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LinguaPhile, March 2001

A monthly e-mail newsletter nurturing the development and enjoyment of English language arts at home and at school.



Portico Books News . . .

We lost a few subscribers in February due to invalid e-mail addresses. If your address will be changing, please either unsubscribe and resubscribe, or send a note with your old and new addresses to

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An index to LinguaPhile articles is now available. If you would like one, send a self-addressed stamped envelope (with a note specifying what you want) to Portico Books, P.O. Box 9451, Chesterfield, MO 63006. The index will be updated monthly, so when you're ready for another one, just repeat the procedure. As many as four copies can be sent using one first-class stamp. You're also welcome to reproduce the index if you want to share it with friends.

If you are trying to find information on a particular topic, you can do that effectively with the GrammarAndMore search engine. The advantage of the index is that it will bring topics to mind that you might not think to search for. This is just one more way to make the information in LinguaPhile more accessible to you.

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It's the time of year when educators begin thinking about next year's curriculum. I hope you're giving serious consideration to ordering a copy of Hands-On English for each of your students. Think how much easier your job would be (not to mention your students' jobs!) if everyone in your class had quick access to this wealth of information.

If you are a LinguaPhile subscriber who has never examined Hands-On English or its supplementary products, please take a look at the product pages at Follow up by placing an order or by e-mailing or phoning with any questions.

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Fran is using Hands-On English and The Activity Book in teaching an adult education course. If you teach such a class, or know someone who does, consider Hands-On English as a textbook.

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Those of you in the St. Louis area can hear Fran interviewed about self-publishing on the NPR affiliate, KWMU (90.7 FM) Tuesday, March 6, at 11:00 a.m. The program will be rebroadcast Tuesday evening at 10:00.

Fran will also be one of the presenters at the St. Louis Publishers Association's Self-Publishing Seminar to be held at Borders Books & Music in Creve Coeur (Olive and New Ballas Roads) on Thursday, March 8, at 7:00 p.m. This event is open to the general public and is free. If you'd like to learn more about self-publishing, please join us.

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Fran will be exhibiting products at the following conventions on these dates in March:

9-10: Homeschoolers' Conference, Bloomingdale, IL
16-17: MO Middle School Assn. Conference, Tan-Tar-A
23-24: MATCH Conference (Homeschoolers), Jefferson City, MO

If you are planning to attend any of these events, please stop by to say hello. If you know others who will be attending, please urge them to do the same.

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Small Press Month . . .

March is Small Press Month, being celebrated for the fifth consecutive year. Such a celebration is extremely appropriate in this country that purports to value both freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Book publishers in the United States are led by eight multi-media conglomerates, which account for a sizable percentage both of titles published and of the dollar amount of books purchased. These eight are followed by about 350 mid-sized publishers.

Then there are "The Rest of Us," so named in a 1997 study jointly sponsored by the Book Industry Study Group and the Publishers Marketing Association. The study revealed that the book industry was much larger than imagined, due primarily to the vitality of the previously disregarded independent publishers. They numbered about 53,000 in 1997 and had over a million titles in print. This accounted for 77 percent of the total number of titles in print that year. In addition, the dollar amount of sales by independent publishers was calculated at $14.6 billion, or about 40 percent of the book industry's total.

The products of independent publishers are by no means inferior. In many cases authors chose not to even submit manuscripts to the major publishing houses because they did not want to relinquish control of their project and risk the significant changes that might have ensued. Independent publishers have a real passion for their subject matter and give voice to many ideas that might not otherwise be heard -- perhaps because those ideas are not popular, perhaps because they are not lucrative. Without the 53,000 independent publishers in the United States, a large percentage of the books published would come from only eight multi-media conglomerates. In that situation, our freedoms of speech and of the press would be seriously compromised.

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Little-Known Facts About Dr. Seuss . . .

Small Press Month officially begins on March 2, the 97th birthday of the late Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, arguably the leading children's author of the twentieth century. His seventy titles have sold more than 100,000,000 copies and have been translated into "almost every language."

While Geisel spent much of his career in the mainstream of the publishing industry (being the founder and serving as the president of the Beginner Books imprint at Random House for thirty-four years), his career began as do those of many independent publishers. His first book, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by more than twenty-five publishers before it was accepted. The most common reason for the rejection, in Geisel's words, was that "The book was unlike other children's books on the market; hence its chance in the marketplace was slim." This is, in fact, the essence of the spirit that drives independent publishers: a passion for the unique. More than a decade earlier Geisel had been told by his high school art teacher, "You will never learn to draw, Theodor. Why don't you just skip this class for the rest of the term?" Knowing that his drawing lacked refinement, Geisel chose to capitalize on the distinctive features of his style.

Geisel was the recipient of numerous and varied awards, including three Caldecott Honor Awards, three Academy Awards, an Emmy Award, a Peabody Award, and a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for his "special contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America's children and their parents."

The Cat in ihe Hat, published in 1957, was written in response to "Why Johnny Can't Read," which appeared in Life magazine. The book revolutionized both reading instruction and children's literature by providing an alternative to dull primers and showing children that reading could be fun.

Following are some assorted facts about Theodor Geisel that illustrate the scope of his experience and contribution:

  • He read Swift, Dickens, and Stevenson by age 6.

  • He worked as an advertising artist for Standard Oil Company of New Jersey from 1928 to 1941, creating large grotesque insects to illustrate the slogan "Quick, Henry! The Flit!"

  • His first book, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was written while Geisel was crossing the Atlantic on a cruise ship. The rhythm of the book imitates the rhythm of the ship's engine.

  • Two of his Academy Awards were for documentaries that he wrote and produced during World War II: Hitler Lives, best documentary short in 1946; and Design for Death, best documentary feature in 1947.

  • He was a correspondent for Life magazine in Japan in 1954.

  • He served as a trustee for the LaJolla, California, town council beginning in 1956.

Bennett Cerf, longtime editor at Random House, declared, "I've published any number of great writers, from William Faulkner to John O'Hara, but there's only one genius on my author's list. His name is Ted Geisel."

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Quote of the Month: Writing for Children . . .

Writing children's books is hard work, a lot harder than most people realize, and that includes most writers of children's books. And it never gets any easier. I remember thinking that I might be able to dash off The Cat in ihe Hat in two or three weeks. Actually, it took over a year. You try telling a pretty complicated story using less than two hundred and fifty words! No, don't, not unless you're willing to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. To get a sixty-page book, I may easily write a thousand pages before I'm satisfied. The story has to develop clearly and logically with a valid problem and a valid solution. The characters, no matter how weird, have to be vivid and believable and consistent. . . . I am trying to capture an audience. Most every child learning to read has problems, and I am just saying to them that reading is fun.
--Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904-1991

Interesting observation: The quote began with "Writing . . . is hard work" and ended with ". . . reading is fun."


Review: Something about the Author . . .

Information about Dr. Seuss above was taken from Something about the Author, an ongoing reference series published by Gale Research, Inc. SATA contains facts about authors and illustrators of books for young people. Some of these authors are prominent; others are just beginning their careers.

Categories of information are Personal, Addresses, Career, Awards and Honors, Writings, Adaptations, Works in Progress, and Sidelights. Each entry also includes a list of Works Cited and a list of other sources to consult for additional information.

Something about the Author includes not only professional accomplishments but also personal interests and values. The depth and breadth of information -- as well as the series' readable style -- help us to know authors as well as we know our own family members and friends.

Adding Something about the Author to your library would be no trivial purchase. The series was begun in 1971 and now has 118 volumes. Odd-numbered volumes include a cumulative index, and information is very easy to find. Even if purchase of this valuable resource is beyond your means, remember to consult it at a library when you want information about authors and illustrators of children's books.

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Sharpen Your Vocabulary: Nauseous and Nauseated . . .

The word nauseated is seldom used; nauseous is seldom used correctly. Except in informal (i.e. incorrect) use, the words are not interchangeable.

Nauseous means "causing nausea; sickening; disgusting, loathsome, revolting, abhorrent, despicable, offensive." Think twice before you say, "I'm nauseous." Things that could be described as nauseous include fumes, odors, spoiled food, a repulsive-looking creature, a display of power or wealth, etc.

Nauseated means what most people seem to think nauseous means: "affected with nausea; sickened; disgusted."

Correct uses:
The smell of sulfur was nauseous.
The smell of sulfur nauseated me.

His arrogance was nauseous.
I was nauseated by his arrogance.

Many women feel nauseated in the morning during the early weeks of pregnancy.

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Q & A: Spelling Words with ise and ize . . .

Question: I thought words such as organize and exercise were to be spelled with a z. I have been seeing these words a lot lately (since my New Year's resolutions were to get organized and to exercise), and a lot of these words seem to be spelled with an s. Have I forgotten how to spell?

Answer: About 450 common words end with the ize sound. There are actually three spellings: ize, ise, and yze. Only two common words end with yze: analyze and paralyze. More than 400 of the words end in ize (as you thought), so when you're uncertain, the odds would be with you on ize. Of the 36 common words that end in ise, many pose no problem for most spellers and neatly fit into groups:

Combinations with wise: wise, sidewise, otherwise, likewise, contrariwise

Combinations ending in vise (words derived from the Latin root "to see"): advise, supervise, revise, improvise, devise

Combinations using the word (not just the letters) rise: rise, moonrise, sunrise, uprise, arise

Common words ending in prise: enterprise, apprise, reprise, surprise, comprise (note that the word prize and any word using it in combination is spelled with a z.)

Three words ending in mise: surmise, compromise, demise

Five special cise words (these are derived from a Latin root that means "to cut"): exercise, excise, incise, exorcise, circumcise

Two guise words: guise, disguise

Thirty of the thirty-six ise words thus fall into groups. That leaves only these six to remember: advertise, despise, chastise, merchandise, franchise, enfranchise.

One other thing to remember about exercise, which was one of the words in your original question: The ending is not the only tricky place in this word. Note that the c is only in the last syllable; the early part of the word is spelled exer.

We invite your questions for this feature. Send them to Fran at GrammarAndMore.

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Sources for Ideas

"I don't know what to write about," can chorus like a round in a classroom when a writing assignment is made. This problem is not unique to young people, however; it can be just as serious an obstacle for adults. Also, the problem is by no means universal: Some people (of all ages) find themselves continually bombarded with ideas. What accounts for the difference here, and how can a person learn to find ideas more easily?

Having an idea when you need it is really a three-step process. First you must notice the ideas that surround you each day. Second you must allow those ideas to develop since few present themselves as full-blown entities. Finally you must be able to find those ideas when you need them.

Theodor Geisel was a model cultivator of ideas. We already noticed that his idea for his first book came from the rhythm of a ship's engine. Many of his stories started with illustrations, or even doodles in which he discovered a character. His idea for Horton Hatches the Egg began when a sketch of an elephant (on transparent paper) fell onto a sketch of a tree. "What's the elephant doing in the tree?" Geisel pondered. After several weeks he realized, "Of course, he's hatching an egg!"

Here are some other tips for finding and nurturing ideas:

1. Other pictures can serve as starting points for ideas. Published entries in the annual photography contest sponsored by Parade magazine can spark a story. Often this works more effectively if you ignore the caption, which is likely to limit thinking. As you look at the picture, ask yourself questions such as these: What is the relationship between these people? What are they doing at this moment? What were they doing previously? What will they be doing in a few minutes?

2. Overhearing snatches of conversation is the auditory equivalent of looking at a photograph. You are privy to one brief encounter between people. Imagine what has happened previously and what will happen next.

3. A news story can also serve as a starting point. After the story grabs your attention, allow it to metamorphose into something completely different. For example, a short article about a toad that proved poisonous to its enemies sparked this limerick:

A dog and a toad they did fight
Till the dog of the toad took a bite.
The dog said, "You will die."
The toad argued, "Not I,
For my poison is worse than your bite."

4. Any element of a story -- a character (or the name of a character), a setting, a title -- can serve as a starting point. Seeing frost in the mesh of a screen on a cool, foggy day suggested the title "The Day the Clouds Froze." You are then ready to continue the transformation by asking questions such as Why did the clouds freeze? and What happened when the clouds froze?

5. Asking questions is essential to the germination of the idea. Particularly fruitful questions are Why? and What if?

6. A word itself can spark a story. Juxtaposing words, as we explored last month, can result in a fresh presentation of ideas.

7. Experiences, memories, and dreams, of course, are also nutritive fare for writing. Rarely are these usable exactly as they are recalled, however. More often they simply provide a starting point to which the finished product may bear little resemblance.

8. Many times the requisite idea is for an expository rather than for a "creative" writing assignment. Again it is important to note the topics of interest to you -- whether you encounter them in school, on television, in a museum, on vacation, during leisure reading, etc. As with the ideas noted above, you will ruminate on these topics; you will ask questions about them; you will note additional information that happens to come your way.

9. We have talked quite a bit about snagging ideas and allowing them to grow. The other essential step is to be able to find those ideas when you need them. Rather than living as an ancient hunter, having to stalk and capture a fresh idea whenever you need it (even on days when ideas are in short supply), begin stockpiling the ideas for the future. A loose-leaf notebook, with dividers to identify sections, is an effective way to organize ideas so that information on a particular topic can easily be added. The sections you establish in your "Idea Book" will depend upon the topics of interest to you. Here are some possibilities: Story ideas, poetry ideas, characters, settings, titles, people to research, animals, weather, scientific phenomena, interesting words. The collection of interesting words discussed in last month's LinguaPhile could well be a part of your Idea Book.

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Challenge Yourself by Restricting Word Use . . .

Theodor Geisel limited himself to a vocabulary of 220 words when he wrote The Cat in ihe Hat (only 50 for Green Eggs and Ham). Imposing various restrictions on word use can promote sentence variety and vocabulary development. While such encumbrances may seem artificially restrictive, successfully meeting their challenge can be exhilarating. (Each item below is written so that it is an example of the restriction it describes.)

1. A particular restriction is to start each sentence with successive letters of the alphabet. By doing this, the writer is especially challenged to vary sentence beginnings. Common stories, such as fairy tales, work well for this activity, and the products are called ABC stories. Devilish X may be afforded some leeway, such as allowing a creative x-ception to conventional spelling. Extremely long stories -- those longer than twenty-six sentences -- may return to the beginning of the alphabet for the twenty-seventh sentence or may go backwards through the alphabet to determine the first letter of the second twenty-six sentences. Firmly limiting the story to twenty-six sentences provides yet another challenge.

2. One more way to cause a scribe to pay heed to word choice is to use just words with one pulse. While lots of these words are used each day, this trick might help you learn some new words that you'll want to use more. It is good to put short but strong words to work for you.

3. Yet one more restriction is to forbid the use of one or more letters. Writing without the use of even one letter is sufficiently difficult. [written without the letter a]

4. (Identical to #3 but reworded due to change of the banned letter). Another way to promote vocabulary development can be to eliminate a particular letter. [written without the letter s]

Such exercises are comparable to exercising with weights. When the restrictions are lifted, greater verbal agility remains.

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Puzzler: Cryptoquote . . .

Each letter in the following quotation stands for some other letter. Each A represents the same letter, each B represents the same letter, etc. However, there is no relationship between the letter represented by one letter and the letter represented by another letter. (For example, if A represents S, there is no reason to think that B will represent T.) To solve this type of puzzle, look for patterns -- within words and within the sentence. Warning: Cryptoquotes can be addictive! (You can find another one in the September LinguaPhile.)


Answer next month.

Answers to February puzzler:
1. Evangelist
2. The Morse Code
3. Slot machines
4. Animosity
5. Snooze alarms
6. Eleven plus two
7. Contradiction

Finale: Thin man ran; makes a large stride, left planet, pins flag on moon! On to Mars!

(OK, so there's a little inconsistency with tense.)

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Thank you for reading. If you find LinguaPhile helpful and interesting, don't keep it a secret! Consider which of your friends would also enjoy it, and send them information about subscribing. We welcome your comments and suggestions:

© 2001 Fran Santoro Hamilton


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