Summer Reading made fun with Graphic Novels

By Amy Nicole Tangel

With summer reading on the forefront of the minds of so many parents seeking ways to continue guiding their children’s learning and entertainment during the school hiatus, graphic novels have recently emerged as a popular genre among many young readers. With comic-book-inspired pages and stories that teach kids to cope with some of early life’s most challenging situations, graphic novels add a tool to any parent’s toolkit, while keeping kids interested.

Just like many other kids getting ready to begin 5th grade in the fall, 9-year-old Danica Duca, is preparing for her transition into middle school at the end of next year by reading up on stories of junior high experiences through her love of graphic novels.  For those of us who have already crossed that milestone, we know it is generally a time filled with anxieties and questions about how life is going to change.  From making new friends, to changing classes and using a locker for the first time, starting to a new middle school is a pivotal moment in a child’s life.

Growing up in Medford, N.Y., Danica is set apart from many other kids her age as she has been surrounded by children on a daily basis not only in school, but at home where her mother has run a daycare for the past 17 years.  In addition to constant interaction with kids from school and the daycare, she is also a sibling to three of her own and is a foster sister to five others currently living with her family. 

The daily dynamic has been a blessing and a challenge to overcome for Danica, as it would be for any child her age, as she has had to learn to accept and share with others in ways many children have never been accustomed to, but she has taken every step with stride and has found solace in the messages from the graphic novels she has been reading such as “Baby-Sitter’s Little Sister” by Katy Farina; based on The Babysitter’s Club series by Ann M. Martin, the recently-released book, “Nat Enough” by Maria Scrivan, and a series of books inspired by New York Times #1 Bestselling Author, Raina Telgmeir’s own childhood memories.  Danica said the books are so popular in her school she sometimes has to wait more than a month just to be able to check one of these books out, but while school doors remain closed, her mom has been helping her build her own personal collection of the books she loves.

“There are never any left in school, because everybody always reads them, so I have to put them on hold to actually be able to read them,” she said.

Danica said she thinks books like Telgmeir’s, “Guts” and “Smile” are so popular, because there is a good message in them, they’re fun to read and when you read them, you just want to keep reading.  In the book “Smile,” Danica said there is so much more going on than just the dental drama of having to get braces.  The book talks about family, friends, and boys and taps into emotions many girls her age are experiencing for the first time.  The book “Guts” tackles the challenges kids face as they prepare to go into middle school, and Danica said this one in particular has given her a good idea of what to expect.

“It (Guts) makes me feel like I have a feeling of how middle school is going to be.  You are not going to be able to get along with everybody there and there are going to be times where you are going to have to go through some hard stuff,” she said.

Children’s Program Coordinator of the Longwood Public Library in Middle Island, N.Y., Tiffany Russo-Malone said she thinks graphic novels are so popular among children, because the books give them a more visual way to read in that they need to figure the order in which to read the pictures and word bubbles, but children also need to read the characters’ expressions and movements in the pictures.  Tiffany said she feels graphic novels are a blend of a book and a movie in a way as they have the plot, setting, body and character development of a novel, but they take a little bit of the mystery of what characters and a scene may look like out of the imagination.

“I think they appeal to a lot of reluctant readers and struggling readers, because some of the important literary elements they can infer from the pictures, too, instead of just the words,” she said.

As we kick into high gear for summer, Tiffany said her top three picks for tweens or teens who love to read would start with “Roller Girl” by, Victoria Jamieson.  She said although it is not a new release, it earned a Newbery Honor in 2016 and is a story about friendship, roller derby and girl power all based on the author’s own personal experiences and love of roller derby.  Another top pick for the Children’s Program Coordinator is, “The Okay Witch,” by Emma Steinkellner.  Tiffany said one of the reasons for its popularity comes from reminding a lot of people of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and it is about a young girl who discovers she is half witch and how she survives middle school knowing the truth about her family, her town and its history with witchcraft.

Lastly, she said El Deafo, by Cece Bell is also a great read with a compassionate message and is a personal autobiography.  The book received the Newbery Honor Book of 2015 and tells the story of Bell’s own hearing loss experience as a child and her hearing aid, the Phonic Ear; offering a reflection of how that affected her school experience and her ability to make new friends.  Tiffany said all three books are funny and sincere and have great illustrations that add to the humor and sometimes awkwardness of being a tween.

“I really love all three of these books for their authenticity.  Two of the three have truth in them, but even the one that is all fictional, rings true to how you feel as a teenager in school, trying to make new friends and trying to figure out who you are and who you want to be,” she said.

Danica said she is going to keep reading the books she loves over and over again this summer to keep busy and is always looking for new books to read.  The best part of reading graphic novels for Danica, she said, is being able to look at pictures and read at the same time; allowing her to feel like she is right there in the book. She said the books most of all give her perspective and help her put her feet in other people’s shoes.

“Everybody is in school in these books, and they are about learning lessons about life in general, like losing friends and making new ones, having crushes and getting over fears,” she said.

For more information on virtual programs for summer reading for your children, check out your local library and see what they have to offer to learn and explore.

Love in Alaska

By Amy Nicole Tangel

2020 has brought disappointment for many couples who were set to wed this year, and many weddings have been postponed until 2021, or placed on hold, leaving brides with their dream wedding’s every detail planned and wondering when that day will now come.

It was a moment-to-remember birthday proposal for Jennifer Sottile, when her Fiancé, Luke Bell asked her to marry him in a picture perfect camping trip under the Alaskan sky.  Jennifer said he took her to a place in Alaska where she always wanted to camp and on the night of the proposal the sunset was incredible the first night they were there, so Luke decided to propose a night earlier than planned on the eve of her birthday.  For Jennifer, she said it was a perfect, thoughtful and beautiful moment and she couldn’t imagine getting married anywhere else outside of Alaska.

“Sunsets in Alaska are very late that time of year (July), very intense and long.  He waited for me to set-up my camera on the tripod to take a picture of us in front of the sunset-reflected-lake that we were camping on, and when the shutter went off he got down on one knee and I got a picture of him proposing,” she said.

For the 37-year-old Bride-to-Be, the minute she said yes to marriage she began planning her dream wedding.  The couple met 3 years ago, in Fairbanks, at the bar where Jennifer was working.  She was his bartender and after some time getting to know each other, Luke asked Jennifer to go kayaking with him.  Since then, they have spent the past few years growing together in love and living off the land; taking in every natural beauty Alaska has to offer.  Camping with their dog Endi, kayaking, hiking and fishing are foundations in their lives.  Having lived in Alaska for the last 9 years, Jennifer said when she and Luke became engaged, they both knew Alaska was where they wanted to continue to build their life together. 

In February of 2019, Jennifer said she found out by chance of a contest being held for the show, Say Yes to the Dress America, after she submitted an email to Kleinfeld Bridal Shop in NYC to see if she could make an appointment last minute to try on dresses during her upcoming trip to the East Coast with Luke to visit their families.  She received an email back from Kleinfeld’s saying unfortunately, they had no appointments available, but there was a new spin-off show called, Say Yes to the Dress America taking submissions for brides to appear on the show and get their dream dress at Kleinfeld’s.  She said she was a long-time fan of the show and always wanted to shop at Kleinfeld’s, so she gave it a shot.

Jennifer entered the contest with a video submission showing her and Luke’s story as a couple and their love for Alaska and in May of 2019, they found out they won a spot and in July they were on their way.  Jennifer and Luke were flown by the show to NYC for an all-expenses paid trip and put-up at a hotel in the city.  When the day of dress shopping came, Jennifer said the brides were set-free in Kleinfeld’s to shop open-heartedly with no price tags and pick out the dress of their dreams.  Jennifer chose a Stella York dress and after she shopped her mother googled an approximate value of, $3,000.

“It was so much fun to not have to worry about the price; To just look through dresses and pick the one I wanted,” she said.

Out of all of the brides cast for Say Yes to the Dress America, Jennifer said only 10 brides were chosen to be featured in episodes and received a more private shopping experience and surprise visit at home from fashion designer and television host, Randy Fenoli.  Jennifer said it was not until months later after filming that her and Luke found out they would be appearing only in the season finale, which aired, March 14, 2020.  Jennifer said even though their story wasn’t featured, she was still grateful for her dream dress and the experience.

They had a September 2020 wedding date planned and it was to be a destination wedding for family and friends to come celebrate.  Jennifer was born and raised on Long Island, N.Y., and Luke grew-up in Marianna, P.A., a small coal mining town outside of Pittsburgh.  This meant for their family and friends a not so quick trip around the block to attend her wedding, so when the Coronavirus hit, she and Luke had a painstaking decision to make.  With the RSVP date set for this past May 1st, they decided to wait until that day to make a decision.  Jennifer said when May hit, her and Luke realized the virus wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  They worried about people they loved being out of work, not being able to travel, and they didn’t want to add any additional stress to people who already had a diminished budget.

“It was a hard decision to make and there were many tears shed over it,” she said.

The option to still have the wedding this upcoming September was not one Jennifer and Luke wanted to take.  She said she didn’t want to settle for a quarantine wedding and a lot of brides from the show who she has spoken to have also postponed as well.  Jennifer said it wasn’t worth it for her to not have everyone she loved there on her most special day and she is holding onto hope that her wedding day, whenever the day comes, will still be everything she has dreamed of.

As of now, Jennifer and Luke have not made any plans to reschedule yet with so many uncertainties out there, and they have decided to wait to set a new date.  The idea of beginning to plan the wedding all over again is something Jennifer said she is not ready to deal with yet.  The venue cancellation was a difficult process for Jennifer as she personally worked hard to pay-in-full, before the wedding day and faced obstacles in receiving her money back, and now she said she is emotionally overwhelmed at this point.

In spite of the roadblocks that have been placed before her, Jennifer has been trying to stay hopeful and keeping in touch with fellow brides from the show through Facebook; offering a sense of support and comfort in their shared postponements.  Jennifer is working through her feelings of putting so much work into planning something like a wedding, with every last detail planned, and being left with unknowns.

“No one deserves this for their special day,” she said.

While the actual day Jennifer and Luke say, “I do” is yet to be determined, it has not stopped their love for one another and their love for living life in Alaska.  Just this past weekend, Jennifer, Luke and Endi spent their usual picturesque weekend camping, kayaking and smiling about all the beauty life has to offer.

See the video submission Jennifer created for her Say Yes to the Dress America entry sharing her and Luke’s love story here:

*Photos and video courtesy of Jennifer Sottile

A Total Eye Experience

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Hair Salons across Long Island were finally able to open their doors this week after months on pause, signifying a step forward for all other salons waiting in the wings, but when one Make-Up Artist opens her doors, it’s temporarily going to be all about the eyes.

Christine Daino, owner of Total Glam NY, decided to take a leap-of-faith in 2016, when she took her passion for make-up and skin care to the next level and opened her first space in Patchogue, N.Y.  In only four years, the 35-year-old entrepreneur has built a business that exploded from the ground-up, with clients across the island and beyond, providing services in Makeup Artistry (Bridal and Special Occasion), Lash Services and Esthetic Treatments on-location and at her current Bellport, N.Y., salon.

With over two decades of experience in the beauty industry to her credit and her knowledge and skills as a certified esthetician, Christine offers all of her clients the highest-level of facial treatments she can provide.  Her love for makeup is an extension of what started out as a passion for painting when she was a child and evolved into experimenting with makeup later on in life.  She made her dreams become a reality with licenses in makeup art 16 years ago followed by earning one in aesthetics two years later.  In spite of everything she has built, when Christine reopens the doors to her salon in Phase 4, she faces challenges different than many other businesses reopening their doors, because of the specific nature of her work.  Working in an industry where her career is based upon touching faces, for now, she said she will only be able to do what she can with a mask on.

“I can do anything where they can still wear a face mask, like facials, but make-up, that aspect I can’t do as of right now,” she said.

Until restrictions are lifted, Christine will be booking clients for services such as facials, lash lifts and lash extensions only and said as far as booking brides, she feels bad for the brides who are getting married this year who want to keep their weddings and is hoping things will get better this summer.  With so much uncertainty and not enough answers, she said it is hard to give answers to brides and to book properly, but she is grateful for how all of her fellow artists and stylists in the business have come together and supported each other along.

“Most of my brides have postponed until 2021.  The brides that are keeping for this year are keeping it very, very small, but there are very few of them,” she said.

In preparation for the new normal, Christine has Total Glam NY face masks available to her clients and has received BARBICIDE COVID-19 Certification for the Professional Beauty Industry training.  A benefit that sets Total Glam NY’s salon apart from others is its pre-existing design to treat one client at a time. Christine has guidelines in place on her Facebook page and website indicating specific social distancing practices for appointments.

While she said she is grateful for being able to spend her recent time home enjoying the slower pace with her children and family, she has also been busy planning her social distancing guidelines to open her salon and working hard to ensure when the day comes, her clients are protected and safe.  For Christine, she said she has not stopped working since the day she decided to start her business, putting her heart and soul into every aspect, from her website to her salon to each client she serves.  Christine is excited for the future, and she feels like the bridal industry is going to boom in 2021, but she said the time home has been a good reminder of balance in life.

“I’m like an all or nothing kind of girl. I learned how to do a website myself, I learned about SEO, I learned about the keywords.  I truly did my homework and I haven’t stopped,” she said.

To learn more about the services Total Glam NY offers, or to book an appointment, visit www.totalglamny.com. You can also follow Total Glam NY on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with the most up-to-date information and happenings. 

What Would Mister Rogers Say?

Special Edition: Documentary Review

By Amy Nicole Tangel

With the recent Pandemic and nationwide protests at hand, I have often been thinking about the children all around us and asking myself how can we protect them, teach them and keep showing them love when we are all trying to make sense for ourselves?  I thought back about big moments in history when I was a child and I put myself in those shoes to wonder, how kids are taking this all in.  It was in that moment where I asked myself, ‘What would Mister Rogers say?’

I turned to Mister Rogers and thought about the time while I was growing up, and how he taught me about being kind to everyone, and demonstrated love and unity while tackling the most difficult conversations with children.  He was not just an actor on a show, but a man who lived what he taught.  Fred Rogers made a mission of his life teaching kindness and acceptance. 

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired from 1968 to 2001, spanning more than three decades, and in 2018 a documentary of Rogers’ life and show, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was released.  The film begins with footage of Rogers speaking about his feelings on what love means and leads you into the depth of his heart and soul from his childhood, throughout his entire life, sharing how he used those experiences to teach children through his work.

“Love is at the root of everything.  All learning, all parenting, all relationships; Love or the lack of it,” he said.

Although it has been almost twenty years since the show ended, the positive lessons Rogers taught are of lasting effect and live on through the documentary.  The simple way discussions were held between Mr. Rogers and the children he spoke to are an example families could benefit from today.  The documentary is something for those of us who grew up watching the show to reminisce about in the scenes of zipping sweaters, changing shoes, feeding the fish and the childlike wonderment of answering the door to see who was there each week.  You can go on your own little trip down memory lane, but you can also be enlightened or be reminded as a parent, of new ways to help teach young children about life.

At first sight, people may feel taken back by the endless kindness Rogers exuded and his intense passion for what he believed in, but when you really listen to his words and look at how he opened doors, crossed barriers and communicated with so many, it is an example for us all.  I originally watched the documentary last year, but in light of this past week, I went back and watched it again. 

As I began to dive into the film, I was quickly reminded how children are miraculously resilient and was heart-warmed by Rogers’ mission to focus on the importance of simply listening to them.  The documentary is filled with nostalgic clips of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and its beloved puppets; a reflection of how Rogers used his imagination in the creation of the show as a way to talk to children about their feelings.  Throughout the film, you are given flashes of episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood showing how the show was defined by the transition from reality to fantasy when “Trolley” rang it’s bell and headed around the track, bringing children to an imaginative and emotionally-safe place to talk about what was going on in the world through their eyes.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was beloved to many for its way of tackling difficult topics of conversation with children and for Rogers’ quiet, calm and meaningful ability to communicate in happy and troubled times.  He spoke with children about tragic events, such as 9/11, the Challenger Disaster and the assassination of Robert Kennedy; Rogers said he felt he had to talk to the families in our country about grief.  When a child jumped out of a window thinking he could fly like Superman, Rogers created an episode to focus on superheroes to help teach children what pretending means.  Conversations on the show spanned from death to divorce to when pets die and war, but don’t be mistaken to think he was gloom and doom.  Children and adults loved Mister Rogers, and he spread joy to them.  He visited Washington, D.C., and spoke regularly on behalf of causes he believed in and seemingly brought people together everywhere he went.

One of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood longtime characters, “Officer Clemmons,” became a regular part of the show according to the documentary, initially as a statement by Rogers to stand against segregation in public swimming pools.  Actor and musician François Clemmons came onto the show during a time in 1968 when he faced not only racism as an African American, but he was oppressed by keeping his sexuality as a gay man a secret.  Last month, Clemmons released his own memoir of his life and time on the show, Officer Clemmons.  In the documentary, Clemmons speaks of his relationship with Rogers and exemplifies how their friendship broke barriers.  Clemmons was the first African American actor to have a recurring role on a children’s program.  In a poignant moment, François shared how Rogers always said on the show, “I love you just the way you are,” and one day he asked Fred if he was talking to him.

“He looked at me and he said, ‘Yes, I have been talking to you for two years, and you finally heard me today,’ and I just collapsed into his arms.  I started crying.  That’s when I knew I loved him,” said Clemmons.

Family and former colleagues share stories throughout the hour and a half documentary about Rogers and his love for all people.  His wife said she believed, because Fred had a difficult time making friends as a child and was bullied it created the man he became who dedicated his life to protecting children.  Rogers said he thought those who would make you feel less than you are was the greatest evil.

In the end, Rogers’ legacy is captured through the eyes of all who loved him.  Through the children he worked with, to his fellow actors, to hearing from his wife and children, watching the documentary will leave you remembering how Mister Rogers taught us all about love.

Wont’ You Be My Neighbor? is available on Prime Video for $9.99 and DVD.  Officer Clemmons can be purchased through Amazon.