Book Bag: ‘College Admissions Cracked’ by Jill Margaret Shulman; ‘Art Sparks’ by Marion Abrams and Hilary Emerson Lay

Published: 8/9/2019 8:28:33 AM


By Jill Margaret Shulman

Little, Brown and Company

The new college season starts in just a few more weeks — and with that comes the tension, for college-bound high school students and their parents, of trying to find the right school and navigating the complicated admissions process.

Jill Margaret Shulman hopes to ease the burden for those parents and their teens. Shulman, who lives in Amherst, is the author of “College Admissions Cracked,” a guidebook that aims to take you through the application process and, as the book’s subtitle puts it, “Save Your Kid (and Yourself) from the Madness.”

Shulman, a college writing instructor who also runs a college essay coaching service (she’s a parent, too), writes that the admissions process for higher education has gotten more problematic and stressful in numerous ways, full of conflicting advice, required standardized tests, campus visits to make, and — in a sardonic nod to national news — “bribe-happy Hollywood stars to compete with.”

“There will be moments when you find yourself with your toes dangling off the edge of Anxiety Cliff, where this process has driven even the sturdiest of us,” she writes. “My goal is to talk you down, arm you with information, and keep you laughing, even if it sounds like the laughter of an insane person.”

According to publicity notes, “College Admissions Cracked” offers a month-to-month guide, starting in the fall of a high school student’s junior year, to “everything from essay writing and test-prep to financial aid, summer plans, campus tours, nosy relatives, interviews, and beyond — all with a healthy dose of good humor, empathy, and understanding.”



By Marion Abrams and Hilary Emerson Lay

Storey Publishing

Marion Abrams of Hatfield, who has taught art for more than 45 years in various settings, has also run a summer art workshop on her property for 30 years. Her Summer Art Barn, which she founded in Hatfield in 1989 — at the time, she did it to spend time making art with her daughter, Olivia, and Olivia’s friends — offers a range of one- and two-week programs for students in grades 2 to 8.

Now Abrams has joined forces with Storey Publishing of North Adams and artist Hilary Emerson Lay, the assistant director of the Art Barn, to create “Art Sparks,” a book that includes 53 colorful art projects children can create using a wide variety of materials: fabric, chalk and colored pencils, clay, toothpicks, paper, glue and scissors and more.

From finger puppets and colorful mobiles, to papier-mâché alpacas and sock critters, the projects are designed to use inexpensive and/or upcycled art materials that can spur children’s creativity and also be completed in 90 minutes or less.

“Art Sparks” includes colorful photos of all the materials used for these projects, pictures of the art under construction and finished, and simple instructions for completing the work.

The projects have been selected from those Abrams has offered over the years in her Art Barn programs, which according to the organization’s website all focus on “a particular theme exploring a cultural and historical aspect of the visual arts.”


In other book-related news: Children’s author Heidi E. Y. Stemple of Hatfield, who has written a number of books about birds — her most recent is “Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends” — will join avian expert Tom Ricardi of Conway on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley to talk about birds and Ricardi’s efforts to rehabilitate birds of prey such as falcons and hawks.

Ricardi will have a number of birds on display and will discuss his efforts to heal them in his Conway laboratory. Stemple, who has also co-written a number of children’s books with her mother, well-known author Jane Yolen, will also talk about her efforts to count owls each year for the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

The event is free for families and children; you can register by visiting

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

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