Scott Simon

One of the most wrenching sights of this week's school shooting — and that phrase alone, "this week's school shooting," is astounding — is the scene of American students once again running out of their school with their arms and hands in the air.

A few of the students seem to fight back tears. Some look like they're shaking. With their arms and hands above their head, they looked the way many Americans have felt when the words "SCHOOL SHOOTING" cross our screens every few weeks: helpless.

Renée Watson's young adult novel Piecing Me Together tells the story of Jade, a Portland, Ore., high school student with "coal skin and hula-hoop hips." Jade has won a scholarship to St. Francis, a private school that's mostly white. She makes friends and does well, but she also feels the school sees her as some kind of project — and she doesn't like it.

A mentor named Maxine comes into her life with a program called Woman to Woman. Maxine is black too, and once lived in her neighborhood, but Jade wonders if Maxine just sees her as someone who needs to be saved.

There's a big, glittering musical in a classic key on Broadway again, where the townspeople of Yonkers sing and dance, the New York Central train toots steam and the audience starts standing in ovation from the moment the big-name star takes the stage.

Akwaeke Emezi's debut novel, Freshwater, is the lyrical, nonlinear story of a woman named Ada, born in Nigeria with, as she puts it, "one foot on the other side." Several "selves" exist inside of Ada, and they identify themselves as "we." When Ada comes to America for college, a traumatic event causes the "we" to take over, and Ada struggles to control her own body.

The author, who won the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa, says she pulled from her own experiences.

Fifty years ago this week, three people were killed and more than 20 wounded during a university demonstration against racial segregation at a bowling alley in South Carolina.

Early Monday morning, Douglas Schifter, a longtime New York City livery driver, posted an emotional 1,700-word note on Facebook.

I've been a reporter in countries that hold military parades. There seems to be a formula, whether it's in the old Soviet Union, Ethiopia under the dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, Cuba under any Castro, or China and North Korea today.

Immense, menacing missiles roll by. Mammoth tanks with heavy treads shake the streets. Thousands of soldiers march in synchronized step to laud and salute a dear leader.

Michael Korda's new book Catnip: A Love Story is drawn from scribbles that amused in a time of anxiety. Korda's wife, Margaret, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. She went riding most days of what turned out to be the last year of her life, and each day, he sketched cartoons of their cats on the back of old manuscripts in the tackroom.

A dog named Abby is back from the dead.

Abby, a black Lab mix, wandered away from her home in Apollo, Pa., outside Pittsburgh, 10 years ago. Abby's owner, Debra Suierveld, and her children looked for their dog but couldn't find her, accepted her loss and had her declared deceased.

And then, 10 years later, they got a call from an animal shelter.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Candide is a show with a classy pedigree. Voltaire wrote the 1759 novella. It became an operetta in 1956 with a libretto by Lillian Hellman, contributions from Dorothy Parker and Richard Wilbur, the noted poet — and some gorgeous music by Leonard Bernstein. The original production lasted just two months on Broadway, but the score is still a popular favorite — and the show has been revived many times over the years, with Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Wheeler, John Mauceri, and Bernstein himself adding material.

Tamora Pierce is a fantasy author who has been beloved for so long that both our books editor and producer — 12 years apart in age — kept her books in their school lockers.

Pierce started out as one of J.R.R. Tolkein's heirs — but over the last few decades has expanded the realms of high fantasy to consider issues of gender, race, war and violence. Fellow fantasy writers cite her as an influence, too, as you can see if you flip through the blurbs at the front of her new book, Tempests and Slaughter.

"The one thing I do not want to be called is first lady," Jacqueline Kennedy once said. "It sounds like a saddle horse."

You may not have noticed I try to avoid saying "first lady" on the air. But Hillary Clinton noticed when we interviewed her at the White House years ago and told me she thought I was being fussy.

In Arvin Ahmadi's debut novel Down And Across, 16-year-old Scott Ferdowsi hasn't quite figured out what he wants to do with his life. That worries his Iranian-American parents, who believe their son lacks grit and doesn't take advantage of the opportunities they work hard to give him.

"He's tried every club at school, switches his future path every five seconds, [and] he can't quite nail down what that future path will look like," Ahmadi says.

Bailey Holt and Preston Cope were killed in their high school this week. They were both 15 years old. But has the news of students being killed in their school lost the power to shock and sober us?

At least 16 other students, all between 14 and 18, at Marshall County High School in Kentucky were injured when another student, age 15, opened fire in their school on Tuesday.

"Bailey Holt and Preston [Cope] were two great people," their friend, Gabbi Bayers, said on Facebook. "It hurts knowing we won't be able to share the laughs anymore."

Mary Gauthier is no stranger to the gut punch. The lyrical precision on the folk singer's first eight studio albums is testament to her ability to transform her own trauma into a purposeful and communal narrative.

Jose Mares came to the United States when he was 8 years old. Now 39, he lives in his native Mexico, but when he arrived he hardly recognized his birth country. He calls the U.S. his home.

Mares was deported last year — separating the single father from his 18-year-old daughter at the time.

Helen Grace James won her honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force this week — at the age of 90. It is a battle she fought for 60 years.

Helen Grace James grew up in Pennsylvania, where she worked her family's farm, and asked her mother to call her Jim. She played with toy trucks and boats and gave the dolls she was given to her sister.

Helen Grace James' father served in World War I; she saw her cousins ship off to serve during World War II.

Violent crime is down in America's big cities.

It may not seem so if you watch crime dramas like CSI, NCIS or Chicago P.D., but homicide, assault and rapes have decreased in big cities since the 1970s. Even Chicago had a 16 percent decline in murders last year, to 650. (In 1974, the city had 970 homicides.)

All Alexis Madrigal wanted was a coat. So when one popped up in a sponsored post on his Instagram feed, he was intrigued. He'd never heard of the retailer, but it billed itself as "luxury for modern gentlemen." Plus, the coat was a steal at under $100.

So Madrigal bought it. The jacket, however, turned out to be less an expression of luxury and more a lesson into how e-commerce has changed in the age of Instagram and Facebook.

In his words, what arrived in the mail "kind of looked like a carpet ... formed into a roughly coat like shape."

The ugliest profanity President Trump uttered about immigrants and their countries of origin may not be the single word we've heard and read over and over these past couple of days. It was when the president reportedly asked the bipartisan group of legislators at the White House, "Why do we want all these people here?" — an apparent reference to people from Africa especially — then added: "We should have more people from Norway."

Leni Zumas' new novel, Red Clocks, imagines a time in which something called the Personhood Amendment has made abortion and in vitro fertilization a crime in the United States; Canada returns women who slip across the border to seek those services. The novel is set in an Oregon town and it invites inevitable comparison to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

Is it also a parable for our time? Zumas says the story started out with "some personal anxiety and anguish of my own," but grew into something larger.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Benya Golden is a Jewish Cossack. Which is not the setup for a Mel Brooks movie, but the new novel Red Sky at Noon by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Golden is a prisoner in a Soviet gulag during World War II, and he ends up pressed into a kind of Dirty Dozen battalion of horse-riding Cossacks and convicts who detest Stalin — but revile the Nazis even more.

This week, in the midst of the explosion of Fire and Fury, and stories about President Trump grousing to billionaires while gobbling cheeseburgers in front of three TV screens, and boasting about the size of his nuclear button, the president also found a minute to shut down his own Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

'We May Not Be Alone'

Dec 23, 2017

Sometimes a story makes you wonder: Why do we pay attention to anything else?

Luis Elizondo, who used to run a formerly secret government program called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, this week told a number of news organizations, including NPR, "My personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone."

There's a big, green, tinsel warning label across the cover of Martha Brockenbrough's new book, Love, Santa, illustrated by Lee White. It reads: "The beautiful truth about Santa."

Brockenbrough's book is written as a series of letters between her and her daughter, Lucy, who begins to write Santa Claus when she's 7 years old.

"Dear Santa, how do you get down all the chimneys?" Lucy writes in the book. "What happens when people live in homes without fireplaces? Why does your handwriting look like my mom's?"

Ben Shirley's story is one of redemption. He'd been playing bass in bars, clubs and arenas in the Los Angeles area since he was 15 when he fell down a path of drugs and alcohol. Four bottles of vodka and $360 worth of heroin a day brought him down hard on Skid Row.

It was at the non-profit The Midnight Mission where Shirley turned his life around in 2011. Now, at 53, he's an undergrad in The San Francisco Conservatory of Music's program of Technology and Applied Composition. He debuted an original piece, "We Need Darkness to See the Stars," earlier this month.

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