Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Best Books of 2010?

(photo by Jeffrey Beall, http://www.flickr.com/photos/denverjeffrey/304220561/)

The last week of December is always time to review, and everyone everywhere is putting out their "best" lists. Here's one you may not have seen that may answer that burning question, "What titles have librarians recommended this year?" The EarlyWord blog gives these answers.

(photo by Larry Page, http://www.flickr.com/photos/96029422@N00/3913113032/)

Other best lists are done by Publisher's Weekly, NPR, and Entertainment Weekly, to name a few. EarlyWord comes to the rescue with links to best books for children from 2010.

In looking back at my Shelfari shelf, I discovered that I'd read and recorded more books than I realized, and many of them were good. My love of series continues with these:
Margaret Coel's newest Wind River addition, The Spider's Web;
Alexander McCall Smith's latest Ladies #1 Detective Agency novel, The Double Comfort Safari Club, and
Sue Grafton's latest in her alphabet series, U is for Undertow.

(By DanielZanetti (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Two authors I follow had new books out this year:
Anne Tyler, with Noah's Compass (I liked it, but not as well as a couple of her others, most notably The Accidental Tourist and Back When We Were Grownups), and
Sandra Dallas, with Whiter Than Snow (I liked it, but not as well as her best--Tallgrass).

The great thing about books is that they're new to me if I haven't read them yet, regardless of when they were published, and I made a couple discoveries from years past: Louise Erdrich's, Plague of Doves and
Ivan Doig's The Whistling Season.

(photo by Linking Paths, http://www.flickr.com/photos/linking_paths/1315032351/)

Could I pick one? Mmm...no; each was right for the time I read it. And that's my New Year's wish for you, whether you are reading paper or ebooks or reading aurally, may you find the right book at the right time! What books are on your "best" list this year?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Tree Magic

(photo http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=223106)

Have you put up your Christmas tree yet? This tradition dates back to 14th century Eastern Europe and comes to the US from Germany and England.

Though Christmas trees have been controversial--are they pagan or Christian? Are they environmentally friendly? Should they be real or artificial?--they never fail to delight.

Our entire state celebrates by decorating trees at the Capitol. My colleagues and I got a chance for a quick tour this month. Each tree is decorated by a town or organization, with ornaments depicting a certain theme.

Some towns celebrating special anniversary years have town families' pictures on their ornaments, such as the tree from Bristol. The Operation Military Kids tree has ornaments made from military dog tags. Even the tree toppers go far beyond the typical angel or star. The tree from the town of Claremont, in the northeastern part of the state, has cattails on top, representing the slough country surrounding the town.

The spectacular South Dakota tree was decorated by the SD State Historical Society and commemorates the Capitol's 100th anniversary. My colleagues and I appreciated the creativity of our fellow state citizens and were impressed by the splendor of rows and rows of trees. See more here.

Why the wonderment? Maybe it's the oddity of seeing a tree indoors in the dead of winter. Maybe it's the beauty of the ornaments. Or maybe it's the glow of the lights.

When my brother & I were kids, a family friend always invited us to her home when she had decorated her tree. She'd turn off all the house lights, and we'd ooh and aah at the lights on the tree, especially transfixed by the bubble lights.

Outdoor Christmas tree lights are just as awe-inspiring. Our city creates Winter Wonderland at Falls Park each December, decorating over 200 trees! In this cold, dark land, those lights are a warm, welcome sight. See it here.

Whether your tree is up yet or not, whether it's more "Charlie Brown" than "House & Garden," grab a cup of tea or hot chocolate, and enjoy this tribute to Christmas trees. Merry Christmas!

What is your favorite Christmas tree decoration?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blizzards Then and Now

Our first blizzard of the season hit Saturday, December 11 (ignore the date on the picture; it is not set correctly for some reason) . After dumping seven inches of snow swirled by wind gusts up to 53 miles per hour, this storm went on to collapse the roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis and wreak havoc across the northern Midwest.

Major interstate highways were closed. We were smart enough to heed the warnings to stay put and were happy to do so. We had shelter, electricity, food, running water, and things to keep us occupied (books, TV, Christmas card writing) while the storm roared outside.

The storm reminded me of a book I read last year, The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin. It's set in our region during the blizzard of 1888, called the "Children's Blizzard" because so many children died. The book is a riveting account of prairie settlement, extreme weather, the fledging weather service and its ineptitude and politics, the science behind the weather, and the families that suffered. It's a touching book in many ways.

Nowadays, the weather service is less political and much more accurate, thanks to modern technology. Communication about weather is easily sent and received. Fabric for outerwear, boots, and gloves has improved. As a society, we have learned a lot about dealing with extreme weather. Still, people caught in it die every year.

The Children's Blizzard suggests in its conclusion that this part of the country should never have been settled, as it is not fit for habitation. It does take tough stuff to live here, but a sense of community keeps us looking out for each other and helps us laugh with each other--we're all in this together. Fortunately, in modern times blizzards don't set us back for long. Here's a typical scene in local neighborhoods the day after the storm:
Another dire blizzard account set in our region is Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter. This one, from a young teen girl's perspective, shows the effects of weeks of deprivation as supplies could not get reach town during the blizzard of 1880-1881. This story has a happier ending than the book mentioned above, with the train getting through in time to save the settlers.

Some things in this region have not changed when it comes to blizzards. The weather still rears its ugly head, and we must still be prepared. When blizzards hit, we hunker down, concerned for those who might be out in it. Forced from our daily business, we are reminded of what's most important--life, loved ones, and simple pleasures--and are thankful for what we have.

What stormy weather stories can you tell?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hail The Enchanted Buffalo

Before November slips away, I want to call attention to it as Native American Heritage Month, a month designated to honor Native American history, culture, and traditions. This post shows what can happen when a publisher finds just the right illustrator for a story.

L. Frank Baum, best known for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was a newspaper man in South Dakota in the late 1800's. He went on to write the Oz books and many other books for children, including the fairy tale The Enchanted Buffalo.

The South Dakota State Historical Press recently released The Enchanted Buffalo as part of its award-winning Prairie Tales series, illustrated by South Dakota artist Donald F. Montileaux. Montileaux's previous work for this publisher earned the book Tatanka and the Lakota People five awards.

Montileaux creates his illustrations to tell a story, using backgrounds similar to those his Lakota ancestors would have used--ledger books, hides, and rock walls. He names Oscar Howe and Herman Red Elk as his mentors. Montileaux's mission is to portray the Lakota honestly, as they lived their lives. In the case of The Enchanted Buffalo, he used Lakota symbols, colors, and designs to give the buffalo characters their personalities. Montileaux's art has earned him world recognition and many awards, and this book will likely add another.

Montileaux enjoys meeting lovers of art and story. He has two book signings scheduled for later this week in Rapid City. Look for him at Indian art markets, and he will likely tell--or show--you a story.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Give Thanks

(photo by woodleywonderworks www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/4759535950/)

My grandmother and her friends spoke Danish when they got together, especially when they talked about me in front of me or talked about things they didn't think a pre-schooler should know. One day I asked Grandma to teach me some Danish words. "Tak," she said. "Thanks." And "Tak for kaffe." "Thanks for coffee." Thanks and coffee were two important concepts for Danish girls!

(photo by skype nomad www.flickr.com/photos/skypenomad/2570378462)

When my brother and I forgot to say "Please" or "Thank you," our parents reminded us by asking, "What are the magic words?" These words really do have a bit of magic about them. Saying thanks, letting others know we appreciate them "keeps the channel of love open," according to our pastor. (photo by The National Archives UK)

I recently joined some Facebook friends in 40 Days of Thankfulness, an exercise where we each posted one (or more) things we were thankful for that day. Others who did not participate commented that it inspired them and lightened their days. I am thankful for that!

During those 40 days, finding things to be thankful for was no problem--I am surrounded by family, friends, natural beauty, the arts, and all kinds of little things. Intentionally giving thanks gets me out of my rut of taking things and people for granted and makes me realize how wonderful life is.

This Thanksgiving season, TAK! I am thankful for you. I hope your life is full of wonderful things and people. What are you thankful for?

(photo by vistamommy http://www.flickr.com/photos/27282406@N03/4134661728/)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thanks, Veterans!

Veteran's Day began in 1919 as Armistice Day, commemorating the day the fighting stopped in World War I. Though that was supposed to be "The War to End All Wars," many other soldiers have fought many other battles since. In 1954, Armistice Day became Veteran's Day, a day to remember and honor those who served and sacrificed for the United States.

Getting that idea across to children without glorifying war or causing fright is tricky, but several books strike the right tone. America's White Table by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Mike Benny, tells about a family who sets a special table for Veteran's Day with symbolic gifts that help them remember veterans. Eve Bunting's text and Ronald Himler's illustrations in The Wall depict a father's and son's visit to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., where they find the son's grandfather's name enscribed. These and three other books are mentioned at Anastasia Suen's "5 Great Books" blog.

Adults have many biographies, memoirs, and other non-fiction books from which to choose. One I recommend is a modern classic, The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, about Americans who served in World War II and went on to rebuild the world and regain America's prosperity. I may be partial to this one because my dad was of that generation. His reading this book when he was in his 80's opened the door for him to talk about his war years with us for the first time.

How will you commemorate Veteran's Day?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

John Adams and his Books

Tired of rancorous political rhetoric? Me, too, but it gives me comfort to know that it’s nothing new. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson held such angry differences of opinion that they did not speak or correspond for years, making up only after they had both retired.

John Adams, born October 30, 1735, served as the second President, Vice President under George Washington, diplomat to France, and founding father of the United States. Adams, known for sounding strong opinions, did not shy away from controversy.

We learned this and more about him at “John Adams Unbound” hosted by Watertown Regional Library. Watertown Regional was one of only 20 public libraries in the country to host this traveling panel exhibit. Over 700 people took advantage of this free step into history.

Our guide, Raynette, pointed out the main points of each panel. Among the highlights:

Adams was not a natural scholar, but his father and a good teacher helped him appreciate the knowledge contained in books. A Harvard graduate, John Adams continued his education throughout his life by collecting and reading books. Named a diplomat to France with no knowledge of French, he set sail with books. By the time he reached that country, he was able to communicate in their language.

Adams used his books! When his family collected leaves while out walking, they put them in his books to be pressed. Library curators discovered them there hundreds of years later.

The marginalia in his books reveal insights into his personality and opinions. Many of his books contain notes in his handwriting. Some of these notes led to correspondence with the books’ authors, including Mary Wallstonecraft, author of Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution.

Adams willed his collection of 3,000 volumes to the town of Quincy, Massachusetts. The library had several homes in Quincy before landing permanently at the Boston Public Library.

John Adams’ life attests to the power of books. He said, “I find that a great deal of thought and care, as well as money, are necessary to assemble an ample and well chosen assortment of books.” Today’s libraries contain books, magazines, newspapers, online resources, DVDs, CDs, and other materials as well as offering meeting spaces and free programs. John Adams would approve public support of these community institutions!

What’s your favorite thing about libraries? Or John Adams?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Happy Howloween!

Remember the "Monster Mash"? Enjoy it with this canine acting group at Southern Tails Dog School!

What will your costume be this year?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue

What luck to be in Hudson, Wisconsin, as the same time as replica ships of Columbus' Nina & Pinta! We walked down to the dock on the St. Croix River and saw these two small ships that looked very much like the ones Columbus took across the Atlantic!

The Columbus Foundation had them built (see the website for much more on that) to educate the public about Columbus' voyage. According to them, the Nina & Pinta were classed as caravels, the explorer ships of the time (1492, remember the rhyme?), whereas his third ship, the Santa Maria, was a freighter that Columbus never liked that ran aground in Hispanola on its first voyage.

Our guides on the ship tour were young crewmen who had volunteered for the adventure. They not only knew the ship, they knew Columbus lore. They told us about the cargo hold below, and how Columbus' crew brought horses with them. To keep the horses in shape, they devised a hoist so that the horses could be lifted over the side and could swim in the water to keep in shape.

According to the Columbus Foundation, the Nina was Columbus' favorite ship. We were surprised at how small it was for an ocean-going vessel.

The modern version has up-to-date navigational tools and a motor, but we could easily imagine being at the mercy of the wind, waves, and tiller--no steering wheel here.
(the tiller)

I wish we could have seen the ships sailing in, their sails unfurled to catch the breeze. The ships were moored, sails tied, near a modern tour boat that outsized these old ocean goers.

Columbus is a controversial figure in our day as the one who opened the door for colonialism and European exploration, leading to exploitation of North America's people and resources. Here's an excerpt from his journal, Oct. 15, 1492, after Columbus and his crew had sailed since August:

"Stood off and on during the night, determining not to come to anchor till morning, fearing to meet with shoals; continued our course in the morning; and as the island was found to be six or seven leagues distant, and the tide was against us, it was noon when we arrived there. I found that part of it towards San Salvador extending from north to south five leagues, and the other side which we coasted along, ran from east to west more than ten leagues. From this island espying a still larger one to the west, I set sail in that direction and kept on till night without reaching the western extremity of the island, where I gave it the name of Santa Maria de la Concepcion. About sunset we anchored near the cape which terminates the island towards the west to enquire for gold, for the natives we had taken from San Salvador told me that the people here wore golden bracelets upon their arms and legs. I believed pretty confidently that they had invented this story in order to find means to escape from us, still I determined to pass none of these islands without taking possession, because being once taken, it would answer for all times...."

Nonetheless, to see this ship and consider his voyage lets us know Columbus' courage and idealism. The Library of Congress has some of his works. For more about Columbus see the Columbus Navigation page.

What explorer do you admire? Who are our modern day explorers?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Children's Author Peter Brown Receives SD Award

The children of South Dakota have spoken! After reading many great books in the past year, kids in kindergarten through second grade voted Peter Brown's The Fabulous Bouncing Chowder as the Prairie Bud Award winner for 2010.

(Brown holds the 2010 South Dakota Prairie Bud Award.)

Brown was in Sioux Falls to receive the award at the SD Library Association Conference at the end of September. He graciously offered an impromptu session about his art and work. Growing up in New Jersey, he began writing at an early age. (His first book is shown on his website, and he showed it to us during his talk.) He was encouraged in his artistic pursuits and graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. After graduation, he moved to New York City and continued developing his artistic craft and his writing craft.

A young man with a good sense of humor, Brown said that his lucky break came at a New York party where he met several young women, all of whom were in the publishing industry. Yes, his first picture book was published as a result of this meeting, but Brown emphasized that the meeting would have meant nothing if he had not been prepared. He had studied, done the work, and done the networking. He was credible and professional. The time was right, and his career as children's picture book author--and book Flight of the Dodo--were launched!

For Brown, creating the pictures comes easily. He says he labors over each word. He tries to use no unnecessary words, letting the artwork help tell the story rather than merely decorating it.

His two books about Chowder, the bulldog, delighted his young readers so much they are clamoring for more, but Brown is not sure he will return to Chowder. He showed us slides from his book Children Make Terrible Pets, released this September and destined to be another kid pleaser.

(Librarian Nancy Eckert introduces Peter Brown and his new book.)

Congratulations, Peter Brown, and thanks for visiting South Dakota!

Hear and see Brown yourself in this five minute interview:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Follow-up to Talk Like a Pirate Day

I'm pleased to announce that Eric Ode's CD, Seven Clever Pirates, has been given a Parents' Choice Silver Honor Medal! See the previous post for the video, and click here for Parents' Choice. Congratulations, Eric!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

(http://www.flickr.com/photos/angstdei/461916765/ by Tim (the enchanter))

Ahoy, mateys! September 19 is officially International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Don't be a bilge rat! Join in the fun. The Web site has pirate talk in English, German, and Dutch.

Here's a brief lesson from the Pirate Guys themselves:

This link takes you to a site where you can find out your true pirate name. Here's mine: Iron Ann Cash. Description: A pirate's life isn't easy; it takes a tough person. That's okay with you, though, since you are a tough person. You're musical, and you've got a certain style if not flair. You'll do just fine.
Is your pirate name as accurate as mine? Arrrrr!

Smartly now with some pirate songs & books--
Avast for Eric Ode's CD "Seven Clever Pirates"!

Shiver me timbers! Here's Mike Mennard's "Pirates." Learn why it's hard to be a pirate in Nebraska!

Aye! Here are some fine pirate rhymes from David L. Harrison's book, Pirates.

And I'll end with a book about a pirate beauty--or was she really a pirate?--The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi.

So, get your pirate name, pirate songs, pirate books, and shove off! But first--what are your favorite pirate songs or stories?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Celebrate International Literacy Day

(Jack's Storytime, artist Gregory Jackson, sculpture at Siouxland Library Main, downtown Sioux Falls)

Being successful in life is difficult if you can't read. Never mind the enjoyment of curling up with a good novel or the sense of victory in conquering a new word. Think about being unable to read instructions, employment applications, forms, signs, food labels, and other everyday survival postings.

Literate people have more earning power, and literate countries are more advanced. They have better economic stability and better health. The United Nations declared September 8 as International Literacy Day to draw attention to the need for the ability to read.
This literacy infographic is from United Nations Human Development 2007-2008. A list of countries' literacy rates, according to the United Nations Development Programme 2009, is found here.

Yet even here in the United States, we find people unable to read or unable to read well enough to function well in society. Efforts abound to teach children and adults how to read through special school and after school programs and literacy programs sponsored by literacy councils and libraries.

How can you promote literacy?
-Read! Let yourself be seen reading at home and in public!
-Read aloud to others.
-Volunteer in a classroom, local library, or senior facility to read or assist with reading.
-Join your local literacy council and participate.
-Tutor someone learning to read.
-See ProLiteracy for more ways to promote literacy.

Victor Hugo wrote, "“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” What kind of reading sparks are flying around you today?

(Summer Distractions II by arist Lee Leuning, sculpture at Siouxland Library Main, downtown Sioux Falls)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Graphic Novels: Beyond Comic Books

(photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/playfullibrarian/3269942771/ by playfulllibrarian)

Being in the reading & writing business, I couldn't avoid graphic novels. I looked at the popular manga, the superhero, and other types. But actually read one?

Then a review led me to read Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush, by Luis Alberto Urrea. This graphic novel adaptation of one of his magical realism stories is illustrated by Christopher Cardinale. The art depicts the narrator's home town, boyish pranks, and the results of Mr. Mendoza's paintbrush. Mr. Mendoza used his paintbrush to keep the villagers in line, and finally, to step out of town mysteriously himself. The combination of art and story help us see and feel the village, the time, and the culture. (With respect to copyright, I'm not posting art here, but click the links to see samples.)

(photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/66621323@N00/3365849376/ Michael Morrow)

Here are some things I've learned about graphic novels:
-The average reader is 30! This isn't just kid stuff.
-Most of them are NOT full of violence and sex. They have good, solid storylines.
-Some of them are about superheroes, but most are not.
-The vocabulary is twice the level of the average kids' book.
(Thanks to Jasmine Rockwell, South Dakota State Library, whose blog about YA books is here.)

(photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/dainec/182486761/ by Aine D)

Kids do love them, and yes, it is REAL reading. For the most part, I still prefer the traditional book, but graphic novels such as Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush are works of art.

What's your opinion of graphic novels? Have you tried them? Which ones would you recommend?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Bear Necessities: Bears & Books

"Time to cool off!" we imagine Teddy saying, as he catches some spray from the waterfall.

We met Teddy (from the observation deck a safe distance and many barriers away) at the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota. The Center offers excellent exhibits to teach us about bears' characteristics and is home to bears Teddy, Lucky, and others that have been raised in captivity.

We learned that bears eat grapes and nuts, as we got to observe feeding time.

The exhibits told us that bears are generally gentle creatures and had pictures to prove it. Teddy had his mouth around a Center naturalist's face, kind of like a full-head kiss! Below, Teddy sits in the scale. The read-out inside showed his weight at 670 pounds.

From Yogi to teddies to pandas to grizzlies, people have had a fascination with bears. The Three Bears is a favorite folklore tale. Two of Bill Martin's classic bear stories being re-released, Brown Bear, Brown Bear and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, are children's favorites. Let's not forget Helen Oxenbury's We're Going on a Bear Hunt! Find the book, a willing child, and go bear hunting with this story!

Not all bear tales are for kids, though. Many South Dakotans know the true story of Hugh Glass, a mountain man who was mauled by a grizzly, left for dead by his compadres, and who then crawled 200 miles to the safety of a fort. A fictionalized account by Frederick Manfred, Lord Grizzly, tells the dramatic tale. Nevada Barr writes mysteries set in national parks. Her Blood Lure involves grizzly bear research in Glacier/Waterton Peace Park in Montana.

What bear stories can you tell me? Have you ever had a personal encounter with one?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How to Choose What to Read Next

(photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/swanksalot/2715407049/ CC http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)

A few posts ago, I wrote about summer reading. There’s still time! I hope you’ve had a chance to read something really good, the kind of book that makes you read more slowly at the end to make it last, the kind of book you clutch to your chest when you’re done as if hugging an old friend.

(photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/missrogue/457911556/ CC http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)

Next comes the chore of deciding what to read next. Donald Latumahina gives some suggestions in this blog post.

I use Amazon, too, but use other sources more. In my line of work, I see reviews for books in library blogs, magazines, and newsletters. I keep a paper file and a computer file of titles that look promising. My main method of finding good books is one he didn’t mention—recommendations from friends. Why do the books friends suggest sound so much more appealing than those standing at attention on my shelf waiting to be read? I keep track of what I read on Shelfari.com, another place to get suggestions.

(photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/yodelanecdotal/2452348317/ CC http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)

Sometimes I’ll go on a binge and read everything by one author or stay with the same genre title after title. More often, I’ll mix it up—historical fiction, contemporary, mystery, non-fiction—enjoying the variety.

How do you choose what to read next? How do you find (as Latumahina says) "interesting books"? Remember this: Friends don’t let friends read bad books! Thanks to all you friends who share good books and good book titles with me.

Monday, July 5, 2010

For Better Air Travel

(photo www.flickr.com/photos/colleen-lane/4517840289/ the Lane Team)

We're heavy into the summer travel season. Most folks I know around here are traveling by car, and those traveling by plane dread it. Air travel, once so glamorous, is now cumbersome, inconvenient, and expensive. From long lines to charging for baggage and TSA confiscating hair mousse, air travel is for the birds!
(photo www.flickr.com/photos/jimmybrown/4041963981/ by jumpinjimmyjava)

What form of travel would be an improvement? Convenient, personal, fast? Inexpensive would be good. I've long dreamed of the Jetson's jetpacks, but they don't seem to be immediately forthcoming. But how about a flying car? You could pack it up, get in with the family, and go! This is not as far-fetched as you think, according to this MSNBC news story.
(photo www.flickr.com/photos/torley/3457764257/ by Torley)

This story brought to mind wonderful fictional flying cars! Who could forget Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels and inventor of unusual imaginary gadets? Or more recently, the flying car in the Harry Potter books? Can you think of others? What other modes of travel would you like to try?

Up, up, and away!
(photo flickr.com/photos/wavyday/3707298272/ Jack Ringer)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Whatcha Reading this Summer?

(photo www.flickr.com/photos/komunews/3567108623/ by KOMUnews)

Summer has just begun according to the calendar. Remember the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer?

So far mine have been only hazy! Still, it's time for summer reading, vacation reading, beach reading--whatever you want to call it.

So far, my summer reading plan is to read new novels I have on hold at the library as they come in interspersed with books friends loaned to me months ago. One new book is Sandra Dallas' newest, Whiter Than Snow. Billed as a story of a deadly avalanche in a turn-of-the-century Colorado mining town, it is really the story of the townfolks' lives and how tragedy causes them to cast aside grudges and prejudices. This isn't my favorite book by Dallas (Tallgrass is), but it's worth the while.

One of the books loaned to me is Shoot the Moon by Billie Letts. This interview tells more about the book and Letts. Though some extreme coincidences propel the plot, this mystery of a California veterinarian seeking his birth mother in Oklahoma leads to vengeance, danger, and love, making this a fast, entertaining read.

Across the country, official library Summer Reading programs are underway for all ages. This year's Collaborative Summer Library Program theme for kids is "Make a Splash! Read!, for teens is "Make Waves at Your Library," and for adults is "Water Your Mind--Read!"

What books are watering your mind this summer? Let me know books you recommend!

PS Notice the title of the book in the introductory photo? It's become a contemporary classic. Look for it at the library or bookstore, no matter what your age is.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Power of Books

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/3089163372/ by Wonderlane

Those of us who love books feel most comfortable when surrounded by them. I did not feel at home in my new home until my books were unpacked and on shelves. Opening the packing boxes was like liberating dear friends.

Now a new report links being surrounded by books to a child's educational attainment. The child doesn't even have to read them! The study says that simply having books in one's home will improve children's education level--by as much as 2 years! More important than a father's educational level, parental politics, or socioeconomic background, filling the home with books makes a dramatic difference.

We did have books in our home as I grew up--and magazines and newspapers, too. What a privilege! How about you?

Read more details on the report here. Then run out to your nearest library or bookstore and stock up!

(It doesn't hurt to read them, either!)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day--What Were Their Names?

The Reuben James (USS Reuben James (DD-245)) was the first US Navy ship sunk in World War II action. This destroyer was torpedoed by a German submarine in October 1941 off the coast of Iceland while escorting an Allied ship convoy. The entire ship sank within five minutes, and only 44 of the 159 crewmen survived.

The song "The Sinking of the Reuben James," written by Woody Guthrie and performed below by the Kingston Trio, tells the tale and asks us, "What were their names?"

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, a day for remembering those who have died in our country's service. Its unofficial history dates back to women decorating the graves of Civil War soldiers.

As we observe Memorial Day today, let us pause to remember all who have given their lives for our country and our service veterans who have passed on. Tell me, what were their names?
(photo by cwwycoff1 http://www.flickr.com/photos/carlwwycoff/3561868382/)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Arbor Day--National Poetry Month

It's Arbor Day and the last day of National Poetry Month, so what better way to celebrate than with a few tree poems? I'm guessing more than a few of us memorized Joyce Kilmer's famous "Trees" in grade school. How much of it can you still recite without peeking?


I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

You may also remember "Woodman, Spare that Tree" by George Pope Morris. Here's a Phil Harris rendition on the gramophone:

Modern poets also write of trees. Kids' favorite, Douglas Florian, has a new book book out called Poetrees. Take a look at the poems and art here.

Poet and naturalist Wendell Berry writes "For the Future". What trees--literal or figurative--are you planting for the future?

Happy Arbor Day! So long, National Poetry Month!