Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Celebrate the Civil Rights Movement with Random House

I HAVE A DREAM_new cover with CSK seal


August 28th is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s landmark “I Have a Dream” speech, a watershed moment in the struggle for civil rights and Random House Children’s Books has been celebrating with a fabulous Civil Rights Movement blog tour. Today, it is my great honor to be part of that tour and I have a fabulous guest post here at AmoXcalli, by Matthew Olshan, author of THE MIGHTY LALOUCHE (illustrated by Sophie Blackall).  Random House Children’s Books has put together an I Have a Dream enhanced website featuring the new picture book by Kadir Nelson, I HAVE A DREAM.  The book is stunning, the paintings really pay tribute to the man, the movement and the speech.  The book also contains a CD with the full speech.

Please join AmoXcalli, Random House Children’s Books and all the others on the tour in celebrating the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s historical speech.


The Promise of Freedom, Then and Now by Matthew Olshan

The word “freedom” blazes an incandescent trail through Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” but what does he mean by it? What, exactly, is the freedom he dreams of, the kind that will ring from the mountaintops, that will cause the American people to join hands and sing ecstatically, “Free at last!”

Freedom from what? Freedom to do what?

Freedom from injustice, certainly. Freedom to pursue the American Dream.

For Dr. King, the American Dream is rooted in what he calls its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

He says this knowing all too well the irony in those sacred words from the Declaration of Independence. The men who wrote them didn’t really believe that men were created equal. Many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves. And slaves weren’t created equal. You couldn’t own someone who was your equal; therefore, slaves weren’t men. At least, not fully. A slave was some fraction of a man. Call it three-fifths.

But those imperfect, 18th Century men were dreamers, too. They invented a country that promised more than it could deliver. They drew up a constitution with the goal of forming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, mind you, but a more perfect union. They understood that we live in the world; that the world is full of injustice, greed, and cruelty; that people generally want to do the right thing, but aren’t always strong enough to do it.

Ours has been a history of forgetting our promises, then remembering, and lurching, sometimes violently, towards the light.

Even some of our greatest triumphs have fallen short. Take the Emancipation Proclamation. Church bells rang out across the land on January 1st, 1863. Freed slaves and abolitionists alike were overjoyed. Surely there were ecstatic cries of “Free at last!”

But the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free all the slaves. President Lincoln couldn’t risk losing the border states. The slaves in Maryland, Delaware, and Kentucky may have heard distant ringing that day; alas, the bells weren’t ringing for them.

The century that followed the Emancipation Proclamation saw many gains for people of color, but also great backsliding. In states like Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama, equality wasn’t simply an impossibility; in huge swaths of the country, it was no longer even a dream.

Dr. King’s speech, smoldering with anger and yet brimming with hope, was meant to remind Americans of their creed, that promise of equality dating back to the Declaration of Independence.

Our union is certainly more perfect now. The scourge of slavery is long past. The worst abuses of Jim Crow are over.

But their legacy remains.

We’ll always need voices like Dr. King’s — righteous, melodious, idealistic, and stern — to remind us of the nation we were; the nation we are; and the nation we hope to be.

History shows us how easy it is to forget.

Matthew Olshan is the author of several novels for young readers, including Finn and The Flown Sky. The Mighty Lalouche, a collaboration with the award-winning illustrator Sophie Blackall, is his first venture into the world of picture books. Their next collaboration, Henry and Henri, which will be published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, is the story of the first international flight: a balloon ride across the English Channel in 1785, taken by an Englishman and a Frenchman who absolutely hated each other.??Matthew also writes serious literary fiction for adults. Look for Marshlands, a novel of military occupation and empire, due out from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in February, 2014

Fred Patten Reviews The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.


The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art

Authors:  Stephen D. Korshak and J. David Spurlock

Publisher:  Vanguard Productions

ISBN-10:  1-9343-3150-3

ISBN-13:  978-1-9343-3150-7


From about the 1910s through the 1940s, one of the main forms of popular entertainment was the pulp fiction magazines, so-called because they were printed on cheap pulp paper with gaudy, lurid covers.  There were adventure-fiction pulps, Western pulps, jungle-adventure pulps, historical-adventure pulps, science-fiction pulps, air-ace pulps, pirate-adventure pulps, detective pulps, horror pulps, women’s romance pulps, and many others.  There were artists who specialized in painting pulp magazine covers, such as J. Allen St. John for the Tarzan stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

During the 1930s, one of the standout pulps on the newsstand was Weird Tales, “The Unique Magazine”.  Weird Tales specialized in publishing science-fiction and horror with a fantasy bent, such as the exploits of psychic detective Jules de Grandin by Seabury Quinn.  Most of Weird Tales’ stories are forgotten today, but the magazine was notable for publishing most of the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, the Conan stories of Robert E. Howard, and the early short stories of Ray Bradbury, Henry Kuttner, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert Bloch (one of whose stories, “A Sorcerer Runs for Sheriff”, WT September 1941, pretty well sums up Weird Tales’ editorial policy).

But what made Weird Tales stand out among all the other pulps were its covers by Margaret Brundage.  From September 1932 through October 1938, almost every monthly issue of Weird Tales featured a Brundage pastel chalk painting of a scantily-clad or completely nude damsel in distress being menaced by slavering werewolves, sinister Oriental master criminals, or a cruelly gloating whip- or knout-wielding dominatrix.  Sometimes the nude damsel was offering love to a statue of a pagan god.  At a time when pulp covers often came under cries for censorship for lewdness, Brundage seemed to have an instinct for just how far she could go and keep within the borders of good taste.  I started collecting pulp magazines in the 1960s when they were long-gone except for the used-magazine shops, but fans of the pulps were still talking about the issues of Weird Tales with Margaret Brundage’s covers.  She is one of the few artists whose cover on a magazine alone could raise that magazine’s price.

The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art is an “everything you want to know” book about Brundage and her work.  What makes this a must-have for most connoisseurs of fantasy art is the life-sized (9” x 12”) reproductions in full color on glossy paper of all of her magazine covers.  Most pulp and s-f fans did not realize that she also painted covers for other magazines.  This book includes them, plus several of Brundage’s non-cover paintings, some from long after her magazine period.

But wait!  There’s more!  This book also includes two complete biographies of Brundage, including interviews given to fans who tracked her down in the 1960s shortly before her death.  There is a biography emphasizing her life and art (she was a high-school classmate of Walt Disney, and they remained on good albeit distant terms throughout their lives), and a biography emphasizing her participation and leadership in Chicago’s radical left-wing movement in the late 1920s, including her activism for the Industrial Workers of the World and other labor and bohemian movements, and her unsatisfactory marriage to labor activist “Slim” Brundage.  It was her determination to stay in Chicago that was responsible, after her husband’s desertion of her and their infant son, for her to look for commercial art work in that city.  Weird Tales was one of the few magazines whose editorial offices were in Chicago.  It was Weird Tales’ sale to a New York publisher in 1938 and the relocation of its editorial offices to NYC that was responsible for Brundage leaving WT.  The new publisher wanted a cover artist who lived in NYC, and Brundage refused to leave Chicago.

The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-Up Art is a 164-page book containing 74 magazine cover reproductions in full-size of mint-condition copies, plus ten reproductions of cover paintings from the original art (without the cover lettering) – the only cover originals that still exist after eighty years, because pastel chalk art smears easily.  The book also includes a plethora of posters, photographs, business cards, handbills, and other ephemera from the 1920s I.W.W. and the Dill Pickle Club, a bohemian social group in which Brundage was a leader.

Buy where there is any interest in lavish art books, in popular art or fantasy magazine art of the 1930s, in Margaret Brundage in particular, or the radical left-wing social movement of the 1920s and 1930s.

This book is reviewed from the $24.95 trade paperback edition.  There are also a $39.95 hardcover edition with a different cover; and a $69.95 de luxe slipcased edition with a third cover and a 16-page art folio that is not included in the other editions.


Scholastic Discover More: World War II


Scholastic Discover More: World War II
Author: Sean Callery
Publisher: Scholastic Reference (March 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0545479754
ISBN-13: 978-0545479752

I’m quickly learning to love the Scholastic Discover More series of books. The grandchildren love them and for me, they are a wealth of information.

In World War II, a visual history of the world’s darkest days, there are plenty of full color photographs, as well as some stunning black and whites and infographic type pages laid out in a way that is appealing to most children. Also provided is a free digital companion book that kids and parents can access either on Mac or PC through Scholastic’s Discover More website. Continue reading

Conflict and Costume: The Herero Tribe of Namibia


Conflict and Costume: The Herero Tribe of Namibia
Photographer: Jim Naughten
Introduction: Lutz Marten
Publisher: Merrell Publishers (February 19, 2013)
ISBN-10: 185894600X
ISBN-13: 978-1858946009

It’s always interesting to learn about cultures and people from far away lands. That’s one of the reasons I read so much and I am well used to being swept away in time or place, but not as stunningly as with Conflict and Costume: The Herero Tribe of Nambia. I must confess, the images were so stunning – bright colors against a pale sky and desert sand; that I just had to pore over them for hours before I read the introduction or any of the text. The most striking and what keep me gazing into the photographs, were the faces. Such strength and history in the expressions. It moved me profoundly and I found myself wanting to go to Namibia and meet these people. Continue reading

Fred Patten Reviews Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today’s Popular Cartoons


Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today’s Popular Cartoons
Author: Christopher Hart
Publisher: Watson-Guptill Publications
ISBN-10: 0-8230-0714-6
ISBN-13: 978-0-8230-0714-1

Christopher Hart has been writing best-selling “how to draw” books since the 1980s. Wikipedia says, “His [2001] book, ‘Manga Mania: How to Draw Japanese Comics,’ was the number one art book in the country for an entire year, according to Nielsen Bookscan.” During that time, drawing styles have been getting further and further from the classic Disney style of “cute” cartoons. Consider the popular looks of John Kricfalusi (“Ren & Stimpy”), Genndy Tartakovsky (“Dexter’s Laboratory”, “Samurai Jack”), and Butch Hartman (“The Fairly OddParents”).

Hart’s Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today’s Popular Cartoons (160 pages) emphasizes how to draw in the exaggeratedly individualistic styles that are “in” at the moment. Like most of Hart’s books, he starts with a classic how-to-draw tutorial in ‘Basic Head Shape’ and ‘Facial Features’. It is an old maxim for humorous cartoonists that you have to know the basic art rules to know how to break them effectively.

It is with ‘Moving Beyond the Basic Head Shape’ (page 41) that Hart starts to concentrate on what the modern public, and the modern art editors and animation directors, are looking for. Samples of Hart’s cheery advice: “Give her a ridiculously thin neck.” “Leaving the circle [the basic head shape] behind, take this same character and fit her with an oval-shaped head. Immediately she becomes quirkier – and funnier, too.” “Make the hair defy gravity.” “Place the ears below the eye line, as if somehow they never grew as the teen grew. I think this is often funnier.” “Do the earrings attach to the earlobes? Nope! They defy physics. Antigravity earrings are great for day wear.” “Notice how the arms of the eyeglass frames don’t even touch the ears. Why even use them? BECAUSE they’re useless – which is funny!” “This [head] shape is based on a modified square. Or maybe a rectangle. Although, it could be a rhomboid. But I don’t know what a rhomboid is. The point is – it doesn’t have to be an established geometric form. Any funny shape will work!”

Contrariwise, Hart warns to avoid excess complexity. “I used to think that you could only create cool cartoons if you used a lot of different angles for the head. […] Actually, I soon found out that […] too many angles detract from the look of a cartoon.” “With eight planes to his head, this version of the same guy is unnecessarily complicated without adding much ban to your buck.”

Hart presents head shots alone from pages 41 to 63. Then he moves on to “Medium Shots: The Best, Most Overlooked Angle”. Other chapters cover “The Universal Body Type”, “Putting Your Characters Together”, “Different Body Types”, “Adding Important Details”, and “Saving the Best for Last: Stuff You Won’t Learn in Art School”. Whimsical examples include the “Dorky Dad”, “1950s Mom”, “Trailer Mom”, “Funny Senior”, and “Mr. Bench Press”.

Each final example is preceded by several increasingly detailed outlines showing how to start with a simple sketch and gradually add to it without making missteps. Hart does not omit appropriate backgrounds. “A finished dresser: very symmetrical, very correct, very boring. […] Here, the drawers are uneven sizes and, yes, they’re also somewhat slanted. Plus, the vertical lines of the bureau expand as they rise. Even the verticals of the drawers are slanted.” A handy Index completes the book.

Hart has written dozens of these how-to-draw books over more than three decades. There is a lot of overlap. But with some exceptions, each of them is aimed at beginning cartoonists who have become fixated on a particular popular cartoon style of the moment – maybe in newspaper comic strips, maybe in increasingly detailed comic books, maybe in TV or theatrical animation, maybe in Japanese cartoon styles – and say, “Wow! I want to draw like that!” Modern Cartooning: Essential Techniques for Drawing Today’s Popular Cartoons is a relatively inexpensive ($21.99) basic primer on how to draw in THIS particular style; a first step for the aspiring cartoonist.

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

Fred Patten Reviews Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons

Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons
Author: Fiona Deans Halloran
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
ISBN-10: 0-8078-3587-0
ISBN-13: 978-0-8078-3587-6

Today Thomas Nast is known vaguely as the 19th century political cartoonist who created the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant; whose cartoons brought down a notoriously corrupt New York politician; and who updated the many ages-old symbols of Father Christmas into our modern Santa Claus. Fiona Deans Halloran’s lively and excellently illustrated 366-page biography shows in detail that Nast did – or has been credited – for all of these. This first modern in-depth biography of a major American historical figure will be an important addition to libraries of American history.

Up to now, libraries have depended on Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures, a lengthy biography by Albert Bigelow Paine first published in 1904, shortly after Nast’s death in 1902; or on other biographies largely dependent upon it. Paine was a close friend of Nast for many years, and Nast had not only authorized him to write his biography but had supplied much of the information in it. Yet Halloran argues that both Nast and Paine were interested in presenting a whitewashed biography that ignored or misrepresented the true details of Nast’s life. Her new biography claims convincingly to be not only in-depth, but the first accurate biography of 19th century America’s most popular political cartoonist.

Nast was born on September 27, 1840 in Bavaria. His father took part in the revolutionary unrest that shook Europe in 1848, and as a result fled with his family to America, setting into the great immigrant melting pot of New York City. Halloran says, “Virtually the only information available regarding Nast’s first fifteen years appears in the 1904 biography. Nast’s voice emerges through Paine’s text, and the Paine book represents Nast’s life story as Nast chose to tell it.” (pgs. 1-2) Halloran supports some of Paine’s stories of Nast’s childhood and early adolescence and disputes others. Ultimately, however, what is important in Nast’s career is in his adult life, and Halloran has no trouble distinguishing between fact and fiction there.

Nast’s first public notice came when he was hired in early 1856, when he was only 15, as an artist by Frank Leslie, who was just starting Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News (within a mile of Nast’s home). Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News was one of the most popular newspapers from the late 1850s to the 1880s, both for its profuse illustrations and for its sensationalistic reporting, often campaigning against unsafe business practices by wealthy magnates or political corruption on the civic, statewide, and national level. Nast migrated from one newspaper to another, but “He remained employed full time from 1856 until he left Harper’s Weekly in 1887.” (p. 5) During this period he both learned and became a master of newspaper and newsmagazine muckraking through political cartooning.

Nast’s early assignments were to illustrate fires, disasters, and his newspapers’ sensationalistic stories. In 1860, when he was 19, Nast was assigned to go to England to sketch a major boxing match, one so important that Parliament was adjourned so the members could watch it. The drawings and commentary that Nast sent back to New York filled a special edition, but Nast found himself fired without his back payment so his newspaper could avoid the expense of bringing him home. Nast solved the problem by selling a note for what the newspaper owed him to one of the boxers, who went to New York and had no trouble collecting. Nast, meanwhile, talked the London Illustrated News into sending him to Italy to cover the wars of reunification there. Nast returned to America in February 186l, just in time to become a notable Civil War war artist.

Nast’s first really famous drawing was not a sketch of battlefields or soldiers, but a political cartoon. “Compromise With the South”, published in the issue of Harper’s Weekly for September 3, 1864, showed a crippled Union soldier shaking hands with an arrogant Confederate soldier over a grave labeled “In memory of the Union Heroes who died in a Useless War”. It was a biting attack on the Democratic Party’s platform for the 1864 presidential elections calling for a cessation of the war and a negotiated peace, which everyone knew would mean a Confederate victory since the South refused to negotiate unless its independence was recognized. Nast’s cartoon was officially adopted by the Republican Party and circulated widely by them. He became a prolific portrayer of Republican ideals just after the Civil War, and a political cartoonist for the Republicans in the 1868 election. Nast’s long relationship with Harper’s Weekly’s political editor, George William Curtis, is described. In 1871 the newspaper that Nast worked for opened a campaign to expose the New York City corruption led by the local Democratic social club, Tammany Hall, and its leader, the head of New York’s Board of Supervisors William “Boss” Tweed. Nast’s cartoons of the bloated, diamond-pin-wearing Tweed set the model for cartoons of fat, corrupt politicians. During the 1872 presidential elections, Nast’s cartoons for the Republicans and Grant’s reelection vs. the Democratic candidate, Horace Greely, were so savage that when Greely died just after the election, some believed that Nast’s ridiculing of him had destroyed his will to live.

The cartoons of the 1872 elections marked Nast’s high point in political cartooning. Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons covers the rest of his life: some notable cartoons through the 1884 national elections; Nast’s declining health and financial problems beginning in 1884; and finally his requesting a consular post from a Republican administration in 1901 and being appointed the U.S. consul to Guayaquil, Ecuador, where he promptly contracted yellow fever and died in 1902.

Halloran shows that “what everyone knows” about Nast’s attacks against the corruption of Tammany Hall and “Boss” Tweed in 1871 is true. Also, Nast did draw pictures of Santa Claus, prominently named, for Harper’s Weekly every Christmastime from 1863 for the next three decades. Popular portraits of Santa Claus during the 20th century, notably the long-running Coca-Cola advertisements since 1931, can be directly traced back to Nast’s seasonal portraits. But as for inventing the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey, Nast did draw the Republican Party caricatured as an elephant twice, in 1874 and 1884; but he also drew them caricatured as other animals, and he never drew the Democrats as donkeys. (Amusingly, this book’s dust jacket publicity cites Nast’s fame “for his cartoons portraying political parties as the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant.”) So this honor – which he never claimed – is a posthumous exaggeration. Halloran also analyzes Nast’s apparent anti-Catholic prejudice, and other traits shown in his work.

This book contains dozens of Nast’s political cartoons, sharply reproduced. There are 47 pages of Notes, a 15-page Bibliography, and a 10-page Index. If you have any interest in Thomas Nast, or in late 19th century American politics or political cartoons, Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons is definitely an important purchase.

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

Fred Patten Reviews Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration. The Stories – The Movies – The Art.


Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration. The Stories – The Movies – The Art.
Author: Scott Tracy Griffin. Introduction by Ron Ely.
Publisher: Titan Books
ISBN-10: 1-7811-6169-0
ISBN-13: 978-1-7811-6169-2

Tarzan of the Apes, the first Tarzan novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, was published in October 1912. Titan Books has won the authorization and full cooperation of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. to publish this only official commemorative visual history of Tarzan.

This is an extremely imposing tome. It is a tall, thick 10.2 x 13.1 inches, weighing 5 pounds; 320 pages in full color (except for the numerous period photographs, which are in black & white). It is written by Scott Tracy Griffin, a leading expert and consultant on documentaries about Tarzan and Burroughs for almost twenty years. The introduction is by Ron Ely, who portrayed the ape man in 57 one-hour NBC TV episodes from 1966 to 1968.

Aside from short biographical chapters on Burroughs’ early years (pages 10-18) and his later years (pages 312-315), the book concentrates mostly on his 24 Tarzan novels and other books (pages 20-183), the Tarzan motion pictures (pages 224-265), Tarzan in other entertainment media (television and radio series, and the stage), and dramatizations for children. Shorter chapters of a few pages each cover Tarzana (from its origin as Burroughs’ large farm/ranch in the 1920s to its status as a residential suburb (population 26,000+) of Los Angeles today) and the ERB, Inc. office built in 1927 by Burroughs where he worked; Tarzan collectibles for children such as lunchboxes; authorized Tarzan books by other authors; foreign editions; authorized Tarzan fanzines and fan publications; and the major fan club, the Burroughs Bibliophiles, and its annual “Dum-Dum” conventions.

The meat of the book is in its coverage of Burroughs’ books and the Tarzan motion pictures. A Titan Books press release describes this as “…a visual treasure trove of classic comic strip, cover art, movie stills, and rare ephemera”. The movie stills are in the forty pages on the Tarzan movies; the rest is in the 160 pages devoted to the 24 Tarzan novels and Burroughs’ other books. This is a treasure trove of graphics. The coverage of each book includes (besides a detailed plot synopsis, a summary of its public response, and trivia related to it) a complete publication history, original dust jackets, magazine covers, newspaper comic strip and comic book adaptations, and ephemera related to it. Burroughs and his heirs were collectors, and these are not pictures of the used copies that often appear in books about decades-old popular literature. Each image is from a mint-condition copy, a publisher’s proof, or the original artwork. Each image including the comic book covers is identified as to its artist. In the sections on motion pictures (including the Disney 1999 animated version), TV series, the stage musical, fan publications, foreign editions, collectibles, etc., ERB and his corporate heirs also built up a huge collection of publicity stills and other graphics, that are featured here. Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration is current up to Jane, the Woman Who Loved Tarzan by Robin Maxwell (Tor Books), published on September 18, 2012.

The biographical sections on Edgar Rice Burroughs include what is probably the most complete collection of Burroughs’ personal photographs ever published. In addition to straightforward biographical data, there are many anecdotes of Burroughs’ sense of humor. The story of how his original pseudonym, “Normal Bean” (meaning a normal human), was changed by a typesetter into “Norman Bean”, is well-known, but this book documents many others. For example, Burroughs was often asked how “Tarzan” should be pronounced. His replies were seldom serious; one answer was that “the ‘o’ is silent, as in ‘mice’”.

This is an authorized history, so it does not mention the many unauthorized Tarzan novels, written mostly since the 1960s after the first Tarzan novels’ copyrights expired. The Tarzan name is still trademarked, and ERB, Inc. has suppressed those in the U.S. individually in a series of lawsuits. This is a minor omission since most of the unauthorized stories were dreadful. ERB, Inc. has carefully used its authority to make sure that the authorized novels, mostly by such professional science-fiction authors as Fritz Leiber, Philip Jose Farmer, and R. A. Salvatore, and British TV and comic book author Andy Briggs, have been of high quality.

There is no index, although the clear arrangement of the contents makes most information easy to find. While most of Burroughs’ non-Tarzan novels such as The Mad King and The Oakdale Affair are minor enough that this book will satisfy most readers’ search for information about them, readers will have to search for complete information about Burroughs’ other science-fiction tales – the John Carter of Mars novels, the Pellucidar novels, the Carson Napier of Venus novels, The Moon Maid and The Moon Men – elsewhere.

Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration will sate the most obsessed fans’ desire for information about Edgar Rice Burroughs the author; about his Tarzan books and their adaptations in motion pictures, comic strips, and comic books; and about Tarzan and his supporting characters – Jane, his son Korak, Cheetah, and Tantor the elephant. It is a bargain at the price.

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

Fred Patten Reviews The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch

The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch
Authors: Marty Gitlin and Topher Ellis
Publisher: Abrams Image
ISBN-10:  0-8109-9799-1
ISBN-13:  978-0-8109-9799-8

If you can’t guess from the title, The Great American Cereal Book will tell you all that you want to know about American prepackaged breakfast cereals.  Marty Gitlin is a freelance author of books about popular and topical subjects (Los Angeles Lakers, Girls Play to Win Cheerleading, The Hudson Plane Landing about the emergency airplane landing on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009).  For this book he partnered with Topher Ellis, a specialty consultant on breakfast cereals, editor of the cereal trade journal Boxtop, and webmaster of Topher’s Breakfast Cereal Character Guide.

I can’t say that this 368-page history and guide will tell you “everything” about breakfast cereals, because of the frequency of “Unknown” in the data.  Gitlin and Ellis got free admittance into the corporate archives of General Mills, Kellogg’s, Nabisco, Nestlé, Post, the Quaker Oats Company, Ralston, and other manufacturers of prepackaged cereals, but all too often their records simply listed the names that cereals were marketed under, not the dates when they were introduced or were discontinued.

But except for this quibble, it’s all here.  There is some narrative in the 19th century history of cereals, and in the stories of marketing superstars such as Rice Krispies and Rice Krispies Treats, Wheaties, Breakfast of Champions, Cap’n Crunch, the Trix Rabbit, and a few others.  But mostly this is information in tabular form for hundreds of well-remembered and forgotten brands:  The name of the cereal, manufacturer, date introduced, date withdrawn from sale, contents, varieties, notable spokescharacters (mascots), slogans, and “Crunch On This” amusing or interesting factoids.  The book is heavily illustrated in full color with cereal boxes, pictures of mascots, old advertisements, and other memorabilia.

Some of the information:  the earliest prepackaged breakfast cereal was Dr. James Caleb Jackson’s Granula in 1863.  It required a necessary overnight soaking in milk to be soft enough to eat.  When John Henry Kellogg developed a ready-to-eat variant and used the same name, Jackson sued for copyright infringement, forcing Kellogg to change his cereal’s name to Granola, which is still on the market today.  Post Corn Toasties began in 1904 as Elijah’s Manna, in a box showing the Biblical prophet receiving the toasted corn flakes from Heaven.  Vehement protests from religious fundamentalists forced the pioneering C. W. Post to secularize and rename his cereal four years later.  Lucky Charms was the first cereal to contain “marbits”, tiny shaped marshmallows; today they are a common component of cereals.  Quaker Oats’ Quisp and Quake were two essentially identical cereals that were designed by Jay Ward (of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame) in 1965 to promote a humorous rivalry between their cartoon mascots on cereal boxes and in animated TV commercials.  Quisp was voiced by veteran animation voice actor Daws Butler, and Quake by actor William Conrad.  The campaign lasted until 1972, when Quake was discontinued and Quaker Oats proclaimed that Quisp had won.

In 1937 Post licensed the right to promote agent Melvin Purvis of the FBI in its Toasties.  Purvis’ photo-portrait appeared in ads for a Junior G-Man kit that children could send in for.  Five cereals are 100 years old or older; four are between 80 and 100 years; six are between 60 and 80 years; and eleven are more than 50 years old.  Contrariwise, older cereal brands such as Cheerios were intended for permanence, while starting in 1980 cereal manufacturers began working with toy manufacturers, movie and TV and game promoters to design new cereals (or at least their boxes) to appear on market shelves for only as long as the tie-in maintained its popularity.  Among these cereals have been Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pokémon, Breakfast With Barbie, Jurassic Park Crunch, Tiny Toon Adventures Corn, Oats & Rice Cereal, Buzz Blasts (starring Buzz Lightyear of Toy Story), C3-PO’s, Cabbage Patch Kids Corn and Wheat Cereal, Cinnamon Marshmallow Scooby-Doo, Cröonchy Stars (starring the Swedish Chef from Jim Henson’s Muppets), Disney’s Princess Fairytale Flakes, Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, Mr. T, Pirates of the Caribbean, and many, many more.  Many cereal brands have been improbably named, such as Force Flakes (the first cereal to have a cartoon mascot, Sunny Jim, created by W. W. Denslow in 1901), Oatbake, Tryabita, Sir Grapefellow and Baron Von Redberry (two cartoon World War I aerial aces; General Mills’ answer to Quaker Oats’ Quisp and Quake), Sugaroos, Mr. Waffles, Kaboom, Prince of Thieves (at the time of the movie Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves), Nerds, Directoyu, and Wackies.  The book closes with a list of fictional cereals; imaginary cereal names that have become well-known through appearing in popular comic strips, TV cartoons, and movies.  (Yes, Saki’s Filboid Studge [1911; page 353] is acknowledged, although it’s not listed in the index.)

The Great American Cereal Book (which is packaged to look like a cereal box) is another labor of love that took years to research and compile by its obsessed authors, who doubtlessly enjoyed every minute of it.  It will be in demand from nostalgia and pop-culture fans, as well as those who are really interested in information about popular cereal brands or where the famous cereal mascots like Toucan Sam and Tony the Tiger came from.

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.

Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors


  • Author: Mark Elson
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Merrell Publishers (September 18, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 185894578X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1858945781

If not for the title of the book, I would have thought I was gazing into the richly colored past, such are the quality and beauty of the photographs. The photographs and narrative are wonderful and provide  a fascinating look inside the world of civil war reenactors.  To be honest, I’d never thought much about them and if I had, I’d probably have wondered why they bothered.  BATTLEFIELDS OF HONOR answers that question in great detail.  It’s amazing the amount of care and attention to detail that go into the costumes, weapons, everything.  Prodigious amounts of research on the part of the reenactors go a long way to preserving our history and one can’t help but admire their deep dedication.

The photography is simply stunning.  There are wet plate photographs that look like they came from another time; full color photos that show the gorgeous textures of the fabrics and details to the costumes; and black and white or sepia toned photos and show so much emotion in a face.  I spent a couple of weeks just poring over the photos and often found myself swept away by the power of them.  This book is more than just photo-essays, it is a trip back into time and an incredible view of history.

Civil War buffs will adore the book; but it is really a wonderful book for anyone that loves history or photography or art.  I think it is a great teaching tool for children as well and one that will get them asking questions and wanting to learn more.  Highly recommended!


About the author:

Mark Elson is a Los Angeles-based photographer and filmmaker who specializes in wet plate photography. He attended the College for Creative Studies (formerly the Center for Creative Studies) in Detroit, Michigan, and the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, California. He has been a lifelong student of the American Civil War.

To view more of Mark’s photography and read his blog visit:

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.


Fred Patten Reviews The Great Showdowns

The Great Showdowns.

Foreword by Neil Patrick Harris.
Author:  Scott C.  [Scott Campbell]
Publisher:  Titan Books
ISBN-10:  1-7811-6277-8
ISBN-13:  978-1-7811-6277-4

Scott C. [Scott Campbell] has achieved a wide fandom for his quirky cartoons.  His paintings have been featured in galleries around the world.  His previous book, Amazing Everything: The Art of Scott C., got such reviews as, “The best thing about Scott’s work is that it’s so damn cute, clever, and funny!”

The Great Showdowns is a hardbound collection of 134 watercolor “strangely good-natured confrontations between the greatest characters in film history,” to quote from Titan Books’ press release.  The series was first exhibited at Los Angeles’ Gallery 1988 during 2011.

To quote from the press release again, “With a foreword by Neil Patrick Harris (a fan who owns several originals from the series), The Great Showdowns collects the most memorable moments of melee, interpreted by Scott in his inimitable style, including Chief Brody vs. Jaws, Die Hard’s John McClane vs. broken glass, Ripley vs. the Alien Queen, and even Spinal Tap vs. an undersized model of Stonehenge.”

Since these are not identified, “The Great Showdowns” also makes for an excellent game of “Guess the Movie”.  You can get a sample of six showdowns on the cover of this book.  Some in the book are obvious – Gort the robot and Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) in The Day the Earth Stood Still; E.T. and a telephone in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial; the Terminator and the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day; Gene Kelly in a raincoat and a lamppost in Singin’ in the Rain; a piglet and a flock of sheep in Babe; Death, a knight, and a chessboard in The Seventh Seal.  Others will be harder to guess.

Have fun.  And if you can’t have fun, you can at least enjoy looking at Scott C.’s watercolors.

Disclosure:  A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.