. On the last quiet page Matthew 2:13-14 says it: Jesus' parents must flee with him to Egypt. Yet "no matter what we have lost," Rubio has written elsewhere, "there is Someone who never loses us."

Thursday, December 12, 2019

"A Brief History Of The Richardson Family, 1775-1924"

A century-and-a-half ago, a man named Pierce Richardson traveled from Iowa to Chico. He established his family's ranch, encompassing about 5000 acres, north of Chico in a place called Mud Creek; four brothers, two sisters, and other family members moved from Iowa to the ranch or lived in the surrounding area. Eventually the ranch was developed into the Richardson Springs Resort, famous around the world for its healing mineral waters.

But just who were the Richardsons? Thanks to ANCHR, the Association for Northern California Historical Research, we have the answer. "A Brief History Of The Richardson Family, 1775-1924" ($16.95 in paperback from, which lists local businesses carrying ANCHR publications) takes its title from material compiled by Nellie Eliza McClard Woodward, one of Pierce's nieces, in 1924.

The editors (Josie Reifschneider-Smith, Ron Womack, Mike Boggs, Michelle Rader, Nancy Leek, and David Brown) have also included extensive excerpts from family letters (1845 through 1906); additional historical photographs not found in the original Woodward manuscript; a brief history of the family in California by Larry Richardson, Pierce's grandson (written in 1960); and an article by Ron Womack about Pierce. 

The book is a compendium rather than a continuous narrative and invites browsing. Pierce is an especially interesting character. In a letter dated May 13, 1868, Pierce, in Chico, sent his brother William, then living in Centerville, Iowa, the following observations: 

"We have commenced cutting hay here," he writes. "Crops are going to be good here this year. ... Politicks is running very high now. I hope that Grant ... will get beat so bad he will be ashamed to own that he ever run for President. ... I am nocking along here at $40.00 per month. I never go to church or to dances or gamble or drink any. So I am about the same, only getting oalder very fast. I am as gray as a rat." (The spelling is Pierce's.)

Though a few pages are devoted to the early history of Richardson Springs (named when the resort was established in 1908), the focus is on how a big, ordinary family made its way in the Chico area so long ago.