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!