Karen Springen

Fourth-Grade Slump

Terri Bollinger, principal at the Ridge Central elementary school, has noticed a troubling trend. Her third graders are doing incredibly well. Most of them meet or exceed Illinois state reading standards.

Health: Battle Of The Binge

Ron Saxen's problem with binge eating started when he was 11. He hid the disorder well enough--through exercise and yo-yo dieting--to sign a modeling contract at the age of 21, when he was 6 feet 1 and weighed 179 pounds.

Marketing: A 'Little House' Makeover

Sometimes it's good that you can't judge a book by its cover. This month, for the "Little House" books' 75th anniversary, the first eight stories appear with photos of models as Laura instead of with the Garth Williams illustrations. (The text is unchanged.) "Girls might feel the Garth Williams art is too old-fashioned," says Tara Weikum, executive editor for the "Little House" series. "We wanted to convey the fact that these are action-packed.

Ground Support

Michelle Obama has always been a creature of discipline and decorum. As a young lawyer, she initially brushed off advances from her future husband, Barack Obama, because they worked at the same firm.

The Rev. John Foley

The best ideas are often bred in desperation. A decade ago, Father John Foley and his Jesuit colleagues were in the midst of creating a new college-prep high school for students from Chicago's Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, a low-income area largely populated by Mexican immigrants.

Mixed Messages

Drink ice-cold water ("your body has to burn calories to keep your temperature up") and hot water with bullion cubes ("only 5 calories a cube, and they taste wonderful").

Back Pain: To Cut or Not to Cut

Each year, about 300,000 Americans have surgery for herniated disks, at a cost of $10,000 to $15,000 per procedure. Is it worth it? Maybe. And maybe not. A report in last week's Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that patients with severe leg pain who did not have surgery improved nearly as much as those who went under the knife.

College A More 'Common' Application Process

The University of Chicago is known for its "Uncommon Application," filled with quirky questions like "How do you feel about Wednesday?" So when word got out in November that the school is expected to switch to the more staid Common Application, Illinois high-school junior Amy Allen wrote the dean of enrollment, Michael Behnke, in dismay: "The questions I saw on the Uncommon App were fun and interesting.

To Cut Or Not To Cut

About 300,000 Americans have surgery each year for herniated disks. With total hospital, anesthesia and surgery costs running around $10,000 to $15,000 per operation, that works out to up to $4.5 billion worth of surgery annually.

Education: More A's, More Pay

Meet the fourth R: reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic--and a reward. The Department of Education just launched the first federal program that uses bonuses to motivate teachers who raise test scores in at-risk communities, awarding $42 million this month to 16 school systems in places like Chicago, Dallas and South Carolina.Similar ideas are used in the private sector all the time. "In any other profession, when you do well, you get rewarded," says Lewis Solmon, whose National Institute for Excellence...

Cars: It Pays to Drive Green

If Joanne Aggens, a Wilmette, Ill., village-board member, trades in her 200,000-mile Subaru for a hybrid, she'll save $50 off the $75 price of her city vehicle sticker--a new clean-car perk she and her fellow board members recently approved.

To Catch a Killer

At 76, E. Patrick Flynn believes he is alive today only because a CT scan detected a tiny tumor in his lung in 1996. "Not the slightest question in the world," says Flynn, a former smoker.

Airlines: Leaving The Nest

With the holidays approaching, you may soon be packing up your kids for a trip alone. Here are some things to keep in mind: Plan ahead. Airlines won't let children fly unaccompanied before the age of 5 and may require a nonstop ticket.

Assault on Obesity

Vending machines have always been synonymous with junk food. But that's about to change—at least for kids in public schools. On Friday, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation—an initiative of the American Heart Association and the William J.

Saying No to Big Pharma

For the past few years, Dr. Eric Mizuno and his colleagues at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group have banned pharmaceutical-company freebies like sticky pads and calendars from their offices. "It just felt right to not contaminate the environment," Mizuno says.

Teaching Kids: Discovering the Magic in Writing

For a lot of kids, writing is a chore. Essays. Journal entries. Book reports . But this month Newbery Honor winner Gail Carson Levine, author of "Ella Enchanted," comes to the rescue with "Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly," a how-to-write guide for kids 10 and up.The book's advice covers the basics: add a mix of narrative and dialogue; don't solve all the problems until the end; pay attention to details.

China: Summer of Silence

It may be the slow summer season in China's capital, but the courts sure have been busy. In the past two weeks, they've concluded three high-profile cases, two of which have been lingering for more than a year.

Publishing The Book With No Name

A forthcoming HarperCollins book is a real whodunit--but not because it belongs on the mystery shelf. The publishing house is shopping a new title to booksellers--with a 300,000 initial press run--but the company's not saying who wrote it, what it will be called or even what it's about.

'Unhappily Ever After'

Young readers, already worried about Harry Potter, now face a new threat. Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler, 36) says at least two characters will die in his 13th and final "A Series of Unfortunate Events" book, "The End." The fate of the Baudelaire orphans and their nemesis, Count Olaf, will be revealed when 2.5 million copies go on sale at 12:01 a.m.