Sachar, Louis 1954-

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SACHAR, Louis 1954-


Surname pronounced Sack -er; born March 20, 1954, in East Meadow, NY; son of Robert J. (a salesman) and Ruth (a real estate broker; maiden name, Raybin) Sachar; married Carla Askew (a counselor), May 26, 1985; children: Sherre. Education: University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1976; University of California, San Francisco, J.D., 1980.


Home Austin, TX. Agent Ellen Levine Literary Agency, 432 Park Ave. S., Suite 1205, New York, NY 10016.


Writer, 1977. Beldoch Industries, Norwalk, CT, shipping manager, 1976-77; lawyer, 1981-89.


Authors Guild, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Awards, Honors

Ethical Culture School Book Award, 1978, and Children's Choice, International Reading Association and Children's Book Council, 1979, both for Sideways Stories from Wayside School; Parents' Choice Award, 1987, Young Reader's Choice Award, Pacific Northwest Library Association, and Texas Bluebonnet Award, Texas Library Association, both 1990, and Charlie May Simon Book Award, Arkansas Elementary School Council, Georgia Children's Book Award, University of Georgia College of Education, Indian Paintbrush Book Award (Wyoming), Golden Sower Award, Iowa Children's Choice Award, Land of Enchantment Children's Book Award, New Mexico Library Association, Mark Twain Award, Missouri Association of School Librarians, Milner Award, Friends of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library (Georgia), Nevada Young Reader's Award, and West Virginia Book Award, Wise Library, West Virginia University, all for There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom; Parents' Choice Award, 1989, Garden State Children's Book Award, New Jersey Library Association, 1992, and Arizona Young Reader's Chapter Book Award, 1993, all for Wayside School Is Falling Down; Golden Archer Award nomination, 1996-97, Garden State Children's Book Award, 1998, and Indiana Young Hoosier's Book Award, Massachusetts Children's Book Award, and Young Reader's Choice Award, all for Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger;National Book Award, School Library Journal Best Books designation, Horn Book Fanfare list, Voice of Youth Advocates Books in the Middle: Outstanding Titles designation, and Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Blue Ribbon winner, all 1998, and Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, and Newbery Medal, both 1999, all for Holes; Roger L. Stevens Award, Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays, and AT&T: OnStage Award, Theatre Communications Group, both 2001, both for stage adaptation of Holes.


Johnny's in the Basement, Avon (New York, NY), 1981, reprinted, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.

Someday Angeline, illustrated by Barbara Samuels, Avon (New York, NY), 1983, reprinted, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.

There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.

Sixth Grade Secrets, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1987.

The Boy Who Lost His Face (young adult novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.

Dogs Don't Tell Jokes, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.

Monkey Soup (picture book), illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.

Holes (young adult novel; also see below), Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1998, expanded edition, Holt (Austin, TX), 2002.

Stanley Yelnats' Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake, Dell (New York, NY), 2003.

Holes (screenplay; based on novel of same name), Buena Vista/Walt Disney, 2003.

Also author of adaptations of his novels There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom and Holes for the stage.


Sideways Stories from Wayside School, illustrated by Dennis Hockerman, Follett (New York, NY), 1978, new edition illustrated by Julie Brinkloe, Avon (New York, NY), 1985, reprinted, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.

Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1989.

Wayside School Is Falling Down, illustrated by Joel Schick, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard (New York, NY), 1989.

More Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.

Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, illustrated by Joel Schick, Morrow (New York, NY), 1995.


Marvin Redpost: Kidnapped at Birth?, illustrated by Neal Hughes, Random House (New York, NY), 1992.

Marvin Redpost: Is He a Girl?, illustrated by Barbara Sullivan, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.

Marvin Redpost: Why Pick on Me?, illustrated by Sullivan, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.

Marvin Redpost: Alone in His Teacher's House, illustrated by Barbara Sullivan, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.

Marvin Redpost: A Flying Birthday Cake, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.

Marvin Redpost: Class President, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.

Marvin Redpost: Super Fast, Out of Control!, illustrated by Amy Wummer, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.

Marvin Redpost: A Magic Crystal?, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.


Celebrated author Louis Sachar, winner of a National Book Award and the 1999 Newbery Medal for his novel Holes, is also recognized for his popular story There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom, his "Wayside School" series for middle-graders, and his "Marvin Redpost" chapter books for younger readers. Sachar's trademark is a humorous and realistic portrayal and exploration of relationships and feelings; his storylines characteristically chart the efforts of his various characters to discover and then assert their young identities. Sachar's male and female protagonists learn to cope with the worldwith not a little help from the funny bonejust as Sachar himself had to finally decide upon his own true professional identity: lawyer or writer?

Born in East Meadow, New York, Sachar moved with his family at age nine to Orange County, California, at a time when orange groves were still plentiful there. He was a good student and specially excelled in math, but it was not until high school that he fell in love with reading. Sachar attended Antioch College as a freshman, but upon the death of his father he returned to California to be close to his mother. Going to school at the University of California, Berkeley, he majored in economics, but also took creative-writing courses and continued to indulge his voracious reading habits. At one point in his studies, enchanted with Russian literature, Sachar decided to learn the language so he could read his favorite novels in their original version. "After taking a year of Russian," he once told Something about the Author (SATA ), "I realized it was still Greek to me. A week into the semester I dropped out of Russian V and tried to figure out what other class I should take instead."

At this point, serendipity intruded. An elementary school girl was handing out leaflets at Sachar's campus in the hopes of recruiting teacher's aides. Such work, he reasoned, would earn him three college credits, enough to make up for the dropped language class. Without really thinking about it, Sachar took one of the leaflets and signed on as a teacher's aide. "Prior to that time I had no interest whatsoever in kids," he admitted to SATA. "It turned out to be not only my favorite class, but also the most important class I took during my college career." His interaction with the school kids was heightened when he became the lunchtime supervisor and was known affectionately as "Louis, the Yard Teacher."

At about this same time, Sachar was reading In Our Town, a series of very short, interrelated stories by Damon Runyon that gave him the idea of doing the same sort of treatment for a fictionalized school called Wayside. "All the kids are named after the kids I knew at the school where I worked," Sachar explained. He even put himself in the book as the character Louis the Yard Teacher. "I probably had more fun writing that book than any of my others, because it was just a hobby then, and I never truly expected to be published."

After he graduated from college, Sachar continued working on his thirty short stories about Wayside School, and sent off the finished manuscript at the same time he was applying to law schools. "My first book was accepted for publication during my first week at University of California, beginning a six-year struggle over trying to decide between being an author or a lawyer," Sachar once recalled to SATA. The book was a mild success with young readers, making Sachar's deliberations more difficult. After graduating and passing the California Bar Exam, Sachar proceeded to both write and practice law part-time. He continued working in this manner through his next several books, until he was established enough as an author to write full time.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School tells the tale of an elementary school thirty stories high, each classroom stacked on top of the other. There is a broad cast of characters, from school clown to bully to the favorite teacher, Mrs. Jewls. Sachar provides vignettes from many points of view, all of which add up to a zany take on school days.

Readers were so impressed with Sideways Stories from Wayside School that fan mail began to arrive on a regular basis. The book seemed to be an especially big hit in Texas; as Sachar explained to Anne Dingus of Texas Monthly, a group of young girls wanted him to come to their school to meet their "cute, single teacher [who] thinks you're really great!" As Dingus wrote, Sachar "obligingly showed up for a signing and fell not for the cute, single teacher but for the cute single counselor, Clara Askew." The two were married, and Clara later became the model for the counselor in Someday Angeline, Sachar's third book.

In between, however, came Sachar's less-episodic second book, Johnny's in the Basement, the story of eleven-year-old Johnny Laxatayl whose fantastic bottle-cap collection is his claim to fame. Johnny's punning last name is intentional, for the boy looks something like a dog; however, he "lacks a tail." After his eleventh birthday, Johnny's parents suddenly push responsibilities on him in the form of dancing lessons and their plan for him to sell his prized cap collection, for which he receives $86.33. Johnny and his new friend, Valerie, blow the money on meaningless junk, "a preadolescent way to show contempt for adults' exploitation," according to School Library Journal contributor Jack Forman. Joan McGrath, writing in Emergency Librarian, found the book "full of sly humor." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Johnny's in the Basement "another corker" and concluded that "all the many characters in the story are superbly realized, particularly Johnny's eldritch little sister."

Sachar's third novel, Someday Angeline, is told with "unaffected humor and linguistic art," characteristics that "invest the story of Angeline Persopolis with pure magic," according to a Publishers Weekly critic. Angeline is eight years old with an I.Q. that soars off the charts, but this genius aspect has made her an outsider at school. Her mother is dead and her teacher loves to embarrass the precocious child. Angeline finds another loner, Gary Boone, known as Goon, as well as a friendly teacher, Miss TurboneMr. Bone to the pun-loving Sacharwho "gladden" her life and support her through tough times in a book that readers will not want to see end, according to a commentator in Publishers Weekly. Booklist critic Ilene Cooper noted that children will enjoy "the sense of fun and the feeling of hope that comes shining through" in Someday Angeline. Gary "Goon" Boone makes another appearance in Sachar's Dogs Don't Tell Jokes.

Sachar's fourth book was the work of several years, both in writing and in placing it with a publisher. Despite the troubles Sachar had with it, There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom is still one of his most popular and best-known books. The author intended in this work to tell the story of the transformation of a fifth-grade bully from both the point of view of the bully-ish outcast in question, Bradley Chalkers, and also from the point of view of the new kid, Jeff Fishkin, who befriends Bradley. Publishers wanted Sachar to stick with Bradley's point of view, so publication was delayed with rewrites. The wait and extra work were worth it, however. The recipient of over a dozen state awards, There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom has charmed critics and readers alike. A Kirkus Reviews critic called the "fall and rise of Bradley Chalkers, class bully" a "humorous, immensely appealing story," and noted that the character's transformation, under the tutelage of his shaky new friend and the school counselor, "is beautiful to see." Writing in School Library Journal, David Gale called the novel "unusual, witty, and satisfying," and added that Sachar "ably captures both middle-grade angst and joy." Sam Leaton Sebesta dubbed Sachar's book "a triumph" in Reading Teacher.

Sixth Grade Secrets follows in the same vein, mining preadolescent social problems, when Laura starts a secret club known as Pig City, whose members must confess secrets to each other to ensure they keep the existence of the club between them. When a rival club, Monkey Town, springs up, suddenly secrets abound in a "witty, well-paced story" that "shows off" its author's "impeccable ear for classroom banter," according to a review in Publishers Weekly. Ilene Cooper, writing in Booklist, praised Sachar's "plotting with twists" that will "hold readers' attentions." With The Boy Who Lost His Face Sachar ventured deeper into junior high and young-adult territory, using more mature language, some of which his publishers ultimately convinced him to tone down. In this work, David, the protagonist, has a fling with the in-crowd, only to learn in the end that there are more rewarding friendships to be pursued.

Letters from fans of his first book of stories convinced Sachar to return to his tales from Wayside School with Wayside School Is Falling Down and Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School. Lee Galda, writing in Reading Teacher, maintained that "humorous is the best way" to describe the former title, a "zany novel [that] will be cheered" by its audience. Once again, Sachar's humorous take on school life and his use of short chapters make for a perfect book to share in oral reading. Reviewing Wayside School Is Falling Down, Carolyn Phelan remarked in Booklist that "Sachar's humor is right on target for middle-grade readers," with episodes from the school cafeteria to a lesson in gravity from Mrs. Jewls when she drops a computer out the window. As Phelan concluded: "Children will recognize Sachar as a writer who knows their territory and entertains them well." Sachar draws on his own love for math with the brainteasers gathered in Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School, and in Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, he presents thirty new self-contained tales that relate what happens during Mrs. Jewls' absence on maternity leave. Deborah Stevenson, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, called Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger "smart, funny, and widely appealing," while a Kirkus Reviews commentator noted that "Sachar proves once again that he is a master of all things childish."

Sachar has also written a series of stories for younger readers, the "Marvin Redpost" chapter books, featuring a protagonist whose problems include nose-picking, questions about his identity, and troubles with his teacher. In the first title in the series, Marvin Redpost: Kidnapped at Birth?, nine-year-old Marvin, the only redhead in his family, thinks he was stolen from his real parents at birth. Marvin's friends agree that his concerns are quite valid, prompting the boy to confront his parents with his suspicions and urge them to get a blood test to prove him wrong. School Library Journal contributor Kenneth E. Kowen noted that the book is written almost totally in dialogue, and praised it as "fast paced, easy to read, and full of humor." Kowen concluded that Sachar's story "deals with issues of friendship, school, and being different, all handled with the author's typical light touch." Nose-picking gets the Sachar treatment in Marvin Redpost: Why Pick on Me?, in which Marvin is unjustly accused of picking his nose and becomes a social outcast as a result. Stevenson had high praise for this beginning chapter book, noting in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that Sachar, "a consistently talented writer of books for grade-school readers," circumvents the usual cutesy pitfalls of writing easy-readers "to produce a tour de force of the genre, a trim tome of energy, hilarity, and wisdom." Marvin gets in trouble again when he is entrusted with the care of his vacationing teacher's dog, Waldo, in Marvin Redpost: Alone in His Teacher's House. Waldo refuses to eat and eventually dies, leaving Marvin to deal with his own feelings of guilt. Further adventures of Marvin include befriending aliens in Marvin Red-post: A Flying Birthday Cake, which Horn Book reviewer Roger Sutton deemed "a smart, funny twist on the new-kid theme"; being pressured to ride down "Suicide Hill" on his bicycle in Marvin Redpost: Super Fast, Out of Control!, about which Roger Sutton of Horn Book noted that "Marvin's fans will enjoy this chance to ride alongside him"; and making wishes that seem to come true in Marvin Redpost: A Magic Crystal?

One departure from Sachar's norm is his 1998 novel Holes. Sachar's humor and ear for dialogue are in evidence here as in his other books, but at 235 pages, Holes weighs in as a real YA novel. The story of Stanley Yelnats, whose name, a palindrome, can be spelled backward and forward, the award-winning Holes prompted Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books contributor Roger Sutton to conclude: "We haven't seen a book with this much plot, so suspensefully and expertly deployed, in too long a time." In the novel, Stanley is wrongly accused of stealing a pair of sneakers and is sent to Texas's Camp Green Lake for bad boys as punishment. There the harsh female warden assigns him the taskalong with other boys held thereof digging five-feet-deep holes in the camp's dried-up lake bed. A Publishers Weekly critic, calling the book "a wry and loopy novel," asserted: "Just when it seems as though this is going to be a weird YA cross between One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and Cool Hand Luke, the story takes offalong with Stanley" as he and his new buddy, Zero, manage to escape. What follows, the Publishers Weekly commentator added, is a "dazzling blend of social commentary, tall tale and magic realism," as Stanley goes about getting rid of the Yelnats curse that has plagued his family for three generations. School Library Journal contributor Alison Follos also praised Sachar's novel, maintaining: "A multitude of colorful characters coupled with the skillful braiding of ethnic folklore, American legend, and contemporary issues is a brilliant achievement. There is no question, kids will love Holes. "

Holes came about almost accidentally. "For a variety of reasonsnone of which I quite understandin 1991 Carla, Sherre, and I moved from San Francisco to Austin, Texas," Sachar explained in his Newbery Medal acceptance speech in Horn Book. This was the first step in the novel that became Holes. Sachar had been working on an adult title for nearly two years, but when the book refused to come together during a family vacation in Maine, he decided to give up on the title; then, on returning home to the heat of Texas, the idea for Holes struck him. "I just started writing about the heat and started writing about this camp where kids have to dig a hole every day under the Texas sun," he told Elizabeth Farnsworth on Online NewsHour. Carla Sachar, writing about her husband in Horn Book, commented: "He hates the heat. We had no idea Louis's loathing of this heat would be just the emotion to encourage him to create his latest book."

The success of Holes gained the attention of Walt Disney Pictures, which invited Sachar to write the screenplay for the film adaptation of the book. Though Sachar had never written a screenplay, he agreed to make the attempt and began work on transforming Holes into a movie. "It was a positive, great experience," Sachar told Kate Davis in an interview for Writing. "I wrote the screenplay, and I acted in the movie, too!" Even after the film shooting was done, however, Sachar was not sure how it would turn out. He explained, "They say, 'There's the movie that you write, the movie that's been shot, and the movie that's edited.' So I really have no idea what the final film is going to look like."

Before the film process was finished, Sachar began work on another Holes -related project: Stanley Yelnats' Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake. At the end of Holes, leaders are led to believe that Camp Green Lake will become a Girl Scout camp. But as Stanley explains, due to the success of the book Holes, some lawmakers decided that the character experience of digging holes in the Texas heat should be reinstated. In his second stint as a novel protagonist, Stanley narrates further adventures he and his inmates had at Camp Green Lake that aren't included in Holes, as well as giving tips on how to best survive the dangers of the camp and surrounding wilderness. Written in a "pop survival-manual style," according to Elaine E. Knight of School Library Journal, the book is narrated in what a Publishers Weekly reviewer praised as "the voice that [Stanley's] followers have come to love."

The movie grabbed media attention even before it came out. "Holes is that rare movie made by Disney for kids that may actually entertain their parents," wrote Joseph Cunneen in a review for National Catholic Reporter. Featuring such well-known actors as Jon Voigt, Tim Blake Nelson, and Sigourney Weaver as the villains, Holes the movie stuck closely to the plot of Holes the book. Todd McCarthy, in his review for Daily Variety, commented on "the scrupulously faithful adaptation," writing, "Holes will no doubt speak clearly and appealingly to its intended early teen audience."

After the movie was released, Sachar was asked to do another adaptation of Holes, this time for the stage. No stranger to stage writing, he had done an adaptation of There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom to a play in 1990-91. His adaptation of Holes to the stage won him the Roger L. Stevens Award. "It's fun to work with other people," Sachar explained to Todd Miller of American Theater. "There are so many talented people in the theaterthe actors, the set designer, the director. I really enjoy that whole process. I wish there was a way to do that while I'm writing novelshave someone to hash it around with." In spite of the community, the creative process wasn't easy: "Adapting work is much more difficult than creating it new, because it's hard to generate the spark again," he explained to Miller.

Whether pushing the bounds of the YA format, entertaining with the goofy goings-on at Wayside school, or following Marvin through the rocky shoals of third grade, Sachar "has shown himself a writer of humor and heart," as Sutton characterized him in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Fans have no need to worry about Sachar going back to a legal profession; as his wife Carla said in her article for Horn Book, "Writing is his love." When asked by Elizabeth Farnsworth on public television's Online NewsHour what he wants readers to get out of his books, Sachar explained, "I want them to have fun. I want kids to think that reading can be just as much fun and more so than TV or video games or whatever else they do. I think any other kind of message or morals that I might teach is secondary to first just enjoying a book."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Children's Literature Review, Volume 28, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, fourth edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1995.


American Theatre, April, 2002, Todd Miller, "Keep on Digging," p. 27.

Book, July-August, 2003, Kathleen Odean, "Unanimous Verdict: For These Lawyers, the Decision's In: Kids Are a More Rewarding Audience than Jurors," p. 31.

Booklist, September 1, 1983, Ilene Cooper, review of Someday Angeline, p. 91; November 1, 1987, Ilene Cooper, review of Sixth Grade Secrets, p. 484; May 1, 1989, Carolyn Phelan, review of Wayside School Is Falling Down, p. 1553; April 15, 1992, p. 1539; December 1, 1992, p. 680; March 15, 1993, p. 1369; May 1, 1993, p. 1592; June 1, 1994, p. 1822; March 1, 1995, p. 1273.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1987, p. 37; October, 1991, p. 47; October, 1992, pp. 52-53; February, 1993, Deborah Stevenson, review of Marvin Redpost: Why Pick on Me?, pp. 167-168; June, 1994, p. 334; March, 1995, Deborah Stevenson, review of Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, p. 248; September-October, 1998, Roger Sutton, review of Holes, pp. 593-595.

Daily Variety, April 17, 2003, Todd McCarthy, film review of Holes, p. 8.

Emergency Librarian, May-June, 1982, Joan McGrath, review of Johnny's in the Basement.

Film Journal International, May, 2003, Doris Toumarkine, film review of Holes, p. 41.

Horn Book, July, 1999, Louis Sachar, "Newbery Medal Acceptance," p. 410, and Carla and Sherre Sachar, "Louis Sachar," p. 418; January, 2000, review of Holes, p. 43, and Roger Sutton, review of Marvin Redpost: A Flying Birthday Cake?, p. 83; November, 2000, Roger Sutton, review of Marvin Redpost: Super Fast, Out of Control!, p. 763.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1987, review of There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom, p. 224; April 15, 1995, review of Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, p. 562.

National Catholic Reporter, May 16, 2003, Joseph Cunneen, "Underdog Stories: Spirited Humor Livens Films about the Down-and-Out," p. 16.

New York Times Book Review, November 15, 1998, p. 52.

Publishers Weekly, August 12, 1983, review of Johnny's in the Basement and Someday Angeline, p. 67; August 28, 1987, reviews of Sixth Grade Secrets, p. 80; January 6, 1992, p. 64; February 13, 1995, p. 78; June 27, 1998, review of Holes, p. 78; February 17, 2003, "For Those Who Dig Holes," p. 77.

Reading Teacher, October, 1988, Sam Leaton Sebesta, review of There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom, p. 83; May, 1990, Lee Galda, review of Wayside School Is Falling Down, p. 671; December-January, 1999, Cyndi Giorgis and Nancy J. Johnson, "Caldecott and Newbery Medal Winners for 1999," p. 338.

Riverbank Review, fall, 1998, pp. 32-33.

School Library Journal, December, 1981, Jack Forman, review of Johnny's in the Basement, p. 68; April, 1987, David Gale, review of There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom, p. 103; May, 1989, p. 111; October, 1989, p. 122; September, 1991, p. 259; June, 1992, p. 102; March, 1993, Kenneth E. Kowen, review of Marvin Redpost: Kidnapped at Birth?, p. 186; January, 1994, p. 74; August, 1994, p. 68; April, 1995, p. 136; September, 1998, Alison Follos, review of Holes, p. 210; January, 2000, Brian E. Wilson, "Good Conversation! A Talk with Louis Sachar," p. 63; September, 2003, Elaine E. Knight, review of Stanley Yelnats' Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake, p. 220.

Texas Monthly, September, 1999, Anne Dingus, interview with Sachar, p. 121.

Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1998, p. 360.

Writing!, September, 2002, "Louis Sachar's Holes Wins Readers' Choice Award for Teen Books," p. 3; November-December, 2002, Kate Davis, "Paint a Picture for the Reader," p. 26.


Louis Sachar's Home Page, (September 12, 2004).

Public Broadcasting System Web site, (November 24, 1998), Elizabeth Farnsworth, "Online NewsHour: Edward Ball."*