A Blog of Book Reviews

These book reviews are also featured on my blog, Scorpion Stalking Duck. Here they are distilled out of the rest of the posts, kind of like that scum at the top of a pot full of boiled potatoes. The title of this blog - and the quote above - come from the forward of Hillaire Belloc's book, The Path to Rome.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy

Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy

by John Janaro
Servant Books (January 2010)

The only criticism I have about this book is that Dr. Janaro never revealed how he got the fish to leap from one bowl to another. Other than this one deficiency, I have nothing but praise for this book.

John Janaro has written a meditation on pain and suffering; in this case, he writes about his own struggle with chronic pain. He discusses his own physical problems as well as the mental challenges which often accompany patients with chronic pain. Where other men (like me) would probably have given up under the weight of the physical and mental anguish, John has wrestled with his sorrow in order to make sense of it. In the process, he has given us a book which helps all of those who deal with physical pain and depression. To rephrase a line from his book, I would say that it is good to be John Janaro. Anyone can benefit from reading this book; I showed it to a psychologist friend, and plan on sending one to a person who suffers from chronic depression.

As is mentioned in the title, the concept of God's Mercy runs through the whole book. There are four sections in this book; the first deals with Janaro's background, and how he got to where he is today. The second looks at a typical day in the life of a person with chronic pain. The third and fourth sections are on help for those who are suffering; the third is practical, or worldly help, while the fourth centers on spiritual help. Throughout each section, Janaro has some great insights into dealing with chronic pain and depression - for both the patient and for those who treat them. I shall briefly list the ones which I especially liked:

1. Depression can be transformed into an awareness of our total dependence on God (p. 22).
2. A great quote for our slacker society from Blessed John Henry Newman: "the aim of most men esteemed conscientious and religious...is, to all appearance, not how to please God, but how to please themselves without displeasing Him (p. 49)."
3. The fact that suffering does not necessarily go away when we receive the Grace to endure it.
4. Despite his suffering, Janaro has to acknowledge the Mercy of God at work throughout his life. He writes about four things which have been constant in his life. He might have been writing it about me. You will have to buy the book to find this insight. Sorry.

Janaro ends the book writing about how devotion to the Blessed Mother and prayer - especially before the Blessed Sacrament - can help deal with physical and mental illness. I enjoyed this book, and I recommend it for those who suffer from chronic pain and depression as well as for those who care for them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What I Wish I'd Known about Raising a Child with Autism

What I Wish I'd Known about Raising a Child with Autism: A Mom and a Psychologist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five Years

Bobbie Sheahan
Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D.
Future Horizons (2011)

Before starting, I must make a few disclaimers. One is that I was asked to preview this book by the author. I was delighted to be asked and am not receiving any type of compensation for this blog entry. Second, although I am a physician, I do not practice any specialty which addresses the diagnosis and management of autism; however, I do have a lot of experience with autistic children. As a pediatric anesthesiologist, I care for autistic children who require anesthesia for surgical, dental, and other procedures. More importantly, as a parent, I was blessed with an autistic child for fifteen years. Carolyn and I were blessed with our third son, Theodore, who passed away in April, 2008. This experience, as Bobbie Sheahan would say, does not make me an expert, but does help when reviewing this book.

In addition, this book represents my views and not those of my employer.

What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child With Autism was written by Bobbi Sheahan, a lawyer who is presently a stay at home mom, and Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D., a psychologist who treats autistic children. Mrs. Sheahan has a daughter, Grace, with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who is now seven years old. This book was inspired by the many challenges she faced in searching for a diagnosis as well as a treatment for Grace. This book was written to help those parents who are beginning to notice that one of their children appears to be ‘different‘ and don't know what to do about it. As Bobbi Sheahan says in the preface, “we are here to hold your hand as you walk through a door that you and your child didn’t choose....” Another reason for writing this book was to reassure parents who may feel overwhelmed with the behavior of an autistic child. To finish the sentence quoted above, “...come on in, there are lots of us here waiting for you.”

This book consists of thirteen chapters, and both authors contribute separately to each chapter. Mrs. Sheahan writes mainly from her own experience and research in dealing with Grace, while Dr. DeOrnellas provides her expert opinion to corroborate what Mrs. Sheahan has stated. I really appreciated this; especially when references cited in are listed at the end of each chapter. I don’t like reading things where it appears that data has been ‘pulled out of midair.’

The first three chapters deal with the basics of autism. In chapter one, Mrs. Sheahan relates some of her family background as well as the circumstances of her pregnancy and birth of Grace. She describes how Grace was different from her older sister, how she was quiet and easier to manage as an infant. Chapter two is all by Dr. DeOrnellas, with terminology and statistics discussed, including the cost for the treatment of autism. That was rather sobering. In chapter three, Mrs. Sheahan begins to realize that Grace is different, and talks about the difficulty of coming to grips with having a child who is not considered normal. Finding a professional who could help her was very difficult, and the lessons learned from that effort are discussed in this chapter as well.

Chapter four has a section in it called ‘a completely non-scientific discussion of the origins of autism, with no conclusions reached.’ This is a good description for this chapter. Some of the theories mentioned are very thought-provoking.

After this journey into the theoretical, the fifth chapter delves into the practical - and sometimes unsavory - aspects of parenting an autistic child. Food preferences and abnormalities, such as pica are discussed, as are challenges with maintaining good oral hygiene. The extensive efforts needed to childproof an autistic child’s house reminds me that raising an autistic child involves all members of the household, especially the siblings.

Chapters six, seven, and eight deal with some of the more striking characteristics of autistic children. Communication and social skills, pain tolerance issues, and the need for a routine are all discussed. Here, Mrs. Sheahan makes a recommendation which I think should have come at the start of the book: keep a journal. This is a great idea, for any parent, but especially for parents of children with autism. Chapter eight also contains some great insight into the mind of an autistic child:

“What the books of Temple Grandin and many conversations with Dr. DeOrnellas taught me was that much of Grace’s behavior is motivated by anxiety. I started to write “inexplicable behavior,” but it’s quite explicable; I just need to apply myself to learning my child’s language. She speaks more with actions than in words, and she doesn’t do things just to frustrate or confuse me. She does things for a reason, and if I am respectful of the fact that the reasons are perfectly reasonable to her, I just might learn what that reason is.”

This is still good advice.

Chapters nine, ten and eleven deal with education issues, siblings - especially sibling rivalry issues, friendships, and dealing with the world in general. I had to laugh when Dr. DeOrnellas was discussing animal therapy with autistic children and mentioned a family who had moved from California to North Texas and expected that their child would be able to continue ‘dolphin therapy.’

Chapter twelve is for parents, especially mothers. Mrs. Sheahan makes the point that one parent cannot do this alone; husbands have to be involved in the care of an autistic child. Other means for help are out there as well, but none is as important as the love between and husband and a wife directed toward the care of their children.

There is No Finish Line is the title of the final chapter, which points out that raising an autistic child will probably never end. They may never be able to leave your care. This thought kept going through my mind as I read this book, for the Sheahan family has not gone through that time of life known as adolescence with an autistic child.

In chapter twelve, Mrs. Sheahan mentions one of the greatest blessings of having an autistic child, one which I have seen in our own life:

“One of the major upsides of our situation is that we have the nicest people in our lives because everyone else has fled.”

It’s true. Some people can’t deal with someone else’s autistic child, and those who can are really practicing charity. Mrs. Sheahan gives many examples of people who understand it when Grace does odd things, or when the whole family has to leave a party or other social engagement suddenly. Those people really reflect the face of Christ when they let someone like Grace into their lives.

I liked this book. I liked the organization of it, as it went from Grace’s birth, early development, and growth. Along the way, the various challenges which autism brings to life were discussed, including Dr. DeOrnellas’ input as a professional. This gave credence to Mrs. Sheahan’s observations. I appreciated the references at the end of each chapter, and the bibliography at the end of the book gives many great suggestions for further reading.

One thing that took a while for me to get used to was Mrs. Sheahan’s sense of humor. There were times when I thought it was a bit much for such a serious subject. After reading half of the book, I decided to step back a moment and stop thinking about why I did not care for her humorous remarks, and instead ask myself why she included humor in this book. The answer came, almost instantaneously, that something as daunting as raising an autistic child requires that a parent keep a sense of humor. There are enough tears and heartaches in raising a ‘normal‘ child, let alone one with autism, and humor provides a tremendous consolation.

I would recommend this book without reservation. It serves as a good book for those who are considering that their child may be autistic, or have children newly diagnosed as autistic. This book would be a good beginner book for parents who want to know about autism, and a great source for further reading on the subject.

I have tried (unsuccessfully) to write this review without bringing my own experience as a father of an autistic child into it. Now that the review is over, I will break that vow. While reading this book, I was reminded of so many things which Theodore did, and how hard it was to deal with him at times. But more often, I recall the things he did which gave us a laugh, or great joy. He really loved to make us laugh. With time, the memories of the heartaches fade more than the laughter. For us, the ‘Finish Line‘ was at fifteen with Theodore, which ended suddenly on a Thursday morning in April, 2008. For those of you with autistic children, I want to tell you that there really is only one thing harder than living with the cross of an autistic child: living without him.

Stephen M. Donahue, M.D.
March, 2011

Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld

Something for the 'Inkling' in all of us......

Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld
Hart Seely, Editor
Free Press, 2003

For those of you who have never heard of the Inklings, I direct you toward this Wikipedia page. In brief, the Inklings consisted of a group of British authors who would meet occasionally to discuss and read their work to one another. Notable members of the group include J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield. In addition to discussing serious works, the Inklings used to enjoy a little bit of fun. One of their favorite pastimes included having a competition to see how long one could read the poetry of Amanda McKittrick Ros without laughing. Mrs. Ros is truly a unique poet, weaving words into a tapestry of literary art which challenges the intellect and self control of the reader.

I wish I had one-tenth of her ability. She is an inspiration to me.

Hart Seely, the editor of 'Pieces of Intelligence,' pored over the words of Donald H. Rumsfeld's interviews and news briefings given while he was Secretary of Defense during the early years of the Bush Administration. What he discovered was that beneath the veneer of a professional statesman beats the heart of a poet. In many instances Rumsfeld demonstrates a variety of poetic forms depending on the message he wishes to convey. Mr. Seely has organized these different styles of poetry into seven chapters, including one on Haiku(my favorite), Sonnets, Lyrical Poems, and of course, Free Verse.

It was hard to pick one poem to quote as a favorite; I found I loved all of the poems, and would disturb the quiet of my household with laughter as I shared this book with my wife and children. They did not seem to appreciate it as much as I did. Here is one example, taken from a DOD briefing in December, 2002:

The Story

I was briefed on that story before I came down.
I have not gone over it.
It's interesting.
Let me try to put it in context,
And then I'll see if I can answer it.

I have no idea what it's about.


As it is said in the Introduction, the poetry of D.H. Rumsfeld demands to be read aloud. I strongly recommend this book as one which will be enjoyed the most when read aloud to one's colleagues, friends, and loved ones. It is not a serious book at all, and it pokes fun at a very capable public servant without being malicious. While this book did not inspire me to write any more of my own 'Bad Poetry,' it did prompt me to purchase Mr. Rumsfeld's memoir 'Known and Unknown' on sale at our local Costco. Mr. Seely's good-natured treatment of former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld left me admiring him not only as a statesman during a difficult time in our country's history, but also as a poet worthy of imitation.

Framing Faith: A Pictorial History of Communities of Faith

Book Review:

Framing Faith: A Pictorial History of Communities of Faith

Sarah Piccini
Ivana Pavelka

Tribute Books

Disclaimer: Tribute Books invited me to review this book, and supplied me with an electronic copy of it. No other goods were received by me, and the opinions expressed here are my own. I thank Tribute Books for the opportunity to review this book.

Framing Faith: A Pictorial History of Communities of Faith is a tribute in pictures to the various Catholic ethnic groups which settled for a time in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania. From the mid-1800’s until the early 1900’s, immigrants from Europe moved into Northeast Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines and iron works which were the main industry of the region. Along with their distinct languages, the settlers brought their unique traditions and culture with them, especially those related to their Faith. This book showcases ten Catholic churches which were founded by different communities, and is a testimony to the devotion of the men and women who sought to retain their culture and faith in their new homeland.

This book originally started as a project to preserve some record of the many churches which were closing in Lackawanna County, which is part of the diocese of Scranton. Over time, the endeavor grew, with photographs provided for the book by art students as well as Ms. Pavelka. Ms. Piccini complimented the photo essay with a brief but relevant history of the founding, growth, and decline of each parish. Funding was provided by the ARTS Engage! Program, Northeastern Educational Intermediate Unit (NEIU 19), and the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority. The artists and writer who contributed to this book have succeeded in achieving their stated goal: to preserve the history of these now empty churches in an informative and entertaining manner.

Briefly, the book consists of an introduction and ten chapters. The introduction gives important background information to the reader. In the next ten chapters, ten churches are presented, from their humble beginnings in the hearts and minds of the people, to their construction, growth, maturation, and sad but inevitable closure. Most of the churches were started either to provide for the needs of a new wave of immigrants arriving from a different country, or because travel to the closest existing church was too far or difficult to face every Sunday. Construction for most of these churches was funded by the parishioners, and much of the labor was done by the men after a long day in the mines or foundries. The author reports that the people contributed to make each of the churches a thing of beauty, with an emphasis on devotions which were specific to each particular ethnic group. Key events in the history of the churches - and the pastors who led the parish through them - were mentioned as well. The closure of each church, but not really any explanation for it, ends each chapter.

Every chapter includes photographs taken by Ms. Pavelka and her students. The pictures vary in each chapter, from external shots, close-ups of statues, to scenes in the sanctuary. These are an excellent collection of photographs of the churches at the time of closure. It is unfortunate that there are no pictures from the 1800’s or early 1900’s.

One thing which troubled me about this book was that there was no reason given for the closure of so many churches in one diocese. The most likely answer is that the coal and iron resources were depleted, and the jobs went away. As a result, the workers moved on. Another explanation is that the children of immigrants work hard to have a better life; usually this is done by pursuing an education and a professional career. Perhaps there is another explanation which I shall put forward: the closure of the churches is connected with the changes in the church which are reflected in the architecture.

In the introduction, a church is described as processing from the entrance - or narthex - where secular business takes place, to the baptismal font, or stoup of Holy Water. This is followed by a central aisle which leads the faithful up to the high altar. Upon this altar, we Catholics believe that the priest changes the bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. It is where Heaven comes down to Earth, and the fine metals, cloth, and silk used on the altar should convey to the faithful a sense that something Holy is taking place on the altar. Before the 1960’s, the priest faced away from the congregation, toward the Tabernacle, which was the center of the altar and held the consecrated Hosts. For a Catholic, the Tabernacle is the most important part of the altar. A good example of this is a quote about Fr. George Schmidt, who was pastor of St. Mary’s starting in 1928:

Father Schmidt was a devout and pious man, for whom “everything accomplished started at the Tabernacle....they have noticed his daily visits to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament....” (p. 27)

Contrast this with what happened to every one of these churches. For six of the churches, Ms. Piccini specifically mentions that renovations were made in order to conform with changes made after Vatican II in the 1960’s. Some of the most common changes were the placement of the altar so the priest faces the congregation, and elimination of the Communion rail; I have no idea what was changed in any of these churches because there are no old pictures. But what I can see is that in at least half of the churches, the Tabernacle is no longer front and center on the altar; instead, a stately chair, more like a throne, is positioned in the place of honor.

One altar - the one where Fr. Schmidt spent so much time before the Blessed Sacrament - looks like something off the set of Star Trek - The Original Series:

(Photo: Ivana Pavelka - notes added by me)

I would argue that the changes in the church architecture represent an emphasis on Man over God. God has been relegated to the sidelines by placing the Tabernacle on a side altar, and Man is the center of one’s attention at the summit of the altar. The priest now faces the congregation, so that the people concentrate upon him rather than the devotions and intercessions he would offer to God for his people if he were facing the altar. It would follow that putting Man before God will result in a loss of the faithful, loss of vocations, loss of churches. I don’t mean to single out the Diocese of Scranton; this has happened all over the world.

This book was a good read; I recommend it to all history buffs. I found the historical vignette of each parish fascinating, and the pictures were an excellent representation of each church. I also enjoy any book which makes me think; in this case, thinking of a possible connection between architecture and our Faith.

Stephen M. Donahue
May 22, 2011


Here are various links for the book which I neglected to publish last night:

Book web site:

Book Facebook:

Sarah Piccini Facebook:

Ivana Pavelka Facebook:

Tribute Books website:

Tribute Books Facebook:

Tribute Books Twitter:


Book Review:


Anthony Esolen
Intercollegiate Studies Institute

I purchased this book after attending a dinner where the author, Anthony Esolen, was the guest speaker. We were late for the dinner, and so Carolyn and I - and the oldest five children living at home - polished off the remaining spaghetti right before Dr. Esolen started. The speech was far better than the spaghetti.

TEN WAYS TO DESTROY THE IMAGINATION OF YOUR CHILD is another in a series of books which proposes to do just the opposite of its stated goal. The most famous example of this genre would have to be C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, where a senior devil is writing letters of encouragement and advice to a junior devil who is working on ruining the soul of his 'patient.' The book also reminded me of a product which was sold during the Prohibition era - grape juice - which came complete with instructions on how to NOT ferment their product to produce wine. One can benefit from doing the opposite of what is suggested in all of these pieces of literature.

In his introduction, Dr. Esolen states that "a judicious application of even three or four of these methods will suffice to kill the imagination of an Einstein, a Beethoven, a Dante, or a Michelangelo." Of course this is not what he wants, so every chapter looks at the various things which are being squeezed out of the life of a child; things which will stimulate the mind of a boy or a girl to grow into independent, thinking man and women whose minds are free to think on their own.

I found the book inspiring, with every chapter full of references to great works of literature to recommend to my children. There is even a bibliography at the end of the book for those of us who are trying to construct a home library. Dr. Esolen has a writing style which is enjoyable to read, even when the subject is serious. For example, this paragraph made my wife and I chuckle when I read it to her as we both were drifting off to sleep:

Chastity is absurdly easy to laugh at. For of all, no one is chaste. Second, it is stupid to be chaste to begin with. What's all the bother about, anyway? Elizabeth Bennett believes, in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, that her family will be disgraced when it becomes known that her silly sister Lydia has run off, unmarried, with a soldier. Weren't they quaint and unenlightened in Jane Austen's day? Better that Elizabeth Bennett should follow her sister's lead, ignoring that prig Mr. Darcy, and make the carriage springs squeak with Colonel Denny or someone - anyone will do.

Dr. Esolen focuses on several institutions which have seriously hampered the imagination of the child: television, schools, and lack of free or unscheduled time in the life of the child. In his lecture, he talked about a game he used to play, where one would try to guess if a collection of buildings one would see on trips was either a prison, a school, or a factory. He pointed out that all three are built in the same manner and perform the same function. Once again, in his introduction he describes the phenomenon known as Take Your Daughter to Work Day:

"See, Jill, this is the office where Mommy works. Here is where I sit for nine hours and talk to people I don't love, about things that don't genuinely interest me, so that I can make enough money to put you in day care."

I enjoyed reading the book. Like any other good book, TEN WAYS TO DESTROY THE IMAGINATION OF YOUR CHILD inspired me to want to read more classic literature which Dr. Esolen mentioned in this excellent addition to my library.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Stanley Seagull, by Cathy Mazur

Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this book as a PDF file from the publisher, and I am receiving no compensation for writing this review.  I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing this book.

Stanley Seagull

by Cathy Mazur

illustrated by Colleen Gedrich

Tribute Books

Kurt Vonnegut allegedly said that any story can be simplified to the point that it is just another version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It might take a while to figure it out, but all the basic elements can be rooted out of any composition consisting of complete sentences organized into reasonably-sized paragraphs: dysfunctional family, character flaws, failed relationships, death, and ghosts. Consider the movie Top Gun as a good example of this concept. I disagree with the late Mr. Vonnegut, because he has overgeneralized when he said all stories are rewrites of Hamlet.  The book I review today is not a variation on the theme of Hamlet, but is more than just a children's story. Stanley Seagull, written by Cathy Mazur and illustrated by Colleen Gedrich, is a delightful children’s book which my children enjoyed having read out loud to them. It does have an underlying theme which may not be obvious to the younger reader, but may interest the adult elocutionist.

In brief, Stanley is a seagull who lives somewhere along the northeast coast of the United States. I thought it was along the coast of New York or New Jersey, probably because Stanley hangs out on the boardwalk. Perhaps it is because I have fond childhood memories of visiting the Boardwalk in Atlantic City in the early 1970's. Stanley thinks only of food: where to get it, where to get more, how to get more. Even his relationships with other birds are dominated by the thought of eating and how to satisfy this one single desire. He obviously is an immature bird, as he has not been invited to feed at the choicest feeding grounds. When he does get invited there, he discovers that it is a dump, a landfill along the shore. He is warned to be careful and be ready to flee at a moment’s notice, but he forgets all caution as he gorges on the many delights spread before him. He ends up trapped in a garbage truck, which takes him far from the ocean. He ends up at a city dump, which looks a lot like the landfill he just left: there is plenty of food and seagulls, but it is colder, and there is no ocean. He misses the ocean.

He meets the other birds; one, named Walter, advises him to stay as the journey back to the ocean is too far. He tries to escape anyway. After flying for a while, he spots what he thinks is the ocean but is actually just the wet pavement of a parking lot. He returns to the garbage dump, dejected. Walter advises Stanley that the only way to return to the ocean is to make the return trip in one of the garbage trucks. It is difficult to sneak aboard, but Stanley accomplishes this. He completes the trip back to the ocean and is reunited with his friends, his cousin Seymor, and his beloved ocean.

For my younger children who sat with me while I read it aloud, this was a pleasant little book which kept them interested for a while. They liked the story as well as the illustrations which went along with it. As I looked over the book, I did start to notice a few themes which struck me, and I shall elaborate on each one briefly. Stanley is more than just a seagull when seen through the eye of metaphor and symbolism.

To begin with, I saw Stanley as a Christ figure. Consider that he enters a cave in which he falls into a deep sleep; this is reminiscent of Christ lying in the tomb after His death on the cross. He goes to a place which may be considered Hell, or Purgatory. The occupants he meets are physically taken care of, but they are separated from what is their true nature; namely, to be living near the sea. Stanley breaks out of this other place, once again having to enter the cave and falling into a deep sleep. He returns to his former, preferred life; he is resurrected from the dead, so to speak. What does not go along with Stanley as a Christ figure is that he does not come back to improve the life of the seagulls in either location; in fact, one would think that those birds representing the Just would be liberated from the city dump along with Stanley. Another problem is that Stanley receives more help than he gives to those in what one might consider Hell or Purgatory.

Two other characters in literature fit Stanley even better: Jonah and Pinocchio. All three characters end up in the hold of a vessel of sorts; for Jonah and Pinocchio, it is the belly of a large fish. For Stanley, his symbolic whale is the hold of a garbage truck. All three end up in this type of prison because of their fallen nature: Jonah disobeys God, Pinocchio is constantly getting into trouble, and Stanley fails to avoid danger while he is busy gorging himself. Finally, all three are chastised and learn, grow from the experience.

However, I think the literary figure Stanley resembles the most is actually Dante Alighieri in Purgatorio. In the Divine Comedy, Dante visits Purgatory and sees how the occupants are forced to perform penances which are related to their particular sin (or sins). In Stanley’s Purgatory, he realizes that his love for food has subordinated his love for self-preservation, and that this is how he ended up in the city dump. He must conquer his overwhelming love for food before he can be free again. He has to return to the garbage truck - his own cave - without enjoying any of the delights which are found within in order to find salvation. Helping Stanley discern his plight - and the solution – is Walter, a bespectacled and feathered rendition of Virgil, who is Dante’s guide through Purgatory. Without his explanation, Stanley would have pined away at the city dump for the rest of his life.

Another theme which is briefly explored is the concept of the protagonist coming of age in the story. Stanley is obviously an immature and inexperienced bird awaiting the opportunity to develop into an adult bird. The scene where Stanley watches Seymor steal a hot dog, and when Stanley is finally invited to feast at the landfill along the shoreline are metaphors for the child on the verge of manhood.  Unfortunately, the story does not follow through with this theme after Stanley comes back from the city dump.

In conclusion, Stanley Seagull is a good read for adults as well as children. Whether the author intended to create a metaphor for Dante’s Purgatorio is debatable. What is not debatable is the comment my ten-year old son made about it. He liked the book simply because Stanley found his way back home.


Back home.

Perhaps it is really a rewrite of The Odyssey?

Stephen M. Donahue
September 7, 2011

My favorite picture from the book: Stanley flying over his beloved ocean.  Illustrated by Colleen Gedrich.

More about this book:

Stanley Seagull web site:


Tribute Books website:

Book Summary:

Meet a young seagull named Stanley. Follow him as he wanders far from home and tries to find his way back. Join Stanley on his journey as he learns how humans affect the balance of nature.

Cathy Mazur's Bio:

Born in Scranton, Pa., Cathy Mazur is the daughter of Gary and Catherine H. Errico. She was educated in the Dunmore public school system and graduated from Dunmore High School in 1971. She received a bachelor’s degree in Library Science from Mansfield State College in 1975. She received a Reading Specialist Certificate from the University of Scranton in 1978. Cathy was employed as an elementary school librarian for the Mid Valley School District from 1975 until her retirement in 2010. While at Mid Valley, she instituted and coordinated the RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) program for 33 years helping students to develop a love of reading outside the classroom. Cathy served on the Board of Directors for the Valley Community Library in Peckville, Pa. for over 20 years acting as president for one year and board secretary for 19 years. She presently serves on the library’s Developmental Committee chairing various fundraising events. She resides in Dickson City, Pa. with Frank, her husband of 31 years. They are the parents of two children, Gary, 27 and Gia, 19. Now in her retirement, she is focused on writing books for children like Stanley Seagull.

Colleen Gedrich's Bio:

Colleen Gedrich, a lifelong resident Throop, Pa., earned a BFA in illustration from Marywood University in 2002. She is a freelance illustrator specializing in animal-themed work. She enjoys creating her art using mostly watercolor and pastel. As a dedicated animal rights activist and full-time program coordinator for International Society for Animal Rights (ISAR), Colleen lives her dream of joining her passions for animals and art to promote a more harmonious world with a touch of beauty. Recent works produced by Colleen include t-shirt and invitation designs, children’s book illustrations (A Different Kind of Hero), and book covers (With God There Is Hope). Colleen has also teamed up with her very talented artist mother, Kathy Holmes Gedrich, and paints murals for children’s nurseries.

Price: $16.95
ISBN: 9780983741817
Pages: 32
Release: July 2011

Price: $7.95
ISBN: 9780983741800
Pages: 32
Release: July 2011

Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose

Today is a good day to publish a brief review of Stephen Ambrose's book, Band of Brothers.

I thought I would just mention a few things about the book that struck me when I read it.  For a more thorough review, look somewhere else.

First of all, the title comes from Shakespeare's play Henry V, and I shall include the words and a stirring video of the lines from the 1989 movie of the same name.

Second, I read this book to make sure that the language and events were not inappropriate for one of my sons who wished to read it.  With the exception of a section where the author discusses the vulgar language of the troops, there is very little that it offensive in this book.

Third, I was struck while reading this how these young men who did such gallant deeds in the 1940's are now the old men we see in hospitals, nursing homes, and on the city streets.  It is sobering to think of their courage, the blessing of surviving the war, and yet the fact that death comes for them (and us all) eventually.  As a friend of mine who practices geriatrics at the local Veteran's Administration hospital put it, "the World War II vets are dropping like flies."  The main subject of the book, Major Dick Winters, died in January of this year.

Fourth, I finally realized a good reason for jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.  In the book, Ambrose mentions how the airborne troops were a select group of soldiers, and that they were a cut above the regular Army inductee.  As such, they were far more professional, driven, and competent, and made for a better unit when in combat.  The alternative was to be stuck with all the soldiers who were not necessarily going to be there to fight well in battle.

Fifth, the Airborne troops were used for jumping ahead, or rather, behind enemy lines, and so they would not stay on the ground and follow the conflict as it progressed on land.  In the case of the 101st Airborne, they were relieved after D-Day, sent back to England to re-group and get replacements, and then sent back to battle later.  In the case of the 101st, several times they were training for a drop, but then the ground troops advanced past their target before they could join them.

Last and most surprising, was the revelation that the Americans felt that they had the most in common with the Germans.  It made me wonder what would have happened if this fact were known before we got into the war.  Perhaps it is a moot point, since the Japanese attacked us first, followed by the rest of the Axis countries declaring war on us; at that time, public sentiment probably did not care who had attacked us as long as someone paid for it.

I recommend this book without reservation.  I know that there is some controversy surrounding the works of Stephen E. Ambrose, but this book still is a good read.

Now, a brief look at Henry V, and the St. Crispin's Day Speech which inspired the name of this book.  Henry V made this speech to his men before the battle at Agincourt:

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford, and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."
Here is Kenneth Branagh as Henry V, giving his rendition of it from the 1989 movie:

A Love That Multiplies, by Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar

A Love That Multiplies

By Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar



Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar announced last week that they are expecting their 20th child, so it seems like a good time to review their most recent book, A Love That Multiplies. In addition, Carolyn asked me to read it because she thought there were some things in it which we could find helpful in raising our medium-size family with only 12 children. No family is perfect, especially one with children at every level of development, so it is good to look around to see what other large families are doing to raise excellent children. The Duggars have a lot of good advice to give.

This book is written in the first person, and is evenly divided between Jim Bob and Michelle. Occasionally the other spouse will interject some comment, adding to the subject. The book indicates whenever the speaker changes by putting Jim Bob or Michelle's name in parentheses at the start of their part. Throughout the book, recipes from the Duggar household are featured along the margin. While I thought they were out of place in some of the more serious parts of the book, they did help to lighten up the material in the main part of the book.

One observation I have about the recipes is that the Duggar family must not have a problem with sodium or high blood pressure.

The book is divided into four main parts; each of these parts consist of several chapters. The first part describes many of the challenges surrounding the premature birth of their youngest daughter, Josie. The second part deals with sharing their faith with others - only in part through the show on The Learning Channel. They describe other ways that they evangelize; it was great to hear that they would not do the TV show unless their faith were included in it. The third section discusses the way that they are raising their children, and the last part deals with relationships, including a advice on courtship, managing teenagers, and purity.

Concerns about the Book:

Before discussing some of the salient points I took away from the book, I have to make some comments about this book which should be kept in mind. First, the Duggars have done rather well in their real estate business, with rental properties which provide income with variable effort on their part. Additionally, the TLC show pays them for each show. Both of these facts make it possible for Jim Bob to be around his family a lot more than most working fathers can be. This does not excuse other men from being involved in their children's lives, it just means that most fathers have to be sure to carve out whatever time they can to be there for their sons and daughters.

Another related item is that the Duggars go on more field trips and outings than any family I know. I suspect this is also related to the format of the TLC show. Certainly no one wants to watch a show featuring the Duggar children doing laundry, matching socks, and scrubbing the floors. In addition, any facility or project which hosts the Duggar family is getting a lot of free publicity, so they probably give a discount to the family. Frequent outings are wonderful, but not very practical for most other families.

One last concern I had with the book is that it appears that the Duggars did take their dedication to ministry a bit too far after the birth of Josie. While Josie was in the NICU, the Duggars moved temporarily to Little Rock, Arkansas in order to be together. They still had to manage their house and business in their home town, and they had some commitments to appear publicly as well. In addition, Michelle's father fell and broke his hip around that time, and Michelle was torn between being with her father and staying with her premature baby. When her father died, she was alone with Josie in Little Rock, while Jim Bob and the rest of the family were on a trip combining business and pleasure. At the point that Michelle gave birth to Josie, I think the family would have been better off to drop some of their commitments rather than be going in several directions while the youngest Duggar was in the NICU. This is just my opinion, but I think that marriage and family supersede all outside commitments; my place is with my wife first, and family second.

Things I liked about the Book:

There were many good points which were brought up in this book. One of the areas which struck me personally were the sections on anger management. Both Jim Bob and Michelle pointed out that a harsh, angry voice will only push children away from their parents. They described anger as forming a wall between parent and child. Some of their recommendations were for parents to practice voice control, and to be held accountable (to someone) when one loses his temper. None of this was new to me, but it always helps to have a good lesson reinforced from time to time.

Michelle Duggar wrote about relationships, reminding me of something I have yet to learn after more than 22 years of marriage. She described a familiar scenario, where she has had a stressful day full of challenges. At the end of the day, when her husband would come home, she would relate the troubles of the day to him. Here is where Jim Bob (and I) make the mistake: instead of listening and then consoling, reassuring, and encouraging our wives, we proceed to outline a solution for all the problems we just heard. This is the last thing a woman wants to hear. She already knows what the solution is, and doesn't need us to figure that out. What she needs is our support and encouragement. I still have trouble doing this, probably because the male brain is wired differently from the female brain; we see so many things in terms of what has to be done, while women are also concerned about the emotional aspect of things.

The Duggars have excellent advice on dating versus courtship, and the reason to save oneself - even kisses - until marriage. Their example of the bicycle intended for a birthday present which is used and abused by someone else beforehand is excellent, as is their practical, health-related argument for chastity. This chapter includes a great checklist of what a woman should - and should not - want in a future spouse. A lot of the things on the list apply to young men as well as women. The book ends with a list of references for further reading.

Other than the few objections mentioned above, I found this book to be an excellent and refreshing source of encouragement and inspiration for parents of a large family. I would recommend it to families of any size. The Duggars promote being open to life, allowing God to determine the size of your family - something I like to call Supernatural Family Planning - and in this book they have given excellent advice on how to raise up the children who have been given to you by Him.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, by Robert Barron

Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith
Robert Barron


This review will satisfy my part of the agreement.

In his book, Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, Fr. Robert Barron relates how Thomas Merton - before his conversion - responded when he discovered that the book he just bought had the words Imprimatur and Imprimi potest printed in the frontispiece.  Briefly, these words indicate that the work had been examined by the Catholic Church and had received approval for publication by it.  Only a Catholic book would have such a thing in it; in this case, the book was The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, by Etienne Gilson.

He was tempted to throw the book out the window.

It appears that Thomas Merton and I have more than just our Faith in common; we also appreciate the significance of words like Imprimatur, or Imprimi potest at the start of a book.  Therefore I was rather disappointed when I noticed that Fr. Barron’s book didn’t contain either one, or any other kind of approval from the Church other than the glowing reviews on the back of the dust jacket.  Strike One against the book.  This means that there may be some things in the book which may not pass the orthodoxy test, so I proceeded with caution as I read through the book.

I also am suspicious of writers who do not include their credentials prominently, especially if they are writing in their area of expertise.  It shows a lack of professionalism, or perhaps they don’t want to be seen as having some authority on the subject.  I can think of one reason a writer may want to do this, and it has to do with the audience they are writing to.  Still, I don’t like it.  I let my patients know I am a doctor when I am caring for them; likewise, a priest should not hide his profession while working to bring souls to Christ.  Strike Two against the book.

It wasn’t long before something jumped out of the book that seemed a bit unorthodox.  In his discussion of the Beatitudes, Fr. Barron quotes the Gospel of Matthew:

"Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God" (Mt 5:8)

Amen.  And then Fr. Barron explained this passage with this sentence:

"This means that you will be happy if there is no ambiguity in your heart (the deepest center of the self) about what is most important."

This was truly a ‘What The Heck?’ moment for me when I read this sentence.  There was no mention of the concept of purity, chastity, or having a soul free of sin.  Instead, the words of Christ are interpreted to mean that being true to one’s goals or desires - whatever they may be - is what is most important.  At least Fr. Barron had the intellectual honesty to avoid using the word ‘happy,’ or seeing God in his description; he must have known at the time that he was writing off the map.  Just to make sure that I was not current with any new interpretation of the Scriptures, I ran this passage of the book by a couple of priests I know, and they both separately expressed surprise and horror about such a misrepresentation. 

At this point I had to stop reading the book and try to figure out what Fr. Barron’s purpose was in writing this book.  I continued reading, and started noticing that a sizeable number of authors quoted by Fr. Barron were not Catholic.  Granted, he did quote Catholics throughout the book, but it seemed as if the number of Protestants cited  was a bit excessive for a book on the Catholic Church.  At this point I started to wonder if the audience for this book was not for Catholics; in other words, that this book was really intended to be part of the ‘New Evangelization’ George Weigel mentioned on the back of my book’s dust cover.  Perhaps this is so, but it is disappointing that it contains erroneous teachings of the Church like the example mentioned above. 

There were some good parts of this book.  Fr. Barron writes very well about the saints.  His short biographies on St. Katharine Drexel and St. Edith Stein were inspiring, as was her description of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  For me, this one brought back memories of how I had met Mother Teresa twenty-five years ago in Washington, DC.  In addition, the book is full of pictures of religious artwork which are related to the subject matter.  Catholic art is the best kind in the world, and Fr. Barron truly showcases this aspect of our Faith. 

But then he had to spoil it all by writing about Thomas Merton.  I know a little bit about Thomas Merton; my first letter to the editor of a major newspaper was about him.  I spent some time looking up more information online, and I even downloaded a lecture by Alice von Hildebrand called ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merton.’ In that speech, she related how he did not follow the Benedictine Rule, how he essentially left the Trappist monastery, and how he died alone, far from the benefits of the Last Rites, after giving a speech which equated Communism with the Monastic way of life.  After listening to von Hildebrand’s lecture, and reading other information about him, I would say that Fr. Barron picked a poor example for prayer and the contemplative life when he selected Thomas Merton.

In general, this book had a few good parts; namely, the lives of the saints and the pictures included in the text.  Fr. Barron is a good story teller, and he writes well enough to touch even the heart of this skeptical reader.  But these good aspects do not outweigh the fact that he probably could not get approval from the Diocesan Censor or the Bishop after writing such poor theology as the example mentioned above.  Perhaps this book is really just intended to attract our Separated Brethren back to the Church.  It is unfortunate that such a writer could not make this book as theologically sound as it is attractive.

Postscript:  Here is a brief summary for the Latin terms I mentioned above.  The link explains these terms in greater detail: 

Religious Superior's stamp:    IMPRIMI POTEST    "it can be printed"

Censor's stamp:                       NIHIL OBSTAT    "nothing stands in the way"

Bishop's stamp:                       IMPRIMATUR    "let it be printed"

from here:  http://www.fisheaters.com/imprimatur.html

Sensitive Sam, by Marla Roth-Fisch

...as seen on Scorpion Stalking Duck:

Sensitive Sam

Marla Roth-Fisch

Future Horizons, Inc.

Sensitive Sam is a cute little book about a little boy with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  Every page consists of a quatrain describing events in the life of a child who is having trouble dealing with things which don't bother most people.  Mrs. Roth-Fisch completes the book with her excellent illustrations of Sam as he deals with dressing, eating, and going to school.  Sam begins working with an occupational therapist, and with some changes in his routine at home and school, he is soon learning to grow and learn in school.

This book is excellent on several levels.  First, it could help the child with SPD see that others have the same challenges, and that they can be overcome.  Second, this book could help explain to other children in Sam's family - or class - what SPD is, and how they could help their sibling or friend.  This book will help all children understand that SPD should not be frightening, and that it is treatable with a bit of work, and a lot of love.

This book reminded me of some of the issues we had with Theodore, such as his preference for only wearing short pants.  This was not a big problem when we lived in San Antonio, and while he was young, but after moving up to the Dallas/Fort Worth area it took a while to get him accustomed to wearing long pants.  He also had a lot of food preferences; vegetables were a challenge for him, and he ate ketchup with just about everything.  Just like Sam, Theodore managed with a lot of patience and love - especially from Carolyn.

The end of the book has a glossary and a list of websites for those interested in reading more about Sensory Processing Disorder.  I recommend this book without reservation for those families with a child with SPD, and also for grade schools.

Stephen M. Donahue
December 9, 2011