Monday, December 29, 2014

New Year's Resolutions For The Library Geek

First, let's begin the post with the understanding that everyone is a geek about something.  It's not just to describe a passion for  computers, sciences or mathematical numbers. It's about knowing a topic so well that in a Jeopardy category, one would not only know all the questions/answers but would be able to come up with harder questions/answers to stump  highly knowledgeable likeminded geeks  In the case of this blog, well it isn't hard to guess what the "geek" is here.  Libraries. All kinds, shapes or sizes of libraries. It's what can be labeled as an addiction or in some cases abnormal obsession.  Is it wrong to question what is so abnormal about a library obsession?  Nah!  Nothing abnormal about it! Wondering how to spot a library geek?  First, foremost a library card is a MUST for all library geeks. Second,  a visit to a library at least once a week.  Bonus if the visit to the library is while on vacation (triple bonus when on honeymoon) just because it's good to know if the library at home is better (or worse) than the one seen on vacation.  Third,  hearing the mention of "library" on the TV makes the viewer rewind to find out why the library was mentioned.  Four,  library geeks can name every movie that has a library scene in it. Quick: how many times did Indiana Jones movies have a library scene?   Five, conversations with friends and family usually involve one or two mentions about libraries.  Six and yes this is the final test to spotting a library geek,  T-shrits, sweatshirts, or tote bags that have literary quotes or have the word "library" on them is part of the library geek's wardrobe.

Now that the basic understanding about "geek" has been established, it is safe to suggest a  list of New Year's Resolutions for library geeks.

1. Resolve to be more vocal about library advocacy.  Libraries' best weapon to fighting back against legislative budget cuts,  city council demands for more service with less funds and naysayers who claim the Internet has replaced the library is the people who love going to the library.   Legislatures need to know that the library isn't just a building within the community with empty tables and chairs. No!  It's busy with people coming to workshops, leaving with armloads of children books to keep little ones entertained and bustling with librarians who are ready to answer any reference question that patrons' have.

2. Resolve to read at least one book this year that is a "new-to-me" genre or writer.  This gives the opportunity to hear from a fresh perspective and voice.

3. Resolve to read to a child whenever the opportunity is available.  The joys of reading is ten times better when sharing it with a youngster.  It is sure to brighten anyone's day.

4.  Resolve to leave a book for others to pick up.  The Free Little Libraries have inspired many to share the books that they love with with others in the pay it forward ideal.  Why not go with that idea a step further.  Leave books on buses,  at malls, or doctor's offices.  Consider how one simple book could make a difference in a person's day?

Four suggestions for resolutions should be a good start for any library geek.  Then again, library geeks tend to be very creative in finding ways to spread the word about libraries.  I'm sure that these suggestions could very well turn into something unique and interesting as 2015 unfolds.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Message of Peace : Libraries As Havens of Hope.

There are moments when the headlines of the news can not be ignored.  Issues that were once considered better to be left alone are now surfacing to the top and ready to boil over.  It would be nice if there were a book that can be accessible to everyone and be read by everyone in order that calmness can conquer chaos.  There doesn't seem to be a book that can put out the flames that have been set by recent incidents in New York and Ferguson, Missouri.  The "mob" mentality seems to be winning the day and clear heads are not prevailing.  Libraries play a vital role in every community.  They provide a place to gather, a place to discuss issues and a place to learn.  This must have been the reason why the staff at Ferguson Municipal Public Library felt that it was important to remain open when the schools shut down due to the civil unrest.   The library was one of the few places where children of Ferguson could go to find a safe refuge.  It can not be ignored that the decision to remain open was powerful and positive for the citizens of Ferguson.   The library isn't just about providing a safe place for children.  It is about finding  answers to problems or finding the truth buried in the issues of the day.  Three days before Christmas,  there is only one gift Americans need most:  PEACE.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if libraries could point the way to that gift of peace through books.

 May wonderful and prolific writers have tackled the complex issue of racism in their works.  Most of these titles have been listed as required reading in high school or entering into a university.  Novels such as Harper Lee's  To Kill A Mocking Bird and  Toni Morrison's Beloved invited readers to see the injustice that blacks in America have faced.  In Lee's book it was about a black man accused of raping a white woman in a small Southern town.  We see the prejudices of the town folks who readily accept that the accusation is true.  Why? Simply because of the skin color of the defendant.  It is a book that forces the reader to examine why it is easy to accept the guilt of a person solely on the basis of his skin color.  Morrison's tome deals with a former slave, Sethe  who had escaped to Ohio.  What follows is the events that depicts her escape from slavery but is forever enslaved by the memories of her past.  In particular, the child she lost who now haunts her.   It seems that with freedom Sethe also needed peace to make her life complete.  Unfortunately,  this was something that was never a possibility for Sethe.  Perhaps life was simpler with Twain's Huckleberry Finn but now  his work has been criticized for having racial overtones because of the language used.  Sadder still is that Laura Ingles Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods has been deemed inappropriate and racist because of the not so positive views of the American Indians.  This  causes a librarian to sigh and wonder where will it end.

It may be that it will end when society as a whole is reminded of  two important facts that all four of these books prove in different yet subtle ways.  First,  as a society we have come a long way.  No longer is it acceptable to judge people with words and deeds solely because they look different.  Thank goodness for that!  These books help readers to understand different is not dangerous or detestable.   It's just merely different.  Learning from other  cultures reinforces the notion that the hopes and dreams of every child are the same regardless of culture or language.  Secondly,  everyone comes into the world the same way and will leave this world in the same way.  Realizing that, it's time to come to the only conclusion that since we share the same planet, we might as well get along.

On a final note, it may just be that humans  have never really changed.   Shakespeare points out so well hundreds of years ago, that humans are greedy, vain, and jealous.  Some are good. Some are bad. One thing that is certain, it is only during a time of tragedy that the truth to life is revealed. It was the same lesson Shakespeare taught through his works years ago that today's authors try to teach and immolate.  It wouldn't be a bad thing if it could be remembered and practiced to forgive often, understanding with patience  and that life is short and fleeting. There are no second chances to do things  over.  It is as simple as that.  At least through books,  it is possible to stop and learn from the characters who have leapt into situations with passion with little thought of the consequences.  Then painful lessons would not have to be relearned over and over again.   Libraries are the safe haven to stop to think,  reflect and learn for children of all ages.  During this season of light, whether it be Christmas, Chanukah or secular celebration, take a moment to be grateful for the good in life.  There is too much sadness that everyone needs to take a moment to see the good and to feel hopeful for the coming new year.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Santa: Finding out The Truth about the Jolly Ol' Guy

       Youngsters have often heard adults say, "If you want to know something, go look it up!"  Back in the day, there were books, encyclopedias, thesaurus, dictionaries and a whole slew of tools to find the answer.  Today, the internet has made it that much more easier to tap into a wealth of knowledge.  Yet there are still some tidbits of information that eludes youngsters.  In particular, Santa Claus and his jolly ways.  Who is this strange man who works only one night a year, dresses in a read suit and leaves presents for good little boys and girls?  Is he for real?  How does he go around the world in one night?   Why did he pick reindeers to help him travel in his sleigh?  Wouldn't unicorns be better?  (No.  Silly, unicorns don't exist!)  The questions go on and on and on.  Luckily there are ways of getting to the truth about the beloved man everyone has come to know as Santa Claus. 

     Harold Myra lays out all the facts in his book Santa, Are You Real?   From the traces of Santa's early history as Saint Nicholas to today as the  jolly red suited man children all over the world recognize. It's sweet and it reminds readers that St. Nicholas' example of love and charity is the way to keep Christ in the heart of Christmas.   The author eludes that Santa is alive through the stories of St. Nick.  However, adults can prove that Santa is real with Ingrid Ostheeren's I'm The Real Santa Claus.  How frustrating must it be for Santa Claus to find so many men impersonating him at Christmas time!  They are everywhere!  No wonder people have stopped believing in him.   In this tale, Santa get the gentle reminder that children still believe in him and in Christmas magic.  Must say, there are so adults who need this same reminder. 

        Now before the more practical, stuffy and so called level headed nonbeliever starts to explode because there need concrete facts.  Gerry Bowler's book  Santa Claus: A Biography gives the facts in a manner that would make every historian rest at ease.  Yes, Bowler insists that Santa  is a legend, mystical wonderful fictional elf that has graced greeting cards,  wrapping paper and commercial ads for centuries but that shouldn't stop the young at heart from enjoying the book.  Having said that,  readers should   not miss out on reading The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus.  The title should not fool the reader.  Tim Stover probably called it a legend to lure nonbelievers into believing in Santa again.  The details of Santa's life are rich, warm and wonderful!  How could this be fiction?  It simply feels too real to be fake.  Of course, if one really wants to be a cynic that is their choice but the facts of the story are difficult to dispute.  Such as how Santa learned to make wonderful toys, or how he met his love, Mrs. Claus.  Stover even details how Santa was able to get the reindeers to fly.  How could he just make that up?  It's simply must be true.
   In need of more proof of his existence?  Fictional characters are in books.  Authors are not in books, they write the books.  Santa can't be fictional because he wrote a book. He's a published author just as James Patterson and Danielle Steele are.    It's available for anyone who wishes to know the REAL Santa.  (It's even available in e-books, just to prove that old men can still keep up with technology our day)  Santa Responds:  He's Had Enough ... and He's Writing Back!   Frankly, it's about time that he stood up for himself!  All the letters from boys and girls who simply write them to appease their parents but truly don't believe and don't deserve half of the items on their list.  That's okay because Santa has a way of setting the record straight that isn't too confrontational and gets his message across.
      This Christmas, the best gift every reader can give to themselves is the gift of believing in Santa. If  that is too far of a stretch, then at least to start believing that  wonderful magical things can happen. .   It is never too late to start believing again.  After all, through the magic of Christmas every reader is young again and it is possible for one fat elf in a red suit to travel the world in one night on a sleigh with eight flying reindeers.  It's the magic of the season.  It's Christmas.


Monday, December 8, 2014

The Best of Modern Christmas Stories

In the last post, there was a brief run down of the worst that Christmas novels have to offer.  Frankly, the publishing industry has turned this into a niche that many times have no soul and it shows in the style of writing and canned story plots.    It may be awkward to say but this niche has  often proven  that there has to be bad stories in order for readers to find and treasure the truly good ones.  In this post,  there is good news for readers who want a memorable holiday story that will become a favorite for years to come.   If after reading these stories, and  readers don't place them on their  "go to " shelf for holiday books, it will be flat out surprising.  

First on the list is Dave Barry's  The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog (2008) is a nostalgic laugh out loud Christmas tale that only he could write.   Reader's looking for a light hearted Christmas tale of Christmas past that can be read in one sitting have found the perfect match in this story.  Barry's humor shines through page after page keeping the reader in stitches up until the very last word.  It has everything that a reader could want: warm family memories, a Christmas play and beloved family dog.    The story is authentic, honest and humorous. Was the number of laughs per page mentioned? .  It makes one yearn for the good ol' days when life was a little simpler.  A MUST  have for every holiday season.

Another notable  authentic Christmas novel that is a must read is The Christmas Cookie Club: A Novel by Ann Pearlman (2010).   Set in Michigan, this story is about twelve friends who come together every holiday season to share cookies and wine. The friends come from all different backgrounds but they share the holiday traditions that brings them together for a special night that is just for them.  No husbands.  No children.  No work.  Just time for them to enjoy the festive season and each other.   The bond that is shown in this circle of friends proves what women have always known for centuries:  if you can't tell your best friends your troubles than you don't have friends or hope.  The recipes for the cookies shared in the novel are printed  at the end of the book.  It's really a bonus to have a holiday bake book and good story to go along with it.

If the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles is appealing then David Baldacci's holiday novel is a perfect fit   The Christmas Train (2013) takes the reader on a journey with Tom, a writer who is trying to get home in time for the holiday.  Why not take a plane?  Well then the story wouldn't be as eventful as getting into with airport security which leads to Tom being forced to take a train.  This of course leads to him encountering  a memorable  cast of character which sets the story on track for  an unexpected romance.  The icing on the cake to change everyone's plans of the holiday: an avalanche.  Could it get any better?  Nope.

What do all these novels wonderful?  They don't try be something that they are not.  What you see is what you get.  It seems that many Christmas novel try too hard to recapture what The Christmas Carol and The Gift of the Magi did many years ago.  That is create stories with strong emotions and strong moral message.  These classics really don't need to be replaced or rewritten.  That is why they are timeless classics.   Barry,  Perlman and Baldacci understand that the  goal in writing their novels is to capture the readers attention and everything else will fall into place.  They don't need to compete with the classics they simply need to bring enjoyment to their audience.   The Christmas season is all the more brighter with these novels filled with laughter, friendship and the desire to make it  home for the holidays.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Stories With A Formula But No Heart

Every season there are stories that just make the holidays seem a bit brighter.   There is no doubt that every reader has their own favorites that they read and reread to to get into the right mood.  Dickens' A Christmas Carol is one such story along with Andersen's  The Little Match Girl.  Let's not forget O Henry's Gift of the Magi.  Each  of these stories go straight for the heart and elicits the true emotions of the Christmas season.  There are very few stories like this of our generation.  It seems that writers and readers alike have forgotten that at the center of the Christmas messages is love.  Let's be totally honest,  the message may be lost because writers and perhaps their publishes, don't want to sound overly preachy.  In an effort to stay mainstream without getting too religious all the Christmas stories have become the same.  Sweet stories about the holiday season that are empty of a message.

Please stop reading this if you love to read holiday books that have no meaning behind it except to give the author and publisher a paycheck.  Is this a little harsh?  Perhaps but let's lay the formula of the quick, no meaning,  forgettable  holiday novel.  There are at least five elements that make this niche market nauseating.  Readers may find all of these elements in the book or at a minimum two.  Make no mistake, the publisher pushing the novels are trying to make extra holiday dough to add to the bottom line.

First,  there is  someone with a serious illness who is just about to die or has just recently died.  Mom has cancer.  Child has incurable disease that is so rare only 0.01% of the population will get it much less know of the disease.  Yes, this is to make sure that everyone realizes how precious each moment on earth is and that next Christmas we may not be around.   If VanLier's  The Christmas Shoes come to mind, well it should.  It actually is the winner for best of the worst tear jerker story about a dying mother and an adorable child at Christmas.  Seriously, these books are not good for the hypochondriac in the family or for the reader who wants a Christmas the tis merry.  Who wants to think about dying at Christmas?  Well, maybe the depressed reader who wants a little more misery to make their Christmas bluer. Other than that, no one.

Two,  poverty or hard times have just hit home.  Yes, this may seem a little hypocritical to complain about since mentioning   classic stories that deal specifically with poverty.  However, in some of  today's holiday novels the message seems hollow and insincere.  For example,   in Wright's  The Christmas Jars the message of sacrifice is lost. The novel is based on the tradition of putting money in a jar all year long and at the end of the year use the money to help someone who is in a bad situation.  Um, well it would be a great story if the author had not wrapped it into an unbelievable turn of events that leads the main character to find out about her birth mother from complete strangers.  It's a small world scenario that just doesn't add up to reality.  In fiction, suspend reality to enjoy the story, right?  Yes, do that and the book will be fine.

Three,  cute adorable dogs or cats who tug at the heartstring because they were lost but now found or they are on their last legs.  Kleenex time again!  Kincaid's  A Dog Named Christmas is claimed to be  the book to get for the dog lover in your list.  To be honest, it is a good book to give to someone who is not  a serious reader.  As a librarian, this book has been suggested to reluctant readers because of it's brevity and "brain candy" plot.  However,  Kincaid's story is not one to be given to a dog lover. Why?  Simple, what dog lover would love a story about  taking in a shelter dog for only the holiday season and returning it once the season is over.  Really? To be fair that is not how the story ends but the premise there is an animal shelter out there that would consider this as a way to take care of the animals is frightening.   There are so many other stories that are better written and the plots are not as contrived as this one.

Four,  the plot is so predictable that one would think they are reading a Harlequin romance.  Picture this: a lonely Amish widow who is in need of a nanny to help take care of his six uncontrollable but adorable children.  Does the reader really need to think hard on what's the ending of the book will be?  Nope.   Gray's  Snowfall: A Days of Redemption Christmas Novella follows the recipe for quick light romance right to the last page.   The only thing that makes it passable is that it is set at Christmas time and it is perfect for the Christmas niche market.  Was it mentioned this is a quick read?  Good thing because long  sappy stories can be draining.

Five,  build a story around a dysfunctional family that needs to be reminded of the true meaning of life, (otherwise known as the true meaning of Christmas).    Hildebrand's Winter Street has all of the family drama and more.  This is definitely one of the best worst holiday book for dysfunctional family that packs into its pages every storyline from  the history of soap operas.   Let's start with the checklist.  Cheating wife, check.  daughter who is unable to get boyfriend to commit, check.  First son is successful in business but by questionable means, check.  Second son, not as successful and fooling around with a French maid, check.  Youngest son can not be reached because he's in the army and his unit is in Afghanistan, check.  First wife comes in to make all things merry and bright, check.  Well at least by the end of the book the family finds happiness in the chaos.  How?  Who really knows because in soap operas they all live to see another day.

Now don't get discouraged.  Although the books listed here are the examples of why Christmas books may suck the holiday spirit right out of the reader.   There are many worthwhile reads for the holiday season.   Consider this the opportunity to look at the worst Christmas holiday reading season in order to find the great stories that are waiting to be discovered.   Are they out there?  Yes, Virginia there really are good holiday books that do not follow the cookie cutter formula but rather go on a path that is unique and unforgettable.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Books That Make A Librarian Thankful

It may be the holiday season that is fast approaching that is making this librarian a bit nostalgic.  After all Thanksgiving is meant for reflections on the blessings and bounty in life.   What could a librarian be thankful for?  Books!  Each and everyone of them. From the wordless books to the books that are over 1,000 pages long.  To the hardcover, paperbacks and  digitize  copies that constantly beckons to be read and sometimes re-read.   Every librarian will have their own particular favorite  titles that have stayed with them thought the years.  So on a personal note this holiday season, the following titles are among the ones that yours truly, Mrs. Nowc Librarian at Large is very thankful for.

First and foremost,  The True Story of the Three Little Pigs is the picture book that started it all in the way of becoming a Childrens' Librarian.  It is clever, funny and demonstrated that Children's book were meant to be shared not once but often.  How many times has this book been read during Mrs. Nowc's  story times over the years?  Too many times to count.  Each time there is the same results: laughter, giggles and demands for encores.   Thank you Mr. Jon Scieszka for this wonderful book and new perspective on an old tale!

At the age of twelve, yes twelve,  Dr. Zhivago was read for the first time. What a wonderful long tale that helped pass the time driving down to Florida.   Granted, Boris Pasternak's work was complex and much of the story's impact was missed the first time reading though it. The book was reread in junior year of high school and again in college.    Pasternak's work made such a  lasting impression  that it inspired the desire to learn more about Russian history, culture and language.  Perhaps it could be  said that  you can never forget your first novel.   As a side note, this book also proved that the movie is never the same as the book.   In most cases, the book is  better.

Finally,  The Alchemist is a book that turned out to be a delightful surprise. Recommended by a friend as a must read title  and became forever enamored with Santiago and his journey.    It reads like a folklore but speaks volumes about the desire to find a treasure that has been within reach the whole time. Ah, the romance of following one's heart never grows old.  Paulo Coelho's style and graceful storytelling lingers long after the last page has been read.  A huge and heartfelt thanks to the author Coelho for creating this masterpiece and the friend kept insisting that the book be read.

There are so many other books that life would have been so dull without them.  The key to discovering each wonderful writers and their stories has always been libraries.   So thankful for libraries.   That's it!  Libraries are what this librarian is very thankful for but then who isn't thankful for libraries?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Taking A Look At Christian Fiction

There a cycles and trends that repeat every couple of years or decades, especially in the publishing world.   However, now it seems that there are no cycles but just trends due to the wealth of self published and independent publishers that changing the way readers  discover new authors and titles.  This is especially true with Christian Fiction.  For years it has been considered a small niche in the publishing market, with Tyndale, Bethany House, Castle Gate Press,  and Zondervan providing the path for Christian Authors and readers to meet.  That's not the case any longer.   The big five publishers, HarperCollins as one example,  have stepped in and acquired the smaller Christian publishing companies in an attempt to get into the market.  Not a bad move considering the range of what Christian fiction covers.  Everything from spiritually lifting stories to romance without the hardcore erotica.  There is something for everyone.  In other words there is a bigger niche in which the publishers can explore and find a new audience.   Before discovering some of the newer titles that were published this year,  here are some older titles and veteran authors that may be of interest to readers.

Janette Oke is a veteran romance Christian author. Fans of this writer can honestly say they were readers  of Christian Fiction before Christian fiction was cool.  Most of her stories take place in the Western Frontier and Oke's series Canadian West is the perfect example of a strong heroine who adjusts to a new life in the Canadian Frontier and settling into the her new position as the school teacher.   Nestled in the series is a wonderfully written romance that flourishes between the heroine and aRoyal Canadian Mounted Police.  The title of the first book in the series is When Calls The Heart (Canadian West #1). 

The Circle Trilogy is an interesting tale woven by Ted Dekker that will take the reader's breath away.  First published in 2004,  this series brilliantly intertwines reality and dreams.  Once the reader is introduced to Thomas Hunter, they will never be able to forget the unlikely hero who maneuvers between two realities and conquers dangers, deceit and destruction.  It is in a word,  a thrill-ogy.  A must read for any reader interested in Christian Fiction.

Mark Bertrand's Roland March Mystery series fairly new but it has the feel of a ready made classic series.  The first in the series Back On Murder, was published in 2010 and Detective March is the type of character that everyone will root for just as they did for famous detectives like Columbo.  In the first book, readers find that Detective March is ready to retire, but the disappearance of a famous Houston Evangalist's teen daughter throws him into the middle of a crime investigation.  This is his chance to prove that he is one of Houston's finest.  Terrific writing filled with suspense and surprises.  Although this is Christian Fiction, it is not overly preachy, which makes it readable for those who want a good mystery without the sermon to go along with it.

For political thrillers, look no further than Joel C. Rosenburg's Dead Heat.    As the title suggests the story begins as a President nears the end of his term and two candidates are vying for his seat.   There is a death threat on the head of one of the candidates and the Secret Service must determine which candidate is the target of terrorist extremist in order to save the lives of millions.  This is an edge of your seat kind of book, not to mention one that can not be put down.

These three titles are especially good and demonstrate quite well the versatility of the genre.  This list is by no means complete.  There are so many authors whose talents have yet to be discussed  Having said that, next week's post will provide a peek at some new authors that have made Christian Fiction just as interesting and timely as those mentioned here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Celebrating the Heroes -- Books For Veteran's Day

It's hard to know how to celebrate Veteran's Day.  After all, how does one celebrate the fact that someone gave their life so that others could live in peace.  It's odd to say that one can not have peace unless battles are fought.  Any general will tell you that wars lead to peace or at least that is the hopeful outcome.  In our nation's history there have been plenty of war stories to share and plenty of Veterans to show appreciation to for the sacrifices they have made.  In honor of this day and for those who served our country valiantly, here are the top three books on our list that should make every reader humbled by the courage and sacrifices of heroes who sometimes are forgotten.

Laura Hillenbrand 's Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption is an inspiring story that is written so well that the reader forgets they are reading nonfiction.  It reads like a novel and is a beautiful tribute to a World War II hero,  Louis Zamperini.  He defied all odds of surviving a plane crash on the Pacific Ocean, which leaves the reader in awe of the human spirit and the will to survive anything.  Wonderfully told.  Never to be forgotten.  

Another story of World War II is told by historian Barbara W. Tuchman  The Guns of August   This is the book on World War II that is definitive and the best.  In rich narrative Ms. Tuchman details how the war began, who were the key characters and how the war could have been stopped but wasn't.  The tome is over 600 pages but well worth the time to read if someone is serious about learning the details of World War II. 

Veterans' of today's military are often overlooked as heroes.  In part because America has become a bit war weary.  In Black Hawk Down, written by Mark Bowden, readers are discover the true courage and brutality that are synonymous with battles.  In October of 1993,  one hundred US military men went into Somalia in hopes to capture two top Somali warlords.  A simple task which should have taken one hour but last through the night.  This narration is riveting, and readers will not be able to put the book way until the very last word is read.   This book is a valuable resource to modern war, which to some, gives an excellent starting point to understanding the  U.S Military of today. 

There are so many wonderful books written about the military, some uplifting others a scathing rebuke of military actions.  The debate will continue to go on about the good and evil of war, one thing is for certain.  In every battle there are heroes who deserve the recogniton and honor that comes along with being a hero.   To all the men and women who served our country, a heartfelt thank you for your dedication.  To the authors who wrote about their lives and battles, thanks to you as well.  Without your talent, readers would never get to know these men and women.   


Monday, November 3, 2014

Poliotical Books: The Race is On!

Tomorrow is election day.  As advocates of  all types of libraries, this day is very important because nothing is more democratic then the right the vote.  Take for granted that precious right, you might as well start taking away other democratic institutions. Such as libraries and public schools.   Corny? Not really when considering America is the first experiment in the idea of a Republic and has been held up as a model of freedom and  democracy.  Since our society is set up with freedom of speech as well, it is with amusement that to watch publishers fall over themselves trying to get the right author who will someday become President of the United States.  This is no joke.  This is why most politicians gladly and negotiate for an advancement on a book that is yet to be penned.  All in hopes that their ideas catch on and they become the next rising star in the political arena.  For the 2016  Presidential Race, it seems that everyone is throwing their books into the ring.  None of these candidates have officially announced their intent to run, but from the sounds of their tomes, chances are they are flirting with the idea.  Unless you are a political pundit who writes political/current events books for a living, the only other reason to write is to get noticed for higher political office.

So let the race begin in the political publishing arena to see who will come out as the front runner in both parties.   Hillary Clinton is sure to make a stab at it yet again.   Clinton's latest book Hard Choices is a very dry book.  Difficult to get through mostly because it didn't reveal anything new about her time as Secretary of State.   Her other book, Living History (2003) is much better.  Perhaps it is because it is a little more personal and the reader gets a rare glimpse into the First Lady's life.
Andrew Cuomo's resume is impressive to say the least.   Coming from a political family, much like the Kennedys, Governor Cuomo has followed his father's footsteps upon his election as Governor of New York.  In October of this year,  Cuomo's book All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and  Life is the typical comeback kid type memoir.  His book details the lesson learned and wisdom gained through his political career, which includes  New York Attorney General, United States Secretary of HUD and currently as New York Governor.  It is inspiring but the reader comes away thinking that much of the success and failures came with the recognition of the name.  Sometimes in politics, that is the biggest foot in the door.

A Fighting Chance does not detail Elizabeth Warren's ambition to run for President this time around.  It may be that she is waiting for Hillary to decide whether she is indeed running or that she is not interested in trying for the higher office.  This book does demonstrates the situations and ideas that shaped her life and passion.  In the first portion of the book Warren details how her family faced financial setbacks that ultimately formed her view of capitalism.  It is not pretty.   If readers are more inclined to follow a progressive ideology they will enjoy the book from cover to cover.  However regardless what side of the isle the reader is on, the mere fact that this woman, who hails from Oklahoma City to win the Massachusetts Senate Seat in 2012 is amazing.  Readers will come away from this book thinking that if Ms. Warren doesn't run in 2016 she probably will in 2020.

From the GOP side there are just as many contenders as there are on the DNC side.
Again none of the authors have come out stating they are definitely running only hinting that the possibilities are being explored.  This keeps the rumor mills  flowing so publishers are eager to get these books published as well.  One of the most interesting title of the bunch is  Allen West's Guardian of the Republic.  Again, we see the portrait of a person who has come from humble beginnings to become a successful leader in the U.S. Army,  U.S. Congress and a strong unapologetic voice in conservative politics.   He does not compromise on his  core beliefs and makes the case that these values that have been the backbone of the U.S. Constitution are under attack today.    This is not West's first book but it is the first in which he is considered to be a Presidential hopeful. 

There is a definite media buzz surrounding newcomer, Dr. Ben Carson because he dared to speak against President Obama's policy at the 2013 National  Prayer Breakfast. If the reader does not already know this name.  He is a conservative, well known pediatric brain surgeon who happens to be African American.  Like Allen he comes from very humble home to became successful in medicine.  Carson is  an overnight sensation in the political arena because of  his famed speech, mentioned earlier,  in which President Obama was just a mere feet away, as the good doctor tore apart Obamacare.   Earlier this year,  Sentinel HC  published One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America's Future,  which is  Carson take on what has is holding America back from continuing on as a great country.  Everything from Obamacare to political correctness and personal accountability.  It is filled with inspirations from his own life and well as biblical passages.  Will he be accepted as a Republican Presidential Candidate?   Dr. Carson is certainly testing the waters with this book but also with the website:

Governor Jeb Bush's name has been bandied about as a front runner for the Republicans but the acceptance for his eventual Presidential run seems very lackluster.  It can be due to the fact the name Bush has run it's course.  It could also be due to the fact that the book he co-authored in 2013 on immigration has not helped him at all.  Immigration Wars is an attempted to shed light on possible solutions for a very controversial topic.  Bush's stance on immigration policy has caused some angry ripples within his own party.  The book itself is well written but it struggles to make a definite case for immigration reform that is both enforceable and based on realistic situations.   It will be interesting to see if the Governor wins the GOP nomination.  If he does, it won't be because this book helped him achieve his goal.  It will be mostly due to his name recognition.

Rick Santorum is no stranger to the craziness of campaign races, both as a Senator and a Presidential hopeful. His latest work entitled Blue Collar Conservative is an attempt to reach out to the Republican Party to remind them that the true base of the party are the middle class conservatives who have lost faith that neither of the parties worth supporting.  Santorum lays out a plan that could help the Republican party regain the trust of voters and ultimately win elections, especially the Presidential elections.  This book may have been published during the midterm cycles, but it seems to be intended for the 2016 Presidential cycle.  If Senator  Santorum does not run again in 2016  it will be surprising. 
  It could very well be that none of the names mentioned here will win the nomination for either party.  Time will be the judge as to which author runs and wins in 2016.  In the meantime, enjoy the books and by all means go vote.  Especially if your city has a library mileage on the ballot.  Vote to support your local library!  (The only political bias readers will find on this blog!)

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 


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!