IYE News:

Congratulations, Students and Graduates!

College Focus:

California Maritime Academy
Strunk & White Tip: Rule 7: Using colons
Recommended.Reading: Edith Nesbit’s Five Children and It
Summer 2011: SAT English Courses

Aimee Sun, a graduate of Gunn High School, placed third in the Blue Coat Art Showcase, an annual art competition for 23 Santa Clara County schools. She is headed to University of Southern California.

Kyongwon Pak, who graduated this year from Notre Dame High School, will attend Loyola University, Maryland.

Walter Hsiang, a graduate of Saratoga High School, will attend Yale University in the fall.

Melody Hsiang, also of Saratoga High School, is going to UCLA.

Headed to UC Berkeley are Shaw Hsu, graduating senior, and Minkyu Kim, a college junior who will transfer in the fall.


Congratulations to Improve Your English students, Maggy Liu and Irene Hsu! Both students have recently won writing awards at the national level.

Maggy (Sophomore, Saratoga High School) won first place in the Narration category of an annual writing contest sponsored by The Writing Conference, Inc. Across the country, students from elementary to high school submit poetry, fiction, and nonfiction based on the year’s theme. This year’s theme was “Competition,” and Maggy submitted a short story entitled “Sixth Period Rivalry.”

As a winner, Maggy has had her story published in The Writers’ Slate, an online journal established by The Writing Conference, Inc. Maggy has been studying with Improve Your English since 2010.

Irene (Sophomore, Lynbrook High School) is a national silver medalist for this year’s Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Founded in 1923, The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are the longest-running, most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in the U.S. and the largest source of scholarship funds for young artists and writers.

Irene has been working on her story, “Broken Toys,” with Improve Your English tutors since she enrolled in 2010. Her story won a Gold Key award at the regional level and earned her an American Voices nomination. As a national award winner, she has been invited to a recognition ceremony hosted at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

CONGRATULATIONS to our students who have won extracurricular honors:

Jonathan Mi placed first at a Success Chess School tournament of about 40 Palo Alto 3rd-5th graders. His twin brother, Jeffrey, earned the second place trophy. They are both finishing third grade this June.

Monisha Gopal, a rising junior, was selected Vice President of her high school’s National Honor Society.

Three of our students will study at

Maggy Liu will attend the class "Democracy and Its Discontents: Political Traditions in the United States" at Cornell Summer College, and Eunju Pak, a freshman at Saratoga, will attend a summer course for young writers at Johns Hopkins. Irene Hsu will study fiction writing at a seminar for student writers at the University of Chicago. Admission to these programs is highly selective.

Our students are so modest that we've probably left someone out. Parents, please let us know of any accomplishments for your students should be recognized! We'll do so in the next issue.

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Studying at the California Maritime Academy

The California Maritime Academy in Vallejo, like most colleges in the California State University system, offers accredited degrees in international business, global studies, and engineering.

But there’s a difference. If you’re admitted, you’ll spend two months working aboard a 500-foot merchant ship, The Golden Bear, on the Pacific Ocean. The Maritime Academy is one of just seven such four-year colleges in the United States and the only one on the Pacific Coast.

Most students are headed for careers as officers aboard civilian ships or those of the U.S. Coast Guard. Although sailing was once an all-male profession, women have served as officers in the merchant service since 1974, when the California and New York maritime academies began admitting female students for the first time.

The faculty also includes women. Professor Donna Nincic teaches students how to survive the pirate-infested waters off the coasts of Africa, Malaysia, and elsewhere. They learn how to fishtail their vessels at high speed, drive off intruders with high-pressure water hoses, and illuminate their decks with floodlights.

“If I’ve done anything, I’ve shown them that this isn’t a joke; it’s not about parrots and eye patches and Blackbeard and all that,” Nincic said. “It’s very real and it’s a problem without an easy solution.”

Whatever the career path, nearly 100% of Cal Maritime students graduate with high-paying job offers in hand. The campus is a small one and offers only a limited number of majors, including marine transportation and mechanical engineering

Many Cal Maritime are recent high school graduates, but some, like Michael Durnan, 42, return after previous service at sea. In 2001, Durnan worked on a tanker filled with soybean oil in the Bay of Bengal off Bangladesh when seagoing thieves attacked the ship. Armed only with a two-by-four, Durnan succeeded in chasing the pirates away from the stern and off his ship.

Others have not been so lucky. In just the past three months, pirates have boarded and hijacked more than 30 ships according to U.N. and antipiracy task force reports.

The Merchant Marine is not the life for everyone. But if you possess a yearning for the sea, which for some few people is almost a religious calling, the California Maritime Academy is the place you must head for. Joseph Conrad describes one officer who says of his graduation day, “That day I wouldn’t have called the Queen my cousin,” preferring his hard-won opportunity to command a ship to membership in the British royal family.

Our library of classics offers other opportunities to visit the seven seas without getting wet. Begin by reading Conrad’s short story “Youth” or his novel Lord Jim. One of the greatest of British novelists, Joseph Conrad was born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in Poland and didn’t speak English until he was 18.

Americans, too, have written masterfully about the sea. Jack London used his experiences “sailorizing” off the docks of San Francisco and Oakland to create the memorable sea captains Wolf Larson and Dan Cullen in the novel Sea Wolf and the short story “Make Westing.”

In a gripping nonfiction tale, Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana provides a look at the 1830s California coast through the eyes of a Harvard boy who left college to serve as a common seaman.

But no young person ever yearned for the sea more earnestly than Robert Louis Stevenson. Although ill health prevented him from becoming a professional sailor, he traveled aboard many ships, and his imagined voyage aboard the Hispaniola in search of lost pirate treasure is essential reading for anyone who loves literature.

The story of the book’s origin is as romantic as the adventure itself. Stevenson wrote Treasure Island in California after an arduous trip, which almost killed him, aboard the steamship Devonia and overland to Monterey.

Stevenson, a Scot, made the journey against the wishes of his family to woo and win Fanny Osbourne, whom he had met in France. After their first meeting, he wrote that she had become for him; Fanny had been married before, and Stevenson wrote the book for his new 12-year-old stepson, Lloyd.

The couple celebrated their honeymoon in what is now Robert Louis Stevenson Park in Calistoga, just 53 miles north of the Maritime Academy, where present-day sailors prepare for the adventures of their own lives.

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  Steve High,

Strunk and White’s Rule 7:
Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplification, or an illustrative quotation.

by Steve High

Rule 7 does not appear in Strunk’s 1918 Elements of Style. Nor indeed did White add it to his own transformative re-creation of the work in 1959. Colons, dashes, pronouns, and verbs did not make their first appearance until White’s 3rd edition, written when he was 80, some six decades after he had attended professor Strunk’s English classes at Cornell.

The colon is a mark for which you can often substitute another kind of punctuation. The same is true of the dash, which is discussed in Rule 8. A pair of parentheses, too, may occasionally substitute for a dash or colon.

You have to decide for yourself which is most appropriate in each case.

Frequently, the decision is easy because of a definite rule; in others, you must decide on the basis of meaning and your own ear.

For example, you can use a colon, like a semicolon, to join two sentences into one. But you can use a colon, unlike a semicolon, to join a sentence to a phrase that by itself would be a fragment.

Wrong Right
To replace the ubiquitous chopsticks, the German traveler carried in a small leather case three utensils; a stainless steel fork, a paring knife, and a soft cloth to clean them with. To replace the ubiquitous chopsticks, the German traveler carried in a small leather case three utensils: a stainless steel fork, a paring knife, and a soft cloth to clean them with.

E.B. White, whose ear for language was exquisite, gives this example of the use of a colon instead of a semicolon to connect two independent clauses:

But even so, there was a directness and dispatch about animal burial: there was no stopover in the undertaker's foul parlor, no wreath or spray.

With characteristic modesty, White does not attribute this sentence to its author. He wrote it himself in 1948. (“Death of a Pig,” The Atlantic Monthly)

The colon brings the reader to a hard stop, giving the reader a moment to digest the preceding clause. The semicolon encourages the reader to race along. A period, of course, also provides a stop, but then the close relationship between the two sentences is lost.

Once known as a “three-quarters stop,” the colon probably gets the attention of modern readers as much as the “full stop” (period).

White said that the colon has “less power to separate than the semicolon.” But if “to separate” refers to the stopping power of the colon, I don’t believe this statement is still true.

Very few of my writing students use the colon within sentences. Nor is its use very common among professional American writers, as it once was.

White was one of the greatest stylists of the last century, not for any one reason but for the meticulous care with which he edited every sentence.

Many writers, from a justified fear of making grammatical errors, “write around” passages about which they are uncertain. By skirting minefields of sentence structure, punctuation, and vocabulary, you may keep your writing free of outright error, but you starve it of the expressiveness that comes from using all of the rich potentialities of English.

If you don’t own the fourth edition of Strunk and White, buy it. And, of course, please take of advantage of the free download Write It Right, an elaboration of E. B. White’s indispensable book.

In the words of gifted critic Jonathan Yardley, Strunk and White “should be the daily companion of anyone who writes for a living, and, for that matter, anyone who writes at all.”

For answers to specific writing questions, email us here. Who knows? Your question may inspire our next article on Writing Tips.

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Edith Nesbit’s Five Children and It

Nat Crawford,
director of tutoring

by Nat Crawford

At the turn of the twentieth century, E. Nesbit began writing a series of delightful stories for children. Her first book, Five Children and It, is a tale about wishes in the tradition of “The Man Who Could Work Miracles” and “The Monkey’s Paw.” Nesbit’s story is easily the most amusing of the three. Working with the motif of the-wish-that-didn’t-turn-out-so-well, Nesbit creates a charming picture of family and fantasy in Edwardian England.

The five children in question are two brothers, two sisters, and a baby known only as “the Lamb.” On vacation, they travel to the English countryside, where their mother leaves them in the care of a housemaid. Shortly after their vacation begins, the children go to a gravel pit and find a Psammead—a sand fairy. They are delighted to learn that the Psammead can grant them wishes. Naturally, here their troubles begin. Though the children constantly plan to make sensible wishes, they find their plans constantly undone by hasty, thoughtless speech. Being human, they never learn from their mistakes—in fact, throughout the book they seem determined to make it easier to wish foolishly.

The rules for the wishes are simple: (1) one wish, per day, for the group, and (2) each wish is canceled at sunset. That the wishes never turn out as the children expect is sad for the children but hilarious for their readers. It helps, of course, that their wishes are usually out of the ordinary. For example, for their first wish, they wish “to be beautiful,” and they are—so beautiful, in fact, that their nanny doesn’t recognize them and turns them out of the house without any dinner. True, when the wish wears off at sunset, they can return for their meal; however, they begin to suspect that wishes have their drawbacks.

The drawback of going hungry, in fact, is a common consequence of the wishes. The children must also go hungry when merchants refuse to accept any of the gold produced by their second wish and also when they find themselves living, for the day, in a besieged castle. Perhaps Nesbit wrote this book while thinking of Midas, the king who turned all he touched to gold, including his food.

What saves the children from the fate of Midas is not simply that the wishes end at sunset but also that the children are simply good-natured. Their wishes are misguided and often foolish but never malicious. Though they occasionally squabble, they care deeply for one another. Consider what follows from Cyril’s attempt to insult his brother Robert from a perch atop a water-barrel:

“Why, even Robert might happen to think of a really useful wish if he didn’t injure his poor little brains trying so hard to think.—Shut up, Bobs, I tell you!—You’ll have the whole show over.” A struggle on the edge of a water-barrel is exciting but damp. When it was over, and the boys were partially dried, Anthea said— “It really was you began it, Bobs. Now honour is satisfied, do let Squirrel go on.”

Other characters are equally well-drawn. The Psammead is an amusing grump: “'Does she always talk nonsense, or is it only the rubbish on her head that makes her silly?’ It looked scornfully at Jane’s hat as it spoke.” The “Lamb”—the children’s baby brother—delights in stickiness and mischief: “the Lamb had taken [Cyril’s] watch out of his pocket while he wasn’t noticing, and with coos and clucks of naughty rapture had opened the case and used the whole thing as a garden spade.” Martha, the children’s nanny and housekeeper, keeps her charges in line with a sharp tongue, a firm hand, and the threat of hunger. And all the townsfolk earn a few chuckles.

In fact, half the fun of the book lies in seeing how the fairy magic clashes with life and morals in an ordinary English country town. The children stir up life when, for example, one of their wishes causes sober adults to start fistfights over their baby brother. The children also do their best to maintain Victorian morals by explaining their bizarre circumstances with inventive half-truths. Of course, even when they tell the full truth, no one believes them:

Mother looked at her gravely.

“Jane,” she said, “I am sure you know something about this. Now think before you speak, and tell me the truth.”

“We found a Fairy,” said Jane obediently.

As Jane expected, her explanation does not fly.

E. Nesbit had the great gift of being able to see the world from the perspective of a child. As she remarks, “Grown-up people … say that the earth goes round the sun, when you can see for yourself any day that the sun gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night like a good sun as it is, and the earth knows its place, and lies as still as a mouse.” Since its initial publication, Five Children and It has never been out of print. Read a copy today to learn what childhood looked like over a hundred years ago and to have a few laughs in the process.

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