Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ghost Stories For Middle School Readers.

Who doesn't like a good scare every now and then?   Even the weak of heart sometimes seek  a little thrill when it comes to creepy noises, howling night winds, and other things that go bump in the night.  Halloween is the perfect time to dust off old favorite tales as well as be introduced to new ones.  For Middle school readers  (5-8 grade) giving them a book that is a treat can be quite tricky.    Halloween themed picture books are no longer intriguing as they were when they were younger.  Their view of the holiday has changed in many ways.  For example, in the choices they make in costumes.   They go from being a princess or policeman when they were in preschools  to zombies and Freddie Kruger when they are in middle school.  These readers have grown up and are ready for horror/mystery books.

    R.L Stine has done wonders for young readers' seek the horror thrill.  His work is brilliantly done in style that is easy to read and scary enough for young readers, inviting them to stay for one more page turn.  Kids will devour these books and ask for more.  While Stine is awesome, there are a few other writers that are just as entertaining and introduces young readers to another style of writing.

Ray Bradbury is best known for his adult fiction.  In his long list of accomplishments,  his books written for children are often overlooked.  The Halloween Tree is an example of one of his best horror/fantasy books for children.  The story is familiar to readers in that it begins with the holiday traditions that every young reader  can relate to.  Eight little Trick-or-Treaters go off for a night of fun but find themselves in spooky surprises that they won't soon forget.  The suspense keeps the readers entranced and not overly frightened. 

The Ghost of Saturday Night, written by Sid Fleishman,  is not a Halloween story but it does fit provide the eerie feeling that fans of the holiday know all to well.  It has every eerie Halloween backdrop that one could hope to find. Everything from dense fog, strange visitor to town and raising a man from the dead.  Not any old man but a famous robber.   Can all this really be true? Opie is not sure, he has a health dose of skepticism that leads him to the truth.  As the story unfolds, readers will be delighted at the outcome and even more so that the ghostly plot is as thick as the fog in the story.

  Once in awhile, a book comes along and becomes an instant classic.  The reader feels this from the very first line to the very last period.   The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is such a book.  This unusual tale won the top prize in children's literature winning the Newberry Award in 2009.  By far, this book is the most imaginative, sensitive and captivating ghost story of our generation.  Gaiman's cast of characters, ghosty and otherwise, leap off the pages inviting the reader into an unseen world that is surprisingly very nonthreatening.  Clever details throughout the book are rich, leaving an impression on the reader that this ghostly reality may indeed exist.  Gaiman's other works include Coraline which is just as imaginative as this instant classic.   Both books will satisfy the  horror/fantasy reader looking for something different.

On this Halloween night, why not suggest to the middle school reader in your life  to spend the rest of the evening than with a ghost story or two.   As a matter of fact, it could be the beginning of a wonderful tradition.  Or at least give a really good excuse for young readers  to curl up with a book after an evening of successful   trick or treating.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Libraries Are Relevant ...Part Three Getting Down to Business

When asked what does a library provide,  the most common answer will be books.  In terms of marketing this is what would normally be called the library's image or "brand".  While librarians should not complain about the brand, which has served libraries well over the years, something more should be added to give it depth.  What are in books?   Entertainment in the way of stories and poetry.  Education in the form of information.  Both of these elements bring positive changes to a person's life.  In this last post  of this series, the biggest surprise for readers to find out how libraries not only change lives but also change to the local economy.  How?   Public libraries across the country have formed specialized collection to serve businesses and entrepreneurs. 

It is a natural fit that libraries fill this need.  After all most small businesses don't have the time or the money to invest in costly business resource.  This is where libraries fill in the gap quite well.  From everything from stock performances to forms for filing for a new business. Established businesses can find a valuable asset in a business librarian who can guide the research process or provide the services where information is gathered for the business patron. Entrepreneurs will find that the business collections have databases, journals, and forms that every new business should be aware of in the planning stages of opening a business.   Most libraries will provide free  meeting rooms, providing a private and professional place to meet with clients.  (Some libraries will charge a small fee for using the meeting space, but most often it is cheaper than what is available from hotels or other conference venues.)

 In addition to that,  libraries  offer networking and informative workshops to bring leaders of local business together to share expertise, success stories of opening a business or the pitfalls of business ownership.  It is a positive outreach that directly impacts the local economy.  Chamber of commerce have taken notice of these types of library services, and will often promote them on their websites.  City halls have followed suit to promote the gems in their libraries, as an incentive to lure businesses to open their doors in within the city.  This can be quite enticing to perspective homeowners as they see a city growing with new businesses.

Books, databases and workshops are all wonderful but once in awhile some libraries get creative.  Social media has taken communications and marketing to a whole new level.  The need to get the message out quickly has become the norm of modern business.  With that business owners need tools to create web content that will capture the attention of the intended audience.  One tool that they may need but do not have the funds for is  video equipment or perhaps a  green screen.  For a mere $80.00 libraries can purchase a green screen which allows users to place any background behind the subjects before the camera.  Think of the local weatherman.  Everyone sees the map behind him, but in reality if the weatherman were to turn and face the screen all he would see is "green".  This provides a polished look to the video, that can be uploaded to a webpage or YouTube in minutes. 

Libraries are relevant, now more than ever.   If the last three posts have not convinced library deniers,  then nothing will.  From tracing family roots to bridging the generational gap with teens to providing tools for business development  there is indeed something for everyone.  It just may be that the deniers don't need services at that this time but eventually there will be something that draws them in and they'll get hooked.  Just like everyone else does. 


Monday, October 13, 2014

Library Has Something for Everyone ... TEENS! (Part 2 of 3)

This series started out as a demonstration of the relevance of libraries in today's technology, mobile and fast paced world.  To many, libraries are seen as a symbol of long forgotten days when time went by slower.  According to Rassmusen Polls that is not how teens see the libraries in their everyday life.  In their eyes, life would be woefully different.  This is good news for librarians, it is this generation that will support libraries in their communities for years to come.   Coincidently,   American Library Association has designated this week (October 12 - 17, 2014) as Teen Read Week.  The theme chose for this year is focusing on encouraging teens to follow their dreams. Where else can they help make that dream come true?  It all starts at, guessed it, the library.

The public library offers a safe haven for teens to explore topics of interests, do homework and hangout with peers.  At the risk of sounding like a cheesy infomercial, "But wait there's more!" because really there is so much to offer that finding the perfect place to being is difficult. 

In recent years,   Children's/Youth Librarians have begun programs such as Teen Advisory Boards which invites teens for the community to get involved by becoming young volunteers for the library.  In these "board" meetings, teens have a chance to discuss topics of interests to them, such as books,  movies and teen library programming ideas for the library.  This is the perfect opportunity for Youth Librarians to gather information for collection development.   What are the hits in the YA world and what is it about the author/books that get the kids to want to read more?  Speaking of books, it just may surprise most how good the YA books and how teens are devouring them as if they were video games.  Just looking at the recent movie releases, Hollywood has realized that not only do the stories make for good books but for movies as well.   The box office proves this is so with titles such as The  Hunger Games,  Maze Runner and  The Giver.   This can only help the circulation of books increase in libraries across the country.

Teens can also volunteer their time for the big events at the library such as Summer Reading programs which normally spans about 6 weeks of programming.  Who better to be seen working the summer  programs then local teens who love to read?  Having said this, there has to be a trade off for teens in this venture.  Programs that are tailored just for them is just as important as those geered for children, tweens and parents.  In many cases,  teen programs can participate in innovative programs such as a spin-off of "Whose Line Is It Anyways?".  This is an improv program inspired by Drew Carey's program of  the same name.  Teens come away with clean fun and an opportunity to use  cool props and be creative.  Parents take note:  This is a wonderful way for teens to earn community service for high school graduation requirements as well as a safe place for teens to hangout.

Teens should also take advantage of the opportunity to prepare for college prep  tests such as ACT and SAT.  There are plenty of exam books that help with the type of questions that are typically asked.  Teens should ask their school librarians as well as public librarians if there are ACT/SAT exam study days at the library.  It may be surprising that libraries are already providing these programs as well as self-help exams available electronically through databases.  (An example of this is MEL -- Michigan Electronic Library, most state libraries have something similar to this)

Teens have found that the technology at the library is not out of date as most would like to believe.  For many, homework assignments would have never been completed if it hadn't been for the local library making available a computer lab.  As stated in other posts,  the internet is just the tip of what is offered through the computers.  Databases.  Word processing.  Powerpoint and so much more.

It can be said that it is the teens that will dictate how the libraries will be used in the future.  After all they are demonstrating right now what they want, need and how they  use the library.  As adults,  this should be a lesson in looking at things with fresh eyes.  How does the old saying go:  Everything old is new again. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Library Has Something for ... Genealogy.

Family history can be found in many places.  Old photo albums.  Grandma's attic.  Stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.  These heirlooms are treasured to be sure but if looking deeper for family history, look no further than the local public library.  Surprised?   If thought about logically it makes perfect sense.  The library is a place of discovering the past, present and future.  Along with that, there are trained librarians who know where to begin looking for the important information such as birth certificates,  army records, census  or maps of old neighborhoods. 

One of the best places to dig deeper into family history is the public library.  It is amazing what tools are available now to make the research easier and faster.  One important fact to remember is that many older records and maps have not made it yet to digital form.  It can be due to may factors, one of which is that the original copy is so old that it will not transfer well.  No fear.  If the document is in existence, it is either in the local history section of the library or is available through other forms such as interlibrary loan or document retrieval.   It may be surprising to many, but librarians who specialize in genealogy research have training beyond the traditional Master's Degree.   Some are Archivists, which is a specialty in itself.  All genealogy librarians have the opportunity to go attending yearly workshops in Salt Lake City, Utah to brush up and learn of new tools that will help their patrons.  It is a fascinating area of study when it comes to research and serving a specialized cliental at  the library.

The library can offer more than just the books and electronic resources.  They offer peer support.  Many public libraries that offer genealogy research provide genealogy workshops to bring in speakers who will give tips on finding information for specific cultural groups, for example Italy or Ireland.   This gives newbies who want to learn more a chance to ask the questions that will propel them in the right directions.  It also is wonderful for peer to peer advice.  Many of genealogy searches  often trade their  "secrets" with other liked minded searches in hopes that by helping each other they may find a missing clue to their family's past.  Of  the more interesting items to be found in some library collections are old maps of neighborhoods.  Even if genealogy is not the tree for everyone to climb but  finding a bit of history of the neighborhoods can be eye opening  for many library patrons.

For those who wonder where to start and are a little timid to go to the library to begin asking questions, why not try searching the library's website.  There links will be found that can direct inquiring minds to the best sites available.  Two favorites. that appear on many library's sites are  (the library version), which is also available for private subscribers and, a free government resources that is a valuable too to searching records from County Clerks office across the country.  That is just the iceberg of what they can offer.  If one "geeks: genealogy, it might be a considered a pilgrimage to the Library of Congress in D.C.   There a novice or advanced genealogist will find tons of documents related to family research that local libraries dream about.

What many patterns often find fascinating is that quite often yearbooks from the local high schools are donated to the local library as part of the local history section.   It is not uncommon for someone visiting the area where grandma grew up to stop by the library to see if they can find the long forgotten high school photo of their loved one.  It is a treat to see the smiles when the long sought after picture is found.

Libraires are not just about books.  They are about history and the preservation of the stories that need to be shared from one generation to the next.  The next time someone says, "who needs a library?"  the answer could be  those who are looking for their past.  There is something for everyone.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Note The Library Deniers: Libraries Do Have something For Everyone

This isn't another rant about why libraries matter or why closing down a library in any community is a bad idea.  .  It's not about that at all.  Rather this is a post for the library deniers. Who are these deniers?  The neighbors, friends or family members who simply deny that the library has anything to offer to them or anyone else.   This is precisely why a visit to the library once a year could change the harshest views of the library.     It may be surprising to some of the library deniers to  know, it's not just about books. There's new technology.  There are plenty of programs for every age.  In other words, it's not just books.  It's about people.

Library have changed drastically in the past decade.  No longer are books the only items to be borrowed.  The variety of  items to be check out range from fishing poles to telescopes and everything in between.  Why is it then that the stereotypical view of the library still exists? It could be that the marketing (or branding) of the library has not been effective.     After all, who wants to hear people complain about how no one respects them or their libraries?   No one does.  What is more effective is to "show" the community how the library adds value to the community.   This is an re-introduction to the library.   It is meant in the spirit of "hello again" to those who have not been in a library for quiet some time.  Consider this a preface to a three part series which will demonstrate the community building that libraries across the country do everyday.  Whether it's good times or bad, libraries are continuing to reach out to the community.

It was Lady Bird Johnson who once stated, "Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library".  She was correct in that observation.  The library is open for all residents, rich or poor, young or old.    Quite frankly, it is also the institution that has something for everyone.   Even those who claim they don't need a library.  Chances are, they may not need one today but tomorrow may just be the day that the library meets a need of  a library denier.   There are a few questions that every library denier should ask themselves.  First, how do you know the library has nothing that you need?  Two,  what library services would you like the local library to provide? Finally, when was the last time you were in a library?   Answer the questions truthfully and it may reveal that everything you know about the library may be false.  

First it's important to lay the foundation of what the mission of a public library is and has been for years.  Public libraries, large or small, are established for the purpose of lifelong learning for every member of the community From newborns to senior citizens to everyone in between.  It is the one place that the community turns to access information.  This may explain why there are more libraries than there are McDonalds in America.    All though most fast food places, including McDonald,  provide free wifi access customers must use their own laptop, smart phone or other related devices to gain access.  Libraries only require that a wifi user have a free library card to gain access to not only the internet but also to databases and  computer software programs such as Microsoft Office.

The foundation of lifelong learning creates a positive environment for every person to learn something new everyday.  That is , if they choose to do so.  In the next three blog posts,  different library services will be examined and shown how they help shape and build the community around them. The goal here is to take away any excuses that library deniers have in visiting and using the services that are there for the taking.  It is also a chance to showcase how libraries are making a dramatic impact on the community.  Positive impacts that can be seen and measured in tangible ways. Is the interest peeked just a little?


Monday, September 22, 2014

Why Would Little House on the Prarie Be Challenged?

The libraries across the country will be celebrating Banned Books this week.  Banned books in America?  Really?  Well, actually not banned per se.  More like challenged but it sounds so much more richer to say a book has been banned.   In an effort to promote intellectual freedom,  this is one way of getting attention about books, reading and libraries.   To be clear, the First Amendment guarantees the right to say, write, believe or read anything without fear of  punishment from the government.  The list of books here, are widely available and anyone can read them if they choose.  Judy Blume, Neil Gaiman and other authors can rest assured, this is still America and no books are truly banned.  Just merely challenged.  Having said that it's important to keep vigilant on the topic of banned books.  It let's those who hold office  know that the freedom to read is taken very seriously.

To answer the question why would Little House on the Prairie penned by Laura Ingells Wilder  be banned?  According to parents in the Lafourche Parish schools, this book is offensive to Indians, in the political correct terms, Native Americans.  In the book, which is historically accurate, the main characters describes the Native Americans in an unflattering light.  Big deal.  Is it so hard to teach children that historically that is how  settlers in the west viewed the Native American culture?  Thank goodness we are passed that now, right?    For the record, this entire  series has been given numerous awards, including one named after Ms. Wilder from the American Library Association, for making a positive addition to American Children's Literature.  

Ms.Wilder is not alone in the "culturally insensitive" language department.  Mark Twain's beloved The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn suffers the same attack for using the word "nigger".  The book has even been published in a "friendly" version where the "n" word is removed completely.  Any literary purist and historian will say this is not only ignorance at it's best but offensive at it's worst.   It is agreed that every person deserves respect, but when making the accusation that the word is deeming in a tome that lifts up the value of friendship between the two boys is illogical to say the least.  Leave the text alone, and discuss the book with children in order to give them the proper perspective on the text.

Gone With the Wind is another victim of  accusations of racism.  Margaret Mitchell's portrayal of black slaves as being simple minded  was deemed as offensive in many communities.  Again,  if readers are to look at the historical context of  the book, it falls in line with what the common thought was.  History can not be changed but it should be understood in order for a society to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland has always stood out as a classic tale in the fantasy genre.  It has also earned the attention of those who wish to protect readers from dangerous books.  In the 1900's at Woodsville High School in New Hampshire, the book was thought  to have subconscious influences which leads the reader into sexual fantasies. One has to wonder how this community might have reacted to Fifty Shades of Gray had it been printed then?  It would have made them blush several shades of pink to be sure.

To Kill A Mocking Bird,  Harper Lee's tour de force, was banned in  Hanover Virginia in 1966.  Why?   The  plot was considered immoral because it dealt with rape.  Also through out the story,  racism is interwoven.  

As a modern feminist writer Virginia Woolf broke many boundaries in her time.  It comes as no surprise that one of her books would be challenged or banned.   Due to the topics of gender changing and homosexuality, Orlando is definitely on the list of books that some thought should be forbidden..  This book is not one of her better known titles, but it is said that it was a "love" story written to a famous female  of Woolf's day.  The idea of changing one's gender and to have one women kiss another full on the lips "like a lover" was scandalous.  In this day and age, not so shocking. 

One for the pages of this can't be true but it is.  In 1993, the community of Corona-Norco, California thought it was imperative to ban.  Aldous Huxley's Brave New World because it focused too much on negativity.  It's too bad that they didn't understand Huxley's true message of how humanity could be controlled if society gave their consent.  Great book that could develop into greater discussions.

The Curious Incident of Dog In the Nighttime by Mark Haddon is a wonderful, delightful book that allows the reader to see the world through the eyes of  a boy with Autism.   In Tennessee, a writer has to beware of using the "F" word one time to many in their work or they may find that their book is not welcomed in their community.  One school district in Tennessee did just that citing that while they are sure the students in the school were familiar with the "F" word,  it does not mean that the school district should condone the use of vulgar language in literature.

In 1939,  Grapes of Wrath  literally came under fire in one community and banned in another due to it's offensive language.  In East St. Louis, Illinois, the public library of this community burned the work by Steinbeck.   Yes, burned.  As in, light a match,  toss the book in a bin and drop the match in the bin.  The irrational behavior does not get rid of the book entirely.  More copies can and were printed.  Readers today still enjoy the book.  In Buffalo New York,  the public library there banned the books.  It is reassuring to know that the book is still available for the citizens of Buffalo. 

Last, but certainly not least  Sid Sheldon's book, The Giving Tree came under criticism.  This is due to the fact that the two main characters of the book, boy and tree, have an questionable relationship. Tree gives everything it has to the boy and the boy  seems to never have enough and nothing to give to the tree.  In 1988 it was banned in a public library in Colorado because it was considered "sexist".  Well if that didn't work, it has been challenged in some public school libraries for criminalizing the forestry industry.  Seriously, some adult look too deeply into a book to try to find something that's not there.

Ten books that may make  readers to pause, scratch their heads and say this is nuts.  Books may be challenged, they can even be banned but in the end, they will always find a way into someone's hands who will appreciate a good story.   Do something daring today, go out and read a dangerous book.  As a matter of fact, share it with someone you love.

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