Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Pub­lished by Mims House
ISBN-10: 1629440019, ISBN-13: 978–1629440019

Dar­cy Pat­ti­son and Kit­ty Harvill have teamed up again, and I could­n’t be hap­pi­er with the result. You might remem­ber when I reviewed their pre­vi­ous col­lab­o­ra­tion, WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS, here.
Unlike Wis­dom, the main char­ac­ter in ABAYOMI,  THE BRAZILIAN PUMA, is a mam­mal, a feline, not a bird. Unlike Wis­dom, Abay­o­mi lives in South Amer­i­ca, in Brazil, not on an island in the North Pacif­ic Ocean. Unlike Wis­dom, Abay­o­mi is a baby, an orphan, not a wise, old moth­er. Yet their sto­ries have much in common.

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Interview with Mary Cronk Farrell, author of PURE GRIT

PURE GRIT book cover

I have a con­fes­sion to make. Nor­mal­ly I read every book before I post about it here, but–just this once–I was going to cheat. As much as I’ve been dying to read PURE GRIT by Mary Cronk Far­rell, my to-do list is huge right now: writ­ing new books (I’m cur­rent­ly work­ing on EIGHT sep­a­rate man­u­scripts and/or pro­pos­als!), pro­mot­ing BE A CHANGEMAKER, vol­un­teer projects (SCBWI West­ern Wash­ing­ton con­fer­ence any­one? There are still a few spaces!), cri­tiques (three full-length nov­els await!), fam­i­ly, pets, home… and let’s not for­get, TAXES! To top it off, I was still recov­er­ing from the flu when I came down with this most recent cold. I’m months behind on a few things, with many oth­er dead­lines loom­ing dead ahead. So, I sat down plan­ning to just skim it for the time being, write the post, and come back lat­er when I had time to set­tle in, read it in more detail, and take it all in.

PURE GRIT book cover
PURE GRIT book cover

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Interview with author Cynthia Levinson

A few weeks ago I post­ed this review of Cyn­thia Levin­son’s amaz­ing mid­dle-grade non­fic­tion book, WE’VE GOT A JOB. Now, I’m thrilled to wel­come Cyn­thia her­self  here to talk about it!

LT: Hi Cyn­thia! One of the first things I noticed about WE’VE GOT A JOB was how thor­ough­ly researched it is. What was the hard­est part of the research and/or writ­ing for you? 
CL: The hard­est part, one which his­to­ri­ans and researchers on many mat­ters face, was fig­ur­ing out what to do about con­tra­dic­to­ry infor­ma­tion. One per­son remem­bered that the events of the Children’s March in Birm­ing­ham, Alaba­ma start­ed on one day; anoth­er was sure it was a dif­fer­ent day. One per­son knew that Dr. King spoke to him at the church; oth­ers said King was else­where. A third per­son was def­i­nite that she was arrest­ed for pick­et­ing on a par­tic­u­lar day when oth­er sources indi­cat­ed that no arrests occurred that day.
LT: How did you deal with that?
CL: I don’t at all blame my respon­dents! The events I was ask­ing them about took place near­ly 50 years ago at a time when they were both young and fright­ened. Deter­min­ing the facts required so much effort that I wrote an entire Author’s Note about it.
LT: How com­plete was the book when you sent it out?
CL: Because this was my first book, I went over­board what I sub­mit­ted to my agent! At the same time, because this was a work of non­fic­tion, which, unlike fic­tion, doesn’t need to be com­plete, I sub­mit­ted a pro­pos­al, rather than a full man­u­script. But, what a proposal!
CL: It con­sist­ed of five com­plete draft chap­ters, a nar­ra­tive out­line with almost half a page of text for each unwrit­ten chap­ter, a four-page bib­li­og­ra­phy, many pages of foot­notes, sources and costs of pho­tographs, and, prob­a­bly, a par­tridge in a pear tree. I’ve since learned that this much prep is not nec­es­sary. But, I wasn’t sor­ry that I had done so much work in advance of sub­mis­sion. The out­line was sol­id enough that it struc­tured the final book, even after many tex­tu­al edits. And, the pro­pos­al sold the book—eventually.
LT: What else have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book? 
CL: As a sea­soned writer for qual­i­ty non­fic­tion children’s mag­a­zines, I was used to doing mam­moth amounts of research that nev­er make it into the final prod­uct, orga­niz­ing reams of mate­r­i­al, writ­ing suc­cinct­ly, etc. What turned out to be new with this book is the human element.
CL: Not that I hadn’t writ­ten about peo­ple before. I had—William Kamk­wam­ba, for instance, who brought elec­tric­i­ty to his vil­lage in Malawi; Mar­ti­na Zurschmiede, the youngest mem­ber of the Swiss Lace Mak­ing Asso­ci­a­tion; Nathan Wolfe, who is search­ing for and try­ing to pre­vent the next pan­dem­ic. But, with short pieces of 500–800 words, you’re look­ing at the facts of what peo­ple are doing. With a book, I dis­cov­ered that I also need­ed to delve into people’s moti­va­tions, into the pas­sions or fears that pro­pel them to do what they do.
CL: Fer­ret­ing out these fac­tors entailed ask­ing prob­ing, inti­mate ques­tions. “How did your moth­er beat you?” “Why did you lie to your par­ents?” Invari­ably, I learned, when my respon­dents low­ered their voic­es, when they whis­pered to me, even though we were the only ones talk­ing, they were reach­ing deep inside themselves.
LT: What sur­prised you the most dur­ing the process?
CL: Because I had nev­er writ­ten a non­fic­tion book for chil­dren before—or, any book—the entire process sur­prised me. The time that I was most tak­en aback occurred when one of my inter­vie­wees, James, ques­tioned me! He want­ed to know why I was inter­est­ed in writ­ing this book, what I would do with the infor­ma­tion he shared, would I pay him. These are per­fect­ly rea­son­able and under­stand­able ques­tions. But, I thought I was the question-asker!
LT: I’ve always said that I will know I’ve made it when I receive one let­ter from one child say­ing that some­thing I wrote made a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in his or her life. How do you define success?
CL: I love this def­i­n­i­tion, Lau­rie. I hope this hap­pens to me—because, like you, I hope it hap­pens to a child who reads our work. My def­i­n­i­tion of suc­cess is very par­tic­u­lar to this book.

CL: When peo­ple who have even pass­ing knowl­edge of the civ­il rights move­ment hear “Birm­ing­ham,” they gen­er­al­ly and imme­di­ate­ly think of the church bomb­ing in which four girls were mur­dered. I hope that We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birm­ing­ham Children’s March will change their per­cep­tion. I would like for read­ers to asso­ciate “Birm­ing­ham” not just with the tragedy of vic­tim­ized chil­dren but also with chil­dren who took a stand, chang­ing Amer­i­ca with their deter­mi­na­tion and fortitude.
LT: And I’m sure they will! It’s impos­si­ble to read WE’VE GOT A JOB and not be touched both by what those chil­dren went through and what they accom­plished. Thank you for writ­ing such an impor­tant, pow­er­ful book, Cyn­thia, and thanks so much for shar­ing this behind-the-scenes view of it with me! 

Today’s Non­fic­tion Mon­day Round-up is being host­ed at The Chil­dren’s War.

STEM Friday roundup is here!

I’m thrilled to be host­ing STEM Fri­day today! If you reviewed a STEM (Science, Tech­nol­o­gy, Engi­neer­ing, and Math­e­mat­ics) book for kids on your blog today, please leave your link in the com­ments or on Twit­ter (@lauriethompson), and I will add you to the round-up through­out the day. Thanks!

My con­tri­bu­tion to this week’s STEM Fri­day, a review of IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH by Kel­ly Mil­ner Halls, is post­ed here.

cover1Jeff Barg­er reviews A Leaf Can Be… by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas over at NC Teacher Stuff. Read all about this poet­ry book about leaves here.

cover2On her blog, Sim­ply­Science, Shirley Duke talks about her new book, Gas­es, and shares activities.

Over at Archimedes Note­book, Sue Heav­en­rich reviews Star of the Sea by Janet Half­mann, with some insight on writ­ing from the author herself.

Anas­ta­sia Suen from Book­talk­ing joins the fun with her review of Bones: Dead Peo­ple Do Tell Tales
by Sara L. Latta.

Next week’s STEM Fri­day host will be Rober­ta Gib­son at Wrapped in Foil.

Review: In Search of Sasquatch

In Search of Sasquatch
by Kel­ly Mil­ner Halls
Houghton Mif­flin Books for Chil­dren (Octo­ber 25, 1011)
64 pages, ages 9 and up
When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was BIGFOOT: MAN, MONSTER, OR MYTH? by Car­rie Carmichael (Rain­tree, 1977). I’ve always been an ani­mal lover, and I loved the pos­si­bil­i­ty that there was one (or more?) out there clever enough to remain a mys­tery to us. I lived in rur­al north­ern Wis­con­sin and spent a lot of time in the woods, but, sad­ly, nev­er saw any Sasquatch signs.
When my son told me he thought it’d be cool to be a cryp­to­zo­ol­o­gist (nice!), I knew I had to get him this book. It did­n’t dis­ap­point. He’s read it sev­er­al times cov­er to cov­er, and I’m lov­ing the facts and crit­i­cal think­ing skills he’s demon­strat­ing as a result.
My first thought when I opened the book was how beau­ti­ful it is. The full-bleed for­est spread with the quotes over­lay­ing the trees pulls you right into the world of the sasquatch from the very first page turn (and the final one, as well). The beau­ty con­tin­ues with beau­ti­ful pho­tog­ra­phy, ele­gant illus­tra­tions, and well-done lay­out and design throughout.
Halls com­bines var­i­ous myths and leg­ends with expert opin­ions and eye­wit­ness accounts to weave a clev­er­ly craft­ed and com­pelling case for the exis­tence of sasquatch. She does­n’t come right out and tell us that it does or does­n’t exist, though. In the end, it’s up to the read­er to decide if they’ve been con­vinced or not.
This is a great book to hand to any kid with an inter­est in cryp­tids or oth­er mys­ter­ies, and ani­mal lovers and bud­ding young sci­en­tists will also enjoy it.
FUN FACT: “Accord­ing to experts at the Big­foot Field Researchers Orga­ni­za­tion (BFRO), cred­i­ble wit­ness­es have report­ed see­ing Sasquatch in every state in the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca except Hawaii, as well as most Cana­di­an provinces.”
There is a ded­i­ca­tion, table of con­tents, addi­tion­al resources, pho­to and illus­tra­tion cred­its, bib­li­og­ra­phy and source notes, glos­sary, and index.
SIDE NOTE: When asked her opin­ion of the book, my daugh­ter answered, “I LOVED how she crammed so many facts into this book, yet still kept it com­plete­ly inter­est­ing!” My answer: “Ahem. <cough> ‘YET STILL?’ Have I told you what I do? FACTS ARE INTERESTING!” I have failed as a parent.

This is my review for STEM Fri­day, which I’m also host­ing this week! See the com­plete roundup here.
Dis­claimer: A copy of this book was checked out from my local library for review. Thanks, King Coun­ty Library System!

Read more kids’ nonfiction in 2012!

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Still try­ing to come up with some res­o­lu­tions for the new year? Or would you pre­fer hav­ing one or two that are more plea­sure than pain? Well, in the spir­it of

…I’ve got just the thing for you!

Read more non­fic­tion for kids!

There are two chal­lenges out there right now to help you do just that… and share the fruits of your labor with like-mind­ed peeps around the world.

First,  Kid Lit Fren­zy and The Non­fic­tion Dete­cetives have teamed up to offer the The Non­fic­tion Pic­ture Book Chal­lenge 2012. Their goal is to encour­age every­one to read more non­fic­tion pic­ture books this year. All you have to do is set a goal for your­self (like read­ing one non­fic­tion pic­ture book each week or each month). You can vis­it both the Kid Lit Fren­zy and The Non­fic­tion Dete­cetives blogs through­out the year for non­fic­tion reviews and give­aways, tweet about the chal­lenge using the hash­tag #nfpb2012, and add the Non-Fic­tion Pic­ture Book badge to your web site.

Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge 2012


Sec­ond, Ms. Houghton’s Class chal­lenges us to read the Sib­ert Medal win­ners and hon­orees here. This has been on my to-do list for awhile, so thank you Ms. Houghton for giv­ing me that extra push. I’m in! She has the com­plete list in her post, OR you can find the offi­cial list of past win­ners here and cur­rent win­ners here. New win­ners for 2012 will be announced 1/23/2012 (search for #alay­ma on Twit­ter). You can also keep track of this chal­lenge on Twit­ter by search­ing for #nerdib­ert.

I’m doing both, along with my oth­er New Year’s Res­o­lu­tions, which are to read more adult non­fic­tion and keep bet­ter track of all of these books in a read­ing log. I hope you’ll join me!
UPDATE: I made a Google docs spread­sheet with all the info for the Sib­ert books. Feel free to down­load it from here and use it to track your progress!

What I Learned From the Cybils


The Cybils’ Non­fic­tion Pic­ture Book pan­el for round one, which I was thrilled to be a part of this year, recent­ly fin­ished our deliberations.
The pan­elists were:

There were 87 non­fic­tion pic­ture books to read. Of those, 23 end­ed up on my “pos­si­ble con­tenders” list, and only four of those end­ed up on my “absolute­ly must fight for” list. The sev­en of us had to ulti­mate­ly agree on sev­en (or few­er) titles to send on to the round two judges. (And, I’m hap­py to report, we did it! But you’ll have to wait a few more days to find out what we chose.)
What a thought-pro­vok­ing and edu­ca­tion­al expe­ri­ence this was to go through, as both a writer and as a read­er. These smart, savvy, and opin­ion­at­ed book-lov­ing women val­i­dat­ed many of my own feel­ings about non­fic­tion for kids, and brought to light some nuances that I hadn’t real­ly thought about before, and the whole process real­ly made me think about the titles that I loved through both lens­es of the Cybils cri­te­ria: lit­er­ary mer­it AND kid appeal. It wasn’t enough to have one or the oth­er (which many titles did). Our job was to iden­ti­fy at most sev­en titles we felt were the best of both worlds. A few titles were easy shoe-ins: we agreed on those right away. The remain­ing spots were only filled after great debate, with some argu­ing for and oth­er against. The rea­sons not to include some­thing on the short list were often even more enlight­en­ing than the rea­sons to include something.
Major rea­sons why oth­er­wise deserv­ing titles got passed over:

  • Insuf­fi­cient back mat­ter. Back mat­ter can real­ly make or break a non­fic­tion book, even a pic­ture book for the youngest
    read­ers. If we, the adults, don’t trust you, the author, we’re not going to put that book into a kid’s hands. Authors and pub­lish­ers: it’s worth bud­get­ing the space for those extra pages at the back. Con­sid­er it your chance to show off your hard work and prove your exper­tise, as well as to share your pas­sion with your read­ers, adults and chil­dren alike. Sad­ly, I think insuf­fi­cient back mat­ter hurt both lit­er­ary mer­it and kid appeal on many oth­er­wise won­der­ful titles.
  • Art and design. Not being an artist myself, I was sur­prised how divi­sive this area could be. Some­times we loved the art, but didn’t feel the words were up to par. Some­times we loved the text, but reject­ed the art. Some­times we even loved both, just not togeth­er! And often, we had con­flict­ing opin­ions across the pan­el. Some­times the lay­out and design added to the oth­er ele­ments, some­times it took so much away as to knock a title out of the run­ning alto­geth­er. As an author, I’ll have no con­trol over this (gulp!), but it makes me even more aware of how impor­tant it is to find an edi­tor and a pub­lish­ing house that I can trust to get it all right.
  • Age appro­pri­ate­ness. There were sub­jects that seemed either too young or too old for the audi­ences they were writ­ten for, either too dumb­ed down or too sophis­ti­cat­ed to be appeal­ing to the intend­ed read­ers. It’s tough to strike that bal­ance of read­ing lev­el, inter­est lev­el, and rel­e­van­cy, but as an author (and illus­tra­tor), you just have to do it. I’ll be hold­ing up my own man­u­scripts to much greater scruti­ny in this area.

I want to thank each and every one of the pan­elists for a thor­ough­ly enjoy­able and eye-open­ing deci­sion-mak­ing process. I hope the round two judges are pleased with our choic­es and look for­ward to their choice for the win­ner. I don’t envy their job one bit!

STEM Friday Book Review: The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs

The Case of the Van­ish­ing Gold­en Frogs: A Sci­en­tif­ic Mystery
(Excep­tion­al Sci­ence Titles for Inter­me­di­ate Grades series)
by San­dra Markle (Author)
Mill­book Press (Lern­er), Octo­ber 2011
48 pages
Ages: 9–12
From the pub­lish­er’s web page:

Pana­man­ian gold­en frogs aren’t just cute, lit­tle, and yel­low. They’re also the nation­al sym­bol of Pana­ma. But they start­ed to dis­ap­pear about fif­teen years ago. What’s killing them? Could it be a change in their habi­tat? What about pol­lu­tion? Might it be a result of cli­mate change? Fol­low a team of sci­en­tists work­ing to save these frogs and pro­tect frog pop­u­la­tions world­wide in this real-life sci­ence mystery.

San­dra Markle is one of my favorite authors, and frogs are high on my list of favorite ani­mals, so I was thrilled to have a chance to pre­view this title. And I was­n’t dis­ap­point­ed. The text is infor­ma­tive and easy to under­stand, but also tells a fas­ci­nat­ing and com­pelling story.
Markle does a great job of cap­tur­ing both the impor­tance and the fun of sci­ence. First, she explains why the dis­ap­pear­ance of these tiny crea­tures mat­ters. Then, she lays out how the mys­tery unfold­ed: what ques­tions dif­fer­ent sci­en­tists asked, and how the answers led to the next piece of the puzzle–and more ques­tions, for oth­er sci­en­tists, etc.
In fact, that’s one of the things I appre­ci­at­ed most about this book: it does­n’t fol­low just one sci­en­tist and his or her unique work. It demon­strates how one per­son­’s find­ings sparked oth­ers to advance the sci­ence, and how each used his or her own exper­tise and knowl­edge to con­tribute the next vital step in the ongo­ing process. To me, that makes sci­ence feel more acces­si­ble to kids by show­ing that suc­cess­ful sci­en­tists don’t need to solve a whole big prob­lem, they just need to learn some­thing new and tell others.
Aside from the mas­ter­ful text, the stun­ning lay­out and design and big, bold pho­tographs on every page make the book visu­al­ly engag­ing through­out and are more than enough to keep young read­ers turn­ing the pages to see what’s next.
In the author’s note, Markle adds this:

No tale of find­ing a ser­i­al killer could be more excit­ing than this true sto­ry.… But the sto­ry isn’t over yet. The amphib­ian killer is still at large. Per­haps, one day, one of you will become the sci­ence detec­tive who final­ly stops this killer.

The book also includes a table of con­tents, “how to help” sec­tion,  glos­sary, age-appro­pri­ate rec­om­mend­ed resources, index, and pho­to credits.

To check out the rest of today’s roundup of books for kids about top­ics in sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, engi­neer­ing, and math­e­mat­ics, head on over to this week’s STEM Fri­day host, Ras­co From RIF!

Author Interview with George Sullivan

You may remem­ber back in Feb­ru­ary when I reviewed TOM THUMB: THE REMARKABLE TRUE STORY OF A MAN IN MINIATURE by George Sullivan.
Sul­li­van has writ­ten more than 100 non­fic­tion books for chil­dren and young adults, and he was kind enough to email me direct­ly after the review! Isn’t that sweet? I was so tick­led, I decid­ed to take advan­tage of the sit­u­a­tion to ask him a few ques­tions and get to know him a lit­tle bet­ter. And he agreed to let me share his answers with you, so you can get to know him bet­ter, too!
LT: At this point in your career, what does a typ­i­cal work­day look like ? 
GS: I’ve always done my writ­ing ear­ly in the morn­ing, begin­ning at least by 5:30 am, and con­tin­u­ing until my wife and I have break­fast around 8:30 or so. After break­fast, I put what I’ve writ­ten on my com­put­er. The next morn­ing, I begin by care­ful­ly edit­ing the pre­vi­ous day’s work.
LT: What kinds of things do you like to do when you’re not writing?
GS: I like to play ten­nis in New York’s Cen­tral Park and to ride my bicy­cle into the dif­fer­ent city neighborhoods—Soho, Tribeca, Noli­ta, etc. I like to shop for food in local mar­kets. I like to cook. I also like to dine at nice restau­rants. I like to vis­it the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um and art gal­leries that fea­ture pho­tographs. There’s always some­thing to do.
LT: How did you first become inter­est­ed in writ­ing about Tom Thumb?
GS: I’ve been very much inter­est­ed in 19th cen­tu­ry pho­tographs for many years, the work of Math­ew Brady, the pre­em­i­nent Civ­il War pho­tog­ra­ph­er in par­tic­u­lar. (My book, MATHEW BRADY, HIS LIFE AND PHOTOGRAPHS, was pub­lished by Dutton/Cobblehill in 1994.) I col­lect these pho­tographs; I buy and sell them. Sev­er­al years ago, I began to notice that small Brady card pho­tographs tak­en in con­nec­tion with the wed­ding of Tom Thumb and Lavinia War­ren were always avail­able for pur­chase on eBay, and for mod­est amounts of mon­ey. After doing some research, I learned that Tom’s wed­ding, which took place in New York City in Octo­ber 1863, was an absolute­ly spec­tac­u­lar event, and vied with the Civ­il War for atten­tion in news­pa­pers of the day. The lit­tle card pho­tographs of Tom, Lavinia, and oth­er mem­bers of the wed­ding par­ty were sold by the tens of thou­sands. No won­der they’re still easy to obtain. I began to think that Tom, as America’s first celebri­ty, would make a good sub­ject for a biography—and he was.
LT: Did you do all the pho­to research for the book too? Can you tell us about that process?
GS: I did do the pho­to research for the book. I was aid­ed enor­mous­ly by the pho­to­graph cura­tors at the Bridge­port Pub­lic Library and the Bar­num Muse­um, also in Bridge­port (where Tom was born and brought up). Besides pho­tographs, these insti­tu­tions had large col­lec­tions of illustrations–engravings from Harper’s Week­ly and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions of the time—that I was able to draw upon.
LT: Thank you so much, George. It was won­der­ful to hear some of the sto­ry behind this great book and “meet” the author!
If you haven’t checked out George’s TOM THUMB book yet, do! You can read more about it here.


Fartiste book cover
I’m a huge fan of Kath­leen Krull’s non­fic­tion books for kids, so I was sur­prised and dis­ap­point­ed to read her recent arti­cle in the Horn Book about the dif­fi­cul­ties she and her hus­band have had sell­ing their book FARTISTE! I would’ve thought a pic­ture book biog­ra­phy about a per­former who enter­tained audi­ences with his mas­tery of the art of the fart would be an easy sell, to a pub­lish­er AND on the book­store shelves! Does­n’t it sound like the per­fect idea for a kids book?
Here’s a case in point. Yes­ter­day, my son was hav­ing a bad day. I took him to the library because he said there was a book there that he want­ed. He walked straight to an emp­ty table in the children’s area and burst into tears. Come to find out, the book he want­ed had been lay­ing out on a table the last time we were in the library together—2 weeks ago—and now, to his sur­prise and great dis­ap­point­ment, it was gone. He didn’t remem­ber what book it was, and couldn’t tell me any­thing about it, except how heart­bro­ken he was and how no oth­er book in the whole library would do.
I walked over to the shelf, grabbed a copy of FARTISTE (which was on my mind because I’d just read the Horn Book arti­cle and was still mulling over my own afore­men­tioned sur­prise and dis­ap­point­ment), and hand­ed it to my sob­bing, incon­solable boy. “What’s this?” he asked skep­ti­cal­ly, stick­ing out his bot­tom lip. I told him. Curi­ous, he opened it up and read the first page. Engaged, he sank down to sit criss-cross in the floor in the mid­dle of the aisle. 15 min­utes or so lat­er, a per­fect­ly com­posed boy closed the book and said, “Thanks, Mom. That was a great book. Let’s take it home.” And he grabbed my hand and pulled me to the check­out counter.
So, thank you, Kath­leen, for the Horn Book arti­cle. And a big thank you, Kath­leen and Paul, from both of us, for stick­ing with FARTISTE. You have fans!