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Book Bag: ‘Parents Under Pressure’ by Karen Zilberstein; ‘Behind the Stars, More Stars,’ collected writers; ‘Making Love While Farming’ by Ricky Baruch and Deb Habib 

Published: 3/28/2019 3:44:33 PM

By Steve Pfarrer


By Karen Zilberstein

Levellers Press

Northampton social worker Karen Zilberstein knows the strain many low-income families face in getting help for their children’s health problems. She heads a local chapter of a national nonprofit, A Home Within, that provides pro bono pyschotherapy for people who have been in foster care.

In her book “Parents Under Pressure,” by Levellers Press of Amherst, Zilberstein profiles a number of parents from western Massachusetts who have struggled with any number of issues: from trying to navigate the country’s splintered social service systems when their children have multiple disabilities, to facing racial barriers to getting assistance.

“The parents in this book contend with circumstances that might appear extraordinary but are commonly seen by workers in human services,” writes Zilberstein, who notes that between 16 and 20 percent of American children live in poverty, have a developmental disability or face serious mental health issues.

Zilberstein’s portraits of struggling families reveal how quickly health crises can create cascading problems leading to loss of a job and home, and how public perceptions of poor people can affect the ability of families to recover from problems.

In an introduction, Zilberstein offers some firsthand experience with these issues. Her daughter developed a serious autoimmune disease at age 14, leading to an exhausting year of doctor visits and competing diagnoses, while she and her husband also had two sons to care for.

Yet the couple were lucky, she says — they had health insurance, good jobs with flexibility and understanding colleagues, and other help that got them through the crisis. But she realized how easily another family might be overwhelmed: “The insight was not novel, just forcefully impressed in a new way.” 

Zilberstein includes some suggestions for improving this picture, from strengthening communities to better integrating social services and improving worker training.

Karen Zilberstein will talk about her book and her experiences at a book launch on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Florence Civic Center.


Edited by Christopher Larkosh and
Oona Patrick

Tagus Press/UMass Dartmouth

“Behind the Stars, More Stars” is a collection of writing from Portuguese-American, or Luso-American, writers, with a particular emphasis on the voices of women, people of color and LGBTQ people.

Published by Tagus Press, a division of the Center of Portuguese Studies & Culture at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, “Behind the Stars” is edited by Christopher Larkosh, who teaches Portuguese at UMass Dartmouth, and Oona Patrick, a Provincetown writer of Portuguese descent.

The collection offers a mix of short fiction, some prose poems, an excerpt from a novella, nonfiction and in general what the editors call “boundary-breaking prose” from established and new Portuguese-American writers.

There will be a group reading Saturday, April 6 at 7 p.m. at Amherst Books to celebrate publication of “Behind the Stars.”



By Ricky Baruch and Deb Habib

Levellers Press

Ricky Baruch and Deb Habib first met in 1984 in their early twenties while working at a Cape Cod organization that explored ways to farm and live more sustainably. They made an immediate connection, and though they weren’t always together over the next several years, their friendship/romance remained. Their paths converged again in the early 1990s in the Valley, and they married in 1994.

Today the couple run Seeds of Solidarity Farm and Education Center in Orange, an organic farm that makes extensive use of solar power, and a training center where people learn how to “Grow Food Everywhere.” In “Making Love While Farming,” Baruch and Habib describe their separate journeys and their combined one, and they also offer seasonal recipies, ideas for living more in harmony with nature and do-it-yourself lessons for parenting, planting and more.

The couple’s story includes some long, spiritual journeys, such as walking thousands of miles — on their honeymoon — from Auschwitz, site of the infamous Nazi death camp in Poland, to Hiroshima, Japan as part of an interfaith pilgrimage for peace.

“It is our desire and intention to continue to make and magnify love through our ways of being, ways of farming and, especially, by sharing widely what we have practiced, innovated, and learned,” they write.

There will be a book launch for “Making Love While Farming” on Thursday, April 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst.


In other book-related news:

The Straw Dog Writers Guild and the Northampton Center for the Arts (NCFA) will host a workshop with Northampton Police on Sunday, April 7 to help writers answer the question “What happens when your character calls 911?”

Florence novelist Jacqueline Sheehan and Detective Sgt. Vic Caputo will lead the session, which takes place 10 a.m. to noon at NCFA and is designed to provide a better understanding of police procedures, forensics and other law enforcement issues. The goal, said Sheehan, is to help writers add accuracy to their fiction and to develop fuller portraits of police officers.

In an email, Sheehan said she spent time with police in Portland, Maine to research two of her novels and found the experience very helpful; she was impressed with the way officers interacted with a range of people. She also took a citizen’s police course — taught by Vic Caputo — in Northampton and says she “could not believe how much I learned. We have a progressive, proactive police department.”

Visit to sign up for the workshop. There is a $5 fee.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at



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