NOOK Sale: Signing Their Lives Away ebook is on sale for $2.99!

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Our publisher just let us know that our bestselling book, Signing Their Lives Away, is on sale. The special Nook ebook price is $2.99, so if you’ve been meaning to check it out, now is the time.

The deal is supposed to start tomorrow, but I just checked, and the new price is up as of TODAY, May 20th. The deal i supposed to run through Memorial Day weekend, and end late on 5/27. If you are traveling or have plans for the holiday weekend, don’t take a chance. Carpe that freaking diem.

Snag the deal here.

Quick reminder: Signing Their Lives Away tells the stories of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence. I think it pairs nicely with summer, frosty brews, a slab of ribs, a beach umbrella, and a red-white-and-blue muumuu. Get your patriot on.

Meanwhile—if you need another reminder: Denise’s book is still on sale for $3.99 through the end of May. Yay.

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The Money Book gets a mention in a Policygenius Article on Freelancers

Image by  Thought Catalog  via  Unsplash .

I was interviewed recently for a short piece up at Policygenius. The topic is money and freelancing, a topic Denise and I explored exhaustively in our book, The Money Book for Freelancers.

The Money Book for Freelancers | Kiernan D'Agnese

Check out the article here, if only to see how I can manage to work the word “freaking” into a serious personal finance piece.

The article was written by reporter Hanna Horvath, who I was delighted to discover had once been a features editor at the same newspaper I worked at in college, The Daily Orange.

Thanks, Hanna. Nice meeting you.

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24 Things You Didn't Know About Carl Friedrich Gauss

Gauss Currency via Wikipedia

I don’t talk about this much, but the follow-up to my 2010 book on Fibonacci was supposed to be a picture book biography on the life of the German mathematician, Carl Gauss.

My publisher actually “bought” the book, accepted my manuscript, and paid me the first half of my advance. And then years later, they backed out of the entire deal, claiming the children’s book market had “changed.” Because of that series about the boy wizard, parents were no longer buying their kids “baby books.”

So I was SOL. They allowed me to keep the advance. And I now have a bone to pick with J.K. Rowling the next time we meet.

Years ago, I compiled a handwritten list of notes after reading two serious, grown-up books on the life of Gauss. What did I learn about this brilliant man? Plenty, but it was the odd little things that stayed with me. I made a list of his quirks, likes, and dislikes. Here they are.

• He smoked a pipe.

• He liked wine.

• He often wore a little velvet cap.

• He calculated the date of his own birthday because his mother forgot when he was born.

• He liked songs and kept a list of his favorites in a little notebook.

• Gauss was married and widowed twice. He really loved the first wife; the second, not so much.

• His name is a unit of measure.

• He figured out a way to draw a 17-sided polygon.

• He added all the numbers from 1 to 100 as a kid—maybe.

• His father, who was a mason, was an angry, violent man; perhaps as a result, the adult Gauss hated violence.

• Gauss read newspapers voraciously; students called him "the newspaper tiger" because he pounced on any papers they left unattended. 

• His collected works fill 12 huge volumes.

• He invented one of the first telegraphs used in Germany!

• He died richer than a professor should have because he hoarded pennies like a miser.

• He probably knew the Brothers Grimm.

• He had lovely penmanship.

• He hated teaching, and believed some students robbed him of his time.

• He hated when students took notes in class; he told them to listen instead.

• His portrait used to be on German currency before the coming of the euro.

• He was called the "Prince of Mathematics" in his lifetime; he had no problem with the title.

• He is considered one of the top three mathematicians of all time, along with Archimedes and Newton.

• Two of his sons emigrated to the United States.

• One learned to speak Sioux.

• Another became a millionaire selling shoes in St. Louis.

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Fibonacci in the Garden—Take 2

Just a couple of Fibonacci thoughts after a weekend in the garden…

Siberian Iris | Image by Joseph D'Agnese

Mystery of the Sixes

Many times I’m asked, “Why do so many flowers have six petals? Six isn’t a Fibonacci number.” Well, it’s true that six isn’t a Fibonacci number, but three is, and many times the flower you’re examining isn’t truly a six-petal flower at all. It is, instead, a three-on-three petal flower. Here’s one of my favorites—the Siberian iris. At first glance, it is a six-petal flower. But then, notice: the three center petals are different from the three outer petals. The dark outer set unfurled first, and set the stage for the lighter-colored inner set of petals. Let that be a lesson to us all. That which appears to be un-Fibonacci sometimes proves to be Fibonacci times two!

Columbine Flowers and Saint Francis Statue | Image by Joseph D'Agnese

Columbine Flowers

These pretty yellow columbine flowers just popped in my garden. (I like to pretend that the little statue is of Fibonacci himself!) Looking closely, I discovered an inner set of five petals and an outer set of five petals. Fibonacci numbers circling Fibonacci numbers...

Flame Azaleas | image by Joseph D'Agnese

Azaleas Yes, Fibonacci No.

These gorgeous flame azaleas used to pop every spring in front of our first house in North Carolina. The old, brittle shrub wasn’t planted in the ideal spot for azaleas, and always struggled in the heat of the summer. But we loved seeing its riotous color every spring.

Azalea flowers typically have 5 petals, which is indeed a Fibonacci number. (This bottom pic of pink ones shows this clearly.) But another source tells me 5 to 7 is the the normal range. This used to make me nuts. Five to seven? Why, oh why, couldn’t it be five to eight, since eight is a Fibonacci number? The answer is, nature does whatever it wants. Statistically speaking, seven is close enough to fall into the Fibonacci range. But you’d have to count a million azalea flowers to chart the results and prove it for yourself...

Pink Azaleas | Image by Joseph D'Agnese

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The Magic of Children's Book Author Clifford B. Hicks (1920-2010)

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the books of a children’s book author named Clifford B. Hicks. Among other books, he wrote a series of books about a kid named Alvin Fernald, who was sort of the MacGyver of the kid world. With a toothpick, a piece of string, and leftover jelly sandwich, Alvin could build a contraption to save the world. 


Each book was constructed around a central mystery that took place in Alvin’s small, semi-suburban town in the American midwest. Alvin tackled issues that seem so grown-up in retrospect, but Hicks somehow managed to make them seem “safe” and accessible to kids: corruption in city hall, kidnapping and extortion, stolen industrial plans, and water pollution. Always, in the end, Alvin managed to save the day with the help of his pal Shoie, his kid sister Daphne (aka the Pest), and an arsenal of kooky inventions.

These books enchanted me. More than anything, they seemed to radiate a gentler, more affectionate tone than many of the other books I was reading at the time. The Alvin stories were longer and more sustained than the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries.

Alvin’s world of the ‘60s and ‘70s seemed more modern and realistic than the world of the Hardy Boys’. And unlike the Hardy and Nancy Drew books, the Alvin series was written by a single, real-life author, not a committee of ghostwriters. Hicks seemed to care deeply about the little town of Riverton, Indiana, he’d created, and even cared about the quite serious issues he was writing about. The Wonderful World of Disney, the old Sunday night TV series, once adapted one of the books and brought Alvin to a wider audience. 


The books inspired me to try to build my own inventions. They were the first books I ever asked a local bookstore to special order for me. After finally locating the seminal book in the series, The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald (1960), I set about creating my own inventions, just like Alvin, using items from my carefully assembled “inventing box.” You’ll be relieved to know that nothing I ever created has ever made it to the U.S. Patent Office. There’s a reason I’m a writer and not an engineer.

Once, in the mid-1970s, I wrote to the author in care of his publisher (Scholastic pubbed the paperbacks). “Can you send me the plans to a Sure-Shot Paper Slinger?” I inquired. I told him that my brothers and I had a newspaper route, just like Alvin, and that we would love to be able to shoot rolled-up newspapers from the rear of our bicycles onto a customer’s lawn.

To my delight, Hicks wrote back from his home outside Chicago:

“Gosh, Joe, I’m sorry I can’t tell you how to build [one]…When I was a kid, my friends and I made up almost all the other inventions, but I just dreamed up the Paper Slinger without ever building one. If Alvin is clever enough to build it, I’ll bet you are too, Joe! Let me know when you make it work. CBH”

I was over-the-moon-amazed to receive a response from Hicks. It was the first time I’d ever gotten a letter from an author. I have carefully preserved it all these years.

Years later, when I myself was working as an editor at Scholastic, I tried to locate fresh copies of the books and was surprised to find that they were out of print. That bowled me over. If kids were flipping over Harry Potter, why wouldn’t a publisher like my own employer reissue books that followed in a similar vein, about plucky kids with unusual talents who saved the day?

A little digging revealed that the Alvin series ended abruptly in the mid-eighties with the publication of Alvin Fernald, Master of a Thousand Disguises. Used books proliferated on the Internet, with diehard fans rhapsodizing about how much they enjoyed them. Clearly, I was not alone in my affection. Here are some of the tributes, er, reviews I located on Amazon:

“I am 45 years 44-year old-brother came over and talked about how this book changed his life. He read it as a kid and became an inventor of sorts himself...a perpetual tinkerer.”

“The Alvin books were my favorites as a kid. I checked them out from the library repeatedly and devoured them. As a 10 year old, I wanted to hang out with Alvin and Shoie. The books are full of laughs, adventure, and great storytelling. They take us back to small town America, before kids had to deal with grownup problems. If you have a kid, buy this book for him. Buy it used, buy it on eBay, buy it at a used bookstore!”

“When I was about 11 years old, I read many of Alvin’s adventure stories. This book in particular inspired my imagination. I have vivid memories of trying to copy Alvin's inventions! One summer while staying at my grandparents’ camp, I rigged a security device similar to the one in the book so that no one could enter my bedroom. I have been looking for this book for a very long time, as I seem to have lost my copy. It thrills me that these books are listed by Amazon. This book is without a doubt my favourite and I would love to share it with my daughter.”

Some years later, I read that two small publishers were beginning to bring out the old books. I found a website put up by the author’s son and discovered that Clifford Hicks was not only alive and well—now in his late eighties—but living not far from where I’d once lived in the mountains of North Carolina! 

I wrote a second fan letter—thirty years after the first one. I told Hicks that I’d lived for a short time in his neck of the woods, but had moved away, and was now thinking of moving back. A few weeks later I received an email in my inbox. The voice was the same as I remembered from childhood: warm, avuncular, friendly.

“Hi, Joe!

What a lift your letter gave me! I’m delighted, and proud, that you liked my Alvin books so much that you were inspired to become Alvin Fernald.

When I was about 12 years old I became enamored of the Tarzan books, and quite definitely made up my mind to run away from home, go to Africa, and learn to swing from the trees. My three sons have known of this dream for years, and a few days ago one of them gave me a copy of Tarzan of the Apes that he located on the Internet. With some regret I turned the last page of that book this afternoon, just before writing this note to you. The book was just as exciting as it was the first time I read it. A magnificent story—but badly written!


In any case it’s incredible that you kept my letter all these years, dragged it to college with you, and still have it.

In a way, I’m flattered that you went into journalism, Joe. You can’t keep me hanging like this. Send me a list of your children’s books, including the one the illustrator is currently working on. Here we are, our paths crossing at least twice in our lives, yet separated by only 20 miles.

Come back to Hendersonville, Joe, so we can actually meet…I’ll never answer another reader’s letter without thinking of you!

I finally did move back. Hicks and I exchanged a few emails but kept postponing our meeting. He was ill for a little while, then entered rehab. He phoned one day to apologize for not being able to meet. And then, before I knew it, he passed away in September of 2010. I was deeply saddened to hear of his passing. He was 90 years old.

Mr. Hicks

Mr. Hicks

I see that you can still link to his old website via the Wayback Machine. I bought a couple of the newly reissued books for one of my nephews, who loved them. The Alvin books marked a turning point in my life as a reader. They were among the last kids’ books I read before making the switch to predominantly books written for adults. In a sense they were the literary dividing line between the adult and the kid world. Hicks’s stories whetted my appetite for mysteries in general. And you could say that when I was through reading his books, I was well prepared for the larger world of adult mystery fiction. 

But, as it turns out, I’m not through with Alvin Fernald. The year before he left us, Hicks published a brand-new Alvin Fernald book, entitled Alvin Fernald’s Incredible Buried Treasure. That title rounds out the Fernald books to a perfect 10. I think of it as a parting gift from the magical Mr. Hicks. And I can’t wait to dig in.

2019 Update: This post appeared on my old blog on August 26, 2011. I’ve since located a couple of other articles about Hicks and his work, here and here. Frankly, the books are still a challenge to find. Amazon carries four or five of the new reissues, but you need to dig for used copies to read the others.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

Listen to My Interview on The Jim Bohannon Show

Photo by  Israel Palacio  via  Unsplash

Last week was really fun, doing promotion for the release of the paperbacks of our two history titles, Signing Their Lives Away and Signing Their Rights Away. I thought I’d share this one interview I did with veteran broadcaster Jim Bohannon. It was a late-night, call-in talk show, something I’ve never done.

If you’re interested, I show up at the 39:33 mark and run until 1:19:00, almost a full hour. “Jimbo” asked great questions, and was a good host to work with. I had to stay up way past my bedtime to record this! Let me know if you can tell I was zonked.

As always, you can investigate what the books are about at this page.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

Fibonacci in the Garden

Bunching onion photo by Joseph D'Agnese

This is such a wonderful time of year because there are so many great discoveries to be made in the garden. I spotted these two fun items this past weekend. 

At the bottom is galium aparine, an edible weed that I recognize from my time in Italy, where it’s called “attaccamano,” or “attach-[to]-hand” or “attack-[the]-hand.” In English it’s better known as cleaver, stickywilly, or stickyweed because its leaves cling like Velcro to human skin. (It’s sometimes called Velcro plant.) At my old house I used to find them with whorls of five leaves—a Fibonacci number—but Dr. Internet says six to eight leaves are typical. If you know my children’s book about Leonardo Fibonacci, you know only five and eight are Fibonacci numbers.

At the top is a bunching onion. We planted a bunch of these last spring and forgot to pull all of them up at the end of the season. The onions were dormant all winter and started putting up spiral-shaped seed heads in spring. The onions are still quite delicious, by the way. I’d love to see how far the spirals go, but I am too tempted to pull them because I need space in the garden bed…and because they are so tasty.

Galium acarine photo by Joseph D'Agnese

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

One Last Video—and Thanks for Watching!

I’m sharing another short video that we shot for a work-in-progress documentary about the lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Before we jump in, just a reminder that you can find out about the two new paperbacks at one of the links right here.

The goal of our video project was to visit all the historic sites associated with the 56 Signers of the Declaration. In this installment, we’re visiting the birthplace of Signer Arthur Middleton. Today Middleton Place is a stunning and thoughtful tourist destination located in Charleston, South Carolina. Well worth visiting if you’re ever in the area.

Just reminder: The road trip URL referenced in the trailer is now defunct. I haven’t had a chance to update it.

I hope you like it. We have a few more videos to share but we haven’t made them public yet. I’ll post them when they’re released. Thanks for watching.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese