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The Great Emerson Art Heist, released in October, follows a detective in Gary, Indiana. The novel includes 2,143 SAT vocab words. )
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As most high school students prepare to take the SAT, a college admission test, local author Kendall Svengalis has created a novel way to help students master frequently tested SAT vocabulary words. Throughout two of his fiction books, Svengalis incorporated thousands of SAT words, giving students a chance to learn the vocabulary in context and enjoy a good story.
Svengalis has had a long history with self-publishing. Nearly 20 years ago, Svengalis came up with the idea of publishing novels for all ages, but with the added bonus of SAT vocabulary prep.
“The idea came to me in the 1990s when my kids were in high school and when they were studying vocabulary, I said, ‘You know it would be much more fruitful if they could learn these words in context rather than just memorize the definitions,’” he said. “I just didn’t do anything at the time… but I always knew it was a good idea.”
The idea came to fruition in 2014 when he published his first novel, Conspiracy on the Housatonic. Set in Stratford, during World War II, the story follows protagonist Ellen Anderson (a character based on Svengalis’s wife, Ellen), a 17-year-old Swedish-American girl detective, as she investigates a mystery surrounding an old Victorian mansion whose history and troubles may be more sinister than originally thought.
The book includes 1,475 SAT vocabulary words, 51 cultural references, and 104 illustrations, all of which are defined in a glossary at the back of the book.
“I went through SAT lists looking for the most common words that show up on the exam,” he said. “I am trying to educate young people, but it is really for an adult level. I view the glossary as a bridge for younger readers so if they have trouble understanding the references or the words, then they can easily look them up.”
After the first book, Svengalis decided he wanted to write another and set it in his hometown of Gary, Indiana. Having already written a history of Gary for the city’s centennial in 2006, Svengalis already had a lot of information to work with.
“A lot of real life is mixed in with the fiction,” he said. “My idea was that I wanted to write about Gary using the knowledge that I have about the town and the history of my high school, which was very famous in the first part of the 20th century.”
The novel, The Great Emerson Art Heist, came out in October. The story again follows Ellen Anderson as she travels to Gary with her father in 1942. Different story lines meet and diverge throughout the novel as Ellen enrolls in the historic Emerson High School, which is quickly shocked by the theft of its art collection. Meanwhile, and acquaintance of Ellen’s, a young Russian woman who has recently escaped from Stalin-controlled Russia, is hiding in the city as Soviet agents attempt to track her down.
The new book has 2,143 SAT vocabulary words, 374 bolded cultural literary references, and 222 illustrations. While much of the story is fiction, information about the art collection at Emerson (which did exist, but was put into storage rather than stolen), and many of the anecdotes in the story are true.
“There are a lot of anecdotes from doing oral histories that I have included in the book,” he said. “I have done about 100 oral histories of either Emerson graduates or former Gary residents. I picked up a lot of stories, too. I am glad I did because I got a lot of information that would have otherwise been lost.”
Svengalis, who is planning on writing a third novel, said he has been in touch with SAT instructors to try and market the books as a study tool as well as a novel.
“They are very unique in the sense that while they are novels, they are vocabulary-building novels and they are illustrated novels,” he said. “I don’t know of any others that bring all of those things together.”
The books are for sale at Breakwater Books, amazon.com, and on Svengalis’ website www.dunelandpress.com.
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