Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Christmas Wish List for Book Lovers!

There are many lists that are made in life.  Grocery lists.  Gift lists.  To do lists.  Wish lists.   For every book lover there is a to read list.  To be quite honest, for serious readers the list is never ending and there is always the need to keep adding more titles.  There is rarely a moment when a title is taken off because eventually there will be time to read each and every title.   This is precisely why every librarian understands the Christmas wish of book lovers.

Christmas wish number one:  More hours in the day to read.  If only for one day, perhaps Santa could magically make the day longer.   More daylight to finish a book and then begin another.  Where the stories flow and the pages turn.

Christmas wish number two: Every Christmas Present is a Book.  Who wouldn't want to open twenty presents each one with a book.  It doesn't matter if it's a classic or a new mystery novel.  They will all be wonderful in their own way.  Of course,  gift cards to book stores are just as nice.

Christmas wish number three:  Endless Cups of Coffee/Tea.  Does a book lover really want to get up to fix another cup of coffee or tea.  No!  It would be magically wonderful if the cup just kept refilling as the pages keep turning.

Christmas wish number four :   Book Tote Bags That Are Built Like Tardis.  Place as many books as you like in this tote bag because you can never be too prepared for how many books you may want to bring home from the library.  Of course, the bag would never be heavy and easy to carry.   What is a Tardis?   Find a Dr.Who book and find out.  Here's a hint:  It's bigger on the inside than on the outside.

Last but not least Christmas Wish Number five: Never Ever Read An Awful Book.    There are so many wonderful writers but unfortunately there are a few stinkers out there.  In the perfect book lover's world there are no awful books.  Every book is perfect. Not only that every story begins and ends pertly.  That is a wonderful dream to behold.

Christmas Wishes are meant to be fulfilled, if not this year perhaps for the years to come.   Book lover's everywhere dare to make your Christmas wishes and dare to believe they will come true someday.   Lastly, never ever give up your love of reading!  

Monday, November 9, 2015

Books Celebrating the Heroes of War

 Since Vietnam, there seems to have been a negative trend of not honoring military heroes and wars.  To be perfectly honest,  war is brutal.  It is horrific. Yet, this is not the fault of the veterans. They are simply men and women who served, doing the best that they can in the situation they find themselves.  More often than not, the details in books and movies simply do not do justice to the realities they face.     Most veterans returning home rarely want to share what they experienced because of the trauma.  Having said that,  sometimes war is a necessary evil.  When there are men like Hitler,  Mao and Lenin who have destroyed lives for their own political gains something must be done to stop them.   During these harrowing times,  there are stories that come forth to show the power of the human spirit to overcome darkness that sheds light on good men and women.    The stories give us hope that no matter how bad life is at the moment,  the sacrifice and suffering of today may lead to a better tomorrow.

One such story that captures good overcoming evil is Col. Larry Guarino's   A P.O.W.'s Story: 2801 Days in Hanoi  This is a story of inspirational hope against all odds. Guarino's fellow prison mates at the Hanoi Hilton, as it was affectionally became known as, were inspired by his messages that he transmitted through the floors in morse code.   Not only that, but during his time in Hanoi, he never lost his hope or humor.     This may be what saved him and his prison mates. As the reader turns the pages, questions of how this man withstood the torture keeps recurring in the mind. A harder question to answer,  would the reader be able to endure such horror?   A must read.

In 2006,  Bill Sloan reintroduced readers to  the mostly forgotten battle in World War II.  In Brotherhood of Heroes : The marines at Peleliu, 1944 -- The bloodiest Battle  of the Pacific War    Sloan interviewed the veterans of Peleliu , enabling him to pull together the story, or rather the nightmare that these men experienced between September 15 and October 15, 1944.   One of the most accurate description of combat that does not gloss over the emotions of what it means to fight for one's country and one's life.   By the end of this book, the reader will not be able to help but have a deeper appreciation and respect for the men and women who wear the Marine uniform.

Mitchell Zuckoff is not a novice when it comes to gripping, harrowing  stories of military bravery.  His book Lost in Shangri-La  prepared him to tell the story of the brave men of the Untied States Coast Guard who  braved the vast Arctic wilderness to attempt a daring rescue.   Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II  recounts the story of a US cargo plane that crashed into the Greenland Ice Cap on November 5, 1942.  During the first rescue of the survirs a Grumman Duck amphibious plane flew into a storm and vanished.   Normally a book such as this would end with how the survivors have gone on with their lives..  Not this one.  Bringing readers to the present day,   Zuckoff details  the efforts of  the Coast Guard and North South Polar solve the mystery of what happened  tot he Duck's last flight and recover the remains of the crew.   Were they successful?  Pick up the book and find out.

These are just three very well written books that vividly retell the story of heroism, sacrifice and sense of honor.  Without a doubt, these books will make an impact on how a reader views the military and it's contribution to history.  For better or for worse, the men and women who have defended our country against all odds deserve gratitude and respect.  It goes without saying that a special acknowledgement of gratitude to the authors who have shared the stories so well. 

Veteran's Day  is on November 11th.  There are so many more stories to share, thankfully it is early in the week.  Needless to say, there will be more to come. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Death of A Library

There are times when it is better to say nothing and decide that there are better battles to fight.  This is not one of those times.  This is the time to actually say what needs to be said and let the battle begin.  It has become quite evident common sense is no longer common, in particular  when it comes to libraries and library closing.  Another way to describe it, a death of a library.    It's not pretty.  Not by a long shot and yet in the year 2015 when our "culture" has become better educated,  creative with new technology and willing to adapt to the changes that come, there are too many stories of library either crumbling or closing the doors for good.  Why?  What purpose does this satisfy?

Since 2010, there has been a steady stream of library closings due to budget cuts.  Most of the libraries were in cities that economic times had hit the hardest.  Sadly, what can be said if the financial support in a community dries up.  Even sadder is when that happens the soul of the community dries up along with it.  Yes, the library is the heart and soul of a community.  It is what keeps a community stable and growing.  In 2010,  OCLC produced a publication entitled "Perceptions of the Library."  During the Great Recession it was found that more citizens sought to change their lives by returning to school.   Community Colleges across the country witnessed an increase in student enrollment, and it was not only 18-23 year olds who sought to increase their knowledge and skill base,  students in their late 40's were returning to class to update skills in hopes of landing a better job or begin a second career.   Libraries witnessed an increase in usage as well.  As history has always shown us,  libraries play a critical role in communities  during down economic times.  So again, why close the doors to a service that is needed?

It is a bit of an oxymoron  for leaders to say that communities cannot afford a library because of the cost but in the same breath announce that they are all for educated society.  If education is high on their list, then asking for financial support to keep libraries open would not be a discussion.  Rather the shift in the discussion would be to find ways to keep the doors open.  Sadly more often than not the discussions are closed and decisions have been made.  Doors are shut.  Citizens begin to wonder why the community is on it's last legs.   It's not an exaggeration to point out that the absence of libraries leave a void in the community that can not be filled or replaced.

A death of a library begins with a drop in property tax base.  Next are the budget cuts which leads to fewer new books, databases,  computers and more importantly staff.   One can imagine the next step of desperate fundraising events and awareness to save the library.   When the  financial fundraising dries up as well, it is only a matter of time before officials begin to put a timeline together for when books, shelves, circulation desks, and all of the libraries assets are to be sold or consolidated into other departments.  Sometimes, as in the case of a county library which served as the backup for local municipalities, the death is harder to take.  Not only is the library dismissed by the community but also by surrounding libraries who find it economical to be independent.   In either case, the saddest moment is when the doors are closed forever.  

Yes, the sound of libraries doors closing is quite similar to hearing a coffin closing.  It is hollow.  It echoes in the mind.  It is final.   This can not continue.    Libraries are worth saving, each and every one of them.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

When Horror and Humor Collide

One of perks of working in a library,  is exploring genres that otherwise would never make it on a personal reading list.  What would a genre be called if horror and humor collided?   Harmedy?  Hormor?  Definition:  When a book that is gross yet tickles the funny bone at the same time.    Well, maybe the name isn't so great but here are three suggestions for readers who are in the mood for something frightfully funny.

John Dies At the End is a twisted tale by David Wong aka Jason Pargin.  A reader might think, why read this book when the title gives away the ending?  Or does it?   The novel's origin began as a web series and eventually came to be published into one book.  Readers into alternate realities mixed in with drug hallucinations, strange adventures and murders, this book is definitely needs to be on the reading lists.

Zombies can be a comedic relief in an otherwise boring horror story.  Here is a suggestion for those who love really bad B-movies from the 70's and 80's.  Gil’s All Fright Diner, by A. Lee Martinez, is one of the grossest but funny books to ever get check-out of  a library.  More details, you say?    Think of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure caught in a zombie attack while looking for a place to grab a bite on their way to an alternate universe.  Yes, it is totally unbelievable. Yes it's a guilty pleasure but it's okay.  Everyone needs one or two guilty pleasures in their lives.

If Twilight was not your idea of vampires and Dracula seems a bit outdated, Andrew Fox has got the perfect character for readers wanting a vampire they can relate to and quite possibly befriend    Fat White Vampire Blues,  introduces readers to an anti-Edward.  This 400-pound vampire lives in New Orleans and became obese feeding off of his victims who had one too many meals lathered in butter.   With good feasts like this to chew on day in and day out, who can blame him wanting to protect his turf from a younger and healthier vampire.   From the first page Fox's charm and wit will entertain and delight readers.

This genre is so often overlooked because it can not be taken seriously.  But then again, are B-Movies  ever taken seriously?   No.  It is meant to entertain with the outlandish plots and background allows the readers to say" Yeah, this will never happen but who cares!"    Laugh! Enjoy! Above all, share with other readers who take life and perhaps death a little too seriously.  Life is too short not to laugh.  So read often.  Laugh often.  Above all,  scare yourself silly once awhile.  It's good for the reader's soul.  Not to mention it can break up the "same old thing" routine in reading.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fall Haunted Tales For Book Nerds Who Don't Like Horror

   As the scariest holiday draws closer there is nothing better than getting cozy on the couch with a warm blanket,  good bone chilling  book and warm cider to sooth the nerves. It's a perfect combination.  Don't think so?  Here's a thought to ponder,  if a reader does not explore outside their favorite genre, then there is no place to "grow" into reading adulthood.   Literature can not be truly appreciated until a reader has read each genre, and format, including plays and poems.  That is for another post.  For the moment the genre is horror.  More precisely, books that can scare the reader into begging for more and never be forgotten.  For those who do not appreciate horror books, and it's not because scaring  easily is a concern, here are a few suggestions to lure readers into stories that rattle the mind and sets the heart pounds just a few beats faster.

Going old school, as in Victorian gothic novels, is the best way to get a quick introduction into the genre.   Dracula comes to mind, Stoker's masterful and horrifying tale that grips the readers by the throat and does not let go.  The darkness, the foreboding and unsettling gut feeling that something is not right,  makes the readers sit on the edge of their seats and wishing they had eyes in the back of their heads to be ever ready in case they are attacked.  A knife, cross and garlic ready at hand will  suffice.  This is a tale that is always good to reread.  Bram Stoker's great-grandnephew wrote the official sequel Dracula the Undead.  Sadly, it never lived up to the original but then again, it would be very difficult to recapture the magical horror that is known as Dracula.  Reader's who don't typically like horror novels will often find that Victorian Gothic and American Gothic are just right.  Not too gory but plenty of fright for the imaginative mind.

No horror title selection would be complete without a haunted house or two.  In the late 1970's the fiction/nonfiction title Amityville Horror was the book that everyone had on their nightstand.  The author, Jay Anson,  swore that the tale was based on actual events.  It was later discovered that   some of the details in the book were embellished in order to make the book "marketable".  Either way, this book will make every reader think twice about purchasing a new home.  Questions to ask before buying might be:  Was anyone murdered here?  Seems like a silly question but after this tale that question should top the list for potential homebuyers and realtors as well.  What is scariest is that it is not haunted by one ghost but a multitude of ghosts.   The exorcist  is a nice touch as well.

If going back to the 1970's for a haunted house story seems a bit "old school".   A more recent title published in 2003 will bring readers to the present day.    Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves is about a house that is bigger on the inside than on the outside.  There is something strange yet inviting about this tale.  It is a simple tale of a dream house that turns literally into a hellish nightmare.  Imagine  two little children wandered off  to explore their new home.  Then picture horrified  parents as they hear their children's voices eerily begin to detail another reality of  a dark abyss behind a closet door, and of an unholy growl that is heard behind the walls, ready at any moment to tear through to destroy their dreams, their lives.   Intrigued?  Scared?   That is the author's intent.  Scare the reader just enough that they will stay with the story because each page is just as intriguing as the first.

Ronald Malfi's Little Girls is an eerie ghost story that comes complete with a distant cold father,  a forbidden room and a young woman who returns to her childhood finding incidents unsettling and memories reawaken.   Malfi expertly keeps the reader on the edge of their seats, wondering what will happen next.   The novel earned Malfi a nomination for the Bram Stoker Award.  Award or no award, this book is sure to become a creepy favorite.

There are a many fascinating and talented authors that know how rock the reader's safe and comfortable reality and take through a unimagined world of horror.   As stated before, it is a good thing to change up genre's once in a while.  Next up for October blog,  what happens horror and humor collide?  Hint:  Grossly funny.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Big Lesssons From a Samll Town Is Pure Michigan

There are a ton of self-help/how to be successful books published yearly.  In the United States the self-help industry rakes in about $10 billion per year.  That's a lot of folks looking for advice on how to live a successful life.   One would think that adding another title to the bookshelf would make for a very crowded shelf.  Michigan  State Attorney General  Bill Schuette's book Big Lessons From A Small Town is worthy making room for on the bookshelf. 

In a down-to-earth style,  that can be compared to sitting down with a friend over a cup of coffee,  Mr. Schuette shares with his readers his views on life, success and family.  Don't be fooled into believing that this book is all about politics and campaigns due to the author's current position in the State of Michigan.   Schuette effectively weaves in anecdotes from sports, his hometown of Midland, and family. It is a quick read with just enough of  a"jolt of encouragement" that readers of all walks of life can relate to and learn from. There is no doubt about the author's pride in his home state,  Michigan and his hometown.  Michigan may not be in the title of the book, but it is front and center in each chapter.   The readers, whether native Michiganders or not, are introduced to the warmth of the Midland community and the uniqueness of this beautiful state. 

Normally speaking about the price of a book is not a consideration on whether to read or not read a book.  Checking out books for a library will definitely save a few dollars rather then purchasing.  However, in this case,  the cover price is $ 17.95, and is well worth the individual investment to own a personal copy.  This book is not a "one-time" read.  Schuette's lessons are timeless and will offer a jolt of encouragement anytime it is read or re-read.  At the very least, it is definitely a book to share with friends over a cup of coffee.

Monday, October 12, 2015

In 1492 Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue... Let's Celebrate!

 There are many occasions to celebrate in October.  There's Sweetest Days and Halloween of course.     Neither of these holidays inspire parades.  In New York,  Chicago and for many Italian communities around the country,  Columbus Day is the perfect time to have a parade.  For the Italian American community this fellow countryman is a symbol of  the Italian roots in the Americas.  Sadly, in recent years,  Christopher Columbus has gotten a bad rap.  Mostly for political reasons, there are educators and others who call Columbus a racist because he owned slaves.   Thus, trying to smear Columbus' place in history.   This is a disservice to youngsters who should learn all of  America's rich stories.

The first opportunity to introduce Christopher Columbus is with Marion Dane Bauer's book simply titled Christopher Columbus, which is part of the My First Biography series.  With simple text and illustrations,  Bauer retells Columbus' story.  Children will learn the basic facts of Columbus success and failures in his quest to complete his voyage.  

For the older elementary school aged child,  Jean Fritz's book on history and historic figures are wonderful.  Her work,  Where Do You Think You're Going, Christopher Columbus?  is one of her best.   The author portrays Columbus a  stubborn yet visionary navigator.   The question in the title reminds the reader that Columbus was convinced that he could reach the Indies and bring back riches to Spain.  Although he was not successful in finding the Indies, he did find the New World.   Another good title is Who Was Christopher Columbus? written by Bonnie Bader of  the Who Is? series.   The chapters are short with black and white illustrations which add to the theme of the chapter.   What is especially helpful with this book is the timeline of Christopher Columbus' life along side the timeline of World history provided at the back of the book.  It is a tool that is helpful for the reader to understand how Christopher Columbus' achievements impacted world history.

For the skeptics who believe that teaching about Columbus is a waste of time Perhaps even going as far as suggesting that the holiday be removed from the American calendar.  Here is something to consider.  First, if were not for Columbus discovery of the New World,  American history would have been different.  Secondly, to label Columbus a racist because he owned slaves is a fact based on emotions.  In the 1400's, the views of humanity were different than what is believed today. Were they wrong to  believe that blacks should be slave?  Yes just as  they were also wrong about  the world being  flat and that the Sun circled the Earth.  It was the "theory" of their times.   Thirdly,  what students can learn from Columbus is that he was a man who steadfastly stuck to his belief that he could find the Indies. Granted his journey was not successful in the way that he had hoped but it is still something to celebrate in the history books.   Last but not least, men and women of historical fame were human.  They made mistakes.  Their mistakes should not take away from what their accomplishments.

Yes, let's celebrate Columbus Day with story times, rhymes, books and crafts.  Children deserve to be taught history in a manner that places facts above biased feelings and opinions.  America owes a debt of gratitude to the man who navigated his ships across the ocean to find a new passage to the Indies.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Reverse Psychology and Banned Books Week

All librarians, and educators as well, want to see children read with as much enthusiasm as they have when playing video games, watching sports and spending time with their friends.   Reading is good for them.   That is not an opinion, it's a fact.  However, ever teens will comment that they don't have time to read or that it's boring.  Yes, it is sometimes tedious when turning to the page and reading from left to right  Isn't it just as  tedious as pushing a bottom continuously trying to make Mario and Luigi get out of Level 4, only to "miss the jump"  again and have to go through the same receptive scenes until there is success.  Success that is to  Level 5 and it is a bit harder trying to save the Princess.  Poor Princess, she keeps waiting to be saved.   What if educators told kids they couldn't  read. They were not allowed  to read.  What would be the impact?

Let's take a look at Banned Books Week as a way to entice children to read. After all it is meant to grab the attention of readers and lure them into reading one of the "banned" books.   The American Library Association have taken the idea a bit too dramatic.  With statements and posts suggesting that children were not allowed to read Where The Wild Things Are or Wizard of Oz because of dark content or other such nonsense. It's a bit of an exaggeration, isn't?    These titles were never banned nationwide.  Only in  a few isolated areas.  This country has never had censorship written into law.   Publishers have set their own standards when it comes to what they will or will not publish.  For example,   vulgar language will not appear in picture books for children.    That is a consensus that the publishers have generally adopted.  There are no American laws which state specifically what an or can not be published.    That is why freedom of speech is protected under the Bill of Rights.   There has been banning of books in other countries and culture, and that is a topic that is worth discussing at another time.   It is difficult  to see how teens, and adults of that matter, are buying into the concept of Banned Books Weeks.  There  needs to be another angle to approach this topic to make it effective.

Back to the question posed previously, what would be the impact if a teen or adult were told they could not read?  Would they demand the book?  Would they demand to read?  This was an experiment that was done on a small scale to teen boys in a private high school many years ago.  Granted it was on a very small scale with only four boys participating, but it proved an important point.  The boys were told that all books were off limit to them.  One title in particular they could not "handle" was , One Who Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.  That title was deemed inappropriate by the library staff and therefore would not be available.  One of the boys, said nothing accepted the ruling.  The other three boys demanded answers.  Why couldn't they read the book?  What was in it that was so  bad?  Couldn't they determine for themselves what was good or bad?  None of the answers from the Library Staff appeased them.   This went on for a day or two until one of the boys walked into the library and proudly sat himself in one of the comfortable chairs and opened, in plain sight for everyone to see, One Who Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.    His friends joined him.  They thought they had pulled off the biggest stunt ever.  Well, what was the library staff to do?  Applaud them for sticking to their guns and going against authority. Applaud them for finding other ways to gain the knowledge that was denied them.   Obviously this is the silliest ban in the history of the school and perhaps, the universe, but it proved a point.  Tell a teen  they can't do something and watch them bend the rules to do exactly what they were told they could not do.

Banned Books Week should take this approach with teens.  Don't bore teens (and adults) with minor little incidents where books were challenged.  Turn it into a reverse psychology game and tell them they can't read this book because  (insert a unique excuse here.)   Perhaps this will generate a positive reaction from readers young and old.  It may even get a few nonreaders to read one book this year.    It just might drive home the point of banned books in a different light.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Are You Up For The Tech Out Challenge?

Finish this sentence with the first thought that pops into your mind:  "You know you're living in a digital world when...."   Easy right?  It is not hard to come up with examples of how a digital world has changed life for the better or worse.  What is difficult is trying to come up with examples of if going back to the old ways would be better?   That is if the "old" ways can be remembered.  Let's be honest when social media posts up meme of old telephones, washboards or card catalogs and asks the question, "how many remember what this is?" ,  the first impulse is to blurt out what it is.  The second impulse is to remember how far back that object dates.  Ten, twenty or fifty years?  It doesn't seem that long ago dail-up modems were the only way to travel on the information highway.  Yet,  in 2015 the thought of having to wait a minute for a page to upload seems like FOREVER.   Is this an exaggeration?  Perhaps but there is truth in the statement.   There is also truth in that libraries, for better or for worse, have fallen in the trap of keeping up with technology.  What is being lost is the art of communication.  That's where the digital world has created the most havoc.

Due to the increase usage of the Internet,  social groups that once would meet face to face, now just "meet" and "converse" online.  What is even more irritating are the responses in happy faces or cartoons that express the emotions of the moment or reaction to what has been said.  Is this the slippery slope of trending away from reading, writing or speaking?  This may sound like someone ranting over something trivial but it has been the experience that these small changes in culture tend to have an impact on what technology will come  up with tomorrow.  Ah, the simpler days are gone, or are they?  Perhaps there is a way to recapture the experience of unplugging and recapturing the simple art of communication.   For a back-to-school/get-to -know-your-peers activities here are some ideas that can be effective in opening the door to communicating the old fashioned way.   It might just make the entire school year better as well.  Most importantly it will get students and parents to understand the huge role that technology plays in daily routines.

Some may call this idea similar to going cold turkey.  Others may call it going off the grid.   The best title to give this exercise is Tech Out Challenge.  In other words, how long can students do without their social media gadgets?  Give each student a manila envelope. Have them write on the outside of the envelope the date and time that they have last used the device.    Instruct them to place their phone in the envelope and seal it.  Once they do this, they are to place the device in a safe place and not retrieve it for three days.  In the event that the student "feels" the need to use their phone, they may retrieve the manilla envelope and rip it open.  At that time they will record the date and time they opened the envelope and the reason for retrieving the device.   Regardless of when a student opens his/her envelope,  all students will participate in a group discussion where the topic will be how well or badly the students did during Tech Out.  Some of the questions to consider asking:

How did you feel about not having your phone with you 24/7?

What did you enjoy the most during  this time?

What did you miss the most during this time?

Would you ever participate in a Tech Out Challenge again?

How has this changed your view about technology?

Remind the students that there are no right or wrong answers to these questions.  The best part of this program is to see how surprised students are out their findings.    It is amazing to see the reactions of teens when they find they can live without technology and still be connected with their social and family groups.

As for the adults who choose to participate alongside their younger counterpart, they too may find something interesting about themselves and technology.  One of the major drawbacks to technology is that it brings with it more distractions.   Has someone called?  Who's online ?  Was there an email missed?  Now bring all these distractions into a learning environment like a school or library.  Is it any wonder that students haven't become stark mad raving lunatics.    This type of constant fight for the students' attention can only lead to more stress and distraction  Not to mention, a loss of social skills.

Consider this an invitation to try this challenge at home, work, library teen programs  or church group.  As life gets more hectic, it is better to take a step back and unplug.  It may be the only way to connect with the real world again.  Or in the case of students,  the opportunity to connect in the "real" world.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Top Ten Books For College Bound ... and Beyond.

School is just about to start again.  The sounds of eager students who want nothing more than to get back into a normal routine can be heard in every neighborhood, city and state across this great nation.  Not.  Well, maybe some are eager to get back to school but for others not so much.   This is also the time of year that the questions come up, what books should a college prep student should read or should have read by now?  Love that question for a million reasons, but for the sake of time and space,  only one will be given here.  Asking this question  proves that books challenges the reader to consider another point of view.   It doesn't mean the reader will necessarily agree to the point of view.   It will however open their eyes that there are more than one viewpoint to every situation.  The reader's job is simply to consider the one presented before them.  Having said that,  these titles should be read by every student.  Not just the ones who will continue their academic endeavors after high school.

Everyone has a "'top ten" list of books students should read before college.  Each has its own unique twist and view of what makes good literature.  The list presented here is a mix of traditional and modern titles.  After all, the classics can not be ignored and a list containing only classical works is quite easy to do.  There are so many titles to choose from.  Having said that the modern titles are a little harder, some have been tested over time while others may not have passed the time test, it is  very likely that fifty years from now,  readers will still want to pour over the pages to find out what happens next.  Or at least be reminded of what happened next.

When suggesting a list of must reads for college bound students, it is important to provide a list that covers a wide range of ideas, cultures and points of view.  The following top ten list are titles that have left a lasting impression on readers of all ages.  The titles are timeless and they remain on librarian's must read list for years.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is without a doubt a classic example of  wit, wisdom and romantic story that even men can enjoy.  If reader's have not been introduced to Mr. Darcy, then life simple pleasures like laughter and love can not be experienced fully.

Everyone should know of William Shakespeare's Hamlet.  Plays are often difficult to read but this one is well worth it. If reading old English seems daunting by all means pick up one of the Everyday Shakespeare's paperback to help gain a better understanding of the plot.   The death of Hamlet's father brings to surface the lies,  greed and insecurities of each character in the play.  Specifically Hamlet who is determined to uncover the truth about his father's death.

There are two Russian novels that should not be overlooked but often are left off of lists similar to this.  Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago.  One of the best kept secrets of Russian literature which gives a realistic picture  of the Bolshevik Revolution from the point of view of a middle class doctor.  Another stunning view of Russian history from Stalin's gulag is A Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  Both of these novels provide an unforgettable glimpse of life in Communist Russia.

Staying on the theme of gulags and prison camps, which admittedly is very depressing, but necessary to read about.  Two books come to mind that should not be missed.  Ellie Wiesel's  Night is a tragically unforgettable account of life in the Nazi Germany's concentration camps.  Along side that another book that should be read is The Boy In The Stripped Pyjamas by John Boyne.  Both of these books are life changing reads.  That is not an overstatement either. Both books are that powerful!

Harper Lee's time-tested To Kill A Mockingbird introduced readers to a small town that is turned upside down due to a high profile  murder trial.  Mix into that, a bit of racism and standing up for what is right makes the story one of the best in American literature. Frankly, one of the few stories that show lawyers in a positive light.  Atticus Fitch is the lawyer that every person would want to have on their side should trouble come their way.

The list would be dull without Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  The scary vision of what a world would be like if every moment, thought and breath were controlled by a government.  Scary yet eye opening   What is most powerful about this work is that it stirs up passionate debate about how far a government should or could go.

The Alchemist is a new classic favorite written by Paulo Coehlo.  that should be on every reader's list.  It is a wonderful story of a journey to find one's purpose in life.  This is definitely a book to read over and over again.

Autobiographies rarely make the list of must reads most likely because they are not fiction thus not classified as classic literature. However, this list attempts to change the definition slightly of classic literature to include this genre.  One of the most inspiring and well written biography  is The Story of My Life by Helen Keller.  After reading Keller's life story there is simply no excuse for not going out and conquering the world.  After reading this, one can only conclude  that if Helen can make a difference, we all can make a difference.

This is just a small list of the best of the best in literature.  As the school year goes on,  more titles will be suggested but for now,  one of these ten titles should be enough to get started on a literary path to a well rounded reader's life.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Much Needed Victory for School Libraries: Senate Bill 1177

Every parent, student and teacher should be outraged if their school does not have a library.  Instead, there is a sense of  inevitability about the situation.  Well, we  all knew it was going to happen sooner or later, right?   That shouldn't be the case.   Unless people prefer WebMd to getting their medical diagnosis over getting the right information from a doctor.   Then by all means accept the inevitable and be prepared for a dumbed down school program.  A bit dramatic?  Perhaps but none the less true.

Studies after studies have proven that schools who have an established library program to assist students in their academic endeavors excel in their educational goals.  Students read more.  Comprehend their assignments easily and have better critical thinking skills then their peers who have no to libraries.   With so many studies making the critical case that libraries are needed then why are so many schools opting out of the library programs?   Why are there so many school librarians reassigned to the classrooms as aides?   It's mind blowing.  Yet there is a small glimmer of hope for school libraries and the students who need them.

On  July 8 the US Senate unanimously passed legislation  (Senate Bill 1177) to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/NCLB to include support for school library programs.    School districts are authorized to develop effective programs using certified school librarians at its core.   This is important because it is the first step in recognizing what the studies have been showing all along.  Librarians and libraries are valuable tools to have at students' disposal as they grow and learn.    It goes without saying that a huge applaud and pat on the back is due to the two senators who cosponsored the amendment Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) .

While this is a huge leap in the right directions for schools and their libraries, there is still much to do to reclaim this vanishing education gem before they are all gone.  Quite frankly, it is imperative that anyone who has a stake in the education of children  should speak up and ask Congress to follow the Senate's lead.   This means that parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators and even students themselves should contact their local Congressional representative to ask for their support.  Consider this, if children are failing in schools, the community fails as well.   School libraries are important to the educational growth of each child.  To say that it weakens the educational outcomes is not an exaggeration, it's a fact.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Kate DiCamilo's Flora and Ulysses Are Hopeful Heroes

Kate DiCamillo is one of a kind storyteller.  If you have not yet read this author's books,  then it is either because you're not an avid reader or you live under a rock.  In either case, it is definitely a crying shame not have been touched by her stories.   As the Summer Reading programs progress, it is appropriate to mention the author who has been chosen as the 2015 National Summer Reading  Champion.  It's an inspired choice.

There are stories that stay with a reader long after they are read.  This is only true of stories that are well written.  Ms. DiCamillo has managed to create these stories not once but several times over.  Do the titles, Because of Winn Dixie or  The Tale of Despereaux ring a bell?  They should.  Not only because they were fabulous books but because they were made into blockbuster movies as well.  Her soft and soul stirring style in these stories contain a mix of magic and wonderment of what if's that truly belong in the world of children's stories and dreams.   The stories are timeless.  Her characters in spire readers to look beyond what they know and find a new reality  where a lonely girl finds a furry best friend in a grocery store,  a simple mouse can defend a princess,  a beloved toy find his way home again and a superhero squirrel can save the day.   Timeless, yes and special as well.

DiCamillo's latest book, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures  is another exceptional tale that brightens the children's literature bookshelves.   It fits in with the theme, "Every hero has a story" and what a story she shares about Flora and Ulysses.  It is well worth the time to read.  Especially, out loud.  The reader and audience will enjoy the story that flows from the pages, dances softly in the air and drifts directly into the heart.    The cast of characters are quirky, lovable and strange but in a normal kind of way.  This is especially true of Ulysses,   your typical run of the mill, neighborhood squirrel who suddenly finds himself changed by a vacuum cleaner.   Changed how?   Some might say the vacuum cleaner changed him.  Others may say it could be something more deeper and wonderful.  Friendship. Love.  Acceptance.

The brilliant part of this tale of an unlikely superhero is that it is a reminder that hope comes in all shapes and sizes.   To be perfectly honest,  it's a nice reminder.  Which is why, this is a need-to-read book for this summer.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Firefighters Are Heroes too!

This years's Summer Reading Program theme  provides librarians lots of ideas to explore the world of Superheroes.  Of course, the first instinct is to search out books about superheroes that leap tall building,  get the bad guys and lives to fight another day.  All very well and good.  However,  here's a different spin on the theme.  Why not celebrate the heroes in our neighborhood who fight the good fight every day?  Yup,  talking about the firefighters who step up to help get a cat out of a tree or go into a burning building to put out a fire and save lives.

There are three wonderful titles for children that stick with theme of heroes and saving the day that can liven up a story time.  (As a personal note,  never begin a story time about firefighter without the proper firefighters hat. It just adds more flare and fun to the event! )   

The first title to take a look at  is  Firefighters to the Rescue by Kersten Hamilton.  This title is such fun to read because of it's invitation to audience to get into the story.  Children will quickly learn when to chime in "Firefighters to the rescue" during the story.   The illustration are vivid and bright to   catch and keep children's attention.   If this book is not a hit with the crowd, it just may be that the crowd is filled with boring three and four years olds.   

If the first title is not available or you have children begging for more exciting firefighter stories,  Patricia Hubbell's Firefighters: Speeding! Spraying! Saving!  is an excellent choice.  As the title suggests, this book is filled with action words that paint a clear picture of what firefighters do everyday.   Add to this Viviana Garofoli’s digital art that add to the simple, rhyming text that preschoolers take great delight in.

It goes without saying that Mark Teague's Firehouse! had to make the list.  Teague's humorous tale begins with Edward and his cousin's Judy trip to the firehouse.  Everything is fine from the slid down the fireman's pole to riding on the firetruck.   After a little excitement, Edward learns how it feels to  save the day.  It's every child's dream to be a fireman and through the eyes of Edward, they get a small taste of what's it's like.  It is great fun for everyone. Even for the librarians sharing the story.

Of course this is not a complete and final list of books for Firefighter heroes.  It is a great beginning.
Enjoy the stories with the little ones.and don't forget your hat!

Firefighters' helmets hung at the station!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Unmasked: Why Shakespeare Still Matters.

To teens, William Shakespeare is a really old dude that died thousands of years ago.   Not only that, he writes in foreign English.  Who even uses words like thou, doth and footlicker?   (Foot what?)  Yet, in almost every high school english class Shakespeare's works are still on the required reading list.  Some veteran high school teachers like Dana Dusbiber of Luther Burbank High School believes that Shakespeare is too "white and old"  to reach a diverse ethnic class.   Seriously,  how can a multi-racial teen relate to these works?  The answer is really simple.  They relate because all the emotions, trials and loves of Shakespeare's world go beyond race or time.  They speak to humanity as a whole.   There are compelling reasons  to unmask the beauty of Shakespeare then to put it out to the curb like an antique heirloom that has become trashy and outdated.

It is disturbing to say the least, that a English teacher would want her students to only read from others who are just like them.   What happened to the idea that readers  should be exposed to an array of authors  that tell their story from a different perspectives.   Ms. Dusbiber prefers that her ethnically diverse students read books from Hispanic, African and other minority authors.  Her reasoning is that the authors offer better opportunities for students to learn about their culture and themselves within the pages of their works.  In other words, hold up a mirror and see someone just like you.  Perhaps even more frightening is she may be implying that ethically diverse teens are not capable of learning the plays?    The only way to grow is to learn more about the world, not less.   Students should be required  to  read Shakespeare from the standpoint that at least they have an exposure to the plays.  If Shakespeare is not their cup of tea, so be it.  However, at least they will have a familiarity of  one of the famous plays.

 To be perfectly honest,  Shakespeare may be a white dude who died  450 years ago (not thousands)  but his works are timeless.  The characters are just as intriguing as when they were first introduced.  What bothersome about Ms. Dusbiber's blog is that she seems to be unfamiliar with the diverse characters of Shakespeare.   Here's a suggestion  for an ethical diverse class,  read Othello. Unmask the true nature of a black man so madly in love with Desdemona and so insecure of her love for him that he allows his closest confident Iago to convince him that Desdemona is unfaithful.   There are so many layers to go through here that one finds that in the end, regardless of race, as humans deep down we are the same.   We cry the same way.  We love passionately and sometimes jealousy gets the better of us.  Does one have to be a particular race to experience any of these emotions?  Not at all.

Let's not stop at Othello.  In, Merchant of Venice we find even more passion, jealousy, discrimination and yes, greed.  Oh what tangled webs were woven when Shylock feels that he has been cheated by a Christian community that has never welcomed him. He loans money to Antonio with the agreement that if the money is not paid back on time it will be paid back in a pound of flesh.  Secretly, Shylock wants only revenge.  The Christian community of Venice never welcomed him as a Jew, so Antonio must pay.   Alas, Shylock loses out on this demand in the Venetian Courts.  Add insult to injury he loses his beloved daughter Jessica in marriage to Lorenzo, a Christian.   Again, any teen of diverse ethnic background could sympathize with anyone of these characters.  If it is the language that is a barrier, then reveal the beauty of the language by using No Fear Shakespeare.

Suffice it to say, each of Shakespeare's play can be dissected and shown to be very useful in exploring raw human emotions.  Even if it is from an old, dead white guy.   This is not to say students couldn't learn from authors such as Maya Anglou.  However, why limit the students to just one voice?  Let them experience as many as they can.  From every corner of the world, not just the ones that are familiar to them.  Great literature lives on from age to age.  That is what makes them classic and timeless.  Keep Shakespeare in the classroom and in the libraries.  If a teacher or librarian takes Shakespeare away from students that would be a great tragedy.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Unlikely Heroes : The Best of the Best In Children's Literature

Who doesn't love a story about a hero who wins the day?  Superman flying in to stop the bad guy in his tracks.  Spiderman spinning a safety web to help a damsel in distress.  Batgirl racing in on her motorcycle to rid Gotham of one more bad guy. The comics have filled young minds (and adult minds as well) with images of good defeating evil.   These scenarios have led to discussion "If you were a superhero, what powers would you have?"  The possibilities are endless.  However, there are other heroes that are a little more down to earth.  They have no super "powers" to speak of yet they are able to do heroic things just by being themselves.  In children literature,  authors and publishers like to call them the unlikely heroes.  Children simply call  them their favorites.   Here are Librarian At Large's top five unlikely heroes.  If readers have not met them yet, this summer is the perfect time to get to know them.

1.  Roald Dahl's Matlida  is quite the intriguing character.  Everyone around her under estimates her, except for her observant teacher, Miss Trunchbull.  Matilda, who has been neglected by her mother and father, learns ways to get what she wants.  It isn't until meeting and befriending her teacher that she begins to want to help someone other than herself.

2.  Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux has a huge heart in a little mousy body.   Who needs a night in shinning armor when Despereaux Tilling is ready to take on a feat that no man, er, mouse has ever taken on before!  This is one mouse who reminds all readers that mighty things come n small packages.

3.  Percy Jackson of  Rick Rioridan's Percy Jackson Olympian series is the perfect example of a hero dealing with multiple challenges at once.  Not only does he find out that his dad was a greek god, but on top of that he has ADHD.  Percy goes from one adventure to the next with his trusty pals who see to it that the good conquers evil and Percy makes it back to camp in one piece.

4.  Never one to shrink away from a challenge, Katniss of Suzanne Collin's  Hunger Games has become a favorite female unlikely heroine.  With her skillful handling of her bow and arrow, Katniss proves that in a do or die situation, girls can be just a strong and tough as their male peers.   Collins brilliantly weaves a plot that has the reader sitting on the edge of their seat asking,  "What now?".  In every situation, Katniss does the unexpected and comes out the victor not the victim.

5. Gordon Korman has introduced readers to many wonderful characters.  However, in Schooled,  the unlikely hero is Cap (as in Capricorn) Anderson.   One has to admire a character that can beat the odds of growing up in a hippie commune and not only survive  middle school politics but breaks the stereotypes and wins the support of his peers.   Feel good story told in a very humorous way,  making readers wish they could unleash their power of humor to get out of sticky situations.

This is only a list of five. To be honest it was a very difficult list to put together because there are so many to choose from.  Perhaps the unlikely hero list should be expanded next time?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Who's Your Hero? Summer Reading Programs 2015

This year's theme from Collaborative Summer Library Program is inspiring.  Love the idea of using "hero's" as a way to entice children to read all summer long.   Children  love heroes of all shapes and sizes: super heroes,  military heroes, mystery solving-heroes, knight in shining armor heroes and  most of all everyday heroes.  It is really hard to pick just one type of hero. Just as the theme suggest every hero has a story and to pick just one, well that as difficult as picking which ice cream is better the chocolate or double chocolate flavor.  They are both wonderful.    In honor of the theme and to get started on suggestions for  books to read this summer, there is one title that has stood out as the "story" that should be on every middle schooler's reading list and to be honest, even on the adults list as well.  El Deafo is a quick, delightful and eye opening graphic novel that explores the world of a hearing impaired hero who imagines that her hearing aids gives her super powers.

This heartfelt yet humorous memoir  from Cece Bell will have readers cheering for a new super hero. One who does not have perfect hearing or perfect eyesight or even athletic abilities to leap tall buildings in a single bounce.   El Deafo is the perfect superhero who wants what every middle schoolers wants, to be excepted for who they are and to fit.  This type of book has been long over due for so many reasons.   Bell's illustration on what is is like to face challenges of hearing impairment are spot on and clear. Everything from watching TV, to embarrassing sleep overs  and bulky hearing aides, is dealt with a touch of humanity and warmth.   This book is for every child -- deaf or hearing --- it will without a doubt show the possibility that anyone can be a hero.  Some heroes need a little more help then others but given the opportunity they can and will "save" the day.  

It is not a surprise that this book has already won numerous awards.  Quite frankly,  it should be the "poster" book for CLSP.  Cece is a true hero and her story is worth becoming familiar with.  Will readers find out about the next adventures of El Deafo?   That would be wonderful!  Here's  to keeping the fingers crossed that there will be more stories about Cece and her true friend, Martha.

In the meantime,   there are so many heroes to meet this summer!   The list is  long and there is not time to waste! . Not to mention the  many hero crafts to do as well!  Summer is just staring and Librarian at Large is just getting warmed up !  Stay tuned there is so much more reading fun to come!

(Blogger Note: As a child of the 70's and hearing impaired as well,  many of the situations described in the memoir struck  a cord of familiarity.)

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Unfair" Bedtime Stories?

A philosopher and professor at University of Warwick in England has made a suggestion that should make every children's librarian sick to their stomach.  The professor, Adam Swift, suggests that reading to children before bedtimes gives an unfair advantage to children from supportive homes to achieve in their academic endeavors.  Children are not read to at night, don't fare as well.  This should be a celebration of family bonding.  Not only that but it should be encouraged world wide.  This is exactly what librarians have been advocating for decades.  Read to your child.  It is sincerely hoped that this professor is being misquoted and that there is not need to be alarmed.  However, there is a way of turning this thought around to be advantageous for all children.

Since Professor Swift correctly states that reading to children at bedtime is a good thing, the best response would be to promote this activity to every family.  PSA announcements, reminders to parents at schools, and perhaps even establishing a volunteer effort to read to children who don't have the luxury of someone at home to read to them.   These are just a few ideas but surely some of them could work to give every child an opportunity to be read to.

Additionally, librarians should continue advocating for reading to children (at any time of the day) so as to prove and persuade that this is a better alternative than not reading to children.  Which is what Professor Swift seems to be suggesting in his theory of "fairness".    It is true that it is almost impossible to be sure that every child is read to but librarians can continue to remind parents, and even neighbors, that reading to one child is better than not reaching out to any child.

Last but not least, here is a personal challenge to Professor Swift, should he really believe that reading to children is unfair.   Do your part in making things equal for all children.  Read to a child in your family, or your neighborhood or go to a local library in England and discover if there are programs just for the purpose of filling in the void for children who have no one to read to them.  If England's libraries do not have these programs then perhaps it is time that they begin.

Monday, May 11, 2015

President Obama's Library Initiative : So Close Yet So Far

There is always cause for applause when a Presdient, or political leader takes an interest in promoting reading.   Reading is the most basic of all skills that every person should be capable of doing.  If they don't know how to read,  the opportunities that could be open to them are almost non-existent.  Think about it :  jobs, health,  and legal issues all are effective by education and reading levels.  When President Obama announced a couple of weeks of ago about library initiative tied with ConnectEd,   first reactions were positive.  Until, like many of his other programs, one begins to look closely at it and sees gaps that should have been addressed before rolling out the idea/programs.

The President calls for encouraging reading though ebooks for urban children.  These ebooks would be available through an app that will be developed by the many publishers that have agreed to be a part of this project.  Wonderful!  One problem with this, how will the children access the app if they do not have a smart phone or tablet?  The research  out there which measures such things as television, computer usage and availability, all point to the fact that access to the Internet is limited or next to non existent in urban areas.  One could argue that schools have been providing tablets for their students to take home.  Again in most urban areas if the neighborhoods are failing so are the schools.  In most cases, these urban school districts lack the funds to upgrade their computer labs much less be able to afford a tablet for each student.   Sad but true reality.   Snag (and a huge one) number one for this program.

One of the biggest questions to come to mind is why President Obama seek the consultation of librarians, both in schools and public libraries.  Yes,  the American Librarian Association is working alongside the President's staff in making this initiative a success.  However, the real "war" stories are from the school librarians and children's librarians working in these urban cities who on a daily basis know the frustrations that the children and parents face.  Why isn't the ALA bringing to the President's attention that many of these urban schools have school librarians that are dismal and a staff that is next to non-existent.  Why not come out with the statistics that demonstrate the strong connection of academic achievement and access to a quality school library?  That doesn't seem to enter the big picture of this initiative at all.

Finally,  children will learn the love of reading when they are encouraged to read on a daily basis.   Let's face it,  technology is not the "answer" to every problem.  It's a tool but not ultimate answers.    An app on its own will not make a child a better reader.  A book will not do that either.  What helps a child to be a reader is a caring adult, (be it a parent, teacher, librarian or neighbor) who takes the time to share a book.  This means reading to the child, or encouraging a child to read the book and share insights on the story.  It is amazing how books can be wonderful conversations starers and the doorway to learning more about people who read the books.   Seriously, parents if you want to know what your kid is thinking,  share a book with them and discover how your child views their world.

President Obama is correct in the assessment that children in urban cities need help in gaining access to books.  However,  his method is flawed.  Librarians have been fighting the battle to bridge the digital divide and improve reading skills for years.   Just like any fight worth fighting,  it's a slow process of winning one battle at a time.  As Librarian At Large promotes:  Helping Children discover their world one story at a time.    Shouldn't that story should be averrable in any format that helps a child the most?  

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

MakerSpace in the Library

In Chicago there is a library that is experimenting with the idea of a "makerspace".  What exactly is this?  It is a space within the library that is specifically for library patrons to come in and "make" or create something.  Now this idea is intriguing because it's almost as if they took  the concept of story time crafts for children  and put it on steroids.   This space is multigenerational and is breaking the rules of what libraries are suppose to do.  Which is exactly what is needed right now.  New ideas that promote libraries in a positive new light.

A library such as the one is Chicago, is just the beginning of what the future can hold for libraries.  For the past decade, librarians have been the leaders in helping their community thrive in the midst of change.   In the days of Andrew Carnegie, the purpose of the public library was to be the center of learning and growth. That ideal has survived the test of time.  This is evident in how the libbers become the place to go to when the world became increasingly digital.   If this decade has taught our society anything it is this:  learning is a life long process of discover and each library user learns in their own unique way.  This creates the need for new, bolder ideas such as the library in Chicago demonstrates.

The possibilities are endless to what libraries and their communities can do together.  At the risk of being accused of hanging on to the good "vibes" of National Library Week,  it can not be denied that communities are starting to rediscover their libraries.  The digital age may have changed the landscape of the library but it has not changed the heart.   Libraries can serve their communities in traditional or unique ways.   It's all possible when libraries and their communities work together.   It is truly another reason to love your library.

Monday, April 13, 2015

National Library Week 2015: Libraries Unlimited Possibility!

"To Infinity ... and Beyond!" What's not to love about Buzz Lightyear's catch phrase?  It is full of promise of adventure, discovery and excitement.   This week's celebration of  National Library Week,   draws upon that same enthusiasm with the theme Unlimited Possibilities.   It has been said before, the library of today is not your grandmother's library.  On second thought, maybe that should be adjusted just a bit.  The library of today is your grandmother's library but with a few more tools that  add  a lot more umph to experience of adventure, discovery and excitement.  Add to that, today's librarian is trained to help patrons explore the unlimited possibilities.

Is it silly to say that there is adventure, discovery and excitement in the library?  A bit corny?  Not at all!  As a matter of fact,   the internet has done more to help libraries and librarians in the past twenty years then most people realize.  Before the internet,  patrons came to the library feeling a bit overwhelmed in their search.  The rows of indexes, card catalogs and more indexes seemed a bit daunting.  The best course of action:  get the librarian.  Then the Internet came along to change the library landscape drastically.   Contrary to popular belief, the library didn't fold and disappear.  It thrived.     One of the good things that the Internet has done for searching information is that it gives the searcher the encouragement to seek information on their own. In the minds of library patrons', there's nothing difficult about research.  As long as there is a keyboard, screen and wifi, everything works out fine.  Well, most of the times.    There are still times when the independent searcher is in need of a little assistance.  For the record, librarians love the independent learner,  but even Christopher Columbus, one of the best explorers, never left  home without a map or a guide.  There comes a time when human interaction is needed in the search.  That is where the unlimited possibilities lies.

Libraries have adapted to the changes in information gathering not only because it was important for survival of libraries  but it is important for the survival of the community in which they serve.  Without libraries the possibilities of growth,  are seriously compromised.   Where do children go to do homework?   Where do the unemployed go to find resources to help them find new jobs?   Where does anyone go for leisure reading ?  The library offers this and so much more that to list all the possibilities it would take  more time and space then this blog can provide.  A library is only a building.   A librarian is the "keeper" of the  information.

In the age of countless technology changes and adaptations it is no wonder that patrons expect unlimited possibilities.   Everything seems to be at our fingertips.  Twenty years ago in the library,  it would have been inconceivable that  a cell phone would become an information tool.  Twenty years from now, it's anyone's guess as to how technology will change the way information is retrieved.  However,  it is safe to say that when the technology kicks it up a notch, librarians will be there to help the community use the technology to it's fullest potential.  Quite honestly,  what has been accomplished through the internet in the past twenty years is just the tip of the iceberg.  There is so much more and librarians are prepared now more than ever to help patrons realize the unlimited possibilities at the library.   In the spirit of Buzz Lightyear... "The the Library .... and beyond!"  (Okay, that was corny but it's the excitement of National Library Week that sparked it!")

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Helping Autistic Children Fit In During Story Time

Every child wants to fit in.  That was a statement that was recently posted on a Facebook page for children who were bullied.  The message was clear, simple and too the point.  It also speaks to the purpose of this post for today.    Story time in libraries are a perfect way to begin socializing young children   Every Tuesday morning,  a child goes to see his or her friends at the library to hear wonderful stories, sing cute songs, maybe a finger play or two and a craft to complete to complete the hour.  This is routine and believe it or not all children love routine.  It's a sense of security and safety.  This is what Autistic children crave too.  They are no different.   Including the Autistic child to a Story time program may mean  adding a few things to help the program go smoother for everyone but it doesn't mean that it's impossible. 

There are three things that a good children's librarian should never go without when planning a story time to include Autistic children.  One, a checklist of what will happen during the program.  This can either be printed or on a board where children can see it.  What can this checklist do?  It helps the child know that things are moving as planned and it helps keep track of time.   This not only helps the child but the librarian as well.  It's a great reminder that activities should not last longer than three minutes.  (Unless of course, the children are having so much fun that another round of "If you're happy and you know it" is needed before the children are ready to move on.)  

The second thing to never go without is a sensory bowl.  Set up this bowl in a place that is away from the librarian but in easy view of the children.  In the bowl place things like  a toy,  stress reliever balls,  or toy cars.  During the program if a child feels that he or she needs to move during the story, allow them to go up to a bowl  to pick out an object such as a stress ball that they can take back to their seats.  This allows them to fidget a little but still be able to pay attention to the story.  It also calms them so that they are able to still be part of the program.  

Third and most important of all.  A  safe place to go to when things get a little too much to handle for them.  It doesn't happen often but when a child has a meltdown there needs to be a place with the child and caregiver can go to ease the tensions and "refocus" the child's attention on the program.  This simply means setting up an area  a little away from the rest of the children that gives privacy, protection and play for the autistic child.  One of the best ways of doing this is by draping a blanket over two chairs, as if to make a quick fort, and place small toy or crayons and coloring books that can help the child calm down.  When the child is ready to rejoin the group,  he or she can without disturbing the rest of the children's attention. 

Every child really does fit into story time at the library.  The children librarian just has to do a little extra planning to make it happen.  This by the way, can be done at schools or home too.  Librarians aren't the only ones who can read to a child.  Everyone should take advantage of this opportunity.  Life is too short not to share a book.  That sounds like another  Facebook message to share! In the meantime to find out more about Autism, go to 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Malala's Fight To Read... To Learn

As reading month is about to come to a close, there are things to consider about this wonderful month of March.  Not only was Dr. Seuss's birthday celebrated early on in the month but the pure enjoyment of reading was celebrated as well.  How appropriate, right?  In the mix National Mystery Book month is thrown in for good measure as if readers, librarians and other types of book lovers need another excuse to celebrate this pastime called reading. 

  In just about every library around the country, there have been programs upon programs promoting reading for every age group.  To be perfectly honest, every month should be reading month but can't get greedy and claim all twelve months out the year.  Well, in this one instance it's not so much as greed as it is a passion for sharing books, stories and poetry.   With each word, sentence or  page of a book, t here is a possibility of finding a gem of knowledge or tale that will be with the reader for the rest of their lives.  Sounds pretty corny and hokey to say?  Probably,  but then again being a book lover brings that out naturally for any avid reader.

Wonder what would happen if parents started telling their children "You better read that book because there is some child in Africa who doesn't have a book to read!"  Almost every child has heard in one form or another that they should eat their vegetables because there is a starving child somewhere in the world who is going to bed without vegetables. It's the universal tug of war between parent and child to get healthy food into a child.  Parent tries every tactic, including guilt, to get the child to eat.  Child resists at every attempt.  Eventually, one of them wins and most often than not it's the parent.  Should parent use this same tactic to lure kids into reading?  After all reading feeds the brain, and children need a strong IQ in order to attain success in school.  Isn't this just as important as eating vegetables?

Consider this, there  are children who are starving (intellectually that is) for a book.  Or at the very least a chance to read and learn.  I Am Malala is a shining example of a young girl who wanted to read and learn and almost lost her life for it.   This ten year old  student, not only wrote a book about her experience, she also has become the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Young Reader edition is complete with exclusive photographs and materials.  Like the first release, the book demands that readers think about certain questions.  For example,  what would children in our country do if they were told they couldn't read or couldn't go to school?  Would they fight for their rights to read?

Malala's story is compelling for one simple fact:  she is young, intelligent and determined to find her place in this world.   It is not often that a young child comes along and reminds us all that the simple pleasures in life are worth fighting for, like the freedom to pick up a book and read.  That 's what is  being celebrated this month:   the reading enjoyment for all kids of all ages.  Pick up the book, either versions will be efficient to inspire readers for years to come. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Quite Amazing ... Books Outselling Digital

For avid readers this may not come as a surprise but to the general public, including techie geeks,  it may come as a shock that books in print are making a strong comeback.  Publishers Weekly reported in September of 2014 that print outsold digital media by a very health margin.  It appears that print is not dead.    Who knew, right?   Librarians may not see the statistics daily from publishers, but judging from what is checked out  of the library on a daily basis, print seems to be winning the race there as well.  Let's face it, books have been around so long it almost makes one wonder if this was one wheel that did not need to be re-invented.

Patrons will often ask the question  of librarians,  about the future of libraries with digital formats?  Texas has begun the experiment of BiblioTech,  the first public library that is fully digital.  Rows of iMacs, alongside iPads  greet patrons as they walk in to sit and browse the internet or download material to read on an iPad.  Is this library of the future busy?  Yes, but there is still the complaints that the screen hurts the eyes. It's not a very welcoming, cozy place and yes print books need to be in a library.  Computers are wonderful but there is something to be said about holding a physical book.

Bill Gates once noted that the generation that would be most comfortable with the digital age were the ones who grew up with computers all around them.  The cell phones.  The computers.  The video games.  At one point it did seem as if this made sense.  However,  it is very difficult to predict human nature.   Did anyone believe that vinyl records would make a comeback?  Surprisingly, there is a surge in young college kids who want to experience the scratching tunes from a roundtable.  Goodness, to think old folks were complaining about the skips on record as if they were a bad thing!   This generation that grew up with the techie environment may be teaching the older generation a thing or two.  Maybe some things are best left untouched. 

Libraries have been trying to be the peace brokers, if you will, between print and digital formats.  Perhaps, what is really going is that the dust is finally settling and the verdict is in.  It's okay to have both formats in a library side by side.  Both have their uses and both have disadvantages.  Will there be more libraries like BiblioTech in the future?  No one can say for certain.  After all by this time,  books in print  have died many deaths and been resurrected so many times it's hard to keep count.  Let's not forget, we also have the resurgent of  vinyl record.  Could the rotary phone be too far behind?  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Heart and Soul of Ireland --- The Stories They Weave.

What is so wonderful about the Irish folks is their love for a good story.  The type of stories that take  a person to another place, another time and it's totally magical.   Frank Delaney penned the tome Ireland which features a storyteller who tells three tales and is soon  banished because the audience is not enthralled and amused with his tales.  However, young lad Ronan is not only enthralled and amused, he finds that this is his calling. Ronan follows in the footsteps of the storyteller and carries on the time honored Irish tradition of spinning a good yarn.  It is without a doubt that Irish authors have honed their skills through the very tradition that Delaney writes about.  Which brings about the observation that the folklore of  Ireland gives a glimpse into the heart and soul of the country and its people.

For starters,  the tales always take place a time long ago, in some faraway countryside where it's always greener than green and breathtakingly beautiful.  Who are these storytellers kidding?   It may have been long ago but the countryside they speak of has to be Ireland.  Where else could it be?  To be fair, there could be one small corner of Ireland that has not yet been explored and deep down in the lush green grass there may live tiny creatures that are magical and marvelous.  But the keen reader knows this magical placed could be nowhere else in the world but Ireland. 

It seems that every Irish Folklore has wonderful yet pesky little creatures called Leprechauns.  Every St. Patrick's day, these characters re-emerge with sneaky grins, green hats and black shoes. Always bright red hair is seen peeking out of the hats .   Legend has it is very lucky to run into these Leprechauns but they also warn that they can be quite deceiving as well.  Why shouldn't they be?  After all, every time  a mere mortal finds them they must turn over their pot of gold.  To be honest, that's not a fair deal for the leprechaun, is it?  

An Irish folktale is hardly ever  complete without a hero or heroine who is down on their luck,  poor as poor can be and more often than not, laziest person in the village.  They may even be the outcast of the village.  This is not to say they are bad folks.  They just don't have food on the table or a fiddle to play for the King.  In other words, they may be outcasts because they can't get their act together.   Regardless of their state in life, the reader can not help but root for the beloved impoverished hero/heroine and   hopes that things turn out for the best.  Of course, they always do and there is a happily ever after for all involved.

Three is the magic number.  In all folktales,  not just in Irish tales,  turn of events evolve around three attempts to complete a task or test.   If these hero or heroine's are going to change their luck it's going to take them a little sweat equity to earn their pot of gold.  Once the tasks has been completed the tale comes to it's ultimate completion.  Lessons have been learned.  Rewards have been earned.  Everyone, mortals and magical creatures alike, are very happy.  

This leads us back to what the folktales tell us about the people of Ireland.  They are proud, and rightly so, of their beautiful lush green land which has earned them  the moniker, The Emerald Isle.   Their tales are always  filled with warmth, humor and a poke at human nature. Yet, when all is said and done it is understood that one might be poor, lazy or unlucky,  one still has to do something to earn their keep.   The storytelling spirit is alive and well in Ireland today and may it remain to be that way for a thousand more years.   On St. Patty Day. always remember this :  Be they Kings, or poets or farmers,  They're people of great worth, they keep company with the angels and bring a bit of heaven here to earth."  Ah yes, the Irish good folks with their lively tales can usher in a bit of heaven for those who dream of  a paradise where there is no end in stories or books.    Happy St. Patty's Day to one and all.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Inspring Stories About Women For Girls Of All Ages

Little girls, as well as bigger girls, need to be inspired and encouraged every once in awhile.  There are many slogans and catchy hashtags from #girlpower to #throwlikeagirl.  There are plenty more slogans that have been used and each were created to empower girls to think beyond the stereotypes of what girls ought to do or become.  It is inspiring that our society is looking to build girls up instead of tearing them down.    That is a good thing and perhaps a little overdue. As we begin the month of March,  it's time to reflect upon women in history who have paved the way for future generations of women who long to be strong, smart and free to carve out their own place in the world.

Historical fiction is a genre that takes a special talent in weaving the tale.  The details have to be spot on to be believable and enjoyable.  For the educator, the gems in historical fiction are sometimes hard to find because of this fact.  However, when a book is found that makes history turn into a magical adventure,  this book is not to be let out of anyone's sight.  One book in particular that comes to mind is  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate  by Jacqueline Kelly.  This is the story of Calpurnia's love of  nature and frustrations of the limits society places on her because of her gender.  In 1899, a girl's place was at home with chores and needlework.   What more should a girl do, right?  For eleven year old Calpurnia that is just not enough to keep her happy.  For her, is much more fascinating and lures her to explore creatures along the riverbank, in the trees and everywhere.  The only person to encourage her love of nature is her grandfather who gives her the Darwin's book "The Origin of Species."    The tale is wonderful and inspiring in its prose.  Definitely a book that can inspire young girls to follow their passions, even if society tell them it's not their place.

In the picture book category for inspiring girls of all ages it would only be proper to mention Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride written by Pam Munoz Ryan and illustrated by Brian Selznick.  Both Ryan and Selznick have contributed much to children's literature but this book often goes unnoticed. The story is about Amelia Earhart visiting the White House as a guest of then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.   Both to these women are revered as trailblazers of their time.   In this fictional tale,  Earhart takes the First Lady for a private plane ride.  This book entices the reader to imagine what that ride might have been like for both women.  What  fans of both women wouldn't do to have had the opportunity to hear that conversation between the two.   It's magical and makes for an interesting story time.

Both books mentioned above are classified as historical fiction but the next one is an actual biography that is wonderfully written by David Adler, who incidentally has written excellent biographies for children.   One of his best works is America's Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle (illustrated by  Terry Widener).  Who is Gertrude Ederle?  In 1924, Gertrude decided to go against the odds and become the first woman to  swim across the English Channel.  Everyone around her said it couldn't be done, especially by a woman.  The water is too choppy, they said.  "The water is too cold",  they said. "It's dangerous.", the said.  Gertrude did it anyways.  After a twenty-one mile long swim which took fourteen hours to complete, she set a world record.  Her perseverance is a testimony to all girls that once a dream is in sight, there's no turning back.  One simply has to go for it.

There are so many other wonderful books that can and should inspire girls to carve out their own destiny.  The three here should be a good start at introducing girls to strong women who had big dreams and accomplished them despite being told they couldn't.   As a popular meme that is posted on Facebook and other social media states: Here's To Strong Women.  May We Know Them, May We Be Them, May We Raise Them.   The easiest way to achieve this is to read books about them, learn from them so we can be like them and share their stories so that more girls will grow up to be strong women.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Dr. Seuss: Finding Gems of Facts of Life

Today is Dr. Seuss' birthday, but more than likely many already knew this information.  As one of the most beloved children's author of our times, Dr. Seuss accomplished something that many before him attempted to do but never quite accomplished.  Reading became a fun, rhyming, nonsensical and fantastical activity for children who found it difficult to read.  All the children's books before Cat In The Hat were wonderful but there was something magical about Dr. Seuss' style.  Perhaps the pure genius is in the rhyming madness which puts on no airs and it is what it is.

Looking at the various titles from Dr. Seuss array of books one can not help but smile when recalling Simple lyrical lines like "I do not like them Sam I am, I do not like Green Eggs and Ham." or  "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."  Seuss' style was so unique that it hasn't been copied or improved upon.  It is in a category all of its own. Which makes his books wonderful for all ages.   Why?   The timeless truths that are like gems waiting to be discovered.  Perhaps this is why the readers, old and young alike, are excited that in July a new Dr. Seuss will be published.   Yes, that's right.  The good Doctor left us in 1991 but his work still lives on.  Actually, it was rediscovered in his office by his widow and secretary.

The newly discovered book is titled "What Pet shall I get?".  Wonderful title for every animal lover, young and old.   What will really be a treat is to read the rhyming gems and feel as if Dr. Seuss has never left us at all.

As we celebrate the 111th Birthday of Dr. Seuss, it is really the readers that are receiving a gift.  For new readers the gift of joyful reading.  For all nostalgic readers, a trip back to memory lane of reading The Cat In The Hat for the very first time.  Rereading it because it needs to be shared or just perhaps to be reminded again of timeless truths.  What?  Don't believe that Cat in the Hat holds timeless truth?   Think again.  "“You find magic wherever you look. sit back and relax. all you need is a book”   Well, if that isn't the gem of all of the truths in life,   for young or  old, what would be?   The best writers are always the ones who are witty to make you smile and  wise to make you think.

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss and Happy Reading America!  

Monday, February 16, 2015

Presidential Readings: Three Distinctly Different Presidents and their Distinctive Biographies.

It's President's Day, and what could be more appropriate than to spend this holiday reading about men who have graced the Oval Office.  This is quite an elite group of men.  In over two hundred years there have been forty-four men who have braved campaigns and won the votes to hold the title of President of the United States.  There are many biographies about these men but some have proven to be better than others.  Not too dry.  Not too condescending and very enjoyable to read.  Some are meant for sharing with others.  In honor of this day that is set aside to recognize our Presidents, here are a few good biographies and little known facts about three of our Presidents.  Seriously these titles should not be overlooked.

Most people wouldn't be surprised to know that out of all the U.S. Presidents,  Abraham Lincoln has had more books written about him, his family and his presidency.  That's quite amazing. However, it was Edwin Stanton who coined the phrase, "He belongs to the ages."  at the moment that  Lincoln died.  How keen Stanton's prediction was back then.  Could he have ever imagined that future authors, fiction and nonfiction, would be inspired by the Sixteenth President?  It was probably a good guess but fact remains, Honest Abe's story is very much as captivating today as it was when he roamed the White House.  Which is why it's so difficult to pick out one Lincoln book that is a must read.  For the purpose of this post, there is one book that definitely stands out as a must have.  Mark Levine has put together a stunning picture book title simply Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. (2010)    It's  beauty lies in the way Levine places pictures and words tougher to give full impact on what Lincoln saw, felt and  conveyed to his audience that day.

In all honesty, every president,  has had an interesting story of their rise to the Oval Office.  Most readers gravitate to the "popular" or most remembered presidents to read about.  Consider this a challenge to read about a not so popular president whose life is not a cookie cutter by any stretch of the imagination.   Can you guess the president who  was elected to office as a bachelor,  was mayor of Buffalo before becoming Presdient, won the popular vote three times but lost the election once to the Electoral College. Give up?   The answer is Grover Cleveland.  (the 22nd and 24th president).
A fascinating biography written by John Pafford entitled The Forgotten Conservative should be on a list of books to read for every American History buff.  Cleveland was probably the last Democrat President who believed in small government.

The American Lion written by Newsweek editor, Jon Meachan is about a U.S.  president who answered to the moniker of Old Hickory and Sharp Knife.   This president had more drama than most presidents.   This includes having fought in about 100 duels, most of which were to defend the honor of his wife Rachel.  In this day an age what would the headline read if our president was shot during  duel  at a bar? needless to say it would be scandalous and tabloids would be there to try to get the best picture to grace the front page.  This president was vengeful, and he was also the seventh president.   If the name Andrew Jackson didn't come to mind, a little history review might be in order.   Meachan does a wonderful job at entertaining the readers while giving a  full education on Jackson's time and life.