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SOMETHING TO READ

"The Dagger Quick" by Brian Eames; Simon & Schuster, $15.99.

This thrilling adventure of pirates on the high seas comes from an Atlanta teacher who read the first drafts to his elementary school students.

Twelve-year-old Christopher Quick, known as Kitto, lives a hard life in 17th century England. He was born with a clubfoot and works as an apprentice to his stern father, a barrel-maker or cooper. Then one day, Kitto's life is turned upside down when his long-lost uncle, William Quick, a notorious pirate, shows up. Kitto, left only with a dagger that belonged to the mother he doesn't remember, finds himself facing all kinds of danger and challenges that force him to be a man.

This rip-roaring, entertaining story offers an unforgettable cast of characters, a colorful depiction of life in the 17th century and an ending that seems to promise a sequel. We can't wait to read it!

-- Jean Westmoore

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SOMETHING TO DO

The Herschell Carrousel Museum, 180 Thompson St., North Tonawanda, will be open from noon to 4 p.m. today and Friday and Monday through Dec. 30. Each day will feature winter or holiday-themed crafts and other activities. Cost is $2.50-$5. For information, call 693-1885 or visit www.carrouselmuseum.org.

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SOMETHING TO LEARN

In the Northern Hemisphere, the first day of winter, called the winter solstice, occurs when the sun appears at its lowest point in the sky, making it the shortest day and longest night of the year.

This year, the winter solstice occurred at 5:30 this morning.

Early winter solstice celebrations, which are believed to have started during Neolithic times about 10,000 B.C., were marked by people with trepidation. Ancient people knew if they had not adequately prepared for the event during the nine months before the solstice, they would very likely face starvation and not survive the winter.

Until they saw the days grow longer, people had no science to understand that the sun would once again shine brightly on their crops during the growing season. In temperate climates, the festival would be the last one celebrated before deep winter, a time of famine, set in.

Today, many people note the day with relief that the cycle of dark days begins to reverse and the sun begins to stay above the horizon, giving us a bit more daylight each day. Using science, today we also know that the event occurs because the Earth sits at a 23.5-degree tilt as it revolves around the sun each year. Those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere receive less direct sunlight during the winter.

-- McClatchy Newspapers