The World of Nicolas Flamel

I was driving home the other day when I heard author and librarian Nancy Pearl on a KUOW-FM program.  Pearl was, until August 2004, the Executive Director of the Washington Center for the Book at Seattle Public Library.  She’s frequently heard on NPR’s Morning Edition sharing her love and knowledge of books.  During the KUOW program, Pearl took questions from callers who asked, as they often do,  her for reading recommendations.  One caller, in particular, sought ideas for his 14-year-old daughter.  His daughter, he explained, liked science fantasy and was especially fond of a series of books–the title of which I didn’t catch–that was set in present day and in places that she could actually visit.

Pearl was stymied for a moment, “there are just so many”  young adult science fantasy choices, she explained.  After mentioning a few titles, she suggested the caller check with his local librarian for other titles.

Seattle librarian and NPR commentator Nancy Pearl appears Nov. 16 in Bellingham at the 10th Annual Literacy Breakfast.

Had I been able to phone in, I would have  to her and the caller, a series of books by author Michael Scott:  The Secrets of the Immortal Nicolas Flamel.   Scott is a distinguished Irish author who’s also a scholar of Celtic mythology and folklore.

The six books in his series are steeped in history and mythology as the reader follows the adventures of 15-year-old twins, Sophie and Josh Newman.  The two become engaged in a series of adventures when Josh’s employer, a bookseller, reveals to them that he is really Nicholas Flamel, the legendary 14th century French alchemist.  He discloses to them that he is also immortal and needs to recover an ancient book, known as the Codex,or else he and his wife, Pernelle,  will die within a month.  That unleashes one obstacle after another that takes them  crisscrossing the globe featuring to well-known places and sites, including San Francisco, London, the Eiffel TowerStonehenge and the Golden Gate Bridge.

As Scott says:  “Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel were real people.  So was Dr. John Dee.  Indeed, all the characters in The Alchemyst, with the exception of the twins, are based on real historical characters or mythological beings.

“When I originally conceived the idea for The Alchemyst, I thought the hero would be Dr. John Dee,” Scott explains.  “John Dee has always fascinated me. In the Elizabethan Age, the age of the extraordinary, he was exceptional.  He was one of the most brilliant men of his time, and all the details about his life in The Alchemyst are true: he was an alchemist, a mathematician, a geographer, an astronomer and an astrologer.”

The sixth and final volume in Scott’s series–The Secrets of the Immortal Nicolas Flamel–is available on-line and in bookstores now. The covers of each of these books are among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

Scott decided  a six book series with these three as main characters would allow him to introduce many figures from history and mythology.  In the six books, readers are introduced to characters from Greco-RomanEgyptianNorse and Celtic mythologies and historical characters from the ElizabethanRenaissance, Egyptian andGilded era.

Each of the first four titles of Scott’s series were featured in the top ten of the New York Times Best Seller Children’s Books.  The final and sixth book of the series was just published last spring.  Any of the books would be a great holiday gift for your younger readers.

By the way, Seattle’ celebrate librarian, Nancy Pearl will be the guest speaker at the 10th Annual Literacy Breakfast on November 16.  All funds raised at the breakfast will  go to the Whatcom Literacy Council which helps hundreds of adults in Whatcom County build their literacy skills and move forward in their lives.  Seating is limited, so please call 647-3264 or email to reserve your spot.  A $50/plate donation is requested.  Plan to go and ask Pearl yourself for her recommendations.  You can find more information about this event here:

Voting from Truman to Today

Tomorrow is voting day.  Among the millions of Americans who will be exercising their Constitutional right will be my Dad, who turns 93 later this month. He cast his first vote when he was 24 years old, having missed, by just a couple of weeks,  his 21st birthday, which was the legal voting age then, in order to vote in the 1940 election.  By the time the next presidential election rolled around, in 1944, he was overseas fighting with the Army’s 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion in France in World War II.  “If I was fighting, which I probably was, I probably didn’t get to vote,” he says then quickly adds:  “But if I did, I would have voted for FDR.  It would be interesting to know for sure.”

My Dad said he was “worn out” when this photo was taken shortly after the D-Day invasion of Italy and a hard fought battle. He made three invasion landings during the War, one in Sicily, Italy and southern France.

Knowing the answer to that is now not likely.   Casting a vote while engaged on the battlefield was more of a logistical challenge then than it is today.

According to a 1999 on-line article by Ted Penton: “Using forty-eight different ballots created a variety of problems for the military directly related to the logistical demand of such a wide dispersion of troops. The size of a ballot containing every issue in the service members’ district could become quite large and due to limited shipping space, affected whether or not service members received ballots. Further complicating the situation, many states held primary elections as late as September. This made the finalization of ballots for November difficult.

The States Rights bill kept essentially the same inefficient system from the 1942 elections in place. Under this system a service member had to send a postcard home requesting a ballot in order to receive one. After verification of his eligibility, his local voting office sent the ballot via the mail. The forty-three states with such laws in place had mailed one hundred thirty-seven thousand ballots in 1942. … only twenty-eight thousand returned.”

Whether my Dad’s was one of the 28,000 is doubtful.

But when the 1948 presidential election occurred, he was back in the U.S. working as an apprentice in photographer Tony Wicher’s portrait studio in Topeka, Ks.  Wicher was so positive that New York Governor Thomas A. Dewey would take the election, that he, Wicher, wanted to bet my Dad on the outcome.  “He said he’d bet me whatever I wanted to bet,” my Dad remembers.    My Dad didn’t take the bet but cast his ballot for Vice President Harry Truman and went to the election night party at his boss’ apartment house.   The upstairs floor had a big dance floor where the 18 employees and their spouses danced  to records while ballots were counted.

“I don’t think we knew that night the results of the election,”  my Dad says.  “It was the next day before we knew for certain who had won.”

He’s never missed a presidential election since although he not always voted for the winners.  “I always voted for Democratic president, ” he says.

My Dad will have voted in 17 Presidential elections when he hands over his ballot tomorrow at the polling place.

He’s not yet voted in this year’s election because he lives in Kansas where early voting ended today at noon.  He’ll once again go to the polls to vote on election day.  And,  like millions of other Americans,  he plans to head over to the polling place, in this case the First Christian Church, to mark his ballot. When he slips his ballot into the box tomorrow, it will be the 17th Presidential election in which he has participated .

“My gosh,” he says,  “kind of amazing isn’t it?”  It certainly is, and a testament to how democracy works in this country.