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: