Author’s Note: These articles fall across different subject matters highlighted in my books and underscore what I call my “Five Corner” definition of giving (explained more fully in the newspaper article below). In short — when you give with a correct heart, you get back so much more than ever expected!

Vero Beach Press Journal (FL)
December 6, 2005  
Colleen Wixon staff writer

VERO BEACH — Be a five-corner person.

That’s what children’s author Margot Theis Raven told elementary school students at St. Edward’s Lower School on Monday.

To illustrate her definition of a five-corner person, Raven, whose parents live in Vero Beach, told a story of a girl with a piece of paper that had four corners. The girl treasured her four corners until she met a friend who only had three corners. When the friend asked, the girl reluctantly gave her one corner from her paper. The girl thought she would have only three corners, but then noticed her paper now had five corners — two were in the place of the corner she had cut out to give to her friend.

“Sometimes, what you lose just comes back,” Raven told the students.

Raven, who lives in Charleston, S.C., is the author of “Let Them Play,” which is about the 1955 Cannon Street YMCA Little League team that was not allowed to play in the Little League World Series; “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot,” about the U.S. Air Force’s Berlin candy bomber Col. Gail Halverson; and “Circle Unbroken,” which features the Gullah people in South Carolina. She also wrote “Challenger: America’s Favorite Eagle,” among others.

Raven said she uses “five-corner people,” those who have given up something to help others, in her books of historical fiction for children.

One book, “America’s White Table,” tells the story of the special table families across the country set in honor of those missing in action or prisoners of war. She introduced to the students on Monday retired Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas J. Hanton, who spent nine months as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.

Hanton looked at what he had and found a way to boost the spirits of other prisoners, Raven said.

Using dead mosquitoes, Hanton created an American flag on the wall in the prison, she said.

“He had time and there were plenty of mosquitoes,” she said.

Hanton was punished when guards discovered it, and the wall was whitewashed, she said.

“Three days later, (Hanton) started a new flag,” Raven said. “That’s what you do when you’re a fifth-corner person.”

In answer to one child’s question of “What was it like?” Hanton said he prefers to talk instead about what he gained from the experience.

He said he learned to trust in people and the importance of people and humor.

Raven encouraged the students to be five-corner people and to look for heroes among themselves.

“By giving away all your corners, you will change the shape of what you are holding,” she said. Eventually, the paper becomes a circle, the shape of the world, she said.

“Our future is what you will hold in your hands,” she said.

Color photo by Molly Bartels, staff photographer: Author Margot Theis Raven speaks to students and faculty at St. Edward’s Lower School about her books, “Let Them Play,” “America’s White Table” and “Challenger: America’s Favorite Eagle” on Monday. She also is author of the popular children’s book, “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot.”

Posted on Wed, Nov 19, 2008
Telling Tales Of War

Veterans share their experiences with Haddonfield students

Haddonfield Middle School students received a visit from veterans Friday.  Members of the American Legion Post #38 visited with students at Haddonfield Middle School for the 11th annual Veteran’s Day program Friday.John Farrell and Travis Thomas, social Study teachers at HMS, work with the Legion to bring in members to discuss their experiences from major conflicts including World War II, Korea, Vietnam as well as Afghanistan, Iraq and Desert Storm.

According to Farrell, videos of World War II veterans are going to be made with students asking questions to the veterans. The video will be turned over to the high school; a documentary will be made and submitted to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Communities around the country have been asked to submit videos, and Haddonfield is in the beginning stages of the interviews.

Other activities between the students and veterans included an assembly, a luncheon, individual visits to classrooms, video interviews and a solemn service led by seventh grade English teacher Julie Oakley explained the significance of the “missing man table” based on the children’s book “America’s White Table” by Margot Raven.

A small table was used to show one soldier’s lonely battle against many; it is covered with a white cloth to honor a soldier’s pure heart when he answers his country’s call to duty. A lemon slice and grains of salt are placed on a plate to show a captive soldier’s bitter fate and the salty tears of families waiting for loved ones to return.

An empty chair is pushed to the table for the missing soldiers who are not here. A black napkin is laid for the sorrow of captivity, and a glass is turned upside down for the meal that won’t be eaten. A white candle for peace is lit and, finally, a red rose in a vase tied with a red ribbon symbolizes the hope that all our missing will return someday.

-Shelly Castorino

Duckworth shares stories of sacrifice with Plainfield students
The Sun – Plainfield (IL)
November 14, 2008
Patrick Ferrell

Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth didn’t even need to speak before the 800-some students at Ira Jones Middle School in Plainfield gave her a standing ovation. All she had to do was enter the gymnasium.

“Tammy Duckworth is a hero not because she wears a red cape … but because she had the positivity to overcome life-altering injuries,” social studies teacher Brianne Gallagher said.

Duckworth lost her legs in 2004 when the Black Hawk helicopter she was piloting was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. She now has two prosthetics and uses a wheelchair.

“I was saved by 19- and 20-year-olds,” Duckworth told the audience of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. “Six years ago, people serving in the war now were in middle school like you.”

On Nov. 7, Duckworth, who is director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, read a book called “America’s White Table” as students acted out the story.

The White Table is a tradition started by Air Force pilots during the Vietnam War. The table is set in many military mess halls as remembrance for soldiers missing in action.

“It was very impressive, very emotional,” said John Corradetti, an 83-year-old Joliet resident who served in World War II. Corradetti attended the speech with his wife, Yola.

Duckworth’s speech was given in anticipation of Veterans Day. She started her speech by asking the students how many had a family member serving in the military. Several raised their hands. Then, she asked how many had a sibling who was 18 or 19. Almost half raised their hands.

“I want them to have a personal connection to (veterans’ and military issues),” Duckworth said. “In Illinois, we don’t have any large military bases, so you can become quite distanced from it. The kids do care, but they need a personal connection.”

Before reading the book, Duckworth credited her colleagues for saving her life.

“I passed out,” she said. “I was carried by buddies who weren’t going to leave me behind. That’s what you’re doing today. You are not going to leave our veterans behind.

“Every time you thank them, every time you honor then, that’s what you’re doing.”

The speech ended as it began, with the students giving Duckworth a standing ovation.

Duckworth, who made an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2006, is being talked about as a possible successor for the Senate seat left open after Barack Obama’s election to the White House.

Following the speech, Duckworth said she would be open to the possibility.

“I haven’t talked to the governor about it,” she said. “I certainly would be honored. To be able to continue to serve the residents of Illinois in some capacity would be an honor.”

Tammy Duckworth is the director of the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs and a decorated Purple Heart and Air Medal veteran.


Navy tradition recalls missing, prisoners with lone place setting.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
March 26, 2003
Sandy Bauers

ABOARD THE USS HARRY S. TRUMAN, EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN – Steven DeLuna approaches the tiny white table with reverence.

He picks up the white plate ever so carefully. Meticulously, he dusts around the small pile of salt in the center. He dusts the white tablecloth underneath.

Most of the time aboard this aircraft carrier, DeLuna, 19, of Plano, Texas, works with the Sea Sparrow air-to-air missile. But now, during a temporary duty in the wardroom, he’s made it a personal mission to care for this solitary table, set for one, where no one ever sits.

The table is dedicated to the honor and memory of POWs and MIAs. While other chairs in the room have covers of royal blue trimmed with gold, the single chair at this table is covered in white.

Even when the room is rearranged for special events, the white table stays put.

DeLuna knows and appreciates Navy traditions. He knew what the table meant and asked to clean it during his stint in the wardroom.

“The entire time I’m cleaning,” he said. “I just know that’s one of those things to be solemn for. I try to be more on the respectful side, not rushing through it.”

Similar tables exist throughout the military. There are variations, but most are small like this one. Its size symbolizes “the fragility of one prisoner alone against the oppressor,” according to a small placard on the table.

On it, there’s a glass of water is “to quench their thirst for freedom” and salt “to remind us of the pain they feel.”

A maroon silk chrysanthemum signifies “the blood our fallen shipmates shed.”

White china symbolizes “the purity of their hearts” and white linens “a clean bandage for their wounds.” A small American flag and small POW-MIA flag also stand in bases on the table.

“On certain days, it just hits you, what it represents,” said Ensign Mike Bell, 35, a disbursing officer from Union Springs, Ala. “It keeps that memory alive.”

“There’s people out there that you think of and remember,” said flight surgeon Lt. Todd Guth, 29, of Franklin, Pa. “The shoes they’re in are not too far from ones we could be in.”

Capt. Charles Ladd Wheeler, executive officer of the Truman, has noticed that the table means different things to different generations. To him, it’s the Vietnam War.

His father flew a B-52 in that war. For years, Wheeler himself wore a POW-MIA bracelet inscribed with the name of a family friend who was later determined to have been killed.

The Department of Defense lists 1,889 Americans unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. Among them are 387 from the Navy.

DeLuna feels a connection to such things. The day after he signed his enlistment papers, the USS Cole was attacked in Yemen and 17 sailors were killed. He graduated from boot camp three days after the Sept. 11 attacks. Now, he’s in a war.

With about six weeks left on wardroom duty, he plans to be the one cleaning the table every day.

“I try to do it so people, when they walk by, know how much care is put into it,” DeLuna said, putting the flags back in place and moving on to dust the white cover over the chair.

Col. Gail Halvorsen (USAF-Ret) and Mercedes Wild in recent photos and historic ones. Mercedes (as the young girl above) wrote Halvorsen, The Berlin Candy Bomber, that he had her permission to scare the white chickens in her garden if he would drop chocolate down to her.  They still keep and treasure a life-long friendship.

April 25, 2008
US Fed News Service, Including US State News

The U.S. Army issued the following news release:

By Karl Weisel, USAG Wiesbaden Public Affairs As the small parachutes floated into outstretched hands of anxious children at Aukamm Elementary School, the scene could have been Berlin in 1948. Only it wasn’t Lt. Gail Halvorsen dropping candy from his C-54 aircraft.

Nearly six decades after Halvorsen’s famous flights, members of the Wiesbaden Fire Department were tossing cloth canopies to German and American students at the Wiesbaden school April 16.

A partnership project between fourth-graders at Aukamm and Grundschule Nauheim (a nearby primary school) brought German students to U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden to work on entries for a special competition commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Berlin Airlift. The contest is being conducted by the city of Frankfurt and the American Consulate.

“I grew up with all this history because my parents lived it,” said Ute Bopp, Aukamm Elementary School host nation teacher, who organized the get together as a way to bring German and American students closer together and to educate them on their shared history.

“This was so exciting,” Bopp added, “because so many people had ideas. It grew from the very beginning.”

After word on the commemorative project spread, Bopp shared her idea with Aukamm fourth-grade teachers Elizabeth Green and Corinne Voyer, and Nauheim teacher Andrea Buss. After reading “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” – an illustrated story by Margot Theis Raven describing a young girl’s life during the blockade of Berlin – students in both schools began producing films detailing the book and describing the efforts of Allied pilots to bring needed supplies of coal and other necessities to Berlin’s population

“Earlier this year, classes had been exchanging letters with pen pals in the German school,” said Voyer. “We hope to (visit) their school at the end of May.

“The children are all excited about this project,” Voyer noted. “Most of them didn’t even realize there was an East and West Germany before we started the project. They asked questions like ‘Why would you divide a country like that?’ Hopefully this project will encourage them to travel more, especially to Berlin.”

German students used Playmobile figures and stop action to illustrate the story of “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and his fellow American pilots dropping chocolate by tiny parachutes to the children of Berlin.

“I read the book to the students, and the children found it so great they came up with the idea for the film,” said Buss.

The German teacher also explained that with many of her students originally from other European countries like Italy and Turkey, learning about the Cold War years in Germany was a valuable history lesson as well.

After watching both student-produced films in Aukamm’s library, the children headed outside for the candy drop, which was followed by lunch.

“I liked how the firefighters dropped the parachutes,” said Brendan Hurst, an Aukamm fourth-grader who took part in the project. “I also enjoyed taking the German kids on a tour of our school.”

“I thought it was really amazing,” said Jackson Brown, a fellow fourth-grader, about U.S. participation in the massive round-the-clock airlift called Operation Vittles and Halvorsen in particular. “I think he did a very important job during the airlift because Germany was just recovering after World War II.”

Bopp pointed out that by studying the airlift, the students realized how different life was for young people in the early post-war years compared to today. “It made them realize that (children back then) had other problems – just trying to survive – than we do today.”

“I’m glad we were able to support the American school in Germany with this,” said Sven Janneck, a member of the Wiesbaden Fire Department. “It (is important) to remember that part of history – how Allied forces supported Germany after the war.”

Telegraph – Herald (Dubuque, Iowa)
March 10, 2007
David Short

A Berlin Blockade Story

In 1948, the Russians blocked off a section of Berlin to seize control of the region and install Communist rule. Americans responded by flying in needed goods to the city. One pilot became famous for the special packages he delivered. This is the story.

It is August, 1948; the location is Berlin, Germany. Little Mercedes is in her courtyard, asking her chickens to produce more eggs. She feeds them, holding back tears. They will end up as supper if they don’t produce. As she approaches her house, she looks upward and sees silver planes roar into Tempelhof Airfield where they deliver supplies. Mercedes never complains about the planes; she knows what they were doing for her country.

One day, Mercedes’ mom read her a story about the parachuted candy that came out of Lt. Gail Halvorsen’s plane. He talked to the children who met him at the edge of the runway. Even though they didn’t ask him for candy, Lt. Halvorsen split strands of gum for four children. He promised the rest of them he’d return with more candy. The next day he made three candy drops and soon received letters addressed to the “Chocolate Pilot” and “Uncle Wiggly Wings.” Once Americans back home heard about Halvorsen’s activity, they donated tons of candy and thousands of hankies.

One day, Mercedes asked if she could go to the airfield to watch the candy parachutes float from the sky. On that day she nearly caught one, but an older boy snatched it from her. Frustrated, Mercedes wrote the “Chocolate Pilot” about how the planes scared her chickens, but how all would be well if she received some candy.

Then one day, Mercedes received an unexpected parcel from the airfield containing her long awaited candy and a letter from Gail Halvorsen that she would treasure for the rest of her life.

Twenty-two years later, Halvorsen was now the new colonel in charge of Tempelhof Airfield. In 1972, he was invited to dinner with a couple whom he had never met. The woman gave him a letter that started, “Meine Liebe Mercedes” (My dear Mercedes). It was the very same letter he wrote to a little girl so many years earlier! They stayed in contact and have maintained a wonderful friendship. Col. Gail S. Halvorsen still drops candy today, and will be a special guest speaker at our Cold War Seminar in April.

Copyright 2006 by Telegraph-Herald, All rights Reserved

Children’s stories can be gentle tales
The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)
Special to the Post and Courier; Fran Hawk
January 30, 2003

I’m in the process of papering a wall with letters of rejection. Publishers and agents are just not interested in the two gentle children’s books I’ve written. Children like the books. Friends (say they) like the books. So why do my books keep getting rejected?

A pragmatic, business-minded friend assures me that a children’s book has to be jazzy, pizazzy and a commercial knockout to be considered for publication.

He cites the “Star Wars” books and books based on TV shows as proof of this theory. He’s welcome to his opinion. But he’s wrong.

Sleeping Bear Press is one publisher that consistently turns out lovely, gentle and instructive books for children. Subjects include making dreams come true by determination and hard work, children learning how to behave better, and the importance of concentrating on what you can do rather than what you can’t do.

In previous columns, I’ve mentioned “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” by Margot Theis Raven and “Christmas Humbugs” by Colleen Monroe. Children enjoy both of these Sleeping Bear books because they are good, solid, satisfying stories.

This week, the first-graders were completely captivated with the story “Jam and Jelly by Holly and Nellie” by Gloria Whelan. This is another signature Sleeping Bear book in the sense that it’s a satisfying, gentle and instructive story. Holly and her mother spend their summer picking berries and making jam. They sell the jam at a roadside stand built by Holly’s dad. The family uses the coins collected in an empty jar to buy a winter coat and boots for Holly. With her new, warm clothing, she won’t miss any school during the snowy winter months in northern Michigan.

The story is beautifully illustrated by Gijsbert Van Frankhuyzen and weaves information about birds, berries and other natural phenomena into the story line. How can this book share the same planet with “Rugrats,” much less the same bookstore?

Sleeping Bear stories quietly convey the values and virtues traditionally treasured by parents. These are the kind of stick-in-the-head stories that encourage children to adopt those values and virtues as their very own.

E-mail Fran Hawk at

Copyright, 2003, The Post and Courier. All Rights Reserved.

Cooperative Children’s Book Center
This edited essay originally appeared in CCBC Choices 2006.
Kathleen T. Horning, Merri V. Lingren, Hollis Rudiger, and Megan Schliesman©2006

In recent years, we’ve estimated approximately 5,000 new books are published annually for children and young adults. Here at the CCBC, we received approximately 3,000 new books published in 2005. They included most of the books published by large trade publishers, many of which are separate divisions of the same publishing house, as well as books from some of the publishers specializing in informational books for the young, often developed specifically with curricular needs in mind, and many of which are formula series. We also received books from a small number of independent publishers.

Extraordinary Nonfiction
We read a number of engaging works of nonfiction for younger children as well, including April Pulley Sayre’s The Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust, astonishingly lyrical as well as informative; Jonah Winter’s picture book biography Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates; Margot Theis Raven’s Let Them Play, about an African American Little League team in South Carolina denied the right to play in the state and national championships in 1955; and Jeanette Winter’s The Librarian of Basra, about Alia Muhammad Baker, who feverishly worked to save the books in the library of Basra as U.S. bombs fell in 2002.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) is a unique and vital gathering place for books, ideas, and expertise in the field of children’s and young adult literature. The CCBC is a non-circulating examination, study, and research library for Wisconsin school and public librarians, teachers, early childhood care providers, university students, and others interested in children’s and young adult literature. The CCBC is part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) School of Education (SoE), and receives additional support from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI).