Sunday, April 24, 2016

“My Grandma Angel”

Lisa DeLaby is Director of the Office of Institutional Advancement and Butte College Foundation, but the Oroville resident is also a mother of five.

Amidst the joys of family life loss and grief can come without warning, and parents must decide how best to comfort young children. Books can play a significant role in helping kids verbalize their loss and direct their imagination more positively.

“My Grandma Angel” ($17.99 in paperback from AuthorHouse; also for Amazon Kindle) by Lisa Rhoads DeLaby, illustrated by Dan Drewes, is a tender story based on LeLaby’s own experience. Told by a young girl, it begins in tears.

“My grandma died suddenly,” she says on the first page. “I didn’t even get a chance to say good-bye. She wasn’t sick, so I don’t know why she had to die and go to heaven.”

Then, “When I cried and told my mom I missed my grandma, she said it’s normal to feel really sad and cry when we lose someone we love. Mom gave me a big bear hug, squeezing me almost as hard as Grandma used to. It made me feel much better.”

Memories rush in, cooking and going to the movies.

There is something more. “The truth is, my grandma can now do things that she never could before. That’s because now she’s a special angel. I like to call her my Grandma Angel. My Grandma Angel can visit me in my dreams, now that she is in heaven.” And “she has all sorts of special powers.”

That cooling breeze? “That’s my Grandma Angel fanning me with one of her wings.” Rainbows are her way of saying hello. “During the day, I bet my grandma is doing good things to help others. She could be on a spy mission, saving the planet from harm, helping the Tooth Fairy, or sewing in Santa’s workshop with the elves.”

It’s the stuff of dreams, and in those dreams “Grandma and I can travel together anywhere….” “I’m happy that my Grandma Angel will always be in my heart and my dreams.” A series of questions on the last page asks about the reader’s own special angel.

Is that a smile I see?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

“Death Comes For The Deconstructionist”

“Death Comes For The Deconstructionist” ($22 in hardcover from Slant; also for Amazon Kindle) by Daniel Taylor ( is a mystery. Who killed Richard Pratt, literary theorist extraordinaire?

Enter narrator Jon Mote, once one of Pratt’s students. Pratt’s wife hires him to investigate; she tells him: “I just feel like there’s something there to be seen that the police wouldn’t recognize if they tripped over it. I think you can help.”

So the quest begins. Mote is “on the wrong side of thirty-five, as our culture judges such things. I am separated from my wife, … living with my sister, who, despite substantial challenges, is far more acclimated to life than I am. … I get most of my opinions from cable television. … And, oh yes, I hear voices. They do not wish me well.”

His sister Judy, who has cognitive and linguistic disabilities, is the moral core of the novel. Her love for Jon goads him on when things go awry.

The first Mrs. Pratt recalls someone far different than the sophisticated scholar; “Dickie” Pratt grew up in the South and participated in the hanging of an African-American man (the local newspaper called it a “suicide”). After the divorce, he changed.

“He had converted to a new religion,” Jon realizes, “one that promised him a new kind of absolution from his sins, not least by dismissing the idea that there were sins to be absolved from. No fixed boundaries, no metanarratives, no sin, and voila, no guilt. It’s a game I am trying to play myself.”

This quirky and astute novel explores that “game” and what happens when the misguided deconstructionist finds freedom in “killing words.”

One who got angry at Pratt’s last lecture, Verity Jackson, tells Jon: “Dr. Pratt wasn’t just talking about Big Brother and God and most of the writers who have given me hope in life; he was also undermining Martin and Malcolm and Sojourner and Gandhi and anyone else who ever said, ‘This is wrong and things should be different.’ Words may just be play for him, but they aren’t play for people like me who depend on their stories.”

Verity, of course, means truth.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

“The Game Warden’s Son”

Inspired by the success of his first book, “Badges, Bears, and Eagles,” Steven T. Callan is back with more. “The Game Warden’s Son” ($14.95 in paperback from Coffeetown Press; also for Amazon Kindle) “details over a half century of wildlife adventures and investigations, beginning with my storybook childhood as the son of a California Fish and Game warden.”

He spent his high school years in Orland, tagged along with his dad whenever he could, and became a warden in 1974. Later, he “spent the remainder of his thirty-year enforcement career in Redding.” You know he’d have stories to tell.

Callan ( interviewed more than a dozen retired officers from Fish and Game (later renamed Fish and Wildlife). The stories, reconstructed from available evidence and memories, with a touch of “dramatic enhancement,” range from San Diego to Orland; Chico to Redding; and beyond.

He and other wardens wage a never-ending battle against poachers, whether abalone, bears, deer, eagles, and the list goes on.

Callan has a visceral reaction to depredation. He opened the trunk of one perp and “it took all of the professionalism I could muster not to turn around and slap the cuffs on the miscreant standing next to me. The entire trunk was filled with dead song birds: mockingbirds, thrashers, robins, meadowlarks, towhees, and a single male Bullock’s oriole”--all under legal protection. Why songbirds? “Birds like this are delicacy in old country,” says the man.

Then there are the “spotlighters” who “drive around shining their headlights or handheld, high-powered spotlights into the surrounding countryside until a pair of green eyes shines back. Bang! The deer is thrown into the trunk of a car or the bed of a pickup, and away they go.”

These are stories of wardens’ dogged determination, long stakeouts, and creative stings, all for the love of nature. As a tribute to Wally Callan, his son could do no better.

Callan is the scheduled interview guest on Nancy’s Bookshelf, with host Nancy Wiegman, this Friday at 10:00 a.m. on North State Public Radio (, KCHO 91.7 FM). He will be signing copies of his book at the Chico Costco on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

“Ishi Means Man”

Ishi “died of tuberculosis in 1916,” Thomas Merton writes, “after four and a half years among white men.” For the hundredth anniversary of Ishi’s death, Paulist Press has reprinted a small compilation of essays, written toward the end of Merton’s life, exploring the spiritual lives of the indigenous peoples of the West.

Merton, the influential Catholic writer, who died in 1968, entered a Trappist monastery in Kentucky in 1941. According to the Thomas Merton Center he became an activist in the civil rights and peace movements of the Sixties, drawing “severe criticism, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who assailed his political writings as unbecoming of a monk.”

“Ishi Means Man” ($9.95 in paperback from Paulist Press; also for Amazon Kindle) features a short introduction by Dorothy Day, who co-founded the Catholic Worker newspaper in 1933 to promote her radical economic ideas. Some of the essays were originally published in Day’s newspaper, as was the title piece.

Merton’s reflections on Ishi are shaped by Theodora Kroeber’s “Ishi In Two Worlds: A Biography Of The Last Wild Indian In North America,” published in 1964. “The Yana Indians,” he writes, “(including the Yahi or Mill Creeks) lived around the foothills of Mount Lassen, east of the Sacramento River. Their country came within a few miles of Vina where the Trappist monastery in California stands today.”

Merton sees Ishi’s story as a “parable.” Facing attacks, Ishi’s people retreated into the hills. “The Yahi remnant (and that phrase takes on haunting biblical resonances) systematically learned to live as invisible and unknown.”

Writing during the throes of the Vietnam conflict, Merton contrasts “the spectacle of our own country with its incomparable technological power, its unequalled material strength, its psychic turmoil, its moral confusion, and its profound heritage of guilt…. What is most significant is that Vietnam seems to have become an extension of our old western frontier, complete with enemies of another ‘inferior’ race.”

Ishi never revealed his actual name. “In the end, no one ever found out a single name of the vanished community. Not even Ishi’s. For Ishi simply means MAN.”

If Merton co-opted Ishi for his own political agenda, readers may still find his words worth pondering.