Monday, September 15, 2014

Happy Patriot Week! Books That Shaped America

It is Patriot Week (September 11-17)  in the state of Michigan.  This is the week set aside in September to remember, reflect and renew the American spirit by celebrating the First Principles and the Founding Fathers.  It is a grassroots effort that began and was embraced in the Great Lakes State and is now spreading to other states as well, such as Wisconsin and South Carolina.  With this in mind,  here are a few favorites titles that are for the serious and thoughtful readers of history.  There is much to be gleaned from these books and if readers were to dabble in even just one chapter of each of these books it would be well worth the time spent.

It cannot be denied that Thomas Paine's work, Common Sense (1776) provided the rational and convincing arguments to why the Colonies should choose independence from King George III.  This pamphlet was so widely read that it had in its first year of printing, half a million copies in twenty five editions.  Without this masterful piece of writing, American may have never existed.

The Federalist Papers (1787)  is another collection of writings that spurred the colonies to take a pivotal stand in America's young history.  This time it was to support the ratification of the American Constitution.  Although originally published under the pen name "Publius" it was later revealed that the authors were Alexander Hamilton,  John Jay and James Madison.   This is first contribution to political literature in America.

Democracy in America (1835) is the observation of a Frenchmen Alexi de Tocqueville when he came to observe the prisons in America and came away with a whole lot more.  Although this is not authored by an American it has been very influential on how Europeans view Americans as well as how Americans view themselves.  For the reader who is a historical buff this is a must read.

It is true that all three books,  Common Sense Federalist Papers  and Democracy In America are not to be bedtime reading materials but to complete the well rounded historical reader these are for the hardcore historians in our midst.

For readers who want serious historical fiction, these next three books should fill that void perfectly.
Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage (1895) is a tale of a young Civil War solider, who witnesses the battles of wars with all of it's horrors.  This is the first book to look at war through the eyes of the solider  instead of through the lenses of the battle in general.  Even if this book was read years ago in a Freshman's English class it is still worth it to pick it up again.  As an adult reader, there are many threads woven through this book that may have been missed earlier, such as the loneliness, regrets and sacrifices of the Civil War.  This book does not paint a pretty picture of war, and that was Crane's intent.

Uncle Tom's Cabin made such a mark in American History, that even President Abraham Lincoln said he had to meet the little lady, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who penned this novel.  In March 1852 ,  Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in novel form (previously it had been serials written in an Anti-slavery magazine) and sold over 300,000.  It can be said that Ms. Stowe proved that the pen is mighty , words are powerful and one person can make a difference.  Uncle Tom's Cabin persuaded enough Northerners to ignore the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and changed public opinion of slavery in the days proceeding the Civil War.

It would be unconscionable not to mention Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).  This book is still a delight to reread time and time again.  Huck and Jim's adventures led them  to see the violence, hypocrisy and racism in American society.  It also taught them about themselves and the value of friendship.  Twain's simple language and easy going style gives the reader's a rare view down the Mississippi.  If one is willing to travel down the river again, it is suggested to bring along a friend or two.  This book is wonderful to read aloud in a classroom or at home with the kids.

There are many other books that have given American readers reason to celebrate their heritage but for the moment,  in the spirit of Patriot Week,  the focus will be left with Early American History.  
Once a reader dives into those books, there is no doubt left in their mind that the formation of this country is nothing short of amazing and inspiring.    Happy Patriot Week!

For a complete list of books that are for children and adults that help celebrate Patriot Week, request a digital copy of Patriotic Books for Patriotic Families at     For more information about Patriot Week please visit 


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11 -- From the Bookshelf

Everyone can remember where they were on September 11, 2001.  If each person in America had documented that day in a journal, it is sure to fill too many volumes to fit in one library.  Not to take away from what anyone felt, but everything that needs to be said has been said by many.  Each person in their own way will remember September 11th.    There have been many biographies, fiction and nonfiction books dealing with the historic date in America's history.  Each are fascinating in their own way.  However there  will is one book that has been lost in the shuffle and perhaps it's time to refresh the memories for some readers.  Michael Ford's book  Father Mychal Judge: An Authentic American Hero (2002)  is a book worth reading from the stand point that the good Father was a victim at Ground Zero.

Father Judge's story is one that is truly inspirational.  He loved his vocation of priesthood in the Franciscan order.  How people remember him is exceptional because each story is one of a man who demonstrated compassion, forgiveness and taking care of the poor.  His last earthly act was in giving Last rites to those who were dying in the World Trade Center.  This is where he died.   The picture of the fireman carrying his body out of the building was sobering and spiritual as well.   If one is in need of a good spiritual story on this day of national remembrance.  This is it.

There is one "startling" fact that was added to the book that  caused debate.   Ford decided that it was pertinent to add in the book that Father Mychal Judge was gay.   This fact has been disputed by both sides, Conservative Catholics and Progressive Catholics.   Friends who knew Father Judge have said he told them privately that he was gay.  Others believe that the idea that he was gay stems from his involvement in the LGBT community.   At first the reader may think that this fact was added in hopes to sell more books and maybe even make a statement against the Catholic Church.  If one really looks at the heart of the story they will find that this is a story of fellow citizen who gave up his life to serve others in the only way he knew how.   It could have easily have been a favorite pastor in any parish in any town in America.  On that day, it happened to be a Franciscan Priest from New York City  Father Mychal Judge's sexual preference is not what was important  What was important was that a very good man died and his memory should be honored along with the many heroes and heroines who died that day.

RIP Father Mycahl Judge. As they say in the Catholic Tradition, Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon him.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Does Common Core Help Boost The Importance of School Libraries?

The topic of Common Core stirs up a whole hosts of reactions from positively for it to positively against it.  When common core was first rolled out as the plan of choice to fix everything that No Child Left Behind did not do there were many who jumped on board and ran with it.  As time progressed, there were still too many questions,  too many problems and it seemed as if it began to complicate education more than before.  School Library Journal conducted a webinar series that specifically aimed to help school librarians understand common core and demonstrated how this could help the library become the focal point of the school curriculum.  One problem, the  ideas that they shared in the webinar have been in place.

This may be harsh words but facts are facts, Common core does little to nothing to boost the library's presence.   In the first webinar on Common Core, SLJ insisted that part of the beauty of the new vision of education is that reading nonfiction was more of a focus.  Wonderful.  That is good news, however they went further to say that school librarians, as well as the public librarians, really did not know the nonfiction section as well as fiction.  Wait a minute!   A librarian in today's library, be it a school or public library, is wearing many hats.  Not only are they responsible for manning the reference desk,  but also collection development,  programming,  grant writing and bibliographic instruction.  In other words,  the entire collection of the library is pretty much familiar to the librarian who is going through the shelves day in and day out to assist students, teachers and patrons.  That was the first glaring misstep from the webinar series.

Based on the idea that librarians needed to be keenly aware of the nonfiction sections, the webinar series began to take the path down to information literacy.  They stressed how the school librarian can become the gatekeeper to the information in the sense of challenging students to question the information they found on the Internet.  The webinar suggested that students should be asked questions such as : Who wrote the article?   Did they document their resources?  Were they biased?  Goodness, Information literacy has been around longer than Common Core!  When the Internet became the main tool for gathering information, it became paramount to teach both students and adults to be skeptical of what they found on the Internet.  Hasn't the joke been around so long that everyone now sarcastically says "I found it on the Internet, so it must be true." ?  It is disappointing, to say the least, that those who are touting the benefits of Common Core would have librarians believe that they had never dared thought of instructing students to verify the information.  Second glaring misstep from the webinar series.

Finally, what quite possibly can be described as the nail in the coffin, is the notion that reading a loud to children at every age is an important activity.  Agreed.  Students can benefit from having to be trained to listen carefully.  It also empowers them to use their imagination.  In the webinar they actually suggest that the reader of the book should read for a stretch , stop ask questions of the students to see if they picked up key parts of the plot, and reread the same pages over again.  Why? This will reinforce the story in the students mind.  Disagree.  This can only bore the audience and quite frankly the reader as well.  Third glaring misstep form the webinar series.

Due to the three glaring missteps it becomes apparent that SLJ does not have a clue on how Common Core will connect with the library.  Good school librarians understand the curriculum,  speak with teachers and administrators to see how the bolster the library's collection to meet the students need and know how to teach students to be active library users.  Is all of this covered in Common Core?  No, it's not.   What Common Core advocates have to realize sooner or later,  community control over the school district is much more practical than a National standard.  Parents, administrators and educators can all agree that the best outcome is for the student to be prepared a productive member of society.  How each community gets to that point is up to them.  What is scary is that children are now guinea pigs in the laboratory of education.  Leave it to the  bureaucrats in Washington have found a way to make NCLB look good.    Hasn't anyone figured out yet that testing does not prove that a hold has completed a solid education?

What is even more disturbing is that many school districts are opting to place school librarians in the classrooms along side the teachers.  (Examples in Michigan are Fraser Public School and Romeo School Districts)  Apparently SLJ and the Common Core lobbyist didn't foresee this move to make School Librarians over educated teacher assistants.    Then again, it must be a shock to all librarians to see another step backwards in the profession.

Having said all this,  is Common Core boosting the library usage in school and public libraries?  Not more than usual.  Could it at some point help?  No.  Common sense in the education of  students would be a much better approach.   Just think back to the days when students were required to learn the basics and once they mastered them, they could go off to explore all that the world had to teach them.   Could it be that the homeschoolers had it right all along?

Monday, September 1, 2014

What is The Best Job In the World?

A little fun on the blog today due to the holiday.  A brief examination of literary characters and their professions.  Mrs. Nowc hope this is as fun for readers to read as it was to post it. 

It's Labor Day in the United States.  A time to honor the workforce which makes this country what it is today.  Everything shuts down for the day, except for a few stores who feel the need to have sales but Government offices are shut down as well as the banks.  For those who don't shop, well there are parades galore in every city.  It's a nice holiday to end the summer.  After the last parade has passed by, the BBQ has been shut off,  last minute school clothes has been bought and the family has been tucked in for the night, one begins to ponder what would be the best job to hold.  

At first one would think a doctor would be cool.  Unless you are a doctor during the Russian Revolution, like Doctor Zhivago.  Then it's not as glamorous because a wartime doctor does not get to practice the medicine he would like.  Let's face it a family practice would be much better than treating men who have lost a limb or mortally wounded.  Then again, he found another  profession as a poet.  All be it, not very lucrative but he had love.  So it's all works out in the end.

Being a doctor could be good or bad depending on the era but lawyers always seem to be at the right place at the right time.  For example.  Atticus Finch, the lawyer of To Kill A Mockingbird.  Who wouldn't want to be the type of lawyer who could prove his client is innocent in a racial charged case?  Then again,  Ms. Harper Lee never gave a full account of how the brave Mr. Finch fared under the stress.   It's the deep south, it's a white women's word against a black man's, and the whole town is against you.  That would be enough to drive some to drink. At the very least, move.  No lawyer might not be a great job either.

Businessman is always a good profession. It's generic, one can work just about anywhere and the money is always good.  Unless, you're Ebenezer Scrooge of the Christmas Carol.   Money got to him in a big way.  No one liked him.  He didn't like anyone either.  Holidays were lonesome until one Christmas when he gets three ghostly visitors.  Nope.  Business is not good either.  

Private detective would be a wonderful job too.  Always searching for clues.  Always have a sidekick, like  Dr. Watson.  Sherlock never misses a clue, always thinking and quite frankly is probably a bore to be around twenty four hours a day,  seven days a week. Which might be the reason why the reader never hears of a Mrs. Holmes.  No, that can't be a good job either.  Who wants to be right all the time?  Too demanding.

So what is the best job?  It has to be a profession that allows for learning something new everyday.   A place where one never knows who might walk through the door.  A place where it is quiet yet not as quiet as a church or spooky as a graveyard.  Actually books would have to be present, along with computers, oak tables with matching chairs.  Yes,  a librarian is the perfect job.  Well, at least from this viewpoint.  Where did this idea come from?   Not sure, but maybe the title of this blog might give a clue.

Happy Labor Day to one and All!

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Complete List ot Why, When, Where, Who and How to READ. From A To Z

It's time to get back to basics.  Maybe this feeling comes on stronger now because school is starting soon.  It's that time when the mind goes back to the days of reading, writing and arithmetic. It is this time of year that libraries will be filled with students and backpacks clamoring for the books on the reading lists assigned to them.  It is also the time when reading skills are tested.  It has been suggested  that due to the digital age reading is becoming a lost art and form of entertainment.  Perhaps it is for some but not for all.  This list is for those who have forgotten why  reading is so important.  It is also for those who love to read and need help in defending their addicting habit.  Even perhaps get their families hooked on reading.  The challenge is always to come up with ten ways that an certain activity will improve life.  Well, overachievement is never an understatement here.   Getting carried away with the alphabet to list when, why where , how and who should be reading from A to Z was far to easy and fun.  It is hoped that it is inspiring as well.

Anytime is a good time to read.  Anywhere is a good place to read.  It's really quite simple, reading is an activity that can be done virtually anywhere.  Well, not in a dark cave unless you have a flashlight handy. 

B Babies and books naturally go together.  Reading to babies stimulates vocabulary, imagination and love of books.

C Classic Literature is always in style.  Whether it's a classic children's book that has stood the test of time or classic literary novel that was read in high school.  Classic literature bridges the gap between generations of readers. 

D Donating books to the library or school is an act of paying it forward.  Clear out the bookshelves and spread the joy of reading to others.

E  Everybody in the family should read.  Even if it's only fifteen minutes a day, the routine of reading everyday is a tremendous investment that results in value.

F Fictional characters become life long friends.   Don't misunderstand, reading will not have you walking around speaking to imaginary friends.  However, some fictional characters have a way of staying with readers long after the last page has been read. 

G Goodreads is the  Facebook for bookworms.  It is one of the best sources to get honest reviews of books from friends, which helps in picking out he next must read book.  Sign up with a Facebook account or at

H Holiday are always better with a story that brings out the best of the season.  Ever tried reading a Christmas book in July?  It's a real treat when someone asks "What book are you reading?"  The look on their face is hilarious.  What ?  Why read that now?  Because I can!

I  Independence is the goal for all readers.  It has been clearly demonstrated that once a person learns to read their confidence is increased.  This naturally leads to a reader becoming independent thinks.

J Join a book discussion. Local public libraries have wonderful programs for i for readers who just can't get enough of the book they are reading.   Sharing with peers views about the author's style, characters and plot makes for interesting conversation.  Not only that, it encourages the reader to find more books to read and discuss.  It's a wonderful never ending cycle.  By the way, if your library does not have a program be daring, start one of your own.

K Kindle may have changed the way readers pick up a book but it hasn't transformed readers into non readers.  (Thank goodness)  In some cases, Kindle may have converted a few non readers to lifelong readers due to mobility of the gadget.  Will Kindles ever replace hardcopies of books?  The verdict is still out on that idea.  There are futurist who predict electronic versions of books will completely replace hard copies in five years.  While others say there is a growing consensus that there is a place for both digital and paper copies.

L Libraries are here to stay. As long as there are readers in the world who demand to be nourished by the written word (and yes, admittedly this is a bit dramatic) there will be a need for libraries.  The statistics have proven that in a rapidly changing technological era, libraries still remain relevant in our society.

M Movies need books, writers and readers. Since movies began taking the books to the silver screens, readers have faced the age old questions.  Should the book be read first?  Yes.  Always yes at least from  the avid reader's view.  Will the movie ruin the book's plot and intent?   Sometimes and when it does, have pity on the director for he (or she) will have to face the wrath of many angry readers and fans.

N Night time reading is always the best time to get ready for sleep. It works wonders with children and for adults as well.  Turn off the tube and pick up a good book.

O Once upon a time never gets boring.  There will always be that special place that every reader wants to revisit as a child, as an adult or as someone looking for a place to escape.  How many times can Camelot be visited?  Many, many times over.

P Picture books are the perfect entry into the world of reading.  Why?  The illustrations do so much more than just help tell the story.  Some are just wonderful works of art that engage and engulf the readers into the story.  To see a child get lost in the words and pictures of a book is nothing short of magical.

Q Questions arise and curiosities are stirred when reading becomes a habit.  The quest to know, read and learn more becomes part of the readers life.  It is an addicting habit but what better addiction could one have?

R Rebel against authority. Read a banned book.  September marks the celebration of Banned Book Week when the American Library Association puts out the list of books that have over the years been banned from schools and libraries.  If ever there is a time to get a teens attention, this would be it.  Tell them the adults don't want them to read book X.  That book will fly off the shelf faster than any magician can make his rabbit disappear from a hat.

S Silence is something that children today need to be taught.  In a world that is filled with noises, gadgets and screens, children need to be taught to have moments of silence and appreciate them.

T Thinkers are not born, they are made. Abraham Lincoln did not become one of the greatest Presidents by being elected president.  He read continuously which helped him become one of the greatest political minds in history.

U Universally in every school, every country, and every city it is accepted that one of the surest way to success is to read. It may sound corny to say but it still is true that reading is fundamental.

V Vocabulary improves with daily reading.  It's easy to spot the child or adult who is an avid reader and one who does not.  Oral and writing skills for readers are superior than those who don't.

W Weapons against poverty?  Books, reading and libraries.  Once a child or adult learns to read, the opportunities are endless. 

X Xenophobes is an ugly word.  It denotes that someone can not accept another person because of their ethnic or religious background.  In other words they can not accept anyone who is different.  Books open a path to the world for readers of all ages.  It is the best way to communicate what everyone has in common and what makes cultures unique.  Quite frankly, it what makes this world wonderful.

Y Yet another reason to read because a person can.  No one should ever take that pleasure away from another.

Last but not least...

Z Zero excuse not to read a book a month or every other month.  Yes, we are a busy society.  However, as stated previously just as a child needs to learn the value of silence,  adults need to relearn that as well.  There should never be a moment when one says no to reading.

There it is, from A to Z, why reading is an activity for all ages.  Maybe this may turn some heads.  Better yet, maybe it may cause more people to turn pages.  Lots of pages in the quest to read, learn and grow.  Happy reading!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Back To School ... Seven Ways The Library Can Make The Year Suceessful.

This is the time of year that students face with mixed emotions.  First emotion, dread.  The lazy hazy days of summer are quickly passing and by all accounts, there is still so much fun to be had! (So many new books to read too! )  The second emotions, excitement.  School days are great for catching up with friends that have been gone for summer months and the routine of seeing each other again is back in full swing.   The first day of school offers so much promise for the year ahead.  One way to be sure that the school year is kicked off right is by starting with the library.  It doesn't matter if it is the school library, the public library or both.  Libraries, small or large, can be the keys to a successful school year.   Here are seven ways a library can help students of all ages.

1. Libraries are mobile.    Libraries are mobile in the same way every person is in this modern life.  When going to your library's website, look for an app that can be downloaded on to a smart phone.  Most major libraries are investing in up to date technology to keep up with the demands of patrons who want convenience and accessibility.  Most library apps will allow patrons to place materials on hold, view patron records and even see what is new a the library.  Very handy for students who need to manage time wisely.

2. Volunteer opportunities  Many school districts are requiring students to complete community service hours in order to graduate.  Check with the Youth Services or School librarian to find ways to complete the requirement by volunteering to work at the library. 

3.  Get To Know Your Librarian  It is amazing that most students don't know or are afraid to ask from the librarian.  Think of it this way, when you are sick and not sure what is wrong or what to do to stop a pain, a doctor is called.  When you don't know where to go next when trying to find answers for a geography assignment or research paper, who would know best on where to search for the best answers?  The librarian.   Don't be shy ...ask.

4. Take Time to Read For Pleasure  Every once in awhile it's good to kick back and take a break from the grind. Most libraries have an area where new books are featured.  This    Reading for pleasure is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get away from it all and let the mind wander to the places in between the pages of a book.  As a side note,  an extra benefit to libraries supporting readers is that readers become better writers.  

5. Libraries are Practical Tools  Libraries are the places where experiments begin.  Not the type in the Chemistry lab but in the research way.  Students learn the best methods of searching through databases, websites and books by using the resources at the library.  Think of it as a hands on training for finding information in the "real" world.  These skills will be used long after students leave schools.   It's skill building for a lifetime.

6.  Group Studies Are Better At The Library   Computers are wonderful tools for many activities but they can't replace true interactions with others.  As the library space begins to shift to more computers,  less book shelves and larger open spaces, it is only citing that these open spaces be filled with students,  adults, and educators collaborating on projects.  Many public libraries have invited High School Seniors to "exam week" or "SAT" prep programs.   This is a great opportunity to demonstrate support for the school district and students in providing a day just for them to study of the all important exams that could determine the directions of their college careers.

7. Preparing Little Ones For Preschool   Storytime for Toddlers and preschoolers offers a unique opportunity for children to not only develop reading skills but to get use to sitting still and taking directions from another adult other than mom or dad.  More importantly children develop social skills that will help them make the transition from home to school much  smoother.

There it is in a seven seemingly little ways that students can be supported in their studies with access to libraries.   These may seem like little things that can be overlooked but the impact is huge.  Students learn, communicate and do more when library resources are available to them.  When taking that stroll through the school's open house it should become obvious to all visitors.  Libraries are not just another gathering place for the students, it's actually the heart of the school.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Story To Inspire Readers To Dream Big and Do More.

Every once in awhile there is a story that stirs up hope in humanity.  Society sometimes is so busy blaming the younger generations for not caring about the world that they miss out on learning about the ones who are making a mark.  Nonprofits are not easy to build or run.  Especially in an economic environment where everyone is basically either trying to find a job, trying to make ends meet or all of the above.  It's been a rough couple of years.  However, some may see this as a dismal time to ask folks for money to contribute to a worthwhile cause while others see a golden opportunity in any situation.  It's the age old debate of if the glass is half empty or half full.

Adam Braun's The Promise of A Pencil is just the type of book that makes a reader think, "if  he could do it why can't I? "   The title in itself is enough to catch a reader's attention.  What promise can a pencil hold?   A pencil by itself, obviously it has no value of it's own until someone,  a child picks it up and uses it to learn about their world.   The story begins with Mr. Braun's own background growing up in a stable middle class home where he was given the opportunity  to succeed at every turn.    Every young adult would die to have the opportunities that this man had.  He Attended Brown University, was on the fast track in building a career in hedge funds,  and a future so bright shades wouldn't  have been enough to keep the glare from getting to the eyes.  However, Mr. Braun let go of the traditional path of success to forge a different one into the nonprofit.  After traveling in underdeveloped  countries like Laos and Myanmar,  the desire to build schools for the children grew.  Mr. Braun observed that in every culture there is a  universal theme which  every parent wants an education for their child in hopes that the child will have a better life than they had.   With that observation and the desire to make a difference,  Promise of a Pencil (PoP) grew into a strong thriving nonprofit corporation that has since opened several schools in impoverished countries.

One of the hints that the reader is given that this is not the ordinary how to book, is given in the first chapter, "Why be Normal?"    This is one of the first lessons Mr. Braun learns from his parents.  One an have everything that the Jones' have but why be normal.  Why not do something different and explore the possibilities.  The writing is simple and precise. Without even realizing it, the  reader is reading a step by step process of starting a nonprofit.      Granted not every nonprofit begins the same as PoP but the struggles, the luck of running into the right people, and the volunteers who share a vision are the common threads shared by the author.  The book comes short of demanding actions from it's readers.  Its not asking for donations to PoP but it is asking what's holding a person back from pursuing their passion.

Braun's book debuted at number 2 on the New York Times Bestsellers list and is listed as one of the must read titles for CEOs.  However, in all honesty,  this book  can  easily be placed on a library's bookshelf and be forgotten about.   Not because the story is boring, it's not.  Not because the writer comes off as a snotty know it all, he doesn't.  However, it is precisely that this book is being labeled as a go to book or how to guide to building a nonprofit.  Not everyone is in that frame of mind or ambition level to go out on that limb.  This story is compelling because it introduces the readers to a world where children want to learn but have not had the opportunity.  If this book is placed on the shelf as another business how to book it gets lost.  This book is really about reminding each reader that the  path chosen doesn't need to go straight in order to find the success.  It can zig zag into a journey that is unexpected, amazing and worth the bumps along the way.  This book should be highlighted on every library's bookshelf in September when school begins and every May when school lets out.  In addition to that,  every month in between.  In other words,  don't just sit there. Go read the book!