BOOK BEAT Naples Sun Times October 11-17, 2006
by Philip K. Jason
Marcia Schonberg, a former art teacher, is an award-winning journalist and photographer who has become an all-purpose, rampant generalist. No one category can hold this author of travel books, lifestyle magazine articles, state studies, and children’s picture books. Well, perhaps there is one large category. Schonberg sticks to nonfiction. She loves the research, and she loves to adapt her writing style and strategy to educate different audiences. Like most successful writers, Schonberg loves words.
This nonstop writer has had a Naples home for the last four years, though her familiarity with Naples goes back another eleven years during which she made many visits to relatives, including her brother Dr. Lawrence Albert of Naples Community Hospital. I was able to sit down with Schonberg at her home in The Vineyards during her whirlwind week-long stay around Labor Day before she and her husband returned to their Ohio home.
Ohio has been the subject of ten of this Ohio State University graduate’s books. The first two are travel books: Ohio Travel Smart and Quick Escapes: Cleveland (which includes escapes up to six hours away). Schonberg also wrote the six-book Heinemann State Studies series on Ohio. The titles are Ohio Plants and Animals, Ohio History, Uniquely Ohio, Ohio Native American Peoples, People of Ohio, and All Around Ohio: Regions and Resources. These books were published in 2003. (A year later, she published a parallel series on Michigan.)
Two additional Ohio-focused books established Schonberg as a children’s book author. B is for Buckeye: An Ohio Alphabet is picture book aimed at youngsters through the fourth grade level. However, the format allows adult readers to discover interesting facts that they might not expect to find in such a book. A companion title, Cardinal Numbers: An Ohio Counting Book, is also richly illustrated. It provides facts and figures about Ohio while playfully developing students’ math skills. Both of these children’s books, which are published by Sleeping Bear Press, have teachers’ guides available with ideas for classroom activities. Schonberg’s field work on such projects as well as in preparation for classroom visits includes getting her grandsons involved. They help her gauge topics and approaches for her youthful audiences.
By the way, in case you were wondering, Marcia Schonberg does have some ideas for a Florida book or two. She has already published articles about Florida places and events.
One of the benefits of such state-focused projects is that some are likely to become part of a state-wide school curriculum, or at least be adopted by many school districts. For this reason, several of Schonberg’s titles have had many printings. B is for Buckeye is in its 6th printing. An author can write for a national audience and reach far fewer readers than Marcia Schonberg does.
Still, she has taken the risk. Last year she published I is for Idea: An Inventions Alphabet, also from Sleeping Bear Press. Each alphabetical entry has three dimensions: a rhymed quatrain to introduce the information, one or two prose sidebars detailing the history and importance of the invention, and a dazzling illustration by Kandy Radzinski. During our discussion, Schonberg told me that she made her selections in order to accentuate the positive, admitting that many inventions are used for questionable or even clearly destructive purposes. So, “N” is not for Nuclear, but rather for Neon. Still, one has to be realistic and pay homage to great inventors. Thus, “D” is for Dynamite: “Dynamite begins with D, / exploding with a mighty blast. / It breaks up rocks to build long tunnels / so trains can get through mountains fast.” A capsule biography of Alfred Nobel emphasizes the relative safety of this explosive, its contribution to the Industrial Era, and the good uses to which Nobel put his fortune. Schonberg effectively links learning and entertainment in a book that parents and children can enjoy together.
When I pressed for more information about the grade level at which her books were aimed, Schonberg reminded me that most newspaper writing was aimed at a sixth-grade reading level (not mine, of course). The implication, perhaps, was that an experienced journalist can adjust to writing for children without too much difficulty. This versatile writer stressed that in writing for children she pays more attention to avoiding complex and overly long sentences than she does to vocabulary choices. If a “big word” is the best word and says what you mean, suggests Schonberg, depend on the child’s family to have a dictionary somewhere in the house. An information book for children can be used to challenge thinking and stretch vocabulary, not simply to dumb everything down.
M is for Marcia
who respects her young readers
and by not talking down to them
helps them become leaders.
To keep track of what this nonfiction specialist is doing, see her website: marciaschonberg.com
Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at firstname.lastname@example.org.