Friday, August 28, 2009

Kathy Reichs

Blending Forensic Anthropology, Montreal's Québecois Culture, and the Carolinas
by Steven Williams

A color photo of Kathy Reichs.Kathy Reighs was born in 1950 in Chicago. She is both a crime writer and professional forensic anthropologist. In her professional work as a forensic anthropologist, Reichs has worked for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, State of North Carolina and is currently working for the Laboratoire des Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale for the province of Québec. She is one of only seventy-nine forensic anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. She has served on the Board of Directors for the American Academy of Forensic Sciences as Vice President of that organization and is currently serving on the National Police Services Adivsory Board in Canada. As a professional forensic expert, Reichs is the editor of and a contributor to the nonfiction book Forensic Osteology: Advances in the Identification of Human Remains (1986) as well as acting as the editor of Hominid Origins: Inquiries Past and Present (1983). She has also had a number of academic papers published in academic journals. Within th academic facet of her professional career, Reichs is a professor in the department of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

A color photo of an illustration for the Nancy Drew mystery ‘The Mystery of the Fire Dragon’.Reichs had an early interest in mysteries as a child, being an avid fan of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries and remembers particularly being drawn to the ones set in exotic locales. Reichs' first novel, Déjà Dead, won an Ellis Award for Best First Novel and became a New York Times bestseller. She has gone on to became a popular writer of crime fiction and in 2007 her novel Break No Bones was short-listed for the Ellis Award for Best Novel. All Reichs' novels feature Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist. Tempe shares Reichs fluency in French, a rarity among forensic anthropoligists and one which both women to stand out, both professionally an in the novels. The previous eleven titles in Reich's series of Temperance Brennan novels are Deja Dead, Death du Jour, Deadly Decisions, Fatal Voyage, Grave Secrets, Bare Bones, Monday Mourning, Cross Bones, Break No Bones, Bones to Ashes, and Devil Bones.

A color photo of a FOX TV ‘Bones’ series poster.Reichs has also been a producer for the FOX TV series Bones - now in its fifth season - inspired by her professional experiences as well as her novels. The series borrows the name of the books' heroine, Temperance 'Bones' Brennan, for its main character. In the setting of the TV series, 'Bones' Brennan lives and works in Washington, D.C. and moonlights as an thriller writer, writing novels that feature a 'fictional' forensic anthropoligist named Kathy Reichs. Other than this, the Bones series has no other direct tie-in to Reichs' Temperance Brennan novels.

Hominid Origins: Inquiries Past and Present (1983)
Edited by Kathy Reichs. This book was an outgrowth of a symposium organized by the Department of Anthropology at Northern Illinois University in 1976.
ISBN 0819128651.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Forensic Osteology, Advances in the Identification of Human Remains’, edited by Kathy Reichs.Forensic Osteology: Advances in the Identification of Human Remains (1986)
Forensic Osteology: Advances in the Identification of Human Remains, 2nd edition (1998)
Edited and with contributions by Kathy Reichs. A reference book on the state of modern foroensic osteology. The the newest edition of this book contains twenty-five chapters contributed by experts that review and discuss the most recent advances in the examination of human remains. This edition is notable as an indicator of how far the techniques and applications of forensic anthropology have advanced in only a little more than the ten years since the publication of the book's first edition. Besides acting as editor, Kathy Reichs contributed the articles Forensic Anthropology: A Decade of Progress and Postmortem Dismemberment as well as co-authoring the two articles A Multimedia Tool for the Assessment of Age in Immature Remains and Faxial Approximation.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Déjà Dead’ by Kathy Reichs.Déjà Dead (September, 1997)
Déjà Dead introduces Kathy Reichs' recurring character Temperance 'Tempe Brennan, a forensic anthropologist originally from North Carolina and working for Montreal's Laboratoire de Médecine Légale for the Province de Québec. She has left a shaky marriage back home to take on her new, chalenging job. Tempe believes that there is a sadistic serial killer behind the deaths of two women whose bodies she has examined. Unfortunately the police are unconvinced so Tempe sets out to investigate the murders herself. This puts her in conflict with a homicide cop who sees her as simply an interfering woman. Tempe's sleuthing quickly leads her into French Montreal's seedy underworld but it is her graduate student friend, a woman studying the mating habits of prostitutes, who provides key information that allows Tempe to pick up the trail of the murderer. The killer becomes aware of her pursuit though and places a skull in her garden as a warning, putting Tempe herself under direct threat.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Death du Jour’ by Kathy Reichs.Death du Jour (May, 1999)
Reichs' second Tempe Brennan mystery finds Tempe burried under a heavy workload. Three of the cases in particular are puzzling. First, there is the century-old remains of a catholic nun that Tempe has been asked to exhume in order to positively identify the remains in preparation for the dead woman's beatification. Not only are the remains not where they should be in the convent graveyard but they are not quite right either. Next there are the murders of two people and the arson fire of the house they are in. Tempe is brought into the case to determine the identities of the bodies. Four more corpses are found nearby, that of a couple and their twin four-month-old boys. As Montreal police investigate it turns out that the deaths including the murdered family may be connected to a strange cult located in North Carolina. Then a university teaching assistant, a nun's missing niece, disappears after recently joining that commune. Tempe is still also working as a professor in North Carolina and it just so happens that the cult has a commune near her home in the Carolinas. While Tempe is back in North Carolina for her teaching job, she takes her daughter to an island monkey reserve where she discovers several bodies in shallow graves. These additionals deaths also seem to have links to the North Carolina cult.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Deadly Decisions’ by Kathy Reichs.Deadly Decisions (July, 2000)
The third Temperance Brennan mystery by Reichs has Tempe discovering another puzzling connection between Quebec and the Carolinas. The link between Montreal and North Carolina begins with the death of a nine-year-old girl recently killed in a Montreal street by crossfire between rival motorcycle gangs. There is a motorcycle gang war going on in Montréal and Tempe has been called in to help with the forensics for a pair of identical twin motorcycle gang members who have inadvertantly blown themselves up with their own homemade bomb. This puts Tempe in attendence when a rival gang member turns informant and leads police to two much older bodies as well as the skull and leg bones of a teenage girl who disappeared form North Carolina fifteen years earlier. Though the skull is a recent discovery, the remainder of the girl's dismembered remains had been laid to rest by her family more than fifteen years earlier. Tempe begins looking for the reasons why.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Fatal Voyage’ by Kathy Reichs.Fatal Voyage (July, 2001)
Reichs' fourth novel begins with Tempe joining an emergency disaster mortuary response team sent to investigate an airplane crash in North Carolina's Smoky Mountains. During the investigation and recovery, Tempe stumbles upon a body part that does not match up with any of the plane's passengers. The foot she has found belonged to an unidentified elderly man with no apparent link to the plane crash or its victims. To complicate matters there is no sign of the bodies of two men who are supposed to have been on the plane, a detective and a criminal he was escorting back to Canada to stand trial for murder. When Tempe starts digging more deeply into the mystery of the unexpected body part, she unexpectedly loses her job with the state thanks to a politically ambitious lieutenant governor. Worried about her professional reputation, she sets off on her own to continue her investigation into the unexplained body part. She is surprised to find that the mysterious foot is a link to a depraved episode in the local history of the crash site that has connections to North Carolina's political and business elite.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Grave Secrets’ by Kathy Reichs.Grave Secrets (July, 2002)
The fifth Temperance Brennan mystery by Kathy Reichs moves her main character into a more exotic setting. At the beginning of the story, Tempe is working with some Guatemalan colleagues on a project to identify the remains of Guatemalan villagers who were 'disappeared' twenty years earlier. Things quickly turn dangerous when part of the investigative team is ambushed by men with guns. Then, she is unexpectedly called in to consult on some human remains. What is left of the body of a girl has been found in a septic tank and the police are concerned that it might be the body of the daughter of the Canadian ambassador to Guatemala, one of four recently missing upper class young women. If so, it may indicate that at a serial killer is loose in Guatemala City. Tempe works to try and figure out whether there actually is a connection between the recently discovered remains and the missing young women. She develops a growing suspicion based on clues she uncovers that there may also be a connection to the murder of a human-rights investigator involved in the 'disappearance' exhumation project. As she pursues her investigation, Tempe is forced to realize that she may has a likely target for whoever apparently wants the 'disappeared' identificatin project to stop.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Bare Bones’ by Kathy Reichs.Bare Bones (July, 2003)
Bare Bones, Kathy Reich's sixth Temperance 'Tempe' Brennan mystery novel begins with Tempe on her way to a beachside vacation near her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, her first vacation in years. Before she can head out though she is asked to help with the investigation of the death of an infant. A local janitor's granddaughter is found dead and burned and the body burned up in a woodstove and the mother has disappeared. To top this off, some strange, decomposing remains that may or may not be human are discovered by Tempe's dog during a barbacue at a local resort. Then there is the crash of a small plane crash and the resulting fire both burnes the pilot and passenger beyond recognition and leaves a mysterious black coating on the bodies. Gradually Tempe comes to realize that all three cases are related to a drug-smuggling ring that also is involved in poaching. Then Tempe realizes that someone is following both her and her daughter.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Monday Mourning’ by Kathy Reichs.Monday Mourning (June, 2004)
Reichs' seventh Tempe Brennan begins with Tempe in Montréal in the depths of winter in order to testify as an expert witness in a murder trial. Three sets of human bones are discovered burried in shallow graves in the basement of a pizza parlor once owned by a mob bos. Tempe is called in to help identify the remains, when they died, and what were their cause of death. At first it looks like the remains are old, possibly as old as one hundred years which makes the police essentially uninterested in the case. Once Tempe begins her detailed examinations though, she discovers that the remains are of young women, probably teenagers, and probably killed simetime in the 1980s. A murder case it is. As Tempe continues her work in the lab, she makes another grisly discovery. The the women had been tortured before being murdered.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Cross Bones’ by Kathy Reichs.Cross Bones (June, 2005)
Cross Bones, Reichs' eighth mystery begins with Tempe Brennan being called in to determine whether the death of a slightly shady Orthodox Jewish antiquities dealer was murder or suicide. Tempe receives a surprise clue from an acquaintance of the dead man. He hints that the death was probably murder and provides her with a photograph of a skeleton taken in Israel in 1963 that he says is the cause of the man's death. Tempe heads off to Isreal and becomes involved in the mystery surrounding a first century CE tomb that may or may not contain the remains of James, the brother of Jesus Christ. The skeleton was apparently originally discovered during an archaeological dig. As Tempe uncovers the murdered mans connections into the black market antiquities trade, she also puts herself squarely in the middle of a swirling controversy over the authenticity of the crypt the ancient remains were found in.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Break No Bones’ by Kathy Reichs.Break No Bones (July, 2006)
Tempe Brennan begins Reichs' ninth myster supervising an archaeological student excavation of a prehistoric burial ground on a barrier island near Charleston, South Carolina. The discovery of the more recent remains of a body changes things. When the local county coroner, an old friend of hers, ends up being too ill to work, Tempe takes on the investigation as a favor. Another body is found hanging from a tree deep in the woods. A third is discovered in a barre. All three bodies have subtle, telltale indications that they were murdered in the same way. Tempe keeps on working through the puzzle after the discoveries bring Tempe's estranged husband, a lawyer, into town in pursuit of leads in a missing persons case connected to a local church. Through it all Tempe pursues her clues and in the end uncovers a disturbing secret.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Bones to Ashes’ by Kathy Reichs.Bones to Ashes (August, 2007)
The tenth Temperance Brennan novel begins with the examination of an unidentified New Brunswick skeleton from Québec's cold case unit. Tempe determines that the bones belonged to a teenaged girl. She is also asked to help with the cases of four other missing girls by and the remains of three other unidentified bodies of teenage girls. Investigation reveals a link between the skeletal remains, the missing girls, and the three unidentified bodies. It looks to be a series of teenage abduction murders and all indications are that it is a single serial killer who is responsible.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Devil Bones’ by Kathy Reichs.Devil Bones (August, 2008)
Tempe is drawn out her recently serene and untroubled life as an anthropology professor to help with another grisly murder investigation in this, the eleventh Temperance Brennan mystery by Kathy Reichs. The skull of a teenage girl is found in a basement in Charlotte along with a decapitated chicken, animal bones, and cauldrons containing beads, feathers, and other relics of religious ceremonies. Nearby, the remarkably well-preserved torso of a teenage boy is found in river. Tempe and a Charlotte police department detective investigation of the deaths leads them into the city's underground world of Santeria, Voodoo, and Wicca. At the same time they are pursuing their methodical investigations they must cope with a citizen vigilante witch-hunt movement out for revenge, stirred up by a local fundamentalist preacher turned politician who blames devil worshipers and Wiccans for the murders. In the end Tempe discovers that it there is no simple explanation for the murders, instead she uncovers a tangled web of dirty politics, religious persecution, and male prostitution.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘206 Bones’ by Kathy Reichs.206 Bones (August, 2009)
206 Bones, the twelfth novel in the series, begins with Tempe, aka Temperance, regaining consciousness to discover that she is bound and in a dark, cold, very small enclosed space. The story develops as she tries to maintain her composure while reconstructing the events that lead up to her desperate situation. It all began with a false accusation that Tempe had mishandled the autopsy on the remains of a missing elderly heiress that she had recently brought back to Chicago from Montreal. To complicate matters, the one man with information about the incriminating call is dead within hours followed by the discovery the corpses of two more elderly women in the countryside near Montreal. Tempe gradually comes to the devistating conclusion that a forensic colleague must have been responsible for sabotaging the lab work that lead to her present dire predicament.

Kathy Reichs author website
Kathy Reichs at Wikipedia
FOX TV series 'Bones' website
FOX TV series 'Bones' at Hulu

Newer Article: Camera Obscura, Writing and Reading with a Pulp Sensibility


Older Article: Vampires in Folklore, How Early Vampire Literature Shaped Today's Vampires, and A Short History of Bram Stoker

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Early Vampire Fiction

Vampires in Folklore,
How Early Vampire Literature Shaped Today's Vampires,
A Short History of Bram Stoker
by C. T. Thompson

Vampires in Folklore

Vampires are fantastic villains and appear throughout folklore. Here are four tales of vampires.

The Buckinghamshire Vampire

In 1196 a vampire roamed the Buckinghamshire region of England. The tale is chronicled in Historia Rerum Anglicarum. The author of the story is a monk named William of Newburgh. A vampire, which was the apparition of a recently decease man, attacked his victims at night. He was a classical vampire, one who slept each day in the grave at the local cemetery. When the sun set the vampire would rise and attack his widow while she slept. It is common in vampire folklore for vampires to attack their former family members.

Although he didn't kill his widow, each night he returned to her bed chamber and attacked and harassed her. The widow asked family members to stay with her and keep her awake at night. The vampire began attacking other family members in the house. Before long, the entire town was afraid of falling asleep.

The vampire's grave was exhumed by the local townspeople. The corpse hadn't decayed and was in fresh condition. The townspeople reburied the corpse. On the chest of the corpse they placed a holy scapula. The vampire never rose from the grave again.

The Folktale of the Vampire of Berwick

In another account of William of Newburgh's Historia Rerum Anglicarum, a wealthy man who lived in the town of Berwick died of plague near the England and Scotland border. After his death he was seen roaming the streets at night. The dogs of the town would howl deep into the night while this vampire was roaming. The townspeople, who were afraid that plague might infect the town due to the vampire's presence, dug up the corpse, dismembered it, and burned it. The vampire was never seen roaming the village at night again. However, plague still infected the town and it was attributed to the lingering spiritual presence of the vampire.

The Vampire Folktale of Arnold Paole

In this famous Austrian folktale, a Serbian outlaw named Arnold was subject to a vampire attack during a nocturnal walk in a cemetery. He traced the vampire's grave and beheaded it with a spade. The vampire curse was a superstition that caused the slayer of a vampire to turn into a vampire themselves. In an attempt to thwart the curse, Arnold ate some of the dirt around the grave. Arnold would live a normal life for several more years.

Sometime later Arnold died from a fall in which he broke his neck. After his burial his specter was found lurking in the village late at night. Many villagers were found dead in the morning, all drained of blood. The stark speculation was that Arnold had fallen prey to the vampire curse. The Austrian army was appointed to probe the matter. They exhumed the body and were shocked by what they found. The body had not decayed and there was fresh blood frothing from the mouth, nose, and eyes. The nails had elongated and new skin had grown.

The townspeople drove a stake through the heart of the corpse. The body began bleeding from the wound and the corpse began groaning in agony. The vampire was never seen again.

The Vampire Folktale of Peter Plogojowitz

This case was one of the most sensational and well documented cases of vampire hysteria. The story is found in Imperial Provisor Frombald, written by an Austrian official who witnessed the vampire stalkings of Peter Plogojowitz.

In 1725 Peter Plogojowitz, a Serbian peasant, lived in a village named Kisilova. Just after Plogojowitz's death, at least nine other villagers perished. They died slowly and on their death beds they claimed that Plogojowitz was attacking and strangling them during the night.

The townspeople exhumed the body and examined it for signs of vampirism. They discovered that the corpse had not decayed, the hair and nails had grown, and a beard had grown. Blood was found in the mouth of the corpse. The townspeople staked the corpse through the heart. Blood began to run from the nose and ears. Fearful that the vampire would rise again, the villagers burned the body.


Vampire folktales share very common themes. When a person dies and is reanimated as a vampire, the vampire oftentimes attacks former family members first. Near dawn the vampire returns to its grave to seek shelter until the next night. When the body is exhumed it lacks signs of decomposition. After the body is staked through the heart or destroyed by fire, the vampire is never seen again.

Vampire Folklore by Region
Revenant folklore recorded by English historians in the Middle Ages
William of Newburgh's Historia rerum Anglicarum (History of English Affairs)
About Historia rerum Anglicarum (History of English Affairs)
Walter Map's De nugis curialium
About De nugis curialium
About Geoffrey, Abbot of Burton's Life and miracles of St Modwenna
Peter Plogojowitz
Arnold Paole

How Early Vampire Literature Shaped Today's Vampires

The nineteenth century was the century of the vampire. No longer were vampires ghoulish, creepy, dirty creatures to be feared and loathed. Vampires took on a new persona, one of sexuality, charm, and power. Here's a brief look at 3 works of vampire fiction that fueled today's vampire mania.

The Vampyre by John Polidori

Written in 1819, this short story is considered the foundation of the modern romantic vampire. A young Englishman named Aubrey meets Lord Ruthven, a newcomer to London society and a man of mysterious origin. Aubrey and Ruthven begin traveling southern Europe. Along their travels, there are numerous vampire attacks. Aubrey doesn't put it together at first. Bandits attack the pair during their journey and Ruthven is mortally wounded. Before Ruthven dies, he makes Aubrey promise that he will not reveal anything about the pair's travels for a week and a day. Aubrey returns to London where he comes across Ruthven who is alive and unharmed. Ruthven reminds Aubrey of the oath he made.

Ruthven turns his attention to the sister of Aubrey. Unable to tell his sister of Ruthven's true nature, Aubrey has a nervous breakdown and dies. The couple is wed and Ruthven kills Aubrey's sister on their wedding night. Ruthven then escapes into the night.

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Carmilla is a novella that was published in 1872. A female vampire named Carmilla takes an interest in a young woman named Laura. Laura and her father live in a castle in the forests of Styria. Slowly, Laura is entranced by Carmilla's spell. Laura is simultaneously attracted and repulsed by Carmilla, but she is unable to resist her.

Meanwhile, the peasants in the countryside are mysteriously falling ill. In the end Laura is saved. Carmilla is fought off by General Spielsdorf, a man who has had previous encounters with vampires.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula tells the story of Count Dracula, a vampire who falls in love with Mina Murray. Mina is engaged to Jonathan Harker, who is distressed by Mina's infatuation with the mysterious Count. Jonathan enlists the help of Dr. Van Helsing. Together the duo frees Mina from Dracula's hold.

Modern scholars agree that Dracula was based on Carmilla. Written in 1897 by Bram Stoker, the Irish author created the most well-known vampire of all time. There are many similarities between Dracula and Carmilla. Mina (Dracula's love interest) is similar to Laura (Carmilla's love interest). Both families are of noble lineage. Van Helsing (the protagonist of Dracula) is similar in many ways to General Spielsdorf (Carmilla's protagonist). Without a doubt, Stoker drew heavily upon the earlier work of Joseph Le Fanu.

More than any other vampire character, Dracula most shaped today's image of what a vampire is. Dracula was charming, sexual, powerful, and blessed (and cursed) with eternal life.


Vampire literature of the nineteenth century heavily influenced how we view vampires today. The sexuality in The Vampyre, Carmilla, and Dracula is overt. Never before were vampires portrayed as sensual and sexual beings. These stories also present vampires in a more human-like manner. Previously vampires had been portrayed as ghouls, spirits, or apparitions. Through the work of these authors, vampires have forever been redefined and have become the focus of modern-day horror.

A Short History of Bram Stoker

Abraham Stoker (his friends called him Bram), was an Irish writer and novelist. He was born on November 8, 1847. He died on April 20, 1912. Bram Stoker came from a large, Protestant family. He was the third of seven children.

Bram was born with infirmity. He was bedridden, due to unknown causes, until he was seven years old. At that time he made a full recovery. He grew up healthy and was an athlete at Trinity College in Dublin. He graduated with honors in 1870 and received a degree in mathematics.

Despite his scientific studies, Bram enjoyed fiction. His early years of being bedridden resulted in endless hours of contemplation and fantasizing. As a young adult he was interested in the theater. After marrying Florence Balcombe, Bram and his new wife moved to London. Bram then became the acting and business manager of the Lyceum Theater.

Bram and Florence only had one child, Noel Thornley Stoker. Bram worked at the Lyceum Theater for 27 years. Bram's wages weren't enough to support him and his family. Bram began writing to supplement his income. Bram spent several years researching vampire folklore throughout Europe. He was fascinated with tales of vampires. He visited gothic sites such as the crypts of St. Michan's Church in Dublin and Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire. These and other travels only fueled Bram's interest in the morbid.

Bram went on to write several gothic, horror, and fantasy novels including The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903), The Lady of the Shroud (1909), and The Lair of the White Worm (1911). However, none would become as popular as his 1897 novel, Dracula. But Bram made a major mistake after publishing Dracula. He failed to follow copyright procedure and as a result, Dracula was in the public domain in the United States from its initial publication.

Dracula was largely unappreciated during it's time. The novel would not see mainstream-success for several decades. In 1922 Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau filmed an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula titled Nosferatu. After the release of Nosferatu, the popularity of Bram's novel Dracula increased significantly. Bram's widow tried to have the film banned, but because Dracula was in the public domain her challenges to the film failed.

Bram Stoker died on April 20, 1912 at St. George's Square. It is speculated that the cause of Bram's death was due to tertiary syphilis. He suffered a number of strokes before passing away. Bram was cremated and his ashes placed in an urn that is now on display at Golders Green Crematorium. Visitors who wish to visit the urn must be escorted to the room the urn is housed in, due to fears of vandalism.

In 1914, two years after Bram's death, his widow published the short story Dracula's Guest. It is widely speculated that this work was the original first chapter of Stoker's Dracula.

C. T. Thompson is the founder of the online vampire community Vampire Rave, a social network for real vampires and those who live the vampire lifestyle. He is also the founder of the SciFi Section, a science fiction community and social network.

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Newer Article: Blending Forensic Anthropology, Montreal's Québecois Culture, and the Carolinas


Older Article: Jon Scieszka's Trucktown Series and His Literacy Program Guys Read

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Jon Scieszka part 1

Jon Scieszka's Trucktown Series and His Literacy Program Guys Read
by Steven Williams

A color poto of Jon Scieszka.Jon Scieszka (rhymes with Fresca and means 'path' in Polish) was born in Flint, Michigan on September 8th, 1954. He grew up in a family with five brothers, an elementary school principal father, and a registered nurse mother. He learned how to make everyone laugh in order to survive the crazy mix of living with five boys in one household. He credits his own unique blend of humor and inventive creativity to an expansive group of experiences and influences including sharing the same birthday with Peter Sellers, Mad Magazine, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, the author Robert Benchley, the author and illustrator Lane Smith, book designer Molly Leach, and Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham. A color photo of the front cover of ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ by Dr. Seuss.When pressed for a more serious explanation for his ebullient sense of playfulness, Scieszka attributes it to his father's spectacular talent for playing with his children and for teaching them how to play.

Scieszka attended a Catholic school during his elementary and middle school years and then the Culver Military Academy for high school. After high school he studied pre-medicine Albion College in Michigan. After graduating from Albion, Scieszka decided to become a writer instead of going to complete his training as a doctor.A color photo of Jon Scieszka reading poetry from his book ‘Science Verse’ at a book signing.For his schooling as a writer, Scieszka moved to New York City and enrolled in Columbia University. After graduation with a master's detree in fiction writing, he stayed in New York City, painting apartments for five years while figuring out what to do next.

Scieszka decided to become an elementary school teacher, working at the job for ten years, but always with an eye towards his goal of becoming a professional author. His favorite and most euduring technique that he developed as a teacher was to present a lesson as a puzzle for the kids to help him figure out. A color photo of kids listening to a Living History presentation.He loved getting the kids excited about stuff and continues to believe that the way to teach children is to get them interested. It was while he was teaching second grade students that Schieszka came to realize that, while he still wanted to be a writer, he wanted most of all to write for children.

Initially, Jon did not have any success getting any of his books accepted by a publisher. It was after Scieszka's wife put him in contact with children's book author and illustrator Lane Smith that things changed for the better. Scieszka's wife and Smith knew each other from their work together on magazines. Smith, now a well known children's book illustrator, had at that time also been making no headway in getting any book of his own published.

A color photo of Lane Smith.The two got together and Scieszka wrote and Smith illustrated Scieszka's first published children's book, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!. It became a surprise hit. The two next put together created another idiosyncratic book for kids. This one, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales went on to win a Caldecott Honor award in 1993. The Caldecott Honor is given to the runners-up for the Caldecott Medal, a higher honor and the Caldecott Medal is considered the most distinguished American annual literary award given for a children's picture book.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Goofy’ illustrated by Lane Smith.From there Scieszka has gone on to create and act as chief author for the popular Time Warp Trio series and many of the hardcover editions have been illustrated by Lane Smith. Scieszka is also a major author as well as the creator of the new, wildly popular Trucktown series of children's books. The Trucktown series developed out of Scieszka's efforts in promoting literacy, particularly by promoting books that men and boys want to read through his Guys Read nonprofit literacy program.

A color painting of Dunk Truck Dan of Trucktown.The intention from the beginning was to have the Trucktown artwork be high quality and consistent. Since Trucktown series was invisioned as a series from, the beginning, it was obvious that no single artist could handle the volume of artwork involved. The solution to this difficulty was to have a team of gifted artists develop the series' style and characters. The results of the chief artists collaboration could then be used as guidelines for rendering the art needed for the entire series. By choosing a group of notable artists' abilities, an high quality of art and design could be produced. The three artists chosen, David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon A color photo of David Shannon in his ‘Trucktown’ coveralls.created the Trucktown style and characters and Keytune Studios in Spain was chosen for the actual rendering of the artwork. To Enhance the consistency of the look and quality of the Trucktown series, the same five rendering artists at Keytune will be painting the illustrations for the entire series.

David Shannon has written and illustrated award-winning picture books including Duck on a Bike, No David (a Caldecott Honor book), How I Learned to be a Pirate, and Good Boy Fergus. A color photo of Loren Long in his ‘Trucktown’ coveralls.Loren Long has received two gold medals from the Society of Illustrators. His first picture book, I Dream of Trains by Angela Johnson, won the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' Golden Kite Award for illustrations. His interpretation of Walt Whitman's When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer won a Golden Kite Honor award. He is also the illustrator of Madonna's book Mr. Peabody's Apples and the new edition of Watty Piper's The Little Engine That Could. A color photo of David Gordon in his ‘Trucktown’ coveralls.David Gordon is noted for his automotave interpretations of familiar Grimm fairytales: The Ugly Truckling, The Three Little Rigs, and Hansel and Diesel. He has also done concept work for Pixar's Toy Story, Toy Story II, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., and Cars, as well as the Nickelodeon series SpongeBob SquarePants and was involved in the design of the characters for BlueSky's Robots. Gordon has also worked as an editorial artist for Sports Illustrated, Time, Forbes, Atlantic Monthly, and the Wall Street Journal.

A color painting of Grader Kat, a citizen of Trucktown.Jon Scieszka's Trucktown is a community where everyone is a truck and they all act like four to seven year old kids. The Trucktown characters love to work at the serious business of play. They race around, roar around, get into everything, and try out anything. Scieszka credits kids themselves for giving his core ideas about creating a world where all the characters are as smart and funny and active as little kids themselves are. Scieszka then came up with the idea to anthropomorphosize trucks with the character of little kids and the series was born.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Smash! Crash!’ by Jon Scieszka.Smash! Crash! (January 2008)Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. A hardcover, picture book introduction to Jon Scieszka's 'Trucktown', a place inhabited by trucks that are just like little kids, smart, full of a zest for life, and a deep understanding that play is serious work.

 A color photo of the front cover of ‘Pete's Party’ by Jon Scieszka.Pete's Party (June, 2008)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. The first title in the Ready-to-Roll first readers set in Scieszka's Trucktown, a zany world of anthropomorphic trucks, whose distinct personalities and endearing facial expressions have made them a hit with young children. In this story, Jack the red flatbed and Gabby the garbage truck find themselves having to maneuver through a series of swerves, curves, and potholes as they follow a confusing variety of directional signs on their way to a friend's party. The Ready-to-Roll books are designed for independent reading but the written sound effects makes them just as fun to read aloud.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Zoom! Boom! Bully’ by Jon Scieszka.Zoom! Boom! Bully (June, 2008)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. Another title in the 'Ready-to-Roll' first readers from Scieszka's Trucktown series. Every time the trucks have tried to build something, Big Rig comes along, and - ZOOM! BOOM! - knocks it down! This time the trucks watch in alarm as Big Rig knocks down their newest creation, a tiered pile of barrels, crates, and tires covered with cement 'frosting' that they have built as a birthday cake. When Big Rig discovers that the cake is actually meant for him, he still can't resist the urge to ram into the cement frosted 'cake' one final time with a final spectacular ZOOM! BOOM!. Like the other Ready-to-Roll books, Zoom! Boom! Bully is designed as an independent reader but with its onomatopoeic, sound imitating words it is just as much fun for children to read aloud.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Snow Trucking!’ by Jon Scieszka.Snow Trucking! (September, 2008)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. The third of Sciiezk's Ready-to-Roll first readers for his Trucktown series. On Monday it snow it snows, on Tuesday it snows, and so what happens on Wednesday? 'Snow day!' Trucktown has a snow day and Jack, the prankster red flatbed truck, and his other Trucktown friends have some serious fun clearing the streets of accumulated snow. The red flatbed truck and his big-wheeled buddies roll out to play and clear the streets in this energetic story. The anthropomorphic vehicles skate and slide, making a snow truck and throwing snowballs. After all their fun, the streets are clean and they are ready to return to their garages. Like the other titles in the Ready-to-Roll readers, this book is designed both for independent reading and to be read aloud.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Melvin Might?’ by Jon Scieszka.Melvin Might? (October, 2008)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations were digitally drawn by Juan Pablo Navas and colored by Isabel Nadal based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. A hardcover picture book featuring the Trucktown cement truck. Melvin, an eyeglass wearing cement truck, is a worrier. He is such a worrier in fact that he even worries about getting worried. Jack Truck and Payloader Pete take Melvin and Rescue Rita the ambulance to see an unfinished bridge. Melvin shivers with fear at very idea of trying to jump over the pit below the bridge. He watches as his friends, other less worried trucks, roar down a steep hill onto the unfinished bridge ramp and then fly across the the gap to the other side. Melvin is sure that he can never do such a thing. So he just watches his friends make the jump, too worried to try it himself. But when Rescue Rita falls into the pit, Melvin discovers that he is brave enough after all and is able to make the jump in order to help his friend. This book is notable for its stunning foldout pages showing Melvin's leap to save the day.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Uh-Oh, Max’ by Jon Siceszka.Uh-Oh, Max (January, 2009)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. Another Ready-to-Roll book in the Trucktown series of first readers. Max is having so much fun that he keeps getting stuck! Will anyone in Trucktown be able to help him out?

A color photo of the front cover of ‘The Spooky Tire’ by Jon Scieszka.The Spooky Tire (August, 2009)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. Another Ready-to-Roll book in the Trucktown series of first readers. Melvin has a flat tire and needs a new one. He rolls into a spooky junkyard and finds just what he needs: a golden tire! But what happens when a junkyard ghost wants it back?

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Truckery Rhymes’ by Jon Scieszka.Truckery Rhymes (August, 2009)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. A collection of the tales, rhymes, and honk-along songs beloved by the anthropomorphic truck inhabitants of Jon Scieszka's Trucktown.

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Kat's Mystery Gift’ by Jon Scieszka.Kat's Mystery Gift (October, 2009)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. Another Ready-to-Roll book in the Trucktown series of first readers. Everyone in Trucktown wants to know what is inside Kat's beautifully wrapped box. But will she ever take a peek at her mystery gift?

A color photo of the front cover of ‘Melvin's Valentine’ by Jon Scieszka.Melvin's Valentine (December, 2009)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. Another Ready-to-Roll book in the Trucktown series of first readers. Melvin is baffled by who gave him a valentine. Can he figure out who it is when Rita beeps her way onto his radar?

A color ‘Guys Read̵ logo.A short note about Jon Scieszka's Guys Read literacy program
Jon Scieszka started his Guys Read literacy program in about 2005. It was designed from the start as an effort to help boys who are having trouble reading. The essence of the program is connecting boys with the sort of materials they will want to read. Scieszka is convinced that a large part of literacy problems with boys stems from the fact that they are not allowed to read the kind of books that interest them. That and not trying to force them to read a book are the key to his approach. From his experiences as a teacher and raising his own son, Scieszka thinks that some of the best books for catching boys interest are A color photo of the front cover of ‘The Adventures of Captain Underpants’ by Dav Pilkey.humor, visual storytelling of the sort used in graphic novels, action-adventure, magazines, and age-appropriate nonfiction and he also believes that this sort of reading is just as effective for liberacy as more traditional reading programs.

For kids, Guys Read provides online recommended book picks as well as a searchable database so that they can look for suggestions for books based on their favorite book, author, or subject. Guys Read also supports libriarians' efforts to make reading choices more interesting and accessible to boys with an emphasis on giving boys access to books and other reading material that they might like to read in an un-pressured environment.

Jon Siceszka Worldwide
Guys Read
Ready, Set, Zoom: Trucktown Arrives
Lane Smith
David Gordon at KidShannon
Loren Long
David Shannon at Scholastic
David Shannon at Wikipedia

Newer Article: Vampires in Folklore, How Early Vampire Literature Shaped Today's Vampires, and A Short History of Bram Stoker


Older Article: Corn Pone, Corn Domestication in the Americas, and Nixtamalization

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Corn Pone

Corn Pone, Corn Domestication in the Americas, and Nixtamalization
by Steven Williams

Indian Pone
(also known as Corn Pone)
"Put on one quart of water in a pot, as soon as it boils stir in as much Indian meal as will make a very thin batter. Beat it frequently while it is boiling, which will require ten minutes; then take it off, pour it in a pan, and add one ounce of butter, and salt to taste. When the batter is luke-warm stir in as much Indian meal as will make it quite thick. Set it away to rise in the evening; in the morning make it out in small cakes, butter your tins and bake in a moderate oven. Or the more common way is to butter pans, fill them three parts full, and bake them."

"This cake requires no yeast."

A recipe from The Household Cyclopedia of General Information Containing Over Ten Thousand Receipts, in all the Useful and Domestic Arts by Henry Hartshorne
(published by Thomas Kelly, New York, 1881)

A color photo of a pone or round cake of cornbread.

"...after considerable hard labor, the meal was provided. If the corn meal was mixed and baked in a Dutch oven, it was called "pone" if baked on a board. near or over the fire, it was called "Johnny cake" and if it was made into round balls and baked in the oven, they then called these balls "corn dodgers." A very common way was to boil the meal into mush and eat it with milk."
from chapter 8, page 323 of History of Crawford County and Ohio
(published by Baskin and Battey of Chicago in 1881)

A color photo of The Corn Festival (La fiesta de maíz) Court of Fiestas fresco in the Ministry of Education, Mexico City, from the cycle Political Vision of the Mexican People, by Diego Rivera 1923-4.Corn or maize is a member of the grass family of plants. It is currently believed that corn domestication and cultivation originated in Mexico at least as early as the second millennia BCE. Corn and its techniques of cultivation spread throughout most of North and South America and Amerindians had been growing it for centuries or longer before the arrival of Europeans. Currently, corn is the third most important food crop in the world for humans as well as their domesticated animals that are raised for food. Human consumption of corn is now found throughout the world's cuisines ranging from Mexican enchiladas, tortillas, and Chinese baby-corn, to African-American grits, corn flakes, and popcorn. One of corn's best known uses is for the production of corn-based alcoholic beverages such as whiskey and bourbon.

A color photo of a woman washing nixtamal, dried corn kernels that have been cooked and steeped in an alkaline bath.Tortillas and tamales, the most widely known ancient prepared corn foods, are made from dried and nixtamalized corn that is ground on the metate, a basalt platform used for hand grinding in the kitchen. Traditional processing of dried corn kernels into corn meal or flour begins by cooking and steeping the corn kernels in an alkaline bath (also called a lime bath). Once the dried kernels had softened enough in the alkaline bath, the hard outer hull is easily removed and the softened kernels of corn are washed. After washing, the softened corn kernels are essentially ready to be ground using the metate.

A color photo of a traditional basalt metate and mano de piedra.The metate, a simple manual basalt grinder, is essentially a grinding slap, usually slopped and with a slightly concave surface, and it is used in association with a cylindrical 'mano' or 'mano de piedra' grinding tool. the mano is a cylindrical pestle made of the same basalt of the metate, shaped somewhat like a rolling pin but tapered slightly towards each end. These ancient tools for grinding corn are still in use today. The kernels of corn, softened by cooking and steeping in the alkali bath and with their hard, indigestible hulls removed, are ground into a paste or masa which is either immediately used for cooking, in the form of tortillas or tamales for example, or else it is dried into a flour (also called masa) that can be re-hydrated for later use. A color photo of freshly ground, homemade masa dough.Fresh masa (masa paste) is generally considered superior to re-hydrated masa flour for making tortillas.

The part of process for making masa that involves the use of the alkaline bath and subsequent hull removal and rinsing is called nixtamalization. The name of this process comes from the fact that the alkali processed corn, best known in the US as hominy and sometimes as posole (or pozole or posolli or pozol), was called nixtamal by the Mexica-Aztecs. Nixtamal traditionally received a little more processing beyond soaking an a alkaline bath, rinsing, and grinding before it was ready to use as maza or corn dough or flour but these are the key parts of the nixtamalization process. A color photo of nixtamal, dried corn kernels that have been cooked and steeped in an alkaline bath.The greatest benefit of nixtamalization beyond making corn kernels easier to grind is that it adds significant nutritional value to the finished corn flour or maza.

Traditional Mexica-Aztec corn preparation processes add both calcium and digestible iron to the resulting corn flour as well as having other nutritional benefits. Pre-Columbian Central American nixtamalization involved the use of lime (calcium hydroxide), traditionally called cal or tequesquite and also known as slaked lime, hydrated lime, builder's lime, slack lime or pickling lime, in combination with ash (potassium hydroxide) to create the alkaline bath for soaking and cooking the dried corn kernels. Lime is made when calcium oxide, commonly called lime or quicklime, is mixed or 'slaked' with water. Lime or quicklime is made by heating limestone in specially designed kilns. The earliest evidence of nixtamalization has been found in processing equipment dating from 1200 to 1500 BCE.

A color photo of a large cast iron comal or griddle.Besides softening the corn kernels in preparation for grinding, one of nixtamalization's primary nutritional benefits comes from increasing the calcium content of the masa or dough. This increase in calcium content can be by as much as ten to twenty times that of corn that is not treated with an calcium hydroxide or alkaline bath. The increase in calcium content in corn maza comes from the use of a calcium hydroxide based alkaline bath. Nixtamalization can also create significant increases in masa's content of iron, copper, and zinc. These additional minerals are made available in the masa because of the materials the processing cooking equipment are made from. The alkali cooking and steeping causes the chemical extraction of free metal ions from the processing vessels as well as chemical modifications to the corn chemistry that make these free metal ions available and absorbable for the body.

A color photo of tortillas cooking on an iron comal.Besides increasing the amount of digestible calcium and iron, nixtamalization also frees up the vitamin niacin for absorption by the body and improves the amino acid content and balance in the resulting corn paste and flour. Processing corn with an alkaline bath increases solubility of the protein gluten plus it chemically converts corn proteins, specifically albumins, globulins, glutelin, and zein, into the essential amino acids tryptophan and lysine. In also increases the ratio of isoleucine to luecine, which are both amino acids but isoleucine is an amino acid essential for human nutritional health. These effects in combination with the cultivation and consumption of the other two 'legs' of the traditional 'Indian triad' (also called the 'Mesoamerican triumvirate' or 'The Three Sisters') of beans and squash, results in a diet that provides the complete range of essential amino acids and vitamins required for healthy human nutrition.

A color photo of 'The Three Sisters' or corn, beans and squash.Besides increasing the nutritional content of corn meal, nixtamalization also provides the added benefits of improving the flavor and aroma of corn meal as well as reducing the mycotoxins that commonly infect maize by 90 to 94 percent. Because of all these benefits of the nixtamalization process, even modern industrialized production of masa includes the nixtamalization of corn. Cultures in which some form of the nixtamalization process is not used tend to have the deficiency diseases pellagra (associated with niacin and tryptophan deficiencies), kwashiorkor (associated with protein deficiencies), and rickets (associated with calcium deficienties).

A color photo of sale pork.At one time, the diet of most United States Southerners consisted of pork (fattened on corn) and corn meal (usually not nixtamalized) plus coffee sweetened with molasses. This simple diet, sometimes called 'The Three M's', often resulted in the poorest Southerners suffering from the deficiency diseases rickets and pellagra. This narrow food dependency developed in part because of the ease of planting, rapid growth, and high productivity of corn. Without additional traditional nixtamalization processing of corn, this meant that European settlers, particularly frontier settlers, adopted a diet which, when there was no additional variety in that diet, guaranteed malnutrition.

A black and white photo of a mule team plowing a field of corn, late 1950s.In years past in the United States, most southern farmers raised all of their own corn. Corn functioned as an essential crop both for livestock feed and for human consumption. Two and a half acres of corn for a family of three was a fairly standard corn planting. Any additional plantings of corn was for the hogs and chickens. When people needed corn meal made from their corn, they took some of their corn to a mill. These mills were at first water mills, which used stone wheels to grind the corn into meal; later mills were powered by gasoline or electricity. The miller's pay was set at a portion of the finished corn meal, and the miller usually accumulated his portions to sell to townspeople or others who did not raise their own corn.

"Meal or grits straight from the miller's stones has to be sifted to remove the bran and most of the chips. My mother kept a large sifter. As she needed cornmeal to cook, she sifted out the bran and chips. Those chips and bran were fed to the chickens; the sifted meal was prepared into cornbread."
from On Fried Mush, "Hommeny," Grits, and Cornbread, part 1
from Hill Country of Monroe County Mississippi by Terry Thornton

A color photo of a Central-American woman making tortillas circa 1990.

For additional recipes see also:
Andalusian Gaspacho, a recipe by Van Wyck Brooks
Beer Bread, a bronze age flavor variation with other ideas
Spring Fava Beans, Roman Style
Christmas holiday food and drink from the works of Charles Dickens
Beef Burgundy, Crackling Bread, Pice Ar Y Maen, Sevillian Yellow Plum Conserve, and Les Ioles (Writers' and Artists' recipes)
Omlette Aurore by Alice B. Toklas, Artists' and Writers' Recipes

Newer Article: Jon Scieszka's Trucktown Series and His Literacy Program Guys Read


Older Article: V is for Verbal Violence

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